DENVER — Bowen Byram and Alex Newhook were toddlers. Cale Makar was 3. Nathan MacKinnon was 6.
That’s how long it has been since the Colorado Avalanche last hung a Stanley Cup banner in Denver. Wednesday ended that drought, with the team lifting the third championship banner in franchise history at Ball Arena ahead of Avs’ 5-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks.
Fans stood out as Bernie, the Avalanche’s mascot, skated across the ice waving a giant “Hockey is Back” flag, as he has done many times over the years. Players and coaches were introduced and all received strong ovations. The loudest were reserved for Pavel Francouz, Erik Johnson, MacKinnon, Makar and Mikko Rantanen.
Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog, who is on injured reserve, was introduced to the surprise of some fans. Landeskog received a standing ovation as he skated on the ice in his full gear.
The players stayed on the ice as Blink-182’s bassist and vocalist Mark Hoppus walked onto the ice to rouse the crowd. Hoppus led the crowd as he sang his band’s 2000 hit, “All The Small Things,” which has become an anthem among Avalanche fans. The crowd sang as the arena’s video board played a montage of fans celebrating the team’s championship.
Landeskog then grabbed the Stanley Cup, lifted it over his head, and got perhaps the loudest response of the night. He then put the trophy down before joining his teammates so they could get into position to watch the banner go into the rafters.
One player sitting in the distance was Blackhawks defender Jack Johnson. He was part of the team that won the title last year. He remained on the bench for most of the ceremony before taking his place with his former teammates. They all stood arm in arm to watch the banner take its place alongside the team’s previous titles from the 1995-96 and 2000-01 seasons.
“It’s going to be cool to take it all in,” Newhook said before the match. “But we also know that the celebrations are over and we know we have to be ready.”
Each banner ceremony has its own level of anticipation. For the Avalanche it started with the morning skate. Players walked into a new dressing room and were immediately asked questions about an evening that had been years in the making. It continued as the players arrived at the arena and then took part in a ceremony where they walked down a red carpet surrounded by fans.
That’s also around the same time that Hoppus arrived at Ball Arena. He pulled a few double takes from arena workers and everyone around as he walked the halls wearing a blue Los Angeles Rams hoodie. Hoppus then met the arena’s entertainment and production team, who walked him through his role in the ceremony.
Blink-182’s classic hit began to become an in-game tradition early in the 2019-20 season. It would be played between sequences and eventually the audience continued to sing long after the song ended and the play continued.
Hoppus said he first learned about it after seeing a tweet from a fan who said he should watch the Avalanche use Blink’s iconic song.
“It’s insane. We wrote that song in ’99 and here, 23 years later, people are still singing it,” Hoppus said. “imitating people” [guitarist/singer Tom DeLonge’s] voice. It is a whole. It has taken on a life of its own outside of us and our band. It fills me with joy.”
Hoppus said he didn’t get a chance to watch the entire playoff run of the Avalanche. But he was able to watch Game 6 as they took the title against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“We tried to come out during the Stanley Cup final at one point and our plane had mechanical problems and we couldn’t take off,” said Hoppus, a day after the band announced they would be reuniting and releasing a new album. . .
A few months later it all went well. NHL chief content officer Steve Mayer told ESPN on Wednesday that it was an easy decision for the league to contact Blink-182 after seeing how much connection Avalanche fans had with the song. Mayer said the league had a previous relationship with the band, and it was on board right away until travel issues put the plans on hold.
Originally, Travis Barker, DeLonge, and Hoppus were all going to fly to Denver for Game 5 and lead the crowd as they sing the song — similar to what Hoppus did on Wednesday.
“Then we got a call that afternoon that they were all on the plane, but the plane had mechanical problems,” Mayer said. “We tried desperately to find another plane. It turned out we couldn’t find one. We didn’t announce it. But we were so disappointed. We were so upset”
However, there was a plan to have Blink-182 try again if there was a Game 7. When that wasn’t in the cards, the strategy turned to the opener. Mayer even said Blink-182 reached out to see if there was a way to do something in the fall.
“It turned out today that not all the band members could be here,” Mayer said. “But Mark is the biggest advocate of the song. … When we reached out, he wanted to do it. It turned out to be a really cool moment.”
Planning for the ceremony began shortly after the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup, said Steve Johnston, the executive producer and executive director of game presentation for Kroenke Sports & Entertainment.
Johnston said his team went to work immediately after the Avs won the Stanley Cup. It started by producing the videos that were played during the ceremony, while also working on other details, such as obtaining a special winch that allowed them to hoist the banner over the net along the glass and into the rafters next to the other banners. .
But there were some details that were resolved much later. One is how active Landeskog would be during the ceremony as he is still recovering from injury. Another detail was finding time to rehearse the ceremony. Johnston said Ball Arena had such a busy schedule that his team only had one rehearsal. It could rehearse again Wednesday afternoon a few hours after the Blackhawks finished their morning skate.
“We used the 2001 banner to lift because we didn’t want anyone taking pictures of the new banner just in case,” Johnston said. “All summer has been spent planning this special evening.”