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Commissioner Bettman and GM Joe Sakic: Stadium Series a testament to growth of hockey in Colorado

Colorado continues to prove it’s a fast-growing hockey market

Stanley Cup finals X

When people think of a prototypical sports town — you know, the rabid fanaticism, light fireworks if we win, light dumpster fires and riot-in-the-streets-if-we-lose kind of city — which places do you think of? Perhaps Pittsburgh; Boston’s definitely on that list; Philadelphia lives and breathes sports, too.

For many, Denver is likely not in the top-10. But it’s certainly getting there, and the 2020 Stadium Series is a testament to the rapid growth of the market in Colorado.

Evidence of this was made clear when Colorado was chosen — for the second time — to host the NHL’s Stadium Series. Its two-time hosting of the outdoor spectacle ties the Centennial State with the likes of California and Pennsylvania for the most times for the Stadium Series games to be held in one of its respective cities.

With an exciting young team like the Colorado Avalanche in the midst of competing in its championship window; a storied minor league hockey team in the Colorado Eagles, which are now skating at the highest level of the minor league circuit in the American Hockey League; two of the most successful Division I college hockey programs in the country; and a burgeoning interest in youth hockey in the state, Colorado is proving it is actually a rather strong hockey market — thank you very much.

It’s something both NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic made mention of numerous times throughout the 2020 Stadium Series press conference at Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs last week.

“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]. Secondly, there’s a tremendous appetite and support for hockey at all levels here, including and especially at the youth and college level,” said Commissioner Bettman. “The youth level is as strong as it is anywhere and that’s a testament to all the volunteers, all the fans, all the players who play, all the coaches who coach and all the parents that drive their kids at all hours of the day and night to play our great game.”

In addition to the outdoor Stadium Series contest on the base of the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs that will be held on the 15th of February, Commissioner Bettman was quick to mention how it won’t be the only competitive hockey being played that day. The Colorado Springs Amateur Hockey Association is hosting its 42nd annual Presidents’ Day Tournament in the Springs starting on Feb. 15, too. Over 2,200 youth players are expected to travel to the 105-team tournament in Colorado Springs.

2020 NHL Stadium Series Press Conference Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

“We are very proud to be working hand-in-hand with the Colorado Springs Amateur Hockey Association. Their Presidents’ Day hockey tournaments are one of the longest running in the country,” added Bettman. “Youth teams [and] amateur teams from across North America come to play, and they will have the opportunity to join us at this event to see some of their idols take the ice at Falcon Stadium.”

Following Bettman’s media scrum, Sakic took the podium. After a few questions from local media, I asked the Avs GM about the growth of hockey in the Colorado market.

“There’s a lot of teams up the I-25 corridor,” he answered with a smile. “Hockey’s always been big in Colorado and it just keeps growing and growing. And it’s great to see the youth hockey and all the kids that want to play now. You get the kids on the ice and they fall in love with the game instantly. There’s been a lot of growth and it’s pretty remarkable to see the growth.”

The growth really has been pretty remarkable. The substantial expansion is evidenced on the USA Hockey website. Starting in 1990 when membership statistics began tallying, there was a little over 205,000 active players, coaches and officials. As of last season, that number is over 653,000. That’s a substantial 218 percent increase over that time.

As for the state of Colorado, there are over 15,200 active youth members of USA Hockey, the most of any state in the “Rocky Mountain district,” which consists of seven total states.

Indeed hockey is alive and well not only in the nation, but in the state of Colorado.

“Hockey at all levels, starting with the Avalanche on top, the great college programs that are in this state and the great youth programs that USA Hockey does such a great job with; and the [tournament] on the 15th that weekend is going to be, I think, one of the longest, if not the longest, youth amateur tournaments where players come from all over North America,” Bettman added.

“So this is truly going to be a celebration of hockey, which Colorado has done so well over the years.”