Thursday, December 27, 2007

John Burns Dekes, Scores

The winter solstice brings back the light, sure, and not a moment too soon. It also brings lots of salt and butter and crabbiness and, phew, World Junior Hockey from far away lands.

Yesterday against the Czechs and this morning versus Slovakia—the wee nation that has already given us Hossas, two magic Marians, a pre-concussion Richard Zednik—the Canadians were snoozy and robotic. Great (fascistic) coaching is one thing, and “yay, we win again!” but must our junior tourny teams all play the same way and look like table hockey on big ice? Positionally sound, okay, but also predictable and machine-steady. Blame the salt and butter, but I nodded off—this was before 8 o’clock in BC, home of Kyle Turris—during the first two periods.

Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht teaches the aesthetics of sport at Stanford and is the author of the neat little book, In Praise of Athletic Beauty. He's an egghead, sure, but Gumbrecht talks about how the greatest pleasure in sport (or in art), why we watch and cheer, is when the unexpected happens. Seems kinda duh put that way, but I like how it explains that faster heartbeat and instant call to attention when a mistake happens on ice, or a spasm of uncontrolled creativity. This morning, Drew Doughty (great name for a Canadian, or in the case of westcoasters, Self-Doughty) decided to spinorama in the neutral zone when we all thought (cause we know the game's usual rhythms and patterns) he was going to retreat and regroup. He’s long practised that move and apparently had been told by coaches to tone down such hotdoggery for this tournament, to take fewer chances. Even before the move led to the Turris goal, it was thrilling to see the game stop in its tracks and to watch imagination and spark—things we value in all teenagers—squeeze the game off those tracks and send it bumping and grinding toward the net.

So far, things seem controlled and interesting and maybe we’ve moved beyond this as a nation (since the Super Series last year and the ’72 series before it) but: please. I don’t want to see the Canadians headshot the other team’s best forward so he can’t play, possibly ever again.

And speaking of spinoramas: anyone remotely interested in Canadian sports writing should be sad that John Burns has announced he will soon be leaving the Georgia Straight. Over the last ten years, Burnsie has always let me review the sports books I wanted to, has always given sports writing a place to be considered and criticized as legitimate cultural commentary and as literature. During the writing of Cold-cocked: On Hockey (and also my forthcoming book, Flirt: The Interviews), he listened, cared, encouraged and let me read and review many of the books that informed my take on hockey and how we feel, read and write the game. Let’s hope he’s not feeling too Self-Doughty and knows that extreme change (aka “the old spinorama”) is truly the only way to become better and more.

2 comments:

barb michelen said...
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John said...

Just finished and loved "Cold-Cocked," and am so glad to find more of your excellent prose and thinking here. I look forward to more.