Thursday, January 19, 2012

Once Proud

Bill Clinton was sworn in as President, Czechoslovakia broke into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series. Sound like ages ago? The year was 1993 and it was the also the last time the Stanley Cup belonged to the Montreal Canadiens. (It was the last time any Canadian team had the Cup, but that's beside the point.) The NHL club with the most Stanley Cup championship appearances and wins (34 and 24 respectively) looks these days to be far from the proud franchise it was in the past.

These days, rather than concerning themselves with ending the franchise's longer Cup-drought, Les Habitants find themselves bickering over the fact that their interim coach doesn't speak French and removing players that broadcast the real reason that their team has struggled as of late.

After a poor start to the season, the Habs did what any franchise would do, they canned the man behind the bench, Jacques Martin. Rather than scrape around trying to find a replacement from the few available candidates, the Canadiens promoted assistant coach, Randy Cunneyworth. Not a bad move, considering Dan Bylsma replaced Michel Therrien as head coach in 2009 before he led them to a Stanley Cup championship. However, Montreal would have you believe that GM Pierre Gauthier had just made Jackie Moon coach. The problem? He doesn't speak French.

To most people, judging people on anything other than their character is called discrimination. In Montreal, it's called "culture". Read this comment from a Canadian on an ESPN article regarding Gauthier's apology (yes, apology) to fans for promoting a coach who did not speak French:

I agree that people in Quebec should be upset by the Canadien's decision to not hire a French-speaking coach. C'est tres dommage! The people in Quebec are very proud of their culture, tradition, and mannerisms, all of which contribute to a unique identity that is the Quebec province. Jeers, criticism, ignorance aside, it takes spending time in "la ville" to truly understand and appreciate why fans there are so upset. While I agree fans everywhere, including in Montreal, can be quite fickle and that it's trivial to pass up on good coaches simply because they do not speak fluent French, it is also imperative that people seek to comprehend that, for Habs fans, it may mean so much more than that.

Apparently, I have to reside within the city limits of Montreal to learn the nuances of acceptable bigotry and arrogance. Maybe then I would understand why every Montrealer seems to think they are culturally superior to the rest of Canada and the US. Once I understood their cultural superiority, then I would definitely be able to understand why Quebec is trying to secede from Canada. Alas, I don't live in an insane asylum, so I'll never get the chance.

However, Mike Cammalleri identified another possible cause of the problem in Montreal, rather than the fact that Coach Cunneyworth doesn't speak French.

"I can't accept that we will display a losing attitude as we're doing this year. We prepare for our games like losers. We play like losers. So it's no wonder why we lose."

It's also no wonder that the Canadiens promptly discarded Cammalleri via an embarrassing trade to Calgary shortly thereafter in the middle of a game.

Was the trade the consequence for Cammalleri's comments? Montreal says no, but reports from ESPN would suggest otherwise. Flames’ GM Jay Feaster claims that the Cammalleri for Bourque trade was a long time in the works, but as Scott Burnside of ESPN wondered, why would Cammalleri be allowed to play that night if the deal was really that close? ESPN colleague Pierre LeBrun noted that two NHL GMs told him that if Cammalleri was shopped around, they hadn’t heard a thing about it, which would make one think that Cammalleri wasn’t actually shopped for long. Sounds more like the whole thing was hurried to me.

So, with Cammalleri gone and the promise of a new, French-speaking coach next year, are the Habs lined up for a return to pride? Rather, I think it's pride that's keeping Montreal from returning to prominence. It's pride (pronounced "arrogance") that makes a group of people reject a potentially good coach before giving him a chance. It's pride that sends a team leader packing when he speaks the truth. If Montreal wants to return to being a proud franchise, humility must come first.

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