In sports, the secret to keeping the media off your back is simple: play well. Like, really well. Do that, and there’s really nothing anyone can do to criticize you. Heck, stupid as it sounds, the things you do and say that would otherwise be criticized will probably be held up as a reason you’re succeeding.
No criticism is too absurd for a struggling hockey player. Consider Ilya Bryzgalov, who learned the hard way last season in Philadelphia that being a curious person in general could be blamed for your play on the ice. When he started playing poorly, people pointed to his sense of humour. It reached a point where the Flyers barred him from speaking to the media on game days, primarily in order to limit his opportunities to use it.
I honestly believe things reached a point where some people really thought Bryzgalov was letting goals in on purpose — or at the very least, not stopping them — just for giggles, because he was just that wacky. This tweet, from just after Bryzgalov was pulled Monday night in Toronto, felt like a residual of that mindset:
Was Ilya bryzgalov smiling when he was skating off of the ice. Looked like it.
— Daren Millard (@darenmillard) February 12, 2013
He’s smiling because he secretly enjoys getting shelled! He’s just so bizarre!
I would suggest that Bryzgalov’s issues last season had nothing to do with the media or his penchant for non sequiturs. The environment change seems far more likely, as Bryz went from the goalie’s paradise that is Dave Tippett’s system, which makes backstops look excellent by smothering offence like Jerry on George, to Philadelphia’s system, which is a half-dozen defenceman short of a defence, give or take. Bryzgalov is a good goaltender, and he’s showing it thus far this season, but he isn’t the world-beater Phoenix made him out to be, and he’s definitely not good enough to overcome a poor defensive team.
Few are. There was a time last season when people insisted the St. Louis Blues had the best goaltending tandem in the league. But two weeks of the Blues looking defensively disinterested, and five straight games of surrendering four or more goals later, that crowd has gone quiet.
All of which brings us back to the Canucks, who started this season with two number one goaltenders, and were roundly criticized for it. It was going to be a distraction, some said. It was going to divide the room and frustrate both guys. It was the obvious accusation, so it was levelled early and often.
But it doesn’t appear to have been true. Outside of the first weekend of the season, Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider have been nigh unbeatable for the Canucks, who are riding a six-game win streak that has left nearly everyone unable to criticize Mike Gillis’s decision to keep them both. Luongo is 2nd in the league in GAA and SV%. Schneider is further down the list, but he has that opening night shelling to overcome. He’s pushing his way into the top 10.
Either way, both look excellent and the whole thing appears to be working. It reached a point last week where Mark Spector of Sportsnet even dropped a mea culpa.
I was wrong, when I figured that there was no way Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo could co-exist in Vancouver. That it would certainly be “a distraction.” That the dressing room would be upset by on going “controversy.”
Well, watching the two goalies go at it in the hardest shot competition over the weekend, and taking in head coach Alain Vigneault’s daily coin-flip comedy routine on Connected, we’re admiring the way the Canucks are making the most of a goofy situation.
It’s funny to hear Spector and others mention the sudden lighter side we’ve seen of Roberto Luongo this season. Less than a year after Bryzgalov’s lighter side was used to explain his failings as a goaltender, and a little over a year after Luongo’s attempt at humour was used to paint him as an emotionally fragile goaltender that couldn’t handle big-game pressure, it’s now being used to explain the success of Vancouver’s two netminders. It doesn’t really make any sense.
That said, the Canucks really are using humour well this season. Case in point:
This guy might need a longer jersey by the time it’s all said and done…….. twitter.com/strombone1/sta…
—Strombone (@strombone1) February 13, 2013
Luongo’s Twitter account has been a boon for his public persona, and even Alain Vigneault is getting a ton of mileage out of “the coin”, even if he’s doing it to death. He can, though, since his unending stream of references to the coin only reinforces how often he’s asked the same damn questions. Not to mention that it’s pretty easy to see Vigneault’s not using a coin, but rather, alternating his starters unless they steal one, in which case, they win an extra turn.
If the Canucks were losing, however, those jokes would fall flatter than Stephan Feck. The media would be talking about how Vigneault isn’t taking things seriously enough. His sense of humour would become the reason for the Canucks’ struggles.
As for Luongo, he’s funnier now because he honestly doesn’t care anymore. His digs are put out there with no concern over ruffling feathers, because, like Ron Livingston in Office Space, he’s basically thrown up his hands. When Sportsnet announced their 10-year broadcast extension with the Canucks, Luongo’s response was, “You’ve got to be insane to sign someone to a deal that long.”
There’s simply no way Luongo can make that joke if he’s playing poorly. Everything comes back to play in hockey. It’s a paradox: if you’re winning and you’re funny, you’re winning because you’re funny. If you’re not winning and you’re funny, you’re not taking the game seriously enough. Thankfully, nothing is better for comedy than a six-game win streak.Tags: Alain Vigneault, Cory Schneider, goaltending controversy, IlyaBryzgalov, Roberto Luongo