this week: out there at twilight with a big machete, chopping up a beaver dam

As the Toronto Maple Leafs approach their centennial, the team is thinking of maybe updating, altering, or otherwise rejigging their logo — possibly. That was the news today, from the website sportslogos.net, quoting “sources” and hinting at plans for new sweaters, some of which may or may not be St. Patricks-green.

“Centennial plans will be announced in the New Year,” Dave Haggith, senior director of communications for Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, was telling Kevin McGran, from The Toronto Star. “We won’t be commenting until that time. There’s some fun stuff planned.”

Erik Karlsson is the most game-changing defenceman since Bobby Orr, said Adam Gretz this week at CBS Sports. And he is only getting better. (Italics his.)

The city of Edmonton commissioned artist Slavo Cech to fashion a small steel sculpture of a bison to present to former Oilers coach and GM and dynasty-builder Glen Sather this week. Cech, an Oilers fan, was honoured. “It’s not hockey-related,” he said, “but he’s more than hockey, right?”

“It’s difficult for me to put in my words the gratitude I feel for this honour,” Sather said on Friday night as a banner bearing his name lifted to the rafters of Rexall Place. “My sincere wish is that every one of you in this building gets to experience something, anything in your life that makes you feel like I’m feeling right now: the luckiest person on earth.”

New-Look Leafs: A Globe and Mail correspondent browsed the aisles at a Jordanian refugee camp earlier this week.

Brand New: A Globe and Mail correspondent browsed the aisles at a Jordanian refugee camp earlier this week.

“I say,” tweeted Don Cherry, “what kind of a world would we live in without the police?”

Everyone who paid attention to the New York Rangers’ advanced stats saw their struggles coming, said someone, on social media, somewhere.

On the ice in Boston a week or two back, it’s possible that a Bruin winger, Brad Marchand, may have kneed a Ranger goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist, in the head. Boston coach Claude Julien said that Lundqvist was acting.

“Who would you rather have as a son,” said his New York counterpart, Alain Vigneault, “Henrik or Brad Marchand?”

David Akin of The Toronto Sun reported this week that hockey historian Stephen J. Harper has been sighted just twice in the House of Commons in Ottawa since he lost his day-job as prime minister of Canada in October. Akin writes:

His front-row seat is immediately to the left of the Speaker. That location lets the former prime minister enter and exit the House with little fanfare and without having to go near the press.

Paul Martin used the same seat after his Liberals lost the 2006 election.

To pass the albeit brief time he’s spent in the Commons, Harper arrived last time with a book: A just published biography by Eric Zweig of Art Ross, the Hockey Hall of Famer, NHL founding father, and long-time member of the Boston Bruins. Harper is a big hockey history buff.

Speaking of the Speaker, there’s a new one, Harperside: Nova Scotia Liberal MP Geoff Regan. He was on CTV’s Question Period today comparing the House of Commons to a hockey game.

“Only certain people get to play and it’s shaped in a lot of ways like an arena, with the two sides,” said Regan.

“And the people who aren’t actually in the game, they’d like to be in the game, and sometimes want to react to something, want to say something, the way you’d see at a game. But we’re not in a rink. We’re in the House of Commons.”

“I just love anything Michael Keaton is in,” Don Cherry told Jim Slotek of Postmedia.

Sather was a master psychologist: that’s what a defenceman who worked his blueline, Steve Smith, told Jim Matheson of The Edmonton Journal. “You can take Roger Neilson, maybe the best Xs and Os guy, but he didn’t win, maybe because he didn’t have the players elsewhere. But Glen managed all these personalities in Edmonton. That’s a special art to manage all those guys and keep them happy. It’s like Phil Jackson in basketball. He understood his players in Chicago and what buttons to push.”

“It was the managing of people that made Glen really good.”

No Logo: Leaf fans weighed in at The Toronto Star earlier today, hours after word of a possible new logo emerged online.

No Logo: Leaf fans weighed in at The Toronto Star earlier today, hours after word of a possible new logo emerged online.

Fighting is on its way out of the NHL, mostly everybody agreed this week — as they have been agreeing, more or less, since the season started in early October.

A kinder, gentler NHL is taking shape, said Dave Feschuk of The Toronto Star:

Given the rise in concern about the permanent nature of head injuries, there is also, in some eyes, a growing mutual awareness of the ultimate fragility of the human condition.

“Back in the day it used to be pretty malicious,” said Nazem Kadri, the only Leafs player who’s been penalized for fighting this season. “I think guys now respect the game and respect each other’s bodies and hope nobody gets seriously injured. I mean, anytime you see someone go down, it’s a frightening feeling because you know it could be you.”

Back in October, The Globe and Mail ran an editorial at that time to bid farewell to the age of the goon, noting that the NHL might even be showing signs of getting serious about dealing with its concussion problem. And yet:

… if players are still allowed to punch each other in the head during prolonged, staged fights, what’s the point? It is hypocritical to express concern for concussions on the one hand, and allow fighting on the other.

Pierre LeBrun of ESPN was wondering the same thing this week. “Shouldn’t we be asking why the NHL still allows bare-knuckle fighting?” he wrote in a piece you’re advised to read for yourself. “I’ve said this before, but it just seems so hypocritical to have introduced Rule 48 (illegal hit to the head) in 2010 but still allow bare-knuckle punches.”

More required reading: writing at Vice Sports, Dave Bidini’s take on the complicated cultural significance of fighting is a smart, counterintuitive view you haven’t heard before.

“My big heroes,” continued Don Cherry, “are Sir Francis Drake, Horatio Nelson, and Lawrence of Arabia. I really loved Seven Pillars of Wisdom.”

A latterday Oiler, Taylor Hall, on Sather:

“He was a guy who brought everyone together; he seemed like a great button-pusher. Having that much skill and that much talent on your team isn’t an easy thing.”

Blackhawks preternatural confidence rubs off on new players

was a recent headline on a Mark Lazerus feature in Chicago’s Sun-Times in which the coach praised his captain, Jonathan Toews:

Joel Quenneville calls it a “competitive” nature, that the Hawks, perhaps more than any team he’s ever played for or coached, are better physically prepared and better mentally equipped to handle any situation. And he said it starts at the top, with the captain.

“As a coaching staff, you’re in a good spot knowing that the message is always there [about] doing things the right way,” Quenneville said. “Guys definitely notice Jonny’s intensity and professionalism right off the bat.”

 Don Cherry gave another Postmedia interview, this one to Michael Traikos:

Q: Is it OK that enforcers have been run out of the league?

A: I never ever believed in guys that should sit there for two periods and then get thrown out there for a minute and fight. I never believed in that. I call that ‘Mad Dog Thinking.’ I remember with my Boston Bruins, we had more tough guys than any team and every one of them got 20 goals. That’s what they have now. Every one of them can play the game. And that’s the way it should be. You should never have a guy sitting on the bench like a mad dog.

A Nashville rookie named Viktor Arvidsson used his stick to neck-check a Buffalo defenceman, Carlo Colaiacovo. The former left the game with a five-minute major and a game misconduct on his record; the latter departed with what the Sabres at first classed, inevitably, as an upper body injury.

His coach, Dan Bylsma, had an update following the game: “Carlo is doing OK. He got the cross check to the throat. He did go to the hospital; he’s there now. I guess they’re saying he has a dented trachea.”

Bryan Trottier wrote a letter to his youthful self and posted it at The Player’s Tribune for himself to read, along with everybody.

When you tell people how you learned to skate later in life, they’ll think you’re messing with them. They’re not going to believe how your handyman father would clear off the frozen creek across from your house after a snowstorm. You know how he walks out there at twilight with a big machete and floods the creek by chopping up a beaver dam? That’s not a normal thing. Other kids’ dads have Zambonis, or at least a hose. Your dad has a machete and some Canadian know-how. Thanks, Mr. Beaver.

Sometimes you just have to go out to the beaver dam with a machete and start chopping wood.

Brandon Prust of the Vancouver Canucks paid $5,000 last week to spear Boston’s Brad Marchand in the groin.

“Best money I’ve ever spent,” Prust told reporters.

Why did he do it? “It was frustrations,” Prust explained. “It happens out there. I wasn’t trying to injure him. I was just coming back as the puck was coming back up the boards. On my swing by, I got my stick active.”

 “It wasn’t that hard,” he said. “He sold it pretty good. I saw him laughing on the bench afterwards.

Marchand, for his part, was only too glad to talk about what happened to Amalie Benjamin of The Boston Globe. “I think it was Prust,” he said. “I didn’t really see who did it when it happened, but just kind of gave me a jab, got me in the fun spot.”

Assuming it was who it may have been, Marchand understood. “Honestly,” he continued, “even if he wasn’t fined, I wouldn’t have been upset. It’s fine that he is, but I wouldn’t want to see him lose that much money over what happened. I think suspensions are worthy when guys get hurt or it’s a really bad shot. Like I said, I’ve done that before, lots of guys do that all the time. It is what it is. It’s part of the game.”

On he went, and on:

“It clearly doesn’t feel good,” Marchand said. “It hurts, so whether you’re upset at someone or you want to take a shot, it’s an easy place to target. You know it’s going to hurt. I think that’s why a lot of guys do it.

“A lot of guys take cheap shots, when there’s that much emotion in the game and it happens all the time. If you’re down by a few goals, if you’re having a bad game, someone takes a shot at you, someone says the wrong thing, guys get upset and they take shots at guys. I think it’s just human nature.

“There’s a lot of good players that take jabs at guys. People can say whatever they want. I’m not overly upset about what happened. It’s part of the game. I’ve done it. I’m sure he’s done it before. I’m sure it won’t be the last. It won’t be the last time I do it. It is what it is. It’s part of hockey.”

prust fine

Continue reading

first•second•third•10

FIRST. Erin Balser of CBC Books was on the radio this weekend with a list of ten recommended hockey books that mixes the unlikely and worth-investigating (Cara Hedley’s 2004 novel Twenty Miles) with a solid core of classics (Quarrington’s King Leary, Richard Wagamese’s Indian Horse) and at least one dud (Al Strachan’s 99).

SECOND. The Ottawa Citizen saw fit to publish a sort-of review of Stephen J. Harper’s A Great Game last week, just five-and-a-half months after its November publication.

The reviewer was William Watson, who teaches economics at McGill University in Montreal, and he had a reason, at least, for waiting so long: though his son gave him the PM’s book for Christmas, it took him a while to get around to reading it.

The news he leads with (that Harper thanks Nigel Wright in the book’s acknowledgments) is only five months old — as long as you didn’t read it for yourself when the book came out and waited for it to break in the press. Nothing to get too crabby about, I guess. Although this did catch my eye: “As the reviews generally indicated,” Watson writes, “it is not a great book, though given the author’s day job it is a wonder it’s a book at all.”

True? Was not-greatness generally indicated? I think we owe it to the book’s author to test that statement against the record.

Reviewing the reviews, we find that at Quill & Quire, Perry Lefko called A Great Game “disappointing,” “long-winded” and “conservative.” Bruce Cheadle from The Canadian Press used the words “eye-glazing” — and not admiringly. Chris Selley at The National Post? His review was anchored by the phrases “agonizing pages” and “savagely dull tome.” And yet it did also come around to this:

Mr. Harper has given us a remarkably meticulous academic account of events that, when considered after reading and distilling them, are objectively fascinating. I suspect that’s what he set out to do, and it would be churlish to begrudge him the accomplishment or to pretend I expected a thrill-a-minute page-turner.

The New York Times’ hockey correspondent Jeff Z. Klein: Continue reading

america’s cup

The manner of their victory was decisive, and they dazzled the Canadiens under their own rules. I’m quoting here, from The Ottawa Citizen’s report on the Seattle Metropolitans 9-1 “regular rout” of Montreal’s Canadiens, which on this day in 1917 won the former a Stanley Cup, the first ever for an American team. The Montreal Daily Mail said that without Georges Vézina in the Montreal net, the score would have been much more. The Montreal defence put up a creditable performance in the first and second, but in the third they collapsed. “Their forwards also went to pieces, the Seattle team running in goal after goal and making a farcical runaway of it,” said The Citizen. The only thing to save Montreal from “the humiliating coat of a whitewash” was Didier Pitre’s goal.

So: not such a great day in Canadiens history, this one. They had won the opening game of the series, all four of which were played at the Seattle Ice Arena. The games alternated between west-coast and eastern rules, which is to say that in games one and three, seven players skated for each team and forward passing was permitted while in games two and four six players relied on back and lateral passes. This was a Montreal team that counted Pitre, Con Corbeau, Newsy Lalonde, and Jack Laviolette in the line-up, but they faltered after that first 8-4 win, losing 6-1 and 4-1 before the final debacle.

If you’ve read Stephen J. Harper’s A Great Game (2013), you’ll recognize the names on the Seattle scorecard, many of which had featured when the Toronto Blueshirts won the Cup in 1914 before migrating to the Pacific coast. Hap Holmes was the goaltender, with Jack Walker on defence in front of him, Frank Foyston up at the front. I don’t mean to be rude on so auspicious a day for Seattle hockey, but the Metropolitans who (The Citizen) “skated off the ice, surrounded and cheered by the echo, champions of the world,” were sons of Minesing, Ontario, (Foyston) and Aurora (Holmes), Winnipeg (Cully Wilson) and Brandon (Bernie Morris), Bayfield, New Brunswick (Jim Riley), Ottawa (Roy Rickey) and Port Arthur (Walker).

Eddie Carpenter, at cover, was from Hartford, Michigan, though. That’s true.

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

this week: no one will ever see me in downtown vancouver ever again

(Boys' Life, January, 1932)

One-Timer: “A tall slender chap with the right sleeve of his jersey pinned down at the waist, and with his left arm wielding an ash with all the dexterity of a fencer.” Paschal N. Strong’s story of overcoming the odds appeared in Boys’ Life in January, 1932.

Phoenix captain Shane Doan was ill this week, had been, and continued to feel it. He had headaches and a temperature. Nobody knew why. “Out With Mystery Ailment,” USA Today headlined. Said a teammate, Paul Bissonnette:

“It’s hard to not picture him here. He’s a big body. He eats a lot of minutes. He plays hard minutes, too. He wears down D and gets to the net. Anytime you lose a guy like that, it’s kind of killing us a little bit.”

“No one will ever see me in downtown Vancouver ever again,” said Milan Lucic of the Boston Bruins.

In Toronto, where Ken Dryden wrote this week about Mayor Rob Ford, who won’t go away, Tyler Bozek’s injury was oblique.

Also, the Leafs’ goalie, Jonathan Bernier, has something the matter with his lower body. “I woke up and it felt pretty bad,” he said. It? His coach, Randy Carlyle, said he was “nursing a minor ailment.”

Sorry: Bozek’s injury is, in fact, pretty straightforward: he has an oblique muscle strain.

Ron MacLean said that the big worry for Canada in Sochi is big ice. “It’s the sword of Damocles that hangs over the team,” he confided to Maclean’s, looking ahead to the year that’s coming. On concussions he said that when the rules changed in 2005-06 to weed out interference, the speed that the game gained was good for hockey-player heads. “The road to hell,” he told Jonathan Gatehouse, “is paved with good intentions.” He thinks that fighting will be gone in 10, 15 years. “We’re up against the science. It’s like cancer and cigarettes.”

Amalie Benjamin of The Boston Globe had reported on the start of Lucic’s weekend in British Columbia:

 Lucic, a native of Vancouver, got the chance to see some family and friends Friday night with dinner at his grandmother’s house. “Don’t get to have that too often,” Lucic said. “It’s been 2½ years since we had a chance to play here, so it’s nice to be back.”

But then after Saturday’s game against the Canucks, at a bar, two different men punched him. That’s why he’s never going back downtown.

By the end of the week, doctors had figured out Shane Doan’s mystery. “It looks like some form of Rocky Mountain fever disease,” Coyotes GM Don Maloney said.

“Our medical team is on top of it. Every day he seems like he’s getting a little better and a little more energy and has started to exercise a little more. We’re encouraged. He’s trending in a positive manner and for us, it’s just going to take time.”

Bruce Cheadle from The Canadian Press reviewed the prime minister’s book this week, A Great Game. “Harper has said he worked on the book for about 15 minutes each day,” he wrote, “and it probably should be read the same way.” Continue reading

this week: a mix of molasses, beaver, and oatmeal

true sport

Finally. The way the hockey-book writers cheered one of their own this week, you’d think the whole entire clan of them had been honoured by the Canadian chapter of the Jewish National Fund for their collective achievement in hockey scholarship rather than just the author of A Great Game. Forgive them their pride — these writers work alone, most of the time, shrouded in archival shadows. And if they want to step into the glow given off by the newly announced Stephen J. Harper Hula Valley Bird Sanctuary Visitor and Education Centre in Israel’s north, near the Golan Heights — well, why not? This is their time, now — the birds can have theirs, later.

In Florida, Tampa Bay forward Steven Stamkos strolled into a press conference two weeks fracturing a shin. He was limping a little, to be sure, but he was “positive and hopeful” — and not ruling out a return in time to play for Canada at the Sochi Olympics in February. Was he shoved on the play, by Boston defenceman Dougie Hamilton? Yes, he thought so. But in time he’d realized: it was “a hockey play.” He hadn’t heard from Hamilton, but Bruins’ captain Zdeno Chara had texted him and the coach, Claude Julien, visited him in hospital.

Also looking this week to the Olympics was Brian Burke, who talked to Eric Francis of The Calgary Sun. If Canada’s the favourite to win in Sochi, according to Burke, another team that unnerves him is Russia. Sorry, that’s not quite right: Russia scares “the living hell” out of him:

“Because it’s their home soil, it’s going to be crazy there, and we hear rumours of huge bonuses for players if they win gold.”

At The Hockey News, Matt Larkin was counting, this week, and that’s how he determined that as of Monday, in the 82 games Sidney Crosby played over the past three seasons, he had 123 points to his name.

Profiling David Booth, Dave Ebner of The Globe and Mail told of the Vancouver winger’s love of the hunt:

For a show on a niche network, Wild TV, Booth killed a black bear with a bow in Alberta after luring it with a pile of bait, a mix of molasses, beaver, and oatmeal. Bear baiting is illegal in British Columbia and numerous U.S. states. Booth broadcast his exploits on Twitter.

Gary Bettman’s week included a big headache and a big deal. Head first: in Washington, former players with lawyers launched a lawsuit citing the NHL’s negligence when it comes to its handling head injuries over “the past decades.” From a statement by Mel Owens, one of the lead lawyers:

In 2004 the NHL introduced a series of updates to the rule-set to encourage a faster, more exciting, and ultimately more marketable product. As a result, the number of violent in-game collisions and occurrence of head trauma have increased. When coupled with the NHL’s refusal to protect players by banning full-body checking or penalizing on-ice fist fights, the league has created a dangerous atmosphere for players. The complaint alleges that the NHL either ignores or consistently lags behind other hockey leagues in adopting protections for players in accordance with current medical knowledge of concussions. Instead, the NHL continues to glorify and empower players known as “enforcers” — players with the singular intention of injuring the opposing team.

Bettman’s response was terse: “We believe this is a lawsuit without merit.”

He was much happier to talk about the massive deal he did, the 12-year, C$5.232-billion media rights agreement that all but wiped TSN off the hockey-broadcasting map; threw Hockey Night in Canada’s long-term future into doubt (not to mention the CBC’s), and united the country’s curiosity around the vital question: what about Don Cherry?

Who, of course, spoke up on Saturday night, between periods. The lawsuit is, as far as he’s concerned, a moneygrab; nonsense; a moneygrab; ridiculous; a disgrace and — did he mention? — a moneygrab.

As for what might happen to Coach’s Corner, Cherry was clear in comparing himself to Bobby Orr and demanding something else that involved a … turnip truck, which he hadn’t fallen off. Continue reading

this week: rattlebrains, eye-gougers, a garbage fire on skates

white house

U.S. President Barack Obama welcomed the Chicago Blackhawks to the White House on Monday, as U.S. presidents do when American teams win the Stanley Cup. Dan Rosen from the NHL.com reported:

Upon arrival at the White House the Blackhawks were feted with an exclusive opportunity to mingle through several rooms in the East Wing, including a few that look out onto the South Lawn and one that has a view of the Rose Garden. They took pictures and marveled at the history.

The President greeted the Blackhawks, shook their hands and received a Stanley Cup replica popcorn maker as a gift prior to delivering his remarks.

“These are not just good hockey players,” President Obama said, among other things, “they’re good guys.”

Meanwhile, to the north and over the border, ‏‪@gmbutts started the week in an owly mood, tweeting:

Anybody ever see ‪#Harper on a pair of skates? Beginning to think this ‪#hockey persona is as phony as George W. Bush’s Texas rancher ‪#cdnpoli

Given that the man asking the question was Gerald Butts, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s chief advisor, it probably wasn’t the answer he was looking for, but a follower soon pointed to this all the same.

Could it have been the man himself, defending his own passion? Because author Stephen J. Harper was out that same day promoting his book, A Great Game, on the eve of its publication. Or not out, exactly: he did call in to Toronto’s Sportsnet 590 The Fan to Bob McCown that he calls himself “an amateur hockey historian” and started writing the book “as a pastime, when I needed to turn my mind off from the grind of work.” Asked about the game’s violence, he said: “I’m sorta torn on that.”

“Look, it wouldn’t bother me if we didn’t have fights. I don’t watch hockey for the fights. What I wouldn’t want to see, though, is, you know, situations where teams would pick fights deliberately to get stars off the ice. I think you’ve got to be careful. I don’t like fighting as a strategy, I actually hate it as a strategy but the fact that it happens once in a while in a tough sport is not a surprise.”

Chris Selley from The National Post was one of the first in with a review, come Tuesday. To sum up: “Impressively thorough, very dull, lacks promised insight.”

The Hall of Hockey’s Fame prepared, this week, to welcome a new class that includes Geraldine Heaney, Fred Shero, Chris Chelios, Brendan Shanahan, and Scott Niedermeyer.

On TSN, James Duthie asked Bobby Clarke why had it taken so long for Shero to ascend? Clarke said he didn’t know but his guess was that people blamed the coach for the bullying way the Flyers played in the early 1970s. It wasn’t him, Clarke said: he never told the team to fight. “You did it yourselves?” Duthie said. “On our own,” said Clarke.

“It’s embarrassing,” a Florida centreman said this week, Shawn Matthias, after the coach there, Kevin Dineen, was fired. “I can’t remember the last time we won. There are no positives right now.”

At http://www.habseyesontheprize.com, Andrew Berkshire frowned on a couple of recent Montreal games:

In Minnesota the Habs played well and were undone by bad coaching decisions. In Colorado, it was a garbage fire on skates, and painful to watch.

Over in Britain’s Rapid Solicitors Elite League, the Belfast Giants hosted Cardiff’s Devils a week ago, and …. Sorry, I’m not sure I can go on without first pausing to emphasize that Britain’s Elite League is sponsored by the United Kingdom’s largest personal-injury law firm, who profess online a special focus on Medical and Dental Negligence, Motorcycle Accidents, and Slips & Trips.

Back to Belfast. Cardiff was in town. At 21:36 of the second period, referee Tom Darnell assessed a match penalty to the Devils’ Andrew Conboy for “excessive roughness.” Conboy, 25, hails from Burnside, Minnesota, and he was a draftee of the Montreal Canadiens, playing several seasons for their Hamilton farm team before crossing the Atlantic. The excess of his roughness involved the Giants’ Jeff Mason and an “attempted eye gouge,” for which Conboy was subsequently suspended — banned, the British papers prefer —for 12 games.

The league’s Brendan Shanahan, a Scottish-born former referee named Moray Hanson, was the one to lay down the law. “There is no place for this type of incident in our game,” he said, “and offenders will be suspended accordingly.”

“It’s not just about wins, it’s how we play,” said Toronto coach Randy Carlyle. He told Mark Zwolinski at The Toronto Star what else he wanted from his players:

“We need more compete level, we need more doggedness around the puck, it all has to go up.”

Bad British-league behaviour isn’t new this month: in October, Moray Hanson banished Derek Campbell, 33, for 47 games for his conduct in a game against the Dundee Stars. Sorry: 47 matches. Born in Nepean, Ontario, Campbell was a winger for the Hull Stingrays until, after that game and before the Hanson got in with his sentence, the team dropped him outright.

The Hull Daily Mail called it a fracas; others said it was an incident. It happened this way: Dundee’s Nico Sacchetti boarded Campbell, for which he was ejected from the game; Campbell followed after Sacchetti to the dressing room; Campbell attacked Sacchetti in front of “shocked fans.”

Hanson’s ban broke down this way:

• fighting off the ice (15 matches)
• attempted eye gouge (12 matches)
• knee to the head (10 matches)
• excessive force to the head resulting in an impact to the ice (10 matches).

“I was extremely upset at the time,” Derek Campbell said, once he’d had some time to think about what had happened against Dundee. “But 100 per cent regret what I did in front of fans and little children who were watching the game. I’m a person who plays on emotions, but it’s no excuse.

“As a father of a little girl, I can only apologize to any little girl or boy who was watching and to any fan who felt offended.”

Campbell’s teammate Jeff Smith, from Regina, had his own thoughts about the whole affair:

“I know they are making a point of Soupy, but 47 games, that’s outrageous, I think. I think it’s an absolute joke. It’s a disgrace what Soupy did, but 47 games is just as much a disgrace.”

Who did you hate to play against? Chris Chelios was asked at a Hall of Fame fan-forum this weekend. Easy, he said: Dale Hunter of the Quebec Nordiques.

At USA Today, Kevin Allen reported (this week) that fighting has fallen by 20.5 per cent this season without the NHL’s having done much at all, really, to curb it.

“There are fewer heavyweights now and fewer guys willing to fight, and it just seems like fighting isn’t used as a deterrent the same way it was in the past,” said a wistful Darren McCarty.

There is the new rule that incurs an additional penalty for players who remove their helmets for a fight. “It’s more inconvenient now,” said the NBC commentator Keith Jones, who once skated for Colorado and Philadelphia, “and I wonder if that has had an effect on it. Now a little more thought process has to go into it, rather than the quick reaction.”

Jeff Smith really couldn’t believe it. He was — what’s the word. Speechless? No, not speechless. He was, if anything, speechful:

“I could see for the off-ice stuff, yes, 20 games for that, but the guy played the next day with no marks on his face, there was nothing broken. The off-ice stuff that was absolutely wrong, but 47 games? Last year a guy punched a fan and wasn’t banned, and another player slashed an opponent two-handed and only got three games.”

TV game-show host and hockey fan Pat Sajak weighed in on Ray Emery of the Flyers and his flailing of Washington’s Braden Holtby, tweeting: “Taking a cue from the @NHL, I’m planning to jump Trebek and pummel him in an effort to fire up my staff and prove my manhood.”

Brendan Shanahan spoke up on the same subject. “I hate what Ray Emery did,” the NHL’s Director of Player Safety told Sportsnet’s HockeyCentral At Noon.

NHL veteran Sean Burke — he coaches the goalies now in Phoenix — was talking, too, about Emery:

“What he did to Holtby, that’s not the kind of stuff that is good at all for the game. The biggest joke is that they named him the third star in the game. To me, that’s classless, and whoever picked that, that’s making a mockery of the game.

“That was just bullying. When you punch a guy 10 times in the back of the head, that’s not being tough. Tough is a goalie sticking up for a teammate because he’s getting abused or something happens in the course of the game where the intention is to even things out.”

No-one knew, this week, what happened to make Peter Harrold’s right elbow swell up and fill with a bunch fluid and not bend. The Newark Star-Ledger was monitoring the Devils’ defenceman’s condition, which might have been triggered in Columbus back in October.

“One of those freak things. It just kind of blew up on me,” said Harrold. “I had very limited movement and a bunch of fluid and swelling.”

GM Lou Lamoriello wondered whether Harrold had used his elbow too much. “It just popped up,” he said. “I don’t know if it was from over-use. Really all you can do is speculate. The doctors aren’t certain. It wasn’t a bone spur or chip. It’s a mystery at this point. Once the swelling is down and the fluid is gone, we were good to go.”

“I feel good,” said Harrold. “I’m certainly close,” said Harrold.

In Chicago, where Winnipeg lost 4-1 to the Blackhawks, Brandon Bollig checked the Jets’ Adam Pardy, which caused a piece of glass to fall on fans sitting in some corner seats at the United Center. Everybody was okay, other than Pardy: a guy yanked off his helmet and put it on. Pardy told The Winnipeg Free Press:

“I was just going back for the puck there. Two big, solid boys coming together there, I guess. And the glass came out. One of those situations where you don’t want to see anybody get hurt. Then I got a beer dumped all over my head. All over the side of my face and on the side of my jersey. I don’t know if you can smell it but the bench could definitely smell a little booze there for the last six minutes.”

“It’s no secret we have passionate fans,” Bollig said.

The Chicago Blackhawks apologized, to the Jets and to the NHL at large. “We have spoken to those involved,” read the team’s Thursday statement. “The individuals were immediately ejected from the arena to preserve the safety of everyone in attendance, including other fans, players and officials.

Kevin Mize was the guy who grabbed the helmet. The Chicago Tribune figured that out, and posted his CV online. That’s how we know not only that Mize is the Dealer Principal and President of O’Hare Honda and O’Hare Hyundai, located in Des Plaines, Illinois, but what he does in his spare time: golfs, fly-fishes, skis, kayaks and devotes his time to philanthropic activities.

From Tampa Bay came news that Martin St. Louis has long since forgiven his GM, Steve Yzerman, for cutting him from the 2010 Canadian Olympic team. Reported Mike Brophy at CBC.ca:

“I’m not upset, but there was nothing Steve could have said to me to make me feel better about not being on that team. I told him I’ll always be disappointed no matter what he tells me, but they are put in a position to make tough decisions and he had to make the decisions he had to make. Obviously he made the right ones because they won the gold medal.”

In The Hockey News, Adam Proteau wagged a warning finger at Montreal coach Michel Therrien, who’s been benching Norris Trophy-winning defenceman P.K. Subban, and not using him to kill penalties.

If the Canadiens aren’t too careful, they’ll finger-poke him in the chest all the way into a corner, then wonder why he becomes interested in the colour of grass on other sides of the fence.

A Stockholm newspaper, Aftonbladet, profiled Vancouver coach John Tortorella this week and lest anyone get the wrong impression from the headline —

Quote Machine, Lunatic Leader — and Champion

— it’s in fact a pretty admiring piece. I’m relying on the help here of Google’s resident translator here, so there’s room for interpretation — when it comes, for instance, to the word lunatic. Galning is the original, which could also be rendered as maniac, just for the record. Vildhjärna is another word that comes up, later, which Google gives as wild brain but could just as well be rattlebrain, I find, or scapegrace.

(Photo: @BarackObama)

calgary flaming

UPDATE: The prime minister has spoken in Calgary and as word starts to trickle out about exactly what he told delegates there, it appears as though Stephen Harper did, after all, stray from his political text to talk about his forthcoming hockey book, due out on Tuesday. Details are still sketchy, but it would appear that his message, brief as it was direct, was aimed specifically at reviewers who might not like what they find between the covers of A Great Game.  “I couldn’t care less what they say,” Harper is reported to have announced, to cheers from the throng of book-lovers and hockey fans. 

More to follow.

(a great) game time

It’s been a frenetic fall for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, right from the moment, on September 4, when his publisher finally announced some specifics on the book with which Harper will make his long-awaited (a.k.a. much-anticipated) debut as a hockey historian. The title, Simon & Schuster told us, is A Great Game, and if that doesn’t grab you, hold on, there’s more, too, a subtitle: The Forgotten Leafs & The Rise of Professional Hockey. There was a cover to show, too, along with an online video to promote, over at www.agreatgamebook.com.

a great gameAs for the author himself — Stephen J. Harper is how he appears on the cover — he had this to say: nothing. If he had a game to talk, it wasn’t this one, yet. Even as news of his book was breaking that day, matters of state were carrying him overseas, to St. Petersburg in Russia, where the G20 was convening to work through a decidedly non-hockey agenda.

Which is how the fall continued, too. No matter how much the author and/or his publisher would have wised to have talked hockey ahead of the book’s release, the prime ministering didn’t allow for it. With all the G20-meeting, Malaysia-visiting, Supreme Court judge-appointing, Brazilian-spying-allegation-answering, Throne Speech-writing, European-Union-dropping-by, New York-blitzing, United Nations-snubbing, Throne Speech-delivering, by-election-calling, CETA-inking, Senate Scandal-trying-to-quash, Nigel Wright-distancing, let-me-be-quite-clearing, Tom Mulcair-in-Question-Period-standing-up-to that filled his days, there’s been not much room in Prime Minister Harper’s calendar for Stephen J.

He did get a word in — on a stop in Bali, Indonesia — in early October, it should be said, at the end of a news conference, when he reminded a few travelling reporters that the debate about violence in the game is “is as old as hockey itself.”

Matthew Fisher, from PostMedia, was one who reported it. “There has never been an era in hockey, from the very beginning, where violence was not an issue of controversy,” Stephen J. opined. The early days he focuses on in his book, he went on, were, if anything, worse:

This is an era when players were hitting each other over the head with sticks and they did not wear helmets or any kind of modern, sturdy equipment. (They) were pretty lightly equipped and the violence is quite shocking. That is not a justification. I do worry about this. I think that the toughness of the game is part of the game. But I have always been an admirer of the skill.

Early word from this weekend’s Conservative Party convention in Calgary indicate that Stephen J. will let Prime Minister Harper take the fore. You never know, though: once the latter has given his keynote address tonight, answering all the questions the base might have about what’s been happening in the Senate, who knew what and when, and re-assuring all the rest of us about the ongoing merits of a strong, stable, national Conservative majority, maybe there will be some time to talk hockey, as there usually is, come the weekend in Canada.

A Great Game goes on sale on Tuesday.