? by Kevin McGlue | AHL On The Beat
When the Colorado Eagles dropped the puck in a preseason game against the San Jose Barracuda on Oct. 10, it was the first time that the team had welcomed their rabid fan base back into the Budweiser Events Center since March 11, 2020.
After the AHL season was suspended the following day due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and ultimately canceled in the weeks that followed, the attention shifted from goals and saves to staying healthy, supporting the community and trying to turn the page to a new beginning.
Through a system of rigorous testing and enhanced protocols, the Eagles were again able to take to the ice again in February, albeit in a much lonelier setting. Fans were unable to attend Colorado’s modified 2020-21 season, which consisted of just 34 games, far short of a typical 68-game slate. The nights spent in front of a raucous crowd of 5,289 fans gave way to goals being scored and glass being rattled amongst empty seats at the BEC.
Thanks to the hard work of front-line workers throughout the world and the sacrifices of ordinary citizens, hockey games with full support have now become a reality once again. The efforts of those who worked so hard to bring back these feelings of normalcy have not been lost on the Eagles, as the team has made it a focal point of the upcoming 2021-22 season to say “thank you” to those doctors, nurses, paramedics, firefighters and police officers who have bravely led the path back for all of us.
To kick off this season of thanks, the Eagles welcomed front-line medical workers from UCHealth to help paint the ice at the Budweiser Events Center, in preparation for a new season and a new fan-filled beginning to the 2021-22 AHL campaign.
“The work that has been done and continues to be done by these amazing individuals is so very much appreciated,” Eagles president and alternate governor Brian Petrovek said. “Simply put, we would not be out here today without the tireless efforts of first responders and front-line workers like these. They are truly amazing.”
The opportunity to help literally paint the beginning to this new chapter also resonated with the UCHealth staff on hand, as they traded in their stethoscopes for paintbrushes — at least for a little while.
“It’s great,” said Angela Farrington, nursing supervisor at UCHealth. “People are excited to go out and go back to concerts and sports, but they’re tired, the staff are tired. Anything to support them is super helpful.”
After crews spent eight hours hunched over the freshly coated ice that now resides on the floor of the Budweiser Events Center, the playing surface is once again ready. It will play host to the future stars of the NHL, many of those poised to wear the burgundy and blue of the Colorado Avalanche. Perhaps more importantly, it again is seen from above, in person, by the best fans in professional hockey.
“When the ice has been installed and the lines and logos are painted on the surface, the feeling of hope immediately jumps out,” Petrovek said. “Hope for a new season, a chance to reunite with our fans and on a bigger scale, hope for putting this pandemic in the rearview mirror, thanks to the remarkable efforts of these front-line workers.”
This moment did not come without sacrifice or pain, but it does provide a resounding new hope for those in the northern Colorado community.
“We hear it from our patients and our staff all the time that we’re tired of hearing about COVID, but especially for our staff,” Farrington said. “We see the hard side of it that other people don’t necessarily get to see, so it’s nice to see people get out and have more activities. It’s good for mental health.”
Throughout the 2021-22 season, the Colorado Eagles will be trying to repay those front-line workers and first responders who have done so much for so many. The team hosted a “First Responders Night” on Oct. 23, inviting hundreds of front-line health care workers to enjoy an Eagles game for free at the BEC. In addition, players and coaches will be offering up their support this season through visits to both staff and patients at UCHealth locations.
Eagles fans have also jumped on board, with hundreds donating tickets to front-line workers throughout the area. Through these efforts and many more still yet to come this season, we all work to say “thank you” to all of those who have done so much to make a return to the ice, and a return to fans, a reality.