You don’t often get a good look at what might have been, let alone watch it skate around in a warm-up suit.
In his home province, among fans of the NHL team that gave him his start, Colorado Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy can be thought of in quantum terms; he embodies the alternate, somewhat idealized, reality.
Except that he’s right there, on the Bell Centre ice, standing in a coach’s warm-up outfit, emitting piercing whistles to start and halt drills (he does this with his lips, unlike almost every other coach in hockey, Roy doesn’t use an actual whistle).
There he is again, striding into a press conference room at the Bell Centre and taking up position behind the podium.
The man who polls indicated was the overwhelming fan’s choice to coach the Montreal Canadiens – a team he had fallen out with, badly, before a centennial-season reconciliation – is back in town behind another team’s bench. (The Avs and Habs play Tuesday.)
“I was trying not think about it too much. … I’ve asked the players all season to stay focused on what we’re doing, to not worry about the past or the future, so I have to follow my own advice,” said Roy, who has revealed himself as a turnaround artist.
The Avs, 29th-best in the NHL last year, fired out of the blocks with a 12-1 start and stand fifth overall prior to Monday’s games.
So what’s the secret sauce?
“The attitude, I’d say. Everyone has to come to work, but at the same time, it’s loose,” veteran goalie Jean-Sébastien Giguère said. “Patrick also lets guys play, they can mostly do what they want in the offensive zone, as long as they come back to our end there’s no problem.”
Roy’s appearance was the lazy hack’s delight: Quebec’s own St. Patrick returning on March 17, holding a 26-minute press conference where he was engaging, funny, not even a little spiky, from the very spot where Habs counterpart Michel Therrien makes his postgame remarks (the Avs took care to set up their own backdrop).
Febrile feelings again envelop the Canadiens home rink, on the 59th anniversary of the Richard Riot, no less.
This stuff writes itself.
Roy was passed over in favour of Therrien in 2012. But, Roy says, for Marc Bergevin, then a rookie general manager, going with a veteran head coach was “a logical choice … there wasn’t much of a mourning period.”
That process, however, is a key reason he’s in the NHL.
“It was in talking to [Bergevin] that I realized that this is an adventure I really wanted to embark on,” Roy said.
It’s been a fun ride through 65 games.
Roy insists on sharing credit with his staff – which includes former QMJHL head coaches André Tourigny and Mario Duhamel, as well as Roy’s own former NHL position coach François Allaire.
“We want to have a partnership between the players and coaches. … When you explain why rather than just say, ‘It’s like this because,’ everyone feels involved, and it creates a good climate for everyone,” he said.
So good, in fact, Giguère says he hasn’t raised his voice once with the team, “even when we deserved it.”
Wait, this is the wild man who on 2013-14 opening night nearly tore down a partition between the benches as he went after Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau? The man who used to light up like a road flare behind the Remparts bench? Who was alleged to have been involved in a parking-lot punch-up with another junior team’s owner?
That’s right, the same.
The aura he carries as a former Stanley Cup champion and a Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender helps.
“He uses his experience as a player a lot. Even against Ottawa [last Sunday] after the first period where we didn’t have any jump, he said: ‘Compensate by playing well positionally, that’s what I used to do when I didn’t feel I had any legs,’” said Max Talbot, the only NHL player to have worked under both Roy and Therrien.
The Avs have the NHL’s best record since Jan. 1, and their coach habitually holds up the example of the Habs squads from 1986 and 1993, underdog teams Roy led to unexpected championships; the mantra, courtesy of one-time Avs defenceman Ray Bourque, who hosted an early-season team dinner at his Boston restaurant: “Why not us?”
Roy’s talk of partnership and collaboration resonates with the players on many levels, then, although he understood early it had to be cemented with trust.
“Fortunately, for me, it didn’t take too long for the opportunity to show that I was with them. It was the first game. I don’t remember what happened,” he joked.
The Quebec City native has only returned to the Bell Centre once since his jersey was retired in the fall of 2008.
He’s right to expect a warm reception, which is something his players are anticipating as well.
“I was at a Habs game a couple of years ago, when I was in the [QMJHL],” Avs rookie forward Nathan MacKinnon said. “I think it was against Florida on a Wednesday night or something. This should be a little different.”