Montreal — The 14 banners hang in the Bell Centre rafters carrying the names and retired numbers of legendary players who for so many years contributed so much to making the Montreal Canadiens a team with a mystique for winning.Great names. Great players. Great human beings.The game plan is to add one more next season when this one-of-a-kind franchise celebrates its centenary. The only name I have heard – Patrick Roy.Yeah, that Patrick Roy – the one who led the Canadiens to Stanley Cups in 1986 and 1993.The Patrick Roy who coached the Quebec Remparts to the Memorial Cup two years ago.
The Patrick Roy whose son, Jonathan, a backup goaltender with the team, was suspended by the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for seven games on Tuesday after skating the length of the ice to administer an ugly, vicious beating on Chicoutimi goaltender Bobby Nadeau during last Saturday’s playoff game.
Roy the coach – and co-owner and general manager – denies the horror show took place at his urging. But he was suspended five games for “failing to control his players” and police have been asked to launch an investigation, which could lead to criminal charges.
If the Canadiens have decided to retire Roy’s number, they must re-visit the decision. Canadiens owner George N. Gillett Jr. and team president Pierre Boivin should know it is a bad decision – and has been from the start. What they must do is look long and hard and decide if retiring Roy’s No. 33 is good for the game and for the organization.
It is not.
Roy abdicated his rights to that honour with his capitulation to irrationalism on Dec. 2, 1995, when a stunned Forum crowd saw him allow nine goals on 26 shots in an 11-1 meltdown to the Detroit Red Wings. It was only then that he was taken out of the game by coach Mario Tremblay.
Anyone who was there or viewed the game on television can still see a furious Roy shouldering his way past Tremblay to Canadiens president Ronald Corey, sitting in the first row behind the players’ bench, leaning over and telling him he had played his last game with the team. That film clip has been shown over and over again following last Saturday’s hockey version of road rage – and for good reason. It was unprofessional and a gross disrespect for the sweater he wore.
Four days later, he was shipped to the Colorado Avalanche.
Roy was a man of many faces throughout his brilliant career. Pleasant one minute, a mean, arrogant and unforgiving SOB the next. The Patrick Roy who came to play and to win every night could be abrasive, controlling and vindictive, but that does not diminish his accomplishments. His NHL-high 551 wins speak for him, as does his four Stanley Cups (two with the Canadiens and two with Colorado), three Conn Smythe trophies and three Vezinas.
Can anyone forget the night in 1986, when Roy stopped the first 13 shots he faced in the overtime period of a Conference final game against the New York Rangers? There he was, a 20-year-old rookie, turning aside at least a half-dozen spectacular scoring opportunities by the Rangers – until Claude Lemieux scored the winner with the Canadiens’ first shot.
Fast forward to 1993. The Canadiens lost the first two games in Quebec, the first in overtime. They won the next four, two of them in overtime. More importantly, the Canadiens won eight more games en route to their last Stanley Cup to set playoff records for the most overtime wins in one season and the most consecutive overtime wins.
Those were on-ice moments to cherish, but there also have been off-ice issues that people cannot forget or forgive. Ugly moments. Controversial moments. Disgusting moments such as Saturday’s brawl during which Roy’s son continued punching a defenceless Nadeau after he had been wrestled to the ice.
In Colorado, Roy got into an altercation with a Colorado Springs man at a hotel where Avalanche players and their wives were having a team party. They began shoving each other over an interruption in the music at the in-house disco. The case was settled out of court.
Early in the 1998-99 season, a furious Roy smashed two television sets and a VCR in the visiting coaches’ office in Anaheim. The reason: he was not credited with a victory because he was pulled by first-year coach Bob Hartley. Even though he did not face one shot, backup Craig Billington got the win because he was in net when the winning goal was scored.
Roy lost it again when the Denver Post reported the incident and falsely accused Valeri Kamensky of leaking the story. That led to a lengthy meeting between Roy, Kamensky, the player’s agent and reporter Adrian Dater, who wrote the story.
The most publicized incident during Roy’s years in Colorado occurred during the 2000-01 season, when his wife called 911 after a domestic dispute. Dater reported at the time that Michele Roy told police her husband “ripped two doors off their hinges at their home” and that she was “afraid of what her husband might do when she dialed 911.” Roy was charged with misdemeanour criminal mischief, but a couple of days later his wife called the charges “ridiculous.” The case against Roy was dismissed. (The Roys are now divorced.)
And yet some of Roy’s best moments have come when his gentleness has moved people to tears.
Roy surely has forgotten it, but I still remember one morning after a Canadiens practice in Quebec City. There was a game to be played that night, but Roy remained on the ice waiting for a 10-year-old to join him.
The boy was born to pain, and lived with it bravely – he had this dream of going one-on-one with his idol, Roy. What could be greater than to score a goal on Patrick Roy?
So there they were at the Quebec Coliseum: Roy skating in little circles, sending up small shivers of ice pellets, rattling the blade of his stick on the ice before settling into a crouch in his crease, looking every inch like a guy in the moments before Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final. The boy’s mother looked on nervously watching her child who had not smiled or laughed nearly often enough in his young life.
“Okay … I’m ready,” Roy finally yelled at the boy. “Show me your best.”
It took a long time for the boy, skating on his matchstick legs, to close the 15 feet separating him from Roy’s crease. A wobbly shot, a desperate lunge from Roy and … a goal! Roy slammed his stick on the ice in mock anger.
“Try that again,” he muttered at the boy, who by now had a reason to smile. “I’ll bet you can’t do that again.”
Another wobbly shot. Another goal.
Ten minutes of goal after goal followed – and after each one the boy would raise his stick skyward, his face lighting up with smiles that eventually grew into a delighted laugh. His mother looked on from her Coliseum seat – and cried.
“That was a nice thing you did this morning,” I told Roy later that day. “It must have been hard.”
“It was easy,” said Roy.