Colorado Avalanche training camp started this week, and the players were working through last season’s poor exhibition in high-energy drills and skill. NHL reviews for this season’s capacity of the Rocky Mountain team to perform is not on the list of high expectations. Puck Daddy blasted the Avs for many problems, but what I saw on the ice was exciting and encouraging.
As rookie Ryan O’ Reilly shined at rookie camp, and Matt Duchene’s debut sparked energy within the fans attending the Colorado Avalanche training camp this week, the task will be to dig from the depths of a bummer season. The rumble on the rink eventually formed into a well-choreographed exhibition of speed and skills. Rookies Ryan Stoa and Matt Duchene became the focal point, until the super stars sported gray and black jerseys for a scrimmage breaking in the rookies.
Defense for the Avs include Kyle Quincey, Jon-Michael Liles and Adam Foote. Most think the defense is in good shape. With injuries and the lackluster play last year, one guy, Quincey needs to be the extra something needed. He has had a lot of hype with 38 points last year. The defense on the roster looks good, but may be deceiving.
Rookie Stefan Elliott’s accuracy must have been his key skill in the WHL. Pick the puck, roll, shoot, bullseye! Not likely to be part of the NHL until next season. Bummer.
Rookies to watch include David Marshall and Brandon Yip who probably will not make it to the roster due to the overabundance of wingers such as Marek Svatos, and Milan Hejduk who must deliver on their experience and prove nay-Sayers wrong.
Tom Fritsche pulled some good moves in scoring but is a long shot for the season. Top lefty is Dan Galiardi who played toward the end of the season last year and is now on every Avs fan’s mind. Having a laugh with his teammates after a drill, he came to play hard. The sweet taste of the NHL is hard to resist.
Strong guy and left-winger David Koci will be the legitimate enforcer at the Pepsi Center.
Wojtek Wolski took his duties last year seriously, but fell short in his goal scoring numbers. Training camp proved worthy of his summer break to reorganize his abilities into a leader. Puck Daddy took a dump on Wolski by comparing him to toilet paper.
The Avs are stocked down the line with abundant directors of play. This should generate a streamlined style of play if the cohesion is right on. Paul Stasny tops the bill, as well as top liner Wolski, returning T.J. Hensick and newbie Duchene. Other notables were Phillipe Dupuis, who had played games with the Avalanche last season.
Former Minnesota team captain Ryan Stoa looks ready but may or may not see play on opening night. Let’s hope so.
The Avalanche may not be the guts and glory of their former years, but then Denver isn’t regarded as the biggest hockey city either. Rebuilding takes time and trying on players for size. Unfortunately, some of these rookies who may not be eligible to play look like they’re getting close. Overstocked with older players, the Avs unloaded half; the other half will be moving on in a few seasons so the newer talent can have their shot.
Training camp was serious and rightly so for a team that has fallen from grace since the team relocated here from Quebec to win the Stanley Cup in 1996. Expectations were high. Now with the stumbling of an older team, energy has been added by a few new rookies, free agents and roster depth down into the junior leagues. The odds may be dictated by what veteran baggage will be brought, or shed from a heartbreaking 2008-09 season. Regrouped and recharged will be the test for the Avalanche as the nation expects less and less each season from Denver.
This is the west, where hockey isn’t revered as competitive. Too sunny and too laid back to really kick it on the ice; we’re the John Wayne of the NHL. The Western Conference ends in Minnesota for the criteria of play. Once great teams end up in the spotlight for harsh criticism. That’s okay- John Wayne was tough and had the last word. Coolness, strategy and some firepower may just work.
Colorado’s biggest fall came from the retirement of captain Joe Sakic, who projected the nice guy image that the Avalanche emit. Nice guys get lucky, but they also have legitimate talent that is glossed over for the dogging. Other teams have been roughed up and dropped down in the ranks, but all have had their lucky streak alongside great skills. A team can have both.
If the team has the cohesion they need to move into the playoffs, the bench will have to play deep. The new hockey edition of the Sporting News graced the corner of the cover with Milan Hejduk being the glue of the team. But with a –19 rating last season he’s under fire as well; point were good with 59 but as co-captain he will want to raise the bar. Paul Stasny’s status of the other co-captain has been a hallelujah for the Mile High city. Adam Foote’s new helm as captain creates a tougher persona and experienced swagger that could punch back at the critics.