For a masked man, his face is as familiar as the CH: With Patrick Roy, we feel that we know every tic, every flick of the mask, every weird little ritual, every controversy.
You know you're a legend when you are famous, at least in part, for gestures that would be forgotten in lesser mortals.
With Patrick Roy, it's The Wink, The Tantrum and The Flip. With Roy, the statistics and the achievements are familiar and beyond argument. But mention his name anywhere in this province and you can start an argument as quickly as you can say "Pierre Trudeau."
Let's be honest and admit that Roy was the most difficult choice on this list of Top 10 Heroes. He has rubbed more than a few people the wrong way (a trait we have in common) and in terms of the wider criteria of his impact on our society, Roy's legacy is open to debate even if a whole new generation of Quebec goaltenders has adopted his butterfly style.
In the end, Roy made it onto this list not with his accomplishments in the National Hockey League, even though in my book he ranks as the second-greatest goaltender of all-time behind Terry Sawchuk. No, Roy made it by riding the bus. Superstars, you see, don't ride buses except to travel from the airport to the rink.
Roy is riding the buses in the "Q", the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. From Chicoutimi to Moncton, from Rimouski to Drummondville with the Quebec Remparts, where he does everything but drive the Zamboni. L'enfant terrible of the hockey world is not only a fine head coach, he is grooming prospects such as Angelo Esposito, teaching them how to behave under the constant glare of public scrutiny.
But with Roy, if there's a positive, it's always balanced by a negative. As much credit as you give him for working with the kids, for riding the buses, for showing up at the rink every Monday morning, he undoes a great deal of it by taking cheap shots at young players for no reason at all.
Before his Quebec Remparts played the Moncton Wildcats in the Memorial Cup last May, Roy fanned the flames by putting down Wildcats goaltender John Tordjman. Roy said Tordjman was playing over his head and couldn't keep it up.
Apparently it worked, because Roy's Remparts won the Memorial Cup in Roy's first season at the helm.
"Patrick Roy," says one former Canadien in a tone that does not express admiration, "will do anything to win."
Winning, however, had nothing to do with knocking Canadiens rookie Guillaume Latendresse at the beginning of this season. Roy said Latendresse did not have the chops for the NHL and that if he were not French Canadian, he would have been sent back to the junior ranks.
Latendresse got the better of that exchange when he said: "I thought I was the one who was 19 years old."
Well, yes and no. Roy will always be part well-travelled superstar and part petulant adolescent, the 20-year-old kid who lived on hamburgers, fries and soft drinks while backstopping the Canadiens to his first Stanley Cup win in 1986.
He has never quite grown up, whether it involves putting down a rookie forward or getting himself arrested for domestic violence for ripping a couple of doors off their hinges during a dispute with estranged wife Michele in Denver in October of 2000.
I have written volumes deploring violence against women, but I thought that incident was overblown: Better not to show a temper at all, but if you must explode, by all means take it out on a door.
All the controversy aside, Roy goes into the history books as possibly the greatest money goalie in the history of the game. People talk about which of Wayne Gretzky's records might be broken - the 50 goals in 39 games, his 215-point season, his career marks. No record in hockey or in all of sport, however, is more secure than the one Roy established during the Canadiens miracle run to the Stanley Cup in 1993.
During that remarkable spring, Roy and the Canadiens won 10 straight games in overtime, a string of skill and will and sheer, incredible good fortune that will never be broken. He won 16 of 20 games that spring with a goals-against average of 2.13 while playing behind a fairly mediocre team; by the time the Stanley Cup parade took place along a different route, the kid from Quebec City was St. Patrick, one of the four or five most legendary figures in the history of hockey's most legendary franchise.
The Wink cemented the legend; in Game 4 of the final series against the Los Angeles Kings, Roy made yet another stop on the frustrated Tomas Sandstrom and offered the Kings sniper a broad wink that was caught by the cameras and immortalized for history.
That was the first of Roy's famous gestures; the others were less happy. Although he climbed out of a hospital bed after emergency appendectomy surgery to make 39 saves against the Boston Bruins in a 5-2 win in Game 4 of their first-round playoff series. But the Bruins would go on to win that series in seven games and Roy would never make another playoff appearance for the Canadiens.
After a terrible, lockout shortened 1995 season, coach Jacques Demers (who had openly coddled his superstar throughout his tenure behind the bench) was fired along with GM Serge Savard after the Canadiens lost the first four games of the 1995-96 season.
Ronald Corey's hysterical firing of Demers and Savard became a catastrophe for the Habs after Corey hired the utterly inexperienced Rejean Houle as GM and Mario Tremblay, who had never spent one minute behind a bench, as coach.
Tremblay and Roy might have been roommates when Roy was on the way to his first Stanley Cup win in '86, but 10 years later they were a collision waiting to happen. The two had almost come to blows in a Long Island coffee shop before Tremblay was announced as a coach and his first appearance in the dressing room was greeted with snickers from his star goaltender.
They almost fought a second time after Tremblay fired a shot at Roy's throat during practice, by which point it was only a matter of time before the hot-tempered Tremblay and his equally hot-tempered goalie reached the point of no return.
The crisis came on Dec. 2, 1996, with the powerful Detroit Red Wings in town. Roy and Tremblay had words before the game; Roy was angry because Vincent Damphousse had arrived minutes before game time and was still allowed to play.
The meltdown was a quick one: Tremblay left Roy in nets for the first nine Detroit goals before pulling him early in the second period. Roy, treated to an avalanche of boos from the fickle Montreal fans, flipped them the flying finger of fate, stormed off the ice and told Corey it was his last game for the Canadiens. Four days later, Roy was traded to Colorado with captain Mike Keane for Jocelyn Thibault, Martin Rucinsky and the forgettable Andrei Kovalenko.
Not surprisingly, Roy and the Avalanche emerged on the winning side the next time the Canadiens visited Colorado. As they walked off the ice, Roy passed Tremblay and flipped him the puck. It was a flip that would - like the wink and the tantrum - become part of the legend, especially after Roy and the Avalanche went on to win the Stanley Cup that spring.
That Roy was quirky even for a goaltender added to the legend. He talked to his goalposts, he wrote his children's names on his stick before every game, he skated to the blue line to beam thoughts at his posts before every game.
And he won: consistently, fiercely, with every kind of team. Before the Avalanche defeated the Florida Panthers in the final in 1996, Roy was subjected to a shower of plastic rats after the Panthers scored two goals in Game 3. He skated over to the Avalanche bench and told his teammates: "No more rats."
There were no more rats. The Panthers did not score another goal in that series, not even in the deciding Game 4 when Roy had to hold the fort through three overtimes to win it.
In 2001, Roy won yet another Stanley Cup for Colorado along with another Conn Smythe trophy. Two years later, he retired after 18 NHL seasons, although the subsequent careers of his peers Dominik Hasek and Ed Belfour would suggest that Roy could still be playing if he had chosen to do so.
You might expect that the Canadiens would some day honour the man who is their only genuine superstar of the post-dynasty era, but that is not a slam-dunk. There is a great deal of discomfort with Roy within the organization, stemming from everything from the tantrum to his remarks about Latendresse to the fact he is generally perceived as arrogant and selfish.
Even among the legends of the Canadiens, however, Roy's only equal when it came to the sheer will to win was Rocket Richard, another complex, sometimes brooding individual.
The Rocket's No. 9 hangs above the ice at the Bell Centre. Roy's No. 33 belongs there too.
Tomorrow: No. 9