Friday, May 29, 2009

Glory


With only a few exceptions all of my personal sporting glory came in the role of coach. As a player for the most part I have played for teams for whom a playoff round victory constituted a successful season. Lots of moral victories. Sadly I can name but three situations where I was part of the winning mob as a player.

In Grade Six my school team won the city championship in handball - not the Euro version of the game - but a weird hybrid of basketball, hockey and murderball. That was awesome.

A couple of years later my club team won the city championship in hockey. What should have been one of the greatest moments of my young life was bittersweet instead, mostly bitter.

And a number of summers ago we won a mini tournament which included the most surprising twist ending ever.

Stories to come, rest assured.

But its as a coach that I revelled in the glory time and time again.

I coached both soccer and hockey for a number of years in both Sudbury and Toronto. Lots of success. Regular season titles. Playoff championships. Tournament victories.

But the greatest games took place on February 3rd, 1991.

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This was my first year coaching a team, a squad which I would run in some form for four years. It was a Select team out of a houseleague in western Toronto where I had coached the previous two seasons. That summer I had been asked if I wanted to help put together a Select program and I had agreed. This was the same year that I coached the Missiles in the houseleague - it was probably the best year I ever had, very satisfying.

We ran tryouts and put a team together. It was an interesting challenge, a team of thirteen year olds who had never played above the houseleague level and who had never played contact hockey thrown into a new situation. I had two buddies who were terrific hockey players who filled out the coaching staff and we got down to the business of breaking the guys of their bad habits from houseleague (head down, no pass, well, houseleague) and building a team.

They were a great bunch of lads. We skated them hard and had high expectations. Our philosophy was simple - play hard and play together. We had some talent but not a lot. We had inexperience everywhere and a lack of size up front but we played a hard charging style and even when we lost we took our toll on the opposition. Everyone hit, led by two kids who were solid houseleague players but not standouts. They weren't the slick types who could go end to end but they knew how to play hockey and with one at centre and the other on his wing they tore a swath through the league. Both were average size but strong and both loved to hit and when they hit guys they hurt them. Other then the odd penalty for "hitting too hard" as my buddy called it sarcastically, they stayed out of the box. They led and the team followed, hitting and scoring and doing all the little things right. Noakes and Miller. They set the tone.

We did pretty well in our league. There were a few teams at the top and we were just below that echelon. We might beat them now and then and we would throw a scare into them every game and we would pound them but we usually fell a little short. So there and in the city wide tournament at year end (basically a playoff that included every division - like an FA Cup) we did well but fell a little short, losing in the semifinals by a game in a best of three in the tournament, iirc.

We went to Lindsay in November, about two months after we had been together, to play in a tournament against a bunch of small town clubs. We had our eyes opened as we were thumped in three straight games. Three and out and back to Toronto with our tails between our legs.

So at the beginning of February we headed out of the city to another small town, Acton. We were a better team by then. Our backup goalie, Ed McCorquadale, had busted his hump all season to get better and he had surpassed the starter and turned himself into a solid keeper. He had also established himself as a leader on the team in the process.

And this time we played with desperation right from the opening faceoff of the first game.

We eased through our pool undefeated and made a date in the semifinals early Sunday afternoon on the 3rd against a club from Ancaster, just outside of Hamilton. Halfway through the game we had built a three to nothing lead but it was a case of the hockey gods smiling on us. We were evenly matched and there were chances aplenty for each squad but while they were hitting iron we were finding the back of the net.

And then they scored. And then they scored again. And again. And again there was no sea change in the flow of the game. We weren't sitting back nor were they taking it to us. Where our passes were eluding sticks and skates now theirs did and where our shots has found daylight now it was theirs that did.

And so it was tied after regulation. And into overtime we went.

There was iron and there were saves and the play roared one way and then the next. One team would be hemmed in and frantic and it looked like the end was inevitable and then they would break out of their end and next thing it would be the other team that looked like it was on the ropes. And so it went until the period ended.

And then we went on to a second overtime. And it was more of the same and on the bench each near miss made us dance and moan and shout and the kids were laughing and they just played with no fear, just running on guts, trying to win the next shift they hit the ice, trying to push the puck over the line. And the arena began to fill in around us as the teams who were to play next stood around the glass and their parents stood in the stands and all of the assorted rink rats and teams and parents and relatives began to file in to see what was happening until we were playing in front of hundreds of people (truth be told it felt like thousands) who cheered and yelled and cringed with us. And then the period ended.

Off we trudged to the room while they gave us a flood. In came a convenor who admitted to us that they had never seen this happen before but they were now behind and so we had one more period to play and then it would be a shootout.

I hate shootouts. Always have. Always will.

Have fun boys we said, there was nothing else to say, and they grinned and hauled themselves out of the room back onto the ice, the arena packed now. And so we went at it again, our sixth full period, ten minutes stop each, so now essentially a full pro game is what they were playing, and this period went on like the others and time began to run out and that's when my stomach began to knot as I saw what was coming and how it was going to end and then there were less then two minutes left and a faceoff in their zone and our big centreman Switzer, a righthander, won it cleanly back to the point and a long lean defenceman named Taylor Armstrong, who had skated miles that afternoon, drifted a wrist shot at the net, a foot off the ice, and it made its way through the maze of players battling without nicking a one and hit the back of the net.

And I've got the chills now lads and lasses.

The boys ripped out onto the ice and we were hugging on the bench and I remember nothing else but the crowd's roar and a defenceman named Stoyka, wild eyed with glee, face pale with exhaustion, as he leapt into my arms screaming.

And we shook hands and there were embraces and we moved on.

Slumped in the dressing room, the stink and the sweat and the white faces, and the convenor came in and congratulated us and told us to rest up because we were back on in just over an hour.

Fuck.

We had watched the club we were facing in their own semifinal game. They were a bunch of big rangy kids and they had never looked in danger. And they had one guy who was pretty well unstoppable, a hulking centreman who could skate and finish in close. We figured that if we could stop him then we could win. But we also figured we'd have nothing left now.

The kids lolled about, grabbing a quick bite and something to drink. Most didn't even bother getting out of their gear. They sat and talked quietly about what they just went through. Parents wandered in and out and shook hands and clapped us on the shoulders. It seemed but a moment later that skates were laced up and pads strapped on, jerseys pulled on again. We kept our talk quick and simple. Give their big guy no space. Enjoy it. We're proud of you guys no matter the result.

We trudged out of the room to find our opponents on the steps leading up to the rink, clad in black, staring down at us. One of their coaches, your typical rink rat lifer, mustache, belly, stale smell of smoke, turned to Steve Lafay, one of our coaches and said, quietly: There's your first lesson in intimidation in coaching, son. Intimidation.

Steve came into the room where the other coach, Rob, and I were getting ready to go out, redfaced with rage. We have to beat these fuckers, he snarled.

The puck dropped and the game was on and we were fine as the period wore on. We had a small centre, Berry, who could skate forever and was the fittest player on our club and so when we could we sent him over the boards when their star was out there. He stuck to the big fellow like ass and when he needed help it was there and it soon became clear that their star was not inclined to pass, not yet anyhow, and so we hung around for a little while more.

And so the second began and it was more of the same and then about halfway through it was us, not them, who broke the ice, and eyes lit up and suddenly we could see that there was belief that we could do this.

And less then a minute later, as if we had poked a sleeping bear, they tied it up, easy as pie, and we coaches looked at each other and thought that this might be it, the boys might sag now, they had to, dead on their feet and their sudden surge turned on them.

And Miller went over the boards immediately and the puck found its way over their blueline and suddenly he was on it and he juked this way and that, through the winger and the centre and then the dman and then he was in the slot and the puck was behind the goalie.

And they dropped the puck and it went into their zone and we poured in after it and the puck spun out in front and a big red headed winger by the name of Tupholme, a grinder and boardman extrordinaire, chipped it past their keeper and now we knew it was ours and when they dropped the puck again we came on and again it was in their net and Miller went over again and for a second time he spun through them, their backs broken now, their team in tatters and the puck was over their sprawling goalie and we had four goals in just over two minutes and on the bench and on the ice the boys mobbed each other and the crowd cheered for this improbable turn.

And it settled for a moment and then at the beginning of the third they pulled their goalie, figuring they had to try and push, knowing we were the tired team, right? and figuring one might lead to another and then they might have a push of their own. And as their man brought it into our zone, Berry stripped him of it and chipped it past a defenceman and stepped over the redline and fired it straight and true into the empty net.

It was over then of course and we potted two more and when the buzzer sounded we were champions and they poured onto the ice and we shook hands with their coaches (sweetness!) and hugged and stood on the blueline as they called each player one by one to skate to centre and get his little trophy. And then we took the picture.

Glory.

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Time for the finals now and this is a pick 'em as far as I am concerned. If the Wings were fully healthy I would be thinking they are in the clear and I think they are still going to do this, but only if Lidstrom can play like Lidstrom. If not then we may see the Pens do it.

But honestly I'm back and forth on it.

The Pens are better then last year, there's no doubt about it. I think that Kunitz and Guerin and Fedotenko are all terrific hockey players and I like their D and of course the biggest factor is the rise of Crosby and Malkin. Having said that its one thing to rip through Matt Cullen and Carolina's D. Its another to do a number on Zetterberg and Detroit.

And I don't buy the fact that they are going to expose Osgood. Guy had an awful season. He's having a great playoffs. He's a good goalie. Is he a product of the system? Sure. But Chicago ripped up the Canucks and Luongo and then failed when they ran into the Wings, even with the Wings' injuries and I rate the Hawks pretty highly. I don't think Osgood suddenly turns into mush faced with the Pens.

I think the Wings are deeper up front then the Pens and I think that while the Pens D is a solid group the Wings tore up Keith and Seabrook pretty good. I think the Wings will score a little.

Last year I never got the feeling that the Pens really had a chance. I think they do this year. I think they are a better team then last year. I think that if either Datsyuk or Lidstrom misses a couple of games that that will tip the balance. I think that the Pens are close enough that there are games that will be decided by a bounce or two and if they get those then that may be enough.

I also think that all things being equal that the Wings will win it, maybe in six, maybe in seven. I think that Marion Hossa will be the difference.

I've always liked Hossa. He's a terrific player and his playoff rep was unfair. He had a poor playoff with Atlanta and struggled early on in Ottawa but other then that your man does the job. I'm also puzzled as to why folks think his move last summer was so awful.

He wasn't a lifelong Penguin. He had been traded twice before and so had no loyalties. The one time he committed longterm to a club they turned around and traded him right away.

Now I know that he doesn't need any tag days anytime soon - being a hockey player if he has made forty million dollars he likely has thirty eight of it plus interest in the bank.

But considering how we villify players constantly for taking the money (Ryan Smyth - local hero to greedy fucker in ten seconds flat) the fact that a guy left tens of millions of dollars on the table in order to sign with a club in order to try and win a Cup makes him rather admirable, does it not? Isn't the goal to win? He's not a guy who got parachuted in with two months left (if he had won last year would his accomplishment have been less anyways?) or who took part of the year off and then signed a contract.

I'd truly be happy if either team won and I think it may be a terrific series. As long as the Wings are healthy they will do it, I think.

And Hossa is going to hoist the Cup. I say good on him.

Glory.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Like Gord, I Can Get Behind Anything.


Well that came out of nowhere.

I saw a lot of Pat Quinn over the years here in Toronto and I must say I wasn't a big fan. I found his teams were undisciplined and that there was a lack of structure, especially defensively. He never saw a referee's call that he could not complain about and his sidekick Rick Ley was one of the worst assistant coaches I have ever seen.

I didn't think he was a fit for this Oilers' club and word was he was pursuing that Stanley Cup - why would he come to Edmonton then? Seems though that he got an offer (likely a rich one) and he decided to take it rather then angle for something else. Based on his tour of duty with Hockey Canada over the past couple of years its obvious that he will be coaching until they no longer let him. Its in his blood. So now he's back in the NHL.

Nor did I think the cerebral Tom Renney was a fit either. (I know he's brainy because he wears eyeglasses). Too passive. Too, well, calm. An egghead. No passion. No ... wait for it ... elan.
I love that word.

As a team though, well now I am intigued. Quinn's teams played a style that is going to please Oilers' fans - they had a lot of flow, even in the so called dead puck era, and they were a difficult bunch to play against. As Harry Neale used to say between whiskies - they tended to arrive at the puck in ill humour. Aggressive, attacking, arseholes. Three A words to describe Quinn's Leafs. Just ask Ottawa. Guess Hossa won't be coming now though. Maybe Jagr though.

And Renney is known as a systems' man first and foremost. So maybe the marriage of old gnarled foil on the hands hockey with the 21st century coaching of every last turn and twist on the ice will work. The fact that Rick Ley was nowhere mentioned certainly warms my cock, er, cockles.

But Kelly Buchberger? Comic relief I guess. Or they need someone to retrieve the pucks?

One thing, I sure hope that Quinn will be doing the pressers - your man is entertaining. Man oh man he's a grump. I saw him on the subway once and I was hoping and praying for some teenagers to get on the subway car and begin acting asinine. The man positively glowers, he looks so damn surly.

One thing for sure if Penner is still on this club come September there will be no mollycoddling or timeouts in the naughty chair. Quinn will be chasing him around the house with his belt, bellowing with rage. He'll catch that fat slow bastard and whip him within an inch of his life, all the while redfaced, gasping for air, screaming curses.
Afterwards he'll stagger off to the lazyboy and fire back a quart of Black Bush. Sometime in the night his heart will stop and Gagner will find him there in the morning, grey faced and stone dead.
And then Buchberger will be coach.
ADDENDUM - Vic noted in the comments below that in the presser there was talk of maybe another addition to the staff and that when asked about Rick Ley, Quinn had a lot of good to say about his old crony. So the possibility exists that Ley might be making his way to Edmonton after all.
Goddamned Ley must have pics of Quinn with Eric Vail. I can't explain it.

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.

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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.

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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.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Dreams Can Come True But ...


My wife is out east right now, visiting her Dad who is back home and recovering nicely, thank you very much, from his recent brush with the Reaper. Its baby steps right now, a walk to the neighbour's tires him out, and he's chafing a bit at the enforced inactivity. The other day we were talking.

Yes, he says, read a book the other day for the first time ever and now I'm watching the grass grow. The grass and the weeds.

I told him he could get after the weeds next summer, they weren't going anywhere.

And my poor wife gets out there with the baby with the idea of giving her mom a break and then spends two days in bed with a fever herself, struck down by mastitis.

I told her that the leading cause of mastitis was not letting your husband touch your breasts constantly. And that the male equivalent, ballstitis, was pretty easily preventable as well, if she knew what I was saying.

She laughed and said I am funny.

Do I look like I'm laughing over here?

Anyways so its the Three Amigos again here and things are going well. My theory is to tire them out quite frankly so they go to bed nice and quiet and then I can devote myself to the drink and the porn. Its going pretty well. A week and a half. Piece of cake after last time when we were on our own for just under a month.

A couple of weeks ago news began to float around our neighbourhood that an ice cream joint was going to open up. We live in a great little neighbourhood in Toronto. It used to be predominantly Italian and then as many of them moved to the suburbs it turned a little for the worse. Not terrible mind you but the streetscape was mostly minor industrial shit like appliance shops interspersed with seedy bars, pawn shops and the odd rub and tug. Put it this way, I've rarely seen a bar I didn't like and I definitely will take your local little hole in the wall over your faux Irish chain pub any day of the week but there were about a dozen bars within ten minutes of our house and I've only ever been into one (its actually Gare Joyce's local) a couple of times, a reasonable little sports bar where I watched a couple of games in 2006 when my wife had had enough of hockey on the TV every second night.

She's selfish I know.

Anyways I just avoided all of the other places, mostly because I have an aversion to getting stabbed. I'm getting older I know, not so much fun anymore. And then there was the one place where buddy got gunned down on the dance floor for a change of pace from the usual knife fights. Quality.

Thing is, relatively cheap housing in Toronto just minutes from the lake, Broadview and Danforth and little India, has a way of getting popular. We got in on the ground floor seven years ago and since then the prices have doubled and as the old Italians have died off and more and more young families have moved in suddenly things began to change. There's a farmer's market in the newly redone park and the drug dealers who used to hang out there are gone. The cops busted the rub and tug (sigh) and nearly all of the bars are long gone. Now there's a bistro and a boutique and a cafe and they're like those little flowers you see that pop up on a rock face, somehow growing out of nowhere, surrounded by empty storefronts. But things are changing and its for the better. Its a great great neighbourhood to raise a family.

And the other day the rumour was proven true and we walked into our brand new ice cream shop, run by a young couple from the next street over. The kids (and I), well, we pretty well have died and gone to heaven. We're talking less then a five minute walk from the house and this is with the boy.

The kids stood there and looked in awe and I swear you could picture the heavens opening up and the light of Dog shining on their faces and the singing of angels.

Glory Glory Indeed.

And it was good.

And everybody we talked to over the next couple of days received the boy's sermon on the subject of the new ice cream place in the neighbourhood.

My folks came down to give me a hand for a few days and the other day I came home to find my daughter skipping rope in our living room (this was the day before she had six Freezies for lunch) and when I came in she ran over and said that Grandpa took them to the park and then they went for ice cream and she had mint chocolate and I said wow, that's great, and I asked the boy what he had and he turned and I told him not to bother telling me because it was quite clear that he had had cotton candy.

And you should have seen him before the woman at the shop cleaned him off, my dad said.

Glory.

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Watching the third round and it looks like these series may be quick to go, especially now that the Wings have stormed back to tie the Hawks. Great hockey in both series although the Hawks and Canes are on the edge. The Malkin performance yesterday was one for the ages.

I'm really enjoying it but its a little depressing because facts are facts and the Oilers have a ways to go before they get anywhere near these clubs.

Here is what has to be done in Edmonton.

1/ They have to hire a very good coach. I have to admit I love the idea of Scott Arniel without knowing whether or not he would be any good. I would prefer Mike Babcock or Joel Quenneville or Ken Hitchcock or Andy Murray but they're not going anywhere. I definitely don't want Crawford or Quinn or Constantine or the newly available Keenan. I think they are poor fits or past their due dates. So its Arniel or the idea of Arniel but Tambellini has to make a good choice here. Too many kids who need teaching and this team needs structure and someone who has a clue about the power play among other things. The good news is this is something that is within the realm of possibility.

2/ They have to get their farm system figured out. Springfield was a joke and I think that fact, besides having the very obvious impact on player development this season, also was a symptom of where this organization is. Any team can have a bad year because of injuries, poor luck, shit just not working out but when the drift is from top to bottom then you know something is rotting and has to change. The Oilers need to become more professional as an organization and they need to get a development program in place. This half assed shit does not cut it. The good news, once again, is that this can be done.

3/ Of course the most important thing is the makeup of the team and unfortunately this is also the most difficult task facing management. The Oilers are already nearly right against the cap and they don't even have a starting goalie under contract. The players they would want to move will bring them fifty cents on the dollar or less. They don't have a wave of lottery picks coming in like Chicago or Pittsburgh benefitted from. They don't have a whole bunch of kids bubbling up from the farm who could step in, even in support roles, like Detroit does.

They need to move contracts in order to give themselves more financial flexibility. They need to bring in value contracts like they had in 2006, like they had in Jan Hejda and Curtis Glencross, guys who will outperform their contracts.

Oiler fans talk about getting value for guys like Nilsson and Pouliot and Schremp and Staios and Penner; they hope that they can package some of the depth guys or failed prospects on a team that was out of the running and bring back serious quality the other way.

This idea isn't exclusive to Edmonton. If I had a nickel for every time 'Tony from Woodbridge" told Bob McCown that the Leafs should trade a couple of marginal NHLers like Rob Pearson and Drake Berehowsky for Joe Sakic I'd be able to fly every person reading this to Toronto and take them out for ice cream.

The truth is Steve Tambellini is going to get nothing for the aforementioned - Steve Staios and Penner might bring picks the other way. If he wants to make something happen then he's going to have to move Cogliano or Gilbert or Hemsky or Grebeshkov .

What do I think about that? Well I don't think the Red Wings would make those moves, myself, lets put it that way. This team is okay. Bringing in a shooter at the cost of Tom Gilbert and Andrew Cogliano is going to give them a shooter and leave them short two young players who will likely have long careers as NHL players.

LT always talks about working on a building. Thats exactly what Steve Tambellini has to do, put it together piece by piece. Start with the coach and the farm. Get the finances in order so that they can keep their good kids and bid on free agents. Keep the good young kids. Fill in some holes with cheap veteran options. If you can find a guy who can play in the top six for relatively cheap then do it.

You aren't moving Schremp, Pouliot and Nilsson for Frolov.

Ice cream parlours fall from the sky only once in your lifetime.

Monday, May 18, 2009

I Kid You Not


Recently LT had a nice look at the Detroit model, a post that was based on this article from the Detroit News. I wrote a post about the Wings somewhere back last year I believe in which I looked at the run the Wings have been on since the early nineties.

The Wings were a powerhouse club in the fifties and they were pretty solid in the sixties but they were positively brutal for twenty five years after 1966, a period in which they had four seasons over .500 including a stretch of seventeen years with only two playoff spots. This changed in the early eighties but only because they were in the old Norris - Chicago, Toronto, Minnesota and St. Louis were the other clubs in that sad sack formation. We once went to the old Morrissey, a dive bar here in Toronto that was a favourite haunt in university, during the playoffs. It was the first round, the Blues and the Leafs, if I recall, and as we sat down we agreed that everyone would have to drink any time there was a shot on net. After about fifteen minutes we were getting pretty dry and so we amended the rules so that we could drink everytime someone touched the puck.

Still didn't get much drinking in.

One year the Wings got into the playoffs with twenty seven wins. That was pretty standard in the old Norris.

Starting in 91/92 the Wings have posted three season with winning percentages below .600. Those years they finished with 93, 94 and 100 points (all before the SO by the way) and actually won the Cup the year they had 94 points.

They have won five pennants and four Cups and they actually had a year where they had a winning % of .798 - they lost in the Conference final to the Avs that year. (Their second highest winning % was the year the Oilers beat them, btw.)

And I would say that they are going to do it again this season.

Seventeen years at the top of the league. Not a six team league. Not a twelve team league. A league that has ranged from twenty two to thirty teams.

Seventeen years as a contender.

No team in any sport has ever had a run like this. There were the Habs and the Celtics and the Yankees and the Bears and I'm not discounting what those clubs did but I would say that we are witnessing the greatest run in sports history right now. You would say and you would be right that, for example, the Oilers won more Cups in seven years than the Wings have in this stretch, and success is measured first and foremost by the championships that you win.

But if the idea is to be in the mix every year, to have a shot at it, then you have to bow to the men from Motor City.

And so much of it is a cycle. The Wings bring the kids along slowly, which is absolutely the right thing to do, because they can. They don't have to rush Helm or Ericsson in, just as they didn't rush Datsyuk or Zetterberg in. They can sign their guys to longterm reasonable contracts because these guys can look back seventeen years and know that every year this club has a shot at the Cup. Why wouldn't you sign there? And so they can sign guys like Hossa for the same reason.

And they can afford to spend less money on goaltending because of the team they have assembled.

And of course it does not hurt to have Lidstrom. He is the one constant. He joined this club the first year of this magnificent run and as a twenty one year old he had sixty points and was a plus 36.

When he goes (when will he go anyways?!) then the Wings will finally be put to the test. But based on the drafting and development that is the hallmark of this franchise I have a feeling that they will be fine.

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Nine and three so far, here we go with the conference finals.

Wings in six over the Hawks, maybe less. The Hawks are terrific but the story is always the same when it comes to the Wings - they are too deep, especially up front, probably the only team in the league deeper then the Hawks. Consider that Datsyuk and Hossa and Holmstrom have done little offensively (although Datsyuk dominates every time he is on the ice) and yet they keep rolling. And then there is Zetterberg of course. And Cleary and Samuelsson and Helm and little Hudler and Filpulla and every single one of them is hard on the puck and responsible defensively and the only time they ever looked in trouble was when Getzlaf's line got on the ice. I don't see a line like that on the Hawks or anywhere else for that matter.

Another trip to the finals for the Wings. A learning experience for a Chicago team whose time may come soon but not this year.

In the East I'll go with the Pens but I have to say that I admire the Canes. I can't believe I just said that. But Jim Rutherford has a team which has a chance to go to the Finals for the third time this decade (if the Wings make it it will be their third trip, nobody else has more then two). He has retooled them not once but twice and they have one Cup (sob!) to show for it of course. A lot of terrific players, many that have flown under the radar. Whitney of course and Matt Cullen and Seidenberg and Corvo and Wallin and the list goes on and on. Unlike Edmonton where successful careers tend to come to die until the players get moved along, players become Hurricanes and get their shit together once again (Whitney, Cullen, Cory Stillman, Samsonov, Jokinen). None moreso then old friends Erik Cole and Joni Pitkanen, who couldn't cut it with the Oilers, remember? Now Cole had a rough time this season and sometimes things just don't work out but remember how Pitkanen was painted as a guy who just wasn't cut out to be an Oiler?

Check out that no panic crossice pass to Jokinen to tie the seventh game against the Devils with minutes left? Or the massive amount of icetime he logs for the Canes, usually facing the toughs?

We took it on faith that he wasn't cut out for it, remember? That's what MacT said. That he wasn't buying into it, Pitkanen that is.

This is starting to piss me off a little, truth be told.

Anyways I would never ever count the Canes out but I think the Pens are the better team and they have Crosby and Malkin to boot.

Pens in six to force the rematch.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Got To Laugh To Prevent Yourself From Crying

I have a very good friend who is up on music. Whenever I'm in his car or at his house he's got something on that I have never heard before. Its almost always something terrific.

I dig good music but its down the charts in terms of what I devote my time and interest to. There are only so many hours in the day and most of those are devoted to the greatest priority, family, and the biggest obligation, work. Then there's hockey, both playing and watching, socializing, food and drink, reading books and writing this blog as well as travelling (which happens rarely but still ....).

Music is like movies or sports other then hockey for me. I used to know every single movie that came out. I used to watch ten hours of football every Sunday and baseball and basketball whenever I could. Now I only have so many hours in the day and so things have slipped away. Letting go of the NFL and MLB and the NBA was pretty easy. I still manage to keep up on movies alright. Music is in NFL territory.

I haven't bought a CD by a band other then the Hip or U2 or Neil Young in fifteen years and when I go on You Tube its straight to the 80s and early 90s for me. I was a big fan of Pearl Jam and any regular visitors here know I'm into all of those 80s bands, one hit wonders or not. But my true musical love is the wave of Canadian bands that emerged when I was in university. I think for many folks that is normal, the music of your life is the music of your youth. My old man's favourites still harken back to what he listened to in his twenties - Buddy Holly and Hank Williams and John Cash. So it is with me - I still have a whack of CDs and albums (yes I own vinyl) from the 60s and 70s but other then the lads from Dublin and Neil Young nearly all of my favourite music is late 80s Canadian shit - The Hip, of course, Blue Rodeo, 54-40, The Northern Pikes, The Skydiggers, the list goes on and on. And of course your man Moe Berg and The Pursuit of Happiness. Moe was probably my first brush with fame - I used to see him wandering about the Annex the odd time, tall and skinny, all long hair, glasses and leather jacket. Nervous looking.

Loved the little guitarist Kris Abbott (she does children's songs now). Loved the humour and the twisted lyrics and the harmonies. Loved the guitars and the hair and the enthusiasm.

The Pursuit of Happiness.

Of course some might say that my musical tastes and the Oilers' gameplan are one and the same. Its all eighties all the time. But that would be a horrible piece of cynicism now, wouldn't it.

--------------------------------------

Down to four teams now and I hope to post my picks tomorrow night. For the record though I'm thinking we're looking at a rematch of last year's final and probably the same result, to be honest. A ways to go towards that though.

A terrific second round, the best that I can remember, and some truths are out. Parity is here, more than ever. Any of the eight clubs might have advanced easily and throw in the fact that Calgary might have beaten Chicago if they were healthy, San Jose was the top team in the regular season, the Rangers pushed the Caps to seven and the Devils had their series in hand with minutes left and we can see that we're getting to the point where any club that makes the playoff has a shot at the Cup.

Tom Benjamin has been doing his usual terrific work this spring and he made a point the other day which I fully agree with. The Canucks' loss has a lot of people in a tizzy and has some folks calling for a teardown of the Vancouver roster. This is what Tom said before Game 6 in response to that crowd:

I think the blow it up crowd is crazy. Under this CBA I don’t think it ever pays. And that crowd won’t like the years in the wilderness, either. Most of the time you lose for four years and end up where the Blues are. Even if you really suck for a few years, just about the time you get good you have to start shedding talent.
The objective is to be above average every year. To be competitive. To be able to put it together for a run. Its unreasonable to expect more. This team has achieved this goal. Its a good team.


Tom is right and of course the tear it down crowd does not recognize the most pertinent fact. In the Canucks' series and in all of the other series the result might have been entirely different if a bounce had gone the other way. Washington, like San Jose three seasons ago, was in OT with a chance to go up three - nil in the series. They score the goal and they are through. Instead, just like Horcoff did in 2006, the Pens scored and garnered another chance. Boston and Carolina went to OT in game seven, the ultimate coin toss. The Ducks had their shot. There was a sequence early in the game where the puck bounced about in the Wings' crease and just missed ended up on a Ducks' stick. And of course Cleary's goal with minutes left spared the Wings their own flip of the coin.

As for the Canucks, if Willie Mitchell reverses the puck near the end of game four or flips it high into the neutral zone or just blasts it down the ice then Havlat may not get that lucky bounce out of the crowd and the chance that he buried. Mitchell being Mitchell he put it off the boards even though there was a mass of bodies there - if he does not then the Canucks probably have three chances to finish the Hawks and its likely they do the job, imo.

Instead Mitchell did what he did and then Havlat did what he did and now Canucks' fans would tear it to pieces, a team a break away from going to the semifinals.

Hey, as an Oilers' fan if Gillis decides to blow it up I'll heartily endorse the plan but considering how close the Canucks came it smacks of foolishness to me. There is some serious quality on that club, a nice mix of veterans and youth and expiring contracts to give them cap space. I don't see how destroying a pretty good club gets you anywhere.

Its a weird all or nothing mentality.

All four second round losers are in good shape and have the pieces in place for the next couple of years at least. Tearing down a solid foundation makes no sense at all and once its been done you can find yourself thrashing madly about, trying to turn it around, finding that the ground is giving way beneath you.

Just ask the Oilers and their fans.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Geddy Up Stevo!


The first golden days for me that I remember were around the ages of ten to twelve. There were six of us who hung out and out of this half dozen there were four of us who were really close. Hung out at school, at recess, after school, whenever we could. We were kids – most of our time was spent playing hockey in some form or another – and conversation generally revolved around the rink, the Habs and cartoons. We were all the oldest in our families with two exceptions. One guy had a brother just a couple of years older then us as well as two older sisters but it was Doug Catton whose family brought new realities to us. He had a younger brother and an older sister but most exotic of all was a brother who was five or six years older then us. He worked at the A&P. He had a car. He smoked. We’d wander fearfully into their basement where he hung out, dark and stale and hung with 70s posters and black velvet and he introduced us to Kiss and Zeppelin and Sabbath. Having grown up in a house where Hank Williams and John Cash vied with Englebert Humperdinck and Tom Jones for supremacy you might as well have been playing Mongolian folk music for me, it was that new to me. Actually the Mongolian shit would have been more familiar likely.

That was the beginning of the end of innocence that comes to everyone. Now for years afterwards the shit just bubbled slightly under, manifesting itself in theft of friends’ fathers’ porn and incresing surliness but by the time junior high rolled around we were at the mall on Friday nights walking back and forth back and forth looking for girls. The late seventies were before the beef hormone injected aided puberties of today, most of the girls we knew at twelve were as flat chested and scrawny as we were. But for the few early bloomers, well they were blessed or cursed, depending on their point of view, with the ravenous attention of all of their male schoolmates.

For the most part their response was to wear the tightest possible jeans possible (Hooray for 1979 fashion), so tight that, well, long before I heard the term, I knew what cameltoe was and actually thought that this was a standard look.

Sudbury girls in 1979 were classy!

Of course with the exception of those few tight jeaned, heavily made up, feathered haired girls with boobs who we longed to play grab ass with (actually one of my fondest memories and the first time I touched a girl was behind the shopping mall one Sunday afternoon – I know this because it was deserted completely, closed I mean – she was twice my height but of course even then I was amazingly wiry) most of the girls we knew were either totally runty or completely awkward and goofy. I remember years later being at some sort of beerfest by the lake and bumping into my female doppleganger from Grade Six. She had been a little curly haired goody two shoes just like me, well moreso really, and here she was, blue bikini, brown skin, beautiful eyes, drinking cold beer in the summer sun. We shot the shit for a while and if I’d had the guts I would have asked her out but part of me thought it would be like dating my twin. Weird. Too close I guess. Man oh man.

There was another girl in grade school. She was gawky and goofy and brash and man, she never did shut up. She drove all of the guys crazy but because she was a talker, not because Beduoins suddenly appeared, lonely and confused, when she strutted by Le Chateau.

I saw her now and then over our years in high school and then strangely enough I began to see her more frequently after we went away in university. She was a semi regular at our summer haunts and she went to the same school as my best friend (one of the guys from back in the day, we remain best friends to this day, all the way since Grade One) so I'd see her when I wander up the 401 to party.

A terrific girl, she had a wicked cutting sense of humour and would call bullshit in a second. All intelligence and personality and she could drink with the best of them and she looked just like Geddy Lee, poor girl. That was her nickname.

Geddy.
----------------

Watching the playoffs and I was reminded of Geddy Lee and his band, what a great band they are. Back in the day Canadian music was pretty iffy for the most part. There was some decent shit in the seventies but the early eighties was a bit of a wasteland and Rush was one of the few bands that stood above it all before things really began to take off (imo anyways) with the emergence of the Hip, Blue Rodeo and the terrific and varied scene that followed.

Rush may not be your cup of tea but they’re quality whether you dig them or not. Sort of like a lot of the clubs still standing. Watched the Chicago Vancouver game last night and it came to me very very quickly that the Oilers have a long long road to hoe before they get to where they need to be. Chicago, like the Oilers 2006 club, actually moreso, is loaded with value contracts. From the kid snipers Kane and Toews to the shutdown pair on the backend, Keith and Seabrook, up and down the lineup they are running with cheap young talent. Its not going to last forever of course, they have a ton of guys who are going to be getting paid soon but these guys are going to have earned it. Barker and Walker and the Finn and Ladd and Bolland out here protecting the lead at the end of the game, the kid Versteeg, the giant Bummuffin, Ben Eager and Patrick Sharp, one of the first to get paid.

Four big contracts – the two goalies, Havlat and Campbell and the only one they may regret down the road is the Campbell deal. Guy is a good player but likely their fourth best defenceman right now, by my eye. As for the others Havlat and Khabibulin were injured and indifferent respectively for most of their contracts but they’re paying off in spades now.

Quality.

A lesson for Tambellini as he tries to fix the goddamn mess his predecessor left him. Lowe should have known better then any with that 2006 club, loaded with quality cheap homegrown talent, guys that could play the toughs, but somewhere he lost his way. Even the guys who he picked up on the cheap, Glencross and Hejda, the guys who were unwanted, the guys who would blossom, the guys you need to build a team around, these hidden gems, he managed to let them walk.

Combine that with a farm club which is a laughing stock and you have a club that’s taken steps back again.

Don’t get me wrong. Kane and Toews were elite prospects and top picks and it takes luck to hit a home run like that when you pick fifteenth every year. But you don't help yourself when you leave prospects to wither on the vine.

But I look at the Hawks and the Wings and I suspect if you were to comb through the rosters of the remaining clubs out there and you’re going to see a lot of smart bets I suspect in terms of draft picks, trades and free agent signings. Oiler fans want Tambellini to steal guys like Steckel and Dubinsky and the reality is unless Doug MacLean gets a job soon teams aren't likely going to give up good cheap talent unless you're sending terrific value back. Robert Nilsson isn't going to get it done. Naw he's going to have to beat the bushes and figure out who had off years and who'll bounce back and go from there.
If you’re an NHL general manager these days you better be able to look past the girl in the food court with the boobs and the form fitting Jordache jeans. She’s going to be pregnant before she gets out of high school and then where the hell will you be?

Better to figure out the ones who are going to pay off in the long run, even if they do look like Geddy Lee.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Boy Lies


The boy has learned the fine art of deception from his older sister, the diva, who comes by it naturally as she is essentially a small female version of me.

When my oldest daughter was the boy's age (3 1/2) she had her first bike but the boy cannot be trusted and so we're in a holding pattern here. When I say he cannot be trusted I don't mean with the car or being left at home over the weekend alone with my beer and my porn or with your daughter although I am sure that day will come soon enough (say when he is five?).

I mean he can't be trusted not to stay on the sidewalk. He's a smart little guy and he is very good ninety nine percent of the time but yesterday while in a store on Queen Street he dropped a superball which bounced out the door and into the street and he went right out after it, my wife grabbing him just as he was about to step into traffic.

He's a bullheaded little bugger, which is good, imo, although it causes me a million problems and we butt heads constantly. He stands up for himself and like his old man he marches to his own drummer and its probably going to work out for him.

But he makes me mental. I'll send him up to get changed for bed (it takes his sister a minute and it takes him a minute when he cares to care) and forty minutes later he'll toddle down the stairs in his housecoat. But first he'll play for ten minutes and then if I yell at him he'll wander into the bathroom and take a shit for half an hour (seriously) and if I get on his case he folds himself up on the floor and ignores me.

Jesus Murphy get dressed for bed!

I'm a backhoe. I have to dig a hole. Backhoes don't wear pajamas.

The other day he gets on his trike and pedals away down the sidewalk. After a minute I call for him to stop. He keeps going. Again I call. He ignores me. Now he is getting near the end of the street and I chase after him.

Did you hear me calling you?

Yes.

You did! Why didn't you stop?

Oh. I didn't hear you calling me.

What?! You just said that you did.

I didn't.

Me (in head) - Goddamnit I'm in trouble, he knows all my tricks, he's smarter then me and he has youth on his side.

Him (in head) - Goddamnit he's in trouble, I know all of his tricks, I'm smarter then him and I have youth on my side.

Maybe so but for now he's not getting his two wheeler.

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Tom Benjamin talks about the whole Coyotes fiasco (and of course as usual James has terrific coverage) and while he thinks that at the end of the day there will still be a team in Arizona he, like me, is enjoying watching Bettman squirm.

I don't know how it will play out myself but I am beginning to think that its coming on end days for Mr. Bettman and really its not a moment too soon. Bettman's tenure has been disastrous and while the NHL has always been the most poorly run of the major leagues under Bettman it has reached new lows. Ten years ago the NHL had a major presence on ESPN - I lived in Florida and could usually catch a game or two a night if I so chose - now they are relegated to a station that barely anyone watches. There are too many teams and too many teams in markets where hockey is an afterthought. Even the victories Bettman can claim are reversals of declines under his watch - the opening up of the game after years of clutching and grabbing destroyed its beauty - or bittersweet at best - the levelling of the playing field with the salary cap at the cost of two work stoppages.

Of course the thing that makes me crazy about Bettman most of all is his insistence on always spinning things as a complete positive. Nothing wrong with the game. Nothing wrong with attendance. Versus is a better opportunity then ESPN. Franchises in the southern states are strong. Phoenix is in excellent shape. Etc etc etc. He is like the parent of one of those failed contestants on those Idol shows, you know the ones who figure they're the next Gord Downie (hooray for Gord Downie!) but actually sound like a raccoon trapped by the big fellow. Its happened and its not a pleasant aural experience.

Anyways they sound terrible and the parent stands by them and says they are amazing and you just know that one day they're going to wake up and realize that mom and dad have been feeding them a load of shit in the name of self esteem since the day they were born and the reality is that they are not just unlucky in school, sports and love. They are actually dumb spazzes who have a completely warped sense of self and are totally and completely unloveable. And then the fur flies. Or maybe not. But anyways the parents are liars and its unforgiveable.

While Bettman spins the Gooseberry man as the villain he conveniently forgets that Balsillie played by the rules once, in Pittsburgh, and it was Petit Gary who introduced caveats at the eleventh hour. Why would Balsillie play fair now when the one time he did he was undercut at the last minute?

And so once again the NHL looks stupid, as they invariably do, and one wonders at what point the owners look at this situation and wonder why they are propping up losing propositions everywhere they look. The NHL has been trying to hit the home run in the US for over forty years now and its not happening. Time to cut their losses.

And Little Gary with them.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Secret Spy


The boy has taken to wandering down for dinner in his housecoat, belt tied snugly, hood up, shading his eyes. He sits at the table and begins to pull out of his pockets numerous objects, placing them beside his supper, which he has taken to ignoring these days. He takes out a little rubber dolphin. He takes out a hard plastic white turtle that lights up when you press its shell. He takes out a worm ball. The worm ball is full of little plastic earthworms and is a pattern of blue and clear squares. Lastly he takes out between one to a half dozen dinky cars.

He's a Secret Spy and every night he has a mission. These are the tools of his trade.

The dolphin is to sniff things out.

The turtle is to see because all of his missions are at night.

The car or cars are for him to drive fast.

The wormball (and here he holds it out so the worms bulge out into a clear pocket) is to SCARE YOU.

He's nothing if not prepared.

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Growing up a Chicago fan I really had very little to cheer for come the spring. For the first decade where I really began to watch hockey the Stanley Cup was won by the Flyers twice and then by the Habs and the Islanders four times each. I liked none of these teams and so I was reduced to cheering against them, and in a couple of cases when they played each other, cheering for a calamity like an earthquake to swallow the arena whole.

No such luck.

This changed when the Oilers came along. I loved the way they played and I loved the club and while I would not cheer for them to beat Chicago I could readily hope for them once the Hawks were knocked out, even when it was at the hands of the Gretzkys. And when at the beginning of the 90s the Oilers fell back it just so happened that this coincided with Chicago's rise under Mike Keenan. It was shortlived as Pulford slipped the knife into him but for a couple of years the Hawks were serious contenders. Once Keenan was gone the decline in Chicago started and of course we all knew what happened to the Oilers.

So I was reduced to cheering for ideas or individuals in May and June. When the Rangers won I cheered because of Steve Larmer and all of the ex Oilers and because of 1940.

I cheered for the Wings to end their drought and for Yzerman and Shanahan. I cheered for Sakic and Foote and Forberg, terrific players all, and for Nieuwendyk and Bourque and Belfour and Chelios - I was always happy to see ex Hawks lift the Cup or for the greats to do so as well.

And in recent years I have always found some small comfort in the ritual of raising the Cup. Brad Richards and Dave Andreychuk in 2004. Todd Marchant and Teemu Selanne in 2007. Dan Cleary last season.

But this spring has really captured my imagination. I look around and with the exception of the Ducks and the Canes (in the sixteen to twenty team Pat McLean NHL there are no teams other then Ottawa that have entered the league in any way after 1979 - I would be a merciless overlord) I would probably be reasonably cool with almost any squad winning this spring.

I respect the Wings and their quality and I would love to see Hossa win it.

The Bruins have turned it around for their long suffering fans and I like youngsters Kessel and Lucic not to mention Thomas and Chara, Bergeron and Ryder, as well as longtime favourite Andrew Ference.

The Caps play such a terrific style and with such enthusiasm that its difficult not to cheer them on.

The Pens have a terrific and interesting history and Crosby and Malkin carry on the tradition of Lemieux and Jagr. As well there are fine veterans like Bill Guerin and Hal Gill to hope for.

And here you can tell the difference between many Oiler fans and myself. With the Oilers out of it I can even find a small place in my heart to hope for the Canucks and their poor fans. A difficult team to like when they are skating against the Oilers their present incarnation is also one that is easy to respect. They play a hardnosed and aggressive style epitomized by guys like Willie Mitchell, Ryan Kesler and the veteran Ohlund. It would be nice if the Oilers could play with a little bit of that sand.

At the end of the day though I am hoping for the old team to do well. If Chicago wins the Cup it will be bittersweet for me because of what Bill Wirtz and Bob Pulford did to this franchise and its fans. I turned my back on them and I don't regret it.

But I attended a game at the old Stadium and I know the history of this storied (and starcrossed) franchise and the sports fans of Chicago have suffered through long droughts (and awful ownership) in nearly all of the major sports. If the young Hawks manage to do something that hasn't been done since Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull were in Toews and Kane's skates then I'll certainly raise a glass to them, regardless.

So lets go you Hawks. For old times sake.