Monday, May 31, 2010

Chicago


I have talked many times about being a fan and with the Blackhawks being now three wins away from a Stanley Cup I have been reflecting quite a bit on the notion of being a fan.

I was a Chicago fan until around 1999 I believe. My Dad was a Blackhawks' fan and so I grew up the same. I cannot remember 1971 or 1973 and while Stan Mikita was my favourite player as a kid I never saw him when he was probably the best player in the NHL in the late sixties nor even when he was one of the best players in the league in the early seventies. I probably saw him play a few times on Saturday nights when Chicago came to Montreal or Toronto but the aging Mikita with back problems that I saw was a far cry from the guy who Jean Beliveau called his toughest opponent just recently.

The Chicago teams I grew up on were relentlessly mediocre. They made the playoffs every year and they got knocked out in the first round pretty well every year. Bobby Hull was a Jet by then and as the core of the club aged (Mikita, Pit Martin, Dennis Hull, Bill White, Stapleton, Magnusson, Tony Esposito) the Hawks treaded water through the seventies. The seventies belonged to the Habs anyhow, with the Flyers' blip in 74 and 75, so its not like I ever felt like I was missing anything.

The eighties brought a new cluster of talent to the Hawks, another decade of playoff appearances and another decade of clubs that, for the most part, were one round and out. When they did progress further then they, like the rest of their Norris brethren, the Jets, the Flames (except for 86), the Flyers and the Bruins, pretty well everyone in the league, had their heads handed to them by the Oilers.

These Hawks' teams could score and they had some nice talent. Denis Savard and Steve Larmer, Al Secord, Eddie O., Troy Murray, Tony Tanti up front, Doug Wilson and Keith Brown on the blue. Yes sir they sure could put the puck in the net. Problem is their goaltending was usually brutal and their blueline was thin and most of their forwards couldn't check their hats, Murray and Larmer being notable exceptions.

Steve Larmer was a tremendous hockey player. Thirty five to forty goals a year, outstanding defensively, killed penalties. Think Hossa although in terms of their styles they certainly were different. Total package though. Plus he never missed a damn game.

I remember one playoff year the Hawks met the Oilers and scored six goals on them in one game. Oilers doubled that number.

Quality D being played. ;)

The problem the Hawks had was ownership. Bill Wirtz was awful and the guy who had his ear for thirty years, Bob Pulford, was a terrible manager. The nice cluster they put together in the early eighties was never augmented and the problems the club had were never addressed and so when Mike Keenan came to Chicago in the late eighties the Hawks had been dying on the vine for nearly two decades.

Keenan's arrival marked a new beginning for Chicago. In 1989 they made the playoffs at the last possible moment when Murray stripped poor Todd Gill of the puck in overtime and scored on a breakaway to put the his club though and knock the Leafs out.

Poor Todd Gill. Never did a more heart and soul player make more obvious brutal mistakes than that guy.

Playing the style that Keenan had brought to Philly, hard driving, physically punishing, crazy forechecking, the Hawks won two rounds before falling to the Flames in the conference finals.

The next year they returned to the conference finals where they fell to the Oilers in six games.

Keenan was putting together the best Chicago team in two decades. In net were Ed Belfour and Dom Hasek (this was before Hasek was Hasek of course) with hotshot junior Jimmy Waite in the wings. He brought Chris Chelios and Steve Smith in on the blue to join the reliable Brown and up front there was young hotshot Jeremy Roenick, the dependable Larmer and the veteran Michel Goulet, Brent Sutter and Dirk Graham and a host of big grinding forwards who pounded on their opponents, guys like Brian Noonan and Stephane Matteau, who would later, along with Larmer, win a Cup with all of the old Oilers on the Rangers.

The Hawks were fast and they played the game with an edge. They were a fun team to cheer for. In 1991 they finished first overall and they managed to get upset in the first round but the following year they marched through the playoffs, only to get swept by the Pens in the final.

Regardless they had arrived. A powerhouse club with some great young players and a wonderful core of veterans. The future was bright.

And then Pulford reared his ugly head.

A year later Keenan resigned, forced out by Wirtz's man, and the long sorry decline began. Larmer soon followed, the ultimate professional, as the Hawks refused to pay him, and the same fate would befall Roenick and Belfour. The club fell into disarray and the remaining veterans were shipped out. The club sank back into mediocrity.

And that's where they lost me. I could accept the years of so-so teams, the playoff failures, the obvious holes in the roster. There were the Habs and then the Islanders and then the Oilers. Far better clubs than the Hawks were getting pummelled. What the hell could you do?

Ironically it took the club becoming good to drive me away. The taste of success made Pulford's return to prominence in the front office impossible to take and as the nineties wore on and the club descended into the mire and management did nothing but make the team worse, well, then I had enough. Enough of the best players going away. Enough of the terrible drafting (in one era spanning over a decade they drafted a total of two forwards who scored over twenty goals in a season). Enough of Pulford's sullen visage.

I had been a fan for all of my life and the only time the team was any good was when Pulford was not in charge. And then he got himself put back into charge.

It wasn't a conscious decision, to stop cheering for Chicago. I stopped caring bit by bit and then one day I was watching the Hawks play the Oilers (I believe it was 1999 as until 2006 I had never seen the Oilers win a playoff series as 'my team') and the Oilers scored and I was happy. And then I realized that I was not a Chicago fan. I was an Oilers' fan.

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When Bill Wirtz died and his son took over one of the first things that happened was that Bob Pulford was retired and at that moment I knew the Hawks would be back at some point and it really didn't take that long.

With the Oilers being out of the running by Halloween I have been hoping for a Chicago run all season and as the playoffs have progressed I have been watching more and more and I have been getting more and more excited.

Its not the same of course. Its nowhere as close to 2006. Its like meeting an old lover and seeing that she is doing very well and realizing that any of the pain from the past is long gone, there is no bitterness there and so when you part you smile and you wish her well and you mean it.

Three more Chicago wins would be awfully nice.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Many Thanks and A Stanley Prediction

Before I talk about the Stanley Cup finals I want to thank all of you for your kind words regarding Ben's passing. The notes of condolence, the suggestions, the shared stories ... all were greatly appreciated by Jenn and I. Its been a strange week here, mostly because for the first time in nearly thirteen years someone is missing. Every morning I walk down the stairs and am surprised not to see him there and I wonder how long it will take me to stop looking for him.

The greatest of ironies (and perhaps one of the greatest tributes to Ben) is that Jenn has been pretty shattered by his passing, so much so that she has said that soem point down the road we probably will have to get another dog. Her biggest worry is that we probably won't find one as wonderful as him. For those of you who are regular visitors here you will know that this may be the biggest twist ending of all time.

All kidding aside, once again thank you for all of your kind comments. They have meant a lot to us.

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I will be taking more time, hopefully tomorrow night, to write a little bit more about the Chicago Blackhawks. They were my first love when it came to being a fan and now here they are, four wins away from ending the longest present Stanley Cup drought. A few weeks ago, when they were finishing off the Canucks, I was over at my best friend's place. We have known each other since we were five. He asked me what I thought of the Hawks and if I was hoping for them to go all the way.

I certainly do. Watching the end of their sweep of the Sharks I saw a woman in the crowd, probably my age or a little older, crying, saying to the person next to her 'I'm so happy' when they asked her why the tears. The Blackhawks, like a lot of 'cursed' franchises, have not suffered so much from bad luck as from terrible ownership over the decades. I remember complaints about EIG and commenting that until you've been a fan of a team owned by Bill Wirtz you don't know bad ownership.

So I hope they win. For my Dad. For a dear friend back in Sudbury who has been a fan forever. For all of their fans and their great city.

And I think that they will win. They are the better team. I would like to think that this is a mismatch along the lines of those late 90s series when the Avs or Wings or Devils would get to take on the Panthers or the Capitals or the Ducks but I'm not sure if this is the case. The Flyers have a nice top four on the back end and they have three decent lines although I don't think they match up with the Hawks in either case. I don't know how the matchups will run but I think that the Hawks are too deep once again. Its one thing to be able to run Richards against Toews and hope for a sawoff but I can't see Briere handling Sharp and Hossa and while I like Giroux he's going to be in tough against Bolland and Versteeg as well.

We all know that anything can happen but I do believe that a Flyers victory would be a considerable upset. The Flyers are good but they've beaten three pretty flawed clubs on the way to the finals. They barely beat a Boston club with little depth up front or on the blue and Montreal, as we know, was certainly more lucky than good.

Hawks in six.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Dog's Life






How does one write a eulogy for a dog? Can one? He is a dog.

And of course the answer is yes and you try and pour your heart into it because of what he is. You try and tell his story. There is no way to write something entirely true because how can you write in words what he meant to you? You cannot but you try because he deserves nothing less.

PEI

It was an early winter in 1997 and in November and December I would take my puppy a street over from where I lived. We'd take a path between two homes and there I would let him off the leash and he would run as I walked in long circles around the field and frozen marsh and scrub brush, beating my hands together to keep them warm, just the two of us under the cold black sky, he a little black blur, running and running, running forever, until finally I would call to him and we would go back to where the two of us lived, just the two of us.

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Poop and Puke

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I had been dating Jenn for maybe a month when I mentioned that I might get a puppy. She thought it wasn't a good idea. I joke now that I didn't listen because the sex wasn't that good (I lie - it was absolutely amazing) but the truth is that I have always been a stubborn little guy who marches to his own drummer and so a few days later she drove up to my place and found me sitting on my step watching a little black guy with floppy ears and a white seven on his chest chase his tail on the lawn.

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Those early days.

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She was not a dog person and never became one but he was always a Jenn dog. She would come over and I would take him out and he would look in the apartment window and see her and start to cry and run to the door to see her.

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Florida

We lived in a complex of a couple of hundred apartments, pretty standard in Clearwater. An inner ring around the pool and clubhouse, an outer ring as well, two stories high. We lived in the southeast corner, as far away from the entrance as we could be. Ben would be lazing about and then suddenly go to the window and sit patiently. A few minutes later Jenn would pull up in her car.

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We lived fifteen minutes from the causeway over Tampa Bay and at the western end of that causeway was a beach where you could take your dog swimming. Once or twice a week I'd bundle him into the Neon and we'd drive over and walk up and down the beach. I'd throw a stick into the bay and, as dogs are wont to do, he would plunge in again and again. When the tide was out we'd walk along the western edge of the bay and he'd rush into flocks of seagulls, scattering them complaining into the heat. He would charge about like a madman and a few times I found myself facedown in the shallow water after he had blindsided me like a linebacker, knocking me flying.

One day we took him it was particularly rough when we went. He brought me a stick and I tossed it into the waves and out he went. Again and again we did this, about thirty minutes worth of it, until I realized that if we kept this up he'd drown. Brought him back to the car, he was asleep before we got off the beach.

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The Time He Fucked Me

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We got married in 2001 and returned to Clearwater to pack up our shit and move back to Canada. Went to the vet and asked for some dope for the big guy as we were to be on the road for nearly twenty four hours and didn't want to deal with him roaming about the car. A few nights before we left I gave him a dose on the vet's recommendation, a test drive as it were. My new bride called and asked how it was looking and I answered that I think we got snookered, he wasn't reacting at all. On cue I looked over and saw him walking, well, leaning against the wall as he tried to get across the apartment. Like a drunk he staggered across the room, stoned out of his mind. Never mind, I told her, I think we're good to go.

Toronto
When we moved back to Canada we lived in an apartment in a 1920s Art Deco building in midtown Toronto. Right across the street was a private school and in the evenings I would take Ben to their grounds to run around. One night he suddenly jumped into a bush and as I walked over to see what was behind his odd behaviour I was enveloped in skunk stench.

After I had showered I ran out and picked up some tomato juice. By the time I was done with him it looked like someone had butchered a cow in our tiny bathroom, there was red splatter everywhere.

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A few days after our oldest was born I was up at four a.m. or so doing baby stuff and let the dog out to relieve himself. Thrity seconds later he tore by me, up the stairs and into the room where the baby was, making sure that the skunk that had just sprayed him had somehow not gotten in to threaten the newest member of his pack.

Two years later the exact same thing happened a few days after the boy was born. Neither he nor I learned from that mistake apparently.

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With each addition to the family he slid down the family pecking order but there was never any resentment, never any jealousy, instead there was a deepening in his loyalties, a new fierceness to him. When our oldest was a toddler she was playing with her Poppy, who was adored by the dog. As they played she ran between Brian's legs and he playfully tapped her on the bum. Suddenly with a deep low growl Ben rose up from his lazy laydown and Brian had to reassure him with quiet and gentle words that he meant no harm.

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Ben had been in two scraps in his youth and in each he had laid down and snapped at his attacker ineffectively until they were pulled off of him. He was always a lover, not a fighter. ;)

One day as we walked down our street a porch door burst open and a vicious mutt and its running mate, a massive pit, charged at us. I dropped the leash and snatched up my daughter and figured that I was about to see the end of it all until our old gentle boy launched himself into them with a fury. By the end of it the mutt had disappeared and when the pit's owner and some neighbours pried Ben off of his foe and looked to find the source of the blood smears on the sidewalk it became clear that our guy hadn't a scratch - it was the other who had been torn up.

It was ice cream for him that night.

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As He Lay Dying

For a month he had been struggling and I had been falling apart, thinking of the inevitable. Twice he looked to be in bad shape and twice he had bounced back with defiant energy but last week he was slowed noticeably. His hind legs were swollen and he struggled to get up even with my help. He was on something for the pain but his panting told us that it was becoming ineffective. I talked to the vet on Thursday and I said that I figured he'd get through the long weekend and then he'd be at the end of it.

Thursday evening I came home with a beautiful sirloin but when I let him out he collapsed in the grass and was unable to get up. I lifted him into my arms and carried him into the house. A month before he had been a load, now he was light as a feather, the cancer having worn him away. I barbequed his steak and we took turns giving him pieces. That night I tried to lift him up and carry him to the living room so I could lay on the couch beside him but he was in too much pain and he wearily snapped at me to warn me off.

Friday I alternated between my laptop, trying to work some, and laying beside him on the floor, holding him close, giving him steak and cheese and whatever else I could find in the fridge. In the morning we had to pull our sobbing daughter off of him to take her to school. When Jenn dropped her off her classmates consoled her as the tears ran down her face still.

I sat beside him in the afternoon, a pint of Guinness at hand as I stroked him quietly. Just before three I lifted him one last time and carried him down the stairs and laid him on the blanket in the wagon. Jenn said her goodbyes and then I pulled the wagon up the street and around the corner to the vet's. Two men standing on the sidewalk looked at him and commented on this old dog, look at him, being pulled about like a king. Then they saw my stricken face and they fell silent and as I went into the vet's I heard one say 'oh, oh no'.

They prepared him and I went into the room and he was anxious, resting on a blanket on top of a table. I calmed him down and I held him and the vet came in and explained to me what was going to happen. I gave him treats and even at the end his appetite was fine as he gobbled them up. I gave him some more and as she pushed the needle he had one, two, three, and then he began to nod and then I laid his beautiful grey head on the blanket and he was gone.

I took off his collar and put it in my pocket, I hugged him and kissed him and I told him how much we loved him and then I said goodbye and walked out into the sunshine.

Our Hearts Are Broken, Where Is Our Dear Friend?

I have been in mourning for a month and so for me I am lost in thoughts of what joy he brought us. His dishes are put away and most of all what I have noticed is that his presence is not here anymore. I turn and expect him to me laying there, grinning at me. I hear him panting or so I think. I keep thinking that he needs to go out or that he has to be fed and all of that is gone.

He is gone.

On Friday night my daughter crawled into our bed. She has not been in our bed since she was two months old. She lay there sobbing and cuddled in as if her heart was breaking.

And Jenn has been stunned at the depth of her grief. She was never a dog person and her relationship with Ben was often an uneasy one and yet she has been tearing up at random times. looking for him, missing him. She never thought that this would rip her apart as it has.
The baby walks by calling his name, looking for him.

Dear Old Ben

He lived nearly thirteen years, our dear old dog. He was there at our beginning and through everything that has come since then. He never questioned, never grumped, never turned his back. He gave us everything even when we could not reciprocate.

The other night we had a drink and we laughed as we told stories about our dear old friend. We miss him dearly and we are sad now but we also celebrate what he gave to us.

He gave us his all just as any good dog does.

Goodbye dear friend. Rest easy now.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Whimsy


Andy Grabia, a very good man and an even better writer, wrote down a few thoughts about this upcoming summer and a few little things he would like to accomplish before Labour Day rolls around. He asked a few friends if we could jot down our own 'summer bucket lists', as he called them.

Here in Toronto we have had wonderful weather since April Fool's Day, making up for last year's awful summer. I've been in shorts and sandals for a while and we've been visiting the local ice cream shop since Easter Sunday. Its been a roller coaster seven weeks. I was in Dublin for a good friend's wedding and we have had visits from family and friends that have brightened our days. Jenn and I have had some great nights out as we've emerged from the end of winter funk. Our kids are absolutely brilliant.

But hanging over all of this has been the end of days for our loyal old friend. Sirloin steak tonight and an explanation to the kids that Ben is not long for this world. I'm hoping to pull him through the weekend but that itself may be pushing it.

So Andy's challenge is a welcome diversion from the tears. I love fall but I'm a summer man first and foremost. This year already has a number of promising adventures lined up. We will go to the Island as we always do. For our anniversary we are going to see U2, one of my favourite bands and one I have never seen. And I am making a second wedding pilgrimage, this time to Fernie B.C. for my cousin's nuptials.

This summer's rhythms are already off. I am not playing hockey this summer for the first time since 2001 and it will be the first summer since 1997 that Ben will not be with us. Strange days are coming.

But in the spirit of Andy's lovely post here are a few little things that I would like to get done before Labour Day comes. Little things and new things and things I have not done in a while.

Take my son to Seekers' books on Bloor Street, my favourite book store in the world

Wake my kids up to see the midnight stars at the family camp on Ministic

Check out a bluegrass matinee at Grafitti's in the Market

Read (try to read?) Finnegan's Wake.

Work on my novel.

Walk down an old country road in PEI.

Take my kids for a walk in the northern woods.

Go fishing.

Watch To Have and Have Not, one of my favourite movies.

Drink gin and tonics on the porch.

Go up to camp with my Dad and help him build something.

Get a brushcut.

Buy a nice pair of shoes.

Go for a walk in the mountains in B.C.

Sit on a patio with my wife and have a few drinks.

Take the training wheels off my daughter's bike and watch her ride away.

Jerk off a little bit more. (OK kidding, that's not possible, not enough time in the day) ;)

Go to the movies by myself, just like old times.

Lunchtime sneaky pints at McVeighs.

Replace my lost Moondance CD. Wear it out.

Do a photographic essay of old churches in PEI.

Take my kids to a lighthouse.

Baileys in my coffee in the morning when we're on vacation.

That's a start.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Folks You Might Meet At The Ha' Penny Bridge Inn







I landed in Dublin the Wednesday before Easter in the middle of a blizzard. It was shortlived but considering that in my previous visit to the Irish capital, in February two years ago, I had never needed more than a spring jacket, well, lets just say that I was not impressed with the situation. Indeed I was even less so when I found out that back in Canada it was hot and sunny. The one positive is that while I was in Johnstownbridge for the wedding I could smell burning peat in the crisp air which brough me back to the fall of 2002 when we had toured about the south of Ireland and each evening on our way from pub to pub that sweetness was all about us in the night. Other than that, well I was unprepared and a little rankled.

My flight landed just after five in the morning Irish time but my man Patrick Broe was there at the gate to gather me and so we were off to their flat where we caught up over a coffee. He offered me a couch for a short nap but it was but midnight on my body clock and that evening we were to leave Dublin so I figured that I had best get into town and get all I could out of it. I borrowed an overcoat and was out the door with a promise to be back by midafternoon.

The last time I was in Dublin Paddy lived in Castleknock, a northwestern suburb bordering Phoenix Park, and so every time I headed into the city on my own I would take a twenty minute bus ride down the Navan Road into the centre of town. Since then they have moved a little further out to Blanchardstown but again I jumped on the same bus and made my way into the heart of Dublin, through Castleknock and then past the familiar sights of Cabra and Stoneybatter until I was at the Liffey and so stumbled out into the cold bright streets alongside those coming into work for the day. Up and down narrow laneways I wandered, moving, moving, trying to stay warm and awake as around me the city prepared for another day. Shop owners and wait staff and publicans getting ready. I crossed the Liffey and across from the GPO's grand columns I ate a hearty breakfast, just out the window a statue of James Joyce leaning at passerby.

Fortified by reasonable coffee and three different types of pork and a good sized helping of beans and eggs I set forth once again.

It was a quiet day but a fine one. I did as I promised myself and spent some time on the northern side of the river exploring and I walked towards the mouth of the Liffey to see a part of Dublin I had not before. At eleven a.m. I walked into Neary's and opened the joint with a pint of Guinness, just ahead of a lovely old lady who ordered a coffee and a tumbler with a 'bit of the usual' in it on ice.

Neary's might be my favourite Dublin pub although it has plenty of competition. Our first time in Dublin we dropped by The Brazen Head for a couple and we were not disappointed, unlike the time I was in York and excitedly made my way to the oldest pub in that ancient town only to find myself in the middle of a generic chain pub within the original shell of what once was.

The Brazen Head is a fine place and for the most part so are all of the older pubs in Dublin. The last time I was in town I made a point of visiting as many as possible and while you might find a TV or two here or there for the most part they're just wonderful places to have a pint. The Old Stand and The Long Hall. McDaid's where I spent a Friday night getting pissed with the lads and Davy Byrne's, fancier than most. The Brazen Head again and Neary's and the beautiful Stag's Head, hidden down an alleyway. John Mulligan's, off the beaten track, but a really terrific old place. The Palace Bar which truthfully I could have taken a pass on and Dawson's Lounge, a tiny hole in the wall where I had a pint along with around fifteen kilted smelly Scots, in Dublin for the Six Nations.

This time after Neary's a little later on I hit the Brazen Head and then after a little more walking I nipped into the Ha'Penny Bridge Inn to have one for the road.

The Ha'penny Inn is not a famous pub but its probably my favourite Dublin spot. It overlooks the Liffey and the famous bridge that it is named after and it is bright and cheery and the man behind the bar is a friendly fellow, quick with a greeting and slow to pour a pint, just as it should be. I have been there every time I have visited Dublin and I have always enjoyed it but never as much as the first time when Jenn and I dropped in while we traipsed about the city on a Saturday afternoon.

We lucked out on that trip and actually I have been lucky every trip I have made to Ireland when it comes to the weather, the cold and snow notwithstanding on this visit. I've spent twenty days in Ireland all told and maybe three or four of those have seen any rain.

So on this afternoon it was sunny and so we had been wandering about, having a fine day, when we ducked into the pub for a lifter, as my Dad's family would say. The place was roaring pretty good but we still managed to find a little table by the door and as I enjoyed my Guinness and she her red wine, I took notice of the two fellows sitting beside us.

They were a couple of rummies, those harmless hardcore drinkers that you will find in any pub that I prefer, and above the din (for there was some sort of team and their girlfriends in there, muddy and redfaced (the men, not their girls), celebrating some sort of victory) I could hear the two in conversation.

Now they were not in conversation with each other though, no they were in conversation with themselves or with someone, I am not sure who.

The one fellow was rambling on and on, telling a tale that had no end, half of it incoherent mumbling, in other words I think I have seen my future and it looks a little broken down, if not happy.

The second fellow was counting, like so:

Wan, two, tree, four, five, seven, aw Jaysus Christ!

Wan, two, tree, four, seven, aw fer fuckssakesJaysus!

Wan, two, tree, four, five, terdytree ... Christ!

Wan, two, tree, eleventyseen, wan towzan and tree ....

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In honour of my old friends I have put together a top ten to do list for the Oilers for this summer. Tambellini has been making all of the right noises about rebuilding the franchise from bottom to top and it appears that he may be dragging it into the twenty first century kicking and screaming (the addition of a sports psychologist being one such move, you may not believe in it but I thought this was pretty standard stuff these days - not for the Oilers apparently, until now.) Some of my suggestions are going to be very general and very obvious but based on the last few summers I don't think we can take anything for granted.

Wan - No foolish contracts. The Oilers are slowly extricating them from a mess of bad contracts. No longterm deals for marginal players. No overpays for sexy names. They aren't out of the salary cap mess yet but they are getting there. Don't take any steps back.

Too - Start accumulating good hockey players. Well duh, right? Seriously though these guys have been shedding NHL players ever since 2006 and haven't been replacing them. Its time to reverse this. What am I looking for? Trades for guys or free agent signings who can play the game and who can help the Oilers win. If they can score goals or kill penalties or check or get the puck moving in the right direction or provide some goaltending. Whatever. There are holes all over the lineup. Start filling them. Look to Europe. Look at guys who have a good history who made have had some bad luck or been in a bad situation last season. Every August there are a group of solid players left on the outside looking in. Sign a couple of them. Bring Patrick Thoresen back for Christ sakes.

Tree - Don't play for the first overall next year as well. People think its easy to finish last. Its not. The Oilers had a lot of bad luck or they may have very well been 23rd or 21st rather than 30th. Granted they now have four NHL defencemen instead of six, as they did last fall, but trying to finish last is going to alienate players who you may want to keep around if and when these kids start arriving which leads me to

Four - Work on making Penner and Hemsky feel that this is where they want to be. It may not happen and I'm not saying bend over to give them whatever they want but fact is that both of these guys are quality NHL players and the Oilers have very few of these. Having two guys who seem to be able to make a difference who can play in your top six is one thing the Oilers have going for them. Waving goodbye to them is not very smart. As I said it may not work out but it better not be for lack of trying. If Hall and MPS end up on the LW and both can play then you have three very good LWs and you can move one of them. Best not to dump one who you know can play already.

Six - Get rid of the following: Souray, Moreau, O'Sullivan, Nilsson. Now, if fences can be mended with Souray then that's fine but I can't see that happening. So move him. The Oilers will get expensive damaged goods back, nobody is going to give them anything of value for a broken down guy making almost eleven million over the next two seasons. That's okay though. He does not want to be here so move him. Moreau also has to go. Trade him, send him to the minors, buy him out. Just get him away from this club. As for Nilsson and POS well neither is a kid anymore and there's no reason to believe that either will ever get over their, ahem, consistency issues, although I'd actually put money on Robert having a good year. Contract is up and all. Move them for guys who need a change in scenery themselves whose own deals are up. Its time.

Seven - Follow up on the nice run they've just had with signings and get MPS, Lander and whomever else (Rajala?) is out there under contract. Don't fool around. Just get it done. And by the way, mend fences with Nash. Just take care of it. The kid is not a bust and there's no reason to throw him away just because of some idea that he's not towing the line. Reopen communications and make it clear to him that you want him. This club is too shitty to throw away a guy who may be a player.

Nine - Fill some obvious holes. This club needs a stay at home defenceman or two who can clear the front of the net and kill penalties. It needs guys who can win draws and who can check and who are hard on the puck. This kind of goes hand in hand with number one, really, but either through trades or free agency the Oilers need to find a couple of guys who do the little things that help a hockey team win some games.

Ten - This is probably the most important one of all. Put the kids in a position to succeed next fall. This organization has just fucked this up royally over the past number of years. From not having a farm club to bringing up kids before they are ready to having them play out of position or in situations where they just get destroyed, the player development side of this club has been a disgrace. So ... figure out where guys best fit, whether that be in Europe or junior or the AHL or the NHL. Wherever they are keep the lines of communication open with them and be clear as to what expectations are and what the organization is thinking. In situations that you control (minors/Oilers) make sure that the guys who need sheltered minutes are sheltered, that guys are playing in defined roles, that they are in situations where they succeed. If Eberle is ready for the NHL then give him a centre and a LW who can complement his game and either give him the butteriest of minutes or a couple of linemates who can shelter him and protect him. Don't play him with JF Jacques on LW and Zach Stortini as his centre and roll lines so that he gets eaten alive.

Put him in a position to succeed!

There you go. Its not even ten in total. Easy peasy.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

East


All I can say is 'wow' when it comes to the two series in the Prince of Wales. Just great stuff, very entertaining. I think the winner of this conference is going to get crushed in the final but in terms of storylines and sheer entertainment, if not good hockey, these guys have the western clubs beat right now.

The Habs' victory over the Pens was surprising but not as surprising as their upset of the Capitals. Once again the Habs were outplayed for the most part and once again Halak was excellent but unlike the Capitals I never felt as if the Pens were that much better, which sounds a little crazy I know. The Pens had a spotty season. The loss of Gill and Scuderi cost them and Malkin never looked like the Malkin from last season and Staal was hurt and the wingers who did the job last year did not do so well this spring. Really though it came down to goaltending. When the series was tied at two I remarked that in a best of three you had to like the Habs' chances because Halak v. Fleury was not much of a contest and game seven certainly proved that point. You don't need great goaltending to win the Cup anymore, it seems, another result of the parity brought about by the salary Cap, but you do need at least good goaltending. Fleury did not even provide that in the deciding game and so the Pens went home.

As for the Bruins and the Flyers well I picked the Bruins (just as I picked the Pens) and so overall these playoffs my record is seven and five. In the west I am five and one, in the east, well not so good. although three games into this one I looked golden.

And then a few things happened or at least the culmination of a few things. Prior to the series the Flyers looked doomed by injuries - Gagne, Carter and Lapierre were all out - while the Bruins were missing Seidenberg only. Even Savard had returned to the lineup.

But in game one Sturm went down and then a couple of games later Krejci was knocked out as well and so the Bruins, like their first round opponents the Sabres, were suddenly down two of their top forwards.

And like the Sabres their offence disappeared.

And Gagne, who really is a hell of a player, returned.

Now the game four overtime started with a Bruins' surge that almost did it for them but the Flyers pushed back and Gagne scored the winner. After that it was just the old cliche, one game at a time and the Flyers just won them, one by one.

I watched the seventh game and if the Bruins had scored that fourth goal they would have been through I think but they did not and by my eye they looked like a very tired team as the Flyers began their push back. Chara looked gassed and so did a lot of his teammates as the Flyers' suddenly superior depth did them in.

A tough loss to take for Boston but at least they get to console themselves with the fact that they had a decent year and will get one of the top two juniors in the draft. Not too bad.

As for the Habs and the Flyers well I've picked against both clubs so far. I never thought either would get this close to the Cup although I did have an inkling about Philly beating Jersey.

I think Philadelphia takes this, probably in seven. Montreal has the edge in net but I think Philly is a matchup problem for them. The Flyers are big and strong and aggressive and I think that the Habs might get pushed around a bit. The biggest issue for the Habs is that Flyer D. They haven't faced a club with a top four of that quality and I think that and the Flyers depth up front will be the difference.

Friday, May 14, 2010

West




A few thoughts on what has passed and what is to come from the Campbells.

San Jose was both good and lucky to beat the Wings, which is fine, you have to have some luck after all. Except for Detroit's only win any game could have gone either way but if I were the Wings I would rue three events which cost them the series imo.

There was the seventy nine seconds in game one where San Jose scored three goals. If that seventy nine seconds doesn't happen or if San Jose scores one goal instead of three then Detroit's chances of coming out on top in that game are far higher.

The Couture goal to tie game three. An absolutely atrocious goal to allow by Jimmy Howard. Maybe the Wings don't hang on anyways if he saves that but we'll never know. Wings win that game and they're down by one instead of three.

The overtime winner in the same game. An absolute clusterfuck by the Wings. Not sure when Thornton and Marleau jumped on but either the Wings were not aware that they had come on (mistake) or they ignored this fact completely. Thus Ericsson dropped the puck to Williams and then charged the net. Not an awful play if a) someone covers for him and/or Williams hits the net.

Neither happened and so the puck ringed around to Thornton and he and Marleau were away on a two on one that ended up with the puck in the net and the series basically over.

A lot was made of the monkey being lifted off of the Sharks' back. By my eye Thornton had an excellent series. He was aggressive and the Wings didn't seem to have an answer for him. I didn't find that Heatley played any differently and as for Marleau I have been one who has felt that he has played well in playoffs past anyhow. Thornton was the guy who really stood out though. Before the series I opined that he would get outplayed by either Datsyuk or Zetterberg and he was not.

As for Chicago and the Canucks the fact that Kesler was playing hurt certainly damaged the Canucks' chances as did the absence of Mitchell but then again Chicago is missing Jonsson and Hossa most certainly if playing hurt as well imo.

The Hawks were simply the better team. They certainly looked far better than they did against Nashville and if the idea is to get better over the course of the tournament then they are on track. Moving Byfuglien up thanks to Campbell's return and increasing effectiveness really made a difference as did improved play from Versteeg and Bolland and Patrick Sharp has shown why he may be one of the last guys that they might want to move when they cull for the cap this summer. He's a terrific player.

And of course Chicago's depth is what did it for them against Vancouver and may do it for them against San Jose as well. Its a shame that they are going to have to lose some of these guys and of course that is the nature of the cap but no other club can run out such quality forwards. The fact that Brouwer was a scratch for most of the last series speaks to that. With him in the lineup the top nine is Toews/Kane/Byfuglien/Brouwer/Sharp/Hossa/Ladd/Bolland/Versteeg.

Vancouver could not match that and most likely San Jose will not be able to either. Throw in a fourth line that will included three of Kopecky, Burish, Madden and Eager and I think that Chicago's depth up front will carry the day. Niemi has been good enough (and at times great) and as mentioned before Campbell's return has solidified the back end.

I think its going to be a great series and I think Chicago takes it in six. Too deep, too fast, too good.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Dreams




When I was younger I used to have very vivid dreams. I guess maybe I still do but I can't remember them most of the time, they certainly don't stick with me. I think I'm just too tired to recall them.

Surprisingly there were a lot of sex dreams. I know, hard to believe! I had a lot where I would be driving too fast and lose control and get thrown from the vehicle, at which point I'd wake up. Quite a few where I actually didn't have my degree yet and was back in school and fucking shit up, which was pretty close to my actual academic career. And a lot of epic action dreams, which I don't have anymore, where I would be a commando or resistance fighter of some sort, think Nick Rivers in Top Secret (!). These were sweeping violent bloody monstrosities where I would finally end up getting cornered and shot. Funny thing is I would survive getting machine gunned at which point my dream self would realize it was a dream and that I could not get killed and then I would stride across the battlefield killing all of my enemies without any fear of getting hurt. And then I'd wake up because I was bored.

One type of dream that I still have that I have had all of my life is the hockey dream. Usually in these I am late for the big game or I am getting ready for the big game and I have forgotten a key piece of equipment or I am playing in the big game and suddenly I lose a skate blade or two. The very odd time (I had one of these a few weeks ago) I am the hero of a big game, the Olympic gold medal game or the Stanley Cup playoff game. I am still me, small and slow and old, but I am unstoppable. We're talking Bill Mosienko unstoppable.

Those are my favourites. Those and the sex ones.

So the other night I had a dream where its draft day and the Oilers pick number one and they pick Taylor Hall. Its totally Taylor Hall, not someone else who is called Taylor Hall (you know what I mean, you have a dream and there is a person that you know but physically its somebody else), although his grotesque features are even more oversized. The lips, the bulging eyes, the gigantic noggin. Plus he has enormous eyebrows. This is not the interesting part of the dream. The interesting part is that my best friend, whom I have known since I was five, is the Oilers' director of scouting. He looks like he did twenty years ago (he's been grey since he was thirty, just like his old man and he's a bit heavier) but its totally him.

In the dream I have no idea that this is his job so I call him after they interview him on TSN and he tells me will go out for a steak the next night and give me an explanation of what the Oilers were thinking, an exclusive as it were. Of course I'm extremely excited.

One last odd addendum. The dream ends the next morning when I wake up and begin to surf the web to get reaction. In every draft story going, not just about the Oilers, he's in the background shouting at the camera, photobombing every pic taken at the draft.

Try and analyze that.

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

We're a long way from the draft but its already making me mental. Already there are geniuses who are arguing that Seguin or Hall will not only be the wrong pick but that they will never play in the NHL.

Right ...

Seguin did not have a great series against Windsor which establishes him as a choking dog at eighteen. I can barely even believe that he will bother showing up at the draft now myself. What a loser. In related news, based on the same logic, the Penguins will be dumping Crosby as soon as the playoffs are over. He does not even have one goal against Montreal. What a twat.

Maybe the Oilers can pick up that loser for JDD and Nilsson or something. What do you think?

Listen, I have never seen Seguin play and I've barely seen Hall play so I have no idea who the better player is. They're both terrific juniors and my guess is that they both will be excellent professionals. I like Seguin just because I think a franchise centre has a bigger impact than a franchise winger but that is just my personal preference. I think if the Oilers pick either one it will be a great get for the franchise.

The thing is this and I just commented over at LTs about this so forgive me for repeating myself. The idea is not to pick the guy who is the better player right now, I would say that this is Hall, the idea is to pick the guy who will be the better player five, ten, fifteen years down the road. Whether this is Hall or Seguin I have no idea but this is the question. The fact that Hall is tearing up the OHL even in the playoffs is impressive but I'd be a lot more impressed if he were blowing by Reghyr without getting his head ripped off, know what I mean?

Now obviously this is all a bunch of mumbo jumbo and voodoo because its almost impossible to project what an eighteen year old will look like as a player in three years, never mind ten. You can go through nearly every draft and find your guys who were picked higher or lower than they should have been. I'd call it an inexact science except its not a science at all.

Its a tough gig. If not then Todd Simon, Bobby Russell, Max Middendorf, Jamie Matthews and Rod Schutt would all be household names. A few of them would be in the Hall of Fame if their professional careers reflected their prowess in junior. But some of these star junior players are too small, some are too slow, some are too dumb. Some drank too much. Some didn't put in the necessary effort. Some got hurt. Some just got unlucky.

This isn't to say that the scouts aren't responsible for their work or that its all blind luck. Its not. If you go off the board and pick someone in the first round who isn't anywhere on the radar then you had better hit a home run and its very likely that you will not. If you have a top pick then its pretty well made for you to a point. Its not like there's huge discrepancies between the guys who are touted to be the top of the list each summer.

And there is no accounting for bad luck or injuries.

But its no science or Zetterberg and Datsyuk and a whole lot of other guys would not have fallen as far as they did. Hell, Hemsky would have been a top five pick and so would Myers from Buffalo. And if Eberle shows well then people will be talking about how the Oilers stole him where they did.

Except for all that Eberle has done (and he definitely has tracked well so far) he still hasn't played a game in the bigs and we may not know if he is a hit or a miss until five years down the road.

So please spare me the surefire pronouncements on the can't miss qualities that Hall or Seguin possess. They will likely both be stars. Lets certainly hope so for if that's the case then the Oilers will be in good shape.

Friday, May 07, 2010

The Biggest Loser, Misnomers and One Last Time




The Biggest Loser

We watch that show The Biggest Loser. I think I mentioned that before. Its really the only reality show I can stand. I watched the first Survivor but I think it was more of a Colleen Haskell thing than anything else. Other than that I'm not a big reality TV guy. But The Biggest Loser I dig.

The drama gets a little silly at times but at least its not a bunch of bartenders and wannabe actresses with fake boobs trying to emote, some of these folks have pretty serious issues. You don't tip the scales in the three fifty range before you hit twenty five unless something is goofy. This season has one fellow who has almost lost two hundred pounds and is still over 325. Fucking bananas. And as you can imagine a lot of these guys and gals, well they are a little lonely. This season has a lot of relative youngsters and at the beginning of the show many of them lamented that they had never had a girlfriend or boyfriend, including one young fellow from Oklahoma (pictured up top, he's the guy not in a Sharks' uniform) named Daris. Poor fellow is blubbering, 'ah've never had a girlfriend' and my wife blurts 'well you ass, you might get rid of the clown hair for starters, you're already fat, with the lid you look stupid as well'

The head on the guy.

And of course its a few months later and now he's barely two hundred pounds and he got a haircut and buddy looks pretty good. And on a recent episode they kept showing him from the beginning of the show, poor bastard, tipping the scales at 360, weighed in front of a whole whack of family and friends, tearing up and he says:

'Ah will do mah best to make you proud of me and ah will become proud of mahself as well'
Something like that anyhow.

This is now my mantra at work and at home. Say it with me, in a southern accent. I do, all of the time. My coworkers are giving me a wide berth, the kids think its hilarious and my wife, as always, wonders what the hell she's gotten herself into.

So if the Sharks beat the Wings then is Joe Thornton no longer the NHL's Biggest Loser? Nope. Fair or not this guy has the reputation now. Either this club has to go all the way or they have to bow out despite a terrific performance from him or he's going to be wearing the goat horns for sure. You're allowed to struggle one year or another and every powerhouse team gets upset now and then but the Sharks have the rep now. Beating the Wings will go a long way to fixing that but it might even take more than that. Remember that the Sens fell late in Game Seven of a conference final to the Devils a number of years back. Even going that deep in the playoffs they were known as chokers right until the year they went to the Final.

I would say that Thornton will be fine though. You know who used to have a shit rep in the playoffs? Chris Pronger.

The West is the best ... The West is the best ... Get here and we'll do the rest

Thing is if the Sharks get to the Final they're winning it all.

Its not just that the west is stronger than the east. It is of course head to head, there's no doubt. And in the Finals lately the Ducks won and then the Wings won and they would have won again last year if not for the fact that Lidstrom and Datsyuk and Hossa were all hurt in the Final. And while the West is again stronger this year its not just that the top seeds out east have fallen its the fact that the remaining clubs are being decimated by injuries. Gagne is back for the Flyers but they are still missing Carter and even if they win tonight they're pretty well done. The Bruins have Seidenberg and Sturm and Krejci all out now and Savard can't be 100%. Meanwhile the Habs have lost Markov and the Kostitsyn brothers are fat on top of that and the Pens are down Guerin and Staal is on the limp. And they're not even the team they were last year.

Attrition.

Out west I'm sure guys are playing through bumps and bruises but other than Heatley I can't think of a guy who has gone down for any team and he's already back. The Canucks could use Mitchell and Jonsson certainly would help the Hawks though. But its nothing like out east.

But Its The Champions' League, isn't it?

Frequent visitors here know that I follow Spurs in the English Premier League. They're a tough club to follow. Over the past number of years they have always been on the cusp. A number of years ago they just missed finishing in the top four in the league which would have gotten them into qualifying for the Champions' League. They had some serious quality and then mismanagement frittered it away so that a club that was always in the UEFA tournament (second tier European club tournament) and that won the Carling Cup in 2008 was basically scattered to the winds. Eighteen months ago the club was at the bottom of the league, looking at relegation. Its fans were disheartened and angry, its future bleak. Mismanagement.

They brought in a manager called Harry Redknapp, a well travelled fellow, and under him the club slowly but surely got better. There have still been hiccoughs, most notably a recent loss in the FA semis to a bankrupt (literally) Portsmouth side but as this season wore on the club hung around near the top of the table, just short of the biggest fish, but always in position. They had some injuries that should have fucked them but they did not allow that to happen. (Imagine that!) And coming down the stretch they faced a brutal schedule including the big three. They fell to Man U but they beat Chelsea and they beat Arsenal, rolled over both of them actually, and so on Wednesday they went to Manchester and took on City, who trailed them for fourth by a point. A tie and Spurs would have their destiny in their hands, needing only a win in their last game to clinch the coveted spot. Instead they went one better, beating City and thus clinching their berth in Europe's biggest club tourney with one game to play.

And after a year of watching shitty Oilers' hockey, I sat back and smiled. Even if they're not really 'Champions' per se at least they've had a successful year.

Hockey Hockey Hockey

Two of the series have been blowouts but the hockey has still been excellent. With a few breaks the Wings would have swept the Sharks out of the playoffs already and Philly certainly could be in a better position as well. So it goes though. If Jason Williams hits the net or the dummies are aware that Thornton and Marleau are on the ice then maybe they play it a bit smarter. Play that dumb and you deserve what you get I'm afraid.


What exactly was John Ferguson thinking, the dummy. You have two very good kid goaltending prospects. Its years before either may make it. They could get hurt. They could turn out to be shit. You're in a position of strength. And then you fuck yourself for Andrew Raycroft? The Kessel deal is defensible. You don't think you're going to be in the lottery and you're getting a kid who can score goals and a lot of them. But for Andrew Raycroft? I hope Rask ends up in the Hall of Fame. Not to stick it to poor Leafs fans but to the dummies who run that club. What a bunch of stupid fuckers. Ferguson will never be a GM again.

Smart move by Boston though. They've made a lot of those lately. They've made some mistakes, every GM does, but they have some serious quality kids to go with some nice veterans. I'd like to see them go to the Final although I'm afraid they'd get outclassed pretty seriously if they do. No reason they can't beat the Pens or the Habs though.

That awesome Habs' strategy continues to pay off. (Where's the bookie key?) Now they're not getting as dominated as badly as they were by the Caps and it seems by my eye that they are getting more good chances as well but once again they are getting a lot of luck here. And Halak is playing terrific. Best of three now and if it comes down to goaltending, well, I think I bet on the Habs. Fleury has been all kinds of meh except in game three, imo.

As for Chicago/Vancouver well this is a hell of a series so far, the best one, but we find out tonight if the third period of game three was the Hawks waking up or just an aberration. I've watched a lot of Chicago (I admit I'm pulling for them which means they are totally going to lose) and they have not looked good this spring. Out of sorts a bit, a little tight maybe. The guy who was supposed to be a problem, Niemi, has been fine. Its everyone else.

If they can play like they did the other night in the third they're going all the way. Thing is will it be that club or what we saw in the first or more likely, something in between? A win tonight pretty well seals the Canucks' fate. If they can't win one of their two at home then they're fucked.

My Poor Old Guy

The past few weeks have been tough around the McLean home. Our old dog is dying, its a pretty good bet its cancer. He's a stoic old man and he still has a wag of his tail for us. A couple of weeks back it became clear that the end of his days is coming and that sadly he won't make thirteen, which is but three months away. We figured a couple of times that this was it but he is confounding us, bouncing back to live another day.

Zona, you were right. I said I was ready for this. I am not. Its killing me.

We're spoiling him because that's what he deserves, the wonderful old fellow. Its treats all of the time and spaghetti for supper and I came down one morning to find that my daughter had brought down her pillow and a blanket for him.

Two weekends ago we took him to a little ravine in our neighbourhood. I'd like to get him there one more time but I think that was his last time there. On this sunny spring morning I drove him over because he cannot walk that far anymore and we met Jenn and the kids there. He grinned his dog grin as he walked along the upper rim of this little green bowl in the middle of Toronto. He walked by the spot where he first sunk his teeth into a raccoon and when we got to the steps that lead to the bottom of the bowl I picked up my old friend, still pretty big but not as solid now that the cancer is wasting him away. I carried him down the steps and set him down and he walked with the kids as the sun danced through the trees and the tiny brook cut by the path and the tears streamed down my face. He sniffed and he drank from the brook and whereas before he led the way impatiently now he stayed close to the kids, especially the little one. We went to the end of the ravine and then our youngest climbed the steps to investigate. My wife went with her and so my other two kids and I turned to start back, calling for old Ben to come along.

He would not though. Instead he stood and he waited, waited until my wife and our baby came back to join us, and then he turned, satisfied that we were altogether and safe, and began to make his way back. Our old boy suffered the indignity of being carried back up the steps and then walked back to the car where I lifted him in for the ride home.

Not long now for our poor old guy now I'm afraid.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Habs


Its funny how the playoffs go. There are always upsets. Some are not that surprising at all. Others are huge.

Montreal's upset of the Washington Capitals was one for the ages. Nobody saw this coming. My pool is fucked and I'm certainly not the only one. I'm in an under fifty pool (all players under fifty points are eligible, its not a draft) and I went heavy Caps figuring them to be heavy favourites to come out of the East, definites to make the Conference final.

No dice and I'm done.

Halak was terrific and he was lucky and regardless of how much of his success was luck he deserves credit for not cracking under the Caps' onslaught. His teammates hung in there and they cashed on the few chances they had and in the end that was it. The Caps threw everything they had at the Habs and while they deserved to win, in the end they did not. An absolute failure of a power play and mental gaffes like the two that led to Moore's goal in G7 did them in. A lot of folks called Green the goat on that one but his partner on the backend stopped skating and Moore went right by him to get that loose puck. Absolutely terrible.

The Habs aren't the Habs I grew up with. Back in the day they were the team, there was no other. On HNIC they were the club of choice for Saturday nights in Northern Ontario. We'd get the Leafs here and there (I saw the Sittler ten point game for example) but for the most part it was the dynasty from Montreal.

God I hated them as a kid. They never lost and that is almost a literal statement. And their fans? The absolute worst. If I had a nickel for every time I heard 'How many Cups?' as the end of an argument I'd be a wealthy man. Insufferable fuckers and that includes some of my best friends.

But when they moved Roy out the door then the Habs began their descent until they became just another franchise. No Cups in sixteen years. They have a glorious history but now they're just another club. A bit sad I think and I was actually happy to see them beat the Caps, something I never ever would have thought possible many years ago.

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

Montreal v. Pittsburgh

Even with Markov in the lineup the Habs didn't have a shot in this one. With him out its going to go five games rather than six, which is what I would have thought originally. The Pens are the only club remaining of the three Eastern teams who I figured had a shot (Caps and Sabres) and just as they had a nice draw in the first round they have another one now. They're not the club they were last year but they're still deep enough that Montreal won't be able to handle them I think. And Crosby and his teammates are a little bit of a different challenge than Ovechkin and the Caps. A bit bigger, a bit more physical, a bit more of a team that creates chances off of the cycle. Montreal is smaller and I think that while guys like Gomez, Gionta, Plekanec and Cammalleri are definitely quality I don't think Montreal's got enough up front or on the backend (Bergeron!?) to hang in there with the Pens. As I said five games and then they're a pumpkin again.

Boston v. Philly

Boston got a break against Les Sabres when Vanek went down. Without two of their top six forwards in he and Hecht, Buffalo struggled to score and with Rask playing extremely well that was it for them. All credit to the Bruins though. Buffalo got a lot of leads and Boston just kept coming back. And now they are on to the next round and Savard has returned and suddenly things look good for a club that was probably not as bad as their record indicated.

I had a hunch about the Flyers but still went with the Devils. Philly had little problem with New Jersey but I think this is it for them for one reason - injuries. Gagne and Carter and Lapierre are all out and that's too much to overcome. Boston won't be intimidated and in Rask they have one of the best young goalies in the league. Philadelphia will hang in there but it will be the Bruins in six, maybe five. They just have a lot of depth up front and the Flyers can't match it. Too bad the Flyers aren't healthy, if they were it would probably be a terrific series. Oh well.