AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — It was frigid February night at Falcon Stadium. At the time of puck drop, the temperature outside was a cool 32.5 degrees Fahrenheit — perfect weather for an outdoor hockey game.
The result, however, was less than ideal for the Colorado Avalanche.
The pre-game festivities perfectly set the stage — and the vibe — of the nature of this Stadium Series game and it’s location on a U.S. military base.
Air Force Cadets marched in and took their seats as both the Avalanche and Kings took the long 50-yard walk from their locker rooms to the their respective bluelines on the ice. A flyover of three F-16s from the 140th Fighter Wing out of Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colo. and a KC-10 from the 60th Air Mobility Wing of Travis Air Force Base in California ushered in the pre-game ceremonies, which included a performance of the “Star-Spangled Banner” by the U.S. Air Force Academy’s all-male acapella group “In the Stairwell” and the game puck parachuted in by members of the USAF Academy’s Wings of Blue parachute team.
With the hype of the pre-game ceremonies fresh in their minds, the Avalanche came out flying (pun intended) at Falcon Stadium to start the first period. Shots were 13-1 in favor of Colorado through the game’s first 11 minutes.
After a dominating first half of the period by the Avalanche, a point shot by L.A. Kings defenseman Joakim Ryan trickled past Phillip Grubauer and hit the far post where an eager Tyler Toffoli easily tapped in the rebound with zero Avs defenders anywhere near him.
As the two teams started to settle in, the pace at the start of the second frame was decidedly much slower than the first. The contest started to feel much more like Game No. 57 of the regular season rather than a grand-stage Stadium Series spectacle.
It was all Los Angeles in the second period. The Kings came out with the better pace and were consistently on top of pucks while limiting Colorado’s chances to the outside. Los Angeles held the Avalanche to just five shots on netminder Jonathan Quick through the first 16 minutes of second-period action.
The Avs were finally able to get some extended zone time and really pushed the play of the game in the final four minutes of the period. Colorado started shooting the puck from all angles before Sam Girard was finally able to solve Quick with less than a minute to go in the frame. It was Girard’s third goal of the season and his second in the span of two weeks. Before that, G had not scored a goal since Nov. 9 at home against Columbus.
The story at the start of the third period was Avs goaltender Philipp Grubauer leaving the game a little over three minutes in after his own D-man, Ian Cole, ran into him in the crease. Grubauer left the game immediately and made the long walk off the field and back to the Avs dressing room. Grubauer stopped 14-of-15 shots before leaving the game. He would not return.
Pavel Francouz came in for relief and didn’t face his first shot until nearly 10 minutes into his relief stint. The 1-1 third period played out more like a chess match, with both teams playing the puck cautiously.
As time winded down, it was clear both teams were playing to get to overtime. That is until J.T. Compher cleanly lost the defensive-zone draw, which was picked up by Toffoli on top of the face-off circle. He fanned on his first shot attempt, making two Avs defenders flinch before Toffoli picked up his own missed shot and ripped one on Francouz. The puck snuck through the barrage of bodies in front of him and the Kings went up 2-1 with 55 seconds left in the contest.
Francouz stopped 6-of-7 in relief.
Game, set, match. With Francouz on the bench in lieu of the extra attacker, Toffoli completed the hat trick to make the final score 3-1 at Falcon Stadium.
- It appeared the Avs expended all of their energy in the first five minutes of the game. L.A. dominated and pushed the pace for 90 percent of the game, which is pretty disappointing for a team coming from sea level to face-off against a team that trains at altitude. Tonight, it looked as if the Avs were the ones suffering from altitude sickness.
- The Avs blew both of their power-play opportunities by committing infractions of their own within 20 seconds of their respective man-advantage chances.
- It was cold at the start of the game and very cold by the end of it. When the clock hit all-zeros at the end of the contest, the temperature read 25 degrees Fahrenheit
- You really have to see the Avs Stadium Series jerseys in person to really appreciate them. They’re beautiful in person. I’m still not sold on the helmets, however.
- Major props to the NHL and staff at the Air Force Academy that helped put on this show. From the Aircraft Carrier layout on the field, to the Cadets and the real-life F-16 right by the ice, to the game presentation — all of it was very well done.