MONTREAL - It was right around “the rocket’s red glare” when one of the loudest ovations of the night reverberated through the Bell Centre, when the former Montreal Canadien's face appeared on the JumboTron during the American national anthem.
The Rocket’s red glare will most famously always belong to Maurice Richard, no player more beloved in the rich history of the Montreal Canadiens. That Patrick Roy received such a loud and proud reception from Habs fans Tuesday night when his face flashed on the screen was final proof all has been forgiven between him and the fans who once mocked each other right before exiting the final game he ever played for the Canadiens, Dec. 2, 1995.
He allowed nine goals to the Detroit Red Wings that final game, humiliated by his former coach, Mario Tremblay, for keeping him in well beyond the usual mercy rule of five or six goals. He vowed never to play for the Canadiens again, and he didn’t. He went on to Denver and won two Stanley Cups instead. Humiliation, right back at you Montreal.
Eventually, however, time softened those bad, old feelings. Finally, in 2008, the Canadiens honored Roy by retiring his number 33, and Roy in turn apologized for the tempestuous behavior that helped cause his exit.
Tuesday night, though, Roy was back in Montreal and looking for victory once again on behalf of the Colorado Avalanche. It didn’t happen. Roy got the loudest cheer before the game, but Thomas Vanek surpassed those with a hat-trick performance in Montreal’s 6-3 victory.
“I wish he could have waited one more game to get his first goals for Montreal,” Roy said afterward, surrounded by a large group of reporters.
The 48-year-old Avs coach didn’t like what he saw on the scoreboard above the ice at the end but called it a “classy” gesture by Habs management on it before the game.
Roy could have been seen a lot more around the Bell Centre the last couple of years, it turns out. Roy, the only player in NHL history to win three Conn Smythe Trophies in three different decades (1986, 1993 and 2001), revealed on Monday that he wanted the Canadiens' coaching job when it opened up in 2012. He said he interviewed with general manager Marc Bergevin, who chose Michel Therrien instead.
Whether the Canadiens made another giant mistake in letting Roy slip away to Denver can’t fully be judged yet. Montreal has been a playoff team under Therrien and looks to be on its way again this spring. The win over Roy’s Avalanche certainly helped.
Yet, Roy looks like a shoo-in for the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year. Despite a very young team and a defense constructed largely from discarded scrap parts from other teams, the Avs entered Wednesday one point ahead of Chicago for second place in the Central Division. A first-round matchup with the Blackhawks looks highly probable, and Colorado won four of five regular-season meetings, with goalie Semyon Varlamov going 4-0 with a .960 saves percentage.
Roy said he has used three different seasons for inspiration to get his Avs to believe in themselves, two that were very positive for him and one not so much. The two positives were the Stanley Cups he won with Montreal in 1986 and 1993, on teams that were picked by few, if any, to win it all. Then there was the 2003 playoff series Roy and the Avalanche had against the Minnesota Wild, when the Avs blew a 3-1 lead and lost in seven. It would be Roy’s final games in the NHL.
“We probably aren’t the best team in the league on paper. But one thing we are allowed to do is play hard, and I’m using that last year of my career against Minnesota,” Roy said. “Jacques Lemaire was the coach on the other side, and they had a lot less payroll than ours. But they kept going at us, even down 3-1. In ’86 and ’93, we weren’t the best teams on paper either, but we believed in ourselves. The approach we had those years, I’m showing them a lot to our players now. If we keep it positive, keep working hard, we can accomplish a lot.”
The looks on the faces of many of Roy’s players after the loss to the Canadiens resembled those of the child letting down the parent. The bond between Roy and his players is very strong, and they badly wanted to win one for their “partner”, as Roy likes to call his relationship with the players. But goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, whose likely retirement after this season prompted Roy to give him the start in his hometown, could not get it done, allowing five goals, including a couple of softies.
“I didn’t play too well. It’s disappointing,” Giguere said quietly. “We wanted to win for him.”
Not a problem, Roy said.
“I appreciate what these guys have done,” he said. “I didn’t want them to feel pressure to win a hockey game for their coach. I wanted them to go out and win one for the hockey team. It’s all about team here. I certainly don’t want to put myself ahead of the team.”
For one night anyway, that was unavoidable.
Adrian Dater has covered the NHL since 1995 for The Denver Post. Follow him on Twitter @Adater