Thursday, 14 June 2012

The Montreal Canadiens should give Danièle Sauvageau a chance

Back in 2004, the Quebec television network TVA aired new episodes of a revived French TV classic, Lance et Compte. While this new version (titled Lance et compte: La reconquête) featured some of the characters that fans of the original series were familiar with (Pierre Lambert, Marc Gagnon, Gilles Guilbault), new characters occupied the program and one was highly influenced by the coach of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games gold medal winning women’s ice hockey squad, Danielle Sauvageau.
The Quebec Nationals (the fictional team the program is based upon) hire a new assistant coach; Michelle Béliveau (portrayed by Maxim Roy), a female coach that had once coached the Canadian women’s team to Winter Games Gold. In one episode, she tries to motivate the players by showing her the Gold Medal. In addition, the coach has long black hair, definitely paying homage to Sauvageau.
While those episodes were broadcast in 2004, the concept is still tragically ahead of its time. Throughout the run of the revived series, the players eventually accept the fact that one of their coaches is a woman. In reality, players would eventually adapt to having a female as a coach. Considering that boys grow up with some of their school teachers as women, and there are just as many women that are managers in the workplace as men, a woman coaching in men’s professional hockey is not out of reach.
All-around nice guy Marc Bergevin recently accepted the job of riding the Canadiens ship into a winning direction. While the beleaguered Canadiens attempt to close the chapter on their recent mediocrity, the opportunity to open a new chapter in winning would greatly benefit from a highly qualified lady helping to write that chapter.
Sauvageau has found new life after the National Team. When Radio-Canada (the French equivalent of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) was in the final years of its broadcasting rights for La Soiree du Hockey (the French complement to Hockey Night in Canada), Sauvageau held a broadcasting position similar to Don Cherry (only friendlier). She was an eloquent speaker and a breath of fresh air.
In 2009, she brought her winning ways to the Université de Montréal in a management capacity. When the Montreal Carabins hockey program joined Canadian Interuniversity Sport, it was thrust into the same division as the national powerhouse (and soon to be cross-town rivals) the McGill Martlets. Over the last few seasons, the Martlets roster has boasted the likes of All-World goaltender Charline Labonte, and former Canadian National Team members Ann-Sophie Bettez, Cathy Chartrand, and Gillian Ferrari. As General Manager, she hired Clarkson Cup winning head coach Isabelle Leclaire, and brought Quebec sporting legend (and member of the 1998 Nagano Winter Games hockey team) France St. Louis aboard. The club qualified for the CIS National Championships in 2010 (its inaugural CIS season), and went on to claim the silver medal at the 2012 edition.
While Bergevin has filled his head coaching vacancy, Sauvageau would be a superlative selection to round out the coaching staff. Many hockey purists would write off such a hire as a publicity stunt (similar to the views of some critics, when the Tampa Bay Lightning signed Manon Rheaume in 1992), but she is a highly qualified individual that would inject new life into a franchise that desperately needs one. Back in 1999-2000, she became an assistant coach for another Montreal hockey team - the Montreal Rocket of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Sauvageau became the first female coach in QMJHL history.
The reality of coaching in pro sports is that there is always an immediate, almost visceral, sense of skepticism. Said coach is either a recycled coach (having had jobs in multiple organizations), or an unknown who has paid their dues in locations most people have never heard of. Once the press conference is announced, fans, media, and players like (whether they may be a dyed in the wool cynic or a glass is half full optimist) cannot help but immediately speculate as to the fate of the new hire. On the other hand, fans may perceive the hiring of Sauvageau as a bold hire, and someone that may resuscitate the franchise. Rather than debate on how quickly she would be terminated, her hire would raise conversation as to how well she would perform.
A bold move would augment discussion throughout the league and generate the type of media coverage that is all too rare for professional hockey. The hiring of Sauvageau would be of interest to local media any time that the Canadiens would travel throughout the league. If an organization would feel that hiring her would make waves, they could easily have her coach in the American Hockey League, or East Coast Hockey League. By having a woman coach at those levels, it may be easier to eventually accustom players and executives to the concept.
With her success as General Manager of the still nascent Carabins hockey program, hiring Sauvageau in a management capacity would capitalize on a trend that is occurring. In other men’s sports leagues, women are starting to make their presence felt. Kim Ng is an executive with Major League Baseball, and was considered for the Los Angeles Dodgers vacancy at the General Manager position in late 2011. Amy Trask is the Chief Executive Officer for the Oakland Raiders of the National Football League, one of the signature franchises of that league. The executive responsible for the business area of Major League Soccer is Kathryn Carter.
Considering that there have been men who have coached in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, along with the Women’s National Basketball Association. The time has come for women to be given fair consideration for coaching positions in the male sporting world. All it takes is for one person to be willing to take the risk. There are many women in Quebec hockey (such as the aforementioned France St. Louis, Nancy Drolet, Amey Doyle, Caroline Ouellette) that have helped to contribute to the women’s game on and off the ice. Whether it be in a coaching role or management position, the women of Quebec have emerged as strong figures and outstanding role models in the realm of female hockey.
The Canadiens have been considered one of the classiest organizations in all of professional sports. With the Bergevin era under way, it is time to lead by example. Sauvageau behind the bench or in the front office is not only forward thinking, it is the right thing to do. While the glass ceiling is slowly crumbling in other men’s sports, the Canadiens have the chance to not only shatter the glass ceiling, but raise the bar as to what a club should expect from a prospective employee that is considered a quality candidate.

1 comment:

  1. Wow Mark, you really know a LOT about women's hockey...I am very impressed by this article. I have been waiting a long time to see a female in a management or coaching position in a men's hockey league. It would be truly amazing to see a woman's name on the Stanley Cup one day because she was behind the bench. It's too bad I don't have an impressive enough playing/coaching resume or I'd be gunning for that dream myself.