Newspaper article The Canadian Press

En Francais! Nationalist Protesters Call for the Habs to Be More French: Nationalists Call for More French on Habs

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

En Francais! Nationalist Protesters Call for the Habs to Be More French: Nationalists Call for More French on Habs

Article excerpt

MONTREAL - Fans filing into the Bell Centre on Saturday hoping for a Montreal Canadiens win were met by protesters with another goal in mind.

They want the organization to be more French.

Several hundred Quebec nationalists, handing out miniature Quebec flags and chanting "Montreal, en francais," held a rally directly in front of the building.

The group was protesting the recent appointment of Randy Cunneyworth as head coach. He is the first Montreal head coach unable to speak French in 40 years.

"It shows a lack of respect for Canadiens fans," said Jean Archambault, who was wearing a sweater of Habs legend Maurice Richard.

"We are not against the Canadiens as an institution. We are against the management of the Canadiens."

Guy Lafleur, one of the team's most-beloved players of all time, suggested the whole thing was overblown.

"It doesn't matter if you speak German, Russian, or whatever," Lafleur said Saturday in Vancouver.

"The bottom line is: Win the games and then make the playoffs and try to win the Stanley Cup."

Lafleur -- who also played with the Quebec Nordiques and New York Rangers -- said his old coaches Bob Berry and Scotty Bowman never spoke French in the dressing room and rarely with the media.

He acknowledged, though, that today's media is far more demanding and Cunneyworth would likely need to learn some French to keep his job after this year.

Geoff Molson, the team's president and owner, was the target of much of the protesters' criticism.

Someone even brought a dummy of Molson and put a noose around its neck.

Protesters also complained the music played at the Bell Centre is in English, that announcements are in both languages and that the team has few francophone players.

Archambault, 62, said the team had its best years when the team was stocked with francophone stars.

The Toronto Maple Leafs and other Canadian teams still make an effort to recruit players from their own backyard, and Montreal should do the same, he said.

"I think we need a minimum of at least seven or eight francophone players," he said.

The Canadiens had two players from Quebec in the lineup on Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning. …

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