BOSTON – His is one of those names that New England sports fans speak with an even combination of respect and deep-seated disdain.
In these parts, the name conjures memories of those nights in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s when it seemed like a stick of dynamite couldn’t bring down the wall the Quebecois netminder built in front of the Canadiens’ nets. The Boston-Montreal rivalry has many characters and chapters, but arguably none have been more indelible than that era, and No. 33 between the pipes. The Bruins had his number about as often as he had theirs, but Roy came away from that period with Stanley Cup rings and Conn Smythe trophies in 1986 and 1993, as well as Vezina trophies in 1989, 1990 and 1992.
Roy even earned a small bit of affection when he helped Ray Bourque finally win the Cup with Colorado in 2001, the old foes incongruously celebrating together even as Boston was in the midst of a decades-long drought.
Over his two decades in the NHL, Roy earned a reputation as one of the finest goalies ever to play the game, as well as one of the most tempestuous personalities to ever take the ice.
There was the Dec. 2, 1995, game, when Roy told Canadiens president Ronald Corey “It’s my last game in Montreal” after he was left in for nine goals, leading to his exile. There was the back-and-forth with Jeremy Roenick during the next year’s Western Conference semifinals, when Roenick’s needling sparked one of Roy’s best quotes: “I can’t really hear what Jeremy says, because I’ve got my two Stanley Cup rings plugging my ears.”
Much more recently, there was Opening Night 2013, when Roy got into it first with the Anaheim players, and then with coach Bruce Boudreau, nearly toppling the glass partition between the benches during their furious argument – proof that you can take the fiery goalie out of the net, but you can’t extinguish the flame.
Thursday night, Roy made his first return to Boston in an official capacity since Feb. 4, 2003, when he made 28 saves in a 3-2 Avalanche victory. After his retirement following that season, Roy became the vice president of hockey operations for the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, eventually becoming owner, general manager and head coach. He continued his controversial ways with the Remparts, but also found early success, winning the 2006 Memorial Cup in his first year behind the bench.
That led to this year, when Roy was named the new head coach in Colorado after Boston University alum Joe Sacco (Medford, Mass.) was let go following an ugly 2013 season. And that brought him back to Boston for the first time in a decade Thursday night.
Roy said he was excited to be back.
“Always. I mean, it’s a great hockey town. The people here, they love their hockey and they’re right behind their Bruins. It’s a beautiful town and it’s fun to be here.”
This much is clear: The new coach is doing something right. The Avalanche are undefeated in their first four games under the Roy regime, including Thursday night’s thorough 2-0 win over the Bruins. After four mediocre years under Sacco, during which the Avs went a combined 130-134-30, and missed the playoffs the last three seasons, there’s a lot of hope in Colorado – and, based on the atmosphere in Colorado’s locker room after Thursday’s win, a lot more excitement.
“The whole mentality is changing, our whole attitude,” said goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who made his first start of the season Thursday night. “We seem to believe in ourselves a little bit more. It’s just a different voice and guys seem to be responding well to it right now.”
The choice to go with Giguere against the Bruins instead of ostensible No. 1 Semyon Varlamov seemed curious before the puck dropped Thursday night. In five career games against Boston, Giguere hasn’t fared terribly well, with a 2-2-1 record, .883 save percentage and 3.18 GAA. Yet a few hours later, Roy looked like a goaltending genius again, as Giguere turned in a 39-save shutout.
“It’s great,” Giguere said of having a hall of fame goaltender for a head coach. “I always say the less interaction I have with him the better, but he’s been awesome – you want him to be working with the forwards and defensemen – but he’s been great, a couple tips here and there to the goalies, it’s been a good adjustment.”
Certainly, the Avalanche will lose a game eventually. But right now, after several years adrift, Roy has the Avs riding high and savoring an unlikely victory over a Cup contender in the Bruins. And it wasn’t just Giguere’s steady goaltending – the Avalanche showed a lot of jump in the first period, taking advantage of a Boston team that was noticeably sluggish after a four-day layoff between games. Ryan O’Reilly’s power play goal late in the first period was all Giguere needed, but Matt Duchene added an empty-netter for good measure, too.
There are 78 games left in the season. It’s way too early to judge Patrick Roy, the coach. But so far, his results are awfully reminiscent of Patrick Roy, the goalie.
“I mean, I’m sure a lot of people are surprised by our start,” Roy said. “It’s good for our confidence. I’ve been asking the guys to work really hard, and I’ve been asking some details of the game that I think are important.”
Just as Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter are now begrudgingly revered by Red Sox fans, it’d be hard for any honest Bruin die-hard to deny a certain appreciation for Roy, and Thursday night’s loss showed one thing: Boston’s love-hate affair with Patrick Roy isn’t over.