No Quebec-born player will suit up for the Montreal Canadiens tonight, a first in team's long history
Coach Dominique Ducharme scratched lone eligible Quebecer in favour of Paul Byron
There has been a Quebec-born player in the lineup of every game the Montreal Canadiens have played since the club first took to the ice on Jan. 4, 1910. Until Monday night.
Coach Dominique Ducharme announced earlier in the day that Paul Byron would play against the Edmonton Oilers instead of Alex Belzile, of Saint-Éloi, Que.
With Victoriaville-born Phillip Danault out with a concussion and Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts' Jonathan Drouin gone indefinitely for unstated personal reasons, Belzile is the only other Quebec-born player eligible to play.
Belzile was a last-minute insertion into the lineup on Saturday as speculation mounted over whether that game, against the Maple Leafs, would be the first with only imports. It was the 29-year-old's first-ever regular season game in the NHL.
Though Belzile picked up an assist, he was scratched Monday when Byron, who's from Ottawa, was cleared to play after recovering from a lower-body injury.
Ducharme, born in Joliette, Que., told reporters he didn't have much of a choice when it came to finalizing the lineup for the game against the Oilers, where the Habs have a chance to clinch a playoff spot.
"It is the result of the circumstances," Ducharme said. "A guy like Danault has an important role. Drouin is a player who can help offensively. Belzile is here."
Constant source of worry
The volume of Québécois players in the Habs lineup has been a constant source of concern among fans, and many columnists, since the end of the team's last dynasty, led by Guy Lafleur, Serge Savard and Yvon Lambert.
Management routinely faces scrutiny over Québécois free-agents who go unsigned or homegrown talent that is passed over in the draft.
Media in Quebec keep close tabs on the number of Quebecers who have dressed under the current general manager, Montreal-born Marc Bergevin (17).
Even the premier, François Legault, has stated he wants to see more Quebecers suit up for the Habs.
After Drouin left the team abruptly last month, Danault acknowledged the pressure of now being the lone Québécois regular on the squad.
"In Montreal, there are a lot of big ups, and big downs. There isn't much middle ground," Danault said recently. "You really want to perform well and wear the jersey proudly.... At times it can be difficult on the ice, and off the ice as well."
Though tonight's game is believed to be the first without a Quebec-born player in the club's long history, its first game back in 1910 only featured one: Joe Cattarinich, a lacrosse player from Lévis, who played goalie.
The early stars of the Canadiens, the original Flying Frenchmen, were Franco-Ontarians: Jack Laviolette, Newsy Lalonde and Didier Pitre.
With files from Radio-Canada