Tag Archives: Denver

Thanks Joe!

Last night, one of the greatest hockey players to grace the ice, was honored as an inductee to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Joe Sakic is a class act. His leadership in the sport of ice hockey has been monumental. He’s a great guy too.

Sakic was the gentleman leader who instilled playing an honest game with integrity. He was shy, yet always the ambassador to the hockey world. He brought the NHL and hockey to Colorado, where most poeple were transplants from elsewhere. I knew Minnesota Wild, Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers, and Pittsburgh Penguins fans converted into Avalanche fans due in large part to what heart Sakic and his team brought to Denver. They became one of us, on our team.

I remember seeing him ride along downtown Denver atop a fire engine hoisting the Stanley Cup. The thrill of hockey had been reborn in me. Coming from Detroit, I missed the games, the passionate fans, and the hockey players I followed. Joe Sakic became and will always be my favorite Avalanche player. I devoted much of my blog to how the Avalanche and Joe Sakic’s living legacy created competitive hockey and a strong community.

He had skeletons that he locked away and when asked about them in interviews, he would change the subject or conclude the interview. He was there to talk about his team, not a horrific day tha haunted him. Most journalists knew that event shaped his dedication and emotion for playing the game, and respected his privacy.

Sakic was a pioneer for the youth hockey advancement and development in Denver. Kids new to hockey looked to Joe for inspiration. Denver, primarily a football town, was unaware of young hockey stars in waiting.

The University of Denver Pioneers men’s hockey team had a brighter spotlight as hockey rose in popularity. DU groomed two NHL stars in Paul Stastny and Matt Carle, and became NCAA champions. The Frozen Four would never had been hosted by Denver in 2008 if Sakic hadn’t created such an affection for local hockey.

Players respected and emulated him. Fans wore his jersey proudly. We all knew Joe. And we knew Joe saw us too. We were not just a crowd, we were a community. We were The Avalanche.

As a staunch Red Wings fan, Joe was the only guy who could tear me away from Detroit. When the Detroit Red Wings came to town, it was really a battle between Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic. I was heartbroken that I had to choose between the two. Both men remain iconic representatives of a generation of NHL fans who can agree on their talented leadership and sportsmanship. Old school fans still ask, “Sakic or Yzerman?”

All the stats in his career can’t replace the years of happiness he has brought to the many fans around the world. He’s a class-act and his induction as a Hall of Famer is testament to the good guys out there making a difference. Thanks Joe!

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March Madness

Former Wisconsin Badger Blake Geoffrion scored his first NHL goal with the Nashville Predators this week.  Geoffrion’s Wisconsin Badgers lost 5-0 to the Eagles of Boston College last season in the Frozen Four. But it wasn’t all bad.  Geoffrion became the first Badgers player to win the Hobey Baker and only the 10th Wisconsin player to be named a finalist. In his college career, Blake led the WCHA in goals with 19, and was named to the All-WCHA First Team. He was the 56th pick in the 2006 NHL entry draft, selected by the Nashville Predators.

The Badgers had two Hobey Baker candidates last year, Blake Geoffrion and defenseman Brendan Smith, who has been playing for Detroit’s AHL affiliate the Grand Rapids Griffins. The road from college hockey to the NHL can be tough, and some never get the chance. Geoffrion’s goal reminded me that now is the season for March Madness- hockey, that is.

Tournaments are happening this weekend to determine who will play towards the Frozen Four April 7-9 in the Twin Cities. Minnesota puts more effort into hockey than any other state with an abundance of media coverage in high-school to NHL hockey. What else is there to do in Minnesota besides playing hockey?

Next to the Stanley Cup playoffs, this is the best time of the year to be a hockey fan. Both Michigan and Denver are tied in rank at No. 5, so I’ve  got two chances to get to the Frozen Four.

Since Red Berenson’s mighty Michigan Wolverines are one of my teams, notable players to look out for include Carl Hagelin who finished fourth in the CCHA scoring race (15-22-37. Rookie John Merrill became the first defensman to reach the 20-goal mark  since, now NHL Kings defenseman, Jack Johnson in 2005-06. Goaltender Shawn Hunwick ranked first in the CCHA in goals-against average (1.95) and save percentage (.931). Michigan’s energetic season, inlcuding the “Big Chill in the Big House” has prepared the team for the big stage heading into the divisional tournaments.

The Denver Pioneers have completely revamped this season losing many player to graduation or the NHL track. Despite being in the top-ten most of the season, the Pioneers have been under the radar. Expect the usual quiet analytical play by Denver. Denver’s top two scorers are sophomore Drew Shore and freshman Jason Zucker. George Gwozdecky can’t look at the year and expect to foretell the future. In previous years, the Pioneers have learned that once in the NCAA tournament, the regular season and conference tournaments mean nothing. Last year, the Pioneers won the MacNaughton Cup, stumbled a bit in the WCHA Final Five and lost in the first round of the NCAAs for third consecutive season as a No. 1 seed.

Many fans don’t take the time to watch college hockey, but it’s exciting if you are a hockey fan to realize you are watching the next great NHL stars.

Detroit Hockey in Denver

No, this isn’t a story about the Red Wings or the Avalanche, rather the AAA U18 Detroit Showcase games at my local ice arena.  Five Detroit teams came to Colorado to play against other teams in their division.  It was standing room only, meaning I stood the entire time because no bleachers just parents, and grandparents who made the trek from Michigan, LA and Colorado.

I wore my Red Wings shirt to attract as many Michiganders as I could.  The competition between Belle Tire and the Colorado Rampage attracted mostly locals.  Through three periods, the Detroit team won 8-3.  Incidentally, the Belle Tire team’s parents had some killer Red Wings rings from veteran Kris Draper.

Two older men appeared amongst the crowd at the first game, and I guessed they were from Michigan since they were sporting camouflage gear that most Michiganders wear in the winter.  They were from Troy, and there to see their nephew play for the Honeybaked team, who were the most anticipated team in the showcase.   The usual topics of discussion were how bad the economy was in Michigan, yet the Red Wings are getting a new arena.  That will be another story soon, so stay tuned for further developments.  The grandfather came prepared with a few beers in the truck for intermissions between games.  That’s Michigan good ole boys!

I talked to many people and was caught in the crosshairs of some conversations.  Many of the young players from Detroit were considering the OHL, while college teams were scouting others.  I heard one parent comment that most scouts are within 250 miles of Detroit because of the talent and hockey programs.

Sunday morning at Big Bear brought out the parents of the Detroit Red Wings sponsored, Little Caesars’ team against the LA Jr. Kings.  The Kings were impressive and won over the team from Detroit by a few goals, but Little Caesars’ played hard and proud sporting their Red Wings logo on their jerseys.

Five Detroit teams participated as the Eastern Division:  Belle Tire, Honeybaked, Victory Honda, Compuware, and Little Caesars’ who is owned by Red Wings philanthropist family the Ilitches.  Other teams visiting in the Western Division included form northern Colorado, the Colorado Rampage, the LA Selects, LA Jr. Kings, the Colorado Thunderbirds and PF Changs.  Big Bear Ice Arena in Lowry hosted the showcase, and 5280sports.net provided live broadcasts.