In case you weren't already aware, the Colorado Avalanche will play a game of stick and puck this week... AND IT WILL COUNT. We've been waiting about half of a year now to see our heroes in burgundy and blue with a
bigfoot Colorado-styled "C" shoulder patch to play a hockey game that matters, and that grueling wait is nearly behind us. To help bridge the gap between now and 9PM EDT/7PM MDT when the puck hits the ice for the first time in the 2015-16 campaign, I recommend you read this article I have composed with the five best season-opening games since the franchise moved from Quebec to Denver twenty years ago.
#5: October 1st, 2009. San Jose Sliced Up in Denver.
I'm never one to complain about the Sharks losing by a sizable margin to any team, but when the Avalanche do it in the home-opener and season-opener, it's easy to love your life a little bit more. This was the first game of the Matt Duchene era too. He got an assist on a John-Michael Liles goal midway through the third to record his first NHL point, and in the six seasons we've seen of Duchene to this point, we've been fortunate enough to see lots of points from the man who wears #9, and some have been just gorgeous. Was it the most glamorous point he's ever had? Definitely not, but it will always be the first, and it came in a game where Matt and the Avalanche filled the city of Denver with hope, joy, and wonder with a big win over the Sharks.
#4: October 10th, 2005. The First Game After the Lockout.
This game was a 4-3 loss in Edmonton to the Oilers. A win would have been nice, but it had been 524 days since the Avalanche's last game, which was a Game 6 loss in the second round of the playoffs to San Jose. It was just nice to see some NHL hockey again, regardless of the outcome. In that 524 day span between games, George W. Bush was re-elected for a second term, YouTube had been created, the 7/7 bombings in London occurred, and Hurricane Katrina made landfall. A lot of stuff happened. None of the things that happened were National Hockey League gameplay. That's a shame. Fuck Gary Bettman.
#3: October 4th, 1996. The Franchise Plays its First Game as Cup-Holders.
When the Quebec Nordiques played their first game of their second season in 1980, they had missed the playoffs in their inaugural year. When the Colorado Avalanche played their first game of their second season in 1996, they had won the Stanley Cup the year before in the organization's first season in the Mile High City. In the time the franchise played in the province of Quebec, the farthest they made it was to the conference finals on two occasions. One year into playing in Colorado, the Avalanche got there and 2 steps further, making the Stanley Cup Final, and winning Sir Stanley. For some reason the Avalanche played their season opener the next season on the road in St. Louis (NO RESPECT FOR THE AVALANCHE), and the Avs lost 4-2. Who cares, because the Avalanche had a Stanley Cup for the first time, and I may remind you St. Louis has been in the NHL much longer and still has no idea what having the Cup is like. I'd also like to add this was the first time any Denver sports fan could watch one of its professional sports teams and know they've won a championship. The Broncos got off the snide a short time later, and the Nuggets and Rockies, well, no comment. It was a good day to be a fan of the Avalanche or Denver sports history.
#2: October 2nd, 2013. Patrick Roy's First Game as Head Coach.
The Avalanche had gone through such a dark, miserable spell for a few years before this game, that good things happening to Colorado were hard to come by. In the offseason when Patrick Roy was named head coach, there was a glimmer of hope that things might turn around. What I remember so well about this opening game against the Ducks was that 30 seconds in, Anaheim had a great chance at a goal and Semyon Varlamov made a save that was one of the best he had all season. It could very well have changed the tide of not only the game, but the season for the Avalanche if Varly hadn't made that save. Colorado went on to pound Anaheim to the tune of a 6-1 victory, and have a season that exceeded what the biggest Avalanche optimist could have imagined. Patrick Roy went on to get in a skirmish with airhead Bruce Boudreau, and you could almost feel the soul of the Avalanche franchise be revived then and there. And for the first time in a long time, you got the sense the Avalanche had some direction to them. Hopefully, that hope and direction that was built a little over two years ago, can be expanded on starting this week.
#1: October 6th, 1996. The First Game at McNichols against Detroit.
A new era of professional hockey in Denver began on this night when the Avalanche hosted the Detroit Red Wings at McNichols Arena. A sold out, raucous crowd helped lead the Avalanche to a 3-2 win, the first of many we've seen in the last twenty years. Amazing how the intense rivalry that Colorado and Detroit became started right away, seemingly, in the first game of these Colorado Avalanche. Tensions were high then, and no one could ever imagine what would happen afterwards, but the fun began right away for those that chose to be fans of the Avs, and it paid off right away in the form of a Conference championship of those same stupid Red Wings and a league championship in year one. The first season-opener is still the best twenty years later, and I don't think any of us mind. But having something occur this Thursday to top it against the equally-dreaded Minnesota Wild would be cool too.