Archive for the ‘Hockey Culture’ Category

Sidney Crosby's face, telling you everything you need to know about the emotional experience of playing Boston.

Sidney Crosby’s face, telling you everything you need to know about the emotional experience of playing Boston.

The Boston Bruins are the toughest team in the NHL.

The above statement is both true and untrue. It would be difficult to prove it by any objective measure. In the era of their dominance, they’ve never led the League in any of the standard metrics of thuggery. They don’t have the most fights, the most hits, or the most penalty minutes. They’re not the biggest team or the dirtiest. Although they appear with some regularity in the Annals of Controversial Incidents, they’re not even close to cornering the market on terrifying plays. If a skeptical alien came down to Earth today and asked us to demonstrate, with clear logic and pure evidence, that the Bruins are tougher than everyone else, we would disappoint it badly.

And yet, somehow, this is something we all know. Not because we have data or proof, but because we’ve seen the games, and in seeing the games, we see something in Boston- not constantly, but consistently- that speaks to us of violence. Sometimes it whispers, other times it screams, but it’s always there. It’s in Chara’s mad eyes, in Lucic’s f*&k-you snarl, in Marchand’s shameless dirtiness, in Thornton’s old-school pugnacity. Even their players who don’t especially represent any kind of danger or aggression it in their own game carry these traces, as if it’s rubbed off on them like dandelion pollen. They have the swagger of men who won’t back away from a fight, and are apt to start one for no good reason.

Last night, a friend who’s hockey fanaticism is so casual it barely even counts as attention- I dunno, the Bruins just seem like dicks. I don’t like that guy, I don’t like the way he plays, I don’t like his face. You know the one. This morning, a headline in my inbox- The Chara Factor looms over Final. When we speak of the Bruins, we speak of them in the language appropriate to school bullies and the Red Menace, without even realizing that we’re doing so. Their toughness has become a social fact without ever being an actual one. We don’t know it for any specific reason, we just know. It is known.

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Some people hate the language of hockey culture, some love it. The choice is yours alone. (I’m somewhere in the middle, though I do love “tuck”.)

I don't have any good pictures of my own rec hockey, so here's one of hockey in Taipei.

Hockey bloggers have different attitudes towards comment threads. Some never read them at all, some track them obsessively. Some think of them as opportunities to get in touch with their audience, others see them as troll-ridden sewers. However, it would probably be fair to say that most people who write about hockey on the internet are not especially influenced by the comments they get. Which is a shame, because sometimes the comments are asking exactly the right question.

On my previous post, where I lamented the lack of prestige and resources available for women’s hockey, the commenters challenged me in the best possible way. Why, many of them asked, does the status, or lack of status, at the highest levels matter so much? Most of us will never get to that point; most of us never expect to get there. We don’t play for fame and fortune, we play for the love of the game. So why should it matter that girls don’t have the same wild fantasies to dream on that the boys do? You shouldn’t be playing for wild fantasies anyway. You should play for the more prosaic charms of the rec league: fun, fellowship, community. The rest is dust and air.

It’s a great point. There is no necessary correlation between what can be achieved at the elite level and the whys and hows of play at the ordinary level. Beer league hockey doesn’t exist for the same reasons pro hockey does, and therefore there is no reason that  beer league players should care about the weird customs and biases of the NHL game. The inherent sexism of peak hockey- like other non-inherent but still controversial practices like finishing checks, fighting, or playing through pain- shouldn’t mean sweet fuck all for the hockey most of us make.  The NHL should be irrelevant

And yet, somehow, it isn’t. Rightly or no, the NHL echoes down the tiers of the sport. On this continent, it exerts a powerful influence over the definition of hockey that no other group or institution can match- not any other league, not even any national association.

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Good lord, look at that picture of Trevor Gillies above. It’s not enough that he’s a naturally big guy, or that he lifts weights to make that body stronger, or that he trains to fight for a living, but he’s also got the kill switch flipped. And he’s a lefty. Zoinks.

His opponent, Jon Mirasty, is no slouch either. The stories of “Nasty Mirasty” in the ECHL threatened “Oglethorpe” levels during my own playing days, and he’s been plying his “craft” over in Russia the past couple seasons. None of that was enough to avoid a worst-case scenario type ending for him in his tilt with Gillies though, with him knocked out, jersey over his head, Bambi-legged.

All fighters know that a loss doesn’t make you any more or less of a warrior willing to put yourself on the line, and that gets you respect from your fellow fighters. The crazy part is, “you’re only as good as your last fight” is sort of a thing. In fact, it’s sort of an embarrassing thing if your last fight saw you fail to enter the penalty box without almost falling over backwards.

The clip below features some interesting stuff starting around the 9:00 mark (if the autoplay doesn’t work), and includes a mic’d up Mirasty and Gillies deciding to fight, and a few interviews – first a Russian gent, then Jeremy Yablonski, then Mirasty, then Gillies. But by far, the most interesting sound bite and reason I’m writing this post is because of the illuminating conversation between Mirasty and Gillies on fight culture. As I mentioned a moment ago, being put to sleep on the ice is not how fighters like to go down.

At around 12:07 they cut to a seemingly lucid Mirasty explaining that they’re going again. Below is a little running diary from the 9:00 mark to the end – I find their comments super-interesting. Read the rest of this entry »