CENTENNIAL, Colo. — Friday’s full team practice gave Avalanche fans a unique opportunity to see the Stanley Cup-bound team up close.
Instead of working out at Ball Arena, where a New Kids on the Block concert was scheduled for Friday, the Avalanche held Thursday and Friday practices at South Suburban Parks and Recreation’s Family Sports Center in Centennial.
“We do youth hockey, we do adult hockey,” Supervisor of Ice and Facility Maintenance Hank Taylor said. “Summer camp is full. We have 40 kids here Monday through Friday.”
Alongside laser tag, bumper cars, and a full arcade, Family Sports also has two ice rinks. One of the rinks has banners from all the different age groups that play there. It even has a disco ball above the ice.
The Avalanche held goalie practice on that same rink Friday morning.
When events at Ball Arena create a scheduling conflict for the Avalanche, the team regularly practices at the community recreation center.
“It’s been their practice arena for years,” Taylor said.
However, this year is quite a bit different.
“It’s odd, especially for a team going to the Stanley Cup to let fans just come and hang out and watch them for free, you know?” fan Chris Pettee said.
He drove up from Castle Rock to introduce his son to hockey.
“It’s pretty crazy that we can just come [to] watch the avalanche practice,” he said. “In the same place that me and my brother played for years here so it’s pretty cool.”
Anytime the Avalanche practices at Family Sports, they’re open to the public.
“Well if it’s during the week and kids are in school there’s a handful of people here watching practice so it’s not as exciting,” Taylor explained. “Now with the Stanley Cup Final, I mean kids out of school, it’s really exciting.”
According to South Suburban Parks and Recreation, the stands for each rink have enough capacity for 300 spectators. Friday morning, the practice was standing room only as fans decked out in Avs gear watched the stars from just a few feet away.
“Growing up, we’d get this many fans for games type thing and now it’s practice before the Cup Finals so it’s sort of surreal to think about and it’s been awesome to have that support,” Avalanche player Logan O’Connor said during a press conference following the practice.
Goalie Pavel Francouz said seeing fans give up an afternoon to come down to the rink and watch practice makes it more fun for the players.
“You can be playing by the pool in this weather so we really appreciate that and I think it’s fun,” he said. “We always work hard on the practice but I feel like if there are some people in the stands, you want to make sure you don’t get lazy.”
For many fans, practice is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see their favorite ice hockey superstars without spending a dime. The practices are free. Similar seats when the Avs play in the Stanley Cup next week will cost hundreds or thousands of dollars.
“I’m actually surprised that they let people do this,” Pettee said.
It is unclear if the Avalanche will practice at Family Sports again this season. It depends on the schedule of events at Ball Arena and the schedule for the Stanley Cup Final series.