Imagine skating in the same arena as your hockey idols, sitting on the same benches they sit on and looking up to see your face on the arena’s JumboTron.
Before the ice went down for another season of Colorado Avalanche hockey at Pepsi Center in Denver, a few lucky inline hockey players were given that exact opportunity.
During the weekend of Aug. 28, the Colorado Roller Hockey Association teamed up with the Avalanche to create the Inaugural Avalanche Inline Summer Shootout. The tournament, sanctioned by USA Hockey, featured 40 teams in seven age divisions ranging from Under 8 to Adult.
While inline hockey can be played almost anywhere you can find a dry, flat surface, rarely do inline players receive the opportunity to play inside the same arena where NHL players grace the ice during the season.
According to Stefanie Metcalf, coordinator of USA Hockey InLine, an NHL team hosting such an event within its home venue is the exception rather than the rule. In fact, this was the first-ever inline hockey tournament inside Pepsi Center.
“I’ve talked with inline people across the country, and many of them don’t realize the ice hockey community is very supportive of inline hockey,” Metcalf said. “But still, I haven’t heard of this kind of tournament at any other NHL rink.”
Each team participating in the sold-out competition was guaranteed three games, including at least two within Pepsi Center, where the Avalanche defeated the New Jersey Devils in Game 7 of the 2001 Stanley Cup Finals.
Derek Thede, tournament director for the CRHA, noted that many participants were Avalanche fans, so the chance to skate inside the same arena as their idols made the tournament very appealing.
“I just think the opportunity for these guys to play at Pepsi Center is so unique,” Thede said. “The kids are pretty giddy for the whole situation because not too many people get to skate here.”
While playing inside an NHL arena was likely the biggest drawing factor for the tournament, it wasn’t the only one. The athletes were also exposed to elements they don’t always see at other competitions, such as music being played through the arena’s loud speakers between whistles and the use of Pepsi Center’s JumboTron.
“It was very cool, being in the locker rooms and on the benches,” said Scott Dalldorf, who played for OD’s Daredevils in the U16 Division. “I liked playing on the rink and looking up and seeing the stands. It was just a really exciting experience.”
Like many NHL teams, the Avalanche is always looking for ways to grow other facets of the game. Since partnering with the CRHA a few years ago, the two sides had been searching for the right opportunity to team up. So when the Avs offered the use of Pepsi Center for the tournament, the CRHA jumped at the chance.
“I think every player who plays hockey in Colorado, regardless of if they play street, inline or ice hockey, is important to our organization,” said Matt Deluzio, manager of Hockey Programs for the Avalanche. “As far as growing hockey in general, this is just another way to support more hockey players in the state.”
And with the vast success of the Avalanche Inline Summer Shootout, the two sides are already planning to make the summer competition an annual event. For a tournament-based organization like CRHA, having a solid relationship with an NHL club is a boon.
“I think it’s huge right now, just for opportunities like this,” Thede said. “And just from talking to the organization I think this tournament is going to continue getting bigger and bigger.”
In the end, the goal is to promote the sport, whether it’s being played in the streets, at inline rinks or on the ice.
“There are opportunities all across the country for events like this, not just at the NHL level,” Metcalf said. “Maybe if other rinks see what we’re doing here, they’ll get the idea to do the same thing.”