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Foote the new leader of rebuilding Avalanche

by Rick Sadowski
DENVER -- He's the elder statesman now, the official leader of the Colorado Avalanche, many of whom were barely starting elementary school when he turned pro in 1991.

Adam Foote has been given the unenviable task of succeeding future Hall of Famer Joe Sakic as team captain, but it is an honor he relishes while embarking on his 18th NHL season.

"It is an honor," Foote told "But I guess my first reaction was, 'Gee, you're following one of the greatest players ever to play for this organization.' So I'm just trying to stay on an even keel."

Tabbing Foote, 38, to wear the cherished "C" probably seemed like a no-brainer for first-year coach Joe Sacco. He played against the rugged defenseman a number of times during his playing days and was well aware of Foote's qualities as a leader.

"Adam, to me, was the right choice," Sacco said. "He certainly deserves the opportunity for what he's done, not only for the franchise, but for what he's done throughout his career. He's such a fierce competitor and he plays the game the right way.

"I think the guys in the room really respect him. They respect him as a player and for what he does off the ice. I don't want to say it was an easy decision, but certainly it was the right decision."

This will be Foote's second stint as captain, a role he held with the Columbus Blue Jackets before he was reacquired by the Avalanche on Feb. 26, 2008.

Foote began his NHL career in 1991-92 with the Quebec Nordiques, who moved to Denver before the 1995-96 season.
A fiery 6-foot-2, 220-pounder, Foote was the heart and soul of a defense corps that helped the Avalanche capture eight consecutive division titles from 1995-2003 and Stanley Cup championships in 1996 and 2001.

"The Stanley Cup years, and winning the Olympic gold medal (for Canada in 2002) and the World Cup (in 2004) were incredible," he said. "Unless you've been there, it's impossible to describe what it's like to play four seven-game series, what a grind it is. Playing international hockey, that's another level, too."

The Avalanche have fallen on hard times in recent years. Colorado missed the playoffs twice in the past three seasons and is rebuilding with youth after falling into the Western Conference basement last year.

When Sakic retired on July 9 after 20 NHL seasons, it left Foote and right wing Milan Hejduk, 33, as the lone remaining links to the Avalanche's last championship.

"It's amazing how the years go by," Foote said. "It's a new team now. I remember talking to (former Avalanche teammate) Rob Blake about it the year before the lockout and saying, 'This isn't going to last forever.' But we looked at each other and it was like, 'Yeah, well, there're still lots of years left for this organization and for the group we had.'

"Now, you have to look at it as a new positive beginning where you have to be excited about the youth. And that's what we're going to do. We have a lot of work to do, but it's definitely a challenge that I'm looking forward to."

Patience, perhaps not always one of Foote's best traits, will be tested at times by an Avalanche team whose roster could include close to a dozen players 25 or younger with a couple of 18-year-olds in Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly making serious runs at jobs.

That shouldn't be a problem, said Foote, who remembers making his own youthful mistakes when he first broke into the NHL.

"You can see a young guy, when he makes a pass in practice, he can be nervous," he said. "Hey, I was there. It's funny to see how the tables have turned. I remember my first practice, Mike Hough was on the ice and I was so scared and nervous about making a bad pass.

"One of the young guys this year -- I won't say his name -- he missed me twice in practice and he came up to me and he said, 'I'm so sorry.' I said, 'I was there, don't worry.’ It's funny to see that they feel that. It's all new to them and they're all so nervous. So you want to make sure that you make them at ease and support them."

One thing Foote won't do is try and mimic Sakic's style of leadership. Sakic mostly led by example and kept dressing room speeches to a minimum.

"It's tough shoes to jump in and fill after what Joe did," Foote said. "I'm not going to try and change what he created in this locker room. I'm just going to try to echo it and continue to do it. I don't want to overcomplicate anything. I just want to be real supportive. I'm just going to try and be myself. If need be, I'll call Joe. He's a supportive guy."

"It is an honor. But I guess my first reaction was, 'Gee, you're following one of the greatest players ever to play for this organization.' So I'm just trying to stay on an even keel."
-- Adam Foote on being named captain

If need be, Foote won't hesitate to let a teammate know if he isn't happy with the effort or execution that he sees on the ice.

"Footie's not afraid to call guys out, to let them know exactly what they're doing wrong and what needs to be done," defenseman John-Michael Liles said. "That's how Footie is; that's his makeup. But all the guys respect him. Everybody understands when those times come. When it happens, guys have to realize it's not personal. He's doing what's in the best interest of the team. He's got to create his own way of leading this team." 

And make sure to put his best Foote forward.

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