After the Avalanche's outstanding 5-0 victory against the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday, the players said their goodbyes to each other and headed out on the three-day NHL holiday break. With hometowns stretching from Minnesota, across Canada and all the way to Russia, each skater has a unique plan for the holidays. But no matter where they are from or where they will go, they are all putting in a strong effort to make this time of year special for family and friends.
As tourists and out-of-towners flood into Denver, some players are heading up to the mountains.
During the season, 19-year-old Nathan MacKinnon lives at veteran and fellow teammate Maxime Talbot’s residence with Talbot’s wife and new baby. While that is MacKinnon’s home away from the rink, this holiday season he will part from the Talbots to see his own family.
“I’m sure we’ll exchange presents or something a few days after Christmas, but we’ll do our own thing during the break,” MacKinnon said of the Talbots.
The swift-footed youngster will be spending his second consecutive holiday surrounded by two exciting entities: Colorado’s infamous Rocky Mountains and his entire family.
“I’m going to Vail, Colo. My family is flying in and we’re going up to Vail for two or three days. That’s where we went last year as well.”
About 20 minutes down the highway, defenseman Zach Redmond, a native of Traverse City, Mich., will be spending a quiet two-day mini-vacation in the Rocky Mountains with his girlfriend.
“My girlfriend and I are going to stay in Colorado. The team has three days off and we were thinking instead of flying home and back again, just to stay here and relax," Redmond said. "We are going up to Beaver Creek. I guess there’s a pretty nice spot up there in the mountains. So we’re going to stay up there the day before Christmas and just kind of get away a little bit. That will kind of be our little vacation.“
On a three-day budget, players are limited in their travel options for the holidays, but sometimes the hassle of travel isn’t enough to keep these dedicated athletes from seeing their parents. Defenseman Tyson Barrie will be traveling to his family, not only outside of Colorado but also far from his childhood Canadian roots.
“I’m flying to Phoenix to visit my parents and my whole family will be down there as well," the 23-year-old Barrie said. "I’m from Victoria, B.C., but my parents moved down there so we’ll be staying in Scottsdale.”
Others, such as rookie goalie Calvin Pickard, will be taking a brief trip to Canada and back to visit family and friends over the holiday break.
“Seeing family around Christmas time is always special," Pickard said. "Usually I try and get home for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, but you just know the holiday cheer and when the snow is coming down and you hear the Christmas music, its fun. It’s a good time of year.”
Not all of the Avalanche players are leaving the Denver area, however.
Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog is bringing his family to him. The Swedish-born left winger is roughly a 14-hour flight from his hometown of Stockholm, leaving less than a day for him to see his family before turning around and getting back on another 14-hour flight to Denver for the upcoming game on Dec 27.
His mom was more than happy to make the round trip to see her youngest son and bring Swedish holiday traditions to his front door.
“My mom is coming over for about two and half weeks over the holidays," Landeskog said. "I’m excited to get some home-cooked Swedish meals, and we’re going to go to IKEA and buy some Swedish cookies and some Swedish Christmas oatmeal that we usually eat for Christmas. Back home we always celebrate the 24th, so that’s what we’re going to do, and we’re going to watch some Christmas movies and hang out, just me and Mom.”
Holidays as a Kid
Beyond holiday plans for 2014, Avs players had some time to reflect on their most beloved and least favorite presents growing up.
For Redmond, his favorite gift was hockey related.
“When I was younger, I used to like getting a new hockey stick," he said. "You only got one pretty much once a year because you never broke them, and I would always look forward to that.”
Barrie and MacKinnon also shared in the same excited reaction when seeing a stick wrapped and lying under the tree.
“My dad used to get me a hockey stick for Christmas every year,” MacKinnon recalled. “Every year I knew it was coming, but it was definitely my favorite gift.”
Barrie not only loved receiving sticks, but one in particular still holds a special place in his memory.
“Probably a one-piece hockey stick when I was 11 years old," he said. "It was my first one-piece stick, so I was pretty excited.”
Although most of the Avalanche played hockey as youngsters, some cannot deny the stellar gift of the modern-day music box.
“I got jerseys and sticks and equipment and all that stuff for playing, but my first iPod, when it first came out a long time ago, that was pretty cool," said Pickard.
Beyond the classic iPod, Pickard also shared a fond recollection of his most memorable gift. Good or bad, that’s for you decide.
Laughing at the thought, Pickard said, “I loved bacon so much when I was a kid, my sister got me a pack of bacon when I was really young. It was pretty funny. I opened it up and was like, 'What is this?'”
Landeskog also had his fair share of Christmas mishaps.
“I wasn’t a big fan of receiving clothes as a kid," Landeskog said. "You saw right away it was a soft package, and you knew right away it was PJ’s or pants or shirts or whatever. I just wasn’t a big fan of that.
"I mean, I’m always appreciative of gifts. It’s the holiday of giving, but I didn’t like that. I’d rather get toys and stuff.”
At the end of the day, sometimes it’s the little gifts that make all the difference and Landeskog can attest to that.
“When I was a kid, some Christmases you’re lucky to get a new stick or a new pair of gloves or something like that, and I’d always spend the first couple nights with the stick in my bed and the gloves in my bed. You wouldn’t leave them at home, you’d always play with them. I remember one year I got a new hockey bag with wheels on it, and it was cool at that time. I was really pumped and fired up.
“Really when you think about it, it's nothing special, but as a kid that’s exciting to roll your hockey bag all the way into the rink every time.”
Holidays as an NHL Player
With 82 games in a season plus practices in between, NHL players have to plan holiday shopping and gift-wrapping ahead of time. But at the end of the day they are only human.
Redmond decided that ordering online was the easiest way to shop, while Barrie casually waited until the final days before Christmas to get everything done. Players such as Pickard and MacKinnon like to keep rigid gift rules.
MacKinnon stays true to his heart and buys his family what they like.
“It’s tough every year. My family is pretty low maintenance," he said. "All my dad wants every year is socks, just big wool socks. I don’t want to give anything away yet, but I picked out a couple things for a few people close to me.”
After Pickard gets a list from his family, like any person at the holidays, he realizes he might need a hand in wrapping them.
“I just make sure they tell me exactly what they want ‘cause I’m not good at getting gifts," he said. "It's so much easier that way. They tell me what they want, and I’ll get it for them and then I’ll get somebody to wrap it for me and put it under the tree.”
Redmond considers himself a true gift giver.
“I like to give gifts," he said. "I like picking out shoes. I feel like everyone likes shoes. I usually get my brother and sister and my mom a pair of running shoes. So I’m kind of the shoe-guy I guess.”