Wednesday, July 22, 2009

His Brain is Squirming Like A Toad

The boy likes to kill things.

He is a gentle little fellow, really, but he’s all boy. He showed it in soccer when as a young three year old in a three and four year old league he was quite happy to charge into the pack, knocking others sprawling (accidentally I assure you), often getting sent for a spill himself. And unlike his older sister he will express his anger or frustration with a fist the odd time.

And he likes to kill things.

He sees a bug and next thing you know it’s a foot or a rock or a piece of wood and the bug is a smear on the sidewalk. An ant walks by on our retaining wall and a grubby little finger comes down from the heavens and the ant is a dead ant.

Dead ant dead ant dead ant dead ant dead ant dead ant dead ant.

A few weeks ago a spider was making its way across the porch. The boy noticed it. He walked over and stood over it silently.

Hey there, don’t step on that spider, I said, able to read his the malevolence in his gaze.

He looked at me with complete innocence.

Why not? And he was being absolutely sincere. Why wouldn't I? they are made to be stepped on.

So I’ve been working on instilling some respect for nature in him. Its hit and miss. We were on the Island and my wife called the kids outside to check out a gigantic slug. She turned for a moment and then was startled by a thwacking noise. She turned to see the little guy commiting insecticide with a bat. Thwack! Thwack! Thwack!

The problem is that my wife has an unreal fear of bugs. If one shows up in the house (spiders or stinging insects are the problem) she goes a little mental. She used to sic the big fellow on them, with varied results. She once had a neighbour come over to kill a wasp after she fled the house.

Now the boy has taken over. The problem is that he has not differentiated between our castle and theirs.

Now I am an animal lover. Not one of those goofy folks who thinks that chickens are just geniuses suppressed by poor communication skills and their circumstances (ie/ that they are chickens) – hell I love a good steak and one of my favourite meats is lamb.


But if I catch a spider in the house I’ll try and release it into the wild rather than flushing it.

Back when I was a kid there was a movie where the animals basically turned on the people in this resort, iirc. I just saw the commercials but I found it terrifying – what if the family poodle went bad in the middle of the night? Would he rip our throats out as we slept? Pump carbon monoxide into the house? Make us eat Dr. Ballards?

On the other hand part of me was cheering on the animals. I’ve always been partial to the Far Side cartoons where the moose are sitting around the fire drinking and smoking, cleaning their rifles, while a couple of guys are draped over their pick up trucks. Or the wolves sitting in front of the fire surrounded by the heads of people mounted on the walls, resting their paws on a human rug. This is coming from a guy whose Dad was a moose hunter and whose great uncle trapped for a living but I just never really saw the sport in killing animals with guns or using traps to catch them for fur.

Try and catch them and kill them with your bare hands. Now that would be sporting.

As for the boy, no worries for now. When the neighbourhood cats begin to disappear then I will begin to get concerned.


A lot of interesting talk, mainly from Ty and a bit from J. Willis, on the value of fighting.

I’ve always laughed when Don Cherry and others go crazy talking about stickwork in the game and how in the old days you never saw such stuff. Any reading on hockey history will reveal a vicious, violent, brutal sport. A hundred years ago the brawls would include the fans and the officials and often the police and up until twenty years ago or so bloody ugly incidents were still quite common.

What has changed (and why people like Cherry rant about the stickwork) is that until expansion at least, the stars fought their own battles and not just guys like Howe and Maurice Richard who were noted thugs. One of my favourite pictures of all time is one of Stan Mikita and Henri Richard, bloodied and wild eyes, each of them rearing back to throw another punch in their never ending feud. Imagine? Two of the greatest stars in the game. It would be like Sakic and Yzerman trying to kill each other every game.

And it goes on and on. Bobby Orr rarely had to fight once he was tested because as it turned out he was pretty well a sociopath when the gloves came off.

Things changed once money came into the game but we all recall the 80s and 90s when Messier used elbows and stick to great effect and Anderson was a vicious stickman. Stevens and Manson eyegouging and biting, Manson (again) coming out of the tunnel to pound Gary Leeman, the brawls between the Wings and the Avalanche.

So in those days it was important to have guys like Semenko and McClelland and McSorley, guys who could play and handle your shit, and it was important that your stars/prominent players either could handle themselves (Messier, Lowe, Tikkanen, Anderson) or handle the beating they would invariably take (Kurri, Coffey and yes even Gretzky) and you can see why an oldtimer like Bruce (sorry Bruce ;) ) places a greater premium on toughness than most of us might.

Nowadays you cannot look at a club like Detroit or Pittsburgh and say they are not tough, as much as many would have you believe that they are not. These guys can take it. They just don’t dish it out.

Now I can’t speak to team toughness or how any of that stuff works. I play with a pretty closeknit bunch of guys and while the shit usually doesn’t go down in our league when it does guys are quick to stand up for each other but I don’t know that it makes us a better team. Some guys are hard on the puck and some aren’t and there are times when the guys who aren’t are and when they are we play better but I can’t really think of a situation where we pounded on a guy who jumped our goalie or drove a guy who fucked with one of us into the boards and how suddenly we became inspired to play better. We have gotten emotional lifts and we have had our guts torn out and our play has been impacted as a result either way so I guess a physical altercation might get us going. Personally I play better when I get my noise dirty and I’ve gotten a little more space when I have given someone a stick in the balls or across the arm but I find a hard time giving credence to the whole idea of team toughness and all that jazz.

But is it all lip service when guys who do this for a living talk about Ethan Moreau as an excellent leader based on his toughness? When Moreau fought Gratton, was it, with a separated shoulder Kevin Lowe called it the toughest thing that he ever saw. One thinks of Moreau firing Cole into the boards in G6 of the SCF or of Souray pushing Moreau aside and coldcocking your man or even of Gagner fighting Kesler and of how their teammates and the fans are excited by this and whether or not it actually means something. If the men who play the game professionally say that it does then can we argue with them or is it all a myth as some would call clutchness?

Personally I think that if you’re hard to the puck and can take it then you have all the toughness that you need but its not like I’ve succeeded at any level remotely close to professional hockey. I mean Steve MacIntyre has a job in the NHL. Nice story though that is, he’s not much of a hockey player but he's getting paid a lot more than me for his few minutes a game where he twirls around the ice looking for something to stop against.

If its true, this thing, then when is Tambellini going to add the toughness he keeps talking about? Or is it lip service for the fans and a message to the players.

Get hard on the puck and go to the dirty areas.

I guess we'll know come the fall.


Bruce said...

Good stuff, BDHS. No apology required for calling me an old-timer cuz I are one. Spades being spades and all that.

The game has certainly changed over the decades, largely due to rule changes to eliminate brawling, reduction in games between traditional rivals (esp. in the playoffs where such rivalries often peak), and the large dollars in the modern game where "assets" are encouraged to stay on the ice.

There's nothing quite like Ted Lindsay vs. Rocket Richard anymore, stars who had a vicious rivalry that extended through every shift of every game, 14 games every season, year after year, always playing for the same teams and truly hating each other's guts. Gone are the days when you could expect at least one HNiC game a year to devolve into a bench-clearing brawl with a long delay followed by a welcome breath of 3v3 hockey to clear the air.

Still, it's hockey. There was room for Red Kelly and Dave Keon in the old game, and there's room for Brendan Shanahan and Milan Lucic today.

In the main I am in agreement with your point; the first objective is to be hard on the puck. Watch an old video of the Broad Street Bullies and before you get distracted by the scrapping watch what happens to the puck carrier. Perhaps the most famous of Freddy the Fog Shero's aphorisms was "Take the shortest route to the puck and arrive in ill humour."

Toughness comes in many forms, not just fighting or even hitting. I have long expounded that "the first 50% of being tough is being able to take it." I have always admired guys like Jaroslav Pouzar, Lee Fogolin, Kevin Lowe, Craig
Muni, Kelly Buchberger, Ryan Smyth and Jason Smith for the ferocious pounding they would absorb as well as their willingness to give it back. Not all of those guys were fighters and none of them were goons, but they were all team guys who would put their body on the line and have the backs of their teammates while they were at it.

When it comes to fisticuffs I have long ascribed to the Lee Fogolin school of fighting. Fogy would only fight a couple times a year, he had a very long fuse but when some guy succeeded in lighting it, look out. He did a great Incredible Hulk impersonation, becoming so enraged that he was pretty much invulnerable while throwing a series of bombs in rapid succession. Or as the great Scott Young once wrote about a similar strongman and reluctant scrapper from another era, Tim Horton: "You could plant tulip bulbs in his skates and call him a windmill."

Closest thing we have to Fogy on the current Oilers is Sheldon Souray, and no one else is even in the conversation except maybe Penner based on a couple of short but promising auditions last year.
Moreau's a terrible fighter, Staios margibnally better, and Stortini, while greatly improved, certainly doesn't get filed under "reluctant". Strudwick's not a bad guy to have in reserve while MacIntyre is IMO a complete waste of time and roster space. Collectively it's not a bunch that will scare anybody, and when you consider the number of smurfs and skill guys on the top half of the roster, I personally am unsatisfied that the current group is anywhere tough enough, on the puck or otherwise.

Black Dog said...

Good stuff Bruce, I didn't mention Lindsay and of course he's one of the all time greats.

I saw a Youtube of Smith a year or two back when he was miked and someone was causing trouble and he just was staring and he said 'try me' a couple of times. Few would want to. What a great captain.

And your point on Souray is well taken. A lot of people, myself included, have mentioned him as a natural fit to move but they'd need to find a whole lot of meanness, either internally, or by import, to replace him.

Quinn's influence will be interesting to note. His Leaf clubs were awful hard to play against.

doritogrande said...

Does toughness have to come with size attached? If a player like Gilbert Brule makes the team, you have to think he'll bring the wood when he's asked to. Kind of like a Steve Ott if you allow me to bluesky for a moment. He's got speed, he knows how to hit and most importantly, likes to hit. Matter of factly, the same three critera are also met by one JF Jacques. If he can ever get it out of his mind that he's top-6 material, he's got a long career as a physical specimen who'll keep opposing teams honest.

The more you delve into our younger prospects, you can see the grit that will eventually arrive on the team. In addition to Brule and Jacques, young Smid has potential to be a badass mother once we correct him of his unnatural pavlovian conditioning whereby whenever a whistle blows, he hits something. Theo Peckham's at his best when he's laying somebody out, and he's got the great nickname (Wreckum) to allow him to go far. Up front you have your collegians like Nash and VandeVelde who have scouting reports to attest that they'll play any style they're asked to. Surely there are two more guys willing to muck in the corners.

And I love the inclusion of Gagner there Pat. That was what I was going to lead with on my reply, but you beat me to it. Any 18-year old who is willing to stand up for himself in a linebrawl deserves his props. Not only that, but he's done it more than once. Dropped the mitts with another dude this year if my memory's on track. He's still young, but he may be able to handle himself physically for the next two decades if we're lucky.

I want to finish with one last comment, but it's only grudgingly so that I put this forward. The player who best exemplifies the qualities of the old timers you and Bruce have idolized, the Lindsays, Howes and Richards, plays due South of us. It pains me to watch Jarome Iginla and realize that he's the kind of player you mention. And it pains me more that he's playing for the arch-rivals. There's you modern day Rocket.

Jonathan Willis said...

I don't say it enough, but you do damn fine work.

Dead ant dead ant dead ant dead ant dead ant dead ant dead antd ead ant dead ant dead ant.

Oh, and the hockey stuff was fine too ;)

Bruce said...

BDHS: Yeah, I miss Gator. He was a blood-and-guts team guy, and you can never have too many of those. I used to write reviews of games I attended for my hockey pool buds, and I can't tell you how many times I wrote something like this: "Jason Smith: led the Oil with 7 hits and 6 blocked shots". (I'm one of the few who actually likes RTSS)

I also remember two fights in particular. The first was in a Game 82 in Vancouver back around 2001, both teams in the playoffs but playing for position. Vancouver was at home and were particularly hopped up in the bad sense (these were the Bertuzzi-Cooke-Ruutu Canucks). Anyway Jerkko came out on the very first shift and ran Igor Ulanov from behind and seconds later he ran Mike Grier from behind and after the second one Gator closed in and pow! no questions asked, right between the eyes and Jerkko went down like he'd been taken out by a sniper. Ref blew the call, giving Gator 27 minutes and Ruutu just 4, but it was well worth it I can assure you, especially when the Oil killed the penalties and won the game.

The other time was at a Buffalo at Edmonton game I attended perhaps in the 2005-06 season. Oilers were leading 1-0 when Jay McKee threw out a knee at an Oiler forward, I think maybe Hemsky though I've forgotten that detail, and Smith just barrelled in and settled that score right on the spot too. Once again the refs blew the call, somehow missing the original infraction (which was pretty gross) while tabbing Gator with the instigator plus. I said as they were announcing it, "That's a bullshit call, but I don't care if Buffalo ties it on the powerplay and goes on to win, it wasn't just the right thing to do, he had to do it." And sure enough Buffalo did score on that fucking goddamned powerplay they didn't deserve, and they did win the fucking goddamned game, and I wasn't mad at Smith even in the slightest. But to this day I think it was a bullshit call.

And even at the cost of a lost game it probably was worth it, cuz every Oiler got a fresh lesson in how Gator had their backs at all times, and that kind of stuff pulls a team together. Ain't no stat for it, but I can assure you it matters.

Black Dog said...

Thanks Jonathan

dg - yeah I think Gagner can take it - he better be able to considering where they figure he will be down the road

Bruce - last season I was watching Ottawa v. Buffalo after Clouston took over and Kaleta took a run at Alfredsson. Smith comes running in and at the last minute Kaleta turns his back to him, he's about a foot from the boards, very vulnerable.

Smith slows up and grabs him and cradles him like a child, lowering him to the ice. Kaleta leaps up, not realizing that Smith just passed up a chance to put him in the hospital, and drops the gloves.

Smith completely tunes him. Somehow Kaleta escapes scotfree and Smith gets 9 minutes.

The Sens killed the penalties and won the game easily.

Now, I don't believe in that good penalties are easier to kill crap. What I do believe in is a guy who plays the game right and in that sequence Smith showed everything that makes him such a resepcted guy around the league, the sort if guy who gets named captain of a club before he's played a game for them.

RiversQ said...

Good stuff Pat and you too Bruce. I've heard that Shero quote before and I didn't know where it came from. It's a great one.

My position on physical play is that it's a means to an end. In a physical game like hockey, it's a pretty necessary means because, as has been recited several times above, at bare minimum you have to be able to take a pounding.

But please don't measure it by fighting, or hits, or heaven forbid, PIM. Because we know those things either don't correlate with meaningful measures or actually correlate negatively.

This is what scares me - that teams like the Oilers don't recognize this and will attempt to solve their toughness problem by looking at the toledos and then the fights, hits and PIM.

Bruce said...

BDHS: Yeah, I remember watching vids of that sequence, tho' I didn't watch the game. I'll bet it was an inspired PK. Yet a third example of what was in my mind a totally appropriate response by Smith to a dangerous cheap shot on a teammate, and yet a third example of totally inept officiating completely missing the serious infraction that truly instigated the melee and penalizing only the response, measured as it was. This is the stuff that gives credence to "let the players police themselves", cuz the zebras are fucking hopeless at it.

mattwatt said...

I want to chime in saying great stuff guys. My personal favorite quote about Lindsay was that "his face was so cut, you could collect water on it." A hockey player in every sense of the word.

What I want to really know, since we all here at BDHS are big fans of the guy, is what value do the likes of Matt Cooke have to a team? You know, the slimy dicks who do the dirtiest things. Since toughness does have a place on the ice, what about those who do not exemplify it but rather give more of an underhanded meaning to the word. Bruce, could you relate this to Esa Tikkanen for young guys like me, who seems to been a hybrid of dirtiness and toughness.

MattM said...

Great stuff as always BDHS.

The other guy Gagner fought last year was Jack Johnson. It was probably ill-advised, but you gotta love the fire.

Black Dog said...

Thanks Rivers, mattwatt, MattM.

mattwatt - Tikkanen was a sublime player first of all. I am sure Bruce can give you a more detailed synopsis but to me Tik was underrated if anything, overshadowed by Gretzky, Messier, Kurri, Anderson, Coffey, even Lowe.

He could do it all. And he was tough as nails. He was dirty with his stick, though that was far more common back then, and he never stopped running his mouth. I would say a good comp would be Lindsay albeit a poor man's Lindsay obviously. Lindsay is one of the all time greats.

As for a guy like Cooke, I don't know. I don't like playing with guys who are dicks because they piss off the other team and generally they'll take it out on everybody. I guess if they get the other team off their game they have value but I think Matt Cooke could probably just stick to hockey. He's not a shit player.

Black Dog said...

Rivers - yeah I think Tambellini and Lowe are old time hockey guys, and I don't mean that in a good way. Plus they seem to like a big splash. Not a good combo.

Look at the Wings or the Devils for that matter. Probably the two most successful teams - quality for almost twenty seasons for the Wings, just over 15 for NJ.

Not many PIMs, not many fights, probably low hit totals, I would think anyways.

But seven Cups and three more Finals appearances between them in the last fourteen seasons. That speaks to how tough these clubs are - you don't get that far without taking a beating. But now who on Detroit is a 'tough guy' by the standard measure? Stuart and Kronwall maybe? But I think that's more because they stand out because of who they play with. I don't remember Stuart being considered an especially tough guy before he arrived in Detroit.

Hard on the puck, be able to take a hit, go to the high traffic areas, finish your checks.

That's all you need to do.

Bruce said...

MattWatt: No time to reminisce right now, but Matt Cooke is a far scummier player than Esa Tikkanen ever was. Esa was an agitator to be sure, but I don't recall him taking advantage of opponents in a vulnerable position the way Cooke does on a frequent basis. Dave Hunter, yes; Esa, not so much.

BDHS: NJ might not have hit a whole lot with their net-casting defensive system, but one Scott Stevens hit was worth ten by anybody else. He was a huge factor, and NJ hasn't been the same since his career ended.

Baroque said...

Stuart and Kronwall hit, but not all that often - they pick their spots. Actually, one of the biggest hitters Detroit has in the playoffs is Pavel Datsyuk (especially if he hasn't been scoring in a while - he gets cranky and starts running people over). I think Datsyuk actually led the team in hits in Detroit's 2008 playoff run (or close, anyway). And last season Darren Helm made a habit of squashing people like bugs, too.

If you can get your son to focus on leaving creepy-crawlies alone outside where they belong, let him squash as many inside as he wants. That's my philosophy - and I'm a biologist. :)

hunter1909 said...

Oilers collectively have what it takes on their blueline, with all those good puck carriers, and once Peckham and Smid arrive as properly filthy players the Oilers will have a seriously good defence.

The problem with Gagner and Brule is simple: They're still physically boys. The NHL pounded the crap out of poor Brule, and unless he's sheltered like crazy, the poor sap is going to end up out of the game altogether. Having said that, Quinn will fall in love with Brule's willingness to give hits, and he almost certainly makes the club.

Boys love insects. Lets them play God. It's the story of mankind, played out in miniature. Just be thankful he doen't cry when he sees one, lol.

Swabbubba said...

Glad to see your son has some stones. Alas my son squeals like a chick and runs the other way on spiders etc.
All i want is the Oilers not to be pussies... yapping to the refs... fuck it just deal.Take number and get them back later. The game has changed again where players like Clutterbuck, Eaves... are getting to play. U need to have some size and be able to skate. is this that hard to find some bigger guys jeebus seems like the Oil go have be under 5 11 and 200 lbs to play here. Are we saving money smaller unis...

Anonymous said...

...he twirls around the ice looking for something to stop against.

LOL I loved that! thanks