Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Fear And Loathing

I really don't expect the Chicago Blackhawks to win the Stanley Cup and until I see Jonathan Toews take the Cup from the worm Bettman and raise it over his head then I will await the inevitable crushing defeat. They may be up two games to nil and that may be a lead that has been cashed ninety five percent of the time or whatever the stat is but the Hawks aren't winning.

My story and I am sticking to it.

In Fever Pitch, which I have referenced a number of times here, Hornby describes being a fan as an excruciating experience for the most part. In the era that he was writing about his club Arsenal was pretty mediocre. They never won anything, they were boring and their defeats were absolutely spectacular so one could forgive him for being a wee bit negative. I wonder now what he would write after a fairly successful stretch for the Gunners this last while (if not these past couple of years).

For many fans though Hornby's description of being a fan rings true. While you hope for the best you are expecting the worst and when it comes you are not surprised except for how the dreaded collapse comes.

Oilers' fans these days only need to look back to game one of the Finals four years ago. The Oilers up by three, running the Canes out of their rink. And then suddenly a goal to bring Carolina within two. The third period begins and Roloson lets a stoppable shot in and then its tied and suddenly Carolina is actually ahead. Hemsky's brilliant rush ties it but what is to come is even crueller. Roloson knocked out of the game (and the series it would turn out) and then, with overtime looming, the Conklin gaffe and the puck deposited into an open net.

It was truly awful. My wife was getting ready for bed and she came downstairs just as the game ended. I was pale and hollow eyed and she thought someone had died by the look on my face.

Funny thing is though is that even after that I didn't think that the end was inevitable. When Staios was in the box in OT in game five I didn't feel that that was it and even as game seven wound down I still thought they might pull it out (though not that strongly ;) )

I think that Hornby's theory depends on two things. One is the type of person that you are. If you are a pessimist then you will expect the worst. If you are a realist or an optimist then you are going to know that sometimes the better team loses and sometimes the weaker team wins and sometimes just plain old shit happens like your starting goalie getting run over and knocked out of the final before it has barely begun. So while you may worry its not a fatalistic expectation that things are not going to end well.

The one thing that knocks all that to hell though is history.

If you were a Habs' fan in the seventies or an Islanders' fan in the early eighties or an Oilers' fan after that first Cup then you expected to win, not only expected it but knew it was inevitable.

You knew the Habs would always beat the Bruins and that the Rangers would fall to the Isles and that Gretzky and company would run everyone out of the rink and the only times this did not happen were because of self inflicted wounds (Steve Smith in 86, Gretzky traded before 89).

The Yankees and the Lakers and the Celtics and the Spurs and Manchester United and the Canadian World Junior clubs win. they just do and if you're a fan of them or even if you're not you know that Wigan are not going to hold that lead against Man U and some kid from Alberta or Manitoba is going to stick a knife into the Russians and Andy Petitte is going to even the series in game two and poor Steve Nash doesn't have the teammates to get past Kobe or Tim Duncan.

The flip side of all of that is what losing engenders.

I remember watching the Blue Jays in the eighties and early nineties and until Roberto Alomar homered off of Eckersley in '92 my expectation was that they would always find a way to lose. They had blown it it 1985 and they had collapsed in 1987 and on top of everything when they were knocked down they never seemed to be able to get back up. After the Alomar homer I felt the exact opposite, at least for a couple of years, even though Henke coughed up the lead in the clincher in '92 and there were other pratfalls, it did not matter. They would find a way.

I am not a Red Sox fan but even when they were up three nothing in the Series a few years back and winning game four I did not believe that they were going to actually win until the twenty seventh out had been recorded. (Having watched the epic collapse in 1986 game six at the Cameron on Queen Street you would know why I felt that way). Same with the White Sox the following season. When a team loses every year forever you just take it for granted that it will never end. So both of those teams were up three games to none and leading the fourth game and I just waited and waited for it all to come crashing down. Reason told me that they would win but it didn't matter and when that last out was recorded I still could scarcely believe it.

I remember reading a year or two before the White Sox won that the odds of both they and the Cubs not winning a title for as long as they had at the time were something like five thousand to one. Imagine.

Of course anyone who saw the Cubs cruising towards the Series when Steve Bartman caught that ball knows what I am talking about. People forget that all the Cubs had to do was get five outs after that and that they had a three nothing lead in the game. Instead they completely fell apart and then coughed up a lead in game seven the next night.

It wouldn't have mattered anyhow, they would have played the Yankees in the Series. We know how that would have turned out. ;)

So you will forgive me when I say that I won't believe the Hawks will win until I see it happen.

The funny thing is that I have watched both games and in each case I, well I knew that they might lose, but I had no sense of impending doom. I figured that they could hold that lead although last night was dicier than game one. Especially with Sopel out there holding the fort. Buddy was not very good when he was supposed to be good imo and now he's old and slow. Credit to him for reinventing himself though I guess. In any case within these games I have had no sense of foreboding at all.

You know what's funny? The only time I ever really really feel that way is when I watch the Canadian men's team play in a best on best tournament and that's only since 1996 and even then its all context. In 98 and 02 I waited for the roof to fall in but after Salt Lake City I was fine in 2004 and in 2006. Then after Torino I was a wreck again this February. I watched the game with two friends and their familiies and while our wives and kids were oblivious we three were absolute and complete wrecks even after it was two to nothing. We waited and waited and when Parise scored we all looked at each other because we had known all game that that was going to happen.

And when Crosby scored we leapt about like fools, hugging and laughing, and I know that next time around I will be okay. Silly, huh? But I know at that level that anything can happen and now that Canada is defending champions I can rest easy until we no longer are anymore. Then the dread of what is coming will begin again.


Two games in and much like any series between two very good teams the reality is that it could be tied or either team could be up two. Just as it was between Chicago and San Jose or San Jose and Detroit.

But Chicago's goaltending had been better and there have been stretches, most notably the last part of game one and the first part of game two where Philly didn't even get a single sniff. The Hawks may only trust five defencemen (Sopel? Sopel? Really?) but the Flyers only trust four and if the series does go for a while that favours the Hawks. They are just a little deeper back there and a little deeper up front too. Leino and Hartnell have been better than I expected but Carcillo and Asham and Giroux are all a little overmatched, imo. And on top of all that the Hawks have better goaltending and if it all sounds familiar well it was the same story against the Sharks.

The Flyers have shut down Toews so far but Hossa has been the best player on the ice in both games and what are they going to do? They have to pick their poison I guess. And that's the problem facing the Flyers.

They have no margin for error on Wednesday night and facing a club that is seven and one on the road and has not actually played all that well so far (although I think a whole lot of that can be placed on Chris Pronger - he may be a cock but he's one of the all time greats I think it has to be admitted) they have to hope to outplay the Hawks, get better goaltending and probably have some good luck besides.

If they do not then I may even begin to believe. Though not entirely.


LittleFury said...

Just two games in and it's been a great series (though I wouldn't say that if it were 1-1 or, god help us, 2-0 to the Philth). Hossa has been unreal, as has Pronger. Just two guys out of about a half dozen on both teams that underscore just how far the Oilers are from that level.

As for the theme of these past couple of posts, that of the nature of fandom, your trajectory with the Hawks mirrors mine with the Oilers, even though I was a kid during the glory days and should have eaten that up. But I didn't and never knew why, but now I wonder if there's something about needing those lows to make the highs taste sweeter. Don't get me wrong: I can be a glory hunter with the best of them (I cheer for Barcelona in the Champions League every damn year), but I'd be happy enough cheering for a team that at least made things interesting with a playoff win or two every year. Better to savour the little victories than be a jaded prick constantly measuring the now against the unrealistic standards of the distant past.

hunter1909 said...

I remember well when the Oilers ruled the NHL - no matter how they did in the regular season, you knew they were just capering around for the playoffs. And once the playoffs started, no matter who was put in the way it was inevitable the boys would bring home the cup.

Red Wings, Avs, and Devs fans know the feeling.

Arsenal more or less are my EPL team, and no matter what Hornby writes(personally his down home sentimentalist style makes me vomit), the fact remains: the Gunners haven't spent a minute outside the top flight since - ever.

Arsenal fans even used to chant "We're boring and we know it" lol.

I'm neither a Hawks or Flyers fan - but it's fairly obvious if they split in Philly the cup is theirs - no ifs ands or buts. And you can take that to the bank.

Baroque said...

Bartman. You had to bring up the Bartman incident.

The minute the team freaked out over the one thing, the one little thing, when they were FIVE OUTS AWAY from the WORLD SERIES and could not regain their composure EVER - I knew the series was lost at that moment.

Cubbies = heartbreak.

Black Dog said...

Baroque - I would say that was the worst ever but really 1986 beats it. Red Sox had two out in game six and then the reliever (Stanley I believe it was) got two strikes on the hitter, Carter I believe, and then gave up a hit. And then did it again. And then maybe even again? It was a slow awful thing to watch even before the ball went through Buckner's legs.

And then they lost game seven.

That was the most painful thing I ever saw.

Hunter - I tend to agree with you, if they split in Philly they'll have it, Flyers goaltending is not good enough to win three straight against the Hawks' offence.

Black Dog said...

Little Fury - we all want to see the Oilers win it all but yeah I'd be happy with a playoff series win now and then for starters.

Baby steps.

Scott Reynolds said...

Great post there Pat. I think one of the reasons I enjoy the Oilers so much is that they have a glorious past that I didn't really experience fully behind them. It somehow makes any suffering seem not so bad and almost forces us, as a group, not to complain too much. The other thing it does is make the Oilers relevant forever. It's one thing to suck and be the Oilers and something completely different to suck and be the Thrashers.

Black Dog said...

We'll always have Paris, eh Scott? ;)

hunter1909 said...

The start of a beautiful friendship.

Black Dog said...

Just watched To Have and Have Not, actually always preferred that to Casablanca but that's because I'm a Bacall man.

hunter1909 said...

Key Largo is my fave Bacall movie.

Nothing in the world finer than a hot babe who knows how to be cool.

Alice said...

It's funny, I've been all over the Hawks for it this spring, through 3 rounds, incl blessedly the Dys, cup drought since 61, it's great.

But watching game 3 the other night I couldn't help but cheer for the Flyers, first I thought just to make it a series - they certainly played better than to deserve going down 3-0.

Unfortunately, that's not it though. My gut just likes this damn Flyers club, right from CFP down, and wants to cheer them whatever other sentiments I may hold for Chicago. Can't help it. Weird.

Alice said...

Yes indeed. Bacall would do a good turn to show up attached to a post here one of these days. She's ++

Another good one is Notorious, the beginning is a bit campy but Hitch eventually gets it dialed-in. Bergman reminds me of a sister-in-law in her young and brash phase,

hunter1909 said...

So. Now it's all tied up at 2 games each, except now Chicago is in the must win position.

Patrick Kane getting off for beating up old cabbies and Hossa's perpetual wandering to the 'winning' teams that always lose it starting to turn into a storyline.

Chris Pronger, you don't want him win you think then he's just as good as in 2006, Hawks are in deep now, best series since 2006.

*bandwagon Flyers fan*

hunter1909 said...

Hawks behind the 8 ball tonight, last time in the series if they win, but I trust Pronger so Flyers go ahead 3-2.

DLee said...

As a diehard Canes fan who was in the building for all the playoff games, I actually had the same thoughts as you about game five. After game two, I got all cocky and thought that it would be over in four.
After game four, I thought we might win it in five, but something didn't feel right on the day. Even with the overtime power play, I still didn't feel right. As soon as Pisani touched the puck, I got a sick feeling. When he scored, I thought I was gonna die. Game six made that feeling even worse.
For me, it worked out well in the end, but that series and actually that whole playoff season was an example of not counting anyone out until the final horn has gone.
Believe it or not, I don't want to see Laviolette hoist the cup again, so I'm rooting against the Flyers