Gainey says it’s normal that Canadiens favour a French-speaking coach

BROSSARD, Que. – Bob Gainey says it is “no surprise” that the Montreal Canadiens favour having a head coach who can speak French.

There has been much debate on whether it is essential for the head coach of the only NHL club in overwhelmingly French-speaking Quebec to be bilingual. The discussion arose after Gainey, the general manager, took over behind the bench after firing Sept-Iles, Que., native Guy Carbonneau on March 9.

“I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone that the coach of the Canadiens would preferably be able to address everybody in their language,” Gainey said Friday. “It’s part of the reality of the way this franchise is, and the community we work in.”

Gainey, a Peterborough, Ont., native who played 16 seasons for the Canadiens, speaks French and may yet decide to continue coaching the team next season.

“Next year hasn’t been discussed by me with anybody else in the organization,” he said. “We’re living in the moment, and at the moment, I’m the coach.

“When the season ends, then we’ll sit down and discuss what happens with our hockey department and what happens with the openings for positions that are there.”

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When Carbonneau was fired, Don Lever was brought in from AHL Hamilton as an assistant coach. Some saw that as a sign that Lever, who does not speak French, would be the next head coach.

Carbonneau said this week that while it would be more difficult for a non-French speaker to do the job, the team should pick the best candidate regardless of language.

Fans and some members of the media have been making suggestions on the next coach – particularly for former goaltending great Patrick Roy, who has done well as coach, G.M. and co-owner of the junior Quebec Remparts, or former NHL head coaches Bob Hartley and Joel Quenneville, who are French-speaking.

One Montreal native whose name hasn’t been mentioned much is Clement Jodoin, who has been an NHL assistant coach with Pittsburgh, Quebec and Montreal.

Since leaving the Canadiens in 2003, Jodoin built the Lewiston Maineiacs into a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League power. Now he is doing the same with the Rimouski Oceanic, who won 20 of their last 21 regular season games to finish sixth in the QMJHL with a 44-23-1 record.