DENVER (CBS4) – The biggest difference for the Colorado Avalanche this year may be head coach Patrick Roy.
Since the Avs fired Bob Hartley in 2002, Colorado has had four head coaches leading up to Roy, and none of them could get the Avs past the second round of the playoffs. But Roy established quickly — he’s not like other coaches.
It’s been less than 11 months since the Avs introduced Roy as their head coach. It was May 29 of last year, a very significant date for Roy.
“Ten years ago to the day I was here at the Pepsi Center in this very same room announcing my retirement as an NHL player,” Roy said when he was hired. “Shortly thereafter I realized the passion I had for the game never left. I wanted to stay involved in hockey and found a way to do so.”
Everyone knew Roy had passion. It’s passion that helped him lead his teams to four Stanley Cup championships as a goalie. It’s passion that led him to never shy away from a fight, such as the famous goalie on goalie brawl he had with Chris Osgood of the Detroit Red Wings.
There’s no question Roy was a great player, but many wondered if he could be an effective NHL coach. He certainly didn’t lack in confidence as he talked about this Avs team as a playoff contender back in August at a golf outing.
“Honestly, I’d be very disappointed if we don’t and I truly believe that we are a playoff team,” Roy said at the golf outing. “It’s going to be a battle, I won’t lie to you. But I think we’re going to improve as a team and our guys are going to be excited to come and play.”
It made fans wonder if Roy was fully aware of the team he was inheriting. In the previous season the Avs had gone 16-25-7 and finished dead last in the division. But this wasn’t last season and Roy sent a message on Day 1 that things would be different.
“For me … and I think I can speak for a lot of the guys, Day 1 of camp it was different. I could tell we weren’t going to be an underachieving team anymore. We were going to be an overachieving team, if anything, and live up to our potential,” Avs center Matt Duchene said. “We have so much potential on this team from top to bottom.
“We weren’t going to be hitting the golf course early this year, that’s for sure.”
Roy’s infectious attitude struck a chord with this team. By opening night against the Anaheim Mighty Ducks his Avs team was ready to launch a new era of Avs hockey.
“Everyone wants to work as hard as possible for him, and we want make sure we’re on our best tonight and we want to make sure we’re that team that he wants us to be and we want to be,” Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog said on opening night.
What his team found out that opening night is that Roy would work just as hard for them as they do for him. When rookie forward Nate MacKinnon took what Roy felt was a cheap shot late in the game he quickly went to the defense of his player, nearly knocking down the partition between the benches as he argued with Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau. The incident proved to his players that he had their backs. It also was a learning tool for Roy.
“I guess I have to change a few things because I got the $10,000 fine by the league for that,” Roy said after the incident. “This is the league policy and I understand it now. But at the same time I will always defend my players.
The Avs won six straight games to start the year and 12 of their first 13. Roy has taken it all in stride and expects his players to do the same.
“I’m saying to the players every day, ‘Let’s stay humble.’ We want them to be humble, we want to take it one day at a time,” Roy said.
Roy has left no doubt that not only can he coach in the NHL, but that he may be one of the best in the game right now.
Roy’s hiring generated excitement in a franchise and a fan base that has been hungry to get back on top, and with Roy at the helm, the idea of the Avs hoisting the Stanley Cup seems more like reality than a distant memory.