Hooked On Hockey Magazine

Colorado Avalanche- The Future Looks Bright

The boards that divided the home and away team benches came crashing down on Bruce Bordreau as the final horn rang throughout a packed Pepsi Center on October 2, 2013. The head coach of the visiting Anaheim Ducks had found himself on the receiving end of one of Patrick Roy’s signature fiery tirades; one that set the tone for the regular season that was to follow. On this night (opening night to be exact), The Colorado Avalanche put a 6-1 beatdown on the Ducks, much to the enjoyment of the hometown fans in attendance.

The season prior had been one to forget. Accumulating just 39 points over the span of a shortened, 48 game season, Colorado finished at dead last in the Western Conference. It was a year nothing short of embarrassment for an organization that was not long removed from being considered a Western Conference powerhouse, having set the NHL record for most consecutive division titles (9) just a handful of years before.

The offseason had brought in a slew of team legends into the organization, including long-time Avalanche captain and Hall of Famer Joe Sakic, who took on the Vice President of Hockey Operations role. Of course, Roy was named the Head Coach, and he brought in former Avs defenseman, Adam Foote to help out the coaching staff.

As Roy gave the glass separating himself and Coach Bordreau repeated shoves, the Pepsi Center erupted with elated cheers and applause, which only fueled an onslaught of expletives directed at Roy’s opponents. The diehards looked on with a feeling of nostalgia that raised the hairs on the back of their necks. Sepia-toned recollections of Roy as goaltender in a fistfight at mid-ice with Chris Osgood (and Mike Vernon) of the Detroit Red Wings seemed to playback on the ice. The same man that helped make the Colorado-Detroit rivalry  one the most violent and heated feuds in all of professional sports was back. This time he was on the bench, but that fire still burned as bright as it did in the late 90’s, at the peak of the Avalanche/Red Wing brawls.

As the scene quieted down, eventually both benches emptied into their respective locker rooms, but the vast majority of the fans remained, in standing ovation fashion. The Avalanche had won the game, 6-1. But there was an overwhelming sense that something much bigger was in the works. A sense that a winning atmosphere had returned to the city that once watched Joe Sakic sweep to his right and hand Ray Bourque the Stanley Cup for the first time in his storied career.

Patrick Roy was back.
And so too, were the Colorado Avalanche.

The regular season that ensued found Colorado atop the Central Division; having finished behind only Anaheim in the Western Conference. Pitted against a fiesty Minnesota Wild team in the first round of the playoffs, Colorado eventually fell victim to a heartbreaking Game 7 overtime loss, as Minnesota forward Nino Neiderreiter buried the puck, and (effectively), the team’s hopes of hoisting Lord Stanley. The impressive season that had avid Avalanche supporters asking “Why Not Us?” came to an abruptive halt. The ice melted with the summer, but the unpleasant reality of an earlier-than-anticipated offseason was bitter cold.

Aside from the highly-coveted Stanley Cup (which was eventually earned by the scrappy Los Angeles Kings), the team did however rake in plenty of hardware at the 2014 NHL Awards Ceremony in Las Vegas.

Roy was the obvious choice for the Jack Adams award, more than doubling the second highest vote-getter (Babcock of Detroit) in amassed points. It’s hard to argue voting against a guy who turned around a team the way Roy had managed to do with Colorado. The award was just the latest for the Hall of Famer who had received numerous others during his playing career.

Rookie Nathan MacKinnon also had little competition when it came to the Calder trophy, receiving nearly all of the first place votes. He even broke Wayne Gretzky’s record streak of consecutive games with atleast a point for a player 18 or younger.

Ryan O’Reilly added the Lady Byng trophy to the team’s season achievements, being perceived by peers as highly sportsmanlike. Just 2 penalty minutes in 80 games was a testament to his gamesmanship.  O’Reilly joined Joe Sakic as the only other Avalanche player to have ever received the award.

In a season that Semyon Varlamov broke his head coach’s season win record, The Vezina trophy, awarded to the “best goalkeeper”, only narrowly evaded him. It instead was awarded to Boston Bruins goalkeeper Tuukka Rask. Varlamov was really the only goalie that gave Rask a run for his money, falling just 13 points short of the award.

Throughout the 2013-2014 season, the accomplishments the Avalanche produced were diverse and plentiful. In the offseason, the club has seemingly picked up right where it left off, keeping the train of momentum at full steam. After losing long time Avalanche Center Paul Stastny to his hometown of St. Louis, Colorado responded by accquiring veteran forward Jarome Iginla, who was a 9 year team captain of the Calgary Flames before playing short stints with Pittsburgh and Boston.

Another seasoned veteran in Daniel Briere was also brought in to help fill the void of Stastny’s absence. Briere, a two time all-star once led all players in point totals in the playoffs of 2010.

Brad Stuart, a long time NHL defenseman was the third player Joe Sakic reeled in to add a veteran presence to a team whose lack of NHL seasoning may have been it’s achilles heel.

With the 2014-2015 season looming just around the corner, the Avalanche roster has an abundance of youth, experience, speed, and undeniable talent that fans hope will be the recipe to take the steps needed to reach the next level. A level that the team fell just short of last season.

Maybe, just maybe, the future generations of burgundy faithful will look back at the squads of Landeskog, Duchene, O’Reilly and Varlamov, and hold their memories as close and dear as the great teams of the 90’s and early 2000’s. Blake, Hejduk, Foote, Forsberg.

Sakic.

Roy.

Of course, anything can happen and only time will tell. But with some of the above mentioned names spearheading a new season’s campaign, one thing is certain.

The future looks bright.

I grew up playing both roller and ice hockey as a kid, and the passion of the sport has followed me into adulthood. I've lived in the Denver Metro area my entire life and love the city to a fault. When I'm not following the Colorado Avalanche, I enjoy playing drums in my metal/hardcore band, Hit The Ground Running.
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