Friday, May 31, 2013

Luck





 Hello. Hello? *taps mic* I'm still here. Is anybody out there?

 This is going to be a ramble, making up for lost time a bit here.

 The idea of luck, serendipity, the path not taken, the path taken because of a random event, these thoughts have appeared on these virtual pages many times and for good reason. This blog is a blog about two things, its about life and its about sport and in both cases it is luck that plays a major role in how the story and thus the stories here, are written.

 This isn't to say that hard work and smarts and courage and plain old talent don't play a role because obviously they do. Where I am and who I am with today is a result of a path taken which was the result of a dozen chance encounters, each leading to the other. Once I got to the path it was what I did that got me here but getting on that path? Pure and total luck.

 The path is a beauty. In my mind I always go back to those northern pine woods by the lake and so for me this is a walk through those woods, the bed of pine needles soft underfoot, the trees whispering in the wind, the sun filtering down, through the spruce and cedar at the shore, the cold blue waters sparkling. I hear birds and deeper in the forest the rush and rustling of a fox or its prey. Its simple and its beautiful and I'm a lucky man for living it.

 And of course this is the thing, even though all is well for us the reality is that all it will take is a sudden turn, a cell turning on the body, a drunk driver, any number of things, and it could all come crashing down. Its the way it is. My Mom turned eighty yesterday and her and Dad, who will be eighty one in three weeks, are getting ready to head into those woods for the summer. One of these years will be the last one but for now they are going to go up and enjoy their favourite place for another summer, the forty fifth one I think it is now. Mom still has pain in her leg from the nervous disorder that attacked her three summers ago but she is strong again and walking (they said it couldn't be done!) and so she has beaten it, just as she has beaten cancer twice. Three times her body turned on her and three times she won out but it may have gone another way. And my father in law, visiting us now, who pretty well died from a massive heart attack four years ago, is fit and trim and enjoying his second lease on life and so it goes for them, unlucky and lucky as well.

 With that said the past few months have been awfully tough for me and a lot of lost sleep, a friend and two cousins struck by cancer, fifty and thirty nine and thirty four and so yeah fuck it all to hell. Mom and I talking and she said 'Life's not fair' and even my kids already know that and so we think good thoughts and hope for the best. I'm not the praying type but those who are are doing so. And so we wait.

 Bad luck for all three. Here's hoping that some good luck follows.

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 The boy is a hockey madman. Friends of ours were up from the Island and their young lad said to my young lad hey lets play some street hockey and my son was all 'wha, you can do that?' as he has two sisters and every kid on our little street (I've lost count of how many kids are on our street now, two more pregnancies happening and another baby just born recently, its mental) is either too young or is a girl who has no interest in hockey. His older sister is game and so the call of 'Car' has begun to be heard again, apparently a decade ago there was plenty of road hockey going on but that generation has moved out and moved on. What this means when it comes down to it is that I'm the main opponent and so last Sunday I spent five hours give or take pounding the pavement until dinnertime came and I could barely walk. I haven't done a whit of exercise in over a month and still I weighed myself the other day to find myself six pounds lighter than after Christmas despite all of the beer and I'm thinking I lost twice that last weekend.

 So we have the road hockey and he's watching as much of the playoffs as possible, I'm afraid he's straying from his nominal favourite, our Edmonton Oilers, and when Hemsky goes this summer that may be it. He's seen enough great hockey this spring to recognize that the Oilers are shit and when I tell him its been seven years out he snorts with derision. He loves Crosby and Hossa and Datsyuk, he has an appreciation for the artists for sure (he loves Hemsky) but I think its Crosby's strong muscular thighs which have caught his eye most of all, much like Pierre Maguire.

 And he's playing spring hockey, its a 15 game season and the top two teams play for all of the marbles and did I mention to you that I have played hockey for probably about forty teams in my entire life and in all of those seasons I have played for the championship twice with one title? And did you know that my son, who is seven years old, won a championship in his first hockey season and that in his spring league with four games left to go they need two more wins to clinch a spot in the final.

 Seriously.

 SERIOUSLY.

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 With the final four upon us and two game sevens having just been played, each being decided by a goal, we might think again on luck and how it has an impact on hockey. I was on Twitter discussing Chicago a few nights ago and Michael Parkatti remarked that he was a bit amazed that the Hawks had a total of four (4!) championships over their long history.

 It is and it isn't. I'm not a big math guy but I think the Hawks should have seven or eight titles if my math is right, the big problem for the franchise is between 1942 and 1967 when they should have won four they only won one and the main reason for that is for nearly that entire time they had horrible ownership that hobbled them. They probably should have won another Cup or two between 1961 and 1973 but they didn't because, generally, other teams were a bit better or a bit luckier (1971 stands out most of all) but after 1973 they really only two true contenders, in 1991 and 1992, and again you can blame ownership for that as well. The reality is the franchise wasn't cursed, as many say losing franchises are, other than to be owned by James Norris when they had the best opportunity to win Cups and to be owned by Bill Wirtz and run by Bob Pulford for decades.

 When you don't win in forever there may be a bit of luck involved but the reality is that there is usually a reason. Sure the Red Sox collapse in 1986 was a disaster but for the rest of that massive drought they went through they didn't even get a sniff. But if Bob Stanley had struck out one of those guys that he had two strikes on in the bottom of the ninth with two out, well then, everything is different. Of course if Rivera closes the Sox out years later and the Yankees sweep the Sox then ...

 (As an aside I remember reading somewhere shortly before the Chicago White Sox won to break their own drought that the odds of both they and the Cubs not winning a World Series for as long as they had was something ridiculous like 10000 to 1. Imagine.)

 What makes hockey (and most sports) so wonderful and so exasperating at the same time is that randomness will get its due. Take the three most famous goals in Canadian history. While Canada deserved to win in 1972, 1987 and 2010 it is easy to imagine Henderson, Lemieux and Crosby not scoring and history taking a different path.

 Tony Esposito stops Jacques Lemaire's slapshot in 1971. Hawks win the Cup.

 Nashville does not allow a Chicago SH goal late in game five in 2010. Hawks lose game six or seven and the team gets disbanded without ending the drought.

 Stan Smyl scores.

 Jeff Friesen does not score with two minutes left of game seven against the Sens in 2003.

 Nathan Lafayette does not hit the post.

 Kerry Fraser calls that high stick.

 Joe Pavelski gets that puck up on Jonathan Quick and Sharks win.

 Nathan Horton does not score in OT against the Habs and the Habs win. Or he does not score late against Tampa and Tampa wins.

 Martin Gelinas' goal counts.

 Fernando Pisani scores late in game seven.

 See how that works? Isn't it mental? And the thing is, NONE of these scenarios are anywhere outside of the realm of possibility. NONE OF THEM. And yet the history of franchises, the way players are regarded, coaches' jobs, all altered.

 Chicago wins in 1971. Or does not in 2010.

 The great Calgary team from the nineties never wins a Cup but the one in 2004 does.

 That beauty Oiler club from 2006 wins it all.

 The Senators win a Cup (you know they would have beaten the Ducks). The Sharks move on to face Chicago and try and rewrite their own narrative.

 Boston's drought does not end and Claude Julien gets fired and that team is dismantled. The Canucks win the Cup easily against Tampa or Montreal, their second one.

 The Rangers don't end their drought.

 The Leafs end theirs.

 Luck. Bounces. I'm not saying the better team did not win in those games but a lot of better teams have lost series over the years.

 Why do I bring this all up? Well its a bit of an odd year to do to be honest, we have the last four Stanley Cup winners competing in the final four. There is no narrative to be written for any of these franchises or their players or staff. They are all winners, so to speak. Each coach has won. All of the big name players on each team have won the Cup.

 But I noted how close the Sharks came and how almost immediately after the call came for Thornton and Marleau to go despite the fact they had been, as they usually are, the two best Sharks' players in the playoffs this year.

 And I noted how dismissive a small minority were of the outcry over the Walkom call at the end of game seven in Chicago. And I thought about it and I wondered why were some people saying that it wasn't a big deal and how some people said oh poor Stephen Walkom, he's such a good guy (EVERYONE IN HOCKEY IS A GOOD GUY) instead of a cowardly incompetent which is basically what he is.

 And I have to admit I'm a guy who has always dismissed Leaf fans, who, twenty years later, still complain about a missed call.

 Not any more.

 Here's the thing. If everything were fair you'd win the Cup every thirty years. Thirty teams. Right? But of course it doesn't work that way. Lets look at the twenty two years since the Sharks entered the league.

 In the twenty one years the Cup has been contested there have been a dozen winners. That's all. A dozen.

 So yeah the refs had better get those calls right because the reality is there are going to be years that your team is lousy, unless you are Detroit, and there are years your good team is going to get riddled by injuries and there are years where your team is really good but other teams just happen to be better.

 And there are times where you're just going to be unlucky. It doesn't matter how hard you work or what a great teammate you are or how good a player you are (does anyone doubt that Mats Sundin did not deserve to win based on his 'hockey attributes'? Or Doug Wilson? Or Saku Koivu?) sometimes shit doesn't work out.

 And that is the exasperating part. It doesn't matter what you do you might still not win because of pure dumb circumstance.

 And that is what is exasperating when your team has bad management because, for example, the Oilers have basically just lost a decade unless somehow MacT pulls off a miracle and speeds up the process. Or as Chicago (Chicago model!!) did under Wirtz and Pulford, lost fifteen years between the Keenan years and the death of Dollar Bill.

 And then you have the boy.

!!!!!!

 Ramble ramble meander meander, going drinking tonight onto the patios. Have a great weekend!

9 comments:

Jonathan Willis said...

I love reading this stuff and couldn't agree more.

MacT's Helmet said...

Great read.
Enjoy the weekend, Pat!

HeavySig said...
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HeavySig said...
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HeavySig said...

You left out the obvious one; Steve Smith banks it off the boards instead of Grant Fuhr...

Don't be hard on the boy for choosing his own teams, it's part of his ascent to manhood; challenging the father figure authority. My dad was a big Leaf and Yankee fan, so of course I cheered for the Habs and the Red Sox in the 70's. Good times. Well at least they were in the spring, not so much in the fall.

Cobbler said...

An excellent post. A good way to end a beautiful Friday night.

Cheers!

Cobbler

Black Dog said...

Thanks for the kind words guys.

Sig - lol I did, wow that's an obvious one too. Of course the Boston too many men is another as well.

As for teams oh yeah no worries, he's going to figure out his own way and based on his own hockey will have far more luck than I there too :)

Ribs said...

...but I think its Crosby's strong muscular thighs which have caught his eye most of all, much like Pierre Maguire.

But maybe not quite like Maguire.

Good stuff.

Sharks have been around that long already! Wow! I remember getting a jersey for christmas in their inaugural season. So cool looking!

Bruce said...

A fine read, as usual.

Luck is so much of it; we spend our time calculating and figuring and developing new metrics and spreadsheets and data sets, and so often it comes down to a single roll of the dice, a bounce of the puck, a moment of indecision or of clutchiness, maybe a recalcitrant neuron in the referee's brain.

e.g. Marc Andre Fleury stops Nick Lidstrom with a second to go in Game Seven SCF, using a technique that comes from the "Don't!" section of the Goaltender's Manual, and his rep is set. Whatever else happens that's bad -- and there's been quite a lot -- he'll always be the Stanley Cup champion goalie who made That save with everything on the line. And Nick Lidstrom will always be a loser. (OK, maybe not that last bit!)