One year later, remembering Lokomotiv Yaroslavl

A memorial to the victims of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl crash (Image from Wikipedia)

One year ago today, an airplane carrying the players, coaches, and training staff of KHL team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl crashed immediately after a failed takeoff. Of the 45 people on board, including the pilots and flight staff, 43 were dead on site. One surviving player, Alexander Galimov, died in hospital shortly afterward, leaving crew member Alexander Sizov as the lone survivor from the crash.

There are rare moments when human tragedy or triumph seemingly trumps, temporarily at least, the many problematic aspects of sport. The KHL is a highly political league given its ties to the Vladimir Putin (he has referred to the KHL as “an instrument of Russian foreign policy“) regime and the heavily influence of the Russian oligarchs who made their fortunes preying on the ruins of state run Soviet industry (for example, oil companies Gazprom and Rosneft own KHL teams SKA St. Petersburg and CSKA Moscow, respectively). The league is certainly fraught with problems, as, of course, is its North American counterpart the NHL. However, the Lokomotiv tragedy temporarily pushed those concerns aside and united hockey fans across the globe, many of whom had never previously heard of the team, in awe and sorrow.

Many fans in North America found personal connection to the tragedy through the players who had played for their favourite NHL teams before plying their trade in Russia. Names like Brad McCrimmon, Igor Korolev, Pavol Demitra, Ruslan Salei, and Alexander Karpotsev were immediately familiar to countless NHL fans and gave a known human face to the shocking tragedy. Coming at the end of a summer in which NHLers Rick Rypien, Wade Belak and Derek Boogaard all passed away through suicide or accidental overdose, the Lokomotiv crash carried particular gravitas as the bookend to a summer that shook many fans and members of the hockey community.

Read more of this post

Weekly Links: Derek Boogaard and prescription drug abuse; CBA and Phoenix Coyotes ownership updates

Welcome to Hockey in Society’s Weekly Links post. This feature highlights articles or blog entries that are related to Hockey in Society’s areas of interest and that may be of interest to the site’s readers.

Hockey Links

  • We all remember John Branch’s excellent reporting in The New York Times on the life and death of Derek Boogaard. Branch has written a follow-up story that provides shocking insight into Boogaard’s abuse of prescription drugs and the ease with which he secured prescriptions from multiple medical personnel. [New York Times]
  • Branch’s story drew lots of reaction from the hockey blogosphere. Justin Bourne had a solid response that called on the NHL to implement a system for the dispensation of prescription drugs. [Backhand Shelf]
  • And a couple other responses, from Harrison Mooney and Ellen Etchingham respectively. [Puck Daddy; Backhand Shelf]
  • RoseTintedVisor has a great interview with Adam Proteau of The Hockey News. Not only was it a great read, but also a reminder that I still need to review Proteau’s book Fighting the Good Fight on this blog. [Puck Buddys]
  • Courtney passed me this link, which is a little old but still a good read. The post begins by talking about the Women’s World Hockey Championship and the competitiveness of international women’s hockey, before exploring the gender politics behind different rules between the men’s and women’s version of the sport. [After Atalanta]
  • Bruce Dowbiggen weighs in on the CBC show While the Men Watch, a topic that Courtney has covered on this blog and which has drawn widespread reaction from bloggers and journalist. [Globe and Mail]
  • The Phoenix Coyotes’ ownership situation continues to drag out. The most recent news: the city council for Glendale, AZ voted to subsidize the team’s new owner $300 million over the next 20 years, paving the way for Greg Jamison to move ahead with the purchase of the franchise. [Puck Daddy]
  • Speaking of the business of hockey: with CBA negotiations on the horizon this summer, the NHL has temporarily set the salary cap at $70.3 million for 2012-13, way up from the $39 million cap in the first post-lockout season of 2005-06. The figure is based on revenues for the NHL of $3.3 billion in 2011-12. [SB Nation]
  • Sidney Crosby may soon sign a 10 year contract extension with the Pittsburgh Penguins, despite his concussion history. [Puck Daddy]
  • Mark Ascione reflects on the legacy of 1972 Summit Series star Paul Henderson, who is currently battling cancer, including whether Henderson merits induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame or the Order of Canada. [The Hockey Writers]
  • Finally, Vladimir Krutov – one of the first superstars to leave the Soviet Union to play in the NHL – passed away this week. Greg Wyshynski reflects on his legacy. [Puck Daddy]

General Sport Links

“Goon”: A Controversial (and Potentially Important) Film

Goon, the new hockey film about a bouncer-turned-enforcer, was released last week. Courtney Szto has already written about the film on this blog, criticizing it for “poor timing and taste” in light of last summer’s deaths of hockey fighters Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, and Wade Belak. I agree with her that the timing and marketing of the film were poor, however beyond that I cannot criticize the film without watching it. And who knows, I may end up enjoying it – after all, Slap Shot is one of my all-time favourite movies, and I think packs a subtle punch in terms of its social commentary.

Given that I have yet to watch Goon (I will post a review whenever I do) I cannot comment too much on the film. Instead, after the jump I examine some of the reaction to the movie, particularly in light of the current debates that are raging around the place of fighting in hockey. Read more of this post

Brian Burke Laments Decline of the Enforcer, Fears that “Rats” Will Dominate Hockey: What Does This Tell Us About Hockey Culture?

Brian Burke, the General Manager for the Toronto Maple Leafs, has never been one to shy away from the media spotlight or to hide his emotions. Nor has Burke made any secret about his view that a good NHL team requires a solid dose of toughness on its roster, famously declaring upon taking the Maple Leafs GM job in 2008:

We require, as a team, proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence. That’s how our teams play. . . . Our teams play a North American game. We’re throwbacks. It’s black-and-blue hockey. It’s going to be more physical hockey here than people are used to.

Burke backed up his words in the following years, trading away a number of skilled players and bringing in noted enforcers such as Colton Orr and Mike Brown in an effort to create a tougher on-ice team. Today, after Colton Orr was sent to the Maple Leafs’ minor league team, Burke weighed in on the current state of the game and lamented the decline of enforcers in hockey.

After the jump, I look at Burke’s statements and consider what they say about hockey’s culture of aggressive masculine behaviour, “the Code” that informally governs how players are expected to conduct themselves, the widely held assumption that players can police their on-ice actions better than the NHL can through suspensions or fines, and the need to disconnect an enforcer’s personal attributes from his on-ice role.

Read more of this post

Weekly Links: ESPN Ignores Hockey Deaths, Fans Fight Back; 2011 Was the Year of Hockey Concussions; Economic Impact of World Junior Championships

Welcome to Hockey in Society’s Weekly Links post. This feature highlights articles or blog entries that are related to Hockey in Society’s areas of interest and that may be of interest to the site’s readers.

Hockey Links

  • ESPN caused a furor amongst hockey fans by not including any hockey players on its tribute to sport figures who passed away in 2011. During its Year in Review Sports Center program, ESPN failed to mention the deaths of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, Wade Belak, or the KHL’s Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team. Greg Wyshynski had a good reaction to the ESPN program. [Puck Daddy]
  • As did Travis Hughes, who also examines the relative lack of US mainstream media attention given to hockey in contrast with the thriving hockey blogosphere. [SB Nation]
  • Meanwhile, a fan post on Broad Street Hockey, the Philadelphia Flyers’ SBN blog, has become an unofficial online tribute to all the hockey figures who passed away in 2011. Hockey fans contributed their individual knowledge to produce this collective and comprehensive tribute. [Broad Street Hockey]
  • It sounds like ESPN heard the complaints: Pierre LeBrun reported on Twitter that an updated version of the program will be aired and will include hockey players in its tribute. [@Real_ESPNLeBrun]
  • Good story on the challenges facing the Canadian Women’s Hockey League as it struggles to attract fans. Obviously this is a topic that Courtney and I both feel strongly about. [Globe and Mail]
  • Bruce Arthur with a terrific, but worrisome, post about Sidney Crosby: “Sidney Crosby played just 10 games in 2011. . . . And we were left to wonder if Sidney Crosby would ever be quite the same again.” [National Post]
  • Ryan Lambert with a good post about the reporting of hockey concussions, in reaction to Brian Burke’s admission that Colby Armstrong should not have hidden his concussion and continued to play. [Backhand Shelf]
  • Bruce Dowbiggen’s list of 2011’s biggest stories contains some interesting analysis on the sale of MLSE to Bell/Rogers, Sidney Crosby’s concussion, the emergence of long-form sports reporting such as that on Grantland, and other interesting sports media tidbits. [Globe and Mail]
  • This is a few months old, but still interesting: in his forward to Paul Henderson’s book How Hockey Explains Canada, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is very forthcoming about his hockey fandom and experience. Hockey has, at times, been featured in Conservative Party adverts or other PR. [Vancouver Sun]
  • The IIHF World Junior Championships is projected to bring $80 million into the host cities of Calgary and Edmonton. Take this with a grain of salt as, for a variety of reasons, economic impact assessments of large sports events are often overly optimistic about the revenue generated. [Globe and Mail]
  • Eric Lindros, who retired because of concussions, believes that the speed of the game due to post-lockout rule changes has made hockey more dangerous. [SLAM! Sports]
  • Stu Hackel reports on the NHL’s “awful month” for concussions. So far this season 64 players have suffered concussions. []
  • The corporate sponsorship of NHL jerseys inches closer to reality, as the Montreal Canadiens become the latest team to place adverts on their practice jerseys. [Puck Daddy]
  • The Torontoist names hockey homophobia as one of its “Villains of 2011.” The article gives a brief overview of the various ways in which homophobia intersected with hockey in the past calendar year. [Torontoist, via @HockeyAgainstH8]

General Sport Links

  • Fantastic article about Venus With Muscles, a new book by David L. Chapman and Patricia Vertinsky that examines historical popular portrayals of muscular women. [Brain Pickings]
  • Interesting post about Twitter is reshaping media, including sports media, and opening up new opportunities for writers. [Outkick the Coverage, via Puck Daddy]

Future Reading: “Fighting the Good Fight: Why On-Ice Violence is Killing Hockey” by Adam Proteau (2011)

Future Reading is an occasional feature that highlights new or upcoming publications on sport, and particularly hockey, that relate to Hockey in Society’s content and/or that may be of interest to its readers.

Adam Proteau’s new book, Fighting the Good Fight: Why On-Ice Violence Is Killing Hockey, is incredibly timely. In particular, one can’t help but feel that the subtitle is a conscious allusion to the off-ice death of three hockey enforcers this past summer. Hockey fighting quickly became a hot button issue following the deaths of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, and Wade Belak, and this debate has taken on increased intensity following the New York Times‘ series on the life and untimely death of Boogaard. It is in this climate that Proteau’s book has been released, and while Fighting the Good Fight was most likely undertaken well before the events of this past summer, it will instantly become part of the ongoing, but recently intensified, debate about the role and consequences of fighting in hockey.

Proteau is an excellent columnist for The Hockey News, a rare writer who can simultaneously be informative, analytical, and entertaining. He is noted as a prominent anti-fighting voice within the mainstream media, and brings this perspective to bear in this book. The early reviews from the hockey blogosphere suggest that Proteau’s book could be quite influential in swaying the opinions of some of those who remain in the pro-fighting crowd. A review on The Hockey Writers states:

I was skeptical at best before reading Proteau’s book. However, his factual evidence, persuasive arguments, and straight-forward ideas have forced me to rethink what hockey actually is versus what it should/could be. Fighting the Good Fight should be mandatory reading for all hockey fans. It may just make one think about what really belongs in the sport.

What gets me really excited as a sociologist is that Proteau not only appears to have used extensive interviewing to reach his conclusions, but also that he expands the discussion from the single issue of fighting to critique the broader culture of hockey. From a review on Hockey Book Reviews:

[Proteau] talks with medical experts on head injuries and concussions. He talks with players, coaches, managers and experts about head shots, aggressive bodychecking, injuries and discipline. . . . Furthermore he expands his attack to the entire established hockey culture.

This definitely looks to be valuable contribution to the popular hockey literature, and it is a book that I am excited to read. I purchase the book over the holidays, and hope to have a review of it up on this site early in the new year.

The Life and Death of a Hockey Enforcer: Five Critical Issues Raised by the New York Times’ Series on Derek Boogaard

If you have not yet read John Branch’s New York Times series on former NHL enforcer Derek Boogaard, it should immediately jump to the top of your reading list. Boogaard passed away this past summer from an accidental overdose of alcohol and sleeping pills. In a compelling and upsetting three-part series, Branch offers a detailed narrative of Boogaard’s life and tragic death and links this individual story up to broader social and cultural issues in hockey.

Five issues stood out to me from Branch’s reporting, and I discuss each of these below. As what follows is a particularly long post, here is a brief outline of the five issues I discuss:

  1. This story is not really about Derek Boogaard
  2. The social pressures to fight start as a teenager
  3. Many players  abandon other career/life possibilities to pursue the dream of pro hockey
  4. Fighting takes an extremely damaging physical and mental toll
  5. The structures of junior and professional hockey are complicit in the damage caused by fighting

I strongly urge you to read Branch’s excellent articles, but I hope also that you find my commentary on his brilliant reporting to be interesting and of value. After the jump, my thoughts on five of the key issues raised by Branch: Read more of this post