NCAA Football

25 Avalanche Sightings: A Vancouver Circus, the Saddledome’s Weird Jump, More

DENVER – As the first half of the regular season drew to a close, the Avalanche lost to Chicago, then the bottom team in the league. It was Colorado’s seventh loss in eight games. The defending champions looked lost.

“I think the Chicago game might have been a little bit of a wakeup call for us,” Evan Rodrigues said. “Maybe this is something we needed.”

Colorado hasn’t lost since. After beating Ottawa and Detroit at home, the Avalanche went on the road and took down Calgary, Vancouver and Seattle. They are now 25-17-3 and, entering play Monday, are tied for eighth in the West in scoring percentage. With the team playing better, let’s look at some scenes and anecdotes from the recent road trip for this week’s observations column. I have 25 observations in honor of Logan O’Connor’s jersey number:

1. In Calgary, half a dozen Avalanche players visited O’Connors, a men’s clothing store owned and operated by Logan O’Connor’s family.

“Got a few things, saw his dad, stuff like that,” said Andrew Cogliano, who bought a few shirts. “It was pretty cool.”

2. I was curious if coach Jared Bednar looks at metrics like expected goals and goals for possession during the game or if he coaches purely based on feel. He said he actually looks between periods during the game to get a feel for things.

3. Nikita Zadorov, who is responsible for many of the jokes about Nathan MacKinnon’s intensity thanks to a 2021 interview, came to the Avalanche locker room after the game. He laughed with MacKinnon as the center did his cooldown on the exercise bike, then got a hug from Mikko Rantanen.

4. Calgary native Cale Makar, who could return from an upper-body injury Tuesday, watched the Flames game from the press box. To get back to the lower level, however, he had to go to an elevator through a hallway open to the public. Not surprisingly, he was stopped by a fan looking for a photo. He obliged as the injured Josh Manson, who was not stopped, chuckled.

5. It felt like there were some strange ricochets off the boards in the Saddledome. Nathan MacKinnon agreed.

“Strange rejections,” he said. “In the first one, I had to pick up a card from the wall when Weegar knocked it. It just went 10 feet more than I thought. The angle was right on my ribbon, so it was just weird. Maybe it was more bouncy than usual, but sometimes there would be a dead jump. It’s an old rink.”

6. Darryl Sutter is direct in his press conferences, and he rattled off seven simple words of praise when asked about Mikko Rantanen.

“He’s a star,” he said. “He’s a big guy. He’s a stud. He plays to win. He has a championship. He plays all three positions. He’s an All-Star.”

Sutter got all that out in six seconds. That’s a speed of more than one sentence per second!

7. Rantanen found out he had been voted into the All-Star Game prior to the Calgary game. Colorado’s star players have played heavy minutes this season, but Rantanen will miss some rest heading into All-Star weekend.

“It’s a great honor,” he said. “It’s only my second time. I can’t really say I don’t like it. I understand guys like (Alex) Ovechkin and the guys who’ve been there eight, nine times, it’s probably nice not to think about hockey for a week. But for me, I don’t think there is such a thing.”

Rantanen said he was in a win-win situation. If he hadn’t been voted in, he would have gone on holiday.

MacKinnon was Colorado’s second late addition to the All-Star Game. So Makar, Rantanen and MacKinnon are the team’s three representatives.

8. The game with the Flames meant an Avalanche reunion with Nazem Kadri going to the All-Star Game as Calgary’s representative. He reminisced a bit about the Stanley Cup run, noting that it took “a while” to fully recover from the broken thumb he suffered in the Edmonton series. That injury kept him out for four games, but he rushed back into action in time for Game 4 of the Cup Final. He scored the overtime winner that game.

By game 6, he said, the pins in his thumb stuck out. He had to retire them after the playoffs.

“It wasn’t much fun,” he said, “but in the end it was worth it.”

9. Kadri received his Stanley Cup ring when Colorado played in Calgary in October, and he said he looks at it occasionally.

“Every time you’re in a bit of a funk, you have a little peak and then you start to feel good again,” he said.

10. Makar didn’t play on this road trip, but he got plenty of praise while in Calgary, his hometown.

“He’s probably asking for more ice time,” Sutter said when asked about Makar’s gaudy time on ice totals this season. “I coached two guys who won championships, won Norrises, were all-stars: Chris Chelios and Drew Doughty. They wanted more ice time. They wanted the whole game. That’s the class.”

Added Flames defenseman Rasmus Andersson: “With the year Cale had last year, winning the Cup and the Conn Smythe and the Norris, when I look at it right now, he’s got to be the best defenseman in the world.”

11. The Bruce Boudreau mess came to a head while Colorado was in Vancouver. The coach had not yet been fired prior to the Avalanche game, but it was clear that a change was coming. Rick Tocchet was already the rumored replacement, and Boudreau knew his days as a head coach were numbered. Before the Avalanche game, he looked emotional when asked if he would enjoy the Canucks’ two games this weekend, knowing what was likely to come.

“I’d be a fool to say I don’t know what’s going on,” he said. “But you get to work and you realize how great the game is.”

By shutting out the noise: “You love it. You want to go and do it. That’s how you shut it out.”

When asked what head coaching in the NHL means to him, he smiled and excused himself, politely saying he would talk later.

12. I asked a Canucks player how he was doing, and he said it was “a circus like always.”

13. “Bruce, there it is,” exclaimed Vancouver during the Avalanche game. It’s fair to say that some of the fans didn’t love how the team treated Boudreau.

14. The fans were not alone in their displeasure. The Canucks organization took plenty of heat over the weekend for its handling of Boudreau. Andrew Cogliano, who played for the coach in Anaheim, gave his opinion after the Colorado-Vancouver game.

15. Vancouver announced on Sunday that they were, in fact, changing coaches. The team also announced it would hire Avalanche great Adam Foote as an assistant. Foote, whose number is retired at Ball Arena, had done television analysis for Avalanche games at Altitude.

16. Canucks captain Bo Horvat had good insight in discussing MacKinnon.

“Obviously, his speed is incredible and how his hands go with it,” he said. “A lot of guys are fast in this league, but to mix (that and the hands) both together (is impressive). And then you add the smarts and playability. Him and Connor (McDavid) are so similar in that way. It’s hard to play against, but it’s fun to watch.”

Horvat is arguably the biggest name in trade speculation heading into the March 3 deadline, and The athletic’s Harman Dayal listed the Avalanche as one of the teams that could fit.

17. Defenseman Brad Hunt, who is from just outside of Vancouver and played for the Canucks last year, is a popular guy in his hometown. Members of the media covering the Canucks came to the Avalanche locker room to talk to him after the morning skate, and the conversation ended up turning to his positive outlook on life.

“If you see someone struggling on the street, if you say ‘hello’ to them, it can change their day for the better,” he said. “You don’t know what that person is going through and they don’t know what you’re going through. You just try to be as happy as you can all the time and try to help others.”

Boudreau, who coached him in both Vancouver and Minnesota, praised the defender’s presence.

“He still comes to the rink every day and feels great and wants to play and loves the game,” he said. “How you can dislike a guy like that is beyond me.”

18. Hunt’s parents were at the Avalanche-Canucks game, as well as some friends. They saw him score his third goal of the season, a blast from just in front of the blue line.

“It was on the edge so it was flat against the blade,” he said. “They’re the good ones.”

He knew he got it all, he said, but had no idea where it was going. Fortunately for him, it hit at the end of the night.

19. The Avalanche got two five-on-three power plays against the Canucks, and they converted on both. With Makar out, Bednar put five forwards on the ice for both two-man advantages: MacKinnon, Rantanen, Rodrigues, Artturi Lehkonen and JT Compher. Bednar said he thought grouping would be his most dangerous option, and he also liked having Compher on the ice because of his ability to win faceoffs.

20. With a high-sticking penalty in the first against Vancouver, a tripping penalty in the second and a slashing penalty in the third, Andrew Cogliano had three minor penalties in the game, all of different kinds, all in different periods. I think there should be a name for it.

21. The Oilers, who played the Canucks on Saturday, were already in Vancouver when the puck dropped to the Canucks-Avalanche on Friday. That meant the press box was packed with Oilers brass, including general manager Ken Holland and head coach Jay Woodcroft. Assistant Dave Manson, father of Avalanche defenseman Josh Manson, was also there.

22. With Colorado’s shootout win in Seattle, Bednar tied Michel Bergeron for most coaching wins in franchise history. They both have 265, and Bednar will have a chance to break the record Tuesday against the Capitals.

23. Bednar didn’t see his team win No. 265. Interestingly, he said he doesn’t see shootouts, he said after the win in Seattle.

“I’m just staring at the sky,” he said.

Is it superstition?

“I’m not really superstitious,” he said after the game. “But I never watch a shootout until after. I’ll watch it tomorrow.”

24. Avalanche-turned-Kraken forward Joonas Donskoi caught up with former teammates after the Seattle game, including Pavel Francouz and Mikko Rantanen. He has yet to play this year after suffering an upper body injury during training camp.

25. Alexandar Georgiev takes advantage of his time on the road. In Vancouver, he and Francouz took a seaplane over the water. One of Georgiev’s friends recommended he check it out.

“We were lucky with the day,” said the goalkeeper. “It was beautiful. Clear skies and all.”

He also walked around Seattle and saw Seattle Spheres and Pike Place Market.

“You have to use (the chance) to explore,” Georgiev. “I definitely missed that during the COVID seasons, sitting in your hotel room and feeling miserable. It’s definitely more fun to be out doing something.”

(Photo: Sergei Belski / USA Today)

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