When asked to represent Avalanche fans for Pick My NHL Team, I was hit with magnanimous feelings of excitement, then honor, and then finally, responsibility. The chance to convert a brand new hockey fan into an “Avaholic” doesn’t happen often. And since I was pitted up against 29 quality NHL team bloggers, I just trusted my instincts and let the Avalanche energy flow.
For this particular piece of Guild literature, I acted as the voice of Avalanche fans everywhere. Although it is a special feeling to be chosen for this quest, there is real pressure to represent this community in a manner befitting the history and prestige of an organization that is endeared to all of our hearts. But with this pressure came a quality opportunity to write beyond expectations.
Avalanche fans may seem somewhat buried in the Rockies compared to other NHL teams, especially those to the North. Our voice may not be loud, but we are still very proud. Sure, we may not scream out to the masses as often (or with as many numbers) as other teams, and we may not have the sellouts we once had in the glory years of the late-90’s, but we have always displayed an intense fortitude, a firm understanding of the pangs of progress and the noble reverence of former Avs players.
So in order to shed a light inside the world of Avalanche fandom, I present you with five illuminated paths to the ultimate Avalanche experience. I can only hope that you all gain a new understanding of just how fun it is to be an Avalanche fan.
1. THE TEAM
From cellar-dwellers to a Western Conference powerhouse in only 20 games, this team has been reborn. With the aid of the organization’s wise sage Pierre Lacroix, management successfully breathed new life into the team in just three short summer months. They constructed a winning team by making the best decisions possible in a manner that created instantaneous results.
To start, they bid farewell to last year’s coaching staff and upper management. Greg Sherman, a man on a mission to prove his worth to the organization that had been honing him for many years, stepped in as the new GM with confidence. He mended the wounds from a last-place finish by hiring a brilliant head coach in Joe Sacco, a former NHL player known for his fiery passion and for pushing younger players to be their best every single shift. Alongside Sacco, three former Avalanche players – Sylvain Lefebvre, Steve Konowalchuk and Adam Deadmarsh – completed a young, energetic and motivated coaching staff.
Those moves alone spawned the dawn of a new age of Avalanche hockey. Unlike last season’s team, this year’s ice army was destined to succeed thanks to an identity forged by hard work, consistent energy and solid defensive effort from every player.
When it came time to shape the legions that would lead this team to victory, they drafted and then signed two dynamic 18-year-old stars in Matt Duchene (third-overall draft pick) and Ryan “Radar” O’Reilly (33rd overall pick), a pair of youngsters that instantly improved the redefined dynamic run-and-gun style. These two were the new shape-shifters, a pair of centers that play beyond their years and bring tons of excitement thanks to an ability to play different styles in all three zones.
The team’s speed, skill and skating finesse was balanced with power, grit and toughness thanks to the likes of David Koci, Chris Durno, David Jones, Cody McLeod and Chris Stewart. To polish it off, the organization named their most veteran defenseman, the grizzled and stalwart Adam Foote, as team captain. This took the pressure off young superstar Paul Stastny, a wizard in all three zones, which allowed him to develop naturally and without distraction from the pangs of traditional media.
Simply put, the results of these moves have reflected in the quality of hockey displayed on the ice. Colorado is one of the top teams in the league and they are finding ways to win a lot of close games. They sit atop the Northwest Division with the likes of the Calgary Flames and they had one of the best (and longest) road trips in club history in October. They have now exceeded the expectations from fans and foes alike, and they have been doing it on a fairly consistent basis.
But if there’s one hidden quality this Avalanche team has right now, it is depth and balance. They have four lines that can skate, hit and score. They have a goaltender that has the best combined save percentage over the last two years and veterans that have been feeding off the energy of the rookies. When it comes right down to it, this year’s Avalanche team is one of the most dynamic and exciting offensive teams to watch.
The most important on-ice component of the Avalanche turnaround, however, was the signing of a fierce, promising, gigantic free-agent goaltender by the name of Craig Anderson. Without having to say a single word, he arrived in Colorado and claimed what was rightfully his – the title of Avalanche Starting Goaltender.
2. THE GOALTENDER
When a natural born leader is finally handed the Staff of Power, he will almost always win the battles set before him. For Anderson, this has truly been the case through the first six weeks of the season. A former backup with the Chicago Blackhawks and the Florida Panthers, Anderson has always been capable of leading a team deep into the playoffs. He has started all but two games so far this season and has compiled amazing stats for a team that was expected to be dead last in their conference.
But one of the most difficult aspects of being an NHL goaltender is displaying patience and focus for an extended period of time. Many moments in Anderson’s career could have resulted in him running for the hills, giving up hope or dropping his guard, and ultimately losing his job. But perseverance led to increased potential, which finally led to a quality opportunity. When Florida let him walk on July 1st, it only took minutes for the Avalanche to sign him to a two-year deal at a fair and affordable price.
On the first day of training camp, Anderson’s confidence was all the proof the fans needed – his time had come and he was going to make waves. When the regular season started, it was crystal clear that he was going to get a heavy workload. When October was over, Anderson had shocked the hockey world by being named the NHL Player of the Month. He was the league’s best, a title that no fan for any team would refute. He had a league-high save percentage and more wins than any other goalie.
Every fan knows that an NHL team cannot obtain playoff success without an elite goaltender. Like the final piece of the puzzle, Anderson was a perfect fit at the center of this hockey club. He’s the leader, the inspiring warrior, the one who screams the team’s battle cry as they trample the opposition. But every team has a quality starter, so what makes Anderson so special?
Anderson’s unique play is revealed in his ferocious play and mannerisms. He doesn’t allow anyone to push him around or get in his way. He battles hard and he never gives up on a puck. When it comes to the most entertaining goalies to watch, Anderson is at the top of the mountain. He hates to lose, he hates to be scored on and he’s not afraid to make that obvious. His size, his quickness, his agility, positive attitude and ferocity combine together to make him the perfect winning goaltender.
3. THE FAN EXPERIENCE
The most frustrating aspect of being an Avalanche fan would be the non-believers that feel the organization does not care about their fans. High ticket prices might be a major source for this negativity, but that could not be further from the truth. In fact, The Avalanche Guild is walking proof that these ticket prices are merely a stigma perpetuated by the uninformed. So in order to give you a real glimpse of what makes the Avalanche fan experience so special, we’ll quickly weave you our own personal tale.
From March 2003 to April 2007, we edited and designed a free monthly hockey publication called Colorado Hockey Insider. We provided extensive coverage of local pro and youth hockey for fans throughout Colorado. Although we had no real relationship with the Avalanche organization, they always showed their appreciation for our coverage, especially during the NHL Lockout.
In May 2007, we made the tough decision to move on from the publication and take things to a new level. Although it was not easy to start again from scratch, we knew our insightful analysis was legit. But finding a supportive platform was difficult to find. So with two sheets of paper and an idea in our mind, a lucky phone call had piqued the interest of the Avalanche’s Director of Fan Development. One week later, a meeting was initiated and the opportunity of a lifetime was laid out before us.
As the meeting commenced, our nerves were high but the resolve was steadfast. Before we had even handed over our two-page proposal to launch The Avalanche Guild, we were asked to reveal our mission statement.
“To advance and enhance the Avalanche fan’s experience through a variety of on and off-ice experiences,” we said.
At that moment, the organization was instantly loyal to a cause that was created by a single passionate Avalanche fan, a voice that had the work ethic to get things done. And so two months later, a pair of fan-friendly programs was introduced and initiated.
Just by supporting this new partnership, any Avalanche fan from anywhere in the world could get discount tickets to almost every home game. All they had to do was find The Avalanche Guild, choose the game they want to attend and purchase them through the Guild website. All of a sudden, attending games was extremely affordable and easy to accomplish. No matter who you were or where you came from, experiencing an Avalanche game at a great price was easier than ever before.
But we didn’t stop there. We followed our mission statement by enhancing and advancing the fan’s experience. This is how the After-Hours program was born. The Avalanche was so supportive of this program idea, that if we sold a certain number of tickets for each game, they would bestow upon us the most holy of all opportunities – a chance to play hockey on the legendary Pepsi Center ice! The same ice that Avs players skated on was now made available to Avalanche fans to skate on after games.
Teams from all over the world, even from Australia, started coming together to embrace the essence of being an Avalanche fan. They would all celebrate the Avalanche experience by purchasing discounted tickets to a game and then skate on Pepsi Center ice afterwards. These experiences left everyone with warm and lasting memories that developed great fan camaraderie.
At the end of the season, all of those that had been a part of this program and supported our mission came together for another unique Avalanche fan experience, a shootout tournament we call Battle for the Banner. The two shootout teams that made it to the finals were bestowed (thanks to the Avalanche) the opportunity of a lifetime – a chance to play for the championship banner during the intermission of an Avalanche home game in front of thousands of hockey fans!
Beyond The Avalanche Guild programs and partnerships, the Avalanche offer local hockey fans with many other unique and interactive fan experiences. There’s the Avalanche Adult Invitational Tournament, the Quebec Qualifier youth tournament, the Celebrity Golf Classic, the annual Avs Better Halves Fashion Show and much, much more.
As you can clearly see, this organization goes above and beyond the call of duty to reward their fans with opportunities to experience Avalanche hockey in a way never seen before. What makes the Avalanche fan experience truly unique, however, is that a single passionate fan’s voice can and will be heard. Although we are just one story of many, we are honored to be able to bring other passionate Avalanche the experience of skating on an NHL ice surface. Through the programs that we created, the Avalanche advance and enhance the experience in ways never before seen. No other NHL team can say this and mean it.
4. THE HISTORY
Every NHL team has a rich and illustrious history comprised of memorable players, moments and legends. This is what truly makes the NHL so special. Colorado’s history is no different, as the echoing voices of past heroes reverberate through the Pepsi Center halls, throughout the Rocky Mountains and around the world. They whisper words of gallantry, bravery and monumental valor to thousands of fans, young and old alike. They inject inspiration into our souls and leave us wanting more, more, more.
Joe Sakic, Captain Clutch, the King of Avalanche history, is a noble player and man revered by almost every hockey fan, no matter what team they follow. In fact, his #19 was raised to the rafters on Opening Night and his locker was converted into an everlasting shrine, encased by glass and proclaimed as an emblazoned statue for all current and future Avalanche players.
Patrick Roy, arguably the best goaltender to ever play the game, played a major role in leading this team to two Stanley Cups in 1996 and 2001. He is regarded as the keeper of these brilliant trophies, the one that will always be revered as St. Patrick. His intensity and will to win was unmistakable and left a lasting impression on current superstar goalies like Carey Price.
Ray Bourque, who played more than 20 years in the league without winning a single championship, came to Colorado to finally hoist Lord Stanley in 2001. Peter Forsberg, the brilliant, tough and stoic Swede also called Colorado his proud home for many years. Rob Blake, Claude Lemieux, Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne, the list of memorable players stretches on and on.
And that only scratches the surface of this team’s true history, one that includes the legendary Quebec Nordiques franchise.
Yes, the Avalanche’s history is similar to the other 29 teams, but not a day goes by when fans doesn’t reflect on a moment of glory that was created by one of these players. It is in our blood and a huge part of who we are as Avalanche followers. Whether it’s on the ice or in the community, these are the warriors you want your children and their children to treat as role models.
5. THE MILE HIGH CITY
Ask any Colorado Avalanche player – past or present – what their experience is like playing in Denver. They will all tell you it is one of the most beautiful, fun and entertaining cities to call home. There’s a little bit of everything out here. We have the pristine and mysterious foothills, the city lights, pro football, basketball and baseball. There is incredible skiing, snowboarding, friendly people, good food and everything you could possibly want if you lead an active and healthy lifestyle.
As an Avalanche fan that was born and raised in another state, we can say that Colorado is one of the most beautiful places in the United States. With a number of small mountain cities, one will find a place called Ouray, which is known as the country’s equivalent of Switzerland. Expect beautiful, clear skies close to 300 days out of the year and expect to make friends with ease.
If you are reading this and ever make plans to visit Denver, be sure to contact The Avalanche Guild. We will welcome you with open arms and will leave you with a belly full of good food and a mind full of good hockey memories. You’ll be set up with discounted Avalanche tickets and maybe even a chance to play hockey on Pepsi Center ice. You’ll experience a hidden hockey haven where there’s nothing left to say other than, “I can’t wait to do this all over again.”
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