When Patrick Roy capped a volcanic screaming match last week by smashing the glass partition separating him from Anaheim Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau, the consensus was this was a man out of control, one whose legendary temper could blow up his big-league coaching career.
But the old goaltender himself will tell you that on some level a calmer, rational version of Roy was figuratively standing outside the scene, estimating just how much of a unifying effect his outburst over a knee-on-knee hit on prize rookie Nathan MacKinnon would have on his apple-cheeked Colorado Avalanche, one of the youngest teams in the NHL.
Roy admitted as much Tuesday, a few hours before the Avs played the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre.
To those who asked the same question Boudreau did – if you blow sky-high in your first game as an NHL head coach, how do you control yourself over an 82-game season? – Roy practically shrugged.
“It’s very easy,” he said. “Very easy because, first of all, I’m passionate about what I’m doing and I love to win. I learned a lot from my junior [coaching] days. You have to control those emotions. It will be easy because I’m here to win.
“I’m always going to be really calm when the game is on the line. Everything is going to be calculated. I’m going to make sure if it can turn the game around, I’ll turn it around. If it’s at the end of the game and I think it’s time, it’s time.”
However, no one should make the mistake of thinking Roy’s famous outbursts, from his playing days to his run as the owner, general manager and coach of the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL, are as genuine as those of a professional wrestling heel. The emotion may be manipulated if necessary, but it is real.
“Oh, yeah, for sure,” Roy said. “I don’t know if the guys feed off it, but it’s the way I am. I’m not going to change.”
And you can bet the youthful Avs eat it up. Just ask 22-year-old forward Matt Duchene, who grew up in Haliburton, Ont., as an Avs fan – “since I was five years old” – and can’t believe his good fortune to be working for his childhood idols, Roy and Joe Sakic, the team’s executive vice-president of hockey operations.
The minute Roy knocked down that glass partition in front of an equally impressed, sold-out home crowd in Denver, eventually drawing a $10,000 (U.S.) fine from the NHL, the players knew he would always have their backs.
“Absolutely,” Duchene said. “That was what we realized there. He didn’t like what was going on and he wasn’t afraid to stand up for us.”
Not that there wasn’t a little humour mixed up in the emotions Duchene and his teammates felt when Roy and Boudreau were shouting at each other. He thought of another of Roy’s YouTube classics, a goaltender’s bout with Mike Vernon during one of those Avs-Detroit Red Wings tong wars.
“I was trying not to laugh, to be honest,” Duchene said. “It was a serious situation, but I felt like a little kid again watching him fight Vernon.”
After the teams left the ice, Duchene said, “there wasn’t a straight face in the room. Everyone was smiling and so excited. That was probably the most fun game I’ve played in from top to bottom. Opening night, we had a full building, the boys were loving it and Patrick was right into it too, so it was exciting.”
It’s hard to say where this will take Roy in his NHL coaching career. The conventional wisdom is Hall of Fame players like him rarely make good coaches, since their talent means they never had to study the game like the journeymen who make up the bulk of the coaching world.
Typically, Roy rejects the notion, although he has his own take on it: Great players often did not have to work as hard as everyone else, so maybe that is the connection.
“It’s weird because I don’t think it’s that challenging,” he said. “You know what’s challenging? It’s the time.
“You’re up at six in the morning, at the rink at quarter to seven, you leave at six, seven or eight o’clock at night and, on game day, you’re there [much later]. It’s not everyone who wants to spend the time.”