Tag Archives: NHL

Team Russia shows no sense of decency

This is called sportsmanship at its best.

After Team Canada won the world championship 2015 title in the O2 Arena in Prague, Czech Republic, Sunday, it took the vanquished team quite some time to skate over and accept their silver medals from International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) President René Fasel.

In fact, Fasel had to keep waving at the Russians for almost a minute to convince them to come over and collect what was deservedly theirs.

But that wouldn’t be the end of it.

What happened then was even more shocking. Not surprising: something like that had happened in other, similar situations, too. And it always involved Russian teams in one shape or another. But one would have expected that the Russians would have learnt their lesson by now and not stoop to this kind of scandalous behaviour yet again. When Team Russia captain Ilya Kovalchuk saw the IIHF dignitaries began distributing gold medals to the winners from Canada, he ordered his teammates to leave the ice. He waited by the door to the bench to see that the entire squad leaves.

To their credit, a small group that included Team Russia’s brightest stars, Alexander Ovechkin and Yevgeni Malkin, remained at the blue line. Kovalchuk kept ordering them to leave forthwith, while Ovechkin was gesticulating back that good manners dictate they should stay there till the end of the ceremony. Or, at least, until Team Canada captain Sidney Crosby receives the championship cup and O Canada had been played.

It took about a minute of embarrassing exchanges. But when the fireworks started and the confetti were fired, Kovalchuk skated over and personally forced the remaining Russian players to leave immediately.

That no Russian player stayed to see Crosby and his teammates skating around with the cup is one thing; that they didn’t wait until an orchestra gathered to play O Canada, is another.

Fasel said he was very disappointed with Team Russia’s behaviour. He said he found it perfectly unacceptable and added that the IIHF is going to debate potential punishment. Team Russia’s behaviour showed profound lack of respect for the other team, and Russian Hockey Federation will be asked for an explanation, Fasel told the Russian TASS news agency, adding Team Russia’s behaviour showed not only lack of sportsmanship, it also broke the IIHF’s rules, and for that, the Russian Hockey Federation can expect proper punishment.

Fasel said some Russian players wanted to be sportsmanlike: “We saw Ovechkin and Malkin who tried to stay. It’s the team management and coaching staff who should have made sure nothing like this happened; they were right there, on the ice, at the time.”

Vladislav Tretyak, the former all-world goalie who now serves as Russian Hockey Federation’s president, said it was all a misunderstanding rather than lack of respect: his players even shook Canadian players’ hands, he said.

But former Czech goalie Petr Bříza, who served on the organizing committee, said wherever Team Russia showed up, difficulties would follow.

When they came to Ostrava, instead of staying in a hotel reserved for all teams that played there, the Russians demanded that they be accommodated in Kravaře, an Ostrava suburb. Then, when they saw it took them longer than it took others to get to the ČEZ Arena, they demanded that the organizers provide them with police escort, so their team bus can get to and from the arena breaking all traffic rules.

In fact, Team Russia was scandalized its team bus had to wait at a railway crossing for a train to pass. Organizers in Ostrava started asking publicly whether they should have made the railway change its schedule, and Team Russia dropped the subject.

And, Bříza added, “They brought a few problems with them to Prague, too, issues that hadn’t been here before their arrival. The eight teams that had been here were living side by side quite famously, but then the Russians came and the first thing they did was they blocked off a hallway in the arena and demanded to stay in a different hotel. That created serious security issues for us, and if anything had happened, it would have been linked to the championship, no question. And then, they topped it off with such lack of sportsmanship and respect for others, including the entire event,” Bříza concluded.

It seems it may be useful for the organizers of the forthcoming World Cup (NHL and NHLPA) to remind Team Russia management in advance that there are basic rules of decency and sportsmanship that one should keep in mind even following bitter defeat.

And if they can’t live with it, disinvite them, no matter the star power that the event would lose.

Kids’ bodychecking: Yes? No? Hockey Unlimited joins the debate

Should Hockey Canada have banned bodychecking at peewee hockey level?

It did so a couple of years ago, and only the Saskatchewan hockey association had the guts to say it found the decision weak-kneed and frightfully un-hockey-like.

Whether Saskatchewan youth hockey poohbahs were right or wrong remains to be seen: it’s too early to be coming up with definitive answers.

But Hockey Unlimited has entered the fray to see why the proponents of young players’ bodychecking believe what they do. And here’s what they believe: properly taught, bodychecking actually makes the full contact game safer for kids as they get older.

Airing Monday, March 30 on Rogers Sportsnet, with repeat broadcasts to follow (see schedule below), Hockey Unlimited again promises to deliver thought-provoking sports documentary programming.

Hockey, no matter whether it is in whatever organized or somewhat disorganized form, just happens to be part of Canada’s national fabric. To prove this point, the Aquila Productions documentary will show two events that run at about the same time and that can hardly be more different.

In 1960, hockey organizers in Quebec City have come up with a brilliant idea. The Quebec International Peewee Hockey Tournament has become the largest minor hockey tournament in the world. Guy Lafleur, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Steven Stamkos have been among the 1,200 former and current NHL players to experience it. Kids rub shoulders with top teams of 11- and 12-year-old players from all over the world: Canada and the U.S., Europe, Asia and even Australia.

You won’t find too many future NHL stars at the World Pond Hockey Championships, however. The beer league event to end all beer league events attracts players from all over North America, but it brings guys from London, England, too,

Just imagine these gentlemen of all ages, clearing off snow on Roulston Lake in Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, so they can face off in games more hotly contested than Stanley Cup’s games seven in fifteenth overtime. Except, instead of NHL teams’ trainers ordering pizza for every second intermission, beer flows on Roulston Lake as if there was no tomorrow. Unlike the often concussed professionals, frostbite and hangovers are the main risk to players here.

And, of course, it wouldn’t be Hockey Unlimited without tips on hockey fitness from high-performance personal trainer Simon Bennett and on-ice skills from NHL instructor Steve Serdachny.

Broadcast schedule:

Mon. Mar. 30

5:30 PM ET SN Pacific, SN West, SN Ontario, SN East

Wed. Apr. 1

9:30 PM PT (12:30 AM ET) SN Ontario, SN East, SN Pacific

Fri. Apr. 3

12:30 PM ET SN One

NHL dreaming, Hockey Unlimited fifth episode’s focus

Mechta” is the Russian word Yakov Trenin used.

It means: dream.

That is the reason he, along with many others, has moved several thousand of miles (kilometres, if you wish) away from home, to play in North American junior leagues. These kids hope that an NHL scout is going to notice them, like them enough to go to bat for them at the NHL draft, and they’re going to make it all the way to the show.

They are perfectly aware that a chance of THAT happening if they stayed at home would border on the improbable.

Whether they will make it or not is another question. Even if they don’t, they’re going to return home stronger men.

But their dreams have some pretty solid foundations. Such as: they must have been good in their respective age categories. The North American junior teams wouldn’t have drafted and brought them over if they weren’t.

Hockey Unlimited, an Aquila Productions’ documentary series aired on Rogers Sportsnet Monday, March 2, with repeat broadcasts scheduled for the next couple of weeks (see detailed schedule below). In its fifth episode, Hockey Unlimited opens with a very careful, sensitive and sensible look at a couple of guys, kids, really, who have made the jump.

The abovementioned Yakov Trenin came all the way from Chelyabinsk. The place is home to Traktor, a Russian KHL club. Yet, not even the potential perspective of playing for his hometown team would change young Yakov Trenin’s dream. He knows, obviously, that to be the best, he has to compete with the best.

Yakov Trenin now skates with the Gatineau Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

The other kid featured in this episode of Hockey Unlimited, Edgars Kulda, shares Trenin’s ambition. He came from the capital of Latvia, the ancient and beautiful city of Riga, all the way to a brand new place (everything is relative) called Edmonton. Where Riga’s roots reach to the 2nd century of the past millennium, in Edmonton, everything that comes close to being a century old is a historical artefact. Kulda, too, could have tried to make his hometown KHL team, Dinamo. His ambition aimed higher.

Nothing wrong with that.

Kulda, now an important part of WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings, has made the first step: the Arizona Coyotes have selected him in the seventh round, 193rd player overall, in the 2014 draft. Only one step remains: making it out of the Coyotes’ camp.

These two guys are similar. To a degree. And Hockey Unlimited, without saying it, notices these differences in careful detail. Where Trenin is a shy newcomer, a greenhorn, Kulda is a grizzled veteran. A 2014 Memorial Cup MVP, Kulda comes across as a self-assured kind of guy. Where Trenin still has a bit of difficulty finding the right words to express correctly in English what he wanted to say in Russian, Kulda is firing away with undisguised gusto as if he was born speaking English, with a mistake here and there.

In addition to talking to both guys’ coaches and teammates, Hockey Unlimited gives considerable space to the billets with whom these kids are staying. The loving relationships between the kids and their surrogate parents are obvious. But the billets’ ability to pinpoint these two guys’ character strengths and weaknesses is refreshing.

The next segment of this episode of Hockey Unlimited is perfectly logical.

Player agents don’t appear all of a sudden in players’ lives. They’ve been watching the playing phenoms with at least as much interest as NHL scouts. They reach out to players whom they consider safe investment, nurturing their relationships with both the players and their families. They do all that for free, in the hopes that when their client would make the NHL, they would negotiate a rich contract for him, and their percentage would be a nice return on their investment.

All fine and dandy. Still, it’s refreshing to hear Don Meehan, one of the most powerful player agents in the business today. He’s pretty straightforward when he explains that there might come a time in a player’s career when it would be a good player agent’s job to sit down with him and ask him whether his ambition is limited to playing on an NHL club’s farm team, or whether the time has come to look at other options.

Which brings us neatly to the third story: Wes Goldie became the all-time leading scorer in the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL). He helped the Alaska Aces win the Kelly Cup. He made it all the way to NHL teams’ training camps twice during his career. That would be as far as he would be able to get.

Wes Goldie has retired and he’s repaying his wife and his four children for all the sacrifices they made during his career.

Was it illustrious? You bet. You don’t have to win all of the NHL’s annual awards to have an illustrious hockey career.

Wes Goldie tells his story with enthusiasm that is quite justified. And his family is, just as justifiably, proud of him and his achievements. His career didn’t make him filthy rich. Not so far as his bank account is concerned. But it made him a wiser man. And that should count for something.

As has become its useful habit, Hockey Unlimited also features valuable tips on hockey fitness from high-performance personal trainer Simon Bennett and on-ice skills from NHL instructor Steve Serdachny.

In addition to its brilliant tradecraft, wonderful camera work, editing, music and overall sound selection, Hockey Unlimited’s choice of stories shows that its creators know and love their topics, their heroes, as well as being perfectly aware of the role hockey plays in the everyday life fabric of so many Canadians.

Three cheers! And five stars, too.

 

BROADCAST SCHEDULE

 

Mon. Mar. 2 9 PM PT (Midnight ET) SN Ontario
Mon. Mar. 2 10:30 PM PT (1:30 AM ET) SN One
Thurs. Mar. 5 10:30 AM PT (1:30 PM ET) SN One
Thurs. Mar. 5 9 PM PT (Midnight ET) SN One
Fri. Mar. 6 Noon PT (3 PM ET) SN Pacific, SN West
Fri. Mar. 6 11:30 PM PT (2:30 AM ET) SN Pacific, SN West
Tues. Mar. 10 10 AM PT (1 PM ET) SN Pacific, SN West, SN Ontario, SN East

 

And, as the usual television saying goes, check your local listings to confirm program updates

What it takes to make it: Hockey Unlimited’s fifth episode will explore junior players’ courage

Coming to Canada, having crossed the Big Pond (a.k.a. the Atlantic Ocean) to pursue one’s dreams takes a lot of courage.

The fifth episode of Aquila Productions’ documentary series, Hockey Unlimited, focuses on two such brave young men. Their dream is to make the NHL, and they are now honing their skills in Canada’s major junior leagues.

This episode of Hockey Unlimited airs first on Monday, March 2, on Rogers Sportsnet (see detailed schedule below), with repeats coming up during the following week.

A Long Way From Home, that’s where Yakov Trenin finds himself. Just check the distance between Chelyabinsk, Russia and Quebec’s Gatineau. It’s more than eight thousand kilometres.

A rookie with the Gatineau Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Trenin has been giving a good account of himself. Whether it’s good enough for him to land the coveted NHL job, only time will tell.

Meanwhile, Latvian Edgars Kulda, last year’s Memorial Cup MVP, is more than seven thousand kilometres away from home. A third-year player with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL, he’s considered talented enough to make it to the show.

Hockey Unlimited speaks to both players, and their billet parents, coaches and teammates. We get a close insight into what it’s like to risk it all while pursuing one’s dreams.

Let’s Do Lunch is the name of the second episode.

Most players (and general managers) in the professional leagues will agree that it makes good sense for players to have others represent them. Especially during contract negotiations: the player thinks so highly of himself he’s close to believing he’s the Second Coming, while the general manager, trying to meet his budget, will maintain it’s only his generosity that drives him to keep that player gainfully employed playing hockey. Besides, today’s contracts are filled with legalese, and so is a professional athlete’s life in general. Just imagine paying taxes on the millions you’ve made a season.

That’s where player agents come in. They take the brunt of respective general managers’ stinginess. They know how to spread your income over more years so that your taxes due become at least a tad more palatable. And they can do a lot of other things for the players they represent.

But the relationship has to start somewhere. And that’s what this chapter is all about: following player agents as they approach AAA Bantam- and Midget-age hockey players who come to their attention as promising young prospects and prospective clients.

Not all that glitters turns out to be gold. But even if you don’t become a millionaire several times over, playing hockey for at least some money can be rewarding, too.

I Was A Hockey Player profiles Wes Goldie, the all-time leading scorer in the East Coast Hockey League. Goldie never got rich or particularly famous as a minor league pro, but it’s clear from this heartwarming story that he has no regrets about the game, nor should he.

And, as always, Hockey Unlimited features valuable tips on hockey fitness from high-performance personal trainer Simon Bennett and on-ice skills from NHL instructor Steve Serdachny.

 

BROADCAST SCHEDULE

 

Mon. Mar. 2 9 PM PT (Midnight ET) SN Ontario
Mon. Mar. 2 10:30 PM PT (1:30 AM ET) SN One
Thurs. Mar. 5 10:30 AM PT (1:30 PM ET) SN One
Thurs. Mar. 5 9 PM PT (Midnight ET) SN One
Fri. Mar. 6 Noon PT (3 PM ET) SN Pacific, SN West
Fri. Mar. 6 11:30 PM PT (2:30 AM ET) SN Pacific, SN West
Tues. Mar. 10 10 AM PT (1 PM ET) SN Pacific, SN West, SN Ontario, SN East

 

And, as the usual television saying goes, check your local listings to confirm program updates

To be or not to be? Newest Hockey Unlimited episode lets young players answer the question

There’s a world of difference between illusions and ideals. While we should be ready and perfectly willing to ditch illusions whenever we realize we’re only dreaming in Technicolor, we should be defending our ideals to the last breath.

Thus the accepted wisdom.

Here’s the issue: how do we distinguish the former from the latter?

Youth hockey is not only an expensive proposition. Not only is the equipment beyond the reach of many families, the cost of renting rinks for practices and games can add amounts that make the sport virtually impossible to join. And yet, if future players ever learn what it takes to find success, it’s precisely in the ranks of youth hockey. But the questions do not stop with costs. Eventually, players, parents and (to a degree) coaches face tough moments that see youth hockey’s participants at a crossroads. Many questions, and only one of the several potentially possible answers is correct.

This is the challenge many (or, to be more precise, most) midget league hockey players, their parents and their coaches face. Is the kid a bona fide future NHL superstar? Is the kid a bona fide future honest worker at whatever profession his education takes him?

That’s one of the main topics the fourth episode of the new documentary, Hockey Unlimited, has set to explore. Aired on Sportsnet Monday (with a number of repeat broadcasts to come, check your local listings or below), the Aquila Productions’ show digs deep into the issue and brings in people who have both the knowledge and the experience.

Ken Campbell of The Hockey News has done a lot of research on the topic, and his insights have been of great value to the show, but what took the cake were the honestly shared personal experiences of both the parents and the players.

It’s one thing to enroll your kid into youth hockey, in hopes he would learn a thing or two that might come useful in life, and it’s a completely another matter once the kid is accepted. You become a part of a system, and the system puts some pretty tough demands on both its players and their families. And one only realizes whether these demands and requirements are reasonable after a few seasons had gone by and the players and their families have to figure out whether it is at all worth their while to continue.

Interestingly enough, it was the players themselves who were the most realistic people of all present when it got to assessing their capabilities and future endeavours. It takes a lot of courage for a player to look straight into a television camera, knowing his words are being recorded, and say, I know that I’m not going to make it as a professional athlete. Now’s the time to become serious about my education because there’s life after hockey, too. And they weren’t bitter about it, either. They told Hockey Unlimited’s cameras that they had formed friendships some of which they bet would become life-long, and they learned a lot about sportsmanship, and they got into pretty awesome physical shape, to boot.

It would have been beyond the scope of Hockey Unlimited to answer the next question: is there anything wrong with the system? And if there is, can we fix it? And if we can fix it, how do we go about it?

Why beyond the scope? Because Hockey Unlimited is a documentary. A frightfully good documentary, to be sure, but it’s not the role of such works to answer questions. It’s within their mandate to ask them. That’s all. Asking tough questions is a tough job as it is. Hockey Unlimited does that.

Hockey goes multicultural

It’s one thing to see that there’s regular broadcast of Hockey Night in Canada in the Punjabi language; it’s an altogether different thing to see kids of Punjabi origin learning not only to skate, but to play hockey, too.

This is what’s happening, and Hockey Unlimited takes us right into the heart of things. As the various community leaders say, this is all part of their people becoming Canadian. That includes not only learning and accepting traditional Canadian values, but also taking part in traditional Canadian sports activities.

And is there a more Canadian sports activity than hockey?

From a practical standpoint, how many opportunities does the usual Canadian climate offer for people to indulge in, say, cricket, rugby or soccer?

A rhetorical question if there ever was one.

Just as many watched in awe when players of, say, Korean or Lebanese origin made it all the way to the NHL, it’s obvious the day a player whose parents had come to Canada from India makes it all the way up is not that far away, too.

One question begs an answer: will there be, say, East Indian community-based hockey teams first, or will the kids have enough courage to take on all comers in teams that reflect the wonderful mosaic that is Canada?

Judging by the pictures Hockey Unlimited has shown us, the latter option is correct. A wonderful development that shows how the sport of hockey can bring the nation together at active grassroots levels, perhaps even more than just staring at television screens, watching hockey in the Olympic Games.

A thinking girl’s game

What do the girls who keep making their country proud at sundry Olympic hockey tournaments and world championship events do when there’s no such event happening?

Why, most of them play hockey.

Except: most of them do not return to hockey as their profession. They go back to various schools, colleges and universities, in order to pursue their education and play the game they love in their spare time. Only a tiny minority have decided to turn professional and found employment with the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. Founded in 2007, this league consists of five teams: two are based in Ontario, one in Quebec, one in Alberta and one in Boston, of all places.

There have also been other leagues catering to women’s hockey, but the Canadian Women’s Hockey league has had the most clout amongst all of them.

There are a few issues, and Hockey Unlimited lists the most important challenges the women’s league faces. For example, it is a bit of a stretch to call the players professional. The original plan had the league responsible for all travel, ice rental and uniform costs, plus some equipment, but player salaries weren’t included in the plan. This means that the players, mostly college or university graduates, have found jobs in companies that let them start their weekends early Friday so they can travel to their games. They play a number of games over the weekend, only to return home late Sunday (or early Monday) and be in the office by the time their work schedule kicks in.

Living like that shows real commitment.

The league has been trying to find sponsors who would provide enough support for the female players to become really professional athletes.

It is, obviously, a tough job: sponsors have to be convinced women’s hockey attracts a sufficient number of eyeballs to make it worth their while, but to reach that status, women’s hockey needs a strong enough financial backing to promote the game amongst the uninitiated. While it looks like the proverbial vicious circle from the outside looking in, it seems they are making steps in the right direction. They even got such a well-known hockey personality as Brian Burke on board, to help promote their game.

Of course, a philosopher might ask the most provocative question: why is it that we eye professional athletes with love and adoration that should be reserved for other professions? Teachers or nurses come to mind as worthy candidates. Still, if we resign ourselves to just acknowledging that this is how it is, the next question would be: where’s the fairness in all this?

Except: professional sports are (and should be) market-driven entities. No government fiat can help the professional female hockey players. But less shortsightedness and more imagination by potential sponsors would go a long way.

Useful features

As has become usual with Hockey Unlimited, hockey coach Steve Serdachny and fitness guru Simon Bennett teach viewers wonderful tricks, both on the ice and in the gym.

Remember when there’s a television commercial showing, for example, a driver negotiating sharp curves along a high-mountain-level off-road path, and the commercial says the guy we’re watching is a professional driver and he’s doing it on a closed circuit? Or some other attractive activity happening right before our astonished eyes, with a mysterious voice telling us not to try it at home?

Both Serdachny and Bennett are asking us to try what they’re showing us. At home or on the community rink ice. And they make sure to show their tricks in sufficient detail so as to keep us safe.

Hockey Unlimited itself is one of the most useful pieces of programming. It takes its viewers back stage of professional hockey, it shows us the sport in all of its beauty and excitement, and it challenges its viewers to get off their couches, shed their potato skins, and get healthier by becoming more active.

As has been Aquila Productions’ trademark, Hockey Unlimited tells its stories well, to the point, with great camera work, letting the pictures speak for themselves, and letting their heroes tell their stories.

BROADCAST SCHEDULE

 

Feb. 16

12:30 AM ET SN West, SN East, SN Ontario

Feb. 18

8 PM ET SN One

Feb. 21

4:30 PM ET SN Pacific, SN West, SN East, SN Ontario

Feb. 22

1 PM ET SN One
2 PM ET SN Pacific, SN West, SN East, SN Ontario

Feb. 23

7:30 PM ET SN One

Feb. 26

12:30 PM ET SN One

Feb. 27

Midnight ET SN Pacific, SN West, SN East, SN Ontario

Mar. 1

Midnight ET SN One

 

Professional sports leagues’ insane behaviour is beyond shocking

American footballer Ray Rice is free to play the game again: his suspension was lifted on appeal, and he’s now free to sign with any NFL club that would have him.

Of course, if no contract offer is forthcoming, Ray Rice is free to sue each and every NFL team, and the league itself, accusing them all of collusion.

All Rice did to deserve punishment meted out by the league was he knocked his then-fiancé Janay out. He did so in an elevator in a casino in Atlantic City. That, by the way, showed not only his disregard for his then- fiancé’s dignity, and his perfectly frightful lack of respect for her. It showed also a huge degree of pure, simple and unadulterated stupidity. If Rice didn’t know the place was filled with surveillance cameras, he had to be a moron.

Not that his then-fiancé showed more intelligence: disregarding the incident, she went ahead and married her abuser.

Now, true, psychologists and psychiatrists would use a number of Latin words to describe women like this. Mostly, these words describe what the learned men view as less-than-normal behaviour on the sufferers’ part. Some cynics say that, come to think of it, women like this are of sound mind, after all: for each case of an attack against themselves, they manage to collect material rewards from their abusers.

Need an example? How about Rice’s former then-fiancé, now his legal spouse, lashing out at all and sundry for revealing the violent encounter in the Atlantic City casino, telling the media to stop poking their bloody dirty noses into things that were none of their bloody dirty business? The only thing missing would have been an explanation that she was playing a game with her future husband, testing how hard he can punch her, and what kind of hit she can withstand. And that he dragged her out of the elevator? Well, come on, we’re not anti-social, if we stayed in that elevator, others wouldn’t be able to use it.

Not really playing the game

Whatever the case may be, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell first hit Rice with a measly two-game suspension. Only after all kinds of activists started crying bloody murder did the commissioner increase the suspension, finally making it indefinite. Of course, some of these activists wouldn’t know a football if it hit them between the eyes, but they had one point right: abuse is abuse is abuse, and this one bordered on assault causing bodily harm.

Except: it’s not really sporting to be changing the rules during the game. And that’s exactly what the NFL poohbah has done.

Enter the intrepid players’ association, NFLPA. Not fair, it says, Rice couldn’t have expected anything more severe than two games, and here you are, extending the punishment till the cows come home.

Something in it, too.

Of course, all of this has created a scary precedent. Sports leagues all over the place are now monitoring their members’ behaviour as if they were all part of a network of Swiss finishing schools for refined young ladies and gentlemen.

For example, the NHL suspended Slava Voinov, a Los Angeles Kings’ defenceman, just because some emergency staff member at a local hospital was of the view that Mrs. Voinov’s injuries must have been caused by a violent attack by her husband.

For the record: both husband and wife denied the accusation.

Where, for crying out loud, is the presumption of innocence? It took the local DA several weeks to lay charges. The couple hasn’t appeared in court yet, only telling the world that the charge was ludicrous. Yet, Slava Voinov is all of a sudden persona non grata with the league, and the club. Of course, he still gets paid, and it took a strong effort on the part of the league and its players’ association (NHLPA) to figure out a way that would keep Voinov’s wages off his club’s books so his impact is no longer a salary cap hit.

Imagine if the court throws the entire matter out and Voinov is reinstated. Should he sue the league (and, by extension, his club) for dragging his name through mud? He could, and he might end up winning.

What’s the problem?

Here’s the main issue. It took years of media massaging, but we’ve become accustomed to viewing accomplished athletes as role models for all the fans, especially the young crowd.

Here’s what people can (and should) try to emulate: the ability to run fast with the football in Ray Rice’s case, or the ability to defend well in his zone and contribute to offence in Slava Voinov’s case.

To expect anything more shows lack of maturity on both the media’s and the fans’ part.

Professional athletes, especially those involved in American football or basketball, come from backgrounds that one would have frightful difficulty calling wholesome. The fact that they are now filthy rich, drive around in cars most of us wouldn’t be able to afford, wear all kinds of jewellery and clothing that has come from the most famous fashion designers does nothing to change this. Rather than educating themselves to become useful members of society, they spent their younger years honing their athletic skills. And using violence to achieve their goals. They just do not know any better.

Yet, here they are, standing on pedestals, shining role models one and all. And when they resort to the only kind of behaviour they know, that same media that’s put them on those pedestals is now dancing with joy pulling these fine specimen of athletic ability down: they’ve shown them.

It’s pure hypocrisy.

But then again, so is the entire sector of entertainment industry known as professional sports.

Granted: violence against others is a crime. That includes domestic violence.

But for professional sports leagues to act as police, investigating magistrates, judges, juries and executioners all at once is a major act of overstepping their mandates.

To break the accused individuals’ right to be considered innocent until proven guilty in an independent court equals a serious violation of those individuals’ constitutional rights.

And to make up rules as they go, now, that borders on insanity.

When and where will it end?

Useless people make the headlines

Raymell Mourice “Ray” Rice should have been behind bars since February 15, 2014.

Janay Palmer (as she used to be known then) should have been getting professional care aimed at women who think physical abuse by their sweethearts is a sign of loving, caring and, ultimately, compassion. She should have been getting that help since the moment she agreed that she would marry Raymell Mourice “Ray” Rice.

The scandal has been filling newspaper front pages and running as top items on radio and television news the last few – well, has it been days, weeks, or months? From the outside looking in, one would have thought there are no other major issues in this wretched world that could have as much impact on our lives.

A professional U.S. football player punches his girlfriend, as she then was, into unconsciousness. He gets suspended two games by his league. When outcry about the lenient punishment hits crescendo, the league changes its policy and gives him a six-game suspension. Then, a bit of raw footage appears on YouTube, going viral within seconds. It shows in sordid detail what went on inside the Atlantic City’s Revel Casino elevator on that February night. The league (at long last) sees fit to suspend said player indefinitely.

Apologies all around: the NFL only saw the full incriminating footage now. Its requests to proper law enforcement authorities to see it earlier all came to naught. Thus league poohbah Roger Goodell. The Baltimore Ravens, Rice’s alma mater team, cut him forthwith upon accessing YouTube. And an owner tells his club’s eager fans he’s sorry he’d let them down.

Perfect rubbish, of course. All of it.

Neither the NFL, nor its member clubs, are a finishing school to teach its employees proper manners. Raymell Mourice “Ray” Rice committed a crime. That’s what we have law enforcement authorities for: to make sure that no crime goes unpunished.

But that’s not the end of it.

Janay Rice (as she is now) lashes out at the media and sundry observers, saying they brought shame upon her household by poking their noses into matters that really were none of their business.

And Raymell Mourice “Ray” Rice’s teammates say the guy is a friend (a brother, indeed) and the Rices have decided to turn the page, they are all for it, and the rest is nobody’s business.

This is a pathological state of affairs.

Here’s the couch

Most professional athletes have come from backgrounds that wouldn’t know respect if you handed it to them on a silver platter. Their educational achievements are lacking beyond belief. That is why, by the way, if a hockey player such as Joe Juneau successfully graduates with an aeronautical engineering degree, it becomes a major headline.

After all, a Canadian basketball star graduates from his high school, spends a year (what an achievement!) in college, is drafted by his sport’s top league, the NBA, and off he goes to earn his share of the loot.

What does this kind of development tell him? Simple: grab the money and run. Who cares about education so long as you can afford not to care about it?

Professional athletes spend their younger years with one obsession only: to become such good athletes that top professional leagues would be clamouring for their services. This kind of effort requires a remarkable level of concentration spent on oneself. It leads directly to egocentrism on a level not usual among the ordinary Marys and Joes.

The reward is sweet. Such athletes become moneybags. They can afford whatever they want to afford. An example: Rice gave his then-fiancée a huge ring and a beautiful car upon her graduation.

A cynic would stop at this moment to murmur: no wonder she decided to stay with the guy. What’s a punch between the eyes compared to a ring and a car?

Cynical? Yes. True? Who knows?

Except: money can’t buy you everything. It can’t buy you the awareness of such simple facts of life like if you want to be respected, you have to give respect, first.

Whereupon we read, hear and see news stories galore about top athletes (and their entourages) wreaking havoc upon night establishments. We read, hear and see news stories galore about such athletes (and their entourages) solving disagreements with other athletes (and their entourages) using firearms of all kinds of calibres. We read, hear and see stories of athletes bringing their firearms (loaded with live ammunition, too) into their teams’ dressing rooms.

Not that they always get away with it. But most of the time, they do. Most often, what they get is a few raised eyebrows and an occasional tsk-tsk. That’s all.

Since they know nothing else but playing their positions in football, basketball, baseball and, to a smaller extent, hockey, they develop a rather warped vision of themselves in the world.

The media, and – by extension – fans do a nice job putting such athletes on undeserved pedestals. Yes, from time to time, they do their best to bring them back down to earth. From time to time is the operative expression here.

Yet, if anyone earns huge sums of money by being perfectly unproductive, it’s the professional athletes. What’s their contribution to society? Excitement? Has humankind stooped so low as to need professional athletes to excite us? Gladiators, anybody?

Are times a’changin?

A couple of decades ago, an American basketball star, Magic Johnson, told a packed news conference he was retiring because he had the HIV. For those not in the know: this is an abbreviation for the human immunodeficiency virus, an agent that causes the killer known as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, a.k.a. AIDS.

The media went ga-ga: what a hero! Magic Johnson would be the spokesman for the organizations that research (and hope to develop) an anti-virus, and he’s facing his ordeal like a man, and he’s leaving the sport that he’s loved all his life, and so on, and so forth, ad nauseam.

Not many noticed that his then-bride-to-be was expecting the couple’s first child, and that Magic Johnson has basically confirmed he had acquired the virus during her pregnancy. Meaning: he was playing the field on the side while his future wife was carrying their child.

That’s not all.

Magic Johnson mentioned (not that he would be bragging about it, he did so in all modesty) that he had served about a thousand women. Martina Navratilova, one of the greatest tennis players of all time, remarked then that if a woman suggested that she had served about a thousand men, people would call her a floozy, a harlot, a tart – or worse.

That comparison did not make any headlines. Magic Johnson still remained a hero.

Asked about the possible source of his fatal infection, Magic Johnson said that he suspected a “dirty blonde” (his own choice of words).

Not only was this suspicion very quickly found to be incorrect, but nobody dared suggest a different scenario: say, what if a white guy was in that same kind of a situation, and he’d say a “dirty black woman” was the source of his grief?

Which version is racist? A rhetorical question, if there ever was one.

In any case: have the media’s and (by extension) fans’ attitudes changed since then?

Yes and no.

We still put these frightfully unproductive members of our society on pedestals, turning them into celebrities over night. In fairness, we are certainly quicker tearing them down than we used to be. But we almost always have another frightfully unproductive member of our society hiding in the wings, ready to be discovered and glorified. And, if these newcomers happen to fail our expectations, we tear them down again. Not to worry, however: there are so many future frightfully unproductive members of our society waiting for their share of the spotlight, the supply seems to be endless.

Everybody and their dog gets their 15 minutes of fame. Just as Andy Warhol predicted.

Back to now

What’s going to happen with the most recent scandal?

Not much. As soon as there’s another transgression, this one would be forgotten.

And do not be shocked or overwhelmed when you hear that Raymell Mourice “Ray” Rice has been reinstated. All NFL teams need good running backs, after all. Experts say Raymell Mourice “Ray” Rice ranks among the best of them.

He would not be re-joining the Baltimore Ravens, one would expect. Or, rather, one would hope. Even though, one must admit, crazier things have happened and nobody cared. Except for the media and fans who would rejoice that their hero (or anti-hero? your choice), Raymell Mourice “Ray” Rice is back, and so are the club’s hopes for the Super Bowl.

He’s paid his dues to society, the battle cry will go, leave the guy alone.

And how about Raymell Mourice “Ray” Rice’s faithful wife? The girl who stands by her man no matter what? The girl who considers a punch that renders her unconscious equal almost to a badge of honour?

If she does not get treatment soon, and if she does not realize that her life is more precious than a dozen of huge rings and beautiful cars, and if she doesn’t see to it that her husband is forced to mend his ways (force is the only thing he seems to respect), she may wake up one morning – dead.

What a future!

Who says summer’s got to be boring?

The number of single female kindergarten teachers getting swallowed whole by sharks off the coast of the Adriatic grows exponentially every passing summer. They’ve become the usual front-page material for European newspapers, especially those whose countries have no sea coast.

After all, readers, listeners and viewers prefer lighter fare in their newscasts and news pages during summers. Don’t bore us with political situations and economic upheavals when the mercury is climbing north of 30 Celsius in the shade. Journalists are trying their darndest to oblige. This is true all over the world, North America happily included.

When there’s really nothing happening that the journalists could sink their teeth into, they use their imagination. And now that we have new media, rumours make their way around the globe with the speed of a summer thunderstorm lightning. Thanks to social media, journalists don’t even have to be the original authors any longer, even though membership in the profession helps.

Aliens, UFOs, new infections and whatnot still make the cut, but general population seems to be fed up with this kind of drivel. You can say that Hollywood’s fascination with stories based on the extravagant, combined with the sad decline in their ability to tell these tales coherently, if not convincingly, killed the genre.

Just as reality television, a scam to end all scams, pretends it exposes real stories of real people, the summer season in journalism is trying to pretend it’s based on reality, too.

Such as: have you heard yet Ilya Kovalchuk is on his way back to the NHL?

No?

Here’s the deal: the Russian-born forward who had retired from a huge NHL contract (and the New Jersey Devils) so he could return to Russia and play in the KHL has been talking to Devils’ chief poohbah Lou Lamoriello. Kovalchuk’s return is imminent.

Are you saying you do NOT believe Dino Costa, the slightly shocking radio host? Sure, Costa’s independent treatment of facts became too much even for the Sirius XM’s Mad Dog Radio. But are you saying he’s not worthy of your trust?

Mad Dogs fired Costa almost a year ago. You would think they were depriving his faithful audiences of an original voice that they all clamoured to hear. But not to worry. Enter social media. In this case, Twitter.

How do you get followers? You come up with something out of the ordinary. How do you keep followers? You repeat the routine with regularity not even daily use of strong doses of Metamucil can help you match.

So, anyhow, Kovalchuk’s on his way back. Thus spake Dino Costa. OOOPS: thus tweeted Dino Costa.

That would, of course, mean that Ilya Kovalchuk is a perfect moron.

He is not.

Kovalchuk retired from the NHL, walking away from a 12-year deal worth $77 million in greenbacks. That was the only way how he could leave and join the KHL legally.

As pointed out by NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, to be able to return, Kovalchuk would have two basic options.

First, he would not be allowed to engage in professional hockey for one full year. Considering Kovalchuk came to Russia with a lucrative four-year deal awaiting him, it’s hard to imagine he’d do anything of the kind.

The other option would see all 30 NHL clubs grant him (and the Devils) a unanimous agreement to return. Can you see that happening?

Here are a few more details. If Kovalchuk missed the NHL that much that he would forego professional hockey for a year (and furnish a proof), he would be eligible to return only to the Devils, and he would have to stay there till the end of the 2018-19 season. Then, and only then, would the league remove him from the list of players who voluntarily retired, and – aged 36 – he would be able to sign with some other team.

And what are the chances that, say, the New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers or the Pittsburgh Penguins agree that the hated Devils bring back a reinforcement as potent as Ilya Kovalchuk?

Besides, sundry media (mostly Russian, to be sure) have quoted Kovalchuk as saying he’s frightfully happy in the KHL, the game is different but he’s getting used to it and everybody treats him like a king.

But: Dino Costa has got new followers on his Twitter account. That matters. At least, to him it does.

And he became famous all over the hockey-loving world. Or is it infamous?

Still, his “boring summer story” pales in comparison with the tragedy of the many single female kindergarten teachers swallowed whole by sharks off the coast of the Adriatic.

KHL loses three teams, finds three replacements elsewhere

One day you’re up, fighting for cup victory in game seven, and the next day you’re gone.

Well, to be less dramatic: it took a few weeks for Lev Praha of the Russian KHL to start gasping for life. First, they lost to Mike Keenan-led Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the Gagarin Cup finals. Now comes the news its shareholder owners Yevgeni Myshkovskii and Petr Speychal haven’t got enough in the kitty to continue. The club’s budget last season said the club needed $40 million (Canadian) to operate.

According to news out of Prague, no such money is forthcoming, and the club will have to fold.

The owners issued a statement forthwith, denying they are quitting. They are dealing with the situation, they said, and next Monday would be the deadline for a definitive answer. Until then, the owners added in an official statement, all news about the club’s demise are pure speculation.

As (wrongly) attributed to Mark Twain, and paraphrased, news of their death was greatly exaggerated. Except, the reports come from a region known for yet another pearl of wisdom: don’t believe any rumours until they’ve been officially denied.

Just to make matters more involved for the KHL, the venerable Spartak Moscow is headed to the poorhouse, too. In addition, Donbass Donetsk won’t be able to play because of the tense political (and military) situation in Ukraine. Donetsk, after all, is one of the neuralgic points in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia.

Here’s the main issue: for whatever reason, Russian oil and natural gas giant Gazprom has decided to cut its epenses on professional hockey in half. Gazprom just happens to be KHL’s main sponsor. To what degree sponsoring the KHL made any economic sense to Gazprom in the first place is hard to fathom. After all, Team Russia’s main sponsor at international events is another Russian company. One that exports weapons. So says its logo on Team Russia’s official jerseys.

Of course, says the KHL, no need to worry: we have Finland’s Jokerit Helsinki joining as of next season, and a team from Sochi, and another one from Togliatti. The former club, HC Sochi, a.k.a. Sochi Leopards, has former NHL player Vyacheslav (Slava) Butsayev as its coach. The latter, known as Lada, used to be Torpedo. It was kicked out of the KHL in 2011 because it didn’t have a good enough arena. It was renamed Lada because the Soviets used to build their version of the Italian car, Fiat, under the nickname of Lada, in a local car factory.

So far as Lev Praha is concerned, the first signs of trouble emerged earlier this spring. According to early June quotes from Rashid Khabibulin, the team’s sports manager, there were issues when the club tried to negotiate a new lease deal with Prague’s O2 Arena. He didn’t specify what issues then, but now, say some Czech insiders, it is becoming obvious what they were. Lev wanted to pay less than what the arena owners had been asking for.

Several Lev players, approached by the media, tried to put brave faces on: it’s not official yet, they would all say, and they hope the owners will find a way.

Only the owners’ bankers know whether this optimism is justified or not.

And they’re not telling.

Oil Change closes its season April 20

The times, they are ’a-changin’ … and so are we. If Bob Dylan, the American songwriter, ever thought the idea was his, he could hardly be more wrong. Still, he was right.

What differs is the way we remember changes, no matter how significant or otherwise.

It could be a poem set to music. A song, in other words. A novel of hundreds of pages.

Or, it could be a documentary television series about a professional sports team that shows its viewers that those finely tuned and shaped bodies belong to people with their own minds and emotions.

And that’s what this season’s final installment of Oil Change, the award-winning series about the Edmonton Oilers, will tell us.

It airs on Sportsnet Sunday, April 20, as follows:

  • EAST & ONTARIO – 9 p.m./ET
  • WEST – 9 p.m./MT
  • PACIFIC – 9 p.m./PT

First replays on Monday April 21:

  • EAST & ONTARIO – 12:00 a.m./ET
  • WEST – 12:00 a.m./MT
  • PACIFIC – 12:00 a.m./PT

We can expect more replays on Sportsnet, and on the NHL Network, later on.

With season’s end, it’s time for some reminiscing. In fact, reminiscing helps put matters in perspective.

Let’s begin with this minor fact of major proportions: compared to the same point last year, more than half of this season’s roster has changed. General manager Craig McTavish did, after all, promise that there would be changes galore under his command.

He has been as good as his word, and this installment of Oil Change is documenting it in considerable detail.

Thanks, Smytty

With Ryan Smyth announcing his retirement after all these years, a behind-the-scenes tour of the memory-filled trophy room in Nr. 94’s home delivers a meaning all of his teammates, past and current should remember. Come to think of it, Smyth’s future teammates would do well to keep it in mind, too: he’ll remain an Oiler no matter what, it’s in his blood.

Taylor Hall, captain Andrew Ference, several other key players and MacTavish share some candid and insightful final reflections on this season and next.

A retrospective look at all those who’ve donned an Oilers jersey in the past four seasons of Oil Change forms another chapter of this season’s finale.

This episode starts where the previous one ended: at the trade deadline. Oiler veteran Ales Hemsky (the team’s first-round draft pick in 2003) is gone. So is veteran blueliner Nick Schultz. They were traded to Ottawa and Columbus, respectively, for draft picks. Victor Fasth arrives from Anaheim, to share the goaltending load with Ben Scrivens.

Just to make sure nobody forgets it, fate deals the Oilers a few more blows. Ryan Jones, Jesse Joensuu, Anton Belov, Andrew Ference and Nail Yakupov are all out of the line-up. Injured. One and all.

There are reinforcements coming up from AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons. Anton Lander, Tyler Pitlick and Will Acton get return trips to Edmonton, while rookie defenceman Oscar Klefbom makes his long-awaited NHL debut and quickly shows he’s not out of his depth up in Edmonton. Except: the OKC Barons are in a tough battle to secure one of the final AHL playoff spots, and the call-ups don’t help he Oilers’ farmers much.

It’s going to be interesting to see how Oil Change will deal with the memories of this season, one that can be called – without any exaggeration – season from hell.

See you in front of your TV Sunday night.