French connection hurts

DEAN McNULTY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:14 AM ET

TOTTENHAM -- The constant glare of the French media on the Montreal Canadiens is to blame for homegrown star Daniel Briere turning his back on the club to sign with the Philadelphia Flyers, one of Quebec's most famous hockey sons said yesterday.

Hall of Fame centre Marcel Dionne, who also chose to leave his home province as a teenager to play major junior for the then St. Catharines Black Hawks in Ontario, said that the demands on a francophone player in Montreal are far more onerous than those placed on other players.

"I am from Quebec and I'm very proud to be a French-Canadian," he said. "But it is very, very difficult for a French-Canadian to play the game at the NHL level in Montreal. I really feel the fans and the media in Quebec are harder on French-Canadian players."

Dionne was at Woodington Lake Golf Club to help launch a DVD of the historic 1972 Canada-Russia series with several other members of that team.

He said that he was following the Briere deal with interest because it did parallel his decision to bolt Quebec in 1969 for St. Catharines.

Briere, who was a free agent this season, signed an eight-year, $52-million US deal with the Flyers, after rejecting overtures from the Canadiens.

"It's tough to play there," Dionne said. "Every player makes mistakes, but I watch, and I see when a French-Canadian player makes a mistake in Montreal he gets booed out of there."

And he laid the blame at the feet of the French Language media in that city.

"Don't get me wrong, there are lots of players who love to play in Montreal but there is a side of it -- particularly in the French media -- that is on you 24 hours a day, and I think the players (like Briere) have to look at their families, their wives and wonder if it is worth it to play in that kind of atmosphere," he said.

"I can see Danny saying: 'Hey, I don't really need this.' The Montreal Canadiens are going to tell you different, but we all know what it's like when you pick up the newspaper and there are six pages of stories on the team every day."

Dionne said that it was different when the Habs were winning championships by the handful during the 1970s. Then, he said, the media was more respectful of players' personal lives.

"Back in the days of Guy Lafleur, Serge Savard and Larry Robinson there wasn't that kind of constant glare on their lives," he said. "I don't blame Danny for taking the money in Philadelphia."

But Savard, also on that 1972 Team Canada, said yesterday there is more to the Briere story than meets the eye.

"I was (general manager) in Montreal for 13 years and I never once had a French-Canadian player tell me he didn't want to play there," he said. "I know that's what is being said in Montreal right now, but I'll tell you the reason Briere signed with Philly was the money, period."


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