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Avalanche: How Much Does Experience Matter?

The last time the Colorado Avalanche made it to the playoffs they were swept in the second round by long time rival Detroit. The following year the Avalanche failed to make it to the playoffs for the second time since moving to Denver. In 2006 they missed the cut by one point to Calgary, hitting 95 points but still managing to sit on the outside looking in.  Two years later they were 28th in the league, 15th in the conference. Fans had never felt such utter dispair, they were used to the Rockies, Broncos, & Nuggets failing them but not the Avalanche. Since they arrived from Quebec in 1995 they had been Denver’s consistent albeit second favorite ‘child’. After cleaning house & losing their Captain they started to rebuild. Here’s a little bit more about their history & the challenges that lie ahead for them.

No one gave the Avs a chance at the beginning of the year, there just seemed to be too many hurdles to overcome. New goaltender, new coach, new GM, and a fist full of rookies.

Goaltending has been an issue since 2003 when Patrick Roy bid them ‘adieu’ & left for Quebec. The Avalanche would not win another Stanley Cup after his departure. Seven years later and Craig Anderson steps in. After failing to get re-signed by the Florida Panthers he received a call at 10 a.m. on July 1, 2009 from the brass in Denver. GM Greg Sherman had convinced him to sign with the Avalanche. Anderson would go on to start in 71 games. Anderson would win 38 of those games, only two fewer than Saint Patrick himself. His heavy workload worried some but after they clinched their playoff spot Andy was rewarded with a few days off. Anderson has no playoff goaltending experience but just when you’re ready to count him out he steps up big time and surprises you (i.e. Vancouver shoot-out)

In as little as 15 years the Avalanche have gone through a plethora of coaches. Starting with Crawford and ending with Granato. Joe Sacco made his NHL coaching debut with the franchise in October, he is one of two coaches to have no previous playoff experience. Unlike the Senator’s rookie coach Sacco will be paired with a rookie GM. If the Avs get past the Sharks and the Hawks get past the Preds he will face former Colorado Avalanche Coach Joel Quenneville.

There will be at least five, count ’em five rookies in full time positions for the Avalanche. Matt Duchene (19), Ryan O’Reilly (19), T.J. Galiardi (21), Ryan Wilson (23) and Brandon Yip (24). Combined with youngsters Chris Stewart (22), Paul Stastny (24) and Peter Mueller (22) the average age for these players is 21 3/4. Before you start to discount this team remember that Adam Foote, Stephane Yelle and Milan Hejduk were all part of the team when they won both cups.

Here’s a little fun fact for you: Before 2001 the Stanley Cup had always been passed straight to the team’s Captain who then hoisted the cup above his head to celebrate, usually doing a victory lap around the ice as well. The rest of the team would follow. During the 1999-2000 season Raymond Bourque of the Boston Bruins asked his  GM to trade him so he could have one final shot at the Cup. After about 20 and a 1/2 years with Boston the fans and team gave him their blessing and continued to support him as he finished out the season with the Avalanche. Failing to make it to the finals Colorado offered him a one year contract in hopes to make it back. They awarded him the ‘A’ for his sportsmanship and leadership. That year when they won the cup Captain Joe Sakic tried to get them to give it to Bourque first. No. So being the class act that he was he handed the cup straight to Bourque who then lifted it above his head.

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