There’s a game going on in Montreal at the Bell Centre tonight. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadians are battling it out on Hockey Night in Canada for some much needed points in the Eastern Conference playoff race. But outside the building, there were a few hundred protesters who cared more about the coach behind the bench than the team on the ice. More specifically, they cared more about the language the coach speaks when addressing players and the media.
Mouvement Quebec francais president Mario Beaulieu released a statement to accompany Saturday evening’s demonstration. Via the Montreal Gazette: “The Montreal Canadiens management does not respect the status of French as Quebec’s official language,” Beaulieu said. “The music played in the Bell Centre is English. All announcements made in the arena are bilingual. There are only two or three francophone players left on the team. And now they have named a head coach who doesn’t speak a word of French. Not even ‘Bonjour’.”
Anyone who thought this language debate had cooled was sadly mistaken. As if Randy Cunneyworth’s job wasn’t difficult enough as he tried to turn things around for the mediocre Habs, he has hundreds of people outside the arena protesting because he doesn’t speak the right language. To some of the folks on the street, winning is secondary to the organization representing Quebecois culture.
General manager Pierre Gauthier has already publically apologized. Owner Geoff Molson (who is now tweeting in both languages) has already said that the head coaching position will be re-evaluated at the end of the season. Still, as long as Cunneyworth is behind the bench, there will be those who will publically voice their displeasure.
As if things couldn’t get any weirder in Montreal, Canadiens GM Pierre Gauthier goes and takes things a step further.
Gauthier issued an apology for upsetting fans in Montreal and Quebec for appointing Randy Cunneyworth as the interim head coach for the remainder of the season.
“I’m sorry if we upset people. Because that certainly wasn’t our intention,” Pierre Gauthier told reporters Monday.
Gauthier followed saying they would re-evaluate the position at the end of the year, something they would’ve done anyway considering Cunneyworth is just the interim head coach.
Many fans in Quebec were outraged that a French-Canadian coach, or at least one who could also speak French, wasn’t hired for the job following Jacques Martin’s firing. Gauthier was initially indignant about the move. His apology, however, shows that public pressure in Montreal is a very powerful thing.
How do you say “horrific train wreck” in French?
OK, that might be a bit excessive, but things are starting to get ugly for the Montreal Canadiens. The Winnipeg Jets muted them 4-0 tonight to push Randy Cunneyworth’s record to an unsettling 0-4-0.
Sure, the Jets have been red-hot at home; they’re now 7-1-1 in their last nine games. That probably won’t sweeten the bitter taste for Habs fans, though.
The feeling is that a combination of linguistics and losses will inevitably do Cunneyworth in, but the focus is starting to shift to GM Pierre Gauthier. Honestly, it probably should have been there from the beginning. General managers tend to have the ears of owners more often than coaches, so there should be no surprise that franchises fire the cook instead of the grocery shopper in most situations – even if GMs are equally (if not more) to blame.
Either way, it’s a depressing situation, unless you’re Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec. His play has been picking up lately, but he’s fallen short of a few extra wins because Winnipeg occasionally struggles to score. He spoke up a couple times on that issue and the team scored four goals for him tonight.
Considering better play from Calgary, the Jets’ status as the second-ranked team in the Southeast and the youth movement in Edmonton, it’s quite possible that the Habs are currently the NHL’s most rudderless Canadian team.