Patrick Roy started out his coaching career the same way he ended his time as a player with Montreal: With fiery, unhinged passion. In his first game as a coach of the Colorado Avalanche, he almost came to blows with Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau during the end of the game. Roy was not happy that his recently drafted rookie took a knee-on-knee hit in the Avalanche’s 6-1 victory. The league fined the coach $10,000 after the game, and many were expecting similar incidents throughout the year. But as he prepares to coach his first game in Montreal against the team that drafted him, Patrick Roy has shown that the first game was an outlier, not the norm. He is returning to Montreal a new man.
Roy has had a long history with the Montreal Canadiens. He grew up in the suburbs of Quebec, home of the then-hated-rivals of the Canadiens, the Quebec Nordiques. He was drafted by Montreal in 1984, almost immediately making an impact with the club. His rookie season saw him steal the starting goaltender job right before the playoffs, and his playoff performance earned Montreal an unexpected Stanley Cup and earned Roy a Conn Smythe trophy. He was dubbed “Saint Patrick” by the Montreal faithful shortly after, leading to almost impossibly high expectations for the young goaltender. He would continue to meet those expectations during his career in Montreal, winning the Cup and the Conn Smythe again in 1993. The team was productive on the ice, but issues off the ice were starting to form, leading to one of the darkest days in the Canadiens history.
Patrick Roy and Mario Tremblay had a strained relationship when they were both players for the Canadiens. They would argue during practice, Tremblay being the veteran in the twilight of his career and Roy being the upstart rookie superstar. When Tremblay retired, he quickly found himself in the head coach position for the Canadiens, a move that reportedly was met by snickers from Roy. The relationship continued to degenerate between the player and coach, with one practice almost ending in a brawl after Tremblay shot a puck at Roy’s throat. The confrontation reached its peak in late November, 1995.
The Detroit Red Wings were visiting the Canadiens and were putting on a clinic. They scored five goals against Roy in the first period alone, then added four more in the second. As puck after puck went by the Canadiens’ goaltender, he continued to glance at the bench, wondering when Tremblay would eventually pull him from the game. It is an unspoken rule in the NHL that, when your starter has an off-night, he should be pulled from the game so as not to damage the confidence of the goaltender or sour the relationship with the coach. Tremblay broke that rule, keeping Roy in for nine goals against before finally pulling him at the end of the second. As Roy stormed off the ice and into the Canadiens lockerroom, he approached Ronald Corey, the president of the Canadiens, and told him “It’s my last game in Montreal.”
The Canadiens would trade Roy only days later, moving him to the Colorado Avalanche for what amounted to spare parts. It was a move that received mixed reactions from the Montreal fanbase, who felt betrayed by a player they had idolized for so long. When Roy lead the Avalanche to a Stanley Cup victory later that year, that feeling of betrayal only deepened. The two sides did eventually make amends, when the Canadiens retired Roy’s number in 2008. He was also invited back the following year to celebrate Montreal’s team centennial celebration.
“I was so happy to get back into the Canadiens family,” said Roy.
With the relationship repaired, it was expected that Roy would be among the top candidates for a coach or a general manager when the Canadiens were hunting for both before the 12-13 season. A poll taken by Canadien fans showed overwhelming support in having Roy fill one or both of those roles.
“I could have had both jobs if it were up to the fans,” Roy laughed “It was nice to see that the past was way behind us and everyone’s moved on.”
However, the Canadiens management did not choose Roy for either role, instead going with the more experienced Michel Therrien. This left Roy available when the Avalanche came calling for their new coach this past offseason.
Now, as coach of the Avalanche, he returns to Montreal again for tonight’s matchup between the two teams. Both teams are near the top of their respective conferences, both needing the win to help their playoff positioning. But as a new man with a new attitude, Patrick Roy expects his return to Montreal to be a good one, win or lose.
“I’m expecting a warm response from the fans,” Roy said.
This article is one in a daily series, providing coverage, analysis and predictions to NHL fans.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner
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