this week: a mix of molasses, beaver, and oatmeal

true sport

Finally. The way the hockey-book writers cheered one of their own this week, you’d think the whole entire clan of them had been honoured by the Canadian chapter of the Jewish National Fund for their collective achievement in hockey scholarship rather than just the author of A Great Game. Forgive them their pride — these writers work alone, most of the time, shrouded in archival shadows. And if they want to step into the glow given off by the newly announced Stephen J. Harper Hula Valley Bird Sanctuary Visitor and Education Centre in Israel’s north, near the Golan Heights — well, why not? This is their time, now — the birds can have theirs, later.

In Florida, Tampa Bay forward Steven Stamkos strolled into a press conference two weeks fracturing a shin. He was limping a little, to be sure, but he was “positive and hopeful” — and not ruling out a return in time to play for Canada at the Sochi Olympics in February. Was he shoved on the play, by Boston defenceman Dougie Hamilton? Yes, he thought so. But in time he’d realized: it was “a hockey play.” He hadn’t heard from Hamilton, but Bruins’ captain Zdeno Chara had texted him and the coach, Claude Julien, visited him in hospital.

Also looking this week to the Olympics was Brian Burke, who talked to Eric Francis of The Calgary Sun. If Canada’s the favourite to win in Sochi, according to Burke, another team that unnerves him is Russia. Sorry, that’s not quite right: Russia scares “the living hell” out of him:

“Because it’s their home soil, it’s going to be crazy there, and we hear rumours of huge bonuses for players if they win gold.”

At The Hockey News, Matt Larkin was counting, this week, and that’s how he determined that as of Monday, in the 82 games Sidney Crosby played over the past three seasons, he had 123 points to his name.

Profiling David Booth, Dave Ebner of The Globe and Mail told of the Vancouver winger’s love of the hunt:

For a show on a niche network, Wild TV, Booth killed a black bear with a bow in Alberta after luring it with a pile of bait, a mix of molasses, beaver, and oatmeal. Bear baiting is illegal in British Columbia and numerous U.S. states. Booth broadcast his exploits on Twitter.

Gary Bettman’s week included a big headache and a big deal. Head first: in Washington, former players with lawyers launched a lawsuit citing the NHL’s negligence when it comes to its handling head injuries over “the past decades.” From a statement by Mel Owens, one of the lead lawyers:

In 2004 the NHL introduced a series of updates to the rule-set to encourage a faster, more exciting, and ultimately more marketable product. As a result, the number of violent in-game collisions and occurrence of head trauma have increased. When coupled with the NHL’s refusal to protect players by banning full-body checking or penalizing on-ice fist fights, the league has created a dangerous atmosphere for players. The complaint alleges that the NHL either ignores or consistently lags behind other hockey leagues in adopting protections for players in accordance with current medical knowledge of concussions. Instead, the NHL continues to glorify and empower players known as “enforcers” — players with the singular intention of injuring the opposing team.

Bettman’s response was terse: “We believe this is a lawsuit without merit.”

He was much happier to talk about the massive deal he did, the 12-year, C$5.232-billion media rights agreement that all but wiped TSN off the hockey-broadcasting map; threw Hockey Night in Canada’s long-term future into doubt (not to mention the CBC’s), and united the country’s curiosity around the vital question: what about Don Cherry?

Who, of course, spoke up on Saturday night, between periods. The lawsuit is, as far as he’s concerned, a moneygrab; nonsense; a moneygrab; ridiculous; a disgrace and — did he mention? — a moneygrab.

As for what might happen to Coach’s Corner, Cherry was clear in comparing himself to Bobby Orr and demanding something else that involved a … turnip truck, which he hadn’t fallen off.

Ten former players were signed on to the lawsuit when it was filed, including former Leafs’ captain Rick Vaive and a teammate of his, Gary Leeman. There was the expectation (from Mel Owens, at least) that more players might join in. By week’s end, many others had been invited, including another former Toronto captain Wendel Clark, who told CBC Radio that he wasn’t interested. “I’m not against hockey,” he said.

A couple of days after he got in, Vaive, meanwhile, wanted out. His lawyer said he didn’t get a copy of the claim, “misunderstood the nature proceeding being brought” and “has no interest in suing the National Hockey.”

“Happy Thanksgiving everybody,” tweeted Colorado’s Max Talbot to, well, everybody. “I am thankful for so many things in life. Thank you.”

Toronto’s Maple Leafs played poorly, kicking off the week with a 6-0 rout at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets. With his team down two goals after the first period Monday night, the Leafs’ Nazem Kadri stopped to talk to Sportsnet reporter Paul Hendrick.

Hendrick: Any excuse for the flat performance of the Maple Leaf hockey club through 20 here so far?

Kadri: Ah, yeah, not really.

After it was all over, The Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle heard what Leafs’ defenceman Carl Gunnarsson had to say about his goalie, James Reimer. “What can he do?” Gunnarsson wondered. “Can’t blame him for anything. We had a real shitty game and we hung him out to dry.”

On Friday, in Tampa, Florida, when Sidney Crosby assisted on all of his team’s goals in a 3-0 win over the local Lightning, they were his 699th, 700th and 701st NHL points. “It’s nice,” he said after the game, “and when you can win in the same game, it’s even better. You don’t really think about those things, but when they do happen, I think you appreciate it.”

Mike Milbury on the concussive lawsuit: “The idea that the NHL condones headhunting is immature and childish, and that’s how I view this lawsuit.”

Be alerted (thanks to The Toronto Star’s Jim Coyle) that Don Cherry is featured in the December issue of The Anglican Journal talking up The Book of Common Prayer: “Its language is almost Shakespearean.”

Chara told Kevin Paul Dupont of The Boston Globe why, as boss of the Bruins, he doesn’t allow the word “rookie” to be spoken in the team’s dressing room.

 “I had a couple of bad experiences,’’ the earnest, 6-foot-9-inch defenseman said of his playing days in Trencin, where, he recalled, rookies often were forced to perform demeaning chores or rituals. “And I said, ‘You know, if I ever am in a position to control that, I would totally change it, because it’s not fair.’ ”

So he has; in the Bruins’ locker room, newcomers are respectfully called “first-year players” or “younger guys” or “newer guys.’’

Wayne Gretzky was at a Capitals game in Washington last week, sparking a rumour that he’s about to take the job of team president. Not so, Gretzky says, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie.

Jarome Iginla was writing on fighting in Sports Illustrated a week or two back to say that it enhances the game and makes it safer. “One misconception about fighting is that it is for entertainment,” he penned, with Eric Tosi’s help, “a spectacle for the fans.”

But most hockey players do not see themselves as boxers or fighters. We would all rather be scoring a goal — or preventing one! While I agree that fighting has entertainment value and is enjoyed by many fans, there is a lot more to it than that. There is a purpose behind almost every fight. I have fought — and my teammates have, too — to stick up for myself or to stand up for a teammate who had been the victim of dirty play. And I do acknowledge that fighting can provide an emotional lift for a team. A player who drops his gloves and puts himself in harm’s way on behalf of his teammates is selfless and courageous. And those are qualities that all hockey players respect.

Of Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov, R-Sport in Moscow reported that the general manager of Russia’s Olympic hockey team said that he’s playing way too well to be guilty of assaulting his girlfriend, Yevgeniya Vavrinyuk.

Varlamov was charged in Denver a week ago with a count of third-degree assault. For Russian GM Alexei Kasatonov, who may or may not be thinking about selecting Varlamov for the team he’s taking to Sochi, that didn’t make sense.

Varlamov, he said, “is not that kind of guy and would not be capable of such a dirty deed.”

“Semyon’s in good form now, continuing to show that he’s one of the best goaltenders in the NHL and showing with his game that the truth is on his side.”

In October, a Russian lawmaker had suggested that the arrest was part of an American conspiracy to undermine Russia’s gold-medal hopes at the Olympics. For Columbus Blue Jackets’ defenceman Fedor Tyutin, it’s U.S. laws that are to blame. “I’m well acquainted with Semyon,” he assured R-Sport. “He’s a pretty upstanding, tactful guy. When I heard all this, I immediately understood it was blown out of proportion.”

“It’s just that American laws are on the woman’s side, so they can go to the police over some tiny thing, make a complaint and cause a lot of problems for the male gender. So Semyon’s only mistake was that he got together with this girl.”