Minnesota Wild v Washington Capitals

Dave Lozo’s Bag Skate is a weekly feature that’s named as such because A) it’s kinda part mailbag, and B), like a bag skate, it’s very long. Unlike a bag skate, however, it is very enjoyable. Lozo worked for NHL.com for five years, three months, and 19 days (seriously), and finally left after getting his resumé to the point where he was qualified to write somewhere as prestigious as Backhand Shelf.

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Minnesota goaltender Josh Harding doesn’t believe he is special and he doesn’t want to be treated that way.

He’s wired like 99 percent of hockey players, be it naturally or from decades of instruction from coaches — he hates talking about himself. He wants to deflect praise onto teammates and, after a loss, is fully prepared to fall on his sword even if his sword is the only reason the Wild were in the game at all.

Ask a goaltender about a performance like Harding had Tuesday night – 35 saves in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Blackhawks that would’ve been a 5-1 regulation loss with a lesser player in net – and he’ll dance between praising teammates for clearing shooting lanes and rebounds and talking about the two he missed.

So it shouldn’t have been a surprise when after his emergency start in place of the injured Niklas Backstrom that Harding wanted nothing to do with a question – one that needed to be asked – about having multiple sclerosis, a disease with no cure that slowly turns a once-healthy body into a prison of unimaginable pain and torture.

“No comment,” Harding offered several times during his post-game media scrum in Chicago when asked about his condition. He doesn’t want to talk about it.

“Good for him,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “I think we should respect that. Even I have to catch myself sometimes. But the reality is, he’s part of our team. He’s a hockey player, and that’s the way he wants to be treated.”

Sometimes as a reporter, you have to ask uncomfortable questions. After the Canucks lost Game 7 to the Bruins, I was two feet from Ryan Kesler, who was on the cusp of breaking down emotionally. I gulped and asked how much of the series loss he put on himself (one assist in seven games playing hurt), and while he didn’t collapse to the floor and sob in the fetal position, it pushed him over the edge and made me feel like the world’s worst person. It was pretty much the worst day of Kesler’s professional life, and there I was, basically saying, “I know you feel bad, but really, go into detail about how guilty you feel about this loss.”

With that story as an example, imagine how Harding feels when someone wants him to relive the moment he discovered he was unfairly sentenced to a potential life of uncontrollable muscle spasms, a poorly mixed cocktail of pain and numbness in his extremities, depression and trouble using the bathroom. When you ask about his MS, here’s what you sound like:

“You’re going to need varying degrees of help from medication, nurses, doctors and family members for the rest of your life, and you may reach a point where going to the bathroom will fill you with shame and sadness, so what’s it like to go from that to starting Game 1 in the playoffs?”josh harding 3

Three no comments on that topic seem like two too many. It’s one thing to grill a player about an illegal hit he felt was totally clean when it wasn’t; it’s another to make someone talk about not only the worst moment in their professional life, but the worst moment in their life, period. If you’re requesting a 1-on-1 with Harding to discuss his disease, you better have a close working relationship with him or be Harding’s doctor.

Harding doesn’t want to be considered special, no matter how unique his situation is, and it’s understandable. Ask anyone with a disease of any kind, and the last thing they want to do is become identified first and foremost with that disease. “Harding made 35 saves” is a far more palatable sentence to him than “Harding, who has multiple sclerosis, made 35 saves.”

More than anything, he just wants to be considered a normal hockey player, but he probably wants it more than any hockey player on the planet.

It’s a story that needs to be written after that game, sure, but Harding talked about it plenty before the season so he wouldn’t be a distraction, so don’t expect him to suddenly open up about his life in the visiting locker room at United Center at the most crucial time of the year.

Harding wants to be a hockey player more than anything, and he’s probably more aware of the closing window on that lifestyle more than anyone in the NHL. If he doesn’t want to talk about it, he doesn’t want to talk about it.

Don Cherry? More like Dong Cherry!

PJT-Cherry-4  .jpg

I don’t want to go as far as to say everyone has a racist family member, but I will say almost everyone has an older relative whose view of the world stopped adjusting to changing times about 40-50 years ago. This is the person who shows up at Thanksgiving and doesn’t openly disapprove because your white cousin is dating a black man, but he makes everyone uncomfortable by saying things like, “What color will the babies be? I’m not racist but I’m just asking. Pass the stuffing.”

Don Cherry is the hockey world’s out-of-touch uncle, as evidenced by his rants about women in the locker room over the past five days during Hockey Night In Canada.

Having to hear an argument about women not belonging in a locker room in 2013 is probably as close as we’ll ever come to traveling back in time. Sometimes you’ll see old black and white footage where people make arguments about not allowing black people to have equal rights and you’ll think, “Man, I wonder what it was like to live in that era with so many uneducated people.”

So in a way, Don Cherry is a hero. He’s a real-life Doc Brown, inviting you into his DeLorean and cranking it up to 88 mph.

I’m not here to tell you women belong in the locker room, much like I’m not here to tell you farts are funny. I’m not here to tell you something we all know and agree about in 2013. I’m here to point out that Cherry is out of touch about society because he’s also out of touch about hockey itself, a big problem for a hockey pundit.

The thing that stood out for me was Cherry didn’t want female reporters around athlete dong. That seemed to be the heart of his argument. In his mind, postgame locker rooms are a sea of penises, and with women there, hockey players aren’t able to let their penises hang free after two-plus hours cooped up inside all that padding. Penises need air to live, and women are preventing players – and I guess male reporters – from basking in the glow of their teammates’ sweaty penises.

I’m not sure what Cherry thinks would happen if a woman with a microphone or tape recorder came within 15 feet of a penis in a locker-room setting, but I imagine it would involve her clutching her necklace and fainting or becoming so sexually aroused that asking about a second-period power play would be impossible. I’m not saying Cherry is living in the past, but I imagine if you looked inside his head for his picture of the world, everything would look like the movie The Sting.

Cherry’s logic both on the surface and at a deeper level reveals how dangerous it is to give him such a huge platform to spew his nonsense. I’ve been inside a lot of locker rooms in a lot of cities the past five years, and I can report I have seen a grand total of one dong in my time. Sure, as a man it didn’t bother me, but what if a woman was around to see it? Bullet dodged, I guess.

If you don’t spend regular time in pro sports locker rooms, which Cherry doesn’t, this is how you come up with nonsense like this. What Cherry fails to realize is that whether it’s a luxurious home locker room or a smaller visiting locker room with less amenities, they are all divided into two parts – the front room where equipment is hung and interviews are had, and the back room where players shower and change. In my experience, most players are uncomfortable being interviewed shirtless, never mind pantsless, even if cameras aren’t around.

Cherry’s image of today’s locker rooms being like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory only instead of candy and chocolate as far as the eye can see it’s penises and testicles as far as the eye can see shows how outdated he and his viewpoints really are. The hockey world will be a better place when he eventually holds a less prominent place in it.

Three letters: Hybrid icing, MVP debate, charity

Last week, you said on Twitter that hybrid icing was stupid. I really like it. It’s going to prevent injuries that icing can cause now. I don’t understand what don’t you like about hybrid icing. What’s your problem with it?

Mike, Utica

Mike, here’s the thing: icing as it exists now is quite dumb. The players are far too fast and strong for there to be a situation in which two large humans are skating as quickly as possible into a wall in an effort to touch a moving object first. There doesn’t need to be malicious intent for there to be injury in that situation which shouldn’t exist in the modern NHL anyway.

Is hybrid icing better than touch icing? Of course. But both are stupid. Praising hybrid icing is like praising an idea to have police officers wrap their heads in Kevlar in order to prevent them from being killed by illegal firearms when removing the illegal firearms should be the focus.

Legislating hybrid icing would be pure guesswork in some cases. It’s one thing for a linesman trailing the play to see who touches a puck first; it’s a whole other for the linesman trailing the play to gauge which player skated past a spot on the ice first. Guys will be extending sticks and their skates will be tangled and how anyone can correctly judge who gets to the face-off dot or hash marks first seems like a lot to ask of any official.

The idea of hybrid icing is great, sure. The attacking player beats the defender to the spot, the linesman waves off icing and both players go into the boards in a controlled manner in an attempt to possess the puck, not just touch it. That’s what will happen most times and all reports are it works in the AHL, but there’s still potential for error and it’s not as though a player going full speed can’t wipe out 15-20 feet from the boards and suffer a needless injury.

You know what would prevent any of that, as rare as it may be with hybrid icing? No-touch icing. NHL players are resistant to that change because NHL players are resistant to change about everything. Rangers defenseman Marc Staal took a ricocheted puck to the eye and has been out two months, and NHL players still refuse to make visors mandatory. Somehow, the notion of taking away a player’s ability to slowly skate back to track down an errant puck and tap it with his stick infringes on the honor and integrity of the game and that can’t happen.

I’d be willing to treat the offensive blue line as the “hybrid icing” cutoff because, yes, there are times when players will shoot the puck from the other side of the red line into the opposite corner in an effort to make a bank pass to a speedy player. But besides that, it’s all just missed passes and lazy clearing attempts that deserve to be punished with a faceoff in your own end.

No-touch icing is safer and heck, it’ll save 2-3 seconds at the end of games when a team is just icing the puck while protecting a lead. Hybrid icing is better than icing as it exists now, but it’s still not good.

Hey Dave,

Finding it a little hard to sleep on Playoffs Eve so I thought I’d shoot you a question. Over the last week or so, there was a lot of back and forth on whether a player could possibly merit Hart consideration if his team didn’t make the postseason. You’ve usually got a fairly reasonable take on things, where do you side here? 

Thanks,

Kelly

Chicago

Sergei Bobrovsky is my runaway MVP, with John Tavares and Alex Ovechkin running second and third. In reality, Bobrovsky will be lucky to finish in the top 5 in voting, and some of it has to do with the fact the Blue Jackets missed the postseason – on a tiebreaker – in the far superior conference.

I just think it’s silly to say, “If a team doesn’t make the postseason, no one on that team could possibly be the most valuable player because, as stated earlier, that team missed the postseason.” I don’t believe in dealing in absolutes like that. I don’t believe in dealing in Absolut, either, although I ingested many flavored vodkas from that company while in college when I didn’t know any better.

Everyone has a different interpretation of the terminology for the Hart Trophy winner — “the player judged to be the most valuable to his team” – so the foundation for arguments for players tends to be different. There’s also a notion that goaltenders have their own award, much like pitchers in baseball, so that excludes them in the minds of many voters. Some would like the award given to the best player, which means as long as Sidney Crosby plays at least 70 games, he will win the award every season until he retires, although a strong case can be made that Bobrovsky has been the best hockey player this season.

I try to interpret the Hart to mean it goes to the most valuable player to his team, not just any team. That means trying to figure out just how good a team would be if that player’s services were not rendered in that particular season. I understand logic like this can only be surely applied if the TV show Sliders was actually reality and I can slide to other dimensions and see what the Blackhawks would be like without Jonathan Toews. However, I’m left to my deductive reasoning, which is obviously affected by the fact I can be an idiot at times.

St. Louis Blues  v Columbus Blue Jackets

Maybe that principle wasn’t used when Wayne Gretzky was racking up Harts, but maybe it should’ve been. Or heck, maybe it was, but seeing how Gretzky was about 11 light years ahead of his competition for a large chunk of his career it didn’t matter. In an age of parity, it’s far more difficult to discern who the most valuable player is, especially when the best player is consistently out with injuries.

Long story short, not making the playoffs should come into your decision-making process, sure, but it shouldn’t be a steadfast rule for inclusion or exclusion. If your argument for Tavares is he carried his team to the playoffs, you should know he carried his team to the same points as the Blue Jackets in a weaker conference and the Islanders finished with the 16th-best record in the League, which makes the Islanders, technically, a below-average team. So Tavares piloted a team to sub-mediocrity but made the playoffs in a League where more than half the teams qualify. Congrats. Here’s your trophy you deserve far more than Bobrovsky, I guess.

Good Day Beloved.

I am suffering from cancerous ailment, I write this email to you on my sick bed facing death. I am married to am English woman who is dead some years ago. Our life together as man and wife lasted for three decades without child until death took her away from me. My Doctor told me yesterday that i have limited days to live due to the cancerous problems and i have decided to use my fund in the bank for charity. I would like you to help me distribute the fund to the needy, orphans, destitute, the down-trodden society. Write to my private email:(kamarayusuf@xxxxxxx.com) with this secret code numbers (xxxxxxx) only if you are interested to carry out this task for humanity.

Remain blessed

Yusuf Kamara

Tajen, Taiwan

Hey there, Yusuf. Sorry about your plight. You always hear about tragedies like these, but truth be told, you’re the first person I’ve ever encountered who was married to an English woman.  And for 30 years! I offer my sincere condolences, but on the bright side, at least you have cancer now and soon your memories of your time with that cold, heartless woman will be a thing of the past.

This seems like a very personal e-mail for a hockey grab bag, so I’m not sure how I can help you here. Since you seem like you have a good heart and are interested in donating your fortune, I’d like to direct you to the official Web site of the Phoenix Coyotes. There are some good people working there and times are tight. Paul Bissonette is already earning $730,000 next year to run a Twitter account, so no need for any more charity there.

My suggestion to you would be to make out a will. This way when you die of your cancerous ailment (FYI, it’s just called “cancer” here) your money can go to the Phoenix Coyotes. Or heck, a cancerous ailment research center would make a lot of sense, right? Come on, Yusuf. You should know this. It’s almost as if you’re simply scamming people with this story.

But seriously, I’ll e-mail you my credit card and social security numbers later today.

(I only received the two e-mails I could answer this week, so Yusuf had to be utilized. E-mail dave111177 at gmail dot com if you want a question answered next week that isn’t related to spam e-mail

This week in undisclosed injuries

(For whatever reason, it’s become customary in hockey for teams to withhold injury information or offer vague “upper-body” or “lower-body” tags on ailments. That leaves fans and reporters to speculate and guess as to the nature of the injury. Every week, I will examine the latest unknown injuries and offer my best guesses as to what they really are.)

For the Blackhawks, goaltender Ray Emery (toe fungus) and center Dave Bolland (hemorrhoids) missed Game 1 against the Wild but are expected back during the series.

The Ducks are without defenseman Luca Sbisa (athlete’s foot) but he has been practicing through his injury.

The Sharks are missing Scott Gomez (back acne) and Canucks goaltender Cory Schneider (explosive diarrhea) was out for Game 1.

The defending champion Kings started the postseason sans defenseman Matt Greene (bad breath) but have a lot of depth along the blue line.

The Penguins’ Sidney Crosby is back from a broken jaw, but Brooks Orpik (cankles) remains a question mark.

The Rangers are missing two of their biggest forwards to start the playoffs with Ryane Clowe (can’t stop farting) and Brian Boyle (rash) although they traveled with the team.

Clearing something up

At the end of 2011, I was asked to write a story about the 24 biggest hockey moments from that particular calendar year. It’s a bit of a task, since it’s half of one season and half of another and there were many moments, but as we all remember, there was one story from that year that stood out more than all of them.

The Lokomotiv plane crash.

It was the obvious choice for No. 1 on the list and everything else behind that didn’t really matter. So I filed it a few days before the end of 2011 and became engrossed in Winter Classic coverage between the Flyers and Rangers. I didn’t give what was essentially a list story a second thought.

Perhaps I should have, though. It wasn’t until days after the Winter Classic that I became aware of the fact that on my list with my name on it, Lokomotiv was not considered the biggest moment of 2011 – it was bumped down to No. 4 in favor of the Bruins winning the Stanley Cup in June (http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=609132).

Needless to say, I was mortified. I tend to re-read things after they go live, but I didn’t in this case and by the time I realized what had been done in the editing process, it was too late. It’s bothered me for quite some time, so I would just like to point out I considered Lokomotiv a bigger moment/story/occurrence/event than Brendan Shanahan becoming NHL disciplinarian or realignment (that was later shot down).

Nothing else like that happened with anything else I wrote in my five years at NHL.com, but it was a pretty big one and I just wanted to clear my good name. Well, my name, anyways.

Comments (16)

  1. Five years from now, at another site, you’ll apologize for using “parody” when you meant “parity” right?

  2. Nice piece Dave, especially on Harding. Great guy, class act that makes a lot of people root for him.

    I would love Harding to be treated like “just another goalie.” Obviously, that is a wish he has expressed repeatedly. This hits close to home for me personally after being diagnosed with cancer in 2007. Thankfully I have made a good recovery and my prognosis is very good. The few times I am reminded of my cancer are when it’s brought up by others. I really wish Harding could forget about his MS. Sadly, the media won’t let him.

  3. This is the first time I’ve read something by Lozo. I thought his rant on Cherry was F’N hilarious. If that’s his style, you’ll have a consistent reader right here.

  4. Josh Harding just wants to be treated like his peers. BUT WE’RE NOT GOING TO ALLOW THAT BECAUSE NARRATIVE

  5. Great stuff Dave. Terrific addition Justin. FWIW, Ryane Clowe couldn’t stop farting around on the ice for the Sharks either. That’s why they traded him.

  6. Re: Don Cherry.

    Can you even imagine the bile and nastiness that would pour out of his mouth for weeks if a hockey player comes out of the closet while that piece of shit is still alive and has a segment on Hockey Night?

    I have always loved Canada. I’ve wanted to live there since I was a freshman in high school. However, Don Cherry (and the worship and defending he garners from much of the citizenry) is one aspect of Canadian culture that absolutely sickens me. The man is an vile, chauvinistic jingoist.

  7. “If you’re requesting a 1-on-1 with Harding to discuss his disease, you better have a close working relationship with him or be Harding’s doctor.”

    No kidding, nothing is off-limits to those bozos these days. Taking their cues from the gutter media I see.

  8. “…shows how outdated he and his viewpoints really are.”

    He was wrong, but the really interesting thing is… Cherry, while he was with the Bruins, was the first coach to allow women reporters into the locker room. So something happened. Maybe age, maybe whatever, but Cherry was the first to break the barrier. Or to allow the barrier to be broken.

  9. Don Cherry is irrelevant . . .

    And yet this site keeps writing about him.

    hmmm…

    • The unfortunate fact is that he is not irrelevant. Nearly half of the number one nation in hockey listens to him. It’s sad, but true.

      • Millions of us love Grapes and he will be sadly missed when he is gone. If that upsets the perpetual handwringers like yourself, all the better. We’ve got enough overly sensitive, chronically offended types here in Canada to last us for a good long while. If Cherry’s beligerence can keep the likes of you from wanting to join our ranks, then he’s doing this country a favour.

        As for your assumption that he’d villify a hockey player for coming out of the closet, you’re so far off the mark it’s not even funny. Years ago Cherry did make a few disparaging remarks about gays (referred to them as “those funny guys” or something similar). But when taken to task for it, he made an appearance on a talk show with gay comedian Scott Thompson (of Kids in the Hall fame) let him sit on his knee and even planted a kiss on his cheek and pretended to flirt with him. What he demonstrated above anything else is what a good sport he is, and that he was capable of changing with the times.

        He demonstrated far more contrition and magnanimity than I would ever expect from his detractors; people such as yourself who will judge a man not based on character, but on whether or not you feel his views are sufficiently “modern and progressive”. He’s an anachronism and we love him for it. Oh, he’s hated by many up here as well, but you don’t hear much from them when he walks into an arena – not anywhere in the country. What you hear is nothing but adulation. Not one of his spineless detractors could hope to command that kind of loyalty and adoration.

  10. Great read – Haven’t read an an article by someone that in tune with the current state of the game in a very long time. Nice job!

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