AIR FORCE ACADEMY, COLO. — It seemed only fitting that Denver’s first snowfall of the season happened on the day that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, Avs GM Joe Sakic and LA Kings President Luc Robitaille were all in town to preview the 2020 Stadium Series outdoor game at Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs.
Both Commissioner Bettman and Sakic were quick to comment on the idyllic conditions surrounding the press conference.
“It’s great to be here in Colorado Springs and we couldn’t be more excited to be playing a game in February in this stadium,” Commissioner Bettman said to open his media scrum session. “It’s going to be sensational. And if we’re lucky, the weather will mimic this.”
Sakic, too, was quick to allude to the arcadian Air Force Academy conditions.
“This is pretty fitting,” added Sakic of the weather. “If it happens to be [like] this, you know with the snow and the cold, it’ll be fine. I’m pretty sure all the players would be excited to play in the cold weather like they did growing up — well most of them, if they grew up up north.”
The hope is that the conditions on Feb. 15, the date of the Stadium Series matchup against Colorado and Los Angeles, mock that of press conference. After all, it’s the way the game was intended to be played, right? Playing atop ethereal frozen ponds has always been the romanticized picture of the sport of hockey. It’s what Commissioner Bettman and the NHL had in mind when introducing the concept of the Winter Classic and the Stadium Series outdoor games all those years ago.
“We are the ultimate reality sport and when we take it outside anything can happen, as far as the unpredictability of the weather,” said Bettman. “This takes our players back to their roots as young players. So many of our players learned to skate outdoors, played hockey outdoors on frozen ponds, and this conjures up that notion.”
For the Avalanche players on the ice on February 15th, it’ll certainly be something special. For the Avalanche as an organization, it’ll be twice as special, as It’ll mark the second time the franchise has hosted an outdoor game since the NHL introduced the spectacle in January of 2014.
Colorado hosted its first Stadium Series in 2016 at Coors Field, home of the MLB’s Colorado Rockies, in the heart of downtown Denver. Only the states of Pennsylvania and California have hosted as many Stadium Series games as Colorado has. It’s a testament to the growing market and the burgeoning Avalanche fanbase that exists in Colorado.
“We know how the state of Colorado feels about the Avalanche, and it has been a great love affair since they won [the Stanley Cups],” said Bettman. “Secondly, there’s a tremendous appetite and support for hockey at all levels here, including and especially at the youth and college level.”
You could look at the outdoor game as a gift and a celebration of hockey to the state of Colorado. It’s no easy task earning a Stadium Series spectacle, after all. Every team wants one but only a select few markets earn the right.
“It’s a task that is more difficult than it would seem because everybody, every team, wants to play in one of these outdoor games,” Commissioner Bettman added. “Every city wants to host one and every fanbase wants to be able to attend one. And after they do it once they start asking immediately ‘when can we do it again?’
“It is truly a special event and it has worked extraordinarily well to bring hockey fans to focus on the game of hockey and not just the team that they root for.”
Indeed the Stadium Series contests have done wonders for NHL marketing. It’s a nice change of pace from your average, run-of-the-mill indoor hockey game. It’s a celebration of the sport’s history and it’s an event that’s circled on calendars around the hockey community.
“It’s an incredible event, our outdoor games...all the games have been sold out. But what’s truly special about it is the people that go there and the players who get to play really have a once in a lifetime experience,” Bettman continued. “It’s truly, truly a special opportunity for people to come together and really enjoy what we think is the best sport in the world.”
February 15th will be a special day for the players, the organizations taking part, the state of Colorado and the entire hockey community as a whole.
“It is special,” Sakic said. “Any time you get to change it up and play in an outdoor game in front of 45,000 fans here, it’s a special moment for all the players. It’s something that they all look forward to, right when you announce the game, they know they’re playing the game, they know they’re playing in the outdoor game, they see Feb. 15 and they circle that down.
“You just hope you put on a good show. It’s going to be great for the fans in Denver and the Colorado Springs to get a chance to come in this historic Falcons Stadium and witness a great game. Obviously you have the stadium, the backdrop of the mountains, it’s a special place to be.”
Tickets are on sale now for the 2020 Stadium Series.