Milan Hejduk’s #23 jersey will rise to the Pepsi Center rafters tonight in a long-awaited ceremony. The Avalanche all-time leader in games played with 1020 has a Stanley Cup, an Olympic Gold Medal and a Rocket Richard Trophy on his mantle. We asked the BR staff to lay out what they think of when the Duke’s name is mentioned.
Vlad: In absolute and total disclosure, Milan Hejduk is my favorite Avalanche player of all time. My absolute favorite Milan Hejduk moment took place during the 2006-2007 season during the Avalanche’s mad dash for a playoff berth that year. I made a trip to Vancouver towards the end of that season to see the Avalanche play the Canucks. The trip marked my first visit to a Canadian hockey market, so I was pretty excited to see the Avs play in not just a different city, but a different country (I even wore my Hejduk jersey as I crossed the border into Canada!). A win would bring the Avalanche closer to reaching the playoffs, so there was a little extra buzz in the air as to whether the miracle run would continue that night. Hejduk had a hat trick in the game, powering the Avalanche to a 3-1 victory. Ironically, Vancouver was hosting its “Fan Appreciation Night” that evening, and there were many Canucks fans who left the building feeling unappreciated after watching their playoff-bound team getting man-handled by one skater! For all of the talk of the magic hands of Hejduk, that night was when the magic was on full display, and I’m glad I was able to witness it in person.
J.D.: When I think of Milan Hejduk, I remember him as the consummate teammate. There were quite a few stars playing on the Avalanche when he started yet he didn’t seem intimidated by them; he just focused on playing consistently good hockey. His skill made room for him. While other players gravitated to the limelight, Hejduk preferred to let his play speak for him. He didn’t jockey for position. He was willing to take a hard check to dish the puck so someone else could score or use his slick hands to hit the net, whatever the situation dictated. Hejduk carried himself like an everyday guy who happened to play hockey, not one of the stars of the league, or one of the more consistent goals scorers in hockey. He played consistently excellent hockey, as his 11 seasons of 20 or more goals scored testifies, while spending his entire NHL career with the Avalanche, highlighting his loyalty. Milan Hejduk will always be the embodiment of what a teammate should be – a great talent, a humble heart and a fierce competitor to the core.
TV: How Milan Hejduk leaves his greatest legacy to me is the mark of 1000 games (1020 to be exact) played as an Avalanche. One of the franchise greats who was in Colorado his whole career and didn’t come with the move from Quebec. The fact that he still chooses to call Denver his home is special too. It’s so rare to see a career that long as it is and one in the same place is a great example to the Avalanche core and youth that it is possible to play that long in Colorado and do great things in one’s career. Gabe Landeskog is nearly halfway there and Nathan MacKinnon is well on his way too. Tonight I’ll look back fondly on the career of Hejduk’s but can’t help but wonder who will be the next Av to have his jersey go in the rafters and if that someone is on the bench tonight.
earl: The dynasty-era Avalanche were always a heavy veteran club. There were some rookie roleplayers of course but until Milan Hejduk, along with Chris Drury, debuted after the ill-fated 97-98 season you never considered the possibility that young players could make the team and have an impact. Everyone loved Drury because he was a tryhard but Duke won us over with ridiculous skill. I remember thinking early in his first season “who is this guy and why is he getting minutes with Sakic and Forsberg?” His wrist shot was one of the few in the league that could rival Sakic’s and soon we got used to seeing the goal light come on and the goalie completely unaware that a puck off of Milan’s stick had bypassed him before he knew it. Duke was a pure sniper, something the Avs haven’t really had since he retired, and perhaps the sneakiest 50-goal scorer ever in the NHL. I’m glad we get a night to appreciate what he did in Colorado and from now on always have #23 hanging above the Pepsi Center ice. It’s long overdue.
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Avs play the Wilds tonight following the ceremony.
Remember to be in your seats by 5:45!