The unofficial hockey holiday that is Opening Night is here.
After six months of summer training, practices and six preseason games, the Colorado Avalanche begins the 2016-17 campaign tonight against the Dallas Stars at Pepsi Center.
The first contest to start the new year is something the players having been looking forward to since the schedule was announced in late June, and they're ready to finally get going.
"You always have the same anxiousness and nervous energy and excitement to get the season started," said Erik Johnson. "I felt this offseason dragged on forever, so it's nice to get this one underway and starting off at home is always nice."
In the days, weeks, and even months leading up to the season, there is optimism with every NHL team's fanbase. This is the year the club will have success, play until June and end the season with a downtown parade.
The Avs players share in that anticipation.
"It hasn't been a great last couple of seasons, missing the playoffs two years in a row, but this year I think everybody is very confident with the new coach and some new faces around here. We're very excited," said Nathan MacKinnon, who is now entering his fourth year and will share alternate captain duties with Matt Duchene and Francois Beauchemin.
MacKinnon said this is the most comfortable he's felt to begin a season, but it's hard to get a read on the feelings that are going on inside Colorado head coach Jared Bednar before Game 1. Bednar never made it to the NHL as a player, so when he steps onto the bench this evening it will be his debut in North America's top league.
Bednar will have plenty of support on this night. His son and parents will be at Pepsi Center stands watching, while his wife and daughter will surely be keeping tabs back in South Carolina before they make the trek to Denver later in the year.
"It's something I've been working toward in my whole coaching life," Bednar said of his first game, nearly eight hours before puck drop. "It's exciting for me."
However, Bednar isn't satisfied with just making it to the NHL. He wants to have success and raise the Stanley Cup in Colorado, just like he did with the trophies he won in the ECHL and the AHL this past summer with the Lake Erie Monsters.
"For me, it's just the first step. To me, winning is what I want to do here--it's just not to be here and see how it goes," Bednar said. "I'm all in on this deal and in order for me to be happy, we have to have success."
This is Bednar's 15th season coaching in the professional ranks and his seventh as the main boss on the bench, where he's gone 251-158-42 (.603) in stints with South Carolina, Peoria, Springfield and Lake Erie.
Bednar's minor league days are past him. His time in the majors is about to begin.
Video: Coach Bednar's pregame press conference
GNARLY VARLY VS. THE STARS
Goaltender Semyon Varlamov will be between the pipes tonight for Colorado, making his sixth consecutive start on Opening Night.
"I think it was a long summer, I trained a lot, and now finally [Saturday] is going to be the home opener," Varlamov said after Friday's practice. "I'm really excited about it. I can't wait to see the fans. I'm sure it's going to be sold out. It's going to be a great game to play. It's going to be a lot of fun. I can't wait, looking forward to it."
Varlamov went 3-0-0 in three preseason starts, finishing second in the NHL in save percentage (.978) and goals-against average (0.67).
The Russian netminder has had success against the Stars, winning 10 consecutive starts while registering a 2.26 goals-against average and .935 save percentage. He is 11-3-2 all-time versus Dallas when he begins in the crease.
OPENING NIGHT NOTES
Tonight marks the latest start date to a full season in Avalanche/Nordiques history. Quebec once opened a season on Oct. 11 (1984-85), while the Avalanche's previous "late start" was Oct. 10 (1998-99 and 2003-04). Colorado, Arizona and Vancouver will be the final three NHL teams to open their respective schedules tonight.
The Avalanche/Nordiques franchise is 19-10-7 all-time on Opening Night (.625), tied for the second-best record in the NHL.
The franchise owns a 24-8-4 all-time record in home openers (.722). Colorado is 12-5-3 in home openers since moving from Quebec, which includes a 10-4-2 mark at Pepsi Center.
Tonight is the first of five meetings between the Avalanche and Stars this season, and the first of two matchups in Denver. The Avs and Stars met four times last year, with Colorado finishing 2-1-1 (1-0-1 at home).
Colorado is 11-2-1 in the last 14 meetings versus Dallas, which included an eight-game winning streak from Jan. 27, 2014 to Jan. 23, 2016. The Avs are 7-0-1 in their last eight home matchups against the Stars.
The Avalanche is playing the Stars on Opening Night for the sixth time in 21 seasons since moving to Denver, making Dallas by far their most common opponent.
With construction going on in and around the arena, including the closure of 12th Street, we anticipate increased travel times. Fans are advised to leave early in order to give yourself plenty of time to arrive.
Gabriel Landeskog--Nathan MacKinnon--Jarome Iginla
Mikhail Grigorenko--Carl Soderberg--Matt Duchene
Andreas Martinsen--Ben Smith--Blake Comeau
Gabriel Bourque--Joe Colborne--Rene Bourque
Nikita Zadorov--Erik Johnson
Francois Beauchemin--Tyson Barrie
Fedor Tyutin--Patrick Wiercioch
Scratches: Eric Gelinas, Cody McLeod, John Mitchell (hip flexor)