Saturday, November 29, 2008

Being A Fan


When we were in London two years ago we took the Tube up to the north of London and walked up to White Hart Lane to watch Tottenham Hotspur play Portsmouth. Spurs were under the big Dutchman Martin Jol at the time and in the middle of the nice run with him that saw them qualify for Europe and finish near the top of the league for a few years running. Their keeper was Paul Robinson, their defence anchored by Ledley King and up front they had just acquired a Bulgarian striker, Berbatov, to go with Robbie Keane and Defoe. A young and exciting club on the rise, Spurs were off to a slow start that season, just as they started the previous season and would start the following season and this season. Last year's poor start cost Jol his job and while his replacement led Spurs to the League Cup title in February, their first honours in years, he moved Defoe before that and then this summer Robinson, Keane and Berbatov followed, along with numerous other players.

This fall the club struggled mightily and the end result was that the Spaniard Ramos was sacked, replaced by an old hand Harry Redknapp, and under his guidance Spurs have taken off, shaken off the lethargy that threatened their season and look like the club that has held such promise for a few years now.

That Sunday afternoon in London was a sunny and glorious one and of course none would guess that Jol would be gone in a year and that less then two years later Keane would be at Liverpool and Berbatov at Manchester United. Spurs had ground to make up and Portsmouth, who may have actually been under Redknapp at the time if I recall, were one of the teams they had to catch.

Even if you don't like soccer watching a game live is probably something for your list if you are a sports fan. The lush green of the field, the chants and songs of the fans of both clubs, the roar when Spurs scored less then a minute in and then again later in the first half when Defoe calmly slotted in a penalty. The crowd smug and satisfied, then stunned as Pompey drew within one before the end of the half, the probing run down the wing and a harmless ball drifting in, a man unmarked, the ball behind Robinson and the sudden cacophony from the opposite corner of the stadium where the Portsmouth fans, encircled by riot police, hopped about gleefully.

The second half began and Keane came on soon after to the crowd's delight and as the game shifted back and forth the tension within the stadium became palpable. Soccer is an odd game. Anyone who watched the European Championships this past summer will remember how suddenly a game can turn, how ninety minutes of complete disaster can suddenly be redeemed in a moment. So the fans of Spurs became less and less raucus as the game continued, fearing the dagger's blade to come.

Immediately in front of us was a very well turned out guy in his thirties. Nice haircut, expensive clothing, probably a businessman or professional of some sort. As the second half wore on his body clenched with the tension and his face reflected anger and pain. A Spurs' mistake or Pompey sortie was regarded with muttered cursing and bitter snarls until I believe he was actually feeling physical distress from the game on the pitch below. With ten minutes left he sprang up, unable to take it any more, and rushed for the exit.

Spurs held on and the crowd exhaled and began to sing joyously. As we wandered back to the station, around mounted police in full riot gear, we passed pubs full of cheerful supporters, clad in the colours of their club. It was a very satisfying experience, maybe even for the man in the expensive jacket who could not bear to watch its conclusion.

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The idea of being a fan has been something on my mind a lot lately. The Oilers are struggling again and the high expectations of September are swirling down the drain. MacT's job looks to be in danger while Lowe remains bulletproof apparently. All but a handful of players are underperforming and it looks to be another long winter. The goodwill and joy of the spring of 2006 has disappeared into the ether.

And yet there are thousands and thousands of us who watch the Oilers on TV, listen to Rod call their games, read about them in the newspapers or on the web, discuss them either here or out in the real world, go to Rexall, buy their jerseys and other paraphenalia, think about them more then we should ....

A bunch of transient millionaires who we have never met employed by a corporation which asks for our loyalty along with our money, gets same, and then proclaims unpopular moves to be necessary because it is a business after all. And yet I don't resent this (well I do a little), this request for emotional investment, this contract which can be breached when the Oilers decide that they don't want to pay the guy who led me to become a fan of their team. I don't like the fact that the club makes itself out to be bigger then a business, part of the community's fabric when it suits and then turns around when a guy is moved and says 'well it is a business after all'.

I was a fan of the Chicago Blackhawks forever until I could no longer take the incompetence, the losing, the bullying. The hope of the eighties culminated in Keenan taking a hard driving club to the Finals and then Pulford, protecting his power, as always, slit Iron Mike's throat. Player after player from those clubs was moved out as soon as it came time to pay them - the mercurial Belfour, the flashy Roenick, the warrior Chelios - but the beginning of the end for me was when they moved the ultimate professional hockey player, Steve Larmer, a terrific winger who came to play every night and did every single thing well. If he had been an Oiler instead of a Hawk he would be in the Hall of Fame I believe. What a player. The single best thing about the Rangers winning was that Larmer got to hoist the Cup.

So Wirtz poisoned my heart and one night I was watching the Oilers and Hawks play and I realized that I was actually hoping that the Oilers won. Simple as that.

I'd always liked the Oilers back in the 80s and I liked their persona in the later 90s, the energetic hard driving underdogs. And Smyth had replaced Larmer who had replaced Stan Mikita as my favourite player.

So what makes a guy in Toronto cheer for a team thousands of miles away? Nick Hornby talks about being a fan in Fever Pitch and of course he does a far better job then I ever could. If I were in Edmonton then the answer would be quite simple - it would be my town team and likely most of my friends and family would be Oiler fans. I would be able to attend games and in 2006 I would have been able to take part in the celebrations when even casual fans of the game got caught up in the excitement.

But there isn't really a community of fans here in Toronto. I have met a lot of Edmonton folk here and of course have been out for pints with Mike and Chris and Alana and Tyler and Hugh (when he lived here) but we don't all live on a little street with Oiler flags flying on flagpoles in our tiny yards.

And while there is a community here online which includes those folks and Andy and Colby and Mr. Debakey (who I have all met) and Dennis and Vic and Lowetide and Loxy and Heather (who I have not) the community of Oiler fans, both online and in the real world, also includes plenty of people who I would probably not like, people who I would avoid, people who I would detest. I have had drinks with Matt Fenwick and I would enjoy doing that again. I would leave a bar if some of the clowns who post on the web ever came in and introduced themselves.

Then again they would probably do the same to me.

The reality of it is that we are fans for various reasons but I think in the end there is little like the experience of it. Hornby describes being at a big game and the victory being unlike anything he had ever experienced. Years and years of following his club (Arsenal in this case), of frustrations and near misses, wiped away in a sudden moment, like ten thousand orgasms but far better, far different for sex results in the orgasm and then, soon after, can again. Or if you are older not so soon after ;) but you get the point. The sporting orgasm, as it were, results from a buildup of hours or days or even years of tension. When Joe Sakic scored in 2002 in Salt Lake City I wept from relief and ecstasy. If Fernando Pisani had buried that chance on June 19th and then the Oilers had scored another to finish the Canes off I am certain I would have again.

The victory in game six over the Wings when Pisani swooped in to pot the rebound and then dashed through the Wings defence to tie it and then the odd deflection off of Hemsky and then he stickhandles and Samsonov, long gone now, recieves the pass and then Hemsky is all alone and the puck flicked by Legace and the crowd roars. Roloson's save on Cheechoo and Smyth spitting out teeth and Horcoff dashing up ice in celebration. And game six against the Canes, the shutout, the domination and Smyth's rush ending with the backhand in the net and then everything seemed possible and all of our doubts were erased for a time as we poured out of the bar and into the warm June night to celebrate. The anthem roared and Joey Moss and Bryzgalov smirking in wonder at the noise tumbling down from the rafters and Oilers throwing themselves in front of shots with abandon and Torres knocking Michelek out and Pronger scoring on the penalty shot and Samsonov with the drop to Staios who drove it and Smith of all people sneaking in from the point and making the first and last deke of his career. These memories are etched in my mind and sometimes I will play a Youtube video of the run's highlights or will replay them in my mind's eye and shivers will run through me as I construct a different reality where Pisani ties the game and then Smyth scores in overtime and the Oilers raise the Cup. Pronger would have still left but we would not have cared a whit. We would have carried him to California on our shoulders, I have no doubt about it, if we had won that Cup.

These memories, these experiences, are what make the broken promise of the last two seasons worth it, what make Lowe's bullying and LaForge's smirk bearable. Many of us will watch today's game, a meaningless one in many ways (though not for MacTavish), and if Horcoff buries a Hemsky feed or Smid drifts one in from the point or Cole deflects a Gilbert wrist shot we will celebrate, at least for a moment, because this is our team and while we know that these guys aren't as cool as our Tuesday night club that we kid with and go out for beers with after another skate, we certainly wish that this might be the case. Most of all though we hope for another June 19th but one in which they make our dreams, however silly, come true.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Blood In The Water


This article confirms what some of us have been saying for a few weeks now and what I talked about yesterday. Craig MacTavish is in trouble and barring a miraculous turnaround he is done as coach of the Edmonton Oilers and it will likely be quite soon.

The team sits a couple of points out of last place today. The good news, of course, is that they sit a couple of points out of the playoffs as well so its not like we're talking about the deficit that last year's club faced by Christmas. The bad news remains, however, that this team is underachieving and that the guy who is going to take the fall for it is the coach.

When a source within the organization says that a coaching change may be considered then make no mistake, the day is coming.

Over at Lowetide's a crazy thread that included the best and worst of the Oilogosphere - slipper's "confessions" from the anonymous player (Ales Hemsky's is below the title of this blog), genius, a troll who arrived out of nowhere to begin insulting everyone, traktor taking his ball home, again, Jonathan Willis being outed as a closet Stars' fan (as well as having his choice of pajamas discussed) and much speculation and parsing of speech patterns as to who this unnamed player is. Good fun.

Actual journalist David Staples pointed out, interestingly enough, that looking to the only player actually quoted in the article would be a good place to start. Journalism 101.

Whoever the player is matters although it would matter more if someone in the organization wasn't throwing MacT under the bus at the same time. It would also matter if it was not so glaringly obvious that there is more then one player who would likely be happy to see MacTavish go.

I remarked yesterday and Bruce picked up on it that one of the notable events Wednesday night was Liam Reddox blocking a shot. It was notable in that it, once a signature of this club, doesn't happen anymore. Ethan Moreau broke a bone blocking a shot last preseason for Christ sakes. This team always has blocked shots and now it rarely does. While it takes some technique and care or you'll end up like Patrick Thoresen, blocking a shot is a simple exercise and speaks more to commitment then to ability.

The commitment is not there from this team.

Five days of coaching and meetings ended up in Wednesday night's debacle.

What does that say about this club? The same as all of the poor starts and abortive efforts mentioned yesterday.

I expect that Saturday afternoon will see MacT's last hoorah. Horcoff and Moreau and Staios and Hemsky will lead the charge and show what they think of their coach and the team will have a concerted effort. And then Sunday we will see disaster once again.

And that will be it. Hell, Saturday may be it. And if Saturday is another half hearted effort then Lowe, oh sorry, Tambellini will have no choice. Anonymous sources cutting up the coach, management's defence of said coach and then a poor effort in response will say it all.

As for the talk of a trade turning this thing around here we are with more smoke and mirrors. Who are they going to trade to shake the team up? Everyone's value is depressed except Hemsky, Souray, Lubo, Gilbert and Moreau. Moving any of the first four would be foolish and moving Moreau when he is one of the few guys who can play tough minutes and play LW would be making the team weaker.

Moving a kid when you are rebuilding would be just plain stupid unless you can get a good piece in return.

And this team is not good enough to begin moving veteran players without receiving sure things in return. What sure thing are you going to get for Cole or Penner?

So who is left? Garon? Pouliot? Spare parts? None of these is going to send shivers through the room.

Meanwhile while Curtis Glencross tears it up down the highway, scoring and playing tougher minutes then he did last year, Kevin Lowe escapes censure once again.

Nice job if you can get it.
This is post # 500 here at BDHS in what will be nearly three years of writing about these Oilers and one thing is for certain. There is never a dull moment. Jesus.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Malaise Is Not Something You Put On Your Fries


I'm not a negative guy.
I don't believe in kneejerk decisions.

Eric Duhatschek said last night that Mactavish would be given a year to work with this club, that he was not in any danger of losing his job.

I think MacT is a good coach. I know some people disagree but you cannot separate good from bad and say the good was luck and circumstance while the bad was the measure of the man. And he's done some good, just as recently as last winter, not to mention the obvious, 2006.

I think only the blindest figured this team to roll through the Western Conference this season. I think that the return of Horcoff, Moreau, Pisani and Souray and the additions of Visnovsky and Cole does offset the losses of Pitkanen, Stoll and Reasoner and the fact that the shooting percentage of the kids last spring was unsustainable. This team is not a great team but they are a better team then they have shown so far.

I think that their present record might be acceptable due to their ridiculous schedule if we had not seen or heard about a single game.

I think that the three headed goalie is management's fault.

I think that having another veteran or two is always a good idea. Once again this is management's fault.

I think that Curtis Glencross is proving that he is a pretty good hockey player and this team misses him. That loss is management's fault.

I think management is once again trying to have their cake and eat it too by making MacT develop players while trying to compete for a playoff spot.

I think that Steve Staios has lost a step.

I think that playing Cole, Pisani, Penner and Smid out of position is the coach's fault.

I think that the insistence on playing Strudwick over Smid is a bad decision.

I think that the shot Liam Reddox blocked last night is one of the first I have seen by a Oiler penalty killing forward in a long time.

I think that whatever the underlying numbers show that Horcoff and Cole (both who I really like) and Penner (not a big fan) need to start scoring soon. Saying that at some point they will start getting breaks isn't making a difference on the scoresheet.

The kid line got soft opposition last night and did nothing.

Gagner has done nothing.

Nilsson has done nothing.

Brodziak has done nothing.

Underlying numbers and shooting percentage and all that stuff aside these guys all did pretty well in the NHL last season and now they are ciphers out there.

Garon is a forgotten man. Why?

Why is Smid playing forward?

The only players who can be said to be having good years, really - Hemsky, Gilbert, Souray, Visnovsky, Roloson. Why so few?

After coughing up a big lead to Columbus MacT tears a strip off this club. The next night they go down 5-0 to the Pens.

Penner and Brodziak get benched. The team responds with a great effort. The next game against Detroit, nothing.

Their last game before an extended layoff they are down 3-0 before the game is ten minutes old.

The first game of the year they get completely outplayed.

They respond by getting completely outplayed for the first two periods by Anaheim.

They don't show up against Chicago.

They disappear against the Leafs.

Last night they were "chomping at the bit" according to Ferraro.

Moreau takes a ridiculous penalty immediately.

Only Roloson and some breaks kept them in it early.

Other then Cogliano and Gilbert nobody showed consistent energy all night.

One or two bad games are one or two bad games. Multiple games featuring lack of effort and preparedness are a pattern.
The PK is a disaster.

The PP is improved but then has games where it costs them two points - not even generating chances.

This club isn't full of guys like Bobby Clarke and Ryan Smyth. But then again neither is Detroit.

But they aren't hard on the puck.

They fail to execute basic plays.

They are easy to play against.

They have poor first periods, which speaks to being unprepared to play.

There is a lack of compete.

The majority of the team is underachieving.

This team has holes but pretty well every team has holes.

This team has a lot of youth but plenty of teams have lots of youth.

This team isn't the Detroit Red Wings but they are a better team then this.

They haven't made the playoffs in three of the last four seasons.

I'm tired of losing.

You can't fire the whole team.

Draw your own conclusions.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Beans and Meat. Cook For A Long Time. Eat.


I love to eat and in my opinion nobody does it better then the French. Say what you will about France but damnit they know how to live - good food, wine, coffee, cigarettes - uh huh, I have to get there some day. My problem with travelling (other then the fact that I have a job and three kids and a finite supply of bread which makes world travel a little difficult) is that when I go somewhere it almost always remains at the top of the list of places I want to go to. So I've been to London and Scotland and Ireland (twice now) and if you were to ask me where I want to go next I would say London and Scotland and Ireland. I was in Dublin last winter for meetings but I had a weekend there and my evenings were free and so I was able to do a nice wander about the city and I saw plenty that I did not see my first time there and when I left I felt that I had a feel for the city finally, the type of feeling you can get when you spend time in the city with the people who live there and you take the time to lose yourself in the crooked backstreets and alleys, drinking pints in old pubs and walking around St. Stephen's Green looking at statues of the poets and patriots. So if I was to be given a week tomorrow and the time and freedom to do it I would likely get a plane and get back there and walk along the Liffey and duck into Neary's or John Mulligan's for a pint and then maybe run up to Howth for dinner with friends.

Despite the fact that I want to go to France and I know it would be one of the best things ever. Goofy, huh?

So for now I just have to enjoy eating French food whenever we can get out for it which is rare with the baby. There are great French places but we dig Indian and Thai as well for starters and then there's your thousand other restaurants a stone throw's away (if you have a good arm) and then of course there is the fact, already mentioned, that money doesn't emerge from my ass whenever needed. Anyways, there is a French joint a short distance from our house, one of these little hole in the wall joints that you stumble upon and that just blow you away. Like most French restaurants here it is small and intimate and warm and like most French restaurants here (the one I have eaten at anyways) the food and wine are terrific.

When I was there last I had cassoulet. That shit knocks my socks off, all the meat and beans and the sauce. I've always wanted to make a cassoulet but the problem is that it involves two days of preparation.

I don't have two days to spare right now and if I did, lets be honest, I wouldn't make myself a cassoulet but damn, if it isn't an example of that old saw about good things coming to those who wait.

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Wednesday night Marc Pouliot is going to get a chance to prove that he is cassoulet and not something else that ages a little less gracefully, like say, jerky. We've been waiting for Pouliot for a while now and the fact that nearly every other first rounder (and plenty of second rounders) from his draft class have become NHL stars have made the rangy centre a target of discontent. It never figured to be this way. The kid was no Niinimaki, a reach pick out of nowhere; he was rated highly and he just hasn't lived up to his promise. He looked dandy in his first shot with the club but illness derailed him and since then it has been more or less indifferent and inconsistent play that have shuffled him in and out of the lineup. Late last season he stuck and his results were reasonable - he wasn't filling the net but he wasn't getting buried either.

A fine camp this fall and conditioning finally not an issue and a fair performance in the first quarter while playing mostly on the wing and finally Pouliot seems to have earned a shot that many had him pegged for before the season - tough minutes between two veterans in Cole and Moreau.

The experiment may last ten games or it may last ten minutes but for all the speculation that MacT is not a fan of the young Quebecker is belied by the fact that he has stuck in the lineup while others have not and his icetime at even strength has consistently topped ten minutes for a while now. It appears that he has earned his shot and here is hoping that he takes it and runs with it. This team needs a big right handed centre who can do the tough lifting and while Pouliot may not be the answer he has earned his chance. I saw him play in the famed "Penalty Shot" game against the Leafs, his best game as a pro, and the kid has hands, can skate and can do things with the puck at high speed in heavy traffic that show that there may be something more beneath the surface then we think. He may be a nobody with a fringe career or he may be the type of guy who scores ten to fifteen goals a year while doing the heavy lifting. Some might say that a guy like that is a dime a dozen but the Oilers of the past few years have lacked exactly that type of player and the value of such a player cannot and should not be underrrated. Remember Peca and Pisani in 2006?

You can cook a terrific meal in twenty minutes but others, just as tasty, take time.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Science Amazes Me







As far as decades go the 70s don't particularly mean much to me. I was twelve when the eighties were ushered in and if its possible to be defined by a decade in terms of your cultural sensibilities I would guess that I would be labelled a nineties guy more then anything else.

School pictures show that the 70s did make it to Sudbury though, at least they did in terms of clothes and hairstyles. Of course it seems that those school photographers use some sort of equipment that make any picture immediately dated. Your man could come in and take a picture of me tomorrow in front of one of those backgrounds with the lasers firing off (lasers?!) and when I got the two dozen wallet sized plus the 8 X 10 for the low low price of 59.95 next week my immediate impulse would be to toss the whole lot out. Its true.

So Sudbury in the seventies didn't mean we were snorting cocaine off of some French Canadian girl's ass out behind the rink, while the faint echo of disco thumped in time to our pint sized plaid polyester clad hearts. We were kids so other then a vague memory of being introduced to Kiss in Doug Catton's basement by his sneering older brother, I have to say that I was a little out of the loop. Three things do come immediately to mind whenever I think of those days though, all of them related to my grandparents, my mom's folks.

My grandfather had been a bigwig for mining companies and my grandparents were wealthy as a result. They had come from Timmins and from there had lived in mining towns in northern Ontario and Quebec but their travels had also led them to Africa where they lived for a number of years and around the rest of the world for pleasure. This was forty years ago when world travel was a lot bigger deal then it is now. You needed money and moxy to do it and they had both. Retirement led them to settle in Montreal and then they got ahead of the curve and moved to Florida in the late seventies.

With their big house and Asian and African art and foreign friends my grandparents struck me as being slightly other worldly. Well mannered and monied they were a far cry from my father's family, those rowdy hooligans not far removed from the bush, only a few generations from wandering naked from the Scottish moors, howling at the moon. McLean reunions meant guitars and bonfires, rum and cigarettes, laughter and insults rising in a roaring crescendo. Going to Montreal meant lush gardens neatly kept, watching boxing on an enormous TV and eating lavish meals in a house so clean that you could dine off the floor if you so chose.

It also meant cutting edge technology. There was the air conditioning in my grandfather's monstrous Buick. There was the microwave oven, my grandmother warning us not to get too close to the gigantic humming box (it causes the cancer!) as it turned delicious vegetables into grey rubbery imitations of what they once were.

And there was magical wonderful teflon. No more scrubbing cast iron frying pans or Beautiful shiny steel pots. Watch the remains of the day's meal slide right off with a quick and easy wipe.

An unknown fact: teflon was demonstrated in Lachute Quebec in the early 1970s where an enterprising saleman demonstrated it by spraying a young boy named Kevin Lowe. "See," said the salesman as an application of Superglue slid right off of the boy to the floor, "Nothing sticks. Its amazing!"

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I'm not one of those guys who hates Kevin Lowe. I think he did a good job before the lockout when he kept a team with a tight budget competitive year after year. No playoff series wins so he might have done better but overall he did pretty well. His work on rebuilding the Oilers' player procurement department was terrific, I think, with a nice cluster of kids in the NHL now and plenty more on the way. And his work in 2005/2006 was outstanding, building a team that came within a break or two of winning it all.

Since June 19th 2006 though Mr. Lowe has been hit and miss, mostly miss. I certainly don't question his passion for the job (I don't want to get throttled) but the mistakes have come fast and furious over the last three summers and this year's slow start has everyone pointing fingers at MacTavish and the players but none at the man who built this team so that there are three goaltenders instead of two, three very good veteran right wingers (plus Gagner) but only one veteran centre and a fourth line that was a great strength a year ago but now a black hole where careers appear to be going to die.

The failure to procure enough veterans to make the team competitive while rebuilding, the botching of the Smyth situation (Lowe's apologists conveniently ignore Lowe's own admission of fault there), the Pronger trade that may work out longterm if the draft picks do but whose main return was a complete disaster, the loss of terrific low cost pickups in Hejda and Glencross, the investment in Penner, oh me oh my it continues on and on and all the dailies and fans can talk about is how the coach is losing the team and his mind and how the players just aren't good enough/tough enough/determined enough/make too much money.

But who put the team together and if the players aren't good enough for the third straight year in an era where the Oilers are one of the big boys financially then should not the fingers be pointed somewhere beyond the bench, the players there and the man behind it?

Yet I would guess when it comes to that, if it comes to that, the man who will come under fire will be Tambellini.

Because that just seems to be the way things work in E-town. Your man Kevin Lowe is above reproach.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Legend


Once a year my best friend and I get out for dinner, pints and a Leafs' game. The tickets are always terrific, courtesy of the company he works for, and the games are generally memorable ones. Two years ago was the Pouliot penalty shot game, as it will forever be remembered in these parts. The 67 Cup team was feted before that game, Red Kelly made an amazingly politically incorrect comment during an interview shown on the scoreboard, and the Oilers fell just short in one of Ryan Smyth's last games in copper and blue. We were also shown on the broadcast a number of times apparently. (I was the handsome man in the cordouroy coat booing the Torontos).


Last year was an afternoon game that Hasek essentially handed to a badly outplayed Leafs' squad. Dan Cleary was also hit in the face by a slapshot and knocked out of the Wings' lineup for the rest of the regular season. Our seats were right near one of the gangways and we got to watch Elliott Friedman do his thing - interesting stuff.


Last night was a terrific game. Khabibulin, who apparently has been great this year, did his best to hand the game to the Leafs but the third period and short overtime were spent in the Leafs' end and the Hawks' comeback was pretty well inevitable. The Hawks are an entertaining team to watch, fast and skilled, anchored by Keith and Seabrook on D, featuring Kane, Toews and Patrick Sharp up front. They have a ton of balance and they are very young and they are hard on the puck - without Bob Pulford around to fuck things up it looks like this franchise may be finally turning the corner.


The Leafs, meanwhile, are long on hard work and short on talent. Toskela was mediocre again and unless he is very good they will lose on most nights. Jeff Finger, who Cliff Fletcher mistook for Kurt Sauer, was atrocious. Blake, who responded to a benching by having his best game as a Leaf against the Oilers, was a cipher once again and I cannot see how they will be able to move him at all. And Ian White was sporting a gigantic mustache which made him look especially douchy. We were thinking Movember but I'm sure he has sported it all season and White strikes me as a guy who would not raise a hand to help anyone and also one of those people who any form of irony would completely escape. I'm pretty sure he's just an idiot.


Of course last night was Wendel Clark night at the ACC and I have to admit that I have never seen a Leafs crowd act like that at any time ever. They roared and roared and would have kept on roaring if an embarassed Clark hadn't plowed through his speech despite the ovation. They settled quickly when they realized that he was going to keep on talking and then it was over with. Clark was one of the most exciting players of his era on the ice and one of the dullest off of it. His six or seven lines made Joe Sakic look like Winston Churchill rallying the Empire during the Battle of Britain.


Wendel Clark is an interesting cat and anyone trying to figure out the Leafs and their fanbase would have to start with him as a case study. He was a good but not great player who did three things very well. He had a terrific wrist shot. He was a punishing bodychecker, one of the best that I have ever seen. And he was a ferocious fighter. He came to the Leafs when they were wandering the wilderness and he immediately became THE fan favourite despite the fact that he was a poor playmaker, an indifferent two way player and a guy who never really led the Leafs anywhere. Gilmour was the far superior player, as was Sundin, who Fletcher traded Clark for in the classic sell high move. Clark had scored 46 goals, his career high, when Fletcher moved him to Quebec. His body was already breaking down and after he left Toronto his career swiftly declined. The player the Leafs received, Sundin, would perform at an extraordinary level for nearly fifteen years and yet when his day comes at the ACC the reception will be nothing like the one Wendel received.


I was at the celebration of the 67 team and the reception for that last championship Leafs team was nothing like what went on last night. The crowd was in a celebratory mood from beginning to end and even a loss did little to suppress the rowdy buzz.


Does that say anything about Leaf fans? Part of me would like to be smug and say yes but the truth is there are Leaf fans like the ones behind me last night who lamented the team's lack of a leader since Clarkie left, who booed Kubina and Antropov constantly, who went on and on about Luke Schenn and how awesome he is and who remarked that they could care less about winning as long as the team played hard and tough. And then there are fans who loved Clark and enjoy the change in atmosphere around the club these days but who hate the decades of poor ownership and mismanagement that have left this one proud franchise one of the least successful in the league over the last forty years. Every club has its dope fans (Trade Hemsky!) but I don't know that the Leaf fanbase has a greater share of delusionals then the Oilers. Its just that there is a lot more noise when it comes to the Leafs and that MLSE is such an incompetent bunch who still manage to make extraordinary profits despite their ineptitude. The Leafs' fans, for better or for worse, won't vote with their feet and as long as they don't (and Richard Peddie is in charge) the drought will continue, regardless of who comes in to take over the club.


So the fans here hang their hats on Clark and Gilmour and Domi (!?) to try and forget these decades of misery, while Sundin languishes outside of their affections. This allocation of loyalty, by the way, again is not solely a Leafs' storyline. Oilers fans, spoiled by their still relatively recent dynasty, find fault in nearly every player. Players of extraordinary skill like Hemsky and Visnovsky are not bloody minded enough, guys like Gilbert, Horcoff and Pisani too subtle. But Ryan Smyth, like Wendel, was the beloved face of the franchise for years. A far better player then Wendel Clark, Smyth lacked the big shot or the flashiness (qualities the new fan favourite Souray possesses in abundance), but made up for it with the greasiness along the boards, the resilience in front of the net, the steadfast reply to country's call, the so obvious love for the game.


Strangely enough though Smyth is now a villain amongst many Oiler fans which is more depressing then anything. As they lament the present club's inattention to detail, its failure to get its collective nose dirty, its go nowhere flashiness and slickness they forget that one day, not that long ago, they had a player who epitomized the qualities they miss and while the divorce was mutual it seems that Smyth and a few diehards are the only ones who remember what we once had.


Someday Ryan Smyth will probably receive some sort of honour from his original club. Hopefully the outpouring that night will equal what Wendel received last night but I would guess, sadly, that it will not.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Threesome



Dear BDHS, I used to read those letters people wrote to you and I thought that they were bull, you know, probably written by you and some of your buddies after a bunch of pints in some Communist bar that your type like to hang out in. Then last summer I happened to be in Edmonton visiting my friend, lets call him, I don't know, Andy Grabia. Andy and I were out working at his uncle's farm. It was a hot day and soon we found ourselves stripping our shirts off, revealing our massive chests and insanely powerful arms. Suddenly we turned to see Andy's uncle's neighbour's daughter's best friend. She looked at us coyly and said 'I have a surprise for you'. My mouth dry with excitement, I replied, 'yes'. She licked her lips and smiled. 'Mike Winters is in the hayloft.'


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After university I, like many of my friends, found myself underemployed. This was the early nineties. The economy wasn't great and I was saddled with an English degree, no prospects and an alarming combination of a lack of ambition and a lack of direction. Having said that I was perfectly content to meander about Toronto in my flannel shirt, sandals and afro for a few years while I figured shit out. For the greater part of that time I established myself as a true representative of the nineties slacker, as we were labelled, by working at a video store.

It was actually a terrific job. Enough money to pay the rent and for beer and cigarettes when needed and all the movies I could watch, an opportunity I took full advantage of. I watched everything I could get my hands on - Japanese and French films, little indies and classic black and whites. It was a great little store. Your man carried everything under the sun and each week he brought in whatever was on coming out.

There's no accounting for taste so of course for every copy of Living In Oblivion or Kicking and Screaming (Yeah I liked the movies where young people sat around and blah blah blahhed) there were three of Sliver or Threesome. Ahh, Threesome. Starring Lara Flynn Boyle before she began to starve herself, one of the Baldwins and some other dude.

Man was it terrible.

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The Oilers are fighting it these days and for every legitimate issue that this club has (too young, could use more size, still need a veteran third line centre), there is the self inflicted stuff that makes me mental. You know, the waiting until the very last minute in 2006 to shore up the goaltending, the failure to address the defence in 2006/2007, the insistence on playing guys out of position this season. And first and foremost this season, the three goaltenders.

This past summer I was on a thread and the discussion was about what the Oilers' plans were for Horcoff. Stoll and Reasoner were gone and so it was Horcoff and the kids and the feeling amongst many of us was that signing Horcoff became a must at this point unless this team was going to throw away a couple more years developing these kids. The point was made (I think it was Brownlee but I cannot be 100% sure; I think it may have been because I gave the comment more weight then I normally would have) that teams didn't necessarily look that far ahead and that things were a lot more fluid then we thought.

To me this was crazy. If you are running a multimillion dollar business then my thinking is that you should have an idea of what your plans for the future are. If moving Stoll out means that you now only have one centre over twenty three then I'm thinking you had probably plan on signing that guy. Of course they did sign Horcoff so maybe I was just getting smoke blown up my ass.

But then I look at the goaltending situation and wonder what genius figured this one out. I mean, really.

I can understand not sending DesLauriers down. Dubnyk needs to be the starter in Springfield. JDD does not need the work in the AHL. Basically its time to either promote him or cut him loose.

So if you decide to keep him up then it makes sense to cut one of the vets loose, right? Except the number two guy has a big contract and really isn't attractive to anyone unless they need insurance in the spring. And the number one guy, while he put up nice numbers last year, is not necessarily a guy you want to move because you can likely sign him for relatively cheap and the other veteran is just about forty so he's done. And yet you're probably not too comfortable with putting all of your playoff eggs in the Garon basket.

So, I get it. The two veterans are free agents on top of everything so you want to keep the kid around. You like him and figure he might be a nice cheap backup next year.

Still the whole thing just reeks of poor planning. Garon had a terrific start and then sat. When he came back he did not play well and as a result he sat for, what, two weeks? He played part of the game on Thursday and maybe he will play on Wednesday, his first start in three weeks. I can see why they might not be totally sold on the guy yet but he had a good year last season and we know that neither Roloson nor JDD will be the starter next season. Right?
So, if you're not sold on Garon then you should either play him to see if he's the guy or move him because you don't think he's the answer.
Or replace him with a better alternative.
It doesn't make a whole lot of sense and while MacT can be blamed for a number of weird roster choices this year and his handling of goalies, like most coaches who don't have Roberto Luongo, has always been spotty, why the hell would the organization saddle him with this situation in the first place?
Take a look around the league. How many teams carry three goalies? And this is the second time in four years this club has done this. Apparently this is an Oiler Special. What are these guys thinking?
Jesus Murphy.

Friday, November 21, 2008

One Hundred Dollars


The company my best friend works for was hosting a big meeting and he received an email from an employee who works in Columbus Ohio asking him how she should dress. The meeting was in the first week of October.


He replied that she should bring a heavier jacket because it might be cold at night and also that she musn't bring any white clothing. She responded to this, asking him why, and he explained that it was illegal to wear white in Canada after September 30th due to the fact that so much snow accumulates that people who wear white seem to appear out of nowhere, thus causing a surge in heart attacks amongst the unsuspecting populace.


She thanked him for that information.


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I lived in Florida for over three years. In the summer of 2001 my wife and I were married in Prince Edward Island. While we were gone my company had its annual conference, this time in Toronto.


A few weeks before the meeting I was in the Florida office talking to one of my coworkers who was flying up to Toronto. I was telling her about a few places she should check out and then she asked me about currency. How much should she get, what denomination, what would it cost her. Because it was only for a couple of days and she just needed some spending money I suggested that a hundred bucks should do her. She asked me what the best way to get that broken down would be.


I explained to her that we used to have a hundred dollar bill but that when Wayne Gretzky retired they discontinued it and replaced it with a ninety nine dollar bill. She commented that we Canadians were so crazy with our hockey and I agreed, telling her that while this may be true the best way for her to go was to get a hundred bucks - get a Gretzky, a "little Gretzky" (the ninety nine cent coin) and a penny.


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MacT is reminding me more and more of Daffy Duck in that great old cartoon where he and Bugs Bunny tell poor Elmer Fudd that it is 'Rabbit Season!' 'Duck Season!' Of course Bugs wins out and in the end Daffy is left gibbering 'Its Duckbilled Platypus season. Shoot me! I'm a Duckbilled Platypus! Look at me! I'm a Mongoose! Shoot me! Its Mongoose season.'


Two seasons ago Ladislav Smid came over in the Pronger deal and immediately was handed second pair minutes. The results were as expected.


Then last season he was sent down at the end of camp, played out of a job by Tom Gilbert. Injuries brought him up soon enough and the rest of the year he played a mixture of second and third pairing minutes. He struggled at times although there were a few nice things to see.


So this year he ends up in the pressbox to start the year but comes out pretty quickly. Playing in the third pair now he actually does quite well and begins to show quite a few signs that he is turning the corner until old friend Raffi Torres drops him for the count a couple of weeks back.


So our young friend returns from his concussion and what does MacT do? Sticks him on the left wing.


Smid thought he was joking.


So did I. We have a kid who finally this year gets the type of responsibility he should have received two years ago (if they were determined on keeping him rather then sending him to the minors) and who actually is finally showing that he may be getting it and he gets put back into the lineup completely out of position. He is actually being developed in reverse. In three months MacT will be bringing him to 'Tiny Tots Learn To Skate', tying up his skates in the dressing room and then giving him a hot chocolate after Ladi pushes a chair around the ice for twenty minutes.


Is there a method to MacT's madness? I think there is real pressure on him to win with this lineup (some of this pressure brought on by his own comments btw). I think the reality is that while this team has a lot to like about it there are still plenty of kids everywhere and momma always told me there would be days like these. I think MacT would be a lot happier if he had a couple more veterans he could roll out there on the PK and at ES.


I swear though that last night when Smid lined up at LW for the first time that MacT was going to run out on the ice in a rabbit suit, laughing uproariously, while up in the pressbox Lowe hit Joanne Ireland with a shaving cream pie and Tambellini chased Terry Jones around with a shotgun.


Sometimes I wonder if perhaps the joke is on the fans here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Programming Note


As you can see things have changed here at BDHS. A while back I was approached by The Score with a proposal to join their new blogging network. My original response was that I was flattered but not interested. Writing this blog is a hobby, one that I enjoy very much, and I had no desire to be beholden to The Man anymore then I already am.

Stupid The Man.

After some thought and discussions I changed my mind. I was assured that there would be no extra demands on my time and that I would be allowed to write as I always have. I have always wanted to write but have neither the work ethic nor the talent, to be honest, to do it for a living, so the thought of actually writing for a bigger audience is pretty exciting to me. Add to that the opportunity of hopefully showing more Oiler fans that there is a lot of great writing on the Oilers out there that they are missing out on and I decided to take the plunge.

(I apologize in advance if the sites out on the Oilogosphere are suddenly flooded by *LOL Schremp is hot OMG* comments.)
It appears that I have truly sold out as not only am I making money off of this but I am sleeping with the enemy.

I hope that if you're a regular visitor that you will continue to drop by and not be put off by the ads and banners. If you are a newcomer to the site, welcome. Try to show some respect in your comments for the process here, including your fellow commenters. Check out the sites on the right of the page. There's some terrific stuff there and I guarantee that you will be entertained and educated if you take the time to check them out.

Finally I'd be an ass if I didn't point out that if you have a blog or website and you link to me there to make a note in the comments so that I can add you to my blogroll. I am making money from this, if not a lot, and if you are sending people my way so that I end up buying a pint or two off of this then the least I can do is reciprocate.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Love Love Love


I was in high school when I had my first of many crushes. It was crazy shit. I thought about her all the time. When I saw her it made my day. If I expected to see her and I did not it would leave me crestfallen. I was mad about her until one day, urged on by some friends in the know, I asked her out. She said yes and that was the end of all that. I kid you not.

Now while that is so obviously mental in a lot of ways that was more or less an extreme. As I said, I had plenty of crushes as a young man. Some led to nothing but plenty led to more and a couple even led to long term deals. In that first case though some sort of medication would have helped.

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A week ago the Oilers came back from their roadtrip and the consensus was that they were the shit. Wins over the Devils and the Rangers had left them with a winning record after playing a dozen of their first fifteen on the road. A lot of players had struggled but the team had cobbled together a good record considering, had kept themselves afloat in a tough division and the underlying numbers looked fine.

In the next three games they bombed against the Leafs, played one of their best games of the year but coughed up the lead and eventually the two points with seconds left against the Avs on Saturday and then got blanked by the Wings on Monday.

Fernando Pisani broke his ankle and is out for six to eight weeks. Kyle Brodziak got benched. And MacTavish threw down the gauntlet (and marked the beginning of the end in Edmonton for either himself or the recipient of his wrath, likely) by benching Penner for two games and calling him out in the media.

And Oiler fans, as we are wont to do, went bananas. I swear it reminds me of a trip I took to the Tampa Zoo when I lived in Florida. The chimp enclosure was a madhouse with the apes swinging and hooting and wrestling, throwing crap at each other, while the alpha male stood on the other side of the moat leering at us while he violently masturbated.

So last night in what Lowetide, who is probably the most grounded and adult of the lot of us, termed a must win game, the Oilers march into Ohio, scene of an earlier collapse, and immediately proceed to get massively outshot. And they absolutely pound the BJs. Three point nights for Hemsky and Horcoff. Gilbert, Cogliano, Souray and Visnovsky all went one and one while Gagner had two assists. Penner got his fat ass in front of LeClaire enough times to actually help and potted one himself, all the while pouting, although he did crack a smile after he scored and Pouliot said something likely completely incomprehensible to him.

"I would be a rock star!"

And Pouliot, he make a goal too, his firs' of the year, he score. And he save one too, right on the goaltender line it was. Good for him.

Meanwhile did you realize that the Oilers have three defenceman on pace for forty or more points? Crazy shit.

Crazier then that is the fact that the Oilers have nine forwards who they drafted playing for them, now that latest arrival Liam Reddox looks like he may be able to play a little. Considering that cheap young players are a necessity in this league I would say that for all of the flak that Kevin Lowe took, much of it deserved, he does deserve some kudos for this.

Hemsky Horcoff Gagner Cogliano Pisani Brodziak Pouliot Reddox Stortini

Nice. And that does not include Oiler picks Deslauriers and Peckham, the kids plucked from other organizations - Gilbert, Grebeshkov, Smid and Nilsson - and the rest of the good looking prospects on the farm and in junior.

Pisani will be missed, as he always is, but it gives this Reddox kid a chance to prove himself. Two games is two games but the kid is smart and he does the little things right.

You can tell he is new though because nobody hates his guts yet. I'll give him a week before someone pops up on thread after thread showing why he must be sent back to the AHL immediately!

Detroit tomorrow night, lads and lasses. Please proceed to your nearest Katz owned pharmacy and get your meds.

Monday, November 17, 2008

MacTavish


There is rarely a dull day when it comes to the Edmonton Oilers and today is no different as reactions fly with regard to MacTavish calling out Dustin Penner, who will not play again tonight.


Lowetide has made a pretty big deal about this one and I tend to agree with his assessment of the situation. MacTavish pretty well questioned everything about Penner's commitment. This may be a motivational ploy but if so, MacTavish has nowhere else to go on this. If Penner comes back and after a game or two reverts to his indifferent ways then its going to be one or the other and this is where it will get interesting.


First of all there's no doubt in my mind that Penner has been a huge disappointment ever since he came to Edmonton. People point to numbers here and there to prove that he is getting a raw deal but the fact is that he has never shown the passion in Edmonton that he showed in the 2006 playoffs when he was dominant shift in and shift out, overwhelming defencemen with his size and power. He came to camp out of shape last year and while his fitness is better this year the fact is he has underachieved grossly and unlike other guys whose numbers we point at accusingly he does not have the excuse of coming off of a major injury or of playing a new position or of being a teenager to fall back on. Yes he has not had a lot of power play time and that may be a mistake but if you are the highest paid forward on the team and a very big man besides, then you had better have some impact of some sort instead of being a cipher who gets pushed off of the puck by Alex Steen.


Now having said all of that we have reached a crossroads here because unless Penner finds God and comes back as the second coming of Maurice Richard and starts showing that he gives a damn then its going to be either him or the coach. So its going to come to that because I know and you know that Penner may come back and be hard charging for a week or two but then he's going to backslide because that's the way he is. When Shawn Horcoff or Ethan Moreau have a game where they appear disinterested its easy money if you bet that the next game their effort will be terrific. Dustin isn't of that mold.


So its him or MacT.


I like MacT and I think he's a pretty good coach. Prior to the lockout I would grade the work that both he and Lowe did as better then average. They had the constraints of a tight budget and yet every year they produced a competitive team. There were a few small budget teams that did more then they but they were better then a lot of others and some big market teams as well. MacT did a good job at developing young players and of having them play a nice energetic game.


In 2006 they had their finest moment. Some breaks in the playoffs sure but MacT took a nice roster and did some nice game planning and in the end they were a break or two away from winning it all. Can't really ask for more then that. Of course I also have to mention the power play which cost them the Cup, imo, and this is a big issue with MacT, regardless of the personnel.


So for the past two years he's been dealt a bum roster, forced to develop a ton of kids all over the place and last season may have actually been his best coaching job ever. A lot of luck involved but that team was beyond green and still was a pretty competitive team.


But now things have changed. First of all lets get one thing straight - the reality is we, as fans, have no idea what is going on with Oilers' management. There is plenty of speculation but lets start with these truths:


There is a new owner who has spent a lot of money on this club.


Kevin Lowe is no longer the GM and we have no idea how much power he has when it comes to decision making.


We have no idea how much power Steve Tambellini has.


We do know that this team has quality throughout the lineup. They could use a veteran centre to handle the tough sledding and we could quibble about another Dman but they are pretty solid. Pretty young still but a playoff team I would say.


And I'm not the only one. The playoffs are the expectation and I would guess that this expectation comes from the top. The old line that Lowe and MacT know what they are doing because they won a bunch of Stanley Cups as players is not going to hold water here and I would say that 2006 is fading fast as well. After all John Tortorella and Jay Feaster are gone and they actually won a Cup and Peter Laviolette is apparently on thin ice in Carolina and he won one too, remember?


I don't know if Katz is exerting pressure on his hockey people but as long as he doesn't go all Koules/Barrie on the Oilers where is the problem if he is? Expecting a team to make the playoffs and win - what a concept. So perhaps the hockey guys are feeling pressure for the first time in a decade. Its about time I would say.


Maybe Tambellini does have the hand in Edmonton now and he wants to bring in his own guy - that's just more speculation - but I do know one thing. Despite a pretty nice start to this season in terms of wins and losses this team's effort has been uneven and they have left points on the table. A lot of games where a full sixty minutes has not been played. We all know the old saw that the players are professionals but preparation is up to the coach too, lets not kid ourselves, and the fact that this team has lacked in the effort department speaks to the coach. And yes the three goalie situation is ridiculous but the power play has still looked anemic and there have been a lot of weird decisions from the bench and something just doesn't seem right.


It bothers me that it took benching Penner and Brodziak to produce Saturday night's effort, probably the best this season, imo, or up there anyways. The question is whether that was the wakeup call that the team needed or if that was MacT's last gasp.


I think MacTavish is in trouble. I think that some players may be tuning him out and that this may be the beginning of the end for him. I like MacT but I don't necessarily think that a change behind the bench would be a bad thing.


I think its coming.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

One Of Those Days


I play hockey year round for a club called Capsule Music. This is my fifth season and its been the most fun I have ever had playing hockey. Now, I'm not a big guy and age has pretty well taken care of what little speed I had. I don't have the big shot and score nearly every one of my goals from a couple of feet out or as the result of the puck hitting someone and taking a crazy bounce. Yet I'm the type of guy that the numbers guys would love. Generally even or an outscorer even when clearly outmatched on paper. Get the puck deep every time. Rarely caught out of position. Good playmaker. Increasingly hard to play against - I've realized that when I get my nose dirty early I tend to play very well so that has been the route I have taken.

We're the oldest club in every league we play in. Everyone but two guys is on the wrong side of forty with our first guy just hitting forty five. We're slow as hell. We don't have any great player who can score at will or take over a game. Yet, strangely enough, we are getting ... better. Four seasons ago (my second year) we had our best season. Second overall and a one goal loss in the deciding game of the semifinals. We had five good defencemen and some skill up front and while we tended to be a little soft and a little dumb we were quality.



The next season we had lost three of those five defencemen, two moved and the third had his third kid, and the end result was a poor one. Our D was a shambles, we were still soft and a little dumb, and we sank almost right to the bottom of our league. When we lost one of those two remaining Dmen and one of our best allround forwards that summer, again both of them moving, it looked like the slide out of competitive hockey was about to accelerate rapidly.



Something funny happened though. We picked up a lumbering defenceman who has played on the backend all is life. Not a great skater but your man is always in position, he's a prick and he has a low hard shot that is always on net. We also added a big fellow up front. He's slowed some from his halycon days but he's hard to play against and can put the puck into the net. Two good additions but the biggest change came from within. Suddenly we were harder on the puck and showed the smarts that our experience should have given us. A lot fewer dumb plays, a lot of good simple ones and we ended up with a decent season last year that included a playoff round won and elimination in overtime of the deciding game by a far more skilled club that finished second overall. In the end it was desperation that saved us. Soft dumb play ended up in us getting slaughtered. So it was time to keep it simple and bear down. Even old dogs can learn new tricks, apparently.



And this season? Well due to a quirky schedule we haven't played any softies yet and went into our Saturday game against the first place club who sported a gaudy 5 and 0 record. We were at 2-2-1 with one of our losses being a complete dismantling against this same team, a game where we dressed someone's buddy (I kid you not) to play betwen the pipes. When the first shot from the neutral zone drifted into the net the rout immediately became on.



So Saturday they come out flying and our goalie misplayed one on the first shift and so we were down. They are young and fast and skilled and we are none of those things. We tied it but then they potted two more and things looked ugly. They were pretty free about laying the body (on top of everything we're not very big) and I'm sure they felt they were about to run us out of the rink.



And then we pushed back. Their forwards were jailbreaking before their D got the puck and our guys were winning the puck along the boards and meeting their elbows with shots of our own. We pulled within one and the rink began to tilt in our favour. We choked off their attack with simple positioning until they scored another softie with seven minutes left.



All we did then was hem them in until we scored from a foot out with five minutes left. And then killed a penalty to bring it down to two minutes left. All over them and everyone knew it was coming and the puck in their net with thirty seconds left. And then back in again and a flurry and if the game had lasted twenty seconds more it would have been ours. The look on their faces as they shook hands with a bunch of balding, greying creaky old men who had given back as good as they got was worth the welts and aches - the arrogance knocked out of them by simple hard work, toughness and four goals that travelled a total of six feet, if that.


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Now I'm not saying smarts and effort will do it every time. We play in a summer league as well and a few guys take the summer off so we start at a disadvantage. Playing smart and hard last summer didn't help us one bit when one of the other teams featured two centres around twenty one years old who could basically score at will. It didn't help the Oilers much back at the turn of the century either.


But then you look at last night's game and two stories that came out of it, both related to one player, Dustin Penner.


The guy who replaced him in the lineup, Reddox, played fourteen plus minutes at ES and on the PK. He scored a goal. He fit right in, for one night at least. He certainly did not look like a kid playing his second NHL game.


The guy who Penner replaced on the Oilers, Ryan Smyth, scored a goal and was in Roloson's face when the Avs tied it up at game's end. He was a going concern all night, battling along the boards and in front of the net, breaking up Oiler chances, playing a terrific two way game, just like the hundreds of games he played for the Oilers.


Penner was in the pressbox.


Lets face it, the Oilers have been no hell so far this season. They have been up and down and a lot of the problems have been attributed to youth. The lines have been juggled and a lot of guys are not playing great. Penner is not the only one.


But he's the most glaring example of a lethargy that seems to have gripped this team and unlike a lot of guys who are struggling he has not been playing out of position (Pisani, Cole), he's not recovering from a major injury (Horcoff), he's not a teenager or barely that (Gagner, Cogliano). He is a big man who plays small, a scorer who is not scoring, the highest paid forward on the club who after the first game of the year had scored a single goal in the next fifteen.


For another day - why it took the benching of two regulars to suddenly produce a sixty minute effort from everyone.


The PP produced chances and the PK did a fine job, notwithstanding the final result. Tom Gilbert looks like Tom Gilbert. The D held up pretty well against a nice group of Avs' forwards. Cogliano and Cole looked like Cogliano and Cole.


Unfortunately people will remember this game for Nilsson's flubbed penalty shot, Horcoff's gaffe on the EN and Pisani sitting in the box when the tying goal was scored because all three had great games, imo.


So that's good news and so is the fact that Liam Reddox looks like he may be able to play in the NHL, another product of the Oilers' system. Suddenly the Oilers seem to have a plethora of options up front, guys who can actually play hockey.


We'll see if MacT continues to go to the whip. If the Oilers play like they did last night, smart and hard, they will win a lot of games. If this team falls back again, I would say he has to, because as a fan I look at the effort last night and wonder where that has been and why we don't see that on a nightly basis.


As for Dustin Penner, I don't have anything against the guy. I hope that this is the wakeup call that finally gets his ass in gear. He seems to have gotten a free pass last year but it looks like those days are over. Its about time.

Hard and smart would be a beginning. Its amazing what that can accomplish.

Friday, November 14, 2008

My Aching Back


Aging is a total trip. My folks are now in their mid seventies but you wouldn't know it, other then they are a little slower to get around and their short term memories are a little faulty.


Dad - Jenn, can I get you a beer?


Jenn - No thanks, Jack, I'm, um, seven months pregnant here, I'll pass on the beer thanks.


Dad - Oh right, ok.


Five minutes later ...


Dad - Jenn, can I get you a beer?


Jenn - Still pregnant here Jack.


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Talking to Mom one day and she said that the strangest thing is that in her head she is still thirty years old. She's just trapped in this old body.


As you get older they say time seems to speed up but I don't find that at all. Our youngest is four months now. It seems like she has been with us forever. I got married just over seven years ago and since then we've moved back to Canada, bought a house, had three kids, had three different vehicles, been to Europe (for business and for pleasure) four times, lost grandparents, an uncle and an aunt and watched different friends get married, have kids, fall seriously ill, buy homes, travel the world and split up.


There's a whole lot going on. Life's like that.


They say that things seem to speed up when you have kids and of course it may seem to - after all in the space of months they learn how to read and how to swim, their vocabularies expand, they get toilet trained, go out for Halloween and have birthday parties, go back to school, begin to eat solid food and notice the dog for the first time ... a constant stream of milestones, regardless of the age. For an adult years and years may pass before they graduate with a degree or get married or buy a home. When you have a child big events happen weekly and it can seem like life rushes by.


I don't find that but a lot of people say so.


But I am getting older. We all are. The poor big fellow is eleven now. He has a grey face and he's a little heavier then he should be and he's having some issues with his hips. Getting up from the floor takes a little work and when he lays down he pretty well collapses to the floor with a thud that reverberates through our house. Some nights he will pace about for hours, just like my dad does. And like most old men he doesn't give a shit. If the kids leave leftovers on their plate and we leave the room he will rear up and finish them off, right off the table. Yelling at him doesn't frighten him - the Reaper is coming. He's got bigger things to worry about.


Thing is, times have changed. Most of my friends are in reasonably good shape. We eat better then we did a generation ago. All of us who smoked have quit. (Damn I miss having a cigarette with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine!) The drinkers among us still get out for our pints but there are few nights spent out until the wee morning. Hard to do that when the kids are up by 7am. We work out or run or play enough sports to stay fairly fit. My wife ran a half marathon after the boy was born and we have a friend who ran her first marathon this spring at the age of forty five. Sure there are a few who have put on weight or who are going grey or who are balding. I have a few sprouts of grey in my (still pretty thick) hair and my present beard is two tone - red and grey.


(I thought I was growing something exotic like a Balbo but it turns out the damn thing is just a goatee. I thought it was the mustache that made it a goatee but apparently that's just a "goatee with mustache". Damnit. Maybe a "modern Lincoln" is the ticket.)


Anyways there are many mornings where I drag myself out of bed, hobbling like an old man (especially after playing hockey), feeling the effect of three (!) pints I drank (not too bad thank God - I have a friend who gets unearthly hangovers everytime he drinks), look at the grey bearded man in the mirror and say "How the Hell did this happen?"


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Which I am sure is what MacT was thinking as he watched the Leafs pump three power play goals by JDD last night. When it comes to special teams the Oilers PP is far from it.


05/06 - ranked 14th 88PPGF/5SHA

06/07 - ranked 27th 53PPGF/4SHA

07/08 - ranked 21st 57PPGF/10SHA

08/09 - ranked 15th 12PPGF/2SHA


I've said it before and will say it again - it was the Oilers PP that cost them the Cup in 2006. In the four games they lost they had one PP goal, courtesy of Hemsky's brilliant solo effort in G1. The rest of the time they stood around and passed it back to the point for the one timer, including on numerous 5 on 3s.


This year they are close to averaging a PPG a game but anyone who looks at the talent on this club knows that things should be better then that. Watch the Habs. Watch the Leafs for fucks' sakes. The players (gasp) move around. Puck movement is fluid. Its not all about setting up for the one timer from the point repeatedly. Its ridiculous and its going to hurt this team until they figure it out. My guess is its not going to get figured out and if this team makes the playoffs its going to cost them a series. Its blatantly stupid.


Anyways at least the PP is business as usual. What must make MacT's mouth gape extra wide is the sudden and complete collapse of what, for years, has been a terrific PK.


05/06 - ranked 8th 76PPGA/15SHF

06/07 - ranked 6th 59PPGA/6SHF

07/08 - ranked 5th 56PPGA/7SHF

08/09 - ranked 26th 18PPGA/2SHF


Note that this team's performance on the PK remained solid despite losing Pronger, Jason Smith, Spacek, Hejda, Peca, Ryan Smyth and Dvorak as well as guys like Horcoff, Moreau and Pisani to illness and injury for length periods of time. Didn't matter who they threw out there. It worked.


Or was it all Stoll, Marty Reasoner and Matt Greene? ;)


Now, unlike the PP, MacT has an excellent history of putting together a good PK. And they have been doing some development here, running out guys like Gagner and Penner, so that has cost them.


But a couple of weeks ago Moreau and MacT made a point of saying that things were getting better and it was just a question of some ducksnorts dropping in for hits.


Well right now the other team is hitting linedrives off the wall. Five bell chances everywhere.


They had better figure this mess out.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The End of Something, Parts One Through Three


It was almost three years ago that I was surfing the net, er, hard at work I mean, and discovered something called Covered In Oil. At the time I only had a vague idea of what a blog was and I picked up whatever Oiler news I could from the online versions of the Journal and the Sun. Pretty sad. In the days that followed I discovered a new world - through CinO I found Battle of Alberta, Lowetide, IOF and Mc79hockey. Soon after I started my own blog and after a few weeks of posting about the Olympics, my kids and the Oilers I decided to concentrate solely on the Oilers.


To say that plenty has changed since those days is a massive understatement. The night that Ales Hemsky's goal put the Oilers in the playoffs I logged onto Lowetide's site and posted a comment on his latest post. A few minutes later he posted his own 'hooray' and as we chatted back and forth excitedly a few other folks chimed in happily. A far cry from the hundreds of comments now found on a thread for a November game in New Jersey.

Those spring days were the best days of the Oilogosphere, imo, although of course I am biased. On any day you could log onto any of the six sites and read multiple posts. Sacamano at BofA, Tyler and myself were all prolific at that time and of course Lowetide was (and remains so) as well. IOF had Vic, RiversQ and Dennis posting regularly and of course Covered In Oil featured daily brilliance from Dave, Mike and Chris! On top of this Heather was posting regularly at the Ulanov fanclub, Loxy and Colby Cosh posted regularly about the Oilers on their websites and some punk commenter named Andy Grabia also wrote about the Oilers on a terrific site called Sports Matters. All of us were caught up in that wonderful Oilers' run - it was a time that I would guess most of us will not forget. I have made some good friends thanks to that spring. I played hockey with Tyler one summer and have had eats and drinks with him, Mike, Chris, Alana, Matt, Hugh and Colby among others. And of course Andy squired me around Edmonton a year ago and I was able to repay the favour slightly last spring here in Toronto. Plus Andy and I are lovers. He is a sexy beast.

Times have changed as they always do. Loxy and Tyler have moved on from school to careers. Sacamano has been around the world and back and has a family now (his daughter was born that spring). I have three kids and less free time as expected. Igor Ulanov is in Russia. Andy, sadly, posts far less frequently then he once did. Most of us post less then we once did.

New sites have arrived, many of them excellent. Newspapers have gotten into the blogging arena. There's a lot of great stuff out there - one only has to look at any site's blogroll. But I still miss those early days. Of course the Oilers were (nearly) on top of the world too so that helped.

And earlier this week we got some sad news. Mike Winters is hanging up his pencil, following Dave Berry into retirement. Hopefully for Mike it will be a Grabia style retirement (the original one anyhow) but I doubt that this is the case. And sadly Chris Boutet has been posting very rarely these days so I think we all know where this is leading. I hope that I am wrong but I fear that I am not.

Fare thee well you bunch of dinks. I'll miss the playoff beard, the slash fiction, the comics. It was a daily visit of mine for nearly three years. Thanks for the laughs.

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Speaking about the end of something the Oilers just finished what may be their toughest stretch on the schedule for the year. Nearly a third of their road schedule is now done, just fifteen games into the season. A dozen games on the road, six and six, eight, six and one overall. A point out of first place

If you had told any Oiler fan that this would be their record at this point in the season I think there would have been much rejoicing. This stretch could have buried their year.

If you had told them that this would have been their record and that the special teams were sucking ass, that there was no clearcut # 1 goalie, that Nilsson would be demoted to the fourth line and Gagner would be without a goal then I think they would have held a parade.

Despite the offensive struggles of many players, the underlying numbers are terrific. Check out Dennis' work on scoring chances and Vic's analysis of some of those numbers, especially his look at Viscoff. This team, barring injury, should be a playoff team. Regardless of the tough schedule and the problems just mentioned (to mention a few) this team is not winning with smoke and mirrors.

Adding to the optimism is the end of the Pisani at centre experiment. His line was a sinkhole at ES - moving him and Cole to Horcoff's flanks give the team a line that can compete with almost any in the league.

Things are looking up.

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One evening a couple of years back the dog was laying on the floor. Suddenly a big black ant began to make its way across the living room. He walked with purpose, probably heading back up to the bathroom where his tribe was busy turning our window sill into sawdust. The ant passed by the dog's ear and entered his field of vision. The big fellow lay motionless except for his eyes which tracked the ant until the bug just passed his muzzle.

And then his tongue flicked out and he ate him.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Remember


The men in this picture are Canadians celebrating their great victory at Vimy Ridge in 1917. They are all gone now. Some of them are buried in France or Belgium; they never made it home. Others survived to return to Canada.
In every small town in Canada you will find a hockey arena, a LCBO (or its equivalent) and a war memorial. I have seen them in Fernie B.C. and in Truro, Nova Scotia, in university residences and the avenues of Toronto, in the centre of Charlottetown and in the centre of my own hometown of Sudbury.
I was at a funeral in PEI last summer, held in a tiny old church on a slight rise, overlooking rolling green fields and down below, the Northumberland Strait. The church was built in the 19th century, it was stifling hot the day I was there, though it was just May. A simple beautiful building, built near a crossroads, it has served the farmers who lived in the countryside around. And on the wall, at the entrance, a plaque with six names on it, farmers' boys who lie buried in Flanders, have been for nearly a century and will be there for eternity.
Sixty thousand Canadians perished in the Great War and forty thousand more in the war that followed just over twenty years later. Just boys most of them. They marched cheerfully to Europe in 1914. It was a time of innocence and they believed in their country and their Empire and in the fight against Germany. A war that never should have happened, millions of men slaughtered, drowning in the muck, blown apart by shells, machine gunned as they attacked impregnable positions, led by donkeys who had no idea of what they were ordering these boys to do. The same foolish old men who botched the war botched the peace so that barely twenty years later Canadians again marched off to Europe, many sons of the survivors of World War One. This time they marched with caution and knowing of the horrors that lay ahead yet they marched just the same.
Ask the Dutch or the French or the Belgians what Canada means to them. The sacrifices made to destroy a brutish ideology and save the world are not forgotten there and thankfully, after years of neglect, are not forgotten here. On Tuesday morning take a moment and honour the young men and women who fought (and fight) for our country. You may not believe in the war, whether it be the useless slaughter in France ninety years ago or the current conflict in Afghanistan, but honour these boys who fought for their country. We live in a country whose freedoms and prosperity are amongst the greatest enjoyed in the world. So much of that is because of men like those in the picture above, the best that Canada had to offer.
Think of their sacrifice. Think of their courage. Be thankful for where we live for we owe so much of what we enjoy to them.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

That Bum Ales Hemsky


There are a million great things about being a parent of small children that makes the exhaustion, the lack of social life (temporary with each baby's arrival) and the emergence of your right hand as your primary sexual partner, rather then just a naughty mistress on the side, that makes it all worthwhile.


Near the top of the pops is when the little buggers accomplish something. Remember the Tuesday after Thanksgiving when the boy was thrown into the deep end of toilet training and emerged just fine? Well since then there has been the odd accident but for the most part he has been just fine, thank you, a relief since his sister, two years his senior (!) suffers from the curse of my bladder, pea sized at best, and still has the odd accident. Night training is a distant bell for that one.


On the other hand the boy just came downstairs and I gave him a new pair of underwear to put on, instructing him to get his pullup off and wipe himself down. Down came the PJ bottoms to reveal ... underwear.


That he wore to bed last night. Took the bull by the horns he did. And dry as a bone.


Crazy wonderful shit.


Wednesday night I took my daughter to swimming. She's good in the water, a little ahead of the curve, almost at the point of swimming, just needs to get that confidence up to trust herself.


I read for a little bit while the class went on (Lauchlan Of The Bad Heart - I remember when there was very little decent Canadian lit - those days are gone - I have shelves of it now) and then headed downstairs to get her towel and get onto the pool deck. Its a neighbourhood school pool and has that underground murky feel that pools have, everyone white and shivering in the gloom, that unmistakeable pool smell.


As the class ended my daughter was bouncing on her toes, the water almost too deep, and suddenly up her legs came, easy as can be, and she paddled six feet to the edge of the pool and lifted herself up.


Just like that.


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As far as I am concerned last season is when the Oilers became Ales Hemsky's team. Night in and night out he was their best player and often the best player on the ice period. He was shooting the puck more, finally, and until Horcoff went down he was having a terrific season. Horcoff's replacements fell short at ES and his game suffered although he still managed to produce on the PP.


This season started slowly for Hemsky, who looked in a funk, and the knives came out quickly. Fans, and I don't think its just Edmonton, are funny when it comes to skill guys. Here in Toronto Mats Sundin was a terrific player for years but he paled in popularity when compared to guys like Wendel Clark and Doug Gilmour and even lesser lights like Tucker and Domi. The Swede was a sublime player but because he didn't throw the big hits or fight or most likely because he made it look TOO EASY, fans never warmed up to him. Your regular fan can appreciate the player who goes out there and crashes and bangs, who works the corners, who slams one in from the edge of the crease because for the most part we are muckers and grinders ourselves, raking leaves, getting up with a kid with a fever, picking up dog shit, having a pint at the local, dealing with a cranky wife or boss.


I'm a glass half full type of guy but life isn't easy for sure and its hard to relate to the guy with the big house (though he's likely put a lot of sweat and stress into it) or the Brad Pitt looks (genetics) or the ability to skate through the Philadelphia Flyers not once, but twice, pulling his team behind him.


What belies all of this, of course, is the Oilers' dynasty. It had its share of toughs and plumbers and even stars like Messier and Anderson could be vicious thugs when they hit the ice but it was first and foremost an offensively skilled team led by the most offensively skilled guy to ever play the game.


And they were beloved. Because they won, of course. How many times did that team turn it over at the blueline rather then getting it deep? Five Cups means all is forgiven. Heck one Cup would do the same.


Ales Hemsky is averaging a point a game now and this is with a sputtering PP and two linemates who are squeezing their sticks a little tightly right now. Four goals in the last three games, all on the road, each one a work of brilliance. Outplaying tough opposition, after a slow start he looks to be taking another step.


He's learning to fly and its a beautiful thing to see. A star is being born.