At the start of the season, more than one Colorado Avalanche player talked about the fact that they all wanted to win the Western Division so they had home ice for the playoffs. The other thing a number of the players said was wanting to win the Stanley Cup. So far, one of the two has happened despite the odds.
Two breaks due to COVID-19
The Avalanche were the only team in the entire NHL to be impacted by two COVID-19-related breaks.
On Feb. 6, the Avalanche had five games postponed due to four players testing positive with COVID-19. All of the team’s facilities were shut down and the season put on hold. Gabriel Landeskog was one of the players that contracted the virus, but the others were unnamed.
On April 16, three new players tested positive for COVID-19. They were Bowen Byram, Joonas Donskoi and Philipp Grubauer. Then, Mikko Rantanen was also put on the watch list due to the contact-tracing requirement. This meant that the Avalanche’s season was suspended for three games, right at the end of the season and right when they were in first place in both the Western Division and the league.
Players that had contracted COVID-19 and returned had to go through specific heart monitoring and other testing to ensure they were fit enough to return to play. In the final stretch of the season, the Avalanche’s newly acquired backup goalie Devan Dubynk also contracted COVID-19 and missed the last six games of the season.
Third in the league with total game time losses for injured players
From yesterday, NHL injury visualization. Man games lost versus team wins. Bubble size represents cumulative quality of players lost (Lost-ps metric) https://t.co/jYt3NY9Ibt pic.twitter.com/nwncXJtDOU
— Man-Games Lost NHL (@ManGamesLostNHL) May 14, 2021
The Avalanche had nearly 350 man games lost due to injury this season. The St. Louis Blues and the Chicago Blackhawks were the only teams with more than 350. Despite the large amount of lost time all due to injuries to the NHL rostered players, the Avalanche still came away with the most regulation wins in the entire NHL.
What does that say for the players that stepped in to take the place of those injured? It says a lot. The Avalanche have had wonderful support this year from the AHL players on the Colorado Eagles’ roster; they have stepped in time and time again and done the job required of them.
When you listened to the players talk, what you heard them say was they had the “next man up” mentality. Everyone knew it was a total team effort, whoever was on the team at the time, in order to get the team the wins they needed to win the title of best in the West, and ultimately the Presidents’ Trophy.
As fans saw, players came into the Avalanche lineup happy to play their part.
AHL players played their part
Colorado Head Coach Jared Bednar spoke a number of times throughout the season about the work being done by the team’s administration to watch what was happening at Loveland and bring up players that were standing out. The way the Colorado Eagles are being trained is the match for the play by the Avalanche, which means players coming up know exactly the style of play expected of them.
In this regular season, Kyle Burroughs, Sheldon Dries, Daniel Gilbert, Martin Kaut, Jacob MacDonald, Jason Megna, Keaton Middleton, Hunter Miska, Alex Newhook, Liam O’Brien, Dan Renouf, Keifer Sherwood, TJ Tynan and Adam Werner all played a part in the Avalanche getting to where they ended up.
And we love. To. See. It. pic.twitter.com/POqdO43v2e
— p – Colorado Avalanche (@Avalanche) May 15, 2021
Without the support and buy-in of each and every one of these players, it would not have been possible. In past years when players from the AHL were bought up to fill gaps, it was clear they were not easily able to make the jump to the NHL. This season, for most of these players, that was not the case.
They were ready. They handled the pace. They bought into the systems being used and they produced for the team.
The Avalanche players stepped up
On nights when the Avalanche had lost top players, someone else stepped up and made the difference. With the number of injuries, it was a case of who would go out next. Most of the Avalanche’s top-six players, with the exception of Nazem Kadri, have been out at points during the season. That was either due to injury or having contracted COVID-19.
Logan O’Connor played a really important role on the Avalanche’s fourth line before sustaining a season-ending injury. Conor Timmins has become a dependable defenseman since the Avalanche lost veteran Eric Johnson early in the season. Byram made his NHL debut and automatically held his place in the squad due to his tenacity. Newhook, after only playing six games in the AHL, also stepped into the Avalanche lineup, and Bednar now has the dilemma of whether to leave Newhook in the lineup instead of others.
These young players know what this team wants and that is to win the Stanley Cup. They all played their part in believing they could become division champions. It was that belief that had them step up and assist on or score game-winning goals when they were needed.
Now, it is time to continue with their belief: The belief the team had that this is their year—it is their year to win the Stanley Cup. The Colorado Avalanche team of 2001 won both the Presidents’ Trophy and the Stanley Cup, so it is possible. And, the continued belief in themselves will go a long way to making it happen.
The playoff slogan is “ascend as one!” Let’s hope the Avalanche continue to believe in their own ability to win the Stanley Cup.