DENVER — It has been 21 years since Bob Hartley coached the Colorado Avalanche to 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 Big ones included in-game leader Chris Drury, who played a prominent role when Peter Forbserg ruptured his spleen in the conference semifinals.
There was young buck Alex Tanguay, who scored two goals in Game 7 against the New Jersey Devils, including the series winner, and a bunch of great pros 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, perhaps at home Friday night, Hartley looked back at 2001 and compared it to that powerful 2022 Avalanche team that seems to be a thorn in the side of the other 31 NHL teams in the early stages .
“You’re talking about speed, you’re talking about composure, you’re talking about offense, you’re talking about commitment to the whole game and you’re talking about the Avalanche,” Hartley said during a phone interview with the athlete on Thursday. “This team is built the way Joe Sakic played. Two hundred feet of hockey, well balanced, up and down the lineup.
“Joe was always a player who never got too low and never got too high. The nickname “Ordinary Joe” was perfect because he went about his business with a smile every day. Simple, simple guy doing a great job. If you look at this team, I see Joe Sakic’s fingerprints all over this team.
What impresses Hartley most is that Sakic, the Avs’ general manager, and Jared Bednar, their sixth-year coach, were young when they took over, have grown together and have impressive patience with the core of the team, Nathan MacKinnon. Gabriel, Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen showed.
“They never panicked,” Hartley said. “They went with them and today these guys are the face of the franchise.”
Beyond the goalies — because there’s no way to replicate the Hall of Famer in Roy — Reid and Podein, two great role players on that 2001 team, see a lot of similarities between the 2001 and 2022 versions of the Avs.
“We had (Bourque). We traded at the close for Blake and Adam Foote was already there,” Reid said. “Cale Makar is younger than these guys, but he’s comparable to any of these three. At the end of the day, it’ll probably be better than all three, and two of those guys are in the Hall of Fame.
“Then you have Devon Toews, who is something of an insider tip. I think everyone realizes how good this young guy really is. You can use him as a top 2 defender on any team, and he will quite simply be number 1 on many teams. We brought in Blake, they bring in (Josh) Manson. I’m not comparing it to a Hall of Famer with Josh Manson. But it’s a similar style. Josh can play like Blake could. If you want him to play physical, he can. You want him to play skill, he can. And whatever you want from him, power play, penalty shootout, he can be there and make a big contribution.
Similarly, Reid said up front that the 2022 Avs can play any way and in any style just like the 2001 team and have similar additions to the roster.
“We had a little bit of everything, from experience we had size, more size at the back of our group than at the front compared to this team,” Reid said. “But our front end carried us. Our skill guys carried us. They play with a ferocity of the game. No physical wildness. Their ferocity is in everything they do, whether it’s loose puck fighting, whether it’s forechecking, backchecking or blocking shots. We’ve always had the high intensity, but they’re on a different level than everyone else in the league with that wild game.”
Podein, who has often played with Yelle, Messier or Reid, adores this version of the Avs.
“I just have to say the word ‘wow’,” Podein said. “The speed of these young men, there’s just no room out there. There’s no air to breathe when you get that puck. Joseph (Sakic) has just done an amazing job to make this team 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 in, it seems like the organization is feeling the same at the moment.”
With the Avalanche poised for their first championship since 2001, the athlete surveyed members of this Stanley Cup team and asked about the similarities they see to this one and their experiences of watching.
Editor’s note: Some citations have been slightly altered for clarity and length.
Joe Sakic, captain and forward
“Twenty-one years ago. Long time. I only think depth. We had a lot of depth, star players and a deep lineup, guys who played their role and knew their role, accepted their role. On the rear, this year’s D-Core is probably the best D-Core since this D-Core, in my opinion. Lots of similarities in that regard. And just the way we play: I think this year we were really focused on losing the conference finals in Game 7 twice in a row and from the start we had a mission to try and get home field advantage. It was similar with this group from last year.”
Ray Bourque, defense attorney
“They’ve been a very talented team for a solid four years. At the beginning of the year, they were viewed as cup contenders. For them, they could never get past that second round, and the same thing happened with Colorado (late 1990s, early 2000s). They make it in the first year (1996) and they win, and then they have this talented team that makes it to the conference finals but struggles to get to the final chapter until 2001.”
Adam Foote, defense attorney
Foote has a family connection to the series. His son Cal is a defense attorney with Lightning.
“We had Patrick Roy. I think their goalkeeper here, Darcy Kuemper, is probably ready to win a trophy. he’s good enough But if you don’t win, you don’t know. For defenders, Cale Makar is special, but Ray Bourque was special, Rob Blake was special. You have Nathan MacKinnon, but we had Peter Forsberg, Sakic. They have as much star power here as we do.”
Alex Tanguay, forward
“I think like our team in 2001, they’ve had their failures in the playoffs for the past few years with a team that they believed could win. The determination and focus they showed was incredible, as was our Mission 16W hats that Ray Bourque brought for 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
“You look great. Hungry. … games were great entertainment.”
Ville Nieminen, forward
“They play modern hockey and I think we played modern hockey too. A lot in common because of leadership, will, modern ice hockey, tactically very well trained, atmosphere. But at the same time it’s been 20 years, it’s completely different. … We had Pierre Lacroix. Now is Joe’s time and you can see Joe’s character.”
Dave Reid, forward
“I think (the teams are) very similar. … We had people who could move the puck. We had high-end skill players, and our bottom three were all skill players who could move the puck, make the first pass, get in the game when needed, and go on offense when needed, but were responsible defensively. That’s why we were successful, because everyone was defensively responsible and could move the puck.”
Shjon Podein, forward
“The physicality of the game is very different than it was five, ten, 20 years ago. Colorado speed gives them the opportunity to be extremely physical, to finish their checks, to be in your face, to hold the puck, little things like that. I think you just see it, night after night I don’t know how else to put it. They’re just… it’s like having a bruise on your arm. If someone bumps into it the first time, it’s annoying. Second time, third, 10th, 20th, hundred. Pretty soon you’re saying, “Take the F off me.” I think that’s what Colorado is doing right now.”
Milan Hejduk, forward
“I definitely see some similarities to the 2001 Stanley Cup team. It doesn’t have to be the top guys who carry the load every night, but it does have to be the deep guys who score some huge, 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 line.”
With the Avs one win away from winning the Stanley Cup and ending the Lightning dream of the treble, Reid now sees no way the Avalanche will be thwarted.
He recalled MacKinnon’s disappointment when the Avs were defeated in the second round to the Vegas Golden Knights last postseason.
“You could tell that this guy is not being denied to go back to that level and do great things,” Reid said. “And the way he’s played this year and the rest of the team is following him, everyone seems to have that gallop when Nate goes. They don’t give you time in your zone. And they don’t stop.
“I don’t think they worry about how the other team is playing, to be honest: ‘That’s how we play and you can keep up. And if you can keep up, good for you. But if you can’t keep up, we won’t back down.” It’s impressive. Very, very impressive.”
Hartley considers the series “done”.
“The emotion of (Ball Arena), I remember Game 7 at the Pepsi Center, 2001, just the vibe of the city. 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 love to see Avalanche win in Colorado for the players, for the organization and for the fans. It’s such a great sports town that it would be fun.
“For myself, as a young professional coach, I grew up in this organization, be it the American League, the NHL, so by far it’s kind of my favorite team. So I stand up for them. It’s the hockey fan in me, but even watching the Avalanche in these playoffs brings back great memories for me.”
Joe Smith of The Athletic also contributed coverage of this story.
(Photo: Isaiah J. Downing / USA Today)