Colorado Eagles: What’s surprising, what isn’t and the (empty) stadium experience

  

The Colorado Eagles are now six games into their new season, and have a record of 2–3–1–0. I thought this would be a good time to discuss what is surprising so far, what is not surprising and to talk about the empty stadium experience.

But, since I would always rather get the negative out of the way first, I will start with that.

What is not surprising

Special teams trouble

As I talked about in my last article, special teams issues are nothing new to this organization. In 2018­–19, the Eagles’ power play finished dead last in the league at 13.8%. On the bright side, their penalty kill that year ranked sixth in the league. Logan O’Connor and Andrew Agozzino also led the league that year in shorthanded goals. Last season, the Eagles rose to 17th in the league on the power play, but fell to 16th on the penalty kill.

So far this year, they have not shown improvement. They have only converted twice out of 25 attempts on the power play and are ranked 25th in the league. Their penalty kill is ranked 20th in the league, but on the bright side, it has been almost perfect over the last three games, allowing only one power play goal in nine chances—and that one goal was from the Tucson Roadrunners, who have a 25% power play percentage.

TJ Tynan named captain

The Eagles announced at last night’s season home opener that TJ Tynan had been named captain for the season, just as I predicted. Tynan led the team in assists last year. He is also a smart, level-headed player and is the perfect choice to wear the C.

What is surprising

Greg Pateryn leads team in goals

Yes, you read that right. Defenseman Greg Pateryn currently leads the team in goals and in shots on goal. He has six goals so far out of 26 shots. I am pretty sure nobody counted on that.

Ryan Wagner is on fire

Ryan Wagner played the 2018­–19 season with the Chicago Wolves, where he scored four goals and three assists in 49 regular season matchups. After signing with the Eagles last year, he played the first part of the season with the Utah Grizzlies, scoring nine goals and 11 assists in 23 games. The Eagles called him up in January, and he immediately became a big part of the offense. He ended the abbreviated season with six goals and four assists in 24 games.

Six games into the new season, Wagner has scored two goals and two assists. But more importantly, Wagner is a force to be reckoned with. He is fast and furious, always visible and he is outstanding on the penalty kill. I think it is safe to say, he will not be going back to the Grizzlies this season.

Shane Bowers is not on fire

I predicted before the season started that Shane Bowers would lead the team in goals. He still could, of course, but he is off to a slow start, with only two goals and no assists so far. And yes, as some people pointed out, he led the team in shot attempts in their first game against Tucson, but not a single one of them found the net.

Shane Bowers tries to get past a Roadrunner defenseman. (Photograph courtesy of the Colorado Eagles)

Do not get me wrong, Bowers is playing well enough. But that is about it, and “well enough” is not what anybody wants to see out of him right now. I have seen a few people say he has outgrown the AHL and has nothing left to learn there. I would honestly like to know what people are seeing that makes them think this. If you watch the Eagles games (yes, actually watching the games is a must) and you think I am missing something, please tell me what you are seeing that I am not. I legitimately want to know what people are seeing him do consistently—not just in the highlights from one of his two goals, but on a regular basis—that makes them think he is NHL ready, because I simply do not see it.

Maybe it is not fair for me to say Wagner is “on fire” and Bowers is not when they have the same number of goals, and are only separated on the stats sheet by two assists (in Wagner’s favor), but this is all about expectations. People seem to think Bowers should already be playing in the NHL and is being wasted in the AHL. Nobody expects Wagner to get a call-up at all. And yet, based on their performances so far this season, it could easily be argued that Wagner deserves a call-up as much as Bowers, if not more.

In short, Wagner is exceeding expectations. Bowers is not. That needs to change before Bowers gets tossed into the NHL.

I am not saying Bowers will never get there—I think he will. But expecting him to be there sooner rather than later is unrealistic. He is only 21 years old. He has only played one full year of his three-year entry-level contract. He will develop far more playing top-line minutes in the AHL than sitting on the Avalanche taxi squad, or even playing five minutes per game on the fourth line. For now, I am just hoping he goes from playing “well enough” to actually leading this team.

The empty stadium experience

I was thrilled to be granted a media pass for the Eagles’ home opener last night against the Roadrunners. I knew of course that there would be no fans and therefore no concessions, but beyond that, I was not really sure what to expect.

The team had media personnel seated in section L rather than in the press box. This makes perfect sense from a personal distancing standpoint, but not having a table of any kind does make it hard to shuffle laptops and notes, and section L offers no option for plugging in if your battery gets low. (Luckily, my battery was fine.)

I arrived way too early (something I have a habit of doing—it drives my husband nuts). The arena was so quiet, I could hear the Eagles playing two-touch in the hallway by the locker room.

This left me in a bit of a conundrum. Some people may not realize that cheering from the press box is taboo. But I love cheering on my team, and technically, we were not in the press box. We were in section L. So should I cheer, because this team deserves to hear some fans? Or should I be professional, which I knew my supervisors at The Rink would probably prefer?

For better or worse, it did not end up being an issue. The Eagles were using fake crowd noise, and it was much louder than I expected. In fact, it was so loud, nobody knew whether I was cheering or not. (So if my bosses ask, no, I totally did not cheer. They cannot prove otherwise.) Likewise, the announcements and music were just as loud with the empty arena as they are when it is crammed full of 5,280 screaming fans. Fellow reporter CC Hawkley was sitting two rows behind me, and about four seats down, and even yelling, we could not hear each other.

Unless it was intermission. Intermissions were eerily quiet.

So, much to my surprise, I did not miss the fans during play nearly as much as I thought I would. But when I walked into the concourse, it was a different matter.

The saddest, emptiest bar ever. (Photograph courtesy of Marie Sexton)

No lines at the bars. No excited fans trying to get back to their seats as quickly as possible. No lines for the ladies room, and while I always thought I would love that last bit, it was a bit of a downer. I had not realized just how much energy those hallways hold. I had not realized how even standing in line for the bathroom while chatting about that last goal was really part of the game experience. On a normal night, after a win like that, the concourse would have felt like a party. In a normal year, the guys from Club Rowdy would have been chanting as we left the game, “Whose house?”, to which we all would have responded, “Our house!”

Last night, walking through a completely silent hallway to the door, I missed Club Rowdy more than ever.

Center Ice Forums Colorado Eagles: What’s surprising, what isn’t and the (empty) stadium experience

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