They give us sex we give them violence
Sweden and the shame of Canadian senior hockey abroad
Three hundred miles north of Stockholm the winter sun barely manages to nudge its way over the southern hills for four hours a day. Ornskoldsvik, a Swedish town of
some 60,000, has only three moods — night, dawn and twilight — to break the monotony of winter. There is nothing to break the monotony of work. The bleak community exists mostly in symbiotic balance with its industry, the MoDo pulp and paper company. Established as a water-driven sawmill in 1779, MoDo today practically monopolizes employment in Örnsköldsvik, and the people accept the lack of job variety just as they accept the sulphur stench that lingers on days when the wind is from the south. In return, they get the small amenities that compensate for the bleakness, such as streetlights for the cross-country trails, a heated winter soccer field, a terrifyingly steep ski jump, and an enclosed arena, a rarity in Europe.
Canadian hockey players have spilled a lot of blood in this fine arena. It’s one of the very few covered rinks in Sweden — even Stockholm has but one — and whenever Canadian senior or junior teams are touring Europe they frequently schedule a stopover in Örnsköldsvik. To any Swede, Canadian hockey is inevitably followed by Swedish blood, especially since the
1972 Team Canada exhibition matches that saw a Swedish star’s face rearranged by Vic Hadfield. Sixteen months had passed since, but now the Canadians were back (five teams from Canada were touring Sweden at the time I was there) and the town was preparing for new battles.
It was a mild winter day that a bantam team from Sarnia, Ontario, stood facing Modo AIK, the host team from Örnsköldsvik, in the first round of the MoDo Cup. It would be the first international tournament ever held in a foreign country in which a minor league team from Canada had competed. Welcomes were announced, gifts exchanged, and the scratchy sounds of O Canada spilled down from the rafter speakers and over Dino Ciccarelli, the baby-faced star who stood with his Sarnia teammates. Victor Ciccarelli, Dino’s father, stood with the 30 or more parents: pipe fitters, electricians, teachers, line foremen, a doctor, housewives, construction workers, small shop owners, even a member of provincial parliament. Victor, a welder who came to Sarnia from Italy in 1955, was seeing his son’s dream for the past year come true. And although he later denied it, he wept as the Canadian anthem was played.
There were about 60 Canadians in the arena if you
counted the 18 players, the coaches, manager, trainer, team officials and parents, all but a handful in Europe for their first time. Unsure of themselves in customs, but not in hockey. “We can do it,” a father told me as the anthem died. “We’ll put ’em through the goddamn boards.” Looking out at the ice, it was easy to believe him. At the Canadian blueline stood Tim Schramek, 14 years old, six-foot two-inches tall, 191 pounds. Directly across stood Claes-Ake Nilsson, 149 centimeters (not quite four-foot, 11-inches) and 40 kilograms (88 pounds).
But the Sarnia bantams had come to play hockey, not split boards with Swedish heads. They passed well, checked efficiently and cleanly, dominated play at any given time. In two days Sarnia had effortlessly wrapped up group A of the MoDo Cup. winning all three of their games and scoring 17 goals while allowing only four. They were automatically in the semifinals for the championship. In those three games, it seemed that the end had come to those persistent rumors that Swedish ice hockey had caught up to and — merciful heavens — actually surpassed the Canadian standard. In those three games, the average 13-year-old Swede showed himself to be in the same shape as the average 10-year-old Canadian. The Swedes, like Claes-Ake, were dwarfed. “One thing about these chicken Swedes,” said a father, “You don’t have to bother with new ice in the corners — they never use ’em.”
And if they felt that Swedish hockey superiority had shown itself to be a myth, they must also have felt there was no truth in the barbarian image Canada was said to have in international hockey. Certainly the Sarnia kids were perfect gentlemen on skates. This clean new Canadian hockey image would soon evaporate, however.
The fact that Sarnia had just played three games without a fight was directly attributable to coach Dick Robinson, a small man with an Audie Murphy look to him. boyishly handsome. He ruled his team from the second level of the two-level players’ bench. Brooding, fidgety, gnawing on the pacifier of an unlit cigar, he spoke harshly only once, and that to settle a squabble among his own players concerning who was supposed to check whom.
“You know how we win games; we win by working together,” he said in the dressing room. “We pass and we hit and we don’t bitch at guys who make mistakes.” End of problem.
Robinson has coached the Sarnia bantams since 1961. In 1963 he was joined by his best friend, Hartley Vernon, who has been manager ever since. They’ve built a powerhouse; last year, Sarnia won the Vincent Massey Trophy for the Ontario
Minor Hockey Association’s Triple-A bantam championship. And success naturally brings recognition. Three times now Robinson has been offered the coaching job of the Sarnia junior club, a prestigious position that would net him a stipend of around $2,500 a year, whereas the bantam coaching job pays nothing. Three times he has refused. He’s a hard-nosed fundamentalist in hockey and he believes he can influence players before they become set in their ways. He stresses discipline, which gives the fans good, fast and very clean hockey, but which gives some of the more protective parents nightmares. A few weeks before the trip to Sweden, he had outraged them by opening up to Sarnia radio reporter George Heath. “CCM gave us two dozen pairs of gloves and skates, as well as sticks,” he told Heath. “Perhaps what they should have done was give us a couple of kids who know how to play hockey.”
It served its purpose — the kids were up for the games in Sweden. But it hadn’t augured at all well with several of the parents. “My boy, you see, has to be treated differently,” one mother confided. “Migraines, you understand, he keeps things bottled up inside. The coach tells us he loves the kids, but you’d never know it to hear him yell at them.”
Fortunately for Robinson, the mothers soon had much more to fret about than a tough coach. In fact, it was Robinson they turned to for help when they began rallying to make sure their sons arrived back in Canada with their virginities intact.
The Örnsköldsvik prepubescent women found something oddly exotic about 13and 14-year-old Canadian boys. The groupie following of young Swedish flickas soared from three to 21 in three games. They gathered in giggling droves outside the dressing room, peeking in, waving, flashing baby-blue eyes and tossing golden Nordic locks. Little Dino Ciccarelli. the club’s best player so far, with his choirboy looks and kiss curls, was one darling of the hockey groupies, but failed to capitalize. When one declared her youthful love for him, he hardly stopped to look at her. “Get outta here,” he growled.
At times there were almost as many flickas as players around the Sarnia bench, with only spare goalie Mike McCall rivaling Ciccarelli for popularity. During one boring game McCall looked more like a patron of a drive-in movie than a bench warmer, sitting in full goalie gear on the end of the bench with one arm tightly around one of the lovely flickas.
All this was much to the disapproval of trainer Dennis Kirby, a fiftyish. goodhearted man who tries to run a tight hockey ship (“When a kid plays on a team I train, I tell them
to check their guns and their mothers /
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at the door”). He began to wonder what had befallen his cherished game when he turned to answer a tug at his sleeve.
“You got a cigarette?” a flicka with corn silk hair asked.
“You got a match, then? I can get a cigarette elsewhere.”
“What the hell you want with a cigarette?” Kirby demanded. “You aren’t even old enough to smoke.”
“I am, too. Old enough to smoke and old enough to screw.”
The parents had their moments, as well. During a free afternoon I walked from the hotel to the centre of town, passing a tobacco store that also sold pornography. A father was inside, buying cigars, chocolate bars and “Oh yes, one of these magazines, please and thank you.” Much later I returned to the hotel, by chance passing his wife and another mother on the stairs. “I just don’t understand what got into him,” she was saying. “He’s been in that washroom for nearly two hours.”
They suffered the same culture shock as any middle-class, middle-aged Canadians would in Sweden. It was humorous but not harmful. It was somewhat of a look-but-don’t-touch attitude, and they consciously set out to ensure that Sweden would retain nothing but the best memories of Sarnia. They presented every child in the Örnsköldsvik arena with a Sarnia badge. In the evenings they invited the Swedish parents who were billeting the Sarnia bantams back to the hotel for goodwill and good rye (gallons and gallons of which had been picked up at the Toronto duty-free shop) and a camaraderie grew between a pulp and paper town in Sweden and a petroleum town in Canada. It was a tar, far cry from the mood of September, 1972, when Team Canada played two exhibition games in Stockholm and the nickname “Canadian animal” was born. But at this time the nickname seemed far away. The Sarnia boys were playing good hockey, clean hockey, and the adults were behaving as proper guests. No one would have believed that the very next evening the nickname would be revived.
“This is so refreshing,” Fritz Bylund, one of the MoDo Cup organizers told me. “We like to think Canadians are like these people from Sarnia, and we like to see hockey played the way they play it, particularly Dino, gentle and with class.”
He was speaking to me at a banquet thrown by the MoDo pulp and paper company for the visitors the night before the tournament finale, when it was learned that Sarnia would be meeting the winner of group “D” in the semifinals, a team called Kiruna AIF, which had somehow fashioned a more impres-
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sive record (27 goals in three games compared to Sarnia’s 17). But Kiruna had another ring to it; the Sarnia people had heard about it in the papers. This tiny Swedish town, so far inside the Arctic Circle as to restrict daylight to the six summer months, had somehow produced a hockey player the calibre of Borje Salming, the brilliant rookie defenseman of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The fact that a Kiruna native had reached the NHL gave the bantam team credibility in Sarnia eyes, and they were sore afraid.
Early next morning, Sarnia entered the arena like wealthy gladiators. Players, coaches, trainer, manager, team officials, with only a few exceptions, wore the team uniform: blue, V-neck sweater over white turtleneck, blue checkered pants, slightly flared, dark shoes, bulky nylon jacket, blue, with inch-wide strip along each arm, team crest over the heart. Blue heaven. Kiruna arrived at the same time, motley in their blue jeans, long hair and jackets, comic with their patchwork equipment.
The Sarnia fathers passed out cigars as Kiruna warmed up. They remembered last night’s insipid rumor, with its warnings against Kiruna defenseman Lars Karlsson and forwards Mikael Andersson and Ingemar Torma. They remembered and they laughed. Lars Karlsson stood five-feet three-inches, weighed 95 pounds, had a baby face, dimples, flaxen blond hair and all his teeth. Worse yet, to ward off a cold, he was wearing a scarf. The sissy.
The puck was dropped. Andersson won the face-off, relayed it back to Karlsson who hit Torma on the fly as he deked around his check, then back to Andersson coming up behind for a good shot on goal. The few times Sarnia gained control of the puck they were stymied by Karlsson, the tiny defenseman who had been born with the gift of anticipation. Poke-checking, intercepting passes, skating his check off the puck, cleaning scrambles out of the crease —he was, in a word, brilliant. As for Andersson, he was beyond anything Sarnia had ever contended with, a better stickhandler and probably faster than any two Sarnia players combined. Working with his wingman, Torma, he made the score 2-0 for Kiruna with less than a minute to go. Sarnia got one back, but much too late. The Sarnia balloon had burst; the Kiruna balloon was soaring.
The MoDo Cup was decided late in the afternoon, leaving only the presentation of the individual awards to close out the tournament. Three were obvious: Kiruna’s Mikael Andersson for best forward and Lars Karlsson for best defenseman, and Sarnia’s Gary Spradbrow for best goaltender. But a fourth was produced, a small soapstone carving of an owl, and it was presented in a con-
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fused moment to Dino Ciccarelli. As he accepted it, Fritz Bylund, the tournament organizer, left the crowd, jumped onto the ice, came over to Dino and scrambled Dino’s kiss curls with a flick of his hand.
“What’s this for?” Ciccarelli demanded.
“Because you Dino we like the best,” Fritz answered. “You were the best playmaker in the tournament, let’s say.” And he threw his arms around the little centre, pulling him close and laughing.
Fritz embraced Dino an hour or so before supper on that last day in Örnsköldsvik. An hour or so after supper, the Canadians from Sarnia were unable to look the Swedes from Örnsköldsvik straight in the eye. On the evening of the same day that Dino received his odd little stone owl, Canadian ultraviolence came to town, the road show of blood that has become the Canadian hockey insignia abroad. St. Boniface Mohawks, a Winnipeg senior team billed as the second-best in Canada, just behind the Orillia Terriers, came to play the MoDo seniors in one round of the Expolaris Cup, a minor European tournament. The Sarnia people turned out to support the Mohawks, as was their duty as Canadian citizens. All were present at game’s start; perhaps six were there by game’s end. The non-dressing Winnipeg players and the hangers-on came out first, nattily dressed, and conspicuous in the Swedish surroundings with their post-Presley hair, barley sandwich bellies, broken noses and front plates. Consúmate hockey bums.
“Hey baby, you want a dress?” the Mohawk hangers-on yelled to the Swedes who were warming up. “We’re gonna stick you but good. Chicken Swede fag.”
“Go, Mohawks, go,” screamed the Sarnia crowd as the puck was dropped. St. Boniface, however, had no go to them; they were hopelessly outclassed. Like ballet dancers at a wino’s ball, the MoDo team dodged, out-finessed, eluded and totally triumphed over the sluggish Mohawks.
Early in the first period a MoDo player fell spurting blood to the ice, four teeth skidding toward the boards. The whistle blew and Mohawk captain Gary Kwasnitza was signaled for a penalty. A Mohawk left the concerned circle that had formed around the fallen Swede and returned to the bench. “The goddamn sonovabitch bit his tongue after he fell so the refd see blood,” he told the coach. “Kwas’ never even touched him.” .
Compared to left winger Wayne Bell, however, Kwas was merely a side attraction. Bell, a chunky and snarly poor man’s Wayne Cashman, in the third period crushed a nose with an elbow, cross-checked a man flat, butt-ended a
witness, slashed another’s ankles and speared an unaware MoDo in the lower back, sending him screaming to the ice clutching desperately at the delicate kidney area. Bell looked puzzled when the referee pointed his way. “What for, ref?” he demanded. “Didn’t you see him trip me earlier? Jesus Christ, ref! Open your eyes!”
By the time the crowd of 600 or so began their chant “Go home Canada . . Go home Canada . . . Tomahawks . . Tomahawks . . .” there were fortunately very few Sarnia people still in the stands. As for the Swedes who sat with the Sarnians, they must have found it most confusing. For three days they had seen the young bantams from Canada play good hockey without a single incident. They had met and liked and even drank with the parents of these bantams, finding them congenial and polite. And yet, here were other Canadians, the Mohawks, playing dreadful hockey and dirty hockey which saw 77 minutes in penalties handed out — a 1973 record
for all of Sweden. “Canadian animals'' someone yelled.
“But it wasn’t our players’ fault,” George Allard, secretary-manager of the Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association, told me later. “We were told to play more aggressively. The Swedish Ice Hockey Federation said the crowds weren’t turning out because we played too mildly.”
Too boring a game might have been more accurate. The great dilemma of the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation (SIHF) is that it has an exchange program worked out with the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association, and the CAHA, sad to say, just no longer has teams under its jurisdiction that can play up to the Swedish calibre. First division senior hockey in Sweden is probably the calibre of the American Hockey League and the lesser teams of the World Hockey Association. Mohawks were asked by SIHF to play rougher — not dirtier — for reasons that are purely financial. They obviously felt Mohawks billed as a wrestling match would be infinitely more interesting than Mohawks billed as a hockey match. The CAHA-SIHF agreement re-
quires that Sweden pick up the tab when Canadian teams visit, and the individual clubs — like MoDo — hope to turn a profit on the crowds the Canadian hockey draws. That day in Örnsköldsvik, almost as many people watched the Kiruna bantams defeat Sarnia as saw Mohawks perform surgery on MoDo (while losing 6-1), and those who saw the bantams play saw better hockey.
Mohawks cost SIHF 60,000 Swedish kroners ($12,000) for five games, none of which they won. The Sarnia bantams tour cost SIHF nothing. In all, Sarnia played seven games, losing only the one. The $13,500 it cost to get the team over came in large part from Philco Ford of Canada ($9,000) and the Ontario government ($1,000). The remaining $3,500 was raised by the team: a colored television was raffled off. a dance and stag were held, and a pop bottle drive brought in $500.
But if the St. Boniface Mohawks cost SIHF money, they cost the Sarnia people something far more valuable — friends. Next morning, as the bus was loaded to take the Sarnia crowd south toward Stockholm, there were very few Örnsköldsvik people present. Fritz was there to wish Dino luck, and a few flickas turned out to wave farewell to their new puppy loves, virginity still intact, and the organizers came to shake hands. That’s all.
The weather was even bleaker in Stockholm, warm but foggy and damp.
The bantams played one exhibition game in Stockholm, which they won handily, but the kids’ hockey had already been relegated to a new position of importance, far, far behind the two prédominent forces in Stockholm that first week of January — the Canadian discovery of pornography and the near total disintegration of Canadian integrity in international hockey.
Clarence Cranston, in his sixty-third year, an elder in the Sarnia Presbyterian Church, was the only unfortunate victim of the first force. His trip to Sweden was in many ways the reward for a quarter century of distinguished devotion to Sarnia minor hockey. A nonsmoker who never swore. Clarence also told me, “I guess I’ll die before liquor touches these lips.” Early to bed, early to rise, Clarence Cranston avoided the hoopla. But one fatal night he was restless, couldn’t drop off, so he left his room, walked down to the lobby, out to the street and turned right. Had he gone left and entered the first theatre he came across he would have seen Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, with Swedish subtitles. Clarence, however, turned right. The first theatre was the Hollywood. He walked in on the uncut version of Deep Throat. He left immedi-
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ately, disgusted. “I know I’ve been out of touch,” he told me later, “but I had no idea things had gotten that bad.”
Had Dick Robinson decided to take in Deep Throat Friday afternoon, he would have discovered a good portion of his good team learning some new fundamentals. The Carleton Hotel was located dead centre in Stockholm’s porno section: the store window next door had mothers wincing over its selection of whips, maces, chains, stretchers and posters of cruel men attaching clothes pins to unusual parts of female bodies. Several of the Sarnia men burst in one evening fresh from a live sex show. “I understand that same couple does six shows a night in different parts of the city,” said one. Then there was the Canadian (not a Sarnia parent) who woke up one morning in a strange bedroom to find that his Swedish date had passed the night painting dozens of watercolor flowers over his body.
It wasn’t only the sex that had Sarnia spinning. When the bus was readying to take the parents to the exhibition match, a bearded freak dashed up the steps and down the aisle. “Listen to me,” he screamed. “America will be destroyed in 40 days! Kahoutek is the sign! America will be destroyed in 40 days!”
Better it had been Canada, after what took place later that night. Regina Pats,
the supposed second-best junior team in Canada, were playing Djurgaarden in the Ahearne Cup. Naturally, they were suffering another embarrassing defeat. Coach Bob Turner, in a moment that is best described as “loose,” protested a referee’s call by throwing a player’s stick at the official. But the worst was yet to come. Harold Jones, president of the Saskatchewan Minor Hockey Association, had a few things to say and unfortunately he said them to the Swedish press. “It’s one thing that a referee is poor,” he was quoted as saying, “another that he is dishonest. We Canadians are treated unfairly. I understand that Turner did what he had to do. And I recommend that we break off all relations with Sweden.”
“That’s foolish,” Jack Church, second secretary of the Canadian Embassy in Stockholm, told me the next day. “I just don’t understand why Canadians think they have to spill blood as soon as they get to Sweden. They find they can’t skate with the Swedes or handle the puck as well, so they turn to violence. That’s no solution. If we’re ever going to change this, we’re going to have to send teams of equivalent calibre over, teams that can play up to the level of the Swedes.”
Ambassador Harry Jay concurred: “It’s a cultural exchange, and if you
don’t send your best you won’t satisfy the people. You wouldn’t send a poor pianist over now, would you?”
That night was the wind-up of the Sarnia tour of Sweden. The kids had but one chance to lose their virginity, and a farewell dance held for them at a local youth club had all the ingredients: music, girls, soft lights, a chance to break out the ciggies with the coach absent. But there was one problem: only a couple of the Sarnia bantams had ever danced before, and true to team spirit, they weren’t about to desert their line mates. They sat and they talked. The young Swedish flickas danced alone, and waited. One, a saucy 1974 model of a 1944 Jane Russell, skipped the light fandango, up and down the floor directly in front of the Sarnia boys, bumping, grinding, tossing her hair and taunting the bantams, daring them to get up and take a chance. No takers.
Later in the evening, when the disc jockey put on The Twist, I happened to be sitting beside young Ciccarelli. “That’s an old one, eh Dino?” I commented.
“Never heard it before,” he answered.
The Twist hit Canada in 1961. The first year of Dino’s life. The last year a CAHA team, the Trail Smoke Eaters, won the world hockey championship^?