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Competitor in Tanguay draws him from TV studio to Des Moines

Longtime former Colorado Avalanche star will embark on a coaching career with Iowa Wild this season

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe /

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Alex Tanguay had it pretty good. 

A long-time former NHLer and one of the best to ever wear a Colorado Avalanche sweater, Tanguay had retired with his wife and kids to Jupiter, Florida. About two or three times per month, Tanguay would fly to New York and spend two or three days per "commute" as an analyst for NHL Network.

And while he enjoyed being on TV, Tanguay badly missed the competition. Since retiring as a player in 2016, Tanguay craved the feeling of being back in a dressing room. 

While he knew his playing days were a thing of the past, Tanguay thought about what it might be like to get behind the bench and try his hand at coaching. 

So this past summer, with the blessing of his wife, Helen, Tanguay gave Iowa Wild head coach Tim Army a call. Army, who had coached Tanguay for three years when the former was an assistant coach with the Avs, picked up the phone and the two chatted about a number of topics. 

When the subject of the vacancy on Army's staff came up, Tanguay told his former coach he might have a guy in mind for him: Alex Tanguay.

"The winning and losing was something that I was really missing," Tanguay said. "TV was fun; I got to watch a ton of hockey and talk to people, analyze things and give an opinion.

"But to be inside the dressing room, to be with the guys and to be a part of the solution was something that I was missing."

Tanguay has always been a fierce competitor but it was a trial by fire for him as a young player. Drafted 12th overall by the Avalanche in 1998, he debuted with Colorado in 1999 on a team that was loaded with some of the greatest to ever play the game.

The captain of the Avs was Joe Sakic. Peter Forsberg was one of the top players in the League. Patrick Roy, arguably the greatest goaltender of all time, manned the blue paint. He was also Tanguay's housemate. 

That team also had Claude Lemieux, Chris Drury, Milan Hejduk, Sandis Ozolinsh, Brian Rolston and Adam Foote. 

At the trade deadline, it added Hall-of-Famers Ray Bourque and Dave Andreychuk. 

His second year in the League, the Avs traded for another Hall-of-Famer in defenseman Rob Blake. Colorado won the Stanley Cup that spring, the lone title of Tanguay's playing career.

"I walked into a gold mine. The team was stacked," Tanguay said. I got real lucky to be thrown into a situation where we had that many leaders. 

"But the thing that helped me the most was that Patrick offered to have me stay at his house that first year. Nineteen years old, first time you get out of the billet families or your house, and you get there and you have someone like Patrick. Everything that he brought along; the way he prepared, the focus, the intensity he had, the desire to win was just second to none. Some goaltenders wanted the stats but he just wanted to win."

Coming of age as a 19-year-old player in that environment left a lasting impact on Tanguay, one that he carried with him for his entire 16-year NHL career.

It's also something he hopes to pass on to the next generation of players now that his own career is finished. Tanguay represents a rare bridge between Colorado's legendary early-2000s core and its more recent generation of young talent.

While he learned under the Sakic and Forsberg led teams of that era, he also finished his career as a veteran leader himself on teams that had Ryan O'Reilly, Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene. 

Now, Tanguay is eager to begin a new chapter behind the bench this season in Des Moines, where he will have plenty of familiar faces with him. Iowa's staff, with Army supported by Tanguay and fellow assistant Brett McLean, enters the season with an unusual amount of chemistry for a crew welcoming a new member.

McLean is entering his third season with Iowa and his second working on Army's staff.

McLean and Tanguay played together with the Avs during the 2005-06 season, spending much of that time as linemates. 

Army spent six years an assistant coach with Colorado, including three of them with Tanguay as a player. 

"It's been completely seamless," McLean said of the transition. "Even though we haven't all been together at the same time, we've all been together at different points in our lives. That's made it really easy for us to come together as a staff."

McLean, who himself played in 385 career NHL games, knows what that transition from player to coach is like. His first experience behind the bench came here in Traverse City two years ago, where Tanguay has gotten his first taste of coaching at the NHL Prospects Tournament.

The Wild will play in the seventh-place game here on Tuesday before heading back to Minnesota to start training camp on Thursday and Friday at TRIA Rink at Treasure Island Center in St. Paul.

Having been around him as a player, McLean said he believes Tanguay has everything one needs to make that transition a successful one.

"He's just a naturally intelligent person, and he was a very intelligent hockey player. That translates well to coaching," McLean said. "He's also a really good communicator and he's got a lot of self-confidence. Those three things are really things that can help a coach, especially when they're getting started. 

"He's a natural."

When it comes to intelligence and the ability to communicate, Army raves about Tanguay's ability to see the game at a high level. 

"When I coached Adam Oates in Washington, it was almost like he was playing the game and watching it on TV, with the way he could come back to the bench and describe what was happening and how he could process the game," Army said. "Tangs is the same way. He's got a brilliant hockey mind, he's diligent and he's a good worker and so he's gonna bring all of that to our room, to our team and to our staff."

Tanguay admitted that he never had some of the physical abilities that his skilled teammates possessed early in his career, so he had to think the game at a high level. With 1,088 NHL games on his resume, to go along with 283 goals and 863 points, it's clear he did just that. It's the kind of resume that brings instant credibility when he steps in the dressing room. 

That's exactly what Army was looking for when he added Tanguay to his staff.

But don't expect Tanguay to simply demand that respect just because of his playing career. Like anything else, he said he expects to earn it by working hard and becoming the very best coach he can as well. 

"This is what I want to try and what I want to do," Tanguay said. "I've got a learning curve here. There are things I need to learn and things I have to find out about how to do as a coach. 

"I'm not doing something not to improve. That's definitely the case. I picked a situation where I think there are great people to learn from and I'm gonna try and learn as much as possible."

More from the Traverse City Prospects Tournament:

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