Sunday, September 27, 2009

The End of Something

My father was a heck of a hockey player, scouted by the Wings along with one of his brothers back in the early fifties. He was a center who could skate and stickhandle and pass the puck and he could score a little too, just like his idol growing up, Max Bentley, and his favourite player later on (my idol as a kid), Stan Mikita. Dad went to mining school in Haileybury and then spent some time prospecting in Newfoundland and Northern Ontario. He worked in northern Saskatchewan in Uranium City, the coldest place he has every been (this is a Northern Ontario boy), he has described to me getting up at midnight to go underground, rushing out of the bunkhouse, so cold that your face would freeze within a couple of minutes of exposure.

After some time in the mines in Elliot Lake Dad got a promotion. This was in the early sixties. $600.00 a month, good money back then, he says when he describes it. Good money but it was underground. As he pondered the offer he got a phone call from a good friend of his, a burly Finn who had left Elliot Lake recently, traveling east on the Trans Canada to Sudbury where they were laying pipe for natural gas. There and all over Northern Ontario. A brand new company and a ton of opportunity. He would start at $400.00 a month and he’d work so much that my mom wouldn’t see him (they were newly married) for a couple of years except when he stumbled in and out of bed, exhausted, to sleep and then off to do it again. He took the job. He knew what he was getting into but it wasn't underground and the possibilities were endless.

Of course it worked out for my old man. He stuck it out and rose through the ranks and had a terrific career there, almost thirty five years in a job he enjoyed. At his retirement party they stood and cheered for him. That's the type of man my father is.

In his first decade with the company he played hockey for the Sudbury team. There were big offices in Thunder Bay and Timmins and North Bay and the Soo and Kingston and they probably had a club from the Muskokas as well. Dad’s team played in a senior league of sorts in Sudbury, the hockey would have been terrific, all of these guys were players back in the day. These guys grew up before the days of TV so Dad and his peers were all the type of guys that today’s young men could only hope to emulate. Dad played hockey and ball and he boxed a little. He played guitar and he could fix a motor and build a camp and do electrical and plumbing and pretty well whatever you wanted to ask him to do. He finished our basement and some years later he put in a sauna. He could fish and he could hunt and he could do pretty much anything.

Anyways these guys could play is the point and while the league was one thing it was the tournaments that the real games began, all of these guys from around Northern and Eastern Ontario who could play and it was for bragging rights and so it was pretty serious stuff. One of my earliest memories is being at a rink watching my Dad play hockey. Its foggy but that's the way it is up north. Hockey hockey hockey permeates everything.

When I was five and he was just forty two, they went up to Timmins for a tournament. They made the final and Dad scored a hat trick that game including the winner on overtime. Dad’s not a braggart at all but everyone once in a while he’ll sit back and tell me about that game. ‘I was a pretty good player’, he’ll say with a little smile. And that was his last year playing.

In December I’ll be the same age as Dad was when he hung them up. I hope to emulate his brothers, one who played into his sixties, another into his seventies (my uncle could absolutely play in our league, I swear to God, he is in phenomenal shape and an amazing player, he can skate like few I have every seen.) Anyways I laced them up this afternoon for the first time since the beginning of August. Our summer season was, lets say, a complete disaster. More details another day. Lets just say we went ofer.

So the last time good old Capsule won a game was in March sometime.

Zero and sixteen since then.

So we skate out and we have eight guys and there’s a club we’ve never seen before and like everybody we play they’re big and they’re fast and they’re young, the fuckers. And one of their guys comes over before the game and he says yeah we’re new and we figure we’re a high seed in the division above this one.

Did I mention we have eight guys?

And this is, with one exception, the guys who went oh and sixteen. We’re missing our best two centers, including a guy who averaged a goal a game last year. We’re missing two big guys who swing between forward and D as needed. Both are players. These guys, except one of the centres, don't play in the summer.

First shift they cut through us like nothing, we’re running around and before we know it we’re down one.

And they keep coming. So we hunker down and ride it out and then we begin to push back and we get a chance or two and then we tie it up but its just a flash of hope, it certianly can't last.

They’re big and they come with speed out of their end and we just hang back, we’re already sagging. My fucking legs last two shifts and then its hang back and pick off plays, that’s all I’ve got. But thing is they come hard through the neutral zone but we stack it up and chip it back out and soon their D begin to jump in, they have two guys who can really wheel, pushing to beat our tired legs and put us out of our misery.

One of them whirls out of the zone and chips it past the defenceman and rushes into our end full speed. I’m coming back hard and he has a step on me and I just take him out, I have no choice and so he slides into the boards hard and I’m right behind him, full out. Luckily he breaks my fall.

And that was the last we heard from him for the rest of the game. Not a peep.

Of course I was in the box. I have a new stick and like all of the ones that came before its not so good with the goals but pretty good at laying on the wood and getting me into the box.

The lads picked me up, all four minutes of it, not even a sniff and as the game wore on we held on and held on and I sat beside a terrific new player who joined us this summer, a guy who has never won in Capsule colours. He’s a big forward who is hard on the puck and has good hands and he's a great addition. Just chip it out, chip it out, we’ll try and catch a break, we tell each other.

Next shift he strips a Dman and goes in alone and gets stoned and we sag a little, that may have been it.

Instead we work them over down low next shift and pop it out front and suddenly we’re up.

Next shift the new guy beats a guy into a corner and I beat everyone else to the slot and I get the shot I want but the keeper stretches out that leg and beats me. Some things never change.

And soon after we lose a guy, ejected for his third penalty. Seven guys left, one for each minute left in the game.

And we hang on, they come in waves and they nearly all break at our blueline. The goalie comes out and they throw it all at us and here we are, dead beat, a guy in the box again and yet every battle for the puck is ours. With about twenty seconds left one of our defencemen has two guys in the corner and he's the guy who comes out with the puck.

And we win.

I think its going to be a good year. Unfortunately I don't think I'm going to be able to get out of bed tomorrow.


This is it for camp, this is it for some kids. Some of the guys we know are going to be sent back to Springfield and some guys may be gone for good.

Its been an interesting camp. Brule got the push that was expected and he’s got it made. Jacques was considered a good bet for a job but there is no doubt that he’s exceeded all expectations. He’s starting the year with Horcoff and Hemsky.

I kid you fucking not.

And it seems that Stone has it made as well. Big guy and a good camp.

So its Horcoff, Hemsky, Jacques, Penner, Comrie, O’Sullivan, Cogliano, Gagner, Stortini, Brule, Stone, Moreau

That leaves Pisani, Nilsson, Pouliot, Reddox, Brennan, MacIntyre, Schremp

Am I missing anyone?

I can’t see them sending Pisani out. Remember this club has few vets and a problem on the PK. I think its Fernando’s swan song though.

I’m sentimental. Here’s hoping Fernando has a terrific year and retires an Oiler. The first of any consequence to do so.

And who else? Well if Pouliot is on the IR that helps postpone the decision but my guess is Nilsson is going going gone. Writing was on the wall when they brought in Comrie and next year Eberle will be pushing. Rowbert is going to be moved I think.

Schemp is getting sent out.

MacIntyre is not good enough to play a regular shift.

So its either Brennan or Reddox if Pouliot is out. Brennan was my darkhorse but a guy pushing thirty who has sixty games or so on his resume doesn’t strike me as a reasonable choice, especially with Jacques and Stone out there.

I think the Red Ox might make it.


Bruce said...

Dad played hockey and ball and he boxed a little. He played guitar and he could fix a motor and build a camp and do electrical and plumbing and pretty well whatever you wanted to ask him to do. He finished our basement and some years later he put in a sauna. He could fish and he could hunt and he could do pretty much anything.

I am in awe of this man.

He was a center who could skate and stickhandle and pass the puck and he could score a little too, just like his idol growing up, Max Bentley, and his favourite player later on (my idol as a kid), Stan Mikita.

My own dad was a huge fan of Max Bentley. He was over the moon when the Leafs acquired him in a huge deal with the Hawks to complement Syl Apps and Teeder Kennedy in 1947, just in time for Apps' last year. The Leafs won the Cup with Apps and Kennedy in '47, and they won the Cup with Bentley and Kennedy in '49, but with all three of them in '48 they won both the Prince of Wales Trophy and the Cup. Dick Beddoes later made a very controversial remark when he said Wayne Gretzky would have been a fourth-liner on that team, and while he was talking out of his ass to some extent what got lost in the outcry was Beddoes' point that those were three pretty great centres on one team. The only modern trios to come close may be Lemeiux, Francis and Trottier with the '91-92 Penguins or arguably Fedorov, Yzerman and Larionov with the '02 Wings (with a young Pavel Datsyuk waiting in the wings). Oilers, Avalanche and others had great twosomes but the third guy was usually a little down the charts, whereas on the '48 Leafs I honestly couldn't tell you which one was the 3C. I can tell you that whoever he was, he was an all-time great.

As for Stan Mikita, you're way too young to have seen him at his peak, in fact you were just a gleam in your multitalented daddy's eyes when he started winning scoring championships. I've got a decade-plus on you, started following the game when I was 7, and Mikita won the Art Ross Trophy four of my first five regular seasons.

The unusual thing about Mikita was the complete transformation he underwent in the middle of that time. He was a nasty little sumbitch as a young player, finished in the top 10 in PiM 5 times, but around 1965 somebody finally convinced him that he could hurt the other team more on the ice than he could from the penalty box. He took it to heart, going from 146 and 154 PiM his first two Ross seasons, to just 12 and 14 minutes the last two, in which he swept the Lady Byng as well as the Hart Trophy both years. That's right, he cut his PiM by over 90%. His competitiveness, on the other hand, suffered not one whit. An incredible player.

Black Dog said...

Bruce - I am the proud owner of a Stan Mikita autobiography, "I Play To Win", autographed by the man himself.

Interesting story. He was eight years old when his parents sent him from Czechoslovakia to live with his aunt and uncle. He learned how to fight pretty early on, taunted as a DP by the neighbourhood kids, and the chip on his shoulder stayed there all the way to the NHL.

He says the turning point was coming home one night and having his daughter ask him how come he kept having to sit by himself while everyone else was playing.

Before his reformation though he had some vicious brawls with Henri Richard and talks about getting into verbal jousts with the retired Maurice Richard who used to get into it with him from the stands.

One of the all time great players, I've written about him before and will do so again. He could do it all at both ends of the rink and had a sense for the game second to none.

Dad's alltime favourite was Bentley though. I have an excerpt from a book in an anthology somewhere, I think its called The Gentle Farmer From Delisle or some such thing. The writer spends a couple of days with Bentley, in his 70s at the time iirc. Good stuff.

As for my Dad, well I'm in awe of him too. I can't fix a motor or do electrical or plumbing or play guitar or do many of those things. I don't have the 'old man strength' either.

But his generation grew up without TV, outdoors from morning to nightfall every day. You had to entertain yourself and it was a life that lent itself to the physical, the mechanical, the musical, the athletic.

Different times.

Deano said...

As I heard it, Makita's epiphany came when his very young daughter made a comment to him that indicated she could see what a nasty pr1ck he was on the ice. I am not sure if its true.

Brule may have made it, but I wish it was a clearer win and looked less like charity. (He was a lottery pick and we don't get our hands on too many of those).

Brennan has been cut, but someone may have to go for him to make it and the gang's all here - for now. Stay tuned he may get resurrected.

When I was farting around with the buyout calculator (I am waiting for an e-mail reply from speeds' yahoo account) it is clear to me that Nilsson is unlikely to play out the final year of his contract /anywhere/. How well will he have to play to be worth the $2.5MM he is due for next season? He will be bought out next June. I think we will be very lucky to get anything for him at all as our counterparty is only getting one season for payments of $2MM, $417K and $417K over the next 3 years.

A comment about Jacques at 1LW. If he was in the kind of condition last season that he is in now, I am sure that MacT would have given him some of Reddox's 1LW minutes. I'll take the Big engine that could please.

The case has been made by Derek Zona (coach-pittsburgh) that Penner made the first line better last year. Replacing him with Jacques frees Penner to help strengthen a weaker line - more balance at the expense of Horpensky. We'll see if we have enough for both lines to compete.

Change is good. Now if they can just get back to taking care of the cash when they are paying guys like they used to with the EIG.

Deano said...

Waiver info is available here on an ongoing basis:
TSN Transactions Page

Do a find on 'waive'.

Black Dog said...

Thanks Deano.

Scott Reynolds said...

Great article. Your father sounds like a truly amazing man.

As for Jacques on the first line with MacT I just don't see it. Quinn doesn't match lines while MacT tends to be aggressive there and I doubt he send out Jacques PvP. Even Reddox got what, a game and a half? It's not as though MacT was feeding the kid top line minutes for a month.

Nilsson actually gets us a cap credit for next year if he makes it through waivers, which would be great. Extra flexibility cap wise might make it worth sending him away but I wish they'd cut Brule instead.

Black Dog said...

Thanks Scott.

Reddox got 28 minutes on LW 1st line total, someone said the other day.

And MacT would have never run JFJ out there I think.

I think they will send Nilsson away. Brule makes sense but he's the sexy guy, just like Robert was before him.

Poor planning by this club again, if they lose Reddox that will be another player out of here with no return.