Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Good, Lucky, Lucky, Good, Good, Lucky, Lucky, Good

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.

That's lucky.

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.


Vic Ferrari said...

Man, you've really fallen in love with Detroit, Pat.

I remember after they lost to the Oilers in the playoffs, their second consecutive first round playoff upset in as many seasons, with the lockout in between for added effect.

There was an article written by somebody in the Post or Globe, I think, the title was near enough "Detroit Outplayed And Outchanced Edmonton, But The Oilers Wanted It More". Good Christmas, what does that even mean?

It was the concensus opinion though, Stauffer trumpeted this view on talk radio nonstop. He came to the conclusion that the Wings just have the 'will to win', whatever the that means, only cats with prescription grade copper and blue glasses didn't acknowledge that the Oilers had their asses owned everywhere bu the scoreboard in that series, and the 05/06 Oilers were a pretty good team.

Any rate, Bob thought that Holland had no choice but to blow the whole thing up. Callers were unanimous in their agreement.

It's easy right now to look at the big picture now and shrug off a couple of early playoff exits in 'stuff happens, dude' fashion. But at the time everyone but DET management seemed to be advocating significant changes to the roster.

They deserve props for staying the course. That sort of thinking starts with good ownership and trickles down.

The Oilers have a chance to achieve the same sort of thing. It starts and ends with ownership. We'll see.

Vic Ferrari said...

that should read:
He came to the conclusion that the Wings just didn't have the 'will to win'

Swabbubba said...

The wings are good club. But they also seem to get every call possible from the refs. If they put a stick on the hands no call, high stick no calls... you know that it would appear to be easier to play if you are not going to get called for it.
My ABW is not working, I was pulling for the Ducks that would be the only team to derail the train the the wings are. The east does not have an answer for them.

Black Dog said...

Vic - yeah and in 2004 they deserved to beat the Flames and in 2003 the Ducks. Sometimes you don't get the bounces. I do think that those clubs were a bit of a transitional group - the vets were getting long in the tooth - Yzerman, Shanahan, Chelios - and the kids were still kids and as a result they, well, I wouldn't say that they didn't have the will to win. That's just silly. But I think that they struggled a bit with doing a few of those so called little things that give you a better chance to get luck on your side - defending well, chipping it deep, traffic in front.

I may be misremembering that - these things take on a life of their own - I remember Babcock coming in and saying the team had to get more "greasy", as he used to say. So I may be building my own narrative here.

And yeah Vic I have a lot of love for the Wings. Damn what a fine organization. Top of the league for almost twenty years and mostly with homegrown talent. Success begets success.

Vic Ferrari said...


Pat Quinn has been hired as head coach, Renney as associate, Buchberger stays on as second assistant. I just heard the presser.

They may add another guy to the coaching staff as well, and the way Quinn was talking ... if he gets a vote, Rick Ley seems likely.

Black Dog said...

Fucking Rick Ley can't even fill out a gamesheet properly.

Goddamn it he must have pictures of Quinn with Eric Vail or something.

I can't stand it.

Brad said...

I'm sure everyone has one, but WTF, here's mine.
I was working at the TEAM radio station in Vancouver the night that Canada lost to Sweden the first game of the Olympics. We'd been running a post game show and had wrapped it up for the night. Nothing but pretty negative calls all night, team wasn't ready, didn't care etc.
The private line to the station rang and I picked up.
The fellow on the other end was kinda quiet and asked for one of the guests on the show that had already gone home. So he asked "What's your name, buddy?"
Me: Brad
Him: Brad, it's Gretz.
Me: uhh....(holyshitholyshit) Hi.
Gretz: What are the calls like? People upset?
Me: uhh....(tellhimsomethingidiot) well...yeah, upset, but they know it's not over.

And so it went for a few minutes.
I was 9 when the Gretzky wallpaper had gone up in my room, that night in 2002 was not quite 20 years in the making.
That the guy could lose a huge game in the Olympics and spend a few minutes talking to some schmoe operator in Vancouver about how the damn country was feeling.
However big his dick is, I don't begrudge him any of it.

Alice said...

SAme thing happened in Vancouver this year, "the Canucks had no answer for Chicago's speed" etc. etc.
But Vancouver dominated everything I saw - and as hard as I cheered for them to beat the Canucks and was glad to see it - well, "deserve's got nothing to do with it".

The media never take that angle on a winner, it always seems they manufacture the narrative to match the outcome. IIRC, Seattle played a pretty good Superbowl, and might have got jobbed once or twice before Steelers pulled that one out of their ass. But all you read on Monday was how Pitts QB outplayed the other guy. I guess that keeps it simple?

Black Dog said...

Awesome story Brad, awesome.

Alice - right on, you're exactly right. It happens time and time again.

I don't know if they keep it simple on purpose or if thats just sportswriting 101. Make it fit.