For one day last spring Montreal forgot it was a city of sophistication and simply went gaga over its newest and least-expected Stanley Cup champions. As the parade line of top-down convertibles moved up rue Ste.-Catharine, the crowds poured adoration on their Canadiens. None received more than Patrick Roy, the 20-year-old goalie who had just become the youngest player ever to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs.
The cries of "Rooooo-ah, Roooooo-ah" that had punctuated every Canadiens playoff game now resounded along the parade route. And then a handful of young girls broke loose. They rushed Roy and ripped off his shirt. Roy, a gregarious sort, responded with a spontaneous, bare-chested boogie atop the car's trunk.
By any measure, Roy's had been a season of discovery, one that culminated in the stuff of dreams. Here he was, a rookie from Quebec City, being called up to play for les Habitants, the legendary winners of 22 Stanley Cups but a team that had fallen on rancorous hard times—it hadn't been in a Cup final in six seasons and had undergone five coaching changes over that same span. Unexpectedly, with this rookie maintaining a 3.35 goals-against average in the regular season, the Canadiens finished second in the Adams Division. Then, going with Roy in every playoff game, the Canadiens stormed past Boston, Hartford and the Rangers to make the Cup finals once again. There, they disposed of Calgary in five games. Roy had a 1.92 goals-against average in playoff play.
Just a few years ago the notion that a kid such as Roy could strap on a set of pads and dominate the playoffs would have been so outrageous as to be almost unthinkable. In 1967-68, the season in which the NHL expanded from 6 to 12 teams, 30-year-old goalies were the rule, and 40-year-olds were not uncommon: There was Johnny Bower (43) in Toronto, Terry Sawchuk (38) in Los Angeles and Gump Worsley (38) in Montreal. The following season, the St. Louis Blues went to the Stanley Cup finals with 37-year-old Glenn Hall and 40-year-old Jacques Plante, who, between them, had 192 games of playoff experience.
October 12, 1986
"The traditional wisdom was that goalies developed late, that the position required a certain emotional maturity as well as physical maturity," says Ken Dryden, who was the goalie on six Stanley Cup-winning Canadien teams. Dryden, a lawyer, is currently finishing up a two-year term as Ontario Youth Commissioner. "That hasn't necessarily changed," he says, "but now you have the 18-year-old draft and the de-emphasis of the minor leagues, so goalies are being brought in much sooner."
Dryden might be guilty of understating the case, considering the Kiddie Corps of goalies that came into prominence last season in the NHL (see box on page 48). This week, as the 21 NHL teams open the 1986-87 season, 14 of those teams are expected to have goalies 25 or younger in their nets.
"It's now a game of reflexes and not as much of a science as it once was," says Dryden. "Ten years ago the game was more predictable. It was a game played in lanes, so you played the shooter and cut down the angle. Now, the game requires the goalie be much more athletic, moving side to side."
Such technical stuff is far from Roy's thoughts, however, as he wends his way through downtown Montreal on a fine September day. He is attuned to the scent of hamburger patties and the sizzle of french fries. Roy's teammates have nicknamed him Casseau, which can be roughly translated as meaning his favorite foods have the prefix Mc. For breakfast it was Dunkin' Donuts and toast loaded with some Spam-like concoction. Now, with the lunch hour upon him, Roy parks his Camaro—he gets a new car every 10,000 kilometers from a friend who owns a Chevy dealership—and heads with his bouncing, pigeon-toed gait to another gastronomic stress test.
This stop is not at a multioutlet franchise, but a sign in the window reads SMOKED MEAT, so Roy figures it has to be good. The interior is done in Early New Jersey Diner, and only three of the tables are occupied. No reservations required here. Oh, well. Roy pulls an upset by ordering chicken soup. It's a training-table start to lunch—at least until a quarter-shaker of salt is added to the broth. The chicken sandwich with gravy and the fries doused with ketchup might not reach the recommended daily allowance of cholesterol, but they're close. Then comes a second 7 Up, plus rice pudding topped off with chocolate ice cream.
"Oh, I'm not so bad," Roy says. But Lucien Deblois, a former teammate from whom Roy rents a basement apartment, says his prize tenant is as alert to the proximity of a set of golden arches as he is to goalposts. "Give Patrick the choice of any place to eat, and he'll go to McDonald's," he says. "Sometimes, he'll come upstairs to talk or watch TV, and he brings this big bag of barbecue chips—and then pours vinegar all over them."
Hey, a guy needs an occasional jolt of over-the-counter energy to maintain the pace Roy set this summer. All those promotions and golf tournaments, answering the bags of mail, signing the autographs for kids waiting outside his apartment or his family's home in Quebec City. These are busy times.
"I have my two feet on the ground," he says in English, a language in which he is only beginning to feel comfortable. "I know this is all a dream. I understand that. So I lived with my family this summer, and I have the same friends. We still do the same things we've always done: play deck hockey, softball.... It's important not to change.
"I don't want to be a one-year player. I want to have a long, successful career. And the way to do that is to not forget how you got successful in the first place. I once asked [35-year-old defenseman] Larry Robinson, 'How do you stay excited after all this time? How do you stay interested with all the games and all the travel?' And he said, 'Every game is something new, like the start to a career, so it never gets boring.' "
Roy is also aware of the bleak histories of flashy young goalies who have preceded him. His new goaltending partner, Brian Hayward, whom the Canadiens acquired from Winnipeg for Steve Penney, is an example. In 1984-85, Hayward finished second in the NHL with 33 victories as the Jets vaulted from 12th to fourth in the overall standings. Last season he—and the Jets—were a disaster. Hayward won only 13 games and had a 4.79 goals-against average, as the Jets sank 37 points to 18th in the standings.
Ominously, Hayward is—if anything—the rule rather than the exception. NHL rosters are loaded with hot young goalies who came up against the sophomore jinx. Among them are Minnesota's Don Beaupre (who had a 3.20 goals-against average his rookie season but soared to 3.71 the following year); Edmonton's Grant Fuhr (3.31, 4.29); Los Angeles's Bob Janecyk (3.66, 4.67); and, closer to home, Penney (3.08, 4.36).
"Except for [former Soviet goalie] Vladislav Tretiak, I've never seen a goaltender really mature and reach a constant level and stay there before the age of 26 or 27," says Glenn Hall, who is now a goalie coach with Calgary. "It is so mental, and preparation is so important.... It all takes years to learn."
The most vivid example of goalie burnout is Mike Moffat, who at 20 was the Boston Bruins' playoff hero in 1982. But after only 13 games the next season, with his goals-against average a dismal 4.37, Moffat was sent down to the minors. In 1984 he tried out with Edmonton, but later that year he quit hockey to pursue a business degree at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont. "The game wasn't fun," Moffat says. "There was pressure and fear. I wasn't enjoying it, so I got out." This past summer Moffat gave it one more chance and tried out for the Canadian Olympic team. He made the squad, but only as a backup, so he has decided to return to his studies.
"If you're young and you do well it's a bonus; it's not expected," says Dryden. "But the next year you're judged on different standards. You've got to give even more. And it takes a little time and some growing up to understand that. That's why so many guys stutter-start. I think Roy will be all right. I hope, for his sake, that he's ready."
The Montreal morning throws open its arms with brilliant, late-summer sunshine. But down in Roy's one-bedroom apartment, only hints of light peek through the blinds. The view through the window is of the front lawn staring back at you at eye level. It's a terrific apartment—if you're a mole.
"I like the dark," Roy says while making breakfast, which is to say, opening a box of doughnuts. "Better for the concentration." Roy, who has a moonlighting gig as a part-time veejay on the Canadian equivalent of MTV, allows as how he loves Madonna, but clearly this is no Material Guy. His apartment is spare; its walls are painted in all-purpose whites and off-whites and are virtually bare, the carpet is light gray, the furniture black. Bland it is, House Beautiful it isn't. It costs Roy $325 a month Canadian ($235 U.S.), so even though Montreal paid him an estimated bargain-basement $80,000 Canadian as a rookie (upgraded to an estimated $95,000), Roy is not exactly spending with both hands.
"I'm young," he says, shrugging. "I don't need a big house with lots of furniture. I like this place. Maybe someday if I get married, then...." Except for Roy and Deblois, who recently became a free agent and was signed by the Rangers, the Rosemont section of Montreal has not been a magnet for the Canadiens. Understandably. It is a nondescript, middle-and lower-middle-class section of the city some 25 minutes from downtown.
Later this day, Roy guns the Camaro up Avenue Atwater, headed for the Forum. When he arrives, his teammates greet him—many of them were also his teammates on the Canadiens' softball team during the summer; others have not seen him since the riotous Cup celebration back in June. They all seem to regard Roy as their baby brother, a boy who has been accepted into the fraternal order of men only because he has proved himself in battle. "When I started here I felt lost because all the veterans were talking about business or money or taxes," Roy says. "I didn't care about that, but now I understand and I listen because it's important to save the money and learn the business and make good contacts."
After getting his skates sharpened, Roy heads for Guy Gagnon Arena in suburban Verdun for a pre-training camp workout. Once on the ice, the head twitching and shoulder shrugging that drew almost as much comment as his goaltending begin again. It's as if he suffers from some aggravating neck crick that perpetually needs stretching. Roy says he twitches because it is hot underneath his face mask; he's getting air to circulate beneath it with all his thrashing. "I'm not nervous," he says defensively. During the playoff series with the Rangers the New York crowd tried to feed what they thought to be a manifestation of nerves with their eerily hostile version of the "Rooooo-ah, Rooooo-ah" chant every time Roy's head so much as bobbed. He was unaffected.
Remember Game 3? The Canadiens led the series 2-0, and the Rangers peppered the net with 47 shots, including 13 in 9:41 of overtime, before Montreal rightwinger Claude Lemieux scored the game-winner. It was a playoff performance that ranks among the greatest of all time. "I'll never forget that game," Roy says. "You always say to yourself, 'They can't beat me.' But that night, I knew they couldn't beat me. I was in complete control."
But then, Roy was in control throughout the playoffs. Rival teams' scouts would try to sight in on weaknesses they thought they had spotted. Some said his stickwork behind the net was suspect, or that he fell to the ice too quickly, or that he surrendered rebounds right in front of the net. But he refused to falter and held opponents to a single goal seven times in 20 playoff games. When it was over, Robinson called Roy's performance the best playoff goaltending he had seen in his 14 years with the Canadiens, and in six of those years Hall of Famer Dryden was in the Montreal net.
After two hours of practice Roy skates off the ice and proclaims himself ready for the 1986-87 season. The first shot—be it of the season or of the game—is a source of anxiety for all goaltenders. Roy smiles: The first shot of his sophomore season was cake. The feeling is back. The glove is quick. Having pads on again feels good. No burnout here.
"Sure, you worry; you worry how he will cope with all the attention," says Roy's mother, Barbara, a real estate agent. "But I'm proud of the way he's handled it. In fact, I was quite surprised when we met with some lawyers this summer and talked about forming a family company. Patrick really knows what's going on, how companies are formed and taxes and all. Before, it was always hockey. He's matured that way."
But sports still come first. As might be expected in this family. Roy's father, Michel, a vice-president of the Quebec Automobile Insurance Board, showed enough promise to have been scouted by the Brooklyn Dodgers, and Barbara was a competitive synchronized swimmer. Roy's brother Stephane, 19, is a forward who was drafted 51st overall by the Minnesota North Stars last season.
Family talent and influence aside, the decision to make a career of stopping pucks was made when Roy was seven, and it was his alone. "I liked the pads," he confesses. "I saw all that equipment, and I wanted to wear it."
Roy most admires the goaltenders who have proved themselves over the long, haul: Rogie Vachon, whose playing career covered 16 seasons; Tony Esposito (15 seasons); and Dryden (8 seasons). He understands that the stress of the position demands a strong off-ice commitment. Consequently his social life, even during the off-season, is tame stuff, pretty much limited to spending weekends with his girlfriend, Michelle Piuze, from back home in Quebec City.
"Nobody here was worried about Patrick going off the deep end," says Ronald King, a sportswriter who covers the Canadiens for the Montreal daily La Presse. "Patrick comes from a family of smart, solid people."
Now, Roy must drive back to the Forum. As soon as he enters the building, he is approached by two sportswriters. It seems that before Deblois was traded, he told a group of friends, including one who is a reporter for his hometown paper, about his displeasure with the Canadiens' coaching. The story appeared the next day in the Joliette Journal to the dismay of Deblois, who thought he had been speaking off the record.
A debate on journalistic ethics between Roy and the writers starts and is carried on in French, with frequent rises and falls in pitch, tone and inflection. Roy loves to talk and argue; friends say he has hinted at going to law school someday. In fact, officials at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce were so taken with Roy's gift of gab that they chose him for a series of television commercials. A 21-year-old kid serving as spokesman for savings accounts and trust funds? A goalie, no less. Aren't they all flakes? Clearly, Roy is shattering almost all preconceptions about goalies.
That's why his still-shaky command of English is so frustrating. In that unfamiliar language Roy's complex thoughts end up having to be reduced to locker room platitudes. But while many French Canadian hockey players are grateful to have a language barrier to hide behind, Roy is determined to bore holes through it. "When I started last season, I didn't know 10 words [of English]," he says. "But I want to communicate. I want people to know what I'm thinking. I like to talk. All during the year I'd go to Carbo [center Guy Carbonneau] or somebody else and ask them, 'What does this mean?' I think I just need more practice."
Having served his time with the media, Roy is summoned to the Canadiens' office. The Sport magazine trophy for playoff MVP has arrived. After much yanking, the trophy finally emerges from the box. A silver skate sits atop the base. Roy stands back, appraises it and suddenly laughs. "That's a regular skate," he says. "It should be a goalie skate."
There is another memento for Roy this day, one not treated so lightly. It is his championship ring bearing the Canadiens' revered logo encrusted in diamonds, around which is the inscription ROY 33. BOSTON 3-0. HARTFORD 4-3. NEW YORK 4-1. CALGARY 4-1.
"Two years, two championships," Roy says, for in 1985 the Sherbrooke Canadiens won the American Hockey League title with Roy in goal. "I hope this doesn't end."
Still later, Roy drives to the car dealership, where he spends two hours signing autographs. And oh, yes, that 10,000 kilometers has run out; time to drive home a new Z-28. For Patrick Roy, it's a wonderful time.
THROUGHOUT THE NHL, YOUTH WILL BE SERVED
Roy is not the lone prodigy in pads. All around the NHL, promising young goalies have popped up. Check it out: Three of last season's four conference finalists went with pups in the nets. For the Rangers there was John Vanbiesbrouck (22 years old); for Calgary, Mike Vernon (23); and, of course, Montreal had Roy. And this season will be, more than ever before, a young goalies' game throughout the NHL. Consider: Boston (Bill Ranford, 19), Buffalo (Tom Barrasso, 21), Detroit (Greg Stefan, 25), Edmonton (Grant Fuhr, 24), Minnesota (Don Beaupre, 25), New Jersey (Craig Billington, 20, or Chris Terreri, 21), Islanders (Kelly Hrudey, 25), Pittsburgh (Roberto Romano, 24), Quebec (Clint Malarchuk, 25, and Mario Gosselin, 23), Toronto (Ken Wregget, 22) and Winnipeg (Steve Penney, 25).
All of which leads to the question: Who is the oldest goalie? That would be Chico Resch of the Flyers—who, at 38, is also the oldest player in the NHL.