The knock-the-chip-off-my-shoulder, double-dare-you grin is
back, the massive ego leavened with an impishness that makes
Patrick Roy of the Colorado Avalanche the winningest playoff
goalie of his generation in both personality and numbers. Roy
needs to swagger, at least in that understated hockey player
sort of way, but for a while after he was acquired from the
Montreal Canadiens in a blockbuster deal on Dec. 6, he kept any
cockiness under wraps. On his worst nights, playing behind a
gifted yet sometimes distracted Avalanche team, he seemed to
have misplaced his swagger along with his reflexes. Now with the
Stanley Cup in sight--Colorado had a 3-2 series lead over the
Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference finals after the
Wings' 5-2 home victory on Monday night at Joe Louis Arena--Roy
is again delightfully insufferable.
You could see it coming. After shutting out the Vancouver
Canucks in Game 3 of the first round, Roy mentioned to a
television interviewer that his father had given him some tips
to help solve a recent problem he has had with concentration.
"What tips?" the interviewer asked.
"Can you keep a secret?" Roy said.
"Yes," the man replied with Connie Chung disingenuousness.
"Well," Roy said, "so can I."
Good Roy, but not classic Roy. Even if you're a two-time playoff
MVP, that caliber of smart-aleck repartee doesn't get you the
chair next to Letterman. Roy broke out some of his best material
in the second round when he engaged Chicago Blackhawks center
Jeremy Roenick in a verbal battle. Roy scored a quick TKO when
he said he couldn't hear Roenick's quips because he had his two
Stanley Cup rings plugging his ears.
Roy also showed his old self after Detroit's 6-4 thrashing of
Colorado in Game 3, in which he couldn't have caught a cold in
net. The nightmare began when Red Wings forward Darren McCarty
scored on a blind wraparound that inexplicably slithered between
Roy's pads, ending his shutout streak at 101:20. After Colorado
had closed the gap to 5-4 at the end of the second period by
scoring twice in seven seconds, Roy made an even more egregious
blunder on defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom's 62-foot blast early in
the third. That shot was launched from behind the blue line, the
hockey equivalent of an NBA half-court heave. The puck dipped on
Roy, but when any object has to travel that far, gravity is sure
to have an effect. The sorry evening could have made Roy morose,
but he was amiable and chatty after practice the next afternoon.
And sure enough, that night he stopped 30 shots in a 4-2
Avalanche victory that moved him into second place in career
playoff wins, with 81, seven behind the New York Islanders'
Billy Smith. "I knew after [Game 3] that I would have a good
game today," said Roy.
"Maybe he didn't get his cockiness back until after the
Vancouver series, but he's really starting to show it now,"
Colorado defenseman Craig Wolanin said after Game 4. "Patrick
knows how to handle himself. He knows how to play this game, on
and off the ice."
Certainly the Avalanche-Red Wings series offered enough
sideshows to keep Roy and everyone else amused. For starters,
Detroit coach Scotty Bowman provided a good measure of hockey as
circus. Bowman, the maestro of minutiae, moaned about the
strange caroms off the Plexiglas behind the net at Denver's
McNichols Arena even though new Plexiglas and boards had been
installed, at a cost of $500,000, in April. Then he bellyached
that the visitors' bench was set too close to the boards, which
didn't allow his players enough legroom to jump on and off the
ice easily. After Game 3 Bowman even took his hectoring to the
parking lot, where, from the open door of Detroit's team bus, he
screamed at Colorado's pot-stirring forward Claude Lemieux, who
had thrown a sneaky rabbit punch at Detroit left wing Slava
Kozlov during a first-period scrum.
Lemieux was carrying his two-month-old son, Brendan, and walking
with his wife, Deborah, when Bowman spewed his invective.
Lemieux, whose sense of honor is as genuine as it is
exaggerated, was outraged by the verbal assault in front of his
family outside the designated battleground. "That was totally
out of proportion," he said. "Everyone is entitled to their
private life." In the chivalrous Denver press there were howls
of outrage over Bowman's gauche attack--spare the women and
Then again Lemieux is not exactly Miss Manners. He was hit with
a one-game suspension, served in Game 4, for that punching of
Kozlov, and his bad-boy reputation probably contributed to his
banishment. By comparison, Kozlov smashed Colorado defenseman
Adam Foote's face into the Plexiglas in Game 3, opening a geyser
in his forehead that took 20 stitches to close--talk about your
bad blood--yet was neither penalized nor suspended.
Avalanche coach Marc Crawford wasn't about to let his squeaky
voice be drowned out by Bowman. At a press conference on Friday,
several hours before the NHL announced Lemieux's suspension,
Crawford, voice cracking, said, "[Bowman] is a great thinker,
but he thinks so much that you even get the plate in his head
causing interference on our headsets during the game."
Even though the Colorado coaches had indeed been having
difficulty with their headsets--not that they were picking up
the St. Louis Cardinals game on KMOX or anything--Crawford's
crack was as boorish as it was unoriginal. Crawford said he had
once heard former Florida coach Roger Neilson use a variation of
it at a roast for Bowman, whose career was ended in junior
hockey in 1951 when his skull was fractured with a stick,
necessitating the metal plate.
"When I heard what he said about Scotty Bowman," said Crawford's
wife, Helene, "I told him, 'I hope you're sleeping in the hotel
"I'm sure the Red Wings expected us to be good little boys and
just take it from Bowman, but we couldn't let them get away with
it," Crawford said last Friday. His outburst wasn't a coaching
meltdown but rather a tactical ploy designed to take pressure
off his team. It was as carefully constructed as the Avalanche
The team was in its final days as the Quebec Nordiques when it
was upset by the New York Rangers in the first round of last
year's playoffs. That series loss bared some gaping holes that
general manager Pierre Lacroix soon set about filling. For sheer
nasty postseason head-banging, he traded for Lemieux, the 1995
playoff MVP with the New Jersey Devils, who personifies
fingernails dragged across a blackboard. For the power play he
acquired, from the San Jose Sharks, Sandis Ozolinsh, who is
playing like a young Paul Coffey and through Monday was the
leading defenseman in playoff scoring with five goals and 15
points. In the Roy deal Lacroix picked up forward Mike Keane to
improve the team's checking, but last week Keane showed he can
do more than that, scoring the winning goal in Colorado's 3-2
overtime victory against Detroit in Game 1. "On ESPN
SportsCenter that night they called it a flutterball," Keane
said of his game-winner. "All I know is that with the Fox puck,
my shot turned red on the screen. The puck turns red if it
reaches a certain speed, right? The shot wasn't pink. The shot
wasn't white. It was red."
But Roy was the pivotal acquisition, obtained to give the
Avalanche je ne sais quoi, which is French for "huge saves in
the spring." He was a big man in Montreal, too big for some. The
incident that got him traded--his tantrum after Canadiens coach
Mario Tremblay left him in for nine Red Wings goals in an
embarrassing 11-1 loss last Dec. 2--might merely have been the
goalie expressing his inner child, but there was some opinion
that the inner child was overdue for a spanking. In April,
Canadiens defenseman Lyle Odelein said that trading Roy, who had
had a relatively free rein under former Montreal coach Jacques
Demers, had improved team chemistry.
The Avalanche players were delighted to have a veteran with
Roy's portfolio join the team, but at the time of the trade
Colorado goalie Stephane Fiset had been playing splendidly. The
transition was awkward for everyone. "During the regular season
I don't think Patrick played that well," said Wolanin last week.
"Of course, I don't think we played defense in front of him as
well as the Montreal teams had, either. But at no time were any
people in this dressing room questioning the trade. We were very
comfortable in front of Steph, but we also became very
comfortable in front of Patrick."
Roy adjusted, too. After six weeks the idea of playing in a city
where he wasn't public property began to appeal to him.
Lidstrom's long-distance shot in Game 3 was simply a bad goal,
not a calamity. When Roy let in Cam Neely's 65-footer against
the Boston Bruins in the 1991 playoffs, he says he heard about
it all summer--and that was from Serge Savard, then the
Canadiens' general manager.
"That's why you knew Patrick would bounce back after the bad
game," Colorado goalie coach Jacques Cloutier said. "He's so
strong mentally. Playing 10 years for the Montreal Canadiens,
you had better be strong mentally. All he went through, 12
months a year. It wasn't eight months. It wasn't like he was
going home for the summer. He was home."
Now home is a place where the fans chant his name even if they
can't quite pronounce it, where there is giddy novelty in the
chase for hockey's hardware. The playoff style of the Avalanche
is also new--it is still an explosive team, but it has a
commitment to defense that is as sudden as it is solid.
Roy didn't have to reinvent himself. He just had to find the old
Roy, the one who winked at Los Angeles Kings forward Tomas
Sandstrom during a game in the 1993 Stanley Cup finals, the one
who knew overtime belonged to him, the one who had audacity. If
Colorado wins the Cup, Bart Simpson plays him in the animated
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID E. KLUTHO Against Detroit, Roy has regained the swagger that helped win two Stanley Cups. [Patrick Roy]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID E. KLUTHO As McCarty and Jon Klemm can attest, the series became a rock-'em, sock-'em affair in Game 3. [Jon Klemm and Darren McCarty]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID E. KLUTHO Joe Sakic, the playoffs' leading goal-scorer, slipped one past Chris Osgood in Colorado's Game 2 win. [Chris Osgood attempting to stop goal by Joe Sakic]