Monday, February 09, 2015

1979 or We Don't Even Care .....




 I wonder what happened one day. Did an eight year old boy tell his parents that he was going to head over to his buddy's a couple of streets over and they said no and then that buddy's parents caught wind of this idea and thought that is a good idea and next thing you know the entire neighbourhood went silent and every kid under twelve was being ferried from playdate to activity to school by his parents.

 When I was a kid if I walked out of my driveway and turned left I would walk a couple of short blocks and get to school. I walked by myself right from Grade One. Along the way I could turn left and one of my buddies lived a short jog that way. If I went a bit further and crossed a fairly busy street I would be in a wooded rocky area that abutted the community college. We would go there quite often, in the summer and spring and fall we would explore and play games and hide our porn, in the winter we would go sliding.

 If I turned right from my folks' place and went to the end of our street and crossed the street there and cut through a yard I would be in the bush, plain and simple. It was mostly scrub, not as wooded as the other area but it went for miles and miles, forever really, you could walk north until forever and here on the edge of town it was scrub brush and marsh and a few small ponds and rugged rocks. We would roam the hills for hours and the blueberry picking was pretty damn good.

 Or I would turn left before I hit the edge of town, which was just a dozen houses north of my parents' house and if I did this in winter I could see the lights of the outdoor rink a couple of streets away and hear the thud of pucks against the boards. I had a few pals who lived this way and sometimes we met at the rink and sometimes we met at their place to play road hockey or hang out in their basements, one of the guys had an older brother, he smelled of cigarettes and had a muscle car he bought with money he made bagging groceries at the A&P and sometimes he would let us hang out downstairs listening to the latest album he had, he was into Kiss and Zeppelin and Black Sabbath and all that good stuff.

 My parents were (and are) lovely people, caring and concerned and strict when it came to rules and curfews and yet once homework was done I was out the door and expected to make my own fun and take care of myself. When I was 6 or 7 years old!

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 Our oldest turned eleven in the fall and we have been loosening the reins, so to speak. We'll leave her home alone for an hour at a time, she walks to and from school with a friend and has been allowed to go for lunch with her pals as well. And suddenly this past couple of weeks we have gone full Hemingway (Hemingway and his first wife would leave their baby alone in their apartment while they went out in the evenings and got sauced. Well okay, not full Hemingway.).

 It has been snowing here for a couple of weeks. Not like they have gotten out east where they have four feet on the roofs in PEI but just steady daily flurries. The park one street over has a couple feet of snow and the hill there (the park has a lip on it, the edge of an ancient river valley apparently, the water has gone underground now though when it rains heavily the area turns into a swampy morass) has been perfect for sledding, considering that two winters ago the kids got out once (!) it has been pretty great for them.

 Our oldest goes over with her friends daily, much to the boy and our youngest's chagrin. And then last week one of the neighbour kids, he's twelve, came knocking to see if the kids wanted to have a snowball fight. I gave it some thought, I can't believe that I even had to do this, and gave it the ok and the kids whooped and piled out the door to make snow forts and play with other kids, not an adult to be found. The next night he came back and asked if they wanted to go sledding. We said no to our youngest (she was pissed) and yes to the boy who gave an actual fist pump and stormed out the door with his sister and their friend. He got to the hill to find it swarming with other kids he knew, when he came back, grinning like a madman, I asked him if he enjoyed traveling back to 1979.

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 I have no idea what to say. We walk or drive our youngest two kids to school and the schoolyard is flooded with parents. When I was a kid parents were nowhere to be seen.

 I know it's crazy. I do. Seriously. And Jenn does too, though she is loathe to admit it. And we are probably more permissive with this stuff than a lot of people we know (though there are others who are more old school for sure).

 Why are we like this? What happened? Of course it's media and the internet and all of that, a child disappears in Montreal and everybody with a phone is aware of it immediately and the coverage is overwhelming, back in the day we had a local paper and two TV stations that ran news at dinner and then again at 10pm or so. We are inundated with 'news' now and while it is irrational we have become frightened, just as now any snowstorm is a major disaster that will wipe us off of the face of the planet and jihadists lurk in every dingy suburban apartment.

 We're irrational. We know that we are more likely to meet our end at the hands of, well anything, than a terrorist bomb, but we let governments suction up our rights left right and centre because we are afraid. (How many people were killed by guns in the US last year? And I don't mean this as a political statement. Hundreds? Thousands? How many by terrorist bombs? It's mental.)

 Sorry, I rarely delve into politics here, if ever, but it's crazy right? As the boy says sometimes to my wife and his sisters, we're just animals that can talk. Ever try and reason with a Boston Terrier? I have this week and it's going nowhere. Right now he is burrowed under the blankets on our bed, same as every night.


 He's a smart one. The boy, not the dog. We're crazy, even the most rational of us has a tinge of madness to us. How else would you explain us locking our kids away?

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 And how else would you explain MacTavish's latest 'plan'? Petry is a goner, the best defenceman the Oilers have and like Perron right in his prime. Apparently the Oilers offered him multiple years last year but how long and at how much we don't now though based on how they have always undervalued him I would bet LOWBALL would be accurate and even if not who would blame Petry deciding to see how the grass is on the other side because in this case it's definitely greener.

 Christ even in the franchise bumfight I watched Saturday night the Leafs have been head and shoulders above the Oilers for the last decade and believe me living in Toronto I can tell you there is no bigger bunch of sad sack losers than the Leafs. Except for Edmonton.

 So of course Perron and Petry want out and Ales Hemsky finally said enough is enough. The Oilers are LOSERS, just look at the last decade. Why would you play there if you didn't have to?

 And so what is MacT's plan for next year, nine years out and counting. Petry will be gone. Klefbom, who looks like a beauty but has only a handful of games under his belt (ask Marincin how quickly things can go off the rails) will apparently play with Norris who is definitely maybe going to have a career as a soft minutes third pair guy. Mark Fayne will get to drag Nikita Nikita around with him and will probably cry himself to sleep every night wondering where he went wrong (hint - you signed in Edmonton buddy). And Andrew Ference will get to break in a rookie.

 So take this year's D, an absolute gong show, remove the best man on the unit and replace him with a rookie.

 Now one has to think MacT is just taking the piss here. We know that Seabrook and Oduya will be available, the former as a salary dump (bye Marincin) and that's just for starters, with the cap barely going anywhere and team after team strapped there are going to be quality Dmen available.

 He knows that right?

 Right?

 Insane.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

The Night Scott Oake Shook My Hand


 I have a friend who I have known since I was five years old, my oldest and closest friend. We see each other maybe twice a year now, we have seven kids between us and all of the chaos that this entails. Once a year we go to a hockey game here in Toronto. He drives in from the Shwa, we hop on the subway and usually have enough time to grab a dinner and a couple of pints at The Irish Embassy. Then we head down to the ACC.

 I went to the old Gardens a number of times, back when the most expensive seats were fifty bucks. This means that I am old, obviously, and also that over the years Leaf ownership has discovered that the fans' wallets are a well that can never be gone to too often, because let's face it, I'm not that old and the tickets we had last night, first row, ran 505.00 each, as if the Leafs were a South American banana republic faced with hyper inflation.

 They're corporate seats of course, which is a big part of the answer to the question. Believe me, I would not pay 500.00 to see an NHL hockey game.

 Over the years we've seen some quality clubs. We saw Chicago the year they won their first Cup. They had flown in late the night before after waxing someone and the Leafs took advantage and jumped out to a three or four goal lead. About halfway through the game it was as if some vengeful god had picked up the rink and tilted it, the remainder of the game was played in Toronto's end. Only amazing goaltending got it to overtime and the Hawks ended it seconds in. Best team we have seen in all of the years we have been going.

 We've seen the Pens a couple of times although both times Crosby was hurt. We saw Dan Cleary break his face, Mats Sundin get honored, some anniversary that brought the 1967 team out, maybe a couple of those. We've seen the Habs and the Wings a couple of times and we saw Ryan Smyth in the Marc Pouliot penalty shot game, a game where Pouliot looked like a bona fide top six NHLer, although the Oilers lost and Smyth was shipped away just a few days later.

 A few years after that we discussed which game to go to and I pushed the Oilers hard. My buddy agreed and we went to a dog of a game, this was before Hall so maybe 2008 or 2009 I guess? It was an awful affair, the Oilers were garbage, same as they've been forever now. Literally nothing sticks with me about that game other than afterwards my pal was peeved and I agreed that never again would I foist the Oil on him, ruining our traditional evening out.

 And then this fall he emailed me and said alright - February 7th. Oilers. I replied that I didn't think this was necessary or a good idea but as it turns out the alternates before us were generally bad faceless teams themselves, the likes of Arizona and Miami and Carolina, so Oilers it was.

 We went downtown earlier than usual and met his father and youngest brother who had driven down from up north to see the game. His brother is an Oilers' fan as well and was proudly sporting his jersey. It was good to see his Dad, who I haven't seen in a while. They lost their Mom just over a year ago so I am sure it has been a difficult time for him but he was cheerful and joking with us, talking about taking another brother's youngest to hockey, tying his skates and getting him out on the ice, same as he did over forty years ago with my buddy and then afterwards with his brothers. We were early enough to eat at a leisurely pace and had enough time for me to fire back three pints of Guinness so I was pretty pleased.

 We got down to the ACC and well the game lived down to the billing. In one corner a team that had lost a franchise record number of games in a row, a franchise that hadn't won the Cup, never mind that they haven't even made the Finals, in nearly fifty years despite having an endless supply of cash. The flagship franchise of the NHL an owner famously said, true that if the NHL was the Cunard Line. I could make a million jokes about the Leafs but the franchise, truth be told, is a punchline although the joke is on their long suffering fans. There are empty seats in Edmonton these days as fans vote with their feet but last night the place was jammed to the rafters and the cash registers were singing and this was with the Oilers in town.

 And so in the other corner were those Oilers, a team with a rich history themselves, first as a dynasty and then as a little team that could. Now they are nine years out of the playoffs, a joke run by a group of old boys who are putting in the grave the old lie that playing the game has any correlation with being a smart hockey man. In a few weeks they will trade their best defenceman, he will follow another top player in his prime who was moved out a few weeks ago and so the wheels will keep on turning. Fans say 'well Perron and Petry don't want to be here' and strangely enough few are asking if the problem might be not the players but maybe finding out why they have no desire to stay here. The answer of course is a simple one. Edmonton has become a place where careers go to die. Highly touted draft picks are jerked around and their development ruined. The golden boys have no accountability. The owner is a louse and his mouthpiece opines that there are empty seats at Rexall because it is winter. They are a sad disgrace run by unlikeable know it alls and the news that Kevin Lowe may be given a bigger role at Hockey Canada makes me wonder what the hell is wrong with Hockey Canada and also when will we play Israel in the C pool, because it's coming people.

 The game was, well it was terrible, the Leafs on a double digit losing streak, having played last night, a broken group, their poor coach looking like he was on the verge of a stroke the entire game, his dream of being an NHL head coach in tatters. They should have been easy pickings but the Oilers, lacking Hall and Pouliot, basically mailed it in with few exceptions. Nugent Hopkins was a fierce puckhound and Petry was emotional and engaged physically and mentally (though he didn't play great) and the Old Contemptibles, Gordon and Hendricks and Klinkhammer, came to work as they always do. But Fasth was a disaster and Reimer was on the way to his easiest shutout ever, catching fifty foot lob after fifty foot lob while the Leafs raced behind the Oil 'defence' time and time again. The highlight of the game was Morgan Reilly undressing Ference and putting it topshelf, not so much the goal itself which was a beauty but for the reaction of his teammates, a bunch of 'holy shit did you see that grins' which made us laugh.

 The one bright spot was Reimer, a young man who seems like a very good person, getting the shutout but even that was ruined as one of the last of the goons in the league, probably one of the least likely players to score, broke it with two seconds left. It was an ending that was oh so very Leafs.

 As tank battles go it was the tankiest but the Leafs have nothing on the Oilers who have mastered this. Wait until Petry and others get moved out. They're just getting started.

 I see the Sabres finishing last overall and then in the Leafiest, Oiliest lottery ever, some darkhorse winning the lottery, so let's say the Kings or Dallas or Ottawa and thus neither of these sad sacks getting McDavid or Eichel. It would be what is right and just, no doubt about it.

 All that said it was a great night, friendship and family and laughter running through it. And aside from that the highlight (other than the very seventies Boogie Nights vibe couple that were sitting a few rows up from us, he with leathery face and feathered dyed blonde hair, her absolutely spilling out of an outfit that looked like something you would see at the Dong and Balls or whatever the porn awards are called) was meeting Scott Oake. We were lounging in the lounge and there he was, just steps away, holding court. Having had a few I excused myself and shook his hand (he has a firm excellent handshake and is a very handsome man) and told him truthfully that I missed After Hours and it was the best part of the old Hockey Night in Canada (truth be told other than the production values the only good part) and he thanked me, said he didn't know why they cut it and encouraged me to write my MP and to ask my friends to do the same.

 And so as is only right when talking about Scott Oake, I had an awkward conversation with him.