Roy reveling in retirement

Don't bet on Patrick Roy coming out of retirement. He's busy cultivating another generation of warriors.

Updated: October 28, 2003, 8:17 PM ET
By Terry Frei | Special to ESPN.com

Six months after his final game in a Colorado Avalanche sweater, when Andrew Brunette ended the Avalanche playoff season and became a Trivial Pursuit answer with a Game 7 overtime goal in the conference quarterfinals, Patrick Roy will be honored in the city he never had visited before the Montreal Canadiens ended four days of suspense and purgatory by telling him he had been traded to the team with a Sasquatch patch on its shoulders.

Tonight, Roy will stand on the Pepsi Center ice, peer up and watch his No. 33 unfurl, taking up permanent residency next to Ray Bourque's No. 77.

Nearby, David Aebischer and Phil Sauve will watch with great interest.

Roy's backup for three seasons, Aebischer has played well so far in six starts, though he not only is succeeding a sure Hall of Famer; he also is being shadowed and chronicled by Swiss media as if Alps tourism, the watch industry and the future of banking depends on his success.

And Sauve, the MVP the past three seasons of Colorado's American Hockey League affiliate at Hershey, is a second-generation NHL goalie whose father, Bob, transitioned from his career in the crease to serving as an agent for, among others, Patrick Roy.

SWISS HIT OR MISS?
David Aebischer
Aebischer
When David Aebischer steps into the Colorado Avalanche crease tonight in Denver, with Patrick Roy watching in a suit and not with a towel around his neck from the end of the bench on a rare night off, the young Swiss probably won't feel the pressure.

Why?

Because the 25-year-old sometimes seems oblivious to not just pressure, but the entire world around him. So far, in six games as Roy's successor in the Avalanche's No. 1 job, he has been good, not great, but on balance so far has validated the organization's professed faith in him following Roy's retirement.

Aebischer is 4-2, with a 2.01 goals-against and a .928 saves percentage. He hasn't yet stolen a game, and doing that a few times is one of the rites of successful succession.

"Our goaltending hasn't been the problem," said Colorado captain Joe Sakic, who has only one goal for a team expected to light it up -- at least in the context of the contemporary NHL.

Aebischer's demeanor doesn't mean that he is unintelligent. This young Swiss speaks several languages. But he always has done the butterfly to the beat of a different drummer since he dared to leave his hometown team in Fribourg six years ago to sign with Colorado and begin his professional hockey career in the East Coast Hockey League.

"Everybody at home expected that I would return in a year or two, that I never was going to make it," he said. "A lot of people said I should stay in Switzerland and I was crazy to leave. I had a good job, a chance to get a No. 1 job in the First Division and good money."

On Sept. 2, 1998, when he was headed for his first full season with Hershey, he stepped off a Swissair flight in New York, then later heard that the same plane had crashed on the return flight, killing all 229 on board.

That gave him pause, and he went back to the quest to reach the NHL. He and Anaheim backup goalie Martin Gerber are close friends, and now are the only Swiss players in the NHL following the departures of Reto Von Arx and Michel Riesen. (A handful of Swiss are playing minor-league pro hockey and major junior in North America, though, so the two goaltenders might have company soon.)

Is Aebischer up to being the playoff goalie of record for a bona fide Cup contender? He could have 21 shutouts this season, and the answer still wouldn't come until the testing postseason. But so far, he hasn't done anything to rule it out -- or make general manager Pierre Lacroix feel as if he MUST make a deal for one of the veteran goalies who will be available.

Lacroix wants Aebischer -- or Philippe Sauve, who has looked nervous in his first two starts -- to succeed for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that the GM would love to be given credit for being prepared for a Roy retirement. Also, if the Avalanche aren't viewed as desperate, it might open up some options on the trading front.

Lacroix won't hesitate to make a move in Aebishcer falters. But so far, so good. As Sakic noted, the 4-4 Avalanche has had problems, but Aebischer hasn't been one of them.

--Terry Frei
"Everybody has a destiny, and things sometimes happen for a reason, and in my case, it did," Roy said in early October interviews in Quebec City with The Denver Post. "It was the best thing that happened to my career and even to my family. The kids are perfectly bilingual now. Just good things came out of it."

Nearly half of his 551 career regular-season victories (262, to be exact) came after the Dec. 6, 1995, trade. Eighty of his 151 playoff wins were with Colorado, as were two of his four Stanley Cup celebrations.

Many of us thought he would talk himself out of retiring after pondering for a few weeks following the Avalanche playoff exit.

We were wrong.

Roy, then at age 37, vexed NHL commissioner Gary Bettman by announcing his retirement during the Stanley Cup finals, and dived into his role as one-third owner, general manager and on-ice tutor for the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

It's intriguing that Quebec City not only is his hometown, and also the city the Nordiques left in 1995 after the sale of the franchise to Comsat. Even recently, visits to two of the Quebec City's best-known restaurants from Coloradans drew friendly (?) teasing.

"Say hi to Giuseppe," Café de la Paix owner Benito Terzini said, meaning Joe Sakic.

"From Denver?'' asked Michelangelo owner Nicola Cortina, in mock horror in front of other diners. "We aren't serving you! You people stole the Nordiques!'' (The affable Cortina then gave his visitors a tour of his office corridor, showing the yearly pictures of the Nordiques' team visit to his restaurant.)

The point? If the Nordiques still had been in Quebec, there was no way Roy would have been traded to the franchise, run by his former agent, general manager Pierre Lacroix. And there even is a longshot chance that with one fewer option, the Canadiens would have come to their senses and kept Roy, as much of a pain in the posterior as he could be with the mediocre-at-best franchise the Canadiens had become.

Now, eight years after his banishment from Montreal, he is trying to infuse new life into the game in Quebec, which saw the Nordiques leave, a stint as the Canadiens' American Hockey League affiliate turn into an unmitigated disaster, and a QMJHL franchise move back into the Quebec City limits from nearby Beauport in 1997. Ask him if he is trying to help fill a void left by the Nordiques' exit, in fact, and he virtually grimaces.

"It's not what we want, to fill the void for the Nordiques,'' Roy said. "We want to fill the void for what the Remparts were once, with a great deal of tradition, like when Guy Lafleur played for the (old) Remparts."

So, no, this isn't a retired player showing signs of withdrawal pains, because he dived into a different aspect of the game. He is adamant that he won't pull a Dominik Hasek and return after a one-year sabbatical, and also that he didn't have any second thoughts after the Avalanche signed Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya on July 3. (Such speculation ignores the fact that Colorado essentially told Selanne and Kariya they could share what Roy would have made if he had exercised his player's option for the final year on his contract. Take it or leave it.)

Roy shrugged, saying that if he had wanted to find a reason to backtrack on his decision, or second-guess it, he always could find one. But he isn't tempted to do so.

Not only is he immersed in the Remparts' operation, he and his wife, Michele, are having a new house built near the city as they live in a temporary home in the same neighborhood. Michele has opened a European-style health spa, Izba ("Little House" in Russian), connected to a Colorado operation run by the Avalanche's former massage therapist, Leo Vyssokov. The Roys' younger children, Jana and Frederick, are back in Quebec schools -- as well as, respectively, taekwondo and hockey. Jonathan, the oldest, is at Notre Dame prep school in Saskatchewan, the alma mater of several NHL players, including Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards, Rod Brind'Amour and Curtis Joseph.

Roy isn't coming back. Not this season -- a virtual impossibility, anyway, because he filed retirement papers and that rules him out for a calendar year -- or next year.

In Quebec City's Le Colisee Pepsi (the ironies keep coming), he occupies the plush former office of Marcel Aubut, who owned a piece of the Nordiques, ran them and oversaw the sale of the franchise to the interests who moved it to Denver. It's a bit surprising (or maybe not) that the vast majority of the memorabilia in the office is tied to the Avalanche, and not the Canadiens. Last season, he watched tapes of most Remparts games, then called Lavigne and went over his reaction and suggestions. When the Avalanche were eliminated, he joined the Remparts in Quebec for the Memorial Cup, for which the Remparts got an automatic berth as the host team.

He has been evaluating the Remparts over the early stages of the season, and plans to begin taking a look at other rosters in the QMJHL for possible trades and also scout midget teams for the major junior draft. He is on the ice at most of the Remparts' practices, at times quietly watching coach Eric Lavigne run things, at other times tutoring his goaltenders or small groups of skaters. The players say he often mentions his former teammates, citing Sakic's quick-release shot, for example.

The Remparts' best player is 18-year-old Josh Hennessy, a 2003 San Jose Sharks draft choice. Interestingly, he is one of eight Americans on the Remparts' roster, which hasn't gone over well in some prideful corners of Quebec City fandom, though the consensus is that nobody will care if the Remparts' rebuilding movement is successful. Hennessy said he got a recruiting phone call from Roy two years ago, within days of Colorado's last Stanley Cup victory. He didn't believe it was Roy at first, then had to apologize.

Now he and his teammates see Roy nearly every day, and even have fun watching him get involved in "shinny" after the official end of practice.

"It was important for me to remain involved in hockey," Roy said. "I needed to do something. When I was thinking about retirement, I didn't just want to retire. I wanted to have something in front of me before I made my decision. The last couple of years, I was pretty sure this is what I wanted to do.''

Said winger Robert Pearce, Hennessy's linemate: "I was awed at the beginning, but now it's normal. We're all here, we see him every day, so it's more of an awe for people who come in and see him out there. For us, it's normal now because we see him so often. He's such an approachable person to talk to and stuff, you never feel intimidated."

Detroit fans will smile at this. A huge mounted, mural-type picture of Roy hangs in the Remparts' equipment room. That's not surprising. The choice is.

Blood is streaming down Roy's face as a linesman escorts him off the ice after his March 26, 1997, fight with the Red Wings' Mike Vernon in Joe Louis Arena. He maintained at the time he was cut when, trying to rush to Claude Lemieux's aid, he ran into Brendan Shanahan and fell to the ice as the melee began. But that seems almost irrelevant now. The point is, he doesn't want his players to see him making a great save, holding aloft the Stanley Cup or sitting on Bourque's and Adam Foote's shoulders after breaking Terry Sawchuk's record.

He wants them to see him as a warrior.

Which he was.

Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming," available nationwide, and 2004's "Third Down and a War to Go."

Terry Frei

ESPN.com contributor
Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of "Third Down and a War to Go" and "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming."

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