A famous Buddhist proverb goes a little something like this: “With each loss there is a gain, and with each ending comes a new beginning.” Look, I don’t expect you all to feel great about the way things ended for the Avalanche right now, or by tomorrow, or even by next week’s end. To quote another well-worn-out cliche: only time can heal a broken heart, after all.
But here’s the reality of the situation, and I don’t intend to be didactic, but allow me to posit a few season-closing thoughts for a moment….
The reality of this situation is, well, this sucks, right? The reality is the Avalanche are packing their bags and heading home after yet another disappointing Game 7 loss in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, despite having a decidedly much better, deeper roster than last year. But the reality is also they didn’t have that “decidedly better roster” for the most important time of the year.
The easy way out here is to blame the injuries. Sure enough, this is the route I’ll take. You can say all you want to about that being an excuse, but the simple fact of the matter is it’s damn-near impossible to win games — let alone 16 of them — when the injury report is basically just as long as the healthy roster.
To lose both of your top two goaltenders, to then rely on a third-stringer, who prior to Game 5 had never started in a Stanley Cup playoff game, is crushing. You lose your most experienced and stable defenseman and one of the foremost locker-room leaders in Erik Johnson. You lose a key cog, the engine, in one of the best fourth lines in the NHL in Matt Calvert. You lose Joonas Donskoi, who was brought to Denver to not only provide depth scoring, but playoff leadership, too. And in Game 7, the biggest game of the year, you have to go without your war-torn leader and captain. But in loss there is gain…
Look at the contributions of guys like Logan O’Connor or Conor Timmins and various other Colorado Eagles, who were able to step in at various times in the postseason and more than held their own when called upon. The Avs core is still more than intact after this season, and then add in those Eagles coming up the pipeline, plus names like Bowen Byram, Alex Newhook and Justus Annunen all just a short amount of development time away…well this Avalanche team can be, should be and will be dangerous for quite some time.
The championship window is barely cracked open right now. Enough for the breeze to flow in, sure, but just wait till that gust of wind rushing down the pipeline blows the championship window wide open.
To be one of the best teams in the regular season to just have all your momentum halted by a global pandemic and unforeseen circumstance never helped their situation. These guys then made the sacrifice to be away from their families, risking illness to live lonely, closed-off lives in a bubble in pursuit of bringing the franchise, the people of Colorado and all of their supporters — to bring you — a Stanley Cup. I promise you those guys feel much worse — much more deflated — than you probably do in this very moment. Take a pause to give props to those guys and to the NHL for bringing hockey back to us even amid one of the worst situations in human history. We got to watch this Avalanche team play again, and that’s something I didn’t think possible back in March. That’s pretty incredible, no?
Of course, this obviously isn’t the way you or I or they wanted things to end, and my sappy, cliche-ridden musings probably do little to actually change how you’re feeling right about now. That’s OK, take as much time as you need to process this heartbreak. Losing sucks. But In loss there is gain, and I’ve chosen to put on the rose-tinted glasses. After all, the world is much prettier when you do so.
Take this opportunity to reflect on the experience. You and I, and the Avalanche, can learn something by losing. Think about how, despite losing so many crucial key pieces to the Stanley Cup formula to injury, this Avalanche team still battled back from down 3-1 in a series they looked so down and out in. Despite all that, they were one goal away from being one of the final four teams left in this thing. That deserves some praise. By losing, the Avalanche have the opportunity to reflect, to learn, to build, to add fuel to the fire in those eyes to come back stronger and hungrier than ever. Losing sucks, and coach Bednar always loves to say there are no moral victories…
But given the circumstances of 2020 and all that we — you and me, and the team — have been through this year, I’m willing to make an exception to the “no moral victories” rule. Maybe just this one time.