SIHR’s Behind the Boards

Hyperbolic Reporting in Hockey

SIHR’s Behind the Boards

Hyperbolic Reporting in Hockey

Kevin Slater
Posted February 01, 2015

Viewed 2103 times

In hockey strange goals are scored all of the time, a funny hop off the boards, a strange deflection, a goalie just not giving the play the fullness of his attention, much like the one Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored on Jonathan Bernier just last week, and with the nightly video highlight packages being shown on every sports channel goalies have to relive their embarrassment over and over.

But what about the days before there was video evidence of every hockey game? Back in the days when newspapers were the only way that a hockey fan, who was unable to attend a game in person, could learn the details of how their favourite team performed the night before, there were still strange goals scored. The problem however was how to convey this information, and in the early days of sports reporting many of the scribes lived by the old adage that they should never let the facts get in the way of a good story. One classic example of this type of reporting is the legendary story of the Cyclone Taylor as a member of the Renfrew team skating backwards through the entire Ottawa club with the puck and scoring a goal, a story which was eventually denied by Taylor himself.

Another such strange incident took place at Kingston, Ontario in an OHA Intermediate Series match between Peterborough and the Frontenacs of Kingston on February 5, 1897. To set the stage for the match it was the second leg of a two game, total goals series to determine which team would advance to the semi-finals where they would face the Victorias of Toronto, the winners of the Toronto group. The first leg of the Peterborough-Frontenac series which was played at Peterborough resulted in a 6-6 tie, so whichever team won the second game would win the series and the losers would be eliminated. In this instance the strange event was that Peterborough's goalkeeper Ernie Wasson allowed a goal when he literally became frozen to the ice, according to the following description of the play from the Peterborough Daily Examiner.

"An amusing incident which occurred during the evening was caused by the fact that Wasson became frozen to the ice between his flags. It seems that the rink was flooded about fifteen minutes before the game, but the water did not freeze before play began, and consequently the ice was soon cut up into slush. As the night grew colder the slush hardened somewhat and when a shot came in on the Peterborough flags Ernie's skates were frozen to the ice and he could not draw his feet together to stop the puck, so it passed between them." ("The Peterboroughs Lose at Kingston," Peterborough Daily Examiner 6 February 1897: p4)

The game was eventually won by the Frontenacs by 12-5, but the report was not clear on which of the Fronts' twelve goals the report was referring to.

The image of a goalie, upon seeing the puck slide toward him desperately trying to move his feet to block the puck, only to find them stuck firm to the ice and then helplessly watching the puck pass between his legs, while comical seems unlikely and one might jump to the conclusion that the reporter was exaggerating the facts to make for a more interesting and entertaining article.

Even on very cold days water will take time to freeze, particularly if we are taking about enough slush for a skate to get buried, particularly when one reads the article and realises that Frontenacs spent a large portion of the game in the Peterborough end making it even more unlikely that Wasson was ever left standing still for long enough to get frozen to the ice. Even if there was a prolonged period where the play was at the Kingston end of the ice, when have we ever seen a player standing stock-still on skates for the length of time it would take to become frozen? Even during national anthems most players will shuffle their feet, not just out of nervous energy, but because it is just not comfortable to stand still on skates for any extended period of time.

There must be at the very least a smidgen of truth to the story as it seems unlikely that a reporter would make up something as ridiculous as this in its entirety. One possible explanation for what happened was that when the choppy slush in front of the Peterborough goal froze solid it was rutted and choppy so that when Wasson tried to slide his feet together to stop the puck the blade of his skate got caught in a rut which prevented him from making the save which looked like it should have been an easy one.

The article reminds us that when reading and analysing reports of a certain age it must be remembered that the reports were as much about entertainment as they were about reporting facts and these facts as they are reported must be taken with a grain of salt.

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