DENVER — Avs fans who were expecting to have a blast during the Stadium Series against LA at the Air Force Academy's Falcon Stadium, instead dealt with chaos.
Many sat bogged down in traffic, missing most of the game.
The Colorado Department of Transportation had warned fans to leave early because of emergency pothole repairs in the narrow "Gap" area of Interstate 25.
Many thought they had done just that.
They were hoping to get to Falcon Stadium early enough to have pictures taken with the Stanley Cup before the game, but some didn't get to the stadium until just before the third period.
"We thought we gave ourselves plenty of time," said longtime Avs fan Mario Kontny.
Kontny and his friends left south Denver around 3:30, and were driving at freeway speed on I-25 until they got to Castle Pines, where traffic ground to a halt.
"We kept looking at our clock," he said, "and we're thinking, we're not going to make the first period. Then it was like we won't even make the Sam Hunt (performance) during the break between first and second periods."
Kontny told Denver7 they finally got to the stadium in time to see the third period but didn't stick around for long.
"Having gone into this nightmare, we knew what the nightmare was going to be like heading out, so we literally watched 12 minutes of the game and with 8 minutes left, ran to our car to head out."
He said he's glad they did that, or it would have taken them hours to get off of Air Force Academy grounds.
Even fans who live down in Southern Colorado say the event could have been better planned.
"This was really a great made for television event, but they did not do a very good job planning for the logistics of 43,000 people that attended," said Dan Slater.
Slater said he's glad the NHL came down to his part of the state, but added that they should have done a better job explaining that if you're going to sit in the stadium's lower seats, you're not going to be able to see the game.
"We were about 8 rows up, and we really couldn't see what was going on in the hockey rink itself," he said. "Most of the time, we were looking up at the screens to see what was going on."
Several fans vented on Twitter about the traffic chaos.
One wrote: "This was a sh-- show. This whole event was a disaster. The lines in the parking lot, the lines for food/drinks, the lines for the BATHROOM."
One fan told Denver7 via twitter that her biggest frustrations were the lack of restrooms, crowd control and traffic management.
She said it took two and a half hours to get off Air Force Academy property after the game.
Kontny said he thought the worst was over until he got into the food line.
He chuckled as he explained what happened.
"I go to to get some food, and right before me, the guy who's selling grilled cheese sandwiches yells out, 'we're out of cheese.' Haha. I said this is too much."
Fans want refunds
Many fans want their money back.
Kontny said, "I wish they would just take care of the people because the tickets weren't cheap. They were very expensive. I paid 185 dollars for four tickets.
He added that next time, the NHL should consider hosting the event at Coors Field as they did in 2016, or at Mile High Stadium.
He said the event at Coors Field was a blast, and that's what he expected at Falcon Stadium.
Slater said he had fun, but it could have been better.
"I think they need a lot more staff and a lot more planning for a crowd this size," he said.
Air Force Academy Statement.
Denver7 reached out to the NHL, the Avs and the Air Force Academy about the event.
The Air Force Academy sent this statement:
"Multiple efforts were made by the NHL and Air Force Academy to warn attendees about potential traffic delays getting to the sold-out Stadium Series game yesterday. In addition to website and social media posts, and signage along the I-25 corridor in the week leading up to the game, the NHL alerted the more than 43,000 fans who had purchased tickets about the need to allow plenty of time in travelling to Falcon Stadium on game day. As well, in the week leading up to the game, the NHL through numerous media interviews reminded fans about the need to plan their travel based on anticipated delays.
To mitigate the anticipated traffic congestion, the Academy opened at 5:30 a.m. and eliminated vehicle ID checks at 12:30pm - five and half hours before the game. We thank the many fans who took advantage of that window to arrive well in advance and enjoy the Fan Fest activities that started at 1pm. Because of this early planning, the vast majority of fans were able to get to the stadium prior to the puck drop and had an amazing experience at the game.
Unfortunately, several factors the day of the game came together to cause even greater than expected traffic delays. Unlike many large sports venues, all traffic into the two gates at the Air Force Academy comes from one interstate. In the hours leading up to the game, there were numerous road condition changes and unforeseen events including multiple lane closures in both the northbound and southbound lanes of I-25, emergency pothole repairs that forced further lane closures, and multiple vehicle accidents between Castle Rock and Monument. Despite our best efforts, all of these, added to the already challenging traffic conditions along the I-25 corridor, combined and unfortunately impacted some fans travelling to the game.
At the conclusion of the game, as we were routing traffic off base, there was a tragic incident at our North Gate that resulted in the death of one of our guests. Outbound traffic was immediately diverted to allow for emergency response crews and investigators to arrive on scene. While the details of that incident are still under investigation, we are devastated by the event and send the deepest condolences to his loved ones. We thank all of the crews who worked to clear traffic from the base despite only having one gate and we appreciate the patience and understanding of everyone impacted.
While we regret the unfortunate circumstances experienced by some fans, a near capacity crowd was in their seats at the start of an exciting night of hockey. We appreciate the efforts of fans who planned ahead and arrived early and most were able to enjoy a fantastic evening with multiple flyovers and musical performances that highlighted the competitive spirit of the NHL, the history and culture of the Academy, and the milestone achievements of USA Hockey."