Tuesday, January 06, 2009

A Three Channel Universe

Growing up in Sudbury in the seventies was some pretty crazy shit when I really sit back and think about it. The longest coldest winters and we spent most of them outside, one of the reasons being that there wasn't anything to do inside. We had three channels - CBC, CTV and 'the French channel' which was good for nothing but the odd flash of a bare breast late at night.

Which made its existence entirely worthwhile for me.

It was sometime in the late 70s that cable came to Sudbury and with it the big three American networks and Global and then soon after that we got TSN and Much Music and now we have some sort of damn box and we get hundreds of channels and HD and I can watch actual porn for free anytime after midnight.

If I so chose.

But back then it was CBC and CTV and The Sudbury Star and waking up in the morning to Cummy Burton on CKSO telling us how the Wolves did and what had happened in the NHL the night before. The NFL was a distant rumour, baseball was the Reds, the Yankees, the Dodgers and the Expos and the NBA didn't even exist for us kids at all. I probably didn't see an NBA game on TV until I was well into my teens.

As for the NHL well this was before territorial rights and all that BS so we got the Leafs and the Habs on Saturday nights. Most of my friends were Hab fans and we got more Montreal games then Leaf games. I did see Sittler score his ten points though and we saw enough of the Leafs that I was pretty familiar with them.

But I was a Hawks' fan. So I'd see them maybe a half dozen times a year, give or take, when they were on HNIC. Other then that it was scanning the paper for the boxscores, my collection of hockey cards and the odd copy of the Hockey News. My favourite player growing up was Stan Mikita and I would bet that I saw him play no more then a couple of dozen times before he retired, if that. All I knew about him was what I read and I knew he was brilliant, one of the greats, tough and skilled and smart most of all, a real hockey player, a guy who did every single thing well.

But I have seen Zach Stortini play far more times then I ever saw Mikita play.

That's the way it was though, even then. I may as well have been my Dad growing up in Franz, his favourite hockey player Max Bentley, his favourite ball player Stan Musial. He may as well have been on the moon. He would have listened to Foster Hewitt and maybe, maybe he caught the Cardinals on the radio. But all he knew was what he read. He never saw either play.

Now the Sudbury Wolves, they were real. We could go down to the old Memorial arena on Elgin and catch Duguay and Schutt and Farrish and Caryle and Hector Marini and Bobby Russell. I could still picture Russell thirty years later but could not remember his name until I used the Net to look up the roster and found his picture, just as I remembered. And he ended up an Oiler, imagine that!

The Wolves were real, a terrific team when I was a kid, losing to the Marlies in overtime in G7 of the OHL championship, John Anderson with the winner. Joe Bowen called the games, just a skinny kid then, and we could knew what the players did, caught them on the radio, read about them in the paper, saw them live.

That was as close as it got to hype in those days.


Today you can watch every game your team plays if you are so inclined. If you go to the right newstand you can purchase the paper from their town but there's no need really because you can read it on the internet, along with the league and club websites and the independent websites and blogs. If I can't catch a game on TV I can watch it on my computer. Its a never ending barrage really and I'm part of it, just some guy who is an Oilers' fan who likes to write about them. I'm one of many and while some of it is crap, a ton of it is really good stuff and so you can find out what Andrew Cogliano's shooting percentage is, read about the type of opposition Oilers' prospects face and how they fare, learn about things called Corsi numbers and Desjardins and how they demonstrate a player's worth, discuss Oilers' prospects from ten years ago and how the team's procurement then compares to today, read a detailed description of what Liam Reddox brings to the table and why we should pay attention to him and talk Oilers hockey with folks from Alberta and BC and Newfoundland and Winnipeg and Ottawa and England and Thailand and everywhere else in the world.

And that is the tip of the iceberg.

No wonder that an "oldtimer" like Riversq groans when he sees comments the other night about how a teenager's hockey sense has improved or gotten poorer over the course of a two week tournament. He laments the crazy wave that seems to have caught a lot of Oiler fans, up and down from game to game, hell, from shift to shift.

I agree with him but I can also see where the mentality has arisen from. Pierre Maguire screams that Jordan Eberle is going to be a huge scorer in the NHL for years, that throwing the puck at the net is magical, magical Taveres, he whispers as his goo drips down his thigh, that this or that guy is a MONSTER. Even the CBC has been infected with commentators and clowns (of course some might say they started it with Cherry but I actually remember when he was more like Howie Meeker, a teacher, then what he is now) who cannot talk in a complete sentence or pronounce players' names, guys like Stock and Crawford. Its dumbing down and its incumbent on the fan to filter out the crap, to employ critical thought.

I remember when Lowe really put this team over a barrel a couple of summers ago and it made me mental how many fans said "I trust Lowe, he won six Cups" or "My team, love it or leave it" or words to that effect. Drove me crazy.

And so fans call for Hemsky to be traded (read a lot of that last year) because he had reached his ceiling, say that guys like Penner, Gagner, Cogliano, Brodziak, Gilbert, Smid have already peaked after a year or two in the league when common sense says that experience will make them better players.

Shawn Horcoff at 28 was a way better player then Shawn Horcoff at 22. Pisani too. Ryan Smyth. Jason Smith. I think its safe to say that Sheldon Souray is an improved player this year even over last year and here is a guy in his thirties. That's a little more unusual but it can happen.

Its pretty simple stuff.

But the hype machine looks for the sizzle and ignores the steak. A guy like Pouliot is no Parise (we know we know) but he is discounted as a player at all before he even hits 24 years old. Back in the day there were plenty of good players who barely had a look at the same age. Development took time.


I remember being excited as a kid because HNIC had an intermission feature called Showdown. It was a skills competition tournament between players from all over the league. Fun stuff and the first round matchup one Saturday featured Mikita and some guy ten years younger, I can't recall who, but nobody great, Eric Vail or Rick Kehoe or someone like that.

And my hero lost, just like that. Wasn't even close.

I was a kid and I was disappointed for a second but of course I knew that Mikita was one of the greatest players who ever lived (he was still quite good at this time, he would have been 36 or so) and losing a skills competition meant nothing at all. And of course this is how it was treated on the show as well. Ask LT about Stan Mikita. Hell, ask me. I could talk about the guy for days. One of the absolute greatest ever. Nowadays something as silly as that would be hyped to death and analyzed for days afterwards.

There wasn't any noise to cut through back then though. Three channel universe and only two were English.

The other was Breastish, if I recall.


hunter1909 said...

One of my abiding memories from the dark recesses of my own particular past is how the Oilers(Sather) used to be able to get washed up players and put them straight into high pressure situations and as often as not they would produce.

Compared to today, with a feeble thinking franchise who are terrified of letting their talented players develop naturally, because the old woman coaching the team prefers his "pets".

And that's one of the biggest if not the biggest differences between the past and the present.

Swabbubba said...

Yo Hunter, do you think the mindset has changed in the 20 years since that statement is or was true. I remember when the NBA was team sport not about this player that player. The league has changed. Peoples minds has changed they want instant gratification they want instant cups. It just does not work that way you can try and buy the thing does usually winds up in failure. Just look at the real world if people did not take shortcuts or want instant stuff do you think the economy would be in the tank.
The young players need time to develop. I have some real questions about Pouliot some days but you can see it is coming. MacT this and that this team is just getting used to all the parts. Hell Penner rag dolled someone, Cole is flying, the 4th line is looking good with Struds back there. The team misses Pies bad on the PK. But it would appear that it is all coming together.
What MacT is looking for is chemistry and I am staring to see it.
Slats was lucky and he rode 7 players. Everyone is happy when they get shot at a cup. Did Slats make it happen when the players left? Uh no... The Dynasty years were magic... has it been a struggle yes. The thing is the Oilers have never finished dead last so the choices we get are always on the fringe of greatness.

Heck 3 channels what the heck it was 2 channels and AM radio for me BD.
I hear that Sundin kid is good

HBomb said...

Ah, being an adolescent in the 1990's was great, thanks to the existence of a little thing called "Showcase"...then, when the internet came along, bam, porno-bonanza.

But I am old enough to remember that, even in Edmonton in the mid-1980's, anyone without a satellite dish and only "basic" cable got channels 2-13: CBC, CTV, ITV (aka Global), Access, PBS, CBC french, NBC, ABC and CBS (all three US networks plus PBS were out of Spokane), and three "Various" information channels.

We got "real cable" around 1988 or so....and the world of such things as YTV, TSN, and the Weather Network (not to mention Fox!) all became more than just an urban myth.

Now, I've got 200-some channels, including more HD channels than we once had total channels available to us. Life is glorious.

Black Dog said...

hbomb - I believe the term is 'pornanza'

PDO said...


I don't think it was an accident he almost put "boner" in there ;)

James Gunner said...

I remember ITV's sportsnight with Dutchy as the first TV program where you could actually hear some Oilers talk. Boy, those were the days.

Olivier said...

The actual abilities of the organisation to cope with today's media environnement is a defining factor I think. Seen from here (Montréal), what you say about the Oilers applied pretty much to the Habs. Then they got André Savard as a GM; something almost happened. Then they got Gainey. It really seems to me that it all stems from the GM, more precisely from his ability to build a good organisation (not just a good team). Once you have that, the number of channels you have access to, the rumors guys carp about on teh internets (OMG! Carey Price is sick! No! He is *PREAGNANT!*) just become white noise.

About Souray: the dude is special. Came in here at 23, not very good at anything, but over a given period of 20-30 games, he would improve, always. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but always his game would creep upward. Then the coaching staff decided that, you know, he did had a pretty good shot, so why not ask him to sit on the blue line during PP. Just sit there and wait for Markov to feed you the puck. If you ain't sure about the shot being blocked, give it back to Markov. Keep it simple big guy.

The biggest result, for the Habs, was a lesson well learned (and, as of today, still applied with zeal): these guys are talented; give em a shot once in a while, you never know. Once the organisation starts learning that kind of lessons, as I said, teh internets doesn't matter as much anymore.

HBomb said...

hbomb - I believe the term is 'pornanza'

Brilliant. Filing it next to "garnage" in the Oilogosphere dictionary.

MikeP said...

You describe some of the upside of limited broadcasters: they had to fight harder to get their jobs and subsequently the quality was higher.

You missed some downsides though: it made it easier to hush things up. Graham James or David Frost would have had a field day in the 60s and 70s. Organizations pushed their players around and if they didn't like it, well, to hell with those unionist rabblerousing bastards, blackball 'em. Quality guys like Dave Hodge got the boot because they pissed off the wrong individual, yadda yadda.

I see your 3 channels and raise you 2: CBC and CTV, and CTV wasn't so shit hot. Not even any boobies until we got what became Global, and they'd show 70s biker and surfing movies after midnight in the summer.

I'll take today's fields of crap with some quality mixed in. Every damn time.

Black Dog said...

mikep - oh don't get me wrong, while I write about the old days I don't pine for what once was

I love the fact that I can watch any game I want and read near limitless amounts of commentary about the Oilers; I just think that the fragmentation of the media has led to some trying a little too hard to win eyeballs.

Someone shouting at me that throwing the puck at the net is pure magic irritates me to no end.

MikeP said...

Oh, fair enough. Unfortunately, you have to take some bad with the good. Or some good with the bad, if it's the bad old days.

I watched the game with mute on for a while tonight, not because DeBrusk drives me as crazy as he apparently does you (he's no Simpson but I don't mind him overly much) but because ye wife and stepchild were discussing something and ignoring my gritted teeth. I figured if they weren't trying to be quiet for the sake of the game, they might get it done faster. :) Didn't work. Anyway. I didn't miss the commentary much, although I'm not as familiar with Vancouver jerseys as I probably should be, so I kept missing who had the puck for the Nucks. You could try it some time though, maybe it would work for you.

Unleaded said...

Best decision I ever made when it comes to the game is watching it on mute. The best Oilers broadcast out there is the 630 CHED - a freakin radio braodcast. And I wouldn't even say it's all that good. From what I've seen online, there are TONNES of competant, qualified men and women to do game analysis, but they are never the ones who are presenting the material on screen with the teleprompter.

My biggest problem with the people who are doing the reporting is how little they are involved in the game. As a fan, I want someone who loves the Oilers to do the reporting. I want someone who loves the team - not a player, not the organization, and certainly not the league, the owner, or a god damned pay check. For the reporter, its about the team. The idea that is the Oilers - the fast, skilled, gritty team that's full of people who LOVE to play hockey. They LIVE for it.

The reporter is dedicated to this idea, and as such he tells the truth about the players, the organization, the staff, the owner, the league, because recognizes that how all of these pieces fit together affects how close the actual pieces are to the Oilers as an idea.

That's news. That's what people want to know about. That's what the fan in me cares about. How close is Hemsky to comming back? Are there any trades being worked on? WHy? Why not? What does Katz really think about the on-ice performance of his team? Is this what he was expecting when he bought the team? Would the rule change about the PP faceoffs have affected the decision to keep reasoner and/or Stoll?

That's what links me to this team, and what tells me that Balckdog, Lowetide, Dennis, Hbomb, LMHF, and so many others are fans, and why their opinions resonate with me (other than the articulate and well reasoned arguments many fo the post). They love the Oilers. Is it really so hard to have someone who loves the team doing broadcasts?

Buy hockey skates said...

The Oilers and their fans just need to be patient. This team is so young and has so much speed, that after a couple more years of playing together (assuming they can keep them together and be under the cap) they're going to be a real tough team to play against.

Black Dog said...

Buy hockey skates - but we want instant gratification, man! its the 21st century

Plus except for 2006 its getting on a long drought here. Enough is enough. We're not Leaf fans here! ;)

Of course you are right. But ...