DENVER -- Wednesday was a night of special beginnings for the Colorado Avalanche as they pummeled the Anaheim Ducks 6-1 to give Patrick Roy his first win as an NHL head coach and No. 1 draft pick Nathan MacKinnon picked up two assists in his NHL debut.
But down the hallway, the day marked the beginning of the end for one of the game’s greatest players.
Part of the circle of life, Wednesday marked the start of Anaheim winger Teemu Selanne's long goodbye.
The 43-year-old announced in the offseason that this season would be the end for him and, not surprisingly, the Ducks' season opener brought with it a different feeling than any of the two decades of opening matches.
“Absolutely. This time when I announced right away (that he was retiring at the end of the season) it almost felt like a big thing in my chest just disappeared. You can just enjoy every day and have approach that you don’t get this day back anymore,” Selanne said before the game.
“In the past, I tried to live the same way and I think that really helped me. But same hand, you were still thinking about, when is going to be the last one? But right now, I have a really good feeling,” he said.
Selanne broke into the NHL in 1992 with the Winnipeg Jets. On that first opening nights, the Jets hosted Detroit in a game they would win and Selanne would collect a couple of assists.
“I remember it very well. We played against Detroit at home and that was something obviously I was dreaming about since I was little boy, so yeah, it was pretty special,” he said.
But the affable winger said Tuesday night he already felt the anticipation growing for Wednesday’s game against the Avalanche.
“Even last night you start feeling. You’re body knows. It’s almost like a race horse your body starts reacting differently and your mind is a little more focused,” Selanne said. “You get those butterflies and that’s a good feeling.”
Still, Selanne admitted it's more difficult to motivate one’s self as the years go on.
“It is harder and harder,” he said. “I think the last year was the hardest ever physically. But when you still have fun and you like to do this, it’s so much easier obviously.”
On Wednesday, Selanne played 15:10 and at one point fed young linemate Jakob Silfverberg in front only to have Colorado netminder Semyon Varlamov deny the chance. It’s worth noting Silfverberg, who scored the Ducks’ only goal late in the game, was not yet two years old when Selanne pulled on a Winnipeg Jets jersey for his first NHL game.
Asked about seeing a man he faced many times in goal now standing behind the Avalanche bench, Selanne said he was very pleased for Roy even though he’d have preferred he earned his first win a few days later.
“I always said I’m so happy to see old players who retired back in the business because they have so much to give, you know,” Selanne said. “He’s a perfect example. He’s got a passion for hockey and I know him a little bit. I think he’s going to be really good.”
That said, don’t look for Selanne to show up behind a bench of any kind any time soon after he finally hangs up the playing jersey for good when this season ends.
“I don’t know how those guys are doing it. It takes more time than when they played, you know,” he said.
“You can’t make 25 guys happy. You try. It’s tough decision that you have to make. It’s hard. Especially the dedication of the time-wise."
Other observations from an interesting and, at the end, bizarre opening night in Denver:
Before the game, former Avs captain Joe Sakic, now executive vice president of hockey operations, talked about the team needing to be more consistent defensively to take strides forward as a franchise. He also noted that netminder Semyon Varlamov needed to be better as well. So far so good as Varlamov turned aside 35 of 36 shots to earn the victory. Perhaps more impressive, he made four or five big stops at key times, denying Matt Beleskey in the first period with the game still scoreless and on Selanne shortly after Ryan O'Reilly opened the scoring. Early in the second period, Varlamov stoned Corey Perry and Sami Vatanen from close range. The Avs would go on to score three times in the second to blow the game open.
If the Avs were pleased with their overall defensive game, the same cannot be said of the Ducks who were missing Luca Sbisa. Francois Beauchemin's errant pass in the first period was picked off by O’Reilly who scored on a breakaway. In goal, Viktor Fasth -- a revelation after coming over from Sweden last season -- was a surprise starter ahead of Jonas Hiller who was the Ducks’ playoff netminder last spring. Fasth looked shaky on the Avs’ third goal by John Mitchell, although he couldn’t really be faulted on the other five. The goaltending situation in Anaheim will be interesting to watch unfold as Hiller is in the final year of his contract and they have one of the top goaltending prospects in the game in John Gibson playing in the minors after helping the Americans win a bronze medal at the World Championships.
“We didn’t have the pushback that you’d like to have,” Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said.
“You want them to score a goal and you to be so mad and you go in there and dominate the next five minutes. And we were in the ‘Oh woe is me’-type thing. Those are things that you can’t do. You have to be able to push back and go after them and we didn’t do it,” Boudreau said.
Speaking of MacKinnon, Wednesday was a fine outing for the top draft pick. He earned a roughing penalty after getting in a minor skirmish with Ben Lovejoy in the second period and then he delivered a sweet backhand pass to Jamie McGinn late in the second frame, which McGinn roofed to give the Avs a 4-0 lead. MacKinnon made a similarly impressive play to set up McGinn for his second midway through the third period. The Halifax native played 15:31 and was on the ice near the end of the game when things got a bit out of hand after a second run-in with Lovejoy.
“I am used to it,” MacKinnon said after. “Obviously these guys are bigger and stronger, things like that, but through junior last year, especially in the playoffs, our line was keyed on and we took some shots. I like that stuff. I don’t mind that at all and it’s better hockey and it’s all worth it for sure."
Easily the best unit on the ice for either team was the Avs’ threesome of Matt Duchene, Steve Downie and O’Reilly. Along with O’Reilly’s first-period breakaway goal, Downie scored the Avs’ second goal on the power play and then set up Duchene on a third period power play with a pretty cross-crease pass. O’Reilly, a converted center, said the process of changing positions has been made easier by the skill set Downie and Duchene possess.