Members of the Colorado Eagles, the AHL affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche, celebrate after scoring a goal during a home game this season. Photos courtesy of Mcallaster Miller of the Colorado Eagles
With the American Hockey League season on pause due to COVID-19 preventative measures, it’s time for a look back at the year thus far for the Loveland-based Colorado Eagles, the AHL affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche.
The Eagles, who reside in the league’s Pacific Division, are 56 games through their regular-season schedule and are in second place in the division standings with 72 points and a 34-18-3 overall record. They’re winners of seven or their last 10 games, and trail the Tucson Roadrunners by three points in the standings but have logged two fewer games than Tucson.
Getting hot like the Eagles did late in the regular season is often a sign of good things to come, but the AHL suspended its season due to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 12, then updated its guidance on March 16, stating teams should send players back to their primary residences and that the league would not resume play until at least May.
Compared to a year ago, when the team lost a four-game series to the Bakersfield Condors in the Pacific Division semifinals of the Calder Cup Playoffs to end the season, the Eagles have shown quick improvement and the ability to adapt for a team that’s new to the AHL.
In a 68-game regular season a year ago, the Eagles recorded 77 total points and finished fourth in the division standings, allowing them to slip into the playoffs. This season, they look to be in a comfortable position to be a contender, should the season resume at some point.
The AHL, which is regarded as the top developmental league for the NHL, has 31 clubs — one for each NHL team. The Cougars had been part of the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) before joining the AHL as an expansion team prior to the 2018-19 season. They’re coached by Greg Cronin who has 30 years of coaching experience at various levels, including at Colorado College from 1990 to 1993.
Much of the team’s success to date stems from the production of one of the league’s top players this season: T.J. Tynan.
A 2020 AHL All-Star selection, Tynan inked a new one-year contract with the Avalanche in late March. In addition to his production for the Eagles, Tynan has appeared in 16 games for the Avs this season.
Another standout performer at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland has been Jacob MacDonald, the league’s top goal-scoring defenseman this season. With 16 goals and 26 assists, MacDonald’s 42 points have been beneficial, especially coming from a blueliner. Like Tynan, MacDonald is in his first season with the Eagles after a one-year stint with the Springfield Thunderbirds.
In four games in March, MacDonald had a goal and three assists.
On March 27, MacDonald signed a two-way contract extension with the Avs, keeping him with the organization through the 2021-22 season.
In his first season with the Eagles, defenseman Jacob MacDonald is second on the team in points with 16 goals and 26 assists. He recently signed a contract extension with the Avalanche.
Offensively, the club’s other top performer this season has been Sheldon Dries.
With his team-leading 21 goals, the center has been a consistent offensive threat who hasn’t gone more than four consecutive games without a goal and has 14 assists on the season. He’s also provided a massive spark on special teams with 12 power-play goals.
It's a big step up in production for Dries, who is in his second go-round with the Eagles. He played in just 25 games and had 11 points in the 2018-19 season.
Goaltenders Hunter Miska and Adam Werner are in their first years wearing Colorado sweaters and have split time between the pipes.
On paper, Miska’s stats have been a little better with a .924 save percentage and 2.48 goals-against average in 26 starts. Werner started the other 31 games and has a .909 save percentage and 2.92 GAA.