goaligarchy

Bench Boss: Vladimir Putin and teammate Slava Festisov await their next shift at Sochi's Bolshoi Ice Palace on May 10, 2016. (Photo: kremlin.ru)

Bench Boss: Vladimir Putin and teammate Slava Festisov await their next shift at Sochi’s Bolshoi Ice Palace on May 10, 2016. (Photo: kremlin.ru)

That Vladimir Putin took to the ice earlier this week in Sochi isn’t news: the 63-year-old Russian president plays hockey all the time with posses of ex-professional pals. Putin had Viacheslav Fetisov and Pavel Bure skating with him yesterday and, guess what: they beat the other guys, 9-5, winning the trophy that, who’s kidding who, they were always going to win. The big shocker? Putin scored but a single goal, set up by Fetisov. I’m no Kremlinologist, but this has to signal some kind of crisis at the Russian top, doesn’t it? In a birthday scrimmage last fall, Putin potted no fewer than seven goals; a year before that, he tallied eight in a hockey commemoration of the end of the Second World War. Watching this week’s highlights, you can’t really say that the man has lost a step — he skates as he always has, slowly, squarely, with the supreme menace of a man who might at any moment order you to be invaded. I guess that it’s possible that Putin’s power is starting to crack and crumble. Just because a man can’t score several hattricks with the help of some of the best hockey players ever to have played the game doesn’t necessarily mean he’s losing his grip. Even presidents, I guess, suffer slumps, and maybe this is simply one of those.

tomorrow, putin will play hockey

putin amok

Depends, I guess, on how big a hockey fan you are, but if you’ve got tomorrow circled on the calendar, chances are you’re either eagerly looking ahead to the start of a new NHL season or else counting down to the annihilation of the world by fire, which several Christian groups say is imminent.

You might also be Russian President Vladimir Putin, who’ll be turning 63 on Wednesday. Whatever may be happening elsewhere, it’s hard to see him altering his birthday plans. “Tomorrow, Putin will play hockey,” the presidential spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, announced today. He’ll be spending the big day in Sochi, Russia, skating with a gang of old friends, oligarchs, powerful politicians, and hockey heroes.

RIA Novosti recalls that the last time the Russian leader played in Sochi was at a “gala match” in May, when Putin’s team Armageddon’d the other guys 18-6 on the strength of eight presidential goals.

This time out, he’ll be joined on the ice by the Rustam Minnikhanov, president of the Russian federal republic of Tartarstan, and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, along with the brotherly gas and power oligarchs Arkady and Boris Rotenberg. I don’t know whether there’s room for them on Putin’s team, whose line-up already includes actual hockey players like Pavel Bure, Vladimir Myshkin, Vyacheslav Fetisov, and Alexei Kasatonov. They have, the Russian press is reporting , already prepared a little surprising something for Putin.

“It is a gift from all the hockey stars of the world of hockey in a sign of respect,” Fetisov told Business Online. “We think he’ll like it.”

Fetisov also testified to the president’s outstanding physical fitness. They scrimmage together often in Moscow; according to the former Soviet captain, they can sometimes skate for a half-hour without Putin showing any fatigue.

This comes not quite a week after former Canadian prime minister Jean Chretien suggested that Canada should be glad of Russia’s military efforts in Syria.

Campaigning for Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in British Columbia last Thursday, Chretien opined that the West shouldn’t scorn Russia’s involvement in the fight against the Islamic State because … well, as mentioned, he’s a hockey player.

“I met Putin,” Chretien said. “He’s a tough guy. He’s clear-minded. But to run Russia you cannot be a pussycat. They play hockey very rough in the corners.”

(Illustration from The Globe and Mail, October 5, 2015, courtesy of David Parkins, http://www.davidparkins.com)

goalscorer-in-chief

Goalscorer-in-Chief: Russian President Vladimir Putin readies himself for the task ahead yesterday at  Sochi's Bolshoi Ice Palace.

Goalscorer-in-Chief: Russian President Vladimir Putin readies himself for the task ahead yesterday at Sochi’s Bolshoi Ice Palace.

News that Vladimir Putin was skating and scoring on the ice yesterday wasn’t really news: the 62-year-old Russian president’s love of hockey is as well-known as his penchant for archaeology and for riding bare-chested on horses. He was at the Bolshoi Ice Palace taking part in a “gala” game dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the victorious end of the Great Patriotic (a.k.a. the Second World) War.

Putin’s team was also Slava Fetisov’s, and they lined up Pavel Bure, Alexander Yakushev, and Sergei Makarov as well. It will shock no-one to learn that they won by a score of 18-6, or that Putin scored eight of his team’s goals. The fact that Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s defence minister, added a hattrick — that, I own, caught me a little off my guard. Recognized as the game’s best player, Shoigu was rewarded with a trip to the Crimea. As a satire enthusiast, I wish I’d invented that last detail, but no, it’s true enough.

I was checking in on Canada’s semi-final at the World Championships yesterday afternoon when I saw the Putin news. Feeling good about Canada’s team in Prague, I’d decided that they were strong and confident enough to do without me watching the whole broadcast of their game with the Czech Republic and that I — and they — we could get away with updates on my iPhone.

And so it proved. Taylor Hall had just scored, on a pass from Sidney Crosby; Jason Spezza would add another goal to guarantee the 2-0 Canadian win. The Putin story was just filtering out by that time, along with news from the other semi-final where (also unaided by my viewership), Russia dismissed the U.S. by a score of 4-0.

That’s when my eyes began to open to the bigger picture. Of course. President Putin wasn’t just playing in a friendly game of pick-up by the Black Sea. He was, as Putin likes to do, sending a message. Sometimes they go out disguised as unmarked armoured columns headed west, towards Ukraine, while on other occasions they resemble air-force bombers skirting along the edges of foreign airspace.

acAAUAXAc2emhHc5aA19Lh4hrY55MtWbMostly, messages Putin sends have a distinct sabre-rattling sound, but who says they can’t also clack like hockey sticks on ice? Anticipating that today’s Prague final would pit Russians against Canadians, Putin knew what he was doing. The fans in Sochi may have enjoyed Putin’s goals, his preening, but they weren’t the intended recipients. Even as he entertained them, he was trolling us, Canadians, marking his territory, telling those of us who hold the maple leaf high that when it comes to ice, that’s Russian territory, as it ever was, just like with Crimea and Novorossiya.

I don’t know why we haven’t responded. That’s what puzzling. When I say we, I mean, of course, Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Diplomacy dictates that if Canada wanted to answer a display like Putin’s, it would have to come from the PMO. Is it possible that they missed it? That Putin sent his message and it wasn’t received? I don’t know how else you could explain Ottawa’s silence. Are you telling me that the PMO couldn’t at short notice have organized a game at Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre to answer to President Putin? Maybe last night would have been pushing it, but what about this morning? The Conservative Party is always dialling up instant crowds of hard-working Canadians to backdrop the PM as he pretends he’s not already electioneering, so how hard would it have been to this morning?

As for players to skate, well, what’s the Cabinet for other than to lace ’em up whenever the boss calls, needs interference run, a screen in front of the opposition’s net/pertinent inquiry during Question Period. And it’s not as if actual hockey players are in short supply around the capital — Ottawa not only has a whole NHL team of players with nothing to do, they’re called the Senators, after our national chamber of sober second-thinkers (mostly) beholden to the man who appointed them.

It would have been easy to outdo Putin at his own game — that is, at our game. Harper could have taken to net, maybe even played both ends, skated away with a pair of shut-outs, awarding himself a trip to Kurdistan. That would have shown the Russians.

I’m not saying our lack of leaderly showing-off is going to make any difference in today’s final in Prague: what happens there is up to the Crosbys and Eberles and Ovechkins and Malkins. All I’m saying is, I don’t know — either our PM isn’t the prince of propaganda I took him for or else he was genuinely impressed by Putin’s feat of never scoring fewer than two hattricks in any game he’s ever played. I guess that could explain why Stephen Harper held himself goalless this weekend.

 (Photos: kremlin.ru)

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

how to win the olympics: scowl at the soviets

olympics 1The United States won Olympic gold for the first time in 1960 at Squaw Valley and when someone writes a book about that, modern-day American teams can study it to for guidance. In the meantime, American blueprints for Olympic victory will have to make do with the many volumes commemorating that other golden campaign, in 1980, which include Miracle On Ice: Victory For America! and One Goal (the victory that united a nation in an explosion of joy and pride) to Going For The Gold and The Boys of Winter. The latter, by Wayne Coffey, is the best of the chronicles, if not not the one we’re talking about here today in our review of Olympic-hockey how-to books. What does Joe Dunn’s Miracle On Ice (2008) have that the rest of those others don’t? More pictures, fewer words, a whole bunch of very angry and obviously steroid-ridden Russians, and the quickest guide to getting hold of the gold.  

It’s tough times in the 1970s for America. The energy crisis, inflation, Iranians taking hostage. The world is in turmoil.

Forget all that. Focus on the Olympics. Can anybody beat the Soviet Union? They’ve won five out of the last six gold medals. Their players are wily and old and, also, young and quick. They have square heads, and scowls on their faces.

Hire Herb Brooks. Convene a number of tryout camps. Test your players mentally as well as physically. Pick a team. Condition them. Train them to work hard and be fast.

miracleCall them lazy. Suggest your mother can skate better than them.

Play a gruelling exhibition schedule. Lose your last game to the Soviets by a score of 10-3.

Go to Lake Placid. Don’t worry about the Canadians — in fact, you know what? Don’t even mention them. Tie Sweden. Dominate the Czechs 7-3. Beat Norway, Romania, Germany.

Meet the still-scowling Soviets in the medal round. Scowl at them. Let them be aggressive in the first period, taking shot after shot. Have a goalie named Jim Craig be up to the task of stopping them all.

See Krutov finally score.

Don’t be discouraged. Tie the game. See Makarov score. Tie it up again, scowlingly.

Be shocked when the Soviet coach pulls Tretiak after the first period in favour of Myshkin. Wilt a bit, but don’t collapse. Eventually take a 4-3 lead. Hold on to it. Win. Call it one of the greatest moments in sports history, a miracle, but don’t forget, you still have to beat Finland if you want to win the Olympics.

Beat Finland.

Miracle On Ice
by Joe Dunn, illustrated by Ben Dunn
(Edina: Magic Wagon, 2008)

how to win the olympics: give ’em the works!

stamp

Ever since hockey found its way into the Olympics in Antwerp in 1920, Canadians have enjoyed the glory of winning gold medals. Easy enough at first — Canadian teams went 16-0-1 at the first four Games, scoring 209 goals while conceding just 7 — it got harder and harder as other countries got better and better. After winning six of first seven tournaments, Canada lost the plot in 1956, when the Soviet Union took over as the dominant force in Olympic hockey.

We did our best in those years, with only minimal grumbling that they weren’t as amateur as they said they were, before skipping the 1972 and 1976 Olympics altogether. It took us a while, once we came back in 1980, to win the thing again: it was 2002, in Salt Lake City, before Canadians wore gold again on Olympic ice. 

The home-ice victory of 2010 remains fresh in Canadian memories. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy in Sochi for Mike Babcock’s 2014 team. The coaches and players will have their own ideas about how best to win the tournament that gets underway on February 8. We’ll leave the on-ice plan to them. Chances are their preparations won’t include more than a cursory review of hockey’s literature, and maybe that’s where we can help. As our Crosbys and Tavareses, our Toewses and Luongos get ready for Russia, we’ll do the bibliographic heavy lifting with a look at literary answers to the old question of how best to bring home Olympic hockey gold. Off the shelf today: broadcaster Foster Hewitt’s third book, the 1950 novel Hello Canada! and Hockey Fans in the United States.  

Your dad reads in the paper that Canada is probably never again going to win another Olympic hockey title. That’s how it starts. What you do is you say, what, are you kidding me, why, dad, why?

This is before the professionals started going to the Olympics, and that’s really the whole problem — as your dad sees it, anyway. Hockey, he explains to his son, it belongs to us, we invented it, and we’re the ones who taught the world to play. Not that we don’t love that the rest of the other countries like it, too, and have improved, it’s just that our best players all turn pro and we don’t have any outstanding amateur teams, so things are getting a little close for comfort, especially when you consider how good those Czecholsovaks are getting.

You: But why is it so nationally important for us to win the Olympics?
Your dad: We don’t have a big population in Canada. How do we make ourselves look big powerful in the eyes of other people? How? In wartime, our soldiers did it for us; when all we’ve got is peace, hockey has to do the job.
You: Oh.
Your dad: Maybe some countries can afford to let the world think they’re losing their vigor and courage but we’re not one of them.
You: Hey, dad, why don’t you get a team together.
Your dad: No, son, sorry, that’s just not how the world works.

Except that it does. He does get a team together. Like Foster Hewitt’s own dad, W.A., who had a hand in organizing three Canadian Olympic hockey teams, 1920 through ’28, as well as (just for the record) refereeing the very first Olympic game in Antwerp in 1920 — your dad, in the story, is a well-connected hockey man who comes up with a four-year plan to build a team of stout young men to defend our national pride.

So he does that: talks his town, the mythical Gloster, into sponsoring the team that’s going to restore local pride even as it saves the nation’s honour. You and your dad will eventually fade out of Hewitt’s narrative, but not before your dad recruits Bill Bailey to coach, good guy, patient, great teacher, and then you go looking for players, remembering that size doesn’t matter so much as, quote, the stuff inside: fight, gameness, will-to-win. 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