Probing. Profound. Purposeful. These are the last words anybody would use to describe what passes for an interview in the NHL. It’s totally beyond parody. If the team is losing, the solution is keep plugging away at the fundamentals. If the team is winning, they need to keep plugging away at the fundamentals. If there’s a noteworthy individual accomplishment, it’s because of the team. If the team is doing well, all the individuals are clicking. It all happens one game at a time. “What’s the key to your success?” “Our coach designed this secret play, here’s how it works…” What do we expect to be told? As a result, players are asked questions that aren’t really questions with the understanding that after saying something banal, obvious, and wonderfully cliché they’ll be given permission to walk away. In a Canadian hockey culture that is wary of personality, that celebrates blandness, predictable conformity in media talk is all there is. Except for last week.
After the ridiculous 9-8 game between Philly and Winnipeg, Philly’s goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov could have said he’ll bounce back or it was a weird night for both goalies. But shockingly, he spoke outside the script: “I have zero confidence in myself right now. I’m terrible…I feel like I’m lost in the woods. I am totally lost. I don’t know what’s going on. I can’t stop the puck. It’s simple. It’s me.” That a goalie has no confidence after allowing 9 goals isn’t surprising when you think about it, but the hockey world was stunned to hear an actual candid response. It was sad, and singularly unique: have you ever felt so bad for a $51 million man? There are countries looking for that kinda bailout. I wanted to write on pointless hockey interviews prior to this game, but Bryzgalov’s response made me doubt the premise. Maybe there was a point to the hockey interview? Not if the Flyers have their way.
Bruce Arthur reported in today’s National Post that after Bryzgalov mercifully won a game and joked he had gotten out of the woods thanks to the “iPhone Compass,” the Flyers announced their goalie would only be available after games he started. Heaven forbid an interview contain honesty or humour. But this violated the league’s rules regarding media access, so now Philly wants to limit Bryzgalov to three questions, which, as Arthur points out, is the same policy our Prime Minister follows. Whether this curtailing of interview time is a violation of policy is under investigation. For Harper it’s fine, but it’s important that the goalie is held publicly accountable for his performance.
Before he faces the media again, Bryzgalov will undoubtedly be told not to cause any needless distraction by saying anything worth repeating. Shut up Ilya! This doesn’t only make total sense from a hockey perspective, the one that should matter most, but it’s what rightly ensures that player interviews are totally vacuous. As a fan, I don’t want to put any burden on my team. Radical idea: if the media wants something to write about, write about the hockey. If a player wants to call out or praise his players in public, there’ll be a hungry audience ready to hear something of substance that’s more meaningful for being spoken voluntarily. He can even Tweet on his own time and allow sports reporters, who will be following, to report on it then. For fan appreciation, players can do autograph signings, visit hospitals, deliver presents at Christmas. But the hockey interview is an illusion that tells the fans absolutely nothing. It’s not a window into the game or into the players’ personalities, and in the rare, rare time it is, hockey culture does all it can to ensure it doesn’t happen again.