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December 2, 1995 was one of those memorable nights in Montreal.

Firstly, it was a Saturday night and Saturday nights in Montreal are generally always memorable. But, on this particular evening, the events that took place at the Montreal Forum were almost seismic.

In order to try to have even a rudimentary understanding of what happened that night, we have to go back to what may have been the beginning. Understand that there are no heroes in this story. Just the sadness of the knowledge of what could have been and, after this night, what never would be again.

The autumn of 1985 saw the beginning of the first full season for a 20-year-old Montreal Canadiens’ goaltender. He was born in Quebec City on October 5, 1965, and no one had any inkling of what Patrick Roy might do in his National Hockey League career. When the team was on the road that season, Roy’s roommate was a twelve-year veteran who would do anything to help his team win. The player he roomed with was Mario Tremblay.

Going back to when Tremblay was a rookie, the man he would room with on the road was the veteran Yvan Cournoyer.

Coming into the 1985-86 season, Roy’s only NHL action came in a game in February of the previous year when he entered a game at the Forum against the Winnipeg Jets. The score was tied 4-4 after two periods, and Roy would be coming in to start the final twenty minutes in relief of Doug Soetaert. He faced just two Jets’ shots and stopped them both. Tom Kurvers and Chris Nilan scored for Montreal and the 19-year-old notched a 6-4 win in his first-ever appearance in ‘The Show’.

1985-86 saw Roy take the main role in the net. He played in 47 games during the regular season and then put the team on his back in playing all twenty playoff games on the way to a Stanley Cup victory. Doug Soetaert played in 23 contests during the regular year while Steve Penney, the hero of Montreal’s 1984 playoff run, appeared in 18. After that Stanley Cup season, Penney would be traded to Winnipeg. His play would never approach the level that he showed back in that 1984 postseason.

For Mario Tremblay, the Cup win in 1986 was his fifth and final championship. That spring was his last as a player as well. Over the course of his career, he played in 953 (852 regular season and 101 playoff) NHL games. He scored the 6,000th goal in Canadiens’ history. He scored the winning goal in the sixth game of the 1978 Stanley Cup Final against Boston. He also had an assist on Yvon Lambert’s series-winning goal against the Bruins a year later. Tremblay retired during training camp in September of 1986 citing shoulder injuries he suffered the season before. He immediately jumped into the broadcasting world, becoming a star in Quebec, and became known as ‘The French Don Cherry’. He made a lot of friends….and a few enemies as well.

Jean Perron had been the coach of the Habs for that Stanley Cup winning team. But after his team finished first in the Adams Division at the end of the 1987-88 season, they were eliminated after the second round by the Boston Bruins. That loss meant the end of the coaching line for Perron in Montreal.

Taking over from Perron was the inimitable Pat Burns. With him at the helm, the Canadiens made it to the Stanley Cup Final series in the spring of 1989. But they were defeated in six games by the Calgary Flames. The Cup clinching game was played at the Forum, marking the first time that the Habs had ever lost a Cup final series in Montreal.

Burns had a great won-lost record as the coach, but he ultimately couldn’t deliver in the playoffs and after four years behind the Canadiens’ bench, he was out. He wouldn’t be unemployed long though. The following season, he was in Toronto as coach of the Maple Leafs. That would last four seasons. He went to Boston and was coach there for four more. His last two seasons in Jersey as the head man for the Devils would round out his career.

The man who took over from Burns in Montreal was Jacques Demers. Demers delivered what Burns could not. Well, Demers and his star goaltender, Patrick Roy did that. They won ten games in overtime in the 1993 playoffs and on June 9, 1993, they knocked the Los Angeles Kings off 4-1 and won the Stanley Cup best-of-seven series in five games. Patrick Roy won his second Conn Smythe Trophy (he won it in 1986 as well) as the Most Valuable Player in the playoffs. That stood him in good stead with his new coach.

Demers was well aware of the value of Roy to his team. He considered his goaltender a leader and consulted with him on a lot of things, most famously on the games that Roy wanted to play (almost all of them) and when he wanted to sit (hardly ever). But when you have a goalie who can win pretty much whenever he wants, as a coach, one would be a fool not to defer to him at least every once in a while.

After the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup in 1993, they played well while riding their All-Star netminder, but they could never repeat that magic. In 1994, they lost in the first round in seven games to the Bruins. But that doesn’t tell the whole story of what added to the legend of ‘Saint Patrick’ in Montreal. With the series tied after two games in Boston, Roy complained about pain in his side. After an examination, it was determined he needed an emergency appendectomy.

He’d be out two weeks if surgery was done. It was decided that his swollen appendix would be treated with antibiotics administered intravenously instead of surgery. He missed the third game of the series. Ron Tugnutt played okay but the Bruins won it somewhat handily, 6-4. Roy was still receiving treatment, but he declared himself healthy enough to play in the fourth game. Boston outshot Montreal 41-15, but Roy was outstanding in a 5-2 Habs’ win.

In Game Five, the Bruins took 61 shots at the Montreal net but only scored once as the Habs won it in overtime by a 2-1 score. The legend of Patrick Roy was cemented that night. But reality kicked back in as the Bruins took the sixth and seventh games to win the series. A few days after the series ended, Guy Carbonneau and some teammates were golfing when they were approached by some newspaper people from Le Journal de Montreal.

The guys just wanted to relax and play golf and told the journalists that. It’s not known if words were exchanged but a picture of Carbonneau extending a middle finger at the people from the paper was posted on the front page the next day. Ronald Corey told the media that the situation would be dealt with internally. But soon after, the three-time Selke Trophy winner, and one of the cornerstone players on the club, was dealt to St. Louis for Jim Montgomery.

In the labour-shortened 1994-95 season, the Canadiens didn’t make the postseason. There were rumours that general manager Serge Savard was thinking of replacing his coach after the ’94-95 campaign, but he held on to his man, Demers.

But when the Habs started out 0-4 in October of 1995, Demers was let go. Also fired with him was Savard. Jacques Laperriere stepped behind the bench as interim head coach and lost the one game he was there for. Former Canadiens’ forward, and longtime Molson employee, Rejean Houle, was hired as the new general manager. The man he hired as coach was Roy’s former road roommate, Mario Tremblay.

Apparently, Roy was not impressed.

There are reports that the two had butted heads often during Roy’s rookie year. It’s said that Tremblay routinely laughed at Roy’s broken English. Before Tremblay was named as coach, he and Roy got into a heated discussion and almost fought while at a Long Island restaurant. When Tremblay walked into the dressing room as coach for the first time, Roy laughed derisively. And then, while in a practice, Tremblay shot a puck that went toward Roy’s throat. The goaltender wanted to fight his coach then and there as well.

One of the things that rankled Roy, apparently, was that Tremblay didn’t treat his goalie with the reverence that Demers did. Michael Farber, in a Sports Illustrated piece on the team, had once termed Roy as a “coach-without-portfolio” under Demers. In fact, according to Montreal Gazette columnist Pat Hickey, “when Tremblay tried to make it clear that he was the boss, Roy bailed out.”

It all came to a head on the night of December 2, 1995, against the powerful Detroit Red Wings.

Now, something to keep in mind was that after losing their first five games of the regular season, and the arrival of Tremblay as coach, the Canadiens won their next six games and seven of their first eight under their new bench boss. In fact, they won twelve of the first fourteen games under Tremblay. Things should have been rosy, right? But they were not.

Why not?

Roy didn’t feel entirely comfortable with Tremblay. He was upset that his backup, Pat Jablonski, was playing games that he felt he should have been playing. He felt that Tremblay wasn’t being consistent with the way he and Jablonski were being used. Tremblay tried to impress upon Roy that all players were to be treated equally and that no one got special treatment.

But then, there were reports that Vincent Damphousse overslept and arrived at the Forum ten minutes before the warmup on that Saturday night before the game with Detroit. Tremblay let that transgression go by saying that Damphousse was needed for the team to have a chance of winning. That bothered Roy and captain Mike Keane. Roy let Tremblay know it and the two argued. That ill feeling may have lingered into the game.

There are a few different reports that as Roy was walking around under the stands well before the game, he ran into Wings’ goalie Mike Vernon. It was mentioned in the ESPN series Rivals. The two all-stars began talking and Roy let his counterpart know that he wasn’t completely happy in Montreal. He felt overly scrutinized by media and fans and his relationship with his coach could not have helped things.

Now understand, the Red Wings were a very good club. They would finish that 1995-96 season with 62 wins and 131 points. But four nights earlier, the two teams had met in Detroit and the Wings squeaked out a tight 3-2 win. This Saturday night game would not be close. After ten minutes, the score was 2-1 for the visitors. But it was all Red Wings after that.

Scotty Bowman was coaching the Wings then and when he had Mario Tremblay as a player, the two did not always see eye to eye. Tremblay wanted to beat Bowman intensely. Bowman wanted to win just as badly. The Detroit plan was to go heavily in the first period with their top two lines. That strategy worked very, very well for the wily old coach.

Montreal fans know the game, but they don’t like bad hockey. They especially don’t put up well with a lack of effort. After the first period, the Habs were down 5-1. Three of Detroit’s goals came on the power play. At this point, Roy expected to be replaced. When he wasn’t, he said he felt that Tremblay left him in to humiliate him. Vyacheslav Kozlov scored another power play marker before the second period was three minutes old. Less than two minutes after that it was 7-1.

All eyes darted over to the bench. Would Tremblay make his move now and pull his standout goaltender? Apparently, Roy thought this was the time. The scribes up in the media box thought it was the time. Jablonski may have thought so as well. He got up from his stool at the end of the bench and headed into the hallway to start stretching. But no change was forthcoming.

With the score 7-1, Sergei Fedorov fired a long shot in at the Montreal goal. Roy stopped it easily. The Forum crowd erupted in a mock cheer. Roy appeared to be irritated by that gesture and dropped the puck for his defenseman and raised his arms at the crowd as if to give some sign of defiance. A few seconds after the halfway mark of the second period, Greg Johnson made it 8-1. All eyes checked Tremblay again. He didn’t move.

Less than two minutes after the Johnson goal, Fedorov scored to make it 9-1. Finally, Tremblay let Jablonski know he was going in. He didn’t really have much choice in the matter though. Roy began skating toward the bench almost as soon as the puck crossed the goal line. He wasn’t going to tolerate any more of this gong show.

As far as he was concerned, he had had enough of the situation. He wanted nothing more to do with Tremblay. He wanted nothing more to do with playing in Montreal. He got to the bench and took off his gloves and mask and tossed them down the hallway toward the dressing room. He took a few steps and when he got a half-step past Tremblay, he exchanged a quick look with his coach, stopped and backtracked over to where team president, Ronald Corey, was sitting.

There was no glass behind the bench at that time. He spoke quickly with Corey. He took a brief second to say something and then he made his way across the bench to the little stool at the other end of the bench and he fumed. According to Elliotte Friedman, the words Roy spoke to Corey were, “I’m done here!”

(Credit: CBC Sports)

That was it. Or was it?

In Robert S. Lefebvre’s book Tales from the Montreal Canadiens Locker Room, the author says that Roy tried to walk his actions back the next day. But Corey and Houle did not want to give him the opportunity to become “a coach killer” and they backed Tremblay. He was told in a private meeting on the Sunday that he would be traded as soon as a deal could be agreed upon. Roy wanted to stay but the decision was made. The situation demanded it. He made a tearful apology to the fans the following day. A couple of days after that, he was traded to Colorado for Jocelyn Thibault, Martin Rucinsky and Andrei Kovalenko. The Canadiens’ captain, Winnipeg native Mike Keane, who earlier in the season had raised the ire of the francophone community when he publicly decided that he didn’t really need to learn French in his capacity as a team leader of Les Canadiens, was thrown into the deal and sent to Denver with Roy.

* * *

It could be argued that if one only looked at his time with the Montreal Canadiens, Patrick Roy would have been a Hall of Famer. He had won two Stanley Cups and a pair of Conn Smythe Trophies to go with them. But then he went to the Avalanche and cemented his place in the gilded Hall on Front Street.

Roy played parts of eight seasons in Colorado and won a couple more Stanley Cups to add to the pair he had won in Montreal. He also won another Conn Smythe Trophy in 2001. The season before, the Avalanche were the Quebec Nordiques. They moved to Denver in the summer of 1995. In one of the biggest slaps in the face to hockey fans in Quebec, Roy’s Avalanche subsequently won the Stanley Cup in the spring of 1996 after acquiring him the previous December.

One of the greatest and most famous trash-talking quotes in hockey history came from Roy during the 1996 Western Conference semifinals. The fourth game of the series went to triple overtime and was won by the Avalanche over the Chicago Blackhawks. That victory tied the series at 2-2. There was a moment during the game in which Jeremy Roenick thought that his Hawks should have received a penalty shot.

When he was asked about Roenick’s statement, Roy stated that he would have stopped the shot anyway. Roenick shot back, “I like Patrick’s quote that he would have stopped me. I just want to know where he was in Game Three. Probably getting his jock out of the rafters.” But Roy had a quick and incisive response.

“I can’t hear what Jeremy says, because I’ve got my two Stanley Cup rings plugging my ears.”

In any discussion about the greatest goaltenders of all time, Roy’s name is always mentioned with those of Martin Brodeur and Dominik Hasek. His 551 regular season victories, 66 shutouts, four Stanley Cup wins, and three Conn Smythe Trophies earned him entry to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2006.

After his playing days were finished, Roy joined the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL as their vice president of hockey operations. He added the titles of owner and general manager to his VP tag soon after. At the end of September of 2005, he became the coach of the team. The following spring, his Remparts won the Memorial Cup, symbolic of Junior Hockey supremacy in Canada.

In 2012, Roy became a regular panelist on the Reseau des Sports hockey talk show, L’Antichambre. He was reunited with his former roommate and coach, Mario Tremblay. In 2021, the two were again reunited for an Uber Eats commercial. They were playing table hockey and at one point, Tremblay has a 9-1 lead on Roy, and he says, “maybe you’d better think of pulling your goalie”. Roy replies “I think he’s got a couple more championships in him.”

At the end of the 2012-13 season, the Colorado Avalanche hired Roy as their head coach. As part of signing with the Avs, he demanded, and received, all the powers of a general manager as well. Eventually, Joe Sakic was hired as Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations and the two worked together on the matters that a general manager would contend with.

That season, the Avs took the Central Division with 112 points. Roy won the Jack Adams Award as the league’s Coach of the Year. After that, the team regressed to the point that after the 2015-16 season, Roy stepped down as coach. He was replaced by Jared Bednar. Mario Tremblay seemed to right the Montreal Canadiens ship during the 1995-96 season. As coach of the team, he posted a 40-27-10 record and the Habs finished in third place in the Northeast Division. But the Habs lost in the first round of the playoffs to the New York Rangers. The following season, the team fell to 31-36-15 for 77 points and fourth in the Northeast. They lost in five games to the Devils in the opening round. That was it for the Mario Tremblay era in Montreal.

In 2001, he joined his former Canadiens’ teammate, Jacques Lemaire with the Minnesota Wild. Lemaire was the coach and Tremblay would become his assistant. The two worked with the Wild for seven years until the end of the 2008-09 season. Lemaire then took the job as the head man with the New Jersey Devils. Tremblay followed him. Lemaire retired after one year behind the bench there. Tremblay was not re-signed by the club. He then joined RDS as an analyst for Canadiens’ games.

Rejean Houle was always one of those ‘good soldiers’ when it came to the Montreal Canadiens. He was one of those great second-tier pieces of the 1970s teams that won so many Cups. After his playing career was over, he went to work for Molson and became a successful representative for one of Canada’s biggest breweries. When Serge Savard was let go as general manager four games into the 1995-96 season, Houle was asked by Ronald Corey to assume those duties. Houle was not the kind of person to say no.

When he took over those duties, he had no experience whatsoever as a general manager of an NHL team. To be fair, Savard had no experience when he took over the job either. But Savard had been preparing for years to step into the job. Houle had the position thrust upon him. And, if we’re going to be fair, he managed like it.

His first big situation involved trading away Patrick Roy. But then, he also dealt away pieces like Vincent Damphousse, Pierre Turgeon and Mark Recchi. And his drafting record was not great either. Players like Matt Higgins, Jason Ward, Eric Chouinard and Marcel Hossa went nowhere. It’s a wonder that Houle was able to stay in the job from 1995 to the 2000-01 season.

As long as he wants to, though, he will serve as an ambassador for the Canadiens’ organization.

Ronald Corey was named the president of the Montreal Canadiens in November of 1982. Over his term in office, the team won two Stanley Cups and he oversaw the move from the Forum to what was then known as the Bell Centre. He helped facilitate the return of Doug Harvey back into the organization. But, perhaps, he’ll be best known as the man who oversaw the trading of Patrick Roy and the systematic dismantling of the Canadiens as one of the power franchises in the NHL.

Four games into the 1995-96 season, he orchestrated the dismissals of coach Jacques Demers and general manager Serge Savard. There were rumours that Savard wanted to become the president of the club. Corey, perhaps sensing a palace coup, decided to act pre-emptively and he got rid of Savard. In the process, he began a process that saw the destruction of a once proud franchise.

In 1999, the Molson Brewery wanted to sell the club and they wanted Corey to supervise that. Corey was not willing or able to do that and he was subsequently replaced by Pierre Boivin. Boivin then saw the team sold to American entrepreneur George Gillett.

Mike Keane won his first Stanley Cup with Montreal in 1993. After being traded to Colorado with Roy, the pair won another Cup the following spring. In the summer of 1997, he became a free agent and signed with the New York Rangers. Halfway through that season, the Rangers sent Keane, Brian Skrudland and a draft pick to the Dallas Stars for Todd Harvey, Bob Errey and a pick.

In 1999, Keane won his third Stanley Cup with the Stars, after the famous ‘foot in the crease’ goal by Brett Hull. Keane traveled to St. Louis, back to Colorado and finished his NHL career with the Vancouver Canucks. After the NHL lockout of 2004-05, Keane signed with the Manitoba Moose. As a Winnipeg native, he was comfortable and playing at home. He would play five seasons with the Moose eventually having his number retired by the American Hockey League team.

When Patrick Roy was dealt to the Colorado Avalanche, he immediately turned them into a serious contender for the Stanley Cup every year. It was almost like the roles of the Canadiens and Avalanche (formerly the Nordiques) were reversed after that trade. The Canadiens went from a flagship franchise to an also-ran. The Avalanche became a powerhouse with an up-and-coming lineup of young stars and a Hall of Fame goalie. From top to bottom, the Avs have been one of those franchises that other teams want to emulate for the past thirty years. Meanwhile, the Montreal Canadiens have become one of those teams that looks like they are guessing as they hop from stone to stone in the creek that has become their reality.

Yes, the Habs were the last Canadian team to win a Stanley Cup, but since that trade that sent Roy and Keane to Denver, they have wandered the desert in search for the occasional oasis. For the Habs and their fans, any vision of a Stanley Cup has been merely a mirage. Sure, they have had the occasional run (see the 2010 NHL playoffs when they surprisingly made it to the third round after knocking off Washington and Pittsburgh before losing to Philadelphia, OR, 2021 when they shocked the Maple Leafs, Jets and Golden Knights before succumbing to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Final) but when was the last time there was some kind of sustained success over a period of years.

Maybe that’s too much to ask of the Montreal Canadiens now. But maybe, with this young nucleus of Suzuki, Caufield, Slafkovsky, Guhle and Xhekaj, the team can find some kind of consistency. I hope I live long enough to see it again because, like it or not, when the Canadiens are a perennial contender, the league and the game are better.

* * *

Howie’s new book MORE Crazy Days & Wild Nights, eleven new stories of outlandish and wild events that occurred in sports over the last fifty years, is available on Amazon. If you love sports and sports history, you need this book! You can hear Howie and his co-host Shawn Lavigne talk sports history on The Sports Lunatics Show, a podcast, on the FiredUp Network, and on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeart Radio, TuneIn Radio and Google Podcasts and on 212 different platforms. Check out The Sports Lunatics Show on YouTube too!


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