DENVER – Joe Sacco envisions a fast and feisty team taking the ice, one that attacks and stays aggressive.
Perhaps a version of himself when he was a forward in the league. Sacco, who spent 13 years in the NHL, was introduced as the new coach of the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday, a day after the club fired Tony Granato and shook up its front office.
Flanked by newly appointed general manager Greg Sherman on his left and assistant coach Sylvain Lefebvre to his right, Sacco talked about carving out a revamped identity for a team that’s coming off its worst finish since moving to Denver in 1995.
“We want to be a team that plays with a lot of energy. We want to play on our toes, we don’t want to play on our heels,” Sacco said. “We want to be a team that attacks, we want to be a team that doesn’t sit back.”
Most of all, Sacco wants this team to return to glory, when the Avalanche were perennially challenging for a Stanley Cup crown.
Sherman shares that vision.
“We all want the Avalanche to return to the standards that made this franchise so successful,” he said. “There will be no shortcuts to return to those standards.”
Sacco, 40, was promoted from the Avalanche’s American Hockey League affiliate, where he coached the Lake Erie Monsters the last two seasons.
He should be quite familiar with this roster, considering he coached players like T.J. Galiardi, Ray Macias and Derek Peltier at Lake Erie.
“I certainly think it will help,” Sacco said.
He inherits an Avalanche squad that missed the playoffs for a second time in three seasons as it stumbled to a last-place finish in the Western Conference. The team is strapped by salary cap issues and has both of its goalies, Peter Budaj and Andrew Raycroft, unsigned for next season.
“I can’t worry about that right now,” Sacco said. “That will all take care of itself.”
The same can be said of captain Joe Sakic as the Avalanche wait to see if he returns for a 21st season. Sacco would love nothing more than to coach Sakic.
“But that’s going to be his decision,” Sacco said.
And the Avalanche aren’t in any hurry to rush him along.
“Joe has earned (the right) to take his time and make his decision as to what his future holds,” Sherman said.
A former NHL forward, Sacco appeared in 738 games over a 13-year career that included stints with Toronto, Anaheim, the New York Islanders, Washington and Philadelphia.
The native of Medford, Mass., was also part of the United States hockey team that finished fourth at the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France.
The hiring of Sacco caps off a whirlwind few weeks in which the Avalanche flirted with hiring Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy to be their coach – only to have him turn them down – and made sweeping changes to the organization, firing Granato and five others.
The team also announced a new management structure Wednesday, promoting Sherman to general manager. He takes over for Francois Giguere, who was let go in April.
In Giguere’s absence, president Pierre Lacroix stepped in and ran the team. Lacroix wasn’t present Thursday as he recovers from complications following knee-replacement surgery.
With Lacroix’s newly assembled management group intact, they made their first decision: hiring Sacco.
“He truly deserves this challenge,” said Sherman, whose team has the third pick in the NHL draft later this month.
Lefebvre accompanied Sacco to the Avalanche after serving as an assistant at Lake Erie. He thinks Sacco’s style will resonate with the players.
“Joe’s a demanding coach but also understanding,” said Lefebvre, a member of the Avalanche’s Stanley Cup winning squad in 1996. “He likes to let the players know what their roles are on the team.”