Thursday, February 18, 2016

Mile High Hockey - Justin G and Link's Hockey Road Trip

One of the joys of traveling to different arenas is seeing what local flavors the concession stands have.  Every building has hot dogs, nachos, peanuts, Dippin’ Dots (the future of ice cream for over 30 years!). Where the fun begins is when the places branch out.  And let me tell you, there is no better place for arena eating then the Pepsi Center in Denver.

The Colorado Avalanche’s home arena opened in 1999 and has aged pretty well.  The sightlines are nice, the concourses are wide enough and the video screen in the middle of the ice is large (it also tracks blocked shots, hits and faceoff percentage which is pretty nice). The seats in club level (big spender!) were comfortable. I was able to sit next to Link (all 6’4” of him) and another gentleman of larger dimensions without holding my breath entire game.

There wasn’t much in the way of original entertainment or different crowd celebrations (a la the weird hand jive thing in St. Louis) but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good experience.  Oh wait, I forget that we were at the peak of Mt. Loud!  For geography based team tie-ins that’s no worse or better than being in Hockey Bay, USA.

As for the crowd itself, they were fairly into the game I would say.  It was a close game against the Montreal Canadiens (resplendent in their road whites). Midway through the second Jarome Iginla bumped into goalie Ben Scrivens who went down faster than oil prices. With Scrivens down, Iginla popped the rebound into the back of the net to tie the game.  Unfortunately for the aged winger the referee waived off the goal and sent him to the penalty box.  The crowd was quite displeased and let it be known for the next two minutes.  Iginla would have his revenge as he tallied the game winner with two minutes left and denied me from seeing my first 3-on-3 overtime.

Fan jersey selection was strong as well.  There were a few Montreal sweaters sprinkled around the crowd, but most of the crowd was adorned in the home team colors.  For the record I wore a Lightning hat and Link had his obligatory Penguins hat and Hamilton Bearcats sweatshirt (which always draws a “Are ya from Hamilton, eh?” question). Nathan MacKinnon (Jo Drouin’s bestest buddy!) and Gabriel Landeskog were well represented.

What I was impressed with (other than the sheer number of different sweaters that the Avalanche have had in 20 years) is that the fans don’t seem to abandon jerseys even if the player no longer is on the team.  Dan Hinote, Martin Skoula, and Ian Laperriere jerseys were spotted among the expected Patrick Roy and Joe Sakics.

Seated next to me was a lovely couple, the aforementioned gentleman of ample girth (MacKinnon jersey) and his delightful wife (Semyon Varlamov jersey).  She kept up an adorable running commentary the entire game, encouraging the hometown boys for the whole 60 minutes. She was mostly positive in the way a mother watching a little league game it. I have the feeling she brings cookies for the players at season ticket holder meet and greets.

The Avalanche sent their supporters home happy as they scored in the dying moments of the game after Montreal superstar and hospital builder PK Subban made, in his coaches words, a “selfish play”.  Well the play was good but falling down in the offensive zone was not very good.

I am a huge fan of PK Subban. I honestly think he is one of the most enjoyable players to watch play in the NHL.  He is fluid skater with a great imagination who does things most defensemen wouldn’t even think of doing.  Unfortunately it does occasionally lead to turnovers at an unfortunate times, as was the case in Colorado.  

Favorite photo ever?  Maybe.

But enough about the game.  Let’s talk about the real number one star of this trip - the food.  Sadly Link and I had filled up on pizza at Lucky Pie before the game. I say sadly only because it meant I was full when I got to the Pepsi Center.  The pizza at Lucky Pie was very, very good. As was the Graham Cracker porter from Denver Brewing Company.

In addition to all of the usual selection there was copious beer options including craft and local.  There was a street taco stand.  There was a cupcake stand.  You could get what seemed like 14 different types of gourmet pretzels.  There was a barbeque place. THERE WAS A MINI DOUNT STAND! On the club level there was a huge bar people were just hanging out at.  I’m pretty sure some of them never even made it to their seats.

The club level seats also had an attendant that bring food to our seat. On his menu there was parmesan garlic fries.  Those sounded delightful.  Sadly we did not partake.  Nor did I take down the chicken and waffles even though I really, really wanted to.  I figured I had room for just one culinary delight.  So after the first period I went to a stand and ordered this:

Ladies and gentlemen I give you the Park Avenue. It is a champagne waffle on a stick with a blood orange sauce and fresh whipped cream.  It was just as good as it sounds. Will I point to it as the cause of my diabetes when I’m older, probably.  Will I spend a little longer on the treadmill today because of it, probably not.  Was it worth it?  MY GOD YES!

If you’re in Denver and the Avs are in town go to a game.  Tickets aren’t Florida cheap but they are reasonable.  We did splurge for the club level tickets ($80 on StubHub) because of some of our other hockey on this trip will be free and because a parking pass was included.  When I was ticket shopping I did see upper bowl seats in the $25-35 range. You can get a quality beer for less than $10 and the food options are multitude. Sadly all of the soda options are Pepsi (sorry Kristen), but if that’s the biggest drawback than you’re doing a pretty good job.  We were a little disappointed in the 50/50 raffle which topped out at $2300.  We didn’t win, but if we’re going to lose a 50/50 it would be nice if it was a bit more.

As I type we are jet bound to Phoenix to see what hockey in the desert is like.  I’m looking forward to seeing what the experience is like.  Hearing and reading so much about the beleaguered franchise makes me think that it will be a barren, depressed barn, but I remember that even in their woebegone days the Lightning experience was never not bad.  It will be interesting for sure.

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