DENVER – “After yesterday’s media day, it gets more real and we become more ready to play,” coach Jared Bednar told reporters on the morning of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final.
“The preparation is done”
It’s been a long eight days since the Colorado Avalanche last played a hockey game.
The chaos of Tuesday’s Stanley Cup Media Day didn’t exactly offer ease the group onto hockey’s biggest stage, one which the Avalanche players are largely unfamiliar with, as reporters from all edges of the hockey world congregated in a single room in Ball Arena to pelt players with questions — often all at the same time.
That experience is an entirely foreign one to an Avalanche core that, prior to this season, had not made it past the second round. But after battling their way to the final round of the playoffs, and sweeping two teams in the process, they’ll take all the downtime they can get.
Even if it happens to fall under the brightest spotlight imaginable.
“We’ve had some wounds in the playoffs, like every team,” admitted Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen, speaking to the veritable sea of reporters crowded around his media pod.
“Now’s been the time to heal those wounds and rest the body a little bit”
The Avalanche have made an effort in the days since their Western Conference Final series win to use this rare luxury of rest, one which they earned by dispatching the Oilers in such swift fashion, to regroup. The layoff has been crucial to the health of their ailing club, too, having given the team’s lengthy list of injured players an extra week or so to heal while possibly even opening the door for the likes of Nazem Kadri, who missed most of the Oilers series due to injury and recently underwent surgery, to return in the near future. Such a thing seemed impossible just days ago. And yet, here we are.
It’s a fine line between rust and rest. The Avs, who have never been in this position, are doing everything in their power to ensure the latter.
“I think it (a long layoff) is good if you use it the way that we did,” explained goaltender Darcy Kuemper.
“It kept ourselves sharp, but we’re also able to get adjusted for tomorrow”
That adjustment is particularly important when preparing for the days ahead, with the Avalanche using their downtime to help the roster acclimate to a moment they’ve dreamed of reaching since they first laced up skates. This is the Stanley Cup Final, after all. The stakes have never been higher, with the entire hockey world watching as all eyes fall on each and every play from Game 1 until Lord Stanley’s mug is handed out.
Preparing for that is not easy — and is just as important as the X’s and O’s that dictate what happens on the ice.
“We had a couple of days off and then some practices, which were pretty hard, actually,” said Avalanche forward Valeri Nichushkin on Tuesday.
“You actually don’t know if (a) big break is good or not. But we’ll see tomorrow”
The good news for the Avs is that the playing field is a tad more even than you’d otherwise think. This might be their first foray into the media day frenzy. But the Lightning, despite being in their third straight Stanley Cup Final, are adjusting to it, too.
“Well, with the last two, the first one was in a bubble, so it was pretty easy, and last year was kind of a hybrid. Now, we’re back to this” explained defenseman Victor Hedman of the Lightning’s unique experiences over the past two years.
“It’s great to see everyone here. Obviously, it’s two teams left and all eyes are going to be on these two teams. So, we’re super excited about the challenge. Not just excited about the opportunity to be here, but excited to capture another Stanley Cup.”
Thanks to COVID-19, it took the Lightning three trips to finally get a “normal” Finals experience. Their spotlight shines pretty bright, too. But despite the relative lack of an in-person media presence in both 2020 and 2021, Tampa’s comfort level in the face of the most pressure-packed event on the league calendar was quite evident on Tuesday.
They’ve been here. They’re excited for the moment.
The Avalanche, on the other hand, are doing their best to prepare for it.
Only time will tell which approach works best.