Anti-French comment stings Oiler

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:25 AM ET

CALGARY -- You'd never hear anyone say most black players in the NHL play tough but then back down when someone challenges them.

Comments as racist and offensive as that aren't aired in post-game interviews. And if they were, the player who made them would be fined and suspended into oblivion.

They know better than to even think about spewing that kind of garbage.

But when it comes to ripping Frenchmen, the lips get a whole lot looser.

On Monday, Los Angeles Kings forward Sean Avery, upset with Denis Gauthier's open-ice hit on teammate Jeremy Roenick, said "it was typical of most French players in our league with a visor on, running around and playing tough and not backing anything up."

Avery later made a brief apology via a press release. And that was it. No public outrage. No supplementary discipline or even a stinging condemnation from the league.

Oilers defenceman Marc-Andre Bergeron, a French Canadian who wears a visor, doesn't get it.

"I wouldn't say anything like that about a group of people, that's for sure," he said before yesterday's pre-season game in Calgary.

"Because it doesn't reach only hockey players, it's a comment that hits a lot of French people right in the face, whether they play the game or not.

"I would never say anything like that. It's racism. It doesn't matter if it's about French or black or Chinese, you have to respect everyone. That's a lack of respect for sure.

"I wonder if he'll say that to Georges Laraque next time he sees him."

Avery said "most French players," not "all," so we can safely assume he didn't mean Laraque (who didn't make the trip to Calgary), but to generalize the majority of French players as posers and chickens really bothers Bergeron.

He had to be tougher than anybody knows to make the NHL as a 5-10 defenceman, and after battling the stigma that small guys can't be tough, he doesn't want to hear it about his heritage, too.

"I'm not a tough guy, but you have to be tough to get to this level, it doesn't matter who you are," he said.

"I'm an offensive defenceman, but every once in a while I'll have to play tough or scrap.

"But people say that about French players because in the Q (Quebec Junior League) we get a lot of points and people think if you're scoring a lot you're not as tough. it's kind of funny, everyone has to be tough to make it to the NHL."

Oilers prospect Jean-Francois Jacques, with a big set of guns and a nose for physical play, has heard the stereotype all his career, as well.

"I can't explain why (Avery) would say something like that. English guys wear visors, European guys wear visors. To say something like that about French players, I can't explain it.

"But I don't care. I have enough stuff to worry about than guys who say stuff like that."


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