Tuesday, May 26, 2009
I coached hockey for a number of years and near the end of it I had one team for four years. There was enough turnover that by the end of the line it was a pretty different team then the one I started with. The whole ride ended a year too late, truth be told, most of the guys were sixteen by then and they were a lot more interested in chasing tail and getting high then coming to seven am practice and the reality was that their coach was entirely of the same mind. But, like MacT I overstayed my welcome (although unlike him I actually won something - zing!) and the last season, after three seasons which had some success, including two tournament victories (the glory the glory, some day I will sing those songs), ended with a whimper.
It had looked promising too. We had pretty well the same core for two years and then we had moved to a different league and when we did so a bunch of guys did not come along. Nevertheless our first season in the new league was a good one. More guys moved along after that year, including a few of the old hands, but their replacements were guys I knew, for the most part, and on paper we looked to be just as good, if not better. Only three guys left from the original squad now though. That old gang would, and did, go through walls to win. This group not so much. They were great guys and nearly all of them were pretty good hockey players. They weren't much of a team though.
We lost our first few games and after each it was a familiar mantra. We were in the game and then we got undone by a bad break here, an unlucky bounce there. In the room there was frustration and a feeling that the hockey gods were against us. It soon dawned on me though that we weren't unlucky. We just weren't that good. Bad pinches, turnovers at the blue, blown coverages, bad decisions with and without the puck.
We were talented enough to look good and thus we drew false hope. The reality was that the will was not there. And so we failed, for a while, under the guise of being unlucky. And then we just failed. Me most of all.
Read the post a couple of months back at Oilers Nation about encounters with Oilers. Fun stuff, taken with a grain of salt of course. My own brushes with the famous have actually been more then I thought. The other day when I wrote about Moe Berg and The Pursuit of Happiness I sat down and thought about my own encounter with the known and realized that I've seen my share. For the most part the encounters are brief and uneventful, passings by on the street. I have some mildly interesting stories about encounters with David Wells and Gord Downie, Dave Bidini and Bobby Hull but for the most part its been glimpses of musicians and writers and hockey players, usually from a distance.
I actually went to high school with two Oiler draft picks, as an aside. No stories like local stories but again, for another time.
Anyways relating to the theme of good and lucky, my daughter has become a skipping savant lately, doing what one has to do to get good at anything, namely, practicing. Came home when my folks were taking care of Thing One and Thing Two and Thing One was skipping. In the living room. She skips on the back porch, front porch, sidewalk, backyard. The skipping rope goes to school, on playdates, to the park, to soccer.
She can skip.
Now when she is at the Toronto Olympics in 2024 and she wins the gold in skipping rope (guarantee that will be a sport by then because the Olympics - Dog knows I love them - are ridiculous) and the commentators at NBC take a break from talking about how Michael Phelps Junior overcame his father's drug use and his cat dying and the whole syndrome that runs in the family (seriously check out the head on the guy, Senior, not Junior) then they will say that this McLean kid, besides being a firecracker and the life of the party (one and the same?) is just plain lucky. See, here, slow it down a little, when she does this trick she almost screws it up but she does not. Luck.
The law of averages and a lot of practice equals being good at what you do, I would say.
A couple of second hand stories, much better then any of my own famous person stories.
A lifelong friend of mine is a little older then me and was a student during the Oilers glory days. One night he was trudging to Sherlock Holmes to meet some friends. Brutally cold night. As he got to the bar right in front of him was a guy in a long coat but when buddy went in the door he let the door go rather then hold it open and my friend had to yank it open to get out of the cold. He has a bit of a temper and a pretty good idea of what is right and wrong and so as he found the table where his friends were sitting he was feeling a little put off. He yanked off his coat and sat down and looked around the table. All of his buddies were staring, mouths wide open, behind him. He turned and there was Wayne Gretzky.
Gretzky immediately apologized. He hadn't realized that there was someone behind him when he entered the bar and he knew that whenever that happened to him he just thought it was such a dick thing to do. He shook my buddy's hand, made sure that he understood that it was an accident, and apologized again.
That's taking care of business, your image and also just being a good guy.
I was looking at a bunch of pictures from the old days last night and there were a bunch from our Saturday haunt, my friend Frank's backyard. We'd get together there every Saturday afternoon and evening in the summer, drink more then should have been possible and then we would go out and drink some more.
Other then the tables laden with empty beer bottles two things struck me. The mullets (Dog help us we all look like Ryan Smyth, only far better looking) and the faces of folks I haven't seen in twenty years.
One of these guys was a pal of mine who hung out with the gang for a couple of years. He was from London, iirc, and was a pretty good athlete. He came up north to play soccer and go to school. Big drinker, fun guy, a little crazy. We got a long very well. A very cool guy.
His roommate was a Kings draft pick.
He said Gretzky had the biggest dong he ever saw.
And really just unfair if you think about it.
Watching the Wings dismantle Chicago yesterday despite being without Lidstrom and Datsyuk reminded me that there's luck and then there's luck. There are times when shit just completely happens and then there are times where shit happens but if you look closely at the situation its not all that random.
Vic Ferrari is a guy who has written about the whole idea of luck many a time and for anyone who has watched these terrific playoffs its pretty obvious that a break here or there and we're writing a different script, right down to what now looks like a preordained matchup between the Wings and the Pens for the Cup. If the Caps notch the winner in OT of game three well then the Pens are done. And if the Ducks make it another few minutes then its game seven OT for them as well and anything can happen (see Bruins, Boston).
Read an interesting quote from Duhatschek the other day talking about Mike Babcock, saying that the Wings philosophy (paraphrasing here) is about playing the game a certain way and then basically relying on the law of averages to take over. Anyone who watches the Wings play can see it - they are a smart smart club, very well coached. Obviously they have terrific skill but you don't see them giving up four on ones at any time, never mind with a minute left in the game, or three on one rushes with a three nothing lead in G1 of a Cup Final. They go with the high percentage play and they get lots of pucks on the net and they stay out of the box and sooner or later, all things being equal, they will beat you.
Sometimes it does not work out (see 2007), sometimes it almost does not (see Ducks this year) but the philosophy is sound. Play in a manner that luck, in a way, is on your side, and then you have the bases covered, especially if you are the superior club. Sometimes you'll still get beat. But quite often not.
The Wings play those percentages in every facet of their organization. They have a drafting philosophy which they stick too and as a result their draft record is probably best in the league, I would think (no complaints about no top ten picks from their fans - when is the last time the Wings selected in the top twenty?). They develop players a certain way also. No matter who the player he servers some sort of apprenticeship.
Works pretty well.
Compare this to the Oiler way of doing things, which in the past few years seems a little less concerned with winning then with, well, I'm not really sure what the plan is, to be honest.
Just more disappointment from an organization that claimed that by adding bodies to their management team they were going to build on the Red Wing model.
What a bunch of boneheads - of course if you were to ask them about the Red Wings they would probably say just lucky. You know, for coming on two decades. Funny that.
Posted by Black Dog at 9:00 AM