Greg Zanon’s days as a tourist are over.
His time as a gymnastics dad will be curtailed, too.
But, thank goodness, the NHL lockout is over and he’s back at work.
“If we didn’t get the OK, I don’t know what I would have done,” he said. “Take up snowboarding or something.”
The former UNO defenseman has been thrilled to dive into practices with the Colorado Avalanche, his fourth NHL team in a pro career that has stretched 10 years. With the lockout over, the 48-game season starts Saturday night with 13 games. Colorado is on the road against the Minnesota Wild.
“So far, only two days in, we’re looking good and fast,” Zanon said. “Guys did the right things in the break. It doesn’t look like we’re that far out of shape.”
The 32-year-old Canadian signed a two-year, $4.5 million free agent contract in July after stints with Nashville, Minnesota and Boston. His four-year career at the University of Nebraska at Omaha ended with the 2002-03 season.
Instead of getting right to work when he arrived in Denver in August, Zanon found himself with time on his hands while owners and the players’ union wrangled. Too much time.
His family came to explore a new part of the country, and the group did the usual sightseeing trips to Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods.
“We did lots of sightseeing stuff so we didn’t go mad staying in the house all the time,” he said.
He spent a lot of time with his family, which he loved. Zanon and his wife, Jen, have three children, including daughters Rylynn and Alayna, who are budding gymnasts.
He’s also been trying to find a pair of hockey skates small enough to fit 19-month-old Austin.
He and the girls went to see UNO play at Denver, where he had a fun time watching them cheer for his former team. They love watching dad, too.
“With three kids, everything revolves around them when I’m not at the rink,” he said.
Hockey wasn’t neglected during the lockout, especially with players not knowing when a labor agreement would be reached.
While some on the roster played overseas, Zanon was part of a group of eight who rented ice at the University of the Denver. They were given a room to house their gear and they worked out with the hockey strength coach there.
“We just tried to stay in shape but not drive ourselves crazy with workouts,” he said. “Obviously, we’re really glad and happy we were going back to work.”
With the season nearly cut in half, coming out of the gate strong, piling up points and establishing the Avalanche as a hard team to play is crucial, Zanon said.
The rink was packed for the team’s first practice, and Zanon hopes Colorado fans understand the lockout wasn’t just about money. Things like pensions and players’ rights were involved, too.
“Big, important things when you have only one job you can do in one company,” he said.
The Avalanche plan to make fans as welcome as possible as they watch a product that Zanon said is the best it’s ever been.
He’s one of nine defensemen at camp. He’s not sure what his role will be, but said the important thing is getting the Avalanche back to the playoffs after a two-year break.
Coach Joe Sacco said Zanon is a nice addition to the team.
“He’s one of those defensemen that is hard to play against, because he’s always in the way,” Sacco said. “He is always willing to sacrifice his body to block shots. He’s a good, solid defenseman.”
Playing in the pros is all Zanon has wanted. He regrets leaving UNO one class shy of a degree, but he said realizing his dream has been an unbelievable thrill.
He knows he has to work harder every year to keep it going.
“Every day is a great day when you are in the league,” he said.
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