Monday, July 16, 2012

The Man In The Sky Smiled and Said You Have Made Good Time



And the heavens opened and behold! a host of angels sang and an enormous hand reached down and high fived me and then lo! gave me an enormous IPA that was brewed on Thursday, Thursday!, from just four ingredients, never mind the dozens of ingredients that those big brewers use to make their crap.

And I smiled and it was good.

 We've done the Toronto to PEI run seven times before this year. Twice we did it at Christmas, once with a two month old, the other time with a five month old. Six of those times we started in Toronto. Another time when we were especially mental we left from Goulais River at 10 am on a Sunday.

 2300 kilometres that time, over two days. That was the craziest.

Its just under 1700 kilometres when we do it to or from Toronto. Now, we're experienced at this and so are the kids, shit we did Florida this spring and it was a piece of cake really and coming into this trip we figured after doing 2300 km in two days this spring, including 1300 in one day (under 12 hours door to door) that this would be a piece of cake.

The problem is that the run from Toronto to PEI is not on I75. In trying to make good time we have quite often failed miserably, indeed the last two trips east have been disastrous. Last year the first day (1100km) took 14 hours, day two (600km) was seven and a half.

Shitty.

Our plan is a straight forward one. We have a cooler and bags full of snacks. We drive for five hours. Stop for lunch, gas up, bathroom breaks. Drive another five. Done. Have dinner, early to bed, repeat.

One final note. We drive at a reasonable rate. We don't roar down the highway at 140 or 150 km/hr. We go a little over the speed limit, not much more.

If all goes well then we're golden but sadly things have been breaking down.

Each of the last two years we've lost two hours in Montreal. Last year we were flying through, just a minute (literally) from the Champlain bridge when we hit gridlock. Two hours later we hit the bridge, four km later, day shot. With those two hours gone it means supper is part of the day rather than the end of it, so there's another hour. And on top of that now you're driving at night and on the narrow highway from Riviere De Loup to New Brunswick moose are a constant danger so you're forced to slow down to a crawl at times.

And getting in around midnight means you're bleeding into the next day because you're getting up later which means lunch on the road as well.

So this is what we've seen each of the last two years and we were resigned to more of the same this year.

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The first positive this year is that Jenn worked Friday so while that made Friday night hectic (she got home at 10, the latest she's arrived after work in years, no kidding) it also meant an earlier getaway than usual. Normally she works the Friday night so we're pulling out at 10am. This time we were on the road at 7:20am.

We ripped up the DVP no problem, helped along by the early getaway, and we raced east through the suburbs and then into eastern Ontario. Its a dull drive. You're passing by Prince Edward County and Kingston and the Thousand Islands (or is it Ten Thousand? Anyhow its a lot) but all of this is just a rumour as you head down the 401.

Not even four and a half hours and we've hit Quebec and we decide to grab lunch and fill up.

And here's where we realize something. The new van we just bought? Fucking kills on the highway. Our old van (same make, just four years older) was good for five hundred and a bit of highway driving on a tank. The new guy? At this point of the trip (closing on on 500 km) we had plenty to spare still. 45.00 and we were full again.

 I cry every time I open my wallet. I almost had to rub one out when I realized what was going on.

 So fifty minutes and we were back on the road, Montreal looming.

 Just like last year we tore through the city, my heart was in my mouth the whole way. We neared the bridge and saw that they are STILL working on it but, its construction holiday in Quebec, so, we slowed for a moment to get past the lane closures and pylons and then, over the bridge and onto the south shore of the St. Lawrence.

 From there we were golden, although we didn't say a damn thing about it, jinxes and all that. Along the St Lawrence we ripped, all the way to Quebec City and beyond, past the limestone knobs that dot the highway along the way to Riviere De Loup. One of my favourite place names on this drive, by the way, a close second to St Louis de Ha! Ha! And then jogging south for the hour to New Brunswick, finding that what was once a two lane highway is now four lanes and divided in a lot of spots. Bonus.

 And with no need to stop for gas (god bless the new van) we stopped twice more to switch drivers, just a minute each time, and that was it. We pulled in just after 6:30 (7:30AST). We had time for a sitdown dinner and a swim and everyone was in bed before ten.

 Up early on Sunday, a big breakfast, a full tank of gas and then on the road at 8:20.

 And away we went. No need for lunch after the big breakfast. A stop right before the bridge for Jenn to take over the drive (I don't do bridges) and a whizz for me and we pulled in just before two.

 1700 km in 17 hours. Everything included.

 We'll never top it.

 Unbelievable.

 Of course now that I have bragged on this I am doomed to a four day return trip but I DON'T CARE. /drinks

Thursday, July 12, 2012

When The Lights Come On

 Am coaching soccer again this summer.

 I coached the boy two summers ago. Had a good time. I had also coached my oldest daughter, wow, it must be five years ago now. The team wore yellow. For our cheer I had them buzz like bees.
 For many many years I coached both hockey and soccer. I had a lot of success at both but especially with soccer which is ironic because I never played the game. My coaching philosophy remains the same as it was twenty five years ago. Have fun. Play as a team. Good sportsmanship. Work your ass off.

 Pretty basic stuff eh? Technically I'm no wizard but I'm great with the kids (toots own horn) and we do crazy cheers and I spend the entire game yelling encouragement until I'm hoarse. Jenn works gamedays but was able to make it out a couple of weeks ago and after the game she said that I was a natural, it just came easy to me and I looked the coach, striding up and down the sidelines, kicking over water bottles. (Ok so I made that last one up.)

 And for me its a great age (6 and 7 year olds) because the fact is that I am a pretty competitive guy and having youngsters is probably a better fit than the older kids where things, even at the recreational level, can get a bit tense. Helps me keep my more, lets say, base instincts in check, when you're teaching the most basic skills and its possible that an opposing player can score while your goalie has run off the field to get a snack. (This happened a few weeks ago).

 The season started slowly. A nil nil tie and how that happened I will never know. Have never seen that in hundreds of games I have coached. Then we got thumped four to nothing. No goals in two games and we wondered if they would ever come. But in our third game we scored two in the first two minutes and then promptly lost seven to three.

 Oh oh.

 Its about having fun but you need to win now and then too, right?

 I wasn't too worried though. The second and third games we had been rotating goalies in and out as everyone who wanted to play got a shot and so I knew we'd be better there. And it was obvious that there was something going on. We had a kid on the back end who could run like the wind, kick it the length of the field and was tough as nails to boot. When he was on the field nobody got near our goal. We had another little guy who could dribble through the entire opposition, the problem being that once he beat the last guy he turned around and did it all over again instead of going to the net with it. And we had a tall motormouth of a girl who could run like the wind and who scored the last goal of our most recent game.

 When you're playing six on the field if you can get two strong players out there then you're in great shape and if your supporting cast can play then you're going to win a lot of games, if not most of them. So by my count we had three top notch players. The problem was getting everyone involved and hopefully finding a fourth.

 Before Tuesday's game we added another player, a soft spoken little guy, I barely caught his name after asking him four times.

 My boy started in net. He's probably our best goalie, he loves it. He's a mental case, like his grandfather.

 Before the game I told the midgets that we wanted to get after the ball. I asked them if the ball had teeth and they all laughed and said 'no'. I told them to look over the field and tell me if they saw any gators or sharks (landshark!) or lions or tigers or bears oh my and they all laughed and said 'no'. Then, I said, there's no reason for you to stop running like maniacs when you a) get to the ball or b) get in front of the other team's net.

 Because this is what had been happening.

And oh my goodness friends what followed was absolutely glorious. I haven't coached much in the past 20 years or so but this reminded me of the old days. My pack of loveable little guys and girls turned into a pack of ravening ballhounds. The new hire turned out to be solid on defence but more importantly, he's an old school goal poacher. After holding our own for a while the ball was sent up and he outran everyone and put it in the top corner.

This doesn't happen at this level.

A few minutes later a ball deflected into the open and the kid with fancy footwork drove it into the net and we were on our way.

They came close, sure, but the D was solid and the boy made a handful of good saves (at this level any save is a good save really but he made a couple of difficult ones).

 At the half the message was repeated and in the second half we tore after them, it wasn't even close. The new guy scored another and then in a vicious scrum in front of their net two of our little girls rampaged through the mob, with our little motormouth scoring while lying on the ground, kicking furiously at the loose ball.

 Our goalie was barely troubled in the second half as we swarmed every loose ball, pushed their players who had run rampant just a couple of weeks before all over the field, always outside, always outside. One little girl, who had nearly scored a couple of times, charged again and again into the crowds, knocking opposition players sprawling, coming away with the ball each time. And when your smaller players are doing that you know you're golden.

 And when the final whistle blew and the kids and their parents cheered it became clear that this is going to be a very good summer for our team, a very good summer indeed.

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 Its been six years out of the playoffs for the Oilers but this summer looks a lot like the past six summers. Hope springs eternal, of course, and Edmonton fans tend to be bigger prospectphiles than most so with the kids the Oilers have there's no surprise really that many fans are predicting playoffs for sure.

 For the past few summers (since 2007 really) I've cast a pretty jaundiced eye at the Oilers' chances. Every summer I predict failure and every summer commenters rip me for being negative, for ignoring the surefire participation in the big spring fling for the Oilers that is to come.

 And every year I am right. I get no pleasure from it. But facts are facts. Oiler management stinks. The proof is in the standings.

 Now the Oilers aren't done yet or so we have to think. Rumours about a top four Dman coming Edmonton's way continue to fly and another year out of the playoffs will probably mean Tambo getting kicked out of the GM's chair so one thinks he will finally do something.

 A top four Dman would go a long way to getting this squad back where it needs to be. Presently we're looking at three top four types and one of those is still a kid (Petry) and on top of everything there is no Doughty or Chara or Weber in the trio. They're solid but not fantastic.

 So your fourth is either a kid who hasn't played an NHL game yet or a guy who couldn't make a turn last year.

 Now if that's your bottom pair and Sutton is your seventh and you have an honest to goodness top four guy added to the mix then you know what? This team, with some luck and good health, might make the playoffs.

 After the D the biggest issue is the goaltending. If Dubnyk takes a step back then its a lost year. If he can provide quality for 55 plus games then things look good.

 Except for those other 25 games.

 Up front there are a lot of ifs as well but they are a lot fewer than in years past. Finally. But there are still plenty. Will Hall be alright after surgery? Will Hemsky rebound? Can Yakupov play? Will Paajarvi or Hartikainen take a top nine role and score fifteen goals or more?

 One day the light is going to go on for all of these kids and there will be enough veterans surrounding them (if management does their job) that they will be a force to be reckoned with. But unless a couple of more moves get made I don't think this is the year yet.

 Not yet.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Summertime And The Living, Its Easy, Well, Easier

When I was growing up summer meant going to camp, which in Northern Ontario means the cottage. Except for camping trips in even more remote locales (impossible to believe but true) we spent most of July and August up at our log cabin by the lake. Except for two years ago when Mom was sick my folks have spent the majority of each summer up there for over forty years. Last year they got up there for just over a month, it was heaven to them after the previous summer spent in town, in doctors' offices and the hospital. They headed up a couple of weeks ago and nobody will see them until September except the odd time they come out.

A simple life it was back then.

Here in the city the word camp has a different meaning. You send your kids to camp. Day camps in the city or camps up in the Muskokas. For born and raised Torontonians its what you do. For us its something we haven't gotten our heads around. The two oldest went to bike camp for a week last summer but this year we've got them doing nothing. The boy is playing soccer once a week. His older sister has no interest in it. So that's it. The rest of the time we're hanging out.

 Which is fine. We have enough activities through the school year to keep us busy and things are hectic enough as it is. We went to a wedding last night and realized that after a couple of years where we (Jenn and I) had worked at getting out on dates and having romantic dinners once a month we've gotten into a bit of a rut. It just happens. Work and kids and all of the obligations that happen and suddenly six months have past and while its been a good six months its gone by in a flash and you're drifting. Our eleventh anniversary is in two weeks and so I've booked a room at a quaint inn in Charlottetown and we're going to do some daydrinking, play some pool, get dressed up fancy and go to dinner and all of that good stuff. Necessary.

 Now some of this business has been great. We went to Florida and Jenn went to Qatar for work for two weeks. Some of it has been, what's the word, the necessary clutter of modern life. The lease was up on the van, we had to take care of that and bought a new one. Our mortgage had to be renewed (one piece of advice - put money down on that sucker if you can in the beginning, before you have kids. We put 10000 down one year before the babies started happening. Knocked nearly five years off of it, just like that. Another piece of advice, make sure she comes first. That's all I've got. That's all you'll need.) - ten years down, ten to go and now the end is in sight for that. Great feeling.

 We were talking to a friend who has not had kids yet and she talked about her days. She naps a lot and a lot of the time she does nothing. We tried to remember what it was like before we had kids. Can't really remember much of it. There was more of the sex and the drinking and that good stuff. And a lot of doing nothing. I wouldn't trade the kids in for anything but sometime the thought of doing nothing ... wow. Can't even imagine it.

 So that's the plan for the summer. With us the season rushes by pretty quickly. There is always a week up north with my folks and we always drive out east for two and so there are four weekends right there. Jenn has to work a few weekends and so we usually look at the calendar and are surprised (its the same every year, we're always surprised, not sure why that is) to see that we have one, maybe two, weekends where nothing is going on.

The long weekend was one of those. Great weekend? Perhaps greatest weekend, when all was said and done. We had barbeques with friends on three of the evenings, eating and drinking our fill, talking and laughing as darkness fell and the kids ran wild, school days already forgotten for them. Beer and wine and charred meat and fresh vegetables and a cheese, a cheese!!!, that you can barbeque. Catching up and stories of times passed and plans made for times to come. Three wonderful nights.

The kids had an enormous waterfight with a whack of their friends on the street. We sat out in the boulevard with neighbours in the shade one day, shooting the breeze and drinking cold beer, the bottles sweating in the heat. Took the kids out for Korean food to celebrate the end of school one evening (their decision). Mornings spent lazing around, coffee on the porch, Tim Pat Coogan's biography of Michael Collins. Some time spent writing and some time spent together in the black hot night, sheets thrown aside, fan whirring, streetlight sifting through the blinds.

A grand start to what, just a week in, is shaping up to be one of the greats.

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The free agent frenzy has not been so frenzied this year. The chill from the labour talks maybe? The increasingly shallow pool of free agents? Its been muted and the number of deals that are headscratchers are few. That may change with so many teams near the floor, we may see goofy deals thrown at the flotsom and jetsam as teams push to get to the minimum.

Of course with a cap at seventy million one can even look at a deal like Dubnyk's and shrug. 3.5 per year is goofy for a guy with so little time under his belt but he's a starting goalie and isn't a starting goalie worth five percent of the cap? Especially a guy whose numbers are pretty good for a shit team? That's the thing, at seventy million if you have a quality guy at five or under its a win isn't it?

Having said that the Petry deal is out of this world, of course I would bet on him cashing in big time in two years if he keeps going the way he is right now.

Its been an odd summer for sure though. Luongo and Nash and Ryan are all sure to be traded but so far its been more of a phoney war than anything when it comes to movement and so one wonders what, if anything, the Oilers are going to do. Looking at the roster its clear, once again, that this team, for all of its young talent, still needs help. The question is whether or not the plan is to go with the status quo and hope that a) Whitney is healthy and b) Khabi can get it together for this season or if insurance is going to be brought to Edmonton in each case. I wouldn't mind a bit of help up front but they're set up the middle and on the wings as well unless the plan is to send Paajarvi out again or to move someone for a Dman. I think the plan up front is just to let the kids grow.

If Whitney is the Whitney of two seasons ago than the D, while green, is the best its been in a while. Even if he is (and with those ankle and foot issues its tenuous at best) one would think that if a guy like Streit can be brought in then all the better.

As for Khabi well one can hope that he suddenly finds his usual contract year magic. There's very little out there in terms of goaltending, Christ maybe Yann Danis is in the range of many of those out there anyhow, but if Khabi gets into thirty games then probably the playoffs will be a distant bell.

They probably are anyways even with the much improved goal differential of a year ago pointing to better days ahead. With Schultz and Yakupov added to the mix, another year for Petry and Dubnyk and Hall and Eberle and Ted and Paajarvi to grow, a healthy Hemsky (knock on wood), things are looking up and I would presume the club makes a move in the standings.

But man a guy like Streit would sure help. And if he (or someone like him) can be gotten on the cheap and the deal for Lubo seems to point to the value of a guy like this as just that, then I think its time.

Streit - Nick Schultz
Smid - Petry
Whitney - Justin Schultz
Sutton

That almost looks like a real NHL calibre D corps. Actually scratch the almost.

Monday, July 02, 2012

A Brand New Day



Summer has started off with a bang here at the McLean household. When you're young and fancy free between school daze and when you start a family as you wander down the road year after year the signposts are few and far between. Whatever holidays are important (say Christmas), maybe the start of your hockey season, maybe an annual weekend you get together with buddies to roar.

Once kids enter the picture then you'll feel like you're heading through downtown Toronto on the Gardiner. Blink and you'll miss your offramp.

Some days - Christmas, Mother's Day, Father's Day - grow in meaning. Others, Easter and Halloween, suddenly reappear after years away. Then you have your family vacations to see the grandparents (we go to PEI every summer for two weeks and also up north to see my folks for a week as well as a visit around Easter and near Christmas). Jenn's parents come in the spring and in the fall every year.

And with school and activities you have the ballet recitals and soccer playoffs and the start and end of each, the Christmas concert and the spring concert and the fun fair in June at the school. Plus Jenn has an annual gettogether with her gang and a run or two and I have a hockey pool and a tournament and so on. Every Christmas and usually once a summer we get together with two other families that we are close to and have a dinner and drinks while the kids run around. Today is the day for that, just before summer vacations begin and we all disappear for weeks on end.

Its a busy life but its a good one and I'd rather not have it any other way, even though it keeps us running. The kids wrapped up school on Thursday and since then its been full on. Friday night a barbeque with the neighbours. Saturday we visited my oldest friend and his family and had a nice supper and caught up. Yesterday the kids on the street had a massive water fight and afterwards we parents sat in the shade of a big old tree on the boulevard and shot the shit and had a beer or two. And then last night we took the kids out for our annual end of school dinner. They choose where to go and so it was Korean barbeque last night, celebrating good grades and a good year allround.

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If you are a hockey fan then July 1st is a day that sticks out each year because its an annual orgy of ridiculous spending where teams overpay players in order to ... well, we're unsure what they are trying to do. Impress the fans? The media?

I'm trying to think of the big UFA the Kings had on their roster. Maybe Willie Mitchell? The Bruins obviously had Chara, signed years ago, and Chicago had Hossa and Campbell. The Pens had Gonchar.

 So the UFA route can make your team a lot better if you get super high end guys (derrrrrr) or if you are getting good quality guys on the cheap somehow but for the most part, like the trade deadline, you're getting a whole lot of sound and fury etc etc.

 The Oilers moves in free agency over the past few years have brought very little to make the team better. Khabibulin was a disastrous signing, the biggest blunder of them all. For the most part the Oilers moves have been small ones, thank God. They give lower end guys shortterm deals. You might complain about the fact that Belanger and Eager got three years but the money isn't ridiculous at all. Belanger was a good move that didn't work out and he may rebound this year. Eager was more iffy and one suspects he may be out the door but then again maybe he too can be more effective this season. The concussion he suffered derailed his season before it even began.

 This year the spending has been less ridiculous than usual although I expect the Suter and Parise contracts will be insane and that we will see plugs getting big money as clubs try and get to the salary floor a la Florida last season. The worst move was the Wideman one by far imo (although John Scott is up there), the best was Garrison by Vancouver. Guy has had two excellent years in Florida, one playing with Weaver, one with Campbell. Canucks have enough quality on their blue and team overall that he is going to excel at whatever role they need him in (shutdown or more offensive).

 The Oilers ... well with the Oilers (and all teams of course) we really can't rate them until the dust settles. They aren't done yet and they have a disturbing tendency to follow good move with bad (although the good moves are more frequent these days) but the last few days have been good to Oiler fans.

1/ The Schultz move was an enormous coup. He may bust but if he does it will be an huge surprise. The contract is perfect and he is a superb prospect. He is exactly what the Oilers need, a RH Dman, well rounded, big offensive upside, plus he isn't a teenager. The Oilers are a top four D away from having their best and deepest D in years.

2/ I wanted Ryan Smyth signed badly. He should have never been allowed to leave in the first place. A great contract. He can still play although one would suspect his minutes get reduced this season as he faded last year. He's a guy who can still play the toughs, slide around the lineup, play special teams. Good teams keep their good players and Smyth is still a good player.

3/ Yann Denis is a nice depth move. I want to see Khabibulin replaced but I can't see them burying him in the minors so this is probably the G depth chart.

4/ Hordichuk is a waste of a roster spot. Like MacIntyre before him (although Hordichuk is a better player than him) he didn't prevent the Oiler kids from getting run. What's the answer? Killer PP and I think an Oiler kid getting his stick up here or there to let people know they won't take it. If Hartikainen gets a spot it likely won't hurt either. Anyhow its a waste but one year for cheap is better than a couple of years or more for another guy who can't play so it could have been worse.

So what's left? Here's the depth chart for now :

C - Ted, Gagner, Horcoff, Belanger, Lander
LW - Hall, Paajarvi, Smyth, Hartikainen, Eager, Petrell
RW - Eberle, Hemsky, Yakupov, Jones, Omark, Hordichuk
D - Smid, Petry, Whitney, J. Schultz, N. Schultz, Sutton, Potter, Peckham
G - Dubnyk, Khabibulin

Too many players first of all. We know Omark is going to get dealt and that Lander will be in OKC but unless Paajarvi or Hartikainen gets shipped out, the club needs to make some moves.

I would like to see one more upgrade on D and I suspect that is the next move to come. It may be a move like the one for Lubo, for a guy like Streit with a year left on his contract, a guy to bridge to Klefbom. Or it may be a bigger fish in which case we'd see a roster player(s) or high end prospects moved. Rumours are Hemsky is being shopped again. I'd rather he stay (do I have to repost the Hemsky ones again?!?!?) and if he's being dangled he's not bringing back a healthy quality top four D at this time, not on his own anyways.

Another top four D would give the Oilers three good pairs if Whitney is healthy (big if) and Schultz Junior can step right in and play quality. Worse case if that is your third pair then you're not in too bad shape.

I don't think other moves are necessary up front (move out Omark and Eager and ship out Lander and you have 14 forwards) but I think we're going to probably see a couple of housekeeping moves and probably one or two bigger ones (including a jawdropper I am sure) before they are done.

Here's hoping they get it right.