Sunday, February 08, 2015
I have a friend who I have known since I was five years old, my oldest and closest friend. We see each other maybe twice a year now, we have seven kids between us and all of the chaos that this entails. Once a year we go to a hockey game here in Toronto. He drives in from the Shwa, we hop on the subway and usually have enough time to grab a dinner and a couple of pints at The Irish Embassy. Then we head down to the ACC.
I went to the old Gardens a number of times, back when the most expensive seats were fifty bucks. This means that I am old, obviously, and also that over the years Leaf ownership has discovered that the fans' wallets are a well that can never be gone to too often, because let's face it, I'm not that old and the tickets we had last night, first row, ran 505.00 each, as if the Leafs were a South American banana republic faced with hyper inflation.
They're corporate seats of course, which is a big part of the answer to the question. Believe me, I would not pay 500.00 to see an NHL hockey game.
Over the years we've seen some quality clubs. We saw Chicago the year they won their first Cup. They had flown in late the night before after waxing someone and the Leafs took advantage and jumped out to a three or four goal lead. About halfway through the game it was as if some vengeful god had picked up the rink and tilted it, the remainder of the game was played in Toronto's end. Only amazing goaltending got it to overtime and the Hawks ended it seconds in. Best team we have seen in all of the years we have been going.
We've seen the Pens a couple of times although both times Crosby was hurt. We saw Dan Cleary break his face, Mats Sundin get honored, some anniversary that brought the 1967 team out, maybe a couple of those. We've seen the Habs and the Wings a couple of times and we saw Ryan Smyth in the Marc Pouliot penalty shot game, a game where Pouliot looked like a bona fide top six NHLer, although the Oilers lost and Smyth was shipped away just a few days later.
A few years after that we discussed which game to go to and I pushed the Oilers hard. My buddy agreed and we went to a dog of a game, this was before Hall so maybe 2008 or 2009 I guess? It was an awful affair, the Oilers were garbage, same as they've been forever now. Literally nothing sticks with me about that game other than afterwards my pal was peeved and I agreed that never again would I foist the Oil on him, ruining our traditional evening out.
And then this fall he emailed me and said alright - February 7th. Oilers. I replied that I didn't think this was necessary or a good idea but as it turns out the alternates before us were generally bad faceless teams themselves, the likes of Arizona and Miami and Carolina, so Oilers it was.
We went downtown earlier than usual and met his father and youngest brother who had driven down from up north to see the game. His brother is an Oilers' fan as well and was proudly sporting his jersey. It was good to see his Dad, who I haven't seen in a while. They lost their Mom just over a year ago so I am sure it has been a difficult time for him but he was cheerful and joking with us, talking about taking another brother's youngest to hockey, tying his skates and getting him out on the ice, same as he did over forty years ago with my buddy and then afterwards with his brothers. We were early enough to eat at a leisurely pace and had enough time for me to fire back three pints of Guinness so I was pretty pleased.
We got down to the ACC and well the game lived down to the billing. In one corner a team that had lost a franchise record number of games in a row, a franchise that hadn't won the Cup, never mind that they haven't even made the Finals, in nearly fifty years despite having an endless supply of cash. The flagship franchise of the NHL an owner famously said, true that if the NHL was the Cunard Line. I could make a million jokes about the Leafs but the franchise, truth be told, is a punchline although the joke is on their long suffering fans. There are empty seats in Edmonton these days as fans vote with their feet but last night the place was jammed to the rafters and the cash registers were singing and this was with the Oilers in town.
And so in the other corner were those Oilers, a team with a rich history themselves, first as a dynasty and then as a little team that could. Now they are nine years out of the playoffs, a joke run by a group of old boys who are putting in the grave the old lie that playing the game has any correlation with being a smart hockey man. In a few weeks they will trade their best defenceman, he will follow another top player in his prime who was moved out a few weeks ago and so the wheels will keep on turning. Fans say 'well Perron and Petry don't want to be here' and strangely enough few are asking if the problem might be not the players but maybe finding out why they have no desire to stay here. The answer of course is a simple one. Edmonton has become a place where careers go to die. Highly touted draft picks are jerked around and their development ruined. The golden boys have no accountability. The owner is a louse and his mouthpiece opines that there are empty seats at Rexall because it is winter. They are a sad disgrace run by unlikeable know it alls and the news that Kevin Lowe may be given a bigger role at Hockey Canada makes me wonder what the hell is wrong with Hockey Canada and also when will we play Israel in the C pool, because it's coming people.
The game was, well it was terrible, the Leafs on a double digit losing streak, having played last night, a broken group, their poor coach looking like he was on the verge of a stroke the entire game, his dream of being an NHL head coach in tatters. They should have been easy pickings but the Oilers, lacking Hall and Pouliot, basically mailed it in with few exceptions. Nugent Hopkins was a fierce puckhound and Petry was emotional and engaged physically and mentally (though he didn't play great) and the Old Contemptibles, Gordon and Hendricks and Klinkhammer, came to work as they always do. But Fasth was a disaster and Reimer was on the way to his easiest shutout ever, catching fifty foot lob after fifty foot lob while the Leafs raced behind the Oil 'defence' time and time again. The highlight of the game was Morgan Reilly undressing Ference and putting it topshelf, not so much the goal itself which was a beauty but for the reaction of his teammates, a bunch of 'holy shit did you see that grins' which made us laugh.
The one bright spot was Reimer, a young man who seems like a very good person, getting the shutout but even that was ruined as one of the last of the goons in the league, probably one of the least likely players to score, broke it with two seconds left. It was an ending that was oh so very Leafs.
As tank battles go it was the tankiest but the Leafs have nothing on the Oilers who have mastered this. Wait until Petry and others get moved out. They're just getting started.
I see the Sabres finishing last overall and then in the Leafiest, Oiliest lottery ever, some darkhorse winning the lottery, so let's say the Kings or Dallas or Ottawa and thus neither of these sad sacks getting McDavid or Eichel. It would be what is right and just, no doubt about it.
All that said it was a great night, friendship and family and laughter running through it. And aside from that the highlight (other than the very seventies Boogie Nights vibe couple that were sitting a few rows up from us, he with leathery face and feathered dyed blonde hair, her absolutely spilling out of an outfit that looked like something you would see at the Dong and Balls or whatever the porn awards are called) was meeting Scott Oake. We were lounging in the lounge and there he was, just steps away, holding court. Having had a few I excused myself and shook his hand (he has a firm excellent handshake and is a very handsome man) and told him truthfully that I missed After Hours and it was the best part of the old Hockey Night in Canada (truth be told other than the production values the only good part) and he thanked me, said he didn't know why they cut it and encouraged me to write my MP and to ask my friends to do the same.
And so as is only right when talking about Scott Oake, I had an awkward conversation with him.
Posted by Black Dog at 12:00 PM