DENVER, Colo. — Visitors to Ball Arena are reminded of the altitude challenge facing them as soon as they walk through the doors with a sign welcoming them to the “Mile High City, elevation 5,280 feet.”
That reminder becomes reality during the first few shifts of a hockey game, especially one as crucial as the start of the Stanley Cup Final. The Tampa Bay Lightning looked like they were feeling it early in Game 1, though they came back to tie it before losing in overtime. They said they don't consider the elevation a reason they shouldn't be able to tie the series on Saturday night.
“It would be easy for everyone to use that as an excuse, but we came out here early, got a good practice in and we were ready to go,” veteran defenseman Victor Hedman said Friday. “Now we had a few days more, but it’s not going to change the way we approach the game.”
Center Anthony Cirelli, whose job is to shadow speedy Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon, brushed it off entirely as a factor.
“Guys are going out there and we’re giving our all,” Cirelli said. "We just go out there and play, and I don’t think it affects the way we play or going out there and just executing our game plan.”
The Lightning have been in Denver since Monday, which is still less time than it took Josh Manson to get used to the elevation after being traded to Colorado from Anaheim. He described breathing on the bench after an extended shift as expecting his body to recover — but the recovery just didn't come.
“It’s almost like the air that’s coming in isn’t really doing anything for you,” Manson said. “The practices felt tougher, everything just felt a little bit more difficult. But once you settle in and acclimate, then it makes a big difference, for sure.”