That Vladimir Putin took to the ice earlier this week in Sochi isn’t news: the 63-year-old Russian president plays hockey all the time with posses of ex-professional pals. Putin had Viacheslav Fetisov and Pavel Bure skating with him yesterday and, guess what: they beat the other guys, 9-5, winning the trophy that, who’s kidding who, they were always going to win. The big shocker? Putin scored but a single goal, set up by Fetisov. I’m no Kremlinologist, but this has to signal some kind of crisis at the Russian top, doesn’t it? In a birthday scrimmage last fall, Putin potted no fewer than seven goals; a year before that, he tallied eight in a hockey commemoration of the end of the Second World War. Watching this week’s highlights, you can’t really say that the man has lost a step — he skates as he always has, slowly, squarely, with the supreme menace of a man who might at any moment give the order to have you invaded. I guess that it’s possible that Putin’s power is starting to crack and crumble. Just because a man can’t score several hattricks with the help of some of the best hockey players ever to have played the game doesn’t necessarily mean he’s losing his grip. Even presidents, I guess, suffer slumps. Maybe this is simply one of those.
Depends, I guess, on how big a hockey fan you are, but if you’ve got tomorrow circled on the calendar, chances are you’re either eagerly looking ahead to the start of a new NHL season or else counting down to the annihilation of the world by fire, which several Christian groups say is imminent.
You might also be Russian President Vladimir Putin, who’ll be turning 63 on Wednesday. Whatever may be happening elsewhere, it’s hard to see him altering his birthday plans. “Tomorrow, Putin will play hockey,” the presidential spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, announced today. He’ll be spending the big day in Sochi, Russia, skating with a gang of old friends, oligarchs, powerful politicians, and hockey heroes.
RIA Novosti recalls that the last time the Russian leader played in Sochi was at a “gala match” in May, when Putin’s team Armageddon’d the other guys 18-6 on the strength of eight presidential goals.
This time out, he’ll be joined on the ice by the Rustam Minnikhanov, president of the Russian federal republic of Tartarstan, and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, along with the brotherly gas and power oligarchs Arkady and Boris Rotenberg. I don’t know whether there’s room for them on Putin’s team, whose line-up already includes actual hockey players like Pavel Bure, Vladimir Myshkin, Vyacheslav Fetisov, and Alexei Kasatonov. They have, the Russian press is reporting , already prepared a little surprising something for Putin.
“It is a gift from all the hockey stars of the world of hockey in a sign of respect,” Fetisov told Business Online. “We think he’ll like it.”
Fetisov also testified to the president’s outstanding physical fitness. They scrimmage together often in Moscow; according to the former Soviet captain, they can sometimes skate for a half-hour without Putin showing any fatigue.
This comes not quite a week after former Canadian prime minister Jean Chretien suggested that Canada should be glad of Russia’s military efforts in Syria.
Campaigning for Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in British Columbia last Thursday, Chretien opined that the West shouldn’t scorn Russia’s involvement in the fight against the Islamic State because … well, as mentioned, he’s a hockey player.
“I met Putin,” Chretien said. “He’s a tough guy. He’s clear-minded. But to run Russia you cannot be a pussycat. They play hockey very rough in the corners.”
(Illustration from The Globe and Mail, October 5, 2015, courtesy of David Parkins, http://www.davidparkins.com)
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.
News that Vladimir Putin was skating and scoring on the ice yesterday wasn’t really news: the 62-year-old Russian president’s love of hockey is as well-known as his penchant for archaeology and for riding bare-chested on horses. He was at the Bolshoi Ice Palace taking part in a “gala” game dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the victorious end of the Great Patriotic (a.k.a. the Second World) War.
Putin’s team was also Slava Fetisov’s, and they lined up with Pavel Bure, Alexander Yakushev, and Sergei Makarov as well. It will shock no-one to learn that they won by a score of 18-6, or that Putin scored eight of his team’s goals. The fact that Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s defence minister, added a hattrick — that, I own, caught me a little off my guard. Recognized as the game’s best player, Shoigu was rewarded with a trip to the Crimea. As a satire enthusiast, I wish I’d invented that last detail, but no, it’s true enough.
I was checking in on Canada’s semi-final at the World Championships yesterday afternoon when I saw the Putin news. Feeling good about Canada’s team in Prague, I’d decided that they were strong and confident enough to do without me watching the whole broadcast of their game with the Czech Republic and that I — and they — we could get away with updates on my iPhone.
And so it proved. Taylor Hall had just scored, on a pass from Sidney Crosby; Jason Spezza would add another goal to guarantee the 2-0 Canadian win. The Putin story was just filtering out by that time, along with news from the other semi-final where (also unaided by my viewership), Russia dismissed the U.S. by a score of 4-0.
That’s when my eyes began to open to the bigger picture. Of course. President Putin wasn’t just playing in a friendly game of pick-up by the Black Sea. He was, as Putin likes to do, sending a message. Sometimes they go out disguised as unmarked armoured columns headed west, towards Ukraine, while on other occasions they resemble air-force bombers skirting along the edges of foreign airspace.
Mostly, messages Putin sends have a distinct sabre-rattling sound, but who says they can’t also clack like hockey sticks on ice? Anticipating that today’s Prague final would pit Russians against Canadians, Putin knew what he was doing. The fans in Sochi may have enjoyed Putin’s goals, his preening, but they weren’t the intended recipients. Even as he entertained them, he was trolling us, Canadians, marking his territory, telling those of us who hold the maple leaf high that when it comes to ice, that’s Russian territory, as it ever was, just like with Crimea and Novorossiya.
I don’t know why we haven’t responded. That’s what puzzling. When I say we, I mean, of course, Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Diplomacy dictates that if Canada wanted to answer a display like Putin’s, it would have to come from the PMO. Is it possible that they missed it? That Putin sent his message and it wasn’t received? I don’t know how else you could explain Ottawa’s silence. Are you telling me that the PMO couldn’t at short notice have organized a game at Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre to answer to President Putin? Maybe last night would have been pushing it, but what about this morning? The Conservative Party is always dialling up instant crowds of hard-working Canadians to backdrop the PM as he pretends he’s not already electioneering, so how hard would it have been to this morning?
As for players to skate, well, what’s the Cabinet for other than to lace ’em up whenever the boss calls, needs interference run, a screen in front of the opposition’s net/pertinent inquiry during Question Period. And it’s not as if actual hockey players are in short supply around the capital — Ottawa not only has a whole NHL team of players with nothing to do, they’re called the Senators, after our national chamber of sober second-thinkers (mostly) beholden to the man who appointed them.
It would have been easy to outdo Putin at his own game — that is, at our game. Harper could have taken to net, maybe even played both ends, skated away with a pair of shut-outs, awarding himself a trip to Kurdistan. That would have shown the Russians.
I’m not saying our lack of leaderly showing-off is going to make any difference in today’s final in Prague: what happens there is up to the Crosbys and Eberles and Ovechkins and Malkins. All I’m saying is, I don’t know — either our PM isn’t the prince of propaganda I took him for or else he was genuinely impressed by Putin’s feat of never scoring fewer than two hattricks in any game he’s ever played. I guess that could explain why Stephen Harper held himself goalless this weekend.
Gary Bettman put a number, this week, on how many times players hit one another across the league over the course of a season: “55,000, give or take.” I don’t think that includes punches to the head, just bodychecks. His point was that, once in a while, there’s a bad one in there, and when there is, the NHL deals out a suspension.
Bettman was in Columbus, where he also talked about Philadelphia’s brawl with Washington wherein one goalie, the Flyers’ Ray Emery, skated down the ice to attack another, Braden Holtby of the Capitals, who didn’t want to fight.
“I don’t think anyone liked it,” Bettman said, “liked what it looked like.”
“Protect yourself,” Emery said, later, is what he told Holtby as he swung at him.
Earlier in the week, Brian Burke published a defence of fighting in USA Today. Some people just don’t get it, he said. The players are all volunteers, and if they want to punch one another, in the head, or anywhere else, who are people who write about the game, never having played it professionally, to dare to tell them not to?
Ken Dryden was in print this week, too, in The Globe and Mail, answering Bobby Orr who, in his new book, makes his own argument in favour of fighting.
You’re wrong, Dryden said. Also:
The model for an NHL without fighting is right there in front of us. It’s not the Olympics, though opponents of fighting often say it is. The Olympics are too unique an experience. The ice surface is bigger. Players put on their nation’s jerseys and, in front of countrymen who know their game and those who don’t, avoid doing things that might be misunderstood.
The real model is the playoffs. It’s the time of year that fans love best; when the best hockey is played.
“This makes hockey look bush,” said Neil Smith on Sportsnet’s Hockey Central, regarding Emery chasing down Holtby to punch his head.
As Washington was fricasseeing the Flyers, fans in Philadelphia cried out: “Fire Holmgren! Fire Holmgren! Fire Holmgren!”
Paul Holmgren, they were talking about, the general manager. “We just folded up like a cheap suit,” he said after the game.
When Semyon Varlamov was arrested this week by Denver police, charged with kidnapping and assaulting his girlfriend, his father said that no crime had been committed, whatsoever.
In the Colorado goalie’s native Russia, the head of the State Duma Committee for Physical Culture, Sport and Youth Affairs suspected that there was a plot afoot. The Voice of Russia quoted Igor Ananskykh:
“The situation is really strange, given that the Sochi Olympics will take place soon and Varlamov is a candidate to become part of our national hockey team which we do count on. What about presumption of innocence? It’s not normal at all. Varlamov will fall out of the training process which will have an impact on his readiness before the Olympics in Sochi. The first thing that comes to my mind is that it is an effort to weaken our national team.”
Varlamov went to court on Thursday and was released on a bond of US$5,000. The Denver Post struggled to put it all in perspective.
The Avalanche are off to a torrid 10-1 start and have become the talk of hockey under first-year coach Patrick Roy. Duchene doesn’t think this will derail the Avalanche.
“You just don’t think about it,” Duchene said. “It’s tough. You’re concerned about your teammate. We all love Varly in here. I can’t say enough great things about him. I think we’re all pretty confident this is going to get resolved pretty quickly.”
Varlamov played on Friday night in Dallas and won. Coach Roy said afterwards that the team wanted to show it’s a family. A reporter asked: Does this show that Varlamov can handle adversity?
Jacques Plante was allergic, meanwhile, to Toronto. That wasn’t this week — that’s an old story, resurrected on the occasion of Friday’s anniversary of the night in 1959 that Plante first put on a mask in the Montreal goal.
Maybe you remember? In New York that night, Andy Bathgate’s backhand from 15 feet caught Plante on the left side of his nose. That’s how The Jacques Plante Story (1972) tells it, the book the goalie wrote with Andy O’Brien. Bathgate “blasted” it — unless, as Raymond Plante’s Jacques Plante: Behind The Mask (1996) says, he “slammed” it.
When Todd Denault talked to Bathgate for Jacques Plante: The Man Who Changed The Face of Hockey (2009), he said it was a wrist shot, not too hard, though decidedly vengeful. Plante had cut him previously in the game, and he was determined to get him back. Continue reading