The Stadium Series spectacular was an all-time high.
It also suffers incomparable lows.
We don’t need a roof, but we must persevere with The Highway to Hell. Alas, the Dante’s Inferno-like journey didn’t have a fairy-tale ending. The Avalanche melted like the Wicked Witch in the final minute.
In an Avalanche-Kings winter wonder that was as big as all outdoors and as exhilarating as the ride in an F35 Lightning II, the National Hockey League came with its Eh game to the Air Force Academy.
Everybody among the standing-room only, literally, wild-and-loud crowd of 43,574 at Falcon Stadium will long remember the Saturday Night Ice Capades.
Everybody will try to forget the dead-still four-hour crawl from Denver and even the two-hour slink from the other side of Interstate-25 to the field.
Two hours after the game, the parking lot remained a parking lot because no cars had moved. Everybody will recall getting home, sadly, after midnight.
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No one cared that temperatures dropped below freezing or the hot dogs were served as chilly dogs, but everyone was boiling and bothered by long lines to the parking lots, through the metal detectors, at the beer concession stand toward seats that were no longer available.
After the second period, I met an elderly couple of Avs fanatics from Thornton who had never been to the Air Force Academy before. “Took us five hours. We just got here,’’ said the wife, whose misty breath was steaming. “We have to find a place to sit, and I have a bad back. Where’s the elevator down?’’ I had to tell her there was no elevator down. “Tom, we’re going home.’’
The Avalanche lost to the Kings 3-1 on a goal with 39.5 seconds remaining, followed by an empty-netter.
The Avs would, could, should have tied the Blues, who lost earlier Saturday, for first place in the Western Conference. Instead, the pedestrian Kings eventually walked past the Avs, who were reduced to a puddle.
At 1-1 in the final period, it seemed that there could be an overtime, perhaps a shootout, and the people heading north and south would enjoy a glorious conclusion.
Yet, this was a hockey night like no other.
An NHL regular-season, or postseason, game never had been played so high — 6,621 above sea level at field level.
Based on my walks around the stadium and the sounds and smells, this might have been the highest crowd in NHL history, too. If you get my drift.
Considering the success of the extravaganza, once everyone managed to make it to the stadium, the NHL should bring the Stadium Series back to Colorado Springs.
But only after the construction on I-25 is completed in 2047, and a train along the Front Range is approved in 2103.
Falcon Stadium has experienced many memorable moments since being built 58 years ago (at a cost of $3.5 million) — presidents at graduations, concerts (among the performers country music stars Blake Shelton and, Saturday night between periods, Sam Hunt) and approximately 300 college football games, including the 2002 Fighting Falcons-Fighting Irish affair that attracted a record 56,409.
Air Force’s very own hockey team has a tough act to follow with its Faceoff at Falcon Stadium Monday night against archrival Colorado College. The tickets are cheaper, and the traffic will be lighter, and somebody from Colorado will win this time.
The NHL began the last of three Stadium Series games with a plethora of festivities. An original F16 was parked just outside the rink, and four F35 Lightning IIs did a fly-by (which should have occurred over the Interstate, where at least half of the ticket holders were trapped at the 6 p.m. start). The Air Force band played on, and the cadets marched on. Two paratroopers in uniforms adorned with neon lights dropped in, and representatives of gold-medal-winning U.S. Olympic hockey teams and the Paralympic Sled hockey teams were introduced.
Finally, the game itself.
The Avs and the Kings, owned by dueling billionaires with close Colorado ties, played coy and tight early until L.A. scored with 5:59 left in the first period on a ricocheting post-shot rebounded in. The Avs responded in the last minute of the second period on a serious solo shot by Samuel Girard.
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The game was tied into the last minute of the last period when Tyler Toffoli produced his second of three goals, the first NHL hat trick outdoors. Kings goalie Jonathan Quick would have made Jonathan Swift proud.
The night of marvelous highs and dreadful lows was over.
Except for the drive home.
(If you read this Sunday morning, all 43,574 of us are immobile at the stadium.)