Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Roy still the real deal

Despite his Avs' cool-down, ex-star has advantages others may lack

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Patrick ROY has certainly come down to earth after one of the best starts to a coaching career in NHL history, but there is a foundation that will allow him to be successful for as long as he wants to coach.

Roy might not game-plan with the best of the NHL's coaches but he's quickly proven to be a crafty bench coach and an even better motivator. Let the assistant coaches handle the sound check but hand the mike to St. Patrick when the lights go up.

On Thursday night, with his team down 2-0 early, Roy pulled out all the stops. A time out, a bench minor and a lot of cajoling on the bench. His young team, which has been terrible when trailing early with a 4-9 mark after allowing the first goal this season, responded and proved mentally tougher than the Winnipeg Jets, stealing a 4-3 shootout win.

Roy is a savvy coach but as his team's recent slumber can attest, winning in the NHL is far more about the players on the ice than the suit behind the bench. Roy, maybe better than any other coach in the NHL, understands it takes both talent and commitment from a team's players to win, regardless of any perceived genius or lack thereof behind the bench.

Being a legend, it seems, doesn't count for any coaching wins.

The guy on the other bench sees you as another old guy who can't play anymore and dismisses the past to focus on the here and now.

'We always try to find ways to get better and not be negative. It's a long-term thing. Not short-term'

-- Avs coach Patrick Roy

As a player, Roy turned an entire franchise on its ear when he walked out on it. He knows the impact talent can have on a franchise or the damage it leaves in its wake.

Roy famously dumped the Montreal Canadiens during the 1995-96 season after head coach Mario Tremblay hung him out to dry in an 11-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings. Roy muttered to team president Ronald Corey, "It's my last game in Montreal," after being left in net for nine goals against.

The Habs haven't won a Stanley Cup since and their last was in 1993, largely based on the brilliance of No. 33. Roy went on to win two more Cups with the Colorado Avalanche, and Tremblay and then-GM Reggie Houle are still mocked for their role in the debacle.

Roy has injected that understanding of the players' importance in his first NHL bench posting.

"It started at training camp when the first thing he told us was he was our head coach but he was also our partner," said Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog. "It sent a strong message. We have a lot of fun and it's a relaxed atmosphere, but it's intense. We all feed off his energy."

Coaches and management matter, but in the end it's the players that win or lose.

Roy is philosophical about his team's ups and downs this season.

"We always try to find ways to get better and not be negative," he said Thursday morning. "It's a long-term thing. Not short-term. You have different times in the season. Right now, we're struggling to score. We have three goals in our last six games. I love these challenges. We have to try and see how we can deal with it."

Back when the Avalanche were bursting out to a 12-1 start to the season, my inbox was filled with vitriol about the poor coaching of the Winnipeg Jets. In short, Roy was a genius and Claude Noel was a bum, went the thinking of many disgruntled Jets fans.

Since that time, Noel's Jets have ripped off a 9-6-3 mark while Roy's club has undergone a major correction, posting a 9-9 record over its last 18 games.

Colorado is still right at the playoff line with a 21-9-0 mark while the Jets are still in deep water at 14-14-5. Winnipeg is trending in the right direction while Roy's group is treading water right now.

Noel is constantly the object of blame among Jets-watchers looking for an easy answer. One NHL executive in the building Thursday, however, sees it a different way.

"There are no quick fixes or shortcuts," said the veteran executive. "Do you think Scotty Bowman would have that group of players (the Jets) in first place? It takes time."

Coaching is important, no doubt, but most often in today's NHL what ails a team or makes it a winner is the players. It's why they make the big money and have the security of long-term guaranteed contracts.

Winnipeg is where they are as a team because of its players. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is changing his roster through the deliberate steps of development.

In Colorado, there will be no misplacing of the blame if things go poorly because of Roy's previous status as a player.

Noel doesn't have that luxury in Winnipeg.

 

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 13, 2013 C3

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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