On Dec. 2, 1995, the Detroit Red Wings were in Montreal for a game against the Canadiens when Wings goalie Mike Vernon wandered out in the morning for a bite to eat. Imagine his surprise when he opened the door of a local diner and saw Canadiens goalie Patrick Roy enjoying breakfast.
Roy motioned Vernon to come over, and the two sat and talked over their morning meal. They had faced each other in a pair of Stanley Cup finals (1986 and ’89) when Vernon was a member of the Calgary Flames. So when Roy opened up to Vernon over breakfast, he felt comfortable enough to tell his opponent that night that things weren’t going well for him in Montreal. Roy was unhappy and frustrated, and he wasn’t sure what to do about it.
Vernon, who’d gone through his own trials and tribulations playing in Calgary for his hometown team, understood completely. He’d gained a new lease on life after being dealt to Detroit in 1994, going back to the Cup final in his first season with the Wings. “Why don’t you ask for a trade?” Vernon suggested. “Why don’t you get out if you’re not happy?”
That night, Detroit routed Montreal 11-1. The Wings lit up Roy for nine of those goals before Canadiens coach Mario Tremblay finally pulled his star netminder from the game. Suitably embarrassed and feeling he’d been hung out to dry, Roy walked right past Tremblay to president Ron Corey, who was sitting directly behind the Montreal bench, and told him he’d played his last game for the Habs. Four days later, the Canadiens traded Roy to the Colorado Avalanche. “I think it was their plan to trade me,” Roy said. “They just used that game as an excuse.”
In an instant, the hockey world shifted on its axis, and a new chapter in Roy’s growing legend had begun.
There’s no question Roy was great in Montreal. In eight seasons, he won three Vezina Trophies and led the Canadiens to two Stanley Cups, in 1986 and 1993, taking home the Conn Smythe Trophy each time. His 10 consecutive overtime wins in the ’93 playoffs is an NHL record that’s unlikely to be broken. He remains the only goalie to lead the Canadiens to a Stanley Cup in the past four decades. “It’s in Montreal it started,” Roy said. “And it’s true. I mean, it all happened because of my years in Montreal. I had so many good years, and we had so many good teams. They are a big part of my success as a hockey player.”
Truth be told, though, in Montreal, Roy was just another spoke in the wheel of legendary Habs goalie greats, the latest in a long list of Hall of Famers, from Georges Vezina to George Hainsworth to Bill Durnan, and carrying on through Jacques Plante and Ken Dryden. Moving to Denver in 1995-96 allowed Roy to rise up and establish a lore all his own.
Almost immediately after Roy was dealt to Colorado, Wings coach Scotty Bowman worried about what they’d done that night in Montreal. They’d caused a seismic shift in the NHL landscape. “I thought after that game, ‘This could be bad for us,’ ” Bowman said.
It was great for the NHL, though. Colorado-Detroit became the NHL’s most intense and evenly fought rivalry, whether on the scoreboard or via fisticuffs. Between 1996 and 2002, the two teams captured four Presidents’ Trophies and won five Stanley Cups between them, and Roy was instrumental in bringing two of those titles to Colorado.
When Roy was traded, Colorado was in its first year after relocating from Quebec, and the team was struggling to find an identity. The Avalanche were an emerging club, abundant in talent, but they needed someone to lead them down the path to glory. When Roy arrived, so did the missing ingredient. Now they had swagger. “I always thought that goaltenders could not show weaknesses,” Roy said. “You always have to show that you were strong and nothing would affect you. I thought it was important. 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, ‘Is the goaltender going to be OK tonight? Is he going to be shaky?’ You want to make sure that the guys go, ‘We’re okay. Patty is in the net.’ ”
Joe Sakic was the captain and Peter Forsberg their most skilled player, but in Roy the Avalanche found their spiritual leader, their backbone, their presence. He was a rarity among goalies. He didn’t just save the day. He showed the way. He loomed large in the net, and in the dressing room he was in charge. Adam Foote remembers how Roy’s arrival immediately changed the league’s view of the Avalanche – and more importantly, their view of themselves. “He didn’t just stop the puck,” Foote said. “He was our emotional leader in the dressing room. He just wanted to win. That’s what Patrick was all about.”
Roy helped the Avalanche claim the franchise’s first Stanley Cup that season, and in 2001 he led Colorado to its second championship, winning a record third Conn Smythe Trophy along the way.
As much as he was about greatness, however, Roy was about his strut. Throughout his career, he was known as much for his bravado as his ability. He played with the words “Be A Warrior” inscribed on the inside of his blocker. He oozed confidence and never believed he was going to lose.
And while most goalies keep to themselves and go about the business of performing perhaps the most challenging occupation in sports, Roy sought out the spotlight in the way a moth gravitates toward the evening glow. Whether it was winking at L.A.’s Tomas Sandstrom after robbing him during the 1993 Stanley Cup final or telling Chicago’s Jeremy Roenick in the 1996 playoffs that he couldn’t hear his criticism because “my two Stanley Cup rings were plugging my ears,” Roy didn’t just draw attention to himself, he demanded it. In fact, he preferred to be showered with it.
At times, that bravado worked against the perception others held of Roy. It’s a funny business, this game. Speak in cliches and they call you boring. Speak your mind and they criticize you.
Certainly, those in the anti-Roy camp recollect his infamous Statue of Liberty play in Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference final against Detroit. In a scoreless game on home ice and up 3-2 in the series, Colorado was a win away from going back to the final to defend its crown when Roy made a spectacular lunging glove save on Steve Yzerman. But as he held his glove aloft to rub salt in Yzerman’s wound, the puck fell from his grasp, and Brendan Shanahan slapped it into the net for what would be the winner in a 2-0 Detroit victory. In Game 7, the Wings chased Roy from the net in a 7-0 whitewash and went on to win the Cup.
At the NHL awards that season, Roy was stunningly rebuffed in voting for the Vezina and Hart Trophies, losing out to Montreal netminder Jose Theodore, even though Roy had posted the league’s lowest goals-against average that season. Curiously, Roy was voted the first-team all-star, ahead of Theodore.
Roy’s place among the greatest goalies of all-time goes well beyond his success on the ice. He transformed the way goaltenders stopped the puck. Improvements and growth in the size of equipment allowed him to adopt the butterfly position and use his combination of positioning and girth to take the net away from shooters. And he possessed an uncanny ability to dissect the play as it unfolded in front of him. He was a student of the game, constantly analyzing, forever learning.
As his mystique grew, Roy became a cultural icon in his home province. In the past, young Quebecois players had longed to be the next Maurice Richard, Jean Beliveau or Guy Lafleur. Roy’s emergence spawned a generation of French-Canadian goalies – Martin Brodeur, Marc-Andre Fleury and Theodore among them – who would dominate the league. As easily as he deflected pucks, however, Roy seamlessly deflects credit to Francois Allaire, his goaltending coach. “He really helped me to get better at the position, especially on the butterfly,” Roy said. “There were a lot of people that were saying I changed the style of goalies, but I think Francois was a big part of it.”
After handing the reins over to the next generation of netminders, Roy retired in 2003 at the age of 37. Like Wayne Gretzky, Roy was determined to walk away from hockey before his skills deteriorated to the point where it eroded his legend. “It was set in my mind that it was time to go,” Roy said. “It was important for me to leave on my own terms. I stepped aside with no regrets.”
He almost instantly went into coaching. Roy had purchased the QMJHL’s Beauport Harfangs in 1997 and relocated the team to Quebec City, reviving the Quebec Remparts. In 2005-06, he took over as coach and guided the Remparts to the Memorial Cup, bringing the same passion and flair to the bench that had driven him while he was situated in the goal crease.
Then in 2013-14, Roy got his first taste of NHL coaching and made an instant impact. He led the Avalanche to the Central Division title with 112 points, second-most in franchise history, and won the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year.
At age 53, you get the feeling Roy isn’t done with the NHL, and those who know him well also figure there are greater things ahead for him. “He knows the game inside out,” Foote said. “I think he’ll be a GM someday. I’d put his hockey mind up among the top 10 percent in the game today.”
It just so happens there’s a job out there that would be perfectly suited to Roy’s combination of charisma and confidence. The Canadiens haven’t won the Cup since 1993, and the franchise is currently floundering. They’ve missed the post-season in two of the past three seasons and haven’t won a playoff series since 2015. When the inevitable change comes at the top, who better to bring the Habs back from the brink than their most recent Stanley Cup hero? “I deserved a better end in Montreal,” Roy said.
Fate may soon intervene and give him a chance at a rewrite.
Born: Oct. 5, 1965, Quebec City, Que.
NHL Career: 1985-2003
Teams: Mtl, Col
Stats: 551-315-131, 2.54 GAA, .910 SP, 66 SO
All-Star: 6 (First-4, Second-2)
Trophies: 6 (Vezina-3, Smythe-3)
Stanley Cups: 4
PATRICK ROY SHOULD BE NO. 1
What are the parameters when assessing greatness among goaltenders? Wins? Titles? Individual honors?
As far as traditional statistics go, two goalies separate themselves from the pack: Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur. And no matter what number you choose to crunch, Roy is right there with Brodeur.
As the NHL’s all-time leader in wins, Brodeur has more victories (691) than Roy (551), but he also played more games (1,266 to 1,029). When you break down their career records – Brodeur 691-397-154, Roy 551-315-131 – their points percentage is an identical .618. Brodeur is the league’s all-time leader in losses with 397, and you’ve got to slide all the way down to 13th to locate Roy with 315. Brodeur holds the record for 30-win seasons with 14, but that’s just one more than Roy.
The one category in which Brodeur blows away Roy is shutouts. He’s the NHL’s career leader in goose eggs with 125, while Roy is 15th with 66.
But there are plenty of other numbers that give the edge to Roy. He was the NHL’s single-season goals-against average leader in three different decades, a mark he shares with Jacques Plante, and Roy is also the only goalie to be a first-team all-star in three separate decades as well.
Where Roy pulls away from Brodeur is in post-season stats. It was when the games mattered most that Roy was truly at his best. “As far as I’m concerned,” he said, “playoffs is playoffs and season is season.”
Roy won four Stanley Cups, one more than Brodeur, and earned three Conn Smythe Trophies as playoff MVP, more than any other player – skater or goalie – in NHL history. Roy is the all-time leader in playoff wins (151) and has played more playoff games (247) and minutes (15,205) than any goaltender in league history. And it’s not even close. Brodeur (205 games and 12,719 minutes) is a distant second in both categories.
Stats-wise, then, a compelling case can be made for Roy or Brodeur as the NHL’s greatest goaltender of all-time. So perhaps the tiebreaker should go to the one who got the best of the other when everything was on the line.
In the 2001 Stanley Cup final, Roy and Brodeur went head-to-head as the Colorado Avalanche faced the New Jersey Devils. Through five games, Brodeur had the edge on Roy. But, down 3-2 in the series, Roy allowed only one goal over the final two games to capture his fourth Stanley Cup and third Conn Smythe Trophy. It was the only time the two goalie greats faced each other in the playoffs.