Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Dark Summer

What a difference a year makes. This time last year, our biggest concern was whether Carey Price would justify the Jaroslav Halak trade. That seems such a trivial worry today. Last year, the silent ice lay like an unspoken promise, slumbering unblemished as we waited for the game-time drama to unfold. This year, what happens on the ice is far from our minds.

This summer, the deaths of three young men who died under shadows of depression and addiction haunt us. The announcements that Marc Savard won't play at all this year because of head trauma, and that Sidney Crosby's return is uncertain for the same reason, fill us with regret. And now, the very idea that an entire hockey team, more than thirty young men in the primes of their lives, with families, hobbies, loves, collections, pets, favourite songs, imaginations, tattoos, mothers, homes and dreams can be entirely wiped out in the breath of an instant horrifies us. This is a dark, dark summer.

One could argue it's been a dark year. The near-destruction of Max Pacioretty at the hands of hulking Zdeno Chara, and the NHL's subsequent virtual shrug, made many of us think hard about what we admire...and what we don't...about NHL hockey. The rash of concussions sustained by players on every team at every level has made us wonder if this is really the game with which we fell in love. The questions we've had to ask ourselves about why we're fans and why we continue to be are still unaswered for many of us. This summer's events have served to drain much of the enthusiasm for the coming season from even the most fervent of us.

In a way, though, the way we feel now might be a catalyst for the betterment of the sport, or at least the way we fans behave toward the sport and its practitioners. I know I can't blame Sidney Crosby for whining to the refs anymore, because I just want to see him play again. I can't hate the leafs because I think about the Minsk fans who probably hated to see Lokomotiv come to town, and now they're all dead. That stuff goes beyond hockey. That's real life, and as we know, sports are supposed to be an escape from real life. These athletes are supposed to be heroes who stand above our vices of addiction and depression and avoid our human tragedies. They're not supposed to die. This summer has proven they're not any of that. These players are people with the same needs and shortcomings as the rest of us, and that must change the way we, as fans, look at the game.

Now we know these guys are human beings who just happen to be really good at the game we love. That has to give us some perspective about what we expect of them. I know I don't want any of the Canadiens to goon it up until his brain is damaged or he becomes addicted to narcotics to handle the pain. I don't want any of them to sit at home feeling so inadequate and helpless that he becomes suicidal. At this point, whatever happens on the ice is secondary to making sure the young men who play for our team are healthy, happy and protected. That's a radical shift for a fan who used to only want a Cup, no matter what the cost.

It comes down to the fact that hockey is entertainment. Sure, we want to win, and Canadiens fans perhaps want to win more than anyone. This summer, however, we have learned we cannot satisfy our vicarious thirst for victory through young men who are all too human. They are people, and through the miserable events of this summer, player and fan are perhaps more understanding of each other than they've ever been.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

As always I continue to be amazed by your writing. If only all fans have come to the same conclusion, we might have made some real progress.

moeman said...

Beautifully written JT. You speak the words many of us think. Merci.

Ted Bird said...

Wonderful. Bravo.

Anonymous said...

J'ai vraiment appr├ęcier votre commentaire. Thanks HABS forever.

Anonymous said...

Wow, so eloquent and well put. I hope the fans out there can comprehend this and come to some of the same conclusions.

Wohlverine said...

I have been rattled by all of the events of this summer, but I haven't really known how to feel or react to it until reading this. This brought me to tears. Hockey is just a game, but life...life is all too precious to throw by the wayside. I hope the mentality of all in the game shifts into a new direction and we can all move on, as a community of fans, coaches, players, parents, officials, etc.

Anonymous said...

Belak's death, while tragic, was not a suicide.

Anonymous said...

Good article, but "the near-destruction of Max Pacioretty at the hands of hulking Zdeno Chara" unfortunately shows bias, which brings the overall credibility down a little.

Anonymous said...

You have put everything I have been feeling all summer in words like I only wish I could. (By the way, my first thought today was to find Sopel on Twitter...thank god he tweets regularly!)

All last year I was screaming for the NHLPA to get involved in equipment and rink adjustments to protect these young men, 2011-12 was horible for many teams with head injuries. Then these tragic deaths all brought a new realization of the damage we, as fans, are tolerating. And now this senseless, HUGE, tragic loss. I wish I could do anything to support these families. And our boys have all lost teammates and mentors, co-workers and friends. All I think I can do is pray right now, I really just want to cry.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for another well written article, JT. This is better than most I read online....someone should hire you to write regularly for them the way they did with Spector.
Chris

Roy said...

Well put Leigh Anne!

Sometime the trivial preclude the really important issues in our present society!

Win lose or draw, hockey is a game which in the last few months has had serious ramifications particularly on the lives of those who chose it as their life's pursuit!

Anonymous said...

I second this comment

"Good article, but "the near-destruction of Max Pacioretty at the hands of hulking Zdeno Chara" unfortunately shows bias, which brings the overall credibility down a little."

And would add this to it

"I know I can't blame Sidney Crosby for whining to the refs anymore, because I just want to see him play again"

Anonymous said...

Yes. Max Pacioretty's injury is certainly in the same league as all these deaths. Give me a break.

Anonymous said...

Great article.
You seem to forget that these hockey heroes are real people with real problems. They are just as human as everyone else. I hope that they all have a good support system to deal with all of these tragic loses.
I am a Leafs fan...but also a hockey fan. I don't want anything bad to happen to anyone. I don't want anyone to be hurting or addicted.
Anyway, really good article and perpective.

Ian Cobb said...

JT. Thank you for putting down, so professionally what many of us are thinking and wanting for our sport. Respect and understanding!

Ian Cobb

Anonymous said...

Well said

Anonymous said...

It's crazy that some people thinks the Pacioretty comment showed bias. He was almost paralyzed by Chara and that's a fact, not an opinion.

Anonymous said...

So sad all these unnecessary deaths,I feel so bad for the friends and families,this hits us all because we love our game and our teams.
It's just a pity that we can't feel the same for all the children in the world,dying by the thousands every day because of drought, starvation and war.That we can't feel the same sense of loss,for these innocents,who have never even had a good meal let alone seen a game of hockey,is even more telling,about our selfish and insular society.

Hadulf said...

Good read again J.T. Thanks.

@one of the Anonymous...

"Belak's death, while tragic, was not a suicide."

What sources are you reading?

Janet Lingel Aldrich said...

I couldn't have said that any better. You speak for me, quite eloquently. Well done.

Sarah said...

so well written.

TBoneTucker said...

I don't think there's anything wrong with showing some bias, i.e. including the Pacioretty incident and wording it in the manner J.T. did. This is a blog afterall that is clearly written from the perspective of a habs fan. And as a habs fan, the Pacioretty injury (at the time) was just as dark a moment for me as any of the other ones. You're an amazing writer J.T.!

Raj said...

I'm sorry, JT, that I'm late to the party. What resonated with me most in your post was your hope that no Canadien would goon it up and get brain-damaged or addicted to narcotics.

Well, what about Ryan White? Everything I read about him emphasizes his toughness and his willingness to stand up for his teammates, despite his not being very big. Very little, if anything is written about his Corsi, qualcomp or offensive or defensive zone starts. And, of course, one can't write too much about his points total, because, well, there's not too much to say about that particular stat. Yet, in junior, Ryan White was a good hockey player.

What about Travis Moen? Granted, he has hands of stone. But he is a good defensive player who does yeoman service on the PK. It's not his fault he was made to play last season over his head on the Gomez line because we had no depth. Yet, I bet a fan poll would about him be mostly negative. The poll would say Travis doesn't fight enough or stand up for his teammates; ergo, that's why we got pushed around by the likes of Boston and Philadelphia. The fanbase would say that even though we held our own against the latter and won the season series against the former and came within 1 OT goal of beating them in the playoffs -- with a depleted roster.

My point is, how much are WE fans complicit in the deaths of Boogard, Rypien and Belak? Not all fights in the NHL are staged combats put on for fan entertainment. As long as we (the fans) value qualities like toughness, standing up for your teammates and the ability to deliver crushing bodychecks TO THE EXCLUSION of OTHER hockey skills , aren't we indirectly responsible for the fights that sometimes ensue? And for the cheap shots and hits to the head? It's but a small step (which our current NHL and societal culture does not encourage us to refrain from taking) from standing up for your teammates to "sending a message" to the other teams' good players because that exemplifies "toughness?" How many people secretly agree with Mike Milbury the Sedins are "sisters" because they are "soft?" I bet quite a few. Why did Brad Marchand suffer no consequences for punching a Sedin repeatedly in the face? It wasn't just the league that condoned it --- it was us. There were many of us fans who secretly enjoyed seeing a soft European getting his comeuppance from a Canadian who would do "what it took" to win.

We can complain about the league -- and should. This year's Stanley Cup finals were a joke. But first, perhaps we should look in the mirror. When we do, then the Boogards, the Belaks and the Rypiens might have a chance.

seriousHabit said...

Once again a well written and thought provoking article.

To all the anom's who see fit to quibble over the, intent, severity and lack of action on the part of the NHL regarding the Paciorrety hit. Remember one simple fact, one Inch forward or back in the course of the so called 'hockey play' and we would have seen a far more tragic outcome.

If you want objectivity then I suggest you read a coroner's report. If you want insightful free and passionate opinions they please come back and visit often. Otherwise; I do believe there are some excellent fairytales and blogs out there for your edification.

Well done and don't change a thing. Cheers!