I have waited 21 years for the Colorado Avalanche to return to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The last time it occurred, I was 15. I worked at a pizza shop flipping pies in the air and ate a disturbing amount of calzones per day. I went to school intermittently and read fantasy novels written by Robert Jordan for the duration of every class. Most things in life didn’t make sense, but one thing did: watching Avalanche games with my friends. We would gather and howl at Peter Forsberg, Joe Sakic, Patrick Roy, Rob Blake, and Ray Bourque to destroy the opposition. We demanded blood for every questionable hit against Colorado. I adorned a walking stick with a miniature Avs goalie helmet, named it the win stick, and would slap the ground with it after goals—imagine Gandalf as a portly pizza boy in love with hockey and that was me.
The Avs won the 2001 Stanley Cup over the New Jersey Devils in a Game 7 overflowing with anxiety. It’s my favorite memory from 25 years of being a hockey fan—Bourque hoisting the Cup over his head for the first and last time before retirement. I can still tell you how Colorado scored all three goals (Tanguay wraparound in the first, Tanguay rebound in the second, Sakic pump-fake wrister on the power play shortly thereafter). I can still see Roy making save after save in the third. I can still hear announcer Gary Thorne’s voice screaming in my ear, “AFTER 22 YEARS, RAYMOND BOURQUE!” If you’ve ever felt a moment like this, where an emotional burden from a sporting event is somehow released inside your body and you are convinced you’ve found the meaning of life, you’re a fan forever.
On Monday, after Cale Makar stamped his name on the forehead of Connor McDavid and Colorado completed a sweep of Edmonton to clinch a Finals berth, Nathan MacKinnon spoke of how important it is to enjoy the journey. He’s right. Five years ago, I ate significantly less calzones but my emotional connection to the Avs never wavered. They finished the season with 48 points as the worst non-expansion team of my lifetime. Watching MacKinnon struggle every night on the 2017 team was the opposite of 2001 Game 7, a void of positive emotion with no end in sight. I can’t say I enjoyed that part of the journey (and I know Mackinnon, the most psychopathic competitor on Colorado, did not), but it set the stage for Arturri Lehkonen’s OT winner and the Avs streaming over the boards in jubilation—the release of an emotional burden, with an end most definitely in sight.
The Avs may not win the Cup this year, though I would sacrifice all the pizza in the world for it to happen. But this journey, 20+ years in the making, is why I’m a sports fan. It is hard to find things that inspire this much electricity and passion inside, born from experience that can span decades. That is one of the main tenements of the bi-weekly show I record: sports are an avenue to explore passion, meaning, and the depths of both. For those of you that feel similarly, I want to hear from you. My goal is to record interviews with anyone who is comfortable speaking into a microphone and feels a deep emotional connection with a sport, an athlete, or anything tangentially related. Send me an email (email@example.com) and let’s talk about the things that inspire you to feel.