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Roy Rewards MacKinnon With Key Ice Time

The rookie impressed his coach and earned important ice time in the final minutes

Saturday, 11.09.2013 / 1:22 AM / News
By Ron Knabenbauer

Patrick Roy's experiment of starting Nathan MacKinnon on the wing didn't last long.

Only one game actually, as the Avalanche head coach moved the rookie back to center for Friday's game against Calgary.

However, don't take the move as Roy having doubts about the versatility of Mackinnon's skills. Roy said the move was made because he feels MacKinnon is more comfortable at center right now in his early professional career.

"We're going to try a lot of things with him and see where he is comfortable," Roy said. "To be honest with you, I think he is more comfortable as a center. He has more space, he is a great skater, he moves the puck well."

Roy continued to try different things with MacKinnon on Friday night.

While MacKinnon began the game centering a line with John Mitchell and Maxime Talbot, the 18-year-old was also moved to the right side of a line with Paul Stastny and Gabriel Landeskog occasionally and saw significant time on the power play as well.

MacKinnon didn't disappoint his coach in every situation that he was put in during the game, and Roy rewarded him with some key ice time late in the third period as the Avs were holding onto a one-goal lead.

"He was flying," Roy said. "I felt like I wanted to give him more because he was playing a super game."

He also wasn't too bad during even-strength play as he had the primary assist on the game-winning goal in the second period.

After getting a pass from Cory Sarich behind the net, MacKinnon made his way to the right circle and found an open John Mitchell in the slot with a pass. Mitchell fired a one-time wrist shot past netminder Karri Ramo to give the Avs a 3-1 lead at 7:16 of the middle period.

"I was kind of just standing there and Mac came around and we made eye contact," Mitchell said. "He got me the puck, and I just tried to get it off the quickest I could.”

The game against the Flames was the first for the Mitchell-MacKinnon-Talbot line and Roy came away impressed.

"I think the MacKinnon line was super for us tonight," Roy said. "Nate was flying on the ice tonight. Him with [John] Mitchell and [Maxime] Talbot I thought was pretty close to being our best line tonight."

While MacKinnon played mostly center in the game, don't be surprised to see Roy use his offensive skills in different situations and positions in the future.

"The only position I promise you he won't play is in goal," the Avs coach said.

JOHNSON IMPRESSES

Erik Johnson only had an assist on the scoresheet, but Roy came away from Friday's contest very pleased with his defenseman.

"I thought tonight that he could have been the first star of that game. To be honest with you, he was probably one of our best players on the ice," Roy said of Johnson. "When EJ moves his feet, and he's shooting with confidence, he's a good player. I was very happy with his game tonight, he showed a lot of poise out there in my opinion."

The d-man's assist came early in the first period when he fired a shot from the point that banked off the end wall and found Paul Stastny's stick at the right post. Stastny controlled the bouncing puck and lifted it top shelf to give Colorado a 2-0 lead.

Johnson finished with two hits and five blocks in 22:41 of ice time.

NO HARD FEELINGS FOR SARICH

Avalanche defenseman Cory Sarich spent six seasons with the Calgary Flames organization, but last season it seemed like his time with the organization was running out. He was often a healthy scratch for Calgary and only appeared in 28 of the 48 games last season.

Cory Sarich

The Flames traded Sarich and Alex Tanguay to the Avs over the summer and so far the exchange has worked out for the Avs. Sarich has been playing nearly 18 minutes a game, has been a key contributor when Colorado's shorthanded and has been a veteran leader in the locker room with postseason experience.

The 35-year-old has had a rebirth of sorts with the Avalanche organization. Despite, not seeing a much playing time with his former club, Sarich has no ill will towards the Flames and entered Friday's game like it was any other contest.

"Not so much that," Sarich said on if he wanted to show what Calgary gave up on. "I just want to do my thing and be consistent like it has been this year. Again for us, it's more of a team focus again. We got away from some things last game so we just want to make sure that we rebound as a whole, all of us."

Sarich did pick up a point against his former club, as he had an assist on John Mitchell's second period goal that ended up being the game winner.

ROY'S MENTOR ON THE OTHER SIDE

When asked over the summer who he models his coaching style after, coach Patrick Roy didn't pinpoint any one person. Instead, he said he models his coaching after the coaches he had learned from as a player and who he had interacted with as a junior coach.

However, if there was one coach who Roy mentioned a lot in his answers, it's former Avalanche head coach Bob Hartley.

Hartley coached the Avs to the Stanley Cup championship in 2001 and is in his second season as the head coach for the Calgary Flames.

Roy has kept in touch with his former coach since he retired from playing the game in 2003, and Hartley was one of the first people to congratulate him when he was named the Colorado head coach in May.

"I have a lot of respect for Bob," Roy said. "Over the past years, he has always said, 'Call me if you need something, I'll be there for you.' He was always been there for me during my junior years and even since I've been [coaching] in the NHL, he called me when I got the job, he called me in the summer, he called me at the start of the season in training camp. We're talking a lot. I have a close relationship with him, and I'm happy to see his team doing well."

While they are friends off the ice, Roy said once the game starts it would be back to business and focusing on winning the game.

"When the puck drops, I'm going to be focusing on my team," Roy said. "I can't look at him too long because he is going to take advantage of it."

On this night though, Roy's team got the better of his friend's squad. Roy 1, Hartley 0.

WILSON OUT AT LEAST TWO WEEKS

Roy announced after Friday's morning skate practice that defenseman Ryan Wilson would be out at least two weeks with a back injury.

"He had an MRI yesterday, and they said it's his back," Roy said of Wilson's injury. "The doctor said let's wait two weeks and then see where he goes from there."

Wilson was injured during the first period of Wednesday's contest against Nashville. It's unknown when he injured his back in the first stanza, but he was able finish the period before missing the rest of the game.

HOLDEN FINALLY GETS HIS CHANCE… ON DEFENSE

Nick Holden made his season debut last Friday in Dallas at forward, but this Friday he finally got his chance to play his natural position at defense.

With Ryan Wilson out of the Avalanche lineup with a back injury, coach Patrick Roy inserted Holden into the lineup for the game against the Flames.

"I'm so happy to put Holden in," Roy said. "I thought he has deserved to play for a long time. I'm so happy, and that's what I told him this morning."

During the game, Holden was paired on defense with Nate Guenin—another player who was a surprise during training camp and made Colorado's opening night roster.

The defensive pairing has combined for 56 NHL games (Guenin 47, Holden nine) in their careers, but Roy had no doubts about putting both in his lineup against Calgary.

"Not a lot of NHL experience, but Nate is playing so well and his confidence level is there," Roy said. "Nick, same thing. I think it's going to be a great duo for us."

Holden finished with four hits in 15:56 of ice time while Guenin played 17:28 and had three hits and three blocks.

TALBOT DOING HIS PART FOR MOVEMBER

Better late than never for Maxime Talbot. At least when it comes to his facial hair, that is.

A day after sporting a beard at practice, Talbot came into Friday's morning skate with a Fu Manchu mustache on his face for Movember.

Movember occurs every November where men are encouraged to grow mustaches and other facial hair to bring awareness to men's health issues. For the past several years, many NHL players have grown out mustaches to help support the cause.

While Talbot's facial hair transformation is eight days late, in the end it's all about showing support for the cause.

"I kept the beard for most of the season, but I'm kind of doing a Movember here," Talbot said. "I'm kind of cheating and late because you're supposed to shave on the first of November. The Fu Manchu has kind of been my trademark through the years so I kind of decided to bring it back."

According to Movember.com, more than 1.1 million men participated in the movement in 2012 and helped raise $147 million.

HONORING AND HELPING THE ARMED SERVICES

The Colorado Avalanche continued its thanks to military veterans and current members of the armed forces Friday as the team welcomed children who currently have, or have experienced a parent who has been deployed.

More than 200 fifth and sixth graders from District 8 Fort Carson schools in Colorado Springs attended the game with chaperones.

Before attending the game, the kids participated in games and other activities at the Gold Crown Field House in Lakewood. The children also received gift bags, concession coupons and more.

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