“Sports! They are absurd and superfluous—and hockey is the most absurdly superfluous of them all.” Kent Russell loves hockey, a lot. I don’t and I have no idea who Eddie Olczyk or Doc Emrick are, but Russell’s writing about the game and its players (“two to six men fighting for the puck in a corner like two to six pigs wrestling over a Milk Dud”) is utterly engrossing, including a section on how television and play-by-play commentary change our experience of sports.
Maybe it’s something to do with the fact that watching a game on television as opposed to IRL at the arena is roughly analogous to watching a drama on a screen as opposed to a stage. In the arena or theater, I am responding to a total scene unfolding. My eye can wander while I take in everything at once. But onscreen, the play gets filtered through a camera lens, gets dislocated temporally so that the network can edit out a fourth-liner screaming FUCK! Onscreen, the play has its point-of-view shifted regularly—wide shot, now a behind-the-net shot, now the overhead shot, here’s the crowd shot. So that I apprehend the game not as drama but as mediated narrative. And I suppose I need all manner of commentary to help me thread together the disparate strands of that narrative.
I don’t know. Am I alone here? Does no one else think that Eddie Olczyk’s enthusiasm relates to the play only insofar as the play relates to whom Eddie Olczyk bet on that day? Does no one else hate that Doc Emrick calls games like a hen that wears a bonnet?
High school hockey player Jack Jablonski was left paralyzed after a hit during a game—leading Minnesota to get tougher on rules, and leading families to rethink hockey’s risks:
“I forgot to tell you,” he says. Something in his voice is strange. He looks at me. Cade and Raye are both staring at me now. Peter touches my hand.
“Jack Jablonski broke his neck last night.”
Jack Jablonski—known as Jabby to his friends and the kids like Cade who grew up skating with him on the lakes around our homes—is not the first boy to break his neck playing this game. But he is the first one whom we who have kids still in Minneapolis youth and high school hockey programs have watched grow up.
Part One of “Punched Out: The Life and Death of a Hockey Enforcer.”
But big-time hockey has a unique side entrance. Boogaard could fight his way there with his bare knuckles, his stick dropped, the game paused and the crowd on its feet. And he did, all the way until he became the Boogeyman, the N.H.L.’s most fearsome fighter, a caricature of a hockey goon rising nearly 7 feet in his skates.
Over six seasons in the N.H.L., Boogaard accrued three goals and 589 minutes in penalties and a contract paying him $1.6 million a year.
On May 13, his brothers found him dead of an accidental overdose in his Minneapolis apartment. Boogaard was 28. His ashes, taking up two boxes instead of the usual one, rest in a cabinet at his mother’s house in Regina. His brain, however, was removed before the cremation so that it could be examined by scientists.