bidding adieu: the night they sold the montreal forum, part, parcel, and hotdog grills

Pre-Sale Preview: My view of the Montreal Forum ice early on the night of Monday, March 11, 1996, hours before the hometown Canadiens played their last game there before upping nets and heading east for the brand-new Molson Centre. (Image: Stephen Smith)

What to make of the events of the last week? I can’t tell you that; I don’t know. We’re in trying times, and they’re frightening. Hold fast to the ones you love. That I can recommend. And: wash your hands. As for hockey, I’ll carry on telling its stories. Today’s recalls the week 24 years ago that the Montreal Canadiens took leave of the rink on Cabot Square that they’d called home for 72 years. It was on Monday dated March 11 that the Canadiens played their final game at the Forum, beating the visiting Dallas Stars by a score of 4-1. The late great Roger Doucet returned (via tape) to sing O Canada that night. Fifty-six former Canadiens were on hand, including 20 Hall-of-Famers, and the stirring pre-game ceremonies included a ten-minute ovation for Rocket Richard. I watched all this from high up in the rafters, where I was seated in the overflow press section, next to the man from The Jerusalem Post. He was working the game whereas I was just watching, and marvelling: the assignment for which I’d journeyed from Toronto was the next night, Tuesday. I’d convinced the features editor I worked with at The Financial Post that what he really needed, whether he knew it or not, were 1,800 words reporting on the public auction whereby the Canadiens sold off 145 Forum artifacts, some more historic than others. And so, having witnessed Monday’s game, I was back at the rink the following night to get my story. Four days later, as the Canadiens prepared to host the New York Rangers for the first game in their brand-new rink (then named for Molson’s, now known as the Bell Centre), my feature ran on page 22 of the weekend Post, up at the front of the FP Review section, under the headline “Bidding Farewell To The Forum.” It went like this:

MONTREAL — Bidder No. 99 was a man, fortyish, with a widened middle, glasses, and a diminished preserve of dark hair, strategically combed. For four hours on Tuesday night, while the Montreal Canadiens said so long to their beloved Forum by selling it off piece by selected piece at public auction, No. 99 sat in the front row, spending his money in amounts divisible by a thousand.

No. 99 turned out to be a computer consultant by the name of Marc Cooper, who’d come for his piece of the Forum from Manalapan, New Jersey. “I’m proud to be a Canadiens fan,” he said, like a politician speaking to voters whose backing he already had. “There’s only one team in sports like this.”

On the auction floor, Cooper sat within subtle-nodding distance of the auctioneer, Serge Belec, who ran the show at a frantic pace in two languages. Cooper didn’t look like a particularly happy man, but he seemed determined, and not uneasy with expenditure. A little later, it became clear just much how in earnest he was. If Guy Lafleur had wandered into, it’s entirely possible that Cooper would have stepped up with an offer to buy the legendary right winger to ornament his rec room. As it was, absent Lafleur, Tuesday’s was a C$75,000 night for Cooper. His wife, he said, was behind him all the way on this.

In all, about 1,000 people paid $35 to secure their bidding number and with it the chance to shell out for a souvenir of the most famous hockey there is. (Another 1,500 or so paid $5 each to watch these proceedings.) Mostly they were men; mostly they stayed out of the bidding once they learned what kind of money it was going to take to wrest a piece of history from the corner of Atwater and Ste. Catherine West.

The night before, a crowd of 17,959 had watched the Canadiens play the final game of their 72-year tenancy at the Forum, beating the visiting Dallas Stars by a score of 4-1 in the company of some of the greatest Canadiens ever to have worn the bleu, the blanc, the rouge. Fifty-six former Canadiens were on hand on Monday night, 20 Hall-of-Famers among them, including Maurice and Henri Richard, Butch Bouchard, Jean Béliveau, Elmer Lach, Frank Mahovlich, Lafleur, Bob Gainey, and Ken Dryden.

Tuesday night, No. 99 moved his buying power to the forefront early and kept on reiterating it. For $31,000 he bought Lot 22, the banner that had previously hung high in the Forum rafters to commemorate the first Stanley Cup the team won in the NHL era in 1923-24. Another $20,000 got him the net the Canadiens had defended during the first period the night before. For a further $5,000, Cooper scored a sturdy post festooned with four goal-lights that had reached the end of their Forum career. He spent $3,400 on a pair of tall grey metal dressing-room lockers wherein Canadiens Pierre Turgeon and Vincent Damphousse had until very recently parked their shoes and hang their trousers while they were out pursuing pucks.

Alongside Cooper, there were a couple of other big spenders. A bar owner from Laval, Quebec, snapped up the most recent Stanley Cup banner, from 1992-93, for $32,000. Somebody else spent $900 on one of the Forum’s newly decommissioned hotdog grills. For $4.70 a go, most everybody else bought a Molson Export and drank it slowly.

•••

What was wrong with the venerable old Forum, which hosted 29 Stanley Cup finals over the years, 12 of which saw the Canadiens triumph, along with countless lesser glories, that the its end came nigh? After seven decades, it was still in good working order. Fatally, the Forum is an old rink in a new age that’s shaped largely along hard, profit-minded bottom lines. That’s why the Canadiens are moving not quite two kilometres to the east where a glimmering new rink, named Centre Molson for the owners of the team, awaits. Roomier than the Forum by 5,000 seats, it’s also more lucrative by a factor of several dozen additional corporate suites.

There’s no word yet on what’s become of the Forum now that the Canadiens are moving on. Optimists favour talk of a park that would preserve the ice-surface out-of-doors. Whatever happens, the building isn’t likely to survive. In recent weeks, some fans have made clear their willingness to help with the demolition: one handy devotee wrestled one of the Forum’s back-stiffening seats from its Section 111 moorings and carried it off — i.e. stole it — during a February 12 game.

Version 2

Hot Seat: The seat NHL president Clarence Campbell occupied the night of the Richard Riot in 1955 sold for $12,000.

The legal way to secure of the Forum’s 16,000-odd seats was to order one: starting in January, for prices ranging from $125 to $290 per seat (plus shipping), most of them went on sale, with delivery to follow in May. The rest of the Forum’s furniture — including oddments like the hot-dog grill and premium items like the seat from which then-NHL president Clarence Campbell watched the Richard Riot start to stir and explode in March of 1955 — was reserved for this week’s event.

Meanwhile, the official unmaking of the Forum by auction was sanctioned by Canadiens’ president Ronald Corey, with all proceeds to be divided between the United Way in Montreal and the association representing former Canadiens players.

In Montreal, some of the faithful bewailed the auction as soon as it was announced: wasn’t it bad enough crass commercialization had doomed the building itself without the sale of sacramental artifacts as the Stanley Cup banners that announced from the Forum’s rafters 24 Canadiens’ triumphs? Didn’t the tangibles of tradition mean anything? “We’d like to think those banners are more or less public property,” grumbled Montreal Gazette columnist Jack Todd, “given the amount of money and emotion Montrealers have invested in every one.”

“Now, thanks to Molson, any Westmount Trust Fund Baby can bid on the original 1944 Stanley Cup pennant.”

Sacred the banners may be, but Todd didn’t quite have it right: the ones lowered from on high to be auctioned date only to 1992, so whatever their sentimental value, there was nothing antique to them. In fact, the two-metre long pennants, none of which would sell fore less than $8,000 (the one from ’44 went for $10K), were the stuff of shower curtains: they were made, every one, from serviceable, ordinary plastic.

•••

It’s customary before auctions for the public to be offered estimates on what an object will sell for. In anticipation of the estate of the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in April in New York, for instance, Sotheby’s has issued a helpful shopping list advising prospective shoppers of the least they can expect to pay on a particular item: US$800 for a quiver of JFK’s golf clubs, a watercolour by John Singer Sargent for somewhere within shouting distance of $US125,000.

The catalogue for what the Canadiens called “The Forum’s Super Auction” offered no such guidelines, either because organizers wanted the market to establish its own boundaries on the night or because they had no standards against which to value most of what was on offer. There are experts to gauge the relative worth of a painting; there are even, apparently, some who can fix a price tag on a presidential putter. But how do you account for the value that true-heart fans will attach to otherwise everyday objects from a holy temple? What isa door to a players’ bench actually worth to the faithful? What price the puck that last Monday Canadiens’ winger Andrei Kovalenko scored the last-ever goal at the Forum?

Kitchen Classic: Yours — well, someone’s — for $900.

Pre-auction intelligence had it that prices were going to run high. That’s what Marc Cooper was hearing, anyway. He came prepared to spend $100,000, most of which, he suspected, would go towards a single plastic Stanley-Cup banner. Word had it, too, that he’d be in competition with several prominent former Canadiens. Ex-coach Pat Burns was said to be interested in the players’ bench behind which he used to patrol. Meanwhile, the bench from and door to a penalty box were reported to be coveted by former Habs’ hard-heads Chris Nilan and John Ferguson. Colorado Avalanche goaltender Patrick Roy left Montreal left Montreal in a hurry and a snit this past December, but he was said to be in the market for a piece of his Montreal past: the banner from the Canadiens’ — and his own — last Stanley Cup championship in 1992-93. He was said to be dispatching a representative to the auction to do his bidding.

As it turned out, the only former Hab to successfully pay it backwards was Hall-of-Fame winger Dickie Moore, who spent $650 on a small rink clock. On each of the 144 lots available on the night, auctioneer Serge Belec kept the pace of Doug Harvey on a powerplay rush, leaving no room for the hesitant of heart or wallet. “Give me four thousand,” he proclaimed at one point via his headset microphone, “or get outta town.”

In quick succession as the selling got going as the hour struck seven, Belec peddled a vintage ice with a wide red blade ($800), a turnstile ($1,800), a stick and a sweater, both autographed by Canadiens’ goaltender Jocelyn Thibault ($5,100), a Hab-branded lectern from the Forum press room ($8,000).

Rink Relic: A view of the Forum in 1966. (Image: Archives de la Ville de Montréal, 1966, VM94A0412001)

Pat Burns didn’t get his bench: after a short back-and-forth among dogged bidders, Montreal lawyer Louise Houle’s $6,000 won out. “I’ve got a little sports room in my basement,” she said afterwards. “It’s going straight in there. So far I’ve got Expos stuff. If I’m going to start in with hockey, I might as well start right.” She would be sitting on it, she said, along with “anyone who asks very politely.”

The door from the Canadiens’ dressing room fetched $11,500, Clarence Campbell’s red seat, $12,000.

Robert Vachon, a pharmacist from Valleyfield, Quebec, paid out a total of $25,000 for a clock and a banner he planned to raise in a bowling alley he was opening. Larry Harnish, a fisherman who’d made the journey from Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia, came away having shelled out $2,000 for defenceman Lyle Odelein’s stick and sweater. He was going to display them, he said, on his living-room wall.

By night’s end, when Canadiens president Ronald Corey was proudly declaring a total take of $726,500, Marc Cooper figured that about ten percent of that was him. His Stanley Cup banner would be hanging — well, he wasn’t quite yet sure where it was going, he’d have to consult with his wife. The net with the glossy red goalposts? That would probably be headed for the basement back in New Jersey. His two sons, aged four and eight, were getting the lockers: they’d been asking for lockers.

Spending his $75,000 had left Cooper elated. “When I was a kid,” he said, “I just dreamed of coming to the Forum. Now to have so much of this history in my house is just great.”

(Image: “Own A Piece of the Forum Forever,” Aislin, alias Terry Mosher, 1996, ink, felt pen and crayon on paper, M2000.79.28, © McCord Museum)

 

 

 

minder of nets, thwarter of goals

If you follow ‪@CP0031 on Twitter, you’ve seen that he lists his location as “Top of the paint.” His bio there is plain and simple: “Minder of nets — Thwarter of goals — Swatter of pucks.” On the ice last night at Montreal’s Bell Centre, Carey Price was at his unflappable best, turning back 20 shots as the Canadiens defeated the Detroit Red Wings by a score of 3-1. It was Price’s 315 regular-season win for Montreal, and with that he passed Jacques Plante atop the team’s ledger, which includes the names of 83 men. He Plante still holds the Canadiens mark for total wins, regular-season and playoffs, with 373, with Patrick Roy behind him (with 359) and then Price (with 340). Here, Toronto illustrator Dave Murray has #31 bestriding the nation, from the mountains of his native British Columbia to the precincts of his winter home on the St. Lawrence. For more of Murray’s work, visit http://davemurrayillustration.com/

montreal’s most

Montreal’s dismal season ends on Saturday, when they play in Toronto, just before the playoffs get going, Canadiens-free. As a gloomy season wraps up, the stories in the city’s sports pages are structured around phrases like “a boring — and losing — brand of hockey” and “empty seats at the Bell Centre.” Asked at practice in Brossard what he’d like to tell fans, coach Claude Julien said he’d have to go with “thank you.” The Gazette’s Stu Cowan was on hand for this, and if it sounds like Julien was in fact trying to say “sorry,” no, apparently not — he was just grateful fans didn’t jeer more than they did this season. “There’s no doubt,” he said, “we got booed a couple of times because we weren’t a good hockey club. But I think they’ve actually been pretty patient to come to the games and cheer us on. I think they’ve recognized a solid effort as far as guys working hard and competing hard and realizing that right now we’re not good enough and that’s why we’re not in the playoffs.”

On the brighter side, Carey Price is back in the net, and seems to be healthy. On Tuesday night, he was celebrated for his Montreal longevity: the Canadiens’ 5-4 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets saw him play in his 557th NHL regular-season game. With that, he surpassed Jacques Plante as the man who’s minded Montreal’s nets most since the league got going in 1917.

It’s no small achievement, even if Plante does (as should be noted) remain atop the statistical heap if you factor in playoff games: he played 90 of those for Canadiens, for a total of 646 games played, while Price’s 60 playoff games get him to 617.

Canadiens have looked to 83 men to guard their nets, all told, though a few — like Charlie Sands, Battleship Leduc, and Sprague Cleghorn — were skaters subbing in on a strictly emergency basis.

In terms of successes, Plante and Ken Dryden would have to top the pantheon, having each helped the team to six Stanley Cups. Plante is the winningest of Montreal goaltenders, (314 regular season + 59 in the playoffs = 373), followed by Patrick Roy (289 + 70 = 359) and Dryden (258 + 80 = 338), then Price (286 + 25 = 311). Among bona fide goalies, Price also rates fourth in scoring — his 12 all-time assists have him trailing Roy (32 points, season and playoffs), Dryden (23), and Michel Larocque (17).

Straying from statistics, I might just mention that I happened to be talking to Dryden in Toronto earlier this season. Two of his young grandsons are hockey players, goaltenders both. I asked their Hall-of-Fame, Calder-and-Conn-Smythe-winning, many-Vézina’d grandfather what numbers they wear, assuming there could be just one answer, 29.

I was wrong: for Ken Dryden’s grandsons, Carey Price is the incumbent in their imaginations, and it’s his 31 that both boys show on their sweaters.

(Image by Toronto illustrator Dave Murray. For more of his work, hockey and otherwise, visit www.davemurrayillustration.com)

jaromir jagr: how I’ll tame you today, you plain of ice

Jaromir Jagr’s long lustrous NHL career ended yesterday with a waive. Offered up on Sunday by the Calgary Flames to any team that might want to take him on, the 45-year-old Czech winger went unclaimed, leaving the Flames free to loan him to HC Kladno of the Czech League — his hometown team and one he happens to co-own.

It’s not a proper farewell for a player so (as The Toronto Star’s Bruce Arthur wrote yesterday) preposterously talented, so outrageously coiffed, so effective for so long, so fun to watch. He deserves better. I’d read Arthur’s ode to him, if I were you. Then, if I (which is to say you) were still in a reading mood, I’d circle back to the Jagresque oral history that Kristina Rutherford, Ryan Dixon, and Gare Joyce put together for Sportsnet a couple of years ago — you would, I mean. You wouldn’t stop there, either: next up, necessarily, would be Rob Vollman’s statistical overview of Jagr’s career at NHL.com. Supplemented, maybe, by a look to ESPN’s review of some of the man’s amazing numbers? That’s on you.

I’m especially fond of some math that ESPN reporter Emily Kaplan reporter tosses into her appreciation of number 68. “Jagr,” she writes, “has reportedly been doing 1,000 squats per day since he was seven years old. That means he has done nearly 14 million squats.”

I can’t improve on that, but I can keep going with the reading recommendations. Browsing the Jagr bibliography, you’ll find Petr Cermak’s Člověk Jágr: Hokejova Bible (2003) and Jagr: An Autobiography (1997), the man’s own testament of himself, written with Jan Smid’s help.

Intrigued as I am by the title of the former — Jagr Man: The Hockey Bible is the translation I’m getting — I lack the Czech to get through it. The latter I’ve really only browsed. Again it’s a frivolous stat I’d like to draw your attention to: writing about fan mail in the pages of his memoir, Jagr mentions the 1,000 or so letters he was receiving a month, and how his mother did her best to answer them all. “Every letter I receive means a lot to me,” 21-years-go-Jagr writes, “even if I have to admit I don’t finish reading all of them. Sometimes a single letter will be about ten pages long, but I almost never get past the third page.”

This is a while ago, of course, and I’m assuming that the 1,000 is a number that can’t have remained consistent over the years, especially in these post-stamp times we live in. That doesn’t mean we can’t spin up some imaginary totals. If the mail did keep up, month after month, for all of Jagr’s 24 NHL seasons, he and his mother would be looking at a truly impressive career postal accumulation of some 288,000 notional letters.

Finally, can any haphazard miscellany of Jagriana really be counted complete without referencing everybody’s favourite hockey opera? I’m saying no, it can’t. It may be the only hockey opera, actually. As Czechs remember (and Canadians try not to), Canada didn’t win the gold medal at the 1998 Olympics in Japan, the Czechs did, beating Canada and Russia in succession. The operatic version, by composer Martin Smolka abetted by librettist Jaroslav Dusek, premiered in 2004 in Prague: it’s called Nagano. “At first glance there is a contradiction here,” Smolka has noted, “the aristocratic genre of opera” juxtaposed with hockey’s “profane spectacle with maximum appeal to the masses, with sweat, violence, yelling, and crudity.”

Does it work? It’s something to behold is what I’ll say here. Watch some of it, if you will. A couple of translated excerpts seem like they’re in order here, starting with operatic-Jaromir Jagr joining in duet with Ice Rink, sung by a women’s chorus:

JAGR:
What a chilly, chilly plain of ice.

ICE RINK (women’s chorus):
You’re mine, I’m yours. Mine, yours.

JAGR:
You can be treacherous, treacherous, oh plain of ice!

ICE RINK:
Jaromir is shivering and trembling.

JAGR:
How I’ll tame you today, you plain of ice!

ICE RINK:
You’ll writhe like a snake. What, are you afraid? Are you afraid you will have to give up the ghost?

JAGR:
In the NHL the rink is thirty meters at most. Chilly, treacherous.

ICE RINK:
Wrah-ee-ah-ee-ah-eethe

JAGR:
Treacherous plain.

ICE RINK:
My hero, my hero, my hero, mine, mine.

Later, as actual-Jagr did in 1998, opera-Jagr heads out at the end of the semi-final shootout to face a Canadian goaltender in the shoot-out. In life as in dramatic composition, he hit the post.

COACH:
Jagr!!!

JAGR:
I am Jagr.

CANADIAN GOALKEEPER:
Ne-ne, ne-ne, never never fear.

JAGR:
I am Jagr.

CANADIAN GOALKEEPER:
Ne-ne-ne, never…

JAGR:
I, I, I Jagr.

CANADIAN GOALKEEPER:
Ne-, never, never, ne…

JAGR:
I am, I, I Jagr.

CANADIAN GOALKEEPER:
Ne- ne-, never, fea- fea- fea- fear.

JAGR:
I, I, I Jagr.

CANADIAN GOALKEEPER:
Ne-, never, never, fea-fea-fear.

JAGR:
I am Jagr.

CANADIAN GOALKEEPER:
Ne-ne- never.

JAGR:
I am I!

 

 

under review: plan like subbans

A version of this review appeared in the October, 2017 edition of the Literary Review of Canada.

If you’re someone who’s mothered a famous hockey player, chances are that you have not subsequently gone out and written a book about it. Is this because your parental pride is more private than, say, a father’s, your fulfillment so much the quieter? Or that you don’t feel the same urgent need to explain your son? Maybe. In the teeming library devoted to our beloved winter game, the books of hockey-parent lit may only fill a half-shelf, but this we know: almost all of them are written by fathers. There is something charmingly local about the fact that these books are published at all: only in Canada could there be enough oxygen to sustain such a sub-genre.

If hockey fathers (necessarily) antedate the birth of the sport itself, the dads of professional hockey players only started writing books in the early 1970s. First to the font was Murray Dryden, who, if he were a primary character in George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, might be dubbed Father of Goaltenders. Dave and Ken’s dad was suitably satisfied when his sons both made the NHL, with Buffalo and Montreal, respectively—all the more so when they started against one another in a regular-season game in 1971. Dryden’s Playing The Shots At Both Ends (1972) is light and genial, a quick and agreeable excursion. At 156 pages, it set a standard of brevity that subsequent exemplars from the genus Pater librorum glaciem hockey have failed to follow.

The memoir Walter Gretzky published in 2001 was called On Family, Hockey, and Healing. After a stroke threatened Gretzky Senior’s life in 1991, he faced a long and complicated recovery. As a spokesman for the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, he was as focussed on advocacy and promoting awareness as he was on spinning hockey tales about his son Wayne.

Published in both French and English editions, Michel Roy’s Patrick Roy: Winning, Nothing Else (2007) ran to more than 500 pages. It was positively militant in its mission, which was to cast Patrick as a hero and correct the public’s faulty perceptions of his character. People thought the younger Roy was testy, aloof, selfish, and they were wrong. “I wanted to present Patrick as he is,” Michel told an interviewer soon after the book was published. “I wanted to defend the truth.”

The exception to the rule of mothers not writing books is the memoir penned by the late Colleen Howe. Wife to Gordie, and mother to NHLers Mark and Marty, she was a force in her own right, which you will know if you’ve read My Three Hockey Players (1975). To my mind, it remains the most interesting of the parental hockey books: filled with anecdote and incident, it’s candid and bracingly caustic, knotty with grievance and criticism, holding nothing back.

The newest addition to the shelf, Karl Subban’s How We Did It: The Subban Plan For Success In Hockey, School and Life, fits in alongside Dryden and Gretzky, down at what we might call the more generous end of the shelf. With his son P.K. — at? nearing? — the peak of his game, Karl seems to be enjoying the moment as much as he might be hoping to seize an opportunity while his son is at centre-ice to tell his own story and shape it as a platform for his ideas on parenthood and mentoring young people. Writing with an assist from Scott Colby, an editor with the Toronto Star, Karl is in a sharing mood. I suspect that theirs might be the hockey-dad book that finds a wider audience than those that have gone before. This has to do with P.K.’s compelling personality and his philanthropy, both of which transcend the game he plays. More than any other player of recent note he has also managed to unsettle hockey’s sense of itself, and there will be readers from beyond the rink who will come to the book curious about questions of race and racism, the snubs and the insults that Subban has suffered, and how they’re coded, or not.

•••

A quick recap, for those who might have been exiled for a decade, on an atoll, far from Wi-Fi: Pernell Karl Subban is a vividly skilled 28-year-old defenceman who has been one of the NHL’s best since at least 2013, when he won the Norris Trophy. Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Connor McDavid: all of them can dominate a game and electrify a crowd. But is there a more consistently entertaining hockey player to watch, or one who seems to play with more joy than Subban? “Like Roger Federer, or Kevin Durant, or Yasiel Puig,” Ben McGrath wrote in a persuasive 2014 New Yorker profile, “[Subban] awes less because of the results he achieves than because of the way he achieves them — kinetic charisma, approaching genius.”

He was still a Montreal Canadien back then, beloved to many, infuriatingly flamboyant to others—a polarizing figure, including (the rumours went) within his own dressing room, and with his own coach, Michel Therrien, who was often critical of Subban’s defensive lapses. And as a columnist from USA Today wrote during last season’s playoffs, “Subban has haters.” The adjectives that have crowded into mentions of Subban’s hockey exploits over his eight years in the league include dynamic; freewheeling; passionate; booming (his shot); dazzling (his rushes); jaw-dropping (his creativity), but they also run to the more hostile emotional; individualistic; cocky; arrogant; and bigger than the team.

 Debate hasn’t stopped roiling in Montreal since he was traded in the summer of 2016 to Nashville, whose golden-garbed Predators he helped attain a berth in this last spring’s Stanley Cup finals. The fact that they lost there to Sidney Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t do anything to change that: regret weighs heavily to this day with many Montreal fans who can’t — and don’t want to — forget the on-ice skill and exuberance that made him one of most exciting athletes anywhere, in any sport, or his astonishing 2015 pledge to raise $10-million over seven years for the city’s Children’s Hospital.

For all its flashing lights and bold embrace of new markets (hello, Las Vegas), the NHL remains a bastion of staid and conservative attitudes. Because he is anything but, Subban has been accused of arrogance and disrespect, of excessive self-regard, of not knowing his station. As a rookie with the Montreal Canadiens, he was called out by the then-captain of the Philadelphia Flyers. “It’s just frustrating to see a young guy like that come in here,” whined Mike Richards, “and so much as think that’s he’s better than a lot of people.”

Never mind that Subban was better than a lot of people—as he always has and will be. Hockey’s brassiest establishment voice, Don Cherry, would soon be scolding him for daring to play with verve and personality; another, Mike Milbury, called him a clown during the spring’s playoffs, berating him for courting too much attention, and for the mortal sin of overt enthusiasm.

There is no good gauge of which of or how much, if at all, the reproaches directed Subban’s way have to do with the fact that he is a black man in a sport that has been so glaringly white for so long. There are books about that, too, including Herb Carnegie’s instructive 1997 memoir A Fly in a Pail of Milk. A stand-out scorer in the 1930s and ’40s who couldn’t find a way through hockey’s colour barrier, Carnegie never played an NHL game. He had no doubt that it was racism that kept him from cracking the New York Rangers’ line-up in 1948.

Readers who come to How We Did It in hopes of a broader discussion of race and racism in hockey may be left wanting. It’s not that Karl Subban seeks to avoid it, exactly, more that he addresses the issue as he sees fit and moves on. Yes, his son has run into his share of ignorant morons and their abhorrent slurs in his time playing hockey. No, Karl doesn’t think either — the slurs or the morons — is worth engaging; they’re nothing but distractions. “Racism is a fact of life,” he writes. Why give it permission to get in the way of where you’re going? In the book’s final pages, P.K. endorses his dad’s approach. And that’s as far as it goes.   Continue reading

this week: surviving a meteor strike

CAN_JM

P.K. Subban was dining on liver in Paris, Adam Vingan of The Tennessean reports, when he got the word last Wednesday that the Montreal Canadiens had traded him to Nashville’s Predators.

“Quoi?” tweeted Montreal’s mayor, Denis Coderre, when he heard the news. The online shock was matched only by the outrage: “La twittosphère s’enflamme à propos de l’échange de P.K. Subban” was a Journal de Montreal headline from the following day.

“So that Subban trade really happened, eh?” wrote Gerald Butts, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Principal Secretary and a prominent Habs fan. “Call me old fashioned,” groused another, actor and director Jay Baruchel, “but it’s more fun to watch PK Subban play hockey than it is to watch Michel Therrien coach hockey. #fuckingHabs”

Also, in other news, the Toronto Maple Leafs convened a camp for their brightest prospects this week, in Niagara Falls. Mitch Marner was there, and William Nylander, along with, of course, Auston Matthews, drafted first overall in June’s draft. Reported the Associated Press: Leafs skating coach Barb Underhill “quickly noticed a flaw in Matthews’ stride: his left shoulder wasn’t coming across enough.”

Subban’s personality was too big for Montreal, said The Toronto Star’s Bruce Arthur.

Andrew Berkshire, a writer for Sportsnet who also commands editorial content for the analytics firm Sportlogiq: “The Montreal Canadiens have made possibly the worst trade in the history of their franchise, for no reason at all.”

“Unbelievable,” Subban told Adam Vingan, regarding his foie de Paris. About the trade, he said he felt closer to winning the Stanley Cup than he had to before. “I’m just happy to be in a situation where I can excel and feel good about myself coming to the rink every day.”

“I don’t want to take anything away from P.K.,” Montreal GM Marc Bergevin said when he stepped up to face the media in Montreal. “He’s made the way he is and he’s a good person.”

“This is the Roy debacle all over again,” declared Brendan Kelly in The Montreal Gazette. “It’s the worst move by the Habs since Réjean Houle dealt Patrick Roy to the Colorado Avalanche for a bag of pucks in 1995. It took the franchise years to recover from that horrible trade.”

roch pkstrk

David Poile disagreed — but then he was the guy on the other end, Nashville’s GM. “I’m a general manager,” he said of Subban on the day, “but someday I’d like to be a fan, and he is a guy that I would pay money to see.”

“We never had a problem with P.K.,” was something else Marc Bergevin said. “You have 23 players on your roster and they’re all different. They all bring different things. One of the most important things for me is punctuality. We never had a problem with P.K. with that.”

At NHL.com, Adam Kimelman wrote about an 18-year-old draft prospect. His lede:

After surviving a meteor strike, moving to Canada became a bit easier for right wing Vitaly Abramov of Gatineau of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Abramov led Gatineau and indeed all QMJHL rookies in goals, assists, and points (93) last season. Columbus ended up drafting him. Kimelman:

Abramov was at school in his hometown of Chelyabinsk, Russia on Feb. 15, 2013 when a meteor exploded over the city. The meteor was between 49 and 55 feet in size, with an estimated mass of 7,000 to 10,000 tons, according to CNN.

The estimated energy released by the meteor’s explosion was 300-500 kilotons, or about 20 times the estimated amount released by the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan in 1945.

“I was in school and all the windows in my class crashed,” Abramov said. “All windows in the city was gone. … It was like big panic because it was something none of us had ever seen. But after that it was fine when everyone said it was a meteorite and we’re still alive.

“Normal school day and a meteor came down.”

“I will not go into detail why we think we are a better team,” Marc Bergevin told that press conference, “but we feel we are a better team.”

kunlunIn China, during an official visit by President of Russia Vladimir Putin, the Kontinental Hockey League announced that it would add a Beijing franchise to the league, HC Kunlun Red Star, for the 2016-17 season.

Other news from Montreal: the Canadiens acquired winger Andrew Shaw from the Chicago Black Hawks for a pair of draft picks. Known for his energy and a talent for annoyance, Shaw is also remembered for having been suspended in this year’s playoffs for uttering an anti-gay slur. He talked to reporters on a conference call soon afterwards, including Mark Lazerus of The Chicago Sun-Times, who heard him say that Bergevin had been in on drafting him, Shaw, as an assistant GM in Chicago. “He likes the rat in me,” Shaw said.

One new teammate Shaw mentioned was Brendan Gallagher.

“Me and Gallagher have had some fun battles,” he said. “Now I’m excited to be on his side to annoy people together, I guess. It’ll be a fun team to play with. I’m pretty excited about it. Can’t wait for September.”

The Calgary Flames, meantime, drafted 18-year-old Matthew Tkachuk, a.k.a. son of a Keith. “He’s a pain in the ass,” said Brian Burke, chief of Flames hockey operations. “We don’t have enough guys who are pains in the ass… I like guys who are pains in the ass.”

For his part, Tkachuk fils mentioned to a Calgary Herald reporter that he models his game on Corey Perry’s. Wes Gilbertson:

And if he can, indeed, blossom into a Perry sort, he might not have to pay for a meal in Cowtown for his entire life.

After all, Perry is a guy who seems to routinely score 30-plus goals each season, never shies away from a collision and, thanks to his aggravating style, has probably been called four-letter words that most of us don’t even know.

The Hockey Hall of Fame announced its 2016 class last week: Eric Lindros, Rogie Vachon, Pat Quinn, and Sergei Makarov. Here’s Katie Baker, at The Ringer, on the erstwhile Number 88:

Lindros was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame, after six years of mostly silly rejection, and it’s about damn time. Ever since he was a teenager, the center was an unceasing, and worthy, obsession of the hockey world. He was huge (6-foot-4, 240) and hugely skilled, capable of playing a style of hockey that seemed more of an abstract ideal than an actual bodily possibility. (Instead of using the 20/80 scale to evaluate prospects, hockey scouts ought to just rate them from 1 to Eric Lindros.) He was, for a time, hockey’s avatar. In the biopic he’d be played by Channing Tatum, and you’d spoil the viewing experience for your kids because you’d keep pestering them: No, you don’t understand, there was no one like him in his prime.

 What should a Hall of Fame be? This is a question that all sports face; baseball has a whole steroid-fueled generation that it may never decide how to properly judge. Should the place feel like an encyclopedic compendium of a sport’s most successful players as defined by known, unassailable metrics — career length and Cup wins included — or should it have more laid-back shrine-to-the-glory-of-hockey, this-is-what-things-were-like-back-then vibes? I’m an extremist, but my ideal Hall of Fame would be the best kind of museum, the type that immerses you in the context, ugly and beautiful, of all of hockey’s eras. Hell, put an interactive NHL on Fox glowing-puck exhibit next to Lindros’s bust. Few things are so specifically, disgustingly mid-’90s.

“I’m not P.K. Subban,” Shea Weber said when the media in Canada turned its attention to him, “I’m not going to try to be. I’m going to bring my hard work and attitude and try to bring this team some wins. The biggest thing I want to do is win. I know that they’ve got a good base there, obviously one of the best goaltenders in the world, some top-end forwards, and I’m just excited to be joining that group.”

Continue reading

ten and wow

club de h

“It’s a good squad over there, from the back all the way up,” Vancouver’s Brandon Prust was saying yesterday, ahead of his team’s meeting with Montreal tonight. “They’re off to a good start and we’re going to try and ruin it for them.”

Prust, a rebarbative winger, used to play for the Canadiens, until he was traded west in the summertime, so I guess that under the law of sports narratives, he has something to prove. If he scores the goal that beats Montreal, will that have proved whatever that something might be? What about if he gets into a fight?

The start to which Prust was referring involves the numbers 9 and 0 and 0. It has the writers of news headlines warming to words like sizzling (The Windsor Star) and red-hot (Sportsnet.ca) and, today, (The Gazette) making history and winning juggernaut.

If the Canadiens do prevail tonight, they will match a feat achieved only twice before in NHL history. The Buffalo Sabres went 10-0-0 in the first weeks of the 2006-07 season, as did the Toronto Maple Leafs to get the 1993-94 season underway.

I probably don’t have to mention that neither of those teams won a Stanley Cup to end off those bright-dawning seasons. This year, the Canadiens are doing their best not to get ahead of themselves. “We haven’t accomplished anything yet,” Brendan Gallagher, a winger with nettlesome qualities of his own, was telling Postmedia columnist Cam Cole yesterday. “Hopefully by the end of the year we’re where we want to be. But that’s too far down the road to think about right now.”

“I know people will talk about records and all that stuff,” said P.K. Subban in Cole’s Vancouver Sun preview, “but we’re not focused on going 10-for-10. We’re not going to be the ones leading that parade. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: all we’ve accomplished is to have a good start to the season.”

In 1993, when the Leafs beat Chicago to record their tenth straight victory, winger Glenn Anderson was a little more unguarded. “Ten in a row,” he said, “wow. That’s going to be a tough one to beat. I’m just speaking for myself, but there’s no way I thought this team could get off to a start like this. It’s all heart, desire and dedication that’s getting us through, because the talent we have is nowhere near what some other teams have.”

The Canadiens were the ones to end the Leafs’ streak that year, with a 5-2 victory at the Forum. A few days earlier, Montreal had put an end to the New Jersey Devils’ eight-game winning streak, too, beating them 2-0. According to New Jersey coach Jacques Lemaire, the decisive factor was Montreal goaltender Patrick Roy. “He’s the best goaltender in the NHL,” the former Habs’ centreman said, “and he proved it again tonight.”

Apropos nothing other than the program cover depicted above, the 1970-71 Canadiens won the Stanley Cup in a season they started with a mere four successive wins. They then lost three, tied, won another, before meeting Vancouver in the tenth game of the season. That October night, the Canadiens beat the visiting Canucks, 6-3.

standing pat

Le Guerrier: He talked to his goalposts, of course, to ask them for help. Some of Patrick Roy’s other superstitions during his illustrious playing career included donning his left skate before the right; writing the names of his three children on his stick before each game; and eating the same pre-game meal of steak and peas, mashed potatoes and salad. Toronto illustrator Dave Murray catches him here pre-vowing-never-again-to-play-for-Montreal-and-subsequently-ending-up-traded-to Colorado phase. For more of Murray’s work, see http://davemurrayillustration.com/

Standing Pat: He talked to his goalposts, of course, to ask them for help. Some of Patrick Roy’s other superstitions during his illustrious playing career included donning his left skate before the right; writing the names of his three children on his stick before each game; and eating the same pre-game meal of steak and peas, mashed potatoes and salad. Toronto illustrator Dave Murray catches him here pre-vowing-never-again-to-play-for-Montreal-and-subsequently-ending-up-traded-to Colorado phase. For more of Murray’s work, see http://davemurrayillustration.com/

this week: a dog like a robot and the guy who’s not god

Drew Doughty’s 2014 playoff motto was “The heart doesn’t get tired.” That’s not news, I guess, unless you hadn’t heard it before. It’s etched in his Stanley Ring, so that he at least will never forget: #HeartDoesn’tGetTired it says there.

Colorado went to Montreal on the weekend, with their coach Patrick Roy, but without winger Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau, who was already there. He’d played for the Avalanche for two seasons before a trade in the summer made him a Canadien. Reminded by reporters that Roy had said that he wasn’t a top-six forward for the Avalanche, Parenteau responded.

“He’s entitled to his opinion, and that’s not to say that I respect it,” he told The Gazette. “His opinion, it’s not the truth. This guy is not God, it’s not him who invented hockey, either.”

Buffalo lost 5-1 to Anaheim. “That,” said Buffalo coach Ted Nolan when it was all over, “was like an NHL team playing a pewee team.”

Toronto, meanwhile, lost 4-1 to Detroit on Friday night. Said, Leafs’ defenceman Jake Gardiner afterwards: “It seemed like they had more players on the ice than we did.”

Not a lot of South Floridians went to see the Panthers play at their rink this last week, which made for a sorry sight for cameras panning across empty seats. Announced attendance for the game against Ottawa Monday night was 7,311, the smallest in the team’s 21-year history. @FlaPanthers had a message afterwards for the few, the loyal, the lonely:

Loyalty is best earned on the back of virtue, honor and integrity. Together, we climb. Thanks to all who came. #FlaPanthers

Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston revealed that Toronto defenceman Cody Franson is, quote, unafraid to use his body and possesses a booming shot. He also has excellent on-ice vision.

Carolina called up 23-year-old centre Brody Sutter this week, Duane’s son, making him the ninth Sutter to play in the NHL. “There will be more,” Uncle Darryl warned from Los Angeles.

In that Detroit loss, it was widely agreed, the Leafs were outplayed from the moment the puck dropped. Towards the end of the game — and for the second time in this young season— a less-than-gruntled fan threw a Leafs’ sweater to the ice. From the broadcast booth, former goaltender Greg Millen said it was tough to watch. “The ultimate insult for a player is that. For a lot of them. For sure.” Continue reading

this week + last: doesn’t sound like a sutter

Credit Line: 	National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Time magazine LeRoy Neiman, 8 Jun 1927 - 20 Jun 2012

After 45 games, the Leafs appeared to be hitting a wall.

Toronto’s chances of making the playoffs, according to the SportsClubStats.com, now stand at 21 per cent.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that things aren’t going anywhere near what our expectations are, that’s for sure,” coach Randy Carlyle said on Thursday.

Canadian GM Steve Yzerman announced the team he’ll be taking to Sochi for the Olympics next month, which is when Michael Farber from Sports Illustrated took to Twitter: “My Canada includes Martin St. Louis.”

But Wayne Gretzky, for one, approved of the players selected: “I really think he put together a good team,” Gretzky told Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com. “He’s got skill, he’s got size, he’s got depth, he’s got a good coaching staff, and they’ve done all their homework. They’ve done everything they can do. Now it’s up to the players to play at the level that they need to play at to bring back the gold medal.”

The Toronto Star’s Damien Cox called the Winter Classic a gimmick ahead of the big New Year’s Day game between Leafs and Red Wings in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Farber: “No, I am not in Detroit. Since ’03 Heritage Classic in Edmonton – Hype vs. Hypothermia – I have been strictly an indoor hockey writer.”

Toronto’s Phil Kessel: “She is gonna be chilly tm out on that ice”

On the day, Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk told his coach, Mike Babcock, “Well, we’re being too careful with the puck. We gotta be because you’re scared to turn it over. There’s so much snow.”

In front of a record-setting crowd of 105,491,tThe Leafs won, 3-2 in a shoot-out. Cox, post-game:

NHL gimmickry and ambition collided with frigid, blustery, irritable Mother Nature to produce a compelling outdoor game as a remarkable 82 TV cameras peered through an unceasing snow squall to broadcast every moment to 160 countries.

“I never talk to my team after we lose ever,” Babcock said. “I did today. I said you should be proud. You have an off day tomorrow. Enjoy your family today.”

“To me,” said Babcock, “today was a home run for hockey,”

After bombs ripped through lives in Volgograd, in southern Russia, The Globe and Mail’s Roy MacGregor listened to Alex Ovechkin’s thoughts on the subject. “It’s awful,” he told reporters in Ottawa. “I don’t know what people doing that kind of stuff for. I feel so sorry about the families and the people who were there.”

When you hear this kind of situation happened, you think ‘Oh my God!’ You just feel bad. I don’t know how to say it, but just say ‘Why? Why you have to carry a bomb with you and push the button and destroy you and destroy everybody? If you want to do it, do it by yourself somewhere in a forest or in the mountains. Nobody is going to care about it. This is just stupid.

Boston’s goalie, Tuukka Rask, talked about the danger of terrorist attacks at Sochi’s Olympics, where he’ll be defending Finnish nets: “You trust the system that nothing will happen. You can’t live your life in fear.” 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

gaineytown

“It is a great temptation to say too much about Bob Gainey.” That was Ken Dryden, in The Game (1983), just before he launched into the quite-a-lot he had to say about Gainey and his place as a player on those sublime Montreal Canadiens teams of the 1970s. He’s right, Dryden: the temptation is great, especially now that Gainey has left the team that he captained, coached, managed, and — at the last — special-advised. That was his role until Thursday — special adviser to general manager Pierre Gauthier — when the man he was counselling was fired.  Gainey wasn’t, Montreal owner Geoff Molson went out of his way to explain: his departure was by “mutual agreement.”

It’s sobering time for those of us who loved the quiet honesty of Gainey’s game as a player, his — this is Dryden again — “relentless, almost palpable will.” I was going to lament the link to those ’70s Habs that was breaking, given what Molson told his Thursday press conference: “We felt that the direction of the club needed to change from a hockey standpoint.” Except that the man Molson has brought in as his new special adviser in the search for the next GM is Serge Savard. And who was the man not named Patrick Roy that Hockey Night in Canada was touting last night as a possible (if apparently unwilling) candidate for the job? Scotty Bowman. Jacques Lemaire’s name has been tossing in the media, too, and before it’s all over Dryden’s will at least to have been dismissed. Gilles Lupien, anyone? Rick Chartraw? Continue reading