scrap heap: nadine arseneault’s portfolio of hockey punching

The fights went on and on. Night after night, Nadine Arseneault kept drawing. Month after month the fists flared; Arsenault kept going in her project to render a portrait of each and every fight that marred the 2018-19 NHL season. For all the talk that bare-knuckle combat is evolving out of hockey’s top tier, it’s not as if peace is exactly prevailing on NHL ice: by the time the regular season had wrapped up in April, Arsenault’s portfolio of punches included more than 200 images.

It’s a grim indictment of hockey’s arcane culture of punishment … unless, no, maybe does the collection amount, instead, to an unflinching celebration of the game’s deep traditions of warrior honour and rightful retribution?

Exactly. Therein lies the rub — and it’s the nub, too, of Arseneault’s interest in hockey violence and the arresting work that it’s generated. A Toronto editorial designer and illustrator with a deep and delightful creative imagination, Arseneault is engaged in an ongoing and wide-ranging project of unpacking the game’s vehement instincts and outcomes. She’s doing it on paper and tablet, in ink and paint and fabric and onscreen, manipulating photographs and textiles. In its many diverse parts, the work is fascinating, challenging, provocative, visually rewarding, and — often — beautiful.

“Hockey occupies a big part of my work and personal time,” Arseneault was saying recently, in an e-mail. Her background in editorial design includes work for magazines like Saturday Night, Maclean’s, and the University of Toronto’s Rotman Management magazine. Some of her past hockey-minded work is featured here and here and over here; you can browse her more recent interests and creations on Instagram, here.

With an eye on turning her talents to teaching, she’s also pursuing a masters degree at Toronto’s York University. That’s where the chronicle of last season’s NHL assault and battery fits in. “Hockey and design,” she says, “came as a natural selection of my interests. My research focusses on the visual representation of violence in the history of the NHL,” she says. “The title of my thesis is Reflective Punch: A graphic design examination of the violence in the 2018-19 season of the National Hockey League.”

As her academic work continues, Arseneault is renewing her fight-by-fight chronicle for the 2019-20 NHL season. She’s also starting to introduce her work to the wider world. This very afternoon, in Quebec City, she’s presenting an overview of her hockey vision at the fall meeting of the Society for International Hockey Research.

In the summer gone by, Arseneault also agreed to submit to an interview by e-mail. The questions I asked follow, along with her answers.

How did you decide to draw a season’s worth of NHL fights?
I wanted to see how the fights started, how violent they were, and how they ended. I’ve always been the type of person who watched hockey fights with my hands covering my face while peeking through my fingers to catch glimpses. I thought that if I forced myself to watch them, I might be able to understand them a bit better.

Did you indeed end up drawing every fight from the 2018-19 season?
Yes, all 226 fights. Forgive me, the Jets versus Predators game on October 11, 2018, had two fights in one frame, so I only did 225 actual drawings.

What was the process? Was it a matter of scouring the NHL schedule every night through the season, then sitting down to draw next morning? How did you decide on composition? Looking at a particular fight, what sources did you draw on? How long would it typically take you to complete a drawing?
I watch a lot of hockey, but not every game, so during the 2018-19 hockey season, I started my day with coffee and hockeyfight.com. I checked to see if I missed any fights from the previous evening. Then I watched the fight a few times and finally in slow motion, where I was looking for something interesting to draw. I sketched them using my digital tablet and pen. They took anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour to complete, depending on the number of details. Oddly, it became a very meditative process, bordering on obsessive.

For a while you were posting the images as the season went along on Instagram. You didn’t frame them or series there with much (if any) explanation or commentary. Was that on purpose? 
Yes, I wrote very little on Instagram because I didn’t want to disclose any of my views. I hoped to offer something different from a photo or video and maybe tempt some reflection. The journal format of the project is even simpler. I designed the information almost like a wedding invitation, with date, the name of the players and teams. The journal was my way of representing a sort of formal agreement between the players.

Looking through the series, I was thinking about my own reactions to hockey violence and how, abstracted from the game, accumulated on the screen, how absurd these clutching/grappling/sneering figures can seem. At the same time, you have elevated these otherwise inglorious moments to works of art. My reaction, of course, won’t be everybody’s. Fans of fighting might see them quite differently — which I’m guessing is a point of yours?
They are totally absurd. Some will see that, but I suspect most won’t. Before starting this project, I thought a lot about the movie Slap Shot and the huge cult following it has among players and fans. Slap Shot was written by Nancy Dowd, who took inspiration from her brother, who played minor-league hockey. What many don’t realize is that Dowd’s objective was to point out how gruesome hockey could be. It’s a comedy, but really it’s a very dark drama. I don’t think she intended to glorify hockey fights. The irony is heavy on how the public digested that movie, and it demonstrated to me how firmly rooted hockey violence is inside hockey culture.

The irony was additionally confirmed to me when in September of 2017, Georges Parros was named head of the Department of Player Safety for the NHL. When he playing in the NHL, Parros was, of course, a fighter, and far from being a model of safety. This left me wondering whether the NHL had any worries at all about players safety when it comes to hockey fights. Adding to the paradox is Parros’ involvement with the clothing line Violent Gentlemen. This is a brand that describes itself as “forged from steel and bound by a code: Respect. It runs deep and courses through the veins of a Violent Gentleman …. From the ice to the Octagon, from the ring to the field we honor the fight, the art, the opponent and the sport. Blood paints a path to the heart. Sweat, a river to the soul.” Violent Gentlemen makes no excuses on how their brand romanticizes “The Code” and idealizes enforcers. That seemed to conflict with the mandate of player safety.

Long explanation. I think most will see me as an artist who idolizes hockey fights. What this offers me is a quick way to uncover people’s opinions about hockey violence by listening to their reactions to the illustrations.

Could we talk about one of the drawings in detail? I was looking at the one of Paul Byron of the Montreal Canadiens, from last March. I remember watching that game and the fight, in which Byron was clearly concussed. You’ve depicted him in the staggering aftermath of that. What do you see in the image when you study it?
In general, I found most fights to be very theatrical — almost to the point of looking rehearsed —with spins, hugs, swinging arms, pulling on jerseys, and missed punches. I also realized how difficult it is to land a decent hit on an opponent. Most ludicrous are the punches with a bare fist on a hard helmet. A lot of the fights felt performed, with qualities of a circus or carnival event.

But some were very difficult to watch, like that fight between Paul Byron and Mackenzie Weegar of the Florida Panthers on March 26, 2019. It didn’t last very long. Byron received a hit and fell immediately to the ice. When he got back on his feet, you could tell he was hurt and struggling to keep his balance while leaning on one of the linesmen. He was escorted off the ice and went directly to the dressing room with the help of a member of the Canadiens medical team and a fellow teammate. Byron is a small player, 5’8”, and weighs only 158 pounds. He was mismatched with Weegar, who’s 6’0” and 212 pounds. Any fight where there’s a significant difference in the size of the players makes me cringe.

What have reactions been from people who’ve seen the series?
As expected, on Instagram, I get a lot of fist-pump emojis. But the best reactions are from the non-hockey fans. My thesis advisor, a non-hockey fan, immediately saw homoerotic artwork, but I think many in creative fields often see some sensuality in my work. After she said that, I tried to look for poses to encourage that thought. I’m not sure how many will detect it, but I did sneak them in there.

Did your perspective change from beginning to end, either on the project itself and what you wanted to achieve and/or on hockey violence? 
The short answer is yes, my perspective changed a lot, but my feelings about hockey fighting did not. The difference is in my explanation of why I find hockey violence troubling. It also opened up many more questions about the reasons why the fights are so popular amongst fans. Most stunning was the lack of consideration from the fans who like hockey fights: they seem to possess zero concerns for any potential injuries. On January 29, 2019, Trent Frederic played his first game for the Bruins and got into his first NHL fight with Brandon Tanev of the Winnipeg Jets. The camera scanned the reaction of Frederic’s parents standing in the stands and showed them smiling and clapping. I’m still troubled by watching that type of response from parents.

I’m often surprised by things I didn’t include in the illustrations: the reaction of the crowd, especially from small children. I observed a mom and son sitting in the front row looking very upset by the fighting on the ice. Their expressions were what you would expect from people witnessing a fight outside the walls of an ice arena. Watching them at that moment made the violence feel very real to me. Another instance was when I saw a young boy and girl sitting next to each other. The boy was jumping in excitement while the little girl seemed disturbed by the fight. In a split second, her expression changed, and she joined in the smiling and jumping. It made me wonder about peer pressures when attending games and how the roar of a crowd can be confusing. All the fights had countless of people filming with their smartphones while watching through their tiny screens. I wonder if any of them even watched the video afterwards and if so, what they thought about it.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

stammercam

Embed from Getty Images

Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos scores a goal on Henrik Lundqvist’s New York net during the second period of the fifth game of the Eastern Conference Finals at Madison Square Garden last night.

this week: у меня нет слов!!!

Medalsome: Garmisch gold, front and back, from the 1936 Winter Olympics.

“Please join me in celebrating 41 years of not giving a damn about the Winter Olympics,” tweeted writer Gary Shteyngart this week.

Or … maybe not. Alex Ovechkin, for one, was watching his TV on Friday as Russia’s games officially opened while also (if his punctuation is any guide) leaping around the room as he tweeted:

Сейчас смотрю открытие Олимпиады,у меня нет слов!!!спасибо за этот праздник!!!я горд за свою страну!!!!@Sochi2014*

Ryan Kennedy from The Hockey News heard Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller talking about the MVP award he won at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. “It’s not like I can stack it behind me in net,” Miller was saying. “It won’t deflect pucks.”

Just as he did in those Olympics, Sidney Crosby scored a great goal on Miller this week, in Pittsburgh’s game against Buffalo. Fellow Penguin James Neal: “It took my breath away, yeah.”

Another famous American goalie was talking about Canada’s team this week: Jim Craig from the golden 1980 team. “I think Marty St. Louis should have been given the opportunity to represent his country,” Craig opined. “He is a winner, leader and class act.”

That was before the announcement, on Wednesday, from @HockeyCanada:

Steven Stamkos ne jouera pas pour #EquipeCanada à #Sochi2014. Un remplaçant sera nommé au cours des prochains jours.

“It was a little shocking,” Stamkos said of learning that his leg hasn’t healed enough for him to play.

The inimitable Dave Bidini posted a first dispatch as Hockey Canada’s commentator on the Olympic tournament, which he’ll be contributing from … in front of his TV, at home in Toronto. “Last Olympics,” he wrote this week, “my kids heard their grandfather swear for the first time.”

Reports of Canucks coach John Tortorella’s return this week from 15 days of suspension included the words “I apologize” and “my stupidity” and “very embarrassing” and “the nonsense I caused.” Time to move on, Tortorella told reporters. “I’m glad I’m back with our guys,” he said. “I’m looking forward to trying to grow more as a coach with them. More importantly, get our team growing together again to be a competitive team.”

Speculation on who would replace Stamkos hovered over Claude Giroux, Eric Staal, Martin St. Louis, and Taylor Hall.

Henrik Sedin decided he’d have to miss the Olympics; Sweden shuddered.

Stephen J. Harper’s publisher announced their next big hockey project: in the fall of 2015, Simon & Schuster Canada will publish the not-yet-titled memoir that Tie Domi is writing with Sportsnet reporter Jim Lang. “An inspiring story of family, camaraderie, hard work, perseverance, plenty of hockey and hard knocks,” promised the press release.”

Publisher Kevin Hanson: “Tie Domi fought his way into the hearts of hockey fans and sustained a memorable career through leadership and grit, loyalty and humility.” Continue reading

this week: till famine and the ague eat them up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

this week: encore des maux de tête et des raideurs au cou

Fallguy: Philadelphia forward Scott Hartnell published his first children’s book this week. It’s the story of a hockey player who falls down a lot but (spoiler alert) always gets back up again. For more information, visit:
http://shop.hartnelldown.com/products/hartnelldown-children-s-book.

Jay Feaster lost his job this week as GM of the Calgary Flames. Stepping up in his place was Brian Burke, whose torrid hair made big news when he went to meet the press.

“We want black-and-blue hockey here, that’s what we do in Alberta,” Burke mentioned. “We’ve got to be big and more truculent — I know you’re all waiting for the word, there it is. I want a little more hostility out there than what I’m seeing right now.”

He said he wasn’t kissing babies, i.e.: “I’m not running for office. This is about winning hockey games. And I have to take the steps that I think are going to lead us to win the most hockey games we can win.”

“I’m tellin the real world what goes on,” is something Don Cherry said, this week.

Bob Cole watched a Chicago goalie take the net for his first NHL minutes in Toronto on Saturday night, Kent Simpson was his name, 21, from Edmonton, the score was 5-2 for the Leafs and Finnish rookie Antti Raanta had done all that he could do for the Blackhawks, and the first shot that Toronto took, it was Joffrey Lupul, passed Simpson by, and Cole said, “Ya gotta feel sad for that young man.”

Brian Burke: “Easier to fill out the roster with bangers than skill players. Anyone can paint a barn.”

In New York, the Rangers continued to falter. Katie Strang of ESPN heard about it from defenceman Ryan McDonagh. “The hockey gods are testing us,” he told her.

Larry Brooks from The New York Post wrote about the Rangers’ Derek Stepan who, in his struggles, hadn’t scored a goal in ten games. A non-factor, Brooks called him. Maybe was he, quote, playing his way off the U.S. Olympic Team?

“Enough is enough,” Stepan said. “I have to score.”

About his team, he said this: “Our confidence is really fragile. We’re so fragile.” 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: greatest belgian hockey stories + the most thankless job

The House That Smythe Built: Heritage Toronto and Ryerson University unveiled a plaque on Thursday, November 14, to commemorate the Leafs' first home, now reborn as Ryerson's Mattamy Athletic Centre and ... a Loblaws. (Drawing by Ross and Macdonald, architects. The Journal, Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, viii, October 1931)

The House That Conn Built: Heritage Toronto and Ryerson University unveiled a plaque on Thursday, November 14, to commemorate the Leafs’ second home, now reborn as Ryerson’s Mattamy Athletic Centre and … a Loblaws.
(Drawing by Ross and Macdonald, architects. The Journal, Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, viii, October 1931)

The Hall of Hockey’s Fame opened its doors to five new members this week, as reported in The Bangkok Post.

At the ceremony in Toronto, Scott Niedermeyer’s smoothness was recalled. “It was fun to be his teammate,” said Scott Stevens.

Ken Daneyko said he was effortless, graceful, “like a thoroughbred.”

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman called Brendan Shanahan “my personal favourite.” Shanahan, of course, is the league’s Senior Vice President responsible for Player Safety — or, as Bettman called it, “the most thankless job.”

“I think his contributions to the game based on what he’s doing now will even exceed what he did in the 21 years he played,” Bettman said.

Shanahan said that Geraldine Heaney is tough and talented. Also that Ray Shero’s gentlemanliness is a tribute to his father, Fred.

“He’s just a good man,” Gretzky said of the final inductee, Chris Chelios.

Brian Leetch: “I always tell people that Chris Chelios is America’s version of Mark Messier.”

“They’re similar in that they love the game and have a passion for it. They love to compete and winning and doing things as a group are very important to them.

“They played with an edge, whether it was a stick up or a glove in the face. They would drop the gloves if they had to. You knew if you were in a competition with either of them it wasn’t always going to be clean and you were going to get the worst of it because they would not back down.”

The IIHF.com took the time to check in on Mike Keenan in Russia and he’s doing fine. He’s coaching Metallurg Magnitogorsk, and the team is near the top of the standings in the KHL’s Eastern Conference.

His new favourite food item, Keenan owned, is Russian pizza, which is sometimes topped with mackerel and red herring. New favourite Russian saying?

Spasibo, which means thank you,” Keenan said. “Also, dobroe utro, which means good morning.”

From The Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle we learned, this week, what the new Buffalo coach told his players after the first period against Toronto. Said a Sabre source of Mirtle’s: “Ted came in and told us ‘You guys are garbage.’”

Detroit’s coach, Mike Babcock, is getting a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, from his alma mater, McGill University in Montreal, next week, on Monday, November 25.

A former hockey co-captain of the McGill Redmen, Babcock (BEd ’86) is being cited for “coaching winning teams” and “the achievement of excellence,” which is, according to a McGill press release, “the subject of his 2012 book, Leave No Doubt, highlighting the theme that one cannot accomplish great things without facing great adversity and making peace with uncertainty.” Continue reading