ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Patrick Roy’s fiery personality was on full display in the opening game when the Colorado coach got into a heated exchange with Anaheim, banging his hands again and again on the glass partition until it tilted.
That eruption set a tone for the season: The Avalanche weren’t going to be pushovers.
Not with the combustible Hall of Fame goaltender taking over behind the bench.
Roy guided this franchise—the one he led to two Stanley Cup titles as a player—back into the playoffs by tying a team record with 52 wins. They play Minnesota in a first-round series that begins Thursday.
“Patrick is the ultimate winner. He doesn’t accept anything less than winning,” backup goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere said. “He did that as a player and he’s doing that as a coach.
“He does that when he plays golf, he does that when he plays cards, he does everything to win. And that has really translated to our team. He changed the whole mentality in this room, and it shows every time we go out on the ice. We play to win, so it’s fun to see that.”
As for that volatile temper, the players insist they rarely see it inside the locker room—not after a bad period or a tough loss. This is their team, Roy said from the day he was brought on board, and he was there more for support than to scold. He was partnering with them, not ruling them with an iron fist.
The breathing room allowed the youthful Avalanche to make some mistakes and learn from them.
“They need to have someone who they can come up to and talk,” said Roy, who’s the fifth coach in NHL history to win 50 or more games in his first season. “It’s their system.”
Roy’s only previous experience on the bench was serving as coach and general manager of the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. So he leaned on his assistants, as well as former teammate turned executive Joe Sakic.
Roy has been a little unorthodox in running the team: From pulling his goalie with two, three, sometimes four minutes remaining if they’re down a goal to assembling them at centre ice after a practice and having them all yell “team” at the same time.
“If we want to be different than we’ve been in past years, then we have to do things differently,” captain Gabriel Landeskog said. “It’s been great to see his point of view on things. You see the team that we are. You see the team that we’ve become.
“At first, you might wonder, ‘What’s going on here?’ But it’s certainly working for us.”
No arguing that. They were 35-0-3 this season when taking a lead into the third period and had the best winning percentage in one-goal games simply because they played loose and with confidence.
“Patrick empowers us,” Matt Duchene said two weeks ago, before suffering a knee injury that will keep him out for the start of the playoffs. “Sure, he gives us a kick when we need it. But when he knows we need to be treated with a little bit softer (touch) and brought up instead of put down, that’s what he does.
“He’s very good at sensing the feeling in the room. He’s helped us all achieve what we’re capable of achieving.”
Perhaps no one more than Semyon Varlamov, who turned in a career season under the watchful eyes of Roy and goalie coach Francois Allaire, the man responsible for helping turn Roy into one of the best goalies in hockey history.
Varlamov won a league-high 41 games this season, breaking the team record held by Roy.
“Of course it’s a big deal to beat Patrick’s records,” Varlamov said. “He’s one of the best goalies in the world.”
All this from a team that won just 16 games in a lockout-shortened season.
“What a season they’ve had,” Wild forward Jason Pominville said. “They’ve completely turned it around.”
Really, the only big additions are rookie Nathan MacKinnon and the presence of Roy.
“They must have done something right and Patrick must do something right to make that happen,” said Pominville, the team’s leading scorer.
Indeed. The foundation for that transformation was built in Roy’s very first game in charge when he lost his cool and yelled at Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau, pounding on the glass. That was after a 6-1 win, too.
Roy was fined $10,000 and reprimanded by the league.
Wild coach Mike Yeo jokingly said he plans to “check the partition” between the benches before the playoff series.
“This is a team that we have to have a lot of respect for,” Yeo said. “They’re an in-your-face team.”
Just like their coach.
AP Sports Writer Dave Campbell in St. Paul, Minn., contributed.