The Curse of the “Code Blue” Motto

The motto of the Canadian national junior hockey team in 2011 was “Code Blue”. Who knew that their motto would prove ironic? After the final game, did whoever thought up the motto for the Canadian juniors glimpse, in a kind of literary horror, the final meaning the motto would have in history? It’s final meaning was revealed only after the Russians stormed back from a 3-0 deficit at the end of the second period to win 5-3 and capture their first World Junior tournament gold medal since 2003.  “Code blue” is for “cardiac arrest”, and it most aptly described the collapse of the Canadian team itself in the third period from hell. Did the motto’s writer sense being trapped in the inevitability of a story that he had helped write without knowing the end and the meaning that would give the motto?

Consider another case of literary horror. In The Shining, there’s a moment when Wendy, Jack’s wife, discovers that what Jack has been writing all winter amounts to an entire volume of repetitions of one sentence: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

It’s funny but it’s also a moment of literary horror. He’s mad! Or is he just postmodern???? A conceptual poet??? No he’s mad, look out for the axe!! A boy so dull cannot but be mad!!

Similarly, the moment, after the third period, of the revelation of the final meaning of the “Code Blue” motto. A little frisson of the secret wiles of destiny. A peek into the machinery of the universe.

It’s more interesting as a comeback than it is as a code blue, however. This was the third straight game in which the Russians had rallied from at least a 0-2 score to win the game. These were the comeback kids supreme. CBC sports wrote that

“Down the hall in the Russian dressing room, head coach Valeri Bragin let his players have it. He broke the white board and urged them for one more comeback like they did against Finland in the quarter-finals and Sweden the following afternoon in the semis. “After that, we have no choice but to win,” said Russian forward Maxim Kitsyn, who scored his club’s second goal, 13 seconds after Artemi Panarin scored his first of two.”

One of the things we saw that was quite beautiful was a reinvigorated Russian attack. The Russians are deservedly famous already for the offensive dynamism of their top forwards such as Ovechkin, Malkin, Semin, Datsyuk, Federov, and Kovalchuk. We saw similarly brilliant Russian stings from the captain Vladimir Tarasenko, Artemi Panarin, and Yevgeni Kuznetsov. They swarmed in full swoop around the Canadian goal. To say nothing of the stellar defence provided by the likes of Dmitri Orlov who, in the third period, engineered lightning quick puck take-aways and offensive movement into the Canadian zone. And Igor Bobkov, the questionable second string goalie from the Ontario Hockey League, the only Russian playing in Canada, was absolutely perfect in relief of Shikin for two periods. The Canadians did not score one goal on the immense Bobkov.

Tarasenko’s one-timer, the tying goal, was a thing of beauty. He received a similarly beautiful pass from Evgeny Kuznetsov who got 3 assists, the most points by anyone in the game. Kuznetsov is the only Russian player young enough to play on the team next year. And Artemi Panarin got two goals. We will hear more from him also. Tarasenko came back to score his goal after being escorted from the ice doubled-over in pain.

The Canadian team collapsed into code blue. But the idea that they did it to themselves discounts the sensational comeback mounted by a club that had achieved similar comebacks in their two previous games. They were the cardiac kids, and they were heart stoppers. Score one for the Fatherland! Nastrovia! It is good to see Russian hockey strong. Canada has won that tournament too much. It is good to see other countries winning.

That game was one of the most exciting hockey games I have ever seen. Even when it was 3-0 for Canada, it was definitely a game. As the CBC points out, the Russians began to assert themselves even in the second period. The first period was total and complete Canadian domination and ended 2-0. But in the second period, the Russians showed life and played better than the Canadians even while shorthanded. The game was chuck full of brilliant scoring opportunities for each team, crushing but totally legal hits, little masterpieces of hockey genius plays, and outstanding saves at both ends. It was not an ugly match at all.

Imagine the party in Moscow! Rock on Ruskies! Rock on! International hockey is very healthy. That tournament was dramatic proof.

I had a funny encounter with my cousin about the World Junior tournament. He feels it’s wrong. It’s wrong to put such a spotlight on kids so young. It can destroy lives and warp them forever. All in the name of a national obsession with winning hockey games. He’s an odd duck. He also does not like NHL hockey or drama. Entertainment drama is an empty shell that pales to life, for him. Reality. Let us seek reality.

The reality for me is that I have rarely seen hockey so good as the final
two games Canada played against the USA and Russia. It was supremely
entertaining. And quite hopeful, I feel, for both the sport of hockey and
the future we glimpse for both the budding Russian stars and the great
talents we see on the Canadian team including Brayden Schenn from Saskatoon
who tied a Canadian tournament record for the most points (18) in the entire
tournament. He did better than Gretzky, Crosby, Lemeiux, and all but Dale
McCourt among Canadian players. Though he did not come close to Peter
Forsberg’s record of 34 points. Marcus Naslund got 24, that year.

The quality of the hockey was often more entertaining than NHL
hockey and it was dipped in the explosive, brilliant athletic energy of
teenagers emerging on a world stage with all their might. And the Russians
did it in a deafening arena packed to the rafters with foreign Canadians who
had invaded Buffalo with all the force Canada applied to the Russians in the
first two periods. It was absolutely sensational, memorable, exciting,
inspiring, invigorating. Teens are of course of somewhat frailer
psychologically than adults, but judging from the interviews with the
Canadian players, they’re taking it in stride and are justly proud of what
they brought to the rink. And they left it all on the ice. They played
their hearts out. To a code blue, yes. But life goes on, and this will make
them stronger.

Another article says

“The Russians have often been the anti-team of late, a collection of talent
that cannot be meshed. Well, not this time. Russia is a hard country, and a
country of artists, and this team managed to blend them both. When asked why
this team had no quit, what made it so special, Bobkov did not hesitate.
“Friendship. Yes, [we play] only for each other,” he said, positively
glowing. “It’s unbelievable. We won last three games . it’s unbelievable.
It’s the friendship. We never gave up.””

I expect the friendships among the Canadians formed through this tournament
are very similar. Brayden Schenn got a one-timer equal in beauty to
Tarasenko’s goal–and with a pass from Marcus Foligno as beautiful as
Kuznetsov’s to Tarasenko.

But they could not escape the fatal motto. The fatal motto of “Code Blue”
that hid the true nature of its meaning till the end. Who is the
lucky man? The ancient Greeks say “Who knows who is lucky until the end?”
Indeed. The “Code Blue” motto secretly whispered of the comeback of the real
cardiac kids who stopped the heart of an entire Canadian nation and
jump-started a party in Moscow I would love to be part of.

The Canadian coaching very explicitly created an “identity” for the team
that all players had actually to sign their agreement to. This “identity”
was of a lunch-bucket brigade of team players. It served them well for two
periods. But it was an identity lacking in artistic possibility. The “Code
Blue” in hockey often awaits the lunch-bucket brigade facing another
identity–the cardiac kids of other cultures playing for each other and the
beauty of the game. The Canadian lunch-bucket identity was rattled and could
not cope with the Russian art.

We glimpse the secret link with that other moment of literary horror I mentioned. The crushing identity forged in months of writing “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” is not without reflection in the lunch-bucket identity that denies Canadians being comfortable with real fire. That Canadian team was no lunch-bucket brigade.

Which only underlines the Canadian need to give the lunch-bucket identity a bit of a break and launch into the blue.

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