I’ve watched — and re-watched — the video of Jacob Panetta shrugging his shoulders towards Jordan Subban during an ECHL game on the weekend many times in the past 48 hours.
It’s been three years since the Canucks last had a five-game winning streak. It came right around the same time in the season, too.
It was the 2016-17 season and the Canucks were struggling at the Christmas break. They were 14-18-3 and third-last in the Western Conference. For a team that was still refusing to admit they were rebuilding — they had just sent multiple young assets to the Florida Panthers for Erik Gudbranson in the off-season — it wasn’t ideal.
But then the Canucks came out of the Christmas break and went on a run, rattling off six-straight wins to climb into a playoff spot. It was heady times in Vancouver. Bo Horvat helped a kid get a weiner dog! He and Sven Baertschi were starting to look like the future of the Canucks’ offence! Ryan Miller was lights out in net! Nikita Tryamkin was really big!
Alas, it didn’t last. After that six-game win streak, the Canucks won just 10 of their next 41 games, with an 8-game losing streak to end the season that crashed them down the standings and earned them the fifth-overall pick at the 2017 draft. At the very least, they got one hell of a consolation prize: Elias Pettersson.
In many ways, that six-game streak was the last hurrah of a team that needed to bottom out to admit they needed to fully rebuild. At the trade deadline, the Canucks finally shipped off a couple veterans, trading away Alex Burrows and Jannik Hansen, albeit for prospects rather than draft picks, and the rebuild was on in earnest.
Fans can expect that this winning streak is indicative of the opposite: that this is a team on the rise, and that this is the first of many such winning streaks to come in 2020. Instead of the streak vaulting them to the edge of the playoffs, it has them all the way into second place in the Pacific. At the very least, they’re ending off the year and the decade in style.
I bid farewell to 2019 as I watched this game.
Tim Schaller is every beer leaguer who has to work in the morning pic.twitter.com/IjZSPcItRb
— Wyatt Arndt (@TheStanchion)
December 30, 2019
“There could be a scenario like that,” Gronkowski told reporters, via 95.3 WDAE in St. Petersburg. “I will never throw anything off the board because you never know how anything is going to play out. It’s the NFL. It’s one of the craziest businesses out there. You see organizations just totally flip year in and year out sometimes.
“I’m just going to really basically do what is basically best for myself in terms of the football world. It’s basically going to be a decision upon where I’m at in a couple weeks.”
Gronkowski had high praise for the closeness of the locker room and explained the next steps in deciding his future. He said he’ll take time off to recover, let his body heal and clear his mind in a process that could take 3-5 weeks. That doesn’t mean he would announce any decision in that time frame.
The five-time Pro Bowl tight end initially called it quits in March 2019, citing in part injuries sustained throughout his career. He added to them early this season with multiple rib fractures and a punctured lung.
Gronkowski ended his first NFL retirement to join Brady, who has delivered nearly every one of his career catches, in Tampa Bay ahead of the 2020 season. A year later they were Super Bowl champions together again, adding to their success with the New England Patriots. It was the fourth title for Gronkowski, 32, and seventh for Brady, 44.
Brady said after Sunday’s loss he had not thought much about the retirement question yet. He also said he would take time off after the season to think and talk it over with family.
I’ve watched — and re-watched — the video of Jacob Panetta shrugging his shoulders towards Jordan Subban during an ECHL game on the weekend many times in the past 48 hours.
To me, it did not look like it was racially motivated. But I wasn’t on the ice. More importantly, I’m not black.
So I don’t know — and I can’t know — what must have been going through Jordan Subban’s mind when he saw an opponent making what looked like “monkey gestures” at him. To Subban, who is black, it must have looked similar to the racist gesture that occurred days earlier in the American Hockey League, when a player made a racial gesture towards Boko Imama.
Panetta, who was released from his team and suspended indefinitely, said that wasn’t the case.
In an interview with Postmedia on Monday night, the 26-year-old claimed he was only making “a tough-guy, muscle-flexing pose” towards Subban and that it got misinterpreted. It’s the same gesture Panetta said he has made many times before. There’s even video evidence to back that up, as well as of Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson doing the same thing at the NHL level.
It was only after the game ended and Panetta was in the dressing room that he realized that Subban saw it differently.
“I heard him in the hallway and I kind of clued in that it was perceived like that and he took it that way,” said Panetta. “I was kind of in shock. It’s not my character. It’s not what I intended. That thought never crossed my mind.
“It’s tough hearing things. But actions are perceived differently by everyone. Unfortunately, those actions were perceived as racial. I want to emphasize that that was never my intention. My parents raised me to treat people with the utmost respect. That’s exactly what was going through my mind and what’s been going through my mind for the past 36 hours or so.”
As tough as the past couple of days have been for Panetta, who has been branded a racist and who many believe should be banned from playing professional hockey altogether, the Belleville, Ont., native said he can only imagine how difficult it has been for Subban and anyone else who viewed his gesture as racial.
“I’m sure it’s caused a lot of mental and emotional damage to Jordan and his family. It’s something that I’m sincerely sorry for,” said Panetta. “I just want to emphasize again that I’m sorry that he viewed it that way and I’m sorry for all the anger and hurt I’ve caused him and anyone else in the (arena) or anyone that’s had a chance to view it on social media.”
Maybe this is just one big misunderstanding, a case of crossing your signals and thinking something is worse than it actually is. Maybe Panetta is completely innocent. If that’s the case, we owe him an apology for blaming him for something he did not do.
At the same time, that doesn’t mean Subban is to blame. Nor does it mean that what Subban saw — and felt — is less important or less valid.
There’s a reason why Subban assumed he was being racially targeted. It’s because it has happened to him before. Many times. Over his career, he has been called names and felt like he didn’t belong. Talk to his brothers — PK is a defenceman with the New Jersey Devils and Malcom is a goalie with the Buffalo Sabres — or to Wayne Simmonds, or countless other black hockey players and they will tell you the same thing.
“The unfortunate thing isn’t just the incident,” PK Subban told reporters on Sunday. “The unfortunate thing is how many kids deal with this every day and it doesn’t come to light.”
There’s a reason why the Hockey Diversity Alliance partnered with Budweiser Canada to launch the #TapeOutHate campaign. There’s a reason why the NHL hired Kim Davis as its executive vice president of social impact, growth initiatives and legislative affairs.
Last January, Brandon Manning was suspended for five games in the AHL for using a racial slur against Imama. A year later, Krystof Hrabik was suspended for 30 games after he pretended he was eating a banana in front of Imama. That was in the same week where Willie O’Ree had his jersey retired in Boston as the first black NHLer.
In other words, we’ve come a long way as a sport and a society. But we’ve also got a long way to go. These are not isolated incidents. And they are not going away.
As Maple Leafs captain John Tavares told reporters on Monday: “We have a lot of work to do with learning and discussion — and something we addressed with the team as well.”
That might be the only good thing that comes out of this.
Regardless of Panetta’s intentions, this is a teachable moment for hockey. It’s yet another opportunity for the sport to work at being more and more inclusive to everyone.
A similar moment occurred three years ago, when TV microphones caught what sounded like a homophobic slur coming from Toronto’s Morgan Rielly. He claimed he was shouting for a teammate to “rag it” — a hockey term for ‘hang on to the puck and kill the clock.’ It could have ended there, as a simple misunderstanding.
Instead, Rielly and Leafs GM Kyle Dubas held a news conference a day later where they used the incident as a way to deal head-on with LGBTQ rights and matters of inclusion.
“I think it’s an opportunity for us as a team to realize that there’s really no place for slurs like that in sport and in life,” said Rielly said at the time.
That’s the direction the sport needs to take now with this.
“It’s definitely been a great teaching point for me,” said Panetta. “Even though those gestures were never meant to be racial, I’ve definitely learned that actions can be perceived differently and taken in different way. I just want to keep learning from it. I hope that we can have a conversation and I can talk to (Subban) and begin to work through this.”
It’s the kind of gesture we need more of these days.
VANCOUVER — When Émilie Castonguay was a girl, her family had a cottage in Mont-Tremblant, about two hours northwest of their home in Montreal.
She and her sisters would go skiing there. But the frigid winter temperatures in the Laurentians would often turn the snow to ice, and Émilie remembers sitting on the chairlift one morning with her older sister, Valerie, watching skiers clatter and crash on the crusty slopes below them.
“We said, ‘You know, we need to go to Vancouver. That’s where the big mountains are. We can have fresh snow all day,’” Émilie recalled Monday. “We always talked about Vancouver and how amazing it is.”
A few years later, when Émilie came home for the summer before her fourth year at Niagara University, Valerie reminded her of their conversation. On a hockey scholarship at the college above Niagara Falls on the New York side of the border, Émilie had undergone shoulder surgery and figured the injury ended any chance of a playing career in women’s hockey.
“I was lying in bed watching Friends re-runs and she came in and we had a conversation,” Émilie said. “I made a joke and she said: ‘Oh, I think we’ve known your career has been over for a long time in hockey.’ I was third-line winger in the NCAA… so obviously I wasn’t going to have much of a career playing after college. But she said: ‘You’re going to do your law degree like me. You’re going to go to law school and then you’re going to become GM for the Vancouver Canucks.’
“She passed away the next day. It was really the last conversation I ever had with her. Vancouver was where I scattered her ashes.”
Valerie Castonguay went into hospital for what her sister says was a routine surgery and died on the operating table. She was 25, one year older than Émilie. Their younger sister is Alexandra.
Émilie Castonguay did go to law school at the University of Montreal, passed her Quebec Bar exam and became a National Hockey League player agent. And on the “visions board” she kept at home, Castonguay wrote “38 Van” — her goal to work in Vancouver by age 38.
“I had put Vancouver on my vision board because I thought that’s where I want to build my life,” she said. “I don’t know how I’m going to get there. I had a business in the east… but I’d figure it out. It’s just kind of strange how the universe makes things happen sometimes.”
On Monday, the Canucks’ new president, Jim Rutherford, named Castonguay the organization’s first female assistant general manager. She turns 38 in about six weeks.
“For Vancouver and Jim to call me, and have such a vision and a plan — I love what I’m doing and I love being an agent — but if this isn’t a sign from (Valerie), I don’t know what it is,” Castonguay told Sportsnet in an interview after her Zoom call with reporters. “It’s a personal decision, but also a professional one, kind of mixed together.
“I can tell you, when I saw Jim’s name pop up on my cell phone, I told myself: I have no players in Vancouver, so he’s not calling me to talk about a player. And that’s when it kind of dawned on me that maybe this was about bringing me on. And it definitely took me a second to compose myself at that moment.”
The hiring of Castonguay is much bigger than the Canucks. With a client list that included former first-overall pick Alexis Lafrenière, ex-Canuck Antoine Roussel and Canadian national team captain Marie-Philip Poulin, she became in 2016 the first female agent certified by the NHL Players’ Association in Canada. Her role with the Canucks is ground-breaking for women in hockey.
But several times during her virtual press conference, Castonguay emphasized that she has always viewed her journey in hockey in “non-binary” terms.
“I grew up playing hockey with the boys, same as them,” she said. “I watched hockey, same as them. I played with the boys when I was young, and then I played with the girls when I was older.
“I never thought: Hey, you know, there’s only men in this industry; I can’t do this. I just put my head down and did the work. I think if you let gender get in your way or you let it intimidate you, that’s when it will do that. And I never really let that happen to me and my journey. Doors open up, and if you can do the work, you’re going to get the jobs. Hopefully this is the start of just more women getting jobs in sports and in hockey particularly. But for me, I just never let gender get in the way.”
Later, she said: “I’ve always had such a good reception from everybody in the sport. It’s important for women that want to be in the sport to know that. Sometimes you get intimidated, but you shouldn’t. If you have the knowledge and you’ve done the work, there’s a place for you here. And if it needs to start with me, then good.”
Castonguay’s duties with the Canucks will include salary-cap management, player contracts and all issues related to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Rutherford said her voice will be heard in all aspects of hockey operations, and that he hired Castonguay because she was the best candidate — not because she is a woman.
“I’m not just doing this to do this and then people are going to be happier or pacified or whatever,” Rutherford said. “It’s because I believe in this. It’s another voice from somebody that came up through the system in a different way. And I think the more voices we can have that’s coming from a different place, the more beneficial it’s going to be.”
Last week, the Canucks hired Rachel Doerrie for their analytics department, and Rutherford told Sportsnet he has his eye on another candidate, who also happens to be female, for another position.
Castonguay said the hardest part of taking the Canucks’ job was telling her player-clients she could no longer represent them.
“When she called me the other day, she was crying because she couldn’t represent me,” Roussel, traded to Arizona from Vancouver last summer, said Monday. “I’m like: ‘Are you kidding me? Like, it’s a dream job, like everybody wanted. Dude, it’s the best thing that can happen.’
“She’ll do awesome. She’s a great, great woman. She’s the best. I think she’ll have a tremendous career in the National Hockey League.”
Asked if he thinks Castonguay will one day become the NHL’s first female general manager, Roussel said: “One hundred per cent. I think she’ll be the one.”
If that’s the case, it may have to be with the Canucks. Castonguay said she wants to stay in Vancouver.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in Whistler and Tofino, and Squamish is probably my favourite place,” she said. “Everything from Granville Island to Stanley Park, just everything, Vancouver is my place, where I feel at home the most in the world. It’s crazy to say that, but I’m not even making it up. That’s where I feel at home.
“I plan on being there for a long time, for the rest of my life if I can. I’m taking this challenge very seriously. Failure is not an option here for us. We’re going to do things the right way and with the right people, and players are going to feel like they want to be there. That’s my goal.”
Castonguay first visited Vancouver in 2009, the year after her sister died. She brought Valerie’s ashes as a way to fulfill the girls’ promise of going to Vancouver together.
Émilie scattered the ashes on the shore as the sun was setting across the Pacific.
“Vancouver is the place that I always wanted to be,” Castonguay said. “I’ve always felt my sister there. Every time I have a chance to go on vacation, that’s where I go. I have a very personal relationship with that city. And so for it to turn out this way, it’s just kind of serendipitous.”
It’s more than that.
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