It should come as no surprise that playing in a friendly building is more energizing for hockey players. It was evident during last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, and it will play a role on Saturday night as the Colorado Avalanche take the ice for the first home game of the season at Pepsi Center.
“I played one exhibition but it’s not the same in exhibition, the intensity and the excitement in the building,” said veteran forward Jarome Iginla, who will make his regular season debut in Denver tonight. “Home openers, no matter what team you’re playing with, they’re always more special than a regular season game but, being in a new rink, it’s a chance to feel that home energy for the first time. So I’m looking forward to it.”
Loyal fans packing the house, the familiar feel of the rink and end-boards, everything about the home barn ebbs and builds within the players until the drop of the puck unleashes them upon their opponent. For guys skating at Pepsi Center for the first time this season—Brad Stuart, Danny Briere, Dennis Everberg, and Iginla—the excitement is palpable during the first homecoming of the year.
“Of course. That’s what you’ve been waiting for, the home opener. I’ve heard it’s a good crowd here and that’s what I’m looking forward to,” said Everberg, who’s playing in the second game of his NHL career. “I’ve got Mom and Dad and a sister here tonight. That’s an awesome feeling, and they’re excited too. It will be fun.”
“It’s always good to come back home,” Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon said following the team’s morning skate. “It’s always fun to have the fans by your side and get the season going at home.
“We were very good at home last season, through the regular season and playoffs.”
The Avalanche went 29-11-5 in Denver last year—including the postseason—and are equally as successful at Pepsi Center for home openers, posting a 10-2-2 record in the building. Those numbers are a small consolation though given the way the team performed during the season opener in Minnesota on Thursday night.
“We realize that we got outworked in the first game, badly, but we want to leave that and learn from it and (start) building some momentum in the right direction,” said Iginla. “After the tough losses, you want it to be a one-off.
“Let’s prove that it was a one-off and come out and get back to building and feeling confident and moving forward.”
The Avs are expecting another fast-paced, tight game with the Wild, similar to that of the postseason just months ago.
“It kind of felt like the playoffs last game,” said MacKinnon. “It’s always good to have a playoff feel. The outcome could have been obviously better, but at the same time the feel was good. it was intense and definitely woke us up, for sure.”
“Tonight, in front of our fans, it will be important to have a good start,” said head coach Patrick Roy. “The start of the game tonight is going to be key for us in a way that’s going to bring a lot of confidence.”
Confidence will be important for the Avalanche as the club takes to the road tomorrow for a four-game road trip through the Eastern Conference.
“You don’t want to start off the season 0-2. That’s not our plan,” said MacKinnon. “We’re thinking positively. We’re taking it one game at a time. We’re not thinking about our record right now. We’re just thinking about tonight.”
The puck drops in Denver at 7 p.m. to usher in the dawn of another season of hockey in the Mile High City.
Everberg played his first NHL game on Thursday night, skating alongside Cody McLeod and Marc-Andre Cliche.
|Dennis Everberg |
“Obviously it was a great feeling stepping out on (the) ice, though the game was terrible and we could have done something better about it,” said Everberg of the contest. “We’ve got the chance tonight to make that happen, and I think we’ll do that too.”
While 22-year-old Swede wasn’t keen on giving himself an evaluation for his debut, given the outcome of the match, he certainly caught the eye of his coach, who moved Everberg up the ranks for his second NHL game.
“We lost 5-0 so I don’t think anybody can be happy with what they did out there,” said Everberg, who will be playing with Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog and center Ryan O’Reilly on Saturday. “They’re two superstars. They’re really good players. It’s a good feeling to get to play with them tonight.”
For Everberg, the key to his game is performing as expected.
“Just continue to do what I do best: skating, skate hard, forechecking, try to win (the) puck for those guys to make the plays and score some goals,” he said.
Jamie McGinn — Matt Duchene — Jarome Iginla
Gabriel Landeskog — Ryan O'Reilly — Dennis Everberg
Alex Tanguay — Nathan MacKinnon — Daniel Briere
Cody McLeod — Marc-Andre Cliche — Maxime Talbot
Nick Holden — Erik Johnson
Tyson Barrie — Jan Hejda
Ryan Wilson — Brad Stuart
Semyon Varlamov will start in net.
Nate Guenin, Zach Redmond, Jesse Winchester (head).