The big news out of Avalanche headquarters had nothing to do with Saturday night's rematch with the Edmonton Oilers or anything else with the final few games down the stretch of this abysmal season. Rather, it had everything to do with the early part of next season.
The NHL announced Friday morning that the Avalanche will play in Stockholm, Sweden, with two games against the Ottawa Senators. The games, part of what the league is calling the 2017 SAP NHL Global Series (TM), will be played Nov. 10 and 11 at the Ericsson Globe in Stockholm.
Avalanche fans in Sweden (and there are a lot of them) will not only get to see their favorite team play meaningful games in their country, but they'll presumably see countrymen such as Gabe Landeskog and Erik Karlsson, along with Carl Soderberg and Anton Lindholm.
In a prepared statement, Avs president Josh Kroenke said, "Sweden and the city of Stockholm have a rich history of hockey, and we look forward to playing in front of their great fans and continuing to showcase the NHL overseas. Hockey is truly a global sport and the Avalanche's roster includes players from not only the United States and Canada, but from Sweden, Finland, Russia and Switzerland. We are especially pleased that our fans across Europe and especially Sweden will be able to enjoy this series."
Before the Avs took off for Edmonton Friday, Landeskog told the team's website, "I didn't think it was real at first. ... Playing two games in your hometown, that's really exciting."
Let's just hope this visit to Sweden goes better than the last one made by the Avs. That, in case some younger Avs fans weren't aware, happened in September of 2001. The Avs that year held their training camp in Stockholm and were slated to play a few NHL- and American Airlines-sponsored exhibition games as part of the trip in Sweden and Finland.
On Sept. 11, three days after the full Avs contingent arrived, all that changed. On a personal note, I was there and obviously it was a memorable - all the memories horrible - time. The Avs had practiced on the morning of Sept. 11, a Stanley Cup-defending team all having a good time, everybody loose and feeling good about the coming season despite the retirement of Ray Bourque.
Then, in the late afternoon hours in Swedish time, word quickly got around the team's headquarters, the Globen Hotel: Something terrible was happening in New York. Turn on your TV. The rest of the day, the rest of the week, was just a blur. Shocked players and NHL staff on hand, many of them from New York, could only stare at the TVs in disbelief. Then, a couple days later, came another shock: Peter Forsberg announced he would take a medical leave of absence from the team.
What had started out as a fun, much-anticipated time in Sweden had quickly turned dark. All the smiles that had been on everyone's face the few days before were gone. Everybody just wanted to get out of there and get back home. There was just one problem: We couldn't get out of there. Travel restrictions placed by the U.S. government meant we were grounded in Sweden until further notice.
The Avs still went through their paces of training camp, but nobody cared about hockey anymore. The NHL decided to hold one of the exhibition games anyway, a game against Brynas of the Swedish Elite League. Nobody from the Avs wanted to play it, but play it they did. Alex Tanguay scored a hat trick in the Avs victory. There was hardly any noise from the fans at the Globen Arena, as the events of Sept. 11 wore heavily on everyone, not just the North Americans. Plus, the player they all wanted to see, Forsberg, was not on hand.
New Avs owner Stan Kroenke was on hand for the game, and he quietly worked behind the scenes to arrange a charter flight out of Sweden two days later. Kroenke graciously allowed all of the NHL staff on hand, along with media people like me and Rick Sadowski of the Rocky Mountain News - along with our wives who also made the trip - to be on that plane for the trip back to Denver (with a stop in Newfoundland to drop off the NHL/New York staffers). It was a gesture by Kroenke that we'll forever be grateful.
Let's all hope the Avs' next trip to Sweden is best remembered for what it should have been the first time: Some great hockey.
Want to make the journey to Stockholm for this? First, you'll need tickets to the games. Click on this link here to buy them when they first go on sale, this coming Wednesday.
Calvin Pickard will be back in goal for the Burgundy and Blue Saturday in Edmonton. ... Matt Duchene did a nice thing for a young fan Thursday night. ... Nathan MacKinnon's two assists in Thursday's loss moved him to the 200-point mark in his career. ... Mikko Rantanen, who was superb Thursday, on trying to explain the Avs' many third-period collapses of late: "I don’t know really. I feel like it happens every game. We lead in the third period, and then we just give up easy goals. We could have probably kept four of those away but we can’t do it.”