CENTENNIAL, Colo.--There was giddy excitement in the Colorado Avalanche locker room on Wednesday morning. The players were at ease, smiling and joking with one another as they prepared for their first team flight of the regular season.
It was the eve of the 2017-18 campaign, and the Avs were eager to get it started. Colorado opens the year with a three-game road trip, with stops in New York, New Jersey and Boston.
"I think it's good that we're starting on the road and get a little team bonding and get to know everyone," said veteran goaltender Jonathan Bernier. "There are a lot of new faces in here. For me, every year is an exciting year and you want to do the best you can. Obviously, I'm excited to get started."
Rookie forward J.T. Compher played 21 games at the end of last year with Colorado, but Thursday's contest will be his first NHL opening night and it will come at the historic Madison Square Garden versus the New York Rangers.
"It's going to be a lot of fun," Compher said. "It's a great building. It's going to be loud. It's going to be exciting. I think everybody is excited to get going."
Compher was among the three rookie forwards that made the club's initial roster out of the preseason, joining Tyson Jost and Alexander Kerfoot.
"That was the goal this summer and going into training camp, trying to make the team out of camp," Compher said. "Now I'm here, and now it is just trying to help the team win in whatever way possible."
Video: J.T. Compher on making the Avalanche
On the defensive side, the Avalanche has two prospects that made its first lineup: Chris Bigras and Andrei Mironov.
After playing the last five years in the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia, Mironov could be making his NHL debut in New York. It will be Bigras' first NHL opening night after he appeared in 31 contests with the Avs during the second half of 2015-16.
The blueliners also had a new face to work with during Wednesday's practice as Patrik Nemeth took the ice for the first time as a member of the club. Nemeth was picked up on waivers from the Dallas Stars on Tuesday morning and joined the Avs later that night.
The 6-foot-3 Swede is excited for a fresh start and the chance to play in Colorado.
"I think I have a good opportunity here to prove myself," Nemeth said. "I feel I'm ready to prove myself, and I'm going to do everything in my power to do that and embrace the role that they give me."
Video: Exclusive interview with new Avs D-Man Patrik Nemeth
The Avalanche had 23 players practice in the team's final session before traveling east, with Joe Colborne being the lone exception after being placed on waivers earlier in the morning. Colborne missed all of training camp and preseason with a back injury, but he finally returned to full practice on Monday.
Power forward A.J. Greer took part in some of the team's drills while wearing a red, non-contact jersey, but he is still limited in his participation as he recovers from a concussion. He's been out of the lineup since playing in his only preseason outing against the Stars on Sept. 21.
Bernier once again took part in a full practice after missing a week with a minor groin injury. He tweaked it during a preseason game at Dallas on Sept. 25 but is deemed 100 percent for the start of the year.
"I feel pretty good. Obviously when you miss a week, the first few practices it feels like you lost that instinct with the shooter and things like that," Bernier said. "But the leg is feeling good, the breathing is feeling good, and I'm excited to get started."
Bernier is expected to be the backup netminder against the Rangers as Semyon Varlamov should get the start on opening night.
Varlamov played in four preseason contests and finished with a 3-0-0 record, 1.50 goals-against average and .948 save percentage. Thursday will mark his first regular season game since Jan. 17, as he missed the remainder of last season after having two hip surgeries to fix his injured groin.
"I'm feeling good," Varlamov said. "Tomorrow is going to be a fun game to play in New York, one of the best crowds in the league in Madison Square Garden. What could be better than that?"
Bednar did not meet with the media after practice, so which players start and who will be scratched for the season opener won't be known until after Thursday's morning skate.