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Avs/Blackhawks Notebook

by Aaron Lopez / Colorado Avalanche
The Avalanche started out the season in style, beating the Chicago Blackhawks by a 4-3 score in overtime in front of an animated, sold-out crowd at Pepsi Center on Thursday evening.

Putting aside the facts that it was Opening Night and the defending Stanley Cup Champions were in town, the fans at Pepsi Center should have known they were in for an exciting game based on the season series between these two clubs a year ago.

The Avs and Hawks met four times during the 2009-10 campaign, and each game was a fast-paced, back-and-forth contest featuring two teams that boasted speed and skating as their strengths. In fact, the first three meetings between the teams last season ended with a shootout.

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Thursday night, fans were treated to more of the same. After an early Bryan Bickell tally, Chris Stewart tied the game at 1-1 heading into the first intermission on a great individual effort that completely fooled Chicago goaltender Marty Turco.

Matt Duchene gave the Avs a 2-1 lead 6:13 into the second and Paul Stastny’s power-play tally at 13:51 stretched the lead to two before Marian Hossa closed the gap with a tip-in at 18:24.

Chicago made it a 3-3 game at 10:25 of the third period on a Patrick Sharp power-play tally to send the game to overtime, where Stastny played the role of hero by scoring 3:40 into the extra session.

Strong In Openers
Following tonight’s victory, the Avalanche/Nordiques now own an 18-6-7 (.694) all-time record on Opening Night, the best winning percentage of any team in the NHL.

The Avalanche franchise is also 22-5-4 all-time in home openers, which includes an 8-1-2 mark at Pepsi Center.

Tonight’s game also marked the first time the Avs have ever faced the defending Stanley Cup champs in the season opener. The Nordiques did it once, opening the 1982-83 campaign against the New York Islanders, who were coming off a four-game sweep of the Vancouver Canucks in the 1982 Stanley Cup Finals. The Islanders’ Cup win in 1982 was actually their third straight, but the Nordiques opened the season with a 7-2 victory over New York at Le Colisee.

NHL Debut
Forward Mark Olver made his NHL debut in tonight’s game, becoming the first player from Colorado’s 2008 Draft class to skate in the National Hockey League. The Avalanche selected the Burnaby, B.C. native in the fifth round (140th overall) during that draft.

A product of Northern Michigan University, Olver led the Wildcats in scoring for three straight seasons (2007-10) before signing an entry-level with the Avalanche on March 30, 2010.

Tonight, Olver began the night centering a fourth line that included Cody McLeod and Kevin Porter, but ended up seeing just 1:42 of ice time.

Elsewhere, forward Daniel Winnik made his regular season debut for the Avalanche. The Avalanche acquired Winnik in a trade with the Phoenix Coyotes on June 28 and then signed the winger to a two-year contract on July 2. Winnik played left wing on a line centered by Ryan O’Reilly that included Brandon Yip on the right side. In 16:54 of ice time, Winnik registered two shots on goal, a hit and a takeaway.

15-Year Reunion
The Avalanche celebrated the 15-year anniversary of the 1995-96 Stanley Cup Championship team this week with a two-day reunion, which culminated tonight with a special pre-game ceremony that included introductions, a video tribute and the unveiling of a special painting commemorating the title.

Twenty four players and coaches from the 1996 Cup team were in attendance for the reunion to celebrate the Avalanche’s first Stanley Cup and Colorado’s first major professional sports championship.

That listed included former Avalanche head coach Joel Quenneville (who served as an assistant coach on the 1996 Stanley Cup Champions), who is now the head coach of the Blackhawks.

In addition to being honored as part of the pre-game ceremony, the night was special in another way for Quenneville. Tonight’s contest marked his 1,000th game as an NHL head coach, making him just the 17th bench boss in league history to hit that plateau.
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