NYT > Sports
MONTREAL – Of all the bottlenecks that have emerged globally this year and attracted a lot of political attention, this may be the most amazing: the lack of Quebecers in professional hockey.
Forget worries about pasta shortages (Canada’s durum wheat harvest has declined by nearly a third) and soaring prices for poultry (the staple of Montreal’s famous fried chicken shops) and beef (the star of popular steak fries eateries across the City can be found.)). The problem raised last week by Quebec Prime Minister François Legault is the lack of successors to Marcel Dionne, Mario Lemieux, Luc Robitaille, Mike Bossy and Guy Lafleur – the top five Quebec scorers in NHL history .
There are now 51 Quebec-born players in the NHL – about 7 percent of the league’s roughly 721 players, according to statistics from QuantHockey website. With 171 players, Ontario is way ahead of Quebec and now has the most professionals from any province in the league. The difference is not only explained by Ontario’s larger population.
Canada leads the NHL with 43 percent of players, compared with 26.4 percent of United States-born players. But in Canada, the province of Quebec sings a sad song. Where did you go, Denis Savard? A nation – and Quebec considers itself a nation, with a provincial legislature called the Assemblée nationale – turns its lonely eyes on you.
In fact, there are now more players in the NHL squad from Sweden (86) than from Quebec.
Quebec and Canada are facing more serious problems. Covid-19 hasn’t gone away, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made slight strides last week in undermining President Biden’s Buy American impetus, the energy sector is in dire straits and western British Columbia is in its second major climate-related disaster within six months. Then there is the hardy perennial, the constant battles in Quebec over how much English should be allowed on signs, and preventing non-English speakers and newcomers from outside Canada from sending their children to English-speaking schools.
But a week ago Legault caused a stir – fortunately the same word in both languages - when he uttered an incontrovertible and undisputed truth at a press conference at the Bell Center, where the Montreal Canadiens play. “Hockey is more than a sport in Quebec,” he said, expressing dismay at the decline in youth hockey in the province and announcing the creation of a 14-person committee led by former NHL goalkeeper Marc Denis to the problem, which also includes the lack of trainers and the high cost of equipment and ice age. The committee is expected to report on April 1st.
No one contradicted his claim that Quebec hockey was “our national sport, part of our identity,” nor has anyone argued in the last year when they expressed their sadness that the Canadiens had played for the first time without a Quebecer on the Squads played. No Giggles: Did the home team ever step onto the field at Penn State’s Beaver Stadium without a single Pennsylvania resident on the roster?
“Growing up, every kid in Montreal wanted to be a hockey player,” says Eddie Johnston, whose brothers were terrifying gangsters but had a different dark profession, scoring goals for the Toronto Maple Leafs, St. Louis Blues, Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins from 1962 to 1978. He eventually coached the Pittsburgh Penguins and became general manager, moving in a colleague from Montreal, Mario Lemieux.
“No Quebecer wants this to fade,” said Johnston.
To add to what Legault sees as a cultural crisis, the Canadiens have had a disastrous start to their 2021-22 season after winning just five of their first 21 games on Friday. The team that has by far the most Stanley Cups (24), including five consecutive championships from 1956 and four in a row in the 1970s, has embarrassed the entire province. At the same time, the Toronto Maple Leafs, their rivals; the Calgary Flames; and the Edmonton Oilers are known as the Stanley Cup contenders.
Hockey has long been an important element in Quebec culture. Maurice Richard, who played for the Canadiens for 18 years, is a nationalist hero from Quebec. In the 1944/45 season he was the first player to score 50 goals in 50 games; anchored the Habs hockey dynasty by winning eight Stanley Cup championships; and most importantly, it was a symbol of Francophone achievement at a time when Montreal was dominated by an entrenched Anglophone establishment.
When Richard was involved in a physical altercation with a linesman in a 1955 game against the Boston Bruins and then suspended for the remainder of the season and the playoffs, Montreal was furious. One fan attacked NHL commissioner Clarence Campbell – a die-hard symbol of English power – and another set off a smoke bomb in the Montreal Forum, and soon the brawl was so wild that the fire marshal ordered the crowd to retreat to the street, where a major uprising broke out. Meanwhile, Richard emerged as the personification of both francophone oppression and pride.
Hockey is so much a part of life in Quebec that one of the most popular children’s books, “Le Chandail de Hockey” or “The Hockey Sweater” explores the humiliation a child feels when their French-speaking mother hears a “Bleu, blanc et rouge” Canadiens Jersey just to send yourself off from the department store of one with the despised blues and whites of the Maple Leafs, the dreaded rivals of the Habs.
Although the Canadiens signed three Quebec-born players – David Savard, Cedric Paquette and Jean-Sébastien Dea – in a single day in July, the relationship between the province and the local hockey princes is no longer what it used to be.
The NHL is an intercontinental league – the Columbus Blue Jackets opened the season with players from the US, Canada, Switzerland, Finland, Russia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France and Latvia – but the Canadians have been the preferred in the past Aimed for Quebec-born players and built what Montreal-born hockey writer Mike Moore called “an unparalleled and powerful empire of feeder teams across North America.” But, he wrote, “the Montreal Canadiens had the most to lose” when a new amateur draft system was introduced by the NHL in 1963.
Quebec City, which lost the Nordiques to Colorado in 1995, has had an NHL-enabled arena since 2015, and so did Las Vegas, which won the Golden Knights franchise in 2016, for an expansion team that year.
The day Legault announced the Quebec Hockey Committee, he told French-language sports broadcaster RDS that he had spoken to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman “to find out what we need to bring the Nordiques back.”
However, on Wednesday an NHL spokeswoman wrote in an email quoting the League’s Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly: “We are always happy to meet. We are currently not thinking about further expansion. “
Does it really matter that Quebec have a single NHL team, or that Saskatchewan produce more NHL players per capita than any other province, or that Ontario produce the most? Hockey is like home where the heart is.
“Hockey is a part of life across the country, but it’s special in Quebec,” said Daniel Béland, a political scientist who, after a decade at the University of, was director of the Institute for the Study of Canada at McGill University in Montreal changed Saskatchewan. “Quebec believes that it cannot be perceived as a diminishing source of supplies for hockey players. It’s so important to Quebec culture. “