October 7 has been circled on the Colorado Avalanche’s calendar for quite a while now.
During the long summer months, the thought of dropping the puck on Opening Night serves as a motivating factor for NHL players, as well as a constant reminder that they have to be ready to go from day one.
“You’ve been sitting around for three or four months, just working out and getting ready for this one game,” said defenseman Ryan Wilson
. “It’s going to be exciting to get out there and play when it means something.”
It will be a tough test right off the bat for the Avalanche, as the club hosts the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday night at Pepsi Center.
“I’m pretty excited. It’s always good to get that first game out of the way. Especially playing the defending Stanley Cup champions,” said Daniel Winnik. “You know they’ll be coming out really hard. And as a team I’m sure we have a lot to prove.”
And even though the focus has been on this one game for months now, things need to be kept in proper perspective. When the final horn sounds Thursday night, Colorado will have to get past Opening Night quickly and move on, since the team will head out on an important five-game road trip shortly thereafter.
“You use that excitement of it being the first game of the season, but in the end it’s just like any regular season game,” added Winnik.
The Avalanche had a somewhat similar schedule to open the 2009-10 season. After playing their first two games at home, the Avalanche embarked on a seven-game road trip during which they posted a 4-1-2 record. That trip was part of a 10-1-2 start for the Avalanche that helped set the tone for the rest of the season and proved that Colorado would be a team to be reckoned with, despite what the prognosticators thought heading into the year.
At the time, several players also pointed out that taking the long road trip early in the season served as a bonding experience of sorts for the young squad en route to eventually earning a playoff berth.
According to Wilson, the team’s approach remains the same this year, but the goal has changed slightly.
“You’re waiting for the one game to get into it, but then after that it’s all the same. You have to keep winning games. Our ultimate goal is to win our division.”Duchene Returns, Hejduk Practices Again
Sophomore center Matt Duchene
was back at practice today after missing Tuesday’s skate due to illness. Duchene was also unable to participate in Monday’s Colorado Avalanche Charity Golf Classic.
In other news, Milan Hejduk
practiced for the second consecutive day. Hejduk returned to practice yesterday after being sidelined briefly with a back injury, but wore an orange non-contact jersey. At this morning’s skate, Hejduk shed that orange jersey in favor of a normal gray sweater that was used by a handful of the Avalanche’s forwards today.
"It's good to have them back out there," said Avalanche head coach Joe Sacco
. "They both look ready to go. They made it through practice today, so they'll be fine for tomorrow."Koci Skates
Avalanche forward David Koci was on the ice this morning prior to practice. Koci skated while wearing an orange non-contact jersey and a partial shield to protect the jaw he injured in a preseason fight with Los Angeles Kings forward Kevin Westgarth.