Five Questions: Adrian Dater on the 2019-20 Avs, hockey culture
The puck drops on the Colorado Avalanche season Thursday, as they welcome in the Calgary Flames to Pepsi Center amid high expectations and renewed enthusiasm surrounding the young, up-and-coming squad.
And this season, Sports Radio 104.3 The Fan will team with longtime Denver hockey scribe Adrian Dater, whose career covering the sport spans longer than the Avs franchise itself.
The Fan sat down with Dater this week to talk about the expectations with Colorado, how he got into covering the sport and a little KISS trivia.
Sports Radio 104.3 The Fan digital producer Johnny Hart: Count me among what I’ve dubbed the “lost generation” of hockey fans. Growing up in the mid-‘90s in Colorado, the Avalanche were as important a professional franchise to me as the Broncos, Rockies, Nuggets, etc. How does the NHL hook people in my boat back in and/or appeal to younger generations to come?
Sports Radio 104.3 The Fan Avalanche Insider Adrian Dater: You know, first of all, I think winning is always the best marketing plan of any team. So, when you have a losing, lousy team, you’re not going to be as big of a fan. You’re going to feel lost at times. So, I think it always starts with the team’s got to be good to get that bigger fanbase.
For younger fans … I really think that the league has to keep promoting not just star players but the youth aspects of the game, which I think they’re doing more. The league is a lot younger than it used to be (in terms of) player ages. When you have not only your best stars that are really young but also show their personality more, some better advertising, better marketing campaigns … however it’s deemed cool by young people is going to sell in bigger numbers. The NBA got a lot of new fans based on the cultural aspects of the game — the shoes, the clothes the players wore, the jewelry, the whatever. It looks cooler than their typical hockey guy, plain sport coat and slacks who doesn’t say much.
That’s part of hockey’s double-edged sword about marketing. A lot of fans love hockey because the players aren’t real flash. They’re team-first guys and they’re humble and they don’t brag much about themselves. But in today’s culture, a lot of that sells. If you want more of those young fans who think things are “cool,” I think you need to be a little flashier. Not manufactured or false flash. But a lot of these guys really are pretty hip. They listen to hip hop music too just like everybody else. So, they should just be that way more. But still, a lot of times though, when the recorders go on with hockey players — even young, old, no matter what — they still kind of tend to (be like), “OK, I can’t really say anything here. I’ve got to give the company line here. I’ve got to pump up my fellow teammate here, pump his tires.”
I think that’s something the league is cognisant of though and doing a better job than they used to. Their demographics have gotten younger. I mean, they have better numbers with younger people, I believe … but it’s still not quite mass level like the other sports.
I think it will get there, but the players do need to show those personalities a little more to be more relatable to the average fan.
Hart: You’ve been a sports journalist since 1991. You’ve covered a variety of different beats. Why hockey? What makes it special for you?
Dater: It’s not that it was so special to me. When I started at the Denver Post in 1991, I started out as a score taker, taking scores over the phone and just hoping to get a break to write. I started in high school sports, and then things kept going pretty well that they said, “Alright, well, we need a guy to cover DU hockey. So you’re the guy.” And I’m like, “Great.” My first real beat actually. Well, there was a soccer team that was a real beat too called the Colorado Foxes — rest in peace. They won two straight titles when I covered them. They used to play at Englewood High School’s stadium. But it was pro soccer.
But anyway, I got the DU beat. And things go pretty well. Then the Denver Grizzlies announce that they’re going to be a hockey team in Denver in ’94. And they’re like, “You’re our only hockey guy. You cover them too.” I’m like, “Great, pro hockey. Awesome.” And what a great year that was for me too, learning hockey for the first time. Really learning it from pros. Butch Goring was the coach. Just a fabulous, old-school hockey guy. Great stories. And that team won a championship its only year in town.
And then, the big break in my career with hockey was I was in the office when I got a tip that the Nordiques were going to be bought by the Nuggets owners. And I happened to take the call, and I’m the only hockey guy. The person, my source, asked, “Who’s your hockey writer in Denver?” “This guy.” “Well, I hear this. You might want to check it out.” So, I break that story. And when they officially moved in May of ’95, they said, “Congrats, kid, you got that beat too.”
So, that’s basically how that happened. It’s not because I grew up loving hockey, though I did love hockey. Really, though, hockey was really my No. 4 sport growing up. I grew up in New England a Boston Bruins fan, but I was a much bigger Celtics, Red Sox, even Patriots fan back in the day when they sucked. The Patriots were just brutal. I mean, they went 2-14. But I just lived and died with every game.
But I loved hockey. I watched every game. I grew up watching a little bit of Bobby Orr when he was a player. I mean, I’m 54 now. So, sheesh. I saw Bobby Orr play on TV and stuff.
Now I love hockey much more than the other four sports. I love hockey. I will only want to watch hockey, probably, if it’s on. And that maybe has to do with covering it so long. But I really enjoy the game and like the game better than the other three sports. Even though, you said, I have done something with every sport. I wrote two books on the Broncos. I wrote one on the Rockies. So, I’ve got my knowledge of the other sports. And I was a good basketball player as a young guy, so basketball was really my sport. But hockey became my professional thing.
Hart: So, in researching for this Q&A, I stumbled upon a fact I didn’t know. Each member of KISS has their own stage “persona.” Can you name them?
Dater: Of course. There’s The Catman, there’s The Spaceman, there’s The Starchild, and there’s The Demon. And I know the others too. Eric Carr was The Fox. Vinnie Vincent was The Ankh. The Egyptian Ankh. That’s it. That’s all the characters they’ve ever had, I believe. Six overall, but those four. Stupidly Peter Criss and Ace Frehley sold their likeness of those characters for money upfront. They could have made a lot more money in the longterm.
Hart: A quick follow up: Where do you fall on the song “Beth”?
Dater: Wow. Good question. I think it was always … I can say this as a redheaded stepchild — truly I am one — I think it’s always been the redheaded stepchild of every Kiss fan’s repertoire of songs. I’m glad they had a hit. At the time, it was great to feel like you’ve got a really popular band that’s on the charts and with a big song, but, let’s face it, it’s not a hard rock classic that I grew up loving Kiss for. Usually, it’s like, OK, let’s just get through the song and the concert and move on to the real rock and roll.
Hart: You’ve covered the good and bad years of the Avalanche. This current roster iteration seems to be on Stanley Cup-level trajectory. How good can this squad be for this year and the next few years?
Dater: Theoretically, they’ve got enough to win a Stanely Cup. But, so much has to break their way.
Everybody forgets when the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup in 1996, they had to get a lot of breaks that went their way in the playoffs. People forget this, but Pavel Bure was a Vancouver Canuck in the ’96 playoffs in the first round. He didn’t play for them. They still had to go six games. He’s a Hall of Famer. The second round against Chicago. Tony Amonte, one of their best players, gets hurt midway through the series. Big loss for them. Eddie Belfour gets food poisoning, supposedly at a Morton’s restaurant, along Murray Craven and misses a key game that they lose. In the third round against Detroit, Paul Coffey puts a puck in his own net to get the Avs on the board in that series. I believe Steve Yzerman had a bit of a groin injury too in that series. So, they got a lot of breaks to get there. If one thing goes wrong, they’re out and they never win a Cup.
In 2001 too, there were some lucky breaks. Not lucky so much. I think they made their own luck. But it was close a couple of times.
My point is, the St. Louis Blues won the Stanely Cup last year, and they had the worst record in the league in, I believe, early January. The league. So, you’ve got to get in. It’s an eight-team tournament. They’ve got the talent. They’ve got the talent to score a ton of goals. Their defense is better. Cale Makar is going to be an amazing player. But it’s still going to come down to the same old things though. It’s going to come down to depth and goaltending. Grubauer, we’re still a little unsure of. But we’re feeling pretty good about him.
I think if they just add a little bit more depth, which is coming I think, then they could be a great team and win a cup every year for the next five, six, seven years, on paper. Don’t forget, they’ve got a kid named Alex Newhook coming, who’s going to be a good forward. Bo Byram, their defenseman … I mean, once these kids come in too and add to the mix, they could be a really good team.
Hart: What’s your most memorable moment, person, etc. from your time covering the Avs?
Dater: Probably Patrick Roy. A very interesting, unique guy. Obviously, on the ice, a very unique player. A great player. One of the greatest of all time. Off the ice, he had a magnetism, a charisma, a star quality. He was at times charming, at times nasty to you, to me, to the media. Whatever. He was always interesting, though. Never dull. You know, just almost whatever he ever did, it made news it seemed like.
I was always really honored to be around him, even though he didn’t always like me and I didn’t always like him. I was always not only honored to be around him but glad he was that way. Even if he cursed me out at time, I was like I’m glad he’s like that because at least he doesn’t hide anything. He gets things right out in the open. You know where you stand with Patrick, and, to me, he was just always a fascinating guy and always will be.