Friday, December 26, 2008

A Hard Man


Had lunch with friends on Monday just as an awfully big storm raged over the Island. Talking about future plans and this spring my friend and his family are off to Cuba, which is near the top of my list of places to go. But as I have said before my problem with travel is that I always want to return to where I have already been, to continue to peel away the layers of each city, to do my best to know it. If you were to give me a choice tomorrow of where I could go the top of the list would likely be Dublin (been twice), London (once), Ireland proper (once), the Highlands of Scotland (never been) and then likely either Cuba (never been) or Newfoundland (I have been to St. John’s once).

With a finite amount of time and money and three young children a lot of this travel waits down the road but every once in a while lightning strikes, as it did this past February when I found myself in Dublin for a week on business. The meetings and work were casual and so I had my evenings and a full weekend to wander about the city. My first time to Ireland was with my wife, back in 2002, and our three days in Dublin were spent seeing the sights. The National Museum and Gallery, the cathedrals of St. Patricks and Christchurch, the Guinness storehouse, Dublin Castle, the GPO, pockmarked with bullets from 1916. Most impressive to me was the ancient Book of Kells and the great library at Trinity College, a bright soaring hall which took my breath away.

Dublin is a very walkable city and so we wandered the streets and visited pubs and shops and so our visit was a nice introduction, a skimming of the top of what the city has to offer.


Having seen all of the touristy sights then, my trip last winter was more of a true wandering, meandering along the Liffey for a while, gazing at the brightly coloured buildings opposite, then dodging into the city, down crooked laneways and streets, lost in thought on St. Stephen’s Green, following kilted shouting Scotsman in the city for the rugby, gazing at the monuments to authors and poets and thinkers, so different from Scotland where the memorials are to the violent successes of war, and, of course, in and out of the pubs, a quick pint or two at each, the older the pub the better.

I like to do my drinking at pubs in the afternoon, when they are quiet, only a few people here and there, no rush of tourists even at the most famous of them, The Brazen Head, which had two tables of students in full roar, an older American couple enjoying soup and a pint and a couple of men at the bar beside me when I visited. And so it went, to all of these century old pubs, few TVs and little music, just the quiet murmur of a young couple at Mulligan’s on Poolbeg Street, the good natured kidding of rugby fans at The Stag’s Head, the lunchtime crowd at Davy Byrne’s, the loud obscene banter of the publican at The Ha’ Penny Bridge Inn.

And Neary’s and Dawson’s Lounge and The Long Hall and The Old Stand and McDaid’s and on and on.

It was a good trip. ;)

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And in the back of my mind, always, the fact that these old pubs had seen thousands over the generations, the common man, like myself, and the uncommon, the drunken genius Brendan Behan, the youthful promise that was James Joyce and plenty of the men who had fought to bring Ireland her freedom, men like Michael Collins, who often drank with his men in these pubs, often with the men that he was fighting, British officers and spies, men who were drinking with a young man who in many cases would order their executions.

Collins has come into focus in recent years, thanks in part to a movie that was reasonably accurate, as Hollywood movies go. He, along with Arthur Griffiths, in my opinion, was the man most responsible for Ireland’s escaping British rule. A fascinating and brilliant man and if you are interested in history someone that you should know about. It was Griffiths who came up with the idea of a separate parliament from Westminster, so when Sinn Fein swept Irish seats those elected refused to sit in London, but rather sat in an Irish Parliament, the Dail, and carried on a shadow government of Ireland from there. Quite illegal and yet by its actions, carried on in peace and under the rule of law, an effective undermining of British authority in Ireland. Collins sat in the Dail and wore many hats, one of which was Minister of Finance. But he also had another, much more brutal role.

For the peaceable means of bringing the English to the table would not work alone and had to be backed by violence, cold and brutal. And this too was Collins’ work and it was here that he was the hard man, as the Irish call it, cold and calculating. British spies and agents would be warned and if they did not back off, which few did, being hard men themselves, then Collins would sign their death warrant. And so by executions in the streets of Dublin did he and his men cut off the head of British power in Ireland. It turned into an ugly war and violence begat violence and in the end Michael Collins and some hundreds of men had brought the British Empire to the table to negotiate an independent Ireland.

Collins himself did not find pleasure in his orders, indeed he often lamented ordering the killing, but it had to be done and he had the will to have it done. A hard man.

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The Oilers start their post Christmas schedule against the Canucks who have surged nicely and are now trundling along while waiting for Luongo to heal. They still have a nice blueline and the Sedins and of course now they have Sundin to go along with Demitra and some other nice pieces up front. But make no mistake that the guy who makes this team go is Ryan Kesler. A guy who causes the red mist to come over Jesse Boulerice, who makes Ales Hemsky seek him out for vengeance, a guy who takes on the opponents’ best and drives them to distraction with stick and elbows and fists, always hard on the puck, fast and mean and tough. He is the hard man on the Canucks and man oh man do I wish he was an Oiler. He, along with Willie Mitchell, gives the Canucks their edge and makes them an unpleasant team to play against. Interviewed the other day after a brawl filled match with the Ducks he paused, bemused, and wondered about the fact that it seemed that this club had an intense rivalry with so many teams in the league.

Recent history has seen players like Cooke and May and Bertuzzi in Vancouver colours and now there is the pest Burrows and hard rocks like Bieksa and Ohlund and at the head of the line, Kesler, who plays with nothing but malice in his heart. Goddamn him for it but I want him on my club.

Amongst other things the Oilers need they could use a Ryan Kesler in the bottom six. Pouliot has the size and he can skate and recently he has shown more vinegar but I don’t think its his nature and its too bad because if it was he’d be an Oiler for a decade. As it is only Souray and Moreau fit the bill on this club, a team that in its glory days was filled with hard cases, Lowe and Beukebeum and Muni and Semenko and Hunter and McClelland and even among their most skilled, the kid Graves, the pest Tikkanen, the flashy and vicious Anderson and of course, Messier, a wonderfully skilled thug in the cut of Gordie Howe.

In the Original Six every player had to be hard and cold – those who talk about the old days being a time of gentle respect between players have not a clue of what they are talking about – sticks carving and bloody fists, eye gouging and sneaky elbows, cold eyed men brawling until the ice ran red. Howe and Orr, Shore and Hull, the Richards, Mikita, even Jean Beliveau – even the stars were tough and mean and angry when they stepped on the ice. They had to be to survive.

I remember watching a YouTube video of Gator from a game when he was miked and his cold stare when someone from the other team began to yap. There was no wild antics that day – just that dead eye and a voice, bitter and frozen, dripping with violent malice. “Try me”, he said. “Try me.”

They rarely did.

The Oilers need a hard man or two who can play this game. If they have any pretensions to be a team to be reckoned with in the years to come, they need to find someone who makes the other team wonder where they are all of the time.

12 comments:

Traktor said...

I'm with you 100%. We need some grumpy bastards in the bottom 6.

If we could pick up Colby Beware and Jordin Tootoo I might just start cheering for this team again.

Kesler is beauty.

HBomb said...

Armstrong? Hell yes.

Tootoo? Fuck that. No-talent sideshow.

Steve Ott, please and thank you.

doritogrande said...

Team needs a Wreck'em Peckham once he gets his defense up to NHL standards. There's your Jason Smith.

Black Dog said...

traktor - preferably in the top six although that seems to be rare these days

I know Armstrong is a big hitter but I don't know much else about him.

I'd pass on Tootoo and Ott actually, too much of the sideshow to their games, although maybe that's just me being grumpy now

Peckham is exactly the guy I have in mind and apparently Nash has a nasty edge to him but they need more.

Too bad Torres was such a flake, his heart was rarely in it but when he was on he's exactly what this team needs

Even in the 80s you had Darryl, Brian and Brent Sutter, Clark, Probert, Neely and Al Secord, all guys who could play in the top six and make your life miserable.

Clark Gillies, Shanahan, Tkachuk, Guerin, Nolan.

Whatever happened to all of these type guys?

Brad said...

Hi guys,
I was at the Canucks game last night - finally got my first live look at the team.
Since I only manage about 1 game per season, is the whole league at the stage now where there pretty much is no hustle?
Lazy changes (both sides), not strong on the puck (oilers) and really until the 3rd period the oil were out-muscled. My impression coming away last night was that even if (GASP!) this team makes the playoffs, they will have to get a lot tougher in a big hurry to survive the first round.
I also must say that Roloson should be a tradeable commodity at this point. He got beat on a fluky goal (#1) and a great redirect on the second. Other than that, if he saw it, he stopped it. He was in position and, unlike what I normally see from him, he wasn't too busy trying to referee the game.
The Oil had a good second period that mitigated a strong Canuck third last night to come away with the 2 points, but they are going to have to finish better if they want to challenge.
Brad

Black Dog said...

Brad - I would say that there is no doubt that this team is a little soft and a little small

The intensity in a game is up and down, 82 games is a long haul. I would put down last night's game to the holiday break, usually these two clubs have no problem getting angry to play each other. Its a nice rivalry.

Roli is playing great but the Oilers would have to fall off dreadfully for them to trade him. I can't see that happening. They've been awfully inconsistent but everytime they look to fall off the pace they win a few and get back in there.

If they make the playoffs it will be as a 7 or an 8 and they will get waxed but I think that's to be expected. I would say their time to make a run is the three years following this one, most likely their best chance being the last two of those - the last years of Hemsky, Penner and Souray's contracts.

hunter1909 said...

best thing is pissing in the urinal at an old pub you can imagine standing where the famous have also drunkely pissed before.

spOILer said...

Over last year...

Lubo and Joni are pretty much a wash, although Lubo's tougher.

Greene is replaced by Strudwick. Not that far off I guess.

Torres by Cole... I'd give Cole the edge. his checks aren't as puniching and he has less psychosis, but he brings the physical almost every night.

Stoll by Pouliot...

This is the one where we really lose out.

Nothing against Pouliot, because he isn't the offensive black hole Stoll was, but we're giving up lots of toughness, "gamesmanship" and hitting here.

Black Dog said...

Spoiler - yeah but even with Stoll this club was lacking I thought

You don't have to have a bunch of guys running around cheap shotting people and I think that plenty of the guys on this club are tough in terms of taking punishment - Hemsky, Lubo, Horcoff, Penner - these guys will do what it takes to win games - Cole as well.

That '06 team though - they were hard to play against - Pronger, Smith, Staios, Moreau, Smyth, Peca, Torres, Horcoff, Dvorak, LeGG, Stoll, Pisani

Hard on the puck, hard to play against.

Damn Torres is the pisser. He was a guy who could do some real damage, really scare a team, but goddamnit he didn't bring it consistently.

Bruce said...

BDHS: Too true, the Oil just don't have near enough hard men right now to even think about competing for the big prize. Also agree that Souray and Moreau are the closest we got, although I have hopes for Smid, Stortini, Peckham and others to develop. We sure could use a Kesler, though.

You gave a nice list from the 80s and still omitted a couple, like Lee Fogolin, Don Jackson, Ken Linseman, Jaroslav Pouzar. Later, Marty McSorley, Steve Smith and Craig Simpson. Fogolin and Pouzar in particular were as tough as they come, gave no quarter and expected none. And when the games got big Messier and Anderson were assassins with and without the puck. Those Oiler teams were not fun to play against for a host of reasons.

hunter1909 said...

Torres is on record as saying he never thought he was a hard case, more of a shit disturber. Once Laraque went, he didn't like the situation of having to stand up for himself.

Any fool with half a sense for language comprehension can see that.

Peca was the perfect linemate for Raffi also. And a perfect player for the Oilers.

Oilers are going nowhere next spring, because guys like Peca and Torres are gone, like none of you don't already know this.

At least they didn't stink against the Preds last night :P

Black Dog said...

hunter - yeah I have no doubts that Torres saw his role as that but he was never better then in '06 when he was hurting guys. And that's not your prototypical pest.

His heart wasn't in it though - remember after he knocked Williams out? He was almost crying from remorse.

I think there's no doubt thst they are lacking for playoff hockey and I think everyone knows this. My guess is an early exit, if they make it. But I also think that its the springs of 2011 and 2012 that are their window. End of Hemsky, Souray and Penner's contracts, Lidstrom will likely be gone. Pronger and Niedermeyer too. It will be them, Chicago and San Jose.

IF they can keep trending upwards.