Avalanche fan Derek Rightmire brought his own Stanley Cup replica. He and other Avalanche fans cheer for the first goal of the game against Tampa Bay. Thousands of Avalanche fans showed up to to watch the first game of the Stanley Cup Final at the Tivoli Quad on Wednesday, June 15, 2022. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)

With our hockey hearts in hand watching the Stanley Cup Final, let’s recognize the Colorado community we share, even in tough times. There’s perhaps no singular current event that’s reminded us Coloradans of our common culture than when the Ball Arena goal horn sounded 83 seconds into overtime of the opening game of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night.

As rabid fans from Denver to Durango celebrated the Colorado Avalanche’s 4-3 overtime win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, the rapturous energy of the ear-splitting scene provided the kind of raucous Rocky Mountain moment we’ve been waiting for.

The baritone blare encapsulated the verve of victory which, put to words, might well have translated as, “all together now, triumph!”

What a roar. What a rush. What a reminder.

For 61 minutes and 23 seconds of hockey action Wednesday night, we forgot whatever was wearing us out — individually and collectively. That is precisely the power and purpose of sport, as it uniquely possesses the ability to help our souls escape and enjoy the reprieve of shared sensibilities, which remind us of how similar we are.

And what do we all want? Three life elements that are fleeting for many of recent — joy, success, and a sense of unafraid, prideful belonging.

Now a favorite to win their third Stanley Cup in franchise history, the collection of American and international hockey players who make up the 2021-22 Avalanche team are taking us along for the rah-rah ride that has us feeling like we are standing atop the Rockies together.

This time around, more than two decades after Captain Joe Sakic last hoisted the Cup as a player, the thrill of the Cup chase with Sakic as general manager likely tastes sweeter for Avs fans everywhere. How could it not? Back in 1995-1996, the franchise’s first season, hockey gods spoiled Colorado sports fans with a just-add-water title-ready team in the Quebec Nordiques-turned-Avalanche that seemingly found the missing ingredient in the form of Rocky Mountain snow — and legendary goaltender Patrick Roy.

For the next decade, until the 2004-2005 NHL lockout, Avs fans were blessed, including Sakic deferring the captain’s honors of first skate with the Stanley Cup in 2001 to Hall of Fame defenseman Ray Bourque — a man who at 1,826 combined regular season and playoff games had the record for the longest duration without a Cup in the trophy’s then-108-year history.

Just like Bourque played 21 seasons with the Boston Bruins before finding a title town in Denver, Avs fans have waited 21 years to be called Titletown again. Starting with Saturday’s Game 2 at Ball Arena, (ABC, 6 p.m.) they’ll be just three wins from ending the title-less streak.

If and when a championship comes, the 21-year Stanley Cup-less stretch will have provided Avs fans with the kind of humility, perspective and maturation that was impossible back in 1996 when championship Avs players were so fresh to Denver they couldn’t orient their way around downtown during the ticker-tape parade.

As for us, the fans, as Gazette sports columnist Paul Klee aptly described this week, the entire state’s hockey community has blossomed along with the Avs in rinks up and down the Front Range and east and west of the Rockies.

Case in point: the number of youth players exploded from fewer than 4,000 in the early 1990s to almost 16,000 — four times — today.

Now that’s something to celebrate — together.

Denver Gazette editorial board

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