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Emotional impact

Avalanche return to ice with thoughts elsewhere

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Posted: Tuesday May 04, 1999 01:14 PM

  Hartley and his team are finding it difficult to concentrate as their thoughts are on the recent Littleton tragedy. Brian Bahr/Allsport

DENVER (AP) -- Had it been a normal practice, Colorado Avalanche coach Bob Hartley probably would have gone apoplectic.

Their concentration wavering, their energy lacking, the Avalanche endured a sloppy start to their first full workout since a shooting tragedy at a suburban Denver high school on Tuesday left 15 dead and 23 wounded and a city still in mourning.

"We had a tough start, and that's very understandable," Hartley said Thursday. "I can tell you that I wouldn't have accepted that kind of start if we hadn't known the kind of tragedy that happened.

"But our concentration got better as the practice went on. Getting on the ice for us is a distraction."

Hartley had no doubt his team will be ready for the opening game of their first-round playoff series with the San Jose Sharks on Saturday. The series was supposed to open in Denver, with games on Wednesday and Thursday. But because of the tragedy, those two games were postponed and the series will open in San Jose.

"Everyone is very sad," he said. "It's tough to explain how we feel as a team. But we just have to focus on Game 1, and I trust my players will be ready for that game. Getting away from Denver, I think, is going to be good for our focus."

Asked if he was worried about playing the first two games on the road, Hartley said, "Looking at what this community has had to go through for the last two days, I think worrying about home ice would be very selfish.

"We made the decision to reschedule for the community. Now we have to find a way to support our community by winning hockey games. We're going to San Jose on a mission. That mission is that we want to dedicate our games to Columbine High School."

Hartley admitted that he, too, was deeply affected.

"For the last 24 hours or so, it's been pretty tough to focus on hockey," he said. "There are many dads on this team. I'm a dad. When I go home, I look at my two kids. It makes you wonder as a parent: Where are we going? Since this tragedy, I'm having a hard time being a hockey coach. Hockey is far away right now."

Asked if, as a Canadian, he viewed the United States as a violent society, Hartley said, "I don't think we can look at this as Canadian or American. I think we have to look at this as people in a society. We are the examples. We are the adults, and we have to lead these kids.

"I've been here only since August, and I can tell you that I've enjoyed every minute. In the last two days, I don't know how many calls I got from friends asking me about my son and my daughter. That touched me a lot."

Although no members of the Avalanche organization were believed directly affected by the shootings, all were touched emotionally.

General manager Pierre Lacroix regularly takes walks with his wife in a park adjacent to the school. Lacroix and Charlie Lyons, CEO of the company that owns the Avalanche, live within a mile or two of the school. A number of players live nearby, and forward Claude Lemieux's babysitter attends that school.

"For the last few days, it's been very difficult to think about what we had to do," Lemieux said. "The decision to postpone those games was best for everybody. I feel there will be enough time for us to be ready and have our minds on the game."

Avalanche forward Peter Forsberg agreed with his coach that "it might be good for us to start on the road because of what happened here."

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