It was hockey's version of the Gipper speech. During a melee in
the third period of an April 1 game in Detroit, Colorado
goaltender Patrick Roy dropped his gloves, skated down the ice
and commenced brawling with Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood. Roy
later admitted that the rare fight between goalies was his
desperate attempt to shake the Avalanche from the lethargy that
was poisoning its season. Nice try. A month later Colorado
exited in the first round against Edmonton after blowing a 3-1
series lead. "Sometimes there's a price to pay for a team that
won the Stanley Cup two years before," Roy says. "Guys aren't
hungry, and in this game you have to play with passion."
Last season's failures led to a messy divorce between Colorado
G.M. Pierre Lacroix and coach Marc Crawford, who left the team
in May with a year remaining on his contract. His replacement,
Bob Hartley, has no previous NHL experience as a coach or
player, but he worked for eight years in a paper mill, a
windshield plant and a car dealership before starting his
coaching career. He'll try to instill a blue-collar ethos in the
underachieving Avalanche. Says Hartley, "If we get a reputation
as the hardest-working team in the NHL, we'll be successful."
The Avalanche will continue to run a fast-break style, led by
center Peter Forsberg, the best two-way player in the league.
He'll need more help from center Joe Sakic, who signed a mammoth
contract in August 1997, then injured his left knee in the
Olympics and saw his scoring production drop for the second
straight year. The Avalanche is also counting on a rejuvenated
Roy, who comes off a poor performance in the postseason, in
which, he admits, he was fatigued. Motivated by Colorado's
playoff upset, Roy did serious weight training for the first
time in his career and dropped 10 pounds over the summer. The
three-time Vezina Trophy winner should guide Colorado to another
division title, but to make a run at the Stanley Cup the
Avalanche must rediscover the chemistry of the '96 champs. "When
we lose this year, we can't look around for excuses," Roy says.
"Everybody on this team needs to start looking in the mirror."
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATIONS BY JOHN TAMANIO [Drawing of golden hockey puck]
Last season Avalanche defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh scored 68.6% of
his points on the power play, the highest percentage by any NHL
player who scored 40 or more points.
KEYS TO SUCCESS
--Eric Messier or Wade Belak must step up to replace departed
defenseman Uwe Krupp, or general manager Pierre Lacroix will be
forced to make a deal.
--Goaltender Patrick Roy, who had a disappointing 1998 postseason,
has to prove that at 33 his best years aren't behind him.