Ryan Clark can live with being banned from Avalanche home games right now. Because, dang it, The Lord and Cale Makar as his witnesses, he’d do it again. Stanley Cup and all. In a heartbeat.
“I told myself at the time, ‘This is gonna (stink) if they make the playoffs,’” Clark laughed from his home in Arvada, where he’s watched the best six months of Avs hockey in a generation play out from a distance.
“But when someone asked me, ‘Where do you think Kyle is now?’ I told them, ‘That Zamboni spread his (backside) all over this ice. And he is embedded into this ice for the remainder (of the season).’”
Kyle is Kyle Wayne Stark. Ryan and Kyle were close friends, the best of pals, for more than a dozen years until the latter’s sudden death last Dec. 21. They were brothers in burgundy and blue, even going in on Avs season tickets together two years ago.
It takes a village to lift a Cup. It takes Makar, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabe Landeskog, hockey ninjas on a mission. It takes Colorado general manager Super Joe Sakic working the trade deadline the way Igor Stravinsky worked a piano. It takes somebody different picking up the rope every night.
Ask Clark, though, and he’ll tell you it took a little bit of Kyle, too. That his friends’ ashes are still a part of that ice, still a part of those boards, still a part of the story. That the Avs’ flight to Cup glory has come, in part, on cherub’s wings.
“You know that baseball movie, ‘Angels in the Outfield?’” Clark said, laughing again. “This is the hockey version. Right here.”
Operation Kyle came about during the reception, after Stark, just 31 years of age, was laid to rest, a funeral that featured mourners in Avs sweaters and Kyle’s mom, Stacey, handing out hockey pucks.
Clark was one of a group of friends who also walked away with a portion of Ryan’s ashes. After a post-funeral conversation with Stark’s stepfather, Jason, he knew exactly what he wanted to do with his piece of one of the best friends he’d ever had.
“This was upon sober thinking,” Clark said. “(We) really had come to the conclusion, myself and his stepdad, that one of us was probably going to end up in jail doing this. We had already come to terms with it. ‘Well, OK, if this happens, it happens.’”
Kyle’s stepfather, Jason Marston, had tickets to Avs-Maple Leafs on Jan. 8. The pair had finished a pregame dinner at the Breckenridge Brewery Mountain House, 10 minutes before the first period, when Ryan turned to Marston.
“You know what? It’s ‘Go’ time,” Clark said. “It’s absolutely ‘Go’ time.’ I promised that I would get this guy on the ice, because (that’s) truly where he belongs. And this (team) was his love more than anything else in the world.”
Clark had snuck a small Ziploc baggie into Ball Arena with some of Kyle’s remains bouncing along inside. With Jason’s help, he managed to shake said remains over the glass, in the corner nearest the Leafs’ bench.
“I’d gotten a good part of him over and just kind of (put) the rest of it through the glass to make sure I got it in there,” Clark recalled.
As Clark turned to head back up the steps, an usher stopped him.
“Hey, man, what was that?” he asked.
“I gotta be honest with you,” Clark replied. “It was my buddy.”
The usher just stared.
“What do you mean?”
“My buddy just died. We had his funeral yesterday and I wanted to spread his ashes.”
“Dude, I can totally respect that,” he said, then pointed to the concourse. “But they want to talk to you up there.”
An Avs staffer and a police officer glared from above.
“Am I getting booted out?”
“You’re getting booted out.”
“As long as I don’t go to jail, it’s cool by me.”
The Avs representative asked for his name and address. When he explained what he had put onto the ice, he swears that the cop standing behind his gave a look and a nod that said he would’ve done the same for one of his pals, too.
“You’ve gotta go,” the rep said. The cop told him if he left quietly, no charges would be filed. Clark obliged. A short while later, he got a letter from the team indicating that he would be banned from purchasing tickets for the remainder of the season.
No regrets. None.
“(It) was probably one of the proudest things I could ever be a part of,” Clark said.
The Avs proceeded to win that night, 5-4, in overtime. They’d take the next eight at home and wouldn’t lose again at Ball Arena until Feb. 1.
There are the friends who help you move. And then there are the friends who will get themselves banned from Avalanche home games in your honor.
Ryan and Kyle met in 2009 while working together at King Soopers. Stark was the best man at Clark’s wedding.
The pair loved to tailgate south of Ball Arena in Ryan’s truck, hooking up a Super Nintendo Classic Mini to Ryan’s seat screens before the game so they could get in some Mario Kart and pound some pops before the puck drop.
When Kyle, a Comcast subscriber, lost the Altitude television network in 2019, Clark used to turn on his DirecTV when the Avs came on and FaceTime it for Kyle so they could “watch” together.
“He called me, he said, ‘You piece of (crud), you better FaceTime the game with so I can watch it,’ Clark recalled. “I’d call him all the time, ‘The Avs game is about to start.’ And he’d go, ‘(Expletive) you, man.’”
Avs games weren’t just Kyle’s escape. They were his passion. His muse.
“He’s like, ‘Oh, we’re going (to the game), bro, it doesn’t matter,’” Jake Kirschenheuter, another close friend, recalled. “We’ll figure out how to pay the rent later. We’re going to the game.’
“An amazing dude, just the kindest heart. Very selfless. He would always be more concerned if you were having a good time than if he was. The kind of laugh that would make everybody in the room smile.”
The kind of spirit who always had your back.
“I mean, he is on the (Ball Arena) ice,” Kirschenheuter said. “He’s helping the boys out. And getting (the Cup) for us. I’ve had the utmost confidence that this Stanley Cup is coming home. He’s helping the boys so hard right now.”
During Game 1 of the Cup Final, after the Lightning had rallied to tie it up at 3-3 in the second period, Ryan’s phone buzzed. It was a text from Kyle’s mom, Stacey.
Kyle needs to help us out.
That’s funnyhe texted back, I was thinking the exact same thing.
Cue Andre Burakovsky’s game-winner, 83 seconds into overtime.
He heard us, Clark texted Stacey, once he’d stopped screaming. He ABSOLUTELY heard us.
If you don’t believe in miracles, believe in angels. Believe in karma, the kind of tailwinds that move mountains, finally kicking ash. And taking names.