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Saving Grace

June 21, 1993
June 21, 1993

Table of Contents
June 21, 1993

NBA Finals
Stanley Cup Playoffs
The Royals
U.S. Soccer
Boris Becker

Saving Grace

In a final series to remember, Montreal Canadien goalie Patrick Roy helped deliver both the Cup and his first daughter

A small gesture, to be sure, but one as debilitating under the circumstances as the most thunderous bodycheck. Montreal Canadien goaltender Patrick Roy merely looked at his opponent and winked.

This is an article from the June 21, 1993 issue

What had he been thinking? Deep into overtime in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals on June 7, with the Los Angeles King forwards literally knocking at his goalmouth, Roy stoned Luc Robitaille and froze the puck. Then, impishly, he glanced at the Kings' Tomas Sandstrom and flicked his left eyelash, like some kid in a street hockey game. This amused, un-harried wink was surely one of the most memorable in hockey history. What did this outrageous gesture mean?

That Roy was cocky? That he was loose? That the puck looked as big to him as a manhole cover? That the snakebitten Kings, who had already suffered two straight backbreaking overtime losses to the Canadiens and were about to suffer their third, could play till Sunset Boulevard froze over and never poke the puck past Roy in OT?

Last Friday, while riding in the backseat of a white stretch limousine in Montreal, under police escort to a Canadien victory parade that was not about to begin without him, Roy pondered that question. He could not recall ever before having winked at an opponent. Certainly not in overtime of the Stanley Cup finals. "Always Sandstrom is in my crease, bothering me, hitting at me when I have the puck," Roy (pronounced WAH) said. "When I made the save on Robitaille, Sandstrom hit me. So I winked. I wanted to show him I'd be tough. That I was in control."

In control? Is that what you call Roy's remarkable 10 straight overtime wins in the 1993 playoffs, a record the Canadiens set during their run to their 24th Stanley Cup? How about invincible? Impenetrable? Or, as one fan's banner in the Montreal Forum had it, INC-ROY-HAB-LE?

After the Canadiens opened the playoffs with a loss—in OT to the Quebec Nordiques in a game in which Roy was later criticized for having let in a soft goal in the final minute to force the extra session—Roy simply closed the door when games were on the line. For the remainder of the postseason, Montreal went 12-0 in one-goal games. In the 10 overtime wins, Roy played 96 minutes and 39 seconds of sudden-death hockey without yielding a goal, the equivalent of more than a game and a half. During those extra sessions he kicked out 65 shots.

With a 16-4 record and a 2.13 goals-against average in the playoffs, Roy atoned for what had been, for him, a mediocre regular season under first-year coach Jacques Demers, who had introduced Montreal to a more wide-open style than the Canadiens had played in recent years. "The one thing as a coach I'll take credit for," said Demers after the playoffs, "is I stood with Patrick. I was not going to let him get down on himself after he gave up a soft goal against Quebec. He was just outstanding, sensational."

It wasn't the first time that Roy had put rings on the fingers of his Montreal teammates. In 1985-86, his rookie season, he had also led the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup, and he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the playoffs. But this Cup is sweeter to him than his first one was for a number of good reasons—none of which was better than the six-pound, nine-ounce daughter that Roy helped his wife, Michele, deliver on the morning after Game 1 of the finals in Montreal.

Sudden death. Sudden life. No question, the 27-year-old Roy had a busy playoffs. Montreal, as it happened, lost Game 1 to Los Angeles without putting up much of a fight. Afterward, Roy suggested that the Canadiens had had entirely too much time to digest the complimentary articles that were written about them during their seven-day layoff following the Wales Conference finals. "When everybody's telling you how great you're doing, you start to believe it," he said.

Later he drove Michele to Lakeshore Hospital. They arrived at midnight. Roy wanted to be there for his child's birth—he and Michele already had two sons, Jonathan, 4, and Frederick, 2—and Michele had wanted Patrick to coach her through the delivery. And funny thing about childbirth: You never know when the doggone little darlings will arrive. So, fearing the baby would choose to make her entrance at the worst possible time, when the team was in Los Angeles for Games 3 and 4, the Roys asked Michele's doctor to induce labor, and he agreed. Patrick got a couple of hours' sleep at the hospital. At 4 a.m. Michele went into labor. At 6 a.m. the big contractions kicked in. On June 2, at 7:50 a.m., Jana Roy was born. "Michele pushed only three times," Roy says. "The baby came right out."

Jana. The name is a cross between Jeanne, Michele's grandmother, and Anna, Patrick's grandmother. Anna Peacock was a big-time Canadien fan, unlike the Roys, who cheered for the hometown Quebec Nordiques of the WHA. Anna's favorite Montreal player was goalie Ken Dryden. She would listen to the games on the radio while she was feeding young Patrick his dinner—Barbara Roy, Anna's daughter and Patrick's mother, worked as a swimming coach in the evenings—and speak French to him. Barbara, too, spoke only French at home, the result being that Patrick did not learn English until he joined the Canadiens for the 1985-86 season. "The last time I saw Anna in the hospital, she was watching the Islanders play Vancouver in the [1982] Cup finals," says Roy. "She was a real bin hockey fan."

Shortly afterward, Anna died of cancer. She never knew that her grandson was drafted 51st in 1984 by the Canadiens. "If she was still here," he says, "she'd probably die from the excitement."

Like Dryden, Roy was sensational in the playoffs as a rookie, leading the Canadiens to the Cup with a stunning 1.92 goals-against average. Roy also created something of a stir when he let it slip that he talks to his goalposts before games. Like many hockey players, Roy is extremely superstitious, so after the national anthems he faces his net and tells the posts that they're all going to play wonderful hockey, allowing no little black objects to enter. Then he stares at the goal until he can visualize it getting smaller and smaller. Only then is he ready to play.

Unlike Dryden, however, Roy stopped getting his name on the Stanley Cup after his rookie season. He was still a dominant player, winning three Vezina Trophies as the NHL's best goalie and getting named to the league's first or second All-Star team five times in the next six years. But a perception remained among Montreal fans that despite his superb statistics, Roy gave up soft goals in big games, often when his team could least afford it.

Certainly that was the rap on Roy in last season's playoffs, when the Canadiens were ignominiously swept by the Boston Bruins in the second round. "He didn't have a good playoff last year," says Montreal general manager Serge Savard, "but he wasn't the reason we lost. It was a real team effort."

Nonetheless, Roy, the Canadiens' best player, served as a lightning rod for the criticisms of frustrated Montrealers, who, since 1944, had not gone more than seven years without their team winning the Stanley Cup. And 1993 brought another seven-year itch. The once adoring locals were starting to smell Roy's blood. "Roy-is-the-best-goalie-in-the-world has become a mantra, not a given," wrote columnist Michael Farber in the Montreal Gazette on the eve of the playoffs, "and chanting it over and over won't necessarily make it so." The headline of the article was: IT'S TIME FOR ROY TO SALVAGE REPUTATION.

That wasn't going to be easy. He had followed his disappointing 1992 playoff performance with his worst regular season since his rookie year. His goals-against average under Demers's more wide-open system had shot up from 2.36 to 3.20, and for the first time since the 1987-88 season, he failed to be one of the three finalists nominated for the Vezina.

"Pat's struggles this year were new to him," says forward Kirk Muller, who, after Roy, was the most valuable Canadien in the playoffs. "Obviously people in Montreal expect a lot from him, and he can't really have a bad game—ever. But I think the struggle made him better."

Roy, who lives in the Montreal suburb of Rosemere, was troubled by a poll taken in January by a local paper in which a majority of the respondents thought he should be traded. Those rumblings increased when the Canadiens dropped the first two games to Quebec in the Adams Division semifinals, and Roy's critics could point out that he had allowed soft goals in both defeats. NORDIQUES WIN GAME, BATTLE OF GOALIES read one headline. The subhead added, [Quebec goalie Ron] HEXTALL GETS BETTER OF ROY.

Demers resisted calls to start backup Andre Racicot in Game 3 and stayed true to a preseason promise that he would stand behind Roy all season. Ever superstitious. Roy figured it was time to change his luck. He switched the order in which he skated around the face-off circles before warming up, a ritual he had faithfully followed for seven years. When the Nordiques practiced at the Montreal Forum, he watched them from the same seat—B-7. (After Jana was born, Roy sat in J-2 in Los Angeles, in honor of her June 2 birth date.) Presto, change-o, Roy's goalposts began listening to him again.

The Canadiens, and Roy, reeled off a record-tying 11 consecutive playoff wins. Seven of them came in overtime, including two marathon victories over the New York Islanders, who saw Roy thwart both Benoit Hogue and Pierre Turgeon on breakaways in consecutive OT games.

Roy credited, of all people, former Islander great Mike Bossy for having given him a tip on how to play breakaways. "It was two years ago, and one day he said to me that on breakaways you must protect the five-hole," says Roy, referring to the triangle between the legs, "because if a guy has to go top shelf [high], he misses most of the time."

As the playoffs progressed it seemed as if the Canadiens actually played for overtime, repeatedly dumping the puck in the last 10 minutes of the third period and then turning their offense loose in the extra frame. "We didn't mind going into overtime," says Roy. "I knew my teammates were going to score goals if I gave them some time. My concentration was at such a high level. My mind was right there. I felt fresh, like I could stop everything."

Fresh? Every other new father who has been through natural childbirth feels like going home and sleeping for 40 days. Here was Roy, at the end of the longest hockey season on record, shuttling between Los Angeles and Montreal, cities 2,500 miles apart, in the Stanley Cup finals, saying how wonderfully rested he felt. Winking at the opposition to prove it. Tired, Tomas? Not me.

His presence in goal seemed to sap the energy from the Kings as much as it buoyed the Canadiens, who played better and better as the finals progressed. "When Patrick Roy makes a promise, he keeps it," said Montreal forward Mike Keane after the Canadiens, in a bit of historical justice, took home the 100th Stanley Cup with a dominating 4-1 win at home in Game 5. "He isn't an outspoken guy, but he said he was going to shut the door tonight, and he did."

In the wink of an eye.

PHOTODAVID E. KLUTHOIn Game 4, in L.A., Roy flat out frustrated the Kings with one dazzling save after another.PHOTOROBERT BECKDid talking to his posts help Roy stand tall against the crease-crashing Kings?TWO PHOTOSDAVID E. KLUTHORoy (with pads) celebrated with his teammates before going home to Michele, Jana, Frederick and Jonathan.