It would be an understatement to say that French-Canadians are passionate about hockey, but even more than loving the game itself, they love the French-Canadian players that have made the game great. In that vein, here are, in my opinion, the five greatest French-speaking skaters and goalies of all time.
Five greatest French speaking skaters:
1. Mario Lemieux --
When looking at the top-five French speaking players of all time, No. 1 has to be Mario. He had the size, he had the hands, he had the numbers, he really had everything. He's certainly a top-five all-time player no matter what nationality or culture he comes from.
2. Marcel Dionne --
I know the argument against Dionne is that he's never won a Cup, but if you look at his numbers, they're off the charts. I played against most of these guys and Dionne was just a great player. He was on the Triple Crown Line, which was for a while one of the best lines in the NHL. He's always going to have that asterisk of having never won the Cup, but his numbers are right there with the best of them. You never want to be that guy who's the best player to never win the Cup, but that's Marcel Dionne
3. Jean Beliveau --
Jean's numbers may not be up there with some guys, but you have to give him something for the playoffs. His playoff numbers are unbelievable. He was the first-ever winner of the Conn Smythe, he won 10 Stanley Cup rings as a player -- and seven more as an executive -- he was the face of the Canadiens for years and the captain of the Canadiens for one of the greatest reigns in NHL history. More than anything, though, you've got the Cups. The number of Cups is just staggering.
4. Gilbert Perreault --
I played against Gilbert Perreault
and I thought he was the most dangerous player in the NHL. I thought, on pure talent, there was one guy who could embarrass you. He was so skilled, so talented, so smooth, maybe the best set of hands ever in the NHL, and when that line was playing well, the French Connection, it was probably the most exciting line in the NHL. They got to the Stanley Cup Final just once, but if you're just going on pure talent, he's probably one of the five greatest talents to ever play in the NHL.
5. Guy Lafleur --
I know people will probably say Lafleur should be ahead of Perreault, and he was a great player, but he wasn't as dynamic as Perreault. He was a guy who just went down the wall at 80 miles per hour and let out a big slapper. He had a great wrist shot, but I didn't think he was as dangerous one-on-one as Gilbert Perreault
-- but a great talent, obviously, and one of the faces of the Montreal franchise during one its greatest periods.
Five greatest French speaking goalies:
With so many great French-Canadian goalies, including the two best goalies of all time, this list was one that was pretty easy from my perspective.
1. Patrick Roy --
I just think he's the greatest goalie ever. Plain and simple. Any nationality, any culture, it doesn't matter. If I'm playing one game, Patrick Roy
is my goalie. Period.
2. Martin Brodeur --
Brodeur is right behind Patrick in my mind, but he doesn't overtake him because of Roy's postseason performances. Obviously he's got the most wins. Patrick has the most playoff wins, Marty has the most regular-season wins. Marty's got the most shutouts. While you could argue over who is No. 1 and who is No. 2, it was a very easy 1-2 selection above the rest.
3. Jacques Plante --
He was a great goalie with 437 wins. He brought the mask into the NHL, and I think when you change the game you have to get points for that, and Jacques certainly changed the game as far as goaltending was concerned. He was a very cerebral goaltender, he was outspoken, and he was sort of a change. Before him hockey players were very quiet and they didn't the rock the boat. He was on the cutting edge of a lot of things.
4. Rogie Vachon --
He has 355 wins, which is an enormous total considering he played on some bad teams. He played on a few good teams in L.A. but he was on a lot of bad teams also. He was a very solid goaltender, a good battler and really acrobatic. The guys of that era really thought Rogie was a great goaltender, and he was a great talent when he came up.
5. Bernie Parent --
He had 271 wins, obviously he has the two Cups, and there was no doubt about it, when Philly won those Cups, Bernie was their best player. He was the perfect goalie in Philly, he could really handle everything that went on, and he gave them good goaltending all the time. For a three- or four-year period in the 1970s he was probably the best goalie in the NHL.