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Thug Life



But this is understandable — Daniel Patrick Moynihan warned us about this kind of thing. And since the underlying event that must have motivated this discourse just earned one of the role models for the Taliban a 15 day suspension from the relevant pro sports organization, it’s worth getting into some background.

My favorite hockey team has a newish president. He has a pretty good track record all things considered.* But he has his blind spots — in this fascinating (and, given my parochial interests, terrifying) article about the selection of the U.S. Olympic team, he can be seen arguing that in retrospect he would have rather drafted the big, truculent, and abjectly useless Jack Johnson over the excellent sniper Bobby Ryan. So at a time when well-run organizations are moving away from this kind of thing he believes that the 28th-best team in the NHL could use at least two regular players who specialize in punching other players in the face. This Saturday, his coach listed both in his starting lineup against their primary rivals (to the extent that the relationship between the teams can still be described as a “rivalry” given the lopsided nature of the recent competition,) ultimately earning him a healthy fine. The Canucks also dress a face-punching specialist and a couple more marginal tough guys — curious, since unlike the Flames they’re playing for something other than draft position this year — and as is his wont their head coach decided to take the bait and start them rather than starting a line of all hockey players, and for extra seasoning he started a defenseman at centre to take the opening draw. Predictably, this lead to a line brawl two seconds into the game and eight ejections. For some reason, despite sharing substantial responsibility for this silliness, Tortorella raved like a lunatic for several minutes afterwards, and then tried to get into the Flames dressing room during the intermission.

So, I dunno, maybe J-Pod and his fellow cultural scolds are onto something about the moral decline of (North) America. Now, if all this hand-wringing and “thug” talk were directed at someone who gave a less-than-gracious interview immediately after making the key play in a critical playoff game and then apologized, that would be an embarrassment.

*In comments, Sarah J reminds me of this.

Fig. 1: Moral Decline in the African-American Community

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  • Linnaeus

    the excellent sniper Bobby Ryan.

    Don’t think I’ll ever forget this goal of his in the 2011 playoffs. Even better that it was against Nashville.

  • The prophet Nostradumbass

    Tortorella’s a fucking idiot, with poor impulse control.

    • Ann Outhouse

      Only half of that is actually true.

      • The prophet Nostradumbass

        I can’t imagine which part of that you think isn’t true.

  • drkrick

    WRT Tortorella, there seems to be some creeping both-sides-do-itism here. Once the Flames put that lineup out there, he could send a reasonable starting lineup out himself and watch them get their butts kicked before being ejected, or a send out a lineup that was capable of defending themselves from what was obviously coming and lose disposable parts to ejection.

    The business between periods was typical Tortsian insanity, of course, but the decision about who to send out to take the opening faceoff was kind of forced on him.

    • Actually, no.

      You put your best players out there and get a quick goal.

      • Or, you know, get them injured

        • This is why Edmonton always put at least one tough guy on the line with Gretzky.

          • Scott Lemieux

            This is why Edmonton always put at least one tough guy on the line with Gretzky.

            If by “always” you mean “rarely.”

            • If by rarely, you want to ignore Esa Tikkanen. As a Finn, I’d have to call you out.

              • Ian

                Esa Tikkanen racked up a lot of goals and assists. Admittedly it’s not that hard to get scoring opportunities when your linemates are Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky but he wasn’t an unskilled goon.

                • Scott Lemieux

                  Tikkanen was an excellent two-way forward; he wasn’t a goon.

            • instigator

              Semenko was a tough guy who took regular shifts with Gretzky for several seasons after Edmonton joined the NHL. McSorley was a regular on Gretzky’s line in LA for a few years in the early 90s.

      • Ann Outhouse

        You put your best players out there and get a quick goal.

        Y’all might want to look up VAN’s scoring stats before you conclude that this was a feasible strategy.

        One BIG difference between the Sharks and the Nookies is that the Sharks have three top-15 points-getters and the Nookies have zero in the top 25. The Sedins are not goal factories.

    • Scott Lemieux

      he could send a reasonable starting lineup out himself and watch them get their butts kicked before being ejected

      What? The Flames started the same line the next game and nothing happened because the Sharks didn’t throw its goons out there. They weren’t going to fight the Sedins or Kesler and Burrows — that’s just silly. (To be clear, I’m not saying that Hartley is blameless, but there would not have been fights had Tortorella started one of his top lines.)

      • The prophet Nostradumbass

        In fact, there wasn’t a single penalty in that Sharks game until at least half way through the second period.

      • Ann Outhouse

        Tortorella pulled this shit once before when he was with the Rangers. I don’t recall offhand who the opponent was, but it was the same setup — opp team starts their PIM all-stars, Torts retaliates with his, and face-punching ensues. That past incident and a couple others no doubt contributed to his getting the book thrown at him while Hartley only got socked for a fine.

        On the other hand, see also the comment in the Richard Sherman thread about sports being an entertainment spectacle. This certainly was, and certainly gave the HNiC gasbags plenty to gas about.

        • The prophet Nostradumbass

          The opponent was the Devils, I believe.

        • Scott Lemieux

          The story is linked in the OP.

          • Ann Outhouse

            Which link, Scott? There’s like fifty of them. Your post is a sausage factory.

            • Scott Lemieux
              • Ann Outhouse


                I note that irony abounds here. Sestito is now playing for Torts.

      • DJA

        Surely it’s not quite fair to extrapolate from a subsequent game — Hartley starting the same line again against the Sharks is a fairly obvious cover-your-ass move. (“You see? Starting the goon line is completely innocent and normal! Happens all the time! I don’t know how anyone could possibly construe it as a threat!”)

        • This would be a good way to reinforce Scott’s point about not starting the game off with a bang: He sends them out with instructions to check, but not incite. It would give him some cover — admittedly not much — with the league office

      • rw970

        There may have been fights anyway. This goes back to that Toronto-Buffalo preseason game where Rolston put out his goons against Kessel’s line and it started a line brawl. Tortorella doesn’t want to lose the Sedins because of a fake fight off the opening face-off.

        • DJA

          Yeah, I mean what possible reason could Torts have had to think that Hartley’s goons would have gone after whoever he put out there?

        • Scott Lemieux

          That was an extraordinarily unusual situation in a pre-season game. Can you give me a recent example from a game that counted?

        • Toronto had last change

          The actual sequence of events was:
          Buffalo puts out 4th line
          Toronto, the home team with last change, puts out 4th line
          Devane wants no part of Scott so he seeks out the smaller Tropp. They go at drop of the puck.
          Devane beats up Tropp and drives his head into the ice.
          Tropp is a bloody mess with a broken jaw and concussion.
          Scott exchanges words with the Toronto bench.
          The Buffalo 4th line remains on the ice.
          Carlye decides to send out Kessel line.
          Melee ensues

  • efgoldman

    I’m old enough to have seen the original six, and to remember when Bobby Orr was a 13-year-old legend-to-be from Parry Sound, who’s rights the Bruins owned.
    I went to a college hockey power (Boston U) and led the first dedicated hockey band, as well as producing the radio broadcasts for a year. So I’ve been a fan for a long time.
    I’m ambivalent about fighting, but not about a-holes like Tortorella. I’m glad the bench-clearing brawls are gone, and I never missed the fighting in the college game.
    I’m damned if I know what to do or what direction the NHL should go. Hell, all the suspensions haven’t solved the headhunting problem yet.

    • You founded The Zambonis??????

      • efgoldman

        You founded The Zambonis??????

        No, but i remember watching the Saturday afternoon network game from Montreal or Toronto (don’t remember which) where they cleaned the ice between periods by guys with scrapers and water barrels.
        No, I’m not making this up.

        • And here I thought I was old because I remember the old MSG…

        • Stag Party Palin

          No you’re not. I was in Toronto at the same (ice) age. Guys with snow shovels and wheeled water tanks did all the work. Now for the very few Kings games I have attended here in LA we have ice-skating Dallas Cheerleaders to extend commercial breaks by putting their cute little tushes behind the snow shovels (and Zambonis for the real work between periods).

          • TribalistMeathead

            The Thrashers did, too.

            And, oddly enough, the Blackhawks.

            • They used guys with shovels and a tank full of water at the old MSG till they closed it. Some nonsense about not being able to get a Zamboni into the building.

  • jeer9

    My father who never played hockey (and who only became a fan when his two sons took up the sport) absolutely loved the brawling aspect of the game, leaping to his feet at the first sign of fisticuffs, pacing the floor waiting for the next payback, popping nitroglycerine tablets for his heart troubles while unable to turn off the source of his stress. (He also loved professional wrestling.) He would have totally supported Tortorella’s behavior as having his players’ backs (Don Cherry was uncritizable in our home) while ripping Sherman (“This Cassius Clay guy, or Ali, whatever ya want to call him, is just a punk – and an unpatriotic one at that.”) Expecting this type of mindset to recognize the contradictions is pretty futile – not that I didn’t expend some effort in that direction as well.

    • Hey, I love pro wrestling too, but give me Gretzky and Lemieux (sorry Scott, the other one) over Brashear and McSorley any day.

      • efgoldman

        Does Scott even skate?

        • Scott Lemieux

          I started playing hockey when I was 5, thanks.

          • hickes01

            So you were a late bloomer. :-)

  • Peterr

    We’re talking about Calgary and Vancouver, right?

    The “cultural scolds” will make the obvious connection and blame socialism and national health care for this one.

    • Ann Outhouse

      Or they could just attribute it to the hockey culture of western Canada. And Boston Italian mob culture.

  • Nick

    Canadians all look alike, pale, helmeted people with polite smiles

    • Rob

      They should also learn to speak English correctly. About has only one “o” not two.

      • Ann Outhouse

        They can’t spell fer shit, either.

      • rea

        Oh, they speak Minnesotan?

        • hickes01

          Canandian – ye

          Minnestoa – Yaah

    • He’s set white people back 500 years!

    • Scott Lemieux

      Point of order: Tortorella is from Boston.

  • Nick

    Actually, hockey is Canada’s version of Carnivale, they feel no shame for what happens on the rink

  • mch

    No, this old mom will wonder, what about their brains? (My brother played more hockey than football and, to this day in Maine, is hockey oriented, entirely.) Not sure about my son’s — and daughter’s — headers. Here’s hoping. And yes, I love both games. (Well, all three, now that I’ve thrown in soccer.) Just sayin’, some considering to be done. (I’m all with Sherman, btw.)

  • Jeffrey Beaumont

    Good job here, this is pretty fucking brilliant.

  • Take your pick:
    That’s the nature of the game.
    Boys will be boys.
    Stop trying to feminize hockey!

  • Sarah J

    Did you really say Brian Burke has a pretty good record?

    • Scott Lemieux

      In terms of winning only. You know my feelings about Bertuzzi!

      • keta

        A friend of mine covered the Canucks during Beruzzi’s heyday. I once asked him what the taciturn Bertuzzi was really like and he replied, “you know the saying “still waters run deep”? Well, sometimes still waters are just fucking stupid, and choose not to broadcast the fact.”

        It is what it is, in Bert’s favourite reply to any question ever asked him.

  • James Hare

    If the postgame interview were a single action by Sherman in a vacuum it could probably be properly referred to as “a less-than-gracious interview.” That’s not the case. Before engaging in his ridiculous interview he taunted Crabtree and make the choke sign at Kaepernick. He was penalized for his unsportsmanlike conduct but penalties have not changed his behavior in the past. His poor sportsmanship has no place in professional sports and he should be widely castigated for it. He needs to grow up and start playing the game with some respect for his opponents. Plenty of players are able to be dominant cornerbacks in the NFL without being assholes. There is absolutely no excuse for Sherman’s behavior.

    • Brandon

      At least according to Sherman, there’s a personal grudge between him and Crabtree that goes back over a year and Crabtree is at least as much at fault as him.

      And Kaepernick did choke, so…

      • James Hare

        Again — if this was the first incident with Sherman I would look at it differently. Last year in the NFC Wildcard game he started taunting Trent Williams after the Seahawks won. Trent said to him “if you don’t shut up, I’m going to punch you in the face.” Sherman doesn’t have the sense to shut up when a man who outweighs him by over 100 lbs says he’ll punch him in the face so he got punched in the face.

        Dude is paid millions of dollars to play a game. It is not too much to ask him to show some respect for his opponents and demonstrate good sportsmanship. Frankly that should be the bare minimum requirement for playing in the league.

        • Siege

          I’ll accept arguments that the NFL is home to good sportsmanship when players stop flexing/posing over the limp bodies of their opponents after every goddamn tackle and coaches stop throwing tantrums on the sideline over every goddamn flag.

          We’ve started to accommodate a lot of *in-game* behavior that is incredibly disrespectful to your opponents, so I’m really not sure I can be fussed about one guy celebrating his very good game in an interview afterwards.

          • There is actually power in the NFL rules for referees to penalize most of the preening, posing, pissing and moaning. They can flag the first two as “taunting” and the latter two under the catch-all of “unsportsmanlike conduct”. However, in common with other professional sports leagues, the NFL does not really want to crack down on that sort of behavior, because, to use the old UK cliche, it putts butts on seats.

            • efgoldman

              …the NFL does not really want to crack down on that sort of behavior, because, to use the old UK cliche, it putts butts on seats.

              Plenty of butts in college football seats, and all of that behavior is penalized.

              • Lige

                Usually terrible arbitrary penalties – guys are risking concussions and people care about good manners?

        • Brandon

          He took that punch pretty well though.

          • Somehow I doubt that Williams really connected, or Sherman would have been flat on his back with the lights out. However, it does show that Sherman is way too excitable for his own good. He also has to understand that being controversial like this is not going to persuade any major corporation to give him endorsements. Large corporations don’t like this sort of behavior or controversy. Sherman could do well to look at how Marshawn Lynch goes about his business (although he might want to not take the vow of silence).

    • Spokane Moderate

      The point, though you probably already know this, is that these eight hockey players engaged in a very public brawl. They literally assaulted each other, but it’s Sherman, whose physical assaults were limited to smacking Crabtree’s ass, is the one called a thug.

      • agorabum


    • pete

      Anyone think Sherman’s post-game rants were premeditated? Al Saracevic does.

      • ADHDJ

        Seems pretty obvious. He’s playing on a rookie contract and is trying to get his while he can. Good for him. I’m sure the communications and math departments at Stanford are proud of him.

        As a black athlete, what other personas are open to him? Lovable goofball? Super Jesus-y? Being the heel seems like the best option for a guy like him. Especially when it gives one the chance to tell Skip Bayless he sucks at life to his face.

    • Steve S.

      May I repeat something I said yesterday? Living in the Seattle market I see Sherman on TV all the time, and he almost always comes across as smart, funny, and pleasant. His interviews are frankly far more interesting than the anodyne fluff that Russell Wilson pumps out. I’ll even concede Sherman was a dick after the NFCCG but it’s only a football game for god’s sake. Speaking of football, did you see what happened to NaVorro Bowman? And we’re worried about Richard Sherman’s mouth?

  • The Canucks also dress a face-punching specialist

    Wait. You can blame Tortorella?

    This is not unlike the one shining argument to be made in favor of the Second Amendment: if someone means to do you harm, you have every right to defend yourself. I mean, hell, even the 1983 Rangers had Fotiu and Huber around to protect the Smurfs!

  • If the NHL really wanted to stop fisticuffs on the ice they could do so. 5 or 10 game suspensions as an automatic punishment would soon change players’ behavior. Fines are a mere slap on the wrist. However, most professional sports in the USA do not want to eliminate this kind of behavior. They think it spices up “the show”.

    • ChrisTS

      The ads clearly feature brawls and near-brawls, complete with close ups of snarling faces.

      • Yep, which is why, although I am an ice skater, and I admire the basic skills and demands of ice hockey, I do not watch it on TV. I’ll watch it when they stop fighting and stop excessive off-the-puck contact. That day may not come in my lifetime, but so be it.

    • keta

      Fighting has a place in hockey. Bobby Orr, in his recent autobiography (unintentionally hilarious in its self-effacement)makes the case for this in all its brutal honesty. As for the fans, anyone that watches their reactions when a fight does happen during a game knows full well it does indeed spice up the show.

  • Sam240

    A scout from the Flames came down from Saskatoon
    Said, “There’s always room on our team for a goon
    Son, we’ve always got room for a goon”
    –“Hit Somebody,” by Warren Zevon

    Given the title of this blog, I’m surprised nobody has mentioned this yet.

    • agorabum

      Hit somebody! it rang in his ears
      Blood on the ice ran down through the years
      The king of the goons with a box for a throne
      A thousand stitches and broken bones
      He never lost a fight on his icy patrol
      But deep inside, Buddy only dreamed of a goal
      He just wanted one damn goal

    • Scott Lemieux

      One of life’s great paradoxes is that the song on that album co-written by Mitch Alblom is a classic and the one written with Carl Hiassen blows.

  • keta

    This BCer’s perspective: Brian Burke is a fucking blowhard with an ego entirely outsized compared to his intelligence. This has been evident for a long time, but perhaps my favourite instance was when Ron Maclean of Hockey Night in Canada was interviewing Burke on a double-ender, fawning over Burke and his great big brain, basically sticking his tongue up Burke’s asshole in an effort to show just how very impressed he was with Burke’s soaring intellect. Late in the intvu Maclean mentioned Burke’s love of studying British naval warfare in the age of sail, and Burke donned his professorial, deep-thinking face as he pontificated, “…well, Ron, in his penultimate battle at Trafalgar, Admiral Nelson…” Fell off the fucking couch laughing, I did.

    And Torts. Torts, Torts, Torts. When it was announced the Canucks had hired Tortorella as their new head coach I jumped for joy. I don’t give a fig about my local team, but I do enjoy buffoonery in any form so the dumbest general manager in hockey hiring the most hot-headed meathead in pro coaching ranks portended much glee. Imagine my intense displeasure as the Tortorella honeymoon lasted past the half-way point of this NHL season. I was bereft! Until the Canucks hit the skids here lately (having to play quality opponents revealed what a weak squad they ice,) Torts was seen as level-headed, sober-minded and A Real Great Leader. Thank Bog losing 8 of 9, for Torts, means losing your fucking mind. First, he responds to Hartley’s (absolutely the dumbest coach in hockey, perhaps ever!) dick swinging by pulling out his own bug-fucking needle dick and hammering it on the top of the boards, screaming very unkind words in the direction of Hartley, who doesn’t even deign to look at Torts, let alone offer a quip like “it looks like a penis, only smaller.” So our man Torts now has 19:58 of the first period to cool his shit, tuck in his shirt, regain his emotions and basically get his underperforming charges to concentrate on, you know, maybe winning a fucking hockey game for a change, eh? Apparently Torts did not use this time wisely, as his actions at the end of the first period indicate. Those of us waiting, and waiting, and patiently waiting for this human dynamite stick to blow were finally rewarded – in spades! – and it was glorious. So thanks, Mike Gillis, for being the type of GM that hires the type of coach that rewards hockey fans everywhere with first-rate farcical entertainment.

    I think Burke should hire Torts to coach in Calgary. Sure, the Burke/Wilson tandem in Toronto was fun to follow, but I personally believe Burke/Tortorella in Cowtown could give even fat, funny, fucked-up fuck-face Rob Ford a run for his money in the Great Canadian Buffoonery Bonspiel.

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