dragging the referee, unassisted, off the ice

politics

Barry Blitt’s illustration accompanied “O Quebec,” Mordecai Richler’s Letter From Canada published in the May 30, 1994 edition of The New Yorker.

Politics and hockey share a season in Canada, and it’s one that fills the entire calendar year. Is it any surprise, then, that their respective languages mingle every now and again? If recent history is a guide, politics tends to borrow more of hockey’s idioms than vice-versa. When was the last time you heard Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice praising his penalty-killers for filibustering Vancouver’s powerplay? Speaking of which: is Canucks’ GM Mike Gillis only proroguing the inevitable by not firing coach John Tortorella right now? Not that the politicians always get their metaphors exactly right.

Several recent cases:

• In early February, federal Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver talked to CTV’s Question Period about his government’s hopes for a decision from U.S. President Barack Obama on the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline. “I certainly hope he won’t drag the puck,” Oliver said. “We feel that the reasons to go ahead are very strong, that the environmental issues have been dealt with.”

At least, that’s what CTV thought he said. When @ctvqp quoted the remarks on Twitter, @joeoliver1 was quick on the backcheck:

Actually I said I hope he won’t rag the puck.

Once that was cleared up, journalists were all too pleased to join the rush. Here’s Alexander Panetta from The Canadian Press, dateline Washington:

The Canadian government is asking Barack Obama not to “rag the puck” on a Keystone XL decision. But to hear the U.S. administration tell it, the president doesn’t have the puck on his stick, isn’t anywhere near it, and won’t commit to touching it soon.

Nitpicking Minister Oliver’s comments from a strictly hockey point of view, if we’re going to do that, which we are, here’s the thing: it makes no sense to tell the other team what you don’t want them to do. Don’t rag the puck? You might as well ask them not to bother crossing the blue line and trying for a shot on net. If they’re ragging the puck, they’re doing it to baffle and deny you, throw you off your game, waste the time you need to beat them. That’s the whole point of puck-ragging.

Assuming, of course, that Minister Oliver considers President Obama to be on the other team. I guess we should get that clarified for once and for all. If he thinks of him as a teammate, that’s a whole other problem. Unless he himself is the captain of team to the President’s rookie — Alex Ovechkin, say, lecturing Evgeny Kuznetsov. That would work, I guess.

• Also in February: doing his best to explain changes regarding the role of the head of Elections Canada as laid out in the government’s proposed Fair Elections Act, Minister of State (Democratic Reform) Pierre Poilievre said that it was important that the referee of elections not wear a team jersey.

Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand was quick to respond: in his view, the bill would “take the referee off the ice,” and might even make it harder for some voters to cast their ballots.

“The only jersey I think I’m wearing, if we have to carry the analogy, I believe is the one with the stripes, white and black,” Mayrand told reporters, who noted his grimace. “What I know from this bill is that the referee will no longer be on the ice.”

Which, of course, the NHL would never allow. Though of course, in a hockey context, the discussion would have been snuffed even as it started. Badmouthing referees is a big no-no, and if Minister Poilievre were a coach, the league would have been slapping a fine on him even as the words were leaving his mouth. Something in the order of $US10,000, maybe, which is what Chicago’s Joel Quenneville was docked in April of 2012 for comments (they included the word “disgrace”) on the refereeing involved when Phoenix’s Raffi Torres hit Marian Hossa? Or what about Tortorella, in his previous job with the New York Rangers, also in 2012: the NHL fined him $US30,000 for his ref-rant that year. Which is not to equate Minister Poilievre and Coach Tortorella: I, for one, have every confidence that the former would have started Roberto Luongo at this year’s Heritage Classic. Continue reading

this week: till famine and the ague eat them up

Swiss Misses: A U.S. foray at Switzerland's goal ends with a save at the Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany in February of 1936. The Americans won 3-0.

Swiss Misses: A U.S. foray at Switzerland’s goal ends with a save at the Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany in February of 1936. The Americans won this early-round game, 3-0, and when it was all over their medals were bronze.

One of the hockey players whose name each of Russia’s 143 million people know is Alex Ovechkin, according to Slava Malamud, a writer for Sport Express. There are one or two others, he said, naming no names.

No-one needs a gold medal more than Ovechkin, suggested Lucas Aykroyd, at IIHF.com.

Former Flame and Leaf left winger/present fitness maharishi Gary Roberts was tweeting this week: “Eliminate refined sugars and artificial sweeteners,” he advised, “— use natural options like raw honey, pure maple syrup & coconut sugar.”

There were questions this week about whether the leg Steven Stamkos broke in November is going to keep him from Canada’s team at the Olympics. He’s healed up enough to be practicing with Tampa Bay, and staying positive, but as TSN.ca reported, he hasn’t got the go-ahead quite yet:

“You just have to listen to your body,” Stamkos said. “We’re talking a lot about the Olympics and my goal is to try to be ready for those Games, but your body doesn’t lie. If you’re doing certain movements and you feel pain then that’s an indicator that maybe it’s not quite ready.”

Meanwhile, Dmitry Chesnokov from Puck Daddy at Yahoo! Sports talked to Detroit coach Mike Babcock about Pavel Datsyuk, whose body injury has been described in recent days as both “lower” and “undisclosed.” Will Datsyuk play this week?

“I got no idea,” Babcock said. “I just watched him in practice, his one leg isn’t holding up. Obviously, Pavel wants to play for his country, and he wants to be a part of things, but you got to be healthy.”

Is he going to be okay for Sochi, where he’s supposed to be captaining the Russians?

Babcock paused. “I am not the doctor,” he said. “I don’t have a clue.” Continue reading

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

this week: I’ve never been a goalie

abel's in“I don’t know why something happened,” Edmonton rookie Nail Yakupov said this week.

Asked a question, Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf said, “You don’t ask questions.” He’d played a lot of minutes in a loss to the New York Rangers, more than 30, and people were wondering: too much? “As a player, you go out when you’re told to go out,” said Phaneuf.

His teammate, Mike Komisarek, talked to TSN about what happened in practice when he got frustrated by missing the net with slapshots, which is when he swung his stick, from which bits of graphite flew into his face, which is why the doctor had to stitch his eyeball. “It’s not the stick’s fault,” he allowed.

Why so much punching in the NHL since the start of the season? Calgary’s Tim Jackman was asked that and here’s what he thought: “I guess you could say a lot of the fights are from pent-up energy that guys have been holding onto longer than they’re used to.”  Continue reading

#therealseasonbegins

The hockey players were eating and tweeting on the weekend, just like everybody. “Team dinner with the boys and staff,” @tylerseguin92 thumbed. “Must be getting close to playoffs. Excited for the real season to begin.” They were at home, kicking back, watching a little golf. @BrandonPrust8: “Happy easter! Wishin everyone health, happiness, family, n lots of chocolate!! enjoyin the masters on my couch.”

Their mood was upbeat. Did anyone capture the mood better than @malkin71? “Спасибо всем!!!Спасибо за вашу поддержку,переживания и теплые слова-хороший сезон,но впереди самое интересное)))Хорошего Вам настроения)))[i]” They were joyful and they were reverent. “Happy Easter everyone! #HEISRISEN,” tootled @mikefisher1212 from down Nashville way. @D_Booth7 joined in from Vancouver, (sic): “As He stands in victory sins curse as lost it’s grip on me! Today is why I’m a Christain! Happy Easter.” What a great bunch: even those with no hope for hockey resurrection were spreading the love. “Thank you #NHL fans especially #leafsnation,” twiddled Toronto’s own @JLupul. “You are what makes this game fun to play. See you next year. Can’t wait.”

Thanks, Joffrey. See you then. In the meantime, we’ll stick with the others — wait a minute, where’s everybody going? Because that was the other thing they were doing on their smart phones over Easter: signing off. @HLundqvist30: “Hey guys! No twitter during playoffs.” Teammate @BRichards_1991: “Gonna take a break from Tweeting during playoffs. Hopefully it will be a long break! Can’t wit to start!” Or was it just the New York Rangers? @MGaborik10: “Twitter off for playoffs! Wish us luck. #therealseasonbegins.”

Yes, it’s true, the time for tweetering and good cheer is over: 300 days after the Stanley Cup was hoisted over Vancouver’s ice, not far from Vancouver’s civic unrest, the time has come again for a new round of playoffs to start. Continue reading

babes

Bambino & Friends: Eddie Shore and his wife Kate chat with Babe Ruth himself, clad in Boston Braves colours, in April of 1935.

It wasn’t the hockey players they were trying to impress in 1925 when they called Bullet Joe Simpson the Babe Ruth of hockey. If they’d wanted to do that, they would have announced he was the Cyclone Taylor of hockey or maybe the Scotty Davidson. To some people who saw him play, Davidson was the best ever, barring none, which is intriguing to hear because, well — Scotty Davidson? But: Babe Ruth. 1925 was the year that bootlegger Big Bill Dwyer and his buddies bought the roster of the Hamilton Tigers and replanted it in Manhattan as the New York Americans. Tex Rickard needed a new attraction to fill his Madison Square Garden and hockey, he and Colonel John Hammond had decided, was it. To a New Yorker who’d never seen a game before, Cyclone Taylor wasn’t going to mean much. Everybody understood the dominance of Ruth, the swagger of the most famous Yankee of all — which still doesn’t explain how the team came to have two Babe Ruths playing for them that year. Continue reading