PITTSBURGH — Former NHL defenseman Adam Foote spent nine years growing the game in a new market as a member of the Colorado Avalanche.
Now he’s doing the same at the youth hockey level as the head coach of the Colorado Thunderbirds at the 2013 Tier I 14 & Under USA Hockey National Championships in Pittsburgh.
“We’ve got a big interest in Colorado,” Foote said.
The Avalanche moved to Denver from Quebec after the 1994-95 season. Foote began his NHL career with Quebec in 1991-92 before relocating with the franchise to Colorado, where he helped the Avalanche win Stanley Cup championships in 1996 and 2001.
“I think since the Avalanche went to Colorado, hockey has gotten a lot bigger and better,” Foote said. “Every year you see kids get better.”
It has escalated at the youth level where the Colorado Thunderbirds captured the 16U national championship in 2010. Foote’s 14U squad has continued the trend, going 44-9-8 this season.
“We had a great year,” Foote said. “We’re a strong team.”
Not coincidentally, Colorado is also a strong defensive team, allowing 83 goals, which was the second fewest among 14U teams entering the tournament.
“Everyone thinks we’re defensive because I played defense,” Foote said. “All we’re doing is making sure we play the percentages and learn when to take chances.”
The gritty Foote earned his reputation in the NHL as a physical, stay-at-home defenseman.
“The hardest thing to teach the kids is to manage the game well,” Foote said. “I think that’s a big part as to why our goals-against is down, because we managed the game pretty well.”
Colorado won the regional tournament in Salt Lake City to advance to the national championships in Pittsburgh. The Thunderbirds trailed Phoenix 2-0 before rallying for victory in the regional tournament.
Colorado has been snake-bitten through two games at the national championships, suffering a pair of overtime defeats. Similar to the regional tournament, Colorado trailed Anaheim 2-0 before rallying to take a 3-2 lead. Anaheim, however, scored the final two goals, one late in the third period and the game-winner early in overtime.
“We’re better than that last goal,” Foote said. “We lost coverage down low. That’s not what we’re about, but it happens.”
Colorado forced overtime against Massachusetts-based East Coast Wizards with a third-period goal, but fell in the extra session.
“We have a lot of grit, we just have to stop putting ourselves on the spot,” Foote said.
Max Gerlach and Brian Hawkinson lead the way offensively, while Keegan Mantaro, Bryan Yoon, and Adam’s son Callan Foote stabilize the defensive unit.
“Max can put the puck and Hawkinson is having a really good year,” Foote said. “We have a real strong defensive core.”
Again, that can surely be credited to Foote, with his defensive roots as a standout NHL defenseman, who also spent time in Columbus in addition to winning a gold medal at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games and a World Cup championship in 2004 with Team Canada.
Foote admits the higher-level hockey can be difficult, but his players aren’t having any problems picking it up.
“It’s a lot to learn,” Foote said. “If you give the players a lot of repetitions, the kids can get it down.
“They’re asked to do a lot and they’re handling it all. They’re a really fun group to coach.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.