DENVER (CBS4)– Former Colorado Avalanche forward Milan Hejduk joined some of the greats over the weekend as his jersey was retired by the team.
Hejduk’s #23 joined Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Adam Foote, Ray Bourque and Patrick Roy in the rafters of the Pepsi Center on Saturday night.
During the pregame ceremony, former teammates Forsberg and Alex Tanguey brought out the Stanley Cup.
“It’s definitely a special moment and if you look at the names that are already there, hall of famers, so it’s… I never thought my jersey’s going to be up there,” Hejduk said.
Hejduk gave a gracious speech and then the youth team that he coaches, the Colorado Thunderbirds, including his twin sons, brought out the banner that was raised to be honored with the other all-time greats.
“Something I will remember forever. This was well done by the Avs and I will enjoy it. I enjoyed everything out of it and it feels great. It was awesome. Now it’s going to be fun to go back to the building and see my jersey up there,” said Hejduk. “It’s great.”
Hejduk spent all 14 years of his NHL career with the Colorado Avalanche. Before that, he didn’t realize how much opportunity there was growing up in a Communist country.
“I grew up in the Czech Republic and I started playing there and then the Iron Curtain went down and the borders opened up and then you could see other stuff. We started watching NHL on TV and we were like, ‘Okay, there are some different possibilities.’”
He came to America when he was just 22 years old.
“Coming over here was just a totally different lifestyle. I didn’t speak any English so the start was really rough for me,” said Hejduk. “But then I kind of pushed through it and it kind of helped me, in the long run, be mentally stronger.”
He was drafted by the Quebec Nordiques in 1994 but the franchise moved to Colorado before he joined the team. He admits he didn’t know much about Colorado then.
“I didn’t know much,” said Hejduk. “When the team moved from Quebec to Denver, Colorado, they won the Cup right away so I knew this was a really special team.”
He says those days hold special memories for him.
“It was a special time because before every season, you knew you were going to make the playoffs, it was just a matter of how far you were going to go in the playoffs. There was a such a confidence in the locker room. That team was strong and we came up with a lot of wins.”
That included the team’s second Stanley Cup championship in 2001.
“I remember until the last minute, you’re just pushing the clock and we were up by a couple of goals and we were like, ‘Is this really happening?’ and everybody jumped on the ice and hugging and it was just an awesome feeling.”
Hejduk retired holding the record for most career games as an Avalanche player (1,020), which is considered one of the greatest lines in hockey history.