this week, several others: why do people find these leafs so hard to like?

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Minnesota’s Ryan Suter paid US$81,058.72 to elbow Pittsburgh’s Steve Downie in the head. That was a while ago. More recent was Zac Rinaldo, of Philadelphia, for whom the price of charging Kris Letang from the Penguins, and also boarding him, was US$73,170.72.

Boston’s Brad Marchand paid US$48,387.10 to slew-foot New York’s Derick Brassard.

And Dan Carcillo? Of Chicago? For him, the cost of cross-checking Winnipeg’s Mathieu Perreault and upper-body-injuring him was US$40,243.92

Sports Illustrated wondered: Are the New York Islanders for real? (Answer: yes.)

It’s a while back, now, hard to recall, but Randy Carlyle was coaching the Toronto Maple Leafs earlier this year. On his last day on the job, he was in North Bay, Ontario, when GM Dave Nonis called him to set up a meeting early next morning in Toronto. “I’m not going to drive five hours back and through a snow storm to get fired,” Carlyle told him. “You might as well do it now.”

“We’re trying,” Toronto’s Phil Kessel has said subsequently, of the losing Leafs. “I don’t know if people see that. We are trying. I don’t know. We can’t find it right now.”

At The Walrus, the new editor, Jonathan Kay, profiled the Kelowna man who steered a 10,000-pound truck to the 2012 World Freestyle Championship at the Monster Jam Finals in Las Vegas. “It’s hard to imagine a more gentlemanly monster trucker than Cam McQueen,” he wrote. “He’s like the Jean Béliveau of car crushing.”

Via Aaron Portzline, meanwhile, of The Columbus Dispatch, we got to know the Blue Jackets All-Star goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who comes from Novokuznetsk in Russia, where the average temperature in January is -18 degrees and (quote) living in the Siberian city of 600,000 is neither easy nor glamorous.

As a six-year-old there, Bobrovsky wanted to play in goal. When his family couldn’t afford to buy equipment, his coach, Alexei Kitsyn, bought (says Portzline) “some bulk leather.”

“He made the equipment for me,” Bobrovsky said, his eyes getting big with emphasis. “He made it. By himself. By his hands. He made the pads and the glove. My parents bought me the rest of it.” …

“It sounds crazy,” Bobrovsky said. “If you know how some kids today get the best gear, how much money they spend … and that’s how it started for me.”

Another Columbus All-Star was ruminating this week, Nick Foligno, son of former NHLer Mike. “My dad has always said that if you treat the game of hockey well, it will treat you well,” Nick said. “He’s been bang-on with that.”

“Morale is good,” said the Leafs’ new coach, Peter Horachek, at some point. Continue reading

breaking now: teemu selänne ei pitänyt valmentaja bruce boudreau

teemuTeemu isn’t published in Finland until tomorrow, and Ari Mennander’s biography of the legendary Selanne won’t be out in English until some time in 2015. That doesn’t mean there isn’t news today to fill Helsinki newspapers and the Twittershire alike, most of it regarding what the affable, accomplished and not-long retired Flash has to say about his coach in Anaheim, Bruce Boudreau.

If you’re an elder and high-achieving Finnish right winger, Mennander is your go-to biographer, I guess: he is, at least, the man behind Jari Kurri 17 (2001), which you can get in English. A quick browse of those pages — in particular the ones devoted to Edmonton coach Glen Sather — suggest that it’s safe reading for all the family.

Not having seen (much less being able to understand) what Selanne has to say in the original Finnish, I’m not in no position to confirm that he “demolishes” or “blasts” Boudreau, who took over as coach of the Ducks in November of 2011. Those are typical of the verbs that are headlining North American reports about the book today, at Yahoo Sports’ Puck Daddy and the Los Angeles Times respectively. According to what Juha Hiitela (@jhiitela) has been (helpfully) translating and tweeting throughout the day, Selanne does mention that “there’s nothing wrong with my relationship with Boudreau. In fact, he’s a nice man.” But Hiitela, who writes for the Helsinki sports magazine Urheilusanomat, also notes that Selanne wasn’t always happy with his ice-time under the coach (“He didn’t keep his promises”). And: during the first intermission of Anaheim’s seventh-game loss to Los Angeles on May 16, Selanne sent out a text from the Ducks’ dressing room to his wife and a couple of friends, writing (in English): “fucking joke.”

Ari Mennander’s Teemu is available to order (in Finnish) here. If savouring a headline (multilingually) is all you need at this point, this is from the Helsinki tabloid Ilta-Sanomat today:

selanne joke

this week: that was disgusting + don’t let russia down, guys!

Winging It: Detroit players make their way iceward in the Boston Garden, circa the mid-1930s. (Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)

Winging It: Detroit players make their way iceward in the Boston Garden, circa the mid-1930s. (Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)

“Go Riders!!!” tweeted Toronto’s Saskatchewan-born centre Tyler Bozek.

“State without church is like a ship without compass,” Russian hockey legend Vladislav Tretiak was saying recently. He’s president of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation and in a solemn ceremony the Russian Orthodox Church had seen fit to honour him with the Order of Saint Dmitry Donskoy (second degree) for (quote) his merits in bringing up the young generation.

Tretiak and his old teammate Vitaly Davydov were a couple of Soviet-era players who signed their name to a joint statement urging Russia’s team not to fail at the upcoming Sochi Olympics that get underway February 7.

“The whole country will be cheering and fearing for you,” they wrote. “In our time, we did everything for victory, we brought glory to the USSR, our people and our sport. Don’t let Russia down, guys! We are behind you and we are with you!”

Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh’s Tribune-Gazette was talking to Teemu Selanne this week and that’s when the venerable Anaheim winger said this: “The Penguins have always done things the right way, and have always played the game the right way. Beautiful hockey.”

A fellow Finn, Penguins’ defenseman Olli Maatta, was looking forward to playing against Selanne. “Everybody grew up in Finland admiring him,” Maatta said. “He’s one of our most famous people ever. It’s cool for me.”

“We want more puck possession time,” said the Leafs’ coach, Randy Carlyle this week. “We’re not shooting the puck enough,” was what his boss, GM Dave Nonis, was thinking.

On Twitter, Don Cherry wrote a sort of a poem, sort of:

What a great feeling for Vigneault
to go into Montreal
and beat the Canadiens 1-0.
But nothing
compared to
Cam Talbot.

I understand the puck
went into the stands
on the last play.

At least
he got
a frozen one
from the
penalty box.

Cam said
“it would have meant the world
in any building,
but it’s Saturday night
in Canada.”

I tell ya,
Saturday night
in Montreal
doesn’t get
any better.

How many times do we hear
the players say how great it is
to come to Canada
and play on Hockey Night in Canada
on a Saturday night. Continue reading

this week: disappointing!

Unmasked: The wonderful Calgary artist Lisa Brawn carves and paints reclaimed wood: lots of owls and ravens and ruby-throated hummingbirds, but also zombies, Beatles, prime ministers, and the occasional hockey player. Jacques Plante, for instance, on a block of cherry-wood. To browse and maybe to buy — or just to marvel at her colours and craftsmanship — visit www.lisabrawn.com.

Unmasked: The wonderful Calgary artist Lisa Brawn carves and paints reclaimed wood: lots of owls and ravens and ruby-throated hummingbirds, but also zombies, Beatles, prime ministers, and the occasional hockey player. Jacques Plante, for instance, on a block of cherry-wood. To browse and maybe to buy — or just to marvel at her colours and craftsmanship — visit http://www.lisabrawn.com.

Gary Bettman put a number, this week, on how many times players hit one another across the league over the course of a season: “55,000, give or take.” I don’t think that includes punches to the head, just bodychecks. His point was that, once in a while, there’s a bad one in there, and when there is, the NHL deals out a suspension.

Bettman was in Columbus, where he also talked about Philadelphia’s brawl with Washington wherein one goalie, the Flyers’ Ray Emery, skated down the ice to attack another, Braden Holtby of the Capitals, who didn’t want to fight.

“I don’t think anyone liked it,” Bettman said, “liked what it looked like.”

“Protect yourself,” Emery said, later, is what he told Holtby as he swung at him.

Earlier in the week, Brian Burke published a defence of fighting in USA Today. Some people just don’t get it, he said. The players are all volunteers, and if they want to punch one another, in the head, or anywhere else, who are people who write about the game, never having played it professionally, to dare to tell them not to?

Ken Dryden was in print this week, too, in The Globe and Mail, answering Bobby Orr who, in his new book, makes his own argument in favour of fighting.

You’re wrong, Dryden said. Also:

The model for an NHL without fighting is right there in front of us. It’s not the Olympics, though opponents of fighting often say it is. The Olympics are too unique an experience. The ice surface is bigger. Players put on their nation’s jerseys and, in front of countrymen who know their game and those who don’t, avoid doing things that might be misunderstood.

The real model is the playoffs. It’s the time of year that fans love best; when the best hockey is played.

“This makes hockey look bush,” said Neil Smith on Sportsnet’s Hockey Central, regarding Emery chasing down Holtby to punch his head.

As Washington was fricasseeing the Flyers, fans in Philadelphia cried out: “Fire Holmgren! Fire Holmgren! Fire Holmgren!”

Paul Holmgren, they were talking about, the general manager. “We just folded up like a cheap suit,” he said after the game.

When Semyon Varlamov was arrested this week by Denver police, charged with kidnapping and assaulting his girlfriend, his father said that no crime had been committed, whatsoever.

In the Colorado goalie’s native Russia, the head of the State Duma Committee for Physical Culture, Sport and Youth Affairs suspected that there was a plot afoot. The Voice of Russia quoted Igor Ananskykh:

“The situation is really strange, given that the Sochi Olympics will take place soon and Varlamov is a candidate to become part of our national hockey team which we do count on. What about presumption of innocence? It’s not normal at all. Varlamov will fall out of the training process which will have an impact on his readiness before the Olympics in Sochi. The first thing that comes to my mind is that it is an effort to weaken our national team.”

Varlamov went to court on Thursday and was released on a bond of US$5,000. The Denver Post struggled to put it all in perspective.

The Avalanche are off to a torrid 10-1 start and have become the talk of hockey under first-year coach Patrick Roy. Duchene doesn’t think this will derail the Avalanche.

“You just don’t think about it,” Duchene said. “It’s tough. You’re concerned about your teammate. We all love Varly in here. I can’t say enough great things about him. I think we’re all pretty confident this is going to get resolved pretty quickly.”

Varlamov played on Friday night in Dallas and won. Coach Roy said afterwards that the team wanted to show it’s a family. A reporter asked: Does this show that Varlamov can handle adversity?

Jacques Plante was allergic, meanwhile, to Toronto. That wasn’t this week — that’s an old story, resurrected on the occasion of Friday’s anniversary of the night in 1959 that Plante first put on a mask in the Montreal goal.

Maybe you remember? In New York that night, Andy Bathgate’s backhand from 15 feet caught Plante on the left side of his nose. That’s how The Jacques Plante Story (1972) tells it, the book the goalie wrote with Andy O’Brien. Bathgate “blasted” it — unless, as Raymond Plante’s Jacques Plante: Behind The Mask (1996) says, he “slammed” it.

When Todd Denault talked to Bathgate for Jacques Plante: The Man Who Changed The Face of Hockey (2009), he said it was a wrist shot, not too hard, though decidedly vengeful. Plante had cut him previously in the game, and he was determined to get him back. Continue reading

this week: shut up, have you ever played the game?

“Happy Thanksgiving Canada!” tweeped Colorado’s Matt Duchene this week — today, actually. “Miss being up there this time of year.”

Scotty Bowman, who doesn’t tweet a lot, doesn’t call himself Scotty on Twitter: it’s Scott Bowman, @coachwsb. If his last message, from the NHL’s opening week, was a little cryptic, the gist of it was clear enough. “I support views of Steve Yzerman Ray Shero and Jim Rutherford on their opinions for Addressing most Fighting Issues Poll all Players.”

Whoooeeeh, Mikhail Grabovski of the Washington Capitals said last week, and I quote. Grabovski has been living with Alex Ovechkin this month, and driving with him to the rink. Dan Steinberg from The Washington Post was wondering about Ovechkin’s driving, and that’s what Grabovski said, whoosh. “Like in the game, you know? Always machine. I put seatbelt all the time.”

Steve Yzerman had called for game misconducts to be called on players who fought. “We’re stuck in the middle and need to decide what kind of sport do we want to be,” he’d said. “Either anything goes and we accept the consequences or take the next step and eliminate fighting.”

“He’s like the Pied Piper,” Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said of Teemu Selanne. Insofar as … like the rat-catcher who hasn’t been paid, he steals people’s children with music? No. Boudreau’s reading of the old German folktale is a different one. “Everywhere you go,” he was saying, “people love him.”

Keith Acton told John Tortorella to shut his fucking mouth. Acton (assistant coach in Edmonton) was mad about something Tortorella (Vancouver’s coach) had yelled in the heat of the Canucks win this week over the Oilers, so that’s what he yelled.

Told later that the CBC’s Glenn Healy thought Tortorella should calm down, the coach said, “I don’t care what CBC says, anybody has to say, quite honestly. They don’t know what’s happening.”

Ottawa coach Paul MacLean was peeved by the winning goal that Toronto’s Mason Raymond scored in the shoot-out this week against the Senators. He’d stopped, spun, scored; it was a good goal, officials deemed, because the puck remained in motion.

“I think it’s a very unfair play for the guy to come in and blow snow on the goaltender,” MacLean said. “To me, he came to a full stop, the puck went backwards and then forwards.

“But that’s me, I’m only a fisherman from Nova Scotia. So I don’t know nothin’ about nothin’.” Continue reading

mr. elbows at 85

At some point this afternoon during Detroit’s game with Chicago at the Joe Louis they’ll be singing “Happy Birthday” to Gordie Howe, who’ll be there, on the day he’s turning 85.

If we can’t all be there for that, maybe what we can do join with the pride of Wawota, Saskatchewan, to say, “Hi, Mr. Howe, my name is Brooks Laich, and on behalf of the Washington Capitals we’d like to wish you a happy 85th birthday and many more years of health and happiness.”

That’s from a short video that was making the rounds last week as NHL players including Dion Phaneuf, Kimmo Timonen, Ryan Smyth, and Teemu Selanne — “You’re da man,” he said — stepped up with their happy returns of the day.

A few stray Howe notes on the day:

• As a boy growing up in Saskatoon, Howe caught sturgeon in the South Saskatchewan River, right behind the Bessborough Hotel, where they’d pay $10 a fish at the kitchen door. Also, in eighth grade, playing for King George School, he once scored 14 goals in a 15-0 win. He also added an assist.

• The headline on the front day of The Detroit Free Press the day after an 18-year-old Howe made his NHL debut against Toronto: “Goering Kills Self.” He — Howe — played on a line with Sid Abel and Adam Brown, who helped him score a goal in a game that ended in a 3-3 tie. The Leafs’ Bill Ezinicki helped him get into his first fight.

• In 1963, on his 35th birthday, the Red Wings beat Chicago 4-2. Howe, noted a reporter, “slipped away from his convoy, Eric Nesterenko” to score a goal and add two assists.

www.gordiehowe.com is the place to satisfy all your Howe souvenir needs, whether it’s a doubly signed unframed photograph of Howe with golfer Jack Nicklaus (US$999) or an autographed Red Wings’ sweater (US$599). Also available on the site is a gratis list of Howe’s nicknames, which include Mr. Power, Mr. Hockey®, The Great Gordie, Mr. Elbows, The King of Hockey, and Number 9.

• If you’re scoring at home, you may have had Howe’s career facial stitch-count at 300 — or as a newspaper put it in 1972, “enough to sew your average couch.” There’s no consensus on this, though. Other accounts put it at 500, of which 300 were to the face (“you have to peer closely to see their delicate tracery,” noted The Edmonton Journal in 1971). gordiehowe.com says 500, all of them in the face.

• In March of 1959, celebrating Gordie Howe Night ahead of a game with Boston, the Red Wings presented Mr. Elbows with an Oldsmobile station wagon. Inside were his parents, who’d flown in from Saskatoon. In Howe’s 13 years in the NHL, it was the first time his father Albert had seen him play.

• In 1964, Robert Rosenthal, 20, sued Howe for $25,000 for punching him in the mouth. Rosenthal, a Black Hawks fan, said Howe’s fist cut his lip, which needed eight stitches, and got infected, and swelled up to three times its usual size. He told a Chicago circuit court that he’d been humiliated, embarrassed, and held up to public ridicule. Howe said he’d punched an abusive fan “a good one” as the Red Wings were leaving the Chicago Stadium after a 5-4 win. Judge John Sullivan dismissed the suit. “On the basis of the evidence you’ve given me,” he told Rosenthal, “any judge in my opinion would find Mr. Howe not guilty, since you admitted you provoked him.”

• The Hallmark Channel has made a movie for TV about the return to hockey Howe made in 1973 at the age of 45, coming out of retirement to play with his sons Mark and Marty for the WHA’s Houston Aeros. Mr. Hockey: The Gordie Howe Story debuts May 4, with Michael Shanks in the lead role and Kathleen Robertson as Howe’s late wife Colleen.

• Asked in 1983 what he thought of the state of the game, Howe, 55, said this: “Not enough sacrifice, not enough discipline, not enough guts.” And this: “Take off the helmets and the face masks. Those things are turning mice into elephants.” Also: “I see everybody carry their sticks five feet over their heads now. My stick was always on the ice because it’s the only place you can handle the puck. The only things I kept high were my elbows.”

• From The Evening Independent in 1972:

There was the time not long ago that Gordie Howe had a distinct dislike for anything yellow. It made him see red.

He’d gladly sign autographs, but if you shoved a yellow legal pad in his face and asked for his signature, he’d refuse the request. “I’ve never been connected with anything yellow in my life,” he said yesterday. …

Howe’s own war with yellow took on other proportions. When he saw the proof of his book, Gordie Howe: Number 9, the color of the cover was yellow. The publisher should have known better. An indignant Howe raced to the printing plant. “I got them to change it to white. Yellow? Never.”

this week: will they ever find bigfoot?

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Sidney Crosby said the headaches are behind him.

Having gone from working in a windshield factory to winning the Stanley Cup in just 11 years, the new coach in Calgary, Bob Hartley, said he has no fear. “For me, I never lose. I just don’t always win.”

Asked how his team would start the new season, Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette endorsed going out and ripping the door off its hinges over just feeling around.

In Calgary, Flames’ captain Jarome Iginla discussed his groin. “I didn’t feel it,” he said after practice mid-week, “and it felt way better than last week. Last week, it didn’t feel very good at all.”

A Maclean’s columnist called Edmonton defenceman Ryan Whitney’s feet “God-botched.” Whitney said he was proud to still be in the NHL, even if he didn’t have what he once had. He said his dad recently told him that even on one foot he could move the puck, because he’d always been able to do that, like Larry Murphy.

Among Toronto winger Joffrey Lupul’s insights from playing for Avtomobilist in the KHL during the lockout: Russian women are absolutely gorgeous; Russian players shake hands every morning in the dressing room; people speaking Russian always sound like they’re mad, even when they’re happy.

In New Jersey, Ilya Kovalchuk laughed when asked whether Vladimir Putin had offered him lots of money to remain in Russia. “That’s not true,” he said.

Claude Giroux, the Flyers’ new captain, gave Scotts Hartnell and Laughton a beating at Scrabble, #gotbeatbyafrenchie.

Chris Kelly of the Boston Bruins reported that when you’re walking around the French part of Switzerland and you don’t know the language, it gets kind of lonely.

Bad luck injured Montreal centre Tomas Plekanec: in the Czech Republic he was trying to pass the puck and, quote, instantly felt there was something wrong with his body.

Prospect Louis Leblanc, who wasn’t invited to the Canadiens’ shortened training camp, didn’t hide his disappointment.

Sorry, Joe Sakic, but Colorado centre Matt Duchene said Hejdie has the best shot in Avalanche history. Milan Hejdie. Hejduk.

Anaheim’s 42-year-old winger Teemu Selanne said he usually likes to drive his four kids to hockey practice — “but this year it’s going to be different. I’ve got to rest.”

In Detroit, winger Tomas Holmstrom was called a goalie menace and a folk hero as, about to turn 40, he announced his retirement. Coach Mike Babcock called him a star, the best at what he did: stand in front of the other team’s net on the powerplay. Jonathan Franzen would be taking that job, now. “Mule, net-front, is as good as anybody,” Babcock said. A week earlier, he’d phoned Niklas Lidstrom, 42, in Sweden to wonder whether he wanted to unretire and play the season for the Wings. No. All in all, though, it was a heck of a week, Babcock thought. He’d expected more injuries.

In Lidstrom’s absence, Henrik Zetterberg was named the team’s new captain. He said his dad was proud. Pavel Datsyuk said, “He deserve it. He leader in locker room, out of locker room. It’s hit to target.”

Of Todd Bertuzzi’s groin, Babcock said, “Bert felt some tightness.”

Nashville centreman Mike Fisher wondered whether they’ll ever find Bigfoot, #headscratcher.