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Roy returns to the Joe

by Dana Wakiji / Detroit Red Wings
Darren McCarty was one of the central figures in the Wings-Avalanche rivalry. (Photo by Getty Images)

DETROIT -- For Patrick Roy, it was like old times putting on the pads and getting between the pipes at Joe Louis Arena.

Of course, Roy is now in his third season as the coach of the Colorado Avalanche and no longer the star goaltender.

Roy and Avalanche executive vice president/general manager Joe Sakic did a little practicing Friday morning as their team was not on the ice after playing Thursday night in Ottawa.

Both Roy and Sakic are playing in the Stadium Series Alumni Game at Denver's Coors Field on Feb. 26.

"Joe looked good," Roy said. "We had fun. We just enjoyed being there and to me it's fun to be at Joe Louis Arena, it brings a lot of memories. I try not going in the center ice but stay more in the crease this time."

Roy was recalling his feistier days when he brawled with both Mike Vernon and Chris Osgood at the height of the Colorado-Detroit rivalry in the late 1990s.

Many of the key players from the rivalry will play in the Alumni Game, including Darren McCarty, Kris Draper and Claude Lemieux.

"I think we're all excited about it," Roy said. "I think it's more seeing the guys. When you win the Cup, win Stanley Cups with these guys, I think it brings great memories as a group but also, there was a great rivalry with the Red Wings. It's nice to see them as well. There's a lot of respect from both teams."

Roy may be excited but he doesn't expect to be able to live up to his playing days from the rivalry.

"I have to work in close," Roy said. "The long shots I'm fine, it's the in-close plays that I struggle with. I mean, obviously I'm about 30 pounds heavier than my last game. It's tougher but hey, I'm not going to play in the NHL, I'm going to play like, retired game."

The Avalanche beat the Wings in the Western Conference final en route to winning the Cup in 1996, the year that Lemieux's hit on Draper drew the ire of every Red Wings fan.

The Wings defeated the Avalanche in the Western Conference final in 1997 on their way to their first Stanley Cup in 42 years.

There was no love lost between the two teams but things have mellowed a bit in the last 20 years.

"Even if on the ice was war, I mean, today it's over and we all respect each other because we know that we all gave our best and we pushed hard and we tried to win," Roy said. "It was a big prize, the Stanley Cup."

The Wings and Avalanche are now in different conferences and both are fighting to reach the playoffs.

The Wings are currently fifth in the Eastern Conference, tied with the New York Islanders and Boston Bruins with 64 points.

The Avalanche are seventh in the Western Conference, tied with the Anaheim Ducks with 60 points.

The Wings are 31-9-7 against the Avalanche since the 2002-03 season, including the four-game sweep in 2008 in the conference semifinals.

With the Wings in the East, Roy hasn't followed them as much but he is aware of Wings goaltender Petr Mrazek, who leads the league in goals-against average at 1.94 and save percentage at .934.

"I don’t know him very much but I’d say that the games I have watched, I mean, he’s been really good," Roy said. "I watched against the Panthers and he was really good, against Ottawa played a strong game. No, he seems to bring a lot of confidence to the team and they seem to be very happy with him."

Wings coach Jeff Blashill was a goaltender who grew up watching Roy.

"Patrick Roy is certainly one of the best goalies, probably in the history of the NHL and certainly of the generation that I grew up in," Blashill said. "He probably helped change the game in a lot of ways for goaltenders. The one thing that I always thought, he changed the game in the sense that he filled net better probably than people prior to him. He was able to make himself bigger and learned how to play a style that really took away lots of net, which I think in turn increased the save percentage in the league.

"When I played, an .88, save percentage was OK, .90 was great and now it's .93 that's great. So at .88 you don't keep a job. He certainly changed it that way. The other thing I'd say is I always thought and you still see it in his coaching now is his competitiveness seemed to be off the charts. He seems to be an extraordinarily competitive person. I don't know him at all. But certainly as a goaltender, he was somebody that I had lots of respect for."

Although Blashill never played in the NHL, he is now Roy's coaching peer.

"He’s having a lot of success, I mean, he’s been doing a really good job for the Red Wings, I mean, it’s not easy to replace a coach like (Mike) Babcock who did so well here for so long," Roy said. "He seems to adapt and adjust really well."

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