Throughout their history, the Tampa Bay Lightning roster has featured players that have become known as “fan favorites”. Some of these players skated for the team at their first home, the barn at the Fairgrounds, some at the cavernous Thunderdome, and some have appeared at the team’s current home, the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
But despite the popularity of these various players, it can be said that no member of the team forged a relationship with the fans like a battling, mischievous, and emotional forward from Quebec named Andre Roy.
He arrived rather unheralded, in a trade with Ottawa that sent the forgettable Juha Ylonen to the Senators in March 2002. It wasn’t love at first sight, especially for Roy.
“I was really shocked, to be honest,” Roy said. “Things were going pretty well in Ottawa and I think the fans there were starting to like me and like my style. There were no rumors, nothing, and nothing whatsoever mentioned about a possible trade in the paper. What was good was that since I’m from Montreal, Ottawa was a two-hour drive from my home. My mom, my brothers and my friends would always come down on the weekends, which were great.”
That was about to change. Roy’s new place of business was 1,466 miles to the south.
“When the Ottawa general manager called me, I was at home about to eat dinner,” Roy said. “I remember my first reaction that I had. When you don’t expect it, it’s like a shock, so I was like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe it!’ I didn’t react, I couldn’t talk! He was just telling me what had happened and I had nothing to say. I was in shock. All I said was, ‘For real?’ He did the talking for the rest of the time. I was going to Tampa. Obviously, it’s a nice place but I remember the team was out of the playoffs and Ottawa was making the playoffs, so my mind was set for going into the playoffs and that made it a little difficult.”
Sure, Roy was thinking about getting uprooted from his home and leaving his family behind, but more than that was on his mind. Roy was worried about the climate.
“I remember with Ottawa, if we were in Tampa or even Phoenix or L.A., it’s always tough because you go outside and the heat just makes you want to sit outside and relax and enjoy the weather, but you have to go play a game,” Roy said. “Whenever I used to go play there, maybe it was because I was in Florida, I had a hard time getting myself ready for games.”
He needn’t have worried, because within two weeks his body had adjusted. What hadn’t come around yet was his mental state.
In his ninth game as a member of the Lightning, Roy tangled with Sandy McCarthy of the New York Rangers. After receiving an escorted trip to the penalty box, Roy stepped out alone and challenged McCarthy to Round 2. McCarthy, comfortably seated in the visitor’s box wasn’t biting, but the NHL took a bite out of Roy, suspending him for the remainder of the season.
“When that happened, I was still frustrated from the trade,” Roy said. “I was just pissed off at everything. He was chirping at me in the penalty box and I came charging out. That wasn’t very smart of me, but I’ve always been a guy who reacts first and regrets later.”
It was that passion that created the bond between Roy and the fans, but the hot-headedness would dog Roy throughout his career.
“If I weren’t so passionate I might not have had what I had,” Roy said, “but at the same time there are some moments that didn’t help.”
Like during the 2003 playoffs against Washington when he dumped Jeff Halpern and the Capitals scored on the ensuing power play. The Lightning coach, John Tortorella, was so upset with Roy that he sent him home; banished from the locker room. That was just one episode in the long struggle between Tortorella and Roy.
“He told me to stay home and away from the team,” Roy said. “Obviously Torts could have sat me out for Games 3 and 4 if he wanted but there was no reason that I had to stay away from the team.
“Torts is a good hockey coach, he knows the game, but he’s kind of like me because we both have that side of us that boils. The boiling temperament. Sometimes that’s why he had trouble because we were two guys alike and we both had lots of passion. When that would happen, we would get out of control.”
But Roy had a mischievous side to him, too, that his teammates and the fans loved.
Like the time during the Holiday season when he dressed up as Santa Claus and went through the locker room telling all the players that they had been bad boys, or when he helped the team overcome what could have been a disastrous defeat.
During the run to the Cup in 2004, the Lightning were in the Eastern Conference Finals with the Philadelphia Flyers, a match-up that had become a fierce battle. Tampa Bay was leading in Game 6 in Philadelphia and a win would have spelled elimination for the Flyers. With two minutes to play, Philadelphia tied the score and then won in overtime. The flight home to Tampa for Game 7 was gloomy, until Marty St. Louis called Roy over to his seat.
“Marty said to me, ‘Andre, look at all the guys, they all have long faces. You have to do something to change the mood here.”
I said, ‘I don’t know, Marty, what do you want me to do?’
Andre Roy smiles after the victory over the Calgary Flames in Game seven of the NHL Stanley Cup Finals on June 7, 2004. (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images)
“Do something funny,” St. Louis said. “You’re good at it.”
So Andre went to the back of the plane and asked the flight attendant for an apron, went into the bathroom, took off all his clothes and put the apron on.
“It was all wide open and you could see my behind,” Roy said. “From the front, the apron came over my knees.”
Thus attired, Roy grabbed a tray of cookies and took off down the aisle.
“Would you like to care for a cookie?” he asked in a high-pitched voice.
“Everybody was cracking up and it helped guys forget about the loss. Everything became fun afterwards. It broke the moment from losing the game. Marty was giggling and giving me the high five.”
But life with Tortorella as his coach wasn’t always so much fun for Roy, and after the lockout, he moved on and signed a three-year deal to join the Pittsburgh Penguins.
But his time in Pittsburgh didn’t work out as Roy had hoped. The team rarely won and Roy just as rarely saw ice time.
His second season with the Penguins didn’t begin much better and, after playing five games, Roy sat out as a healthy scratch for the next 15. Then, he was told that he was going back to Tampa.
“When I returned to Tampa early in 2006, I was so happy,” Roy said. “Every player has a place where they are comfortable to play, and for me that was Tampa.”
But there was still the ongoing battle between Tortorella and Roy, and late in the 2008 season, the simmering tension boiled over again.
During a game in Philadelphia, Roy and Riley Cote battled in the opening period and then again midway through the second, when Cote decked Roy with one punch.
“I was mad. I remember the locker room in Philly between periods, the guys told me to forget about it, but I knew they were saying that just to keep my spirits high,” Roy said. “I was pissed and wanted a rematch. Torts saw that and he didn’t want me on the ice, so I sat on the bench. For the rest of the game, they were showing the replay of the fight, so that really got me going. Then the fans were saying all kinds of stuff to me over the glass.”
By the third period, Roy was seething and standing on the bench, making throat-slitting gestures at Cote. He finally had to be physically restrained by Tortorella, who grabbed Roy by the shoulders and shoved him back onto the bench.
That was the last straw for Tortorella, who sent Roy home and told him to stay there for the rest of the season.
“That hurt my reputation. Every team thought I was trouble, but I wasn‘t that way,” Roy said. “I never had any problem, I’m just a passionate guy. I always wanted to do good for fans, for teammates and for myself. That’s the way I am.”
But his time in Tampa was over.
Roy played on the next season, landing a roster spot with the Calgary Flames, but tendon surgery on his elbow ended his playing career after the 2009 season.
For a player as passionate as Roy, giving up the game wasn’t easy.
“Retiring was really, really hard,” Roy said. “This is my third year now, but the first year was really hard. I didn’t do anything all year. All I did was think and think and reflect on my career and things I might have done wrong. I questioned myself a lot. I didn’t even watch the game. I’d watch some highlights sometimes, but it seems like watching would piss me off. In my mind I still believed I could have helped a team. It was just a matter of getting my confidence back, finding a team and a coach that would appreciate me.”
Today, Roy is a commentator on the RDS Network in Montreal, a French-speaking version of ESPN. He appears twice weekly, compiling Top Ten lists and blooper reels. He also makes up satirical songs on his guitar about the events of the week in hockey.
“People sent e-mails that they wanted more so the producer of the show asked me to keep doing that,” Roy said. “I bring some humor, because there isn’t much. The show has all these analysts, but people like the humor.”
Roy also does color commentary for the Blaineville Armada in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
He enjoys the television work, but not as much as he enjoyed playing hockey in Tampa Bay.
“Still sometimes I would love to play with Marty (St. Louis) and Vinny (Lecavalier). Sometimes I see myself jumping on the ice in Tampa, with the crowd going nuts. The fans in Tampa were great. They chanted “We Want Roy!” and I never ever will forget that. You have no idea how much that made me proud. I want to salute and thank the fans for that.”
“The enforcers never have a first or second star of the game,” he added. “You don’t get a credit in a game. Sometimes a fight might have changed the whole momentum of a game. So to have the fans chanting “We Want Roy,” that, for me, was one of the highlights of my career. To have a full building yelling your name. You know you are doing good and the fans appreciate you. For me, I’ll never forget it. I loved it.”