Thursday, November 28, 2013

When I Was Forty Five, It Was A Bittersweet Year

 Last summer we trekked up to Goulais. Last summer my father turned eighty. Last summer my parents celebrated fifty years of marriage.

 At Goulais we ate and drank and laughed as we McLeans do. We surprised Mom and Dad with train tickets to see the colours in Agawa and a dinner on the river and I gave a little speech and in my speech I proclaimed us lucky, for a little while yet, the previous two years having seen Mom laid low by a disease which put her in a wheelchair never to walk again the doctors said, a cousin with breast cancer, an uncle with a severe heart attack, another uncle with esophageal cancer. And here we were, all of us. Mom walking, my cousin ready to go back to work, my uncles laughing and dancing. Bullets dodged, especially for my Uncle Roy, the finest man, the youngest of the brothers and sister from Franz, diagnosed the previous fall, suddenly, his oldest son, Spencer, a surgical resident, telling me that the odds were not good, not good at all, my old man and his brother and sister making the trek west before the surgery, the surgery touch and go but better than the alternative, not saying what they all knew, that this was a trip to maybe say goodbye.

 And here in Goulais, a mile from the old family homestead at the mouth of the river, my uncle dancing like there might be no tomorrow to the bluegrass stylings of the Goulais River Rats or Shovel Band or whatever they were called, they play at every McLean reunion, every reunion a different name for the same group of oldtimers, most of them related to us by marriage for certain, Goulais River is a small place and the names remain the same as a century ago.

 Bullets dodged for a little while, a year of peace and good health and we raised our glasses and cheered.

  And then this spring the news came fast and it was bad news again and again. My wife's best friend with breast cancer now. My cousin Darwin with cancer, the prognosis poor. And then the hardest blow, most unbelievable, an email from my Uncle Roy, stunned, disbelieving, cancer in the family again, not him this time but Spencer, weeks from getting his papers and going to California to do his fellowship.

 I told Jenn the news and the diagnosis and she said that's not good at all and sure enough a week later another email and the cancer advancing rapidly, an aggressive bastard, such a fucking bastard.

 I called Spencer a week or so later and we chatted for an hour, laughing and joking. He was the best of the best, you would have loved him, the type of man who was a bright light, the brightest of lights really. He told me he knew he was in tough but that he was going to fight it, it was all he could do. He was a Canucks' fan and I kidded him about how the Cup final (at this time it was pretty clear that it was going to be Chicago and Boston) must be his worst nightmare. We laughed and then he told me he was a bit tired and I said so long.

 It was the last time we spoke. He had lied to me, I think, I pieced it together later when I went out west to say goodbye to my dear brother, that he knew he was a goner when we spoke but he never let on. It was just over two weeks later, Bickell and Bolland had just shocked the Bruins and the Hawks were parading the Cup around the Garden when the email came. He was gone. My wife came home to find me leaking silently, staring at the teevee.

 A week later I helped carry him out of the Church. It broke my heart. He's gone. Spencer is gone forever.


 That's life though right? I've talked about it here before, I know it, you probably know it. One day your number is up. If you're lucky you're like my Mom, survivor of two bouts with cancer and a virus that took away her legs, on our way up north this summer Jenn said your Mom is as tough as an ox but God don't tell her I said that laughing, she turned eighty this year and we spent our summer trip up at camp as always and in September she went up for a couple of weeks, just her and a friend, enjoying the quiet and the beauty.

 My cousin Darwin survived his own bout of cancer, thank goodness, and he and his wife have been travelling and enjoying life and Jenn's friend Joanne is finishing her treatment and things look good there too and so it could have been worse of course it can always get worse that's the terrifying thing that will keep you up at night if you dwell on it.

 And so what do you do? Well this summer I thought about this a lot and I talked about it a lot and a good friend of mine in Sudbury, just retired, said to me as we drank cold beer on his back deck in the sun that you can't live your life like you might drop dead tomorrow but with that said it doesn't hurt to have some of your decisions informed by this very real fact. He's a smart guy.

 And so I do what I can to be the best father I can. I always have but I have become more patient, more careful with my words, more huggy, more kissy. I'm a great dad, I always have been but I've taken my game to another level lol, its the most important thing I will ever do and so it has to be done right. I take in my time with them and I enjoy each moment. My oldest is ten now and her Christmas list doesn't have toys on it, it has clothes and giftcards and money and that's fine, its the way it is but sooner than I know she will be making her own way in the world and then her brother and sister will follow and when that day comes it will be bittersweet as well for as a parent you work towards teaching your children to be strong and independent, the very characteristics that will carry them away from you one day.

 We went to Paris this October and it was everything we could hope for. I had originally planned the trip for next year when Jenn turns forty but even before Spencer took ill I had decided that this year we would do it, why not, who knows what tomorrow would bring, right? And so we took three children across the Atlantic, the first trip to the continent for any of us, Jenn and I had been to Ireland and England and Scotland only. Paris was a dream.We all fell in love with it and so we joked that whatever happens we will always have Paris, eating confit de canard at a cafe on Rue Cler, 'our' bakery where the kids had pain chocolat each morning, the cafe across the street where I had 'deux espressos to go', wandering Ile De La Cite, crepes in the Marais, the Republican Guard exercising their horses in the alley right outside our flat's kitchen window, picnics in the park, the market at the Bastille, Shakespeare and Company, the Eiffel Tower at night and cruising the Seine and the carrousels and sailing a boat in Jardin Du Luxembourg and the meals and the wine and on and on, too many good memories to recount, a lovely time, a time we will always remember.

 And of course that is what its all about, we don't like to think about the darkness that may lurk around the corner for us but at the same time we tend to get caught up in the grind and forget about what makes it all worthwhile and of course its all worthwhile no matter the pain that we suffer as part of the journey. Spencer McLean knew this, I have known no man who enjoyed life as much as he did, and I, for my part, have always known this too and I have done my best to live in that manner.

 I'm getting older, not a lot older of course, but old enough that a Saturday night game lasts in my knees and back for a few days now and there's a lot of gray in my beard and hair coming out of my ears and nose and what the hell, when did this start happening? I would tell you but the mind isn't what it used to be either haha. I'm not dwelling on it, getting older, but with that said, well, I'm getting older.

 Enjoy the holidays, the season is upon us. Eat drink and be merry my friends. Eat drink and be merry and lets hope that the next year is a better one still.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Losing Losers Who Lose

When I was a boy, heck when I was a young man, I didn't really understand the concept of change. I wasn't one to ask questions and my folks, as wonderful as they are, weren't ones to offer much up unless asked (although the old man has become more of a chatterbox as he's gotten older) and so my kids and especially the boy, are far more worldly than I was at their age. For that matter they are probably more worldly than I was when I was a young man. They ask, and I answer, questions about economics and personal finance and history and politics and puck possession and relationships and whatever else they can think up. A good part of our time in Paris was spent explaining to the boy the French Revolution and the concept of a monarchy and the Napoleonic Wars and European power politics and yeah you get the picture.

 So I was and really have always been slightly naive. I grew up lucky and so news of a divorce always astounded me, for example. In my world things just trucked along when I was a boy and of course that is not the reality of the world, it never has been and it never will be. The fall of the Berlin Wall, the erosion of the American empire, the collapse into irrelevancy of the federal Liberal party, the end of the PC dynasty in Ontario, the emergence of Canada as an Olympic power (at least in the Winter Games), the Internet and smart phones, these events and inventions, some hugely important, some not so much, I could never have envisioned as a boy or even as a young man. NEVER.

 And yet here we are and who knows what will happen in the next decades? We don't know. We can guess at possibilities but we don't know what the future brings.

 When I was a boy the sporting landscape was vastly different. I became aware of the NHL in 1973 and in the sixteen years that followed only four teams won the Stanley Cup - Montreal, Philadelphia, the Islanders and Edmonton. The Original Six were garbage, Detroit was terrible, Chicago and Toronto and Rangers were mediocre with the odd gust to being pretty good, the Bruins usually pretty good with a few years as contenders. Philly was always solid but the rest of the '67 expansion was junk - the Blues, Kings, Pens and Stars all terrible or mediocre, the following expansion squads nearly all terrible as well. Philly was replaced by the Habs who were supplanted by the Islanders who then saw the OIlers rise to power. Nobody else really mattered.

 In the CFL you had Edmonton and Montreal and nobody else.

 In baseball you had the Big Red Machine and then the Yankees and then a dozen different champions in thirteen years.

 In the NFL you had the Steelers and the Raiders and then sixteen years where the NFC pounded the NFC for fifteen Super Bowl wins, the 49ers and Cowboys and Giants and Redskins destroying the Bills and Broncos and various other pretenders with Chicago and Green Bay also picking up wins over another patsy, the New England Patriots.

 Nobody knew who Manchester United or Real Madrid were.

 Boxing mattered. So did horse racing and the Indy 500.

 I'm old. OLD!

 You know who was the baseball club that everyone wanted to emulate when I was a youth? Kansas City. George Brett and speed and defence and pitching and they were in the mix every year. After that it was the Blue Jays. Every year the Jays were competitive and finally in 92 and 93 they won it all.

 Times have changed.

 In 86 I was at the Cameron House with a buddy from Sudbury, we were in our first year of university and 18 years old and we had found one of many places you could get a beer without getting ID'd. We skipped out of class to drink beer (a common theme of my university days) and watch the Red Sox beat the Mets or so we hoped. And the Mets were down to their last strike and then suddenly Carter, I think it was, stroked a single and then the next batter went down two strikes and did the same and then on and on and the ball through Buckner's legs and game six was over and we knew what was coming before game seven even started.

 That was the Red Sox. They were cursed. Losers. 1918.

 A couple of weeks ago I watched them win their third World Series in a decade. The other champions in that time? The White Sox. I remember a couple of years before the White Sox won reading that the odds of both the Cubs and White Sox going as long as they did without winning were something like 5000 to one. In 2010 the Giants won for the first time on over fifty years. Two years later they won again.

 Losers no more.

 In 1994 the New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup (1940! 1940!) and three years later the Detroit Red Wings ended forty one years of frustration. In 2011 the Bruins went all the way for the first time in nearly forty years. The Wings have been the gold standard for the league for over twenty years. The Bruins have been to the final twice in three years, losing last year to the saddest of sad NHL sacks, the Chicago Blackhawks.

 The Blackhawks were the biggest losers in the NHL forever. Forever. Under Bill Wirtz and Bob Pulford they wandered into the desert. They didn't return until Wirtz died. When Dale Tallon tried to eulogize him before a game the United Center crown booed.

 In the third season after his death Chicago won their first Cup since 1961. Three years later they won again.

 They're the new gold standard.

  What happened to Chicago?

 After 1961 they went just over a decade where they were a very good club but did not win another Cup despite trips to the Final in 1971 and 1973. They faded in the seventies and early eighties and then built a decent club around Savard Larmer and Doug Wilson in the eighties. They were pretty good but no match for the Oilers. Often they were no match for the junk in their division even (Murray Bannerman!). Mike Keenan came to town in the late eighties.

 In 1991 they won the President's Trophy. The next year they went to the Stanley Cup. Then Pulford stepped in and Keenan was a goner and that was it.

 There was a stretch of around fifteen years or so where the Blackhawks drafted two players who scored over twenty goals or more in a season, Roenick and Daze. Something like that. Isn't that amazing? How imcompetent were those scouts?

 They traded Hasek and then they dismantled that early 90s' team piece by piece. Roenick, Chelios, Belfour, all gone for futures. They got Tony Amonte for Noonan and Matteau and then years later they let him go too. Each move was rationalized, some were correct at the time (Hasek was not Hasek yet and they had Belfour of course, Amonte wasn't worth it anymore imo)

 The Hawks turned a house into a paperclip and then went a decade with one playoff game win. One playoff win in ten years. One game.

 Their best players were Kyle Calder and Mark Bell and Tyler Arnason. In one five year stretch they had six (6!) coaches.

 Here are their first round picks from 1991 to 2000 on: Dean McAmmond, Sergei Krivokrasov, Eric Lecompte, Ethan Moreau, Dmitri Nabokov, Daniel Cleary, Ty Jones, Mark Bell, Steve McCarthy, Mikhail Yakubov, Pavel Vorobiev.

 Could you imagine.

 Bad management. Bad drafting, bad trades, bad decision upon bad decision. Good players traded for a wing and a prayer. Draft picks spent poorly. Team is bad. Young players brought up and placed in a bad position. They fail. No free agents will come to a garbage team. And so the spiral goes.

 They had bad luck. Eric Daze's back giving out was a big one. But you know what? Everyone has bad luck.  The Detroit Red Wings won three Stanley Cups after Vlad Konstantinov's car accident. Of course the Wings could draft and develop and they had good management.

 It took the Hawks pretty well fifteen years to climb out of the hole Pulford dug for them.

 Fucking losers in the biggest way. Everything they touched turned to shit.

 Like the Toronto Raptors. The LA Clippers. The Buffalo Bills.  You know the teams. In some cases they used to be good, in others they have never been good. The only way out for them is to get the proper management, to draft properly and develop properly and build that house from scratch. Get good scouts and good coaches and add to the foundation by making proper moves.

 Then you are no longer the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or New Orleans Saints or Chicago White Sox.

 Chicago's draft record speaks for itself. They had some misses in the 'oughts but they also had great success in the later rounds. They added young players like Versteeg and Sharp for nothing. They picked up veteran stars like Hossa and Campbell and support players like Madden and Kopecky as free agents and moved Ruutu for Ladd and Barker for Leddy. They hired a veteran coach and when the GM botched the contract situation with the RFAs they cut him loose (though of course politics were involved) because you can't afford to have a manager who fucks shit up that badly.

 There were missteps and after their first Cup they had to gut their supporting cast but the return for those players stocked their prospect cupboard once again and now they have another Cup and look to be perennial contenders for years to come.

 No longer losers.


 The past few weeks have led people to say that the Oilers have hit rock bottom and of course that is far from the truth. They still have a lot of young talent in the NHL and some promising prospects. They're far from rock bottom but this fall has been a pretty good rebuttal to all of the fans and media shills who proclaimed that the Oilers were on the right track.

 The problem with tearing a team down is that if you leave nothing left, if you turn that house into a paper clip, as Lowe and Tambo did, just as Pulford did after 1992, then you leave a mountain to climb. Keep getting rid of NHL players and suddenly you don't have an NHL team which means that you might have three number one picks but you don't have a supporting cast and so the team continues to lose and your leverage is gone because everyone looks worse than they are.

 You can move Cam Barker for Nick Leddy because Barker might be garbage but he's surrounded but a tremendous team and so he doesn't look as bad as he is. If you wanted to move Nail Yakupov right now, which would be dumb of course, you'd get fifty cents on the dollar. Yakupov has been rotten but a lot of that has to do with circumstance. You might say (and you would be right) that he has to become a more complete player but you also need to put him in a position to succeed. He's the talent. Figure it out.

 I liked MacT's summer, I like his fall a lot less, but RiversQ made a point that I have repeated here a few times, the hill was too big to climb this summer. The D was in shambles as was the bottom six and the prospects who you would hope would be ready to step in and fill some holes based on their age and pedigree - Lander, Pitlick, Hamilton, Martindale, Plante, Teubert - have all either completely busted or are on that path (although Pitlick seems to have turned things around possibly and reports on Lander have been good too, it may not be too late). Rajala and Hartikainen flew the coop and suddenly the fourth line is garbage once again, the idea of a puck possession team out the window for more facepunchers who can't make or take a pass.

 The goaltending has righted itself but put them in a hole early when they deserved better but the bigger issue is what has come to pass since the team basically got healthy and Dubnyk found his game. They've been worse. They've been dismal. They have sunk to the bottom of the league again and barely squeaked by Calgary, thanks only to the Flames' own goaltending issues. They can't score and they can't defend and the shiny new coach looks to be at a loss.

 Its an absolute mess.

 And they are dealing from an absolute position of weakness. Perron has looked good for the most part as has Ales Hemsky by my eye and Gordon has done what he can although I am sure he and Horcoff could have a few beers and talk about playing tough minutes while dragging a couple of boat anchors around with them. In any case they can't move Perron or Gordon and Hemsky, likely a goner, is a UFA and thus will bring only more fucking futures which is exactly what this club does not need.

 What does MacT do? Well he cannot panic but he has to fix this somehow. He has to find the teams that have guys to move who can play. Florida and Buffalo fit the bill obviously and maybe they can find a contender that needs scoring but doesn't have the cap space to acquire Hemsky without sending a player back.

 I know when the Hemsky/Simmonds rumour was flying around a few weeks ago people were up in arms but if they're not keeping Ales (and I would have to guess he is tired of the losing and the circus and may be ready to go) then getting an honest to goodness NHLer would be huge and certainly preferable to more picks.

 I can't speak to what is going on on the ice except as usual the team needs D and a couple of guys who can win puck battles and check and PK and so MacT needs to fill those holes somehow and he has to win the deals he makes because the problem now is that its eight years out and while Smid and Hemsky were happy to extend to stay here we're getting to the point where guys might want out while under contract.

 And that, folks, is where we're going to hit rock bottom. I have talked about this for years, the problem with the scorched earth build/rebuild is that the danger is that it does not work, like it didn't in Florida and Columbus and Long Island and Chicago for a decade and in Atlanta which had five straight years of top two picks and saw it all frittered away as guys either did nto pan out or opted out as soon as the opportunity arose.

 The next few months are critical. MacT and Eakins have to right this. Its obvious that there is something rotten and its rotten at the core right now. Its not the veterans, its the kids. Yakupov is unhappy and Hall and Eberle and Ted are underperforming and Gagner and Schultz Younger have been horrible.

 There are sixty games left. If they are as awful as the first quarter of the season people might start asking out and we all know that dealing from a position of weakness is a good way to get ten cents on the dollar and this club doesn't have enough dollars to afford that.

 We're going to see the cut of MacT now that's for sure. If he fails, and he may, we're just at the beginning of a long dismal winter that will make these past few years look like a walk in the park.

 Fingers crossed.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Lots of Laughs

After June 17th 2006 things began to go south pretty quickly for the Edmonton Oilers. Just two days after they had totally outclassed Carolina in game six they fell just short of winning the Cup. Soon after Chris Pronger was gone and the downward spiral has not abated since.

 The errors of management have been rehashed ad nauseum here and elsewhere so lets just sum everything up quickly as follows:

1/ Kevin Lowe put the club in the ditch, mostly by trading Pronger and Smyth, the team's best two players, for futures and not replacing them or other veterans from the Cup run (Peca, Spacek, Samsonov, Dvorak) with quality NHLers. This would become a theme as you will see.

2/ Lowe actually made things worse by trying to eat his cake and have it too. Rather than commit to a full on rebuild he spent money and assets acquiring a sprinkling of vets who prevented a full freefall, all the while pushing kids into the NHL too soon, resulting in a bad team and damaging or ruining the development of a number of prospects.

3/ Steve Tambellini came in and when it became clear that the team with Khabibulin in net was not going to be a Cup contender (lol) the organization went into full rebuild mode, burning everything to the ground, the end result being a roster which at the beginning of this summer included three number one picks overall as well as three top ten picks selected by the organization, not to mention Jordan Eberle and Justin Schultz.

 Coming into this season then the team had spent seven years out of the playoffs. They had changed owners once, they were on their third GM, second scouting director and fourth coach. They had fired the training staff (seriously!), redone their minor league system and turned over assistant coaches, some scouts and other head office staff.

 With the Horcoff trade there was only one player remaining from the 2006 club which came within a break or two of winning the Cup who had played for the team every year since then, 'Winter' Ales Hemsky. Somehow he has survived though his days are definitely numbered. Here's hoping a Chicago or California address is in his future.

 How do you turn a team that almost wins the Cup into the laughing stock of the league? It takes a lot of work but the Oilers' management team discovered the easiest way to do it. Turn NHL players into nothing. Turn the house into a paper clip.

 Chris Pronger, the best defenceman not named Lidstrom of his era, was turned into Lupul who was sent away with Jason Smith for Joni Pitkanen who was traded for Erik Cole who was moved for Patrick O'Sullivan who is out of the NHL. He was turned into Ladislav Smid who was just traded for two nobody prospects. He was turned into three picks, one of which is Jordan Eberle.

 Ryan Smyth, good enough to play in three best on best tournaments for the deepest national team in the world, was turned into Ryan O'Marra, Robert Nilsson and Alex Plante.

 Jaro Spacek, Michael Peca, Sergei Samsonov and Radek Dvorak all left as free agents.

 Jan Hejda left for nothing.

 Jarret Stoll and Raffi Torres were traded for Lubo Visnovsky who was traded for Ryan Whitney who just cleared waivers.

 Curtis Glencross left for nothing.

 Kyle Brodziak was traded for nothing.

 Andrew Cogliano was traded for nothing.

 Sheldon Souray was buried in the minors and bought out.

 Tom Gilbert was traded for Nick Schultz.

 Dustin Penner was traded for Oscar Klefbom and Colton Teubert. Teubert is gone. High hopes for Klefbom.

 Have I missed anyone? Probably. I've only tried to include players who were NHLers when they were moved out and who remained NHLers for at least a couple of years after being moved out.

 That's a lot of good players out the door with only Jordan Eberle and maybe Klefbom coming back. And Nick Schultz who looks to be done.

 There's a reason its been seven years, soon to be eight, out of the playoffs.

 You can argue a move here and there maybe. Maybe you hate Gilbert, who is a top pairing Dman this season. Maybe Souray was a bad bad man.

 But the proof is in the pudding.


 Since 2006 you could probably divide Oiler fans into two camps. Those critical of management and those who believed in it. Some, like Vic Ferrari, RiversQ and Dennis King, wanted Lowe's head on a stick by September 2006. They predicted, correctly, that he had turned a winner into a loser. Others, such as myself, saw a flawed team that fall but believed that there was no way Lowe would not add the necessary ingredients to ensure success. When he flushed the season and traded Smyth then he lost me. I wasn't the only one.

 Every autumn following I would predict doom for the Oilers and someone would invariably comment that I would eat my words and that I was not a true fan, too negative and so on. And the franchise circled the drain. The critics increased in numbers.

 There were always fans who believed in the club though, believed in Lowe and Tambellini, believed that the rebuild began when they moved Lubo out the door, believed that the tank job would result in BAM STANLEY CUP! They ignored the fact that the guys who destroyed the club through incompetence and folly were now in charge of building it again. They also conveniently ignored the fact that for every Chicago and Pittsburgh there were Atlanta and Florida and the Islanders and Columbus and that Chicago had in fact wandered the desert for fifteen years 'rebuilding' before Bill Wirtz died and Bob Pulford finally got the axe and that the Penguins had not one but two generational players and that in both cases management surrounded the young stars with quality veteran players all through the roster and that a lot of the 'youth', Keith and Seabrook, for example, were entering their prime when these clubs went all the way.

 There will always be that dichotomy in the fan base although even the diehards are starting to grumble now. There will be those who think that moving in more kids is the answer.

 And there will be those of us who are skeptical. The diehards point at us and say 'you're not a true fan' much as someone will point to a citizen critical of the government of the day and say they don't love their country. This is dumb of course. Blind faith is really dumb. The fact that because someone is an NHL GM makes them good at being a GM is foolishness. Mike Milbury and Doug MacLean and Steve Tambellini and John Ferguson Jr. say hello. For starters.

 The funny thing is like the diehard all the critical folks want is to win. And we look at history and we say that its not likely going to happen.

 The fear all along for me is that this would become a perpetual rebuild and again there was scoffing but the move Friday night of Ladislav Smid for, wait for it, two marginal prospects, was a perfect symbol of all that we have gone through since 2006.

 He, along with Lupul, was the centrepiece of the the Pronger deal, the first pieces of the puzzle. Now both are gone for nothing, seven years later, and the franchise has not played one playoff game.

 Ladi Smid never turned into an all star but he was at worst a top four defenceman who took a step backwards over the last eighty games. Now he's gone and Saturday afternoon the Oilers made the Flyers popgun offence look like the Chicago Blackhawks and then when they met the actual Blackhawks last night they handed the defending champions the two points with an absolute joke of a defensive game.

 The Oilers are in no position to give away actual NHL players without replacing them, especially those under contract (and a reasonable contract at that) after this year. They are amongst the worst teams in the league. Again. Same as the last seven years. They are going to miss the playoffs. Again.

 The team is not as bad as their record. There has been bad luck and injuries and the goaltending has inexplicably let them down.

 But the song remains the same. Not enough NHL players. Giving away guys like Ladislav Smid isn't helping matters.

 Hold on tight because the next thing I predicted is one of the golden boys asking out. It won't be this year, maybe not even next. But does anyone think Taylor Hall is going to spend his career waiting for management to get it together? He won't. He will ask out and the media will say nobody wants to play in Edmonton and that he was a bad person and Oiler management will count their money and shrug.

 They need more good players and the problem with the scorched earth rebuild is part of it is you give away most of your good players. The end result is that you are weak and so the Oilers don't have the chips to acquire what they need unless they are really smart and really creative.

 I'm a MacT man through and through and I'm hoping someone is on their way to replace Smid but if not then I have to say I'm beginning to have my doubts.


The Lost One



I first posted this on November 10th, 2009.
I once wrote that in every small town in Canada you will find a hockey arena, a hotel and a war memorial but the truth is that even in the smallest villages of this country you may not find an arena or a hotel but you will find a war memorial.

In Toronto the churches along Bloor and the Danforth that I see daily have memorials to young men long gone. Along the widest avenue there are towering monuments similar to what you see in Edinburgh and London and Glasgow (though not in Dublin). The university has a beautiful memorial and in the fraternity houses there are solemn plaques to commemorate the fallen. In Truro and Sudbury and Fernie, in Charlottetown in the centre of the town at the end of the main street, in tiny wooden rural PEI churches built in the 1800s, overlooking rolling fields of green and the Northumberland Strait, everywhere you go in this country the names of young men are carved into stone or bronze or oak so that we will not forget them.

In Flesherton, a tiny Ontario village, eighty four young men enlisted to fight the Kaiser. Nineteen did not return.

A map of a portion of East York, not far from where I live, places poppies over the addresses of boys slaughtered in France and Belgium. The street names are obscured by a sea of red. Neighbours lost sons and husbands. Some houses have more than one poppy. A bloody sea of grief and horror.

In tiny Goulais River, west of the Soo, perched just before the Highlands of Lake Superior rise out of the granite of the Canadian Shield, there is no hotel and no hockey arena but there's a war monument and there are far more names on it than you would expect for a town perched on what would have been the edge of the world a century ago.

Sometime in the 1880s my great great grandfather, Neil McLean, his wife Margaret and his family of eight children left what had been the family homestead for decades and moved to Kincardine in Bruce County. I have been researching the family for years and for a while there was a massive gap in what I knew. Two of the sons, the oldest, Malcolm, and the youngest, Neil, had appeared in Goulais River soon after but of their parents and their siblings nothing more was to be found.

A few years ago I found that Neil and Margaret were actually buried in Goulais and the picture began to become clearer. Then this past year it came into focus as I discovered census records that showed that actually the entire family but one of the oldest sons, Duncan, had sailed across Lake Huron and settled in Goulais almost immediately after they arrived in Kincardine. After this things become murky again. Of Duncan I have found no trace. One son, John, perished on Superior. His body was never recovered. Two daughters and a son moved west and were still alive when Neil passed away in 1929. The third daughter also disappears from the picture after the turn of the century. Malcolm or Uncle Mac as he was known, lived into his nineties, a relic of times long past that my dad and his siblings remember as a kind and gentle man.

In 1901 there is someone else in the picture in Goulais. a widower, Nicholas McLean, and his son Ivan, a twelve year old. Are they related to our McLeans? Based on family stories the answer is yes but how they are related, I don't know. Nicholas, born in 1853, is almost twenty five years younger than old Neil McLean, the family patriarch. In fact he is almost Malcolm's age, just a few years younger. Perhaps he is a cousin? There are two separate accounts of Ivan being related, one mention of him being a cousin of my grandfather's brother, another of him being my grandfather's uncle. He is definitely not my grandfather's uncle but one thinks that that traditionally we called older friends of family Uncle and Aunt and so I wonder if that is how he was referred to in the McLean family by some.

We know little about Nicholas. Ivan was born on July 5th, 1889 in or around Toronto. In 1891 the baby Ivan and his parents, Nicholas and Jane show up a ways from Toronto, in Grey County. In 1893 another baby, Norman, is born.

We don't know what happened to Jane but in 1901 Nicholas is in Goulais with this oldest son. In 1911 Norman is also in Goulais, living with his father. Ivan, now in his early twenties, is on his own but still in Goulais.

In the history of Goulais River, Valley of Trees and Water, there is a picture taken from around this time. Its some sort of club or service organization, I cannot remember which one. Ivan stands in the back. He is tall for a McLean (and for the time). He has a large, drooping mustache and he looks at the camera seriously. I have not seen the picture in a couple of years but I know that at least one of the other young men in the picture went to France and did not return.

My grandfather was barely a teenager when the armistice was signed and my own father turned thirteen when the war with Hitler ended. They were both the oldest in their families. My grandfather's youngest brother Morley fought in World War Two and his wife Etna served in the WACs in the same war. Other McLean involvement in the wars is a little cloudier. Stories tell of Uncle Mac fighting in both wars (he would have been 82 at the beginning of the second war) and also of Neil the younger fighting in the Great War. I could find no record of Neil McLean in service records of the CEF though and as a father of many in his late thirties I don't think that he enlisted.

One McLean who did go to France was Ivan. His service record tells us a lot about him, although his last name is spelled MacLean. Its the same Ivan McLean though, he has the same birthday and his father is Nicholas.

Ivan was a lumberman by trade and when war broke out he was working in the west apparently. He immediately enlisted in the 31st Battalion and would have shipped out to France very early.

For a record of the exploits of the 31st battalion I would recommend The Journal of Private Fraser, a book I actually owned before discovering Ivan's service record earlier this year. Donald Fraser describes in great detail what the regular infantryman had to endure. Its a terrible tale.

In September of 1916 its the Canadian divisons' turn at the Battle of The Somme. This is before Vimy Ridge and before Arthur Currie turns the Canadian Army into the elite force it would be in the last two years of the war but even in 1916 the Canadians are recognized for their ability in battle.

On September 15th they go over the top and begin the last part of the battle, a battle which they would successfully conclude a month or so later, a battle that cost the British the flower of an entire generation.

On September 15th the artillery does little to dent the German trenches and German rifles and machine guns take a terrible toll, a toll that Fraser describes in detail as he watches his comrades killed around him.

By the end of the first day of the battle the 31st has lost over a quarter of its strength, over two hundred and seventy men. Whereas usually there are a fraction of casualties who are killed, in this battle over half of those casualties are fatal.

One of them is Ivan McLean. His body was never recovered. His name is found on the Canadian monument at Vimy Ridge.

On November 11th, remember him and remember all of them.