In the Vonnegut novel Slaughterhouse-Five, there’s a scene where Billy Pilgrim, after the war and before he gets kidnapped by aliens, is watching a war movie backwards. Not that he means to watch it backwards, but sometimes he gets unstuck in time and things go the wrong way. So the way Billy sees the movie, all these shot-up American planes full of corpses fly over Germany, and other planes come along, pulling out the bullets and bring the dead to life. Then the fixed planes fly over cities in flame and rubble and they vacuum up all the fire, suck all the destruction into metal canisters in their bellies and take them back overseas, where women in factories carefully dismantle them, chemists turn the explosives back into minerals, and miners bury it all in the ground. Seen in reverse, every war movie is about people healing, building, and freeing each other.
Some stories are better backwards.
The 2002 playoffs were Patrick Roy’s last good run, but I’m not sure he knew it. With the exception of 1997-8, when they lost a first-round series to the Oilers, the Avs had made the Conference Finals every year in team history. The previous year, Roy had backstopped them another Stanley Cup- the team’s second, his fourth. It had been, by the numbers, the single best playoff performance of his career- a remarkable .934 S%, a stingy 1.70 GAA. Dude was aging and the end weren’t far off, obviously, but some goalies are good for a long time. 2002 could easily have been another phenomenal year for St. Patrick. It could have been another Cup.
But not an easy one. LA took Colorado to seven games in the first round, San Jose did the same in the second. In the first series the Avs had gone up on the Kings 3-1 early and failed to close them out, in the second series the roles were reversed and Colorado had to fight back from a 2-3 deficit. By the time they got to the Conference Final and got up 3-2 on the Red Wings, the team must have been dreaming of ending a series in six. The hockey they were playing was an exhausting mix of mad dashes up the middle and prolonged wrestling on the boards. Hockey punishes the body in a hundred different ways, and this type of game may not have been as acutely painful as the contemporary shot-blocking fashion, but it looks vastly more tiring, defenders always waterskiing on you through the slot and mounting you doggy-style along the boards.
So if there was ever a moment when a team really, really, really needed their superstar goalie to play like a superstar goalie and steal one, Game 6 of the 2002 WCF would have been it. One would think such would be a good moment to have Patrick Roy in net.
One would be wrong.
Oh, he looks good at the beginning. The Wings, being as they are so close to elimination, come out furiously in the first period. The Avs are spending a lot of time hugging shooters in their end, although they’re doing a good job of restricting shots considering that they’re always in their own zone, no one gives the Wings in this era that much possession time without giving up some sweet chances.
But Roy is good. He looks good, even by contemporary standards, his play precise, technical, and consummately professional. At the other end of the rink, Hasek swoons to the ice like a Victorian matron on her fainting couch every time the puck goes near him, and every shot you think, man, if they’d just lifted that two inches more… I know, of course, that Hasek is a great goalie well-known for being able to make an unconventional style work, but going purely on visuals, Roy looks like he’d win this goaltending battle every day of the week and twice on Sundays. Fifteen minutes into the first, I’m thinking this looks like an overtime game, with the only question being whether the Avs skaters will be able to get a decent shot on Hasek before some Wings sniper puts an impossible, no-chance-on-that shot past Roy.
Then, with literally less than a minute to go in the first period, Patrick Roy throws the puck into his own net. He makes a great save, and then another, and then collapses on the puck, and then, attempting some sort of ill-advised triumphal pose, he sweeps his glove backwards, that is, toward the net, and stands up, and drops the puck right at his own goal line, and Shanahan swoops in for the tap.
The whistle never blew, and the announcer starts screaming, over and over, THE GOAL COUNTS, THE GOAL COUNTS. He cannot fucking believe that this just happened. I cannot fucking believe this just happened.
Everyone makes mistakes, I know. Especially in hockey, where plays turn on such tiny fractions of angle and posture. The difference between being perfectly in position and totally out of position can be nothing more than half a step and a twist of the hips, and although the coaches may be comfortable condemning guys for such fragmentary mistakes, as a fan it’s hard to criticize. A lot of hockey mistakes the common viewer doesn’t even notice, and a lot of those we do catch are quite forgivable to mortal eyes. It’s impossible to be perfect in hockey all the time. Most guys are lucky if they can do it 50% of the time.
But there’s normal mistakes and then there’s holy fuck what are you thinking why would someone even contemplate attempting such a patently stupid thing mistakes, and what Roy does here is definitely the latter. There’s no reason for him to be trying to get up and carry the puck away. If he plays the normal way any normal goalie would, he just squeezes his body on that puck and holds perfectly still until the whistle goes. That is the sane, sensible, reasonable, totally typical thing to do. That is Goaltending 101.
Which is why it’s the sort of mistake that only Patrick Roy at the end of his career could make. The Statue of Liberty goal, as it’s called now, isn’t an error of lack of skill or lack of confidence or lack of experience. It’s an error of pure, epic hubris. He didn’t just want to show off. No, he wanted to show off in the first period of a 0-0 tie in a playoff series against a team that looks very capable of shelling him all night long, and he was so sure of his own skill that he didn’t even bother to think an extra second if the puck was secure before doing it. No rookie goalie makes that mistake, in that game, with that much on the line. No journeyman takes that risk in the hopes of lookin’ cool. That is the mistake of a superstar. Patrick Roy has transcended the mundane positional errors and puckhandling miscues of ordinary goalies. He’s invented a whole new caliber of screwing up. And, after seventeen seasons of seeing every kind of shot and every kind of shooter hockey has to offer a hundred times over, he’s invented the only sort of mistake that could still, at that late date, fuck with his head.
In the second period, he gives up another goal- to Darren McCarty, of all people- but Hasek rocks a floppy, shapeless shutout and the Statue of Liberty goes down on the scoresheet as the game winner. The record books will tell you that goal was scored by Brendan Shanahan, assisted by Steve Yzerman and Nick Lidstrom. Don’t believe it. That goal was scored by Patrick Roy’s Enormous Ego, unassisted.
After the game, Roy put on what has to be one of the greatest postgame performances of all time, by not only showing up to the media scrum but literally refusing to acknowledge the goal happened. As in people are like (and here I am paraphrasing, because I don’t have the direct quotes anywhere), “Hey, Patrick, can you talk a little bit about that one horrible shitty embarrassing goal you gave up that, officially speaking, lost your team the game?” and he’s like “What is this goal of which you speak? I know of no such goal. That’s crazy talk.” I don’t know if it’s a tribute to the scariness of Patrick Roy or the gentleness of the hockey media that nobody pressed him further.
It was a badass performance, I guess, to brazenly pretend that the goal didn’t even happen, and maybe some people who were there at the time left the Avs dressing room thinking, wow, that guy is so mentally tough, look at the way he can just put that shit right out of his head. But obviously he could not put that shit out of his head, because the next game he suffered a complete meltdown. In the first period he let in four goals on ten shots, in the second, two goals on six, before being mercifully pulled in favor of David Aebischer. In game seven of the Western Conference Final of 2002, Patrick Roy, legendary goalie, had a save percentage of .625. Obviously correlation is not causation, but there’s no better anecdotal evidence of a goalie being fucked in the head by a bad goal than Roy’s performance in the game after the Statue of Liberty.
The next season, 2003, he would retire after a dispiriting first-round elimination. Patrick Roy started out with one of the best young-goaltender playoff runs in the history of the game and ended with one of the worst old-goaltender playoff mistakes hockey has ever seen. Players don’t get to control how their careers begin, for they all begin with hope, but they do have some control over how they end. Roy’s ended with hubris, and that’s fitting. It’s also kind of sad.
In the backwards-movie of Roy’s life, he never, ever makes such a vain mistake again. He comes back the next year even better than before and wins the Cup, and after a run of solid playoff performances and another ring, he demands a trade back to his hometown. There he is welcomed with joy and exultation, immediately ending the longest championship drought in franchise history. He inspires a generation of young local goaltenders, and then, finally, at 20 years old, leads the team on one last miraculous spring run, brings the Cup home, and retires in triumph to play road hockey for the rest of his days. Seen in reverse, it’s the story of a brilliant goalie who learns the importance of humility and getting along with people.
Some stories are better backwards.