By Dave Bruning
I passionately remember the classic Avalanche-Red Wings hockey match of 1997. It was reminiscent of an epic title fight between two great champions. This incredible game culminated with Patrick Roy of the Avalanche dropping his gloves and engaging fellow Detroit goaltender Mike Vernon in a rare, but extremely entertaining fight between goalies. Roy walked away from that fight bloody and battered; it only reinforced his reputation as a feisty, clutch, stand-up hockey player.
This reputation reared its pretty head again in Roy’s first game as the head coach of the Avalanche. At the conclusion of the season opening 6-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks, Roy had a flashback to his feisty playing days. He literally tried to destroy the plexi-glass barrier that separates the benches. Roy did not appreciate the late game antics of the Sharks, specifically a questionable hit on #1 overall draft pick, Nathan McKinnon.
Roy was fined $10,000 for his outburst. It could quite possibly be the best $10,000 he will ever spend in his professional career as a player or coach. Roy sent messages rippling across the NHL and the locker room of his team. The Avs have had little success recently, and had earned a reputation for being a soft hockey team. Roy’s tirade showed the NHL Colorado will not be pushed around. More importantly, he showed his team he will stand up for them and expects them to do the same.
St. Patrick tied the NHL record for most consecutive wins by a rookie coach to start a season. He shares this record with Mario Tremblay. Ironically, it was Roy’s falling out with Tremblay that led to him being traded to the Avalanche.
Roy honed his old-school approach to coaching with Quebec in Canada’s Junior Hockey League. His toughness sprinkled with positivity and teaching has resonated with the Avalanche. Colorado jumped out to a 6-0 start before losing to those same hated Red Wings. Young teams are prone to rollercoaster highs and lows. I look forward to watching how both Roy and the Avs navigate this rollercoaster.
The Avalanche is an exciting and talented hockey team. They possess speed and their young lineup has tremendous upside. The Avs are anchored by the goaltending duo of Semyon Varlamov and Jean-Sebastian Giguere. The defense is a concern, but early returns are positive. Denver hockey fans were spoiled by the arrival of a loaded team from Quebec in 1995. The current Avs have been built from within and are being guided by Roy and fellow Avalanche great Joe Sakic. Core players Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene have inked long term extensions. 2013 #1 overall pick Nathan McKinnon leads Colorado in scoring at the precocious age of 19. The future looks bright for Colorado after wallowing in an avalanche of mediocrity.
The coaching opportunity Patrick Roy has longed for has arrived. He has waited patiently, much like fellow Denver sports icon John Elway, who has reshaped the Denver Broncos and has them staring at a Super Bowl. It’s party time in Denver, and if you don’t like it, Patrick Roy is ready to drop the gloves and change your mind.