Posts from the ‘Sport’ Category

Day 9/100 Happy Days -K’I play, too?

Day 9-100

Day 9/100 Happy Days

Twice a day, I walk the dog. We usually take a leisurely loop around the wetlands behind the house. In the summer we enjoy the scenery, the cattails and the trees, and try very hard to avoid the goose and duck poo.

During these walks early in the summer, I looked at the water and thought to myself, “I betcha that would make a superb ice rink in the winter.”  And I looked forward to seeing rinks pops up when the weather got cold.

Imagine my disappointment in October when the county officials put up signs warning that the any ice would be unsupervised and potentially unsafe. “Danger, danger!”, the signs screamed at all within eye-shot. I could not believe that in Canada, in the heart of the West, there would be warnings to keep kids off natural ice.  It just seemed un-Canadian.

And once the snow started falling and the thermometer dipped well below freezing for several consecutive nights, I noticed that the Canadian spirit could not be quashed. Forget that our boys bowed out early in this year’s World Juniors, there was ice to be freed of its snowy coat.

The rinks started appearing as if some jaunty ice leprechaun was dropping pond rink seeds in some sort of wintery magic. Several nice rectangular patches of marsh ice, cleared of snow the old fashioned way – by shovel and broom – bloomed spontaneously. And no sooner than they appeared that they were decorated by beautiful  4 foot by 6 foot rectangles that signalled, “Game on!”.  Canada’s passion, like, early life, found a way to appear from nothing.

These natural rinks are things of beauty.

Forget backyard rinks, this is the way old time hockey was played…on ponds.  Sadly, I have not been out on the ice yet…a strange, grown man invading a shinny rink teeming with kids is just odd – especially if none of those kids are his!  Part of me just wants to go out there and ask, “Hey, k’I play…I got a net?…”

The ice beckons me, offering me to partake in a little bit of Canadiana. Until I can get out there, the little kid in me is itching for a go.   Just the thought of being out there reminds me of my youth and happy times.

Later,

ASF

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Day 4/100 Happy Days – Ibuprofen and Hot Tubs

Day 4-100 Happy Days

Day 4/100 Happy Days

As many of you know, I have been ridden hard and put away wet oh so many times. Lengthy athletic & military careers and officers’ messes have taken their Knievelesque toll on my frame.  Multiple knee surgeries, bilateral tibia-fibula fractures, repeated broken noses and fingers, dislocated shoulders, cellulitis, and finally, a triple bypass, have resulted in many doses of Cepacol (inside army joke – sorry) and more than a few ice baths.

Many a specialist has told time and time again that maybe it was time to pack it in. But I couldn’t; I did not know how. Ever since high school I have lived by the credo that there are only have two speeds, “all out, or broken”.

Funnily enough, as I watched my son play rugby, I have realized that those words are the repeated mantra of youth and invincibility. I can remember when a whisper of tough skin spray and another layer of athletic tape could get all my teammates, and me, through the last few rugby games of the season, skating another shift on the ice, or setting up a few spikes with swollen. misshapen and sprained fingers.

Moe than one medic told 20-something Pal that perhaps it would be better to sit out the rest of the season – otherwise I would regret it when I was 45.  “Forty-five?  Who gives a sh*t about 45? Hell, that is over 20 years away, I might not even make it!  Tape me up doc there are still games left in this season!”

Foolhardy? Sure – when looking back at it as a 51 year-old. But would I take those moments back? Maybe…maybe not.

Many of those moments defined me… scoring the only three points in a lopsided rugby loss to West Point (though we hurt Navy a few months later), playing goal in several CF Regional Soccer Tournaments, numerous Army League hockey and broom-ball seasons with the soldiers of the Regiment, several half marathons and a full marathon where I was my only competition..

And maybe I should have taken it easy, because I tell you, I do hurt sometimes. But seriously, would that have been me?

Doubtful. I love sports too much!

I will continue to live vicariously watching amateur and professional athlete.  And as I seriously consider giving up hockey and rugby and soccer – save one last Ex-Cadet Rugby Game in 2017 to celebrate my 30th year since graduation , I will likely move to others that will provide the same thrill, but take less of a toll on me…whenever I figure out what those are!

Until then, I will continue to carry on in the tradition that many of us know well- the satisfaction and moral high ground of a solid cardio and strength workout, followed by a round of ibuprofen, and a comforting hot tub – like today! Despite the aches and pains, that keeps me happy…

Later,

ASF

Seriously?…Is it back to “Packie Go Home!”

TSNs-Gurdeep-Ahluwalia-and-Nabil-Karim-Twitter

It has taken me a bit to think about the recent kafuffle over the Sportscentre show on TSN last Tuesday (19 February 2013) (thanks for the edit AP).  If you aren’t aware, the show was hosted by Gurdeep Ahluwalia and Nabil Karim. A couple of homeys from Toronto.

Now in the ethnic mosaic that is Toronto, running into people named Gurdeep or Sanjay, or Xul Li, or Dieter or Jorge or Ahmad or Olympia or Ndongo or any number of fantastic names found across the globe, is pretty high. It is the beauty of our country, the mosaic versus the melting pot.

Two Canadian of Indo-ancestry hosting our national sports desk…we have made the big time. I hope it will soon become a non-issue like two women hosting the show, or a Canadian of Chinese ancestry as the news anchor on the National…can’t wait for other “firsts” to become non-issues too! There were a lot of positive comments about the “breaking story”, but…

You would think that after over a century and a half of immigration, we would come to realise that our diversity makes us strong and makes us better.  Well, you’d hope.  And most of us do. But evidently not. Take a peek…

2013 Spray Paint 12013 Spray Paint 2

2013 Spray Paint 4

Reading those tweets, I had a throwback to my youth, growing up around Danforth and Greenwood Avenues in Toronto in the early 70s.  At that time the “Asian Wave” was hitting Toronto. (Mind you the first “Asian wave” hit British Columbia in the 19th century during the Canadian National railway construction – flow interrupted by the Continuous Journey Regulation of 1908 that effectively managed any immigration from China, Japan and India until officially struck from the books in 1947!)

When I was young, the tormentors were the more established Greek and Italian kids, whose families had arrived a decade or two earlier. Historically I guess they had their initiation back then too, probably at the hands of the Scots, the Irish and the English!

Looking back, the taunts and events were comical in some regards. I remember one of my many fights involving a remarkably dense duo of eleven year-olds (I was 10), spray-painting a wall in the alley way we called Craven Avenue. Their message, a deeply imaginative “Packie Go Home!”.  I, a stereotypical Indian kid – good at spelling and math – could not take the insult and stupidity in silence. Indignantly I thought, at least if you are going to insult us, get it right…it’s P-A-K-I as in Pakistan.  Not P-A-C-K-I-E for packing something!! (BTW wiktionary defines  “packie” as a package store in Massachusetts) .  I proceeded to correct their spelling in a rather

at least they spelled it right...

at least they spelled it right…

excited and agitated way, following with my own taunt of,  “What, are you ignorant or somethin’?”  I think the question was rhetorical, but I didn’t really know what that meant in Grade 4. Anyway, the beating ensued, and I wish I could say I won – but I didn’t. I was just a nerdy Indian kid who went home crying and bleeding.  No worries, it wasn’t something a samosa and a glass of chai while watching an episode of Batman couldn’t fix!

Why were they like that? I remember my Dad teaching us to show respect to everyone. Colour, shape, abilities or disabilities meant nothing – we are all human and deserve common respect. I also remember my Dad telling me to turn the other cheek – not a bad use of a Christian adage by a Sikh chappie. But I also remember my Dad, as a young father – younger than I am now – chasing some asshole teenagers who had insulted his family in the park with racial taunts. I can only imagine how unfair he felt it was. He was just a fellow looking to set up a better life, in a better place, for his family. What did colour have to do with it?  He was working hard, he contributed to society, he paid taxes, he liked hockey and maple syrup; he wore a toque and shovelled the snow from his driveway like all other Canadians. He drank Red Cap and Black Label. Why was he any less of a Canadian, with any less of a right to be there, simply because he had more melanin or came from another culture?

Why don’t they just fit in and adapt to our culture?

Holy shit are you kidding me?  How much more can Gurdeep and Nabil fit in than hosting Sportscentre and talking about jams and flushes and biscuits and all that other jargon the sports guys throw about.

Now I can be a joker at times and I like to crack what I think are the occasional witticisms.And yes,  I have from time to time made an off-colour joke that has gone deep into “non-politically correct” territory – always followed by an immediate apology. So I get it  – once in a while we get it wrong. And no matter how educated and enlightened we are, we always have baggage. Maybe we are intolerant of the ridiculously liberal, the hard right, the deeply religious, the creationist, the evolutionists, the gun lobby, the oil people, the granolas…or whatever cause or ideology that causes us angst.  And I am sure we have had a not so kind thought to ourselves – but I am sure that we had our say using our “inner voice” only.

But I can’t understand these guys – the 2013 equivalent of my Grade 4 spray-painting buddies. What were they you thinking?   Twitter?  Yeah, that won’t go viral. And once you have put yourself out there, I don’t care what you say or what you think – you are forever known as The Racist.  Apologise if you want – you ain’t getting that spray paint off the wall.

So, whether it was a joke or not, the words were tweeted; the sentiment was expressed for millions to see. Their close-mindedness about what makes a Canadian, and what being a Canadian is all about, was evidently clear. These will be the same kind of guys who complain that the immigrants are stealing their jobs, the janitorial ones or taxi ones or fast food – you know, the ones that they are just lining up to apply for (not) – or that the immigrants smell like ethnic food…I have heard it all  before.

“Why don’t they just go home?”…followed by “just kidding”.

I am hoping that we have moved on from 1970s Toronto. But you know what, in the end it doesn’t matter. Because, when all is said and done, the immigrants will suck it up and carry on. They have done it for a century or a half,  whether they were British or French or ex-Black Slaves or Ukrainians or Slavs or Scandinavians or Australians or Asians or Arabs or Africans or South Americans or Central Americans…and on and on and on.

And perhaps they will, like I did, enjoy a wry bit of irony later. My Dad told me he ran into one of my childhood tormentors a couple of years ago – life as a late night parking attendant was suiting him fine. Maybe he should have learned how to spell…

Later,

ASF

Bread and Circus XLVII – NFL Style

superbowl47

I am writing this while watching Super Bowl 47 (or EX-EL-VEE-AYE-AYE if you prefer), so my thought streams might be a little more convoluted than usual.  Add in the stupefying pre-game show, I am unable to concentrate well as I am caught up in the high tech, sternum-thumping music and sensory overload that psyches us up for the game to come. All I can say is, “Wow”… do the Americans ever go big!

Is it me or is the Super Bowl way more than a sports event; I feel like a 21st century Titus or Maximus preparing to watch full-blown Roman theatre.  Based on the hype and pageantry,  I keep expecting to see Joaquin Phoenix lower his thumbs as the vanquished gladiators prepare to retreat from the field of battle – a panem et circenses sort of thing. (Sorry, still justifying that Grade 11 Latin class). I guess that is why it is XLVII instead of 47!

Gladiator

I am convinced the Super Bowl is fantastical. It is no longer a game – it is a Major Event (note the caps). It is a  stunning (not like “holy cow” stunning… more like a “taser” stunning), mesmerizing festivity that keeps us hooked with the promising potential of a  “train-wreck”.

Really, who even cares who is playing? Maybe fans of the two teams (who are the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers, if you care).  As for me, I‘ll just root for whoever loses the coin toss – I love the underdog! (By the way,  in keeping with the sheer extravaganza, did you notice the coin toss also included a laudatory speech from the Referee…reminding us how America provides great opportunity for anyone who is willing to work hard… or has a spare $124,707, 285 to payroll a NFL team).

The game is one thing, but if you ask me, most could really care less about who is playing or who will win.  I betcha that most of us are hypnotised by the prospect of gorging on gluttonous volumes of food and gallons of alcohol.  According to msn.com, the stats are staggering – we will consume 51.7 million cases of beer, 6.2 million pounds of nachos (that is a mere 3 million kg for my Euro friends…), 2 million pounds of chips (crisps, old boy…) and who knows what else. After the binge, I am sure all of us will look like NFL linemen on Monday…

NFL HEAVYWEIGHTS

The Super Bowl is simply an excuse to party; a chance to enjoy our first post-Christmas celebration.  Think about it; it has been a proverbial 40 days and 40 nights of roaming the wilderness since our last festival of merry-making. And it is so friggin’ cold and cheerless, that we need something vaguely positive event to justify our want to drink ourselves into forgetting it is only February and Punxsutawney Phil or Wireton Willy has seen his shadow… SO why not drink like a bunch of honey-badgers?!

punxsutawney-phil-photo“But. but, but…” say the football purists among you.  This is really about celebrating American Football!

You sure about that?

I will admit that the Super Bowl is more modestly named than the major league baseball finals, humbly dubbed “The World Series” (in what atlas are the continental United States and Toronto featured as the World? – what about Japan or Korea and Cuba?).  No one pretends that the Vince Lomabrdi trophy is a World Trophy (though it probably has more right to do so than baseball’s).  Football takes the moral high ground and posts for the simple and plain adjective, “Super” (and funnily enough the trophy is not a bowl either, not like the CFL’s Grey Bowl).  I am surprised that the game is not called the Most Fantastic Marvellous Tremendous and Terrific Bowl of the United States of America. “Super”, in comparison seems quite sedate.

But how Super is it?

Well, a 60 minute game is tightly jammed into a closely choreographed 5 hour-long spectacle, showcasing all that emotion, glitz and “over-the-toppedness” that only the US of A can generate. It is a showcase…and why not? It is watched by 11o million people worldwide. I think that is roughly the same size as the seating capacity of New Orleans’ Mercedes-Benz Superdome (Mercedes-Benz? Is that even American?)

jhud_sandy_hook-600x450I admit that the spectacle started poignantly, with a Celebration of America…Jennifer Hudson and the Sandy Hook Childrens’ Choir. And though that was a touching moment. that made me think back to the horror and how resilient kids are/ With a nice version of America the Beautiful, I couldn’t help but think of the subliminal and manipulative message it heralded: children who have experienced horrific gun violence singing with an adult who has also suffered through gun violence. A tribute to America or an indictment of the Gun Culture? I am not sure that was all about the pigskin…

And then it moved to Alicia Keys…a great artist for sure. But her stylised US anthem, “a 45 rpm song delivered at 33 rpm”, must have frustrated everyone. Those waiting for the game and those ad execs who were robbed  of an extra ten 30-second commercial spots. And what about her ad-lib at the end? Why don’t our singers do that on Hockey Night in Canada? Oh wait, our singers  know they and the anthem are merely foreplay; get it over with, let’s get to the main event!

So now, 35 minutes after flipping on the TV – the TV guide did say “Super Bowl XLVII @ 1800” – and the game has just started…and now at 1838 hours, it has been an exciting three minutes of football – two plays!

And then on the 39th minute, CBS created the commercial. Lots of them.

Now Super Bowl commercials are legendary and there have been some very good ones over the years. But then again, they should be good at $3.8 million per 30 second spot (that equals $456 million/hour – or  I am guessing, about one minute’s interest on the US national debt).  But I am pretty sure that the Super Bowl advertising revenues subsidise all the CBS Executives’ annual Christmas bonuses. Why else would there be a commercial break every 12o seconds?!  How do you keep up our interest with such a choppy game flow? How do they possibly hope to stoke my competitive fire? Or is it a conspiracy to keep me drinking more Anheuser-Busch and scarfing down Chili Heat Doritos.

kia-slow-walk_s640x427

Anyway if you care, at the half Baltimore has bitch-slapped San Francisco. It has that disappointing feel of another Super Bowl blow out…

BeyonceSo now, I am sitting here having watched two hours of commercials and a bit of football waiting impatiently for the Halftime Extravaganza – Beyoncé…in all her Bootyliscious glory. Now if you have not been tracking Beyoncé – I have to ask why not? (Kidding.)  Seriously,unless you have been stuck under a rock for the last two weeks, you have to know that she is still reeling from that Inauguration scandal – LipSynchgate! The question asked ridiculously often the past week has been “Will she sing live, or will she pull a Brittany?” It was big news on the major news channels.  Guess that civil war in Syria was just too dull.

And because I was not going to make the under-over spread on the game now that Baltimore is kicking ass, I checked NFL.com for the stats to get a reasonable betting line on the Halftime Show.  I found that for Super Bowls played in February in the Southeastern US, where one of the teams is named for a Bird, or if one team’s uniform has gold as a supporting colour, the odds of a lip-synch performance by an act of two or more performers was 83%. Gambling on an NFL trifecta of “lip-synch, wardrobe malfunction and arrest of a starting linebacker for a concealed weapon”, the payout would have been 3800 to 1.  Mind you, those are the odds is in the pre-NFC/AFC unification era – today’s odds might have been less. Unfortunately I could not get that bet into Sports Line before the 6pm deadline.  For once I wished there was a British bookie shop nearby; that bet would have been a nice pairing with my betting stub on whether the Queen would wear Lime Green during the Royal Jubilee Flottilla or whether the new Royal Baby will have 11 toes…

Anyway, all I can say for the half time show, and the much vaunted togetherness of Destiny’s Child, is that after all the hullabaloo, Beyoncé should have lip-synched. It was no Janet Jackson…

And so we move to the last half. Looks like it is might be boring…oh wait, the lights have just gone out. Seriously? Well half of them anyway.  Jeez, why didn’t I put money on that? Wearing my tin-foil hat, I am thinking that SanFran may have paid off some the Mercedes-Benz staff  to turn the lights out – maybe they are hoping for the game to be called off on account of “dark”.  Or maybe it was just good old Mercedes-Benz engineering and a German-manufactured switching transformer blew; don’t worry they can get the parts at the nearest dealer…on Monday!

And so the minutes tick by…and during the glorious 31 minute delay…I witnessed the best of American Sports Journalism. (Okay, I sat and watched it…Loser)  Interviews with the sideline crew, replays of the first half low-lights, detailed analysis on Beyoncé’s “dress”, and explanations on why the Forty-Niners still haven’t showed up for the game. 31 minutes to figure out the lights…amazing that the most technologically savvy country in the world, the one that is the envy of the undeveloped world in terms of infrastructure and wealth, can’t figure out how to play football with only half the lights on.  Anyway, in the stadium there was still enough light for every kid in Africa to read a bedtime story; just not enough for a professional football player to catch a ball. Did these guys never play sports in the dark as kids? Maybe they should have asked all the fans to turn on their cell phones and turn them around – it worked for the half time show. Ummmm….sorry, was that my internal voice?

Super Bowl 47 Power Outage

….Sorry, I was transfixed for the second half. Who knew a power outage would kick start a 49er? Okay the game is over; it turned into a good game. 34-29 for Baltimore…and San Francisco made a game of it.  After 5 hours and 10 minutes of  TV coverage – or 60 minutes of game play –  EX-EL-VEE-EYE-EYE is over.  I hope that I am not the only one who watched it all!

But is it really over?  Wait, here comes the onslaught of post-game analysis. Baltimore will be applauded for their effort and SanFran will be consoled for their bad luck and misfortune;  Beyoncé will be heralded as a great entertainer, and everyone will comment on the ocean of tears shed for brave kids from Sandy Hook.

And for one more year, the Super Bowl will have served its purpose of rejuvenating the Stars and Stripes and reinvigorating America’s love for manufactured goods, food and alcohol.  And for a brief evening I forgot it was the middle of a cold, snowy winter…regardless of the score.  Perhaps like the Roman theatre, maybe that is what it is was all about in the first place. The Super Bowl,  just like the panem et circenses, cures everything.

Can’t wait for EX-EL-VEE-AYE-AYE-AYE!

Later,

ASF

No one will ever trust you again, Lance…

Lance Armstrong

in·teg·ri·ty  [in-teg-ri-tee] adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty. c.1450, “wholeness, perfect condition,” from O.Fr. integrité, from L. integritatem (nom. integritas) “soundness, wholeness,” from integer “whole” (see integer). Sense of “uncorrupted virtue” is from 1548.

“The big question this week is not whether Lance Armstrong cheated (we know he did) but why he has decided to admit it now…The short answer is money.” – OpEd piece by By David Michael Lamb, CBC Sports Posted: Jan 15, 2013 2:49 PM ET

Zero to Hero.  And sadly, Hero back to Zero. How quickly they fall, eh?

Lance Armstrong is a household name…and his baby, Livestrong, has been a focal point for good-hearted people to show how they feel about cancer. I will commend him for Livestrong, which I still believe is a good cause…it still seems a noble way to show solidarity with those who are fighting the Big C. Livestrong is still looking for new ways to raise awareness, increase outreach and facilitate collaboration in an effort to improve the cancer experience.  These trusting, kind people have given money and time and exposure to this cause, in good faith, with hope, with courage, and with honesty.

And in one fell swoop, Livestrong – and its founder –  are sullied.

I am sad the organisation now has to prove beyond a shadow of  doubt that it has not been a “Church of Oral Roberts” venture for Mr Armstrong…funding his private jet and contributing to his $125 million net worth.  No matter what happens, Livestrong’s reputation will  be forever linked to something dirty.

I am not going to listen to Mr Armstrong’s story as he discloses his justification and rationale for doping. (Okay, I will watch it on tape delay later…) I am sure he will have his excuses for super-oxygenating and drugging his blood, for having a doctor replace his blood with transfusions of un-doped blood. All this manipulation and dishonesty just so he could rise to the top of his game, with an undetected mega-advantage. Some say “if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.” I would counter with, “if you’re cheating, you’re cheating.”

Now I, like you,  know that people make mistakes. Sometimes  an act of cheating is just a bad decision, an error of judgement. Who hasn’t at some time, wished for a life “mulligan” and hoped for a re-do. We are human, after all and as Alexander Pope wrote, “…to err is human”.

But in this case, I am not sure I can respond with the “to forgive, divine”.  You forgive a transgression, or perhaps two. Can anyone forgive seven?  Seven years of “bad judgement”, and 16 years of denial. I mean as late as June of last year, he was still fighting like General Custer…

‘These are the very same charges and the same witnesses that the Justice Department chose not to pursue after a two-year investigation. These charges are baseless, motivated by spite and advanced through testimony bought and paid for by promises of anonymity and immunity.” – The UK Mail, 13 June 2012

I guess the best defence is a robust offence. Just look at his hatchet job against fellow cyclists and against the media. The latter have dished out millions in slander and libel suits. Just like how he cheated his way to convincing cycling victories, when Lance Armstrong lied, he lied convincingly!

And though he has limited impact on my life –  he makes me mad.  I feel jipped. I feel betrayed. I feel used. It all feels dirty. I suppose I can grudgingly accept such tactics in politics and in business (though I do not like it); however,. I do not like it in sports at all.

I do not think I am upset that he doped – in the wake of Baseball’s Steroid Age, the probable use of drugs in hockey and rugby, and given the rampant drug use on the Cycling Tour  – Mr Armstrong was just using “cutting edge” technology to get ahead. Perhaps he considered the treatments as a weird, though damaging and illegal version of the swimmer’s full body “shark suit”, or the metal hockey stick, or the space-alloy prostheses on Paralympians. You do what you can to  gain an advantage. And besides, they were all doing it. It is just happens that  Lance Armstrong – either by virtue of his drugs, or the skill of his doctor, or his athletic ability, or his bicycling know how – was just better at the cycling thing than equally doped up rivals. I get that. I can get over that too.

What I can’t get over is 16 years of lies; the outright bold-faced lies to his teammates, his fans, his supporters, the media, and the world.  I can’t get over the lives he damaged, and those reputations he shattered, in defending the tapestry of falsehoods that he wove.  I can’t get over the fact that we trusted him, we cheered for him because we wanted to believe in the incredible strength of the human spirit – personified for a long while in the cycling cancer-beater.  If Lance Armstrong could do it – overcoming cancer and climbing to the top of an élite sport – then anything was possible if you worked hard enough.

And I did not believe it when the first the cracks appeared in the wall. But through bravado and intimidation and money, Mr Armstrong patched the damage. We questioned, and became skeptical, but we still held onto the threads.

And then, poof!  With allegations unchallenged, and in the resounding echo of his silence, the international sporting bodies revoked his medals, stripped his title. The dream vanished along with his Yellow Jerseys, his Olympic medal and his endorsements.

But more importantly, he has lost his credibility and his integrity will always be stained. Who will ever believe anything he says now? Everything he does from now on will be questioned and “slightly dirty” in some way. He has a lifetime of infamy to look forward to now. I hope his 16 years of fame was worth it.

Later,

ASF

The No Hockey League. Give it up – the game is bigger than you…

The Glory Days...Probably gone forever...

The Glory Days…Probably gone forever…

Day 87 of millionaires squabbling with billionaires.  All the National Hockey League (NHL) games up to 30 December have been cancelled.  Other than shopkeepers and restaurateurs and the hundreds of other fringe businesses that have lost income for their livelihoods, who gives a hoot?

Not me.

Once upon a time I would have cared tremendously that the NHL was not playing. Not today. Save for the fact that a winter morning’s Sports Centre just isn’t the same when limited to only the latest Dog Show or Equestrian event highlights, I wouldn’t care at all.

I have fallen out of love with the NHL.

Why and When? Who knows?

ICheap Shot Torrest is not like it was a tragic “fall-of-the-cliff” event.  Nope, it has been a “death of a thousand cuts”.  It has been seasons of diluted talent, of absurdly high ticket prices, of mediocre hockey played by commercialised teams more worried about Third Jersey sales than hockey perfection. It was bringing in The Dump and Chase and The Trap, and how the size of the players has grown out of all proportion to the size of the ice surface and has suffocated the entertaining free flow game. Add to that the concussions and the cheap shots and the clutching and the grabbing, and this is not the game that I grew up watching. Add to that, this is the fourth lockout/strike in the last 20 years, and my patience is gone. And though I would be lying to say that I haven’t been entertained by the odd game over the past few years, the NHL does not mean the World to me like it did when I was younger.

1973...Leafs v Bruins...did it get any better for a 9 year old Canadian boy?

1973…Leafs v Bruins…did it get any better for a 9 year old Canadian boy?

My brother and I still reminisce about the “good old days” when we bled Maple Leaf blue and white and followed the League like a religion. It was a simpler time when the first two periods of the Wednesday night game on CHCH Tv11, and if we were lucky, the full Saturday HNIC game on CBC were the highlights of our week. It was a time when we sat in our pyjamas, glued to our 14-inch black and white television, fiddling with the rabbit ears, watching the double-ghost images of the players at Maple Leaf Gardens on a snowy screen, hoping (usually against hope) that the Hometown Heroes would win.

kendrydenI remember all the players…Sittler and McDonald, Turnbull and Salming, Ellis and Thompson. And I remembered their arch rivals like Cournoyer and Lafleur and Dryden and Park and Esposito and Cheevers and Vachon and Dionne and many others.

But if I recall correctly, none of these players, though heroes, were ever greater than the crest on their jerseys. “Franchise players” did not exist back then. Multi-million, multi-year contracts did not exist either.  Rosters changed and players moved – but the very sight of Les Habitants versus the Blue and White, the Red and White versus the Black and Gold, the Blackhawk versus the Ranger, the Broad Street Bully at the Igloo…that was the essence of hockey…it wasn’t Ovechkin versus Crosby, or Gretzky versus Lemieux…it was team versus team. Loyalty to the team was much more important than idolizing a player.

Like most of my generation, so much of my childhood revolved around by major hockey events.  I recall mike_palmateerDarryl Sittler’s 10 point night (7 Feb 1976) – against the Bruins. I remember watching Brad Park, and Bobby Orr, and

Sittler's 10 point night Box Score

Sittler’s 10 point night Box Score

feeling sad watching Jacques Plante’s final NHL game with the Bruins in ’73. (He played for the Oilers in the WHA after that!).  I remember Hockey Night in Canada with the baby blue blazers.  I remember being able to draw every NHL goalies’ mask and name who was who.  And I remember the disagreements during the street hockey games as we all called out who we were – Mahavolich or Ellis…Dryden or Palmateer (which I modified to “PalMann”teer). It was magic.

Goaliemasks

It is just not the same on the Xbox or Playstation with EA’s NHL2013 video game.

edwards california golden sealsAnd I remember collecting the Loblaws stickers for my NHL scrapbooks. I remember the myriad of teams that

Every year we tried to fill in all the stickers....

Every year we tried to fill in all the stickers….

changed cities and names like The Atlanta Flames, or the California Golden Seals (to the Cleveland Barons), or the Kansas City scouts (first the Colorado Rockies and then the New Jersey Devils)…

And I remember the 1978 Playoffs.

The Leafs had a good start that year, knocking off the Los Angeles Kings in two games…back in the day when the first series was  best of three. We were chuffed.  Until we learned that the next team was the New York Islanders, an “up and coming” dynasty – Billy Smith, Resch, Trottier, Potvin, Gillies, Bossy…dammit…the Leafs would never take it. We were crestfallen.

But we held on to the dream, and the series did not disappoint. Game One to the Islanders 4-1; Game Two to the Islanders again, this time 3-2 in a crushing OT period.  You could not imagine the tears on our pillows…the dream was slipping away. But the next two games were at the Gardens! Two wins on home ice and the Blue and White evened the series at 2-2. Back to back games at Nassau Coliseum and the Gardens evened the series at 3-a-piece, which took us to the seventh and deciding game in the Dragon’s den. It was a nail biter…tied 1-1 after 60 minutes of hockey. And then lo and behold, against all odds – in an away game – Lanny Mcdonald scored the winner to take it 2-1 (6’43” mark)

It wasn’t quite a Game 7 overtime goal during the Stanley Cup Final, but to a City that had not experienced hockey glory since 1967, it was a big deal.

Lanny Scores!!!

But as good as that was, no season has lived in my memory as much as the 1978-79 season – the Season we saw out first live NHL game. My little brother and I were 12 and 14.  And as I said, we lived for the NHL.  Pooling our paper-route money together, we managed to scrimp and save up $37 dollars –a 1979 treasure trove. And with our parents’ permission we headed to the Gardens immediately after the last regular season game to try to get playoff tickets. Jumping on the subway immediately after school – remember that this was an era when parents were not fazed to send their kids by themselves into the core of Toronto – we joined a disappointingly long line for Maple Leaf Tickets. Two and half hours later, we made it to the ticket booth, only to be told that all that was left was “nose-bleed” Grey section seats for the second playoff SERIES.

What? The Leafs had to make it to the SECOND round in order for us to see a game?  We were stunned. Yet, after much gnashing of teeth, for the princely sum of $35.50, we managed to get two Greys, side by side, in row QQ, for the second playoff home game of the second series …we had a whole $1.50 to spare and we had two promissory notes for a live playoff game.

So with our pseudo-tickets in hand, we watched the ’78-’79 playoffs begin.  First round – the Flames (of Atlanta, not Calgary!)

Oh! And the joy on 12 April 1979! The jumping, the yelling, the hugging in our living room when the Leafs knocked out the Flames in two games.

And so, it came to pass that Montreal and Toronto would meet in the Quarter Final Series – Montreal with home ice advantage.  The continuation of an age-old rivalry! Game 3 of the Quarters was a Leafs home game – and we were a lock to go and watch it because there was no way that Leafs would not make it to Game Three in a Best-of-Seven series! No one really expected Toronto to take the series from Les Habs…but who cared. Watching this rivalry was a dream come true. Watching a game live was unbelievable. And even after the Leafs went down 2-0 in the series, we knew that April 21, 1979 was going to be a day to remember.

Mtl_Tor_1960_1969

We went to the Gardens early, watching the pre-game warm up, hoping for a stick or a puck.  No luck. And as we made our way up and up and up and up to our seats, I remember the formality of the 1979 Saturday night NHL game. Men in suits, women all dressed up and Ushers stopping movement until  an appropriate break in the action before letting you up.  I remember walking out of the corridors and into the seating – my breath taken away by the sight of the blue maple leaf at centre ice, the crisp, pristine and shiny ice, the monolithic scoreboard suspended above centre ice like the Star Wars Death Star…and all around the ice the colourful ribbons of seats – gold, red, green, blue, grey.  It was so different than our black and white TV…it was unbelievable.

Maple Leaf Gardens...unfortunately the Death Star Scoreboard did not last forever...

Maple Leaf Gardens…unfortunately the Death Star Scoreboard did not last forever…

And the game…oh my… what a topsy-turvy affair. To quote Danny Gallivan, it was “dipsy-doodling” and full of “Savardian spineramas”. After falling behind, the Leafs finally forced it to OT. The first OT ended and it was time for a second OT.  The Gardens was abuzz, and though we were excited, remember we were only youngsters and as midnight loomed closer, we worried if perchance we should go home before we got in trouble!!  But we stayed and “Oooohed” and “Aaaaahed” at every shot and two-on-one and every hit. It was truly magical. But the dream ended when Cam Connor …who you ask?…fanned on his breakaway, fooling Palmateer, and as if in slow motion, we watched Palmateer’s arm sweep backwards frantically, missing the puck as it slid in to the net…Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuudge! (or some other Queen Mother of a swear word…) It ended, disappointingly for the Leafs Nation.

And so it ended.  The first game we ever saw live. What a game, what an era of hockey!

I moved from Toronto a couple of years later to go to University, and while always a Leafs fan (mock me now), I have  only had a few moments of delight since the late 70s…like the Gilmore years and the Second Swedish Era (Sundin).

But it is over now – just like my childhood with its naivety and innocence.

Severe Weather Edmonton 20110901

If I  watch hockey I watch it with heavy  disinterest – occasionally marvelling at a hockey highlight, but overall despising the League. Watching the Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning compete for Lord Stanley’s Cup in June is just not hockey the way I want to enjoy it – and definitely not the way I remember it.

I doubt that they will ever get my loyalty back – not unless “pigs fly” or “hell freezes over” and the Leafs have a good run. And if that happens, I could care less about who is on the team roster.

I say scrap the League. Fire all the millionaires and save millions by putting the Toronto Marlies or the Brampton Battalion or the Peterborough Petes or the Oshawa Generals or the Hershey Bears in the major league uniforms. It would rekindle the spirit and the joy – just like the Boxing Day fever when the World Juniors start. That is hockey with passion…not hockey for profit.

But that will not happen, and we will still see millionaires squabbling with billionaires. A travesty when you consider that some Canadians can’t even afford housing or food and that hockey players make more in a day than the normal Canadian makes in a month – that the average Canadian will be lucky to earn $1 million in their entire working life.

And the owners? Their earnings are “private”.  What cost me $17.75 in 1979 would set me back $300 in 2012.  WTF?  Who but the corporations and over-privileged can afford to go to a game.

And still…

The average annual salary for a Canadian teacher is about $55K; a policeman’s is $65K; an infantry Sergeant makes about $70K a year.  The average NHL salary in 1978 was $90K or about $250K in today’s dollars; the 2012 average salary is $1.6 MILLION!!  All that money for an 82+ game season.  Yet still, the owners and the players are fighting over a bigger piece of the pie.  The only losers are us..

All I have is one word:

Bullsh*t.

End the NHL now. Start a new league with a new, realistic pay structure and affordable tickets. A game based on passion and honour.

Bring back the game I loved as a kid…

Later,

ASF

The Canadian Army Run – way more than just a run….

This past weekend I participated in the Canadian Army Run.  Now, way back in February when I signed up for the run, I was full of good intentions to train hard and hopefully come close to meeting my personal best.  At least that it what I thought 7 months ago…that I could match a time that was achieved when I was eight years younger, 20lbs lighter and whole lot less arthritic.  (Roll eyes now…)

I started training and for three months I was doing really well. Speed work, hill work, endurance runs… I did everything that John Stanton recommended and I was feeling powerful.

But then life got in the way.

First the debilitating pinched nerve – the one I blogged about in May – then a house hunting trip from UK to Canada, and then a full-fledged move which included 30+ days in a hotel.  The latter was the killer: restaurants and beer and fried eggs and the occasional work out.  Any half-marathon discipline was wiped out by waves of stress-related hedonism! Time ticked away and I consoled myself that I had two months, then a month, then three weeks…blah blah blah.

And as 23 September loomed closer, the sinking feeling of “Man…this is gonna hurt. Hurt real bad!” started growing momentum. And while I wore the badge of “I am running the 21.3km Army Run”, I was a bit worried that I was going to embarrass myself and not finish. Instead of eagerness and impatience, there was a bit of unease and anxiety. And occasionally, I would think that the easy thing to do was to forgo the whole experience and take a “pass”. Everybody would understand that I was “not ready”.

But I couldn’t.  And with the exact same logic, neither could my wife. We said we would, so we had to.

So Sue and I sucked it up and headed off to Ottawa to do our bit.  To finish what we set out to do and to complete our respective 5k and 21k.

And during, and after, our respective runs, we both wondered what the heck we were worried about.  For among the 17,000 runners in both events, there was no thought of failure, no thoughts of poor performances, no winners and no losers.  It was a celebration: a celebration of an institution and its values.  Of taking on a challenge and sharing in everyone’s victory. Of cheering on everyone and applauding their commitment – whether they were Olympic calibre athletes or novices who wanted to show their support by taking on a huge challenge.

And mostly, it was humbling.  It was humbling to watch the disabled and the injured soldiers and fellow citizens take on the same challenge as us.  And honestly, nobody cared how fast they were. It was simply sobering to watch a triple amputee, injured in an IED attack, walking on two prosthetic legs holding a cane in his good hand. I can only describe it as awe-inspiring. It talks to the human condition – the drive and spirit that make us do things that we thought we could never do.  It put all of our challenges and worries into perspective.

And alongside this multitude of marvellous, amazing individuals, ordinary Canadians of all

His Excllency the Governor General particpates in the Canadian Army Run 5k

shapes and sizes, colours and creeds, ran, or jogged, or walked, defeating their own internal demons to make it across the finish line. And while their challenges may not have been as mountainous as the disabled and hurt, their victories are no less significant.

And after it all, the array of emotions that faces displayed were incredible.  Happiness, relief, tears, incredulity…the full gamut.  And why not?  It was a wonderful day full of personal bests and personal victories – of completing what you may not have thought was possible. And as I look at the pictures friends have posted, and the comments that they and all the people who care for them have made, I know that everyone feels the same.  It was so worth it!

And I feel a wisp of shame that I thought about avoiding it because I was not “ready”.  Because if I had not done it, I would not have been rejuvenated by the remarkable role models and spectrum of positive emotions throughout the course, and the valuable lessons it taught me.

No one cared if I ran slowly. No one mocked me for my slower finishing time. It was simply a celebration of what I, and We, achieved.  How we achieved the “objective”.  That we were a team focused on the same goal.  And that, in a nutshell, is how I would describe the Army and the Canadian Forces. How perfect is that?

So, if you have not attempted the Army run – 5k or 21k – join the thousands that have done it and will return for another year. It is a reawakening and a nice demonstration of what is right about sport and personal endeavour. Despite your fears and worries, you can do it just like others did.

See you on the course next year!

Go Army!

Later,

ASF