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Hockey gods, hear my prayer.
Could you hip check that COVID-19 creep so hard into the boards the virus can’t get back up? Could you find a way to get Denver fans back in an eerily empty arena before the NHL playoffs begin?
Yes, we need our vaccines and peace of mind, first and foremost. But we also miss going burgundy-and-blue crazy at the best sport to experience in all its beer-sloshing, glass-pounding, live glory.
And I suspect the Avalanche — which can play like the greatest show on ice one night and appear oddly emotionally absent 48 hours later — miss you, the die-hard hockey lovers of Colorado.
“It makes it difficult. It’s going to keep the standings tight,” coach Jared Bednar said Thursday. “Everyone is rolling with the punches, with life and with hockey.”
Colorado stirred from slumber in the third period, scoring two goals within a span of two minutes, allowing the Avs to escape with a far tougher victory against San Jose than the 3-0 final score might indicate.
Stanley Cup favorites? Better slow that roll for now. Sometimes, the Avs look as if they would be anywhere but here.
But, hey, I get it. If the rest of us miss hugs from grandma and are sick and tired of eyeglasses constantly fogged by that dang mask, the Avalanche can be excused for battling pandemic fatigue. Welcome to the endless NHL regular-season trek, where the inside of every hotel room feels like a luxury prison cell and the sun never shines in an arena where the fake cheers on audiotape fade to white noise.
Heck, my even goose bumps got lonely when Colorado and San Jose played the back end of their two-game series. Let me explain.
Every time Jake Schroeder sings the national anthem, giving a stirring reminder how blessed we are to live in the home of the brave, goose flesh pops on my arms. But as Schroeder belted out the pitch-perfect notes of a song he’s now performed 974 times prior to puck drop at an Avalanche game, the crowd did not go wild.
“It’s so weird,” Schroeder told me, after finishing “The Star-Spangled Banner” in an empty Ball Arena. “It’s weird to be in here singing to no fans.”
There is no home crowd nor any love for the NHL’s most exciting team. That ain’t right.
Schroeder is honored to sing the anthem, regardless of the weird, COVID-mandated circumstances.
“It does give me a some sense of normalcy. I’m glad to do it,” said Schroeder, whose entire family dealt with mild symptoms of the virus in November. “But it’s just all so surreal.”
Amen, brother. Know what’s so surreal it’s almost sickening? When center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare crumpled to the ice with what appeared to be a knee injury in the first period, the tough man’s agonizing howl of pain echoed throughout the building.
The decisive goals by Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky both resulted from scrums in front of Sharks netminder Devan Dubnyk. Artistic? Not really, not unless your idea of beauty is a rusty, beat-up lunch bucket.
It doesn’t matter how much a civic-minded corporation paid to slap its name on this arena the Avs call home. Without the passion of Colorado fans, this place often rings as hollow as an empty can.
Every NHL regular season is a grind. This one is going to be a slog. Some nights, a stubborn refusal to lose will count more than skill, even for a team as spectacularly talented as the Avalanche.
So dear hockey gods, please hear my prayer:
Send COVID to the sin bin, ASAP and forever. Let Colorado fans back in the building before the playoffs begin.
“It’s a lot more fun playing when you’re playing in front of your passionate fans in Denver,” Bednar said.
Put the jump back in the Avalanche’s step and return the joy to a game best loved in person.