Today is the 25th anniversary of the Patrick Roy trade to the Avalanche. I thought it would be fun to post an excerpt from a book I wrote on the Avs, a chapter devoted to the trade, along with adding a few postscripts at the end.
CHAPTER 3: DEC. 6, 1995
I had it, and I was too chicken to write it.
That’s one of the first memories I have of the morning of December 6, 1995. My phone rang at about 6 am, and Avs media relations man Jean Martineau was on the other line.
“We’re going to announce the acquisition of Patrick Roy in a release in a few minutes,” Martineau said. “You’re the first to know.” Well, not really. Everybody in the hockey world was starting to hear it that moment. There was no Internet to write for, so my story on the blockbuster trade of Patrick Roy to the Avalanche, along with Mike Keane, would have to wait 24 hours. I was excited and energized, and kicking myself.
The night before, the Avs had played the San Jose Sharks at McNichols Sports Arena, in a game won by the Avs in a lopsided score. My lead paragraph on the game went like this: “Well, the Colorado Avalanche wouldn’t have needed Patrick Roy on this night, at least.”
On December 3 the Canadiens had announced that Roy, their two-time Stanley Cup champion and two-time Conn Smythe winner, was suspended from the team following a blowup with his coach, Mario Tremblay, in a blowout loss to the Detroit Red Wings at the Montreal Forum.
By the afternoon of December 5, I was hot on the scent that the Avs were a prime player to land Roy in a potential trade. Still, nobody really believed it would happen. Patrick Roy—Saint Patrick, the kid from Quebec idolized by everyone in the province, a two-time Cup winner and three-time Vezina Trophy winner? Really, the Canadiens might trade him, after just a “one of those things” blowup during a game?
It didn’t seem possible. And it sure wouldn’t have been possible, if the Avalanche franchise was still based in Quebec City, as it had been just seven months prior. While Roy was actually born in Quebec City, he was hated by the city’s hockey faithful, because that’s where the Nordiques played, and the hated Canadiens were just two hours down the road. The Nordiques and Canadiens had a serious rivalry, and there would have been zero chance Montreal management ever would have traded Roy to Quebec.
But with the franchise now in Denver, and Roy and Tremblay at odds, Canadiens GM Rejean Houle felt he had no choice but to turn the page and deal Roy. Actually, as revealed in a book written by Roy’s father, Michel, titled Patrick Roy: Winning, Nothing Else, the Habs were set to deal their superstar goalie to Colorado a couple of months earlier.
Serge Savard was the GM of the Canadiens to start the 1995–96 season, and after a slow start for his team, he decided to trade Roy. According to Michel Roy’s book, Savard had a deal worked out with Avs GM Pierre Lacroix in which Roy would go to Colorado and Owen Nolan and Stephane Fiset would go to Montreal. But on October 17, 1995, Savard was fired by the Canadiens, and the Roy deal fell through with his ouster.
Then came the game against the Red Wings on December 2 at the Forum. The back story on that game is a little more fascinating in hindsight. Tremblay, in his first year as coach of the Canadiens, took a few shots at Red Wings coach Scotty Bowman before an earlier game in Detroit, basically saying he was no fun to play for. Bowman had been Tremblay’s coach on the Canadiens in the 1970s. So, when Tremblay and his Canadiens went into Joe Louis Arena and beat Bowman’s mighty Wings, the Habs coach did some chirping.
Bowman rarely forgot any slight, and so when Detroit came into Montreal for the early December game, he was ready for revenge. Detroit got out to a quick lead, and kept pouring it on. When Detroit made it a 6–1 game, most everyone—Roy especially—expected Tremblay to call it a night and pull his No. 1 goalie. Hockey tradition holds that once a game is out of reach, the losing No. 1 goalie gets the rest of the night off, much like a pitcher in baseball who gets the hook from the manager.
For whatever reason, Tremblay left Roy in the game. The score became 7–1, then 8–1 and 9–1. That’s when Tremblay finally decided to pull Roy. By then, though, Roy was steaming mad. He stomped past Tremblay on the bench and stopped to chat with Canadiens president Ronald Corey, whom he told he had just played his last game with the team. As Roy walked past Tremblay again back to his spot on the end of the bench, Roy and Tremblay glared eye-to-eye. Roy told him in French, “Et tu compris?” which means “Do you understand?”
According to his father’s book, Roy had also recently had a blowup with Tremblay on the road in Edmonton. Starting in 1993, under then-coach Bob Berry, the Canadiens had a rule for players on the road: nobody could be seen at the bar of the hotel where they were staying. Early in the 1995–96 season, Roy and teammate Pierre Turgeon were spotted by Tremblay having a beer after a win over the Oilers, at the Westin Hotel downtown.
Tremblay, according to Michel Roy’s account, read Roy and Turgeon the riot act. Roy came back at Tremblay, saying it was no big deal and that he disliked going out to more crowded spots in general. The night ended, in Michel Roy’s account, with Roy and Tremblay glaring at each other from across the bar.
After the embarrassing night with the Red Wings, Roy left the Forum quickly, leaving reporters hanging. He spent most of the night at the home of his agent, Bob Sauve, discussing the events of the evening over a few beers and pondering his next move. Teammate Mike Keane came over after the game, with Roy’s son, Jonathan, in tow. By the next day, Rejean Houle proclaimed he would trade Roy. By the night of December 3, it was only a matter of where he was going.
This is when the night of December 5 comes in, the Avs’ game against the Sharks. I’d heard from some trusted sources that the Avs were hot after Roy, that it all made sense given that Lacroix was his former agent and everyone knew the No. 1 question mark on his young team was the goaltending position.
The night of the game with San Jose, I spent most of the time not watching the ice but staring through binoculars at the suite in which Lacroix sat. Remember, this was 1995; rare was the cell phone, and even rarer was anyone on a computer with Internet access. Through my binoculars, I could see Lacroix talking on a landline telephone throughout most of the game. Who was he talking to? I had a huge suspicion it was someone from a 514 area code—the one covering Montreal and much of Quebec.
With me in the press box that night was Denver Post columnist Mark Kiszla. Just as hungry for a scoop as I was, Kiszla knew the only story that mattered that night wasn’t on the ice. So we made the decision to trudge through the upper deck of a section at McNichols Sports Arena, the one right under Lacroix’s suite. There was no other way to get to the suite other than through the stands. Kiszla and I walked up the stands and stopped a couple rows below where Lacroix was seated. He could easily see and hear us, so we decided to do our talking from there.
“Pierre, anything going on with Montreal tonight?” we asked.
“I haven’t heard,” Lacroix said.
That was always his stock response to any question involving anything sensitive personnel-wise. Thing is, it was always a bit of a tell. Whenever Lacroix said something like that, it was a good findication something we thought was going on was really going on. That was about the extent of our conversation. Kiszla and I both went back to our computers, highly suspicious that a trade was about to go down. But neither of us had it cold. Nobody from Montreal seemed to know for sure, despite calls to just about everyone I knew there.
So despite my hunch that a deal was already done, I held off writing anything declarative. When Martineau’s call came just a few hours later on my home phone, I instantly felt remorse that I hadn’t trusted my instincts more.
By later that evening, though, nobody cared anymore about newspaper scoops. Roy and Keane were on their way to Denver on the private jet of COMSAT Video Enterprises. It hardly seemed real when, in the Avs dressing room, Roy and Keane both put on Colorado sweaters and team baseball caps.
It was and remains arguably the most momentous day in the history of the franchise.
A few postscripts:
- I submit that this was the most consequential trade in Colorado sports history, the one that had the biggest impact on any team. Two Stanley Cups and eight straight division titles after he came to the Avs. Not bad.
- On the night of that Dec. 2 game between the Red Wings and Canadiens, Pierre Lacroix was hosting former Nordiques owner Marcel Aubut at his house, in Littleton. Lacroix was on the phone pretty fast after that, leaving a message with Rejean Houle to call him back.
- I missed that first game Roy played at McNichols Sports Arena, a loss to Edmonton. I was in Gaithersburg, Maryland, attending the wedding of my soon-to-be brother-in-law, Christopher David. (The same Christopher David, by the way, who made national news a few months ago, getting assaulted by federal police in Portland, Oregon for doing absolutely nothing).
- One of the things I’ll personally never forget after the trade: meeting Roy and Mike Keane in the Avs dressing room the night of the trade. That’s where they met the media (remember when they each wore Avs baseball caps?) and it was really something. I mean, he was…Patrick Roy.
- I remember John Elway asking reporters why his last name wasn’t pronounced Roy, as it Roy Clark from Hee-Haw.
- A couple weeks after the trade, Roy (who never does anything like this anymore) allowed me, as a reporter with the Denver Post, to hang out with him for most of a full day. I actually sat in the passenger seat of Patrick’s big SUV while he talked about being new to Denver (he actually lived in Parker) and all that he wanted to accomplish still in his career. I was with him when he picked up his kids from school. I walked into a Circuit City store (remember that chain?) with him and he quickly ordered about $15,000 worth of TV and video equipment. The clerks at the store said they couldn’t deliver the merchandise to his home that day, but Patrick basically told them “How much will it take to get it today?” and he got it done. In other words, he gave them an offer they couldn’t refuse.
- One of the best things for Roy and the Avs, after that trade, was the fact that the Avs went on a long road trip right after that first game at home with Edmonton. He won his next start (in Toronto, I believe) and that trip really allowed him to bond with his new teammates much better. He was soon rooming with the man who would probably be his best friend on the Avs over the years, other than Keane – Adam Foote. Don’t forget, most of the Avs players had been called “Quebec Nordiques” just a year before, and everybody on the Nordiques hated Roy and the Canadiens. That road trip allowed both sides to get to know each other better.
- I vividly remember having a lunch with Roy and then-assistant GM Francois Giguere in Florida on a road trip soon after the trade too. The thing I remember most was Roy being very thirsty and asking the waiter, about three times, for more lemonade, which he pronounced “Lee-MO-Nad.”