Friday, February 20, 2009

Skimming the Cream

Imagine owning hockey`s biggest money maker, a team that turns a profit regardless of recession, depression, or 42 year championship drought. Sorry boys, that 1993 Norris division title doesn`t cut it, said the barber to the mullet.

Imagine using the milk from that cash cow to get into the passion that really unites Toronto`s multicultural mosaic – soccer. Rant and rave all you want about hockey being the top sporting dog in this fair burg, but the parties that shut down streets happen during the World Cup not the World Hockey Championship.

Imagine skimming the cream from the top of that always full milking pail and using it to keep an AHL farm team three kilometres from the NHL franchise. No airfare, no cabs needed. A player who gets called up can wheel his hockey bag down the road in lieu of his morning skate.

Imagine slathering the financial butter all over the nice, toasty hardcourt, that popped up where the ice used to be. Might as well get some use out of the building while the Leafs are on the road.

MLSE can be accused of many things but letting the milk go sour is not one of them.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Mogilny's Hall of Fame Day Can Wait

First member of the illustrious Red Army hockey team to defect and live to not yet tell the tale. First European to captain an NHL team. First Russian named to an NHL All Star team. First Toronto Maple Leaf to usurp Mats Sundin as season scoring leader since the Swede joined the Blue & White. First Olympic, World, World Junior gold medalist and Stanley Cup winner to play in the AHL. First European to score 76 goals in an NHL season – fittingly enough in the league`s 76th year.

Five notable firsts notched onto the stick of Alexander Mogilny`s career but one might elude him – becoming the sixth Russian born player to get into the Hockey Hall of Fame - in his first-year of eligibility. Steve Yzerman is considered a no brainer pick for the Hall in 2009. Other strong first-year candidates are Brett Hull, Brian Leetch, and Luc Robitaille.

Some recent players still waiting to add induction rings and plaques to their trophy cases are Doug Gilmour, Adam Oates, and Eric Lindros, along with Pavel Bure. That creates an interesting situation. Bure, Mogilny, and Sergei Fedorov(still active) were regarded as one of the greatest Russian hockey troikas.

When asked which of the three was the greatest natural talent, Fedorov had no hesitation, `` He has the most agility, the quickest release and the best shot. He was a little bit older and was the leader of our line.`` Fedorov beat his former linemate to become the first Russian to reach 1000 NHL points on Feb. 15, 2004. One of his first comments after the game was ``I want to share this with Alex,`` adding Mogilny would have been first if not for injury problems during his career.

Even members of an often jaded media took note of Mogilny`s talents. ``On the ice, he was the best at the no-look pass,`` stated long-time Fischler Report correspondent and co-owner of popular fan site Rob Del Mundo. ``Looking with his turned head in one direction, while passing the puck off, often at a right angle to a different teammate in another direction. The strategy worked especially well on the powerplay, where he'd be in the corner - look towards the point, and instead pass it cross-ice where a teammate (Roberts, Mats, etc.) had a tap-in.``

Marty Henwood, currently writing for the magazine Fairways had the chance to watch Mogilny during his stint with the Canucks. While not the high point of the crafty Russian`s career, he still stood out playing with Pavel Bure. `` They never quite lived up to their potential playing together, but man could they move,`recalled Henwood.

Mogilny is not likely to shed any tears if he doesn`t get a call from the induction committee, this or any year. His career history and stats, compounded with his off ice mentoring of Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin will no doubt get Mogilny his pic on a plaque inside the fabled building at the corner of Yonge & Front.

Getting in on the first go is impressive, but patience is a virtue worth waiting for. Perhaps the most fitting time for induction would be three years after Fedorov retires. Having Bure, Fedorov, and Mogilny enter together would be the bow on the gift of three historic hockey careers.

Monday, February 9, 2009

It's My Blog and I'll Write What I Want To

You would too if this blog belonged to you. Thanks Lesley Gore.

I do my best to keep my proverbial stick on the ice and write about hockey, but today is different. My Spawn turns 10. I have no clue how the woman who can't keep plants or fish alive longer than a few months has managed to grow a kid into double digits, and years not months at that.

Don't worry I'm not about to go all mushy or describe the vivid details of Spawn's entry into the world. Heck, I couldn't even watch the birth videos in pre-natal classes.

It seems hockey permeates every facet of my life; bringing life into the world was no exception.

The weekend before Spawn arrived I was on bed rest - doctor's orders. He gave me dispensation to do whatever needed doing before going to the hospital - get the crib, baby clothes, one last pre-baby meal, and a visit to Maple Leaf Gardens.

The Carlton Street Cashbox was set to host the final Leafs' game February 13th, 1999. In honour of the occasion an open house and skate was held the weekend before. Nothing short of being in hospital could keep me away. There I was, sitting in the fabled gold seats at Maple Leaf Gardens, staring forlornly at the ice I could not skate on.

A part of me hoped to give birth there - I'll do anything in pursuit of a good story - but it was not to be. Spawn waited a few days to appear. He was in hospital for a few days and I recall running into the lounge between feedings to watch that final game at the Gardens. I even talked the nurses into letting me take him in there to watch the last minutes of the final game.

The hockey connection doesn't stop there. Spawn came home from hospital on Alexander Mogilny's birthday, just in time to watch the first game at the Air Canada Centre.

It was new beginnings all around.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Hockey Parents: True Life Tales

Hockey parent is a term with an undeservedly bad reputation. For every tale of some crazed moron who threw popcorn at a teen officiating a Timbits tilt - or more accurately a Timbits topple since the kids wobble most of the time - there are far more stories of parents who quietly thank officials post game.

Spending time at rinks, observing, and chronicling the sights and sounds is part of my job. It’s amazing the things people say and do when they don’t know you’re media. One man I struck up a rink side conversation with went on a tirade about Toronto journalists making everything up. He thought they literally spent garbage day going through the bins outside the homes of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

He then proceeded to – now this is a gem – state a case for female media in the dressing room being a distraction to players. “They can’t help keeping their eyes off them. Especially before a game. Women take their mind off the game.”

I resisted the urge to dig through my purse and flash a handful of media passes under his arrogant nose. The funniest part was seeing him take his daughter into the room after her game wrapped up. There are times when irony masquerades as a four-letter word.

For every misguided misogynist at the arena there are several more sensible folk. My son’s Minor Atom team this year has three girls on the roster. Neither the parents nor the players bat an eyelash, be it mascara drenched or au naturel.

Hockey mums and dads do their share of yelling and screaming, hooting and hollering but for the most part it is all in fun. They want to cheer on their friends and family, and believe me, a team becomes family.

One morning our coach brought his daughter, who is on the team, to the ungodly 6:30 Sunday morning practice. She wasn’t feeling well but insisted on coming so as not to let the team down. Before heading onto the ice it was obvious she couldn’t handle it, so the poor girl lay down on the bench.

Within seconds parents were arguing over who would take her home. Unfortunately no one would be there – mum was working and dad had two more practices to run. No problem – one of us took her home for the day, loading her up with chicken soup and the knowledge that team is more than 13 kids on the ice.

A parent on the team works shifts and has three kids playing hockey. There was one time she couldn’t get her son to practice. Someone immediately offered to pick him up, even though it meant waking up at 4:30AM and driving 30 minutes out of her way. A better solution was for the kids to have a sleepover. They did and the two kids had their best game of the season, thanks to hours of planning plays and having fun.

Every now and again horror stories about minor hockey coaches using violence make for juicy front page fodder. That, fortunately, is because it is the exception not the norm. Most coaches are like the one who runs the hockey camp my child attends. Coach offered to take him there and back, saving me two hours of driving per day. As if that wasn't enough, his family looked after my kid until I could pick him up from work, giving him free reign in the swimming pool and pool table. The kid talks about it months later.

Perhaps the best story is of two women who met sipping coffee watching their kids at hockey camp. Thanks to a mutual crush on one of the instructors, they immediately hit it off. Turns out, they both worked in male dominated professions and shared a similar sense of humour.

One of them managed to track down four tickets to a Leafs game for the other’s birthday. It would be an outing for the mums and sons. Despite protests, she refused to take a penny for it, saying "Pay it back when you're a famous writer." I don't think she realises famous print media don't make much more than students blogging. Thanks Sandy – see you at the ACC Feb. 25th.

Go ahead and tell all the hockey parent horror stories you want. The sweet apples still outnumber the mealy, worm-infested ones.