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Hockey world rallies behind Doan before officials face parliamentary grilling

Members of all political parties want to know why Doan was chosen as captain for the current world championships in spite of accusations that he once uttered a slur at a French-Canadian linesman. Three Hockey Canada officials plan to list the attributes that led to Doan's selection during questioning by members of the House of Commons' official languages committee.

The Phoenix Coyotes forward sprang to his own defence Wednesday and got plenty of support - both from his hockey peers and from the furious fans who inundated open-line sports talk shows.

Doan once again denied a linesman's claim that during a 2005 Phoenix-Montreal game he sarcastically spouted the words, "F-g Frenchman - did a good job," at him.

He explained Wednesday that he was actually trying to calm down a furious teammate, goalie Curtis Joseph, who felt that four French-Canadian officials refereeing the game had blown a penalty call.

He says he told his goalie: "Four French referees in Montreal, Cuje, figure it out."

The league sided with Doan in a post-game investigation and the matter was considered closed.

It was reopened on Parliament Hill once Doan's selection as captain prompted the controversy to re-erupt in Quebec.

All parties are eager to gain support in that crucial electoral battleground, where Doan has been vilified.

The linesman involved in the controversy adamantly insisted in a recent sworn court statement that he heard the slur, and Quebec hockey commentators have cited the Doan controversy as evidence of rampant racism in the NHL against francophones.

When asked why the Conservative government agreed to summon hockey officials, a Tory cabinet minister from Quebec said it's a matter of respect.

"If we hadn't done it - how would we look as francophones," said Labour Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn.

"There are two nations in this country - and we need to respect both. . . We can't just close our eyes and play deaf. Anglophones and francophones both deserve respect in this country."

MPs defended their right to question Hockey Canada.

The agency receives $1 million, which is less than 10 per cent of its overall operating budget, from Sport Canada - a federal agency whose mission includes promoting Canadian values.

But members of the hockey world - both English and French - expressed their disgust at the parliamentary inquisition.

"It's ridiculous," said NHL vice-president Colin Campbell, who investigated the 2005 incident.

"It's rather embarrassing to all Canadian hockey fans we're rehashing this again, particularly when Hockey Canada and Shane Doan are representing and working hard in Moscow right now, competing for our country."

French-Canadian NHLers were equally emphatic in defending Doan. They shrugged off insults as part of the game.

"In the heat of the battle things get said sometimes - a lot worse than being called a French frog or whatever," Vancouver Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said.

"(Doan) says he didn't say it. Even if he did, come on. If our politicians, French or English, if that's the only thing right now they have to worry about ... There's a lot more important things going on right now in society. It is utterly, utterly stupid, not to say embarrassing."

Superstar goalie Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils said he wished the politicians had laid off.

"I know Shane really good and I don't see him saying that," he said.

"All these years in the league I never had a problem with it so for me to hear that other people had a problem, I have a hard time to understand it."

Hall of fame goalie-turned-politician Ken Dryden offered a cautious response.

The former Montreal Canadiens goaltender and Liberal cabinet minister said he'd tried to avoid commenting on the controversy in the hope it would die by itself.

It hasn't.

So Dryden defended his political colleagues' right to offer opinions and ask questions of Hockey Canada - but added that hockey choices are hardly their business.

"Do we (politicians) pretend to have a right to choose the captain of Team Canada? That's up to Hockey Canada. That's their responsibility," Dryden said.

Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson, chairman Rene Marcil, and senior director Brad Pascall will appear Thursday before the Commons languages committee.

They were not forced to testify - but could have faced a subpoena had they rejected an initial request from the committee.

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