DENVER, Colo. — On the eve of the Colorado Avalanche’s first playoff series since 2009/10, president of hockey operations Joe Sakic admits there is one major factor that has contributed to the turn-around of the Avs this season — head coach and Hall of Famer, Patrick Roy.
Sakic, who was hired as the Avs president of hockey operations in May, has made it a major goal of his moving forward to bring the franchise back to the elite NHL status it had when he twice hoisted the Stanley Cup as captain.
“There’s no better playoffs than hockey playoffs, and it’s great to be back in it,” Sakic said Wednesday at the Avalanche’s practice facility according to NHL.com.
After finishing last in the Western conference last season and drafting Mooseheads forward Nathan MaKinnon first overall, the Avalanche have matched a record 52 wins — 112 points this season is the second-highest in franchise history — under Roy who is the fifth coach in history to win 50 games in his first season.
“I’m proud of this group,” said Sakic. “It’s a group that expected a lot of themselves. The players that were here last year obviously weren’t happy with the way it ended and got a fresh start and wanted a fresh start. The change in the coaching staff got a lot of respect from them. They really worked well together, the coaching staff and the players. They fed off of that and got off to a good start and it got the momentum going.”
The first year Avalanche executive believes the team he built has shown characteristics of a champion and despite the success this season, Sakic seeks more from his roster.
“I’m excited for the players and obviously the organization and the fans here in Denver. I’m very proud of this group, what they’ve accomplished this year, but I also know that this is a group that wants more.
“The regular season’s over and there’s no better time than to be a fan of hockey and a player in hockey and in management in hockey than this time of year. We all shoot for the Stanley Cup. Every single player and every single team is hoping to be playing for two more months.”
The Avalanche began this season on fire winning their first six games and not losing in three consecutive regulation games throughout the entire season. Heading into the playoffs, Colorado went 8-0-1 to overtake the St. Louis Blues for the division title.
Sakic said he began to realize this season was special when the Avalanche continued to win through Christmas time without any significant slumps or off-ice issues.
“There were no signs of a letdown,” he said. “The confidence kept growing and their belief and their expectations kept growing and we’re here. I know what the expectations are with the players, and they want to win the Stanley Cup.”
Roy, who will most likely win the NHL’s coach of the year award this season, reinforced his belief in his players through a calculated explosion of his fiery temper.
At times this season the Avs coach was explosive, most notably during the season-opener and coaching debut against the Anaheim Ducks. Roy got into an intense shouting match with Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau at the end of the game and almost broke the glass partition separating the teams’ benches with aggressive two-handed pushes.
“Obviously he’s a passionate guy, just sticking up for his [team]. It wasn’t his fault that the glass was loose,” Sakic said, jokingly. “I’ve seen coaches snap. But he’s not like that with the players. He’s been very patient with the players. There’s a mutual respect; he’s very calm and on the teaching path, and he’s instilled confidence in all the players.
“He’s shown respect to the players right from the start. He used the term ‘being in partnership’ with the players. Patrick and the entire coaching staff did an unbelievable job right from Day One when it came to teaching and getting that respect from the players.”
The Avalanche will take on the Minnesota Wild in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs beginning Thursday night in Colorado where Patrick Roy will make his playoff-coaching debut.
Go Avs Go?
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Image Credit: Denver Channel