Showing posts with label Drinking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Drinking. Show all posts

Friday, May 20, 2011

Questions



When your team never makes the playoffs, when they are out of the race every year before the snow flies and you are subjected to months of boring depressing poor hockey, interrupted only by a monthly success that we like to call the Greyhound Handjob in these parts, then the arrival of the playoffs is welcome. Meaningful hockey, played with passion and excitement, by hockey teams that range from good to excellent.



The only sour note - realizing that your sadsack squad is miles away from being good enough to even win a series. And competing for the Cup? We're talking travel to Jupiter far away, pal.



Oh well, what the fuck, right? At least we have teenager hockey players who are awesome! And a new arena coming!



A couple of nights ago I wandered down to the far western reaches of Queen Street with my partner in crime. It began as a lovely warm night and degenerated into another fucking deluge as we tried to make our way to a second bar. We were left soaking and bitter. Well, not really bitter.


When we get together we talk about books and music and politics and our kids and beer but mostly we talk about sex and hockey. Because we are men. And last night was no different. I'll not get into the sex talk because quite frankly I'm starting to worry about myself a little. Our trip to the DR was pretty well awesome in that regard and since our return I have essentially obsessing about those tropical goings on to the point where I can barely go out in public due to the constant boner I have. Its kind of raging right now. What can I say? My wife is fucking hot and I'm a dude. I should just get over it I guess.



So to hockey. The game was on and we witnessed the Canucks just kicking the shit out of San Jose. The Sharks can totally come back but the Sedins are rolling now, hell the whole club is, and imagine that they are without Malholtra and Samuelsson. Could Vancouver not win the Cup? Of course but right now I think they're looking to be in pretty good shape barring a catastrophic injury.



My pal is a fan of Les Sabres and so we were talking about who we were rooting for this year. Since 2006 I've been pretty happy with what has happened in the playoffs. Out of the eight finallists I really could only object to the Ducks on the basis that they were generally douchebags, had their genesis in a Disney movie and were one of Bettman's pet franchises. On the other hand Ottawa is a Canadian club. Detroit and Chicago are original six clubs and have long histories and of course we all know my connection to the Hawks. Ending their Cup drought was just outstanding and I celebrated that triumph by drinking a lot of wine and having sex on our couch. With my wife too, not the usual solo act that happens there. You haven't really lived until you have had crazy sex while Duncan Keith mumbles and slurs through his broken teeth in the background. Adds an element of danger because its like a hobo is in your house watching you do it.



Oh those precious moments.



Chicago beat one of the '67 expansion clubs and love them or hate them (most do the latter) Philly is one of the premier franchises in the league. And the two previous years we had the Wings and Pens, another '67 club, probably the most successful one of those.



So its been quality. None of that old New Jersey/Dallas shit.



This season its a little more difficult to figure out. Who do you go for when you don't have a real interest? Here's what I go by, in no particular order:



Pool.


The franchise.


The players.



Pool



Does it matter? Sure it does. I knew a guy in school who was a huge Leafs's fan. Every pool he entered he chose all Leafs because he couldn't bear to cheer for anyone else. Easy easy money, this was before the Gilmour trade, one and done pretty well every year.



So presently I'm in third with eight of my ten players left. Not bad eh? The fellow ahead of me and the fellow behind me each have four guys left and all of them are Tampa players. The guy in first, about six points ahead of me and fading, is down to two Bruins and Pavelski.



So I need a Canucks/Bruins final. And if I were to really get greedy I need the Bruins to win quickly and in low scoring games and I need the Sharks to come back and push this to six or seven. If I am arrears but get Vancouver and Boston in the final then as long as that is not a sweep and we get some goals I should be good. I'll be rich! Rich I tells ya.



Well maybe not rich but a little bit of money so I can go get some beerth.



So Vancouver and Boston.



The Franchise



When it comes to sports I'm a traditionalist. I like old timey franchises in all sports. I respect clubs that have a history of success but having said that I don't like clubs that have a fanbase of frontrunners (the Yankees, Manchester United). And if I were king of the world and that day is coming so watch your step the first thing I would do would contract teams in all sports. I'd be a dick like that because I think less teams is better. Seriously, thirty teams in the NHL? Unfuckingnecessary. They should tie that runt Bettman to the back of a truck and drive down the old cordouroy road to my camp a few times for all of the teams he has added. And yes I know he answers to the owners etc etc. Fuck him anyhow.



Anyhow these novelty franchises in the south don't do a damn thing for me and yes I know that there are passionate fans and you bet that I'm not one of those guys who smiles when I see one of them fail. Losing your team would be heartwrenching. And in a few cases - San Jose, Nashville, Carolina, Tampa, it appears that there may be roots taking hold. And that's great. But I can't cheer for a sunbelt team over an original six club and while the Canucks' fans are apparently the biggest bunch of douchebags going I really can't comment on that because I only 'know' three Canucks' fans. My cousin, who is an absolutely terrific guy. Oilogosphere commenter Temujin who seems a totally decent sort. And Tom Benjamin who may be a little cranky but certainly seems a fine fellow. That's the thing. Here in Toronto there are no Canuck fans - maybe if there were I'd feel a little more strongly about them. Other than the cowards and punks who attacked Theo Fleury on twitter after Chicago was defeated in game seven I haven't really seen a lot of evidence of the fanbase being bigger tools than, say, the Oiler fanbase, which God knows has its share of assholes and idiots. Although the whole Looouuuu chant is pretty goofy.



The Players



You always want to think (or at least I do) that the guys on a team are the same as the guys on your own club team. A bunch of terrific guys who kid around before the game, treat each other like adults, go out for a couple of beers afterwards. Most of the guys I've played with (and against) over the years have been pretty good guys and of course there have been dicks as well. And with the sense of entitlement and ego that any professional athlete will have you know that probably you're going to have more than your share of dicks on any club even though anecdotal evidence seems to point to most NHL guys being decent sorts. Shayne Corson anyone?



Still its hard not to look at the remaining teams and check out the guys on the roster. Are there any ex Oilers? When the Ducks won the one thing that made me happy was that Todd Marchant got to hoist the Cup. Are there any longtime veterans who are getting what may be their last or only shot? Marchant again. Selanne. Sopel. Hossa. Guerin. Brian Campbell. Hal Gill. And finally are there any guys who just seem like cool guys? Or conversely are there a lot of jerks?



San Jose already has two strikes against them and what can I say but I cannot and will not ever cheer for a club that has Dany Heatley on it unless its Team Canada. Buddy is a fucking choking prima donna tool and if he ever won the Cup I'd cry bitter tears and put a gun in my mouth. There's no such thing as justice or karma but please please never ever let me see his name engraved on the Cup. And that goes for junior douche Ian White as well. I like Dan Boyle and I like my old Auntie Niemi and I don't mind Marleau or Thornton at all but no Shark Cups unless 'Heater' that big idiot and White are long gone.



The Canucks? Well here they fail somewhat although again I must admit I don't hate them as much as most. Burrows is a twat and I'd prefer Kesler to be a little less dirty and a little less of a diver (although Messier and Anderson, to name a couple old Oilers, were about as filthy as you can get). The Sedins are dull but I think that's mostly because they are Swedes. Bieksa is a dick and Luongo's flopping about is plain silly. When the Canucks play the Oilers I dislike them intensely. When they're caving in the Sharks I kind of enjoy it. And yeah I'd like to see Raffi Torres win the Cup just because I think he would go on such a fucking weird emotionally fraught bender afterwards that he would become a legend and we'd never see him again.



Now if you really want to see a bunch of guys to cheer for its obviously Tampa. You have your ex Oilers - Roli, Brewer, Bergeron. You have Marty St. Louis. You have Stamkos who seems like a pretty happy go lucky fellow. There's Vinny Lecavalier who gives millions of dollars to the childrens' hospital in Tampa. There is Dominic Moore and Bergenheim and Nate Thompson and the veterans Ohlund and Kubina. Other than superdouche Steve Downie there's whole lot of guys you want to see do well.



As for the Bruins well you have Michael Ryder who is easy to cheer for he's such a cement and I've always liked Chara and Bergeron and Andrew Ference. Adam MacQuaid is from the Island and played his junior in my hometown so that's a couple of big checkmarks in the black for him. And Tim Thomas is Tim Thomas.



So there's a fair amount of players to cheer for on each team. Well except for the Canucks.



So who am I hoping for, other than the Jets? Well I have to say a Vancouver - Boston final would please me most of all. That would be four straight finals with some cachet.



If it gets to that then we'll revisit the issue but before the playoffs I was kind of hoping for Boston and really I can't say that anything has changed there. Don't think anyone is stopping the Canucks though.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Other Things That Can Make You Go Blind




Lets get something straight here. I'm a bit of a snob, I really am. Its an awful thing and I'm not proud of it but its the way I am. Note however that I'm just a bit of one. I can get a little snooty about movies and television and the general behaviour of white trash folks (and reality television 'stars', though they are often one and the same with the aforementioned) and God knows that I like my fancier beers but I'm also just a few generations removed from folks who were literally from the back woods. My Mom was from what one would call Northern Ontario gentry and you should hear her tell about her first meetings with my dad's old man, shocked might be a way of putting it. It wasn't long though before her own parents were dragged out camping to the middle of nowhere - I've seen the pictures. These folks were urban and sophisticated, they travelled the world back when nobody did and here they are in Mackinaw jackets and hunting caps, my grandfather enjoying himself, my grandmother less so but smiling grimly all the same.

Anyway I know where I'm from and no years away from there are going to change me that much. I may turn my nose up at a Molson Canadian but goddamnit if you offer me one I'll drink it and I'll enjoy it and I'll thank you for it and mean it and then I'll wipe my nose on my sleeve to boot.

The McLean way is strong. We're like that Star Trek thing that would roll across the universe turning everything it conquered into pasty half robots or whatever the fuck it did. Marry a McLean and like my Mom and my wife and all of the countless others you'll soon find that there's a shack in the backyard and inside of that shack is a sauna. There will be a boat or two in your driveway. The Hip will be on the stereo. Your holidays will be spent in the middle of nowhere. There will be sideburns and general lack of shaving. There will be a hairy back. There will be a fridge full of beer and there will be drinking and smoking and plenty of sex. You will be dragged to weddings and your family will take over the dance floor loudly and clumsily and without any sense of rhythm or dignity. The new family, like your own did at your own wedding, will stare stonefaced in wide wonder at the choice that their son or daughter has made, all the while making plans to come in the night and snatch them away.

Too late. Now they are one of us.

My wife often looks around at dinner and despairs and how these babies that she carried and birthed have turned into little savages but as the boy noted to her the other day after she shouted at them to stop eating like animals:

Humans are animals Mommy.

Smart boy. He's five.

And oh how did I laugh.

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All of this is just a leadup to another tale because I will never take a minute to tell a story when thirty minutes are available. I was reminded in a comments' thread here last week about my adventures with port. I've gotten into it lately, mostly because of friends of ours. He's nuts about it and whenever we get together we end up breaking out a bottle if we're at their place or ordering some if we are out. Buddy is a man of wealth and taste, certainly much more so than I, even though his upbringing was similar to mine but the first time he offered me some port I made a face, said no thanks and wondered to myself what I had done to offend him.

The reason for this is that back in the day when my pal Higgins and I spent many days and nights wandering this city in a haze one of those things that we used to drink, for some reason, was port. There was that and beer of course and lemon gin, the type that had warning labels on it not to drink it straight or you might go blind. We would go out and I'd come home and I'd be terrified that I'd be so drunk that I'd grab the bottle and empty it and wake up sightless.

It was dirt cheap of course, as was the port, which was a big part of the attraction and one night I came upon my comrade in arms and another lad and they were drunk and mumbling and emptying a bottle of port. For some reason I was sober (I really have no idea on that one) and so I sat down and they poured me a glass and it was the most awful swill I have ever tasted. That was it for me and it would be over twenty years before I had another glass.

And it was then that I discovered that if you spend over six dollars on a bottle of port its actually pretty damn good.

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One positive to come from this season is how the Oilers have committed to creating a proper development system and farm club. After years of sharing affiliates, scrimping on the minor league operation, floundering in this major part of developing a winning franchise, the Oilers seem to have figured it out and gotten it right. The Barons may or may not make the playoffs but after years of being a doormat they are a competitive club with what looks to be good coaching. Considering that their roster has been plucked clean by the big club and they are still in the playoff race is a testament to a job well done. Two of their best, if not their two best players, Omark and Reddox, have been gone for months and at times they have been without their top goaltender, various defencemen and a raft of forwards.

More important to the longterm view is how players are coming out of the minors. Of course a lot of this has to do with natural talent but there's no doubt that the success of players like Petry speaks to the coaching that they have received. The last two games we have seen Teemu Hartikainen, who is a better player than JF Jacques already, Ryan O'Marra, who may have a career as a role player finally and Chris Vandevelde, who has not looked out of place.

None of these guys, except for the Finn, may be anything more than a tweener or fourth liner, but after a few years of seeing roster spots filled by guys like Jacques and MacIntyre and other flotsom and jetsom, seeing guys come up who look like they actually can play hockey is a nice change of pace. Visitors here know I have a lot of contempt for the management of this franchise but on this count at least they have gotten it right.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Kiss Me, I'm Slightly Irish, Like, Perhaps Ten Percent


Ah, St Patrick's Day.

Or as I like to call it, Amateur Night.

My pal and I frequent the communists' bar, also known as The Only Cafe, quite a bit and there used to be a lovely girl who tended bar there and one March 18th we showed up for pints and she was grumbling, and she rarely grumbled, about how much she detested two nights of the year, New Years Eve and St Patricks Day. Lots of arseholes and lots of puke to clean up.

Now I'm a big Guinness man, there are generally two types of pubs I frequent. Those that carry regional or local brews, like the Victory Cafe, the Cloak and Dagger,the communists' bar or Cafe Volo, well at these places I'll go with one of the wonderful options from these parts. And those other ones, McVeighs, the Dora Keough, McCarthys, well at these places then I'll have myself Guinness, four of them if I can. Remember, four pints is the perfect number.

And when it comes to the hard stuff, as discussed in the previous post's comments, I'm an Irish whiskey man. I do enjoy it very much.

When I was a young man I always wanted to go to Dublin. There and Spain were the two destinations of choice and now, years later, I have been lucky enough to get to Ireland three times. Once Jenn and I went and then my company became involved with a company over there and so I went once for work and then for a wedding of a friend I met through work there.

When it comes to travel there is nothing like becoming familiar with a place. Its the only way to go and I know some parts of Dublin better than a few of my friends there. Have had a few nice wanders there.

Ireland is a lovely country and the Irish are a terrific folk and our celebration of St. Patrick's Day has about as much to do with them as I do with the American space program.

So quite a bit but its not on the money. Or maybe not at all.

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For a lot of people the whole idea of the Irish is a romantic one. Ireland is cool and its beautiful and its fun and that goes a long way. We don't go celebrating a day for the patron saint of Albania now, do we?

My Dad had four brothers and a sister. One of his brothers is a former airline pilot and more than a bit of a madman. He's what you'd call a character and while sadly he's slowed down quite a bit and his health has become an issue, in his day he was the life of the party, a born storyteller and entertainer. Now my uncle has been to Ireland many times and as one of his sons said, the kids were 'brought up Irish'. Now this was years ago before Ireland took off, we're not talking some sort of Celtic revival wanna be here, my uncle celebrated our family's Irishness (Irishnicity?) because as family lore went, we had come from Kincardine and made our way to the pine forests and granite cliffs of Lake Superior.

The only problem is he had the story all wrong. Neil McLean was Scotch through and through and he married a Bell, Margaret, born in Canada, her parents also Scots. (There were many Bells and McLeans from Islay and I think, though I can't know for sure, that this was a connection that brought Neil to Ontario. Immigrants then tended to stick with what they knew when they could, same as immigrants now I think its fair to say.)

Neil and Margaret had eight children and farmed in Nottawasaga, near Barrie, Ontario and after a couple of decades there they moved west to the Bruce on the shores of Lake Huron. It was only a few years after that that they sailed from Collingwood across Huron to the Soo and then to the other side of the moon, er, Goulais River. Neil and Margaret and seven of their children made the voyage but one son, Duncan, stayed behind and he disappears at this time, makes a life in Kincardine.

Ontario.

My poor uncle, when I broke the news that while his grandmother was a Whelan even she was only half Irish, if that, and that the McLeans were no more Irish than the Boissonneaus, my grandmother's family.

Nothing compared to my cousin Mike though who proclaimed that I had just made a lie out of a good part of his upbringing.

Oops.

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As for the Oilers, well O'Marra got the call along with Giroux and Jean Vandevelde, who, along with Teemu, makes his NHL debut tonight. Good luck to the kids, good god they are going to need it but here's hoping they pull off an Irish miracle and O'Marra and that other Irishman, O'Mark, do well on St. Patrick's Day.
Not long now until we're put out of our misery for another summer.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

City Lights


City Lights was the bar we frequented back in the day in all of those salad summers. Thursday and Saturday nights. Those Saturdays were epic. We'd head up to Frank Kuznik's place early in the afternoon and sit on his folks' back deck and drink beer. Folks would wander in and out through the day, the music would be playing and we'd enjoy being young. Around dinner we'd throw whatever we brought to eat on the barbeque and then we'd traipse through the Donovan towards downtown. We'd go to the Steelworkers union hall and play pool and shuffleboard while the old fellow in charge brought trays of small glasses of eighty cent draughts. As the night wore on we'd pack up and walk up the street to City Lights, a Loblaws once, and complete our night there. You'd walk into the vast space and like the scene in Dazed and Confused you'd feel yourself in slow motion, nods and handshakes as you entered the dark cavern, music blaring, heading to the bar. You'd have over a thousand people there and you'd be at least nodding acquaintances with a couple of hundred of them, folks from high school or your neighbourhood, old girlfriends and past hockey teammates, revellers who you knew from nights out like this one. We'd usually camp out at the top of the steps leading to the dance floor, leaning against the rail, a couple dozen of us, the group changing constantly as we drifted away for beer or for a walk around the bar or to hit the dance floor to display quality Northern Ontario dance moves, replaced by newcomers and old pals.

Great times.

City Lights is long gone now. The Steelworkers Hall burned to the ground some years back, torched by a couple of kids if I recall correctly, a new one has risen in its place. Many of the old gang are still back in my hometown while many of us have moved on, making our lives elsewhere. If we could do it all over again, get together at the Kuzniks and spend a summer afternoon drinking cold beer, listening to Van Morrison, good natured insults flying, I'd do it a minute. And if by some miracle City Lights still existed and for old times' sake someone suggested wandering through the Donovan's winding streets, passing the small bungalows, brick and wood siding in the heat, heading into downtown for one last night at that vast bar, I'd turn, smile and shake my head. No thanks to that I'd say.

Times change. The perfect bar when I was 22 would make me mental today. Music's too loud! Plus its crappy! Generic beer! Bah!

These days I like my bars quiet and intimate. A wide selection of good beers and failing that, then a good pint of Guinness. My favourite pub is McCarthy's, its not much bigger than my living room. The Victory Cafe, Bar Volo, The Only, Dora Keough's, McVeighs (in the afternoon, not the evening when a band may be there), The Cloak and Dagger (when there's no band).

Perfection. Twenty years ago you wouldn't have found me at any of them or at least it would be unlikely. Today if I were to win the lottery, a difficult proposition for a guy who doesn't buy lottery tickets, I'd start with the aforementioned and go from there when designing my dream bar.

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An awesome discussion over at Tyler Dellow's this week as it evolved into a spirited argument over the merits of Zack Stortini and Tanner Glass. Only in Canada as Ty noted. It got me to thinking about fourth lines and how to build them and what the Oilers' fourth line should (and may) look like next season.

Of course the fourth line is what it it. It doesn't matter who the Pens roll out there, they are still fucked now that Malkin is done for the season. A fourth line isn't going to make you a Cup contender if your top six are brutal but I would argue that they can make you a markedly better team if you have the right mix there.

But what is the right mix and is it important? I would argue that it is. You may have a top nine that eats up the vast majority of icetime but if your fourth line can contribute then its going to make you a better club. Looking at the recent Cup winners here are the players who made up their fourth lines in the playoffs for the most part, this is by memory so throw out any names or correct me if you can.

Carolina - Kevyn Adams, Craig Adams, Chad Larose
Anaheim - Todd Marchant, Brad May, Shawn Thornton, Ryan Shannon
Detroit - Darren Helm, Dallas Drake, Darren McCarty
Pittsburgh - Craig Adams, Maxime Talbot, Matt Cooke
Chicago - Ben Eager, Troy Brouwer, John Madden

I'm fairly sure that's pretty accurate, I am leery about the Penguins but looking at their roster I'm not sure who slotted in on the fourth line if not Cooke. Maybe it was Pascal Dupuis. They had a nice deep roster up front.

So what do we see here? Well there are no Zack Stortinis or JF Jacques or Steve MacIntyres. Not to say that there are many great players here but there are a lot of useful guys. A lot of veterans. Marchant, May, Drake, McCarty, Madden. Two of these guys could win draws and kill penalties. Carolina barely played their fourth line, iirc, but both Adamses were big PK guys, a role Craig reprised for Pittsburgh.

What I see are guys that are going to hold their own against the other club's dregs, probably outplay them. And most of them can skate and / or are veterans which means that if they get caught in a bad matchup they have a reasonable chance of surviving it. Look at their numbers and most of them were around even, a few were even plus players. So they weren't getting murdered.

And very few kids. Helm stands out. Talbot. Brouwer although as a 22 goal scorer he wasn't the prototypical fourth liner (man was that Hawks' team deep?!).

Does this mean anything for the Oilers? Well they have only had one decent fourth line in the years since the 2006 run, the Glencross/Brodziak/Stortini trio. They have had other quality guys there - Thoresen and Reasoner come to mind.

But right now its an awful mess.

My guess is we're going to see kids aplenty there next season. I'd bet on O'Marra or Lander. Maybe Hamilton or Pitlick if they have very good camps. Reddox if he's still around. And Renney likes his designated fighter so MacIntyre will be around to play his thirty three seconds a game.

Pointless, huh?

For me we would see the new kids playing big minutes in the minors rather than six minutes a game in the show. Like everything I think the idea is to bring in the best players possible. Duh, right? So having JFJ there is pointless. He's big but there's no use if that size is useless. Same as MacIntyre.

You want guys who are going to help win games and that means guys who can PK and a centre who can win faceoffs. You'd start there. If O'Marra is not going to get a shot then you have to look at these models and bring in a Madden or Marchant type. On one wing I would bring in another veteran. We'll call him Mike Grier or Radek Dvorak. A guy who can PK, again. And a vet who can hold his own out there. The idea of a fourth line creating energy is a goofy one - nothing sucks energy out of a team that a unit that bleeds goals against and spends their shifts hemmed in their own zone. For every time JFJ lays someone out he spends five minutes chasing the puck in his own end. Pointless.

Throw in Liam Reddox and there is your fourth line. Sign Colin MacDonald and see if he can provide anything at this level.

Straight forward. Unless you are going to give your fourth line serious minutes there is no reason to have Hamilton, Lander and Hartikainen sitting on the bench night after night. These guys are all earmarked for top nine minutes in the future. Play the shit out of them in the minors until someone gets hurt and then they can get a shot.

Build a fourth line that addresses two of this club's weaknesses (PK and draws) and that won't get destroyed every time they hit the ice. Start there. It won't win you the Cup but it will make you a better club.

Better players. Get them.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Another Night At McCarthy's




My father in law was never a big drinker even before he was felled by a massive heart attack (and by the way he is doing just excellent now, thank you very much). When he came to visit he would take on a project of some sort and usually he would have a couple of beer while he did his work or maybe in the evening he'd have a whiskey. Since the heart attack he sticks to red wine for the most part, a glass or two a day, and the odd beer.

Now I think like any guy (or most guys I should say) he likes his drink but my mother in law and her family are pretty staid when it comes to alcohol. A drink or two will do them for the most part. So I think that over the years he's been pretty smart about making sure that he toes the line, at least on the outside. Its like my Mom's aunt and uncle. They live in Timmins and just down the street my Dad's brother happened to live with his family. My great uncle (follow along now) was a teetotaller, or so my great aunt said, but my uncle, a drinker himself, would snicker and snort, as he recalled that every day for as long as they lived in that house, he looked out the window to see my great uncle stroll by, out for his daily walk, which just happened to pass by the local Legion. He'd nip in for his pint or two and then walk back home. Every day. ;)

So with my father in law I don't think he's a big drinker but I also think he's a bigger drinker than anyone thinks, if you know what I mean. A couple of nights before our wedding on PEI we had our rehearsal dinner, so we had my folks and Jenn's folks and a half dozen buddies and their wives and girlfriends plus all of the bridal party and then afterwards we hit the town. My father in law came along and we ended up at the Old Dublin which is a pretty good place for a pint. We walked in and they had the aye-diddle-aye going on and right in front of the dance floor there was a big long table and it had been commandeered by my family, a whole bunch of bald men with hairy backs and their women, and so I brought Brian over and introduced him and the last I saw of him he was getting his glass refilled for the fifth or sixth time, happier than a pig in shit.

Speaking of shit he got in some that night, Jenn told me the next day that her Mom said she had never seen him drunk in all of their years together.

I just raised an eyebrow at that.

It was a few years later and they were up for a visit and I asked Brian if he wanted to come for a stroll to McCarthy's, a little Irish pub about fifteen minutes from our place. I've written about McCarthy's before, its just a tiny little hole in the wall, a terrific place. Probably my favourite pub in Toronto, which is saying a lot, the reason being most of all is that you can go in there and not know a soul and by the time you've left you'll have had a half dozen conversations on a good night. Part of it is that its so damn tiny and part of it is the folks there are mostly Irish expats or Irish passing through and that's the way they are and part of it is that's just the way it is there. They'll leave you alone if you want to be left alone but if you're open to talk then you can find someone to talk to anytime.

Its run by twin sisters, they're a couple of characters, the one has been less involved the last few years but on Saturday nights you'll generally find them both in there, tying one on.

So on this day we arrived about midafternoon. The place was pretty quiet and we were able to get seats on one end of the small gentle curve of a bar. Brian sat at the end, then myself, then one of the sisters, then a couple of lads, then the second sister. Behind the bar there was a young fellow whose accent betrayed him to be one of those youngsters just travelling through, picking up a few extra dollars.

So I order a couple of pints and beside me sister S is already doing pretty well, despite the early hour. She finishes up her cider and then orders herself a shot of Jager.

Before I go any further did I mention that the father in law is pretty heavily involved in the church back in PEI?

So she 'trows' back her shot and she sings it praises:

Oh that's the good stuff right there, that is, that's the truly good stuff.

Meanwhile your man takes a step over and now he's at our end of the bar and I look down and I'm about half done and because I am the type who likes to take charge of a situation I order myself another pint. Brian protests that its his round and I tell him that he can get the next one as I will be done both the one I am working on as well as this new one before he is done his first, thinking almost immediately afterwards that perhaps I should keep my mouth shut because letting your father in law know that the one thing you're pretty damn good at is drinking Guinness to beat the band might not be all that smart. But then again I've never claimed to be either smart or to have any foresight so what can you do?

Its the truth though so when he orders the next round I hand in two glasses to his one.

Meanwhile S calls over to the young fellow to give her some more of that Jager and he does.

Oh yes, that's the stuff. Its better than milk out of your mother's tittie it is. Oh my.

Now this makes my head snap to a little and I look over and sister number two, M, is working on the crossword and she has just her first glass in front of her and she raises an eyebrow.

Give me another says S and the young bartender tells her that that's the last and holds out the empty bottle as proof.

Oh now that's a turrible turrible ting now. Oh now that's a sad sad ting. But my my look at that big long bottle, the size of it, that reminds me of someting now, oh does it ever, that long tick bottle, now that would be a wonderful ting in itself!

And she chuckles but at this point M interjects, seeing my father in law and guessing correctly that he is a newcomer to their establishment.

Now now there's no call for that sort of language now, is there. Lets mind our manners please.

And this is where it starts because there is no love between the two sisters, indeed one patron once told me of a time that they actually brawled in the bar, the two of them, bare knuckled. The staff and customers cleared a ring and found the facsimile of a bell to bring some semblance of order or they would have killed each other he said and destroyed the bar as well.

And so S retorts:

Well now, mind my manners would I? Well, I would suggest you mind your own fucking manners over there. And your fucking business too.

M: Mind my fucking business then, well it is my fucking business, you stupid cunt, and when I tell you to mind your fucking manners and watch your fucking language then you had better fucking well do it! So mind your fucking language you fucking twat!

S: Cunt am I? A cunt? Well you dirty little fucking slut, there's a the fucking pot for you. You dirty filthy cunt you had better watch who you call cunt.

M: Whoremaster, cunt, fuck, shit, fuckshit, shitfuck cunty cunt.

S: Cunty cunting cunt cunter.

M: Fucking cunt cunter fuck.

You get the picture.

Finally they dragged one outside for a smoke and the other downstairs to cool off and all the time I just stared straight ahead, thinking that of all of the days I brought my wife's father out, it had to be this one and this was the end of it for sure and probably I should order another few rounds with the hopes that he might forget this or at the very least, I might.

And then I sneak a peek and he's grinning from ear to ear and then he bursts out laughing and the next day we're hanging about and he looks over and says 'Hey bye, when are we going for a little walk by that little pub? I'm getting a little thirsty!'

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

Looking back at the past while it seems that I've had little to say and even less to say about the Oilers. They've started to lose pretty regularly again lately and if Whitney is out for any length of time then it would seem that a top three pick is surely in the bag. You'd think they could do 'better' in that regard but both the Devils and the Islanders are somehow worse, quite a bit worse actually, and in the case of the Devils its really hard to believe. Everyone keeps figuring they'll start going again and maybe Wild On Jack Lemaire will do the trick but my God they are awful and I can't even think of the last time a team that good went south that badly so quickly. And they have to worry about Parise's contract coming due with the mess that they are in cap-wise.

It looks like the Oilers are going to get another bluechip prospect and based on their drafting over the past few years and how so many of their prospects are trending its a pretty fair expectation to think that they may end up with a few more good kids in the cupboard after June.

The Oilers are a hard organization to like in many respects. The way they have gone about the whole arena situation has been understandable (they want the best deal possible, I respect that) but it has given off a bad odour, which is expected whenever Pat LaForge is involved with anything. Buddy walks in the room and the walls begin to bleed slime. They have lived off of the glory years for a long time and the fact that Kevin Lowe and Steve Tambellini remain involved after putting the club into the ditch is about as odd and disgusting as the Wall Street types who got their bonuses after shredding the American economy.

With all of that said however its impossible to ignore that the organization is on the right track, at least temporarily. We might quibble with Tom Renney but he seems to have been a pretty good choice to coach these kids. The minor league affiliate is doing well and the players called up from there have looked equal to the task for the most part (frighteningly enough in a few cases they are better than their counterparts at the big league level). The prospects cupboard overfloweth. And with the big club for the first time in years one can go down the list and put a checkmark beside a lot of names who are meeting or surpassing expectations and that is something that we have not been able to say for a long long time.

Hall, Eberle, Paajarvi, Horcoff, Penner, Hemsky, Gagner, Jones, Whitney, Gilbert, Peckham, Dubnyk.

I would argue that all have done their jobs. There have been a few bumps for these men, yes, but there are a dozen names who have been pretty good for this club.

And that bodes well for the future.

And this is what this year is all about after all. We knew it was going to be an awful mess and we know that the future is uncertain but really we figured that it was going to be a total disaster (at least I did) and the fact that we can look at a lot of positives means that it may be salvageable after all.

Hard to believe.

Monday, July 19, 2010

One Tough Town


Growing up in Sudbury, well, growing up in Sudbury was far different than growing up in, say, Toronto or London or Kitchener-Waterloo. Sudbury is a tough town. The winters are long and vicious and you have to be able to take them. Growing up we played most of our hockey outdoors and when I first began coaching it was the same. Thirty below and you'd be out there, wind pushing at the plywood box of the players' bench, a bunch of seven year olds aching to get out there to warm up their freezing feet, the rink surrounded by parents in their snowmobile suits and heavy boots, moms and dads stomping their feet and cheering, if the snow was heavy we'd break and they would descend onto the ice with scrapers to clean it up while we had a five minute respite in the shack, skates off and rubbing hands and feet to get them warm again and then skates on again and out into it once more.

Sudbury was a railroad town and a logging town over a century ago but first and foremost it was a mining town and the Finns and Italians and French Canadians who came to work for Inco and Falconbridge along with the Irish and Scots were tough tough men. You can't work in the mines if you don't have some nerve. Its not just a northern Ontario thing, its a western thing and a Newfoundland thing and a Maritime thing. Its Canadian, the work outdoors and underground, the battle with the elements. Its not for the faint of heart and seeing as this country was built by people who travelled from around the world to build a new life here you know that they were made of stern stuff.

It was when I moved to Toronto that I really realized from whence I came. In my hometown I was a lightweight, maybe a middleweight when it came to the drinking. I could put them back but compared to a lot of the kids that I grew up with I was a nobody. It was only when I came south that I realized that where I was from was different. Folks worked hard and they played hard and they drank hard and this was the way it was. I would go out with big men from Hamilton, a pretty tough town itself, and match them beer for beer and we'd talk about our old men and 'old men strength' and some of their exploits which we could never match and the funny thing is when I talk to my Dad, a little guy with enormous hands and nerves of steel, a guy who can throw up a building or rebuild a car or pilot his boat through a storm on Lake Superior, a guy who was a terrific hockey player and ball player and boxer, who played guitar and left home at fourteen to get a good education, then I am in awe. And then my father talks about his own old man, one hundred and thirty pounds at most, a softspoken little guy who once laid out a man with a hundred pounds on him at the Soo Legion because your man was yapping, one punch and he hit the floor, and I think about how times have changed. The generations before us built the land with their bare hands, men and women, and it wasn't easy. No room if you were soft and most had to make their own way, that's the way it was.

My uncle whose son's wedding I am attending this week was born on a train, the sixth and youngest of his family. He was delivered by the brakeman and his initials A.C.R. are homage to the Algoma Central Railroad, my grandfather's employer, the railroad on which my uncle came into this world. The train pulled into the Soo into an unholy blizzard and he and my grandmother were loaded onto a sleigh and pulled through the storm to the hospital.

Holy shit right?

The summer that I was twenty a couple of buddies came up to visit me from Canton Ohio. We went to the family camp and ate steak and drank beer and alternated stints in the sauna with swims in the lake under the stars. (One of them exclaimed that it was like being touched by God.) We went to the bars in town and one night in particular we went to the University pub, a popular place to go on Thursday nights. At the time it was also where a lot of guys went to settle scores because the most popular bar in town, a converted grocery store called City Lights, was manned by a pack of roided up bouncers who stomped (literally) on any outbreak of violence. So the violence found an outlet elsewhere, quite often at the pub which was staffed pretty minimally.

So we got nice and full and at night's end we wandered out into the summer air. On our way to the parking lot where my girlfriend at the time was going to (graciously) take us home, we came upon a guy a little worse for wear sitting on the curb. One of the Americans, a tall lanky fellow, he was well over six feet, knelt down to see how buddy was (buddy was a mess) and when he did he began to catch flak from a friend of your man who was down and out.

Now I knew both of these guys from high school, they were a year younger than me, and the guy who was mouthing was, like me, not all that big. He was what you'd call a regular guy too, not a noted tough guy or anything. But the booze was going and so he told my American friend to beat it, to mind his own business, and my pal stepped up and made a comment or two and next thing you know they were into it and next thing we know the bigger man in lying on the pavement and his nose is broken and there's blood everywhere.

We get home and my Mom laughs and shrugs and takes his shirt which is soaked in blood and the next morning its bright and white and shiny. Years of living in the north teaches you how to remove blood from clothes I guess. ;)

The funny thing is that the next week another buddy of mine comes up from Toronto and again we hit the town and again on Thursday night we go to the university pub and this time we get through the night without any trouble and we're out waiting for our ride when another buddy of mine comes out and he's been cut pretty bad and it turns out that after he realized we had left he came running through the pub, hoping to catch a lift home and a buddy of his, a guy he went to school and worked with, thought that he was coming at him and so he let him have it as soon as he came into range, split his face right open. With friends like that right? You know the old saw.

What a town.

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

Steve Tambellini has avowed to make the Edmonton Oilers a tougher team to play against and one cannot blame him. This club has been getting pushed around since June 19th of 2006 and every season we fans are forced to watch as Jarret Stoll and Ladi Smid and Tom Gilbert and Ales Hemsky and Sheldon Souray and others have been knocked out for lengthy periods of time by questionable acts by opposing players. Its been ugly and Tambellini wants it to stop and that's great.

Now the best way to be tough to play against is to actually have a really good team. Teams like Detroit and Chicago and Pittsburgh and Carolina have won the Stanley Cup since the lockout and by my eye the biggest goon who actually took a regular shift for any of these teams was Ben Eager and calling him a goon is probably a bit of a stretch. The Ducks were loaded with fighters who fought but they also had a blue that included Pronger and Niedermeyer and Beauchemin as well as four decent to excellent lines plus Giguere and Bryzgalov between the pipes so if that's the model you want to follow then I guess you had better start with two future Hall of Fame defencemen who have won every damn thing and go from there. Add Selanne and have MacDonald/Getzlaf/Marchant/Pahlsson up the middle and then add a goon or two in there once all is said and done I guess.

Point is that the toughest teams to play against are the ones that always have the puck and while in some minds toughness means fighting (hello Mr. Cherry) the reality is that the most valuable toughness comes in the form of guys like Datsyuk and Zetterberg, Crosby and Gonchar, Keith and Toews and the whole rest of that lot. Can't say I've ever seen Marion Hossa or any of the aforementioned in a fight but playing through torn ligaments or a bad shoulder or returning to the ice after losing a goodly number of teeth, fighting through your checks and winning the puck time and time again, taking that hit to get the puck out or taking a beating in front of the net or playing thirty minutes a game rank a lot higher to me than dropping them and wrestling with Eric Godard or Donald Brashear.

Its those folks who say Ales Hemsky isn't tough who think that a guy like JF Jacques or Steve MacIntyre will make a difference who are sadly mistaken. If you're going to have thugs on your team then its probably best that they can play, like Shore and Howe and Lindsay and early Mikita and Bob Clarke and Messier and that lot. Give me Claude Lemieux or Matt Cooke, dirty pricks who can play a bit. Those guys will help you win. Guys like Jason Smith or Chris Pronger or Raffi Torres will help you win.

Guys like Jacques or MacIntyre or Greg Stewart. Not so much. Even Zach Storini, a guy who isn't much of a player, is going to help you win more than these guys and God help Tom Renney if Stortini sees the PB so one of these jokers can take a shift or two.

A guy like Stortini, well God bless him. He pulled down a three year contract and the life of it pays him less than that joker O'Sullivan got in one season. If POS or Robert Nilsson had anywhere near the heart of Storini well that would be something to see. But they don't and so they are gone and good riddance. At least Zach, given a couple of reasonable linemates like Brodziak and Glencross, will help eat those dregs alive. Because those dregs usually include that NHL GMs' cowbell, the useless goon or two.

Its not just an Oiler thing. Its an NHL thing. The guy who can barely play, who takes up a roster spot, who gets pounded by any measure when he's on the ice. these guys are supposed to have value. These guys who can't find a spot on the rosters in Chicago or Detroit or Pittsburgh.

Or apparently in Tampa either as Yzerman was quoted as saying that fighting is an overemphasized part of the game. Now Yzerman had Bob Probert on his side for a number of years but of course poor old Bob could play too, people forget that. Years after Probert was gone though and the Wings won a few Cups there wasn't a lot of fighters in Detroit. There was that famous brawl against the Avs when they finally pushed back and that meant something, it really did, and of course McCarty was a guy who could throw them, Shanahan too, but again there's a Hall of Famer and another guy who could play. And when it comes down to it that's what it comes down to. Having guys who can play who can take it. That's the type of toughness you want. Not some guy whose presence means you have a short bench every game.

I guess the thing for me is that while I appreciate what Tambellini is trying to do I don't think he's going about it the right way. We'll see when camp breaks I guess. certainly adding Jones and Fraser and Vandermeer will help and it looks like there will be more size and talent up front in Hall and Paajarvi and certainly anybody who has seen Hall play won't question his toughness. And if Peckham makes the team and can play well that will help too.

Just mark me down as a guy who would be a lot happier if Vande Velde, who is supposed to have a little bit of an edge and some nice skill as well, makes the club instead of MacIntyre. MacIntyre's presence on this club for two seasons didn't prevent guys from getting run. I'd prefer a guy who can play thank you very much. And MacIntyre cannot and Jacques gave us very little reason to believe that he can either.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Amateur Night - More HNIC Reflections


Heading to Ireland for a wedding in just under two weeks. Life has been busy plus I'm a pretty mellow guy so I haven't really been thinking about it but I'm starting to get excited a little. This will be my third trip to Ireland and this will give me an opportunity to explore Dublin a little bit more. As I have written about before travelling to the same place is something I enjoy, you get to know where you are going and as a result you can go a little more native, as it were. Most of the time I will be celebrating my man in Dublin's wedding with his friends and family and when I do get out it will be partially familiar haunts and partially north of the Liffey, which I have seen little of. Other than Montreal and the Island I've no real places that I can claim even partially as my own (outside of my hometown and my home now) other than Dublin. I am looking forward to returning once again.

St. Patrick's Day just past and expectations amongst many was that I'd be out drinking but I'm not a big March 17th guy. I'll have a pint of Guinness at home and once in a while I'll make a wicked Irish stew but I've only ever been out once on St. Patrick's Day. Its a little funny because most of my favourite pubs here are Irish ones but on the 17th they're just mental. I was once at McVeighs on the 16th having a pint and the place was manic as they prepared. A patron asked the bartender what the next day would be like and he replied that they'd be lined up at ten outside, for a noon opening, and that the bar would be full of poured pints before they opened. They'd be hard pressed to keep up.

Not my scene.

The best line I ever heard was a time we were at the Communist Bar on the 18th of March and we were talking to the dear sweet bartender and asked her how it was the night before and she grimaced and said that it was the worst day of the year for her.

Amateur night. Place is packed as hell and not a single one of them can hold their alcohol. Its a disaster.

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Amateur night is a perfect description of what we witnessed last weekend at the ACC. I wanted to revisit that experience because in my original post I spent most of my time ranting and raving and so I just wanted to give a few more impressions.

Bruce always gives terrific recaps and I need to echo something that he says quite often, that I am always amazed at the size, speed and skill of these guys, its just incredible and I am always astounded. Anyhow, some more thoughts.

As I said before the Oilers are small. The difference between them and the Leafs was pronounced. Gagner, Cogliano, Brule, Comrie, Potulny, Nilsson plus Chorney on the back end. All of them small. And of course O'Sullivan was not out there either. And on top of it for the most part they were not strong on the puck, either unwilling or unable to win puck battles. Brule is nice and aggressive and was not afraid of anybody. Cogliano also quite aggressive, probably buoyed by playing in front of family and also by having Penner on his flank. He was less effective than Brule physically though. He was willing but not really any more than a nuisance when it came to that part of the game.

Gagner shows well but he was between Minard and Pouliot. Pouliot was aggressive but the wing is not his thing and Minard was absolutely invisible. Gagner was wasted there but the options are limited of course.

Horcoff was in the same situation. Comrie played little because of the penalties but when he did he did not do much. Crazy soft hands though. Unbelievable. Memorable moment from him was cutting across the Leafs' blue in the second waving his stick like a madman for the pass from the Oilers' blue. I'm talking waving it like a guy trying to get rescued from a desert island. Totally over the top and a little odd.

Moreau didn't do a damn thing. Weird little vignette early in the game during a TV timeout. He cruised over and talked Whitney's ear off. He then went over to Gilbert and began talking to him. Gilbert half listened for a second and then skated away while Ethan kept yapping. Funny stuff.

Horcoff looked more like his old puck hawking self but he wasn't the player I saw three years ago here - that game he and his linemates owned everyone the Leafs threw at them. Of course his linemates that night were Smyth and Hemsky. He's a favourite of mine though and he had a decent game, making some nice plays on the defensive side of the puck.

Brule's goal was terrific. A heavy shot, extraordinary release and this in traffic. I can see why the Oilers like him. The breakaway flub was unreal though. Not as unreal as the three on oh for the Leafs though. Looked like beer league all the way to Stallberg going in alone. Of course he probably didn't even know he had company. How often do you get a three on none anyhow?

Very little to say about the fourth line. They did little. Ended up getting minused by the Leafs twice although neither was really their fault except for Potulny losing the draw on the Kulemin goal. Quinn had them out after a couple of TV timeouts though and Wilson immediately responded with what little quality he had, the end result was a lot of trouble for the Oilers. Poor bench management by Quinn.

On the blue well I mentioned before that Gilbert was great and he really was. He's a smart smart player. The Leafs are shitty but they are big and they are fast and Gilbert played keepaway most of the night with them with deft passes and quick little reverses against the flow of play. Just wonderful intelligent hockey, all quick stick, fine positioning and excellent decisions. Whitney was fine too and a couple of big guys like this might do alright for the Oilers going forward. They're not bangers but they're mobile and they can move the puck.

Chorney and Strudwick were awful. Strudwick got beaten outside by EVERYBODY. Terrible.

Johnson was solid. He's aggressive, certainly not afraid of anyone and I'm hopeful they sign him as a bottom pairing guy.

Peckham was ... interesting. I was really watching him and he had an strange strange game. Before the Bozak goal he looked just fine. He's a big big kid and he's rugged. He makes guys pay the price. I like Peckham. His comments show that he knows what he has to do - play a simple aggressive game and use his size and that's what he does. He skates well and he moves the puck smartly. His positioning and angling on the cycle is pretty good. His reads are where he's struggling. The Bozak goal was a killer, came out of nowhere, just boom he was behind him and after that he got a little tentative and he struggled. Of course he certainly kept the Leafs honest with his reactions to Phaneuf. Maybe a little over the top but he's trying to earn his spot.

He looked better than he showed early this year and the potential is there. He showed better than either Greene or Smid did early on and he's a better defenceman than Chorney. Interesting to see where he ends up. He strikes me as a guy who will improve with experience and lets hope so.

The goaltending? Well, JDD was brutal. Just brutal. Scrambly and too deep in his net and got beaten high twice. Dubnyk was better but the Kessel goal should have never happened.

A word or two about the opposition. The Leafs I think are in tough down the road, I don't think they have the prospects coming up that the Oilers do. Having said that they have a ton of speed and size up front and on the back end. Hard to say if Bozak, Kulemin, Hanson and Stallberg will amount to much but they are big and they are fast and worst case I think the Leafs might have some solid bottom sixers. Kessel looked good. Fast and a terrific set of hands. Amazing release.

The Leafs aren't much but boy the Oilers barely pressured them. Second to the puck all night and lost all of the puck battles. No surprise though. Their two best centres were saddled with awful wingers. Gagner or Horcoff and Penner might have done a little more but there's so little there its hard to make anything out of that roster.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Man Of Constant Sorrow

My Dad is a country music guy. Not what they call country music today, which is nothing but pop music with a twang, but old school country music. Hank Williams. Patsy Cline. Chet Atkins. Roy Acuff. Charlie Pride. Hank Snow. Johnny Cash. Jim Reeves. Bare bones music with the singer telling a story or bemoaning loss.

One of my indelible memories of being a kid is falling asleep in the top bunk up at camp in our little bedroom. The walls stopped a couple of feet from the ceiling and so the soft glow of the lone lamp crept over the top logs, the crackle of the wood stove if it was a cool night, my parents talking quietly while Hank Williams sang about another broken heart from the eight track player, powered somehow by a car battery.

And then waking up hours later, the smell of coffee and bacon, the wind in the pines, the woodpeckers at work, an obnoxious crow, now the radio, again turned to the country station, Dad listening for the weather.

I was never a country music guy as a young man but over the years I’ve listened to some of the old school country and I have a few Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline CDs laying around. Like my father I have no use for what they call country music today. Like nearly everything on the radio its garbage (and yes, there I am showing my age). ;)

When we returned to Toronto from the States we had just over two years between our arrival and the arrival of our first child. I spent a lot of that time wandering about a city which I had been nearly five years away from, rediscovering many lost haunts but mostly finding new ones. One of those was a little hole in the wall joint called Graffiti’s, down in the Market. I’d head down there on a Saturday and meet my old pal and we’d drink pints and watch bluegrass. In the summer they would open the front of the restaurant to the heat and the music would roll out into the crazy old streets with their tumble down tenements and shops and crowds of hipsters and punks and beautiful girls in skirts and sandals and we’d drink our cold beer slowly in the heat, the buzz seeping through us as a singer in a cowboy hat and black shirt would wail about a girl he knew long ago.

It was oh so good. May have to head back there some day soon.

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There’s not much that can be said about the Oilers these days. The signing that the GM hung his hat on last summer is having back surgery, out for twelve weeks, as Tyler Dellow tweeted to Khabi’s agent, he’ll be back for the playoffs. ;)

Ty has been all over the Khabibulin move since it happened. If there was a blogger Pullitzer he would deserve it. Loser move by a loser franchise indeed.

Horcoff haters have all of the ammo they need with his anemic offence and clubhouse leading minus twenty one. The kids are pretty well all stagnating, the veterans look like they would rather be any place else but with those contracts where the hell will they go?

Presently it looks like the race to the bottom will be between the Oilers and the Leafs as Carolina has come on hard since Staal and Ward’s return (hard being all relative, I guess, but they have made up a seven point deficit in a matter of days).

The Oilers have terrible goaltending and the fact that they have only a few legitimate NHL forwards on their club is in their corner but the Leafs can move a lot of their guys at the deadline, unlike the Oilers, so that may be the tipping point. Of course if the Leafs do finish last overall then they don’t even get their pick so it will be interesting to see if Burke will actually take someone on and spin it as part of the rebuild, send expiring contracts to a club for a big salaried player, maybe, or take on a big salary after dumping guys like Stajan.

These days have been coming for a long time now, ever since the summer of 2006, as Lowe dithered and tried to have his cake and eat it too and more than anything that is what is frustrating. The last three years this club could have really really sucked and picked up more top young prospects or it could have replaced outgoing quality with more quality and not tried to break in scads of prospects all at once and they might have been competitive. Instead they have sucked but not completely. The three picks they might have had for Penner would have helped, especially considering that the big guy is only two years out from being a UFA now. Those and a few more top five picks and things would look better.

Wasted years. No wonder there’s a tear in my beer.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Troll the ancient Yule tide carol


On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me Four Pints of Beer, Three Frenchmen, Two Sausages and Lubomir Visnovsky.

We have a bag with about one hundred Christmas bows in it and the baby is working hard here, bringing them to me from the living room, one by one.

I don't get out as much as I used to, at all. After hockey we'll generally get out for a pint or two but I'm either driving or have a driver and so its a short night. As for really tying one on, well those nights are far and few between, almost always reserved for nights on the Island or when my inlaws are visiting. Our last time out where we really fired them back was a surprise birthday get together I had for my wife, twenty five friends meeting at a bar for drinks. We ended up downtown at a hotel and were able to get a sleep in. This was nearly two months ago and before that it was in July, a pub crawl across Charlottetown that ended at four a.m. in a boat on the harbour.

When you have little kids you can't really justify missing a day becaue you've had too many beers.

These days the highlight of my social calendar is the once or twice monthly nights out at a pub with a friend or two. And on those nights, I have found, I drink four pints. No more, no less.

Its a wonderful number really. You can take your time and drink them over hours or you can fire them back quickly. I remember one time when my oldest was a toddler and my wife was pregnant with the boy, as usual our lives were quite busy and I had a friend who had become the father of twins a few months beforehand. It was late May, one of those first glorious warm sunny days that lets us know that summer is coming. We hadn't gotten out in months and we've been getting around for nearly twenty five years now so it was a bit of a hard case, anyhow, out of the blue he calls and says he has a window, can I do it, and my wife is sainted when it comes to these things and so I trotted down to the Communist Bar and we shook hands and we sat down and just over an hour later we headed home, four pints heavier.

I got home and my wife said that after we had our daughter in bed that maybe I could run down and get some fish and chips from the neighbourhood takeaway and I said that unfortunately I could not as I just had had four pints very quickly and was a little drunk. (I stand about five nine maybe.) Meanwhile my buddy got home where his wife accused him of being drunk to which he replied that it was impossible, he had only been out for an hour and that the pint he had just had had hit him a little hard, that is all, how many pints do you think a guy can drink in an hour anyways?

So twice in the past couple of weeks I have been out and twice I have had four pints. The perfect number. Space them out over three hours and have a glass of water at the pub and one at home and even getting to bed at one you're okay to get up five or six hours later and get to work, no harm done. With four you can have one of a type and then one of another and then finish up with whatever hits the spot that night. You ease into that first and then the second and you get that slow warm boozy feeling, not too jumpy or excited, just nice and easy, the conversation flowing, looking at the pretty girls, enjoying the evening and then handshakes and out into the warm summer's night or the silent snow falling, walking home in a slight daze or swaying on the subway car.

Four pints.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Midnight Sun Espresso Stout


The year that I turned forty I celebrated by doing three big things. Two were planned. One was not.

Lets go backwards, shall we? Well it was just under two months to my fortieth when I came home from a Capsule victory in which I had played quite well, a two to one victory over our biggest rival, a game in which I had set up both goals with a couple of sweet passes, if I do say so myself. Then a couple of post game pints at the Communist Bar and I arrived home to find the wife into a bottle of wine and so we sat outside on our back deck and had a couple more and smoked a little and the conversation turned to the question that had been before us since the boy's arrival two years previous and that was, do we want a third kid? We had not been sure but slowly and surely, especially as things got easier with our two oldest, my wife began to warm to the idea. I wasn't sold on it but the previous summer had proven to me that we could get our old lives back once the kids got a little older so I too began to get on board. And so this night we decided that we would have a third kid. The plan was to start trying in the spring but in the heat of the moment we rolled the dice. And the rest, as they say, is history.

It was about a month later that I travelled to Edmonton for the first time to catch the Oilers. Andy Grabia, my gracious and generous host that weekend, and I attended a Saturday night game against a rebuilding Hawks' team, a bunch of kids, amongst them rookies Toews and Kane, who did not impress. Horcoff, in the middle of a run that would convince Lowe to sign him to a big extension (Horc would average just about a PPG before he went down for the year), scored the winner in the shootout. It was good fun, an enjoyable trip. Andy squired me about the town, we checked out the Golden Bears on Friday night and went to RATT, went for dinner before the game on Saturday night and then for drinks afterwards. Good times, although not exactly what Andy had planned for me. :)

And to kick off the festivities, months before, I believe it was in late June but the memories are hazy, one of my closest friends (also turning 40) and I headed down the 401 to Montreal for a long weekend.

Sweet sweet Montreal. Now the Island is probably my favourite province, although I think that if I spent any extended time in Newfoundland it might end up a push, but Montreal has to be my favourite city in Canada I think. And that's saying a lot because I've been to a lot of cities between Bonavista and Vancouver Island and I have very little bad to say about any of them.

But Montreal.

Damn.

Some day I will go into detail about that weekend, I am sure. We arrived Friday in the evening and we commenced our wander. Up and down and all around the streets of Montreal, into brewpubs and hole in the wall joints and streetside patios, drinking and smoking in the unusual early summer heat, up St. Denis to visit a friend and beers on his balcony, looking across the street at a party in the building there, a couple having sex just above the festivities, figuring that their antics, slow and easy, were unknown and unseen in the night, back down into the city, talk drifting as talk will, easy and slow between two old friends, one of those weekends that goes real slow and all of the drink that we poured into ourselves just softened the edges around us.

And in the middle of Saturday afternoon we ducked into a fancy looking joint, it was time for a drink, another one of these places all about beer. We turned down the offer of food and looked at the list of beers and both of us were immediately drawn to one in particular.

Midnight Sun Espresso Stout

All the way from the Yukon.

It was a damn big bottle, we each got a pint out of it.

Good thing because it was thirty five bucks.

Ha!

It was a very good beer, not worth thirty five dollars of course, but we wanted to drink it and we were staying in a hostel so it wasn't like we were blowing the kids' education fund. It was just one of those moments. 'We're here to celebrate. Why the fuck not?'

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Here in Ontario you can get some pretty good beers these days at the LCBO. Some quality shit from around the world and a lot of terrific beer from around Canada as well. Every day I go in I seem to find something new and more and more I see a pint bottle or maybe a little bigger than a pint going for five, six, seven dollars.

Now I buy myself a lot of damn good beers there for two and a quarter or three fifty so when I see a bottle of stout, even from a micro brewery that I know, going for six bucks then I get a little leery. There is a Winter Ale that goes for just under seven bucks; its two pints worth and a damn strong beer. It caught my fancy last year, its got a smell and taste you wouldn't believe.(I'm not a beer geek or snob by the way although I guess it sounds like it here. I just like damn good beer. I guess maybe I'm a bit of a snob in that I turn my nose up at Coors Light, say, but if you put one in front of me I'll drink the damn thing and like it so there you go).

Anyhow this Winters' Ale, I think its from Niagara Brewery, is damn good shit. A couple of those, all spices and oranges and shit (I kid you not) and I get a warm glow on. I'd better, for the price. That's just once in a while stuff.

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And now the news that Khabibulin is out with a bad back and anyone who has ever had a bad back knows its bad fucking news. I've been relatively lucky but every once in a while I get a tweak. Last week I did and for about half a day I moved at about a quarter speed. And then just as quickly as it came, it went. No idea what happened. I got out of bed wrong likely. Same as Khabibulin probably.

And anyone who has seen JDD the last two games knows that even if Tambellini is right and all will be right with the world when everyone is back healthy, this club suddenly has a problem in net.

Not that anyone saw this one coming. Jesus.

Anyhow JDD has been pretty well shit and I'm thinking another game like this and Dubnyk will get a start and at least we may get an idea about the big man.

Hopefully he doesn't get beat top shelf over and over again. How the fuck does that happen when you're six foot four. Just fucking stand there, maybe!

Anyways this horse has been beaten over and over again until its just a faint rusty smear on the road but facts are facts and for some reason folks still like to defend this crackerjack management team and their sterling record over the past half dozen seasons (That would be one playoff season in five years, btw, with this year looking iffy.) so what the hell, sure I will pile on, again.

The problem is that Tambellini invested a shitload of money and term in an aging injury prone goalie and on top of that did not bring in a veteran backup to help out when, as was certainly likely, that goalie went down. He made not one but two poor bets. He bet that Khabibulin would be worth the money and that he would stay healthy even though his recent history says otherwise. And he bet that JDD or Dubnyk would be able to step in and do the job. I guess we'll see how that goes.

Lets hope that it goes well because if it does not then even if this team as good as Steve seems to think that it is they are going to get sunk by poor goaltending. I don't put much stock in how the club was outperformed by Chicago. Chicago is way better than the Edmonton Oilers. What worries me is that JDD has looked poor these last two games. I'm thinking that this is going to cost them.

You see Steve, its okay to buy that thirty five dollar bottle of beer when you're out celebrating a milestone, its once in a lifetime, yeah?

But when you're taking care of your goaltending it might make a little more sense to take an alternative route, no? Maybe a couple of those St Peter's Cream Stout will do. Just as good and a fraction of the price. And you have two of them,

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Watery Grave


We had been back in Canada for a few weeks back in 2001 when I got invited to an old university pal’s place for some drinks. One of the old gang was back in town from BC for a couple of weeks and so a half dozen of us got together for some Thai takeout and some beers. A few of the guys had been out to my wedding on the Island just two months before but I had not seen our host or the guest of honour in years and years. The fellow whose house we got together at was the first of us to get established. Except for one other guy the rest of us had all just gotten married in the previous year. We were all still renters. None of us had kids. Your man had a daughter almost a year old, a beautiful big semi detached home in an expensive part of town, a very lucrative career and he was almost completely bald. So while the rest of us, now in our early thirties, were on the cusp of adulthood (mortgage, kids, job with responsibility) he was already long on his way, right down to the look.

It was a Thursday night and I had to work the next day, as did the rest of us, but just like old times (and this being PK – PreKids) we roared through our beers pretty quick. While the wiser amongst us were sated our buddy from away and myself were not and our host, recognizing an opportunity, decided that now was a good time to get rid of a couple of bottles of homemade white wine that his father had gifted to him. Even in our state we recognized pretty quickly that we were drinking something somewhere between battery acid and high octane gasoline (leaded) but being pretty senseless, as noted before, we managed to help a brother and clean him out.

Jumped on the subway and swayed back and forth as it zoomed south a few stops, hit St. Clair station and stumbled out into the pouring rain for the short walk back to our apartment. It was maybe a ten minute walk, if that, right through a very tony neighbourhood but like JF Jacques trying to score his first NHL goal I soon began to find what seemed inevitable (walk west for ten minutes, fumble with key, fall into bed) was actually quite impossible. I was soaked to the skin in a moment and as I tried to plant one foot before the other in the fog before my eyes and in my mind, I decided that what I might need to do is to take a short nap.

And so I laid down right on someone’s front lawn, right beside the sidewalk, a house worth millions of dollars I am sure, laying back, mouth agape, likely I would have drowned like the proverbial turkey staring up into the storm or more likely, ended up in a cell overnight, drying out. Luckily for me I wasn’t there long when someone shook me gently and asked me if I was alright.

Now I am not the sharpest dresser. In fact one time whilst sitting against a wall on Bloor Street waiting for a pal to come by and pick me up a passerby actually flipped me a loonie. Having said that I’m pretty obviously not homeless on most days and so I must have looked not like a guy down on his luck but really what I was, a young guy who was pretty full. So I staggered to my feet and said I was walking home and when he found out where I lived he walked me to my apartment building (even shielding me under his umbrella, one thing I never carry, along with a cell phone and a wristwatch) and made sure I got in the door ok.

Nice fellow, that.
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Now its pretty clear that if Dustin Penner were walking home in a rainstorm and found Craig MacTavish passed out he would probably roll him into a ditch and hold him down and we all know that the feeling is most definitely mutual.

There have been many pleasant surprises so far this season. Ladislav Smid has been wonderful and while the coaching change (and just plain old experience) may have been a factor for him, isn’t it interesting to note that this is the second straight year that a young defenceman has taken a leap while getting major minutes with Lubo Visnovsky. This is a simplification of course as Grebeshkov had come on pretty well near the end of his first season with the Oilers and Smid has not been exclusively partnered with Lubo but if and when Theo Peckham or Taylor Chorney get full time employment in the NHL it might be an idea to partner them with the little Slovak waterbug.

And there is Gilbert Brule who is now at a PPG pace and who scored two goals and hit a post on Friday night, all while playing with Jacques and Stone. Of course they were also on for a GA where they were all running around like Matt Greene and Marc Andre Bergeron in spring 2006 but I think that would be expected at times. In any case Brule has had a pretty positive impact and I am pretty sure that nobody saw that coming. I certainly did not.

And Taylor Chorney has looked pretty reasonable by my eye as a fillin for the injured veterans on top of everything.

But nobody has looked as good or has been as big of a surprise as Dustin Penner.

Now it is only seven games in and seven games doesn’t suddenly make this an amazing signing as someone commented over one the game day thread on Friday night (where are all of those guys who slagged the Penner signing now was the question). Penner has always left us wanting more and even his defenders who pointed out his good underlying numbers could not defend his conditioning, his lack of urgency, his, well, laziness. If you’re making truckloads of money then showing up at camp fat and getting pushed off the puck by smaller men and essentially being a disinterested spectator for two years is completely unacceptable and the fact is that if this type of player was able to impact the underlying numbers in a positive manner as demonstrated by Derek Zona repeatedly then its all the more maddening.

I don’t think anyone expects Penner to be a vicious killer, its not in his nature, although a few more throwdowns like what he laid on Regher on opening night would certainly be welcome. But the expectation is that he should drive the net and be impossible to handle down low and that a man his size with those hands should be a guy who can be a gamebreaker, much like he was Friday night. The goal on the O’Sullivan pass was a gimme (and speaking of players little O’Sullivan is a beauty) but the play on his second goal was sublime, the rush out of his own end and the hard crossice pass to Gagner and then roaring to the net, pass his check (who could not have handled him anyway) and then the finish on the return pass (note that he roofed it too – the guy knows what to do in close) had me off the couch, cock in hand, shouting with delight.

Penner obviously came into camp determined to prove something which is wonderful but disappointing at the same time – he obviously had it in him these past two years and for whatever reason chose not to tap it. The tendency is to blame MacTavish for all of this mess and while I was no fan of the old coach last season I don’t think that relationship would have gone south if the big man had shown up from day one in the condition he is in now. MacT was always of the mind that Penner could and should be a bigger factor and it must really grate his tit to see the early returns under the new regime for his old nemesis.

Penner’s role is up in the air now, one wonders if he will be asked to kickstart the struggling duo on the top line or whether he will be expected to carry a soft minutes trio with a couple of the kids. Hard to say but he has the coach’s confidence and if he can keep it up then this club is going to look a lot better as it hits the dog days of the season, much more so than if he were a bored and listless passenger as he was so many times over the last two years. Still a long way to go but a big winger who can put the puck in the net is what this club needs more than anything, I would say, and who knew that the guy that they were looking for would be under their nose all of this time.

Friday, October 09, 2009

The Girl From The Valley, Bob Rae and The Road Trip


Come September of 1990 I had long settled in to my academic routine. I was an awful student in University, the scholastic Daniel Cleary, pulling extraordinary marks in high school all the while doing little hard work to get them. When I got to Toronto it soon became clear, to me, that I lacked discipline. I soon fell into a routine very early on, skipping classes, putting off the work I had to do, spending my days and nights wandering the city, checking out record and book shops, eating at cheap diners, chasing women and drinking. Always always drinking.

Despite this I still managed to eke out cees, sometimes sneaking up into the bees when a course engaged my interest a little bit.

Terrible student. My God I pray my kids are like my wife and not like me when it comes to that.
So that September I rolled on out of Sudbury Labour Day weekend after another glorious summer, lean and brown and flush with cash, down the narrow winding highway, through the little towns with long French names, past the reserves, surrounded by granite and spruce and cold water, down past Parry Sound, Georgian Bay somewhere to my right, unseen, looming, and then four lanes finally, give her the gas down past Barrie and through the Holland Marsh, black stinking soil, through farmers’ fields now swallowed up by the suburbs and into the vast engulfing city. One night later I was drinking beer and getting high underneath a black black sky with a girl from the Catholic college, blue blue eyes, long brown hair, black surrounding us, in the distance the raucous party we were escaping, lights and laughter and later, warm sweetness in a dark room, my God.

The next day one of my best friends came down from Sudbury. Late in the summer we had decided to road trip into western Ontario for this week, visiting friends wherever said road might take us. So this night, a Wednesday (how I remember this will become clear in a moment), we kicked things off by getting ploughed in the big city with my gang. The next morning we rose early and unaffected, for the most part, by our previous night. Ah, to be young again! We hit the highway and pulled into Waterloo where we met up with two friends from the Valley who were going to school there. Can’t remember exactly if they were at Waterloo or Laurier or one at each – it’s a little hazy. We began drinking early and had a good one going as we watched in stunned disbelief as Bob Rae, against all odds, became premier of a majority government. Bemused we listened to one of the guys rant that this was it for Ontario and as soon as he finished school the next spring he was out of here. (he kept his word, moving to Thailand and then ending up in the States, where he still remains, even the elevation of Mike Harris and then Stephen Harper failing to budge him from his high dudgeon)

I don’t remember much about that night or the following two nights for that matter except that our little band of merry wanderers included at least two others. My best friend, who was at Laurier, met us that night and then came with us the next day to London and then back to Waterloo on the Saturday. And joining us in London for the last leg was a girl.

She was a tiny perfect French Canadian girl from the Valley, as the area north of Sudbury was called. Her long brown hair was curly and she had a brilliant smile and sparkling eyes and a gymnast’s body, tight and sweet. She was a student in London and joined us there to hang out with her buddies and take part in the festivities, the feminine in a beer drinking, farting, cock comparing, loud boisterous crew of young perverted men, arrogant and on top of the world. There were hints of a relationship just ended and a broken heart but she was joyful and laughing and she filled out our gang and made it perfect. That night in London we started out at another Sudbury house with a bunch of friends and we hit it hard, ending up in some bar somewhere, closing the place, staggering back to crash, reeking of booze and cigarettes and the stale stink of roadtrip.

The next morning we arose from our sleeping bags and couches and tramped down to our cars, us three old friends in one, the folks from the Valley in another and as we wound our way back east along old concession roads (why we did this instead of the 401 I don’t recall) I found that I was falling hard for the girl from the Valley, as I was wont to do in those days. We stopped for breakfast or coffee or some damn thing and I remember ducking my head in the window to catch a glimpse and laughing with her as she sat crosslegged barefoot on the back seat and as we pulled out and followed them I could see her in through the back window of the car in front of us and I had it bad.

That night we stayed in, having a good old fashioned house party, stumbling about drunkenly, raving and roaring and at some point late in the evening we found ourselves alone, an evening of flrting behind us and it became clear that the feelings were mutual and so when all had quieted down we found a dark and silent room and locked the door and shared a sleeping bag, keeping each other warm.

The following three weekends I made the pilgrimage up to London on Friday afternoon, coming back to Toronto on the Sunday. It was nice and easy and the days together laughing and the nights so wonderful and I was over the top and then she was coming to visit me and the night before she was coming she called and that was it. Mysterious but blunt. It was over.

Later I found out that the old flame had returned and had seen the error of his ways and she took up with him again, I certainly don’t blame him and I didn’t blame her either. I was sad but it was a beautiful month, I’ll tell you. It could have been worse. I could have been my buddy who went back to Sudbury, not feeling well, going to the doctor to find that he was suffering from alcohol poisoning after a week of drinking.

Or I could have been Bob Rae. Or, some wags would say, his subjects.

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Last night’s game was a fun trip, just like the game last Saturday and the game on Tuesday and like Saturday’s game it ended badly after a wonderful ride.

No wonder Pat Quinn is steamed, they could be in first place in the division at 2-0-1 or 3-0 and instead they have coughed up at least two points and on top of that have given those points to Calgary, who might be 3-1 or 2-1-1 instead of that nice 4-0 they are currently sporting. Even more galling is that it has been the veterans who have made the killer mistakes at the end of each game. Last night they got the guys they wanted out there and they still kacked it up.

We knew there were going to be days like these and at the very least the club is playing an entertaining, no holds barred type of game. A commenter at Lowetide’s said yesterday that the club is playing like those pre 2006 clubs. The bad news is that those clubs always fell short. The good news is that they never left us feeling cheated.

So its going to be one of those years I think. There are going to be times where we’re going to be feel like we’re getting kissed all over by the sweetest most beautiful girl we’ve ever met, outside the world dark and silent, that lovely moment of grace.

But in the end its going to end in heartbreak.
So lets just enjoy the ride, shall we?