By Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press on January 25, 2024.
MONTREAL – Patrick Roy said he didn’t want Thursday night’s game to be about him, but few hockey legends mean as much to Montreal as “Saint Patrick” himself.
Roy, hired as head coach of the New York Islanders on Saturday after over seven years outside the NHL’s spotlight, returned to the city where he dominated in the crease for a decade as his team took on the Montreal Canadiens.
“I think everybody in Montreal knows how much I love them and how much respect I have for this organization,” Roy said. “But at the same time, we’re here to win a hockey game.”
The Islanders cancelled their morning skate Thursday because Roy didn’t want any distractions for his players.
“I want it to be about the Islanders,” he said.
The Hall of Fame goalie instead held a press conference just after 4 p.m. ET – where a packed room of media members was on hand to ask him questions.
Roy backstopped the storied Canadiens to their 23rd and 24th Stanley Cups – their last two in franchise history – first as a 20-year-old rookie in 1986, then as a three-time goalie of the season well on his way to a legendary career in 1993.
In both instances, Roy earned the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
“I have always a lot of respect for Patrick, as a young (kid), I mean I was born in 75, Patrick came in 86 I believe, so I saw the 86-93 Cups,” Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis, who grew up in nearby Laval, Que., told reporters Wednesday. “He was kind of the backbone of the franchise for a long time.”
The 58-year-old Roy, from Quebec City, is perhaps the biggest icon among living former Canadiens, having carried the torch from the strong line of Québécois franchise greats that includes Maurice Richard, Jean Beliveau and Guy Lafleur.
While Roy tried his best to treat Thursday as any other game for his team, it was anything but for the Canadiens.
The team store was refreshed with No. 33 jerseys and memorabilia, with one of hockey’s most passionate fan bases ready to erupt for his homecoming.
“Regular Bell Centre atmosphere. I mean, is it going to be cranked up a notch because of Patrick coming back? My guess is yes,” St. Louis said.
Known for his fiery personality, Roy famously demanded a trade out of Montreal from the team’s bench after he was left in net for nine goals in an eventual 11-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Dec. 2, 1995.
He was traded four days later to the Colorado Avalanche, where he won two more Stanley Cups and another Conn Smythe before retiring after the 2002-03 season.
Roy joined Richard, Beliveau and other legends in the Bell Centre rafters in 2008 when the Canadiens retired his No. 33.
“Whether it’s Montreal or Colorado, when you’ve won two Stanley Cups in each of those cities, (coming back) always signifies something important,” Roy said in perhaps his only moment recognizing the magnitude of the occasion.
“I’ve had the pleasure of seeing my jersey retired in Montreal and Colorado, so it’s definitely fun to be in these environments.”
He returned to the NHL as head coach of the Avalanche from 2013 to 2016, when he abruptly resigned citing a lack of input in player personnel decisions.
Between NHL gigs, he coached the Quebec Maritimes Junior Hockey League’s Quebec Remparts, winning a Memorial Cup last year.
Then came a chance to replace Lane Lambert as head coach of the Islanders and work under longtime executive Lou Lamoriello.
“When we had our conversation, I was in,” Roy said of Lamoriello. “I really love his thinking, I really love his passion.
“I think he just wanted me to be able to coach my game, and I appreciate that so much.”
Roy says he received a phone call from Lamoriello on Friday that he would be hired and flew to Montreal. He then drove to New York on Saturday before coaching his first game that night, a 3-2 overtime win over the Dallas Stars.
The Islanders were 1-1-0 under Roy heading into Thursday night, and two points behind the Eastern Conference playoff cutline with a 20-16-11 record on the season.
His focus was on erasing that gap.
“My focus is a lot more on the game than everything else, like I told the players, it’s not a game that concerns me, it’s a game that concerns the team,” Roy said. “Right now we’re in a fight to make the playoffs, for us it’s a four-point game, so we want to have our focus on the game.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2024.