Twenty years ago today, Patrick Roy was unceremoniously dealt from Montreal to Colorado. His public humiliation in the game that led up to it and all the fallout that followed are the stuff of infamy.
This excerpt from ‘Patrick Roy: Winning. Nothing Else’ by Michel Roy is printed with the permission of Triumph Books. For more information, please visit www.triumphbooks.com/PatrickRoy.
Before the game, former stars from the two clubs were introduced: Marcel Pronovost and Mickey Redmond for the Wings, Bernard ‘Boom Boom’ Geoffrion and Maurice Richard for the Canadiens. The Rocket received a standing ovation that lasted several minutes. Then the whirlwind was unleashed. By the end of the first period, Detroit already led 5-1. Patrick couldn’t blame himself for any of the goals. Three of them were scored while the Canadiens were killing penalties, one of them with a two-man disadvantage near the end of the period, when Patrice Brisebois was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct while one of his teammates was already in the box. Every goal was a fine piece of work that Patrick was powerless to stop.
It was probably a good time to change goalies. If Francois Allaire had been there, that’s what he would have recommended. But he wasn’t, and Mario Tremblay still believed his team had a chance to catch up. It’s hard to blame a rookie coach for being overconfident. At the very least, it was necessary to limit the humiliation on a Saturday night at the Forum. When the second period began, there were two minutes and 39 seconds remaining in Brisebois’ penalty. Detroit cashed in on the man advantage. Slava Kozlov, left alone in front of the net, knocked in his third goal on a clever pass from Igor Larionov. The score was 6-1. In Tremblay’s position, Scotty Bowman would not have waited any longer to switch goalies: “I usually waited till the fifth goal, depending on the game and the score,” Bowman later replied when asked about his strategy in similar circumstances. About that particular game, he added: “We consistently controlled the puck. That was one of the best performances in my (nine-year) association with the Wings.” Detroit was unstoppable that evening. On the blueline, the Habs were springing leaks all over the place, and the game was out of control. Despite that, Tremblay still didn’t pull Patrick. That’s what led to the drama that was about to take place. At 4:33, young Mathieu Dandenault went in on a breakaway on Patrick and misfired, but the puck got stuck in his equipment. He kept on skating and the puck entered the net. A lucky goal, but that made the score 7-1. Steve Shutt, up on the catwalk, headphones on, yelled to Cournoyer, standing next to Tremblay behind the bench: “You’ve got to pull Patrick out of the game now.” Patrick looked toward the bench in desperation. No reaction. He saw Yvan Cournoyer talking to Tremblay, who didn’t budge. About two minutes after the goal, Sergei Fedorov let rip a bullet from the blueline, which Patrick handled easily. Some of the fans applauded mockingly. Exasperated and defenseless, Patrick threw up his arms in hopelessness. The game looked like a meeting between the Red Army and the Fredericton Canadiens of the AHL, and Patrick was paying the price. He looked to the bench again. Tremblay still didn’t make a move. Play resumed. Every time Patrick made a save, the crowd cheered in derision. Finally, Bowman sent his fourth line into the melee. But briefly. Keith Primeau fed a beautiful pass to Greg Johnson, alone in front of the goal. Now it was 8-1. Patrick stopped looking to his coach. He understood he was being punished and humiliated. They’d abandoned him. Discouraged, he shook his head in disgust. At the bench, Tremblay, apparently thinking the punishment had lasted just about long enough, instructed backup goalie Pat Jablonski to get ready. Slowly. Very slowly. So slowly in fact, that nearly two minutes later, Fedorov had time to score another goal at point blank range from the slot – the ninth goal on Patrick. He couldn’t be blamed for any of the goals, except perhaps Dandenault’s tally on a breakaway, on which Patrick had bad luck. Jablonski finally came in to replace him. Patrick leaned his stick against the wall in the corridor and handed his mask and gloves to Pierre Gervais. He walked by Tremblay on the way to the backup goalie’s stool. Once again, he was trying to extend a hand. He would have at least expected Tremblay to make some sympathetic gesture, as coaches normally do when they pull a goalie. He would have liked a sign of encouragement, anything; a pat on the back, like the one Tremblay had given Vincent Damphousse before the game. There was nothing. Patrick realized that it didn’t make sense anymore. It couldn’t go on like that. He turned around and walked past Tremblay again. Still nothing. Not only did Tremblay not react, he stood stock still with his arms crossed, nose in the air, looking scornful. Patrick got it. It was the end. He realized it. Later, he would say: “If I’d had some word of support from Mario Tremblay, if I’d felt that he wanted to help me, I wouldn’t have gone to see Ronald Corey. That’s when it hit me.” He approached Ronald Corey, sitting right behind the bench, and told him: “I’ve just played my last game with the Canadiens.” He passed by Tremblay again, who hadn’t changed expression, sat down on the bench and yelled to him: “You heard me!” After the second period, Bob Sauve called up trainer Gaetan Lefebvre on the cell. “Gaetan, can you give me Patrick?” “Wait.” Lefebvre went into the dressing room and handed Patrick the phone. “Sauve wants to talk to you.” “Hello!” “Patrick, it’s Bob. When the game’s over, get dressed quickly, don’t say a word to anyone, and come and meet me by the back door. I’ll be parked there.” “OK.” Tremblay entered the dressing room and made a beeline for his goalie. “What did you say to Corey?” “Listen Mario, we’ll discuss it after the game.” “F—in’ right you f—in’ asshole!” Patrick got up. “That’s enough, you’re not going to call me an asshole in this room!” Tremblay turned and left the dressing room. Detroit won 11-1. When the game was over, Sauve picked up Patrick. The two men spent most of the night talking, and then Sauve drove Patrick home. The next morning, after a short night, the two met back at Sauve’s house to continue to ponder the situation and explore every possible avenue. The agent wanted to see if the rift with Tremblay was irreparable. They reviewed the events of the recent weeks: Tremblay’s uncompromising attitude toward Patrick even about trivialities, his officiousness, his habit of firing shots near Patrick’s head in practice, his determination to put Patrick in his place and break him, as Bowman had done with his players in the past, particularly the plumbers and rookies. There was nothing irreparable. To this day, Patrick says, “I can’t say that Mario’s attitude bothered me much. It didn’t stop me from doing my job well. He would have eventually appreciated me because the team would have won. He would have ended up liking me.” But there still remained the humiliation of the previous evening in front of a million and a half TV viewers, and its consequences. Would he still be booed and ridiculed at the slightest sign of weakness? Would Tremblay be wise enough to come halfway and treat Patrick more considerately? Could he get over the fact that Patrick had spoken directly to the team’s president in front of a million and a half viewers? Could he accept that his authority had been challenged? What about Corey, who claimed after the game that he hadn’t understood what Patrick had said? Where did he stand? With diligence and diplomacy, he alone could put the pieces back together. Patrick and Sauve agreed to contact Rejean Houle to find out the Canadiens’ position on the matter. Houle summoned them to his office in the mid-afternoon. The GM didn’t mince words. “There’s no going back. We’re going to make a trade.” Both Patrick and Sauve noticed that Houle was shaken; he had tears in his eyes. Clearly, he was carrying out someone else’s will. In hindsight, Patrick thinks, “Rejean Houle was a good person, maybe too good for that job. If he had been able to stand up to his coach, he would have been more successful in the post. I can’t hold it against him. He liked me and was extremely generous.” So whose will was it? If Tremblay had wanted to keep Patrick in Montreal, it would have been easy for him to convince his bosses. If Corey had wanted Patrick in Montreal, it would have been easy for him to intervene and convince the people he had just hired. But they would have had to put their egos aside in the interest of the team. Patrick would have regrouped and they could have started afresh. The will just wasn’t there.