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Roy flexing his hockey knowledge

Former goalie's thirst for information prepared him for NHL coaching challenges

Updated: March 19, 2014, 3:38 PM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

The script could hardly have played out any better for Patrick Roy.

The former Canadiens legend is back in Montreal for the first time as an NHL coach Tuesday night, his rookie season going about as well as anybody in the world could have ever imagined. The man who publicly said he would only consider coaching in the NHL with either Montreal or Colorado, is back in La Belle Province and is the odds-on favorite to win the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year.

His incredible success in his first season behind an NHL bench, lifting a young Avalanche team to new heights, comes as no surprise to three of his former NHL coaches. Jacques Demers, Marc Crawford and Bob Hartley all won Stanley Cups with Roy in net and knew back then he was a breed apart.

"Patrick was the smartest player I ever coached," Crawford told ESPN.com from Switzerland, where he's coaching first-place Zurich. "He's close to a genius now; he thinks the game as well as I've ever seen. He taught me a lot. We were on the same page in Colorado. He was the most intelligent guy I'd ever seen."

Roy's insatiable thirst for hockey knowledge as a player is a common refrain among those three coaches. Looking back, that curiosity seems like some mighty foreshadowing.

"I remember he was a guy that asked a lot of questions," said Demers, who won a Cup with Roy in Montreal in 1993. "Always with respect, but he wanted answers. He was very intense. He wasn't questioning the coach, it's just that he wanted to know more. He's a winner."

That coach-like trait was also evident off the ice.

"He'd control meetings," said Crawford, who earned his Cup ring with Roy and the Avs in 1996. "You'd be in the penalty kill meeting and he'd say: 'This is what I want. I can handle this shot. You take that away, and I'll handle that.' That had more impact than if I would say it or any of our assistant coaches. Because Patrick would go out and do it. He was great input in meetings."

Hartley got Roy later in his career, winning it all in Colorado in 2001, and by then it was more evident than ever that Roy was developing a coaching mind.

"He was one of the first guys on the team in front of the white board in practice," the current Calgary Flames head coach told ESPN.com. "I've been coaching many years, he's the only goalie I've ever had that paid that kind of attention to the drills. More importantly, after practice he would come back and ask me why I wanted a certain defenseman to put his stick there and not there.

"Not that he was challenging me; he wanted to learn. He was telling me, 'I want to coach my kids, I want to coach junior, I want to coach in the NHL ...'"

By the time Hartley coached Roy, it was a foregone conclusion what the Hall of Fame goalie was going to focus on after his playing days. He was already at it before his career was done.

"It was 2000 or 2001, he was part-owner of the Quebec Remparts while still playing for us in Colorado," said Hartley. "Patrick would get video sent to him of those junior games. He would watch them and break down tape. He was already thinking that way."

Roy would eventually coach eight seasons in Major Junior hockey with the Remparts, cutting his teeth in the profession the old-fashioned way. Well, he did own the team he was coaching, but he still coached eight years at the junior level.

[+] EnlargePatrick Roy
AP Photo/Jack DempseyPatrick Roy was directing traffic long before he picked up a whiteboard and marker.
"He paid his dues in junior coaching there," said Demers. "Not a lot of Hall of Famers would do that at the junior level."

Those years in junior were important for many reasons, Crawford said.

"What he had to learn coaching in junior, I assume, is that not everyone has the same burning passion and burning desire that he has," said Crawford. "So I see a coach now that has learned to temper it."

It didn't look that way in Roy's NHL coaching opener in October, when he nearly toppled the glass partition that separated his bench from Anaheim's, trying to get to Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau in the final moments of the game.

"That first game against Anaheim when he had that incident, people said, 'There's Patrick again.' And I said, 'No, it's just Patrick letting his players know that he's going to support them this season,' " said Demers.

On Friday night against those same Ducks, when emotions again ran high between the benches, Roy was holding back his players. Lesson learned?

"You look at that first game of the season, that's what people were expecting of Patrick all year long," said Crawford. "But Patrick is smart. It didn't happen again."

Whether that opening night incident was planned or not, it certainly set the tone for the season in Denver. Roy's players clearly believe in him.

"He knows how to win, he knows how to develop culture," said Crawford. "He's a bright guy."

As a player, Roy inspired confidence among his teammates. Now he's doing it with the young players he coaches.

"The first thing I remember about Patrick is that when we got him, he just knew how to handle himself," Crawford said. "We had a team that had just come over from Quebec, and it was a lot of young guys who didn't know how to win yet, and they certainly didn't know how to act. I remember Patrick coming in and the first thing he said was, 'We're going to win the Stanley Cup.' To our guys, that was a huge revelation.

"It was almost like Joe [Sakic] and Peter [Forsberg] and Adam Foote said, 'It's OK to say that?' To me that was the biggest impact Patrick had immediately."

Demers points to the 1993 Stanley Cup finals between Montreal and L.A.

"We got to L.A. [for Games 3 and 4] and Patrick gets up in the room and says: 'Boys, I'm only giving up two goals at most tonight. Score three goals and we'll win.' Well, we won 3-2. It just gives everyone so much confidence."

Hartley, who has maintained a strong relationship with Roy -- "We talk all the time still," Hartley said -- says the fit in Colorado is perfect for Roy. Although Roy talked with Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin about that coaching opening before Michel Therrien was hired in June 2012 (likely more as a courtesy to Roy from Bergevin, because it was never going to happen at that point), the Avs afforded a better opening gig for the former superstar goalie.

Perhaps Roy will one day get to coach the Habs, but starting out in Colorado, where he was given input on roster decisions (which he would never been allowed to do in Montreal) and works alongside Sakic, is a terrific setup.

"Joe and Patrick are two totally different individuals and they bring nice balance together, they complement each other well; I think it's a great partnership," said Hartley. "I'm real glad for Patrick as well as Joe. They were huge parts of our Stanley Cup when we won together. Those two guys were really good to me.

"It's nice to see in that market. They had tough years there. Now they're getting back on their feet, and it's a market that will appreciate what Patrick and Joe are bringing to their team."

As for the idea that Roy may end up winning the Jack Adams this season?

"For me to see him doing so well with the Avalanche this season, it's far from a surprise," said Hartley. "Patrick is a man with a plan. He knows what he's doing."

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