Humour: the language of winners, but only when they’re winning

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:

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:

 

Perfect.

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.

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16 comments

  1. sarah
    February 13, 2013

    I love fun Bobby

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  2. betty
    February 13, 2013

    I think Roberto said it best when he said” There are more important things in life , than Hockey”, I agree. Luongo’s long time Fans have known “Who he Is” ,always. That’s WHY they are “Long Time Fans”. This is a special person, ,just appreciate him, and ENJOY the Guys, and enjoy the GAME !

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    • TeeJay
      February 14, 2013

      Maybe they have’nt seen the POETRY oF Luongo. He’s a Funny BOB.

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  3. Carlo
    February 13, 2013

    Fantastic article. Reposting on my site! http://www.thepican.com

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    • Harrison Mooney
      February 13, 2013

      Thanks Carlo, although I’d prefer that you not post the entire article on your site, because, um, I don’t write for your site.

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      Rating: +34 (from 36 votes)
      • Kyle
        February 13, 2013

        As much as I didn’t really want to give his website traffic to check, unfortunately it doesn’t look like he listened to your request.

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        • Carlo
          February 13, 2013

          Apologies for pre-empting! Will take that down. Only saw this just now.

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  4. Eggers
    February 13, 2013

    Bless this post. Can we get one about “toughness” or “faceoffs” soon and how they only matter when they’re brought up with “wins” and “losses?”

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    • Kesler's Nose
      February 14, 2013

      “Toughness” used in the same sentence as Canucks hasn’t been heard in these parts ever!

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  5. Smokey
    February 13, 2013

    It all makes perfect sense if you filter everything through a certain viewpoint: for instance, if you assume that the hockey media is stupid (with PitB the obvious exception), suddenly you will find all of this making a lot more sense.

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  6. tj
    February 13, 2013

    Like his “nickname” Funny Bob: sometimes it’s true-fact, sometimes it’s true-derision. I like this guy, Lalongo. He seems like a keeper.

    Oh, and as for “Thankfully, nothing is better for comedy than a [insert number]-game win streak.” Right up there with fantastic PitB quotables, along with “Nothing’s more dangerous than a 2-goal lead.”

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    • Wetcoaster
      February 13, 2013

      What’s that? A 2-goat lead?

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  7. J21 (@Jyrki21)
    February 14, 2013

    Great read. And it’s true, the problem with (to an extent all journalism, but in particular) sportswriting is the constant need to search for simple explanations for everything in an effort to look knowledgeable.

    So not only do you get blatantly contradictory stuff like you’ve highlighted here, but you also get the unending stream of post hoc expanations that seek to draw massive conclusions from single examples (“Boston won the Cup because team toughness is paramount in the playoffs”; “Pittsburgh won the Cup because the league has moved away from a goalie-first model”; “Michael Grabner will never make the NHL because that one time in the minors, his coach mentioned one shift where he wasn’t physical”).

    I know that stating “There are a bunch of converging factors and frankly luck and health are the most important ones of them” doesn’t make for very good copy, and would instantly put the sports analyst phenomenon to rest if the majority of fans woke up enough to realize it, but it’s overwhelmingly true.

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    • J21 (@Jyrki21)
      February 14, 2013

      Also, speaking of contradictory opinions, check out this gem from that article: “As for Max Pacioretty’s lunch date with Mikhail Grabovski, we figure that when you rake a guy’s face in a brawl, anything might happen. We don’t condone biting, but Pacioretty stuck his hand through the bars of the tiger’s cage on that one.”

      Of course the above never applied to Alex Burrows getting fish-hooked by Patrice Bergeron in the finals. That was simply a case of Noble Warrior assaulted unprovoked by guy whose backstory totally isn’t right up CBC’s alley.

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      • James W.
        February 14, 2013

        Case in point:

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=71ZJQNh_IaY

        I highly recommend watching the whole thing. It’s amazing what sports media is able to get away with.

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  8. biznow
    February 14, 2013

    Fantastic article! I’m going to start printing these out and making my own newspaper out of them.

    *attention post media, this was only a joke*

    It’s great that the Canucks are winning right now, like you say, it allows for the humor, which is allowing Luongo to reconnect with the fans before he inevitably gets traded. It would have been rough seeing him leave town after the way last season ended, like an ugly break-up after a fight. Now, if the break-up happens, I feel the fans and Luongo will be that rare couple that can remain friends.

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