Wednesday, November 30, 2011

All I Ever Wanted

As frequent visitors here know my Mom had a bit of a tough time last year. She came home about a year ago at this time after four months in the hospital and twice that of some pretty severe pain. Whatever it was (we actually don't know, imagine that) robbed her of her ability to walk but little else.

She's a tough bird and so she spent the past year getting her life back. She has gained enough strength that her doctor gave her the okay to start driving again. Dad suggested a trip to the mall parking lot after closing. Of course she hopped in her van and headed down main street. Stubborn. She's also back doing physio to try and get to walking again.

Pretty cool, eh?

And to top it off next spring she is going to Europe with friends on a Mediterranean cruise. Mental. But good for her. She has been pretty well everywhere in North America, including Alaska, as well as Hawaii and the Caribbean, so this is her first trip over there. At 78.


So when the boy and I were up north closing the camp my old man and I were sitting in the evening with a couple of beer. The boy was under a mountain of blankets asleep and I asked Dad why he wasn't going on the trip.

Why would I want to do that? I have everything I want right here!

Now at this point the temperature was nearing 0 and the rain on the roof and swaying pines were singing a miserable song and we were sitting in the dark, only one sputtering propane lamp lighting the room. We had the door to the kitchen closed to keep in the heat and going out of the room meant a parka and a flashlight were necessary.

So basically, I thought, you need a roof over your head and you're happy.

Of course we did have beer. And chili.


As an Oilers' fan at this point all we want is progress. We had some last year and so far this year we are seeing more of the same. Despite some injuries and some regression this team is better than last year's club. Ted and Eberle and Hall are all the real deal and Smid has become a man and Lander and Petry look like one day they will be as well. Gilbert has gone from being quality to the next level and the veterans Smyth, Jones (!) and Horcoff are getting it done. And in a bit of a surprise it should be noted that Teubert has hung in there okay as well.

Timing is everything and its tough for Omark and Hartikainen that they have come up lame when Hall has gone down but someone else (tonight its Gagner) is going to get their shot in the top six and hopefully some hay will be made.

The club has been inconsistent the last couple of weeks but that's what young clubs will do. As long as they keep it together and within shouting distance of the pack then this year is a success. After years of shit it doesn't take much to make me happy.

Of course we had better see this progress continue year after year.

But for now a roof over my head is just fine.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Five Bees For A Quarter We Used To Say

A quarter of the way through the season and the Oilers look to be a club that may be in the playoff race this season despite injuries to Hemsky, Gagner and Whitney, a decimation of the D corps and a lack of production up front from anyone outside of the top six. The special teams are humming, the goaltending has ranged from good to great, Smid and Gilbert have been dreamy and they have become a very good home club. If they can put it together on the road (and for all of the angst there they are 4-6-1 away from Edmonton) and Whitney can actually stay healthy then this may very well be a playoff club.

Wow. Can't believe I said that.

A quick look at the club at the quarter pole:


Ted - Nugent Hopkins is eighteen years old and is averaging over a point per game. He has been sheltered, sure, but really who gives a shit. Lets say it again. 18. Over a PPG. And on top of everything he can take the physical play, he can play in his own zone and he has fantastic instincts. Oh yeah, he can score too. A special player.

Ryan Smyth - its only right that the most popular player since the dynasty days has returned and its only right that he has had an astounding start. Never should have left. Just a tremendous story. Unlikely to keep up the pace but probably the club MVP at this point, except for one guy.

Tom Gilbert - and this is the guy. Crazy, right? He's had a tough game or two but Gilbert has anchored the top pair, given the club 25 minutes or so every night and contributed offence on top of everything. Playing with a bit of an edge this year. A guy who has always been rated as a top four guy, a full year like the first quarter will raise him to top pair status. Irreplaceable.


Jordan Eberle - a bit of a slump the first time out on the road and a bit of a slow start but he's in great form now. Twenty points. Future captain.

Shawn Horcoff - present captain is healthy and playing great, superb in circle and on PK, showing the kids how to get it done on the PP by going to the dirty areas. A minus one considering where he starts most shifts and who he plays against is tremendous. Healthy and playing with quality for first time in years. On pace for 20 plus goals, fifty plus points. Souray called him the most professional player he has ever played with, right? Great role model for the kids.

Ladi Smid - dmen development can be timed by sundial and here's the perfect example. No offence but neither did Jason Smith and that worked out quite well. Great on the PK. Big leap this year.

Nikolai Khabibulin - butt of jokes has cooled off a bit after his all world start but has been mostly good to excellent in all of his starts. Physical breakdown possible but until then he has pushed back. Always seems to play his best when job is at stake (see Chicago the last year of his last contract), when he gets comfortable he's awful

Ryan Jones - the smart set's whipping boy either has made a deal with the devil or he is damn lucky or he just has a great shooting %, period. Who the hell knows but he's doing it again. Five goals and four assists. More impressive is the fact that he has managed a tough minutes role and he has been a big part of an improved PK. A likeable goof of a guy, here's hoping he keeps it up.


Taylor Hall - the golden boy from last season has struggled at times, pressing a little, trying to do too much. Still on pace for 25/60 which is good for a soph asked to carry a lot of the load. Here's guessing that he gains his comfort zone and tears it up. He had a slow start last season too.

Corey Potter - enormous surprise was tailing off a bit when he got hurt but had a tremendous start. If Whitney can stay healthy looks like a guy who can play top four minutes with him. Great find by the org.

B -

Devan Dubnyk - big man has stumbled a bit here and there but overall he has been good. A little more consistency would be nice, would be more reassuring to know he could carry the load of Khabibulin goes down.

Ales Hemsky - injured again (sigh) and ineffective at first when he returned, he looks to be starting to heat up again. A big key to this club's success, if he can stay healthy and gets rolling they suddenly have two lines that can score. When's the last time they've been able to say that?

Andy Sutton - big man is what he is, veteran D man, slow of foot, helps on the PK and clears the front of the net, has been the best of the three brought in to keep other clubs 'honest' although much better PP has probably been best deterrent to other clubs' thugs

Jeff Petry - coming on now after struggling early on, gets a shot with Whitney which should be great fit. No doubt that kid is going to be a big time player for this club imo.


Anton Lander - kid centre should be back in OKC one thinks but Renney keeps rolling him out there in different roles. Getting killed by most metrics but has been good on PK and does a lot of little things right. Decent start to career.

C -

Sam Gagner - injury and then returning from that injury and also playing the wing has made it a tough slog for Gagner who must look around and wonder where he fits. Would prefer him centring Paajarvi and Jones, perhaps, or Paajarvi and Omark when the latter returns. Seems to have a bit more jump lately. Sometimes wonder if he had a spot going forward with Ted and Lander, maybe tradebait but value right now is not great. Needs to get rolling.

Eric Belanger - has helped a lot, adds size, good D, faceoff acumen, PK, nicking him because of the nonexistent offence.

Lennart Petrell - Finnish rookie has been decent role player, helps PK, no offence though. Thoresen was better, ;)


Magnus Paajarvi - poor kid, I love him and a lot of this has to do with his linemates but having said that he hasn't helped himself, needs to play with more elan and confidence, chicken and egg thing though, I would bet that a few games with good linemates would get him going, fair play to him though his defensive game has not sagged

Linus Omark - the only one of the OKC brigade I have included in here, Renney doesn't like his sideburns I guess? I like Omark but he doesn't get as much rope as everyone else. Unfair? Yes but again, needed to do more when he was up. Would definitely like to see him get a chance to play with quality linemates for a while to see what they have here. I think he's a player.


Ben Eager - when you're brought in to create mayhem and you don't do it and you don't add anything offensively or defensively then you're failing. I blame it on the concussion, I don't think he's right yet.

Darcy Hordichuk - waste of a roster spot, the way Dallas ran roughshod earlier this week with him in the lineup belies the very reason they brought him in. No point

Cam Barker - I didn't mind the signing at all, a low cost gamble, and maybe he was hurting, hopefully that's why. Added little on the PP and is slower than Sutton. Impossible! as the French say. Only they say it like this: Impossibla! Silly French.


Ryan Whitney

Seriously buddy, stay healthy. A healthy Whitney probably means a playoff spot or at least forcing Tambellini's hand to shore up the D


Tom Renney

I would like to see Renney figure out that bottom six and I don't like his handling of the two kid Swedes but he's line matched like a madman and the special teams have been grand. Good job. Man deserves a lot of credit.


Steve Tambellini

I liked his summer. He has been lucky. Nobody thought Ted would be this good, Smyth basically traded himself home and Khabibulin has risen from the dead but Belanger, Potter Petrell and Sutton have all added quality. Barker has been a miss but for a one year deal who cares? Cheap gambles are what good GMs do. Another legitimate top four Dman would have been great of course. Interesting to see what he does if club stays in the playoff race. Plus he has to deal with pending UFAs Hemsky, Smyth and Potter.


OKC Barons

Near the top of their league and have been a reliable shuttle for reinforcements. If there is one thing Tambellini deserves credit for its turning this part of the organization around.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Damn Lies

Kids lie. They all do. If you think your kids don't lie you are either lying to yourself or you are in for a fun ride once they become teenagers. Plus you are dumb.

I was a born liar. Still am. Pathological almost. And the kids take after me. Although it is pretty funny listening to my wife sputter 'why do they lie?!' while glaring at me and then later that night over another bottle of wine laughing about how she used to pull the wool over her parents' eyes by covering up her breaking of their rules about sloth and drunkenness as a teenager.


Now of course it sometimes works against them, as it did this morning when my eldest tried to wear a dress to school that I am pretty sure she's not allowed to wear to school. But Mommy lets me she wailed, along with lamentations about the unfairness of it all, to which I replied that she and her brother are lying liars who lie and as a result I really could not trust her on this point. Her brother smirked, because she was the one getting called on it this time.

Evidence from this weekend points to our youngest lapping the field in this particular talent however, perhaps even putting her old man to shame (and I've told some dandies in my days). The difference between her and us is her absolute shamelessness, coupled with a killer's lack of conscience and an incredible ability to think on her feet.

My inlaws are here to visit and on Sunday afternoon my mother in law came downstairs and found my youngest in her purse, rummaging about. She had applied some lipstick and eyeliner and was chewing a piece of gum that she had thieved, the little rat. My mother in law called her a rascal or a scallywag or some such, shooed her upstairs with a scolding and placed the purse where it could not be reached by dirty little hands.

Next time downstairs mother in law discovers our sweet baby (she is three) has pushed furniture over, climbed atop it and is standing there holding the pack of gum in her hand. Before she can say a thing, little miss K turns to her, smiles sweetly and says:

Oh there you are Nanny. I was just getting a piece of gum for you because I thought you'd like one.

Did I mention that she is three? Also that we are doomed.


So the Oilers are halfway there anyhow. Great at home. Lousy on the road though, where Renney can't protect the kids and the team is too thin on the blueline to be any damn good. One wonders what Tambellini is going to do here. The club is good enough to be in the mix for the playoff race I think but not as presently constituted. They need Whitney to come back and they need to shore up that D with a trade. Rumours are Carle is available for a pick. If Philly isn't asking for a first do you make that move? A D that goes as follows - 5/77, 6/Carle, 25/58 with Potter also in the mix - is probably good enough to keep this team in the hunt and don't we want the kids to play some meaningful games?

Some other thoughts, mostly concerning damnable lies told by fans and others:

1/ Hordichuk and Eager have some value. Intangibles, right? Well anyone who saw the Stars run roughshod last night has to admit that Hordichuk is a waste of lineup space. Seriously, what is the point of his handful of minutes each night? Nobody is getting intimidated by this plug and Tom Renney thought so much of Ben Eager, the other ruffian, that he sat him. Might be sending a message to Eager or maybe he's still not over that concussion, Eager, that is, not Renney.

Seriously though the argument is always 'you never played the game' and 'they bring a lot to the table in terms of intangibles' - well they don't score or defend or hit or intimidate the other team or stop the other team from running the kids so ....

2/ Get rid of the useless vets!! They're useless. Well, there are so few on this team one can take a quick look around and see Smyth leading the team in scoring, Horcoff leading the team in icetime amongst forwards, taking the tough competition and tough zonestarts and Gilbert, well, what can one say about Tom Gilbert. Averaging five minutes more than anyone else on the club in icetime. Playing the toughs. On pace for forty points. And what, one bad game to show in twenty?

Back to Horcoff for a second. Nobody can get past the contract but I've never been able to understand why folks hate this guy. Andy Grabia was asking me how he could win an argument about Horcoff being a good player with someone who despised him. No advanced stats, Andy said.

Watch the game I said. Buddy starts in his own zone against the heaviest dudes the league has to offer, he is barely a minus, he's on pace for just under fifty points. What the hell else do you want? You don't like the fancy stats? Watch the fucking game then and if you don't see his value or the fact that because of the role he plays the kids get some shelter (and I love the kids don't get me wrong) then you. don't. know. hockey.

3/ This team is really really good. This team is really really bad.

Look here, this team is in between. They'll have their bad home games but for the most part they're a much improved club, at least at home. They need some help on the blue though. And they'll have their good road games but for the most part they're easy prey when they hit the road, especially against those big physical grinding clubs like Dallas and Phoenix. The depth is not there yet and the kids are too callow still.

Its going to take time but really other than the strangeness surrounding Paajarvi and the absolute collapse of Theo Peckham I don't have many complaints about this club and where they're at, which is further ahead than I figured. They just need Whitney to come back and stay healthy and for something, anything, from that third line.

And that's the truth.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

LOL As The Kids Say

Heading onto the ice last night for a little Capsule action I tweeted that the Oilers' game was going to be a bloodbath. Four defencemen out, Theo Peckham on the second pair, four games lost on a row, each one worse than the last, nobody scoring, best team in the league in town, pissed off after coming off of a loss.

Bloodbath, right?

After hauling myself out of a loss where I had my worst game of the year (note to self - two pints before the game, not a good idea) - I checked in on the Twitter and caught Woodguy wondering if the Oilers could hold the lead. I figured they were somehow up by one.


I watched the game on CBC replay last night after I came home loaded drunk and then watched it again this afternoon. Good way to watch the game, in and out in an hour, the less Weekes and Lee the better, right?

Best game for the Oilers since June 17th 2006. Crazy. One of those games where everything went well and it spun out of control for the Hawks early and then it was all over. Hockey is a funny game. I think it was 4-1 and Stallberg had a great chance and if he pots one who knows what happens? Maybe it just stems the tide for a moment or maybe its a whole new game? Its a strange game, hockey.

And last night was one of the strangest we've seen in a long time. The Leafs, seven regulars shy and starting the Monster, pound the Caps and Bruce Boudreau cannot be long for that job I would think. As for the Leafs, a big night, soem kids showing well and the biggest story of their year so far, Joffery Lupul, with another big game.

Lupul was an Oiler briefly and he was absolutely awful and to me a representative of so many of these young players we see today. He had pedigree and he could score and as a result he got paid even though he was soft and got killed by real NHL hockey players and could do none of the little things that win hockey games. He is Olesz and O'Sullivan and any number of players you might name and when he started getting hurt his career began to circle the drain until last year he was an honest to goodness salary dump and it looked like it was all over for him.

Now I don't watch enough Leafs' hockey to know if Lupul is playing any sort of tough minutes but even if he is not he is doing some damage and if his ceiling is soft minutes killer well a soft minutes killer is better than where he was at. I didn't like him as an Oiler but he could have taken his money and packed it in and instead he put it the work and its paying off and good for him.

Tom Gilbert continues to play very very well and last night he put up some crooked numbers and knocked Toews around a bit and one thinks that maybe, just maybe, folks may be coming around on Tom Gilbert and I would say its about time there. Now the Oilers just need Whitney to come back healthy (I did say lol right?) and Petry to keep trending up and, well, honestly another top four guy never hurt anyone right? If rumours of Carle being available for a pick are true it might be an idea for the Oilers to jump on that action.

Last night it all came together and the move of Gagner between Hall and Hemsky certainly makes some sense. Paajarvi remains the odd man out but one must think that he will get moved up to the Horcoff line as soon as the team drops one. Poor Paajarvi might be best served with some time in OKC for the confidence but playing him with Ben Eager and then wondering where his offence is (and no mistake he needs to do some things to help himself here) is like wondering why Cole didn't score when he played with Brodziak and Moreau.

No complaints though at this point. I think its going to be another tough week ahead but this win helps ease this tough stretch. This is definitely a different club at home and that's normal I think and some day they will be good enough to do damage on the road as well.

And Ted? Yeah he's fucking ridiculous. Just unreal. What a player.

Friday, November 18, 2011


Had a fantastic weekend this weekend past in Pat McLean land.

Woke up to an email from my aunt out west. Have had a bit of stress lately as my old man's youngest brother had a major health scare. He's as fit as can be and so of course when you get the news its even more upsetting because it comes as a shock. So Saturday morning I woke up and found a message that proclaimed that all is well for now and so we were off to the best start to a Saturday that one could have.

It was gorgeous here in the centre of the universe and so we had the kids out and about in the sunshine. Raked leaves, made a pot of chili, took the boy to skating, watched the game Saturday night with my father in law and a few Neustadt 10W30s. Went to the LCBO and found some winter ales (perhaps my favourite beer) appearing. Had a big ham supper Sunday night with butterscotch pie for dessert after picking up my dad at the airport on his return from Alberta. Had a couple of beers on Saturday evening with a neighbour as our kids roared around us in the gathering dusk.

Oh it was oh so good.

Highlight of it all was Saturday afternoon when I hit the ice with good old Capsule. The vagaries of beer league hockey giveth and taketh away and so news that we were adding two quality players this season was immediately countered by one of them bailing and then two solid players from last year also taking a walk and then an old friend who is quality signing back on. So in other words in the end basically a wash.

So going into Saturday's game we were two and four with one of the losses coming to a club that got promoted soon after so kind of a mediocre start. Pretty typical Capsule in fact in a lot of ways. Losses where we carry the play but don't cash and then the opposition capitalizes on a breakdown were pretty standard last season and so far this season we had seen more of the same.

I myself have had a nice start this season. The legs are long gone but I can get from point a to point b fairly quickly and I'm about a hundred times as smart as I once was. I've played some centre, which I enjoy quite a bit, and when I play the wing I'm just up and down that side. My man on the other side has had a nice start as well (he is the prototypical winger, up and down his side of the rink, chip it in and out, has his man, goes to the net, we're talking steady, its great playing with him because you know what you get every time out.) and so we're chugging along if the team itself has struggled. Of course if I had my druthers the team would be winning a little more. Its good to be doing well but without the wins its all a bit hollow.

So Saturday we're playing a club which always gives us fits. This is our third or fourth year in the same division as them and we haven't beaten them once. Every game is the same. We carry the play, we pepper their goalie, the odd time we jump in front (one game two years back I scored on each of my first two shifts to give us a quick lead, unfortunately it was the worst lead in hockey) but in the end the result is the same. They have a couple of guys who are deadly in close and they are quality with the man advantage and we always get burned on a stretch pass at least once a game and so every time the score ends 4-2 or 3-1 or 3-2 and we are left shaking our heads.

Saturday afternoon it was more of the same, we're carrying the play pretty well and its late in the first period (we only play two long periods, why I have no idea. Its definitely hurt us through the years as we're totally a third period team, especially with our fantastic conditioning) and we get a shot from the point, low and hard and the winger is there to flip in the rebound over the fallen keeper and we're on our way, right?

Except our next shift one of their dman fires the perfect headman to their best player who has snuck behind everyone and now its tied and then our next shift what starts as a simple two on two ends up with a bad bounce and then their man manages a changeup which floats in with seconds left in the period and its a case of dejavualloveragain.


And so we spent the remainder of the game attacking and they tired but nothing was happening. Shots were blocked and passes into the slot were lost in a morass of men as they collapsed around their goalie. Our best player, a burly young RW, was kept to the outside whenever he charged into their zone and they were content to let us throw long shots at the net all day. We were looking at little time left and as we sat on the bench we talked about how we had to get pucks to the net and create traffic (big league or small time its all the same eh?). And so next shift I took a perfect pass on my offwing and walked into their zone as their D collapsed around the other winger driving the net. And then I saw my centreman, my pal, fan of Les Sabres, suddenly roaring in down the right side, making a beeline to the net. Now I've known Higgs for nearly twenty five years now (terrifying) and we've been playing shinny or organized hockey together on and off for just as long and as we joked afterwards about once every six months you see that chemistry rear her lovely red head and so I sent the puck at the net, low and hard and he and that puck met about a foot in front of the goalie and he tipped it perfectly into the top corner.

Oh it was a thing of beauty.

And then after they almost snuck in a shorthanded chance we were swarming their zone with under a minute left and the dman fired one up the boards and they had a jailbreak. Problem is our man on the boards knocked it down, stood his ground when the dman crashed into him and walked off of the boards, suddenly three on one from the hashmarks in, making no mistake and with under thirty seconds left he fired it in.



Glory all around for me but for the Oilers its turning into an awful awful run. The promise of early days bought and paid for has disappeared into the ether. The old adage says you win a couple near the end of a win streak that you shouldn't and so it was that in a five game stretch the Oilers won three they probably should not have - Caps, Avs and Habs, were full value for their win over the Kings and were beaten soundly by Phoenix. Since then its been four games of suck with things getting progressively worse. Its one thing to get slapped around by the defending Stanley Cup champs, the Red Wings and the Hawks, likely the best team in the league right now, all on the road, but when you come home and get buried by Ottawa then you're at a different level.

The list of things going wrong is a long and varied one. Everyone is slumping except for Ryan Smyth pretty well at this point. Gilbert and Smid are starting to sag under the workload, Khabibulin has fallen back to earth, the injuries on an already thin D are mounting and nobody is scoring.


The number of players slumping offensively is mind boggling. There is nothing happening for so many guys.






What can they do? Its about to get uglier one would think with Chicago coming to town.

(Funny to read stuff about the Hawks. The feeling is that they are doing HORRIBLY and yet with Bolland hobbled, Keith and Seabrook both missing games, a PP that was ranked 30th until very recently, they are at the top of the league. Plus they have ~ 7 million in cap space and all of their key players locked up for years to come. Woe is them.)

And then they hit the road again.

They need Ryan Whitney in the worst way, its become quite clear and of course they need to find a healthy version of him if they ever want to start becoming a legitimate threat.

And they need to figure out something up front. When EVERYONE is in a funk then you need to do some things. One suspects Omark and Hartikainen and maybe Cornet (or some collection of these guys) will be on their way soon, never mind the D probably on the way.

No panic, the team is not as bad as they look right now just as they are not as good as they looked early on. Stay the course (no goofy trades like this Gagner/Pitlick for Franson one I saw floated early this week. I mean, seriously?) and ride it out.

Because it is going to get worse before it gets better.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Time Stops For No One

When it comes to music I'm an 80s guy pretty well. We had this discussion here sometime back and it was the venerable Lowetide who remarked that the music of your youth is always the music that stays with you most of all. Makes perfect sense of course. Unless music is your passion as you get older and the kids come along there's no longer time for smokey bars with up and coming bands or stadiums with thousands of screaming youngsters. I still love music but I haven't bought any in years and until I saw U2 this summer the last concert I saw was over eight years ago. And of course that was the Hip. The closest I get to the scene these days is when I pass Jim Cuddy in the halls at DeLasalle arena.

What can I say? In this as in most things I'm a Philistine.

Still love it though. Have gotten the kids into Van Morrison and I've got the YouTune playlist, about once a week I put on the headphones and run through it.

Last week I listened to some stuff from the Spoons and then a little Pursuit of Happiness and some Spirit of the West (Home For A Rest remains one of my alltime favourite songs - I am sure I will stroke out forty years in the future bouncing around to it at some wedding) and I did a little Google on some of the band members and lo and behold those cute girls with the big feathered hair don't look the same anymore. Now of course none of us do really and I'm not making any comment here that should be taken in a negative in any way. Its just that sudden shock of seeing someone who has always been frozen in time as a kid suddenly age twenty five years by the click of a mouse.


Which makes Ryan Smyth's start such a wonderful story. He can't keep it up, he won't keep it up, all of those miles on his body, all of that battering, the ridiculous shooting percentage ... he can't keep it up, right?

So often the returning hero comes back, Wendel Clark did it twice, each time a little more dininished than the last. Doug Gilmour's own return didn't even last two shifts. Its a tough act to follow when you left town as an icon at the height of your success and then returned as an older man, beaten down by time.

And yet so far Smytty has defied all of the odds. While the kids have been up and down, as kids will be, and the team has struggled of late, Ryan Smyth comes to the rink with his thermos and brown bag lunch and punches the clock (hat tip to Twitter, sorry I cannot remember the person who tweeted that).

Its glorious.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


This is a snapshot of a project you can find here. Each poppy represents a Canadian from Toronto who died in World War Two. Tiny tree lined enclaves painted red. On Markham Street in the Annex two brothers at 745, one killed in 1942 in the air force. Two years later the second dying in Belgium with the poor bloody infantry. A few doors down towards Bloor another airman. Up towards Dupont two from a single address. Different names, half brothers perhaps? A rooming house? One gone down with his ship in early '45, the war winding down, Germany in ruins. The other killed liberating France with the Toronto Scottish.

A few streets away at 248 and 250 Albany, another airman and his neighbour, a rifleman, killed on June 6th, 1944.

If I go to eastern Toronto I find a home across the street from my own. Friends of ours once lived there. Long before they did so did a young man named Malcolm Bell, son of Malcolm and Elsie, shot down over Germany on November 3rd, 1943. I look at Roseheath, the street one west of my own. During the summer they close the street down and have a party, a band plays and the children play games and neighbours congregate for food and drinks. On Halloween we walked the length of the street, packed with trick o treaters, crazy colours and costumes, laughter and shouting children.

At the top of the street John O Halloran lived at 111. He was 28 years old when he died in Italy on May 30th 1944. Perhaps he left a wife and children? Perhaps he knew Norman Hunter from a few doors down at #83. They were in different units but how could they not have known each other, being neighbours. They are neighbours still, buried in the same cemetary at Cassino, Hunter falling nine days after O'Halloran.

Across the street at 84 lived Robert Sheckleton. He died along with seventeen shipmates when the corvette Levis was torpedoed in 1941 off of Greenland.

At 58 they received the news that Richard Carney, a 24 year old pilot, was killed on August 16th of 1943. Just three doors down at 52 just over a year later they learned that Raymond Boddy, a boy of 19, was killed in Belgium on September 15th.

And down a little further at #34, just about where the street ends, where we head west as we walk the kids to school, the ravine where we used to take the old dog to sniff and wander just behind the houses, lived young William Venton, who died in France on July 26th 1944.

Walk this street now, the neat duplexes and odd detached brick home, built in the mid twenties for the Irish and Scottish men who worked in the factories and brickyards and railcars just south of the neighbourhood. The pretty little yards and gardens. The street shadowed by the tall old trees. The young families that have flooded the neighbourhood.

It was a long time ago. One wonders about those years. Did the men whose sons had died in Europe gather at a pub on the Danforth, drinking and smoking, trying to obliterate the horror. Did the women bring meals to attempt to comfort their neighbours, weeping, heartbroken? What nightmares haunted their neighbours whose boys still lived somewhere over there?

What unbelievable sorrow must have clenched this quiet street all of those long years ago.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Putin's Request

My Dearest Komrade Horcov,

How is this letter finding you? I am going out on limb and saying that you are well, perhaps even you have a gap toothed smile of satisfaction on battle scarred, broken nosed face. Even though smiling is not usually way in Motherland, unless many vodka have been consumed or small country trampled underfoot by glorious Red Army, I must say I do not blame you.

Things are well with you! I know because I read horrible newspapers from remote outpost where you play and like Great Patriotic War when we marched to Berlin, none are standing before you. Is it like that Komrade? Do you sometimes pretend when you go out on ice that you are in fact leading Russian soldiers into battle, sitting astride great while stallion, naked except for cold steel of pistol in your hand as you wave them forward to victory. Oh and also large fur hat of course.

I know now things are getting more difficult for you as you leave friendly confines of windswept Arctic nothingness and go on the road. Hopefully you will hit road rather than road hitting you as it does to anyone who dares cross into Motherland, hm. Ask Napolean or little Austrian with stupid little mustache how that went.

My friend I am happy for you but as you rampage through inferior Western professional hockey league please spare thought for your old friend Vlad for with me things are not so good.

I was born in wrong time my friend. I long for days when you could starve out peasantry or execute thousands at whim or send tanks into small nation for weekend sport. I fear that we are becoming more and more like West, fat and stupid and greasy from drinking sugary drinks and eating fried chicken made by illiterate white clad old man. And who was not Colonel!! Not even private I am thinking, certainly I would not have him in Red Army with his goofy outfit and Kentucky drawl. It is not like old times when fearless leader could find ancient pottery while on diving vacation and nobody would question it. Now everyone is in everyone's business and knows everything which is job for KGB, nobody else.

I am afraid it is not good times for me my old friend. I have barely left room in weeks since embarassing diving fiasco. Why I listed to stupid LaForge and agreed to stupid stunt is beyond me. I think I looked at this Katz fellow and saw how he corrupted local politicians and newspapers to take money from local peasants and give it to him, one of richest men in country. It is move worthy of glorious Stalin in its ballsiness. He is little man, this Katz, but if you dropped his pants you would find enormous stones, much like Russian boar rampaging through vast dark woods. So from that astounding thievery I thought I will hire this LaForge fellow to improve my relations with public. They do not fear me and I cannot massacre town like old days to inspire them to do so. So I figure I kill with kindness, impressing them with amazing feat and instead that bald headed dummy created for me a disaster. It will teach me to believe snake oil salesmen and worst of all I cannot have him shot in forest.

Oh woe is me Komrade. I am hiding in dark room with nothing but case of vodka, sitting naked on poorly made chair made poorly by Swedish company that will remain nameless. If this were old days Stockholm would be nothing but ash and I would be sitting on throne of skulls while Swedish amazon licked my bumhole but instead I sit here with sore ass and no licking. I believe I actually have open wounds from sitting here so long but I do not care. Let them ooze. I have done nothing but drink for weeks now, I am like bugeyed maniac actor Cage in that movie where he goes to Vegas and jumps out of plane with skydiving Elvises. You know one where he drinks self to death, slurping whiskey as it slides down beautiful white full breasts of sister of Melrose Place guy? Or is it horsefaced wife of Ferris Beuller. No it cannot be her, she has no breasts on horrifyingly haggard frame.

It is of no matter. I am almost there Komrade. So sad am I that even thinking of perky sunkissed nipples I am unable to even get stirring of massive cock. It lays there sadly despite my feeble attempts to arouse. Indeed it shrinks away from my touch, which is ironic because so did Mrs Putin on wedding night when she was first confronted with its enormous magnificence. It is reminding me of poem Death of My Cock by long haired bloated weirdo singer of hippy band the Doors. Did he not also drink himself to death?

I am sorry Komrade. You deserve better friend than what I am providing. I should be cheery for you with great beginning to new season but then again who knew that Komrade Nikolai could still perform like he did in old days before he became like Cold War era tank, rusted and useless. And then this Potter fellow, he is big surprise, like Lenin coming in train to turn great Revolution on ear. And this baby faced one, he is like twelve year old boy. I am certain he will enjoy road trip very much though, especially visit to Montreal. I am hoping veterans will take him to bars with best puck bunnies who will show him ropes. LOL as the decadent western children say, those French girls will break him in two. Perhaps make sure Eager goes along to protect him. He has to be good for something, yes?

I am very happy for you Komrade. For you it must be good times for certain with old friend with bad hair and monotone cliched interviews to stand by your side once again. The two of you is like turning back clock, playing other team's best players and doing so with success, it is like 2006 with Jones playing role of Todd Harvey except without the awful mustache that reminds me of child molester in old neighbourhood before we sent him to Siberia. Or did we just shoot him? Or was that Todd Harvey? I cannot remember, I am so addled with vodka.

So it is good times for you with fast start and gaptoothed smiles all around and bad times for me and so I am asking favour comrade to help me get it together. I am thinking I will come for visit. I will stay with you, yes? Just for few days I promise until I get bearings. It should not take long in little town in middle of nowhere. I will get to know places where I can eat and drink like Westerner. Perhaps I will even eat wonderfully named Poutine - as they say, when in Rome Komrade, even though idea of heartclogging fried potatoes with meat fat and cheese on it is telling me all that is wrong with fat disgusting westerners. Why not just inject air bubble directly into heart and save time, eh? Notice how I use cutesly little Canadian idiom? Eh? Ha, suddenly my spirits are lifting, even as I write this. Yes Komrade this is what I will do, I will come for visit. Tell your lovely wife Olga not to worry, I will only stay in guest room for less than week, I am sure you have room in vast mansion you must have built with millions of dollars drug oligarch has given you. Once I have found my way and met your friends I am sure they will taken with me and I will be able to find roomie. I am thinking perhaps long haired Tom Gilbert with pretty face. I would bet he gets all of the pussy and I am thinking I might get some of that.

Letting me know please and thank you.

Your pal,


Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Not A Gambler By Nature

Other than heavy drinking and the anonymous sex when I was a young man I've never been much of a risk taker. I have a fairly strong sense of self preservation and based on the fact that I have sperm of steel I have been apparently hardwired to try and go forth and multiply.

I don't like flying. I don't like high speeds. Roller coasters? Forget it. You'd never catch me jumping off of a bridge tied to a big rubber band or jumping out of an airplane or any of that type of shit. Never mind that I might end up in pieces on the ground, I'm also concerned that the old ticker might explode in my chest. Same reason I avoid cocaine.

I'm all for enjoying life, I just don't get off on thrills and spills. I like your general pleasures that life affords - eating, drinking, fucking, the beauty of the outdoors, having a family and friends - that's just the way I'm built.

Here's the thing. I found out this summer that even the most mundane of pursuits have become fraught for me. I blame it on my kids.

We were at a cottage outside of Lindsay with good friends. Terrific spot they have. We lucked out with great weather this year and that weekend was no different. One afternoon we figured we'd head out on the boat for some tubing. There were three Dads and four kids, my oldest didn't want any part of it but the boy figured he'd come along. Once we got out there though he was quite content to observe as everyone took turns heading out on the big three man tube we were hauling about at a relatively slow speed.

I asked the boy if he wanted to go out and he said no. A while later I asked him again, telling him that I would go with him and he said no thank you. He was quite content to sit on the boat and watch. We were just about to head back so I asked him one last time and apparently he had screwed his courage up and he said yes.

We clambered out of the boat and onto the tube along with one of the other kids. Now when I was in PEI that summer where I was once again a young lion I had a pal who had a boat and we used to hit the harbour a few times a week and generally we'd haul out the tube and go for a spin. I'm not a big dude although I am exceptionally wiry and my buddies would get a kick because Trev would gun it and whip me around the harbour like a rag doll. I'd hit those waves and next thing you know I'd be flying, literally. It was a riot. Great fun. Also very painful at times.

What I'm saying, because it needs to be said, is I'm no baby.

And the reason this needs to be said is as we sat in the tube, myself and my boy, I was suddenly gripped by total panic. Before we began I told him that if he was scared he just had to let me know and I'd give the signal.

Well we got going and we're going at a reasonable clip but really its not that fast and I sneak a peek at him and he's having the time of his life. Me, I'm shitting my pants. Should we stop, I shout, and he turns to me, laughing, and says FASTER FASTER.

All the while I'm praying for it to end.

Why? Well its the boy being with me, that's all it could be, the thought that something might happen while we're out there. Only when the other lad with us raised his hand to stop did I breathe a sigh of relief at which point my son wanted to go again. I climbed out, replaced by another, and watched from the boat as he took another ride.


When it comes to gambles that's a pretty low level one, which makes my terror all the more amusing, well at least for you, you bastards.

Steve Tambellini has made some nice low cost gambles since June and so far these have been paying off nicely.

- Corey Potter was signed for a song and has been, so far, a top four defenceman for the Oilers

- Lennart Petrell was also signed for nothing and has emerged as a nice role player

- Ryan Smyth basically traded himself to the Oilers and he has added to the PK, the PP and to Tom Renney's ability to match lines by giving Horcoff a winger who can help him with the toughs

- by giving Eric Belanger some term, satisfying his desire for a little bit of stability, Tambellini added a big centreman who can PK, be low event and win a lot fo draws. The offence has not come yet but it most certainly will

Throw in the emergence of Ted and the rebound of Khabibulin and the fantastic play of Gilbert and Smid and the Oilers have had a nice start despite Whitney and Hemsky being hurt, the bottom six forwards having not contributed a goal yet and Ted Peckman (a different Ted) falling off the face of the earth.

And now, well now it gets difficult. I'm not talking about this road trip which will probably bring these guys back to earth somewhat. I think its clear that we have something happening here and that this year may be the start of something good.

I'm talking about the fact that the next ten months or so are going to determine if this place is going to get wrecked, maybe not by the winds of change and the weeds of sex, but still the possibility is there for a mess to be made.

This is going to take some smarts and there are going to be calculated risks taken. Does our man have what it takes? I feel better about Tambo now than I did six months ago but I really don't know if he does or not. Here is what he needs to figure out:

- what about Ales? Does he sign him? My guess is Ales would sign if he's given the right offer. The question is what is that offer and how much term and cash do you gamble on a guy who cannot stay healthy at all? Anything at all? A healthy Ales Hemsky makes this team that much more dangerous and either makes the Horcoff line an absolute killer or makes Belanger and Paajarvi a lot more dangerous. You have to keep your good players, right? Right? We always say that here. But what about the good player who only plays forty or fifty games a year? Damnit!

- do you sign Smyth for a year or two? A no brainer really. He wants to be here and he adds so much. Let him go and suddenly that vaunted depth up front is a lot thinner.

- Sam Gagner? When Hemsky comes back one thinks Jones will slide back down the depth chart, right? But what about Sam's future? You have two kid centres now plus the two vets and while its nice to have so much depth up the middle that you can move 89 to the wing, does it mean that you also move him out the door? I think we may be seeing the near future now, meaning Hemsky and Omark will be gone and they'll run Eberle, Jones and Gagner on RW until Hartikainen is ready. Then Gagner will get moved too.

- and there is Linus Omark. A lot of gnashing of teeth about Omark. I think the guy is a player and myself I would like to see him slot in beside Horcoff. Lets see what we have in the guy, right? I can see the logic behind the move though. Its a winning lineup and its better to have him play than sit in the pressbox. The problem for the Oilers and for Linus is that they are suddenly flush with forwards. He needs someone to get hurt basically. And to stay hurt.

Here's the thing about the Oilers this year. They suddenly have depth, especially up front. Here's the problem. That depth can evaporate pretty quickly if the situation is not correctly handled. You want to use the depth up front to add a top four Dman I think, especially with Whitney being such a mess. Plus its doubtful that Khabibulin can keep it up and even if he does he won't be around when things really matter. But if they move Omark or Gagner (or both) and then let Hemsky and Smyth walk suddenly that lineup is a lot less impressive.

Its a tightrope. Lets see if Tambo can figure it out. If he makes the right bets then this team is going to be set for a while. If he blows it then its possibly back to the wilderness and he'll be unemployed.