and a fighter by his trade

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The Boston Bruins’ 32-year-old defenceman Hal Laycoe (above left) hangs out with boxer Jimmy Carter, lightweight champion of the world, at Boston’s Ye Garden Café in May of 1955. Carter, 31, was gearing up to defend his title that spring: in June, he’d meet the challenger, Wallace “Bud” Smith at Boston Garden. He lost that bout in the late rounds — a stiff right in the 10th from the underdog Smith seems to have turned the tide, followed by a sweeping left to Carter’s eye. The two fighters met again that fall, in Cincinnati, but Carter couldn’t reclaim his crown.

And Laycoe? This day that same year (March 16 was a Wednesday in 1955, too), he caught an early plane in Boston and flew north to Montreal. “Shortly after arriving there,” wrote an anticipatory Tom Fitzgerald The Boston Daily Globe’s, “Hal will appear before NHL Pres. Clarence Campbell to tell his version of the hectic happenings in the Garden Sunday night when Laycoe was involved in a brawl with Maurice Richard, the noted wood-chopper.”

The season was almost over; another week and the playoffs would be underway. Montreal was battling with Detroit for first place overall; the Rocket was duelling with teammate Boom-Boom Geoffrion for the league’s scoring lead.

In Boston what had happened was that Canadiens were losing 4-1 with about seven minutes left in the game. With Boston’s Warren Godfrey in the penalty box, Montreal coach Dick Irvin pulled his goaltender, Jacques Plante. What happened next was not, perhaps, what the coach (or anyone) had hoped for.

Richard carried the puck toward the Boston net. Laycoe’s raised stick caught him on the side of the head. Referee Frank Udvari called a high-sticking penalty. Fitzgerald:

Richard raised a hand to his head where Laycoe’s stick landed. When the hand came down crimson-covered, Rocket waved it at referee Udvari, then he went berserk.

“Richard rushed at Laycoe and swung his stick,” was The Associated Press version of it: “Laycoe parried the blow, dropped his stick, eye-glasses and gloves and went after Richard. Richard hit Laycoe on the shoulder with his stick.”

Fleming Mackell retrieved Laycoe’s stick for him. Linesman Sam Babcock tried to separate the belligerents, in vain. They wrestled and fell to the ice. A Richard uppercut cut Laycoe under the eye.

The other linesman, Cliff Thompson eventually pinned Richard to the boards. Richard hit him under the eye; Thompson tried to hit him back, but missed. Richard then got his stick back and, said the AP, “whacked Laycoe a solid blow on the head.”

After the game, Boston Police Lieutenant Frank Gannon was ready to arrest Richard — Dick Irvin, too, when he raised a fuss. Bruins’ president Walter Brown dissuaded him, though, and the policeman had to be satisfied with a stern warning: next time.

So it was up to Clarence Campbell to decide on punishments. The hearing was set for 10.30 a.m. on the Wednesday. Laycoe planned to say his piece and head straight back to the airport to catch a 1:15 flight back to Boston. I guess he wasn’t expecting a suspension: his aim was to get back in time for the Bruins’ game that night with the Red Wings.

(Photo courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.)

riot-ready

La Sainte-Flanelle: As a part of his excellent effort to (his word) foodify the NHL, artist Scott Modryzynski rendered Montreal's sacred CH in, well, gum. For more of his nourishing work, visit Foo-gos.com at http://foo-gos.com/gallery/nhl/.

La Sainte-Flanelle: As a part of his excellent effort to (his word) foodify the NHL, artist Scott Modryzynski has rendered Montreal’s sacred CH in, well, gum. For more of his nourishing work, visit Foo-gos.com at http://foo-gos.com/gallery/nhl/.

With Max Pacioretty scoring a late goal last night to lead Montreal to a fourth straight win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Canadiens were the first team to advance to the second round of the NHL playoffs. A few stray notes from the happy city on the morning after:

• Along with all those expectant fans, Montreal’s police were standing by for victory last night … with riot gear. “In past years,” The Gazette noted, “when the Canadiens advanced to the second round of the playoffs, celebrations on the street turned violent.”

• The Catholic Church in Montreal is encouraging fans to support their annual fundraising drive at www.laflammadesseries.ca. For as long as the Canadiens stay in the hunt, the faithful can donate a dollar and light a virtual candle in aid of the Canadiens’ playoffs hopes.

•  In La Presse, under the headline

Le retour des Glorieux?

Philippe Cantin’s column wasn’t waiting for the end of the game to wonder whether Montreal’s salad days are in sight again.

• Raymond Pacioretty was at last night’s game, watching his son in person for only the second time this season. Pacioretty the younger hadn’t been scoring, and as he told Pat Hickey of The Gazette, having his dad on hand was a help. “He’s always been supportive and he always says the right things, and he calmed me down tonight. He said: ‘You’ve scored 39 goals this year and maybe you should be more confident.’ I had no confidence. I was hitting posts, missing breakaways, missing empty nets. It shows that the difference between scoring goals and not scoring goals is so mental.”

• At Le Journal de Montréal, Réjean Tremblay was ready to book the Bell Centre anthem-singer for round two:

Let’s get to the big question. Yes, it must be Ginette Reno at the Bell Centre for the Canadiens’ first home match against Boston Bruins or Detroit Red Wings.

• Would it be rude to mention how much teams have, historically, enjoyed being swept out of the playoffs by the Habs? Well, maybe enjoyed isn’t the right word. It is true that when teams lost to those magnificent Canadiens’ teams of the 1970s, their coaches knew that they’d been beaten by a superlative bunch. Here’s Leafs’ coach Roger Nielson after Toronto lost their semi-final in four straight in to the eventual Cupwinners:

“Nobody likes to lose, but if you have I’d rather lose to a great team like the Canadiens.”

In 1976, they swept the Cup incumbents from Philadelphia in the Final. Frank Brown from The Associated Press described the scene after the Habs clinched the deal with a 5-3 away win:

Through the crush of newsmen, tired but happy hockey players and the usual number of hangers-on, a youth pushed his way up to Montreal Canadiens Coach Scotty Bowman and handed him an envelope.

The emissary was Rejean Shero whose father’s hockey team, the Philadelphia Flyers, had just relinquished the Stanley Cup.

Bowman, squeezed for space, opened the envelope and read the words: “Congratulations on such a fantastic season,” it said. “You’re truly champions — not only of the league, but of the world.”

The letter was signed, “Fred.”

Amidst sweaty uniforms, equipment discarded for the final time this National Hockey League season and standing on a floor doused by champagne, the Canadiens’ coach looked that boy and said, “Thanks.”

Rejean was thirteen at the time. Now 51, he works, of course, as GM of the Pittsburgh Penguins, where he answers to Ray.

this week + last: #freetorts

happy wayne

Wayne Gretzky’s restaurant wished him many happy returns of the day, today.

Also this week, P.K. Subban was twittering: “Congrats to @geniebouchard on a great run! Definitely Many more to come! #canada”

Meanwhile, in Dallas, as the Leafs were losing 7-1 to the hometown Stars, the scoreboard showed Justin Bieber’s grinning mug shot and Rob Ford on the rampage.

“We invented this game,” said Nike this week, in a lengthy new and – gotta say – kind of gloomy commercial, “we perfected it.” Which was confusing, frankly, because though presumably they meant Canadians it never was completely clear throughout the whole ad that the we wasn’t corporate rather than patriotic.

Sorry, said the owner in Edmonton, Darryl Katz, in an open letter to Oilers fans asking for forgiveness and patience.

I know this will almost certainly be the eighth consecutive year since we made the playoffs. I hate that fact as much as anyone, but the reality is that this is only year four of the rebuild that started when we drafted Taylor Hall. The good news, if you can call it that, is that other teams that committed to fundamental rebuilds went through the same kind of droughts over the same kind of time frames, or longer. That doesn’t make it fun for anyone; it just means we have to stay the course.

Pavel Datsyuk was tweeting: “Happy New Year from my cat! Best Wishes in 2014” That was last week, a day or two before he was named captain of the Russian team going to the Sochi Olympics.

Montreal coach Michel Therrien: “Tomas Plekanec est, à mes yeux, un candidat sérieux pour le trophée Frank-Selke.”

“We have the most fans,” said Nike, referring (I think) to Canada rather than its own corporate realm, “the most players, the most heart of any nation.”

kyiv

In Kyiv, Ukraine, as the situation grew worse this week, anti-government protesters donned hockey gear to battle police. (Photo: Sergei Grits, The Associated Press)

Meanwhile, in Ottawa: a writer named Michael Murray was writing in the Citizen. “Hockey covers us,” he said, “like an invisible skin here.”

Amalie Benjamin of The Boston Globe talked to Bruins’ goalie Tuukka Rask about the team’s goalie coach, Bob Essensa, and the tonic he applies in practices after Rask has had a tough night in net.

“It’s more about just laughing,” said Rask said. “He jokes around. Just tries to keep it light.

“When you get scored on in goal like I’ve been getting scored on lately — it’s just bounces here and there — it’s tough. It’s draining. Because you think you want to stop them and you feel like you kind of have to, but then again you can’t really blame yourself, either. It’s a tough situation mentally but that’s why he’s here, and we just try to keep things light and work hard.”

Nike: “We’ve spent our whole entire lives on ice.”

In Winnipeg, coach Claude Noel lost his job, which Paul Maurice gained. Centre Olli Jokinen told The Winnipeg Sun that he felt the team had been playing scared. “All of us should be embarrassed that we’re at the point where we have to change the coach,” he said.

Vancouver got into a hibiscus with Anaheim. This was before the rumpus with Calgary for which the Canucks’ coach, John Tortorella, earned a 15-day suspension. Anaheim beat Vancouver 9-1, was the problem in this one. Ducks’ coach Bruce

Boudreau: “There was a lot of frustration on their part. They just started punching our guys. It wasn’t the brightest thing to do. What are the refs supposed to do?”

Tortorella: “I’m not even going to try to explain it. One of those nights, so we plow along to our next game and get ready to play. … It does me no good, it does the players no good, to discuss anything that happened here.”

P.K. Subban scored a goal to beat Ottawa’s Senators in overtime; the Senators thought he celebrated too much.

“I don’t care,” Subban told reporters. “I don’t care. It’s the game of hockey, you’re not disrespecting anybody. To be honest, that game’s over. I don’t really need to comment on it.”

It was Tortorella who said, once, in calmer times, that defensemen need 300 NHL games to figure out how to play the position.

“Yeah, that’s a good number for me,” said Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman, 23, who’s in his fifth NHL season. “This year has been by far the best for me personally. The biggest thing is the consistency in my game. That gains me confidence when you feel you can play your best and make plays on a night-to-night basis.”

“So it doesn’t matter,” Nike argued, “if we’re playing at someone else’s rink, or in someone else’s province, or even in someone else’s country.”

The Calgary/Vancouver started with a brawl, at the opening face-off. Later, Tortorella tried to fight his way into the Calgary dressing room. That got him his suspension. The NHL fined Flames’ coach Bob Hartley US$25,000.

NHL VP Colin Campbell called Tortorella’s conduct “dangerous” and “an embarrassment to the League.”

“I don’t think this embarrasses us,” Vancouver defenceman Kevin Bieksa told The Vancouver Sun. “If anything it shows how passionate he is and how much he cares about his team … I think you respect a coach more when you see that he has your back and how much he cares. We are not just pawns out there, we are not just guys he is sticking out there to fight. He cares that we had to go through that.”

ESPN’s Keith Olbermann nominated Tortorella as the worst person in the sports world. “He may be a gifted coach but he is a clown and not in a good way,” Olbermann said. “He unnecessarily provokes the media, his own players, even the fans.”

“#FreeTorts,” tweeted Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo.

“As long as there’s ice to skate on,” Nike proclaimed, “we’re at home.” Continue reading

rioters of the year

The Hab Spring: The crowd gathers outside Montreal’s Forum on the night of the Richard Riot, March 17, 1955. (Image: Montreal Star / Library and Archives Canada / PA-194043)

Time magazine has named Vancouver’s Stanley Cup rioters as their Person of the Year for 2011, a considerable honour that comes as a bit of surprise: not even the crowds that ran amok down Robson and Granville on the night of June 15 can have looked for this. And on the very same day — coincidentally? — that the first of the (alleged) riotistas appeared in court in Vancouver.

It’s a shared honour: that’s worth saying. The editors at Time didn’t single out Vancouver’s dissidents in recognizing the universal Protester for the big prize — or indeed really mention them at all. Which is totally understandable, given the sheer numbers involved, globally. What do they say? Here: “Protests have now occurred in countries whose populations total at least 3 billion people.” And, after all, the masses in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya put their lives on their line when they took to the streets, and in doing so brought real change to their countries. In Syria the people continue to risk their lives as they stand up to the brutality of a regime whose lies and cruelty will soon bring it tumbling down. Throw in the crowds in Greece and Russia, and the global effort to Occupy Everywhere and … it’s not as if Time has room in its pages to mention every last upriser who stood up to be counted in a Canucks’ sweater and cried, out loud, with one voice, for all the world to hear, Chara sucks. As Time says, “The root of the word democracy is demos, ‘the people,’ and the meaning of democracy is ‘the people rule.’” In Vancouver as in Cairo and Benghazi, the people did, if only for that one night, on which Luongo and the Sedins didn’t.

the crying of lot 25

Classic AuctionsThe last time they sold these skates the price was $15,000, which would be extravagant if they were just any skates, which they’re not, obviously, because who would pay so much for skates? It’s not as though it’s even the full skate package we’re talking about here, either, these are just the blades for sale, detached blades, no boots, bootless, so if you were going to be buying them for the backyard rink this winter, you’d have to be buying boots separately, at further cost, and also paying somebody to bolt them together. Not that you’d do that. Why would you? These are blades that belonged to Howie Morenz, which means they’re not for skating so much as for — that’s the big question. What would you do with these famous blades of skates that you bought?

I guess you could display them on your dining-room sideboard. You could carry them with you in your briefcase to show clients. Christmas presents for the children? Continue reading