Working in the NHL’s only two-language market, La Presse hockey writer Guillaume Lefrançois wanted to find out if that was why he found it difficult to extract information from Canadiens management.
It turns out, he wasn’t the only one.
“I spoke to Pierre LeBrun, Bob McKenzie and Elliotte Friedman,” Lefrançois said this week. “What I learned and what they told me was it wasn’t just us from Montreal, it was everybody across the league finding it hard to get information out of the Montreal market.”
It was one of his most memorable pieces, which he published before February’s NHL trade deadline. It came at a time when interest in the Canadiens was lower than it had been in recent years.
After a few seasons of consistent post-season berths, the Canadiens quickly fell out of contention. Much of this was due to an injury earlier in the season to superstar goaltender Carey Price.
But Lefrançois’ piece did well because it told a story about how secretive Montreal’s management is with information.
“Marc Bergevin is someone who demands a lot from his staff so there aren’t a lot of leaks,” Lefrançois said. “It’s not just Montreal, it’s a lot of markets, it’s getting tighter with regard to information.”
But Lefrancois learned to adapt: The art of storytelling can be challenging, but a good storyline can grab the attention of any fan.
Lefrançois went to school without any direct intention of becoming a hockey writer.
“I actually studied history in college,” he said. “I had a good friend of mine at Radio-Canada who worked for the website and they needed someone to fill in.”
Lefrancois found an appreciation for his work when he was initially hired part-time to write other sports for CBC’s French site during the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino. When the games were over and he finished his schooling in the spring of 2007, Lefrançois was brought on staff and covered the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL. An opening to move to the Canadiens beat followed in the fall of 2011.
But Lefrancois wasn’t immune to the challenges that journalists are currently facing worldwide.
“In March 2014, when they announced big cuts at CBC, I was going to lose my job in sports,” he said. “I could have stayed there but I would have had to switch to news. Basically we had 75 people in the sports section at Radio-Canada and they had to cut down to 19. It was drastic.”
With some fortuitous timing and help from his colleagues, he reached out to La Presse, where he has been since June 2014. He never gave up, remembering that when he started, he was told there weren’t many jobs in sports journalism.
“If you’re good, there is probably room for you. When I started 10 years ago, I was told there were no more jobs and 10 years later when I look at the people I work with, those that are really good are still around,” he said. “You can certainly make your way in the industry, probably with less security. But I still think there is room for people I the industry and goodtalent.”
As the job of a reporter is always evolving, Lefrancois pointed out that you have to be willing to do anything to put yourself in a position to succeed.
“Every kid in Canada who studies journalism has an aspiring dream to write on hockey. You might have to do something else before you get there so be ready to be versatile,” he said.
“You may have to pay your dues for sometime. But it’s worth it and a long the way, you may discover new interests. I wasn’t a big fan of the CFL when I covered the Alouettes in 2007 but now I really like it. I may be writing hockey now but it gave me new experiences and I think it helped me in the long run.”