A year ago, rookie goalies Patrick Roy of the Montreal Canadiens and Mike Vernon of the Calgary Flames were playing minor league hockey.
But now they’re playing in the Stanley Cup finals.
The series, tied at one game each, resumes in the Forum tonight.
Roy, a Canadian, talks to the goalposts in French during games. And he says they talk back to him.
“I started talking to the goalposts by accident,” Roy said. “We were playing in Hartford, and I started talking to the goalposts during the anthem.
“They (the goalposts) helped me, and I played a good game. In overtime a guy took a slap shot and hit the post and we won.”
Asked what he says to the goalposts, Roy said: “I say ‘Come on guys, help me out.’ Before the game I give them direction.
“I feel every goalie needs a superstition. The goalposts are always with me. They talk back to me. Some nights they say ‘bing.’ But some nights they have a bad night, too.”
Montreal Coach Jean Perron says he can relate to this practice. “Sometimes when I’m talking to the players I think I’m talking to the goalpost. . . . Goalies are different.”
Vernon is equally successful without talking to goalposts. He started all 18 of Calgary’s playoff games, posting a record of 12-6 with a 2.80 goals-against average. Vernon and Roy are tied for the league lead with 12 playoff wins.
Roy has started all 17 games for Montreal in the playoffs, posting a 12-5 record with a goals-against average of 1.90.
Roy has become a celebrity in hockey-crazed Montreal. During games at the Forum the fans chant his name, which is pronounced “Roo-wah.”
Roy was mobbed by fans Monday afternoon at the Montreal airport when the Canadiens returned from Calgary. Roy, wearing headphones, moved through the crowd signing pieces of paper that were thrust at him. Flashbulbs popped as fans took his picture.
“I try to keep my two feet on the world,” Roy said. “It’s really important for an athlete to stay the same person.”
Roy is also popular with his teammates. Last year they called him “humpty dumpty” because he wore ill-fitting clothes. His nickname this season is Casseau . Roy said that means french fry container in French. He got the nickname because of his addiction to junk food.
Roy, 20, and Vernon, 23, are the first rookie goalies to oppose each other in the National Hockey League championship series since 1945 when Frank McCool of Toronto and Harry Lumley of Detroit battled through a seven-game final with Toronto winning the seventh game, 2-1.
Although they are constantly compared in the media, Roy and Vernon try to downplay the rivalry.
“I don’t have anything to prove,” Roy said. “I don’t like to compare myself with other goaltenders. When we played the Rangers (in the semifinals) they compared me with (New York rookie goalie) John Vanbiesbrouck. How old is Vernon, 22? I’m only 20. I just have to worry about working and doing my job.”
Said Vernon: “I think it’s good for two rookie goaltenders to get a shot in the finals because it gives encouragement to a lot of young goalies.
“But I can’t worry about how he (Roy) plays or about any personal rivalry. I just have to worry about preparing myself. I saw him (Roy) play in the American Hockey League. He’s a good goalie. . . . I’ve earned the right to be here, and he’s earned the right to be here.”
Both Roy and Vernon said they have never played any other position except goalie.
“I never played forward or defense,” Roy said. “When I started in novice I was a goalie. I saw a game on TV and I liked the (leg) pads that he goalie got to wear. And I asked my mother to buy me some pads because I thought they’d be pretty fun to wear.”
Said Vernon: “I never played any other position except goalie, even when I was in diapers. I like the challenge of trying to stop the shooter.”
Vernon outplayed Roy in the first game of the series, which Calgary won, 5-2.
Roy lost his cool after a disputed goal by Jim Peplinski of the Flames. Roy shoved both linesmen and drew a 10-minute misconduct. He was lucky he didn’t draw a suspension.
However, Perron said that he will stick with Roy in the final.
“You don’t change a miracle,” Perron said. “He’s got something going that is great. Patrick has been a big part of our success.”
Vernon, who was born in Calgary, has become a hometown hero after leading the Flames to the final for the first time in the franchise’s 14-year history.
He played for the Calgary Wranglers in junior hockey before he was drafted by the Flames in the third round in 1981.
But when the 1985-86 season opened he found himself playing for the Flames’ farm team in Salt Lake City in the International Hockey League.
Reggie Lemelin was the Flames’ No. 1 goalie going into training camp, and Vernon lost out to Marc D’Amour for the backup job.
“I was disappointed to be sent down,” Vernon said. “I had a good camp, but the reason they sent me down was because D’Amour had had a better year than I did last year and I couldn’t argue with that.”
Vernon was called up from Salt Lake City to the Flames’ No. 1 farm team in Moncton, Canada, on Dec. 6. He was up and down with Calgary several times during the regular season.
His big break came during the Flames’ Smythe Division final series against the Edmonton Oilers. Vernon helped the Flames upset the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions in a seven-game series.
“I’ve been living in Calgary for 23 years, and this was the first time that a Calgary team has beaten an Edmonton team,” Vernon said. “The whole town is behind us.
“There’s a depression going on here, but I think we (the Flames) have made people feel better. I have friends in the oil business here who are out of work and going through tough times. I think when we beat the Edmonton Oilers it helped them take their minds off their problems.”
Vernon has had only one bad game in the playoffs, giving up six goals in the sixth game of the conference final against the St. Louis Blues.
Roy grew up in Quebec City and rooted for the Quebec Nordiques as a child. The Nordiques and Canadiens are bitter rivals.
He was drafted by Montreal in the fourth round in 1984. Roy’s younger brother, Stefan, 18, was drafted by the Minnesota North Stars last season. He plays forward.
Roy spent last season in the minors, before making the Canadiens this season. He was the top NHL rookie goalie in the regular season, winning 23 games with a 3.30 goals-against average.
Roy stumbled in the final month of the regular season, but he got the starting assignment in the playoffs because the Canadiens’ other two goalies, Doug Soetart and Steve Penney, were injured.
“The coach told me with five games left in the regular season that I would be the goalie for the playoffs,” Roy said.
“The night before the playoffs started I really felt confident. I felt I could stop everything. I don’t think like a rookie. I try to think like a veteran.”