The River City Renegade


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About a “hockey play”…NHL conspiracy theories…good Canadian boys aren’t fakers…hosing the hosers…and long pee breaks for the ladies in Edmonton

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

The National Hockey League doesn’t need a Player Safety Committee. It needs a parole board.

Let’s face it, playoff hockey is street crime moved indoors. Muggings are as commonplace in springtime shinny as unruly chin whiskers. If there’s a rule book, it has all the bite of a butterfly. I mean, using Sidney Crosby’s head for a butcher’s block is a “hockey play” like a home invasion is a pajama party.

Barry Trotz knows that. Ditto Brian Burke.

Paul Bunyan

But because Crosby wasn’t their ox being gored when Alexander Ovechkin and Matt Niskanen went all Paul Bunyan on the Pittsburgh Penguins captain last Monday night, both Trotz and Burke quoted chapter and verse from every good, ol’ boy’s favorite reading material—the Conn Smythe Beat ‘Em In The Alley Hockey Bible.

I thought it was really a hockey play,” observed Trotz, head coach of the Washington Capitals.

I think it was a hockey play. This is what happens in our game,” echoed Burke, president in charge of truculence for the Calgary Flames.

Burke is correct. Stick happens. Ovechkin and Niskanen aren’t the first players in NHL history to use their shillelaghs to deliver violent blows to the head of a foe, nor will they be the last. It’s just that you’re supposed to be punished for such distasteful trespasses.

In this case, Ovechkin didn’t receive so much as a tsk-tsking for his Bunyanesque-like assault on Crosby in Game 3 of the Washington-Pitt playoff series. A two-hander to the arm, followed by a not-so-gentle whack to the back of the head? Nothing to see here, folks. Stick happens. Let’s move along. Except Ovechkin’s lumberjacking led directly to his accomplice moving in for sloppy seconds and cross-checking Crosby to the face.

Yes, I realize Niskanen was flagged and banished from the fray, but were additional punitive measures applied? Like a suspension? Hell no. This is the NHL postseason, don’t you know. Once the Stanley Cup tournament commences, the safety police hand out Get Out of Jail Free cards like condoms at a safe-sex convention. And it doesn’t matter if the unlawful battering renders a player like Crosby concussed and sends him to the repair shop. It’s a “hockey play.”

Well it isn’t. It’s a mugging. And the real crime is the NHL ignoring it.

I didn’t realize so many neurologists followed hockey. I mean, Crosby is concussed and suddenly everybody is an expert on brain trauma. Crosby should retire. No he shouldn’t. Yes he should. No he shouldn’t. Oh, just zip it. It’s his head, his career, his life. And for those who are astonished that he returned to the fray just four days after his mugging, be advised that concussions are like snowflakes—no two are the same. I ought to know: I’ve had my bell rung more often than Quasimodo.

Ryan Kesler

As a rule, I don’t subscribe to conspiracy theories, the exceptions being the JFK assassination and anything involving Ryan Kesler, who is the NHL’s version of a human rights violation. But after witnessing the unraveling of the Edmonton McDavids against Kesler and the Disney Ducks on Friday night, I’m thinking there might be something to this ‘Gary Bettman/anti-Canada’ notion. Maybe it’s true what the conspiracists say about the NHL’s pointy-nosed, bobble-headed commissioner: He’ll go to extreme lengths to prevent the Stanley Cup from returning to the True North. Seriously. If what Kesler did to Edmonton’s Cam Talbot wasn’t goaltender interference, then I’m Patsy Cline and Bettman is Johnny Cash. Sure, the Ducks’ resident villain was shoved, rudely, onto the blue ice, but he wasn’t obliged to stay there and make like an octopus, wrapping his left tentacle around Talbot’s right pad. Not surprisingly, officials ignored damning video evidence that supported Kesler’s guilt and they allowed a Rickard Rakell goal to stand, thus sending Game 5 into extra time. If the Ducks’ 4-3 OT victory wasn’t part of a grand, anti-hoser conspiracy, it was enough to make me go “hmmmmmmm.”

For the record, I don’t have a dog in the Edmonton-Anaheim fight. I like Ducks coach Randy Carlyle because he’s one of the old Winnipeg Jets, and Connor McDavid is a joy to watch. Basically, I’m Switzerland on this one. Having said that, I think the McDavids have been hosed by the officials in the past two games.

I’ve been watching hockey since the 1950s and, until this particular version of springtime shinny, I thought I had a good handle on things like icing and offside and goaltender interference and stick infractions. Now, all bets are off. I confess that I don’t know a foul from a fool. Well, okay, Don Cherry still plays the fool, but all the phantom fouls, faux fouls and no fouls leave me scratching my noggin. The officiating is tragically poor.

Don Cherry: We’re Canadian and this is how we dress.

Speaking of Grapes (sour or otherwise), Cherry was in ripe form after Nick Bonino of the Penguins hoodwinked a visually challenged referee into believing he had been clipped in the face by a careless T.J. Oshie, whose stick had actually glanced off Bonino’s left shoulder. “Kids, never, ever…we’re Canadians…we don’t do that, we don’t fake injuries,” the Lord of Loud barked from his Bully Pit on Coachless Corner. “We’re Canadians, we don’t do it. We wear shirts and ties.” So let that be your lesson, kids: Don’t be a Bonino, but if you have to fake an injury make sure you’re wearing a shirt and tie. Clean underwear is optional.

Bob Cole still has the great pipes, but, my goodness, the man has lost it when it comes to identifying players. His play-by-play on Hockey Night in Canada is now done in general terms, and it’s kind of sad. His work reminds me of the great Willie Mays stumbling around the outfield in his final days with the New York Mets.

Well, hello Dolly Parton.

Big beef about biffies at Rogers Place in Edmonton, where the gender bending of the loo is a common practice and a ladies’ lament at Oilers matches. It seems that the ladies have been forced to surrender two of their washrooms to men during the Edmonton-Anaheim series, an inconvenience that has resulted in 30-minute waits for the girls. Geez, Louise, there are 320 public toilets and/or urinals on the main and upper concourses at Rogers Place. And the men need two of the women’s washrooms? How much beer are those boys drinking? Just remember to put the seats back down, boys. The girls will need them when Dolly Parton and the Dixie Chicks come to town.

Dumb headline of the week was delivered by the Globe and Mail: “The Toronto Raptors are losing and we’re all sad.” We are? Interesting. Where I live, I’m not sure anyone actually knows the Raptors exist.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.

 


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You’re never going to have unanimity on the gay issue in the NHL or anywhere else

Brian Burke is disappointed.

This, of course, is not uncommon. Burke’s smile is often turned upside-down. After all, he once generally managed the Toronto Maple Leafs, a tragic, ghastly hockey outfit that has perfected the art of disappointing its ownership, management, coaches and a fan base whose reach stretches far beyond parochial boundaries.

Not once since the spring of 1967 have les Leafs participated in a Stanley Cup parade, a stretch of annual faceplants that, while not equal in numbers to the Chicago Cubs’ century-plus death march, feels very Cub-ian. Burke can only be held personally responsible for a handful of the Leafs’ springtime melts, but some things tend to cling, and not even fleeing the Republic of Tranna and hiding out in Saudi Alberta can shake off the residue of ruin a man experiences in the Centre of the Shinny Universe.

It isn’t les Leafs who are up Burke’s nose these days, though. It’s a hockey player. A homophobic hockey player.

At least we assume him to be homophobic, because when USA TODAY unsealed the findings of a survey it conducted during a National Hockey League/NHL Players Association media meet-and-greet earlier this month in Toronto, one of 35 skaters turned thumbs down to the notion of welcoming an openly gay teammate into the lair. Guy’s gotta be a gay-hater, right?

“I’m disappointed by the one player,” said Burke, now Grand Poobah of all things Calgary Flames.

Well, sure he’s disappointed. Burke, after all, is among the founding fathers of the You Can Play Project, one of the leading entities in the crusade for inclusiveness in sports, professional and amateur. And already I have heard yelps of “Name him and shame him!” from the rabble. But let there be no witch hunt here. No McCarthyism, whereby we feret out the scoundrel who clings tightly to the notion that gay is wrong, gay is weak, gay is the devil’s own handiwork.

Let’s face it, this is life, which never has been, nor shall it ever be, one-size-fits-all. The crouching tiger of bigotry/racism/misogyny is always at the door.

P.K. Subban, for example, is to be admired universally and unanimously for his commitment to funnel $10 million to charity over the next seven years, yet I harbor no doubt that there are those walking among us who see not the Montreal Canadiens defenceman’s generosity but, rather, only the hue of his skin. To them, he’s just an uppity black man who shouldn’t be making that kind of money.

So finding one rogue hockey player in a group of 35? Not at all alarming.

Seriously, if you were to ask 35 anonymous NHL players if they believe women are nothing more than sex objects to be used for their pleasure, you’re apt to find at least one thick enough to give you an enthusiastic “Hell ya!”

Same thing with Europeans. Still. I mean, xenophobia ran rampant during the 1970s, first when those dreaded Ivans and Igors from Mother Russia tried to steal our game during the ’72 Summit Series, then when a tidal wave of Europeans washed ashore to take jobs from good Canadian boys mid-decade. I would venture to submit that there are still those who would prefer not to sit beside a Russian in the changing room. Some might not be too fond of Swedes. But the xenophobe ranks, I would suggest, have thinned considerably over time.

Ditto the homophobes. I doubt very much that USA TODAY would have received a whopping 97.1 per cent approval rate on its gay question 30-40 years ago. Oh, hell, they probably wouldn’t have gotten it 10 years ago.

So, this is a good-news story, and the fact that at least one player confesses to discomfort with a gay teammate is also positive, in a bass-ackwards way. If, for example, there had been 35-of-35 unanimity, the fallout would have been not only sharp cynicism but flat-out disbelief. Like, tell me Don Cherry is defecting to Moscow and I might buy it. But 100 per cent of NHL players being okay with a gay teammate? Sorry, no sale. That reeks of galloping political correctness.

As it is, we have been given a subtle reminder that educating is yet to be done, and the question now becomes: Is this survey, with its small sample size, enough to convince a gay player to come out?

If nothing else, it is encouraging and I, for one, don’t need to know the identity of the solitary homophobe who took part in the USA TODAY survey. I just assume he plays for the Toronto Maple Leafs, because they always disappoint.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.