What is the impact of local players on the Canadiens?

A never ending topic, a discussion coming back to the table periodically, is the one about the number of players from Quebec with the Canadiens as when they won Stanley Cups, the Quebecois contingent was always strong and many were important contributors. Last year, the Canadiens started the season with 3 local products in their ranks: Maxim Lapierre, Mathieu Darche and Alexandre Picard. We know the story with Lapierre and thankfully, David Desharnais saved the day although he only played 12 minutes per game on average. The year before, the Habs started the season with Guillaume Latendresse, Georges Laraque and Maxim Lapierre. Some fans did everything in their power to chase Latendresse and Laraque out of town and we know what happened. We can be “thankful” for Markov’s injury as that’s when Marc-André Bergeron was offered a contract, and the late call-up of Darche.

But why is this happening? Some “influent” people (and I put it in quotation marks as a decision maker is part of it, Jacques Martin) are meeting at a summit on hockey to discuss the topic. It is a fact that the QMJHL doesn’t seem to be competitive at the Memorial Cup, that there are less and less players from the “Q” being drafted for a few years now and that’s an issue that Gilles Courteau doesn’t take lightly, in collaboration with Hockey Quebec. It is also true that there are fewer and fewer Quebecois in the NHL but the teams who have them seem to appreciate being able to count on them. Whether it’s Luongo, Burrows, Brodeur, Gagné, Brière, Pominville, Bergeron (Patrice), Vermette, Robidas, Ribeiro, Bouchard, Bouillon, Lombardi, Vlasic, Demers, Perron, Lecavalier, St-Louis, Veilleux, Beauchemin, Bélanger, Stastny, Dupuis, Talbot, Letang or Fleury, we’re talking about players contributing to their team’s success!

But why this phenomena?

Is it due to the economy? Is it because kids now days have so many other choices of sports? The economy and the choices are similar in other provinces, and those provinces don’t seem to suffer as much looking at Team Canada Junior’s success, and the number of players drafted from the WHL and OHL. Unfortunately, some prefer crying discrimination, choosing to blame others instead of facing the problem by looking in the mirror.

I have my theory… For several years now, seeing Canada lose ground at the international level, Hockey Canada searched for answers and reasons. Seeing the level of skills in Europe, they looked in the mirror and realized that not enough time was spent at developing skills and too much time allocated for games. They also recognized that in order to develop those players, coaches have to be qualified. That’s when they implemented the Program of Excellence, which Wayne Gretzky (amongst others) was part of. If someone wants to coach minor hockey in Canada, they need to take some extensive coaching clinics and the suggested ratio practice/game is now 4 practices for every game played!

Someone told me a few years back that Hockey Quebec didn’t want to follow suit and preferred keeping the status quo without Hockey Canada’s help. We’re seeing them today scramble to catch up, looking for solutions, by creating summits like the one they’re having now. Except that this time, it is great to see that the president of Hockey Canada, Bob Nicholson, is part of it. Let’s just hope that Hockey Quebec will listen very carefully to what Mr. Nicholson has to say this time around… about twenty years later! Sometimes, one can learn just as much relying on others’ experience instead of waiting to experience it themselves, while being just as efficient and mostly, learning quicker.

How can the Canadiens help?

Even living in British-Columbia some 4,000 kilometers away, I can recognize the importance and even the need to have players from Quebec playing for the Montreal Canadiens.

You see, Montreal is different than any other NHL city if only from the fact of the language spoken. Yes, many in Quebec (especially in Montreal) are bilingual but a vast majority in the rest of the province, including children, don’t understand English. They do want to be able to not only understand, but relate to the players, to have some sort of connection with them, with the team.

It is just as important when looking at marketing, as all 82 Habs’ games are televised on RDS (French station, French commercials for French speaking people), as well as for corporate boxes at the Bell Centre when the majority of the investors are French and do business in Quebec, in French, not counting the publicity sold by the organization in and out of the rink.

As for the attachment, it’s nothing new as if we go back in history, going all the way back to the conception of the Montreal Canadiens, to the root of the team, it was created in the mind set of creating a rivalry, having a team of French players, playing against the English, the Maroons.

Later on, Maurice Richard was not only a great player but foremost, he was the idol of a nation, Quebec, a symbol standing tall against the English, an ordinary guy from home, a neighbour who was the best in a sport that we loved, playing for the Montreal Canadiens! And it was a similar feeling towards Jean Beliveau and Guy Lafleur after him.

I remember about 40 years ago when I started playing hockey and growing up through the minor hockey systems in Quebec, I had the privilege of being able to associate myself, to relate to players like Yvan Cournoyer, Jacques Lemaire, Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe, Guy Lafleur, Yvon Lambert and Mario Tremblay amongst others, players who gave me the hope of a dream… If you were to ask the younger ones, they would tell you that they lived similar situations by looking up to Patrick Roy, Guy Carbonneau, Claude Lemieux, Stéphane Richer, Vincent Damphousse, Pierre Turgeon and Eric Desjardins… If those players from my neighbourhood, who speak my language, can make it big, why can’t I dream of doing the same, was I thinking to myself?

You see, it’s more than admiring hockey players. But as young boys playing hockey (or liking the sport) and as a Habs’ fan, it was a motivation, an example that young boys from Quebec can succeed, achieve their dream of one day, wearing the red, white and blue and have their turn at being idolized, admired by young hockey players as they did themselves.

And the support

Having said that, with everything that has happened in recent years, it is evident that one needs a particular personality to succeed in Montreal as in today’s NHL, they fill your pockets with money at the very beginning of your career, you are recognized everywhere in town, puck-bunnies and all, and everything that comes with what I call “vedettaria”, an illness which swells the head of its victims, giving them the impression that they’re bigger than what they really are. It looks like the only cure is to send them to another city by trading them, which has for effect to take down the swelling and bring back the work ethics that saw them get the success that brought them to the NHL to start with. According to some, Guillaume Latendresse and Maxim Lapierre are the most recent ones to have suffered from it but we find other similar cases over the years, guys like Mike Ribeiro, Jose Theodore and Pierre Dagenais amongst others…

Having said that, while we can point fingers to players from Quebec, it seems like every young player coming to play in Montreal is subject to it. We saw guys like Higgins, the Kostitsyn brothers, Pacioretty and Price falling to it, with some recovering on time it seems. That’s why it’s crucial to find great veterans to mentor those young players, to teach them the ropes, what to avoid and teach them how to become true professionals on and off the ice. And to look at some current veterans including Hal Gill, the Canadiens seem to have learned their lesson.

I will conclude by saying that in spite of what some may think, it is very important to have local players (from Quebec) on the Montreal Canadiens’ roster but even more important is the selection of those players as well of how they are supported. You need to have a certain quality, a define personality to succeed in Montreal and it’s even more true when it comes to local players.

En français: Mais pourquoi des Québécois avec le Canadien?

12 thoughts on “What is the impact of local players on the Canadiens?

  1. what about the population sizes?
    can the population sizes – and thus the amount of people playing hockey – not be directly correlated to the number of pro players per province/territory/state?
    logic will say that the more players you have the greater chance of them becoming pros.

    1. Absolutely. The way I see it, you need to find a way for your top athletes to play hockey instead of choosing another sport. We’re seeing more and more French Canadians making it in the NFL or making the CFL. That’s where I think that the Canadiens can/should help and where lies the importance of having some local blood wearing the red, white and blue. Of course, not at the expense of skills and that why we’re all agreeing that Hockey Quebec needs to follow the template supplied by Hockey Canada.

      1. One can also wonder why so few current French Canadian NHL’ers not choose to play in Montreal by way of Free Agency.
        Lots of rumblings out there suggest that due to the high expectations – both from a team and public perspective – these afore mentioned French Canadian NHL’ers would rather ensure that Montreal – and Quebec as a whole – remains as their “friendly confines” in the off season.

        Great article by the way.

  2. I do agree that its great for quebec to have french players on montreal. But in this debate we are missing the fact that montreal got the first pick of the crop of french players. Its much harder to draft players when you finish in the middle or end of the pack in todays NHL. Its hard to find a top six forward around the world, yet alone from quebec. You have to do whats best for the team, not quebec. Theres a large english fan base for montreal to. You draft the best player available, not were he is from. I have watched french players get all kinds of chances to succed in montreal,( lappy, darche,latendresse)over ryder and sk76 who have played unreal with other teams. The fans, media and management put to much pressure on these french players to be stars when they are third or fourth line players. Also everyone seems to forget the coaching, ever since i can remember its a french coach. The most succesful coachs were english. Its huge pressure on the french coach in montreal. If everyone would drop the french or english culture and worry about the game, we would not be going 18 years without a cup

  3. I should have added to my earlier comment that modern technology is very helpful in learing a language. Some of those hours players spend on their i-pods could be spent learning French. Research has also demonstrated that learning a second language can improve brain health and delay the onset of Alzheimers.

  4. The scouting is what it is. Yes they have missed some but they have also got some good picks. The development seemed to be suffering for a few years but we’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel on that aspect recently.

    Agreed Brian with players learning the language, although back then, it wasn’t unusual to see players spend their entire career in one city. I’d like to see key young guys like Subban and Price do like Gainey, Dryden and Robinson for sure though.

    Here’s hoping that Hockey Quebec listens to what Bob Nicholson has to say. It worked for the other two major junior leagues in the country.

  5. The habs missed the boat on drafting french players opting for americans mostly and poor drafting choises in the late rounds. Poor scouting

  6. Your last point is perhaps most important. While francophone players used to aspire to play in Montreal, now many (e.g. Daniel Briere) choose to play elsewhere when given the opportunity. Perhaps the media scrutiny in two languages is too intense.
    It would also help if more anglophone players learned to speak at least rudimentary French. In past generations anglophone players like Dryden, Robinson and Gainey learned to speak decent French while living in Montreal. Especially elite level players like Prince and Subban who will likely be in Montreal for a good part of their careers should have been enrolling in French classes the day they were drafted. By the time they arrived in “the show” they could have been sufficiently fluent to conduct a basic cliche-ridden player interview in French. The francophone fan base would “les aiment beaucoup.”

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