Tortorella’s Heritage Clunker

John Tortorella behind bench

Roberto LuongoBy Mark Leiren-Young

Vancouver Canucks Coach John Tortorella really does have a sense of history. On Sunday he successfully reminded everyone of the days when it was embarrassing to cheer for the Canucks.

And anyone who thought Torts couldn’t do anything tackier than try to fight another coach was proven wrong when he benched goalie Roberto Luongo — the most graceless move Canucks fans have seen since Trevor Linden was forced to pretend Mark Messier should be Captain.

The pitch for the “Heritage Classic” was that this was a chance to celebrate the team’s history, but the only history the Canucks celebrated by sitting Luongo was the day former GM Brian Burke aptly named the city “a goalie graveyard.”

No one can argue the Heritage Classic wasn’t historic for the Canucks. It was the end of the dream team and the start of “the rebuilding phase.” It seemed possible, even likely, that both Luongo and Ryan Kesler were playing their last home game in Canucks jerseys — and they weren’t even wearing Canucks jerseys. The team was dressed up as the Millionaires — the only Vancouver team that ever won a Stanley Cup.

I was at the game and some of the most memorable moments for me — and I suspect for most fans who were there — popped up when everyone at home was watching commercials. When they flashed Vancouver goalie Eddie Lack’s stats on the big screen, the fans at BC Place Luuuuuuuuuuud.

When Messier inexplicably appeared in an ad, the crowd booed en masse. Somewhere in the arena the always gracious Linden must have fought to suppress a smirk.

This was already shaping up as the oddest “heritage” match the NHL has staged and not just because it was billed as an “outdoor game” but played in an indoor arena. And the best reason the two teams had to shake hands after it was over was that most of the players had never met.

Seriously: the NHL couldn’t line the Canucks up against any of the three teams they’d played in the Stanley Cup finals or fix a date with any of their former playoff rivals? I think the only significant game that has ever taken place between the Senators and the Canucks was the one where a puck hit all-star defenseman Matthias Ohlund in the eye, blinding him. This game was almost as painful to watch for Canucks fans, and not just because their listless squad blew a 2-0 lead against the marginal Sens, and Daniel Sedin was knocked into the boards, out of the game, and maybe the season.

Fans were already reeling from rumours that Kesler — the team’s best player this season and one of the all time great Canucks — had demanded a trade. If the Canucks are even contemplating trading a player born to win a Conn Smythe trophy, it’s a clear admission that no one in management is entertaining fantasies of taking another run at the Cup until Kesler has a kid who’s old enough to draft.

To drive home that point, the greatest goalie in the team’s history — the guy who just brought home his second Olympic Gold Medal — sat on the bench for what may have been the only Canucks game he really wanted to play this year.

I don’t care if Tortorella believed Lack gave the team the best chance to win. I wouldn’t have cared if Lack had just posted six consecutive shutouts. Did Torts miss the memo about how Luongo was treated last year? Or the one about Lu holding almost every record in the Canucks history books? Or the one about hockey being all about the fans?

For the NHL brass, Tortorella trying to fight Calgary’s coach back in January was the low point of the season. For Canucks fans he found a lower bar.

We all know Tortorella was cheering for Sweden to beat Canada in the Gold Medal game — but did he have to drive home the point by sitting the goalie who had just won that Gold?

Despite all the jokes about how many free tickets the NHL handed out for the game, at least that meant the fans — not people with corporate seats or season ticket holders — but actual fans, who’d never had the chance to see the Canucks play live, were able to see a live game. There were 55,000 of them — the most people to ever see an indoor hockey game in North America.

What they didn’t get to do was cheer for the guy who brought the team within one win of the Cup, the guy who won Gold for Canada in their home town, the guy who posted a shutout in Sochi. Tacky tacky tacky.

Sorry Torts this wasn’t just another game, this wasn’t just another two points. John Tortorella behind benchAnd because the theme of the night was adding insult to injury, there was no acknowledgement during all of the pre-game Olympic hoopla of Luongo coming home with Gold. Lu wasn’t even featured in the montage featuring Canada’s Olympic heroes. Unless I blinked and missed it, neither was his fellow Olympian Dan Hamhuis or the men’s Gold Medal-winning Olympic hockey team. Tacky tacky tacky.

Luongo was a mensch last season when Cory Schneider stole his starting spot. He was gracious enough to make jokes about it. But Schneider’s play is the stuff of legend — in New Jersey, he’s just dethroned all-time goalie great Martin Brodeur. And while Lack has had a great season, he hasn’t significantly outshone Luongo.

Putting Lack in net for the privilege of getting Luuuud was cruel to both goalies. At this point I’m not sure anyone would blame Luongo if he pulled a Patrick Roy and announced he’s played his last game as a Canuck.

And the introduction of the ’94 Canucks was so graceless that it must have been organized by Torts too. After a beautiful build-up for hall of fame broadcaster and former voice of the Canucks Jim Robson, the ’94 team was herded into the arena en masse. No names were named. No bows were taken. There was no chance for an extra burst of applause at the mention of Linden or Kirk McLean or any of the other stars who electrified the city 20 years ago. I’m not sure who all the stars were — or how far they’d flown for the chance to be trotted out like the kids who play at intermission — because no one said their names or even identified them onscreen.

The legends of ‘94 were followed by members of the women’s Olympic team — who also weren’t named. Tacky tacky tacky tacky tacky. But not as tacky as treating the beloved ’94 team as an opening act.

I’ve been fortunate enough to attend several Canucks games in past years where they’ve done a brilliant job of celebrating the team’s history, so I’ve got to assume the NHL was so focused on keeping TV viewers happy yesterday that to stay “Classic” it skipped the class.

So, to recap: An event intended to celebrate the heritage of the Canucks managed to insult the ’94 team, diss the star of the 2011 team, and leave a talented rookie stuck between the pipes as the crowd chanted “We Want Lu.”

I hope Luongo has played his last game as a Canuck — for his sake.

Can anyone name an NHL goalie who has been treated with less respect by his team? Can anyone imagine Luongo wanting to come back one day for a game like this to be honoured by the Canucks? I’m half expecting to wake up tomorrow to read that Lack is demanding a trade too or that the Sedins have decided to call it a career and move back to Sweden.

The hashtag trending on Twitter post game was #FreeLuongo. Torts has turned Vancouver from a goalie graveyard to a goalie Guantanamo.

Pavel Bure: Love at first shot

Autographed Pavel Bure playing card 1992

Autographed Pavel Bure playing card 1992By Mark Leiren-Young

When Pavel Bure sat down in the stands beside me, my brain vanished as if he’d snapped it away with his lightning fast wrist shot. This was training camp, 1992, just after he won the Calder Cup for Rookie of the Year, becoming the first Canuck ever to win an NHL Award. I’d been interviewing people for newspapers and magazines since I was 16. I’d talked to politicians, movie stars and celebs of all stripes, but when the Russian Rocket said hello in his thick accent I immediately transformed from adult professional writer into a star-struck teenaged girl who’d found herself face-to-face with the rock star on her locker door.

I’m not sure I actually said, “ohmygawdyou’repavelbure,” but that’s how I remember the first words out of my mouth. I had about 10 minutes of Bure’s time to ask questions. I spent most of it fishing for words, because all I really wanted to do was ask for his autograph.

I’d been a Canucks fan for as long as I could remember being on the planet. I remember being at the game against Winnipeg the previous season when Bure made his debut — although according to Pat Quinn, the Canucks boss who drafted the most exciting player in team history, almost as many people remember being at that game as remember being at Woodstock. But I still have a vivid memory of him blasting off across the ice and almost scoring. It was love at first shot. I remember him astonishing everyone in the arena, even though he didn’t score. I remember it being the most exciting game I’d ever seen.

Now here I was interviewing him. Every time I managed to untie my tongue long enough to ask a question, Bure blocked me with a one or two word answer. Or I’d ask a question and he’d act like he couldn’t understand what I was saying. At the end of 10 minutes I had nowhere near enough quotes to string together my story — although I did get his autograph for, um, a friend.  But at least I didn’t have to be too embarrassed. After all, he barely spoke English.

Then, as soon as our interview was over, Gino Odjick came over to grab Bure and the two started chatting. Fluently. Bure spotted me watching him talk to Odjick, flashed me a grin, and I realized I’d been played like one of his pucks.

This would be the Pavel who launched a thousand heartbroken calls to hockey hotlines. This was the Pavel who wasn’t just indifferent to our passions, but laughed at them. This was the Pavel who always had one skate out the door. This was the Pavel who was going to ask to be traded — over and over . . . . This was the Pavel Canucks fans hated. This was Pavel off the ice.

As I sat in the stands humiliated, wondering how I was going to file 1000 words, Bure stepped back on the ice and gift-wrapped my lead.

“The Canucks are going through their routine drills and Pavel Bure is on the ice talking to one of the coaches when, suddenly, he does a couple of quick behind-the-back twirls with his stick that look like something a Ninja would do to terrify his enemy before attacking. It’s unlikely the flashy move was to show off — most of the thousand or so fans who had crowded into Victoria’s Memorial Arena for a glimpse of the Canucks left an hour earlier when the scrimmage match ended. And there’s nothing on his face that acknowledges he’s done something out of the ordinary – if anything, the move appears to have been almost unconscious.”

And once again I loved Pavel with all my heart.

Pavel Bure 2012From the moment Bure became a Canuck, fans could get their money’s worth in a single shift. This guy wasn’t just faster than anyone else we’d ever seen, he invented moves. This was the Pavel Canucks fan loved. This was Pavel on the ice.

A few years after my meeting with Pavel I interviewed his dad. Papa Vladimir Bure was a swimmer who collected silver and bronze medals for Russia, repeatedly finishing just behind some American named Spitz. Yeah, he was the other guy in the pool during the reign of the greatest swimmer in a generation.

When Pavel was a kid — five or six — he wanted to play hockey. I can’t remember if it was dad or son who told me this — I’m pretty sure it was dad — but the story was that Pavel could barely skate when he joined a team where all the kids were older. He was picked last and Vlad the dad declared that no Bure could play any sport he wasn’t great at. Either Pavel was the top player on the team by the end of the season or his hockey playing days were over. At six.

I get how this might not make someone the world’s most lovable personality.

As the third most effective scorer in NHL history, the Russian Rocket landing in the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday is long overdue. But the debate du jour in Vancouver is whether the Canucks should hold a ceremony to retire the number of a player who kept demanding to leave. And even though the Canucks General Manager Mike Gillis was Bure’s agent, it’s not a lock the Rocket would show up to a ceremony in Vancouver. If he does, I can’t help thinking that almost any fan who saw him play, who remembers that rookie year, and who runs into him before or after the ceremony, will take one look, recall him speeding down the ice and sputter, “ohmygawdyou’repavelbure!”

The lost art of imagining retribution

Vancouver-riot-Bay-messages

vancouver-riot-Bay-messagesBy Jan Drabek

Probably the most bizarre attempt to deal with the Stanley Cup riots to date was the announcement of a group getting together to sing O Canada at the corner of Georgia and Hamilton. But other unusual takes abound, among them that of the bicycle-loving mayor of Vancouver who is apparently convinced that the riots were instigated by a small group of outside agitators. NBC’s Brian Williams promotes them to anarchists — a term usually honorably applied to 19th-century Russians battling the Romanov absolutism. Provincial premier Christy Clark doesn’t call them names but promises to prosecute vigorously whomever needs to be prosecuted in such a manner. Journalism teacher Nicholas Read blames it all on sports jingoism, while journalism practitioner Ian Mulgrew ties the event together with inadequate funding for our judicial system.

Yet more far-fetched advice on the riots comes via the perilously left-leaning newspaperman Stephen Hume, who counsels us to concentrate on the misery of the Downtown Eastside instead of the riots.

A prominent Vancouver churchman seems to think we’re all a bit guilty, a thoughtshared by the Vancouver Sun’s religious columnist Douglas Todd, who adds that some people identify with their team to the point of attempting suicide when it loses. It isn’t exactly clear what part original sin played in all this but one strongly suspects that the smiling girls charmingly posing in front burning police cars were not particularly upset over the loss of the Stanley Cup.

On the other hand one cannot but admire all those young people cleaning up the streets and writing encouraging messages on the plywood covered storefronts. Also the nice ladies and gentlemen who served them pancakes for breakfast, though it’s unlikely any of these were the same people who went berserk on that fateful night.

Perhaps most moving have been the front-page apologies of Camille Cacnio, Tim Kwong, and the would-be Olympic athlete Nathan Kotylak. But to be properly moved one has to be charitable and rule out any questions about them being as forthcoming had their faces not been plastered all over facebook. At least Cacnio changed the wording of her message so that it would sound more like an apology than merely an attempt at self-expiation.

But in the end despite all the identifying, labeling, threatening, and excusing of the culprits, we seem to be collectively tiptoeing around the much larger question, which is Why? And once we poke into that wasps’ nest, out come flying questions like:

What role was played by the all-pervasive electronic media? All that fateful mixing of real reality and the virtual one, of mammoth TVs and alcohol in a noisy gathering of a crowd of a hundred thousand. Did instant messaging, imaging, and the resultant instant fame have anything to do with it?

And what about the role of morality in this post-modernist world, and the absence of clearly stated retribution? Education, which used to be closely connected to consequences, nowadays largely isn’t. We are afraid to supposedly pollute the multifarious nature of Judeo-Christianity, offend the Muslims and Sikhs, misinterpret the Hindus, and misunderstand the Buddhists. Granted that decisions in this area are often difficult — each age seems to bring different challenges — but, worried lest we step on someone’s toes, much too often our solution consists of leaving this space blank.

In British Columbia we pride ourselves on preparing everyone who wants to be prepared (and some who don’t) for the technical challenges of the market, leaving out rather important subjects such as the meaning of doing the right thing, respecting the rights of others, and just plain being decent to someone else. Our emphasis is instead on young people making their own decisions, standing on their own two feet — on being individuals.

But let’s be honest with ourselves: how many times in our early youth were we tempted to engage in instant gratification, to do costly, silly things, only to be rescued at the very last moment by images of sheer terror should we be discovered, punished, and/or ridiculed? Before morality and rationality kicked in came the very present and helpful fear of retribution.

Such fears, of course, are considerably reduced by the use of alcohol, particularly in younger set, which has less experience with it. But maybe with all this virtual reality and the emphasis on instant gratification, the ability to imagine retribution is largely a lost art among our children. At least one would surmise that from some of the statements of the aforementioned trio.

Vancouver Police Chief Chu can announce criminal charges being laid against the perpetrators until he is hoarse. Unless we get rid of our complacency, and realize our youth are not always ready to handle their role in society, especially when part of large, anonymous gatherings, he will be forced to make such announcements again.

So, what are we going to do about it?

The Vancouver riot: thugs are not anarchists

Jim-ChuBy Frank Moher

Memo to Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu: idiots and anarchists are two different things. I know being a political scientist isn’t a prerequisite for becoming a cop, not even the top cop, but playing the “anarchist” card last week, as you did in defending your force’s handling of the Stanley Cup riot, was not only unseemly but dumb — at least as dumb as some of what went on the day before.

“Even with those assets in place,” you told a news conference on Thursday, apparently referring to the many Vancouverites who assisted in deterring the rioters, “our city was vulnerable to a number of young men and women, disguised as Canucks fans, who were actually criminals and anarchists.” And then you held up for dramatic effect . . . a mask! Unfortunately for your purposes it didn’t have “Official Anarchist Mask” written on it — instead, it had some kind of skull thing happening — but apparently we were meant to take this as proof that those nasty Bolsheviks who’d smashed some windows in the run-up to the Olympics were back.

The problem is, Police Chief Chu, that wearing a mask and smashing things doesn’t make someone an anarchist — it makes them a vandal. Anarchism is a coherent political philosophy that actually has more to do with organizing at the most local level possible than it does with breaking stuff, though there is, of course, a wing of it that believes property violence is, under certain circumstances and within clear limitations, necessary and acceptable. Whatever you may think of that, those few anarchists who are occasionally violent do what they do with a political purpose. But there was no political purpose behind the vandalism in Vancouver last Wednesday — just a lot of beer.

“These were people who came equipped with masks, goggles, and gasoline — even fire extinguishers that they would use as weapons,” you said. But that doesn’t make them anarchists either — it just makes them well-organized hoodlums. No, not the same thing. “We recognized some of those same criminals among them as those who took part in the vandalism during the Winter Olympics,” you added. But even if some of the same people were involved — and I guess we’ll have to take your word for that — they weren’t acting as anarchists this time. There is absolutely no political argument to be made for smashing the windows of The Bay because the Canucks lost the Stanley Cup. They were just being morons. Or criminals. Or moronic criminals, take your pick.

But not anarchists. As Garth Mullins, one of the organizers of last year’s Olympic protests, told The Tyee: “If anarchists are attending an event where there’s going to be a police crackdown, you bring legal observers, you bring medics, you use your cell phone for communication, not for taking photos of yourself and putting them on Facebook.”

Now, I actually thought your department reacted with smarts and restraint to the riot, Chief Chu. Maybe that had something to do with not having enough cops available for the size of the crowd that showed up — maybe you wouldn’t have acted with restraint, given your druthers — but if the result was to keep the head bashing to a minimum, that’s just as well. I realize I might not feel that way if I was one of the business owners whose premises got ransacked, but as you said yourself, “With apologies to business owners who became the victims of these criminals, our plan and our priority must always be the safety of the public over the safety of builings and property.”

The funny thing is, even the most radical anarchists would draw the same distinction, between violence to property and violence to people. Maybe you have more in common with them than you know. In any event, please choose your words more carefully in future. It would be nice to think the Vancouver Police Chief understands the difference between ideology and plain old hooliganism.

Where is Brock Anton?

brock-anton_and_friendBy Frank Moher

Having owned the Brock Anton story sufficiently on Thursday to crash our server for awhile — we’ve now moved to a nice big new one — it seems necessary to provide a follow-up, although much of the web has moved on to other riot tales, like the kissing couple. And even though, frankly, writing about this stuff leaves me feeling like I’ve showered in water from a septic field.

Despite various rumours on the Internetz, there’s no evidence that Anton has been arrested or, like some of the perps, turned himself in. The Vancouver Police asked the RCMP in Duncan, BC, where the B-Rock lives (or at least did once), to look into the matter, but for some reason the Mounties aren’t interested in getting their man.

Meantime, poor Brock’s father (or should that be Brock’s poor father) has washed his hands of him. “I don’t know if he was or wasn’t [at the riot],” Jim Anton told the local paper. “He’s 23 years old. He’s no responsibility of mine. It’s got nothing to do with me.” Which may provide some clue as to why Brock is as he is.

But if Anton père doesn’t know if his son was at the riot, the rest of the world does. A number more images have emerged since we constructed the side-by-side comparison contained in our first story. That’s Brock up there with an unidentified companion. Here he is giving somebody the sideways finger:

brock-anton2

For awhile there was video on youtube showing him delivering a kick to an overturned car, but it has since been made private. (I guess not everyone is into helping to identify the offenders.) We can reconstruct the big moment, though, using images from Vancouver Riot Pics: Post Your Photos. Here’s Brock givin’ er:

brock-anton3

And, boom:

brock-anton4

Note, by the way, the blood on his fingers, which suggests that some part of his original facebook story (“6 broken fingers, blood everywhere, punched a fucken pig in head with riot gear on knocked him to the ground”) might actually be true.

But here’s the thing: other than these pics, there’s not much out there to hang on Brock. Could be wrong, maybe the police have more on him, but so far it appears the worst he can be charged with is kicking a car that was already a write-off, as well as various fashion offenses. So I tend to agree with the posters on the unfortunately-named “Brock Anton Sucks Dick” facebook page who have advised our boy that it’s time to man-up and turn himself in. It’s either that or move to the Antarctic, where he’d still have to change his name and wear a mask to disguise his identity from outraged penguins.

And then, if he does do the right thing, it might be time for the rest of us to take a break from posting illiterate facebook messages about what a d-bag he is and what should happen to him in jail — which is, as has been pointed out, just another form of mob mentality — and heed the advice of this guy:

Honestly I hope the best for Brock, sure he was a fucking idiot. I hope he gets charged and learns and changes in a positive way from it. I have been involved in the justice system. At first I understood why people looked so negatively at me and what I did. But after awhile I changed people still look at me even though I am different now people still look at me as a “physco”. We all fuck up we should encourage him to do better so he does not make the same mistake, and really this guy and people who started it are not terrible people they just did something terrible, I hope they learn from this experience and grow the fuck up.

See, Brock? There’s still hope. Do it.

The face of Vancouver’s Stanley Cup riot

brock-anton_facebook-page

By Frank Moher

Overnight, a certain Brock Anton became the face of the Vancouver Stanley Cup riot on the internet. Downtown for the abortive festivities yesterday, Mr. Anton apparently took time out from his busy schedule to post this on his Facebook page:

brock-anton_facebook-page

It reads:

Maced in the face, hit with a Batton, tear gassed twice, 6 broken fingers, blood everywhere, punched a fucken pig in head with riot gear on knocked him to the ground, through the jersey on a burning cop car flipped some cars, burnt some smart cars, burnt some cop cars, I’m on the news….. One word…..
History :) :) :))

To which his friend Ashley replied: “brockkkk! take this down!!! its evidence!” To which one poster to a nonewbs.com forum responded, the incident having already gained traction on the web: “Ashley got that right.”

Now the internet being what it is, it’s possible Brock Anton doesn’t exist, or that this is some kind of elaborate prank (especially given that “Brock Anton” sounds like a character on a soap opera). However, an exhaustive backofthebook.ca investigation, which took all of an hour, suggests that Mr. Anton is the real thing, or a real thing.

brock-anton_60

That’s him on the left, in a cached version of his Facebook listing from a while back, and there he is again during yesterday’s trashfest. We’d recognize those sunglasses anywhere.

It’s also possible that the B-Rock didn’t actually do any of the things he said he did, as perhaps he’s explaining to the Vancouver Police Department right now. Regardless, the internet has decided he’s emblematic of all the morons who acted so disgracefully after the Canucks’ 4-0 loss to the Bruins.

That hockey has its own fair share of mouth-breathers doesn’t come as any surprise, of course. What does is the fact that the City of Vancouver thought it could somehow allow 100,000+ people to assemble in its downtown core for the final game of a fraught seven game series without running into serious problems. Win or lose, that was a bizarrely naive decision. We can assume that some number of those who looted The Bay, London Drugs, and other stores were common criminals who’d planned long ago to take advantage of the post-game chaos, whether Canucks fans were celebrating or, as it turned out, in mourning. And the City obliged by giving them the cover they needed. Just as strange is the fact that the windows of those stores hadn’t been covered with plywood hours before, given the certainty that a human hurricane was on its way. Heck, with that many people throttling Georgia Street, even if The Bay’s big display windows hadn’t had the boots put to them, somebody was likely to get pushed through one.

The mouth-breathers, then, aren’t the only ones responsible for what happened last night. Hopefully the inquiry that has now been announced will identify the moronic behaviour that went on at all levels — on the streets, and at City Hall. Brock Anton isn’t the only one with some explaining to do today.