|Schadenfreude: The Agony of Bobby Clarke
||[May. 23rd, 2004|09:18 am]
What a childish - maybe even animal - pleasure it was last night, to see "Bob" Clarke's face, frozen in stoic acceptance a moment too late to disguise the anguish roiling below the surface. As the Tampa Bay Lightning leapt onto the ice to celebrate their victory and a berth in the Stanley Cup finals, Clarke turned stiffly away, erect but broken, like a pane of shattered glass, but with each shard somehow still shouldering its neighbour, as though held by some invisible mesh.
That was "Bob" Clarke as he should be, cut down to size, a born thug unable to understand that brutality did not win the day.
Bobby Clarke is famous for deliberately shattering the ankle of Valeri Kharlamov during the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union, whose "Broadstreet Bullies" ushered in a brief reign of terror in the NHL while they pummelled their way to the Stanley Cup in 1974 and 1975, climaxing on January 11, 1976, during an exhibition game against the Central Red Army team from the Soviet Union, when the Flyers literally drove the visiting club from the ice at 11:21 of the first period;
Clarke's Broadstreet Bullies fell to the Montreal Canadiens in the spring of 1976, beaten by a team built not to fight fire with fire, slash with slash, elbow with elbow or pound with pound, but rather, to douse the fire: to meet brute force with speed; cross-checks with dekes, positional play with creative give-and-go.
In short, imagination and skill took on size and brutal power, and won handily, ushering in an era of hockey that didn't end until more than a decade later, when the Edmonton Oilers dynasty at last crumbled.
Clarke played on through the end of the 1983-84 season, his team an anachronism, then moved into the executive ranks, where he has been the Flyers' President and General Manager for 16 years. During that time, he has modelled his team on that for which he played, relying on size and power more than finesse, yet, though his Flyers have often contended, they have not won another Cup.
Playing a dump-and-chase fore-checking game, they helped usher in the tedium of "the trap", which has helped turn a fast, imaginative game into one in which, more often than not, sheer physical strength determines the outcome, where goals are scored during ugly scrums in front of the net, rather than as a result of passing and stick-handling.
The Tampa Bay Lightning, on the other hand, play a game that recalls the glory years of the '70s Canadiens and the '80s Oilers: hard-skating, quick-passing and creative play-makers, the Lightning are a beautiful team to watch, strong defensively but explosive on the offense, they revel in end-to-end rushes and crisp give-and-go passing plays, they live up to their locker-room motto: "Safe is Death".
Last night, the Lightning may have laid to rest for a generation the trap, showing that hockey can indeed still be a game of beauty, grace and skill.
Last night, while the Lightning piled atop one another, maybe, the first shard fell from the mesh. "Bob" Clarke looked a broken man, one who knows he has seen his last chance come, and go.
His team is too old for another run at the cup next year - there may not even be a season this coming year, which will leave his Flyers that much older still for the next.
Clarke himself is probably too old, the team's ownership too impatient, to have another chance to rebuild.
Godspeed, "Bob" Clarke, you brutal thug, you arrogant power-tripper. You deserve every single Stanley Cup you haven't won since 1975.