It all started on December 2, 1995. That’s when the Detroit Red Wings, unbeknownst to them, created a monster.
That night, the Wings went into the famed Montreal Forum and put a good old-fashioned pasting on the Canadiens. They beat them, annihilated them, 11-1. Never before had a Red Wings team beaten a Canadiens squad so badly. And it happened on Montreal ice, no less.
In the process, the Red Wings helped set off a flurry of events that, ultimately, would lead to a key figure in a near-future rivalry tormenting them for years. Until he, finally, got his comeuppance.
I was watching the tube that night. The Red Wings were merciless, pelting Canadiens goalie Patrick Roy. As puck after puck poured past him, through him, behind him, the Forum crowd got nastier and nastier. Now, when a hockey team loses 11-1, it’s not because of one man, not even the netminder. It’s a total breakdown. Yet the Canadiens fans made it clear that the object of their derision was the arrogant and defiant Roy, a two-time Stanley Cup winner in Montreal. It mattered not that had it not been for Roy, there wouldn’t, most likely, be those two Cups, won in 1986 and 1993. Sports is a “what have you done for me lately?” business. So the Forum crowd let their frustration and embarrassment get the best of them.
Roy’s coach, Mario Tremblay, a former Canadiens player, didn’t do his goalie any favors, either. In retrospect, perhaps it’s Tremblay that the Red Wings should blame for toppling the first domino. For Tremblay didn’t do the honorable thing and pull Roy from the goal when the score was getting out of hand. He left his goalie on the ice, in the net, as if being punished. The inference was painfully evident: Tremblay had it out for Roy, for whatever reason, and thus was making a spectacle of him. Earlier, Roy had looked to the bench, after maybe the eighth or ninth goal. Patrick’s inference was evident, too: Get me out of here!! It’s not my night, coach!
Tremblay, staring hard at Roy from behind the bench, sneered and left his goalie in the net. Humiliating him. Cutting off his nose to spite his face.
Then it all came to a head. Roy made a routine save, and the Forum crowd cheered, oozing sarcasm. Roy heard it – who couldn’t have? – and raised his arms in mock triumph. Now Roy was showing up the fans.
At the next whistle, Tremblay finally, but still without mercy, called Roy to the bench. The humiliation was over, and so was Roy’s night in net.
The Forum had this odd set-up whereby the fans sitting directly behind the bench weren’t separated by glass from the players and coaches. If you weren’t careful, you’d spill your beer on Toe Blake or Scotty Bowman or Claude Ruel or Jacques Demers. On this night, sitting behind the Canadiens bench was Ronald Corey, president of the team. As Roy skated off the ice, he stopped at Corey’s seat. He whispered something into his ear as Tremblay looked on, burning up. What Roy said was basically this, confirmed by the principles: “Get me out of here. I just played my last game for the Canadiens.” Of course, that’s the version that I’m allowed to write in this family column.
Roy, indeed, played his last game for the Canadiens that night. A few days later, Corey obliged Patty, and shipped him to the Colorado Avalanche.
A rivalry was born!
The Red Wings and the Avalanche – shortened to Avs by those impatient and spelling-challenged sports writers – were about to engage in one of sports’ all-time greatest rivalries. From 1996-2002, the teams met in the playoffs five times. Three times the Avalanche, er, Avs, won. The two times the Red Wings triumphed, they went on to win the Stanley Cup.
And all the while, Red Wings fans had to deal with that cocky, disrespectful punk in net. Patrick Roy.
Initially, the object of the fans’ scorn in Detroit was the pugnacious, though cowardly forward, Claude Lemieux, who became Public Enemy #1 after rearranging Kris Draper’s face in the 1996 Western Conference Finals with a vicious hit from behind into the boards. But then Patty Roy opened his mouth one game later, and it was REALLY on.
The Avs won the first two games of that series in Detroit. Finally, in Game 5, the Red Wings won a game on home ice, moving them to within 3-2 in the series. Afterward, Roy refused to give props to the victorious Red Wings. Instead, he said…
“Well, you had to figure that they’d manage to win a home game sooner or later, wouldn’t you?”
Not only did he say it, he smirked about it smugly.
The Avs won that series, and the Cup one round later. The next year, it was the Red Wings’ turn. They beat the Avs in the Conference Finals, and won the Cup one round later.
The Avs beat the Red Wings in the second round in 1999 and 2000. Patty Roy’s team was now 3-1 in playoff series against Detroit. By now, Red Wings fans would have killed for another chance at Patty and the Avs.
Two years later, they got that chance.
Roy (right, battling Chris Osgood at the height of the Red Wings-Avs rivalry)
It was another conference final, another classic series. The Wings won Game 1 in Detroit. The Avs won Game 2. The Wings won Game 3 in Denver, in overtime. The Avs squared the series, then went ahead, 3-2, with an overtime win in Detroit. It looked like another Avs-over-Detroit series in the playoffs.
Then Patty Roy’s arrogance and flair for the dramatic jumped up and bit him, right through his hockey pants.
In a scoreless Game 6 in Denver, after a scramble in the Avs’ goal crease, Roy raised his gloved hand in triumph, certain the puck was in it. It wasn’t. It had fluttered out of his mitt and onto the ice, where Brendan Shanahan saw it and dutifully slapped it into the back of the net. The Red Wings added an insurance goal and won the game, 2-0. There would be a Game 7 in Detroit.
That’s when Roy got his comeuppance. Just like they had in Montreal six-and-a-half years earlier, the Red Wings pelted Roy with pucks. And just like in Montreal, those pucks were going into the net at a dizzying rate. The Red Wings chased Roy to the bench, a defeated rival. The final score was 7-0. The Red Wings won the Stanley Cup in the next round, right on cue.
This past week, as we media types talked to Roy on a conference call about his upcoming jersey retirement in Montreal, I made mention of those great Red Wings-Avs games. And I asked Patty if he was aware of how hated he was in Detroit. Yes, I used the word “hated.”
“It’s funny. I never really felt hated. The fans in Detroit love their team. I was playing golf with some Detroit people down in Myrtle Beach and they said, ‘Oh we hated you in Detroit’, but they were laughing about it. It was a great rivalry and those games were always a big deal. It was great competition.”
And what of that night in December, 1995, when the Red Wings unwittingly changed the course of hockey history?
“They say that one game doesn’t make a career,” Roy said, chuckling. “But I’m still remembered for that one game on December 2, 1995. People are still asking me about it.”
Hated or not, it’s nice to see Roy’s dramatic exodus from Montreal be overshadowed by his no. 33 jersey being hoisted to the rafters. It deserves to be up there, even if some folks would have liked to have seen Patty himself hanging instead of just his sweater. Perhaps you’re one of them. It’s likely that you are.