Over the course of his 18-year professional career, Canadian hockey player Patrick Roy (born 1965) proved to himself and hockey fans everywhere his outstanding skills and instincts as a goaltender. His heroic actions to defend his team, even when ill or suffering from appendicitis, in addition to his out standing skill in front of the net made him a popular icon. When he retired from professional hockey in 2003, he left as the National Hockey League's (NHL's) all-time career leader in victories and games played as a goaltender. In addition, his playoff performances are marked by records as the goaltender with the most playoff wins, games played, minutes played, shutouts, and consecutive wins in the post season.
Patrick Roy was born on October 5, 1965, in Quebec City, in the province of Quebec in Canada. His parents lived in the nearby suburb of Sainte Foy. He came from athletic stock: his mother was a nationally ranked synchronized swimmer and his father was an accomplished tennis player and amateur baseball player. Roy grew up cheering for his home-province team, the Quebec Nordiques.
The Early Years
Roy began playing hockey at age six. He did not start out at the goal, but when one of the neighborhood kids was injured he stepped into the net and never left. When he was seven he strapped pillows to his legs with his dad's belts to create goalie pads. He eventually played goalie for local midget and junior leagues.
Roy's family was highly respected within their community, and the young hockey fan's father held high-ranking government positions. While his brother and sister both attended school in English, Roy continued his education in French and concentrated on hockey and goaltending. Most children from his neighborhood went on to college and professional careers, but in 1982 Roy dropped out of school in the eleventh grade and, with the support of his parents, played hockey for the Granby Bisons of the Quebec junior league. The team did not do well, winning only 16 of 44 games. "It was tough playing [for the Granby Bisons,]" the competitive Roy later recalled in A Breed Apart: An Illustrated History of Goaltending. "But I got a lot of work and it was a good experience. I learned to deal with the frustrations of losing and now I appreciate more the enjoyment of winning." Despite his team's record, Roy was named the Quebec Junior League's top goaltender.
Skated with the Pros
In 1984 the Montreal Canadiens chose Roy as their fourth-round pick in the 1985 National Hockey League (NHL) draft. Then 19 years old, Roy was the 51st draft pick overall. The Canadiens sent Roy to play for their American League affiliate, the Sherbrooke Canadiens, where he watched the game as a third-string goaltender. Then, during the American League playoffs, opportunity knocked on Roy's door after Sherbrooke's regular starter, Paul Pageau, took time off for the birth of his a child at the same time that the team's second-string goalie had trouble with some of his equipment. Roy joined the team on the ice in front of the net. He stayed there, winning 10 out of 13 playoff games, and Sherbrooke won the Calder Cup championship. The next fall Roy was called up to the Canadiens. "It was a dream come true, to be playing in my province and for Canada's team," he told an interviewer for Sports Illustrated for Kids.
During Roy's 1985-1986 rookie season, the Canadiens won their 23rd Stanley Cup championship. Roy had an awesome average of 1.92 goals per game during the playoffs, was voted Most Valuable Player, and won the Conn Smythe Trophy. Despite his professional performance, he still acted like a kid, playing street hockey, living in a basement apartment, and subsisting on a diet of hamburgers, French fries, and potato chips. Eventually his team brought in a nutrition expert to teach Roy to use food to fuel his body in order for him to have enough energy to last throughout the game. This may have led to Roy's routine of eating spaghetti and water at 1 p.m. on game days.
Quirks and Superstitions
Very superstitious, Roy adopted many routines that fans came to recognize. Before each game he skated out to the blue line and stared at his net, beaming thoughts to his goal posts. "I talk to my posts," he admitted in A Breed Apart. "It's a superstition. The forwards talk to each other. The defense is always close, but the goaltender is alone." He would also not skate on the blue or red lines. He wrote the names of his children on his sticks before each game and kept a puck from every shutout during the season in his locker.
Roy earned an eight-game suspension at the beginning of the 1987-1988 season for slashing the leg of Minnesota's Warren Babe. However, as soon as he was back, he impressed the crowd by shutting out Chicago 3-0. During the 1988-1989 season he won the Vezina Trophy, an award given to the goaltender playing the most games on the team with the most Goals against Average. Roy became his team's main goalie during the 1989-1990 season and played more than 50 games. He won another Vezina Trophy that year and was named to the All-Star team.
The Building of a Legend
During the early 1990s Roy slowly climbed his way back into the public's favor. By the time the 1992-1993 playoffs rolled around he recorded the most wins of any goaltender—16 of 20 games—and the lowest goals against average—2.13. He set a record with ten straight sudden-death wins, gaining immortality in Canadein lore. During game four of the Stanley Cup finals against the Los Angeles Kings, the score was tied and Tomas Sandstrom was taking multiple shots on Roy. Partway through the third period Sandstom stormed the net attempting a rebound, but Roy smothered the puck. Roy looked up at Sandstrom and winked. The TV cameras caught the wink and played it repeatedly, and it became one of the lasting pictures of the playoffs. "I knew Sandstrom was taking lots of shots, but not getting anything," Roy told a Saturday Night interviewer. "And I knew he wasn't going to beat me." Roy led the team to another Stanley Cup win and again walked away with the Conn Smythe. Montreal rewarded him with a new four-year contract for $16 million.
During the 1994 playoffs Roy became even more of a legend. He was diagnosed with appendicitis and hospitalized, but convinced his doctors to let him out of the hospital without surgery. Loaded up on antibiotics, he played in game four, stopping 39 shots and helping Montreal win 5-2. He then returned to the hospital for the surgery and was back on the ice a few days later. Roy's position on the Canadiens seemed secure.
Tantrum Led to Trade
Unfortunately for Roy, things are not always as they seem. On December 2, 1995, he became irritated with Canadiens coach Mario Tremblay after Montreal star Vincent Damphousse was allowed to play despite the fact that he showed up only minutes before warm-ups. Roy made his feelings known to Tremblay before the game. Out on the ice the Canadiens took a beating from the Detroit Red Wings, and Tremblay let Roy simmer in the net for nine goals before pulling him out late in the second period. Furious, Roy went over to Canadiens president Ronald Corey, who was seated behind the Montreal bench, and declared publicly that he had played his last game for Montreal. "The only thing I regret is raising my hands" in mock salute to fans, who had cheered sarcastically after a save, Roy explained in Sports Illustrated. "They'd been great to me. It showed a short memory on my part." His tantrum and obvious insubordination ended his career with Montreal, and he was traded to the Colorado Avalanche within four days. Roy worked well with the Avalanche, which coincidentally used to be his childhood favorite Quebec Nordiques. A few weeks after the trade the Avalanche played against the Canadiens and won. After the game Roy flipped a puck at Tremblay. "It made me feel so good. It was a mistake, but I don't regret it," Roy was quoted as saying according to Hockey's Greatest Stars. "I'm an emotional person. I let my emotions go. I know sometimes it gets me in trouble, but I know it sometimes helps me to play better too."
Six months later the Avalanche went to the 1996 Stanley Cup to play against the Florida Panthers. That year the Panther fans had taken to throwing plastic rats out onto the ice when their team scored. During the first two games, Roy only let one goal in each game. But in the third game, the Panthers scored two goals quickly, and the ice was showered with plastic rats. As the maintenance crew picked them up, Roy skated over to the Avalanche bench and told his teammates, "No more rats," according to Hockey's Greatest Stars. There was not another goal scored against Roy during the rest of the series, and the Avalanche won the cup in a triple-overtime shutout in game four.
Unique Style Proved Effective
Roy's signature style, known as the butterfly, where he kneeled on the ice with his legs at right angles to his body, is physically impossible for most mortals. His flexibility enabled him to cover the entire bottom of the net with his goalpads, reducing the number of goals scored against him. In October of 2000 Roy's technique helped him beat Terry Sawchuk's record of 447 regular-season wins to result in an all-time high. He was so entrenched in the Avalanche success story that a ceremony honoring him was held at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. The mayor announced he had named a street after Roy, and the state's governor proclaimed Patrick Roy Week. Team owner Stan Kroenke displayed a bronze bust of Roy. Perhaps the attention was too much for Roy; just 24 hours later the police were called to his home where he had lost his temper and was ripping doors off their hinges. He spent six hours in custody on charges of misdemeanor criminal mischief in connection with domestic violence. Roy was quickly back out on the ice minding the net, and in 2001 he won another Stanley Cup with the Avalanche as well as another Conn Smythe Trophy.
In May 2003 Roy retired from the NHL. He made the decision to leave the game while still playing at the top of his game. Indeed, he left the NHL with impressive records in both regular season and playoff games. His regular season records include being the goaltender with the most victories (551) and games played (1,029), and his post-season play is marked by his records as the goaltender with the most playoff wins (151), games played (247), minutes played (15,209), shutouts (23), and consecutive wins in the post season (11 in 1993).
Despite his inability to control his emotions outside the game, Roy's personality quirks seemed to help him on the ice. "His teams have always fed off his energy," Stars center Mike Modano told a contributor to Sporting News. "He's like the guy at the carnival dunking booth, daring you to dunk him. But very few can." Perhaps it all started with another of Roy's rituals: that of leading his teammates through an elaborate stick-and-glove tapping ritual before the opening face-off of every game.
Hunter, Douglas, A Breed Apart: An Illustrated History of Goaltending, Benchmark Press, 1995.
McDonnell, Chris, Hockey's Greatest Stars, Firefly Books, 1999.
The Top 100 Hockey Players of All Time, edited by Steve Dryden, Transcontinental Sports Publications, 1997.
Hockey Digest, May 2002.
Rocky Mountain News, October 29, 2000.
Saturday Night, March, 1995.
Sporting News, October 23, 2000.
Sports Illustrated, October 23, 2000.
Sports Illustrated for Kids, April 1995.
"Patrick Roy # 33," AllSports.com, http://www.allsports.com/nhl/players/Patrick-Roy.html (February 17, 2003).
"Patrick Roy Announces His Retirement," ColoradoAvalanche.com, http://www.coloradoavalanche.com/features/feature103427152126.html (June 4, 2003).