bee-stung

For the cover for the 1960 Official National Hockey Annual, artist (and former NFL lineman) Tex Coulter painted Montreal’s Bill Hicke scoring on Chicago’s Glenn Hall, and while you can’t really see the expression on either man’s face, the sense of their mutual surprise is strong, as though the last thing either man expected to see was that puck find the back of the net. I wrote in my 2014 book about the journalist and pro tem goaltender George Plimpton and his suspicion that his failure as a netminder was largely a problem of acquaintance: he’d never really gotten to know the puck. “One would appear with the abruptness of a bee over a picnic basket,” he wrote in Open Net (1985), “and then hum away, all so quickly that rather than corporeal it could well have been an apparition of some sort. A swarm of them would collect in the back of the net during the shooting drills without my being sure how they got there.”

From the veterans of the crease Plimpton apprenticed with during his stint with the Boston Bruins he learned that you never bother with a puck that ends up behind you in the net. A bee no more, that puck has become your mess and your shame — “like dogshit on a carpet.”

 

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.”

in the news

puck struck goldham 1

Puckstricken: Detroit defenceman Bob Goldham takes a puck to the forehead in a game against Toronto in the 1950s …

Overall it was a lacklustre night at times for the Leafs after a spirited opening stretch as turnovers and the frustrating inability to clear the puck struck back.
• The Toronto Sun, October 9, 2014

Ericsson’s season came to an end in mid-March after a puck struck the middle finger of his left hand. He had to have surgery to stabilize several fractures and repair a partially torn tendon.
• Fox Sports Detroit, September 10, 2014

Forward Boone Jenner could miss more than a month after a puck struck his left hand, the latest in a string of direct hits for the Columbus Blue Jackets’ first line.
• Eurosport.com, October 1, 2014

A few inches lower, and it would have been a grisly injury for Nick Ritchie in his first game of the season with the Peterborough Petes. On Thursday, the Anaheim Ducks first-round pick was cutting through the high slot against the Belleville Bulls when Petes teammate Matt Spencer stepped into a slapshot. The puck struck Ritchie’s cheek and tore the visor right off his helmet, causing a hush to fall over the crowd in Peterborough that was welcoming the team’s star player back to the fold.
• Yahoo! Sports Canada, October 3, 2014

puck struck goldham 2

… causing concern among Leafs and teammates and referees alike …

puck struck goldham 3

… leading to a trainer’s towel to the temple while Red Storey (left) looks on.

the kindness of pucks

Only the puck knows what it might do next: Philadelphia goalie Bernie Parent waits to see in a 1969 game against the Black Hawks at Chicago’s Stadium.

“It’s just one of them things,” Calgary winger Curtis Glencross was saying between periods the other night. Was it really just a few weeks back that the Flames were striding so confidently towards a playoff spot, looking good? Yes, it was, but then they’d lost five games in a row. By last Saturday, their hopes for post-season playing were all but over.

Hockey Night in Canada’s Scott Oake wondered why. What happened? So Glencross told him:

It’s just one of them things where we weren’t getting the bounces, or the puck wasn’t going our way and, ah, all them games, we had a lot of shots and a lot of quality scoring opportunities and, and things just weren’t going in for us.

Right. Of course. It’s tough when the puck decides against you. A hockey problem, to be sure. Anyone who’s played the game knows that sometimes, for some reason, pucks turn fickle. Does anyone know why? Is it just caprice or is there some kind of bias involved — in Calgary’s case, a preference among pucks for the likes of San Jose and Colorado?

We just don’t much about it. There’s just no good solid research on why pucks might (a) have an interest in influencing the outcomes of hockey games and/or (b) have come by the power to exert their will.

All we really know is that puck animism is nothing new. “We’ve had enough chances to win the last two games, but the puck hasn’t rolled for us,” Jacques Lemaire shrugged in 1984, when he was coaching Montreal. Whether you’re a player or a coach, you can’t really get angry about it, because, really, what can you do? If anyone knows how to win the favour of pucks, they haven’t revealed it. Here’s Flyers’ coach Fred Shero in the 1975 playoffs, after the New York Islanders came back from three games down to tie the series:

We had enough opportunities to be three up. But there is nothing we can do if the puck won’t go in. If we weren’t getting chances I would be worried.

It happened to Montreal in 1964. “We’ve only scored five in our last four games,” coach Toe Blake said. “We’re getting the chances but the puck won’t go in.”

That’s the lesson, I guess: all you can do as a hockey player is get your chance, put the puck on the net. Once it’s there, hovering by the goal-line, there’s nothing more you can do: the puck has to decide whether it’s going in or not.

Chicago GM Bill Tobin was someone who thought there was more to it, maybe, on the puck’s side than mere whim. In 1949, when the New York Rangers scored four third-period goals in two minutes and 57 seconds to beat his Black Hawks, Tobin was the one who looked at it this way: “The puck,” he said, “has not been kind to us.”