The Beauty: Carson Shields and his Dark Side of Hockey

(Photo: ourheroesofmanitoba.ca)
(Photo: ourheroesofmanitoba.ca)

When my article on the “Dark Side of Hockey” first hit the powerful waves of the internet, Carson Shields was one of the first (if not, the first) players to reach out to me. His story has been very well told in his province of Manitoba and maybe there’s been a little coverage out west but in my neck of the woods of Eastern Canada, I knew that nobody had heard this tale. Right away I wanted to make him one of the first parts in my “Dark Side of Hockey” series. He sent me links upon links of different articles that tell his horrid tale of hazing. I couldn’t even manage to get through watching a video interview, that’s how bad it stung me. This needs to be read by every single person in sports.

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As a young kid growing up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Carson Shields was fascinated by the Canadian winter past-time of hockey. Just like any other young boy in the country his age he became enamoured with it and one day dreamed he’d be able to take it in at the highest level;  the NHL. Seeing something make their boy so happy prodded Shields’ parents to sign him up. He never looked back.

His early days in hockey saw him skate the ice with some of today’s powerhouses. Jonathan Toews and Frazer McLaren were both on his AA Assiniboine Park Rangers squad. By the time Shields reached his teens, his big frame had given him a bit of an enforcer label. Not in a bad way though. He was always the one who would stick up and be there for his teammates. A player that every guy would love to have on his line. The type that every coach would love to have on his team because he actually wanted to learn as much as he could about the game. His skills on the ice were good but not good enough for major junior. His junior career made him make eight different teams in four different provinces between junior A, B, and even C.

The dream of playing professional hockey was the fuel that kept him burning. He traveled so much his Dad (who earned Rookie of the Year honours in the Manitoba-Saskatchewan Junior Football League one  season)  gave him the nickname “Suitcase”. No matter, he was going to make it.

10721241_10152366711407666_949101796_nIn his grade 10 year, Shields decided to try out for his high school team. Kelvin High School, out of Winnipeg, Manitoba saw Shields with growing leadership abilities. Along with his drive to play, he earned himself a spot on a team that was mostly made up of 11 and 12th graders.

As he progessed into a new year of junior hockey, Shields found himself as a rookie on a one team. The veterans introduced Shields to the glorious taste of alcohol, something that Shields would become close with in time. Part of the rookie experience on this team was to endure the dreaded hazing ritual then finally be considered one of the boys. Almost like a college fraternity, Shields and a few other rookies swallowed their pride and headed off with the vets to a house that was used for the team one weekend.

No coaches, no parents, nobody but young teenagers were at this so called party. Shields knew that because of his age and his playing abilities, it didn’t sit well with most of the vets on the team. After all, he was a 17 year old. That right there instilled fear to the veterans on the team. Shields could one day steal their job. As the new guy this was going to be their way of getting back at him.

To start off what I call “Hell Night”, the rookies were forced to strip naked in the street and were led to an area where they found six glasses of clear substances staring back at them. Five of them held alcohol, each a different kind. One was water. Once you found the water, you had beat the challenge. Seems simple enough right?

Well, these weren’t shot glasses. Shields went through glasses of vodka, white rum, Sambuca, and two others without finding water. Looking at the sixth one as his saviour, he swigged it down. Wasn’t water.

Gin.

Of course, with that much alcohol downed in your system in such a short period of time, the rookies were intoxicated to the point of no return. Remember, they’re still all naked at this point. What they were forced to do next is something I don’t even want to type, so I’ll copy and paste it from an interview Shields did with the Globe and Mail. The rookies were forced to do the “elephant walk”.

“They were forced to do an “elephant walk” about the rooms: each rookie holding onto the testicles of the hunched-over rookie walking ahead of him”.

Once satisfied that the rookies had passed that test, they were fed even more alcohol. The veterans then shoved them all into a room upstairs where most of them were beginning to vomit. Not on the floor, but on each other. They were then forced to “bong” cans of beer. By this point Shields had blacked out. The last thing he remembers hearing were the words, “Alright!! You can bring the girls up from downstairs now!!”

10718005_10152366724507666_131540894_nDoes he remember the night? He doesn’t have too. The veterans managed to whip out their cell phones and take pictures of the rookies in different humiliating poses. Some urinated on the group while documenting it. Who knows what those girls did to them. It’s these events that give Shields nightmares to this very day. Thankfully this was before the inventions of Facebook and Twitter.

After learning about what had happened to him, Shields contemplated packing it in and ending it all. How he continue with his life after being ultimately humiliated by people he thought had his back? To stuff the memories down, he became cocky and arrogant. His play on the ice dropped and he began using his fists more. Three more years of junior saw him ice 118 games (MMJHL, MJHL, SIJHL, Playoffs, Dudley Hewitt Cup) and capture 417 PIMS; that’s 27 fighting majors.

However, it wasn’t just the play on the ice that changed Shields. His whole demeanor changed. “After the hazing, I became completely out of control. Drugs, booze, women…ANY form of escapism. Anything I could do so I wouldn’t feel like that scared little boy laying on the bathroom floor in puke and piss, having pictures taken of me.” His partying and drinking escalated to where it was a daily occurrence. Thoughts of suicide danced around in his head. He sank himself into a deep depression.

Enrolling himself into the University of Winnipeg didn’t help his cause either. Nobody knew who he was, his hockey reputation didn’t proceed him. He started hanging with a rough crowd and turned to cocaine. During one night out with his drug dealer, he experienced an event that most people in the world never will. The cold steel of a 9mm on the temple of his head.

In one bar fight he got himself into (there was more than a few), saw him break a guy’s orbital bone and fracture his nose. It was beginning to catch up with him. “I was picked up for an Assault Causing Bodily Harm charge,” Shields recalls a much more frightening time which became some what of a wake up call. “I managed to get a great lawyer who got me a conditional sentence which sent me to an anger management program. As long as I completed the program there would be no criminal record.”

This is where Shields life started to take a turn for the better. Through the anger management program, Shields was able to peel back the layers and identify where his anger came from and understand it. The root evidently came from the night of hazing. It hasn’t been all sunshine and roses since but with counseling Shields has been able to come to peace with what happened to him and realize it wasn’t his fault. “I’ve come to terms with what happened to me. I’ve also come to terms with where it took me.”

10719490_10152366724597666_1841560769_nHis love for hockey unraveled but he began to coach. After getting close with some of the young guys on the team, Shields decided he didn’t want to see them go through what he did. So he came public with his story. “I don’t want anyone to go through what I did. I knew that I had to come out with my story and show that it’s important to talk about this dark side of the game.” Upon doing that, he set up an email account to converse with players around the world who were going through or have gone through something similar.

Shields took advantage of his acceptance to University as well. He graduated with a degree in Conflict Resolution Studies, a program that he obviously holds dear to his heart. “We have to continue to change the culture (of hockey).” He’s right. Without stories like these, people will continue to put players in the game on a pedestal. Without stories like these, we’ll continue to think that players are happy-go-lucky people who have it all when in reality, that’s not the case. Shields also goes around and speaks to local schools about his tale, mental health and the horribleness of hazing.

Shields story of courage and strength saw him be nominated and accepted as a “Hero of Manitoba” award winner for 2014. “Our Heroes of Manitoba” showcase the provinces every day people doing extraordinary things. No doubt, Shields was thought of during nomination. “I am very grateful and humbled. I had no idea so many people, teammates and players had nominated me. I didn’t come out with my story to win an award. But hey, if it keeps the conversation going and I can be used as an example of “what not to be”, it is all worth it.

“All I hope is that the junior community continues to address, be proactive and support players who are struggling in all aspects of the game, not just hazing.” He’s absolutely right. Too much is focused on the playing abilities of the players and not about how the game affects them physically and mentally. The shift in thinking can only help to create stronger players in the long run. “I think the OHL has made a great decision in establishing this new program dealing with the mental health aspect of the game.”

 

So what’s up for Carson Shields this hockey season? Not much. “I decided to take a step back from the game this year. I played, I scouted and I coached…feels good to just be a fan,” He’s not gone from the game entirely however. “I still keep the door wide open for any player to reach out. I am responsible to that.” He’s in the process of expanding his journal that he had during his hockey days and turning into a memoir entitled “The Beauty”.

Carson Shields is a person who, in the short time we’ve chatted and gotten to know each other, I look up to as a symbol of strength and courage. Take the time to follow him on twitter and send him a tweet of respect. You can find him @CarsonShields23.

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Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @MarchHockey and like the page on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/marchhockey and send me a message! If you know any player who’d be willing to add their story to the “Dark Side of Hockey” series, send them my way! 

Read Todd McIlrath’s unbelievable story of coming from the brink of suicide here: “Sticks, Chicks and Dirty Mitts”.

(Photo: Carson Shields is last on the top row. Jonathan Toews is second row, second from the left)
(Photo: Carson Shields is last on the top row. Jonathan Toews is second row, second from the left)

Sticks, Chicks and Dirty Mitts: Todd McIlrath and his Dark Side of Hockey

Todd McIlrath (Photo: www.facebook.com/GulbransonPhoto)
Todd McIlrath (Photo: http://www.facebook.com/GulbransonPhoto)

I had originally set out to make a part 2 of my article “The Dark Side of Hockey: What people never think of” and delve into the sections with a little more detail. However yesterday, I got a message to my facebook page that immediately required action and have it brought to the forefront of my attention.

When I originally wrote that article I was fed up with hearing how my friends in different teams throughout the world were being treated and how rampant mental illness is in sports with nobody doing a damn thing. I figured at the very least I could write about it and try to bring some awareness to society. I remember thinking that if I could help just one person it would all be worth it.

It was worth it.

Todd McIIrath reached out to me on the afternoon of September 24, 2014 with a lengthy message. Here’s a brief excerpt:

“I stumbled upon your original article about a week after I had been planning to take my own life. I felt as if I was battling something so unique to MY situation until I read the first half of your article. Your article saved my life. I am literally driving from Wisconsin to my hometown in Michigan to admit myself into a facility in an attempt to rebuild. Thank you.”

I could not just leave that message sit and not respond. I responded right away and found out that Todd was in the passenger seat of a car at that very moment with another 5 hours to go before he was admitting himself into a facility in Eastern Michigan. I’m a fairly easy person to get along with so we naturally started a conversation on the topic that fate joined us together with. I then asked the burning question if he’d want to tell his story. With actual enthusiasm he obliged and had the same mentality I did: “If it helps just one person Ash, then it was worth it.” Hey, I had all night. I was all ears.

By the time McIlrath had hit bantam, he knew he was something special in the hockey world. Having played with names such as Erik Condra and Matt Taromina, McIIrath was drafted to the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League in the second round. Weighing his options, he decided to sign an offer with the United States National Team Development Program and stay a bit closer to home.

He was off to a heck of a start for his junior career. As with all athletes however, he was faced with adversity and well, it wasn’t really his strong suit. Tacking onto his drinking and smoking marijuana that started in Grade 8, McIlrath had started using almost every day. Getting caught cheating on an exam saw him lose his scholarship with the USNTDP as the coaching staff no longer had confidence in him to crack the lineup. However, he could return to the team the next season but had to go to high school in his home town and commute to the practices and games. To cope with not only the loss of time but to gain an edge, he turned to the drugs of Ritalin and Ephedrine. This was during the height of ephedrine awareness. Athletes were dying, and I was buying yellow jackets by the bottle on a weekly basis.” In the midst of

McIlrath with Indiana. (Photo: facebook)
McIlrath with Indiana. (Photo: facebook)

this he had managed to commit himself to Notre Dame University and the Fighting Irish hockey team. Towards the end of the school year, a plagiarism incident put the stop to that entirely. He lost the confidence of not only his coaches but his teammates and most importantly, himself. “At this point I was the problem child. I began to alienate myself from my teammates.

The following summer was a blur built around girls, booze and drugs. When he arrived at camp that very fall, the team had brought in two new forwards. They clearly had no use for him. “The writing was on the wall. After getting healty’d (scratched) the first six games of the year,” McIlrath recalls. “I packed my car and went home.”

By now his agent was already in the middle of a three way deal that was trying to send him back to the OHL albeit with the Sarnia Sting. His parents turned him off of that idea as they wanted him to play NCAA so he managed to land himself in the USHL with the Indiana Ice. The season started off great and seemed like all of McIlrath’s problems were behind him until he popped his shoulder out in the middle of November. McIlrath moved home to have surgery and was sent off with a bucket full of pills and self-described “post-rookie season swagger”.  For the first time in his life he was a normal kid, at home, with no responsibilities. Naturally, the partying became out of control. “I can remember playing drinking games with the option to take a shot, or take a pill; on a school night.” Vicodin and booze saw his new found confidence sky rocket. It also gave him an addiction to prescription medication.

The following season he was billeted with a family that was fairly well off and had a full bar set up in their basement. He was still addicted to pain meds but had upgraded to oxy-contin from having built up a tolerance to Vicodin. ‘Vicodin isn’t cutting it anymore’ was enough of an explanation for my doctor.” By Christmas he was leading the league in points but to his discredit (or credit depending on how you look at it), he only iced a handful of games sober. “My game day routine involved popping an 80mg tab of oxy before my pregame nap, and snorting half of one before I left for the rink.”

Of course his luck got even worse. His first game back from Christmas break saw him tear his ACL. “To this day, I swear it happened because of what I put my body through on a nightly basis.” It was at this point where he began to struggle with how people saw him.

McIlrath with Bowling Green. (Photo: Christine Towles.)
McIlrath with Bowling Green. (Photo: Christine Towles.)

He donned a narcissistic attitude that would make him lash out at people if they didn’t treat him like a God. He’d avoid people that would try to keep him humble and fed off of the rest that told him how great he was. That summer he committed to Bowling Green State University but instead of going, he decided to stay back one more year in junior to be a big fish in a small pond.

“When I think about BGSU (Bowling Green State University) my brain immediately associates it with coke, girls, alcohol and hockey. In that order.” McIlrath had enjoyed a very positive and acceptable first year at Bowling State. By the end of it, he took a job bouncing at a local bar and that’s when things inevitably turned sour once again. “I was always a yes man, so when someone asked me if I wanted a line (of cocaine), I was in deep.” In fact, he played his entire sophomore year on cocaine and you wouldn’t know it from looking at his numbers. Fate came twisting again when his coach’s friend ran into him at the bar while McIlrath was drunk. The coach brought it up at a pre-season meeting and once again he was back in the dog house. He was jerked around every which way; in and out of the line-up, demoted to defence, encouraged to give up for good among other things. By December of his junior year he didn’t care and just focused on playing for fun. After more partying behaviour, the coached took the matter into his hands and gassed him. It was over. He played his final year and graduated with a major in Psychology. “Yes, the irony isn’t lost on me.”

That was it. Hockey was over.

He spent the next three months in an alcoholic haze and the next two years depressed without a hope in life. A friend however told him about the AAHL; the All-American Hockey League. “This league was absolute hell, but I was playing again. This was verbatim the league you spoke of in your article. Five fights a game, not sure if we were getting paid, three guys in a one bedroom apartment; gong show.” The use of his hockey talent gave him a bit of hope. He managed to catch the eye of an organization in the East Coast Hockey League. Through all of the booze, drugs, highs and lows, McIlrath felt like he was being given a second chance. Determined to not blow it, he obliged when the team offered to fly him out on game day.

“And I kid you not, I tore my ACL again in my third shift!”

A constant string of bad decisions combined with even worse luck started to eat at him. As his depression worsened, it’s here where McIlrath first entertained the idea of taking his life. He managed to get a coaching gig with an independent team but was fired when the owner found out he was a coke head. Defeated he turned back to the AAHL and won a championship with the Battle Creek Revolution and signed on for next year

Winning the AAHL championship with the Battle Creek Revolution.
Winning the AAHL championship with the Battle Creek Revolution.

with the Fort Wayne Komets. The bad luck didn’t stop as a drama with his twitter account made the team let him go and that was the end of that.

Depression came back in full force and after a month of feeling sorry for himself, he managed to call up a friend who got him a coaching gig with a junior B team. Things started to seem normal at a steady pace again. The team placed third in nationals and by the end of the year, he had found himself quite the lady that was smitten with him. He turned her into his wife.

However after a few problems in the relationship arose, McIlrath reached his all-time low. He quit coaching and succumbed to the blackness of his depression. He managed to stay alcohol and drug free for an entire year before these problems existed. Determined to save his marriage, he invested and opened up a hockey school. In its second year of existence, it was all too much. “Everything on the surface was silky smooth, but as cliché as it sounds, I was just another duck on the pond.”  McIlrath knew that his sober living was limited.  “The money started pouring in, and it was flying up my nose faster than I could pay the bills.” He managed to save enough money to pay his employees and the bills on time when they arrive but that was it. “Every spare penny went toward living a rock stars lifestyle when I was barely getting by.

Things continued to be rocky. On Fourth of July weekend of this year, McIlrath blacked out a party and hit rock bottom in his depression. “My plan at this point was to get through the summer, finish my hockey school, have a night out with the boys and take my own life.

“So I decide to take a victory lap. I visit my family, and closest friends over the past few weeks and prepare my exit. I had my spot picked out, and even now I have a rope hidden under a pile of clothes in my car. I decided a jump from 80′ might not kill me so I decided to hang myself from the same height.”

“I woke up this past Monday dripping in sweat. This was going to be the day. But after reading your article for the 50th time it is my goal to be an example of strength rather than becoming a statistic. Especially since I’m going to be a father.”

 

10153131_233704133502040_225210655_nI immediately got McIlrath in touch with Corey Bricknell, a former hockey player who started an organization with other former players called “Fighting the Truth”. FTT is an organization built to help players, whether former or still playing, deal with mental illness and the trials and tribulations of professional hockey. They had reached out to me after reading my article as well and I’m proud to say that I’ve joined their organization in helping create awareness.

Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed about. I applaud Todd McIlrath and think so highly of him for his decision to get help. As I’m writing this, he is in a treatment center in Michigan surrounded by his no doubt loving family and there is not one damn thing he should be ashamed of either. I hope you’re doing well right now Todd, I’m thinking about you tonight. Thank you for telling your story. I know you’ve helped someone.

Depression isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of being strong for too long. It’s time to end the stigma.

#YouAreNotAlone

Feel free to follow me on twitter: @MarchHockey or like the facebook page: www.facebook.com/marchhockey as I continue to add stories to this growing series dedicated to creating awareness of mental illness in the hockey community.

For more information on Fighting The Truth, head to www.fightingthetruth.com or like their facebook page at www.facebook.com/FightingTheTruth

Read about Carson Shields and his Dark Side here: The Beauty, Carson Shields and the Dark Side of JUNIOR Hockey

Why hockey needs to appreciate the Red Army

normalAt the height of the Cold War, one could say that everything in the public was scrutinized more than necessary. There was a hint of secrecy and in other words a terrifying sense of immediate nuclear destruction that could tear the world apart in an instant.

Sport had its own Cold War and in particular, hockey.

And if there’s two things on this planet that really turn my crank, it’s history and hockey.

In the 1980s, Communism in the Soviet Union was in full swing yet slowly starting to die. A win in the sporting world equaled a win for the whole country and in extreme aspects, a win for Communism. Sport was used as propaganda for the nation and the Red Army team were the country’s main idols. It came as no surprise when former Soviet Army general Viktor Tikhonov lead one of the best and one of the most feared hockey teams in the game. Feared because they had the Iron Curtain hanging over their shoulder and the KGB watching every move.

Without beating around the bush, Tikhonov was hard. One could point out that on the ice and behind the bench, he ruled his team like a Dictator would his country. After all, maybe he did see his team as a country looking to invade and capture foreign land. His time as a general led him to create very unorthodox coaching styles. Players would have to train 11 months out of the year, away from their familiars and live in

Tikhonov in 2010.
Tikhonov in 2010.

the provided barracks; no doubt a salute to life in the army. Slava Fetisov, who captained the Red Army squad, was trained so hard that it has been said he could skate backwards as fast as any Western player could forward. How’s that for conditioning.

Former Soviet Union coach and credited as the god-father of Russian hockey, Anatoli Tarasov was once quoted as saying: A hockey player must have the wisdom of a chess player, the accuracy of a sniper and the rhythm of a musician.”  You could, quite frankly, describe Tikhonov’s team in that exact way. Of course, playing together for 11 months out of the year will definitely bring talent together at outrageous circumstances but the stickhandling, skating, and overall look of hockey the Soviets gave to it pushed the sport ahead 20 years in time.

Tikhonov’s methods were built around the strategies of the game. Working down angles. Being able to have that Gretzky instinct of knowing exactly where your teammates were with the puck. God forbid if you didn’t have a clue. He learned his ways of course pig-backing from tactics that were put in place by Tarasov. Practices would leave you barely making it back to the locker rooms and passing out from exhaustion on the ice. They both expected everything from you.

While they demanded your best, Tikhonov and in a much broader sense, the Soviet Union would give their stars players nothing in return. Most didn’t receive big cheques; they were a pittance at best and then shunned after their big wins. After all, it wasn’t a win for the team, it was a win for Communism and the country! Every game was an Olympic style event with less fanfare.

That’s where the defection of Russian players started to take place. The players knew deep down how they were being treated wasn’t right but they couldn’t speak up for fear of being sent to isolation in Siberia to put it bluntly. Nobody in their right mind liked the coaching style but they did what had to be done.

downloadThen the Soviet Union collapsed.

Tikhonov had some of the BEST players under his wing. However with the threat of the NHL coming in and making offers now that they could entice players to the West, Tikhonov cut Pavel BureValeri ZelepukinEvgeny Davydov, and Vladimir Konstantinov in 1991 because he knew they’d be gone in an instant. It would save him the trouble. Those names should be familiar to you by now.

While Tarasov and Tikhonov were hockey dictators in their coaching ways, we would not have the style or innovation of the game that we do today. As I mentioned earlier, they helped push the game 20 years ahead of its time. Nobody had seen what they did with stick on these shores before. Some players described it as ballet on ice.

Sony Pictures is releasing a documentary on the entire squad entitled “Red Army”. I urge you to check it out and give it a watch. I can’t wait to see it myself.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @MarchHockey or on facebook, www.facebook.com/marchhockey and drop me a line!

Remembering Lokomotiv Yaroslavl

Lokomotiv_Yaroslavl_memorial_at_Arena-2000Summer and early fall of 2011 was not kind to the hockey world. In the span of four months we lost Derek Boogaard, Wade Belak, and Rick Rypien. As tragic as these players stories are, little did we know that the worst was yet to come.

September 7, 2011.

As 26 players, 11 coaches and a handful of flight crew boarded their plane to Minsk, Belarus, it seemed like any old start to a hockey season. The KHL was starting up their third season after evolving from the Russian Superleague. It is seen as one of the best hockey leagues in the world – second only to the NHL – and the best in Europe and Asia.

The 2011 roster of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl was made up of young lads and NHL veterans. Some winding down on their careers; others just getting started. The team had an impressive season the year before finishing 1st in the Tarasov division with 108 points and losing in the conference finals to Moscow. The team’s top scorer, former NHLer Pavel Demitra, seemed to be on a tear and was eager to build on his formidable play.

The day started off like any other. Conditions were clear at Yaroslavl’s Tunoshna Airport and it was a great day to be flying. Driving to Minsk would take 12 or 13 hours by bus or train so flying was most welcome. Loading the gear up onto the plane then getting comfortable in their seats were names that people from North America would recognize. Canadian and Stanley Cup champion Brad McCrimmon was excited to coach his first KHL squad. It was a new and exciting opportunity to continue his career in a country like Russia. His assistant coaches were also former NHLers Alexander Karpovtsev and Igor Korolev.

Karel Rachunek, Karlis Skrastins, and Josef Vasicek joined Demitra with this team to start the winding down of their careers. Each daunting players in their own right, you could easily see how much of a force Yaroslavl was going to be for this upcoming season. Sadly, we’ll never find out.

As the plane rushed off down the stretch of paved road, it overran the runway. The nose briefly went airborne before stalling and running into a tower mast. When it came back and hit the ground, the plane broke up and immediately caught fire near the Volga River. From the wreckage, all but two perished including the flight crew. Young Alexander Galimov survived the crash but died five days later in hospital. The avionics flight engineer, Alexander Sizov was the only survivor.

As the crash began to be investigated, there were a few shocking revelations that started to come to fruition. The plane overran the runway because of pilot error. The pilot put on the brakes as it began taking off thus skidding along the runway. What’s even more worry some was what came to light after. Both pilots had falsified documents to be able to fly the plane. They were flying illegally and the co-pilot was suffering from a nerve disease. He wasn’t even allowed to fly.

Upon hearing the news, the KHL canceled all of their home openers. The season was delayed by a week or so. Former NHL teams of those players who died paid tribute by wearing honorary patches. The German Ice Hockey Federation retired Robert Dietrich’s number and the Latvian Ice Hockey Federation did the same for Karlis Skrastins. Tributes upon tributes were poured out from hockey fans across the world for a senseless tragedy.

Yaroslavl did not compete that season but did rebuild for the next one. It’s sad and downright scary to think that everything could be taken away from you in an instant of time. However, life and death doesn’t stop for anyone. Not even in the hockey world; the show must go on.

September 7th will always be a dark cloud and reminder to the end of the chilling offseason of 2011. They may be gone but certainly not forgotten.

Rest In Peace…

lokomotiv-yaroslavl

Vitaly Anikeyenko, Mikhail Balandin, Gennady Churilov, Pavol Demitra, Robert Dietrich, Alexander Galimov, Marat Kalimulin, Alexander Kalyanin, Andrei Kiryukhin, Nikita Klyukin, Stefan Liv, Jan Marek, Sergei Ostapchuk, Karel Rachůnek, Ruslan Salei, Maxim Shuvalov, Kārlis Skrastiņš, Pavel Snurnitsyn, Daniil Sobchenko, Ivan Tkachenko, Pavel Trakhanov, Yuri Urychev, Josef Vašíček, Alexander Vasyunov, Alexander Vyukhin, Artem Yarchuk.

Yuri Bakhvlov, Aleksandr Belyaev, Alexander Karpovtsev, Igor Korolev, Nikolai Krivonosov, Yevgeni Kunnov, Vyacheslav Kuznetsov, Brad McCrimon, Vladimir Piskunov, Yevgeni Sidorov, Andrei Zimin.

Enforcers, Goons and Fighters oh my! A list of NHL tough guys: Part Two

A couple months ago I set out to list some of my favourite lesser known tough guys from years past. Turned out to be a pretty popular subject (naturally), so I here I am with another five guys for part two.

In no particular order…..

Todd Ewen

1. Todd Ewen
Todd Ewen had a pretty so-so career as an enforcer until he managed to knock out Bob Probert with one punch in only his second NHL fight. With that reputation under his belt, Ewen managed to grab a ton of playing time when he was picked up in a trade after the expansion draft by the newly minted Anaheim Mighty Ducks.  Along with his sidekick Stu Grimson, Ewen held the assistant captaincy for the entire three years he was in California. As the popularity of the Ducks started to increase, Ewen was put out on the ice to protect stars like Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne. Hard to believe that the Ducks had one of the best one-two fighting punches in the league at one point.
Ewen ended his NHL career with 1911 penalty minutes.
 

 

2. Ryan VandenBussche

One of the best enforcers to get his start with the Cornwall Royals, VandenBussche managed to play in nine NHL seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers. He is probably best remembered for blooding and knocking out Nick Kypreos thus ending his career.

Watch the video. Kypreos is lights out as soon as the fist makes contact.

3. Andy Bezeau

Okay. I lied. This guy never made the NHL but Christ was he a nut job that deserves to be talked about.

A tough east-coast Canadian, Bezeau was actually drafted by the Boston Bruins in the early 90’s. Never making the show he spent 10 years in the minors, throwing punches for the Moncton Hawks, Fort Wayne Komets, South Carolina Stingrays and Detroit Vipers among others.

The best story he has? Being traded for a pair of washing machines. Even Paul Holmgren can’t make that stuff up.

He even managed to somehow work his way into the London Knights of the British Superleague in the early 2000s.

Watch a compilation of his with a great title:

4. Dave Manson

Nicknamed “Charlie” (I’ll let you make the correlation.), Manson was actually one of the few enforcers who had the hockey skill to back up his play. Playing in 1101 games throughout his NHL career, Manson managed to notched 390 points to compliment his 2792 penalty minutes. Not too shabby.

In one altercation with mediocre legend Sergio Momesso, Manson caught a punch in his throat damaging his larynx permanently. This made his voice raspy from here on out but that just added to his lore.

Oh and the Leafs traded him for Jyrki Lumme so there’s that too.

5. Lyndon Byers

Lyndon ByersByers was a bit of a monster of a man and his role was to protect the stars of the Boston Bruins. He managed to rack up 1081 penalty minutes in only 279 games. He spent most of his career floating between the Bruins and their farm system before packing the skates away in 1995.

After hockey his career went into a complete different direction. He’s now a radio personality for a station in Boston and has made numerous appearances on tv shows throughout the years. Not bad for a kid from Saskatchewan.

Taking on “Legends Row” of the Toronto Maple Leafs: picks one through five

legendsrowRecently, the Toronto Maple Leafs have unveiled plans to erect a statue saluting some of their legends in the form of 10 players jumping over the boards. This statue will take its form in front of the Air Canada Centre where fans can reminisce of good times gone by. The man doing the sculpting, Erik Blome, has already done phenomenal stone work by doing Wayne Gretzky’s statue down in Los Angeles in front of the Staples Center.

So at least it won’t be a laughing-stock.

The Leafs have also revealed that Ted Kennedy will be the first of the alumni to be enshrined. Former captain and five time Stanley Cup champ, Kennedy was acquired by the Leafs in 1942 from the Montreal Canadiens. Retiring at the age of 30, he was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1966. Seems like a no brainer pick with stats like that.

When I was first presented the idea to my own version of the Legends Row, I realized it wouldn’t be fair for me to include players from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s as I never lived through their greatness. While I’m fully aware of what players were phenomenal and how much they mean to Leafs Nation, it just wouldn’t be right to me. Which leaves me with a much shorter list to pick from but I’m down for the task.

I’m also only going to name two that are a given. We already know the greatness of Mats Sundin, Curtis Joseph, Felix Potvin, Tie Domi, Darcy Tucker, and so on. After the first two names, it’s time to give some of the other guys who contributed a time to shine.

I was born in the 80s. Get ready to take a slight trip back in time to some of the Leafs mediocre times. Before I start, this is just my personal list so don’t get bent out of shape for some of the players that are named. It’s also in no particular order. I’ll include honorable mentions at the end.

Without further ado, picks one through five. Five through ten will be tomorrow!

1. Wendel Clark

wendelSome say the greatest player to wear #17 (*cough*Rod Brind’Amour would like a word.*cough*), Clark played his junior days out the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades who just seemed to breed hockey enforcers for a few years. Taken first overall by the Leafs in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft, Clark was one of the few who threw punches but had the hockey skill to back it up. In his rookie year, he racked up 227 PIM and never backed down from the physicality that was needed from him. I say this as he wasn’t just known for throwing a few, he had an arsenal of body checks that could change the game’s momentum in an instant.

Obviously a crowd favourite, who can’t forget the time he went after Marty McSorley after he leveled Gilmour in the 1993 Conference Finals? I’m not even going to get into the Gretzky debacle. Or some of his tilts with Probert? Or Russ Courtnall and Clark exploding with the “Hound Line”? In my books, Wendel Clark is the first player to be on my Legends Row. (Just ignore the time he played with the Islanders. The first round pick that was traded for him ended up to be Roberto Luongo.)

Speaking of Gilmour…..

 2. Doug Gilmour

Oh Dougy Gilmour, god love you.

Fun fact; my earliest memories of hockey included seeing Doug Gilmour in cow printed spandex tights in honour of his “Got Milk?” campaign. It really was the 90s.

Anyway, another obvious no brainer to add to the row. Gilmour played his junior years with my hometown Cornwall Royals and actually had the glorious oppourtunity of playing fastball during the summer here as well. Along with Dale Hawerchuk and Danny Daoust, the Royals became legendary for the Seaway City.

Obviously Gilmour was destined to bigger things then just being a Cornwall celebrity. Drafted by St. Louis and after a minor stint with Calgary, Gilmour donned the white and blue of the Leafs starting in the 199-1992 season. A crucial asset to the team, Gilmour was another who didn’t let up. Who’s to say what could have happened if Kerry Fraser never missed the call on Gretzky in 1993.

I’m not going to say anymore; I’m just going to leave this here.


3. Nikolai Borschevsky

borschevskyAfter the demise of the USSR, Russian players were suddenly on the market for the NHL in the beginning of the 90’s. While Borschevsky wasn’t a huge powerhouse with Dynamo Moscow, he started to get into his groove after being traded to Spartek Moscow in 1989. NHL scouts kept their eye on him for the next three years and took in his play at the 1992 Albertville Olympics in which he was a part of the gold medal winning squad.

The Leafs gambled and picked him up in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft and it managed to pay off. Borschevsky exploded for almost a point a game in his rookie year and ended up second in team scoring; second only to Gilmour. Another crucial piece to that 1993 team that keep haunting the Leafs until the current group manage to reach the second round of the playoffs.

It remains to be seen what could have been of Borschevsky if injuries didn’t get the better of him. After two solid years with the Leafs, his stock plummeted and he never regained his monumental performance. I think with him being of the first Russians to make a small dent in the NHL hockey world deserves a nod to my version of the Legends Row.

He also belongs on here just because Steve Dangle named his pet bird Nikolai Birdchevsky. Brilliant.

4. Nik Antropov

Probably one of the most underrated players of his time with the Leafs, Antropov was one player I always had my eyes glued on. I even went as far as buying tickets to an IIHF game between Finland and Kazhakstan on the basis that he was playing. Now that’s dedication right? I mean, who could not go see a guy that scored 26 points in one game. (International against Iceland. 11 god damn goals.)

We all know the 2000s weren’t all that great to the Leafs however, there were a couple of rays of sunshine that stood out. Antropov was drafted 10th overall by Toronto in the 1998 Entry Draft. He came up full-time in the fall of 1999 and for the next 10 years, Antropov contributed solid numbers year after year after year. He’s one of the few was I’m devastated that the Leafs could never get on a roll and win something for. Playing on the same line as Mats Sundin would be no easy feat but Antropov did it with ease and proved that having solid wingmen is a daunting task.

He kept up his stats when he was traded to the Thrashers/Jets and even managed to become a Canadian citizen in the meantime. He played last season with Barys Artana in the KHL.

I should probably start up a Nik Antropov Fan Club.


5. Sergei Berezin

lg_berezin_ap_01Another underrated player to lay in Toronto fandom, Berezin was selected 10th overall in the 1994 draft and after exploding with talent for the next two years in the DEL he finally headed over to North America. A pity that it was with the Leafs who I think at the time didn’t really know what to do with him or develop him into elite player status.

He managed to be selected to the All-Rookie team in 1997 and managed a career high of 59 points in 1999. However after his second career high of 50 points (only 3 points behind Sundin), he was traded off the Phoenix for Mikael Renberg. Yeah, the worked out didn’t it.

The knife in the back for the Leafs came when Berezin, now with the Canadiens, scored their 10,000th goal on home ice. Ouchie.

However, five solid years with the Leafs through the crazy early years of the 2000’s puts him on my list.

Honorable mentions for this half: Jonas Hogland, Peter Zezel, Freddy Modin, Igor Korolev, Garry Valk, oh and Nikolai BIRDschevsky.

St. Louis Bruise Brothers: Tony Twist and Kelly Chase

b40e1e15454d95ed8fa40fd756001548In the late 80’s and early 90’s, a junior team in the middle of wheat country Canada seemed to become the heavyweight champs in producing NHL caliber hockey enforcers. The long list that donned the blue and yellow of the Saskatoon Blades included fighting legends Joey Kocur, Darcy Hordichuk, Dave Brown, Wendel Clark and more recently, the late Wade Belak. However, in 1987 the Western Hockey League squad assembled one of the best one-two punches that not only the team ever seen but one of the best the National Hockey League ever set their eyes on.

Both weighing in at over 200 pounds and a tall 6 feet, Tony Twist and Kelly Chase took no prisoners when they took to the ice. Twist’s reputation around the league was that he threw hammers and he fought to hurt. You had one shot; you better make it worth your while. Chase came into the NHL two years after having led the WHL in penalty minutes with 343. Fun fact: None of those minutes were misconducts; they were all fighting majors.

A native of Prince George, British Columbia, Twist is not only a legend of the St. Louis Blues but of the ill-fated Quebec Nordiques as well. You can tell from his stats he was only there to do one thing: intimidate. Many nights were spent bloodying up opponents who dared to take a run at the superstar player on Twist’s side. A student of the enforcing game, Twist would watch tapes upon tapes of fights; trying to master his art in time for the next game. You may even say he was obsessed.

Chase on the other hand had a little bit of skill bestowed upon him. Not much but when you’re throwing punches night in and night out, you’ll take what you can get. Among teaming up with Twist in St. Louis, Chase was similarly involved with another ill-fated team, the Hartford Whalers. Chase took it upon himself to mentor the young players that came in and mold them to the game. His leadership abilities both on and off the ice gave him the title of King Clancy Memorial Trophy winner in 1998. His hard work not going unnoticed.

The two did have the chance to tango when they were not becoming brothers on the St. Louis Blues. Chase having just been acquired from the Whalers was facing Twist while he was donning the blue and yellow on night. Behind the Blues bench was “Iron” Mike Keenan; barking orders at Twist to take Chase down a notch. The two did what they had to do as it was mostly water under the bridge but one hell of a tangle they went through.

 

Tony Twist’s career was cut short just as he was starting to become the undisputed heavyweight champion if you will. During the 1999 offseason, Twist was thrown from his motorcycle after being cut off. After beating off internal bleeding, a broken and dislocated pelvis, plus ligament damage to his left knee, Twist figured a message was being sent that he better hang up the skates. After all, one wrong hit during the season could mess his leg up bad. With 1121 penalty minutes in 445 games, it begs the question of what Twist could have been had he not been injured.

chaseKelly Chase played on a little under half a season longer after coming back to St. Louis after a very short stint with the Toronto Maple Leafs. When all the smoke had settled, Chase racked up 2017 penalty minutes in 458 games over a 12 year NHL career. Some of you may remember him on CBC’s Skating With The Stars where hockey players teamed up with figure skaters in an ice dancing competition.

Noted around the league as the “Bruise Brothers”, Twist and Chase are lined up in my Enforcer Hall of Fame side by side. Seeing both of these gigantic men come flying down the wings with a look of determination, fear and willingness to inflict considerable amounts of pain to their opponents gives them the respect they very well deserved.

Washington Capitals sign Australian Nathan Walker

Photo: capsinpictures.com
Photo: capsinpictures.com

Even if he doesn’t leave a legacy on the ice, Nathan Walker will go down in the hockey history books.

The Washington Capitals have signed Walker to a three year entry level contract making him the first Australian to play in the big leagues.

It’s been a long time coming for Walker who was originally born in Wales, UK but made Australia his home at an early age. The 20 year old Aussie has worked through the hockey system the hard way. Coming from a country in the southern hemisphere and one that is not particularly a hockey hotbed, it’s safe to say he was far from the radar of many scouts.

Hockey always has an eye for talent though. In 2007 Walker made the jump from youth hockey in Australia to suiting up for the U18 HC Vitkovice in the Czech Republic. Between them and the U20 team, Walker made a name for himself as a fast and stick skilled winger. At 17, he played in the Spengler Cup.

The benefit of being a hockey player from Australia is using the North American off-season to continue playing top level hockey in your home country. The Australian Ice Hockey League takes place during Australia’s winter which is Canada and the United States’ summer. Walker got to hone his craft all year round. Scouts finally took notice.

The Youngstown Phantoms of the United States Hockey League took a liking to this young lad and offered a chance. One that proved to be successful as Walker was almost a point a game player. Good thing too as the brass from the Washington Capitals took a liking and kept their eye on him. Signed to a developmental deal and invited to development camp, the Capitals sent the young 19 year old down to Hershey. The Bears were having a pretty good season on their own when Walker suited up for 43 games.

CapitalsDevelepmentCampDay4-8-of-46Impressing the folks with the Caps proved necessary and Walker did just that. He not only became history as the first Australian to be selected in an NHL Draft (2014, 3rd round, 89th overall), but he is now the first Australian to be signed to an NHL contract.

It doesn’t matter where you come from or where you play the game. If you’re good, you’re good. Someone will catch their eye on you eventually. The hockey world is small and filled with connections upon connections of people who spread the abilities of players through word of mouth. A note to players all over the world: Don’t ever give up hope.

The Washington Capitals open up their 2014/2015 season at home on October 9th when the Montreal Canadiens come to play.

Remember that date. It’ll be the answer to a trivia question some day.

The Maniwaki Mauler: Gino Odjick

Photo: Ken Levine  /Allsport
Photo: Ken Levine /Allsport

It’s no secret that I love my enforcers. There’s just something about that role on the ice that can’t fill any other part of my hockey loving heart. I also can’t help but see my youth fly by me this summer. The Hall of Fame class of 2014 is made up of players that I use to have posters and hockey cards of. Adorning the walls of my room with the likes of Mike Modano, Peter Forsberg, and Eric Lindros was a man who was born and raised just a few highways down from me. That man wore the black, orange and yellow of the 1990’s Vancouver Canucks and helped instill fear into anyone who stepped in the path of Trevor Linden or Pavel Bure.

He answers to the name of “The Maniwaki Mauler” or “The Algonquin Assassin”. Gino-Odjick-Canucks-e1326866926668

Now these names may come across as a bit murderous in nature. Make no mistake of it; on the ice, that’s what Gino Odjick intended to do.

Born on the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation reserve in 1970, Odjick grew to be a monstorous 6’3”. Add a pair of skates and you can just feel his presence staring down at you without him even being there. A proud member of the Algonquin nation, the reserve was situated near the Gatineau Rivers and just west of Maniwaki, Quebec. Currently, the town holds a population of just over a thousand. When Odjick was growing up, it was less than 500. Getting to the NHL, hell even playing recreational hockey, was sometimes just a dream of many a kid from the reserve.

During the 1970’s and 1980’s, the natives of most reserves and the populations of nearby cities could not seem to cohabitate in peace. Racial tensions were rampant and it was here where Odjick learned what would soon become his trade and calling: fighting.

By the time the 1990 NHL Entry Draft rolled around, Odjick had completed two years of major junior with the Laval Titan. He made a name for himself as he collected close to 600 penalty minutes during the regular seasons. The Canucks saw they had an enforcer in the making and knew he’d be an important cause to the roster they were shaping. A young team that featured superstars in the making like Linden, Bure, and Petr Nedved, it came as no shock when bench boss Pat Quinn would throw Odjick on the line with each player. Quinn considered him one of his own and Bure, another outsider if you will, became the best of friends of Odjick.

Odjick’s toothless grin is the poster for the quintessential hockey player. The only player that could top it would be Bobby Clarke’s as he’s hoisting the Cup in the mid 70’s.

Odjick played eight seasons with the Canucks and remained a fan favourite through all of them. If you want to see why, just watch the video. The arena became alive each time Odjick whipped off his gloves.

To get old is inevitable. I remember watching that game in it’s entirety when I was a little girl and watching that now makes me feel ancient. Gino has long since retired from the NHL, in fact it’s been almost 13 years since he laced them up for a professional NHL game. However, it never tires me to watch these clips and admire guys like Odjick who night in and night out, defended their teams. Defended their teammates. Made for damn sure that anybody who crossed that red line or blue line would get a shoulder full. I miss the hockey of those days.

Gino Odjick has recently come public with a rare terminal disease. Diagnosed with AL amyloidosis, the disease, in layman’s terms, hardens the arteries and eventually your heart. It’s not for certain how much time Odjick has left. Stories like these make you realize just how much you can take your life for granted. Odjick may have gotten traded to a few more other teams in the latter part of his career but it was Vancouver that took him in as their own son. Gino lives out west to this day and is very active in the native community.
Odjick finished his career with 2567 penalty minutes. He may not have had the flashy stick skills; nor did he have elite scoring capabilities. He may not have won any awards. Odjick is just a man from a native reserve who defied the odds. Let’s hope you continue to defy the odds Gino.

Let’s hear another arena chant your name once more.

gino-odjick

Top five Team Canada squads

In honour of Canada Day, I’ve decided to throw together a little list of my top five Team Canada showings. In my “rankings” I consider the roster, the era of when the team played and how well they did. Remember, this is just my opinion and it will probably defer a lot from most. I won’t be naming the Summit Series either because everyone knows about that one. So sit back, grab your Timmie’s or Molson, eat some poutine and read about some of my country’s greatest teams.

5. Men’s Olympic Team – Sochi, Russia 2014

(Photo: Hockey Canada)
(Photo: Hockey Canada)

I know, I’m starting off with one that everybody knows about but I have to mention it. The only thing better than winning gold on Russian soil, is winning it at home. However, the 2014 squad proves that they were miles ahead of the Vancouver 2010 victory. Dominating their last two games against the US and Sweden, Team Canada (“senior” team, not junior) hasn’t shown this much power since the early 90’s.

A younger, faster Team Canada emerged. The changing of the old guard is indeed in play as players like Jamie Benn, Matt Duchene, John Tavares, Alex Pietrangelo, showed the world why we have the best developmental system going. Sweden didn’t hold a flame to how we played in the gold medal game. If you thought this team was scary; if the NHL will allow players to participate, just wait until the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

4. The 1987 Canada Cup team

The forerunner to the World Cup in the 90’s and early 2000’s, the Canada Cup was an exhibition tournament that took place before the NHL regular season. The NHL didn’t allow its players into the Olympics yet so this was one of the ways where the best hockey countries could compete for the title of World’s best. Players from the USSR weren’t allowed to play in North America just yet either and the Canada Cup was used as a way to see how the Russians were building their skill. Canada went undefeated to take the gold.

Some even put the Canada/USSR match-ups in this tournament ahead of the 1972 Summit Series as the best exhibition hockey ever seen. Want to know why? Just read off this lineup for Team Canada:

Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Ray Bourque, Paul Coffey, Mark Messier, Dale Hawerchuk, Doug Gilmour, Ron Hextall, Kelly Hrudey, Claude Lemieux, Rick Tocchet, Larry Murphy, Glenn Anderson, Craig Hartsburg, Mike Gartner, Brian Propp, James Patrick, Normand Rochefort and Grant Fuhr.

On paper, that line up is golden before the first skate blade hits the ice. I’m all for fairness though and giving credit where credit is due, case in point; the Russians lineup was insane as well. I’ll name off some of the more familiar names: Sergei Makarov, Vyacheslav Fetisov, Valeri Kamensky, Igor Larionov, Sergei Nemchinov, and Anatoli Semenov. The Soviets only lost one game. Guess to who.

By the way, this is was the only time Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux played on the same line together. Hell, the winning goal was scored by Lemieux from Gretzky. I’ve watched highlights of the games and how they dominated the ice is just unbelievable. It’s something that I personally think we’ll never see again.

3. Women’s Olympic Team – Salt Lake City, USA 2002

In the late 90’s, women’s hockey was just starting to get its push and the recognition it deserved. It wasn’t anywhere near being a global sport as both the US and Canada were the top two teams year after year. The only difference from present day is that other countries are quickly gaining speed and getting stronger. Back then, well, poor old Sweden was in for it.
The 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan were the first to include women’s hockey as an Olympic sport. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was in grade five and almost all of my school work was done around the Olympics. (In fact, my teacher decided to have her fun and give me a complete project on Russia. From beginning of time until present. Jokes on her, she gave me 100%) Actually, you know what’s funny? Russia never qualified for the tournament. JAPAN AND CHINA DID.

Anyway, Canada, the US and to a lesser extent Finland, dominated the pool. Most games finished in shutouts with box scores set in the double digits. (Also, Canada almost a gave up a close one to China, finishing 2-0. Seems like we always do this every single Olympics. See: Belarus 2002, Latvia 9b150c27-2f31-4d21-9421-e9376eb7a4132014) Everyone knew who would be in the final. It was just playing the waiting game until then. Low and behold, the Red, White and Blue became victorious, shocking the world.

Enter Salt Lake City 2002.

Looking for revenge the women of Team Canada stepped up their game a notch. Maybe with the luck of planting a loonie at center ice underneath the surface, they were out for blood. Canada was undefeated in their pool and managed 26 goals for against the likes of Sweden, Russia and Kazakhstan. There was only one team with a better record: USA.

In front of almost 10,000 die hard Team USA faithful, the red and white notched three bangers to seal the deal. Caroline Ouellette, Hayley Wickenheiser and Jayna Hefford were three names that Canada will never forget. They haven’t let up since either.

2. Men’s Junior team – World Juniors, 1987 aka the Punch-up in Piestany

If you don’t know me by now, you’ll know that I have a keen love of enforcers and fighting in hockey; I’m all for it when there’s legitimate cause. If you know your hockey, you’ll also know that this team didn’t even medal or place. They got thrown out of the tournament. So why am I including it? Well, this tournament is the one that started our nation’s love of the junior tournament.

The 1987 World Juniors took place in Pietsany, Czechoslovakia and with international politics at the time in the midst of a nuclear meltdown with the Cold War, it’s safe to say that North America and the USSR didn’t really like each other. Especially on the ice.

When these two teams met, the Russians were already out of medal contention. Canada, on the other hand, had a really huge chance at a gold medal. If they scored more than four goals, victory was theirs. Naturally, there was tons of animosity in the air. Especially when after scoring the opening goal, Theo Fleury did his famous slide towards the Soviet bench and pointed his stick towards them like a machine gun, opening fire. That probably didn’t sit well.

Towards the end of the second period, Canada was up with a comfy 4-2 lead. However, after a fight, Soviet player Pavel Kostichkin two handed Fleury obviously retaliating for his previous actions. Well, all hell broke loose after that.

A line brawl went into motion with Evegeny Davydov the first to jump the bench. All bets were off now as both teams cleared the benches. Valdimir Konstantinov broke Greg Hagwood’s nose, Mike Keane dummied Valeri Zelepukin, Stephane Roy got pretty much jumped and yet nobody stopped it. The inexperience of the refs assigned to this game played a pretty big factor in this melee.

Then the refs left the rink. Beautiful. How do you stop two big, bad hockey countries from killing? Well, you shut the lights off! That’s how!

Anyway, the brawl was eventually simmered down and the game canceled. The IIHF threw out both teams and suspended them. We may have not won gold, but that event is the exact reason why Canadians care about junior hockey so much.

1. Men’s Olympic Team – Vancouver, Canada 2010

Okay. I’ll admit it on the internet. I was in the bathroom when Sidney Crosby scored the “golden” goal. That was the only part of the tournament I missed. Yes, I’m a horrible Canadian. That being said, I’ve never EVER seen a country come together like Canada did for that game, hell, for those Olympics. Everyone was beaming with pride at every moment.

That’s the reason it takes the top spot. Not because we won gold, not because of hockey but because of our love for Canada. The red and white. The true north strong and free. The patriotism this country had for those cold two weeks in February 2010 might not ever be felt again in my lifetime. Hell, I was on the other side of the country but you could still feel it. I hope every Canadian, and I mean every Canadian, where ever you are in the world, gets a chance to feel like I did that day. Proud of your country.

Happy Birthday Canada.