Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Habs and their language baggage coming to town

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THEY'RE not even here yet -- Jets fans will have to wait for Thursday to see the Montreal Canadiens at the MTS Centre -- but the story is way ahead of them.

It wasn't enough of a tempest that the Habs fired French-speaking coach Jacques Martin on Saturday. That they've promoted assistant, former Jet and former Rochester Americans and Hamilton Bulldogs AHL coach Randy Cunneyworth as interim coach for the rest of the season has become a hot-button topic in Montreal because Cunneyworth is not billingual.

"I don't know, that's something that's very sensitive, let's put it that way," Jets coach Claude Noel said Tuesday, asked for his opinion on the matter. "Did Toe Blake speak French? To me you've got to live there, be there, to really associate yourself with what really goes on there. There's a lot of controversy there. I like Randy Cunneyworth. He's a good coach, done a good job. I feel for him."

Jets defenceman Ron Hainsey was a Montreal first-round draft pick in 2000 and was in the organization until 2005, playing 32 NHL games there.

He was asked Tuesday about the controversy.

"I don't think it really matters to the players. Have you heard any players speak out on this, that they need a French-speaking coach? The question is pretty much one you can answer on your own."

Grabner makes return

WAS the best thing for Michael Grabner's career so far being traded by the Vancouver Canucks?

"Well, yeah," said the New York Islanders forward, who has nine goals in the first 29 games of this season. "If you look back at what happened, probably. I thought I was going to have a fresh start in Florida but that didn't happen.

Grabner spent three seasons with the AHL's Manitoba Moose, playing 180 games and scoring 68 goals. In addition, he had 10 goals in 20 playoff games in the spring of 2009 when the Moose wen to the Calder Cup final.

Late the next season, the Canucks, who had drafted him in the first round of 2006, pulled him up for a late-season "tryout" before trading him at the draft to the Florida Panthers.

The Panthers tried to send Grabner to the AHL but the Islanders claimed him, and he then scored 34 goals in 76 games last season, actually getting his name into the Calder Trophy discussion late in the year.

-- COOL LOOK: A sidebar story that speaks to the still-frenzied attention the return of the NHL has had on Winnipeg: goaltender Chris Mason faced a media scrum after Tuesday morning's skate to discuss, wait for it, his new goaltender pads that feature a Jets logo on the front. The pads, designed by Brian's SubZero custom design in Ontario, are supposed to arrive in Winnipeg next week.

"I'm excited to see them," said Mason, who sports a colourful mask featuring the Jets logo and Iron Maiden theme. "I saw the same picture everyone else did. (http://ingoalmag.com/gear/chris-mason-set-to-break-out-fighter-jet-pads-in-winnipeg/) and I think they look pretty sharp. I used to love drawing when I was a kid and I used to draw goalies all the time. I just enjoy that part and it's one of the best parts of being a goalie.

"I mentioned to the guys at Brian's what I was thinking of and they actually did up the designs and sent about six different ones to me and then I got to pick. I'm pretty happy with how it looks. I love our logo and I just thought it would look really cool if done like that on the pads."

-- SPEAK UP: Toronto Maple Leafs winger Colby Armstrong suffered a concussion Saturday night but opted to keep the news from the organization until Monday. Jim Slater has been in Armstrong's position before -- his concussion caused him to miss half of last season -- and so the man speaks from experience. And his advice would be simple: do not keep any injury, whether you think it is just a headache or a concussion, quiet.

"In the past it was tough because nobody wants to come out of the lineup, you know there's another guy waiting there to take your spot," Slater said Tuesday. "Colby is a pretty established player in this league and obviously he felt a reason not to say anything... I don't know what the reason was but it came back to take him down. It's unfortunate to hear... Nowadays it's very important to definitely speak up and tell the trainers and organization how you're feeling and what's going on with you.

"Ever since February or March of last year more guys have come forward with symptoms, if they're concussions or not or maybe just a headache. Guys are definitely more aware of it and we're more understanding of the seriousness of what can happen to you later on in life if you keep getting concussions or don't speak up to say that you have one."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 21, 2011 C3

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