On the Road, Denver, Dads and Drafts

(Ed’s note: I wrote this and thought I “published” it on Tuesday night in Denver, but lo and behold, your faithful and unsteady chronicler must’ve hit a wrong button. Here then is the Tuesday post followed by today’s drivel.)

“Carlo and I went through the rickety streets in the Denver night. The air was soft, the stars so fine, the promise of every cobbled alley so great, that I thought I was in a dream.” … from Jack Kerouac’s On The Road

I just got back from dinner and a nice walk around this fine Colorado city, and naturally (for me, anyway) my thoughts turned to Jack Kerouac and Dean Moriarty. I’m a Kerouac fan and I always wonder what these places looked like back in the days when he was pounding these streets, which are not at all rickety anymore. I can report that the air was soft and the stars, fine. When I was in Lowell with the Portland Pirates during the lockout, I tried to visit Kerouac’s grave, but got lost and ran out of time. Kerouac and his beat buddies spent a fair amount of time in Denver, and their fond feelings for this town were obvious, so I was anxious to hit the streets for a while.

I wondered what part of town they frequented, and was told that it was Larimer St,, a part of town now known as LoDo. That part of town is now home to the Jack Kerouac Lofts, part of the ongoing revival that area has seen over the last decade-plus.

It’s my first time here in Denver, and it’s a strange city to fly into. On one side of the airplane, everything is flat and brown. Sparse. On the other side are the majestic, snow-capped Rockies. It really is the gateway to the west.

There are plenty of Caps and ex-Caps connections in these parts. Ex-Cap captain Steve Konowalchuk recently (and sadly) retired. Ex-Caps goalie Craig Billington is Colorado’s director of player personnel. Ex-Caps defenseman Ken Klee and forward Andrew Brunette are both members of the Avalanche. All four rank among my personal favorites among the scores of players who have passed through the District in my years on the beat.

Denver is also currently home to a couple of Capitals defense hopefuls, namely junior Andrew Thomas and freshman Keith Seabrook. Both are members of the vaunted Denver Pioneers, the Denver University ice hockey team. Denver split a pair of games with RPI, Brian Pothier’s alma mater, last weekend. The Pioneers are in Duluth for games on Friday and Saturday against U. Minn-Duluth.

On the bus from the airport to the hotel, we passed the old Denver Coliseum. That building still stands and is still in use for circuses and such; it was once home to various Denver minor league hockey teams from various leagues. My dad used to come to Denver frequently on business when I was a kid. I still have the game program he brought back for me from a Denver Spurs – Salt Lake Golden Eagles game he attended here back in 1974-75. The Spurs were a Blues farm team in those days; John Davidson played seven games in goal for them that season. My dad always brought me programs or pennants from games he went to on his trips. It’s a tradition I’ve carried forth with my own kids.

That ’74-75 season was the team’s lone year in the old Central Hockey League. McNichols Arena was opened in 1975, and the Spurs were a big league club for part of 1975-76, playing in the World Hockey Association. Bob Johnson played goal for the 1975-76 Denver Spurs of the WHA. His son Brent Johnson is, of course, now a goaltender for the Capitals.

In 1976-77 the Spurs were replaced by the NHL Colorado Rockies, freshly moved from a two-season stint as the Kansas City Scouts.

Klee lived in the area when he was a kid, and went to some Rockies games. Current Avs center Tyler Arnason is the son of ex-Cap and ex-Rockie Chuck Arnason, the only father-son Rockies-Avalanche combo.

Paul Stastny is making quite a splash for the Avs as a rookie this season. He is the son of Hockey Hall of Famer Peter Stastny, who spent most of his career with the Quebec Nordiques. The Nords moved to Colorado and became the Avalanche in 1995-96, one year after Peter Stastny’s last season in the NHL with the St. Louis Blues.

The Avs have won two Cups here in Colorado. Centers Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg were instrumental in those titles, but it’s rather lucky that both players were here in the first place.

Everyone knows Forsberg’s story, which is linked to that of Eric Lindros. The notoriously bad Nords had the first overall choice in three consecutive NHL Entry Drafts. They chose Mats Sundin in 1989, Owen Nolan in 1990 and Lindros in 1991. Lindros thought that playing for a team such as the Nords was beneath him, so he and his parents/agents insisted that Quebec trade him. The Nordiques complied, dealing Lindros to the Flyers for a boatload of cash and several very good hockey players, including Forsberg.

If Lindros had never insisted on being traded, he would have remained with the Nords and Forsberg with the Flyers.

Now on to Sakic. The Nords drafted Sakic with the 15th overall choice in the 1987 NHL Entry Draft, a pick that was obtained from Washington in the deal that sent former Quebce center Dale Hunter to the Capitals.

What a lot of people don’t know is that the Nords initially had no intention of drafting Sakic. Having already chosen defenseman Brian Fogarty with the ninth overall pick that year, Quebec was laying for another defenseman, namely Stephane Quintal of the QMJHL’s Granby Bisons. The Nords were stunned when the Boston Bruins foiled their grand plan by taking Quintal themselves with the 14th overall choice. (Boston had previously taken defenseman Glen Wesley with the third overall choice.)

So flummoxed was the Quebec brass that they had to call a time out on the floor to decide what to do. Reluctantly, they chose Sakic. Had they gotten Quintal instead, there may have been a couple fewer Cups and a couple hundred fewer sellouts in these parts over the last decade.

The Caps chose Joe’s brother Brian Sakic with their fifth-round pick (93rd overall) in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft. Alas, he never made it to the NHL.

Kerouac was a rambling kind of guy and a rambling kind of writer, so those are my rambling kind of thoughts on my first night in Denver.

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