Thursday, January 05, 2006

Maineiac for Patrick Roy

Simply put, we all have our heroes. For me, in hockey, it’s Patrick Roy. Sure, he’s a top contender for the greatest goalie ever to strap on the skates. He’s the father of the famed butterfly stance, giving birth to a legion of followers across Canada and the States. What I respect most about him, though, was his last game for the Canadiens.

Though it will never go down as one of his better performances, what he did on Dec. 2, 1995, when finally being pulled after giving up an embarrassing nine goals in a 12-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings, is legend. After skating off the ice, he went behind the bench and told the Habs president, Ronald Corey, that this game was, indeed, the last he’d play for le Blue-Blanc-Rouge.

After restoring glory to the famed Original Six franchise, to leave a goalie of his caliber and history in while having such a terrible night was inexcusable. And, sure enough, that was his last game as a Canadien. In the weeks ahead, tending net for the Colorado Avalanche, Roy only cemented his reputation as one of the game’s greatest players ever, bringing his first of two Stanley Cup championships to the Mile High City.

These days, Roy is owner, general manager and coach of the Quebec Remparts, a top team in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Earlier this week, the Remparts made the 5 1/2-hour bus trip to Lewiston, Maine, to play the league’s only U.S.-based team, the Maineiacs.

I made the trip as well. Thankfully, mine was from near the New Hampshire-Maine border.

After checking in with a member of team management and catching up on each other’s lives, I waited for the team bus and Roy to arrive at The Colisee. Though I would’ve waited hours, mine lasted minutes. And after the team bus backed up near the visiting team door, my hockey hero stepped off. Even better was that I was the only person waiting for an autograph, the dream of all hockey hounds.

The recognition was mutual. It’s hard to forget a hero and Roy knows the look of a hound. He walked over, we exchanged greetings and he signed a Patrick Roy model (not game-used) goalie stick personalized to Colin (see above) and my Team Canada goalie mask.

If you get the chance, you should check out the Maineiacs. The Colisee, on Birch Street, is pretty close to Interstate 95 and Lewiston is only about 35 minutes north of Portland. Governor's, on Lisbon Street, offers great food at reasonable prices. You’ll also find knowledgeable fans, moreso than any AHL rink I’ve visited in the past few years, and, for the most part, pretty friendly people.

I had the pleasure of sitting near the family of Lewiston Maineiacs' Jonathan Bernier, a top goalie prospect for the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. It’s quite a thrill living and dying, so to speak, with every shot and save. It was very easy to get into what proved to be a pretty exciting game.

The only downer, and I mention this only because of the team’s efforts to attract fans, is that all fans should view themselves as ambassadors for Lewiston, the Maineiacs and the Q. It’s my opinion that people should be applauded, and not condemned, for making a 162-mile round trip and spending more than $125 (including one incredibly cool third jersey) in less than five hours.

One gentleman, known locally as the Wrong Jersey Guy, didn’t quite seem to grasp that concept. He’s real easy to recognize – he’s the big guy (like me) who apparently prides himself in wearing a game-used jersey of the visiting team.

After getting autographs from Remparts defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic (a San Jose Sharks prospect whose nickname, unfortunately, is "Pickles"), the Wrong Jersey Guy piped in with a "We’ll see that on eBay tonight" comment. I’m sure all of the folks who know me will attest that the Wrong Jersey Guy made more than one mistake that night.

When I tried to convince him that I, too, was a collector and was sincerely interested in learning more about his 135 game-used jersey collection, it was met with more derision, including that I made the trip only to snag Roy’s autograph. I’ll plead guilty to that. Who wouldn’t? Besides, what’s wrong with that?

Granted, I certainly enjoyed our "conversation," giving as well as I got (much to the delight and, probably dismay, of a few Quebec Remparts players), but I can’t help but think how many people, including hounds, had an enjoyable night soiled by a chance encounter with the Wrong Jersey Guy.

It seems, too, that I wasn’t the first person ever to rattle swords with him. More than one person told me later that "he wasn’t worth the time."

All in all, though, dealing with one "misguided" fan was just a mere inconvenience compared with getting not just one, but two autographs from one of my hockey heroes. Trust me, it was well worth the ride.


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