Avalanche-Red Wings rivalry to heat up at Coors Field

The two NHL teams will face off as part of the Coors Light Stadium Series

Avalanche-Red Wings rivalry to heat up at Coors Field

DENVER -- Smiling about the past trumped the present during Monday's news conference for the NHL Coors Light Stadium Series game on Feb. 27 between the Colorado Avalanche and the Detroit Red Wings at Coors Field. But, make no mistake, this event is about the future.

The NHL and MillerCoors, with the help of the Rockies, set up the outdoor game to play on the Avs-Wings rivalry that was hockey's best in the late 1990s and early 2000s. During Monday's news conference -- during which the grounds crew at Coors set up the hockey configuration (one net behind first base, the other just behind the shortstop's regular position) -- much of the buzz from the media and local hockey community on hand centered on the Feb. 26 Avs-Wings alumni game.

But wait a second. In the present, both teams are trying to relive past glory. The Wings haven't been the Stanley Cup contender for a few years now. The Avs, who made a surprise playoff trip with a young roster in 2013-14, missed the playoffs last year.

Gabriel Landeskog, the Swedish left wing who captains the Avalanche, said being in a spotlight that the franchise hasn't occupied in years could be a boon to a team that went through some hard lessons last season. The special game comes after the All-Star break and before the late playoff push, during what can be the dog days of the NHL slate.

"At that point we've played 60-some games, and you need that little push -- it's a great time," said Landeskog, modeling his familiar No. 92, but with a special jersey featuring the Avs' burgundy, blue, silver and black, with a crest that was a vague reminder of the old Colorado Rockies hockey team that moved to New Jersey in 1982-83.

"Hopefully the Broncos will have won the Super Bowl by then, and fans will be excited to come watch some hockey," Landeskog said. "We got better over the course of the summer, no doubt, and made some acquisitions and trades that have made us a better hockey club. And sometimes you've got to take a step back to take two forward, and we learned a lot more last year than two years ago when everything went our way and we won the division."

Until the two clubs are Cup contenders, however, most fans will think back to tremendous hockey and, at times, out-of-control intensity. Avs general manager and Hockey Hall of Famer Joe Sakic, who came to Denver when the Quebec Nordiques moved there 20 years ago, doesn't expect the alumni game to turn quite so wild. Well, at least not at first.

"For the first little bit of the [alumni] game, everyone's got to get warmed up and stretched out," Sakic said. "We just want to survive. But as the game goes on, you start feeling more competitive. If the third period comes and it's a close game, we're going to try to win."

The Avs will have Sakic, current head coach Patrick Roy, Ray Bourque and Peter Forsberg -- all Hall of Famers. The Wings' alumni consists of Hall of Famers Steve Yzerman, Paul Coffey, Sergei Fedorov and Dino Ciccarelli, as well as goalie Chris Osgood, Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty. Former Wings goalies Dominik Hasek, another Hall of Famer, and Mike Vernon, a candidate for the Hall of Fame, also are being contacted.

Red Wings assistant to the general manager Kris Draper -- a former star defensive forward who was a central figure in the rivalry when the Avs' Claude Lemieux checked him into the boards, causing a concussion and facial injuries during the 1996 Western Conference Final -- quipped that the current players are taking a back seat.

"I didn't know there was another game -- not just the one." Draper said. "But the [regular game] is a special event, to be played in a stadium like Coors Field, something you never forget."

The Avs and Wings now play in separate conferences and don't meet as often. But the Stadium Series could be a push for both, according to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

"When you build the franchise the right way, as Joe Sakic is doing with Patrick Roy, there is great hope and optimism," Bettman said. "The same is true in Detroit. To have this rivalry play outdoors at a stadium named after the sponsor of the Stadium Series, it's the perfect combination of events."

The week before the NHL events start in Colorado, the University of Denver and Colorado College will live out their collegiate rivalry on Feb. 20.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.