DENVER – It’s been 21 years since Bob Hartley coached the Colorado Avalanche at their second Stanley Cup behind a star-studded roster that included Joe Sakic, Patrick Roy, Milan Hejduk, Ray Bourque, Rob Blake, Adam Foote and one of the great leaders of the game, Chris Drury, who landed a senior role when Peter Forbserg broke his spleen in the conference semifinals.
There was the young buck, Alex Tanguay, who scored two goals, including the victory of the series, in Game 7 against the New Jersey Devils and a slew of great professionals like Shjon Podein, Ville Nieminen, Stephane Yelle, Dave Reid, Dan Hinote, Eric Messier and Jon Klemm, among others.
With the AVS on the brink of their third Cup, possibly Friday night at home, Hartley pondered 2001 by comparing it to this 2022 avalanche team behemoth that looks to the early stages of being a long-standing thorn in the side for the other 31 teams. NHL.
“You talk about speed, you talk about composure, you talk about attack, you talk about commitment to the whole game and you are talking about Avalanche,” Hartley said in a telephone interview with Atletico on Thursday. “This team is built the way Joe Sakic played. Two hundred feet of hockey, well balanced, up and down the formation.
“Joe has always been a player who never went too low, never too high. The nickname “Ordinary Joe” was perfect because every day he went about his business with a smile. Simple, straightforward guy who does a great job. If you look at this team, I see Joe Sakic’s footprints all over this team.
What impresses Hartley the most is that Sakic, the general manager of the AVS, and Jared Bednar, their sixth year manager, were young when they took power, grew up together and showed impressive patience with the core of the team. namely Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen.
“They never panicked,” Hartley said. “They went with them and today those guys are the face of the franchise.”
Beyond the goaltending – because there’s no way to replicate the Hall of Famer in Roy – Reid and Podein, two extraordinary roleplayers on that 2001 squad, see great similarities between the 2001 and 2022 versions of the Avs.
“We had (Bourque). We traded with Blake on maturity and Adam Foote was already there, “Reid said.” Cale Makar is younger than those guys, but he’s comparable to any one of those three. He’ll probably be better than all three at the end of the day, and two of those guys are in the Hall of Fame.
“Then you have Devon Toews, which is kind of a hidden gem. I think everyone is realizing how good this guy is. You can put him as one of the top two defenders in any team and in many teams he will be number 1, easy. We brought Blake, they bring (Josh) Manson. I’m not making a comparison to a Hall of Famer with Josh Manson. But it is a similar style. Josh can play any way Blake could. If you want him to play physically, he can do it. If you want him to play skillfully, he can do it. And whatever way you want it to do, power play, penalty kill, it can be there and contribute enormously.
Likewise, Reid said AVS 2022 can play any way, any style, just like the 2001 squad, and have similar complements up and down the lineup.
“We had a little bit of everything, from experience, we had size, more size at the rear of our group than at the front compared to this team,” Reid said. “But our front end brought us. Our skill boys took us. They play with a ferocity of the game. Not a physical ferocity. Their ferocity is in everything they do, whether it’s loose disc battles, forechecks, backchecks, blocked shots. We’ve always had high intensity, but I’m on a different level than everyone else in the league with that fierce game. “
Podein, who has often played with Yelle, Messier or Reid, is amazed by this version of the Avs.
“I just have to say the word, ‘Wow’,” Podein said. “The speed of these young people, there’s just no room out there. There is no air to breathe when you take that record. Joseph (Sakic) did an amazing job building that team to what it is today.
“I don’t know the team personally now, but we had a very, very close team that was very committed to each other. Just looking from the outside, the organization seems to have the same feeling right now. “
With the Avalanche on the brink of their first championship since 2001, Atletico interviewed members of that Stanley Cup team, asking about the similarities they see to this one and their viewing experiences.
Editor’s Note: Some quotes have been slightly edited for clarity and length.
Joe Sakic, captain and forward
“Twenty-one years ago. Long. I just think depth. We had a lot of depth, champions and a deep training, guys who played their role and knew their role, they accepted their role. On the back end, in my mind this year’s D-core is probably the best D-core out of that D-core. Many similarities in this way. And just the way we play: I think that year we were really focused on losing two consecutive Game 7 conference finals and we had a mission from the start to try and get an advantage on home ice. It was similar with this group from last year. “
Ray Bourque, defender
“They have been a very talented team for four solid years. In the year they were seen as contenders for the Cup. For them they were never able to get through that second round, and the same happened with Colorado (in the late 90s, early 2000s). They get there the first year (in 1996) and they win, and then they have this talented team that makes it to the finals of a conference but has a hard time making it to the final chapter until 2001 “.
Adam Foote, defender
Foote has a family connection with the series. His son Cal is a defender of the Lightning.
“We had Patrick Roy. I think their goalkeeper here, Darcy Kuemper, is probably ready to win a cup. He is good enough. But if you don’t win they don’t know. For defenders, Cale Makar is special, but Ray Bourque was special, Rob Blake was special. They have Nathan MacKinnon, but we had Peter Forsberg, Sakic. They have the power of the stars here like we did.
Alex Tanguay, forward
“I think like our team in 2001, they had their failure in the previous years’ playoffs with a team they felt could have won. The determination and focus they showed was incredible, just like our “Mission 16W” hats that Ray Bourque brought us on day one of the playoffs to keep us focused. Let’s see if that’s enough to beat the two-time champions. “
Bryan Trottier, assistant coach
“They look great. Hungry. … The games were great entertainment.
Ville Nieminen, forward
“They play modern hockey and I think we have played modern hockey too. Many similarities due to the leadership, the will, the modern hockey, the tactically very well trained atmosphere. But at the same time, 20 years have passed, it is completely different. … We had Pierre Lacroix. Now it’s Joe’s time and you can see Joe’s character. “
Dave Reid, come on
“I think (the teams are) very similar. … We had guys who could move the disc. We had high-end skill players, and our last three were all skill players who could move the puck, make the first pass, jump into play when needed, attack when needed, but were responsible on the defensive. That’s why we were successful, because everyone was responsible on the defensive and could move the puck. “
Shjon Podein, forward
“The physicality of the game is very different from what it was five, 10, 20 years ago. Colorado’s speed allows them to have the opportunity to be extremely physical, finish their checks, be in the face, attack the puck, little things like that. I think you just see it, night in and night out. I don’t know how else to put it. I’m just … it’s like I have a bruise on my arm. If someone hits him, the first time, it’s annoying. Second time, third, tenth, twentieth, hundred. Very soon, you’re like “Get the F off me”. I think that’s what Colorado is doing right now.
Milan Hejduk, forward
“I definitely see some similarities with the 2001 Stanley Cup squad. It doesn’t have to be the best guys carrying the load every night, but the deep guys who score some huge and timely goals during the playoffs. … In my opinion this year’s team could be better than the 2001 team. But they have to take it to the finish. “
With the Avs one win since the Stanley Cup win and the end of the Lightning’s dream of hitting three times, Reid sees no way now that Avalanche will be denied.
He reflected on MacKinnon’s disappointment when the AVS were defeated last season in the second round against the Vegas Golden Knights.
“You might say that guy won’t be denied going back to that level and achieving great things,” Reid said. “And just because of the way he’s played this year and the rest of the team, it seems like everyone has that gallop when Nate goes. They don’t give you time in your area. And they don’t stop.
“I don’t think they’re worried about how the other team plays to be honest with you: ‘This is the way we play and you can keep up. And if you can keep up, good for you. But if you can’t keep up, we don’t stop. ‘ It is impressive. Very, very impressive. “
Hartley thinks the series is “over”.
“The excitement of (Ball Arena), I remember Game 7 at Pepsi Center, 2001, just the atmosphere around town. I know Tampa Bay will show up. I know Tampa Bay will be ready.
“But, the Avalanche, I think they’re the new guys on the block now. I would like to see Avalanche win in Colorado for the players, for the organization, for the fans. It’s such a great sporting city that it would be fun.
“As far as I’m concerned, I grew up as a young professional coach in this organization, whether he was in the American League, in the NHL, so from a distance he’s kind of my favorite team. So I cheer for them. There is the hockey fan in me, but just watching Avalanche in these playoffs brings back great memories. “
Joe Smith of The Athletic also contributed to this story.
(Photo: Isaiah J. Downing / USA Today)