Almost 11 hours later, Avalanche fans can breathe a sigh of relief. The Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights finally concluded their game at Lake Tahoe. The sun had its way with ice surface, causing a delay that saw the game end around 2 AM EST. But, the Avs won 3-2, fighting to the very end to win their first game out in the open air.
The chaotic circumstances should have been expected, because after all, the Avalanche were playing outdoors. Despite the win, this game was just more proof that the two don’t mix.
The historical precedent for this affair was not kind to the Avalanche. The first time Colorado hosted one of the NHL’s prized Stadium Series matches was on Feb. 27, 2016. The long-despised Detroit Red Wings came to Coors Field, which was decorated to celebrate Colorado’s wintry features (ironically, the temperature at puck drop was 65 degrees; the warmest ever for a Stadium Series game).
Overall, it was a smooth event that featured an alumni game, a beautiful sunset, and a competitive contest. The only hiccup for Avalanche fans, outside of flurries of fake snow, was the dagger Brad Richards scored with exactly one minute left to put the Red Wings ahead 4-3. It was painful, and dented the Avalnche’s (unrealistic) playoff hopes. But that just means that next time Colorado went outdoors, it could get even better, right?
The Many Problems of Air Force Academy Game
Glenn Janke has been a season ticket holder for the Avalanche each of the last eight seasons. He was in the building the night Colorado triumphed over the New Jersey Devils in Game 7 of the 2001 Stanley Cup Final. He’s been to countless games over the years, through the team’s highs and lows.
For him, last year’s outdoor game was certainly an experience to remember. He was fortunate enough to beat I-25 traffic on the way down, arriving at the Air Force Academy a couple of hours before puck drop. Others were not so fortunate. The interstate was packed with travelers heading south from Denver to Colorado Springs, with construction serving as an extra obstacle along the way. There only being two entrances onto the Air Force Base didn’t make it any easier for the travelling masses to reach their destination.
According to Glenn, about half the stadium was full in time for puck drop. But as more and more people trickled in, there became a new problem — space to breathe came at a premium. Lines for the bathrooms, lines for the souvenirs, lines for concessions. Those lines remained stagnant, too, meaning people missed some, if not all of, the main event:
“There was a family behind us, a mom, dad and two boys… they got up just before the end of the 1st period, and they went to the bathroom and concessions, they got back to their seats just before the start of the third period.” – Glenn Janke
The clusters of people led to plenty of chaos. Glenn was sitting just behind the handicap deck, watching as opportunistic lurkers found uninhabited seats that belong to people yet to arrive. When they did finally reach their seats, many of the poachers refused to relent their spots, sometimes by just ignoring the rightful owners.
Glenn lamented, “(It) made me lose all faith in humanity.” But, that was just a symptom of the dog-eat-dog atmosphere inside the Air Force Academy that night.
Erica Brohousen, the creator of the Facebook group Avs Brigade, was prepared for what that day was going to bring. She arrived at the Fan Fair prior to the game as soon as it opened, having gotten into a hotel near the base the night before. She was ready for the security entrances, in fact, she was surprised by how quickly that process went. The only thing that surprised her (and many others) was sudden shortage of food and drinks. But other than that, she had a good experience.
“There were far more people than during a football game so venders were under prepared & under stocked for the volume of people there.” -Erica Brohousen
Others were not so fortunate, especially during the mass exodus after the event. Only two exits meant standstill for hours on end. Adding to the problem — all rideshare services were not allowed on the base after the game, much to the surprise of many who didn’t have other means of transportation.
Stranded, many began the long march of over two miles back towards civilization. The temperature had dropped below freezing, and minimal lighting was available. Whether by foot or in gridlock, many suffered for for three or four hours while trying to exit.
Truly, the experience wasn’t all bad. Much of it went really well, in fact. The Fan Fair before the game was well received. The NHL did well to honor the Air Force, and the opening flyover was quite good (of course). The in-arena setup was well-designed and presented well. The league has evolved and perfected the way they present their outdoor events, something that was obvious in its 30th rendition.
The game itself went smoothly, all things considered. The Avalanche peppered Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick all night, and made the score 1-1 in the second period off of a Sam Girard wrister. But despite a solid performance, the Avs were outdueled by Tyler Toffoli, who scored a hat trick in the Kings’ 3-1 victory.
Of course, the last two of those goals came in the final minute of the contest, meaning Colorado lost in the last minute of two straight Stadium Series games. The hockey gods are known for their cruelty, after all.
Outdoor games have almost become synonymous with the NHL product over the last decade. Many of them have been fantastic events, true milestones in the history of the league. But they aren’t all going to go smoothly, as seems to be the case for any of them involving the Avalanche. The third time turned out to be the charm for the team, earning a hard-fought two points over a strong division rival.
But perhaps, for Colorado’s and the NHL’s sake, they should consider staying indoors from now on.