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What We Learned: Prospect Showcase vs. Sharks

The Avalanche rookies opened the tournament with a loss to the San Jose Sharks

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab /

The Colorado Avalanche began play in its second-ever rookie tournament on Saturday, as the team's prospects took on those of the San Jose Sharks at Solar4America Ice in San Jose.

Colorado hosted the exhibition last year and went on to win both games against the Sharks and Anaheim Ducks to be crowned event champions.

The Avs won't be going undefeated this year as they lost 7-4 to the host Sharks in a game played at the team's Bay Area practice facility.

Here are five things we learned about the Avalanche rookies after the first day of the San Jose Prospect Showcase.

Getting Physical

Like any NHL regular season game, or hockey game for that matter, tempers flare, and it didn't take long for the physical nature of the sport to show up in this one.

Avs forward A.J. Greer and San Jose Sharks defenseman Jacob Middleton dropped the gloves just 1:03 into the game to help light a fire under their teammates. While it wasn't as memorable as Mason Geertsen's bout against an Anaheim Duck nemesis at last year's tournament, Greer got some good punches in and noted afterward that it helped give his teammates a little extra space on the ice later in the game.

Things also boiled over at the end of the contest as the two teams exchanged some pushing and shoving in the corner after the final horn sounded.

Liking The D

Eric Veilleux, the Avalanche's American Hockey League head coach with the San Antonio Rampage, has been given the task of the team's bench boss for these three games and gave praise to several of his defensemen afterward.

He specifically talked about Chris Bigras, Andrei Mironov and Conor Timmins in his postgame media availability, but he seemed pleased overall with how the players performed after just one practice and a few video sessions.

Now were Colorado's blueliners perfect? Not by any means (neither were San Jose's), but a little rust was somewhat expected with this being the first organized game for many of these players since the springtime.

Possible Avs Pairing

Speaking of D, Veilleux's top pairing was Bigras and Mironov, two players that could be on the Avalanche's NHL roster when the season begins next month.

General Manager Joe Sakic has said that he's going to give some of the organization's young defenders every chance to make the club out of training camp, and both Avalanche draft picks are very much in the mix.

Saturday marked Mironov's first "NHL" game after spending his entire playing career in Russia with the Dynamo Moscow system. He doesn't know much English but is learning the language quickly, and there didn't seem to be many communication breakdowns between him and the Canadian Bigras in the outing.

Experienced Power-Play Unit

Colorado has six players at the Prospect Showcase with NHL experience and several more that have played pro hockey in North America or Europe.

One of the Avs' man-advantage groups on Saturday was oozing with scoring potential as center J.T. Compher was flanked by A.J. Greer and Tyson Jost on the wings, while Bigras and Mironov were guarding the blue line.

Of the five skaters, only Mironov had never played in the NHL, but he does have five years of experience in the Kontinental Hockey League and has already played for Team Russia at two IIHF World Championships.

A Loss That Doesn't Count

While the players were less than thrilled to begin play with a loss, the defeat will have no bearing on how the Avalanche will do when the regular season begins next month.

Only a few players on this rookie team are expected to make Colorado's opening night roster, with the majority of them heading back to their junior or European clubs or beginning the year with the Rampage.

The most important part for the Avalanche in these four days in San Jose is for the players to learn the system and structure that Sakic and head coach Jared Bednar want to implement during next week's NHL training camp.

And the Avs can still defend their rookie tournament title with wins on Monday against the Arizona Coyotes and Tuesday versus the Anaheim Ducks.

Bonus: The Avs Burgundy Jerseys Are Hot

Colorado's rookies were the first players to don the team's new Adidas home burgundy uniform in a game setting on Saturday, and they looked extremely sharp in person.

The new jersey is a modern take on the sweater that the team first wore when it moved to Denver in 1995. Seeing the dark burgundy sweater with blue mountain trim immediately brings back fond memories of Sakic, Roy, Forsberg and Foote, and former team TV broadcaster John Kelly yelling "thank you, thank you, thank you" after a goal.

Now we just have to wait and see what the new road white jerseys will look like in a game.

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