I do. It’s important for me pay it forward. I had guys like Milan Hejduk and Darcy Tucker my first year that really mentored me and helped me. Those guys were a lot older than me and Nate (MacKinnon) and I are closer in age. While I can’t offer Nate what those guys offered to me – in terms of experience – I can do my best. And that’s something Nate will pass on to the next young guy that’s on our team four years down the road.
Who is the funniest guy on the team?
P.A. Parenteau is the funniest guy on the team.
What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from last season?
I think the biggest thing you learn is how hard it is to win in this league and what it takes to win, as well. I think that part is going to continue to be learned. When you do lose a number of seasons over and over, you learn lessons, and things that work and don’t work. You’ve just got to play on and go forward.
Everyone talks about this big shift in culture (Sakic, Roy, etc.) within the Avalanche, but from a player’s standpoint, what have you immediately noticed as being “different?”
I’ve seen an immediate change. (Patrick Roy) is such a good communicator. He wants things to be real simple and broken down so that, as a team, we’re solid. He wants us to be an offensive team, which is exciting. But at the same time, he talks about the Penguins in the early 90’s when they won the back-to-back Stanley Cups. He said they were so good on their own end, and as soon as they got the puck, they were gone – they were on offense. That’s the team we want to be. That’s what all of us want to be; I think every centerman here wants to be a 200-foot centerman, every winger wants to be the same thing, and every D-man wants to be a two-way defenseman. The only way to do that is to be really strong on your own end and then once you get the puck, you take off and go.
With the new conference re-alignment, and the Avs in the new Central Division with some new foes and some old ones, are there any goalies – or really any players, in general – that you are starting to pay more attention to?
I think Nashville is going to be a real challenge. They have Pekka Rinne, who is one of the best goalies in the league and then Shea Weber on the back-end. I know I am going to see a lot of him. I’ve seen a lot of him over the past couple of years. It’s a challenge any time you go against a team like that. You know you’re going to get that guy most of the time. I like that challenge. I like playing against a top end player like that. You know that if you are able to generate offense and create goals – we had one game last year where we scored a lot against them, our top line against their top line and it’s really fulfilling because you went up against a very tough opponent and you overcame it. We’ve got Minnesota, who is always tough to play against. We’ve got Chicago and Winnipeg, who has Pavelek and he’s such a great goalie. There are challenges every single night and then you get those rivalries, one-on-one with guys. I really enjoy that part of hockey.
Speaking of Nashville, do you think Seth Jones will come in and make an immediate impact for them?
We’ll see. I think (Nashville) is the perfect team for (Seth Jones) to go to – they’re so back-end heavy, so there won’t be too much pressure on him. He’s like Nate (MacKinnon) coming to us. It’s very similar. I think Nate is going to do great, but he doesn’t have that much pressure on him right away just because we have so many offensive weapons right now. That’s a good thing for him. Maybe at that age, coming in, it can be a little overwhelming to have a lot of pressure and a lot of hype on him.
And you of all people know what that is like?
Exactly. When I came in, yeah.
I don’t know. For me, I had a tough go at it in the beginning. It took me a long time, there were things I probably didn’t learn because I was expected to come in and do so much offensively right away. I was in a position where if I wasn’t producing offensively, we probably weren’t going to win or there wasn’t a good chance of us winning. I think my 200-foot game took a hit and it took me a while to get that under control and get that where I wanted I to be. I feel like in the last year and a half, I’ve buckled down there, I was able to really figure it out. And now, we have a new system defensively and I love it. For me, it’s easy – I want to continue to get better at it and go forward in that direction.
When you came in as a rookie, the Avs made the playoffs that season. In fact, you scored the winning goal against Roberto Luongo in a shootout to clinch the playoff berth. But the past few seasons, the team has fallen short of seeing the postseason and recently, been one of the worst teams in the league. When you come in to the league guns blazing like that, then fall off, what kind of mindset do you have to have to keep going?
For me, when you’re playing this game, you’ve got to look out for yourself and for your team. But when you look out for yourself, and you bring your best effort every night, that’s what is going to help your team. That’s the most important thing. I can’t worry about what those guys over there are going to do each night, I’ve got to worry about what I’m going to do. And that’s going to help the team. So, for me, individually, the whole idea is to take it one day at a time and have a short memory. But team-wise, you have to feel the same way. We, as a group, have to have a short memory. Yeah, we’ve lost in the past and we’ve had disappointing years, but we’re in a completely different scenario now. It’s a fresh start. We’ve got to start clean now. So that’s how I am looking at it and I think that’s how we’re all looking at it.
I work with a sports psychologist quite a bit and I think every body should have one. It doesn’t matter how mentally strong you think you are, everyone can benefit. The biggest thing we worked on – because I was in shambles when we first met – he told me “you need to forgive yourself.” When you make a bad mistake, you go back to the bench, and you say “you know what, that wasn’t good, but I forgive myself, and you bring it the next shift and forget about it.” For me, it was so much about that downward spiral because I would make a mistake and I would dwell on it. I’d sit on the bench and cuss myself out in my head. I’d be in a terrible frame of mind once I went back out on the ice. Now, if I make a terrible mistake, I forgive myself and move on – it’s the only thing you can do.
I’ve always been hard on myself. In life, I was always like that and then it transferred to hockey. Even as a ten-year old kid, if I did something bad in school and my mom or dad didn’t find out about it, I would go home and tell them because I couldn’t live with myself. I’d feel so guilty. So, I’ve always had a guilty conscience – big time. When I’d make a bad play or cost the team the game, it was really hard for me to forget about it because I’d feel terrible and so guilty – like I let people down. And now, I think I have gotten better at that. You’ve got to realize that you’re human and you’re going to make mistakes.
It was after my third season that I realized that I needed a new mental approach. Like I said, I was in shambles. I couldn’t look myself in the mirror at times. It was tough. I blamed myself first for everything that went wrong. There’s a lot of things now, as I look back, that I wish I would have let myself off the hook for because there were a lot of things that were out of my control. But, I do think it is better to be that way than to make excuses. I had to re-evaluate myself and what I was doing and involve myself with different people.
Who do you expect to have a breakout year? Maybe someone who will surprise people?
Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie (could have breakout seasons). I think those two guys are really going to thrive under Patrick’s system. EJ has looked amazing in just the two games I’ve seen him play in in camp. He had two unbelievable goals in one game already. I think with him, coaching will be good for him. (Erik Johnson) has had a tough go at it – he had a major injury early in his career and he had a lot of pressure on him as the first overall pick in a very strong draft year. He’s going to have a lot of great people working with him and talking with him. For him, he wants to be good and he puts the effort in. I think he just needs to feel comfortable and confident now. And once he feels that comfort and confidence, I think he’ll thrive. I can see it in him; he’s has a different demeanor in him that he never has and it’s really fun to watch. If he lives up to his potential, he could be challenging for the Norris Trophy – that’s the type of talent he has. And to touch on Tyson (Barrie), a little bit – he’s played 40 games in the league. He’s going to continue to get better. He’s smart, he’s skilled, he’s confident, he’s calm and he doesn’t get rattled too easily. I think he’s going to do really well.
Joe Sakic has said many times he’s not really in a “coaching” role. But, since he’s a fellow forward, someone you can learn a lot from, how much do you seek his personal advice? How much does he offer it?
Yeah, and I think Patrick said this in a press conference the other day – there’s no one better than (Joe Sakic) to teach a centerman. He’s not just going to be drawing plays up on the board. You know, I want to check in with him regularly and ask him what he thinks. He’s a guy that came in as a really high offensive guy – as a young player – and his two-way game was good, but it kept getting better and better to the point where he became one of the best two-way guys in the game. That’s where I want to get to and I think he’s the guy that can help me get there.
We have four really good lines, but I think at the end of the game, your guys that are going to drive the ship are going to need their minutes. So, it’s going to be a balancing act for Patrick, but he’s knows how to do it. We have four lines that can contribute immensely. So far, Ryan O’Reilly and I have been clicking really well in camp. We didn’t have P.A. Parenteau with us, but we ended up with a good young kid that we played really well with the first few days, as well. I don’t think (O’Reilly) and I could be more happy with our chemistry. Then, when we have P.A. in there, well, he and I already have and amazing chemistry. I think we’re going to be an absolute deadly line. And I can say that for all four of the lines. If you look at our second line, you have Stastny, Landy and Tanguay – those guys are such smart players. Landy is a good up-and-down player. Then, you’ve got Nate (MacKinnon), who I think is going to be great. I look at our four lines and it’s a special group.
What do you see a veteran guy like Alex Tanguay adding to the lineup?
I would say that whoever is playing with (Alex Tanguay) better be ready for the pass – even when he has an open net, he might even pass it to you. He’s fun to watch. I’ve been a big fan of his since I was a kid watching him with Colorado, so it’s pretty cool to play with him now.
You were a big Avs fan growing up. Is it surreal to walk into work every day seeing Super Joe and Patrick? How long did it – or will it – take for that to seem normal?
I don’t think it will ever be normal. I’m still a bit of a deer in headlights. I’ve known Sakic for four years now and I’m still a little nervous around him and want to make a good impression all the time. Patrick is an intense guy and I’ve listened to all of his press conferences – trying to get to know his personality and figure out what he is looking for. I love his excitement and his passion about our team – it’s really great. You know, a lot of coaches won’t let on how excited they are about their team, but I think that needs to happen because when a player watches a video and the coach is happy with what they are doing, it doesn’t give the player the right to let up and say, “Oh, okay, I’m good.” But it makes you say, “Okay, he’s happy with this; I will keep going and doing it this way and he’ll be happy with me.” You’ve got to know what your coach wants and I think Patrick is going to be really good at that.
I know you love football. How great would it be to see the Niners and the Broncos – two of your favorite teams – play each other in the Super Bowl?
I wouldn’t know who to root for (laughs). My dad was always a big 49ers fan, so we used to watch them when I was young, but I’m definitely a Broncos fan now.
I read Drew Brees’ book and I see a lot of similarities in the way we both look at things. He’s a Christian guy and I am, as well. I just like how he came back from adversity. When I read his book, I was also going through adversity – after my third season – so I took a lot from his experiences and applied them to my own.
I play in the Avs’ fantasy football league. It’s me and Scott Woodward – our trainer/therapist – on a team. I’m the owner and he’s the GM. He used to work for the Broncos, so he knows his stuff. We have Andrew Luck, Ray Rice, Victor Cruz – those are our stud guys. I won it all my first year. We win a trophy, a ring – it’s a big deal.
Check out The Lead and the rest of the hockey preview in the October issue of Mile High Sports Magazine, on stands this week!