Wednesday marked the anniversary of one of the most awkward nights over the last 25 years: Patrick Roy’s final game as a member of the Montreal Canadiens.
Two seasons removed from carrying a good-not-great team to a Stanley Cup victory and earning his second Conn Smythe Trophy, the Canadiens replaced head coach Jacques Demars with former forward Mario Tremblay, a move that didn’t sit well with “St. Patrick,” who had roomed with the new coach during their playing days and was often a target of the combative and confrontational Tremblay’s jabs when he was a radio personality prior to moving behind the bench.
On December 2, 1995 in a home game against Detroit, Tremblay left Roy in net as the Red Wings put three, four, five goals past the standout netminder. By the early stages of the second period, the score was 7-1 and the frustrated crowd gave the embattled goalie a faux-cheer when he stopped a long shot from Sergei Fedorov.
Roy responded by mockingly raising his arms in celebration and then shaking his head; a proud player pissed off about being subjected to such humiliation and on home ice no less.
It would take two more to hit the back of the net before Tremblay finally – mercifully – sent Pat Jablonski out to replace Roy, who made his way to the bench, took off his helmet and gloves and then proceeded to shuffle passed the head coach to have a quick word with club president Ronald Corey, seated, as he always was, in the aisle seat in the first row behind the home team’s bench.
“This is my last game in Montreal,” he said.
The following day, Roy was suspended by the club and four days later, he was traded, shipped to Colorado along with Mike Keane in exchange for Andrei Kovalenko, Martin Rucinsky and goaltender Jocelyn Thibault.
Seeing the highlights of that game, it made no sense at the time.
Here was one of the best goalies in the league being left for dead for no obvious reason. Historically, when a goalie was having a bad night, they got put out of their misery early – yanked either after one too many got by them in the first or by having the backup take the ice coming out of the break – but Tremblay left him in there for goal after goal.
After goal. After goal. After goal. After goal. After goal. After goal. After goal.
Looking back, this was a pissing contest and long after Roy had gotten the point, the new man charged with leading the only NHL club he ever played for refused to zip up and move on until it was abundantly clear to everyone in the building that night that it was going to be his way or the highway for the Canadiens, including the team’s superstar goaltender.
Except Roy found and exit ramp and the road led him to Denver and while Tremblay won this battle, the departed goaltender clearly won the war, teaming with Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg and several other Hall of Fame players to win a pair of titles, while Tremblay got relieved of his duties after the team went 31-36-15 in his first full season and lost in the first round of the playoffs for the second consecutive spring.
We haven’t seen anything like it since and chances are we never will, on the ice or any other surface.
In the age of superstar athletes where coaches are easier to come by than players and social media becomes a platform for discussing and dissecting every major and minor altercation between players and coaches, the chances of seeing a coach show up a star athlete like this today are slim. The closest we’ve seen recently is Rick Carlisle sitting down Rajon Rondo for the remainder of the playoffs last season in Dallas and that was nowhere near as dramatic as this.