Lack of francophone Habs sparks anger

A hardline Parti Quebecois MLA blames a federalist plot for the dearth of French players on the...

A hardline Parti Quebecois MLA blames a federalist plot for the dearth of French players on the team that once boasted legions of Quebec superstars such as Guy Lafleur, Jean Beliveau, Patrick Roy and Maurice (Rocket) Richard. (QMI Agency)

BRIAN DALY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:17 AM ET

MONTREAL - The new hockey season has rekindled an old complaint from Quebec separatists - there aren’t enough francophone players on the Montreal Canadiens.

A hardline Parti Quebecois MLA blames a federalist plot for the dearth of French players on the team that once boasted legions of Quebec superstars such as Guy Lafleur, Jean Beliveau, Patrick Roy and Maurice (Rocket) Richard.

The comments by PQ language critic Pierre Curzi put the Habs top brass and owner Geoff Molson on the defensive Thursday on the eve of training camp.

Curzi told a provincial cable-access television show it’s not a coincidence that forwards Maxim Lapierre and Mathieu Darche are outnumbered by 21 Americans, Europeans and English-Canadians.

“I believe that federal powers have taken over the Canadiens,” Curzi said last week on the show Les franc-tireurs (The Mavericks).

“People who are federalists and people who don’t want Quebec to become a country, who don’t want French to flourish, they know full well that you have to seize identity symbols.” PQ Leader Pauline Marois downplayed the conspiracy talk, but said the results were the same.

“It helps federalism more than it does our interests,” she told reporters in Quebec City on Wednesday.

While Canadiens fans largely ignore language issues while packing the Bell Centre for hockey’s most storied franchise, the team’s ethnic makeup is often fodder for French media commentators and politicians.

It’s a constant clarion call by one prominent sports columnist in particular, who even criticized former captain Saku Koivu for his inability to speak French.

Team officials downplayed the hardliners’ complaints in a scrum at the team’s golf tournament north of Montreal on Thursday.

Owner Geoff Molson, a lifelong Montrealer who is fluently bilingual, acknowledged that French fans deserve a chance to cheer for hometown players. But he added the main goal is to improve on last year’s Eastern Conference finals appearance with the best players possible.

“(We want) to put a team on the ice that’s in the top third of the league,” he told reporters in French.

Team president Pierre Boivin, one of eight francophones on the Habs’ 10-member executive, says Curzi forgot to count the French players invited to training camp.

“Eleven players out of 31 are francophones,” he said.

Boivin added that the team’s red and white colours, as well as its name, might be a red flag for some separatists.

“It’s true that a name like the Canadiens doesn’t help us,” he joked.

brian.daly@sunmedia.ca


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