Monday, March 25, 2013

I've Paid My Dues Time After Time, Well, Not Really


 When my son started playing hockey this past fall I was happy that he wanted to give it a whirl and hopeful that he would enjoy my favourite sport. And he did, falling head over heels for the game, this despite being, um, well, not very good. He was the smallest player on the team and the weakest skater and he would touch the puck once or twice a game. Jenn hated it, hated seeing him struggle so obviously. It was like watching one of those shows like The Office where you cringe at what is going on but can't pull yourself away from it.

 The boy is laconic, one word answers are his forte, if he were ever to make the pros he'd be the perfect interview, no Crash Davis training needed there, so when I asked him if he had fun and he said 'yes' and what he thought about hockey he would say 'good' but he would say both with a stone face that would make Dion Phaneuf jealous and I worried that he was just going along for the ride, just trying to please me.

 Except it became clear that he did love the game and that he was having fun and soon he was asking me to sign him up for next season and hockey camp and summer hockey and the whole deal. And when winter came to Toronto and they put ice down at the park one street over we started going over to skate and play some shinny and then all of a sudden when the Sharks hit the ice every Saturday morning the boy was in the play more and more, getting to the puck, going to the net, banging along the boards.

 And he wasn't alone. For most of his teammates it was their first crack at organized hockey. There is a three goal rule in the league so each player is allowed a maximum of a hattrick in the game and in the fall one player, a fantastic skater and stickhandler who could put the puck top corner, would invariably score three goals by the second period and then the team would get reeled in and lose 4-3 or 5-4. Their goalie struggled, the D was a bit of a mishmash and up front there was a lot of try but no finish.

 And then one by one they began to get it. They learned their positions and the simple truths about the game - keep skating, stick on the ice, go to the net - and suddenly they began to tear through the league. They won their last five games and while the team's star was still scoring his three goals his teammates were also scoring. Whereas players once put their head down and went solo and stuffed it into the opposing goalies' pads now their were passes and rebounds and accurate shots from the slot. The only weakness was a goaltender whose confidence was clearly shot. While his teammates would score seven or eight he would allow four or five and usually the majority of those were, erm, not so great.

 And then just before playoffs started a practice and the coaches (who were fantastic) worked with everyone on defending and with the young keeper on some basics (and some encouragement) and so when the round robin came they kept on rolling and other than one stinker in the first game the young goalie was solid and so there were three more wins to make it eight in a row and to clinch a trip to the championship. The last of these wins was over their main rival and eliminated them and so the final was to be against an opponent who they had beaten every time, a team that had managed to score a lot against them but who had also allowed a ton. So things were looking good.

 Except in the round robin game against that same team there had been times where it had been the goalie and good luck that had stood between them and a poor result and so when my son smiled when he heard the opponent I reminded him that that same team had beaten their rival to get in and that in one game anything can happen.

 The morning of the game the boy was calm and I told him what I tell him before every game - do your best, go to the net, stick on the ice, have fun - and he just nodded and said 'I know' and then he got his helmet on and went out with his teammates. The coach, a good friend of mine, was a wreck and once they dropped the puck I wasn't much better.

 It was a funny game, a typical hockey game really. The boy's team played a perfect game basically and yet the game was in doubt. Everyone contributed from the top of the roster to the bottom, as it should be and, on this day, as was necessary because their opponent, while overmatched, was tenacious. While the Sharks' superstar scored early on the rest of the game he was shut down and while his line's forechecking (that's my boy!) kept the other team bottled up on every shift that was all he would get on this day.

 But the coach's son (and my son's buddy) scored in the first to make it 2-0 and then again in the second to make it 3-0 and it looked like they were home and cooled finally after that one. The defence shut down the other team almost completely and when they did break through the little goalie turned everything aside.

 But its hockey. When it was 2-0 a puck squirted out front to their winger who had the whole open net only to see it bounce over his stick and away from harm. So while the boy said later that on the bench that after the third goal he began to think that they could do it behind the bench and in the stands the nerves were still jangling and when they scored with seven minutes left to make it 3-1, well, I was a bit of a wreck and on the bench my son said that his nerves returned as well. (As an aside he said after the game that he was nervous before the game but once it started he just played and forgot about it - just like a pro ;) )

 They have a buzzer system, its a three minute shift at a time and so the boy and his linemates were on the bench for the last six minutes. The other team barely got over the red line and then there were three minutes left and they pulled their goalie and the Sharks got a penalty and so it was six players to four for the last two minutes and so we waited and waited and waited and watched as three boys and one girl cleared the zone and then cleared it again and then pushed their last attack to the boards, stops and starts, no lazy looping turns, and pursuit until the buzzer went and gloves and sticks flew into the air and they poured off the bench to hug and chase their laughing goalie around as they tried to pull him down to pile on top of him.

 And so my son, in his first year of hockey, is a champion, the same number of times as I have won in ~ 30 seasons or so of playing. The little bugger. ;)

 But all kidding aside what an introduction to the wonderful game of hockey. Tremendous coaches, a team on which every player got better and learned and had a great time and finally a championship of which every player could say, honestly, I was a part of it.
 It will be tough to top based on the smile on my son's face which has been there since Saturday morning. But he'll try.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Our Children Is Learning

 Good and bad this past weekend in the McLean household.

 As an older team Capsule has always run into trouble in the playoffs because our league runs over March Break and unlike some of the teams of youngsters we face this actually means something to us. We have been prolific breeders, as one of my teammates remarked last year as we surveyed a basement teeming with Capsule progeny

 Well there's one area Capsule has no problem scoring in.

 The result is that when March Break rolls around and playoffs with them we are often short. And this year it may have cost us one game and with that game, our year.

 We had a great year, we really did. Five real defencemen for the first time in years and years and no coincidence that that was the last season we had like this where we were actually true contenders. We finished tied for second in a ten team league (seeded third on GD) and were one of four teams that ran the division essentially.

 First round we got a nice draw and swept both games although the second game was a bit dicey and we got a taste of upcoming issues as the other club ran three lines out and we faded on the big ice.

 The second series we faced the fourth placed club, a tough matchup for us. They're a solid three line team and had both the top scorer in the league, a massive centreman, and the best goalie as well. In our three games in the season we had tied them, beaten them 2-1 with both goals coming in the last minute and beaten them with eight skaters with the winner coming in the last minute.

 So about as evenly matched as can be.

 And so game one, last weekend, ended in a 2-2 tie.

 Game two came Friday and we had nine skaters and only two regular D and they had three full lines and the results, well the results were expected. Another regular D might have saved us. We fell behind 2-0 and then it was 3-1 but we clawed our way back and with nine minutes left we had tied it up. It wasn't to be though, they kept coming and we couldn't hold it as we ran out of gas and so they got one and then another quickly after and finally an empty netter to seal it.

  What this all meant is that Sunday we had to win just to survive. And if we did then we would go to a 5 minute OT to decide the series and if that did not then a shootout. Shootouts are stupid. My son agrees. Any other opinion is invalid.

 Sunday we had four D and eight forwards and basically we ran their show. We scored early and kept coming and scored another and then we poured it on. Two more and they got one and we came right back with another and with ten minutes left we were looking home and cooled.

 Except ... except lol. We took our foot off the gas a bit. We got a penalty, one of four (4!) we would take in the last ten minutes. They scored. We killed the next penalty and then one of our D made an awful play and they got another goal. And then with just over a minute left and one of our guys in the box they pulled within one.

 Its funny. When I was a boy I was small and quiet and when it came to sports I could lack confidence. I played and I loved it but I was the type of kid who would not push back. And two weeks ago when we were at the rink the game before us went to a shootout and I turned to our captain and joked that if it came down to that for us I would probably best go after Dale. Dale is our goalie.

 But here we were with the season on the line and our two best forwards (both centres) on the ice and a third was needed and the question was who and I said 'I'm going' and I hopped over the boards no hesitation. I wanted to be out there.

 They got the puck into our end but no clear chance although I iced it with about seven seconds left (not enough English ha) but we scrambled the draw and so were alive.

 Overtime went by in a flash but not before their goalie saved their season. Buddy let in five goals in the game but the total distance the puck travelled on those, maybe 15 feet if that. We crowded him and went to the net and so with a few minutes left we did it again and the rebound came to one of our wingers and the top of the net was gaping, same as it was a few months ago when the same guy scored the winner for us with seconds left. He was close in and he got it up but somehow a limb flailed and the puck skittered wide. Luck eh? Would have traded that earlier shot for this one at this point.

 And so a shootout. You can't get traffic to the net on a shootout.

 In our league the shooters go at the same time. I hate it. So three guys. First two were saves. Second round our guy was stopped, their guy scored. Third shooter for them was stopped, our guy scored. And then it went sudden death.

 What might have been? Two of our three guys who were still awol with their families on vacation because they're selfish ;) are two of our best pure shooters, the sort of guys who have good hands in close. They wouldn't have been in the top three but probably would have been four and five. Would it have mattered? Maybe not. Maybe so.

 As the fourth guys wound up our captain looked to my opposite winger and said 'You?' and the response was noncommital and then  I said I'll do it, I wanted the chance and so when the fourth shooters both missed I jumped on the ice.

 I know in this case you're supposed to let instinct take over but my general instinct is to stuff it into the goalie's crest so before the whistle blew I knew what I as going to do, I was going to go in hard, open my stick up as if I was going to shoot and then go backhand deke, hopefully up top.

 And I did and he opened up and came with me and I didn't see myself getting it up and so I went for the opening. I turned and saw they had missed and I wanted that chance to sprint up the ice and leap into my teammates' arms but I was sure he had stopped it. He lay there not moving and part of him was in the net and the ref crept in and then the goalie got up and the puck was there in the crease for all to see.

 And then the next two shooters and their man shot it and it squeaked between arm and body and in and our guy rang it off the post could you imagine. An inch this way for them, an inch that way for us and we win.

 Disappointment but that's the hockey gods for you. Also shootouts are a mockery of the sport, fuck the shootout.

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 On the other side of the coin the boy played Saturday morning in the final game of their round robin. If everything had gone according to Hoyle the game would have been meaningless as these were the top two teams in the division by far and they should have both been home and cooled out. But while the boy's team had won both of their games their opposition had been upset and so while we figured we were through we didn't know the vagaries of the tiebreaker and so the thought was that a win probably would be the best idea. And missing three of the Sharks' stronger players was going to make this a taller order.

 I've probably played about thirty seasons of hockey all told and in all of that time I have made a championship game or series twice. Here the boy, like Tyler Seguin, had a chance to make it as a true rookie.

 And they played beautifully. Our little goalie, who had a tough stretch, has come into his own and so he held the fort. The rest of the team checked like demons and my son, who would get one or two touches a game at the beginning of the year, had a shot on net (it was blocked) and otherwise did his best (insert favourite checker - I'm going to go with Fernando Pisani) Fernando Pisani impression. He battled for the puck all game, taking it from bigger guys (they're all bigger than him), crashing into guys, fighting for it while lying on the ice, clearing the zone like a veteran. ;) And so when the buzzer went to end a 4-3 win and seal a trip to the big game, my son, who would make the perfect NHL player in that he makes Dion Phaneuf look like the life of the party when you're talking to him about the games, pumped his fist in the air and had a grin a mile wide that you could see across the ice even behind his cage, a grin that was still on his face all the way into the dressing room.

 I congratulated him and told him that this coming Saturday he just has to do his best and enjoy himself.

 Because I'll be worrying enough for all of us.

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 A lot of people figured that with the three point games and short schedule that the playoff race might involve more teams that usual and it looks like they were right. Despite the doom and gloom surrounding the Oilers a week ago they are now in tenth place. They are two points out of a playoff spot, four points from the division lead and four points out of last place in the conference. Haha. Chicago could probably win three more of their remaining twenty games and make the playoffs (!) but other than them and the California Boudreaus, everyone else is in the race. I would bet on LA and St Louis on making the grade and probably ending up in a first round war and I really really can't see Vancouver not making it. But the rest of it is up for grabs. Crazy. Only Florida is out of it in the entire league really.

 And boy I wonder if the dummies who run the Oilers ever regret not picking up a top four Dman and a top nine LW who could check some last summer. Man oh man. And now everyone is going to start getting paid too. Oh well, we'll cross that bridge when we get to it and I will do so as I cross every bridge, in the fetal position. (Its true you can ask my wife, bridges terrify me)

 I figured the Oilers for a possible playoff team with some luck and so far with the exception of the Horcoff injury they have had some including last night when they were outchanced and still won. It happens though. Can they make it? Sure. They need some breaks and at least two points against either SJ or St Louis would help, preferably against the former.

 What I have really enjoyed these past two weeks or so is the emergence of Magnus Paajarvi. While I never saw him as an offensive talent on par with Hall or Eberle I found it surprising that so many folks chose to write him off considering he scored fifteen goals as a rookie, most of those after he was placed into a more offensive role later in the year.

 Context matters. I remember Erik Cole getting dumped on for lack of offence despite playing with Ethan Moreau and Kyle Brodziak against tough opposition, all the while starting in the defensive zone most of the time. What do people expect? We see it in Toronto right now with fans and apparently the coach down on Grabovski and Kulemin. When you're doing the tough sledding the offence is a little hard to come by and Paajarvi was either doing that or playing with fourth line plugs.

 I thought, especially with Yakupov struggling on his off wing, that Paajarvi should get a top six shot and not one of those 'you'll get two periods and if there's nothing doing you're back in the pressbox' shots but an actual dozen games playing with talent. I thought they should have done the same with Omark last year. Let the kid play, let him make mistakes and have a bad game or two, like the golden boys. Worse case he can't cut it. Or maybe he gets on a roll like Paajarvi is on now. Its wonderful to see.

 And I can't help but point out that Mark Spector was calling for Ben Eager over Paajarvi in this spot. Of course he's the same guy who called Cam Barker a top three NHL defenceman last year.

 So not all of us is learning apparently.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

They, Well I, Called Him 'Lightning Boy'

 For years I've used an old school Sherwood as my hockey stick of choice. They run about 12 bucks, which I like because I'm a cheap bastard, and they're durable. I usually go through about one a year. I don't think I've ever taken a slapshot in the heat of battle and my wrist shot wouldn't break a pane of glass and on top of it all I don't have the best offensive instincts. Signature breakaway move is to try and stuff it through the crest.

 Once I bought a composite stick. It was a beaut, light as a feather. Cost me a hundred bucks and I had it about a month and then I was battling along the boards and buddy fell on it and it snapped in two like nothing.

 So it was back to the Sherwoods. Last summer I bought another in the long line. There was nothing special about it or so I thought. Just another heavy hunk of wood, a lot of heft, the type that you can lay on an opponent to let him know you're there and he'd know it.

 I'd just come off of a summer season where I went without a goal, the first season of my career where I was shut out. I had a good season and it was only about a dozen games so I wasn't too concerned. I got my chances and didn't get the bounces, sometimes that's the way it goes.

 Nevertheless I was pleased when I scored a couple early this year to get going. I wasn't playing any different than I did in the summer, they just started going in. And then, strangely, they kept going in.

 I ended up in the top twenty five in the league in scoring and fifteenth (!) in goals and in our first playoff game I potted another, giving me eleven in a couple of dozen games and, well, its a good feeling. I've always been a guy who does the little things to contribute to wins. Its pretty cool to be a guy who does the big things too.

 As the season wound down though I began to be concerned about Lighting Boy. There was a chip out of the toe and when I bounced it there was that twang that told me that things were coming to an end. A few games ago as I sat on the bench I had pain in the palm of my hand and finger and checking, discovered that I had slivers.

 And so last night I was sprung on a breakaway in the first game of our second round series. I didn't panic, I took a look, I chose to shoot, picked a corner but the goalie beat me. And then some time later, set up in the slot for a one timer, a play I scored on last week, instead this time I didn't get all of it and the goalie made an easy stop. And I knew something was wrong.

 It was then that I noted a slight keening, a shiver and slowly, sadly, Lighting Boy began to expire and so, minutes later, as I fought along the boards in our zone and chipped the puck out, I suddenly felt that something was wrong and looking down, there was Lightning Boy, a mangled corpse, the blade hanging off of the shaft at the wrong angle.

 Lightning Boy fell to the ice as I raced to the bench to borrow (because I only ever have one stick) a composite and at the next whistle we watched sadly from the bench as the ref threw his mangled remnants over the glass and into the corner of the rink.

 My linemate turned to me, saw the sadness in my eyes and remarked:

'Its ok, he's just a sack of meat now, he has gone to a better place'

 A part of me thought I could rebuild him and I pictured myself retrieving his broken body, wrapping it gently and then, a twelve pack of beer and pack of Camels at the ready, the montage scene, She's A Beauty by The Tubes providing the soundtrack as I, with blowtorch and hammer and tape and all of the technology available to man, brought Lightning Boy back to life, to score again, hopefully in the final, to bring glory to Capsule.

 We would film it and call it 'The Unnatural'

 Raise a toast to Lightning Boy ladies and gentlemen, wherever you are. The best twelve dollars I ever spent, even better than that time I bought a pitcher of beer at the Rex back on that sunny summer afternoon back in '87. Although that was pretty close because you know, patio beer.

Where have you gone Lightning Boyio, my stone hands turn their lonely eyes to you, whoo ooh ooh. What's that you say the guy who set me up last night, next time you have to bury those. Whoo ooo ooo Whoo ooo ooo.

 Can anyone spot me twelve bucks? Have to run to Canadian Tire. Thanks bye.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Paranoid

 We used to have an annual little Christmas do for a number of years and at one, soon after we had moved into our house we were talking about crazy neighbours. At the time the tenants next door were stupid, if harmless, and we weren't happy about them but I was always polite with them, even when presenting our complaints (they were loud and just didn't get it - we had a baby). It was raised that perhaps I should ramp things up and my answer was a)its not my nature and b)I didn't want a war because you never knew if things might spiral out of control. I didn't want the big fellow hanging out in back and finding some hamburger laced with antifreeze.

 Everyone laughed and said I was being paranoid.

 Except we had friends in Florida who had neighbours who weren't all there and somehow, they don't even know how, things turned ugly. The neighbours installed cameras that were pointed at their house 24/7 and within one month the county came and picked up their dog after complaints that it was a menace (he was a fat gentle retriever who never even looked the wrong way at anybody) and family services came to talk to them about taking away their kids after calls about abuse, drug use and neglect. Yeah. Serious insane shit.

 Everything was cleared up once it became clear that they were victims of a malicious bent mind but in the end they actually bought the house from the neighbours (they immediately flipped it) just to get them out of their hair.

 ITS NOT PARANOIA IF EVERYONE IS AFTER YOU

-------------------------

 I've been thinking about the Oilers and what came to me just a few moments ago is this:

 The way this season is going works out perfectly for one guy. Craig MacTavish.

 As as been noted here and elsewhere this week as the Oilers circle the drain for the seventh straight year we, as fans, are running out of people to blame. The roster has been turned over. We're on our fourth coach in five years. The director of scouting, the minor league coach, the training staff, even the owner has changed. Lowe was kicked upstairs (or kicked himself upstairs - smart move) and Tambo was hired and now, well now its his turn.

 I figured this club for a possible playoff team but I also figured (YOU CAN LOOK IT UP!)that if the club fell short that the head that would roll would be that belonging to the mumbling glaze eyed general manager.

 All this a year after MacT returned to the fold.

 Now Lowe and MacT are part of the management team and so part of me thinks that even if Tambo goes nothing will change but there is also a part of me that thinks this.

 MacT was one of the aforementioned coaches and so he knows what its like to go to war when you don't have the horses and you're forced to run out a top four of Jason Smith (ok), Steve Staios (ok), Daniel Tjarnqvist (um) and a baby Ladi Smid (oh oh). Or with so few options that Liam Reddox or Toby Peterson are your best options for certain, erm, roles.

 And so I suspect, and maybe I am wrong, that he knew things might not go so swimmingly this year.

 And I suspect that he knows that all of this is reparable and relatively easily at that. Its this fact, after all, that has been making thinking fans insane for years. Its not like we haven't seen the holes in the lineup since 2006 and one would think that a guy like MacTavish knew that Tambo was making a lot of bets this year that were slim to none.

 And if Tambo takes the gaspipe (and he's going to, have no doubt about it) then MacT gets to ride in on his white horse.

- he will get another high pick to throw into the mix or trade for help

- maybe he will trade Hemsky for a Dman or burly forward with one year left on their deal. Yak will slide up to RW in top six on a soft minutes line.

- he trades for a big winger like Brouwer from a team looking to dump salary (or maybe this is what comes in the Hemsky deal)

- he signs another winger, lets say Stallberg or MacArthur to complete the top nine:

Hall-Nugent Hopkins-Eberle
Paajarvi-Gagner-Yakupov
Stallberg-Horcoff-Brouwer
Smyth-Belanger-quality 4th liner who can PK as well

- he trades for a true top 4 dman from a team looking to dump salary to clear space or because they are poor - Michalek and Visnovsky were had for what, seconds?

- he signs Smid

Smid-Petry
new guy-Schultz younger
Klefbom-Schultz older

- he signs a quality backup

That's the thing that makes everybody mental. Its not that hard. In the summer you have teams looking to move bodies and they can generally be had for cheap. Whereas Hemsky is desirable to a contender and thus would only garner picks/prospects in the spring, he could bring a player in the summer.

 Lots of options. Personally I'd rather keep Hemsky and run him on a tough minutes with Horcoff and a new winger, if Eberle or Yakupov get hurt or simply can't get the job done you can slide 83 up and you don''t lose a beat.

 But anyhow the option is there.

 That's a club that makes a real jump and guess what? Your man MacT and the man who will be by his side, his old buddy Lowe, will be hailed as heroes by a city starved for a team that for the first time in nearly a decade is winning.

 Paranoid? Sure. Conspiracy theory? Maybe a bit. But its just falling into place a little too perfectly for our man MacTavish to make a triumphant return. The team is broken. Fixing it would be pretty easy for anybody with an ounce of sense.

 And based on past experience MacT has at least that.

The Wheel In The Sky Keeps On Turning

Apparently Shawn Horcoff may be underpaid. Who knew?

Taking the piss a bit there but since the captain went down the Oilers have gone absolutely in the tank and that is with a save percentage near the best in the league. Tambellini's response to Edmonton burning? Trading a pick for a guy they could have picked up on waivers.

As Tyler Dellow put it yesterday. A fourth round pick is probably going to be a terrible hockey player. Mike Brown is a terrible hockey player.

And we have him, Eager, Smyth (sigh I said it) and Belanger signed for another year.

A fourth line of Smyth, Belanger and Jones with Eager and Hartikainen part of the mix (feel free to arrange these however you would like) might be reasonable but the problem with the Oilers, again, is not enough good hockey players. With Horcoff out there literally is no third line so these guys have to shuffle up the roster and they can't do it. So with half the lines not old enough to shave, the other half basically non existent and one D pair abysmal you have what we have today, a club in freefall, mere points from last overall.

Again.

I figured this team for the playoffs with some luck but they have had luck with injuries for the most part and the save percentage is very very good and still they've stepped into the elevator shaft.

Its tough to watch. You want to have a good hockey club? Get good players and keep them. And what's worrisome is that on a club which is slowly (oh so slowly) gathering up good NHL players the following looms on the horizon:

- Smid, one of three young(ish) defencemen on the roster is an unrestricted free agent this summer and there has been no talk of an extension. Remember Smid was a big part of the Pronger deal. We went through the growing pains and now, well now he might walk.

- Hemsky is unrestricted next summer

- Gagner is a restricted free agent again this summer and due a big raise, perhaps pricing himself out of town

- all the noise points to Paajarvi being trade bait

On a club with few good players and nothing in the pipeline in terms of top six forwards coming the fact that it is possible that these players could all be gone within eighteen months is an awful thing to consider. After that what is next? Does anyone think that Taylor Hall is willing to wait another five years for the Oilers' young defencemen to mature (before you laugh it took exactly that long for Smid to become quality)?

I've said for a while that the make and break for the Oilers would be the period between last season and next season. Since last season the Oilers have added two excellent rookies and then sat on their hands and waited.

Again.

Chicago, with a bunch of nice looking kids on cheap contracts, signed or traded for Marian Hossa, Brian Campbell, Andrew Ladd, Tomas Kopecky, John Madden, Brent Sopel and Nick Boynton. And they won the Stanley Cup.

Pittsburgh, with a bunch of nice looking kids on cheap contracts, signed or traded for Craig Adams, Phillipe Boucher, Matt Cooke, Pascal Dupuis, Mark Eaton, Ruslan Fedotenko, Mathieu Garon, Hal Gill, Sergei  Gonchar, Bill Guerin, Chris Kunitz, Miro Satan and Petr Sykora. And they won the Stanley Cup.

Seven years without the playoffs folks. Four coaches in five years, an almost complete roster turnover (lol Stauffer again blaming veteran leadership for this club's failure), new GM, new director of scouting, new training staff.

A last place team spending to the cap, another last place team, a 29th place team and now another team with the lottery in its sights.

And the official twitter account of this sad sack club celebrates some grunt's fight.

Loser franchise run by losers.

The Islanders basically unless they get it together this summer.

I've said for while that I don't think they have it in them. I hope hope hope I am wrong.

But I think I am right.

*DRINKS!!!!!!*

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Stompin' Tom

I originally posted this in July of 2009. Its my Stompin' Tom story. With his passing yesterday it only makes sense to post it now.

As a guy who enjoyed many many Sudbury Saturday Nights I have to say it's a sad day.

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When Stomping Tom was a boy, phones were black and they had a dial on them. They didn't have anything fancy about them.


There was no display window of any sort on the device that would show you any information at all, including an incoming number. There was no such thing as Call Display back in the day, kids, and as a result you had many who practiced the now lost art of prank phone calls. You don't have to go that far back. Stomping Tom came to my hometown in the late 80s and the phones were simple and so were we and the results were astoundingly awesome.

I have a very good friend who I have spoken of before here quite a bit. Frank’s parents’ house was our gathering place for many summers back in the day. The juvenile pranks and needling that occurred during those years are legendary in our circles and Frank was usually the lead trickster fox.

The jokes range from the very simple yet still hilarious to the complicated stings that ensnared everyone in his web.

A sampling.

- he called my wife one evening at 2am after we had been drinking for a dozen hours and woke her out of a dead sleep (she had to work a 12 hours shift early that morning) and pretended to be a DJ from Vancouver telling her she won a prize. Luckily for me I was at his house and not our house when this went down.

- he sent an alumni magazine that was doing profiles on graduates a mock profile in a buddy’s name, going so far as to create an email address to send it from. Said profile included references to gymnastics, interpretive dance and the joys of living alone, except for one’s cats

- our local paper had a contest when Stomping Tom Connors came to town – people who submitted the best verses for Sudbury Saturday Night could win a myriad of prizes including concert tickets to go see the legend his own self. I woke up one Saturday morning, hauled my sorry 21 year old ass out of bed and opened our hometown rag to find that not only had nearly everyone I knew sent in entries for the contest but so had I. It went something like this:

On Saturday nights

We go to City Lights

That’s our dancing heaven

We like to dance and dance and dance

And then we like to prance

On A Sudbury Saturday Night

Quality.

Of course there were repercussions. Live by the sword, well, you know. He answered the phone one drunken night and was told to come into work immediately. He laughed and hung up. The phone rang again. Once again he was told to come in. This time he told the caller (whom he figured was a friend Nick, another noted prankster) to eat it. The third time the phone rang was when he realized that he shared his given name with his Dad.

Nick himself was humbled, at least briefly, when Frank had a girlfriend’s cousin who happened to be a cop call him and ask him to come into the station to discuss complaints about prank calls. Again there was the disbelief and then the realization that he was actually talking to a real police officer. When he called the station and was told that yes there was an officer so and so there, he shaved, put on a shirt and tie and was heading out the door, shitting his pants, when the phone rang to call off the dogs.

Yes I grew up in the company of asses. I was one of the lead donkeys. No need to say anything. I understand.

So one evening a long long time ago (1994) the phone rang and I picked it up. On the other end was a girl.

Is Pat there?

This is him.

Hey, how are you?

And from there she talked about how she had seen me in the video store and she thought I was a pretty funny guy and that I seemed nice and she was wondering if I would like to go out for coffee to get to know each other better. Now I have no idea who she is and she's flirting like mad and its making me crazy. I ask her her name and she tells me that she wants to surprise me but that I will definitely recognize her when we meet. So I'm going nuts and finally we agree to meet and just as I am about to hang up she says:

Oh, one more thing.

Yeah?

Is it true that you have enormous balls?

A roar of laughter in the background and I would have loved to have seen the look on my face as I realized that I had truly been had by Frank and his accomplice, his girlfriend out in BC.

FRANKKKKKK!

By the way I do have enormous balls. For our wedding Frank flew into the Island from California and got up to speak before the gathered mob and proceeded to read "Ten Things You Don't Know About Pat". Going against all speaking etiquette he read ten concise mysterious phrases (I still have the list somewhere) which left everyone scratching their heads except all of my assembled buddies who were killing themselves as I squirmed as my bride's eyebrow raised with each statement. One of those, the one that my friend the Communist said made him shit his pants, was "The Longest Ball".



Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Bulletproof

When I was younger, before kids really, I used to have extraordinary dreams, vivid rollercoaster rides that left me dazed when I awoke. Falling, speeding, sex, all ramped up and mental. I still dream but my dreams are calmer, more meandering. Not sure if its general tiredness (I sleep way better than I used to) or general contentment (I have it all and I do mean that) things up there seem a lot more settled and I guess that translates into what happens at night when things shut down.

 My favourite dream or dreams I guess, was a recurring one where I was me and I found myself in a firefight. I would be at camp or in some unknown landscape and I would be fighting for my life, like one of those old action movie heroes or, I presume from the commercials, one of those video games where you fight an endless wave of enemies. I've never played one but I think that's a good comparison.

So I'd be running and hiding and fighting, shooting guys left right and centre, a whole battalion of them trying to take me down until invariably I took a wrong turn or got trapped and then buddy would level his gun at me and spray me with bullets.

But what was funny is that I wouldn't wake up and actually I wouldn't even go down in the dream, instead it would be as if I had not been shot. And in my dream I would suddenly realize that I am indeed in a dream and that I was invulnerable and from there I would throw caution to the wind and, bulletproof, tear apart my foes. Wasn't as exciting though.

-----------------------

I was out tonight watching the Oilers lose, again, this time to the Blue Jackets. It doesn't get much worse than that folks. Personally I can't get too worked up about it. I figured them as a possible playoff team, its doubtful they get there now although I presume that at some point those pucks start going in. I mean that Eberle miss in OT. Jesus.

But the reality is that Horcoff being out hurts a lot (what is their record without him in the lineup, wow) and Ted is hurt most likely and Hemsky has cooled off now and even when all is said and done they just don't have enough good players. They have more than they have had in a few years but they still don't have enough.

There were three of us out tonight and two of us (myself included) believe that no playoffs means no more Tambellini.  And there was much rejoicing.

Except ... except.

Chicago was a franchise that wandered in the wilderness for many many years. They had a nice cluster in the eighties that never got topped up and then Mike Keenan came in and for a few years they were excellent and then the guy who ran the club before Keenan came in stabbed him in the back in a power struggle.

And then for fifteen long awful years the Hawks sucked until Bill Wirtz died and the guy in charge for all of those awful years, before and after Keenan, Bob Pulford, was put out to pasture. A few years later they won the Cup and now they are a model franchise, a club that looks to be in the mix every year. This, my friends, isn't coincidence.

I hate to say it but its true. Kevin Lowe is our Bob Pulford. We are on our fourth coach in five years. The only players who have been through the entire shitshow - Horcoff, Hemsky, Smid. The rest of the cast has turned over and over. The director of scouting has brought his magic to Team Canada (winless since he got there, thanks Kev!!). The assistant GM was sent to Columbus, like Lenin in his sealed train, to infect and destroy the enemy. The owner has changed, minor league coaches dumped, the training staff gutted. Tambo came in to be the frontman and he is next on the firing line and while that may bring us relief and joy the reality is nothing is going to change until the one constant is gone.

Kevin Lowe has got to go and sadly we're stuck with him.

Monday, March 04, 2013

WHERE IS BROWN? THERE IS BROWN!

 On Mike Brown.

 Here's the deal with Mike Brown. There are three teams I follow to some degree. The Oilers of course. The Hawks, my old favourite team, partially because of that fact, partially because seeing as the Oilers are pulling the crash and burn model I find it interesting to follow a club that went through same.

 Of course the Hawks were shit for over fifteen years before they got good again so maybe we'll be good when Hall et al are scattered about the league in a decade. Or maybe it will happen sooner. Or maybe we're the Islanders in which case drink.

 As an aside the Hawks have it right for this cap system. Basically its what the Wings did and what the Penguins are doing. Figure out your core, pay them, fill in the pieces around them as best you can. The plus for Chicago is that Toews, Kane, Keith and Seabrook are all relatively young (or just plain young) and Sharp and Hossa can still play. Meanwhile the latest cohort of kids - Saad, Shaw, Bickell, Kruger, Leddy - cost nothing and are an excellent supporting cast along with Oduya, Hjalmarsson, Stalberg, Bolland and Frolik.

 Look at that roster. Man do the Oilers have a long way to go. The Hawks may, like those sixties clubs, only win one Cup but they'll be in the mix for a while.

 Oh as an aside Hjalmasson, Oduya, Stalberg, Kruger and Shaw were all picked in the fourth round or later.

 !!!!

 The third team I see quite a bit of is the Toronto Maple Leafs because I live in Toronto and they are on the teevee quite a bit here. So I've seen a lot of Mike Brown. Actually I was sitting about thirty feet away from him when he hit Ryan Nugent Hopkins last year, I believe the first time (or maybe the second) that Ted's shoulder became an issue.

 Brown hits. He's tough. Really tough. He's not a big guy but he will take anybody on. He's popular with his teammates, fans and the media. His moustache has at least one ecosystem in it, an entire food web (that's what its called these days) including small predators in there. So that's pretty fucking cool.

 He can skate.

 He's not a very good hockey player. He has been a borderline player on a team that has been pretty shitty for a while now, though better than the Oilers. Tambo talks about his PK ability but the Leafs PK has been horrible for years (although to be fair goaltending has a lot to do with that I think).

 He adds toughness and grit and all of that good stuff but unlike Bill Guerin or Raffi Torres or Mike Grier or Ethan Moreau he doesn't do that as a top nine guy and so basically he's, well, he's Darcy Hordichuk. He's an upgrade on Hordichuk, to be fair, but I have my doubts that he is a better player than Lennart Petrell or Ben Eager and like those guys he's not going to be able to slide up the lineup here and there.

 He is what he is. An energy guy. A fourth liner. I guess Petrell takes the gaspipe unless Krueger decides to move Eager up the lineup which is pretty hilarious because, you know, he's shitty.

 I can't get too worked up about this except guys like Brown are a dime a dozen and are available on waivers every day. Sestito. Volpatti. Etc etc.

 And the Oilers gave up a fourth round pick for him, a third if they make the playoffs (!!!!!!). Just as they gave up a third for a guy who, while I like, can barely crack an abysmal bottom pairing D.

 Does a fourth rounder have a lot of value? No, although the Hawks, recent champions and best team in the league right now, certainly has made some hay from that round and lower. Other fourth and lower round picks employed by Chicago when they last won the Cup - Kris Versteeg, Dustin Byfuglien, Troy Brouwer.

 Fourth rounders of note in Oiler history - Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson, Esa Tikkanen, Shawn Horcoff.

 Hey I know you are going to say 'Hey man the majority of fourth rounders don't turn out to be quality NHLers, you're cherry picking. How about all of the guys who didn't make it?'

 You'd be right but here's the thing with Lowe, Tambo and the Oilers. Remember these are the guys who finished dead last spending to the cap. Because that's kind of key.

 These guys don't know what they're doing. They don't evaluate talent very well. They almost never make the right bets. And they have no understanding that guys like Fistric and Brown are a dime a dozen and can be acquired for nothing. Not nearly nothing, like a sixth or seventh, not possibly nothing, like a fifth or a fourth. But actual nothingness.

 And if the whole idea is to get better and a third or a fourth is more than nothing and they are, then you most likely should be trying to keep the higher card.

 Right?

 RIGHT!!!

 And the biggest worry, as Dennis King noted today on the Tweeter, is that if they can't get the small stuff right then how the hell will they get the big stuff right?