French missing!

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 1:21 PM ET

Just three Quebec Major Junior players on Team Canada's junior roster? And not a single QMJHL skater last season?

Who's picking that team, Sean Avery?

For a province that was all giddy over the prospect of fielding its own team on the world stage, Quebec isn't looking so great at the grassroots level.

"They used to say we were afraid to play against the Ontario league and the Western League because their players were bigger,'' said Georges Laraque.

"They said we couldn't win the Memorial Cup because of that. Before we won it (Laraque played for the 1996 champion Granby Bisons) it was 25 years of dominance by the OHL and WHL. When we got there we couldn't compete with them physically, that's what they were saying, that it was just an offensive league and we didn't grow men in our league.''

There still aren't a lot of French players in the league and the trend doesn't look like it's changing. In the last NHL entry draft the OHL and WHL each had 43 players drafted, U.S. colleges and high schools had 31 and the Q was next with just 23. "They always tease us about it, but maybe it's true,'' said Laraque. "There still aren't a lot of French players in the league, maybe one or two per team.''

It's either elite scorers like Simon Gagne, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier or all-star goalies like Jose Theodore and Roberto Luongo. There aren't a lot of hard-nosed grinders and role players coming from Quebec, hence the rap that they're soft.

"Avery (who visits Edmonton this Friday) is just looking for attention,'' said the Habs' Steve Begin. "He lives in Hollywood and the only way a hockey player is going to get any attention in Hollywood is if he says something like that. There are a lot of French guys who are feisty.''

TRIPPED UP

Nice. Detroit management wanted to reward its players so they told them they could take along their fathers or mentors - men who were instrumental in their development - on their current three-game road swing through the sunny south. Many planned off-day field trips that included fishing and golfing.

The Wings responded by losing the first two games of the trip to sub .500 teams in Atlanta and lowly Florida. They conclude the trip tonight in Tampa. No word of whether or not they'll make it an annual event.

MEA CULPA

This gem from the St. Louis Post Dispatch: Martin Brodeur has played 12 seasons as New Jersey's regular goalie. In that same span, 10 different Blues goalies have played 15 games or more in a season, including Roman Turek, Brent Johnson, Chris Osgood, Fred Brathwaite and Patrick Lalime, waived on Monday after an 18-game train wreck.

"You point the finger at me ... that's who you point the finger at," said GM Larry Pleau. "I'm the one who's responsible for that - one person - that's me. In nine years, I haven't done it. If there's one thing that I'm unhappy with myself, I haven't been able to bring the goaltender in that's made a difference. There's nobody else. That's me."

NOT MY FAULT

At the other end of the admission guilt scale, when Craig Patrick fired everyone but the skate sharpener in Pittsburgh last week, it marked the seventh time in 10 years they've replaced a bench boss. On Long Island, Mike Milbury has also gunned seven coaches. Compare that with Edmonton where they haven't fired a skipper since April 6, 1995 when they tied the can to George Burnett. After that, Ron Low held the job for three years before deciding against a lowball contract extension, then Kevin Lowe coached for a year before stepping up to the GM's chair and Craig MacTavish has been behind the bench for the last six years, the sixth-longest current tenure among NHL coaches.

TROUBLE BRUIN

Since the blockbuster trade the Boston Bruins are .500, three wins and three losses, having lost and been held to two goals or less in three of their last four. The Sharks, who made the deal for Joe Thornton on the heels of a 10-game winless streak, are 5-0 (before last night) and average five goals a game in that span ... Is it any coincidence that since they took clutching and grabbing out of the game, Minnesota and New Jersey are both below the playoff cutline? ... If the Blackhawks are going to make a move, it's going to be now. After playing 20 of their first 30 games on the road (6-14) they get 16 of their next 21 at home.

A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE

Ten Hockey Terms That Sound Dirty, But Aren't:

1. One-timer

2. Stick measurement

3. Butt-ending

4. Five-hole

5. Zhitnik

6. Pulled groin

7. Pronger

8. Third man in

9. Slot

10. Puck

THIS AND THAT

If the NHL is so big on the unbalanced schedule, and we won't see the Montreal Canadiens again until 2008, is there any way they can fix it so we don't see last Thursday's referees Eric Furlatt and Tim Peel until then, either? ... Should a goalie with a 12-10 record and a save percentage below .900 be a lead-pipe cinch to start for Canada in Turin? Then why is Martin Brodeur already carved in stone? And why are they even considering Todd Bertuzzi, with his questionable work ethic, lack of discipline and excess baggage? If they start picking guys based on loyalty and name recognition they're not going to win.

SMASHVILLE

Look out, Jordin Tootoo is back in the NHL, just in time for the Preds' Dec. 30 visit to Rexall Place. Head coach Barry Trotz sent him to the minors out of camp because he didn't need an aimless wrecking ball. Word is Tootoo has expanded his game. "He's still an agitating, physical player, but now watching him he's not just running around recklessly, he's reading the play,'' said Trotz.

NEW MATH

Laraque says he's glad he didn't have to play a road game in Montreal last season because it costs him an arm and a leg: "I have to buy 100 tickets in the reds and it costs me 10 grand every time we go to Montreal. Good thing we had the lockout last year, it saved me 10 grand.''

Laraque reconsidered when reminded that the lockout also cost him $1.08 million.

NET WORTH

While Buffalo enjoys the luxury of having two proven starters, the goalies themselves are unhappy. Or, at least one of them is.

"I still want somebody to go somewhere else, either me, Marty or Millsie,'' Mika Noronen, third man on the totem pole, told the Buffalo News. "I want something to happen. A three-goalie situation is not good. I'm not really happy in the situation I'm in. Christmas is coming and I got three starts. That's not too much."

AND ANOTHER THING

Luc Robitaille needs just three goals to tie Marcel Dionne's franchise record (550) in Los Angeles, but it might take a while. Since returning from a leg injury, he has one goal and no assists in 10 games and played just five minutes (one shift in the third period) Wednesday against Washington.

- - -

BIG GAME THIS WEEK

TODAY

TORONTO AT OTTAWA: It's aways a good tussle when these two rivals renew the Battle of Ontario.

MONDAY, DEC. 19

CALGARY AT EDMONTON: Venom isn't what it used to be, but the stakes are as high as they've been in 15 years.

THURSDAY, DEC. 22

WASHINGTON AT ATLANTA: Kovalchuk and Ovechkin meet again for a good, old-fashioned Russian shootout.

FRIDAY, DEC. 23

LOS ANGELES AT EDMONTON: There could be some monkey business when Avery and the Kings visit Rexall.


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