Jack Todd: NHL's Fleury Fumble is latest example of ineptitude

Once again, the league squandered what should have been a feel-good moment, a chance to make a statement for tolerance and diversity.

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It’s amazing that the National Hockey League has feet left to shoot.

Having spent the autumn taking random potshots at its own size-12s, the NHL had a shot (pardon me) at redemption last week.

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It should have been achingly simple. Marc-André Fleury, perhaps the most loved and respected veteran in the league, planned to wear a specially designed goalie mask to honour his Indigenous wife and her family’s ancestry.

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It was a lollipop, a hanging curveball, a wide-open net, a target as big as a barn. So, like an astigmatic marksman, the league took careful aim, held its breath — and once again, blasted itself in the tootsies.

The NHL squandered what should have been a feel-good moment, a chance to make a statement for tolerance and diversity. Instead the NHL initially told Fleury he couldn’t wear the mask, threatened to fine him if he did, and threatened Fleury’s Minnesota Wild team with an additional fine.

Fleury, to his credit, flipped the flying fickle finger of fate in the general direction of the NHL and its bumbling, backward bosses and wore the mask during warm-ups Friday anyway — apparently without consequences because the league was cowed by the reaction.

Sometimes, words fail. (Yes, there are times when even your humble blabbermouth columnist can only shake his head in wonder.) I couldn’t help wondering what Aislin would have done with the league’s Fleury Fumble in his heyday.

Minnesota goalie Marc-André Fleury sprays water on his face before action resumes.
Minnesota goalie Marc-André Fleury takes a break before action resumes during a game this month in New York. Photo by Elsa /Getty Images

Last week, I received a book from the McGill-Queens Press that illustrates the point beautifully. Conceived, researched and narrated as a labour of love by Montrealer Don Weekes, Picturing the Game: An Illustrated Story of Hockey is an incisive, comprehensive, sometimes hilarious and sometimes heartbreaking retelling of the history of the game as seen not through the camera lens but through pens and pencils.

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The illustrations, caricatures and cartoons Weekes has curated are priceless in their own right, but they do more than evoke the era in which they were drawn. They tell a story more than a century old of the tug of war for the soul of the game between millionaires (the billionaires came later) and players, between French and English Canada, between corruption and transparency and between the U.S. and Canada.

The book is worth it for Chapter 14 alone: “Toronto versus Everyone.” It begins with a slapshot to the teeth from columnist Cathal Kelly: “The Maple Leafs aren’t a hockey team. They’re a support group with millions of traumatized members.”

It’s worth the price for that chapter alone — but in its 375 pages there are chapters on subjects as diverse as the birth of the game, its export to the U.S., the sometimes pervasive violence, Rocket Richard, the Summit Series and the arrival of women in what had once been a hidebound, males only sport.

There are so many gorgeous illustrations that it’s easy to forget there is a narrative here and a powerful one. Weekes has always been able to put together a solid hockey book, but he has outdone himself. The writing is up to the quality of the work of cartoonists like Aislin and Michael de Adder and that’s a high compliment.

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There was a time when I dreaded the annual spate of dreary hockey books and the task of writing capsule reviews. It would be worth sifting through the pile, though, to find one book like Picturing the Game. There. Christmas present conundrum solved.

Lies, rumours &&&& vicious innuendo: Well, look at that. Guess who has his Columbus Crew team headed to the Eastern Conference final in Major League Soccer? Wilfried Nancy, that’s who. The guy Joey Saputo ran out of town following the best season in the history of CF Montréal. …

Other than providing the world with a sport-washing tour of various tyrannies and adding its bit to the carbon load in the atmosphere, what did Formula One contribute to the planet this season? Other than Max Verstappen going round and round and round and zzzz …

A bunch of goals in one game isn’t going to hide the fact that the Edmonton Oilers are wasting a couple of generational talents through nepotism, cronyism and sheer, unadulterated incompetence. What a shame. …

Colts owner Jim Irsay claiming, after a DUI bust, that he’s discriminated against because he’s a rich white billionaire sets a new standard in blinkered rich dude entitlement …

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Folks, you do understand that David Reinbacher just turned 19, that Matvei Michkov plays for second-tier Sochi in the KHL, that little or nothing players do at this age has any bearing on their future in the NHL — and that neither Connor McDavid nor Auston Matthews has yet come within sniffing distance of Lord Stanley’s Cup? Just checking. …

And you do understand that the Canadiens are in rebuild mode, right? That’s when — oh, never mind.

Heroes: Marc-Antoine Dequoy, Danny Maciocia, Jason Maas, Noel Thorpe, Wilfried Nancy, Alex Newhook, Johnathan Kovacevic, Jayden Struble, Jesse Ylönen &&&& last but not least, Marc-André Fleury.

Zeros: Milan Lucic, the NHL, George Parros, Joey Saputo, Jim Harbaugh, Jim Irsay, Nick Sirianni, James Harden, Claude Brochu, David Samson &&&& last but not least, Jeffrey Loria.

Now and forever.

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