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Roy reigns as NHL's greatest goalie

Sunday, 11.16.2008 / 11:00 AM / History

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

In the litany of French-Canadian goaltenders, the name Daniel Bouchard might not immediately spring to mind.

But it was Bouchard -- not Jacques Plante, Bernie Parent or any of the other legends that have come out of la belle provence -- who had the biggest influence over the man who became arguably the best netminder ever produced by Quebec, Patrick Roy.

Roy will have the latest honor in a career filled with them Nov. 22, when the Montreal Canadiens raise his No. 33 to the rafters at the Bell Centre (7:30 p.m. ET, CBC, RDS, NESN).

Roy played 19 seasons with the Canadiens and Colorado Avalanche, and when he retired in 2003, he left with his place firmly etched in the record books. Roy became the first goalie to play 1,000 games (1,029) and win 500 games (551). He also set playoff goaltending records for games played (247), wins (151) and shutouts (23).

Roy won three Conn Smythe trophies, three Vezina trophies and five Jennings trophies, and he was named to 11 All-Star Games. But to Roy, only one thing stands out from his career.

"It's the four Stanley Cups," he told NHL.com. "That's what you're playing for. The first one in Montreal will always be very special because that's the one that gave me the start, the confidence."

Growing up in Quebec City, Roy was a fan of the Nordiques, and he especially was enamored by their netminder, Bouchard.

"I had two idols," Roy told NHL.com. "Daniel Bouchard, he was the goalie for the Quebec Nordiques at the time. He was someone that I was looking at. I had also the opportunity to meet him one year, I had a chance to talk to him and ask him questions and stuff like this. It was fun talking to him. It really became a source of motivation for myself. And also, I like the way he was playing. He had a mix of butterfly and standup, and the only thing I wanted to change was more challenging the shooters. Rogie Vachon would come out and challenge the shooters. I tried to use that."

He put the full package together for the 1985-86 season. He became the first goalie in League history to win 20 games as a 20-year-old, and then backstopped the Canadiens to a five-game Stanley Cup Final win against the Calgary Flames. After allowing five goals in a loss in Game 1, Roy held the Flames to just eight goals in the next four games, including a 1-0 shutout in Game 4.

Roy also skated off with the Conn Smythe Trophy, becoming the youngest player in League history to win the award.

He guided the Canadiens to the Wales Conference Finals the following season, and back to the Cup Final in 1989, where the Canadiens lost in a rematch with the Flames.

"This is a true story: We were sitting on the plane around the All-Star break and there were only a few guys on the plane and they needed a card player. I went back and joined the game so they could fill it out. Right in the middle of the game, Patrick says, 'You know Joel, we're going to win the Cup this year.' I said, 'What?' He said, 'We're going to win the Cup.' I looked at him and didn't say another word. He didn't say another word, either. We left it at that. I didn't ask him to explain himself, but we won the Cup, so what can I say? We all believe we're going to win it, but he was saying we would do it."
-- Joel Quenneville on Patrick Roy

While that season might not have ended the perfect way, Roy won his first Vezina Trophy after winning 33 games and posting a League-best 2.47 goals-against average and a League-leading.908 save percentage.

In 1990, Roy became the first netminder to repeat as Vezina winner since 1982, when the League's GMs began voting on the award (rather than awarding the trophy to the goaltender from the team that allowed the fewest goals). He posted League-highs of 31 wins and a .912 save percentage, and his 2.53 GAA was second.

In 1992, he won 36 games and posted League-best marks of a 2.36 GAA, .914 save percentage and five shutouts to win the Vezina for the third time.

While he was achieving personal success, team goals were lagging. The Canadiens had finished first or second in the Adams Division in each of Roy's first seven seasons, but they had lost in the division final four of the previous five seasons heading into the 1992-93 campaign.

Roy put that behind him in the 1993 Stanley Cup Playoffs. After a 4-1 loss to the Quebec Nordiques in Game 2 of the Adams Division semifinal April 20, 1993, Roy and the Canadiens wouldn't lose for almost a month, as Roy tied a League record with 11 straight playoff wins. A remarkable seven of those wins came in overtime, including the final three games of a four-game sweep of the Buffalo Sabres in the Adams Division Finals.

Roy went 16-4 with a 2.13 GAA as he guided the Canadiens past the Islanders in the conference finals and then to a five-game Stanley Cup triumph against Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings. Roy won three more overtime games, bringing his total to a League-record 10 in one postseason. He was a no-brainer choice for his second Conn Smythe Trophy.

In beating Gretzky's Kings, Canadiens coach Jacques Demers called Roy "the greatest goalie in National Hockey League history."

That was his last shining moment with the Canadiens, as a dispute with management led to the unthinkable -- on Dec. 6, 1995, Patrick Roy was traded to the Colorado Avalanche. In return, the Canadiens received goaltender Jocelyn Thibault and forwards Andrei Kovalenko and Martin Rucinsky.

The Avalanche gained an angry player ready to show that at age 30, he still had some of his best hockey ahead of him.

Not that there weren't nerves. Even for Roy, going to a new place was a scary proposition.

"I was lucky to be traded with Mike Keane, who was a very good friend and a person that I really appreciate a lot," said Roy. "I remember when we were flying to Denver, he said, 'Patrick, be yourself and people will like you.' He was always able to give me the right words."

 
The Avalanche already had star players Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg; Roy provided the missing championship swagger.

"This is the Cup," Pierre Lacroix, then the Colorado GM (and Roy's one-time agent), told reporters at the time. "This is a man that will make Colorado a champion."

"The day we acquired him we all felt pretty excited about the trade and what he could do for our team," Joel Quenneville, then an Avalanche assistant coach, told NHL.com. "We had a young team with a lot of ability. He changed the mindset.

"This is a true story: We were sitting on the plane around the All-Star break and there were only a few guys on the plane and they needed a card player. I went back and joined the game so they could fill it out. Right in the middle of the game, Patrick says, 'You know Joel, we're going to win the Cup this year.' I said, 'What?' He said, 'We're going to win the Cup.' I looked at him and didn't say another word. He didn't say another word, either. We left it at that. I didn't ask him to explain himself, but we won the Cup, so what can I say? We all believe we're going to win it, but he was saying we would do it."

Roy proved prophetic, going 16-6 with a 2.10 GAA and three shutouts in the postseason as the Avalanche won the franchise's first Stanley Cup.

During his career, Roy was known for his brashness, which was personified during that 1996 playoff run. During a second-round series against the Chicago Blackhawks, he capped a trash-talking exchange with Jeremy Roenick by saying, "I can't really hear what Jeremy says, because I've got my two Stanley Cup rings plugging my ear."

He added a third ring in the Avs' four-game sweep of the Panthers in the 1996 Final. He allowed just four goals in four games, including a 1-0, 63-save, triple-overtime clincher in Game 4.

"I never get tired of this," Roy told reporters that night. "Never. This is such a great moment for myself and the team. This is what you play the game for. Now, everybody on this team who hadn't won one and didn't know that before knows what it feels like."

They would get the same feeling in 2001. Roy won a career-best 40 games in the regular season, and on the way passed Terry Sawchuk's League mark of 447 wins. He guided the Avs back to the Stanley Cup Final, where he faced the New Jersey Devils and a French-Canadian goalie who had grown up idolizing him -- the Devils' Martin Brodeur.

With the Devils, the defending Cup champions, holding a 3-2 series lead, Roy shut out New Jersey at the Meadowlands in Game 6, and then backstopped a win in Denver in Game 7.

He posted a personal-best 1.70 GAA, a .934 save percentage and four shutouts in the run to the championship, and he became the first player to win three Conn Smythe trophies.
"Patrick game after game kept coming, kept giving us a chance, kept giving us a reason to believe that we would win that Stanley Cup" -- Bob Hartley
"Patrick game after game kept coming, kept giving us a chance, kept giving us a reason to believe that we would win that Stanley Cup," Avalanche coach Bob Hartley told reporters that night. "That Conn Smythe, he deserves it. In my mind, he was the only one that could win it."

Roy played two more seasons, helping the Avs win two more Northwest Division titles, and along the way he became the first goalie to play 1,000 games, on Jan. 22, 2003.

His final game came in a Game 7 overtime loss to the Minnesota Wild in the first round of the 2003 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Roy announced his retirement May 28, 2003, and during the press conference, he was asked by a reporter if during his career there was any player he feared coming in on a breakaway. As a fitting answer, Roy said, "I would have to be honest with you -- there's none."

Roy was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2006, his first year of eligibility. The Avalanche retired Roy's No. 33 sweater Oct. 28, 2003, and he will become the sixth player to have his number retired by two teams -- joining Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky, Ray Bourque and Mark Messier -- when the Canadiens retire his No. 33 on Nov. 22.

Beside the jersey retirement, Roy is back in the news because of Brodeur's assault on his records prior to his elbow injury. It renewed talk over who the best goaltender in League history is.

"I think this is more for other people than me to think about," Roy said of his place in the game. "I felt that I emptied the tank and I did whatever I could to perform at the highest level that I could. My place in history is more for the fans and people and reporters to talk about it and say who's where."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com.
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