you said you didn’t give a £&@! about hockey

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Just how Canadian is the Tragically Hip? Well, the band started its set on Thursday night at Wetlands with “Fireworks,” in which the singer is astonished to meet a girl who couldn’t care less about hockey. “I never saw someone say that before,” he marvels.

• Jon Pareles of The New York Times reviews an appearance by The Tragically Hip at the Manhattan rock club Wetlands Preserve, July 28, 1998. Also noted: “Gordon Downie, the band’s lead singer, sounds frustrated but dogged, an Everyman whose consolation, as he sang in ‘Springtime in Vienna,’ is that ‘We live to survive our paradoxes.’”

if there’s a goal that everyone remembers, it was back in old seventy-two

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Hard news this week about Gord Downie, Kingston’s own poet, songwriter, singer, dancer, Great Canadian. The Tragically Hip woke the country up early Tuesday morning with the startling announcement of Downie’s terminal cancer; for the rest of the week, the country I inhabit tried to settle itself within the shock and the sorrow, even as we were celebrating the genius of the man, his words, his music.

Downie’s love of hockey is no secret. It’s there in the songs, “Fireworks” and “Fifty-Misssion Cap,” “The Lonely End of the Rink.” For the fullest account of Downie attachments to the game, you’re advised to read the fond chapter TSN’s Bob Mackenzie included in his 2014 book Hockey Confidential, which he reprinted (here) this week.

Downie has long been a devoted goaltender of park and pick-up rinks, though he told a Toronto magazine in 2010 that he’d pretty much hung up the blocker.

“I lived across from the rink, and I’d come out and the kids would go nuts, like the ice cream man had shown up. That winter, toward the end, I realized guys were coming in and firing it high on me, doing all kinds of stuff. There were little kids around, all ages. I was worried they’d blister one at me… I’m sort of retired altogether.”

In 2005, he auditioned for the CBC mini-series Canada Russia ’72, showing up at Fredericton’s Aitken Centre in vintage pads to bid for the part of Ken Dryden. A reporter who sought out number 29 for comment heard him say he’d be honoured to have Downie wear his mask.

“I like Gord,” Dryden said. “I love the Hip and he’s just a really interesting guy. The only thing I recall that might be a problem for him is that I know he’s a Boston Bruins fan.”

It’s true —before he lost out on the Dryden role to actor Gabriel Hogan, Downie even intimated that he’d be just as happy to play Canada’s third (non-playing) Summit Series goalie, Boston’s Eddie Johnston.

Downie talked about the roots of his love of Bruins in a spritely 2009 conversation with a friend, novelist Joseph Boyden. Maclean’s has resurrected it, this way. It’s a marvellous thing in its entirety, and includes this hockey-talking:

Q: Many of us know you as singer, a poet, and even an actor. But a championship hockey goalie?

A: When I was a kid, Bantam age, our team, Ernestown, went all the way to the provincial “B” championship. We had to beat four teams in four series to get there. The crowds were huge, the stakes brutal and crushing. I was the goalie. Teen hero or teen goat. It teaches you things.

Q: Was [producer] Bob Rock your coach?

A: I wish. He knows what to say to a goalie. And goalies are strange. You do want to play but there’s also a part of you that kinda hopes a compressor will blow or that there’ll be too much snow on the roof and part of it will cave in and they’ll have to cancel the game.

Q: You’re a big fan of the Boston Bruins. This could be considered a travesty, even treason with many Canadians.

A: I have loved them since the early ’70s. All of my siblings were big Bruins fans. It was a certain type who liked the Bruins. They were known as a “blue-collar” team. They seemed to me like an outlaw team. You were a bit of an outlaw if you liked the Bruins.

Q: Why not the Leafs?

A: My grandfather liked the Leafs. Because of him I always carried — and still do — a place in my heart for the Leafs — albeit a small place. I should mention, also, that Harry Sinden and his wife, Eleanor, are my godparents.

Q: The Harry Sinden, godlike Bruins head coach and coach of Team Canada in the famed 1972 Summit Series against the U.S.S.R.?

A: I didn’t like to make a big deal of it when I was a kid. But I was very proud of our connection and I still am. My brothers and me defended every move he made, and loved the Bruins fiercely, spiritually, as any number of our friends will painfully attest to.

the last goal he ever scored (won the leafs the cup)

Pro and Conn: Leaf boss Smythe congratulates Bill Barilko after his overtime goal won Toronto a Stanley Cup. "We just out-Irished them,” Smythe said at the time, alluding to Leaf luck in a tight series.

Pro and Conn: Leaf boss Smythe congratulates Bill Barilko after his overtime goal won Toronto a Stanley Cup. “We just out-Irished them,” Smythe said at the time, alluding to Leaf luck in a tight series.

Bill Barilko still hadn’t disappeared on April 21, 1951, and there was no mourning for his memory, yet, just as there were no songs about him and (for a few more hours at least) no famous photographs of him falling to ice as he scored the goal that won the Toronto Maple Leafs their seventh Stanley Cup.

They were close-fought, those Finals, that year: “five consecutive sudden-death overtime heart buster” is how The Globe and Mail’s Jim Vipond wrote it. This last one, the Leafs’ Tod Sloan tied the score at twos with 32 seconds remaining in the third period, goaltender Al Rollins on the bench.

Barilko’s goal came at 2.53 of overtime. You can hear Foster Hewitt’s frantic call at CBC’s Digital Archives, here. James Marsh, founding editor of The Canadian Encyclopedia, attended the game as a seven-year-old, deciding early on, before the goal, that Barilko was going to be his favourite player — I’d read about that, if I were you, here.

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Referee Bill Chadwick supervises in the 1951-52 Parkhurst card based Turofsky’s famous photo.

As for the songs, I’ll leave you to spin, repeatedly, The Tragically Hip’s “Fifty Mission Cap” at your leisure — but have a listen, too, to “The Bill Barilko Song” by (NDP MP) Charlie Angus and The Grievous Angels. You’ll find it here.

As for the photographs, the best-known is the Turofsky, snapped (most likely by Nat rather than Lou) from behind, with the puck already in the net though Barilko is still falling. “It’s a flawless image, of course,” Andrew Podnieks writes in Portraits of the Game (1997), his fond celebration of the Turofskys’ rich hockey archive, though I have to say I prefer the view from the front, as caught by Globe and Mail photographer Michael Burns from the opposite side. (At first glance, I thought that must be one or other of the Turofskys in the corner, but of course it can’t be, the sightline isn’t right.) I like the handsome hopeful look on Barilko’s face that I’m glad to see in the Burns. In the Turofsky, as Podnieks notes, none of the spectators has realized yet that it’s a goal. They’re still in a time before the Leafs have won.

Montreal goaltender Gerry McNeil knows, though, I think, even though he’s got his eyes closed.

Won The Leafs The Cup? Barilko looks to see if he's scored in this view by Globe and Mail photographer Michael Burns.

Won The Leafs The Cup? Barilko looks to see if he’s scored in this view by Globe and Mail photographer Michael Burns.

This is another Burns, below, I’m assuming. It shows the moment of Barilko’s arising from the ice, just before he’s mobbed by teammates.

Game Over: A few fans have begun to celebrate. On the ice we see, from the right, referee Bill Chadwick. Behind the net, Habs' defenceman Tom Johnson (10) tussles at Howie Meeker. Gerry McNeil sits while Bill Barilko arises. Butch Bouchard stands in front, looking lost, while Leaf Harry Watson (4) makes for the goalscorer. In the far corner, Cal Gardner (17) lifts his stick while Maurice Richard mimics Barilko's heroic moment. Hard to say who the fifth Hab is, far left.

Game Over: A few fans have begun to celebrate. On the ice we see, from the right, referee Bill Chadwick. Behind the net, Habs’ defenceman Tom Johnson (10) tussles at Howie Meeker. Gerry McNeil sits while Bill Barilko arises. Butch Bouchard stands in front, looking lost, while Leaf Harry Watson (4) makes for the goalscorer. In the far corner, Cal Gardner (17) lifts his stick while Maurice Richard mimics Barilko’s heroic moment. Hard to say who the fifth Hab is, far left.

Danny Lewicki was a 19-year-old rookie for the Leafs that year. He recalls the aftermath in his 2006 autobiography, From The Coal Docks to the NHL: A Hockey Life:

The roar of the crowd was deafening. I have never heard, nor probably will ever hear such pandemonium. What an unbelievable series! …

The next hour was a blur. We skated around the ice in glee. We posed for pictures. I hugged so many people and shook so many hands that I was sore. But I felt no pain. We went into the dressing room to change into civies [sic] and the Stanley Cup was carried by Ted Kennedy into the Maple Leafs’ dressing room. They brought the Cup in and then they just whisked it out. I didn’t even get the chance to touch it.

Kevin Shea later collected Gerry McNeil’s unhappy view of things for Barilko: Without A Trace (2004). “It’s been my claim to fame,” the old goalie said before his death in 2004. “I still get a lot of mail from that goal — people asking me to autograph their picture of the Barilko goal.”

It wasn’t a hard shot, he said.

“I just simply missed it. You have a sense on most goals of the puck coming and you get ready, but on this one, I don’t know what happened. I had to look at pictures after. It surprised me — I don’t know how the puck got in. At the time, I didn’t even know who shot it — I never knew who scored most of the goals that were scored against me. But there was Barilko. He was right at the face-off circle.”

“It was just a shocker. It was an awful disappointment.”