hockey with a grin

Children’s books featuring Bobby Clarke proliferated in his hockey-playing heyday in the 1970s; I’d even say they abounded. Fred McFadden’s Bobby Clarke (1972) should not be confused with Edward Dolan’s Bobby Clarke (1977); only the former, take note, belonged to the Superpeople series of mini-biographies, which also featured slim volumes profiling Jean Béliveau, Ken Dryden, Bobby Orr, Norman Bethune, Alexander Graham Bell, and Karen Kain, among others. John Gilbert’s An Interview With Bobby Clarke (1977) postulated that Clarke never bragged, whined, forgot a friend, or quit, also that he was too small to be a dirty player, Montreal coach Scotty Bowman just called him that to psych him out. Julian May’s 1975 Clarke bio, Hockey With A Grin, studied the love that Philadelphia fans quickly developed for their superstar centre and concluded this:

He was that rarity — a smiling hockey player. He enjoyed what he was doing and let the whole world know it. With his handsome, boyish face and gap-toothed grin, Bobby won the hearts of the fans.

Born on a Saturday of this date in 1949 in Flin Flon, Manitoba, Clarke turns 71 today. His popularity as a literary figure, of course, has to do with the hockey successes he helped engineer in the mid-1970s, when he captained the Flyers to back-to-back Stanley Cups while also winning Masterton and Selke trophies for himself, as well as (three times) the Hart Memorial Trophy.

It’s also founded on the inspiring story of how he succeeded despite having been diagnosed with diabetes as a teenager. “You’d better give up hockey,” is what the doctor in Fred McFadden’s bio tells young Bobby when he first breaks the news; in Julian May’s telling, the doctor says, “It would be best if you did not play hockey.”

Dolan boils it down this way:

Bobby’s doctors said that he might be able to play the goaltender spot but that he could never skate all over the rink in a game and still keep his health.

Whereupon, of course, he showed them, and everybody.

Along with our hero’s health, his smile, his refusal to quit, the Clarke oeuvre examines the man’s modesty; the qualities that made him such a great leader; how deeply Flin Flon was ingrained in his personality; and just what happened back in ol’ ’72 when he swung his stick in Moscow and broke Valeri Kharlamov’s ankle.

Clarke’s ongoing Flin Flon-ness, McFadden maintains, was apparent in the ’70s in the Flyers’ captain’s insistence on “driving a pick-up and listing hot dogs as his favourite food.”

On Kharlamov, the accounting of Clarke’s intent to injure the Soviet Union’s best player in Game Six of the Summit Series is surprisingly straightforward. All the bios take more or less the same shrugging view of the incident — no big deal, what’s all the fuss? In his Superpeople summing-up, McFadden allows that Clarke’s willingness to break the rules to win did cause “some people” to question his sportsmanship.

That’s as close as any of the Bobby-Clarke-for-young-readers books come to grappling with the ethics of the thing. Otherwise, Julian May’s take in Hockey With A Grin can represent the rest:

… Bobby was trailing Kharlamov. He suddenly realized: “This guy is killing us!” And almost without thinking, Bobby lashed at Kharlamov’s ankles with his stick.

Bobby got a two-minute penalty for slashing. The Russian was out for that game and for the next. “It’s not something I’m proud of,” Bobby recalled later, “but I honestly can’t say I was ashamed to do it.”

Flyerdelphian: Readers of John Gilbert’s 1977 bio-for-young-readers, An Interview With Bobby Clarke, learned that the Flyers’ captain never bragged, whined, or quit.

 

the neverending story (right to the end)

On And On: Meg Braithwaite told the story of NHL’s elongatedest game in hr 2017 book 5-Minute Hockey Stores, with help from illustrator Nick Craine. (Image: HarperCollins Canada)

The puck dropped at the regular time, 8.30 p.m., at the Montreal Forum on the Tuesday night of March 24, 1936, when Marty Barry of the visiting Detroit Red Wings faced up to Hooley Smith of the Montreal Maroons at centre ice. But it was Wednesday morning, almost seven hours later, before the two teams decided things in that Stanley Cup semi-final, which remains the longest game in NHL history. It took six overtimes — 116 minutes and 30 seconds of extra time — before 21-year-old Detroit rookie Mud Bruneteau scored the game’s only goal. The Maroons were the defending champions that year, and favoured to repeat, but they never recovered from that long first-game defeat. Detroit swept past them in three games and went on to the finals, where they beat the Toronto Maple Leafs to win the Cup.

“Both teams started the sixth period just pretending they had energy,” Doc Holst of the Detroit Free Press documented on this day 83 years ago. Joe Lamb of the Maroons and the Red Wings’ Johnny Sorrell got into a tangle that might have escalated, if the hour had been younger: instead, “Lamb yawned and Sorrell stretched.” The NHL doesn’t have official shot-totals from the night, but contemporary newspaper accounts advise that Lorne Chabot faced 68 shots in the Maroons goal while, at the other end, Detroit’s Normie Smith stopped 90.

Muddy Moment: Bob Davis’ 1955 calendar illustration re-imagines Mud Bruneteau’s decisive goal, complete with fanciful uniforms and a fearful Lorne Chabot.

I did not spear him, sam-I-am

lucicI’m not saying Milan Lucic shouldn’t have speared Alexei Emelin because — or, no, wait, yes, I am saying he shouldn’t have, because that’s awful behaviour, even within hockey’s permissive code, enough to provoke a five-minute major and a game misconduct, if it ever actually happened at all. To be clear, then: Milan Lucic, I’m saying, shouldn’t have speared Alexei Emelin.

This is oldish news, from back in regular-season late March, when Montreal beat Boston one night at the Garden. It seems like a long time ago, a distance you can measure out in newer, bigger, louder Montreal victories (last night); at least two more Lucician spearing incidents (involving Detroit’s Danny deKeyser and Emelin again); and (also last night) the spectacle of Boston’s burly left winger shaking the hands of his triumphant rivals while at the same time threatening them with death.

Oh and, too, Lucic published a kids’ book called Not Cool To Bully In School. He launched it the night after he speared Emelin for the first time. Which, I guess, happens sometimes. All I’m saying is, whether or not it was a good idea on the ice, can there really be any question that from a publishing point of view, this was the wrong thing for the book?

It’s a story about — but maybe let’s come back to that. First, it’s probably important to review the spear itself, if that’s what it was. Lucic said it wasn’t. Emelin — I don’t know if he said anything in public one way or the other. He felt something, which cause caused him to fall to the ice.

That was evident if, like me, you were watching that third period TSN on TV: the puck was down the ice, in Boston territory, and Lucic was skating out of the Montreal end with Emelin and they were …. conversing. The blood was bad, the atmosphere tetchy: I don’t know what they were saying, just that conversation wasn’t quite doing it for Lucic. I grant that it may be a more general memory I have, though I believe it’s specific to this particular exchange, and that I’m fairly describing his complexion as clotted with anger and ill-intent, as it tends to be. To me it looked like he brought the blade of his stick up with unfriendly speed and force between Emelin’s legs. In hockey parlance, that’s called a separator, though there are non-hockey words that come to mind too, culinary terms like spatchcock or maybe the one whalers use when they’re carving up a carcass, to flense.

As in: flensed, Emelin fell.

Two referees didn’t call a penalty, which I guess means they didn’t see it, because if they’d seen, they would have to have called it, since with spearing even intent is sanctioned: under Rule 86, if you stick an Emelin, or anyone, even if you don’t make contact, that’s a double minor. Continue reading