hockey night in the east room: when prime ministers and presidents dine

wh cup

Trophy Case: U.S. President Barack Obama welcomes (and gloats over) the Stanley Cup to the White House’s East Room on February 18, 2016. The Chicago Blackhawks were also on hand.

“Canada exports two things to the United States: hockey players and cold fronts. And Canada imports two things from the United States: baseball players and acid rain.”
• Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, speaking at a lunch ahead of Major League’s Baseball’s 1982 All-Star Game, as reported by Michael Farber of the Montreal’s Gazette

Thirty-nine years after Justin Trudeau’s father last dined officially at the White House, Canada’s prime minister will end a busy day of Washington business with a state dinner tonight at President Barack Obama’s place. While we’ve been alerted to what’s on the menu — baked Alaskan halibut casserole; Colorado lamb — what we don’t know at this hour is just how much hockey the two leaders will be talking.

The White House has a long and nuanced hockey history. But ahead of the festivities in the executive mansion’s East Room, a review of earlier White House state dinners for Canadian prime ministers tells us that the game has come up but rarely in the history of official talking — the toasts, the speeches of welcome — that go on when PMs and presidents converge in Washington.

Before tonight, Canadian prime ministers have banqueted seven times at the White House. The first time was in November of 1945 when Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King paid a visit to Harry Truman. Discussing with reporters a telephone call he’d had with the PM a month before the dinner, Truman was asked whether they’d talked atomic bombs at all. “We discussed every subject,” said the President, “in which Canada and the United States are interested, but I am not at liberty to make any statement.”

Which all but confirms that the two leaders were engaged in bilateral talks regarding how well Bill Mosienko was clicking that fall with the brothers Bentley, Doug and Max, for Chicago’s Black Hawks. Come the actual state dinner — well, British PM Clement Attlee was on hand for that, too, so just to be polite at that point in the post-war world they had more pressing matters to talk about

It continued quiet in terms of high-level hockey-talking. John Diefenbaker and Dwight Eisenhower supped together in 1960 without exchanging so much as a token hockey cliché.

Same thing when Diefenbaker met with John F. Kennedy in Washington on February 20, 1961. The Trail Smoke Eaters were over in Czechoslovakia preparing to play for the world championships; in Detroit, Gordie Howe had just scored his 500th NHL goal. The two leaders had no comment, either way.

Lyndon Johnson hosted Lester Pearson on January 22 of 1964. This was a luncheon, mind you, in the White House’s State Dining Room, which means, well, I guess, early in the day and therefore not as momentous a meal as dinner? There were toasts, and President Johnson began his like this:

The Prime Minister asked me if I was going to make a speech and I told him I was going to attempt to, not over three minutes in length, but I would expect loud and vociferous applause.

I choose to feel that this is not just a meeting today between two heads of government, but rather a reunion of neighbors who meet around the dining table in friendship and with affection. Mr. Prime Minister, we in this country are proud of your achievements and we are joined in your purpose. We have applauded your craftsmanship and approved of your leadership from your major role in the creation of the United Nations to your winning of the Nobel Peace Prize and even your performance as defenseman on the Oxford hockey team.

None of the leaders went on the record regarding Bobby Orr, Miracles On Ice, or indeed any hockey matter during Pierre Trudeau’s successive state dinners with Richard Nixon (1969) and Jimmy Carter (1977).

It wasn’t a state occasion in December of 1974 when Trudeau supped at the White House — The Globe and Mail described it as “a stag black-tie dinner” given by President Gerald Ford. They were in the Blue Room, and at 9.15, postprandially, the President toasted his guest. Trudeau responded:

Mr. President, gentlemen, and friends:

When Canadians travel abroad, Mr. President, they spend lots of time explaining to other people how they are different from the Americans. There is a great belief in other lands that Canadians and Americans are exactly the same. I am particularly distressed to find this when I am dealing with the Common Market. We are different, and we have different problems and different economic requirements.

But it does happen that we have to show how similar we are and how close our two peoples are. And the best example I can find, when I have to explain that kind of thing, is to talk about in summer, in the baseball stadium in Montreal where tens of thousands of Canadians get together to cheer for the Canadian team against the visiting American team when every one of the players on both sides is American! [Laughter]

When I have stayed in some of your American cities, it is another story. In winter at your hockey forums, they cheer for the local team, and probably 95 percent of the players on both sides are Canadians — and the best ones.

And this, I think, shows really how close the people are in their goals, in their ways of living, in their love of sports, in their values, even in standards of their own lives.

Brian Mulroney was known to vary a Trudeauvian theme or two: to most Americans, he once said, Canada means snowstorms and Wayne Gretzky.

He followed Trudeau père to the White House, too, when Ronald Reagan had him over, twice, in the 198os.

“Mr. Prime Minister, welcome,” President Reagan said in 1986 when Mulroney stopped in for supper for the first time in 1986. “Allons-y a travail.” Mulroney returned in April of 1988 when, again, nowhere in any of the official wordings did anyone have anything to say about hockey.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, one feels sure, would have had a quip or two to offer, about John Ross Robertson, Toronto’s old Blue Shirts, Bruce Ridpath, but our erstwhile hockey-historian-in-chief never made it to the White House for a state dinner.

And tonight? The chances that there will be mentions of hockey when the leaders rise to speak their pieces are, I’m confident, fair to good, if only to continue the bright banter they began last month.

As presidents like to do, Barack Obama had the Stanley Cup over in February to congratulate the holders from Chicago. “It is always fun to have the Stanley Cup here,” he said in remarks that included thoughtful tributes to Kimmo Timonen and Scott Darling. “It truly is the best trophy in sports.” With the Blackhawks having won three Cups during his presidency, he felt he was owed some thanks. “I think it’s pretty clear the kind of luck I’ve brought to this team.”

He was already thinking of tonight, too. “And,” he said, “by the way, we’ve got a state dinner with Canada coming up, so we may just leave it right in the middle of the room.” [Laughter and applause] “We’ll see. We could gloat a little bit. Just to gloat a little bit.” [Applause]

Prime Minister Trudeau wasn’t long in replying, on Twitter:

trudeau obama

 

 

 

this week: are you a hockey player or are you just someone who plays hockey?

Embed from Getty Images

Forty-three years ago this week, visiting Moscow with a Canadian rep team, a right winger, Waterloo-born, in Ontario, went shopping. The Minnesota North Stars’ Bill Goldsworthy that is, seen above: he bought a balalaika.

Fast forward to this past week, when an NHL deputy commissioner was talking about newly enhanced security measures at all 30 of the league’s rinks. Fans going to games will now have to walk through magnetometers — those metal detectors you know from airports.

“For better or for worse,” Bill Daly said, “we live in an uncertain world, and it has to be of paramount importance to us, the health and safety of our fans. An extra precaution that might take an extra 30 seconds for each fan I think is more than worth it if it means you’re creating a safer environment for your fanbase.”

A right winger, meanwhile, sat down to read a statement to a gathering of reporters on the opening day of the Chicago Blackhawks’ training camp in South Bend, Indiana.

“I am confident,” Patrick Kane said, “once all the facts are brought to light, I will be absolved of having done nothing wrong.”

Anything, he may have meant. Accused of sexually assaulting a woman in August, he’d arrived to play hockey while a New York state grand jury considered whether or not he’ll be indicted.

Chicago management said they saw no problem with having Kane attend camp as though nothing had happened. Fans cheered when he stepped on the ice for the first time.

Up north and over the border, a former centreman — the greatest ever to have played the game? — was surprised, this week, by just how excellent this collection of “better casual clothing” is that Sears Canada is selling in his name.

The new No 99 Wayne Gretzky Collection will (and I quote) keep men looking neat, handsome and fashionable this Fall.

20150909_C7711_PHOTO_EN_493076These are polos we’re talking about, t-shirts, knit jackets, hoodies. Mercerized cottons, cashmeres and merino wool give this collection a luxurious feel, offering men a complete look: I have this on good authority. “The long-sleeved 100% cotton shirts come in a variety of patterns, including plaid, printed and checked.”

“Sears got my style down when they created this collection,” Gretzky confided in a press release. “I had the opportunity to wear all the pieces, from the t-shirts and sweaters to the jeans and dress pants, and the style, quality and value is excellent. I thoroughly expected it was going to be good, but I didn’t know it would be this good.”

At that Blackhawks press conference, Kane took questions from reporters.

Q: Patrick, how tough is it to focus on hockey with so many things going on right now?

Kane: I’m focussed. I’m happy to be here at camp. It’s an unbelievable venue here at Notre Dame. There’s a lot of history in this venue. I know we’ve had some success coming back here the last couple of years. It’s good to be back here again. I’m happy to see all my teammates and get done with our fitness testing today. It seems like we have a fun weekend ahead of us, so I’m looking forward to enjoying that. I’d like to keep to hockey questions only.

Q: Are you going to stop drinking?

Kane: Hey, Mark, I appreciate the question. I wish I could answer those questions right now, but there is a legal matter going on that I can’t answer that.

Q: Patrick, to all the people who believed this stuff was behind you, do you feel like you let them down, do you feel like you let the organization down this summer?

Kane: I appreciate the question, David. I’d like to answer that, but at this time with the legal process ongoing it’s just not a question I can answer. I appreciate it. I’m sorry I can’t answer it and thank you for the question, though.

PR Man: Thank you very much. We’ll excuse Patrick here.

Kane may be more important than ever to the Blackhawks, said someone, a pundit, referring to the vital cogs the defending Stanley Cup-champions lost over the summer.

“It doesn’t look like any of it has affected him,” said another Chicago winger, Bryan Bickell, asked about Kane and possible distractions. Also, sic: “He feels comfortable and when he left he was a happy Patrick Kane from when he left is what he is now.”

A Montreal defenceman pledged C$10-million over seven years to the Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation who, for its part, unveiled The P.K. Subban Atrium last week. The man himself was on hand to say a few words, including several to Elise Béliveau about how he hoped that this was something that would have made her late husband Jean feel proud. Also:

“Sometimes I try to think, ‘P.K., are you a hockey player, or are you just someone who plays hockey?’

“I just play hockey. Because one day I won’t be a hockey player anymore, I’ll just be someone who played hockey. So what do I want people to remember me for other than being a hockey player? Well, every time you walk into this hospital, you’ll know what I stand for.

“In life, I believe you are not defined by what you accomplish, but by what you do for others. That’s how I live my life.

“This is not about hockey or about how many goals I score next year or even how the team does.” Continue reading

electoral froth 2015: pretended he was shooting a puck at the assembled media

A dispatch, this morning, from The Canadian Press on the front lines of the Conservative campaign; requisite photo of the prime minister with stick in hand here.

OTTAWA — MR. HOCKEY

Stephen Harper got to show off his hockey skills at a photo op in Port Moody, B.C., on Tuesday.

The Conservative leader was visiting Cascadia Sports Systems, a company that builds products for gymnasiums and hockey arenas, including boards.

Harper blasted about a dozen shots into the boards at a test area within the facility.

He also pretended he was shooting a puck at the assembled media and then started laughing saying, “I could do that all day.”

Harper didn’t specify whether he was talking about scaring cameramen or shooting hockey pucks.

electoral froth 2015: sometimes in a hockey game

Forechecker-In-Chief: Prime Minister Stephen Harper takes up a stick during a visit to the Bishop Cotton Boys School in Bangalore, India, in November of 2012. (Photo: PMO/ Jason Ransom)

Forechecker-In-Chief: Prime Minister Stephen Harper takes up an Easton during a visit to the Bishop Cotton Boys School in Bangalore, India, in November of 2012. (Photo: PMO/ Jason Ransom)

The Conservative campaign was faltering last week, which is to say stumbling, drifting, losing ground on the long road to Canada’s federal election on October 19: that’s what everybody was saying, if not the Conservatives themselves. The big problem? Missteps, according to The Globe and Mail. Also? Dogged controversies. Mike Duffy was one of those, along with some candidates who had to be dumped for loutishness. The economy hasn’t been playing well for Stephen Harper’s governing party, of course, not to mention (other than to mention) the Syrian refugee crisis. Dissension in the ranks! Plummets in the polls!

The Toronto Star’s Ottawa bureau chief was on the case, Tonda MacCharles. She said that Stephen Harper was rattled.

No, sir, said the Conservatives.

Still, campaign manager Jenni Byrne did leave Harper’s side to return to Ottawa party headquarters, a sign of … something? And there was (as MacCharles reported) “a report that Australian polling consultant Lynton Crosby was parachuting in to pull the rip-cords on a campaign in free-fall.”

Peter Mansbridge and the “At Issue” panel got into that on Thursday on CBC-TV’s The National. Here’s what Andrew Coyne from The National Post:

“I wonder how much of it is just sort of a morale boost. Sometimes in a hockey game you replace the goalie, not necessarily because that’s going to make a difference, functionally, but it just gives the team a jolt.”

Mansbridge: “Yeah, but it can also work the other way.”

Also from Tonda MacCharles came news of a private Tuesday dinner for the prime minister in Toronto. Stepping beyond his small circle of advisers and strategists, he’d gathered unnamed friends for consultation. MacCharles:

Asked about the performance of campaign manager Jenni Byrne on Thursday Harper refused to comment, saying he won’t discuss “questions of staffing.”

“Obviously I have a good team,” he said, before shifting his answer back to campaign mode: “For me the big question of this campaign remains the same,” he said in French — the choice before voters about which party has the best economic plan to move the country forward.

That, too, was deliberate, part of one of the takeaways from the kitchen cabinet dinner, that the campaign had to get back to focusing on its core economic message, and pitch the contrast between Harper and his opponents.

Other takeaways: Harper should loosen up. Voila: there soon followed two photo ops of him doffing his suit jacket and playing ball hockey with kids after a disability savings announcement, then later shooting the ball around with his staff on an airport tarmac.

Yet no one downplays that it had been a tough week.

 

a well-timed slash to the ankles

Poilievre is ready to cross check anyone at anytime. He has previously gone after, for example, former auditor general Sheila Fraser, and aboriginals who were abused at residential schools.

This week, he took to Twitter to promote a boycott of Tim Hortons, an unusual attack on a big employer by the employment minister.

Like a lot of what this government is doing these days, that move seems aimed at motivating core voters rather than reaching undecided voters. Not a good sign.

Just as every hockey team needs a cheap shot artist, every prime minister needs someone who can deliver a well-timed slash to the ankles.

But Harper is playing Poilievre as his starting centre, and the poor results are increasingly apparent on the scoreboard.

• Stephen Maher on Pierre Poilievre, federal employment minister and chief spokesman for the Conservative party in the House of Commons, “Poilievre popularity problem bad sign for party,” Postmedia Network, June 8, 2015

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 with 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.

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Mostly, 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.

 (Images: kremlin.ru)

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.

court watch

Just so we’re clear, Justice Clément Gascon was at no time drafted by any NHL team, ever, and has refrained (so far) from saying he was.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s newest nominee, to the Supreme Court of Canada starts his new job next Monday.

His draft year would have been 1979, if he’d gone the hockey route, and flourished. That was a good one for actual hockey talent as opposed to notional: Ray Bourque, Michel Goulet, Mike Gartner, and Kevin Lowe were all selected in the first round.

game on: when prime ministers attack

harperWe know it’s coming, we just don’t know when. It makes no sense — and that’s exactly why we should be on our guard. Because we can’t wish it away — and we can’t — we’ll do our best to ignore it, but at our peril.

It’s going to be ugly. How could it be anything but? All the more reason we should be bracing for the day that Prime Minister Stephen Harper turns his attention from the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to focus on hockey and, specifically, the urgent business of reducing it to a smoking ruin.

Stop in at www.conservative.ca and you’ll find a passion for hockey listed under 10 THINGS YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW ABOUT PRIME MINISTER STEPHEN HARPER, but it’s never been a secret, has it? That he’s learning to speak Spanish, used to collect coins, and “owns numerous atlases:” that counts as news. “A consummate hockey dad, he can often be seen cheering Ben on at local rinks or joining his son in the stands for the occasional NHL match-up:” not so much.

He published A Great Game, after all, in the fall, a study of antique Toronto hockey arcana, and for anybody who’s saving it up for the beach this summer, here’s the takeaway: denying Mr. Harper’s love for the game would as ridiculous as doubting Riddy Ridpath’s significance to the rise of the Toronto Professionals in 1906.

Still, this is politics, where everything’s written in ice. That deficit you were never going to run? You do what you have to do. A prime minister’s enthusiasms thaw, too. Am I right, Accountability Act? The thing about governing is, there’s no slowing down. Scuttled the National Roundtable on the Economy and The Environment? Great. Bombarded the Parliamentary Budget Office? Congratulations. Backed up the bus far enough to knock down Mike Duffy, Nigel Wright, Neil Young, the public service, and the CBC? Nice driving. What’s next?

I think we all know how it’s going to start. On a Friday afternoon, late, in an 800-page omnibus bill called Creating Jobs & Growth While Granting The Beatles Canadian Citizenship & Returning to Balanced Budgets & Yay For The War of 1812. Buried deep within its pages, look for several dense paragraphs halving the size of the puck and eliminating left-wingers.

Next up, over the weekend: a series of attack ads will go after Senators Frank Mahovlich and Jacques Demers, casting doubt on all those Stanley Cups they allegedly won.

Monday morning Pierre Poilievre will be front and centre, taking swipes at Sidney Crosby’s lack of playoff scoring, Carey Price’s rebound control, and Chicago’s zone-entries, all based on taxpayers needing to know whoever elected any of them to anything, anyway? Continue reading

benchwarmers?

Will the Supreme Court open its doors to Mr. Justice Marc Nadon? We’ll find out tomorrow, when after months of deliberation the high court rules on whether Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s appointee is legally qualified to take the bench.

Justice Nadon's father, Yves, was a minor-league goaltender in Quebec and, later, a respected coach.

Justice Nadon’s father, Yves, was a minor-league goaltender in Quebec and, later, a respected coach.

Nominated in September to fill one of the Supreme Court’s three Quebec seats, Nadon was sworn in early in October — only to step aside when his appointment was decried by Quebec’s National Assembly and challenged in Federal Court. That’s when the federal government asked Justice Nadon’s prospective colleagues to rule on his eligibility. (Subsequently, the Court announced that until the case was decided, he would be barred from entering the building.)

Serious stuff, this, with implications that could keep on reverberating well beyond the Court. It’s enough, almost, to make you nostalgic for that simpler time when Judge Nadon’s biggest worry was fumbling his hockey past in a televised hearing before MPs on Parliament Hill. That was October 2, of course, when he told members of a Commons Committee that he’d been drafted by the Detroit Red Wings at age 14 when, no, in fact, he hadn’t.

“I certainly didn’t lie,” he told The Huffington Post next day, offering a tangled explanation of what he’d really meant, promising that he’d be much more careful when it came to rendering Supreme judgments when — if? — the time came.

Without knowing how it’s going to go tomorrow — and, in legal parlance, without prejudice — the prime minister has to be planning for all eventualities. Herewith, in the spirit of chipping in, a non-definitive list of lawyers who were, definitely, drafted by NHL teams.

• Rod Pacholzuk, d/lw, University of Michigan, picked 202nd overall by the Washington Capitals in the 1978 draft. Never played an NHL game. Law degree from the University of Windsor; civil litigation lawyer with FH&P in Kelowna, B.C. Not much to in the archives on regarding his hockey career — as a rookie for Michigan in 1975 he was projected “to see a lot of ice time.”

• Mike Gillis, lw, Kingston Canadians, picked 5th overall by the Colorado Rockies in 1978. Played 246 games for Colorado and Boston, registering 76 points. Graduated law from Queen’s University. Former hockey agent, now (somewhat beleaguered) GM of the Vancouver Canucks. The Hockey Hall of Fame calls him both “a decent role player” of whom more was expected coming out of junior and “an outstanding two-way worker.”

• Dirk Rueter, d, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, picked 104th overall by the Buffalo Sabres in the 1980 draft. Never played an NHL game. Graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School; corporate lawyer specializing in structured finance, McCarthy Tétrault, Toronto. Possible problem for his judicial hopes that he had a couple of seasons in junior with 100+ penalty minutes?

• Jeff Jackson, lw, Brantford Alexanders, picked 28th overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1983. Played 263 games for Toronto, New York Rangers, Quebec, and Chicago, scoring 86 points. Law degree from the University of Western Ontario, practiced with Heenan, Blaikie; now works as an agent for the Orr Hockey Group. “Not blessed with natural scoring ability,” says the Hall of Hockey Fame, but still: “used his speed and size to drive to the net, dig the puck out of the corners, and check the best forwards on the opposition.”

Whether they’d be interested in a job on the Supreme Court or not, the big problem with all of these candidates is that the three seats set aside for Quebec are need to filled by superior trial or appellate court judges or current members of the Quebec bar. Given the general lack of draftees from the province who’ve gone on to legal careers, would the Court expand the limits, maybe, to include Montreal Canadiens alumni? Would that work for everybody? We might need a ruling from the Federal Court on that, but just in case, a couple of Hab goaltending prospects:

• Dave Elenbaas, g, Cornell University, drafted 62nd by Montreal in 1972. Law degree from the University of Toronto, partner at Macmillan specializing in employment and labour relations law. Never played a regular-season NHL game, apparently, though according the Benchwarmers blog, he was a back-up for at least 29 games. He was very impressive in a September, 1976 Forum exhibition win, 7-1 over the Bruins, said The Montreal Gazette. Another Cornell grad had recommended him — as a man and a goalie — to Habs’ scout Ron Caron. Against Boston, Elenbaas made some outstanding saves — although, he said, “I might have made them look a little harder than they really were. I was little nervous so I went down a little quicker than I should have.”

• Ken Dryden, g, another Cornell grad, drafted 14th overall by the Bruins in 1964. His law degree was from McGill University. He played 397 NHL games plus another 112 in the playoffs, won a Calder and a Conn Smythe, five Vézinas, six Stanley Cups, ascended to the Hall of Fame in 1983. “Dryden was better than we had ever dreamed,” said Bobby Orr in 1971 when the Canadiens upset the Bruins in the first round of the playoffs before going on to win the Cup. That was also the year that Boston’s Phil Esposito called him a “thieving giraffe.”

Finally, a couple of former NHL players do have experience as international jurists, although neither one earned a law degree: Rons Duguay (1980) and Greschner (1988) both served as judges at the Miss Universe Pageant, in South Korea and Japan, respectively.

this week: there aren’t enough adjectives in the vocabulary

Shadowy men, in a shadowy Garden: Bruins host Maroons at Boston's Garden, circa the mid-1930s. (Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)

Shadowy men, on shadowy ice: Bruins host Maroons at Boston’s Garden, circa the mid-1930s. (Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)

“Happy holidays everybody!!!,” tweeted @AnzeKopitar this week, “#besttimeoftheyear”     

In Ottawa, Governor-General David Johnston told CTV’s Powerplay what he thought of his next-door neighbour’s book, which is to say Stephen J. Harper’s A Great Game: “I enjoyed it enormously.”

“God fortsättning!” offered the Rangers’ goalie, Henrik Lundqvist. “Hoppas ni haft en härlig jul och att ni får ett gott nytt år!”

New Jersey’s Jaromir Jagr scored his 13th goal of the season this week in a 5-4 win over Washington’s Capitals. It was the 694th of his career, too, which ties him with Mark Messier in seventh place on the list of all-time NHL goalscorers.

“He amazes me every night I come to the rink,” Devils’ coach Peter DeBoer said of Jagr, who’s 41. “I don’t have a lot more adjectives to describe him, but he’s a pleasure to work with.”

Don’t cry for the Toronto Maple Leafs and their injured, coach Randy Carlyle said this week, via James Mirtle of The Globe and Mail. According to Carlyle, 108 players are out of action at the moment, or fully 15 per cent. “There’s a lot of injuries taking place,” Carlyle said. “We’re not the only ones.”

“There aren’t enough adjectives in the vocabulary to keep describing Jaromir’s goals,” said a teammate, Rick Tocchet. That was in 1992, back when Jagr played for Pittsburgh.

howe, lindsay

Terribly Ted: Detroit’s Red Wings announced this week that Ted Lindsay and Gordie Howe will be participating in the team’s alumni game against Toronto on December 31 leading up to the Winter Classic game at Comerica Park in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo: @DetroitRedWings)

Evgeni Nabokov was the Islanders’ goalie yesterday when they lost to the Devils.  “It’s the same music all the time: Why don’t we win?” he said afterwards. Continue reading