Friday, May 20, 2011
Monday, March 21, 2011
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Saturday, February 05, 2011
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Monday, July 19, 2010
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
Thursday, January 14, 2010
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.
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
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Monday, October 19, 2009
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.
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
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.
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?