Hans here, a displaced but loyal Avs fan in Bozeman, Montana. I may only be 21 years old, but I've been watching this team since I was 8 years old and ever since I've loved and played this sport. Joe Sakic was my boyhood idol. I remember the day I first saw a game at the Pepsi Center: the Avs were hosting the Sharks. We had Sakic, Foote, Roy, and the feared AMP line (Alex-Milan-Peter). We won that game and the crowd was electric. I moved to Montana, but still followed my team passionately and cheered them through good seasons and (lately) bad ones. I've seen the great players retire or move on. Few years ago I attended a home game against the Red Wings. It was the 500th consecutive sellout, and we won that game to the delight of a packed house. Sakic retired after that season, but a new player emerged. His name? Matt Duchene.
It is fitting that #9, 3rd overall draft pick in 2009 out of the Brampton Battalion, was chosen by this team. The Avs were his favorite childhood team, and the fact that he was the same age as me procured fantasies of him living out my dream as a professional hockey player for the Avs. Scouting reports were promising. Fast. Skilled. Competitive. Driven. This kid loves to score goals, and loves to win. In his 3rd NHL season, he continues to impress fans around the league with his dazzling offensive abilities. Still maturing and growing into his own, he is learning and improving and is the player we all aspire will be the go-to-guy that Sakic was when we need a big goal. Duchene, the young-faced 18 year old kid, was already being heralded as the future face of this franchise.
Along with fellow class draftee Ryan O'Reilly, these are the types of players you can build a team for success around. The veterans of my childhood Avs team are gone, save captain Milan Hejduk. This generation of the Colorado Avalanche are the Young Guns, and alongside Duchene and O'Reilly are guys like Stastny, Jones, Landeskog, Johnson, Elliot, Varlamov. Joe Sacco is a young gun in the NHL ranks of coaching as well. With youth comes inconsistencies, learning curves, defeats, hesitations, doubt. They have overperformed and underperformed, and at times will struggle. Without experience, which comes with time, hard work, and determination, this struggle is inevitable. Its how a team learns from the difficult periods that will define them, and only then can long-term success be achieved.
Once this team starts to believe in themselves and play to their potential, will they rise to the former greatness this organization was once bestowed with? Maybe, but that has yet to be determined. For now, we are forced to believe that this process will take time, that rebuilding from within is the solution, and that our youth and low salary are for the long-term future and that management will not sacrifice this development for short-term success. Sherman has made serious trades/moves regarding who will be a part of that future, and we've yet to fully assess the impact these decisions will have. Can Varlamov return Colorado to the swagger and winning traditions of Roy between the pipes? Will Johnson blossom into the cornerstone top-pairing defenseman we so desperately need? Can this group of Young Guns play amongst the best in the league and emerge victorious?
Time will be the greatest teacher. For now, we all hold our breaths in anticipation. Some, even many, of us are impatient or disatisfied with the progress. We've begun to question whether our team is for real or the product of mismanagement and apathetic ownership. Certainly this behavior can be expected following such horrendous performances on the ice last year and this year thus far. You have every right as a concerned fan to demand improvement,commitment, and dedication from this great organization that you have so loyally supported all these years.
It is a young fan's hopes that these questions and more can begin to be answered with a resounding YES. I dream of our team returning to glory, to seeing the Avs once again hoist Lord Stanley's Cup above their heads and bringing joy to Avalanche Nation. I want to 'Wear the A with Pride' and cheer them on to victory as I have done in my two home games in the past. I want the Pepsi Center to be so feared a building for visiting teams to play in, that Avalanche hockey in Mile High City will be the talk of the league. I want Duchene to score clutch goals, Varlamov to stone-cold the opposition, Landeskog to power his way in front of the net, Johnson to lead a formidable team defense. In short I want our team to be physical, fast, and hard-working. I want a team that refuses to be pushed around, and that HATES to lose.
It is a young fan's hopes that someday soon this team will grow tired of losing, and will learn to win hockey games night in and night out. They need to believe in themselves and their abilities. They need to believe in their leaders and coaches. They need to believe they can and should win. They need to believe they are the best team in the league and play like it. They may not believe in themselves yet.
I have faith they will.