Dave Semenko was “Gretzky’s bodyguard.”
It was the job that came to define him, and the role he played to perfection during the Edmonton Oilers’ dynasty, along with fellow “bodyguard” Marty McSorley. Semenko, who died of cancer at 59 this week, played from 1979-87 with the Oilers, amassing 981 penalty minutes. He was, to put it simply, one of the most feared men in hockey – the kind of enforcer for whom the threat of a fight was as intimidating to opponents at the fight itself.
The Winnipeg native retired in 1988 with the Toronto Maple Leafs, having amassed 153 points in 575 NHL games – and 1,175 penalty minutes.
Semenko was the tough guy who protected Wayne Gretzky during an era when enforcers were a necessity. He did it so well that Oilers teammate Kevin Lowe referred to him as “The Gretzky of tough guys.”
“He was in a class of his own; he didn’t beat guys up, he’d destroyed them. He employed a combination of sheer strength, sheer power, and sheer quickness, but mostly power. He wasted players with just two or three punches. And all this, although he never really had a mean streak in his body,” said Lowe at the time.
That was the thing about Semenko, as it was with so many enforcers: Savage grizzly bear on the ice, teddy bear off the ice.
“He probably had the most inaccurate image of anyone in the game. He was known as a goon or a rock-head, but the ironic thing was he was pleasant, witty and gentle. I mean, he would never hurt anyone, and it used to always surprise us when he actually would fight. You knew he had to be mad to actually get into a fight because he was such a nice person” said Wayne Gretzky, via Greatest Hockey Legends.
Semenko died this week after what the Oilers called a “short but courageous battle with cancer.” John Shannon of Sportsnet said that Semenko was diagnosed with liver and pancreatic cancer.
Said the team, in a statement: “Dave will be remembered as a fierce competitor, loyal teammate, fan favorite and dear friend to so many. His legendary toughness on the ice is surpassed only by his kindness and caring for others, and his equally legendary wit and sense of humor.”
The word “legendary” applies to Semenko, if only because of the oddities in his career. Like scoring 16 goals in 142 games in the World Hockey Association, but having his last one be the last one in League history:
Dave Semenko Scores the Final Goal in the WHA (May 20, 1979) https://t.co/nF4FoAEgbH
— Jeff Marek (@JeffMarek) June 29, 2017
It was a three-round exhibition boxing match at the Northlands Coliseum between the Baddest Man on the Planet and the Baddest Man on the Oilers, held on June 12, 1983. It was a match for charity.
It’s quite possible that Semenko was more into it than Ali.
OK, he totally was.
“When I was first taken over to his house to have a meeting about the fight, Ali came walking into the room, put his hands up and said, ‘Okay, show me something.’ I threw a few combinations and Ali said ‘Don’t worry, kid, we’ll make it look good,’” recalled Semenko. “Then he left to take a nap.”
Here’s a bit about the fight:
It ended in a draw.
They don’t make’em like Dave Semenko anymore. Mostly because they don’t need to, in an era where fighting is at historic lows and the role of the enforcer has been reduced to a handful of pugilists looking for a fight.
But as fighting has decreased and fighters have become scarce, we’ve also lost the undeniable cults of personality that grew around players like Dave Semenko. Players whose fans treated them with as much reverence as they did the stars on the team. Players who made opposing fans show up at the rink just to see them get waylaid by their own tough guy, as they would when “Cement Head” and the Oilers would come to town.
To that end, he was a legend.
RIP, Dave Semenko. As Gretzky would tell it, he was “everyone’s bodyguard.”
MORE FROM YAHOO SPORTS
The Penguins have made a small front office change, a familiar face made a surprise appearance at development camp, and the Pens have some great young talent to play alongside Sid and Geno for the not-so-distant future. More on these topics, as well as more stories in today's Pens Points!
Here are your Pens Points for this Thursday morning...
Speaking of ZAR, he is certainly a player to watch closely as he partakes in the development camp. [Penguins]
Now that Randy Sexton has taken his scouting talents to Buffalo, the Pens have named Patrik Allvin their new director of amateur scouting. [Post-Gazette]
News and notes from around the NHL...
Article by Zeng Yuli in Sixth Tone (6/27/17):
As the economy slows and social expectations rise, youngsters are rejecting traditional notions of success and embracing a culture known as ‘sang.’"
Before reading this article, I was only vaguely familiar with "sang" culture. So that those who do not know Chinese pronounce the word more or less correctly instead of making it sound like the past tense of "sing", read it as "sawng" or "sahng".
The article begins:
In recent years, an increasing number of urban, middle-class Chinese young people have begun to identify with sang culture. Simply put, sang refers to a reduced work ethic, a lack of self-motivation, and an apathetic demeanor. “I’m just a waste of space,” “I don’t care all that much for life,” and “I’m listless to the point of despair” are typical phrases uttered by sang youths.
Meanwhile, memes such as the “Ge You Slouch,” the recently deceased Pepe the Frog, and “Gudetama” or “lazy egg” have become the beloved mascots of sang youngsters. American series such as “Bojack Horseman” and sang dramas from Japan reflect the same mentality.
The emphasis on gudetama (which I suppose comes from gudenguden ぐでんぐでん · gudegude ぐでぐで ["dead drunk; in a drunken stupor"] + tama たま ["ball; sphere; globe; orb" > "egg"], though I'm by no means an expert on this), the mention of "sang dramas from Japan", and the overall Japanese esthetic made me suppose that, like so much other East Asian youth culture, sang probably had a Japanese origin. So far, however, I haven't been able to discover precisely what that might be. Rather, sang seems to be something that is developing within the Sinosphere, but under the impact of Japanese cultural trends.
Though initially I didn't know for sure what character sang transcribed, from the context I quickly deduced that it was 喪. Native speakers are somewhat ambivalent about whether to read this in 1st tone as sāng ("mourning; mourn; funeral") or in 4th tone as sàng ("to lose something abstract but important [courage, authority, one's life, etc.'; to be bereaved of [one's spouse]; to die; disappointed; discouraged"), though in the end most opt for sàng.
It's obvious from the meanings given that sàng is primarily verbal. One correspondent explained why she feels that sàng is the appropriate reading in this instance:
Though I'm not completely sure, if I were to read the phrase, I would choose to read it as sàng wénhuà. For me, perhaps "lack" more accurately captures the sense of emptiness / aimlessness the popular usage of this verb now expresses. My personal understanding of this word is that it describes a status, an emotional state of lacking intention to work or study, or even to actively have fun in the extreme case. I've seen people state, "Wǒ zuìjìn hǎo sàng a 我最近好丧啊!" ("I've been feeling really dispirited lately!"). In this situation, the term seems to be more like an adjective than a verb or noun.
Another correspondent stated that a sàng 丧 person is like a zombie, a walking dead.
Whether in the first tone or in the second tone, a third correspondent pointed out, "Basically 丧 is always used in a negative way (death, loss, failure)."
Whatever its deeper origins, sàng wénhuà 喪文化 is clearly something that is developing within Chinese culture. It's certainly prevalent in Mainland China. Does anyone know if it's also in Taiwan?
Sàng 丧 is used to refer to lack of motivation, absence of productivity, or simply dearth of energy to engage in work or study. Here's a link to a website where people discuss sàng wénhuà 丧文化 ("sang culture") and their own interpretations of it.
Still and all, though sāng 喪 may be authentically developing within China, it fits well with Japanese fictional figures such as Rilakkuma (Rirakkuma リラックマ ["Relax Bear"]), who has been around since 2003. In Chinese Rilakkuma is called Sōngchí xióng 鬆弛熊 (lit., "relaxed / loose / flaccid / flabby bear"). He has a fèiqīng 廢青 ("wasted youth") kind of temperament and is often urged on by his baby bird friend to "go outside once in a while". Rilakkuma has been in existence for a decade longer than Gudetama (2013).
For an investigation of otaku and related Japanese and Sinitic (diverse topolects) terms for introverted individuals who stay at home and are often characterized by extreme lassitude, see:
[Thanks to Maiheng Dietrich, Jinyi Cai, Mandy Chan, Fangyi Cheng, and Tianran Hang]
Stephen Dhillon was planning on having a 9 a.m. workout Wednesday, training with his goalie coach in St. Catharines, Ontario. Instead, a car showed up to his house this morning and drove him to Pittsburgh to play in the Penguins’ development camp.
40 young players hoping to be Penguins of the future are on the ice this week, but the most interesting person there isn't even a hockey prospect at all but a name from the past
First of all, it's pretty crazy that just 17 days after winning a second straight Stanley Cup the Penguins are holding a prospect development camp. These things used to happen later in the summer in July, but recently more and more teams around the league are moving to have summer camp the week after the draft. Logistically this makes sense, being as far-flung prospects are around for the draft anyways, plus the staff can knock this out now and get everyone's off-season started now as we move to the dead months of summer and have a true wind-down period.
So here we are, just days after another franchise defining championship, the coaches, staff and hopeful next wave of players are right back out there in Cranberry on the same sheet of ice that the main team was using just a few weeks ago as they prepared for the Final.
We already pointed out the main names to know and follow this summer, and there's only a few that figure to have an immediate impact in the coming season. Top forward prospects Daniel Sprong and Zach-Aston Reese are right at the top of the list. But there's another name, and a much more familiar face that's also in Pittsburgh this week. The PG's Jason Mackey was on this first.
Former Penguin Kevin Stevens was a surprise addition to the coaching staff at this week's development camp, the result of an invite from director of player development Mark Recchi, one of Stevens' former teammates in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Stevens worked with prospects on the ice for two hours, then reflected on several topics afterward.
"I love the Penguins organization," Stevens said. "I love everything about this place."
The last time Stevens was in the news, it wasn't such a sunny story. Just last month he was sentenced in his native Massachusetts to a year of probation (avoiding up to a possibility of one year of jail time) for conspiracy to sell oxycondone. Stevens problems with pain-killers and other drugs have been well documented demons that he has fought, and sometimes stumbled with, over the past two decades.
But in life, it's not about falling but getting back up and it's really awesome to see this happen.
"I feel good now," big Artie said in team released audio after practice. "I’m pretty happy in my life where I’m at. It took a little while. I had some ups and downs. I’m here. I’m happy to be here. Whatever I can do to help."
And he owes the invite to Recchi, who was just named to the Hockey Hall of Fame, and serves as the Penguins director of player personnel. The Pens needed an extra instructor for this summer work, but really it seems easy to see this is a way for the organization to bring in a long-time member of their "family" (which sounds hokey, but hey it's true) who could benefit from being around the game as much as the youngsters could benefit from him working with them.
"My life, I know it can be good and I'd love to work in hockey," Stevens said. "I'm not sure where I'd like to work in hockey, but it's the only thing I really know. So, it's like if I'm going to work, I better get back in hockey."
Working in hockey seems a long way away right now, but the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
"Sometimes you think you’re going to have those opportunities again, but I never got them again," Stevens said. "I miss those guys. It goes quick."
It sure does. This week will come and go in a blink and will be largely forgotten. But in the bigger scheme of things it's great to see that the team has pulled in one of their own for the opportunity and show that home is always a place you can come back to. Stevens' battles with addictions and demons isn't a battle that's over or probably ever will be, but it's great to see him in a good place and a welcome hand that people like Recchi, Mario Lemieux and Mike Sullivan have long held out over the years.
The crowd surrounding Zach Aston-Reese’s dressing room stall Wednedsay at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry only confirmed what everybody’s eyes saw an hour or two beforehand.
This year’s free-agent class is a little underwhelming, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t help to be had.
Although there’s no big fish, there are plenty of role players available who can help a team fill a need.
Here’s a look at what’s out there, given some common areas of need.
Chris Kunitz: Who knows more about winning than a four-time Stanley Cup champion? The 37-year-old is coming off the worst offensive season of his career (9 G, 20 A), but he stepped up his game in the postseason. If he doesn’t re-sign in Pittsburgh, Kunitz would be a valuable asset for a young team with playoff aspirations.
Justin Williams: Mr. Game 7 has a lot of gas left in the tank at age 35 and would be a good get for any contending team. The three-time Stanley Cup champion is still getting it done on offense, coming off a 24-goal campaign, and has only missed three games over the last six seasons.
Jaromir Jagr: It seems likely Jaromir Jagr will return to Florida next season, but if he decides to test the market there will be no shortage of suitors. He’s still putting up respectable numbers, driving possession and to no one’s surprise leads all active players in playoff scoring and games played.
Other candidates: Matt Cullen, Brian Gionta, Patrick Sharp, Ron Hainsey, Brian Campbell
Brian Boyle: At 6-6 and 244 lbs., Brian Boyle is the ideal big man in today’s NHL. He can actually do more than just take up space, like scoring the occasional goal (13 the last two seasons), killing penalties and winning faceoffs (52.2% in 2016-17).
Dwight King: Another monster of a man, King tips the scales at 6-4 and 224 lbs. He’s coming off an abysmal stint in Montreal, but the bruising winger was a good soldier on L.A.’s Cup-winning teams in 2012 and 2014 and is only turning 28 years old.
Chris Neil: They don’t come much grittier than Chris Neil. Sure, he might not be able to keep up anymore, but the 38-year-old will lay it all on the line for seven minutes a night and “keep guys honest.”
Other candidates: Martin Hanzal, Roman Polak, Tanner Glass, Matt Hendricks, Nate Thompson
Kevin Shattenkirk: Although he did himself no favors with his performance in the playoffs, Shattenkirk is still the best defenseman available by a wide margin. He has the 10th most points among defensemen since breaking into the league in 2010-11 and is only 28 years old. He’ll get his money.
Michael Stone: Played some good hockey last season after leaving Arizona and has shown an offensive touch in the past. He’ll probably get overpaid, but he’s the only other prime-aged top-four right-handed defensemen available on the market.
Cody Franson: Franson isn’t a top-four guy, but he’s a capable defenseman who can chip in on the power play, has decent underlying numbers and won’t cost a fortune.
Other Candidates: Roman Polak, Dennis Wideman, Dan Girardi
Karl Alzner: Alzner was a major fixture on Washington’s seventh-ranked PK unit last season, averaging a team-high 3:03 of short-handed ice time per game (8th in NHL). He also blocked 162 shots, which ranked 12th, and second behind Girardi among free agents.
Daniel Winnik: Only four forwards averaged more short-handed minutes last season than Winnik (2:31), who also chipped in two short-handed goals.
Roman Polak: Polak has the perfect tool box for a penalty-killing specialist. He blocks shots, can move guys in front of the net and win battles in the corner. The 31-year-old, who is coming off surgery for a broken leg, was Mike Babcock’s most-used defenseman on the league’s 10th-best PK unit last season.
Other candidates: Francois Beauchemin, Dan Girardi, Ron Hainsey, Nick Bonino, Jay McClement
Shane Doan: After 21 years with the Coyotes franchise, Shane Doan should finally get his chance to play for a true Cup contender.
Jarome Iginla: Time is ticking for Iginla, who has played 1,554 games and counting without hoisting the Stanley Cup. It’s a shame he wasted the past three years of his career in Colorado — hopefully he chooses wisely this time.
Joe Thornton: Jumbo Joe has made the playoffs in 16 of his 20 years in the league, but has made it to the conference finals just three times. The Sharks should be a playoff team again next year, but their window to win it all with their current core looks to be closed. Will Thornton jump ship?
Other Candidates: Patrick Marleau, Radim Vrbata, Mike Fisher, Andrei Markov, Ryan Miller