Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Light

I have gone to six Avs games this year. That's more than I've gone to in the previous four seasons combined (during which time I went to zero games - I was at college in a different state, that's my excuse). I don't even remember the last time I went to one before this season.

This year, I have been to every kind of game.

November 19th, vs. the New York Rangers. Oh man, these were the days. Goals getting scored all over the place. Avs took this one 5-1. Duchene got crosschecked in the face, didn't get a call on it, and then got super pissed and went on a scoring rampage. In the end he had a goal and two assists. The Rangers switched out Henrik "Dark Horse in the Hunt for the Vezina Trophy According to" Lundqvist, and then the Avs promptly scored on the backup guy. The little kid sitting behind me said, "they should get BOTH goalies out there!" and it was the most adorable thing to ever be adorable.

(Also in that game: Kevin Shattenkirk's second NHL goal. STILL MISSIN' HIM. Got his first goal as a Blue last night!)

December 17, vs. the Ottawa Senators. This was one of those back and forth games, trading goals all night. Ryan O'Reilly tied it up at the last minute, and then it was Dutchy and Flash who were the difference in OT. It's funny now, because we have since traded goalies. And it's funny that we beat Elliot in overtime, given how he's played the last couple games for us.

Favorite moment from this game: when Duchene scores on the 5 on 3, then points up to cue the goal horn.

February 5, vs. the Anaheim Ducks. Not a whole lot to say about this one. They got shut out, 3-0, and I discovered exactly how much I want to punch Corey Perry in the face. I had splurged and spent some real money for decent tickets to this game, and then it was depressing and nothing good happened.

Februray 14, vs. the Calgary Flames. Yeah, I went to this game. I've talked about it on here before. Valentine's Day is already depressing, but then Peter Forsberg retired, and then the Avs lost 9-1, their losing streak reached new and epic proportions with the most spectacular loss in Avalanche history, and to top it off, Duchene and Gaunce both got hurt (Gaunce was fine though, whereas Duchene ended up missing two games because of a hand injury). Gaunce was a trooper though - he took a puck to the leg and was clearly suffering, but he kept playing until the ref noticed and blew the whistle.

It pains me to post this video, but here it is anyway.

Februray 23, vs. the Edmonton Oilers. They'd just managed to beat the Blues in St. Louis - right after that trade, so it was definitely an emotionally charged game - and I was on a high, so I splurged and went to this game at the last second, expecting them to be able to carry the momentum through to this one. They didn't, in any way.

This is the game where O'Byrne took a Taylor Hall skate to the face. Scary. I was up at the top of the nosebleeds and at the other end of the ice and I could still tell something really bad had just happened to him.

March 22, vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets. This game. THIS GAME. My throat is still raw from screaming so much, and that never happens to me. I've never screamed so much at a sporting event, not even in college. It was the best game I've ever gone to, bar none. It was sad because there were maybe, MAYBE 5,000 people there? They deserved a better crowd than that. But it was so loud by the end of the night that it felt full. When we were walking out, people were cheering and chanting like we'd just won a playoff round. And the light rail driver was honking a song at us when the train was pulling into the station. It was so perfect. If this is the last game I go to this year, I'll be okay with it.

It was Milan Hejduk's 900th game as an Av - the first guy to play all 900 of his career games in an Avalanche sweater. He got the gamewinner in the shootout. Duchene, again, took things into his own hands and scored two goals when we were down 3-1 to tie it, assists on both from little Mark Olver who is clearly still just thrilled to be here right now, who plays like he's six foot five instead of five foot ten, bless his little heart. Then Winnik, the other guy on the line with Duchene and Olver, scored the goal to tie it up again with three seconds left. I just... I can't even speak coherently about how much I loved this game, and how much I love this team.

My friend from Detroit, who naturally grew up as a Red Wings fan, came with me to this game, and even she was jumping around like crazy at the end.

But see, this is why you never give up on your team. They lose ten games in a row, then they win one, then they lose ten more, then they win another one, and then you take a chance and you show up expecting them to disappoint you and they go and pull something like this. Scoring to tie it up with three seconds left, then making impossible saves in overtime and winning in a shootout. This is the first time they've won at home in a long, long time, and this is the first time in a long time that they've given me something real to be proud of. Beating the Oilers? Nobody thinks that's cool. The Oilers (and the Sens! We're THIRD to last now!) are behind us in the standings. This game? This was a real one. And they came through. Not even Hunwick managed to screw it up (he even had two assists! Do you believe in miracles?!?!).

We're not making the playoffs, so this is about pride, now. They're playing for themselves, they're playing for us. They're playing because they want to prove to their fans that they aren't going to give up, so neither should we. That's what we're learning. That's what this is teaching all of us. There have been injuries, there have been trades, there have been unlucky bounces, there's been a lack of confidence, but these excuses only last for so long. Everybody knows that, including the guys. They've as much as come out and said that the fans deserve better (though I'd say that they probably deserve more loyal fans than they have).

I think what we're seeing right now - or at least, what we saw last night - is a team that is beyond tired of losing. I don't know what flipped the switch, but last night I saw a team that didn't quit, once. I saw a team that screwed up and then went out and fixed it. I saw a team that played with real heart, real passion that hasn't been there these past couple of months. I saw a team that is sick of being the butt of jokes, a team that wants to throw some wrenches in some playoff hopes, a team that will not go gentle into that good offseason. And that? Frankly, that warms my underdog-loving heart.

I'm not giving up on you, Avs. I believe in this team, and I'm looking forward to the future - the next ten games and beyond. It's gonna be quite a ride.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Statement of Intent

"Zest. Gusto. How rarely one hears these words used. How rarely do we see people living, or for that matter, creating by them. Yet if I were asked to name the most important items in a writer’s make-up, the things that shape his material and rush him along the road to where he wants to go, I could only warn him to look to his zest, see to his gusto."
-Ray Bradbury
Coming in June 2011: a blog about my life in L.A. Yes, the internet needs this.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

"Will the Avalanche Have to Leave Denver?"

They've won two Stanley Cups in the last sixteen seasons.

So, no.

Avalanche bloggers and people who comment on Avalanche blogs, you can stop saying things like this now. It's not gonna happen.

I've been seeing this sentiment floating around for a while now. People apparently haven't been going to games the way they used to. And by "the way they used to," they're usually talking about the fact that the Avalanche holds the NHL's record for most sellouts in a row. That's a streak that lasted about 11 years.

The problem with the way things are going with this team right now is that we were all spoiled by sixteenish years of relative success. They got us a Stanley Cup the first year they were here, and they made the playoffs every season for years. Now that they aren't as successful, now that we've lost our superstars, Avs fans are trying to figure out how to adjust.

I'm still trying to adjust. The first time they didn't make the playoffs was when I was at college, and I was so removed from it that I barely even noticed. This year, I'm in the thick of it, I'm here in the trenches with the team and the fans and everybody, suffering through it, trying to figure out how to be a fan of a team that loses.

I imagine a lot of people finally stopped caring about the Avs when Sakic retired. He was one of the last holdovers from the Good Old Days (Foote's the only one left, now). But that dude knew how to win, man! Am I right? Yes. I'm right. That's why he was the captain. That's why he was Super Joe.

The thing, though, is that Super Joe learned that stuff. The way he played, the stuff he did - those are things you have to learn. Most of the time, with few exceptions that require an indecent amount of natural ability (and names that rhyme with Blane Bretzky or Shmidney Frosby), you can't show up and automatically start winning championships. And even with guys like Gretzky and Crosby hanging around, you still don't always win. Everybody loses. Everybody goes through that, and everybody learns from that that losing sucks utterly, and that the only way to not feel the way you do after you lose is to play your ass off until you start winning again.

That's something Super Joe learned. Let's not forget that the Avs used to be the Nordiques. And the Nordiques truly, truly sucked for a while. There's a reason they got to draft guys like Eric Lindros, Mats Sundin and Owen Nolan. It's because they were terrible first. Super Joe suffered through multiple seasons where the Nordiques ended up with the number one draft pick. I'm sure he HAAAATED it. And I'm equally sure it helped shape him into the badass superstar two-time Stanley Cup champion he became.

Right now, the Avs are sitting uncomfortably at square one - the back of the net's hiding like Narnia, our defense is just barely getting back on their feet, the coaches and front office are both making confusing decisions, and nobody knows who to blame so everybody is blaming everyone. People are upset with guys like Matt Duchene because they aren't "delivering" like they're "supposed to," but that's because people are forgetting that not everybody is a Sidney and sometimes you gotta grow your own superstars. And superstars are grown through seasons like this one.

Right now, we're all trying to adjust. The guys are trying to figure out how to be the Avalanche without Sakic and Forsberg, trying to figure out how to live up to the ridiculously high expectations their fans have after so many years of success. We're trying to figure out how to be fans of a team that isn't as consistently fantastic as the Avs of the past. We're all learning together how much losing sucks.

The best part, though, is that we're also all learning how much better, how much more fun and more wonderful it's going to be when we're winning again.

And we will start winning again, no doubt about that. Maybe not this season, and - I don't want to say it, but - maybe not next season either. But it'll happen, and it's by no means far away. We just have to wait it out with them.

Sure, it'll be a bumpy ride. But bumpy rides are almost always the best kind, even if they do leave you with some bruises in inconvenient places.

They'll start winning again. Butts will be back in seats. And us? The fans who sat through 3-0, 5-1, even 9-1 losses and stayed until the final buzzer, the fans who loyally stood by them even though it sucked and it hurt and it made us sad (so very, very sad)?

We're the ones who get to say, "I told you so."