Friday, March 28, 2008

tuff enuff

For me, coach Marc Crawford's most onerous and enduring crime is his inability to win Game 7 versus Calgary in overtime, for putting Marek Malik on the ice for the first short-handed and doomed minute after Matt Cooke and Markus Naslund had conjured (presto!) arguably the most thrilling goal in Canucks' history. Scotty Bowman would have won that game. Darryl Sutter did because he was wiley enough to put greybeard and former Canuck, Martin Gelinas, incongruously in front of the net on the most important power play of the season.

But in the aftermath years since the Bertuzzi/Moore disaster, Crawford--if you don't count the purgatory he's in in LA, notwithstanding Antje Kopitar--has seemed pretty unstained. (Tony Granato, then coach of the Avalanche and presumably the nutsy honcho who put Moore on the ice in such a stupid game, was demoted to Assistant the next season.) Reports today suggest Bertuzzi is suing Crawford.

Note that this week coach Patrick Roy received a suspension alongside the player, his son, whom he reportedly directed to attack an opposing player. Hockey Night in Canada's P.J. Stock and Ron MacLean giggled, glowed and marvelled nostalgically on Saturday night when they replayed the unprovoked and brutal beating Roy's son laid on another goalie ("He even throws punches like his dad!!"). Why didn't they see what I did: the young Roy's big fist comes back, high, and slams into the side of the other player's head--again and again--while the boy falls to the ice, undefended, face down.

The fighting needs to go from the game, but it won't. What can go and should: the testo-delight and ecstasy expressed when it happens, especially those wearing the dark suits on Saturday night, lounging in their leather chairs atop their slick and shiny set, the pornographic big screen on endless slo-mo repeat behind them. Last week, on the Canucks radio broadcast during a "lively tilt," the usually delightful and ageing colour man, Tom Larscheid, screeched, "I hope he knocks his block off!" Must we? It wasn't so long ago--35 years maybe--when CBC would go to a commercial whenever things got rough and fists flew.

I was in the middle of writing Cold-cocked during those awful days, and I thought long and hard about who was really to blame when Bertuzzi's heart and mind were disintegrating under the weight of guilt and so few others seemed willing to shoulder a young man's burden. Complicity is an intriguing concept; guilt is better measured on a continuum or a sliding scale. Until we look away from the glorification of violence, and the idealization of uncontrolled male aggression, we are all complicit.

-from Cold-cocked: On Hockey (Biblioasis 2007):

Two nights later, the game was a cryptic puzzle: how could Colorado score so high when they’d been beaten likewise a few nights before; why was Brad May unhinged and maniacal, so into Aebescher’s face and goalie-space; why was Steve Moore on the ice without appropriate back-up; could a run-up score really send a man like Bertuzzi over so steep a cliff; where were the heroic, smooth-faced captains in this game—Naslund and gentleman Joe Sakic, their All-Star Game hat trick (Bert helped, too) only weeks old—and why didn’t they stop it; why was Bert on the ice without Naslund; what is it coaches do for young men, if not get them safely through these land-mined years.

Either the bull will kill you in Madrid or the crowd will. The pre-game circus was gross. In August 2005, veteran columnist Cam Cole will write that Bertuzzi is only 50% to blame for what happens; the league and its officials and coaches are responsible for the other 50%. Missing from his equation: media and fan complicity. Airwaves and print—welcomed the engorgement of revenge, couldn’t wait for this game, thirsty for more conflict, more drama, more dimensions, to hear themselves faux-analyze and smirk in that awful insider way, on pin-striped panels of hockey hasbeens. There was the pornography of the phone-in show, “the church of athletic self-opinion,” where it all gets said and the appetite for more extreme opinions is whetted. Since when did democracy mean everyone’s an expert?

Moore didn’t see the hit coming, we’re told by the same pundits over the next weeks, and that’s what made it so dishonorable and also so dangerous, you see. But they imagined the violence so many times, placed it in the realm of possibilities, saw it coming and even called for it, dialed it up, defined and reinforced the code that would make such an act honorable.

We are all complicit. Duh.

But if he didn’t see it coming, he certainly heard the freight train of Bertuzzi, the clanging warnings around the ice, the blast of the horn to pull over, pal, if you know what’s good for you. At 8:41 of the third period, Moore decided to drive on. Bertuzzi did a bad and stupid thing and the pile-up was awful to see. May carries the puck, drops it like a clingy girlfriend, and begins his extraneous and automatic punch-up nearby. Hedberg gestures pathetically like a North American traffic cop to Aebescher: come over to my place, let’s throw goalie punches. Meanwhile, Moore was the worst version of horizontal we’ve seen. The game was no longer a metaphor for war, to borrow from Joyce Carol Oates; it was the thing itself.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Baby-lou, Where are You?

Sportsnet Pacific runs a post-game panel show this season that usually features Iain MacIntyre of the Vancouver Sun and Ed Willes from the Province. The opinions are predictable, the insights not very insightful, especially if you’ve watched the game and can spot bad penalties called and/or taken, or Swedish twins doing the opposite of the cycle. MacIntyre has incredibly long legs, though, and is rarely silly. So I try to watch. Last week, the panel included another warm body from the Province (Editor? Publisher? Who knows).

Trevor Linden—prior to his first game in eons—had reportedly gone all “I Have a Dream” in the room and inspired his mates to suck it up and get it on. They won. Roberto Luongo credited Saint Trev. The Province dude went ultra-blue collar and claimed to speak for fans (I paraphrase): “when players make that kind of money, losing shouldn’t be a psychological problem and at this point in the season, they better not need to be inspired by anybody, let alone a guy who most nights isn’t fast enough to keep up.” Burp.

After seventy-five games and only a handful left—their bodies running on empty or ready for the junk yard—players, it seems to me, are all about psychology. To suggest that a high salary means they should turn off the head and crank up the body is a strange and awful sort of objectification that limits the game. I want the story of what a pro athlete’s body and mind—both—endure over a long season. The game is better when the formula for success includes the abstract: determination, creativity, heart, fear, regret.

Roy MacGregor had a great story on Alex Kovalev in the Globe and Mail last weekend. It’s been thrilling to watch the ageing Hab do Fred Astaires through the neutral zone and tuck in goals wherever. Skill meets will. MacGregor writes, “He was remarkably gifted as a child: bright in school, exceptionally musical and a champion swimmer.” Then came the heart condition. Then came the hockey prowess and the consequent ill-will from other players and parents. Followed by shyness. MacGregor cites a list of things that have broken Kovalev’s spirit and also motivated him to try again: “He tore himself apart and rebuilt from scratch,” says MacGregor, to describe the difference between last year’s model and this one. “He tracked down old game tapes of how he had played in his prime and he studied the tapes, took notes and then set out to put what he had learned into practice.” Kovalev’s psychology has inspired the young dudes fuelling the eastern conference’s top squad.

In a sport that seems, here in Vigneault’s Vancouver, mechanical, formulaic, predictable and doomed, a creative and heady player like Markus Naslund can look pretty sad most nights. Kovalev, MacGregor says, “considers himself a freelancer, a player so creative he delights in having nothing in mind until the precise moment when something happens. He is at his happiest when he is surprising even himself.” Even at this time of the season, I’m compelled more by the abstract details of a player’s psychology than I am by endless faux-debate about the relative fairness of skate-stomp suspensions.

The look on Brendan Morrison’s face when he knew, before his one-legged hobble off the Colorado ice, that his season was, yet again, toast; his teammates’ faces crumpling as he left the game; the game, yet again, leaving them; the handsome all-star goalie playing a mile-high stinker at such a key time; his huge heart about to swell even bigger with the birth of his first (ill-timed) baby (What’s that tightening around his neck? It’s Scott Niedermayer’s goal in last year’s playoffs, the one that closed it down.): these have nothing to do with salaries and stats, and I’d rather be moved by them than simply feel the season crash down. When they stop being interesting in the ways all human beings are, I stop watching.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Seasonal Disorder

January to March: worst time to blog. Across the land, you can find posts from those apologizing for going so long off-post, for losing their knack and need for words, for being lazy and sloppy, for no longer caring if folks find their thoughts riveting.

It’s also the dead zone for hockey fans. All-star break, trade deadline, mean-nothing low-scoring groaners, superstar injuries and redundant groin pulls. But March is here, and like the pure and lovely fawn lily, bloggers and optimists once again upturn their pimply, pale faces to the sunlight of the playoff run. (Jan-March: terrible metaphors happen.)

The standings are too tight for me to fully commit to anything, plus I have tendonitis in my shoulder so can’t mow the lawn and fume about coaching decisions and inane eastern broadcasters, and so I am unable to reveal my true feelings about the Canucks (Trev: chin up), but until I do, I’m envious of those hockey bloggers who kept beating even through the dead zone. I’m also grateful. A number of them kindly read and reviewed Cold-cocked and not only did they say nice things, but they said smart and interesting and funny things, too.

The book biz is mighty tight and testy, and it offers writers plenty of ways to feel ignored or undervalued (“Ya ya: boo hoo. Suck it up, you filthy Swede,” snarls my Cherry-esque alter-ego). Sometimes the best that can happen is if somebody in a far off land lets you know they got a kick out of your work. Correction: that’s always the best that can happen. Some night recently, a Washington Capitals blogger stopped watching Ovechkin take over the world long enough to blog that he was reading Cold-cocked and liked it. I’m honored.

Publisher Dan over at posted a list of them that I’ll rerun here:

On Frozen Blog:

Hockey Blog in Canada:

Scarlett Ice:

Untypical Girls: /

Women's Sports Blog:

Caps Web Forum: