MONTREAL – Reconciliation was the theme as Patrick Roy was welcomed back to the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night.
The crowd of 21,273 stood and cheered for several minutes as the goaltending great who parted bitterly with the club in 1995 stepped onto the Bell Centre ice wearing a Canadiens jersey over his suit to see his No. 33 raised to the ceiling.
“I think it really turned the page on what happened in my last game here,” the Quebec City native said. “I’ve been ready to move on for a long time.
“It was fun to say I was coming back home and I truly believed in what I said. I’m extremely happy to wear that jersey here.”
Roy, who won two Stanley Cups with the Canadiens between 1984 and 1995, became the 15th player to have his jersey retired by the 24-time Stanley Cup champion team.
But this may have been the most controversial because of how he left the club – angrily demanding a trade after he was left in goal by then-coach Mario Tremblay for a shellacking by the Detroit Red Wings on Dec. 2, 1995.
He was dealt a few days later to the Colorado Avalanche, where he played eight more seasons and won two more Stanley Cups before retiring in 2002.
There was fear some fans would not want Roy back, but that was dispelled as soon as his image appeared on the Bell Centre scoreboard before the 50-minute ceremony and a deafening roar went up from the seats.
Even his entrance was symbolic, as he was filmed entering proudly by the front door of the arena and winding his way through the concessions and down some stairs to the player’s bench, where the current Canadiens were waiting, all wearing No. 33 jerseys.
Roy was joined on the red carpet by his parents Michel and Barbara, his sister Alexandra and brother Stephane and his children Jonathan, Frederic and Jana. He acknowledged his estranged wife Michelle in his speech.
Roy looked to be choking back emotion as the banner went up, but there were no tears. Mostly, the sometimes hot-tempered goalie wore a satisfied smile.
“It was close,” he said. “I said ‘wow, I think I’m in trouble.’
“I’m a person who keeps a lot of emotion inside, but I really appreciated what happened. It was very warm welcome.”
He was introduced by Pierre Lacroix, his former agent who later became general manager of the Colorado Avalanche and who made the trade to acquire him from Montreal.
Three of his former coaches, Jean Perron, Pat Burns and Jacques Demers, took the microphone, thanking him for the many games he won for them. There were video tributes from some former teammates and adversaries, such as Joe Sakic, Ray Bourque and Luc Robitaille.
His brief speech was aimed mainly at the fans, about his memories of playing before them at the old Montreal Forum. He ended by saying: “Finally, I’m back home.”
“For him, it was so important that closure was made here, and I’m so proud for him, too,” said Lacroix. “For hockey fans in Quebec, this is the confirmation that they love winners and this guy has been a winner his whole life.
“He got up every day and acted like it was his last day on the planet and that’s what people recognize. I never doubted it would happen any differently.”
Roy’s father called it “a beautiful moment.”
Many of Roy’s teammates from the Stanley Cup teams of 1986 and 1993 were in the building, including current Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau and assistant coach Kirk Muller, as well as Chris Nilan, Vincent Damphousse, Stephan Lebeau and Benoit Brunet.
Brunet recalls the day Roy asked to be traded as one of “complete shock.
“We knew something happened, but we thought it would all settle down the next day,” said Brunet, who now works on Canadiens TV broadcasts. “In his time, he was the best.
“I’m not surprised they retired his jersey. Without him, there probably wouldn’t have been a Stanley Cup in Montreal in the last 30 years.”
Roy had come back to Montreal with the Avalanche before, but had mostly stayed away from his former team. But he said he had made up with them, and with Tremblay, long ago.
Upon his retirement as a player, Roy became part-owner, general manager and coach of the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and had little time for social visits.
The ceremony was timed with a visit by the Remparts to the Verdun Juniors on Friday, although it irked the Montreal Alouettes for drawing attention from the Grey Cup game they play Sunday against the Calgary Stampeders.
He said he would have liked to attend games at the Bell Centre involving his former Remparts players Alexander Radulov and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, as well as last year’s jersey retirement for former teammate and current Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey.
In 19 NHL seasons, the goaltender who perfected the butterfly style played in a record 1,029 games and set records for regular season wins (551) and playoff wins (151).
He won four Stanley Cups, two each with Montreal and Colorado, three Vezina Trophies as the league’s top goaltender and three Conn Smythe trophies as MVP of the playoffs.
And Roy was an original – a goaltender who talked to his goalposts and bounced a puck on the dressing room floor in a trance-like state before games. He was among the first to have a full-time goalie coach, butterfly guru Francois Allaire.
And when Roy decided to shut the door on an opponent, the series was as good as won.
His crowning achievement was in 1993, when an underdog Canadiens team won 10 consecutive overtime games to win what turned out to be their last championship.
The ceremony had one tense moment, as many fans booed when Roy’s son Jonathan went onto the ice. Jonathan Roy was involved in a controversial brawl in the Quebec Major Hockey League last spring in which he pounded Chicoutimi goaltender Bobby Nadeau, who did not fight back.
“I heard it,” Jonathan Roy said with a grin. “Me and my brother, that’s one of our dreams – to get booed at the Bell Centre.”