It must have been tough for die-hard hockey fans from Patrick Roy’s hometown, Quebec City, to root for his bleu, blanc et rouge while their Nordiques hit a rough slide in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
As you’ll find out more about later this year when THN releases a book featuring the biggest rivalries in the game, Quebec and Montreal had an inter-province competition akin to the Ottawa-Toronto duel today: a new kid on the block trying to carve out a slice of fandom from a mighty historical monolith.
Roy won two Cups with the Habs and to this day is the last great Quebecois to lead the team to glory. The Nordiques eventually moved to Denver and became the Avalanche for the 1995-96 season and suddenly the pipe dream of the all-time great native son returning home disappeared.
But even if the Nords’ State-side relocation never took place, Roy landing in Quebec City during his playing days was never going to happen. In fact, the Canadiens were apparently prepared to move him to their most hated historical rival – the Maple Leafs – as long as it meant getting him out of La Belle Province.
“At the time (Habs GM) Rejean Houle told me he would not trade me in the same conference as Montreal was,” Roy said. “The teams that I heard of at the time were Chicago, Toronto and Colorado.”
Imagine how different history might have been for Toronto.
And imagine how different hockey history might have been for Quebec City if Roy hadn’t finally returned in 2003, nearly 20 years after being drafted by Montreal.
Playing a large part in returning the defunct Quebec Remparts to the provincial capital as a part owner in 1997, Roy took on a bigger role after retiring from the NHL in 2003, becoming GM of a team that had only five players returning for the 2003-04 season.
But it was easy for Roy to step into this demanding off-ice job after such an illustrious career on the ice.
“I really felt I emptied the tank as a player and I felt really good in my decision,” Roy said. “But what was important was to do something after hockey. It makes retirement very difficult when you don’t have anything else to do.”
Over the next three seasons, the Remparts built themselves up with youngsters such as Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Alexander Radulov and Angelo Esposito.
In 2005-06, after a 1-4-0 start, coach Eric Lavigne was replaced by Roy, who went on to lead the Remparts to the Memorial Cup championship. And even though Roy became just the seventh rookie coach to win the Memorial Cup – and the first since Claude Julien in 1997 – his biggest thrill with the Remparts has just been resurrecting the once-proud franchise that had to move in 1985.
“The great moment for me is to see how our fans and the people in Quebec have been behind our team,” Roy said. “It’s amazing the crowds we have; we draw an average of more than 11,000 per game this season. When I arrived we had about 800 season tickets, now we have over 8,000.”
Roy has picked up the tricks of the trade rather quickly, bringing his squad into the upper-echelon of junior programs (the Remparts currently sit fifth in the QMJHL standings). But even though he is recognized as a tenacious, win-hungry sportsman, Roy’s biggest challenge as a coach is more of what you’d expect from someone so intrinsically involved with a development-league team.
“I think it’s to adapt to the players,” Roy said. “I think it’s always trying to adapt and understand them and to make things work around that. The game has changed, the game is changing and it’s always fun to adapt to new situations and try to learn new things and work on it. It’s the perfect level to do that.”
Even on the management side, Roy has achieved great things, learning how to build and run a championship team from the front office.
“What I’ve learned the most is to work with people and accept things,” Roy said. “I think it’s something we learn as a player, but it’s something that we carry on and makes you realize how important it is to work as a team.”
The 18-year NHL vet with a competitive streak has been away from the glamor and glory of the bright lights for seven years now, but don’t expect him to return to the big leagues in a suit anytime soon.
But don’t completely rule it out forever, either.
“I had a great opportunity in Colorado, but it was just not the right timing for me,” Roy said of the offer to coach the Avs this off-season. “I’m at a period in my life where (sons) Jonathan and Frederick and (daughter) Jana were not sure what they were going to do. But you never know. It’s not something I’m saying no to. But to be honest with you, right now I’m very comfortable with what I’m doing.”
In the meantime, Roy will dedicate himself to the kids on his hometown hockey team, getting them ready for their own challenges later in life, whether on an NHL ice surface or elsewhere in the working world.
“I have the opportunity to give back to the game,” Roy said. “Working with players aged 16 to 20, I can share a bit of my path with them; not just my path, but my past experiences as well. Hopefully that can help some of them achieve their dreams of becoming NHL players or becoming successful businessmen.”
It must be so easy for Quebec City hockey fans to cheer for Roy now.
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