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Fulfilling a Dream

by Aaron Lopez / Colorado Avalanche
There’s a reason the Stanley Cup Playoffs are often referred to as the “Second Season.”

After battling through an 82-game grind of a regular season schedule, players are expected to be fresh and sharp when the postseason rolls around.

“It’s all about the intensity. You’re either in or you’re out,” said Avalanche defenseman Scott Hannan. “It’s the last few games of your season and you’re obviously striving to win the Stanley Cup. The pressure and intensity of the game makes it that much more exciting.”

The Colorado Avalanche will be making its 11th postseason appearance since arriving in Denver with a roster that contains an eclectic mix of seasoned veterans and younger players who will be making their playoff debuts.

Five players on Colorado’s roster – Adam Foote, Peter Forsberg, Milan Hejduk, Scott Parker and Joe Sakic – have previously hoisted the Stanley Cup, while many others have tasted playoff success by helping their teams advance deep into the postseason.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, nine players on Colorado’s active roster (Peter Budaj, Kyle Cumiskey Ben Guite, Jeff Finger, Jaroslav Hlinka, David Jones, Cody McCormick, Cody McLeod and Paul Stastny) have never played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, making the “Second Season” a bit of an initiation for them.

“It’s going to be fun. It’s what you play for,” said Guite. “With everything we’ve gone through this year, with the injuries and everything, it’s been a grind to get here. I’m just going to enjoy every single moment of it.”

Finger echoed Guite’s sentiments, saying that he will relish the chance to experience the postseason first-hand.

“It’s going to be really exciting,” said Finger. “Growing up and watching the games, you can almost feel the intensity of playoff hockey through the TV.”

Ian Laperriere will be making his seventh appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and his second with the Colorado Avalanche
As a veteran who has been through 44 postseason games and eight playoff series, Avs assistant captain Ian Laperriere is in a position to provide some insight to those players on Colorado’s roster who have yet to set foot onto playoff ice.

Laperriere made his postseason debut as a 21-year-old with the St. Louis Blues during the 1995 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“It’s nerve-wracking. I was 21 years old and I just went out there and didn’t think too much,” said Laperriere. “It still drives me nuts, but my first series we had a good team, we lost in seven games, and we could have done really well. At that age you think you’re going to have another chance to have a good team like that, but it doesn’t come too often.”

The value of having postseason experience is almost immeasurable. But the only way a player can really become accustomed to the grind and intensity of the NHL’s postseason is to experience it first-hand.

Still, Laperriere feels that the Avs’ young players can learn a thing or two from the club’s playoff-tested vets.

“The advantage they have is that they’re surrounded by guys who have been there. I don’t care how young, if you go out there and go crazy you’ll get burned,” said Laperriere. “Everybody hits and everybody is at the top of their games during the playoffs.

“The good thing about our young guys is that they have older guys who have been there and won the Stanley Cup. They can take those guys aside and tell them what to do or what not to do. That’s a big advantage to them to be in a locker room like this one.”

But with the intensity, expectations and pressure that come along with the postseason, how does a player – especially one who has never been there – prepare for it?

“I heard someone ask Johnny Liles earlier if you can ever really be ready for it, and he said, ‘No, not really’. I believe it, but you just go out there because that’s what you play the whole season for,” said Finger. “I don’t think you really change anything. You know what’s at stake. You’ve played your whole life, let alone the whole season, for this time of year.”
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