John-Michael Liles can deal with adversity. As a 5’10” defenseman, he has heard all the critics along the way. He’s been told he was too small, wasn’t physical enough and couldn’t play his game at the next level.
He silenced those critics on October 10, 2003, when he stepped on the ice for the Colorado Avalanche in his first NHL game. Six days later, he recorded his first point with an assist in Minnesota. He appeared in 79 games that year, finishing with 34 points.
John-Michael Liles was in the NHL to stay.
It seemed that Liles’ story was complete. A kid from a small town in Indiana had made his dream come true. And then came coach Joe Sacco.
Hired to replace Tony Granato, who was let go after a last place finish in the Western Conference by the Avalanche, Joe Sacco expected more out of Liles.
The first-year coach was convinced that Liles could not only compete at the NHL level, but could change games. After awarding Liles a four-year contract worth $16.8 million, it seemed that the front office agreed. Not performing up to the expectations of the coaching staff, Liles was a healthy scratch five times down the stretch last season.
Liles was once again facing adversity.
It would have been easy to cave under the pressure, but that’s not what Liles is about. He knew he had to step up his play offensively for the Avalanche to be successful, especially early this season when the team was faced with what seemed like a never-ending list of injuries.
With all the eyes in the organization focused on his play, Liles has thrived, to say the least.
He came out of the gate on fire with an NHL-record assist streak for defensemen and with an assist in every one of the first nine games, finishing with 11 in all.
Liles didn’t stop there.
He has continued to produce, heading into Wednesday’s game in Vancouver tied with Nick Lidstrom for the league lead in points for d-men with 20.
On pace to finish the year with 82 points, which would be a career best, he is playing the best hockey of his career. All the numbers aside, Liles is playing with more confidence than ever before. He has been more patient with the puck and is jumping up into the rush more than ever.
The most impressive change from last season is his decision making. Liles has been able to contribute offensively without being a liability in his own zone. He has cut down on the mistakes that took him out of the lineup least season and is making all the right plays.
Finally, playing up to the expectations that Joe Sacco put in place, Liles was named the NHL’s second star of the week. With two goals and five assists en route to four consecutive wins, he has helped the Avalanche move into first place in the Northwest division.
Finally playing at the level expected of him, don’t expect him to slow down anytime soon.