Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Ten Days in February at Rawlins Cross


Storm stayed here in PEI last Monday.

Well, not really. To be really storm stayed means being housebound. We weren’t that, at least for most of the day, but the bridge closed and no flights were coming in or out and nearly everything closed as anyone from outside of town didn’t venture far from home.

Maritime and Newfoundland winters put the rest of the country to shame and this comes from someone who grew up when it was regularly twenty to thirty below for a couple of months (this was before they began measuring windchill or adding it into the temps), roads were snowcovered from December to March and regular ventures had to be made onto roofs to make sure they did not collapse from the weight of the snow. And we didn’t get nearly the snow that the Soo did or the cold and snow that they got in Timmins.

Nothing on what happens out this way. I spent ten days in St. John’s in February back in 1995, in an apartment at Rawlins Cross, in the throes of new love and all that that entails. Would slip down into the stairwell to share a cigarette (Camels, thank you very much) and the chill there permeated everything and everywhere. We spent a lot of time in bed and a good part of that was just trying to stay warm ;) and I’d wake in the morning and wander out into the living room and look out the big window at Signal Hill and beyond it the Atlantic, and to the right I could see the harbour and down below the towering banks of snow and streets mad with slush and ice, people and cars skidding about as they tried to make their way, the tiny houses side by side huddled against the lashing wind, bright colours trying not to slide down into the icy Atlantic. So we spent those ten days wandering about, going to little parties and eating soup in hole in the wall diners and slogging up and down the hills to the centre of town. Most of it was spent in that apartment at Rawlins Cross though, tearing it up under the covers, the heat of skin keeping us from the cold outside of our bed. For us this was the best time we ever had, it all went downhill from there, though so slow and imperceptable the decline was that it took two years for it to end. I’ll never forget it though, almost two weeks on a rocky outcropping in the middle of the North Atlantic and its no wonder that Newfoundlanders have the best sense of humour in the world, to survive the sheer ugliness of those winters.

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The Oilers have spent the first part of their schedule struggling here and there and while many of the underlying numbers are encouraging there is enough one step forward one step back going on to discourage even the most optimistic of fans. I felt that this club would be in the playoff mix this year although I was not of the mind that they were going to leap into the ranks of the contenders based on their surge to finish last season. I have seen enough late season uprisings from also ran Blue Jay clubs in September to know that these things almost never carry over to the new year.

Having said that the additions of Visnovsky and Cole, another year of experience for the kids and good health for the club seemed to point to a club vastly improved and the reality is that this is a better club, really, as Tyler points out here. In some cases its bounces not going Edmonton’s way and in others it’s the odd deployment of the personnel but this is a better club and it will continue to get better, I would say. The PK is the biggest issue this season and whoever is responsible for the lack of down ice pressure and shot blocking should be put on an ice floe and pushed out into the strait (although we all know this isn’t going to happen).

I am unhappy with the coaching and I’m unhappy with management (although this is more the result of an accumulation of grievances going back to June 20th, 2006) but I’ve always been a glass half full type of guy so I still think that things are going to get better. Despite their struggles they have games in hand on everyone that they are chasing and while the Canucks and Flames have some clearance there is no reason for this club not to turn it around. They’re a little short on veterans up front and with Pisani still a month away I would expect that a kid on the farm or pick gets dealt for a veteran option to help with faceoffs and the PK. Cogliano has been doing well with the soft stuff for a while now and Pouliot is finally getting traction as an NHL player and Laddy Smid is at worst a nice cheap option in the bottom pair and maybe trending upwards. Stortini and Brodziak have won their jobs back and that leaves Gagner and Nilsson and the former is playing a little better and maybe Nilsson will respond to his benching just as Penner did.

Ideally for me going forward they would move Cole up to play with Gagner and Cogliano and bring in a vet to play with Pouliot and Moreau and then drop Moreau to the fourth line once Fernando returns but these guys never do the obviously sensible so it remains to be seen. The good news is that a cheap vet or two would go a long way to fixing what ails this club and boosting them into the playoffs but the bad news is that Lowe and Company never fill these holes until the offseason at which point another leak has sprung in the dike.

Three wins in a row and they look like they're going to make it up that icy hill but now Hemsky and Pouliot are out and its the Flames tonight after an awful loss last night and goddamn it if they haven't veered off into that snowbank again.

Sheer ugliness but at least I have my sense of humour. Just have to bundle up, bury my head in my shoulder and trudge into that goddamn gale coming off the Atlantic.

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New Year's lost its cachet for me when I turned about twenty one and decided that paying forty bucks to go into a bar that usually cost me nothing to get into was not the best way to give my money to the man. Its been house parties and such with friends ever since.

I have a couple of good New Years stories and maybe I'll write them up tomorrow or not. Tonight we're heading to a friend's here for a nice little gathering, some dinner and some wine. No kids allowed.

Here's hoping that 2009 is good to you, prosperous and most importantly, healthy. Have fun tonight and if you're drinking, don't get behind the wheel.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Island Directions


I moved to the Island in February of 1997 and lived here just under a year. Turned thirty here. Launched a new stage of my life here, my adult life really. My career started. Met the woman who would be my wife. Picked up a certain someone out of a litter of farm pups at the pet store.

A terrific year with a summer where I roared like a young lion once more and managed to turn back the clock with a lot of late nights and many pints. Days at the beach and on the boat, tooling around the harbour. Nights in the bars drinking and in a little apartment tumbling around under the sheets.

Good times.

Now if you've never been then you have to do it one day. Gentle rolling hills. Old wooden churches overlooking the verdant land. Around every bend the blue of the sea. Red clay dust on my feet. And the easy slow cadence of the Islanders as they talk, a slight lilt in their accent, MacLeods and MacKinnons and MacLeans, Learys and Keefes and O'Hanleys, Gallants and Arsenaults and Gaudets (pronounced Goodie).

The talk of Islanders is bound up in the names of people and places. You talk about running into Trevor MacLeod and Pat McLean at the Harbour Bridge and yes Trevor is in Stratford now, just down the road from his folks' place and yes, his mother is a Hunter from up in Montague and he's married to a MacDonald, they're from that way too, in fact they were married in the church in Belfast. And Pat is in town with his wife and kids, she's a Sanderson, they're up in Winsloe, her parents that is, her father is from St. Peter's, all those Sandersons from up there, he grew up along the Greenwich road, the last house, they owned all that land up that way, the dunes and all of it, now its a National Park. Pat's a good fellow even though he's from away. Lived here for a year a while back. That's when they met. In Toronto now. Couldn't pay me enough to live there, goddamned Toronto.

Names and places, names and places. What's your father's name? Where are your people from? What did your father do? The questions they ask to find out who you are, how many degrees of separation there are between you. The stereotype that every Islander knows every other Islander not too far off of the mark.

Ask for directions to anywhere, my God, its a code to decipher, with no street names or numbers. Going to visit my wife's uncle yesterday and it could be as simple as this - go up the highway to Cornwall, turn left at Upper Meadowbank Rd., they are at number ####.

Instead we got this: Go down the highway towards the bridge until you get to Cornwall. You'll pass the old church on the right and then go up the hill. When you come down the hill turn left. If you get to the pig farm then you've gone too far.

Once you're on the Meadowbank Road you'll be driving and then when you go through a valley you'll come to a bunch of houses on both the left and the right. They're the beige house on the left, last one, with the shutters and you'll know it by Kevin's truck, which is burgundy. There was also an argument as to what constituted burgundy before we even got on the road so we knew were on thin ice already.

Well there was no valley, no shutters and it was not the last house on the left. There were three houses on the left with burgundy trucks as a matter of fact and we picked the one that looked most beige and tentatively knocked on the door. We happened to be right but Jesus Murphy.

When I was to pick up the tuxes for our wedding the directions were as follows: Take the highway and turn left at the Tim Horton's in Cornwall. Take the left hand fork when you hit it and then follow the road a ways. When it starts to get hilly then you're in Canoe Cove and she's on the left but her place is back from the road a ways, you can't see it from the road. No street number.

Somehow we found the place and I insisted on picking up all of the tuxes - I could just imagine the entire wedding party, only one of them an Islander, getting lost and never making it to the wedding.

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For a good part of this year the Oilers have looked like a team trying to find their destination after having been told to turn left at the little brown dog. A young developing defenceman in the pressbox and playing the wing, his spot in the lineup taken by a borderline NHLer just hanging on. Players playing out of position. The returning number one goalie exiled for a month. Another young goalie wasting months when he could be playing somewhere. Players called out by the coach. A team unable to win at home and looking like it had quit on their coach. A once vaunted penalty kill lost at sea - no shot blocking, no down ice pressure. Player after player underperforming.

And suddenly, suddenly, things look to be pointing in the right direction. Smid playing on the third pair with his erstwhile mentor and doing a fine job. The much maligned Souray (mea culpa) putting up big numbers offensively and doing the job in his own end against tough opposition. Roloson takes the number one job and runs with it. Visnovsky giving the team everything expected and more. Gilbert back in form.

And up front Hemsky now a star. Horcoff and Cogliano with ten goals each. Penner a force in the offensive zone. Pouliot having his best month as a pro. A reasonable fourth line. And maybe, just maybe, Cole and Gagner awakening, each two and two in the last four games, Cole with three points last night, perhaps the genesis of a strong second line.

Tonight the Oilers are in eighth by the thinnest of margins, ahead of the Avs and the Wild. By the end of the night they may be back of the pack again. But a December at 7-3-1 and three wins in a row and things maybe finally looking good.

I've said it before - Oiler fans are mental. But there's a reason for it. Following this club is like trying to get to a party in Kensington in a blinding snowstorm.

Turn right after you pass the old MacInnes place. You can't miss it.

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Hard Man


Had lunch with friends on Monday just as an awfully big storm raged over the Island. Talking about future plans and this spring my friend and his family are off to Cuba, which is near the top of my list of places to go. But as I have said before my problem with travel is that I always want to return to where I have already been, to continue to peel away the layers of each city, to do my best to know it. If you were to give me a choice tomorrow of where I could go the top of the list would likely be Dublin (been twice), London (once), Ireland proper (once), the Highlands of Scotland (never been) and then likely either Cuba (never been) or Newfoundland (I have been to St. John’s once).

With a finite amount of time and money and three young children a lot of this travel waits down the road but every once in a while lightning strikes, as it did this past February when I found myself in Dublin for a week on business. The meetings and work were casual and so I had my evenings and a full weekend to wander about the city. My first time to Ireland was with my wife, back in 2002, and our three days in Dublin were spent seeing the sights. The National Museum and Gallery, the cathedrals of St. Patricks and Christchurch, the Guinness storehouse, Dublin Castle, the GPO, pockmarked with bullets from 1916. Most impressive to me was the ancient Book of Kells and the great library at Trinity College, a bright soaring hall which took my breath away.

Dublin is a very walkable city and so we wandered the streets and visited pubs and shops and so our visit was a nice introduction, a skimming of the top of what the city has to offer.


Having seen all of the touristy sights then, my trip last winter was more of a true wandering, meandering along the Liffey for a while, gazing at the brightly coloured buildings opposite, then dodging into the city, down crooked laneways and streets, lost in thought on St. Stephen’s Green, following kilted shouting Scotsman in the city for the rugby, gazing at the monuments to authors and poets and thinkers, so different from Scotland where the memorials are to the violent successes of war, and, of course, in and out of the pubs, a quick pint or two at each, the older the pub the better.

I like to do my drinking at pubs in the afternoon, when they are quiet, only a few people here and there, no rush of tourists even at the most famous of them, The Brazen Head, which had two tables of students in full roar, an older American couple enjoying soup and a pint and a couple of men at the bar beside me when I visited. And so it went, to all of these century old pubs, few TVs and little music, just the quiet murmur of a young couple at Mulligan’s on Poolbeg Street, the good natured kidding of rugby fans at The Stag’s Head, the lunchtime crowd at Davy Byrne’s, the loud obscene banter of the publican at The Ha’ Penny Bridge Inn.

And Neary’s and Dawson’s Lounge and The Long Hall and The Old Stand and McDaid’s and on and on.

It was a good trip. ;)

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And in the back of my mind, always, the fact that these old pubs had seen thousands over the generations, the common man, like myself, and the uncommon, the drunken genius Brendan Behan, the youthful promise that was James Joyce and plenty of the men who had fought to bring Ireland her freedom, men like Michael Collins, who often drank with his men in these pubs, often with the men that he was fighting, British officers and spies, men who were drinking with a young man who in many cases would order their executions.

Collins has come into focus in recent years, thanks in part to a movie that was reasonably accurate, as Hollywood movies go. He, along with Arthur Griffiths, in my opinion, was the man most responsible for Ireland’s escaping British rule. A fascinating and brilliant man and if you are interested in history someone that you should know about. It was Griffiths who came up with the idea of a separate parliament from Westminster, so when Sinn Fein swept Irish seats those elected refused to sit in London, but rather sat in an Irish Parliament, the Dail, and carried on a shadow government of Ireland from there. Quite illegal and yet by its actions, carried on in peace and under the rule of law, an effective undermining of British authority in Ireland. Collins sat in the Dail and wore many hats, one of which was Minister of Finance. But he also had another, much more brutal role.

For the peaceable means of bringing the English to the table would not work alone and had to be backed by violence, cold and brutal. And this too was Collins’ work and it was here that he was the hard man, as the Irish call it, cold and calculating. British spies and agents would be warned and if they did not back off, which few did, being hard men themselves, then Collins would sign their death warrant. And so by executions in the streets of Dublin did he and his men cut off the head of British power in Ireland. It turned into an ugly war and violence begat violence and in the end Michael Collins and some hundreds of men had brought the British Empire to the table to negotiate an independent Ireland.

Collins himself did not find pleasure in his orders, indeed he often lamented ordering the killing, but it had to be done and he had the will to have it done. A hard man.

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The Oilers start their post Christmas schedule against the Canucks who have surged nicely and are now trundling along while waiting for Luongo to heal. They still have a nice blueline and the Sedins and of course now they have Sundin to go along with Demitra and some other nice pieces up front. But make no mistake that the guy who makes this team go is Ryan Kesler. A guy who causes the red mist to come over Jesse Boulerice, who makes Ales Hemsky seek him out for vengeance, a guy who takes on the opponents’ best and drives them to distraction with stick and elbows and fists, always hard on the puck, fast and mean and tough. He is the hard man on the Canucks and man oh man do I wish he was an Oiler. He, along with Willie Mitchell, gives the Canucks their edge and makes them an unpleasant team to play against. Interviewed the other day after a brawl filled match with the Ducks he paused, bemused, and wondered about the fact that it seemed that this club had an intense rivalry with so many teams in the league.

Recent history has seen players like Cooke and May and Bertuzzi in Vancouver colours and now there is the pest Burrows and hard rocks like Bieksa and Ohlund and at the head of the line, Kesler, who plays with nothing but malice in his heart. Goddamn him for it but I want him on my club.

Amongst other things the Oilers need they could use a Ryan Kesler in the bottom six. Pouliot has the size and he can skate and recently he has shown more vinegar but I don’t think its his nature and its too bad because if it was he’d be an Oiler for a decade. As it is only Souray and Moreau fit the bill on this club, a team that in its glory days was filled with hard cases, Lowe and Beukebeum and Muni and Semenko and Hunter and McClelland and even among their most skilled, the kid Graves, the pest Tikkanen, the flashy and vicious Anderson and of course, Messier, a wonderfully skilled thug in the cut of Gordie Howe.

In the Original Six every player had to be hard and cold – those who talk about the old days being a time of gentle respect between players have not a clue of what they are talking about – sticks carving and bloody fists, eye gouging and sneaky elbows, cold eyed men brawling until the ice ran red. Howe and Orr, Shore and Hull, the Richards, Mikita, even Jean Beliveau – even the stars were tough and mean and angry when they stepped on the ice. They had to be to survive.

I remember watching a YouTube video of Gator from a game when he was miked and his cold stare when someone from the other team began to yap. There was no wild antics that day – just that dead eye and a voice, bitter and frozen, dripping with violent malice. “Try me”, he said. “Try me.”

They rarely did.

The Oilers need a hard man or two who can play this game. If they have any pretensions to be a team to be reckoned with in the years to come, they need to find someone who makes the other team wonder where they are all of the time.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen


You go through a stretch where Christmas means a little less, when its more about seeing friends over a school break, all of you coming home again, then it is about the wonder that it was when you were little. You enjoy the presents and the family gathering and the eating and drinking but its not the same.

Until you have your own little ones. They gasp when the Christmas tree is lit up for the first time and they wake up each morning giddy with another night. The little guy held up two fingers today. "Two days until Christmas", he said, and you should have seen the excitement in his eyes.

Whether you're a young buck who's heading home from university to see his folks and buddies, a single fellow or lass spending Christmas away from home, maybe with friends, maybe with a girl or a boy, your first of what may be many Christmases together or you've your own family now, youngsters or grown, I want to wish you the best of the season.

Have a Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

In This Country


Had Canadian Railroad Trilogy running through my head as we wandered east along the south shore of the St.Lawrence, a quick glimpse of Quebec City off to our left and then on to Riviere Du Loup, rugged hills on either side of us. Flat like the south of Ontario except for sudden rugged nodes that appear out of the plain from nowhere, rocky knolls rising up from the flatness, visible from miles around. Beyond Riviere Du Loup the vast expanse of the Gaspe but that one is for a future summer trip as we veer south to the Maritimes.

Seventeen hundred kilometres from Toronto to Charlottetown with a short detour to St. John for a visit on Friday night. Seventeen hundred kilometers of good weather in a Canadian December except for a brief flurry of snow showers rushing in off of the water outside of Shediac. Fleeing Toronto Thursday afternoon through the endless suburbs, row upon row of new developments along the 401, past the soon to be extinct wealth of Whitby and Oshawa, up along the last of the Great Lakes and then Kingston, white limestone old streets down by the water. Further along and darkness falls and then Montreal rising brilliant in the night and my daughter impressed and then into Quebec, all of the kids sleeping, pushing it as far as we can go, fantasies of Quebec City until we hit Drummondville and decide to call it on account of exhaustion, the five of us stuffing ourselves into a hotel room, unloading Christmas gifts and the beer we’ve brought for my father in law (the beer selection in PEI is the worst in the Western world), laptops and travel bags, DVD screens and the cooler.

Up the next morning and pack it back up in the bitter cold that arrived overnight. Back in the van and pushing east, past Quebec City and along the seemingly endless South Shore, the ice choked St. Lawrence magnificent in glimpses. Finally south and then into New Brunswick, the rolling forested hills for miles until we hit Fredericton. Then along the dark highway to St. John, an early night for us.

And finally Saturday we sped up from St. John, a boring stretch of highway if there ever was one, more forest and hills and now the end of the trip just ahead of us, past Moncton and then along Highway 15 through the easternmost reaches of Acadia and then over the bridge onto the Island and the last race through the villages and gently rolling fields, century old churches overlooking the farms that have been there for generations, the red clay hidden under a thick blanket of snow.

And we’re here.

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The highlight of the trip, into a gas station bathroom for one of innumerable bathroom breaks and a trucker in the stall letting free a thousand miles worth of coffee and soup, cigarettes and chili, ham and eggs. The boy beside himself with impending doom and so I gear him down, lift him up and he relieves himself in the urinal, a first for him.

Later that day, a Tim Horton’s this time and my daughter rushes into the stall. As I oversee her preparations I turn to see my son, pants around his ankles, trying to aim into the urinal, a good foot up. Disaster averted as I rush over and lift him just in time.

The remainder of the trip he ducks into the stall himself, closing the door behind him, declining offers of help. The first time Dad shows him the way of it. Make sure you are tall enough to get over the lip of the bowl. Grab and point. Shake off the excess. Wipe and flush.

Another milestone reached.

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I’ve seen a lot of this country and driven much of it. From Vancouver to Kelowna and back. From Kelowna across the Kootenays to Cranbrook and then on to Calgary. All over my country, along the north shore of Huron and Superior as far west as White River. North to Timmins and Cochrane, along the back highways to Chapleau and up the railway to James Bay. A million lakes and endless pine and spruce forests springing from the granite Shield.

And all over Nova Scotia, along the shore to Yarmouth and the other way to Cape Breton. Along the highway from New Glasgow to Amherst once I was caught in a vicious blizzard, inching along and suddenly my control taken from me and spinning on the highway, dead stop across the road and traffic coming and this might be ugly and then all of them stopping easily and I’m alright.

And south of Sudbury one Christmas, before kids, just us and the dog in our old Civic inching along the snow covered highway, nowhere to pull over, nowhere to go but to keep on moving, gently eating up the miles as we tried to get out of the middle of nowhere.

The Kootenays, the eastern end of BC between Fernie and the border of Alberta, the vastness of Northern Ontario and the south shore of Quebec, the rolling hills of New Brunswick and south shore of Nova Scotia. Even back highways in PEI.

And these are the places I have been. Not the interior of Newfoundland (been to St. John’s, the greatest of cities) or the Prairies or the vast north.

And everywhere, the middle of nowhere. No cities or towns, no villages or crossroad hamlets, no Walmarts thankfully, no Essos or Petrocans. Nobody. You slide off the road in a blizzard and you might be there for a while unless you are lucky. Everywhere you go you are nowhere.

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Incommunicado for three days and turn on the computer and Sundin is a Canuck and Mansbridge has his lead for Friday night (SNOW IN TORONTO) and the Oilers have lost again, careening down a back highway up from St. Bruno or Capreol or Wood Islands, sliding dangerously close to the edge and it looks like they’re going to end up in the ditch.

The loss to Anaheim and the promised revival of just two weeks ago has disappeared in a very bad week that included a pounding by Chicago. One game means nothing but now its one point out of a possible six and MacTavish has publically called out another player and the Flames and Canucks look to be opening up some distance, the latter despite their star goalie being out.

Meanwhile the organization seems to be focussed on one thing and one thing only, a new arena, with Little Gary in town to tell the citizens that not only the team but the city needs a new arena, as if the town itself will fold without it. And the charge led by Laforge, who reminds me of the guy in the old Western, the one with the ramshackle cart selling “Cure For Whatever Ails You”, until the angry populace burns his cart of snake oil and the laconic drifter caps it all off by tying him to the pommel of his saddle and drags him up and down the main street behind his horse.

The arrogance of Laforge has filtered down the ranks to the staff of the arena who block the CBC truck in retribution for Crawford’s remark that the Rexall ice is no longer what it once was, something that everyone knows but nobody apparently is allowed to say. No longer the best ice in the league, now just another rink that way. No longer a proud franchise, now just another one mired in mediocrity.

Meanwhile the coaching staff is left with three goalies and a roster that is short of veterans once again, management’s fault, but the coaches have deployed the strengths of the roster poorly, putting key players in spots where they will fail rather then succeed, mysteriously exiling last year’s number one goalie, gutting the formerly invincible PK through poor tactics and strange personnel choices.

And above it all Teflon Lowe, like Tito or Franco President for Life, surveys the mess that he has wrought and talks of Cups won long ago and throttling any who dare question the great Oz.

It’s a sad time to be a fan of the Edmonton Oilers, a team that befits this great country, sadly, as they wander in a vast nothingness, made all the more difficult to take in that its mediocrity is tinged by a brash arrogance that is embarassing in that its so completely unearned.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Snowmen Don't Dance and Sing


My daughter’s teacher is a weird little fellow. I’m not very big, although I am extraordinarily wiry, and he’s about up to my nipples. He’s a terrific teacher, I think. Very creative and also quite demanding. Not in a “send homework home with your four year old” kind of way but he expects the kids to behave and he expects them to reach goals and I have no complaints about that. Sometimes he’s out there a bit like last year when he told us that her writing was just not where it should be. Now she’s four and a half at that time so I thought that was a bit much although to be honest her prose is pretty derivative of Hemingway. So there is that.

Her big thing now is readng. She reads everything she sees. Had me pulling books out of the bookshelf the other evening at dinner so she could read the titles. “The Romantic” “Alligator” “Insurrection in Dublin” “Trainspotting” “Certainty”

So of course now we have to be careful. Christmas shopping lists have to be hidden. Daddy has to be careful what he looks at on the laptop.

Mommy, what is Oriental Anal?

Now the latest thing that they are talking about in school is the difference between fiction and nonfiction so my daughter walks around pointing out whenever something is fiction.

That’s fiction. Pigs don’t talk.

Snowmen don’t dance and sing. That’s fiction. (of course this was worrisome because Frosty was dancing with Santa – for a second I thought there might be trouble)

Is this fiction? Dogs can’t play guitar. (Charlie Brown Christmas, which was followed by a lengthy discussion about whether or not Snoopy’s exclusion made it non fiction and an attempt to explain that it would be fictional yet realistic if it were not for Linus constantly wandering about quoting scripture and waxing philosophical.)

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Now if you want to talk about fiction lets talk about Tuesday night against Chicago and its meaning in the grand scheme of things. The reality is, not very much. The Oilers have played well since the L.A. loss. They have eliminated their slow starts and they have had consistent efforts and balanced scoring and everything a team needs to get things going the right way. Even Tuesday they started well and likely deserved better then to be down two going into the second.


This isn't to say this team doesn't have warts and why the hell isn't Pouliot playing more when he has a few goals in the last two weeks and four overall and barely ever gets to play with anybody.


Like LT I think Pouliot is my cowbell. It used to be Thoresen.

And when it was three to one they were bringing it to the Hawks and then the wheels came off and just because Gilbert and Souray had a terrible night (among others) and the goaltending was iffy and they got thumped so badly that the last time they conceded nine goals it was the Winnipeg Jets who did it to them doesn’t mean that MacT is in any more trouble, if any at all, then he was before the game started.

A couple of things though. This game was in doubt and would have remained competitive if it were not for the sudden regression of the PK which had looked a little better lately. No shape to the PK, no shots getting blocked, nothing. Three PP goals for Chicago early and that broke the Oilers' back.

Now when I see Horcoff and Moreau (Moreau once broke his leg blocking a shot in preseason for Christ sakes) not blocking shots I have to think that that is deliberate, as in coached, behaviour. And while they miss Stoll and Reasoner and Pisani, obviously, the lack of down ice pressure, as Dennis pointed out, the failure to block shots and the basic gong show feel about the whole exercise leads me to believe that this is a coaching issue. Horcoff and Moreau and Brodziak and Pisani have all killed penalties and done so successfully. Is this Buchberger’s doing? If so then why is he still in charge of it? We know the answer to this because in so many ways lately this club has put the red pants on the mouse but come on. Is this a developmental year for the coaching staff too?

And for those who are on Erik Cole. Here is a guy who has been a consistent scorer for years. Yet they bring him in and first play him out of position and then play him with a guy who has one year of fourth line duty under his belt and a guy who was last an offensive force when he played for the Sudbury Wolves.

Plus very little time on the PP.

Plus he is getting the tough minutes.

So it seems to me that this is another case of a guy being misused. Why they don’t fire him up with a couple of kids to create a bona fide second scoring line is beyond me and another example of the disconnect between what is happening with this club and what seems like basic common sense.

And that friends, is not fiction.

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We’re off to the Island tomorrow at noon and we’re driving it. Yes, we are mental. 1700 kilometres in a minivan with a five year old, a three year old and a five month old.

And Little Fury worries that I will run out of stories.

Hah, I say! And again, hah!

Speak to you when we arrive. Which could be anytime between Friday night and Boxing Day. Its the great unknown.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Chinese Restaurant


I think I was around twenty years old and it was a terrific day, one of those warm days in April where the promise of summer hangs in the air in the heat and the buzz of a city about to go mad with the coming of spring. Overcoats and boots are replaced by tshirts and sandals and being a shut in from the slush and cold is replaced by wandering the streets of the city once again. A handful of us were putting off writing papers or preparing for finals and so we decided to grab some lunch. There were some terrific places right around the corner from us but five minutes to get there and back was not as good as thirty minutes each way on that day. So we decided to head down to Chinatown.

We made our way down St. George Street across Bloor and down into the University. The University of Toronto sprawls for blocks across the city and you can get a good workout just attending your classes, if that sort of thing is your cup of tea. We walked south past the enormous library (no books on the first six floors, great place to nap), past the food trucks that sold everything from fries and burgers to Mongolian Barbeque. Down past the residences for Innes College, past the Sid Smith building on the west side and the University College residences on the east side. All the way down to College where St. George meanders down to Queen Street as Beverly Street, lined by tall century old red brick houses. But instead of following Beverly down to Queen and the Rex Hotel, a respectable jazz venue now, a rundown old beer joint twenty years ago where you could get a pitcher of cheap draught and drink it undisturbed except for the mumblings of the rummy at the next table, we took the turn west towards Chinatown.

This day we didn’t go into Chinatown proper but hit a cheap little joint just before Spadina, right on the edge of that crowds teeming, horns honking, stink of food rotting in the heat mess that wonderful Chinatown is. We marched right in and sat at a table right at the front so we could watch the people walk by.

And the people who walked by on that hot day! Again and again young women would glide past our view in sandals and shorts and skirts, little shirts or slight blouses and hair in the warm breeze, smiling in the generous heat, arms and legs and necks and bellies bared to the sun for one of the first time in months.

They marched past us until I couldn’t take it for a moment more. I sprang up and raced down the stairs to the tiny bathroom, locked the door and immediately had probably the best masturbation session of my life. Just thinking about it makes me excited. Totally serious. What a glorious day that was.

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A few posts ago Littlefury said the following:

I hope you're damn old because if you ever run out of sepia-toned anecdotes with tenuous hockey tie-ins, we're all pretty much fucked.

So lets just start by saying that I don't even have a tenous tie-in for this story. Not a one. Maybe just that it is pleasurable to watch the Oilers play these days. Four wins in five games.

And let me just assure you that I'll be forty one on Saturday, which is ancient around here, so I have plenty of stories and when I run out I will just start making them up. My daughter, at five, is crazy smart and she is just learning about the meaning of fiction and non fiction. So as she says "That is fiction. I know that because the pig is talking and pigs don't talk."

So when pigs start talking or you start reading rambles like this or this, then you will know that you're stepped through to the other side.

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As for the, um, Oilers, well things have been going well in Oilerland lately and of course a loss tonight will send everyone into a tizzy just as the loss against the Witness Protection Plan on Thursday did. Fact is there is little to choose from between most teams on most nights and a team with a hot goaltender can certainly carry the day, just as the Oilers did a week ago on Saturday.

The positives for the Oilers are starting to build, I think. Five and two in their last seven and they could have won the two they lost. Smid seems to have gotten himself back into the lineup and has stabalized the third pairing. Visnovsky has been terrific and Gilbert has as well. And Roli has been providing very good goaltending.

Up front the top line has been a top line, led by Hemsky who is a star player now. Cogliano has gotten clearance on the other kids, although against soft opposition, and I expect Nilsson to start a nice run now.

Presently there are three concerns for this club as far as I am concerned. Can Grebeshkov get back to where he was after Christmas last year? If he can then this club looks nice from one through six on D. (Although I think Grebs is tradebait personally).
Can Gagner begin to produce offensively? LT and Tyler have both shown this past week that the kid actually has pretty good underlying numbers. He just doesn't have the counting numbers to show for it.

And can they get Cole going offensively? This is the biggie right now. Erik Cole producing offence would go a long way towards making this club a playoff team.

I think when Pisani gets back he moves to shore up the Brodziak line, which has been getting outchanced in a big way, and Cole moves up to play with a couple of the kids.

And if those moves work then this team will be looking pretty coming into the stretch drive.

Now excuse me while I go have an egg roll.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Long Long Time Ago


At home this weekend, visiting my folks in the house I grew up in. Twenty seven below this morning and enough snow that it would lead the National if this were in Toronto.

Its cold.

You walk outside and it takes your breath away. Your nostrils stick together and when you spit it hits the frozen ground and bounces. The sky goes on forever, black black black and the stars look like they are sitting right on top of you. Its dark at 4 and it seems like you are on another planet, silent except for the squeak of your boots on the packed snow. Even the cars are silent, gliding past like ghosts, giving the odd groan in the cold.

Just two streets over there's the old playground rink. It was the centre of our winters growing up. Every neighbourhood in the city had one when we were kids. Nearly every kid in the city played playground hockey growing up until about twenty years ago when the city introduced an indoor recreational league. Indoor hockey killed the playground leagues. Faced with standing on snowbanks surrounding the rinks in thirty below weather and standing in the lobby of a heated arena parents made a pretty easy choice.

I played and coached in the playground leagues. It was crazy. Whatever the weather you would play. Thirty below and you would play and the parents would be out there cheering. I coached seven year olds and they were out there, no matter how cold. Maybe five minutes in the shack to warm up between periods and then back out, shivering on the benches which were boxed in by thin plywood, waiting for their turn to spin around the ice in front of the cheering crowd. When it snowed heavily the parents would come down between periods and shovel the ice. After the games it was into the shack to change out of skates and drink hot chocolate from the canteen.

And every winter there would be the carnival, a weekend which included hockey and ringette tournaments (you'd invite two patsies and a close rival to guarantee a riproaring final), a party for the parents one night in the shack, games of all sorts, raffles, barbeques (my dad and my best friend's dad always took a shift), music playing and everyone in the neighbourhood out celebrating, forgetting about winter for one weekend at least.

A lot of the old rinks are torn down now although this one is still standing. I'll probably walk the dog over and see if the neighbourhood dads have flooded it for their sons and daughters just as our dads once did, maintaining it through the winter. When we were growing up we spent our weekends there, our evenings there.

Things move on and that's fine. They have to. That is the way of the world.

But the playground rink was a damn good thing and this city misses it, I think. I certainly do.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Procurement


I was always a sexually precocious little fellow. This was the seventies so there wasn't much going on, not like now where you go the Interweb and you can download or watch pretty well everything and anything. Back then you had your Playboy and your Penthouse and good luck with finding those suckers. Except I had a nose for it. Always did. One time I found it in the middle of nowhere, true story although we'll save that one for another time.

Somehow when I was eight I got my hands on a Playboy. I still remember one of the pictorials vaguely, it was shot in black and white, she was a tall slender blonde and I liked how she was looking. Can't remember where I found it but I tore out the pages and had them stored in my room with my hockey cards and Hot Wheels cars.

Until the day my sweet little French Canadian grandmother, who would clean from dawn to dusk because it was her nature, decided to scour my room. I was the apple of her eye always, even after this incident, but it came as an awful shock to her old bones, I'm afraid. Fair play to Mom and Dad they didn't give a damn. My Mom asked me why I had them and I answered truthfully that I liked to look at the naked girls.

Truthfully they were probably relieved that I wasn't into cock and balls, this was 1975 in Sudbury after all.

A couple of years later we made a rare visit to Sak's place. There were six of us who got around in grade school. Four of us were really a closeknit bunch and then Sak and another fellow were a little more on the periphery, Sak most of all. He was a decent guy, a bit odd, but he lived a little out of the way for the rest of us who all lived close together. This was the main issue and its a big one when you are ten.

Sak's dad was a quiet little guy and we all thought he was gay, to be honest. Anyways who knows the psychology behind this type of thing but Sak took us to his father's den or office and revealed to us the motherlode - piles and piles of porn. And we're not talking Playboy - it was the dirty stuff - Swank. Hustler. Oui. (That was actually the only time I ever saw Oui.)

We perused as much as we can and then left to go home. As we walked one of my buddies (still my best friend all these years later) gave a huge smile and lifted his jacket to reveal a nice stash of porn, including a Oui.

It was up to me to take charge of the situation. I was the sneakiest and my parents would not raise holy hell if they found it or so it was thought. So for a while I kept our little library at my place, moving it about when I thought necessary, bringing it out whenever the guys came over or if we were camping out. One day my mom came in and announced it was time to flip my mattress. Despite that being the current hiding place I still managed to save the stash, grabbing it when the mattress came up and then sliding it back under when it came down. I thought that might be a harbinger of things to come and so I did what I had to do, wrapping them closely in plastic again and again and then burying them under a log in the woods about fifteen minutes from my house. In the months to come I spent a lot of time in those woods.

Ravine porn. Though not really in a ravine, per se. Good times and then one day I went out there and it was gone. Just like Jesse Niinimaki.

Damn.

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I've talked about it before but the Oilers' amateur procurement department really does deserve recognition for the nice run that they are on. Rob Schremp's addition makes it ten forwards who have suited up for the Oilers this season who they have drafted and the majority of them are under twenty five. Throw in a whole list of kids on their way up, Greene and Stoll, who brought the Oilers Lubo, and guys like Gilbert and Grebeshkov, plucked from other clubs, and one has to give credit to a management team that has taken a beating in these parts at times. Certainly the club has come a long way since the black hole that was the eighties and nineties. Does drafting and developing your own players matter? Ask Detroit.

Organizations, fans and local media always overrate their prospects. I remember the Blue Jays in the 80s when they had the best outfield in baseball - a centre fielder with no range and little power, a right fielder who could not hit a curveball and a left fielder who turned every chance into an adventure. And behind these guys were an army of prospects who were supposed to be even better. Not a one of them made it. That's the way it goes. Teams draft guys because they like them and for the most part the media and fans get their info on these youngsters from the club. So Syl Campusano may still be in the minors after seven years but man wait until you see this guy, he can do it all.

Many of these Oiler kids might be Campusano but there is a long list and while some will get injured or end up not being talented enough I would say that this club is well positioned for the next little while. With the cap possibly dropping in two season a vet or two is going to have to get moved and some kids are going to need to step in.

Nash, Eberle, Peckham, Plante, Wild, Chorney, Omark, Jean Van De Velde, the list goes on and on. And remember that guys have come from far back (Brodziak, Thoresen, Reddox) to make this club in the last couple of years. Probably not as far back as Jeff Petry who was #4 for five minutes and then got taken away by the government in the middle of the night, never to be seen again. But from pretty far back nevertheless.

Now excuse me. My porny sense is tingling.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

I Bless The Rains Down In Africa



My first year or two in high school my social life outside of my immediate circle of friends revolved around high school dances held at our school and at our sister school. I went to an all guys' school and while a lot of that was great there was the minor detail that there were NO girls at our school.

Years later I ran into a guy from high school on the street here in Toronto. I used to see him now and then in passing. He was just studying for the bar at the time and needed a cheap place to live. At the time I was living in a house with three other people and we happened to have a spare room so he moved in with us.

We were never really friends in high school. He was a terrific guy in a private conversation, bright and engaging, but get him in any group bigger then two and it seemed to bring out a darker side in him with almost anyone outside his closest friends. An interesting guy though.

He had a cutting sense of humour and spent a lot of his time eating triple cheese every type of meat pizza and talking about ass fucking when we lived together. He had a barb for everything and everyone and one day when another couple of guys from Sudbury dropped by to say 'hello' before they went down to see a Leafs' game, he remarked about one, a fellow classmate from SCC, that he was, like the majority of our class, hopelessly stunted when it came to women. The curse of going to an all boys' school.

By that time I was over that but I agreed with him, knowing many high school friends who struggled mightily with the ladies for years (and a few who still do though its been twenty years now) and, as I said, myself having had not a clue until a couple of years of escape from the Basilian fathers.

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So here I was, jesus it would be twenty seven years ago or thereabouts now, in the SCC gym. I was there with some buddies. We were in grade ten, I believe, and being fourteen, we were all about the sex.

Thinking about the sex constantly.

And that was about it. Other then tracking down some ravine porn and finding the odd movie on the French channel, times were tough.

Anyways I had a pal who didn't give a shit, or certainly not this night. He was a big 'Prince" guy, I kid you not, iirc, he had highlights in his hair and the awful clothes, my God the eighties were terrible for the clothes. He began to talk to a girl and I mumbled to her friend, a girl named Andrea, petite and pretty with long brown hair. Not sure if she kicked this off or if it was just that most of the girls at Marymount were French or Italian or Croatian but all through high school this was my "type". Long brown hair. Petite. They made me mental.

This was before I began to drink for courage but I was hanging in there that night, sober or not, and we got out and danced which must have been truly awful for them. It wasn't until a couple of years later and a number of drinks to boot that I would realize my potential as a world class dancing fool. I mean we're talking really world class.

But at fourteen and sober as a stone I was doing the Northern Ontario little white boy shuffle, trying not to attract any attention to myself and staring at this strange creature dancing with me. I'm sure the look on my face was akin to how I would react if I went to McCarthys and found the big fellow standing at the bar, smoking a cigarette, chatting with Maeve while he threw back a pint of that good stuff.

And then, things slowed down and it was Toto, singing Africa. We held each other closely and then the drawback, the lean, the kiss, the very first one.

A whole new country opened up to me that night.

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The Oilers prepare for a stretch that could, might, maybe mean a new beginning for them and for their fans. Its been a long time coming and this may be a false start, another hiccough for this franchise, a tease of what may never come. Or it might be the dawn of a new day.

For years this has been a club rebuilding, younger kids coming in to replace the veterans who became too expensive, until 2006 when it looked like all of the years of waiting had ended. Instead there was another exodus of veterans, for different reasons, and once again we fans were left to watch kids, kids and more kids come in. Wait until the kids grow up has been this franchise's watchword forever, that and the stretch run for the last playoff spot the calling cards, even in 2006.

But now after an uneven start we have a team that maybe has something new in store for us. Maybe not but this team is in the black after a tough early schedule and they seem to have figured out how to put together consistent efforts and how to come out of the gate quickly and maybe, just maybe, they can take this long stretch in front of them where the home games line up and MacT can shelter the kids and play to the strengths of this team and use the fact that there suddenly seem to be a plethora of young forwards who can play to crack the whip with those who may have gotten a little comfortable.

Maybe this is the time that the Oilers stop leaning against the wall of the gym with their nerdy friends Columbus and Florida and Atlanta and they get out there and dance and dance some more and then, when the music slows down, they reach over and grab that pretty dark haired girl and then they will let their hands subtly lower down and grab her bum and then lean back and start to make out on that dance floor. And then after a few more dances, making out until a teacher comes over and asks them to move apart, the Oilers will take her out behind the portables and get her pregnant, just like they did in 1990.

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I hear the drums echoing tonight
But she hears only whispers of some quiet conversation
Shes coming in 12:30 flight
The moonlit wings reflect the stars that guide me towards salvation
I stopped an old man along the way
Hoping to find some long forgotten words or ancient melodies
He turned to me as if to say, hurry boy, its waiting there for you

Its gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
Theres nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had

The wild dogs cry out in the night
As they grow restless longing for some solitary company
I know that I must do whats right
Sure as kilimanjaro rises like olympus above the serengeti
I seek to cure whats deep inside, frightened of this thing that Ive become

Its gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
Theres nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had

(instrumental break)

Hurry boy, shes waiting there for you
Its gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
Theres nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in africa,
I bless the rains down in africa
I bless the rains down in africa,
I bless the rains down in africa
I bless the rains down in africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had

Monday, December 08, 2008

Through The Looking Glass


When I was twenty or so a half dozen of us took a road trip down to Ohio to the Akron area to see some friends down that way. On the Friday night we went to a grimy hole in the wall and drank 2.50 pitchers of Budweiser until we were all feeling fine. We headed to our buddy's place and crashed.

The next day was the main event, so to speak, as we went to Kent State campus for a party. After a greasy road trip breakfast washed down with beer we wandered the grounds of the University, checked out the infamous scene of the shootings and were properly struck by the tragedy of that sad day, despite our general foolishness.

Sometime late in the afternoon we got down to the business at hand, which was to get as fucked up as possible. I still drink my share but back in the day I had a ridiculous capacity for alcohol despite the fact that I was mostly hair and balls, barely 125 pounds, if that. When you're young you have the boundless energy to drink and dance and fuck all night and then one day, not so much, and its disappointment for all concerned. Anyways, I was no different from a good number of my friends and we took advantage of those days to properly lay a beating on our bodies.

So the day in question we starting drinking around midafternoon. A keg down in the States was around twenty bucks so you'd go to one of these parties and it would be flowing. So this went on for a while and not much was happening or so I thought anyways and I became to get pretty agitated. I was a hyper little guy. So I was talking to some little blonde guy named Jammer or some such thing and your man lived at the house we were at so he kindly mixed me some sort of drink and I had a couple of those and they were pretty tasty but the desired effect was not forthcoming. Now I'm getting a little frantic because here I am in Ohio and I've been at it for hours now and barely a buzz to show for it and I was getting kind of cranky so the same guy and a couple of his buddies took me outside and we smoked a couple of joints and by now by all rights I should be on a gurney I have so much shit flowing in my bloodstream but still nothing is going on.

So I'm wandering from room to room bemoaning my fate when I come into a dark cavern of a room and in there is a big big man whose nickname is the entirely correct yet disappointingly unimaginative Big John. I can't remember what was going on in the room except there was music and it was dark and Big John was a friendly sort and when I lamented my relative sobriety he grinned and said that he had the cure for that and he gave me some mushrooms.

Now for me alcohol is pretty well the drug of choice. I had periods where I'd smoke a lot of dope but for the most part I'm a drinker. I've never touched powders or pills, mostly out of fear, and I've got a pretty good idea of when its time to stop, even with the drink. I certainly am not in the habit of ingesting unknown substances given to me by large men who I've just met.

But hey, it was a party and I was bored.

Well, next thing I remember (and the only thing I remember for that matter) was my heart pulsating to the music and Big John grinning maniacally at me as he played air guitar and the dark room cave like as I talked and talked and talked and talked to some girl who was quite amused, I'm sure, and also relieved to find the one twenty one year old guy at the party who was not hitting on her because for the first and only time in his life he was completely and absolutely so beyond that he had no interest in sex at all.

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Saturday night I watched the game at some bar until San Jose finally broke through and Roenick put them up one and then we decided to head back to the east end and cap off our night at the Only Cafe with a couple of pints of Neustadt Scottish. A terrific night with a great longtime friend and the best bartender in the world was there and the crowd in "that Communist bar" as one of my neighbours calls it was as interesting as ever and then out into the quiet and warm snowy night and the twenty minute walk home, smiling. And I let the dog out quickly and crack open a beer and turn on the TV to see what I figured would be a 4-1 or 5-1 final, surely to God in the second game of a back to back they would have run out of gas and here's hoping they didn't get slaughtered and then the score rolled through the ticker and I was sure that all of the alcohol and chemicals from that night in Ohio twenty years ago had been lurking in my cells, waiting to spring upon me unawares and now this was it, here they came, fermenting for all that time, surging to my brain, it was my time to pay the piper.

For surely I was hallucinating when I saw that the Oilers had won.

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A bizarre weekend for the Oilers who charged out to a big lead against the Kings, gave it all back and then some just as quickly in the second and then came back to tie it in the third. MacTavish's plan worked to perfection as he had Garon in the nets and the Oilers picked up the two points in the shootout.

And then the following night after a late arrival into San Jose because of an airport curfew (??? - is San Jose in some banana republic? An airport curfew?) they were completely overrun in the first period by a Sharks' team that were one point short of the maximum amount for the season at home so far. As the shot counter for the Sharks went off the charts like some sort of slot machine that had blown a circuit it looked like a blowout coming but it was the Oilers who came within seconds of making the intermission with the lead and while the Sharks picked up the lead early in the second the game began to balance out after that. Penner tied it up and then Brodziak scored his third goal of the week to win it and Edmonton snuck back home with four out of four points from the roadtrip and four victories in their last five games.

The usual angst was found in the game day thread but the fact is this club had put together four straight strong efforts and yes I will allow the second game back to back excuse in this case. The Sharks and Wings are head and shoulders above everyone right now and this San Jose club is big and fast and skilled and they run rough shod over their opponents. Remember G1 in 2006 when it looked like the Oilers were going to get blown out four straight? This club can make you look bad and while it seemed like the Oilers were boys v. men early on they hung in there and came away with two points when they could have folded their tents and come home from Cali with a split. And while they have Roli to thank for these two points this young team has made some strides recently and they suddenly are back in the mix in the northwest with a chance to make some hay before the new year.

Horcoff, Hemsky and Penner traded the Sharks chance for chance and there is little doubt that this line is serious quality. Some point to Penner's move back to the line as all that was needed to get him going but the big man has been playing with far more conviction since his benching. He is where he should be in the lineup, yes, but we're seeing the consistency now. Meanwhile Hemsky has arrived, of course, and Horcoff has shaken off his lousy start so that his numbers are starting to get closer to the PPG level and hopefully soon we will hear an end to the usual bitching about our first line centre.

The pipeline from Springfield continues to flow as Brule joined Shremp, Reddox and Sestito as guys who have come up so far this season. Schremp struggled Saturday night a little but fact is that if and Brule can show some sustain then when Nilsson and Gagner and Pisani return this team is going to have some nice depth up front. Some decisions will have to be made then but after years of having a lineup held together with chewing gum and twine, just barely at that, due to financial constraints or Lowe's machinations, its nice to be able to call up some kids who can do some good.

One sore spot - the nominal "checking line" got overrun on Saturday night and going forward this unit either has to improve or something will have to be done about it. Its great to see Brodziak coming around but these guys have to be better.

A few days off and then a nice stretch of games and a chance to rise in the standings. This next few weeks is either going to make me think I'm high (Oilers do really well) or wish that I was (they do not).

Friday, December 05, 2008

Weekend


Heading up north until Monday night so just a quick runthrough of some points of interest for YOUR EDMONTON OILERS for the next week or so.

Apparently Ladi Smid draws in once this weekend. Considering Strudwick actually played well on Wednesday after a few weeks of bad games I'm not sure what gives, although come to think of it it maybe its Grebeshkov who is going to sit. He could certainly bear to remove his head from his ass. Or maybe MacT just plans on running Ladi out Saturday night so when he takes the big collar then MacT can send him back to the PB and say 'see, I told you so'.

I'm sure Strudwick is a terrific guy but Riversq's post at IOF certainly shows that personality can only take you so far. Playing the dregs and getting hammered while doing it is so Matt Greene, circa 2006.

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Garon gets his second consecutive start tonight and Jesus just ship someone out please. The foolishness of this situation bears repeating over and over again and I certainly am interested what a guy who had a real nice year last year said or did to deserve getting benched for a month.

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The new old first line is coming on strong. Horcoff has bounced back from his poor start and Hemsky continues to announce his arrival as he had moved into the top 15 in NHL scoring on Wednesady night. Penner also deserves mention for his strong play lately. He certainly looks like he is engaged.

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Will Schremp have any sustain? If he does, then what happens down the road?

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If Schremp does show he can keep it up and then Pisani and Nilsson return then the Oilers will have their most depth up front in a long time. Nice problem to have as the short term could conceivably see a "fourth" line of Nilsson, Pouliot and Pisani.

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Can Sam Gagner get going on this homestand?

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Two games in California and then a long stretch at home. It appears that MacT has finally settled into a lineup that makes a little sense (to us, at least) and hopefully the club can make some hay. If they do not then look for Cole to move up with two kids when Pisani returns (this may happen anyways). If the club still struggles then look for that threatened trade with players like Grebeshkov, Smid and Nilsson in danger of getting moved, especially the latter if Schremp can show that he can contribute.

Have a great weekend everybody!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Glory


Oh, she walks slowly, across a young mans room

She said Im ready...for you

I cant remember anything to this very day

cept the look, the look...

Oh, you know where, now I cant see, I just stare


You know that feeling you get the first time that you're with someone? Not when you lose your virginity. Just that first time in any relationship that you have been in. Come back from dinner or a party or the bar. Maybe the invitation with the mutual understanding that this is finally it. Maybe a sudden encounter and here you are. Drunken fumbling or languidly romantic, clothes fall away and then that feeling, the revelation, the rush of excitement and lust and joy and wonder rushes through you, my God what a moment, where you want to tear open the window and shout at the moon, a moment that captures, to me, the fantastic trip that this life can be.

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Last night one hundred thousand corks popped in Schremp Nation.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Dog Beach


We lived in Florida for three years, right in Clearwater just across the bay from Tampa. That part of Florida is a massive concrete sprawl that makes Toronto look like the middle of nowhere. Just thirty years ago it was not this way but migration from all over North America turned a stretch of small sleepy towns into a massive hive of mini malls, pawn shops, chain restaurants and trailer parks. Some wag once referred to Tampa as Oakland with beaches. I've never been to Oakland but I can't believe its worse then where we used to live.

We lived in a decent little complex in a nice little neighbourhood. One week just outside of our complex in the nice little neighbourhood some guy drove around and shot at people randomly. He killed one person and wounded another badly before he was caught.

Twice we had SWAT teams come into our nice little complex and take down neighbours of ours.

Oh, it was an interesting place for sure. One of our neighbours was a greasy long haired creep who reminded us of Kid Rock. Buddy didn't work. He hung out by the pool all day, drinking beer between drug deals. We'd see him every day as we drove in, wandering about, big brown gut hanging over his swimsuit, straggly ponytail, beady little eyes.

Just down the road was the causeway to Tampa and along the south side of the causeway was a little stretch of beach. Twenty minutes the other way was the Gulf of Mexico and a long stretch of beautiful white sand stretching from Clearwater Beach south to St. Pete's Beach. Miles and mile of lovely lovely beach. We would go there once in a while but I spent a lot more time at the causeway.

The causeway beach did not have beautiful white powdery sand. It did not have the Gulf of Mexico. There were no beautiful young women from Canada or New England or vacationing families with little kids playing in the warm water. No old men fishing from the shore. No lovers walking barefoot on a quiet stretch of sand.

The causeway beach had bikers drinking beer, trucks parked right at water's edge, blaring rap music, drunken belligerent teenagers, snarling pitbulls and shouted curses.

It also allowed dogs.

So once or twice or three times a week I'd drive the five minutes down to the causeway and park the Neon and take the big fellow out for a walk. On the western edge of the beach the water came almost up to the shore so there were no cars parked there and we could walk in the shallows for quite a while with nobody about to bother us. While I walked, usually lost in my thoughts, the dog would boot about, rousting flocks of gulls, sniffing at dead marine life, generally enjoying himself in the canine manner. And of course he would fetch whatever I threw out into the bay for him to retrieve.

When he first joined us in Florida once we had gotten settled there he was barely a year old and had ridiculous energy and exuberence. One Saturday he went into the water over and over again, probably about a half hour of it. Into the water, bounding, then swimming. Get the stick and back to me. Then out again. Thing is it was actually a little rough that day, fair sized waves crashing on the shore. When I finally realized that the end result of our game was going to be him going under, having a stroke or me going out after him I called an end to it. Your big black dog slept for the next two days straight, no word of a lie. Poor guy, almost killed by his owner's ignorance. Not the only time either.

Other then that my main memory of the causeway beach were the people. They made our friend Kid Rock look like a multilingual doctor of philosophy. We're talking scum of the earth, people. Tattooed, sneering, drunken, inbred, pork rind eating, racist, Ford driving hillbillies. My God!

I remember Jenn and I driving along the beach looking for a spot where the dog could swim when we saw a pickup truck. Rap music blared from the speakers while a teenage girl no more then sixteen, cigarette drooping from her curled lip, can of Busch in each hand, shaking her ass in her thong bikini, at least eight months pregnant, danced in the bed of the truck.

Good times.

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The funny thing is whenever I see a picture of Rob Schremp I think back to that causeway beach. Why? I don't know. I just can picture Sugartits sitting on the back of his pickup, drinking a beer, baking in the sun with his buds. There's just something so wonderfully trashy about the guy and since that picture of him in his Stars and Stripes Speedo I just keep thinking Kid Rock Kid Rock Kid Rock.

Having said that I was looking around LT's site today at his summer prospects' list and in the thread I commented that Schremp was going to get his shot this year as the injury callup if and when one of the kids went down. Blind squirrel, here's a nut.

Schremp has gotten a lot of love and a lot of grief over the years. He's flashy and the kids love him and there have been many who figured him for Horcoff's replacement before he had even played an NHL game. Not a great skater and a lack of compete, as they say, he was a healthy scratch in the American league a few times in his first year as a pro. He improved and said and did the right things but an injury slowed him last fall and he was passed by Nilsson and Gagner and Cogliano and Brodziak and suddenly it looked like his window had closed. With Nash and Eberle coming down the road and the acquisition of Brule it appeared that Schremp's days with the Oilers were numbered, over before they had actually begun.

To his credit Schremp has again done all they have asked of him this year. I am sure that he was told that the plan was to bring him up when a spot opened up in the top six as soon as someone went down if he kept his mouth shut and worked hard. He has and now they have.

He is the tenth Oiler draft pick to play up front this season, a nice tribute to the club's revitalized procurement department. Better still is the fact that under Tambellini they are bringing up the kid to play the role that he should play. Not an energy guy playing four minutes a game with Stortini and Reddox. Rather, it looks like some time with Gagner and Cogliano and probably on the PP.

Here's hoping he does well. It sounds like he is going to get the proper opportunity. Now its up to him, as it should be.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Lock Up Your Daughters


So yesterday afternoon Capsule took to the ice at the new facility at Upper Canada College. Our opponent was a team that has been one of our biggest rivals for years, a rough and tumble bunch with a terrific goalie who we usually beat after a tough battle. Nicest guys in the world, your man always gives you a little tap on the shinpad before the game and wishes you well and then gives you the stick when your back is turned. At the end of the game its handshakes allround, the pricks.

I scored the goal that knocked them out of the playoffs a few years back, less dramatic then it sounds, it was one of those game winning goals that happened early in the game. We've had our share of runins over the years. They had a particularly dirty player who always got increasingly dangerous as the games worn on. A couple of years back he took a run at one of the few pure athletes on our team, a guy who once played in the CFL. The result was predictable. And last season he was involved in one of my favourite Capsule moments when with less then a minute left in a game he took a vicious hack at our goalie's glove after he smothered the puck. We're a pretty mild mannered group but buddy was grabbed by one of our defencemen and thrown to the ice and was then punched repeatedly by every one of our guys on the ice. There wasn't much room to get at him but I lucked out and got the back of his head to myself.

His plight was so self inflicted that he got the toss from the game and we were assessed no penalty of any kind and his teammates actually stood apart, so ashamed of him that not one came to his aid.

Good times.

Hard times have befallen our rivals. They used to be good to beat us once or twice a year. They would catch us on a lazy day and outwork us plain and simple, crashing the net for their goals, outmuscling us for every puck. Last season though we began to handle them fairly easily and this season they were getting their heads handed to them in every game to the point where they are being dropped down a division in a few weeks.

So yesterday afternoon we got what might be our final shot at them and it was obvious from the get go that they were a mess. Shift after shift was spent in their zone and we found that if anything we had too much time.

Early in the game we were in our zone for a moment and then we got control just inside our blueline and one of the guys chipped it out and I was off. Now my typical game is that I am always in the right place and I usually get my share of chances but all of my goals are of the crashing the net/bounce off my ass variety. When I have a breakaway whether it is shinny or a game my thought process is something like this:

Wait a second, how the hell did this happen? Wow these guys are shitty if I'm going in all alone. Keep pumping heart. Don't fail me now. OK, take a look, wow, I am home free. All the time in the world. Lots of people here today. There's Jenn and the kids. Watch Daddy show how its done now.

Ok, nice and easy, take a look, this guy always goes down, fake a shot and then put it upstairs or maybe deke to the backhand. I wonder if I score here will I score tonight? Chicks dig guys who score goals. Its a truism. Just make sure to get it up. Heh heh. Get it up. The puck. Get the puck up. OK so we'll go with that, backhand deke it is, here we go, ok, just relax, fivehole fivehole fivehole fivehole FIVEHOLE FIVEHOLE FIVEHOLE FIVEHOLE ... FUCK!

Then invariably the question from my teammmates as to why I stuffed it right into the goalie's pads. Again.

Because that is my signature move.

What made yesterday all the more galling is that I could have skated in backwards I had so much time (if only I could skate backwards) and when I went fivehole the puck actually slid into the net. Somehow the ref did not see this and when it was pointed out to him that the puck was in the net he mumbled something about stacking the pads and net off the moorings and I could just see that I wasn't going to get this goal, goddamnit.

Later on I gave a guy a two hander for old times sake and that made it a little better. That's my other signature move.

We filled them in despite playing our worst game of the season. Its hard to play hard and well when you can essentially do whatever you want however you want whenever you want. Its like when you date somebody with no self esteem. Boredom sets in quickly, you start trying to see what you can get away with and then it ends badly.

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The City of Toronto runs all kinds of programs for kids and its really terrific. My oldest daughter played soccer last summer, both of the older kids have taken swimming and in the new year they will take skating. Presently my oldest is taking ballet.

I usually take her to these evening activities and I enjoy it because it gives me a half hour to relax with a book so I was a little dismayed a few weeks back when the boy proclaimed that he was going to go to ballet also. He had gone a few weeks previous and sat on the stage and watched and had apparently enjoyed it immensely but the problem was that that was the only time that spectators were allowed until the big performance of The Nutcracker. We would end up just sitting in the hall waiting for class to be over this time. Trying to explain that to a three year old is impossible; I might as well try to pull a unicorn out my ass. So I told him to get ready and we would go.

So he rushed upstairs and returned in his jeans, sweatshirt and tie. I smiled and asked him if he was sure he wanted to wear his tie and he replied that yes he was very sure, thank you very much, mind your business.

We got our coats on and as he put on our shoes he said, to no one in particular:

I think the girls are going to like my tie.

When we arrived at ballet he gave me his coat and walked over to where a dozen little girls were playing freeze tag. He said not a word, but stood, hands in pocket, tie prominently displayed, so they could be awed by the glory that is he.

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Confidence is a funny thing. The boy has it in spades. So do I, truly, with the exception of when its me and the goalie, when I suddenly freeze up every single time.

One would think that professional hockey players would be like the boy but as Oiler fans we only have to look at our friend Raffi Torres to know that this is not the case at all. He is one extreme; Sheldon Souray, I think, is another. When they signed the guy I was flabbergasted at the move but one has to admit that he has really been something else. He has been doing a good job with tough minutes and plenty of them and of course he is producing offensively as well. I have to say I have rarely seen a guy with such immense confidence in himself. A few weeks ago he was talking about his defensive struggles in Montreal and how he was committed to proving the naysayers wrong, that he felt that he could and would do the job and while he makes some mistakes the overall influence he has had this season is overwhelmingly to the good. There are others on this team who seem to have this supreme self confidence, rightly or wrongly - Roloson, Moreau and I would say Hemsky is becoming part of this group. Ales is playing like a man now. Its a beautiful thing to see.

Then there are those who seem to have struggled a bit early on but who have gotten or are getting over their crises of confidence.

Tom Gilbert struggled early on this year as he tried to earn his entire contract in each shift and then you could see his confidence wane as mistakes piled up and he fished a few pucks out of his own net but once he figured it out he began to really come on. Now he is showing why the club decided to sign him to the deal that they did. Smooth with the puck, strong and economical in his own end, his worst games these days are still terrific and pretty well error free.

Shawn Horcoff is another guy who is coming on and in his case I think the confidence that was lacking was more of a physical one. While the play was always moving the right way for him the truth was that while luck was not on his side quite often he wasn't helping things with where he was trying that luck. I think that he is getting comfortable with his shoulder and his fitness and its showing with where he is going to on the ice. And now the points are starting to come. Some of this is luck. Some of it is that its easier to score goals from just outside the paint then it is when you are shooting from just inside the blueline.

Our final example from this past weekend is Brodziak who has taken the job that Cassoulet had a shot at and apparently has decided to make it his own. The youngster had a tough beginning to the season and appeared to miss Glencross terribly. While his old winger tore it up down the highway, playing his game and playing it well against tougher competition, Brodziak, expected to make the same jump, did not and found himself eating popcorn with Stortini, rememebering the good times and wondering what had happened.

Two goals yesterday and a solid weekend overall and I would bet that we will see this young man take off from here. Easy to cheer for this longshot.

As for Cassoulet I would expect that he has had his last shot and young Brule will soon be taking his job, speaking of guys with confidence issues.

Lets hope Brule is more like my boy then like me. ;)