Monday, December 19, 2011

Bragging Rights and Friendly Rivalries

Being an Avalanche fan in Philly always presents a certain set of problems that are difficult to overcome. The first being that the Avalanche hardly ever come here. Thus, I'm forced to go see games in New York, DC, and wherever else I can manage to get myself to in order to see the Burgundy and Blue play up close and personal.

The next problem is coverage. Not so much a problem now, but ten years ago (in the days when blogs had not yet started to take over the world), it was all but impossible to find any substantial, day-to-day coverage on the Avalanche.

The last problem concerns being "behind enemy lines," so to speak. Philadelphia is one of the craziest sports cities in America. Opposing fans aren't exactly welcomed with opened arms. Though Avalanche fans don't draw the same ire as say, Ranger or Devil fans, I've still put up with threats and insults over the years when I attend games downtown.

Attending the game downtown isn't an option this season, as the Flyers will face the Avs at the Pepsi Center tonight at 9PM ET. But what is an option is what the game on TV, and that it where the fun begins.

Among the people who know me, I'm seen as a "hockey guy," I guess. Everyone knows I'm obsessed with it, and everyone knows I'm obsessed with the Avs. So when it's time for an Avalanche and Flyers game, I can expect some good-natured ribbing the entire day leading up to the game. I can expect inbox messages on Facebook with YouTube videos of Flyer victories over the Avs (few and far between), and I can expect taunts during the game asking me why the Avs don't MAN UP AND HIT SOMEBODY FOR CRYING OUT LOUD. -Tangent- The Avs need to stay disciplined tonight. The Flyers aren't the Capitals. They're going to come out hitting. They just lost to the Bruins 6-0, and they're going to be pissed. Hopefully Hartnell doesn't kill anybody. -Tangent-

The point is, I welcome all of this good-natured ribbing. It's why I love watching sports. Not only do we, as fans, get to witness a competition taking place on the field or on the ice, but we also engage in a sort-of rivalry of our own when we watch the game. There's nothing more satisfying than watching another team's fan look shocked or disappointed when their goaltender gives up a huge goal late in the third period. There's nothing more exhilarating than when your team conquers your friend's team and that friend has to shut up for the rest of the night.

That's what I'm hoping for tonight. I want, rather, I NEED an Avalanche victory tonight.

This one's for bragging rights.




Go Avs.

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Sunday, December 4, 2011

Cautious Optimism

In my last post, oh so long ago, I wrote about the interesting dichotomy we face as fans about being optimistic about our team's chances versus the need to be realistic about who that team actually is at this point in the season. I ended the post with this:
Colorado has reached a critical point in its season. As a group, they can either decide to turn things around right now, or they can continue to make Washington fans very, very happy.

The optimist in me says that the losing is going to stop, and the Avs will somehow find a way to pull things together and get back to where they were in October.

The realist isn't so sure.
Three wins later, including a really solid 60-minute effort against the Detroit Red Wings [presented by Amway] tonight, there are certainly reasons for Avalanche fans to start feeling some hope that this team is back on track and ready to turn this season into something memorable.

Those reasons start first and foremost with "The Factor," Ryan O'Reilly. The 20-year-old kid who many thought would be named captain a week ago started centering the newly formed second line during this eight-game stretch at home consisting of Gabriel Landeskog and Milan Hejduk. The trio has been tremendous, with O'Reilly leading the way. Over the last five games, he has four goals and five assists, and he has been named the first star for two games in a row. He basically took over during the third period against the Blues on Friday night, and he helped decide that game in the shootout.

But it hasn't only been O'Reilly making fans smile lately. Semyon Varlamov had some rough goings in November, and a lot of the Colorado faithful began to wonder if there was going to be a goaltender controversy on the horizon. Though J.S. Giguere still might see some increased time due to his stellar play, There shouldn't be a question that "Varly" is still #1. Since he gave up six goals to Pittsburgh on November 15th, Varlamov's GA line reads as follows: 2, 2, 2, 1, 2, 2. His lowest save percentage in that span was .929, and he stopped over 30 shots three times.

Finally, big time shout out to rookie defenseman Stefan Elliott. No, he hasn't been perfect. Yes, he made some bad mistakes tonight and saw little ice time due to the Avs rolling seven defenseman, but in his first five NHL games, he has made a big impact. In his debut against the Oilers on November 26th, Elliott scored the game winning goal with one of his nasty wrist shots. The offensively inclined blueliner followed that up with an assist on the 28th against Dallas, and yet another goal against the Devils on the 30th. In his fourth game, Elliott played a (short) career high 22:11 and more than held his own against the red hot St. Louis Blues. With Erik Johnson's return, Joe Sacco will have a tough decision to make about whether or not to keep Elliott in the lineup. But as Sacco has said, if he sits, it won't be for long.

The Avs went 5-3 during their franchise long 8-game homestand, and they now sit in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race with 27 points. A .500 record in tow and a big matchup coming up against the Canucks on Tuesday night, there is more than one reason to be cautiously optimistic about how this season will play out.

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