sincèrement désolé

Let me explain: Montreal defenceman Ken Reardon (left) meets Chicago steelworker George Grbich (bandaged) in 1949.

It’s a few weeks now since Montreal general manager Pierre Gauthier replaced his coach and started a storm in Quebec because (if you hadn’t heard) the new one doesn’t speak French. New year, same old weather: this week, Randy Cunneyworth pleaded that his commitment  to learning French is second only to winning hockey games — though, of course, the Canadiens have only managed to manage a single victory so far in the seven they’ve played for him. Meanwhile, Gauthier apologized for the whole big fuss. “If we have offended people, I am truly sorry,” he told a news conference on Monday. “It was not our intention.”

 Will it be enough to calm the clamour? Hard to say, though a win for the club over Winnipeg tonight might help the cause. While we’re waiting to see how that goes, a quick look at how Gauthier’s sorry rates in the annals of Habs apologies. To me, I don’t know that it rates in the top five, but you be the judge:

Sorry #5: Max Pacioretty to Brad Marchand’s face (2011)

Boston defenceman Zdeno Chara had knocked Pacioretty out for season in March, which means that the Canadiens’ left winger is watching from the sidelines in April when the Bruins and the Habs meet in the first round of the playoffs. As Game 5 heads into double overtime, Pacioretty takes to Twitter (@MaxPacioretty67) to quip

This game is longer than marchands nose

before deciding that, well, maybe that’s not very nice, and returns, with penitent thumbs, to tweet

I was trying to be funny earlier, and it didn’t work.
I apologize to marchand and won’t try to be funny
that way in the future.

The Bruins eventually win the game, the series, and (of course) the Stanley Cup.

Sorry #4. The Canadiens + Toe Blake to Eddie Powers (1963)

End of January, Montreal loses at home, 6-3 to Toronto. To say that Montreal coach Toe Blake isn’t happy with the work of referee Eddie Powers would be to underplay his displeasure. During the game, the coach earns a bench penalty for arguing; after it’s all over he says, “Don’t tell me he’s not working against us.” Blake is also quoted as saying that Powers called the game “as though he had bet on the outcome” — though Blake denies that part, later on. “I don’t know how much referees get for each game,” adds Montreal PR director Frank Selke, Jr., “but if he got more than $10 for tonight’s game, he was overpaid.”

NHL president Clarence Campbell fines Blake $200. Powers, who doesn’t think that’s much support at all from his employer, quits the league and launches a $170,000 slander-and-libel suit against Blake, the Canadiens, and the newspaper Montreal-Matin. A year later, it’s all settled out of court with cash, a promise of silence from all sides, and a public apology from the Canadiens and their coach.

Powers is working by then as an inspector for the Construction Safety Association of Ontario. Asked if he’d allow his 4-year-old son Teddy to grow up to be an NHL ref, he says, “Not under current conditions.”

Sorry #3. Ken Reardon to George Grbich (1949)

It’s November and George Grbich of 1033 E. 95th Street in Chicago heads over with friends to see the hometown Black Hawks play the visiting Canadiens. In the second period — well, as these things can be, it’s kind of complicated. Grbich, an unemployed steelworker, will eventually tell Detective Harold Marsick of the Chicago P.D. that Montreal defenceman Ken Reardon smacked him (Grbich) over the head soon after he (still with Grbich) leaned over from his second-row seat to say what was on his (yes, Grbich’s) mind: “You sure are a brave man with a hockey stick in your hand.” Reardon remembers it, later, a little differently: “This fan stood up on top of the boards and grabbed me around the neck while I was carrying the puck. I hit him on the head when he spun my [sic] around. I hit him accidently [and again] but the fan had no business tackling me while I was in action.”

Either way, Grbich ends up with either seven or ten stitches in his forehead and a big patch of a bandage on his head. After the game, he meets with Reardon (above) and gets his apology. That’s a guess, actually — I assume Reardon says he’s sorry. Grbich does still go to the police station on Warren Avenue to press charges, but I get the impression that the man’s heart isn’t in it, it’s his friends who put him up to it. Reardon and teammates Leo Gravelle and Billy Reay are duly charged with using their sticks as “deadly weapons.” They’re even briefly jailed — there’s a famous staged photo of Reardon and Gravelle behind bars. When the case comes to trial, Judge Joseph B. Hearn throws it out, having decided that it was the fans who were the aggressors, overstepping “the prerogative of the American fan to boost his team and heckle opponents.”

Grbich’s friends show up in court without him. The word is that he’s upped and left town, looking for a new start in Butler, Wisconsin.

Sorry #2. The Canadiens to the US of A (2003)

March and the New Jersey Devils are at Montreal’s Bell Centre for a Tuesday-night meeting with the Habs. Before the puck drops, as the “The Star-Spangled Banner” strikes up, fans boo in an apparent protest of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Devils’ goalie Martin Brodeur, for one, is shocked: “I’m from Montreal, and I’m proud to be a Canadian,” he tells The New York Times, “but my children are American, so it puts me in a weird position. I wish it could be kept out of sports.”

Thursday it’s the New York Islanders in town and the booing is lusty and louder. Many of the Islanders, it’s reported next day, are livid. They say, some of them, that the anger helps them win the game, which they do, 6-3.

On Friday Canadiens’ president Pierre Boivin issues a public apology. “The Montreal Canadiens organization has always held a high respect for its neighbours and friends in the United States, and we look forward to maintaining this strong and positive relationship,” he writes. “We apologize to anyone who may have been offended by this incident, and would encourage all fans at the Bell Centre to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of our game and our two great nations.”

Sorry #1. Maurice Richard, humbly and sincerely, to Clarence Campbell and all the NHL governors (1954)

Early January and in his weekly newspaper column in Montreal’s Samedi-Dimanche, Maurice Richard calls Clarence Campbell “a dictator” who is “trying to create publicity for himself at the expense of Bernie Geoffrion, simply because he is a French-Canadian.”

Geoffrion had been suspended for eight games for a December stickfight with Ron Murphy of the New York Rangers who got, for his trouble, a five-game ban, a “severe” concussion, and a fractured jaw.

Richard’s column goes on: “If Campbell wants to throw me out of the league for daring to criticize him, let him do so.”

Campbell is irked, but ejecting Richard from the NHL isn’t what he wants. Instead he extracts from Richard an apology so abject that the president might have written it himself — which may indeed be the case, since it’s issued from the league’s headquarters rather by Richard himself. The Rocket apologizes “humbly and sincerely” to the president and all the governors. “I realize fully that the accusations made were unfounded and I am anxious that Mr. Campbell’s integrity and the honesty of the game be established beyond question.”

“A public apology of this nature is really something, in my opinion,” offers Chicago’s GM, Bill Tobin. “We all know Richard is one of the game’s greatest players and there is no finer fellow off the ice. We also know that a man of his nature is likely to be high-strung and perhaps temperamental.”

As proof of his contrition and good faith, Richard leaves Campbell with a cheque for $1,000 as a promise that he won’t be calling him names again.

Both Richard and Geoffrion have to give up their newspaper columns, too (Geoffrion has been contributing his weekly hockey thoughts to Parlons Sports). “Richard Gagged” is Samedi-Dimanche’s headline over the Rocket’s farewell. “This is my last column as a newspaper man,” he writes. “I am sorry about it because it gives me pleasure to express my personal opinions about hockey matters.

“This right is refused me. I no longer have freedom of speech. As a hockey player, I am obliged to obey the orders of my employers. I make no judgment on their decisions, leaving that to my friends.

“Perhaps later on, when my hands are no longer tied behind my back, I will return.”