By Ryan Donaldson / KFAN.com / @RADonaldson
“GO!!!” Those two letters and three exclamation points set me up for a trip of a lifetime just minutes after the Wild’s game 6 win over the Colorado Avalanche Monday night at the X. A life-long friend of mine JT Wyman played this past season for the Avalanche AHL Affiliate the Lake Eerie Monsters. JT invited me and a friend to go with him to Denver to the Pepsi Center for Wild’s game 7 after a teammate informed him he could get us tickets. The first thing I did was text our boss here at the station, Chad Abbott, who immediately responded excitedly, “GO!!!” and I was off for impromptu trip that no Wild fan would ever forget.
After a brief three hours of sleep on Monday night, JT, our friend Will, and I found ourselves at the MSP airport headed for Denver. The flight was short and sweet as we arrived in a sunny and windy Denver, Colorado in what seemed like a surreal blink of an eye.
We got in a nice round of golf that afternoon before checking out some of the local sports bars to watch the other Stanley Cup playoff games going on Tuesday night. We called it a night after a bartender allowed me to express my fandom and promote some positive Minnesota karma in the mile-high city by erasing a chalk board sign that said “Go Av’s” and replacing it with the Wild logo that she hung back up for display as you can see above. Surprisingly, no angry Colorado fans confronted me.
On game day we had a nice meal before the game at a sports bar by right by the Pepsi Center. We walked in right before the National Anthem, found our seats, and tried to keep our composure and etiquette as a fan on the road as the puck was dropped for game 7.
Not unlike the state-of-hockey fans at the X, the Avalanche crowd showed immense passion right from the drop of the puck. Loud and excited, most fans decked out in Av’s garb stood on their feet for much of the first period. The Avalanche struck first, and the Pepsi Center erupted as their squad took an early 1-0 lead just a few minutes into the game. It made me realize just how tough it is dealing with adversity on the road, and gave me a whole new level of respect for the road team’s ability to succeed playing in a hostile environment and trying to win a game 7.
Down but not out, Captain Mikko Koivu sparked the Wild with a quick wrist shot off a feed from Charlie Coyle. The crowd went absolutely silent, as my friends and I discretely embraced. We knew the Wild weren’t going down without a fight.
The game was very tense, and very evenly matched, with the teams trading go-ahead and game-tying goals back and forth. And despite losing goaltender Darcy Kuemper in the 3rd period, Spurgeon’s wrist shot tied it up with less than two minutes to play to force sudden-death overtime. Next goal advances in the playoffs, loser goes home.
The atmosphere was absolutely electric. Everyone was as tense as can be on the ice and in the crowd. Minutes into overtime, the entire arena held their collective breath as Colorado had a near series ending goal with the understandably rusty Ilya Bryzgalov out of position. However, Ryan Suter dropped into a slide and made a game saving stop with his body in front of a wide open net. In what seemed like a blur, the Wild broke out of the defensive zone with a Dany Heatley pass finding the tape of Nino Niederreiter. Streaking into the zone, Nino snapped off a wrist shot, and all we could hear in the stadium was a loud ‘clank’. But instantly, I knew that the clank we heard was not off the pipe, it was off the inside of the back of the net. With the crowd stunned, the referee pointing to the back of the net, and the red goal-light lit up behind, I screamed “WE JUST WON! WE JUST WON!” at the top of my lungs as the Wild players and my friends and I embraced for the final time in this series.
With shades of 2003, the Wild beat the Avalanche on the road in game 7 in come from behind fashion to win the series and advance. The only difference for me is I wasn’t watching this one from my living room couch, I was there!
I couldn’t, and still can’t believe how lucky I am to have had the opportunity to go to the game on the road. Not only did I get to see the game live, but I got to see my favorite hockey team win in dramatic fashion and share the moment with life-long friends. It was something I will never forget, and hopefully the Wild’s success will continue in the upcoming series against their rivals, the Chicago Blackhawks!