Category Archives: General NHL

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.

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Mason wins Calder and Novotny is outta here

First off, congratulations to Steve Mason on winning the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year. Hopefully he has many more strong years in a CBJ uniform. Rick Nash also won some award I’ve never heard of, but he wasn’t on hand in Vegas to accept it. Still, congratulations to Nasher. The Awards show itself was the train wreck we’ve come to expect, so the move from Toronto to Las Vegas did not affect that. It’s good to know there are some things you can rely on year after year in this world…

One player who won’t be having many more strong years in a CBJ uniform is Jiri Novotny, who is not being tendered a qualifying offer and will thus become a UFA. Novotny was the Blue Jacket player this past season who I most often forgot was on the team. We’ve seen far worse in Columbus, but he never really stood out for me.

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.

A couple of sad but necessary reads

Since the death of Walt Poddubny this weekend, a couple of articles have come out talking about his post-NHL struggles:

Adam Proteau in The Hockey News and Allan Maki in the Globe & Mail.

I like that Proteau brings up the comparison to the movie The Wrestler. Although I’ve never watched wrestling, when I saw the movie, it did make me think about hockey players and what moral responsibility we as fans have for their post-hockey lives. I realize that in these days of multi-million dollar contracts for NHLers (which was not the case in Poddubny’s years in the league) it’s unpopular to suggest any sympathy for athletes who have fallen on hard times. But a lot of these guys are going to live with injuries and pain for the rest of their lives because of what they did to entertain us. And the single-minded focus on developing the skills that got them to the NHL often leaves them without a lot of options when hockey is over. Granted, these days, even a mediocre NHLer could in theory make enough money to live fairly comfortably on for many years to come, so maybe we’ll see fewer of these sad stories in the future. Maybe.

I’m not sure what fans could do differently that would change any of this, in any event. Although it does put a slightly different cast on some of the debates in the game — around head hits, or fighting, or playing hurt — to think about the athletes involved as people who will (hopefully) spend many more years of their lives as retired NHlers than they did as active ones.

(HT to Mirtle for the links to the Maki and Proteau articles)

ETA: This article in Sports Illustrated about MLB, NBA, and NFL players and their financial woes is timely.

Been quiet

All-Star break, so not a lot going on in Jacketsland. This morning’s Dispatch takes stock of the team at the break.

All-Star Game tonight. I’ll watch ’til it gets boring, which will probably be about five minutes into the first period. The skills competition used to be worth watching, but it was so awful last night — bad camera work, failures of technology, Vs. announcers seemingly having no idea what was going on, and that atrocity that is the breakaway competition — that I switched over to the Miami-Nebraska-Omaha and Michigan-Michigan State games…far more entertaining.

I suppose it’s a necessity to have some sort of All-Star game, since every other major sport does it, but I wouldn’t miss it if it were gone. Nor, I suspect, would the players who are suspended for skipping the weekend (yeah, I know it helps my team to have Lidstrom and Datsyuk suspended Tuesday, but I’d much rather they win without an assist from the NHL). I’m sure it’s fun to attend in person, but as a televised showcase for the league — yikes!

A memory game

Can you name all 30 NHL teams in five minutes?

I did it with 48 seconds to spare. I got 29 in about 2 1/2 minutes, and then was stumped by one team for a long time. It was the other team that entered the league the same year as the Jackets..

Curiosity

Photobucket

The Kroger at Bethel and Dierker has both the Detroit and Pittsburgh regional editions of both the Hockey News and Faceoff NHL Yearbooks. Only Detroit for the Sporting News Yearbook, though.

When I bought my 2008-09 yearbooks at the Brewery District Kroger, they only had the Detroit covers.