Monday, May 31, 2010
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
Poop and Puke
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.
Those early days.
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.
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.
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.
The Time He Fucked Me
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Sunday, May 16, 2010
Friday, May 14, 2010
Sunday, May 09, 2010
Friday, May 07, 2010
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'
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.
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.
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.