As I neared our table in the coffee shop I could see that Paddy was perusing a list of some kind.
“What’ve you got there?” I asked as I set down my coffee mug.
“I really miss Danny Gallivan,” Paddy said, ignoring my question.
“So do I,” I agreed, “but what’s the list?”
“It’s terms that hockey broadcasters are using these days that I’m not sure I understand, and which I’m sure Gallivan would never have used.” he answered. “Can I read them off and you can tell me what the hell they mean.”
“Sure,” I said.
“Pieces,” was his first.
“They mean players; the inference being that the make-up of a team is like a jigsaw puzzle and each player is a piece,” I explained.
“Or maybe,” Paddy suggested, “an analogy to chess pieces.”
“Possibly,” I allowed.
“Back end,” he sneered as he ticked off another item.
“Defence,” I said.
“Then why don’t they just say defence?” he snarled.
“I suppose someone used back end just to be different,” I suggested, “and because the last great originator of hockey terms was Danny Gallivan, the current crop of copycats simply latched on to it.”
“I suppose,” Paddy mused, “when they refer to assets they’re not talking about the rink and the team bus.”
“You suppose correctly,” I assured him. “They mean players.”
“Same as pieces then,” Paddy cynically observed.
“How about down low?” he continued.
“That’s been around for a long time, I answered. “It’s what Danny Gallivan would have called in deep. I‘ve heard two explanations for it. One is that it’s a basketball term that American hockey broadcasters started using.....”
“So we can thank Bettman for that abomination,” Paddy interrupted, “in deep is a much more accurate description than down low.”
“You’re right about the accuracy,” I acknowledged, “but you can’t blame Bettman. The expression down low has been around hockey a lot longer than Bettman.”
“OK,” Paddy said, “what’s the other possible source.”
“I’ve also heard that it originated from the coaches using the image of a rink to demonstrate plays, and because they favoured the bottom of the board for illustrations in deep became down low.”
“Which is right?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I admitted.
“The redundant overuse of the word area is getting me down,” Paddy lamented as he continued with his list. “For the love of Mike, what’s the wrist area? The wrist is a clearly-defined spot.”
“You’re right,” I agreed.
“And,” Paddy went on, “why the hell do they say the stick of Crosby rather than Crosby’s stick? That borders on illiteracy.”
“It’s certainly ungrammatical,” I acknowledged. “But I’m even more offended when someone says that the arm of Price made a save. Did his arm suddenly become disembodied and was just lying there as the puck hit it?”
“And,” Paddy continued, loudly enough that people began to stare at us, “how about regroup the puck?”
“That does border on illiteracy,” I agreed. “You can’t regroup a single object.”
“What’s back pressure?” Paddy asked, lowering his voice.
“Back checking,” I told him.
“Puck pressure?” was his next.
“I’m honestly not sure,” I had to admit. “Maybe it’s used for the play that you and I would call forechecking.”
“Why,” Paddy went on, “do they say enforcer rather than thug or goon?”
“Political correctness,” I guessed.
“I suppose,” Paddy surmised, “that top six means the best six players on the team.”
“No,” I disappointed him, “it means the first and second forward lines.”
“Same thing,” Paddy suggested.
“Not at all,” I contradicted him, “a team’s six best players would likely include a defenceman or two. and perhaps the goalie.
“So it’s another misleading term,” Paddy rightly observed.
“And what do they mean by culture?” was his next inquiry.
“That one’s OK,” I suggested. “It means the prevailing attitude and behaviour of the team.”
“Do you think Gallivan was the best play-by-play announcer ever?” Paddy asked as, to my relief, he pocketed his list.
“By a country mile,” I averred.
“Who do you like best now?” he queried.
“Chris Cuthbert,” I told him, “followed closely by Bob Cole.”
“Why?” he wanted to know.
“Cuthbert,” I explained, “because he sticks to describing what’s going on in the game rather than drifting into colour commentary, which should never be the job of the play-by-play guy. His descriptions are accurate, and he tends to stay away from the trite clichés you’ve been talking about.”
“And what is it you like so much about Bob Cole?” Paddy prodded.
“His voice,” was my response. “You can tell what’s going on in a game just by listening to Bob’s cadence and intonation. The next time you watch a game that Bob is doing, note that they way he describes plays, especially goals, is completely different in the first period than it is in the closing minutes of a close game.”
“I’ll do that,” Paddy said as he got up and headed for the door. As I watched him go I remembered a story Frank Selke Jr. told me about Danny Gallivan.
The day after the first time Gallivan used the phrase cannonading drive to describe a hard shot from the point, he received a call from an English professor at McGill University. The professor said, “Mr. Gallivan, there’s no such word as cannonading.” Gallivan replied, “There is now.”
Danny created language, he didn’t misuse it.