First published in the Lethbridge College Endeavour, Nov. 26, 2008
The greatest big-game goaltender in history is finally back home where he belongs.
This past Saturday, the Montreal Canadiens made amends for one of the worst handled situations in the existence of sports, by bringing back Patrick Roy and retiring his legendary No. 33.
All any Habs fan will say to that is: Thank you.
They could say ‘What took you so long?’ or ‘It’s about time you realized how stupid you were to ever have let him go in the first place,’ but the important thing is the feud is over.
Any follower of Le Bleu Blanc et Rouge will remember Dec. 2, 1995, when the Red Wings embarrassed Roy and the Habs 11-1. They will also remember — with hatred I might add — that head coach Mario Tremblay didn’t much care for Roy and felt a good nine-goals-on-26-shots bout of humiliation would serve him well.
When, in fact, all it did was anger the most important player on the club to the point that he could not cool down. It also set in motion a trade with Colorado that sent the Habs into a 10-year tailspin that turned them from the most storied and successful franchise, into a league doormat and inner-city laughing stock.
If it wasn’t for the 2000 purchase of the team by George Gillett Jr., you can bet that downward spiral would be ongoing. Th e only thing that would have kept fans from ending it all by now is the knowledge that no matter how terrible the organization becomes, it’s still not the Leafs.
Gillett realized, even though his club had turned things around under GM Bob Gainey, something was still not right. That’s when he personally went to Roy and said enough is enough.
The Habs are celebrating their centennial this season, and Gillett was not going to allow the party to exclude the best puckstopper in team history. He apologized on the organization’s behalf, reminded Roy of his glory days with the club, and assured him he would be well received by fans.
If you were lucky enough to possess the right cable package, you might have seen that reception on Saturday.
The fans cheered and sang at piercing decibels and wouldn’t let up. A 20-minute ceremony took well over twice that long to complete and, had the series of speakers not decided to simply talk over the crowd, it would probably still be going on.
It’s not often that a fan will side with a player over their team during a dispute, but you can trust me when I tell you, Habs fans never stopped loving Roy and they needed the closure that Saturday provided.
How could they not love Roy? He basically invented goaltending as we know it and has been the idol of every French-Canadian goalie since 1986. All they wanted was to say thank you.
Before Saturday, there were two ovations in Habsville that gave me shivers right to my bones: the day they closed the Forum and brought in Maurice ‘Th e Rocket’ Richard, and then when a very sick Saku Koivu stood on the bench, 30 pounds lighter and missing all his hair, to greet the fans for the first time since being diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, a deadly form of cancer.
Now there are three.