The other writeup in this node already does a fine job of covering Roy’s storied hockey career, so I’m not going to attempt any further discussion of the legendary goalie’s place among hockey’s great ones. Suffice it to say that Roy’s name inevitably appears on any Top Three list of all-time great hockey goalies, and he often makes it into Top Ten lists of players of all time. As a goalie. Not bad for a scrawny Canadien.
No, what I would like to add is my own initial impression of “St. Patrick,” an impression that was burned on my brain when my brother and I watched him play in one of the first hockey games I ever saw. You see, in 1996, my younger brother had already been an avid hockey fan for years, and had constantly been trying to get me to watch the sport. Having been acclimatized to the perpetual adrenaline rush that is American football, however, I found hockey on television a little difficult to bear.
I mean, the puck is almost always flying back and forth on the ice, and the camera usually misses some, if not all, of the serious action. And if you don’t know the game, you’re usually looking the wrong way when a goal is scored. Not to mention the fact that the camera can’t possibly capture the sheer speed and impact that is the sport of professional hockey.
Hockey -- Up Close And Personal
My little brother, knowing the drawbacks of televised hockey, wisely decided to get tickets for my birthday for the two of us to see a Caps game in person in November, 1996. By Caps, I mean Washington Capitals, D.C.'s local team. And by game, I mean the Caps versus the Colorado Avalanche, one of the best teams in all of professional hockey at that time.
My brother got some primo seats for us, second row, just to the left of the Colorado goal. When we took our seats, the Avalanche players were warming up, taking slap shots at Roy in the net. If you’ve never sat next to the glass behind the goal in a hockey game, it’s hard to describe the speed of the shots and the impact of the puck. I was ducking and flinching, and I knew that there was a thick piece of plexiglass between me and the shots. All I could think about was what it must be like for the goalie, sitting in the net with those pucks screaming right for his head. And it’s his job to stand in front of those hard, rubber missiles, not to sanely duck out of the way.
Well, the game was definitely interesting, so much better than on television. I got a whole new appreciation of hockey watching it in person. So much so that I didn’t mind that the score was something like 2-1 Avalanche in the third period. While there may be more scoring
action in a sport like football, there’s so much other action going on at a hockey game that you kind of forget that a score usually happens only once every 10 or 20 minutes.
Caps Power Play
But getting back to Roy. The game was winding down, and the Caps were still down by one. Then, with something like two minutes left, a penalty was called against one of the Colorado players. High sticking or something. Then, just a few seconds later, another penalty was called against Colorado, this time for tripping, I think.
Not knowing what this meant, I asked my brother, and this is what he told me. In hockey, when a player goes out on a penalty – usually for two minutes – the other side has what’s called a power play. During a power play, the side that committed the penalty has to play with one fewer man than the other side. Usually, this means 5 players versus 4, with one goalie in each goal. This advantage usually lasts for two minutes, the length of the penalty.
When there are two penalties against the same side, though, the power play doesn’t last twice as long. No, it still only lasts the length of the penalty, but the team with the penalty winds up losing two players for the duration of the penalties. So it’s 5 on 3, with one goalie in each goal.
Pulling The Goalie
But in the game my brother and I were watching, the time was almost out, with less than two minutes to go. In a situation like this, the team that is behind will often pull its goalie, leaving an empty net, in order to add one more stick at the other end of the ice. That’s exactly what the Capitals did here. So they didn’t just have a 5-3 advantage. It was 6-3, with the Capitals’ goal empty.
The crowd was going insane. The music and cheering was so loud I could barely hear my brother talking right next to me. When the play started, the Capitals players looked liked they were swarming around the Avalanche defensemen. Shots were coming from every direction, almost faster than I could keep track. The Avalanche defensemen picked off their share, at times throwing themselves flat on the ice to present the biggest possible barrier to the puck.
But a lot of the shots got through to Roy. And Roy never flinched. He slid back and forth in the crease, watching for every shot. Some he kicked out or deflected, some he caught in his glove. The slap shots were coming so fast that I counted at least three that were deflected off the ice and into the crowd behind Roy’s net. Yet while the shots seemed to be coming in faster than I could watch them, Roy’s own movements seemed slow, methodical, graceful. I never saw him rush to catch a puck because he was out of position. Every save seemed like it was supposed to happen that way.
Smiling In The Face Of . . .
Nothing the Caps hit was making it into the net. Once, as the clock was winding down, Roy snagged a shot with his glove hand, and play was stopped for a face-off. By this time, I was so amazed by Roy’s performance I couldn’t take my eyes off him. When he skated back to his net to take some water, he lifted his mask, and I got a good look at his face.
He was smiling.
With all of the shots, all the pressure, and the shouts of the crowd yelling for him to fail, Roy was actually smiling. And he didn’t stop smiling when the puck dropped for the face-off, either. I looked up at the Jumbotron just before the puck fell. The camera was on Roy’s face in a tight close-up. I could see his face through the wire of his face mask. He was in a low butterfly crouch, waiting for the puck to drop, and the shot that could possibly mean the game.
And the man was still smiling.
Well, the Avalanche won the game, thanks to Roy. My brother, being a huge Caps fan, was pretty pissed off. I, however, decided right then and there that Roy was one of the coolest athletes under pressure I had ever seen.