If you asked 100 hockey fans who they thought the best goaltender in NHL history is, you are going to get a whole slew of different answers. There are so many great netminders to choose from. There are early pioneers like Frank Brimsek, George Hainsworth. and Georges Vezina. There are the legends of the “Orignal 6” era like Turk Broda, Jacques Plante, and Terry Sawchuk. Hall of Famers like Martin Brodeur, Ken Dryden, Tony Esposito, and Bernie Parent would undoubtedly get some votes too.
If we were to build a Mount Rushmore of NHL goaltenders, Patrick Roy would be a unanimous addition to this monument, no matter who you think is the greatest of all time. He showed his Hall of Fame talent and tenacity early in his career and became one of the most colorful players the game has ever seen.
Roy’s Road to the NHL Never Leaves Quebec
On Oct. 5, 1965, Roy was born to parents Michel and Barbara in Quebec City, Quebec. The family moved to nearby Cap-Rouge, where young Patrick started his love of hockey at an early age. By the time he was seven years old, he had already donned the goalie pads and began his march to greatness.
At 16, Roy starred for the Sainte-Foy Gouverneurs, winning 27 times during a 40-game season. He moved on to the junior level in 1982 with his first of three seasons for the Granby Bisons of the Quebec Major Hockey League (QMJHL). The Montreal Canadiens drafted the young netminder in the third round (51st overall) of the 1984 NHL Entry Draft. This wasn’t Roy’s ideal destination as he grew up rooting for the rival Quebec Nordiques.
Roy returned to the QMJHL for the start of the 1984-85 season as he mulled over his future. There was speculation that he wouldn’t play for the Canadiens, but he signed his first NHL contract and was called up on Feb. 23, 1985. He made his NHL debut that night when he came in to relieve starter Doug Soetaert in the third period. With the score tied 4-4 to start the final frame, he stopped the two shots he faced to earn his first career victory as the Canadiens beat the Winnipeg Jets 6-4.
He was assigned to the Sherbrooke Canadiens in the American Hockey League (AHL) after his NHL win. He eventually took the starting job away from Greg Moffett for the postseason and won 10 of 13 games on the team’s way to a Calder Cup championship. Coming up huge in the playoffs would be something we’d get used to seeing out of Roy for years to come.
The Highs and Lows in Montreal
Roy began the 1985-86 season with the Canadiens. When Steve Penney went down with an injury in January, he took over the starting job and never looked back. In 47 regular-season games, he went 23-18-3 with a .875 save percentage (SV%), 3.36 goals-against average (GAA), and one shutout. He played well enough to remain the starter for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and that is when his legend began to take root.
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The 20-year-old netminder dominated as the Canadiens made an unexpected run all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. Montreal beat the Calgary Flames in five games to win the Stanley Cup. After a 5-2 Game 1 loss, Roy and the Canadiens rattled off four straight wins, including his first career postseason shutout in Game 4. He went 15-5 during his first taste of the playoffs, posting an incredible .923 SV% and 1.93 GAA. His efforts earned him the Conn Smythe Trophy as the postseason’s most valuable player, becoming the youngest player to win the award. This run earned him the nickname “Saint Patrick” from the Montreal faithful.
The 1986-87 season started a stretch where Roy won three straight William Jennings Trophies for allowing the fewest goals in the league. He went 33-5-6 during the 1988-89 season with a .908 SV%, 2.47 GAA four shutouts to win his first of five Vezina Trophies for being voted the NHL’s best goaltender. This was also the season where Roy and the Canadiens returned to the Stanley Cup Final, only to lose to Lanny McDonald and the Flames in six games.
Roy won the Vezina again in 1990 and 1992. The 1992-93 season ended in grand fashion, with the Canadiens winning their 26th Stanley Cup in team history. Their star netminder had a down regular season to his standards with a .894 SV% and 3.20 GAA. However, once the playoffs began, Roy flipped the proverbial switch and became nearly unbeatable. He went 16-4 with a .929 SV% and 2.13 GAA on his way to the second Conn Smythe Trophy of his career.
The 1993 Stanley Cup Final was the last playoff series win for Roy in Montreal. The following spring, the Canadiens were bounced in the first round by their rival Boston Bruins, and they failed to qualify for the playoffs in the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season. Things would soon get even uglier as Roy’s relationship in Montreal deteriorated beyond repair.
Roy’s Last Game in Montreal
Things took a turn for the worse with the Canadiens during the 1995-96 season. Head coach Jacques Demers was fired four games into the season and was replaced by Mario Tremblay. Roy and Tremblay actually roomed together at the tail end of Tremblay’s playing career, but they did not have a great relationship. When Tremblay was a sports radio host in Montreal following his playing days, he often took to the airwaves to criticize Roy. That carried over to their player/coach relationship leading to a lot of friction between the two.
The fuse was lit, and the powder keg finally exploded on Dec. 2, 1995. Roy had a rare off night and gave up seven first-period goals to the Detroit Red Wings on 17 shots. Much to the surprise of everyone inside The Forum, Tremblay put Roy back on the ice for the second period. The fans sarcastically cheered when Roy made an easy save in the second period, which caused him to give them a mocking celebration in return. He was finally pulled after giving up two more goals.
As a distraught Roy came off the ice, he stormed by his coach and yelled to team president Ronald Corey, who was sitting directly behind the bench, “It’s my last game in Montreal.” The team suspended him for his actions the next day, and four days later, they shocked the hockey world by shipping him out of town. Roy and captain Mike Keane were traded to the Colorado Avalanche for goaltender Jocelyn Thibault and forwards Martin Ručinský and Andrei Kovalenko. This deal is still considered one of the most lopsided trades in league history.
A New Lease with the Avalanche
With the controversy and Tremblay feud behind him, Roy began anew with the Avalanche. This franchise was the Nordiques, the team he grew up cheering for until they relocated to Denver during the summer of 1995. He would be the final piece of the puzzle that completed the Avalanche’s Stanley Cup picture.
During the memorable Western Conference Semifinals that spring against the Chicago Blackhawks, Roy gave us one of the best quotes of his career. In Game 4, Blackhawks’ star Jeremy Roenick was hauled down on a rush while the game was tied, and felt he should have been awarded a penalty shot. The Avalanche ended up winning the game in triple overtime. Roenick, who scored on a breakaway in the previous game, was confident he would have scored.
“It should have been a penalty shot, there’s no doubt about it,” Roenick told reporters. “I like Patrick’s quote that he would’ve stopped me. I’d just want to know where he was in Game 3, probably getting his jock out of the rafters in the United Center, maybe.”
When asked about this, Roy snapped back with his typical style.
“I can’t really hear what Jeremy says because I’ve got my two Stanley Cup rings plugging my ears.”
A few weeks later, Roy added a third ring as the Avalanche dispatched the Blackhawks in six games on their way to winning the first Stanley Cup in franchise history. He went 16-6 with a .921 SV%, 2.10 GAA, and three shutouts during the postseason.
The Avalanche returned to the top of the hockey mountain with another Stanley Cup victory in 2001. Roy won his third Conn Smythe Trophy after another brilliant playoff run. In 23 games, he went 16-7 with a sterling .934 SV%, 1.70 GAA, and a career-high four shutouts.
The following season, Roy proved he still had plenty left in the tank at 36. He started 63 games that season and went 32-23-8 with a .925 SV% and set new career-best marks with a 1.94 GAA and nine shutouts. He won the fifth and final Jennings Trophy of his career and finished second in Vezina voting behind Canadiens goaltender Jose Theodore. The Avalanche’s reign as Stanley Cup champs ended with a loss to the Red Wings in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final.
Roy retired on May 28, 2003, after 1,029 regular-season games. His 551 career wins are second all-time, only behind Martin Brodeur. He is the all-time leader in playoff wins with 151, and his 23 shutouts are one shy of Brodeur’s postseason record.
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In addition to all his personal and team success on the ice, Roy is also known for popularizing the butterfly style of goaltending. He had his No. 33 retired by both the Avalanche and Canadiens, becoming just the sixth player to have his number retired by two franchises. He took his rightful place in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2006, the first year he was eligible for induction.
Roy’s Legacy Continues
Just because Roy hung up his goalie mask did not mean he was done in hockey. In fact, he was just beginning his second phase. He quickly returned to the QMJHL and became the owner and general manager of the Quebec Remparts. On Sept. 29, 2005, he named himself as the new head coach. Much like his playing days, postseason success came early for Roy in his coaching career. The Remparts hosted the Canadian Hockey League’s (CHL) Memorial Cup tournament in 2006, which they won by beating the Moncton Wildcats in the finals. He became just the seventh head coach to win the Memorial Cup in his first season.
Controversy followed Roy during his time with the Remparts. There was an off-ice incident in 2007 involving an altercation with Pierre Cardinal, the co-owner of the Chicoutimi Saguenéens. The following year, his son Jonathan was involved in a brawl during a playoff game against the Saguenéens in which he flipped off the crowd on his way off the ice. Both father and son were suspended as video evidence showed Patrick inciting Jonathan to fight goaltender Bobby Nadeau, even though he never dropped his gloves to defend himself.
Despite finding his name in the headlines for the wrong reasons, he was reportedly offered the Avalanche’s head coaching job following the 2008-09 season but turned them down. Four years later, on May 23, 2013, he was named the head coach and vice president of hockey operations for Colorado and was given the final say on all hockey decisions. However, just before the season started, his former teammate Joe Sakic was hired as an executive vice president, and the duo shared the general manager duties.
Roy was a success right out of the gate with the Avalanche. They won the 2014 Central Division title with 112 points and tied the franchise record with 52 regular-season wins. He won the Jack Adams Award given the top head coach in the NHL. During their first-round series with the Minnesota Wild, he began to pull his goalie with three minutes or more remaining in regulation, something you rarely saw at the time. It worked in two of the three games he did it, and the strategy has become common practice across the league since. However, the second-seeded Avalanche were upset by the Wild in seven games.
This was the only playoff series the Avalanche had under Roy’s guidance. The following season they finished dead last in the Central. They missed the playoffs for the second straight year in the 2015-16 season. About a month before training camp started in 2016, he surprisingly resigned as head coach, citing a lack of input in personnel decisions as his reason. In 2018, he returned to his roles as head coach and general manager of the Remparts, which he still holds today.
One thing Roy was able to accomplish during his career as both a player and coach was that you were always talking about him. If he wasn’t his performance on the ice, it was a quote or his fiery personality or hot temper that earned him the spotlight. Whether you loved or hated Roy during his days in the blue paint, you cannot deny he is hockey royalty and a legend of the game.
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Greg Boysen has been writing about the Chicago Blackhawks since 2010 and has been a site manager for both FanSided and SB Nation. He has been published in The Hockey News and was fully credentialed for the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. Among his various roles with The Hockey Writers are covering the Blackhawks, the AHL, writing the daily “Today in Hockey History” column, serving as a copy editor, and appearing and hosting multiple YouTube shows, including Blackhawks Banter. He is credentialed with the Chicago Wolves, Rockford IceHogs, and Milwaukee Admirals, while also being a regional scout for the NAHL. And, just because his plate isn’t full enough, Greg hosts trivia in the Chicago area two nights a week. For interview requests or to provide topic suggestions, follow Greg on Twitter and reach out.