Cunneyworth Trying To Win French Fans
Imagine if you worked long and hard to get your dream job and when you finally got it, people demanded you be fired before you even get a chance to show what you can do. Welcome to Randy Cunneyworth’s world.
The former Rochester American and Buffalo Sabre spent nine seasons as a Head Coach in the American Hockey League when he finally got the coaching version of “The Call.” When the Montreal Canadiens fired Jacques Martin on December 17th, they called down to their minor league affiliate in Hamilton and promoted Cunneyworth to one of the most pressure packed jobs in the National Hockey League.
That pressure increased exponentially due to the fact Cunneyworth didn’t speak French. He’s the first unilingual coach of the fabled franchise since 1971. Al MacNeil led Montreal to a Stanley Cup back then but that didn’t save him from being demoted because he didn’t get along with the French speaking players.
Protests against the hiring of Cunneyworth began immediately. The Culture Minister in Quebec said the Canadiens should rectify the situation as soon as possible. Several groups called for a boycott of Molson products because the beer company is owned by the same family that owns the hockey team. A poll conducted two days after Cunneyworth got the job found 83% of French speaking Quebec residents objected to his hiring. Among all Quebec based hockey fans, whether they speak French or English, 69% opposed his selection.
For his part Cunneyworth, who was very popular during his playing days in Ottawa, has promised to learn French but that hasn’t swayed the masses. Canadiens owner Geoff Molson said the ability to speak both French and English will be a very important factor in the selection of a permanent Head Coach.
Even winning might not be enough to get Cunneyworth the job on a permanent basis but it sure would help his case. The anti Cunneyworth faction had even more ammunition when he started. Montreal lost six of its first seven games with Cunneyworth behind the bench. But the Canadiens have been better of late going 5-3-2 in their last 10.