A day that began with excitement and giddiness akin to Christmas morning for Colorado Avalanche fans ended with feelings of frustration, exasperation and downright annoyance.
To briefly recap the game — as I’m sure we all know by now — the Avs lost the 2020 Stadium Series. The score was Tyler Toffoli, 3, Colorado, 1. It was just the L.A. Kings’ third regulation win of the calendar year, and it was a game the Avalanche had no business losing, given Los Angeles’ status as the worst team in the Western Conference and the second-worst club in the entire league.
On the ice, the way in which the Avs lost was a gut-check. It’s become a familiar feeling this week in Colorado. On Thursday, the Avalanche watched their two-goal first-period lead evaporate into a 2-2 tie before their very eyes, and then watched as T.J. Oshie scored the go-ahead goal for Washington with two minutes left in regulation to send the Avs packing to Colorado Springs. Then on Saturday, the Avs allowed Toffoli to ruin the fanfare with 55 seconds left in the game — an eerily similar result to the Avs’ last Stadium Series (lost to Detroit with one minute left in regulation).
And the world saw it all, with NBC nationally broadcasting both games. Ouch.
But what wasn’t captured by NBC’s Skycams or covered by its many cameras was the happenings off the ice, and that’s what’s going to leave the sour taste in the mouths of the Stadium-Series goers.
For many, the game was ruined before they even got to their seats. Reports from disgruntled fans on Twitter began pouring in as the Stadium Series pageantry was starting inside Falcon Stadium. The traffic to get into the parking lots was an absolute nightmare. An Air Force Athletics member, who was one of the many people helping put on the event, said there was consideration delaying the game but logistically they just couldn’t do that.
Here’s a look at the traffic heading into the game from the crew of F-16s and the AC-10 that were a part of the much-anticipated flyover at the start of the game:
This video was taken just minutes before the opening puck drop and if you look closely, it’s clear the miles of yellow and red lights beaming from cars still trying to get into the parking lot.
There were still vehicles waiting in lines for parking as the first period drew to a close, and some even still as the second period was beginning. And believe it or not, as the second intermission was ending and the third period was starting, there were still people filing in to get their first look at the game action. Some people just ditched their cars on side streets and walked into the venue.
And all of that just to see their team blow it with 55 seconds left. Woof.
@TheRinkColorado @adater @MileHighHockey— Tim Preston (@Tim_22_Preston) February 16, 2020
For anyone that asks what it was like...show them the picture of two miles of traffic trying to get into the lots ten minutes before puck drop. #StadiumSeries nightmare @Avalanche pic.twitter.com/BPXMSVflnV
Some people caught wind of the traffic and thousands proactively left before the game had ended to avoid the ensuing traffic nightmare. Those fans are probably of the small contingency of game-goers that actually had a decent time. They didn’t have to see the awful finish by the Avs and they didn’t have to live through the nightmare of leaving the venue.
In addition to the traffic, complaints of snow-melted, unpaved parking lots created a muddy mess at the Truly Hard Seltzer Pregame outside; inside, there were stands running out of food and drinks, and a lack of trash receptacles and restrooms — 30-plus minute waits to use bathrooms or porta-potties — caused an even greater mess of the NHL’s grand-spectacle Stadium Series.
Two words: Canadian Woodstock. pic.twitter.com/LMjia8BjM1— George (@GeorgeTalksAvs) February 16, 2020
Our very own Adrian Hernandez experienced the whole thing from the fans perspective and like so many others was greatly disappointed and frustrated with the whole experience the NHL put on.
“They had, I’d say, 20 porta-potties for 40-some thousand people...The pregame was an absolute mess, literally mud everywhere,” recalled Adrian. “Then in the stadium, the corridor itself wasn’t ready for that many people. They had two bathrooms for sections M1-M15 and one concession for that entire area as well. Then they ran out of food and beer.”
“Then the leaving part. I got in my car at 9:20 p.m. and didn’t leave the lot till 11:30...A kid was having a medical emergency and no one could get him in or out. He needed insulin,” added Adrian.
“Just sad they dropped the ball like this.”
Like nothing you've ever seen in your life. I'm out of negative adjectives with which to describe this madness— Matt Duwe (@mattduwe) February 16, 2020
It only took 3 HOURS to leave Air Force Academy. There are many words I have about this. None of them good. #StadiumSeries— Reagan Smith (@RTSmithSports) February 16, 2020
This is among the most painful experiences of my life.— Graham (@avs_9601) February 16, 2020
The game ended at 8:46 p.m. MT and there were still cars trying to make their way out by 11:45.
Fans are ripping apart the NHL, the Avalanche, Air Force Academy staff and really whoever they could put blame on for the horrendous traffic. Yes, the NHL dropped the ball on yet another outdoor event.
But like the traffic, we should have all seen this coming for miles.
Let’s not forget the Air Force Academy is a secure military base. There’s only two ways out and two ways in — through the North or South gate — and one lane in or out for both gates. That’s the nature of military bases. There’s little the NHL or its teams or the staff on base could do to control the traffic side of things, which is what the Air Force Athletics member also said. And the muddy pregame festivities outside of Falcon Stadium can’t be blamed on the league either — that comes with the territory of hosting an outdoor game in the mountains, as snow and ice from last week’s winter storm is in the process of melting.
But the lack of concessions, facilities and staff members available at Falcon Stadium is completely on the NHL, however. And at the end of the day, the event was held at a secured 29 square mile active military base. And that was probably the real issue here.
The idea of having the game on a military base is all well and good and great for marketing, until it’s not. Could the NHL have done a better job of scouting the premises and forecasting issues — such as traffic — before they allowed an at-capacity crowd storm a military base? Sure. Could they have brought in more concession options, restroom facilities and staff members to help with the massive influx of hockey fans? Absolutely.
But at the end of the day, is there really anything the league or the Air Force Academy could do about the traffic? No, probably not. Only two lanes of traffic to enter and exit, one at the North gate and one at the South, and 43,574 people will forever be a maddening and poor combination.
All the pomp and circumstance of the NHL’s mid-season spectacle of an event was completely shrouded in its poor execution. Then mix all that off-ice drama with the uninspiring, largely-boring on-ice product, and the 2020 Stadium Series was just a complete disaster for most.
The pang of the Avs’ last-minute loss may not have hurt so bad had fans not been subject to the lack of food and facilities, or had they not had to wait hours upon hours of sitting in infuriating, flow-less traffic.
After all, the National Hockey League is an entertainment business, and on Saturday they forgot about the most important part of that — the fan experience.