DENVER – Patrick Roy stopped by a local coffee shop recently when a friendly stranger approached him for a casual conversation.
“They said, ‘Hey coach, how are you today?'” Roy recounted. “I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s me.'”
Indeed, and the Hall of Fame goaltender hopes to bring as much fiery passion to the Colorado Avalanche bench as he did to the net. Should the head coach ever get too amped up, well, at least he has his former teammate to keep him in check with Joe Sakic handling the day-to-day hockey operations this season.
As players, Roy and Sakic teamed up to lead the Avalanche to a pair of Stanley Cup titles.
Now in charge, Roy and Sakic will try to turn around a franchise that’s missed the playoffs three straight seasons.
“We’re going to have a Stanley Cup attitude,” Roy pledged Wednesday as players reported for physicals a day before the start of training camp. “In my years here, we were not perfect every night. But we gave ourselves a chance to win every night. When you pick that up as a player, you become a strong team.”
Unlike when Roy was wearing an Avalanche sweater, this squad has fallen on lean times. So much so that they had the second overall pick in 2011 (taking captain Gabriel Landeskog) and the top pick last June (selecting forward Nathan MacKinnon).
Their confidence is a little bruised these days.
“We’ve learned how to lose,” forward Matt Duchene said. “Now, we have to learn how to win.”
That’s where Roy enters the picture.
“I’m here to win,” he said. “It’s not an ego thing. In my years in Denver, we all put our egos aside, and I’m going to put my ego on the side. There might be some nights I’m going to be upset, but I’m going to try and have it under control.”
He suddenly laughed.
“No, I will be under control,” Roy quickly added.
As a kid, Duchene grew up with posters of Roy and Sakic adorning his bedroom wall. Now, they’re in charge of the team’s resurrection.
“It’s going to be cool,” Duchene said. “It’s going to be special, for sure. I’m still getting used to it. But I’m excited to sit down and talk hockey with them.
“I’ve never been more excited for a season in my life. Everybody has so much confidence with these two guys at the helm. The buzz around the boys is way different. It’s pure excitement.”
Landeskog couldn’t agree more as he enters his second season as captain.
“We’ve had enough of losing and we’re tired of losing and we want to change that,” Landeskog said. “We all know (Roy and Sakic) could’ve been on any golf course around the country playing right now. But they want to be here helping this team. It’s up to us to respond. It’s up to us to deliver.”
The Avalanche didn’t make many splashy moves in the off-season, but they did orchestrate a trade with Calgary, sending David Jones and Shane O’Brien to the Flames for Cory Sarich and Alex Tanguay.
For Tanguay, this is a return to the city where he helped Sakic and Roy win a Stanley Cup title in 2001.
“Knowing Patrick, he’s got one thing in mind: Win hockey games,” the 33-year-old Tanguay said. “I know his personality as a player, and I’m sure that hasn’t changed for him being a coach. He’s going to look for ways to push this team moving forward and winning hockey games and take this team to where he wants to.”
This also helps: Steve Downie was just cleared to return to the ice after missing most of the lockout-abbreviated season with a torn ACL. He brings a toughness to the ice, not to mention leadership. Downie will be on the same line as MacKinnon, who turned 18 on Sept. 1.
“We don’t want Nathan to come here to be our saviour,” Roy said. “We want Nathan to be the (best) player he can be.”
Even though Roy is one of the best NHL goaltenders of all time, he doesn’t plan to interfere that much with the development of Semyon Varlamov. He will leave that to Francois Allaire, the longtime goaltending guru who’s worked with such notable names as Jean-Sebastien Giguere—who will also mentor Varlamov this season—and Roy.
Over the summer, Allaire worked with Varlamov for two weeks in Montreal and another week in Switzerland. They changed Varlamov’s style, although the player nicknamed “Varly” wouldn’t say what precise modifications were made.
So far, Roy likes what he sees from his young goalie.
“Varly is putting in a commitment that makes me believe he deserves a chance to prove himself,” Roy said. “We will give him that chance.”