DENVER — Bowen Byram and Alex Newhook were toddlers. Cale Makar was 3. Nathan MacKinnon was 6.
That is how long it’s been since the Colorado Avalanche last hung a Stanley Cup banner in Denver. Wednesday brought an end to that drought, with the team raising the third championship banner in franchise history at Ball Arena ahead of the Avs’ 5-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks.
Fans rose to their feet when Bernie, the Avalanche’s mascot, skated around the ice while waving a gigantic “Hockey is Back” flag like he has many times over the years. Players and coaches were introduced with all of them receiving 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 a number of fans. Landeskog received a standing ovation while skating onto the ice dressed in his full gear.
The players remained on the ice when Blink-182’s bassist and singer Mark Hoppus walked onto the ice to hype up the crowd. Hoppus led the crowd as it sang his band’s 2000 hit, “All The Small Things,” which has become an anthem among Avalanche fans. The crowd sang as the arena video board played a montage of fans celebrating the team’s championship.
Landeskog then grabbed the Stanley Cup, lifted it over his head and then received what might have been the loudest reaction of the evening. He then set the trophy down before joining his teammates so they could get in position to watch the banner go into the rafters.
One player who sat in the distance was Blackhawks defenseman Jack Johnson. He was a member of last year’s team that won the title. He remained on the bench for the majority of the ceremony before taking his place with his former teammates. They all stood arm in arm to watch the banner take its place next to the team’s previous titles from the 1995-96 and the 2000-01 seasons.
“It’s going to be cool to take it all in,” Newhook said before the game. “But we also know it is the end of celebrations and we know that we have to be ready.”
Every banner-raising ceremony comes with its own level of anticipation. For the Avalanche, it started at morning skate. Players walked into a new dressing room and were instantly met with questions about an evening that had been years in the making. It continued when the players arrived at the arena and then took part in a ceremony that saw them walk down a red carpet surrounded by fans.
That is also around the same time Hoppus arrived at Ball Arena. He drew a few double takes from arena workers and anyone else who was around when he walked throughout the hallways while wearing a blue Los Angeles Rams hoodie. Hoppus then met with the arena’s entertainment and production team, which walked him through his part in the ceremony.
Blink-182’s classic hit started becoming an in-game tradition early in the 2019-20 season. It would be played between sequences and eventually, the crowd kept singing long after the song ended and play continued.
Hoppus said he first became aware of it after seeing a tweet from a fan saying he should check out how the Avalanche was using 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. “People imitate [guitarist/singer Tom DeLonge’s] voice. It’s a whole thing. It’s taken a life of its own beyond us and our band. It fills me with joy.”
Hoppus said he did not get a chance to watch the Avalanche’s entire playoff run. But he was able to watch Game 6 when they clinched the title against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“We tried to come out at one point during the Stanley Cup finals and our plane had mechanical issues and we weren’t able to take off,” said Hoppus, a day after the band announced it was reuniting and going to release a new album.
A few months later, it all worked out. NHL chief content officer Steve Mayer told ESPN on Wednesday that it was an easy decision for the league to reach out to Blink-182 after seeing how much of a connection that Avalanche fans had with the song. Mayer said the league had a previous relationship with the band, and that it was instantly on board until the travel issues paused the plans.
Originally, Travis Barker, DeLonge and Hoppus were to all fly to Denver for Game 5 and lead the crowd in singing the song — similar to what Hoppus did Wednesday.
“We then got a phone call that afternoon they were all on the plane, but the plane was having mechanical difficulties,” Mayer said. “We tried desperately to find another plane. As it turned out, we could not find one. We hadn’t announced it. But we were so bummed. We were so upset.”
There was a plan, however, to have Blink-182 try again if there was a Game 7. Once that wasn’t in the cards, the strategy turned to the opener. Mayer, in fact, said Blink-182 reached back out to see if there was a way it could do something in the fall.
“It turned out today 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 the ceremony started shortly after the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup, said Steve Johnston, the executive producer and executive for game presentation for Kroenke Sports & Entertainment.
Johnston said his team immediately went to work after the Avs won the Stanley Cup. It started producing the videos that were played during the ceremony while also working on other details like getting a special winch that allowed them to raise the banner over the netting along the glass and into the rafters next to the other banners.
But there were some details that were sorted out much later. One of them being how active Landeskog would be in the ceremony given he is still recovering from an 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 banner-raising rehearsal. It was able to rehearse one more time Wednesday afternoon a few hours after the Blackhawks concluded their morning skate.
“We used the 2001 banner to raise because we didn’t want anyone taking pictures of the new banner just in case,” Johnston said. “The whole summer has gone into planning this special night.”