Preamble: for years, mostly living in Olympia, Washington and later Vancouver, BC I wrangled a website called HockeyNW tracking historic and contemporary hockey culture around Cascadia including teams: Tacoma SaberCats, Seattle Thunderbirds, Spokane Chiefs, flashing back to Seattle Metropolitans, bits of Portland and of course Vancouver, as well the in-line hockey teams i coached through a YMCA league in Olympia.
During this time my brother Dan and i (something) hosted the “Hockey Lounge” in Olympia, Washington – a speak / toke easy” to spread hockey culture (and provide occasional crash space for rock n roll bands – another story).
Some of the artifacts are shared in this archive, others might be eventually.
Anyhow… what I’m saying is: all of this was anticipating the arrival of another NHL franchise in the Northwest which eventually became the Seattle Kraken. Took a while and now I live far away but, recently shared a bit of an “hockey primer” with a friend who lives in Washington State who is a soccer/football supporter to share a little bit of culture and basics about the sport.
I don’t really write about hockey anymore and my “consumption experience” is generally solo, with coffee in the cottage in Japan, regardless, sharing here for posterity:
June 11, 2021 Hello [redacted],
Been meaning to tell you a few things about hockey and now it’s a really good time for you to start paying attention because it’s almost into the third round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, I’m currently listening to Seattle’s “expansion cousins” Vegas Golden Knights game six against the Colorado Avalanche (who used to be the Quebec Nordiques) yes it’s a little bit confusing especially when you consider the winner of the series will play the Montréal Canadiens, who are from Quebec – Canada sorta / of course but the French-centric part and who shocked the hockey world by running over their long time rival Toronto (a.k.a. the centre of the universe) Maple Leafs and then swept aside the Winnipeg Jets (who used to be the Atlanta Thrashers) it’s things like this that require a good primer.
The good thing about Seattle Kraken is now Vancouver has a natural geographical rival. In the past, the other teams would all match-up with natural dance-partners and Van was sort of stranded in their own little glorious West Coast anomaly. As we’ve seen with MLS, having teams in Portland, Seattle and Vancouver makes for good times for supporters/fans/whatever.
The Canucks were born in 1970 as an NHL team, same year as me and their expansion cousins, the Buffalo Sabres and are kind of like the Seattle Mariners of the national hockey league in that they’ve had fantastic players over the years: great characters, Hall of Famers, and have sustained periods of regular season success but never brought home the big prize The Stanley Cup. Three times to the finals, two of them ending in game seven heartbreak and literal riots and pillaging and looting. Not the best look.
Vancouver watches their team like a soap opera with so much pearl clutching, vitriol, knuckle-cracking and then unbridled elation and credit taking and “I knew it all along”. It’s things like this that encourage me to listen/watch the games in a vacuum as I just like the experience not all the baggage.
Of course this is coming from the guy who made the original Canucks podcast #nothumblebrag, and made various newsletters, media appearances and what not over the years. So now I can be that eye rolling guy who is cynical about the 40+ Canucks podcast and people who have been “enduring this for almost 20 years”. Yes that’s grey in our beards.
The good news is, with the enormous expansion fee that Vegas and then Seattle paid, the league has given more favourable parameters for the expansion draft allowing Vegas to have great success right out of the gates and Seattle could follow suit with a solid management team in place etc. etc. They also set up their minor-league affiliate in Palm Springs, California which will keep a lot of the borderline players who don’t stick with the big club, happy at least. Plus, in event of injuries, suspensions etc. it makes an easier logistical trip to recall players.
For comparison, up until this year the Canucks “farm team” was in Utica, New York – you can imagine the transport challenges although I’m sure it’s glorious living at a Best Western in the Paris of the Potomac, or is it the Mohawk Valley yeah, it’s the Mohawk Valley.
One of the great things about the game is the back stories of the players who traditionally have come from Canada followed by the US and then since the 70s all sorts of European countries, mostly Sweden, Finland and Russia and inexplicably not Norway but now scattered with more Czechs and Slovaks and Slovenians, the occasional German and Swiss. That all sounds very white and it is but there is an increasing smattering of BIPOC players now to get a lot of support, love and attention.
There is a second generation Japanese kid named Suzuki playing for the Canadiens that’s having a great playoffs, and player activism around BLM and a lot of respect and regard indigenous players as well as the India Indians (noting the huge Sikh population of Canada has now produced domestic players of Indian descent). Canadian media lean-in hard to players’ backstories and the announcers, whether you want them to or not, linger on the strange little towns in Saskatchewan where the player comes from and ramble on about growing up in New Brunswick or whatever. Every year, the national broadcaster CBC does an “hockey day in Canada” with remote hockey celebrations in every small town rink and do their best to perpetuate every cliché. You’ll be able to see the stuff fire free to air channels I suspect if you put up an antenna on your Salish Sea home.
As for the game itself, since you know soccer imagine that with unlimited substitutions on the fly, a non-running clock (stops ticking at the whistle which are called when the goalie freezes the puck, puck goes over the glass (which is a penalty if done by defender in the defensive zone), the play goes offside (which is a hard offside with a blue line), or icing (which is basically throwing the puck down the ice). Also there’s a litany of penalties for physical and fractions that result in two or five minute penalties giving a team a power-play. Oh yeah, the puck can go 100 miles an hour, it’s vulcanized rubber, and those are sharp steel blades on their feet, and you are allowed to hit just aren’t supposed to hit them in the head. “Flopping” is a penalty and brings shame.
In the regular season it’s tied after three periods of 20 minutes each, they play three on three overtime for five minutes during which the traditionalists grumble about how terrible this is and damn kids and if still tied, they go to shootouts/PKs which then the traditionalists lose their mind about games being decided by a skills contest. Yes it’s all very serious.
Seattle will make it 32 teams in the league that started with the vaunted holy “original six” and then in the 80s started to expand aggressively to more sunny/Southern markets: two teams in Florida, three in California, Phoenix who stole the original Winnipeg team, Dallas who took the team from Minnesota who now have another team, Nashville which has become a favourite stop for the players especially in the cold winter months.
The players themselves take different routes to the professional career, sometimes moving away from home at 16 to some other cold Canadian town and living with billets and being local heroes until they are drafted and then toil in the minor-league. Of course prodigies are famous at a young age in Canada and held to scrutiny which sometimes ends badly. Used to be rare but increasingly common is going through (mostly US) university and get an education – but like NBA basketball players – often leave after two years. Now with more European leagues, some guys will hone their craft there as its a bit more skill-oriented rather than the NA minor leagues which can get a little bit slap shot (you’ve seen this Paul Newman movie?)
[Unrelated} I read your last note on my birthday August 16, the day Elvis died and the anniversary of Woodstock. We grilled sausages, took photos and soaked feet in a little inflatable pool with Ichiro. So hey, under 10 months to give you a long winded primer to hockey.
Now, there are tile saws going outside to put some splendid herringbone pattern tile into our genkon entrance right now – hooray noise cancelling headphones. As it goes, the project is taking longer than expected and the quality of everything they’re doing is way better than I expected, such attention to detail. Seeing your magnificent project was a little overwhelming as ours it was sort of *tacking on a room to a crackerbox house* but it’s gonna be all good.
We’re having a good time staying with her parents, our little guy is a nursery school which is so fcking cute. Maybe you’ll have a chance to come visit one of these years. Just not right now, we’re in a state of emergency with a stupid Olympics coming, yikes.
Did I tell you that I’m registered as the official Cascade in Consulate? I’m getting a stamp made for passports so make sure to bring yours.
There’s your storytime, questions accepted within reason :)
PS June 25, 2021
Watching Golden Knights and Canadiens on delay before overtime and taking a breather… Still weird watching hockey by myself in the morning with coffee.
Anyhow, just saw the news that Seattle hired a “Dave” as coach. + a note to say that I haven’t seen any of those movies, most hockey movies are abjectly terrible (Youngblood, Mighty Ducks, the maudlin “Miracle”) but Slapshot is quality entertainment, but not the various sequels.
Expansion draft comes shortly after the Stanley Cup rolls out!