Wednesday, October 18, 2017

My Top 5: Tragically Hip Songs

I was saddened by the loss of Tom Petty a couple of weeks ago. I loved a lot of his music, had owned a couple of his albums, and watched many of his videos, and loved listening to and singing (and playing) many of his songs.  

This morning I awoke to the news of Gord Downie's passing. I wasn't shocked, because we had heard of his brain cancer diagnosis months ago. In a way, we've already grieved for Gord when we wept at the band's final live performance in Kingston, Ontario. While remaining hopeful, many of us had prepared for the inevitable.  

Still, it hurts. Knowing he's gone hurts. I guess we can take comfort in the fact that he's no longer in pain. I'm a man of faith so I believe that he's in a better place now. I think my sadness is not so much for him, but selfishly for me because I know now that there will be no more Tragically Hip music. And that is heartbreaking. 

I first became acquainted with the Tragically Hip when I began working in Hockey. There is probably not a Hockey locker room anywhere that hasn't echoed with the sound of the Hip. They were the unofficial house band for Canada, and for all Canadian Hockey players. But you didn't have to be Canadian to appreciate their music. I'm not Canadian, but I can relate to the Tragically Hip. Their music is not just about Canada, but about the common man...and that's something most of us can relate to.  

But above that, the music is beautiful. It's wonderful music played by great musicians. It carries a good and powerful message, but it's still entertaining and pleasing to the ear. That's not easy to do, but Gord and the Hip did it better than most. 
We will miss Gord not only for his music, but for the amazing person that he was. But I've been listening to his music all morning, and trying to figure out my Top 5 list of Tragically Hip songs. It's very difficult, but I'll give it a shot. This is for you, Gord. Rest in Peace. 

  1. 1. Grace, Too: 

  1. 2. Ahead by a Century:  

  1. 3. Wheat Kings: 

  1. 4. Fifty Mission Cap: 

  2. 5. Blow at High Dough: 

So, there is my Top 5 List. What is yours? 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The End of an Era

My head is reeling, struggling to process this wholly unexpected turn of events. I never thought I would read the headlines I've been reading over the last 24 hours. Even during the times that I most feared that Shane Doan's time in the Valley of the Sun would come to an end, I never imagined that it would happen like this. I never thought it could happen like this. 

On Monday morning, Coyotes owner Andrew Barroway announced that the team would not be renewing the contract of longtime Captain Shane Doan, who is the last player remaining from the relocation of the Winnipeg Jets to the Valley in 1996. The move signaled the end of the Shane Doan era...and the beginning of the Andrew Barroway era.  

Andrew Barroway bought a 51% stake in the then Phoenix Coyotes in December of 2014. He remained largely a silent partner, leaving operational control of the team to minority owner and CEO Anthony LeBlanc. Barroway managed a hedge fund in Philadelphia, so he seemed content to leave the day-to-day operations up to LeBlanc.  

Having evidently become dissatisfied with the direction of the team, he struck a deal last week to buy out the other partners and become the sole owner of the team. With the buyout, LeBlanc and President of Hockey Operations Gary Drummond (half of the Coyotes' management team along with General Manager John Chayka and Head Coach and Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations Dave Tippett) stepped down from their posts.  

In the absence of a CEO for the Coyotes, pending a search for LeBlanc's replacement, Barroway took it upon himself to announce the team's decision to part ways with Doan. I think this is why the move struck such a sour note with much of the team's fan base. The way it was announced, without any kind of press conference or any apparent involvement of Chayka or Tippett, made it seem like this decision was Barroway's alone. If it was a hockey decision, why not involve Chayka and TippettTo have such a decision made by a non-hockey person who isn't local and couldn't possibly understand the impact that Doan had on this team and this community seemed short-sighted and disrespectful. 

Additionally, many Coyotes fans feel that at the very least there should have been a front office position offered at the time he was let go, which it appears was not the case. There are reports that such a position was offered, but apparently not until after the backlash had begun. For many it reeked of cynical damage control.

Most of us feel that Doan should have been allowed to decide for himself whether he would return or retire, especially since team management had indicated that that would be the case. As recently as last month Chayka seemed to indicate that the team was awaiting Doan's decision as to whether or not he would decide to return for another season. The implication was that there was a spot for him on the team, should he decide to accept it.  

Many Coyotes fans believe that Doan has earned that much. For twenty years he has been the face of the franchise. He has demonstrated greater loyalty to the Coyotes than anybody else could have...perhaps more than they deserved. For twenty years, there has not been one bad word uttered about him. And in that time he has never uttered a single bad word about the team. Even when things were at their worst, he would simply smile and assure us that everything would be all right. He would appear on TV and radio, in hospitals and schools, anywhere he was asked to go. He could have jumped ship on numerous occasions, and nobody would have blamed him. But he chose to stay. He chose to ride out the storm along with the rest of us. And we love him for that. That makes this decision and the way it was handled that much harder to take. 

Fans had just had their hopes raised last week, when Doan's agent, Terry Bross, announced that Doan was "leaning towards playing" again this season. To then have the rug yanked out from under us seemed unfathomably cruel. As if we, as fans, hadn't been through enough emotional turmoil over the last twenty years, this seemed like a dagger to the heart.  

I'm not exactly sure what would have made this news palatable. But I'm quite sure that Barroway missed the mark. The way it all came about seems like a slap in the face.  

Shane Doan deserved better

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The EBUG Chronicles

Fans of the Arizona Coyotes who watched the team’s home game Monday night heard a lot of talk about the team’s Emergency Backup Goaltender for the game.  It was the big story on the broadcast, drawing mention during the pregame show and an interview during the first intermission.  For a guy who didn’t face a shot or take a shift, they spent a lot of time talking about Nathan Schoenfeld, a Scottsdale banker who got the call Monday evening when the Coyotes’ backup goalie injured his Achilles tendon before the game.  Schoenfeld got the call, packed up his gear and hit the road, arriving just in time to miss the warmup but still be ready for game time.  Had he not been the son of former Coyotes Head Coach Jim Schoenfeld (and the son-in-law of Equipment Manager Stan Wilson), he may not have been such a hot topic.  But nonetheless they had fun with it and it made a nice story.  The team was so appreciative of his quick response to their call for help that they awarded him the “Championship Belt” as the player of the game.  I’m pretty sure that was the first time that a backup goalie had ever been so honored.
I worked in professional hockey for over two decades.  I’ve seen a lot of EBUGs in my day.  For those of you not in the know, EBUG is the official acronym for Emergency Backup Goaltender.  Technically speaking, it includes any non-rostered goalie who is called upon to sit on the bench to satisfy league rules in a professional hockey game.
All professional leagues mandate that each team have a backup goalie dressed for each game in case the starting goalie gets injured.  This ruled is designed to avoid lengthy delays while a team scrambles to suit up a replacement goalie.  In the early days of the NHL, a team would have to dress a regular player to play goal in the event of an injury, meaning everybody would have to wait while that player got suited up in the goaltending accoutrements.  In one famous incident, the New York Rangers found themselves without a goalie when Lorne Chabot got injured during a game in the 1928 Final.  Lester Patrick, the team's 44-year-old Head Coach and General Manager, dressed and finished the game in goal, stopping 18 of 19 shots and becoming the oldest goalie to play in the Stanley Cup Final as he beat the Montreal Maroons in overtime.
These days, the NHL requires that each team not only has a backup goalie dressed for each game, but they have to have the name of an available local goalie to act as a fill-in goalie on an emergency basis.  There have been several occasions over the last few seasons where this rule has come into play and some lucky men’s league player has gotten the call to fill in.  In my years in hockey I’ve seen some very interesting EBUGs.
Probably the most interesting one I’ve seen was the time our EBUG was also our coach for the evening.  We were in Winston-Salem for a 2-game series against the Twin City Cyclones.  Game One devolved into a bench-clearing brawl that led to numerous suspensions on both sides.  Our Coach was suspended because it was one of our players who left the bench first.  Additionally, our backup goalie left an off-ice area to come onto the ice and join the fray, fighting the other team’s backup goalie.  This led to both our Head Coach and our backup goalie being suspended for the Saturday night game.  Luckily, our Assistant Coach had made the trip, and had some experience playing goal, and he was able to pull double-duty as both our Coach and EBUG.  He was quite a sight behind the bench in full goalie gear (minus the gloves and mask, of course).

Another interesting EBUG story came out of the United Hockey League.  One night the Fort Wayne Komets found themselves short a goalie and turned to their Equipment Manager, Joe Franke, to fill in for the evening.  He took his place on the bench in full backup goalie splendor, hoping nothing would happen to their starting goalie, Pokey Reddick.  Much to Franke’s dismay/horror, Reddick became dehydrated and had to leave the game.  Franke took the net for the final 11:03 of the third period, stopping 4 of 6 shots he faced and even assisting on a Komets goal.  The period ended in a 3-3 tie and the game went to a shootout.  Franke stopped 3 of 4 shots in the shootout and recorded the win for his team, and legendary status for all Equipment Managers.  He even made NHL 2Night!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Top 5 List: Yogisms

Lovable Baseball lifer Yogi Berra died this week.  He was not only a Baseball legend but also a world-famous pop-culture icon.  To today’s generation, he is better known for his contributions to the lexicon of America.  Every one of us, at one time or another, has dispensed one of his pearls of slightly skewed wisdom…whether we were aware of it or not.  The English language (or, more specifically, the American language) is much more colorful due to his malapropisms, better known as Yogisms.  His brilliant butchery of the spoken word had much method to its madness.  His linguistic “mistakes” struck a chord with their ring of truth.  He is probably the most oft-quoted (and mis-quoted) American since Thomas Jefferson.  There is a certain folksy wisdom in his words.  One could argue that through his "mistakes", he made our language much more perfectly imperfect, and therefore much more human.  So, in tribute to Yogi, I have decided to do a Top 5 list of my favorite Yogisms.  Here they are, in no particular order:

1.       “Nobody goes there anymore.  It’s too crowded.” => This has always been my favorite Yogi quote.  It sounds ridiculous, but when you think about it, he really has a point here. 

2.        “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” => The Zen of Yogi.  You know what he meant to say.  But somehow, the slightly off way he says it gives it a greater depth of meaning.

3.       “The future ain’t what it used to be.” => On the surface, this one seems nonsensical.  But in reality there is a lot of truth to it.  You just have to look at it from a slightly different perspective.

4.       “Baseball is 90% physical.  The other half is mental.” => This one is often misquoted, but in any form it epitomizes the Yogism.  It doesn’t make sense at face value, but it rings 110% true.

5.       “I really didn’t say everything I said” => This one could (should) have been the title of his autobiography, but was instead used as the subtitle for a book of Yogisms.

I could have made this a Top 10 list and I still would have agonized over the ones I left off.  In any case, Yogi, we will miss you.  And I’ll leave you with one more Yogism…call it an honorable mention.
“You should always go to other people’s funerals.  Otherwise they won’t go to yours.”
You needn’t have worried, Yogi.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Round 2

So, here we are…2 rounds deep into the NHL playoffs.  Only one of my final four picks from my original bracket is left standing.  Thank you, New York Rangers.  Unfortunately, I picked the Canadiens to beat them on their way to a Stanley Cup win over the St. Louis Blues (who lost in the first round).  So now I am officially out of the running for the NHL Bracket Challenge.  I did pick the Rangers to make it this far, though, so I’m counting that as my one small victory.  I even predicted prior to the second round that they would beat the Capitals in seven games.  

They went about it the hard way; digging themselves a 3-1 hole in the series before winning the last three games to take the series.  Something about the Rangers in Game 7, especially at home, is hard to bet against.

Alex Ovechkin did his best to make things interesting.  After Game 6, Ovi boldly declared that the Caps would win Game 7 and take the series.  I’m not sure if he’s up on his Stanley Cup playoff history, but maybe a refresher is in order.

First of all, it’s never considered good form to predict victory in upcoming games.  It’s kind of a hockey bugaboo, the prevailing wisdom being that the only thing to be gained by it is firing up your opponent and giving him extra motivation to prove you wrong.  With a few notable exceptions, most hockey players and coaches don’t want to give their opponents “bulletin board material”.  It’s not wise to say anything that will be reprinted in the paper and end up posted on the other team’s bulletin board as motivation to beat you.  It’s best to let sleeping dogs lie.  This is why we always hear the same boring clich├ęs in post-game interviews.  “They’ve got a great team over there, but…”  “We have a lot of respect for them, but…”  Basically, you never want to say out loud that you think your team is better than their team, even if you do.

Secondly, the mother of all guarantees in hockey is and always will be Mark Messier’s declaration before Game 6 of the 1994 Prince of Wales Conference Final between the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils.  With the Rangers down 3-2 in the series and facing elimination in Game 6 in New Jersey, Messier declared “We’ll win tonight” and his words were plastered all over every newspaper in the Tri-State area.  It’s unclear whether Mess intended his words to be broadcast to the world, but there they were.  But, as we all know, the Captain delivered on his promise.  He didn’t just guarantee the win, he ensured it with a hat trick (the third goal an empty-netter, but it still counts) to lead the Blueshirts to a 4-2 victory to force a deciding game.  That seventh game, while pretty memorable in and of itself, pales in comparison to Messier’s Game 6 heroics.  The moral of the story is, if you’re going to guarantee victory you damn well better deliver.

Messier wasn’t the first New York athlete to make predictions.  “Broadway” Joe Namath famously guaranteed a victory over the Baltimore Colts (which sounds weird to me now) in Super Bowl III.  He then went out and played the game of his life and brought home the hardware.  You could argue that Babe Ruth started this trend with his “called shot” home run against the Cubs in the 1932 World Series, but there is much dispute over that legend.

I would be willing to bet that these are not the only examples of an athlete publicly predicting victory.  In many cases, the prediction is a futile attempt to fire up his own teammates and will them to victory (as I believe was the case with Ovi).  We don’t remember any of those because they faded into obscurity with the multitudes of others who failed to deliver.  I believe in just a few years, nobody will remember this prediction.  Some have probably already deleted it from their memory (as I’m sure Ovi would like to do).

In all fairness to Ovi, he did his part.  He played with abandon, hitting everything in sight, and scored the lone goal for the Caps.  It’s not a hat trick, but he did give a hearty effort.  But for a bounce or two, the story might have had a different ending.

In any case, the Rangers will now move on to face the Tampa Bay Lightning, who manhandled the Montreal Canadiens in Game Six to win their series 4-2.  Montreal’s effort to overcome a 3-0 games deficit fell short.  As I predicted, the series was decided by goaltending.  Unlike my prediction, it was decided by the goaltending of Ben Bishop and not the finalist for the Vezina and Hart trophies, Carey Price.  Price played well, to be sure, but he was human where a super-human effort would have been required to win.  Bishop played so well he deserves a promotion to Cardinal, maybe even Pope.

Tampa Bay was able to take advantage of their speed to overcome Montreal’s defense.  They didn’t get a ton of shots on Price, but they got a number of quality shots and second shots and screened shots, the kinds of shots that are difficult (if not damn near impossible) for any human goalie to stop.  Even in the 6-2 rout in Game Two, Price made the saves he could have reasonably been expected to make.  Four of the shots that eluded him were screened shots that he never saw, one was on a back-door one-timer and the other was a clean breakaway.  Maybe on another night he could have stopped two or three of them, but even Carey Price couldn’t stop them all.

Both Bishop and Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist seem to be at the top of their game right now.  I’m going to predict that once again goaltending will make the difference in this series.  Which hot goalie can remain hot?  Experience has to favor Lundqvist and the Rangers.  They’ve been here before, having made it to the Stanley Cup Final just last year.  They know what a grind the conference final will be and how to handle it.  The Lightning has less experience, but they do have a handful who have been there, including Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman (who went to the Final last year with the Rangers).  It may all come down to Hank’s experience and whether or not Bishop can stay hot.  He’s been the driving force for the Lightning this spring.  If he falters, so will they.

Over in the Western Conference (Oh, how I miss the Clarence Campbell Conference) I am going to pick the Blackhawks over the Ducks.  I’ll admit that I had completely underestimated the Ducks coming into the playoffs.  They swept a pretty good Jets team and steamrolled Calgary in five games.  If nothing else, they should be the most well-rested team remaining in the playoffs.  I’m just not sure they have enough experience to overcome the Hawks, who know what it takes to go all the way and have the weapons to do so.   All the usual suspects have shown up for the party, and now that the goaltending situation seems to have stabilized the Hawks are on a roll.  Patrick Kane, a big question mark coming into the playoffs, has proven that he is healthy and is playing some very good hockey right now.  Their talent, depth, and experience are going to be tough to beat.

So, my predictions for the third round are Hawks over Ducks (sorry, Coach Bombay) and Rangers over Lightning.  We’ll see how these picks turn out.

I went 3-for-4 with my second-round picks, but I should point out that I made those picks after both Anaheim and Chicago had posted blowout wins in their series-openers.  I may have picked differently had I made those picks before the second round got underway.

In any case, the second round was packed with a lot of really good hockey and the third round sets up for even better hockey.  It should be a lot of fun to watch.