Back when Large was in charge

Jean Lefebvre
October 29 2009 08:13PM

So, who's ready to buy what the Colorado Avalanche is/are selling?

So many people figured the 2009-10 Avs would be an awful lot like the 2008-09 Avs but instead they've been winning as if they're the 2000-01 Avs, minus Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Chris Drury, Raymond Bourque, Patrick Roy or almost anyone else the casual fan has ever heard of.

Maybe the guessperts are only covering their fannies, but the party line is that the Denverites can't possibly keep this up. There's certainly ample evidence to support the smoke-and-mirrors claim, starting with the fact that the club is coached by Joe Sacco, for heaven's sake. Sure, Scotty Bowman, Al Arbour and Toe Blake were all equally unknown coaching commodities at some point but you'll excuse the hockey world if it less than impressed with Sacco's resume that includes a .375 winning percentage in the AHL and having once been a teammate of Garry Valk.

More statistically based arguments against Colorado's legitimacy include some pretty lopsided shots for/shots against totals and the probablity that Craig Anderson, as underrated as his work in South Florida was, isn't nearly as good as his early work in Denver would suggest. Throw in the fact that several of their baby-faced players still associate the phrase "having a couple of cold ones" with a trip to the closest 7-11 for Mountain Dew Slurpees and you can understand the skepticism.

But hey, Avs fans have every right to be as optimistic as they please. After all, besides 12 winning seasons, 11 playoff appearances, eight division titles and two Stanley Cups, what do long-suffering Avalanche supporters have to hang their hats on after the first 13 seasons of Avs hockey?

So while everyone waits for the Avs to do the Icarus routine and come crashing back to earth, let's think back to another hockey club that got off to a sizzling start that was reckoned too good to be true. We're talking, of course, about the 2001-02 Calgary Flames, who got off to a ridiculous 13-2-2-2 beginning before remembering they weren't an especially good hockey club.

Like the present-day Avs, the Flames had a new goaltender who hadn't achieved much in the way of fame and acclaim in previous stops. And besides the rude reality check that followed, the great start of 2001-02 is probably least-fondly remembered for the rich (and as it turns out, ill-advised) contract it netted Roman Turek.

A reporter who had seen Turek play in St. Louis once referred to the Czech netminder skillet-like catching glove and his resemblance to a small boy looking for a lost frog when he dropped to all fours in the crease and Calgary fans saw pretty good examples of both those analogies for much of the rest of Turek's time with the Flames. But let's not put all the blame on the lanky netminder known as Large. Look back at that 2001-02 club and you'll get the idea of just how miraculous that 13-2-2-2 run was.

That was the season Jarome Iginla became Jarome Freakin' Iginla and No. 12 formed a surprisingly effective partnership with Dean McAmmond and Craig Conroy but after that, the pickings were beyond slim. Marc Savard, back in his more obstinate days, paired his 14 goals on 56 games with a lovely minus-18 figure. The battle for the fifth spot on the scoring forward list was waged by such luminaries as Rob Niedermayer, Clarke Wilm, Scott Nichol, Dave Lowry, Ronald Petrovicky and Jamie Wright. And who could ever forget the sight, repeated over and over and over again, of a slow-moving puck hopping over Igor Kravchuk's stick on the blue-line during the power play?

After the conspicuous start, that Flames squad went 19-33-10-1 the rest of the way and it would be two more unhappy years (tacked on to the five before) before real and lasting progress was made. The Avs will hope that even if their present play is heavy on mirage, the road back to true competitiveness won't be quite as tortuous.

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Lefebvre is in that awkward stage of hockey following -- old enough to fondly remember the Cleveland Barons and too set in his ways to accept charity points and games where there's a winner but apparently no loser. As a long-time ink-stained wretch, he's also a firm believer in the old Bobby Knight quote about journalists: "All of us learn to write in second grade, but most of us go on to better things."
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#1 b1ackhat
October 31 2009, 01:07PM
Trash it!
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props

Excellent article Jean!!

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