(Vancouver, British Columbia) Issue of violence in hockey examined; scenes shown. Philadelphia Flyer Paul Holmgren shown hitting referee Andy van Hellemond; significance of event considered. Criticism by referees of National Hockey League's inaction against Holmgren discussed. [NHL president John ZIEGLER - defs. penalty.] Separate incidents involving player Terry O'Reilly, and referee Bob Hall described, shown. [HALL - is alarmed at increase in violence.] NHL, at referees insistence, said forming panel to discuss attacks on officials.
Four years later, in 1986, Rather was again part of a segment decrying violence in the sport. His involvement served as the same flood marker then that he is now: Whenever fear about hockey's goons and enforcers and their fierce physicality rises high enough, it breaches whatever Rather's serving. Fifteen years ago, same story as today:
(Studio: Dan Rather) Report introduced.
(Boston, Massachusetts: Ned Potter) City's threat to take legal action against violent athletes such as hockey players examined; details given, scenes shown. [Mayor Raymond FLYNN — defs. crackdown.] Reaction of head of National Hockey League quoted. ["Sports Illustrated" spokesperson Mark MULVOY — thinks fights attract fans.] [PEOPLE — agree; want Flynn to mind his own business] Irony in situation considered.
"Irony in situation considered": I like that. It's a useful way to describe the impossible process of trying to justify the relationship between hockey and violence, that circuitous feedback loop of contradictions and seeming hypocrisies. Try explaining to someone why an errant elbow to the head is a cheap shot that will earn a player a suspension, yet a fist to the face is not only OK, it's solemnly honored.1 Check out their reaction when you point out that Paul Holmgren, the very man once featured by CBS as the violent assailant who caused "the formation of panels to discuss attacks on officials," is now the Philadelphia Flyers GM. Good luck watching a game with a casual fan and getting them to see why you're applauding, for fantasy purposes, a player who gets whistled for roughing. "See, if it were a real hockey team, you'd want players to take penalties sometimes, as long as they're not stupid penalties " O-K.
And when you find yourself with longtime hockey fans who know full well what the elusive "code" is and what it means, and who also know that they don't (they can't!) agree with a good swath of its clauses — have fun handling that. Because no matter how much you think you get it, no matter how nuanced you find your position to be, you'll ultimately be boiled down by big-picture talking heads like Dan Rather, reduced to statements like: "The fans want to see violence" — even if that's not how you see it at all.
The other thing Dan Rather had covered, much more recently and in much greater depth than his mid-'80s dalliances with hockey, is the brain. Specifically: What can go wrong with it. More specifically: What has so often already gone wrong with it thanks to sports. In a series of Dan Rather Reports shows on HDNet in 2009, Rather examined the long-term ramifications of repeated head injuries among athletes. At the time, Malcolm Gladwell compared football to dog fighting in the New Yorker and the New York Times' Alan
Schwartz Schwarz continued his work on an endless number of pieces linking athletes to CTE and CTE to early-onset depression, dementia, and death. His work was cited by Congress in hearings they held on the matter. The NFL came under scrutiny once again in the New Yorker when Ben McGrath asked: "Does Football Have a Future?"
The NHL got one paragraph out of McGrath's 10,000-word New Yorker piece, which was published a few weeks after Sidney Crosby, in old athletic parlance, had his bell rung in the Winter Classic.2 "Hockey may now have a concussion crisis on its hands," McGrath wrote. It sure does: After a summer in which one former and two current NHL players were found dead, each under very different circumstances but all after having played hockey, and having played hockey rough, it's now alarm bells that are being rung. And few have pealed louder and clearer than John Branch's devastating three-part New York Times series on the life and death of Derek Boogaard, one of hockey's biggest and most fearsome "enforcers" and one of this summer's deceased.
Branch's work is brimming with heartbreaking detail and heart-racing media — it has attendant fight videos, player and family interviews, and interactive graphics — and yet it's also summed up with chilling elegance in just 11 words, the sum of the titles of each of its parts:
"Learning to Brawl"
"Blood on the Ice"
"A Brain 'Going Bad'"
The third section contains the news that the pugilistic Boogaard's brain, donated to researchers by his family, showed not just signs of CTE but the kind of full-blown deterioration usually not found until decades down the road — and even then to devastating effect. While, Branch writes, everyone had always been most worried about another part of Boogaard's body, his gnarled, crumbled hands, it was his mind that was becoming most broken. We're now at the point where the big fears about athletes are no longer whether they'll be able to crouch down to play with their children, it is whether they'll even be in the right mind to want to.
It's hard to read Branch's work and not come away feeling sickened by the concept of fighting in hockey and the toll it can take on a human. On the other hand, elsewhere on the New York Times website is a piece called "A New Worry for Soccer Parents: Heading the Ball" about the brain damage found in since-childhood soccer players, which is "similar to [that] seen in traumatic brain injury." Do the people who want to end fighting in hockey want children to stop heading soccer balls, too?
Really, the scarier story revealed in Branch's Boogaard article isn't the stuff about instigators and punches, it's the parts about institutions and pills. Boogaard ultimately died of an overdose of Oxycontin and alcohol; his appetite for the painkillers — often eight at a time — was well sated, Branch writes, by NHL doctors, many of whom either didn't know or didn't want to know what other NHL doctors had already prescribed. Branch alleges that Boogaard was given a heads-up when NHL drug tests were coming. When he died, he was on leave from league-sponsored rehab. The New York Rangers have put their players under a gag order on the topic. "We've been told not to talk about it," Sean Avery said. "I certainly have opinions on it, but we've been told not to comment."
Todd Fedoruk, another fighter whose face was shattered by Boogaard's fist before the two ended up teammates, suffered from drug and alcohol addictions of his own. Quoted extensively in Branch's article, Fedoruk agreed to answer follow-up reader questions. Since he's not on the Rangers, he shared his opinions freely. Asked about his current thoughts on the place of fighting in hockey, he said:
"Now, understand that my take on fighting in hockey is my opinion. I feel that injuries from dangerous hits and stick infractions are best dealt with amongst the players. There are certain players who have no respect for the opponent. A fighter enforces that respect amongst players. Without the enforcer, the free reign for dangerous plays on key players is not kept in check — no matter how many rule changes or suspensions you hand out."
Asked about whether he's considered the consequences for kids, he responded:
"Let's get one thing straight: Violence is not encouraged in hockey; physical play is. Protection seems to be a byproduct. My kids understand this, and so do hockey fans."
There we go again with that circular, inexplicable logic. The fans don't want to see violence, they want to see physical play. Physical play means protection. Protection maybe means violence. Hockey fans understand this. Irony in situation: considered.
As happened last time, two of the week's best goals were traded in the same game.3 As the final seconds of an Ottawa power play ticked down Wednesday night against Washington, the Senators' Nick Foligno blew past exhausted Dennis Wideman, who was trapped on the ice in a long defensive shift on the penalty kill. Foligno maneuvered around traffic in front of the net and scored what I can only describe as a reverse wraparound goal to give Ottawa a 2-1 lead late in the second. (Just about the only thing he didn't do on the play was his father's signature leap.)4
But in a response straight out of a production of Ovi Get Your Gun, Alex Ovechkin would create the space for a go-ahead score of his own in the third period. Just about four minutes after Nicklas Backstrom tied the game 2-2 on a Capitals power play, Ovechkin received the puck all the way back at the right face-off dot in his defensive zone, flew down the left side of the ice and all the way behind and around the net, began heading back up the right side, and then stopped on a dime, shedding his defender by several body lengths.
The whole sequence looked like a high-speed chase, with Ovechkin veering into a getaway side street as a pursuing police car skidded helplessly past. He faked a slap shot, slowed it down to a snap shot, and finally became the Ovechkin of old — the one whose disappearance this season has caused whispers ranging from "everyone's on to his game" to, more recently, "he must have stopped taking steroids."5 I'll take Old Ovi, please — at least until the Rangers join his division next year.
With the way he's been playing this season, no one could have imagined that Tyler Seguin might appear in this space. But the Bruins' young cub hibernated a bit too long Tuesday morning, missing a mandatory team breakfast in Winnipeg that earned him a healthy scratch in the team's game against the Jets later that night. Both Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli and coach Claude Julien remarked that this wasn't the first offense of this nature for Seguin, the team's leading scorer. "He's had a couple of incidents before over the course of his career," Chiarelli said, while Julien noted, "It's not based on just one thing." The small mistake set off the predictable (but no less enjoyable) wave of minor absurdities: Seguin claimed to have made the screwup because his alarm was still set to Boston time, an excuse that, as Matt Kalman pointed out, defied simple math.6 And CSN's Joe Haggerty jokingly implied that perhaps it was all an evil scheme hatched by Jordan Caron, Seguin's "Odd Couple" roommate in Boston and, ostensibly, on the road. Caron did end up taking Seguin's place in the lineup, after all, though any plan didn't exactly work out: With Seguin watching uncomfortably from the press box, the Bruins lost to Winnipeg, 2-1.
Remember in high school and college when two of your friends would put up cryptic but coordinating away messages on AIM and you'd get all paranoid that they were maybe referring to you? That's basically the relationship right now between the Maple Leafs' coach/GM and the Toronto media. Friday evening, Leafs coach Ron Wilson was asked who would be starting in goal Saturday: no. 1 netminder James Reimer, newly recovered from an "upper body injury"10 or backup Jonas Gustavsson, who had been playing in his absence? "I'm not being definitive on anything, but we've told Gustavsson that he's going to be playing tomorrow," Wilson said.
The next day Reimer was in net against Boston.
The media was not at all happy with this, particularly when they asked Wilson when the decision had been made and he responded, "Three days ago." Missives were penned. LIES! FILTHY LIES! The next day, Wilson tweeted: "Favorite movies: Liar,Liar; The Invention of Lying; Big Fat Liar. HaHa!" Later, GM Brian Burke weighed in: "I love the quote about liars in sports. Many gainfully employed in the media." Tip-top trolling, gentlemen.
Look, the NBA has their wine-and-paddle-playing drunk dials; the NHL has a coach and a GM whom you can just imagine sitting in their respective offices and occasionally knocking on the wall separating them. "Hey, did you see what I tweeted?" "Ha ha! I'm gonna write something, too." And you can work yourself into a tizzy about the importance of truth-telling in these situations, you can maybe find a sensible middle ground, or you can sit back and giggle a bit about the wonder of it all.11
Me, I'm going to choose to believe that Ron Wilson was making a scholarly point about the dangers of ambiguous pronouns, and leave it at that.
A new commercial,
A new "Good Old Hockey Game,"
Hey! It's Will Arnett!
Katie Baker is a staff writer for Grantland.
Previously from Katie Baker:
The NHL Coaching Carousel Spins Off Its Axis
Broadway Blueshirts Are Becoming Must-See Theatre
Manning-ology, Lady Byng, and the Pitfalls of Great Free Tickets
The Best Team in the NHL
Wedded Blitz! The October Marriage Season
The Rise of the Female Distance Runner
The Horrible Habs
Coming to Grips With the Winter Classic
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In the annotated version of the 1990 "Making of a Goon" piece about Joe Kocur, featured yesterday on Grantland, writer Johnette Howard recalls, of sitting with Kocur's teammates while they watched footage of his fights: "The thing that struck me was how serious they were."
After returning early last week following 10 months in recovery, Crosby was knocked around against Boston and, it was announced by the Penguins yesterday, is feeling less than 100 percent and will be sitting out the next two games "as a precaution." Here we go again
One runner-up, this goal by Minnesota's Pierre-Marc Bouchard, had the precision and pace of a Roger Federer cross-court backhand.
He's displayed the trademark celebration before.
That column, written by John Steigerwald, the brother of Penguins announcer Paul, drew a rant by Puck Daddy's Ryan Lambert in response, which in turn led to a bizarre talk-radio showdown between the two that included allegations that Ovechkin's mother doped up during her time as a Russian Olympic athlete and that Sidney Crosby is a vampire.
The Score's Rob Pizzo theorized that it was the volume, asking: WHY SEPARATE KNOB?!
On the other hand, by punishing Tootoo for what appeared to be a less egregious offense than Lucic's, Shanahan has at least made good on his word that "going forward goalies are not fair game," and set a new precedent for future scenarios.
There may be more Shanabans to come: The league's judge and jury will have a phone hearing with Colorado's Kevin Porter for a knee-on-knee hit that left Vancouver's David Booth out for four to six weeks with a sprained MCL. And last night's play alone contained an elbow from Buffalo's Ville Leino and a leaving-the-feet hit by Andy Sutton (one of the league's repeat offenders, who was offered an in-person meeting — bad news for him) that could garner additional discipline.
I wrote in 2010 about another predatory hockey coach, David Frost, whom I compared to Graham James. Both wielded their power as NHL gatekeepers over young, hopeful players in order to abuse and borderline brainwash them.
I mean, Brian Burke is a man WHO TRIED TO RENT OUT A BARN IN LAKE PLACID TO FIGHT KEVIN LOWE. You can't let this guy get under your skin so easily!