DENVER (AP) – This is Joe Sakic’s version of a hat trick as he returns to the ice: Don’t get hurt, avoid embarrassment and quickly store his equipment back in the garage.
After a win, he’s hoping. It may be a friendly game, but it’s against a bitter rival and old feelings still linger.
The Colorado Hall of Fame forward turned general manager will lead the Avalanche into an outdoor alumni contest Friday at Coors Field against Steve Yzerman and his Detroit buddies. Then, on Saturday, Sakic will sit back and watch the team he’s constructed take on the Red Wings during the first outdoor NHL game in Colorado.
“The rivalry we had, it was just an incredible rivalry,” said Sakic, the longtime Avalanche captain who retired in 2009 and later moved into the front office. “That was a special time for the two organizations. The two teams didn’t like each other.”
More like loathed each other. Mainly because they were always standing in the other’s path to a Stanley Cup crown. The rivalry has only simmered in recent seasons with Detroit’s move to the Eastern Conference.
But this is a chance to get reacquainted. Of course, the bad blood will be nothing like what there was in the past. Things like Claude Lemieux’s brutal hit along the boards on Kris Draper. Or Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy mixing it up with goaltender Mike Vernon and later Chris Osgood.
“You could use the word hatred if you want,” Draper said in September when he checked out the venue. “But it wasn’t just a bunch of goons going at each other. It was some of the greatest players that played in our game.”
The alumni lineup for the Avalanche features familiar names such as Sakic, Roy, Peter Forsberg, Ray Bourque, Rob Blake, Lemieux, Milan Hejduk, Mike Ricci and Adam Foote.
The Red Wings roll out players like Dino Ciccarelli, Chris Chelios, Tomas Holmstrom, Nicklas Lidstrom, Kirk Maltby, Darren McCarty and Draper.
“It’s going to be a great time,” Draper said. “But we want to win the game and I’m sure Colorado wants to do the same thing.”
No surprise, Roy’s actually taking this quite serious. The coach of the Avalanche actually broke in new equipment for the occasion. He also stepped into the net against his team at practice a few times, just to get a feel for what it’s like to stop the puck again.
Roy did promise to stay near his goal area for the game. No charging after anyone.
“I’m there to enjoy myself. That’s the No. 1 thing. I’ve had my career,” Roy said. “Yes, I love to compete, but I’m not that crazy. I love it. But at the same time, I’m going there to have fun.”
Forsberg wouldn’t miss this chance for anything, even if he hasn’t skated much because of a nagging foot injury.
“With my foot problem and all that stuff, I’m not really that good on the ice anymore,” Forsberg said in an interview with the Avalanche on Wednesday. “It’s not like I can really skate. I’m out of shape – should’ve skated a little more.”
All eyes will still be on him. On quite a few players, actually.
“So many great players that it’s scary if you think back to (the rivalry),” said Keith Jones, a former Colorado player who’s now an NHL on NBC studio analyst. “The games were exciting, fast-paced and full of intense competition.”
Sakic has been polishing his famed wrist shot. Working on his skating, too. He’s nowhere near elite hockey shape, with the only checking he’s done lately being into whether a player may be available through a trade.
Still going to be a good time, though.
“We want to make sure we don’t embarrass ourselves and try to put on a decent show,” Sakic said.
It’s a fitting warmup act before the main event Saturday. Both Colorado and Detroit are in the thick of the playoff chase, making this game vital for each side. The place will be packed and the weather ideal – lower 60s at game time.
“It will be great to play at Coors Field,” Sakic said. “But as much as the guys are excited about playing in the outdoor game, once the game starts, it’s all about winning.”
– By PAT GRAHAM, AP Sports Writer
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