DENVER - When trying to come up with a "hook" for this story on Milan Hejduk, something flashy and sexy and attention-grabbing, I finally just kind of gave up. My mind kept coming back to two things, however: Just the sheer consistency the man displayed in his 14-season NHL career, all with the Avalanche. And one other thing: That the guy he most hung out with on the road, who might have been his best friend during his years as a player, was the humble equipment manager, Mark Miller.
You couldn't pick a more inconspicuous presence than "Millsy", a classic hockey worker-bee type from Minnesota who wears coke-bottle glasses and joined the Avalanche as an assistant equipment manager in 1998-99, the same season Hejduk first played for the Avs. Hejduk would go on to become an NHL all-star, earn millions of dollars, become a team captain, score 50 goals in one season and 20 or more in 11 straight - which remains tied with Joe Sakic for the franchise record.
Yet, right to the very end of his days as a player, you could always spot Hejduk with Miller, sharing a laugh in the corner of the dressing room or walking out of a hotel together in search of a good meal. There's your hook with Hejduk; Of all the Avalanche players who have their numbers retired to the rafters of the Pepsi Center, to which Hejduk's No. 23 will ascend before Saturday's game with the Minnesota Wild, Hejduk probably remained the most down to earth of any of them.