Colorado Avalanche: My Tribute to Milan Hejduk

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 7: Former captain Milan Hejduk
DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 7: Former captain Milan Hejduk /

Retired Colorado Avalanche winger and captain Milan Hejduk will have his number retired by the only team he ever knew.

The Colorado Avalanche announced on Wednesday that Milan Hejduk, the former 4th round pick of the Quebec Nordiques in 1994, will have his number retired this season. The number 23 will never be worn by an Av again as it joins 5 others in the Pepsi Center rafters. The banner raising will happen Saturday, January 6, 2018 before the Avalanche take on the Minnesota Wild.

Milan Hejduk began his NHL career 1998-1999 and never looked back. He finished his rookie campaign with 14 goals and 48 points, finishing 3rd in the Calder Trophy race behind Marian Hossa and the winner, fellow Av Chris Drury. Hejduk also won the Maurice Richard Trophy in 2003, scoring 50 goals that season.

Hejduk was one of the most important players to the Colorado Avalanche during the first decade of the 2000’s. Over his career, he played in over 1000 games and tallied over 800 points. Hejduk was also a consistently good playoff performer. Milan Hejduk may have been the reason Colorado was able to play half the 2001 playoffs without Peter Forsberg and still win the cup. That playoff run saw Hejduk play in 23 games, and score 23 points.

It cannot be overstated how critical Hejduk was to the Avalanche. He wasn’t as well-known outside of Denver like Joe Sakic or Peter Forsberg were, but teams who played the Colorado Avalanche knew he was not to be ignored.

Milan Hejduk didn’t have an aspect of his game that was head and shoulders above everyone. What made Hejduk so dangerous was he did everything well. He had such a complete, all around offensive game it was impossible for defenders to exclusively focus on Sakic and Forsberg.

Opposing teams couldn’t ignore him with or without the puck. He didn’t have an all-time shot, but it was a good one. He didn’t have blazing speed, but he was fast. Hejduk possessed a fantastic hockey mind, always knowing exactly where to pass the puck or where to go in order to receive the puck.

It was just as important Hejduk wasn’t only a perimeter player. While he didn’t play a bruising physical game, he was never afraid to go in front to pot goals from in close.

One key factor mentioned in the video above was how clutch he could be. Milan Hejduk leads the Colorado Avalanche organization in overtime goals. This is one of the more impressive statistics, considering the players that have played for this organization.

Milan Hejduk the player was great. Milan Hejduk the person was even better. Throughout his time in Denver through today, members of the hockey community raved about Hejduk’s character. He simply oozes class and humility. One of the most revered players in Avalanche history, it is hard to find a person who doesn’t enjoy being around Milan Hejduk.

Now I’m sure I’m missing something, but I want to move on to what he meant to me as an Avalanche fan.

More from Mile High Sticking

I grew up in Jackson, Michigan which is a little over an hour west of Detroit. Honestly, I should have been a Red Wings fan. The majority of my childhood was during the mid to late 1990’s through the early to mid 2000’s, and during that time the one team that could consistently compete with the Red Wings was the Avalanche. I always tried to be the contrarian, just to be contrary. That meant being a Colorado Avalanche fan.

As an Avalanche fan, it was easy to like the flashy star players like Sakic, Forsberg, and Patrick Roy. For me, it was more fun to like the secondary players who didn’t get the recognition I thought they deserved. Previously mentioned Chris Drury was one of my favorites. Alex Tanguay was another one (yes, it certainly helped he scored two goals in game 7 against the Devils).

Milan Hejduk was my favorite. I loved how he played the game with joy and passion. I loved how he never craved the spotlight yet still went out and proved how great he was. He struck me as a great teammate and the right kind of leader; a leader that could lead with words or actions, whichever the occasion called for. He was the type of player I strived to be myself.

Hejduk was the reason I picked #23 as my hockey number. When I told people 23 was my favorite number, people automatically assumed it was because of Michael Jordan. I enjoyed the look of either surprise or confusion on my friends’ faces when I told them it was for a Colorado Avalanche player.

“I’ve never heard of Milan Hejduk” they’d say.

“Just look for #23. He’ll be the one swimming into the next round.” (Please forgive the awful joke.)