Skip to main content

Government wants French-speaking Canadiens coach

NHL.com @NHL

QUEBEC CITY (AP) - The Quebec government isn't pleased about the hiring of a Montreal Canadiens coach who can't speak French.

The province's culture minister says she expects the Habs to correct the situation.

Christine St-Pierre isn't quite calling for the firing of new coach Randy Cunneyworth, who was just hired over the weekend. But she says the Habs have given the impression his hiring is temporary, and she takes them at their word. The former NHL forward's title is interim coach.

The hiring has created a frenzy of media reaction, including calls for a boycott of products associated with the Canadiens. But judging from the reaction on social-networking sites, the response of regular Montreal fans may be slightly less critical.

Identity debates like the current one occasionally place Quebec's Liberal government in a quandary.

The pro-Canada Charest government often faces pressure from its more nationalist opponents to take an aggressive stand in defending Quebec's identity.

Critics of the hiring say the Canadiens are more than just a hockey team and, for more than a century, have been an institution that represents French-Canadian pride.

One columnist Monday compared them to Spanish soccer team Barcelona, which expects its players to learn the Catalan language and whose slogan is "More than a team."

Francophone hockey writers are also wondering where else Quebecers can get a start in the NHL if the Canadiens won't give them one.

They point out that most other Quebecers coaching in the NHL, including both of last year's Stanley Cup finalists, got their start coaching the Habs.

Another common refrain heard in Montreal is that fans would be willing to support the hiring of a coach who can't speak French if it were someone like the accomplished Mike Babcock, or local hero Kirk Muller.

The Habs have not had an only English-speaking coach since the 1970-71 season, when Al MacNeil coached them. They won a Stanley Cup that year but MacNeil had a poor relationship with some players and was demoted to the minors after the season.

View More