this week: shocked, saddened

o canadaToronto’s Joffrey Lupul was in downtown Ottawa with the rest of the Leafs on Wednesday morning in the middle of the fear and chaos. “Surreal scene outside of our hotel right now,” he tweeted. “Lot of very brave police officers we should all be very proud of.”

“We were told not to go close to the windows,” a Leaf defenceman, Morgan Rielly, told The Toronto Star’s Dave Feschuk later, after it was all over. “But you know us — we opened the curtains up and had a look for sure. It was quite scary how close we were.”

Feschuk:

When an attacker shot and killed a sentry standing guard at a monument to Canada’s war dead, Toronto’s NHL team was staying at a hotel across the street. Some, among them James van Riemsdyk, said they were sleeping when the violence struck. Others, such as Morgan Rielly, were awake and heard the gunshots. Head coach Randy Carlyle said he was walking through the Rideau Centre mall when an order to evacuate was broadcast over the public address system.

At a moment like that, the coach said, ‘You’ve just got to get back to your safe haven. And the safe haven for us was the hotel.’

“You didn’t know what was going to happen next,” said James van Riemsdyk. “That kind of unknowing feeling is definitely not settling.”

Midday Wednesday the NHL announced that the game the Leafs were supposed to play against Ottawa’s Senators that night was postponed. And:

The National Hockey League wishes to express its sympathy to all affected by the tragic events that took place this morning in downtown Ottawa.

Ottawa defenceman Eric Gryba was one of the hockey players tweeting that afternoon:

My heart and prayers goes out to the family of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo. This is a tragedy that will not be forgotten. #OttawaStrong

P.K. Subban:

Very sad news to hear about what happened in Ottawa. God bless the families who have to mourn these losses. #sosad

In Pittsburgh that night, singer Jeff Jimerson led the crowd in singing O Canada ahead of the game between Penguins and Flyers. “It was a special moment,” Jimerson told The Calgary Sun, “and as soon as they introduced it, saying our thoughts are with Canada, it felt different — it was more emotional. Towards the end, when you can really hear all the people singing O Canada, I felt so proud of the Pittsburgh fans for that. It was really cool.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper stood in the House of Commons on Thursday morning. “My fellow Canadians, for the second time this week there has been a brutal and violent attack on our soil,” he said. He paid tribute to Corporal Cirillo and to Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, killed on Monday in Quebec. He thanked first responders and quick-thinking civilians, police and Parliamentary security, and Sergeant-At-Arms Kevin Vickers. He said,

I think we were all, as Canadians, touched by the wonderful gesture shown last night at the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey game.

“Of course,” he continued, “Mr. Speaker, we know all too well this is not a happy day for everybody.”

In particular, a terribly sad day for all of the family, loved ones, friends, colleagues of both Nathan Cirillo and Patrice Vincent.

We have seen photos of these lovely men.

We’ve all seen the pictures of these beautiful guys, as Don Cherry would say, and our hearts really are with all of them.

We are so fortunate to have people like this.

“We’re all shocked and saddened by what happened,” Senators president Cyril Leeder told Wayne Scanlan from The Ottawa Citizen. “We think it was obviously the appropriate thing for the league to do to cancel the game, we supported that decision. But now, our leaders — our prime minister, our premier, our mayor — are asking us to move forward and help with the healing process. We’re hopeful that hockey can help in some small way.”

He went on:

When this happens, hockey takes a back seat, it really is secondary to a tragic incident like this. But hockey is important to Canadians, important to our community here and will be an important part of that [healing] process.

The Leafs were back in Toronto on Thursday and out on their practice ice. At the end of the session, centreman Nazem Kadri took to the net. Dave Feschuk:

Even if he didn’t make many saves, Kadri made more than a few onlookers laugh as he performed an exhaustive display of sprawls and snow angels that were both admirably theatrical and comical.

This, in part, was how these famous men who play a kids’ game got back to their usual rituals on Thursday. A little more than 24 hours earlier, while the Leafs prepared for a matchup in Ottawa, they’d seen their typical dream-job routine — a mid-morning breakfast, say, followed by a leisurely afternoon nap — pre-empted by a rare dose of real-world viciousness.

“We have no sense of occasion,” Cathal Kelly was saying that morning in The Globe and Mail. “We are incapable of proper celebration, and consequently do mourning very poorly. Taken as a group, Canadians have one emotional gambit — a patrician distaste for emotions.”

We are as stiff as our reputation … until you get us into a hockey arena.

It doesn’t have to be a grand place. Any little rink with a coffee shop and a skate-sharpening station will do, anywhere in the country. You walk through those doors, the cold and that metallic tang hit you, and your natural Canadian inhibitions are shed. We are a country of many faiths, but just the one religion. It’s a cliché because it’s true.

Everyone in this country understands that you don’t have to play hockey or watch hockey or even like hockey, but you must respect hockey. That’s the way we used to feel about the Church, in all its iterations.

We are at our best together, and we are most often together at a rink. It’s where we feel closest.

By Saturday, we’ll be ready to shed this dreadful feeling of vulnerability. We’ll do that by celebrating the fallen and jeering those who would do us harm. It’s a barbarous ritual, but so is hockey. It’s a game designed to be played by people with the need to work out some issues. That’s why we’re so good at it.

john branch: derek boogaard and the damage done

boy on ice branch

The saddest sentences in John Branch’s biography of the late Derek Boogaard come one after another, on page 138, following an account of an NHL fight of workaday brutality:

The announcers shared a hearty laugh. The crowd cheered.

Although: there’s also a very sad sentence on page 87:

Derek wanted to be famous for the glory of goals, not the fury of his fists.

It wasn’t to be. Fists, of course, prevailed in Boogaard’s story, as they do in Branch’s devastating Boy on Ice, an unflinching chronicle of hockey damage that’s as shocking as it is familiar. Which may be the saddest part of all: how well we know the ugly side of the game.

A San Francisco-based reporter for The New York Times, Branch first wrote about Boogaard’s life in 2011, not long after the beloved New York Rangers fighter died at the age of 28 of an overdose of painkillers and alcohol. Meticulously reported, Boy on Ice goes deeper into the personal story that Branch started so powerfully to tell in “Punched Out” about the Saskatchewan-born left winger who lived the Canadian dream of making it to the NHL, where he died trying subdue the loneliness and pain he found once he got there.

There’s a lot to think about here, from the serious questions Branch raises about painkillers and prescriptions in the NHL and oversight of the league’s substance abuse program. There are the frightening facts that the posthumous examination of Boogaard’s damaged brain revealed to neurologists and how their ongoing studies into chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) might affect the way the game is played.

And there are, of course, many furious fists, enough to fill a terrible thesaurus. Boogaard belts Andrew Peters and bombs Shawn Thornton (with three right hands). He himself is bashed and bitten. He drops Brendan Yarema (then pulls him back to his feet to punch him more). Assails Wade Brookbank (with a flurry of punches to the head. Clocks Trevor Gillies (in the face), whom he also, another time, deconstructs. Fells Brian McGrattan, mauls Jody Shelley, pops Colton Orr (in the face).

(With his right fist.)

If the book doesn’t explicitly indict the hypocrisy of a league that talks about player safety while continuing to pretend that fighting is a natural and necessary part of a game so fast and kinetic and contained, it doesn’t have to. For hockey, Boy on Ice is a devastating document that lays bare the violence that the game has institutionalized and continues to promote and celebrate while chronically pretending that it really isn’t much of a serious problem at all.

Can a biography change a sport? I don’t know. It’s not for me to say, anyway. Let NHL commissioner Gary Bettman read Boy on Ice and give us his review. We’ll wait.

John Branch was on the road this week when Puckstruck tracked him down to ask about the book and what it has to say about the game that Derek Boogaard loved so fatally well. From Branch’s keyboard, five answers for five questions:

What did Boy on Ice allow you to do that you felt you hadn’t done in the Times with “Punched Out”?
A lot of things. I’d like to think that the Times series portrayed Derek as fully as possible in a newspaper story, but — as many writers will tell you — the difficult part in storytelling is deciding what to leave out. I had a lot of material and a lot more questions, and I wanted to colour in the corners of Derek’s life. I felt he deserved that, and that the extra content and context would help explain him better to readers. The Times story made a lot of passing mentions to critical aspects of his life that I wanted to explain further — everything from his father’s work as a Royal Canadian Mounted Police member to his life with billet families, from his time in juniors to the final days of his life.

The newspaper story, for example, barely mentions his two long-term girlfriends and skips over most of his three-year career in minor-league hockey. It is focussed largely on his concussions, less on his prescription painkiller addiction. It mentions the tradition of fighting in hockey, but does not explain it in detail. There are love letters that Derek wrote as an adult and notes from the substance-abuse counsellors who treated him. While I could not be more proud of the newspaper story, I feel the book has the depth and nuance that wasn’t realistically possible there.

The facts of the Boogaard case are, on their own, an indictment of the NHL and hockey’s culture of violence. In your 2011 interview with commissioner Gary Bettman, he mostly deflects and downplays questions of the league’s responsibility for the safety of its players as well as those of the broader issues to do with the league’s permitting and promoting of fighting. Has that shifted at all, in your view? Have you had any reaction to the book from the NHL or NHLPA?
I have had no reaction, but I didn’t expect any. Both the NHL and NHLPA knew I was writing the book, just as they knew I was writing the newspaper story previously. What would they say? The league is now involved in lawsuits, which will only grow in size and scope in the coming years. And, frankly, I did not set out to write this book to explain the state of the NHL in 2014, but to tell readers a narrower tale of a boy who worked his way through the hockey apparatus to get everything he ever dreamed, only to die a lonely death at age 28. I wanted the book to be personal both personal and timeless, to explain an era in our sports culture that may change by the time someone picks up the book, now or many years from now.

Your portrayal of Derek Boogaard’s transformation into a fighter in the WHL casts a harsh light on the realities of Canadian junior hockey. Writing the book, did you feel like you gained a particular insight into the culture of the country where hockey means so much?
Of course, I wonder if the story would have been different had it been reported and written by someone either closely tied to junior hockey in Canada or, conversely, by someone with little understanding of hockey at all. I’d like to think that my background made me well-suited for the examination; I covered the NHL for a few years, but not much recently, and I’m an American. It’s my job as a newspaper reporter to learn, almost every day, about things and people I may not know well, and be able to explain them to a broader audience with both fairness and accuracy. Junior hockey is fascinating — rich in tradition, but filled with so many potential pitfalls. It’s not unlike the NCAA in the United States — teenagers enticed to move far from home for the promise of, at worst, an education, and, at best, a professional career. But the hockey players are a few years younger, so the risks might be greater.

It’s interesting that I’m answering this question at a time when we’re learning of a $180 million class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of junior players in the Canadian Hockey League, arguing that their compensation falls below minimum-wage laws.

With all that we’re learning about head trauma and CTE, do you think that hockey is headed into the territory in which NFL finds itself now, where the morality of watching and cheering for a sport that does such damage to its players is increasingly in question?
I do. At minimum, I think hockey will follow the arc of football, where increasing numbers of former players question the treatment they received, and parents of young players question the value of playing the game at all. The NFL, by its own testimony, estimates that close to one-third of its former players will suffer from effects of brain damage. The damage may not be so severe in hockey; we don’t know, frankly. But we now live in a time where we know enough to be worried, and, perhaps, not enough to know what to do. But if you knew that you had a one-in-three chance of having life-altering brain damage, would you still play? What ratio would be acceptable for professional athletes paid millions? For minor leaguers trying to crack the majors? For children?

Has the way you look at sports changed over the past four years?
I don’t think so. None of this comes as a great surprise, unfortunately. I learned a long time ago that the profit-making entities in sports will not always make decisions in the best interest of the safety of their athletes until such decisions are foisted upon them — perhaps in the guise of lawsuits, or a decline in popularity, or in an increasing number of brain examinations.

Boy on Ice: The Life and Death of Derek Boogaard
John Branch
(W.W. Norton, 372 pp., $32.99)

This interview has been edited.

Aside

Q: Did you read Roenick’s book?
A: No, I didn’t. And I didn’t read Probert’s memories either. It’s not that interesting to me.

Q: Will you write a book?
A: I doubt it.

• former Detroit Red Wing Slava Kozlov in an interview with Sport Express, October 17, 2014, via Alessandro Seren Rosso at The Hockey Writers

 

 

 

this week: a dog like a robot and the guy who’s not god

Ace de Québec: Boy with stick and skates on the street of the provincial capital, circa the latter 1950s. (Photo: Rosemary Gilliat Eaton, Bibliothèque et Archives Canada)

Ace de Québec: Boy with stick and skates on the street of the provincial capital, circa the latter 1950s. (Photo: Rosemary Gilliat Eaton, Bibliothèque et Archives Canada)

Drew Doughty’s 2014 playoff motto was “The heart doesn’t get tired.” That’s not news, I guess, unless you hadn’t heard it before. It’s etched in his Stanley Ring, so that he at least will never forget: #HeartDoesn’tGetTired it says there.

Colorado went to Montreal on the weekend, with their coach Patrick Roy, but without winger Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau, who was already there. He’d played for the Avalanche for two seasons before a trade in the summer made him a Canadien. Reminded by reporters that Roy had said that he wasn’t a top-six forward for the Avalanche, Parenteau responded.

“He’s entitled to his opinion, and that’s not to say that I respect it,” he told The Gazette. “His opinion, it’s not the truth. This guy is not God, it’s not him who invented hockey, either.”

Buffalo lost 5-1 to Anaheim. “That,” said Buffalo coach Ted Nolan when it was all over, “was like an NHL team playing a pewee team.”

Toronto, meanwhile, lost 4-1 to Detroit on Friday night. Said, Leafs’ defenceman Jake Gardiner afterwards: “It seemed like they had more players on the ice than we did.”

Not a lot of South Floridians went to see the Panthers play at their rink this last week, which made for a sorry sight for cameras panning across empty seats. Announced attendance for the game against Ottawa Monday night was 7,311, the smallest in the team’s 21-year history. @FlaPanthers had a message afterwards for the few, the loyal, the lonely:

Loyalty is best earned on the back of virtue, honor and integrity. Together, we climb. Thanks to all who came. #FlaPanthers

Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston revealed that Toronto defenceman Cody Franson is, quote, unafraid to use his body and possesses a booming shot. He also has excellent on-ice vision.

Carolina called up 23-year-old centre Brody Sutter this week, Duane’s son, making him the ninth Sutter to play in the NHL. “There will be more,” Uncle Darryl warned from Los Angeles.

In that Detroit loss, it was widely agreed, the Leafs were outplayed from the moment the puck dropped. Towards the end of the game — and for the second time in this young season— a less-than-gruntled fan threw a Leafs’ sweater to the ice. From the broadcast booth, former goaltender Greg Millen said it was tough to watch. “The ultimate insult for a player is that. For a lot of them. For sure.” Continue reading

Aside

Mike Santorelli scored the Leafs’ only goal, infusing some life into Air Canada Centre 21 seconds into the third. It quickly dissipated, and then more than halfway through a fan tossed his jersey onto the ice.

It’s the second time in four home games this season that a fan has done that.

• The Canadian Press, October 17, 2014

Aside

please limit

The Gazette, Montreal, April 2, 1931

Image

paper boys

bouchard

Paper Boys: Montreal teammates Butch Bouchard and Jack LeClair catch up on the news in Boston, circa 1954. (Photo: Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)

tosser

sweater

A fan leaving the game with seven minutes remaining in the third period tossed his Leafs sweater on the ice to the left of Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Calls for coach Randy Carlyle’s job will start to flow if the Leafs don’t win soon … There’s no question that James Reimer should start versus the New York Rangers on Sunday in Manhattan, which probably was the plan no matter what happened against the Penguins. Bernier already could use a mental break …
• Terry Koshan, The Toronto Sun
October 11, 2014

Linesman Don Henderson moved in, scooped it up, bunched it to himself like sinful laundry that had fallen to the cathedral floor. He had it handed off the ice and out of sight so fast that it seemed as though the delicate modesty of the whole Air Canada Centre depended on his urgency.

The Leafs were losing, of course. Had lost their season opener, against Montreal, were following that up with an ugly showing against Sidney Crosby’s Penguins. They were getting hammered, as Cathal Kelly wrote for a Thanksgiving Monday’s column in The Globe and Mail, when …

some lonely hero without any real problems trod down to ice level and chucked a $150 Toronto jersey onto the ice. The ACC crowd responded with roars, clapping him up the stairs and out into the night.

The meaning of the gesture was lost on no-one. That didn’t it didn’t have to spelled out and probed and glossed in the press. “It seems the fanbase’s patience is beginning to wear thin,” Kaitlyn McGrath wrote in The National Post. Mike Zeisberger of the Toronto Sun called the anonymous fan disgruntled. And: embittered. Other fans, nearby, high-fived him as he departed the rink. That’s what reporter David Alter saw.

Cathal Kelly:

The scene was reminiscent of the Tank Man at Tiananmen Square. Except completely pointless, as well as annoyingly bourgeois.

Uncrushed by armour, the guy seems not to have been charged by police, either. That happens, of course, sometimes. I guess because he was leaving the building he didn’t need to be ejected by staff. Is he now banned? No-one seems to be mentioning anything like that.

Fair enough, said Zeisberger: the Leafs didn’t make the playoffs last year, after all.

Or — no. Sorry. Not cool:

No matter how ticked you might be, chucking anything onto the ice — be it jersey, waffle, other breakfast food, etc. — is unacceptable. Don’t be idiots. Boo, hiss, jeer if you want, but let it end there.

Because — danger? Tossing stuff on the ice is a hazard to those who skate there, which is why the NHL bans it and deals so severely with the tossers (octopi excepted, mostly). Never mind that, historically, stuff-tossing has been as much a part of the game as, oh, I don’t know, players punching one another in the head. The point is, it’s not civil, it’s unsafe, nobody wants to be associated with a sport in this day and age where that kind of thing would be tolerated. Continue reading

Aside

this week: giggling, sometimes, on the internet, looking at gordie’s numbers

Cherry

Coach, Cornered: Award-winning Victoria, B.C. artist Brandy Saturley is, in her own words, “a prolific painter and guerrilla-style photographer.” Hockey is a subject she returns to again and again on canvas. “Desaturated Cherry” was part of a December, 2013 show in Edmonton, #ICONICCANUCK. “My Dad loves Don Cherry,” she was explaining recently. “As a kid growing up I loathed sitting there listening to him when I could be watching Video Hits. As an adult, Cherry continued to infiltrate my life through the media and with his loud custom-made suits. He was pretty hard to ignore.” Thinking about painting national icons, she read up on his life and career. “I came to find myself respecting a great Canadian and a great businessman, so much a part of the Canadian landscape and hockey heritage. Painting Cherry in black and white against a loud CBC logo allowed me to focus on the serious side of Cherry and the real man behind the persona, with the CBC becoming the loudness in the room.” For more of Brandy Saturley’s arresting work, hockey and otherwise, visit http://www.brandysaturley.com. On Twitter, she’s @artofbrandys.

We learned, this week, that the Toronto Maple Leafs have new slogans adorning the walls of their dressing room this season:

Blue noise

If you are not in you’re in the way

Unite a city

That’s how James Mirtle from The Globe and Mail reported them; as a big fan of punctuation, I’m really hoping that on the wall itself, the middle one has a comma.

Training camp had come and was gone, this week, time for the NHL to drop the puck for its 97th season, though not before the @NHLBruins let the world know that Milan Lucic was looking forward to, quote, “taking a hit, getting in on the forecheck, battling on the wall, knowing where you are in the D zone again.”

From Los Angeles, we heard from @AnzeKopitar:

One of the best thing [sic] about hockey season… Afternoon nap! #boom

King's bling (Photo: @DustinBrown23)

King’s bling (Photo: @DustinBrown23)

The Kings handed out rings, too. That was another L.A. thing from the week. “This is pretty special,” tweeted @DustinBrown23. “But my favorite ring…… Is still the next one.”

Which, according to EA Sports, is coming. Possibly. If the simulation they ran on their NHL 15 video game means anything, which it can’t, really, can it, other than as a clever bit of product marketing that the NHL and actual purveyors of news were happy to promote. In EA’s virtual 2014-15 NHL season, the Kings ended up beating the Bruins in six games to win the Stanley Cup again. A story on NHL.com deemed this a “prediction” while explaining:

EA Sports conducts its simulation using artificial intelligence and real-life player data. In an attempt to provide realism to the game, injuries and hot streaks are also thrown into the mix. EA Sports NHL 15 is also the first edition of the popular series to use 12 Player NHL Collision Physics and Real Puck Physics to more authentically replicate the unpredictability of what happens on the ice.

In Toronto, a former King, Matt Frattin, was back with the team that gave him his NHL start. Kevin McGran from The Toronto Star listened to Leafs’ coach Randy Carlyle on his disappointing September:

Frattin has had a mediocre camp. He needs to find a way to regenerate some enthusiasm. I feel sorry for him right now. The puck is not his friend. It’s going away from him versus bouncing for him.

Bruce A. Heyman, new U.S. ambassador to Canada/old Chicago Blackhawks fan, tweeted from Ottawa:

Ok… It’s beginning!!! #Hockey season is about to begin. Excited to experience it here in #Canada #myfirstcanadianwinter.

The New York Islanders traded for two defenceman on Puck-Drop Eve, acquiring Nick Leddy from Chicago and Johnny Boychuk from Boston.

@StanFischler thought that boded well:

#Garth Snow’s latest double-dip, Boychuk-Leddy spells playoff-bound. Solid up front and in goal.

Leddy (@ledpipe08) was quick to tweet:

I want to thank the @NHLBlackhawks and all the fans for everything! Excited to start my new adventure with the @NYIslanders

Boychuk had mixed feelings. He told Joe Haggerty from Comcast Sportsnet about his bond with Boston.

It’s tough because this is the place where I started my career. I grew to love Boston. This is a pretty easy place to play. The fans really took me in, and I worked as hard as I could so people would appreciate me. This is the kind of town where they like those types of players.

They liked that I would throw big hits on people, and sacrifice my body to help us win. It’s a working man’s town, and I always felt that love. I think it was just a really good fit for me, and the people are just fucking awesome.

Continue reading

Aside

l chabotOn this day in 1946 Lorne Chabot died in Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital at the age of 46, “his fighting heart finally stopped” (tolled The Globe) “by a lingering illness that had kept him bed-ridden for more than a year.”

His NHL career started in 1926 with the New York Rangers and he went on to play for Toronto, Chicago, and Montreal’s Canadiens and Maroons before his playing days came to an end in 1937 with the New York Americans. He won two Stanley Cups and a Vézina Trophy.

“Poison from osteo-arthritis and progressive nephritis, a chronic disease, had infiltrated his whole system,” The Globe reported, “and although Chabot had stoutly maintained he would recover, his friends have known for many months that he was a dying man.”

Frank Selke was manager of the Leafs during Chabot’s time in Toronto. He volunteered that the goaltender’s mechanical ability was exceeded only by his inspirational qualities. He was liked, Selke said, by all the players behind whom he had ever guarded a net.

in the news

puck struck goldham 1

Puckstricken: Detroit defenceman Bob Goldham takes a puck to the forehead in a game against Toronto in the 1950s …

Overall it was a lacklustre night at times for the Leafs after a spirited opening stretch as turnovers and the frustrating inability to clear the puck struck back.
• The Toronto Sun, October 9, 2014

Ericsson’s season came to an end in mid-March after a puck struck the middle finger of his left hand. He had to have surgery to stabilize several fractures and repair a partially torn tendon.
• Fox Sports Detroit, September 10, 2014

Forward Boone Jenner could miss more than a month after a puck struck his left hand, the latest in a string of direct hits for the Columbus Blue Jackets’ first line.
• Eurosport.com, October 1, 2014

A few inches lower, and it would have been a grisly injury for Nick Ritchie in his first game of the season with the Peterborough Petes. On Thursday, the Anaheim Ducks first-round pick was cutting through the high slot against the Belleville Bulls when Petes teammate Matt Spencer stepped into a slapshot. The puck struck Ritchie’s cheek and tore the visor right off his helmet, causing a hush to fall over the crowd in Peterborough that was welcoming the team’s star player back to the fold.
• Yahoo! Sports Canada, October 3, 2014

puck struck goldham 2

… causing concern among Leafs and teammates and referees alike …

puck struck goldham 3

… leading to a trainer’s towel to the temple while Red Storey (left) looks on.