“I’d say it’s just a matter of our circumstances,” coach Dominique Ducharme says with Phillip Danault and Jonathan Drouin out of action.
The days of the Flying Frenchmen are long gone for the Canadiens.
When the Canadiens won their last Stanley Cup in 1993, they had several Quebec-born francophone players on the roster, including Patrick Roy, Guy Carbonneau, Vincent Damphousse, Éric Desjardins, Denis Savard, Patrice Brisebois, J.J. Daigneault, Benoît Brunet, Stephan Lebeau, Gilbert Dionne, Donald Dufresne, Mario Roberge and André Racicot.
Francophone Hall of Famers Jacques Plante (No. 1), Émile (Butch) Bouchard (3), Guy Lapointe (5), Bernie (Boom-Boom) Geoffrion (5), Maurice Richard (9), Guy Lafleur (10), Yvan Cournoyer (12), Henri Richard (16), Serge Savard (18) and Roy (33) all have their sweater numbers hanging from the rafters at the Bell Centre after being retired in their honour.
This season, there are only two Quebec francophone players on the Canadiens — Phillip Danault and Jonathan Drouin. Danault is now sidelined with a concussion and Drouin left the team last month for personal reasons. That means for what is believed to be the first time in franchise history there would be no Quebec francophones in the Canadiens lineup Monday night against the Edmonton Oilers at the Bell Centre (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).
“I’d say it’s just a matter of our circumstances,” Canadiens head coach Dominique Ducharme said when asked about the situation by Richard Labbé of La Presse after Monday’s morning skate at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard. “We know just how important Phillip Danault is for us. It’s the same thing with respect to Jonathan Drouin. He can help us offensively. We have a guy like Alex Belzile with the team. We also have about 10 Quebec-born players with the (AHL’s) Laval Rocket. It’s just a matter of our circumstances.”
Belzile replaced Danault in the lineup for last Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the Maple Leafs in Toronto. But with Paul Byron returning to the Canadiens lineup Monday night after missing the previous nine games with a lower-body injury, Belzile was made a healthy scratch, leaving no Quebecers in the lineup.
After the Canadiens announced last month that Drouin was taking an indefinite leave of absence from the team for personal reasons, Danault spoke about the pressure of being a francophone from Quebec playing for the team and how it is even more intense when there are only two of them.
“There are lots of highs and lows in Montreal, there’s no happy medium,” Danault said. “When everything is going well, you’re very happy and everything is great. When things aren’t going as well, it’s more difficult. As a player, we already put a lot of pressure on ourselves. I would say it gets amplified in Montreal. We so want to do well and wear the jersey with pride. It’s an added pressure we put on our shoulders. Sometimes, it becomes more difficult on the ice and off it. These aren’t the kinds of things we can control.
“I think there’s ups and downs everywhere but Montreal’s a little more intense,” Danault added. “We know how the fans are passionate. They can love you, they can not like you, too. It’s part of the game, it’s part of the big market of Montreal. That’s why they’re one of the best fans in the league. It’s not easy … it’s not easy to play in Montreal. When you win it’s the best thing, for sure, and when you’re doing good things. We just got to find a way to not listen to what’s around. But the nature of French in Quebec it’s hard to not listen. We’re all human, too. We understand we have a great job but we’re human and it’s hard sometimes to listen to what people are saying around us. Even our close people … sometimes they just give us a little comment and we get irritated. It’s a big market … we just got to learn to work with it. It’s not easy … it’s a lifetime work.”