fatally flawed, no-mojoed, flabbergasted: what would shakespeare say?

Howie Meeker, Leaf of a happier era

Howie Meeker, Leaf of a happier era

“Maple Leafs stay hot by crushing Ducks,” was a headline in The Toronto Sun once, a long time ago, in mid-December. Things have been not so good of late: heading into tonight’s game in New Jersey, the team is in its worst losing streak in 48 years, having won just one of 13 games in January. Following, to help navigate the woe, a sampler of headlines from selected Toronto media over the last month:

December 31

2014: An unforgettable year the Leafs would like to forget
(The Globe and Mail)

January 4

The Maple Leafs’ core is fatally flawed
(The Globe and Mail)

January 6

Randy Carlyle fired as Toronto Maple Leafs coach: ‘Our team was not trending in the right direction’
(The National Post)

Randy Carlyle’s firing was long overdue
(The Globe and Mail)

January 7

Toronto Maple Leafs’ Phil Kessel on criticism: ‘I don’t really care’
(The National Post)

Toronto overrates its teams, sets expectations ‘too high,’ Flyers’ Bob Clarke says after Maple Leafs fire Randy Carlyle
(The National Post)

Jim Thomson

Jim Thomson

January 8

Leafs now on outside looking in at playoff picture
(The Globe and Mail)

January 15

Toronto Maple Leafs shut out again in loss to Anaheim Ducks
(The National Post)

January 16

James Reimer outstanding but Toronto Maple Leafs still lose to San Jose Sharks, 3-1
(Toronto Star)

‘No pity party’ for Leafs: Coach Peter Horachek
(Toronto Sun)

Moribund Leafs have lost their mojo, and identity: DiManno
(Toronto Star) Continue reading

this week, several others: why do people find these leafs so hard to like?

12835015933_55eaed7e9a_oMinnesota’s Ryan Suter paid US$81,058.72 to elbow Pittsburgh’s Steve Downie in the head. That was a while ago. More recent was Zac Rinaldo, of Philadelphia, for whom the price of charging Kris Letang from the Penguins, and also boarding him, was US$73,170.72.

Boston’s Brad Marchand paid US$48,387.10 to slew-foot New York’s Derick Brassard.

And Dan Carcillo? Of Chicago? For him, the cost of cross-checking Winnipeg’s Mathieu Perreault and upper-body-injuring him was US$40,243.92

Sports Illustrated wondered: Are the New York Islanders for real? (Answer: yes.)

It’s a while back, now, hard to recall, but Randy Carlyle was coaching the Toronto Maple Leafs earlier this year. On his last day on the job, he was in North Bay, Ontario, when GM Dave Nonis called him to set up a meeting early next morning in Toronto. “I’m not going to drive five hours back and through a snow storm to get fired,” Carlyle told him. “You might as well do it now.”

“We’re trying,” Toronto’s Phil Kessel has said subsequently, of the losing Leafs. “I don’t know if people see that. We are trying. I don’t know. We can’t find it right now.”

At The Walrus, the new editor, Jonathan Kay, profiled the Kelowna man who steered a 10,000-pound truck to the 2012 World Freestyle Championship at the Monster Jam Finals in Las Vegas. “It’s hard to imagine a more gentlemanly monster trucker than Cam McQueen,” he wrote. “He’s like the Jean Béliveau of car crushing.”

Via Aaron Portzline, meanwhile, of The Columbus Dispatch, we got to know the Blue Jackets All-Star goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who comes from Novokuznetsk in Russia, where the average temperature in January is -18 degrees and (quote) living in the Siberian city of 600,000 is neither easy nor glamorous.

As a six-year-old there, Bobrovsky wanted to play in goal. When his family couldn’t afford to buy equipment, his coach, Alexei Kitsyn, bought (says Portzline) “some bulk leather.”

“He made the equipment for me,” Bobrovsky said, his eyes getting big with emphasis. “He made it. By himself. By his hands. He made the pads and the glove. My parents bought me the rest of it.” …

“It sounds crazy,” Bobrovsky said. “If you know how some kids today get the best gear, how much money they spend … and that’s how it started for me.”

Another Columbus All-Star was ruminating this week, Nick Foligno, son of former NHLer Mike. “My dad has always said that if you treat the game of hockey well, it will treat you well,” Nick said. “He’s been bang-on with that.”

“Morale is good,” said the Leafs’ new coach, Peter Horachek, at some point. Continue reading

this week: instead I ate cinnamon buns

Louis, Louis: Toronto-born artist Jeff Molloy lives and works on Gabriola Island, B.C. To see more of his wonderful work, steer over to http://molloy.ca/jeff/. "I create multi-dimensional, multi-sensory works," he says there, "that explore historical and contemporary culture through the use of humour, stereotypes, traits and artifacts." The box above called "Two Minutes for Interference, Five Minutes for Fighting and Death for Unsportsmanlike Conduct."

Louis, Louis: Toronto-born artist Jeff Molloy lives and works on Gabriola Island, B.C. To see more of his wonderful work, steer over to http://molloy.ca/jeff/. “I create multi-dimensional, multi-sensory works,” he says there, “that explore historical and contemporary culture through the use of humour, stereotypes, traits and artifacts.” The box above is called “Two Minutes for Interference, Five Minutes for Fighting and Death for Unsportsmanlike Conduct.”

From southern Europe, this week, word of an old goalie’s persisting desire: “Martin Brodeur,” noted @icehockeyspain, “aún tiene el gusanillo de jugar y quiere regresar a las pistas.”

Wondered Franklin Steele at Today’s Slapshot: does the NHL have a better line right now than Tarasenko, Schwartz and Lehtera?

Newly indicted Hall of Famer Peter Forsberg remembered growing up in Örnsköldsvik and what he ate there as a young athlete. Sorry, inducted. Inductee Foppa Forsberg said, “I really didn’t eat anything — no meat, no fish — and at school I ate maybe on two days out of five. I didn’t like anything, so instead I ate cinnamon buns when I got home. The rule was max three buns, never four. And when I got to middle school and we were allowed to leave the yard during breaks, I could ride my bike home and eat pancakes Mom had made and put in the freezer. I didn’t start to eat properly until high school, so I went from nothing to everything.”

Goaltender Dominik Hasek is another new Famer to enter the Hall. Chris Ryndak of Sabres.com caught us up on what he’s been up to since leaving the ice in 2012:

In retirement, he says he’s active with the Czech Republic’s Hockey Hall of Fame, enjoys playing other sports — that may include bike rides in the country — and has some business ventures he’s invested in. He also has a new English Setter that he’s looking forward to spending more time with.

The Leafs won a couple of games this week, but before that they lost three in a row. Two of those, to Buffalo and Nashville, were whuppings. Towards the end of the 9-2 drubbing by merciless Predators,

The Leafs won a couple of games this week, but before that they lost three in a row. Two of those, to Buffalo and Nashville, were whuppings. Towards the end of the 9-2 drubbing by merciless Predators,

another jersey

Phil Kessel took a Marxian view: it was a question of class. Asked about it at practice next day, he told Sportsnet’s Mike Johnston,

It’s disrespectful, right? Not just to us but to the organization, to all of the Leafs players that have ever played for Toronto. If you want to boo us, but you’re disrespecting all of the great players and the great teams that they’ve had before us here. That’s the way I look at it. I think that’s pretty classless to throw your jersey on the ice like that.

lucic will

was a non-ironic headline in a Boston newspaper this week. (Lucic mostly did.) Continue reading

this week: shocked, saddened

o canadaToronto’s Joffrey Lupul was in downtown Ottawa with the rest of the Leafs on Wednesday morning in the middle of the fear and chaos. “Surreal scene outside of our hotel right now,” he tweeted. “Lot of very brave police officers we should all be very proud of.”

“We were told not to go close to the windows,” a Leaf defenceman, Morgan Rielly, told The Toronto Star’s Dave Feschuk later, after it was all over. “But you know us — we opened the curtains up and had a look for sure. It was quite scary how close we were.”

Feschuk:

When an attacker shot and killed a sentry standing guard at a monument to Canada’s war dead, Toronto’s NHL team was staying at a hotel across the street. Some, among them James van Riemsdyk, said they were sleeping when the violence struck. Others, such as Morgan Rielly, were awake and heard the gunshots. Head coach Randy Carlyle said he was walking through the Rideau Centre mall when an order to evacuate was broadcast over the public address system.

At a moment like that, the coach said, ‘You’ve just got to get back to your safe haven. And the safe haven for us was the hotel.’

“You didn’t know what was going to happen next,” said James van Riemsdyk. “That kind of unknowing feeling is definitely not settling.”

Midday Wednesday the NHL announced that the game the Leafs were supposed to play against Ottawa’s Senators that night was postponed. And:

The National Hockey League wishes to express its sympathy to all affected by the tragic events that took place this morning in downtown Ottawa.

Ottawa defenceman Eric Gryba was one of the hockey players tweeting that afternoon:

My heart and prayers goes out to the family of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo. This is a tragedy that will not be forgotten. #OttawaStrong

P.K. Subban:

Very sad news to hear about what happened in Ottawa. God bless the families who have to mourn these losses. #sosad

In Pittsburgh that night, singer Jeff Jimerson led the crowd in singing O Canada ahead of the game between Penguins and Flyers. “It was a special moment,” Jimerson told The Calgary Sun, “and as soon as they introduced it, saying our thoughts are with Canada, it felt different — it was more emotional. Towards the end, when you can really hear all the people singing O Canada, I felt so proud of the Pittsburgh fans for that. It was really cool.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper stood in the House of Commons on Thursday morning. “My fellow Canadians, for the second time this week there has been a brutal and violent attack on our soil,” he said. He paid tribute to Corporal Cirillo and to Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, killed on Monday in Quebec. He thanked first responders and quick-thinking civilians, police and Parliamentary security, and Sergeant-At-Arms Kevin Vickers. He said,

I think we were all, as Canadians, touched by the wonderful gesture shown last night at the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey game.

“Of course,” he continued, “Mr. Speaker, we know all too well this is not a happy day for everybody.”

In particular, a terribly sad day for all of the family, loved ones, friends, colleagues of both Nathan Cirillo and Patrice Vincent.

We have seen photos of these lovely men.

We’ve all seen the pictures of these beautiful guys, as Don Cherry would say, and our hearts really are with all of them.

We are so fortunate to have people like this.

“We’re all shocked and saddened by what happened,” Senators president Cyril Leeder told Wayne Scanlan from The Ottawa Citizen. “We think it was obviously the appropriate thing for the league to do to cancel the game, we supported that decision. But now, our leaders — our prime minister, our premier, our mayor — are asking us to move forward and help with the healing process. We’re hopeful that hockey can help in some small way.”

He went on:

When this happens, hockey takes a back seat, it really is secondary to a tragic incident like this. But hockey is important to Canadians, important to our community here and will be an important part of that [healing] process.

The Leafs were back in Toronto on Thursday and out on their practice ice. At the end of the session, centreman Nazem Kadri took to the net. Dave Feschuk:

Even if he didn’t make many saves, Kadri made more than a few onlookers laugh as he performed an exhaustive display of sprawls and snow angels that were both admirably theatrical and comical.

This, in part, was how these famous men who play a kids’ game got back to their usual rituals on Thursday. A little more than 24 hours earlier, while the Leafs prepared for a matchup in Ottawa, they’d seen their typical dream-job routine — a mid-morning breakfast, say, followed by a leisurely afternoon nap — pre-empted by a rare dose of real-world viciousness.

“We have no sense of occasion,” Cathal Kelly was saying that morning in The Globe and Mail. “We are incapable of proper celebration, and consequently do mourning very poorly. Taken as a group, Canadians have one emotional gambit — a patrician distaste for emotions.”

We are as stiff as our reputation … until you get us into a hockey arena.

It doesn’t have to be a grand place. Any little rink with a coffee shop and a skate-sharpening station will do, anywhere in the country. You walk through those doors, the cold and that metallic tang hit you, and your natural Canadian inhibitions are shed. We are a country of many faiths, but just the one religion. It’s a cliché because it’s true.

Everyone in this country understands that you don’t have to play hockey or watch hockey or even like hockey, but you must respect hockey. That’s the way we used to feel about the Church, in all its iterations.

We are at our best together, and we are most often together at a rink. It’s where we feel closest.

By Saturday, we’ll be ready to shed this dreadful feeling of vulnerability. We’ll do that by celebrating the fallen and jeering those who would do us harm. It’s a barbarous ritual, but so is hockey. It’s a game designed to be played by people with the need to work out some issues. That’s why we’re so good at it.

tosser

sweater

A fan leaving the game with seven minutes remaining in the third period tossed his Leafs sweater on the ice to the left of Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Calls for coach Randy Carlyle’s job will start to flow if the Leafs don’t win soon … There’s no question that James Reimer should start versus the New York Rangers on Sunday in Manhattan, which probably was the plan no matter what happened against the Penguins. Bernier already could use a mental break …
• Terry Koshan, The Toronto Sun
October 11, 2014

Linesman Don Henderson moved in, scooped it up, bunched it to himself like sinful laundry that had fallen to the cathedral floor. He had it handed off the ice and out of sight so fast that it seemed as though the delicate modesty of the whole Air Canada Centre depended on his urgency.

The Leafs were losing, of course. Had lost their season opener, against Montreal, were following that up with an ugly showing against Sidney Crosby’s Penguins. They were getting hammered, as Cathal Kelly wrote for a Thanksgiving Monday’s column in The Globe and Mail, when …

some lonely hero without any real problems trod down to ice level and chucked a $150 Toronto jersey onto the ice. The ACC crowd responded with roars, clapping him up the stairs and out into the night.

The meaning of the gesture was lost on no-one. That didn’t it didn’t have to spelled out and probed and glossed in the press. “It seems the fanbase’s patience is beginning to wear thin,” Kaitlyn McGrath wrote in The National Post. Mike Zeisberger of the Toronto Sun called the anonymous fan disgruntled. And: embittered. Other fans, nearby, high-fived him as he departed the rink. That’s what reporter David Alter saw.

Cathal Kelly:

The scene was reminiscent of the Tank Man at Tiananmen Square. Except completely pointless, as well as annoyingly bourgeois.

Uncrushed by armour, the guy seems not to have been charged by police, either. That happens, of course, sometimes. I guess because he was leaving the building he didn’t need to be ejected by staff. Is he now banned? No-one seems to be mentioning anything like that.

Fair enough, said Zeisberger: the Leafs didn’t make the playoffs last year, after all.

Or — no. Sorry. Not cool:

No matter how ticked you might be, chucking anything onto the ice — be it jersey, waffle, other breakfast food, etc. — is unacceptable. Don’t be idiots. Boo, hiss, jeer if you want, but let it end there.

Because — danger? Tossing stuff on the ice is a hazard to those who skate there, which is why the NHL bans it and deals so severely with the tossers (octopi excepted, mostly). Never mind that, historically, stuff-tossing has been as much a part of the game as, oh, I don’t know, players punching one another in the head. The point is, it’s not civil, it’s unsafe, nobody wants to be associated with a sport in this day and age where that kind of thing would be tolerated. Continue reading

this week: giggling, sometimes, on the internet, looking at gordie’s numbers

Cherry

Coach, Cornered: Award-winning Victoria, B.C. artist Brandy Saturley is, in her own words, “a prolific painter and guerrilla-style photographer.” Hockey is a subject she returns to again and again on canvas. “Desaturated Cherry” was part of a December, 2013 show in Edmonton, #ICONICCANUCK. “My Dad loves Don Cherry,” she was explaining recently. “As a kid growing up I loathed sitting there listening to him when I could be watching Video Hits. As an adult, Cherry continued to infiltrate my life through the media and with his loud custom-made suits. He was pretty hard to ignore.” Thinking about painting national icons, she read up on his life and career. “I came to find myself respecting a great Canadian and a great businessman, so much a part of the Canadian landscape and hockey heritage. Painting Cherry in black and white against a loud CBC logo allowed me to focus on the serious side of Cherry and the real man behind the persona, with the CBC becoming the loudness in the room.” For more of Brandy Saturley’s arresting work, hockey and otherwise, visit http://www.brandysaturley.com. On Twitter, she’s @artofbrandys.

We learned, this week, that the Toronto Maple Leafs have new slogans adorning the walls of their dressing room this season:

Blue noise

If you are not in you’re in the way

Unite a city

That’s how James Mirtle from The Globe and Mail reported them; as a big fan of punctuation, I’m really hoping that on the wall itself, the middle one has a comma.

Training camp had come and was gone, this week, time for the NHL to drop the puck for its 97th season, though not before the @NHLBruins let the world know that Milan Lucic was looking forward to, quote, “taking a hit, getting in on the forecheck, battling on the wall, knowing where you are in the D zone again.”

From Los Angeles, we heard from @AnzeKopitar:

One of the best thing [sic] about hockey season… Afternoon nap! #boom

King's bling (Photo: @DustinBrown23)

King’s bling (Photo: @DustinBrown23)

The Kings handed out rings, too. That was another L.A. thing from the week. “This is pretty special,” tweeted @DustinBrown23. “But my favorite ring…… Is still the next one.”

Which, according to EA Sports, is coming. Possibly. If the simulation they ran on their NHL 15 video game means anything, which it can’t, really, can it, other than as a clever bit of product marketing that the NHL and actual purveyors of news were happy to promote. In EA’s virtual 2014-15 NHL season, the Kings ended up beating the Bruins in six games to win the Stanley Cup again. A story on NHL.com deemed this a “prediction” while explaining:

EA Sports conducts its simulation using artificial intelligence and real-life player data. In an attempt to provide realism to the game, injuries and hot streaks are also thrown into the mix. EA Sports NHL 15 is also the first edition of the popular series to use 12 Player NHL Collision Physics and Real Puck Physics to more authentically replicate the unpredictability of what happens on the ice.

In Toronto, a former King, Matt Frattin, was back with the team that gave him his NHL start. Kevin McGran from The Toronto Star listened to Leafs’ coach Randy Carlyle on his disappointing September:

Frattin has had a mediocre camp. He needs to find a way to regenerate some enthusiasm. I feel sorry for him right now. The puck is not his friend. It’s going away from him versus bouncing for him.

Bruce A. Heyman, new U.S. ambassador to Canada/old Chicago Blackhawks fan, tweeted from Ottawa:

Ok… It’s beginning!!! #Hockey season is about to begin. Excited to experience it here in #Canada #myfirstcanadianwinter.

The New York Islanders traded for two defenceman on Puck-Drop Eve, acquiring Nick Leddy from Chicago and Johnny Boychuk from Boston.

@StanFischler thought that boded well:

#Garth Snow’s latest double-dip, Boychuk-Leddy spells playoff-bound. Solid up front and in goal.

Leddy (@ledpipe08) was quick to tweet:

I want to thank the @NHLBlackhawks and all the fans for everything! Excited to start my new adventure with the @NYIslanders

Boychuk had mixed feelings. He told Joe Haggerty from Comcast Sportsnet about his bond with Boston.

It’s tough because this is the place where I started my career. I grew to love Boston. This is a pretty easy place to play. The fans really took me in, and I worked as hard as I could so people would appreciate me. This is the kind of town where they like those types of players.

They liked that I would throw big hits on people, and sacrifice my body to help us win. It’s a working man’s town, and I always felt that love. I think it was just a really good fit for me, and the people are just fucking awesome.

Continue reading

I said let grief be a falling leaf

carlyleThe Toronto Maple Leafs lost eight games in a row to round out the month of March. April came in like a bit of a cure: the Leafs beat Calgary and Boston this past week before last night’s loss to Winnipeg appeared to kill their playoff hopes. The following anthology of disappointment is a composite of quotes from the month that was, culled from newspapers local and national, wire reports, and the Twitter feeds of a scattering of discouraged beat reporters.

“Obviously we were pretty flat the first period,” Toronto coach Randy Carlyle said. “It looked like we were still in our afternoon nap. Playing an afternoon game just took us a good part of the game to get warmed up and get awake.”

Losing the game was one thing, built on ill-timed mistakes and mental lapses. But why the lacklustre Leafs couldn’t match the intensity of a team outside the playoff race left goaltender James Reimer and others grasping for answers.

“Why are we losing? It’s different reasons all the time. If it was one thing we would correct it,” said Joffrey Lupul.

“We could not make two passes,” Carlyle said.

They looked like a team that had been beaten and given up, a dead team skating, both that night and again in practice early in the week. Continue reading