SASKATOON – The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League became a little less exciting this week with the news that Patrick Roy was leaving to become coach and vice-president of player development for the Colorado Avalanche.
The long-time owner, general manager, and bench boss of the Quebec Remparts was known for being a good coach, a big draw, and a straight shooter. If he didn’t agree with something – an official’s call, a suspension, a reporter’s question, or something said/done by a fellow GM – he wasn’t afraid to tell you.
“He’s a very fiery person and a very passionate man,” said Calgary Flames head coach Bob Hartley, who coached Roy to a Stanley Cup in Denver in 2001. “That’s what he’s going to bring to the Avalanche.’’
Never one to be politically correct, in 2012 alone, he was fined by the QMJHL a total of $12,000 for various comments.
“At the end of the day you have to be yourself,” said Hartley, who is working here during the MasterCard Memorial Cup as an analyst for TVA Sports. “That fire made him one of the best goalies – if not the best goalie – to ever play this game. …He’s a winner and when you want to win you sometimes have to bring people around you out of their comfort zone and sometimes people don’t like that.”
But there’s a big difference between running your own junior hockey team – where you have complete control over every aspect of your club – and answering to a GM and owner in the NHL. In the last few years the junior ranks have lost coach-owners like Dale Hunter (London Knights), Brent Sutter (Red Deer Rebels) and Bob Boughner (Windsor). Like Sutter, Boughner and Hunter, Roy, too, had a long career as an NHLer. All of the above have been extremely successful coaching and running their clubs in the Canadian Hockey League, but that didn’t necessarily translate to success in the NHL.
Sutter is the only coach to last more than a year in NHL. He returned behind the bench of his Western Hockey League’s Rebels within a year of leaving the Calgary Flames.
“There are adjustments in every new job,” said Hartley who replaced Sutter behind the Flames bench. “Patrick in his title (VP of player development) will have lots of power in the decision making . . . They are restarting this great franchise (in Colorado) and there are going to be adjustments for sure.”
Hartley believes Roy will be successful in the NHL because of his attention to detail. Even as a veteran player in the NHL, Hartley said the goaltending legend knew that he wanted to coach and was picking up the tricks of the trade. As a high-profile recently retired player, Roy could have joined any hockey team he wanted, but he chose to start at the bottom in minor hockey at the bantam AA level and work his way up to the top.
“That’s quite an investment for a Hall of Famer and winningest goalie at that time,” said Hartley. “He had four Stanley Cups and two Conn Smythes. Many great players like this would have said, ‘No way I’m not going to pay my time working with kids, riding the bus all over the Maritimes and Quebec. But that’s Patrick, he’s a passionate man. He has a lot to give he’s a great teacher and there’s no doubt in my mind (he’ll be a good NHL coach).”
[Related: Why Roy is worth the risk for the Avalanche]
In his eight seasons as coach-GM of the Remparts, Roy has a winning record of 348-196 in the regular season and won the 2006 Memorial Cup in Moncton, N.B. He was interviewed by Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin for their head coaching job after Jacques Martin was fired in December2011.
Does Bergevin think Roy has what it takes to cut it as a coach in the NHL?
“I do,” said Bergevin, who is here scouting the prospects for next month’s NHL Entry Draft who are playing in the Memorial Cup. “I met him last year for an interview to become the head coach in Montreal. He did very well and I was very impressed with Patrick. Obviously I went the other way with (hiring) Michel Therrien – I had my reasons – a guy with (NHL coaching) experience was important to me. But there’s no doubt in my mind that Patrick Roy will have success in the NHL.”
In the meantime, Roy will have to find a coach to replace him and that won’t be easy. Rumours around the league have Rouyn-Noranda head coach-GM Andre Tourigny and Halifax Mooseheads current coach Dominique Ducharme as possible replacements, though they are both still under contract. In addition, either Tourigny or Gatineau Olympiques boss Benoit Groulx have been rumoured to be potential candidates to join Roy behind the Avalanche bench.
Roy’s replacement has massive skates to fill. He is a big draw in the QMJHL given his profile as one of the greatest players in Canadiens history, a Stanley Cup champion and member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Road games to see Roy and the Remparts are regularly sold out. According to a QMJHL source, when the Remparts are broadcast on television, they routinely almost double the ratings brought in by other teams.
Roy’s departure is a blow to the Q.
“He made that league a better league,” said Hartley. “He forced many organizations to raise the bar in order to compete with the Remparts. At the end of the day it’s all the kids, it’s the entire Quebec league that was in better shape and today it’s a loss, but at the same time, he leaves another legacy.
“That’s why he’s a very special man.”