As thousands of burgundy-clad rally goers converged on Denver’s Civic Center Park Thursday morning, a blues band warming up the crowd before the main event played a song with lyrics that go: “There’s no one to depend on, except for the Avs.”
Blues music often portrays just that — the blues. But on this particular day in Denver, no one was suffering from the blues. There were thousands of smiles and nearly as many pompoms as folks packed downtown streets to celebrate the Avs’ first Stanley Cup win in 21 years.
“I mean, the energy and the unity, wow,” said Avs fan Traci Willburn. “Everybody’s coming together and everybody is on the same side. It’s incredible.”
Willburn’s crew arrived early to get a prime spot on the parade route at Colfax and Broadway. Other early birds included Andrew Johnson of Vail, who got on the road at 5 a.m. to ensure a quality view of Avalanche players hooting, hollering and pumping fists from atop fire trucks.
“It's just exciting to see this group of guys and how hard they’ve worked for many years, from where they were five years ago, going from worst to now first,” Johnson said.
During the 2016-17 season, the Avs were in fact the worst team in the NHL, with an abysmal record of 22-56-4. Now, they’re on top of the world, as tens of thousands of people sang along to Queen’s “We are the Champions” in front of the Denver City and County Building in Civic Center Park.
“I mean, these guys, everyone has a story, right? Everyone has a story and I could go through every guy and the sacrifices they made for our team,” said an emotional Avs coach Jared Bednar, whose voice often cracked as he was tearing up on stage. “I'm amazed by every single one of them. I'm so happy for him. So proud. I love these guys.”
Fans roared as Avs stars took to the podium one at a time, from Avalanche legend Joe Sakic – who won two Stanley Cups as a player in Colorado in 1996 and 2001, and now his first as the Avs general manager – to 23-year-old sensation Cale Makar, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy for most valuable player during this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.
But one guy in particular probably won’t stop partying anytime soon. A year ago, after another disappointing early playoff exit, Nathan MacKinnon, one of the biggest stars in the game, made headlines when he said, “I’m going into my ninth year next year and haven’t won sh–.” But last week, MacKinnon finally got to hoist a Stanley Cup.
“It's my ninth year, I finally won something I guess, but no, we're super lucky to have the group we have,” he said. “I know it's super cliché, but there are such amazing people on this team.”
But Thursday’s celebration was for the fans as much as it was for the players. While many Coloradans are worried about the cost of groceries and gas prices, a common theme in conversations with many folks there Thursday was how good it felt to feel good again.
“It's been a tough several years, personally as well as globally,” said longtime Avs fan Lonettea Vialpando, who was proudly showing off her Sakic jersey. “So, just to be part of something so big and know you’re with this giant fan base, that we’re just sending these positive vibes every single game and you're on the edge of your seat, it's just been an amazing thrill.”
And at a time when people are divided over politics, Thursday was all about unity.
“This isn’t a time for divisions, this isn’t a time for breaking into factions,” said Matt Beeson of Fort Collins. “This is: Everyone can get behind the Avs. Everyone comes together. Everybody loves burgundy and blue today.”
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