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Political outrage prompts Montreal pro soccer team to backtrack on controversial coaching hire

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The CF Montréal soccer club on Tuesday reversed its decision to hire a controversial former player who made anti-sovereignist comments and appeared to have encouraged an attempted assassination of former premier Pauline Marois.

The hiring of Sandro Grande as head coach of CF Montréal’s reserve team drew unanimous condemnation from Quebec politicians.

The team responded to the wave of criticism by issuing a media release just before 10 a.m. on Tuesday saying it was terminating its relationship with Grande, the day after he was hired.

“We recognize that the hiring of Sandro Grande was a mistake and we regret the repercussions caused by this decision,” said Gabriel Gervais, the president and CEO of CF Montréal. “We sincerely apologize to everyone who was hurt or shocked. Clearly, we were insensitive and greatly underestimated the comments he made and actions he took several years ago.”

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Earlier Tuesday morning, elected officials, including party leaders and Premier François Legault, issued statements denouncing the club’s decision.

“Mr. Grande has made unacceptable and hurtful comments in the past,” a statement from Legault’s office said.

“His appointment is disrespectful and sends the wrong message. This is a major lack of judgment on the part of CF Montréal.”

In the wake of the Sept. 4, 2012, shooting at the PQ’s victory party at Montreal’s Metropolis Theatre, Grande’s Twitter account read: “The only mistake the shooter made last night was missing his target! Marois!!! Next time, buddy! I hope!”

The shooting left one person dead and another injured.

Grande has maintained that his account was hacked, according to La Presse. The former Montreal Impact player did, however, admit to calling separatist voters “hillbillies,” adding that they were “so stupid it’s unimaginable.”

Grande’s statements came three years after the Montreal Impact released him for having grabbed teammate Mauro Biello by the throat during practice in 2009.

In a statement released by the team Monday, Grande issued an apology and admitted to having made errors in the past.

“I am very grateful and happy to have the opportunity to return to the club I have loved since I was a child,” Grande said.

“I made some serious mistakes several years ago and I am deeply sorry if I disrespected anyone. I have learned a great deal from them and know that I am joining an organization where the values of inclusion and diversity are fundamental. I think it’s important to use our personal experiences to continually improve and correct our past mistakes.”

But Quebec political leaders said Grande’s apology wasn’t good enough.

Parti Québécois Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon said in a tweet that he had read Grande’s apology but that it was “insufficient and failed to mention the group it targeted (sovereignists) or the person he wanted to see killed (P. Marois).”

He said Grande “did not make a single trivial mistake or one tweet too many one night, he repeatedly made filthy and criminal remarks aimed at more than two million pro-independence Quebecers.”

Isabelle Charest, Quebec’s sports minister, said in a statement the decision to hire Grande lacked judgment.

“The comments made by Sandro Grande are unacceptable and have no place in our society,” she said. “We have to question the message that all this sends to young people, especially those for whom Mr. Grande will be responsible.”

The Quebec Liberal Party said the hiring decision was a mistake. “We must not trivialize the violent comments he has made in the past,” the party said in a statement. “Sport should rather be used to promote values of respect and solidarity.”

Pascal Bérubé, a Parti Québécois MNA, called on the Quebecers who sit on the board of directors of the Bank of Montreal, CF Montréal’s main sponsor, to oppose Grande’s hiring.

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, co-spokesperson for Québec Solidaire, said the club owed sovereignists and Marois an apology. After the club announced Grande’s departure, he tweeted: “All of this could have been avoided if the Club had shown some basic common sense.”

The Montreal Impact released Sandro Grande for having grabbed teammate Mauro Biello by the throat during practice in 2009. (Jeremy Olson/Radio-Canada)

Legault also said the team had made the right decision. “I welcome the decision of CF Montreal to end its contract with Sandro Grande,” he said in a tweet. “This story should remind us of the importance of never trivializing the Metropolis attack that occurred in September 2012.”

CF Montréal had also announced Patrick Viollat would be Grande’s assistant coach. The club said Grande’s departure will not affect Viollat’s hiring.

Grande had been the technical director at FC Laval since October 2021 and was previously technical director of the Étoiles de l’Est from 2011 to 2019. He led the men’s and women’s soccer programs at Collège Montmorency from 2017 to 2021. As a player, he played for the Montreal Impact in 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2009.

Viollat has been technical director of the Concordia Regional Soccer Association since 2019 and before that was the technical director of the Lac St-Louis Regional Soccer Association, and served as assistant coach for the soccer teams at McGill University.

CF Montréal also announced on Monday that its main academy team — fomerly CF Montréal U23 — will now be called CF Montréal Reserve. The team plays in the Premier Soccer League of Quebec (PLSQ).

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Watch Live: Canucks introduce Beauvillier, Raty after Horvat trade – Sportsnet.ca

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Leafs may have lucked out with timing of Auston Matthews and Matt Murray injuries – The Globe and Mail

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews and goaltender Matt Murray celebrate after defeating the Colorado Avalanche at Ball Arena in Denver on Dec. 31, 2022.Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

Not that it is ever good to have key players injured, but the Maple Leafs may have caught a break with Auston Matthews and Matt Murray.

With the NHL’s all-star weekend just ahead, both will have more time to nurse what ails them while also possibly missing less action.

Matthews suffered a knee sprain in an overtime victory against the New York Rangers on Jan. 25 and the team’s star centre is expected to be sidelined at least three weeks. It will cause him to miss Saturday’s all-star spectacle in Sunrise, Fla.

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Murray, who had already surrendered the starting job in Toronto’s net to Ilya Samsonov, is now plagued by an ankle affliction and it is anybody’s guess when he will return.

The 28-year-old, whose acquisition was seen as risky owing to his history of injuries, has already missed more than a month with an adductor strain. He has not played 40 games in a season since 2018-19.

“There’s something there that’s going to require time for sure,” Sheldon Keefe, the Maple Leafs’ head coach, said. “We won’t quite know, really, until we come back from the break.”

Toronto has a contest against Boston at Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday before its eight-day recess begins. Its next game after that will be at Columbus on Feb. 10.

Despite a lengthy list of injuries, the Maple Leafs have done well over the first two-thirds of the season. They are 31-12-8, second in the NHL’s Atlantic Division and a shoe-in to reach the playoffs even if 11 points behind the Bruins.

Boston is an almost incomprehensible 38-7-5 but arrives in town with three consecutive losses. A win will boost the Maple Leafs’ faint hopes of catching up.

“You want to go into the break feeling good,” Keefe said Monday after a team meeting and an optional workout for players at the Ford Performance Centre. “We expect a tough game for sure.

“Our job is to keep pace and apply pressure a little more, just like the teams behind us are trying to do to us. It is a great way to go into the all-star break. There is a lot of excitement.”

After an uninspired effort in a loss to Ottawa on Friday, Toronto rebounded to dismantle the Washington Capitals 5-1 on Sunday.

John Tavares recorded two assists in the 1,000th game of his NHL career, Morgan Rielly scored for the first time this campaign and Samsonov recorded 23 saves as he ran his record on home ice to 15-1-1.

“We played today more for John,” Samsonov said after improving his record to 17-5-2 overall. He did not realize Tavares was about to reach a milestone until a pre-game ceremony.

“One thousand games,” Samonov said, pausing, “That’s amazing.”

Rielly, who is respected as an offensively skilled defenceman, had gone without a goal in 35 previous games this season. In the best year of his career, he had 20 goals.

“Mostly, I just feel relief,” Rielly said. “We wanted to respond after a bad game against Ottawa. We weren’t very proud of ourselves when we went home from here on Friday.”

Joseph Woll, who is 12-1 with a .928 save percentage for the Toronto Marlies, has been called up from the American Hockey League as Samsonov’s backup.

With any luck at all, Woll will not be pressed to play thanks to the upcoming prolonged break.

But first the Bruins come to town.

“Every game against Boston is special,” Alexander Kerfoot, the Maple Leafs’ forward, said.

William Nylander had an assist on Sunday and on Monday was named the league’s second star of the week. He leads Toronto with 28 goals and is tied with Mitch Marner for the team lead with 59 points.

“We are just trying to carve our way back to Boston,” Nylander said. “We have to keeping winning games and see what happens.

“The Bruins are on an incredible pace and will be hard to catch but we are going to try our best to do that.”

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Cult figure Bobby Hull was a hockey wild man in a bygone NHL era – The Globe and Mail

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Chicago Blackhawks legend Bobby Hull is introduced to fans during a convention in Chicago on July 26, 2019.Amr Alfiky/The Associated Press

Before Bobby Hull showed up, the NHL was long on workmanlike effort and short on rock ’n’ roll erraticism. Now that he’s gone, it’s returned to its former state.

But for a while there, Hull played hockey the way Led Zeppelin played arenas – the most interesting stories didn’t happen in public view, and few of them were the sort you’d want to hear in decent company.

One of the great pure goal scorers in the game’s history and its most notable off-season farmer, Hull bridged the gap between the NHL’s working-class roots and its jet-set aspirations. His career was full of ‘what ifs’ – what if he’d stayed in the NHL past his early 30s?; what if he’d been allowed to play in the Summit Series? The best testament to Hull’s athletic greatness was that despite often working against his own best interests, he still managed to be remembered as great.

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Hull, 84, died on Monday.

Like many of his contemporaries, Hull was the sort they grew big on the farm. Born in rural Ontario, he came up through the provincial ranks and joined the Chicago Black Hawks in 1957. He was only 18, but already fully formed as a player.

In a league full of big, tough men, Hull was bigger and tougher, but also remarkably skilled. His slap shot is still remembered as a weapon of NHL mass destruction.

Teammate Glenn Hall once said of it: “The idea was not to stop that thing, but to avoid getting killed.”

Defending Hull was a special challenge because he didn’t have to find a way around you. He could just go through you.

He remains the only hockey player who is more recognizable with a pitchfork in his hands, bailing hay, than he was in uniform on the ice. Up until the chemists got involved, Hull may have had the most imposing physique in sports history. He put it to brutal use on the ice.

He was the first player to score more than 50 goals in a campaign. He scored more points than anyone ever had in a season. He won a single Stanley Cup, giving him access to the best-ever conversation.

In a two-fisted league, Hull and his Chicago teammates played a particularly exuberant brand of hockey. It made them famous outside the game’s usual strongholds.

Like a lot of other famous people in the sixties, Hull took full advantage of the social perks.

I spent an hour with him in a hotel room a decade ago. He was releasing a book and in high spirits, clearly enjoying the attention. But there was a hook of resentment in every story he told.

“We had guys who liked to have fun. But when they dropped the puck at 7:30, we played guilty,” Hull said. I remember him titled forward, waving his hands around. They were enormous.

Guilty?

“We used to say to each other, ‘C’mon, guys. We were pissed up last night. So now we gotta play guilty.’ And there are a lot of guys who don’t understand that – these coaches, I mean. Don’t bother us, cause we’re the guys who know how to play. I never listened to a coach in my life.”

This sort of approach worked for Hull, until it didn’t.

When he publicly mused that he would consider leaving the NHL to join the upstart World Hockey Association for a million dollars – a ridiculous amount at the time – guess what? They gave him a million dollars. That was 1972.

Having got what he wanted, Hull found out it wasn’t what he needed. Once the biggest deal in the biggest league, Hull became the richest guy in an outfit no one cared about.

He continued to score goals in the WHA through the seventies, but his star dimmed. His turncoat status meant he wasn’t invited to join Team Canada for the Summit Series. Just like that, Hull was cut out of Canadian history.

Eventually, he’d find his way back to the national team and the NHL, but the damage had been done. Hull became a cautionary tale about valuing the wrong things.

Post-career, shorn of the protection that teams and the journalists who cover them offer to active stars, Hull went from colourful to objectionable. In the late nineties, it was reported that Hull had given an interview to an English-language Russian newspaper in which he praised Hitler and denigrated Black people.

Once back home, Hull denied it all. The paper stuck to its version of the story and the issue was left unresolved. Whatever the truth of it, Hull was pushed down to the second tier of NHL legends. He still worked the autograph circuit, but no one was anxious to have him make appearances on behalf of the game.

Hull leaned into his reputation as a hockey wild man rather than a legend of the sport. By that point, he was most familiar to contemporary fans as the father of Brett Hull. That seemed to bother him as well.

Where does Hull figure in the pantheon? As a cult figure.

The NHL’s golden age is chock-a-block with team-first guys who played the game the right way – Howe, Beliveau, Richard, Orr, et al. The hard thing is finding a guy in there that anyone had a bad word to say about.

Hull was the wild card in that pack. He played like a virtuoso and lived like a roadie. He made terrible decisions, but kept emerging from them, diminished but intact. He was hockey’s fallen star, and one who kept falling.

It doesn’t make him heroic, but it does make him interesting.

That time I met him he was going through his own book, looking at pictures of himself and pointing out the other people in them.

“He’s dead. He’s dead. He’s dead,” Hull said, quiet and contemplative for the first time that afternoon. “I hate it when I’m the only one alive in these things.”

Now he’s gone, and an era with him. If it can be said that the NHL had a wild, uncontrollable period in its adolescence, Hull embodied it. Then, like a lot of precocious teens, he never quite get over it.

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