Beginning with Wednesday night’s home game against the Kings, the Avalanche will play 10 games in 17 days to close out the 2021-22 regular season.
They won’t have two consecutive days off between games the rest of the schedule, and the stretch includes two sets of games on back-to-back nights.
In other words, especially given coach Jared Bednar’s preference to not force practices and to trust the players to set their own off-day regimen, whether that means home or hotel workouts or complete rest, the Avalanche’s Monday practice at Family Sports Center likely was a rarity.
They won’t practice Tuesday before the Ball Arena meetings with the Kings and Devils on back-to-back nights begin that busy stretch run.
Trust me: The evolution of attitude, whether it’s just Bednar or a league-wide phenomenon, is striking compared to the NHL’s conventional thinking in the days of … well, not that long ago.
Practices were called in part because it they were viewed as the means of assuring the players’ only exercise of the day wasn’t lifting the beer stein or cheeseburger.
The game-morning skate’s roots were in serving as a wake-up call and assessing who had a good time the night before — and who might still be feeling it.
Now players have home gyms and scout out the hotel workout rooms.
I’m not saying they’re angels, but Bobby Hull, they aren’t.
“Our guys work so hard at making sure they’re in tip-top shape and ready to go for the games, it doesn’t really change on practice days and the days that they’re away from the rink,” Bednar said Monday. “Half of ’em are working out. I mean, we’ll get in on the road and the coaching staff will head down to the gym to get a workout in because we haven’t been doing anything but sitting at our computers. We’ll go down and there will be six, seven guys just doing maintenance or making sure that they’re loose and kind of getting ready for the next day, even if they’re on a travel day.
“I trust these guys, the way they eat, the way they train, the way they take care of themselves. That’s as good as I’ve seen. I’m not really worried about that. I’m more worried about the energy level.”
MAKAR ON … : The Avalanche seem to have a secure lead in the “race” for the NHL’s Presidents’ Trophy. There’s room for tongue-in-cheek debate over whether that is something to avoid — along the lines of avoiding walking under a ladder.
But Cale Makar Monday voiced the most sensible attitude about what winning it would mean. That’s illustrated by the Avs’ last Stanley Cup win, when they had home ice for Game 7 of the Finals against the Devils. OK, Makar was 2 years old at the time, but you get the drift.
“We got it last year, so it would be cool to get it again,” Makar said. “But at the end of the day, the only way that matters is when we get to the finals. If we have that extra home-ice advantage. That’s kind of the way I look at it. If you want to secure that, that’s fine, but there’s so much work to be done before that. If it happens, it happens. Obviously, you want it.”
Although Makar generally has been in a tandem with Devon Toews, and they’re recognized as among the league’s elite pairings, Makar has played some with recently-returned Bo Byram of late as Bednar takes a look at various combinations as the defense gets closer to full strength.
“I think Taze and I just read off each other really well,” Makar said. “Whether it’s me being able to jump into the play or him, I feel like we always have a guy back for the most part. Whether it’s working the blue line and the O zone or even behind our net, it’s finding little areas where we can make plays and get it to the forwards. He’s obviously a great skater and a great player and it’s been fun. Obviously, we’re fortunate on the back end, we can all play with each other and that’s why we’ve been rolling some pairings lately.”
And with Byram?
“I really like it,” Makar said. “Bo’s pretty similar to the style Tazer and I play, offensive-driven and just same thing, we read off each other very well.”
What did the Avalanche hope to accomplish down the stretch?
“For us, even today in practice, just stressing defensive habits every single day,” Makar said. “I feel like we know what we have to do. We have those odd breakdowns, whether it was in Winnipeg or whatnot, so minimizing those opportunities that we give other teams.”
Makar was a finalist for the Norris Trophy a year ago and this season has been considered the frontrunner for the award.
How often do friends and family bring it up?
“To be completely honest with you, never,” he said. “I’m trying to think of … Yeah, I honestly don’t think anybody has. They just kind of let me do my thing. Everybody in my family’s so supportive.”
The Avalanche have high expectations, and Makar was asked if anything but making the Stanley Cup Finals would be a disappointment.
“That’s a tough question,” he said. “Obviously, we’re going to go out there and do everything you can to get there. If you look at it as a disappointment, I feel like that’s just going to put more pressure on you right now if you look at it in that respect. Right now, we’re just trying to do the right thing and make sure we’re going when we hit the playoffs. there’s just so much work to do before then, but that’s obviously the goal, but I wouldn’t phrase it in the terms of disappointment, that’s for sure.”
Makar recently passed Sandis Ozolinsh to set the franchise record for goals by a defenseman in a season. I brought up whether he had learned about the Avalanche standouts of the past that he has been mentioned with.
“Educated to some sorts, obviously,” he said. “Those guys are a little bit before my time for the most part I’d say, but it’s cool to be recognized with names like that, to have a guy like Sandis who created such a legacy with the Avs, it’s something pretty cool to be up there with him.”
INJURY REPORT: The injured Nazem Kadri and Ryan Murray skated on their own on the second rink Monday, but didn’t make the move to the main practice rink to participate in practice.
“They’ve both been skating for a little while,” Bednar said. He said Kadri is “feeling good, not 100 percent yet, so he’s going to be a little bit yet.”
He added that Gabriel Landeskog has yet to skate in the wake of minor knee surgery, but still is expected to be ready at least for the playoffs. “That’s the goal,” Bednar said…
Toews and Logan O’Connor didn’t practice. “Just maintenance,” Bednar said.
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