The MHH staff weighed in on some of their favorite Colorado Avalanche moments in the past year. I suspect many of you will share our thoughts on these.
After an expected entry into the NHL for a top-3 pick, Matt Duchene seemed to stumble. A player we all hoped would be a star was looking more like he'd be "just" very good. When 2013 hit and the lockout ended, however, a new player erupted on the Avalanche scene. Unlike his counterpart John Tavares, who made progressive strides in his way to elite status, Matt Duchene took a monumental leap. His talent was magnified by the incredibly hard work he'd put in during the offseason and in Europe. He is inexplicably faster, his vision is sharper, and his ability to slow the game and bend it to his will is mesmerizing. He has become the guy everyone hoped he would be, someone who has opposing coaches dedicating tape time for him before each game. His strength with the puck is one of the biggest changes, making him unyielding along the boards and a force pushing through defenders. His determination is just as unyielding. Duchene made everyone across the league sit up and say, "Holy shit is he good."
While many would like to forget the horrid showing of the Avs during the shortened 2012-2013 season, a few really good things came out of it, most notably Nathan MacKinnon. It took little time for him to win over the fans as we could all see just how special of a player he is from his first moment on the ice. Most across the hockey community thought the Avalanche would take Seth Jones given the abysmal state of the defense, but Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy made it abundantly clear that Nate was their guy.
Speaking of Sakic and Roy, their appointments to Executive Vice President of hockey operations and head coach and Vice President of hockey operations respectively made big waves. There was quite a bit of backlash for these moves as many thought it was just nostalgia and an attempt to get butts in the Pepsi Center seats. Yet it became clear right away that there was much more to it. From their honesty about the team and front office decisions to the new approach to player and team management, there were positive strides towards bring back a winning culture to Colorado. Roy's insistence that the fans were as much a part of the team as the players and coaches endeared him to Coloradans, and the players' endless praise showed that a new era had most assuredly begun.
The change in approach was evident from the first puck drop at rookie camp. I'll let Dario explain:
It started with Jean-Ian Filiatrault running pre-camp skating drills with the goalies to the GM balcony being full. Then going into regular training camp and seeing Roy run his first drill sessions. The attitude, speed and hands-on approach to his practices was something not seen in this town since Joel Q. ran a practice. Roy does it more than any coach I've seen with his involvement with each drill. Also, the clear emphasis on goalie coaching was evident as well. Just culture shock.
One can't talk about culture change in Colorado without mentioning the addition of Francois Allaire as goaltending coach. He has taken Semyon Varlamov to new heights and reignited Jean-Sebastian Giguere's career. Both players have posted astonishing numbers this season, shoring up the Avalanche net with seemingly ease.
Whores also enjoyed the change in approach:
The highlight for me is Roy flat out telling the world he would never have a dump and chase team. I'm a systems person and seeing him redesign the defense to his own specifications and utilize the natural skills of the offense, instead of shaping them to his own desire like other coaches, was amazing. It was my ultimate dream coming completely and absolutely true.
These were just the beginnings of moments in which, as SteveHouse put it, "The Avs said loudly that the losing era is over." The whole of that opening night game screamed that this was not the same Avalanche team. No longer would they be pushed around. No longer would they be underestimated. No longer would they be a lottery team. Not only did the team destroy the Anaheim Ducks in that first game of the season, but Roy gave everyone a glimpse into his passion and dedication to the team and his players. It was a highlight reel moment that is still talked about, something that most thought foreshadowed a season full of meltdowns, but Roy's argument with Bruce Boudreau--and the near destruction of the partition between the benches--said to his players in no uncertain terms that he had their backs. Interview after interview thereafter saw the team members expressing their appreciation for that gesture, noting a feeling of respect and support they'd lacked under the Joe Sacco regime.
On the team's first road trip, they had a legend share some words of wisdom with them. Ray Bourque stood in front of the team at dinner prior to the Bruins game. Matt Furedy explained it best:
(It was) the moment when "Why Not Us" was spawned. And I loved it, not so much because of the sentiment and the idea behind the words, but because they came from Bourque. I love the idea that it was a bridging moment between the old guard to the new. A moment for traditions to be passed on, and a bond between everyone that has worn the A on their chest.
Adam Foote's jersey retirement was a thing of tears and cheers. It was fun to watch video of his career, moments like his return to the Avalanche after the trade from Columbus and his final shift, in addition to all of those classic Stanley Cup moments. The best part of the night, however, was his speech. It was honest and heartfelt and included an amazing recognition of the fans as an integral part of his career. Sandie's top moment of 2013 was when Foote gave props to the fans in a way that prompted thunderous applause from those in attendance. "I'd like to thank you fans for the energy you gave us, especially when we kicked Detroit's ass," Foote said.
All of these feel-good moments would have been a little less had it not been for the stellar start the Avalanche had to the 2013-2014 season. The team, and Roy, broke records and made all of the "experts" start to question their predictions of another top 5 pick in June. The pundits continued to say that the wheels were set to fall off at any moment; it still has yet to happen. Sean McIndoe created a list of the Most Watchable NHL teams for a Winter Classic, the Avs being second. He encompassed the reaction to the Avs continued success perfectly:
Have they plunged back to earth like all the smart people said they would? How about now? Now? How about now? [Season ends.] Dammit.
The first Eastern Conference road trip showed exactly the kind of team in the Avs had become. Long gone were the days of giving up after being down a goal or two or letting off the gas when holding a goal or two lead. One of Earl's favorite moments illustrated this change well: the 3rd period against Pittsburgh.
I could have never imagined that the Avs would be able to play D like that until actually witnessing it. That game backed up the win in Boston and told me that on any given night, this team can compete with any team in the league.
Fare thee well, 2013. And welcome 2014.