Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Toronto Maple Leafs 5 at Colorado Avalanche 2 - January 21, 2014

This past few months has been an incredible run of luck for me in terms of scheduling these sports road trips. First, the NFL schedule was nearly perfect, allowing me to complete the 2013 NFL Road Trip during which I saw a game in all 32 stadiums. Then the playoffs came along and New England and Denver had home games on the weekend before the Maple Leafs would be in town. Getting tickets to both those NFL games wasn't easy and I needed a friend's help for the one in Denver, but when all was said and done, tickets had been acquired and I was able to make the trips. Fantastic coincidences that allowed me to see the Leafs in two more road rinks.

Pepsi Center

Denver was the second city I visited when I began this blog nearly 5 years ago and I've seen the Pepsi Center a few times since then, but these venues are always changing. Just this past offseason, a massive new scoreboard was added, spanning the entire neutral zone.

Of course, the Avalanche moved here from Quebec, and in case you thought that Nordiques merchandise was no longer available, think again. Tons of options at the team store for nostalgia buffs, such as this toque below, only $22.

The Avalanche allow you into the lower bowl only when the teams skate out for the warm up. Other rinks generally allow anyone down low to take pictures until the skate around finishes, but this way doesn't make much difference. As soon as the players skated out of the tunnel, I raced down and took some pictures of the Leafs.

That's Morgan Rielly above, a rookie who played his junior hockey in Moose Jaw. Below is James Reimer (the I before E rule gets confusing with these two!) warming up. Some advice for James: you can see the puck better with your eyes open.

I haven't followed the Avalanche much over the past few seasons and knew perhaps half their roster. One newcomer is Marc-Andre Cliche (below), who toiled in the AHL for the L.A. Kings for six seasons before getting his chance with Colorado. Even then, I understand his interviews are pretty boring for some reason.

I found tickets in the first row of the upper deck behind the net where the Leafs would shoot twice. At $32 on StubHub, this was one-third the price I paid in Boston the week before for similar seats. A nice view as you can see below. We were also beneath the flags of the two nations represented.

I really enjoy seeing events at the Pepsi Center. The RTD system is great - I parked just 3 stops away at Decatur-Federal and after the game, was on I-25 just a couple of minutes after the train arrived. That parking lot is used during Denver Broncos games but empty otherwise and a good spot to leave the car if you want to avoid the parking charges at the rink.  There are a few bars around there for pre-game libations, including Brooklyn's across the street and Blue Sky Grill inside the arena. Ushers are friendly, although be aware that there are new security procedures in operation where you must remove your cell phones and cameras and slide them down a small chute while walking through a metal detector, but it all went quickly enough. Of course, the game was the highlight and amazingly, I saw another Leaf road win in regulation!

The Game

The Leafs are in the middle of a terrible travel schedule and had played in Phoenix the night before, winning their 5th in the row. I expected them to be tired, and they looked out of sorts early with Colton Orr taking a stupid penalty in just the second minute. Shortly after they killed it though, Dion Phaneuf sent a long pass from inside the Leafs zone. The puck bounced off the end boards next to Semyon Varlamov and Phil Kessel (below) swooped in behind the Avalanche defense and banged it home for the surprise 1-0 lead.

Later in the first, the Leafs had their own power play (ranked 4th in the league if you can believe it) and James Van Riemsdyk tipped home a Cody Franson shot to make it 2-0 after one period.

The Leafs came out strong in the second and when Jake Gardiner (above) scored 2:55 in with a seeing-eye shot to the corner, Varlamov was pulled and ex-Leaf Jean-Sebastien Giguere (below) took his place.

That didn't help matters much as Kessel soon added his second of the night and the Leafs held a commanding 4-0 lead. Reimer continued to play well, making saves such as the one below, but late in the period, first overall pick Nathan MacKinnon showed his incredible speed and skill, zooming into the zone to take a pass from P.A. Parenteau and beating Reimer with a perfect shot to give Colorado some life heading into the third.

Five minutes in, MacKinnon snapped another shot past Reimer and suddenly it was 4-2. I immediately began to panic, but the Leafs did not and although the Avalanche outshot them 17-7 over the final 20 minutes, Reimer was equal to the task. An empty netter by Jay McClement (below, passing the puck to me) sealed the deal and the Leafs win streak reached 6 with a solid 5-2 win!

There's the final with the three stars.

Another look at the gigantic scoreboard.


Nazem Kadri won only one face-off in the offensive zone, beating Cliche below. He then impeded Cliche, drawing an interference penalty. I just like this picture, so that is why I am mentioning it.

Next Up

That does it for road trips for a while. I will be seeing the odd game in the New York and Philadelphia area, including the Super Bowl I hope, and updating the 2014 schedule as that happens (but few blog posts). The main goal now is to complete Club 122 by the end of the NBA season, so I'll be planning short jaunts to Chicago, Raleigh, New Orleans, and Orlando. Check back as those develop.



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