Not too long ago the greatest North American goalie to ever play the game finally closed the book on his career. It remains a dark day in many Canadiens fans memory, December, 2, 1995 the day the greatest goaltender in NHL history left the Canadiens for Colorado after a 12-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings.
A scene that replays in my mind over and over again, and as it does with many others, Roy walked past Canadiens coach Mario Tremblay to team president Ronald Corey and told him he had played his last game with the Canadiens.
The next day Roy and team mate Mike Keane were members of the Colorado Avalanche, traded for Jocelyn Thibault, Andrei Kovalenko, and Martin Rucinsky, three players who never did anything special for the Canadiens. The very next year the Avalanche won a Stanley Cup with Roy.
The Avs won once again in 2001 and Roy won the Conn Smythe as the most valuable player for his team in the playoffs for a record third time in his career, due to his great play against Martin Brodeur. Known as "The Trade” the Canadiens gave up the player who almost single handedly won them the cup in 1986 and 1993.
With Roy in nets the Canadiens surprised the league in ’86 and then again in ’93 where the Habs won a record 10 overtime playoff games, Roy won the Conn Smythe trophy both times. After the trade many Canadiens fans had rejected Roy saying that he had “betrayed” or “quit” on the team.
One thing that most people do not understand about professional sports is that for the athletes it is a job. If you do not enjoy your job and you have 29 other “companies” willing to pay you to go and work for them wouldn’t you leave as well? With his Canadiens loyalty in question, the Habs never the less decided to have Roy’s No. 33 retired this season leading up to their centennial.
With the darkest day in Canadiens history 13 years in the past, Roy, the media, the Canadiens staff and the fans themselves wondered how the “King” would be treated on November 22. Sitting in my seat just above the Desjardins boxes, right behind the Boston net, I awaited the ceremony giddy like a three year old on the first Christmas morning where he actually understood what was about to receive.
I was there to see the greatest goalie to grace the ice, the hero of millions, my hero and the reason I love hockey. The atmosphere was intense and full of nerves, with grey cup village down the street the Bell Centre was buzzing.
On the jumbotron was game five of the Stanley Cup finals in 1993, the last time the habs won the cup. When the clock hit zero, the building erupted as if we had actually won something. Unfortunately we were living in the past, wishing it was now. The video brought back memories long forgotten, of a local hero, a man who commanded a nation with his glove and drive for success, the man who brought a city and people to tears, a man who was finally going to come home.
As soon as the video finished with a team picture, and the cup in Roy’s lap, Dick Irvin’s voice came over the loud speaker and introduced to the Canadiens fans for the first time since his last game in 1995, Patrick Roy. Heads turned in every direction, mostly to the Canadiens entrance to the ice, but it was on the jumbotron once again where our attention was directed.
The de la gauchetiere entrance was on the screen, all of us in the building were still waiting for his entrance. Then the legend himself walked through the front doors for the first time in 13 years, as if nothing had happened, wearing his No. 33 Canadiens jersey looking ready to hit the ice.
Roy walked through the concourse, through the crowd and behind the bench, in the reverse order as he had done on December 2. After shaking hands with Jean Beliveau, he walked back on to Canadiens ice for the first time in over a decade, and back into the heart of millions of fans, even though he had never really left.
From the moment his face flashed on to the screen the building erupted for a six minute standing ovation, he walked onto the carpet and once again commanded all attention, as he had done during his 11 years with the Canadiens organisation.
His speech was like any other time he spoke to the media, brief but with plenty of fire and heart. He spoke about how he still hears the “foule du Canadiens” screaming after winning the cup in ’86 and ‘93. Roy thanked us, the fans for welcoming him into our hearts, as a 20-year old rookie with hopes of a Stanley Cup, which later that year he would deliver.
The most important thing he did that night was apologize in the best way that he could, for leaving on “such short notice” as he put it. He told us that he would have loved to finish his career in Montreal, and who wouldn’t believe him.
Quebec is where he was born, where he fell in love with the game, where he played, where he was drafted, where he got married, where his kids were born and where he played for as he put it “the greatest hockey team in the world le bleu-blanc et rouge.”
He spoke seemingly to every Canadiens in the world fan that he left too early explaining how the next day he was ready to put the incident behind him and return to the Montreal crease.
At the end of his speech he reminisced about “the nights we made the forum tremble and Montreal shake.” With a tear in everybody’s eye, including a full out sobbing on my part.
He finished off his speech, in a way that put closure in not only my heart, but the heart of all hockey fans, “finally tonight you welcome me back into your building and hearts, like you did when I was just 20, and yearning for success. Tonight you will allow me to have my jersey retired, and I am glad to say, that after 13 years on the road, tonight I am coming home.”
It was the perfect ending, to the perfect speech, from the man who made a career of goaltending perfection. His No. 33 was raised to the rafters next to Lafleur, Dryden, Plante, and the Richards among others, cementing his place as one of the Canadiens greats.
Walking in the tunnel towards the Canadiens dressing room, to the roar of the crowd, Roy made his last appearance in a Canadiens uniform, leaving the way he should have all those long, dark and cold December nights ago, finally the “Roi” is home.
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