Monday, November 05, 2007

Standing Up for Saku

The last week has been a rather unsettling one for Saku Koivu, the Montreal Canadiens captain and current whipping post for the more opportunistic of Quebec politicians.

The province is holding hearings across Quebec, seeking out lessons on accommodation with Quebec’s wide Diaspora of residents, a collective that has made the province a veritable study in the cultures of the world.

Those hearings are looking at or for examples of "reasonable accommodation" in Quebec society. However the discussions have at times proven to be controversial and have even been described as toxic, as ancient grievances and raging current concerns have popped up, sending more than a few of the participants to decry the nature of the debate and the image of the province that it is showcasing.

Into all of that political intrigue the name of Saku Koivu has popped up, used by a contributor to the panel as an indication of all that is wrong with the current make up of Quebec society and the ability of outsiders to fit in.

Guy Bertrand, a rather controversial lawyer in Quebec with a penchant for changing sides in a debate more often than a hockey team changes lines (he’s a federalist, he’s a nationalist, independiste, federalist again, and on and on it goes), brought up an incident in Montreal at the start of the season as evidence of a great injustice to Quebec. During the opening ceremonies to the Canadiens new season, Koivu as captain of Les Habitants introduced the players on this year’s edition of the team.

He did this in English; a PR blunder by the Candiens of large proportion, but surely not one that deserves to see the heap of scorn that has greeted Koivu since. If the cackling masses on the issue wanted to blame someone perhaps they should direct their anger at upper management and their lack of foresight on the matter, it seems like an easily remedied problem, one which need not have put their captain at the front of what resembles a frothing mob.

The always excitable Montreal news media have lunged at the issue, spurred on by the grandstanding Bertrand to ask if Koivu should even be the captain of the team. It's an issue that seems to pop up from time to time in Quebec whenever anyone other than a francophone dons the C on the red, white and blue sweater.

In any other city in the league the issue would be a tad ridiculous, especially when you consider the leadership that Koivu has shown not only to his team, but the province over the years.

Battling back from numerous medical problems, including a high profile battle with cancer, he led by example then and later on when he launched a fund raising campaign to bring much medical technology to Montreal.

He has routinely answered any request by the Candiens to appear in public, lend his name and image to better the game and the reputation of the Canadiens. So to be treated with such petulant attitudes is a dis-service to what he has brought to Montreal.

Over the off season, the Habs reportedly were trying to lure Daniel Briere to come home and play for the team that means so much to his home province, Briere instead chose to spend his time in Philadelphia.

Considering the voracious appetite of the press and the politicians in the province, is it any wonder?

Your every move is under scrutiny, your ever step is fodder for the headlines. It’s a wonder that anyone wants to play for the team at all, fabled hockey history is one thing, but over zealous xenophobia is another.

There has been a wide assortment of people associated with the NHL coming to Koivu’s aid over the last few weeks, from Calgary a proud Quebecois lad named Alex Tanguay came to Koivus's defence and the always controversial Don Cherry took the critics to task on his Coach’s corner segment on Saturday.

On any given Saturday night in Canada, there are probably a fair amount of people who feel that Cherry is off his rocker, out to lunch and a few bricks short of load. But on this one blast of bombast, he most likely was preaching to the choir.

Koivu is a class act, something that those that are lining up against him will never come close to achieving. To drag his name through the mud as they have is disgusting and should be something that should be of concern to the team. Critics of the Canadiens approach to their on ice leadership should address those concerns to the head office, not the player who has the utmost respect from his peers in the dressing room.

Not only could it drive him out of the city, like so many before. But free agent signings may decrease rapidly in the future, as the occasionally nasty and ugly side of the hockey and social spotlight in Montreal becomes more and more known. Leaving the Canadiens, Montreal and Quebec as a distant outpost that no one would want to move to.

Something that self serving politicians and lawyers should keep in mind.

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