The return to “normalcy” at Ball Arena began Saturday night, when the Toronto Raptors faced the Nuggets.
It’s hockey’s turn Sunday night, when the Calgary Flames are in town for the second time in eight days to meet the Avalanche in another possible preview of the 2022 Western Conference finals.
No proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test will be necessary to get in the building.
No longer will masks be mandatory. Even the “…except when actively eating or drinking” disclaimer is gone. (That turned out to be a bigger loophole than the Kucherov Clause, and it was understandable why arena ushers and attendants largely gave up on trying to enforce the mask requirement.)
It has been two years since “normal,” or since the night of March 11, 2020, when the Avalanche got a goal from J.T. Compher at 2:50 of overtime to beat the Rangers 3-2 before a sellout crowd of 18,025.
Tyson Jost and Vladislav Namestnikov had the other Avalanche goals and rookie defenseman Cale Makar — on his way to winning the Calder Trophy — had three assists.
The Avalanche didn’t play again until the Stanley Cup seeding round at Edmonton on August 2.
After the return to having home games, we’ve been through no crowds, limited crowds and ultimately full houses under strict protocols, both for entrance and while in the building.
And now this will have that renewed sense of how it was two years ago when the world — the sports and entertainment world, and the world, period — changed.
What I’m not going to do here, on Colorado Hockey Now, is be drawn into a deep serve-and-volley debate over the appropriateness of vaccination requirements and mandatory masks in mainstream American life.
I will admit I have had and will continue to have strong personal feelings about it. Yes, opposition to both mystified and perplexed me, but that was — and is — for another time and place.
The thing is that now, we’re beyond the worst of it. We hope.
Alex Pacheco is an Avalanche season ticket holder.
He noted he sits “in the 350’s while having a family with young kids. It was comforting to know that everyone was vaxed or tested negative to get into the arena and be in such a closed space.
“I’m sure there were many people that cheated the system or faked cards though. The last few months it has been 50/50 at best with masks and was getting fewer and farther between each game.”
Pacheco said he still “expected to see masks on Sunday,” but also was “looking forward to just having to go through the ticket line instead of showing my papers.”
Fan Jonathan Wolfer said, “We are celebrating a birthday at tomorrow’s Avs game and are ecstatic to be together at Ball Arena for the first time in years. All of us are vaccinated and will wear masks on occasion. With the lower community case rates, we are fine and feel safe about masks optional tomorrow.”
Avalanche season ticket holder Rob Sanchez noted, “Ball Arena staff did a great job doing what they needed to do. Towards the end, I noticed that once you walked through the inside security checkpoint, where you were informed masks were required, all bets were off.
“People were walking around, the majority of them unmasked. When in your seats, it was 50/50 as well. Or maybe 90/10. I’m sure it would have been hard to enforce it.”
Sanchez brought up the “eating and drinking” exception.
“I don’t remember anything being contentious with staff or attendees,” he said. “Not to say there weren’t any, I just didn’t see any. It will save a step in not having to check your vax status, though. Oh, I was no angel myself. I usually stayed masked until I got to my seat. However, if I saw the people sitting next to me remaining masked, I would also. The seats next to mine belong to a company, so the attendees always changed.”
Avs fan Scott Strobel said he had “been going all season, and for the majority of the crowd the masks disappeared once they went up the escalator.”
That won’t be skirting the rules any longer.
Avs fan Daniel Cortez put it this way: “I’m not going to the game, but I wish I was. As a very politically blue person it’s time. I think it’s very important to minimize division, especially in all the small things of life. The rest of the world is starting to move on, we should work on healing society.”
Vax-and-mask protocols remain in place, though, for events such as the touring production of “Hamilton” at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. (“Hamilton” has three different touring companies on the road at once.)
In sports, periphery issues remain, including when or if locker rooms re-open to media, enabling coverage that goes beyond frequently stilted microphone-and-table availabilities and Zoom calls. Live tweeting from the media room audience is not energetic and inventive journalism.
Let’s celebrate that returning to normal — at least for sports and most concerts at Ball Arena — makes sense. Actually, I admit the enforcement of the vaccination requirement went much smoother than I thought it would.
Terry Frei (email@example.com, @tfrei) is a Denver-based author and journalist. He has been named a state’s sportswriter 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 five non-fiction works are “Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming,” “Third Down and a War to Go,” “March 1939: Before the Madness,” and “’77: Denver, the Broncos, and a Coming of Age.” He also collaborated with Adrian Dater on “Save By Roy,” 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
His Colorado Hockey Now column archive can be accessed here