Game Misconduct: Patrick Roy’s Olympic Meddle

By Tony Bryson

Patrick Roy’s Olympic Meddle

The Canadian Olympic men’s hockey team was dealt a blow when Patrick Roy of the Colorado Avalanche announced that he would not be participating in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, choosing instead to focus on the NHL season and the playoffs in the spring. The announcement came as a bit of a shock to the hockey world, but upon further examination it is not really much of a surprise when you consider the sum of the parts that make up the most successful goaltender in NHL history.

There are a few things you quickly notice about Patrick Roy as you watch him. First is his immense talent. The guy really knows how to stop a puck. He has combined lightning quick reflexes with an uncanny ability to out think a shooter to become a wall in goal. He has taken advantage of every technology change possible to keep his game at a level that few have ever managed to attain. He uses his over-sized equipment to cover as much of the net as humanly possible and makes the shooter fire at targets that aren’t there. It’s hard to believe that his six foot, one hundred and ninety pound frame, can be so intimidating to NHL snipers, but when you add on the largest pads in the game it becomes clear as to a portion of where his success stems. When you combine these features together you have a package that is the most successful goaltender that has played the game.

The second thing you notice about Patrick Roy is his competitive spirit. He hates to lose. You don’t put together the numbers he has without having the desire to go out there and play every single game. You don’t get to the stratospheric levels that Roy is at without needing to win every single game you play. Patrick Roy is a winner because he needs to win. He is going to be a winner, and no one is going to stand in his way. If Roy has anything to say about it, he will be the one controlling his destiny because he feels he has the ability to do so.

The third thing you notice about Patrick Roy is his massive ego. All professional athletes have an ego. It comes with the territory. When you grow up hearing how great you are every day, it is very hard to stay grounded in reality and not develop a swelled head. Roy is no different in this way. He puts his ego on display everywhere he goes. Patrick likes to be the center of attention and get the laurels he so rightly deserves. He knows he’s one of the greatest goaltenders who has ever lived and he wants the recognition that he feels he has earned. Anything less and you’re mistreating Patrick Roy.

When you add these traits together you come up with a player who is destined for greatness. A player that almost any team would take and build around in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, when you add these traits together you also see the development of a player who can be an extremely disruptive force, one who can create disharmony on a team and distractions that can lead to short-term failure.

This point was driven home on December 2, 1995, when Roy was still a member of the Montreal Canadiens. Mario Trembley was the coach of the team and had a substantial ego of his own. He felt that no one player was bigger than the team, and that the team was not bigger than the coach. This was something that didn’t really work for Roy. On this particular night the Detroit Red Wings were in town and were laying a beating on the Canadiens. Trembley left Roy in net as the Red Wings put nine pucks past the goaltender. Several times Roy looked to the bench asking to be pulled. Trembley left Roy in goal in what some have thought was an effort to teach him some humility. The Red Wings put nine pucks past the beliguered goaltender before he left the crease. Roy skated off the ice, walked directly to Canadiens President, Ronald Corey, and stated that he had been humiliated and it was the last game he would play for the Montreal team. Roy was traded to Colorado a few days later, where he could resume the level of success he was accustomed to, and the level of respect he felt he deserved. He was the best in the game and wanted to be respected as such.

Patrick Roy is a player that must be the center of the team. He must be that one player who everyone fawns over. He must be the guy who plays all the games and earns all the accolades. On an NHL team that is not a problem. Each team is usually blessed with only one guy who is a capable starter. That starter gets the majority of the starts and is counted on to win all the big games. It is extremely unlikely that a team is going to abandon their proven starter and go with a back up in a big game. Only the most desperate have done so in the past, and that has usually lead to the predictable result, a loss. So for Patrick Roy, the NHL is the best place for him to peacefully exist. He is the man, and gets treated like a hero.

The Olympics are a different story. This is a short event, one in which the best-of-the-best battle for positions. Patrick Roy would no longer be the only go-to guy looking for time in the crease. He would be expected to earn his position, and play well to keep his position. When the Canadian mini-camp was held in Calgary back in August, all the players were told that, “egos were to be checked at the door, and you are to become a team player.” This is where we begin to see why Patrick Roy has made the decision to walk away from the Canadian Olympic team. When you go back and re-examine at those three qualities that you notice about Patrick Roy (ability, desire and ego) you start to see why there may be some trepidation for to commit to the Olympic program again.

The last time he was with the Olympic team he was the starting goaltender for a team that was upset and lost in a shoot-out to the Czechs. Back in Canada this performance was labeled a major disappointment. Patrick Roy was placed under the microscope after Dominik Hasek out-lasted him in the shoot-out, treatment that Roy did not appreciate. The scrutiny was worse when the Canadians came home empty handed after the Finns beat Canada 3-2 in the bronze medal game. Roy managed only twelve saves on fifteen shots, while his Finnish counterpart, Ari Sulander, stopped thirty-two of thirty-four shots directed his way. Roy did not like the failure and hinted then that he might not be back for the next Olympics. During the post game interviews he was quoted as saying, “It’s tough to lose when you’re hoping for a gold medal. This was probably my only chance for one.”

From what could be observed, Patrick Roy did not like his experience as a loser. For a player that is driven by his need to win, and the laurels the winner gets, losing or being a disappointment did not sit well. It quickly became obvious that he would not let himself be thrust into a position in which he would be considered the goat again. Patrick Roy needed an out. His NHL credentials are the most impressive that have been generated to date, and the only blemish on his record was the humiliation of the Nagano Olympics. He needed to take control and make sure that he could not be thrust into a position that could cast another blemish on his hall of fame numbers. So when team Canada stated that the goaltender who was playing the best at the time (of the Olympics) would be the starter, Roy saw an opportunity to bow out. Publicly he said he wanted to focus on the Avalanche and the NHL schedule. But privately it is believed that he stated if he was not guaranteed being the number one guy going in, he was not prepared to participate at all. Roy was provided the out he was looking for, and he seized it.

Patrick Roy’s announcement that he was not going to be participating in the Olympics was a shock to some, but not to those who look past the scoring summaries and into the hearts of the individual players. Roy has indeed been the most successful goaltender in NHL history, but I hedge to say he will be remembered as the greatest that the sport has seen at his position. The impetuous behavior and self-centered actions he has displayed in the past will make many think twice before placing him in the same company as Vezina, Plante, Dryden and Tretiak. Roy has made a calculated decision to skip the Olympics, which begs a simple question. Will Canada’s Olympic team miss Patrick Roy this winter as much as Patrick Roy misses Canada’s Olympic team in his retirement years? If Canada comes home with a medal, the answer becomes pretty obvious.