Friday, January 29, 2010
Thursday, January 28, 2010
As a coach I had tremendous success. There were times that it was because I had very good players. In our neighbourhood back home the kids born in 76 and 77 included a flood of terrific athletes. I coached one or the other group for a number of years and we won a lot. A lot. But they won a lot when I wasn’t the coach too. Of the eight clubs that played together of these groups of kids they won six city championships in soccer. Five of those six clubs doubled by winning the league as well. The two that did not win the playoffs were also regular season champions and each lost their championship game in a shootout.
So yeah, they were good. And they had different coaches so I mostly stayed out of the way. I pushed and prodded and worked them and made sure they played as a team and that everyone had fun and they would not have won with a bad coach but I’m not fooling myself. Good players make the job of a coach easier.
I loved those Sudbury teams that won over and over again but there were two teams that were my favourites when it came to the soccer clubs. One team I really gloried in was a team I coached in Toronto, a bunch of neighbourhood kids in the neighbourhood league who started slowly and then came together over the season. A couple of very good players, some solid ones, some humps. Got them working hard and together and having fun. There were always girls on these teams and I was a master at putting them into positions to succeed and getting them to become major parts of the team’s success.
On this team I had a couple of tall blonde twins who were more interested in socializing than playing. Stereotypical princesses really, they were fourteen, all ponytails and makeup and trendy clothes. Pretty well useless on the field at the beginning of the year. I helped to change that.
Man, I love winning.
I had a lot of success as a soccer coach, seven teams and five of those won either a playoff championship or a league championship or both and the sixth, another of my favourites, fell just short in the championship series (best of three) in the toughest most competitive league I ever coached in.
Only one mediocre team in the bunch.
As a hockey coach I was pretty successful as well. Ten clubs. Six of them won something and were quality squads, a seventh was also quite good. My favourite of the lot were The Missiles, the little squad that could and did.Of the remaining three clubs, two were okay and one was awful. The awful team was the only one I have ever had as a coach. We had been quality the year before and we had lost a handful of guys, guys who weren’t sexy but, well, you know, got things moving in the right direction when they were on the ice. Sound familiar? ;)
Still, we thought, even thought the quality was less, that we would be ok.
We were close but no cigar our first couple of games. A failure to finish our chances, a mistake or two that ended up in our net, a soft goal (sound familiar). A penalty at a bad time, a bad change, a missed assignment.
And after each game we bemoaned our bad luck.
And then a couple of games with bad luck became a half dozen. A couple of guys who had been terrific the year before were off. The replacements for the departures weren’t getting the job done. The goaltending was average.
And after each game we wondered what went wrong.
And after about a dozen games it became clear. We were a bad team. We weren’t getting much puck luck but mostly that was because we weren’t making anything happen. Our errors were glaring.
We had no margin for error. The other teams began to beat on us.
And from there the season went south. The replacements’ collective confidence was shaken but then again so were the holdovers. For that matter so was the coach’s.
We began to spiral and what had been close losses morphed into losses by three or four. Games where we had hung in with superior teams became one sided blowouts. Guys who had scored twenty five goals the year before in a forty four game schedule were hard pressed to hit double digits.
We were shattered.
As a coach it was my one bad experience out of nearly twenty seasons coaching. It was awful and when it ended we breathed a sigh of relief because if you are a bad team once the death spiral begins there’s no breaking out of it. Bag skates, enthusiastic speeches, yelling, pleading, threatening, cheering like a madman.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Once again I show my age. I remember Peter Puck (the original), Showdown, Howie Meeker, Brian MacFarlane and I remember Hodge, in his powder blue blazer.
I've always liked Dave Hodge. He's got a bit of an edge to him, as edgy as one gets in the sports media business anyhow. He tends to say what he thinks and maybe that's a function of landing on your feet after getting fired from a pretty good gig or maybe just a sign of age. I know that as I get older I give less and lees of a shit about what people think, much to my wife's chagrin, as I wander down the street to a neighbour's beer in hand, or walk the dog in my housecoat.
Of course wearing a housecoat may be another sign?
Anyways I can see why Hodge said what he said on Sunday - heck the same discussion has been going on in these parts for a while now. How can an Oilers' fan cheer against his club? How can he cheer for them to lose against anyone? They are not true fans. They are bandwagon fans, so called fans.
Now I have written a few times about the nature of being a fan and I find the whole concept interesting. I was once a Chicago Black Hawks' fan, lived and died with them for nearly thirty years. Leaving them was not a conscious decision. One day I was watching a young Oilers' club taking them on and I realized that I was cheering not for Chicago, but for Edmonton, and that was that.
In the end it wasn't the losing that did me in. Chicago lost plenty over the years. Ironically it was probably the success that they had in the early nineties that spelled the death knell for me. When Pulford forced Keenan out despite the fact that Iron Mike had accomplished more in three seasons than Pulford had in the fifteen previous, when that team was dismantled piece by piece, when Roenick and Belfour and Chelios and all the rest were sent packing then I realized that the contract between the tam and I had been broken. Success was not important to Bill Wirtz, if it was then why was Pulford back in charge?
And note that when Bill Wirtz died Pulford was immediately sent out to pasture. Good move Rocky.
Hodge can say what he wants, the old grump, although I would guess he'd be a lot grumpier if he were an Oilers' fan. Or Daryl Katz, who has poured over a hundred million dollars into payroll the last two seasons and has nothing but a laughingstock to show for it.
Four years wasted. When Pronger was sent away for futures and his minutes were not replaced and then when Smyth followed him they should have gone full out and blown it up real good, to quote the late great John Candy. Instead they hemmed and hawwed and threw away what would have been a top ten pick to sign Penner, who is now just over two years away from being unrestricted, same as Ales Hemsky.
If they were going to tread water for four years they may as well have signed Smyth. The club would have been better and his contract would have been up in a couple of years now too. Plus it would have been the right thing to do for the fans, the ones who pay the freight..
The last four seasons have been an unmitigated disaster, mostly because really very little progress has been made towards rebuilding at all. For all of the kids that have been accumulated there are few with the big club who impress in any way and who knows what will happen with those kids in Europe, the juniors and college. Its nice to think that they will all be stars but of course that's not the truth at all. So we have four years and we're no closer to anything of value plus we've had to watch a lot of shitty hockey.
So forgive us, Mr. Hodge, as we hope for the worst for our club. At least we will get a quality kid, maybe one we can build a team around, maybe a nice piece to the puzzle. At best we will see Lowe and Tambellini swept away with a lot of the mess that they have created.
True story, a buddy of mine, for some reason, I have no idea, used to call his ass sweat 'the hodge'. As in, 'fuck its hot, I'm just sitting here and I have serious hodge' or 'I thought she was pretty cute but when we left the dance floor I oculd see she had some hodge going on'.
I think hodge is a good way to describe the Edmonton Oilers' franchise right now. Ass sweat sounds about right.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
My Dad is a country music guy. Not what they call country music today, which is nothing but pop music with a twang, but old school country music. Hank Williams. Patsy Cline. Chet Atkins. Roy Acuff. Charlie Pride. Hank Snow. Johnny Cash. Jim Reeves. Bare bones music with the singer telling a story or bemoaning loss.
One of my indelible memories of being a kid is falling asleep in the top bunk up at camp in our little bedroom. The walls stopped a couple of feet from the ceiling and so the soft glow of the lone lamp crept over the top logs, the crackle of the wood stove if it was a cool night, my parents talking quietly while Hank Williams sang about another broken heart from the eight track player, powered somehow by a car battery.
And then waking up hours later, the smell of coffee and bacon, the wind in the pines, the woodpeckers at work, an obnoxious crow, now the radio, again turned to the country station, Dad listening for the weather.
I was never a country music guy as a young man but over the years I’ve listened to some of the old school country and I have a few Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline CDs laying around. Like my father I have no use for what they call country music today. Like nearly everything on the radio its garbage (and yes, there I am showing my age). ;)
When we returned to Toronto from the States we had just over two years between our arrival and the arrival of our first child. I spent a lot of that time wandering about a city which I had been nearly five years away from, rediscovering many lost haunts but mostly finding new ones. One of those was a little hole in the wall joint called Graffiti’s, down in the Market. I’d head down there on a Saturday and meet my old pal and we’d drink pints and watch bluegrass. In the summer they would open the front of the restaurant to the heat and the music would roll out into the crazy old streets with their tumble down tenements and shops and crowds of hipsters and punks and beautiful girls in skirts and sandals and we’d drink our cold beer slowly in the heat, the buzz seeping through us as a singer in a cowboy hat and black shirt would wail about a girl he knew long ago.
It was oh so good. May have to head back there some day soon.
There’s not much that can be said about the Oilers these days. The signing that the GM hung his hat on last summer is having back surgery, out for twelve weeks, as Tyler Dellow tweeted to Khabi’s agent, he’ll be back for the playoffs. ;)
Ty has been all over the Khabibulin move since it happened. If there was a blogger Pullitzer he would deserve it. Loser move by a loser franchise indeed.
Horcoff haters have all of the ammo they need with his anemic offence and clubhouse leading minus twenty one. The kids are pretty well all stagnating, the veterans look like they would rather be any place else but with those contracts where the hell will they go?
Presently it looks like the race to the bottom will be between the Oilers and the Leafs as Carolina has come on hard since Staal and Ward’s return (hard being all relative, I guess, but they have made up a seven point deficit in a matter of days).
The Oilers have terrible goaltending and the fact that they have only a few legitimate NHL forwards on their club is in their corner but the Leafs can move a lot of their guys at the deadline, unlike the Oilers, so that may be the tipping point. Of course if the Leafs do finish last overall then they don’t even get their pick so it will be interesting to see if Burke will actually take someone on and spin it as part of the rebuild, send expiring contracts to a club for a big salaried player, maybe, or take on a big salary after dumping guys like Stajan.
These days have been coming for a long time now, ever since the summer of 2006, as Lowe dithered and tried to have his cake and eat it too and more than anything that is what is frustrating. The last three years this club could have really really sucked and picked up more top young prospects or it could have replaced outgoing quality with more quality and not tried to break in scads of prospects all at once and they might have been competitive. Instead they have sucked but not completely. The three picks they might have had for Penner would have helped, especially considering that the big guy is only two years out from being a UFA now. Those and a few more top five picks and things would look better.
Wasted years. No wonder there’s a tear in my beer.