Ellen Etchingham

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The named is the mother of ten thousand things.

As an American, I’m pretty comfortable with nationalism.  Growing up in the States means growing up with it everywhere.  One expects one’s countrymen to routinely say things to the effect that the US of A is the single greatest place that has every been or ever will be.  It’s so common that you take it for granted- yes yes, city on a hill, beacon of light to all humanity, superpower, save the world, etc etc. Not that every single American is aflame with patriotic fervor every day of the week. Lots of us are skeptical of the national claim to Best Thing Ever status. Lots of us deconstruct our country’s exceptionalist pretensions. But in the States, there’s a refrain of USA! USA! USA! that thrums beneath everyday life like bass beneath dance music. After a while, you don’t even really think about it, whether it’s right or wrong, good or bad. It’s just there. The earth spins on its axis, the sun rises in the east, and everyone goes WHOO HOO FUCK YEAH WHOOP WHISTLE YAY during the national anthem.

Canada doesn’t have that baseline level of nationalist noise. If U.S. discourse about itself can be summed up as “AMERICA: BEST COUNTRY ON EARTH!!!!!!!!”, Canada’s is more like “Canada: maybe it shouldn’t actually be a country, except it would be sort of a hassle to break things up, and we’re not in the mood to fight about it, so whatever.” I don’t know where this collective ambivalence comes from. Maybe it’s a dominion thing.

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Mortality Play

The pain is always there. It’s bad when he sits down and worse when he stands up and worst of all when he lies down. During the days, he oscillates back and forth between perching stiffly on the couch and awkwardly pacing the floor. During the nights, he passes sleepless hours stretching and contorting his body this way and that, looking for a comfortable position that doesn’t exist. None of the painkillers make any difference, not even the T3s they gave him for his shoulder, which are usually enough to chase any ache for a couple of hours. Nothing drives away this pain, though. It’s always there.

A hamstring pull, the doctor says, but he’s not sure. Like so many pains, it doesn’t conform exactly to the textbook definition, doesn’t seem to start exactly where it ought to, doesn’t respond exactly the way you’d think. He’s tried pills and he’s tried massages and he’s tried exercises and now he’s trying electro-acupuncture, long needles buzzing deep in the tissue, trying to tense or release something twisted far beneath the layers of skin and fat and muscle. It’s close to the bone, this pain, dug way down into the nerves. He hopes it’s nothing more than a pull.

Whatever the cause, the doctor is sure of one thing: no hockey. Absolutely no hockey. Not until it’s better. When will it be better? The doctor doesn’t know. One day at a time. One treatment at a time. No sooner than mid-January. Possibly later.

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If I told you the NHL lockout reminds me of maple forests, would you think I was insane? Because I think I might be.

Despite learning about it every year of my elementary school life, I don’t think much about ecology.  Or I didn’t, anyway, until the lockout. It’s one of those things that urbanites- even waste-recycling, local-eating, carbon-footprint-reducing environmentalist urbanites- tend to understand in dualistic, romantic terms: the pristine harmony of untouched wilderness vs. the corrupted, polluted haunts of man. A few years in the city and it’s easy to fall into the platitudes. Balance of nature, circle of life, etc etc. I forget the details of how ecosystems actually work.

In the fall, when the lockout was just beginning and the world was still green and there was still hope the hearts of hockey fans, I took a trip north, to spend some time among plants. The northern forests are the ‘nature’ of my childhood, the familiar wilderness. The Canadian version is a little rockier, a little lakier, but it has a homey kind of beauty. Spare, thin trees reaching to great irrational heights, spindly leafy ground plants, chipmunks and deer, everything a pale green light splotched with shadows. I’d never been to that forest before, yet it felt like I’d been there a thousand times, like I’d been going there every year since I was four years old. I am that much of a city girl, that it seems to me as though they are always the same trees.

They’re not. What looks to me like pure, beautiful, balanced nature, preserved in a pristine harmony by the zealous care of the Parks Service is no such thing. It’s full of havoc and death. What we think of as the balance of nature is no happy equilibrium. It’s a constant succession of traumas, of disease, murder, starvation, suffering. The state of nature is a perpetual imbalance. Although it always pulls back in the direction of the happy medium, that point of perfect harmony is seldom reached and never holds for long. Something is always overgrowing. Something is always dying out. Read the rest of this entry »

Here’s a question: what would a player have to do to get suspended from the NHL for life?

Todd Bertuzzi sucker punched Steve Moore in the back of the head, doing permanent spinal damage. He still plays in the NHL. Eddie Shore smashed Ace Bailey’s skull, ending his career, and he still played in the NHL. Wayne Maki did similar brain damage to Ted Green and got suspended a grand total of 30 days.  I have a photo from the cover of the Hockey News where Bernie Geoffrion swings his stick like a baseball bat at the torso of his shadow on the other team, and he’s in the pantheon of saints.  Hell, in 1976 three Philadelphia Flyers were convicted of assault for things they did on the ice, and not one of ‘em was kicked out of the League for it.

Yes, all of these lovely people were welcomed back with open arms, for the hockey family is a forgiving one, and the NHL family more forgiving still. Far from being a mark of iniquity, a few filthy dirty incidents can almost burnish a player’s reputation. No hockey fan ever spoke with real pride about having a Lady Byng winner on their team. We like our heroes with broken teeth and black eyes.

But there is a limit to even the NHL’s tolerance for violence, although it has only been reached once. In the entire history of the National Hockey League, there has been only one player, ever, suspended for life. His name was Billy Coutu, sometimes called Billy Couture, although that seems to be a corruption, and he is no relation to the ironical Logan of the present day.  He started in pro hockey way back at the beginning, in 1917, the birth-year of the League, and he finished in 1927, when Frank Calder banished him forever: the one man too violent for hockey.

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In Praise of Shitty Goalies

The author, doing her part to make hockey better by playing net horribly.

The first time I ever played hockey, they put me in net.

It wasn’t ice hockey. It was inline, in tropical heat under a smoggy sky on a concrete rink by the South China Sea. They showed me a tin shed where heap of moldering equipment lay, all of it thin and shoddy, all of it various kinds of broken. There was a glove so big it slid off my fingers and a blocker that didn’t have any fingers left, a mask held together with twist ties and a chest protector with no fastenings at all save one outrageously long length of dangling elastic, which I had to wrap around my torso three times and tie to itself. As I played, it would slowly unwind around my body and pull the plates all askew, leaving scalene slices of my stomach and shoulders exposed. Even a real goalie who knew how to fit all the armor would have had trouble making this stuff function as protection, and I was not a real goalie.

Or maybe I was. If the definition of a goalie is one who stands in the net and tries to stop pucks, then I was a goalie. I was just a really, really, really, really shitty goalie. There are not enough reallys in the world to describe how shitty of a goalie I was. I hung out so far back in my net I’d look down and find I had a foot behind the goal line. I went down when skaters were barely two strides over center. Positioning? Fuck no, I was covering angles so absurd you’d need to invent a new branch of theoretical geometry to measure them. Butterfly? Only if by that you mean something that’s small, delicate, and flutters away at the first sign of danger.

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Buddhism for Hockey People

Speaking as a hockey person, what I want more than anything right now is a little tranquillity. What with the Bettman and the Fehr and the Jacobs and the Hamrlik and the decertification and disclaimer and on and on and on, there’s no peace to be had anywhere in the public hockey conversation anymore. Everything is stress, worry, hate, and resentment, over and over and over again, and no matter how often the grievances are aired, they’re never let go. They just come back a week later, louder and sadder than before. Trying to think and write and talk about hockey has turned into a wheel of suffering, and man, I wish I could just get the hell off it.

You know who was tranquil? Buddha. Now there was a serene guy. Look at him, all excellent posture and meditative expression and being made of solid gold. That guy, he could be at peace with anything. It’s like his superpower. Could we, down here in lockout hell, borrow a little tranquillity from Buddhism? Could we maybe use it to get ourselves a little bit of room for deep breaths and calm acceptance? Let’s hang a Leafs jersey* and a whole lot of simplification on Siddhartha Gautama and find out.

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Pull Together

Roman Hamrlik (#44) receiving the last hug he will ever get from Troy Brouwer (#20).

“I am disgusted. We have to push Fehr to the wall to get the deal. Time is against us. We lost 1/4 season, it is $425 million. Who will give it back to us? Mr. Fehr?

“There should be voting between players. Four questions – YES or NO – then count it. If half of players say let’s play, then they should sign new CBA. If there is no season he should leave and we will find someone new. Time is our enemy.”

- Roman Hamrlik, as reported on Puck Daddy.

Let’s start with an obvious point: Hamrlik isn’t wrong. Regardless of how you feel about his decision to say it- which we’ll be talking about for a thousand words after this paragraph- his position is completely valid. The players are losing money by holding out; many of them are losing the last season of their career. As many observers have noted, time is their enemy. Hamrlik, who is 38 years old and has already lost over a hundred career games to labor unrest, is a natural spokesman for that contingent of players who is losing far more in this battle than they can hope to win. He’s honestly speaking his interests, and it’s extremely likely that a substantial faction of the PA feels the same way, because Lord knows they have the same interests and not everyone is so altruistic as to sacrifice a year of professional hockey opportunity over HRR percentage points. As far as raw information goes, these comments are nothing more than the confirmation of shit we already knew.

And yet, although uncounted dozens of guys probably nodded along while reading Hamrlik’s rant, so far all of them save teammate Michal Neuvirth have swallowed their discontent and kept their mouths shut. Why? Fragmenting the PA would be the easiest way to get what they want: a deal signed and the game back on the ice. If fifty guys came out together and said, we are prepared to take whatever is on the table right now, they’d be instant heroes in the eyes of many fans and certainly in the eyes of their owners, and they’d undermine the solidarity that allows Fehr to conjure leverage out of air. If getting back on the ice is your highest priority, then it’d be supremely logical to do as Hamrlik did and let your grievances fly.

But (almost) no one does.

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