For 14 seasons, Milan Hejduk was a star forward for the Colorado Avalanche. His 375 career goals is second on the Avalanche’s all-time leading scorer list behind Avs executive and former teammate Joe Sakic.
These days though, the only real ice time the 38-year-old retired three-time all-star is getting is through coaching his 10-year-old twin boys, and that seems just fine by him.
But last weekend he took to the ice one more time as a player right here in Summit County, to the delight of a packed Stephen C. West Ice Arena crowd in Breckenridge. He spent Friday and Saturday nights playing in the eighth annual Summit Hockey Classic charity fundraiser for Summit Youth Hockey.
The Summit Daily had the chance to catch up with the Czech-born 2001 Stanley Cup champion after Saturday night’s game. He shared with us what he’s been up to since hanging up his skates last season, and what he thinks of his former team — now run by two former teammates, Sakic and Patrick Roy — as they head into the NHL playoffs.
What brought you to the Stephen C. West Ice Arena?
It was probably a few months ago I talked to a few former Avs, Pierre Turgeon and Ken Klee (about) when they were part of this event — I want to say a couple years ago. They told me it’s a great event.
Do you spend much time on the ice these days?
No. (Pause). I mean yes coaching, but just standing there basically pushing pucks and drawing some drills. Equipment-wise this is my second time in a year (playing).
How was it being back on the ice as a player?
It felt way off, but you know it’s just one of these things. It’s fun doing it, but I haven’t been skating or playing.
How was the competition tonight?
It was really good. Some of the younger kids probably practice quite a bit, probably three to four times a week, I assume, or something like that. They were good skaters, it was a good competition.
What have you been up to since leaving the Avalanche?
Coaching your kids?
Yeah, coaching kids last year. Next year, we’ll see, but definitely I want to be involved in youth hockey where my boys are. Other than that, I try to play more golf and ski more, and I try to get into hunting, all kinds of stuff.
How was skiing here in Breckenridge for a few days?
It was awesome. I’m a decent skier. My boys, too. I started skiing when I was little and so with my boys. Even with the busy hockey season, we still try to squeeze some weekends skiing.
Two former teammates, Avs executive vice president of hockey operations Joe Sakic and head coach Patrick Roy, are running the show down in Denver. What do you think?
They’re doing a really good job. They turned the ship around really quick. This is one of the best regular seasons in Avs history, and we had some really good teams. This is a really young team. If they keep them together they’ll be good for a long, long time.
How do you think the Avs are going to do in the playoffs?
Once you squeeze into the playoffs — and they’re in the playoffs — I mean you never know. You can go all the way, you might lose in the first round. It’s unpredictable. First round they have the Chicago Blackhawks — defending Stanley Cup champs — but they’ve done really well against them this year. I think they’ve beat them four out of five, so it sounds like it’s a good matchup. You never know. I mean this is a team that, they’ve done well. Especially in the close games. I don’t know how many games they won by one goal, overtime, shootouts, whatever. That’s the kind of games you need to win in the playoffs. Hopefully they’ll go far. In the playoffs you never know what’s going to happen. It might be a cup year this year, you never know.
Do you see Patrick being as successful as a coach as he was as a player?
I heard he’d done a really good job. He coached his junior team in Quebec the past 10 years. Obviously he learned how to coach. It’s not like a former player (is) going to be a really good coach right away. It doesn’t work that way. And Patty paid his dues there, 10 years, learned a lot of stuff. I’ve talked to him — played golf with him a few times — it’s what he said.
He’s a really good coach. What I’ve heard from other players, really positive guy. Obviously it works.
Do you have any interest in coaching or management at the NHL level?
As it is now, I feel like my kids need me. And I don’t really want to do anything (that) would require traveling. Right now, I want to spend more time with the kids. Maybe in the future, you never know.
What’s your interest in youth hockey, beyond your kids?
I think it’s important to have a good coach, especially with the young kids. That’s when you learn skating and shooting and passing and whatever. If you have bad habits, it’s very difficult to get rid of them later in life. You have to learn it the proper way in an early, young age. That’s almost more important to have good coaches at the young age when they work with the young kids.
Will we see you again next year for the Summit Hockey Classic?
Probably, I mean it’s a cool event. I heard last year they raised close to $30,000, I think. I think it’s a great cause.
Hejduk’s Vail Summit Orthopedics Summit Classic team lost its first game Friday night, but he entertained the crowd Saturday with a hat trick — three goals — in the third place consolation game.