Savard and Perron have a time-honored solution for such behavior. They shipped Richer back to the Sherbrooke Canadiens, Montreal's minor league team in Quebec, for a month. That got his attention. After having breathed the heady air of the Forum, Richer found Sherbrooke to be a brutal comedown. "In juniors I had a lot of ice time," he says. "When I came here, I didn't understand why I couldn't play all the time. I want to play. So I talked in the newspaper. I thought I was too good. So I paid the price for a month, and when they called me back up, I said, 'I don't want to do no more in the minors.' "
Richer learned his lesson. He no longer behaves like a spoiled brat. Moreover, after working hard on his game and his conditioning in the off-season, he's better prepared for the rough-and-tumble of NHL hockey. "Night and day," says Perron of Richer's new attitude.
"Let me tell you, this is a tough place to play," says Perron. " Montreal is the Mecca of hockey, the Vatican of hockey, however you like. Everybody in this city thinks he knows the game. Everybody can advise. Here you have the worship of the hero. They are still missing Guy Lafleur, still missing Jean Beliveau, still missing Rocket Richard. It's a cult. They want to see Lafleur pass the torch to Richer. People are just dying to see him score 50 goals."
Missing two open net chances on Saturday night, Richer failed to add to his season total of 44 goals. Still, when Richer was escorted to the penalty box after an ineffectual scuffle with Hartford's Kevin Dineen, the 17,000 fans at the Forum chanted " Richer! Richer! Richer!"
"Sometimes they chant 'Naslund! Naslund!' but it's not the same," says center Shayne Corson, referring to left-winger Mats Naslund, who hails from Sweden.
Among the big stories in the Montreal press last week was a plan by Quebec's language advisory council, or Conseil de la langue fran�aise, to use undercover shoppers to infiltrate places of business. Its mission: to find out how many of the city's merchants use French as their primary language. Among those who think the Parti Qu�b�cois is somewhat overzealous is writer Mordecai Richler, an English-speaking Montreal native and longtime observer of the Canadiens.
"While nobody was looking, something happened," wrote Richler in a 1985 column for
The New York Times
. "The pride of the Qu�b�cois were infiltrated—no, overwhelmed—by the sneaky linguistically impure. Such was the desperation of the sinking Club de Hockey Canadien, the Flying Frenchmen of legend, that they were reduced to putting imports on the ice." Richler had great fun wending through a list of possible successors to Lafleur, but came up empty-handed: "Pierre Mondou won't do," he wrote. "Spunky Mario Tremblay certainly hasn't got it in him. Alfie Turcotte has delivered very little. In Guy Carbonneau, what you see is what you get."
But Richler hadn't yet seen Richer.