Avalanche Moves Fast to Get Montreal's Roy

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Pierre Lacroix, general manager of the Colorado Avalanche, was shocked to hear the Montreal Canadiens had suspended goaltender Patrick Roy last weekend and made Roy available to all bidders.

Once Lacroix's surprise wore off, he moved quickly. By early Wednesday, he assembled a deal that brought Roy, a three-time Vezina Trophy winner as the NHL's best goalie, to Colorado with right wing Mike Keane for goalie Jocelyn Thibault, left wing Martin Rucinsky and right wing Andrei Kovalenko.

The deal fortifies the already formidable Avalanche, which is tied with Detroit for the Western Conference point lead. It was the third major trade in two months by Lacroix, who had dipped into his stockpile of scorers to acquire winger Claude Lemieux and offensive-minded defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh.

"We're much more suited now to be the type of team that performs well in the playoffs," Colorado Coach Marc Crawford said. "Look in net and look up front, where we have Troy Murray, Warren Rychel, Claude Lemieux and now Mike Keane. We have the type of team that not only has skill, but has grit."

Said Lacroix, who used to be Roy's agent: "You dream about having situations that allow you to do what you want to do. Sometimes it takes years. Three times in the last 60 days we have had the chance to do these things."

Roy, 30, was the most valuable player in Montreal's 1986 and 1993 Stanley Cup triumphs. He was a pet of easy-going coach Jacques Demers but chafed under the hard-driving, water bottle-throwing reign of Mario Tremblay, who replaced Demers five games into the season. Their strife became public last Saturday, when Tremblay left Roy in net for nine goals in an 11-1 loss to Detroit.

After the Forum crowd derisively cheered him for a routine save, Roy raised his arms in mock triumph, a move widely seen as disrespectful. When Tremblay took him out, Roy glared at him and strode over to club President Ronald Corey and said, "That's my last game in Montreal." Roy later apologized for his gesture, but not for his statement to Corey.

Roy, whose goals-against average rose from 2.59 to 2.95 after that game, said Colorado was his destination of choice. He started 22 of 24 games in Montreal but will share time in the nets more equitably with Stephane Fiset.

"Three days ago, it was a sad moment for me. Today is a happy moment," said Roy, who is expected to make his Avalanche debut tonight in Denver against Edmonton. "I look forward to helping my new team reach its goal of winning the Stanley Cup. This is a new turn in my life."

Keane, Montreal's captain, had also run afoul of fans, offending the city's French-speaking majority by saying he saw no need to learn their language. One of many Canadiens who struggled offensively--Montreal ranked 17th in goals scored--Keane had no goals and seven assists in 18 games.

Kovalenko, 25, had 11 goals and 22 points in 26 games. Rucinsky, 24, had four goals and 15 points in 22 games. Both are highly skilled, but the key figure for Montreal is Thibault, 20, who was 3-4-2 with a 3.01 goals-against average. Lacroix said Canadien General Manager Rejean Houle mentioned Thibault immediately when they first spoke, on Sunday.

"In Jocelyn Thibault, the Canadiens have acquired one of the most brilliant young goaltenders in the NHL," Houle said. "Jocelyn is very talented and despite his very young age, has already played 57 games in the league."

Roy's arrival tips the balance of power in the West.

"I think this puts Colorado in the driver's seat to try and take a run at the Stanley Cup," King General Manager Sam McMaster said.

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