Skip to main content

Criticism by Sacco lighting fire under Wolski

by Todd Kimberley
Wojtek Wolski has worked his way back into Joe Sacco's good graces.

Wolski, the highly talented, but enigmatic, fourth-year Colorado Avalanche forward, has drawn the ire of his first--year coach through the early stages of this season for indifferent play.

But after a masterful midweek twirl through Alberta, the pride of Zabrze, Poland, was garnering bouquets rather than bricks.

Wolski scored the final 2 goals of the game, including an awarded empty-netter, during the Avs' 3-0 win in Edmonton Tuesday night. And 24 hours later, he notched the exquisite winner during Colorado's 3-2 comeback win against Calgary.

"He knows when he's not going, and when he needs to go. And we try to be straightforward with him," Sacco told following the Avs' victory over the Flames. "We expect a lot from him. He has a lot of potential. He's one of our best players. And we need to put pressure on him. He needs to perform ... and he's been doing that lately."

Wolski, a 6-foot-3, 210-pounder who'll likely be playing left wing this season instead of center because of the Avs' strength up the middle (Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene, Ryan O'Reilly), has 13 points, sharing the team lead with Stastny after 13 games.

Wolski (8-5--13) and Stastny (4-9--13) are on a point-a-game pace for the Avs (10-1-2), who've rocketed to the top of the NHL standings with the best start in club history since the franchise moved to Denver from Quebec City in 1995.

Sacco, though, is more concerned about the means, rather than the end. And because he believed the former first--round draft pick had been giving only a token effort, and wasn't getting his nose dirty, Sacco had stapled Wolski's butt to the bench multiple times during third periods earlier this month.

"I know I'm repeating myself," Sacco had recently told the Denver Post, "but I'm playing the guys during the course of a game that give us the best chance to win. If certain guys aren't going, and I don't think he's helping our team, then he's not going to play."

Playing on a line with Stastny and Milan Hejduk Wednesday night, Wolski was obviously doing something right.

In addition to his highlight-reel goal in the third period, walking through a pair of Flames forwards and beating Miikka Kiprusoff high to the blocker side, Wolski earned more than 21 minutes of ice time. That's nearly five minutes more than his average this season.

Wolski also showed some determination in the late stages, with the Flames pressing for the equalizer, by virtually carrying Jarome Iginla on his back in order to lug the puck out of the defensive zone and alleviate the pressure.

"He scored a very skilled goal. An individual effort ... showed a lot of poise with the puck, there," Sacco said. "Like I said before, that's what he can do. He's played well. He played well again tonight. He played hard. He did a good job on the penalty kill, and that's what we expect of him."

Wolski did not respond directly to questions about Sacco's tough--love issue on a personal level, instead giving a generalized response.

"The biggest thing with our team, right now, is we're so young, and there's so much to learn," he told "I think with experience, obviously, it's a lot easier, but with the energy we have, because we're young, it's been helping."

Wolski did mention, however, that he has been motivated by the disappointment of the Avs' 2008--09 season. With the team decimated by injury last winter, and destined to miss the playoffs for the second time in three years, Wolski had a chance to step up into the void, but instead slumped to his lowest production numbers -- 14 goals and 42 points in 78 games -- since he became a full-time NHL player in the fall of 2006.

"I think it's a lot of hard work this summer," he said. "With the season we had last year, I was so disappointed. Hitting rock bottom, there, you seem to step back a little bit and assess how the season went, and what you have to do to get ready for the next one."
View More

The NHL uses cookies, web beacons, and other similar technologies. By using NHL websites or other online services, you consent to the practices described in our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service, including our Cookie Policy.