Hunger for the scandalous details of the lives of hockey stars is the fuel behind a new CBC drama. But gossipmongers - especially women - are going online for the real thing
by Patrick White
Globe and Mail
'Do you think the world needs another puck bunny?" screams the livid hockey wife.
"I had my eye on you even back then," purrs the hockey-obsessed seductress.
"Their lives, loves and struggles ... " chimes the announcer.
Promos for MVP: The Secret Lives of Hockey Wives - a fictitious take on the off-ice antics of professional hockey players - have saturated the CBC, which will start broadcasting the show tomorrow night.
The series promises a window into the scandalous private lives of professional hockey players with story lines that focus on their wives, girlfriends and an infinite parade of flings.
But, as hot as the show purports to be, it could appear downright frigid alongside the likes of Talk-Sports.net, DrunkAthlete.com and a variety of other websites where fans post gossip and photos revealing the salacious real-life details of players' lives.
Credit CBC for recognizing a trend: Our appetite for celebrity scandal has become so ravenous that fans are turning to our national game to satiate their needs. So-called puck bunnies drape themselves over hockey players by night and post the intimate details online by day. Gossipmongers report player spottings and speculate feverishly about the women on their arms.
The online rumours have reached the point where players' lawyers, wives and girlfriends are fighting back; imploring webmasters to take down racy photos of, and dubious innuendo about, their clients and loved ones.
"If somebody wants something down, I'll take it down immediately," says Randy Morin, who runs the sports gossip site Talk-Sports.net and says he receives about 10 e-mails a day from hockey players, their spouses or their girlfriends asking him to remove posts.
"We get a lot of comments about players cheating or whether he has a big or small you-know-what," Mr. Morin said. "I can see why some people wouldn't want that up there."
The obsessives continue to post despite the policing. Some are relatively innocent arguments over who the league's hottest player is (Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, Ottawa Senators centre Jason Spezza and Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby all have their boosters), while others fall squarely into the dirtier world of the puck bunny.
One heavily viewed post on one gossip site asks for a little sisterly advice on navigating the rocky shoals of "hooking up" with hockey stars: "When I got back into the bar, the whole damn team knew what happened and they were starting to line up. ... Were they offended because I wouldn't 'do' the rest of the team?"
Reponses to such questions range from matronly to scolding. And while their online identities are secret, some posters bolster their claims by uploading photos of NHL stars sidled up to well-tanned bombshells in barroom settings.
So who are the women in the pictures? In researching her book Crossing the Line: Violence and Sexual Assault in Canada's National Sport, Laura Robinson interviewed many of the young women who wait outside hockey arenas and hangouts for players. Many, she says, have "confused sexual liberation for getting laid as often as possible, writing about [it] and showing off the pictures."
Teams are starting to take notice of Internet predators. Every year, new members of the Toronto Maple Leafs are schooled on how to conduct themselves in public and warned that any errant deed could be caught on the myriad of digital cameras constantly trained on them.
"Some young players still don't understand the power and magnitude of the Internet," says Paul Dennis, player development coach with the Leafs. "They might be 18 years old and it just hasn't occurred to them that there are people out there who want to bring them down."
But these lessons can be lost on younger players, many of whom rise from small-town rink rat to national celebrity in a matter of months.
"For a young athlete it can take time to learn that someone else's misdeeds don't make news, but yours go on the front page," says former star NHL goalie Mike Liut, who retired in 1992.
Now an agent to some of the league's brightest stars, Mr. Liut says the lessons of newfound celebrity are often lost on young players. "It's like telling a kid not to touch a plate because it's hot. The natural tendency is to go ahead and touch the plate."
Many fans say they're simply treating hockey stars like movie stars, whose exploits merit more flash bulbs off-screen than on.
"There are girls who fantasize about hockey players like they used to fantasize about boy bands and movie stars," says Erin Loxam, who helps run the blog Hot Oil, a humorous site that critiques the looks of Edmonton Oilers and has speculated on how many of the team's players are single.
Ms. Loxam says that many players court unwanted attention by enrolling in celebrity circles. Several NHL stars have recently paired off with darlings of the paparazzi: New York Islanders forward Mike Comrie with pop star Hilary Duff, New York Rangers tough-guy Sean Avery with 24 star Elisha Cuthbert, Oilers centre Jarret Stoll with former supermodel Rachel Hunter and Dallas Stars veteran Mike Modano with pop star and actress Willa Ford.
Mike Liut has another theory. "The greatest reality show in the world is sports, even though we don't call it that. Just like any other reality show these days we want to know the people behind the scenes."