You all remember the Colorado Avalanche’s long-standing sellout streak, right?
The Avalanche sold out every home game between 1995-96 and 2006-07 — spanning two buildings, McNichols Sports Arena and Pepsi Center. Those crowds watched a lot of great hockey in that span, as Colorado won the Stanley Cup twice and reached the Western Conference final four other times — falling in Game 7 in each series.
But the Great Recession hit the States, and the Avs’ on-ice play had fallen into hard times as well. Colorado’s made the postseason just once in the past five seasons — twice finishing with the worst record in the Western Conference.
But that’s all changing this year.
The Avs are bringing winning hockey back to the Rockies, and they’re doing it the best way possible: with a fun, young and exciting group. Colorado is firmly locked into the Central Division’s No. 3 seed and would have to collapse mightily to miss the postseason.
Some might not care, but this renaissance has people my age excited.
Why? Because it brings adults of a certain age back to fond memories of their youth. Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic, the faces of Avalanche success in the late-1990s and early-2000s, are spearheading this revival as Colorado’s coach and co-vice presidents of hockey operations.
Among those of that age are Matt Duchene. The Haliburton, Ont., native has seen the difference between Roy and former head coach Joe Sacco firsthand.
“The biggest difference this year has been the coaching staff,” Duchene told me Thursday. “We have a more relaxed, more fun atmosphere.”
Duchene, who grew up rooting for the Avalanche, admitted he was blown away upon hearing who his coach would be.
“I was excited. He was one of my idols growing up,” Duchene said. “It’s been one of the coolest parts of my career so far. Our goal is to win a Cup, and to win a Cup with [Roy] and Joe Sakic, with my favourite team growing up, that’s a dream come true right there.”
That presence alone has added credibility in the dressing room, but it was Roy’s tenure in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League — as coach, general manager and owner of the Quebec Remparts — that he says lent itself to his coaching success.
“I learned a lot from my 10 years in junior,” Roy said. “To learn things, what to do, what not to do, it’s different from junior, but there’s a lot of things that are alike.
“It helped me a lot with confidence.”
Besides Duchene, Paul Stastny and a slew of young offensive talents, Roy’s coaching practices make watching the Avs worthwhile. He’s a fiery fellow, who picked a fight with Bruce Boudreau in his first game this year. In the past week, Roy twice pulled his netminder with more than two minutes in regulation — with Colorado trailing 2-0 on Thursday, he removed Semyon Varlamov with nearly four minutes left.
Yet those moves paid off as Colorado scored a game-tying goal in New Jersey before winning in overtime on Monday, then scored once and nearly tied the game in Philly.
Roy also has tinkered with lineups, leaving P.A. Parenteau on the bench as a healthy scratch last week. While Parenteau became the subject of trade rumours, he told me he has no sore feelings about his head coach.
“I have a really good relationship with him,” Parenteau said. “He’s a really good communicator.
“The guys are liking it that we are winning, and you don’t want to lose that feeling.”
The Avalanche may be on their way to the playoffs, yet in the loaded Western Conference, Colorado’s remarkable point total does not put it into home-ice advantage range. The Avalanche will undoubtedly tinker — rumours are swirling about Jaromir Jagr — and Sakic and Roy will make the final call.
“We know we’re not there yet, but we’re going in the right direction,” Sakic said. “We talk all the time about different possibilities, so we’ll see.”