andy bathgate writes: second wind is difficult to describe

Credit: Weekend Magazine / Louis Jaques / Library and Archives Canada / e002505654

Andy Bathgate in New York Ranger vestments, circa 1959. (Photo: Weekend Magazine / Louis Jaques / Library and Archives Canada / e002505654)

Andy Bathgate’s distinguished NHL career is being remembered today following his death yesterday in Brampton at the age of 83, Ontario. Worth your while are Richard Goldstein’s obituary in The New York Times and Lance Hornby’s appreciation from The Toronto Sun.

Otherwise, maybe we’ll pause to salute to Bathgate’s literary legacy. As Goldstein and Hornby both recall, he did publish a notorious 1960 article in True magazine calling out the league’s spearing artists — more to come on that. There was a book, too, in 1963, co-written with sportscaster Bob Wolff. There’s a bit of autobiography to Andy Bathgate’s Hockey Secrets, some scenes from his childhood in Winnipeg, but mostly it’s focussed on the how-tos, from tying your skates and making the most of your wristshot to avoiding the grim dangers of goal-celebrations, all in the interest of guiding the next generation of NHLers into the league. He wasn’t going to play forever. “In a few years,” he mused, “there’ll be new headliners on the ice. There will also be some other talented youngsters who will not savor big league glory and gold unless they learn the all-important extras along the way. This book is mainly for them. I want others to benefit by what it’s taken me years to learn, so they can be ready when those openings occur in the National Hockey League. And there’ll be openings, I can assure you. One of the vacated spots will be mine.”

Herewith, twelve select sentences from the body of the book, extracted live from their context if not their wisdom:

I did not learn my hockey from books.

You just can’t be successful in a sport like hockey or football if you worry about injury or looks.

A good stick man never changes grips.

Talking plays a most important part in passing.

If you want to see a master at it, watch Henri Richard.

The injuries that hurt the most are the foolish ones.

I find that staying condition is a pleasant, year-round job.

If things are quiet, I’ll start clowning round a bit or needle a teammate to get some chatter and kibitzing started.

Second wind is difficult to describe.

When you fire the puck properly in a power shot, you feel it right from the blade through your hands, your wrists, your arms.

I’m no longer sure within my heart whether I’ve had a special aptitude for this game or not.

The secret is toe control.

this week: disappointing!

Unmasked: The wonderful Calgary artist Lisa Brawn carves and paints reclaimed wood: lots of owls and ravens and ruby-throated hummingbirds, but also zombies, Beatles, prime ministers, and the occasional hockey player. Jacques Plante, for instance, on a block of cherry-wood. To browse and maybe to buy — or just to marvel at her colours and craftsmanship — visit www.lisabrawn.com.

Unmasked: The wonderful Calgary artist Lisa Brawn carves and paints reclaimed wood: lots of owls and ravens and ruby-throated hummingbirds, but also zombies, Beatles, prime ministers, and the occasional hockey player. Jacques Plante, for instance, on a block of cherry-wood. To browse and maybe to buy — or just to marvel at her colours and craftsmanship — visit http://www.lisabrawn.com.

Gary Bettman put a number, this week, on how many times players hit one another across the league over the course of a season: “55,000, give or take.” I don’t think that includes punches to the head, just bodychecks. His point was that, once in a while, there’s a bad one in there, and when there is, the NHL deals out a suspension.

Bettman was in Columbus, where he also talked about Philadelphia’s brawl with Washington wherein one goalie, the Flyers’ Ray Emery, skated down the ice to attack another, Braden Holtby of the Capitals, who didn’t want to fight.

“I don’t think anyone liked it,” Bettman said, “liked what it looked like.”

“Protect yourself,” Emery said, later, is what he told Holtby as he swung at him.

Earlier in the week, Brian Burke published a defence of fighting in USA Today. Some people just don’t get it, he said. The players are all volunteers, and if they want to punch one another, in the head, or anywhere else, who are people who write about the game, never having played it professionally, to dare to tell them not to?

Ken Dryden was in print this week, too, in The Globe and Mail, answering Bobby Orr who, in his new book, makes his own argument in favour of fighting.

You’re wrong, Dryden said. Also:

The model for an NHL without fighting is right there in front of us. It’s not the Olympics, though opponents of fighting often say it is. The Olympics are too unique an experience. The ice surface is bigger. Players put on their nation’s jerseys and, in front of countrymen who know their game and those who don’t, avoid doing things that might be misunderstood.

The real model is the playoffs. It’s the time of year that fans love best; when the best hockey is played.

“This makes hockey look bush,” said Neil Smith on Sportsnet’s Hockey Central, regarding Emery chasing down Holtby to punch his head.

As Washington was fricasseeing the Flyers, fans in Philadelphia cried out: “Fire Holmgren! Fire Holmgren! Fire Holmgren!”

Paul Holmgren, they were talking about, the general manager. “We just folded up like a cheap suit,” he said after the game.

When Semyon Varlamov was arrested this week by Denver police, charged with kidnapping and assaulting his girlfriend, his father said that no crime had been committed, whatsoever.

In the Colorado goalie’s native Russia, the head of the State Duma Committee for Physical Culture, Sport and Youth Affairs suspected that there was a plot afoot. The Voice of Russia quoted Igor Ananskykh:

“The situation is really strange, given that the Sochi Olympics will take place soon and Varlamov is a candidate to become part of our national hockey team which we do count on. What about presumption of innocence? It’s not normal at all. Varlamov will fall out of the training process which will have an impact on his readiness before the Olympics in Sochi. The first thing that comes to my mind is that it is an effort to weaken our national team.”

Varlamov went to court on Thursday and was released on a bond of US$5,000. The Denver Post struggled to put it all in perspective.

The Avalanche are off to a torrid 10-1 start and have become the talk of hockey under first-year coach Patrick Roy. Duchene doesn’t think this will derail the Avalanche.

“You just don’t think about it,” Duchene said. “It’s tough. You’re concerned about your teammate. We all love Varly in here. I can’t say enough great things about him. I think we’re all pretty confident this is going to get resolved pretty quickly.”

Varlamov played on Friday night in Dallas and won. Coach Roy said afterwards that the team wanted to show it’s a family. A reporter asked: Does this show that Varlamov can handle adversity?

Jacques Plante was allergic, meanwhile, to Toronto. That wasn’t this week — that’s an old story, resurrected on the occasion of Friday’s anniversary of the night in 1959 that Plante first put on a mask in the Montreal goal.

Maybe you remember? In New York that night, Andy Bathgate’s backhand from 15 feet caught Plante on the left side of his nose. That’s how The Jacques Plante Story (1972) tells it, the book the goalie wrote with Andy O’Brien. Bathgate “blasted” it — unless, as Raymond Plante’s Jacques Plante: Behind The Mask (1996) says, he “slammed” it.

When Todd Denault talked to Bathgate for Jacques Plante: The Man Who Changed The Face of Hockey (2009), he said it was a wrist shot, not too hard, though decidedly vengeful. Plante had cut him previously in the game, and he was determined to get him back. Continue reading

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.”