happy birthday, mr. president


Say It’s Your Birthday: Vladimir Putin on the ice with teammates, including Valery Kamensky and Alexander Mogilny. (Photo: kremlin.ru)

He said he would — at least, his spokesman said he would — and he did it: Russian President Vladimir Putin played hockey in Sochi on Wednesday on his 63rd birthday. The game was broadcast live on Russian TV; as the teams of former professional stars and oligarchs and politicians (including Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu) put to ice, Russian naval vessels in the Caspian Sea began a missile bombardment of targets in Syria.

TASS.ru reports that Putin’s team won, 15-10 in a game in which International Ice Hockey Federation president René Fasel served as referee. I guess the victors could gave done without Pavel Bure’s hattrick, but Putin’s seven goals were obviously vital to the effort. After the game, Russian Ice Hockey Federation president Vladislav Tretiak awarded the Putin a medal for gall. That, or else it was the nation’s highest hockey award, recognizing loyalty to and love for the game.

A detail of Nikas Safronov's Putin portrait (russieinfo.com)

A detail of Nikas Safronov’s Putin portrait (russieinfo.com)

None of that’s surprising. I am puzzled that they didn’t let Putin score all the goals, but he seems to have to been satisfied with just the seven. And it’s not as though there weren’t other gifts, as well. His teammates presented him with a portrait of himself garbed for hockey, in mid-crossover, by the painter Nikas Safronov.

BBC Russia reported that the rapper Timati recorded a song for Putin, along with a video filmed in Moscow’s Square, called “My Best Friend,”

in which he calls Putin calls his “white lord,” “the most desirable man to all Russian women” and “a great hero.”

Meanwhile, in the president’s honour, (from wired.co.uk):

Luxury Russian jeweller Caviar has released a limited edition iPhone 6s that features a golden emblem of Putin’s head. But you had best be quick — Caviar is only selling 63 of the gold and titanium phone, and each costs £2,000.

There were more paintings, too, and not just in Sochi. An exhibition called “Putin Universe” got underway this week in both London and Moscow, collecting 30 works in which the Russian supremo has been painted — non-ironically, as far as I can tell — as figures from history, including Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi, Muhammad Ali, and Robin Hood.

Finally, there’s … well, I’m not quit sure what to make of the Irina Romanovskaya chapter of the president’s birthday. As you probably already knew, she’s an artist in St. Petersburg who paints with her breasts. Were you aware of the Putin portrait she recently executed, all in blue, using only her left breast?

No, I wasn’t either, for a long, long time before yesterday. I thought at first there had to be an interesting reason why she does what she does, but I don’t think that now. There’s no evidence of that. You can read about her oeuvre here, and even witness her method, if that’s something you want to do. Romanovskaya apparently travelled with the Putin portrait to Moscow this week with the idea of presenting it to the man itself. Not to spoil the birthday mood, but I have to report that at last word the painting had been stolen before she could make the president’s day.

iphone putin

hockey art news Russians updates

the querrie way: if you want to fight, go over to france

Jimmy Murphy was supposed to coach Toronto’s first NHL team that winter long ago, before he was felled by a mishap so patently Canadian that it probably deserves to be commemorated on a stamp: he slipped on an icy December sidewalk.

This was 1917. I’ll refer you to Deceptions And Doublecross: How The NHL Conquered Hockey, Morey Holzman’s and Joseph Nieforth’s fine book, for background on the league’s difficult birth that year — for the moment, let’s stay with Murphy, the man tabbed to steer the brand-new temporary Toronto team that would play out the Arena Gardens on Mutual Street, though its owners were in Montreal. Murphy sounds like he was the right man for the job: St. Michael’s College had won senior OHA championships under his guidance, as well as an Allan Cup.

I don’t know what he battered or broke on that cold sidewalk, but he was sufficiently injured to ask to be relieved of his duties. That’s when Charlie Querrie got the call. He was a well-known personality in Toronto circles, a former lacrosse star who also managed Tecumsehs of the National Lacrosse Union. He was also, conveniently, manger of the arena on Mutual.

He didn’t waste any time getting to work. First thing, he appointed Dick Carroll as assistant manager and trainer. Next, he put his team on the ice for practice, at 5 p.m. on December 6, the day after he took the job.

This was a team that featured Harry Cameron, Jack Adams, Cor Denneny, and Reg Noble. Toronto ended the season by winning the Stanley Cup, of course. But the season opened, on December 19, with a 9-10 home loss to the Montreal Wanderers.

Before that game, Querrie posted a notice in the team’s dressing room laying out his no-nonsense philosophy for the players in his charge. It seemed familiar, when I first came across this 15-point communiqué, the tone and the pithy candor. I don’t know that Mike Babcock would recognize the name Charlie Querrie let alone have come across his hockey creed, but it does, I have to say, read like a chapter of the latest Leaf coach’s forceful 2012 book Leave No Doubt: A Credo For Chasing Your Dreams.

As published ahead of the 1917-18 season, Charlie Querrie’s memo to his players went like this:

  1. First and foremost do not forget that I am running this club. It won’t do you any good to tell your troubles to the public and the other players. If you have a grievance, tell it to me.

  2. When practice is called at a certain hour, be there. If you are late we want to know why and, and even then the “why” isn’t an excuse.

  3. You are paid to give your best services to the club. Condition depends a lot on how you behave off the ice.

  4. Remember that it does not require bravery to hit another man over the head with a stick. If you want to fight, go over to France.

  5. Time spent in the penalty box is time wasted. You are not expected to take all abuse without going back at your opponent, but do not be foolish.

  6. Remember that there are generally five other players on a team with you. You are not expected to play the whole game.

  7. You are not out on the ice to score all the goals. Combination with the rest of the players will probably result in more goals than individual play.

  8. You will not be fined for doing the best you can. You will be punished for indifferent work or carelessness. If you are anxious to win all the time you will be a good player. Indifference or lack of pepper is one thing we never did like.

  9. Remember it means as much to you to win the championship as it does to me. If you do not play as well as you can, you are not only hurting yourself, but the rest of the team and your supporters.

  10. Do not think that you are putting something over on the manager when you do anything you should not. You are getting paid to play hockey, not to be a good fellow.

  11. If playing hockey is going to be your business in the winter, remember that the wise man attends to his business and generally gets better results. You future in the game depends on how you play the game.

  12. It is the public who pay your salary. Show them the best you can and your chances of better financial results in the future will be good.

  13. Don’t always imagine you are getting the worst of it from the officials. Play hockey and they will see you secure an even break.

  14. Don’t knock your fellow players. Remember they might also have a hammer concealed somewhere and might be tempted to use it.

  15. Play hockey, attend practices regularly, take care of your condition, and you will not suffer any penalties. Remember the first paragraph and be sure to tell your troubles to me: I am an easy boss if you do your share. If you do not want to be on the square and play the hockey you are capable of, turn your uniform into Dick Carroll and go at some other work.

how to play

post-war puck-drop: there’s no sense talking about it later

Private Practice: Smokey Smith tosses the inaugural puck of the 1945-46 NHL season for

Private Practice: Smokey Smith tosses the inaugural puck of the 1945-46 NHL season for the Leaf Billy Taylor and Boston’s Milt Schmidt. King Clancy is the referee.

NHL hockey ended in April of 1945, but the war still had some fight in it. Reds In Heart of Berlin was the main headline one day in The Globe and Mail, just above the news of Huns Routed in Italy. Inside, the same edition that carried news that Major Conn Smythe’s Toronto Maple Leafs had beaten the Red Wings in Detroit to secure the Stanley Cup also counted 45 Canadians in the Today’s Casualties column: Dead 10, Missing 29, Prisoner 6.

It was all over, of course, by the time hockey rolled around again that October. The Boston Bruins were in Toronto to open the season at Maple Leaf Gardens on Saturday the 27th, and the news in that day’s Globe was that the Toronto Scottish, the first Canadian Army battalion to have deployed to England at the start of the war, had arrived back home in Halifax.

opening game 45For the hockey game, the Leafs mobilized the brass and pipes of the 48th Highlanders, as they’d done every on opening night since 1931 (and have continued to do up to and including tonight’s meeting with Montreal). They’d also invited to the game five of the 16 Canadian servicemen to have received the Victoria Cross, the British Empire’s highest military honour, given for extraordinary courage and devotion to duty.

Major David Currie was there, along with Majors Paul Triquet and John Mahony, and Corporal Fred “Toppy” Topham. They had, variously, organized at great personal risk a defense against German armour at the Falaise Gap (Currie) and, in Italy, showed “superb contempt for the enemy” in the face of fierce enemy attack during which they encouraged their men with the words “Ils ne passeront pas” (Triquet) and (again in Italy), against a vastly superior enemy force, crawled forward to save a section of his company despite having been wounded in the head and twice in the leg and refusing medical aid in order to continue to direct the defence of a bridgehead (Mahony) and parachuted in as a medical orderly as part of an Allied assault on the east bank of the Rhine where, despite being shot through the nose, continued to aid and extricate companions under heavy German fire, including rescuing three soldiers trapped in a burning gun-carrier despite an officer warning him to stay away (Topham).

The fifth man showing his V.C. that evening was Private Ernest Smith — “Smokey” — the only private soldier to have won the medal during the Second World War. He was the man the Leafs brought out to centre ice to drop a ceremonial puck almost a year to the day after he’d been in Italy with his regiment, the Seaforth Highlanders, trying to cross the Savio River.

Smith, who was 30, had enlisted in 1940. Like Major Mahony, he hailed from New Westminster, B.C. As the newspapers told it when he went to Buckingham Palace to receive his medal from King George VI, he’d almost single-handedly held off a German counterattack, turning back three Panther tanks, a pair of half-tracks, and some 30 infantrymen. The V.C. citation describing his efforts is worth reading — it’s here, along with those for the rest of the recipients mentioned above.

“Here’s a little present from me to you,” the King is supposed to have told him at the investiture.

“I couldn’t help doing what I did,” was what Smith said after he’d received his medal, “after seeing my buddy after he was wounded.” The Ottawa Citizen:

He saw “red” at that point and “didn’t give a hoot” so long as he avenged his pal.

Otherwise, he preferred to keep quiet. “It’s okay to kill men when you have to,” he said, “but there’s no sense talking about it later.”

After Smith died in 2005 at the age of 91, his body lay in state at the House of Commons in Ottawa. In 1945, was fêted across Canada and lent his fame to the campaign to sell War Bond. The government granted him a gratuity: each March and September, they’d send him $25, for life.

At Maple Leaf Gardens, he and Major Currie talked about how much weight each man had added since leaving active duty. Currie said he’d gained 35 pounds, while Smith only admitted to 15, “in the wrong place.”

The game ended in a 1-1 tie in front of 14,608 spectators — one of the largest crowds the Leafs had seen at a home-opener, the papers agreed. Bill Shill scored for Boston before Bob Davidson tied it up. Paul Bibeault was the Boston goaltender; Baz Bastien guarded the Toronto end.

Private Smith said it had been so long since he’d seen hockey that he’d forgotten how the game was played.

At Ease: Maple Leafs coach Hap Day chats with Private Smith.

At Ease: Maple Leafs coach Hap Day chats with Private Smith.

wars and hockey

tomorrow, putin will play hockey

putin amok

Depends, I guess, on how big a hockey fan you are, but if you’ve got tomorrow circled on the calendar, chances are you’re either eagerly looking ahead to the start of a new NHL season or else counting down to the annihilation of the world by fire, which several Christian groups say is imminent.

You might also be Russian President Vladimir Putin, who’ll be turning 63 on Wednesday. Whatever may be happening elsewhere, it’s hard to see him altering his birthday plans. “Tomorrow, Putin will play hockey,” the presidential spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, announced today. He’ll be spending the big day in Sochi, Russia, skating with a gang of old friends, oligarchs, powerful politicians, and hockey heroes.

RIA Novosti recalls that the last time the Russian leader played in Sochi was at a “gala match” in May, when Putin’s team Armageddon’d the other guys 18-6 on the strength of eight presidential goals.

This time out, he’ll be joined on the ice by the Rustam Minnikhanov, president of the Russian federal republic of Tartarstan, and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, along with the brotherly gas and power oligarchs Arkady and Boris Rotenberg. I don’t know whether there’s room for them on Putin’s team, whose line-up already includes actual hockey players like Pavel Bure, Vladimir Myshkin, Vyacheslav Fetisov, and Alexei Kasatonov. They have, the Russian press is reporting , already prepared a little surprising something for Putin.

“It is a gift from all the hockey stars of the world of hockey in a sign of respect,” Fetisov told Business Online. “We think he’ll like it.”

Fetisov also testified to the president’s outstanding physical fitness. They scrimmage together often in Moscow; according to the former Soviet captain, they can sometimes skate for a half-hour without Putin showing any fatigue.

This comes not quite a week after former Canadian prime minister Jean Chretien suggested that Canada should be glad of Russia’s military efforts in Syria.

Campaigning for Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in British Columbia last Thursday, Chretien opined that the West shouldn’t scorn Russia’s involvement in the fight against the Islamic State because … well, as mentioned, he’s a hockey player.

“I met Putin,” Chretien said. “He’s a tough guy. He’s clear-minded. But to run Russia you cannot be a pussycat. They play hockey very rough in the corners.”

(Illustration from The Globe and Mail, October 5, 2015, courtesy of David Parkins, http://www.davidparkins.com)



cl c + refs 1

Clarence Campbell was an old referee in 1946, as in erstwhile — it had been almost ten years since he’d worn the whistle in the NHL. He had a new job now: that September, the league’s board of governors elected him president during their semi-annual meeting at Montreal’s Windsor Hotel. It was an office he’d keep for 31 years. That first day, in a statement, Campbell had nice things to say about his predecessor, Red Dutton, and also this: “I have unbounded confidence in the future of hockey, not only in Canada and the United States, but throughout the whole world. As Canada’s national sport I believe it has made tremendous strides in the past 30 years and in my opinion there is no limit to its expansion not only on this continent but in Europe.”

A month later, Campbell was in Detroit for the start of the new season. That’s where he met, above, with a bevy of officials to read to them from the rulebook. From the left, that’s linesman Doug Young; referee Bill Chadwick; Campbell; linesmen Norval Fitzgerald; and Stan McCabe.

Campbell told reporters on that same visit that his directive to referees going into the season was to hold their noise. “There will be a full 60 minutes of action,” he said. “I’ve instructed all officials to keep the game moving and to lay off the whistle unless it’s absolutely necessary.” The Leafs and Red Wings didn’t make it easy for Chadwick, who ended up calling 12 penalties in a game that ended in a 3-3 tie. For the Leafs, the miscreants included Bill Ezinicki and Gus Mortson. For the Wings, Adam Brown somehow picked up the game’s lone fighting major, while a rookie making his NHL debut took two minors. Gordon Howe was his name, 18 years old. He scored his first goal, too.


electoral froth 2015: practicing barbaric culture


fighting politics

luncheon mates  

preseason feed

Forklifting: Amid cutlery and condiments and watermelon wedges, Chicago linemates take to the table during the Black Hawks training camp in September of 1971. From the right, that’s left winger Dennis Hull (cheeseburger), centreman Stan Mikita (vinaigrette), and right winger Cliff Koroll (big bowl of … rice? mashed? Rice, I think). (Photo: Ray Gora, Chicago Tribune)


this week: are you a hockey player or are you just someone who plays hockey?

Forty-three years ago this week, visiting Moscow with a Canadian rep team, a right winger, Waterloo-born, in Ontario, went shopping. The Minnesota North Stars’ Bill Goldsworthy that is, seen above: he bought a balalaika.

Fast forward to this past week, when an NHL deputy commissioner was talking about newly enhanced security measures at all 30 of the league’s rinks. Fans going to games will now have to walk through magnetometers — those metal detectors you know from airports.

“For better or for worse,” Bill Daly said, “we live in an uncertain world, and it has to be of paramount importance to us, the health and safety of our fans. An extra precaution that might take an extra 30 seconds for each fan I think is more than worth it if it means you’re creating a safer environment for your fanbase.”

A right winger, meanwhile, sat down to read a statement to a gathering of reporters on the opening day of the Chicago Blackhawks’ training camp in South Bend, Indiana.

“I am confident,” Patrick Kane said, “once all the facts are brought to light, I will be absolved of having done nothing wrong.”

Anything, he may have meant. Accused of sexually assaulting a woman in August, he’d arrived to play hockey while a New York state grand jury considered whether or not he’ll be indicted.

Chicago management said they saw no problem with having Kane attend camp as though nothing had happened. Fans cheered when he stepped on the ice for the first time.

Up north and over the border, a former centreman — the greatest ever to have played the game? — was surprised, this week, by just how excellent this collection of “better casual clothing” is that Sears Canada is selling in his name.

The new No 99 Wayne Gretzky Collection will (and I quote) keep men looking neat, handsome and fashionable this Fall.

20150909_C7711_PHOTO_EN_493076These are polos we’re talking about, t-shirts, knit jackets, hoodies. Mercerized cottons, cashmeres and merino wool give this collection a luxurious feel, offering men a complete look: I have this on good authority. “The long-sleeved 100% cotton shirts come in a variety of patterns, including plaid, printed and checked.”

“Sears got my style down when they created this collection,” Gretzky confided in a press release. “I had the opportunity to wear all the pieces, from the t-shirts and sweaters to the jeans and dress pants, and the style, quality and value is excellent. I thoroughly expected it was going to be good, but I didn’t know it would be this good.”

At that Blackhawks press conference, Kane took questions from reporters.

Q: Patrick, how tough is it to focus on hockey with so many things going on right now?

Kane: I’m focussed. I’m happy to be here at camp. It’s an unbelievable venue here at Notre Dame. There’s a lot of history in this venue. I know we’ve had some success coming back here the last couple of years. It’s good to be back here again. I’m happy to see all my teammates and get done with our fitness testing today. It seems like we have a fun weekend ahead of us, so I’m looking forward to enjoying that. I’d like to keep to hockey questions only.

Q: Are you going to stop drinking?

Kane: Hey, Mark, I appreciate the question. I wish I could answer those questions right now, but there is a legal matter going on that I can’t answer that.

Q: Patrick, to all the people who believed this stuff was behind you, do you feel like you let them down, do you feel like you let the organization down this summer?

Kane: I appreciate the question, David. I’d like to answer that, but at this time with the legal process ongoing it’s just not a question I can answer. I appreciate it. I’m sorry I can’t answer it and thank you for the question, though.

PR Man: Thank you very much. We’ll excuse Patrick here.

Kane may be more important than ever to the Blackhawks, said someone, a pundit, referring to the vital cogs the defending Stanley Cup-champions lost over the summer.

“It doesn’t look like any of it has affected him,” said another Chicago winger, Bryan Bickell, asked about Kane and possible distractions. Also, sic: “He feels comfortable and when he left he was a happy Patrick Kane from when he left is what he is now.”

A Montreal defenceman pledged C$10-million over seven years to the Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation who, for its part, unveiled The P.K. Subban Atrium last week. The man himself was on hand to say a few words, including several to Elise Béliveau about how he hoped that this was something that would have made her late husband Jean feel proud. Also:

“Sometimes I try to think, ‘P.K., are you a hockey player, or are you just someone who plays hockey?’

“I just play hockey. Because one day I won’t be a hockey player anymore, I’ll just be someone who played hockey. So what do I want people to remember me for other than being a hockey player? Well, every time you walk into this hospital, you’ll know what I stand for.

“In life, I believe you are not defined by what you accomplish, but by what you do for others. That’s how I live my life.

“This is not about hockey or about how many goals I score next year or even how the team does.”

this week

hinterland who’s who

Who's Asking? The artist previously as #99 is the only hockey player to have made it into a new series of illustrated biographies for young readers, if not the only Canadian (as long as you're willing to count Alexander Graham Bell). Others in the line-up include Isaac Newton, Christopher Columbus, both Barack and Michelle Obama,  J.K. Rowling, Bob Dylan, and Jesus. (Illustration: Nancy Harrison)

Who’s Asking? The Conservative campaign mascot previously known as #99 is the only hockey player to have made it into a new American series of illustrated biographies for young readers, if not the only Canadian (as long as you’re willing to count Alexander Graham Bell). Others in the line-up include Isaac Newton, Christopher Columbus, both Barack and Michelle Obama, J.K. Rowling, Bob Dylan, and Jesus. (Illustration: Nancy Harrison)


a slight sneer mantled joliat’s lean bronze face

Montreal Mite: On early 1930s ice, left to right, Johnny Gagnon lines up with Canadiens teammates Gus Rivers and Sylvio Mantha.

Montreal Mite: On early 1930s ice, left to right, Johnny Gagnon lines up with Canadiens teammates Gus Rivers (a fellow right wing) and defenceman Sylvio Mantha.

“Morenz was small,” I wrote between hardcovers in Puckstruck, page 141, “five foot nine, 165 pounds. His skates were small, one of his teammates remembered later, and so too were his wingers. His wingers, in fact, were smaller than him: Aurèle Joliat, five-seven, 136 pounds, on the left, while to the right it was Johnny Gagnon, the Black Cat, five-five, 140 pounds. This miniature man, with his tiny skates, his micro sidekicks — just thinking about the three of them, you start to squint.”

More on Morenz’s Montreal flyweight sidekicks from Harold C. Burr, writing in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 20, 1931:

Joliat and Gagnon are two of the lightest men in hockey. Their skates are not the light regulation aluminum blades, for fear they would go right up into the rafter some night, so rumor has it. But that’s likely an exaggeration. You know how newspapers are.

It seems, though, that the little fellows are jealous of their weight, each scheming to be the lighter. Joliat is the taller and looks the heavier. But Gagnon doesn’t take anything for granted in hockey, which is ordinarily a wise precept. One night in Montreal the gamecocks almost came to blows over the question. Joliat shook his gauntleted fist under the Gagnon nose, stopping to get the low altitude, and Gagnon just spluttered back in French.

“Jump on the scales!” taunted Joliat, his volatile nature uppermost.

 “Do it yourself!” screamed Johnny.

So it was arranged. It was a simple question to settle beyond further dispute. The athletes were naked. Possibly there was one more soapsud on Joliat than on Gagnon, but Gagnon wore a drop of perspiration to make up for it. Johnny was first on the scales.

“One hundred and thirty-nine pounds,” intoned the voice of the weigher.

A slight sneer mantled Joliat’s lean bronze face as he lithely took Gagnon’s place.

“One hundred and thrity-six,” cried the voice of the weigher once more.

Johnny Gagnon just gave a stricken gasp and ever since hearing those fatal figures has been trying to lose the three pounds that keep him [sic] for hockey fame. For, after all, it’s quite a distinction to be the smallest man in a game where beef is at a premium. “He’s fast — and heavy,” has been the descriptin of the ideal forward ever since hockey was born in zero prairie weather and grew up in the little crossroads towns.”



books that hockey players read: boom-boom and random harvest

boom boom

I have no idea what Boom-Boom Geoffrion thought of Random Harvest, but I can say this: none of the reviewers was too impressed. None that I’ve read. One of the nicest things that Charles Poore, writing for The New York Times, could summon up to say was that it was like an artichoke, layered.

James Hilton’s fourth novel was a big deal when it was published in 1941. Jonathan Franzen’s Purity big? That sort of thing, I’m thinking. Six years had passed since the English author had published his previous blockbusting book, Goodbye Mr. Chips, which in turn had followed on the heels of Lost Horizon, the book with which he made his name and gave the world (and the word) Shangri-La.

The new novel told the story of a soldier of the First World War, shell-shocked, with no memory of the rich, high-born man he used to be. Charles Poore warned that he was sticking by his rule of never to give away the ending of a book; what he was willing to say was (i) it wasn’t a plausible plot and (ii) he preferred the parts to the whole. It was, he was willing to declare in his end-of-January column, the most dilemma-strewn, plot-clotted story of the year.

In Toronto, the estimable William Arthur Deacon gave it a look for The Globe and Mail. He felt that Hilton had turned his back on — well, everything of significance, in favour of being a mere purveyor of entertainment. He advised the thoughtful reader to leave it alone. “After the inevitable movie, it will pass, slowly at first and then rapidly, into the void of eternal forgetfulness, because there is really nothing much to it.”

It was a bestseller, on both sides of the Atlantic. Deacon was right and also, wrong. A movie did follow, in 1942, starring Ronald Colman and Greer Garson. It made a lot of money, too, while failing to charm the critics.

As for the perpetual void, Boom-Boom Geoffrion obviously braved it long enough to pluck himself the copy with which he’s seen relaxing here. Based on this photo, which dates to the late 1950s, it may have been bedtime fare for two of his young children, too, daughter Linda and elder son Bob. Never mind the critics: the Geoffrions appear to have made it nearly all the way to the end.

random h

books that hockey players read