A twentysomething Colorado Avalanche fan carried his equipment bag into Penn’s Class of 1923 Arena for his weekly Monday open hockey session, only to find out quickly that he would be forced to stay in the stands.
The reason? His favorite hockey team was occupying the ice.
Two days after suffering a 4-3 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, the Avalanche opted to stay in the city and hold their morning practice on campus before traveling north for Tuesday’s contest against the New York Islanders.
Penn’s arena hasn’t played host to a varsity hockey team wearing the Red and Blue since the program was cut in 1978, but it is no stranger to the NHL. Teams scheduled to take on the Flyers usually opt to practice in the rink’s intimate setting when the Wells Fargo Center’s ice surface is unavailable.
With natural light filtering in from street-level windows, the arena has drawn positive reviews from NHL players usually accustomed to skating in more expansive settings.
“I liked it, it’s got an old barn feeling to it,” defenseman Erik Johnson said. “I could see playing here, the fans being right on top of you. [It’s a] pretty cool rink.”
Colorado is currently in the middle of a four-game East Coast road trip. After playing the Islanders in Long Island on Tuesday, the Avs will face the New York Rangers on Thursday and the New Jersey Devils on Friday, a difficult stretch for a team that is struggling to live up to expectations.
What’s the toughest part of a swing like that?
“Probably just the time change,” Johnson said. “We’re on Mountain Time, so falling asleep around 1 [a.m.] is like 11 [p.m.] back home, and you’re getting up at 8 [a.m.], which is really like 6 [a.m.] ... the time change is the biggest adjustment.”
Saturday’s game against Philadelphia probably didn’t help the Avalanche sleep any easier. Colorado put up three goals in the third period, but still fell 4-3. Just one season after winning the Central Division, the Avs appear to have regressed, currently standing 4-7-5 and seven points behind the division-leading Nashville Predators.
Their next matchup will provide little respite. Once doormats, the Islanders are returning home from their own five-game trip to the West Coast having won three in a row and now sit second in the Metropolitan Division.
However, the Islanders opened that road trip with a 5-0 loss to the Avalanche in Colorado. Goalie Semyon Varlamov posted a 40-save shutout for the Avs, while Johnson scored his second goal of the season.
Regardless of the difficult situation they face, the Avalanche were just happy to get back to work in a venue most people at Penn don’t get the chance to appreciate.
“This is the only time we’ve [practiced in a non-NHL arena on the road] so far this year, I don’t think we do it again,” Johnson said. “[It’s a] really nice old barn, lot of history, and it’s really cool to be on campus.”
After practice concluded and the players returned to the bus in full uniform, a group of fans emerged beaming, used sticks from Varlamov and center Ryan O’Reilly in hand.
They were solid consolation prizes for a cancelled open skate.
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