that stride and elegance kiruna had raised

Earlier that same pandemic, Borje Salming was sharing his inspirational planter-hoisting workout regime from back home in Sweden. That was at the start of April, just before he turned 69. Not long after that, Salming shared the news that he was recovering from a scary bout of presumed COVID-19 symptoms that had sent him to hospital in early March.

Also debuting, in what’s turned out to be a busy season of Salming content: the best poem you’ve ever read about what the flinty Swede meant to those of us who grew up watching the Toronto Maple Leafs of the wayward 1970s. Ken Babstock won a Trillium Book Award for Airstream Land Yacht (2006) and a Griffin Poetry Prize for Methodist Hatchet (2011). His latest collection, from 2014, is On Malice. His “21” appeared in the magnificent April print edition of Toronto’s West End Phoenix, with illustrations by Jacqui Oakley; they feature here with permission.

If you’re not subscribing to the West End Phoenix  … what are you doing? Why not? Correct your course, do it now, here. Follow the WE Phoenix @westendphoenix. Ken Babstock is @KBabstock.

blueline balladeer

“Look,” Sheldon Kannegiesser was saying in 1972, “some players smoke, some drink, and some run around. All I do is buy clothes. What’s so bad about that?” He was 24 at the time of this outburst, a second-year NHL defenceman, plying the Pittsburgh Penguins’ blueline. The occasion? Tom Alderman was profiling hockey’s best-dressed players for Canadian Magazine, and Kannegiesser was front and sartorially centre of a select line-up that included Dale Tallon, Doug Favell, J.C. Tremblay, and Pit Martin.

Commending Kannegiesser’s unerring eye and $250 custom suits, Alderman named him as “unquestionably the league’s most elegant dresser, even his jeans look made to measure.” Also? Penguins’ management had apparently “suggested that if he paid less attention to his threads and more to his hockey and more to his hockey, he might be a better defenceman.”

Born on this date in North Bay, Ontario, in 1947 (it was a Friday), Kannegiesser turns 72 today. He ended playing eight seasons in the NHL, most of them with Los Angeles Kings, though he also served post-Penguin stints with the New York Rangers, and Vancouver.

In 2009, he published Warriors of Winter: Rhymes of a Blueliner Balladeer, a collection of poems that channel (as he tells it, with due deference, in a preface) Robert Service. “As I was reading through poems and ballads Service had written during his years living in the Canadian Yukon,” Kannegiesser writes, “I thought that possibly I could create a series of poems and ballads about the years I played in the National Hockey League.”

He calls the collection “a mixed bag of some of the most colourful characters and circumstances, along with my personal thoughts about the game that dominated a majority of my life.” Included therein: a whimsy on how hockey might have originated (“The Fearless John Hock and the Mighty Michael McKey”); an ode to a superstar rival (“Standing Orrvation”); a salute to the man who made those spiffy suits he wore in the ’70s (“Styles by Miles”). There are memoirs of Maple Leaf Gardens (“Toronto’s Lonely Lady of the Street”) and what it was like to play against Frank Mahovlich (“Shoulder To Shoulder with the Big M”).

He winds it all up with his own “Shooting of Dan McGrew,” a lusty game-by-game 14-page epic, “The Series of ’72,” that’s narrated, so far as I can tell, by Canada itself. A couple of her stanzas revering Game Six in Moscow go like this:

Let history question our sins — our only job was to win;
We’ll do what’s needed no matter the cost.
Survival’s ugly resolve is for shrinks and philosophers to solve,
So a bounty was placed on the Russian star, Kharlamov.

Debate ethics if you will, ’til you’ve done had your fill;
Such is hockey’s base and brutal and bestial angle;
It’s the nature of the game: the strong survive not the lame.
So Clarke’s Sherwood, like an axe, cracked Kharlamov’s ankle!

zamboni’s out there doing its ignored choreography

The great Canadian poet Don Coles died this past Wednesday in Toronto at the age of 90. “Such a thoughtful, lovely guy & a breathtakingly sensitive (& slyly witty) poet,” the writer Gary Barwin wrote on Twitter. “He had such grace & gentility, such decency and menchlichkeit. Such precision saturated with deep feeling.” Coles’ 1993 collection Forests of the Medieval World won a Governor-General’s Award. He won’t be remembered principally, perhaps, as a hockey poet, but he did, as a writer born and breathing in the Canadian landscape, sometimes hit the ice, as he did his very beautiful 1998 poem, above, “Kingdom.”

Could we salute him, too, for his supporting role in seeing hockey’s most thoughtful and incisive memoir to the shelf? I think so: yes.

It was 1980, as Ken Dryden recalled it in a short remembrance he wrote for ARC, Canada’s national poetry magazine, on the occasion of Coles’ 75th birthday. “I had retired from hockey the year before and finished my bar admission course in Ottawa, and I wanted to write a book,” Dryden wrote. “It would be about experiences I’d had in hockey, and impressions and feelings that those experiences had left behind. It seemed as if it was a book that was in me, or it wasn’t. Outside research wouldn’t help much. It seemed as if it was a book that could be written anywhere.”

So Dryden and his wife, Lynda, took their young family to Cambridge in England. Friends in Toronto put him in touch with Don Coles, who was living there at the time. Dryden called. He was looking for help, advice, confidence, and that’s what he found with Coles.

They met for lunches. Talked. Coles might have suggestions for Dryden. “But more importantly,” Dryden recalled,  “he was respectful and encouraging. He made me feel that what I was trying to do was worthwhile, and that what I was trying to say was worthy of the attempt. He made me believe that no matter how ragged my work, there was something there. That I was getting there, would get there.”

“I didn’t have much else to go on then. I had no critical eye. I had no idea what was good and what wasn’t. Whatever anyone else said I was, I was. I was lucky that that someone else in Cambridge was Don.”

Ken Dryden’s The Game, published in 1983, was nominated for a Governor-General’s Award. “The best book on sport ever written by an athlete,” Roy MacGregor thinks, and he’s not the only one. Dryden has six other books to his name, including this fall’s important Game Change: The Life and Death of Steve Montador and The Future of Hockey.

stay out of the city

bcook pkstrk

 

“I am sure the reason
I have lasted this long,”

he said,

“is because
I spend my summers
out on my ranch near
Saskatoon.”

“Stay in the city and you
unconsciously fall
into habits that are
not beneficial —
such as
staying up late and
oversmoking.”

• Bill Cook was 39 at the end of the NHL’s 1934-35 campaign, his ninth as captain and mainstay of the New York Rangers. As the season wound down, Cook talked to George Maguire from the Canadian Press, telling him that he wouldn’t be retiring any time soon — not while he still had goals to score. Hereabove (excerpted, edited, and poemized), his best off-season advice for players looking to lengthen their icy careers.

 

 

can the puck break a bone?

S004

Puckbitten: “Pete Pilote,” the papers sometimes called him, “Hawk captain,” as when in March of 1963 (in Chicago’s final regular-season game) a puck shot by Boston’s Wayne Hicks cut the back of his head for 12 stitches. A.k.(mostly)a. Pierre, he suffered his share of head wounds: in December of 1960, also facing the Bruins, a puck off the boards opened up his forehead. I think that must be the wound that Hawks trainer Nick Garen is studying here, above. In his memoir, Pilote recalled the ’63 incident with a wince. “I’ll never forget that one. Those 12 stitches hurt more than anything I’ve ever known … like somebody was pressing a hot poker into my head. It throbbed so much I couldn’t sleep for a few days afterwards.” When later the sutures opened, the Hawks’ Dr. Myron Tremaine suggested that he might have to add an extra stitch to seal the deal. “No, you don’t Doc,” the superstitious Pilote told him. “Not 13! Find room for one more.”

In December of 1934, Harold Parrott of The Brooklyn American talked to Dr. Henry Clauss, house doctor to the hockey players, boxers, and six-day bicycle racers who plied their trades at New York’s Madison Square Garden. The mention of the Art Ross puck is noteworthy, though it may not be entirely accurate. A new Ross puck did see service in the NHL in the early 1930s, only to be subsequently revoked, but I’ve seen no other reference to its being metal-middled. Following here, an excerpt of Parrot’s profile, edited, and poemized.

Sticks carried high, or swung viciously, (as often happens)
can do more deadly execution than
anything.

“The goalies are the ones that feel the brunt of the attack,”
said Dr. Clauss, wincing visibly. “I find that
the better the goalie, the more he
gets cut up, because
he goes to meet the play —
takes chances, to save goals.
Shrimp Worters, in the Americans’ net,
is always
getting
sliced
up.

“Can the puck break a bone?” I asked.

“It’s more damaging than a baseball
thrown by Mungo or Gomez,” said the Doc,
“and I know! It is heavy enough
to break bones now, although it is not
as bad as a few years ago,
when they used to use that Art Ross puck
with a metal center, and
they used to carry the players off
one after another. But the edge,
the cutting surface on the puck
makes it worse than
a baseball.”

much practiced in canada

leaper 1

Very Useful: Chicago centreman Tom Cook jumps over the stick of teammate Doc Romnes while goaltender Charlie Gardiner stands netguard, circa November of 1933.

An accomplishment much practiced in Canada,

and a very useful
one, too,

is

jumping

over the stick
of an opponent
while under
full headway,

and thus avoiding many a fall or trip,
intentional or otherwise.

As ice hockey
is a very severe game
and one
that calls for
constant exertion,
on the part of the forwards
in particular,

players must be athletes of
exceptional endurance
and have any amount of grit and ‘sand.’

 

•  Ice Hockey and Ice Polo Guide (1898), J.A. Tuthill, ed. Excerpted, edited, and poemized.

memento mori

plante 62 63

The fans crowded into Chicago Stadium
gave their heroes
a three-minute ovation
as the final buzzer
went
off.

During the last minute of play,
a roar of approval
started
to build
up
in exuberant
approval
of the Hawks’ play.

They flooded the ice with

hats,
rubbers,
programs

and a
multitude
of other articles —
including

a skull

one whimsical fan
tossed near
Montreal goalie
Jacques Plante.

The dejected Canadiens
started to move

slowly

off the ice
after the finish, but

then
turned and

came back

to congratulate
the winners.

 

• The Canadian Press reports on Chicago’s 3-0 win over Montreal on April 5, 1961 whereby the Black Hawks defeated the defending Stanley Cup champions 4-2 in their playoff semi-final. Moving on to the Final, Chicago met and bested Detroit. On April 16, the Cup was theirs. Excerpted, edited, and poemized.

are you afraid of anything?

richard scores 3

“Are you afraid of anything?”

Richard was quiet a long time. “Yes,
I am afraid of the future.
I am afraid to grow older.
I never used to think of it,
now it’s on my mind every day.
I will be so lonely
when hockey is over for me.”

“Can you coach, maybe?”

“No,
I can’t change
the way a man plays hockey.
Either he can play it
or he can’t.
I can’t help him.”

He looked at the ice,
his eyes moving up and down its length.

“I give myself another day,
that’s all.
I just count one day ahead to be able to play.
For the last four or five years,
I’ve been the oldest in the league.
That’s terrible
for a man to think about.”

• June Callwood talks to Maurice Richard for Maclean’s, May 9, 1959; excerpted, edited, and poemized.

 

found poem: it never really is until it is

The next one is a must-win.

People wonder all the time
how we feel after we lose a game,

if we feel

the next one is a must-win.

It never really is until it is.

Now it is, it most definitely is.

I mentioned how we’ve got to be able to do it.
Let’s be honest, it’s tough to do.
There’s no real answer for
how to do it,
we’ve just got to do it.

We can’t think about it too much.

We have to think about the positives.

It’s tough to move on.

It’s tough not to think about it.

But you’ve got to do your best
to keep your mind going
somewhere else,
try to find
something else
to think about for the time being
until Monday
comes around.

• from “Garrison: Game 6 can go Lightning’s way,” a blog post by Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Jason Garrison for NHL.com, June 14, 2015; excerpted, edited, and poemized.

in russia, we have a proverb

cccpAnatoli Tarasov brought the Soviet national team to Canada in the winter of 1969 for an eight-game exhibition tour. The Soviets were on a seven-year golden streak at the World Championships at the time. The team they brought to Canada included Vyacheslav Starshinov, Anatoli Firsov, Valeri Kharlamov, Alexander Maltsev, Vladimir Petrov, and a stripling goaltender by the name of Vladislav Tretiak. Mostly they were here to play Canada’s ill-starred Nationals, coached by Jack McLeod, though there were also a few games against Junior A teams.

The Soviets starting with a win, in Winnipeg, while McLeod’s Nats took the second game, 4-3 — the first time a Canadian team had beaten their Russian rivals in almost two years. The Canadians had Wayne Stephenson for a goaltender and Fran Huck was in the line-up, along with a handful of former NHLers, including former Leafs Brian Conacher and Billy Harris. Earlier that year, the International Ice Hockey Federation had voted to allow Canada to bring nine non-NHL professionals to the upcoming 1970 World Championships, scheduled for Montreal and Winnipeg. So that was good, for Canada, right up until January, when the IIHF changed its mind, no pros would be permitted after all, and Canada withdrew from the World Championships and Olympics altogether, taking their pucks and going home. Or staying home — the World Championships went ahead in Stockholm, where the Soviets won, again. McLeod’s Nationals disbanded and Father David Bauer’s dream died; when Canadians returned to play in the World Championships in 1977 it was with a team of NHLers whose teams had missed the playoffs.

In 1969, Tarasov had no interest in playing the Junior A games that the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association had arranged. “I am not happy to play with teams that are not good,” he said after the USSR beat the Ottawa 67s 8-3 on Christmas Eve. It was a game, as Rex MacLeod wrote in The Globe and Mail, that “degenerated into a high-sticking, slugging and punching match in the third period.” Starshinov and Evgeny Zimin left the game with separated shoulders; two players from each team were ejected after a late brawl.

“Next time we’ll bring our boxing team,” Tarasov muttered when it was over.

tarasovThe team went to Montreal on December 29 to play the Montreal Junior Canadiens, the defending Memorial Cup champions who felt the need to bolster themselves for the night with nine minor-league professionals. As The Toronto Star reported next day, the enhanced Juniors prevailed by a score of 9-3, with youngsters named Gilbert Perreault and Rejean Houle contributing a couple of goals each.

Appearing in the Star’s Sports pages alongside the report of that drubbing was an article (translated from the Russian) by the losing coach himself. My father, Denis Smith, was Master of Champlain College at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, at the time. He was one Canadian fan who read “Russia’s Tarasov Examines NHL Play” that day, the one who found a poem in it, waiting to be extracted and arranged, which he did, using the master’s own words, adding only a title:

The Lessons of Anatoli Tarasov

Your hockey, to begin with,
has a lot of merit.
It is a kind of beautiful entertainment.
In professional hockey,
you have very strong men —
athletes who are fit.
They have strength of will
and character.

And then, your spectators:
They know a great deal about the game.
Every person who is present in the arena
or who watches on TV
wants to be a part of this entertainment.
As I said earlier, though,
I am a coach:
So I have no room for sentimentality.

Your hockey,
both offensively and defensively,
is based on simple tactical decisions.
In Russia, we have a proverb
that in simplicity lies wisdom.
However:
I don’t think it applies
in the case of great hockey.

Remember how many times
you have seen this:
The player skates to the blue line,
s
h
o
o
t
s
the puck
and follows in —
never thinking
about setting up a beautiful scoring play.

It is impossible to play the same game
for years and years.
Surely,
the pattern of the game should be changed
from time to time.
In your game of professional hockey,
you get enough scoring,
but it is not satisfying to me, personally, how goals are scored.

Finally, a few comments regarding rules
and officiating.
It’s a pity, but
we are having the same problem in amateur hockey:
Show me, please,
where it is written in the bible
that it is legal to stop an opponent with a stick —
or to fight him.

the only ones allowed to eat at four o’clock

Manager Jack Adams has issued
strict orders
as regards
training rules
for the Red Wings.

They must all be
up at 10 o’clock
for breakfast and
then
take
a morning walk.

On the afternoons of the day of games,
the last meal must be taken at three o’clock,
if a steak is the main dish,
then another walk
and a siesta.

Hec Kilrea and Marty Barry
are the only ones
allowed to eat
at four o’clock.

The reason is
they dine lightly
on eggs,
omitting
the steaks.

Movies are banned
on the afternoon of days the Wings play,
especially for Normie Smith.

Everyone in bed by midnight.

• The Gazette, Montreal, March 24, 1936; excerpted, edited, and poemized.

(Image: Albert E. Backlund)

seamus heaney, hockey poet

Brad Leithauser had some things to say this week at Page-Turner, The New Yorker’s books blog, about what has to be Seamus Heaney’s most poignant hockey poem. Calling it the most touching English-language haiku he knows, Leithhauser plays down the hockey angle to the point of not mentioning it at all.

In a mere seventeen syllables, [he writes] the poem evokes a complex, compromised psychological condition. There’s comfort in the notion that Father is sheltering us with that stolid stick of his. And there’s anguish and vulnerability in the implication that the stick has been transferred because Father has died — recently, within the past year. As we set off from home into the freezing outer world, all sorts of emotional accommodations must be discharged.

True enough, though I’m not wholly convinced that Father is dead. I think that having realized the time has come to surrender his Sherwood, he remains at rinkside — remembering, maybe, his own father and the four-lie Northland he wielded in his day.

Here it is, either way, Heaney’s haiku, “I.I.87:”

Dangerous pavements.
But this year I face the ice
With my father’s stick.