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Mile High Sports

One year in and Roy has Avalanche on right track

It was nearly a year ago that the Colorado Avalanche franchise made perhaps the biggest change of the last decide, bringing in former legend Patrick Roy to coach the bottom-feeding organization. A perennial loser, the Avs were at the tail end of a front office makeover that saw Eric and Pierre Lacroix exit in favor of Josh Kroenke, Joe Sakic, and Roy.

The only certainty at the time was that this wouldn’t be the same lowly Avalanche that the Mile High city had become accustomed to. Even if the club again finished second-worst in the entire NHL, it would be at the hands of someone new, and that would provide a true gauge of two things.

First, it would prove how aimless the club had really become in the wake of the Joe Sacco era. On paper, Colorado had a lot of young talent but it often failed to manifest out on the ice. Was this due to coaching or ability?

Second, it would speak to the unknown that was Roy as a coach. While he had success in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, there was no guarantee that Roy could translate what he knew to the NHL level. He wouldn’t be working with malleable kids whose professional hockey dreams hinged on doing what the coach wanted. Roy would be a handler for the drama-filled persona that is the modern day salaried athlete.

Varlamov finally the goalie of Colorado’s future

“Patrick was always my top candidate,” said Sakic at Roy’s introductory press conference, putting faith in his former teammate. “Patrick has a great hockey mind, is a tremendous coach, and there’s no one more passionate about this game. He’ll bring a winning attitude to this dressing room and help this young team grow.”

Would Roy be steady and reliable, a stone coaching pillar on which his players could lean on the road to victory? Or would he be the hotheaded, cocky, impassioned goaltender that defined his legacy as a player?

The only thing Roy offered early on was something that would eventually come to define the new attitude throughout the season.

“We might not be winning the Stanley Cup next year,” said Roy during his first minutes with the franchise. “But one thing I know, we’re going to have a Stanley cup attitude and I think that’s going to carry us a long way.”

The 2013-14 season started with a 6-1 blowout over the visiting Anaheim Ducks, a surprising twist for the throngs of fans who showed up with little remaining expectation for the year. Identifying a perfect way to endear his players to him, Roy made additional headlines that night when he battered the partition separating him and fellow coach Bruce Boudreau, taking exception for the lack of respect that Anaheim had shown Colorado throughout the night.

Roy was fined $10,000 for the posturing but he had gained something much more valuable, the attention of everyone on the team from that point forward.

He went to bat for the Avs and they would repay the favor, playing a hard-fought, unexpected campaign that concluded with a Central Division title—the first for the organization since Roy retired following the 2002-03 season.

Colorado finished the year 52-22-8 with 112 points, ahead of the St. Louis Blues, Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings, Montreal Canadiens, Pittsburgh Penguins, and New York Rangers. Players like Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog, Jan Hejda, Erik Johnson, and Semyon Varlamov were at the top of their game, carrying the team and creating a foundation upon which the future would be constructed.

They thrived under the direction of Roy, who allowed them to use their talents as the game dictated instead of forcing them into a broken system with little margin for improvisation.

Roy also rebooted the stale defensive structure of the Avalanche, using a man-on-man system to mask the holes on the back end. This also provided the support that Varlamov needed to truly shine as well, and Colorado rode his stellar season straight into the playoffs.

Preaching things like levelheadedness through wins and losses, a partnership between coaches and players, the “unit of five” game system, and a postseason attitude for each and every contest, Roy accomplished something incredible. He swiftly ushered in a new era of Avalanche hockey and received finalist consideration for the Jack Adams Award for coach of the year—an honor that Roy has all but officially won—because of it.

There were certainly missteps along the way, which is to be expected with a rookie bench manager calling the shots. Utilizing new goalie Reto Berra during meaningful games down the stretch was one obvious blunder given Berra’s current inconsistencies in net. So was using key starting players during a meaningless final game of the season against the Ducks.

It was then that Hejda had his thumb demolished by an errant puck, which severely hindered the top defenseman’s abilities in the playoffs and directly lead to a poor showing against the Minnesota Wild during the first-round series.

Those are the kinds of growing pains that come with learning a new role and there is no doubt that Roy has learned from these and other minor blemishes made throughout the campaign. They won’t matter much if he can continue motivate his squad to achieve more, the way he already has.

As long as he grows, adapts, and continues to get the best from everyone on his team, Roy will have a long and successful career behind the bench. A student of the game, Roy knows too much about the sport to achieve anything less.

Ryan Boulding is a staff writer for Mile High Sports. He can be reached via email at ryan@milehighsports.com or on Twitter @RBoulding.

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