Patrick Roy won the Jack Adams Award (NHL Coach of the Year) at the NHL awards ceremony on Tuesday night in Toronto. It was not a surprise that the Colorado Avalanche Head Coach won the award as he guided the team from the worst record in 2012-13 to a division title this past season. Those kind of results are going to net those types of awards.
What was and still is a surprise too many is the fact that Roy turned around the Avalanche and won the Jack Adams Award with zero coaching experience at this level. Sure he was a successful junior coach but the critics were quick to point out that leading a team of 18 year olds is a lot different than leading an NHL team. Many “old school” hockey people expected Roy to be a flop and a number of those same people laughed at the Avalanche when they announced the hiring.
Those critics were pounding their chest after opening night when Roy went nuts at the end of the game versus the Anaheim Ducks. Forget the fact that the Avalanche dominated the game in a preview of coming attractions. Roy was extremely upset when the Ducks clearly targeted his young star, Nathan MacKinnon. The game was out of hand and Ducks Head Coach, Bruce Boudreau appeared to instruct his players to rough up the rookie.
Roy did not appreciate the tactics from Boudreau and let him know it by almost going through the glass barrier in an effort to get to the Ducks coach. The incident was shown all over ESPN and other shows. The common thought was that Roy was too much of a loose cannon to be taken seriously. Boudreau said after the game “that stuff won’t be tolerated at this level” and basically predicted that the Avalanche would regret the hiring of Roy.
Six months later, the Avalanche had won the Central Division and it was the calm direction of Roy that got them there. He understood how young the Avalanche were and that building up their confidence was vital. As talented as MacKinnon is, Roy knew he couldn’t put too much pressure on an 18 year old kid. He told MacKinnon to just play and let the game come to you. Roy also started MacKinnon on the third-line early in the year to help ease the pressure on him.
The result? Mackinnon was named rookie of the year on the same night the Roy was named coach of the year. That’s not a coincidence, part of Roy’s greatness in his first season was his ability to handle his young players and MacKinnon was his prize pupil.
The hiring of Roy also revitalized goalie Seymon Varlamov who has always had the talent, but struggled with consistency and confidence. Roy did two things for Varlamov that helped him achieve his best season as a professional. He hired Francois Allaire to be his goalie coach. Allaire is among the best in the business and he did a great job in getting Varlamov to play his best hockey.
Roy understood that his job was to be the head coach, not the goalie coach and went out and got the best. Too many young coaches are afraid to hire established assistants because they feel threatened. Roy is secure enough in his own abilities and doesn’t worry about that petty stuff.
Secondly Roy told Varlamov, you’re the guy. In past seasons, Varlamov would have a bad game or two and then get benched. It’s hard for any goalie to develop confidence when he’s not sure when he’s going to be yanked. Once Varlamov knew he was Roy’s guy, he relaxed and played up to his ability.
Roy also went against the coaching grain and it almost always paid off. The best example is his willingness to pull the goalie, when down by a goal, earlier than anyone had ever done before him. It wasn’t unusual for Roy to pull his goalie with 2+ minutes to go in the game when the norm is to do it with a minute to a minute and a half remaining.
The Avalanche won two playoff games solely because of that strategy. They scored the tying goal twice with the goalie pulled, and went onto win both of those games in overtime. It was so successful that other coaches starting pulling their goalies earlier as the playoffs went on. The ultimate compliment as a coach is when other coaches start copying your strategies. Some of the same people who were laughing at the Roy hiring are now following in his footsteps.
Despite winning the coach of the year, Roy would tell you that the process has just started. He and the Avalanche are happy with the year they had but the playoff loss to the Minnesota Wild was unacceptable. Roy has one goal and it’s not to win a division title or win a playoff series, it’s to win a Stanley Cup.
From day one Roy brought knowledge, passion and a winning attitude back to the Avalanche and for the first time since the glory days; there’s only one acceptable outcome. Win the last game of the season!