Love him or hate him, Roy deserves CH honour



The name is Patrick Roy.

In this town, that's all you have to say to start an argument.

He is the last superstar. The player who defined his team for nearly a decade. The larger-than-life hero whose every tick (and he had more than a hound dog) was copied by 10-year-old goaltenders from Repentigny to Rimouski.

And now, his No. 33 will be going up to the rafters at the Phone Booth on Nov. 22. Is he deserving? In statistical terms, of course he is. Despite all the gaudy numbers put up by one of the half-dozen greatest goaltenders in the history of the

National Hockey League, there is only one that matters: Four Stanley Cups.

This was not accomplished in the days when a team could reel off four or five straight championships. Roy won twice with decidedly so-so teams in Montreal, the first time when he was roughly the same age as Carey Price when the latter couldn't take the playoff pressure this past spring. Roy backed up better teams in Colorado, but he was playing in the rough-and-tumble Western Conference with brutal travel schedules and such rivals as the Dallas Stars and Detroit Red Wings.

So there is no argument about the career. Despite the storms in the QMJHL, for most fans, that isn't the problem, either.

No, it all comes down to that night, one of the most infamous in the history of the Canadiens. The night Mario Tremblay left Roy in for nine goals against the Red Wings, allowing (we might almost say encouraging) the humiliation of his superstar.

After the Canadiens announced last week that they are retiring Roy's number, the clip aired endless times on RDS: Pulled at least three goals too late, Roy leaves the ice after flipping the flying fickle finger of fate at the once-adoring crowd that was raining boos on his head. He strides past Tremblay behind the bench and if looks were daggers, both men would have been cut to pieces on the spot.

Roy starts to go to his spot on the bench, turns, walks past Tremblay again, leans over to say something to Habs president Ronald Corey, passes Tremblay again and sits, fuming. What he said, of course, was: "I have played my last game for the Canadiens."

And he had. His trade to the Colorado Avalanche a few days later would help Pierre Lacroix engineer a Rocky Mountain dynasty, while marking the beginning of a decade in the wilderness for the most legendary franchise in hockey. Under the leadership of Corey, inexperienced GM Réjean Houle and the hot-tempered Tremblay, the Canadiens would go into a downward spiral that would not really be reversed until Bob Gainey stepped in to rebuild on a solid foundation laid down by André Savard.

All that is pretty much in the history books, or at least on YouTube. The question is not what happened, but who was to blame and whether or not Roy's actions that night should disqualify him from membership in what might be the most select fraternity in hockey: to join the 14 legends whose numbers have been retired by the CH.

Did Roy turn his back on the Habs that night? Or did the organization, acting in the person of M. Tremblay, turn its back on him? How you see that question probably determines how you feel about the Canadiens decision and a retirement ceremony that will not be as universally celebrated as those honouring Boom-Boom Geoffrion, Yvan Cournoyer, Dickie Moore, Serge Savard, Ken Dryden, Larry Robinson and Gainey.

When I wrote a series on my Top 10 sports heroes a couple of years back and included Roy at No. 10, I received what might have been a record number of emails. And they were split right down the middle: half the readers were enraged that I had chosen Roy, half were delighted.

I would imagine the reaction to the news that his jersey will be retired was pretty much the same. As troubled as I have been by some of Roy's actions in junior hockey, however, my opinion on the events surrounding his departure from the Canadiens 13 years ago has not changed.

A hot-tempered adolescent himself, Roy was driven out of town by another hot-tempered adolescent in the person of Tremblay. Tremblay had been in the job less than two months at the time, brought down from the press box in what might have been the single most bone-headed decision in the club's history.

Tremblay had a chip on his shoulder the size of Mount Royal and a bitter grudge against Roy. He thought that Jacques Demers (whose firing led to Tremblay's hiring) had coddled his superstar goalie, which was true.

Tremblay came into the job without a thought in his head, except to act as a cheerleader and to bring Roy down a peg or three. The two clashed even before Tremblay took over, nearly coming to blows in a Long Island, N.Y., coffee shop the day before Tremblay was named as the Canadiens new coach. When Tremblay held his first meeting with his team in the dressing room, Roy snickered. Tremblay a coach? What a joke.

It was a joke, and a bad one at that. In practice, Tremblay fired a puck at Roy's throat. A no-no for a player, a bigger no-no for a coach. Tremblay was a competitor every bit as fiery as Roy himself, but without a fraction of Roy's talent and it plainly galled him to see all the attentioned showered on Roy, when they were teammates and later, when Tremblay was in the broadcast booth.

Then came that infamous game against Detroit. The humiliation was deliberate, outrageous behaviour for a coach. The wonder is that Roy didn't go after Tremblay with his stick when he left the ice.

I don't think Roy saw his departure at all as himself vs. the Canadiens, or that he felt he was turning his back on La Sainte Flanelle. It was personal. It was between him and Tremblay, and he was not going to be publicly humiliated by that joke of a coach.

Call it as you want. In my view, there are more troubling incidents in Roy's past than that one. But if it comes down to his actions on Dec. 2, 1995, the greater portion of the blame has to be assessed to Tremblay.

Saint Patrick he is not. Not even close. But given the malicious role the asinine Tremblay played in compelling Roy's departure, it's time for the Canadiens to honour the last of their truly great players. Welcome home, Patrick.

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