The best part about being both a hockey fan and a baseball fan is that you never run out of games to watch or teams to follow. Baseball season starts in April and runs until October, where the hockey season takes over and then runs all the way into June, overlapping the new baseball season by two months. There's never any down time, never any layoff.
Unfortunately, this year the baseball season is already over for me. My poor Cubs did exactly what they're supposed to do by choking in the first round of the post-season and resigning themselves to yet another "maybe next year" sigh of remorse. It's pretty obvious that they're not ever supposed to win the World Series, so losing again is no big shock to anybody but the most wishfully deluded.
But their early exit means I've got nothing else to think about but the new hockey season, which is finally upon us. The Colorado Avalanche begin their 2008-09 campaign tonight against the Boston Bruins at the Pepsi Center in Denver. With a (kind of) new coach, a definite starting goalie and some other new faces on the bench, the Avs are on the cusp of a new era. Or, at least, a pre-era.
Joe Sakic didn't retire over the summer, so his reign as captain and patron saint continues for now. Tony Granato has returned to his old position as head coach with the exit of Joel Quenneville. And Adam Foote signed on for a couple more seasons. So the ghosts of Avalanche past still float through the Pepsi Center for now, and what few ties to Colorado's glorious past still remain have not yet been totally severed.
However, hints of a new age now surround the team. Paul Stastny enters his third year as a potential Art Ross candidate, and his cohorts Marek Svatos and Wojtek Wolski are free to develop their skills without the heavy hand of Coach Q stifling their abilities and motivations. They, along with pseudo-rookies David Jones and TJ Hensick, represent the new blood of the organization, a rebirth of the skill-heavy, fast-attack legacy the Avalanche franchise developed so many years ago.
Peter Budaj will finally be given the chance to be the first legitimate, full-time Avalanche starting goalie since David Aebischer back in 2003-04. No more carousels, no more random benchings, no more Coach Q Goalie Doghouse. There will never be another Patrick Roy, but Budaj could fill his shoes to the extent that the Avalanche will no longer have to question the ability of the guy backing them up. Steady, solid and reliable. That's what Budaj offers as the next full-time goalie of the Avs.
While the past still hangs around, the future is waiting in the wings, poised to take over and build a new era of Avalanche success. We hope.
The Boston Bruins are trying to create a new era of success as well. Led by young stars like Patrice Bergeron and Phil Kessel, and supported by veterans like Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard, the Bruins are an improving team. Last season they squeaked into the playoffs only to be eliminated by the Canadiens in the first round. But their post-season failure was as much due to personnel loss as anything else. Boston was one of the few teams that suffered more games lost to injury than the Avalanche last season, made worse by Bergeron's exit early in the year. Bergeron is now back and ready to return to his 70-point-a-season habits.
Another thing the Bruins have going for them: their jerseys are some of the best in the league. While the Avalanche have to skate around in ugly and poorly-designed uniprons, Boston gets to wear some of the sharpest, most classic-looking "sweaters" in the RBK era NHL.
So the two teams launch their 2008-09 campaigns tonight. Both are looking for the start of a new era but also a return to the levels of success they enjoyed in the past. No offense to Boston---and I wish them the best---but I hope they have to wait at least one more night.