“The day you’re capable of dealing with the word ‘fear,’ you’re becoming a winner.” — Patrick Roy
Barring the ending, of course, all of us loved last season. We withstood the desert of the Joe Sacco years, when we just couldn’t understand why our great players didn’t add up to a great team.
Last year things changed. A couple firecrackers came and finally ignited the Avalanche – rookie Nathan MacKinnon and head coach Patrick Roy.
You know what happened next: a dream season during which the team went from having been dead-last in the conference to winning their division. A season that ended prematurely we all feel, but that still saw three players and our coach get nominated for awards – with two players and that coach winning.
Despite those achievements, it’s predicted the Avalanche will finish twelfth in their conference this season, therefore not even making the playoffs. Yes, it’s just a betting prediction for gamblers, but it does underscore an issue the Colorado Avalanche will face next year – fear factor, or fear of being a one-hit wonder.
Avalanche Playoff Drought
Back in the heyday, the first decade of their existence, there was no question of the Avalanche making the playoffs – they did so every year. Twice they won the Stanley Cup. Other seasons they may not have made it past the first round, but they at least made it
the first round.
That changed in the 2006-07 season when they did not qualify for the playoffs. Nervous Avalanche fans tried to shrug it off as a blip, a one-off. Indeed, it looked like just that as the Avalanche made the playoffs again.
And then they didn’t qualify the following season. The Avalanche became “that” team, the one that didn’t make the playoffs regularly. Three years in a row, the Colorado Avalanche did not qualify.
Then there was last year and “Why not us?” Veteran Avalanche fans remembered the “Of course it’s us” years, but we joined in on the refrain. Because it was shiny. Because it was new. Because, as Madonna famously sang, we were like virgins again, like the Columbus Blue Jackets, delighted to even win their first-ever playoff game.
Plus, we now understood all-too-well that a team doesn’t just automatically make the playoffs.
Fear Factor for the Avalanche
Every season brings certain teams you know are going to dominate – usually the ones who have won a Stanley Cup in the last few years:
- Boston Bruins
- Chicago Blackhawks
- LA Kings
Then there are teams that you can’t believe haven’t won recently, namely the St. Louis Blues and the San Jose Sharks.
Other teams, you’re pretty sure are going to be terrible:
- Edmonton Oilers
- Buffalo Sabres
- Winnipeg Jets
Everyone else is somewhere in between, and the hell of it is that it could go either way with the season. Even at the beginning of last year the Avalanche were touted as one of the teams you were sure were going to be terrible. Finishing dead last will do that to you.
But they weren’t. They had a dream season and seemed to have turned themselves around.
And that’s the crux of the problem. They go from being dead-last in their conference to winning their division – with almost the exact same team. Nathan MacKinnon and Patrick Roy were the only big changes.
Will those two be enough to carry the Avalanche through another winning season? Or will the Avalanche come crashing down to earth again – succumbing to their own fear and ours that last season was the fluke, the one-off, the blip?
Will the Avalanche Succumb to the Fear?
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The Avalanche will not succumb to fear, and for one reason – they essentially replaced center Paul Stastny with winger Jarome Iginla. That’s not a slur against Stastny. This has nothing to do with who is the better player. It’s all about the psychology of the game.
By letting Paul Stastny go and bringing in Iginla, Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy changed the chemistry of the top six, the all-important gunners on the Avalanche team. If Stastny were still in the lineup with no Iginla, the Avalanche are the same team they were last year – and the same basic team they were for the three years they didn’t make the playoffs.
Iginla changes the chemistry of the Colorado Avalanche top six. It is no longer five young players augmented (hopefully) by capable veteran Alex Tanguay. The Avalanche top six now consists of two complete lines, each with two young players and one veteran. And one of those veterans is a future Hall of Famer, not the type of player who succumbs to fear of failure.
Matt Duchene, for his part, likes the new addition to the team. In an interview with Sportsnet, he said:
"“Jarome is a guy who’s almost a generational talent…People keep talking about his age, but I don’t see that being an issue at all. He’s been outstanding so far, skating around, skating together. He’s in amazing shape. You can just tell he’s a great leader.”"
Of course, Iginla’s got his own fear – of being “that” guy, the one who makes it into the Hall of Fame without having won a Stanley Cup. That fear is certain to be stronger than the vague fear of not living up to expectations.
Ultimately, Patrick Roy said it best:
"“Obviously there’s going to be expectations next year on the team. And this is where the word ‘fear’ comes into play. And the day you’re capable of dealing with the word ‘fear,’ you’re becoming a winner. And that’s what we’re going to have to go through.”"
Now with Iginla’s leadership, a future Hall of Famer fighting past his own fear, the Avalanche have the tools they need to “deal with” that fear. In short, they have it in themselves to stay winners.