this week: rattlebrains, eye-gougers, a garbage fire on skates

white house

U.S. President Barack Obama welcomed the Chicago Blackhawks to the White House on Monday, as U.S. presidents do when American teams win the Stanley Cup. Dan Rosen from the NHL.com reported:

Upon arrival at the White House the Blackhawks were feted with an exclusive opportunity to mingle through several rooms in the East Wing, including a few that look out onto the South Lawn and one that has a view of the Rose Garden. They took pictures and marveled at the history.

The President greeted the Blackhawks, shook their hands and received a Stanley Cup replica popcorn maker as a gift prior to delivering his remarks.

“These are not just good hockey players,” President Obama said, among other things, “they’re good guys.”

Meanwhile, to the north and over the border, ‏‪@gmbutts started the week in an owly mood, tweeting:

Anybody ever see ‪#Harper on a pair of skates? Beginning to think this ‪#hockey persona is as phony as George W. Bush’s Texas rancher ‪#cdnpoli

Given that the man asking the question was Gerald Butts, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s chief advisor, it probably wasn’t the answer he was looking for, but a follower soon pointed to this all the same.

Could it have been the man himself, defending his own passion? Because author Stephen J. Harper was out that same day promoting his book, A Great Game, on the eve of its publication. Or not out, exactly: he did call in to Toronto’s Sportsnet 590 The Fan to Bob McCown that he calls himself “an amateur hockey historian” and started writing the book “as a pastime, when I needed to turn my mind off from the grind of work.” Asked about the game’s violence, he said: “I’m sorta torn on that.”

“Look, it wouldn’t bother me if we didn’t have fights. I don’t watch hockey for the fights. What I wouldn’t want to see, though, is, you know, situations where teams would pick fights deliberately to get stars off the ice. I think you’ve got to be careful. I don’t like fighting as a strategy, I actually hate it as a strategy but the fact that it happens once in a while in a tough sport is not a surprise.”

Chris Selley from The National Post was one of the first in with a review, come Tuesday. To sum up: “Impressively thorough, very dull, lacks promised insight.”

The Hall of Hockey’s Fame prepared, this week, to welcome a new class that includes Geraldine Heaney, Fred Shero, Chris Chelios, Brendan Shanahan, and Scott Niedermeyer.

On TSN, James Duthie asked Bobby Clarke why had it taken so long for Shero to ascend? Clarke said he didn’t know but his guess was that people blamed the coach for the bullying way the Flyers played in the early 1970s. It wasn’t him, Clarke said: he never told the team to fight. “You did it yourselves?” Duthie said. “On our own,” said Clarke.

“It’s embarrassing,” a Florida centreman said this week, Shawn Matthias, after the coach there, Kevin Dineen, was fired. “I can’t remember the last time we won. There are no positives right now.”

At http://www.habseyesontheprize.com, Andrew Berkshire frowned on a couple of recent Montreal games:

In Minnesota the Habs played well and were undone by bad coaching decisions. In Colorado, it was a garbage fire on skates, and painful to watch.

Over in Britain’s Rapid Solicitors Elite League, the Belfast Giants hosted Cardiff’s Devils a week ago, and …. Sorry, I’m not sure I can go on without first pausing to emphasize that Britain’s Elite League is sponsored by the United Kingdom’s largest personal-injury law firm, who profess online a special focus on Medical and Dental Negligence, Motorcycle Accidents, and Slips & Trips.

Back to Belfast. Cardiff was in town. At 21:36 of the second period, referee Tom Darnell assessed a match penalty to the Devils’ Andrew Conboy for “excessive roughness.” Conboy, 25, hails from Burnside, Minnesota, and he was a draftee of the Montreal Canadiens, playing several seasons for their Hamilton farm team before crossing the Atlantic. The excess of his roughness involved the Giants’ Jeff Mason and an “attempted eye gouge,” for which Conboy was subsequently suspended — banned, the British papers prefer —for 12 games.

The league’s Brendan Shanahan, a Scottish-born former referee named Moray Hanson, was the one to lay down the law. “There is no place for this type of incident in our game,” he said, “and offenders will be suspended accordingly.”

“It’s not just about wins, it’s how we play,” said Toronto coach Randy Carlyle. He told Mark Zwolinski at The Toronto Star what else he wanted from his players:

“We need more compete level, we need more doggedness around the puck, it all has to go up.”

Bad British-league behaviour isn’t new this month: in October, Moray Hanson banished Derek Campbell, 33, for 47 games for his conduct in a game against the Dundee Stars. Sorry: 47 matches. Born in Nepean, Ontario, Campbell was a winger for the Hull Stingrays until, after that game and before the Hanson got in with his sentence, the team dropped him outright.

The Hull Daily Mail called it a fracas; others said it was an incident. It happened this way: Dundee’s Nico Sacchetti boarded Campbell, for which he was ejected from the game; Campbell followed after Sacchetti to the dressing room; Campbell attacked Sacchetti in front of “shocked fans.”

Hanson’s ban broke down this way:

• fighting off the ice (15 matches)
• attempted eye gouge (12 matches)
• knee to the head (10 matches)
• excessive force to the head resulting in an impact to the ice (10 matches).

“I was extremely upset at the time,” Derek Campbell said, once he’d had some time to think about what had happened against Dundee. “But 100 per cent regret what I did in front of fans and little children who were watching the game. I’m a person who plays on emotions, but it’s no excuse.

“As a father of a little girl, I can only apologize to any little girl or boy who was watching and to any fan who felt offended.”

Campbell’s teammate Jeff Smith, from Regina, had his own thoughts about the whole affair:

“I know they are making a point of Soupy, but 47 games, that’s outrageous, I think. I think it’s an absolute joke. It’s a disgrace what Soupy did, but 47 games is just as much a disgrace.”

Who did you hate to play against? Chris Chelios was asked at a Hall of Fame fan-forum this weekend. Easy, he said: Dale Hunter of the Quebec Nordiques.

At USA Today, Kevin Allen reported (this week) that fighting has fallen by 20.5 per cent this season without the NHL’s having done much at all, really, to curb it.

“There are fewer heavyweights now and fewer guys willing to fight, and it just seems like fighting isn’t used as a deterrent the same way it was in the past,” said a wistful Darren McCarty.

There is the new rule that incurs an additional penalty for players who remove their helmets for a fight. “It’s more inconvenient now,” said the NBC commentator Keith Jones, who once skated for Colorado and Philadelphia, “and I wonder if that has had an effect on it. Now a little more thought process has to go into it, rather than the quick reaction.”

Jeff Smith really couldn’t believe it. He was — what’s the word. Speechless? No, not speechless. He was, if anything, speechful:

“I could see for the off-ice stuff, yes, 20 games for that, but the guy played the next day with no marks on his face, there was nothing broken. The off-ice stuff that was absolutely wrong, but 47 games? Last year a guy punched a fan and wasn’t banned, and another player slashed an opponent two-handed and only got three games.”

TV game-show host and hockey fan Pat Sajak weighed in on Ray Emery of the Flyers and his flailing of Washington’s Braden Holtby, tweeting: “Taking a cue from the @NHL, I’m planning to jump Trebek and pummel him in an effort to fire up my staff and prove my manhood.”

Brendan Shanahan spoke up on the same subject. “I hate what Ray Emery did,” the NHL’s Director of Player Safety told Sportsnet’s HockeyCentral At Noon.

NHL veteran Sean Burke — he coaches the goalies now in Phoenix — was talking, too, about Emery:

“What he did to Holtby, that’s not the kind of stuff that is good at all for the game. The biggest joke is that they named him the third star in the game. To me, that’s classless, and whoever picked that, that’s making a mockery of the game.

“That was just bullying. When you punch a guy 10 times in the back of the head, that’s not being tough. Tough is a goalie sticking up for a teammate because he’s getting abused or something happens in the course of the game where the intention is to even things out.”

No-one knew, this week, what happened to make Peter Harrold’s right elbow swell up and fill with a bunch fluid and not bend. The Newark Star-Ledger was monitoring the Devils’ defenceman’s condition, which might have been triggered in Columbus back in October.

“One of those freak things. It just kind of blew up on me,” said Harrold. “I had very limited movement and a bunch of fluid and swelling.”

GM Lou Lamoriello wondered whether Harrold had used his elbow too much. “It just popped up,” he said. “I don’t know if it was from over-use. Really all you can do is speculate. The doctors aren’t certain. It wasn’t a bone spur or chip. It’s a mystery at this point. Once the swelling is down and the fluid is gone, we were good to go.”

“I feel good,” said Harrold. “I’m certainly close,” said Harrold.

In Chicago, where Winnipeg lost 4-1 to the Blackhawks, Brandon Bollig checked the Jets’ Adam Pardy, which caused a piece of glass to fall on fans sitting in some corner seats at the United Center. Everybody was okay, other than Pardy: a guy yanked off his helmet and put it on. Pardy told The Winnipeg Free Press:

“I was just going back for the puck there. Two big, solid boys coming together there, I guess. And the glass came out. One of those situations where you don’t want to see anybody get hurt. Then I got a beer dumped all over my head. All over the side of my face and on the side of my jersey. I don’t know if you can smell it but the bench could definitely smell a little booze there for the last six minutes.”

“It’s no secret we have passionate fans,” Bollig said.

The Chicago Blackhawks apologized, to the Jets and to the NHL at large. “We have spoken to those involved,” read the team’s Thursday statement. “The individuals were immediately ejected from the arena to preserve the safety of everyone in attendance, including other fans, players and officials.

Kevin Mize was the guy who grabbed the helmet. The Chicago Tribune figured that out, and posted his CV online. That’s how we know not only that Mize is the Dealer Principal and President of O’Hare Honda and O’Hare Hyundai, located in Des Plaines, Illinois, but what he does in his spare time: golfs, fly-fishes, skis, kayaks and devotes his time to philanthropic activities.

From Tampa Bay came news that Martin St. Louis has long since forgiven his GM, Steve Yzerman, for cutting him from the 2010 Canadian Olympic team. Reported Mike Brophy at CBC.ca:

“I’m not upset, but there was nothing Steve could have said to me to make me feel better about not being on that team. I told him I’ll always be disappointed no matter what he tells me, but they are put in a position to make tough decisions and he had to make the decisions he had to make. Obviously he made the right ones because they won the gold medal.”

In The Hockey News, Adam Proteau wagged a warning finger at Montreal coach Michel Therrien, who’s been benching Norris Trophy-winning defenceman P.K. Subban, and not using him to kill penalties.

If the Canadiens aren’t too careful, they’ll finger-poke him in the chest all the way into a corner, then wonder why he becomes interested in the colour of grass on other sides of the fence.

A Stockholm newspaper, Aftonbladet, profiled Vancouver coach John Tortorella this week and lest anyone get the wrong impression from the headline —

Quote Machine, Lunatic Leader — and Champion

— it’s in fact a pretty admiring piece. I’m relying on the help here of Google’s resident translator here, so there’s room for interpretation — when it comes, for instance, to the word lunatic. Galning is the original, which could also be rendered as maniac, just for the record. Vildhjärna is another word that comes up, later, which Google gives as wild brain but could just as well be rattlebrain, I find, or scapegrace.

(Photo: @BarackObama)