hug thuggery

Reckless Endangerment: Yvan Cournoyer risks it all in 1972. (Photo: Denis Brodeur)

National Post columnist Christie Blatchford was raving this week after she saw a bunch of teenaged Toronto boys hugging one another, which is wrong for boys to do, apparently, because it betrays sickliness of spirit or dangerous delicacy or … something unsavoury. The thread of the logic was hard to hold. “I know men have feelings too,” Blatchford wrote. “I just don’t need to know much more than that. On any list of The 25 Things Every Man And Boy Should Know How To Do, hugging is not one of them. Killing bugs is. Whacking bullies is. Kissing is. Farting on cue is. Making the sound of a train in a tunnel is. Shooting a puck is. Hugging is not.”

Agree or don’t, in the hockey context, this is something that Hall-of-Fame right-winger Andy Bathgate was warning about as far back as 1963. All these years later, is it finally time for hockey to face facts and take action against a real and present threat before it’s too late? A reading, while there’s still time, from his book Andy Bathgate’s Hockey Secrets, page the 138th, chapter the 13th, “The Worst Injuries Are The Foolish Ones:”

Although I may be knocking a time-honoured custom, I
strongly oppose the traditional mauling and grabbing which
greets a player after he’s scored a goal. This may be considered
a display of team spirit by some, but to me it’s nothing more
than pure danger.

I’ve watched players embrace and hug each other every time
a goal is scored. All it takes is one slip and the whole group
will go down with skates flying in all directions. A skate blade
can cut an arm or leg just like a knife. Sometimes even more
serious injuries can result. When I was a boy in Winnipeg I
once saw a boy lose an eye in one of those hugging
demonstrations. Give a scorer a pat on the back or a yell of
encouragement.You can show spirit without foolish mauling
which can lead to disaster.

mother’s say

Montreal captain Brian Gionta sideswiped Leafs’ goalie James Reimer, shook his head, sent his mask skittering. That was October 22, and Reimer hasn’t played since. A concussion? The Leafs haven’t said. Whiplash is a word they’ve volunteered for his non-lower body injury; concussion-like symptoms is something else they’ve disclosed. So a week ago, Toronto Star reporter Dave Feschuk phoned up James’ mum in Morweena, Manitoba, to see whether she had anything to add to the team’s diagnosis. “He looks clear,” Marlene Reimer said. “His eyes look fine.” But — well, she didn’t know. There were headaches. He seemed better and then he didn’t. As a mother, she worried. That’s all, pretty much — oh, James and his wife have a new puppy, a Havanese, called Optimus.

 The Leafs didn’t like it. Coach Ron Wilson was ready to — not the dog, the interview. The dog was fine. The interview was …. Well. Where to start? What you don’t do, according to Wilson, is a call up a man’s mother. That’s a line you just do not cross, because to do so is sneaky and underhanded and also (this from TV pundits like Nick Kypreos and Mike Keenan) not-journalism. Don Cherry said it was weaselly — unless that was Mike Milbury. Why so, exactly? Well, obviously as mentioned, because of the line: you don’t cross it.

A quick review of other notable motherly interventions from hockey’s archives:

• Boston centre Milt Schmidt’s mother wouldn’t let him play football when he was a boy because it was too rough;

• Andy Bathgate was going to quit hockey in 1953 when the New York Rangers sent him down to play in minor-league Vancouver, but his mother talked him out of it;

• when referee Red Storey did walk away in 1959 after NHL president Clarence Campbell criticized his handling of a playoff game, Mrs. B.L. Storey weighed in from her home in Barrie, Ontario: “He’s a mighty fine boy and I don’t care what Campbell or anyone says;”

• in 1957, Mrs. Alice Richard came clean on her eldest, little Maurice: as a boy he was a fierce competitor. “He even played hockey in the streets,” she said, “and always came back with torn pants.”