The Colorado Avalanche seem to lack the mental toughness necessary to grind their way to the playoffs. They can learn from Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton about what a Stanley Cup attitude really is.
In a previous post, I suggested the Colorado Avalanche needed to learn from their neighbors, the Denver Broncos, who had just beaten all odds to win the Super Bowl. After all, that worked out well in the glory days of the 1990s, when the two teams took turns winning championships.
Instead, the current Colorado Avalanche squad dropped their next game to the Vancouver Canucks — the loss included their going up first then allowing three unanswered goals. Overall, Colorado proceeded to go 5-4-0 until they lost to the Minnesota Wild and dropped out of the final wild card spot. In two of those five losses Colorado blew a lead.
The Avalanche crawled back into the final wild card berth, but blew a third-period lead to the lowly Winnipeg Jets. Coupled with a Minnesota Wild win, Colorado dropped out of the wild card spot again.
So, no, the Colorado Avalanche aren’t like the Denver Broncos. Not only do they not find ways to win despite being the underdogs, they find ways to lose when they’re up.
Acceptance of Mistakes and Loss
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People will look for answers in advanced stats or in the coaching staff. I prefer to look at the psychology of the game. As head coach Patrick Roy points out, the Colorado Avalanche keep making critical errors that cost them games. I’m going to break it down one further — once they’ve made a mistake that costs them a goal, they allow it to balloon and cost them the game.
The Colorado Avalanche are different from the Denver Broncos in that they lack the killer instinct to keep grinding away at a game no matter what. They accept defeat.
Watch the Colorado Avalanche after a loss, and a lot of the players seem to be shrugging and saying, “That’s just the way it goes.”
Actually, here’s Nathan MacKinnon saying exactly that after a 5-3 loss to the Ottawa Senators at home:
Not that MacKinnon’s the only one. Here’s Gabriel Landeskog talking about the players “keeping our heads high” after a loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs:
Now, I’m certainly not targeting MacKinnon or even the Avalanche’s captain as the problem. Rather, I think it’s an overall culture — the Colorado Avalanche accept losing with grace. That may seem noble. It is not.
And here’s where I say they need to take a page out of Can Newton’s book.
Cam Newton’s Pugnaciousness
The Carolina Panthers quarterback became infamous for his sullen interview after his team lost Super Bowl 50 to the Broncos. He gave tight-lipped answers about what the Panthers had done wrong, and finally left abruptly.
When later questioned about his behavior, he quoted Vince Lombardi with his own spin on it:
“I’ve been on record to say I’m a sore loser. Who likes to lose? You show me a good loser, and I’m going to show you a loser.”
On the face of it, this seems like a much more pugnacious response to losing than Landeskog’s “We need to keep our heads high” approach. It is. But then, that tenacity, that chip-on-the-shoulder approach is what allowed Can Newton to lead his Panthers to the Super Bowl in the first place.
I posit it’s the type of attitude the Colorado Avalanche need to have in order to even get “invited to the dance” of the Stanley Cup playoffs. That is the “Stanley Cup attitude” about which head coach Patrick Roy has spoken on more than once occasion.
Stanley Cup Attitude
I just came across a tweet about 44-year-old Jaromir Jagr:
Jaromir Jagr posted on Facebook in middle of the night. He was at the gym. Wearing two weight vests. After a game. pic.twitter.com/h5RIIhUygK
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) March 13, 2016
Now, never mind Jagr’s work ethic for a second — he’s renowned for being the hardest worker in the NHL. Instead, let’s think about the situation that led to his midnight workout. He’d just played in a game. He had to drive to another location. He had to gear up. He had to work out.
None of that’s particularly hard. He probably didn’t have to show up to the arena for the game until late afternoon. I’m sure he has a very nice car — he could afford a driver if he wanted. I doubt he even had to go to a store to buy any of his gear. I’m sure the gym offered state-of-the-art equipment, and he likely had it all to himself.
What was hard was the mental fortitude that even led to that situation.
Patrick Roy was also infamous for his compete level. There are the obvious examples, such as the time he checked himself out of the hospital and played two playoff games with appendicitis. However, I keep thinking about a couple stories former teammate Adam Foote shared.
Foote and Roy used to room together. During the Coors Light Center Ice Beer Summit, Foote detailed how he was able to startle Roy by jumping out of a closet at him — over and over and over through the years. He remarked, “He was just that focused on his own game.”
Foote also related a story about discovering Roy on top of his bed in the hotel room practicing his saves over and over. He was laser focused. Those two anecdotes are more examples of the mental fortitude of winners.
It’s the exact opposite of the losers Cam Newton was talking about. Indeed, both Jaromir Jagr and Patrick Roy are infamous for being sore losers themselves.
So, here’s what it all boils down to. The Colorado Avalanche have everything in place to be winners. They’ve got a good mix with veterans, youngsters, grinders and stars.They have a coach who backs them up and knows exactly what it takes to win the Stanley Cup. (See Roy above.)
They also have the same advantages any professional sports team has — top-notch equipment, all-access to state-of-the-art practice facilities, a staff dedicated to their success. Any player could literally demand a session with a personal trainer on a machine he asked to be ordered followed by a soak in a hot tub and a rubdown then a little chat with a sports psychologist. And he could have it at midnight — ask Jagr.
Or ask Peter Forsberg. When his ankle pain got so bad at the end of his career, he wore a brand new set of skates in every game. You think he paid for a single one or even had to request ordering them beyond “I want new skates for every game”?
What’s missing from this Colorado Avalanche team is the sore loser mentality. They are graceful losers, and that makes them just losers. That’s not a Stanley Cup attitude.
The Stanley Cup playoffs are the hardest playoff run of any sport. Getting into the playoffs means a team has at least four more games of the grittiest, hardest-fought, most physical hockey imaginable. You literally keep playing until there’s a winner — even if that takes two or even three full games.
Do you think getting into the playoffs is going to take anything less than pugnaciousness?
Hopefully each and every Colorado Avalanche player is looking in the mirror today with a Cam Newton eye. Hopefully he’s angry at himself for the mental errors he committed in last night’s game. Hopefully he takes that anger and channels it into a commitment to never making those errors again. Hopefully he then goes forth and does whatever’s necessary to follow through on that commitment, whether it’s watching video, working out, seeing a psychologist or practicing his game over and over.
That is a Stanley Cup attitude.