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

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

Continue reading

electoral froth 2015: practicing barbaric culture

 

toronto’s mammoth sports centre: steam shovels at midnight

The House That Conn Built*: Carlton Street and Maple Leaf Gardens, looking northeast, circa 1934. *(with the help of several thousand actual contraction workers)

The House That Conn Built*: Carlton Street and Maple Leaf Gardens, looking northeast, circa 1934. *(with the help of several thousand actual construction workers)

A big day yesterday for Toronto’s grandest Loblaws, which marked the occasion with a recall of select varieties of PC® brand hummus, which may contain the toxin produced by Staphylococcus bacteria.

Actually, I’m not entirely convinced that the hummus emergency has anything to do with the anniversary of the start of construction of the famous building that has housed the supermarket at 60 Carlton since 2011, but that doesn’t matter: either way, it’s 84 years since work began on the house that Conn Smythe decided to build, mid-Depression, on the land that Timothy Eaton sold him.

Which is to say, of course, Maple Leaf Gardens.

smythe 1931The Leafs had outgrown their 8,000-seat rink on Mutual Street, is how it all began. Smythe, managing director, wanted to up capacity to at least 12,000, not to mention create a destination for Torontonians to go in evening dress, from a party or a dinner, a venue with (as he wrote in his 1981 Scott Young-aided autobiography) “everything new and clean, a place that people can be proud to take their wives or girl friends to.”

The first site the Leafs looked at was on the waterfront; another was at up at Spadina and College. The T. Eaton Company offered a parcel of land on Church just north of Carlton — not a hundred yards from where Smythe was born. But Smythe wanted to be right on Carlton, near the streetcar lines, and so he talked Eaton’s into optioning property they had there to him for $350,000.

“We knocked down all the old buildings,” Smythe writes in If You Can’t Beat ’Em in the Alley, with what might be glee, “starting with the tobacco store right on the corner.” People laughed when he hired a watchman to keep an eye on the levelled property — was he afraid someone was going to make off with the site itself? Anyway, he was a distinguished sentinel, a young Marlboro prospect named Buzz Boll who later turned into a scoring left-winger for the Leafs, Americans, and Bruins.

A local contractor, Thomson Brothers, got the job of filling the void when they came in with the lowest bid: $989,297, not including the cost of steel. When it looked like the Leafs wouldn’t have the money to go ahead, Smythe and his assistant, Frank Selke, convinced the labour unions to allow their men to be paid partly in Gardens’ stock.

On Saturday, May 30, 1931, the day after the contract with the Thomsons was signed, The Toronto Daily Star heralded the imminent start of the race to finish the building by November 1: “steam shovels will commence excavating at midnight Sunday.” Some 20,000 yards of earth needed shifting initially, and it was estimated that it would be five weeks before any structure began to rise. “The work will be continued by day and night shifts as long as is necessary,” The Star noted.

“I don’t know how you would build Maple Leaf Gardens today in five months,” Smythe wrote in the 1980s, “but partly it was accomplished because the men who built it believed in what they were doing. After all, they were going to be shareholders in it, weren’t they?”

Apparently, it didn’t all start quite as promptly as promised. Believing, I guess, what they’d read in the newspaper, nearly 1,000 men hoping to be hired showed up at midnight at the work site at Carlton and Church. The Daily Star was on the scene: “Despite assurances by motorcycle policemen that work would not be started, [the crowd] did not disperse until one o’clock in the morning.”

Some jostling ensued, The Star reported, and so it was that before a brick was laid, Maple Leaf Gardens got a christening that, for a famous hockey rink-to-be, only seems apposite: “two of the unemployed started a fist fight.”

Leafs Rebuild: A Toronto Transit Commission photograph showing work on streetcar tracks in late June of 1931 with the MLG construction site in the background.

Leafs Rebuild: A Toronto Transit Commission photograph showing work on streetcar tracks in late June of 1931 with the MLG construction site in the background.

 (Photos: City of Toronto Archives)

john branch: derek boogaard and the damage done

boy on ice branch

The saddest sentences in John Branch’s biography of the late Derek Boogaard come one after another, on page 138, following an account of an NHL fight of workaday brutality:

The announcers shared a hearty laugh. The crowd cheered.

Although: there’s also a very sad sentence on page 87:

Derek wanted to be famous for the glory of goals, not the fury of his fists.

It wasn’t to be. Fists, of course, prevailed in Boogaard’s story, as they do in Branch’s devastating Boy on Ice, an unflinching chronicle of hockey damage that’s as shocking as it is familiar. Which may be the saddest part of all: how well we know the ugly side of the game.

A San Francisco-based reporter for The New York Times, Branch first wrote about Boogaard’s life in 2011, not long after the beloved New York Rangers fighter died at the age of 28 of an overdose of painkillers and alcohol. Meticulously reported, Boy on Ice goes deeper into the personal story that Branch started so powerfully to tell in “Punched Out” about the Saskatchewan-born left winger who lived the Canadian dream of making it to the NHL, where he died trying subdue the loneliness and pain he found once he got there.

There’s a lot to think about here, from the serious questions Branch raises about painkillers and prescriptions in the NHL and oversight of the league’s substance abuse program. There are the frightening facts that the posthumous examination of Boogaard’s damaged brain revealed to neurologists and how their ongoing studies into chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) might affect the way the game is played.

And there are, of course, many furious fists, enough to fill a terrible thesaurus. Boogaard belts Andrew Peters and bombs Shawn Thornton (with three right hands). He himself is bashed and bitten. He drops Brendan Yarema (then pulls him back to his feet to punch him more). Assails Wade Brookbank (with a flurry of punches to the head. Clocks Trevor Gillies (in the face), whom he also, another time, deconstructs. Fells Brian McGrattan, mauls Jody Shelley, pops Colton Orr (in the face).

(With his right fist.)

If the book doesn’t explicitly indict the hypocrisy of a league that talks about player safety while continuing to pretend that fighting is a natural and necessary part of a game so fast and kinetic and contained, it doesn’t have to. For hockey, Boy on Ice is a devastating document that lays bare the violence that the game has institutionalized and continues to promote and celebrate while chronically pretending that it really isn’t much of a serious problem at all.

Can a biography change a sport? I don’t know. It’s not for me to say, anyway. Let NHL commissioner Gary Bettman read Boy on Ice and give us his review. We’ll wait.

John Branch was on the road this week when Puckstruck tracked him down to ask about the book and what it has to say about the game that Derek Boogaard loved so fatally well. From Branch’s keyboard, five answers for five questions:

What did Boy on Ice allow you to do that you felt you hadn’t done in the Times with “Punched Out”?
A lot of things. I’d like to think that the Times series portrayed Derek as fully as possible in a newspaper story, but — as many writers will tell you — the difficult part in storytelling is deciding what to leave out. I had a lot of material and a lot more questions, and I wanted to colour in the corners of Derek’s life. I felt he deserved that, and that the extra content and context would help explain him better to readers. The Times story made a lot of passing mentions to critical aspects of his life that I wanted to explain further — everything from his father’s work as a Royal Canadian Mounted Police member to his life with billet families, from his time in juniors to the final days of his life.

The newspaper story, for example, barely mentions his two long-term girlfriends and skips over most of his three-year career in minor-league hockey. It is focussed largely on his concussions, less on his prescription painkiller addiction. It mentions the tradition of fighting in hockey, but does not explain it in detail. There are love letters that Derek wrote as an adult and notes from the substance-abuse counsellors who treated him. While I could not be more proud of the newspaper story, I feel the book has the depth and nuance that wasn’t realistically possible there.

The facts of the Boogaard case are, on their own, an indictment of the NHL and hockey’s culture of violence. In your 2011 interview with commissioner Gary Bettman, he mostly deflects and downplays questions of the league’s responsibility for the safety of its players as well as those of the broader issues to do with the league’s permitting and promoting of fighting. Has that shifted at all, in your view? Have you had any reaction to the book from the NHL or NHLPA?
I have had no reaction, but I didn’t expect any. Both the NHL and NHLPA knew I was writing the book, just as they knew I was writing the newspaper story previously. What would they say? The league is now involved in lawsuits, which will only grow in size and scope in the coming years. And, frankly, I did not set out to write this book to explain the state of the NHL in 2014, but to tell readers a narrower tale of a boy who worked his way through the hockey apparatus to get everything he ever dreamed, only to die a lonely death at age 28. I wanted the book to be personal both personal and timeless, to explain an era in our sports culture that may change by the time someone picks up the book, now or many years from now.

Your portrayal of Derek Boogaard’s transformation into a fighter in the WHL casts a harsh light on the realities of Canadian junior hockey. Writing the book, did you feel like you gained a particular insight into the culture of the country where hockey means so much?
Of course, I wonder if the story would have been different had it been reported and written by someone either closely tied to junior hockey in Canada or, conversely, by someone with little understanding of hockey at all. I’d like to think that my background made me well-suited for the examination; I covered the NHL for a few years, but not much recently, and I’m an American. It’s my job as a newspaper reporter to learn, almost every day, about things and people I may not know well, and be able to explain them to a broader audience with both fairness and accuracy. Junior hockey is fascinating — rich in tradition, but filled with so many potential pitfalls. It’s not unlike the NCAA in the United States — teenagers enticed to move far from home for the promise of, at worst, an education, and, at best, a professional career. But the hockey players are a few years younger, so the risks might be greater.

It’s interesting that I’m answering this question at a time when we’re learning of a $180 million class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of junior players in the Canadian Hockey League, arguing that their compensation falls below minimum-wage laws.

With all that we’re learning about head trauma and CTE, do you think that hockey is headed into the territory in which NFL finds itself now, where the morality of watching and cheering for a sport that does such damage to its players is increasingly in question?
I do. At minimum, I think hockey will follow the arc of football, where increasing numbers of former players question the treatment they received, and parents of young players question the value of playing the game at all. The NFL, by its own testimony, estimates that close to one-third of its former players will suffer from effects of brain damage. The damage may not be so severe in hockey; we don’t know, frankly. But we now live in a time where we know enough to be worried, and, perhaps, not enough to know what to do. But if you knew that you had a one-in-three chance of having life-altering brain damage, would you still play? What ratio would be acceptable for professional athletes paid millions? For minor leaguers trying to crack the majors? For children?

Has the way you look at sports changed over the past four years?
I don’t think so. None of this comes as a great surprise, unfortunately. I learned a long time ago that the profit-making entities in sports will not always make decisions in the best interest of the safety of their athletes until such decisions are foisted upon them — perhaps in the guise of lawsuits, or a decline in popularity, or in an increasing number of brain examinations.

Boy on Ice: The Life and Death of Derek Boogaard
John Branch
(W.W. Norton, 372 pp., $32.99)

This interview has been edited.

bidini and me (and keon)

keon and meDave Keon wouldn’t fight. Dave Bidini wanted to know why.

There was lots more he wanted to know, too. What was it like to grow up in Etobicoke in the 1970s, when Bidini was growing up there, and how were you supposed to figure out what kind of person you were going to be? What was up with the hellacious Flyers of Philadelphia, menacing their way to Stanley Cups? And what about, at school, the bully Roscoe: what was his problem?

Part memoir, part quest, part hockey picaresque, the book that Bidini has crafted to contain his inquiries is Keon and Me: My Search for the Lost Soul of the Leafs (Viking Canada). It’s his eleventh, and it’s lovely: heartfelt and honest, funny and poignant. It’s as compelling in its portrait of a Canadian childhood as it is in examining how hockey shapes and sharpens and — all too often — confuses us. For instance: if Bidini’s favourite Leaf was indeed the greatest ever to have worn the blue and the white, why has the team so doggedly failed to recognize his stature, and what does that have to do with Toronto’s lingering case of not winning Stanley Cups?

Bidini has, of course, long been in the business of chronicling the country, with a particular emphasis on what we do when we find ourselves with hockey sticks and/or guitars in hand. He is, it has been pointed out, the only of us to be nominated for Juno, Gemini, and Genie awards, and the CBC’s national these-are-our-necessary-books contest, Canada Reads.

As a founding member of the great, late Rheostatics, Bidini journeyed around the country singing its history and legends and praises for more than 20 years, yielding eleven albums along the way. He’s in front of BidiniBand these days, with a new album, In The Rock Hall, that he’ll be taking out on the road early in the new year. As a writer he continues to contribute a weekly column to The National Post. He’s also working with Olympic cyclist and speedskater Clara Hughes on a memoir of hers.

Fifty now, he lives with his family in midtown Toronto. There was wind blowing through the neighbourhood one afternoon back in the fall, and in the sky it looked like weather was coming. Bidini arrived on his bike, wearing his hat, and over a lunch of Greek salads and vegan bacon cheeseburgers with fries, submitted to questions.

Maybe more than your other books, is this the one you’ve been writing all your life? 
Yeah, probably. And waiting for a long time to write. Waiting for the right moment. And waiting for the right angle into it. I started it — the idea was almost to write a fictionalized version of my life as a Leafs fan. I invented all these characters. And I got 10,000 words into it when I just decided it was either going to take too much work or it wasn’t going to be personal enough, that way. It was kind of a comedy. And I abandoned it. I went straight back to it being more of a personal thing.

And so the structure, with your childhood paralleling Dave Keon’s remarkable career and refusal to be provoked, how did you come to that? 
That was late. I’ll give you a bit of the anatomy. The book started out, I was originally going to go to northern India, to this tournament they have in the Himalayas, played by … monks …. The IHF were going to have, I believe they were going to have their first sanctioned hockey game at a rink they’d built at the foot of the Himalayas. But I could never really get confirmation that the rink was working, that the players were going to show up …. It was going to be called Eat, Pray, Leafs.

So that was going to be the original thing. It was going to be an inner journey, it was going to parallel Indian mysticism … didn’t happen. And then I was going to write Diary of A Loser, which was going to be that comedic fictionalized look at my life, and that ended up becoming the Keon thing.

The way it goes down in the book, the Keon figure emerged over this series of incidents in which his name appeared, it sort of rose, and I realized, that’s the guy.

This might be your most personal book. Was it difficult to reach back to uncover what it was like being 11 in Toronto in the 1970s?
You start trying to get that, the chrysalis of memory, the true impression of what it was like, and then ultimately you start wondering whether that’s the way it actually felt like. That’s where it really dances between fact and fiction. Non-fiction, you’re sitting in a room, it’s all very austere, trying to do it very properly, and then fiction comes in a fucking checkered suit and a loud hat, right, and starts the party. Especially when I was reconstructing stuff like my cousin’s room, or hanging out with my parents, parties at my uncle’s place. It’s like, okay, I sort of have a sense of how this was, but I can sort of colour the edges. Which is how I kind of did it.

Is there ever a worry about writing about the people close to you, especially family? Does that ever hold you back?
Usually it does, but with this one I realized I had to just …. My dad read the book, and it was good. There was a lot of stuff that he had forgotten. He was glad that he was able to revisit it through that. I did tell him this was my impression, it wasn’t going to be totally accurate.

My wife actually told me a couple of books ago, I want you to totally take me out of anything you write in the future. She was like, you’ve gone down that road enough.

Although she does have a great line in this book about Mark Messier, that he looks like Agamemnon.
It’s true.

You talk in the book about the joys of just simply talking hockey, whether it’s with kids on the street or, in fact, when you finally track down Keon. Is that also one of the pleasures in writing a book like this: the jawing about last night’s game that we do as Canadians?
Yeah. And I do say in the book how, I think that used to be a lot more common in our society. And I think that’s what’s kind of nice about the book, in a way, it has kind of recharged it in our time. The Leafs playing well helps, obviously. Continue reading

this week: a mix of molasses, beaver, and oatmeal

true sport

Finally. The way the hockey-book writers cheered one of their own this week, you’d think the whole entire clan of them had been honoured by the Canadian chapter of the Jewish National Fund for their collective achievement in hockey scholarship rather than just the author of A Great Game. Forgive them their pride — these writers work alone, most of the time, shrouded in archival shadows. And if they want to step into the glow given off by the newly announced Stephen J. Harper Hula Valley Bird Sanctuary Visitor and Education Centre in Israel’s north, near the Golan Heights — well, why not? This is their time, now — the birds can have theirs, later.

In Florida, Tampa Bay forward Steven Stamkos strolled into a press conference two weeks fracturing a shin. He was limping a little, to be sure, but he was “positive and hopeful” — and not ruling out a return in time to play for Canada at the Sochi Olympics in February. Was he shoved on the play, by Boston defenceman Dougie Hamilton? Yes, he thought so. But in time he’d realized: it was “a hockey play.” He hadn’t heard from Hamilton, but Bruins’ captain Zdeno Chara had texted him and the coach, Claude Julien, visited him in hospital.

Also looking this week to the Olympics was Brian Burke, who talked to Eric Francis of The Calgary Sun. If Canada’s the favourite to win in Sochi, according to Burke, another team that unnerves him is Russia. Sorry, that’s not quite right: Russia scares “the living hell” out of him:

“Because it’s their home soil, it’s going to be crazy there, and we hear rumours of huge bonuses for players if they win gold.”

At The Hockey News, Matt Larkin was counting, this week, and that’s how he determined that as of Monday, in the 82 games Sidney Crosby played over the past three seasons, he had 123 points to his name.

Profiling David Booth, Dave Ebner of The Globe and Mail told of the Vancouver winger’s love of the hunt:

For a show on a niche network, Wild TV, Booth killed a black bear with a bow in Alberta after luring it with a pile of bait, a mix of molasses, beaver, and oatmeal. Bear baiting is illegal in British Columbia and numerous U.S. states. Booth broadcast his exploits on Twitter.

Gary Bettman’s week included a big headache and a big deal. Head first: in Washington, former players with lawyers launched a lawsuit citing the NHL’s negligence when it comes to its handling head injuries over “the past decades.” From a statement by Mel Owens, one of the lead lawyers:

In 2004 the NHL introduced a series of updates to the rule-set to encourage a faster, more exciting, and ultimately more marketable product. As a result, the number of violent in-game collisions and occurrence of head trauma have increased. When coupled with the NHL’s refusal to protect players by banning full-body checking or penalizing on-ice fist fights, the league has created a dangerous atmosphere for players. The complaint alleges that the NHL either ignores or consistently lags behind other hockey leagues in adopting protections for players in accordance with current medical knowledge of concussions. Instead, the NHL continues to glorify and empower players known as “enforcers” — players with the singular intention of injuring the opposing team.

Bettman’s response was terse: “We believe this is a lawsuit without merit.”

He was much happier to talk about the massive deal he did, the 12-year, C$5.232-billion media rights agreement that all but wiped TSN off the hockey-broadcasting map; threw Hockey Night in Canada’s long-term future into doubt (not to mention the CBC’s), and united the country’s curiosity around the vital question: what about Don Cherry?

Who, of course, spoke up on Saturday night, between periods. The lawsuit is, as far as he’s concerned, a moneygrab; nonsense; a moneygrab; ridiculous; a disgrace and — did he mention? — a moneygrab.

As for what might happen to Coach’s Corner, Cherry was clear in comparing himself to Bobby Orr and demanding something else that involved a … turnip truck, which he hadn’t fallen off. Continue reading

this week: rattlebrains, eye-gougers, a garbage fire on skates

white house

U.S. President Barack Obama welcomed the Chicago Blackhawks to the White House on Monday, as U.S. presidents do when American teams win the Stanley Cup. Dan Rosen from the NHL.com reported:

Upon arrival at the White House the Blackhawks were feted with an exclusive opportunity to mingle through several rooms in the East Wing, including a few that look out onto the South Lawn and one that has a view of the Rose Garden. They took pictures and marveled at the history.

The President greeted the Blackhawks, shook their hands and received a Stanley Cup replica popcorn maker as a gift prior to delivering his remarks.

“These are not just good hockey players,” President Obama said, among other things, “they’re good guys.”

Meanwhile, to the north and over the border, ‏‪@gmbutts started the week in an owly mood, tweeting:

Anybody ever see ‪#Harper on a pair of skates? Beginning to think this ‪#hockey persona is as phony as George W. Bush’s Texas rancher ‪#cdnpoli

Given that the man asking the question was Gerald Butts, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s chief advisor, it probably wasn’t the answer he was looking for, but a follower soon pointed to this all the same.

Could it have been the man himself, defending his own passion? Because author Stephen J. Harper was out that same day promoting his book, A Great Game, on the eve of its publication. Or not out, exactly: he did call in to Toronto’s Sportsnet 590 The Fan to Bob McCown that he calls himself “an amateur hockey historian” and started writing the book “as a pastime, when I needed to turn my mind off from the grind of work.” Asked about the game’s violence, he said: “I’m sorta torn on that.”

“Look, it wouldn’t bother me if we didn’t have fights. I don’t watch hockey for the fights. What I wouldn’t want to see, though, is, you know, situations where teams would pick fights deliberately to get stars off the ice. I think you’ve got to be careful. I don’t like fighting as a strategy, I actually hate it as a strategy but the fact that it happens once in a while in a tough sport is not a surprise.”

Chris Selley from The National Post was one of the first in with a review, come Tuesday. To sum up: “Impressively thorough, very dull, lacks promised insight.”

The Hall of Hockey’s Fame prepared, this week, to welcome a new class that includes Geraldine Heaney, Fred Shero, Chris Chelios, Brendan Shanahan, and Scott Niedermeyer.

On TSN, James Duthie asked Bobby Clarke why had it taken so long for Shero to ascend? Clarke said he didn’t know but his guess was that people blamed the coach for the bullying way the Flyers played in the early 1970s. It wasn’t him, Clarke said: he never told the team to fight. “You did it yourselves?” Duthie said. “On our own,” said Clarke.

“It’s embarrassing,” a Florida centreman said this week, Shawn Matthias, after the coach there, Kevin Dineen, was fired. “I can’t remember the last time we won. There are no positives right now.”

At http://www.habseyesontheprize.com, Andrew Berkshire frowned on a couple of recent Montreal games:

In Minnesota the Habs played well and were undone by bad coaching decisions. In Colorado, it was a garbage fire on skates, and painful to watch.

Over in Britain’s Rapid Solicitors Elite League, the Belfast Giants hosted Cardiff’s Devils a week ago, and …. Sorry, I’m not sure I can go on without first pausing to emphasize that Britain’s Elite League is sponsored by the United Kingdom’s largest personal-injury law firm, who profess online a special focus on Medical and Dental Negligence, Motorcycle Accidents, and Slips & Trips.

Back to Belfast. Cardiff was in town. At 21:36 of the second period, referee Tom Darnell assessed a match penalty to the Devils’ Andrew Conboy for “excessive roughness.” Conboy, 25, hails from Burnside, Minnesota, and he was a draftee of the Montreal Canadiens, playing several seasons for their Hamilton farm team before crossing the Atlantic. The excess of his roughness involved the Giants’ Jeff Mason and an “attempted eye gouge,” for which Conboy was subsequently suspended — banned, the British papers prefer —for 12 games.

The league’s Brendan Shanahan, a Scottish-born former referee named Moray Hanson, was the one to lay down the law. “There is no place for this type of incident in our game,” he said, “and offenders will be suspended accordingly.”

“It’s not just about wins, it’s how we play,” said Toronto coach Randy Carlyle. He told Mark Zwolinski at The Toronto Star what else he wanted from his players:

“We need more compete level, we need more doggedness around the puck, it all has to go up.”

Bad British-league behaviour isn’t new this month: in October, Moray Hanson banished Derek Campbell, 33, for 47 games for his conduct in a game against the Dundee Stars. Sorry: 47 matches. Born in Nepean, Ontario, Campbell was a winger for the Hull Stingrays until, after that game and before the Hanson got in with his sentence, the team dropped him outright.

The Hull Daily Mail called it a fracas; others said it was an incident. It happened this way: Dundee’s Nico Sacchetti boarded Campbell, for which he was ejected from the game; Campbell followed after Sacchetti to the dressing room; Campbell attacked Sacchetti in front of “shocked fans.”

Hanson’s ban broke down this way:

• fighting off the ice (15 matches)
• attempted eye gouge (12 matches)
• knee to the head (10 matches)
• excessive force to the head resulting in an impact to the ice (10 matches).

“I was extremely upset at the time,” Derek Campbell said, once he’d had some time to think about what had happened against Dundee. “But 100 per cent regret what I did in front of fans and little children who were watching the game. I’m a person who plays on emotions, but it’s no excuse.

“As a father of a little girl, I can only apologize to any little girl or boy who was watching and to any fan who felt offended.”

Campbell’s teammate Jeff Smith, from Regina, had his own thoughts about the whole affair:

“I know they are making a point of Soupy, but 47 games, that’s outrageous, I think. I think it’s an absolute joke. It’s a disgrace what Soupy did, but 47 games is just as much a disgrace.”

Who did you hate to play against? Chris Chelios was asked at a Hall of Fame fan-forum this weekend. Easy, he said: Dale Hunter of the Quebec Nordiques.

At USA Today, Kevin Allen reported (this week) that fighting has fallen by 20.5 per cent this season without the NHL’s having done much at all, really, to curb it.

“There are fewer heavyweights now and fewer guys willing to fight, and it just seems like fighting isn’t used as a deterrent the same way it was in the past,” said a wistful Darren McCarty.

There is the new rule that incurs an additional penalty for players who remove their helmets for a fight. “It’s more inconvenient now,” said the NBC commentator Keith Jones, who once skated for Colorado and Philadelphia, “and I wonder if that has had an effect on it. Now a little more thought process has to go into it, rather than the quick reaction.”

Jeff Smith really couldn’t believe it. He was — what’s the word. Speechless? No, not speechless. He was, if anything, speechful:

“I could see for the off-ice stuff, yes, 20 games for that, but the guy played the next day with no marks on his face, there was nothing broken. The off-ice stuff that was absolutely wrong, but 47 games? Last year a guy punched a fan and wasn’t banned, and another player slashed an opponent two-handed and only got three games.”

TV game-show host and hockey fan Pat Sajak weighed in on Ray Emery of the Flyers and his flailing of Washington’s Braden Holtby, tweeting: “Taking a cue from the @NHL, I’m planning to jump Trebek and pummel him in an effort to fire up my staff and prove my manhood.”

Brendan Shanahan spoke up on the same subject. “I hate what Ray Emery did,” the NHL’s Director of Player Safety told Sportsnet’s HockeyCentral At Noon.

NHL veteran Sean Burke — he coaches the goalies now in Phoenix — was talking, too, about Emery:

“What he did to Holtby, that’s not the kind of stuff that is good at all for the game. The biggest joke is that they named him the third star in the game. To me, that’s classless, and whoever picked that, that’s making a mockery of the game.

“That was just bullying. When you punch a guy 10 times in the back of the head, that’s not being tough. Tough is a goalie sticking up for a teammate because he’s getting abused or something happens in the course of the game where the intention is to even things out.”

No-one knew, this week, what happened to make Peter Harrold’s right elbow swell up and fill with a bunch fluid and not bend. The Newark Star-Ledger was monitoring the Devils’ defenceman’s condition, which might have been triggered in Columbus back in October.

“One of those freak things. It just kind of blew up on me,” said Harrold. “I had very limited movement and a bunch of fluid and swelling.”

GM Lou Lamoriello wondered whether Harrold had used his elbow too much. “It just popped up,” he said. “I don’t know if it was from over-use. Really all you can do is speculate. The doctors aren’t certain. It wasn’t a bone spur or chip. It’s a mystery at this point. Once the swelling is down and the fluid is gone, we were good to go.”

“I feel good,” said Harrold. “I’m certainly close,” said Harrold.

In Chicago, where Winnipeg lost 4-1 to the Blackhawks, Brandon Bollig checked the Jets’ Adam Pardy, which caused a piece of glass to fall on fans sitting in some corner seats at the United Center. Everybody was okay, other than Pardy: a guy yanked off his helmet and put it on. Pardy told The Winnipeg Free Press:

“I was just going back for the puck there. Two big, solid boys coming together there, I guess. And the glass came out. One of those situations where you don’t want to see anybody get hurt. Then I got a beer dumped all over my head. All over the side of my face and on the side of my jersey. I don’t know if you can smell it but the bench could definitely smell a little booze there for the last six minutes.”

“It’s no secret we have passionate fans,” Bollig said.

The Chicago Blackhawks apologized, to the Jets and to the NHL at large. “We have spoken to those involved,” read the team’s Thursday statement. “The individuals were immediately ejected from the arena to preserve the safety of everyone in attendance, including other fans, players and officials.

Kevin Mize was the guy who grabbed the helmet. The Chicago Tribune figured that out, and posted his CV online. That’s how we know not only that Mize is the Dealer Principal and President of O’Hare Honda and O’Hare Hyundai, located in Des Plaines, Illinois, but what he does in his spare time: golfs, fly-fishes, skis, kayaks and devotes his time to philanthropic activities.

From Tampa Bay came news that Martin St. Louis has long since forgiven his GM, Steve Yzerman, for cutting him from the 2010 Canadian Olympic team. Reported Mike Brophy at CBC.ca:

“I’m not upset, but there was nothing Steve could have said to me to make me feel better about not being on that team. I told him I’ll always be disappointed no matter what he tells me, but they are put in a position to make tough decisions and he had to make the decisions he had to make. Obviously he made the right ones because they won the gold medal.”

In The Hockey News, Adam Proteau wagged a warning finger at Montreal coach Michel Therrien, who’s been benching Norris Trophy-winning defenceman P.K. Subban, and not using him to kill penalties.

If the Canadiens aren’t too careful, they’ll finger-poke him in the chest all the way into a corner, then wonder why he becomes interested in the colour of grass on other sides of the fence.

A Stockholm newspaper, Aftonbladet, profiled Vancouver coach John Tortorella this week and lest anyone get the wrong impression from the headline —

Quote Machine, Lunatic Leader — and Champion

— it’s in fact a pretty admiring piece. I’m relying on the help here of Google’s resident translator here, so there’s room for interpretation — when it comes, for instance, to the word lunatic. Galning is the original, which could also be rendered as maniac, just for the record. Vildhjärna is another word that comes up, later, which Google gives as wild brain but could just as well be rattlebrain, I find, or scapegrace.

(Photo: @BarackObama)

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

this week: shut up, have you ever played the game?

“Happy Thanksgiving Canada!” tweeped Colorado’s Matt Duchene this week — today, actually. “Miss being up there this time of year.”

Scotty Bowman, who doesn’t tweet a lot, doesn’t call himself Scotty on Twitter: it’s Scott Bowman, @coachwsb. If his last message, from the NHL’s opening week, was a little cryptic, the gist of it was clear enough. “I support views of Steve Yzerman Ray Shero and Jim Rutherford on their opinions for Addressing most Fighting Issues Poll all Players.”

Whoooeeeh, Mikhail Grabovski of the Washington Capitals said last week, and I quote. Grabovski has been living with Alex Ovechkin this month, and driving with him to the rink. Dan Steinberg from The Washington Post was wondering about Ovechkin’s driving, and that’s what Grabovski said, whoosh. “Like in the game, you know? Always machine. I put seatbelt all the time.”

Steve Yzerman had called for game misconducts to be called on players who fought. “We’re stuck in the middle and need to decide what kind of sport do we want to be,” he’d said. “Either anything goes and we accept the consequences or take the next step and eliminate fighting.”

“He’s like the Pied Piper,” Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said of Teemu Selanne. Insofar as … like the rat-catcher who hasn’t been paid, he steals people’s children with music? No. Boudreau’s reading of the old German folktale is a different one. “Everywhere you go,” he was saying, “people love him.”

Keith Acton told John Tortorella to shut his fucking mouth. Acton (assistant coach in Edmonton) was mad about something Tortorella (Vancouver’s coach) had yelled in the heat of the Canucks win this week over the Oilers, so that’s what he yelled.

Told later that the CBC’s Glenn Healy thought Tortorella should calm down, the coach said, “I don’t care what CBC says, anybody has to say, quite honestly. They don’t know what’s happening.”

Ottawa coach Paul MacLean was peeved by the winning goal that Toronto’s Mason Raymond scored in the shoot-out this week against the Senators. He’d stopped, spun, scored; it was a good goal, officials deemed, because the puck remained in motion.

“I think it’s a very unfair play for the guy to come in and blow snow on the goaltender,” MacLean said. “To me, he came to a full stop, the puck went backwards and then forwards.

“But that’s me, I’m only a fisherman from Nova Scotia. So I don’t know nothin’ about nothin’.” Continue reading

this week: honestly, the ice don’t have much give

Advil® is the new Official Pain Reliever of the National Hockey League and the 30 Team Athletic Trainers, Pfizer announced this week. I can’t tell you whether there was an old Official Pain Reliever, before, but according to a Simmons Market Research study (says Pfizer), NHL fans are younger, more educated, more affluent, and access content through digital means more than any other sport.

“The NHL deal provides a terrific platform for driving the launch of our new, fast acting Advil® line,” said Brian Groves, U.S. Chief Marketing Officer at Pfizer Consumer Healthcare. “Advil® is built to be as fast as it is tough. We see the players and the League as embodying the fast acting Advil® promise of fast recovery from tough pain.”

The news on Wednesday, from The Globe and Mail: “Newest Supreme Court judge Marc Nadon skates through nomination hearing.”

So that was a relief.

The new NHL season had started on Tuesday. The commissioner, Gary Bettman, told Peter Mansbridge from the CBC that if fighting were a light-switch, it was broken, you couldn’t just turn it off. Or … no. He said it isn’t a light-switch, because what would be the point of a light-switch that doesn’t turn off? Or … even if electricians found a way to put a light-switch on fighting, in Bettman’s NHL, no-one would be allowed to touch it, other than to turn it on. Once it was on, it would be staying on.

The Chicago Blackhawks got their Stanley Cup rings this week. Each one weighs 93.0 grams, with diamonds and gemstones numbering 260 for a total of some 14.68 carats.

“Wow,” tweeted Toronto’s Joffrey Lupul on Tuesday, as Toronto went to Montreal. “Even the US government is shutting things down to watch Leafs/Habs on opening night. What a spectacle!”

From Canadiens’ owners Geoff Molson that same afternoon: “Ce soir, on va demander aux partisans de chanter l’hymme national … tonight, we will ask our fans to sing the national anthem …”

Toronto won. There were five fights, and no light-switches. Throwing a punch at Toronto’s Colton Orr, George Parros of the Canadiens fell and hit the ice face-first. He was knocked out. And went to hospital.

 “You never want to see a guy get hurt like that,” Orr said. “I just hope he’s all right. It happened fast. I slipped and he came on top of me. The ice isn’t going to give.”

“It was unfortunate,” said Toronto’s coach, Randy Carlyle. “Those are tough things.”

Nazem Kadri: “Honestly, the ice don’t have much give.”

“I see more players get hurt from hits, collisions, from pucks, than I do from fights,” said Josh Gorges.  “I don’t think saying because a player got hurt in a fight that now we have to talk about taking fighting away. And I bet if you ask George, he’ll be the first to agree with me on that one, too.” Continue reading