The hockey rink at Coors Field has been fully constructed for a week now; but the Colorado Avalanche -- busy traveling, practicing, and playing normally scheduled hockey games -- had yet to see the site of this weekend's Stadium Series. This afternoon, Matt Duchene and John Mitchell were selected as team emissaries to explore their new 50,000-seat home stadium and talk to the media about the excitement leading up to Saturday's game.
Mitchell, a veteran of 2008's Winter Classic as a member of the New York Rangers, spoke about the unique conditions of playing outdoors. "There are a lot more fans, so it can get a little bit noisier," he said. "Sometimes the brightness [is difficult], but we're playing at 6:00, so it shouldn't be a problem." Mitchell went on to recall more about the game in Philadelphia's Citizen's Bank Park, "The wind was the biggest factor. The game that I played in, it was a little windy, and [it made a difference] depending which way you were going which period. It's not like a normal rink indoors."
Most surprisingly, he mentioned the cold. "It can get a little chilly. Fortunately, we have hand and feet warmers on the bench."
Duchene, a newcomer to outdoor NHL games, made it clear Saturday was much bigger for his team than just a novelty event. "Every game right now, we're fighting for our playoff lives. You almost feel a sense of security being in a playoff spot for as many weeks as we've been right now, but a big reason [for that] is we've played more games." The Avalanche, one point behind the Nashville Predators and two points ahead of the suddenly resurgent Minnesota Wild, are in a tight race with twenty games to go. "We can find ourselves out of it if we don't keep it going."
"It will be great to win against San Jose tomorrow, but a win here [on Saturday] would mean a lot and springboard us into the final stretch run."
As much attention as the main event on Saturday is getting , the Alumni game is shaping up to be a major draw itself -- even for the current players. "They have a box reserved or something," said Mitchell. "It will be interesting. Should be fun." Duchene, a lifelong fan of the team, was particularly excited. "It's going to be cool to watch them. Obviously, it's been cool even shooting on Patty [Roy] the past couple of weeks for all of us, having never got to play against him."
Duchene's reverence extended to the other bench as well, "Even on the other side, you have guys like Yzerman and Fedorov. Maybe you're not a Detroit fan, but you look to those guys and idolize those guys as well. It'll be cool on both sides of the puck."
When informed Brendan Shanahan had just committed to playing, Duchene smiled and shook his head in disbelief. "Wow. All the Hall-of-Famers you're going to have on the ice, it's going to be a really special alumni game."