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Injuries Open Door For Opportunities

by Aaron Lopez / Colorado Avalanche
The Avalanche has suffered a rash of injuries lately that has depleted its NHL roster.  Adam Foote, Ruslan Salei, Paul Stastny, Daniel Tjarnqvist and Darcy Tucker have all sat out recent games, while David Jones, Kyle Cumiskey and Avalanche captain Joe Sakic have each suffered long-term injuries. Jones and Cumiskey are both out for the season, while Sakic skated on Thursday for the first time since suffering a back injury on Nov. 28 and still hopes to make a late-season return.

The one silver lining in this situation is that a handful of young players have been called up from the Lake Erie Monsters with the chance to put their skills on display. This affords the Avalanche brass an opportunity to evaluate its young players at the NHL level while also allowing fans to view the type of up-and-coming talent the organization possesses.

The Avalanche has seen seven different players make their NHL debut this season: Philippe Dupuis, Chris Durno, T.J. Galiardi, Matt Hendricks, Derek Peltier, Chris Stewart and Mike Vernace.

                 Derek Peltier
“The injuries are tough, but it’s nice for us young guys to get a chance to play our first games,” said Peltier. “We’ve been going through that in Lake Erie too, dealing with a lot of injuries. You never want to see guys get hurt, but it’s nice to see our hard work rewarded.”

It’s been a decade the Avalanche last saw this many player make their NHL debut. The last time Colorado had seven or more players skate in their first NHL contest was in 1998-99, when Milan Hejduk, Chris Drury, Dan Smith, Jeff Buchanan, Brian White, Scott Parker, Mike Gaul and Serge Aubin all made their debuts for the Avs.

Three Avalanche rookies skated in their first NHL game just this week. Vernace and Peltier were called up just a day apart (Vernace on Monday, Peltier on Tuesday) and both suited up on March 17 against the Minnesota Wild. The pair had been playing together on Lake Erie’s blue line earlier in the week and saw a good deal of joint ice time, both on Tuesday against the Wild and in Thursday’s contest versus the Edmonton Oilers.

“It’s been really helpful. We’re familiar with each other, so we’re not so nervous out there on the ice,” said Vernace. “We kind of know each other’s tendencies after playing togetherr for the past month and a half.”

Vernace and Peltier were soon joined by another familiar face when Galiardi got the call Thursday morning and centered Tyler Arnason and Milan Hejduk later that night against Edmonton. The forward also spent some time on special teams, opening the Avalanche’s first power play of the evening with Hejduk, John-Michael Liles, Ryan Smyth, Wojtek Wolski.

“It was pretty crazy. I didn’t expect that,” said Galiardi. “They were talking to me about the power play before the game, but I never thought I’d be out there. I was nervous, that’s for sure. But as the game went on the nerves started to go away and I got more comfortable and confident out there.”

  Mike Vernace (left) and T.J. Galiardi
Galiardi said the biggest lesson from his first game is that unlike in the American Hockey League, you can’t really anticipate plays in the NHL. Overplaying a passing lane can get you in trouble quickly, so you have to be patient and let the game come to you.

“It’s amazing how much you can learn in 60 minutes, even in a game like that where you lose,” added Galiardi. “All of the guys on the bench were helping me out all game, so it was a really good experience.”

The key now for these young players is to take that experience and use it to help improve their games, whether it’s in Cleveland with the Monsters or in Denver with the Avalanche.

“You just have to soak everything in and learn from how hard these guys work here,” said Peltier. “The guys who have been in the league 15 years are still some of the first ones at the rink in the morning. You have to put in your time and work hard every day.”
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