GLENDALE, Ariz. — As a goaltender, Patrick Roy was never fond of morning skates on game days. One quarter of the way into his wildly successful rookie season as an NHL coach, he has given himself and his players a choice. If you don't feel like skating, don't skate. And that includes the coach.
"Prepare for the game how you want to prepare," Roy said. "Just be ready to play."
This season, the Avalanche has been ready to play. Roy and the Avs have been one of the NHL's big stories. He's an early coach of the year candidate, having taken a team that finished 29th overall a season ago to a 16-5 record heading into Saturday night's game against the Kings in Los Angeles.
"He's a teacher and he communicates really well with the players," said Joe Sakic, Roy's boss, former Avalanche teammate and fellow Hall of Famer. "He's done a great job getting them to understand what it takes (to win) and focusing on the positives."
Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, an assistant coach with the Avs in Roy's first two years in Colorado (1995-97), isn't surprised at the impact Roy has had.
"He was the one player, as a coach, you always knew that he had a different level of how he saw the game, and he's probably at the top of the level of all the players I've been around," Quenneville said. "He understands what it takes to win."
A big part of that equation is Roy building trust with his team.
"On the first day of training camp, he said he was here to be our partner, which I think was one of the biggest messages he sent us so far," said Avs captain Gabe Landeskog, one of the team's many bright young stars. "Patty helps us be on our toes. It rubs off on all of us, the enthusiasm."
At his first preseason news conference, Roy spoke like the NHL veteran that he is. But he never acted like a rookie coach. He talked about "surprising the hockey world" and about the importance of the Avs finding ways to win games on nights they didn't play well. So far, they have been able to do that.
"As a player, he was as competitive as anyone," said Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan, 37, who as a rookie played against Roy. "You love that and love a coach that is as emotionally invested. He's done a great job getting that group, a young group, motivated and excited, feeling confident."
Outwardly confident, Roy admits he occasionally has had doubts whether he and his team could deliver, most recently during a three-game losing streak. But, he's convinced his enthusiasm and instincts will outweigh any insecurity in his first go-round as an NHL coach.
"I'm not going to lie to you — I'm always nervous, always anxious to start the game," Roy said. "Is it because we finished 29th last year and every game is a new challenge? I don't know, but it's the way I've been, even as a player. The start of every game has been important to me and it's the same thing as a head coach. I'm happy with the group right now and want to keep it rolling.
"I'm proud because this group has been doing everything right. They're focused and working very hard. We are a team."
Veteran forward P.A. Parenteau said Roy has laid the foundation for good things to happen.
"It's a mix of things," Parenteau said. "The coaching staff, Patrick especially, have had a big part in the turnaround, no doubt about it. But at the same thing the willingness from the players to change things around is another big part.
"The mentality, the way we approach things every day, is good. Taking it day by day, everyone knows their role, Patrick keeps people on their toes with his intensity. The intensity level is much higher."
That fire, Sakic believes, will help the Avalanche through rough patches, such as the recent three-game losing streak, which was followed with wins over Chicago and Phoenix.
"I don't think anyone imagined a 14-2 start, but you're going to have your ups and downs," Sakic said. "The key is to not get too down and just hope everybody works through it and the lulls don't last too long."
Roy doesn't know what a lull looks like, because he's never played the part.
Home of hardware
First-year Avs coach Patrick Roy is the early favorite to win the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year. If that happens, it would be his 12th major NHL award.
1986 Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff MVP)
1987 Jennings Trophy (fewest goals allowed)
1988 Jennings Trophy
1989 Vezina Trophy (best goaltender)
1989 Jennings Trophy
1990 Vezina Trophy
1992 Vezina Trophy
1992 Jennings Trophy
1993 Conn Smythe Trophy
2001 Conn Smythe Trophy
2002 Jennings Trophy