Scratching the dark 2004-05 lockout season and the 13 years between the Rockies’ 1982 departure and the Avalanche’s 1995 arrival, the upcoming 2021-22 season will be the NHL’s 32nd in Denver.
Denver’s hockey pedigree also includes many minor-league ventures — most with a fellow named Reg as a player-coach — and an elite NCAA program at the University of Denver.
The most underplayed aspect of the scene has been the explosion of youth hockey, whether more on the participation level or in nationally elite programs.
So despite what some editors think, Colorado outlets don’t need to run “Hockey 101” graphics explaining the color of the blue line, the offside rule and who this guy Gretzky was. (True story: The Denver Post once sent a news side reporter to the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals, and spelled The Great One as Wayne “Gretsky. It made it into the paper, much to the chagrin of us sports staffers then).
As I type, this seems to be an appropriate day to take stock and opine about where the Avalanche fits in or ranks in 2021.
This time of year in professional sports feels a little like headiung out for a Sunday drive down to the Four-Corners Area and visiting Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah … in a span of, what, 15 minutes?
The Avalanche plays its third exhibition game Monday at Minnesota. and soon after opens the regular season on Oct. 13 against Chicago at Ball Arena.
Brace yourself: Several Blackhawks fans will be in attendance. And they might even be obnoxious and aggravating.
The NBA Nuggets get into exhibition action Monday at Los Angeles against the Clippers and open the regular season Oct. 20 at Phoenix.
Comcast subscribers in the Denver area … get those streaming links ready, but you didn’t hear that here.
The Colorado Rockies — the MLB team, not the NHL outfit that once featured Lanny McDonad’s mustache and Don Cherry’s English Pit Bull, Blue, closed out the 2021 National League regular season Sunday at Phoenix. They finished 74-87 and will open the playoffs Tuesday at various golf courses across the country.
Who’s that leave? Oh, yeah. The Broncos, who dropped to 3-1 with a disconcerting 23-7 loss to the Ravens at Empower Field at Mile High.
With all due respect to the passion of local soccer fans, I’m not going to include the Rapids in this, primarily because unlike the other leagues involved, the MSL isn’t close to the best league in the world.
This is tricky and involves definition of terms.
I’m not going to crunch data and formulas to justify these conclusions.
I’ve lived in Denver much of my life. I’ve covered all four of the sports here and at other professional stops. I can subject this to gut and eye tests.
So here’s my view of the franchise hierarchy of the Denver spots scene.
Feel free to disagree. Just don’t drop the gloves or deliver the pitch behind my head.
4. Colorado Rockies
Attendance has held up amazingly well, given the Rockies’ mediocrity … or worse. Many visiting team fans are in the park on most nights, but if you think that’s unique, you haven’t been in many parks.
You don’t think that happens in Milwaukee … or Anaheim … or even Cleveland?
You think all St. Louis and Boston fans focus on every pitch and never take selfies or wander to the concession stands?
A night at Coors Field still is an enjoyable experience.
You don’t have to be a sap or apologist to be a lifelong baseball fan who knows how to use a Scoremaster.
And if Coors Field sometimes seems more like Elitch’s than a ballpark, so what?
The Monforts are NOT cheap. IT’s more about modest ambitions and inept management than frugality. So long, Nolan Arenado, DJ LeMahieu … and now, most likely, Trevor Story. This will remain a vibrant baseball city. But not so much because of the Rockies.
3. Denver Nuggets
Since this is another wing of the Kroenke empire, the copout would be to lump them together. And when you think about it, what market has a better NBA/NHL tandem than Denver does, with Nikola Jokic and Nathan MacKinnon?
The answer is: None.
I covered two different NBA teams and the league in general for more than a decade. That’s not as long as I have covered two different NHL teams. Yet this is not a vote cast by a hockey-only specialist. Now I’ll even admit there’s more across-the-board interest in the Nuggets than the Avalanche, but I say that with a huge qualification: That’s among general sports fans.
But the Avalanche gets the No. 2 slot because of the unique nature of its fandom, not necessarily the numbers involved.
2. Colorado Avalanche
The biggest change since the Avalanche’s arrival has been the spreading of that interest from hockey-first fans to others. In that sense, it hasn’t caught up with the NBA.
Often, in fact, hockey-first fans act almost as if they don’t want company. If you don’t know Medicine Hat and Halifax’s nicknames in major junior, you are deficient.
Rather than be so proprietary, hockey-first fans should welcome converts or casual fans to the fold. Let everyone in on the fun. Hockey is neither brain surgery nor rocket science. Those trying to turn it into an analytics quagmire are tiresome and put the average fan to sleep with their copy. Or discussion.
But that’s where the Avalanche get the nod in this ranking … their fans are so knowlegeable and passionate. Even if they sometimes don’t play well with others.
1. Denver Broncos.
It’s indisputable. It’s never going to change. I do have a quibble. Some believe that the Broncos’ popularity — or the popularity of Broncos’ coverage discussion, which isn’t necessarily the same thing — calls for riveting breakdowns of the dime package. To the exclusion of any other sports discussions.
That’s when the Avalanche, Nuggets and Rockies, to a ridiculous extent, are still in the shadows.
Terry Frei (email: firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Denver-based author and journalist. He has been named a state’s sports writer of the year seven times in peer voting — four times in Colorado and three times in Oregon. His seven books include the novels “Olympic Affair” and “The Witch’s Season.” Among his non-fiction works are “Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming,” “Third Down and a War to Go” “’77: Denver, the Broncos, and a Coming of Age” and “March 1939: Before the Madness.” He also collaborated with Adrian Dater on “Save By Roy. He was a long-time vice president of the Professional Hockey Writers Association and has covered the hockey Rockies, Avalanche and the NHL at-large. His web site is www.terryfrei.com and his bio is available at www.terryfrei.com/bio.html