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Roy Is a Dream in Pipes

Putting on the pads launched a brilliant career for goaltender

January 12, 2003|From Associated Press

DENVER — Patrick Roy holds nearly every significant NHL goaltending record, has won four Stanley Cups and is on the verge of becoming the first goalie to play 1,000 games.

It almost didn't happen.

Growing up in Quebec City, Quebec, Roy was drawn to goaltending because he liked the way the equipment looked. By age 6, he was strapping pillows to his legs with belts and turning away shots in the upstairs of his parents' house.

But during his first year of organized hockey, the kid who would later be called the greatest goalie who ever lived was told he couldn't play.

"My first year I played outdoor and the goalie got hurt, and I asked if I could be the goalie," Roy said. "[The coach] said, 'No, you can't be the goalie because you're too small.' The following year, I asked my mom if I could be a goalie, and I guess that's the best thing that ever happened to me."

And the Avalanche.

Colorado General Manager Pierre Lacroix has had a knack for finding the right pieces to improve his team, trading for players such as Rob Blake, Ray Bourque and Theo Fleury to give the Avalanche an extra boost heading into the playoffs.

But of all the moves Lacroix has made, the Dec. 6, 1995 deal that sent Jocelyn Thibault, Martin Rucinsky and Andrei Kovalenko to Montreal for Roy and Mike Keane has had the biggest impact.

In Roy's eight seasons, the Avalanche has won two Stanley Cups, reached the Western Conference finals six times and tied an NHL record with eight straight division titles.

There have been other stars, including Blake, Bourque, Peter Forsberg and Joe Sakic, but it all started with the deal that brought Roy to Denver.

"I always say that it takes a team and there isn't just one part that makes a team successful, but in this case I have to admit that move ranked up there in the top decisions we've made," said Lacroix, who was Roy's agent before becoming Colorado's GM. "There is no doubt it had an effect on this team for a long time."

But Roy's presence between the pipes reaches far beyond the Avalanche.

Before he broke into the league with the Canadiens in 1985, most goalies either stayed on their feet or stacked their pads to stop shots.

Glenn Hall and Tony Esposito, two goaltenders who starred in the 1960s and 1970s, helped develop the "butterfly" style of dropping to their knees to stop shots. Roy used the style to become the best goaltender of his time.

In his 19 seasons, including 10 in Montreal, Roy has swatted away NHL records like weak wrist shots from the blue line.

"St. Patrick" is the all-time leader for wins, minutes and games played by a goalie, and is the only three-time winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the playoffs. He also won the Vezina Trophy as best goalie three times and is a five-time winner of the Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed.

Roy is the all-time leader in playoff wins, games and shutouts, and about to become the first goalie to play 1,000 games. He should reach the mark Thursday against Detroit or Jan. 20 against Dallas.

"If he wins another 20 games, is that going to make him any better than what he is?" said Keane, in his second stint with Colorado. "He basically has done everything and broken every record, so I think it's pretty safe to say he's the greatest goalie who ever played."

But staying on top isn't as easy at age 37 as it was a decade ago.

Early in his career, Roy spent his off-seasons playing golf, basketball or going fishing. That has been replaced by trips to the gym.

On the ice, the reflexes aren't what they once were, so Roy has to rely on experience and instincts to get into position.

"I trust my technique," Roy said. "I think I'm not moving as quick as I used to in the past, but I think the difference is that I read the play better. Experience has helped me a lot."

The years haven't slowed him much.

Last year, Roy had what Lacroix called his best season, with nine shutouts and a 1.94 goals-against average, both career bests. Roy had a slow start this season and has been battling illnesses that past two weeks, but is rounding back into form.

But while Roy is still one of the league's best goalies, he knows the time is nearing when he will take those pads off for the final time.

Roy says he doesn't look beyond each season, but he is making plans for after his career.

He is part owner of the Quebec Ramparts, a junior team in his hometown, and talks enthusiastically about passing on his knowledge to younger players.

But as long as he still has that kid's passion for the game, Roy will keep strapping those pillows to his legs.

"The day that I feel that I'm going to lose that desire and that passion, that would be a good time for me to leave," Roy said. "The tough part is that it could happen at any time. It could happen in the middle of the season, it could happen at the end of the season. And if it's time to go, it's time to go."

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