In his first game as an NHL coach, Patrick Roy blew his top in a heated exchange with the entire Anaheim Ducks team, pushed over a glass partition that separates the benches and drew a game misconduct penalty.
Never mind his team won the game 6-1.
The Colorado Avalanche’s rookie coach has traded verbal jabs with veteran NHL coach Ken Hitchcock and called St. Louis Blues captain David Backes “gutless” for going after 18-year-old phenom Nathan MacKinnon.
The fiery Hall of Fame goalie must be something behind closed doors in his own locker room, right?
“We didn’t get yelled at all year,” Avalanche winger P.A. Parenteau said.
“I swear,” Parenteau said.
Really? Not one tirade directed at the players?
“I can’t recall one time,” defenseman Tyson Barrie said. “He’s always so positive.”
Yeah, but every coach has a volcanic eruption at least once, right?
“It might have happened one time, but barely a blowup,” captain Gabriel Landeskog said. “It was preseason.”
In a league saturated with clichés and coaches who always do things by the book, Roy’s coaching debut has been a breath of fresh air, and not just because he doesn’t lambaste his players.
He’s not afraid to try new strategy or to think unconventionally. He didn’t hesitate to pull his goalie with three minutes left in Game 1 with his team trailing the Wild by one goal. Asked afterward about the uniqueness of removing a goalie with that much time left, Roy basically shrugged and noted that he’s done that before with even more time on the clock.
Everything about his coaching style seems aggressive. He gives his players freedom to take chances without fear of consequences. He preaches offense and encourages his defensemen to jump into the play if they have an opening.
He inherited a youthful roster still learning the NHL game, but rather than hold a tight rein over his youngsters, Roy cut them loose and devised a system that maximizes their speed and creativity.
Roy coaches as if he’s unafraid of failure. If a move backfires, so be it. That mind-set breeds confidence inside his locker room.
“You just want to play hard for him,” Barrie said.
The turnaround that Roy has orchestrated in one season should make him a lock for NHL Coach of the Year honors. The Avs went from 29th in the league in points last season to third this year. They tied a franchise record for victories (52) and set a team record for road wins (26).
That success stems from the culture that Roy has created and his ability to connect with his players in a way that established instant credibility. Roy describes their relationship as a “partnership,” even though he won four Stanley Cup titles and played his position as well as anyone in NHL history.
“He showed the players respect right from the start,” said Hall of Famer Joe Sakic, the team’s vice president of hockey operations.
Roy coached a Canadian junior team for eight seasons before being hired by his former employer. His style meshes perfectly with a nucleus of young players blessed with top-end skill.
His team plays Lamborghini fast and ranks among the league’s best in scoring. Roy demands accountability on defense too, but he has not stifled the Avs’ youthful exuberance.
“I think he knows that the reason why we have such a talented group is because of our creativity and the way we can make plays and see plays out there,” Landeskog said. “He would never take that away from us. He still has his systems, but we do get some freedom, which I think is important for a young group like this and a skilled group.”
Defenseman Erik Johnson described Roy as an “innovator” for his willingness to try new ideas. Winger Jamie McGinn said his coach “definitely thinks outside the box.”
As a player, Roy was known for being fiercely competitive. That hasn’t changed. He’s also demonstrated a deft touch as a coach.
“He takes a different approach than a lot of guys, I’m sure,” Barrie said. “He’s been a great leader for us as you can see with our record. He’s done wonders for this team. It’s a lot of fun to play for him.”
Chip Scoggins • firstname.lastname@example.org