MONTREAL – Saku Koivu’s response was a simple one when he was asked Wednesday why he doesn’t address Montreal hockey fans in French – “I’m not perfect.”
The Montreal Canadiens captain’s lack of spoken French has cropped up occasionally as an issue over the past few seasons.
This week, it was Quebec City lawyer Guy Bertrand who spoke out about it in front of a provincial commission studying the so-called reasonable accommodation of minorities and immigrants.
Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois went one step further by affirming the Canadiens should insist on French courses for its players.
The Canadiens’ Finnish-born captain knew what was waiting for him when he saw the horde of journalists surrounding his locker following practice on Wednesday.
“There’s nothing we can do when politicians have opinions on the team or on me,” Koivu said. “Sometimes you can’t control what’s being said out there.”
Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey, himself a former captain, has already emphasized the importance of a Canadiens captain being able to speak French.
“Bob Gainey was a model during the time he was captain,” Koivu said. “He made the effort to learn French. When I arrived here, I had to learn English and it took me some time before mastering it. In an ideal world, I should also speak French. But I’m not perfect in that sense.”
Koivu says he is well aware of the linguistic situation in Quebec and is sensitive to the efforts to maintain the French language.
But Koivu says politics and sports make strange bedfellows. Koivu says there were many foreign hockey players playing professionally in Finland who were not forced to speak Finnish.