“Papa et Yvon,” is as much as the back of this snapshot divulges, “en 1945.” Papa would end up with bragging rights that fall and into ’46, as the Canadiens dominated the Leafs through the regular season, beating them seven times while losing two and tying one. I’m not saying past is necessarily prologue, but brace yourselves, Leaf fans: Toronto missed the playoffs in the spring of the new post-war era. After finishing first overall, Dick Irvin’s Canadiens went on to win the Stanley Cup.
Beyl and Boyd was the San Francisco design and marketing firm that foisted these famous sweaters on the Vancouver Canucks in 1978, convincing the team that their traditional hues just didn’t cut it in the new NHL. “The Canuck colours,” divulged Bill Boyd, one of the deep-thinkers consulted, “were all wrong. Blue-green is the coolest colour of all. Slows the pulse, reduces aggression, promotes calmness. Psychiatric wards are painted blue-green. Encourages tranquility.” That was why the team had no choice other than to go with the palette that goaltender Richard Brodeur is seen styling here during the 1981-82 campaign.
“With the Canucks’ uniforms,” Boyd explained to The Vancouver Sun’s Jim Taylor in ’78, “we are going from the coolest of colours — blue-green — to the hottest — red-orange. The cool colour is passive, the hot one aggressive. Plus the black. It’s the contrast of colours that creates emotion. White produces no response at all, so we went for yellow, which is warm, pleasant, happy. Upbeat. What we are attempting to create is an atmosphere that will help create the happy, upbeat, aggressive player — and, hopefully, the happy, upbeat fan. The Canucks want to provide the fan with an atmosphere in which it’s easier for him or her to have fun.”
The Flying V design survived through the 1984-85 season whereafter it was replaced by the Speedy-Blurry Skate logo. The heated colour scheme persisted until 1997, when the Canucks returned to their tranquil past and suited up once more in blue-green … and white.
So the Toronto Maple Leafs joined the rest of the NHL in releasing a new alternate sweater today. There’s a whole detailed rationale for this Reverse Retro line that’s rooted in — actually, no, there’s nothing like that, it’s just a retail operation the league is launching with adidas, all major credits accepted once the new swag goes on sale December 1.
“Each jersey was inspired by one worn by the team during a season that has some historical significance and the whole design process took about two years,” is what the league is saying beyond its sales pitch.
By jersey, of course, they mean sweater, and by historical significance they’re referring to … well, in the case of the Leafly design, it’s hard to say, since the season being commemorated here is 1969-70, a campaign that saw Toronto finish out of the playoffs, dead last in the NHL’s East … three years after they’d won their last Stanley Cup.
Not that haphazard history is what has been stirring Leaf fans today — as Lance Hornby is noting for The Toronto Sun, it’s the ugliness of the thing that’s getting to people. I’m not going to pronounce on that, other than to confirm that the sweater is indeed ugly.
What I think is worth focussing on is that the new/sort-of-old design does, touchingly, honour the Toronto franchise’s tradition of wonky Ns. That seems important.
Why did the 1969-70 logo now being replicated go with the lowercase n in TOROnTO? I guess we’ll never know. Here, for the record, is fresh-faced centreman Norm Ullman showing it off the following year …
… and then the year after that, when the Leafs decided to go back to an all-uppercase look:
Unless by fooling around with the N the team was, back in the ’70s, making a conscious effort to pay tribute to the 1921-22 Toronto St. Patricks who, after all, won a Stanley Cup that long-ago season, six years before the franchise flipped its name and colour scheme? The St. Pats, after all, did feature backwards Ns on their sweaters — well, some of them did. Goaltender John Ross Roach, for one:
At least two of his teammates were similarly afflicted, according to the grouping shown below:
It may have been a trainer’s, a tailor’s, a seamstress’s mistake. Did nobody notice that the sweaters that Ted Stackhouse, Stan Jackson, and goaltender John Ross Roach were wearing were different from those styled by their teammates? Maybe it meant something — were Stackhouse, Jackson, and Roach being punished, for missing practice, or breaking curfew? It’s possible, too, that these were practice sweaters that were never worn for an actual NHL game. We do have confirmation, it’s worth noting, that this early retro reversal was at some point corrected — here’s John Ross Roach at his typographical best.
You can argue, go ahead, that the 1970s marked the golden age of hockey players styling handsome sweaters: you’ve got Bobby Hull, after all, to stand up and make your case, and John Ferguson, too. For me, though, I’m stuck in the ’60s, which is when Montreal’s Highland Knitting Mills were spinning their own marvels (below), even as (above) Henri Richard joined with Portland, Oregon’s own Jantzen International Sports Club to tout their newest wool cardigan in colours spanning the … “masculine range.” Can you see that the “stripes are newly designed in richer, muted tones,” or maybe not so much? No, me neither. Do real pros (and good amateurs, too), leave their flashiness on the ice, but never their flair? So many questions. All I know is that when it comes to sweaters, necklines rise and fall as knits and patterns adjust for tastes and times. I get that: styles shift. But can we agree that it’s just plain wrong that in the year 2020 we all can’t go out and get fitted for our very own Canadian Bulky?
He wasn’t the first Canadien to bear the number 16 on his sweater in the NHL, just the last: a few months after a 39-year-old Henri Richard retired in 1975, the number he’d worn for all 20 of his magnificent seasons in the league was raised to the rafters of the Montreal Forum in his honour. In December of ’75, Richard, who died today at the age of 84, was joined at a pre-game ceremony to mark the occasion by former Hab greats (from the left) Elmer Lach, Butch Bouchard, and Toe Blake. Lach wore number 16 for 12 seasons before the Pocketful Rocket made the team as a 19-year-old in 1955. Blake was a 16, too, when he played for Canadiens, though only for a single season, whereafter he switched to 6. (Bouchard was briefly numbered 17 before he settled his more familiar 3.) Right winger Gus Rivers is generally named as the man who first wore 16 for Montreal, though maybe it was just for a game or two when he first came to the team in 1930: for most of his short stint with Canadiens he had 15. A total of 26 players wore 16 before Richard’s greatness took it out of circulation, including Jean Pusie, Gizzy Hart, Red Goupille, and goaltender Paul Bibeault. To date, Montreal has honoured 18 numbers (including Lach’s 16, in 2009), but in 1975, Richard’s 16 was just the fourth in team history to be raised aloft, following Howie Morenz’s 7, brother Maurice’s 9, and Jean Béliveau’s 4.
Hockey’s first Olympics were the summer games in Antwerp in April of 1920, where the Winnipeg Falcons represented Canada, and won on our behalf. That March, The Toronto Star advised that the team would be sporting “jerseys instead of sweaters, as the weather will be too warm for the latter.” The colour — I’ve described that before as queasy mustard, though I believe that on the Pantone spectrum it may more of a goldenrod or a gamboge. In 1920, the Star described it as old gold, which has a distinguished ring to it and, just maybe, helped the team recall what they’d come to Belgium for.
Subsequent Olympics were winter affairs, starting in 1924 in Chamonix. The Canadians, Torontonians this time, also came for and retrieved the gold, though they were sweatered in white this time. That gets us to 1928 and St. Moritz. The University of Toronto’s Varsity Grads were on call in Switzerland for that one, captained by defenceman Red Porter, here above. Canada was again golden, carrying off the silver Olympic hockey trophy seen here in tidy fashion: three games, three wins, 38 goals for, none against. The Grads wore white for the occasion, despite the fanciful tinting in this contemporary newspaper illustration. I’m not so confident classifying the colouring here — candle glow, would you call it, or lemon curry?
Starter Kit: NHL fans have spoken, and what they’re saying is that the uniform the Chicago Blackhawks have worn since 1955 is the, ahem, Greatest of Them All. The online vote was part of the league’s centennial celebrations. We don’t have the final breakdown on just how the league’s balloting played out, just that some six million votes were cast from November 28 through December 31. Glenn Hall, for one, approves of the winner: having also dressed up in his time in Detroit and St. Louis duds, the long-time Chicago goaltender tells NHL.com that the latter-day Blackhawks sweater “is the nicest of any that I’ve seen. I loved to put it on.” I don’t know, though. I’ve never skated any NHL ice wearing any of its famous fabrics, but I’m not persuaded that the sweaters being celebrated are even the best-looking in Chicago’s historical wardrobe. This, above, is the handsome look Chicago started out with in 1926, as modelled by the team’s first captain, Dick Irvin. Such a practical design, too: if there’s a uniform that provides better camouflage for those operating in an urban neighbourhood of houses clad in white wooden siding, show me now.
Paul Henderson was there last night in Toronto on the eve of the World Cup, and that was meet and right, probably, because it’s September and as the temperatures starts to drop and hockey fires up, Canadian self-regard hits its peak.
That’s what happened, of course, this month in 1972, and while we’ve never before been quite as filled with hockey hubris as we were that famous year, we have been Septemberly sure of ourselves ahead of the 1976 and 1987 Canada Cups, and going into 1996’s inaugural World Cup. The United States won that last one, of course, but that doesn’t really change a thing: before it all started, we were pretty sure that there was no way anyone could beat us.
This year’s World Cup, which begins today, pits six of the world’s top hockey nations against one another and — well, there are those two “concept teams,” too, Europe and the U-23 North Americas, all battling for the title of the world’s best hockey nation, and/or continent and/or age group.
Is Canada favoured to win? Canada is. Not that there aren’t those who believe that the youth and speed of Connor McDavid’s North Americans might surprise everyone. And not that the Canadian team is proclaiming its superiority — not for public consumption, anyway. “I didn’t know we were the favourite,” defenceman Shea Weber told Ken Campbell from The Hockey News this week. “I think we all think we’re going to win,” coach Mike Babcock was saying, which sounds kind of cocky without the context — he was talking about all the teams in the tournament rather than all the players in his dressing room.
The headline atop another Mirtle story in the morning’s Globe and Mail is one they store in a drawer in the newspaper’s composing room, ready for times like these, ahead of international hockey tournaments:
Canada full of confidence
It’s not just that we’re playing at home, although that is, of course, to Canada’s advantage. No, this is mostly a question of our ongoing dominance on the ice, not least at successive Olympics. “This is a roster of Canadian players that, as a group,” Mirtle writes, “have become this country’s golden generation, and they largely only know winning at best-on-best events.”
Ken Campbell cites the “ridiculous” success that the 23 players on Canada’s roster bring to the table: between them, they’ve won 14 Stanley Cups, 21 Olympic gold medals, 15 World Championship gold medals, and 17 World Junior Championship gold medals. “It should come as no surprise,” Campbell writes, “that Canada is the overwhelming favorite to win the tournament … It would be a major shock to see anyone other than the Canadians holding up the ugliest trophy in the history of sports once the tournament ends.
“How exactly does Team Canada not win the World Cup of Hockey?” Steve Simmons wonders in The Toronto Sun.
“Only two things can really beat Canada in this tournament. One, is Canada. The other is a red-hot opposing goalie. And the belief here is that neither of those are likely to happen.”
The European coach is Ralph Krueger who, born in Winnipeg, isn’t actually European. Nevertheless, he’s on a similar page. “It’ll take a magical day,” he said this week. “It’ll take a world-class goaltending performance.”
There are other pages, of course.
The Finns are said to be … well, they’re also confident. “We know that we can beat anybody if we manage to do our own things and play as best as we can,” a bright young forward, Patrik Laine, told the Canadian Press. “I think we can even win this tournament. I’m not afraid to say that.”
Some Americans feel the same way. Montreal captain Max Pacioretty’s idea that Team USA can win is based on teammate Patrick Kane: “I feels he’s the best player in the game,” he told Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston.
Kane himself? “We know that, hey, it’s time right now to get the job done,” he said. “Who knows how many opportunities there will be for a lot of us in the future to play for Team USA. This group is probably at its peak right now, this group that has been together for the last six years. We want to make sure it’s our time to get it done.”
The Czech Republic plays the home team in tonight’s opening game. Frank Seravalli talked to forward Jakub Voracek about the game this morning and heard him scoff “at the notion that his underdog team was taking on an unbeatable juggernaut.”
“We’re not going to war 10 guys against 100,” Voracek said. “We’re going to play a hockey game, start at 0-0.”
Any other factors that might play into Canada’s chances over the next ten days? I wrote in 2010 that, historically, Canadian teams going abroad to seek hockey dominance did best when (1) they travelled by ship; (2) at least one player on the roster was, in name or spirit, a Bobby; (3) the maple leaf they wore upon their sweaters was depicted with its stalk — its petiole, to use the botanical term — intact.
I didn’t invent this formula, I just looked at the facts. It was the maple leaf that was my biggest concern for our team’s chances going into the Vancouver Olympics due to a change in the look of the maple leaf adorning Canadian sweaters that year. I was worried because (a) an anatomically messed-up maple leaf doesn’t look right and is (b) possibly unpatriotic not to mention (c) why was it necessary to be fiddling with the maple leaf as well as (d) was there a risk that its very redesigned ugliness might somehow jinx our team and jeopardize our chances and (e) why would anyone think that it was worth risking years of Canadian hockey glory for this?
Leaf enthusiasts will say that the petiole has no bearing on a hockey team’s performance on the ice. Botanists, I mean there — although Maple Leaf enthusiasts in Toronto could argue the very same thing.
Another thing, too: we won in 2010, stalkless leaves and all, and in 2014 it happened again, at the Sochi Olympics, with a new Canadian logo featuring a newly designed incomplete new maple leaf.
Is too late to love those Sochi sweaters and wish we had them back? Because the World Cup is, of course, a merchandising opportunity as much as it’s anything else (and maybe more), there were always going to be new sweaters to sell. This year’s maple leaf lacks both stalk and charm. It’s too angular, looks out-of-true. The Globe and Mail’s Roy MacGregor thinks it looks like “a bleached marijuana plant,” but I don’t know. That would suggest that it once had some life in it.
It could be worse. The sweaters that the players from Team Europe and Team North America are wearing are each, in their own way, hideously bland — worse than anything I’ve seen in my laser-tag rec league, to borrow someone’s quip from Twitter. It’s not just that they’re generic, it looks like whoever designed them didn’t care how they turned out because it didn’t matter, so long as Connor McDavid would be putting one on, mobilizing shoppers across his home and native continent and beyond.
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.”
“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.”
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.”