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King No More
Michael Farber
December 18, 1995
A spat with his coach ended Patrick Roy's reign in Montreal
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December 18, 1995

King No More

A spat with his coach ended Patrick Roy's reign in Montreal

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The showdown came at the Montreal Forum—St. Patrick's cathedral. Detroit, which had taken a 5-1 first-period lead, pumped two more past Roy in the first five minutes of the second. When the crowd offered a sarcastic huzzah after Roy's next save, Roy raised his arms in a mocking way. As far as Tremblay was concerned, Roy had just thrown himself on the ice, pounded his fists, kicked his feet and demanded a pony. If Tremblay had any thoughts of sparing Roy further embarrassment, as hockey coaches typically do with a goalie who's getting shelled, they vanished. Show me up? I'll show you up. Tremblay, who would later feebly explain that he thought Montreal was still in the game, didn't lift Roy until the score was 9-1 with eight minutes left in the second period.

When Roy skated off, he removed his mask and walked past Tremblay toward the backup goalie's stool at the far end of the bench. Tremblay glared. Roy glared. If looks could kill, there would have been a double murder. Roy then wheeled, locked eyeballs with Tremblay again and walked past him to Corey, who was sitting behind the bench in the traditional, and intrusive, section 105 seat of Canadien bosses. "This is my last game for Montreal," Roy told Corey. Roy then stomped back to the stool, turned to Tremblay and said, "T'as compris, 'stie [Did'ya understand, dammit]?" Roy and Tremblay had a screaming match in the dressing room after the period. The next day the Canadiens announced that Roy had been suspended and would be traded.

"I was brought up on the Montreal Canadiens with big stars like Jean Béliveau, Henri Richard, Yvan Cournoyer, Bob Gainey, Guy Lafleur, Ken Dryden, The Big Three [defensemen Larry Robinson, Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe], and never once did I feel those guys asked for or got special treatment," Houle says. "Nobody's more important than the team."

The Canadiens' announcement touched off a dizzying series of press conferences, including one the next day by a tearful Roy that was covered live by Newsworld, Canada's version of CNN, testimony to his import even beyond Montreal. But through the blizzard of sound bites, apologies, denials and metaphorical turning of pages, something was wrong. Why was there no effort at reconciliation? Roy's agent, Bob Sauve, and Tremblay both made vague references to earlier "incidents"—as a broadcaster, Tremblay sometimes had been critical of Roy—although no one would say just what those incidents had been or when they had happened. There was one theory that Roy's tantrum had been premeditated, his ticket out of a province that simply cared too much about hockey. "No," Roy says. "I was so close to Jacques Plante [23 wins from breaking Plante's team record]. Who wouldn't want to go down in Canadien goaltending history?"

There was another theory that the Montreal front office had pounced on Roy's gaffe as an excuse to trade a 30-year-old whose skills had begun to slip, but the Canadiens will move to the new 21,000-seat Forum on March 16, and Corey wants to put a classy team in it. The post-Roy Canadiens are simply not that good, at least for now, so this scenario seems just as dubious.

On Dec. 6, when Houle completed the trade with Colorado general manager Pierre Lacroix, Roy's former agent and close friend, the mood in Montreal was as sour as the aftertaste left by some of the lemons the Canadiens have drafted since getting Roy with the 51st pick in 1984. The consensus: History will judge Roy a better goalie than Tremblay a coach, and Tremblay, wildly popular after becoming coach and turning around an 0-5 team, will be seen as the snake who drove Roy out of Montreal. "It's totally explainable that Patrick Roy was humiliated and frustrated being left out there in a 7-1 game. What's unexplainable is Mario's reasoning," says Mike Bossy, the Hall of Fame right wing who works for Montreal radio station CKOI. "Mario might not have experience as a coach, but he had 30 years' experience in hockey. I can't accept that a rookie coach could get rid of the best goalie in the NHL after 19 games."

While the deal was another step in remaking the Canadiens—only four members of the 1993 Stanley Cup champions remain, and three captains have been traded in the past 16 months—for the Avalanche, it made them the team to beat in the Western Conference. Lacroix has had a better fall than Jay Leno. The talented Quebec Nordiques, the previous incarnation of the Avalanche, were blown out in the first round of the playoffs last spring by the Rangers because they lacked playoff experience, a power-play quarterback and an experienced goalie. Since October, Lacroix has pried loose playoff MVP Claude Lemieux from the New Jersey Devils, scoring defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh from the San Jose Sharks and Roy. The Avalanche are now the NHL's glamour team, which even corporate ticket holders eventually should figure out. When Roy made his Colorado debut last Thursday in a 5-3 loss to Edmonton, 1,000 seats in the lower bowl of sold-out McNichols Arena were empty, even though the Avalanche had just acquired a goal-tending god. The ovation Thibault received at the Forum simply for skating across the ice to do a between-periods interview the previous night was more lusty than anything Roy heard in his Colorado debut. Now maybe if Roy blocked for John Elway....

That's unfair. No longer are Denver's four sports the Broncos preseason, the Broncos regular season, the Broncos postseason and the Nuggets. Denver has matured into a fabulous sports town, one of only eight American cities with teams in major league baseball, the NBA, the NFL and the NHL. This, of course, is the NHL's second crack at Denver. Until they heard the siren call from the New Jersey Meadowlands in 1982, the Colorado Rockies skated for six seasons in Denver. They had some nice players, but on balance they were so awful that they gave an entire mountain range a bad name. Hardy Astrom, a hapless Swedish goalie, was the poster boy for Rocky Hockey, but the most memorable bad goaltending moment belonged to Bill Oleschuk, who former Rocky and current Avalanche assistant coach Joel Quenneville reports once was beaten on the first shot against him, a slapper from beyond the blue line, and was immediately yanked by coach Don Cherry.

The new Colorado net minder is a lot better than that, although, decked out in a plain white mask and fighting the puck against the Oilers, he looked more like a $50-an-hour rent-a-goalie than a $2.8 million star. After the game, a spent Roy apologized to Avalanche coach Marc Crawford.

"Hey, the whole team didn't play well," Crawford said.

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