concussion cartoon 1

Cartoonist Lang Armstrong was a Canadian, born in Edmonton, Alberta, in 1906, before he made the move with his family to Spokane, Washington in 1922. That’s where he started, in high school, drawing cartoons. His first jobs at the Spokane Daily Chronicle were office boy and night switchboard operator, but he eventually made it back to the drawing board. One of his regular contributions as staff artist was the “Stuff And Things” cartoon in the sports pages. In 1939 the Bell Syndicate picked that up, casting it into more than 200 newspapers in Canada and the U.S. as “The Sporting Thing.” Hockey was a subject he returned to because, well, funny. Playing through concussions, for example: what could be droller? These two exemplars date to 1942.


[notes and annotations] dave dryden

Where once there was only a blog, now there’s a book, too: this month, Puckstruck: Distracted, Delighted and Distressed by Canada’s Hockey Obsession went on sale at booksellers across Canada and the United States. If you get to reading it, and you make it as far as page 402, you’ll find yourself steered back here, to, for a list of sources cited and quoted. That’s coming next week; stay tuned.

The same page in the book also mentions notes and annotations. Those will be appearing here on the blog on an ongoing basis through the course of the winter. They’ll include outtakes, updates, oddments, detours, dead-ends, and goose-chases as well as, like today’s installment, illustrations. They’ll appear first here on the front page of the site, according to no particular schedule, in no special order; later, they’ll migrate to the Notes page, navigable via the contents bar above. They’ll refer to a page number in (and perhaps quote a passage from) the book which, as may already have been mentioned, is on sale now.

dave dryden

[p. 322]

In my Dave Dryden drawing, when I look at it now, I can see no Dave Dryden. Studying the eyes — well, there aren’t any, just a vacant mask. The rest of his equipment is stacked up artfully, with the help of coat hangers or pipe cleaners. Dave himself didn’t even notice this, or else he was too polite to say anything. I’d sent the drawing to my grandfather in Edmonton, and he’d passed it on to the Oilers. What was I thinking, sending him a drawing of his empty equipment? He autographed it anyway, and returned it with his regards.

Continue reading

franklin’s erebus and what lies below: any hockey sticks?

polarThe ice is in. The Great Northern Rink that is Canada’s Arctic Ocean may be ever more in peril in these melting times of ours, but it can still fill the imagination of those of us down here in the temperate south of the country with notions of endless ice just waiting for us to show up with our gear. We’ll never skate Baffin Bay or the Northwest Passage; we know that. Doesn’t mean we don’t love the idea that ice-time awaits if we could just get up there. We wouldn’t need much. Sitting on our coats on the shore at Terror Bay, one socken foot in the air, loosening the laces of our Tacks. Hold on a sec, we’re coming. Get us out there on the glassy ice of Simpson Strait, pass us the puck, and we’d be on a breakaway to the Beaufort Sea.

State of the Rink: The spread of Arctic ice, as of October 22, 2014, from the National Snow and Ice Centre in Boulder, Colorado.

State of the Rink: The spread of Arctic ice, as of October 22, 2014, from the National Snow and Ice Centre in Boulder, Colorado.

The only time I was up that way it was August, cold enough but unfrozen. We didn’t have our stuff, anyway, no sticks, no skates: that’s not what we were there for. This was a few years ago now, on King William Island in Nunavut, where Sir John Franklin and his crew ended up in the 1840s, abandoning their ships (we think) in Victoria Strait before trying to walk south and, well — dying on the way. We were five of us on our modest adventure, moving mostly on foot, a bit in a small open boat with an outboard.

Tracing some of the territory Franklin covered, we talked a lot about where his ships might be, especially after we met Louie Kamookak, the Franklin historian who lives in Gjoa Haven, the only settlement on King William. He had lots of stories about the land and the people and some good Franklin-search tales, too. He smiled at us when we asked him if he knew where the ships were. I think he had a pretty good idea — he’d been studying the problem for years — though the smile was as much as he divulged to us.

He took us in his boat to see some Franklin sites near Gjoa Haven, graves on an island, a skull sitting out in the weather. We needed a ride to Douglas Bay and he was glad to take us the next day. It was a gorgeous morning on the Simpson Strait, gleaming sun and sky and water, Canadian mainland on the left, the whole flat Arctic distance mapped out to the right. I remember thinking about being in geography and history both at the same moment, fooling around with that idea in my head as we motored along, as I checked, one more time, to see if I could see any lifejackets anywhere in Louie’s boat.

skull on the shore

Remnant: A skull lies unearthed in Nunavut, along the route that Franklin’s doomed men followed south from King William Island in the late 1840s.

No. None. I didn’t think asking about this was going to help my anxiety but still, I asked. Louie had a drip-coffeemaker aboard that he’d plugged into a generator when we’d beached on the island so that the coffee was brewed by the time we got back from seeing the skull. I liked that; that was smart. But no lifejackets, Louie? He was already smiling his smile that he smiled when I started to ask. I don’t want to die, he said, in a hospital.

Louie has been working with the Parks Canada archeologists who’ve been searching for Franklin’s lost ships over the past several summers and he was happy, he e-mailed this September, when they found one of them. We hadn’t been all that far away, as it turns out, from the wreck that was soon determined to be H.M.S Erebus, Franklin’s flagship. Far to the south, a few of us who’d been up there drinking coffee without lifejackets went to our maps, of course. So close: we’d turned back a mere 80 kilometres + 12 metres of ocean + tons of expert know-how + political resolve + millions dollars of sophisticated marine hardware from finding the wreck for ourselves.

I was as excited as anyone when the news broke. I studied the coppery-coloured sonar images as though I just had to stare and wait for the story of the expedition’s lost years to upload. I got out my Frozen In Time, my Schwatka’s Last Search. I tuned into the press conferences, watched the Prime Minister’s excitement beaming out from Ottawa. I waited for the archeologists to get back up north to dive the wreck. I was thrilled, when they did, to watch them swim cameras past kindlinged decks and corpses of cannon. I was sorry that the divers and the cameras couldn’t stay longer. But the season for swimming in the Arctic was over. The ocean was getting ready to lock itself up for the winter.

Is Franklin’s body aboard Erebus? That’s a big question. If you’ve read David Woodman’s Unravelling The Franklin Mystery: Inuit Testimony (1991) you’ll be familiar with Inuit accounts of 19th-century hunters climbing aboard an abandoned kabloona ship somewhere off King William Island and seeing the body of a tall man belowdecks. Reports from September’s dive seem to indicate that some Erebus cabins are more or less intact so maybe … But I don’t know. Louie thought that Franklin’s tomb is on King William, up somewhere near Victory Point, and that sounds like sense to me.

The archeologists had just 12 hours underwater in September. No surprise, then, that they can’t wait to get back down to the wreck. The latest word is that they’re thinking of trying it in the spring, through the ice.

In the meantime, we have our questions to get us through the winter months. And these, of course, include the fundamental one that has to be asked every time anyone has the chance to explore a major historical shipwreck: any hockey sticks aboard the ship in question and, if so, how many? Any skates?

If Titanic carried a hockey cargo (which it maybe did), what about Erebus and (the yet unfound) Terror? Probably not. But possibly so. Continue reading


a roll of you-know-what

Bad Enough: Fans in the second gallery of Chicago's Stadium prepare for take-off in February of 1942.

Bad Enough: Fans in the second gallery of Chicago’s Stadium prepare for take-off in February of 1942.

There seems to have been a little of the old playoff fever in the crowd at Chicago on Thursday. Spectators were pelting stuff down on the ice from the second gallery and one of these missiles struck Marcel Dheere on the head and opened his scalp for six stitches. The wire story said he was hit by a roll of paper, which left you wondering if a brick or a flatiron was wrapped up in the paper. It now develops that it was a roll of you-know-what stolen from one of the ‘rest rooms’ with the wooden plug intact.

“It’s terrible out there when they get that way and we’re going to complain to the league,” Tommy Gorman said yesterday. “They’ve got to give visiting teams more protection. Even when I was managing the Hawks it was bad enough, though they were only throwing turnips and frozen fish and stuff like that then.”

• Dink Carroll, Montreal Gazette, February 20, 1943


snow job

Snow Job: The men who skate and scrape, at Chicago's Stadium, circa 1941. A year later, in California, Frank Zamboni began to fiddle with tractors and sleds in his quest for a better way of resurfacing skating ice. It was 1949 before he got it right and 1954 by the time the first Zamboni flooded NHL ice, in Boston's Garden.

Snow Job: The men who skate and scrape, at Chicago’s Stadium, circa 1941. A year later, in California, Frank Zamboni began to fiddle with tractors and sleds in his quest for a better way of resurfacing skating ice. It was 1949 before he got it right and 1954 by the time the first Zamboni flooded NHL ice, in Boston’s Garden.

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.”


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.


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


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


please limit

The Gazette, Montreal, April 2, 1931


paper boys


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)