We all have that one friend. You know the one. The guy/gal we went to college with who was… that guy. The guy who didn’t care what anyone thought of him or what he did. The guy who made you furious because he was so insanely inconsiderate.
He was also the guy everyone loved and no one understood why. When he was your roommate, it was exponentially worse because he was a slob and dirty and a mooch and you loved him so much despite how much you wanted to smother him with a pillow when he slept on the communal couch every single night of senior year despite having his own bedroom 10 feet away…
That’s my friend Dan.
I’ve been out of college for 15 years and have drifted apart from most of the guys I went to school with. But Dan and I still text regularly. He called on Thanksgiving morning just to say hi and talk to me about the time he came to my house in New Hampshire for dinner and check on how my parents were doing. He was my worst roommate in six years of my collegiate/post-grad education.
But he’s one of the best people in the world and someone I’ll be friends with (from a distance) for the rest of my life.
And he’s from Buffalo. It all makes sense: kind of a mess, but so damn lovable.
Going to school with Dan during the height of the Patriots’ run and the Bills’ low point was an experience I’ll treasure forever. However, for as much as I really like the Patriots, I love the Avalanche. And I love when the Avalanche beat the Sabres mostly because I have bragging rights with my old college buddy.
A decade and a half later, little has changed. He was at the game Thursday night, ignoring my texts after both 5-on-3 goals. I don’t usually talk trash because I very much believe in karma. Dan is different. I think he secretly likes being dunked on. It’s his personna at this point. That’s what makes him so damn lovable against every ounce of my being that tells me I should hate this guy.
The first night of our senior year apartment, we were watching the 2007 NHL Draft and he spilled beer on the floor. He went to the kitchen, but instead of taking the paper towels on the counter, he took a loaf of bread RIGHT NEXT TO THEM and threw slices on the ground to soak up the mess. He was my mess that I couldn’t clean up with slices of bread.
We went on a spring break trip to Toronto (all the kids who went to Cancun were jealous despite what they said) in 2006, spending the week going to the Hockey Hall of Fame and other hockey spots in the city. We spent way too much money at a bar across from SkyDome named “The Loose Moose” and stayed at a youth hostel up by the old Maple Leaf Gardens.
Dan loves hockey like I do. He is a great Buffalo fan and I hope one day he gets to enjoy the feeling I have been fortunate enough to experience three times. But I also love watching him lose twice a year.
I texted him right after the game ended, “Dan… I say this with peace and love: few things give me more joy in this life than beating you.”
He was already focused on the Bills/Pats game. I don’t blame him. He’s finally got a quality team in Orchard Park. That doesn’t mean he still doesn’t owe me $2.99 for the bread.
People don’t forget, Dan… “Things are things.”
(2006 was a wild time for my hair. Dan also jinxed it the Sabres by touching the Stanley Cup.)
NOW… TO THE GAME!
- MacKinnon takes over: That was a dominant performance by Nathan MacKinnon. He was everywhere. I’ve talked about it before when Mikko Rantanen has an under-the-radar great game and you look at the box score afterward and are shocked at his point total. This isn’t one of those times for Nate. When he’s dominating, you know it and Thursday night you knew it. It’s hard to overlook a five-point night with a pair of great goals. With the number of injuries that keep piling up, what Mack and Mikko have been doing at the top of the lineup is Hart-worthy. They are carrying this team on many nights and tonight it was MacKinnon’s time to put the group on his back.
- J.T. Compher. If this was a game in which people will remember MacKinnon’s play, I might argue that this was the Compher-breakout game we all have been waiting for. Four points (2-2-4), while not breaking from his physical style we need from him to be effective was such a great performance. Against his former team and the franchise that drafted him probably was in the back of his mind, but I have to assume he’s so far beyond that trade since everything has seemed to work out just fine for our beloved Jimothy Timothy.
- That backhanded keep-in by Cale Makar. Oh my goodness… the play of the game for me and it doesn’t show up anywhere on the stat sheet. It looks so simple, but it was so stunning to me, that my text to Dan after that goal was not about Arturri Lehkonen scoring or about the passing of Mikko or the slot shot from Mack. It was about Makar keeping the play alive with a backhanded save at the blueline and then the seemingly blind backhand pass across the top of the offensive zone over to Rantanen to set up for the second goal of the long two-man advantage. If you missed it, go back and watch the goal again. Makar’s play at the line is special.
- 5v3 PP for a loooong time. Speaking of that goal, it came on the 5-on-3 power play after the Sabres took a pair of penalties five seconds apart. The Avs made them pay with two goals separated by just 49 seconds. That turned the game from a one-goal Sabres lead to a one-goal Avalanche lead and the whole contest felt like it changed. Unreal that a one-minute-and-55-second two-man advantage wasn’t the longest of the game for either team.
- Foudy gets aggressive after being hit. I love seeing Jean-Luc Foudy get worked up in just his second NHL game. After getting laid out at the side of the goal, he goes a little wild in the corner. I like that he’s not letting himself get pushed around this early in his career, but with the way the game was called on the ice, we want to see a little bit more controlled aggression than just trying to run anyone over.
- Josh Manson cross checks Tyson Jost. I feel like the story of the last few games for Colorado has been the play of Josh Manson. This was a weird play to me because it didn’t look like a huge or dirty hit. Jost is in a vulnerable position, but he’s also not super strong on his skates in that instant. Tough call all around. I also thought it was funny when they stared at each other after the collision. I had to go back and look at the trade wire to see if they even knew each other last year. Manson was acquired from Anaheim on March 14 and made his Avs’ debut the following night up the road against the Kings. Jost was traded to Minnesota earlier in that day and didn’t play in LA that night, meaning that they were actually teammates for probably 18 hours, but never skated together in a game or practice. I assume they may have met at team breakfast at the hotel before Jost was notified of his impending move to St. Paul.
- The first-intermission adjustments. I don’t know what Jared Bednar said after the first to the team in the locker room, but it worked. That second period was great and seemingly overcame what I thought was another sluggish start for Colorado. It’s funny to say that and then look at the stats and realize that although it is the Avalanche’s worst offensive period (with 21 goals scored), it is far and away their best defensive period, allowing only 12 first-period goals in 21 games this season. The 28 second-period goals is the most in any stanza this year by the Avs, so maybe this was not too far from the norm for this group.
- Penalties… everywhere. In the last piece I wrote, I mentioned that the referees I knew always wanted quick games and the story to be about the players. Thursday’s refs must have wanted to stay at the rink as long as possible with 15 (!) minors called. Of all of the whistles, former No. 1 pick Owen Power was the game’s only repeat offender with 13 other players making trips to the sin bin.
- Take off your helmet! If I ran the NHL’s PR department, I would make it a mandate that players have to take their helmets off in interviews. Part of the knock on the NHL is that they don’t market the stars correctly. When I see a post-game interview with Nathan MacKinnon after a five-point game and he still have his helmet on, I get irrationally mad as a former PR guy. Take your helmet off and let people see you! Sidney Crosby is the most recognized player in the world because he allows himself to be seen and marketed. (This is a weird rant, I know. But as a former professional in this field, I feel strongly about it!)
Every Avalanche fan remembers Cale Makar’s debut in Game 3 of the Calgary series back in the 2019 first round. Just scored a goal and set the world on fire. No big deal. But just a few days earlier, Mr. Makar was having a great weekend in Buffalo… well, maybe not ‘great’ as much as memorable. He and his UMass Minutemen got to the Frozen Four and the NCAA Championship Game in Buffalo for the first time in school history. Makar would win the Hobey Baker as the nation’s top collegiate player over Adam Fox on Friday evening after he and his team defeated Denver, 4-3, in overtime the night before (sorry Pio fans). Duluth would take their second title in as many years on Saturday night, but that didn’t overshadow the best college hockey player of the last decade. I was at that Frozen Four working for the NCAA up in the press box and remember watching Makar leave the ice, giving all his teammates hugs before being the last player to head down the tunnel into the locker room and off to the NHL 48 hours later. I actually saw Makar’s last four college games as I worked the regional in Manchester, New Hampshire, two weeks earlier where he was BY FAR the best player there. And that included another future NHL defenseman playing for Harvard who would force his way onto the roster of another team than the one that drafted him.
PROUD DAD MOMENT COMING!
Saturday in Boston will mark a milestone moment for me as a father. I am bringing my son to his first NHL/Avalanche game. For the last few years, we told him he could go to a game when he was five. Well his fifth birthday came a few weeks back and we gave him a hat, shirt and a sign that said he was going to this Saturday’s game against the Bruins. It didn’t go over as well as the Legos or dinosaurs, but then again it’s hard for a five-year old to really compute what the piece of paper in a gift bag meant. As we’ve gotten closer, though, he’s been getting more and more excited and has been asking a lot of questions (mostly about the food and how much popcorn he can have). I am more excited than him and that’s understandable. I love this team so much and I love that he loves them too (at least I think he does). I’m so excited to share this experience with him. I just really want a win or it’s going to be a long drive back to New Hampshire with a lot of tears and screaming in the car. And I’m sure he’d be unhappy, too.