November 11, 2005

Hail to France: The Leaders on Ice

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France is in the news this week, but the country is not exactly on what you would call a roll. Ethnic riots grip Paris and are literally spreading like wildfire throughout the country.

It’s been a long time since the French helped us beat George III, or gave us the Statue of Liberty, or provided a tolerant haven for Thomas Jefferson and his slave-girl girlfriend. In fact, today – Nov. 11 – is a grim reminder of World War I and the loss of over a million French lives.

There’s not much we can do to help. The U.S. really hasn’t done anything for France since Patton left Paris in 1944, so a charity package of freedom fries from Washington is unlikely.

But, on behalf of our troubled friends across the pond, let us be thankful for their colonization of Canada in the 17th century. Today, turn off T.O., bypass the BCS and don’t bother counting Shaq’s kids. The most riveting storyline in sports is the revival of French-Canadian hockey.

The French dominance of the National Hockey League is nothing new. Hockey’s all-time aristocracy reads like a fine wine list – Brodeur, Dionne, Lemieux and Roy. The Montreal Canadiens are called “Les Habitants” and have won a Stanley Cup in every decade the NHL has existed – 24 in all.

If you think “Oh, Canada!” in English is a great song, listen to it in French – sung by 20,000 fans in Montreal. It’s as inspiring as “La Marseille” from the movie Casablanca.

Today, the Canadiens once again are hockey royalty. They have the most points in the Eastern Conference. Not far behind are their quasi-French brethren, the Ottawa Senators. The Habs and Sens rule the East like Louis XIV, the king, and they are as cool as Louis XIV, the rock band.

The French have history on their side. Arguably the most dominant franchise in the history of sports, the Canadiens are eager to make their mark on the 21st century with a Cup in 2006. The ghost of Maurice Richard has drifted from the Forum to the Bell Centre – and the “Rocket” is thirsty for blood.

The French give us the most exciting players. Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis – the duo who brought the Stanley Cup to Tampa Bay in 2004 – are hockey’s most prolific twosome since Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri. Then there’s Flyers winger Simon Gagne – who shoots pucks like Eric Gagne throws fastballs.

The French players know how to win. In the 2004 Cup Finals, St. Louis scored the stunning game-winner in double overtime in Game 6 – his third game-winner of the playoffs.

Even in losing, the French are in command. Jean-Sebastien Giguere single-handedly led Anaheim to the 2003 Finals, lost in Game 7, and still won the Conn Smythe Trophy for the playoffs MVP.

The French have panache. Legendary Canadiens coach Jacques Demers has just told us he could neither read nor write – yet he won the Stanley Cup and was named Coach of the Year on two occasions. He won the Cup in 1993 by absurdly – but accurately – accusing Marty McSorley of using an illegal stick for the Kings.

The French have savoir-faire. Sean Avery, the current John Rocker of the NHL, recently said French-Canadian players can’t back up their tough play. Ian Laperriere of Colorado said, “If Avery’s looking for a French guy who will back it up, I’m his guy.” When Los Angeles came to Denver in October, Laperriere scored twice to humiliate Avery.

The French still manage to get the most beautiful women. Stacia Robitaille is the wife of Kings All-Star Luc – the highest scoring left-winger ever. Stacia is also a model, an actress and owner of her own record company. The nickname “Lucky” was never so appropriate.

It’s easy to listen to George Bush and hate the French. It’s easy to boycott crepes and mock berets. And granted, it’s appropriate to beg Gerard Depardieu to never be seen nude on the big screen again. This hockey season, however, is under French control. From pea soup kitchens in Quebec to red wine bistros in Montreal, hope for French hockey is on the rise. As hockey fans, all we can do now is relax and enjoy le feu d’artifice.

Kyle Sheahen is a Sun Senior Editor. The Ultimate Trip will appear every other Friday this semester.

Archived article by Kyle Sheahen