Roy Rules The West – Colorado Avalanche Return to Success

One of the best rivalries in the history of sports happened in the late 90’s and early 200o’s.

It was in hockey between the Red Wings – with their rich history of Stanley Cups, winning, and tradition – and the upstart Colorado Avalanche. With a new address and hope after moving from Quebec.

The rivalry began with a dirty hit by Avalanche Claude Lemeiux on Red Wing Kris Draper.  It sparked a series of vicious hits, beautiful goals, goalie fights, line brawls, and numerous close edge-of-your seat games.

Patrick Roy was a key player, if not THEE key player in the whole thing.  The Golden Boy in Montreal had a rough night giving up 9 goals to the Red Wings before his coach finally pulled him.  He told the coach and owner that he had played his last game for them.  The Colorado Avalanche were a loaded team with a revolving door of goalies, kind of like the 3rd basemen for the Chicago Cubs.

In the most lopsided trade since the Cubs traded away Lou Brock.  All they needed, was a goalie.

They got a Hall of Fame netminder Patrick Roy who was one of the best not only at the time, but of all time.  Patrick would win 2 Cups in Colorado, then retire unexpectedly.  The Avalanche would be a goal away from the playoffs the following year and never really return to success.  The rivalry subsided as the Avalanche would settle into mediocrity while the Red Wings continued to be well, the Red Wings.

Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic with #1 pick Nathan MacKinnon

Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic with #1 pick Nathan MacKinnon

The Avalanche would end up being one of the worst teams in the NHL in a lockout shortened season of 2013.  The only highlight was ending the perfect wining streak of the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks.  (Sidenote – this game happened while I was covering the UNI Panthers in Arch Madness – played at the home of the St. Louis Blues.  The happiest people on the planet were Blues fans.)

Ownership hit the reset button on the front office and Joe Sacco (think Todd Lickliter) was fired.

A Rocky Mountain blast from the past walked in the door with Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy.  The Avalanche had the #1 pick in the draft and a match made in heaven with Seth Jones.  Seth’s father Popeye Jones played for the Denver Nuggets and his son loved hockey.  Joe Sakic told the kid to take figure skating lessons and blossomed in hockey becoming consensus #1 pick by most of the experts.  The Avalanche needed defensemen like the UNI Panthers have needed post play.  Then Sakic and Roy said, thanks but no thanks, we’ve got eyes on Nathan MacKinnon.  The hockey world questioned their sanity, but Roy and Sakic smiled, a confident, quiet smile.

Mt. Roy Explodes (via (Altitude Sports)

Mt. Roy Explodes (via (Altitude Sports)

Then the 2013-14 season happened.

Colorado opened at home against the Anaheim Ducks.  The Avalanche lit up the scoreboard to the tune of 6-0.  In the final minutes of the game Ben Lovejoy made a run at Nathan MacKinnon’s knee.  It was a cheap shot and infuriated Patrick Roy who has a history of being…fiery.

Then Corey Perry decided to squirt the Avalanche bench with his water bottle.

Roy then got into it with Ducks Head Coach Bruce Bourdreau. Yelling and pushing back the partition between the two benches.  Watch the video here.

The Avalanche would win their first 6 games losing their first to (you guessed it) the Detroit Red Wings.  The Avalanche would stay towards the top of the Central Division with defending Chicago and St. Louis. They ended up winning the division. And they almost won the West.  A game or two would have given them the #1 seed and they would have been the first team to go from Worst to First.

The team ahead of them? The same Anaheim Ducks that started it all off.  The season would come to an abrupt end in Denver in Game 7 to the Minnesota Wild.  The Avalanche had all the momentum until perennial goon Matt Cooke took out Tyson Barrie’s knee along with the Avs best defenseman.  Nathan MacKinnon would win the Calder Memorial Trophy (rookie of the year) and Patrick Roy would be Jack Adams Award Winner (coach of the year). Semyon Varlamov would finish a close second in the Venzia Trophy (goalie of the year).

Patrick Roy was the driving force the entire time. He labelled himself as a players coach.

As a player he brought fire, passion, meticulous attention to detail, personality, style, and all out effort.  As a coach, he was largely the same.  The media painted him as the same lunatic he always was after the outburst in Anaheim but he largely remained cool and collected as the season unfolded.

Roy talking with Jamie McGinn (via

Roy talking with Jamie McGinn (via

Patrick was a walking encyclopedia when he played.  According to the book Blood Feud by Adrian Dater, he would remember who shot what and when for months and years. Not to different from Greg Maddux in baseball.  He was always a coach in the making.  He turned down the job in Denver years before because he was not ready yet.  He won at every level he had ever played or coached so why would the NHL be any different?

Well, former superstar players that have turned into successful coaches occur about as often as a soccer game without a fake life-threatening injury.

BUT, Patrick did just that.  What Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, and others hadn’t.

Coaching isn’t about athletic ability and God-given talent. It’s between the ears.  The only thing more impressive than Roy between the pipes is what was between his ears.  The fact he was a former player who had been on the good and bad sides of coaches, meant he was able to communicate and empathize in a way nobody else could.  Coaches stick to strict practice regiments and morning skates.  Patrick, more the fan of an off day.  He’d rather have his players spend their energy in the GAME rather than at practice.  But while at practice, Roy was engaged and involved with every single player.  It was a TEAM game and everyone mattered.  The fact he won 4 Stanley Cups, 3 Conn Smyth’s (Stanley Cup MVP), 5 William Jennings Trophies (fewest goals allowed with at least 25 starts), 3 Venzia Trophies, and 11 All-Star Games gave him instant credibility.  The fact he was so engaged with his players gave him trust.

The outburst in Anaheim sealed it.  Patrick was all in. And now his players were too.

“I always try to be fair and honest” Patrick would say over and over.

Don’t believe him?  The only two players to play every game, Nathan MacKinnon, the rookie sensation. And Patrick Bordeleau, a bruiser and a fighter.  He was the exact opposite of Joe Sacco.

Think of this as replacing Todd Lickliter with Bobby Knight or Bruce Pearl.  The players loved him, the media loved him, and the fans did as well.

The players will fight for Roy.  Roy will fight for his players.  And considering Roy’s desire to fight, the future is bright for the Avalanche and Lord Stanley should return to Denver, and soon.