"Business as usual" was a common phrase that everyone connected with the Colorado Avalanche used repeatedly at Tuesday's Stanley Cup Finals Media Day in the Atrium of Ball Arena. While it may not have the feel of a Super Bowl Media Day, it is very obvious to anyone who's covered the Avs closely, this is a much, much bigger stage than they've been on in two decades.
Of course, the last time they were in the Finals, general manager Joe Sakic, as then team captain, helped Colorado hoist its second Cup. "Super Joe" was asked, what makes you more nervous, playing for the Cup as a player, or as the guy making all of the personnel decisions? "probably a little more difficult now, Sakic said. "Now you're just a spectator, you look forward to it. I'm excited for the players, having done that. There's a lot of outside influences, things going on that you gotta deal with. A lot of phone calls, people wanting to come in and get tickets, and wishing you luck and everything. Once you hit gameday, now you're just preparing and getting ready for the game. Obviously, you're so excited, you're in the spotlight, you're playing for a Stanley Cup Championship. To be honest with you, yeah, you have a lot of butterflies. Once you get into the game, and get a couple shifts out oft he way, now you're just playing hockey and you're focused on doing your part to help the team win."
Perspective is something often gained with age. For captain Gabe Landeskog, he's seen the team at its lowest point, in head coach Jared Bednar's first season, when their record was dismal and they only tallied 48 points on the season. And, he's been a centerpiece of the resurrection. After using that same mantra, "unfinished business," the 11-year-vet did acknowledge that getting to this point is a moment worth savoring. "I think it's important to enjoy the journey, we've said that all along," he said. "But ha ving ssaid that, it's not like we were the worst team in the league and then flip a switch and the next day you're waking up, and you're in the Stanley Cup Finals. There's a bunch of steps in between, and we've enjoyed it every step of the way. That's the plan moving forward as well, to enjoy this, stay focused on the main goal, but absolutely, enjoy what's going on."
For the team's best player in the last half decade, center Nathan MacKinnon, the outside noise isn't concerning. Here was his response when asked how winning his first Stanley Cup would help his legacy? "I don't know, Legacy for who, you guys(the media)?" he said. "I'm just having fun day-by-day, doing the best I can for my team, and in the locker room, that's all I'm thinking about."
Forward J.T. Compher is looking forward to being back on the ice for a game at Ball Arena. When the puck drops Wednesday night, it'll have been 9 days since the Avalanche swept the Oilers out of the Western Conference Finals. And for the Game 3 hero, he knows how friendly the confines of his home barn are, "To start at home, something that we worked for all regular season was to put ourselves in the best position in the playoffs to be successful," Compher said. It's just been fun playing in front of these fans. The Playoff Run, they've been great."
Winger Logan O'Connor, who is only 25-years-old, echoed the sentiment about "unfinished business" that his coach and teammates shared, but he went a step further when talking about what a Stanley Cup win would mean for his veteran teammates, "E.J. (defenceman Erik Johnson), Cogs (forward Andrew Cogliano), J.J.(defencemen Jack Johnson), Landy (forward Gabe Landeskog), Nate(center Nathan MacKinnon), the list goes on with guys on our team that have been around the league for a long time, some of them have never even made it out of the first round type thing, some have had heartbreaks in Stanley Cup Finals," O'Connor said. "To do it for those guys would be awesome, and I think our team camaraderie is huge and everybody wants to do it for one another, and think that's what's special about this group, and all those guys that I mentioned, is we really wanna just do this for each other."
The Lightning, on the other hand, boast a roster full of two-time reigning Stanley Cup Champions led by captain Steven Stamkos, and perhaps the best goalie on the planet in Andre Vasilevsky. Colorado's speed and talent can create some big mis-matches, but executing and finding the back of the net the most, is still the name of the game. In order for the Avs to hoist Lord Stanley's Cup for a third time, the team's best player for almost a decade will have to continue to pace them. And, having the spotlight squarely on him and his team, is something MacKinnon doesn't mind one bit. But the five-time all-star also appreciates the opportunity on the horizon. "It's awesome, this is what we live for. I don't think anyone would trade places with anyone in thhe whole worke.d We feell alive right now. We're excited. Nervous energy. It's not supposed to be super-comfortable I don't think. We're gonna be very excited tomorrow night, but we also have to control our emotions and play our game.
"It's exciting I'm glad we're playing Tampa. We're playing the best. There's no 'Cinderella Story' or anything. Two of the best team's in the league going at it. I'm really excited for this challenge. It's gonna be very, very difficult. But, I believe in this group, and we all believe in each other, and hopefully, we can get this done."