I Went to an NHL Playoff Game After a Year in Lockdown — Here's How It Went

St Louis Blues v Colorado Avalanche - Game Two

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St Louis Blues v Colorado Avalanche - Game Two
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I'm a hockey fan. I love the game's pace, its momentum shifts, its physicality, the way each goal can seem like a tiny miracle after so much determination. But more specifically, I'm a Colorado Avalanche fan. I will never forgive myself for drifting off to sleep moments before Uwe Krupp scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal in the third overtime in 1996, awakening to hear the town of Boulder, Colorado, going completely wild over the win. Due to the pandemic, I hadn't actually been to a game in person since December 2019. When the Avs clinched a playoff spot in late April, and with my and my husband's second Covid-19 vaccinations also on the calendar, I knew we'd be heading back. 

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New normality. Staying home after work day, resting and taking off the surgical mask.

Game Day Dawns

I bought tickets for the Avs' game two against the St. Louis Blues and then got excited, telling pretty much everyone I knew how psyched I was to see in-person hockey again. But on the morning of game day, I woke up with a strange feeling. The excitement was still there, but it was mixed with something else … something that felt an awful lot like dread. I found my husband in his home office and asked if he was feeling anxious, too. Yep, he confirmed — woke up at 4 a.m. worrying about it. That feeling of anxiety stayed with me pretty much all day, periodically sending my heart rate into stratospheric zones as I tried to tell myself there was nothing to worry about. 

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Colorado Avalanche game two- arena

An Avalanche of … Anxiety?

What exactly was I worried about? Well, our health, of course — I knew that being vaccinated didn't mean we couldn't catch the virus, but it was about a lot more than that. I'd been at home with my family since mid-March of last year. Both my husband and oldest son have asthma, so we'd exercised an enormous amount of caution over the last 14 or 15 months. We occasionally socialized with a bubble of cautious friends, but I hadn't even been to the grocery store in recent memory. Was I ready to be in a building with approximately 7,700 people?

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Colorado Avalanche game two- spectator waiver

Arriving at the Venue

Turns out the answer was yes. Just as we suspected, once we actually got to Ball Arena in downtown Denver and saw the Avs faithful streaming into the building, our enthusiasm overtook our anxiety. It didn't hurt that the arena had staff members doing health screenings prior to entering the building (although I suspect checking a box on your phone saying you don't have any virus symptoms didn't actually do much for public health). Or that ticket entry was contactless. Or that they were handing out free masks (and pom-poms!) after entering the venue. 

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Colorado Avalanche game two- face masks

Rule Enforcement

Despite the fact that this game took place the same week that the CDC relaxed mask guidelines for the entire country, Ball Arena was still requiring masks inside the building (when you weren't drinking or eating exorbitantly overpriced beer and nachos, that is — some things never change). Was that policy enforced? As much as a few dozen employees can control a crowd of that size, yes. After forgetting to put my mask back in place post-nachos, I was sternly reminded by a staff member to do so, and I saw that happen repeatedly from pre-game on through to the second period. After that, I think the staffers had pretty much given up on reminding an increasingly rowdy crowd to follow the rules, or perhaps I was just too rowdy myself to notice (hey, we were winning!). But, most people seemed to keep their masks on, regardless.

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Colorado Avalanche game two- arena

Seat Placement

A game-day checklist email told us to "stay 6 feet away from people not in your party." That was impossible. We had people seated on all sides of us, and many of them were definitely closer than 6 feet — close enough to, say, high five after goals. The venue was admitting 7,750 fans, which is about 42% of its capacity, so it definitely didn't feel as crowded as a pre-lockdown game would have, but after so much time avoiding a certain proximity to people, it felt weird to be that close.

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St Louis Blues v Colorado Avalanche - Game One fans
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Chatty Fans

Hockey fans are, by nature, pretty friendly folks (despite the fact that we mostly still love a good brawl). I've rarely been to a game where I didn't chat with those seated nearby, and this game was no exception. There was a lot of good-natured ribbing with the Blues fans around us, and plenty of chatting amongst Avs fans about how good it felt to be back at a game. More chatter than usual? I think so … and more on that in a moment.

Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Administered At Colorado Fire Department
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A Surprise Development

Sometime during the first intermission, it was announced that the venue was offering vaccinations to anyone in the building who needed one. My neighbor, a somewhat-inebriated but loveable Washington Capitals fan who was rooting for the Blues and who had assured me via a fist bump that we could still be friends, stood up and made his way for the stairs, announcing that he was gonna go get vaxxed. As someone who's been gently haranguing family members to get their vaccinations for a few weeks now, this pretty much made my night. 

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Colorado Avalanche Fans Holding Signs
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Steeped in Humanity ...

In my marriage, I am usually the grumpy, crowd-hating person who gets annoyed by people and my husband is typically the picture of benevolence. For some reason, our roles were reversed that night. I was eager to chat with fellow fans and gladly accepted their high fives after a goal, while my husband told me on the way home that he kept having to remind himself that he doesn't hate humanity, he's just not used to it anymore. I suspect our roles will gradually transition back to where they were before, but for once, I got to be the more likable one in our relationship.

St Louis Blues v Colorado Avalanche - Game Two
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

… And Community

And that's where I'll end this. If there was one takeaway for me that night, it was that I felt something I haven't felt in months … a sense of community. As noted, there is always a feeling of camaraderie at a hockey game — rabid fans love other rabid fans. But it was definitely more than that. For the better part of 15 months, I have seen the same faces every day, connected with the same small group of people. As a self-professed curmudgeon and a fiercely independent soul, I like to think I could live forever without needing much more than that. But as we walked to our car after the game and drove home, I have to admit — my heart felt a little fuller, and a connection with folks other than my small bubble was definitely a balm to my soul. Now, if I can just score tickets for the next round … #goavsgo.

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