SPORTS

Cool and combustible, Patrick Roy has Avalanche on track and skating to his beat

10/04/2014 01:22 EDT | Updated 12/04/2014 05:59 EST
DENVER - Matt Duchene gets approached all the time by curious NHL players who want the lowdown on his passionate coach.

They always ask the Colorado Avalanche forward the same thing, too: What's the story with Patrick Roy? Is he really that fiery? Is he difficult to play for?

"He's portrayed as this emotional, crazy (person)," Duchene said. "He couldn't be any more opposite."

At times, Roy is fiery. But he's also innovative and definitely in tune with his youthful team as he celebrates his 49th birthday this weekend.

The Avalanche tied a franchise record last season with 52 wins and returned to the post-season for the first time since 2010. And it wasn't with Roy barking orders in his first year behind the bench but by him simply telling them they were in this together.

They've bought in and now fully believe in the Hall of Fame goaltender nicknamed "Saint Patrick."

"He treats us with so much respect," Duchene said. "He practices what he preaches in terms of partnership. When he talks about that partnership, he's lived up to every word of that."

Want to make Roy grimace? Mention his coach of the year award. That was so last season and he's completely turned the page because there's another trophy he's got his eyes on, one that he hoisted four times in his playing career.

Colorado caught the hockey world by surprise last season with the unconventional coach making head-scratching moves such as pulling his goaltender with his team down a goal and plenty of time left in the third period. More times than not, it worked.

That was Roy being Roy, who turned down the Avs job a few years ago to gain more experience on the bench by coaching on the major junior level. He's certainly not afraid to take a risk.

And that's what his players appreciate.

"He's very passionate and competitive, but everybody knew that coming in," said Nathan MacKinnon, the league's top rookie last season. "But he's such a strong hockey mind and very gifted in that sense."

At first, Duchene was a little nervous about playing for Roy, especially since he grew up with posters of his idol adorning his bedroom wall.

But what Duchene and the rest of the Avs soon discovered is that Roy's actually in control of his emotions — except for that meltdown in the season opener last year when he tried to push through the glass partition to get to Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau. That only cemented the reputation around the league that he's as explosive a coach as he was a goalie.

Roy said he believes this team can spring another surprise this season simply by "going even deeper in the playoffs."

That Game 7 overtime loss to Minnesota in the first round haunted Roy over the summer. So close to moving on. So close to facing Chicago, a team the Avs resemble in a lot of ways. Like the Blackhawks, Colorado has young talent. Players such as MacKinnon, Duchene, Ryan O'Reilly and captain Gabriel Landeskog.

But what that post-season hiccup pointed out to Roy and teammate-turned-general manager Joe Sakic, was that the team needed more veterans. So in came Brad Stuart, Daniel Briere and Jarome Iginla. Now this is Roy's kind of team — gritty, full of goal scorers, dependable defencemen and a goaltender in Semyon Varlamov who's one of the best in the league.

"We really like our lineup," Roy said.

So do the fans, who are filling the seats again. The city is buzzing about more than just the Broncos these days. Roy beams when he walks down the street or plays golf or sits at a restaurant and someone says, "Go Avs."

"The fans just want to see that this team is going in the right direction," Roy said.

Iginla signed in Colorado for that very reason. Oh, and because of Roy.

As it turns out, Roy doesn't hold a grudge, either. About a dozen or so years ago, Iginla had the audacity to score on Roy. He can still see the look of fury on Roy's face.

"You felt like he didn't like you when you scored on him," Iginla said. "I liked that. He's extremely competitive. He's that way as a coach, too, right from day one. He's always thinking and always trying to be prepared and always trying get better."

Having gone against Roy in the post-season, Wild coach Mike Yeo can see the stamp he's put on the Avalanche.

"As much as anything else, it's a mentality," Yeo said. "It's an expectation that they're going to come to the rink and they're going to work. And they believe that they're going to win. I have a great deal of respect for him as far as the competitor that he was as a player, and, obviously, he's brought a lot of that as a coach, too."

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AP Sports Writer Dave Campbell in Minnesota contributed to this report.

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