Category Archives: General Hockey

Saturday catching-up post

First game of the Claude Noel interim era on Thursday. I went — first win I’ve seen in person in its entirety since….um….several decades ago? (Actually, November 7 against Carolina. So just in the last decade) It was a pretty boring affair, as I recall (I went out carousing after the game, so most of my memories of it are seen through a thick haze of beer, karaoke, and cupcakes), not many good scoring chances by either team, neither team really dominating. The most exciting moment was probably Umberger’s empty net (!) goal scored from his stomach in the dying minutes to make it 2-0. Dallas rather quickly answered back to make a thrilling game of it for the last minute, but Mason held on. So, not exactly a 180-degree turnaround for the Jackets in the post-Hitchcock era, but a promising enough start, I suppose.

Buffalo tonight. I’m going, so I had some hopes that Snowmageddon might keep some of the drunken WNY hordes at bay. But this is Buffalo we’re talking about, so no. I think I need a drink already…

In other news, former Jacket O-K Tollefsen is now a Red Wing, so we’ll be seeing more of him (assuming he’s not hurt when the Jackets and Wings meet).

There’s also some sad news in the hockey world today. You’ll recall a few months ago I posted a link to John Buccigross’ excellent piece about the relationship between Leafs GM Brian Burke and his son Brendan, a student manager with the Miami hockey team who had come out publicly as gay in the macho world of hockey. Sadly, Brendan Burke and a friend were killed in a car accident in Indiana yesterday. Condolences to the families and the Miami hockey program.

Some reading for a rainy Sunday

I just finished reading Gretzky’s Tears by Stephen Brunt. It’s a stand-out among hockey books. My review (as posted on Goodreads):

Stephen Brunt is one of my all-time favorite sportswriters, and has been for years. I always loved his columns in the Globe & Mail, enjoyed Searching for Bobby Orr very much. He’s a very skilled writer and very smart, able to weave in wider social and cultural context to writing about sports.

This book is no different. He discusses the events leading up to the Gretzky trade. At this point, there aren’t really any revelations — I think anyone who has paid attention to hockey since 1988 knows that Gretzky was sold to LA because Peter Pocklington was having money problems. The PR line at the time, that Gretzky asked to be traded to the Kings so his new wife could continue her acting career, was discredited soon afterwards. But Brunt’s perspective on the trade is still welcome and fresh, because he does provide a lot of background information on what went on from people involved, like Bruce McNall, or Peter Pocklington’s PR man.

And he goes beyond just a retelling of the trade itself into looking at what it meant in terms of the direction the NHL took post-1988, what it meant in terms of how Canadians viewed hockey and the NHL, and so on. There’s some really insightful writing in here about the meaning of sports in contemporary culture. He also explores the unraveling of the fortunes of both Bruce McNall and Peter Pocklington in more depth than I’d personally read before.

Brunt’s pretty cynical about the post-Gretzky NHL and American expansion in general. I suppose that leaves a bit of a sour note for me, just given that he implicitly at least would deny my favorite team the right to exist. Although his wider point about the illusory nature of NHL expansion in the U.S. is taken.

The chapters at the end about Gretzky’s role in Phoenix do seem a bit rushed and not as artful as the rest of the book. But I’d highly recommend this to any sports fan as an essential work in understanding the contemporary NHL and how it came to be as it is circa 2009-10.

Unlike many hockey books originating in Canada, this one seems to be pretty widely available in the U.S. I picked up my copy at the Borders on Kenny Rd.

Another hockey book I’ve been wanting to read turned up today the the Barnes & Noble/OSU Bookstore, where I was ostensibly shopping for a gift for our holiday exchange at work, but instead came home with Bob McKenzie’s Hockey Dad for myself. This one is of course of above-average interest for me, since Bob’s son Mike plays for St. Lawrence. As I believe I’ve noted here before, I’ve seen the senior McKenzie in the stands at some Saints games, and, memorably, in the corridor at the University Inn first thing in the morning, the last time I was up in Canton. Looking forward to reading this one.

Montreal Pre-Game Odds & Ends

Random thoughts:

So, I did manage to stay awake for the rest of last night’s game. Jackets did get another goal to make the score look somewhat respectable, but really, that was not a respectable performance by any stretch of the imagination. They were just bad. But it happens in hockey. It’s a long season, and every team is going to lay the occasional egg. No time to dwell on it, though, as the Jackets play again tonight in Montreal. The Habs are another team behind where they might have been expected to be at this point, but as we’ve seen of late with the Wings, Preds, and Rangers, that’s no reason to take them lightly. Also, this is the only game on the schedule tonight, and is being shown nationally on TSN and RDS in Canada, so no doubt the Canadian-born Jackets will want to put on a good show for their family and friends watching at home.

The Jackets move on to play Ottawa on (American) Thanksgiving, but won’t get to face off against former Jacket Pascal Leclaire. He is out for a month with a broken cheekbone, the result of being hit by the puck while he sat on the bench. I always did like Leclaire, and I still think he has some real talent, but the guy has just been snake-bitten by injuries throughout his entire pro career.

I was intending to take in a film tonight, but given that I’m still a little hobbled by this virus (although greatly improved over yesterday), I’ll be staying in to watch the game. Hoping for a better one than last night. Got myself psyched up for a game in La Belle Province by watching Les Boys III today. Okay, so maybe it didn’t psych me up all that much. It was an okay movie, but about half an hour too long. The first movie in the series was pretty funny and enjoyable, though, and if you haven’t seen it, I recommend searching it out.

Having spent the last couple days at home, in between my hours of judge show watching, I’ve had lots of time to surf the web, and dug out some worthwhile hockey stories:

After all the sturm und drang about Hitchcock’s coaching style after Filatov went back to Russia, there have been a couple of stories in the past couple days that point to Hitchcock having a good effect on young players. NHL.com on Rick Nash and his growth into the captaincy in Columbus and Tom Reed in the Dispatch on the blossoming of Rusty Klesla.

Meanwhile, speaking of the prodigal Filatov, he’s happy to be back with CSKA and playing well. But he’s still saying the right things (publicly at least) about Columbus.

And not Jackets related, but this Buccigross piece at ESPN about Brian Burke’s son Brendan, and his decision to come out publicly, is a must-read. And it speaks well to the character of Enrico Blasi and the program he’s built at Miami, so there’s something in there for the Ohioans.

And it sounds like something interesting might be happening on Judge Mathis, so I leave you with those thoughts. à bientôt.

Off-season hockey books and other Toronto tidbits

I was up in Toronto for a few days earlier this week. Mostly work, but I did fit in an awesome Tragically Hip concert at Massey Hall, some visiting of friends, and of course some shopping. Although Amazon and other on-line sources now make it possible to acquire pretty much any book from any place, I still enjoy going to bookstores in Canada to find new books on hockey that haven’t filtered down here yet. Most new hockey books come out to coincide with the beginning of the season, so this is an off time for them. Although I hadn’t been in Canada since my trip to Calgary last March, so the Fall 2008 titles are still new to me.

There were some newer titles that struck my fancy a little, but they were all still hardcovers in the $30 range, so I decided to wait on these ones until they’re in paperback or remainders. Bruce Dowbiggin’s The Meaning of Puck was the most tempting, as I’ve enjoyed his other books and his journalism in general, but I deferred. I’ll probably pick it up on my next trip up. The Rocket by Benoit Melancon, a meaty looking cultural studies tome about Maurice Richard and his cultural impact in Quebec was similarly tempting, and is on the list for later. Not much else really struck my fancy this time.

The books I did end up buying were older titles. Chris Robinson’s Stole This from a Hockey Card about Doug Harvey caught my eye a couple years ago at Pages Books, but it was at the tail end of the trip when I’d already spent too much, so I didn’t get it. Made sure to pick it up this time. I’m a fan of Bill Gaston’s fiction, so his Midnight Hockey, which was on remainder at Book City, found its way into my ownership. I’d seen Mark Anthony Jarman’s hockey novel Salvage King, Ya! at the Kingston Chapters many eons ago, but I barely read fiction as a grad student, never mind paid $20 for a brand new novel, so I passed it up and it slipped my mind. Found it in a used bookstore this time, and I’m about halfway through reading it — takes some getting into, but I am quite enjoying it.

The Leafs have obviously been out of action even longer than the Jackets, so not a whole lot of buzz around them in Toronto these days. More people wearing Jays gear than I’ve seen in well over a decade, and lots of Toronto FC presence as well. And of course lots of Balsillie/Coyotes talk. Even a friend of mine in Waterloo who detests hockey was talking about that. She opined that since Toronto has the Leafs, the Niagara Peninsula has the Sabres, and “I suppose people in Windsor must like Detroit” that London would be the best home for the erstwhile Coyotes. Okay…

It was also nice that in Canada hockey is on channels that are actually available in hotel rooms, unlike Vs., which I think I’ve found in hotels twice. So I skipped a dinner with colleagues in favor of takeout shawarma and Game Six of Pens-Caps. What a fun series that was to watch, even as someone who is pretty much neutral on those two teams! Sounds like Game Seven was a bit of a dud, but I was en route back to Columbus and missed it. Tried to listen on XM, but they had the Pittsburgh feed, and I loathe Mike Lange with the white hot intensity of 1000 suns, so that was a no-go. Can’t say I have a lot of interest in the teams that are left — I’ll probably cheer for Carolina as the last remaining “non-traditional” team insofar as I cheer for anyone.

On that note of playoff ennui for those of us without a rooting interest left, I’ll leave you with a recommendation to check out this right-on Roy MacGregor column about the ever dragging hockey playoffs.

Um…what?

You just know this is going to wind up in some Fraser Institute report about how pointy-headed int-y-leck-shuls have been wasting tax dollars…

On the reading list

I was relatively restrained in the purchase of books on my recent trip north of the border, not least because I was flying this time and had to be reasonable in what I could pack (this also contributed to my bringing ZERO alcohol back with me. Boo.). But as is my wont when I return to the land of my birth 1993-94, 1995-96, and 1997-2002, I did pick up a few hockey books, two of which even have a Jackets connection. They are:

  • Future Greats and Heartbreaks by Gare Joyce, which relies heavily upon access to the Blue Jackets’ scouting staff.
  • King of Russia by Dave King, the first-ever CBJ head coach, although the book is about his time coaching in Russia.
  • Cold-Cocked: On Hockey by Lorna Jackson, which looks to be the sort of book I’ll either love, or hate so much that it makes me angry. I’m hoping for the former, since it did cost $19.95 — in real money, not American pesos!

I haven’t started any of them yet, as I’ve been slogging through my remaindered copy of The Secret Mulroney Tapes for a week and a half now. But once I do get them read, I’ll report back if any are particularly worthwhile.

A plethora of random stories

I set up an alert for “hockey” on my Google news page, and it’s been leading me to all kinds of random goodies. Some stories to read on Hockey Day in Canada:

MVP on CBC

In this post from last summer, I opined that the NHL ought to allow the creation of a hockey soap opera a la Dream Team. Looks like we’re halfway there…I just learned of MVP, which is coming to the CBC, and looks from the ads and media coverage to be along those lines (if maybe a bit more Footballers Wives-esque).

It’s still only half my scenario, though, since it sounds like the series doesn’t have the blessing of the league, so they won’t get to use real team names and uniforms, unlike Dream Team. And I haven’t heard of any plans yet to make it available in the US, where the sport’s in need of a boost, and which — who knows? — a campy TV soap might deliver. It would be nice if Vs. would pick it up, but if the league doesn’t approve, I suspect they will refrain.

Maybe I can at least hope for a DVD release.

Embrace the niche, Part Two: On being an American Hockey Fan

This actually wasn’t what I’d intended to write about in the second part of my “embrace the niche?” thread, but then I saw this post at Kukla’s Korner which links to a National Post article giving some of the behind-the-scenes blow-by-blow of the Balsillie/Preds deal. It’s an interesting enough article, but then I came to this line:

Others say he is determined to use his fortune, of which millions has been poured into philanthropic endeavours, to relocate a team to Canada where the game’s most loyal and knowledgeable fans are based.

(Emphasis mine)

And I needed to jump up on my soapbox. This is one of my biggest pet peeves about what passes for discourse about the state of hockey: the easy slippage from the fact that more Canadians than Americans like hockey to the opinion (presented as fact) that therefore the interest and knowledge of any fan or group of fans is automatically deeper and more authentic by virtue of being Canadian.

I can guarantee that if you were to pick any random 100 people off the streets in Ottawa and Columbus, a much higher percentage in Ottawa would describe themselves as at least hockey fans. If you were to give a quiz about hockey rules and trivia to the same random people, I think it’s a pretty safe bet which city would come out on top. As I noted in the first post in this series, hockey holds a prominent enough place in Canadian culture that even people who don’t particularly seek it out will pick up some knowledge of it. I would never deny that interest in hockey is higher in Canada both as a percentage of the population and probably still in terms of absolute numbers of fans.

I’d agree further that hockey’s more privileged place in Canadian culture means that, say, winning Olympic Gold in 2002 meant more to more people than it would have if the final score of the gold medal game had gone the other way (although Americans have been known in the past to get pretty worked up over Olympic hockey gold). And certainly, the fact that the US lost in 2002 didn’t set off a national wave of soul-searching and lamentations about how American hockey had lost its way, commissions to study how it could be improved, in-depth investigative reporting about what went wrong. All of which we saw in Canada after the men’s team crashed out in Nagano.

I’ll concede all of those points and still find that throwaway line in that National Post article inaccurate and offensive. Because it doesn’t say that there are more hockey fans in Canada, or that you’ll find more knowledge about the game generally in Canada. It says that Canadian hockey fans are “the most loyal and knowledgeable.” Which means that American hockey fans (as opposed to Americans generally) are necessarily less loyal and less knowledgeable.

Perhaps the author didn’t intend it to mean that, and it is just one sentence in one article in the National Post. But I’d argue that it’s symptomatic of a broader thread in hockey fan and media discourse in the Bettman era. One in which both the insecurities about Canadian hockey post-Quebec/Winnipeg/World Cup 96/Nagano and the post-2002 triumphalism and noisy nationalism, get projected into any discussion about the state of the NHL. The former set of issues give rise to fears of losing control of hockey, with a convenient (American) boogeyman in the form of Gary Bettman. The latter gives rise to chest-thumping declarations of “We’re #1.” Mixed together, it can be an ugly brew, given to arrogance, parochialism, and dismissiveness towards others (all those traits that Americans in general frequently get thumped for). Which lends itself to lists of which fan bases “deserve” or “don’t deserve” NHL hockey, as if a league in which teams reportedly get 65% of their revenues from corporations buying luxury boxes and glass seats doles out franchises on the basis of the purity of heart of their fans.

Of course, the sick irony of this sort of discourse is that the only Americans who pay any attention to it are precisely the ones who do love hockey. So the people who are feeling so angry and hurt about the prospect of losing their NHL team that they start a website devoted to finding ways to prevent that eventuality wind up getting these sorts of feces flung in their faces. Talk about insult being piled upon injury. The people who care the most keep being told that “no one will care if the Preds move.” Meanwhile, the corporations and individuals and media types who ignored or disdained the Predators all along, well, they’re not sitting on savethepredators.com reading that. It’s no skin off their noses.

Further, American hockey fans, even those of us who aren’t living with the imminent threat of our team leaving us, get it from both sides. From our fellow hockey fans and the hockey media we hear about how “Americanization” is ruining the game, how we don’t deserve our teams, how we don’t really understand or care about the sport. From our fellow American sports fans and media we hear about how hockey sucks, how no one cares about hockey, how it’s downright laughable to expect decent coverage of hockey in the media.

Which makes the original argument that set me off on this rant all the more ironic. If anything, I’d argue that the put-upon American hockey fan is often more loyal, loves the game more intensely, and yes, is often more knowledgeable than the Canadian fan. It comes back to the distinction I drew in the first post between hockey being a niche and hockey being part of the dominant culture. American fans tend to have to seek out hockey, to work to follow it, and to do so in a climate where they’re either being laughed at or dismissed out of hand. I’d say you damn well have to be pretty loyal to put up with that, when it would be a lot easier to just stop worrying and watch the NFL.

Saying that you’re a hockey fan in Canada is somewhat like saying that you like the music of the Beatles. Yeah, the occasional contrarian will jump up to say that the Beatles suck and their music is overrated, but for the most part, it’s kind of a self-evident proposition. Everyone likes the Beatles. Saying that you’re a hockey fan in the United States is a bit more like declaring your love of the music of John Zorn. People will be a bit confused and perplexed and wonder why, and probably not even know who John Zorn is to start with.

To put it another way, with far less tortured music metaphors, to be an American hockey fan is generally to be an obsessive American hockey fan. In Canada, where hockey is always sort of there, I knew some people who were obsessive fans, following every twist and turn of their team and the league, but I knew far more who, if asked, could name a favorite NHL team and who might watch a game in the bar during the playoffs, but generally devoted not a whole lot of their time to following the game. Here in the US, most every hockey fan I know falls into the former category, while very few fall into the latter. This being an NHL city, I do meet the occasional person who goes to one or two Jackets games a season, thinks the beer is too expensive, and likes it when Jody Shelley fights. But they’re far and few between. It’s much more often an all-or-nothing proposition — either they’re the intense, obsessive kind of hockey fan (or at least the family member or partner of one), or they know nothing and care nothing about the sport.

And I realize that it’s precisely the presence of the know nothing, care nothing people that so irks Canadian hockey fans when they look at an NHL with 24 American teams, and “innovations” like the FoxTrac puck or the shootout being put in place to appeal to those people. Who still don’t notice or care.

But again, it’s crucial to distinguish between the average American, whom the marketers hope to reach through such changes in the game, and the American hockey fan, who probably doesn’t like it any more than Canadians. Just because most Americans don’t care about hockey doesn’t mean that those who do care necessarily care less or know less than Canadians. The history of hockey in this country goes back nearly as long as that in Canada. And once you dig beneath the surface to look more closely at the various niches that make up hockey in the United States, the love of the game shines through — the folks who plan their yearly vacation around attending the Frozen Four, whether or not their team made it; the big crowds showing up to watch high school hockey in Minnesota; the 50+ year history of pro hockey in Fort Wayne, Indiana; my buddy Tim, playing in an adult league, coaching his son’s team, building a rink in his backyard, holding season tickets to the CBJ, and still finding time to ring up tens of thousands of posts about hockey on various messageboards. Yeah, those people and places may be part of a niche amidst 300 million Americans, but the thrill of a big glove save, a thundering hip check, a clever deke, or an OT goal is no less for being part of a niche.

I recognize that in the context of a limited number of NHL franchises, there’s going to be a zero sum game element to the placement of those franchises. So some of the Phoenix vs Winnipeg or Nashville vs Hamilton talk is going to be unavoidable. But love of hockey in and of itself is not a zero sum game, so let’s stop treating it as such. We all love the game, or else we wouldn’t be here on a hockey blog in mid-June.

This week’s Saturday links of interest

I’m all agitated and annoyed again by the elitists wanking over the situation in Nashville, so here’s a link people ought to read:

Other interesting things you should look at:

That is all.