MONTREAL – The Montreal Canadiens will roll out the red carpet to welcome goaltending great Patrick Roy back to the club.
The NHL team announced Thursday that it will retire Roy’s jersey No. 33 at a Bell Centre ceremony before a game against the Boston Bruins on Nov. 22.
“It’s a great day,” said Roy, visibly moved at a packed news conference. “It was already an honour to be among the 44 Canadiens players in the Hall of Fame and now they’ve announced that my number will be retired and be with two legendary goaltenders, Jacques Plante and Ken Dryden.”
The Canadiens have been retiring numbers of past stars each year leading into their 100th anniversary season in 2008-09. But the team’s 14th jersey to be retired will perhaps be the most controversial.
Roy, who won Stanley Cups in Montreal in 1986 and 1993, parted bitterly with the Canadiens in December 1995, demanding a trade after being left in the net for nine goals by newly named head coach Mario Tremblay in a 12-1 shellacking at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings.
He was dealt a few days later to the Colorado Avalanche, with whom he won Cups in 1996 and 2001 before he retired in 2003. After he left, the Canadiens went into a tailspin from which they have only begun to recover in recent seasons.
The 42-year-old has had little contact with the team since then, but he said he buried the hatchet long ago and hopes this gesture will end any talk of a feud.
“My leaving was seen as abandoning the team but I also had a feeling I was being abandoned,” said Roy. “Yes, I’d have liked to leave on a different note but there’s nothing we can do about it today.
“The message I’m trying to send is that it’s time for me to move on and I hope it’s time for them. I’m very happy to come back to the Canadiens family. It will be a special night to see the fans again. To walk out on the ice will be very exciting.”
Since his retirement, Roy has become co-owner, general manager and head coach of the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
He said he would have returned for earlier jersey retirements, but couldn’t leave his junior team on those nights. He joked that while an assistant coach took over on the night he was inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2006, he will use “my clone” to coach a game the day his jersey is retired.
Roy had particularly wanted to attend those of current Canadiens GM Bob Gainey and Serge Savard, the former GM who drafted him in the third round in 1984.
The fiery goaltender’s detractors have also questioned his worthiness for jersey retirement because of some incidents that have occurred while coaching the Remparts, including an altercation with a Chicoutimi Sagueneens official after a game and an incident during the playoffs last season when his goaltender son Jonathan savagely attacked Chicoutimi goalie Bobby Nadeau.
Team owner George Gillett clearly didn’t buy into that notion. Gainey and team president Pierre Boivin visited Roy at his home in Quebec City recently to sound him out about taking part in the ceremony. Last week, Gillett called Roy to confirm his selection.
“It was one of the nicest conversations I’ve ever had with anyone, not just an athlete,” said Gillett. “He is a delight. He’s brilliant. He’s fun to be around.”
Gainey said there was no reason not to honour Roy.
“I don’t know so much about reconcile – he’s not the only person who has had a problem with authority figures in his employment place,” said Gainey. “It includes Patrick in what we’re trying to do with the 100th anniversary.
“Patrick had a tremendous impact late in those 100 years. You just can’t turn away from his career as a player. He was terrific.”
From the time he turned up as a lanky, flop-haired youngster in 1984, Roy captivated Canadiens fans. It was his brilliance in goal that led Montreal to a surprise Stanley Cup in 1986 and his performance in 1993, when an underdog Montreal team won the Cup thanks to 10 consecutive overtime wins in the playoffs, was perhaps the defining moment of his career.
Roy played in 1,029 games, an NHL record for a goalie, and put up a record 551 wins. His mark after 19 NHL campaigns was 551-315-131 with 66 shutouts and a 2.54 goals-against average.
Roy is the only player to have won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoffs MVP three times. He was also handed the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender three times.
He popularized the butterfly style of goaltending and is credited with starting a wave of top goaltenders from Quebec that includes Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Jose Theodore and Roberto Luongo.
Kirk Muller, the Canadiens assistant coach who was Roy’s teammate in 1993, said Roy’s mental preparation for games was second to none, even if it included superstitious quirks that including bouncing pucks off the dressing room floor before games.
“People don’t realize how hard it is to be mentally ready for 82 games and the playoffs,” said Muller. “Every time he came into the room he was focused on winning.
“And he’s the most competitive goaltender I ever saw.”
In Colorado, where Roy’s jersey is already retired, Avalanche president Pierre Lacroix said in a statement that “we are happy that Patrick is receiving this tribute. In Colorado, we honoured his career and achievements because of the immediate impact he had on our team. This celebrates the player that he was, the pioneer he became and the legend he will remain.”
Roy was traded by Montreal only months before they moved from the old Montreal Forum to the Bell Centre, which then was called the Molson Centre. The jersey retirement will be his first time wearing the CH jersey in the new building.
Retirements in recent years always matched the jersey number with the date. Gainey’s No. 23 was retired on a Nov. 23, for instance.
In this case, he will be retired on the 22nd of the 11th month, which adds up to 33.
Other Canadiens numbers retired are: No. 1 Plante; No. 2 Doug Harvey; No. 4 Jean Beliveau; No. 5 Bernard Geoffrion; No. 7 Howie Morenz; No. 9 Maurice (Rocket) Richard; No. 10 Guy Lafleur; No. 12 Dickie Moore and Yvan Cournoyer; No. 16 Henri Richard; No. 18 Savard; No. 19 Larry Robinson; No. 23 Gainey; and No. 29 Dryden.
There was a campaign to have Emile (Butch) Bouchard’s No. 3 retired, but the three-time all-star defenceman from the 1940s and 1950s was overlooked.
The Canadiens also plan to make a Ring of Honour around the interior of the Bell Centre honouring their 44 Hall of Famers. It is to be unveiled at their home opener Oct. 15 against Boston.