Rocky Mountain High

Lifeless. Disinterested. Dull.

No, those words do not describe my two-plus day visit to Denver by any means, but it certainly described how poorly the Colorado Avalanche played in a 4-0 loss to the Nashville Predators on Tuesday night.

First, the visit itself. I like Denver very much … it’s almost the same kind of love affair I had with Minneapolis in the mid-80s and early 90s. I spent much of the time this trip with a former co-worker from New York who’s now at the Denver Post, and though she’s been in Colorado for some three years now, this was her first Avs game.

From the airport, we had dinner at a funky Mexican restaurant called LOLA followed by a visit to the Tattered Cover bookstore and Twist & Shout record shop. It’s hard for me to resist a bookstore, chain or independent – though I should spend more at the latter so the former doesn’t gobble all of them up.

Tuesday started off by discussing the world over specials at The Breakfast King, a diner where the waitress said she would be watching me to make sure I ate all my food.

“We don’t do small here,” she said, wearing what looked like a nurse’s white uniform with an orange apron.

Amen to that. The special was:

    Coffee. Not Starbucks or Dunkin’, but still really good! (I had three cups – about the size of the one extra-large I am used to getting.)
    A small tumbler of pineapple juice.
    Two hard-fried eggs.
    Hash browns – crispy, some burnt edges, but no peppers, onions and not soggy (add a little salt, and to quote Martha, “This is a good thing.”)
    Four strips of bacon, cooked perfectly – so much for the pig.
    Two pancakes, each roughly the diameter of a small dinner plate.
Aside from the drinks, I ate the eggs, half the hash browns, two strips of bacon and not quite one of the pancakes. Carb coma set in shortly after.

From there, we headed to South Broadway – another funky area with a bunch of used bookstores, and the like. For 2 1/2 hours, we wandered through several of these shops (with Angie buying enough to stock a small publishing house, it seemed, including a sweet, old oversized book on baseball for $12.50!)

In one shop, I found a book produced almost 40 years ago about hockey – kind of a historical thing, with a shot on the front cover of the Chicago Blackhawks’ Bobby Hull trying to stickhandle around and unidentified member of the New York Rangers while being pursued by Brad Park.

“The Golden Jet” even lent a blurb to the back cover: “Super!” he said of this tome. I passed. I regret.

In another of the shops, they had old maps and travel brochures, including one from the ‘50s showing you how to get away to Havana. Seemed like a pretty happening place, pre-Fidel. I also found a bunch of old Smithsonian Travel Guides to America – heavyweight, glossy trade paperbacks with really amazing photos. One of these depicted the Plains States: North and South Dakota, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri,

As a former resident of Southwest Missouri, I felt the need to look up what they found so interesting in Joplin. No pictures, a lot about the history of zinc ore, or ‘jack’ as it was called, hence “The Town That Jack Built.”

Nothing about the meth trade, there, though, Pity, really, because that’s what it’s probably best known for now.

More coffee at a shop called Mutiny Now, where there was a bookstore worker/barista roughly 55 and sporting a ducktail this guy would have proud of. That may have been the best coffee I had here, though!

Then there was the candy/appliance shop. I wasn’t looking for a second-hand washer, but the candy took you back: Pop Rocks … Chick-O-Stick … Sugar Daddies, sadly though, no Sugar Babies … Teaberry gum … Adams Sour Apple and Cherry gum … Jolly Rancher sticks.

Amazing the memories these bring back. In the 1970s, near my old elementary school, there was a guy who used to sell candy out of the back of a beat-up, brown station wagon. Today, there is no way this would happen, but then it was a simpler time, and when you needed a sugar fix, you knew where to go.

The smell of the Adams gum … when I was a kid, riding with my father toward the Queensboro Bridge on Sunday nights, bringing my Aunt Rose back into the city … passing by the factory where they made this stuff. Now, I had no idea if gum was being produced 24-7-365, but it seemed whenever you passed that building, the air smelled sweeter.

From the candy shop, off to get Angie’s VW washed and then over the Pepsi Center. We were there early enough to have to wait for them to open the front doors and start letting us in. Spoke with a man from Pueblo was where there with his son and twin daughters. Wife didn’t make the trip, probably happier at home with the dog, he said.

Following more coffee at the game, we wandered downtown some more to a bar/vegetarian restaurant called City ‘O City. Over a pesto plate (I nibbled on some pita bread with a little hummus, feta and cup a Mint Gunpowder tea), we played Scrabble – Chicago versus Denver.

295-193. No 7-letter bingos, but I was pretty proud of “veering.”

It was nice to get away from my job for a couple days, and after losing touch with Angie for almost eight years up until reconnecting through Facebook some five months ago, it was great seeing her again.

As for the hockey game … it would be easy for Colorado to point to injuries as an explanation why they’re struggling to score. Joe Sakic – and his 1,600-plus career points – had hernia surgery, and not expected back until late next month. Underachieving Ryan Smyth, whom the Avs shelled out $31.25 million for five years, is gone with a broken ankle and probably not coming back until early next month. Paul Stastny was headed to next week’s All-Star Game in Atlanta, but his appendix had something to say about that.

The Avs started quick, though, firing a flurry of quality shots early at rookie goaltender Dan Ellis. A couple of glove saves had me thinking this was going to be a long night in Colorado.

Ellis made 38 saves en route to his fourth shutout, which now makes me ask why isn’t he starting ahead of Chris Mason? Mason inherited the starting job with Tomas Vokoun was traded to the Florida Panthers. but Ellis has looked good when he’s had the chance to play.

Could Mason be on the move then? It wouldn’t be a surprise to me if his $3 million annual salary was shipped to someplace like Los Angeles, Tampa Bay or Washington by next month’s trading deadline. Available starting goaltenders are few and far between.

The question for the Predators would be their comfort level with Ellis and Pekka Rinne from the Milwaukee Admirals if they were to deal Mason. Considering the Preds are currently two points out of a playoff spot, the new ownership group that has pledged to keep the team in Tennessee may not feel comfortable with that.

"I know my role and I like it," said Ellis, who recorded his 11th win. "I'm comfortable making starts after Chris has played the night before and I feel good playing after not playing for several days."

Colorado kept it close, trailing only 1-0 after two periods, but Nashville beat Jose Theodore three times in the first six minutes of the third period. Martin Erat sandwiched goals around one by Alexander Radulov.

Poorly as the Avalanche played in spite of the number of shots on goal, they seemed to be going through the motions. Perhaps this game was just a glitch in an otherwise good bounceback season for the Avs – their 17-7-1 home record is second best in the league behind the Detroit Red Wings.

In 2006-07, Colorado missed the playoffs for the first time since 1993-94 when they were still in Quebec.

But heading into play Thursday night, Joel Quennevile’s club is one of four teams in the Northwest Division separated by two points. That’s also the difference between being among the top three in the Western Conference and eighth, where they are now. A slump could drop Colorado into 14th in the West – Edmonton is there now with 49 points.

On Wednesday morning, there was one more restaurant before the drive to the airport: Zaidy’s Deli. I had a breakfast of potatoes, mushrooms, onions and bits of corned beef with sourdough toast and coffee, while Angie tucked into challah French toast with bananas – delicious!

The only bad thing about the trip was leaving. Not just saying good-bye to Denver for now, but taking off. A one-hour delay before boarding (thank God for the free Wi-fi at DIA), a 45-minute wait at the gate on followed by a short delay in a holding pattern over Chicago due to light snow and about 14-degree temperature that was dropping with each minute it seemed.

All things considered … I should do this more often. I need to.

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