The elevation factor poses a challenge for a team facing the Colorado Avalanche in Denver, but tonight’s game against the Avs in Colorado Springs should present its own unique test.
Colorado Springs, at an elevation of 6,230 feet, is roughly 1,000 feet higher than Denver, and tonight’s game will pit the defending Stanley Cup champs against a team known for having a stable of young, quick forwards on an Olympic ice surface that features an extra 15 feet of width.
“It’s obviously really wide,” defenseman Alec Martinez said. “The corners are pretty deep. I think the actual end zones are smaller. I think the goal line’s a little bit further out, so sometimes if you just step in a little bit from the blue line, it feels like you’re in the top of the circles.”
The only current King to have ever played a collegiate or pro game at the World Arena – home of the successful Colorado College program – is North Dakota alum Matt Greene, though he’s not slated to play tonight. Martinez, who spent three seasons at Miami University, never faced the Tigers in Colorado Springs.
“I’ve always heard stories about this ice sheet, especially in college. I think it’s the biggest one in college hockey,” Martinez said. “You’ve just got to adjust your angles a little bit and just be conscious of when you get out pretty far wide that it’s that much tougher to get back to the middle.”
For a puck-moving defenseman, the thought would be that the width of the ice could open up passing lanes that might not otherwise materialize on a standard rink, which has an 85-foot width. Martinez downplayed any significant change to the team’s breakout.
“I think you might have a little bit more space, but I think it’s more defensively just making sure the angles on rushes in the D-zone, they’re just going to have a little bit more time,” he said. “It’s just going to take you that extra half second to get out there. I don’t think it means too much for the pass. You might have a little bit more of a lane to get that pass to the wing or the centerman, but yeah, I think defensively is going to be the biggest difference.”
The Avalanche, at 0-5-1, will be looking for their first wins of the preseason entering the team’s dual-game set that continues Saturday at the Grand Garden Arena at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Colorado did not practice this morning in Colorado Springs due to travel costs and the desire to allow players to take a pre-game nap at home, and after busing down from Denver will be facing the quirks and features of the Olympic ice sheet for the first time during warm-ups. They, however, would be the NHL team most acclimated to playing more than a mile above sea level.
“It’s one thing I’ve learned in this altitude, you’ve got to keep [shifts] real short early,” Martinez said. “If you get caught out there at the beginning it’s going to be a long night for you. I think most of the guys in this room who have played in Colorado before know what it’s like, and maybe the guys who haven’t, we’ll have a chat with ‘em. I think that they know, anyway. You could kind of tell, just this morning. You’ve just got to keep things short. They’re a really good team. They’re fast, and we’ve just got to be conscious of that.”
Martinez, on the golf course at The Broadmoor, where the team took part in a fundraiser for the USA Hockey Foundation yesterday:
It was awesome. I think it’s one of the top-rated courses in the country, and there’s always something nice to look at every hole, and having the mountains right there is pretty course, and the course is in awesome shape. It was fun to get out there.
Avs notes, courtesy of Mike Chambers of the Denver Post:
-Reto Berra will start in goal tonight. Semyon Varlamov will start on Saturday in Las Vegas.
-Jarome Iginla is nursing an ankle injury and is likely to return on Saturday.
-Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O’Reilly and Matt Duchene are expected to play tonight.
Banner photo courtesy of Wikipedia