Colorado Avalanche: Forgiving the Players

Apr 9, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene (9), left wing Mikkel Boedker (89), defenseman Tyson Barrie (4), left wing Gabriel Landeskog (92) and defenseman Francois Beauchemin (32) line up for the national anthem before the start of the game against the Anaheim Ducks in the first period at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 9, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene (9), left wing Mikkel Boedker (89), defenseman Tyson Barrie (4), left wing Gabriel Landeskog (92) and defenseman Francois Beauchemin (32) line up for the national anthem before the start of the game against the Anaheim Ducks in the first period at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

A longtime Colorado Avalanche fan finally forgives the players for bringing heat down on the player heroes from the Avs Golden Age.

The Colorado Avalanche have been my team since it was rumored Colorado was getting an NHL team. I’m a native Coloradan, and I already loved hockey, so it was a natural fit.

I didn’t know much of anything about the Quebec Nordiques, though, because I had been a Pittsburgh Penguins fan. I didn’t know about the players who were skating around under the brand, spanking new Colorado Avalanche logo. I could see that Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg were phenomenal players, but I didn’t have any affection for them yet.

Then the man I already knew was the best goalie in the world (no one could reliably stop the likes of Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr like he could), Patrick Roy, got traded to my team. I got my first-ever Avalanche jersey — his.

Fast forward almost exactly 20 years. My team was in the middle of an unexplainable collapse. Yet we were all trying to explain it. And for the most part, we ended up having to pick sides.

Divided Loyalties

More from Mile High Sticking

In my post, Tiers of Fandom, I explore the idea that Colorado Avalanche fans who’ve been around from the beginning are in a top tier. You can agree or disagree, but you can’t deny that we’ve seen all the Avs hockey. We are extraordinarily lucky to have seen the Avs greats in their heyday.

It’s also a double-edged sword. We got spoiled early on with success. Ever since then we’ve been chasing the victory that seemed to come so easily in the glory days.

When the Implosion began, my loyalties started getting divided. On the one hand, the man I had revered for longer than the team had been in Colorado was being criticized. Yet I’d been at Matt Duchene’s, Gabriel Landeskog’s and Nathan MacKinnon’s first-ever NHL games. I was watching them grow up. Thanks to social media and the development of the internet in general, I knew them better than I had ever known the players in the Colorado Avalanche’s glory days.

Loyalty Decided

There was a seminal moment in my divided loyalties. It was two-part. The first part happened when Patrick Roy criticized Matt Duchene for celebrating his 30th goal. It was in the middle of an embarrassing loss while the team was skidding right out of playoff contention. I saw both sides of the argument and reacted mostly with objectivity:

must read: Understanding Coach Roy's Criticism

Just after that, in the midst of the team’s continued skid, Puck Daddy blogger Greg Wyshynski joined the “Fire Patrick Roy” mob, and I made the mistake of reading his misbegotten blog post. I finished reading that then read a quick blurb from the Denver Post that Patrick Roy had missed morning skate before the game against the Dallas Stars.

Unfortunately, I was on a lunch break, and I couldn’t investigate further. I returned to work thinking that people were howling for Patrick Roy’s head! They wanted him fired from his coaching position with the team he backstopped to two Stanley Cup victories! He’d brought the first-ever sports championship to Colorado, a sports-loving state! And now he’d been absent from morning skate!

And for 30 horrible minutes I thought it had happened just like that. I thought my hero of more than 20 years, Patrick Roy, had been fired from my team. I’m not prone to anxiety attacks at all — I’m a former teacher and have been long-trained to suppress my feelings at work — but I suffered one that day.

Finally, I was able to excuse myself long enough to research that Roy had missed morning skate because of food poisoning, not because he’d being fired. I was relieved, but it created a schism in my fandom, a forcible “us” vs “them” mentality. My loyalty was no longer divided — I was solidly on Patrick Roy’s side.

Unfortunately, the “them” in this paradigm turned out to be the players. I blamed them for not being good enough, for not living up to expectations, and for bringing shame down on the great man’s head because of their shortcomings.

Blaming the Players

I don’t like to think I’m a Polyanna when it comes to the Colorado Avalanche. However, make no mistake — I’m a blogger, not a journalist. As such, I have no stricture for maintaining objectivity. On the contrary, as a FanSided blogger, I’m expected to write as a fan.

I’ve definitely maintained an upbeat tone when it comes to the players — until that seminal moment. I spent a lot of money to attend the final game of the season and managed my work schedule so I could get there early enough to watch warmups. Yet I was so angry at the players I almost couldn’t look at them. They were enjoying the game they love, but I wanted to snarl, “What right do you have to look so happy after what you’ve done?!”

I think that attitude came through pretty clearly in my posts around that time, especially my post about Gabriel Landeskog:

Related Story: Landeskog's Fallen Stock as Captain

and Jarome Iginla:

Related Story: Iginla on the Way Out

It was around then that I conceived my Stanley Cup Attitude posts with the idea that most of the players would be on the “little to no” list.

GM Joe Sakic, ever the cooler head that prevails, had remarked that he and Patrick Roy were going to take some time off to reflect before making personnel decisions. I needed to keep writing during that time, but I decided to force my new anger at the players into a more useful attitude — newfound objectivity.

Forgiving the Players

Don’t tell me about separating the player from the coach when it comes to Patrick Roy. If you think I’m going to start blaming coach Roy, allow me to introduce myself:

For fun, when I meet religious fanatics in downtown Denver, I like to chant the following:

"The Word of Roy says we have to have a Stanley Cup attitude.The Word of Roy says we have to win our battles and finish our checks.The Word of Roy says we have to drive the net.The Word of Roy says our best players have to carry the team.The Gospel according to Roy, praise be to Patrick."

That’s right, I usually win the fanatic award.

That said, I’m still a Colorado Avalanche fan. I still know this core of players better than I ever knew the glory team.

And, for what it’s worth, I’m forgiving them. I think that’s coming through in more recent posts:

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I feel like my former cheerleader attitude has been tempered by objectivity, though.

What’s more, there’s a little anxiety going into the 2016-17 season. The stakes seem so high. Joe Sakic has said Patrick Roy has two years left on his contract — meaning the remaining year and the extension. Colorado Avalanche president Josh Kroenke seems content to let Sakic make those decisions.

However, how long will a man with an unrivaled will to win, Patrick Roy, stick with a seemingly hopeless case? If he continues to get undeserved heat, might he not just move on? Might we lose the best thing that ever happened to this team?

Next: Avs 30 Under 30: Current Stars

I forgive the players, but they have to be better. I don’t care how endearing it is watching them grow up or how funny their Twitter is. (Actually, Erik Johnson’s Twitter game has been remarkably lacking this summer, and our captain has only posted ONE video of himself exercising shirtless!) To me, it makes sense that the men on the ice or the ones most responsible for how the game goes. And your best players have to carry the team.

Praise be to Patrick.