This weekend, a sad old man berated a 21 year old kid for being a coward.
It's that time of year, you all know that time, when sitting around the table at Hanukkah or for Christmas dinner, everyone has that one drunk aunt who insists that you really should have joined the IDF when you had the chance, or that irritating in-law (between whiskey and stuffing fuelled frantic mastication) who insists that austerity is the "only way forward in times like these - after all, when I was a kid, we got nothing from nobody." And as one is listening to the folks around the table incoherently ramble their way through in exposing just how little they know about geopolitics or the macroeconomic sphere, their fear becomes apparent. The aunt is finally having reservations about the "liberal Zionism" of her youth, while it's finally dawned on your uncle is that the social safety net that coddled him for so long may well erode. They are projecting, and badly.
By any accord, this was neither the ramblings of the aunt who likes her wine just a little too much, nor was it that uncle who thinks that Crown Royal is a "man's drink: And Real Men drink it by the Pint". Instead it was Donald S. Cherry, Canada's resident war-mongering, bigoted, xenophobe, and that kid was a sleight, Russian winger named Nail Yakupov.
|Is that a suit or my Bubbie's sofa? You decide|
Don Cherry was berating Yak for what he thought was a dirty hit on Kyle Chipchura. It was a rough play in a meaningless game, all ensconced within the Turducken of another meaningless season. But for a guy who makes suit money though grotesque videos of violence, it was about as rich as your average holiday meal.
What is not rich is where Yakupov is from, namely Nizhnekamsk, a hardscrabble city of the Soviet "let's build a town!" projects of the 1960's. It was created to service the oil industry, and is located in Russian Tatarstan. Yakupov is from Oil City (Russia), ethnically a Tatar, and like most Tatars, a practicing Muslim. At 16, he packed up and travelled about 9000 KM to Sarnia, another hardscrabble town built on petrochemicals and cancer. It was there that young Nail learned English, adapted to the small ice and rough play, and lived with a host family. He went to Canadian school, played a Canadian style game, and excelled for the local hockey concern. He played so well that he was drafted first overall, becoming not only the first Tatar player to do so, but also the first Muslim. On the other side of the hit was Kyle Chipchura, born in Westlock, Alberta, played in the WHL, and got into the NHL the tough way, grinding through the minors and as of about two weeks ago available on the waiver wire, to be had for free by any team in the NHL. And therein lies the rub.
|How can you not love this kid?|
Cherry is no stranger to commenting on Yakupov. Cherry was incensed when Russian World Junior team captain Yakupov noted that the Canadians played "rough" (the translation is often reframed to and translated as "dirty"), but we digress. Cherry went "full Cherry" and ranted about it to whoever would listen. Then, following the shortened lockout season, Cherry lambasted Yakupov for his exuberance in scoring what turned out to be a game winning goal against the LA Kings. Who would have expected that a kid from a town that postdates the semiconductor, who is part of an ethnic minority long victimized by Russian chauvinism, who was playing in his first season in the league he dreamed of since he could walk, would be happy that he just scored a great goal to tie a game. Not only that, but against (what was then) the Best Team in the World? Outrageous. Yakupov should have nodded his emotionless human-like head like Hockey Bot 3000 (also known as Sidney Crosby, but your milage and patience for weasel-staches may vary), and moved on with his life.
But that is not Don Cherry's style. He needs to lambaste. And he does so not because Yakupov is a coward, but because Don Cherry is. Since "foreigners" have entered the league, Don has berated them with impunity. He does not like Europeans because they are "soft," they wear visors, those symbols of femininity and weakness. He does not like the French Canadians, he finds their (whatever) effete, that they are “whiners,” and the fact that some of them prefer the Fleur-de-lis to the Red 'n’ White is beyond the pale of acceptability. He correlates Finnish names with "dog food." He has ridiculous double-standards for black players, especially P.K Subban. He doesn't like "...the Russians" because of "what kind of people they are," namely cheaters. He does not like Americans because they come out of the soft NCAA system, and are "arrogant." Not content with commenting on players, he "don’t believe women should be in the male dressing room." He certainly does not like “left-wing kooks” like your author.
There is one group that Don loves above all: the military. Those "beautiful boys," out there killing people in other places, mostly places where the inhabitants have a darker hue of skin than pasty Don. And he likes the Conservatives, no matter how reactionary, even if said politicians have lost whatever scrap of credibility they had by selling billions of dollars of crowd control gear to the most despotic, kleptocratic, monarcho-theocracy in the world. But it is because he is terrified of what lives outside the borders. The wider world frightens him. He does not like that the socialist Scandinavian goaltender-pedagogical system produces better tenders than the Canadian "whoever's dad has enough money to buy pads in an already ludicrously expensive sport"/"Just get in there and stop the damn puck" system. He does not like the Russian systems play, the speed, or the skill. He does not like that the NCAA can be a better option (while still horrifically exploitative) than the deeply flawed "work for nothing...and maybe some school someday if you're good" model of the CHL and is draining Canadian players.
For Don the armed forces (and police, another intrinsically racist institution, especially in Canada) are a proxy for his fear: a group of people that will police the borders, and make sure the brown folks and weirdly religious are kept down, and more especially, out. But that ship has sailed, in some respects, and so Don has to project, by doing something he normally labels as "tough play," as something picked up from "old Saskatchewan pond hockey," and label it as cowardice. It was not cowardice Don; it was a bad play by a exceptionally skilled young man who is at this point in his career struggling to his way on the ice. If there is anyone in this scenario who reeks of cowardice, it is the man in the clown suit, desperate that his sartorial choices will keep the attention from the bile spewing out of his mouth.