For Colorado Avalanche Rise Back Near Top, New Unselfish Culture Has Been Paramount

The Colorado Avalanche have been through a lot in the 21 years since their last Stanley Cup appearance. Also in the last seven years. Fan favorite Patrick Roy had just left the team and Jared Bednar joined. After winning the Calder Cup with the Lake Erie Monsters in the 2015-2016 season, he was brought on as a rookie replacement and became a living hockey legend.

It’s like being the warm-up band for Nirvana in 1991.

Bednar said something interesting about his team early in the playoffs this year – his sixth with the team.

“It’s not about ego,” he said.

That might seem like established doctrine today, but at the time the Avs were a perfectly healthy team. Some guys, like Jack Johnson and Alex Newhook, had played much of the regular season but were now healthy scratches. That undoubtedly had to sting for both players. And may have been a cause for internal grumbling.

But perhaps no one took the lead as Bednar dictated, and no one complained. Right now, both are back playing regular shifts for a team with a 1-0 lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Finals. Injuries ensued, so there was a “next man up” attitude in the dressing room.

no ego no stars team only Bednar has formulated this as a team policy statement, so to speak. It’s not a new concept. Every coach wants that.

But getting a team — especially a team full of highly paid professionals — to put their egos aside? Easier said than done. But Bednar has done it up to this point.

“The first thing I talked about when I got here was a selfless team-first attitude. That’s number one,” Bednar said after Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, “It’s not always easy seven months out of the year, but I can say we’re at the point where I have meetings with guys, difficult meetings , all of our staff only pretends to be honest reviewers of themselves and me.”

If there’s one thing championship teams have in common, it’s the buy-in into the team culture. The team moves in the same direction with the same goal. Egos and personal agendas are put aside for the good of the team.

In 2017, Matt Duchene wanted out of Denver. He was ready to go and start a new chapter in his life, just like the Avalanche. That was the cornerstone of getting guys to be part of the Colorado Avalanche.

It was first articulated in the dressing room at Barclay’s Center when my boss Adrian Dater asked Erik Johnson these questions right after the game against the Islanders, in which Duchene was traded to the Ottawa Senators in the first period.

Some guys from that locker room – lots of them – aren’t with the Avs anymore. But from that day forward, a new leadership core was established. Gabe Landeskog remained the captain, but that would be more of Nathan MacKinnon’s team now. It would be more like Mikko Rantanen’s team. Over the next two and three years, guys like Cale Makar, Devon Toews and Nazem Kadri will complement a more talented leadership group around them. There would be more setbacks along the way, including last year’s shock second-round loss to Vegas after a 2-0 lead in the series. But the team returned to training camp, ready from Day 1, and here they are, just three wins away from a Stanley Cup.

It’s nowhere near complete, mind you. Three more hard, hard victories to achieve. But this is a team that, as Johnson said in the video above, is now all “rowing in the same direction.”

“I think our team as a whole is very altruistic and nobody really thinks about their own stuff, it takes about 60 minutes or whatever that we win,” Rantanen said, “that’s what we’re working towards and everyone’s doing their best to achieve this goal in every single game. He is right.”

Committed to the core group, committed and leading by example. It was easy for the new guys to jump on the bandwagon and understand what it means to be a Colorado Avalanche. This season, the Avalanche have won Nico Sturm, Darren Helm, Artturi Lehkonen, Andrew Cogliano, Nicolas Aube-Kubel and Josh Manson. All contributed to this team in one way or another during the last playoff run.

Aube-Kubel and Sturm have been in and out of the line-up but provide for the bottom six. Lehkonen has scored six goals so far, including the goal in overtime to send the Avalanche to the Stanley Cup Finals. Manson was also the hero of a game or two, playing a one-second goalie against the St. Louis Blues in the second round, and has amassed six points in those playoffs.

Helm scored a superb goal to eliminate the Blues in Round 2.

“I think everyone has a voice in our locker room,” said Toews, who joined the team from Joe Sakic in the summer of 2020 after one of the best NHL trades in the last 10 years. “People who have joined after the trading deadline have a voice and are part of this team and have felt like part of this team for five to six years. So I think everyone is pulling in the same direction.”

The definition of culture is “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterize an institution or organization” The Colorado Avalanche had one goal and that is to be where they are now. You compete against the best and you have to beat the best. The plan, which was set in motion with Bednar six years ago, has received the necessary approval. The Avalanche has three victories left.

It still can’t happen.

But lightning must strike a team all rowing in the same direction.

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