Sunday afternoon the Colorado Avalanche and the Edmonton Oilers faced off in Denver for the last game of their respective seasons. Both teams suffered from disappointing years and were eliminated from playoff contention long ago, but both were motivated to end on a high note to build confidence heading into the offseason.
Colorado, however, had a much more dramatic purpose as the Avs were eager to treat their teammate, veteran Adam Foote, to a victory for his final game in the NHL.
The kids delivered with the help of David Jones, who scored the winning goal about three minutes into the overtime period to give the Avs, and Foote, the victory.
Foote announced his retirement in an emotional press conference on Friday. The 39 year old defender played 19 years in the NHL and the last 17 of those seasons were played with the Colorado Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques franchise. Known throughout his career as a tough and reliable defender, Foote finished his career with a plus/minus rating of plus-99 and won two Stanley Cup championships with the Avalanche.
Despite being inhibited for much of the 2010-11 season with injuries and missing the last three weeks due to an ankle injury, Foote strapped on his skates for the last time to take the ice in his farewell game on Sunday. During a break in the first period, the Jumbotron at the Pepsi Center displayed video footage of Foote’s retirement press conference in which he thanked the fans for their loyal support. The crowd then erupted with a passionate standing ovation and roars of appreciation for their beloved Avalanche blueliner.
Throughout the game, Foote played in 22 shifts, received 15:21 of total ice time, and was on the ice to celebrate an Avalanche goal.
“When I was skating forward usually it felt pretty good,” said Foote regarding skating through his injury to play in his final game. “It was in an area where we couldn’t do anything about it; it was a fractured ankle, but the good thing is I had 3 and-a-half weeks, so it was definitely healing.
“Anyone in here would’ve done the same thing. It hurts at times, but…anytime the adrenaline gets going – now obviously I didn’t have good foot-work there at all – but it was fun, and I’m so glad I got to play one more game,” Foote said. “To make little plays here and there, and to say goodbye, was huge.”
The game started with an Avalanche penalty on Mark Olver for interference just 25 seconds after the puck dropped. The Oilers capitalized on the power play opportunity, as a minute later Teemu Hartikainen wristed a laser beam past Avs’ goaltender Peter Budaj to give the Oilers an early 1-0 lead.
The Avs tied the game at 4:24, as Ryan O’Reilly received a centering pass from David Jones and knocked the puck passed Oiler goalie Nikolai Khabibulin and into the back of the net. Less than a minute later, and riding a burst of momentum, Colorado charged the Edmonton zone with another surge of pressure. Avs’ center Philippe Dupuis quickly snatched a loose puck from between the circles and slapped it into the net to give the Avs a 2-1 lead.
About five minutes into the second period Edmonton defender Kurtis Foster scored a power play goal to once again tie the game. Then, at 12:28, the Oilers unleashed another solid wave of pressure, Ryan Jones launched a hard shot off of Budaj’s chest and a well-positioned Liam Reddox slammed the puck into the back of the net to give the Oilers the lead again at 3-2.
Just 30 seconds into the final stanza, the Avs generated a rapid offensive attack, Matt Duchene delivered a centering pass to Milan Hejduk, who promptly slapped the puck into the net to tie things up.
Despite some close calls, both netminders made excellent saves throughout the rest of the third period to keep the score deadlocked, and overtime was needed to decide the final game of the season. With less than two minutes left in the extra period, the Avs went on a power play complements of a tripping penalty on Liam Reddox. While enjoying the advantage, Duchene launched a shot that trickled away from Khabibulin, and a perfectly-placed David Jones backhanded the puck into the net to win the game for the Avs and for Adam Foote.
“That was huge,” said Foote regarding hanging up his skates to a victory. “Thank god that guy scored there, because it was going to be my first power play ever right after that…I don’t know how to describe it…I’m so glad the boys put it home, and it was a good night for this team, for the fans and for everyone here. It was great.”
After the game Foote circled around the ice so the fans could show their appreciation with a standing “O.” “That [moment] was huge,” said Foote. “I was just trying to keep it together, but being with my teammates – that was what hit me the most: When I was with the teammates.”
Unfortunately, Foote missed most of his final season with injuries, Colorado was eliminated from playoff contention soon after their post-break plummet and the Avs won their lowest number of games in franchise history.
“That’s the way it has to go,” he said. “I’m not the only one that’s done that. There are a lot of players in this league – 90 percent of them – that have done that before; it’s just too bad it happened when it did this year.”
Foote was especially grateful to his teammates for sending him off to retirement with a victory.
“Most guys in here are winners, and in this league you want to win every night—every single night,” Foote stated. “It was an amazing relief, I’m just glad I got through it and now I can just relax and let everything fall how it falls.”