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Talkin’ hockey

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Young winger James Neal (18) has kept the Crosby-less, Malkin-less Penguins afloat with his six goals.(Dean Beattie/ZUMAPRESS..com)

By Stu Hackel

My Tuesday nights don’t vary much. Our group assembles at an old prep school barn of a rink and airs it out as best we can. We’ve got an exceptional early evening time slot, which most recreational skaters know is a real luxury. So for one night, watching NHL action gets relegated to Priority Two.  Not that we don’t talk about the NHL while we’re dressing for the skate.

Detroit Gary and Jay converse reverently about the Red Wings. The Rangers fans, like Crack, Lacey, Dr. Dave, Cohen, Toddzilla, Eric and Matty long ago stopped trying to convince everyone — and each other — that their team could be real a Stanley Cup contender. Berube gets ragged on because every time he buys a Flyers jersey, the player whose name is on the back gets traded (Eric jokingly brought in an old Jaromir Jagr Rangers jersey for Berube to wear this week, knowing full well that Berube would never put on a Rangers sweater). And the Bruins fans like Frankie, McFall, Lee, Brian and James (not to mention Phil, whenever he’s back from Abu Dhabi) still can’t quite believe that their team actually won the Stanley Cup last season.

After the skate comes the inevitable question. “You goin’ down?” by which the guy who is asking wants to know from the guy being asked if he’s driving to the local grille for a late dinner and to watch what he can of the NHL – often the third period of an Eastern time zone game featuring one of the New York teams, or whatever game Versus is showing. It’s either that or beer in the parking lot.

I always end up at the Grille and I’m always the last guy there, so the later the TV game starts, the more I can catch. Some nights, I have to be content with only seeing highlights before heading home and watching a game I’ve recorded or something on Game Center Live. But last night, with an early Versus game and a Rangers game in Vancouver, in addition to lots of highlights, there was plenty to chew over with my turkey sandwich, sweet potato fries and club soda.
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  • Published On Oct 19, 2011
  • Does the NHL have a painkiller problem?

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    Thanks to his fearless style of play, Ian Laperriere has been no stranger to pain, or painkillers, but he says some players dangerously use the drugs to get high and unwind. (Jim O’Connor-US PRESSWIRE)

    By Stu Hackel

    Ian Laperrière is a highly respected NHLer, a warrior and leader, a man who didn’t fear the consequences of throwing his body at speeding pucks and who paid the price for it with lost teeth, lost vision and an entire lost season while he suffered from post-concussion syndrome. He certainly earned the 2011 Bill Masterton Trophy for his perseverance and dedication to hockey. And when he spoke last week on a Montreal radio station, reflecting on the NHL’s dark summer, Laperriere raised a concern that should resonate throughout the hockey world, if only because of the messenger’s credibility.

    “Today the biggest problem, which isn’t talked about…is pills. It’s painkillers,” Laperrière said.
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  • Published On Sep 06, 2011
  • Belak’s death casts cloud over fighting in NHL

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    It’s no secret enforcers like Wade Belak and Derek Boogaard have one of sports’ most physically and emotionally demanding jobs. (Lynne Sladky/AP)

    By Stu Hackel

    With today’s report in The Toronto Star that Wade Belak suffered from depression, we have a possible explanation for an event that has shocked many who knew him and alarmed many more. Belak, found dead in a Toronto hotel on Wednesday, is the third NHL enforcer to die since May. His death has been reported by some as a suicide, the same talk that surrounded the death of Rick Rypien in mid-August. Derek Boogaard’s case was ruled accidental, due to a lethal mixture of alcohol and pain killers.

    Belak had just retired, but some connection between his occupation as a hockey tough guy and the closely spaced deaths of the other two enforcers has been sought.

    “I think sometimes we get caught up in generalizations,” Allain Roy, Rypien’s agent, told John Branch of The New York Times today. “We have three sad instances where we have three young men who struggled with their lives off the ice. Whether their role played a piece in it, I think it’s almost impossible for anybody to draw that straight line through it — to say, all right, they were enforcers, and this is why this happened to them.”

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  • Published On Sep 02, 2011
  • Wade Belak’s death poses key questions

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    Enforcer Wade Belak (right) spent all or part of 15 seasons in the NHL often fighting on the ice and battling for his job, but he seemed to be a happy guy and untroubled by his violent role. (John Cores/Icon SMI)

    By Stu Hackel

    One hockey enforcer’s death is a sad event. Two is a sad coincidence. But does the third establish a definite connection between them all?

    Wade Belak, who at 35 had just retired after a hockey career that began so long ago that he was a Nordiques draft pick, died yesterday in a Toronto hotel. It has been only two weeks since Rick Rypien died and three-and-a-half months since Derek Boogaard passed away suddenly. It’s macabre. A friend wrote on his Facebook page, “Wade Belak? This is becoming like an Agatha Christie novel.” It’s got people looking for patterns and searching for answers.

    But first, you have to ask the right questions.
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  • Published On Sep 01, 2011
  • Rypien’s death is a stark reminder

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    Rick Rypien, the former Canucks center who recently signed with the Winnipeg Jets, was found dead at age 27 on Monday. (Frank Jansky/ZUMAPress)

    By Stu Hackel

    It would be wrong to not begin today’s post with thoughts about Rick Rypien, the 27-year-old former Canuck who was found dead on Monday. Rypien was set to play for the Jets this season, and was called “the ultimate teammate” by Mike Keane, the former NHLer who roomed with Rypien on the AHL Manitoba Moose. More from Keane and others can be read in a recommended column by Gary Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press.

    Rypien is the second NHL player to pass away this offseason. Both he and Derek Boogaard were fighters and some have commented that those who play that role in the NHL can carry some heavy emotional baggage. Despite the admiration he earned from teammates, Rypien certainly had issues, which manifested themselves in numerous ways, including shoving a fan last season, which earned a suspension, plus two extended leaves during his time with the Canucks to deal with his problems — problems that were even more serious than many suspected.

    “The tortured heavyweight had become a hockey cliché,” writes Mark Spector on Sportsnet.ca in his very interesting column today in which he rattles off the names of some who it fits — Dave Semenko, Bob Probert, John Kordic, Louie DeBrusk and Boogaard.

    “To quiet the demons, they chose drink, or drugs, or constant angst. And it allowed them to deal with the behemoth who awaited in the next town, on the next roster, or the children who looked up at them innocently and asked, ‘Are you going to beat up so and so next game?’

    “You never see the fear when they stand there in front of 18,000 fans, bare-knuckle fighting under the glare of the TV cameras,” Spector continues. “But so many of them speak later of how scared they were at that moment; how they barely got out of the shower after the game when the thought of the tough guy from tomorrow night’s opponent darkened their head space.

    “The toughest part, a fighter once told us, is that guys like Rypien could never let that fear show. That there was no one to talk to about it. Their persona is such a big part of the role as the protector on their team, that there is nowhere for that player to unload his baggage.”

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  • Published On Aug 16, 2011


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