Thursday, October 09, 2014

Another Try Hard


When I was in grade six and our school had their end of year assembly the teacher who was the de facto athletic director of the school (he ran all of the teams, organized all of that sort of stuff) handed out awards and gave speeches in front of the assembled. We had teams in all four city wide tournaments that year. There was three pitch, ball hockey, soccer (I think that was the third) and handball. Not european handball but a kind of hybrid between basketball and hockey. It was played on a basketball court. You could take three steps with the ball and then had to pass it off or shoot it from outside the crease area. The goalie wore a full mask and guarded a hockey net. The ball was a bit larger than a softball, it was rubber and you could dribble it. Not as hard as a basketball but it could hurt you if you took it in the face.

 There were a dozen boys in our grade six class. Six of us got around all of the time and five of our little group were on all of the teams along with a couple of Italian kids, Dean Prelazzi and Felix Cerelli, and a kid from the nearby government housing projects who captained our city championship hockey team a couple of years later. It's funny when you look back and you realize what was going on. This guy never had gloves or a warm winter hat and came to school in the dead of winter in a leather jacket. No money, just a poor kid. He wasn't a great student but he was a terrific guy. I wrote about him years ago and Dennis King asked me if I knew what became of him and I don't know.

 Anyhow it was this group and a handful of the strongest grade five athletes (one who would go on to a scholarship, fifteen years in the minors and Europe and one game in the NHL) who made up the core of the St. Andrew's Thunderbirds. Also rans in our sports of choice - hockey, soccer and ball, we tore through the city to become the unlikeliest of city champions in handball. We had some decent athletes but we were carried by the kid from the projects. He was a bit bigger than normal but the key was that he had a gun for an arm and big hands so he could palm the ball. He knocked at least one goalie out that I can remember and by the end of the tournament when he got the ball our opponents would hit the floor when he wound up. The rest of the team provided enough support and we got good goaltending and we won it all. I played quite a bit until the championship when we faced a big team from the other side of the city (many of them had moustaches coming on) and my size, lack of size that is, became a factor. So one of my buddies and I sat on the bench for most of the big game. He, a fellow shrimp, was pissed. I cheered on my pals. I was so happy to win.

 Anyhow at this assembly buddy gives out the ribbons or certificate or whatever it was, there were no trophies, it wasn't like it is today that's for sure, maybe we each got a pebble or something picked up from the schoolyard and if I recall correctly (this was nearly thirty five years ago so cut me some slack) he named each kid who was on a team or teams and then gave them their piece of gravel. Well he goes through everybody, I mean everybody, and I get no mention and then he looks at me and calls me up, the last guy.

 Now I was a bit of a smart aleck and I didn't really like the teacher much so I didn't really appreciate it at the time, certainly not as much as I should have. He gave a nice speech about having heart and trying hard and made the point that despite being a little guy (and honestly not that athletic on top of everything) I had made all four school teams plus the track team and that showed you what you could do with some heart and guts and all that good stuff.

 A try hard. That's what I was. That's what I am today. I'm a decent hockey player but I'm a try hard with hands of stone.

 And the boy, well he's a chip off the old block.

 He's a bit bigger than I was. I was a shrimp. A real shrimp. Like in grade 10 I had barely broken a hundred pounds. (I went out for football in grade 11 and was cut. Couldn't believe it. In retrospect the coach probably saved my life). So the boy can't help but be bigger. Impossible not to be.

 He's a smart player, which I was as well but he is has more guts and while I like to say I was a try hard the reality is that I wasn't one of those little guys whose motor is always running. Now I am but when I was a kid I could coast a bit. Not the boy.

 He just finished his fourth year of cross country and it was a resounding success. Last year was tough. Two years ago there was a work to rule deal going on with the teachers here thanks to that stupid asshole Dalton McGuinty (I never talk politics - sorry about this - but I despised that guy. Worst premier in Ontario's history and there have been some awful awful ones) and so a lot of schools didn't send teams to the meet so the boy finished pretty well compared to his first year. Are you keeping up?

 So he is feeling pretty good about himself last year and he puts in the work. Monday to Thursday he gets up early and goes to practice and runs his laps even while a bunch of his buddies ran one lap of the school and then goofed off. And then on race day he finishes nearly a hundred places lower than the year before and  to rub salt in the wound his buddies, the goof offs, all finish higher than him because essentially they are far better athletes.

 He was devastated.

 This year we talked about the process and he did his work again. I timed him when I took him to practice, to give him an idea of how each lap was going so that he could work on being consistent. Jenn is training for her first marathon (she's mental - she ran a half the other night. Just went out and ran it. Crazy.) and so she talked to him about some different ideas and took him to the practice run last weekend.

 On race day I told him that he had put in the work and should be proud of it and that my only advice would be to try and stay with the pack. Last year there were the rabbits and then the lead group and then the pack and then the stragglers, of which he was one. I told him to stay with the pack as best as he could and then sprint when he was ready to sprint.

 How did he do? Hilariously Jenn did not have the camera ready because she was not expecting him to be where he was. He was with the pack and finished in the middle of it and improved his placing by eighty over last year. He had nothing left when they came to the homestretch and so was passed by a few but there was no doubt that he had left it all out there. He's ready for next year and his goal, certainly attainable, is to cut 15 seconds off each 500 metres (it's a 2K). Do that and he will move up another fifty places or so at least, the pack is that closely bunched together.

 Very proud of our son today. More importantly he is proud of himself.

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After the contenders and second tier clubs I wrote about yesterday come the rest of the playoff teams. It's pretty touch and go at this point. For the upper echelon clubs only total disaster is going to knock them out of the playoffs, a raft of injuries, bad luck and off years for everyone. For the following clubs, well, for a few of them the playoffs are a sure thing but for others a couple of bad breaks (or another team suddenly taking off or getting tons of luck) will mean they are out.

 I don't think any of these clubs have a shot at winning or even playing for the Cup. They might win a series, sure, but they are all too flawed to go very far.

Playoff Shoo Ins

Wild on Jack Lemaire - Minnesota beat the Avs and gave Chicago fits in the second round. Fast, deep and a lot of kids on the way. Plus Vanek added to the mix. A good club.

Pittsburgh - The Pens have Crosby and Malkin and they will make the playoffs but to me they are still top heavy up front, though not as much as last year. Ehrhoff is a star but I rate Bylsma highly and think replacing him was a mistake and their D and goaltending are still suspect. As usual there are those who think they are the class of the east. I don't get that at all. Too good to not make the playoffs though.

Rangers - Love Alain Vigneault and like this team a lot but their depth took way too many hits for them to be considered a contender.

Islanders - This feels weird. Still, the Isles added a real goalie, two real defencemen and two real forwards. Plus Tavares is healthy. I think they make it with room to spare.

That's seven teams out west and six in the east. Now for the bubble teams.

Now For The Bubble Teams (Like I Just Said)

Honestly any of these teams could have a regular amount of luck and stay healthy and still bomb out. Bad luck and injuries and they are doomed. We're getting into dicey territory now. *rolls dice*

West

That last spot is probably between the Avs and the Canucks. The former are on their way up and the latter are on their way down and I would not be greatly surprised if neither make it but they are the best of the rest. The Avs were very very lucky last year and had amazing goaltending and then they moved out Stastny and Parenteau. Relying on out of this world goaltending does not a contender make and while their youth up front is amazing, I mean just unbelievable, that D stinks. On the other hand the Canucks, well they are no longer the Canucks. The D is great but Miller is a step down from Luongo and Schneider and now Kesler is gone too? This team is just a shadow of themselves but Tortorella is horrible and they had pretty well everything go wrong last year. The abyss is near but they might sneak into the playoffs one last time.

East

What a goddamned mess this conference is. I honestly don't even know who might make the playoffs once you get past those first six teams. I'm going to go with Jersey who actually gave Martin Brodeur starts last year and didn't get one shootout win. A few of those and some decent goaltending in those Brodeur starts should be enough to get them in. After that though, um ..... I could see one of a half dozen teams getting in. So let's save them for one last post because honestly I don't know. And I don't really care that much.


Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Wheeeeeeeee!!!!!!





 I've always taken pride in being a Dad. Whenever I get the news that people are expecting their first baby my immediate response is to tell the new father to make sure that he is all in. Except for breastfeeding do everything. Diapers. Up at night. Take that baby out first thing in the morning so your wife can get some sleep. Get your wife out for nights out, dinner, drinks, whatever she needs, while you stay home with baby. She will thank you but more importantly you will get a start on being the best father you can be and you will never have a more important job, ever. It goes by fast. Get in there and do it!


I remember being on Twitter once and some guy was boasting to me about how he, a bigshot lawyer (or so he said, maybe he was a Belgian goalie, who knows), never changed a diaper, never got up with a baby in the middle of the night, never washed a dish, never did a load of laundry. He was proud of this. Now obviously he was a huge asshole with a tiny cock but I also felt sorry for the guy. Your ego is so tied up in your life as a lawyer that you can't be bothered to get in there and do the down and dirty work of being a parent and a husband? Pretty sad really. Way to go buddy.

 I've known a couple of guys who either are not involved through their choice (and their wife's ceding this to them - it's their fault too for allowing this to go on) or, amazingly, through their wife's choice. I knew a guy whose wife harped on him about everything he did with the kids because it wasn't 'right' (that is it wasn't the same way she did it) and finally he stopped trying.So everybody lost. She was overwhelmed and he and the kids lost out.

 Before we started having babies I told Jenn that she was going to parent one way and I was going to parent another. Don't get me wrong, we have established goals and are on the same page when it comes to discipline and general beliefs as to what we are working towards but we are different people. When the boy does something I am not going to check with her to see what she wants done, I am going to act according to how I feel is right. And it works the other way too.

 And while I believe and have always believed in what I am doing as a parent I have also gotten better as I have gotten older. I have made mistakes and learned from them. I am calmer now, I can't remember the last time I raised my voice or lost my temper. I've had to work at it. I'm a better father for it.

 Interesting times for the clan. They are always interesting times but these days are even more so. Our oldest just turned 11 (HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?!) and the roller coaster has begun. One moment she is sweetness and light, the next she is an angry grunting troll. Every second sentence out of her mouth is 'I've got this under control, you don't have to worry about it'. (The alternate sentence is '...... is not fair').

 We'll be okay, most of the time when she is being difficult a calm response will get through to her. Fun times ahead for sure though!

 As for our youngest, el pistola, well she has come into her own all of a sudden. Reading and swimming and tying her shoes, all conquered within weeks. Suddenly there is no chasing her to do her chores, no threats falling on deaf ears. The spark remains the same but she has, at six, suddenly grown up quite a bit and while it is gratifying and lovely and it makes our lives a lot easier there is also the realization that time is passing us by and we no longer have truly young children and that is sad and it makes those requests for piggy back rides and cuddles all the sweeter when they come now.

 It goes quick though. You young dads, take it from me, enjoy it, even when the sleep deprivation knocks you on your ass, which it will. It's funny, I look back and when we had one kid it was so easy but we were so overwhelmed by being new parents and so crushed by the newness of having no sleep that we never realized it. Anyhow, take it all in stride, do your best and make sure you're right in there and you will never regret it, ever!

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New NHL season! Are you excited? I am ... pleased. More excited about Capsule's hot start to this year, five and oh so far. We need to find a league that plays September to November I think, last year we were undefeated in our first nine games and then had a five game losing streak, bounced back to sweep all of the other contenders in our division aside and then never won another game. Crazy collapse. Hopefully this year will see a happier ending. First two games for me since hurting my knee in March were meh but over the weekend I played very well and the knee feels great so I'm feeling pretty good about it all. Not dead yet!

 Anyhow on to the NHL! Last year I figured on there being five honest to goodness Stanley Cup contenders - LA, Chicago, San Jose, St. Louis and Boston, in no particular order. Then I had the Ducks and then after them the pretenders. This year is going to take some time to suss out as there will be injuries, trades, collapses and meteoric rises but for now here is how I see it, for what it's worth. (Reminder not to put any money on anything based on these predictions, I know parenting better than I do hockey ;) )

Elite

These are the clubs that, barring disaster, will produce the Cup winner next spring. Again in no particular order.

LA - the defending champs aren't unbeatable, Vlasic staying healthy or a bounce here or there and they go home early last spring, but they will be in the mix again. Quality depth up and down the lineup, elite forwards, Drew Doughty, a couple of kids in Toffoli and Pearson who could break out ... they have an embarrassment of riches. I think losing Willie Mitchell hurts slightly and if they get bad Quick then they have problems but they are a great great team.

Chicago - if not for a bad bounce the Hawks would have gone on to the finals and repeated as champs, they and LA were a coin flip. Unreal forwards, especially on the wings with Kane, Hossa, Sharp and Saad. Unbelievable. Depth up front not as great as either of their Cup teams but if Versteeg bounces back and Ben Smith and Morin step in, not to mention Teuvo Teravainen, then they could be close to the 2013 club. I think Brad Richards is done but he could help an anemic PP and is still an upgrade over Handzus. And of course they have a great top four D. They will be there at the end as well, there's a good chance it will be them and the Kings again, the possibility of bad Crawford and their lack of cap space to augment the lineup if needed could be issues

San Jose - pretty sure if Vlasic stays healthy they beat the Kings but the Sharks, well the Sharks are going to Shark regardless it seems and seem doomed to join the Sens as the greatest club to never win the Cup. Loaded up front, quality youngsters coming up at forward and on the blueline. I would never bet on them after all of these failures but they will be there this year, again. Winning their division might be key, get an easier matchup in the first round, not that there are many easy matchups in the West, but better a wild card than the Kings or Ducks.

Blues - St Louis had Chicago where they wanted them, up two to nil and Seabrook suspended and they coughed it up. Part of me thinks they don't belong in this group but they are a very good team and adding Stastny to the mix up front may be what they need to put them over the top finally, that and the maturation of a couple of kids who can actually score a bit in Tarasenko and Schwartz. Carl Gunnarsson is a great addition too, especially if that surgery puts his hip issues behind him.

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The Next Level

 It's early (it gets no earlier) so these clubs might jump to the next level (or slide as well). The top eastern teams are here and of course in a seven game series anything can happen so we might see a champ from the junior circuit but in all of these cases I think we're not talking about the same level as the big boys.

Anaheim - Adding Kesler is going to help and of course Getzlaf and Perry are awesome and they have nice depth up front. I look at that blueline and goaltending though and I don't buy it. I kept waiting for it to all go to shit last year and it didn't but yeah I don't buy it.

Dallas - The blueline is a concern for this sexy pick but if they can add a piece there (hi Jeff Petry) then I think they could make the jump to the next level. They were pretty damn good last year and have added Spezza and Hemsky and ah yeah, this team could be killer especially if Nichushkin makes the leap which I expect he will. A few question marks but the forwards are unreal.

Boston - the Bruins fell out of that elite pack this summer imo though they could return if their collection of kids - Hamilton, Smith, Krug - take the next step. Losing Boychuk means two of their top four Dman from the finalist team are gone and Seidenberg is a question mark and Chara, well Chara is getting older and more than anything this is what is scary for Boston. Their window is closing and there are other eastern teams catching up. That said Rask is great, they have wonderful forwards and old Chara is better than nearly every defenceman in the league. Not the team they once were though (funny to say about the President's Trophy winner, huh?)

Tampa - like Dallas, a sexy pick, like Dallas they are deserving of the designation. Yzerman has added depth up front and on the blue every year and they have some great kids coming up. I really really like their D. Biggest issue is outside of Stamkos their forward group doesn't have the elite talent that the other teams at this level and above, except St Louis, have. They have enough to get out of the conference though which means they have enough to win it all.

Habs - I really rate the Habs though I don't trust Therrien not to blow it. Really though they were a solid club last year and they have Mike Weaver for a full year plus a terrific add in Tom Gilbert plus a kid who I think is going to tear it up this year in Galchenyuk. Elite players in Price and Subban and again a lot of depth up and down the lineup. Pacioretty, Gallagher, Plekanec, Eller, Desharnais, Paranteau, Bourque, Emelin, Markov. Not a western conference quality lineup but definitely amongst the best in the east.

In the next day or two I will look at my guesses for the remaining playoff teams plus the also rans.


Monday, October 06, 2014

Big Wheel Keeps On Turning





 Once you get to a certain age (old, like me), the flood of weddings slows to a trickle. A couple of years ago we had two, both people who work for me, but otherwise we've had none for ages. Until this year.


 Four! Four! Can you believe it? Our babysitter, Jenn's sister, a close friend (he's family really) and in two weeks one of Jenn's coworkers, this one might be a harbinger of things to come as Jenn is a nurse and there is a constant stream of youngsters starting at the hospital, every year, so chances are there will be a few more of these.

A few weeks back we went up to Sudbury for the third of these. I really enjoy weddings, I do, and was looking forward to this one all year. I've know the groom since he was seven (!) when I helped his dad coach the neighbourhood squirt team for two winters before I went off to university and as I noted, he and his family are family to us. Wonderful generous people who have done so much for us (and for me since I was just a kid) over the years.

We left our loinfruit with my folks (everyone survived!) and headed over to the other side of town. We had woken up to pouring rain but by late afternoon it was gone, though gusts of wind rattled the tent overlooking the lake. The ceremony was short (best kind) and we stood and cheered and as they went off for pictures things got a bit surreal.

 I coached the groom off and on for years, even after I came to Toronto for school I would head home for the summer and coach soccer. He was a terrific soccer player, probably a little better than hockey and he was a hell of a hockey player, and so many of his friendships began on the soccer field or at the rink and so everywhere I turned at this wedding I saw someone who I had not seen in nearly twenty five years. A few I had seen a little more recently but there were quite a few, now in their late thirties, married with kids, who I had last seen when they were thirteen or fourteen years old. I was talking to one of them, a young man named Pete, as we did the reception line thing and he said oh yeah a bunch of the old gang is here and I said oh yeah like who and he turned to the couple behind us and said well for starters here's Watson, who had been the goalkeeper on a couple of the clubs.

 Crazy.

 The evening started with two kegs from the local microbrewery (Stack Brewery - if you're up north pick some up, I highly recommend it) and wine from the vinyard where they got engaged. On our own trip to Niagara this spring we got them a case of wine from there for a wedding gift. Around 5:30 I was in the little northerners' room (Proud To Be A Northerner! as the slogan on the old Northern Ale bottles once said) and overheard a couple of young dudes wondering how the hell they were going to make it past dinner at this rate.

 Pace your self lads and drink lots of water! Now get back up to the bar!

 A great meal and more wine and at our table was Pete from the soccer days and many wonderful things were said about me by him and it was damn fine and the best man gave a speech that, well, it was either the best or worst speech ever given depending on who you talked to, I leaned to the former, he managed to somehow offend everyone in the room, it was raucous and profane and I'm still laughing about it, you had to see it to believe it you really did.  And then dancing and out into the cool beautiful night it turned into and then beer and more dancing and outside again and catching up with old friends and it was a night that I was sad to see end although I got to go home with the prettiest girl there as I always do.

 I've always been one to enjoy myself and to embrace life and all that it has to offer and this night was about as good as it gets, truly. When Spencer passed last summer it was a heartbreaker, I will never get over it, but it was a reminder to me to not sweat the small stuff. I've always been good at that, I'm a champ now, let me tell you.

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 Yesterday was a weird day. I didn't like the Marincin move and I didn't like that they kept Acton. I'm not freaking out about it because in two weeks someone will get hurt and Marincin will be back and likely Pitlick or Lander will be too.

 I understand people getting really pissed off though (and boy were some people pissed off) and here's the thing. I like MacT. I like Eakins. But the organization has been a clown car for nearly a decade now and so they have to earn back the benefit of the doubt that nobody will give them. Eight years out of the playoffs and a roster of current NHL players given away for nothing will make a guy a little antsy, you know. I think MacT is a better than average GM and I think Eakins is going to be a good coach but you know, win some games.

 Marincin played over forty games last year in a top four role as a rookie and he did well by any measure. The organization asked him to put some pounds on and he came to camp fifteen pounds heavier. Sounds like he's all in, right.

 Now he didn't have a great camp and some say Klefbom outplayed him, others disagree. And yet he goes down. Why? Politics.

 The Oilers have their golden boys, same as most organizations really. Klefbom and Nurse are part of the club, same as Hall, Ted, Eberle and Schultz. Marincin, Yakupov, Petry ... not part of the club.

 Is it a big deal longterm? I don't think so really. Marincin will be back soon. I don't like the fact that a small sample size (arguably better camp for Klefbom) outweighs what Marincin did last year and I don't like that the club is going Ference, Klefbom and Nurse at LD to start the season when last year's disastrous start sewered the club by Remembrance Day. Points in October count and wanting to get a look at Nurse ( I do not believe at all that he is ready for a fulltime job, does anyone at all) doesn't lend itself to winning.

 Oh well.

 As for Acton, well Lander was awful but by all accounts Pitlick and Pinizzotto were better in camp. So ... what gives here? Acton is a better PK man and I guess that is the key to it and as long as he is in the pressbox it's fine I guess but if Eakins yanks Arcobello for him after a loss I won't be too pleased. Play Pitlick. Give him a shot.

 Again though Joensuu will be out within a week so my guess is we'll see Pitlick before the ink is dry on this here interweb thing I am doing.

 Don't like the moves. Not going to die on that hill.

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 As for the Oilers, well, they're getting there. They really are. For the first time in a long time I feel positive about this club.

 I don't think they're making the playoffs. An injury to Ted and they're in the lottery again actually. To which you might say what the hell!?!?!?! But you just said you're positive!

 Here's why.

 You know my old saw, the one that everyone uses now. Get good players. Keep them. (I should have trademarked that and #BecauseOilers, I really should have.) Not an original thought really but the reason the Oilers have been terrible is because for eight years they turned the house into a paperclip. A full NHL roster of actual NHL players out the door for nothing. Literally. Although Penner can come off that list now that Klefbom has arrived.

 Well in the last year MacT has started to reverse the trend. Scrivens. Fasth. Ference. Nikitin. Fayne. Gordon. Pouliot. Actual NHL players for nothing more than money or picks. And when guys leave other guys come in return. Paajarvi for Perron. Gagner for Purcell. Even Dubnyk brought in Hendricks.

 So now the club has two NHL goalies who are decent. And depth, real depth on the wings. Six actual NHL wingers. When is the last time we could say that? (2007 spring, that's when). And while the D is green and Petry getting traded is going to be a step back again there are actual NHL defencemen back there, not Belov and Grebeshkov and Nick Schultz. (I didn't mind the gamble on the two Russians. Didn't work out. That's okay.)

 Forget about centre though yeah? Yikes!

 So the team is better. And there are a ton of kids on the way and no not all of them will work out but so many of them have good arrows that some of them will and the reality is that this team is going to be a good team quite soon barring a run of career ending injuries or Taylor Hall asking out. Maybe not a Cup contender. But yeah a good team. Soon.

 Hard to believe and this year could be an absolute gong show but it's coming.

 Believe it.