Soccer is usually a pre-game staple in NHL games. I can’t count the number of times I’ve walked around or through an event-level gathering of six to 10 players kicking the ball around, hacky-sack style, in their underwear and sneakers.
Sometimes it’s an obstacle course trying to get to the Avalanche locker room or the media area downstairs. Football players find the largest area to play – usually in a main thoroughfare in the basement of the arena – and take control of the place.
It can get noisy. Players are screaming, cracking jokes, enjoying lively game play to entertain themselves and maybe sweat.
The Avalanche don’t do that anymore. I didn’t realize this until deal deadline acquisition Andrew Cogliano talked about it recently. Colorado’s new fourth-line forward, who was scheduled to play his sixth game with his new club on Saturday against the Penguins, said he was happy to see the Avs preparing for games in a more professional manner.
“Nobody plays football before the game, which I thought was a good thing, to be honest,” he said.
Cogliano likes how his new teammates put on their headphones and do their own thing in the same area near the locker room entrance. They prepare physically while improving mentally. Defender Erik Johnson rides a bike. Rookie forward Alex Newhook runs. Others lift weights. Winger Mikko Rantanen usually likes to stretch.
It is not about who prevented the ball from touching the ground.
“I think it’s a very hard working team, in terms of looking after themselves, in terms of nutrition,” Cogliano said. âLooks like the guys are determined to win and be good hockey players. Many of them work on their games after practice. Everyone is in the gym, everyone is engaged. I’ve been on a lot of good hockey teams and in terms of personalities, (these) guys are ready to work and fight for something big here.
Cogliano, 34, has had three major Stanley Cup runs. He helped the Anaheim Ducks advance to the Western Conference Finals in 2015 and 2017, and he was with Dallas in 2020 when the Stars advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals against Tampa Bay. He knows what a team in contention for the Cup looks like.
He likes what the Avalanche looks like.
“They are very motivated,” Cogliano said. âLooks like they are very hungry. And very good personalities.
Nathan MacKinnon is definitely one of those hungry players. He is among the best centers in the world and now has eight career NHL majors. MacKinnon escaped what could have been a broken right hand when he fought Minnesota’s Matt Dumba last Sunday in retaliation for the defender’s miss at mid-ice on Rantanen.
Cogliano said MacKinnon shouldn’t fight. But what didn’t hurt him will make the team stronger.
“In my experience, any good team I’ve played on that’s gone far in the playoffs, it’s always been a pack mentality,” he said. âI thought we had it in Anaheim, we had it in Dallas. And that helps a team.
“When you’re close together and you’re ready to defend each other and you have this mentality that you’re not going to be pushed around, and if something happens a guy is going to come in and answer the bell, it’s only helps the team. It helps with the mindset, but it also helps the players to play above themselves.
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