Hockey's Future

Why Not Team Quebec?

by Howard Fienberg
January 18, 2002

In February, NHL players will skate onto the Olympic stage. But one people’s players will mostly sit at home and watch. While Team Canada pushes for a gold medal, some Quebecois will be busy seething with envy.

Does it have to be this way? In international sporting competition, Wales, Northern Ireland, England and Scotland field teams individually, rather than as a united United Kingdom. Back in 1998, a Canadian commission recommended a similar route for Quebec. If Scotland and Wales get to field their own teams at the World Cup of soccer, why shouldn't Quebec be allowed to participate in international hockey with their own team, separate from Canada’s?

Although it sounds like a winning idea, this has not been a big political platform for Quebec’s ruling party, the Parti Quebecois, or the national separatist party, the Bloc Quebecois. Maybe because they know better. An independent Team Quebec in hockey could suffer a serious whupping, same as Scotland and Wales always do in international soccer competition.

In days of yore, when National Hockey League players were all Canadian anyhow, a good portion of them were frogs. Times change. The only frogs headed to Salt Lake at the moment are Mario Lemieux, Simon Gagne, Eric Desjardins and Martin Brodeur.

Presuming that those four would be unavailable to Team Quebec, who else would be? Few superstars, once the goaltender position is filled.

Quebec's biggest strength has always been in goal. If he could be convinced to give it a go (having already told Canada “non”), Patrick Roy would be as good a starter as the Games would see. Fighting to back him up would be youngsters Roberto Luongo, Jose Theodore and Joceyln Thibault. With the QMJHL production line of butterfly goalies, there should be no shortage of superstar Quebecois in this position any time soon.

At forward, sweet play-maker Pierre Turgeon could be the number one center, but he has been injured a lot this year. After Turgeon, the puck starts rolling down hill fast. Vying for positions would be Vincent Damphousse, Joe Juneau, Ian Laperriere, Yanic Perreault, Vincent Lecavalier and Serge Aubin. Juneau’s wicked set of wheels would argue in his favor, but the guy hasn’t scored more than a few goals since his first year in the NHL. Damphousse has struggled with injuries and was only voted onto the All-Star ballot by a bunch of Silicon Valley wing-nuts. Laperriere is a fiesty defensive center but not too talented. Perrault’s style is suited to the Olympics, but has yet to discover consistency or his big-game face. Aubin has yet to achieve anything besides puberty. And Lecavalier, by far the most talented of the bunch, is not playing his best hockey.

What about left wing? Eric Daze is having a break-out season, so he has to come along. He’s fast and can score. “Lucky” Luc Robitaille has never been much of a skater, but the need for his scoring touch outweighs the danger of him getting left behind on the larger ice surface -- and he has looked decent this season with Detroit. After Luc comes a craps shoot. Alex Tanguay of the Colorado Avalanche would have been a lock earlier, but his inconsistency dropped him from Team Canada’s list this season. But I think his style is suited to the Olympic rinks, so he has to join the team. After these three, filling the fourth-;line spot is not so easy. Martin Gelinas, Scott Mellanby, Benoit Brunet, Claude Lapointe, Rene Corbet and Stephane Matteau are all available, though none are desirable.

Quebec’s biggest nightmare lies on the right side. Heart-felt players, but bangers all. Georges Laraque can bash heads with the best of them, but that is likely to get him into major trouble with the IIHF. Ditto for Kevin Dineen. J.P. Dumont, the newly wealthy Martin Lapointe and Randy McKay could all compete for a spot. Yikes.

On the blue line, things look almost as bad. Eric Desjardins was the only Quebecois defenseman named to Team Canada - they might miss him, but not much. The biggest losses to Quebec’s blue-line came when Ray Bourque and Gary Galley retired (of course, Bourque would probably play for Team Canada if he were not sitting back and drinking a cold one). Without them, Team Quebec’s defense resembles a Who’s Who of the Has-Been and Never-Was. Denis Gauthier, the up-and-coming hitter from the Calgary Flames, is the best of the bunch, but he is still finding his game. Matthieu Dandenault can skate like the wind and can be inserted at forward if necessary. Sylvain Cote and Patrice Brisebois can still be relied on for reasonable positional play if not blinding speed. J.J. “Donut” Daigneault has lost his scoring touch and most of his wheels and has not played in the NHL for a bit. Steve Duchesne could help light the lamp, but he is one of the biggest turnstiles in the Detroit old folks home. Eric Messier can pound people. Marc Bergevin, Stephane Quintal and Sylvain Lefebvre are so far past their primes they probably spend every day tracking the stocks in their 401Ks.

If this synopsis causes Quebecois to fear that they are losing their grip on the sport... what can I say, it is true. This Quebec squad would have trouble beating any of the big six teams. They might even struggle against the preliminary round elimination teams, like Germany and Slovakia. Ah, well. Some sacrifices must be made at the foot of the nationalist altar, eh?

- Howard Fienberg is a columnist for LCS Hockey.

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