uneasy lies the head that wears a crown

Call him the Flower, Mozart, something of a hockey maniac, pride of Thurso: how ever you care to tag him, Guy Lafleur turns 66 today. Most famously, of course, he was a Canadien, but after 14 seasons in Montreal, he did, you’ll recall, retire from retirement in 1988 to play three more seasons, first with the New York Rangers, then in Quebec with the Nordiques, before re-retiring for good in 1991. Lafleur did wear a helmet as a junior scoring sensation, notching 130 goals in 62 games in his final year with the Quebec Remparts. But after a slow start in the NHL, he eventually shed the headgear for good. I wrote a bit about this in Puckstruck, to this effect:

I don’t know whether Guy Lafleur could have taken his place among Canadiens greats wearing the bobbleheaded helmet he sported when he first played in the NHL. In 1974, at training camp, the story goes that he forgot it one day in his hotel room. He’d been a bit of a dud up to then, and the sportswriters were ready to write him off. Without his helmet, blond hair flowing free, he played with joy and with verve. The writers cheered. There, then, he decided he’d never again cover his head.

Biographer Georges-Hébert Germain writes about this in Overtime: The Legend of Guy Lafleur (1990). “As though by magic he had rediscovered the pleasure of playing.” It wasn’t what was on his head, of course, so much as in it. “But the helmet would be banished as a negative fetish for him, a bearer of unhappiness.” This was the age of the Flyer brawn and brutality, of course, and Canadiens’ management wanted Lafleur to put the helmet back on. “He would hear none of it — it was a burden, slowed him down.”

Guy’s dad wasn’t pleased, as noted in his autobiography. “I’ve always been afraid to see Guy play without a helmet,” Réjean Lafleur confided in Guy Lafleur: Mon Fils (1981). He and his wife worried when they saw him bareheaded, “especially when he falls or he’s checked against the boards.” When he asked Guy why, he said he’d damaged his helmet and the team hadn’t got him a new one yet. “I never much believed in the story,” his dad solemnly wrote.

(Image: Guy Lafleur by Serge Chapleau, graphite and watercolour on paper, 43.1 x 35.5 cm, © McCord Museum)

 

welcome to philadelphia

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“We never play such animal hockey,” CSKA Moscow coach Konstantin Loktev seethed after it was all over. Philadelphia captain Bobby Clarke shrugged when he heard that. “We’ve been called a lot of worse things,” he said. “This wasn’t one of our rough games.” On this night in 1976, his Flyers pummeled CSKA Moscow in a mid-winter exhibition game (they also happened to win it, by a score of 4-1.) A fuller accounting of what went on that night might read something like this; for a more graphic telling, there’s “The Check Heard ‘’Round The World” at Victory Journal, a print and digital magazine that, by its own lights, seeks to illuminate the intersection of sport and culture. It’s vital and vivid and worth your time, starting with the story (here) by writer David Hollander and artist Stephen Halker of the night Ed Van Impe got acquainted with Valeri Kharlamov.

(GIF courtesy Victory Journal)

note the bruises, stitches, and scars

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Broad (Street) Brush: American artist LeRoy Neiman’s hockey work included portraits of the skilled set: Bobby Hull, Bryan Trottier, Wayne Gretzky. His sketchpad also reflected the game’s punishing side, as with these 1974 portraits of a trio of Philadelphia Flyers documenting the accumulated cost of doing business — smashed noses, slashed skulls, puckstruck teeth — suffered above the neck by (from left) a very Bobby-Clarke-looking Don Big Bird Saleski, Bob Hound-Dog Kelly, and Andre Moose Dupont.

department of throwing stuff: somewhere else in the nhl

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Throwdown: Yesterday’s Philadelphia Daily News leads with debris.

The Flyers started last night in Philadelphia with a heartfelt tribute to the team’s late owner, Ed Snider, followed by a quick goal for the home team. Game three of their opening-round series with the much-favoured Washington Capitals didn’t end so well. There was, in third period, the hit-from-behind by Flyers’ forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare on Washington defenceman Dmitry Orlov that saw the former banished from the ice, and a testy display by fans who littered the ice with the bracelets they’d been given to help with a light-show to such an extent that the referee gave the Flyers a delay-of-game penalty. There was the final score, too: Capitals 6, Flyers 1.

They were warned, the fans, ahead of the penalty. Lou Nolan, the 70-year-old PA announcer at the Wells Fargo Centre, was hired originally in 1972 to be the voice of the old Spectrum. Has he ever sounded so vexed? After the brawl that ensued Bellemare’s hit, once fans had tossed at least 50 wristbands on the ice (Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Sam Carchidi did the estimating), Nolan told fans to “show class.”

He also felt that a reminder might do some good: “This,” he said, “is Philadelphia, not somewhere else in the NHL.”

He wasn’t finished. “The next one who does it will cause us a minor penalty. Do not do it.”

One did, of course. When Alexander Ovechkin scored his second goal of the game, more wristbands flew, and the promised penalty was duly called. Announcing it, Nolan added a message of his own: “Way to go.”

The history of throwing stuff at hockey games is long and — well, I don’t know that the word storied applies, since the story has always pretty much been the same, of disgruntled/mischief-making spectators flinging what’s at hand even though hockey authorities and/or policemen try to stop them from flinging. The stoppers have been largely if not entirely successful, over the years. I wrote about hockey stuff-throwing at some length in Puckstruck, the book, and if I didn’t go too deep into mechanics of the stoppage campaign, I was able to catalogue, I think, just how much it really was a part of the game for a long time while at the same time taking a certain joy in listing the rich variety of stuff that has been flung through the years.

“You look at those bracelets,” Washington coach Barry Trotz was saying this morning, “they’re white, the ice is white. All you need is for Claude Giroux to step on one and snap his leg in half.” That’s true — at least, that’s all you don’t need. The throwing of stuff is dangerous, and always was — I talk about that, too, in the book.

Philadelphia COO Sean Tilger condemned the flingers. “We will not condone or tolerate their behavior,” he said today. “They embarrassed the city and the majority of the fanbase that behaved the right way.”

What will the Flyers do to prevent a repeat performance when the two tams meet again tomorrow night? I’m sure they’ve got plans. For one thing, they won’t be handing out more wristbands. They’ve already promised that. Will they draft in extra ushers to police the aisles?

That was a big part of the anti-toss campaign mounted by the Chicago Black Hawks towards the end of the Second World War. Chicago’s old Stadium was one of the more notorious venues for debris in the old NHL days; it could be the very somewhere else that Lou Nolan was invoking last night when he tried to shame those wayward Flyers fans last night.

April, 1944. That spring, the Hawks met the Montreal Canadiens in the finals. Montreal had won the first game at home and in the second, at the Stadium, Maurice Richard scored a pair of goals in what would end as a 3-1 Canadiens victory. To try to contain him, Chicago coach Paul Thompson sent out winger George Allen to trail the Rocket with thoughts of nothing else. Here’s Dink Carroll of the Gazette to take up Allen’s tale:

Instead of obeying instructions, he tried to check Elmer Lach and the pair tangled near the mouth of the Chicago goal. Suddenly Allen came out of the scramble and made for Referee Bill Chadwick, claiming that Lach had been guilty of holding and demanding a penalty. Chadwick ignored him and play continued with Lach again scooping up the puck and passing out in front to Richard, who banged it into the net.

It was then that the greatest fusillade of missiles ever thrown at a hockey game started to rain down on the ice from the huge crowd. For 17 minutes this barrage held up the game, officials and players being completely helpless.

An inventory of the objects thrown lists a bottle, the back of a chair, a compact followed by a lipstick case, heavy wads of rolled-up newspapers, coins, mirrors, one bicycle horn, apples, orange peels — some with oranges in them — playing cards, chocolate cookies, hamburgers, and a few bolts and nuts. At one stage Elmer Lach, who had collected a deck of cards, sat down in centre ice and started a game of solitaire.

At least one novel descended to the ice: Dorsha Hayes’ 1943 barnburner Mrs. Heaton’s Daughter.

Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis was at the game, the baseball commissioner, sitting directly behind the Montreal bench, where a folding chair, hurled from on high, almost hit him.

In The Chicago Tribune, Edward Prell put the crowd at 16,003 and rated their rumpus “the wildest demonstration in the west side arena’s hockey history.” To Carroll’s inventory he added, half-eaten hot dogs, paper airplanes, pennies. “Workmen feverishly swept, but just when the rink was almost cleared, fresh consignments of debris descended to the cheers of the wrought-up fans.”

The Hawks sent their star winger, 38-year-old Johnny Gottselig, to the PA to plead with the loyalists. “Let’s get on with the game,” he suggested. Carroll: “It was the signal for a fresh outburst from the crowd.”

Chicago president Bill Tobin couldn’t believe that the 50 ushers on duty that night hadn’t apprehended a single malefactor. “Somebody might have been hurt, or even killed.”

Black Hawks’ owner Major Frederic McLaughlin vowed that for the next game an extra 50 ushers would be on duty. It was his idea, too, that the home team should be penalized if debris on the ice forced a delay in the game.

Andy Frain was the man commanding the Stadium ushers come Sunday’s game. The Tribune’s list of items confiscated from ticket-holders at the rink’s entrance included:

coat hangers
walnuts and hickory nuts
steel bolts
marbles
bags of rice and flour
oranges and limes
megaphones
playing cards
pieces of steel
quart bottles of beer
rolls of pennies
a couple of folding chairs.

This plunder, and more, was handed over to the Warren Avenue police detachment. “As a result of the frisking,” the Tribune noted, “last night’s game set a model for decorum in the stands.”

Not that it helped the Hawk cause. They lost the game, 3-2, along with the next one, back in Montreal, where the score was 5-4. The Canadiens’ Cup-winning effort didn’t go without disruption, as Edward Prell logged in the next morning’s paper:

Earlier in the evening when things were going against their heroes, the Montreal spectators had demonstrated that Chicago’s fervent fans have no monopoly on the practice of using the rink for a rubbish heap. Their pet weapons were rubber overshoes, and a bottle or two descended on the ice, but the game never was delayed more than a few seconds.

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Ammo Dump: the game-three haul gathered by Stadium ushers, from Chicago’s Tribune, April 10, 1944.

flyers and soviets, 1976: when al capone’s mob ambushed the bolshoi ballet dancers

Impe-ish: A 2013 sale of hockey memorabilia by Montreal’s Classic Auctions featured a selection of Ed Van Impe’s cherished mementoes from Philadelphia’s famous 1976 encounter with Moscow’s Red Army. Included in Lot #18 was a game program and a copy of the NHL’s official scoresheet. Also, as seen above: the wristwatch that Van Impe received as a gift from the Soviets, along with an 8 x 10 photograph of Kharlamov prone on the ice in the moments after Van Impe hit him in the game’s first period. They all could have been yours, though they’re not: they sold to somebody else for the princely sum of US$242. (Photo: Classic Auctions)

Impe-ish: A 2013 sale of hockey memorabilia by Montreal’s Classic Auctions featured a selection of Ed Van Impe’s cherished mementoes from Philadelphia’s famous 1976 encounter with Moscow’s Red Army. Included in Lot #18 was a game program and a copy of the NHL’s official scoresheet. Also, as seen above: the wristwatch that Van Impe received as a gift from the Soviets, along with an 8 x 10 photograph of Kharlamov prone on the ice in the moments after Van Impe hit him in the game’s first period. They all could have been yours, though they’re not: they sold to somebody else for the princely sum of US$242. (Photo: Classic Auctions)

It’s 40 years since the Montreal Canadiens and CSKA Moscow — the legendary Central Red Army — played what lots of people say was the best hockey game ever. Todd Denault wrote a whole book to that effect, and more: in The Greatest Game, he argues that their 3-3 tie on New Year’s Eve of 1975 actually saved hockey from the violence and cynicism that was dragging it under, reminding us all what a beautiful game it is while redeeming and returning it to righteousness.

If that’s the case, hockey and Central Army both had a short detour they had to follow first, south, to Philadelphia, home of the reigning Stanley Cup champions. While the game in Montreal may have showed hockey in all its competitive finery, the Soviets’ meeting on Sunday, January 11, 1976, with the Flyers is remembered for its bruising and bitterness — not to mention the fact that the game was very nearly abandoned midway through the first period.

Two enhanced Soviet teams had arrived in North America before Christmas that winter on a much anticipated exhibition tour of NHL cities: the Super Series. Krylya Sovetov — the Soviet Wings — were bolstered by four of Moscow Spartak’s best players, and their tour saw them beat Pittsburgh, Chicago, and the New York Islanders before they lost to the Buffalo Sabres.

To a roster that already featured names like Kharlamov, Tretiak, Petrov, and Mikhailov, Central Army added a pair of Dynamo Moscow ringers, Alexander Maltsev and Valeri Vasiliev. Their swing started with a win over the New York Rangers before the game in Montreal, which they followed with a win in Boston over the Bruins.

The Russians had a few days free in Philadelphia before Sunday’s game with the Flyers. On Friday, January 9, the Flyers gave them lunch. Saturday many of the players went to see Jaws. Ahead Sunday’s afternoon game, there was a kerfuffle involving signs in the Spectrum protesting the Soviet government’s treatment of Jews, a threat of Russian withdrawal — but NHLPA executive director Alan Eagleson talked to Flyers’ president Ed Snider and had the signs removed.

Once the hockey got going, rancor ruled. If you don’t recall, maybe we’ll let a few headlines from next morning’s (North American) papers frame it for you:

Flyers Whip Reds, No. 1 in the World

Russians Cry Uncle As Flyers Fly, 4-1

Reds Balk, Take Loss

Grumbling Soviets Fall To Flyers

Philadelphia defenseman Ed Van Impe was, if not the star of the show, then certainly its accelerant. Released from the penalty box where he’d been serving a first-period tripping call, he made a beeline for Valeri Kharlamov, whom he belted. Referee Lloyd Gilmour looked, but called no penalty. Stephen Cole describes the scene in his latest book Hockey Night Fever (2014): “Kharlamov squirmed, tried to get up and then collapsed.”

Army coach Konstantin Loktev called his goaltender, Vladislav Tretiak, to the bench. Cole says the idea was to give Gilmour time to reconsider. Instead, the referee assessed Army a minor for delay of game. Exit the Soviets withdrew to their dressing room in a snit.

The delay that followed lasted nearly 20 minutes. Furious negotiations ensued, with NHL president Clarence Campbell joining Eagleson and Snider in discussions with Vyacheslav Koloskov, head of the Soviet hockey federation, and Loktev. The story that’s popularly told is that the Soviets returned because they were told that they wouldn’t be paid if they refused to finish the game, but that, as we’ll see, has been persuasively denied by several of the principals involved. One version has Snider telling the Soviets they’ll have to reimburse the fans in the building: that sound more likely.

Once the game resumed, the Flyers went ahead 3-0 on goals by Reggie Leach, Rick MacLeish, and Joe Watson. Victor Kutergin scored for Army before Larry Goodenough added another Philadelphia goal in the third.

That’s the story, pretty much, in sum. Here following, a detailed account of the game (and its acrimony) as those who took part saw it, with quotes culled verbatim from contemporary accounts in newspapers and magazines as well as from books published later — sources below — starting off with a few choice cuts from the roast-beef luncheon the Flyers hosted on the Friday ahead of the game.

Fred Shero, Philadelphia coach

We welcome this great Russian team to the cradle of liberty. We have the two greatest teams in the world, and we hope the teams conduct themselves in a professional manner.”

Konstantin Loktev, CSKA coach

I hope it will be an enjoyable game for the fans.

sherofog

Fred Shero

It was the biggest game in Flyers history. We had to win or else.

Konstantin Loktev

This is just a friendly game.

Fred Shero

They are experts at retaliating when the ref’s not looking. They spear, they hook. The same way they play soccer over there … bloody murder.”

Jay Greenberg, Philadelphia Daily News

Bobby Clarke, whose vicious slash had put Soviet star Valery Kharlamov out of the 1972 series, was asked to reflect on his lingering status as villain in the USSR. “It wasn’t premeditated,” said the Flyer captain. “He had speared me and it wasn’t a clean series from the start.

“I don’t care. I hate the sons of bitches, anyway.”

Vladislav Tretiak, Red Army goaltender

Even during the reception, two days before the game, they made it perfectly clear that they had no intention of associating with the Soviet players. The Stanley Cup winners demonstrated their highly unfriendly, if not hostile attitude. Nobody came over to welcome us. Even the local press was shocked by such blatant inhospitality.

Mel Bridgman, Philadelphia centreman

We had pep talks in our dressing room from the strangest people. Clarence Campbell couldn’t stand us, the way we played or anything about us … He was in there telling us we represent the NHL and all the rest and ‘Go and play your game.’ And we did.

Fred Shero

We’re in a weird position. All year long people keep telling us that we’re bad for hockey, bad for the NHL, bad for Canada because we’re too rough. Now we’re supposed to save the game for the NHL, for Canada, for everyone. Hah! For the first time we’re the good guys.

Ross Lonsberry, Philadelphia left winger

You know, I woke up on Friday night from this dream and I was in a cold sweat. We were behind 5-1 late in the second period. So I went back to sleep to get back to the dream and I succeeded. We came from behind to win.

Peter White, The Globe and Mail

Flyers were playing on high emotion, which was helped before the game by the preliminaries. They must surely have startled the Russians; they saw nothing like it in three previous games against NHL teams. The lights were dimmed for introductions with big spotlights picking up the players. A recording of Kate Smith singing God Bless America was picked up by the crowd, which belted out the song along with her. Moreover, it was in the Spectrum that the Russians were first booed.

Fred Shero

I told them to hold the puck for a face-off if they didn’t have a good shot. They’re not very good at face-offs, anyway.”

Roger Kahn, The New York Times

The Soviets began with a razzle-dazzle Icecapadeski in their own zone, which the Flyers ignored. Then, as they tried to move, the Flyers, notably Terry Crisp, forechecked beautifully. Up ice, the Flyer defensemen took their customary inhospitable view of rival forwards. The Soviets could control neither the puck nor the flow of the game. They had got off two shots to the Flyers’ 12, when Ed Van Impe dumped Valery Kharlamov.

Jay Greenberg

Philadelphia started hitting.

“It wasn’t planned,” said Tom Bladon later. “We were just wound up because of the pressure on us. I think it was more emotional than anything.”

Reggie Leach, Philadelphia right winger

Bodies started flying in every direction, and not all of the hits were clean.

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Joe Watson, Philadelphia defenceman

The way we figured it, we had to hit the Russians and hit them again every time we had the chance. If you let them skate around and play dipsy doodle with the puck, they’ll kill you. If you hit them, though, they’ll play just like any ordinary hockey team.

Mark Mulvoy, Sports Illustrated

For the first 10 minutes on Sunday the Flyers did not just hit the Soviets, they assaulted them. Dave (Hammer) Schultz rubbed his glove in Boris Mikhailov’s face. Andre (Moose) Dupont waved his stick under Mikhailov’s nose. Ed (Zorro) Van Impe tattooed the stomachs of Alexander Maltsev and Boris Alexandrov. Bill Barber rearranged Valery Vasiliev’s helmet. And Clarke reintroduced his hockey stick to Valery Kharlamov’s ankle. Clarke had damaged that ankle in the Team Canada-Soviet series of ’72. “They didn’t like it,” Watson said.

Dave Anderson, The New York Times

The temperature inside the Spectrum was as chilly as the atmosphere, as if somebody had left a window open in Siberia somewhere. The chill developed into a freeze when the Soviet team returned to its dressing room for 16 minutes during a scoreless first period in a protest of the Flyers’ tendency to use their (a) shoulders, (b) elbows, (c) sticks, (d) all of the above.

Ed Van Impe, Philadelphia defenceman

I had just come out of the penalty box. He was looking down to pick up the puck. And when he looked up, I was there.

Reggie Leach

Eleven seconds after he returned to the ice, he elbowed Kharlamov, who was streaking down the right side, and the star player fell to the ice. It seemed like someone had shot the guy with a gun. To this day, Eddie says Kharlamov ran into his elbow!

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Ed Van Impe

It was a sucker pass. I could see the play developing. The winger made a sucker pass and Kharlamov had to turn his head to get it. I remember watching it, almost in slow motion. And the same time the puck connected with Kharlamov, I connected with him and flattened him. I just wanted to welcome him to Philadelphia.

Lloyd Gilmour, NHL referee

It was a helluva check — a clean check.

Ed Van Impe

I bumped him pretty good, but I don’t think he was hurt as all that, rolling around looking dead.

Gene Hart, Philadelphia TV broadcaster

Kharlamov went down as if he’d been shot, and while it may have been a hard check, it wasn’t that hard! In fact, Bill Barber had earlier dealt a tougher blow to one of the Soviet defensemen along the boards, without causing any such theatrics.

Clarence Campbell, NHL president

They used the pretext of the injury to Kharlamov but I noticed he played on the next shift and started the second period. I didn’t see anything wrong with him.

Robin Herman, The New York Times

The Soviet walkout was prompted by the attack of Ed Van Impe, a Flyer defenseman, who knocked down Valery Kharlamov, a key Soviet Olympic forward, from behind. No penalty was called by Lloyd Gilmour, the referee, and Konstantin Loktev called in his goalie. The referee then meted out a delay-of-game penalty against a delay-of-game penalty against the Russians and Mr. Loktev ordered his team to the dressing room.

Dave Anderson

Some of the Russians later contended that Van Impe had slugged him with his gloved hand.

Ed Van Impe

It was my right shoulder.

John Robertson, The Kitchener Record

Bob Cole, broadcasting the game for Hockey Night in Canada, could hardly believe what was occurring. “They’re going home!” he kept repeating.

Ed Van Impe

If he had done that to me, I would’ve just gone to the bench. It was ridiculous to take the team off the ice.

Fred Shero

I wasn’t sure they would come back at first, I really wasn’t.

Bill Barber, Philadelphia right winger

I really thought they might be leaving.

Bobby Clarke, Philadelphia centreman and captain

I knew they’d come back, because they wanted the money.

Clarence Campbell

I don’t think they intended to leave the ice permanently. The Soviet coach reacted precipitously but his point of view wasn’t even support by the chief of his own mission. Their argument was that the Flyers’ team as playing too rough.

The Toronto Star

Moments after the Soviets walked off the ice in a pique over a penalty, there was Canadian Howie Meeker on the screen saying that if they didn’t return to play, “we should never allow them back in this country again.”

Alan Eagleson, NHLPA executive director

I feel it was an emotional move by Loktev who’s an emotional coach.

Konstantin Loktev

When Eagleson and Campbell came, I told them we wouldn’t go back because of the rough tactics. I could have sent younger players on the ice and it wouldn’t matter if they fought or not. I said to Eagleson, maybe we should have an agreement before the game. If we kept out Mikhailov, Petrov and Kharlamov, and Shero kept out Leach, Clarke and Barber, it would be fair. They couldn’t get hurt. But if we did that, the fans would be booing.

Alan Eagleson

It’s not hard to understand. Remember there was an emotional coach not to mention myself in 1972 who walked out in Russia. It took me a lot longer to settle then.

Scotty Morrison, NHL Chief of Referees

They told us they wanted to take their players back to the Soviet Union in one piece, not on stretchers. As far as I was concerned, they were trying to intimidate Gilmour into calling a one-sided game.

Dave Anderson

In the negotiations the Russians requested that their two-minute penalty for delay of game should be erased, but Campbell remained firm.

“You can’t change the rules,” said the one-time military attorney at the Nuremberg trials, “in the middle of the game.”

Scotty Morrison

They wanted a guarantee of no fighting the rest of the game, and they wanted us to rescind that delay-of-game penalty. No way.

Frank Orr, The Toronto Star

Campbell said no mention was made to the Soviets of withholding their $25,000 per-game take from the eight-game series.

Ed Snider, Philadelphia president

I think I made it obvious they wouldn’t get a nickel from our club if they pulled out of the game. I think they understood that.

Clarence Campbell

Never did I mention the money angle. Somebody on the periphery mentioned it, that’s all.

Ed Snider

Then I was the guy on the periphery. I told them they weren’t going to get paid unless they finished the game.

Konstantin Loktev

Wrong. We had received all the money on the first day we arrived in North America, before the series started. So how could they not pay us?

Vladislav Tretiak, Red Army goaltender

Only after prolonged assurances on the Flyers’ part that the game would be played according to the rules, did our team decide to go back on the ice. We returned, totally frustrated. Everything was turned inside-out; we did not play, we merely skated.

Moose Dupont, Philadelphia defenceman

Those guys are actors. I think he was playing Hamlet or something the way he went down. Continue reading

this week: nothing that you can’t not say good about gordie howe

gordie howe day

“Pond hockey!” wrote Scott Feschuk in Maclean’s (a while ago; it bears repeating). “Short of getting Gordon Lightfoot to write a song about Stompin’ Tom Connors singing a song about Anne Murray, you just can’t get any more Canadian.”

Eighty-six-year old Gordie Howe went home to Saskatoon. That was more recent, but still a week ago; the occasion was the Kinsmen Sports Celebrity Dinner. “Howe had a stroke late last year,” noted Saskatoon’s Star-Phoenix, “but has shown signs of improvement following a stem cell procedure in Mexico in December.” Everybody was thrilled to see him. Bobby Hull was on hand, too, and his son, Brett. Wayne Gretzky was the keynote speaker. “There’s nothing that you can’t not say good about Gordie Howe,” was one of the things Gretzky said.

“It is not just what he has accomplished, but who he is as a person that makes Howe especially beloved,” said The Star Phoenix in an editorial. “Howe’s qualities represent the kind of person Saskatchewan people most respect: humility, resilience and kindness.”

Could he have originated anywhere else? No.

It is impossible, however, to imagine Howe emerging from anywhere but the Prairies.

His tough, Depression-era upbringing shaped Howe into the resilient man who remains one of Canada’s great heroes. He skated out of those humble beginnings in Saskatoon and onto rough-and-tumble NHL arenas, throwing elbows and firing pucks, the shy prairie kid making himself impossible to ignore.

Brett Popplewell from Sportsnet Magazine paid a visit to Detroit coach Mike Babcock’s house:

He has an office, lined with hockey memorabilia and the sun-baked skulls of some of the animals he has killed — an African lion, a leopard, some bears and deer — but today he’s working in the kitchen.

Max Pacioretty pointed to Brendan Gallagher this week. The Globe and Mail’s Sean Gordon was there and saw this and he wrote down what Pacioretty said as he was pointing: “He doesn’t dive at all, but maybe it looks that way because he’s battling hard, he’s smaller, he’s getting knocked over.”

Gretzky on the first time he played against Howe in 1978:

“I stole the puck from him and was going the other way. All of the sudden I felt a whack. He hit me and took the puck back. He said, ‘Don’t you ever take the puck from me.’ I said, ‘All right. It will never happen again.’”

The Star Phoenix:

He carries his hometown with him wherever he goes. Howe hasn’t lived here in a long time, but he’s Saskatoon through and through.

Las Vegas set out this week to find out how much local support there might be for an NHL team in town, taking actual deposits on notional tickets to convince the league why they should be expanding there soon. From http://www.vegaswantshockey.net:

Our story begins with a goal … to bring NHL® hockey to Las Vegas. And Las Vegas is ready — ready for the energy, excitement and thrill that only NHL® hockey can deliver. We’ve done the research, polled the community and rallied our local businesses. ALL are eager to support an NHL® team. Las Vegas is ready to join the elite list of “NHL® Cities”.

Why does Nevada need hockey? The franchise’s enthusiastic backers say its for the Community and

For Our Youth …

Hockey is an excellent motivator for our youth, teaching the value of team skills, hard work and determination. If we are able to secure a team in Las Vegas, we are committed to supporting youth hockey in Las Vegas through the development of youth hockey rinks, programs and other activities.

Another week, not this, Dave Bidini was writing in The National Post:

I play goal one night a week, likely as penance for some murderous sin I committed in another lifetime.

I’ve come to enjoy being hit, but one of the other small pleasures of the crease is when everything swooshes away and you’re left naked in the zone, the rest of the players having gathered up ice, leaving you like an abandoned party guest.

It’s during these instances that I ponder mortality, taxes, and whether I’ve left the oven on at home.

Also not this week: Ron MacLean was in Newfoundland, where he ate a seal burger at Mallard Cottage in St. John’s. When he told Don Cherry about it on national television, Cherry said, “What are you, a savage? A barbarian?”

Words that failed to please many people across the country, many of whom have Twitter accounts. Matthew Coon Come, former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, was one. “According to Don Cherry, my Inuk friends are savages because they eat seal,” he wrote. “The network should fire him for his racist remark.”

“I hope he apologizes,” said Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq, the Minister of Health, who called Cherry’s comments “hurtful and insensitive.”

“Our government will continue to defend Canada’s humane seal hunt which is so important to many of our Northern and coastal communities.”

Cherry took to Twitter the next day, posting an explanation if not quite an apology in one of his rawly poetic bursts of numbered tweets:

1) Evidently I upset some people about my seal burger comments. I would like to try to explain my comments. Not because I was told to

2) or forced to. I do it because I feel I have hurt the feelings of some people I like and admire. I have friends who hunt deer and ducks

3) and I myself have eaten venison and duck meat. Just the same as people who hunt seals and eat seal meat. I have no problem with my

4) friends who are hunters and eat venison and duck. Just the same, as I have no problem, with people who hunt seals and seal meat.

5) I do however find it very unusual, in my world, that a person would go into a restaurant and order a seal burger for lunch.

6) I meant no disrespect to the hunters who hunt and eat seal meat just like I have no disrespect for the hunters who hunt deer and duck

7) and eat their meat. Again, I do this explanation because I want to. I have hurt some people’s feelings that I like and admire.

8) If this explanation isn’t good enough, then let the cards fall where they may.

Continue reading

this week + some others: the game’s fast, sometimes guys go into the boards wrong

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“Mon captain,” Yvan Cournoyer said this month, tearfully, “mon captain. Bon voyage.”

With Jean Béliveau’s death on December 2, the country remembered, and paid homage.

“Like a prince, like a king,” said Sportsnet’s Stephen Brunt. “Our royalty.”

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman: “For all the feats he has accomplished and all the accolades he has received, Jean Béliveau has always symbolized the little boy whose only dream was to play for the Montreal Canadiens. Hockey is better because of the realization of this dream.”

“In all of my thoughts about Jean Béliveau,” wrote TSN’s Dave Hodge, “I hear Danny Gallivan’s voice.”

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau stood in the House of Commons. “Mr. Speaker,” he said,

I had an extraordinary childhood during which my father introduced me to kings, queens and presidents, but he was never more proud than when he was able to introduce his eldest son to Jean Béliveau.

Every time I met Mr. Béliveau thereafter and shook his hand, I saw what an impact he had not just on me, but on everyone around him. He was a man who epitomized dignity, respect and kindness.

Jean Béliveau was a man of class, of strength, who demonstrated the kind of leadership that inspired not just players but all who watched and met him. He will be greatly missed, but he will continue to inspire generations of not just young hockey players but of Canadians across this great country.

“Beyond being one of the greatest players in NHL history, Jean Béliveau was class personified,” said Mario Lemieux. “He was a hero to generations of his fellow French Canadians and hockey fans everywhere. Our sport has lost a great ambassador. He will be missed.”

Hockey, meanwhile, carried on.

Connor McDavid mentioned that he had a favourite Canadian Tire memory.

Dave Bidini took issue with a newspaper’s use of the word “belted” to describe a puck propelled by Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf that ended up in Carolina’s net.

“If you can build off a game we lost, we can keep our heads high,” Philadelphia captain Claude Giroux told CSN Philly after his team lost a fifth game in a row.

Though goaltender Steve Mason had a different take. “We’re all tired of moral victories,” he told Ryan Dadoun from NBC Sports. “The team played a good game but you don’t win it. It’s not good enough. Enough of the moral victories. We got to go out and start winning hockey games. Everybody is frustrated and ticked off, but it’s a matter of going out and winning now.”

“Belted” was James Mirtle’s word, in The Globe and Mail:

… Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf belted in his second goal of the season with three minutes left in the second.

Legitimate usage or no? Bidini felt that it belonged on baseball grass and dirt, not ice.

Sidney Crosby the latest NHL player to have the mumps

was a headline, this month.

Another was:

Kevin Klein Loses Part of an Ear, Helps Rangers Down Pens

“Say what you want about hockey players,” mused New York coach Alain Vigneault after that particular game, “but they’re tough SOBs.”

Toronto is likely to miss the playoffs, a professor of economics at the University of Waterloo suggested this month. Dr. Phil Curry is his name, and he works with a group called the Department of Hockey Analytics, gathering up and crunching advanced statistics to (quote) better understand the game. Using a model that incorporates both points and Score Adjusted Corsi, he contends that Toronto will be on the outside looking sadly in when the post-season gets going next spring — oh, and the Calgary Flames are due for collapse, too. Continue reading