March 9, 2019

EVERYTHING WE LOVE IS ALWAYS DECLINING UPWARDS:

A CANADIAN CRITIC GROWS RESTLESS OVER THE U.SURPATION OF HIS COUNTRY'S GIFT TO SPORT (MORDECAI RICHLER, 3/13/72, Sports Illustrated)

I was brought up on real hockey, before the slap shot and head-manning the puck all but displaced stickhandling. Mine was a six-team league, charged with talent, wherein the bruiser who scored 20 goals in his debutante year was going some. Last season, on the other hand, rookie Center Gil Perreault was able to score more than 30 with nobody worth mentioning on either wing.

In my time records signified something. Nobody committed an outlandish 100 points a year. But only last season four Boston Bruins--Orr, Phil Esposito, Johnny Bucyk and Ken Hodge--did better. Any league in which Bucyk and Hodge can look that good is holding up not a mirror but a magnifying glass to nature. To take a socially relevant, rather than esthetic, point of view it must be said that the cause of this decline in quality--a febrile expansion from six to 16 teams in six years--has allowed aging or mediocre players, like wilting corporation presidents, to retire to California, permissive California, where they continue playing, insufficiently, for untutored fans. Fans who simply cannot appreciate hockey as we do. (Look here. Such is our devotion, Canadian voters once even sent a defenseman, Red Kelly, to Parliament. And when it turned out that legislating and hockey conflicted, he had the good sense to quit--Parliament, of course.)

So seeing the game popularized, catching on in the other America, CBS paying the NHL a million dollars for the rights to the Sunday-afternoon game of the week, Bobby Orr making the cover of U.S. magazines, Derek Sanderson in Life, Esquire and The New Yorker, hockey books proliferating--well, we are pleased, we are flattered, yes, yes. But we are also apprehensive. Outsiders have stumbled onto our secret four-star restaurant and, while we applaud its new affluence, we fear for the quality. These days hyperbole is all.

In this new order, Bobby Orr is being touted as the game's savior, something of a latter-day Babe Ruth, and the resurgent Bruins as the greatest team ever to take to the ice. I shall always cherish them for the brilliant, exciting East Division final they lost to the Canadiens in 1968-69. The following season the Canadiens collapsed, and the Bruins ran away with everything. Then last season--which Cheevers writes about in Goaltender--Boston became the first team ever to win 57 games in a season and accumulate 121 points and score 399 goals. But come Stanley Cup playoff time, the serious hour, and the Canadiens beat them again. It was a stunning rookie goaltender, Ken Dryden, who really did them in.

Posted by at March 9, 2019 3:35 AM

  

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