“It’s been a long summer. I think everybody’s pretty anxious to get going,” Avs center Matt Duchene said during media day on Thursday at Pepsi Center. “This year, we just want to be a good team. We want to push every night, and we don’t want to beat ourselves like we did last year.”
Periods of ups and downs are as much a part of hockey as taping a stick or sharpening skates, but that doesn’t mean the team is ready to head into training camp with a nonchalant attitude. There is work to be done.
“Two years ago, everything was new. It was like a honeymoon phase. It was one of those things where we didn’t really think too much about it. We just went,” Duchene said. “Last year, I think maybe we had a little bit of a hangover-type year from the year before. This year, we’re all very focused and we know that it’s not easy. Last year, we thought maybe it was going to be a little easier at times early on than we thought, but we finished very strong. We want to pick up where we left off.”
“I think we’ve had a taste of winning and losing,” added 20-year-old forward Nathan MacKinnon, reflecting on the highs and lows of his two seasons in the NHL. “Obviously, we’d like a couple years [of winning], but I think it’s important to lose before you can win. It makes you appreciate it a bit more. We learned a lot of stuff from last year.”
Ready to shift from the past to the present, many on the Avs are looking to move on as training camp continues.
“I think a lot of us are sick of talking about last year,” MacKinnon admitted. “Now, we’re trying to look for the future and this season.”
While the Avs are again labeled a young team, even the greener faces on the roster are starting to age away from the moniker.
“I’m 24 now. This is my seventh year, which is still crazy to me,” said Duchene. “It’s time to win. It’s time to stop building and actually live in the house you’re building.
“That’s my motivation. I know that you’ve got to make good on these years, from now until hopefully—if I take care of myself—until about 32. You’re in your physical prime, so I want to make good on those years for myself and most importantly for the team.”
That kind of energy and motivation is the type of thing to drive success out on the ice, but it isn’t as if the window suddenly closes at age 32. Some of Colorado’s most lethal assets last season were beyond that mark when the puck dropped on opening night, and they’re back and ready for more.
“I feel good and still love playing, and I feel fortunate to be starting this year here,” said forward Jarome Iginla, who turned 38 years old on July 1. “I can’t wait to get going.”
Age isn’t an excuse for Iginla, who led the Avs with 29 goals and 59 points (tied) while playing the full 82-game slate last year. In fact, the Avalanche’s alternate captain anticipates more of the same in the coming months.
“I feel good. I don’t expect less from myself,” he said. “When I’m training in the summer, I feel as good as any other year. Maybe even better than the last couple. I try to be positive and not expect anything less of myself in training.”
Adding leadership and experience to a team on the cusp of great things, Iginla’s veteran core was strengthened over the summer with the addition of defenseman Francois Beauchemin and forward Blake Comeau.
“We have a great mix of veteran and younger guys,” said Beauchemin, who won a Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007. “It’s a good mix of older and younger guys. I see myself coming in and just leading by example. That’s what I’ve been doing pretty much the last six or seven years.”
Having been through it all, Beauchemin said his biggest contribution to the Avs may not actually be out on the ice.
“Leadership in the locker room. That’s one thing, you never have too much of that,” he said. “Especially when things go wrong, you need some guys to step up and calm things down and make sure we go back to the basics in practice and work hard. That’s one thing I’ll bring over. There’s not going to be a panic button whenever we lose one or two or three. We’ll go through these stretches in the season, but as long as we keep everything level it’s going to be good.”
It’s a veritable melting pot in the Avalanche dressing room, as youth and experience collide in the search for the winning combination. Their chemistry is already apparent, as the majority of skaters have been already on the ice together for a number of weeks now.
“The guys look awesome. Everybody we’ve picked up looks great,” said Duchene. “I think everyone’s fitting in well in the room. We have a great group. You add some veteran leadership and two young guys [Nikita Zadorov and Mikhail Grigorenko] from Buffalo there. They look awesome. Great guys. Our team looks great.”
There’s a new feel in Colorado, an electricity in the air that’s palpable to everyone around it.
“It’s a new season, and we’ve got a different group,” Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog noted. “I’d like to say that the room is different, the experience is different.”
“You look down the roster and all of the sudden there’s a depth that hasn’t been there in a long time. And that’s in all three positions, whether it’s in net, defense or forward. That’s a good problem to have. We’re excited to bring in veteran players like Beauchemin, like Comeau and [Carl] Soderberg. We’re excited to have some of the guys that were dealing with injuries last year, to have those guys healthy and back in the lineup.”
The Avs are hungry, ready to eat up training camp and the preseason. The first date circled on the calendar is Oct. 8, the season opening contest against the Minnesota Wild. Everything between now and then is to prepare for that game and the season beyond.
“We’re really excited, and I think I speak for the whole group when I say training camp couldn’t come fast enough,” said Landeskog. “For us, it’s about being ready for that Oct. 8 game at home against Minnesota and making sure we’re ready.”
Ready to start fresh and not repeat last season’s slow start, the players are enthused about what the next 82 games has to offer.
“I think we’re pretty hungry. I can feel it,” said MacKinnon. “There’s good vibes around the dressing room. People are pretty anxious. We skated on our own for a couple weeks there. It’s gets painful after awhile. You just want to get out there.”