PENTICTON, BC. — Sixteen years ago, the Montreal Canadiens, with Réjean Houle as the General Manager, traded all-star goalie Patrick Roy to the Colorado Avalanche along with Mike Keane. In return, the Avalanche sent goalie Jocelyn Thibault along with forwards Martin Rucinsky and Andrei Kovalenko. To this date, this trade is said to be by many, as one of the biggest steals in NHL history, with then GM Pierre Lacroix as the mastermind. The Avalanche went on to win two Stanley Cups while the Canadiens were struggling to qualify for the playoffs.
But let’s go back in time if we may. After an awful start to the season, then Club President Ronald Corey fired his GM (Serge Savard) and his head coach (Jacques Demers) and that, without even having anyone in mind to replace them with. He named assistant coach Jacques Laperrière as interim head coach on October 21, 1995 and after five consecutive losses, Corey announced to the hockey world the nomination of Réjean Houle as General Manager, and Mario Tremblay as the new head coach — nominations somewhat questionable as neither Houle or Tremblay had any previous experience in those roles.
Right from the start, it wasn’t an easy situation between Roy and Tremblay. Under Demers, Roy was consulted on many topics and he had the entire dressing room to himself. If you had the opportunity to get to know Mario Tremblay, he had the same character and he had a mission to straighten up a team having a terrible start to its season. The two men didn’t see eye to eye and it was reported that it was evident to anyone following the team closely.
On December 2nd of that year, the Detroit Red Wings were the visitors at the old Montreal Forum and they built a comfortable 5-1 lead at the first intermission. A everyone’s biggest surprise, Roy was still in goal to start the second period and it became evident that Tremblay was sending a message: he was the boss and he makes the decisions! With the score 8-1 in the second period, Roy made a routine save and some sarcastic fans (as we know them too well) applauded, a stupid act of derision. At the nine minute mark of that period, Detroit scored a ninth goal and Tremblay finally decided to pull Roy from the game. The goaltender was furious. He took his gloves off and walked by Tremblay, both men eyed each other, not a word exchanged. Roy came back, walked in front of Tremblay and went directly to Ronald Corey, who sat behind the players’ bench, to announce that he had just played his last game in the Habs’ uniform.
In this story, a vast majority of people have always blamed Mario Tremblay for Patrick Roy’s departure from Montreal and they are right, in most respects. However, one must look at both sides of the story before judging. How much blame should Jacques Demers take for giving Roy so much empowerment? Yes, he had won a Stanley Cup with him in goal but was it really what Roy needed? Did he have the same latitude in Colorado with the likes of Sakic, Foote, Forsberg and Blake on the team? I highly doubt it. Who, in a knee-jerk reaction, asked for a trade in front of millions of hockey fans on television? Wouldn’t it have been wiser to walk to the dressing room, have a shower, cool off a bit and ask to talk to Mr. Corey to discuss the situation? Who was the one who let his fans down, including yours truly? Shouldn’t he share at the very least part of the blame for his own actions?
But what I remember most about this whole saga, this sad segment in the Canadiens’ history, is Ronald Corey’s decision to panic and fire Serge Savard and his head coach Jacques Demers and that, without any alternative plan, in October! It is also his decision to put an inexperienced GM and head coach in a situation of failure, in a city like Montreal. Didn’t he know what to expect? I have absolutely no doubt that Houle and Tremblay are great people and that they know their hockey but in Montreal, all the while the Canadiens were having a terrible start to their season, with media and fans on the verge of a breakdown? Really?
In my humble opinion, yes, Mario Tremblay deserves his share of the blame for the way he treated Patrick Roy and this whole situation, but he certainly isn’t the only one to blame for it. A small portion of the blame goes to Mr. Demers for babying St-Patrick. A good part of the blame goes to the person who had this knee-jerk reaction as revenge against his coach, not thinking about the team and his fans who had supported him since his arrival in the NHL. But the biggest part of the blame should be directed towards someone who got away with it for the most part, the one who put everyone in a really difficult situation: his name is Ronald Corey.