With Patrick Roy set to lead his Colorado Avalanche against the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night, the “What If?” questions about him coaching full time in Montreal were inevitable.
True to his outsized aura, Roy not only called the queries, but happily raised the stakes. “I could have had both jobs if it was voted by the fans,” he said with a smile, referring to the fact an overwhelming number of Habs supporters wanted him to become GM and coach of the team when vacancies were created in the spring of 2012.
The healing between Roy and the Canadiens took hold long ago, which is why his sense of humour—laced with unmistakable traces of sentimentality—was on display as he spoke extensively at a press conference Monday afternoon. The public reconciliation took place in November of 2008, when the Canadiens lifted Roy’s No. 33 to the rafters. But before the banner was raised, Roy took a symbolic journey, entering the Bell Centre through the front door, shaking hands with fans (and the legendary Jean Beliveau) as he weaved his way through the stands to centre ice.
Any lingering angst over the way Montreal’s last superstar left the team in acrimonious fashion dissipated that night. And while the numerous fans who hoped he’d return to the Canadiens in an official capacity in 2012 didn’t get their way, the public push for the club to hire him clearly made an impression on St. Patrick. “For the ego, I have to admit, it feels good,” he said.
Oh, that ego. Roy’s abilities as a goalie may have put him in the Hall of Fame, but it’s that wonderful swagger, that enduring bravado that affords him a niche all his own among the pantheon of hockey legends in Canada. In a country of “Aw, shucks,” Roy was unapologetically “Up yours.” The cockiness certainly backfired on a few occasions, but there’s no doubt Roy’s raging fire fueled the love affair between him and hockey’s most hot-blooded city.
That said, don’t expect any explosions Tuesday night. Roy didn’t become the frontrunner for coach of the year by flipping over chairs or constantly screaming the foul English words that French hockey players always learn first. Yes, he made a glass-rattling NHL coaching debut when he exploded on Anaheim bench boss Bruce Boudreau after freshman Nathan MacKinnon was the victim of a questionable knee-on-knee hit by Ben Lovejoy late in the Avs’ season-opening 6-1 win. But Roy acknowledged on Monday that was a bit of strategic—and expensive—showmanship aimed at proving to his young charges that he had their back. For the most part, Roy has quietly and calmly pushed the right buttons all year for the surprising Avalanche, who have a good chance to open the playoffs on home ice.
Picking up two points in Montreal Tuesday night would help the Avs in that pursuit, and, predictably, Roy stressed the importance of nabbing a win. When asked if he’d snuck a peak at his No. 33 high above the ice during Colorado’s practice, Roy said he’d forgot to look. “See how focused I am,” he jested.
Then he conceded he’d taken a glance up before his players hit the ice, making sure the banner was still there and dust free. It was, of course, and even when he’s cracking jokes and praising his Avalanche players, it’s clear there will always be something there between Roy and Montreal.