Wednesday, September 07, 2011
Good-bye Pavol, Good-bye Hockey
I’ve been getting plenty of messages this morning regarding the Lokomotiv Jaroslavl tragedy, so I figured I might as well open up this blog one last time and give myself an outlet for my rambling. I’ve completely lost the ability to write well about hockey, so excuse this mess.
So, I’m on vacation in the sweltering heat of Vernon, BC, and sleep in for the first time in ages. 8 am!!! Holy crap... I almost never sleep past 7am!! *yawn* *stretch*
I waddle down the steps and eagerly anticipate some coffee while admiring the view of Lake Okanagan out of the window. My wife comes up to me and says, “I have some bad news for you.”
At this point, I figured it would be something minor, relating to Magic: The Gathering (my big hobby nowadays) or some winery we planned to visit. Instead, she gives me the laptop and I see a big picture of Pavol Demitra and “Former NHL Players Perish in Plane Crash.”
What. The. Fuck?
It took a few seconds to sink in, but my brain started to absorb the story as I read it and, like just about everyone else, I was stunned. It wasn’t just Pavol, but the whole damn team! Ugh… I remember a few non-Russians (a few years ago, during the lockout) joking about unsafe he felt some of the Russian league air travel was, including Jiri Slegr…and, well, here is a fine example.
Anyway, I see a whole bunch of emails and Facebook messages sending me links and condolences, and I am flattered that people would think of me. I guess my reputation as Demitra’s #1 North American fan still sticks :). It’s too bad I lost so many videos and sound clips I had on my old hard drive that fried worse than KFC.
For those who are asking, I am doing OK. I never knew Pavol, personally, nor ever had a chance to meet or talk with him. I have no personal connection to him, so it is not like I am any more devastated than most people. Sure, he connected with me as a hockey player, and he was a damn cool guy, but I don’t honestly feel like a member of my close family passed away.
Really, this is just a sad day, and really a sad summer, for hockey all around. A lot of families and friends are really going to be hurt by this, and I do know that quite a few Czechs and Slovaks looked up to the players on Jaroslavl. Demitra, in particular, gained a bit of hero worship over the past few years in Slovakia. A tiny country like Slovakia doesn’t have the wealth of people known and respected in other parts of the world like Canada does. (No, nobody respects Nickelback…please, don’t send them back here).
My ‘connection’ with Demitra started back when he played for the Sens. Here was a very talented guy, with a very cool name, that was never really given a shot. His AHL totals were outstanding. I knew he played for the Czechoslovakia team, but this was at a point in my life where I had little knowledge of my father’s side of the family or my Central-Eastern European heritage. I wouldn’t really connect with Slovak hockey for another year or two.
I remember, when I was about 19-20, seeing Demitra’s name suddenly pop up in a box score for the St. Louis Blues. When did the Blues trade for Demitra?? I popped online and saw he was dealt for some guy like Christer Olsson. Great! I was already a Blues fan, and was happy to see him get a chance. One of Mike Keenan’s scouts told him about the guy, so Keenan dealt for Demitra and actually put the guy into the lineup. Demo finally got his shot.
The next season, Demitra would become a full-time player and even killed penalties for the Blues with Craig Conroy. Pavol ended up with 52 points in 61 games while the Senators got a defenseman who played a handful of forgettable games for them. A rare good deal for Iron Mike!
Demitra never did get a Stanley Cup with the Blues, but he ultimately had a great career as an under-the-rader point producer. He won a Lady Byng award, even putting up big totals after being saddled with line-mates like Michel Picard and the crappy version of Stephane Richer.
A few other Demitra memories
- One of my favourite T-shirts, which I still wear to this day, is a Slovak Pak shirt an old message board pal sent me. This is from when Lubos Bartecko and Michal Handzus paired with Demitra to form an All-Slovak line. This was also from when I weighed over 300 pounds, so the shirt is like a big tent on me now.
- When I attended the NHL Draft in Vancouver with some friends (Alanah from Canucks and Beyond and JJ from Canucks Hockey Blog were also there and I met them afterwards) in 2006. It was all going fine when this happened.
The rest of the crowd: “Whoooooooooooooa!”
Me, ala Luke Skywalker: “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”
- Demitra signing with the Canucks. This was just as I retired from hockey blogging, which is quite strange given that it ought to have kept me going. I was damn happy, as you can imagine.
- Sarah’s parents got me a Demitra sweater for a Christmas gift. This was well before I married her, so I must have impressed them somehow for them to spend a good chunk of change on me ;)
- Speaking of swag, one of my favorite clothing items is a fancy Team Slovakia hat I wear when it is sunny. My wife surprised me with this for my birthday, and said she had spent a considerable amount of effort to get it. Together with my Team Slovakia scarf and sweater, I have a nice ensemble I can wear to any hockey game.
- Unfortunately, many Canucks fans and most of the media saw fit to crap on Demitra during his entire tenure here. Nevermind that he was a mid-range free agent that produced fairly well, or that he was obviously not going to be as good as he was 10 years ago, he was never good enough to be here. Slavic players have always been crapped on here.
Exhibit A: Sean Zandberg. He was the most vocal blogger who would crap on Demitra every change he got. Rather than get into pissing matches, I just decided to stop bothering with those types of Canucks fans.
- Demitra never did seem to get along well with Alain Vigneault during his second, and last season with the club, Vigneault wondered why Demitra played so well for Slovakia, but not for him… some players and coaches just don’t mesh well.
- Demitra’s play at the Olympics. I did get a chance to see Demitra and Slovakia play against Latvija, and I was rather pleased with the surprisingly(!) positive reaction Demitra got as a member of Team Slovakia. For some strange reason, a lot of people here were cheering for the Slovaks and Demitra for a brief 2-week period. Demitra led all Olympic goal scorers, as you damn well know.
- Demitra and the Slovaks choking against the Finns to lose the bronze. It was a pure choke, and a game the Slovaks should have held on to. The Slovaks will likely never get another chance to have such success since their hockey program has been in the dumps for many years and most of the best players were produced in the ‘golden age’.
- Demitra’s playoff scoring record last season with Yaroslavl. Although Lokomotiv didn’t win the playoffs, Demitra's scoring streak and chemistry with Josef Vasicek was something 'magical'.
One last, final, rant… I’ve decided to disconnect myself from the Canucks and most hockey fandom. Given today’s tragedy, my favourite Czech (TRINEC!) team winning the league championships, and the Canucks total choke, it is no longer worth my time to spend so much time following hockey.
Oh, I’ll still follow the sport, watch some games, and keep tabs on the general things going on, but I’ll have little attachment to almost all of it.
Part of being a fan of a team is the ultimate payoff one hopes to get some time in their life. Why cheer for a bad club for so many years? It’s because of the possibility, even a remote one, that they might win a championship. Hell, we’ve seen the Lightning and Ducks win a Stanley Cup, the Canucks ought to be able to get one.
Sadly, that day will never come. Vancouver’s hockey club just reeks of failure, and I can’t see them ever getting any closer than they’ve gotten this past spring. 40 years of nothing but heartbreak and close calls. Some history.
Why should I continue to put any heart into following a club that will never win it all? Part of being a sports fan is the payoff and ecstacy of winning it all, but all I’ve encountered is frustration. I can’t cheer for a club when there will never be a reward for doing so.
Throughout the playoffs, I was in a foul mood for one reason or another. Even after a win, I had a sinking feeling the Canucks would choke it all away. The playoffs weren’t at all pleasurable, and I’d be better off just not getting invested and walking around all grumpy and surly. I know my wife didn’t enjoy being around me when I cursed every fucking minute and was a Negative Nelly at the best of times.
So, with that, I’m a full fair-weather fan. If the Canucks get to the finals, I’ll cheer them on…I just won’t expect much and won’t invest myself at all in what goes on.