Their upset win on Monday night — which eliminated the Toronto Maple Leafs from the Stanley Cup playoffs — marks a surprise comeback for the Montreal Canadiens after they limped through a season plagued by injuries and personnel changes.
Montreal fans were thrilled by the defeat of their traditional Toronto rivals, and no one seemed to mind that Philippe Danault, who managed to contain Toronto’s star scorer Auston Matthews, was the only Quebec-born player on the ice.
Carey Price — the Montreal goaltender sometimes called “Jesus” Price for his amazing ability to save — was a standout, holding Toronto to a single goal, with Montreal players Brendan Gallagher, Corey Perry, and Trevor Toffoli managing to beat Toronto’s formidable Jack Campbell in goals scored.
The winning Canadiens players gladly gave interviews on French-language hockey broadcasts, but they spoke in English.
Not only is Price English-speaking, he’s also a member of the Ulkatcho First Nation. He grew up in the predominately Indigenous community of Anahim Lake, B.C., where his mother Lynda is a former chief.
“Merci Carey!” tweeted Premier François Legault after the game. “Hâte de voir le PM de l’Ontario @fordnation porter le chandail de Montréal! Amenez Winnipeg!” (“Thanks Carey! Can’t wait to see Ontario Premier @fordnation wear the Montreal sweater! Bring on Winnipeg!)
The two premiers made a bet that the one whose team lost the series would wear the winner’s jersey.
At a news conference he held Tuesday to deliver pandemic information, Legault repeated his challenge to Ford, and extended the “same bet” to Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, as the Canadiens enter the next playoff round against Winnipeg.
That Legault addressed Carey Price in French, Quebec’s “official and common” language, is to be expected.
His party’s Bill 96 would toughen Quebec’s Charter of the French Language, so that a company with as few as 25 employees would be required to have a “certificate of francization” conferring on its employees the right to work in French.
The Canadiens currently have 27 players, but the team itself, including its back-office and other staff, is already required to provide a workplace where working in French is a right, though not an obligation.
In 1971, hockey historian Stan Fischler wrote The Flying Frenchmen with Maurice “The Rocket” Richard. It’s the story of “Le Club de hockey Canadien,” the National Hockey League team with the most Stanley Cups.
By 1971, the Canadiens had won 16 Stanley Cups. They went on to win another eight championships, for a total of 24, well ahead of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who were in second place with 13 cups, the last won in 1967.
Montreal’s last Stanley Cup was in 1993.
Along with his kid brother Henri Richard — dubbed “The Pocket Rocket” — Maurice Richard played with the likes of Jean Béliveau and “Boom Boom” Geoffrion, with Jacques Plante in goal and a lineup of fast-skating, mostly French-speaking Quebec players.
Over the years, there were English-speaking Quebec players, too, like Dickie Moore, and players from other provinces, such as Howie Morenz, John Ferguson, Ken Dryden, and many more.
Montreal’s winning streak in the 1970s was guided by its fully bilingual Quebec-born coach, Scotty Bowman, and general manager Sam Pollack.
French-speaking players like Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe, Guy Lafleur, and goalie Patrick Roy were the core of those Montreal teams.
That was then.
Now, the Canadiens’ lineup, like the rosters of all NHL teams, is a mix of Canadian, American, and European players.
But on May 10, the withdrawal from the team of Jonathan Drouin, and a concussion that sidelined Danault, left the team playing its first-ever game with no Quebec-born players.
In contrast, among the eight teams in the finals, the Tampa Bay Lightning (the defending Stanley Cup champions) have five Quebec players; the Las Vegas Golden Knights have four; and the Winnipeg Jets, Boston Bruins, and New York Islanders have three each.
Toronto has had Quebec players in the past, but its current lineup has none.
Samuel Girard is the sole Quebec-born player for the Colorado Avalanche, formerly the Quebec Nordiques, although the Avalanche does have Pierre-Édouard Bellemare, a rare French-born NHL player.
Legault’s government introduced Bill 96 in response to the perception by francophones that English is growing in influence in the province.
There are complaints that it’s not always possible to be served in French in stores, restaurants, and bars in downtown Montreal.
The Office québécois de la langue française, whose mandate is to ensure the language charter is followed, has found that more employers now require staff to be bilingual, contrary to the government’s intention that French be Quebec’s only language of work.
Bill 96 is meant to preserve French — a goal shared by federal Official Languages Minister Mélanie Joly and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — by requiring employers with as few as 25 workers to provide a workplace where all business can be conducted in French.
Of the 27 players in the Canadiens’ current lineup, eight are from Ontario, six are from other provinces, four are from the U.S., and seven are from Europe.
In Montreal, English in the workplace is commonplace, with information-technology companies, such as French-owned Ubisoft, producing its Assassin’s Creed series of computer games in English.
Céline Dion has her roots in Quebec, but has become a global star in Las Vegas by singing mostly in English.
Cirque du Soleil was started in Quebec by fire-breather Guy Laliberté, but is now a fixture in Las Vegas.
In the 21st century, all parties in Ottawa and Quebec City accept the goal of preserving and promoting French in Quebec.
A Léger poll taken after Bill 96 was introduced found that 70 per cent of respondents aged 55 and over said they were worried about the future of the French language in Quebec.
Just 37 per cent of respondents aged 18 to 24 were similarly concerned, and opinion was divided on a proposal to limit enrolment by francophones in Quebec’s CÉGEPs, or junior colleges.
But now Quebecers are united in hoping that a team, whose unofficial but common language is English, has a chance at winning the Stanley Cup.
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