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July 18, 2019
by Michael Menser Dell, Editor-in-Chief
December 2, 1995. It’s a date that will live in infamy.
Patrick Roy, bitter at being left in net for nine goals in an 11-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings, skated to the Canadiens bench, barged past coach Mario Tremblay twice without saying a word, and informed team owner Ronald Corey, “I have played my last game in Montreal.”
Aw, it was glorious. Johnny Paycheck couldn’t have done it any better.
Three days later, Roy was traded to the Colorado Avalanche. He’d go on to win two Stanley Cups and a Conn Smythe with the Avs. Meanwhile, the Canadiens have languished in mediocrity, winning only four playoff series the past 12 seasons. Hard to get happy after that one.
On Saturday, Roy and the Canadiens will finally bury the hatchet, with the Habs retiring St. Patrick’s No. 33 prior to their home game with the Boston Bruins. Considering the circumstances surrounding his departure, Roy wasn’t sure if he’d ever be welcomed back in Montreal.
“Well, you have no control on if they will retire my jersey or not, but I surely hope that that would happen one day,” said Roy in a media conference call Wednesday. “I knew they had a lot of guys to do before me. You know, the Canadiens haven't done that for a long time, and I felt that the Savards, the Robinsons, Gainey, Dryden, they've been a big part of the history of the Canadiens, and I think they deserve that.
“But it's a great honor for me to join them. You know, to see my jersey retired by the Montreal Canadiens means a lot to me. It's an organization with a great history and great tradition. I've seen them play when I was younger, and then watching games every Saturday and then going downstairs to play hockey because we were excited and we wanted to do the same thing that they were. I mean, to see today my jersey retired, I mean, it is very special.”
A native of Sainte-Foy, Quebec, Roy began playing hockey as an eight-year-old, choosing to play goaltender because of his hero Rogie Vachon.
“Yes, my favorite players were, at the time, Rogie Vachon,” said Roy. “He was playing for the Kings. The great reflex. He was spectacular to watch. Then after being a North Leagues fan and living in Quebec, Daniel Bouchard was my second favorite goaltender. Bouchard also had a bit of a style that I like. He was a little deeper in his net, but Vachon was challenging more the shooters. Bouchard was more like in between, you know, stand up and butterfly goalie. He had a bit of a style that I like it.
Roy’s rise to greatness wasn’t without adversity. As a youngster, he was cut from his Midget CC team, but his love for the game never wavered. Even in those early days, Roy was supremely confident, and he rallied the next season to make Midget AA. That same confidence became the hallmark of his legendary NHL career.
“I always thought that goaltenders could not show weaknesses,” said Roy. “As an example, we played against Detroit one year in the playoffs and we lost the first two games in Denver, and then we're going in Detroit. I felt that I could not show weaknesses saying, ‘Oh, yeah I'm not sure. It's going to be tough.’
“Your presence, you always have to show that you were strong and nothing would affect you. I thought it was important. It's like a goaltender giving a bad goal in the key moment of the game. You look at the bench and everybody has their heads down after the goal.
“I think the position demands that you stand tall and say, ‘Hey, guys, I'm there.’ You don't want to have the players thinking, ‘Okay, is the goaltender going to be okay tonight? Is he going to be shaky?’ You want to make sure that the guys go, ‘Okay, we're okay. Patty is in the net. He's going to have a good game, and all I have to worry is play hard as a team.’”
Roy, whose number is already retired in Colorado, certainly inspired confidence in his Montreal teammates. In his 10-plus seasons with the Canadiens, Roy posted 289 wins, 29 shutouts, two Stanley Cups, two Conn Smythes, and three Vezina Trophies. Roy was the Montreal Canadiens. While the relationship didn’t end on the best of terms, he prefers to remember the good times and hopes the Montreal fans can do the same.
“You always have some regrets,” said Roy. “I mean, nobody's perfect. There's things. But when you love to compete, and that's the way I was, it was good side of it and bad side of it. But I don't think I would have the career I had if I was not that type of person.
“But the good thing about what's going to happen on Saturday is we're going to talk more about, you know, those years like '86 or '89 or '93. I thought we had great runs in Montreal. I think we finally gonna put away that December 2nd of '95, and that's something that, you know, one game -- I mean, it's funny, because when you play -- when you get to the NHL they say to you, ‘One game does not make a career.’ But one game made pretty much my career in Montreal.
“But I feel that that was not the case. I mean, I had so many good years and we had so many good teams. I mean, I played with -- I played for great coaches, but I also played with great teammates. Nothing would have happened without the support of them. But we had, you know, players that had that desire to want to win, and they were very special teams.”
Roy’s confidence never shone brighter than in the playoffs. The best clutch goaltender in hockey history, Roy lived for the big moment, saving his best performances for postseason overtime.
”Somehow it was even easier to focus,” said Roy of his overtime success. “I was just focusing on making the next save. All you can do as a goalie is buy time for your teammates. I never scored a goal. They're the ones who put the puck in the net. What you want as a goaltender is to say, ‘Hey, let's make those saves and buy time, and then hopefully we'll put the big one before them.’ That was my approach, and I was fortunate enough to be a lot of time on the winning side.”
During Montreal’s march to the Cup in 1993, Roy and the Canadiens posted 10 consecutive overtime victories.
“I remember that run very well,” said Roy. “The first game we played, we lost in overtime, and after that we went on. I mean, I gave up a bad goal on Joe Sakic to tie the game, and then I gave another one on Scott Young on a wraparound. After that, we went on to win ten straight.
“At the end it was like we -- you know, after two period, if we were tired, we were almost hoping to go in overtime with the same score because we were so confident. We believed that it was the time we could not lose a game in overtime.”
After retiring in 2003, Roy became involved with the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL, serving as owner, general manager, and head coach. In 2005-06, his first year behind the bench, Roy led the Remparts to the Memorial Cup. Not surprisingly, he brings his trademark intensity and fiery competitiveness to coaching, helping players like Alexander Radulov and Marc-Edouard Vlasic make it to the next level.
Roy’s a natural born winner. It’s only a matter of time before he’s coaching in the NHL. And it will be in Colorado. Tony Granato is an empty suit. He’s merely holding Roy’s place. Expect to see Roy there next season once his son Jonathan, who mans the pipes for the Remparts, is done with junior hockey.
“It's not something that I looked at, but I guess we should never say never,” said Roy of his NHL coaching aspirations. “As we speak, I'm very happy with the junior level. It's a learning process for me right now, and I'm learning a lot. I feel year after year I'm getting better at it. It's a nice challenge.
“I consider myself extremely lucky to have two passions in my life, as a hockey player and now as a coach. Coming into the rink every morning, I mean, watching games and try to get better. You know, even when I watch games now, I'm not looking at them as a player, but more as, okay, look what they're doing as a system. If the coach change, what kind of change he's making and stuff like that.
“I consider myself very fortunate and lucky to be able to have a situation like I have right now. But to be frankly, I mean, it's not what I'm looking at right now. If it happens, I mean, yes, I probably -- like Colorado last year Joel Quenneville decided to step down as a coach, people asked me if I was interesting to talk. Yes, I would have been interesting to talk, but it's more by curiosity, see what they're looking at and stuff like this.
“I'm not sure if I would take over or if I feel I'm ready to coach right now in the NHL. You never know what could happen.”
In other words, yeah, Roy will be Colorado’s next coach. Book it. But until Roy begins his coaching career, fans can admire his sweater hanging from the rafters of Montreal’s Bell Centre.
“I want people to remember the way I was competing and the way I was playing every night,” said Roy. “I think that's, you know, in life, you have moment where you have to persevere, and I think that's what I want to be remembered at.”