Sunday, January 03, 2010

In This Country

The last day of the past year and the first couple days of this new one were spent in Sudbury.

I'm forty two now. I have lived in four different cities. I lived in Clearwater Florida for just under four years. I lived in Charlottetown for one year. I lived in Sudbury for eighteen years plus about a half dozen summers on top of that. So I have now spent the majority or all of nineteen years here in Toronto. And this will likely be the city where I spend the rest of my days.

Its weird. I will never consider myself a Torontonian I think, although my kids certainly are. Its like the old story they tell on PEI about the fellow whose family moved to the Island when he was a babe in arms. He grows up on the Island, goes to school there, marries an Island girl, raises a family there, works there his entire life, retires there and finally dies there. At his wake a neighbour remarks how he was such a terrific fellow for someone who was from away.

I have plenty of friends born and raised here although the majority of folks I know are like me, immigrants to this city. Like Florida it seems that the majority of people who live here are not actually from here and so you have varying sensibilities, which is a good things. Whether it be Thai, Ethiopian, Irish, Italian, Indian, Tunisian, Moroccan or Chinese, all restaurants and pubs within a fifteen minute walk of my house or Maritimer, French Canadian, Western Canadian or Northerner, all neighbours and friends of mine who live here, I think that what makes this city great is that its communities are made up of so many different voices.

Of course all of Canada is becoming like this more and more. In Charlottetown and in Sudbury and, I would guess, in communities across this country the faces and faiths and languages are many now, certainly not the same as when I was a boy. In my travels I was struck by how Dublin Ireland reflected the world, much more so than, say, Edinburgh, not on the scale of London, of course, but still, an interesting city that way. And Canadian cities are becoming more like Dublin in this way, I believe.

Anyhow, this is Toronto. Its a great city but, in my opinion, the least Canadian of cities, if that makes any sense. Its hard to explain, I guess New York would be comparable. I lived in the States and travelled about it quite a bit and I would say that New York is, in many ways, an island. New Yorkers are Americans just as Torontonians are Canadians but there is something about them that is separate from the usual American experience. Based on my travels you would find the true America in Columbus or Clearwater, Raleigh or Houston. Of course all of these places are different but they are also far more similar to each other than New York is to any of them.

And so it is in Canada. Again this is not to say that Toronto is not Canadian, its just that so much of the Canadian experience is either not found here or just is part of a bigger picture. Talk to someone from Halifax or St. Johns or Edmonton or Fernie or Winnipeg or Saskatoon or Sudbury and chances are you're going to get experiences far more similar than those for someone from Queen and Bathurst.
Some of it is simple geography. We have a bit of a storm here today but winters in Toronto, once pretty hairy (I remember every winter in my first stint here, from eighty six to ninety six being both cold and snowy), are now absolutely mild. Last year I don't know if we had a really cold day. Two winters ago we had absolutely madness in terms of storms starting in November. By Christmas we had been dumped on a half dozen times, nice ones too, fifteen to twenty centimetres or more. And on Christmas Eve there wasn't a bit of snow on the ground, all of it melted away. Three years ago, I counted three cold days.

You get the picture. Now picture this.

New Year's Eve we're at the Sudbury Curling Club. Every small Canadian town has an arena, a curling club and a war memorial in my experience.

My folks, my uncle and aunt from Timmins, my wife and I. My wife and I curled six ends with my Dad, my Mom banging on the glass and miming instructions (I kid you not), my aunt taking pictures, my uncle smirking into his rye and water. Afterwards we sat and talked and ate and drank while the hockey game played in the background. As the game ramped up so did our interest and my aunt talked about the tournament (under 17s?) being held in Timmins. She and my mom were the most enthusiastic in their cheering while my uncle grumbled about deciding a hockey game with a shootout and my Dad and I discussed your man Jordan Eberle.

After the game ended dinner was served - porketta and lasagna, cabbage rolls and meatballs.


We rang in the new year and then drove home through the snow, which had been falling steadily all day.

The next day at about noon the temperature began to drop and when we woke up on the 2nd it was twenty five below, thirty seven below with the wind.

Last year we never saw twenty five below with the wind.

It was cold.

My Dad and his brother grew up in Franz and they have both lived all of their lives in Northern Ontario. My Dad spent one winter in Uranium City in northern Saskatchewan and describes it as being so cold that your face would freeze if it were exposed for more than a minute. My uncle was a bush pilot in Moose Factory for six years (all three of my cousins were born there) and those years and many more flying supplies into the Arctic have left him with brutal arthritis.

They know your Canadian winters, these fellows.

So my uncle snickered when the wind chill was mentioned (that wind chill is just a bunch of bullshit, how cold is it? never mind the wind chill) and when my Dad asked me if they could plug our new van in I had to admit that I had no idea. We've never had to and besides we don't even have a driveway.

So the two oldtimers pulled on their caps (!) and wandered out to take a look, my uncle remarking that it being a newer vehicle and it not really being that cold, there should be no problem. He was right, it started up first try and we headed back down the 400, through rock cuts with water frozen in sheets and torrents on their faces, past silent snow covered pine and spruce forests, lakes and creeks icecovered, still. Arrived back here in the big city and after we had the kids in bed I headed out to the arena for a game, followed by a couple of beers. Today Canada's victory over the Swiss. Tomorrow night out to the neighbourhood rink to help with the flooding.

A good New Year's, reminders of where I am from and how I grew up and then, back here, more of the same.


Was out of the loop over the holidays. I was off for pretty well all of it and devoted most of the time to hanging out with the family, staying away from the computer as much as possible. Forgot that the Oilers were playing the Leafs until I stumbled upon the game up at my folks' place and totally forgot about the game against the Flames the next night until I read yesterday that JDD had had a terrific game that night. PVR'd the game last night but saw the third period when we had our post game pints and saw enough in that to hit delete when I got home. Joe Thornton said it all, we got up two and knew then that it was our game to lose.

Yep its that bad.

The problem that the organization has is twofold. They have so few players with any value right now that its unlikely that they can move many and get equal value for them. Guys like Grebeshkov, Gilbert, O'Sullivan and Cogliano aren't likely to bring in any impact guys now. One guy who would have likely brought a nice return, even with his big contract, Sheldon Souray, is also having an off year.

And the guys who they would probably like to move - Staios, Moreau, O'Sullivan, Nilsson - all have contracts that don't expire until next season, a season where the cap will likely either drop or remain stagnant.

So unless Katz is willing to eat some contracts or Tambellini can work some magic what we see is what we might get next year as well.

I'm still of the mind that this thing can be fixed sooner rather than later. Jonathan Willis has a nice look at some of the work that Maloney did in Phoenix last summer to fill holes, picking up cheap veterans to address problems like penalty killing, faceoffs and lack of experience on the roster. The concept is riveting - pick up good solid cheap NHL veterans to fill the holes aorund your young talent. Amazing!

I haven't any confidence that Tambellini will do that next summer even if the clears the cap space. I am sure that Stone will go to the Flames like Glencross did while the Oilers try and sign Kovalchuk or offer the store to the Leafs for Jason Blake; in the end they will sign Brule and Oli Jokinen to lifetime deals, losing Gagner to an offer sheet and trading Hemsky to get under the cap. ;)

Its apparent that Eberle and MPS are legitimate quality prospects and I would guess that they may have stolen a couple others in guys like Lander and Hartkinen. And this club is probably going to be battling Carolina for last overall. My guess - the Oilers 'win', which means that they will have their pick of the talent at the draft next summer.

The question is whether or not management, the same management that has butchered the franchise these past four seasons, can get this club back on its feet sooner rather than later.

I would guess that the answer to that question is no but here's hoping that I am wrong.


Darren said...

Glad to have the optimist back! :)

Scott Reynolds said...

Hope you enjoyed your Christmas and time with family. I know that I sure did despite (because of?) spending less time in front of a computer screen.

The Oilers? They're in deep I think. I agree with you about the Phoenix thing but I don't think it's as simple as bringing in a few vets to fill roles. Not many people saw the Yotes as a good team before the year. I know that I didn't. Why? Because there are other teams who bring in the cheap vets and still suck. The Panthers brought in Reinprecht, Moore, Seidenberg and Leopold to patch some holes. But they're awful. Sometimes a few good hands just ain't enough.

Black Dog said...

Scott - agreed (sorry Darren, maybe still not that optimistic?), I think its a moot point anyhow because of the contract situation. My guess is that they are screwed until next season's end when a bunch comes off the books and then of course Penner and Hemsky will be a year away from UFA and will need convincing to stay with a loser franchise

The first thing they need to do is add some vets and I don't think they will be able to add them, good or bad

Halfwise said...

Funny -- although I live in Edmonton, tonight I am sitting in a hotel in Sudbury, having just driven UP hwy 400 from Tronna. Feeling a bit grumpy because the Wolves won't be playing before I leave. Am here doing some consulting for a few days.

Everyone on the Oilers from last year who is not injured appears to be playing below his potential right now. Perhaps Mr. Quinn's acerbic comments are not motivating the troops to the same degree that those comments entertain the general public. We heard two years ago about how disconnected MacT was from the younger generation of hockey players; perhaps we will begin to hear soon about how PQ has "lost the room" or some such BS.

Memo to "the room": if you did even 2/3 of what PQ tells us he has told you, you would not be in last place.

Memo to the captain: lead from the ice and the big bench with all the guys on it, not from the little bench beside the timekeeper where you sit by yourself for less than 2 minutes at a time.

Memo to Management: for gawdsake don't panic. We have had one too many Pronger-for-not-enough-because-you-panicked trades.

Memo to fans: do not scream for a quick fix. Insist on a long term fix, using the assets we have and growing the newbies. Keep asking where the plan is, and comment on the plan if you happen to see one.

doritogrande said...

So you left the dog in charge of the kids then? ;)

You want to talk about wind chill? Try driving the TransCanada between Medicine Hat and Swift Current. Coming back from the yearly pilgrimmage to the Rockies, we're caught in a scary as fuck blizzard that forced us (my uncle, a seasoned veteran at this sort of thing at the wheel) onto the shoulder, stopped for about ten minutes before we decided to try and make the best of a bad scenario.

Have you ever done 20kph on the TransCanada in a blizzard? It fucking sucks. What usually takes us about 2.5 hours (the drive from Medicine Hat to Swift Current) took us close to 5, with the three of us in the 4x4 pickup all watching to ensure we're;

a) still on the road
b) not going to get hit by some dumbass passing us
c) not about to hit the white car in front of us

It gets worse. The other family we've gone out with skies one final day and has to hit the exact same storm at about 9PM that night. The daughter in the car sends me a message the next day that they had to pull over on the same stretch, not only because the wind is howling at about 90kph, but also because their snowboards have blown off their roof rack and have to be recovered from the nearby ditch.

Something tells me that windchill would be a tad colder than your -37. You should really try the prairies out Pat. I think you'd love it.

Black Dog said...

Halfwise - too bad the Wolves aren't playing, lots of fun

As for the Oilers the one good thing about them being this bad is that Tambellini has no earthly reason to go about moving youngsters for quick fixes.

DG - great story. I have no doubt about the insanity of Prairie winters. My Dad spent one winter in northern Saskatchewan, the rest in northern Ontario. He has driven through whiteouts in the Muskokas and where he grew up -40 was the norm for months.

He still talks about Uranium City and how cold it was.

Having said that in terms of sheer mayhem nothing beats a Maritime/Newfoundland winter.

Completely off the charts. Noy for the cold but just for the complete insanity of the storms

Baroque said...

Interesting thoughts about Toronto.

The US is the same way; west coast, east coast, and then what so many call "flyover country" despite the fact that is has wonderful cities such as Chicago as well as wonderful scenery.

My mom thinks that kind of skewed outlook leads to lousy political decisions because the elected leaders lose touch with what actual people need (except for their loudest and wealthiest constituents). Therefore, she thinks the US capital should be moved to the middle of Nabraska. :)