scrap heap: nadine arseneault’s portfolio of hockey punching

The fights went on and on. Night after night, Nadine Arseneault kept drawing. Month after month the fists flared; Arsenault kept going in her project to render a portrait of each and every fight that marred the 2018-19 NHL season. For all the talk that bare-knuckle combat is evolving out of hockey’s top tier, it’s not as if peace is exactly prevailing on NHL ice: by the time the regular season had wrapped up in April, Arsenault’s portfolio of punches included more than 200 images.

It’s a grim indictment of hockey’s arcane culture of punishment … unless, no, maybe does the collection amount, instead, to an unflinching celebration of the game’s deep traditions of warrior honour and rightful retribution?

Exactly. Therein lies the rub — and it’s the nub, too, of Arseneault’s interest in hockey violence and the arresting work that it’s generated. A Toronto editorial designer and illustrator with a deep and delightful creative imagination, Arseneault is engaged in an ongoing and wide-ranging project of unpacking the game’s vehement instincts and outcomes. She’s doing it on paper and tablet, in ink and paint and fabric and onscreen, manipulating photographs and textiles. In its many diverse parts, the work is fascinating, challenging, provocative, visually rewarding, and — often — beautiful.

“Hockey occupies a big part of my work and personal time,” Arseneault was saying recently, in an e-mail. Her background in editorial design includes work for magazines like Saturday Night, Maclean’s, and the University of Toronto’s Rotman Management magazine. Some of her past hockey-minded work is featured here and here and over here; you can browse her more recent interests and creations on Instagram, here.

With an eye on turning her talents to teaching, she’s also pursuing a masters degree at Toronto’s York University. That’s where the chronicle of last season’s NHL assault and battery fits in. “Hockey and design,” she says, “came as a natural selection of my interests. My research focusses on the visual representation of violence in the history of the NHL,” she says. “The title of my thesis is Reflective Punch: A graphic design examination of the violence in the 2018-19 season of the National Hockey League.”

As her academic work continues, Arseneault is renewing her fight-by-fight chronicle for the 2019-20 NHL season. She’s also starting to introduce her work to the wider world. This very afternoon, in Quebec City, she’s presenting an overview of her hockey vision at the fall meeting of the Society for International Hockey Research.

In the summer gone by, Arseneault also agreed to submit to an interview by e-mail. The questions I asked follow, along with her answers.

How did you decide to draw a season’s worth of NHL fights?
I wanted to see how the fights started, how violent they were, and how they ended. I’ve always been the type of person who watched hockey fights with my hands covering my face while peeking through my fingers to catch glimpses. I thought that if I forced myself to watch them, I might be able to understand them a bit better.

Did you indeed end up drawing every fight from the 2018-19 season?
Yes, all 226 fights. Forgive me, the Jets versus Predators game on October 11, 2018, had two fights in one frame, so I only did 225 actual drawings.

What was the process? Was it a matter of scouring the NHL schedule every night through the season, then sitting down to draw next morning? How did you decide on composition? Looking at a particular fight, what sources did you draw on? How long would it typically take you to complete a drawing?
I watch a lot of hockey, but not every game, so during the 2018-19 hockey season, I started my day with coffee and hockeyfight.com. I checked to see if I missed any fights from the previous evening. Then I watched the fight a few times and finally in slow motion, where I was looking for something interesting to draw. I sketched them using my digital tablet and pen. They took anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour to complete, depending on the number of details. Oddly, it became a very meditative process, bordering on obsessive.

For a while you were posting the images as the season went along on Instagram. You didn’t frame them or series there with much (if any) explanation or commentary. Was that on purpose? 
Yes, I wrote very little on Instagram because I didn’t want to disclose any of my views. I hoped to offer something different from a photo or video and maybe tempt some reflection. The journal format of the project is even simpler. I designed the information almost like a wedding invitation, with date, the name of the players and teams. The journal was my way of representing a sort of formal agreement between the players.

Looking through the series, I was thinking about my own reactions to hockey violence and how, abstracted from the game, accumulated on the screen, how absurd these clutching/grappling/sneering figures can seem. At the same time, you have elevated these otherwise inglorious moments to works of art. My reaction, of course, won’t be everybody’s. Fans of fighting might see them quite differently — which I’m guessing is a point of yours?
They are totally absurd. Some will see that, but I suspect most won’t. Before starting this project, I thought a lot about the movie Slap Shot and the huge cult following it has among players and fans. Slap Shot was written by Nancy Dowd, who took inspiration from her brother, who played minor-league hockey. What many don’t realize is that Dowd’s objective was to point out how gruesome hockey could be. It’s a comedy, but really it’s a very dark drama. I don’t think she intended to glorify hockey fights. The irony is heavy on how the public digested that movie, and it demonstrated to me how firmly rooted hockey violence is inside hockey culture.

The irony was additionally confirmed to me when in September of 2017, Georges Parros was named head of the Department of Player Safety for the NHL. When he playing in the NHL, Parros was, of course, a fighter, and far from being a model of safety. This left me wondering whether the NHL had any worries at all about players safety when it comes to hockey fights. Adding to the paradox is Parros’ involvement with the clothing line Violent Gentlemen. This is a brand that describes itself as “forged from steel and bound by a code: Respect. It runs deep and courses through the veins of a Violent Gentleman …. From the ice to the Octagon, from the ring to the field we honor the fight, the art, the opponent and the sport. Blood paints a path to the heart. Sweat, a river to the soul.” Violent Gentlemen makes no excuses on how their brand romanticizes “The Code” and idealizes enforcers. That seemed to conflict with the mandate of player safety.

Long explanation. I think most will see me as an artist who idolizes hockey fights. What this offers me is a quick way to uncover people’s opinions about hockey violence by listening to their reactions to the illustrations.

Could we talk about one of the drawings in detail? I was looking at the one of Paul Byron of the Montreal Canadiens, from last March. I remember watching that game and the fight, in which Byron was clearly concussed. You’ve depicted him in the staggering aftermath of that. What do you see in the image when you study it?
In general, I found most fights to be very theatrical — almost to the point of looking rehearsed —with spins, hugs, swinging arms, pulling on jerseys, and missed punches. I also realized how difficult it is to land a decent hit on an opponent. Most ludicrous are the punches with a bare fist on a hard helmet. A lot of the fights felt performed, with qualities of a circus or carnival event.

But some were very difficult to watch, like that fight between Paul Byron and Mackenzie Weegar of the Florida Panthers on March 26, 2019. It didn’t last very long. Byron received a hit and fell immediately to the ice. When he got back on his feet, you could tell he was hurt and struggling to keep his balance while leaning on one of the linesmen. He was escorted off the ice and went directly to the dressing room with the help of a member of the Canadiens medical team and a fellow teammate. Byron is a small player, 5’8”, and weighs only 158 pounds. He was mismatched with Weegar, who’s 6’0” and 212 pounds. Any fight where there’s a significant difference in the size of the players makes me cringe.

What have reactions been from people who’ve seen the series?
As expected, on Instagram, I get a lot of fist-pump emojis. But the best reactions are from the non-hockey fans. My thesis advisor, a non-hockey fan, immediately saw homoerotic artwork, but I think many in creative fields often see some sensuality in my work. After she said that, I tried to look for poses to encourage that thought. I’m not sure how many will detect it, but I did sneak them in there.

Did your perspective change from beginning to end, either on the project itself and what you wanted to achieve and/or on hockey violence? 
The short answer is yes, my perspective changed a lot, but my feelings about hockey fighting did not. The difference is in my explanation of why I find hockey violence troubling. It also opened up many more questions about the reasons why the fights are so popular amongst fans. Most stunning was the lack of consideration from the fans who like hockey fights: they seem to possess zero concerns for any potential injuries. On January 29, 2019, Trent Frederic played his first game for the Bruins and got into his first NHL fight with Brandon Tanev of the Winnipeg Jets. The camera scanned the reaction of Frederic’s parents standing in the stands and showed them smiling and clapping. I’m still troubled by watching that type of response from parents.

I’m often surprised by things I didn’t include in the illustrations: the reaction of the crowd, especially from small children. I observed a mom and son sitting in the front row looking very upset by the fighting on the ice. Their expressions were what you would expect from people witnessing a fight outside the walls of an ice arena. Watching them at that moment made the violence feel very real to me. Another instance was when I saw a young boy and girl sitting next to each other. The boy was jumping in excitement while the little girl seemed disturbed by the fight. In a split second, her expression changed, and she joined in the smiling and jumping. It made me wonder about peer pressures when attending games and how the roar of a crowd can be confusing. All the fights had countless of people filming with their smartphones while watching through their tiny screens. I wonder if any of them even watched the video afterwards and if so, what they thought about it.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

this week: nothing that you can’t not say good about gordie howe

gordie howe day

“Pond hockey!” wrote Scott Feschuk in Maclean’s (a while ago; it bears repeating). “Short of getting Gordon Lightfoot to write a song about Stompin’ Tom Connors singing a song about Anne Murray, you just can’t get any more Canadian.”

Eighty-six-year old Gordie Howe went home to Saskatoon. That was more recent, but still a week ago; the occasion was the Kinsmen Sports Celebrity Dinner. “Howe had a stroke late last year,” noted Saskatoon’s Star-Phoenix, “but has shown signs of improvement following a stem cell procedure in Mexico in December.” Everybody was thrilled to see him. Bobby Hull was on hand, too, and his son, Brett. Wayne Gretzky was the keynote speaker. “There’s nothing that you can’t not say good about Gordie Howe,” was one of the things Gretzky said.

“It is not just what he has accomplished, but who he is as a person that makes Howe especially beloved,” said The Star Phoenix in an editorial. “Howe’s qualities represent the kind of person Saskatchewan people most respect: humility, resilience and kindness.”

Could he have originated anywhere else? No.

It is impossible, however, to imagine Howe emerging from anywhere but the Prairies.

His tough, Depression-era upbringing shaped Howe into the resilient man who remains one of Canada’s great heroes. He skated out of those humble beginnings in Saskatoon and onto rough-and-tumble NHL arenas, throwing elbows and firing pucks, the shy prairie kid making himself impossible to ignore.

Brett Popplewell from Sportsnet Magazine paid a visit to Detroit coach Mike Babcock’s house:

He has an office, lined with hockey memorabilia and the sun-baked skulls of some of the animals he has killed — an African lion, a leopard, some bears and deer — but today he’s working in the kitchen.

Max Pacioretty pointed to Brendan Gallagher this week. The Globe and Mail’s Sean Gordon was there and saw this and he wrote down what Pacioretty said as he was pointing: “He doesn’t dive at all, but maybe it looks that way because he’s battling hard, he’s smaller, he’s getting knocked over.”

Gretzky on the first time he played against Howe in 1978:

“I stole the puck from him and was going the other way. All of the sudden I felt a whack. He hit me and took the puck back. He said, ‘Don’t you ever take the puck from me.’ I said, ‘All right. It will never happen again.’”

The Star Phoenix:

He carries his hometown with him wherever he goes. Howe hasn’t lived here in a long time, but he’s Saskatoon through and through.

Las Vegas set out this week to find out how much local support there might be for an NHL team in town, taking actual deposits on notional tickets to convince the league why they should be expanding there soon. From http://www.vegaswantshockey.net:

Our story begins with a goal … to bring NHL® hockey to Las Vegas. And Las Vegas is ready — ready for the energy, excitement and thrill that only NHL® hockey can deliver. We’ve done the research, polled the community and rallied our local businesses. ALL are eager to support an NHL® team. Las Vegas is ready to join the elite list of “NHL® Cities”.

Why does Nevada need hockey? The franchise’s enthusiastic backers say its for the Community and

For Our Youth …

Hockey is an excellent motivator for our youth, teaching the value of team skills, hard work and determination. If we are able to secure a team in Las Vegas, we are committed to supporting youth hockey in Las Vegas through the development of youth hockey rinks, programs and other activities.

Another week, not this, Dave Bidini was writing in The National Post:

I play goal one night a week, likely as penance for some murderous sin I committed in another lifetime.

I’ve come to enjoy being hit, but one of the other small pleasures of the crease is when everything swooshes away and you’re left naked in the zone, the rest of the players having gathered up ice, leaving you like an abandoned party guest.

It’s during these instances that I ponder mortality, taxes, and whether I’ve left the oven on at home.

Also not this week: Ron MacLean was in Newfoundland, where he ate a seal burger at Mallard Cottage in St. John’s. When he told Don Cherry about it on national television, Cherry said, “What are you, a savage? A barbarian?”

Words that failed to please many people across the country, many of whom have Twitter accounts. Matthew Coon Come, former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, was one. “According to Don Cherry, my Inuk friends are savages because they eat seal,” he wrote. “The network should fire him for his racist remark.”

“I hope he apologizes,” said Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq, the Minister of Health, who called Cherry’s comments “hurtful and insensitive.”

“Our government will continue to defend Canada’s humane seal hunt which is so important to many of our Northern and coastal communities.”

Cherry took to Twitter the next day, posting an explanation if not quite an apology in one of his rawly poetic bursts of numbered tweets:

1) Evidently I upset some people about my seal burger comments. I would like to try to explain my comments. Not because I was told to

2) or forced to. I do it because I feel I have hurt the feelings of some people I like and admire. I have friends who hunt deer and ducks

3) and I myself have eaten venison and duck meat. Just the same as people who hunt seals and eat seal meat. I have no problem with my

4) friends who are hunters and eat venison and duck. Just the same, as I have no problem, with people who hunt seals and seal meat.

5) I do however find it very unusual, in my world, that a person would go into a restaurant and order a seal burger for lunch.

6) I meant no disrespect to the hunters who hunt and eat seal meat just like I have no disrespect for the hunters who hunt deer and duck

7) and eat their meat. Again, I do this explanation because I want to. I have hurt some people’s feelings that I like and admire.

8) If this explanation isn’t good enough, then let the cards fall where they may.

Continue reading

this week: encore des maux de tête et des raideurs au cou

Fallguy: Philadelphia forward Scott Hartnell published his first children’s book this week. It’s the story of a hockey player who falls down a lot but (spoiler alert) always gets back up again. For more information, visit:
http://shop.hartnelldown.com/products/hartnelldown-children-s-book.

Jay Feaster lost his job this week as GM of the Calgary Flames. Stepping up in his place was Brian Burke, whose torrid hair made big news when he went to meet the press.

“We want black-and-blue hockey here, that’s what we do in Alberta,” Burke mentioned. “We’ve got to be big and more truculent — I know you’re all waiting for the word, there it is. I want a little more hostility out there than what I’m seeing right now.”

He said he wasn’t kissing babies, i.e.: “I’m not running for office. This is about winning hockey games. And I have to take the steps that I think are going to lead us to win the most hockey games we can win.”

“I’m tellin the real world what goes on,” is something Don Cherry said, this week.

Bob Cole watched a Chicago goalie take the net for his first NHL minutes in Toronto on Saturday night, Kent Simpson was his name, 21, from Edmonton, the score was 5-2 for the Leafs and Finnish rookie Antti Raanta had done all that he could do for the Blackhawks, and the first shot that Toronto took, it was Joffrey Lupul, passed Simpson by, and Cole said, “Ya gotta feel sad for that young man.”

Brian Burke: “Easier to fill out the roster with bangers than skill players. Anyone can paint a barn.”

In New York, the Rangers continued to falter. Katie Strang of ESPN heard about it from defenceman Ryan McDonagh. “The hockey gods are testing us,” he told her.

Larry Brooks from The New York Post wrote about the Rangers’ Derek Stepan who, in his struggles, hadn’t scored a goal in ten games. A non-factor, Brooks called him. Maybe was he, quote, playing his way off the U.S. Olympic Team?

“Enough is enough,” Stepan said. “I have to score.”

About his team, he said this: “Our confidence is really fragile. We’re so fragile.” Continue reading

this week: ya gotta step up to the thing

Hockey Night In Canada opened, this week, with a rousing rendition of Paul McCartney’s new song, “Save Us,” backing the usual montage of shooting and scoring and punching, and more punching, and some passing, and punching, building up to the big Nelson Mandela finish. Ron MacLean paid tribute to the late South African president’s geographical savvy with quotes involving the road to forgiveness and how, once you climb a hill, there’s always another hill to climb. In the rink in Ottawa, where the Leafs were visiting the Senators, a moment of silence in Mandela’s honour was broken by hardly any partisan bellowing.

That was Saturday night, just before all hell broke loose in Boston. Which is worth coming back to. First, though, in other news:

@Bernieparent tweeted a bulletin on Wednesday:

Your smile will give you a positive countenance that will make people feel comfortable around you.

… while Dave Bidini (@hockeyesque) called out his local librarian:

hey @torontolibrary ‘Keon and Me’: 16 copies, 76 holds. Stephen Harper? 177 copies. 13 holds. ‪#Moremelesshim

Meanwhile, in Moscow, R-Sport fretted about a crisis for the Russian hockey team playing host at the Sochi Olympics in February: with Ilya Bryzgalov going down this week with a concussion, all six Russian goaltenders playing in the NHL are now ailing. Sergei Bobrovsky’s lower body is stretched, strained, sprained, and/or smarting. Anton Khudobin’s ankle is his problem, while Evgeny Nabokov and Nikolai Khabibulin are troubled by groins. Sorry, that’s not quite right: what they’re saying is that they have “groin problems.” Semyon Varlamov has those, too; he also faces charges of third-degree assault for (allegedly) beating up his girlfriend.

R-Sport:

In Sochi, four-time world champion Russia is under great pressure to win gold following Vancouver 2010 failure, when the team was destroyed 7-3 by Canada in the quarterfinal.

“A Bobby Hull howitzer it wasn’t,” wrote The Calgary Sun’s Randy Sportak of a Mikael Backlund goal that won a game for the Flames over Phoenix.

“I didn’t get too much on the puck, so I didn’t think it would go in,” Backlund said while a teammate in the dressing room referred to his shot as a “muffin.”

Buffalo captain Steve Ott (born in Summerside, P.E.I.) had monetary policy on his mind this week, broadcasting his dismay about the new Canadian five-dollar bill, which replaces an illustration of hockey-playing kids with one showing the Canadarm at work in outer space. @otterN9NE:

A little disappointed in the new Canadian 5’s … Never knew we had a space program? #Nasa or #Hockey 

Hue and cry ensued on Twitter, as you’d guess, until @otterN9NE returned (sheepishly?) to his smartphone:

It was cool to watch Com Chris Hadfield drop a puck from space last year but I believe Hockey should have stayed on the 5. Maybe the 10?

At The Toronto Star, Damien Cox wondered whether Edmonton’s Taylor Hall wasn’t talking himself into the Team Canada conversation.

Talking to Sports Illustrated, Boston coach Claude Julien didn’t deny that as a boy, he’d worshipped the Montreal Canadiens. Times change, though. “Right now I don’t like them,” he said.

Prediction from former New Jersey defenceman Ken Daneyko, now a broadcaster for the Devils: the NHL will expand to Quebec and Seattle within “a couple years.”

The NHL paid Wayne Gretzky the $US8-million it owed him this week, parking instant speculation that he’ll be back soon in an active management role in, maybe, Washington or perhaps (possibly) Los Angeles, though of course how can you rule out Toronto?

As for the mess in Boston Saturday night, here’s how the NHL page on Yahoo! Sports told the tale next morning:

Brooks Orpik attacked by Shawn Thornton

Penguins’ defenseman was stretchered off the ice after being jumped from behind by Bruins’ winger

Ugliness erupts in Boston

Bruins win late, add insult to injury Continue reading