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Avs Look For Sweep At NHL Awards

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

LAS VEGAS – The Colorado Avalanche will be well represented at the NHL Awards.

Four Avs are nominated for honors tonight at the NHL's annual awards show (5 p.m. MT, NBC Sports Network) at Encore Theater and will look to bring back more hardware after a successful 2013-14 season that saw the team win the Central Division championship. Head coach Patrick Roy, forwards Nathan MacKinnon and Ryan O'Reilly and goaltender Semyon Varlamov are all nominated for end-of-season trophies.

Colorado is tied for the most players nominated for trophies at the awards with Tampa Bay.

"The reason why we're here is because we played as a team," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. "Sometimes when you focus on playing as a team individual honors come with it because the team is doing well. The only reason why our players are here is because the team had success."

In their first seasons with the club, it's not hard to see the impact Roy had behind the bench and MacKinnon had on the ice. Roy is looking to become the first Avalanche/Nordiques coach since Marc Crawford (1995) to win the Jack Adams Award (coach of the year), while MacKinnon could become the fifth player in franchise history to win the Calder Memorial Trophy (rookie of the year).

Roy helped lead the Avalanche to 52 wins, 112 points and the club's first division title since 2003 in his first NHL coaching gig, and he did it with a roster that was mostly unchanged from when the team finished 29th in the shortened 2012-13 campaign.

There were tweaks to the roster of course: free-agent signings, trades, call-ups, but the core of the roster remained mostly in tact. Colorado had 21 players that played a game this past season that also saw action in 2012-13.

Roy stressed patience and partnership with his players, as he rarely yelled at them on the ice—in practice or in a game. His highly-publicized, vocal disagreement with Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau and the now-famous partition push on opening night was one of the few times Roy showed the fire that he often displayed as a player. When he was on the bench, he was even-keel, cool and collected, just how he wanted his club to be.

In the end, Roy's actions on opening night showed his players he had their backs, and the team responded. Colorado won its first six games and went on to start 12-1-0, becoming the fifth team in NHL history to sport such a record. Roy is the first coach in the NHL annals to win 14 of his first 16 games (14-2-0).

"It's something 11 years ago when I retired I never thought I would have the opportunity," Roy said of being up for the Jack Adams Award. "First of all, I didn't even know what I was going to do, if I was going to coach or be a GM at the junior level. From the day that I decided to become a coach, even thinking coaching in the NHL was not part of the plan. Things escalate and here I am today."

Maybe the biggest tweak Roy and executive vice president of hockey operations Joe Sakic made to the roster came through the draft, as the Avs selected Nathan MacKinnon with the first pick in 2013.

MacKinnon was touted as a player with blazing speed and a wicked shot. He was that and more in his rookie campaign.

Roy and his coaching staff started MacKinnon off slow, having him center the third line on opening night—where had had two assists to become the youngest player since 1944 to record a multi-point game—and in the first couple weeks of the season. However, it wasn't long until MacKinnon moved up to right wing on one of the top scoring lines with linemates Paul Stastny and Gabriel Landeskog, and the trio soon flourished.

The longest MacKinnon went without a point was five games—coming in the first month of the season—while linemates Landeskog and Stastny had some of their best scoring totals in recent years as well. MacKinnon also saw his ice time increase from less than 15 minutes early in the year to nearly 20 minutes, gaining the trust of Roy to put him out on the ice in all situations and when the game was on the line.

He finished with 24 goals and 39 assists for 63 points to become the first player to lead all rookies in all scoring categories since Evgeni Malkin in 2006-07.

"We had such a good team, and so many good players. I did my best to help as much as I could," MacKinnon said. "Switched around some positions. I tried to bring some depth to the team. I didn’t really think if I could make an impact or stuff like that. Obviously, I wanted to help the team as much as I could, but in terms of points and things like that, I wasn't really thinking about it."

O'Reilly is up for the Lady Byng Trophy, awarded to the player "exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability."

He earned headlines during the year for not taking a penalty in his first 71 games, and when he did get called for his first infraction, it was for playing the puck with a broken stick. He was taking a faceoff on March 29 versus San Jose, and on the draw his stick broke. He quickly kicked the puck over to a teammate to keep possession, but the official blew his whistle and sent O'Reilly to the penalty box soon after.

With just two penalty minutes on the season, O’Reilly joined Butch Goring (1977-78, Los Angeles) as the only players ever to receive two or fewer PIMs over 80 or more games.

"It would have been nice to go the whole season without a penalty," O'Reilly said. "I was so close. If I would have just dropped the stick and kicked the puck back, it wouldn't have been called. Who knows? I could have went the whole season without one. It happens."

O'Reilly's lack of penalty minutes didn't mean he wasn't being involved in the play. He led the league in takeaways for the second time in his career with 83 and won 51.8 percent of his faceoffs. He also led the Avs in goals (28) for the first time in his career, and he registered over 60 points for the first time since he was chosen No. 33 overall in the 2009 NHL Draft.

Playing at a high level while not taking penalties to hurt his team has been O'Reilly's forte since entering the league. The most penalty minutes he has taken in a season was 18, and that came in his rookie campaign of 2009-10.

If O'Reilly does win the Lady Byng, he will be the first Avs player to do so since Sakic in 2001.

According to Roy, Varlamov should be up for the Hart Trophy as league's most valuable player. And while he isn't nominated for the award this season, Varlamov was certainly the team's MVP with his steady play in the Avs' goal all year.

"He believes in himself," Roy said. "I think the key for him was the way he performed opened his eyes and made him understand he can be a dominant player in this League."

A native of Samara, Russia, Varlamov is looking to give his home country its second-consecutive Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goaltender (Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus, 2013) and the Avalanche franchise's first.

It's hard to believe that Roy, a hall-of-fame goalie, never won the Vezina in his eight-year stint with the Avalanche. His three Vezina wins came in 1989, 1990 and 1992 as a young netminder with Montreal.

Varlamov's win would continue his trend of doing something his coach and childhood idol couldn't do. He broke Roy's franchise records for wins in a season with 41 victories, which led the league this year, and his 24 home wins tied Roy's franchise mark.

Despite only having two shutouts, Varlamov was rock solid at the back end. He sported a .927 save percentage (third in the NHL) after facing the most shots (2,013) and making the most saves (1,867) of any goalie in the league. He was 32-4-4 when facing 30 or more shots, 7-1-1 when facing 40-plus shots and 6-0-1 when making 40 saves.

"It means a big deal, for sure," Varlamov said. "First time [I've been] nominated for the Vezina Trophy. It's a big thing in my life, and for the entire organization, Colorado Avalanche, for all the coaches that have worked with me since I started playing hockey when I was eight years old."

With four players up for trophies, the Avs will look to do something that it hasn't done in over 10 years. The last time Colorado brought back four or more trophies at the NHL Awards was in 2003 when Peter Forsberg (Hart, Art Ross, Plus/Minus Award [tie]) and Milan Hejduk ("Rocket" Richard, Plus/Minus Award [tie]) accomplished the feat.

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