Nate Guenin has danced this dance in Philadelphia. He’s done it in Pittsburgh, Columbus and Anaheim, too.
Now that he’s in his fifth NHL go-round, he says he hopes he’s able to do something he’s never done before: stay on the dance floor longer than just a few songs.
Guenin signed with the Avalanche as a free agent this summer after spending parts of six seasons with the Flyers, Penguins, Blue Jackets and Ducks, but he wasn’t a lock to make the Colorado roster coming out of its preseason training camp. He showed enough, however, to win one of the Avs’ eight defenseman spots for Opening Night and was in the lineup for Colorado's first three games this season.
The initial plan called for Guenin (pronounced GEN-nin) to be utilized in a start-or-scratch defenseman rotation with Matt Hunwick and Nick Holden, but Colorado coach Patrick Roy has said he likes the team’s play with Guenin involved and he’s reluctant to mess with a good thing.
The Avalanche won 2-1 Tuesday night at Toronto to improve to 3-0-0 this season—getting off to its best three-game start in team history—and Guenin has played his part in the early success. He’s been on the ice for 71 shifts through three games, and he picked up his fifth career point (an assist) in Friday’s home win against Nashville.
With an NHL career consisting of just 32 games across his seven professional seasons since graduating from Ohio State, Guenin, from Aliquippa, Pa., said he knows the opportunity he’s been given in the Mile High City.
“It means the world,” he said. “I’m really appreciative of [the Avalanche] giving me the opportunity, one, and, two, having the confidence in me to put me in certain situations. It’s my job to go out there and show them that they’re right in giving me that opportunity and make the most of it and just help this team win any way I can.
“All along this is where I felt I should be.”
Colorado entered training camp last month with all but a few of its Opening Night roster spots decided, but breaking into the defenseman group became a bit easier for Guenin and others when veteran defenseman Ryan Wilson suffered an injury in the team’s Burgundy/White intrasquad scrimmage and was shut down for the rest of camp.
Guenin took what was a little opening and has turned it into a big opportunity.
He survived the team’s final preseason cuts early last week, and he’s doing his best to leave an impression on the powers that be who will have a roster decision to make sometime this week when Wilson is expected to be cleared to play.
Guenin is focused on what he can control and doing what he can do best. His big frame (6-3, 200-plus pounds) and gritty defensive skills have earned him time on the Avs’ penalty-killing unit this season, and he’s teamed with John Mitchell, Cody McLeod and Jan Hejda to help Colorado to a perfect 7-for-7 mark on PK's through three games.
That includes killing off two Toronto power plays Tuesday—the latter coming with about 10 minutes to go in regulation with the Avalanche holding on to a tenuous one-goal advantage.
“The penalty killing did a great job at the end,” Roy said Tuesday night. “That was a big kill for us. Guys were there for a long time, and they sacrificed their body.”
To this point in his career Guenin has personified “journeyman,” but he said he’s hoping this latest opportunity, which has resulted in Denver having a hockey buzz again, might be the beginning of a long stay at the highest level of the game.
He’s said he’s motivated to do whatever it takes to “stick,” and he said he knows where he fits in with this up-and-coming Colorado squad.
“I’ve gotten a good opportunity on the penalty kill going out there, and it’s something I pride myself in,” Guenin said. “It’s been good. [I want] to continue to be solid, [and] be reliable defensively [and] be hard to play against and just move the pucks to our forwards. We’ve got a really skilled group up front there, so it’s my job to get the puck to them as quick as I can.”
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