It stands to reason the Colorado Avalanche would have an advantage over the Los Angeles Kings while playing at 6,621 feet above sea level.
After their first and only practice on the Falcon Stadium ice Friday at the Air Force Academy, it was clear both teams were adjusting.
“I was asking for an oxygen mask after the skate,” Avs goaltender Philipp Grubauer said. “It’s only a couple feet higher than Denver, but you definitely feel every single one.”
“You think that you’re used to playing at altitude, and coming up here, we were sucking wind out there,” Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said. “It was hard.”
The teams both complimented the ice quality on a clear, sunny day as they checked out - between puffs of air - the place they’d be playing Saturday at 6 p.m. in a Stadium Series game.
The forecast called for temperatures just below freezing at puck drop. The sun that shielded the puck Friday will be down. Nothing to be done about that lightheadedness, though.
“It will come into play for our team, there’s no doubt about it,” Kings coach Todd McLellan said.
“We don’t train at this level. We haven’t played at this elevation. … We’ll try and keep our shifts short as we always want to.”
Grubauer is familiar with the wider circumstances, having been a member of the Washington Capitals during the NHL’s first game at a military academy, which pitted the Capitals against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis. He was the backup that time, but could get his chance to start Saturday.
Friday was the day for “soaking it all in,” he said. Saturday is about business.
The Avalanche fell 3-2 to the Capitals on Thursday, which ended a five-game win streak. If the St. Louis Blues lose Saturday, the Avalanche can match their Western Conference-leading 74 points with a win.
Putting regular-season ambitions aside, this is a chance for the Avalanche to make a statement in a bigger spotlight than usual.
“It’s such a special game that we want to walk away with a good memory and a win here,” Grubauer said.
Friday’s feedback wasn’t all twinged with bewilderment. Avs forward Nathan MacKinnon seemed to be having fun.
“The air is so thin, you feel like you’re just flying around, really fast,” he said.
Avs rookie defenseman Cale Makar got a chance to look around and imagine what Falcon Stadium will look like tomorrow.
“It’s a more intimate stadium than you’d find at, I guess, most football stadiums,” Makar said. “I think it’s going to be a great viewing experience for fans. I’m excited to see the atmosphere.”
And Landeskog, having done this before at Coors Field in 2016, knows what happens when the blinders go on.
“At the end of the day, it’s going to be a blast,” Landeskog said. “These sort of games, you sort of play on adrenaline. ... You’re going to be tired no matter what.”