drop the writ already

Vote Notes: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will call on Governor-General Julie Payette at Rideau Hall at 10 a.m. this morning to begin the process that will send Canadians to the polls for an October 21 election. Steady yourselves: the five-and-a-half week campaign will be fuelled, inevitably, by hockey metaphors and puck-adjacent photo ops. Here, to help get it going: Duncan Macpherson’s 1988 ink-and-wash-on-board cartoon “Brian Mulroney and John Turner playing hockey.” (Image: © McCord Museum)

old world order

The snow, if you hadn’t heard, is piling up in Davos in Switzerland this week atop the World Economic Forum, where, as The New York Times has it this morning, “financial titans mingle with heads of state in an annual saturnalia of capitalism.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was a keynote speaker yesterday; the President of the United States blows in on Thursday. Amid the heavy weather and the ongoing crisis of the liberal order, can we cast back to this same week in 1932 for a look in on Hockey Club Davos? We can. That’s them here, then, against unknown opposition. The World Economic Forum got going in 1971; HC Davos dates back to 1918. Today, the team has 31 Swiss National League championships to its name, along with 15 Spengler Cups. The annual invitational Spengler is, of course, a Davos institution, going back to 1923. These days it’s played next door to the old Eisstadion Davos pictured here, under magnificent cover at the Vaillant Arena. HC Davos has been at home therein since 1979. This season, they’re standing in fifth place in the 12-team Swiss table, 19 points back of the defending champions from SC Bern. Davos plays next on Saturday, when they’re away to Lausanne HC. The outdoor rink is still there where it was in downtown Davos, with all the snow and the global elites, though minus (too bad) the wooden stand shown above.

 

we were on the same side, cheering for the same team

“National Pastimes” (1991) by Jim Logan, Acrylic on canvas, 122 cm x 183.2 cm

National Aboriginal Day today, in Canada, for one last time. This morning Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that from here on in, the name will change to National Indigenous Peoples Day. Either way (on any day), Jim Logan’s work deserves your attention. If you’re in Ottawa or Gatineau any time this summer, his powerful 1991 suite of seven “National Pastimes” paintings are on display as part of the Canadian Museum of History’s “Hockey” exhibition. The largest of the canvasses (above) depicts an ostensibly serene and all-Canadian winter scene in an interior British Columbia reserve town while the six smaller works that accompany it frame a series of close-ups. Attention to detail is worth paying: off the ice in the main canvas, away from the heedless joy of the afternoon’s shinny, it’s a panorama of pain and danger. A couple brawls in the snow. A suicide hangs from a swing-set. In “Father Image 1,” a stern-faced white priest makes his claim on a trio of grim, stoical boys. It’s also personal: in the window at the bottom of the (main) frame, a father and son watch TV together.

Logan, whose background is Cree, Sioux, and Scottish, was born in 1955 in New Westminster, B.C. In an essay for Indigena: Contemporary Native Perspectives (1992), he talked about the paintings and the role hockey has played in his own life as well as its significance as a symbol and metaphor in Indigenous culture. “I realized,” he wrote,

I had grown up watching a lot of hockey, and I realized the one I watched a lot of hockey with was my dad. However, my relationship with my dad was never as close as I wanted it to be. His rough upbringing, war nightmares, and alcoholism all contributed to the distance between us. However silent as our relationship may have been, we loved each other.

My dad’s interest in hockey naturally drew my interest and hockey became the dominant link between us. But our reasons for watching were so different. He dreamed of being somebody important, somebody respected. He wanted to be a winner, but fate wouldn’t allow it.

I watched hockey because it brought me closer to my dad. Hockey to me was togetherness. On Saturday night, for three whole periods, we were on the same side, cheering for the same team (Montreal) and the same players (Jean Béliveau and John Ferguson), and his past, and our reality didn’t threaten us. We were as close as we could ever get.

Today watching hockey or painting about it brings back those warm memories, but it also brings back the distant relationship my dad and I had. The paintings in this series are an extension of my personal experience. The social statement I am expressing here is that for many kids, Aboriginal or not, hockey is often more than just a sport, it’s an escape. In these paintings you will find evidence of the tragic realities of life that are temporarily forgotten by those involved with the game that has been titled Our National Pastime.

For more of Jim Logan’s work, visit his website. The Canadian Museum of History’s “Hockey” exhibition continues until October 9. After that — from November 24 through to April 29, 2018 — it will be at Montreal’s Pointe-à-Callière Museum.

“Defensive Pair” (1991) by Jim Logan, Acylic on canvas, 50.80 cm x 60.96 cm

“Father Image I” (1991) by Jim Logan “Defensive Pair” by Jim Logan, Acylic on canvas, 50.80 cm x 60.96 cm

(Images courtesy of Jim Logan. Used with permission.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

gump agonistes

image1-version-2

They’re just a few of them, Canadians we feel we know so well (and maybe even revere) that just the one name will do. Most of them are singers, Drake and Shania, Joni, Neil, Leonard, though we also have a prime minister now, Justin, with whom we’re first-name familiar. Hockey has Gordie, Wayne, Mario, Sid — and now I guess Connor, too.

Also? Gump.

That one is an older vintage, and maybe doesn’t have the currency it once did. Still, it does retain a certain power, as a byword for the audacity and sheer foolery of old-time NHL goaltenders, one that conveys not only the awkward dignity of the man himself but also the fall-down, scrambling valor of a whole nervy puckstopping generation of maskless men, long before Tom Hanks was cast in the role of a slow-wit hero from Alabama.

Not that the surname isn’t just as good as the first: Worsley is Dickensian in its perfection, up there with Gradgrind, Cheeryble, Pickwick, Pecksniff. Paired, Gump Worsley not only sounds like a character from a story, one from whom you could figure out the gist of the plot just by looking at the man: oh, yes, right, so this is the one about the kind-hearted London orphan, bit of a sad case, all alone in the world, at the behest of his anonymous benefactor, without any training or apparent aptitude, has to take up goaltending in the six-team National Hockey League in order to prove himself and find his destiny.

John K. Samson once told me he carried a glorious old Gump-faced hockey card with him wherever he went. We were talking at the time about Reggie Leach, Riverton’s own Rifle, but then the talk turned as the Winnipeg singer explained that a lot of his admiration for Gump was based, like mine, on just how unlikely a goaltender he seemed, accidental, almost, and how amiably he seemed to bearing up in the situation into which he’d been thrust.

That’s in the song Samson wrote, of course, “Elegy for Gump Worsley,” that he sang with his erstwhile band, The Weakerthans. The words go like this:

He looked more like our fathers, not a goalie, player, athlete period. Smoke, half ash, stuck in that permanent smirk, tugging jersey around the beergut, “I’m strictly a whiskey man” was one of the sticks he taped up and gave to a nation of pudgy boys in beverage rooms. Favourites from Plimpton’s list of objects thrown by Rangers fans: soup cans, a persimmon, eggs, a folding chair and a dead rabbit. The nervous breakdown of ’68-’69 after pant-crap flights from LA, the expansion, “the shrink told me to change occupations. I had to forget it.” He swore he was never afraid of the puck. We believe him. If anyone asks, the inscription should read, “My face was my mask.”

He played 21 years in the NHL, mostly for the New York Rangers, most successfully for Montreal, finally for the Minnesota North Stars. He died at the age of 77 in 2007.

It’s possible that I saw him play, later on in his career, staying up late to watch Hockey Night In Canada in the early ’70s. If so, I don’t remember. I loved his memoir, They Call Me Gump (1975), which he wrote with Tim Moriarty’s aid, and not just because he devotes Chapter 21 to his recipe for pineapple squares. Okay, well, yes, that’s where a lot of the love is centred. Also with his affable way of looking at the world, and that if there’s a joke in his playing NHL goal, then it’s a joke he’s very much in on, and enjoying as much as the rest of us.

If Gump looked helpless, if he seemed hapless, well, of course, he was anything but. You don’t need to go and stand in front of his plaque in the Hockey Hall of Fame (elected in 1980) to know that he was one of the best of his era. Traded to Montreal for Jacques Plante, he went on to play his part in four Stanley Cup championships. He was a First All-Star Team and twice had a share (with Charlie Hodge and Rogie Vachon, respectively) in a Vézina Trophy. Of all the goaltenders to have defended NHL nets, he stands 22nd when it comes to regular-season wins (335). He had 40 more in the playoffs, which is more than Johnny Bower and Bernie Parent and lots of other Brahmins of the crease.

I don’t know where he slots in when it comes to the all-time index of pain and suffering. In his book, he mostly makes light of the wear and tear of being worn and torn. “The main occupational hazard is trying to stay alive while facing up to 40 and 50 shots a game,” he writes. “We’re not well, you know,” he says elsewhere, “or we wouldn’t be playing the position.” And: “It helps to be nuts.” If he were in the business of hiring goaltenders, his prerequisites would include “a hard skull to deflect flying pucks, plus a thick skin to absorb the abuse of coaches and fans.”

Like a lot of hockey memoirs, They Call Me Gump reads like a medical file. It’s longtime Ranger physician Dr. Kazuo Yanagisawa attending, mostly, dropping in every few pages to consult on the tendons in Gump’s hand that Bobby Hull’s skate severed, or to remove cartilage from his knee. Gump pulls hamstrings, tears thigh muscles, sprains knees. He devotes another entire chapter (without going too deep) to the stress and fear of flying that fuelled the nervous breakdown he suffered in 1968.

The injuries would have contributed to that, too, though Gump doesn’t really make much of the connection. For all the damage he chronicles, there’s relatively little mention of concussions. One that features is famous in its way — a “mild” one that knocked him out of a 1967 game at Madison Square Garden when he was back in playing for Montreal. Others he leaves out entirely or tosses in with what passes for trouperly bravado:

[Boom-Boom] Geoffrion hit me right between the eyes with a slapshot in the Forum one night, and the puck ricocheted 40 rows into the stands.

Gump finally put on a mask in 1974, but only for the last six games of his career. “Hated it,” he said in 1984, looking back. “Sure I got knocked out a lot. I got knocked out oftener than Joe Palooka. But there was only one goalie to a team at that time, so they’d revive you and sew you up and you went back on.”

That’s all in keeping, I guess, with hockey’s historical nonchalance when it comes to head injuries. Getting your bell proverbially rung was just part of the game; you shook it off, headed back out on the ice. Knowing what we know now about head trauma and the long-time devastation of CTE casts a grim shade on those old attitudes, even as the modern-day NHL refuses to acknowledge the connections.

gump-ko-pkstrk

Worsley Out: Montreal teammates Ted Harris and Bob Rousseau aid training staff in getting Gump off the ice in Chicago in April of 1968 after he hit his head on a goalpost.

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hockey night in the east room: when prime ministers and presidents dine

wh cup

Trophy Case: U.S. President Barack Obama welcomes (and gloats over) the Stanley Cup to the White House’s East Room on February 18, 2016. The Chicago Blackhawks were also on hand.

“Canada exports two things to the United States: hockey players and cold fronts. And Canada imports two things from the United States: baseball players and acid rain.”
• Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, speaking at a lunch ahead of Major League’s Baseball’s 1982 All-Star Game, as reported by Michael Farber of the Montreal’s Gazette

Thirty-nine years after Justin Trudeau’s father last dined officially at the White House, Canada’s prime minister will end a busy day of Washington business with a state dinner tonight at President Barack Obama’s place. While we’ve been alerted to what’s on the menu — baked Alaskan halibut casserole; Colorado lamb — what we don’t know at this hour is just how much hockey the two leaders will be talking.

The White House has a long and nuanced hockey history. But ahead of the festivities in the executive mansion’s East Room, a review of earlier White House state dinners for Canadian prime ministers tells us that the game has come up but rarely in the history of official talking — the toasts, the speeches of welcome — that go on when PMs and presidents converge in Washington.

Before tonight, Canadian prime ministers have banqueted seven times at the White House. The first time was in November of 1945 when Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King paid a visit to Harry Truman. Discussing with reporters a telephone call he’d had with the PM a month before the dinner, Truman was asked whether they’d talked atomic bombs at all. “We discussed every subject,” said the President, “in which Canada and the United States are interested, but I am not at liberty to make any statement.”

Which all but confirms that the two leaders were engaged in bilateral talks regarding how well Bill Mosienko was clicking that fall with the brothers Bentley, Doug and Max, for Chicago’s Black Hawks. Come the actual state dinner — well, British PM Clement Attlee was on hand for that, too, so just to be polite at that point in the post-war world they had more pressing matters to talk about

It continued quiet in terms of high-level hockey-talking. John Diefenbaker and Dwight Eisenhower supped together in 1960 without exchanging so much as a token hockey cliché.

Same thing when Diefenbaker met with John F. Kennedy in Washington on February 20, 1961. The Trail Smoke Eaters were over in Czechoslovakia preparing to play for the world championships; in Detroit, Gordie Howe had just scored his 500th NHL goal. The two leaders had no comment, either way.

Lyndon Johnson hosted Lester Pearson on January 22 of 1964. This was a luncheon, mind you, in the White House’s State Dining Room, which means, well, I guess, early in the day and therefore not as momentous a meal as dinner? There were toasts, and President Johnson began his like this:

The Prime Minister asked me if I was going to make a speech and I told him I was going to attempt to, not over three minutes in length, but I would expect loud and vociferous applause.

I choose to feel that this is not just a meeting today between two heads of government, but rather a reunion of neighbors who meet around the dining table in friendship and with affection. Mr. Prime Minister, we in this country are proud of your achievements and we are joined in your purpose. We have applauded your craftsmanship and approved of your leadership from your major role in the creation of the United Nations to your winning of the Nobel Peace Prize and even your performance as defenseman on the Oxford hockey team.

None of the leaders went on the record regarding Bobby Orr, Miracles On Ice, or indeed any hockey matter during Pierre Trudeau’s successive state dinners with Richard Nixon (1969) and Jimmy Carter (1977).

It wasn’t a state occasion in December of 1974 when Trudeau supped at the White House — The Globe and Mail described it as “a stag black-tie dinner” given by President Gerald Ford. They were in the Blue Room, and at 9.15, postprandially, the President toasted his guest. Trudeau responded:

Mr. President, gentlemen, and friends:

When Canadians travel abroad, Mr. President, they spend lots of time explaining to other people how they are different from the Americans. There is a great belief in other lands that Canadians and Americans are exactly the same. I am particularly distressed to find this when I am dealing with the Common Market. We are different, and we have different problems and different economic requirements.

But it does happen that we have to show how similar we are and how close our two peoples are. And the best example I can find, when I have to explain that kind of thing, is to talk about in summer, in the baseball stadium in Montreal where tens of thousands of Canadians get together to cheer for the Canadian team against the visiting American team when every one of the players on both sides is American! [Laughter]

When I have stayed in some of your American cities, it is another story. In winter at your hockey forums, they cheer for the local team, and probably 95 percent of the players on both sides are Canadians — and the best ones.

And this, I think, shows really how close the people are in their goals, in their ways of living, in their love of sports, in their values, even in standards of their own lives.

Brian Mulroney was known to vary a Trudeauvian theme or two: to most Americans, he once said, Canada means snowstorms and Wayne Gretzky.

He followed Trudeau père to the White House, too, when Ronald Reagan had him over, twice, in the 198os.

“Mr. Prime Minister, welcome,” President Reagan said in 1986 when Mulroney stopped in for supper for the first time in 1986. “Allons-y a travail.” Mulroney returned in April of 1988 when, again, nowhere in any of the official wordings did anyone have anything to say about hockey.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, one feels sure, would have had a quip or two to offer, about John Ross Robertson, Toronto’s old Blue Shirts, Bruce Ridpath, but our erstwhile hockey-historian-in-chief never made it to the White House for a state dinner.

And tonight? The chances that there will be mentions of hockey when the leaders rise to speak their pieces are, I’m confident, fair to good, if only to continue the bright banter they began last month.

As presidents like to do, Barack Obama had the Stanley Cup over in February to congratulate the holders from Chicago. “It is always fun to have the Stanley Cup here,” he said in remarks that included thoughtful tributes to Kimmo Timonen and Scott Darling. “It truly is the best trophy in sports.” With the Blackhawks having won three Cups during his presidency, he felt he was owed some thanks. “I think it’s pretty clear the kind of luck I’ve brought to this team.”

He was already thinking of tonight, too. “And,” he said, “by the way, we’ve got a state dinner with Canada coming up, so we may just leave it right in the middle of the room.” [Laughter and applause] “We’ll see. We could gloat a little bit. Just to gloat a little bit.” [Applause]

Prime Minister Trudeau wasn’t long in replying, on Twitter:

trudeau obama

 

 

 

electoral froth 2015: puck possessed

“Well, you know, I thought going into this debate that Justin Trudeau had to do one really important thing: he had to go into the corners and come out with the puck. He had to go toe-to-toe with these really strong-willed politicians and I think he did that a number of times tonight …”

• Abacus Data chairman Bruce Anderson’s verdict on how Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau delivered on expectations at the Maclean’s National Leaders Debate in Toronto, during a discussion on the August 6 edition of the At Issue panel on CBC-TV’s The National.

 

electoral froth 2015: in with the brawlers, out with the puck

“He needs to show that he can go into the corners with those other, kind-of-brawling-type politicians and come out with the puck. So toughness is something he needs to demonstrate. He doesn’t get to do that in the House of Commons very much; he doesn’t do it on the hustings, particularly. But this is an opportunity to do that.”

• Abacus Data chairman Bruce Anderson on what Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau has to do at tonight’s Maclean’s National Leaders Debate in Toronto, during a discussion on the August 5 edition of the At Issue panel on CBC-TV’s The National.