Well, it’s time for me to talk about a subject that’s important for me, as you probably guessed from the title of the blog. The Soft European is obviously my own little response to the clichés frequently carried in some media (English and French) on the European players. Be warned, it’s gonna be a loooong post…
These clichés, of course, are especially used when things go bad. So in the current period, it was only a matter of time before it would resurface. And there it is. Here is the wonderful editorial written by Jeremy Filosa on the website of the CKAC radio, entitled More Quebecers, to prevent indifference. (The article was written in French, I have tried to translate it in English, but if you want more accurate quotes, go here)
I will avoid personal attacks against Jeremy Filosa. I’ve never heard of him, and anyway, it is only one example of this lamentable tendency to always blame the Europeans when it goes wrong. But it is a very good example, because his text contains almost all the usual clichés, and because he finds a way to add a few more words about the second traditional media controversy in Montreal: the perceived lack of Francophones playing for the Habs.
The article begins with a small historic passage, supposed to open our eyes on an alledged explanation for the past success of the Tricolore: its ethnic composition.
In 1909, when the leaders of the National Hockey Association decided to give Jack Laviolette the reins of a new franchise, the goal was to make the Canadian team that would represent francophone Quebecers. To give Canadians a chance to build a team representing the Québécois, the other teams in the NHA have agreed not to hire French-Canadian players before the Canadien could pick them. The Tricolore maintained that advantage for the next 10 years.
Eventually, English-Canadian players have joined the team to create a mix that was a success for the next 85 years. The Habs won 24 Stanley Cups during that time.
Without wishing to compare the Original 6 League and the current NHL, we must admit that the recipe for the Canadian has had a great deal of success.
To begin with, it is worth recalling that while the club owners did want to build a french-canadian, this choice was not really political. It was made in order to compete with teams established in Montreal at the time, including le National, which was then in the rival league CHA (see here). And above all, Montreal hired an English speaking player in its third season in 1911-12. So the idea of a French club only really lasted… two seasons.
The article then shows how little Europeans players account for in the Canadiens successes.
In fact, throughout the Canadiens’ history, there are only 3 players who have won the Stanley Cup in Montreal: Mats Näslund, Kjell Dahlin and Petr Svoboda. They were clearly a minority in the locker room of the CH.
This is a rather light argument, as Montreal has won only two cups since 1980, a time when Europeans were very few in the league.
But then, the journalist finally develops his argumentation, and writes the things that really made me cringe.
I am sure that Carbonneau does not need to go see Tom Kostopoulos and Steve Bégin before a game to explain them that they need to give 100% tonight. The reality is that Europeans have had a different childhood and adolescence than young hockey players in North America. Carbonneau can always attempt to pass a message to a young Russian like Sergei Kostitsyn, but the same message that whipped a young Quebecois, could have the opposite effect on a Russian. This is natural, it’s the human condition. Carbonneau will never claim to be able to read perfectly into the mentality of a young European player. But he has a pretty good idea of what makes a young Quebecois respond since he himself went through the very same things.
How important is it for European players to win the Cup and perform well? For a young American, the ultimate dream is to win the Stanley Cup, since a very young age. Did Europeans experience the same thing during their childhood? I doubt it. They lived in a very different reality, where the ultimate dream is to go to the National League to ensure the financial future of their families. The rest, as they say in English, is ‘Gravy’.
The Quebecois player does not have an option to remain indifferent to defeat, since he will live with the disappointment each day until the start of the next season. There is not a player from Quebec who is indifferent to have to answer the same questions all summer long.
Since December 5, the first day of the centennial year of the Canadien, I have the chance to interview many former Canadiens who won the Stanley Cup during the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s.
The phrase that comes up the most often is: “We had a desire to win which was unwavering. A desire to win every game and especially to win the Stanley Cup. “
And I suspect that our Plekanec and Kostitsyns have not exactly the same feeling currently.
This is the heart of the classic argument against Europeans. Europeans? they play for money. The cup? They don’t care about it. Therefore, they never give everything they have. Also, we can’t really blame the coaches when they fail to get the best out of them. Because you see, the poor coaches, they don’t know how to deal with Europeans. Those are not like us. We don’t know how it really works in the heads of those strange animals. With a Canadian, it’s easy, just talk about the cup, and he’ll give everything he has. But with a European, it’s different. He just wants money. (Probably because, you know, Europe is still a bit underdeveloped… I’m sure that the family of Cristobal Huet is relieved that he earns millions. I heard that they were finally able to install electricity at home and they can now buy meat. That’s quite a privilege in France. And the same goes for the Streit family in Switzerland. Poor people, Switzerland is such a third world country…)
So to summarize, Carbonneau can’t get Kostitsyn to perform, because he can not “boast to be able to read perfectly the mentality of a young European player.” But Jeremy Filosa is smart enough to know that for a European, “the ultimate goal is to go to the National League to ensure the financial future of their family.”
But wait, that’s not over. Let’s not forget to criticize Koivu. After all, he’s THE symbole of the soft European in Montreal. C’mon Jeremy, show us what you’ve got:
I have been present in the locker room of the CH, at all home games for the last 10 years, and I can tell you that when the locker room doors open, and you see Steve Bégin waiting to answer our questions, without even having seen the match, you know what kind of game the Canadiens have played simply by looking at his face. Bégin hates losing and is jubilant after a victory. There’s emotion in his face and in his words.
I don’t want to take any merit away from Saku Koivu, who usually gives an honest effort every game, but rarely shows emotion in the locker room after games. Moreover, after 3 or 4 questions, it is always difficult to detect if he is happy or disappointed with the team’s performance. I have never seen Koivu show any emotion in the media scrum, even after the most bitter and important defeats. I can understand that we always advise players to be neither too high nor too low, but at some point, it is necessary for a fuse to blow to provoke sparks.
Now this is frankly pathetic. Since even the journalist has to aknowledge that Saku can hardly be be blamed since he gives everything he can on the ice (well it’s strange by the way, I guess in his case, the coaches were able to read through his European mind after all…), he finds a way to blame him for not showing enough emotion in his press interviews after the games. This is so moronic (or dishonest) that I won’t comment this any further.
The solution? It’s simple, we must pick and sign more North-Americans and less Europeans.
In 5 years, maybe the face of this team will have changed and maybe the future Guy Carbonneau will have a much better idea how to deal with young people’s who are experiencing the exact same things as Guy lived here 25 years ago. At best, he will not even need to visit them to tell them they must give everything, as their passion for the CH will automatically take over.
In short, a true “change in philosophy” is needed. Indeed, this is a change in philosophy. It’s called bigotry. If the Canadiens ever decide to take this route, I will probably choose myself a new favorite team. But I imagine Jeremy Filosa wouldn’t miss people like me too much. After all, I’m not North American. I probably don’t care about the Cup anyway.
A reaction, Don?