A Hockey-Music Medley

I’m only weeks removed from having participated in my first fantasy hockey draft, and even as a decades-long fan of the sport I felt I was in way over my head. If we got to draft from the rosters in NHL 95, I’d have had the league locked up before the first puck dropped. Regardless, I’m hoping this experience gets me more engaged in my fandom so I can get to know the NHL again. Considering that my Toronto Raptors just came off an NBA championship season, I was going to give the Leafs more attention this year anyway. With an increase in hockey spectating, I figure I may as well reap the rewards with some educated guesswork and win a cool $200 in our humble ten-team pool. And since it seems like standard practice to give your fantasy hockey a humorous nickname (or so I learned from The League), what did I choose? The Kenosha Kickers. I’ve got to keep it music-related, and they happen to be the polka kings of the Mid-West (a hotbed for hockey talent). I don’t even care if the name sounds more fitting of a soccer team.

Speaking of tying in music with hockey, I’ve thought of a few topics in the sport in which two of my big loves have crossed paths. I don’t expect everybody who runs across my blog to be a hockey fan, but I think you may be able to relate parts of this discussion to the sport of your preference. If you don’t like sports at all, I’ll first congratulate you for not investing any of your self-esteem into a group of overpaid people you’ll likely never even meet and who can disappoint you on any given night, but I hope you can still take something away from this post.

 

Don’t let this image discourage you from reading further.

 

Watching Vintage Hockey Footage

As a pre-teen developing an interest in the game, I’d watch VHS tapes of hockey highlights, which would (more often than not) feature music dubbed over the on-ice events. One of the tapes that I fondly remember was the Fantastic Hockey Fights collection. While most of the content was taken from the American Hockey League and other minor and amateur leagues, the tape had a lively assortment of classic rock and roll songs, including “Yakety Yak” by The Coasters, “Breathless” by Jerry Lee Lewis, and “At The Hop” by Danny and the Juniors. Nowadays, I enjoy old hockey footage pretty much the same way, only I’m customizing the soundtrack.

Youtube is an absolute goldmine for hockey highlights that date back to as long as the sport has been televised. The NHL has a solid channel where they feature such content, but since they are not as strict with sharing game footage as some of the other pro sports leagues, you’ll also get a great selection of complete games people taped from the original broadcasts as well as fan-curated compilations. I often set Youtube to mute and watching highlight reels of great plays, goals, or fights. I remember a joyous afternoon when I had Terje Rypdal’s Odyssey album playing while watching save compilations of the likes of Mike Liut, Tony Esposito, and Pelle Lindbergh, a trio of star goalies who played before my time. I was actually surprised how well it worked, but Odyssey just happened to be what was playing in my media player. It’s fun to try different styles of music to see what works.

I also have a few box sets in the 10 Great Games DVD series that were released with the cooperation of participating NHL teams. In my collection are the ones of the Toronto Maple Leafs (my team), the Montreal Canadiens (the winningest team, but definitely NOT my team), the Pittsburgh Penguins (Mario Lemieux was my favourite player as a kid), and the Edmonton Oilers (gotta have some vintage Gretzky!). Since the games last a few hours, that’s good for an afternoon to dedicate to playing some bass or guitar. I’d like to think that I am composing a soundtrack to the sport, but I have nowhere near the ability to successfully do that. However, maybe I could use these sessions to attempt to write a hockey-centric concept album.

 

 

Hypothetically, it’s possible (and common practice) for a musician to play their instrument while watching a live game from their couch. I don’t play guitar or bass as much during live games, possibly out of fear of causing damage to my instrument if my team is getting shelled (see Jeff Beck or The Who for examples of potential outbursts). Maybe you have better luck with that practice than I do. As for me, I need to take some slow, deep breaths and remember that it’s just a game.

 

In-Game Music

My love for music actually has bounds.

One of my pet peeves when I’m attending a sports event is when music is played in the middle of the action. One thing I greatly appreciate with hockey is that it only occurs during stoppages in play. I love basketball too, but I wish that more of those games would cut it out with all the pump-up music in the middle of the game, perhaps the cued-pulse for a “Defense!” chant being the exception, but even then I’d love a more natural audio experience.

There’s something about the sudden cut from the arena organ music or pop/rock tunes (which are often adapted onto the organ in many venues) to the sound of the game that brings a bit of dramatic tension to the on-ice festivities. Nothing but blades cutting across the ice, sticks slapping, pucks ricocheting off the boards, the grunting of players as body-checks are thrown, with all in attendance focused on the battle on the ice with the hope that the sound of the goal horn isn’t far away. These noises, in their own way, can have their own rhythm to them and is a good break from hearing the standard play-by-play and commentary that accompanies television and radio broadcasts.

 

Musical instrument or steampunk time machine?

 

To tie back into the previous topic, I remember finding great joy in adding custom soundtracks into hockey video games, and routinely did so with NHL 2K7 on X-Box. I didn’t enjoy the game as much as the EA Sports ones, but being able to hear some songs that I always thought would make great pre-faceoff music enriched the experience for me (another edge the game had were the unlockable historical teams). Some metal of the more-extreme variety, while the vocals may be largely considered harsh, still tended to start with powerful, melodic introductions that would work well, such as “Heartwork” by Carcass or “Trapped In A Corner” by Death. I always wondered who gets to choose the arena playlist when I was growing up, and would have killed for that gig.

Hearing unexpected songs makes for a fun side-event when my brother and I attend a Leafs game, see their farm team (Toronto Marlies) or watch junior-level local games of the Oshawa Generals. I even have to tip my cap when I hear a song that I otherwise wouldn’t listen to, but works well in the context it is presented. Whether it’s in-between periods, commercial breaks, or during pre-game introductions, members of their media team find creative ways of filling the space. However, it’s not always a delight to the eardrums, as I’ve seen more athletes attempting karaoke than I ever needed to see (more than zero time surpasses my threshold).

 

St. Louis Blues

 

I’ve got to show some love for a team with a name that is directly lifted from music, and the timing in the wake of their first-ever championship is perfect. I’m not too big on their adopted victory song (“Gloria” by Laura Branigan), but the song from which their name is derived is a long-running standard that has been performed by a virtual who’s-who of blues and jazz musicians.

While the St. Louis Blues jerseys have gone through several changes over the years (thankfully, this wasn’t one of them), their logo has been relatively consistent from day one. They could have opted for something else like a blues musician playing the guitar, but any potential caricaturing could have lead to accusations of racial insensitivity that plague teams like the Cleveland Indians for the use of Chief Wahoo. While such an idea may never have been a plan, they nonetheless made a wise choice. The winged music note has a nice simplicity to it that has stood the test of time, and the primary colour was a no-brainer.

I can’t help but think of the possibilities if other hockey team names had their roots in the music of their geographical locations. I’ll stick with North American cities since overseas travel could be a logistical nightmare.

Seattle Grunge – They have a franchise that begins play in 2021, but they are still searching for a name. I thought that Grunge had a bit of an intimidating horror movie vibe to it, but realized I obviously confused it for something else. It still sounds surprisingly good, but what mascot or logo could represent them? A zombie Kurt Cobain? An Eddie Vedder on steroids? I don’t even know if the kids would know who they are anymore.

New Orleans Jazz – I don’t think I’ve ever heard New Orleans as a potential NHL franchise location, but the city has to take their rightful name back from the Utah NBA team somehow. The only problem is that the imagery would be too similar to the Blues. Considering all the bird-based franchise names out there, would it even matter that much? It could start a rivalry.

The Bay Area Thrashers – Although the San Jose Sharks seem to be serving the northern California market well, I’ll imagine an alternate timeline where the Atlanta Thrashers’ name was shipped west while their team flocked north (to Winnipeg). Why let a good name go to waste? It opens up the possibility for some wild pre-game parties to fire up fans as they approach the rink. Post-game shows are also possible, but many may lack the drive to mosh if the team is a loser.

New York Hardcore – Not that the city or state needs another team, but convince them that their opponents are skinheads (or merely Republicans) and they’d make the Broad Street Bullies look like the Boy Scouts.

 

Goalie Masks

The goalie mask has become a canvas for some incredible artists throughout the past 40-plus years, and is possibly the finest outlets for self-expression in professional sports. You don’t get to wear Rick and Morty socks in a soccer game or beer helmets in baseball games, so I’m glad to see some athletes get to put personalized flair in their attire. Outside of the obvious more generalized tie-ins that might be on Blues goalie masks, there have been several admirable ways in which goalies have given a nod to the music world.

One band that’s just as famous for their mascot as their music is Iron Maiden, and goalies naturally have shown their love for Eddie by letting his intimidating looks serve as a protective measure. Chris Mason used the artwork from the “Aces High” single while on the Winnipeg Jets, and the Egyptian Eddie from Powerslave while tending goal for the Nashville Predators. Roman Turek had a couple variations of Eddie on his mask, going with a large-scale head on his Dallas Stars mask, and versions in the style of The Number of the Beast cover while with St. Louis and the Calgary Flames.

One of the first examples of a music-themed mask I can think of dates back to when Sean Burke was deflecting rubber for the Phoenix Coyotes. He had a wide variety of guitarists on his masks, including Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page. The musicians on his mask changed a few times during his career to reflect his tastes, more of which are covered in this interview. And sticking with Arizona, there must be something in the air that brings out the rocker in people because Mike Smith would go on to don the image of Alice Cooper on the back of his mask.

If you want one that is a perfect match for a goaltender’s nickname, look to Nikolai Khabibulin, yet another alumni of the Phoenix Coyotes. In addition to owning a rather fun to pronounce surname, ‘The Bulin Wall’ made use of a mask paying tribute to the legendary Pink Floyd album and film of the same name while on the Tampa Bay Lightning. The funny thing is that he wasn’t much of a Pink Floyd fan. Call him a poser all you want, but he helped guide those Lightning to a Stanley Cup. Hell, my team’s goalie could win the Cup wearing a mask with the freaking Wiggles on it for all I care! The sport could use a few more characters.

On the more obscure end of things, I’ve got to acknowledge former Buffalo Sabres goalie Robin Lehner.

 

 

What’s that sitting atop his head? It’s a fitting tribute to one of his favorite bands, In Flames, who originate from Lehner’s birthplace (Gothenburg, Sweden). It’s the Jester head that has been prominent in much of their artwork going back over twenty years. Playing street hockey as a boy, I would have given anything for a custom hockey mask half as cool as Lehner’s. However, if limited to a design featuring a band from my hometown, I can practically guarantee I’d have been the only guy on the planet with a Killer Dwarfs mask.

I barely skimmed the surface with this one because there must be goalies in leagues throughout the world with clever homages to music on their masks. Consult your local search engine for more.

 

Don Cherry

If you say that name in most places in the world, those to whom it sounds familiar would mention the jazz trumpeter famous for his collaborations with Ornette Coleman among other greats, or perhaps even the big-band singer. If you ask a Canadian (and Americans in the Boston-area), their mind will quickly jump to one highly-colorful and opinionated hockey commentator. While a rather controversial figure, ‘Grapes’ is still beloved by many in these parts.

 

 

If you thought that he has nothing to do with music, think again while giving a listen to “Rock’em Sock’em Techno”. The single was released in 1992 in collaboration with BKS, with the S standing for Chris Sheppard, a DJ who was massively popular in Canada in the 1990s for his dance mixes (I still get Love Inc’s “Broken Bones” stuck in my head). While the name and the beats may brand this as techno, Cherry’s swagger is all hip-hop, right down to his trademark colourful wardrobe. In that regard, this may actually be the first rap song I ever learned all the words to, probably edging out the Beastie Boys’ work only due to the fact I couldn’t always keep up to their rapid delivery and lyrical density. This song was more my pace. It doesn’t matter if he was possibly pressured into performing this song, and it pained me to hear that it had been omitted from the Rock’em Sock’em 25th Anniversary DVD box set. It needs more ears.

And those rhymes? “Man” with “wham-bam”, “pup” with “Stanley Cup”, “score” with “Orr”, “turtle” with “Myrtle”, all of which are great in their own right. However, I think his “Who’s the best (I often ponder)? Right now, it’s Stevie Wonder” line shows his imagination (or that of whomever wrote the lyric). A good MC doesn’t need to adhere too strictly to a rhyming scheme, and occasionally stretches to get the overall meaning across. You may think that he is giving props to the phenomenally-talented musician (and you could make a strong argument that he IS one of the best), but the person he is referring to is Steve Yzerman, a centre that was in the midst of a six-season streak of registering over 100 points each year. I like to think it can mean two things at once, but I think Cherry is more of a Frank Sinatra kind of guy.

 

—-

Those are the music connections jumping out the most to me at the moment. I have some others, but I’ve felt rather low in energy the past little while, possibly because watching the scores go up and down in my fantasy league has aged me a few years in the span of a few weeks. I need to find a way a healthier outlet to learn the league, and learn to accept loses with grace.

Until I figure that out, I’ll be hunting down this year’s Tim Horton’s hockey cards and treat them like voodoo dolls.

 

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