It might seem hard to recognize, what with all the fisticuffs, middle fingers, denials, counter denials and suspensions flying around, but former NHL goaltender Patrick Roy has done the hockey world a tremendous service.
The Hall of Famer, who is currently serving a five-game suspension from his role as coach, general manager and part-owner of a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team, has put the issue of fighting in hockey -- especially fighting in the youth feeder system that is the backbone of NHL player development -- out front for all to see.
And given that it involves one of the most prominent personalities the game has ever known -- and his 19-year-old son Jonathan -- it's not likely to fade from view anytime soon.
The events that brought us to this fascinating viewing station -- a flat-out brawl between Roy's Quebec Remparts and the Chicoutimi Sagueneens -- are fairly well documented. You can see it on YouTube or one of the countless other sites that now give us a daily glimpse of ourselves on video. You can read about it across the internet. For those not inclined to go browsing, I'll give you the traditional newspaper style recap:
With the Sagueneens, a traditional and much-despised rival leading Game 2 of their first round playoff series by a monstrous score (7-1), the Remparts apparently decided to put into play the old hockey tradition of "sending a message." Seemingly on cue (police are investigating reports that the senior Roy signaled for the commencement of hostilities), the classic hockey brawl broke out. All 10 on-ice skaters engaged in a slugfest and the junior Roy, seemingly with the blessing of his coach/father, went looking to challenge Chicoutimi goalie Bobby Nadeau.
The younger Roy, normally a backup goalie, was in net at this point in the proceedings. Once the brawl broke out, he skated to center ice (a rules violation) and was at first restrained by an on-ice official but eventually set loose as other fights intensified and the official's services were needed elsewhere. Once that happened, young Mr. Roy -- seemingly after looking in the direction of his bench -- skated the rest of the way and engaged Nadeau. When Nadeau refused to fight, Roy simply started wailing away with unrestrained intent. He pounded away on the opposing goalie, who quickly went into a defensive shell that hockey-fight lovers call "turtling."
Roy acknowledged this by throwing a few more rights and lefts into Nadeau before skating to center ice while raising his arms in mock triumph and his middle fingers in the universal derisive salute to Chicoutimi fans. He then got into still another fight -- with Chicoutimi defenseman Sebastien Rioux -- took a few bows and was escorted off the ice.
The classic movie Slap Shot couldn't have showcased it any better.
Now, there are a few things that remain unresolved, not the least of which is exactly what role the elder Roy played in all of this and why his son got seven games (two for bird-flipping perhaps?) as opposed to the old man's five, but the bigger storyline here comes down to two distinct issues:
Issue No.1: If you had a child capable of playing at this level of hockey, would you send him off to be coached by Patrick Roy? If you said yes, you probably have a kid in the Bobby Knight basketball camp. Roy has a history of this stuff both as a coach of young men (the Remparts) and as a player in the NHL. On more than one occasion, he has disgraced himself at both levels.
The curiously named St. Patrick (rest assured it's a moniker that applies only to his magnificent playing days) is rather well known for a goalie fight when he was with Colorado and the Avs engaged in a now-legendary brawl with the rival Detroit Red Wings. He also had a bar-fight incident in Colorado (settled out of court for an undisclosed sum).
He's well known for trashing a coach's office (with the coach in it) during a dispute about being pulled from a game.
And for trashing the Montreal Canadiens and then-coach Mario Tremblay for not pulling him from a game, an incident which rather quickly led to his being shipped to Colorado.
Roy is somewhat infamous for ripping his bedroom door off its hinges in pursuit of a woman, Michele, (who is no longer his wife, but the mother of the son involved in this latest incident).
For the record, we probably should mention that then-wife Michele wasn't exactly avoiding marital relations at the time, but was concerned enough regarding her husband's actions and her safety to make a flash 911 call to summon police. She stated on the police report that:"she was afraid of what her husband might do."
Now, I'm not here to defend Roy or make apologies for any of his actions, but I will state for the record that there is more than one side of the man and I've seen it. I've seen him as the ultra-intense competitor, the winningest goalie of all time and a winner the likes of which, well, if there were a Hall of Fame for Hall of Famers he'd likely be a first-ballot inductee.
I've also borne witness to a man who has shown himself to be a caring father and extraordinarily kind, especially to children. It's a side that Roy didn't show all that often, but was as much a part of him as any of his trophies, records or Stanley Cups.
I've seen Roy as both a spokesman and a statesman for the game. It's clear that hockey is something he holds most dear. On numerous occasions that run the broad band from one-on-one chats in the locker room when he was a 20-year-old rookie to a truly magnificent and caring induction speech the night he entered the Hockey Hall of Fame, I've been in the company of a man who is not nearly as shallow or suspect as the above unsavory events infer.
Which brings us to:
Issue No. 2: If Patrick Roy is the culmination of all that is good and often great but occasionally awful about hockey, where does hockey go from here?
It's impossible to explain away the brawl or the role of both Roys in it as a fluke, an aberration or the result of emotions stripped raw and allowed to run wild: Quite the opposite.
What we saw in one of hockey's most far-flung outposts is the inherent culture of the game itself. It's a culture of violence and it's a culture that is not just accepted but cultivated, and not just cultivated, but carefully passed on from generation to generation -- as this case so clearly illustrates, from father to son -- with blessings attached.
That the father is one of the greatest players the game has ever known really shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. That the son willingly and, it would seem, dutifully embraced the culture shouldn't be any kind of shock, either. To deny it is as senseless as denying that star players don't get special treatment (see: Chris Pronger vs. Chris Simon) or that the rules are different in the playoffs (see: the collected verses of virtually every coach and GM who has ever been involved in the game, or even the quoted wisdom of NHL discipline czar Colin Campbell).
What the Roys, father and son, have done is force us to come to grips with it.
What we witnessed Saturday night in a far-flung corner of Quebec is what most of the rest of the hockey world outside of North America has long rejected: a form of violence that has no place in the game, at least not at that level. Prior to Roy, we would glimpse it in junior hockey as well as in bantam, midget and even down to pee wees and mites, but it never truly rattled our collective consciousness. Most times we would just shake our collective heads, chastise a coach, and maybe bemoan the conduct of a parent or two, and then simply watch as it all faded away.
That likely won't happen this time around. There is a police investigation, and the son of a hockey great beating mercilessly on a player who neither asked for nor deserved any such thing. Perhaps most importantly, there is a hockey legend who may well have given if not an order at least tacit permission for it all happen.
When you see it that way, Jonathan Roy, whose career numbers indicate that he will never attain a berth in the NHL let alone measure up to the legend of his father, appears to be a victim of the same culture that made his counterpart, Nadeau, a victim of his punches.
I don't expect anything to come of the criminal investigation, but then I never do. The bigger issue for hockey is that many see this ugly incident as business as usual. The elder Roy himself certainly saw no problem with any of it and may have even embraced it. He said afterward, "I can't control the actions of my players in the heat of the action" and that the brawl is "part of the game."
Well, he's right about that much. It's been a part of the game for longer than he has been alive, but why? Could it be because Roy isn't just a coach or GM or the team owner (any one of which would be authority enough to prevent the incident before it began), but because he is the father of the primary party involved? There is no person who could possibly exert more control in that situation than Patrick Roy the father demanding better from his son.
That he didn't is why hockey has these kinds of problems.
It's why his son is a part of them.
It's why hockey can't afford to forget.