born with a black eye: one more requiem for reggie fleming

reggie-f-helm

Hat Trick: A hospitalized Reggie Fleming poses with Chicago policemen in his Hawk days in the early 1960s. In all his 14 years as a hockey professional, he never wore a helmet on the ice. (Image: Chris Fleming)

A version of this post appeared on page 132 of The Story of Canada in 150 Objects, published jointly by Canadian Geographic and The Walrus in January of 2017.

Reggie Fleming’s brain made its NHL debut somewhere in the middle of January of 1967—that, at least, is how the newspapers framed it.

By then, at age 30, six full seasons into his professional hockey career, Fleming knew the league’s penalty boxes better than its nets. He was a policeman, in the parlance, valued for his strength, bravado and professional surliness. Born with a black eye, a wag in the press wrote in 1961. He was a knuckleman, a bulldozer, a wild bucko. Reviews of his work are filled with references to his truculence and fistic prowess, his battle-scarred face.

But here was Emile Francis telling reporters that Fleming’s brain had caught up with his brawn. He wasn’t taking foolish penalties, only wise ones; he was scoring goals. “He’s playing it real smart,” said the coach of Fleming’s New York Rangers.

The truth is, Fleming could always play. He was just very, very good at being (as another chronicler put it) “one of hockey’s most brutal, meanest players.” Like hockey fighters before and since, Fleming was a beloved figure to teammates and fans alike, and much nicknamed: Reg The Ruffian, The Horse, Mr. Clean, Hardrock.

“He had a ferocious left hook, a decent right and a beautiful head butt,” Earl McRae would write in a famous profile that’s still known as one of the most penetrating pieces of hockey prose. “He fought all the tough ones: Howe, Fontinato, Lindsay, Harris, Ferguson — and seldom lost. His only clear defeats came in the last few years; he lost to age.”

Once he retired from the game, Fleming and his wild years might have lapsed into the background, the way the careers of workaday players do, enshrined on hockey cards and in the fond dimming memories of those who saw him play.

Something else happened. When he died in 2009, his family donated his brain for study by pathologists in Boston. What they discovered was a shock to both those who loved him and to the hockey world he’d inhabited for all his skating years. It not only shifted Fleming’s legacy, but it transformed — and continues to transform — the conversation about the calamitous toll hockey can take on those who play.

•••

If for some sinister reason you had to invent from scratch a comprehensive system for putting the human brain at risk, hockey might be what you’d conjure. The speed of the game, its accelerations and sudden stops, the potential for impacts in unyielding ice and boards, all those weaponized sticks and fists and elbows — just how is an innocent mass of neural tissue afloat in cerebrospinal fluid supposed to protect itself?

For much of the game’s history, guarding the head wasn’t exactly a priority. Toronto Maple Leafs’ star winger Ace Bailey underwent two brain surgeries in 1933 when he was knocked to the ice in Boston; he survived, though he never played again. Scared, many of his fellow NHLers donned helmets after that. Most of them soon vanished: they were cumbersome, hot. Even when they started to make a comeback in the late 1960s, hockey’s protocol for concussion cases remained simple: Got your bell rung? Shake it off, get back out there.

Not long before the Bailey incident, a pathologist in Newark, New Jersey by the name of Dr. Harrison Martland was studying boxers. In a landmark paper he published in 1928, he wrote about what every fan of the sweet science had witnessed, a fighter staggered by a blow to the head that didn’t knock him out acting “cuckoo,” “goofy,” “sluggy nutty” — “punch drunk.”

Dr. Martland was the first to propose that repeated blows to the head were doing deeper damages within fighter’s heads, and that it was cumulative, causing “multiple concussion hemorrhages in the deeper portions of the cerebrum.” His conclusions on “punch drunk” syndrome were limited — he may have been circumscribed, too, by the outrage he stirred among fight fans annoyed by his medical meddling in a sport they loved so well.

If Dr. Martland conceived that hockey players might be suffering similar injuries, he never wrote about it. Why wasn’t anyone making the connection between hockey and head trauma earlier? “I think because it’s an invisible injury,” says Dr. Ann McKee, a leading pathologist who heads Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center. “Because players aren’t getting pounded in the head like they are in boxing. You see a hook to the jaw, you think, ah. It’s not a big jump for the layperson to say that might be hurting their brain.”

But hockey players? “They look invincible. There’s no blood, no pain, usually, so I think it was just — I think even the field of medicine didn’t recognize that these low-level hits, the ones that aren’t even causing concussions or any symptoms — just the repetitive impact injuries are leading to long-term loss of quality. We were all sort of oblivious.”

•••

Reggie Fleming didn’t mind talking about the role he played on the ice. He was open, affable — “a soft-spoken, mild-mannered quipster,” one interviewer wrote. Born in 1936 into a large Catholic family in east-end Montreal, he first stirred tempers as a star for the Junior Canadiens. His mother hated to watch. Seeing his cuts, the blood he wore home from games, she wanted to talk to coach Sam Pollock. Her son told her no. That’s my job, he told her, the only way I’ll make it.

Pollock went on to a management job with the big-league Canadiens, and Fleming eventually followed him there, first as a fill-in defenceman, always as a willing warrior when a teammate wanted revenging, or Canadiens felt a need to send one of hockey’s proverbial messages to their opponents. Although I guess there’s such a thing as message overload — as the story goes, Pollock traded Fleming to Chicago in the summer of 1960 after he roughed up a couple of teammates in practice.

Reggie Fleming as a Hawk, c. the early 1960s

Got To Knock Them Down: Reggie Fleming as a Hawk, c. the early 1960s.

Rudy Pilous was the coach of the Black Hawks when Fleming arrived in the early 1960s. “We can’t skate with most teams,” he was explaining around that time, “we’ve got to knock them down.” Fleming remembered his first game with his new team for the brawl he viewed from the bench. Unacceptable, Pilous told him: he should have been out there in the middle of the messing. “So I went out and fought,” Fleming recalled later. “I didn’t do it to be cruel, I was just following orders.”

His time in penalty boxes would eventually tick up to total 1,468 career minutes, or just over 24 hours. The websites that archive and revel in hockey’s fights don’t have a good fix on just how many he fought: at least 69, but maybe 96, and (almost certainly) many more. Still, he was relatively restrained compared to some of his heirs, the fearsome likes of Tie Domi (338 fights in 1,020 games) or Bob Probert (302 in 935).

A ledger of the punishments he dispensed and received during his career isn’t hard to coax out of the newspaper archives. There’s a whole angry thesaurus of NHL violence in there: Fleming struck Jack McCartan with a vicious right (1960), slugged Wally Boyer (1969). The NHL fined him $175 for charging a referee (1964). Other uproars he sparked by swiping a goalie (1967) and trying to cross-check Bobby Hull’s face (1972). Eddie Shack clotheslined Fleming with his stick (1964), sending him to hospital with a concussion and cuts that needed 21 stitches to close. He was incoherent when he left the rink, the papers reported.

Fleming was a proficient penalty-killer, too, and he was a key asset of Chicago’s when they won the 1961 Stanley Cup. One year, in Boston, he found the net 18 times.

“I would rather have been recognized as a guy who scored a lot of goals like a Bobby Hull or a Stan Mikita,” he’d say in 1979, aged 43. “But I did something I loved: played hockey. If it meant I had to be a tough guy, then I was a tough guy. I was brought up in an area where you had to fight to survive. I worked my butt off to get to the top in hockey, and I had to work twice as hard to stay there.”

reggie-f-egg

Fry Guy: Reggie Fleming serves up breakfast to Chicago teammates (left) Stan Mikita and (possibly) Murray Balfour in the early 1960s. (Image: Chris Fleming)

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feeling fine, he said; forgot to duck

stewart and henry son pkstrk

Gaye Stewart was the last Toronto Maple Leaf to lead the NHL in goalscoring: in 1945-46 he finished the season with 37 goals. Maybe that’s how you know the name. He was also the first NHLer to win a Stanley Cup before he won the Calder Trophy as the league’s best rookie, long before Danny Grant, Tony Esposito, or Ken Dryden got around to doing it. The Cup came in the spring of 1942, when he was 18; the Calder came the following year. He won a second Cup with the Leafs in 1947, then later the same year found himself on his way to Chicago in the big trade that brought Max Bentley to Toronto.

Stewart did fine for himself in Chicago, even as the team struggled. He was named captain of the Black Hawks for the 1948-49 season. It was in January of ’49 that he was photographed, above, with his goaltender’s son: Tom Henry was Sugar Jim’s two-and-a-half-year-old.

Stewart, 25, was only just back in Chicago following a hospital stay in Toronto. Struck by another puck, not the one depicted here, he’d left the Hawks’ January 8 game, a 3-3 tie with the Leafs, a few days earlier. Jim Vipond of The Globe and Mail was on hand to watch. In the second period, as he told it,

The ex-Leaf left winger was struck over the right eye by a puck lifted by Garth Boesch as the Toronto defenseman attempted to clear down the ice.

Stewart returned to action after a brief rest but collapsed in the shower after the game. After being removed to the Gardens hospital, his condition became so serious that a rush call was put in for an ambulance and arrangements made for an emergency operation.

Fortunately the player rallied soon after reaching Toronto General Hospital and surgery was not necessary. His condition was much improved last night [January 9], with the injury diagnosed as a bruise on the brain.

forgot to duck“I forgot to duck,” he was joshing by the time he was back in Chicago, as hockey players did, and do. Brain bruises, The Globe was reporting now. “I’m feeling fine,” Stewart said. “The accident was just one of those things. I expect I’ll start skating next week.” The Associated Press called it a concussion, and had the player’s side of the story to offer:

Stewart said that he when he returned to action in the game he felt tired. He remembered his mates coming into the dressing after the game, but then blacked out until he woke up in hospital.

There wasn’t much news, after that, of Stewart’s head or his recovery — not that made it into the newspapers, anyway. It was three weeks or so before he returned to play, back in Toronto again at the end of January, having missed six games. The two teams tied this time, too, 4-4. They met again in Chicago the following day. The Black Hawks won that one, 4-2, with Stewart scoring the winning goal.

All in all, it was ended up another fruitless year for Chicago. When the playoffs rolled around in March, they were on the outside looking in for the third consecutive season. When Tribune reporter Charles Bartlett buttonholed coach Charlie Conacher before he departed for Toronto, he asked him how he felt about his players.

“I’m not satisfied with any of them,” he answered. “It never pays to be satisfied with any team in sports. Creates a weak attitude. What I am pleased with, however, is the morale of the Hawks. I think their fifth place finish, and the fact that they won only won game less than Toronto will mean a lot when we start training at North Bay in September.”

He thought the team had played pretty well through December. But then Doug Bentley got sick and Stewart concussed, and Bill Mosienko and Metro Prystai had played that stretch of games with their wonky shoulders …

Conacher was headed home to his summer job — his oil business, Bartlett reported. A couple of Hawks were staying in Chicago for the duration, Ralph Nattrass to work in real estate and Jim Conacher at an auto agency. The rundown on their teammates as went their separate ways looked like this:

Goalie Jim Henry will join with his Ranger rival, Chuck Rayner, in operating their summer camp in Kenora, Ont. Red Hamill will go a talent scouting tour of northern Ontario. Doug Bentley and brother Max of the Leafs will play baseball and run their ice locker plant in De Lisle, Sask. Mosienko will return to Winnipeg, where he owns a bowling center with Joe Cooper, former Hawk defenseman.

Roy Conacher, who received a substantial bonus from the Hawks for winning the league’s scoring title, is headed for Midland, Ont., where he plans to open a sporting goods store. Gaye Stewart will run a soft drink agency in Port Arthur, Ont. A fish business will occupy Ernie Dickens in Bowmanville. Doug McCaig is enrolled in a Detroit accounting school. Adam Brown will assist his dad in their Hamilton filling station.

 

 

 

 

 

this week: out there at twilight with a big machete, chopping up a beaver dam

maclean's room

As the Toronto Maple Leafs approach their centennial, the team is thinking of maybe updating, altering, or otherwise rejigging their logo — possibly. That was the news today, from the website sportslogos.net, quoting “sources” and hinting at plans for new sweaters, some of which may or may not be St. Patricks-green.

“Centennial plans will be announced in the New Year,” Dave Haggith, senior director of communications for Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, was telling Kevin McGran, from The Toronto Star. “We won’t be commenting until that time. There’s some fun stuff planned.”

Erik Karlsson is the most game-changing defenceman since Bobby Orr, said Adam Gretz this week at CBS Sports. And he is only getting better. (Italics his.)

The city of Edmonton commissioned artist Slavo Cech to fashion a small steel sculpture of a bison to present to former Oilers coach and GM and dynasty-builder Glen Sather this week. Cech, an Oilers fan, was honoured. “It’s not hockey-related,” he said, “but he’s more than hockey, right?”

“It’s difficult for me to put in my words the gratitude I feel for this honour,” Sather said on Friday night as a banner bearing his name lifted to the rafters of Rexall Place. “My sincere wish is that every one of you in this building gets to experience something, anything in your life that makes you feel like I’m feeling right now: the luckiest person on earth.”

New-Look Leafs: A Globe and Mail correspondent browsed the aisles at a Jordanian refugee camp earlier this week.

Brand New: A Globe and Mail correspondent browsed the aisles at a Jordanian refugee camp earlier this week.

“I say,” tweeted Don Cherry, “what kind of a world would we live in without the police?”

Everyone who paid attention to the New York Rangers’ advanced stats saw their struggles coming, said someone, on social media, somewhere.

On the ice in Boston a week or two back, it’s possible that a Bruin winger, Brad Marchand, may have kneed a Ranger goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist, in the head. Boston coach Claude Julien said that Lundqvist was acting.

“Who would you rather have as a son,” said his New York counterpart, Alain Vigneault, “Henrik or Brad Marchand?”

David Akin of The Toronto Sun reported this week that hockey historian Stephen J. Harper has been sighted just twice in the House of Commons in Ottawa since he lost his day-job as prime minister of Canada in October. Akin writes:

His front-row seat is immediately to the left of the Speaker. That location lets the former prime minister enter and exit the House with little fanfare and without having to go near the press.

Paul Martin used the same seat after his Liberals lost the 2006 election.

To pass the albeit brief time he’s spent in the Commons, Harper arrived last time with a book: A just published biography by Eric Zweig of Art Ross, the Hockey Hall of Famer, NHL founding father, and long-time member of the Boston Bruins. Harper is a big hockey history buff.

Speaking of the Speaker, there’s a new one, Harperside: Nova Scotia Liberal MP Geoff Regan. He was on CTV’s Question Period today comparing the House of Commons to a hockey game.

“Only certain people get to play and it’s shaped in a lot of ways like an arena, with the two sides,” said Regan.

“And the people who aren’t actually in the game, they’d like to be in the game, and sometimes want to react to something, want to say something, the way you’d see at a game. But we’re not in a rink. We’re in the House of Commons.”

“I just love anything Michael Keaton is in,” Don Cherry told Jim Slotek of Postmedia.

Sather was a master psychologist: that’s what a defenceman who worked his blueline, Steve Smith, told Jim Matheson of The Edmonton Journal. “You can take Roger Neilson, maybe the best Xs and Os guy, but he didn’t win, maybe because he didn’t have the players elsewhere. But Glen managed all these personalities in Edmonton. That’s a special art to manage all those guys and keep them happy. It’s like Phil Jackson in basketball. He understood his players in Chicago and what buttons to push.”

“It was the managing of people that made Glen really good.”

No Logo: Leaf fans weighed in at The Toronto Star earlier today, hours after word of a possible new logo emerged online.

No Logo: Leaf fans weighed in at The Toronto Star earlier today, hours after word of a possible new logo emerged online.

Fighting is on its way out of the NHL, mostly everybody agreed this week — as they have been agreeing, more or less, since the season started in early October.

A kinder, gentler NHL is taking shape, said Dave Feschuk of The Toronto Star:

Given the rise in concern about the permanent nature of head injuries, there is also, in some eyes, a growing mutual awareness of the ultimate fragility of the human condition.

“Back in the day it used to be pretty malicious,” said Nazem Kadri, the only Leafs player who’s been penalized for fighting this season. “I think guys now respect the game and respect each other’s bodies and hope nobody gets seriously injured. I mean, anytime you see someone go down, it’s a frightening feeling because you know it could be you.”

Back in October, The Globe and Mail ran an editorial at that time to bid farewell to the age of the goon, noting that the NHL might even be showing signs of getting serious about dealing with its concussion problem. And yet:

… if players are still allowed to punch each other in the head during prolonged, staged fights, what’s the point? It is hypocritical to express concern for concussions on the one hand, and allow fighting on the other.

Pierre LeBrun of ESPN was wondering the same thing this week. “Shouldn’t we be asking why the NHL still allows bare-knuckle fighting?” he wrote in a piece you’re advised to read for yourself. “I’ve said this before, but it just seems so hypocritical to have introduced Rule 48 (illegal hit to the head) in 2010 but still allow bare-knuckle punches.”

More required reading: writing at Vice Sports, Dave Bidini’s take on the complicated cultural significance of fighting is a smart, counterintuitive view you haven’t heard before.

“My big heroes,” continued Don Cherry, “are Sir Francis Drake, Horatio Nelson, and Lawrence of Arabia. I really loved Seven Pillars of Wisdom.”

A latterday Oiler, Taylor Hall, on Sather:

“He was a guy who brought everyone together; he seemed like a great button-pusher. Having that much skill and that much talent on your team isn’t an easy thing.”

Blackhawks preternatural confidence rubs off on new players

was a recent headline on a Mark Lazerus feature in Chicago’s Sun-Times in which the coach praised his captain, Jonathan Toews:

Joel Quenneville calls it a “competitive” nature, that the Hawks, perhaps more than any team he’s ever played for or coached, are better physically prepared and better mentally equipped to handle any situation. And he said it starts at the top, with the captain.

“As a coaching staff, you’re in a good spot knowing that the message is always there [about] doing things the right way,” Quenneville said. “Guys definitely notice Jonny’s intensity and professionalism right off the bat.”

 Don Cherry gave another Postmedia interview, this one to Michael Traikos:

Q: Is it OK that enforcers have been run out of the league?

A: I never ever believed in guys that should sit there for two periods and then get thrown out there for a minute and fight. I never believed in that. I call that ‘Mad Dog Thinking.’ I remember with my Boston Bruins, we had more tough guys than any team and every one of them got 20 goals. That’s what they have now. Every one of them can play the game. And that’s the way it should be. You should never have a guy sitting on the bench like a mad dog.

A Nashville rookie named Viktor Arvidsson used his stick to neck-check a Buffalo defenceman, Carlo Colaiacovo. The former left the game with a five-minute major and a game misconduct on his record; the latter departed with what the Sabres at first classed, inevitably, as an upper body injury.

His coach, Dan Bylsma, had an update following the game: “Carlo is doing OK. He got the cross check to the throat. He did go to the hospital; he’s there now. I guess they’re saying he has a dented trachea.”

Bryan Trottier wrote a letter to his youthful self and posted it at The Player’s Tribune for himself to read, along with everybody.

When you tell people how you learned to skate later in life, they’ll think you’re messing with them. They’re not going to believe how your handyman father would clear off the frozen creek across from your house after a snowstorm. You know how he walks out there at twilight with a big machete and floods the creek by chopping up a beaver dam? That’s not a normal thing. Other kids’ dads have Zambonis, or at least a hose. Your dad has a machete and some Canadian know-how. Thanks, Mr. Beaver.

Sometimes you just have to go out to the beaver dam with a machete and start chopping wood.

Brandon Prust of the Vancouver Canucks paid $5,000 last week to spear Boston’s Brad Marchand in the groin.

“Best money I’ve ever spent,” Prust told reporters.

Why did he do it? “It was frustrations,” Prust explained. “It happens out there. I wasn’t trying to injure him. I was just coming back as the puck was coming back up the boards. On my swing by, I got my stick active.”

 “It wasn’t that hard,” he said. “He sold it pretty good. I saw him laughing on the bench afterwards.

Marchand, for his part, was only too glad to talk about what happened to Amalie Benjamin of The Boston Globe. “I think it was Prust,” he said. “I didn’t really see who did it when it happened, but just kind of gave me a jab, got me in the fun spot.”

Assuming it was who it may have been, Marchand understood. “Honestly,” he continued, “even if he wasn’t fined, I wouldn’t have been upset. It’s fine that he is, but I wouldn’t want to see him lose that much money over what happened. I think suspensions are worthy when guys get hurt or it’s a really bad shot. Like I said, I’ve done that before, lots of guys do that all the time. It is what it is. It’s part of the game.”

On he went, and on:

“It clearly doesn’t feel good,” Marchand said. “It hurts, so whether you’re upset at someone or you want to take a shot, it’s an easy place to target. You know it’s going to hurt. I think that’s why a lot of guys do it.

“A lot of guys take cheap shots, when there’s that much emotion in the game and it happens all the time. If you’re down by a few goals, if you’re having a bad game, someone takes a shot at you, someone says the wrong thing, guys get upset and they take shots at guys. I think it’s just human nature.

“There’s a lot of good players that take jabs at guys. People can say whatever they want. I’m not overly upset about what happened. It’s part of the game. I’ve done it. I’m sure he’s done it before. I’m sure it won’t be the last. It won’t be the last time I do it. It is what it is. It’s part of hockey.”

prust fine

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this week: pax + the stupidest rule in sports + as far as sid goes, let me tell ya

Hello, Canada, and hockey fans in the United States and Newfoundland: Franklin Arbuckle painted Foster Hewitt at work for the cover of Maclean’s that found newsstands on March 3, 1956.

Max Pacioretty, Montreal’s leading scorer, was in the news this week, having left a game last week and unsettling Canadiens fans everywhere. Sniper was a word used to describe him; we learned that his nicknames include Pax and Max Pac. Midweek, the nhl.com was reporting:

Pacioretty appeared to sustain an upper-body injury at 5:48 of the first period against the Florida Panthers on Sunday when he hit his head against the boards after being checked by Panthers defenseman Dmitry Kulikov and then getting his feet tangled with Panthers defenseman Alex Petrovic.

A former Hab, Sergio Momesso, who now works on the radio in Montreal for TSN690 said he’d seen Pacioretty looking, quote, groggy and not good.

From the Canadiens:

Head coach Michel Therrien confirmed that Max Pacioretty met with team doctors on Wednesday morning. He will not play against Detroit on Thursday night or in the regular season finale on Saturday night in Toronto. Pacioretty’s condition will be re-evaluated next week. Therrien did not rule out Pacioretty returning to the lineup as soon as next week, too.

“We know exactly what he has,” Therrien told reporters on Thursday. “He won’t play the next two games. He will be re-evaluated next week and we’ll have more details next week.”

At habseyesontheprize.com, Andrew Berkshire was among those fearing the worst:

Max Pacioretty has been involved in 34.5% of the Canadiens’ goals, among the highest marks of any player in the NHL. Can the Habs survive without him?

Answer: nope, sorry, don’t think so,

Saturday. Pacioretty skated in Montreal while his team prepared for its game in Toronto. Therrien: “He’s reacted really well to the treatment that he got.”

Patrick Kane skated this week in Chicago. “He’s progressing real well,” commented his coach, Joel Quenneville. Kane’s collarbone was broken on the left side on February 24. Quenneville: “Every day it seems like he’s getting a little stronger. His skating has always been fine, he’s handling the puck extremely well. It’s good signs every day, seeing the progress.”

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The Philadelphia Flyers handed out their in-house trophies today before the last game of their non-playoff season. As team MVP, Jacob Voracek won the Bobby Clarke Trophy (reported Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer) while Mark Streit got the Barry Ashbee as the as top defenceman. The Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Trophy (most improved) went to Chris VandeVelde. Streit also took the Yanick Dupre Class Guy Memorial Award. Claude Giroux won the Toyota Cup, reflecting his accumulation of three-star selections over the course of the season.

“We know how to play in order to have success,” said Boston winger Milan Lucic on the last day of the regular season, as his team tottered on the lip of the playoffs, “we’ve got to bring that here tonight and hope that things go our way.” Continue reading

one week and another: haven’t really looked at it as a concussion

In The Paint: Montreal’s Classic Auctions closed out another big sale last week. Big-money items included a 1980 Miracle-On-Ice U.S.A. number-23 sweater worn by Rob McClanahan (sold for US$$86,220, including a buyer’s premium); four different gold-and-diamond Stanley Cup rings of Billy Smith’s (one of which went for US$ $36,563); a Herb Cain game-worn woolen number-four Bruins’ sweater (US$25,937); and one of Andy Warhol’s iconic 1984 “Wayne Gretzky #99” screenprints signed by both artist and subject (US$$8,249). Also on the block was this 1964 oil painting by brushtender Jacques Plante. Bidding started at US$300 with the final price climbing to US$2,014.

In The Paint: Montreal’s Classic Auctions closed out another big sale last week. Big-money items included a 1980 Miracle-On-Ice U.S.A. number-23 sweater worn by Rob McClanahan (sold for US$$86,220, including a buyer’s premium); four different gold-and-diamond Stanley Cup rings of Billy Smith’s (one of which went for US$ $36,563); a Herb Cain game-worn woolen number-four Bruins’ sweater (US$25,937); and one of Andy Warhol’s iconic 1984 “Wayne Gretzky #99” screenprints signed by both artist and subject (US$$8,249). Also on the block was this 1964 oil painting by brushtender Jacques Plante. Bidding started at US$300 with the final price climbing to US$2,014.

Carey Price is 6 foot 3, reported The Globe and Mail’s Sean Gordon, and his thighs are as stout as 50-year-old timber.

From Stan Butler, who coaches the OHL’s Brampton Battalion, came a tweet last week:

In hockey Choking equals Poor Preparation plus Low Self Confidence. #mentalpreparation

Evgeni Malkin told Sport Express about some of the keys to the success he’s been enjoying in his ninth NHL season. Language was one of them: as soon as English ceased to be a problem, he said, came “looseness and confidence.” Also, he has a good Russian cook now, who prepares soups and pancakes. His fridge, now, is filled with “tasty and familiar food, not the typical American chips and stuff.”

“Thank God,” said Malkin, “all is well and I am happy in life.”

When, last week, Philadelphia GM Ron Hextall traded a defenceman, Kimmo Timonen, to Chicago’s Blackhawks, he said that he was sending them not just a skilled and experienced player, “but a damn good person, too.”

“I’m comfortable and strong,” said Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf.

An entomologist who discovered a new species of wasp in Kenya’s Teita Hills of Kenya, being a Bruins fans, named it Thaumatodryinus tuukkaraski, writes Carolyn Y. Johnson of The Boston Globe. And so Tuukka Rask —

who won the 2014 Vézina Trophy as the best goalie in the National Hockey League — will have the unusual honor of a callout in the scientific journal Acta Entomologica Musei Nationalis Pragae.

“This species is named after the acrobatic goaltender for the Finnish National ice hockey team and the Boston Bruins, whose glove hand is as tenacious as the raptorial fore tarsus of this dryinid species,” the authors wrote in the paper, which has been accepted and will be published in April.

Robert S. Copeland, an entomologist at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology in Nairobi who grew up in Newton, said naming this particular wasp after Rask reflected his admiration for a player who has “had an outstanding career in one of the most difficult positions in sports.”

The name also fit for other reasons. The project that led to the discovery of the species was underwritten by the government of Finland, Rask’s home country. The wasp is yellowish and black, similar to the Bruins’ colors. The grasping front legs of the female have claspers that look vaguely like goalie gloves.

Alert: if you happen to be browsing Player Bios filed by the Detroit Red Wings, and you come across captain Henrik Zetterberg’s he does not, in fact, collect smoke-detectors. The actual wording is this:

OTHER: Hosts guests from local children’s hospitals at DRW home games in his Zetterberg Foundation Suite… Serves as the team spokesperson for the annual smoke detector collection…Scored the Stanley Cup-clinching goal in 2008.

Last month, while Michal Neuvirth was still a goaltender for the Buffalo Sabres, he paid US$2,000 to dive and embellish his distress after Nashville’s Mike Santorelli took a penalty for running into him. Neuvirth, who was trade on Monday to New York’s Islanders, is the first goaltender to pay the price, apparently; he’ll pay more if he does it again, says the NHL, up to a maximum of $5,000.

Headline on an NBC Sports item ahead of Detroit’s game in Anaheim Monday last:

Zetterberg (Jamie Benn head punch) doubtful for tonight

Two days earlier in Dallas it happened, during the second period of a 7-6 win by the Red Wings. Benn took a roughing minor for the punch; Zetterberg played on until the end of the period and missed the third.

Of the game, Pavel Datsyuk said, “We play not really good today. We happy we win.”

Regarding Zetterberg, reporters in a scrum that included Mike Heika of The Dallas Morning News asked coach Mike Babcock whether his captain might have a concussion. “Yeah,” he said, “I don’t really know that. I didn’t talk to the guys. Let’s just say he’s got an upper-body injury and I don’t know if he’s fine tomorrow or not fine tomorrow, so we’ll see him tomorrow. We’ll practice tomorrow and then play the following day, so we’ll see where he’s at.”

“You go through this whole range of feelings when things aren’t going well,” said Cam Neely, president of the Boston Bruins, for whom he once used to skate the wing. The team’s season, if you haven’t been paying attention, has been lacklustrous. “I’ve been frustrated. I’ve had some anger tossed in there. And now, for the first time, I’ve landed on disappointed.”

Detroit GM Ken Holland: “He got punched in the head, didn’t feel great after the game, so anytime you have any kind of head injury, you don’t feel good and we’re not going to put you in the lineup.”

From Ken Dryden, writing in this month’s Walrus about Scotland’s referendum, tells of visiting the house in Harwick, in Scotland, that his ancestors left in 1834 to come to Canada. A man named Norman Huggan lives there now; afterwards, Dryden went to a local pub called the Waverley.

Longtime NHL referee (ret’d) Kerry Fraser wrote about Benn’s punch in his column on TSN.ca, specifically the question of why wasn’t the Stars’ captain punished with more than the merest minor penalty.

Historically and currently a punching motion with the hand or fist, with or without the glove on the hand, normally directed at the head of an opponent is roughing. Roughing is a minor altercation that is not worthy of a major penalty to either participant. (An altercation is a situation involving two players with at least one to be penalized). A minor penalty shall be imposed on a player who strikes an opponent with his hand or fist. (Rule 51.1)

In reviewing this altercation that resulted from a Detroit end zone face-off, the initial push-off and subsequent glove punch that Jamie Benn administered to the head/helmet of Henrik Zetterberg fell completely within the parameters of this roughing rule. The altercation began as a result of Zetterberg tying up Benn with a stick between the legs and a left-hand shoulder wrap after the Stars captain won the draw back toward the top of the face-off circle.

Benn attempted a ‘crow-hop’ to break free from Zetterberg’s restraint/interference to get to the front of the net without success. As the shot and eventual save was made by Jimmy Howard, Benn created separation with a forearm push and subsequent glove punch to the lower right side of Zetterberg’s helmet. Unless there is a change in the rule and operating procedure, this play will continue to be enforced as a minor penalty for roughing. Continue reading

this week, several others: why do people find these leafs so hard to like?

12835015933_55eaed7e9a_oMinnesota’s Ryan Suter paid US$81,058.72 to elbow Pittsburgh’s Steve Downie in the head. That was a while ago. More recent was Zac Rinaldo, of Philadelphia, for whom the price of charging Kris Letang from the Penguins, and also boarding him, was US$73,170.72.

Boston’s Brad Marchand paid US$48,387.10 to slew-foot New York’s Derick Brassard.

And Dan Carcillo? Of Chicago? For him, the cost of cross-checking Winnipeg’s Mathieu Perreault and upper-body-injuring him was US$40,243.92

Sports Illustrated wondered: Are the New York Islanders for real? (Answer: yes.)

It’s a while back, now, hard to recall, but Randy Carlyle was coaching the Toronto Maple Leafs earlier this year. On his last day on the job, he was in North Bay, Ontario, when GM Dave Nonis called him to set up a meeting early next morning in Toronto. “I’m not going to drive five hours back and through a snow storm to get fired,” Carlyle told him. “You might as well do it now.”

“We’re trying,” Toronto’s Phil Kessel has said subsequently, of the losing Leafs. “I don’t know if people see that. We are trying. I don’t know. We can’t find it right now.”

At The Walrus, the new editor, Jonathan Kay, profiled the Kelowna man who steered a 10,000-pound truck to the 2012 World Freestyle Championship at the Monster Jam Finals in Las Vegas. “It’s hard to imagine a more gentlemanly monster trucker than Cam McQueen,” he wrote. “He’s like the Jean Béliveau of car crushing.”

Via Aaron Portzline, meanwhile, of The Columbus Dispatch, we got to know the Blue Jackets All-Star goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who comes from Novokuznetsk in Russia, where the average temperature in January is -18 degrees and (quote) living in the Siberian city of 600,000 is neither easy nor glamorous.

As a six-year-old there, Bobrovsky wanted to play in goal. When his family couldn’t afford to buy equipment, his coach, Alexei Kitsyn, bought (says Portzline) “some bulk leather.”

“He made the equipment for me,” Bobrovsky said, his eyes getting big with emphasis. “He made it. By himself. By his hands. He made the pads and the glove. My parents bought me the rest of it.” …

“It sounds crazy,” Bobrovsky said. “If you know how some kids today get the best gear, how much money they spend … and that’s how it started for me.”

Another Columbus All-Star was ruminating this week, Nick Foligno, son of former NHLer Mike. “My dad has always said that if you treat the game of hockey well, it will treat you well,” Nick said. “He’s been bang-on with that.”

“Morale is good,” said the Leafs’ new coach, Peter Horachek, at some point. Continue reading

we want quinn: a short history of the quinn-orr wars of 1969

1969-70 O-Pee-Chee #186 Pat QuinnPat Quinn was a coach and a manager and a hockey co-owner and the tributes continue to mount following news of his death a week ago in Vancouver at the age of 71. If you’ve seen them, you’ll know that he was a straight-shooting cigar-chomping golden-hearted remarkable-CV’d guy’s guy old-school big-presenced Hamiltonian ornery Irishman larger-than-life goofy-grandfatherish intimidating great-story-telling three-piece-suited unconventional level-headed adaptable keeping-it-simple father-figurely high-acumened gruff-exteriored kindly personality’d news-conference-maestro hockey-beauty-loving square-jawed much-respected fine-broth-of-a-lad time-for-everyone-even-the-Zamboni-driver well-educated charismatic legendary Hibernian lion whip-smart could-have-done-anything-in-his-life heart-on-sleeve Gordie-Howe-idolizing player-trusting sarcastic not-a-detail-freak smart-cookie winner who left his indelible mark on the game and everyone who met him.

You’ll have heard, too, if you hadn’t before of a famous hit of his, when he was a defenceman in 1969 for the Toronto Maple Leafs. That’s been getting a lot of ink; here’s more.

Quinn’s active-NHLer adjectives included bruising, fearsome, give-it-his-all, tough, no-nonsense and not-afraid-of-a-good-fight. But while he may have played 617 NHL games over nine seasons for three teams, scoring 18 goals and 132 points while incurring 971 minutes of penalty punishment, but mostly the memorializing distills all that into the several seconds it took him to cross forty(ish) feet to desolate Bobby Orr with a bodycheck.

It was the first game of the playoffs, early April, in Boston. A crushing hit, CBC.ca was recalling last week, that rendered Orr unconscious. The Globe and Mail ran a photo of what it looked like the moment after the two men fell.

You have back up, though. To tell the story. March 15, nine games to go in the season, Boston came to Maple Leaf Gardens. The Leafs were battling Detroit for the final playoff spot in the NHL’s Eastern Division while the Bruins were sitting 14 points ahead, safely in second. They were a scoring juggernaut. The team was about to set an NHL record for goalscoring in a season. Headed for a scoring title, Phil Esposito already had more points than anyone ever had in the league. And Orr was closing to setting a new record by points by a defenceman.

quinn orr

Orr Wrestled Quinn: March 16, 1969, Boston’s famous #4 topples Toronto’s mighty #23. (Photo: The Globe and Mail)

But the Bruins were slumping. That’s what GM Milt Schmidt said. Coach Harry Sinden had injuries to contend with, ailing goalies in Gerry Cheevers and Eddie Johnston and a pair of limping Eddies, Shack and Westfall. Plus Boston hadn’t won in Toronto since 1965, 21 games ago, back when Orr was still skating for the Oshawa Generals.

And the Leafs did prevail, 7-4. Walloped was a word Louis Cauz used in The Globe and Mail. Toronto played it rough. Bruce Gamble played great in the Leaf net. Well, once they went down 3-1 he did. After that, as Toronto came roaring back, Gamble shone. Ron Ellis scored a couple of goals to — what’s the word? — pace the Leafs. Toronto was Ellis-paced.

Oh, and high sticks. There were those, too, and several elbows, and sundry punches. Those contributed something, I’m thinking. Or didn’t. Anyway, a 26-year-old Pat Quinn was involved in a lot of this. Towards the end of the first period, he and Boston’s Don Awrey exchanged … glances? funny faces? fuck-yous? The Boston Globe called it potential squaring off. I guess the linesmen intervened before the two players got any squares off and while:

Brent Casselman was restraining Quinn, the big youngster pushed the official around quite enthusiastically.

In another report, he shook Casselman. Coach Sinden preferred tossed him around. The Bruins couldn’t believe he wasn’t ejected from the game and summarily suspended, which was had happened to Esposito earlier in the year when he manhandled a referee: two games. But Quinn got away with an elbowing minor.

In the third, Bobby Orr was in front of the Toronto net when Gamble made a save and Quinn was there to charge him head first into the sidebar (Boston Globe, March 16) or cross-check him into the Leaf goalposts (Toronto Star, March 17) or run him into the crossbar (Boston Globe, March 17) and Orr wrestled Quinn to the ice after the two had traded punches (Star, March 17) or tipped over his larger opponent (Boston Globe, March 16) and (also) Quinn kicked Bobby a few times in the process (Boston Globe, March 17).

That was the Saturday night. Sunday, St. Patrick’s Day, the two teams met again in Boston. The crowd chanted “We want Quinn” and possibly “Kill Quinn,” but they were disappointed: he didn’t play let alone get murdered. His groin was, well, pulled, and after skating pre-game he withdrew from the line-up. Without him, Toronto lost 11-3. Esposito had five points. Derek Sanderson scored a hattrick — or I guess notched.

“I was eating my heart out not to be out there,” Quinn told The Globe and Mail. “I’ve never wanted to play in a game as much as that one.” Continue reading