After the lights had gone down on the improbable second season for the Avalanche it was hard not to think about what could have been.
What would have happened had Nathan MacKinnon not injured his shoulder three minutes into game seven against the Sharks? How far could the team have gone had the Colin Wilson goal not been stripped away by a questionable offsides call? How would the game have ended had the Avalanche adjusted to Joe Pavelski’s return sooner?
It is easy to be angry about any of these things and more. But then, if we keep our heads, we are able to feel grateful. The Avalanche. These Avalanche were two goals away from the conference finals. Let that sink in.
During my admittedly erratic twelve years of writing about Avalanche hockey, there have been periods of glory woven into long stretches of mediocrity. The last time the Avalanche were a serious threat— a truly dominating force— was over fifteen years ago when the top three lines and defense iced Hall of Famers named Sakic, Forsberg, Kariya, Selanne, and Blake.
There have been fits and starts since that moment: there was the false start of the Patrick Roy coaching era, and there was the false hope of the Ryan Smyth era. But mostly there was nothing.
Absolutely. Stinking. Nothing.
Just three years ago the Avalanche endured the worst hockey season in the modern era. Even the attention of the die hards started to wane when the questionable motivations of the Kroenke ownership seemed content to keep the roster set to perpetual mediocrity. I don’t blame anyone for turning away. There were better things to do.
But this time seems different. This time there is a real spark. This time there is the hope of potential being realized. I have been an expatriate since August 22nd, 2009, when my career evaporated. Expatriate life is often an incredible mix of extremes. It is a life of exhilaration mixed with loneliness. Often the mind cries out for some kind of anchor. Something to cling to when the cold logic of personal economic decisions wins out over the emotional desire to return home.
Personally my anchor has been sports because it always provides a welcome distraction. I was a die hard fan long before the economic crash of the late aughts drove me from my home. These days my love of the Colorado sports borders on madness.
During the San Jose series I felt things that I hadn’t felt since the night I watched José Théodore carry the Avalanche to a playoff win over the Wild in 2008 from the upper deck at the Pepsi Center, the last time before this season that the Avs won a playoff series. I felt the pride that came along with controlling a superior team. The pride that comes along with being taken seriously. This time the pride was magnified even more because I watched the playoffs with my infant daughter.
Say what you will, there is a pervasive and real inspiring force that comes with following a team that wins. Just as there are the soul sucking doldrums that come with being a fan of a team that constantly fails.
I am sad today that there is no more Avalanche hockey this year. But I am happy that this time around the success the Avalanche realized was real and sustainable. In a way it feels like coming home.
Until next year, friends.