WINNIPEG - The Montreal Canadiens’ coaching controversy is trying to make its way into the Jets dressing room.
Francophones in Quebec are upset that interim head coach Randy Cunneyworth doesn’t speak French, and one group in Quebec has now brought Winnipeg head coach Claude Noel into the fray. Mario Beaulieu, who is the president of St-Jean-Baptiste Society, a group dedicated to the protection of francophone interests, has criticized Noel for not speaking French in his interviews. Beaulieu believes Noel is abstaining from French to show support for Cunneyworth.
The Jets coach denied that accusation on Thursday.
“Me not speaking French to the media is really nothing to do with Randy Cunneyworth and that whole scenario,” Noel said. “It’s more my comfort level. I can’t express myself in French like I can in English.”
Noel has done interviews with the Winnipeg media in French, but he has only a Grade 6 education when it comes to the language.
“They can accuse me of whatever they’d like,” Noel said. “If they want to generate controversy or whatever, that’s their right.”
The Jets, meanwhile, are trying to focus on hockey and nothing but in advance of their Thursday night clash with the Habs.
The Jets are on a six-game streak where they win one and lose one, and they will be facing a team that has lost four in a row, played Wednesday night in Chicago and is still looking for its first win under Cunneyworth.
“We can’t make it easy on them, and by that I mean turn the pucks over,” captain Andrew Ladd said. “You gotta make their D go back and get the pucks and make them skate. They played last night, so they’ll be a little more tired.
“But at the end of the day it’s a big game for them, too, and they’re obviously looking for their first win under a new coach and they’ll be motivated, so we’re going to have to be ready.”
Ondrej Pavelec will get the start between the pipes for the Jets, while the Habs will counter with Carey Price. Price and the Canadiens beat the Jets 5-1 in their inaugural season-opener on Oct. 9 at MTS Centre.
“We played awful, so I don’t think we want to take anything from that game,” Ladd said with a laugh. “We’ve made strides since then, and we feel we’re a lot better hockey team, and we’ll be out to prove that tonight.”
The 12th-place Canadiens are two points back of the 11th-place Jets in the Eastern Conference.
“We’re gonna have to get to Price,” Noel said. “We’re going to have to get way more traffic at the net. We’re gonna have to get more shots through to the net.”