Gui, Gui, Gui…notes from Québec

Jeff, from Sisu Hockey, pointed his readers to the current battle going on between, arguably, the best goaltender of all time, Patrick Roy, and Habs rookie Guillaume Latendresse. The short mention of the rift in the post did succeed in capturing the ridiculous proportions this story has taken on here in Québec. What the post didn’t quite convey is how Latendresse, who barely made it onto the Habs’ roster, is to what extent the fans and the media, especially the francophones, already adore this guy.

For the last two seasons, Latendresse has been very impressive in the pre-season, outscoring seasoned veteran players on many occasions. I know that this doesn’t mean much from a player/coach point of view, but for the fans, it was clearly love at first sight.

In his first pre-season stint, at the age of 18, the hype was such that the fans began chanting “Gui, Gui, Gui”, almost from his first shift. Many fans voiced their displeasure when he was sent back to his junior club last year. The need for the Habs fans to have a francophone star of their own was, and still is, quite palpable.

This year, the debate over his possible roster spot was more heated that the “ is Québec a nation” debate. Recently, in one of his first salvos aimed at Latendresse, Roy suggested that Habs kept the rookie on the squad simply because he was Québécois.

Outside of the francophone community in Québec, I’m not sure how much people realize how important it is for francophone hockey fans in Québec to have one of theirs as a star on the Habs roster. Not only is Latendresse being hyped beyond belief (luckily, he is being very well advised), but every time a Québécois hockey star (Gagné, Tanguay, St-Louis, Lecavalier) is rumoured to be struggling on unhappy, the hockey writers start foaming at the mouth. There is widespread notion that the Habs don’t have enough players from Québec.

There are less and less players from Québec playing in the NHL and, as result, less of them in Montreal than ever before. Regardless of what hockey writers would have us believe, the number of Québécois players on the Habs roster is not any lower than the league average (it’s actually slightly higher). The only thing missing is a star.

This brings me, in a roundabout way, to the issue of Québec icing a team in the 2008 IIHF World Hockey Championships to be held in both Québec City and Halifax. The idea, which is actually 30 years old, is the brainchild of Québec City lawyer (and former Parti Québécois leadership hopeful), Guy Bertrand. The idea was originally hatched in 1976, when the separatist PQ took power in Québec for the first time and it’s been on the back burner for quite some time. The approaching World Championships has brought the issue back to the fore.

What do I think of this initiative? One word: ridiculous. I won’t even get into the politics behind this suggestion and will limit my comments only to the hockey related aspects.

What gets me is that, every time Bertrand talks about his idea of Team Québec, there is absolutely no mention of the players that would be involved and where their loyalties lie. Even if the IIHF would agree to Bertrand’s laughable proposal of having the winner of a best-of-three series between Team Canada and Team Québec represent the country at the tournament, I’m not sure many players would even agree to play for Team Québec.

Given that the players would most likely get to choose which team they would like to try out and play for (all QC players are, after all, Canadians), I am pretty confident that most of them would prefer not playing for a team that would have little chance of winning. Elite players would, naturally, like to play for the best possible team.

Sure, back in 1976, a Team Québec would have given any team (including Team Canada) a serious run for their money. Thirty years later, as was made clear on Spector’s Hockey, that team would have serious issues on the back end and would have a hard time competing with a team made up of players from the rest of Canada. Plus, if the better Québec players choose to play for Team Canada, Team Québec would then be mostly comprised of second tier players and players in the autumn of their careers.

I’m really not sure, then, how anyone could consider that this would be good for Québec.