When you have a few days between games, you get a chance for a bit of reflection. For me, memories of many years of traveling to Denver, Colorado, for hockey come back quickly.
I started traveling here in 1974, while doing Notre Dame hockey as a graduate student. One of college hockey's coaching legends ran the University of Denver Pioneers program in those days. Murray "The Chief" Armstrong won National Championships five times (1958, 1960, 1961, 1968 and 1969) and was runner-up another three times. He coached players like current Avalanche broadcaster Peter McNab (363 NHL goals in a long career, primarily with Boston); Keith Magnuson and Cliff Koroll (who went on to later fame with the Chicago Blackhawks), plus Jim Wiste (who was a double-digit goal scorer for the Cleveland Crusaders and Indianapolis Racers of the WHA).
The Pioneers played at the University of Denver Arena, which had originally been a U.S. Navy facility in Northern Idaho. After World War II, it was torn down and moved to the Denver campus in time for the start of the 1948-49 season. The building was condemned for a season (the roof needed repairs, along with some trusses to pass building codes) during my undergraduate days.
By the 1974-75 season, it was re-opened and ready for business. It was a special place, with a vintage ice-resurfacing machine.
Take a look at the early models at the top of that sheet - that's what we saw at the D.U. Arena!
The building also featured a great location for broadcasting the game - at center ice - maybe 25-30 feet above the playing surface, and almost even with the near boards! It was important to be alert - but there was no better view, [it sure beat sitting next to a goal judge at the Dane County Coliseum in Madison, or directly in front of the pep band at Boston College] allowing me to call the game unimpeded.
I had two seasons of those trips to Denver with the Notre Dame team, but then I moved to Buffalo and had no idea I would ever be back. Well, in 1978 I joined the Los Angeles Kings and we had a couple of exhibition games at D.U. Arena against the Colorado Rockies.
The regular-season home for those Rockies was McNichols Sports Arena, which was also home to the Denver Nuggets (first of the ABA, then the NBA). The Rockies were the first to use "Rock and Roll Part 2" when they hit the ice with the likes of Barry Beck, Merlin "the Magician" Malinowski, Rob Ramage, current Predators Professional Scout Nick Beverly and ex-Predators assistant Paul Gardner. But the music died too soon. The Rockies moved on to the Meadowlands of New Jersey and became the Devils in 1982.
I did not return to McNichols until the NHL came back, when the Nordiques vacated Quebec City and became the Avalanche in the summer of 1995.
It was a 13-year wait for the return of the NHL to Denver, but the city received a President's Trophy winner (with Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg) and in that first season added a goaltender named Patrick Roy who would combine to win a Stanley Cup.
One night in 1998, while waiting on the Predators' bus outside McNichols, Cliff Ronning stepped on the bus and told me there were some big guys waiting for me outside. I got out there, and they were the brothers of Avs' defenseman Aaron Miller who were visiting from Buffalo. Cliff was accurate. Aaron, at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, was clearly the runt of the Miller litter. Aaron's big brothers were interested in talking about the Buffalo Bills at the time.
The Avalanche would play at McNichols through the end of the 1998-99 season, then moved to the brand-new Pepsi Center that fall. After hosting the 2001 All-Star Game, Colorado won its second Stanley Cup, as long-time Boston Bruins d-man Raymond Bourque won his only title.
If you wonder what my most memorable moment has been at the Pepsi Center, there is no question - February 18, 2013 - the "offside goal" by Matt Duchene:
I doubt many Predator's fans watching at the time will forget it.
That proved at least two things:
(1) Play until you hear the whistle and (2) never go to a game thinking you've seen it all!