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"Tomas Sandstrom," he said once on the air about the Kings' forward. "A lot of people think he is Little Lord Fauntleroy, but Tomas Sandstrom is a backstabbing, cheap-shot, mask-wearing Swede." Actually, he's a Finn, not a Swede.
Is that something a prime minister would say? The words just came out.
"I was watching from the stands in the first period," he said another week. "There was a tipped shot, and I had to get out of the way, and it went over my head and hit this poor lady in the face. I'm telling you, when you come to the game, ladies, keep your eye on the puck. I've seen some awful smacks, and it's always a woman, just talking away, not paying any attention."
Is that any way to get the women's vote?
"The NHL is expanding to Anaheim and Miami," he said on yet another week. "Disney is in Anaheim, and the video guy [Wayne Huizenga, owner of Blockbuster Video and the Miami franchise] is in Miami. O.K., two heavy hitters like that come knocking, you'd better open the door. But TELL ME THIS. WHERE ARE THEY GOING TO GET THE PLAYERS? Would you mind telling me? You already got Ottawa. OTTAWA! Tampa Bay. San Jose, sinking fast. WHERE ARE THEY GOING TO GET THE PLAYERS?"
Did he have to shout?
Educators decry his misuse of English, his fractured syntax, his mangled pronunciations, worrying that he will breed a future generation that says "everythink" and "somethink" and won't have any idea how to make verbs agree with nouns. Hockey executives often paint him as a Neanderthal, out of touch, arguing for violence and against style, trying to defend a frontier that already has been opened wide to the arrival of international talent. Interest groups pick out one outrage after another, the shelves beginning to shake as soon as he speaks, carefully constructed politically correct ideas falling to the ground one after another as if they were so many pieces of cut glass or bone china. Oops, there goes another one.
None of this matters. The Canadian public simply can't get enough of him. He points. He shouts. He sneers. He laughs. His clothes come from the wardrobe of some road company of Guys and Dolls, flashy suits and fat-checked sport jackets, custom-tailored, elongated shirt collars starched to the consistency of vinyl siding, riding high above his Adam's apple. His head juts out like a hood ornament in search of a collision. Put on a small screen, he is a larger-than-life terror.
"My wife, Rose, wants me to quit," he says. "She stays home and just worries. She hates the show, hates it. She knows I'm going to say something sometime that's going to send everything up in flames. Probably some of the political stuff. She hates the political stuff. You know, though, she's my best critic. If I go home and she won't talk to me, that's when I know the show has been really good. The best ones are the ones she hates most."
It is a problem. The best things he says are the worst things he says. The danger is everything. The danger is the attraction for the public. What next? What will he do? He always is one F word, one outrage away from extinction. What will he do? He holds on to the stick of dynamite and watches the wick burn shorter and shorter. This is his 11th season. He cannot let go as the inevitable approaches. Ka-boom!