Sunday, January 25, 2009

All Star Game Catch Up Mode

Dear Mssrs. Ovechkin, Malkin, and Kovalchuk,

Please accept my apologies for missing the scintillating details regarding the Russian peacemaking ritual. I am happy for the future of Russian hockey that Mr. Kovalchuk was able to get Messrs. Malkin & Ovechkin in buddy-buddy mode in time for the 2010 Olympics. Until then, please refrain from throwing objects at agents in Russian night clubs.

I missed the opening ceremonies of the All Star game in Montreal and will now play catch up. Back in a few.

7:13PM - No one puts on a show quite like Club de Hockey Canadien. The trapeze lady was a nod to Las Vegas mainstay and Montreal founded Cirque du Soleil. Any other city it would bug me, but Montreal? C'est la vie mes amies.

7:31PM - Enough with interviewing coaches on the bench! Is nothing sacred anymore? The job of a coach is to coach during games, not provide sound bites. Hint: If I'm watching the All Star Game it is because I want to see the actual game and hear the play by play, not miss Sheldon Souray's goal to make it 6-3.

7:35PM - Sweet play on that Dan Boyle goal. Get away from that bench interviewer!

7:41PM - uh-oh Brian Burke said "ass" on live TV. Caught a glimpse of Sidney Crosby in the press box, which gave me an idea on how to get players more involved with this event. Instead of fans selecting players and stuffing the cyber ballot box, let the players and coaches make the decision.

7:44 - beauty of a goal by Rick Nash - saw him score a similar one during a fundraiser for Royal Victoria Hospital in Barrie last August

7:45 - Holy Hejduk! A goal was scored while no one was being interviewed or nattering over the play.

7:48 - another missed goal in favour of inane chatter - tied at 7

7:50PM - standing ovation for Dickie Moore - Montreal's hockey history and the honour the organisation gives former players is tops

7:53PM - the East takes an 8-7 lead courtesy of an Alexei Kovalev breakaway...which was missed because...wait for it...bench side interview

7:55PM - looks like the Russian peace making ritual is contagious - that was a passing clinic by Malkin and Kovalev

7:56PM - I'll never tire of hearing the puck ring off the post

7:57PM - another sign of Habs class with the brief tribute to Pat Burns

7:58 - uh-oh player interview - I smell a goal coming up

8:01 - told ya' so! but de Jarome Iginla - 8-8 tie

8:02 - nice saves by the goalies on both ends

8:06 - Ms. M has to make dinner

8:08 - dressing room inteview with shirtless Joe Thornton

8:08 - Ms. M's idea to generate fan interest in All-Star Game: Shirts vs. Skins - players rotate states of jersey-less-ness

8:25 - Doan cry for me Eastern Conference - Shane Doan buries the biscuit 9-8 West

8:26 - that goalie mike sounds like Luongo is scuba diving

8:28 - short-lived lead - more solid set-up work from Savard on that one by Dany Heatley

8:28 - yep, another missed goal - stupid interviews!

8:42 - the score is a bajillion to a bajillion one

8:42 - Luongo stacks the pads to rob the East

8:46 - BUT! from the stick of local lad Martin St. Louis - all tied at 10

8:52 - just as I was nodding off, Jay Bouwmeester bulged the twine - 11-11

8:53 - high scoring games are over-rated

9:00 - YAWN - overtime. Is there anything less meaningful than OT in an All-Star game?

9:01 - yes, calling the only penalty of the game in said OT

9:03 - good solo effort by Carter

9:04 - media aren't supposed to cheer but I confess to hoping someone, anyone, from either team would score to avoid a shootout. Team sports should be decided by team play not a practice drill.

9:05 - Ms. M is a little less cynical at the thought of Ovechkin, Malkin, and Lecavalier getting goofy in the shootout

9:08 - Luongo denies home grown Lecavalier

9:08 - Doan denied

9:09 - Kovalev continues writing the hometown script

9:10 - nada for Nash

9:10 - Ovechkin for the win

Ms. M is off for a bit to do non-hockey things like laundry and putting hew spawn to bed. Back later.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Hoopla Schmoopla - The Super Bowl

There’s something wrong in a sport where what happens between the play is more entertaining than the game itself.

It’s even worse during the playoffs. None of the above NFL divisional tilts piqued my interest enough to stay tuned longer than a few minutes at a time. Grown men, squeezed into spandex tights, preening and primping for the cameras while millions watch does nothing for me.

Can you imagine if women wore the same outfits? Stop drooling, guys. Some of those players should extend the girdle-esque ability of the slinky pants to their football jerseys.

A lot of those men are built like tanks, packed with power. That’s no reason not to tuck in the gut, buddy. They do make jerseys with stretch fabric, you know.

To casual observers the Super Bowl is pure hoopla, all style and no substance; it’s the trophy wife of professional sports titles. All glitz, all glamour, looks good on your arm but once the shine comes off the five-carat rock and her roots show…the search for a new one is already under way.

It’s hard to get into an event that was pretty much designed for television ratings and revenue. It costs more for a 30-second spot than many a player makes in an entire season. There are scalpers, lurking under the puka shells outside Raymond James Stadium, who rake in more from selling the 99% of tickets not available to NFL fans than many a player earns on the gridiron that day.

Truth be told, the only Superbowl XLIII appearance that has me pumped is Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Pint-sized guitarist Nils Lofgren is using the event to test out his new hip following surgery.

My apologies to the bookies in Vegas - the only picks I’m betting on belong to Springsteen, Lofgren, and Little Steven.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Reflections on an Inauguration

I’m not one of those saying I can’t believe this day would ever come – a black man sworn in as President of the United States of America. Truth be told, my dream was a female head of the United States. My reality however, is unbridled joy. Canada’s four mainstream politicians combined cannot offer a cupful of hope compared to the ocean of abundance envisioned by Barack Obama.

Mercifully I don’t recall feeling the lashes of racism inflicted on me, but witnessed an incident that marked me for life.

One of my childhood neighbours was black, the only black family I knew. This was when all most white suburbanites knew of the African-American experience was what we saw on Good Times, Sanford & Son, or The Jeffersons. The drama and struggle satirised, written, and produced by whites. To put it mildly, those shows were in serious need of some chitlins. Rootsthe epic novel/TV series by Alex Haley, not the clothing chain) came along and changed how I viewed things. Seeing Ralph Waite, kind and gentle patriarch of TV’s Waltons as a lash wielding slave trader opened my eyes – things were not as they seemed. Up till then, we’d joke around with the neighbours, uttering the N word meant nothing. To us kids, it was a word, just a word like millions of others. It carried neither malice not malais.

Later that summer my family drove to Florida – I hated every minute of being in that smoky car but it stands as the most important journey of my life. Aside from trips to Kensington Market, it was the first time I was surrounded by coloured people. There was one boy at the resort, he was the son of one of the workers. Being close in age, and my being a tomboy we often played together. One muggy swamp-land afternoon, some passerby hollered out “Leave that girl alone, nigger.” I swear to God I saw that boy’s soul evaporate through his eyes in a flood of tears. The word that had no meaning a few weeks earlier gave meaning to my life. In that instant, that moment of pain and shame for an innocent little boy showed me the power of language. That one word, one phrase could affect a human being to the extent it affected that child opened my eyes. From that incident stemmed my love for language. I had seen that there is no such thing as just a word, just an ordinary word. A bundle of vowels and consonants equalled far more than the sum of its parts. It instilled a passion that no matter how powerful my words, I vowed to never hurt anyone with them, that I would never come up with anything to create such pain in human lives.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

On the Heels of the World Junior Championship

Here is my current Prospects Report in case you missed it at

John Tavares – 2009 Draft Eligible

The top-ranked North American for the 2009 draft, John Tavares left the recent World Junior Championship with more than a gold medal. He walked away sporting more honours than any other player in the tournament - Best Forward, Most Valuable Player, goal scoring leader, and two-time Player of the Game. Only Vancouver Canucks’ prospect Cody Hodgson topped him in total points. Tavares also ended up with a new OHL team, being traded from the Oshawa Generals to the London Knights. The move didn’t slow down Tavares, who potted two goals and an assist in his first game as a Knight last Sunday. Tavares was the brightest star in the Generals’ offensive sky but he’ll be sharing the London limelight with Nazem Kadri and Philip McRae. If anything that should add another 10-15 points to his final OHL season total. An impressive playoff run could cement him as the top pick ahead of Victor Hedman once and for all.

Mikael Backlund – Calgary’s 2007 pick, #24 overall

Hot on the heels of an impressive showing at the World Junior Championship in Ottawa, Swedish native Mikael Backlund is staying put in North America. The Calgary Flames assigned him to the CHL’s Kelowna Rockets. There were rumours Backlund would not return to Vasteras of the Swedish Elite League because Calgary management were not pleased with his third line duties overseas. Backlund’s SEL stats don’t accurately reflect his offensive skills – 9 goals, 4 assists in 37 games. His performance at the World Juniors is more indicative of his skill set – tied for seventh in scoring, two-time Player of the Game, voted by coaches as one of Sweden’s top-3, and 57.81% on faceoffs. Backlund will likely center Colin Long and Jamie Benn, giving Kelowna one of the best lines in junior hockey. Kelowna is primed to make a run for the WHL championship and that experience only serves to boost Backlund’s already high fantasy value.

Nikita Filatov – Columbus’ 2008 pick, #6 overall

In his first game with Columbus after a solid showing at the World Juniors, Nikita Filatov scored his first NHL hat trick January 10. The wily winger led Russia with 8 goals and 11 points, was fourth in tournament points, two-time Player of the Game, and voted an all-star. Though tied with John Tavares in goals, Filatov placed second because Tavares did it in fewer games. In addition to raw talent, Filatov is a quick learner and has an intense desire to master the NHL game. He’s picked up a lot from his time with the Syracuse Crunch, where he’ll likely return despite the hat trick. Expect to see him back and forth between the two teams as they fight for playoff spots.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Merry Christmas from

Craciun fericit
Hristos se rodi
Kala Christouyenna!
Srozhdestvom Kristovym

Today is Christmas in the Orthodox faith, so if you're wondering why your Greek, Ukrainian, Serbian, or Romanian friends didn't show up for work, that's the reason. Chances are they're still cleaning up the mess made by 5 678 festive cousins who visited last night. For those who don't know, in many Slavic cultures, "cousin" does not solely mean "child of my parent's sibling." A more accurate translation is "I have no clue how we're actually related, if we are related, but someone's brother's cousin's grandmother in the ancestral village gave someone else's brother's cousin's grandmother a jug of Slivo one dry, hot day, back in 1789, when the oxen died and the wheels fell of the cart, so that makes us family." I'm not Orthodox but have always celebrated the holidays. In typical fashion, my Orthodox Christmas celebrations are decidedly un-orthodox. Instead of tossing a special log into the fireplace, I flip on the gas fireplace and slaughter a home-made chocolate Yule log. The Christmas Eve Monopoly marathons of my childhood are replaced by building crazy Lego creations at the kitchen table with my spawn at Orthodox Christmas. Some traditions, such as eating freshly made bread, poppy seeds and cabbage have remained. Come to think of it,no one ever wants to sit near me after I've eaten the cabbage rolls, sauerkraut soup, and coleslaw - wonder why?

Yesterday, I received the best Christmas gift ever. I've been asked to contribute an article for a prestigious publication. The scale is daunting, several interviews, 900-1200 words, quotes, but within a format. Once again, the hockey world has eased my fears. Every one has been co-operative and patient when I'm struggling for words or trying to keep track of who's on the phone.

It's funny because usually I'm the one handing out the gifts, passing around the rum balls and cookies. This year I didn't have money to go all out the way I love to do. Most people got hugs and cookies. 30 hours after this opportunity came into my life, I'm sitting at my desk, shaking my head, holding back tears, wondering what I ever gave the universe to deserve this incredible opportunity - my dream has become my reality.

Merry Christmas.

Friday, January 2, 2009

R.I.P. Don Sanderson

This was written a few weeks ago and there were no plans to publish it. The death of Don Sanderson changed that.

Those calling for an end to hockey violence before a player is killed have missed the boat by roughly a century. Verifiable deaths happened over one hundred years ago, and there might well have been some before that, lost in the dim light of hockey’s dawn. Historical records show Owen McCourt died way back in 1907. Edgar Dey won the 1909 Stanley Cup with the Ottawa Hockey Club but didn’t get to regale grandkids with tales of the grand feat; he died three years later. Cause of death? In both cases, complications from on-ice head injuries. The only NHL player to lose his life as a direct result of playing the game was Bill Masterton; he lives on in the NHL trophy bearing his name.

The latest ammunition in the arguments about hockey violence, specifically hits to the head, is a 21-year-old young man. Don Sanderson of the storied Whitby Dunlops lay in a Hamilton hospital, unaware of the debate his injury triggered. Sanderson was used to dangling a puck on a string. His parents watched fate dangle their comatose son’s life in front of tear-filled eyes, while sitting next to a hospital bed far from home.

Sanderson was doing what so many Canadians do with their precious few hours of winter leisure time – playing hockey. Most post-adolescent players sweat it out in various beer leagues. Sanderson plied his craft at a higher level in Major League Hockey, successor to the Ontario Hockey Association. Unlike the typical Friday night post-work shinny, the OHA has been host to many top players, including former NHLers Rick Vaive, Wayne Cowley(one NHL game still counts), Peter Zezel, Gilbert Dionne, and Todd Harvey. Winners of the championship get the chance to compete for the Allen Cup, Canada’s top honour for senior amateur male hockey.

Don Sanderson won’t get that chance this season. His stats show the defenceman was not a finesse player. During three seasons in the OJMHL – Junior A – he racked up 195 penalty minutes in 75 games, finding time to notch 2 goals and 7 assists. Even though he was not drafted into the OHL, Sanderson had no trouble getting on the Whitby Dunlops roster.

In a league that supposedly has zero tolerance for fighting, Sanderson and Corey Fulton, (the Brantford Blast player he fought with) had combined for seven fighting majors in their combined 18 games. The fact that each major came with a game misconduct was not a deterrent. No one can guarantee Sanderson would not be in a coma if his helmet stayed on. Save the bets for the Super Bowl. Helmets, like seat belts can be life savers.

One side in the battle over head hits makes the point that violence and fighting have always been a part of hockey. This is historically inaccurate. Organised hockey was originally a game of skill and endurance, having nothing to do with pugilistic punches. The game was so tame, women(referred to back then as the fairer sex) were encouraged to play in their own matches. This camp also makes the case that giving penalties for improperly secured helmets would be too onerous a task for NHL referees. If they can measure for illegal sticks and dole out sin bin minutes for flappy fight straps, shifty helmets should logically be another night at the rink for the zebras.

Those in favour of banning head shots and calling for penalties on improperly secured helmets are accused of changing the game, making it a “sissy” sport. Bad situations require good changes. From the time hockey players first lace ‘em up they’re told to keep both hands on the stick, keep said stick on the ice, and “keep your head up.” The cry to mandate keeping those heads covered, regardless of age, is getting louder and louder.

Don Sanderson did not live long enough to hear it.