HOMEBioFilm rights, Screenplays, RepresentationOn the Colorado Scene 2019HORNS, HOGS, AND NIXON COMINGHorns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming: PrologueHorns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming Excerpt: July 1969 ... and beyondTHIRD DOWN AND A WAR TO GOThird Down and a War to Go: Screenplay opening pagesThird Down and a War to Go: Exerpt, Ohio State vs. WisconsinGrateful for the Guard: The Veterans Day story that led to Third Down and a War to GoOLYMPIC AFFAIR: HITLER'S SIREN AND AMERICA'S HEROOlympic Affair, Chapter 1: Leni's VisitOlympic Affair Excerpt: Aren't You Thomas Wolfe?'77: DENVER, THE BRONCOS, AND A COMING OF AGE'77 Excerpt: Red Miller'77 excerpt: Randy Gradishar'77 excerpt: Broncos at Raiders'77 excerpt: AFC Title GameTHE WITCH'S SEASONThe Witch's Season excerptPLAYING PIANO IN A BROTHELPlaying Piano excerpt: S.F. EarthquakePlaying Piano excerpt: Avalanche vs. Red Wings, March 26, 1997March 1939: Before the MadnessMarch 1939 Excerpt: IntroductionMarch 1939 Excerpt: How the First NCAA Tournament Came AboutCompilation of book blurbs/reviewsOn the Colorado Scene 2018On the Colorado Scene 2017Guest CommentariesA Selection of Terry Frei's writing about World War II heroesFrench Legion of Honor MedalDenverGreeleyJoAnn B. Ficke Cancer Foundation: Day of Giving, Sept. 11Bob Bell's Food For Thought

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2017 On the Colorado Scene Commentaries are here 

2018 On the Colorado Scene Commentaries are here.

 

For 2019 On the Colorado Scene commentaries, scroll down                                                     

 

 

 

The latest, in order below:

  
Garett Bolles' make-or-break season
Denver's Dan Ficke named coach at Belmont Abbey
Erik Johnson's filly wins at Saratoga
Jared Bednar, the man from Saskatchewan, signs extension
Coloradans Horan, Pugh celebrate World Cup title
WWII combat nurse Leila Morrison on returning to Omaha Beach
And at the end of the day of dealing, Joe Sakic said...
RIP, Pat Bowlen   

 
Keep scrolling down for more.
 

 

 

July 22, 2019

Garett Bowles faces

make-or-break season

... or even preseason 

 

After the Broncos' season-ending loss to the Chargers, I was on the field and then behind Garett Bolles as the Broncos' tackle headed to the locker room.

 

He went over to the section at the southwest corner of the stadium, near the dressing-room portal, and greeted his wife, Natalie, and their young son, Kingston.

 

The mood was somber, but the scene was touching.

 

Then Bolles went into the tunnel and once he was out public sight, while still on the move, repeatedly and heatedly bashed his helmet against the wall and punctuated it all with guttural shouts.

 

It hit me: That's Garett Bolles in a nutshell.

 

Now, as he approaches his third season and at least in training camp remains installed at left tackle -- now playing next to rookie guard Dalton Wisner, from Kansas State and Wiggins -- this is inescapable:

 

Bolles' development, or lack thereof, is one of the key issues of the 2019 camp and preseason,  and beyond.

 

It's his make-or-break season, as least when it comes to the issue of whether he ever will be worthy of the faith the Broncos showed when they made him the first offensive lineman taken in the 2017 draft, at No. 20 overall.

 

To do that, he must be more than a journeyman bouncing around and hanging on in the league.

 

He must be that cornerstone left tackle. For the Broncos. And soon.

 

You're laughing? You're saying that ship already has sailed and the Broncos have scaled back their best-case scenario expectations for Bolles? If he can just hold on to the starting job at a key position on merit, not on the basis of what Denver has invested in him, both in terms of money and expectation, that's about all you can hope for?

 

Perhaps.

 

But it would be a mistake to give up on him. Yet.    

 

There's so much at stake.

 

Unless the Broncos are better at protecting the quarterback than they have been in recent years, the acquisition of Joe Flacco will have only minor impact. 

 

At 34, Flacco is neither elusive nor a statue, but has the step-here, step-there maneuverability that can be part of the bigger picture. This is no sources-say newsflash, but he needs major-league protection to be effective. 

 

Case Keenum had his problems and Trevor Siemian never was going to be the answer, but the the ineptitude up front handicapped them and Siemian especially was banged up.

 

Now, in attempting to bill Flacco as the difference-maker, John Elway deserves credit for acknowledging the misjudgments about quarterbacks the franchise has made since Peyton Manning's retirement. (Hello, Paxton ...)

 

But the backdrop should include the reality that offensive line improvement -- under Mike Munchak's tutelage -- should be at the top of the list of priorities.

 

And Bolles is the biggest variable there.                       

 

The way training camp works, story lines often reflect what the Broncos themselves are advancing and hoping for, but the talk of Bolles showing signs of maturation -- including from veteran guard Ron Leary -- is genuine. He also likely will benefit from playing next to Risner, savvy beyond his years and capable of providing on-field direction for Bolles.

 

Ah, but what of his holding and his mistake-prone play?

 

It seems as if he he has drawn flags not just during the game, but during pre-game warmup and at halftime.

 

Some of them, perhaps even many, had been video-definition of holding calls, or overt tackles, but sometimes it's not so simple and reputation comes into play in such a subjective decision making process.

 

It isn't about what holding is; it's about what's called holding.

 

The respected veteran offensive lineman? Hey, (wink), it's not holding if it isn't called.

 

The guy with the reputation for holding at every opportunity? The same maneuver is holding.

 

That's the double standarrd so prevalent in all sports. Reputation plays a major role. 

 

I'm not turning this into an officials' vendetta defense of Bolles.

 

I'm just saying part of his battle is earning that respect and having the flags stay in the pocket on the gray-area calls.

 

He has to get better, much better, for all of that to happen.

 

I still think he's capable of it, and that the Broncos being enamored in 2017 of a big man with such athleticism -- hey, he played lacrosse -- was understandable.   

 

But this is his last chance to show he can be that cornerstone.  

 

What often seems to be forgotten or at least underplayed is that last November, he -- and the offensive line as a unit -- seemed to be coming around. The Broncos won three in a row and questions from the media to the offensive linemen were prefaced with remarks about them starting to prove the critics wrong. Then the wheels fell off down the stretch.              

 

I admit I'm rooting for Bolles in part because of the quick-hit profile I did on him from Dove Valley in the weekend of the 2017 draft. I'm proud of it for a lot of reasons, but mostly because I managed to put it together, tracking down other figures in his life and career, in about 36 hours. It's the sort of story I do well, though there is less room for that kind of writing in the realm of sound-bite quotes, analytics, stats and video room breakdowns.      

 

Bolles' story is compelling.

 

Read my Denver Post online version, with pictures, here. 

 

To read just the text, continue: 

 

April 28, 2017

 

In August 2011, Greg Freeman was in his company truck in Lehi, Utah, about 30 miles south of Salt Lake City.

 

The owner of a garage door installation and service company who dabbled as a high school lacrosse coach, Freeman spotted a teenager he had known for years, first coaching him in lacrosse as far back as seventh grade; and then as his own children and wife, Emily, helped tutor the kid through high school.

 

Garett Bolles, who had just turned 19 and had graduated from Westlake High School two months earlier, was at the side of the road near his family home, carrying garbage sacks and duffel bags full of his belongings.

 

Garett's father, Grove, fed up with his son's propensity to get into trouble at the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong people, and with the wrong things, had kicked him out, saying that for the good of all, Garett needed to find somewhere else to live.

 

Freeman pulled over. He spoke with Garret and got the story. He called Emily. He explained the situation and asked his wife: "What do you want me to do?"

 

At the Broncos' Dove Valley headquarters Friday, Emily Freeman, 47, recalled her reaction.

 

The Freemans had four children of their own, two boys - including a son, Josh, in the same graduating class as Garett at Westlake - and two girls. They both knew Garett fell far short of qualifying for a halo. Yet they were about to add a third son.

 

"I hit my knees and prayed," Emily said. "I thought, 'God will know. He'll know what's right for Garett, he'll know what's right for our kids.' ... It was clear as day. 'Bring him home.' I said, 'Greg, put his stuff in the truck and bring him home.' "

 

On Friday, Greg Freeman, 49, was only a few minutes removed from being teary-eyed as the Broncos' 2017 first-round draft choice, Utah tackle Garett Bolles, thanked the couple he now calls his parents at his introductory news conference at the team's headquarters. Bolles was the NFL's No. 20 overall choice, the first offensive lineman taken. And this was all less than six years after he literally had nowhere to go ... and ended up with the Freemans.

 

"He was struggling with growing up," Greg recalled. "He was known by the city police and things of that nature by first name and he knew them by first name. He did have an issue with vandalism and spent the night in the jail, and so, yeah, he was a wayward kid needing some love and guidance."

 

Said Emily: "Even behind all of the hard things that were going on at home and with the law, and everything he was facing, you just saw inside there was a kid with so much potential. He just needed someone to tell him it was there."

 

Grove Bolles works in real estate financing and has remained in Garett's life since that night, and attended the draft in Philadelphia on Thursday as part of Garett's entourage. The one thing that can't be doubted: This worked out for the best after Garett, always a handful, was adrift following his high school graduation.

 

"He had a pretty good senior year in high school football," Grove said Saturday. "Not quite good enough to be a college player, but you could see that that talent and the future was there. He kind of struggled with not having a landing board out of high school. His two older brothers, Kyle and Weston, served LDS missions and he wasn't quite sure if he was ready for that on the maturity level. He wasn't quite sure he was ready for the workforce and what he wanted to do.

 

"So he decided to start partying. It got pretty out of hand."

 

Grove and his wife had split up the year before and as a single father, Grove still had Garett and his two younger brothers and sister in the household.

 

"I'm a real hands-on dad," he said. "I've been an integral part of his life, his whole life. I've probably spent more time with him than any of my other children because he needed it. We've always been very close in that regard. When he started spinning out of control, we had a lot of talks about maturation and focus and direction and being patient in life's process and understanding he was going to have to find himself and be more disciplined in his choices. Well, he chose to hang around a bunch of knucklehead kids who were pretty bad kids."

 

Grove said he felt as if he had lost control of his son.

 

"I wouldn't say his partying was exceptional or extraordinary," he said. "Typical things of young boys trying to find themselves in life. Drinking, a little bit of drugs. But his disrespect at home had gotten off the charts. ... It was understandable what he was doing, but it certainly wasn't acceptable. Finally, one day I came home on a Saturday morning and there were three of his buddies in his room who were forbidden to be in my house. Two of those kids went on to prison and jail."

 

Grove said he told Garett's buddies to get out of the house.

 

Then he turned to Garett.

 

"I said, 'I'm going to give you four hours to get your stuff out of the house, and when I come back, if you're here, I'm going to get you arrested for trespassing.' He said, 'You're kidding, Dad.' I said, 'No, this has come to an end. You need to get out of the house. I'll still keep being your dad, still love you, still going to support you, but you can no longer live here. You're upsetting the household, you're not helping, your brothers and sister don't like you being around right now, you need to find someplace else to live. I'll be there for you, but you can't live here.'"

 

Grove said he emphasized that if Garett got his act together and showed he could be respectful long-term, he could return to the family's home. But not until the

 

When Garett moved in with the Freemans, Greg and Emily declared there were three rules. Garett would attend weekly services at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he would tithe 10 percent of any income he made to the church, and he would turn off and turn over his phone every night.

 

"Garett and I have a real interesting relationship," Emily said. "He'll tell you he's scared of me, which is funny, my kids laugh so hard. But he knows when I tell him something, I'm serious about it. When he came in, I said there won't be any warnings. I said, 'You break one of these rules and we'll help you find somewhere else to live.' I wasn't going to leave him on the street. He never did break them. He went to church every single Sunday. He paid his tithing. None of the kids that worried me came around. There were other battles along the way that we would go through and work out one by one."

 

As Grove Bolles spoke Saturday, he was very enthusiastic in his praise of the Freemans and while expressing gratitude for what they have done with their rules that Garett accepted in reassessing his life.

 

"Garett would call me frequently, sometimes several times a day and say he was adjusting to a new household, new rules, a new environment," he said. "I said, 'That's Emily and Greg's house, I know what kind of household they have, it's a great place, you need to adjust and abide by their rules. But you can't come home.' I said, 'I'm here for you, I'm still your dad, I'm still going to love you, that's where you need to be right now.'

 

"I think it's a classic example of what a mother- and father-run household can do as compared to a single-parent household. ... I was completely involved in his life and all his activities. I want to focus on the positive, what's Garett's made of his life and how Greg and Emily have helped. I've been there supporting him unwaveringly the whole time. I didn't abandon him. I didn't disown him. If anything, I was more involved in his life than ever. But I had to support Greg and Emily in their efforts because that was his last chance. I saw that and he saw that."

 

Greg Freeman noted: "His real father put him out for lessons of good love. Grove is still a good friend of ours. At that point, Garett needed a different direction, and I happened to be there."

 

The lore is that, before all that happened, Garett was "kicked out" of five schools as he was raised in Lehi. That's misleading because it treats suspensions as expulsions.

 

"I just fought a lot," Bolles said in a conversation in the lobby outside the Broncos' position meeting rooms Friday. "I had a lot of anger, because there was a lot of turmoil at my house."

 

Struggling at times because of attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity (ADDH), Garett transferred from Lehi High to the new Westlake High during his junior year. At Westlake as a senior football player, he got caught up in that vandalism incident at Lehi - his former school.

 

"I spray-painted my archrival high school," Bolles said sharply. "Whatever you want to think of that, you can. I was just a high school kid playing a high school prank that went wrong so I don't really think about it. That stuff's in the past. I'm going to bury it and never bring it back up. I'm a Denver Bronco and that stuff's behind me. Now I have to work with a team to make them better and make me better."

 

Michael O'Connor at the time was, and still is, the athletic director at Westlake.

 

"He can be a character at times, as everyone knows," O'Connor said of Bolles. "All the things he went through and all he's done to make his life better, it shows a lot about who he is. But he and a couple of kids obviously didn't make the right decision then and they spray-painted (Lehi's) turf field. That was at the very beginning of the season, so he ended up having to sit out a few games. That flustered him, and he's a passionate kid. He's emotional, and everything comes from his heart right away. I know they got fined and the kids had to pay for it. There were three or four of them, all suspended.

 

"He wasn't on track to graduate. But something sparked right after football season. ... He got his work done and then some and he graduated. We could have given up on him. We didn't give up on kids."

 

As he played football and lacrosse and also met the Freemans and others for tutoring during his high school years, Bolles talked about someday playing in the NFL. (Westlake didn't have a lacrosse program. Freeman was the lacrosse coach at Lehi. So even after Bolles transferred to Westlake, he played high school lacrosse for Freeman at Lehi.)

 

Emily Freeman, among others, reminded Garett that academically he wouldn't pass the NCAA's muster to receive a scholarship. He was a decent high school football player, but lanky and immature physically. His NFL talk seemed complete fantasy.

 

For the next 18 months, after moving in with the Freemans, Garett worked for Greg as a garage-door technician. He not only liked the work, he became very good at it. "It's my passion," he said. "It's something I love to do. Anyone out there that needs help with their garage door, call me, I'll be there."

 

Said Greg: "My thought was this guy probably will take over this business and be in the garage-door business his whole adult life."

 

Starting in early 2013, Bolles also spent nearly a year on an LDS mission to Colorado. He officially was based in Colorado Springs, but spent much of his time in Pueblo.

 

"I loved Pueblo," he said. "They're great people down there. The food's outstanding; they put the green chili on the burgers and they smother burritos. Fat food for offensive linemen like me. I loved them; I have so many friends and friendships that always will play a big role in my life."

 

Returning to the Freeman home in early 2014, he again worked with Greg's company. But by then, he had grown and gained a lot of weight. As he played on an adult team in a summer lacrosse league, with Greg as a teammate, he displayed eye-popping speed and athletic ability for a big man.

 

With encouragement from Grove, who did some checking with a football coach friend, and from the Freemans, Garett and Emily Freeman ended up meeting with a Brigham Young University assistant coach in Provo. The coach summoned Snow Junior College coach Britt Maughan to meet Bolles, and Maughan invited him to attend the start of preseason practices on what amounted to a tryout.

 

The Freemans told Garett, OK, if he earned a scholarship at the junior college program in Ephraim, Utah, great. If he didn't, it was back to the garage-door business.

 

"My mom told me, 'If you have cleats on you, you're the first one on the field and the last one off, you run everywhere,' " Bolles said. "That's what I did. I kept running and doing what I needed to do to make myself successful."

 

He got that scholarship, and after his freshman season, it was obvious he was capable of playing at the major-program level. In March 2015, he attended Snow's "True Badger Night."

 

"It's a dance, and then you go into the bell tower and it's a big kissing frenzy," he said. "I had a warm feeling to go and there she was, and I told her, 'Let me show you how a real man kisses.' That's what happened."

 

"She" was Natalie Williams.

 

"She gave me her phone number and I thought it was one of those when girls give you fake numbers, but it was the right number," Bolles said.

 

Now Natalie Bolles, she also was at Dove Valley on Friday.

 

"The first night we hung out, I asked him about his life because it was my first time meeting him," she said. "He just told me his life story. Like everything. I just saw the passion and the caring person that he is. I cried when he told me his story. I said this guy is so sweet, he's so nice, he's a guy I would like to keep hanging out with."

 

He even told her about garage doors. Really. "He loves to talk about it," she said. "That was one of his favorite things. If you ask him anything about a garage door, he'll tell you how to fix it, where to get it, how long it will last." She added something that's especially interesting in light of his ADDH struggles. "Once he retains information, it's there," she said.

 

They were engaged in June 2015, married in December 2015 and now are the parents of 4-month-old son Kingston, who was in "Lion King" Garett's arms when the Broncos' top draft choice joined NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on the stage in Philadelphia on Thursday. Kingston also was with his parents at Broncos headquarters Friday.

 

As a sophomore at Snow, Bolles was the Western States Football League's offensive player of the year. As a tackle.

 

Once planning to attend BYU, he decided to consider other options after he became one of the most highly sought junior college players in the country. Sifting through offers from power five programs, he chose the backyard school, Utah, and was an all-Pac-12 choice as a junior last season before declaring for the draft.

 

"He had a strong desire to be the best and is willing to put in the time afterwards," Utah offensive line coach Jim Harding said. "If we would have an individual period, and he maybe didn't feel like he got the technique down, he would grab me after practice and ask to work that technique again."

 

Did he see any of the troubled kid that Bolles once was?

 

"No, I didn't, and that's what I told the scouts," Harding said. "I can't say that about every kid I have in the offensive line, but on Friday and Saturday night, I'm not wondering what Garett Bolles is doing or if he's doing the right thing. Nothing that is in his past ever showed up when he was at Utah. ... He got married when we were still recruiting him, and he's been with Natalie ever since he came to campus, and that's a real stabilizing influence for him.

 

"The Freemans are a tremendous positive influence on him, and I think it's tremendous where Garett is going because it's the closest place it could have been to Utah. Emily and Greg have done wonders for him."

 

It's a story that doesn't need to be made up.

 

 

July 20, 2019

Denver's own Dan Ficke

named head hoops coach

at Belmont Abbey

DanFickeBelmont.jpg 

Dan Ficke at Belmont Abbey 

 

The Ficke family has gone full circle at Belmont Abbey College, just west of Charlotte.

 

The Crusaders -- a Division II program playing in the Conference Carolinas -- named Denver's own Dan Ficke, 32, their new head men's basketball coach, succeeding Billy Taylor, who left to become an assistant coach at Iowa.

 

Dan's father, Bill Ficke, proprietor of Big Bill's New York Pizza in Centennial, is an iconic figure in the Colorado sports community -- and beyond. Bill knows everyone and everyone knows Bill. And it's not only because he's a former Nuggets assistant coach. His 9/11 "Day of Giving" at Big Bill's, with free food for voluntary contribiutions to the JoAnn B. Ficke Cancer Foundation, annually raises six figures for Colorado cancer organizations and his heart is huge.

 

In 2007, JoAnn and Bill's son, Dan, then playing for Loyola (Maryland), delivered his mom's eulogy and there wasn't a dry eye in the church.

 

We felt, and still feel, as if we have watched Dan grow up, including at Regis Jesuit and Loyola and beyond.

 

So now we have all the more reason to be proud.

 

Dan's hiring at Belmont Abbey hire has been in the loop for several weeks, but Dan arrived at Belmont midweek and the official announcement came Thursday. 

 

Before his collegiate career at Loyola, Dan played at Aurora's Regis Jesuit.

 

Most recently, he has been an assistant for four seasons at the University of Denver, under Joe Scott and Rodney Billups.

 

Prior to DU, Dan worked in the programs at Wake Forest and Loyola.

 

Big Bill not only played at Belmont Abbey, he played there under legendary coach Al McGuire, whose first head coaching job was there from 1957-64. Bill already was ticketed for fall induction into the school's Hall of Fame. 

 

So this is a Ficke family return to the school. 

 

"It's hard to put into words how incredibly blessed I feel to have that opportunity," Dan told me from Belmont on Saturday. "My dad is probably, outside of my wife, my best friend and he's definitely my role model. I've walked in his very large footsteps for a very long time. So to be able to go back there to the school where he played and has such great memories of, it means everything for my first head coaching position to be at the place where he played college basketball. It seems like a divine intervention to be there."     

 

Bill was ecstatic. 

 

"Next to the day I got married to my wonderful wife, and then when my son was born, and then when I saw him become a father, I'd have to say it's all right up there," Bill told me. "Whoever thought 57 years later, there'd be a Ficke with the basketball team at Belmont Abbey? . . . The best thing that happened to Dan was his first job was with Jeff Bzdelik at Wake Forest, and Jeff laid the foundation for his work ethic and knowledge of basketball. He really worked with Dan and helped him grow."

 

Dan also is the president of the JoAnn B. Ficke Cancer Foundation. The Day of Giving, a salute of 9/11 victims and first responders, predates JoAnn's 2007 death and subsequent formation of the foundation, and has raised $1.2 million overall. 

 

(For info on the JBFCF and on Bill and JoAnn's story, click here.)     

 

Dan and his wife, Jordan, have 20-month-old twins, William Winslow and Sloane Smith.  

 

Belmont Abbey athletic director Stephen Miss announced Dan's hiring. Dan had interviewed for the job when Taylor was hired in 2016, so he was in the Crusaders' memory bank when the job opened again. 

 

The Crusaders were 23-8 overall and 14-4 in league play last season, finishing second to Emmanuel. So the cupboard won't be bare.

 

"During what was a thorough and comprehensive national search, Dan Ficke emerged as the right individual at this time to lead Belmont Abbey College's men's basketball program," Miss said. "In addition to having benefited from playing for and working with many exceptional coaches, Coach Ficke articulated repeatedly during the interview process an appreciation of and conviction in our mission that positions him well to form and develop our students as they endeavor individually and collectively to realize their full potential: body, mind, and soul."

 

The fact that Dan played both high school and college basketball at Catholic schools was a plus for him in the selection process. Dan also can benefit from Bill's and his own connections in the coaching fraternity, and in the recruiting networks. Plus, some of Bill's former teammates are supporters of the program.   

 

"Back in December of January, I can't remember when it was, the president of the university came out and told me they were going to put me in the Belmont Abbey Hall of Fame," Bill said. "That's going to happen on October 12. So I said, 'Great 2019's my year.'"

 

He laughed and added, "Now I've been upstaged by my son."     

 

When Dan was playing at Loyola, his teammates labeled frequent visitor Bill as "Thornton Mellon,'" after the Rodney Dangerfield character in "Back to School." Ever since, I've pictured Bill on the Tonight Show couch, tagging on his tie and lamenting, "I tell 'ya, Johnny, I don't get no respect. No respect at all."

 

On Saturday, Bill joked, "I'm going back to school," then added: "No, I figure about once a month I'll go out and see him and the grandkids. During the season, I'll go when there's two or three games in close proximity and see him coach."

 

Fickes1.jpg

Dan and Bill Ficke on the Day of Giving, honoring

JoAnn B. Ficke, in 2016  

 

     

 

 

 

July 11, 2019

Erik Johnson got off

the train at Saratoga for

the 14th time ... and went 

to winner's circle  

CrosscheckCarlosEJ.jpg

Erik Johnson with another of his horses, Crosscheck Carlos 

 

Comical, the 2-year-old filly co-owned by Erik Johnson, Thursday won the Schuylerville States, a Grade 3 stakes race at the famed Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and the Avalanche defenseman was there to celebrate in the winner's circle.

 

"It's an unbelievable feeling to win at Saratoga," Johnson told Jeff Scott of the Saratogian. "Hats off to the entire team that got her here. We're excited to see what the future holds. Her dam is a full sister to (2008 Travers Stakes winner) Colonel John, so hopefully she can stretch out."

 

Going off as the 3-1 second favorite and ridden by Javier Castellano, Comical beat the Todd Pletcher-trained Kiss the Girl by a neck in the 6-furlong sprint on a muddy track. Both Comical and Kiss the Girl are daughters of successful sire Into Mischief.

 

The even-money favorite, Shippy, ran third.   

 

Comical now has won both her starts -- a maiden special weight race at Santa Anita on May 26, then the Grade 3 race for 2-year-old fillies at Saratoga Thursday. The filly earned her connections -- that's horse racing talk -- $39,000 at Santa Anita and $82,500 on Thursday.

 

Bloodstock agent Dennis O'Neill generally picks out the horses for Johnson and partners to buy, and they're usually trained by Dennis' brother, renowned trainer Doug O'Neill.

 

In addition to Johnson's ERJ Racing, the other co-owners for Comical are listed as Gary Barber, Dave Kenney and Madaket Stables.

 

Johnson, John Fuller, Kenney and Madaket Stables also are the co-owners of Landeskog, winner of $85,000 so far in three career starts. The latest was the Grade 1 Woody Stephens Stakes at Belmont Park on Belmont Stakes day last month. Landeskog was not offside, but was ninth in that race after winning once and finishing second once in earlier starts, both at Oaklawn Park  in Hot Springs, Ark.            

 

I've spoken with Johnson several times over the years about his horse racing interest, and how he managess to follow ERJ Racing's horses, even during the season.

 

“It’s so easy with the apps nowadays, you can just plug your horse into your virtual stable and then you get notifications on your phone,” he told me. “Like if they work out or when they run. It takes no effort at all, just pick up the phone and look at it and it takes a minute and a half to watch the race.”

By the way, Crosscheck Carlos -- the colt pictured above -- earned $136,453 in eight career starts, with two firsts and four seconds, before he was retired in 2017 because of injury.

 

Raised in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota, Johnson first sampled horse racing at Canterbury Park southwest of Minneapolis. "I went a handful of times," he told me. "You just put the $2 win bets on the 20-1 shot and it's kind of fun."

 

From there, he mainly followed the Triple Crown races then attended opening day of the Del Mar meeting, near San Diego, when he was a high school student.

 

"I was kind of in awe at how big of a spectacle it was." he said. "I followed it casually since and I'd say in the last year and a half, I got into it on the ownership side and I've really, really enjoyed it."

 

Johnson has co-owned horses with other various partners, including former NHL player and current broadcaster Ed Olczyk; Paul Reddam, the Canadian businessman who separately owned 2016 Kentucky Derby winner, Nyquist; and Florida Panthers owner Vinnie Viola.
 
Johnson's trainers also include Hall of Famer Bob Baffert.
 
 
P.S.: Bonus points for any Guy or Doll who gets the headline.  
 
 
 
 

July 9, 2019

Jared Bednar's

contract extended

through 2021-22

 Bednar7.jpg

 

The Avalanche Tuesday announced that Jared Bednar, who had one year remaining on his contract, to a two-year extension.

 

So he's under contract through 2021-22, which passes for security in a league that champions the scapegoating of coaches in times of trial.

 

It's well-deserved. After three seasons as Patrick Roy's replacement, Bednar has settled in -- as much as a first-time NHL coach (or NHL anything) can -- as an unflappable, respected voice behind the bench, with an intuitive sense of which buttons to push.

 

It was a long time coming for the man from Saskatchewan.

 

*   *   * 

 

The grain storage elevator was the tallest structure in the village. Population fluctuated, and if the count was taken at the right time, it might crack 300. This was Elbow, Saskatchewan, halfway between Regina and Saskatoon, and elementary school student Jared Bednar was the son of an often transferred Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer, settling in and making new friends.

 

Bednar was used to it.

 

"Every two or three years, we'd move," Bednar told me.

 

Born in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, Bednar spent the most time in his childhood in a big city, Humboldt, population 5,000, because his father, Wally, was stationed there twice, including when Jared was beginning to advance through the ranks of youth hockey.

 

"In rural Saskatchewan, you live, breathe, eat, sleep hockey," he said. "That's what you do. So it didn't matter what time of the year, you found a way to play, whether you're playing street hockey on the pavement or ice rinks or outdoors on ponds. That's all we did. Well, we played other sports as well, but we found a way to make sure we were getting our hockey in every night -- that and watching 'Hockey Night in Canada.' "

 

Bednar hoped to play for the Humboldt Broncos, the local Tier II team, or maybe -- just maybe -- major junior's Saskatoon Blades. As a big, tough defenseman who saw dropping the gloves and fighting as part of the job description, he attained both, eventually playing four seasons in the Western Hockey League with the Blades and the Spokane Chiefs, Medicine Hat Tigers and Prince Albert Raiders. He went unclaimed in the NHL draft and was 21 when he finished his major junior career.

 

"I assumed that I was going to play at at least the American League level," he said of the NHL's "triple-A" feeder. "When that didn't happen and I wasn't part of an NHL team and I didn't sign, I was thinking, 'What do I do now?' "

 

His coaches had contacts in what then was called the East Coast Hockey League, a step down from the AHL, and he caught on with the expansion Huntington (W.Va.) Blizzard.

 

"I didn't know anything about the league," Bednar said. "I'm 21 years old, I'm leaving Saskatchewan and Western Canada really for the first time to jump in my car and drive down to West Virginia and play hockey. I had no idea what it entailed."

 

Bednar was a stay-at-home defenseman, even more popular with crowds and his teammates because he dropped the gloves to avenge and defend and also because at that level, at least one good scrap a night was part of the league's identity and box-office allure.

 

"It was something I could contribute to help my team, so I did it," Bednar said. "I wanted to play and I loved my teammates."

 

In Huntington, the home of Marshall University, Bednar met and started dating the woman who later would become Susan Bednar. In his third season, though, he was traded to the South Carolina Stingrays, based in Charleston.

 

"I was crushed," Bednar said.

 

The immediate silver lining was that his teammate, roommate and best friend, Dan Fornell, was traded with him, and they quickly became valuable members of the Stingrays.

 

"We always referred to him as 'Bedrock,' " said Rob Concannon, a Stingrays teammate who now is president of the ECHL team. "He had a cool persona about him, and at one point he had the long hair and an earring. ... We find out that we're getting Jared Bednar and Dan Fornell from the Huntington Blizzard and we said, 'Let's look at the guys' stats!' That first (expansion) year, Jared was minus-82. Minus-82! So of course we were all saying, 'Who the hell are these two guys?' And then they came to town.

 

"I played a kind of antagonistic role and Jared would turn to me and say, 'Coocs, you go out there and do whatever you want, I have your back.' That's what he was. He always had your back."

 

BednarGoodCup.jpg

 As the South Carolina Stingrays' captain,

Jared Bednar holds aloft the Patrick J. Kelly Cup. 

 

Jason Fitzsimmons was the Stingrays' goaltender.

 

"He was a great teammate," Fitzsimmons said of Bednar. "He stood up for his teammates, he spoke with his actions and he held people accountable. I think those are things he has taken over to the coaching side."

 

The Bednars came to love Charleston so much, he and Susan Bednar and their two children made it their base during Jared's subsequent hockey travels.

 

The Stingrays won the league's Patrick J. Kelly Cup twice when Bednar played for them, in 1997 and 2001. In between, he had brief stints in the AHL with St. John's and Rochester, and in the International Hockey League with Grand Rapids, but wasn't considered an NHL prospect. He didn't mind going back to the Stingrays and winning championships.

 

"It was awesome," he said. "You don't know any better. I didn't know any better. I went down there and we were drawing 10,000 fans a game, selling out our building and they're treating us like we were an NHL team. We were Charleston's team, South Carolina's team and the fans were great."

 

In 2002 he was pondering whether to play another season when Fitzsimmons, the former goalie, moved up from assistant coach to head coach. On the night of his hiring, Fitzsimmons asked Bednar, who lived two blocks away, to come to his house for a talk. He asked Bednar to retire and become his assistant.

 

"I wanted to stay in hockey and I didn't know if I was going to be able to do that as a player," Bednar said. "Probably the biggest factor in me deciding was I had played one way my whole life. I wasn't the most talented, but I was real competitive. I had some anxiety at certain points in my career about fighting, but generally I fought because I was in the moment and wanted to do it. My last year, that kind of went away. I was at a spot where I had my son and I didn't feel that I battled to the point I did the rest of my career."

 

He was torn. He told himself he wanted to play one more season, return to his passionate role and go out that way. But he told Fitzsimmons yes.

 

His coaching career had begun.

 

"I fell in love with it," he said. "It gave me a chance to work and learn and make a lot of mistakes."

 

Bednar and Fitzsimmons, who remain close, were on the Stingrays' bench together for five seasons.

 

"Even though I was the head coach and he was the assistant coach, I viewed it as being co-coaches," Fitzsimmons said. "I learned a lot from him. I knew I was pretty green and we were both young kids and I knew that being an ex-goaltender, I used to talk about the game with him and I knew we had the same philosophy. I think I kind of talked him out of playing another year and I think now, 15 years later, he's probably thankful I did that for him."

 

In 2007, Fitzsimmons moved on to the Washington Capitals as a professional scout, and Bednar became South Carolina's head coach. In Bednar's second season, the Stingrays won the Kelly Cup again in 2009, and as much as he loved Charleston, he was wondering whether he might be able to coach at a higher level.

 

He signed on as an assistant to Jim Playfair, a former NHL defenseman who was the head coach of the AHL's Abbotsford Heat.

 

"I quickly realized that first and foremost, our personalities connected," said Playfair, recently named the associate coach of the Edmonton Oilers. "There just weren't many loose parts in his coaching and his disposition as a person. His connection to the players. His attention to detail. His preparedness. I was just really impressed that coming out of the East Coast League, that he was as well-versed in handling video tape and teaching structure and getting his point across to the players."

 

Playfair recalled a conversation with Bednar after the Heat was eliminated from the playoffs and the coaches and players were in the Calgary airport.

 

"I said, 'Look, you are past being an assistant coach at this level. I think you're good enough to be a head coach,' " Playfair said. "I made some phone calls to different general managers that I had relationships with that I thought might be looking for a good, solid, young coach."

 

The St. Louis Blues hired Bednar to be head coach of their AHL affiliate, the Peoria Rivermen. So he had gone from ECHL assistant to ECHL head coach, from AHL assistant to AHL head coach and he was on the path to the ...

 

Not so fast.

 

The Rivermen were 81-63-12 in his two seasons, but Bednar's contract wasn't renewed.

 

"It was disappointing," he said. "I'd put a lot into that and I felt like it was my chance. I'm a competitive person. I want to win and we didn't, but I thought our staff and myself put a lot into that team and I felt we did everything we could with the group we had. ... I think deep down I worried a little bit that that was my chance as an American League head coach. But I'm of the belief that everything happens for a reason."

 

BednarcoachCup-150x150.jpg

As coach of the Lake Erie Monsters,

Jared Bednar holds aloft the Calder Cup.  

 

The Columbus Blue Jackets hired him as the second assistant for their AHL franchise, the Springfield Falcons. After two seasons, Falcons head coach Brad Larsen -- a former Colorado winger -- moved up to the Blue Jackets' staff, andBednar was a head coach again. The Blue Jackets' affiliation switched to the Lake Erie Monsters in Cleveland for 2015-16, and the Monsters stormed through the AHL playoffs and won the league's Calder Cup. Bednar signed a new two-year contract with the Blue Jackets' organization, but after Roy's stunning Aug. 11, 2016 resignation, the Avalanche interviewed Bednar and hired him two weeks later.

 

He kept his poise through his painful introduction to the NHL, the dreadful 48-point season in 2016-17, and Joe Sakic kept the faith, conceding the rebuild in progress had placed Bednar at a great disadvantage. Then came the stunning turnaround in his second season behind the bench, when the Avs jumped to 95 points.

 

Although the Avalanche's midseason lull last season seemingly placed his job in jeopardy under conventional NHL standards, Sakic never came close to firing Bednar and Colorado recovered to claim its second straight No. 8 Western Conference seed and this time knocked off Calgary in the first round.

      

 And now he's under contract for three more seasons.

 

 

July 7, 2019

 

Coloradans Lindsey Horan,

Mallory Pugh celebrate

U.S. World Cup win

 

Rush.jpg 

Lindsey Horan, then 17 and heading into her senior year at Golden High School, is third from left, wearing a gray shirt and carrying her backpack, at a Colorado Rush practice in Littleton during the 2011 women's World Cup. 

 

I'm not going to dwell on the negative here. But I admit I was both surprised and disappointed Sunday morning when I heard that coach Jill Ellis' starting lineup for the USWNT's championship game meeting with The Netherlands didn't include midfielder Lindsey Horan of Golden.

 

Instead, Ellis went with Sam Mewis.

 

Horan, the reigning MVP in the National Women's Soccer League with the Portland Thorns, didn't play in the 2-0 win that will be -- and deserves to be -- much-celebrated from coast to coast.

 

It could have been even more of a boost for the NWSL, which began play in 2013 as the third attempt to make a women's pro league a thriving part of the American sports scene, if the league's MVP had been more visible in the tournament and especially the title game.

 

Horan even talked about the possible impact on the struggling NWSL in an Associated Press story as the championship game approached.   

 

But Horan didn't play. Neither did the other Coloradan on the roster, Mountain Vista graduate Mallory Pugh.

 HoranMug2.jpgHoranBeckham2.jpg

Lindsey Horan in Portland Thorns uniform, and with David Beckham when they both played for Paris Saint-Germain teams. 

 

I've done a handful of stories on Horan over the years, as far back as when she was a Parade High School All--American as a junior at Golden. That was quite a trick, considering she didn't play high school soccer, but instead concentrated on the Colorado Rush program, including playing on boys' teams. I wrote more on her through her choice to bypass a college soccer scholarship at North Carolina and turn pro to play for Paris Saint-Germain. I caught up with her after she established herself as one of the stars of the French league. I've followed her from afar since she returned to North America to play for the fledgling NWSL and become even more entrenched as a standout in the national program.

 

The picture above is from my visit to a Rush practice in Littleton, during the 2011 women's World Cup in Germany.

 

My mission that day was to get the reaction of several of Colorado's top young players to the U.S. victory over Brazil in the quarterfinals. I spoke with Horan; Wheat Ridge High's Annie Kunz, who went on to be a track star instead at Texas A&M; Morgan Kennedy and Morgan Stanton. They all mentioned they hoped the World Cup exposure would help women's soccer, and we hear it every four years. (Same with the men's program.)

 

PughMug.jpg

OK, this time it should mean the addition of a Colorado franchise in the NWSL, which now has nine franchises, with USA Soccer assigning the players to the various rosters and paying them. Bring home Horan and Pugh (left), who plays for the Washington Spirit, as initial draws.

 

But for now ... bring on the parade.  

 

On Sunday, Horan and Pugh accepted post-game award ceremony congratulations from a line of officials that included French president Emmanuel Macron, and it struck me that he now has been part of honoring three Colorado women over the past five weeks. Keep scrolling to come to the story about 97-year-old former combat nurse Leila Morrison of Windsor, who came ashore at Omaha Beach and was at the 75th D-Day anniversary ceremony at Normandy last month.   

 

 

June 17, 2019 

 

She came ashore at Omaha Beach, too:

WWII nurse Leila Morrison back in

Colorado after D-Day visit to Normandy

 

Leila.jpg

Leila Morrison in Normandy, signing the jacket of Best Defense Foundation program director

Ralph Peeters, who lives in The Netherlands. (Photo courtesy Ralph Peeters)

DDayonbeach.jpg

Leila Morrison is seventh from left (in white pants) among the Best Defense Foundation-escorted

veterans on Omaha Beach. (Best Defense Foundation photo) 

 

On June 6, the 75th anniversary of D-Day, former Army nurse Leila Morrison looked out over Omaha Beach.

 

"I just couldn't believe it," Morrison told me Monday. "It was so different from 75 years ago, when we arrived. There wasn't anything recognizable except maybe the sand on the beach. It brought back so many emotions and everything else you had inside of you."

 

Morrison is 97 and since 2010 has lived in a senior citizens' home in Windsor, between Fort Collins and Greeley.

   

This often is lost in the narrative, but Leila (then known as Leila Allen) and other Army nurses came ashore shortly after the D-Day landings and moved with the battle lines and the U.S. troops across Europe, working under trying conditions in operating "rooms" that actually were triage tents. With the 118th Evacuation Hospital, she witnessed both the carnage of war and, at the Buchenwald concentration camp, the results of the horrific actions of Nazi Germany in implementing the unspeakable "Final Solution."   

 

Ralph3.jpg

Russell Pickett, 19 when he made it through German fire

to reach Omaha Beach, at the landing site.

(Best Defense Foundation photo)     

 

Morrison was the only woman among the 14 U.S. veterans of the Normandy campaign taken to France for the D-Day commemoration by the Best Defense Foundation, a remarkable organization founded and run by former San Diego Chargers linebacker Donnie Edwards. The group sat behind President Donald Trump at the official commemoration ceremony, and Trump introduced and hugged one member of the party, Russell Pickett, who as an 19-year-old private in the 29th Infantry Division was among the first to arrive on shore, braving the German fire. French president Emmanuel Macron helped Pickett stand.


"Today, believe it or not, he has returned to these shores to be with his comrades," Trump said of Pickett. "Private Pickett, you honor us all with your presence."  

 

LeilaFrance.jpg

Leila Morrison with French children

(Best Defense Foundation photo) 

 

Leila Morrison was sitting nearby.    

 

"There are very few of us left from World War II," she said. "They told us while we were there that we were probably the last World War II folks who would be there for a public ceremony, and it really was a big one."        

 

The commemoration ceremony was the highlight of the Best Defense Foundation's 10-day trip, which also took the veterans to Paris and other and other French cities and sites. 

 

"It was quite a trip, especially for an old woman," Morrison told me. "It's taken me longer to get over than I thought. It was a schedule for a teenager. But we made it and I'm thankful I could. We were treated like royalty. The French people respected us and gave us every courtesy possible. They were just happy to serve us. Even though it's three generations later, the people seemed to really be willing to remember it and they're teaching their children about what happened. We went to a couple of schools and the children really welcomed us and had made little banners. They seemed to know and understand quite a bit about World War II."   

 

The Best Defense Foundation, which takes veterans back to the sites of their combat, came across her story and invited her on the momentous 75th anniversary trip.

 

She met the group in Los Angeles and they flew -- in First Class, thanks to upgrades from United Airlines -- to Paris and eventually ended up in Normandy.       

 

Leila2.jpg

At Normandy, Leila Morrison, center, is surrounded by

other Coloradans, from left: Julie Mann, Lilly Schroeder,

Brooke Moser, Quinn Schroeder, Carrie Vaughn.

(Photo courtesy Marc Moser) 

 

Activists who support Edwards include Jake Schroeder, who is the head of Denver's Police Activities League and sings the National Anthem at Avalanche games; and Avalanche television broadcaster Marc Moser. They have become close friends of Ralph Peeters, the Best Defense Foundation's Netherlands-based program director.   

 

Both Moser and Schroeder were at Normandy for the 75th anniversary with their daughters and interacted with Morrison.        

 

Morrison became beloved among Best Defense Foundation personnel and charmed the young people meeting the American visitors.

 

"She was an inspiration and a lovely lady to have on the program," Peeters told me. "She was an ambassador for all nurses who served in World War II."

 

Anna Becker, another Foundation program director involved with the trip, said Morrison "was the sweetest and nicest person there. An absolute angel! All the boys loved her!" 

 

Raised in Blue Ridge, Georgia, Morrison entered the Army Air Corps as a nurse after her graduation from nursing school in 1943. Her training was at Lowry Field in Denver and Santa Ana Air Base, and then Camp Bowie in Texas. There, she was shifted to the Army and soon was commissioned as an officer. Also while at Camp Bowie, she met a dashing Army officer named Walter Morrison at a dance and turned down his virtually immediate marriage proposal, saying she couldn't get married while a war was raging. But they remained in touch.  

LeilaUniform.jpg

Leila Morrison's Army uniform and medals

(Photo courtesy AJ Frankson / Collegian)   

 

 

She was transported to Scotland on the coverted (and packed) Queen Elizabeth, went through additional training and briefly was stationed in England before she was assigned to the 118th Evacuation Hospital. Then she and other nurses traveled on a British ship, the Southampton, to Omaha Beach.

 

Morrison said it was "a couple of months" after the D-Day landings. The battle lines had moved on, but the goal was for the medical personnel in the unit -- including 40 doctors and 40 nurses -- to catch up.     

 

"We could not come in very close, because of the mines and sunken ships still there in the harbor," she said. "So we had to swing off this little, bitty ship on this rope ladder. Some GIs were there in this little LST (Landing Ship, Tank) boat. I think that's the name of it. It opens up in the front. We went in on that, and we walked out of it onto the beach. There was a two-and-a-half-ton truck there, and that's what we toured Europe in, all the rest of the time. They took us down to a small town there in Normandy and then we proceeded on to where the lines were to set up our hospital."

           

LeilaMug.jpg

They moved through France, Luxembourg (in the Battle of the Bulge), Germany and Czechoslovakia.  

 

"It was all in tents," she said. "We lived in tents. The hospital was in tents. It was all a bunch of tents with a big red cross on top."

 

(That was to identify it as a hospital, making it off limits for bombing under international law.)

 

 In tents, the unit treated the seriously wounded, hoping to get them alive to better facilities, usually station hospitals. Yes, think a M*A*S*H unit -- but even more makeshift and more on the move.  

 

"Our hospital worked like a big emergency room" she told me. "We only took emergencies. If we thought a soldier would not make it back to a station of a general hospital, we took them and brought them out of shock and stopped their  hemorrhaging for surgery. We gave many, many units of blood plasma. There was no preservation of whole blood at that time, so the next best thing was blood plasma. It was a powder we had to mix with sterile water. We gave that to almost all of them."

 

When I asked her about following the battle lines, she responded: "Many times we didn't even know where we were. It was a complete blackout, of course, and we traveled a lot at night. We'd say, 'Where are we?' And most of us would say, 'Well, I don't know. Somewhere in Germany or somewhere in France.'"

Ralph2.jpg

Veteran Pete Shaw and Leila Morrison on the trip to Normandy

(Best Defense Foundation photo) 

 

Eventually, they arrived at Weimar, Germany and the site of the notorious Buchenwald concentration camp. It had just been liberated.

 

"Some things I didn't believe," she said. "We pulled into the town and set up our tents and we were told that we would be moving on the next day. Then they told us that evening, 'Buchenwald is just across the stret here, you could walk over there,' They said, 'You girls be ready in the morning because we're going to have to go down there and help out.' The next morning, we were ready to go and they came and said, 'You girls can't go today. The doctors are already down there and the conditions are too deplorable for you girls. You have to wait until tomorrow.' So that's what we did.

 

"The next day we went down and they had it cleaned up -- I guess that's what you would call it -- to a certain extent, and we saw things that I still hav a hard time believing. The poor people."

 

They saw the crematorium, stacks of bodies and emaciated survivors.

 

"The crematorium, they had it worked out like a factory of murder," she said. "It was a two-story place and they had eight ovens on each side of this brick crematorium."

 

After Germany's surrender and and after returning to the U.S., Morrison was told she would be deployed in the upcoming invasion of Japan. But that nation surrendered in August 1945.

 

The storybook wartime romance had a happy ending. Leila married Morrison, who served in George Patton's U.S. Third Army. They were married for 65 years before Walter's death. Leila was a civilian nurse for 30 years, and she came to Windsor from Georgia to be near her son, Wally, and his family.  

 

For many years, Morrison said, she didn't talk much about her wartime experiences with anyone but he husband.

 

"The two of us could talk about it and understand," she said. "But just didn't talk to other people about it," she said. "I hear people say, 'Oh, my grandpa served, but he wouldn't talk about it.' We didn't either, for years. We had two daughters and a son and my daughter asked years later, 'Well, Mom, why didn't you tell us some of it? You never mentioned it to us.' It was all such a horrible thing and my husband and I could talk to each other. He understood. We had an outlet for the two of us because we could share it."        

 

LeilaHonor4.jpg

Leila Morrison is third from left in this shot from the Many 2018

Honor Flight Northern Colorado trip to Washington D.C. She's with

four women veterans from the Vietnam War era and one from the Korean War era.

 

 The past 13 months have been dizzying for Morrison. She was one of 123 veterans who were part of the Honor Flight Northern Colorado trip to Washington D.C. in May 2018, the next-to-last trip for that organization before it shut down in the wake of the death of Col. Stan Cass, its founder and organizer, then was rebooted as High Plains Honor Flight.  


Next, in a February ceremony at her retirement home in Windsor, she was one of six World War II veterans with Colorado connections who received the French Legion of Honor Medal for their service in Europe. I previously profiled Harry Maroncelli, Bill Powell, Philip Daily and Joe Graham, and will merge this piece with that to make it a single five-veteran group profile here.  

 

Other members of the Best Defense Foundation group received the medal while they were in France.

 

Honoring Morrison and the others was part of a labor of love for Donnie Edwards and the Best Defense Foundation, who earlier in the year escorted a group of surviving veterans to Iwo Jima.

 

During the trip to France, he told the Chargers' web site: “I am very honored and proud to bring these great men back to Normandy and also very proud to be bringing back a WWII nurse who served in triage tents, nursing our wounded men. We’ve attended ceremonies, parades, visited schools, and several of our veterans will be receiving their French Legion of Honor Award. We will spend time with the vets in private settings where they are able to reconnect with each other and share memories and stories.”

EdwardsBeachVet.jpg

Donnie Edwards on Omaha Beach with vet Pete Shaw

(Best Defense Foundation photo) 

 

The group also visited cemeteries and laid wreaths. But it all came back to Omaha Beach, the focal point of the trip.

 

"When we first pulled up, I looked out there at that big ocean," Morrison said. "It was a cloudy day. The wind was blowing. I thought, 'Oh, my goodness, how in the world did I ever have nerve enough to swing off the side of that ship?' I just couldn't believe I had done that. Of course, 22 years old and 97 years old makes a little bit of a difference there."  

 

 Ralph5.jpg

Leila Morrison and the other veterans on the Best Defense Foundation Trip at an

elementary school in Carentan. (Best Defense Foundation photo) 

 

Ralph4.jpg

At the Carentan elementary school, Leila Morrison talks to the children.

(Best Defense Foundation photo) 

 

Ralph17.jpg

In Paris, Leila Morrison is seventh from left among the veterans.

(Best Defense Foundation photo)    

 

 LeilaHhonor3.jpg 

Leila Morrison in early 2018, on the Honor

Flight Northern Colorado trip to Washington DC (Photo courtesy Tami Stieger,

Honor Flight Northern Colorado)

 

LeilaHonor5.jpg

Leila Morrison with her son, Wally, during the 

Honor Flight Northern Colorado trip to Washington DC in early 2018.

(Photo courtesy Tami Stieger, Honor Flight Northern Colorado) 

 

 

 

July 1, 2019

 

Post-deadline reflections:

MacKinnon apparently fine

with abandoning "structure"

 

On the opening day of unrestricted free agency Monday, the Colorado Avalanche made a handful of moves.

 

If you're looking for a breakdown of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare's faceoff proficiency or Joonas Donskoi's upside, there are other outlets for that.

 

By the end of the day, when Joe Sakic was made available for the second time on a conference call, I had two questions I couldn't get of my head.

 

This was after the Avalanche had finished off Monday by sending Tyson Barrie, the signing rights to Alexander Kerfoot and a sixth-round pick to Toronto for efficiently abrasive forward Nazem Kadri, fringe prospect defenseman Calle Rosen and a third-round pick.

 

The Avs, while collectively gritty, sometimes are too nice. Kadri is not nice. Not that there's anything wrong with that.    

 

My first question involved the fact that the Avalanche's best player, and one of the top handful of players in the NHL, Nathan MacKinnon, has just finished the third season of a seven-year, $44.1 million deal he signed in the summer of 2016.

 

In other words, he's locked in at $6.3 million a season through 2022-23.

 

I've even heard some Denver (radio) folks muse that, of course, the Avalanche will have to tear up that deal and give MacKinnon a renegotiated contract, because it's the right and fair thing to do. 

 

The problem with that, of course, is: You can't do that.

 

In football, the frequent focal point of preoccupation in Colorado, yes, you can do that.

 

In hockey, you can’t.

 

The NHL's "hard" salary cap, in place because the league was willing to shut down for the entire 2004-05 season to get it; and because the NHLPA both panicked and caved, forbids renegotiations.

 

Unless you consider buyouts renegotiations.            

 

This also is underplayed: When MacKinnon signed the seven-year deal, he had yet to break through. The Avs were showing faith in him.  

 

He was a No. 1 overall draft choice who had won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 2014, but it still was clear that the perception of the 2013 draft at least then remained accurate -- there were no "generational" players available in his draft year. 

 

When he signed the deal, he had scored 58 goals in his first three seasons. That isn't mega-contract territory. 

 

We talked with him in a conference call.

 

And he said: "It was very weird signing it today. I hesitated before I sent it back. ... Just thinking where I'm from and that kind of money. It's just crazy to me, but I'm very lucky and I know I'm very fortunate."     

 

So he’s not going to whine now – when he is perhaps one of the most “underpaid” players in major league sports, measured against the evolved economic standards.

 

Also, he was awful in the first year of the deal, getting 16 goals in 2016-17 as the Avalanche stumbled to 48 points and the worst bang-for-the-buck season in NHL history, considering it was pushing the cap ceiling.

 

Since, he has been terrific. A finalist, he deserved to win the Hart in 2017-18 and without getting into silly and unknowledgeable hair-splittting, he was every bit as good last season. He has become a generational player.

 

OK, that's the recent background.

 

Going back farther, Sakic is only a few years removed from emphasizing "structure" in payroll issues. Bsck then, he said something along these lines repeatedly: We have to be mindful of our stucture. It wasn't just about money and the cap, but money was the internal scorekeeping mechanism.

 

At $6 million a year in a five-year contract signed in 2013, Matt Duchene was the "ceiling."

 

Erik Johnson signed a long-term deal at -- guess what -- $6 million, and I remember him mentioning that "structure" himself.

 

Semyon Varlamov's five-year deal, signed the same offseason as Duchene's, came in at $29.75 million. (You do the per-year math.)

 

When Ryan O'Reilly and his family were intransigent in seeking to go far above that Duchene ceiling in talks about an extension, the issue was that much-cited "structure." So he was traded to Buffalo and soon signed a seven-year, $52.5 million extension. (Add the 4, carry the 2, divide by pi ... that's $7.5 million a season for the reigning Conn Smythe and Frank Selke winner.) There is no disputing that if the Avalanche had signed him to a similar deal, the raised benchmarks would have affected the franchise to this day. It frustrates me when intelligent, well-meaning folks don't get that this isn't about being "cheap"; it's about managing the cap and, to a lesser point, egoes.        

 

In discussing the Avalanche free agency signings Monday afternoon in the first conference call, Sakic said he was willing to be very aggressive in both term and money for one UFA. (Guess who ... )

 

Later Monday, I brought up that "structure" backgound and asked Sakic if keeping his best player his highest-paid player was an issue or consideration at all, and whether he had had any conversations with MacKinnon and his camp about the issue.

 

"Absolutely," Sakic said. "Nathan just wants to win. It's a different landscape right now than just a few years ago. That's where all these restricted free agents are going now ... Nathan just wants to win."

 

Sakic -- who himself signed a front-loaded $21-million, 3-year offer sheet with the Rangers that was designed to make it impossible for the Avalanche to match -- conceded that RFA Mikko Rantanen would get a major deal, and it doesn't take hours of calculations to conclude he will be higher-paid than MacKinnon at some point in the next four seaons.

 

"That's just the way the league has gone the last couple of years," Sakic said. "The contracts have gone up, and there's new structures for all these players."

 

Fair enough.

 

The other question I had revolved around the issue of whether Colorado could get away with having three "undersized" defensemen -- regardless of how talented they are -- among its top six. At some point, flashiness aside, the task includes support of the goaltender in the defensive end. Yes, that's probably influenced by my buying into the league's traditional views in all my years of covering the NHL. Defensemen are big and physical. (Right, Patrick?) I'm teasing myself here, but I was apoplectic when the Avalanche paired Cale Makar -- hours removed from the Frozen Four title game -- with Samuel Girard in the playoffs.

 

It worked.

 

They were terrific together.

 

Could it work long-term, with both of them, plus Barrie, one of the most talented offensive D-men in the league, in the top six?

 

I'm not so sure.

 

I also wonder if Sakic was concerned about that, too.   

 

I still wonder if it were sustainable in the long term and whether there was more to the trade of Barrie than the fact that his four-year, $22-million contract is up in a year.

 

So I asked Sakic if there was any component to the deal involving trying to avoid having three undersized "D".        

 

"No, not at all," Sakic said. "We had no problem starting the D group with the three smaller defensmen. This is today's game, it's all about puck moving defensemen and moving the puck up and hitting your fast forwards. Size doesn't matter any more."

 

I don't completely agreee with that ... but I get it.   

 

 

 

June 14, 2017

RIP, Pat Bowlen,

a Hall of Fame

owner and man

 

BowlenCardFront.jpg

 

Among the first memories that flashed when I heard of Pat Bowlen's Thursday night death were these:

 

-- A triathlon competitor, he rode his bike to training camp. From Denver to Greeley, where the Broncos held training camp for the first 18 summers of his ownership. 

 

-- When my father, Jerry Frei, and John Elway's father, Jack Elway, died three months apart in early 2001, Bowlen spoke at both memorial services. He eloquently saluted the two veteran football men who were close friends and had worked for the Broncos for many years, much of the time sharing an office at Dove Valley and also serving as hosts for staff Happy Hour at their suite in the University of Northern Colorado's Lawrenson Hall. They were Jack & Jerry, and Bowlen called for a symbolic toast with Jack's favorite, Sky vodka.  

 

Those sorts of specific and personalized memories vary this morning, but whether you just follow the Broncos or were intimately involved with the franchise, you most likely have them.           

 

Sadly, Bowlen's upcoming induction in the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2019 will be posthumous. 

 

After a five-person selection subcommittee recommended his choice last August, we heard and read the recitation of his "qualifications" mostly as if this is solely an exercise in analytics, accounting and merit points for serving on 15 league ownership committees during the league's phenomenal economic growth .

 

Updating following the 6-10 record in 2018, the Broncos still have had as many Super Bowl appearances (7) as losing seasons under his ownership.

 

As an influential member of the league's television committee, he was instrumental in pushing for Sunday Night Football, a revenue and ratings jackpot since 2000; and also in bringing the Fox network into the broadcasting mix in 1994, which pressured the rights fees additionally into the stratosphere.

 

All of that undoubtedly came into play in the talking-point consideration of contributor candidates in the meeting room at Canton last year.

 

This is what was underplayed.

 

Most important, Bowlen did it right.

 

From the top of the organization, he oversaw a mostly first-class operation for 30 years until he officially stepped aside from an active role in acknowledgment of his Alzheimer's diagnosis.

 

Not all has been perfect.

 

Before John Elway returned to the organization as the head of the football operation, there was toxic and counterproductive infighting within the front office and football operation. 

 

At times, because of all the maneuvering, the organization was dysfunctional and Bowlen's trust in the chain of command could be misplaced, until he stepped in and said, "Enough..." That could be in emotional times between friends, as when he and Wade Phillips and Shanahan parted ways, or when he was embarrassed and angered by Josh McDaniels' graceless incompetence and immaturity and signed off on firing him during the 2010 season.

 

The Broncos recovered under John Elway, who returned in 2011 as VP of football operations and added the GM title the next year. Since Bowlen relinquished control to the Pat Bowlen Trust, president and CEO Joe Ellis has served as de facto owner, and the possible passing of the controlling ownership torch to one of Bowlen's daughters, Beth or Brittany, remains a puzzlingly intricate soap opera.

 

In his active years as owner, Bowlen was not warm and fuzzy. But neither was he, as often has been tossed out there, especially in his early days in Denver, shy or aloof.

 

He picked his spots.

 

With those he trusted or respected.

 

Even in dealings with the media, he was far more accessible than sometimes has been portrayed. Plus, he was thoughtful, offering insight and information only he could have delivered. But you had to pay attention, had to get past the somewhat soft-spoken, matter-of-fact tone to realize just how unfiltered he was being. He answered all but the most unreasonable or brainless questions, rarely hiding behind the no-comment cloak. Attempts since his withdrawal from an everyday role to bill him as the supreme optimist are understandable, given the temptation to idealize his tenure, but inaccurate. He wanted to win, and he hated it when the Broncos didn't. That especially was true when he felt his trust was misplaced.

 

During the early years of Bowlen's ownership, affable GM John Beake could be his bad cop, in dealings both in the building and outside. But there was a sort of winking understanding that what Beake said could be coming from Bowlen. They weren't fooling anyone.

 

To me, the most interesting aspect of his influence in league and broadcasting circles is that it underscores his selectivity. Nobody tuned out Bowlen because of relentless, ego-driven bombast. When he talked, yeah, you darned well better listen. He not only knew what to say, he knew when to say it - and whom to say it to. He was a facilitator, but he also would call bluffs.

 

In the era of increased player movement, the "family" feel within an organization is harder to nurture. Yet when Bowlen was operating as the owner, that feel could permeate the organization even if the family, as many families do, has traumatic moments.

 

He is "Mr. B."

 

He was not a meddler, as is the Redskins' Daniel Snyder.

 

He was not a former football player and astute businessman who operated as his own general manager and loved the spotlight, as does the Cowboys' Jerry Jones.

 

He was the owner, working out at the Broncos' facility in the early mornings as the players arrived, and greeting players by name as they joined the organization. He was not one of the "guys" so much -- i.e., he wasn't a regular at the Smiling Moose or the State Armory in Greeley during training camp -- as he was the man in charge who didn't expect pandering.

 

Perhaps even uncomfortably, he successfully campaigned for six-county voter support for an indispensable new stadium, with more than two-thirds of the funding coming from the public. That was 1998, shortly before voter rebellion and recognition of revenue possibilities made predominantly privately funded stadiums more feasible.

 

He was a class act.

 

In that sense, he was a Hall of Famer all along. 

 

P.S., June 18

I was among the approximately 5,000 who showed up at Broncos Stadium at Mile High Tuesday to honor Bowlen.

 

Here are my amateur pictures from the well-done and touching displays.

 

It was as much a tribute to the Broncos' accomplishments and first-class operation during Bowlen's ownership tenure as it was to Bowlen himself, but the two are inexorably intertwined.

 

And that's the way Bowlen would have wanted it.

 

That's the point.  

 BowlenTwitter1.jpgBowlenTwitter3.jpg

Lombardi Trophies                                                       Pat Bowlen's desk

 

BowlenTwitter2.jpg BowlenCoat.jpg

Left: Jacket signed by Broncos Hall of Famers

Right: Bowlen's famous fur coat and a more modest outfit   

 

BowlenBoard.jpgBowlenBoots.jpg

Left: Bowlen and Jim Nantz, Super Bowl post-game

Right: Bowlen's boots and binoculars

BowlenBall.jpg BowlenBush.jpg

Left: Super Bowl L game ball

Right: With President George H.W. Bush

BowlenToDo.jpg 

On Bowlen's desk 

 

 

 

 

 

PatCover.jpg

My commentary on Pat Bowlen is

in July issue of Mile High Sports Magazine

 

Digital issue 

 

 

 

 

 

Additional 2019 Archive:
Scroll down for ...
 
Just another day at Sloan's Lake
Avs pick Matthew Stienburg: Self-professed "late bloomer"  
Avs and Bowen Byram. What's the rush? 
On Coors Field becoming Wrigley Field West
Colorado Eagles and the Pat Kelly Cup fiasco
For $3 million more, Broncos bought Chris Harris' happiness
NBA should steal elements of the NHL/MLB draft systems
Memorial Day: Why Dick Monfort was named after his uncle
Senators' choice has Avs connection, but it's not Patrick Roy
The most obvious Ring of Fame omission still is ...
Avs vs. Nuggets? One is closer, one is better
Killers want(ed) fame. Do we give it to them? 
Bittersweet end to Avalanche season
You know what they say about Game 7s...
On the Kentucky Derby fiasco
If Grubauer plays like that ...
"Z" on the line between physical and irresponsible
The Sky is falling. Ah, the fluctuations of playoff hockey
Girard & Makar: What a bad ... What a great idea!
Last time both Avs and Nuggets made second round?
20 years ago, at another Sharks-Avalanche Game 1 ...
For Grubauer, 6 days off is a good ... and bad ... thing
On 30th anniversary of release, a look back at Field of Dreams visit
Honoring a man who went back to his school and made a difference
The Beloved 13
Them Flames is done like dinner
Regardless of result, Bednar back on solid footing
No. 1 vs. No. 8: In the NHL, either can win
Welcome to the NHL, Cale Makar
Donated heart, do-over ... and a kicker.
Previewing Mile High Sports Magazine story on Irv Brown patch
St. Patrick's Day II: Rockies' home opener
Just making the playoffs not enough for Avs
Great night at Colorado Sports Hall of Fame  
Embedding with the All-American High School Musical
MacKinnon soldiers on
CU in the NIT ... just like the first NIT
Catching up with Tad Boyle, about then and now
Trying to make a case for keeping Keenum
Two young Israelis in Colorado to play hockey
On the trade for Joe Flacco
Two columns on the great Irv Brown
Sakic's support of Bednar is the right thing to do
 Is it time to play the confectionary salesman in net?
Can Kroenke Sports Stay on a Roll?
Here's why a Colorado nurse was with Supreme Court
Alex English could score 50 ... quietly 
Flying The Hump and more: An epic life  
 
 

June 27, 2019

Offseason caravan rolls on 

for Tyson Jost, Cale Makar 

... with wheelbarrow duty 

SloanJostMakarBoth1.jpg 

Tyson Jost and Cale Makar hauling mulch from the east-side parking lot to trees along Stuart Street at Sloan's Park. 

 

For three days, as the Avalanche development camp showcases the organization's recent draft choices and prospects in what usually is a select-and-watch process, Kroenke Sports and Entertainment staff has had young Avalanche standouts Cale Makar and Tyson Jost on a offseason promotional caravan -- dubbed the Summer Roadshow.

 

I'd call it a Magical Mystery Tour, escept Jost, 21, and Makar, 20, would have no idea what that meant. 

 

On Wednesday, they went to Falcon Stadium at the Air Force Academy, the site of the Avalanche's Stadium Series outdoor game against the Kings on Feb.15.

 

They also made in-studio appearances on three radio stations -- KKFN 104.3 The Fan; Altitude Sports Radio (92.5 FM); and KOA (850).

 

On Thursday, I caught up with them at Denver's Sloan's Lake, where they pitched in with KSE's Day of Service, with about 20 employees working on trees in the One Tree Planted project.

 

A total of about 375 KSE employees were in the field Thursday at 28 community projects.

 

Jost and Makar were assigned wheelbarrow duty, loading up mulch with rakes and taking it to the trees on the park's east side, where KSE employees spread it out.

 

It was a photo op for Altitude, obviously, but all hearts were in it -- including Makar and Jost's.

 

Finally, on Thursday night, they're expected to join the Rockies for batting practice before the game against the Dodgers. As of the morning Sloan's Lake appearance, it still was up in the air about whether they'd actually take some swings in the cage or simply be spectators.

 

If Makar gets a vote, he'll be in the cage.

 

"Oh, yeah," he said. "We'll be ready."  

 

SloanWoman11.jpg 

This is a far more common scene on a summer weekday at Sloan's Lake than two NHL players. As they pitched in, this woman went by -- with her dog and baby.    

 

The interesting thing to me about the Roadshow was that with more veteran stars otherwise occupied, Makar, who has yet to play a regular season game for the Avalanche after his spectacular sophomore season at UMass and then his signing before the third game of the first round series against Calgary; and Jost, who signed after his freshman season at North Dakota in 2017, credibly can be billed as young faces of the franchise for the purposes of this first caravan. 

 

"We just had such a spectacular season, and there's so much enthusiasm coming up about next season, we wanted to kind of give everyone something over the summer," said Becca Villanueva, KSE's director of marketing communications. "Yesterday, we went down to Air Force, and that was super-cool. For the guys, that was the first time they'd ever seen the stadium and the new locker room. The Academy couldn't have been better hosts. Just taking the guys down to Colorado Springs was good, because sometimes it's hard for (media) to get up here, from the Springs, Trinidad, Pueblo.

 

"We've thrown a lot at them over the last couple of days and they've had fun. Today, it's rakes and mulch, and yesterday it was footballs in a stadium. Today, we have baseball later. They couldn't have had a better attitude. They've been great to work with."     

 

SloanMakar5.jpg

Cale Makar

 

Makar said, "It's been fun, it's been good. That batting practice with the Rockies is going to be fun, too. I'm getting to spend a lot of time with Jost, so I can't complain about that. He's an easy-going guy, so it's been a lot of fun to be around him, to toss the football around with."  

 

Makar called the Air Force Academy setting "incredible. It's going to be unbelievable viewing for that game. I hope I get the opportunity to play in it, but, man, it's a pretty cool place, and will be especially when the rink is in."

 

SloanJost4.jpg 

Tyson Jost

 

Jost said he also was enjoying hmself.

 

"Seeing the stadium was really cool," he said. "We'r just bombing around, and hopefully creating some more enthusiasm for the Avs. Obviously, our goal is to win the Stanley Cup and we have a lot of the right pieces right now and I'm just happy to be a part of it."

 

Jost will be considered an even more integral element in the Avalanche lineup following he trade of veteran center Carl Soderberg to Arizona, and the picture also could change over the next few days, when the unrestricted free agent signing period opens.

 

Makar seems locked in as a top four defenseman, and a possible trade of Tyson Barrie could additionally alter the situation.

 

At least on Thursday morning, they put on gloves and loaded and unloaded mulch.

 

Nobody had told them to borrow a dog or a baby carriage for the morning.    

 

 

SloanJostMakarBopth2.jpg

Tyson Jost and Cale Makar arrive at the east side of Sloan's Lake. 

 SloanJost8.jpg

Tyson Jost

 SloanMakar9.jpg

Cale Makar 

 

 

 

 

 

June 25, 2019

Matthew Stienburg hoping

to follow the lead of his father,

former Nordique Trevor Stienburg  

 

Draftees.jpg

Avalanche 2019 draftees, left to right: D Bowen Byram, first round, No. 4 overall; C Alex Newhook, first round, No. 16 overall; C Matthew Stienburg, third round, No. 63 overall; RW Alex Beaucage, third round, No. 78 overall; RW Sasha Mutala, fifth round, No. 140 overall; C/RW Luka Burzan, sixth round, No. 171 overall; G Trent Miner, seventh round, No. 202 overall. D Drew Helleson, second round, 47th overall, was arriving in Denver Tuesday night.

 

Stienburg.jpg

When Joe Sakic was a teenaged rookie with the Quebec Nordiques in 1988-89, one of his teammates was 22-year-old center Trevor Stienburg.

 

Stienburg, as it turned out, wouldn't play in the NHL after that season, finishing up his career with five seasons in the American Hockey League.

 

So when the Avalanche claimed his Cornell-bound son, center Matthew Stienburg (right), in the third round of the NHL draft, at No. 63 overall, it was a bit of a "reach," all right -- a reach back in the past for Sakic, the Colorado executive vice president and general manager.

 

Matthew, coming off two seasons of prep school hockey at St. Andrew's College in Aurora, Ontario, joined six other members of the Avalanche's 2019 draft class for an introductory availability Tuesday at the Pepsi Center. The team's development camp starts on the ice Wednesday at Family Sports Center.

 

"I might not have expected to go that early in the draft," Stienburg told me Tuesday. "Playing in the prep school route, there were some question marks about the level I played at. There was a broad range of where people had me ranked. There were a few teams that had me up in that area, a few teams that had me lower. For me to go that high, I'm really excited.

 

"There's a few things that might have given me a chance to jump up with. This is a great organization kind of on the upswing, and it has a Maritime connection, where I'm from. So I think it's a good fit."

 

That was a reference to his hometown, Halifax, Nova Scotia -- also the hometown of Nathan MacKinnon and Sidney Crosby, who work out together there in the offseason and annually co-star in funny Tim Hortons commercials.  (Cole Harbour, often listed as Crosby's hometown, is part of the Halifax Regional Municipality.)

 

"With those guys, the high-end guys, you just tag along and follow," Stienburg said. "I've met Nathan a few times. I've been on the ice with him a couple of times and see him around the gym a lot. He's a good guy to look up to."     

 

Stienburg, now 18, had 71 goals in 113 games over two seasons at St. Andrew's, then finished up last season getting a taste of the United States Hockey League, with Sioux City.

 

"St. Andrew's was big for me," he said. "I kind of grew in the offensive side of the game the last two years. Coach (David) Manning did a really good job of that. Our practices are structured, a lot of small area games and stuff to develop that side of the game. That style of game we played really benefited me."

 

He is ticketed to join the ECAC program at Cornell as a freshman in 2019-20. It would be a surprise if he doesn't stay at least two seasons.

 

"Being a late bloomer, I want to take as much time as I can, or as much time as I need," he said. "The major reason to go this route might have been to give myself time. I don't want to put a timetable on anything and rush it at all."  

 

So how did he end up in prep school hockey, rather than Junior A or Major Junior? He said he had a bone infection in his shoulder and hip that required surgery and set him back.  

 

"Being an undersized guy, I was always open to the NCAA route," he said. "Then with the kind of injuries I had my Minor Midget year, quite honestly the Major Junior route wasn't an option at that time. So I knew I had to go back and play Midget again. And after that second year of Midget, I went through the process with a few schools and St. Andrew's felt like the best one for me."

 

And now it's on to Cornell ... with the Avs watching.  

 

 

 

 

June 23, 2019

Byram obviously was

right pick at No. 4, but

shouldn't be any rush 

 

bourquesakiccup.jpg

 

So why that picture at left on the top of a commentary about the Avalanche's 2019 draft and its possible impact?

 

I mentioned this on Twitter Saturday, but in case you weren't among those who saw it and perhaps responded, I'll bring it up again here.

 

That picture, one of the many taken of perhaps the most iconic sequence in Avalanche history, is from June 9, 2001.

 

Defenseman Bowen Byram, whose name was announced Friday night in Vancouver by the guy on the right in the photos above and below, was born four days later — on June 13, 2001. 

  

BowenJoe.jpg

Rob Knobenbauer of coloradoavalanche.com interviews Bryram in Vancouver, about an hour after his selection, here.

 

At one point, he discusses the twist that Sakic — raised in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby — made the choice in Vancouver, where Bryam plays major junior for the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League.

 

"Obviously, he's a pretty famous dude," Byram said. 

 

This is a compliment: Sakic, always a Hall of Famer, always a Hart Trophy winner, always a captain raising the Stanley Cup overhead or passing it off, isn't an ex-player in a suit.

 

He's an executive.

 

No more have I felt that than on Friday night, when he drafted a player born after that 2001 Game 7 in Denver, which remains the single most momentous sporting event in area sports history. (Only AFC championship games can rival it.) 

 

For several years, we've been dealing with players being asked about such things as the rivaly with the Red Wings and having younger guys — most notably Mikko Rantanen at one point — smile and point out they were in diapers (if that) when the rivalry became venomous.   

 

After the Avs ended up with the fourth pick despite having the most favorable odds of landing the top choice in the lottery, this was as good as they could have come out — if the projections of Byram as the top defenseman in this draft are correct.

 

I'm not going to pretend to have done major scouting myself, nor will I spew material from Central Scouting as it's compiled from marathon hours of personally watching video in the basement.       

 

But this all sounds right.

 

Sometimes, the televised coverage of the draft for much of the two days seems to be trying to avoid conceding that, at most, only a handful of players drafted in the seven rounds will be in the NHL in the upcoming season.

 

It's as if they were told not to admit that, perhaps on the theory that the casual fan wing will lose interest if they don't buy into the fact that the draftees should be shopping for condos in the NHL markets after they're drafted.    

 

I actually find the NHL's project, draft and watch talent process more interesting than the NFL draft, which I have covered in New York and at team sites.

 

At the NFL draft, as you had the chicken scarpiriello at Carmine's on the night before, you knew that players in the football draft would be in the league in a few months.

 

In the NHL, we're mainly dealing with players who might go back to major junior, who might be headed from Junior A to NCAA hockey, or who might remain in Europe for a year or two.

 

Or maybe never even be signed, period. 

 

As noted in my May 28 commentary below -- where I argue that the NBA would be well-advised to mimic some aspects of the NHL draft -- hockey does a better job of conceding the realities tied to young players at he crossroads to the pro game.

 

But now, the Avalanche taking two teeenaged defensemen two years apart at the No. 4 overall slot, and it provides an example of how no one path works best.

 

Cale Makar starred for the Brooks Bandits of the Alberta Junior Hockey League -- a Junior A league that preserved his NCAA eligibility, which wouldn't have been he case if he head played major junior -- before the Avs claimed him at No. 4 in 2017. He was committed to play at UMass, and he followed through, playing two seasons for the Minutemen before joining the Avs during the playoff series against Calgary after the Frozen Four championship game in April. There was no way he could have gone from Junior A to the NHL, and all acknowledged that. His intergration into the Avalanche postseason lineup was stunningly seamless, but that coudn't have happened without his NCAA experience.

 

Cale20.jpg

Cala Makar 

 

Byram took the major junior route, for two full seapons with the Giants, before he was drafted. Major junior's pro-like schedule and rules mimic the NHL, so those are the major reasons Byrum is far more "ready" for the pro game than Makar would have been. But while the consensus is that Makar was terrific in his NHL bow last spring, but his two NCAA seasons after he was drafted -- major minutes, star's role as the Hobey Baker Award winner -- were crucial.

 

And Byram?

 

There was litttle choice with Makar. He was headed for UMass, and it did him good. Bryam can play nine games with the Avalanche next season before his three-year entry level contract would kick in. The transition for defenseman is more difficult for defensemen than forwards. That's a given. It doesn't meant it's impossible for a D-man to jump right in from the draft-- see Aaron Eckblad and Victor Hedman, among others in the past 10 years -- but it' a more daunting step.           

 

Girard.jpg

Samuel Girard 

Byrum will be in town this week, for the Avalanche's introduction of its draft picks, plus development camp. Then he'll be back for training camp. Unless he is overwhelmingly impressive at camp and in exhibition games, and perhaps in the first nine regular-season games, the best move for all concerned would be for Byram to spend the bulk of one more season with the Giants. The Avalanche already will have Makar, who turns 21 on Oct. 30, and Sam Girard, 21, on the blue line. Rushing Byrum, and dropping him in the six-man rotation too soon, would be potentially conterproductive, regardless of whether Tyson Barrie remains with the organization or is traded.

 

The NHL draft process is about looking down the road.

 

For Joe Sakic, executive, there's no reason to redirect that focus.

 

 

 

June 8, 2019

Holy Cow! Lodo is

about to become

Wrigleyville West

 

RockiesPitch.jpg

Coors Field at the home opener. There were quite a

few Dodgers fans there that day, too. 

 

During the AT&T SportsNet's Rockies-Mets telecast from New York Friday night, the periodic plugs for tickets to the upcoming Coors Field series against the Cubs came with implorations to show up and drown out the Cubs fans.

 

Absolutely, the invasion of "opposing" team fans to arenas and stadiums is a sore spot in Colorado sports circles. Celtics and Lakers. Blackhawks and Red Wings. Cubs and Cardinals. Steelers and Raiders. I'm not going to limit it to those teams, but when they come to Denver, the crowd loyalties are the most noticeably divided.          

 

In the recently completed season, Nuggets coach Michael Malone's most popular line was his parting shot -- "Take that L on the way out" -- at Lakers fans at a game in Denver in late November. It was his most popular line because it struck a nerve with Colorado fans who have had it up to ... here.    

 

Mainly because of the sheer number of fans involved, though, the Cubs' appearances generate the most complaints.   

 

This has to be conceded: At least to some degree, the invasion of "opposing" fans happens everywhere. Including when Colorado teams are on the road. The crews in the trucks at Rockies, Avalanche and Nuggets road broadcasts usually spot and show fans displaying their Colorado team loyalties in "opposing" venues. The fans in Avalanche sweaters high-fiving after a Nathan MacKinnon goal in Vancouver. The fans in Nuggets sweatshirts on their feet after Jamal Murray drills a 3 in Minneapolis. The fans in Rockies jerseys cheering the Nolan Arenado home run in St. Louis.    

 

But they seem more isolated and rare than the huge gatherings of fans so often advertising their visiting team favoritism in Colorado.     

 

Sometimes, those fans of visiting teams are Colorado natives who want to be contrarian and latch on to teams from other markets. They might be unashamed frontrunners who during winning times retroactively became instant lifelong fans of, say, the Golden State Warriors.

 

Yet in the transplant-heavy state, the visiting team garb often advertises that the fans have moved here -- and retained their past loyalties. That's OK. Except when it seems part of a strategy to not just display it, but flaunt it. Rub our noses in it. And more.       

 

As I'll get to in a minute, sometimes Cubs fandom is the product of the '80s cable television world that gave them a quirky national constituency, often with a self-deprecating sense of humor -- even when the Cubs were rotten. That's a tiny asterisk. 

 

But that doesn't change the aggravating reality: That "opposing" fan syndrome is never more noticeable than when the Cubs come to town.

 

It's disingenuous for franchises to complain much about "opposing" fans, given they buy their tickets and fork over the debit cards at the concession stands, and are a significant part of the revenue base.       

 

The major question is: At what point do the fans of the "other" teams visiting Colorado--including the Cubs--deserve to get grief?

 

When they cross the line to obnoxiousness. 

 

When they act as if they believe anyone who actually has deep-rooted affection for Colorado teams just fell off the turnip truck. 

 

When they act as if Colorado history didn't begin until they did the area the favor of moving here.

 

This is what bugs me most of all: When they come off as fans who care more about "their" teams now, after they have moved to Colorado, than when they lived in the "other" markets.

 

It's a way to remind us: They're transplants.

 

They previously were casual fans of "their" teams; yet they turn into passionate loyalists here, or at least when those teams come to Denver. That's flaunting it. 

 

I don't claim to know what percentage of the visiting team fans fall under that. But I sense a lot of them do. 

 

It's a gauche, lowbrow, unrealistic view, and I should be both more pragmatic and understanding of the All-American phenomenon. Embracing one team of mercenary athletes over another team of mercenary athletes is not the measure of commitment to a community. I know that. I should know better.

 

It's still how I feel.

 

Also, many of those "visiting team" fans don't seem to grasp or care how galling it all can be to natives who are reminded at every turn that much of the Denver-area populace is made up of transplants.

 

We're a mobile society. I don't live in my native area, either, although I first came here as a high school junior. There's nothing "wrong" with moving somewhere, whether reluctantly for work reasons or eagerly to be close to, say, skiing or family. 

 

Affectionately reflecting on their native area? Fine. I do it, too.

 

But why do folks move someplace, then spend much of their time aggravating natives or long-time Colorado residents by bragging about the greatness of the place they left? If it's that important to them, why not move mountains, so to speak, to move back?      

 

Again, there's nothing wrong with having good-natured fans of the "opposing" team in the seats, and hearing the teasing go back and forth. To various extents, it's part of the dynamic at every NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB game. 

 

HarryMurray.jpg

Harry with a Cubs fan visiting the booth.  

 

 

OK, here's where I'll concede that many current Cubs fans were products of the cable television boom years, when the Cubs played all their home games during the day and they were broadcast on "superstation" WGN, with Harry Caray ("Holy Cow!") and Steve Stone ("Now let that be a lesson to you young ballplayers out there...") in the booth.     

 

As a (very) young scribe writing for the Portland Oregonian, I once talked on the field at Candlestick Park with Harry Caray for a column about that national constituency -- which included a lot of fans in Oregon.

 

"Really, I think it's because of day baseball," Caray told me. "That's why the country loves the Cubs. When they play at home, they're the only team playing in the daytime. So when the Cubs come to whatever's near Portand or wherever, fans will either ride a train or a plane or drive here, because they have a rooting interest."     

 

The Atlanta Braves, with Skip Caray's dry wit part of the attraction, also had a national fan pool, nurtured by superstation WTBS.

 

Yes, in the dark ages, national network games were rare. There was no MLB Network. ESPN's national game contract didn't kick in until 1990.

 

That was all before the Rockies began play as an expansion franchise in 1993. 

 

But it all comes back to this: Now, this week, brace for the Cubs fans. Three games. Monday through Wednesday. Lodo becomes Wrigleyville West.

 

If Gino's East and Al's Italian Beef can just put franchises in Lodo, all will be forgiven.

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

June 2, 2019

Honor Pat Kelly's spot

in Colorado hockey history:

Give back the trophy!  

 

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Captain Matt Garbowsky and Pat Kelly after the Loveland-based Colorado Eagles won their second

consecutive ECHL championship -- and the Kelly Cup -- in 2018. Repeatedly overlooked as the

saga played out over the weekend was that Kelly was the coach of the NHL's Colorado Rockies. 

 

 BednarKellyCup.jpg

Jared Bednar, now the Avalanche coach, holding aloft the Kelly Cup as captain of the South Carolina Stingrays.

 

It's obvious there is more going on behind the scenes than has been publicly disclosed. Perhaps it's disagreement over the Colorado Eagles' departure terms from the ECHL in 2018.But this fight between the Eagles and the ECHL, their former ""AA"-level league, has gotten silly.

 

Without knowing more, it's not possible or even necessary to take sides.

 

But the bottom line is: Give the trophy back, Eagles.

 

On the way out the ECHL door, the Loveland-based franchise won the ECHL's Pat Kelly Cup for the second consecutive time in 2018, then -- as planned -- became the Avalanche's American Hockey League affiliate, effective in the 2018-19 season.

 

The Avalanche didn't buy the franchise, but took over the hockey operation as the Eagles remained under the ownership of respected developer Martin Lind.

 

Chris Stewart, who had been with the franchise as a coach and executive since it began play in the Central Hockey League in 2003, stayed as president and general manager, to oversee the business side on behalf of ownership. He no longer has to worry about player procurement, putting together a roster under a strict salary cap and with a few trickle-down players from an NHL organization coming into play. He was a master at that in both the CHL and ECHL.        

 

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 In the 2018 Kelly Cup playoffs, the Eagles celebrate after beating Fort Wayne 3-2 in overtime in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. Hats are flying on the ice to commemorate Avalanche farmhand Michael Joly’s hat trick.

 

Here's my Mile High Sports column during the 2018 playoffs, when I attended an Eagles-Fort Wayne game in the Kelly Cup's Western Conference finals. It runs down what was coming up, the Eagles' move to the AHL the next season.

 

And note that during my coversation with Stewart, he told me:  "Absolutely, we want to walk out of here with that Kelly Cup.”     

 

He didn't say -- and obviously didn't mean -- it would be for good.

 

The ECHL says the Eagles havn't returned the trophy and the league has had to make another one to present to the winner of the ECHL Finals, going on now between the Toledo Blades and Newfoundland Walleye.

 

The Eagles said they tried.

 

The ECHL says that ain't so.

 

Tongues are out fingers are pointing.

 

Over the weekend, the Eagles conceded they still had the trophy.

 

Here's Lind's statement, as posted on the Eagles' site. 

 

Can't we all get along?

 

And the Avalanche should nudge the Eagles into getting the trophy back to the league, for the good of hockey -- and in honor of Kelly.

 

As near as I can tell, none of the stories highlighting the fiasco yet have mentioned that Kelly was the coach of the NHL Colorado Rockies in 1977-78, taking them to their only playoff berth in their six seasons in Denver and for part of the next season. Thn general manager Ray Miron -- ironically, later the founder of the Central Hockey League and the namesake of the league's Ray Miron Presidents Cup -- let him go. (Kelly's successors were Aldo Guildoin on an interim basis for the rest of the season and then, yes, Don Cherry in 1979-80.)  

 

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I was a young scribe at the Denver Post during all of that, and I enjoyed covering both Kelly (as Rockies coach, at left) and Cherry as I was getting my feet wet on what would turn out to be the first of my several stints covering the NHL.

 

Kelly had been a long-time minor-league player and coach and then had earned widespread praise as coach of the WHA's Birmingham Bulls, before the Rockies hired him. This was the year "Slap Shot" came out, and there was a bit of Reg Dunlop finally getting his chance in Kelly. (I never did tell Kelly that I was trying to capture the spirit of the thing, though.)

 

The Eagles have a long and praiseworthy history in Colorado, including being visionary and positioning the franchise to take advantage of the Northern Colorado area's explosion.

 

Before the Eagles hit the ice, I took a tour of the under-construction Budweiser Events Center with co-founder Ralph Backstrom, the former Montreal Canadiens (and Denver Spurs) center who also served as coach of the University of Denver Pioneers. And I visited and wrote about the Eagles many times duringthe successful runs in, first, the CHL, and then the ECHL. Lind, Backstrom and Stewart did an amazing job with NoCo's showcase franchise, appealing to Fort Collins, Greeley, Loveland and even Longmont -- and more.

      

Again, without being party to the internal wranging, I'm not saying who's at fault here.

 

But it's time for the trophy -- the real Pat Kelly Cup -- to go back to the ECHL.  

 

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At the October 2017 news conference officially announcing the Eagles move to the AHL as the top Avalanche affiliate in the 2018-19 season. From left, Avalanche assistant GM Craig Billington, Eagles owner Martin Lind, Avalanche GM Joe Sakic, Eagl;es co-founder Ralph Backstrom and, partially obscured, Eagles president and GM Chris Stewart. A few months later, the Eagles finished out their ECHL run by winning the Pat Kelly Cup for the second consecutive season. 

 

May 29, 2019

Broncos knew it was worth

an extra $3 million to have a

happy Chris Harris Jr. 

 

There isn't a lot of mystery here.

 

The Broncos wanted a happy Chris Harris Jr. in 2019, and subject to the twists and turns of what can be the NFL soap opera, they seem to have ensured they'll have a happy Chris Harris Jr. for 2019.

 

The price tag: Roughly an extra $3 million.

 

That's small change in the big picture.

 

All along, despite some mild trade whispers, the Broncos were destined to have Harris on the field in 2019.

 

Did anyone not believe that?

 

Yes, he asked for a pre-draft trade if the Broncos weren't going to be willing to adjust his deal, which called for him to make $8.9 million this season. But nothing of substance happened before the draft and nothing happened after the draft, not until the Tuesday confirmations (after the brief "sources" gamesmanship) that Harris had agreed to an adjusted contract under which he will make $12.05 million this year, incluing reporting bonuses of $650,000 (OTAs) and $600,000 (training camp).

 

NFL players long ago became relatively invulnerable to criticism for asking for -- or demanding -- adjusted contracts. That's because on the other side of the table, teams do it all the time. Take a cut or you're history. And although contracts are front-loaded with guaranteed money, they're not fully guaranteed.      

 

The curious aspect was that virtually the only thing that changed is what Harris will make this season. He had one year left on his deal and he still has one year left on his deal. To a point, as many brought up, that seems curious. The Broncos didn't extend him and, yes, that raises suspicions that there is some sentiment within the organization that in the wake of his fractured fibula and with his 30th birthday coming up in three weeks, it's better to keep him on a one-year deal. Assess him after the 2019 season. The Broncos gave him a raise. That's about it on the surface.

 

But his "happiness" and front-office credibility in the locker room means something.

 

After the Broncos gave Kareem Jackson a three-year, $33-million deal, this was inevitable. The bill for the other side of the NFL's maneuvering came due.

 

In the league with the most simple and inflexible salary cap, the NHL, Nathan MacKinnon can be locked up thouh 2022-23 under a seven-year, $44.1 million contract -- at $6.3 million per season -- that isn't renegotiable. It also was "fair" at he time, since it involved mutual faith and came before his breakout to becoming one of the top players in the league. That's the benchmark for the Avalanche's "structure," and in four years, he'll get an even bigger deal. Coincidentally, the Nuggets' Nikola Jokic also is locked up through 2022-23, playing under an escalating five-year, $147-million deal. But those situations are different.

 

The Broncos made the right call on Harris. Even though they really didn't have to.          

 

         

 

May 28, 2019

 

NBA could follow

NHL lead: Draft at 18,

and when you're ready ...

 

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Skyline.jpg.w300h488.jpg

 

 Nathan MacKinnon, as a rookie at left,  was drafted at 17 and jumped from major junior to the NHL. NBA prospects have to wait at least another year to enter the draft pool and sign, as did the Nuggets' Jamal Murray, right. It's silly.  

 

 

Five Nuggets on the current extended roster played one season of college basketball -- just one -- and moved on to the NBA. The roll call: Malik Beasley (Florida State); Trey Lyles, Jamal Murray and Jarred Vanderbilt (all of Kentucky); and Michael Porter Jr. (Missouri). 

 

Two European Denver draft choices didn't play college ball at all, and Nikola Jokic joined the Nuggets when he was 20, and Juan Hernangomez when he was 21. 

 

Of the remaining players listed on the Nuggets' current roster, the college stays were two seasons for Will Barton (Memphis), Gary Harris (Michigan State) and Tyler Lydon (Syracuse); three for Paul Millsap (Lousiana Tech) and Isaiah Thomas (Washington); and four for Torrey Craig (South Carolina Upstate), Monte Morris (Iowa State) and Thomas Welsh (UCLA)    

 

So why am I bringing that up today?

 

RJ Hampton, a Dallas-area high school star and considered one of the top prospects in the country, Tuesday announced (on ESPN) that he's foregoing college basketball to sign with the New Zealand Breakers of the Australia-based National Basketball League -- which essentially means he'll do his one-and-done NBA prep year as an out-and-out pro rather than as a collegian.

 

There's no outrage, and there shouldn't be. The only problem is the half-(baked) nature of the NBA system, which could benefit from borrowing elements of the MLB draft and the NHL system. 

 

The NHL?

 

The Avalanche has two of its own NCAA one-and-dones -- Erik Johnson (Minnesota) and Tyson Jost (North Dakota). The difference is both played their freshman seasons after they were drafted, Johnson at No. 1 overall by the St. Louis Blues in 2006 and Jost by the Avalanche at No. 10 in 2016.

 

Colorado's other former collegians and their stays are two seasons for Colin Wilson (Boston University) and Cale Makar (UMass); three for J.T. Compher (Michigan), Matt Nieto (BU), and Ian Cole (Notre Dame); and four for Alexander Kerfoot (Harvard). All were drafted as part of the league's annual class based on birthdates, which works out to choices being 17 (occasionally, as with Nathan MacKinnon) or (mostly) 18.      

 

Comparisons aren't apples to apples, primarily because NCAA hockey is only one of the NHL's feeders, mostly along with major junior -- the three leagues under the Canadian Hockey League umbrella -- and Europe. But both MacKinnon and Gabe Landeskog stepped right into the NHL from major junior (and with major junior eligibility remaining), and nobody -- as far as I know -- found that objectionable. Landeskog came over from his native Sweden to play major junior, was named the Avalanche captain at age 19 and is the eloquent spokesman in his second language. They're part of the roughly two-thirds of the Avalanche roster that didn't attend college at all.   

 

The NHL's largely draft-and-watch system works. When they're ready, or deemed ready, whether in NCAA hockey, major junior or Europe, they sign. Major junior's stipends (with a few exceptions) make its players ineligible for NCAA hockey, so those who prefer at least sampling college and the NCAA game stick to Junior A leagues. Jost, for example, had been playing in the British Canadian Hockey League, Makar in the Alberta Junior Hockey League when they were drafted. They would not have been ready to immediately jump to the NHL. No, not even Makar, who was so impressive after joining the Avalanche during the playoffs -- immediately after playing in the NCAA Frozen Four championship game.      

 

If it involves college hockey, it can be a bit of a joke in this sense: The NCAA players who already have been drafted almost always already have "advisers" who -- amazingly -- also happen to be accredited player agents. NHL teams watch and monitor their progress, and representatives -- such as the Avalanche's Brett Clark -- attend games and touch base in hallways ouside the locker rooms. But the option is there to sign at any time during the college career, and players who stay all four seasons, as did Kerfoot, who was a New Jersey draft choice, can become unrestricted free agents the summer after their senior years.          

 

MLB drafts players out of high school, but if they don't sign then and instead head off to the college game, they can't sign until after they go back in the pool in three years. (That's oversimplification, but good enough...) Also, the extensive minor league system also makes direct comparisons difficult. Many who sign coming out of high school are destined to be stuck in the minors and then regret the choice to bypass college and NCAA baseball, if they had that option, whether with a scholarship or otherwise.

 

The Avalanche has what amounts to one full farm club (the AHL Colorado Eagles) and an ECHL affiliation for a few trickle-down players on the Utah Grizzlies.       

 

The draft-and-watch system would work in NCAA basketball. NCAA hockey lives with it. In a perfect world, I'd do this for both basketball and hockey, merging the systems: The draft pool initially is 18 year olds. Draft rights last three years, then they're free agents. Drafts are five rounds. Nobody has to "declare" for the draft. If they're taken, they're taken. If they're not, they go back in the pool the next year. If they haven't been drafted, they can sign any time after their initial draft eligibility. The issue of possibly adjusted rookie contracts, then timetables for restricted free agency and then unrestricted free agency, as well as the evolving relationship with the developmental league, would have to be addressed.   

 

There should be an above-board way to enable NBA and NHL teams to make open payments, perhaps through agents, perhaps not, to their draft choices playing college hockey or basketball. The problem, of course, is how much. Again, perhaps this is being too idealistic, but maybe it could lessen the advantage for programs willing to look the other way or even directly participate as money is funneled to prospects and their "representatives" as they make their college choices and then during their stays.

 

But good for Hampton.

 

He's working the system.

 

The current system.

 

 

 

May 25, 2019 

Rockies co-owner

Dick Monfort named after

his uncle. Here's why.  

 

MonfortMemorial1.jpg

Colorado Freedom Memorial

 

At Greeley's sprawling Linn Grove Cemetery a year ago, after a visit to the main office to get a map and directions from Jackie at the reception desk, I pulled up to Block 14, Lot 50 and got out of the car.

 

There it was.

 

Among the graves of other Monfort family members, the white marble, U.S. military-style headstone announced:

 

RICHARD

LEE

MONFORT

COLORADO

2D LIEUTENANT

401AAF BOMB GROUP

WORLD WAR II

JANUARY 11, 1923

JANUARY 29, 1944

 

A single bouquet of flowers already was at the foot of the headstone.

 

*   *   *

 

Richard Lee "Dick" Monfort was the son of Greeley cattle feedlot innovator Warren Monfort and Edith Monfort. Dick's sister, Margery, was two years older. His brother, Kenneth ("Kenny"), was nearly six years younger.

 

After graduating from Greeley High in 1939, Dick was a junior at Colorado State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, or what now is Colorado State University, when he entered the Army Air Forces in 1942.

 

While in training, he married Viola Swanson of Greeley.

 

MonfortHeadShot.jpg

In late 1943, Monfort was deployed to Deenethorpe, England, with the 8th Air Force's 401st Bomb Group, 615th Squadron, joining the fight against Germany. He was the navigator on Capt. Lee Van Syckle's B-17 "Flying Fortress" bomber crew.

 

A massive 800-bomber daylight raid over Frankfurt was the 10-man crew's third mission. It also was the first U.S. bombing foray to the central German city following many earlier British raids.

 

The date was JANUARY 29, 1944.

 

Denver radio personality Rick Crandall tirelessly champions veterans causes. His efforts led to the opening of the Colorado Freedom Memorial in May 2013 in Aurora. Before its dedication, Crandall alerted me Richard L. Monfort's name was on the memorial, among those of nearly 6,000 Coloradans killed or missing in action while serving their country.

 

Crandall also obtained and forwarded to me the "Missing Air Crew Report," opened after the mission and supplemented over the next 18 months. It was declassified in 1973, and as is the case with most reports of that era based on interviews with survivors, it is remarkable in its narrative detail, especially given the staggering number of similar reports that had to be done.

 

That day, Monfort was in the nose of the B-17 with bombardier Stanley Groski. Van Syckle's plane dropped its bombs and turned away. Soon, a group of German pilots in Messerschmitt fighters attacked the B-17 and others in the lower box of the American wing. The Germans' planes were equipped with machine guns and cannons firing 20mm rockets.

 

Rockets struck Van Syckle's Flying Fortress in the wing tanks, which caught fire, and the tail. Tail gunner Charles Duke yelled, "I'm hit!" And then, "I'm done for!"

 

In the nose, Groski, having completed his role as bombardier, was firing the chin turret gun when the plane was hit. The impact knocked him back into Monfort.

 

The bailout order came amid the chaos. Groski later said he believed Monfort was hit before they jumped. Also, as Groski and Monfort left the front of the plane, the German pilots in the Messerschmitts still were firing on the B-17.

 

After other crew members jumped from their areas of the bomber, ball turret gunner Donald Lamb was horrified to see radio operator Joseph Glonek speed past him on the way down.

 

The lines of Glonek's chute were deployed, but the canopy was unopened.

 

Duke, the tail gunner who had cried out, likely still was in the plane when it exploded during its free fall.

 

On the ground, seven of Van Syckle's crew members - or all except Monfort, Glonek and Duke - were captured alive. The Germans took co-pilot Mitchell Woods to a village and told him two dead members of the B-17 crew had landed there. He was shown their escape kits and watches and a navigator's map. Woods concluded the dead Americans were Monfort and Glonek. The Germans refused to let him see the bodies.

 

The co-pilot also was told the chute of one American, which he assumed was Glonek, hadn't opened enough to save him, even if he was alive when he reached the ground; and the chute of the other American, presumably Monfort, was unopened.

 

The next day, Stars and Stripes, the U.S. military newspaper, reported 15 bombers - or fewer than 2 percent of the 800 on the mission - were lost. The story noted: "Preliminary reports of the Frankfurt raid gave no indication last night of the opposition encountered or the damage done, but some returning crews said they were 'puzzled' by the lack of German resistance on the way in. Neither fighter nor flak opposition was heavy, they said, until the Forts had made their bombing run and were headed for the coast - a further indication of the success of the recent concerted assault on Nazi fighter factories and airfields."

 

Regardless of how many lost planes there were, Monfort was in one of them. And he didn't survive. Two weeks later, he was reported to be among those Missing in Action. Then his death was confirmed. Other crew members became prisoners of war.

 

Dick had just turned 21. Kenny was 15. Walt Barnhart later wrote in his 2008 book, "Kenny's Shoes," that Kenny was fine with Dick being ticketed to head the family business and was hoping to become a journalist. In 1948, Kenny and his Colorado A&M fraternity buddy, future Colorado Governor Roy Romer, visited Dick's grave in the military cemetery at Nancy, France, near the German border. The remains were brought back to  Greeley.

 

Kenny had four children, including sons Dick and Charlie, plus daughters Kay and Kyle. When he served two terms in the Colorado Legislature in the tumultuous 1960s, Kenny - who had been so affected by his brother's death - was known as an anti-war Democrat. In 1980, he switched parties. He died in February 2001.

 

Kenny's son Dick needs no introduction in Colorado, and it goes beyond Dick's long-time linkage to the Monfort family business, including after its 1987 sale, until his retirement from ConAgra in 1995. He's involved in other business pursuits and is active in charity and civic ventures, currently serving as chairman of UNC's board of trustees.

 

Monforts.jpg

Dick and Karen Monfort singing "Go Bless America" 

at the Rockies' home opener against the Dodgers

 

Outside of Greeley, he and Charlie are best known as the primary owners of the Colorado Rockies. Dick is the team's co-owner, managing general partner, chairman and chief executive officer. Charlie is listed as an owner/general partner.

 

Dick was born in 1954. His birth name is Richard Lee Monfort.

 

 Dick told me that when he was "7 or 8," Kenny sat down with Dick and Kyle, two years older, and told the kids about their uncle. Dick came away honored to have been named Richard Lee Monfort, and that feeling lingers.

 

"He told us how (my uncle) died in the war and how my dad really looked to him," Dick told me. "And how my uncle was going to be the one who was going to run the business and my dad was going to do something else. He said that he and his sister (Margery) had both agreed they'd call their first male child Richard."

 

Margery's son, or Dick's cousin, was Richard "Ricky" Wilson. He died of leukemia at age 19.

 

"On a day like (Memorial Day), I feel for anybody that died in any type of war that we've had," Dick said. "God bless them for doing all they did so we could have our freedom."

 

*   *   *

 

ColoradoMemorial.jpgAt the Colorado Freedom Memorial, the glass panels on the sweeping memorial in Aurora variously angle forward or backward.

 

I came to Panel 15 near the center of the memorial.

 

This was on the second column, sixth row of names, against a backdrop of puffy clouds visible through the glass.

 

"RICHARD L MONFORT"

 

One name among the many.

 

Here, he represents all those we salute on another Memorial Day weekend.

 

*   *   * 

 

Some of my other stories about World War II, including a few we honor on Memorial Day.

 

 

 

  

May 21, 2019

 

All Otis Armstrong did

was win NFL rushing title.

That alone is Ring-worthy

 

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It happened again. Otis Armstrong was snubbed.

 

The word came Monday that cornerback Champ Bailey, who played 10 seasons for Denver, will be the lone inductee in the Broncos' Ring of Fame in the upcoming 2019 season. It comes after there were no inductees at all in 2018 and only one -- the highly deserving Red Miller -- in 2017. The Broncos' curiously high standards at this point aren't the issue because even under stringent standards, Armstrong belongs on the Ring.    

 

Over the past decade, the Broncos have corrected injustices, getting around to inducting players who were long overdue to be included in the Ring. They hadn't been for reasons that at least seemed to involve internal politics.

 

I don't claim to be the only one arguing that the exclusions of Rick Upchurch, Simon Fletcher and Armstrong were impossible to justify, but I pretty much was relentless in saying they should be among the next choices.

 

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Yes, I profiled Upchurch and Armstrong in '77: Denver, the Broncos and a Coming of Age and also in the newspaper, but this is more about common sense than my familiarity with the players' intriguing backgrounds. And I enjoyed getting to know Fletcher better when I profiled him at the time he owned and ran a barbeque restaurant in Greeley, walking distance from the Broncos' Smiling Moose hangout during their training camp years at UNC.

 

Upchurch finally joined the Ring in 2014.

 

Fletcher, the Broncos' all-time sack leader until Von Miller surpassed him last season, finally joined the Ring in 2016.

 

Now, the earliest Armstrong will join them is 2020.

 

I don't get it.

 

Armstrong led the NFL in rushing in 1974, his second season in the league. It was far from his only accomplishment, but that alone should be good enough to be chosen for the Ring.  

 

Otis was raised on Chicago's South side, in the Lawndale area. His stepfather, Oliver McCall, was a Baptist minister. A kid named Darryl Stingley lived down the street. They repeatedly raced down the street, vying to be the fastest kid on the block. The picked out a crack on the sidewalk as their starting line, and Darryl always won. Until one day, Otis pulled off the upset.

 

"How'd you do that?" Darryl asked.

 

Otis smiled, pulled up his pant leg and pointed down. "New shoes," he said.

 

He had talked his motheer into buying him a pair of Chuck Taylor All-Stars.

 

Darryl and Otis remained friends ... for life. Through Darryl's battle after Jack Tatum's hit in 1978 left him paralyzed. And until Darryl's 2007 death.

  

That was after they both went to Purdue and Otis gained 3,315 yards in three seasons and as a senior won the Chicago Tribune’s Silver Football as the league’s most valuable player in 1972. (Otis was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2012.)

 

Armstrong was the Broncos’ first round draft choice in 1973, befuddling many because future Hall of Famer Floyd Little was entrenched at running back. But the Armstrong pick proved to be another savvy decision made by GM-coach John Ralston during the franchise’s buildup to respectability. The Broncos also had "experts" scratching their heads when, under Ralston, they waved off ridiculously exaggerated concerns about Randy Gradishar's knee, taking the word of Woody Hayes that he wasn't damaged goods, and claimed him in the first round.

 

Otis opened the 1974 season at fullback. He didn't really belong there, but with the Broncos using the traditional two-running back approach, it was a way of getting Little and Armstrong on the field at the same time.

 

“Halfway through the season, I was the leading fullback in the league in rushing — and in headaches,” Armstrong told me in interviews for the book.

 

Then Little was injured and Armstrong moved to tailback and Jon “Make Those Miracles Happen” Keyworth stepped in at fullback.

 

Armstrong finished the 14-game season with an NFL-high 1,407 yards on an economical 263 carries, for a 5.3 average per rush.

 

Armstrong and Little were on the roster together for only three seasons, and only one season after Little’s injury-plagued 1974. Armstrong's numbers might have been even more impressive if he had been the featured tailback for more of his career.

 

He went on to an eight-year career with the Broncos before he was just too banged up and pain-ridden to keep playing.  

 

He finished with 4,453 rushing yards and 123 receptions for 1,302 yards.

Armstrong received injury and contract settlements from the Broncos and went through a long fight to obtain NFL disability benefits because of neck, spine and back issues from 1987 until he turned 55 in 2005 and was eligible for the NFL pension.

 

“It’s the life of a running back,” he told me. “I don’t know a running back who doesn’t feel that way in the morning. Floyd and I have talked about it. But if we had it to do over again, we’d go right back out there.”

 

In 1984, he pleaded guilty to one count of illegally obtaining the powerful painkiller Percodan — a charge he insisted was unjust, but decided not to fight — but that was wiped off his record after a year.

 

His malpractice suit against team doctors, alleging he was misdiagnosed, was dismissed, also in 1984.

 

I've said this before, I'll say it now and I'll say it again.

 

It's time for everybody to put all of that behind them ... and to put Otis on the Ring.

  

 

May 14, 2019

 

Who's closer? Avs or Nuggets?

Answer requires nuance,

not oversimplification

 

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Joe Sakic at Tuesday's post-mortem news conference. 

 

Roughly the second after the Nuggets lost Game 7 to the Trail Blazers Sunday, the comparisons between Stan Kroenke's NBA and NHL teams began.

 

It was a fun run for Coloradans, watching both the Avalanche and Nuggets reaching Game 7s in the second rounds and having it play out on what amounted to a take-turns, every-night exposure in both the local and international spotlight. (Hyberbole? Check out those rosters and the fan bases, from Finland, to Serbia, to Russia, to Germany, to Sweden, to Switzerland, to Spain ...)

 

Then came the post-mortems.  

 

As I've discussed all along -- including in archived commentaries below -- the major complicatation is that it requires conceding that the differences in the two leagues make comparisons asterisk-laden.

 

Those reaching for that simple desk-pounding simple answer are either contriving or ignorant ... or both. A lot of the answers seemed to be based on saying one team is better than the other, therefore, that's the team closest to winning a title.

 

Those aren't the same questions.     

 

So here are my answers:

 

The Nuggets had the better season and the Nuggets right now are "better."

 

The No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, the breakout of Nikola Jokic as one of the best players in the NBA and the best passing big man since Bill Walton, the emergence of Jamal Murray as a difference-maker, and even the presence of Michael Porter Jr. in street clothes on the bench as this franchise's Cale Makar (oops, prematurely sneaked in a hockey reference), all of that ... it was a blast to watch.

 

Part of the fun was realizing that the little things that could drive you crazy -- Jokic's persecution complex with the officials, Murray's immaturity, the bench's inconsistency -- underscored how this team could get even better. And soon.

 

It might help if whining about the officiating is discouraged or banned at every level of the Kroenke/Altitude infrastructure, because it's infectious when it plays out on the floor, and goes beyond the expected lobbying, it's both aggravating and counterproductive.

 

But ...

 

The Avalache is FAR closer to winning a championship.

 

That's not because Joe Sakic is more brilliant than Tim Connelly or that Jared Bednar is a better coach than Michael Malone.   

 

It's the way the leagues work, and it's where the NHL has it all over the NBA.

 

And, again, before anyone writes that off as the delusional propaganda from a "hockey writer," I never have been a "hockey writer." I'm a writer who enjoys writing about hockey, dating back to being a beat writer fresh out of college and covering another incarnation of the Colorado Rockies. 

 

And I've covered the NBA as a beat writer and columnist in both Denver and Portland.     

 

The ups and downs since Sakic took over as GM in 2013 are monumental, with two turnaround seasons. The first season in the reunion of the band -- with Patrick Roy behind the bench and Sakic stepping up to take over leadership of the hockey operation -- was a 112-point success that to this day is underappreciated because of the first-round playoff collapse against Minnesota. Roy was, and is, a terrific coach. He hasn't returned to the NHL because of his (deserved) strong-willed reputation, and his summer 2016 exit goes back to his disagreement with the franchise's fascination with undersized, "scooter" defensemen -- and the Avalanche's passing on a chance to land his former major junior star at Quebec, Alexander Radulov.

 

That was Roy thinking as a former goaltender, and while having the undersized and offensive-minded Makar, Samuel Girard and Tyson Barrie as half of the six-man corps on the blueline -- was eye-poppingly succesful in the playoffs after Makar's arrival, the issue is whether that can work over an 82-game regular season.

 

But here's the bottom line in the comparison: The Avalanche beat Calgary, the No. 1 Western Conference seed, in the first round. In five games. Nathan MacKinnon, in his sixth season but younger than either Jokic or Phillip Lindsay, showed that he now is one of the top three players in the NHL. That win over Calgary was surprising, but not a shock. Then the Avalanche took the Sharks, the West's No. 2 team in terms of regular-season points, to seven games.

 

The Nuggets went just as far.

 

But here's the major difference: The Nuggets had zero chance -- zero -- of knocking off Golden State and then going on to beat Toronto or Milwaukee in the NBA Finals.

 

If the Avalanche had managed to get a goal in those frantic final seconds at San Jose, then won it in overtime, Colorado had a bona fide chance to win the Stanley Cup.

 

The Avs could have beaten St. Louis, the No. 5 Western Conference team in terms of points,  in the conference finals.

 

The Avs could have beaten either Boston or Carolina, No. 2 and No. 7 in the East, respectively, in the Stanley Cup Finals

 

That's just the way it is. The best team wins in the NBA. Getting through four rounds confirms a champion's legitimacy, even if you knew it was coming.

 

The most deserving team, regardless of where it comes from in the standings, wins in the NHL. The physical and mental grind on the way to 16 wins is the acid test, far more so than the other Big Four leagues. Goaltending is the "x" factor, no question, and it would be in the NBA, too -- if goaltending hadn't been banned in the 1940s.

 

The Avalanche has the fourth and 16th picks in the upcoming draft. In a process that beyond the first three picks is usually draft and watch (see Makar, Kale; Rantanen, Mikko; and Jost, Tyson), that's not immediate fix territory. Yet the total haul will be five picks in the first three rounds. That will be part of an organizational pipeline that adds to the encouragement.

 

The Nuggets were -- and are -- better.

 

The Avalanche has a far better chance of winning a championship in the next three years. I'm not even saying the Avs will improve exponentially in that period. They are closer.  

 

That is not contradictory.

 

"You've just got to keep building and getting better," Sakic said at the wrapup news conference Tuesday. "As great as the end of the year was, we still didn't accomplish the end goal. We have to find a way to get better and that starts here in the offseason. . . We've just got to go to work and get ready for the draft and free agency and look at different options to get better."

 

Connelly could have said the same thing.

 

Or maybe he did.

 

 

        

 

 

 

May 10, 2019

Killers want(ed) fame.

To what extent should

we give it to them?


 

FrankCover3.jpg

 

 

In his recent book, "They Call Me 'Mr. De': The Story of Columbine's Heart, Resilience and Recovery," former Columbine principal Frank DeAngelis wrestled with using the killers' names.

 

 

Incredibly, he had remained on the job at Columbine for 15 years after the tragic events of April 20, 1999, and waited several years after that to finally tell his story in a book. 

 

 

Frank repeatedly mentioned and honored the 13 murder victims -- but used the names of the killers as sparingly as possible while addressing the issues he knew he had to discuss in a forthright memoir.

 

 

The book stands as what the subtitle promises.  

 

Frank wrote: 

 

"It saddens me that while the killers’ names are mentioned often, those of the murder victims are not, which is why I keep thinking I might cut this chapter before you have a chance to read it. If it remains, know that I included it with great reluctance. Much—too much—has been written about the killers. They desired attention, even in death. They succeeded in attaining it. In fact, years later, many in the media still are preoccupied with the killers and their warped motives."

 

 

Later, Frank describes seeing the infamous "Basement Tapes," the killers' manifesto, along with the families of the dead and wounded, at the Jefferson County Sheriff's office in late 1999.

 

"What we saw sickened us all ... Unfortunately, after limited viewings, the tapes were ordered sealed and then destroyed," he wrote. "I understand the fear that, if they were public record, they would be tools for imitators and copycats. But I wish psychologists and other professionals could have viewed the tapes. As disturbing as they were, the recordings contained lessons about the killers that could potentially prevent future attacks by others. The killers kept their evil, along with the arsenal of weapons and materials for bombs, well hidden. They were intentional about maintaining their front, but they seemed prideful about their planning, noting on the tapes that it was too bad nobody would see the tapes until it was too late."

 

Their rants on Basement Tapes made it clear: They wanted fame. We gave it to them, both in 1999 and beyond. I use the generic "we," because it was across the board, and it was in the fledgling days of internet coverage from new web sites of varying credibility (including some that did terrific work) and also entrenched journalistic outlets feeling their way with 24/7 coverage. That 24/7  coverage occasionally came with low standards for vetting and a tendency to throw anything against the newsroom or basement wall to see what stuck.

 

But in the 20 years since, the evolution has been noticeable. The comparison between the coverage of Columbine and of the Aurora Theater shootings provided the most graphic contrast. The theater killer went on trial. The Columbine killers committed suicide in the library. So there was that difference as the backdrop, but it also seemed apparent that we were getting the message. Enough with the fixation on the killers. Media told the stories of the theater shooting victims and mentions of the killer — at least compared to Columbine — were relatively minimal. It's a tightrope, obviously. Denial is counterproductive. There are lessons to be learned, and the differences in the protocol in force now for school intrusions with how law enforcement was allowed to respond on April 20, 1999 are stunning. 

 

Also in his book, Frank describes his reaction when he appeared at a taping of an Ophrah Winfrey Show as the 10-year benchmark approached and was horrified to realize that, despite what he had been told by those arranging the show, the focus to an alarming extent was on the killers, not the victims. He registered his objection, Winfrey called him and soon spiked the show before it was shown.    

 

The issues came up again as April 20, 2019 approached.

 

This came from KDVR/FOX31 anchor Jeremy Hubbard: "We're approaching the 20th anniversary a little differently. We won't be showing any images from April 20, 1999, we won't be playing any 911 recordings and we won't be using the names or pictures of the shooters. Instead, we're focusing on the stories of hope that have emerged from the heartbreak."

 

Here's the full online story.

 

My viewing, listening and reading of the 20th commemoration coverage was more anecdotal than exhaustive, but my impression was that the KDVR approach was not unique. At least in Colorado. KUSA/9News, which has had the most coverage of the Columbine recovery over the years, including in DeAngelis' final stretch as principal before his 2014 retirement, essentially -- without fanfare -- passed on mentioning the killers in connection with the 20-year commemoration.            

  

 
Kendrick3.jpg
 
Kendrick Castillo, hero 
 
 
Then came the shootings at the STEM School Highlands Ranch, raising agonizingly familiar issues — plus some new ones — as hero Kendrick Castillo was saluted and mourned.

 

In Colorado Springs, FOX21 news director Joe Cole announced on social media and on the station web site: "After some deliberation, we here at FOX21 News are taking a stance against showing pictures of the alleged shooters from Tuesday's shooting at the STEM school in Highlands Ranch. We will mention their names Wednesday in our broadcasts and online as part of our journalistic duty, but going forward, we will simply refer to them as the accused shooters. We will not show their pictures at any time either online or in our broadcast. Instead, our focus will be on the victims of this horrible crime."   

 

Other stations, both television and radio, are following similar approaches, also differentiating between the accused 18-year-old shooter and the juvenile. It's all tricky because the argument could be made that stations don't need to announce what they're doing -- just do it and let intelligent consumers draw their own inferences. But I also get that it can be interpreted and trumpeted as taking a stand, too. And that's a stand that has been championed by the "No-Notoriety" movement led by Tom and Caren Teves, whose son, Alex, was murdered in the Aurora Theater shootings.

 

Here's the extensive website explanation of the No-Notoriety cause, in a Q&A format, from Tom and Caren Teves. They're also at @nonotoriety on Twitter. 

 

 

We're making progress. Sadly, we've had too much practice at it.

 

 

 

 

Remembering the victims: 

 

NoNotoriety1.jpgBeloved13a.jpg
 
www.nonotoriety.com                                   Inside Columbine High School
 
 
 

 claire_davis.jpeg Emily.jpg

 

 Claire Davis, Arapahoe High               Emily Keyes, Platte Canyon High

                                                    The "I Luv U Guys" Foundation

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 8, 2019

Avalanche writes

a bittersweet ending 

to the season 

 

In the previous column -- below this one -- I outlined the reasons the Avalanche had a bona fide shot at beating San Jose Wednesday night in Game 7 and advancing. I don't pretend that there was anything revelatory or earth-shaking in there. I know a lot of folks shared the same sentiments and many others advanced the same points.

 

That scenario came just short of playing out.

 

For me, without running through all the details of the Avs' 3-2 loss -- the details you know -- it comes down to this: That was a dramatic finish. Nobody -- and I mean nobody -- is saying they didn't show up or where overwhelmed by a Game 7 on the road against one of the top teams in the league. They're earning almost as much praise as if they had won and moved on, extending the almost magical Nuggets-Avalanche combination postseason homestand at the Pepsi Center.      

 

Ah, the ""call," the waving off of the Colin Wilson goal that seemed to have tied the game 2-2 in the second period.

 

A couple of things were involved there. Without breaking down and blowing up the video/visual evidence and getting involved in arguments involving millimeters, microseconds, Gabe Landeskog's skate, the blue line and the bench door, and the choice between the Calamari steak sandwich or Calamari dinner at Original Joe's nearby, the problem I have with the decision is that it's another case of the use of video review and the rationalization of "getting it right" takes us beyond common sense and intuitive feel. The "correct" is not necessarily the right one, whether in the Kentucky Derby (where both the technology and the equipment used were far beyond the basic angles of, say, 25 years ago) or in Game 7 in San Jose.

 

That's the negative of replay.

 

I feel a bit the same way about the end of the Virginia-Clemson Final Four semifinal: The foul call wasn't reviewable, maybe it was "right," but nobody on the planet can justify it.

             

Of course, as this plays out, the NHL's 180-degree phenomenon is on full display. By that, I mean that in such things as discussions of calls, cheap shots and the lack of accountability, it always depends on which side of the equation you're on. When "their" guy delivers a cheap shot against "your" guy, it's a second-degree felony and worthy of suspension, but when "your" guy does the same thing to "their" guy, it's hard-nosed hockey and what, do you want to have them wear skirts?

 

OK, I'm exaggerating, but in many years of covering the sport, that's been one of hte takeaways for me. The phenomenon is similar in other sports -- especially football -- but more pronounced in hockey. That's a nice way of saying if the scenario had played out with roles flipped, Sharks fans and team broadcasters would be screaming that the goal should have been allowed and Avalanche fans and team broadcasters would be saying to stop whining, tough luck. The most mature reaction to all of this was from Landeskog, who said, regardless, he should have been conscious of getting off the ice quicker. He didn't whine, moan, yell, complain. That's deserving of respect. So is the general Avalanche post-game reaction, which didn't get into that silly persecution complex so prevalent in sports today.        

 

The other issue is the folly of always assuming that if something had happened differently, what actually happened after would have remained the same. That's a pet peeve of baseball broadcaster Jon Miller, and I'm aboard that bandwagon. A baseball example: With a game tied 2-2, a hitter for the New York Mammoths gets thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double. The next hitter doubles deep to the gap, and someone says: If the previous hitter hadn't tried to stretch that into a double, the Mammoths would have the lead. No. We don't know that. Among other variables, the pitcher would have been delivering from the stretch, not winding up. And from there, the circumstances would have been different.

 

If Wilson's goal had counted, we don't know what would have happened. Down a goal, the Avs played gutty and, yes, desperate hockey in the third, and deserve the widespread praise they're getting. The post-mortems are even more "positive" about the Avs, their recovery down the stretch to make the postseason, their playoff showing and their future than I outlined the other day. It's all deserved.

 

The most agonizing point for the Avalanche is this: They knocked off the conference's No. 1 seed. They not only hung in against the conference's No. 2 team (in points) in the regular season, they came close to winning the series. And if ...

 

The Avs might have -- or maybe even probably would have -- beaten the Blues.    

  

 

May 6, 2019

You know what they

say about Game 7s ...

No, what do they say?  

 

 

Anything can happen. Anything. 

 

That's the scenario the Avalanche set up Monday night, rolling with the punches and ultimately getting a Gabe Landeskog goal at 2:32 of overtime to beat the San Jose Sharks 4-3 and extend the Western Conference semifinal series to a Game 7 Wednesday night at San Jose.

 

"It's going to be a lot of fun," said J.T. Compher, the Chicago-area native and former Michigan Wolverine who had two of the Avalanche's goals in regulation in Game 6. "It's a great opportunity for us to go to the Western Conference finals. We've been counted out many times this year. This says a lot. We're very resilient and we're going to be ready to go."

 

The surprising thing about Monday wasn't that the Avalanche won, but that the Avalanche won on a night when the top line was on the ice for all three of the Sharks' goals and was pointless until Landeskog ended it in overtime.

 

I clumsily worded a question to Compher, nothing that he and linemate Tyson Jost, who scored the first Colorado goal, had pitched in on a night when the first line hadn't been productive -- at least not until overtime.   

 

"You say they didn't do anything," Compher said, "but those guys still are playing 25 minutes a night, they'e playing hard, they're creating scoring chances, and they just weren't able to get one in tonight. Luckily, we were able to pick up the slack a little bit."

 

So it's on to Game 7.

 

"It's a huge step for our team, it's a great opportunity for us," Landeskog said. "Sixty minutes away from the Western Conference final. Who would have thought before the season, who would have thought before the series, or whatever. For us, we keep believing.The last thing they to do is wanted to play another one at home in San Jose. We accomplished that, we won this one, now we have to regroup. It was nice to get this one tonight and hopefully build off of it. . . That Compher line stepped up and had a good game when we needed them. People keep talking about depth and how important that is in the playoffs and they sure showed it."           

 

Here's why the Avs have a shot in Game 7:

 

They've proven to themselves they can win in San Jose, breaking through with a 4-3 win in Game 2.

 

This will be the second consecutive Game 7 for the Sharks after their comeback against Vegas in the first round, and that's added to the toll taken in pro sports' most relentless and testing postseason. The Avalanche, in contrast, had six days off after its five-game win over Calgary.

 

And the longer a Game 7 is scoreless or close, the more pressure there is on the Sharks, who finished second in both the Pacific Division and the Western Conference in the regular season.

 

Remember Avalanche Game 7s at home against Minnesota in 2003 -- Patrick Roy's final game -- and 2014? Andrew Brunette and Nino Niederreiter ended them in overtime and the Wild advanced. Both times the Avs played nervous and tight -- and lost.  

 

"No doubt, it's a big one," Landeskog said. "It's also a 60-minute hockey game that needs to be won. Yeah, you have to give it the credit, it deserves to be a Game 7, but you don't want to blow it out of proportion and all of a sudden, it becomes a big monster, a big mountain that you have to climb. For us, I like where our team is at. This was a big victory for us. Hopefully, this momentum can carry into Wednesday night. It'll be a fun one."         

 

Of course, it's entirely possible the Sharks score early and often Wednesday night, diluting the tension, and then romp, but going in, the Avalanche is under little pressure.

 

If the Avs lose Game 7 on the road, it will not be followed by scorching post-mortems, since they were a longshot to even make the postseason in February before awakening, largely thanks to Philipp Grubauer finally providing top-flight goaltending.

 

Plus, the Avs are only two years removed from the worst NHL season in nearly 20 years and the worst on the bang-for-the buck basis of all time, considering they were scraping the salary cap ceiling while finishing with only 48 points.

 

Yes, they dipped from 95 to 90 points this season, but again sneaked into the playoffs in the No. 8 spot in the West, and has progressed from an orange slices six-game loss to Nashville a year ago in the first round to the win over Calgary. Now, regardless, this will go down as at least a gutty, resilient effort against the Sharks as part of the exciting and overlapping Nuggets and Avalanche appearances in the second round.

 

For much of this season, it seemed as if the rebuilding project had hit a speed bump. Now, though, only the curmudgeonly won't agree that with Nathan MacKinnon is developing into a "generational" No. 1 overall pick, after all. Around him, and not just on the top line with him, there is considerable promise.

 

Yes, Joe Sakic knew what he was doing, and not just with the haul in the Matt Duchene trade, but with so much else, including the 2015 trade that sent Ryan O'Reilly to Buffalo for Compher's rights, Nikita Zadorov and Mikhail Grigorenko; plus the drafting of Tyson Jost at No. 10 overall and Cale Makar at No. 4.  

 

And this season will last at least one more game.

 

A Game 7. 

 

 

  

May 5, 2019

I'm not a steward.

I don't play one on TV.

But my vote was no DQ. 

 

 

I've covered horse racing over the years, mostly finding and profiling the characters in and around the sport, including some Runyonesque guys telling me they had a horse right here, his name is Paul Revere. 

 

The sport long has had problems, including sadly widespread cavalier treatment of horses and increased competition from other former of sports gambling.

 

It is no sure thing to survive, whether at Aurora's Arapahoe Park or anywhere else.

 

That survival likely depends on being able to increasingly turn existing tracks into "racinos," offering casino-style wagering and perhaps being able to be a site for states' legalized sports wagering as the effects of the Supreme ruling take hold.

 

Arapahoe Park's 2019 live racing meeting, basically a loss-leader tradeoff with the state for being allowed to offer satellite wagering on tracks around the country, runs from May 25 to August 11.  

 

I'm rooting for horse racing, from along the rail.

 

Saturday didn't help. Amid the big hats, mint juleps and celebrity sightings at Churchill Downs, and as a national television audience -- with many paying attention to horse racing for the first and perhaps only time this year -- watched, the Kentucky Derby was a fiasco.

 

It didn't need to be.

 

During the tortuous wait for the Churchill Downs stewards' ruling Saturday afternoon, trainer Bill Mott made the point that has been repeatedly cited in justifying the decision to disqualify Maximum Security, despite the fact that the favored 3-year-old colt led wire to wire and seemingly remained undefeated.   

 

Mott had a horse in the hunt, of course -- 65-1 longshot Country House -- and his jockey, Flavien Prat, was one of two riders to file objections after the race.

 

Noting Maximum Security's move outside on the final turn, Mott said: "There definitely was a foul in the race. There were a couple of jocks that almost went down in there. If it was a maiden claimer on a week day, the winner would come down. It's not supposed to matter that it was the Kentucky Derby."          

 

There's only one problem with that. By taking 23 minutes to make the decision, the stewards affirmed this was no maiden claimer on Tuesday. It was the Kentucky Derby. That mattered.

 

Then chief steward Barbara Borden appeared at a news conference, explaining the decision -- although she didn't take questions. That doesn't happen for a maiden claimer, either. She said that the other jockey to object was Jon Court, on Long Range Toddy, and that Maximum Security's move outside had affected War of Will, Long Range Toddy and Country House. She also said the decision was unanimous among the three stewards. 

 

I'm not going to claim to have seen all the angles eventually available to the stewards. I'm also going to oversimplify this.

 

From what I saw, there wasn't enough to justify taking down Maximum Security's number.

 

I keep hearing every football broadcast analyst feeling the need to remind us each time a play is under video review: "Remember, there must be irrefutable evidence for this to be overturned ..."  (YES, WE KNOW. YOU AND YOUR ILK HAVE TOLD US THAT A GAZLILLION TIMES!)

 

That's what's puzzling and it's a compliment to the stewards. I thought they had their "out" -- Derby or no Derby. The "out" was: It wasn't that bad. In my opinion, it wasn't bad enough. The stewards didn't take that out. Again, that can be spun into a huge compliment to the stewards, an argument that they easily could have justified leaving the results intact and they likely wouldn't have been vilified. The NBC broadcast crew, folks who know and love the sport and its standards, seemed to be staking out that position. There was something there. But not enough. 

 

The money at stake was staggering. That's directly to the participants in the race for owners, trainers and jockeys, affecting everything from the allocation of the purse money to even such things as stud fees -- and those who had wagered on the race. I can just imagine what the wait was like at major tracks taking off-site wagering on the Derby or at Nevada sports books.

 

 

Yes, that re-emphasizes the need for scrupulous honesty, including from the stewards. Whether they'll eventually admit it or not, I'm betting that the reason for the wait was about more than trying to view every possible angle. It also involved mulling over not just the magnitude, but the effects, of the decision. What I'm trying to do is concede that they were thinking of their mandate and even oaths to be scrupulously fair, in races big and small. I respect that.

 

But I'll keep coming back to this: While I don't claim to be anything but a casual fan of the sport, and no expert, I didn't see enough to warrant the decision to disqualify Maximum Security. If it was egregious, yes, it had to be done. It wasn't and it didn't need to be. And I unapologetically admit it was the Kentucky Derby. Virtually every move made once the objection was  noted was an outgrowth of that reality.     

 

That's my vote.

 

To get a second, I checked in with Jonathan Horowitz, the long-time track announcer, race caller and communications director at Arapahoe Park. He has left that track and is about to begin traveling to broadcast Arabian horse racing at, yes, Churchill Downs and Delaware Park, and also announce at and complete in Colorado event horse shows. He knows the sport inside out.

 

His vote cancels mine.

 

Yes, Horowitz said, Maximum Security should have been DQ'd.

 

He went on to say: "Plus, you also have to consider that only recently has the technology been available to conduct such a thorough review with multiple HD replay angles. It fits the pattern of other sports relying more heavily on replay to 'get the call right.' As far as the interference, the question is, 'Did the interference by one horse cost the horse he interfered with a chance at a better placing?' If so, the horse that did the interfering is disqualified and placed behind the horse he interfered with. In this case, when Maximum Security drifted out, he caused War of Will to cross legs with him and caused bumping with the horses outside him. It’s the right call, although it’s tough to make in that setting."

 

If you're reading this, you now have the third tie-breaking vote.  

 

What say you? 

 

(terry@terryfrei.com) 

 

Horse racing tales:

 

Willard Burbach

Shawn Davis  

Temple Rushton

Stetson Rushton 

Tracy Hebert 

 

 

 

 

May 2, 2019

The biggest compliment

you can give Grubauer:

If he plays like that...

 

BednarGame4.jpg

Jared Bednar after the Avalanche's 3-0 win in Game 4 

 

Philipp Grubauer was spent. Putting away his equipment added to his exhaustion. Then he sat down and put his head in his hands, gathering himself ... and the energy to talk.

 

Finally -- and nobody was complaining about the wait -- came the signal. He was ready. Fire away. The questions are a lot easier to face than the shots.

 

Opening the scrum (that's official journalism talk), I asked him if he was extraordinarily spent after this one -- his 32-save shutout in the Avalanche's 3-0, series-evening win over the Sharks Thursday night in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals at the Pepsi Center.

 

Grubauer preferred to talk about the team, at least initially.

 

"It's a huge game, a huge win," the Avalanche goalie said. "I think we did the right things today. After my performance last game wasn't too great ... we had to bounce back, but I think we did good things today."

 

This was his first shutout of the postseason. After his terrific play down the stretch was so crucial in getting the Avalanche in the playoffs in the first place, he had made eye-popping key saves during the five-game win over Calgary and been merely mortal through the first three games against the Sharks. The Game 3 loss Tuesday was a stinker, and he wasn't the problem. But that needed to be erased, and he was much better, too. 

    

"All we needed was the win," he said. "The longer we can keep the zero up there, the better it is, the better chance we had to win ... We learned from last game. That was horrible. We were really good on the forecheck today, didn't give them any time to get the puck into their zone, and the PK was really good today. Compared to the other games, they didn't have as many high-quality scoring chances as they had in the last couple of games. That means we are doing a great job in the middle of the ice, and keeping them to the outside."

 

So now the series returns to San Jose for Game 5 Saturday, and this also means there definitely will be a Game 6 Monday in Denver. The four-game, four-night  NBA/NHL playoff run this week ended up with the Nuggets and Avalanche splitting against the Trail Blazers and Sharks, respectively.

 

"We would have dug ourselves a huge hole if we had lost that game," Grubauer said. "It was a huge win." 

 

Grubauer's best?

 

"I don't know, he's played some good ones," saud Avalanche coach Jared Bednar. "He's had some really good ones. He was good tonight, though. There were a couple of breakdowns there. We went brain dead at the end of the second period. We had a defenseman lose a stick, he's going to the bench to change, we have an O-zone blue line turnover and everyne seems like we're joining he rush and we give up a breakaway in right at the end of the second and hee makes a huge save. He made some big saves at key times for us. It was big performance for him, no question."  

 

That it was.

 

Virtually regardless of what happens from here, the young Avalanche will have put up a fight in this series -- even if they lose -- after advancing to the second round for the first time in 10 years. More important, the late-season rush to get back in the postseason for the second straight year now even more seems even more confirmed as a sign that while this isn't yet a flashback to the glory years of the franchise from 1996-2004, it's at least a harbinger of another run as at least a perennial playoff team. And, in the short term, if Grubauer plays like this most of the time amid a solid team effort -- one of the charms of the playoffs, too, is that occasional bad games can be flushed if a goalie has the ability to hit reset (see Roy, Patrick) and immediately revert to stingy -- virtually anything can happen.     

 

"I'm excited to watch our team come to the rink and compete," Bednar said. "Some nights, we're better than others, but I like what our guys' commitment. They're here to play and compete and win."

  

 

 

May 1, 2019

"Z" skating the line

between physical 

and irresponsible 

 

 Zadorov.jpg 

Nikita Zadorov after Wednesday's practice

 

 Nikita Zadorov's sly humor, and in his second language, long has cracked me up.

 

 

After Wednesday's Avalanche practice, the afternoon after San Jose's 4-2 win in Game 3 gave the Sharks a 2-1 lead in the Western Conference semifinals, I had just asked Zadorov if the Avalanche going with three undersized, offensive-minded defensemen in its top six heightened the pressure on the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Russian to play a physical game. After all, he had 11 hits and two blocked shots in Game 3 and continued to aggravate the Sharks. He addressed it as if the question mainly was about the tandem of Cale Makar and Samuel Grard, not bringing his usual even-strength partner, Tyson Barrie, into it.  

 

 

"Yes and no," he said after practice . "What's physical mean? ... Like aggressive, hitting? That's my game. It doesn't matter how many D is small, or big D, we're going to have, it's my style. It's my game. But when they're on the ice and I'm on the bench, I can't do anything. It's their job to defend, right? I can't be physical. I'm just watching that and when it's my shift, I go out there and do whatevr it takes to win the hockey game."

 

Through eight games in the playoffs, Zadorov is averaging 19:32 of ice time, doesn't have a point, has a team-high 20 penalty minutes and is a minus 2. 

 

He has gotten into some yapping with Sharks center Micheal Haley, who challenged him at least twice in Game 3. He dismisses that. "He's playing five minutes a night," Zadorov said. "I'm playing 20. What's the point for me to challenge him? . . . I know him. I've skated with him in the summer, he's a nice dude. He's playing hard. There's no friends on the ice, obviously. I'm having fun with it. When I piss all their team off, it's my job.. . I told him, 'You're playing five minutes a night, I'm playing 20, 'it's not a fair trade.'"

 

I asked him if he was still was looking for or if he had found that line between being physical and going too far, including taking ill-advised penalties.

 

"Yeah, I think I'm doing a good job of that," he said. "I had a few penalties, and I think it's just the referees, theye think I'm too big." He said it was easy to focus on him, pointing to Game 1 in the series, when he drew a penalty for hitting Timo Meier from behind. "I don't think it should be a penalty because he reversed and hit me right before that. I'm  just way bigger, I have 60 pounds on him and I crushed him to ut him in the boards. They're going to call it once in a while. I think (the) coaches are OK with that. I focus on moving my feet, being in position and playing clean. I'm not a dirty player. I don't look to kill guys in the head or something. I just finish my checks and sometimes it happens because I'm bigger than they are."   

 

 

 

 

April 30, 2019

Avs lose. The sky is falling.

Ah, the fluctuations of

playoff hockey ...

 

Pregame.jpg 

It hit me Tuesday night. Every member of the press covering an NFL game seemingly is required by law to take a picture of the pretty much empty stadium when they arrive and then Tweet it out for atmosphere, table-setting purposes -- and, of course, to prove how early they showed up. How come nobody does that in hockey? So here you go: The pom poms await their wavers.  

 

Nathan MacKinnon was perturbed, but trying not to overreact after the Avalanche's 4-2 loss to the Sharks Tuesday night in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals.

 

He knows how it works in the postseason. The Avalanche has a chance to even the series Thursday at home, but what this did is put Colorado into the position of having to win one more game in San Jose -- while reasserting home ice at the Pepsi Center.    

 

"It's 2-1, it's a full series, it's not over and we're still confident we can beat these guys," MacKinnon said. "In the playoffs, you're going to lose games. It's unfortunate."

 

MacKinnon's goal at 15:51 of the second period closed the Avalanche to 2-1, and then Matt Nieto tied it up at 11:45 of the third.  

 

The crowd was back in it at that point -- pom poms and all -- but Logan Couture's second goal broke the tie only 65 seconds later and his empty netter completed the hat trick with 30 seconds left.  

 

"We had good energy after that," MacKinnon, who now has a point in seven straight playoff games, said of his goal. "We battled hard and tied it up on that good goal by 'Nietsy,' and we just threw it away after that."

 

Across the room, Cale Makar talked about his continuing introduction to the NHL after his eighth playoff game since signing the day following the Frozen Four championship game.

 

"I don't think we're in a bad spot at all," he said. "We didn't get the result tonight, but at the end of the day, we're still feeling up and we're definitely going to come on strong."

 

With the Avalanche putting so much faith in the 20-year-olds, Makar and Sam Girard, and continuing to rely on Tyson Barrie's offensive creativity from the back line, it comes back to also needing strong play from the other three, more physical defensemen -- Erik Johnson, Ian Cole and Nikita Zadorov. They didn't get it in Game 3. Johnson still is the Avalanche's top defenseman, challenged to be out against opposing top lines, and he struggled in Game 3.    

Makar, meanwhile, has jumped into the NHL in the most testing postseason in pro sports.

 

"It's physical when you don't expect it," he said. "But I think playing playoff hockey in college prepared me more for this. Thge deeper it goes, the more physical it gets. . . The mental side of hockey is such a bit part of the game now. Everybody wants to do their part and turn it up, but it's being able to turn the switch and turn it back on."

 

That's where Jared Bednar was hot and bothered -- about the Avalanache's mental game. Well, that and the effort, something that never should be an issue in the postseason.

 

"To me, we didn't consistently work for the puck," he said. "We didn't talk to the puck, In turn our execution was poor. We made some bonehead decisions with the puck, too, at times."

 

 Philipp Grubauer had 27 saves while allowing the three goals. He still was giving the Avalanche solid goaltending by the eyeball test, and his goals-against average in the postseason is 2.43 and his save percentage .921. Playoff goaltending is more about aura than numbers, but he's down to sixth among No. 1 goaltenders in both categories in the postseason. Those magic, uncanny saves, those that leave you shaking your head and saying he saved the Avalanche's bacon, have to keep coming, too. That can make up for a lot, including teammates' bone-headed decisions with the puck. He has to be more than good. He has to be amazing.      

 

 

 

 

April 29, 2019

Girard & Makar tandem?

Man, what a bad ...

What a great idea!

 Girard.jpg

Samuel Girard does an interview with reporter Francois Gagnon of Canada's French-language RDS at Family Sports Center Monday.

 

When I heard that Avalanche coach Jared Bednar let it be known he was pairing Samuel Girard with Cale Makar for Sunday's Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals at San Jose, my immediate reaction was: Is he nuts?

 

It would be Girard's second game back in the lineup after missing the final three games of the first-round series against Calgary with an injury, but that had little to do with it. To me, the point was that amid the giddiness over the Avalanche's signing of Makar after UMass' Frozen Four championship game loss to Minnesota-Duluth was that too little attention was being paid to this reality: If the Avalanche -- and there was no reason to think this wouldn't happen -- committed to having Tyson Barrie, Girard and Makar in the lineup, Colorado would have three "undersized", highly skilled, offensive-minded, puck-moving defensmen in its top six.

 

That's not a "bad" thing, but it's risky. Their extraordinary offensive talent, which includes getting the puck up ice, would be an incredible strength, facilitating the production of -- among others -- the Nathan MacKinnon-centered top line.

 

But it wasn't out of line to wonder if -- no kncok in Barrie and Girard, but stylistically speaking -- the Avalanche was pressing its luck with have those two in the lineup. And you add Makar? That's three of the six. Patrick Roy, whose exit had as much to do with the organization's penchant for drafting "scooter" defensemen and its lack of developing physicaly defnsemen as anything else, would have been revulsed.

 

Barrie is listed at 5-10 and 190. He's at least stocky and thick.

 

Girard is listed (at least by the Avalanche) at 5-10 and 162. If he's 5-10, the Nuggets Isaiah Thomas is 6-2. (He isn't ... and he isn't.)

 

Makar is listed at 5-11 and 187, but Barrie actually seems "bigger."

 

The point, of course, is the possible peril at the defensive end of having three defensemen of that bent among your top six. Regardless of how skilled they are. That' even before you get into the age issue, since Makar and Girard are both 20. And even before you get into the doubling-down peril of playing two of them in the same pairing, rather than having a bigger defenseman -- Erik Johnson, Ian Cole or Nikita Zadorov -- with each or the three. So they have to at least do decent work in the defensive end, even if it isn't of the clear-the-front-of-the-net variety, and be so enabling, productive and generating offensively, the Avs come out ahead.

 

And Colorado sure did in the first game of the Makar-Girard pairing. They were poised, smart, patient and productive.

 

In short, it worked.

 

On Monday at Family Sports, I asked Bednar -- the former physical defenseman -- if he'd had to aadjust his thinking in dealing with having three undersized defensemen.

 

"Not much, to be honest with you," he said. "My goal as a coach is to get them out in situations to succeed and to help us on the offensive side of things. But I don't worry very much about those guys defensively because they're all elite players and playing at a level right now where defensively they're highly committed and they're making plays on the defensive side of the puck and they're defending will in the zone, so that's a plus, a luxury that we have with the shutdown guys, the big, heavy guys. Those guys are able to help us move pucks in and out of our zone, which is a benefit. They're defending really well, which is the other side of it. You're starting to see what these guys can do. They find room in the onnensive zone.

 

"If you look at that shift in the third period, I think it was Makar and Girard, they just controlled the puck up top, not thowing it away and maiking smart plays. They got a few plays to the net and they wre covering pucks and using their feet, and they're tough to check. So it's an element we're starting to develop as a team, and those guys are helping drive that."

 

A bit later, I asked Girard about dealing with both in the pair being you, offensive-minded and "undersized."

 

"I know what Cale and I are able to do," he said. "We jut need to play our game. We need to bring some offense and be stable defensively as well."

 

The sample size is small. Two games in the lineup together and one as a pairing. Makar joined the Avalanche for Game 3 of the Calgary series, and that was th first of the three games Girard missed. So Bednar didn't have to decide then whether he could afford to or live with having three undersized defensemen in the lineup, with Johnson, Zadorov and Cole. Another alternative now is to go with seven defensemen, mitigating that size disadvantage on defense and giving Bednar more options.

 

But the initial returns on Girard & Makar were promising.                               

         

             

 

April 28, 2019

Last time Nuggets, Avs

both made it to second

round was ... never 

chauncey1.jpgjoesakic.jpeg
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
Chauncey Billups, left, and Carmelo Anthony led the Nuggets into the 2009 Western Conference finals against the Lakers, where they lost in six games. Joe Sakic, right, played only 15 games that season, his last one in the NHL.
 
 
On Saturday night, as I watched the Nuggets take what seemed to be an insurmountable lead over the Spurs in Game 7 of the first round series, it hit me that I wasn't sure when the last time both the Nuggets and Avalanche had advanced to the second round. I couldn't think of another time off the top of my head, but I was pretty sure it must have happened before. Right?
 
I'm sure someone -- perhaps even many -- had pointed out the correct answer, so I don't claim to have discovered electricity here or invented the internet, but I hadn't heard it or had it sink in.
 
It didn't take long to figure out, checking out the season-by-season listings for both franchises.
 
When the game ended -- and the Nuggets had managed to hang on -- I tweeted this out:
 
"Playoff Fever. Just think, the last time the Nuggets and Avalanche both reached the seond round of the playoffs in the same season was ... never."   
 
Judging from the reaction, many had been thinking like me. It had to have happened sometime, right?
 
Nope.
 
The details: Since the Avalanche arrived in Denver and won the Stanley Cup in 1996, at the end of their first season, the Nuggets before last night had made it as far as the second round only once. That was in 2009, when they beat New Orleans and Dallas and then lost to the Lakers in six games in the Western Conference finals. That season, the Avalanche was dreadful, finishing last in the Western Conference (eventually earning the right to draft Matt Duchene at No. 3 overall). Joe Sakic played only 15 games because of injury and retired in the offseason. In the Avalanche's prime years -- I'll define that as the pre-lockout seasons, 1995-96 through 2003-04 -- the Nuggets made the playoffs only in 2003-04, losing to Minnesota in the first round.
 
This was more noticed and more noted: The last time the Nuggets and Avalanche both made the playoffs was in 2010, when both lost in the first round -- the Nuggets to the Jazz and the Avalanche, despite heroic goaltending from Craig Anderson, to the Sharks. Since then, there were three springs -- 2015 through 2017 -- with no Avalanche or Nuggets playoff games at the Pepsi Center at all. The arena schedule was noticeably quiet, with the dates held and not used. Neil Diamond and Bette Mider were among the attractions squeezed in among the playoff games not played, and Kroenke Sports wasn't able to get Garth Brooks to come in for one of those 12-night stands on short notice.
 
Now, Kroenke Sports is on a relative roll, with the Rams making the Super Bowl, and the Nuggets and Avalanche both in the second round. Beyond that, the Rapids are -- oops -- 0-7-2 in Major League Soccer, slumping Arsenal is fifth in the English Premier League, and the Mammoth finished 6-12 in the National Lacrosse League's regular season.  
 
The point? I know this should be obvious, but sometimes it doesn't seem to be part of the dynamic: Enjoy it!
 
Denver and Boston  are the only two places where NHL and NBA occupants of the same arena still are alive. (In the Bay Area, it depends on whether you consider the Warriors and Sharks, who play 40 miles apart, to be in the same market.)
 
Thgere's absolutely nothing wrong with being bandwagon fans of either or both teams.
 
Bandwagons are All-American. They reward success. "Hamilton" is a bandwagon. "Game of Thrones" is a bandwagon. The Keto Diet is a bandwagon.  
 
Attendance for both the Avalanche and (especially) the Nuggets plummeted in the dark seasons. Actually, that said, I'm still surprised home attendance even reaches five figures for rotten teams with home games on television.
 
Hockey fans been to stop asking those in the stands or at the watch parties if they can name who the Wandering Latvian was, identify the best touch pass of Sakic's career and name the current Avalanche player who first played roller hockey on the streets of that renowned hockey hotbed, Long Beach, before switching to ice -- and consider them fraud fans if they can't do all three. (It is permissible, though, to make sure they have seen "Slap Shot.")  
 
This team has won back fans, won new fans, captured the imagination of the market and also stoked hopes for the future as a startlingly young team after the reconstruction project that actually began in the final stages of the horrific 2016-17 season.  
 
Trust me, I've covered the NHL as far back as when the Colorado Rockies were a hockey team, and I know how deep-rooted the passion is for hockey here, but I'm also convinced the Avalanche's most underemphasized achievement is the development of Colorado as a hockey hotbed -- and I mean for the development of hockey talent. See "Troy Terry," et al, plus the many fans in the stands who grew up playing the sport in Colorado. I also have covered both the NBA (Nuggets, Trail Blazers) and NHL (Rockies, Avalanche) as a beat writer/columnist, so I'm not a blinkered proponent or propagandist for one league. 
   
Look at what the Avalanche players did on their off night last week. They went to the Nuggets' playoff game against the Spurs, hunkering down in the front rows or in a box. The Avalanche's Nathan MacKinnon has developed into one of the best three players in the NHL, yet he's also a hoops junkie who regretted not being able to play basketball on the side when he was playing junior hockey.
 
Basketball-first fans tend to be less proprietary and less resentful of latecomers jumping aboard, but there's some of that there, too.
 
I'm not being a cheerleader here, but I'm saying this is a rare phenomenon and there's absolutely nothing wrong with reveling in it -- even if you're still learning the rosters.                     

Enjoy it while it lasts. Welcome bandwagon and/or crossover fans to both.
 
POSTCRIPT, SUNDAY NIGHT: Now that the Avalanche beat the Sharks 4-3 at San Jose in Game 2, the series comes back to Denver tied 1-1 just as the Nuggers are on the verge of opening the second-round series against the Trail Blazers. So it's going to be four playoff games on four nights this week in Denver. That's a lot better than the ghost town that was the Pepsi Center during the playoffs in many recent years.
 
I just want to win a 50-50.    
 


 April 26, 2019

 

20 Years ago, at another

Avalanche-Sharks Game 1

in San Jose, we mourned  

 

Avalanche president and general manager Pierre Lacroix and his wife, Colombe, lived near Columbine High School. That really didn't matter, but it affected Pierre.


After the horrific events April 20 1999, he told the National Hockey League: Not here. Not now.   

 

The Avalanche had been preparing to play host to Games 1 and 2 of a first-round playoff series against the San Jose Sharks. Amid the shock, the NHL eventually mght have made that decision, but Lacroix's gesture early in the process to recommend moving the first two games of the series to San Jose was praiseworthy. To talk about the hockey circumstances almost seems distasteful, but the fact was, the Avalanche had shockingly lost in the first round in 1998 to Edmonton and was trying to reclaim a spot among the league's elite. 


The first two games of the series, on April 24 and April 26, were switched to San Jose. Games 3, 4, 5 and 7 were slotted for Denver. The Avalanche didn't give up home ice if the series went  7, but the reconfiguration to have the first two games in San Jose was significant.

 

Here's my  column from April 25, 1999:

 

SAN JOSE - The banner, stretched across several tables on the communal eating area above the Grillworks concession stand, is 50 feet long and 6 feet high. The math works out to 300 square feet. But what it represents is immeasurable: a national outpouring of grief and sympathy, of recognition that "it can't happen here" no longer applies. Anywhere.

 

By the end of the first intermission in the San Jose Arena on Saturday night, fans who walked up the stairs and picked up one of the blue Sharpie pens and hoped to add a personal message had to look hard for an open space on the banner.

 

It had begun with nothing more than the black lettering: "To the Community of Littleton, Colorado, Our Hearts and Prayers Are With You. The San Jose Sharks and Their Fans."

 

But by now, after one period of the delayed San Jose-Colorado playoff series, the banner was almost covered with blue. With mostly messages of sorrow and encouragement. With some expressions of anger. And, yes, with even a few - a very few - scribblings of morons.

 

Samples:

 

*"Sometimes there aren't enough prayers. Terri Guest."

 

*(In a youthful hand.) "I am sorry that your children died. Meaghan, age 7."

 

*"We hope that our hockey team wins, but beyond that, where it really matters, our hearts go out to you. Tamara Mathews, Cupertino, Calif."

 

*"We can only just imagine. Our thoughts and prayers are with you all! Ruth Seehof."

 

*"I hope those (expletives) rot in hell for what they did. It's too bad they killed themselves because they deserve to be tortured for the pain they caused everybody. My prayers and best wishes go out to you, the people of Littleton. Respectfully, Scott William Cameron."

 

*"You no (sic) your (sic) the best. Go get Em Sharks."

 

The banner was in the arena where a Colorado team was playing, but it didn't have to be. It could have been in Cleveland. Or Klamath Falls, Ore.

 

The banner had been displayed at the Sharks' rally outside the arena before the game, then brought inside.

 

And as the time for the opening facoff approached, as fans filed into the arena and made their trips to the concession stands and the food courts, many of them spotted the small table and the Tupperware container on the concourse.

 

One by one, they walked over, slipped dollar bills and fives and 10s into the opening on the lid. The man in the blue cotton jeans shirt with the Sharks logo. The kid in the Jeff Friesen replica jersey. Even a young couple, both wearing Avalanche sweaters. And they kept coming.

 

The bin was for contributions to the Mile High United Way Healing Fund.

 

The Bay area is no different than anywhere else, even if the coincidence of a hockey matchup meant the Sharks were in Denver when the horror at Columbine High School unfolded.

 

The hockey series had been pushed back three days, because of the cooperation of the Avalanche and the the Sharks, plus the blessing of the NHL.

 

At Game 1, the Sharks' crowd, as usually is the case in the city south of San Francisco that often yearns for a separate identity, was rabid. When Theo Fleury's picture was flashed on the huge scoreboard during the announcement of the starting lineups, with the teams still in the dressing rooms, the fans booed lustily. The Avs' Fleury, a pain for the Sharks when he was with the Calgary Flames, remains disdained in San Jose. (The word "hated" just wouldn't sound right there. Not now.)

 

When the teams came on the ice, the Avs were booed.

 

But then the lights went down.

 

The starters lined up on the blue lines. The Avs had Columbine patches on their uniforms. The Sharks had little CHS decals on the back of their helmets. Referees Paul Devorksi and Paul Stewart, plus coaches Bob Hartley of the Avs and Darryl Sutter of the Sharks, all wore Columbine ribbons.

 

Public address announcer Joe Ike alluded to the Columbine tragedy. He told of the United Way contribution bins at various entrances and spots on the concourse, and of the banner. And then he asked for silence.

 

For 10 seconds, with the exception of a couple of inexplicable shrill whistles, the arena was silent.

 

Then after Dennis Leach sang the national anthem, we were back to the games.
 
  
Postscript: The Avalanche won both games in San Jose, 3-1 and then, when Milan Hejduk got the game-winner, 2-1 in overtime. Curiously, the Sharks won the next two in Denver, 4-2 and 7-3, but the Avs took a 6-2 Game 5 win before closing out the series with a 3-2 overtime victory in Game 6, again ending it with a Hejduk goal. They went on to beat the Red Wings in six games in the Western Conference semifinals before falling in seven games to the Dallas Stars in the conference finals.
 
 
 
 
 

April 23, 2019, 

 

 For Avalanche's Grubauer,

6 days off before facing

Sharks is a good thing ...

unless it's a bad thing

Grub.jpg 


The Avalanche hasn't played since closing out Calgary in Game 5 last Friday. After practicing Monday and Tuesday, the Avs won't be on the ice again Wednesday, when coach Jared Bednar will meet the media and discuss the upcoming Western Conference semifinals matchup with San Jose. That pairing was locked in when the Sharks -- down 3-0 in the third period -- beat Vegas 5-4 in overtime in Game 7 Tuesday night. And Game 1 in that series will be Friday night in San Jose, meaning the Avs will have had six days off between games.

 

That's a lot of time off in hockey, especially during the relentless grind of the postseason. It can present challenges of maintaining momentum, especially for a hot goaltender -- which the Avalanche's Philipp Grubauer certainly is.

 

Through five Colorado games, his .939 save percentage is third in the NHL, behind the Islanders' Robin Lehner (.956) and the Stars' Ben Bishop (.945). His 1.90 goals-against average is tied with Bishop for second, behind Lehner (1.47). Mostly a career backup, a week or more between starts isn't unusual for Grubauer, of course, but this a case of trying to stay on a roll.

  

"It's good and bad," Grubauer told me of the idle time after practice Tuesday. "Obviously, if you have a couple of days off it gives you time to work on some stuff that you don't work on during the series because you don't have time. It can also hurt you because you're not in the rhythm anymore. But I think as a group it's good to get a couple of days off for sure. . .

 

"That series was hard. The guys blocked shots, got bumped up, so it gives guys opportunities to get back to 100 percent."

 

Is this the best he's played for a sustained stretch?

 

"Best I've seen the puck, maybe ever," he said. "I feel good out there, the guys are making it easy on me, so it makes the job a little easier."

  

That's goalie-speak, of course, the politics of the position. The Avalanche has played well in front of him, and kept the pressure on, averaging 41 shots against the Flames, allowing 33. But the goalie's challenge is to make the mouth-dropping, difference making saves, and that was the case in overtime of Game 2 when Grubauer was larcenous at one end before Nathan MacKinnon got the game-winner a few seconds later. That changed the complexion of the series.    

 

 

The goal is to maintain that swagger as a playoff goalie, keep the attitude of bring-it-on because you'll stop darned near anything. Accustomed to that backup role, this is new for Grubauer -- and at least so far an antidote to his inability to remain the Capitals' No. 1 playoff goalie a year ago, when Braden Holtby took over from Grubauer after a pair of losses to Columbus. This season, after a stretch in which Semyon Varlamov and Grubauer both were awful, and it looked as if suspect goaltending was going to keep the Avalanche out of the postseason,  Grubauer has awakened.

 

"I hadn't played in like 12 weeks for a bit, and then I played three in a row," Grubauer said. "That was a little hard, but once you get into it a little bit, you're playing in a row. You earn stuff with that group. I still was new to that group. You learn and you figure it out."

 

 

 

 

April 23, 2019

A visit to the

"Field of Dreams"

soon after release

 

PDXCourtside1.jpg.w180h135.jpg Dreams2.jpg

After our Field of Dreams visit, Paul Buker, left, and I, center, covered the Trail Blazers in a playoff run under Rick Adelman, right, whose son, David, now is a Nuggets assistant.

 

PROLOGUE

Early in the 1989 football season, Oregon played Iowa at Iowa City. At the time, Paul Buker was the Oregonian's beat writer covering the Ducks, I was the sports columnist.  On the day before the game, we embarked on a mission to visit the Iowa farm that was the setting for the popular movie released earlier that year, on April 21. And this column came from it. Thirty years after the film's release, I'm going to admit this was not one of the better columns or stories of my career. But here, unmodified other than rearranging some paragraph breaks, is the way it ran in the paper on the morning of the game. (By the way, the Ducks beat the Hawkeyes 44-6 that day, with quarterback Bill Musgrave throwing for 263 yards and three touchdowns.)

        

September 16, 1989
 

By Terry Frei of the Oregonian staff

 

DYERSVILLE, Iowa -- Here's my windup and my pitch.
 
Ball one, a little outside.
 
Shoeless Joe -- the heavy hitter, not some lightweight actor -- steps out of the box.
 
As he taps his spikes with his bat, ridding the sole of a tiny clump of red clay and cinders, he peers out to me on the mound.
 
With his eyes and slightly upturned corners of his mouth, he is asking:

``Is that all you got, tourist?''

 

I talk back under my breath.

 

Look, Joe, I say. This is your field, but this is my dream. I signed the guestbook on the bench by the backstop. I bought a souvenir T-shirt at the trailer. I picked an ear of corn from one of the left field stalks that are swaying in the wind over my right shoulder. So get back in there, Shoeless. Follow the script and strike out.

 

Which he did.

 

Those things can happen on a ``Field of Dreams.''

 

Novelist W.P. Kinsella created it. The producers built it. As promised, Kevin Costner and Burt Lancaster and James Earl Jones and a cast of Hollywood hundreds came, filmed and called it a wrap. And now, five months after the movie ``Field of Dreams'' won over more than baseball fans, farmer Don Lansing allows the curious -- including me and Paul Buker, my colleague and left-handed catcher -- to visit the diamond cut out of an Iowa cornfield.

 

On Friday morning, we made the pilgrimage from Cedar Rapids to Dyersville, in the northeast corner of Iowa. We parked the rental car in front of City Hall, just down the street from the Basilica of St. Francis Xavier; across from the Plaza Theater; and a little down from the office that holds the law office of Jenk, Jenk, Goen, McClean and Goodman, plus the Jenk Insurance Agency. (The Jenks are big in this little town.)

 

Mary Goerdt, one of the nice women in the city clerk's office, had a stack of hand-sketched, photocopied maps beside her typewriter. It's two miles east of town, she said. Even sportswriters could find it, she assured us.

 

At the turn for Lansing Road, the huge blue sign looked as if it could have been supplied by the Highway Department. FIELD OF DREAMS, it announced, then pointed to the right.

 

We drove past Al and Rita Ameskamp's farm. Then we spotted the field on the left.

 

The setting is Lansing's farm. As one travels down the driveway of gravel and dust, a two-story white farmhouse looms ahead on what passes for a hill in Iowa. The barns, appropriately red, are to the right of the house; the diamond is to the left. A hand-lettered sign directs visitors to park next to the trailer that was Don's home when Hollywood borrowed his house. Ruth Lansing, Don's cousin, is on duty at the trailer, standing in front of a hanging selection of T-shirts and sweatshirts.

 

Indeed, there have been changes on the set.

 

The line between the Lansing and Ameskamp properties runs just behind the infield. Where Shoeless Joe's spirited friends once chased down flies to left field, corn grows tall once more. Left field is Ameskamp's territory and corn is his cash crop. With a sign of his own, Ameskamp invites visitors to pick an ear or two, but a locked and slotted mailbox is primed for donations.

 

On Lansing's property, right field remains open space. In fact, the grass runs all the way to the horizon. The corn that was the right field fence on celluloid has been plowed under. The government, you see, pays Lansing not to grow corn. However, the government would not pay his electric bill. The lights are gone.

 

The infield grass is a little ragged, no longer pristine. The filmmakers manicured it; Lansing merely takes care of it.

 

The infield dirt is the red cinder of old tracks.

 

Yet the diamond, for reasons that maybe only Hollywood could explain, still sparkles.

 

Lansing, who was not home Friday, leaves a tennis ball and a plastic bat near home plate for the adventuresome. When the truly ambitious (like us) bring their own baseball and gloves, Ruth Lansing loans out a genuine wooden bat and advice. ``A lot of folks lost their balls in the corn,'' Ruth said. She watches grown men and women act out their fantasies, hitting and throwing and catching on the diamond.

 

Others just watch and meditate. On Friday, Randall Bush, a Chicago sales manager, was sitting in the seven-row grandstand with Susan Lowry, a teacher. ``This is closer than Hollywood . . . and nicer, too,'' Bush said.

 

In the most recent guestbook, there can be over a hundred names written in one day. They are followed by such hometowns as Lincoln, Mass., Whitefish Bay, Wis., and, of course, Portland.

 

Shoeless Joe has a lot of company.

 

And he doesn't always strike out. 

 

POSTSCRIPT

Without being able to recall the space constraints I was operating under -- this was before being able to go longer in an onine version -- I acknowlege I didn't do a very good job of giving the feel of being there and didn't attempt to recreate scenes from the film.

 

I'm not among those who grouse about the movie as overrated, because I believe the film toned down the worst melodramatic excesses of the novel. If you only saw the film and didn't read the book, you might be scoffing about how the book could be any more melodramatic than Phil Alden Robinson's screenplay adaptation. But the book was considerably "worse," and I should have brought that into play in the column.

 

Absolutely, there were spots in the movie when I winced, and James Earl Jones' famous speech about the beauty of baseball was one of them. (Just a bit too much ...) But that didn't ruin it for me, and I still consider it one of the rare examples when the movie was better than the book source material. My favorite baseball movie remains "Bang the Drum Slowly," with Michael Moriarty, Robert DeNiro and Vincent Guardenia, and I'm convinced that one reason it was so good was the Mark Harris, who wrote the novel, also had a hand in the screenplay.

              

 

 

April 20, 2019

A man who showed

you can go back to your

high school ... and make

a difference 

GriffField1.jpg

Former Wheat Ridge star quarterback Dylan Orms has just uncovered

'the Farmers' baseball field's new name Saturday. He and his brother,

Parker Orms, were second-generation Farmers. Their mother, Kathy,

went to school with Chuck Griffith and the rest of us.

  

GriffField3.jpg

With Chuck's family in the bleachers temporarily set up on the field

before the game, Chuck and Barb Griffith's on, Tyler, whose appearance

and mannerisms are remarkably like Chuck's in young adulthood, speaks during the

ceremony. Barb is in the blue shirt at center. Those are recent vintage Farmer baseball

players behind them, those who from 2003-16 benefited from Chuck's support of the

program under coach Adam Miller.

 

On Saturday, ex-Wheat Ridge Farmers spanning generations gathered at Everitt Middle School for the dedication of the WRHS baseball park as Chuck Griffith Jr. Field in advance of the Farmers' game against D'Evelyn. (This was a few hours before a different sort of ceremony involving another Jefferson County high school, Columbine, and I can say with certainty that the audiences overlapped.)   

 

Chuck's widow, Barb, and many other members of his family were at the dedication, and his son, Tyler, and nephew, Cameron Brown (a former Farmers athlete, too) spoke on their behalf.

 

I've written many times about being the kid who moved in during the middle of my junior year, when my father moved from Oregon to the Broncos, after we talked and decided that if I was going to leave South Eugene High, a terrific school, I should do it right away so I could play baseball at my new school as a junior and not be completely "The New Kid" as a senior. (That's the title of my young adult novel in progress.) I was lucky. I went from one great school to another and made a lot of new friends. And one of them was football captain and student leader Chuck Griffith, who ran track in the spring and eventually became my college roommate for two years at the University of Colorado.

 

Chuck died three years ago, It was a shock to the entire Wheat Ridge community, and below the following pictures is a blog I wrote at the time, when I was at The Denver Post.

 

I've adapted and touched it up here, but I hope it gives those of you who didn't know Chuck a feeling of what a great man he was; and gives those of you who knew him a lot of remindful smiles.

 

GriffField6.jpg

Adam Miller, who became close to Chuck, addresses the

crowd. (You're right, I should have gotten on the other

side of the screen.) 

 

GriffField8.jpg      

 (Below is adapted from March 2016)

 

The Wheat Ridge High community, past and present, took a punch to the solar plexus — no, more accurately, to the heart — last week.

 

Chuck Griffith, 61, passed away.

As CEO of several major companies, he was a successful businessman. He was wonderful family man who treasured his wife and four children and wasn’t embarrassed to display emotion when talking about them. He was a terrific friend, and a benefactor and mentor for Wheat Ridge High, its kids and its programs after he reconnected with his alma mater, starting in 2003.

He also was “Anonymous.”

By that, I mean that whenever someone had stepped up and done something for Wheat Ridge kids, whether by making financial contributions to programs and school causes, or by acting as a mentor, and that benefactor officially was “Anonymous,” that almost always was Chuck.

Wheat Ridge’s demographics have changed since our days there. That was one of the attractions for Chuck, who loved helping kids.

We all can learn from that.

On Sunday, I was among the large gathering at the memorial ceremony at the school.

Chuck was my Wheat Ridge classmate and fellow athlete, and then my roommate for our sophomore and junior years at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

Actually, we were never high school teammates because I moved to Wheat Ridge from Oregon in the middle of our junior year, played baseball for the Farmers and then suffered a knee injury in American Legion baseball that summer. I didn’t play football as a senior because of my second ACL surgery.

Chuck and Reid Gamberg were the football captains our senior year.

Chuck and I didn’t grow up together, as was the case with Chuck and many of our Farmer classmates, and our friendship began later than his with many of the others in the Wheat Ridge auditorium Sunday.

But I was proud to call him my friend. My buddy. My roomie. Our third roommate from our second year of sharing a collegiate apartment, Chuck Bobershmidt, traveled up from New Mexico for the memorial, and it was great to see him.

As roommates at CU, Chuck and I both were Oscar.

We weren’t inseparable, but that was part of the friendship.

Chuck dived into business studies and the business school and made friends there and on campus, eventually meeting his future wife, Barb Harvey. I was working part-time at the Rocky Mountain News on the side and had my own circle. But we were friends, capable of such whimsy as setting up a strict schedule to study for finals — and a short time into the studying, deciding we’d bolt and head to the greyhound races at Cloverleaf Kennel Club in Loveland to lighten things up. It was a rare moment of complete irresponsibility for Chuck, and I took the blame, along with the 3-4-6 quiniela box.

He made up for the break and I’m pretty sure he still aced his finals.

I gave them the college try.

When some early matches in the Denver stop of the Virginia Slims tennis tour event were played in Boulder and I went to them for the News, Chuck came along with me and marveled about what a great job I’d have after our graduation if I stuck with this. I “interviewed” Chris Evert outside Balch Fieldhouse. Chuck was with me and as I finished official work he quickly with no ulterior motives was in a conversation about the tennis tour with Evert — who was our age — as if they had known each other for years. After several minutes of this and no promise of a letup, I had to gently remind Chuck that the News was a morning paper and we needed to head back to the apartment so I could call in my material as notes.

After college, we stayed friends as he worked elsewhere, including in Cleveland and New York, before he returned to the Denver area. He always had many closer friends than me, but that didn’t diminish it, and we re-tightened the ties in the past few years.

Chuck had a touch, an aura, a sincerity that could cause those he had just met to open up and then five minutes later feel as if he was an old friend. That could be as a student, a businessman, or in later life a mentor to Wheat Ridge kids.

Chuck was determined, energetic, accomplished and successful without having any trace of ego or selfishness, and that’s really hard to do.

When Chuck, Reid Gamberg, Keith Lening and I attended Wheat Ridge baseball games last season, I was struck by how respectful the Farmers players were toward Chuck. To them, he was “Mr. Griffith,” and they went out of their way to thank him. When baseball coach Adam Miller eloquently spoke at the memorial, it was appropriate, including if he was considered a representative of all the coaches in recent years at the school. Chuck had done so much for them, in so many ways, and I admit I was a bit embarrassed to realize I was the former baseball player and that Chuck, a track runner, had adopted the program as I stayed detached.

In the summer of 2014, three Farmer alums from our era — Chuck; Dave Logan, who was a year ahead of us, was my baseball batterymate, has remained close to Chuck and also was at the Sunday memorial; and I — spoke to the Farmers’ athletes in that same auditorium at the start of the school year.

Our charge was to speak about leadership, and Chuck and Dave, well, knocked it out of the park. To this day, I remember something Chuck said vividly. He noted it had become fashionable to consider “multi-tasking” admirable. Hogwash, he said. Whatever you are doing at the moment, it is the only thing you are doing, and do it right.

There are lot of laughable, wince-inducing, business how-to and self-help books out there that make reasonable people feel as if they should check for their wallets every 15 minutes as they read. Chuck, who would look you in the eye and tell you exactly what he thought and also be telling the truth, could have written a terrific book that made those seem silly.

We didn’t agree on everything, not all the time, and there was even a recent crisis because of an issue linking Wheat Ridge, one of my books, and a recent movie. But we talked it through, we realized our views weren’t mutually exclusive, and Chuck offered his support.

I’m a contrarian, I ruffle feathers, and Chuck might have been the only man on the planet who could listen, look me in the eye and tell me I was, well, full of it … and rather than have me react angrily, make me think that, oh, oh, if Chuck says that, maybe I am full of it.

That’s what Chuck could do.

In 2013, for our 40th high school reunion, each classmate received a copy of my book Third Down and a War to Go. Officially, of course, it was from “Anonymous,” but that didn’t fool anyone. No, it wasn’t me. Chuck felt that book, which started with my self-discovery about my father’s World War II pilot service late in his life, touched a common chord among our generation. So he bought a copy for all Farmers attending the reunion from the publisher. Anonymously … at least officially.

It’s wrong to say Chuck was “unassuming.” He was assertive and energetic, but was no enigma. But his success didn’t change him.

Chuck was the president/CEO of Ingersoll-Dresser Pump Co.

He was the senior managing director and global head of portfolio management at Arcapita, Inc., an international private equity firm. Companies at one time controlled by Arcapita included Yakima Products, TST Automotive, Ampad, PODS, Profine, J Jill, Loehmann’s, Church’s Chicken, Caribou Coffee, Varel International, Falcon Gas Storage, Tender Loving Care, Smart Document Solutions, Meridian Healthcare and FORBA.

Earlier, he also was a partner and co-head of portfolio operations at Bahrain-based Investcorp International.

He was president of the engineered materials division of Johns Manville.

He was an executive vice president at Electronic Data Systems, president/CEO of Ingersoll Dresser Corp., and an executive at Allied-Signal Corp.

There was more, but that gives you an idea. I also know if Chuck had been alive in May 2017, he would have been both angry and supportive, even to the point of making a difference about something that happened to me.     

Still, he came back to his high school. Quietly. Without fanfare. Without bluster. Without wanting to call attention to himself. He made a difference. He helped young people. It was his alma mater, but I can imagine Chuck doing this in another city if that’s where he had been decades after his graduation from Wheat Ridge.

So, no, this is not “a Wheat Ridge story.” Regardless of which high school you attended, it’s food for thought.

 

April 20, 2019

Beloved13.jpg 

 

 

 

April 20, 2019

(If necessary)?

Not even close:

Flames is done like dinner

 

I was making plans for a Flames-Avalanche Sunday Game 6.

 

Yeah, like you weren't?

 

 The most amazing thing isn't that both NHL No. 8 seeds advanced past the first round, beating the No. 1 seeds. 

 

It's that the No. 8 seeds -- the Avalanche and Blue Jackets -- went a combined 8-1 against the Flames and Lightning, respectively.

 

I discussed the NHL's anything-can-happen playoff phenomenon below, comparing and contrasting it to the NBA reality, and I don't pretend that it was anything revelatory.  Going in, all knew that the Avalanche at least had a chance against the Flames, most notably if Philipp Grubauer took advantage of the opportunity to erase the disappointment of being supplanted in the Capitals' net after the first two games against the Blue Jackets a year ago. (The word "disappointment" needs to be qualified, since Washington went on to win the Stanley Cup.) Yet Grubauer was terrific in enabling the Avalanche to pull off the upset of the ultimately stick-squeezing Flames.    

 

And the 5-1 rout of the Flames Friday night at Calgary was an exclamation  point, a finishing flourish. Rather than needing a Game 6, the Avs already have moved on after winning a playoff series for the first time since 2008. I found that hard to believe, too, but it's true. This proud franchise hadn't won a playoff series since knocking off the Wild in the first round 11 years ago.

 

What now?

 

This season already has passed the test as an improvement. Earlier, I maintained that just making the playoffs for the second season in a row wasn't going to be enough, that orange slices after a presentable showing in the first round -- which is how it played out last season -- wasn't going to be enough. The 1 vs. 8 matchup added up to a daunting challenge, but the Avalanche was up to it. Nathan MacKinnon is cementing his deserved reputation as a relative late bloomer as he has become on of the top handful of players in the league. And even Jared Bednar's decision to break up the top line and move Mikko Rantanen down to the second line has led to bolstered secondary scoring, and even trickle-down balance.

 

Can they win another series and make it to the Western Conference Finals?

 

If they keep playing like this, of course they can.

 

And now that the Nuggets have reclaimed the home-court advantage in the series against San Antonio with a Saturday road win over the Spurs, this is an exciting time in Denver sports. 

 

 

April 17, 2019

Regardless of result,

Bednar back on

solid footing 

 IMG_4702.jpg   

 

By the time Jared Bednar arrived at the interview room podium after the Avalanche's 3-2 overtime win over the No. 1-seeded Flames gave No. 8 Colorado a 3-1 series lead Wednesday, midnight was approaching. 

 

Yes, as unlikely as this seemed early in the third period, when the Avalanche trailed the Flames 2-0; as farfetched as it seemed a week ago; and as impossible as it seemed a little over two months ago, the Avalanche is one win away from winning a series for the first time since 2008 and advancing to the Western Conference semifinals. J.T. Compher and Mikko Rantanen got the third-period goals that forced overtime, and Rantanen scored at 10:23 of O.T. to end it.

 

"It's going to be hard," Bednar said of getting that fourth win in the series. "It's the hardest one. Everyone knows the last one, the one you're trying to get to close out a series, is the hardest one. That's a proud team over there, Calgary, it's a really good team, they have a lot of character, they're well-coached, I mean, it's tough. Now we have to go into Calgary and find a way to win another hockey game."

 

And to think that in early February, this team was reeling.  

 

I scrolled down to find this, but it didn't take long. On Feb 7, when the Avalanche had lost five in a row and won only five of its previous 24 games, I felt compelled to comment about Joe Sakic's apparent refusal to cave in to NHL conventionality, scapegoat his coach, fire him during the season and summon all the cliches about how it was just time for a change.  

 

 That would have been so easy to do, and Bednar's rollercoaster experience as a first-time NHL head coach -- and his first experience in the NHL, period -- would have come to an end. He would have been only a few months removed from being a finalist for the Jack Adams Award, but that status adds little immunity. And even after I wrote that column, the Avalanche losing streak reached eight before the turnaround.

 

Of course, Sakic had a similar opportunity after the Avalanche's horrific 48-point season in 2016-17, the worst bang-for-the-buck season in the NHL's cap era ... and perhaps ever. But the circumstances of Bednar's first season bordered on the bizarre, with Patrick Roy's late resignation and an ill-constructed roster (and payroll) in advance of major reconstruction, and Sakic conceded all that. Not to mention it would have required he had made a mistake in going with a coach who never had spent a day in the NHL as either a player or assistant coach.         

 

But it wouldn't have raised too many eyebrows if Sakic made a move in February. He stuck with Bednar, though, and the Avalanche went 16-7-3 down the stretch, secured a second straight playoff berth and now have the 3-1 lead on the Flames, meaning there's a significant chance of the two No. 1 seeds -- Tampa Bay was swept by No. 8 Columbus in the East -- will lose in the first round. 

BednarcoachCup-150x150.jpg

Jared Bednar with the AHL's Calder Cup in 2016. The Lake

Erie Monsters went an incredible 15-2 in the playoffs.  

 

Bednar is continuing to demonstrate he belongs in this league and that one of the most inexplicable decisions in his past was Doug Armstrong's firing of Bednar as the coach of the Blues' AHL affiliate at Peoria in 2012.  

 

Since then, Bednar has held aloft the Calder Cup at Lake Erie (Cleveland) in 2016, when he was working for the Blue Jackets' organization, and moved up to the Avalanche. 

 

The man from Saskatchewan, who climbed through the ranks of the ECHL and AHL as both a player and coach, is a genuine inspiration for dues-payers.  

 

After the morning skate Wednesday, I asked Bednar about his evolution over the past three years.

 

"One thing is just learning to be patient and when to push," he said. "You come into the league as a young guy and it's your first opportunity, and you've had some success other places. I had an idea of how I wanted to coach and what my beliefs are, but it's getting the buy-in from your leadership group and opening those lines of communication.  

 

"It took some time here in my first year and we had change in personnel in my second, and really getting to know our leaders and some of the guys that are impact players for us now for a couple of years. I try to be patient, fair, and as honest as I can with them. But there's still times when I think I have to push their buttons to try to get more out of them and I think I've learned that along the way."

 

Bednar20.jpg

With the ECHL's South Carolina Stingrays. Jared Bednar

got to celebrate winning the Kelly Cup both as a player

and as a coach.  

 

 

Gabe Landeskog, although only 26, has been the Avalanche captain for seven seasons.

 

"I think as far as 'Bedsy' goes, he's obviously grown into that role," Landeskog said after the skate. "He had a tough season obviously his first season, and we all did, but I think he's evolved, he's grown as a coach. He's figured things out as he goes along, whether that's with communication with us as players, or what we as players need, or for systems or coaching on the bench or whatever it is, it just seems like he's that much more comfortable in that role and being an NHL coach.

 

"I think every single guy in this room will say the same thing about 'Bedsy.' He's a great coach and a good communicator and he's a really smart hockey man."

 

At the next stall after the skate, Nathan MacKinnon also spoke about Bednar. Keep in mind that before MacKinnon's breakthrough to becoming one of the top players in the league, he and Bednar had some tense moments, as when the rookie coach reacted to a rolling of the eyes on the bench from MacKinnon by briefly -- but rather noticeably -- benching him.

 

"'Bedsy's' been great," MacKinnon said. "He's always even keel. He's never up and down, which is awesome."

 

Rantanen called Bednar "a great coach. He's really honest with players. He's still pretty positive, trying to bring everything positive. He gives us confidence, too. If you make mistakes, he's not going to rip you about that. If you do it repeatedly, maybe then, but hopefully guys in the NHL are going to learn from that. He's a great coach and I really like him."

 

Now he's closing on on his first playoff series win as an NHL head coach. And his team is reveling in the three straight wins in this series, including the wild comeback one Wednesday night.

 

"What's the point of giving up in the playoffs?" MacKinnon asked me after the game. "We knew we could score two and we were dominating the whole play. . . We just felt like we could come back against a really good team. We felt like they were a little winded at altitude and managed to come back. It's awesome, especially when you have the momentum and you're feeling it, and the crowd is so awesome, it's so fun to be part of it." 

 

Compher's goal got the Avalanche going.

 

"There's no quit in this group," Compher told me. "We showed that in Game 2 and throughout the season. We believe that once we get going, there's no stopping us. But that's a huge one, to keep the momentum going in this locker room. We knew (Mike Smith) was good tonight, we had to continue to get rebounds and shots at the net, and if it took a greasy one..."  

 

 

April 15, 2019 (Part II)

Long way from over,

but two No. 8 seeds, 

including Avs, lead series 

 

 IMG_4641.jpg

Nathan MacKinnon is among those congratulating Cale

Makar on his first-period goal Monday.

 


Nathan MacKinnon, whose opinion carries considerable weight in such matters, was impressed with Cale Makar. As was everybody else. 

 

"I asked him before the game, 'How do you feel? Nervous or ...?'" MacKinnon said at his stall after the Avalanche unleashed 56 shots on Flames goalie Mike Smith and beat the Flames 6-2 Monday night at the Pepsi Center. "He just said, 'Good, you?' It's my 500th game. It's just pretty cool. He's not even thinking about being a rookie."

 

MacKinnon had two goals and Makar one as the Avalanche took a 3-0 first period lead, then went on to the win that put Colorado up 2-1 in the first-round series. MacKinnon's drop pass was the setup assist on Makar's goal.    


Suddenly, the Avalanche, which was on the verge of falling behind 2-0 in the series before tying up Game 2 late and winning it on McKinnon's overtime goal in Calgary Saturday night, is in good shape.       

 

And along the way, Makar scored style points with his new teammates.

 

"It was actually a bad drop by me," MacKinnon said. "It was a good handle. I thought he was more in the middle ... You can tell his skill. He didn't just get it and shoot it or try to panic and get it back to me. He stopped it on his backhand, dropped his shoulder, and I think he probably looked around to see if anyone was back door and then snapped it 5-hole. I hear him, too, he's calling for it, his first game ever. He's yelling, '3, 3. 3,' at me. That's great. You want a player to be aggressive and assertive. I was really impressed by that.... I remember when I first came in, I was shy snd I didn't want to yell for the puck."

 

So what does this all mean?

 

In this series, an 8 seed is at least throwing a scare into a 1 seed. And maybe more than that. It seems familiar, too.  

 

I've covered both the NBA and NHL playoffs many times, through the Finals.

 

This isn't going to be a revelation, and perhaps also contradictory, but the strength of the Stanley Cup playoffs -- other than the fact that the trophy itself is the best one in pro sports -- is that anything can happen. Much of that, but not all, involves the leveling effect of goaltending, good and bad.  

 

The strength of the NBA playoffs is that anything can't happen. You just know it can't. It's so pronounced that as great of a breakthrough season the Nuggets have had in winning the Northwest Division and going into the postseason as the Western Conference's No. 2 seed, the chances of them winning the NBA title, or mainly getting past Golden State once the Warriors step on the accelerator in the postseason, are negligible. And again, they're the number TWO seed. I realize I just got through saying one of the charms of the NHL is No. 7 seeds beating No. 2 seeds are common, but this is more about the clearly elite teams making it through to the Finals...and winning.  

 

The Nuggets, who will try to pull even in Game 2 of the first-round series against San Antonio Tuesday night at the Pepsi Center, are the better of Stan Kroenke's teams in April 2019.

 

The No. 8 seed Avalanche has a much better chance of winning a championship. That was true going into the postseason; it's even more clear now. 

 

You accept each league's postseason for what it is and salute the resilience of any team that wins four series. In the NBA it means that the best team won, and there is a certain justice to that.

 

In the NHL, it means that the most deserving one did. 

 

So like this could ever happen in the NBA?

 

After the Avalanche's romp Monday night in Game 3 of the first-round series, the No. 1 seeds in both conferences were in trouble, in danger of losing to the No. 8 seeds, or the second wild-card teams on each side of the draw.  

 

The East's No. 8 seed, the Columbus Blue Jackets, are even more in control, leading 3-0 over a Tampa Bay Lightning team that had 21 more points in the regular season than anyone else.

 

The Flames can reclaim home ice with a win Wednesday; the Lightning needs a miracle. 

 

 

April 15, 2019 (Part I)

Cale Makar will jump

right into Avs' lineup 

 

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It's a little bit, well, eerie.   

 

 Two days after finishing his collegiate career in a UMass loss to Minnesota-Duluth in the Frozen Four championship game in Buffalo, and one day after signing a three-year entry level contract with Colorado, 20-year-old defenseman Cale Makar is set to make his NHL debut with the Avalanche Monday night in Game 3 of the first-round playoff series against his hometown team -- the Calgary Flames.   

 

That's why the sizable Calgary media contingent was among those jockeying for position around Makar's stall after the Avalanche morning skate.

 

"It's a weird feeling playing against the team you grew up loving," Makar said. "My allegiance is with another team now, so we'll see how it goes." 

 

As arrivals to the pack brought the subject back to him growing up a Flames fan, he noted, "Obviously, watching them in the '04 Cup run, it's a different feeling."   

 

When he stepped through the bench and onto the ice for the morning skate, his teammates already out there cheereed.

 

It was both a welcome and a teasing.

 

Hey, kid ...   

 

 "It's a weird moment," said Makar, who signed following his sophomore season with the Minutemen. "I don't think it's really sunk in for me yet. But no, this is a great group of guys, I can tell meeting everybody right off the bat."

 

He said his parents, long-time Flames fans, had converted, "but I've definitely got a lot of messages from friends who are going the other way."  

 

Nobody asked for my vote, but I would have thought it more wise to let Makar literally get his feet on the ground in Denver for a few days, watch Monday's game, practice with the Avalanche Tuesday and play in Game 4 Wednesday. Yes,the upper body injury that knocked Samuel Girard out of the lineup for Game 3 changed the dynamic. Yet I still would have held Makar out until Game 4.  

 

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Instead, the Hobey Baker Award winner -- who previously had attended Avalanche development camps after going to Colorado at the No. 4 overall pick in the 2017 draft -- is jumping right in. At several points Monday morning, he phrased it as "if" he played, but it was obvious, even before Avalanche coach Jared Bednar later confirmed it, that Makar was going to play. 

 

"Not too much nervousness, I don't think," he said. "I'm just going to go out there and play and try and do my thing and we'll see."

 

Makar, who worked with the second power-play unit at the skate, added, "I just need to go out there and do what they need me to do. I'll provide offense if I have to and hopefully be steady on the defensive end as well. . . I don't think it's too much pressure. You're going to feel a bunch of different emotions, but you have to be be prepared for that. You kind of live your life to get to this moment. It'll be fun. This team's capable of doing a lot. They're a fast team and I'm excited to get going with them, hopefully tonight."   

 

Makar called the last few days "pretty crazy. I was supposed to fly out of Buffalo (Sunday), and got rerouted to Toronto. It's been a long travel day, but I'm rested up." He joked that Sunday night he "had a really nice bed, the sheets were nice." He said that he had watched as many Avalanche games as he could during his stay at UMass, "if I wasn't doing homework at night. I like the way they play, I think they're very fast, and I think they can fit in really well."

 

In the media room a few minutes later, Bednar said Makar would replace Girard, listed as day to day, in the lineup.   


He said Makar initially would be paired with Patrick Nemeth, "but we'll move him around a little but to try and get him in positions to succeed."  

 

I asked Bednar whether playing Makar immediately was automatic. 

 

"No, I thought through it, for sure," Bednar said. "I mean, it's a big time of the year, a big decision, young guy coming right out of college. But what makes the decision easier is the type of player he is and the type of person he is and the type of year he had in college. So he's a guy that we want to try and get in the lineup here and see if he can help us, and tonight's a perfect opportunity to do that."

 

 POSTSCRIPT: Sure enough ...Understandably, after Makar was so impressive Monday night, I took some teasing for having opined that I would have held Makar out until Wednesday, but I'll stand by my reasoning and won't indulge in revisionism here. Because you know what they say, right? 

 

... and some are rained out. 



April 13, 2019

A donated heart,

a "do-over" and a kicker

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Read it here 

 

 

 

 April 7, 2019

 

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 Feature on Denver North High School baseball

team honoring the late Irv Brown.

 

 

April 5, 2019

Rockies' Home Opener:

Buy me some peanuts

and Cracker Jack

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Read it here 

 

 

 

 

April 4, 2019

Making playoffs praiseworthy,

but Avalanche needs to

take another step 

 

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Avalanche players salute the crowd after the 3-2 overtime win over Winnipeg. 

  

It's this simple, and it's what I asked Avalanche coach Jared Bednar about after his team beat Winnipeg 3-2 in overtime Thursday night and clinched a playoff spot.

 

(Actually, the Avs clinched a playoff spot when regulation ended and they were assured of a point, but you know what I mean.)

 

When the Avalanche was struggling and seemingly destined to iss the postseason, it was getting rotten goaltending most of the time. It was demoralizing and draining, leaving the Avs playing with a dread that a mistake always would end up in the back of the net and that the goalie wouldn't do his job -- which is saving their bacon on many nights and flat-out stealing games on others.   

 

It needed one of the goalies -- Semyon Varlamov or Philipp Grubauer -- to step up.

 

And one finally did.


Grubauer was staunch and stingy down the stretch, infusing confidence in the Avalanches game and leaving himself going into the olayoffs as one of the hottst goaltenders in a league in which anything can happen in the playoffs if your goalie gets hot, stands on his noggin, gets into the heads of the opponents and keeps the puck out of the net.

 

"It's a huge part of it, no question," Bednar said. "Most of the time and especially this time of year, you need exceptional goaltending. Average goaltending just isn't good enough. We've been getting that. Our goaltenders have beeen giving us a chance to win every night and we're spreading around our scoring. We fought through adversity if you look at the injuries we had.


 "You go back three weeks, a month ago when Landy got hurt, when Mikko got hurt and see where we are in the standings, it would have been easy for our team to give up. But I love the character and push and determination and the will to win from our group. That's what I'm most proud of right now. To kick down the front door and get to the playoffs and finish the way we fionished is an exceptional job by our leaders, by all the guys stepping up and our secondary scoring and special teams have been better, golatending has been outstanding." 

 

That's spreading around the credit, of course, and I get that. It's not "wrong." But without Grubauer awakening, little of that would have mattered. 

 

 So now, for the second season in a row, Grubauer goes into the postseason as a No. 1 goalie. A year ago, his team -- the Capitals -- ended up winning the Stanley Cup, but it was after Grubauer wilted in the first two games of the opening round series against Columbus and Braden Holtby took over.          

 

"It's been quite the ride here," Grubauer said after the game Wednesday night. "Games we lost and games we won. It's pretty amazing that we actually made it. It could have gone the other way, too, but we have a good group here. . . It's been fun and now the real fun starts."   


I asked him about being in the same situation as a year ago, and what he learned from that experience he can take into this playoff run.


"Last year was tough," he said. "I don't think in Wahington we played our best hockey in the first two games and it cost us. We have to find a way to play 60 minutes against our next opponent and be ready from the get-go. . . . It's a new year. I played a couple more games that last year and I think that's going to help me and played a couple of good teams the last couple of games and, yeah, I'm looking forward to it."   

 

The NHL playoffs are the most relentless and physically and mentally testing postseason in sports, and one of the beauties of it is that anything can happen -- largely because of that influence of goaltending. A No. 8 seed can advance or even win the Stanley Cup, as the Los Angeles Kings did with Jonathan Quick in net in 2012. That's something that can't happen in the NBA. It just can't.  

 

"Everybody's looking forward to that," Grubauer said. "Anything is possible. In the playoffs, everything is brand new."    

 

So for the second straight season, the Avalanche is a No. 8 seed. A year ago, it was an unexpected and even amazing accompishment, considering Colorado went from the worst bang-for-the-buck NHL season (48 points while scraping the salary cap ceiling) ever, to 95 points. The Avalanche gave the Predators a competitive six-game series and it was disappointing, but not thunderously so. This year, one of the possible impediments is that sense of satisfaction for that in-season recovery and turnaround. The first-round matchup against the Flames, who hadve 107 points of this typing, is formidable. But for this team to be truly worthy of praise for progress this season, yee, it needs to knock off the Flames.   

 

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"To me, this is a prove-it season," Bednar said. "Last year, noone expected us to get in. There was no pressure on us. We had a bunch of young kids come in and energize our group, our young core took over the leadership role and things started to roll for us. We had a certain stick-to-itiveness or resolve to our group that was fun and we just kept winning and found a way to get in. We won the right games down the stretch and got in. This year, it was a very similar feeling. I think the presssure got to us a little bit at times. We stumbled around in the middle of the season. But to finish the way we finished and we were much better down the stretch this season and learned some things from last year about what it takes to win. That shows a lot of growth to me.   

 

"Hopefully, we can carry that into the playoffs. Our mindset's not going to just me we got in, great, let's go have some fun in the playoffs. We're gonig into it with a purpose. I think that's the feeling our group will have. If we keep playing the way we're playing right now, we can be a dangerous hockey team." 

 

 

 

      

April 3, 2019

A Great Night at 

Sports Hall of Fame

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Dave Logan and Daniel Graham both were star high school players in the Denver area, All-Americans at

CU, and NFL standouts who finished their careers with the Bronos. As of Wednesday night, they're

also both in the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame. (Photo by Kristin Rucker, Colorado Sports Hall of Fame.)  

  

I'm a long-time member of the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame's selection committee, and I again attended the 2019 banquet Wednesday night at the Hilton Denver City Center. (Yes, for those who shared my initial confusion, it's the former Marriott City Center with a new name.)

 

The most rewarding experience I've had was acting as the presenter for Lt. Col. John Mosley in 2009, and I'm proud to say that came after I wrote about him in a Denver newspaper and interviewed him for Fox Sports Rocky Mountain, nominated him for the Hall of Fame and unashamedly campaigned for him in the selection committee meeting.

 

That was when each inductee had an individual presenter. Now masters of ceremonies Susie Wargin and Dave Logan take turns acting as presenters, introducing the inductees and cuing up the video tribute. It's streamlined, efficient and keeps things moving, through athletes of the year presentations and then the introductions and acceptance speeches from the inductees. The marathon nights of years ago are history.

 

All six of the 2019 inductees are Colorado natives. They were swimmer Missy Franklin; former Thomas Jefferson High, University of Colorado and Patriots and Broncos tight end Daniel Graham; long-time Colorado School of Mines football coach and athletic director Marv Kay; former Steamboat Springs High and Colorado College star athlete Tom Southall, who competed despite being born without a right hand; Todd Lodwick, a six-time Olympian in the Nordic Combined; and Colorado high school wrestling icon Bob Smith. Plus, the professional athlete of the year was Denver South and CU product Phillip Lindsay, who had a remarkable rookie season with the Broncos. (I haven't heard anyone mention this, but I believe he was an undrafted free agent.) Serious arguments could be made for the Avalanche's Nathan MacKinnon, who was second in Hart Trophy voting, or for Rockies Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story, but honoring Lindsay ultimately seemed appropriate when it so obviously meant so much to him to be honored in his hometown.   

 

I was honored and touched to be present for Daniel Graham's induction, given his family's long connection with my family. His father, Tom, was the captain of my father's final team at Oregon, and they moved to the Broncos together for 1972 -- my father as offensive line coach and Tom as a linebacker. They both would go to other NFL teams, but my dad ended up back with the Broncos as a long-time coach, scout and administrator, and Tom and Marilyn kept the same Denver home during Tom's travels and put down anchors in Denver afer his retirement, and twins Daniel and Josh starred at Thomas Jefferson and Daniel moved on to his great career at CU.

 

When Tom died in 2017, I was an honorary pallbearer. Here's my tribute to him. The discerning might be able to spot the significance of the timeline.

 

The Grahams are a Hall of Fame family. Daniel's acceptance speech was touching, and he paid tribute to Tom and the rest of his family before leading the crowd (at least those willing) in the CU fight song.  

 

The small-world aspect of that photo above for me is that when my family and Tom Graham came to Denver and I enrolled in the middle of my junior year at Wheat Ridge, my Farmers baseball batterymate was the guy on the left. My (lame) banquet joke is that I never have properly thanked Dave for helping me set a state high school single season that still stands. 

 

For most passed balls.    

    


March 30, 2019

Embedding with

the All-American 

high school musical  

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Read it here 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 23, 2019

After line breakup, injuries,

MacKinnon soldiers on

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It wasn't that long ago that we were trying to come up with a clever nickname for the Avalanche line — Nathan MacKinnon centering Gabe Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen — that seemed destined to stick together for the ages. The Production Line and the French Connection already were taken and my suggestion, the NordiCanadian Line (one from Canada, two from Nordic nations ... get it?), didn't catch on.

 

Now with Landeskog out since since he was injured at Dallas on March 7 and Rantanen due to miss his third game, also with an upper body injury, at Chicago Sunday night, that leaves MacKinnon the only one active among the three. In an attempt to shake things up and to try to get more balanced scoring from multiple lines, Avalanche coach Jared Bednar separated them, anyway, in early February and has put them back together intermittently since. But at least until Rantanen is back, and it could be as soon as next Wednesday at home against Vegas, MacKinnon likely will continue centering J.T. Compher and Alexander Kerfoot for the time being.

 

And the Avalanche's unlikely resurgence, back into contention for a playoff spot, will continue.    

 

I admit it, too: To paraphrase Dave "Tiger" Williams, which never gets old, I thought them Avs were done like dinner when they lost consecutive home games to Carolina and Anaheim, but they have won four in a row — including Saturday afternoon's 4-2 victory over Chicago Saturday in the Pepsi Center — to get back in the hunt. They were holding down the second Western Conference wild card spot, leading Minnesota and Arizona by one point, going into Saturday night's games.              

 

MacKinnon didn't have a point in the win over the Blackhawks Saturday, and he hasn't hit the scoresheet in the past three games, but the Avalanche got by. I sat down with him after the game for a one-on-one discussion at his stall.   

 

At least now he knows that I'm not there seeking to write another piece about whether he ever could live up to the expectations he faced as a No. 1 overall NHL draft choice, and whether he ever would progress into the "generational" No. 1 pick conversations with Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid and perhaps Auston Matthews. (I admit I overdid that angle when I was around the Avalanche more often in the early years of McKinnon's career.) Crosby, McDavid and MacKinnon recently were tabbed as the top three forwards in the league in the NHL Players Association's poll.  McDavid was a runaway winner, at 63.6 percent, with the Nova Scotia pals — Crosby and MacKinnon — next at 17.2 and 4.1 percent, respectively. That's not a huge vote for MacKinnon, but players could only vote for one, and cracking the top three is a major acccomplishment. This is MacKinnon's sixth season, yet he's still only 23.  

 

 "You have chemistry with some guys there now out of the lineup," MacKinnon said. "It's definitely an adustment, but we have a lot of good players in this room and we've had a decent record since Gabe's gone down and we've gotten help from everybody, so it's been positive. The thing is, we'll get those guys back, or at least Mikko for sure. I don't even know what's wrong with him..." — his nose didn't seem to be growing — "...but we'll get him back and we'll get Gabe back for the playoffs, and that's the goal, to make the playoffs and get the team back together. And you never know what can happen. That's our mindset."'

 

MacKinnon at one point was upset when cooler heads prevailed as he was playing major junior and he wasn't allowed to play high school basketball on a spot basis in the Halifax area, and he remains a major hoops fan. So he's genuinely excited about the Nuggets' success this season and the possibility of having both Denver teams in the playoffs for the first time since 2010 — when both lost in the first round, the Avalanche to San Jose and the Nuggets to Utah.  

 

"It'd be great to have us both make it," he said. 

 

But one of the reasons I brought that up was because the Nuggets and Avalanche had similar seasons a year ago — with playoff berths on the line in what amounted to play-in games in the final regular season games. The Nuggets lost at Minnesota, the Avalanche beat St. Louis at home, and it set the benchmarks for this season. The Avalanche, its rebuild seemingly ahead of schedule after a dreadful 48-point disaster in 2016-17, was expected to make additional improvement this season, while the Nuggets to a point were let off the hook after falling short, with making the playoffs a reasonable goal. Instead, it's the Nuggets who are surprising this season.        

 

"We made it by one point last year," MacKinnon said. "So it's not like we were a Cup favorite this season. We won the last game of the season to make the playoffs. But, yes, our goal is to win the Stanley Cup, not just make the playoffs. Just making the playoffs doesn't rally matter."  

 

With seven games remaining, MacKinnon has 37 goals and 54 assists. He was tied for ninth in goals going into Saturday night's games and his 91 points placed him seventh in the league. He stands a bona fide chance of bettering his numbers of last season (39 goals, 58 assists and 97 points), when he finished second in the Hart Trophy voting ... and should have won. So this much is obvious: Last season was no fluke.

 

"I just want to be the player this for the next 10, 15 years," he said, then laughed. "OK, maybe not 15, but 10 for sure. I work hard at it. I take it more serious than I have when I was 18, 19, 20. That's when you're coming in and you learn, when you're young, I feel confident that I continue this." He said cracking the top three forwards in the NHLPA poll "is humbling. There are so manay very talented players in the league, it could have gone to a lot of different guys. Obviusly, I'm happy they voted (for) me, but it's just a poll." 

But the point is, the votes he gets now are for accomplishment, for cracking the very elite ... and not for underachievement.    

 

 

 

 

March 21, 2019

CU in the NIT? 81 years ago,

they were in the first one

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Tad Boyle watching from the sideline in the Buffs' final regular-season game against USC

 

When I researched March 1939: Before the Madness,  I came across three things about the University of Colorado program in that era that I hadn't known. And I was reminded of them as the 2018-19 Buffs accepted a bid to the NIT and beat Dayton in the first round, and it turned out that they'll play host to another NIT game against Norfolk State on Monday night. That's because Norfolk State knocked off Alabama in the first round.   

 

One, the Buffaloes appeared in the very first National Invitation Tournament in 1938. It's a bit confusing because at the time, the NIT wasn't even officially called that. The Metropolitan Basketball Writers Association, with an eye on following the success of regular-season doubleheaders staged in Madson Square Garden, organized and staged the 1938 and 1939 tournaments and also flaunted the conflict of interest, hyping them to the point where you'd think Roanoke College -- one of the six teams in the 1939 tournament -- was the equal of the top teams in the nation.

 

Two, the reason the Buffaloes were considered a marquee drawing card and coveted as a member of the 1938 field was that their star was one of the highest-profile college athletes in the nation at the time. 

 

Byron "Whizzer" White.

 

Yes, the future U.S. Supreme Court justice, the renowned football hallfback, also played basketball for the Buffs.

 

I didn't know that.

 

Here's the story of that first NIT, from the pages of my book:

 

* .  *   *

 

 

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Meanwhile in New York, the first national invitation tournament was played on March 9, 14, and 16, 1938, so it sandwiched the PCC title series. It definitely was an outgrowth of the regular-season doubleheaders and involved the type of conflict of interest for writers that wouldn’t have been tolerated later. Although Ned Irish’s fingerprints were on the tournament, too, the Metropolitan Basketball Writers Association, made up of New York scribes, founded, sponsored, and promoted it—and promoted it to the point where they sometimes came off as carnival barkers imploring passersby to enter the tent. The writers’ group was founded in 1934, and Irving T. Marsh and Everett B. Morris, both from the Herald Tribune, were its ringleaders. Morris also was the paper’s boating writer.

 

The plan was to follow Ned Irish’s doubleheader formula in putting together tournament fields, mixing New York–area teams with intriguing squads from other parts of the country. One of the goals was to confirm New York’s primacy in the college basketball world, and the tournament did that, but there was some confusion because nobody seemed to know what to call it. Most often, it was “the national invitation tournament,” with the informality of lowercase letters, but it also was labeled the Metropolitan Basketball Writers’ tournament, the New York writers’ invitation tournament, and several other combinations. Capital letters and/or the NIT acronym didn’t come into play right away.

 

The participants in that six-team 1938 inaugural invitation tournament were Colorado, Oklahoma A&M, and Bradley Tech, joining eastern entrants Temple, New York University, and LIU. As those with the farthest to travel, Colorado and Oklahoma A&M had byes, and the writers probably were second-guessing the bracketing that matched two New York teams, NYU and LIU, in the March 9 quarterfinals, which guaranteed the early elimination of one local draw. In a shocker, NYU knocked off Clair Bee’s Blackbirds 39-37. The Blackbirds finished the season with a 23-5 record, disappointing given the expectations and a soft schedule, with the other losses coming to Marshall, Minnesota, Stanford, and La Salle. In the other quarterfinal, Temple beat Bradley Tech 43-40.

 

 

Colorado had won the Rocky Mountain region’s Big 7 league, but the Buffaloes were sought because they had the biggest star in the tournament—an event its home-state Denver Post, by the way, called “the first national Invitation Intercollegiate tournament.” That star was a scholarly fellow from Wellington, Colorado. Byron “Whizzer” White was an All-American halfback for the Buffaloes and a solid starter for Colorado in basketball. The New York scribes couldn’t get enough of him, just as they had enjoyed building up Luisetti when he came through with Stanford during the regular season. The Colorado hero was the toast of Manhattan from the time he arrived with the Buffaloes’ traveling party. He had eight points in the March 14 semifinals as the Buffaloes edged NYU 48-47 on Don Hendricks’s late basket.

 

In the other semifinal, the Oklahoma Aggies, coached by 33-year-old Henry “Hank” Iba, lost a 56-55 heartbreaker to Temple. The New York scribes puffed out their chests as they typed, knowing the nip-and-tuck semifinals had been exciting, and hoped for a reprise in the March 16 championship game.

 

Instead, they and the fans got a stinker. Temple routed Colorado 60-36 to win the tournament title, and Whizzer White bowed out of his college basketball career with a 10-point night.   

 

Minutes after the championship game, he again was being asked which he would choose—the outlandish $15,000 contract from franchise owner Art Rooney to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates (yes, Pirates, pre-dating Steelers) or a Rhodes scholarship to study in Oxford.

 

“There are about 500 people trying to make up my mind,” he said in the Madison Square Garden dressing room. One way to tell that White already was an extraordinary celebrity was that at least one scribe actually talked to him after the game instead of following the usual procedure of typing eyewitness accounts of the game and not seeking comment from anyone involved.

 

Temple, the tournament champions, finished the 1937–38 season with a 23-2 record. Many in the east advanced the Philadelphia squad as the nation’s best, and it wasn’t unreasonable. Their head-to-head victory over Stanford, the west’s top team, bolstered the claim. There were scattered references to the Owls as “national champions,” but for the most part, the national attitude—at least among those who noticed in other areas of the country—seemed to be that the Owls had won a new tournament for New York teams and invited guests, no more suited to select the best team in the land than, say, a holiday tournament. It was a tournament for select (and selected) teams, but not a national championship, and Stanford wasn’t there.

 

After beating the Webfoots for the 1937–38 PCC title, the Indians didn’t go anywhere, except perhaps to their homes during spring break. They already had made two cross-country trips to New York and beyond in the previous sixteen months. That was enough.

 

Considered an experimental venture that first year, the invitation tournament was pronounced a success. The catch, though, was that organizers couldn’t count on having a Whizzer White–type drawing card every year from among the teams brought in from outside the New York area or the East Coast.

 

Stanford coach John Bunn was one of many in his profession who began to wonder if there might be a way to both combat the national invitation tournament and determine a national champion, perhaps as soon as the upcoming 1938–39 season.

 

* .  * .  * 

OK, that's No. 1 and No. 2.

 

No. 3 is that when the National Association of Basketball Coaches indeed put together the first NCAA tournament for 1939, setting up four-team regionals in San Francisco and Philadelphia,with one representative from each of eight districts, and then a championship game in Evanston held in conjunction with the NABC convention, the Buffaloes were one of a handful of teams turning down invitations. My opinion is that by the end of the season, the eventual champion -- Oregon -- was the best team in the nation, and the Ducks routed all three of their opponents, Texas, Oklahoma and Ohio State. But we'll never know how the Buffaloes would have done.

Here's how that came about, again from March 1939: Before the Madness.  

 

 

* .  * .  *

  

The Colorado Buffaloes had gotten over their loss to St. John’s in Madison Square Garden. They easily won their league with a 12-2 league record, beating out (in order) Utah State, Utah, Wyoming, Denver, Brigham Young, and Colorado A&M. The Buffaloes were the obvious NCAA tournament choice in the Rocky Mountain district that included the states of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Montana, and New Mexico.

 

CU officials announced that they would conduct a vote among the players and take the result under advisement. With the Buffa- loes’ season over and no league playoffs, Colorado’s players knew they would have two weeks to rest up for the regional—or, to put it another way, their season would be extended at least two weeks if they accepted the bid. These were mostly the same fellows who the previous year had traveled by train cross-country to play in the first national invitation tournament, and then made another trip to New York in December. Would they be up for more travel, first to San Francisco, then possibly to Chicago? For a new tournament?


The Buffaloes’ decision was announced Tuesday.

 

 

No, thanks.

 

 

Colorado’s athletic committee said that it had consulted with Coach Frosty Cox and the players, and the decision was based on the fact that the Buffaloes were banged up, tired, and even sick. CU’s star center, Jack Harvey, was hospitalized three times during the season and missed the final three games because of illness, and two other starters had spent time in the hospital, also. Without naming the national invitation tournament, the committee said CU wouldn’t consider taking part in any other tournament, either. The Buffaloes were going to stay home.


The next day, the head of the NCAA Tournament’s Rocky Mountain district selection committee, Wyoming coach Dutch Witte, said his group had recommended to Harold Olsen that Big 7 runner-up Utah State—coached by the respected Dick Romney, a former multiple-sport star himself and a member of a prominent Utah family— get the NCAA bid.

 

 

Harold Olsen went along with that, and Utah State’s athletic council quickly accepted the invitation.   

 

 

* .  * .  *

 

If the Buffs win two more games, beating Norfolk State and then the Xavier-Texas winner, they'll make the NIT's Final Four in Madison Square Garden.  

 

 

 

 

March 10, 2019

Catching up with Tad Boyle:

About then and now

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Read it here 

 

 

 

March 7, 2019

Trying -- and failing -- to

make a case for keeping Keenum

 

Read it here

 

 

 

 

February 27, 2019

Two young Israelis

in Colorado ...

playing hockey 

 

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Read it here 

 

 

 

February 13, 2019

On the Broncos'

acquisition of Flacco

 

Read it here 

 

 

 

 

 

February 2019

Two columns

on the late, great

Irv Brown 

 

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On Irv's death

On Irv and Pat

 

 

February 7, 2019

 

Sakic support of Bednar

seems genuine -- and it's

the right thing to do 

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The Avalanche is reeling. 

 

After a 4-3 overtime loss at Washington Thursday, the Avs had lost five in a row and were 5-15-4 in their last 24. Yes, only five wins in their past 24, or since they were 17-7-5 after a December 6 win at Florida.

  

Especially in hockey, I've always felt that it's unseemly to be among the first to broach the issue of whether a coaching change is imminent, and/or needed. That's because it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I'm not saying a single writer or media member bringing it up makes a change inevitable, but once the speculation starts, it can gather momentum.

 

This is a league in which general managers -- some of them former coaches -- have championed the scapegoating phenomenon, deflecting the blame for on-ice problems from the front office to the bench. And it goes beyond that. If players "tune out" coaches, it's often because they've gotten the impression they can or are expected to -- and can get away with it.

 

So Joe Sakic's decisive statement that he's not considering firing Jared Bednar is a bit refreshing. It's also fairly convincing because Sakic already has shown he will defy NHL convention, as evidenced when he stuck with Bednar after the horrendous 48-point 2016-17 season, the worst bang-for-the-buck season in NHL history. It would have been embarrassing to fire Bednar after only one season, but it also wouldn't have been all that surprising. Sakic was convinced that Patrick Roy's August resignation put Bednar in a difficult position, but he still could have taken the easy way out and made another change.           

 

This is not an unconditional, blind endorsement of Bednar's work. The coach must be accountable, too, and if Sakic concludes after the season that something must be done, fair enough. But now? It would be panic, it would be making Bednar accountable for having awful goaltending and a roster with other deficiencies being exposed. Bad goaltending is deflating and demoralizing, and it affects everything. But this also is a team still without enough scoring depth beyond the top line -- when it's together -- and with two smallish defensmenen among its top six. Yes, Tyson Barrie and Samuel Girard are adept puck-handlers and offensive threats, but it's playing with fire in the defensive zone. (Plus, Girard hasn't been as productive offensively as he needs to be.)          

 

It's this simple. It really is. If either goalie, Semyon Varlamov or Philipp Grubauer, gets his act together, the other issues suddenly will seem less significant and debilitating.  The question is how soon, or even if, that will happen. The most amazing thing of all is that the Avalanche hasn't fallen completely out of playoff contention. The Avs can get back in the hunt -- that's a tribute to Irv Brown -- with one good run. 

 

A coaching change now, or in the foreseeable future, isn't the answer.   


January 26, 2019

Is it time to try the

confectionary store

clerk in the Avs' net? 

 

Hardy2.jpg 

 

At the arrival of the All-Star break and then its bye period, the Avalanche had gone 5-13-3 in its previous 21 games.

 

The biggest shock of all is that Colorado still is hanging on to what would be the second wild card playoff spot in the Western Conference by its fingernails. Seven teams, including the Avalanche, are within three points of one another in the race for the two spots. Yes, the Avs, thought to be on the rise after last year's 95-point season, seems to have been reduced to shooting for a wildcard spot again.     

 

I'll concede this:  The Avalanche is not perfectly constructed.

 

The Avs need more secondary scoring, beyong the NordiCanadian Line of Nathan MacKinnon centering Gabe Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen. 

 

They every once in a while falls victim to the perills of having two undersized, if speedy and crafty, defensmen among the top six. Neither Tyson Barrie nor Sam Girard are capable of physically intimidating work in front of the Colorado net. Or anywhere else. And as a group, the Avs' "D" has been no better than mediocre.  

 

But let's be real. 

 

The major problem here is the goaltending.   

 
The lack of faith in the men is in the net is debilitating for any team, and one of the reasons is that it becomes a rationalization. . . or a self-fulfilling prophecy. Teammates become tight, overly concerned that a single mistake too often can lead to a puck in the back of the (wrong) net. And on the rare nights when the goaltending is major-league and larcenous -- in other words, on the nights when the Colorado goalie has done his job -- the post-game narrative is a condescending overreaction, as if Semyon Varlamov or Philipp Grubauer has reprised Patrick Roy or Dominik Hasek in their primes and the game video should be sent to the Hall of Fame in Toronto.

 

With 32 games remaining, of course, it's possible that one or the other could snap out of this and give the Avalanche competent work in the net. But for now, this is just flat-ut unacceptable: Varlamov has a goals-against average of 2.82, only 25th among NHL qualifiers, and a save percentage of .908. In his contract year, while attempting to prove that he can stay healthy, the issue of whether he again can do elite work moving forward in the net has reappeared. Grubauer's goals-against of 3.38 is awful, 46th among the 50 qualifiers, and his save percentage of .891 is below what I tend to call the Astrom Line for a reason.

            

Flashing back to the 1979-80 season -- yes, nearly 40 years ago -- the outspoken and snappily-attired Don Cherry passed through to coach the lowly Colorado Rockies for one season.

 

 

Cherry hated his goaltenders. The goaltending indeed was bad, but in retrospect, I probably concurred too easily with Cherry’s position that Hardy Astrom, who was acquired from the New York Rangers and making decent money, was the worst NHL goalie of all time. That team had a lot of problems beyond its own crease.

 

A handful of others in the league who played twenty or more games that season had worse goals-against averages than his 3.75, and there were even a couple who played more than half their teams’ games—Hartford’s John Garrett and Los Angeles’s Mario Lessard. Regardless, Cherry held his nose long enough to use Astrom in 49 games, while also trying Bill McKenzie, Michel Plasse, and Bill Oleschuk in the net.

 

It came to a head in February, when the Rockies had to settle for a 4–4 tie at Hartford when Plasse had only 17 saves.

 

Cherry had let loose many times, but he got into high gear that night. “Our goaltending was horse—-,” he said, standing a few feet from the trailer where I had done a between-periods interview with a fledgling Connecticut-based cable operation called ESPN. “Let’s face it. Come on. Let’s be honest. We’re not going to go anywhere until we get a goalie. I’ve tried everyone except the guy who works in the confectionary store.”  

 

Jared Bednar's code word for substandard goaltending is "OK." As in, "He was OK." He hasn't tried to insult anyone by letting the goalies off the hook, but he hadn't let loose, a la Cherry, either.


It's that simple. If the Avalanche doesn't big-time goaltending, from someone, down the stretch, this season will be both regression and a huge disappointment, wasting the magical work of the top line. 

 

 

       

January 20, 2019

Can Kroenke

Sports Empire

Stay on a Roll? 

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After the Avalanche routed the Los Angeles Kings Saturday, workers put the finishing tuuches on installing the floor for what turned out to be the Nuggets' romp over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

 

The Los Angeles Rams are going to the Super Bowl. And they're just part of the Stan Kroenke sports empire that also includes the Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, Colorado Rapids, Colorado Mammoth, and Arsenal FC.

 

Could this just be the start? 

 

An audacious thought, I know, but the Kroenke portfolio mostly was struggling mightily on the field, court, ice and pitch not all that long ago and this already represents a turnaround.

 

So...

 

The Sean McVay-coached Rams obviously have a bona fide chance of giving Kroenke an opportunity to accept the Vince Lombardi Trophy -- which is no Stanley Cup -- after Super Bowl LII in Atlanta in two weeks.  

 

Can that be just the start of a big year for the Kroenke empire?

 

The question, of course, is what would qualify.   

 

I'd say on this side of the pond, it would be the Nuggets and the Avalanche both at least reaching their Western Conference finals, the Rapids returning to respectabiity in Major League soccer after a dreadful 2018, and indoor lacrosse's Mammoth recovering from a slow start to make the National Lacrosse League playoffs.   

 

And on the other side of the Atlantic, it would mean Arsenal -- currently embroiled in controversy and mediocrity at best on the pitch in the English Premier League -- at least do well enough to convince the rabid and critical soccer fandom that the Kroenke ownership isn't incompetent at the real football. Kroenke has been involved in ownership since 2007 and has been sole owner since last August.  

  

The Nuggets, with Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray leading the way, are a half-game behind the Warriors in the Western Conference going into Monday's games are are the top candidates to make a deep playoff run. The problems are that last Tuesday's Warriors rout of the Nuggets in Denver was remindful that Golden State is meandering through the regular season and capable of flipping the switch at any time -- and on any night. A title? If -- and that's a big if  -- the Nuggets get past the Warriors to reach the NBA Finals, they've had problems with Milwaukee, the most likely finalist from the East.

 

The Avalanche has been maddening, mercurial and underachieving and the biggest favor anyone can do for them is to stop making excuses. They aren't playing Hall of Fame goalies every night, their puck luck isn't always bad, and any team with three linemates headed to the All-Star Game should be held to a higher standard now that residing on the playoff bubble.

 

But we all know the way this league works. In some ways, I'm convinced the Avalanche has a better chance of making its league finals than does the Nuggets. I'm not saying it will happen. I'm saying it could. That's because there's no Warriors here and if Semyon Varlamov stands on his head from the second he arrives at the rink to the time he leaves, the whole dynamic changes. Plus, this now is a talented -- talented, not deep -- enough team to pull it off in a wide-open league. 


Beyond the Nuggets and Avs, the Mammoth needs a bunch of sock tricks, the Rapids need to stop collecting ties, and the Rams need to continue to have the guys in stripes let 'em play. 

    

 

January 14, 2019

Here's why Colorado 

nurse was with Supreme

Court in Rotunda 

 

Read it here

 

 

 

January 13, 2019

 

Alex English was both

smooth and breathtaking

 .  

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 Alex English at the Nuggets' game against Portland Sunday night. 

 

  

On Sunday night, the Nuggets commemorated "Skyline" night by wearing their retro jerseys -- which look like someone put the original skyline jerseys in the washing machine with way too much bleach -- against Portland and honored former smooth-as-silk forward Alex English.

  

I went to say hi and be a part of English's pre-game media availability.

 

The previous time we visited was at the Nuggets' home opener last season, against Sacramento in October 2017. The Nuggets honored a handful of former players that night, including English, David Thompson, Dan Issel, Byron Beck and Dikembe Mutombo.


This time, the spotlight was on English ... alone.

 

Although his number (2) was retired in 1992, when the Nuggets still played in McNichols Sports Arena, and it now hangs in the Pepsi Center, English for many years felt a disconnect with the Nuggets after his trade to Dallas and then during his working career as an assistant coach and scout. He wasn't shunned; it was more apathy. Now, in part thanks to vice president of basketball operations Lisa Johnson, a treasure trove of institutional knowledge, the Nuggets have done a better job of re-embracing their past.         

 

"I feel much better," English said. "If you look at most teams that are successful, they're successful because they have a history that is part of their success. You look at the Lakers, you always see Kareem and Magic and Kobe talk about that being their team. And the Celtics as well. So I think history is vey important. I can compliment them on reaching out to all of their former players and bringing them back and making them feel like they are a part of what they have been, what they've built." 

   

He said of his reacton when he returns: "Of course, it's a different arena. But it's always great to come back, especially now that they're doing so well, and to see the fans come out to support them ... I have fond memories of being here in Denver and playing for Doug Moe and playing for the teammates I had. I had a wonderful time."

 

I joked with him about having fond memories of the irascible Moe, whose verbal prodding made English a better player -- and whose passing-game, relentless-movement offense made English a star.


"To you guys, he was probably like a big mean, ol' bad boy," English said. "But he was a big baby. You get him off the court, get him out of the environment, he's just a big baby."   

 

After the hockey Rockies moved to New Jersey in 1982, I was switched to the Nuggets beat.

 

Alex was aready there.

 

Because of the convivial atmosphere in McNichols Sports Arena in those days, with media wandering through both offices, I didn't feel as if I was starting from scratch, and I knew a lot of folks in the Nuggets' organization. Moe already was calling me "Dip----," as he did with everyone he liked (or, in some cases didn't like).

 

One of my first assignments on the beat was to cover the then-troubled Thompson's trade to Seattle, and all the dramatic subplots surrounding it. (He never got to wear the skyline jersey.)

 

Thompson's departure nudged English a bit more to the Nuggets' forefront, and that was the silver lining.

 

English was the sneakiest, sleekest, smoothest big-time scorer in NBA history, always moving in the passing game. He was not made for SportsCenter highlights; what he did was maneuver, glide, float ... and score. His nickname -- "Pink Panther" -- was apt.

 

At the end of the night, if you weren't tracking it, you'd go: "He had how many points?" And they all counted.

 

He was a great player who didn't get enough credit because of his low-key personality and a game that took paying attention to, to truly appreciate. The Nuggets were his third stop, after Milwaukee and Indiana, and we hadn't seen this coming.

 

Among the English highlights the Nuggets show of English when they honor him is one that believe sums him up. It was a gliding shot over and past a challenging Maurice Lucas, then with Phoenix. It was nothing flashy, but he simply got the shot with one of the most physical players in the league with his arms up and within, oh, 18 centimeters.

 

That's how Alex scored. averaging 25.9 points in 11 seasons with the Nuggets. He scored in traffic or without flashiness leaned almost imperceptively just far enough to get the shot off -- and in.

 

I asked him how his game would fit in today's league.

 

"Well, you know I'm not a three-point shooter," he said. "I still would be a mid-range game player. There's some room for mid-range. I worked with DeMar DeRozen in Toronto. He's a mid-range player that I love to see play. That's missing in the game today. But it's exciting to see guys come down and if they know how to shoot threes, to make threes. It's exciting to see that. Different style, though. For a minute there everybody was talking about defense and trying to play like the Pistons. And as we evolved and as the Golden State Warriors started playing like the Denver Nuggets of old, everybody said, 'That's how we need to be playing.' Everybody's kind of migrated back to the old ways with the addition of the threes." 

  

He was asked what he thought when seeing James Harden launch 15 three-pointers in a game.

 

"It drives me crazy," he said. "Even though I scored a lot of points, and I shot the ball a lot, I was a team player. I liked getting my teammates involved and letting them be a part of the game as well."

   

But that was the beauty of the passing game, with its constant moving -- of both bodies and ball. By definition and design, everyone was involved, regardless of who scored. Including guard T.R. Dunn, who rarely kept the ball for more than four-tenths of a second.


"I wish I was still coaching," English said. "It's an unstoppable offense. Even if you wanted threes, you still could get threes. But nobody has adapted, or tried to adapt Doug Moe's offense. It was so successful, as you know ... And contrary to what people say about us playing defense, if you look at the teams that forced the most turnovers, blocked the most shots, we were always there. We had three, or four, actually, of the toughest defenders that have played the game in T.R. Dunn, Bill Hanzlik, Elston Turner, and Wayne Cooper's got to be there for shot blocking."   

   

English has been watching this Nuggets team with great interest from afar.

  

"They've got a good vibe going," he said. "They're winning. It helps when the fans come out and support you. And they've got a good coach. Mike Malone's a very good coach. He's done a very good job of bringing them together ... I personally feel they'll be in the Western Conference Finals, if they continue to play like this. They're such a balanced team. Even though (Nikola) Jokic and (Jamal) Murray get a lot of credit, when I watch them I see a lot of different pieces that contribute. I'm glad to see Will Barton back. I feel like he's a major part of their success and once he gets back and gets acclimated to playing, he's going to be a big contributor. And you all haven't had Isaiah Thomas yet. I coached Isaiah Thomas in Sacramento. I think he's going to be a bg plus for this team because he can score. Tough little guy."

   

Sandy Clough of "The Fan" asked him about Jokic, who a little later would have 40 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists against the Blazers. 

  

"He sees the floor so well, he scores, he shoots threes," English said. "The only other player in the league right now that I feel is comparable to him is DeMarcus Cousins, who I coached in Sacramento. He's got a lot of the same skills and maybe Anthony Davis."  

 

Now, about those skyline jerseys. I've told this story before, but it's appropriate. The Nuggets unveiled the original version at a news conference after holding a fan contest to design them. At the news conference, they said they had brought in a special model, and then Kiki Vandeweghe came out in the new jersey. And we were told that after lengthy negotiations, he had just agreed to a new, long-term contract. They had managed to keep that quiet, and it was a big deal.

 

Shortly thereafter, the winning designer visited me at the newspaper office.


He was mad that the Nuggets hadn't exactly followed his design.   

 

 

 

January 2, 2019

From Flying "The Hump"

to founding turf farm,

Johnson led epic life

 

Johnson.jpg 

 

Read it here