MONTREAL (AP) Patrick Roy smiled and appeared calm upon his first trip back to Montreal’s Bell Centre as a visiting head coach.
The fiery former Canadiens goalie is a leading candidate for the Jack Adams Trophy as NHL coach of the year with the Colorado Avalanche (44-19-5), who after finishing last in the Western Conference last season are now fourth in the West.
He spent his first 10 years as a player with the Canadiens before a bitter parting in 1995. Roy will coach his first game in Montreal on Tuesday night.
”For sure, it’s special,” the 48-year-old Roy said. ”I try not to think too much about it, but rather to put the focus on our season.
”But I can’t ignore the years I spent playing in Montreal and the reconciliation I had with Montreal when they retired my jersey. I have a lot of respect for this organization and the Canadiens fans.”
Roy expects a warm reception from the same fans who were shocked when he demanded a trade after former coach Mario Tremblay left him in the net for nine goals during an 11-1 loss to Detroit on Dec. 2, 1995.
He was dealt four days later to the Avalanche, with whom he added two Stanley Cup titles to the championships he claimed with the Canadiens in 1986 and 1993.
After years of bitter feelings, he made up with the Canadiens when they retired his No. 33 jersey in 2008. He also returned to Montreal for the club’s 100th anniversary celebrations the following year.
Canadiens fans showed they were back on board with Roy two years ago when the team was looking for a new coach and general manager. A poll showed they overwhelmingly wanted Roy for both jobs.
”I think it’s going to be great,” he said. ”Two years before, I was No. 1 for coach and GM. I could have had both jobs if it was voted by the fans.
”I truly appreciate that. It was a great gesture from them to put me on top and it make me feel good with the fans. It was nice to see that the past is way behind us and everybody has moved on.”
Roy even included Tremblay on a list of leaders he said he learned from while playing with Montreal.
After retiring in 2003, Roy returned to his home town of Quebec City to become coach, general manager and part owner of the junior Quebec Remparts, a club he built into a QMJHL powerhouse.
It was a wild 10 years of junior hockey, marked by frequent blow-ups and temper tantrums at the bench. It looked as though things wouldn’t change as an NHL coach when, during his first game against Anaheim, he tried to push down the divider between the teams’ benches.
But his players say he has been nothing but levelheaded and easy to work for.
”Patrick has been pretty steady all year, being positive, loose and relaxed,” goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere said. ”I can’t remember a game this year when he comes into the room after a period or a game yelling at us.
”He wants to be a partner with the guys, without being a friend or a buddy. He wants to make sure we feel comfortable around him. He hasn’t got mad this year. I’m sure you guys would expect otherwise, but he’s been very positive.”
Roy said he has tried to foster a feeling of partnership between the players and the coaching staff, making sure they have input into decisions.
It seems to be working. A team that has made the playoffs only once in four seasons is now winning regularly with a youthful lineup and, except for Erik Johnson, a no-name defense.
”We told them that the system isn’t built for us coaches, but for the players,” Roy said. ”So it’s important that they feel involved.
”As long as we explain why we’re doing things a certain way and not saying `just because’ means they’re involved. It creates a climate that is good for everyone.”
He even joked about his raucous NHL coaching debut, which he said was showing his players he was on their side.
”Fortunately, it didn’t take long for me to have the opportunity to show that I was with them,” Roy said. ”I don’t remember what happened that game, but I just need to look at my paycheck and I see it.”
When asked if he checked out the banner with his name on it up in the Bell Centre rafters, Roy said: ”I forgot. See how focused I am on the game?
”Actually, I lied. I looked at it before, just to make sure it’s still there. No dust on it.”