Avs’ Duchene has but one dream – the Stanley Cup
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Let’s face it: Colorado Avalanche cowboy Matt Duchene would have been the hands-down winner of the NHL Breakaway Challenge if the 2016 NHL All-Star event was based on skill.
In describing Duchene’s one-handed, between-the-legs shot past New Jersey goalie Cory Schneider – all while donning at cowboy hat at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena on Jan. 30 – former NHL forward Jeremy Roenick said “that’s incredible talent.”
Talent, however, wasn’t as important on showmanship, as the Jaromir Jagr imitation performed by P.K. Subban drew the most fan votes and the Wookie that was Brent Burns came in second. Duchene didn’t even finish in the top three.
“Going into it, I felt like if I pulled off what I wanted to pull off – and I was pretty close – that I’d have a chance to win it,” said Duchene, who failed to score or even put a shot on net in his first of two attempts. “But I didn’t anticipate how good of a show Subban and Burns would put on. It’s not really about the skill you display, it’s about what kind of show you put on in general. They had me laughing. I thought Subbies’ imitation of Jagr was absolutely hilarious.”
Duchene’s second attempt – the one Roenick described — was developed by a child. It began with collecting the puck on the blade of his stick and swinging it in a half-circle.
“All that stuff I used to do out on my rink (in Ontario) when I was like 13 – and I was way better at then than I am now, because I never do it anymore,” Duchene said. “I wanted to be my 13-year-old self in Nashville and it was a good time.”
Duchene was Colorado’s lone All-Star and had two assists in the Pacific Division’s 9-6 win over the Central in a 3-on-3 semifinal game.
Now a two-time NHL All-Star with two gold medals in international play, Duchene is on pace to shatter his career-high 27 goals and lead the Avalanche into the playoffs.
“There’s a lot of good parts of my career that I’m very proud of, but there’s a big part missing — a push for a Stanley Cup, and a Stanley Cup, obviously,” said Duchene, who led Colorado with 23 goals and 42 points at the time of the All-Star Game. “The nice part is I’ve got a lot of years left, but at the same time, I’m living in the now more than ever because I want to make every second count. You have to put the effort in every day and take advantage of the time you have.”
“He’s a leader on the ice, there’s no doubt about it,” Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. “I think he’s learning, coming in and performing, and that’s what he’s been doing this last stretch.”
Duchene, 25, has yet to see the second round of the playoffs and has only advanced to the postseason twice in six seasons. He’s big into leaving his mark on the game, creating a legacy. But All-Star appearances and gold medals don’t adequately do that. It’s all about the Cup.
“That’s something I think about a lot,” Duchene said. “I think about what I’m going to leave behind when I’m gone from the game. I’ve had to make it mean a little less to me because I wouldn’t stay in the moment as much as I should and look too far ahead. I would panic when things weren’t going well and worried too much about 15 or 20 years down the road rather than the next game.
“Hopefully, we’re able to get in. We’re in a good spot right now. Hopefully, we can hold where we are and I can get past the first round of the playoffs with this team I’ve been with for seven years, and a team I want to win a Cup with very badly. It’s driving me every day.”
Photo/Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images
— Mike Chambers