For a baseball guy, Buck 65 has written a heckuva lot of songs about hockey.
The Nova Scotia artist (and CBC Radio host) will unveil his third NHL-focused track Feb. 12 in Halifax at the opening of Scotiabank’s Hockey Day in Canada. It’s a little ditty about fellow likable weirdo Ilya Bryzgalov, and although the song has yet to be recorded or performed, he sent us the lyrics.
We can’t wait to hear it.
Even better, Buck took time to break down his three contributions to hockey’s musical canon, and the one NHL legend he wanted to write about but couldn’t.
Here, in Buck’s words, are the stories behind his tunes about Borje Salming, Ilya Bryzgalov, the 2002-03 NHL season, and a would-be Al MacInnis ballad.
“The Borje Salming Massacre”
“The truth of the mater is that I’m not a huge hockey guy. Baseball has been my sport throughout my whole life. Nevertheless, I like a writing challenge. So I thought: if I am going to write about hockey or a hockey player, it should be something that’s actually meaningful in my life.
“I almost immediately thought of a memory from when I was a kid at my grandfather’s house watching this  Red Wings-Maple Leafs game where Borje Salming got stomped on the face with [Gerard Gallant’s] skate. I still remember it vividly. I was really young and pretty into hockey at the time. I always had a hockey stick. A lot of people in my family were into hockey, especially my brother and uncle, who I was watching the game with. Hockey was big. This was in Cape Breton.
“I remember as a fluke when Salming went down in front of the net, the camera switched to a tight shot. Salming’s in the frame, and of course no one could’ve known what was to come. This skate comes into frame and – boom! – right in the face. It was such a vivid and horrifying shot of what happened. Being a kid, it scared the s— out of me really bad. I, along with most people, would count it among the top three most horrifying accidents in hockey. It was kinda life-changing for me. It scared me off hockey; I never really played after that because I was so affected by it.
“His story stayed with me. There were times in my life when I reflected back on the horror I felt at the time. It’s come back. I don’t follow the game too closely now. I dip in and out of it, but that made it comfortable for me to write about it.
The Al MacInnis Song That Never Happened
“When Dave [Bidini] asked me to do [Scotiabank Hockey Day in Canada] again, I thought ‘geez, who am I going to write about? I asked Dave if anybody had written about Al MacInnis.
“Another memory from when I was young is when Al MacInnis was regarded as the guy with the fastest slap shot. That was a source of pride for me growing up. Not only was he from Nova Scotia, but Cape Breton, where my mom’s side of the family was from. There’s something about Cape Breton and Cape Bretoners where there’s an even stronger sense of pride than you get elsewhere. It’s such a unique and strong culture there. The greatest of something in hockey was a Cape Bretoner, and I thought that was so cool.
“What’s cooler than a slap shot? On top of that: What’s cooler than a guy who can slap it faster than anyone in the world?” — Buck 65 on Al MacInnis
“When you’re a kid and kinda into hockey, before you refine your own game, you’re just into slap shots. You want to shoot the damn thing as hard as you can. What’s cooler than a slap shot? On top of that: What’s cooler than a guy who can slap it faster than anyone in the world? That gave him superhero status. So I thought I’d write on those memories. But, sure enough, someone beat me to it.”
[Note: Both Halifax’s Rich Aucoin and Cape Breton’s The Barra McNeils wrote MacInnis songs for 2015’s Scotiabank Hockey Day in Canada.]
“I’ve always been drawn to people regarded as characters or weirdos in their chosen field, be it in sports or anything else. Who is that in hockey?
“Maybe there’s not full-on strange characters in hockey like in baseball, but I did some digging around and you don’t have to search long before you come across our man from Russia. I’d seen several stories about him or posts like ‘Top 10 Weirdest Characters in Hockey,’ and there were a few where he was the No. 1 guy on the list.
“Because he’d built a reputation on his post-game interviews and stuff, maybe there would be enough great quotes I could build a song around the interesting stuff he’s had to say. The more YouTube videos I watched, the more stories I read, the more I realized there’s tons of great stuff. He has interesting things to say and an interesting mind; he thinks about stuff beyond his day-to-day job. I found myself drawn to the guy. He comes across as very sweet, you know? I found him to be very relatable in addition to being entertaining – and God knows few things can be more boring than an athlete’s post-game interview.
“It’s going to take the form of a folk song. I’ve chosen to model it after a classic folk tropes. Like in blues, there’s typical forms and structures and melodies that get used over and over again, there’s one that comes from an old Carter Family song. I fit it into that mold, and I’m going to be backed by a band. So there’s no sampling—I’m just referencing things he’s said in the lyrics. Although I am wondering about the possibility of running some video before I perform the song for people who aren’t as familiar with him. At least the infamous one: ‘Why you heff to be mad?‘
“My idea is that in that line – that quote in particular – I’m going to do it in falsetto, because for some reason, in that interview, when he says that quote, his voice goes so high, which I know is something people have marveled over. Why was he talking like that?! That line will be delivered in as high of a pitch as my voice can go.
“There’s a part of me that likes a song existing in as small of place as possible, where it’s like you had to be there or you have to dig to find. That’s what happened with the Borje Salming song. I am hoping to get a recording out of it [through the rehearsals with the Bidini Band]. It’ll be a shame if only a few hundred people in room that night heard it, because if it comes together the way I’m imagining in my head, I think it’ll be a great little song.”
“The Year That Was (NHL 2002-03)”
“There was a crazy thing about that night [performing at the 2003 NHL Awards]. I had recorded a demo that had music that was bizarre. In the studio we wanted to create musical sounds you’d hear at a hockey game but recreate them on African instruments. Admittedly, the music was a bit out there.
“That floated around to the people running the event. I was backstage in my dressing room with literally minutes to go before I was to go on air live. Some big shot—I think it was someone from the NHL—came to see me and said, “We can’t use the music. It’s too absurd.”
“I don’t know if he thought I was making fun of hockey, which was certainly not my intention; I just wanted to make it as interesting as possible. He said, ‘We love the lyrics and the references to all the players nominated for awards, but the music’s no good. Come up with something else.’
“I just basked in the light of Guy LaFleur.”
“But I wrote to this piece of music! I basically had a heart attack. I scrambled to find a piece of music that kinda worked. I had no choice and not a lot of options and the clock was ticking. I found a beat that didn’t have too rigid of a structure so it wouldn’t sound too weird or screw my words up. I ran with it. That performance was recorded, so that might be what’s floating around out there [on the Internet].
“I remember seeing players around and being excited. The one guy in particular I remember seeing and saying hello to was Martin Brodeur. Then later that night, after it was over, I got in the elevator to go to my hotel room and Guy LaFleur was in the elevator with me. Very exciting. I didn’t [speak to him]. I was too struck and scared, so I just basked in the light of Guy LaFleur.”
Lyrics courtesy of Buck 65
Ilya Bryzgalov plays in the NHL
He’s a goalie for the Ducks. He’s a philosopher as well
Ilya reminds us when things are going bad:
“It’s only game. Why you heff to be mad?”
Ilya once said something Carl Sagan would surely dig
When he described our solar system as humongous big
He said we shouldn’t worry with compassion in his eyes
Our problems seem so tiny compared to the universe size
He loves hockey and loves tigers. He knows what they are worth
This is tiger. Less than 500 species left on Earth
And now this does remind me of something else Ilya said:
“In China, you kill tiger and they find you, you are dead”
Ilya has a dog that must be human in disguise
He says that she is basically a blonde girl with blue eyes
This Siberian Husky — the prettiest in the world
He said, “My beautiful husky is basically a hot girl”
The man has many faces. How many, you may ask?
He says he has five faces and that doesn’t count his mask
He says he has a public face and another just in case,
An ice face and a fourth face and also a fifth face
(Repeat first verse)