Patrick Roy: Winning, Nothing Else by Michel Roy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
There are some who consider Patrick Roy to be the best goaltender in the history of the NHL. I’m not one of them. But I do think he’s one of the best, and perhaps the best if you go by some statistics. For instance, Roy played in more games than any other goalie in history. He won more playoff games than any other goalie in history, not even close. He won four Stanley Cups and three Vezina Trophies. All really good statistics. But he played from 1984 to 2003, 19 years. And while he was named to 11 All Star teams (why not 15, 16, or 17?), he was named First Team All Star only four times and Second Team All Star only twice. I think that’s pretty telling. And even though three Vezina Trophies for best goalie in the league is pretty impressive, are you telling me that the best goalie in HISTORY could only win three in NINETEEN years and he’s still the greatest ever? No, I don’t believe it. Even though this book sings his praises and, apparently, so do many other people, evidently not enough of his peers and NHL management thought highly enough of him to honor him while he played so that says a lot to me. And even though both Montreal and Colorado retired his jersey after he played for both teams and even though he made the Hall of Fame, I consider him to be merely one of the greatest goalies ever, although I hesitate to say who’s the best. Perhaps I would put him up with Billy Smith and Ken Dryden, among others. Grant Fuhr, to a far lesser degree. Some of the older goalies from previous eras, too, no doubt.
The main problem with this book is it’s written by his father, who is a Quebec government official, not a sports writer or journalist, and certainly not objective. And to make matters more irritating, the first part of the book seems more intent upon describing the author’s own life and career rather than Patrick’s boyhood and beginnings. It’s rather hubristic. Eventually, though, Michel Roy settles down and starts telling Patrick’s story and it’s startling grim to start out with. His entire minor league career is ugly. He plays on horrible junior hockey teams, just wretched. And one thing I never understood is, while he was apparently decent, the few times his father listed his junior numbers, they weren’t that good, which his father attributed to his teammates’ ineptitude rather than his son’s, and so I never understood why Patrick went on to become considered the top junior goalie in the league at some point. His numbers sure didn’t reflect that and he sure never led his teams to winning seasons. Weird. Usually winners hoist their teams on their backs and lead their teams to winning seasons. Not Roy.
Finally, he got invited to Montreal’s camp. He barely spoke English and had to play mostly in non-Quebec cities for the first time. It was difficult. He didn’t last and was sent back down, but the following year was back. His (real) rookie year in 1985-86 was good, but not great. But when Montreal made the playoffs, something happened and he caught fire and never stopped. He led the Canadiens to a Stanley Cup win and was named MVP of the series, which was pretty awesome for a rookie. And so it began.
He had a series of difficulties with coaches in Montreal. During his first few seasons, for some reason, he was forced to share goaltending duties with another goalie, which was pretty humiliating, considering he was much better. There was a possible reason. In the juniors, he had hooked up with this young, new untraditional goalie coach who had helped him develop a new “butterfly” technique of goaltending, which the NHL had rarely seen and detested. His style was frowned upon and he was actually punished by numerous coaches for using his own style no matter how effective it was. It wasn’t until he had established himself with a new coach in Montreal, and with this goalie coach, that his career took off and he started winning lots of games and he started getting career lows in goals against averages.
His second year was a down year, but then he came back and established himself. His general manager was always messing with the team though, trading good players to get new players, messing with the chemistry. It was tough to repeat as Stanley Cup champions with that going on. Nonetheless, Roy won Vezina Trophies in 1989, 1990, and 1992. And he led Montreal to another Stanley Cup victory in 1993. However, the team and even some fans began to get somewhat disenchanted with Roy by then, for reasons I never entirely understood. He was making too much money and was standing up to a new asshole coach. Big deal. So they did the unthinkable and traded him to Colorado in 1995, their old Quebec Nordiques nemesis recently moved to the Rockies. Roy would have to start all over again.
By this time, Roy was married and had a couple of kids. One of my complaints about this book is his father mentions the fact that Patrick meets a pretty woman and starts seeing her. Later, surprise, they get married! Later, they apparently reproduce. The only time we actually see her at all is when they have a massive public fight on their front lawn in Colorado, which I thought was going to end their marriage, but which evidently did not. In fact, Michel Roy didn’t delve very much into Patrick’s inner being and psyche very much at all, other than to assert that he wanted to play and win more than anything and anyone else at all. Over and over again, he beats that into your head. It gets pretty repetitive.
Whatever the case, Roy adapts to Colorado pretty quickly. His coach is his old agent in Quebec. He leads the team to a Stanley Cup win his first season there and becomes a huge celebrity in that state, according to his father, bigger than any other athlete in the history of Denver or Colorado, including John Elway, which I personally find ridiculous and impossible to believe. Utterly impossible. Roy kept putting up good numbers and Colorado eventually traded for aging superstar Raymond Bourque, who would likely be a Hall of Famer but had never won a Stanley Cup. The team decided to dedicate themselves to winning one for him, for some reason, and Roy made it his obsession. And they did in Bourque’s last year, 2001, when Roy won his third Conn Smythe award for playoff MVP while winning his fourth Stanley Cup. He then retired in 2003. After his retirement, he got involved in coaching junior hockey in Quebec and is now the coach of the Colorado Avalanche, his old team.
This isn’t a bad book. At times, it’s fairly interesting. But I’ve read many better sports bios, as I’ve read a lot of them, and I’ve read better hockey bios. As I mentioned, I don’t think it helped that Patrick’s father wrote this. He really should have had an unrelated professional write this. It would have been more objective and written better with more and better information about the man himself, I’m guessing. Still, if you’re a fan of Roy, you’ll probably like it. If you’re a fan of Montreal or Colorado, you’ll probably like it. Even if you’re simply a hockey fan, it’s possible you’ll probably like it to some degree, like me. Otherwise, I’d probably avoid it. Cautiously recommended, but obviously only for hockey fans. No point in reading it otherwise.