Ellen Etchingham

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Colorado Avalanche v Buffalo Sabres

Ryan O’Reilly, engaged in a scrupulously appropriate display of goal-celebration.

It is a curse to be born to overzealous parents.  While other kids are eating dirt and dismembering worms in the backyard, their child is sitting indoors doing long division, coated in hand sanitizer.  While most teenagers are drinking shitty beer and making out in basements, their precious muffin is drinking coffee through SAT prep.  I imagine having such parents is one long list of embarrassments and aggravations, full of extra meetings with teachers and nasty notes to coaches and being pulled aside to stand awkwardly in front of everyone while Mommy rambles on about what a special special flower you are.

Given the email his dad sent to the Denver Post, I assume Ryan O’Reilly never got to eat dirt.

This is the Don Cherry of emails, which is to say that it makes the most ordinary possible points in the craziest possible way.  Despite a disclaimer by Dater that the letter had been “lightly touched up for a couple minor spelling and punctuation things”, it’s not only riddled with such errors (“bases” instead of “basis”, “miss treat” instead of “mistreat”), but features Random Capitalization throughout, and unless you are writing about eighteenth century German philosophy or thirteenth century Catholic theology, you cannot capitalize common nouns without sounding crazy.  When you go, as Brian O’Reilly did, all the way to capitalizing conjunctions, you have lost any hope of being taken seriously. Read the rest of this entry »

Celly

Los Angeles Kings v Edmonton Oilers

 

The second you saw the celebration, you knew there was going to be criticism.  Partly because it was Yakupov, and somehow everything Yakupov does seems to draw criticism, as if the hockey world is still slightly offended by his youth and charm. But mostly because it was obviously, unrepentantly, intensely dramatic, and there is a contingent in hockey thought which  finds dramatic expressions of anything vaguely unwholesome, if not actively immoral.  Players get criticized for jumping into the glass.  Yakupov himself will later be criticized by an opposing color commentator for, of all things, a post-goal hug.  There’s no way you bolt half the length of the ice and spin several full rotations your knees while screaming so loud they can see your tonsils in Wichita without drawing some glowering condemnation.

But although there was certainly some disapproval, most of the reactions were moderate. Television networks did “teach the controversy” pieces without much controversy behind them and most analysts, while still expressing a token disapproval, excused the behavior.  It seems that the vocal condemnation of goal celebrations is now the province of a small and mostly elderly minority.  Like flowered suits, yelling, and controversial opinions, it’ll probably die with Don Cherry.  Even where players or reporters had some mild criticism of Yakupov, it was overwhelmingly gentle, even a little bit patronizing, framed with references to his youth, his exuberance, his fresh arrival in the NHL.  Hockey has an old custom of hammering the joy out of young players until they affect the world-weary, lunchbucket demeanor of an indifferent midrange ten-year veteran, but it seems like that culture is fading off.  In the 21st century, no one wants to play old before their time.

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Montreal Canadiens

 

There are more than a few irregularities in the beginning of a shortened season.  Things that would go smoothly in the standard cycle of season-postseason-offseason become unexpectedly complicated. With training camps delayed for months and then rushed, some players showed up on the ice with their timing all out of whack and their bodies all out of shape.  With contract negotiations delayed for months and then rushed, some players didn’t show up on the ice at all.  The opening of the 2013 season featured not one, not two, but three RFA holdout dramas- Benn in Dallas, Subban in Montreal, and O’Reilly in Colorado.  That’s a lot of holding-out for players with no discernable leverage.

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Gabriel Landeskog, line dancing.

Last Saturday, after taking a very large shoulder from a very large Shark directly to the head, Gabriel Landeskog- youngest captain in the NHL and the next great hope of the Colorado Avalanche- went into a quiet room somewhere in the bowels of the Pepsi Center for concussion testing. Fifteen minutes later he came out again.

No one but Landeskog and the doctor who treated him knows what happened in that room, but we all know what happened after: he came back out and finished the game, in fact playing almost the exact same amount of minutes he’d played in every game before. We also all know that Monday, two days after the hit, the Avs announced he would not be playing in the next game. Leg injury. And, oh yeah, head injury too.

So, reading between the lines (it ain’t hard, there’s enough space between those lines to write the Bible and then some), Landeskog was cleared to play despite having possible/probable concussion. This isn’t an uncommon thing in the modern NHL. Just off the top of my head, I can think of four players- Armstrong, Letang, Peckham, and Crosby- who’ve taken hits, played, and then been pulled later for concussion symptoms. This is not an Avs problem, this is an NHL concussion policy problem.

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We All Come Back

The torch business was a bit silly. Even the players seemed skeptical. Plekanec, who has been in Montreal a long while and has had to perform a great many ceremonial duties, frowned apologetically, as if he was already rehearsing his post-game mea culpas. Budaj chewed gum with the bland just-another-day-at-the-office expression which is so becoming on a backup goalie. Armstrong looked petrified; Bouillon looked teary; Pacioretty tried to stifle a smirk, with only moderate success. Erik Cole seemed to briefly consider swinging the torch round the bowl and screaming ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!?!? Perhaps the only player who got it exactly right was Galchenyuk, who held that fuckin’ thing high like the Statue of Liberty, his features set in a mask of fierce determination, with the total lack of irony common to overachieving teenagers and Habs fans in the throes of history.

It’s said that Montreal does ceremony well, but that depends on what you like in your ceremonies. Certainly no one in the NHL does it quite like the Habs. Other teams pump themselves up for the season with highlight reels and Nickelback. The Canadiens do it with old men, black and white photos, and live reenactments of poetry from the Great War. Such sepia sincerity would look ridiculous on any other franchise. Truth be told, sometimes it looks a little ridiculous on us.

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An Elegy for Brian Burke

How great is Brian Burke? So great that he can use a formal portrait to telepathically tell us all to go fuck ourselves.

Brian Burke is gone.

It’s been a week now that Burke hasn’t been generally managing the Toronto Maple Leafs, and I’m still not over the loss. See, I loved Brian Burke. It was a shameful thing, the unrequited, star-crossed passion of a naïve young blogger (well, young in 2008 anyway) for the middle-aged general manager of her arch-rivals, but nevertheless, I couldn’t help myself. Whether he was harassing journalists, fantasizing about beating up Kevin Lowe, making fun of math, or advocating for compassion and social justice, the mere mention of his name was enough to make me stop whatever I was doing, kick up my internet, and swoon a little. In my years writing about hockey, which very nearly overlap with Burke’s tenure in Toronto, no one else provided fodder for both serious debates and snarky jokes with such enthusiasm and regularity. He was amazing, and when the news came down that he’d been fired- not quit, not mutually-parted-ways-with, but fired- well, I didn’t cry, but I thought about it for a second.

When I say I loved him, that doesn’t mean I agreed with him. Not at all.  In fact, as concerns the proper management of hockey team, you could not find two people who agreed about fewer things than Brian Burke and myself. Me, I prefer a nefarious man in the front office, and when it comes to the tenets of the CBA, I say circumvent ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out. If I had a franchise of my very own, kittens, it would probably have the least testosterone per capita in the NHL. I would offer-sheet everyone and trade right up until the last second of the last minute of the deadline and hold press conferences just to openly mock any who complained. If Brian Burke and I were rival GMs, we would have barn-fought ten times over and probably one of us would have lost an eye by now.

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Either Way

Let’s go back in time a little.  Specifically, let’s go back to around 4 am Eastern Standard time on January 3rd of this year.  With me?  Cool. Let’s watch some TSN. Or, I guess, we could just go back to sleep, but if that’s how you roll then this probably isn’t your post, and anyway what the fuck is wrong with you, that you want to use time travel to sleep through hockey games six days in the past? If you don’t want to watch TSN, just go get your own time machine and kill Hitler, why dontcha?

Anyway, in my time travel experiment, Canada hasn’t lost to the USA in the semifinal yet. Canada hasn’t even started to play the semifinal yet. Rather than being three hours of nearly-constant misery culminating in the most embarrassing sort of loss, the game is still a space of bright possibilities. In this time we’ve gone back to, Canada might still beat the Americans like so many rented mules.

In this cheery past, the TSN commentary is optimistic. While, like smart hockey people always do in single-game-elimination situations, they’re hedging their bets (gotta control the puck, need strong goaltending) they’re also looking for the positives, and in doing so, they come up with this: by virtue of their bye to the semifinals, Canada has had more rest. The US has played six games in eight days. They’ll be worn down. This is an advantage for team Canada. The time off will make them better than their weary opponents.

Hockey discourse never puts out only one narrative. That’s part of the bet-hedging- always go into a game with four or five storylines and you’re sure to have one of ‘em pan out. In broadcasting, and even in certain kinds of writing to a deadline, an analyst doesn’t have the luxury of wait-and-see. He’s gotta emplot this shit in real time, and that means keeping more than one plot in play as long as possible. Before the game, this particular story- the well-rested, relaxed Canadians vs. the tired, harried Americans- is just one thread of explanation being laid down in anticipation of a possible outcome.

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