Colorado Avalanche: Why Matt Duchene Should Wear a Letter


What is it that defines hockey captains and alternate captains? There are big ones (e.g. Zdeno Chara), small ones (e.g. Martin St. Louis), young ones (e.g. Taylor Hall), old ones (e.g. Shane Doan), some are good players (e.g. Sidney Crosby), and some aren’t really (e.g. Bryce Salvador). The only thing they seem to have in common is that they all wear a small letter – a “C” or an “A” – on their chest.

So what is it that those players are supposed to do? Quite simply: lead their team. Whatever it is that the team is being led to, may it be the Stanley Cup when we talk about someone like Sid Crosby, or a bunch of early draft picks when we talk about Taylor Hall. It is these players’ job to lead by example and assure that the team gets to where it wants to go.

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How do players do that? Captains need to be a presence in the locker room – speak up, motivate teammates, criticize teammates, be representative of teammates and be the go-to guy for teammates if they have any concerns. Be a presence on the bench – same thing as in the locker room. Speak up and help your teammates.

On-ice performance is an essential asset for credibility. If my team’s captain criticizes me for a mistake and then goes out to play worse than the three next-worst players together, why would I even care about what he has to say? Step up and make big plays – score important goals, throw big hits, defend your teammates, give 100% in every second you spend on the ice. All that can make you a good captain. Experience won’t hurt you, although 19-year-olds have captained teams before (Hey, Landy!).

Now, our Avalanche’s current “official” leadership team consists of young Swedish captain Gabriel Landeskog and his assistants Jarome Iginla and Cody McLeod. But they aren’t the only ones that provide leadership. One very important player that has been left out is no other than the Avs’ greatest fan – our #9 – Matt Duchene. Our Mile High Sticking editor Austin Manak has called him “the heart and soul of the Colorado Avalanche”, even without a letter. There is a lot of truth in that.

Matt Duchene as a kid in his bedroom full of Avs merchandise.

There probably haven’t been many junior players before that said “yes” and bumped their fist as a team opted to pick a different player than him. But that is exactly what Matt Duchene did when the Tampa Bay Lightning selected Victor Hedman second overall in the 2009 NHL Draft. Duchene, a huge Avalanche fan growing up, got downright excited when he dropped past the first two picks and to Colorado. He is now the #1 centre on his favourite team that is being managed and coached by his biggest idols growing up – Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy.

What could possibly make this dream he’s living even better? Well, maybe stitching a “C” on his shirt. One thing you can certainly count on is that he will always give 100%. Duchene wants the Avs to win – more than he wants to win for himself.

“I had times where I could barely look at myself in the mirror.” – Matt Duchene

Duchene takes responsibility. For wins and even more so for losses. If the Avalanche lost 5-4 and Duchene scored a hat trick, you shouldn’t be surprised to hear him say something along the lines of “I should’ve scored more, it’s my fault”, rather than “I scored a hatty but the rest of the team screwed us.” On the contrary, if the Avalanche won 5-4 and he scored a hat trick, he’d probably say something similar to “Today was a team effort, I’m glad I could contribute to that.” The team’s success is important to the humble Canadian; so important that it eats him up if the team is not successful. Duchene saw a sports psychologist and could get it under control. He now motivates his teammates like he motivates himself – like a true captain.

Duchene admitted that there was a negative atmosphere in the locker room when Joe Sacco was still coaching the team. “There were very few people in this (locker) room who were happy”, he said in an interview in 2013. Therefore, nobody really wanted to speak up and be the leader. Not Duchene, not captain Landeskog. But now that Roy is coach, things have changed. Matt Duchene now opens his mouth, knows he is a leader, and acts like one. It has often been mentioned that Landeskog – despite being a good captain – is too quiet in the locker room. Duchene has often been mentioned as someone that speaks up in the locker room.

As we get to on-ice performance (as we all know, actions speak louder than words), we will just look at what he can do, instead of talking about it.

All I can say after these goals: teach me how to Dutchy. Come on, those were pretty sweet. So yes, on-ice performance is certainly there. Well, Duchene has got it all.

I can totally see coaches throwing “Cs” at Landy because they fall in love with his smile – he does look like a Swedish top model. But this is hockey. And while Duchene does not have the beautiful hockey smile either (at least four teeth must be knocked out to achieve that), he does do everything it takes to be the team’s captain. I am not trying to bash Landeskog here — he is one of my favourite players. But it does not seem fair to me that Duchene, after six years on the team, does not get the public acknowledgement (which is essentially what the letters are) that he deserves. Matt Duchene should be the Avalanche’s captain – until he retires.

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