Bill Lyon on the Flyers

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Today’s Philadelphia Inquirer plays host to a great column by the retired Bill Lyon on the current second round NHL playoff series between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Montreal Canadiens.

It’s not excessively objective, but neither is it a “homer” screed; it’s just a very good piece of hockey journalism that manages to recap last night’s game with style:

Goalies are not fair game, no matter how far they roam. But Downie cannot resist. He aims for the goalie’s legs and, using his stick like an oversized spatula, he flips Price. The Canadiens take outraged exception, and the Flyers must retaliate, of course, so soon the ice is littered with gloves and sticks, and unkind things are being said about ancestry. The population of the penalty box goes up by four.

Orange Out, on flickr.com, by MattP33, via a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike License
Perhaps I’d like the column less if I were a fan of Les Habitants, but I hope not. It’s simply good sports writing, so rare these days and rarer still since Lyon’s retirement a few years back.

(Image courtesy of MattP33 via a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike License.)

The Ritual of Goodbye: How Traded Athletes Speak

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Trade and transfer deadlines in professional sports always see a flurry of activity, as teams look to bolster their ranks for playoff pushes, make a last effort to stave off relegation, or, sensing the inevitable, sell off assets and look to the fabled “next year” when things will certainly be better. Fans eagerly devour news of transactions, following rumors and refreshing the trade pages on the major sports sites all day long on the day of the deadline.

Go Huet! by Big Swede Guy, via a Creative Commons Attribution/Non-Commercial/No Derivatives licence

Tucked into many quickly posted news items about breaking trades is a comment from a just-traded athlete, and most such comments adhere to the same basic pattern: Reaction to the trade, regards for the team and fans being left, excitement at the prospect of playing for the new team, expectation for what the player will accomplish in the future.

The National Hockey League trade deadline this year was on Tuesday, February 26th, and the athletes moved around like game pieces pretty much followed the call-and-response pattern. To wit, goaltender Cristobal Huet, on his trade to from the Montreal Canadiens to the Washington Capitals, per a Canadian Press wire report (Feb. 27, 2008):

“I expected the unexpected, but I was shocked,” said Huet, who met with the media at the Bell Centre before heading to Washington. “I had three great years here. It was a lot of fun. I can’t say anything bad. I would love to have finished the job here but it was a little difficult. I didn’t play well enough the last three weeks so I guess I didn’t help my cause. Now I have a chance to join another team and try to help them jump into the playoffs.”

Now, in Huet’s case, he was essentially kicked out of Montreal in favor of a young goalie (20 year-old Carey Price) and traded away to Washington for a second round draft pick at next year’s draft. Washington ostensibly brought him in to take away the number one goaltending spot from a revered but slowing goalie (Olie Kolzig) who spent his entire career there and stuck with the Capitals during their several seasons’ long rebuilding effort. Not an ideal situation to wake up to on a Tuesday morning, but Huet remained sufficiently composed to provide the ritualized response. Montreal fans most likely appreciated the gesture, and Washington fans can look forward to a team player joining up.

It’s when athletes diverge from the pattern that you sense something is awry.

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