DENVER — Where did this all begin, this stirring revival of the Colorado Avalanche?
Try a restaurant. But not just any restaurant. Not some chain joint in Park Meadows with wall photos of the staff’s sixth-place softball team, or even the hot new spot in LoDo, complete with $18 Rocky Mountain oysters.
The genesis of this franchise awakening emerged in Ray Bourque’s restaurant in Boston. Tresca, it’s called, a snazzy eatery up on the North End. It has wicked-good Italian food, or so I’m told.
“I’d go back,” Matt Duchene allowed.
This is where “Why Not Us?” hit a fever pitch. The Avalanche has adopted the saying as its unofficial mantra, a three-word rallying cry that has elevated the team from 29th in the NHL a year ago to the third-best start in franchise history.
Patrick Roy tested the phrase when he was introduced as coach last May.
“But ‘Why Not Us?’ didn’t start until three or four games in,” Duchene told me. “We had a team dinner and Ray Bourque was there. He stood up and gave a great speech. The whole thing kind of stemmed from him and Patty’s speech that night.”
It was the night before the fourth game of the season, a roadie at the Bruins, when “Why Not Us?” really took shape. According to several players in the Avs dressing room, it was Bourque’s lively speech that told the Avs: Don’t stop believing.
Cheesy as it sounds, there’s something to it. Roy and Ray won a Stanley Cup together in Colorado. Their one-two speech got these Avs thinking they can win one of their own.
“It was our first road trip,” forward Cody McLeod said. “Ray said he had been watching us in our first few games and that we had a good team, a fast team. The slogan he used was ‘Why not us? Why couldn’t we do something this year?’
“I guess the ‘Why not us’ kind of stuck with us.”
Team captain Gabriel Landeskog added: “We were at Ray’s restaurant. He talked to us. It was our first road trip of the year. Patrick and Ray were back together. Joe Sakic was on that road trip. It was motivating.”
The Avs haven’t looked back, or to the side, only ahead. Wednesday’s game against the Blackhawks at Pepsi Center represents an opportunity for the Avs to move into second in the Central Division. Last season, they were second-to-last in the NHL.
When did the Avs realize this kind of success was a possibility? The company line suggests all athletes always believe in themselves. Yada, yada, yada.
But I’ve heard enough of the Avs refer to the speech from Bourque and Roy — way back on Oct. 9 — that there’s reason to believe it marked a true turning point.
“Ray stood up and talked about how we were on the rebuild and on the rebound. But why not? Why not us, basically,” Duchene said. “That was kind of the message that night. That’s been our team creed ever since.”
Ever since last season, the Avs are a different team — not with their personnel, which remains largely the same, but in their winning mindset.
Sounds cheesy, but there’s something to it.
On March 10, 2013, Duchene scored an overtime winner against the Sharks.
The Avs were 10-10-4 and on the verge of a four-game losing streak.
On March 10, 2014, Duchene scored an overtime winner against the Jets.
The Avs are 42-18-5 and must avoid losing streaks.
Their revival is about to be tested. The Avs will face the ‘Hawks without Paul Stastny (out Wednesday), P.A. Parenteau (out 4-6 weeks) and Alex Tanguay (out for the season). Their revival was built on Roy’s power of positive thinking.
“Who thought the Avalanche would be four (actually five) points out of first overall?” Roy said Tuesday after practice. “This is quite a story right now.”
And thanks, Ray.