THE CANADIAN PRESS
BROSSARD, Que. — The Montreal Canadiens’ whacky season got a little weirder Monday.
The team’s general manager took the unusual step of issuing a qualified apology, barely two weeks into the reign of new coach Randy Cunneyworth.
The Dec. 17 hiring of Cunneyworth, on an interim basis for the rest of the season, touched off a language controversy. He is the team’s first coach in decades unable to speak French.
"I’m sorry if we upset people. Because that certainly wasn’t our intention," Pierre Gauthier told reporters Monday.
It was a far cry from the defiant response Gauthier offered last month, when a reporter asked about Cunneyworth’s inability to communicate with francophone fans in their language. At the time, his testy reply was that languages could always be learned.
On Monday, he stressed that Cunneyworth’s hiring was not necessarily permanent and he said his status would be re-examined after the season.
"What will happen in the future, at the end of the season, is that we will re-evaluate the whole file," Gauthier said.
"As (owner Geoff) Molson said in his communique a week ago, it’s very important to us that our head coach be bilingual.
"So that will be part of our decision at that point."
The Cunneyworth hiring touched off a language flap given that the Habs, for their entire century-long history, have always marketed themselves as French Canada’s team. It’s been 40 years since the team last hired a coach who couldn’t speak French.
That controversy has merely been fuelled by the team’s poor play; under Cunneyworth, the Habs have won only one of seven games.
Gauthier addressed the controversy during his mid-season news conference Monday.
Just before his appearance, two of the team’s top players — centreman Tomas Plekanec and defenseman P.K. Subban — got into a fist-fight during practice.