Let’s remember this, first: when Joey Kocur played in the NHL, he was a crossword king.
Teammate Darren McCarty said Kocur was the best he ever saw when it came to wordy puzzles. USA Today, New York Times, didn’t matter, he’d zip through them all. “He was amazing,” McCarty writes in My Last Fight, a 2014 memoir.
McCarty does acknowledge that as a hockey player, it wasn’t for wordplay that Kocur was so widely feared. One of McCarty’s first fights as a rookie for Detroit was with Kocur, then a Ranger, before they became teammates. “One of his punches cracked my helmet,” McCarty writes. “The momentum of his fist connecting with my head sent us both crashing to the ice. We were both tangled up, and we went down head first and we landed face-to-face.” Kocur asked if McCarty was okay. “Thanks for not killing me, Mr. Kocur,” McCarty said.
The late Bob Probert was another of Kocur’s belligerent teammates with Detroit. Look him up at the Hockey Hall of Fame’s online register of NHL players and the potted biography they have on file takes a fairly straightforward run at his legacy: one of the most feared enforcers in the NHL, it alleges, says he could have been another Mark Messier but for having been groomed to lean more toward fisticuffs than toward the development of his playing skills and so is most remembered for punching a wide swath across the NHL.
Kocur’s profile is, on the other hand, strangely muted. He was a hard-nosed right-winger who was a good checker and intimidating presence on the ice. Also: better at handling the puck than most people realized with a deceptively hard shot.
Nothing about the fighting. No testimonials of the kind that St. Louis Blues center Adam Oates once volunteered: “No one in our league punches harder. In that regard, Joe’s the absolute best at what he does.”
Kocur played 15 seasons in the NHL, retiring in 1999. He won three Stanley Cups as a player, another one as an assistant coach in Detroit. He was mostly a Red Wing, though he also skated for the New York Rangers and, briefly, the Vancouver Canucks. He scored some goals — 80 in 821 regular-season games, another 10 in his 118 playoff games — but that’s not, again, where he got his renown. Dropping the gloves was a thing he did well, freeing up his bare fists in order throw them at those heads, helmeted or otherwise, that needed punching. From the ruthless efficient and generally dispiriting tables at Hockeyfights.com, I know that he did that — punching heads — in at least 218 altercations over the course of his career.
I’d assumed that the internet’s hockey-punching headquarters would be able to help with some other numbers I was interested in: how many concussions did Kocur sustain along his painful way, and how many did he administer to others? But for some reason, Hockeyfights.com (powered by Violent Gentlemen) doesn’t track head trauma. When I typed “CTE” into the Keyword Search window, there was no delay in the answer I got: Not Found.
Newspaper archives don’t have a lot to report on what all those fights did to Kocur’s head, either. Maybe he was lucky, and was never concussed. I hope so.
But if there’s nothing much to read about Joey Kocur’s head, his hands — the right one in particular — are another story. Like Bobby Orr’s knees, Kocur’s hands have an extensive literature to commemorate — well, I was going to say their achievements, when really it’s the damage they’ve suffered. Over the years, Kocur’s much-mangled hands have fascinated writers, and Don Cherry, too. The power in them, yes, that’s proved of interest as a literary subject, but more than that it’s how all their punching has disfigured them. “You wouldn’t believe the hands on Joey Kocur,” he writes in Don Cherry’s Hockey Stories, Part 2 (2011). “It looks like he’s had a Ping Pong ball implanted under each knuckle.”
As for the writers, Johnette Howard took a long look in 1990 for The National Sports Daily at what was happening beyond Kocur’s cuffs. That’s a piece in which she quotes then-Red Wings GM Jimmy Devellano as saying he’d like to secure Kocur a job with the team after he retires because “he’s given his hand for the organization.”
She describes the one with he punched in fairly plain terms:
Along the back side of Kocur’s always bloated right hand, a three-inch red scar carves a crooked path from the middle knuckle toward the wrist.
George Vecsey of The New York Times consults his atlas for his 1992 survey of the same hand:
Joey Kocur’s right hand resembles a map of his native Saskatchewan. That bump is his boyhood town of Kelvington. That knob is nearby Nut Mountain. That long gash could very well be the Qu’Appelle River meandering its way into Mountain Lake. Those scars might be the Quill Lakes, and those over there could be Old Wives Lake. And that large bruise could certainly be the urban sprawl of Saskatoon.
Next up, Alec Wilkinson from The New Yorker. His “Examining Joey Kocur’s Hand” appeared in the magazine’s Talk of the Town pages on April 24, 1995. Wilkinson attends to some biographical preliminaries first —
He is six feet tall and weighs two hundred and ten pounds. His face is small, he has high cheekbones, a strong jaw, a gap between his front teeth, and a boyish and malevolent expression. Kocur grew up in Saskatchewan, on the Western Canadian prairie. He is of a physical type occasionally described in hockey circles as a hay baler; that is, he has the broad-back, slope-shouldered build of a farmer. On the Rangers, he occupies the position of enforcer, which obliges him to deliver the team’s response when one of its stars has been handled rudely by the opposition.
— before getting down to business:
Eleven seasons of hockey fights have built up sufficient scar tissue between the wrist and the knuckles that the skin there is taut and shiny and smooth. It feels like linoleum. Because of how tightly the skin is stretched, it can no longer be gathered and stitched. Here and there on his fingers and around his knuckles are dozens of small white scars, like the marbling in a piece of meat. Between the first and second knuckles is a long, thin surgical scar that was left after a tendon that had split down the middle was repaired. A crude, winding trenchlike scar begins between the two other knuckles and runs nearly to the wrist, the result of emergency surgery to control a staph infection. Kocur had cut his hand on another’s player’s teeth, and the doctor had stitched the wound without cleansing it thoroughly. ‘A day later, I woke up with my arm swelled to nearly the size of my leg,’ Kocur says.
George Vecsey talked to Tie Domi. Like McCarty, he’d played against and fought Kocur and skated with him as a teammate. “Joey’s still got the big bomb,” he confided. “I don’t come from the South Pole, like Joey does.”
One punch, Wilkinson wrote, was all that Kocur hoped to land:
He grabs an opponent with his left hand and tries to pull him nearer at the same time that he launches his right from somewhere down by his hip or behind his back. It is unusual for a player to be injured in a hockey fight, but it is not unusual for a player to be injured fighting Kocur. It is sometimes said of him, “When Joey hits people, they stay hit.”
“The hand has never been broken,” Kocur told Vecsey; “just a couple of scrapes here and there.”
Johnette Howard was reporting back in 1990 that doctors were already telling Kocur to expect arthritis and calcium deposits in his punching fist. “Put it this way,” he said, “I’ll never play piano.”Howard also told the fuller tale of the damage done in 1985, when Kocur ended up in the hospital bed pictured above:
He split the hand open during a 1985 minor league game in Halifax, when he knocked out a six-three, two-hundred-pound Nova Scotia defenseman named Jim Playfair.
In the dressing room later, a doctor needed forty stitches to close the gash. But when the rest of the team came off the ice, Kocur got some good news, too: The Red Wings had called him up to the NHL.
The next morning, Kocur took the first plane out and flew all day. He checked into a hotel in Detroit, then spent an excruciating, sleepless night watching his right arm balloon to three times its normal size. When sunrise finally came, he got to the rink early for the Wings’ morning skate. But a trainer noticed the new kid was wearing only one glove. The team doctor was summoned, then a hand surgeon, too.
“This was about 2 p.m.,” Kocur says, “and the next thing I knew, they got me a hospital room, got me an IV. I was in major surgery by five P.M.”
Because doctors in Halifax didn’t realize Kocur had cut his hand on Playfair’s teeth, they sewed the wound shut, preventing it from draining and allowing infection to take hold. Just a day and a half later, the poisoned tendons and tissue between Kocur’s third and fourth knuckles had already begun to rot.
When he emerged from a morphine-induced cloud two weeks after surgery, doctors explained what had happened. “If I’d waited even one more day, they might have had to amputate my whole right arm,” Kocur says.
And how did that make him feel?
“Well,” Kocur says, “it made me realize how bad I want to play hockey.”
Following, a chronological survey of some of the rest of the literature of Joey Kocur’s piteous hands: Continue reading
Майк Кинэн is thinking about trading in his Canadian citizenship for Russian.
Sorry: Mike Keenan, coach of the defending KHL champions Metallurg Magnitogorsk. Really? Seriously? Seriously. Though as Keenan, who’s 65 and has been coaching in the KHL since 2013, was telling the media in Russian last month, it’s nothing certain yet.
“I’m happy to live and work in Russia,” he said. “No one is saying that it will happen, that I have decided, but I would be interested to explore this possibility.”
Asked what they might think in Canada, how his family would react, he’s reported to have laughed. “It’s only my decision.”
And what about coaching the Russian national team? Would he consider that? His diplomatic answer to that one was that there are plenty of good Russian candidates. If he could lend a hand as a consultant, though … well, why not?
“I have a certain knowledge of the Canadian, American teams — that could be handy. If they approached me for advice, I would be glad,” he said.
Finnish former right winger Jarkko Ruutu published a memoir this week. In the NHL, where he played for Vancouver, Pittsburgh, Ottawa, and Anaheim, he’s best remembered as, what, an agitator, pest, troublemaker? His book, only available in Finnish so far, bears a title that translates to The Divine Comedy. “Sport, great drama and purgatory!” his publisher promises in some of its promotional matter. “Jarkko Ruutu was a rink terrorist and nutcase, an entertainment package beyond compare.”
Ron MacLean phoned Don Cherry for the first time since the Stanley Cup Final to talk about Cherry’s love of Toronto Blue Jays’ third baseman Josh Donaldson. Cherry also paid his respects to Al Arbour, bespectacled defenceman and many-Cup-winning coach, who died on August 28 at the age of 82. “When you talk to his players, like Kelly Hrudey, they all say the same thing,” Cherry tweeted. “He was tough but he was fair. And everyone to a man say they loved him.”
Also, heads up, everybody. “I don’t know if you know it or not,” began another of Don Cherry’s recent tweet cascades, “but a policeman can come into your house, take your dog and have it put down.”
Sidney Crosby made a salad for himself at Pete’s Fine Foods in downtown Halifax. I guess at the salad bar there? For lunch. He had some egg whites, too, and an orange juice, all of which cost him about ten bucks, and which he “consumed around a small table on a publicly accessible balcony overlooking the cash registers.”
Point being? He’s a humble man, Crosby, modest, keeps a low profile during the off-season in Nova Scotia, where he drives not-new Chevy Tahoe and doesn’t expect special treatment despite having earned something like US$17 million last season in salary, endorsements and memorabilia — he “remains most comfortable in sandals or sneakers, athletic gear and a cap.”
That’s what Jason Mackey found, a reporter for The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review who ventured north to spend some summer time with the Penguins’ captain and hear him say that he while he tries to stick to a sensible pro-athlete kind of a diet, he also crushes Timbits when he can.
Also: Crosby finished up a college course last season, offered online by Southern New Hampshire University. Mackey doesn’t say which one, but the clues point to HIS241: World War II.
“The material was easy,” Crosby said, “because you’re traveling and you can read. If you have to write a paper and it’s not coming that quickly and you don’t have that much time, you don’t enjoy it as much. You’re just trying to get it done.
“It was nine years since I had done anything school-related. It was a pretty big wakeup call.”
Crosby’s final exam was writing a paper on the influence of radar in World War II.
“We had a way better radar detection than Germany,” Crosby said.
Another former NHL-playing Bure, Pavel’s younger brother Valeri, makes a high-end cabernet sauvignon that’s very popular. Eric Duhatschek was writing about this in The Globe and Mail, all the hockey players who are getting into the wine business.
Maybe you’ve enjoyed a bottle of Wayne Gretzky’s Pinot Noir, his Riesling, 2012 No.99 Cabernet Franc Ice-wine. But did you know that Igor Larionov had a pretty great shiraz a few years ago and still does brew up small batches of “a high-end cab” for his own table?
Former Los Angeles Kings’ centreman Jimmy Fox is delving deeper into the art and the business. As he told Duhatschek, what he likes about wine is that it’s not hockey. On the nothockeyness of wine, he said
“Pro sports is always about the final score and there is a black and whiteness to that which, when I was an athlete, was extremely attractive to me. I loved knowing at the end of the day how you did, and the score told you.
“Wine gives me almost the opposite feeling and it’s probably something I was looking for subconsciously. Wines are scored too, but more than with hockey, it is about the process. There is an artistic element to wine. There is a chemistry element to wine. There is a terroir element to wine. There are so many different elements and I felt that that combination of all those things was so intriguing to me. It really made me expand the way I thought about a lot of things.”
“I don’t do any conditioning during the summer,” Ottawa Senators’ captain Erik Karlsson said upon his return to the capital with looking big and brown with an expanded head. At least I think that’s what the headline on Ken Warren’s article in The Ottawa Citizen was saying:
Karlsson returns to Ottawa with a bigger mindset
“I’ve been able to put on weight and keep it on,” Karlsson said, after skating Tuesday for the first time since the club was eliminated by the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs last spring.
Indeed, Karlsson is back, bigger than ever. In his case, though, it’s a measure of pride, part of his continuing growth from the 165-pound stick figure who made his first appearance in Ottawa at the 2008 NHL entry draft.
“I’m almost 200 pounds,” said Karlsson, sporting a deep tan resulting from spending several weeks travelling throughout Greece.
Defending KHL champions Metallurg Magnitogorsk launch their new season today with a game against Barys Astana. In April, under coach Mike Keenan, Metallurg won the team’s first Gagarin Cup. Keenan is both the first North American coach to win a KHL title and the first coach to have raised both a Gagarin and a Stanley Cup in his career. Special achievements come with special privileges — such as, I guess, dressing up as Vladimir Lenin for this new Metallurg promotional video.
After the Rangers won the 1994 Stanley Cup, the team’s first championship in 54 years, they fulfilled the words of their coach, Mike Keenan: “Win this, and you’ll walk together forever.”
• Lucas Aykroyd writes about Trevor Linden’s
appointment as Vancouver’s new president for
hockey operations, The New York Times, April 13, 2014.
Yes, true. On June 14, 1994, as the Rangers prepared to meet the Canucks in Game Seven, Mike Keenan gave what his captain would call one of the best speeches he’d ever heard. Rick Carpiniello recounts this in Messier: Steel In Ice (1999):
“Go out and win it for each other, and if you do, you will walk together for the rest of your lives,” Keenan told the Rangers.
“He seized the moment,” Messier said. “He took control of the situation. We needed it at the time. Mike came through when we needed him most. Everything he said hit home, to everybody. It was incredible. It got us back on track.”
But credit where credit’s due. Aykroyd, Carpiniello, and Messier fail to mention the man — a Rangers’ coach of another era — who not only said it first, 20 years earlier, but proved that it worked.
Everybody knows this, right? Before he got to the Rangers, when Fred Shero (a.k.a. The Fog) was coaching the Philadelphia Flyers, he used to leave his players messages on a blackboard in the dressing room, a koan here, an adage there, words to challenge and spur the spirit. Going into Game Six of the finals against Boston in May of 1976, the Flyers had the chance to wrap up the series and win their first Stanley Cup. Lose and they’d have to go back to Boston. Shero worked his chalk. Rick MacLeish scored. Bernie Parent shut, as they say, the door.
Miracle Flyers Take The Cup and
the City Goes Wild with Joy!
read the front of The Philadelphia Inquirer next morning.
A quick history of Shero’s chalk-talking would have to go back a few years. Shero himself steers clear of the blackboard and its uses in the book he wrote with Vijay Kothare, Shero: The Man Behind The System (1975). According to Jack Chevalier in The Broad Street Bullies (1974), it dates to the coach’s second season with the Flyers, 1972-73, when he wrote a note about team commitment before a big win. “Ever since, Shero has been hungrily searching for clever passages and slogans to circulate among the team or to give to a particular player.”
“Ahhhh,” said captain Bobby Clarke at the time. “I look at them and laugh. I can’t remember any, because there’s a new one every day. I wonder where he gets ’em.”
“They used to laugh at first and dream up funny things to write beside my messages. But now they act like it’s something sacred. They’d never erase it.”
With Shero gone — he died in 1990 — the central repository of Shero’s blackboard wisdom resides in Rhoda Rappeport’s Fred Shero (1977).
“An oak tree is just a nut that held its ground,” he wrote one night.
And: “A barking dog is often more useful than a sleeping lion.”
“Four things come not back — the spoken word, the sped arrow, the past life and neglected opportunities.”
“If he read this stuff to us, it wouldn’t work at all,” defenceman Barry Ashbee told Chevalier. “It’s corny, and some guys still laugh. But if you really look at the quotes, there’s a lot of life in there.”
Shero could sound a little bashful, talking about his sloganeering. “I just ran across a couple of good ones last year,” he said 1974, “and tried ’em out. Before that I guess I coached like everybody else. Now I find these things in books, magazines — everything I read.” Chevalier:
His sources range from the life story of Washington Redskins coach George Allen to an article entitled, ‘Ten Lost Years — A History of Canadians During The Depression.’
On his bulletin board is an Edgar Guest poem, ‘Team Work,’ neatly typed on Flyers stationery. Each player got a copy. He also passed out a fan’s poem, ‘It’s All A State of Mind.’ The first line: “If you think you’re beaten, you are.’ From an old Saturday Evening Post, Shero clipped a Cadillac advertisement with an editorial entitled ‘The Penalty of Leadership.’
The Hall of Hockey’s Fame opened its doors to five new members this week, as reported in The Bangkok Post.
At the ceremony in Toronto, Scott Niedermeyer’s smoothness was recalled. “It was fun to be his teammate,” said Scott Stevens.
Ken Daneyko said he was effortless, graceful, “like a thoroughbred.”
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman called Brendan Shanahan “my personal favourite.” Shanahan, of course, is the league’s Senior Vice President responsible for Player Safety — or, as Bettman called it, “the most thankless job.”
“I think his contributions to the game based on what he’s doing now will even exceed what he did in the 21 years he played,” Bettman said.
Shanahan said that Geraldine Heaney is tough and talented. Also that Ray Shero’s gentlemanliness is a tribute to his father, Fred.
“He’s just a good man,” Gretzky said of the final inductee, Chris Chelios.
Brian Leetch: “I always tell people that Chris Chelios is America’s version of Mark Messier.”
“They’re similar in that they love the game and have a passion for it. They love to compete and winning and doing things as a group are very important to them.
“They played with an edge, whether it was a stick up or a glove in the face. They would drop the gloves if they had to. You knew if you were in a competition with either of them it wasn’t always going to be clean and you were going to get the worst of it because they would not back down.”
The IIHF.com took the time to check in on Mike Keenan in Russia and he’s doing fine. He’s coaching Metallurg Magnitogorsk, and the team is near the top of the standings in the KHL’s Eastern Conference.
His new favourite food item, Keenan owned, is Russian pizza, which is sometimes topped with mackerel and red herring. New favourite Russian saying?
“Spasibo, which means thank you,” Keenan said. “Also, dobroe utro, which means good morning.”
From The Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle we learned, this week, what the new Buffalo coach told his players after the first period against Toronto. Said a Sabre source of Mirtle’s: “Ted came in and told us ‘You guys are garbage.’”
Detroit’s coach, Mike Babcock, is getting a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, from his alma mater, McGill University in Montreal, next week, on Monday, November 25.
A former hockey co-captain of the McGill Redmen, Babcock (BEd ’86) is being cited for “coaching winning teams” and “the achievement of excellence,” which is, according to a McGill press release, “the subject of his 2012 book, Leave No Doubt, highlighting the theme that one cannot accomplish great things without facing great adversity and making peace with uncertainty.” Continue reading
Don Cherry tweeted an emergency public health warning one afternoon from flu-ridden Toronto: “If symptoms present themselves, do others a favour, stay home and avoid spreading the bug.”
In an e-mail to Adrian Dater of The Denver Post, Ryan O’Reilly’s dad said, “Ryan is not a superstar based on skill but character. I know this for a fact the player he was yesterday will not be the player he was tomorrow he will continue to grow learn and thrive. The world values it less and less, yet everyone is looking for those players that eat sleep and drink the game and are unselfish plus compete because they are intrinsically motivated for excellence. This is another trait humankind is slowly losing!”
Something else he said, Brian O’Reilly, a life coach, was this: “Character, compete level, dedication, the love of the game, is what are the building blocks for dynasties. That is a long-term picture but it has to be always the short-term value. Character has to win out over skill that is why it takes a lot of skilled players a lot of losses to understand the character element of the game.”
Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson talked about Matt Cooke from Pittsburgh, the guy who cut his Achilles tendon with an ill-placed skate: “I received a text, didn’t think too much of it. Didn’t reply. Don’t think that we have anything to say to each other.”
Sorry: Mr. O’Reilly wasn’t quite finished. “Quality of character is really hard to describe but you recognize it instantly in someone’s behavior,” he said. “Each one of us has to decide the value of their own character and the character of others by how they treat you.
“It’s as simple as that! The Colorado Avalanche I believe have treated Ryan fairly. He had three wonderful years with them. Where we go from here will be a matter of character.”
Is it possible to mutter on Twitter? @Ryan_OReilly90 definitely seemed to be muttering when he found out what his dad had done, tweeting: “I had no idea of my dads letter to the Denver post. It’s tough situation I apologize to anyone bothered by this. Hopefully its over soon.”
On Sunday, like everybody else, hockey watched the Oscars.
“Daniel Day Lewis just killing this acceptance speech,” Edmonton’s Sam Gagner tweeted.
Montreal winger Brandon Prust: “Quentin Tarantino is a beauty lol”
“Argo cleaning up,” Gagner updated. “Very well deserved. Great flick.” Continue reading