Magazine Feature

Andy Clayton: Life in the bleachers

Andy Clayton. Photo: Julia Xanthos/New York Daily News

Andy Clayton. Photo: Julia Xanthos/New York Daily News

It was my home away from home.

The memories of the “Old Barn” don’t seem to want to fade. I can still close my eyes and inhale that sweet smell of hockey. I can still picture the aging championship banners hanging from the rafters. The giant rainbow on the north side of that old surplus hangar.

I’ll never forget my seat: Section E, Row 16, Seat 4. The perfect place to watch my heroes play. And watch them play I did … from the time I was 5 years old until that sad night in 1997 when DU Arena closed its doors for the last time. One last stick salute to the Bleacher Creatures. One last stick salute to my childhood.

There was much more than just Pioneer hockey for me at the DU Arena. Study breaks to go ice skating as an undergrad; an intramural broomball title won on that sheet of ice; a concert or two. But it was seeing those players skate onto the ice wearing the crimson and gold that brought such joy to my life.

Even though I was in attendance when DU won back-to-back national championships in Boston and Columbus in 2004 and 2005, the greatest sports season of my life came back in 1985–86.

That was the season when names like Gaume, McMillan and Mathiasen filled my every waking thought. An unlikely bunch that won and won and then won some more.

That team became the No. 1 team in the country, won the WCHA championship and then won the league playoff title back when the top seed got to host the games.

The famous delayed playoff game against Michigan Tech (bad ice) that ended with the wildest third period in DU history on a Sunday morning; the late goal that broke Minnesota’s back. All the memories are still so fresh. Cornell came to Denver for the NCAA quarterfinals. We beat them too.

I grew up to cover DU hockey as the sports editor for The Clarion, and I even wrote a feature story or two for the official game program (the one about Sinuhe Wallinheimo was pretty good). It was in that press box that I knew I had found my calling in life. The “Working Press Only” sign from the DU Arena is the biggest treasure of my collection.

I felt such an adrenaline rush every time I stepped into DU Arena. I was home. I was exactly where I wanted to be. Even Madison Square Garden can’t compare. I miss my old home.



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