Daniel Brenner, Special to the Denver Post
As Paul Stastny glided across the ice of his old stomping grounds in Denver, and flicked a beauty of a wrist shot that beat the Avalanche’s Jonathan Bernier at the far post for a goal, the lamp was lit so brightly the truth was plain to see.
Denver is a great hockey town. Always has been. Always will be.
But hockey greatness in this town is defined by the Pioneers, not the Avs.
Same as it ever was.
The Pioneers, defending national champions, are the diamond-and-gold standard in college hockey. They have the rings to prove it.
“I was fired up when I saw those rings. I almost wanted to pull mine out. I don’t know where mine is,” said Stastny, who won it all with DU back in 2005.
Raise the banner high! The DU Pioneers celebrate the eighth national championship in their storied program’s history when they take the ice Friday night for the home-opener against Lake Superior State.
The Avs, who teased us by jumping out to a 4-1 record in the young NHL season, fell back into their same-old, same-old bad habits, losing 4-3 Thursday to a St. Louis team playing on back-to-back nights. It was the third consecutive loss for Colorado, and about the loudest noise all evening was at the conclusion of the national anthem, when the crowd shouted, “Home of the … Blues!”
To fully remember when the Avalanche looked like an NHL dynasty in the making, you have to be of legal drinking age. So let’s raise a toast to the way Peter Forsberg and the Avs were back at the turn of the century.
But if you want to see a dynasty in the making, grab a seat at Magness Arena on the DU campus. It’s the best bargain in Colorado sports. The Pios took the trophy home from the Frozen Four in the spring, beating Minnesota-Duluth 3-2 in the final.
And coach Jim Montgomery’s squad is just getting warmed up. DU is ranked No. 1. The Pioneers return Henrik Borgstrom, Troy Terry, Tanner Jaillet, Dylan Gambrell, heart-and-soul players on the national championship team.
Stastny scored the 600th point of his professional career off a 2-on-1 breakaway ignited by a careless Colorado turnover in the attacking third. “It was nice,” Stastny. “It’s kind of unique and special to get it here, where home base is for me. In front of family and friends, it’s always fun.”
How did Stastny get to be 31 years old? It seemed like only yesterday when he was wearing a DU sweater for the Pioneers. After playing eight seasons for the Avalanche, the beginning of this extended period of agony for pro hockey in Colorado began in 2014, when Stastny departed Denver for St. Louis in free agency.
Here’s the best we can say about the Avalanche: The worst appears to be over.
After finishing last in the league with some of the most abominable hockey played by any NHL team in the 21st century, Colorado has an infusion of youthful enthusiasm.
At age 19, rookie Tyson Jost played wing on the No. 1 line against the Blues. Alexander Kerfoot, a 23-year-old forward out of Harvard, got the Avs on the board in the first period on juicy rebound that he put in the back of the net with an aggressive move to the crease. Kerfoot pounced on a mistake by St. Louis goalie Carter Hutton late in the third period to pull Colorado within one score.
It’s been a long, rough stretch for the Avalanche. But the tradition of hockey greatness is healthy and strong in Denver.
It depends on where you look.
The Pioneers built this hockey town. And they rule it.
One more thing: Did Stastny really lose his DU national championship ring?
No. He was just kidding about misplacing one of the prized treasures of his hockey career. The ring is in safe keeping, at his house in St. Louis.
“I’ve got it,” Stastny said. “Don’t worry.”