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Gazette Premium Content Klee: Avalanche fans return good ol' days to Pepsi Center

By Paul Klee Updated: April 3, 2014 at 8:22 am

DENVER — Oh, to be a fly on the wall. On rickety, front-porch rocking chairs, the old-timers in charge of the Avalanche counseling the young'uns on the good ol' days:

Patrick Roy telling Semyon Varlamov what it's like to punch a Red Wing. Joe Sakic, mussing the floppy hair of his favorite teenage prodigy, Nathan MacKinnon.

When I was your age, Nate, we played with sawed-off broomsticks and a frozen hamburger patty. Patty taped old copies of the Farmer's Almanac to his shins. And we skated, through a blizzard, on a rink that slanted uphill. Both ways.

Ah, the good ol' days. Remember when?

Remember when the Avs set the NHL record for consecutive sellouts, a dazzling streak that spanned 11 years and 487 games?

Roy remembers. Apparently he's told the young'uns, too, minus the rickety rocking chair and makeshift goalie pads.

"Having Joe and Pat and Footie (Adam Foote) around, they always talk about how many consecutive sellouts they had and how great the fans were," defenseman Erik Johnson said. "I think, for us, just hearing how loud it can be here, we want to do this for them, for the fans."

You remember when. You remember the rumble inside McNichols Arena; the building shook like the east stands at Mile High.

For a rambunctious two minutes at the end of Colorado's 3-2 win against San Jose in the most recent home game, Pepsi Center felt like that. Remember when became remember this.

"When we were on the ice for the last minute or so, I was actually taken aback by how loud it was," Johnson told me. "It was incredibly loud."

Will it be that way when the Avs host the Rangers on Thursday? It's their second-to-last home game before the NHL playoffs.

Here's the bigger question: Will it be that way when the Avs host a playoff series, most likely against the Blackhawks?

Colorado and Chicago are all but locked into a first-round series. If Chicago's previous visits are an indication, Pepsi Center will morph into United Center West. How do you spot a Hawks fan? They're the ones buying see-through beer and wearing red sweaters.

And they were everywhere. The Avs beat the 'Hawks in four of five meetings, but the visiting team's fans beat the natives to the ticket lines.

"You notice it a bit," Avs forward Ryan O'Reilly said. "I think that's one of the best crowds to play (in front of). You look in the crowd and see everyone going at each other. But obviously you want more Avalanche fans in the building."

Sakic and Roy are hardly old-timers. Sakic, the executive, looks like he could lace up his skates and dupe a defenseman. And you saw coach Roy crosscheck a partition in the season opener; he might go ahead and punch a Red Wing, given the opportunity.

Oldtimers, they aren't.

What they are is craving playoff hockey.

So are the Blackhawks fans that traded harsh winters and crooked politics for Colorado sunshine. There's a way around the Midwest invasion, though. Just ask the Predators.

To discourage Chicago fans from hoarding tickets in Nashville, the Predators forced fans to purchase tickets to two games — the Chicago game and another one. Don't want tickets to the other one? Those are donated to a foundation that gives seats to local military personnel.

If that series happens, perhaps the Avs can brainstorm off Nashville's nifty idea.

With two home games and five road games remaining before the playoffs, the Avs did their part. They clinched a postseason berth and are in position to earn home-ice advantage in the first round.

Colorado fans did their part, too. Their eight sellouts are the most since the 2007-08 season, and Pepsi Center attendance has increased by 4.9 percent from last season.

Remember the historic sellout streak? It ended in 2006 — in a game against the Blackhawks.

"As loud as it was in that (San Jose) game, that rivals any building in the league as far as noise," Johnson said. "I was really impressed. Guys could feel it, I know that."

At times it has felt like old times. April needs to be one of those times.

-

Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

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