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Roy opens optimistic first camp as Avalanche coach

by Rick Sadowski | / Colorado Avalanche

DENVER -- Patrick Roy was relaxing at a local coffee shop recently when a stranger entered, spotted him sitting at a table by himself and dropped by to say hello.

"Hey, coach, how are you doing today?'" Roy related Wednesday. "I was like, 'Oh, yeah, that's me.'"

Call it the dawn of a new era for the Colorado Avalanche, a franchise that has fallen on hard times and is attempting to return to elite status under the leadership of two former stars: Joe Sakic, executive vice president of hockey operations, and Roy, who in May was named vice president of hockey operations and coach.

"Quite frankly, I'm a little nervous, but at the same time very excited about it," Roy said Wednesday in Pepsi Center at his first training camp as an NHL coach. "It's a great challenge ahead of us. I can say one thing to you, I have quality people around me. You're always afraid you're missing some stuff here and there, but the staff that we have here are working so hard and I really feel we are ready for this training camp."

The Avalanche will begin on-ice workouts Thursday at their practice facility in suburban Centennial, Colo.

"I'm here to win," said Roy, the Hall of Fame goalie who backstopped the Avalanche to Stanley Cup championships in 1996 and 2001. "I've been walking in the streets and there's a buzz for the Avalanche. The fans are excited about our team. There's one thing a lot of fans have been saying to me: 'Make sure you're going to make them work.' I can promise them that I'm going to make them work. I will accept their mistakes; this is part of the game. But they are going to work."

Roy has no previous NHL coaching experience but spent the previous eight seasons as part owner, general manager and coach of the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The Remparts had a 348-196 record under Roy and won the Memorial Cup in 2006.

The Avalanche, in contrast, have missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs three years in a row and in four of the past five seasons, but players sound genuinely upbeat about the prospects of changing what has been a losing culture now that two icons are running the show.

"I've never been more excited for a season in my life," fifth-year center Matt Duchene said. "Everybody has so much confidence with these two guys at the helm. The buzz around the boys is way different. It's pure excitement. I think we're going to have a heck of a year."

Ryan O'Reilly, who will move from center to left wing, said, "It's amazing. I never thought a legend, a guy I grew up watching for so many years, would be your head coach. I'm very excited to be a part of it."

The Avalanche are coming off a 48-game season when they finished 16-25-7, last in the Northwest Division and Western Conference, and next-to-last in the NHL.

"For me, I think now is when things really start," Duchene said. "We've learned how to lose. Now we have to learn how to win. It starts this year."

Roy said during his introductory news conference in May that the Avalanche would have a "Stanley Cup attitude," a refrain he frequently repeated Wednesday.

"I believe that the voice of our guys that have won a Stanley Cup will transfer to our players," Roy said. "I think it's how it starts. It's a process, it's a buildup, and this is how our guys will start to realize step by step how it feels to win hockey games with not necessarily playing your best game. Now you start to realize what's the difference between losing and winning.

"We're going to be very clear on the criteria that we're going to look to for our team: the sacrifice part, the discipline part, the work habits part, the team concept part. We're going to be crystal clear to our players. We're going to have a direction and we're going to manage our game. You don't have to play well every night to win games. In my years here we were not perfect every night, but we gave ourselves a chance to win every night."

The Avalanche will need to be a lot stronger on defense and in goal if that is going to happen. The team looks solid up front with Duchene, O'Reilly, captain Gabriel Landeskog, PA Parenteau, Paul Stastny, Alex Tanguay, Jamie McGinn, Steve Downie (who has recovered from the torn anterior cruciate knee ligament he sustained in the second game last season) and No. 1 draft pick Nathan MacKinnon.

Roy said he is very comfortable with goalies Semyon Varlamov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere, and that he's "very confident, very positive" with the team's defense. Varlamov has been working with the Avalanche's new goalie coach, Francois Allaire, who coached Roy and Giguere in the past.

"He is putting in a commitment that makes me believe he deserves a chance to prove himself, and we will give him that chance," Roy said of Varlamov. "I know there are a lot of question marks about [Varlamov]. [Giguere] will be a good partner to [Varlamov]. I already spoke a lot to [Giguere]. I want him to share his experience. He will do it and I will do it as well."

On defense, the Avalanche return Erik Johnson, Jan Hejda, Tyson Barrie, Stefan Elliott, Matt Hunwick and Ryan Wilson, who missed a large chunk of last season with an ankle injury. The Avalanche cut loose Greg Zanon, signed Andre Benoit as a free agent, and acquired Cory Sarich from the Calgary Flames in a trade that also landed Tanguay in exchange for David Jones and Shane O'Brien.

"I like our defense," Roy said. "First of all, we have Wilson back. He's an important defenseman on our team. He's a guy that makes our defense already better by having him back. We have Barrie that we liked at the end of the year. He played really well pretty much all year. We're curious to see where his game is going to be and I'm very confident with him.

"We added Andre Benoit and he had a very good year. When (Erik) Karlsson was hurt in Ottawa, he played very well for them. He was a top-four defenseman in Ottawa during that injury and performed extremely well. Sarich has won a Stanley Cup with Tampa [Bay] and has a lot of experience. I think his experience will make our defense already better.

"It's a good group. We're going to play well defensively. All my years in Quebec, in junior, we always had good defensive teams."

So is Roy predicting a return to the playoffs for the Avalanche in his first season behind the bench?

"I know not too many experts put us in the playoffs," he said. "I would love to surprise them. That would be my answer."

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