strach’s gretz

gretz sweater

Number of sticks Strach says Wayne Gretzky gave away each year of his career: 700.

According to Strach, autographs Gretzky signed each day during that same career: 200.

Strach? Gretzky’s pal Al Strachan, former sportswriter for The Globe and Mail and Toronto’s Sun, whose new book, 99, contains many pieces of information that you didn’t know not to mention all the quotes you’ve never heard.

How many pieces? Thousands, Strach says.

Quotes? An equal number.

Number of sticks all those giveaways add up to, mathwise, over Gretzky’s 30-year professional career: 14,000.

Autographs: 1,460,000.

Assistance Gretzky gave to Strach over the years: Virtually limitless.

Frequency with which Strach says he’s made fun of Gretzky face-to-face: Often.

And in print? Never.

Number of temper tantrums Gretzky has had, ever, it says here: Zero.

Number of jabs, digs, and/or sneers, both head-on and side-swiping, of which NHL commissioner Gray Bettman is the target: 6, at least.

Vertebrae Gretzky injured in his career: T6, C5.

Age at which he started skating: 2 ½.

Number of goals he scored in his first year playing organized hockey: 1.

Number of goals he scored in his fifth year: 378.

Number of chin-ups Gretzky can do: 2.

Unflattering references herein to former NHL president John Ziegler: 1.

Plenty of disdain for, also: Stan Fischler, Brian Burke, the media sharks, Andy Murray, Pat Quinn, Ed Snider, Chris Gratton, Marc Crawford, Bob Nicholson.

Price Gretzky paid for his first car, a used Pontiac Trans-Am, in 1978: $3,800.

Amount of Gretzky’s signing bonus that year from the Indianapolis Racers of the WHA: $25,000.

Amount Toronto GM Cliff Fletcher offered Gretzky in 1996 to sign with the Leafs: $3 million a year.

Guy who nixed the deal: Leafs’ owner Steve Stavro.

Other team Gretzky was willing to sign with, except for they blew it: Vancouver.

Blame: Pat Quinn.

What anyone who knows Gretzky at all knows about the notion that he’d risk his reputation for a relatively small endorsement fee from a stick manufacturer, or ever get involved in sports betting: He never would.

What Marty McSorley used to let other teams know: “You go after Gretz and you’re going to get hurt. You may get hurt so bad that I’ll get suspended, but I don’t care. You should, though.”

Dave Semenko’s preferred method to deliver the same message: “A stony — and scary — glare.”

Cost, per person, to participate in Gretzky’s summertime Las Vegas fantasy camp with which he raises money for the good causes supported by his foundation: $11,999.

The craziest thing about pro sports, according to Gretzky: “If you don’t play with confidence, you can’t play.”

Theoren Fleury’s (possibly derisive) thoughts on the 1998 Olympic semi-final in which Canada lost in a shoot-out to the Czech Republic: “Perhaps next time, they can set up a Scrabble board at centre ice and we’ll play Scrabble to see who wins.”

Whether he admits it or not, guy responsible for not selecting Gretzky to shoot in that crushing loss: Marc Crawford.

What Gretzky says: “I really don’t believe I would have made any difference.”

According to Strach, number of goals/points Gretzky would register in a season if he were playing in today’s NHL: 130, 300.

Gretzky’s Q score: the highest of any hockey player.

His impression of Queen Elizabeth II? “Really nice.”

Number of days he works as a spokesman for TD Bank: 10/year.

Does he favour enlarging hockey’s net, to help with scoring? “No chance. That would be criminal.”

Thoughts on head hits and the scourge of concussions? Not included.

Whether there’s a place in the game for fighting? No comment.

Number of times it should be mentioned (and is) that Gretzky is a better human being than he ever was a hockey player: Twice.

99 
Gretzky: His Game, His Story
Al Strachan, assisted by Wayne Gretzky
(Fenn/M&S, 324 pp., $32.95)

(Photo courtesy of The Want List http://www.flickr.com/photos/hockeymedia/)

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: 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

sorrier still

113 Days Later: Winnipeg artist Diana Thorneycroft’s “The Martyrdom of St. Donald” (2006), which doesn't purport to depict the state of the NHL after its third Bettman-era lockout, but could. For more of Thorneycroft's scintillant northern visions, visit dianathorneycroft.com.

113 Days Later: Winnipeg artist Diana Thorneycroft’s “The Martyrdom of St. Donald” (2006), which doesn’t purport to depict the state of the NHL after its third Bettman-era lockout, but could. For more of Thorneycroft’s scintillant northern visions, visit dianathorneycroft.com.

So then the NHL did apologize, Wednesday afternoon, in the persons of Boston Bruins’ owner Jeremy Jacobs and commissioner Gary Bettman, in New York, once the owners had voted to ratify the new CBA. Jacobs, who chairs the league’s Board of Governors, said, “This great game has been gone for far too long, and for that we are truly sorry.”

When it was Bettman’s turn, he dug deep to find as personal a statement as might ever have left his lips in the 20 years he’s been manning the bridge at the NHL.

“To the players,” he said, “who were very clear they wanted to be on the ice and not negotiating labor contracts; to our partners, who support the League financially and personally; and, most importantly, to our fans, who love and have missed NHL hockey, I am sorry,” Commissioner Bettman said. “I know that an explanation or an apology will not erase the hard feelings that have built up over the past few months, but I owe you an apology nevertheless.”

The early reviews of Bettman’s soliloquy were generally warm, -ish, especially if you compare them to what the critics were saying about him during the stoppage, with Detroit defenceman Ian White rating him “an idiot” and Kris Versteeg, from Florida, calling him cancerous. “I think when you look at Bill Daly and Bettman, they’ve been polluting the game for far too long,” Versteeg added. Chicago’s Dave Bolland Twittered out a fan’s wish for Bettman’s death — though he, Bolland, felt bad about that and apologized. Continue reading