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17 Aug

Sochi Olympics: Hockey Boycott? No. The Best Protest Is Attending

When one undertakes a political act such as a boycott, they do so with the intention of making a change happen. If there is no reasonable chance that the act will make the desired change happen then the act itself becomes self serving and, in the end, will do more harm than good.

I'm no expert on the Russian psyche, but I have read enough literature, history and current news to be of the firmly held belief that an act such as boycotting the Olympic games will do absolutely no good. Russia will not bow down and change itself, the Russian people will not rise up and demand the change and the world's media is already yawning, frying more potent fish.

The whole idea of a boycott is a lame horse. What is the eulogy? "There, you take all the gold medals! That'll teach you!" Frankly, I think we ought to go and whoop the pants off the buggers. Now that would teach them.

The greatest preemptive pressure that could have been brought to bear against Russia has already been brought - public opinion has been shifted, public outrage stirred and more people are aware of the problem now than were before the talk of boycotting began. In fact, a boycott, would be something of a pressure release. There are more people waiting to see "if someone will do something" like the Tommie Smith and John Carlos salute at the 1968 Olympics than there are people calling for a boycott.

Human Rights SaluteThe 1968 Olympics Black Power salute was an act of protest by the African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos during their medal ceremony at the 1968 Summer Olympics in the Olympic Stadium in Mexico City. As they turned to face their flags and hear the American national anthem (The Star-Spangled Banner), they each raised a black-gloved fist and kept them raised until the anthem had finished. Smith, Carlos and Australian silver medalist Peter Norman all wore human rights badges on their jackets. In his autobiography, Silent Gesture, Tommie Smith stated that the gesture was not a "Black Power" salute, but a "human rights salute". The event is regarded as one of the most overtly political statements in the history of the modern Olympic Games. wikipedia
As with any major protest or disruptive political action, the potential gains must be weighed against the potential losses: will the immediate benefit, if there is one, provide enough of a step forward to compensate for any back steps it will cause.

In this case, my opinion is that no, it will not.

I read a comment on a message board yesterday to the effect that the American and Canadian hockey teams should boycott the Sochi games because, in a phrase, "that would teach them". The premise being that Russia so loves hockey that a stay-at-home-on-principal act by two of their natural rivals would really get under their skin.

Why yes, it certainly would. Would make them very cranky. All the Russian athletes and all the Russian people would be mightily upset. And still, nothing would change except that hundreds athletes who have spent their lifetimes waiting for such a moment won't get to go live it. The laws will still be what they are and Russia will move along as it always does, inexorably, to its own tune and with little regard for the pointy stick of international opinion.

Which is not to say, of course, that we should all go "well, that's that, then" and just accept whatever injustices come our way but it does mean that more useful means of bringing about change must be considered. A boycott will, frankly, probably cause a tremendous backlash of bad will back here in North America where the issue of human rights, in the context of sexuality, is still having its own growing pains.

If, for instance, Smith and Carlos had boycotted the 1968 games, we would have a footnote in history about what didn't happen, instead of a living historical reference about what did happen. A boycott is the ultimate passive-aggressive act. It's the sort of neener, neener that, in this case, takes hostages and that's a bit of a no-no, a kind of human rights violation in itself.  And probably not at all a step forward.

Let's face it: it's not like anyone living in North America has not heard of the issues of "gay rights". It's not like any of us live in a bubble - virtually every one of us, by way of our own provincial, state and federal laws and the bodies that create them, has been made aware of the issue. There will be no eureka moment in North America ... just a collective groan as the people not personally affected realize the last four years of training, waiting, anticipating and working towards something has been for naught.

As politically incorrect as this might be, the issue isn't one most people would be willing to make such a great sacrifice over. Sure, in principle we all believe in the equality of human beings - but the issue of the rights of  the GLT community is one best fought in the individual domiciles of the people affected. It's not ready for road trips - it hasn't even learned to drive on the streets of its own hometown yet.

I say that the movement risks damaging itself by talking about a boycott, that it risks polarizing the home crowd even further, that it has no business messing in international politics when it has yet to conquer its own domestic ones. It brings us back to the first argument: that it will do no good.  Not that it's wrong or "uppity" but that it will do no good and might, in fact, do harm.

Even as I write activists in Toronto are meeting to discuss a boycott.  Whether Canada should engage in one. Kevin Beaulieu, the executive director of Pride Toronto, in an interview Thursday, said, "With Russia preparing to host the Olympics, which means a commitment to human rights, there's an opportunity here to bring the spotlight on what's happening, particularly in this country, and try to make a change."

Yes. Absolutely. This is definitely an opportunity in the Sun Tzu mold. One that should be capitalized upon. But not with a boycott. I can't say that I am aware of any major boycott that has successfully changed anything.  Sit ins work. Sit outs don't.

So, no Boycott.  The financial, political and personal loss would be staggering and the gain minimal or non-existent.

Which is not to say that protests should not be made.

Abraham Lincoln, the great American emancipator, said, "To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men."  And he was right. We should not pretend that we think it's all hunky-dory just so we can get a seat at the Olympic table. We should not gloss over the human rights violations taking place - this is a global village and we are all responsible to one another.

While both Canada and American Olympic committees have come out and stated that they expected all athletes and Olympic support people to comply with the local laws while in Sochi, that they will condone no acts of outright civil disobedience on Russian soil, the mere presence of people of the homosexual community will serve as a de facto protest.

Propaganda is a form of communication aimed towards influencing the attitude of the community toward some cause or position by presenting only one side of an argument. Propaganda statements may be partly false and partly true. Propaganda is usually repeated and dispersed over a wide variety of media in order to create the chosen result in audience attitudes.

As opposed to impartially providing information, propaganda, in its most basic sense, presents information primarily to influence an audience. Propaganda often presents facts selectively (thus possibly lying by omission) to encourage a particular synthesis, or uses loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented. The desired result is a change of the attitude toward the subject in the target audience to further a political, religious or commercial agenda. Propaganda can be used as a form of ideological or commercial warfare.wikipedia

It is important to keep in mind that Russia's laws, the laws under scrutiny, regard the propaganda related to the "homosexual issue" and not the "issue" itself. Being gay is not illegal. Engaging in creating or spreading propaganda related to the issue is. The sticky bits will be in the interpretation of the word "propaganda".

But what could be less "propaganda-ish" than a living, breathing human being who refuses to deny what they are?

As Dashiell Bennett says in The Atlantic Wire this morning, "But one thing we can do is expose Russians to more gay people and prove that they just regular people. Or extraordinary athletes. What could be more powerful ("propaganda" even?) than for a gay athlete (or straight supporter, like Nick Symmonds) to win a medal, shake the hand of a Russian Olympic official, and walk away with their head held high?"

You don't stay away ... you go. And you go proudly. You don't need to advertise your pride or engage in political acts after you're done your ski run or hockey game or curling match.  You just need to do them well. You can tell people all you want that you're every bit as gifted, good and deserving as the next  person. But it's better to show them, don't you think?

And, to be honest, the Olympics are the wrong venue for overt political protests. They steal the spotlight from the people who have worked very hard to get there. In a way they, make a mockery of the event itself.

We have to do it like Jesse Owens did. He showed them. He showed them good.

As Phil Ochs said, "In such ugly times, the only true protest is beauty.

The protest, the greatest protest possible, is going.

Previously: Daniel Alfdredsson: I Said, He Said, They Said


comments (1)
15 Aug

Daniel Alfredsson: I Said, He Said, They Said

Daniel Alfredsson gives something back to Senator fans - whether he means to, or not.

Originally published at TheHockeyTalk

I laughed when I heard  Puck Daddy's Greg Wyshynski call the former Ottawa Senators Captain, Daniel Alfredsson, a "serial disparager" on Conor McKenna's TSN 690 (Montreal) radio show today.

He was making a reference, in the context of an interview Alfredsson gave today regarding how it was that he came to leave the Senators, to Alfredsson's rather pessimistic interview as the Senators faced elimination heading to Pittsburgh in the 2012-2013 NHL playoffs.

When asked if his team had any chance of coming back from a 3-1 series deficit, Alfredsson replied, "Probably not."

Although that has been dissected, discussed, debated and deliberated, to within an inch of its shelf life, the general consensus seems to fall into one or more of the following catch-alls.

  • Alfie was tired and depressed right after a loss. Give him a break. And besides, he was right.
  • Alfie is an honest, straightforward fellow, and he spoke what he saw as the truth. And besides, he was right.
  • Alfie, as team captain, was supposed to toe the party line. He should have kept his negativity to himself because that just psyched his team out. Even if he was right.
  • Alfie needs a haircut, that bandanna or hair ribbon or whatever it is that he wears looks ridiculous. But he was right about that business with the Pens.

I remember watching that interview, having just watched the game. Part of me applauded the honesty of the comment; living in a world of PR department approved sound bites tends to make an actual bit of raw truth stand out like a daisy in the orchids.

I like daisies.

And a part of me cringed; visibly, physically cringed. Like when someone says "Well, you'll never be a model." Well, of course, I won't be a model. But I don't particularly want to hear that, do I? No one expected the Senators to make a come back. Apparently, not even the Senators.

But we're supposed to be treated to PR-speak and told about the plucky (or "pesky", in the case of the Sens) nature of the underdog team, about how no one is quitting, about how it isn't over until it's over. A few weeks later Dan Bylsma of the Pittsburgh Penguins was in an identical spot (facing playoff elimination, down even more low at 3-0 against the Boston Bruins than the Sens had been at 3-1 against them), gave an interview and reminded us of the Canadian Olympic team's 2010 gold medal victory which had come after four must-win, elimination games.

"In the Olympics to win a gold medal for Canada, they've got to win four games, four elimination games," Bylsma said and rattled off the teams the Canadians had to beat, tapping his finger with each name, "Germany, Russia, Slovakia and the U.S."

And then, as if he had a PR lady stuffed in his hankie pocket, he concluded with, "And that's what we're at right now."

Now, that's how it's done. Hidden in that was the rally cry, "If they could do what they did, we can do this."

Hidden only a little farther in was the Sidney Crosby nugget. It's not a large leap across the logic chasm to conjure up the image of who scored that game winning goal. The PR lady approved subtext was, "And that guy plays for us."

Thing was, we all knew that was a load of horse-poo. We all knew the Pens were done. Well, anyone who had ever watched a playoff series before knew. But there is an accepted script for these moments and Bylsma followed it like a boy scout. And as hopeless as most Pens fans were, they allowed themselves to drink the magic kool-aid (just a sip, mind you) that coach Dan was handing out in little paper cups.

Because there is the possibility. Always the possibility. And if that is true, and it is, a positive mind set is a very important thing. So, the bottom line is: not all truth is important to speak. Some truths should, in fact, not ever be spoken. Like that time you told your spouse that those pants did make them look fat. How did that work out for you?

So, Alfie was right. There wasn't much of a chance, really, was there? Public relations is one of those wonderfully inconsistent areas where the truth rarely ever sets you free. In this case, it boxed up poor Daniel Alfredsson who is, after all, a hockey player, and not a public relations maestro. He spent weeks, weeks, punching his way out of that mess of cardboard. In the world of Google, where the "front page" news changes faster than most people blink, any news that sticks for weeks is either important, controversial or prurient.

Only John Tortorella could have possibly said anything more controversial or just plain wrong. At least Alfredsson didn't say something like, "Well, if that slacker Spezza hadn't gone AWOL on the back check, we might be in better shape."

Really, he just said it like it was. His idea of the truth.

Alfredsson's little PR faux pas would be long forgotten by now, only to be brought up by trollish non-Sens fans and other types whose last recourse is usually a "your mama" insult.  Except that in July UFA Alfredsson shocked EVERYONE and signed a one year contract with the Detroit Red Wings rather than return to the Senators for his final season(s). Ottawa was the only NHL team he had every played for and he had been the captain for fourteen years.  

If the comments during the playoffs were strike one, what followed was strike two.  In a phone interview following the announcement,  Alfie indicated that he and the Sens couldn't work out a deal and that he went to Detroit in order to have a better chance to win the league championship.

"It pretty much came down to a selfish decision," he said. He wanted to win a Stanley Cup.

"Ouch," said every Senators' fan and every standing member of the Senators team.

Alfredsson has apparently decided PR is for the birds. That speaking the truth is more important than speaking the other feel-good, inspiring sort of stuff we prefer in our sports heroes and politicians. Alfredsson, apparently, is very fond of saying things like they are.

And today, he said some more things "like they are". At least as they are from his perspective. If you believe him to be an essentially honest human being, and evidence points to that fact, then whatever Daniel Alfredsson said today, he believed was the truth.

Who Said What To Whom ... Wait ... What?

When Wshynski commented that Alfredsson was something of a "serial disparager" he was not engaging in hyperbole.

Alfredsson is either batting a thousand or he just struck out, depending upon your perspective. He's either the most steadfastly honest and straightforward human being who ever lived (and one who can't seem to get the whole idea of soft-shoe) or he is really angry at the Ottawa Senators. Or both.

In his third brush with the Ottawa media in the last three months Alfredsson, typically, stepped right into the thick of it with his opening statement, "When I did my last contract for four years ending in the 2012-13 season, I was asked to help the team manage the salary cap by adding on a extra year to my contract."

He paused for a breath and the gathered media went "uh oh". Eyebrows shot up. People stopped texting. Expecting a somewhat generic "it was great, sad to leave, will always have a soft spot" prepared announcement, it seemed the sort of thing where the real good information came in the media scrum that follows.

But Alfie was not going to pass on this breakaway.

He went on to say, "I agreed. Each side fully expected I would retire and not play the 2012-13 season."

Did he just admit to an act of "bad faith" inside of the NHLPA-NHL CBA? Did he just out himself and the Senators for cheating? For conspiring to circumvent the cap? Did he just air a bit of dirty laundry? Did he just stick it to the Ottawa Senators?

Why, I think he did.  Whatever his good intentions, whatever his desire to be honest, that sounded a little more like the "he said, she said" that happens in divorce courts. He didn't want the fans, his fans, to think he had simply abandoned them. He wanted them to understand that he wanted to come back.

He admitted that it had been a mistake to have said that he thought it was more likely he could win a Stanley Cup with Detroit. He said that the real truth of the matter was that he had not been able to conclude a business arrangement with Ottawa and, furthermore, this was a situation that had been going on for two years. He, essentially, said he'd been fucked around and that his response was to head out to pastures where he felt wanted and appreciated.

The bottom line was two-fold.

  1. The Sens did not want to pay him enough money or make good on their "debt" to him - that he had played a year for the Senators longer than either of them expected and had not been paid properly for that last year.
  2. When he asked for an amount that would balance that out ($7 million per season), they countered with an offer that was insulting to him ($4.5 million)

It's all very under-the-table and shadowy and tells us that the same things that have always gone on are still going on. What Alfredsson admitted to, publicly and on record, amounts to circumvention of a ratified CBA and is one of those truths we might all be better off not knowing.

Like a lot of people, Tyler Dellow, @mc79hockey, agrees that it's a circumvention and has a very interesting take on a similar case involving Calgary.

Wrote this on circumvention when Keenan said the Flames did it with Kipper. Applies equally to Alfie: http://t.co/GnBLN68GGM
— mc79hockey (@mc79hockey) August 15, 2013
The NHL, as it turns out, is not terribly interested. According to Sportsnet's Chris Johnston, Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly agrees that the agreement between Alfredsson and Ottawa is, in fact, circumvention, but that the practice was "rampant" under the last CBA, and that the league doesn't think looking backward is productive.

There was more. It got a little strange after that, with Bryan Murray of the Senators responding publicly, blaming it all on Alfredsson's agent not giving him all the information.

TSN has a very good report of the matter of who said what and where the fingers are pointing.

As Wyshynski said, "What upset me was how Ottawa decided to hit back."

Apparently the Senators are taking a page from Alfie's book and are going to speak their truth. Much more of this "telling it like it is" and we'll all need an aspirin and a long nap.

Hearts and Minds

Now they're just battling for hearts and minds. Aflie doesn't want the Senators' fans to think badly of him, to lose faith in their team, to lose the goodwill he has spent nearly two decades of his life earning.

He wanted them to know it wasn't about a Stanley Cup. That it had been about honour and respect. That he had felt abused. That he left because the had not been dealt with fairly.

The Senators don't want their fans thinking they're shady, dishonest characters who mistreated a beloved Captain. So their side of the story must be told. The tilt must be adjusted.

The fan reaction seems mixed.

From TSN:

Glad to see! Alfie moves on, Murray and Melnyk are spurned and deservingly so!
Wow! Murray is honest to a fault in all his dealings and so it is no surprise he is 'disappointed' to hear what Alfredsson said today. I would think disappointment plus. Maybe this is another agent smoke and mirrors like what Eagleson did to Bobby Orr. Points to consider: Looks like J.P. Barry needs to answer some questions.
From NHL.com's coverage titled "Alfredsson: Contract impasse led to Ottawa departure":
i actually think melnyk is the one who screwed up and does not want to take the fall. he keeps going back and forth and what could have been done. earlier, stating that they could not have afforded both and now saying they could. guy needs to keep his emotions in check. he is losing credibility.

Would, Shoulda, Coulda

Alfredsson had more to gain than a clearing of his reputation amongst his loyal fans. Despite the actual result where the Senators look a little wiseguy-ish, I doubt very much Alfredsson's intentions were punitive. I doubt very much he was interested in risking their reputation in the course of saving his own.

In fact, I don't think he said what he said to aid his own reputation.

In case it was missed in the first go-around, he wanted to make sure everyone knew that he thought well of the Senators, that he thought they could win a Stanley Cup, that they had, in his estimation, a bright future.

He wanted to set the record straight, not so much to make the Senators' management look bad, but to make the team itself look better. He wanted the people who had supported him for the past fourteen years to know that it had been "just business". Nothing to do with the quality or prospects of the team.

As much, one expects, for the teammates he leaves behind, many of to whom he was a long-time mentor, as for himself. As much for the fans who had felt disheartened at his remarks about going to Detroit, not disparaging in themselves, but disparaging in implication, as for himself.

It is impossible to know, of course, what motivated Alfredsson to be so honest when a little less detail would have served the same purpose. It is hard to know why he chose to be so very specific in his explanation when something more superficial and PR-correct might have been said.  One suspects that Daniel Alfredsson simply doesn't know how to split the fine hairs on the truth like the PR people do.

The only way to lend credibility to the soft-shoe phrases about the future of the Ottawa Senators, about how he still believes in them, if you're a fundamentally honest human being, is to tell the truth.

Maybe, in his mind, it was his final "captainly" act.

Or maybe he simply couldn't stand the reality of one comment posted to NHL.com.

You either die a hero... or live long enough to see yourself become a villain.
As the NHL has gone on record as saying they are interested in pursuing it and each of the Alfredsson and Ottawa Senators camps have had their say, let's hope this whole issue dies an unceremonious death. Unless the NHLPA wants to make an issue of it, and I doubt they will, it has nowhere else to go that isn't just about pointing fingers and playing the blame game.

Don't Scratch The Rose Colored Glasses

Everyone should hope it gets over with soon. While there's still talk on the major hockey boards about "hometown discounts" and playing "for the love of the game" that get's pooh-poohed pretty quickly.

As one fan noted:

Why make this whole situation into a big deal. We all know, from the lockout, that hockey is mostly about business.

These situations force the cold-hard realities onto fans who don't really want them. They want to believe their hockey heroes do things because of an all consuming passion for the game, for the love of their team, for the satisfaction of their fans. They want to believe that team owners are evil overlords with stacks of gold bullion in every closet.

In the big scheme of things, it's better for the Senators that people blame management. They're the unfortunate necessities. The suits in the press box. The "team" is the players and the ice surface. The jersey and the logo. People can hate the management and love the team. Daniel Alfredsson was the team and  he can be forgiven for having had enough of the evil overlord.

Although the Senators have been known to carry things to a bizarre extreme, they should let this dog lie. Take their lumps and move along. If they pursue a course that seems bent on discrediting Alfredsson or anyone connected to him, they will lose a lot more than the time wasted doing it.

In a strange and convoluted way, Daniel Alfredsson gave the Senators and their  fan base something back today, however ill-advised or unnecessary. He endorsed them.

And the Pollyanna in me thinks that is exactly what he intended to do.



Originally published at TheHockeyTalk




Previously
 James Neal has Sidney Crosnby's Back: He Skipped the Line, Too


13 Aug

James Neal Has Sidney Crosby's Back: He Skipped The Line, Too

Originally published at: HOCKEYtalk where the tweets include media and retweet info, etc.

Twitter is an interesting phenomenon, isn't it? Immediate and less intrusive than Facebook which is like reading someone's personnel file, Twitter is like standing next to someone at a party and overhearing little snippets.

I've only had a twitter account  for a few days, resisting the pull like one does with dentist visits and break-up dates. To say I find it overwhelming might be stretching it, but only a bit. I do find it immensely fascinating.

Back when I first started out, research meant hours and hours in dusty old libraries and archive vaults, bent over micro-fiche machines, scouring through yellowed newspapers and rifllng through boxes of un-indexed material. Once tasked with finding out all I could about Bobby Hull, I spent three weeks looking in people's attics and going through their old photo albums and driving around Woodstock and St.Catherine's and Belleville, asking old-timers if they remembered him. Many did and it was one of the best few weeks of my life, frankly. I heard some GREAT stories.

All of them would take more than 140 characters to tell. In fact, 140 characters wouldn't even cover the preamble that old-timers like to add to their stories. You have to build your own stories today. Today you get the facts and have to weave the story around them. New rules. Once you get used to them, you can start to see the stories lurking behind the hash tags.

Always and ever interested in the human bit of things, I find Twitter, while not exactly a reliable research vehicle, does provide an amazing insight into the human being behind the name, or in this case, behind the jersey. I was doing some work-work today and had to find some things on Twitter and while I was travelling around, tracking down the feeds I was looking for, I found myself on something of an impromptu link scavenger hunt. Which had nothing to do with the work at hand. That's what the middle of the night is for. That's what I told my editor, anyway.

In short, I got sidetracked. I started following player's follows and followed-by links and realized that Twitter is like any other social group – full of cliques, insiders, outsiders and hangers on. I know that the rest of the world has known this for some time and that I am definitely late to the party but ... hey ... better late than never.

Twitter is for Kids (and media savvy old folks)

Well, not exactly "kids". And remembering that they are all kids to me. Many of the older players have Twitter accounts but they seem like the kind the nice team PR lady sets up for them and they never use. When they do use them the tweets are very matter-of-fact and informative.

The younger guys, the 25ers and under, grew up with Twitter and they have the sort of comfort with it that removes the stiffness, the sense of "publishing" themselves. The younger they are, the more their Twitter feeds read like the sorts of things they'd say to you as you were driving down the road, headed home from a movie or a game or dinner out. It gives you, the reader, a sense of familiarity ... the good kind.

Some players, like Sidney Crosby, do not tweet. Whether that's brand protection, disinterest or just a lack of time, is hard to say. The ones that do can make for a very interesting surf through the endless and fast-moving twitter master feed.

To find out which NHL players do tweet, check here.

Here are some of the NHL player tweets I found today that made me smile or shake my head – each one telling me something interesting about the person who tweeted it. And because I am avoiding the work-work I mentioned, I thought I would share.

Due to some formatting limitations at this site, the tweets themselves can't be posted. To see the photos and other details that go with each tweet (which is MUCH more fun), you're better off to read the rest at this article's original home .

Telling Tweets

James Neal, Crosby's teammate and fondly known as "the Real Deal" has a little fun with #87′s recent breaking news farce. On so many levels, this was cool. They must laugh about this stuff when they get together.
I skipped the line at the DMV 2. Just incase anyone was wondering. — james neal (@jneal_18) August 12, 2013
Taylor Hall, hot-shot forward and captain candidate for the Edmonton Oilers expresses a poignant human emotion when he wonders whether anyone else feels the same way. If it helps, Taylor, no, you are not the only one.
I don't even let Instagram videos play because I can't handle the second hand embarrassment. Am I the only one? — Taylor Hall (@hallsy04) August 10, 2013
Pavel Datsyuk's feed is always interesting. He is either the nicest man in hockey or he's a PR genius. He always ends his tweets with something positive and friendly, like a wave out the car window as he pulls away. Of course, he's pretty used to saying things as he's pulling away.
Mushroom picking. Hope your summer is going well pic.twitter.com/buzVFbWQQV — Pavel Datsyuk (@Datsyuk13) August 12, 2013
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is into race horses! Who knew. Nice looking horse. I wonder who is posing with whom. I wonder how Zenya did. Someone should ask.
Zenya's first day at the paddock. Great day of racing. pic.twitter.com/zScbvFNzjL— Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (@RNH_93) July 15, 2013
Ovie! How can you read Ovie's Twitter feed and not love him, just a little. He loves the exclamation point. In fact, everything he says seems exciting and when he's not saying "hahaha" he's using "!!!!". What might be annoying in some people is just downright charming in Ovie.
Coming to Praga with Darya Klishina for Nike shoot!!! pic.twitter.com/KNZROfJ8pb — Alex Ovechkin (@ovi8) August 12, 2013
P.K. Subban namedropping. But, hey, wouldn't we all.
Thanks @Cindycrawford and @randegerber for having me over for lunch! #Muskoka&cindyarebeautiful pic.twitter.com/VC0mFD4K3X — P.K. Subban (@PKSubban1) August 2, 2013
Andrew Bodnarchuk is addicted to Candy Crush, too! Yay for all of us who feel vaguely ashamed of our game addictions. I once spent an entire pay cheque playing Space Invaders in a bar. Thank the gods there was no Twitter back then,
Addicted ... Best time passer I've seen in a while pic.twitter.com/gFEPGfP3Dv — Andrew Bodnarchuk (@hali_bods) August 6, 2013
Nathan MacKinnon is not the only hockey player into Breaking Bad. The last few days have felt more the the BBL than the NHL.
Having to battle through that awful first season of breaking bad will be totally worth it tonight — Nathan Mackinnon (@Mackinnon9) August 11, 2013
Zenon Konopka may be a Belieber, but he would like the other Beliebers to be quiet now, please. Plus, he's attending union meetings. Two information birds with one stone.
@justinbieber I'm a fan of you being Canadian &even ur music but ur killing our NHLPA meetings with ur fan club screaming outside the hotel — Zenon Konopka (@ZenonKonopka) July 9, 2013
John Tavares sending some love back home. High five!
Very special thing to be Canadian...Never take it for granted #CanadaDay — John Tavares (@91Tavares) July 1, 2013
Andrew Ference channels Henry David Thoreau. Oh come on, that has to make you laugh. Made me laugh.
See! Love nature and it will love you back! pic.twitter.com/v6iH48catN — Andrew Ference (@Ferknuckle) August 11, 2013
Bobby Ryan is still figuring out the thing. Guy can figure a thousand ways to score a goal but Twitter stone-walled him. Heh.
Also all you twitter police. I had no idea you could delete a tweet and fix it or resend it. My bad. — Bobby Ryan (@b_ryan9) August 12, 2013
Jamie McGinn has a good sense of humor. AND he rocks the goggles, no?
"What? You guys don't wear shower goggles?" @Vandis #gem pic.twitter.com/OIn5ad7QhJ — Jamie McGinn (@JamieMcGinn11) August 10, 2013
Zenon Konopka again, running spontaneous Twitter contests. The picture is kind of cute.
This is one of Hoppy's fav outfits, tweet a pic of your animals in their fav outfit-Winner gets a signed pic & puck! pic.twitter.com/mZMfDKOQLH — Zenon Konopka (@ZenonKonopka) August 6, 2013
Gabriel Landeskog starstruck? Yep. He's over there with Peter Forsberg and Marcus Naslund. Who can blame him?
They must've mistaken me for someone else..I'm playing center between them right now (?!) I'm starstruck like never before! Having a blast! — Gabriel Landeskog (@GabeLandeskog92) August 8, 2013
Jonathon Drouin to Nathan MacKinnon . "Oh THAT old trick." And they eat sushi. Hmmm.
Congrats to @Mackinnon9 on signing his first pro contract , sushi is now on you once again #DontForgetYourDebit — jonathan drouin (@jodrouin27) July 10, 2013
Claude Giroux proving you can mix marketing and mayhem. Was that a threat?
"@StuntmanStu: @28CGiroux @BauerHockey @BauerCEO these better make my game better! http://t.co/jFBEcT2TVP" Definitely it will!! — Claude Giroux (@28CGiroux) August 9, 2013
Dustin Penner quoting Mom. Okay, this one just made me laugh.
"Hold on let me check...Sorry the person that lives here doesn't live here anymore" ~Mom.Trying to get rid of a solicitor for me #improvfail — Dustin Penner (@Dustinpenner25) July 24, 2013
Michael Kostka not only reads, but RE-reads. And it is a great book.
Rereading The Alchemist. I would strongly recommend it for anyone who hasn't already read it! — Michael Kostka (@Kostka85) August 12, 2013
Erik Johnson - Yeah, that would suck. Plus it can't be as ... strange ... as it sounds, right?
It's all fun and games until your mom gets put on this kiss cam with your uncle at the @Twins game. — Erik Johnson (@6ErikJohnson) July 31, 2013
Andrew Ladd - You heard it here first. There *are* enforcers in hockey. Who would have thought?
Happy to have our enforcer locked up for 6 more years! Congrats @BiggieFunke pic.twitter.com/WjtqLjagX3 — Andrew Ladd (@aladd16) July 27, 2013
Harry Zolierczyk does yoga. Does anyone else find that charmingly hilarious?
Just did my first class @NowYogaFitness with @rasheed_wahlus great spot! #powerhour — Harry Zolnierczyk (@HarryZ87) July 24, 2013
Brendan Gallagher is NOT a Belieber. I always liked that guy and now I like him more. #ShameOnUs, indeed.
The song Baby by Justin Beiber just went 12 times platinum making it the most bought single in the history of music #ShameOnUs — Brendan Gallagher (@BGALLY17) August 1, 2013
Colby Armstrong has #connections. Hmmm.
Some fan getting pissy cause 87 got good treatment at the DMV. Seriously?? I've never waited at dmv in any city I've played in. #connections— Colby Armstrong (@armdog) August 13, 2013
Marian Gaborik need confidence? Just ask Bob.
Congraats to Bob! Well deserved! U better let me score on u in practice,to give me some confidence. Lol #BobTheVezinaWinner — Marian Gaborik (@MGaborik10) June 16, 2013
Max Domi perpetuating Canadian stereotypes, eh? But it is always good to beat the Americans, that's true enough.
Always good to beat the Americans eh @EK5Colts and @blemieux22 #congratsboys — Max Domi (@max_domi) August 10, 2013
David Perron has fond memories of his Dad.
One year, my dad never saw me lose, I believe it was with Lewiston. Couple later we lost all 3 in a week, I told him time to leave lol — David Perron (@DP_57) August 11, 2013
Mats Zucarello has a very cool office.
Back to work! #office! Trener her så lenge jeg da olympiatoppen! pic.twitter.com/61JYqBmXuY — Mats Zuccarello (@zuccarello36) July 31, 2013
Evander Kane - Missing someone?
Time goes by slower when you're missing someone you love. — Rarest Facts ™ (@RarestFacts) August 5, 2013
Brian Gionta - Now there's a guy who knows how to have fun.
@SeabreezePark my favorite ride! Old school wooden coaster pic.twitter.com/e7tKywDKtp — Brian Gionta (@Giostyle21) August 6, 2013


Previously: PITTSBURGH PENGUINS: FIVE SMALL CHANGES THAT WILL PAY BIG DIVIDENDS


12 Aug

Pittsburgh Penguins: Five Small Changes That Will Pay Big Dividends

Pittsburgh Penguins make five small changes that add up.

Originally published at: thehockeybrain

I used to think Ray Shero's management style could be summed up as having a sort of military precision. Turns out the guy is a guerrilla, complete with face paint and camouflage. We've been waiting for the twenty-one gun salute and he's been sneaking around behind us the whole while.

While the fan response to their earlier-than-expected ouster from the Eastern Conference Final seemed to fall squarely in between "blow it up" and "stay the course", it looked like the Pens were going to plaster themselves with status quo tattoos, hunch down and try it one more time.

Giving head coach Dan Bylsma a contract extension within days of the Boston-Pittsburgh series' sad end was like a signal flag that said "we are not worried" and a slew of re-signings and extensions followed that cemented their roster into place with fine-print glue. Bylsma immediately  endorsed beleaguered goal tender Marc Andre Fleury as his go-to guy and the fans sat around in various states of shock, frustration, confusion and anger.

I wrote an article a while back on Marc Andre Fleury where I twisted all over the place to compare Ray Shero's management tactics with Sun Tzu's The Art of War and then another where I made some predictions on what we would see from the Pens in the upcoming season.

But while we've all been scratching our heads and wondering why they didn't "do anything", they have been, in fact, doing a lot. It's like paint daubs - one or two here are there are indistinct little marks. It's not until you put them all together that an actual picture emerges.

The Five Little Things

In a classic case of the sum is greater than the parts, the Penguins have done five little things that add up to five very big things.

1. Removing Murray, Morrow and Iginla

2. Adding Matt D'Agostini

3. Adding Harry Zolnierczyk

4. Adding Jacques Martin as an Assistant Coach

5. Removing goalie coach Gilles Meloche

What does this all add up to?

They've Gotten Younger

With the release of the Free Agent Rentals Douglas Murray, Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow and the additions of 26 year old Matt D'Agostini and 25 year old Harry Zolnierczyk the Pens got a lot younger. Last year they were the oldest team in the league at an average age of 29.56. From this year's roster-as-it-sits they're at an average age of 28.19 which brings them down four spots. More significantly the average age on their offense comes down from 30.9 to 28.1. League average in 2012-2013 was 27.31

Quant Hockey Average Age of NHL Teams

Average age of NHL teams, 2012-2013 season: Quant Hockey

Doesn't seem like much, I know, but the average decline in production is very sharp from age 27 onwards. There's no easy way to apply the data usefully across the board for the Pens' roster, but those two years of average age could translate into a meaningful number of goals scored.

Points per game average by Age

Points per game average by age. Screen shot from Arctic Ice Hockey.

Direct Gain:  Better production from their top six either directly (individually) or as line units.

They've Gotten Faster

One of the interesting things about the Penguins, noticed most obviously in their series against the Islanders, is that they were, as a whole, fairly slow, especially for a "run and gun" style of offense which relies on both speed and quickness.

Bringing in D'Agostini who is known for his speed and, if reports are accurate, moving Simon Despres, Matt Niskanen and Beau Bennett up to full time roster spots will make the Pens a lot faster. Again, if you subtract the relative speed handicap that Murray, Iginla and Morrow all brought with them, add in the three names above, it's a major shift in speed in both the top and bottom end.

To put it home: speed was what the Blackhawks used to get around the Boston Bruins' trappish style. Without speed you cannot do either of the two things that work best against tight defensive teams (which are long N-S passes and dump and chase).

The speed factor is likely to pay the biggest dividend in the 2013-2014 season.

Direct Gain: More fluid lines who can all move at the same speed, longer periods of puck possession, ability to adapt to opposition defensive tactics more readily, reduced time in the neutral zone. In short, a better ability to "play their game". It is useful to note that last season the Penguins suffered a rather drastic drop in puck possession numbers and ranking - going from top 2 to bottom 15.

They've Gotten Tougher

Bringing in Harry Zolnierczyk and adding Depres and Niskanen (and/or possibly Bortuzzo) to the roster increased the tough factor by an exponential degree. Zolnierczyk, of course, is the big piece; he is as close to an enforcer as you are likely to  find in today's NHL. He also is noted for his speed so if he is needed to be on-ice with one of the top two lines, he will be able to keep up to the play even if he cannot add much to it, offensively.

Direct Gain: It is better to "be tough" than "act tough" which is what the Pens did against the Bruins. Players who are not usually noted for throwing their weight around were doing so and the result was a loss of flow and a bad use of assets. Instead of skating around them and using their superior passing skills, the Pens tried to out-hit the Bruins. Added to the decreased age, the faster skaters, this added toughness gives the Pens their most balanced roster since the last Stanley Cup. Bonus gain is, of course, the ability to defend Crosby and Malkin a little better from the dirty play that often comes their way.

They've Gotten More Defensive and Flexible

First, they brought back Rob Scuderi who is amongst the most responsible defensemen in the league. Between he and Orpik they will have a solid stay-at-home partner for their more offensive minded, puck moving defenders such as Despres and Letang on the top two lines.

Second, they hired Jacques Martin to assist Dan Bylsma. While Martin is often called a "defense-first" coach, in fact he has done very well with fast, offensive teams (see his record in Ottawa). He is noted for insisting on defensive responsibility from all players, especially forwards, and for an ability to adjust his team's play to deal with opponents who bring a tight, defensive game.

Direct Gain: We are likely to see more "200 foot" games or, at least, more "200 foot" play from all forwards, a better ability to make in-game adjustments and an increased intensity on the blue line. In short: better defensive play.

They're Actually Addressing the Goaltending Problem

By removing Gilles Meloche, whether it was his "fault" or not, as the goaltending coach is the counterpoint to their denials that they have any sort of problem with Marc Andre Fleury. Clearly they see the problem and they are going to attempt to address it directly.

Direct Gain: Either Marc Andre Fleury will get better or he will get gone. This seems to be his last chance, if all the signs are pointing accurately. They're fine for this year if they don't overplay Vokoun - if MAF has another play-off meltdown then Vokoun can handle the net and they can deal with Fleury in the off-season.

Ray Shero is out there somewhere saying, "You are learning, Grasshopper."


Previously: Why Teemu Selanne Could Go Jetting Back To Winnipeg


11 Aug

Why Teemu Selanne Could Go Jetting Back to Winnipeg

Teemu Selanne back to the Winnipeg Jets?

Originally published on thehockeybrain

My first encounter with Teemu Selänne came in an elevator in 1992. Newly arrived in Winnipeg and still unsure about his English skills, he nodded politely and then proceeded to do what most people in elevators do. Stare at the buttons as if they were the most interesting things in the whole wide world.

We were headed to see the same person that day and we spent a few minutes in comfortable chairs outside an office with double doors, smiling politely whenever we made accidental eye contact. I knew who he was, everyone in Winnipeg knew who he was, even if he had only been in town a few days.

He was called in first and gave me a quick, apologetic look with a little shrug as he stood up. I watched him walk inside, wondering if he could save the Jets. By the time Teemu arrived the Jets were already in dire financial straits and in the socialistic environment of Manitoba all you had to do to inspire a heated debate was talk about the government subsidies of the team. In the days before salary cap and revenue sharing, the Jets' small market handicap was a noose that kept getting tighter each year.

"He's cute, huh?" the elderly, perfectly groomed secretary sitting behind the large oak desk said.

I nodded and chuckled, "Yeah, he is."

And he was. Young Selänne was just like older Selänne – charming, good looking, polite, friendly, humble. When Keith Tkachuk, the captain of the Jets at the time, walked into a room the air all but went out, so "there" was his personality. Selänne would usually be found on the periphery, his hands stuffed deep into his pockets, looking around, smiling at anyone who was looking back. In the early days, Selänne was just another prospect rookie, albeit one from whom great things might be expected. Tkachuk was the king of the hockey mountain.

The last draft pick of deposed General Manager John Ferguson, Teemu Selänne was the hot topic around water coolers all over the coldest city on earth. He was fast, some said. He was going to be really good, others said. He was not going to be tough enough, a few remarked. No one could agree what he might mean for the team, but like all hockey towns all over North America, the discussion of hockey matters in late August and early September when the rink lights started coming on and players started returning from their summer places, was lively and pervasive. Everyone had an opinion.

Not since Hall of Famer Dale Hawerchuk, "Duckie" to the faithful, was selected first overall in 1981, had Winnipeg gone into a season with so much hope. Not only did they have Selänne, yet to earn his nickname of the "Finnish Flash" but they had young Russian Alexei Zhamnov who, one Jets' employee used to tell me in a conspiratorial whisper, was "even better" than Selänne.

Selänne's first NHL goal came against Jeff Hackett of the San Jose Sharks on October 8, 1992. The rest, as they say, is history. Much has been written about Selänne's time in Winnipeg, about his record breaking rookie season, about his legendary "shoot the glove" moment when he broke Mike Bossy's 25 year old rookie record of 53 goals, about his winning ways, on and off the ice.

What cannot be described, despite some very impressive attempts, is what Teemu Selänne meant to Winnipeg hockey fans. They suffered through the eighties when meeting Edmonton in the play-offs always meant certain expulsion, hearing endless news coverage about the financial woes of the team, never quite making it to the "top level" of the NHL, always "building". Selänne brought a "contender-ness" to the team that the fans inhaled like it was a wonder drug.

He was, in every sense of the word, a hero. The word is thrown around a lot and it has lost some of its meaning in this era of a billion words a day being uploaded to the internet, but Selänne was the real thing. Likewise, the word "epic" is used to describe everything from a single game to a playoff series, but what happened in Winnipeg really was epic. Teemu Selänne was as close to a rock-star as could possibly have happened in a conservative city where the Mennonite mentality is still strong and the political climate was decidedly socialist.

People lined up to get autographs. Girls screamed whenever his name was mentioned. He became "Teemu" and was on the sports page every day – and not just in the local papers. He put Winnipeg back on the hockey map and people were as proud of his accomplishments as if they had been their own. His personality could not have been a better fit, he was remarkably free of bravado or self-promotion, he made self-deprecating remarks and handed credit to his teammates whenever possible.

In short, he gave the city's NHL team legitimacy. Not without players who had either already earned their stripes or those who would go on to do so such as Carlyle, Domi, Numminen, Steen, Tkachuk and Zhamnov, Selänne was in a class by himself. When you not only break but shatter a twenty five year old record held by one of the greatest players who ever laced up skates, you give the fans something unique and special. The bathed in the glow that surrounded him. He was theirs.

No player since then has quite so dramatically arrived on the scene, not even Alex Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby. He was a smirk-inducing counterpoint to Eric Lindros. In hearts, if not in minds, people thought Selänne could save the Jets.

Fast forwarding through his second season (93-94) where he suffered a torn Achilles tendon and played only 51 games (54 points) and his third season (94-95) which was shortened by the lockout and he played 45 games (48 points), we arrive at the dark season.

Everyone knew, someplace in their hearts, that it was coming. It had begun to seem inevitable. The NHL lockout, in some ways a payback for the ten day strike the players staged on April Fools's day, 1992, was devastating to the small market teams and caused, in some fashion, the death of the Quebec Nordique, the Winnipeg Jets (1.0) and the Hartford Whalers. Gary Bettman, fairly new in his job, was the most hated man in Canada.

The 95-96 season which dawned amid much controversy with the then owner, Barry Shenkarow, attempting to find funding to build a new arena without which, he kept warning, the team could not survive. The old barn really had only 10,000 good seats although it was rated for a little over 15,000 – which was still not enough to keep an NHL team in the black through those times. The rumors that the team might be lost gained a new urgency and the "loudest arena on earth" got a little quieter.

When the announcement was made on August 15th, 1995 that the Jets had been sold to Richard Burke and Steven Gluckstern , a day most Winnipeggers will remember in that "where were you when" way, local television, radio and newspaper coverage was like a thick blanket of doom. Despite many efforts, including concerts, rallies, a last minute consortium attempt to buy the team and people chaining themselves to the gates of the Winnipeg Arena, it was not to be undone.

As Jonathon Gatehouse of McLeans wrote, "A bigger, or more indifferent, city might have been able to shrug it off. But Winnipeg wasn't just hurt by the loss of the Jets, it was scarred."

The remainder of the season unfolded like a funeral cortege with game tickets being impossible to find, fans gathering in every possible corner of every possible coffee house to heap their anger on Bettman, the NHL, the "damn Americans", the "damn government" and anything else they could think to hate.

For many Jets fans, there was a lemonade-from-lemons attitude and you could hear things like, "But we still have Selänne. We are going to go out, it is certain, but we are going to go out with style."

But no. Adding injury to insult, Selanne was traded on February 7, 1996 by the new owners of the team. To Anaheim. No one even knew where that was, then.  Summing up the Winnipeg fan reactions is easy: "They got our team, did they have to steal our hero away from us, too?"

You cannot imagine the devastation unless you were living in Winnipeg and were a Jets fan. My daughter cried, my son threw things around his room for two hours, my neighbour made a sign for his front lawn, I wrote millions of words and then deleted them just so I could write them again. Angry words.

The remaining games played out like a rehearsal for your own last dance, with strains of The Last Post for background music.  It was, in a word, cruel. You kicked the ice on the sidewalk, frozen in place from November until March, and wondered why they could have hockey in California. California! One sponsor gave out "A Season to Remember" t-shirts but no amount of t-shirts, face paint, cheering or dancing in the aisles was going to change the reality; it moved inexorably along, each game bringing everyone closer to the moment they couldn't imagine facing.

According to reports, Selänne was angry at Brian Burke, one of the original owners of the Coyotes, for being told his future with the team was safe and then being summarily traded. He could not have been any angrier than were the fans, robbed of their chance to say a proper good-bye, robbed of their ability to thank the man who had brought so much to the city.

When Selänne came back for his first game against the new Winnipeg Jets on December 17, 2011, he was treated like a returning war hero. From standing ovations, video tributes, media coverage the likes of which is usually reserved for royalty to a strange sort of divided loyalty even as the game progressed. Fans were cheering when he scored ... against them. Booing vigorously for his team-mates only heightened the strangeness of the dichotomy going on inside the arena. It was clearly a crowd who had not forgotten him and who suffered from that emotional trauma peculiar to those who never got to say good-bye or properly grieve a loss.

For them, it was simple: Teemu Selänne was home.

When the Jets regrouped and started playing again in Winnipeg, the Winnipeg Free Press reported that Selänne had, indeed, been asked to return to the city where it all started.

From the Free Press: "Winnipeg called my agent and asked if they could even make an offer," Selanne said today. "But I told Don Baizley, my agent, earlier that the biggest question for me (then) was if I can play, not where I can play."

It was disappointing but understandable. Teemu Selänne is a class act. He was a member of a team and loyal to that team. They had always expressed, in clear terms, their ongoing willingness to welcome him back every season while he went through his usual "decide over the summer" phase. They were ever unequivocal about their own loyalty to him.

The fans accepted that – how could they not? But there are many who still have a glimmer of hope that one day Teemu Selänne will come back home, for real, don a Winnipeg Jets jersey and give them all one final, proper "season to remember". A good-bye year to bookend his hello year.

Interestingly, two things have recently happened that have buoyed hope amongst the Winnipeg faithful. 

The first, as reported by the NHL and elsewhere, concerned an equivocation of his welcome back in Anaheim as the Ducks general manager Bob Murray told NHL.com he would welcome Selänne's return to the Ducks if the likely Hall of Fame member is "100 percent sure he wants to play". That "if" reads a little like a soft-shoe. Not quite a "take back" but a qualifier that, when added to the information below, definitely presents a picture different from the unconditional welcomes of previous years.   

The second concerned an enigmatic statement Selänne himself made to the Finnish newspaper Iltalehti that he has three options. Those options, according to Selänne, are to (1) return to the Ducks in Anaheim or (2) play for another NHL team, or (3) retire. This is also a change from his previous statements that if he was coming back to play, it would definitely be in Anaheim.

The fact that Murray qualified his welcome is very interesting. The fact that Selänne himself has gone from stating, as he has done in the past few years, that he was not deciding "where", only "if", to offering up the option of a different team is very interesting. That there is an upcoming Olympic games is very interesting. It could well point to, if not the actuality, certainly the reasonable possibility that Selänne might join the Jets for his final NHL campaign.

Is that Karma knocking?

The What Ifs

If the Ducks are less than completely enthusiastic for his return, he would find a team that would welcome him as no one has been welcomed since Bobby Hull signed his million dollar contract on Portage and Main. With Anaheim's cap situation close to "tight", Selänne's return at anything close to his last year's salary of just over $4 million, could pose a problem they might prefer not to encounter.

I think it will hinge on the Sochi Olympics.

If Selänne decides to play for Finland in the upcoming Sochi Olympics, which would set his existing Olympic records into stone, he will want to stay in hockey shape and the best way to do that is to play.

If he wants to play out his last year in a fairy-tale fashion, bring the circle to a close and reward himself and Winnipeg for the platform from which he stepped into the NHL, then he will sign with the Jets.

If he did, and I might not put money on that, but I would not bet against it, either, it might well prove to be the most compelling human interest story the NHL has ever had. In a world where "epic" is overused and "heroes" are too often given the title, Selänne could give Winnipeg, and himself, a truly "epic" last season and emerge the sort of hero that would give some credibility back to the word. It would be an "all's well that ends well" ending for the ages.

And he's JUST the sort of guy that would do that, I think.

We could all pull out those old "Season to Remember" t-shirts.

It would be EPIC. EPIC, I tell you.

For more articles and features please visit: TheHockeyBrain


comments (4)
10 Aug

Ten Things To Do While Waiting for the Hockey Season to Start

Cant wait for the new hockey season? Heres ten things to keep you busy.

TEN

Visit How Many Days Until Hockey obsessively. Or at least once a day. Maybe some weird time-warp event will happen and it will magically reduce the number of days to something more manageable than the current 52. It's fun and makes you feel better, knowing that someone is keeping track of it.

NINE

Watch the "Greatest Moment in Hockey History" one more time. Come on, you know you want to. If it doesn't give you shivers, you're not a real hockey fan. 




EIGHT

Go read these hockey jokes. "Reckless Driver" is awesome.

SEVEN

Go read Brian McFarlane's site

The guy has some incredibly good hockey stories to tell. From his front page: "As you might know, I've spent a long time living, reporting and researching the history of hockey and  there's nothing I love more than telling a good hockey story, sharing an interesting bit of hockey history and enjoying the human drama and humor by recounting the best of hockey with other people who love the game.  I hope you enjoy hearing the stories as much as I did collecting them.  I'll post something new, fairly frequently here so I hope you'll visit me often.


SIX

Check out the Hockey Shirt Shop. Just run your mouse over the t-shirt designs and they show up on the model. If you're really starting to get hockey-sick you could start designing hockey t-shirts.

FIVE

Go check out the "Greatest Photos in Hockey History" It includes, as a special bonus, a free subscription to Bobby Orr's Flying Lessons and a front row seat to Rocket Richard's famous glare.

FOUR

Watch last year's Best Bloopers.

 


Or the Best Fights




Or the Best Saves




Or the Best Goals



THREE

Go take the hockey quiz at McLeans.

TWO

Check out the new hockey books coming out or read reviews of books already published at Hockey Book Reviews. If you're getting quite desperate buy or download one.

ONE

Buy a case or two of beer. Learn how to play the drinking game "Hockey". When you're done, head over to Twitter and watch all the other poor souls like us who are also waiting for hockey to start. Is it too soon to get that trending?


 

Visit  Hockey[on.the]Brain for more hockey articles and features.


comments (4)
9 Aug

The Old Man and the C: The Displaced Captains of Hockey

Jarome Iginla was not the first Captain to abandon ship, but he was one that signaled the opening of the floodgates.

Eight hockey sweaters emblazoned with a "C" have become collector's items while the men who wore them have moved onto other teams. Old loyalties, some of them long-held and seasoned with a few victories and a lot of losses, have been pushed under the new reality. Eight NHL teams, and their millions of fans, head into the new season without a Captain at the helm. 

It won't surprise you to know that the youngest of the displaced Captains  is thirty and the oldest of them is forty, with most of them hovering in the middle. In hockey terms, they might well be considered "old soldiers" and this might well be considered a "fade away".

As the lede to an article on Grantland,  Sean McIndoe of Down Goes Brown wrote, "There are now eight NHL teams that find themselves without a captain, an all-time NHL record according to the Department of Facts I Didn't Bother to Research But Sound Plausible Enough. That means we'll see as many as eight new captains named before the start of the season. But who?" 

While everyone else is quite rightly interested in who will be the new captains of these eight leaderless teams, I'm very interested in the dynamics involved in the vacancies. What causes an unprecedented number of captains to ask to leave and/or teams to deal away their captains? What does that say about the state of the NHL? About the captain's job itself. How does it affect the players, the fans, the locker room?


Due to some formatting limitations, I was not able to post the complete article here, Please go to The Old Man and the C at thehockeybrain.com to read the remainder.


comments (2)
6 Aug

Nathan MacKinnon: Already a Mile Higher

Nathan MacKinnon could not be any nicer of a guy. Nathan MacKinnon could not be any more of a  "hometown" guy. He's a genuinely nice Nova Scotian boy who followed in his hometown hero's footsteps and came into the NHL as the number one draft pick in 2013.

And if your hometown hero is Sidney Crosby, those are big footsteps.  MacKinnon laughs easily, manages a self deprecating shrug that is neither falsely modest nor disingenuous, and smiles somewhat shyly when the matter is raised. One gets the idea that he is asked about it a lot. A very, very small town in a very, very small province has managed to produce two of this century's most prominent hockey players. It's a talking point that can't be avoided.

At 5,280 feet above sea level, MacKinnon's future is already a  "mile higher" than his past as he heads from the sea level of his home to the greater heights of Denver. He is more in the Crosby mold than the Kane mold and will be unlikely to aggravate the Avalanche faithful with public displays of "bad boy" behaviour. The Avalanche's PR team must be positively aglow with anticipation and happiness. Here is someone they can definitely promote.

A Public Relations Dream Come True

It did not shock me that they selected him first overall or that they did not trade the coveted first pick to another team in some sort of fancy deal that would have seen them pick local boy Seth Jones in the first round. While Seth Jones is certainly a marquee player, defensemen tend not ignite the hearts and minds of fans like forwards do. Although the Avalanche's most pressing hockey need is, in fact, on their blue line, it may be that their most pressing public relations need is on the front line.

They even made a point of creating a bit of media hype that felt a lot like an advance scouting party, softening the approach of the main army. They would select the best player overall and take MacKinnon, they announced, ending speculation that Jones was going to be their guy. It was a deft move that served a variety of purposes from letting Jones down easy to building momentum amongst their fan base and the industry in general. In almost all news reports regarding the announcement, words to the effect of "in a move unusual for Sakic" appeared. 

It was a headline to the Avalanche faithful: "We are bringing you the best player on the market." While it seems a redundant statement to make about a number one pick, this year's class was so close in the top three or four prospects, that speculation was rife as to who was the best player available. MacKinnon's own team mate from the Halifax Moosehead, Johnathon Drouin, was also rated top three.

Hype sells tickets and builds anticipation. People read more papers, listen to more talk radio, scour the internet more. Imagine how many Avalanche fans have Googled "Nathan MacKinnon" since the announcement.

The Avalanche fans will not be disappointed. MacKinnon is an exciting, goal scoring player. He's talented and big. A hard hitting, hard skating, hard playing guy. He will definitely put on a show.

The Crosby Connection

Much has been made about his relationship with Crosby and he did, in fact, grow up, in a lot of ways, under Crosby's wing. He drank the same water, went to the same rinks, did his early training with the same people. If there is a "do it like Crosby" program, MacKinnon is the first product of it. Distinct enough not to be directly compared, but similar enough to inspire hope. Kind of like trying out for the band when Jimmy Page was your guitar teacher. This is important stuff to marketing people. 

He comes already branded, saving a great deal of trouble, expense and potential pitfalls. MacKinnon enters the NHL a "made man". He's already a commodity. His summer spent training with Crosby, from running through the sand dunes of Prince Edward Island in July to skating with a host of other notable players in Halifax's Civic Arena under trainer Andy O'Brien's tutelage in August, have done nothing but add to his shiny, new legend.

Here's a guy, the Avalanche fans will be saying, who takes this seriously. And they will take him seriously. From the time we are born, the idea of a "hard working" person having greater merit than anyone else is ground into us. If they fail, it's never because they didn't want it enough. You can't buy that sort of insurance against fan displeasure.

Nice Guys Make Fans Happy

Nice guys are the new bad boys. They finish first in this generation. MacKinnon screams "Apple Pie" louder than an orchard full of Granny Smiths.

Being as interested in the "cult of hockey" as much as the on-ice aspects, I find it both interesting and impressive that the NHL has stuck so steadfastly to the the demands it puts on its players to represent the game with honour by insisting on the continuation of rules of public behavior than might otherwise seem old fashioned.  Maybe because the game is so violent and so many injuries occur, it is a very important thing to ensure the players are seen, as much as is possible, as honourable gentlemen. Athletes. Men of character.

While other professional sports leagues seem to have less control over their stars and their public images are sometimes characterized by trash talk, big talk and chest-thumping, the NHL players still get off the bus in suits and ties, say please and thank you to reporters and never talk trash about their teams, their team mates or the league itself. 

Even during the lockout when tempers must have been hard to manage, the worst you heard was a grumble about wanting to get back to the game. While this can sometimes translate to "wouldn't say shit if their mouths were full of it", the fact is, they should be applauded for their decency and not mocked for their lack of  ... courage, shall we say. Saying exactly what is on your mind is not always a team, league or sport building exercise.

Keeping the Brand Safe

When Tyler Seguin was traded, one wondered whether it was as much because he was turning into a bit of a PR liability for the Bruins as Jaromir Jagr had once been for the Penguins.  When the Winnipeg Jets held a "social media seminar" as part of their prospect camp one wondered whether this was to prevent any more kerfuffles like the one Seguin had created when he tweeted his famous "steers and queers" line on the very first night in his new hockey town of Dallas. One imagines Sidney Crosby doesn't use Twitter, in part,  for the same reason most of us don't keep a gallon of chocolate ice cream ... the temptation to use it unwisely is always there.

Crosby has a brand to protect, there are very few of them as valuable as the one he possesses. It would lose value overnight if he started tweeting and about trifles and traumas. Part of the magic of a valuable brand is not knowing too much about its inner workings. In the marketing of carbon-based commodities, familiarity does indeed breed contempt. The market, like your old hound dog, is most responsive when it's hungry. 

MacKinnon's allure to the Avalanche is that, if he has any sort of success this season, if he comes out of the gate like a raging bull, his brand value will be very high. High, high. Crosby has been around long enough not to be the wonder-kid and the market is ripe for another one. Although I do not for a moment suggest there is anything staged about their friendship, it benefits one as well as the other in marketing terms. Gold rubbing off on silver.

In a world where our impressions of hockey players are formed as much by what people Tweet about them or put on their Instagram, Facebook and other such pages, as what they bring to the ice, it's no wonder players like MacKinnon are held in such high regard. He's a genuinely nice guy from a nice family and he seems to have taken the lessons of his youth, about remaining humble, about behaving with decorum, seriously.

MacKinnon's Twitter account reads like you'd hope it would. Fun, sometimes funny, usually positive, PG13 safe, often entertaining. This will meld with whatever his on-ice performance will be this year and form the public's perception of him. It's not enough, anymore, to be a great hockey player. We want our hockey heroes to be great guys, too.

And I think Nathan MacKinnon is exactly what he seems to be. A great guy. A nice young man.

The Colorado Avalanche marketing people must be positively squirming in their seats.

Previously on Sidelines:
Jordan Eberle: To the Top of the Mountain

Next on Sidelines:
The Old Man and the C


comments (1)
4 Aug

Jordan Eberle: To the Top of the Mountain

Eberle poised to reach his potential in 2013-2104.

At a recent event in Halifax, a fundraiser to assist a local youth program, Sidney Crosby was introduced and walked up on the stage to join a host of other Nova Scotians who had some connection to the Stanley Cup. When it was his turn to talk, the hostess promptly asked how it felt to be living his dream and inspiring children at the same time.

Crosby smiled and acknowledged the compliments that preceeded the question by saying, "That's nice."

Then he paused for just a split second and, still smiling, said, "I think you realize that there's a little bit of pressure that comes with that, too."

Jordan Eberle of the Edmonton Oilers must see things like that and exhale loudly enough to move papers off a table ten feet away. 

Nathan MacKinnon, this year's top draft pick, was at the same event in Halifax and although his team and the hockey world in general have very high expectations for the young man from Cole Harbour, he has yet to set his own bar and he's still in a "wait and see" place, cocooned from criticism and over-analysis by not yet doing anything, noteworthy or otherwise, in the big league. I hope he appreciates this period, these are his halcyon days, like the gap year between high school and university. Everyone wants to talk to him, everyone's interested, many are hopeful and some are anticipatory, but he has yet to do or not do anything that would lead to difficult questions.

No one will ask MacKinnon, for instance, why his team was swept in the conference finals or whether he can get back to his 2011-2012, 34 goal, 76 point, 18.9 shot percentage high ground.

Of all the gin joints ...

While I would not want to argue the matter of who has the most pressure placed upon them, I would put forth that Jordan Eberle is a young man sitting in a very hot seat. Crosby only has the entire hockey world to please in that general sort of way we want the "best" to be up to the title, and an entire country absolutely besotted with the potential to win another gold at the 2014 Olympics and his potential role in that, and a large and savvy group of fans of Mario Lemieux' team that expects him to not quite walk on water, but to perform a few minor in-season miracles.

Eberle has the Edmonton Oiler fans.

Gretzky's old fans.

People who remember Paul Coffey and Jari Kurri and Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky. People who remember hockey's most famous and most often referred to dynasty. People who want another season in the sun. People who have a legacy to protect, a future to get to. As Chic Anderson once famously said about Secretariat, "He's going for the lead – and it's RIGHT NOW he's looking for it."

Eberle is a little like Secretariat. Oiler fans are a little like Ron Turcotte. And the rest of us are like Chic Anderson. Eberle is running, the fans are riding him and we're all calling the race from the stands.

Toronto Maple Leafs' fans will tell you that the longest wait, the most intensely uncomfortable thing in the world, is the time between the last time you were great and the next time you can smell the possibility of being great again. And then, when you think it can't be any more uncomfortable or painful, it is. Because then there's the time period where the faint odor of possiblity wafts tantalizingly through the air from the kitchen and you're waiting in the dining room.

Which is where the Oilers fans are all uncomfortably seated at the moment. Some are haranguing the staff, some are waiting patiently, some are waiting from habit without any real belief the food is ever coming and some are excited because they have never had food before but they've heard great things about how cool food is.

The odor of possibility was most strongly noticed in 2011-2012. And it clung to Jordan Eberle. He was the standout on the team.

In 2011-2012, Eberle placed 16th in league goals and 15th in league points. He had a surreal, team leading, shooting percentage of 18.9%. To put this in context, the only comparable player that season, in terms of games played and shots taken, was Steven Stamkos who took 303 shots on goal and got 19.8% of them in for 60 goals and 97 points. Eberle took 180 shots on goal and got in 18.9% of them for 34 goals and 76 points. Calgary's Curtis Glencross had a "is that a typo?" shot percentage of 23.6% on 110 shots for 26 goals in the same season. David Perron, also of the Oilers, had an 18.4% shooting percentage on 144 shots for 21 goals. That's closer to SOP for Stamkos whose career aggregate is 17.2 ... the others, not so much. Must have been something in the water running down through the Alberta foothills that year.

They should have bottled some of it, maybe.

Eberle ended the 2012-2013 season in 38th place overall, behind teammates Taylor Hall and Sam Ganger, with 37 points over 48 games and a shot percentage of 12%. In 2010-2011, his rookie year, he ended with 43 points in 69 games, just ahead of Gagner and Hall who each had 42, with 158 shots on goal and a shot percentage of 11.4%.

Eberle was playing hurt for a portion of 2012-2013, a hand injury possibly impeding his play, and his center, Nugent-Hopkins, was playing with a shoulder injury. It is entirely possible that these two factors contributed to the sharp decline in shot percentage from one year to the next. But the fact remains that 2011-2012 stands out like a neon light inside of his small, three year NHL record, being sandwiched as it is between two very NHL average years.

Will the Real Jordan Eberle Please Stand Up

It is important to keep in mind that Jordan Eberle came into the NHL riding a very shiny white horse. As Adam Kimelman of NHL.com put it, "At the 2009 and '10 World Junior Championships, Eberle scored three of the most heart-stopping, breathtaking goals in Canadian junior hockey history." He wasn't just another kid with hockey dreams and some skill. He was a bona fide national hero.

While saying one player is actually personally responsible for a win might be considered over the top, the gold medal the Canadians took home from the 2009 World Juniors belongs to Eberle as much as anyone. Maybe more. Behind the Russian team by one goal, Eberle and Tavares, who took the shot that set up a rebound, showed why he was so highly regarded as a draft prospect and why Edmonton took him with their first pick in the 22nd spot in 2008. Eberle came up big when big counted. As Kimelman says, "Eberle pounced, moved the puck from his forehand to his backhand in front of the net and slid it under Russia goalie Vadim Zhelobnyuk with just 5.4 seconds left."

"To complete his magical evening," Kimelman wrote, "Eberle scored the winning goal in the shootout as Canada beat Russia, 6-5. And two days later, in the gold-medal game, he had a goal and 2 assists as Canada routed Sweden, 5-1."

Although he did not make the final cut at the Oilers 2009-2010 training camp that same year and played out the year with his junior team, the Regina Pats, in a truly spectacular fashion, when he did get his NHL chance the next year, he made it count. In his first NHL goal, which came in his first NHL game, against Calgary, Eberle made the highlight reels with a stunning shorthanded goal that had all the bells and whistles. It included taking a seeing eye, banked pass, stepping over the defenseman's stick at full speed, an edge change, a toe drag and a backhand top shelf finish.

Whoosh, went the Oiler fanbase.

Every Edmonton Oilers fan on the planet, and there are a lot of them, danced a happy dance around the television and the Edmonton press whistled a sprightly tune for days. In addition to producing a very funny joke segment based on the goal, TSN pondered whether the goal of the year had been scored on the opening night of the season. Crosby said, "no one should be surprised".

As a fan, you never forget goals like that. Or the moment you lived them. You anchor them. They anchor you. They become part of the baseline upon which you pin your hopes and dreams. Because if a player can do that, in his first NHL game ... well, that's when you drift off into happy dreams about your team hauling itself out of the basement, where your team has no business being in the first place.

Goals like that give fans hope.

Of course, Edmonton has much to be hopeful about. Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are stellar, exciting players. Sam Gagner is a great player. And the list goes on. Jordan Eberle added another layer to that hope and the Oiler faithful started imagining the good things to come.

Eberle's perfectly respectable but not stellar first season of 43 points didn't much bother anyone. It was good, it was his first season, he was young, the team was working out its kinks, he only played 69 games, he was playing well, if not converting at a stand-out rate. So the fans shrugged off their basement dwelling finish to the 2010-2011 season, watched "the goal" on Youtube one more time and waited for next year.

One more year in the basement wasn't going to kill anyone.

Next year, 2011-2012, still remembering "the goal", the fans anxiously awaited the return to the ice of a more mature, slightly more seasoned Eberle. And he did NOT disappoint. He ended the season 15th in the league in points, had that amazing, preternatural 18.9 shot percentage, was mentioned in the same breath with Steven Stamkos and was part of a gelling chemistry with Hall and Nugent-Hopkins. It was a little like a refill on the oxygen tank. After two solid years of holding their breath and rationing the air, the Oiler fans took the one step up from the basement as a sign of things to come.

Next year was going to be awesome!

We're Ready for You. Are You Ready for Us?

Clunk.

That's the weight of expectation falling on Jordan Eberle's shoulders.

When you inherit Gretzky's old fans, even the ones who weren't alive then, but have the vicarious sense of it from their older relatives and friends, the weight of expectation enters a rarefied part of the atmosphere where few people could breathe. The only other team I can think of which regularly suffers under the weight of its fans' memory-laden expectations, are the Montreal Canadiens. Can you imagine being a goal tender in Montreal?

Or a goal scorer in Edmonton?

During the lockout, Eberle played in Oklahoma and told Mike Damante in an interview in November of 2012 that he wasn't paying much attention to the whole matter and was, instead, concentrating on his game and creating some chemistry with his Oiler team mates, some of whom were also playing in Oklahoma while the labour dispute dragged on.

Meanwhile, the Edmonton Journal, mirroring or creating (who can tell these days?) the fan expectations and sense of unfolding destiny, had conducted a poll for the Oilers faithful. Weigh in, they asked, on how many goals and points you think Jordan Eberle will get in 2012-2013. Buoyed and expectant from his 2011-2012 performance, they weighed in with more than 75% of the 1,252 respondents believing he would have a point total exceeding 70, with 36+% believing he would exceed 80 points.

I counted 24 separate places on the internet where this very thing was discussed. Everyone, all the usual suspects, TSN, ESPN, Bleacher Report, NHL.com had something to say about Eberle and some query as to how his year was going to unfold. In the terrible dark days of the lockout, we heard about his impressive performance in Oklahoma where he was an AHL superstar, putting up 51 points in 34 games with 25 goals and was AHL player of the month in both November and December.

I don't know that players read polls or Google themselves at the end of every day. I don't know that they listen to what is said or tune out in the interest of sanity, but you would have had to be living under a rock not to hear the name Eberle as the lockout created a hole in the news that had to be filled somehow. The NHL should give every hockey writer a bonus, it was they who helped keep the fans from revolting by digging deep and finding things to say - even if those things had already been said.

When Eberle did finally step back onto the ice in an Oiler uniform, the expectations had reached a fever pitch.

It wasn't quite a case of the "Mighty Casey struck out" but he certainly didn't hit the ball out of the park. He had a very average season. Not a bad one. But it was not an extension of the AHL heroics during the lockout or even an extension of the previous season when he'd been touted as "someone to watch - really watch" and in whom the Oiler fans had placed a great deal of their hopes and dreams.

His actual totals, pro-rated to account for the shortened season, would be around 63 (at 37 actual points over 48 games). Which means 75% of those 1,252 people were not only wrong, but disappointed. With Eberle's shot percentage falling to 12%, a drop of 6.8 pecentage points, you could almost hear the breaking hearts around Oiler City.

Sure, they'd move up another two spots in the standings, the basement was further behind them, no one had played particularly badly. But they'd believed their own press a little, fallen victim to their own expectations and were bitterly disappointed. Eberle's stock fell a little and a more cautious tone overtook the bravado his 2011-2012 campaign had created.

Now, it's true, and a lot of people pointed this out, that a "sophomore slump" is a thing that can happen. Of course, he wasn't in his sophomore year, he was in his third year. Or it could be like a "Stanley Cup hangover". Or it could be an anomaly. Or it could be because the season was so messed up that nothing that happened in it should "count". Or because he was injured, as was Nugent-Hopkins for a part of 2012-2013. Or ... something.

I doubt that the pressure of the fan base got to him, per se. He's a young man who is very used to pressure and has played under it, exceedingly well. But one does wonder whether the spectre of playing on Wayne Gretzky's old ice, in the hallowed Northlands Coliseum (now called Rexall Place) has any bearing on how these young players deal with pressure - and, for that matter, how well the fans handle defeats and disappointments.

How do you live with the notion that no matter what you do, you will likely be "disappointing" in the "compared to the old team" way. Other teams with storied pasts have the same problem, but none in the modern age were quite so dominant as the Edmonton Oilers (with apologies to the Penguins of the early nineties and the Islanders of the early eighties) and none had Gretzky in his prime. Gretzky never again played for a team that could properly be called a "juggernaut" or "the greatest team ever assembled".

You wonder whether players like Eberle, Hall and Nugent-Hopkins wander the halls of the arena thinking things like "this is Gretzky's rink". Gretzky's rink. Maybe by the time you reach the NHL you've gone past that sort of distraction and sense of wonder.

Real Fans NEVER Give Up.

In an Edmonton Journal post (some of the best hockey writing on the internet happens there) dated August 3 and titled "Oilers fans gearing up for annual fret-o-mania over Jordan Eberle's point production" another poll has been created.

While 36+% fans thought he was going to earn more than 80 points in the 2012-2013 poll, only 17% think that will happen this year. While 38+% thought he was going to earn between 70 and 80 points last year, 50% think so this year. While 18% thought he would earn between 60 and 70 last year, this year 26+% think this is the magic number.

It's a VERY interesting set of data points, actually.The polls are very likely contributed to by a largely overlapping respondent base. Lots of people who voted last year, will have voted this year. It's not often that you get to compare two sets of fan expectations which have a high likelihood of carrying some actual relevance.

Fewer people have very high expectations. Many of those with high expectations last year have tempered them with the reality of last year's performance and 268 of them (about 23% of total averaged respondents) concluded they had hoped for too much and were riding the high from his standout 2011 season. Those people, probably the very epitome of "the reasonable fan", have likely fallen into the one lower category (70-80) and contribute to its significant increase. I like to play with numbers but I will spare you the many ways in which this data could be reformed to inform.

Suffice to say that because there has been no real change in the lower categories, the fans have not lost faith, by and large. Because the big changes are in the second and third categories, it means the fans have lowered expectations but still expect top performance. Because the bottom category is cut in half, it means the fans, generally speaking, are feeling less pessimestic about the team in general and the gun-shy after-effects of injuries has healed a little.

Sidenote: this analysis could well change if the poll gets many more participants and/or changes in any significant way. I have been watching it since it went up and it has not changed in substance in a long enough time frame that I feel somewhat comfortable in saying the flavour of it will not change much, even if it gains a lot more respondents. I will keep checking.

In short: Eberle has a great fanbase. If ever there was a city that was anxious to get back to their Glory Days, it's Edmonton. If ever there was a city that loves its hockey, it's Edmonton. If ever there was a city that could find a way to temper expectations with fairness, it seems to be Edmonton. It's like they understand what it must mean for a player to play there, in the shadow of Gretzky. You have to admire them for it.

And Eberle, meanwhile, remains the unaffected, charming, young man that he is, regularly tweeting such mundane things as a query as to whether they're picking up recylcing bins in Calgary and a comment about the torture of the motor vehicle registration process. This morning he tweeted about a trip up Sulphur Mountain.

Hiked to the top of Sulphur Mountain this morning pic.twitter.com/udq9kMHfNW
— Jordan Eberle (@ebs_14) August 4, 2013

So, we know he's a guy who CAN get to the top of the mountain.

I am one of the 17% who voted 80-plus.

I predict this will be Eberle's defining year. I believe this will be his benchmark season. And I believe it will be a positively stellar one.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of Gretzky ...

Previously on Sidelines:
Rink Burgers: A Bruins Fan Remembers Life Through a Hockey Porthole

Next on Sidelines:
Nathan MacKinnon: Already A Mile Higher


comments (2)
4 Aug

Rink Burgers: A Bruins Fan Remembers Life Through a Hockey Porthole

Right from the name of the publisher (Your Nickel's Worth Publishing, based in Saskatchewan) to the pre-dedication page which states, "So I write a book about being a long suffering fan of the Boston Bruins and what do they do? They go and win a Stanley Cup in 2011. Typical." you know you're in for a wholly Canadian experience. Which means a lot of life stories pivot off a hockey experience.

I swear, I could tell my whole life story inside a framework of hockey base notes. From "oh yeah, that was the year my Dad and I went to see the Habs when they were still in the Forum" to "we didn't get to go to the annual pre-summer family gathering at 'the camp' because the Blackhawks made the finals that season". In our family we defined events, very often, by hockey. So and so was born two years after the last Habs win, they got married the year Howe finally retired or Uncle Tim will refuse to die until the Leafs win another cup. So, the book resonated with me because I "got it" and it took me back to a time when we really did sit around, cross-legged, in a little circle, trading hockey cards. I got a Bobby Orr rookie card when I was five because my older cousin said, "Naw, he's a defensemen, they never get lots of goals. You take it."

I had just finished Mike Babcock's "Leave No Doubt: A Credo For Chasing Your Dreams" which is, essentially, a book about motivation: self motivation, motivation by a grander cause, motivating, being motivated, finding ways to motivate under scrutiny and pressure and finding motivation when it counts most. It's not quite the "story of the 2010 Olympics from a Team Canada perspective" but it is. It's about dreaming, reaching, exceeding, overcoming and coming up big. He digs into his personal repertoire of life-changing events, turns them over in his hand so you can see all sides and puts them down as a paper-weight to hold them still while he explains the lessons he learned from them and how he put them into practice. If you're a coach, a teacher, a trainer, a boss, a mentor, or a motivational speaker, you'll be making notes. If you're a hockey fan you'll realize there's more to winning than ... well, winning.

Todd Devonshire's book is like the book Mike Babcock would write if he had never become a coach or went on to carry one of the heaviest weights ever slapped onto a man's shoulders (winning hockey gold on Canadian soil). While Babcock's book is aimed to teach using hockey moments as stand-ins for any moment of personal decision and challenge, Devonshire's is about being taught by those same hockey moments. While they both fall under the rubric of motivational, and both contain an underlying element of memoir, one is about creating motivation and the other is about accepting it. The two might well be bookends, if you will, for the "Canadian Hockey Experience".

In fact, Devonshire says in the same pre-dedication page that his wife said to him, "Just write, get it done." She might have been quoting Mike Babcock, if not in actual words, certainly in spirit.

From his parents using a very familiar-sounding set of motivational tactics which included invoking the name of his hockey hero, Bobby Orr, whenever they wanted him to do something ("You know, I bet the reason Bobby Orr was such a good skater was because he hopped on his bike every day and grabbed his dad a pack of smokes. How else do you think he got such strong legs?") to shared family time around the console television (that only got two channels, if it was anything like my experience) watching Hockey Night in Canada, to the problems created in a household that had both Bruins AND Habs fans, Devonshire does credit to the art of reliving experiences through the porthole of hockey.

He once refused to open an instructional video from Guy Lafleur, waited by the mailbox for the annual Boston Bruins review in book form every year, kept the puck from his first goal in the same tin he kept his first lost tooth. They happened on the same day, in the same moment. Anyone from Halifax or Cole Harbour will understand his incredible excitement when the Bruins' number one draft pick for 1980 was a local boy, Barry Pederson.

Devonshire isn't weaving a tale or building a tapestry, he is unfolding and unraveling, and taking you with him. He's telling you not only what the sport of hockey meant to him, but how it insinuated itself into his world-view and personal philosophies. Essentially, he is saying it helped raise him as much as his Bruins loving father who was also his first hockey coach and his Habs loving mother who was a lone dissenter, a shot of red in a sea of black.

Anchored with a couple of clever pieces of "correspondence" from Guy Lafleur, it's a fun, entertaining and sentimental read. And, if nothing else, there's a comforting takeaway. Change what you will, go from 6 teams to 30 teams, create slick advertising and build fancy websites, you can't change the fan experience because that is lived in the heart. You know, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

There's a story in the book about how Devonshire and his father came across Ken Dryden's The Game as they were going through the family's hockey related memorabilia and the father said, "That book could have been called The Crying Game". That led the author to share his memories of making fun of Dryden in a way that any current Bruins fan or any current Habs fan will find as familiar as the names on their twitter feed.

It starts out with, "Boo hoo, poor Ken Dryden ..."

I really enjoyed the book. It was entertaining and familiar, the stories could have been mine or, if you grew up around hockey, yours. Reading them inside the framework of a different console televison, a different (but the same) "Dad chair", a different set of team loyalties left me smiling, nodding my head, missing my father and being very thankful that I could, in fact, remember the smell of "rink burgers".

You can find Rink Burgers on Amazon



Previously on Sidelines:
The Reports of the Death of Hockey Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

Next on Sidelines:
Yea, Though I Walk Through The Shadow of Gretzky


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