Wednesday, December 21, 2011


It's been a few days and I've gotten my thoughts together. The week has been tumultuous in Habsville, extended beyond the hockey world, and I've got to have my say.

Less than a week after Twitter produced such a positive aura, where so many of us bonded together in outrage over a cruel and uninformed article, my timeline was once again filled with debate, argument, patronizing and dissension.

From a city whose passion is so strong for its team has come a firing/hiring and polarizing issue which has little, if any, relevance to the game we all adore.

Waking up Saturday morning, finding out the Habs had fired Coach Jacques Martin, I avoided Twitter. I was among those who did not feel the coach was the problem. I actually hated the calls for his head on a platter, and was as outspoken as I could be without being able to discuss every nuance of the game. All I knew was that, from the human point of view, the man was doing a job that also depended on a crew of others to execute it for him. Did I understand the decisions he had to make? Not really. I did have others explain them (e.g. time-on-ice decisions, special teams assignments, healthy scratches, etc). But I still could not believe that professional hockey players would underperform in order to show their disdain for a coach. I - perhaps naively - thought that no matter the coach, the team would play to win. Every, single time.

They may. As a Habs fan, I believe they do. I have to. But then, December 17th, the management of our team showed they believed otherwise, and decided to change coaches.

First issue I had to deal with that day was my compassion for the man himself. I felt terrible for him. I was told, "nevermind, he's got $1,000,000 firing bonus, he'll be fine." But somehow I believed that the money, to Jacques Martin, was never an issue. I believed he cared more about the game, not about his wallet. (Does the money help? Of course! But in so many people, there is a calling for the position and that supersedes the pay check).

I felt awful that he was spending Christmas out of work. Again, scoffed at by those dancing in the streets who said it didn't matter. Again, my above argument was negated by many who dismissed it as my being new to the game, new to the culture, and Mr. Martin's comfy nest egg.

Dave Stubbs wrote a beautiful article which expressed, better than I could, exactly what I had been feeling. And I felt the debate would, perhaps, die down.

But then, the Uproar. The Habs now have an interim coach, Randy Cunneyworth, who is - ready for this shocker? - an Anglophone. Worse, an Anglo who is not bilingual! (I hear the gasps)

Those reading this who are either non-Quebecois, non-Canadian, or unaware of this issue, Quebec is a primarily French province, though Canada's TWO official languages are French and English. There has been an unwritten rule that the Habs do not have a unilingual coach. Coach must be able to speak both languages, or he isn't considered. It's one of the reasons we did not see Kirk Muller as a future head coach for us; no one was fooled by the fact that he was always involved, effective, and obviously liked and respected by all, including players. We all knew Captain Kirk would never be able to take the podium as head coach, because he is an Anglo.

But I don't think anyone could have predicted the maelstrom to follow. Perhaps it was hinted at when Coach Cunneyworth, along with GM Pierre Gauthier, sat in front of cameras and recorders for a pre-game (FIRST game, to be clear) interview. French media directed questions only at Mr. Gauthier, while Randy got English questions from English press. And (too) many of those French questions focused on the fact that the new Coach was unilingual. If that wasn't bad enough, it was becoming a topic du jour on Twitter, where well-known French media personalities were posting actual disappointment over the hiring.

It got worse. It became a Story that spread to the rest of Canada (which highlighted the story Monday morning on Canada A.M.) and then to CNN, an American 24-hour news channel! Why? Because the Government of this province stated, clearly, its objections to Coach Cunneyworth at the helm. The government!!!

When the Montreal French-language newspaper, Le Journal de Montréal, published Tuesday, after a 2nd loss for the Habs under Coach Cunneyworth's regime, the front page was astounding. Not only was the headline, in HUGE letters, "Inacceptable" in French, there was another headline, below, in English: "Another Loss For Cunneyworth". This newspaper, as Québecois as any French-Canadian, made an obvious statement with its English headline. The poll it quotes, on the front page, states that 72% of Quebec is against a unilingual coach. Obviously a skewed poll, as I'm sure they didn't quite conduct a scientific study.

So the issue emerged on Twitter (where much of my Habs-related discussions take place): do you want a coach who will win, or a coach who will speak French? The consensus was the former, but would those who stood for the latter actually stand up? It is hard to tell, and yet, the undercurrents are growing.

We were asked, "will the language debate die down once the team starts to win?" I stated my opinion that no...those decrying this hiring were doing so before the coach took the bench for his first game wearing the hat. This isn't going away, win or lose, and that's the point I believe should be examined. Those who are more ingrained in the language issue are less involved in the sport. Otherwise, it wouldn't matter one bit if the coach spoke one, two, or three languages! As Habs fans, should winning, success, and future victories not be at the core of EVERY issue?

We may debate the lines a coach puts on the ice, we may debate the pairings and we may debate how much time-on-ice rookies are being given. But we do so because we want to see winning lines, winning pairings, and winning players make the difference between smiles and disappointments. Not because one is English, one is Russian, one may be younger, or one is African-American. We love our team because of the passion we feel for the game, not because of their individual make-up. We embrace the differences of our team players, we celebrate their individuality, but when they are on the ice, they are Our Team. Not Pacioretty, A.K., Louis or PK. We see them as a unit, working together to net the goals and tip the scales in favor of Habs wins.

So why should it matter what language our coach speaks? If he can motivate the team to work hard, if he can conduct drills in practices that strengthen and develop their skills, if he can find winning combinations of 5-player hockey, penalty-kill hockey, and power-play hockey, all to reach the end goal of scoring more than the opponent, does it matter if he can conduct a press conference in English only?

I acknowledge, respectfully and proudly, our two solitudes. I acknowledge that Habs hockey is ingrained in our culture, and that culture includes French and English. But the most immediate issue at hand for our Habs (OUR Habs, people) is the fact that we're finding it hard to keep leads, and win games. I'd like to see my Province NOT mocked on international news shows. I'd like to see people once again bonding together over hockey, not distracted by sub-issues. I'd like to see this Province give Coach Cunneyworth the respect he deserves for stepping into big shoes, faced with struggles on the ice, and for being at the center of a long-standing debate that will not go away if, or when, he is no longer with the organization.

This is about hockey. Language can wait.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Power of People

Something very powerful happened tonight. Around suppertime, a column was released that had mostly everyone shocked by its insensitivity and controversial finger pointing. I immediately blogged about it because I had to express my feelings and share them. Writing, for me, has always been a catharsis, a release, a therapy as well as a creative and intellectual process. I posted my blog on twitter, and was immediately met with people RT'ing (retweeting) it. I'm always honored when people do that because it is a peer recognition that never gets old.

I had people responding to me, both in my timeline and in private, and again, the compliments were as wonderful from the first to the last. It always moves me deeply to be able to touch another human heart with my writing.

We were also given a window to another heart. Julie V, metricjulie on Twitter. She posted her letter to Pat Hickey as well, revealing her own survival of sexual abuse. It is candid, heartfelt, knowledgeable and powerful. And we were given the info that the evening radio show on a local station would feature this topic, as well as a call from Julie.

I tuned in. And before the show began, well before, there were those who joined in the dialogue about what the article had done to us, for us, and what we wanted to see happen. For most, besides a retraction and apology, we wanted to see this topic become less taboo, more talked about and action taken to empower the victims/survivors.

The show began, and Julie was magnificent. She spoke about how the article had made her feel, and we all bonded yet again on Twitter as we listened to a fellow Habs fan/tweeter. Then another caller was on the line. Daniel, a fellow Habs fan, a tweeter I did not follow but whose tweets I had seen RT'd from time to time. He was inspirational. Daniel talked about his own sexual assault at the hands of his father, and mentioned how hard it is to go to the authorities when something like that happens. He said something that broke my heart: he said he knew his sister was being victimized as well, and said "I guess that makes me guilty like Pat Hickey says."

I won't talk about the article here but I was starting to see how it could have a negative effect on people.

I will talk about the positive. Suddenly, I was drawn to Daniel's story, and to his strength, and immediately hit "follow" on his twitter account. I tweeted (and followed) Julie, thanking her as well.

And a conversation ensued. We were listening to the show, where dialogue was serious, important, and open. We were bonding on twitter, with people we were listening to as well as reading (from the hosts to the callers). We were resolving to make this world better by taking action when we could, bringing awareness as we can, and just making life more positive by dismissing negativity.

I tweeted: "Folks, we are witnessing something very powerful here tonight." I felt like literally group hugging the people I was in conversation with, some I'd known from before, some I had just begun to follow on Twitter. I felt this light being lifted from what had been a confusing, dark mood, and I saw that the power of people - brought together by social media and a polarizing force - is stronger than any attempt to tear others down.

I read people tweeting Theo Fleury in support, in solidarity, and in thanks for his voice in this area. And I felt more hopeful about the future of humanity brought together by strengths, resolve, survival, and yes, technology.

What is even better is that this is only the beginning. I know those I spoke with tonight will keep up the good fight. And this gives me hope, most of all, for the future my children are going to experience.

Thank you to James, Cathie, Dave Kaufman (whose show highlighted this topic tonight), Marc, and Jay - as well as the aforementioned Julie and Daniel. I will have closed my computer with an incredible sense of optimism. So many nights, during or after Habs games, that is not present. Tonight, drawn together by a common outrage and concern, we transcended the world of hockey in support of those among us who represent so much more. I will not forget tonight. I look forward to these new friendships forged from words on a page and transformed to hearts connected.

Peace to all - I've got your backs!

Monday, December 12, 2011

An Open Letter to Pat Hickey

(photo courtesy of

Today, the Montreal Gazette posted a column by resident sports writer, Pat Hickey. I like Mr. Hickey, I think his analysis of hockey (which is the sport I follow) is very keen and he knows what he is talking about.

But today's column, about NHL'er Theo Fleury, goes beyond the pale. Mr. Hickey has crossed the line by blaming the victim of sexual assault (Mr. Fleury) and he says some inflammatory, ugly and accusatory things.

I have emailed Pat Hickey (whose email can be found in the above link) and will post the letter here. I urge readers to follow my lead, and the lead of others who have already done so, and write Mr. Hickey asking for a retraction and an apology. We have to stand up for those brave victims of ANY abuse, or we will see fewer and fewer come forth. Praise them, don't criticize them.

My letter:

Mr. Hickey,

I am dismayed and disappointed by your column of December 12, 2011, entitled Theo Fleury hypocritcal for blasting justice system's handling of Graham James case. You display an utter lack of sensitivity and knowledge on the topic of sexual assault victims that not only shows a deep insensitivity but criticizes a man we should be lauding as a hero.

You claim that Theo Fleury has no right to be angry that James is free on bail because he, Fleury, did not report the coach's crimes of sexual assault. You claim that Fleury remained silent because of his status as a hockey celebrity, and that he didn't show courage. Mr. Hickey, do YOU know that this is the exact reason Theo Fleury remained silent? Do YOU know his state of mind, heart, emotions, or thoughts when it came to speaking up?

You say that "nobody should question Fleury's decision to remain silent" and yet, you criticize him for doing so. A double standard? A dangerous one, in my opinion.

Yes, if he had come forth sooner, James might have received a harsher sentence. But the fact is, sir, he did NOT. For his own reasons. And yet, instead of applauding him for speaking up at all, you denigrate him for not doing so in a timely manner.

As anyone who has been the victim of any assault will tell you, there is a sense of shame, of stigma, of guilt, confusion and terror that are all wrapped up in the aftermath of being victimized. Victims sometimes feel they may have done something to encourage, or deserve the assault and nothing could be further from the truth.

And yet, you purport to know why Mr. Fleury remained silent. Unless he has stated those reasons himself, unless he told you personally, how can we even know? And no matter the reasons, can anyone on this side of the fence blame him??

So often, victims remain in the realm of their abusers; there is a fear that cannot be defined. No one has the right to state that there is a prescribed reaction time or fashion; every victim is different, every victim suffers in his/her own way and no one can be faulted for reacting differently from another in the same situation. Yet, you blatantly compare Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Fleury, stating one is the hero and the other, the enabler. THAT, Mr. Hickey, is the most appalling of all. You have, in effect, blamed the victim here. Has Theo Fleury not suffered enough? Now he has to absorb your accusations and perhaps struggle with another form of guilt? Do you not think he has already questioned having stayed silent for so long?

You write as though you know Fleury's state of mind. You state he must know the meaning of the word "enabler" - how can you put yourself in his shoes unless you, yourself, have walked his path? How can any of us?

Furthermore, you state "...if we have to find a poster boy for abuse, we can do better than Theoren Fleury." Let me counter: we need no "poster boy" for abuse. Your flippancy astounded me.

But I will counter with more: Theo Fleury, on Twitter and in the public eye, has brought awareness to the topic of sexual abuse (not only in sports but everywhere) in ways that others cannot. He has used his celebrity and his ability to interact with social media to make sure the world knows how insidious a practice sexual assault is, how it must be stopped, and how to help recognize victims. I say, if we DID need a poster boy for abuse, give me Theoren Fleury any day! At least he is using his celebrity for some good, instead of slamming others who are not yet strong enough to come forth!

Mr. Hickey, in my opinion, you must retract your column. You must not only apologize to Theoren Fleury, but to victims of assault and abuse everywhere. To let this column stand would be a travesty of journalism, of decency, and of humanity.

Lissa Albert
Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Quebec

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Doomsday for the Habs!

It's the cusp of 2012. The Year Of The End Of Days. Okay, maybe the Mayans were off by 12 months. Maybe we're seeing it now.

After all, the Habs have lost more than they've won, they can't beat even the puniest teams, and they're hardly in playoff position at 2 points shy of a spot. The coach is letting his ship sink without so much as a Titanic effort to lock himself in the control room and go down with the rats. The manager is remaining as quiet as the Ghost he is often called, and where is the owner of the team? Taste-testing his beer? Wake up, guys, this is DOOMSDAY!

Now. Everyone take a breath. Our Habs haven't done what we'd hoped - nay, expected of them this season. They haven't dominated, they haven't dazzled, hell, they haven't even won! So let's just bury 'em in the rubble of their failings and go find us another team, huh?


We can be the true Habs fans we are so proud to embody: we can bemoan the losses, analyze the failings, certainly cry in our bières and then look forward to the next game with the hope and optimism that comes from believing in a team - not just any team, OUR team.

We can stop calling for heads to roll. We can stop marking the end of a season that is barely 2 months old. We can definitely STOP making blasphemous comparisons between our team and *shudders* the Leafs.

And we can band together and support a team that is obviously struggling. After all, what's the worst that can happen if we do that, we'll be disappointed with a loss? Look at the BEST that can happen: we can celebrate as a cohesive fanbase, supportive of our team, proud when they win, and accepting when they lose.

I know what will greet me when this blog gets posted:

  • We are deserving of a better team.

Of course we are. Every fan is. Do we have a team that sucks? I, for one, am not prepared to say that. I never am. And never will.

  • You need to be realistic, not so optimistic all the time.

Maybe I AM being realistic. I see the team's struggling, I'm sad when we lose, and I sure as hell would like to see the world hold my Habs in the high esteem we've enjoyed before. But there are worse qualities than optimism, folks.

  • Statistically, we have no chance of making playoffs.

Statistical rules were made to be broken. Our Habs have broken many in the past and will do so again. And - worst comes to worst - if we don't make playoffs? Next year is another year. At least we've enjoyed playoffs for so many years when other teams are resigned to never seeing post-season play. Constantly. Chronically. And a new season, new lessons learned, not such a dismal future.

  • We're the Habs, we should be better, with our history, our longevity and our experience.

And ya know what I say to that? We're Habs fans. We're strong and proud, we're together and loud, we're historically known too. Are you ready to silence your voice? Are you going to crawl under a rock of shame because the team is struggling? Do you not want to be part of something positive instead of wallowing in every loss? Are you ready to throw YOUR team under the proverbial bus?

  • Shut up.

Well, there are those who will think, post, repeat that retort. And that one has no answer, so I won't even bother. Oh, and I won't shut up.

I will NOT bury my team. I will - realistically - admit that we've turned in some dismal performances. What, you've never bombed on a test before, only to go onto graduation? Pick yourselves up, loyal fans, stand with the proud and the optimistic, it's lighter on this side, and we have cookies (even if they DO cost $12 at the Bell Centre)! And if you want to boycott games, I will gladly relieve you of your sucky tickets to see a sucky team suck. </tongue-in-cheek>

Two more things: