It's finally here.
After a long offseason, a grueling training camp and six preseason games, the Colorado Avalanche begins its regular season tonight at Pepsi Center against the Anaheim Ducks.
There was a sense of excitement inside the Avalanche locker room after this morning's skate for the start of a new year, but there was also a sense of nervousness of wanting to perform well and to have a good start to the season.
"I think this year I have the least amount [of butterflies] that I have ever had, but definitely before we go out there tonight," said center Matt Duchene, who his entering his fifth NHL season. "I think the butterflies comes from what's in front of you. There is such a long season in front of you that you want to start on the right foot with a big Opening Night; team-wise and individually."
The players aren't the only ones nervous for Opening Night, as head coach Patrick Roy also has some butterflies in his stomach ahead of his first NHL regular-season game on the bench—and he's not afraid to admit it.
"Yes, I am nervous," Roy said confidently. "There is nothing wrong with me being nervous. I'm a proud person and I want to do well, and I think I care. If you care, I think you have to be a little nervous."
If it's possible to be riding momentum from the preseason then the Avs may be doing so. Despite going 3-3 in preseason, Colorado closed out its exhibition schedule with a 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings in which Roy and many players said was their strongest performance in September.
However, the focus for the team tonight isn't on how it closed the preseason or what's ahead of it. Instead, it's on beating the Ducks.
"I think the big thing for us is to just take it one game at a time and to do all we can to win the one in front of us," said center Ryan O'Reilly. "We are not worried about who we play two days from now, two weeks from now or two months from now. We are just focused on Anaheim tonight, and that's how we have to prepare for every game."
Said Roy: "It's our home opener for us and we want to start the year on the right foot. It would be great to have a good start and play well in front of our fans."
According to many predictions, the Avalanche will miss the playoffs this season. However, with each squad having 82 games still to be played out, Roy said Colorado has a chance to prove the forecasters wrong.
"We want to surprise the world of hockey," he said. "I look at the predictions and nobody puts us in the playoffs, but we have the right to prove people wrong, and it starts tonight."
Avalanche Spotlight On: Nathan MacKinnon
Maybe no other player will be more nervous before he takes the ice against the Ducks than Nathan MacKinnon.
MacKinnon, who was selected No. 1 overall in this summer's draft, will be living his dream this evening as he'll make his NHL debut.
"It's something I envisioned doing ever since I was a little kid," said MacKinnon, who will have his family in attendance tonight. "I always wanted to be in this situation and play this game tonight. I didn't know what road I was going to take, but I'm definitely very excited.
The Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia native is expected to start the season centering a line with two NHL veterans on his wings in Jamie McGinn and PA Parenteau. Having that experience on the line should take some of the pressure off of MacKinnon.
Roy said he just wants MacKinnon to play his game.
"I have no expectations for him. I just want him to be him. I don't want him to do too much," Roy said. "I thought he had his best game in his last [preseason contest] in Las Vegas against L.A. He played his best game so far. I was very pleased… I think we are going to see him improve his game, game-after-game."
At the age of 18 years, 31 days, MacKinnon will be the youngest player in franchise history to have ever played in a game. He is over 200 days younger than the previous record holder, Owen Nolan, who was 18 years, 235 days when he debuted for Quebec on Oct. 4, 1990 at Hartford.
Age, though, isn't an issue for MacKinnon, and the forward said he's ready.
"I'm very anxious and ready to go," he said. "I can't wait until puck drop."
More Morning Notes
-Semyon Varlamov is expected to get the start in net this evening for Colorado. It will be his third consecutive Opening Night start since joining the Avalanche in the summer of 2011.
-Defenseman Nate Guenin will play in tonight's game. The 30-year-old has played in 32 career NHL contests, tallying two goals and two assists.
-Tonight marks the first time that Colorado and Anaheim have ever met in a season opener.
-The Avalanche/Nordiques franchise owns a league-best 18-8-7 (.652) all-time record on Opening Night. The Avs are 7-6-4 in season openers since moving to Denver in 1995.
-Colorado and Anaheim played twice in the preseason, with each club winning on the road.
-The two clubs will play three times during the 2013-14 campaign, twice in Denver and once in Anaheim.
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