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Roy a giant among game's greats

Tuesday, 14.11.2006 / 12:00 AM / News
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Roy a giant among game\'s greats


Patrick Roy first established his reputation as clutch performer during his 12 seasons spent in Montreal.

Patrick Roy's mind-boggling numbers as a goaltender literally jump off the pages of the NHL record book. But those impressive numbers are a mere part of the goalie's legacy.

Roy, the unquestioned star of the 2006 Hockey Hall of Fame Induction class, is the only goalie to appear in more than 1,000 games and the only one to win more than 200 games for two different franchises. He has 551 career wins to top that category and surpassed the 30-win plateau on 13 different occasions during a 19-year career with Montreal and Colorado.

Roy won three Vezina Trophies as the League's best goalie and was named to the NHL's First All-Star Team four times. He was selected to 11 NHL All-Star Games. Most importantly, he won four Stanley Cups, being named playoff MVP three times.

An eye-popping resume, for sure. One worthy of the first-ballot Hall of Fame induction status he was afforded this summer, as well as his position, in the eyes of many, as the best goalie to ever strap on leg pads.

Pierre Lacroix, the GM in Colorado who traded for Roy at the apex of the goalie's career, called Roy a "true legend of the game" who redefined the art of goaltending.

"He was a great leader and ambassador of the game whose passion and determination was second to none," Lacroix says.

But, in the end, Roy's accomplishments go well beyond the compelling numbers.

The man behind those inanimate numbers is a far more complex and complete story, one that shows Roy's vibrancy, pride, complexity, combativeness in all its glory.

From the beginning, Roy was a larger-than-life figure.

Early on, he took on the NHL establishment, refusing to bow to the long-held notions about goaltending that permeated throughout the NHL. Roy, from the beginning, was a butterfly goalie. His style -- dropping to the knees and blocking as much of the net as possible while relying on superior reflexes -- was the antithesis of the stand-up style that had ruled the crease for as long as hockey had been played.

Few knew what to make out of Roy's unorthodox style, especially Canadiens coach Jacques Lemaire, a Hall of Fame forward on the Montreal dynasty teams.

"My first year there, I started practicing and I was going butterfly and diving for every puck," Roy said. "Lemaire told me I needed a mattress and a pillow. But I was a believer in the butterfly. The most space you cover is when you are on your knees, and most of the goals scored in the NHL were shots low to the ice."

There is no arguing with the results of Roy's beliefs.

In his rookie season, 1985-86, he usurped the No. 1 goalie position by the time the playoffs rolled around and played in all 20 playoff games, winning 15 starts and the Conn Smyth Trophy as the Canadiens won their 23rd Stanley Cup, the first in seven years for the legendary franchise.

The brash, young goalie was hailed throughout the province of Quebec, and much of the hockey world, as a hero -- "Saint Patrick," the patron saint of the Montreal Canadiens. Not too shabby an introduction to the NHL for a 20-year-old who was a mere two years removed from junior hockey.

From there, Roy just built upon his legacy for the better part of 20 years.

It took seven more years for Roy to claim another Cup, but he did it in style.

In fact, Roy won 10-straight overtime games that postseason as the Candiens dispatched Quebec, Buffalo, the New York Islanders and the Los Angeles Kings to win the franchise's most recent title.

Jacques Demers, now a studio analyst with RDS television, was Roy's coach that magical season. Even now -- more than a decade removed from that seminal event -- Demers still raves about Roy, who the coach believes was the clear difference that postseason.

"He made me a very good coach," Demers said. "I'm honest and I tell the truth. The truth is I would not have a Stanley Cup ring if not for Patrick Roy.

Patrick Roy won his second of three Conn Smythe Trophies after leading the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup in the spring of 1993.

"Sure, it was a team and there were good players on it and everyone contributed, but Patrick Roy is the one that made it happen that year. Just think about it, we won 10 overtime games that year. To win 10 in a row -- we lost our first one and then won the next 10 to win the Cup -- that's an NHL record and it will never happen again."

Roy and the Canadiens dropped Game 1 of the Division Semifinals to Quebec that year in OT and then went on to beat the Nordiques twice in extra time. Three overtime wins against Buffalo in the next round helped end that series quickly. The Islanders fell in OT twice during their five-game ouster and then the Kings, after taking Game 1, lost three-straight overtime heartbreakers in the Final to all but decide things in Montreal's favor.

When it was over, Roy had another Conn Smythe Trophy and the admiration, sometimes given begrudgingly, of all hockey fans.

"The thing was, everybody believed we would lose each time after the overtime streak reached five," recalled Demers, "but we believed we would win because we had Patrick Roy. He just wouldn't allow us to lose."

Defenseman Sean Hill, playing for the Islanders these days, was a wide-eyed rookie with the Canadiens that year. To this day, he has never seen a performance quite like the one Roy turned in during the spring of 1993.

"He's right up there with the best goalies of all time and, obviously, he was a big-game goalie," Hill said. "He's won a ton of stuff. I guess the thing I remember most about him is the OT games we had that year.

"He told us, 'Do what you have to do down there and don't worry, nothing is getting in down here' And, he held up to it, obviously. For a guy to say that to his team, that was real comforting to the rest of the team. To have a guy with that much confidence back there is a huge thing."

That was the thing about Roy, he liked to talk almost as much as he liked to play.

He was never shy about tooting his own horn. But, the thing that made Roy stand out was that nine times out of 10 he would back up any boast he made. Always, his teammates understood that when Roy made a promise, he was going to do his utmost to deliver.

"It wasn't like it was some guy that hadn't proven himself that was speaking or making claims," Hill says. "When it is a guy like him talking, you know it is going to happen and, if it doesn't happen, it is going to be by a fluke or something along those lines. He was one of the most talented players I played with. He spoke his heart and what he believed and, more often than not, many many times it happened and far outweighed the times that it didn't happen."

When Roy spoke, his team not only drew confidence from it, but motivation, as well, according to Demers. They knew Roy would do everything possible to win, everything possible to be the best. So, everybody else better do their part, too, or pay the price. Clearly, there was no room for passengers on Roy's bus.

"He had the most mental toughness I have ever seen in a goalie and he was a natural leader," the former coach said. "If Patrick Roy had been a defenseman or a forward, he would have been a captain -- there is no doubt about that. He was a born leader.

"Patrick was very demanding of his teammates because he was always ready and was always prepared to play at his best. If you did not play hard and you didn't try, you were not going to be a friend of Patricks's. No way."

That competitiveness was also at the root of his move to Colorado. Roy felt under-appreciated during his final years in Montreal and after one ugly incident when he was left in a game to suffer an embarrassingly one-sided loss in its entirety, Roy demanded a trade from the city and the team where he had come of age.

The Avalanche stepped in midway through the 1995-96 season and made an offer to pry the goalie away, forever changing the future of both franchises.

"I felt that when I left Montreal we were at the end of the road," Roy said. "Montreal was heading in maybe a different direction and the opportunity to go to Colorado, it was a perfect fit for me.

"Knowing they had the potential to win the Stanley Cup was a great challenge. It helped me to play more years. I really believe it gave a second wind to my career."

Colorado won the Stanley Cup that year -- the franchise's first -- and Roy was again the backbone of the charge to glory.

Before Roy was done, he would win another Stanley Cup, helping the Avs knock off the defending champion New Jersey Devils in a memorable seven-game series in which Colorado trailed three games to two. That series win cemented his legacy as the best big-game goalie in the game.

"The outcome of every game was so important," Roy said. "Having the chance to chase the Stanley Cup, it was a lot easier for me to concentrate and to be focused in the playoffs than it was in the regular season."

Patrick Roy was always at his best when everything was on the line.

Because that is all that mattered to Roy -- winning. Despite being a great regular-season goalie and piling up dizzying statistics and records, Roy lived to make a difference; to have a lasting impact. It was on that Stanley Cup stage that a player has the biggest impact and Roy understood this, making that stage his own for the better part of two decades.

"He wanted to win more than he wanted stats," Demers says. "Patrick doesn't remember a lot of his stats, I bet, but he remembers his wins. That was what was important to him."

Everything about Roy was important to hockey fans. He was the game's biggest star for much of his career, he redefined the way goaltenders approached their profession, he won more games than any goalie that came before him and he earned the respect of hockey fans young and old.

To this day, Hill feels proud to have known Roy in the early days of the goalie's odyssey to the Hall of Fame. He says that he knew the first time he saw Roy in action, back in that 1992-93 season, that he was witnessing greatness.

"It was in the early 90's obviously and there was a lot of career left, but if injuries didn't occur or something out of the blue, he was well on his way to the Hall," Hill said. "He certainly accomplished that in style."

Yes, Patrick Roy did accomplish that in style, a feat that will be formally acknowledged Monday as he leads the 2006 Hall of Fame Induction class to their date with immortality.

Shawn P. Roarke is a Senior Writer for NHL.com.