When Patrick Roy arrived in Denver shortly before Christmas 1995, Colorado Avalanche fans knew they’d landed an elite goaltender who could validate their relocated team’s contender status. And when Joe Sakic lifted the Stanley Cup a few months later, Roy’s impact was confirmed.
The Hall of Fame goalie officially morphed into a rookie NHL coach on Wednesday night, and the vibe he created has already got people buzzing about Friday’s home-ice encore with Nashville.
With all due respect to Bruce Boudreau, it’s precisely the attitudinal kick-start needed for a franchise that’s not sniffed relevance since Roy last left the ice a decade ago.
Roy’s debut against Boudreau’s visiting Anaheim Ducks ended not only in a 6-1 win for the Avalanche, but also included a verbal dustup between the coaches that saw an enraged Roy deliver a pair of shoves to the glass partition that separated him from a clearly rattled adversary.
Whether or not the on-ice trigger for the skirmish—an apparent knee-on-knee hit to Colorado rookie Nathan MacKinnon from Anaheim’s Ben Lovejoy—was proportionate to Roy’s reaction is up for debate, particularly to Boudreau, who labeled his rival’s actions as “bush league” (via the Toronto Sun).
The league agreed, slapping Roy with a $10K fine while labeling his actions "irresponsible" (via USA Today) but what’s more valuable than his cash is the positive jolt Roy can give a team desperately seeking an identity.
After winning two Stanley Cups and reaching the conference finals in six of his eight years with a snow-surrounded "A" on his chest, the Avalanche have plummeted to insignificance with just three postseason series wins and five playoff misses in the subsequent nine seasons under three coaches.
Another ex-NHL player, Joe Sacco, was shown the door in April after four seasons, ushering in an era with the dual-titled Roy as coach and vice president of hockey operations, while former teammate Sakic was elevated to executive VP and given enhanced authority over hockey-related matters.
As it turns out, much of the springtime reaction to Roy’s hire from former teammates and rivals was prescient, particularly when laid alongside video of the ultrafiery coach from Wednesday night.
Roy, while admittedly rougher around the edges than some of his new coaching brethren, also brings valuable qualities to the bench-side gig that helped him reach best-in-the-world status as a player. Winger Alex Tanguay, who played with Roy for four seasons and was reacquired by the Avalanche in the offseason, told ESPN.com:
If you watch practice for an hour, he's everywhere. That's the way he is. I'm happy. I think what we've seen so far from him, he's very intense. He's very passionate about the game. Certainly his intensity and the work that he puts in, it's a good start for us.
With an impressionable roster that includes just six players who’ve celebrated a 30th birthday—and a dozen more who weren't born when Roy won the first of his three Conn Smythe trophies—getting such early lessons in the intangibles can’t help but be a good experience.
After all, having a young team with skill is one thing; they're a dime a dozen in today's NHL.
But having a young team with both skill and an intense taste for competition that filters down from the front office and locker room—via hands-on bosses who've won championships of their own—is an even better and far rarer thing.
And while Roy's unwillingness to play the stooge in scrums might be what rubs rivals like Boudreau the wrong way at first, it’s more likely that future opponents' concerns will stem from an inability to impede a franchise reinvention that may soon change dynamics in the Western Conference playoff race.
Watch your back, Predators coach Barry Trotz…you might be next.