LAS VEGAS – The NHL Awards is a night to honor and recognize the great achievements of players throughout the league from the past season, but the individual efforts wouldn't have been possible with a great team effort.
That especially goes for the Colorado Avalanche.
Three Avs picked up hardware at the league's annual end-of-season award show on Tuesday night at the Encore Theater with head coach Patrick Roy winning the Jack Adams Award for coach of the year, Nathan MacKinnon winning the Calder Memorial Trophy for rookie of the year, and Ryan O'Reilly winning the Lady Byng Trophy as the player best combining sportsmanship and ability.
It was a tremendous honor for each individual, but they all recognized it wouldn't have been possible without the support of others.
They all thanked family, friends, and past coaches, before recognizing their teammates. If it weren't for the other members on the Avalanche, this night wouldn’t have been possible.
"I never thought [winning the Jack Adams Award] would have ever happened to be honest with you," Roy said. "It's fun to see it happening, but I know why I'm receiving this trophy: I have a group of players that made a commitment and bought into what we wanted to do. They had in their mind to surprise the world of hockey, and that's exactly what they've done by winning the Central Division. It's a special group, and I can not thank them enough today for what happened to me."
As a rookie coach, Roy needed his players to buy into his system for the club to have success. Stressing partnership, trust and respect, Roy's Avalanche won 52 games and the franchise's first division title since 2003.
His players noticed that partnership, and they responded.
"He has respect for everyone and treats everyone the same," O'Reilly said of Roy. "Guys tend to play a bit harder for him, they respect that more. To have that, it is a great quality that not a lot of coaches have that he provides and helps us."
On this evening, Roy was also a fan as he was rooting on his players from the stadium seats of the theater. After seeing MacKinnon take the Calder and get up on stage himself for the Jack Adams, he very much wanted to see his other two players, O'Reilly and goalie Semyon Varlamov get hardware of their own.
"I'm very happy. Right now I'm talking to you guys, but I'm also thinking about Ryan and Varly," Roy said in his post-awards press conferences, minutes before O'Reilly won the Lady Byng. "I would love to see those guy – I would trade my trophy in a heartbeat to see those guys win those two trophies."
Varlamov was close in his attempt to become the first recipient in franchise history of the Vezina Trophy, which is given to the top goaltender in the league. He finished 13 voting points behind winner Tuukka Rask of Boston.
O'Reilly's win of the Lady Byng came a lot from what Roy did early in the season when he moved the natural center to left wing. The move can be considered a success as O'Reilly posted career highs in goals (28) and points (64) and posted only two penalty minutes. He and Butch Goring (1977-78, Los Angeles) are the only players ever to receive two or fewer penalty minutes over 80 or more games.
Some of O'Reilly's lack of time spent in the penalty box came from his positioning along the wall instead of in front of the net.
"Switching from the center to the wing, not playing down low as much, you're not involved as physical as you would be on the wing in your own end," O'Reilly said. "A lot of times you don't get in those situations where you have to take a penalty as much as you would if you were playing center."
After the awards show ended, O'Reilly credited Roy with his ability to make changes when needed.
"During the year he reinforced whatever we did, to do it intense, to do it the best we could," O'Reilly said. "Constantly reminding us there were times where we could relax a bit, but he kept us going. He made adjustments when he needed to. Without those adjustments there was no way we were going to win the division and be in the situation we were."
After Roy and his coaching staff eased MacKinnon into the NHL game with him centering the third line, the 18-year-old was moved to right wing with Landeskog and Stastny on one of the team's top scoring lines. The move to the wing also helped him in his transition to the top professional hockey league.
"Obviously, wing is a little simpler than center," MacKinnon said. "I played center at the beginning of the year, and I kind of rotated back and forth and finished off on wing. I'm comfortable playing both positions, but… it was an easier transition."
MacKinnon went on to score 63 points (24 goals, 39 assists) and help Landeskog and Stastny have some of their best years of their careers as well.
However, he said it was more him benefiting from them than the other way around.
"Playing with Paul and Gabe, I was playing against the other team's top lines in most games," MacKinnon said. "Obviously, I wasn't the shutdown guy, Paul and Gabe were a lot better. Learning from those guys was big for me."
Further proof that it takes a team to win a game and a trophy.
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