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.

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