Gary Bettman put a number, this week, on how many times players hit one another across the league over the course of a season: “55,000, give or take.” I don’t think that includes punches to the head, just bodychecks. His point was that, once in a while, there’s a bad one in there, and when there is, the NHL deals out a suspension.
Bettman was in Columbus, where he also talked about Philadelphia’s brawl with Washington wherein one goalie, the Flyers’ Ray Emery, skated down the ice to attack another, Braden Holtby of the Capitals, who didn’t want to fight.
“I don’t think anyone liked it,” Bettman said, “liked what it looked like.”
“Protect yourself,” Emery said, later, is what he told Holtby as he swung at him.
Earlier in the week, Brian Burke published a defence of fighting in USA Today. Some people just don’t get it, he said. The players are all volunteers, and if they want to punch one another, in the head, or anywhere else, who are people who write about the game, never having played it professionally, to dare to tell them not to?
Ken Dryden was in print this week, too, in The Globe and Mail, answering Bobby Orr who, in his new book, makes his own argument in favour of fighting.
You’re wrong, Dryden said. Also:
The model for an NHL without fighting is right there in front of us. It’s not the Olympics, though opponents of fighting often say it is. The Olympics are too unique an experience. The ice surface is bigger. Players put on their nation’s jerseys and, in front of countrymen who know their game and those who don’t, avoid doing things that might be misunderstood.
The real model is the playoffs. It’s the time of year that fans love best; when the best hockey is played.
“This makes hockey look bush,” said Neil Smith on Sportsnet’s Hockey Central, regarding Emery chasing down Holtby to punch his head.
As Washington was fricasseeing the Flyers, fans in Philadelphia cried out: “Fire Holmgren! Fire Holmgren! Fire Holmgren!”
Paul Holmgren, they were talking about, the general manager. “We just folded up like a cheap suit,” he said after the game.
When Semyon Varlamov was arrested this week by Denver police, charged with kidnapping and assaulting his girlfriend, his father said that no crime had been committed, whatsoever.
In the Colorado goalie’s native Russia, the head of the State Duma Committee for Physical Culture, Sport and Youth Affairs suspected that there was a plot afoot. The Voice of Russia quoted Igor Ananskykh:
“The situation is really strange, given that the Sochi Olympics will take place soon and Varlamov is a candidate to become part of our national hockey team which we do count on. What about presumption of innocence? It’s not normal at all. Varlamov will fall out of the training process which will have an impact on his readiness before the Olympics in Sochi. The first thing that comes to my mind is that it is an effort to weaken our national team.”
Varlamov went to court on Thursday and was released on a bond of US$5,000. The Denver Post struggled to put it all in perspective.
The Avalanche are off to a torrid 10-1 start and have become the talk of hockey under first-year coach Patrick Roy. Duchene doesn’t think this will derail the Avalanche.
“You just don’t think about it,” Duchene said. “It’s tough. You’re concerned about your teammate. We all love Varly in here. I can’t say enough great things about him. I think we’re all pretty confident this is going to get resolved pretty quickly.”
Varlamov played on Friday night in Dallas and won. Coach Roy said afterwards that the team wanted to show it’s a family. A reporter asked: Does this show that Varlamov can handle adversity?
Jacques Plante was allergic, meanwhile, to Toronto. That wasn’t this week — that’s an old story, resurrected on the occasion of Friday’s anniversary of the night in 1959 that Plante first put on a mask in the Montreal goal.
Maybe you remember? In New York that night, Andy Bathgate’s backhand from 15 feet caught Plante on the left side of his nose. That’s how The Jacques Plante Story (1972) tells it, the book the goalie wrote with Andy O’Brien. Bathgate “blasted” it — unless, as Raymond Plante’s Jacques Plante: Behind The Mask (1996) says, he “slammed” it.
When Todd Denault talked to Bathgate for Jacques Plante: The Man Who Changed The Face of Hockey (2009), he said it was a wrist shot, not too hard, though decidedly vengeful. Plante had cut him previously in the game, and he was determined to get him back.
Either way, Plante was knocked out. When he revived, Maurice Richard and Dickie Moore helped Canadiens’ trainer Hector Dubois to get him to the dressing room. Dr. Kuzuo Yanagisawa sewed him up: seven stitches. The Rangers had two emergency goalies on call, one of whom, Archie Knox, worked as an usher at Madison Square Garden. O’Brien says Plante’s gums were bleeding when he told coach Toe Blake he wouldn’t be going back in without his mask. “All right, Jacques, you can wear it this time if you want,” Blake said (Raymond Plante) or “Why don’t you wear your mask for the rest of the game?” (Denault) or “Wear your mask if you like, Jacques” (O’Brien).
The organ played “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow” when Plante returned to the ice.
“Pettymys!” lamented a Helsinki newspaper this week, which is Finnish for “Disappointing!” It wasn’t just that a stick to the mouth had cost Teemu Selanne, 43, four or five teeth and 40 stitches; he’ll be out for at least two weeks, which means he’ll miss Anaheim’s only visit to Madison Square Garden this season, which Selanne has said will be his last.
Over in Sweden, Per Bjurman was writing in Tuesday’s Aftonbladet about the brothers Sedin. When they have fun, he said, they make the world watch. “Then, as we saw last night, they accomplish almost anything.”
He’d been watching Vancouver’s game with Washington in which Daniel scored a goal that came (if Google Translate is doing its job) “after he and his brother Henrik spun around in the zone like two flamenco dancers with rocket engines on their ski boots.”
He was asthmatic, and he found it hard to breathe Toronto’s air.
When he used to come to Toronto with the Canadiens, he stayed at the Westbury, near Maple Leaf Gardens, while the rest of the team was at the Royal York. It was a bit better, for breathing, Plante said. He’d come in for games and leave as soon as he could afterwards. When he was traded to Toronto in 1970, the Leafs got him an apartment in what The Ottawa Citizen called “the less-polluted north end.”
“We have good doctors in Toronto,” Leafs’ general manager Jim Gregory told Plante. “Don’t worry, Jacques.”
On the weekend, the Canucks retired Pavel Bure’s number 10, raising it to the rafters of their rink. (In Denver, the Avalanche hoisted defenceman Adam Foote’s old number, 52.)
Dave Babych told Elliot Pap of The Vancouver Sun what it was like to play with Bure. “With Pavel, all you had to do was give him the puck and watch him go. It was fun. And you know what? He was a terrific teammate. He was one of the best teammates I ever had.”
“He was a special player; those guys don’t come along too often,” Scotty Bowman told Tony Gallagher from The Province.
“I haven’t seen a lot of guys like him. Rocket Richard was a lot like that when I saw him when he was in his prime, but it was a different game altogether, the guys then didn’t have the kind of speed they do now.”
Bure was pleased. “With the fans cheering and everybody happy, it was like you scored a goal,” he said, after the ceremony. “I felt like I had to play again. I was in the middle of the ice and 20,000 people were cheering for me.”
ESPN’s Craig Custance wondered whether the New York Rangers were on the verge of a turnaround after opening the season with nine straight games away from home, where their rink was under renovation. An anonymous coach who’d watched them said they were disheveled. He said they looked “midseason tired.”
“It was really hard on the body,” Derick Brassard said of the road-trip, meaning, presumably, his own. “Nine? It’s a lot. It’s a lot and we went from Western Canada to West Coast to Vegas to back to New York, all over the place. I think our room, when we’re talking about our start, there’s never any excuses.”
“I’m sure it’ll be a lot of fun,” said Matt Moulson, after the trade that sent him from the New York Islanders to the league’s worst teams, Buffalo, in exchange for Thomas Vanek.
A big Finnish team, Jokerit, announced they’d be leaving that country’s Elite league to play in the Russian KHL and while some people are objecting, Jokerit’s general manager isn’t one of them. Hockey, said Jari Kurri, is globalizing.
Pittsburgh rookie Jayson Megna, 23, scored two goals in his second NHL game, versus Carolina. The first came when Sidney Crosby took a shot that bounded off (1) a Hurricanes’ defenceman and (2) Megna’s right leg on its way into the net. “Shot it right off my shin pad,” Megna said. “Not how I dreamed it up, but I’ll take them any way I can get them.’”
In The Journal of Sports Economics, Jiří Lahvička published his findings regarding “The Impact of Playoffs on Seasonal Uncertainty in the Czech Ice Hockey Extraliga.” The nub of it? Using a Monte Carlo simulation, he demonstrated that although the additional playoff stage heavily favors higher-seeded teams and consists of many games, it lowers the average probability of the strongest team becoming a champion from 48 to 39%, and thus increases seasonal uncertainty.
A former referee with famous hair, Kerry Fraser wrote about the life of an NHL official at TSN.ca this week — or maybe last. “A typical game-day routine,” he waxed, “would find the officiating crew assemble for a light breakfast and conversation in the Marriott Hotel concierge lounge between 8 am and 9 am.” On the road for up to 20 nights a month, the arbiters fly as much as 150,000 miles in a season. It’s hard work, Fraser said, but oh, the sights they see! Old Montreal! Sonoma, near Phoenix! Venice Beach, not so distant from LA! The sheer beauty of Vancouver, no matter where you look! Yes, there’s the abuse from fans, but the pay is good. “God, I miss all of it.”
Sidney Crosby told NBC’s Bob Costas that he wasn’t too worried about concussions in hockey. “You know what? I’m not that concerned, to be honest. I’m probably more confident than ever that they’ll eventually find ways to help. Whether it’d be prevent them, or to treat them. I think the awareness is at an all-time high now for all sports.”
Ottawa lost to Anaheim and San Jose, so it was time for the captain, Jason Spezza, to call a players-only meeting. The players were frustrated, he sensed. “When you get frustrated it’s useless,” he later explained. “Being frustrated and not talking about it can be a useless emotion so when you get frustrated as a group, and I sensed I was frustrated and the guys were frustrated, that it’s important to talk about it so things don’t just fester.”
It’s a good group, said Senators coach Paul MacLean. “We have some growing pains right now, but at the end of the day if things don’t get better changes get made — that’s the history of the game.”