Avalanche Fly Into Air Force Academy Stadium Series

If you haven’t been following the Colorado Avalanche, you may have missed hearing about the upcoming outdoor game. But it’s happening. Saturday, Feb. 15, the Avalanche will be hosting the Kings of Los Angeles in an NHL Stadium Series game at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Despite the lack of wide-ranging attention, a lot of effort has been poured into preparing for the event.

Questionable Jerseys

The game itself hasn’t garnered much notice but the jerseys generated plenty of attention, not all of it positive.

The Avalanche will be sporting a fairly simple jersey. It’s bright blue on the top, burgundy on the bottom, and sports a big white ‘A’ on the front. The ‘A’ contains a couple of smaller white triangles to honor the unique architecture of the academy’s chapel and the mountains. According to the NHL, the colors are intended to reflect Colorado’s blue skies, red rocks, and snow-covered mountains.

The jersey also boasts the largest re-designed logo for an Adidas pro jersey. They also added a graphic “inspired by the Colorado State Flag” on the back of the neckline. One of the truly unique features relates to the logo on the front, which isn’t a different material than the rest of the jersey. There aren’t the ridges or stiffness on the logo like on a regular team sweater. The stadium series shoulder patch includes the image of a jet flying past the chapel.

The new design drew a lot of mixed reviews, with many people criticizing the initial photos. The critiques were so pervasive, when captain Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar showed up for a video shoot in the new jerseys, they were surprised.

Rantanen commented, “They actually look great.” Landeskog added, “They look better live than they do in pictures.” Makar added, “Gabe told me they look better in person and it actually does. It looks a lot better.”

Their surprise reveals just how poorly the initial photos fared.

Gabriel Landeskog Colorado Avalanche
Gabriel Landeskog showed his surprise with the Stadium Series jersey. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Los Angeles Kings will wear a two-tone diagonally split jersey with black on top and white on the bottom. They bear a simple white ‘LA’ as their logo. It’s minimal and clean but rather tame. The Kings released pictures of their chrome helmets as well, sporting a shiny look to spice up their uniform.

Both jerseys could have issues with fans being able to read the numbers on the back. While the numbers are large, they are also white, with a slim colored outline. The Avalanche jersey has a white bar running through the middle and the Kings’ jersey has the numbers running through the white bottom half. Depending on the lights and whether there’s snow, the backs could be hard to read.

Big Construction

While the jerseys may be questionable, the effort to put together a first-class experience has been top-notch. The 45,000-seat Falcon stadium will be only the second military academy to host a stadium series matchup.

The NHL aims to make the football field around the rink look like a runway. There will be special lighting, an F-16 fighter jet, and plenty of other flying related pieces throughout the stadium.

Steve Mayer, an NHL executive vice president, stated, “My goal is when someone tunes in to watch a game, no matter where they live or are watching the game, they know the second they tune in they’re watching a game at the Air Force Academy.

Crews arrived on Feb. 4 to start work on the field, removing snow and putting down panels over the turf. The NHL estimated it would use 20,000 gallons of water to make the ice two-inches thick. They also used 350 gallons of water-soluble paint to make the surface look white.

Moving the fighter jet onto the field required it to go through a tunnel and down a ramp. The F-16 cleared the tunnel by one inch. Not a lot of margin for error there. Since the Fighting Falcon is an important part of their flying legacy, it’s not surprising the Air Force went all out to make a good impression while showcasing their traditions.

The crew also built a stage on the field next to the fighter jet where country star Sam Hunt will be performing. It’s the first time the Air Force has allowed anything to be built on the field outside of what was necessary for sports.

Busy Fan Experience

The jerseys stirred interest and the construction was elaborate. However, the Stadium Series isn’t just about window dressing. Both the NHL and the Air Force Academy are going to great lengths to make the fan experience memorable.

The Pregame Fan Festival runs from 1:00 P.M. to 5:30 P.M.  There should be plenty to do. Fans can have their picture taken with the Stanley Cup as well join in a host of events. Interactive activities include a hockey puck drop game, video booths so fans can film their own stick tap, test how fast they can shoot, tryout their stick skills in a shooting drill, play bubble hockey and collect trading cards.

There will also be music, refreshments, and hockey puck wall art. Mr. Peanut will show up in the Nutmobile, there will be chances to win prizes and even the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile will make an appearance. There’s also some kind of “luxury tailgating experience” – whatever that means. Either way, there should be plenty of things to keep fans busy and entertained before the matchup even starts.

But wait, there’s more. Though the game is set to start at 6 P.M., on-field festivities will begin at 5:30. More than 1,000 Air Force cadets will participate before sitting on the field near the rink to watch the game.

Three Colorado-based Buckley Air Force F-16’s will do a flyover along with a KC-10 from California’s Travis Air Force Base. The Air Force Academy’s 94th Flying Training Squadron will do an aerial demonstration. The academy’s parachute demonstration team will present the game puck. A service dog will participate in the puck drop. And, the Academy’s acapella group will perform.

2020 Stadium Series
(Courtesy Chris Creamer http://www.sportslogos.net/index.php)

The stage where Sam Hunt will be performing after the first period is designed to look like a helipad, complete with the capital letter ‘H’ adorning the platform. The runway has actual working lights. There are even windsocks around the field.

The NHL and the Academy went all out to make this Stadium Series a unique experience. And that’s all before the hockey even starts.

Avalanche Take on the Kings

In case anyone forgot, there will actually be an NHL game played too. The points count for the regular season so the outcome will matter, despite the festive surroundings.

The Avalanche are vying for first place in the Central Division while the Kings are languishing at the bottom of the Pacific. But the Kings have frequently proven to be a foil for the Avalanche’s goals. Whether the big stage will draw out the Kings or propel Colorado to the top of the standings remains to be seen.

Matt Nieto Colorado Avalanche
Colorado Avalanche aim to celebrate home ice advantage in the postseason (Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports)

Puck drop between the Avalanche and the Kings will be at 6 P.M. MST, shortly after sunset. It is an outdoor game so the weather will play a factor. The field is in a natural bowl but it’s not likely to offer much shelter from the wind. The metal seats are liable to get cold as the temperatures drop after sundown.

The forecast predicts a partly cloudy day with the high around 38 degrees Fahrenheit and the low getting to 24 degrees Fahrenheit. Fans should be well-bundled, and bringing blankets may be a wise option.

The Avalanche are aiming to bounce back from a disappointing loss to the Washington Capitals that ended their five-game winning streak. The Kings look to play spoiler. Hopefully, the heat between the teams will translate to the fans and put the finishing touches on a unique hockey experience.

Both the NHL and the Air Force went to great lengths to make this Stadium Series matchup one to remember. Soon, the fans and the teams will determine whether their efforts were successful.