MONTREAL — It was a calm and smiling Patrick Roy who entered the Bell Centre as a visiting head coach for the first time on Monday.
The fiery former Montreal Canadiens goaltender is a leading candidate for the Jack Adams Trophy as NHL coach of the year with the Avalanche, who were last in the Western Conference last season but are now fourth in the West at 44-19-5.
On Tuesday night he will coach his first game in Montreal, where he played the first 10 years of his career before a bitter parting in 1995.
And he was all smiles and good vibrations as he met with a crowd of reporters after practice.
“For sure, it’s special,” said 48-year-old Roy. “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 Colorado, where he added two more Stanley Cups to the ones he won 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.
And he was back in Montreal for the club’s 100th anniversary celebrations the following year.
That fans were back on board was evident two years ago when the Canadiens were seeking a new coach and general manager. A poll showed fans 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’s moved on.”
He even included Tremblay on a list of leaders he said he learned from while playing in Montreal.
After retiring as a player in 2003, Roy returned to his home town of Quebec City to become coach, general manager and part owner of the junior Quebec Remparts, who 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 like things wouldn’t change in the NHL when, during his first game against Anaheim, he went ballistic and tried to push down the divider between the teams’ benches.
But his players say he has been nothing but level-headed and easy to work for.
“Patrick has been pretty steady all year, being positive, loose and relaxed,” said goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere. “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 the last four seasons is winning regularly with a youthful lineup and, except for Erik Johnson, a no-name defence.
“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 show that I was with them,” he said. “I don’t remember what happened that game, but I just need to look at my paycheque and I see it.”
And 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.”