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Chatting with a hockey legend
By Aaron Wherry
A legend graced the Wave with his presence last night as Hockey Night in Canada broadcaster Dick Irvin visited Western.
The longtime play-by-play man who covered Montreal Canadiens games for the CBC, brought with him dozens of anecdotes of his life in hockey.
Amid jokes and stories of "old-time" hockey, Irvin reflected on his many broadcasting colleagues. Among them, Irvin remembered Danny Gallivan, Foster Hewitt, Howie Meeker and Harry Neale. Specifically, he recounted his one and only argument with Don Cherry.
"I think he must like me he's kissed me twice on national television," Irvin said. "Our one and only argument came over religion. I'm a Presbyterian and he thinks he's God."
Irvin then talked about issues of violence in the National Hockey League which have currently arisen. He referred to a story from the now defunct New York Sun, published in 1926, labelling the game of hockey as a "crime wave on ice." Irvin also said he felt the game has not become more violent.
"I wonder if it is as violent," Irvin said. "In 1947, Montreal Canadiens forward Maurice Richard hit a player over the head with his stick and was suspended for only one game. [The violence] has always been there. I'm firmly convinced the game is not anymore violent."
Irvin said the media was partly to blame for the controversy over violence in the NHL. "How many times have we seen [Boston Bruins defenceman] Marty McSorley hit [Vancouver Canucks forward] Donald Brashear over the head with his stick?" Irvin asked. "Television has changed the perception of the game."
Referring to a recent high stick by defenceman Scott Niedermayer of the New Jersey Devils on Florida Panther forward Peter Worrell, Irvin said a lack of respect exists between players, especially since the advent of mandatory helmet rules in the NHL.
"The more I see that hit, the more I'm convinced he wouldn't have done it if [Worrell] wasn't wearing a helmet," Irvin said. "There's a growing lack of respect, but I don't know why."
Irvin added fans who criticized McSorley were being hypocritical. "The same ones squawking about McSorley are the ones at the arena cheering for the fights."
In his talk, Irvin also said hockey players are incredibly tough and reflected on some specific memories. "Montreal Canadiens forward Bob Gainey played in the Stanley Cup finals with two separated shoulders," he said. "Glenn Hall played goaltender in 502 consecutive games for the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks, without a mask. I had lunch with him a few years ago and his face was like a patchwork of stitch marks."
The best player he said he had ever seen was [Pittsburgh Penguins forward] Mario Lemieux and the best team was the Montreal Canadiens of the late 1970s. He then turned his attention towards the future of the game and the growing Americanization of the NHL.
"They're trying to Americanize the game too much," he said. "I wonder if deep down they're really happy when a team leaves Canada."
He did note that Canadian fans could learn from their American counterparts. "Canadian fans are too serious," Irvin said. "American fans treat it as entertainment. The Atlanta Thrashers have only won two out of their last 30 games, but the arena is still packed every night."