Authors: Roy Macgregor
He cannot even remember who it was that beat him (it was Rob Niedermayer). He will not predict when it will happen next. “There's no rush,” he says.
It has already been a fascinating spring for Roy. He was, early on, thought to be a problem for the Avalanche, an aging goaltender
who had lost his edge, particularly after an opening game loss to the Los Angeles Kings in Round 2. The early criticism was, at times, as strong as the recent praise. “You're not amused by that,” he says, “but you have no control over that, so you just try to remain focused. I always believed things would turn around.”
In a way, the entire season has been like this for Roy. In the fall, he was embroiled in a domestic dispute in which charges were eventually dropped. Today, what debate there is around Roy has died down to speculation as to where he would be playing next year and whether or not he would be considered for the Canadian Olympic Team headed for Salt Lake City in early 2002.
Roy is in the final year of a contract that pays him $7.5 million a year and will become a free agent this summer. Had his inconsistencies not improved, he might have been headed for his third NHL team. Should Colorado win another, the pressure will be on to keep him. Pressure is also suddenly building to include him on the Olympic squad, though it was Roy who allowed the critical goal in the 1998 shootout against the Czech Republic and Roy again who played somewhat listlessly as Canada came up short against Finland in the bronze medal game.
But the good sense in waiting until the final moment to name the Canadian goaltenders is somewhat apparent this week as New Jersey's Martin Brodeur looked rather ordinary in Game 1, while Roy sparkled when necessary. It may be that the same three goaltenders from Nagano will be headed for Salt LakeâRoy, Brodeur and Toronto's Curtis Josephâwith the current “money goalie” the choice to start. And so far, neither of the others have proved to be the money goaltender that Roy so undeniably can be.
“It's something that I haven't thought about, to be honest with you,” he says of the Olympic possibility. “It's something that I don't want to think about. I have no control over their selection. The only thing I can control is what's going on right now.”
And that, for the moment, is the Devils' attack, which surely will not be as unimpressive from here on out as it was in Game 1.
One NHL coach says that the Devils need to rattle Roy more by making him play the puck behind his net as much as possible. Roy is, by nature, so obsessively competitive, says the coach, that he will not be able to resist going one-on-one against Brodeur, who Roy concedes is the best puck-handling goaltender in the game. “Patrick,” says the coach, “can get out of control.”
Certainly Roy's reputation is of a fiery, at times unpredictable, competitor. His mannerismsâthe once-novel butterfly style, talking to the goalposts, refusing to skate over the bluelinesâmade him both noticeable and often controversial right from his very first season in Montreal, and there remains a bit of an edge to him.
He does not care to be reminded of his inevitable retirement. He says, somewhat curtly, that he has never considered the fact that he could be on the verge of becoming the first goaltender to win Stanley Cups in three different decades. He bristles when someone suggests that he and New Jersey coach Larry Robinson were once teammates in Montreal a long time ago. “Maybe for you,” he says, “but not for me.”
He does concede, however, that experience, not time, has had its effect on him as a goaltender. “There are things that are different,” he says. “I don't think I'm as quick as I was then, but experience sometimes will make up for that. I'm still moving pretty good side to side, but I know there are things that I was doing better then than I do now, and there are things that I do now that are better than I was doing then.”
No matter how it's done, however, the results seem to remain exactly the same: Patrick Roy finds a way to win final series. No wonder Colorado coach Bob Hartley calls him “the spine” of the hockey club.
“Patrick has given us a chance to win every game,” says Hartley. “He's given us the belief that if we give him the necessary offensive support, he's going to take care of the rest.”
Patrick Roy retired in 2003 after a still-remarkable season in which he went 35â15â13 and posted an impressive .920 save percentage. He won four Stanley Cups, three Conn Smythe trophies as the top player of the playoffs and three Vezinas as the NHL's top goaltender. In 2006 he was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. In retirement he became owner and general manager of the Quebec Remparts junior club, taking over the coaching duties and winning yet another championship: the Memorial Cup
erhaps there should be a statute of limitations on playoff beards.
Ray Bourque should be excused, for there is something about his snow-dappled chin stubble that makes him look more like a middle-aged executive at the end of a two-week canoe trip than an elite NHL defenceman at the beginning of what he hopes will be the best two weeks of his career.
Without the stubble Bourque could pass for thirty, a superbly conditioned athlete without an ounce of fat and with a head of hair so thick and water resistant it has been compared to an otter's pelt. With the stubble he looks more than what he is, forty, and it serves as a prickly underline to the daily sidebar attached to this year's Stanley Cup final: “Win One for Ray.”
Raymond Bourque is forty going on forty-one. He is in his twenty-second NHL season. He won the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie in his first season and five Norris trophies as the league's top defenceman in the seasons that followed. He has scored, in that time, a remarkable 410 goals and 1,169 assists for
1,579 regular season points and added another 178 points, and counting, in post-season play. He has played 1,612 regular season games and, this evening against the New Jersey Devils, will dress for his 208th playoff game. He has, however, one small shortcoming in that remarkable record: “I've never won my last game.”
This will only be Bourque's third final in those twenty-two springs. In 1988 and 1990 he led the Boston Bruins, the team he played almost twenty-one seasons for, to the final against the Edmonton Oilers, but both times the Bruins were easily defeated. This, he feels, is his best chanceâand likely his lastâto accomplish the one great dream of his life.
All hockey players, of course, have that same dream. None, however, may dream it as intensely as Bourque, the shy, reserved young kid who grew up in Montreal during the Canadiens' last great dynasty, and who used to skip school to watch what seemed to him the annual Stanley Cup parade. He has been to the Hockey Hall of Fame to stare at the trophy. He has, on several occasions, drawn close enough to read the names on it.
He has never, however, touched the Stanley Cup. He has had chances but never reached for it, never believed he had the right to hold something he had not earned. Bourqueâwho once said he would both retire and die a Bruinâcame to Colorado for one reason only, to have that final chance to win his final game of a long hockey season. It was supposed to be last year, but the Avalanche fell unexpectedly to the Dallas Stars in the Western final. This year, the “Win One for Ray” theme has only been heightened by the fact that he is one year older and the Avalanche, this time, made it to what Colorado goaltender Patrick Roy likes to call “The Big Dance.”
“It would be nice,” Roy said earlier this week, “for him to touch the steel.”
It is a feel-good story that, it must be said, not everyone feels equally good about. The swaggering, rich Avalanche sometimes feel like hockey's version of the New York Yankees, and some find it difficult to cheer for Bourque if it also suggests that Stanley
Cups can be bought by bringing in late-season, very expensive additions like Bourque a year ago and defenceman Rob Blake at this year's trading deadline.
Bourque himself has always been dutiful in his dealings with the public and the press, but his reserved personality has also meant not everyone warms to him. There is, as well, some lingering resentment among older players toward Bourque's perceived “softness” in dealing with the Bruins on contracts, a matter some agents will argue cost all elite players in that hockey bargaining is done through comparison shopping. Bourque, however, is hardly suffering. He made, and saved, tens of millions with the Bruins and is currently on a one-year, $5.5-million deal with the Avalanche.
Most fans would applaud a Stanley Cup to cap off one of the game's greatest careers. Great athletes who never win the championshipâbaseball's Ernie Banks, hockey's Marcel Dionneâseem to carry an asterisk about with them, and Bourque would prefer not to enter the Hall of Fame with anyone whispering, “He was great, butÂ â¦”
Each day when Bourque drives down Peoria toward the Avalanche's suburban practice facility, he passes by a long line of such reminders. John Elway, the great Denver Broncos quarterback, was destined to go down in sports history as the superstar who could never win the big one until, at the end of his long career, he suddenly won back-to-back Super Bowls. Today, Elway's name graces a long string of affluent automobile dealerships along Peoria, proof that a name without a “butÂ â¦” has extra currency long past retirement. Bourque admits no one cheered more than he did when Elway finally won the championship that seemed destined to elude him.
He calls his own championship chase “Mission: 16W.” Sixteen wins, four rounds of successful best-of-seven series, and the Cup would be his to raise. He even had baseball caps made up to hand around the dressing room and the notion has caught on to the point where they are beginning to sell the caps to the public. It
has even been noted that “16W” also stands for the exit off the New Jersey Turnpike that will take Bourque and his teammates to the Continental Airlines Arena for Games 3 and 4 and, if necessary, Game 6.
“A good omen,” says Bourque, “â¦Â I hope.”
He finds the story quieter this year than it was last, when he became the surprise trading-deadline deal that so many presumed meant a second Cup for the powerful Avalanche and a first one for Bourque. It was a trade he had requested from Boston toward the end of what had become one more frustrating season of coming up short.
“There came a time in that season where I knew it wasn't going to happen,” says Bourque. “And if I hadn't made the move, I really don't know if I would still be playing. I might have just packed it in and retired.”
The idea of not retiring came to him from an unlikely source, Chris Chelios, another aging defenceman, who had left the Chicago Blackhawks for the Detroit Red Wings and seemed, to Bourque, to be thriving.
“We had a nice little chat,” Bourque remembers. “It looked like he was really enjoying himself. He was in a situation that was similar to mine in terms of being in a place where they weren't being very successful. You're playing a lot of minutes, tough minutes, and really not playing up to the level that you're used to. When I saw him move and then the way he was playing in Detroit, I talked to him about it. And I certainly thought about what it would mean to me to move somewhere else and what kind of effect it would have to have me playing my game again.”
He talked it over with his wife, Christiane, and their three children, Melissa, Christopher and Ryan, and when he had their approval he decided to “go for it.” The effect turned out to be astounding, considering his years. Bourque was an instant success in Colorado last season and one of their best playoff performers in what ultimately turned into another disappointment. This year
he began slowly, but soon was playing his regular thirty minutes of hockey a night and impressively enough to be named a finalist, once again, for the Norris.
He slipped again early on in these playoffs, but is again healthy and playing like he once did when his playoff beard was red to the roots. “It's been a great move for me,” he says. “Last year, we made it to the semis and this year to the finals. That's what it's all about. You forget that feeling and how good it feels, and it's good to feel it again.”
Other players on the team say it is an “inspiration” to see Bourque working so hard to win the Cup they all want. “You hear about guys in this game who have passion,” says Blake, who is often paired with Bourque on defence, “but to give so much to one team and one organization for so long and then to make a change late in your career and to have that same outlook, that's a passion for the game not many guys have.”
Blake, who came to Colorado from Los Angeles in February, says his game has picked up since he's been playing with Bourque. “I don't think you ever stop learning during your years in the NHL,” Blake says. “I still have a few years left in my career, but I can learn so much from Ray. He's going to help me from now until I retire.”
Bourque's own retirement is a subject that comes up as often as the missing Cup. He candidly admits to being “in denial” about his ageâ“You don't want to think about that”âand believes he is in good enough shape to play several more seasons if he really wants to. But that decision he will put off until this coming summer. “I'm going to wait,” he says. “I really don't know when, or how I'm going to go about it.”
Summer, however, is still a few weeks off, weeks in which it will be decided whether or not a man with a grizzled beard will actually get to raise the Cup of his dreams or one more time be left staring at the one prize neither he, nor fate, has ever allowed him to touch.
At the moment, there is only one thing he knows for certain: “I'm running out of time.”
Ray Bourque finally got to raise the Stanley Cup that spring. He was the first player captain Joe Sakic handed the prize off to. He then retired, having played 1,612 games and recorded 1,579 pointsâand another 180 in 214 playoff games. The Hall-of-Famer's two sons, Christopher and Ryan, have both been drafted by NHL teams. He returned to Boston to live and work for the Bruins