The Evolution of Matt Duchene and His Leadership Role With the Avalanche


Don’t let the lack of a ‘C’ or an ‘A’ on the front of his sweater, just above the heart, fool you. Matt Duchene is the heart-and-soul of the Colorado Avalanche. Despite the lack of a leadership letter on his jersey, he has taken on a role of leadership this season — both on and off the ice. At 23 years old, Duchene is entering the prime of his career, and his evolution as a player has been fascinating.

Every Avalanche fan knows, that Matt Duchene grew up a hardcore fan of the Avalanche. The stories of him rooting for Roy and Sakic as a youth, have oft been told. The video of him at the 2009 NHL draft, pumping his fist upon realizing he was heading to Colorado, was epic. The fact that Duchene showed up to sign his latest contract extension, keeping him in Denver through the 2018-19 season, in full Colorado garb says it all. This guy bleeds burgundy and breathes Rocky Mountain blue air.

Mar 19, 2014; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Colorado Avalanche forward Matt Duchene (9) shoots the puck prior to the game against the Winnipeg Jets at MTS Centre. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

After suffering their 3rd straight loss, and 5th in 6 games to start the season in Montreal Saturday night, Duchene was apologetic, saying  he’d take “100% responsibility for the loss.” Wow. Dutchy must have had himself a real stinker of a game, or made a glaring mistake that lost his team the game. Quite the contrary actually. Duchene led the team with 10 shots on net, and looked to be on a mission to win the game all on his own. Since the Avs came up short, Duchene reflected, “I got one (goal) at the end there, but I should have had more. I take full responsibility. More than one has to go in for me tonight. My job is to score and make plays and help this team win.”

There is a certain confidence to the way Duchene speaks now, which couldn’t be said earlier in his career. Duchene admitted himself that he was a bit of a roller coaster — riding the highs too high, and letting the lows affect his game and mindset. Duchene has worked with a sports psychologist to really hone in on the mental aspect of hockey.

His teammates viewed him as the most immature player on the team early in his career. Duchene seems to be a pretty happy go lucky guy when he is on the ice, and often can be seen smiling and joking with teammates. As a young player, these teenagers are living the dream – playing in the NHL. Duchene was still figuring things out about himself, and he got thrown into the fire of a struggling team, expecting him to come in and produce.

In an interview with Mile High Sports, Duchene said one of the things that plagued him early in his career was being too hard on himself. Duchene described himself as a person with a guilty conscience, even at a young age. Whenever he made a mistake on the ice, or was having a stretch where he wasn’t scoring, it would eat him up. This affected Duchene’s game negatively. The biggest message the psychologist emphasized with Dutchy was being able to forgive himself.

Duchene’s quotes after the Montreal game seem like another instance of a guy being too hard on himself. But Duchene is coming from a much better place now. At this point in his career, he has matured. He realizes the team relies on him to produce in order to win, and is determined to do so. But he seems more grounded in the process needed to get to that point.

Don’t let the lack of a ‘C’ or an ‘A’ on the front of his sweater, just above the heart, fool you. Matt Duchene is the heart-and-soul of the Colorado Avalanche.

Duchene is no longer that immature kid, although he hasn’t lost the smile when he’s out on the ice. Duchene appears focused, and has adjusted how he handles himself, on the ice, in off-season training, and mentally, to become one of the elite hockey players in the world.

Duchene leads the Avalanche with 22 shots on net, and is tied for the team lead in goals with 2 and points with 3. The Avalanche offense is slumping, and Matt has had his share of frustration with a lot of quality chances not finding the net. Duchene said, “I need to be looser around the net.” The goals are going to come for Duchene and this team, it is just a matter of patience and hard work.

When asked about the slow start, Duchene said that “when you’re not scoring as a group you tighten up and you’re not going to defend well.” It is no secret that Duchene is a big part of that scoring puzzle, and he admitted as much after Saturday’s game.

One thing Duchene can bring to this locker room right now, is his experience with forgiving oneself. Duchene knows what it’s like to go through stretches were things aren’t going as you envision or hope they will. The Avs need to stay positive, and not let mistakes burden them for long stretches. The talent is there, it’s just a matter of focusing it, and keeping the right frame of mind.

Duchene doesn’t wear a letter, but he has still stepped up as one of the primary leaders on this team. To me, this is Duchene’s season. This is his year to really put this team on his back, and carry them to where they want to go.

Gabriel Landeskog wears the ‘C’ and he wears it well. He is fiery on the ice, and stands up for his guys. Off the ice, he is well spoken, and in practices he has a commanding presence. Jarome Iginla wears an ‘A’ as a tribute and sign of respect. He is one of the most accomplished players in the history of the game, and wasn’t brought to Denver exclusively for his talents. There is a mentor role for Iggy here as well. Cody McLeod is as fiery as they come, and is notorious for dropping the gloves against opponents who are far superior to him in size. He started wearing the A a few years ago due to his competitive nature, and has donned it ever since.

Duchene doesn’t need a letter. He is a leader, and he is this team’s heartbeat. Moreso than ever, the Avalanche need the best from Matt Duchene, and he seems ready to deliver. This is the year that Matt Duchene transforms from a bright-eyed youngster with flashy talent, to a guy who becomes ‘the guy’ for his hockey team. This is the year that Matt Duchene leads the Avalanche to the playoffs. This is the year that Duchene starts cementing himself as an Avalanche legend — that future budding young hockey players will look up to.

Credit to Mile High Sports for Duchene sports psychologist scoop. Full interview can be found here.