In one week's time, the intensity at Pepsi Center will be amped up for the Colorado's Avalanche's season opener against the Calgary Flames, the team it defeated in five games in the first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
This Thursday, however, offered a slightly different vibe at the arena, as fans poured in to watch an interactive practice and enjoy a free night of events and prizes at the Avalanche's second annual Fan Fest.
"I was surprised by the turnout--it was awesome to see that support," said forward Matt Calvert, who's entering his second year in Colorado. "Clearly they're as excited as we are for the start of the season, and they should be. We have an exciting roster in here, and it's going to be a fun year."
Practice featured a clear focus on offense, with rapid scoring opportunities energizing the crowd throughout the night as the club worked on its 3-on-3 play. After running through a few zone drills, the players participated in a 3-on-3 scrimmage--Team Burgundy versus Team White--as Altitude Sports' Marc Moser and Peter McNab provided live commentary in the arena. The Avalanche closed the practice with a shootout--won by rookie Cale Makar--before tossing t-shirts into the stands and signing sticks for a few lucky fans that won a chance to meet the players.
In addition to on-ice play, the night also included a "shoot for your seats" contest on the ice, photo opportunities with Avs alumni John-Michael Liles, John Mitchell and Pierre Turgeon and a Moser and McNab interview session with head coach Jared Bednar.
Though the night was intended primarily for fans, competition wasn't lost. Professional athletes don't shed their nature that easily, especially once they hear the live reactions.
"In the start I think guys are easing into it, and then once you get scored on, you get a little ticked off," Calvert said. "Once that happens, it gets competitive. Guys want to score and hear the cheers and have some fun."
Thursday's practice also provided a chance to sharpen some 3-on-3 skills and build chemistry with linemates. Some of the players are competing for one of the last few spots on the roster. Others, while perhaps secure in their role, are trying to find their rhythm and have a strong start to the new season.
No matter the specific situation, the last few camp sessions represent a critical time for the Avs.
"I think any time you work on 3-on-3, guys are so competitive out here, that it's going to be a good pace," said center Jayson Megna. "I think the time to feel things out has kind of come and gone. Guys have to start getting ready for the season because come Oct. 3, everything matters."
"We're going to see who's going to stick around for the final few spots," Calvert said. "This is going to be our group, and now it's about focusing. We have a few more hard practices (after the last preseason game on Saturday in Dallas) and then we'll be ready to go Thursday."
Bednar, for his part, left the event satisfied, both with his team and the turnout.
"I liked the energy in the building," Bednar said. "Our guys have been working hard and grinding through a lot of practices here lately and exhibition games. To be able to come out in front of our fans and have a little bit of fun and get the excitement up for the home opener I think is a good thing. It was a fun day by everyone I think."