Everyone who followed Patrick Roy during his Hall of Fame hockey career probably has favorite moments that came flooding back when Roy made his long-anticipated return to the National Hockey League last week as the Colorado Avalanche's new head coach.
For many Colorado fans, that list of memories would begin with Roy's remarkable on-ice fight in June 2008 with Detroit's Chris Osgood, arguably the best brawl between goaltenders in National Hockey League history.
For the true hockey purist, the "Best of Roy" treasures probably would lead off with his stunningly sudden emergence as a superstar, as a brash but unbeatable 20-year-old in 1986, leading the Montreal Canadiens to the Stanley Cup and becoming the youngest-ever winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
But for many in his native country, there's no way to forget Roy and Montreal winning another Stanley Cup in 1993, if only because that remains the last time a team from Canada won hockey's most cherished prize.
For me, it could be any number of occasions, always after important Avalanche games, inside the team's dressing room. Many other Colorado players, either not wanting the media attention or fearful of saying the wrong thing, would shed their gear and vanish into the showers, followed by the training room. Some, like captain Joe Sakic, would simply toss out pleasant, nice-guy quotes and avoid ruffling feathers.
Not St. Patrick, as he had become known in the hockey world after first reaching the sport's pinnacle in Montreal.
No matter how exhausted Roy might have been, or whether the Avalanche had won or lost, he'd sit there, usually still in uniform, waiting for the media and always willing to answer our questions. He'd even throw in a few barbs on occasion with that impish, closed-mouth grin.
He also never backed down when provoked, which was a large part of his greatness on the ice, especially in big games. Roy was fearless, and he was always the kind of battler whom you wanted on your side.
The moment that stands out most came in the 1996 Western Conference semifinals, Colorado vs. Chicago. Game 4 of that series at Chicago became an instant classic, lasting three overtimes. Chicago had a 2-1 series lead, so the game was pivotal. At one point during sudden death, Chicago star Jeremy Roenick had a breakaway, but as he was hit from behind by a Colorado player, Roy stopped Roenick's shot. Colorado went on to win, 3-2, and Roenick complained bitterly about not being given a penalty shot.
Told of Roenick's bitterness, Roy responded as only he could, saying: "I can't really hear what Jeremy says, because I've got my two Stanley Cup rings plugging my ears."
If ever a crazy comment inspired a team, that one did. Colorado won the next two games to wrap up that series, toppled mighty Detroit in the conference finals and swept Florida for the Stanley Cup to wrap up the franchise's first year in Colorado.
The swaggering Roy delivered one more championship, helping the Avs to the title in 2001 with the legendary 40-year-old Ray Bourque finally capping his career holding the Cup. But it was Roy who won the Conn Smythe Trophy for a record third time, with a personal-best .934 postseason save percentage.
That's how Roy was, never satisfied with past accomplishments, always hungry for more. And with that spirit he takes over now as Colorado's coach, inheriting a team that should be much better than its league-worst record this past season. He also has the ultimate supporter in Sakic, just named Avs' executive vice president.
Roy has been successful as a coach and team executive in Quebec's Major Junior Hockey League. By all accounts, he's as fiery as ever at 47, but also strong at motivating players and giving them smart strategy. He should be effective in pushing Colorado's young stars — Matt Duchene, Paul Stastny, Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan O'Reilly — not to mention goaltender Semyon Varlamov.
How far can St. Patrick take the Avalanche this time? Let's put it this way: For him, four Stanley Cup rings can only mean he still has available fingers.
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