this week: shocked, saddened

o canadaToronto’s Joffrey Lupul was in downtown Ottawa with the rest of the Leafs on Wednesday morning in the middle of the fear and chaos. “Surreal scene outside of our hotel right now,” he tweeted. “Lot of very brave police officers we should all be very proud of.”

“We were told not to go close to the windows,” a Leaf defenceman, Morgan Rielly, told The Toronto Star’s Dave Feschuk later, after it was all over. “But you know us — we opened the curtains up and had a look for sure. It was quite scary how close we were.”

Feschuk:

When an attacker shot and killed a sentry standing guard at a monument to Canada’s war dead, Toronto’s NHL team was staying at a hotel across the street. Some, among them James van Riemsdyk, said they were sleeping when the violence struck. Others, such as Morgan Rielly, were awake and heard the gunshots. Head coach Randy Carlyle said he was walking through the Rideau Centre mall when an order to evacuate was broadcast over the public address system.

At a moment like that, the coach said, ‘You’ve just got to get back to your safe haven. And the safe haven for us was the hotel.’

“You didn’t know what was going to happen next,” said James van Riemsdyk. “That kind of unknowing feeling is definitely not settling.”

Midday Wednesday the NHL announced that the game the Leafs were supposed to play against Ottawa’s Senators that night was postponed. And:

The National Hockey League wishes to express its sympathy to all affected by the tragic events that took place this morning in downtown Ottawa.

Ottawa defenceman Eric Gryba was one of the hockey players tweeting that afternoon:

My heart and prayers goes out to the family of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo. This is a tragedy that will not be forgotten. #OttawaStrong

P.K. Subban:

Very sad news to hear about what happened in Ottawa. God bless the families who have to mourn these losses. #sosad

In Pittsburgh that night, singer Jeff Jimerson led the crowd in singing O Canada ahead of the game between Penguins and Flyers. “It was a special moment,” Jimerson told The Calgary Sun, “and as soon as they introduced it, saying our thoughts are with Canada, it felt different — it was more emotional. Towards the end, when you can really hear all the people singing O Canada, I felt so proud of the Pittsburgh fans for that. It was really cool.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper stood in the House of Commons on Thursday morning. “My fellow Canadians, for the second time this week there has been a brutal and violent attack on our soil,” he said. He paid tribute to Corporal Cirillo and to Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, killed on Monday in Quebec. He thanked first responders and quick-thinking civilians, police and Parliamentary security, and Sergeant-At-Arms Kevin Vickers. He said,

I think we were all, as Canadians, touched by the wonderful gesture shown last night at the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey game.

“Of course,” he continued, “Mr. Speaker, we know all too well this is not a happy day for everybody.”

In particular, a terribly sad day for all of the family, loved ones, friends, colleagues of both Nathan Cirillo and Patrice Vincent.

We have seen photos of these lovely men.

We’ve all seen the pictures of these beautiful guys, as Don Cherry would say, and our hearts really are with all of them.

We are so fortunate to have people like this.

“We’re all shocked and saddened by what happened,” Senators president Cyril Leeder told Wayne Scanlan from The Ottawa Citizen. “We think it was obviously the appropriate thing for the league to do to cancel the game, we supported that decision. But now, our leaders — our prime minister, our premier, our mayor — are asking us to move forward and help with the healing process. We’re hopeful that hockey can help in some small way.”

He went on:

When this happens, hockey takes a back seat, it really is secondary to a tragic incident like this. But hockey is important to Canadians, important to our community here and will be an important part of that [healing] process.

The Leafs were back in Toronto on Thursday and out on their practice ice. At the end of the session, centreman Nazem Kadri took to the net. Dave Feschuk:

Even if he didn’t make many saves, Kadri made more than a few onlookers laugh as he performed an exhaustive display of sprawls and snow angels that were both admirably theatrical and comical.

This, in part, was how these famous men who play a kids’ game got back to their usual rituals on Thursday. A little more than 24 hours earlier, while the Leafs prepared for a matchup in Ottawa, they’d seen their typical dream-job routine — a mid-morning breakfast, say, followed by a leisurely afternoon nap — pre-empted by a rare dose of real-world viciousness.

“We have no sense of occasion,” Cathal Kelly was saying that morning in The Globe and Mail. “We are incapable of proper celebration, and consequently do mourning very poorly. Taken as a group, Canadians have one emotional gambit — a patrician distaste for emotions.”

We are as stiff as our reputation … until you get us into a hockey arena.

It doesn’t have to be a grand place. Any little rink with a coffee shop and a skate-sharpening station will do, anywhere in the country. You walk through those doors, the cold and that metallic tang hit you, and your natural Canadian inhibitions are shed. We are a country of many faiths, but just the one religion. It’s a cliché because it’s true.

Everyone in this country understands that you don’t have to play hockey or watch hockey or even like hockey, but you must respect hockey. That’s the way we used to feel about the Church, in all its iterations.

We are at our best together, and we are most often together at a rink. It’s where we feel closest.

By Saturday, we’ll be ready to shed this dreadful feeling of vulnerability. We’ll do that by celebrating the fallen and jeering those who would do us harm. It’s a barbarous ritual, but so is hockey. It’s a game designed to be played by people with the need to work out some issues. That’s why we’re so good at it.

I said let grief be a falling leaf

carlyle

The Toronto Maple Leafs lost eight games in a row to round out the month of March. April came in like a bit of a cure: the Leafs beat Calgary and Boston this past week before last night’s loss to Winnipeg appeared to kill their playoff hopes. The following anthology of disappointment is a composite of quotes from the month that was, culled from newspapers local and national, wire reports, and the Twitter feeds of a scattering of discouraged beat reporters.

“Obviously we were pretty flat the first period,” Toronto coach Randy Carlyle said. “It looked like we were still in our afternoon nap. Playing an afternoon game just took us a good part of the game to get warmed up and get awake.”

Losing the game was one thing, built on ill-timed mistakes and mental lapses. But why the lacklustre Leafs couldn’t match the intensity of a team outside the playoff race left goaltender James Reimer and others grasping for answers.

“Why are we losing? It’s different reasons all the time. If it was one thing we would correct it,” said Joffrey Lupul.

“We could not make two passes,” Carlyle said.

They looked like a team that had been beaten and given up, a dead team skating, both that night and again in practice early in the week. Continue reading

footnote

art ross

Nikolai Kulemin was the first Leaf winger to fall to what the papers were calling friendly fire. This was October and the season hadn’t even started when in practice he caught a teammate’s shot on the ankle, which chipped the bone. Two weeks he was out of the line-up. Same thing happened at the end of the month to Joffrey Lupul, “plunked” in practice, as The Toronto Sun put it — though Lupul’s was only a bone-bruise, and he missed but two games.

That was no solace to Toronto coach Randy Carlyle. Both players should have been wearing plastic foot-guards over their skates, as mandated by the team for players at practice. It was just common sense, said Carlyle. “You don’t drive your car any more without a seatbelt. It’s basically the same principle.”

Modern-day foot-guards — they’re also called shotblockers — are light and resilient. They’ve come a long way since the steel-mesh prototype that the man they called “hockey’s Edison” came up with in 1939. By then, of course, Art Ross (above) had long since retired from a stellar playing career. He’d been managing the Boston Bruins since 1924. He’d already re-invented the hockey net by the time he turned his attention to trying prevent foot and ankle injuries, and in 1940 he’d get his patent on a refined puck.

In December of 1939, at the NHL’s Board of Governors meetings in New York, Canadian Press was reporting that Ross’ skate chainmail was an experiment tried and abandoned, having “proved unsatisfactory.” Already he had a new idea, and the league had approved it for trial: “a new-style stick, which combines a wooden handle, steel tube shaft and wooden blade.”

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

this week: once wayne gretzky told me stats are for losers

Winnipeg artist Diana Thorneycroft’s 2007 digital photograph "March Storm, Georgian Bay" from her series "Group of Seven Awkward Moments." "By pairing the tranquility of traditional landscape painting with black humour," Thorneycroft says, "the work conjures up topical and universally familiar landscapes fraught with anxiety and contradictions." For more of her sublime northern visions, visit dianathorneycroft.com.

Winnipeg artist Diana Thorneycroft’s 2007 digital photograph “March Storm, Georgian Bay” from her series “Group of Seven Awkward Moments.” “By pairing the tranquility of traditional landscape painting with black humour,” Thorneycroft says, “the work conjures up topical and universally familiar landscapes fraught with anxiety and contradictions.” For more of her sublime northern visions, visit dianathorneycroft.com.

Crosby Not Eating Well

was a headline this week at philly.com.

From up on the International Space Station, the commander of Expedition 35 tweeted that he was enjoying Leafs games on TSN. “I watch them while working out,” wrote Chris Hadfield. “Great to see their skill and grit. Go Leafs!”

In The Detroit Free Press, Red Wings’ coach Mike Babcock discussed some changes in line combinations he’d made to try to help generate more offense. “We feel,” he said, “with Fil and Bruns and Clears, that’s a pretty good line. Fil’s been a good centerman for us. We like what the Mule is doing, so we’re just going to spread our lineup out and go a little bit deeper.”

Gare Joyce had a dream he couldn’t fathom: “I was interviewing Sidney #Crosby but he was only 4 ft tall + had helium suffused voice.”

Viktor Stalberg looked in the mirror this week and tried to count the stitches. A shot from Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf had hit the Chicago winger, Crosbylike, near the mouth, although Stalberg’s jaw didn’t break. “There are still a couple you can’t really see,” he said, regarding the stitches.

The doctor said it was 50 to 60, something like that — 20 on the inside and a little bit more on the outside.

It doesn’t look great, but it doesn’t feel too bad, to be honest with you. You cut so many nerves, my face is still numb, and you can’t really move it like you want to. I’m sure when the swelling goes down and those nerves heal up it will feel a lot better.

“What happened?” said Pittsburgh’s James Neal after Michael Del Zotto of the Rangers knocked him cold for a moment with what one paper described as “a reverse-forearm/elbow.”

Boston’s Brad Marchand said he was pretty nervous the first time he skated on a line with Jaromir Jagr in practice. He felt compelled to pass him the puck. “I felt like every time I got it I had to give it to him and let him play with it. Guys were yelling at me because we’d be on a 2-on-1 and the defenseman would just stand by him and I had a breakaway but I would still give it to him.”

Toronto listed winger Joffrey Lupul as day-to-day, this week, with an ailment of the upper body that wasn’t a concussion. “You are the one that likes that word,” the coach, Randy Carlyle, told a reporter, “so you put the diagnosis you want on that.”

Of the Nashville Predators, Chicago goalie Ray Emery said, “That’s a team you have to really play some boring hockey against.”

Szymon Szemberg from the IIHF had a word, this week, for Ottawa’s 40-year-old captain Daniel Alfredsson: indelible.

Of Milan Lucic, The Boston Globe’s Kevin Paul Dupont reporter said, “Needs to play angry. Otherwise, passenger.”

Sidney Crosby met with reporters in Pittsburgh to tell them about his sore jaw. “Felt it but didn’t see it,” he said of the slapshot that hit him. Still unable to chew solid food, he said he’d been living on milkshakes for nine days. Keeping weight on, he said, was “impossible.”

He laughed. “It hasn’t been too enjoyable.” Continue reading

this week: is god a jets fan?

elixir

“Hej, Heja, Heja, Cracovia Mistrzem Hokeja,” chanted the fans in Poland this week, after Cracovia Krakow beat GKS Jastrzebie in game seven of the finals of the Polish national championships.

“I’ve never even been at an NHL playoff game,” one of Toronto’s goalies, James Reimer, told one of The Toronto Star’s columnists, Rosie DiManno.

“Is God a Jets fan?” a reporter from The Free Press asked Winnipeg’s team chaplain this week. Great question. “I’ve always been taught that God loves everybody and God loves all the teams,” said Lorne Korol. “And in fact we pray for a spirit of competition for our players, we pray that they would leave it all on the ice for that audience of one, the one being God. And we pray for their safety, both on and off the ice. But we never pray for victory or good weather.”

Alex Ovechkin explained a 2-1 shootout win over the Islanders this week. “Holtsy play unbelievable, make the biggest save, keep us in the game and big win,” he said.

“The history of icing is a harrowing one, involving horrible injuries and even death,” wrote Jeff Z. Klein in The New York Times. This after Carolina’s Joni Pitkanen was injured in a race to touch up a puck for icing. Puzzled Damien Cox from The Toronto Star: “Guy hurt on icing, immediate calls for rule changes; guy gets brain injury in a fight, ho-hum, part of the game #absurd”

On Hockey Night in Canada, Ron Maclean called Toronto’s Nazem Kadri “Nazem-a-taz.” Kadri had just scored a hattrick against Ottawa, so he was happy, as were his teammates, Frazer McLaren and Colton Orr, who stood behind him. “Hard-hat hockey,” is what Toronto plays, said McLaren. Don Cherry was there, too, and he kissed Kadri.

Before that, Maclean said to Kadri, “Your parents knew, your teachers knew, in London, that that was kind of, that you had the spit, you had the self-confidence, and you didn’t take losing lightly, so … congrats is the simplest way to say it.”

“Thank you,” said Kadri, as well as “Lups is a great player” and “My old man’s a pretty gritty guy, too.”

“Who taught you to hit?” Maclean had asked him, “because I know you were good at volleyball and basketball.”

The New York Rangers were having troubles scoring goals, so reporters on the beat asked coach John Tortorella why. “I don’t have an answer for you.”

A puck, slapshot by Pittsburgh’s Brooks Orpik, flew into Sidney Crosby’s jaw, which broke, shedding teeth and blood. Everybody grimaced. Nobody wanted to think the worst. Crosby left the game.

“I just know,” said his coach Dan Bylsma, after the game, “he had some issues with his teeth. Just from the replay I know that.”

Leafs’ coach Randy Carlyle wondered, “Is that the hockey gods sending a message?” Continue reading

this week: you have to stay patient, especially with groins

IMG_1995In Boston the owner of the Bruins said, “We hurt the game of hockey.” Also, confided Jeremy Jacobs, the Stanley Cup is only on loan until his team wins it back.

“There will be rust,” wrote Nick Paumgarten in The New Yorker, surveying the NHL’s return from its labour hibernation. “Blood, too, maybe.”

Though across town, Rangers’ coach John Tortorella didn’t want to talk about the lockout. “Let’s just move by that,” he encouraged. One of his centres, Brad Richards, said, “We’ve got to learn some things quickly.”

“You can’t play a perfect game,” said Marty St. Louis in Tampa Bay.

Montreal’s Tomas Plekanec said the team’s 2-1 loss to Toronto was on him. His goaltender, Carey Price: “To get scored on with the first shot of the season isn’t what you want.” When captain of the Canadiens, Brian Gionta, scored his first goal in more than a year, he said it would be nice to give his seven-year-old son a little hug. He said the reason you come to play in a place like Montreal is guys like Jean Béliveau, “a legend of the game who’s been around forever.”

P.K. Subban, meanwhile, waited to sign a contract. “I want to be a big part of them,” he said. “It’s my bloodline.”

In Toronto, Joffrey Lupul said, “It’s where my heart is.’

Bruce Boudreau, Anaheim’s coach, believed that Teemu Selanne might be the best 42-year-old athlete in the world. Continue reading