The NHL lockout is a prime example of why we should enjoy and treasure hockey players for what they do and not what they say. There are very few examples of players having anything intelligent or inspiring to offer verbally. Their work's prime focus is their body (or somebody else's body) and not their minds. That becomes evident in times of duress, as we've heard during this work stoppage.
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings -- nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run --
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And -- which is more -- you'll be a Man my son!
I'm not sure if that last stanza to Kipling's "If" exactly illustrates what I was saying, but it's such a cool poem, and I'm sure you can make it work.
Being intelligent, well educated or having a high IQ does not mean one is well spoken or well versed about the situation at hand.
That combination of class, competence, emotional intelligence, grit, and skill -- or in its simplest and poetic definition, a man -- is more and more difficult to find these days. Who in the NHL has an air of regality? Who walks with a purposeful stride and makes us not want to scream, but to bow?
During these bleak times, we need a diversion, and this week we get one. It's Hockey Hall of Fame induction day, and for once we can talk about and celebrate the game as it played and covered at the highest level. On Monday, Ray Bourque, Paul Coffey and Larry Murphy will be inducted into the player category; Cliff Fletcher will be honored in the builder category; columnist Jim Kelley will receive the Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award and Carolina Hurricanes play-by-play man Chuck Kaiton will receive the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award.
These men have given their lives to hockey and have made their mark with love, commitment, skill and perseverance. They don't love the game any more than you do, but through timing, luck, health, and genetics were able to put themselves in a position to make hockey their livelihood. Once, hockey became their livelihood, the commitment, passion, drive, and skill brought them to this special place -- the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Which gets me thinking ... wouldn't it be nice if for the next Hall of Fame induction and all induction ceremonies in perpetuity the fan is recognized? That's right, next year, I want the fan inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. I want an exhibit. And prior to each induction ceremony a fan will be selected among thousands of entrants who explain why they should be the one to represent the fan in that year's induction ceremony. The fan's name will be added to a plaque that will be on display in the Hall. The fan and his or her family will be flown to Toronto and be a part of the festivities, including giving a three-minute speech on what the game means to them.
Hockey isn't the most progressive of sports, because most of its leaders and decision makers are old and conservative thinkers. But when I get e-mails like this ...
In all honesty I could care less if the NHL ever comes back. Now living in North Carolina, having cheered for the Hurricanes since '97 when we both moved here (the year the Rangers screwed Messier), I am prepared to swear off the NHL.
... I know the NHL and its players better begin to formulate ways to win back fans. A large group of fans will come back because the game is irresistible and a part of their being. But others will flee and not come back unless heavily recruited. An annual fan induction ceremony is one small and easy step that speaks volumes for the relationship between sport and patron.
Let's face it: the service industry sucks. Enthused and informed salespeople are few and far between. A really good waitress or waiter is really hard to find. People feel any job that isn't their dream job is beneath them. Pride has been replaced by entitlement. The participants in this labor war are acting the same way. There is no pride or passion for those who they serve. Players and owners are forgetting that they need to act figuratively, if not literally, as servants, because that's what they are. We pay for their service. We pay the owners for an environment, the players for an effort and both for entertainment. Every column or every SportsCenter I do, I am serving a fan. My job and thoughts should largely be with them because they are paying for the service. Anyone who doesn't have that in mind, whether anchor, player, owner, or Circuit City salesman is a self-absorbing bore who cheapens his profession.
So, I know how you feel -- cheap, used, and forgotten. But I haven't forgotten. I read your e-mails every week. Believe me, I FEEL your pain. In my eyes, you are Hall of Famer and so for next week's column here's what I want: I want e-mails with NO mention of Goodenow, Bettman, whining millionaires, or the CBA. I want you to e-mail me your Hall of Fame induction speech about why and what you love about the game. It can be as short as one sentence, but no more than five. It can be an anecdote or a simple nuance of the game that makes you come alive. Pretend you are representing the fan and are standing between Ray Bourque and Paul Coffey at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Speak from the heart. Next week will be an "e-mail only" column of your love of the game. I won't be able to use them all, but I'll use a hardy sample.
After all, we need a little love right now. But most importantly, I want you to realize you have not been forgotten and that, above all, YOU MATTER.
Skill and smarts make for the most watchable athlete. This year's Hockey Hall of Fame class is a skill and competence fest -- men who made their defense pair better and who made their teams better. All were contributing factors to Stanley Cup champions. They were productive and visually pleasing to watch -- smooth, effortless and, when looking how long they played, obviously in love with the game.
Raymond Bourque is the most complete player of the Hall of Fame's Class of 2004. It can also be argued that Bourque is on that short list of most complete players of all time. His skating, whether backward or forward, passing, shooting, strength, durability, leadership through example, and on and on and on. His level of play from his first game in the NHL to his last, a win in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final, Bourque's signature on the game was his unrelenting excellence.
No. 1: What do you want the message to be in your induction speech?
Bourque: Appreciation for the game and playing it for a love, never anticipating the money, fame and awards that come along with it. I had no preconceived notion of any of this happening when I first started playing, and that's what has made the ride so sweet. Nowadays, 12-year-olds are reciting contracts players are getting. It all began out of love for me, and getting inducted in the Hall of Fame will take me right back to that time. It's like, "Wow! Who am I? What have I become? And how did I get here?" I've been working on the speech the last couple of weeks.
Raymond was born Dec. 28, 1960, in Montreal, Quebec. Growing up, Bourque was a Montreal Canadiens fan and played his minor hockey with Sorel and Verdun Eperviers of the QMJHL.
No. 2: Have you ever been to the Hall of Fame before?
Bourque: Three times before. Once during one of the awards show weeks. Another time the Bruins set up a dinner in the room where all the trophies are kept. Another time we got an incredible, detailed tour that included looking at archives.
Bourque was picked eighth overall by the Boston Bruins in 1979 and joined the NHL that fall. He won the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie after scoring 65 points in 80 games.
No. 3: Where does this rank with winning the Stanley Cup?
Bourque: When you are voted into the Hall of Fame and you think about everyone who is there, it's overwhelming. The Cup is more emotionally captivating, because it's a shared team thing that you chase all year, or in my case over 20 years! You look at the Hall of Fame and it's the ultimate individual honor. They are 1 and 1A.
Bourque's first contract with the Bruins was a three-year deal for $80,000 the first year, $90,000 the second year and $130,000 the third year. He also received a $100,000 signing bonus, which he used to buy his Dad a Pontiac Cutlass Supreme.
No. 4: What was the biggest factor to your Hall of Fame induction?
Bourque: Consistency and completeness. I always tried to perfect every part of my game, worked at every part of my game, and then set a high standard in all parts of my game as it pertained to actually playing in the game. I wanted all that hard work and training to manifest itself on the ice in the course of every game I played.
Ray rotated wearing four pairs of gloves during every NHL game. He used two pairs each period while the others were drying. He hated using wet gloves. No. 77 used Sher-wood sticks and Bauer skates during his career.
No. 5: Besides the Cup, what is your most vivid NHL memory?
Bourque: I remember the first time I stepped on the ice at the old Boston Garden. We had set up a couple of practices the first week of the season, my first NHL season. I was one of the first guys on the ice, the lights were dim, and after hearing so much about and seeing the banners, it was such an incredible feeling. And then when we had opening night a couple of days later and all those seats where filled. I wasn't even touching the ice.
In March 2000, the lifetime Bruin was traded with Dave Andreychuck to the Colorado Avalanche for Brian Rolston, prospects Martin Grenier and Samuel Pahlsson, and Colorado's first-round choice in either the 2000 or 2001 draft.
No. 6: How does this NHL work stoppage compare to the one you were involved in as a player in1994-95?
Bourque: I think things are more pessimistic now. I don't see a light at the end of the tunnel that I think we saw last time. It is still early, but it's not getting anywhere with negotiation. I see the owners being pretty firm this time and that is something the players are going to have to think about.
Bourque won five Norris Trophies.
No. 7: Your son Chris is a freshman at Boston University. There were rumors he was going to leave and play major junior in Canada. What is the latest?
Bourque: He's very happy there. He's off to a good start and playing well. BU is a very young team, but they skate well. Chris is seeing power-play time and playing with other young players. Chris is having a blast. I don't know how that other stuff got started, but I went to Canada to see my Dad who was turning 75 and the newspaper had me going to the Moncton game to scout the situation to see if Chris might play junior there. Well, I never went to the game. And they had Chris going to Moncton, and that's not the case. He's doing well, enjoying BU and we are having a blast watching him following him and the team around.
Chris was drafted by the Washington Capitals in June.
No. 8: How the rest of the family?
Bourque: My daughter is a junior at the University of New Hampshire, my other son, Ryan, is 13 and playing bantam hockey. Steve Kaspar is his coach, and I help out. And my wife is opening a new spa in Danvers, Mass.
The Ray Bourque body wax is $77.77.
I know Ray is your bud and all, but couldn't Cammi do better than an old, bald guy with a bad goatee and only two suits?
Laguna Niguel, Calif.
Why such canards concerning our Chicken Parm?!! Check your facts, Bill! He has THREE suits.
Wonderful to see you back. Which version of "In Between Days" do you like more, Ben Folds' or The Cure's? And what's Podes up to these days?
Ben is my boy, but The Cure's "In Between Days" is soooo Robert Smith:
Yesterday I got so old
I felt like I could die
Yesterday I got so old
It made me want to cry
Ben's vocals lend themselves better to hope-filled songs. I think. The Cure is one of those bands that are so unique and talented that it's futile to cover their songs. It's like covering a Steely Dan song. There are all already perfect. As far as Podes? Our Swedish correspondent Daniel Elma is back and he gives us a Shjon Podein update in the next e-mail.
So another season is already underway here in Sweden, and little is the same as usual. The addition of the NHLers REALLY makes a difference, and we enjoy it while it lasts. However, since almost all of them have contracts stipulating that they will go back as soon as the lockout is over, it could certainly mess up the teams and unbalance the leagues.
I can go see Penguins defenseman Ric Jackman playing here in Umeå for Björklöven, and Canadiens forward Michael Ryder was here a few days ago with Leksand. In Elitserien (the Elite League) there are of course many more NHL players than in Allsvenskan, so the crowds there are in for even more of a treat.
Finally getting to Podes, he has played five games for Växjö (which is 8-5-4 in 17 games) and has three (3-0-3) points. With that he has 16 penalty minutes, 12 shots on goal and is plus-3.
I miss Podes painting himself all over and sleeping with me. For those of you who didn't read any of my Stanley Cup finals columns from last spring please do so. NOW!!!
We're moving to Columbus, Ohio, in May (God love the Air Force for getting us out of here). Do you foresee an All-Star Game in the Blue Jackets' future?
There is no question Columbus is a slam dunk for a future NHL All-Star Game. Sweet arena, great sports fans, plenty of hotel space and all the Steak and Shakes you can eat. Plus, Bob Evans restaurants as far as the eye can see. The best breakfast place in America. Columbus should get an All-Star Game within five years after hockey starts again.
Baby coming in late February, right around the time the Thrashers should be making their first playoff push. Need help on baby name, and Ilya is out. Wife wants Shai, I am pushing for Simon (lived in D.C for a while, loved it when Chris Simon would mix it up). Please tell her that her name is whack and a child with the name Simon will man the blue line for years to come and will not be afraid to drop the gloves.
Shai is beyond whack. Garret Benjamin Gerber is my pick. A future Thrashers defenseman.
These days I find myself with plenty of free time between 7:10 and 10 o'clock at night. I recently picked up Julian Rubenstein's fascinating new book "The Ballad of the Whiskey Robber." I breezed through it and rather than embark on a life of swilling Johnny Walker Red (which Gary Bettman has pushed to the brink of), I'm compelled to keep reading. Just wondering if you have any good "Lockout Books" on your reading list. I'm still waiting for Hakan Loob's biography to be published. Love the column, keep up the good work.
This is the time of year I always read Jack Falla's "Home Ice," the best hockey book of all time. The boards are up in the backyard for the backyard rink. I've just started a book, "Franklin and Winston" by Jon Meacham. I love it. I'm the kind of guy who will have seven books next to bed that are 75 percent read. Then I'll start another one and keep getting behind. I still have four pages left in "The Cat In The Hat." I started that in 1973.
Let's say there is a major breakthrough and the NHL season will start in January. You have been hired to produce five 30-second spots to run during the Super Bowl. You have complete creative control to promote the game. What are your five commercials and what music accompanies them?
Morgantown, West (by god) Virginia
I have been trumpeting for years that the NHL should buy a 30-second spot during the Super Bowl. Five spots? That's $10 million. Let's stick with one. I would simply show 30 seconds of fast, hard-hitting action, sweet goals, nice saves -- pretty standard stuff, really. (Use Dr. Evil voice for that last sentence.) I'd use Eminem's "Lose Yourself." A couple of years old, but perfect and recognizable.
Need some music advice, I've been making some '80s mix CDs and have already completed Volumes 1 & 2 with high praise from my friends (includes the staples, Bon Jovi, White Snake, Def Leopard, Journey, etc). Volume 3 is currently in the works, and while we are having some success, we are running out of ideas. What would be some staples that would have to be on any 80s rock mix??
South Windsor, Conn.
I think INXS is an '80s staple and one of the more underrated bands from that era. "Shine Like it Does" is one of the best songs of the decade. Sounds like a lot of Middle America Arena Rock so far on your mix CDs. Don't forget U2's "Bullet the Blue Sky." And "Midnight Blue" by Lou Gramm is a great drive-to-the-rink song. I'm a sucker for those pop songs from the '80s as well. Give me "Africa" by Toto and you can send all the sheep back to grandma.
After nothing but bad news this week from the "united" NHLPA and the cancellation of the All-Star Game, I received a bit of cheer from the San Jose Sharks in my mailbox yesterday, sort of a CARE package for the disenfranchised hockey fan. The CARE package included a hockey puck for emergency use, passes to skate at the local ice rink, a chocolate puck for when you're really depressed and tickets to the AHL Cleveland Baron game next Tuesday. The package doesn't change the facts of the silly lockout, it doesn't convince me that the owners are right, but it's good to know that somebody involved in this mess about their fans.
San Jose, Calif.
Steve, my sources tell me Marcel Goc will show up at your house next Thursday and oil your garbage disposal.
Last weekend, I was very optimistic about a season being played out starting in January. Then, I read your column and was 100 times more optimistic. We even started making plans for a reduced scheduled in our fantasy hockey league. But Tuesday came around, and I saw Pierre Dagenais and company stick with the company motto, all those overpriced buffoons (not forgetting that owners are buffoons as well), all wearing NHLPA sweatshirts and hats, and it dawned on me, this is over, no season this year. Greedy idiots that don't get the big picture. Say it ain't so. Please tell me not to lose faith in a season, THIS season!
We're gonna have hockey, Eric.
John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is email@example.com.