When I asked Colorado Hockey Now colleague Terry Frei today what I should write my column about, he immediately replied that it should be a comparison between this year’s club and the 2000-01 Stanley Cup championship version of the Colorado Avalanche.
Funny or not, Freis’s response came with coincidental timing as earlier in Friday practice some media members were lucky enough to witness a visit from Eric Lacroix.owner of Lacroix Hockey and partner in Drill House Sports Centerboth of which are located in Family Sports Center where the Avs (today in short supply) practice.
I was one of them.
While Eric, the son of the respected former players’ agent-turned-general manager Pierre, didn’t play in either Avalanches Cup squad, he does have the insight of seven years as a player in the NHL, countless others as a scout for clubs, including the Calgary Flames, and as a studio analyst for Vegas Golden Knights broadcasts.
Lacroix happened to say how special this team is, but he also said that the 00-01 Avs were expected to win, meaning there was a certain amount of pressure on the club from outside the locker room. The same could be said about the 02-01 version, although they were disappointingly short.
At the very least, compared to the last Cup-winning roster, Avalanche has more of an internal expectation to win this season than an external one. Sure, the gambling world had them pinned down as a contender from day 1 and yes, the fans have that zeal too, but otherwise everything is seemingly different.
Lest we take a Royal Gorge big jump, Erik Johnson’s 13 seasons without winning the biggest chalice in all sports is NOT akin to victory for the Ray Bourque Mission 16W campaign that ended the last 22-year drought without a title when he was taken over by the bordeaux and blue the year before.
However, the rise of Cale Makar and his humble beginnings as arguably one of the best defenders to ever play the sport of hockey is a game changer, not unlike the way Bourque improved a near-there lineup. And perhaps the addition of fellow rearguard Josh Manson’s trade deadline will turn out to be like when the elder Lacroix brought in future Hockey Hall of Famer Rob Blake.
But there’s still a lot of hockey to do, including a series against the St. Louis Blues, JUST LIKE 2001! That is, if head coach Jared Bednar knows what he’s talking about, he expects a much bigger challenge than the first…round no-show Nashville Predators (A FIRST ROUND SWEEP ALSO LIKE 2001!).
Tough test, Bednar said of the matchup. They are extremely deep. Numbers show it. One hundred and nine points. Ended the year 14-2-1, I think. Eight guys with twenty goals. Top special teams in the league. Everything. Everything makes it a tough test.
They are difficult to play against. They take up all your time and space, and then if you make mistakes and try to push the limits with your puck play and you don’t manage the puck well, they will make you pay. Like I said, eight guys from 20 goals, and they’re deep. Top 3 lines score every night.
To be honest, I’m not sure many of the current players even care about the comparisons to previous squads. They are their own men, and they are capable of achieving all or nothing without the ghosts of history hanging around.
They are only focused on what they can control which is their own game against a Blues team only three years away from winning the Stanley Cupone with Conn Smythe Trophy winner Ryan OReilly still in charge.
You just have to be prepared for anything. I mean, obviously this is going to be a team with a different style, Manson said. A little deeper attack beforehand, I think, with these skills. So any ‘D’ link will probably see every line. I don’t know if there will be a hard match up or what it will be for the top line, but you will need to be ready for all three lines for any ‘D’ link.
Bednar added: It becomes a more difficult task. Boys will have to play. We don’t have time for guys to be out of focus and play their game. If not, we’ll put in someone else. It will change soon, because offensively Nashville had one rule. These guys have at least three. Lots of help from their D-core too.
Fortunately, the Avs have more depth than ever under Bednar, so replacements are waiting for a chance to strike, should they be needed. In fact, other than a third keeper in Hunter Miska, Colorado didn’t even really need anyone to serve in the black aces reserves.
It’s really good. It’s the deepest we’ve been, Bednar said. Most of the guys we definitely have on the blue line. We’ve got two really good ones up front every night up front. So in years past we were probably thinner and we went straight to guys from the AHL, and now we’ve got guys here. So we have some good options.
With every win this year, Avs will cement their place among Avs of yesteryear, but we won’t know how they really do until the final whistle blows.
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