TAMPA, Fla. — The Avalanche’s run to the Stanley Cup Finals has brought all manner of coaches, executives and athletes from the Denver area to the arena, from Michael Malone and John Elway, who occupy the front row seats behind the gate, to to Russell Wilson and Nathaniel Hackett rouse the crowd when shown on the video board.
The Avalanche also have fans on the Arkansas men’s basketball coaching staff.
Led by coach Eric Musselman, the team spent time during the offseason watching video of Avalanche playing Tampa Bay in Game 3 of the Finals Monday night.
After winning Game 1 last week, Musselman tweeted about the avalanche and explained why watching Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar and company is on his staff’s to-do list.
“We love exploring how connected they are as a team,” Musselman wrote in an email to the Denver Post. “To play as fast and clean as they do, they need to be connected. The players on the ice are connected and the bench is in the game to know when it’s time to make substitutions.
“We’re constantly talking to our team about staying connected. We also talk about being ready on the bench if your opportunity arises. The Avalanche might call someone for a 30-second sprint, but they’re ready.”
Musselman, a former NBA head coach at Golden State and Sacramento, has been coaching the Razorbacks for three years. Last season, the Hogs overcame a 1-5 stretch bridging the end of nonconference and the beginning of SEC play to finish 28-9 and win the Elite Eight (losing to Duke) for the second straight year reach.
Buy-in and readiness are requirements in Arkansas. Eight players averaged at least 10 minutes per game and eight players started at least four games.
What are the coaches watching?
“Offensively, we studied the pace of the game and how relentlessly fast they play,” Musselman said. “The constant pressure the Avalanche puts on defense would be like our team pushing the ball and not wanting to play half-court sets, but playing casual transition offense.
“They keep pushing the puck. We call it No Walk-Ups. Don’t let the ball run up the floor. Defensively, the Avalanche seems to be one that constantly puts pressure on the puck, from (goal) line to (goal) line.”
Ice hockey allows only one time-out, so teams must survive adversity in the game, sometimes without a cherry on top to stop the game or a media time-out. Basketball is obviously different in this regard, but Musselman has noticed the Avs playing their way out of difficult stretches.
“It’s amazing to see them go from offense to defense and[switch lines]without a timeout,” Musselman said. “They don’t stop to call and reset a game. This is because they are connected at all times.”
Musselman made notes on how well the Avalanche anticipates plays and uses its superior speed to its advantage.
“They think three passes ahead and not just right now – they could make a pass that leads to something good three passes later,” he said. “They don’t care who gets the glory. They only want to win.
“The pace at which the Avalanche plays is unbelievable. It puts a lot of strain on other teams when the heights play like that. They know their team’s identity is to play fast and capitalize on that at home and away.”