After a decade of playing golf and coaching juniors, can NHL legend Patrick Roy lead the last-place Avalanche to relevancy?
It might go down as the most pivotal round of negotiations in the history of the Colorado Avalanche franchise. In May, Avalanche executive vice -president of hockey operations Joe Sakic and Avalanche president Josh Kroenke arrived in Jupiter, Fla., to meet with Patrick Roy to discuss the hockey club’s vacant coaching position. Roy, who owns a home in the area, decided it would be best to meet on the Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course at the exclusive Bear’s Club.
“When Joe said he was coming with Josh, I said let’s do things differently. We don’t have to go to a restaurant or to my place,” Roy says. “I said, ‘Let’s play golf, and let’s talk about our views during the day.’ Basically that’s what we did all day. For the entire round we were talking—not even thinking about what the scores were.
“It was just relaxing. First of all it was an opportunity for me to get to know Josh. I had met him before, but this was an opportunity for me to be with him and talk about things other than hockey. It really broke the ice well. When we were done, we sat together and exchanged our views on the coaching job. They explained the reasons why they were there. I thought it was a great day, really.”
So, on May 28—10 years to the day he announced his retirement from the NHL—Roy was formally introduced as the head coach and vice president of hockey operations for the Avalanche, the club he helped lead to the Stanley Cup championship in 1996 and 2001.
Was it mere coincidence that another member of the Avalanche’s 2001 Stanley Cup championship club—Hall of Famer Ray Bourque—also showed up in Florida for some golf and relaxation at the same time?
“It pretty much was a done deal by then—I think both sides were finalizing the details,” Bourque says. “But it was fun to be with them knowing that it was going to be announced soon. I was happy for Patrick because I know he’s ready. I had my son, Chris, play for Patrick a couple of years. I know how passionate and how organized and how hard he’s worked at the junior hockey level. “We all know how passionate and detailed he was when he played, but he brings that as a coach and more. I think it’s what the Avs need. The hire is a major step in the right direction.”
“Everything Patrick does in sports, he does with passion,” Kroenke says. “I know for a fact he plays golf with passion and has a lot of respect for the game.”
A flat stick was Roy’s best friend on the ice. The fourtime Stanley Cup champion used one to turn away 25,807 shots in 1,029 regular season games during his 19-year Hall of Fame career in the National Hockey League. But the flatstick on the greens has been a nemesis for Roy.
At times, Roy, who plays to a 6, has found that slow-rolling a golf ball into a 4.25-inch hole can be much tougher than preventing a 100 mph hockey puck from zipping through the five-hole. “My short game is not very good,” he says bluntly. “I’ve even shifted to cross-hand, to tell you how much I’m struggling.”
Roy says his game has been up and down since he retired. “Because I retired I thought I would practice more and play better, but that hasn’t been the case,” he says. “But I’m very passionate about the game. I love this game—it’s a great game for many reasons. First of all, I love to compete. Golf, there’s no better sport to me, after 18 years of playing in the NHL, there’s no better game where you can go at your own pace, compete with your buddies and enjoy four-and-a-half hours of playing with your friends.”
Roy allows, however, that “in the last five, six or seven years the game is starting to become a lot different for me. It’s been very humbling. You always think you’ve mastered the game and all of a sudden—bing—it hits you right there. I’m not saying my priority has changed, but I’m there to enjoy myself more now.”
He certainly enjoyed himself last year when he carded his first hole-in-one, on hole No. 13 of the Québec Course at the Royal- Québec Golf Club. “A 4-iron with the wind in my face,” he says. “It’s 200 yards. I saw it roll into the hole. I was jumping, going nuts.”
Roy took up golf early in his NHL career, but to this day chooses not to take formal lessons. He still gets them—at times, reluctantly—for free.
“We have about 600 members, and I have about 599 coaches— which is great,” Roy muses. “When you get out on the range everyone’s telling you that you should do this or that.”
Bourque is an “8 or 9 handicap” who plays as up to five times a week. His long-time friendship with Roy was shaped in the fairways. As teammates with the Avs, the two played golf often—be it at Castle Pines, Glenmoor (two clubs where Roy held memberships), The Ridge at Castle Pines (one of Roy’s favorite Colorado courses)—or hopping a private jet for an in-season getaway to Superstition Mountain in Arizona.
“When he played for Montreal and I played for Boston, probably the late ’80s, early ’90s, we were members of Rosemere Country Club. That’s where we really got to know each other,” Bourque says. “We started playing together more and more. I always respected him. He was a rival—and there’s no bigger rivalry in hockey than Boston and Montreal— but the respect I had for his game . . . it was fun to get to know him personally. We always joked about playing together some day on the ice. I always told him he’d have to come to Boston. He’d say I’d have to come to Montreal. We found ourselves in Colorado. It was an incredible experience and a lot of fun for both of us.”
The on-ice bond between Bourque and Roy was evident during the ’01 Stanley Cup Finals. The two sat together on a podium to answer questions from the press after the Avs lost Game 5. Trailing the New Jersey Devils three games to two in the bestof- seven championship series, Colorado had to win Game 6 in New Jersey to force a Game 7 at Pepsi Center.
The stoic looks on the faces of Roy and Bourque could have been interpreted as dejection, disappointment and despair. But those looks only masked an anger, will and determination that transfused into the entire team.
Bourque delivered an inspirational speech before Game 6. Roy delivered the 19th postseason shutout of his career in the Avs’ 4-0 win. They returned to Denver to win Game 7 and claimed the Stanley Cup championship at Pepsi Center. “I could not tell you that we were not going to lose Game 6, but we were not going to give up,” Roy says.
Roy intends to instill that mentality within the Avs’ current roster. Helping him will be one of the heroes of that championship season, 33-year-old winger Alex Tanguay, for whom the team traded shortly after Roy became coach.
But the team is still young, and Roy will need to draw on his coaching experience with the Québec Remparts of the Québec Major Junior Hockey League. Roy, who was also part-owner and general manager of the team, coached Québec to a 349-159-0-37 record over eight seasons.
The rookie NHL coach will have to exhibit patience with a team that won only 19 games in last year’s lockout-shortened 48-game season and had the fourth-youngest roster in the league. Last season’s team captain, Gabriel Landeskog, is only 20 years old. Forwards Ryan O’Reilly and Matt Duchene are 22. Forward Paul Stastny (27) and defensemen Ryan Wilson (26) and Erik Johnson (25) are young veterans. The team’s first overall selection in this year’s amateur draft, center Nathan MacKinnon, is 17.
Still, goaltending is the team’s main concern. Jean-Sébastien Giguère (36) is the veteran of the group. Calvin Pickard and Seymon Varlamov will have to prove themselves to the greatest goaltender in NHL history.
“As a coach, sometimes you have to be a little more patient because you need to repeat and repeat,” Roy says. “When you’re a player you take care of yourself. When you’re coaching you have to take care of 20-plus players. You need to have a different approach with all the players—some you need to be a little tougher on than others. You need to adapt and adjust all the time.”
Roy’s intensity—and hot temper—is legendary in hockey circles. As a player, he wasn’t afraid to throw the fisties with opposing goaltenders. His bouts with Detroit Red Wings goalies Mike Vernon and Chris Osgood are YouTube favorites. In 2008, Roy’s fighting spirit went a bit too far. He was accused of urging his son, Jonathan, to fight an opposing— and retreating—goalie during a QMJHL game. Both Roys were suspended and fined.
“I never was a very patient player, I can tell you that,” Roy says. “As a coach, you have to be. At the same time, there are limits to patience. I expect people to work hard. When people work hard, then it’s a lot easier for me to be patient—I know we’re going to hit success down the road. If you’re not working hard, then my patience is very little.
“I’m a person that accepts mistakes—no one goes on the ice with the intention to make mistakes. But if you’re not working hard, that’s the thing our fans and organization expect to see. If you respect the game and respect your fans, good things will happen.”
Josh Kroenke is certainly sold. “We are thankful to have Patrick back in the organization in prominent roles,” the team president says. “He loves our community, and our fans will appreciate how he will lead this young team moving forward.”
There’s still a mystery as to who won the round between Roy, Sakic and Kroenke in Jupiter. Each has been tight-lipped about it, but Roy might’ve let on just a bit: “Joe was using my clubs—we both play left-handed— and it seemed like he felt pretty good with them. It was different for Josh (a righty) because he had to use the rental. But honestly, we could not care less about who won.”
Not caring about who wins? That seems a bit hard to believe coming from Patrick Roy— the fierce competitor who retired from his sport as the winningest goaltender in NHL history. That laissez-faire attitude may play out on the golf course, but not behind the bench. For him, pulling the Avalanche out of the rough and back among the ranks of Stanley Cup championship contenders will take quite the save.