Colorado Avalanche: Revelations from Team Practice **Updated

Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports /

The Colorado Avalanche held a surprisingly eventful practice on February 20, 2017.

The Colorado Avalanche are kind enough to allow spectators to watch their practices for free. Practices, which take place at the South Suburban Family Sports Center in Centennial, have been open to the public for many years.

The facility contains two ice rinks. Typically the Avalanche practice in the west rink, which is closer to the private workout facility and the exit. During, training camps the players often use both. Today they used both, too.

With today being Presidents’ Day, there were a lot of children watching because of no school. There also appeared to be local youth teams waiting for the western ice to clear so they could practice. A youth hockey game started at noon on the eastern ice.

In any case, besides the plethora of kids and the usage of both ice surfaces, there were some surprises at the Colorado Avalanche practice.

Nikita Zadorov Injury

By now you may have heard that defenseman Nikita Zadorov got tangled up with forward Mikko Rantanen during a drill. It looked like an innocuous play at first.

The two big bodies (6-foot-4, 211-pound Rantanen plus 6-foot-5, 230-pound Zadorov) were battling for the puck near the net. Apparently their sticks and legs got tangled, and they went down. And they stayed down.

At first I thought they were just taking a quick breather, as players sometimes do after an intense play (when game action doesn’t require springing up). However, the pair stayed flat on the ice for an extended time.

Finally, Rantanen got to his feet first and skated somewhat unsteadily to the bench. He sat there, wiping his face and seeming to need to catch his breath:

Zadorov wasn’t so lucky. Trainers had to help him off the ice. He was unable to put any pressure on his right leg as he got assistance to the locker room:

According to the Denver Post, Jared Bendar says Zadorov needs further evaluation to determine the extent of the injury. Rantanen said of the play:

"“I think I fell first and then he fell on me. But I don’t know what happened exactly. He’s a heavy guy.”"

It looked to me like Zadorov’s leg got caught under Rantanen as they both went down.
Here’s the aftermath, with captain Gabriel Landeskog checking on them:

UPDATE: According to the Colorado Avalanche, Zadorov has a fractured ankle and will be out for the remainder of the season.

Needless to say, an injury to Nikita Zadorov is bad news for the Colorado Avalanche. With Erik Johnson still recovering from a broken fibula, the Avs’ already thin defense has been sorely strained.

Speaking of Erik Johnson…

Condor Watch

The Colorado Avalanche’s season ends on April 9, with no hope of making the playoffs. (“Funnily” enough, they’ve been mathematically eliminated from winning the President’s Trophy. I’m laughing on the outside, crying on the inside.)

So, there’s no reason to rush bringing the Colorado Avalanche’s best defenseman, Erik Johnson, back, even if Zadorov is going to be out with injury.

That said, Johnson participated in his first full practice today. Actually, it was more than a full practice. He was already on the ice at 10:30 am on the east rink for some pre-practice work:

Look at this sweet one-timer by our Condor:

He was also the reason the youth players had to linger around waiting for the west rink to open up:

Boy, I’ve missed his skating.

As you can see, he’s wearing a red, no-contact jersey. He hasn’t been cleared to play, and there’s no set timetable for his return. However, Mike Chambers speculates in the above post that Johnson could return as soon as this Thursday in Nashville.

Here’s Chambers’ footage of Johnson:

Erik Johnson looked really good, though. Here he is power skating:

And here he is participating in drills that are close to being contact drills:

His skill looks ready. I’m going to guess he might still need some conditioning. (That’s probably why he practiced for so long.)

Even if the 2016-17 season is a wash for the Colorado Avalanche, it would be good for all of our morale — players and fans — to see EJ back on the ice.

Here’s what Mikko Rantanen had to say about Johnson:

"“Everybody knows EJ is one of the best defensemen in the league, so he brings us good ‘D’ and power play, too–more capability there.”"

“One of the best defensemen in the league” — you heard the kid. He speaks sense.

Speaking of Mikko Rantanen, I think I’ve figured something out about him. (Lighthearted observation)

Mikko Rantanen and Gravity

This year Avs fans have been noticing that forward Mikko Rantanen falls over a lot. Now, hockey players fall all the time, but Ranty seems to fall for no reason at least once every game.

Here’s snarkster Anthrax Jones’ observation:

Come on, that’s kind of true. Especially when you fondly remember this gif:

This will literally never get old.

Anyway, besides the fateful fall in which Zadorov got injured, Rantanen didn’t fall that much during practice. He did, however, seem to have an affinity for the ice.

During the initial team play-by-play, Mikko was stretching on the ice. Before getting up, he took a moment to literally crawl around on the ice. I kid you not — he was kind of rolling on his stomach before he got up.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of that, but I did get his attempt to swim across the ice:

So, I now posit Mikko Rantanen may experience a special kind of gravity that draws him to the ice.

Ok, one last revelation.

Team Huddle

The Colorado Avalanche no longer huddle together at the end of practices.

For the three years that Patrick Roy was coach, the team huddled at center ice and listened to some words of wisdom. They then put their hands in the center and bellowed, “Team!”

The Colorado Avalanche don’t do that Team Huddle anymore.

I can’t help but think about how demoralized the team seems. Yes, so much of it is their terrible record. But Nathan MacKinnon observed all the way back in November that the team didn’t seem to have any chemistry.

MORE FROM MILE HIGH STICKING: Avs Should Stay Loyal to Landeskog

I can’t imagine it has everything to do with the lack of the Team Huddle. But that shared moment on the ice — it was a reminder to the players that they were a part of something bigger. They were a part of the Colorado Avalanche “Team!” It’s too bad that’s not a consistent reminder anymore, at least not in practices.