Mark Popovic, KHL player and former NHLer, on hockey culture and labour vs. passion in a pro career

This is one in a series of posts in which I will report back from The Hockey Conference that I attended in London, ON from June 18-20, 2014. As I did not digitally record any of the proceedings, any direct quotations may contain slight inaccuracies – however, I have endeavored to capture the essence of the commentary and to reproduce it as accurately as possible.

The first keynote of the conference featured Mark Popovic, a former NHL player who played 81 games over five seasons with the Anaheim Ducks and Atlanta Thrashers, and current player with Croatian club Zagreb Medvescak of the KHL. For reference, you can view his career stats here.

The keynote took a unique form, as conference organizer and Western University sport historian Dr. Don Morrow conducted a one-on-one interview in the vein of the popular Inside the Actor’s Studio television program. Popovic was gracious and forthcoming with his answers, although, as will be discussed, there was a contradiction in his views on the labour process in hockey that was not adequately resolved during the session. Nonetheless, Popovic provided great insight into the life of a professional hockey player and some of the struggles, challenges and rewards of this career. After the jump, I review three of the interesting themes that emerged from this session: hockey as labour, players as commodities, and the expression of passion and love for the sport. I conclude by briefly attempting to explore the apparent contradictions between the first two topics and the latter one. Read more of this post

Weekly Links: Cost of hockey for parents; Potential NHL rule changes; Curbing fighting in junior hockey; Bettman’s comments about the season; Director of hockey analytics hired; and more

Source: Scouting the Refs

Source: Scouting the Refs

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. Please check out some of the great writing that is happening in the hockey media and blogosphere!

  • A recent study found that the cost of hockey is roughly $1,600 per year, the most expensive compared to other activities. [CBC News]
  • USA Hockey’s board of director’s have approved rules to curtail fighting at the junior level. Also of note, the playing membership in the US is at an all time high. [United States of Hockey]
  • A look into the potential rule changes recommended by the NHL’s competition committee. Included are fines for embellishing,  an option for coaches to challenge calls and expanding video review. [Scouting the Refs]
  • The Canadian Women’s Hockey League is looking to add a second US franchise, with New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Detroit submitting bids. [ESPNW]
  • Team Canada goalie and Olympian, Charline Labonte recently spoke about being gay and experiencing the Sochi games with her partner, and Olympic speed skater Anastasia Buscis.  [Outsports]
  • A look into the some of the challenges NHL ice girls, or cheerleaders, deal with on a regular basis. [Mother Jones]

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Weekly Links: Sean Monahan and the NHL-CHL relationship; Steve Moore lawsuit to go to trial; Ethical sourcing of hockey gear; New books by Ken Dryden and Dave Bidini; and more

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. Please check out some of the great writing that is happening in the hockey media and blogosphere!

  • Ken Campbell has an interesting read, in light of the Calgary Flames’ decision to keep 2013 first round pick Sean Monahan in the NHL, about the agreement between the NHL and the Canadian Hockey League that forces players to return to junior (rather than the AHL) if they do not stick with their NHL team. [The Hockey News]
  • Steve Moore’s lawsuit against Todd Bertuzzi, ten years after the latter’s attack on the former, will finally be heard in front of a jury in September of next year. [CBC Sports]
  • Hockey Canada is working to ensure that all of their products are manufactured by ethical suppliers. This is perhaps in response to the revelation that factory workers who were killed in the 2013 Bangladesh building collapse were making products for Loblaws. [Globe and Mail]

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Weekly Links: Bobby Orr’s New Book; Panthers Host LGBT Night; Research on Concussions in Hockey; Hockey Analytics; and more

Source: Sportsnet

Source: Sportsnet

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. Please check out some of the great writing that is happening in the hockey media and blogosphere!

  • Hockey legend Bobby Orr recently spoke with Peters Mansbridge on The National  to discuss his thoughts on minor hockey and the methods of developing players. Orr also released a book entitled “Orr – My Story” this past week. A link to the full interview can be found here. [CBC News]
  • The Florida Panthers are partnering with the You Can Play Project to host LGBT hockey night this weekend. [Miami Herald]
  • Jeff Klein provides an excellent summary of the research discussed at a recent health conference regarding concussions in hockey. [New York Times] Read more of this post

Weekly Links: Tribute to the Akali Lake Braves; Canadian hockey participation rates; Growth of hockey in the US; Role of fighting in preseason; and more

Source: Flames Nation

Source: Flames Nation

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. Please check out some of the great writing that is happening in the hockey media and blogosphere!

  • Alan Maki has a good piece on Canadian minor hockey participation rates, concussions, and the impact of bodychecking bans. [Globe and Mail]
  • Chris Peters charts the large growth in hockey participation in the United States since the early 2000s, including a state-by-state breakdown of participation numbers. Overall, participation has climbed by nearly 64,000 people since 2002-03. [United States of Hockey]
  • Joseph Vito Deluca looks at the positive impact that the KHL’s growth will have on the game of hockey. Some interesting insight into following professional soccer’s model and the possibility of a Champions League. [The Hockey Writers]
  • Ryan Lambert questions the fighting in NHL preseason games, and uses the novel  Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy as a reference. [Yahoo! Puck Daddy]

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Weekly Links: Stephen Harper’s New Book, Concussions in Junior Hockey, NHL Executive Salary, and More

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Source: CBC)

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Source: CBC)

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. Please check out some of the great writing that is happening in the hockey media and blogosphere!

  • Congratulations to Team Canada for winning gold at the Four Nations sledge hockey tournament in Russia! All the best to the players as they get set for the Paralympic Winter Games in 2014! [CBC News]
  • The plans for a new arena for a new hockey arena continues to be an issue as the city of Detroit struggles. [Financial Post]
  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s book A Great Game: The Forgotten Leafs and the Rise of Professional Hockey is set to be released in early November. The book will delve into the history of the game with proceeds from the book going to the Canadian Forces Personnel and Family Support Services (CFPFSS). [Newswire]
  • It was announced this week that Russian legend Pavel Bure will be heading up a new KHL franchise in Sochi after the Winter Games are completed. It will be interesting to see what other long-term projects stem from the Olympics. [Ria Novosti]
  • While concussions have received a great deal of awareness and scutiny at the NHL level, Chris Peters argues that much more needs to be done at the junior and college levels in order to protect players form long term injuries to the head. [United States of Hockey]

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The KHL as Cartel Buster? Ilya Kovalchuk, the Kontinental Hockey League, and the Challenge to the NHL’s Control of Labour Conditions

The (North American) hockey world was shocked yesterday to learn that superstar winger Ilya Kovalchuk was retiring from the National Hockey League and, according to subsequent reports, planning to sign with SKA St. Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League. Today, it was announced that he has signed with the KHL club for four years. Kovalchuk’s decision is of interest to hockey fans for numerous reasons, including obviously fans of his now-former NHL team the New Jersey Devils, SKA St. Petersburg, and the KHL. However, it is also a fascinating development in the labour rights of hockey players – particularly concerning the binding nature of contracts and the right to labour mobility.

This post examines Kovalchuk’s NHL career and retirement, explores notable criticisms of the player’s actions by Don Cherry and Jeremy Roenick, and finally discusses whether the competition between the KHL and NHL poses a threat to the NHL’s ability to control the labour conditions of its athletes.

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Roundtable: The NHL and NHLPA Partner with the You Can Play Project

Roundtables are an occasional feature on Hockey in Society. Roundtables will present brief commentaries from Hockey in Society contributors on pressing or timely issues within hockey and its culture, with the aim of presenting a diverse range of critical viewpoints on the topic under discussion.

On April 11, the NHL and NHL Player’s Association announced a joint partnership with the You Can Play Project, an anti-homophobia initiative started by NHL scout Patrick Burke. The partnership will aim to create a welcoming environment for hockey players of all sexual orientations and to provide educational resources to incoming and current players. From You Can Play’s press release:

The official partnership with You Can Play includes a significant commitment to education and training for teams, players, media and fans plus the production and broadcast of more public service announcements.  The NHL becomes the first major American professional sports league to officially partner with an LGBT advocacy group on this scale. . . .

You Can Play will conduct seminars at the NHL’s rookie symposium to educate young prospects on LGBT issues. In addition, You Can Play will make its resources and personnel available to each individual team as desired. The NHLPA and NHL also will work with You Can Play to integrate the project into their Behavioral Health Program, enabling players to confidentially seek counseling or simply ask questions regarding matters of sexual orientation.

Regular readers of Hockey in Society will know that issues of homophobia in or related to hockey cultures have been a prominent feature on this blog – from the notable recent changes to hockey’s traditionally homophobic culture, to Brian Burke’s strident and public anti-homophobia stance, to the Canadian Conservative government’s downplaying of Canada’s support of gay marriage in favour of publicizing famous hockey victories, to, of course, the emergence of the You Can Play project in 2012. Given this history of critical treatment of LGBTQ issues in hockey and the significance of the newly formed partnership, Hockey in Society is proud to present its second Roundtable on this topic. After the jump, you will find commentary from three Hockey in Society contributors: Courtney Szto, Matt Ventresca, and Alvin Ma. Hopefully these differing views shed valuable light on the issue of homophobia in hockey cultures and spark important debate and discussion on this subject and related issues.

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The Lockout Is Over: So now what?

Bettman and Fehr

Nice sweater, Gary. (Photo courtesy of CTV News)

When the big news broke over the weekend, media and sport organizations across North America began mobilizing their teams of journalists, marketers and social media gurus with a “War is Over”-type fervour. The company line, uttered in places as far reaching as Toronto, Detroit and Carolina, was that Sunday was a “great day for hockey.” Canadian cable sports networks provided seemingly around-the-clock coverage of the announcement, balancing negotiation figures and summaries with in-depth season previews and trade speculation (Have you heard? Apparently some Luongo guy might change teams). Behind the scenes, sponsors that attempted to capitalize on lockout-related angst throughout the coverage of the World Junior tournament are undoubtedly working tirelessly to prep a “hockey’s back!” campaign that will fall somewhere short of hypocritical.

But what struck me about much of the coverage of the apparent end to the lockout (don’t forget about that pesky ratification vote!) was the inclusion of countless sound bites from disgruntled fans vowing to boycott the NHL, at least temporarily. The burning question on the lips of seemingly every news anchor, reporter and analyst was: How can the NHL win back its fans? And in the days following the “Game On” announcement, we have been offered plenty of answers.

The Associated Press suggested reduced ticket prices, more special promotions, giveaways and autograph signings among other “fan friendly incentives.” Luke Fox over at Sportsnet wonders if a free ticket to your favourite team’s first home game or discounted TV packages might warm up the league’s frigid fan base. Even the jokesters from Sports Pickle recommended a few (ironic) strategies that the NHL might want to consider.

But I want to turn this question upside down. Instead of only asking what the NHL has to do to rekindle good will amongst its supporters, should the accompanying question be: what can fans do to resist?
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Fan Activity During the NHL Lockout

Nail Yakupov playing for HC Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk of the KHL.Source: KHL.ru

Oilers 2012 first round pick, Nail Yakupov lighting it up for HC Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk of the KHL .
Source: KHL.ru

To say the past four months of negotiations between the NHL and the NHLPA has been an embarrassment is a major understatement. It’s been difficult for hockey fans to watch the game being dragged through the mud as both the NHL owners and the NHLPA stand at a stalemate, waiting for the right deal to suddenly appear. How any professional sports league can allow this to happen is mind-boggling, as one would think that the fans and the long-term success of the league would motivate both parties to find a solution. The labor negotiations have revealed the flawed business model of the  NHL, yet fans remain optimistic and hopeful the season can be salvaged.

The thing that doesn’t make sense to me, is how oblivious the NHL and the NHLPA are to their fans activity during the lockout. Throughout the labor negotiations, fans have been diminished to nothing more than a revenue source, whose financial contributions to the game are being fought over by the owners and the players.

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