This week, I was able to sit down with Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy, who as coach of the resurgent Colorado Avalanche is one of the great stories in the opening days of the 2013-14 NHL season.
He was great to talk to, and one word I would use to describe him would be "focused." Focused on his responsibility, which is coaching the Colorado Avalanche. It's not about him. He kept using the word "partnership," that he's in a partnership with the players. He's not above them, they're not above him. He's trying to help them improve. He wants to help them be as good as they can be. He was adamant about the fact that he views it as a partnership. That really impressed me.
And that message is being received loud and clear.
In talking to players in that locker room, the players I spoke with were raving about him. They said he does a great job communicating, he's exceptionally detailed, and his practices are fun and up-tempo. They enjoy coming to the rink every day. They're playing a fast, skilled game as well, so he's given them the creative license to be able to make plays. To a man, the players were really raving about him.
Throughout his career as a player and coach, Roy has been known as one of the great intimidators in the game. Considering so many of his players in Colorado are so young, the perception was that intimidation would be a part of his approach to coaching the Avalanche. But I didn't sense that while spending time with the team.
Don't get me wrong -- I'm sure if they hit a bad stretch they'll see the other side to that competitive fire and intensity. But to this point, they were just saying that it's fun. We were watching them on the ice in their pre-game skate and he's laughing, he's chirping. When guys fall down he's banging his stick and laughing. In a sense, he's one of the guys.
I was pleasantly surprised by it. It was a breath of fresh air. As far as the energy that he brings, it's really infectious. That's an upbeat locker room right now, and it's a team that has played well and surprised a lot of people.
And part of it has to do with how Patrick Roy got back to the NHL.
This is a guy who really did pay his dues. It's not as if one day he came off the couch and said, "I want to coach in the NHL." He coached bantam hockey and then he coached the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League when he was part-owner of the team.
One of the things I had to ask him off the bat was about being a Hall of Fame player and then all of a sudden riding the bus for 14 hours from Quebec City to Val d'Or or Halifax or any other QMJHL cities. His answer: "I rode the bus and I loved it."
That said a lot to me. It really did.
But Roy adds a lot to the Avs that the average coach might not be able to, like the fact that he's one of the great players in the history of the game. He always had that confidence and presence as a player and that has translated into his coaching.
You can feel it. You can feel him being there in the scrum, his presence -- it's tangible. You can feel his energy, you can feel his aura. The way he is channeling it right now is in a very positive way.
Having a winning team in Colorado is great for Avalanche fans, but it's even sweeter knowing that it's happening with two of the franchise's all-time greats in Roy and Joe Sakic, the team's former captain and current executive vice president of hockey operations.
Strategically, from a business standpoint, it is great for the Avs. It's a great bridge to the glory days for a lot of their young fans. I think it revitalizes that market, which is a great hockey market.
More importantly, right now it is translating into a different environment in the locker room and on the ice. It remains to be seen how long the young Avs can keep this going, but there's no denying they're heading in the right direction.