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The Colorado Rockies are one of the worst teams in Major League Baseball and surpassed 100 losses this season—a record even for them. The Denver Broncos have cycled through ineffective quarterbacks and logged just one winning season since Peyton Manning retired following the 2015 season. The Nuggets are all kinds of fun—I mean, have you seen this Nikola Jokić guy?—and are about to open their first season as defending NBA Champs.
But who’s the consistent crown jewel of Denver sports? The Colorado Avalanche. Since relocating to Colorado in summer 1995 from Quebec City, Canada, the Avs have hoisted three Stanley Cup banners to the rafters of Ball Arena (most recently in 2022) and defined themselves as the best professional sports team in the Mile High City. The Avs stayed at the top of the pack throughout the regular season last year with more than 100 points scored, largely thanks to Nathan MacKinnon (one of the best hockey players alive) and Cale Makar (this generation’s Bobby Orr, according to the Great One himself).
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So if there were ever a time to become an Avs fan, it’s now. In anticipation of the team’s first regular season game on October 11 against the Los Angeles Kings, we put together a beginner’s guide to understanding the team, so you can act like you’ve been paying attention all along.
The Avs have nothing against young players, and it’s worked in their favor. Gabriel Landeskog was the youngest captain in NHL history (19 years, nine months, and 13 days) at the time he was given the role. Cale Makar came screaming onto the ice straight from the University of Massachusetts and the Frozen Four final to score his first NHL goal in Game 3 of the first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when he was just 20 years old. Nathan MacKinnon holds an insane number of “youngest player to ___” records: youngest player to suit up for an Avs regular season game, youngest player to have back-to-back two-goal games (2014), youngest player to earn the Calder Memorial Trophy, youngest player in Avs history to record a hat trick… you get the point.
New Kids on the Ice
The Avalanche’s front office was busy this offseason building on the team’s already robust roster. Here are four new Avs additions to watch this season:
Don’t let that devilish—toothless—hockey grin distract you: Miles Wood came back from a hip surgery swinging with the New Jersey Devils and tallied 27 points (13 goals, 14 assists) last season. The forward, who has a penchant for ending up in the penalty box, racked up a career 148 points for the Devils since his 2015 rookie season and promises to bring the same rugged playing style to the Avs. He’s signed to a six-year contract with an average annual value of $2.4 million. (The jury’s still out on who has the better hockey smile, Wood or MacKinnon.)
Ross Colton could bring a spark to the Avs, as he did during his time with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Colton scored the cup-clinching goal for the Bolts in Game 5 of the 2021 final. He put up 32 points (16 goals, 16 assists) in his last season with the Lightning, and they were fun points to watch—general manager Chris MacFarland calls Colton physical, versatile, and ultra-competitive. Colton was ranked second among Lightning forwards in hits (153 touches) and second on Tampa Bay in faceoff wins (52.2 percent). He agreed to a four-year contract with an annual average salary of $4 million.
Avs enthusiasts’ eyes also will be on Jonathan Drouin this season to see if he can fill the big Swedish skates of captain Gabriel Landeskog, who will likely sit out the whole season due to a knee injury. Drouin will join Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon, the other two-thirds of the NHL’s greatest line. Drouin and MacKinnon already have proven chemistry on the ice: The two played together for the Halifax Mooseheads, a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, a decade ago and helped the franchise win its first league title. Drouin is signed to a one-year, $825,000 contract.
Matthew Stienburg brings a family legacy to the Avs: His father played for the Quebec Nordiques (i.e., the Avs before the franchise moved to Colorado and changed its name in the mid-1990s). The star forward logged 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in his 73 career NCAA games at Cornell University and would have surely added more if he hadn’t sustained an injury in December of his senior year. Stienburg has already scored one preseason goal for the Avs, and that’s likely just the start. The 22-year-old signed a two-year, entry-level deal with the Avs.
Don’t Make Nathan MacKinnon Angry
MacKinnon isn’t just one of the best hockey players in the world, he’s also one of the most intense. He pushes everyone on the team to be better—including his coaches. (The center has been known to argue with his higher-ups on the bench.) When he’s angry, MacKinnon can dismantle an entire opposing team by himself for a goal (see below). Sometimes, he doesn’t even smile after such efforts. When he does, though—watch out. There’s likely more to come.
🗣️🎙️Lol yo the best part about Alex Pietrangelo being mic’d up for Nathan MacKinnon’s goal last night?
— Ryan Greene 📷 (@RyanGreeneDNVR) February 21, 2021
The Best Defense is a Good Offense
Cale Makar, Devon Toews, and Sam Girard are all adept at providing protection for their goaltenders. But their passing abilities and speed also add to the team’s offensive firepower, making them some of the most well-rounded defenseman in the league.
We just need to look at this Cale Makar snipe again.
— Colorado Avalanche (@Avalanche) May 9, 2021
Joe Sakic’s Roster-Building Superpowers
The Avs have some of the league’s best players at each position, and the credit there goes to Avs legend Joe Sakic, who was the team’s general manager for nearly eight years. In 2022, he ceded the GM title to longtime assistant Chris MacFarland and took on the new mantle of president of hockey operations. Sakic was the architect of a roster transformation that began with dealing away disgruntled superstar Matt Duchene in 2017 (in the middle of a game) and continued with building the powerhouse team—namely Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Devon Toews—that took home the Stanley Cup in 2022.
Bednar Can Coach
Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar is the winningest head coach in team history. But his beginning with the team in 2016 was rough: The previous head coach, Patrick Roy, quit right before the season, and Bednar watched his squad turn in one of the NHL’s worst full-season performances in decades. The Avs stuck with Bednar, though, and he’s used his innovative schemes and even-keeled Canadian demeanor to propel the franchise to the top of the league, multiple times.
Rivalries to Root For
What do we love about sports more than rivalries? Besides the snacks, not much. The Colorado Avalanche’s deep-seated rivalry with the Detroit Red Wings began in the 1996 playoffs when Avalanche forward Claude Lemieux delivered a suspension-inducing hit to Kris Draper from the back. (Draper had his jaw wired shut for weeks.) When the teams met again on March 26, 1997, it was an all-out brawl. The game descended into chaos, ending with 18 fighting major penalties and earning the moniker “Fight Night at the Joe.”
While not as high profile, the Mile High City’s rivalry with the Windy City’s Blackhawks is no less potent. Denver met Chicago in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each of the Av’s first two seasons, and the blood boiled from the start. (In 1996, Colorado beat the Blackhawks then went on to sweep the Florida Panthers and hoist their first cup, which the 70-year-strong Chicago-based team wasn’t thrilled about.) The rivalry has ebbed and flowed since the Av’s creation, but it brings a whole different energy level to Ball Arena when the Blackhawks come to town.
Where to Catch the Game
The Avalanche’s home ice at Ball Arena is always the best place to see the boys play, but if you can’t make it downtown, there are a few other options. The games will be available on local sports network Altitude, which is still unavailable to Comcast and Dish Network subscribers because of a continued contract dispute. If you don’t have, say, DirecTV, you can always hit one of the Avs-faithful bars that will typically have the game on multiple screens.