Roy returns to Montreal as Isles visit Habs on TSN2 (regional)
A Canadiens icon returns to the Bell Centre on Thursday night - behind the bench of the opposition - as Patrick Roy's New York Islanders roll into Montreal to take on the Habs.
The game marks the first NHL contest that the franchise legend has coached in Montreal since Roy's visiting Colorado Avalanche defeated the Canadiens by a score of 6-1 on Nov. 14, 2015. In his three seasons behind the bench in Denver, Roy was 3-3 against the Canadiens and 1-2 in Montreal.
Widely considered among the greatest goaltenders in franchise history, Roy spent parts of 12 seasons with the Habs from 1985 to 1995. Originally taken with the 51st overall selection of the 1984 NHL Entry Draft out of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Granby Bisons, Roy appeared in 551 games for the team, posting a record of 289-175-66 with a .904 save percentage and a goals against average of 2.78.
During his time with the Canadiens, Roy won a pair of Stanley Cups, in 1986 and 1993, and was the recipient of the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs' most valuable player on both occasions. He was 70-42 in the postseason with a 2.46 GAA and .913 SV%. The Quebec City native also won three Vezina Trophies and was named to six All-Star teams.
Infamously, Roy's tenure with the Habs ended abruptly in early December of 1995. In a game against the Detroit Red Wings at the Montreal Forum, tension between Roy and first-year head coach and former teammate Mario Tremblay had reached a boiling point. Roy was shelled in the early going of the game and received no respite from his head coach, despite clearly wanting to leave the net. Down 7-1 in the second period, Roy skated over to president Ronald Corey, who was sitting behind the Montreal bench, during a break in play and told him "This is my last game in Montreal." Roy would eventually be pulled after surrendering nine goals on 26 shots. The Red Wings would win the game by a score of 11-1.
Roy's words that night weren't hollow. Days later on Dec. 6, Roy would be traded to the Avalanche in a blockbuster. He would go on to spend parts of eight seasons in Denver, winning two more Stanley Cups and another Conn Smythe. Roy was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2006. Two years later, a thaw in the relationship between Roy and the Canadiens allowed for his No. 33 to be retired on Nov. 22, 2008. Roy and Tremblay also reconnected and reconciled in 2021.
Thursday night's visit from Roy is a surprising one. On Saturday, the Islanders fired Lane Lambert in the midst of his second season with the team after a 19-15-11 start to the campaign and replaced him with Roy. A Jack Adams Award winner as the NHL's top coach during his time with the Avs, Roy had not been behind an NHL bench since 2016.
"Watching our team play, I felt that the inconsistency that has been going on for some period of time was not going to end," Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello said in a media availability after the hire. "When I had the opportunity to meet with Patrick recently, I felt that this was the best for our organization to go forward."
While Roy might not have been coaching in the NHL, he had still very much been active in the game. Following his departure from the Avalanche, Roy returned for a second stint as head coach and GM of the QMJHL's Quebec Remparts in 2018. In the five seasons of his return, Roy's Remparts won two Eastern Division titles and last season, the team captured the QMJHL Championship and went on to win the Memorial Cup. Roy stepped down as Remparts coach and GM this past June.
The game in Montreal on Thursday evening will be Roy's biggest test with the circus-like atmosphere his visit has created.
“I think it’s going to be crazy...There’ll be excitement on Thursday," Isles special assignment coach and Canadiens legend Jacques Lemaire told NHL.com. "Patrick will make things interesting. All the people are behind him and that’s great. I think it’s a great thing for our club, too. Hopefully he’ll be the guy who will turn things around for us.”
Canadiens head coach and fellow Hockey Hall of Famer Martin St. Louis, who grew up in Laval, Que., is also looking forward to going head to head with a player he admired as a young fan.
"I always had a lot of respect for Patrick," St. Louis said on Wednesday. "I mean, I was born in '75, Patrick came in '86, I believe, so I saw the '86 and '93 Cups. [There was an] amount of time I was Patrick Roy in the street, playing goalie. We all admire him and idolize him. He meant a lot to me, like the rest of the kids growing up here. He was kinda the backbone of the franchise for a long time."
The Habs enter Thursday night's game as losers of six of their last eight contests and of three in a row. They sit seventh in the Atlantic Division on 45 points, nine behind the Red Wings for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
In the two teams' only previous meeting this season, the Canadiens were 5-3 winners on Dec. 16 on two goals from Josh Anderson.