Catching Up with Milan Hejduk

Former Avalanche Star and Highlands Ranch and Lone Tree Resident Gives an Update on Life After the 2001 Stanley Cup Win

It’s been 21 years since Milan Hejduk skated the Pepsi Center ice carrying the Stanley Cup above his head. And while a lot has changed — the game is faster, the paychecks are bigger, and the pressure to win is at a fever pitch — star right-winger Hejduk has a Rip Van Winkle timelessness.

The 46-year-old Hejduk seems remarkably similar to that 25-year-old kid taking a victory lap carrying 35 pounds of hockey history.

In 2001, Hejduk lived in Highlands Ranch. He was in the prime of his career, but getting to “the show” wasn’t easy. Drafted by the Colorado Avalanche in 1994 at the age of 18, Hejduk didn’t see a training camp until 1998. That’s four years playing in the minors.

The turning point for Hejduk may have been the 1998 Olympics where he was a part of the Czech Republic team that upset Canada to win the Gold Medal.

“I think playing in the Olympics helped me. Put me on the map. I don’t think there was a lot of interest in me since the draft. As a late pick, fourth round, you don't turn too many heads,” Hejduk says.      

But once he made it in front of the Avalanche coaches, his NHL career has a story-tale quality: three-time All-Star Game player, Stanley Cup Champion, 50-goal season in 2003 to win the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy as the NHL’s highest scorer, and 1,020 games wearing the Avalanche burgundy and blue scoring 375 goals.

Former teammate John-Michael Liles says, “He was/is such a great goal scorer on the ice, and he was always so nonchalant about it. One of my favorite quotes from him was ‘just shoot it off the post and in, it’s that easy’. As if just anyone can do it. Milan was one of the few who could absolutely shoot it off the post and in, every time.”

On Jan. 6, 2018, the Avalanche retired Hejduk’s number 23, recognizing his contribution to the franchise and hanging his jersey alongside Avalanche greats Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Partrick Roy, Adam Foote, and Ray Borque.

After his retirement in 2013, Hejduk stayed involved with hockey by coaching his sons Marek and David.

“I got into coaching since I would drive them to the rink. You have a tendency to help out on the ice too, and all of a sudden you’re one of the coaches,” Hejduk said.

Now that Marek and David have committed to Harvard where they will play hockey together, Hejudk has time to continue doing what he loves: coaching and being involved with his community. Currently, Hejduk works closely with local nonprofit Dawg Nation as well as fund-raising and coaching for the Avalanche’s Mile High Mites program.

In 2012, Dawg Nation president Marty Richardson spotted Hejduk at a rink and asked if he had time for an autograph to support a hockey player that had recently been paralyzed in a car accident. Hejduk said yes, and made time for a phone call, and a visit with Cody Beekman.

“The call was totally unreal, so unexpected. I couldn’t believe I was talking to someone who provided me some of my most treasured Avalanche moments,” said Beekman.

“Two words that best describe Milan to me are humble and generous. He always takes the time to sign an autograph, snap a picture, or just listen to someone’s story,” said Richardson.

Since Hejduk and his wife Zlatuse are relocating back to Colorado, he says, “We’ll probably live in the Highlands Ranch or Lone Tree area. We lived a big part of our life here. It’s familiar and comfortable.”

Hejduk will always be remembered by Avs faithful for how well and how hard he played the game. His true impact may be his continuing contribution to coaching and his enthusiasm and willingness to give his time to support our local community.

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