The Colorado Avalanche may be a smaller market team but they came up big at the NHL All-Star festivities. The players proved worthy of the recognition and the organization made a stunning public relations move. NHL hockey may never be the same and the Avalanche’s top trio earned some respect. Among the media frenzy surrounding hockey’s best players gathered together, the Avalanche walked away with the best prize – legitimately winning fans to the game.
Mikko Rantanen’s Impressive Debut
It all started with winger Mikko Rantanen. Rantanen, second in the league in points, provided plenty of comedy in interviews with fellow teammate Gabriel Landeskog. Rantanen also represented Finland well, posing with fellow countrymen and NHL players Sebastian Aho, Pekka Rinne and Miro Heiskanen. He handled the media scrutiny with an amazing amount of poise for a 22-year-old.
Though Rantanen struggled with a section in the Premier Passer competition, he seemed able to laugh it off. In the end, it didn’t really matter. Rantanen stepped up where it counted – in the games. The young Finn proved he deserved every bit of recognition he’s received.
Less than a minute into the Central Division’s first game (against the Pacific), the team ran out an ironic line combination, sending Landeskog and Rantanen out with former Avalanche center Ryan O’Reilly (now with the St. Louis Blues). Rantanen scored the first goal exactly one minute into the contest. He went on to rack up another goal as well as an assist over the course of the game, earning three points against the Pacific.
While the rest of the Central team struggled in their later matchup against the Metropolitan, Rantanen managed to tally two more goals and an assist, for his second three-point effort of the night. Over the course of the two games, he tallied four goals and two assists for a combined six-point night.
Gabriel Landeskog Scored a Hat Trick
Landeskog, the Avalanche’s captain, was not to be outdone by his linemate. While he entered the All-Star Game on the Last Man In vote (after the Avalanche ran a creative campaign), Landeskog proved the ultimate ambassador for hockey. He came across in interviews as humble and polite as he went so far as to say he never viewed himself as an All-Star.
Landeskog came across as excited and he looked to be savoring every experience, a nice contrast to some players who appeared to just be going through the motions. He admitted to being nervous during the skills competition when he uncharacteristically dropped the puck twice. Landeskog portrayed the quintessential everyman, happy to be there and soaking up every minute, and then he dropped the hammer and proved he deserved an All-Star spot.
“To be honest, I never saw myself as an All Star.”
— Colorado Avalanche (@Avalanche) January 25, 2019
In the Central’s matchup against the Pacific, Landeskog scored 33 seconds after Rantanen’s opening tally, helping the Central to a quick lead which never really seemed in jeopardy. He racked up two more tallies in the second period. His hat trick was only the second one scored since the NHL shifted to the new format. Not bad for a guy who wasn’t initially selected. And, oh yeah, he also managed to get an assist in the matchup, too.
In the second game, the Central struggled to get on the board. Landeskog finally broke the team’s scoring drought, hitting the net just over a minute into the second period. He later contributed two assists as the Central lost to the Metropolitan Division 10-5.
Landeskog and Rantanen combined for eight of the Central’s 15 goals scored in the tournament. They both scored as many goals as the MVP – Sidney Crosby. Landeskog earned seven points (four goals, three assists) over the two matchups – just one assist shy of Crosby. Rantanen racked up six points (four goals, two assists).
Between the two of them, Landeskog and Rantanen combined for eight goals and five assists for 13 points. The Avalanche duo came in one point behind the 14 points by Pittsburgh Penguins Crosby and Kris Letang. Yeah, Landeskog and Rantanen showed their skill, garnered some attention and earned some respect. Not a bad weekend. But the Avalanche had an ace up their sleeve.
Nathan MacKinnon Used Injury to Open a Door
Nathan MacKinnon injured his foot after taking a puck to his skate in the Avalanche’s final game before the break. Though he had been selected as the Central’s captain, he ended up serving as an assistant coach, encouraging and directing players from the bench. With his cup of coffee.
In a brilliant move, the Avalanche posted a tweet saying MacKinnon wanted USA women’s hockey player Kendall Coyne Schofield to compete in the Fastest Skater skills competition in his place.
— Kendall Coyne Schofield (@KendallCoyne) January 25, 2019
She became the first woman to compete in the NHL All-Star skills competition. At 5-foot-2, the 26-year-old forward played on last year’s U.S. Women’s Olympic hockey team that won a gold medal. She currently plays for the NWHL’s Minnesota Whitecaps.
Coyne Schofield was originally attending the All-Star festivities to participate in the demonstration of the skills events the NHL players would be competing in, along with Rebecca Johnston (Puck Control), Brianna Decker (Premier Passer) and Renata Fast (Accuracy Shooting). A few hours before the skills competition was to start, she was asked to step in for MacKinnon.
She proved she belonged as she sped around the ice, clocking a time of 14.346, less than a second behind three-time winner – Connor McDavid. Coyne Schofield did something else. She finished faster than Clayton Keller of the Arizona Coyotes. While she finished seventh, Coyne Schofield proved that women’s hockey had come a long way.
Fellow teammate Brianna Decker bested the men in the NHL passing competition with an unofficial time quicker than Leon Draisaitl. Although she was there to demonstrate the skills event and wasn’t actually there to compete, CCM later said they would pay her the $25,000 prize money for her impressive performance.
Between Coyne Schofield actually competing with the NHL men in Fastest Skater and Decker besting them in the Premier Passer, women’s hockey took a huge step forward. The Avalanche were at the forefront of the breakthrough and earned some new followers as a result.
The Avalanche Made the Biggest Splash
While the All-Star events are mostly an entertaining opportunity to see some of the best NHL players show their stuff, this one will stand out, especially for the Avalanche.
Landeskog and Rantanen proved they could put on a show, even without their skilled linemate – MacKinnon. MacKinnon proved a good sport by taking a role behind the bench and offering his skills spot to the first woman ever to compete in an All-Star event.
And the Avalanche public relations train built momentum for the team’s image while gaining some new fans. Name another team that accomplished as much from an All-Star event. The Avalanche truly were this season’s All-Star MVPs.
J.D. has followed the Colorado Avalanche since the days of Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg. Blessed to cover the team for nearly 5 seasons, 3 of those at other venues, J.D. enjoys working with the Hockey Writers. Proud parent of three humans and two dogs, you can follow all the escapades @JDKpirate.