CENTENNIAL, Colo.—After months of offseason workouts, training camp and preseason games, it's just about time to drop the puck for a new hockey season.
The start of the new NHL year is Wednesday night with four games being played in the U.S. and Canada before the rest of the league gets going on Thursday. The Avalanche will be one of those teams on Thursday to open its season as the club begins a home-and-home series at the Minnesota Wild (NBCSN). Colorado returns home for the second half of the season-opening set on Saturday (Altitude). Game time for both contests is 7 p.m. MT.
Colorado is quite familiar with Minnesota as it was the Wild that won in Game 7 to eliminate the Avs from the playoffs last April. That past history between the two teams makes for an interesting opening matchup.
"They beat us last year, and I can't think of a better team to start the season off with right away," said defenseman Erik Johnson, who is from Bloomington, Minn. "Seeing those first two games against Minnesota, I think a lot of people were excited to see that. It's going to be a tough game. It's going to be a tough two-game series, and I think it's going to be a great team to start off against."
While the loss in the playoffs still hurts for many of the returning players on this year's squad, the Avs aren't necessarily looking at these two contests for redemption. Instead, they view it as just the start of an 82-game marathon.
"Nothing extra. It's the first game of the season. Those are important," said captain Gabriel Landeskog after practice at Family Sports Center. "It doesn't matter who you play. It's certainly going to be exciting to get going. We'll play every team hard, it doesn't matter who they are. We have a new team this season, and they have added some new pieces so it's certainly going to be a good game."
The start of a new season also signifies a chance to fully put last year in the rearview mirror and focus on the new task at hand.
Avalanche head coach and former goalie Patrick Roy has been through a few opening nights in his NHL career, but he said he still gets excited when it is finally time to drop the puck in games that matter in the standings.
"We're all anxious to see the puck drop, and we're excited about this new challenge," Roy said. "I like the way we have been practicing. Guys look sharp and I think it's going to be a good challenge for us."
Roy will begin the season with a roster that includes 13 forwards, eight defensemen and two goalies, as well as several players that will begin on the injured non-roster list. Patrick Bordeleau (back) and John Mitchell (migraines) will start on the injured list, while Jamie McGinn (back), who missed all of the preseason but participated in his first full practice on Monday, will be activated. Forward Jesse Winchester missed the last two games of the preseason with a head injury and, although he is not on the injured list, is not expected to play on Thursday night.
On defense, Roy said Ryan Wilson and Zach Redmond would likely be healthy scratches for the opener. The Avs head coach hasn't said who will start in net, but it is a safe bet to assume Vezina Trophy finalist Semyon Varlamov will get the nod.
During last postseason, fans at Pepsi Center in Denver and Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul energized their own buildings and it seemed as if they were competing with one another to see which arena was louder game-to-game.
Although the season opener doesn't have as much on the line for both clubs as a playoff game, Roy said he expects a similar atmosphere when the Avs and Wild meet again.
"It's all going to be about the intensity tomorrow night," Roy said. "I'm sure it's going to be a lot from their fans, and it will be up to us to play a sound game and smart game."
Projected Lines and Defensive Pairings
Gabriel Landeskog – Ryan O'Reilly – Nathan MacKinnon
Alex Tanguay – Matt Duchene – Jarome Iginla
Jamie McGinn – Daniel Briere – Maxime Talbot
Cody McLeod – Marc-Andre Cliche – Dennis Everberg
Brad Stuart – Erik Johnson
Nick Holden – Tyson Barrie
Jan Hejda – Nate Guenin
Iginla Named Alternate Captain
The Avalanche announced Wednesday morning that Jarome Iginla would be an alternate captain for the upcoming season. He will wear the 'A' on his chest along with Cody McLeod, who his entering his second season in that role.
"It's a great honor. It's a privilege, especially with this group of young guys," Iginla said after the day's practice. "It is going to be fun, and I look forward to helping out where I can. I'm excited about it."
Iginla had previously spent nine seasons as the team captain for the Calgary Flames (2003-2013) and had also been an alternate captain several times in international play for Team Canada.
Avalanche Signs Spencer Martin
Colorado also announced that the club had signed goaltending prospect Spencer Martin to a three-year, entry-level contract.
Currently netminding with the Mississauga Steelheads of the Ontario Hockey League, Martin led the league last year in games played (64) and minutes (3562). He is 2-1-0 with a 2.99 goals-against average and .929 save percentage this season for Mississauga.
The Avs selected Martin in the third round (63rd overall) of the 2013 NHL Draft.