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Avalanche Ready For Season Opener

Colorado hosts Dallas to begin 2016-17

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab / ColoradoAvalanche.com

There is just one more night's rest and one more night of watching other NHL clubs play before the Colorado Avalanche gets its first crack at the 2016-17 campaign.

The Avs went through their last practice on Friday morning at Family Sports Center before Saturday's season opener at home against the Dallas Stars, and they appear ready for meaningful games again.

"A little bit of everything, nerves but mostly excitement," Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said of his emotions before opening night. "Guys are fired up to get going, especially in front of the home crowd. It's always awesome, and every home opener we've played here, it's been a packed house. The majority of the time in my five years here, we've come away with a win; hopefully we'll do that tomorrow as well."

The NHL opened its regular season with four games on Wednesday night before nine more followed on Thursday.

Twenty-seven teams will have played at least once before Colorado, the Arizona Coyotes and Vancouver Canucks open their new years on Saturday night.

"It's been tough watching the last couple of nights," said Matt Duchene. "We have one night more of watching, but we just have to worry about ourselves and worry about tomorrow."

When the puck drops at 7 p.m. MT at Pepsi Center on Saturday, it will have been a week since the Avs last played a game-a 2-1 overtime victory in their preseason finale against the Los Angeles Kings that brought their exhibition record to 6-0-0.

Video: Gabriel Landeskog speaks after practice

Colorado was the only team in the NHL to have a perfect preseason, and Landeskog said the squad's four good practices this past week should help them build on the momentum from exhibition play.

"I think we've had a good week of practice. I think that is where it starts, in practice," Landeskog said. "Everybody has worked hard. Everybody has been executing well. We've done some special teams and stuff like that. It feels good, and that is where it starts. Definitely feels like everybody is going to be ready for tomorrow. If you're not ready for opening night, then I think you're in the wrong business. We're excited."

Semyon Varlamov is going to get the start in net for the Avalanche and said he likes what he's seen from his teammates during the preseason.

"I think we're in good shape. I think we had a really good preseason," Varlamov said. "We were 6-0, but preseason is preseason. It's in the past. It's history. No one is going to look back and ask us about the preseason anymore. Now it is the real deal. It's going to be different games, for sure. A little more pressure…Everybody knows what they're doing on the ice and are ready to play."

Video: Semyon Varlamov talks Opening Night

John Mitchell and Cody McLeod are expected to be the forwards that Colorado will scratch against Dallas, while Mikko Rantanen will head to the American Hockey League to get some game action. He missed most of training camp and the preseason after suffering an ankle injury in the Rookie Showcase against the San Jose Sharks on Sept. 17.

Avs head coach Jared Bednar said Rantanen had his best practice on Friday but the 20-year-old needs to get back up to speed with the game and the new system, which is the same structure that the San Antonio Rampage uses.

"He's been out for a month-plus, so to give him back playing minutes and getting important puck touches--I would like to see him playing 20-plus minutes a night--I'm just not sure if he is ready to do it or fair for him to do that, jumping into a game [here]," said Bednar, who did admit that the Finn is ready for the NHL. "He's missed a lot of meetings when it comes to our structure of our game and what we want to accomplish. He knows lots of it, but he's also missed lots of it."

Mitchell is still out with a hip-flexor injury but skated for a bit on Friday with a red non-contact jersey on. However, Bednar said there was nothing new to report on the veteran forward's status.

A lot of the attention during the home opener will be on the players on the ice, but Bednar will also share a portion of the spotlight. It will be the first regular-season game in Bednar's NHL career, playing or coaching.

It's been a quick two months in the NHL for the bench boss, who was hired by the Avs on Aug. 25 and is coming off a championship run in the AHL with the Lake Erie Monsters.

Video: Coach Bednar's post-practice press conference

"Tomorrow, I don't want to downplay it because it is important, but it is another day at the office," Bednar said. "It is our first chance to go and impress our fans. I think it's a big thing. It's our building, and we want to be an exciting team to watch and earn their trust. We want to make them proud of us. That is part of our focus. Going into tomorrow, it is another day at the office for you. That's how you approach it."

It's been a long summer for the players, coaches and fans, but the wait is almost over.

 

*Coming to Opening Night? With construction going on in and around the arena, including the closure of 12th Street, we anticipate increased travel times. Please make sure to leave early and give yourself plenty of time to arrive. Plan accordingly so you don't miss a minute of the excitement. The puck drops at 7 p.m. as we look forward to the #NextEra of Colorado Avalanche hockey.

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