DENVER (AP) – Jarome Iginla took a few wrong turns and got lost heading into the office for his first day of work.
So new to town, it’s understandable the Colorado Avalanche forward can’t quite navigate his way to the Pepsi Center yet.
His direction on the ice, though, is impeccable. That’s why the Avalanche brought his leadership to Denver, hoping the 37-year-old can take them to the next level.
This is a team that surprised the NHL last season by tying a franchise record with 52 wins in coach Patrick Roy’s first season. This is also a team that lost a Game 7 at home against the Minnesota Wild.
Months later, that postseason loss still bothers captain Gabriel Landeskog, who reported for physicals Thursday with an early start on his playoff beard.
“Last year we just wanted to make the playoffs and make a push,” said Landeskog, whose team returned to the postseason for the first time since 2010. “Now, it’s about taking that next step and sending another message that we want to be a Stanley Cup contender.”
To facilitate that, Colorado was quite active in the offseason. They acquired defenseman Brad Stuart from the San Jose Sharks and forward Daniel Briere from Montreal for right wing P.A. Parenteau.
And when they lost fan favorite Paul Stastny through free agency, they simply went ahead with their next plan – signing Iginla, who has 560 career NHL goals.
“He’s a natural goal scorer,” Roy said. “I think he’s going to be very helpful to our guys.”
Already renowned for his intense offseason workouts, Iginla stepped it up even another notch this summer so that he can fly down the ice with the youngsters. Roy is leaning toward pairing Iginla with Ryan O’Reilly and Matt Duchene.
“This is a very young, dynamic group,” said Iginla, who scored 30 goals for Boston last season. “Lots of speed, lots of skill and guys that are very competitive.
“There are going to be some fun nights because of the things they can do.”
The Avalanche caught the hockey world off guard last season by winning the Central Division. They were rewarded, too, with plenty of postseason awards. Roy was named the league’s top coach and Nathan MacKinnon the rookie of the year. O’Reilly earned the Lady Byng Award for gentlemanly conduct.
But no one is going to overlook them again this season.
“It’s going to be a lot tougher,” defenseman Tyson Barrie said.
That playoff loss to Minnesota was painful for Barrie, partly because he wasn’t able to play following a knee-to-knee hit from Matt Cooke in Game 3. Cooke drew a seven-game suspension for the collision that knocked Barrie out of the series. The Avs were never the same without Barrie’s offensive presence from the blue line.
Barrie said Cooke reached out to him, but he never got back to him. Barrie will see Cooke soon enough, as the Avalanche travel to Minnesota for the season opener on Oct. 9. Their home opener is two days later against the Wild as well.
“That’s awesome the league did that and recognizes we might have a great rivalry coming up here (with Minnesota),” Landeskog said. “We expect a lot of good things out of ourselves.”
So do the fans, who have quickly embraced the team that Roy and team executive Joe Sakic assembled. They’re wearing old jerseys featuring No. 33 (Roy) and No. 19 (Sakic) around town along with new ones such as No. 29 (MacKinnon).
“If it’s on the golf course, anywhere in Denver, there’s an excitement and we want to continue to have our fans excited about our team,” Roy said. “They want to see that this team is going in the right direction.
“Last year we approached it that we wanted to surprise the world of hockey. I think if we can go even deeper in the playoffs that would surprise the world of hockey again.”
NOTES: Avalanche F Patrick Bordeleau had recent back surgery and will be sidelined for about three months. … Roy expects another big year from goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who had 41 wins last season to break Roy’s franchise record. “I’m confident he’s going to play up to what we expect from him,” Roy said. … Briere is eager to skate for Roy, who was one of his idols growing up.
BY PAT GRAHAM, AP SPORTS WRITER
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