ROSEMERE, Que. – A retired NHLer claims the league discriminates against players who aren’t English-speaking Canadians and he alleges in a new book that teams systematically shut the door on others.
Bob Sirois writes in his book, “Discrimination in the NHL: Quebec Hockey Players Sidelined,” that Quebecers, Europeans, and Americans all face systemic bias in the league.
He says the statistics support his claim.
Some of those numbers are included in the English-language translation of his controversial book—released Monday, one year after its original French version came out.
Sirois writes that at equal talent, a Canadian Anglo will always get the job over another player.
The book was initially written in French as a sort of reference guide for those die-hard hockey fans, particularly in Quebec, who are preoccupied by the league’s linguistic composition.
The debate over bias has existed in Quebec for decades but Sirois takes it further in the latest version of his book. He says the practice also hurts players from Scandinavia to Syracuse.
“The NHL is a league of English Canadians who allow the best players from all nations to play in their league,” Sirois said in an interview.
“But when it comes to equal talent or comparable talent . . . they always choose a good ol’ Canadian boy.”
Sirois said that’s because stereotypes and cliches attributed to players from certain countries have continued to exist: French-Canadian players are too small or one-dimensional, Europeans won’t get physical and U.S. college players can’t withstand a gruelling NHL schedule.
He points to the numbers: about 465,000 youth play hockey in the U.S. versus about 400,000 in Canada, a trend that’s been apparent for a decade.
But last year, Canadians accounted for 400 NHL players compared to just 189 Americans.
“They are discriminated against too,” said Sirois.
The NHL said it would not comment on the book.
As for his fellow Quebecers, Sirois says there are only 42 playing in the NHL this year.
Part of the problem lies in scouting, he says. A third of NHL teams don’t have a scouting presence in Quebec—so mid-level talents have trouble getting noticed as a result, according to Sirois.
He says the only way to change the situation is greater visibility.
The ex-NHL forward said two things could help the fortunes of Quebec players: the return of the NHL to Quebec City and the opportunity for Quebec to field a separate team at the world junior championships.
That’s where the book gets particularly political.
Citing Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s assertion that Quebec is a nation, Sirois said it should then follow that Quebec have its own entry at the tournament—a showcase for the best young players in the world.
He says that the majority of Quebec players don’t get a fair shake in the selection process, something that could be solved by letting the province have its own team.
“We’re the only nation that isn’t allowed to participate in the world junior championships, to measure ourselves against the Finns, the Swedes, the Russians, the Canadians as to give our young players visibility,” Sirois said.
“Right now, (about two) Quebec players are represented on the Canadian junior teams.”
But Hockey Canada says any decision on national entries would have to come from the International Ice Hockey Federation—and the organization has a policy of one team per country.
As for Canada’s team, it says the only goal is to assemble the best possible squad.
“At the end of the day Hockey Canada is all about winning gold medals,” said Scott Salmond, the group’s senior director of hockey operations.
Salmond said the organization has a full-time scout in Kevin Prendergast, who travels the country as part of the selection process. In some years, he said, the final roster hasn’t included anyone from Manitoba, Saskatchewan or the Maritimes.
“There’s absolutely no reason to leave any player off our roster that can help us win,” Salmond said.
“There’s only so many spots and it’s Team Canada and we take the best players and I think that’s the simplest answer.”
Sirois also thinks the return of the Quebec Nordiques could help more locals break into the league.
In particular, he says it would mean more jobs for the muckers and grinders who are often overlooked and wind up playing in Europe.
“It would create the same rivalry between Quebec and Montreal and the fans’ association with local players is big in this province,” Sirois said.
Sirois dismisses claims that his books were nothing more than separatist rants, allegations he said were made following the 2009 release of his original book.
Sirois says he has no political leanings one way or the other.
“The facts are the facts.”