The Avalanche has been here 23 years, since the summer relocation from Quebec City after the Nordiques’ first-round playoff loss to the Rangers.
And, yes, the long-suffering Colorado fans — who witnessed the NHL Colorado Rockies’ farcical trials and tribulations for six seasons, plus various minor-league ventures on either side — then had to wait months (months!) to celebrate a Stanley Cup championship.
The Avalanche again won the Cup in 2001 with a roster that represented a Hall of Fame roll call.
The NHL team was the primary influence in turning Colorado into one of the nation’s youth hockey hotbeds. In fact, that has been the Avalanche’ most underplayed accomplishment.
It isn’t just Troy Terry, the World Juniors hero and U.S. Olympian from Highlands Ranch and DU who signed a three-year deal with the Anaheim Ducks after the Pioneers’ loss in the NCAA regional finals.
There have been and there will be many more athletic young Coloradans who turned to the sport because of the Avalanche’s influence, sparking a rink building boom in the state.
So why the history lesson? Why the belaboring of the obvious as the Avalanche continues to attempt to nail down a playoff spot as it heads into a Wednesday night home game against the Flyers? And Nathan MacKinnon continues his quest to lead this team to its first appearance in the postseason in four years and possibly win the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player?
Because sometimes it just seems as if we’re starting all over again every time the Avalanche experiences a resurgence.
I’m not talking about the Avalanche fan base, as hearty of a group as there is in Colorado professional sports. They’ve stuck with the sport and, more significant, with the franchise in this market through ups and downs.
Sometimes it seems as if Joe Sakic’s touch pass to Ray Bourque was yesterday; but the truth is, that was 17 years ago.
The grade schoolers in the Avalanche’s glory years now are in their early 30s. The fascination with the instant champions has lingered, though the Colorado media doesn’t seem to have grasped that.
The problem there is that among the largely evolving Colorado media, institutional memory has become more rare every year. It’s too easy to pounce on the easy story, and that most often means, yes, the Broncos quarterback competition. Or non-competition. And when the Avalanche gets to the postseason, the challenge will be not just to know the story, but to do it, about the Hispanic kid from Long Beach who got a mini-stick from his grandfather and first played roller hockey.
I’m on record, and have been for the many years I’ve covered the NHL off and on. The knowledgeable and loyal fan base’s proprietary attitude — “It’s our sport, dammit” — is both a strength and a weakness. No other sport’s constituency acts as if “new” fans shouldn’t be welcomed.
The funny thing here is that the Avalanche’s glory years created a fan base that stretches far beyond Colorado and for some reason hasn’t disappeared. Sakic posters. Forsberg jerseys. Foote photos. Roy videos.
I am truly convinced that there is a significant part of the hockey fan base — whether in Littleton or Mississauga — that wants the Avalanche to be good again, to be able to both enjoy it and flash back.
The 112-point season in in 2013-14 was a tease. With the Avalanche on pace for about 98 points and a wild-card playoff spot a year after a 48-point embarrassment, this in a different experience, a recognition that a marquee franchise can rebound … several times.
And with the iconic GM, Sakic, watching from the press box and handy for the television shots at opportune times in the playoffs, the cuing up of the flashback videos become easy.
The Avalanche’s playoff run — however long it lasts — will turn out to be a fun flashback, too.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
As long as someone covering the series doesn’t say “quarter.”
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Terry Frei writes two commentaries a week for Mile High Sports. He has been named a state’s sports writer of the year seven times, four times in Colorado (including for 2016) and three times in Oregon. He’s the author of seven books, including “March 1939: Before the Madness,” about the first NCAA basketball tournament and its champions; and “Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming,” about the landmark 1969 Texas-Arkansas football game and the events swirling around it. His web site is terryfrei.com and his additional “On the Colorado Scene” commentaries are at terryfrei/oncolorado.
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Magazine: Gateway High Olympian Stephen Garbett