Monday, December 20, 2010

Pope's picks and other Monday morning musings


You can put a bow on the NFL Most Valuable Player Award and give it to Michael Vick, whose performance in Philadelphia's improbable comeback win over New York yesterday was the stuff of legend. The Giants can start thinking about next season, because that's how long it's going to take them to recover. The hangover from blowing a 31-10 lead in the last seven-and-a-half minutes with first place in the division and a possible first round playoff bye at stake isn't going to go away anytime soon...Maybe the Canadiens can use their road trip to give Carey Price a much-needed Christmas break. Not that Price was to blame for last night's loss in Colorado or any of the four losses in the team's last five games, but 30 starts in 33 games is the kind of workload that can leave the tank empty come the spring. It might serve long-term purposes to give Alex Auld two or even three of the remaining six starts on the trip...No disrepect to National League MVP Joey Votto, but when Sidney Crosby scores the gold-medal winning goal on home soil in an Olympic year on top of everything else he accomplished, it's a stretch to give Canadian Athlete of the Year honors to anyone else...I still think Don Cherry is relevant as a hockey analyst, but he's really losing me with the other stuff, like this past Saturday's Coach's Corner lecture about the baby Jesus. Preach all you want about the evils of the instigator rule and the merits of no-touch icing, but Hockey Night in Canada is no more a place for religious dogma than the Pope is a go-to guy for inside tips on the Mise au Jeu.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Knuckles Cammalleri helps Habs pass gut check


Circumstances dictated that we would find out last night what the 2010-2011 Canadiens are made of, and it turns out they're constructed of pretty sturdy stuff. Call it what you will: a revelation, a statement game, a turning point - they're all apt descriptions of what transpired in a 4-3 win over Boston at the Bell Center. Mired in a season-worst three game losing streak and just ahead of two weeks and seven games on the road over the holidays, the Habs stepped up in a big way by beating their most hated rival in a game that solidified Montreal's standing atop the Northeast Division, and made the difference between third and eighth place in the Eastern Conference because of the seeding formula favoring division leaders. There was huge potential for emotional letdown coming off a hard-fought and demoralizing setback the previous night against Philadelphia, but the Canadiens went to war in more ways than one and drew no shortage of inspiration from Mike Cammalleri, who not only opened the scoring by turning Tim Thomas inside out on a penalty shot, but set a warrior's example in a spirited if inexpert fight with David Krejci in a completely unexpected battle of traditional non-belligerents. Pierre Bouchard versus Stan Jonathan or John Kordic against Jay Miller it was not, but the Cammalleri dust-up typified the the Canadiens resolve on a night when their character was put to as stiff a test as they've faced so far this season.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Vikings schmikings and other Monday morning musings


The collapse of the Minneapolis Metrodome roof in the middle of the night wasn't just fate's way of making sure no one got hurt. It was also the football gods telling the Vikings they should never have turned their back on tradition by playing indoors. The pre-dome Vikings were cold weather warriors who honored their Nordic namesakes by prevailing under harsh winter conditions against opponents who were sometimes so paralyzed by the weather that they had nothing left for football. It's an advantage that other Snow Belt teams haven't abandoned, which makes a December visit to Chicago, Green Bay or New York to face the Bears, Packers or Giants a much more daunting prospect than a room temperature road game against the Minnesota Shut-Ins...Canadiens rookie P.K. Subban wasn't the same player in back-to-back losses in Detroit and Toronto that he was before being benched for three games, and the change wasn't for the better. Stripped of his swagger and self-confidence, Subban went from being favorably compared to a young Chris Chelios to being just another mistake-prone rookie defenceman. He was tentative in the defensive zone, hesitant to rush the puck and didn't make any of his patented spin-o-ramas, even though a neutered dog usually turns around two or three times before he lies down and goes to sleep...Older generations of fans who caught the ceremonial opening faceoff Saturday probably noticed that 86 year old Leafs legend Johnny Bower hasn't aged a bit, mainly because he looked like he was 86 when he was still playing...Anybody else find it ironic that a thousand Nordiques fans held up English signs on Long Island inviting the Islanders or the Atlanta Thrashers to move to Quebec?...No truth to the rumour that Wayne Gretzky got turned away from Saturday's UFC after party at the Mise au Jeu because Dana White didn't recognize him.

Friday, December 10, 2010

You've gotta be shitting me

I try to steer clear of doing editorials on ridiculous salaries in sports because outrageous contracts have become so commonplace that it's akin to commenting on the sunrise, but an agreement was struck this week that cries out for commentary because of its extraordinary stupidity.
Not surprisingly, it's a baseball contract. The Chicago Cubs have signed first baseman Carlos Pena to a one year free agent deal worth 10 million dollars, which doesn't even put Pena in the top 25 as baseball salaries go, but here's where it gets surreal: Pena hit .196 last season. ONE-NINETY-SIX. That's below the Mendoza Line - baseball's folkloric threshold for incompetent hitting, named for banjo-hitting former major league shortstop Mario Mendoza, and symbolic of a batting average below .200. There was a time when you'd be lucky to still be in baseball if you hit a buck-96 over a full season. In the early 21st century, it'll get you 10 million dollars a year.
Yes, I know Pena hit 28 home runs this year - or about one homer every 17 at bats - but those are only fair-to-middling numbers for a power hitter, and he also struck out 158 times, or about once every three at bats. More power to him if he can parlay that kind of brutally disproportionate success-to-failure ratio into 10 million dollars, but that's a ridiculous amount of money to pay for a one-dimensional feast or famine hitter whose a lot more familiar with famine than he is with feast.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Winning makes P.K. benching a tempest in a teapot

It's difficult to argue with success, and the Canadiens' season-high three game winning streak has gone a long way towards stifling the debate over P.K. Subban, who coincidentally was a healthy scratch for all three games. It would be ludicrous to suggest the Canadiens are a better team without Subban in the lineup than they are with him. What they've demonstrated in the absence of both Subban and the injured Andrei Markov is that they have quality depth along the blue line and a strong collective commitment to responsible defence. It also doesn't hurt that they're playing in front of the best goalie in the NHL so far this season.
Coach Jacques Martin took a calculated gamble by extending Subban's press box exile beyond the anticipated one game, and after consecutive wins over three non-playoff teams, Martin is perfectly positioned to re-insert Subban into the lineup tomorrow night against the Western Conference-leading Detroit Red Wings. Even if Subban sits again, success has ensured that the decision won't be a controversial one.
Of course, if it were J.P. Simon being benched by Jack Martin, we'd never hear the end of it.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Last laugh to Lebron (and other Monday morning musings)


Say what you will about Lebron James, but the guy was at his superhuman best amid a lot of hostility last week, scoring a season-high 38 points for Miami in his first game in Cleveland since leaving the Cavaliers to sign as a free agent with the Heat. It's that much more impressive when you consider the logistics of a basketball court, where the fans are literally within a few feet of the players, with no plexiglass to muffle the taunts or deflect the projectiles...If the Canadiens can bench their best defenceman and win two in a row, imagine the potential for runaway success if they banished their highest-paid player to the press box. Seriously, I know P.K. Subban made a couple of costly mistakes against Edmonton last Wednesday, but at least he cares. How does Subban get pulled from the lineup for two games after giving it everything he's got, while Scott Gomez goes through the motions and keeps playing?...It tells you everything you need to know about what makes Montreal a hockey city and not a baseball town when a Canadiens oldtimers game draws what would have been considered a respectable crowd for the Expos...How good is Team Canada going to be at the 2014 Winter Olympics? Either Sidney Crosby or Steven Stamkos is going to get Taylor Hall as his left winger, and the consolation prize for whomever doesn't get Hall will be Rick Nash...Maybe it's desert heat that makes football figures in Arizona delirious. Cardinals quarterback Derek Anderson's "this isn't funny" tirade after last Monday night's loss to San Francisco was only marginally less loopy than then-coach Dennis Green's "the Bears are who we thought they were" outburst in 2006. The upside of going crazy in Arizona is that you can sleep outside at night without freezing to death.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Subban takes a seat

Jacques Martin took a calculated risk yesterday and the Canadiens made it work. Benching rookie of the year frontrunner and fan favorite P.K. Subban, whose subpar performance figured prominently in Wednesday's loss to the Oilers at the Bell Center, was as big a bombshell as Martin has dropped this season. It's not as if Subban was stinking the joint out on a regular basis. In the absence of the injured Andrei Markov, Subban is Montreal's most capable puck moving defenceman in a rearguard corps that's not otherwise fleet afoot, and making him a healthy scratch represented a big gamble, especially going into New Jersey, which traditionally has been a Canadiens burial ground. Happily for the Habs, it was 2-0 Montreal before Subban was comfortably nestled into his press box seat, and the Canadiens never looked back, turning a controversial personnel decision into a scoresheet footnote.
There could be elements at play that aren't readily apparent, including the dynamic in the dressing room. Players from other teams have complained publicly about Subban being too big for his britches, and some of his own veteran teammates might feel the same way. Subban never met a camera or a microphone he didn't like, and enthusiasm for the limelight isn't an endearing quality. As an exercise in serving up humble pie, benching your best defenceman might not be the best plan strategically, but it is the surest way of getting his and everyone else's attention.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

At the eye of a Saskatchewan shit storm

This past Monday on Bird's Eye View on CTV Montreal, I did a commentary on Rider Nation getting its comeuppance at the Grey Cup. Well, did the shit hit the grain hopper in Canada's breadbasket. Here's what I had to say:

As one of the seven deadly sins, pride is something conventional spiritual wisdom tells us is best avoided, lest it manifest itself as hubris. Apparently, Rider Nation forgot to consult with its spiritual advisors before the Grey Cup.
Rider Pride was the overwhelming theme in the week leading up to last night's game, and the casual observer might have had a difficult time identifying the other team involved, even though the other team was the defending champions. The Alouettes and their entourage were a Grey Cup week afterthought, overshadowed by Saskatchewan's travelling football circus, which the CFL and its media partners gladly exploited to the promotional maximum. Rider Nation milked the attention for everything it was worth, and then some.
It's the "then some" that sometimes makes Rider Pride objectionable. A year ago, their team lost the Grey Cup because they couldn't count to 12, yet Rider Nation descended on Edmonton awash in expectation that bordered on a sense of entitlement. In a situation that called for at least a shred of humility, they chose unrestrained swagger, and poked karma with a sharp stick. Karma responded accordingly.
Of course, it wasn't just karma that was Saskatchewan's undoing. The Alouettes facilitated the process with some terrific halftime adjustments on both sides of the ball. Either way, for the second straight year, ill-advised Rider Pride just gave way to another deadly sin: Rider Envy.


CTV's website was carpet bombed by Saskatchewan fans who'd caught wind of my commentary online. I was also thorougly trashed on a site called riderspride.com and on a morning radio talk show simulcast in Regina and Saskatoon. Interestingly, three callers in a 10 minute segment said my commentary was spot on, and those are people in Saskatchewan. The host didn't exactly enhance his credibility by mocking my voice after replaying my CTV segment. It was childish and unprofessional, but I'm the idiot, apparently.

Footnote: I have an audition today for a television commercial - I'll be playing a Saskatchewan farmer. That, my friends, is irony.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Calvillo, the Grey Cup and other Monday Morning Musings


Win or lose last night, Anthony Calvillo had already carved his niche as one of the greatest quarterbacks in CFL history, but an important part of his football legacy was still on the line. This was Calvillo's eighth trip to the Grey Cup, and he had only won two of the previous seven - one of which was gift-wrapped by the infamous too-many-men-penalty that was Saskatchewan's undoing against the Alouettes one year ago. The Grey Cup had provided little in the way of Calvillo's best moments, and another loss last night would have been unfortunate fodder for a legitimate debate over his credentials as a championship quarterback. Happily, on a night when he wasn't at his very best, Calvillo showed the mark of a true champion by overcoming adversity and finding a way to win...Saskatchewan lineman Marc Parenteau's football-as-a-beer-bottle act was the best end zone celebration I've seen this year, in any league...Nice job by Santa Claus and his buddies covering those old BTO songs at halftime....The only reason the Canadiens salvaged two out of four points over the weekend is that Buffalo was as bad at the Bell Center Saturday as the Canadiens were Friday in Atlanta. Backup goaltender Alex Auld deserved a lot better against the Thrashers in only his second start of the season...My 11 year old son wants one of those Pittsburgh Penguins Winter Classic throwback jerseys for Christmas. I was his age when the expansion Penguins first wore those jerseys and we thought they were butt ugly. Amazing how much better powder blue looks on Sidney Crosby in 2010 than it did on Les Binkley in 1968.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The forgotten Canadien

Alex Auld has accomplished something that they said couldn't be done: he's become anonymous as a member of the Montreal Canadiens. In a city where the third line right winger can't go out in public without attracting a mob of admiring fans, Auld can walk the streets virtually if not literally unmolested. It's not that people aren't aware of who Auld is - they just don't know what he looks like. As the backup to Carey Price, Auld has only appeared in one game this season, and he spent the entire game wearing a mask. Other than that, his TV face time has been limited to fleeting glimpses of Auld on the end of the bench during Joel Bouchard's ice level cut-ins on RDS. It's neither a glamorous nor an especially rewarding role, but Auld is a well-travelled veteran professional who understands and embraces his place in the scheme of things, as much as it can be embraced. So, when Auld gets the start in Atlanta tonight for just the second time in 22 games so far this season, if he gets a close-up during the national anthems or while drinking from his water bottle after a whistle, make sure you take a good look. It could be a while before you see him again.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Chew THAT (and other Monday Morning Musings)


Before the Alouettes destroyed the Argonauts in yesterday's CFL Eastern final, Toronto's Adriano Belli said there are two things the Argos do well: kicking ass and chewing bubblegum, and that they were out of bubblegum. Well, Belli and his buddies had better load up on the Hubba Bubba, because their ass kicking days are over. Pyschologically speaking, the Argos had to give themselves a chance going in, and I realize Belli is a competitive and colorful guy, but that kind of trash talk is just asking for trouble...Meanwhile, it says a lot about Saskatchewan's resolve and resiliency that the Roughriders are back in the Grey Cup a year after gift-wrapping the championship for the Alouettes with a too-many-men penalty. Lesser teams would take years to recover from that kind of monumental blunder...Pat Burns would have liked that hockey game at the Bell Center Saturday. Whether or not it had anything to do with the raw emotion in the building the day after Burns' passing, the Canadiens and Leafs put on a show that would have done the former coach of both franchises proud...Despite limited ice time and almost exclusive fourth line presence, Lars Eller is getting better with every game, and it would be nice to see his playmaking skills put to work on the Canadiens' second line. It's not as if Scott Gomez is getting the job done...Can the Bell Center mouth-breathers not come up with a wittier chant than "Leafs suck"? I've heard more clever putdowns in the bout de chou at my daughter's daycare...They won't be saying SOO-ban in Philadelphia tonight - they'll be booing.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Subban rattling cages

Given 24 hours and change to cool down and reflect, one wonders whether Philadelphia's Mike Richards might soften his tone vis a vis Canadiens defenceman PK Subban.
What's interesting about Richards' post-game tirade after the Habs shut out the Flyers at the Bell Center Tuesday is that he didn't go off on Subban for anything Subban said - and the rap on Subban to this point has been that he talks too much on the ice - the Flyers captain said "You can't just come in here as a rookie and play like that."
Play like what? Like a rookie of the year frontrunner and future Norris Trophy candidate? My guess is Richards thinks Subban is showboating when he rags the puck and makes his patended spin move, but that's just the way Subban plays the game. He also appears to have dialed back his chat level in favor of letting his play do the talking, but that shouldn't and hasn't stopped Subban from sticking his nose into a scrum when the situation warrants.
Richards and the Flyers weren't as offended by Subban Tuesday as they were rattled and frustrated. They should do themselves a favor and focus on revising their approach for next Monday's rematch in Philadelphia, because threats and whining don't make for much of a game plan.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Life Without Markov Part 3, Chapter 1

As statement wins go, it doesn't get much bolder than the message the Canadiens delivered last night at the Bell Center. Within hours of confirming that blue line anchor Andrei Markov is lost for the long term with another serious injury to his surgically repaired right knee, the Habs shut out the Philadelphia Flyers - last year's Stanley Cup runners-up and the team that's dispatched Montreal from the playoffs in two of the past three seasons. It didn't hurt that the Flyers were playing their second game in as many nights, but they came to town on a serious roll with nine wins and an overtime loss in their last 10 games. No matter. Carey Price logged his second shutout in four games and the Canadiens continued to demonstrate the collective work ethic that's carried them to the top of their division and the number three slot in the conference and league standings, behind only Washington and Philadelphia. Losing Markov is a blow, but it's not like Washington losing Alex Ovechkin or Pittsburgh losing Sidney Crosby. The Canadiens identity isn't wrapped up in one player, or if it is, that player right now is Price and not Markov, and as long as Price remains healthy and the rest of the team continues to buy into what Jacques Martin is selling as a system, there's no reason to think they can't compete successfully against the NHL elite. It was only one game in mid-November, but in the one-game-at-a-time, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of professional sports, last night was as good as it gets.

Monday, November 15, 2010

MONDAY MORNING MUSINGS - Nov.15/10


As recently as two seasons ago, there was considerable debate over whether Tomas Plekanec was a legitimate number two center for the Canadiens. Today, he's not only their undisputed number one center, but their most consistent and productive player at any position. Saturday's four point outburst against Carolina was another demonstration that the substantial fortune invested in re-signing Plekanec was money well-spent...Andrei Markov's latest injury paves the way for Alexandre Picard's well-deserved return to the Canadiens lineup. Picard was a team-leading plus 7 when the numbers game forced him into the press box after Markov's first comeback from knee surgery...It's amazing how replacing one guy made all the difference for the Dallas Cowboys. They must be kicking themselves for not having started Jon Kitna ahead of Tony Romo coming out of training camp. Seriously, though, the beatdown Dallas laid on the heavily-favored Giants yesterday was as much an indictment of the extent to which they quit on Wade Phillips as it was a measure of their enthusiasm for new head coach Jason Garrett...I get that religious sensibilities forbid Formula One from supplying champagne for the podium ceremony at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, but could they not at least have provided a carbonated non-alcoholic beverage instead of flat water to celebrate a world championship? For that matter, if they were that concerned about catering to local custom, they should have furnished the top three finishers with magnums full of crude oil.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

NHL All Stars, lazy eyes and yummy mummies


So, the NHL has decided to embrace the All Star game for what it is - glorified pick-up shinny played on a much grander scale and under far more glamorous circumstances. The appointment of two captains who will pick teams from a list of players is the stuff of pond hockey, except in the case of the All Star game, the last player picked won't be the fat guy, somebody's sister or the kid with the lazy eye.
As a selection process, having captains pick teams is only marginally more sophisticated than putting all the sticks in a pile and then randomly separating them into two groups, but the beauty is in the simplicity. The All Star game is never going to be entertaining; kudos to the NHL for getting back to basics and dressing it up - or down - with universally relatable hockey tradition.
I'd even take the pond hockey concept a couple of steps further by having them play the All Star game on an actual pond, starting at around the time school gets out, meaning the second and third periods would be played in the dark, unless somebody's Dad showed up and parked his car behind one of the nets with the engine running and the high beams on. And to complete the family circle, one of the players' moms could serve hot chocolate between periods - preferably the hottest mom, to give the rest of the guys a tingling sensation besides the one in their frozen feet. Hey, you can argue that there's no place in the game for cheerleaders, but yummy hockey mummies are a tradition as old as the game itself.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Bell Center cretins show some class (for a change)

They weren't booing - they were saying "Lu" last night at the Bell Center. The chant went up with every save by Vancouver goaltender and St. Leonard native Roberto Luongo, and represented a welcome departure for the Bell Center crowd, which historically has rained abuse on visiting All Stars, with an extra measure of disdain for ex-patriate Quebecers, especially if they're perceived as having somehow offended local sensibilities. Vincent Lecavalier gets booed at the Bell Center every time a rumoured trade between the Canadiens and the Lightning doesn't materialize. Daniel Briere still hears it every time he comes to town, three plus years after spurning the Canadiens - among other suitors - to sign as a free agent with Philadelphia.
Other star players who aren't from Quebec - Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk et al - are booed solely on the ridiculous premise that if they're talented and they don't play for the Canadiens, they're unworthy of respect. So it was heartening to proponents of decency and decorum that the fans actually cheered for a player from the visiting team, even if it sounded like they were booing. That said, the next time Boston comes to town, they won't be saying BROO-ins - they'll be booing.

Monday, November 8, 2010

MONDAY MORNING MUSINGS Nov8/10


Between frequent outbursts of childish and disrespectful behavior at the rink and mob rule in the streets, Montreal Canadiens fans haven't exactly cultivated a refined image in recent seasons, but they've responded capably and responsibly to the task of selecting the three stars, and Carey Price will be the beneficiary of their judiciousness when he's awarded with the Molson Cup for October before tomorrow night's game with Vancouver. Beyond rewarding Price for carrying the team through the first month of the season, the fans have also given due credit to opposing players in the three star selection process, turning what could have been an exercise in blatant homerism into a vehicle for putting some of the polish back on Montreal's tarnished reputation for hockey savvy and sophistication...Sorry, but the induction of two women as honored members of the Hockey Hall of Fame is a shameless sop to political correctness. Women may one day play hockey at a high enough level to warrant a place beside the true greats of the game, but right now they're not even close...Washed-up football fossil Brett Favre threw for a career-high 446 yards in Minnesota's overtime win over Arizona yesterday. Yup, quite the has-been....Is it too early to talk about a Jets-Giants, all-New York Super Bowl?...The post-race dust-up betwen rival jockeys Calvin Borel and Javier Castellano in the Breeders Cup at Churchill Downs Friday spawned a treasure trove of one-liners in the reader comments on TSN.ca, including "a little short-tempered, are wee," "they weeble and they wobble but they don't fall down," and my personal favorite "they're after me Lucky Charms!"

Friday, November 5, 2010

R.I.P. Sparky Anderson


Baseball lost a noble champion and a true treasure yesterday with the passing of former Cincinnati and Detroit manager Sparky Anderson. While he's celebrated most for being the first manager to win World Series titles in both leagues, Anderson's real gift to baseball was his personality.
For a game that's been widely likened to watching grass grow, baseball produces a disproportionate share of colorful characters, and Anderson was foremost among them. Baseball was never boring when Anderson was involved, not only because he knew the game so well, but because he loved to share his knowledge and passion - not just with his players, but with reporters and fans with whom so many other managers couldn't be bothered.
There are no hollow platitudes in the tributes to Sparky Anderson. He was everything he's being remembered as - smart, kind, gentle, funny, humble and courageous. It speaks volumes about his character that there are at least as many fond memories of Anderson the man as there are of the manager.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

NHL CHEERLEADERS: HOCKEY HERESY OR AN IDEA WHOSE TIME HAS COME?


Never mind government corruption, a crippling tax burden and the impending ecological apocalypse. We've got a real national crisis on our hands: cheerleaders in a Canadian NHL arena.
What's fascinating about the groundswell of opposition to the Edmonton Oilers plans to introduce cheerleaders next season is the strange bedfellows it's produced. You've got your usual suspects - the Birkenstock-and-pantsuit-wearing arch-feminists who bristle at the sexual objectification of women even though (or is it because?) they themselves have never been sexually objectified, and the self-proclaimed hockey purists who don't mind missing the three star selection if it means getting a good table at their favorite peeler joint, but decry the notion of Ice Girls as an affront to the integrity of the great Canadian game.
Integrity? How, exactly, does a tastefully choreographed dance routine by attractive young women undermine the integrity of grown men with knives on their feet beating each other with clubs and occasionally with their fists, while thousands of fans cheer wildly in a semi-hypnotic state of bloodlust? And if cheeleaders are a mockey of everything that is sacred about the hockey experience, what does that make Youppi?
Nobody is being hogtied to their seat and forced to endure cheerleading routines during breaks in the action at the 23 American arenas that already have cheerleaders. Hockey fans who object to the spectacle can use the opportunity to visit the concessions or the rest rooms. But my guess is that cheerleaders are like hockey fights and shootouts - a lot of people claim to be against them, but when the time comes, everybody stands up for a better look.

Monday, November 1, 2010

MONDAY MORNING MUSINGS Nov1/10

TSN hockey analyst Pierre McGuire had a radical suggestion last week for getting the Canadiens struggling power play untracked - put 6 foot 7 inch, 240 pound defenceman Hal Gill at forward as a much-needed big body presence in front of the net. McGuire might be on to something, but it doesn't necessarily have to be Gill running interference down low. At 6-2 and 200, Lars Eller is plenty big with good hands to boot, and giving the gifted rookie some power play time might get him some points and feed his confidence...Just as a reminder that Stanley Cups aren't won in early-to-mid October: after opening the season with four straight wins, the Toronto Maple Leafs have dropped five of their last six - including back-to-back shutout losses in their last two games - and scored a total of seven goals in that six game stretch. Those are the Leafs we know and love to hate...Someone forgot to tell Texas Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton about baseball's time-honored percentage principle, which holds that lefthanded hitters are at a significant disadvantage against lefthanded pitchers. The left-hitting Hamilton has four home runs against four different southpaws in the 2010 playoffs. Percentage THAT...I know it was within the rules and that it's probably happened before at some level of Canadian football, but the bizarre finish to the Alouettes win in Toronto Friday marked the first time I can recall seeing a football game settled by an impromptu round of human Pong.

Monday, October 25, 2010

MONDAY MORNING MUSINGS Oct25/10


Somebody give the boys of summer a calendar. Barring a four game sweep by either the Giants or the Rangers, baseball's World Series - once an early-to-mid October ritual - will be played in November for the second year in a row. Texas visits San Francisco in Game 1 of the 2010 Fall Classic Wednesday, October 27th. As recently as 2002, a seven game World Series ENDED on October 27th. At this rate, it's only a matter of time before the World Series victory celebration conflicts with the Santa Claus parade...I can appreciate the concept of bringing rookies along slowly, but it's got to be difficult for Canadiens forward Lars Eller to get any sort of confidence and rythym when he's bounced from line to line and doesn't get a regular shift. Eller fits the bill of what the Canadiens have been lacking for a long time: a skilled big man at center, and he hasn't looked out of place in the NHL. Let the guy play already...I didn't watch every play of every NFL game yesterday, but from what I saw, the sport didn't deteriorate into a glorified form of flag football just because the league instituted a crackdown on helmet-to-helmet hits...That CCM commercial with Alex Ovechkin's talking head in a high school kid's locker not only makes me laugh out loud every time, it also serves as a useful reminder that I still need to get a pumpkin for Hallowe'en.

Monday, October 18, 2010

MONDAY MORNING MUSINGS Oct18/10



There are hard times afoot in Canada's comedy industry, and the Toronto Maple Leafs are to blame. By winning their first four games, the undefeated Leafs have rendered 40-plus years of traditional Canadian standup material irrelevant, at least for the time being...The Canadiens came up huge over the weekend by winning back to back games against division rivals, thanks in no small part to a defence that allowed fewer shots in both games combined than they did in last week's home opener loss to Tampa Bay, and in the ongoing absence of number one defenceman Andrei Markov...Read a piece this weekend by a reputable mainstream sports columnist who regaled readers with out-of-school stories about the late Mickey Mantle and how when it came to drinking and womanizing, Tiger Woods and Brett Favre couldn't carry the Mick's martini. Be that as it may, it's more than a little unseemly to impugn a dead man's reputation if he's not Hitler or Jeffrey Dahmer...It's a measure of how the moment can be disproprotionately magnified that Saturday's matchup between Philadelphia's Roy Halladay and San Franciso's Tim Linceum was touted as the greatest pitching matchup in National League Championship Series history. Really? Better than Randy Johnson and Greg Maddux? Mike Scott and Dwight Gooden? Tom Seaver and Phil Neikro? Tommy John and Steve Carlton? Calling something the greatest-ever this or the best-ever that purely for the sake of hyperbole only detracts from its greatness...All of that being said, I thought Lincecum was terrific as the kid in Third Rock From The Sun.

Friday, October 15, 2010

WHAT'S DENGUE IS DENGUE

Well, Canada didn't own the podium at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India, which is just as well, considering the podium was probably made out of termite-infested plywood and built over an open sewer. It tells you everything you need to know about how badly organizers in Delhi dropped the ball that in restrospect, runner-up Hamilton would have been a practical and pristine alternative when the Games were awarded in 2003.
Aside from corruption charges, construction delays, faulty facilities, filthy conditions in the athletes' village, punishing heat, record-breaking monsoon rains, an outbreak of dengue fever and a few other pesky details, the Delhi Games went off without a hitch. Say what you will about Hamilton, but at least you can visit the Steel City without having to get vaccinated for hepatitis A and typhoid.
The good news for athletes who survived the Commonwealth Games in Delhi is that conditions can't possibly be any worse at the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara - Mexico's so-called Pearl of the West and by most or all accounts a thriving, modern city with a solid and safe infrastructure, if you don't count the urban poverty, air pollution and the time back in 1992 when a series of gas explosions blew up the Guadalajara sewer system. Other than that, a definite pearl.
Hamilton never looked so good.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

LE FRANCAIS DE GIONTA: CA CE FAIT MAL

So, this is what it's come to: the Canadiens are so preoccupied with appeasing linguistic sensibilities that they're willing to risk disrupting their captain's pre-game routine for the home opener by having him introduce his teammates in French during the opening ceremonies. I don't know about you, but my ears are still bleeding. Brian Gionta's French made Stephen Harper sound like Charles Aznavour, and no one knew that better than Gionta - a born-and-raised American who was clearly uncomfortable with the task at hand. Imagine being handed a sheet of paper in a language you've never spoken or even studied and told to read it aloud in front of 21 thousand people. It was like something out of Borat, except that Sasha Baron Cohen would have had the good sense to delete the scene. Gionta deserves better than to be subjected to that kind of embarrassment and borderline humiliation. You can kowtow to political correctness and applaud the team for the idea and the captain for giving it the old college try, or you can recognize the spectacle for what it was: cheap pandering at the expense of Brian Gionta's dignity.

Friday, October 8, 2010

NOT GOOD ENOUGH

Well, the good news is that Carey Price wasn't terrible. The bad news is that Price wasn't good enough to salvage a point or two on opening night for the Canadiens in Toronto, and that leaves the ball rolling in the wrong direction heading into Pittsburgh this weekend.
As a widely-acknowledged borderline playoff contender, the Canadiens are probably going to need every point they can scrape together to make it back to the post-season, and that makes beating teams like Toronto a priority whether it's the first week of October or the last week of March. No disrespect to the Leafs, but if Price and the Canadiens can't solve Tim Brent and Clark MacArthur, where does that leave them against Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin tomorrow night, not to mention Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis in next Wednesday's home opener against Tampa Bay?
There's not a lot of time for the Canadiens to find their way. They're not exactly equipped to make up a lot of lost ground in a hurry. One year ago, the Canadiens won their season opener in Toronto and went on to make the playoffs by one point. So, yeah, it's only one game, but when you're on the bubble, it's a game that could ultimately make all the difference.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

DOPE(S) IN CYCLING

The ranks of professional cycling are a lot like a prison population - nobody's guilty and everyone got railroaded. The latest self-declared innocent victim of circumstance is 2010 Tour de France winner Alberto Contador, who continues to deny allegations of cheating despite mounting evidence to the contrary. A week after he was suspended for a urine sample that showed traces of a banned drug which Contador blamed on contaminated beef , a second sample has reportedly revealed abnormally high levels of plastic residues commonly associated with illegal blood doping - no doubt the result of Contador unwittingly consuming contaminated Lego.
Is there anyone left who believes these guys? Floyd Landis spent nearly four years vigorously denying doping allegations before finally coming clean and admitting he cheated to win the 2006 Tour de France. While he was at it, Landis threw seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong under the bus, although Armstrong is still officially clean despite persistent allegations of cheating. No matter. The documented history of doping in cycling is so vast and detailed that a positive test isn't so much a scandal as it is a footnote.

Monday, October 4, 2010

MONDAY MORNING MUSINGS

It doesn't matter how much Nino Niederreiter was asking for it, the two-handed slash Mike Cammalleri laid on the Islanders rookie in Saturday's pre-season finale in Quebec was flat out stupid. It was worth a five minute major and a game misconduct on the spot, and pending a league review, Cammalleri's uncharacteristic loss of composure could lead to a suspension. A team that's expected to need every point it earns to make the playoffs and is already without its best defenceman can ill afford to open the season without its second-leading goal scorer...I'm all for supporting cancer research, but the amount of pink merchandise on display around the NFL yesterday to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month was over the top and smacked more than a little bit of profiteering. Pink football cleats, gloves, wristbands, chin straps, caps, towels - even pink whistles for the referees - beg the question: at what point does a charity stop being a charity and become an industry?...Washington quarterback Donavan McNabb wasn't a world beater in his return to Philadelphia, but McNabb didn't have to beat the world - he only had to beat the Eagles, which wasn't too difficult in the absence of an injured Michael Vick...After Calgary's Henry Burris threw for 400 yards to beat the Alouettes the same week he appeared on the Internet wearing a bra, watch for an entire online spread this week featuring Darian Durant in thigh-high fish nets, Ricky Ray in a merry widow and Anthony Calvillo in four inch CFMPs.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

PRICE BUYS SOME TIME

If there are two things we've learned five games into the NHL pre-season, they're that even if results don't matter, impressions do, and that impressions only last as long as the time between starts for Carey Price.
Forty-eight hours after officially declaring the Canadiens goal crease a disaster area, hockey's most fickle fans clambered back onto the bandwagon last night, presumably for a trip to the pharmacy to refill their prescription for bipolar medication. On the heels of a pair of alarmingly weak performances, Price didn't need to excel as much as he needed to not implode last night, and it was mission accomplished for the embattled goaltender, who stopped 19 of 21 shots in a 6-2 win over Florida at the Bell Center.
It had the potential to go off the rails for Price, who gave up the game's first goal on Florida's third shot - one of two Panthers goals on rebounds that either Price should have controlled or the Canadiens defence should have cleared, depending on the observer's agenda. He was otherwise solid with occasional gusts to spectacular, and that was the difference between last night and Price's first two starts. No goaltender who only makes the routine saves is going to survive any amount of time anywhere, let alone at the NHL level in a city as demanding as Montreal.
The jackals are still out there waiting and even hoping for Carey Price to fail, but for the next couple of days at least, he bought himself some peace of mind when he needed it the most.

Monday, September 27, 2010

MONDAY MORNING MUSINGS-SEPT27/10

As stories of redemption go, it's tough to beat the one being authored by Michael Vick. From three-time Pro Bowl selection to hard time in prison to lighting up the NFL a second time around, Vick has proven himself on and off the football field as a remarkably gifted athlete and a rehabilitated citizen...The Pittsburgh Steelers probably didn't envision themselves being 3-0 in the absence of starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who's serving a season-opening four game suspension for personal misconduct, but there's little probability that Roethlisberger will have to win his job back. With all due respect to veteran Charlie Batch and the job he's done stepping into the breech, Roethlisberger versus Batch is not exactly a Kevin Kolb-Michael Vick dilemma....Call it semantics, but while the respective performances of Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak will ultimately determine whether the Canadiens traded the wrong goaltender when they dealt Halak to St. Louis, the trade itself has to be judged on how the two players they received in return for Halak pan out for the Canadiens, and it's going to take at least a couple of seasons to take the measure of Lars Eller and Ian Schultz...Meanwhile, I'm paying a homeless guy a retainer to hold my place in line at Fairview for next summer's Alex Auld autograph session after Auld replaces Price, takes the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup semifinals and then gets traded to Columbus.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

WHAT KIND OF WOOD WOULD A BALLPLAYER USE IF A BALLPLAYER COULD CHOOSE HIS WOOD?

The fun doesn't only stop when someone loses an eye.
A wooden shard embedded in your torso can also take the festive edge off the proceedings, as it did this past weekend when a splinter from a broken maple wood baseball bat punctured the chest of Chicago Cubs outfielder Tyler Colvin. Colvin is listed in stable condition and recovering in hospital, where doctors reportedly inserted a tube in his chest to prevent a collapsed lung.
It was the most frightening illustration to date of the dangers posed by maple bats, which ballplayers like because they can hit the ball harder and farther than they can with more traditional ash wood bats. The trade off is that while lighter, softer ash tends to shatter into smaller pieces when it breaks, the heavier and harder maple bats snap into larger and potentially more lethal fragments.
Major League Baseball already has standards in place for maple bats, but when a player leaves the field with an injury that befits the Battle of Hastings more than it does a baseball game, it's time to revisit those standards. Performance-enhancing bats are no more acceptable than performance enhancing drugs if they have the potential to kill someone.
Ash wood bats were good enough for Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams. That makes them good enough for today's baseball players.

Monday, September 20, 2010

PAT BURNS STILL NOT DEAD

Leave it to Pat Burns to do a Monty Python skit in the shadow of the Grim Reaper. The three-time NHL coach of the year's "I'm not dead yet" pronouncement after premature reports of his demise went viral last Friday was typical of his unfailing good humour in the face of adversity. Burns was at the Metro store in Magog buying steaks for a family barbecue when he first heard he'd died, and accepted mock condolences from longtime friends and acquaintances, including the irrepressible Robin Burns, who called his cousin's cell phone and asked Pat whether he was in the bread aisle or the dead aisle. Morbid? Perhaps, but it's an Irish thing...Not to question Anthony Calvillo's status as the Alouettes starting quarterback and undisputed leader, but if I'm Adrian MacPherson coming off a strong performance in Calvillo's absence last week, I'm wondering why I'm not getting more playing time yesterday with the game well in hand and Calvillo coming off a pretty serious injury...The Colts' 38-14 win over the Giants in last night's meeting of the Manning brothers had less to do with Peyton outduelling Eli than it did with New York's Tom Coughlin being outcoached by Jim Caldwell of Indianapolis...Based on the consensus that female reporters have a right to be in men's locker rooms and Aztec TV's Inez Sainz should be allowed to wear her working wardrobe as tight and skimpy as she pleases, I'm thinking about covering the October 8th Concordia-McGill women's hockey season opener and conducting my postgame locker room interviews dressed in a form-fitting leopard print unitard. I'm sure no one will have a problem with that; after all, I am a professional.

Monday, September 13, 2010

MONDAY MORNING MUSINGS - EVENTFUL OPENING SUNDAY IN THE NFL

Week 1 of the NFL season set up some interesting scenarios for Week 2, not least of which is a full-on quarterback controversy in Philadelphia, where Michael Vick was outstanding in relief of the injured Kevin Kolb and will certainly be the consensus choice of Eagles fans and media next Sunday, whether or not Kolb is ready to play. The Manning brothers are coming off mixed results ahead of a Sunday night meeting at the Meadowlands, where Eli was less statistically impressive in the Giants win over Carolina than Peyton was in the Colts' loss to Texas. And will Dallas owner/general manager Jerry Jones be able to resist the panic button after a crushing season-opening loss to the lowly Redskins? How Wade Phillips has lasted this long as Cowboys head coach is worthy of an entire episode of Unsolved Mysteries...Sometimes, neither the car nor the driver is the determining factor in Formula One. Team strategy and execution won yesterday's Italian Grand Prix for Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, who was classy enough to acknowledge that the race was won in the pits...With NHL training camp around the corner, I've been steeling myself for Hockey Night in Canada windbag Bob Cole's first broadcast of the season by listening to tapes of my dog barking for three consecutive hours...And what in the world motivated the Tiger Cats cheeleaders to run onto the field during a bench-clearing brawl in the Alouettes game in Hamilton Saturday? The only missing elements were the Montreal cheerleaders and an industrial cauldron full of lemon jello.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

MONDAY MORNING MUSINGS (ON A TUESDAY)

That was a nice little love story at Fairview on Saturday, and a class act at both ends of the equation. It says a lot about Jaroslav Halak's character that he came back to Montreal to raise money for charity even though he no longer plays here, and even more about the fan sentiment surrounding his departure that an estimated five thousand people waited several hours for an autograph and a quick hello...The New York Jets Super Bowl prospects got a lot brighter yesterday with the signing of holdout All Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis, who at 32 million dollars guaranteed now OWES it to the Jets to be the most dominant defensive player in the NFL...Not to be mean, but if Chris Leak's first start at quarterback for the Alouettes were to be summed up in one word, that word would probably have to be "next!"...Here's all the proof you need that baseball is off the juice: National and American league leaders this September are in the 30s and 40s in home runs, compared to the 50s, 60s and 70s of the steroid-fuelled Mark McGwire/Alex Rodriguez/Barry Bonds heyday...Memo to Wayne Rooney: I don't care what you look like - if you're a world famous multi-millionaire professional athlete and you're PAYING for sex, you're not trying hard enough.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

MILLION DOLLAR MANE


When Lloyd's of London refused to insure Bobby Orr's knee in the mid-1970s, I can recall thinking how odd it was that someone would try to insure a body part. The Boston Bruins had a lot riding on that knee, but Lloyd's wanted no part of a wonky joint that had been surgically repaired five times. Present-day two-time NFL All Pro Troy Polamalu has never suffered a serious injury to his hair, which Lloyd's has insured for one million dollars at the request of Head and Shoulders - the shampoo brand endorsed by Polamalu in a series of advertisements focusing on the football star's flowing, black curls, which cascade nearly three feet down his back and give the impression that Diana Ross is playing strong safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers. It's not clear what sort of eventualities are covered in the insurance policy, although the risks to Polamalu's hair are obvious and - in at least one case - documented. Kansas City's Larry Johnson grabbed a fistful of Polamalu's hair and threw him to the ground during an interception return in 2006, apparently causing some root damage but no serious long term effects. Being tackled by the hair is only the most obvious threat. There are also more subtle dangers, including sideline space heaters with the potential to send Polamalu's hair up like so much dry kindling on a cold Sunday in December, and the ever-present risk of getting his hair caught in the door of the team bus and being dragged halfway back to Pittsburgh while his teammates are suiting up in Cincinnati. Most ominously, there is baldness - an act of God presumably not covered under the insurance policy.

Monday, August 30, 2010

NASCAR A HIT - AGAIN

If there's a race anywhere on any circuit that routinely provides more plot twists and exciting finishes than the Napa Auto Parts 200, I have yet to hear of it. For the fourth time in as many years, the assembled masses got their money's worth and then some from the NASCAR Nationwide event at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, where the nearly four hour event ended in a drag race to the checkered flag between winner Boris Said and runner-up Max Papis, with third place finisher Jacques Villeneuve just a fraction of a second behind. And all of that after snakebitten Robby Gordon ran out of gas while leading on the second to last lap...How's this for fan-friendly and promotionally-savvy? Papis was miked up and fielding ESPN viewer e-mail questions on the formation lap. If the Apollo moon missions were organized and promoted by NASCAR instead of NASA, Neil Armstrong's first words when he stepped onto the lunar surface might have been "boogity boogity boogity"...Michael Schumacher's undistinguished comeback season is all the proof anyone should need that success in Formula One racing hinges at least as much on technology as it does on driving skill, but that doesn't detract from what Schumacher accomplished in his heyday or what he still brings to the track in ability and experience. While three of the five championship frontrunners floundered in unpredictable conditions, Schumacher parlayed 21st on the starting grid into a seventh place finish in yesterday's Belgian Grand Prix...International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Faisal is only protecting his turf when he warns the NHL against trying to expand into Europe, but the IIHF threatening the NHL is a little bit like the Brady Bunch talking smack to the Hell's Angels.

Monday, August 23, 2010

MONDAY MORNING MUSINGS - AUG23/10

As Anthony Calvillo goes, so go the Alouettes. It has even been thus since Calvilllo became the Als starting quarterback 13 seasons ago, and their chances of successfully defending their Grey Cup title this year hinge on the long-term prognosis on a bruised sternum that was so debilitating in the short-term Cavillo had to be transported off the field on a cart last Thursday and taken to hospital by ambulance. Calvillo has only missed six games in his entire Alouettes career, and five of those were in 2007, when the Als went 8-10 and lost in the first round of the playoffs with Marcus Brady under center. With all due respect to current second and third string quarterbacks Adrian MacPherson and Chris Leak, in the existing Alouettes scheme, they're caretakers, not difference makers...As if he didn't already have enough detractors among Canadiens fans, Carey Price can now look forward to being regularly booed by animal rights activists for his off-season rodeo pursuits...The term "living legend" is tossed around a little too liberally in sports, but it definitely applies to Baseball Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully, who announced this weekend that he'll be returning next year for his 62nd season as the voice of the Dodgers. To give Scully's longevity added perspective, he called his first Dodgers game five years before Red Fisher started covering the Canadiens...The much-anticipated World Hockey Summit opens today in Toronto, where security is expected to be a far cry from the virtual lockdown that accompanied the G20 summit in the Ontario capitol earlier this summer. Seems anarchists and other counterculture riff raff are more antagonized by bank bailouts and fossil fuel subsidization than they are by overtime shootouts and no-touch icing. Still, it never hurts to turn the water cannon on any gathering of 10 or more people in Leafs jerseys, just to be on the safe side.

Friday, August 20, 2010

CY DUMB


It's less surprising that Roger Clemens was indicted for perjury yesterday than it is that it took this long to indict him, but the legal process is not known to move at breakneck speed.
In a streamlined judiciary, a grand jury would have been convened within 10 minutes of Clemens' February 2008 appearance before a U.S. congressional committee on performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, and he'd have been indicted, convicted and sentenced by suppertime.
It didn't have to happen this way. Clemens was the one who insisted on appearing before Congress, apparently believing that his star power combined with the time-honored "deny, deny, deny" defence strategy would both dazzle and bamboozle the committee members. Instead, bemused congressman heard the seven-time Cy Young Award winner deliver the lamest denial since notorious Hollywood womanizer Chico Marx told his wife he wasn't kissing another woman - he was whispering in her mouth.
It's a measure of the enormity of his ego that Clemens thought he could get away with any of it. Had he come clean or just kept his mouth shut, the worst that could have happened is that Clemens would be rebuffed by Hall of Fame voters, but he's so caught up in delusions of grandeur that he voluntarily put himself in a far worse predicament with substantially graver consequences.
Meanwhile, his lawyers get rich giving him bad advice.

Monday, August 16, 2010

MONDAY MORNING MUSINGS - AUG16/10

Dustin Johnson didn't do himself any favors with a wayward tee shot on 18 at the PGA Championship, but the ruling that cost him a two stroke penalty and a spot in the playoff was brutal. Johnson was penalized for grounding his club while playing out of a tiny patch of sand, which tournament officials subsequently informed him was a bunker, even though the gallery had been walking in the same spot all weekend. The ironhanded interpretation of the rule was more mean-spirited than it was judicious, and there's considerable and legitimate debate over whether the same rigorous standard would have been applied for Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson...There wasn't a lot to like about the Alouettes' 37-22 loss in Toronto Saturday, but there was this: Anthony Calvillo completed 37 of 50 passes for 450 yards and three touchdowns. So much for Calvillo's effectiveness being impaired by a dislocated finger on his throwing hand...Hamilton Tiger Cats owner Bob Young is intelligent, engaging, reasonable and entirely in the right in his dispute with Hamilton city council over the location of a new stadium. But it's about the hat, Bob. For anyone who doesn't take the time to scratch below the surface - and most people don't - a 51 year old businessman who insists on wearing a yellow baseball cap with a dress shirt and jacket for news conferences and interviews isn't enhancing his crediblity...So, a report from Venezuela says the women's World Cup of Baseball was relocated for security reasons after a player was hit in the leg by a stray bullet. Two things about that: 1. the description of the bullet as "stray" implies that other bullets were flying and hitting whatever or whomever they were meant to hit, and 2. the tournament was being held on an Army base. Well, there's your problem right there.

Friday, August 13, 2010

REX F#%*ING RYAN

Doris Ryan should stick to basic cable. The mother of New York Jets coach Rex Ryan telephoned her son to admonish him for his salty language on this week's season premiere of HBO's Hard Knocks - an uncensored, inside look at the Jets training camp. No one should swear in front of their mother, but there's a big difference between NFL training camp and the Tuesday night Blue Rinse Bridge Club. F-bombs are dropped on the football field as liberally as they're tossed around in a military barracks or aboard a marauding man o' war crewed exclusively by pirates with Turret's syndrome. Hard Knocks isn't even the filthiest show on HBO. This is the same network that gave us The Sopranos and Deadwood, among other profanity-laced but critically-acclaimed series, and most or all of its hit shows use socially incorrect repartee to one extent or another. HBO is a critical and commercial success for a reason. Its writers don't employ obscenities because they're stuck for dialogue. Even the gratuitous swearing has a calculated gratuity, and that's on the scripted shows. Hard Knocks is a reality show, and what viewers saw Wednesday is how Rex Ryan really talks, whether his mother likes it or not.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

TALLAGEDA CUFFLINKS AND MONACO PULLED PORK

As someone who pays more attention to Formula One than he does to NASCAR, it took me a minute and a couple of paragraphs to realize that Kasey Kahne's impending move to Red Bull Racing doesn't mean he's jumping to F1. Red Bull sponsors two cars in the Sprint Cup series and Kahne is switching TEAMS next season, not circuits. In fact, the driver traffic between NASCAR and Formula One is decidedly one-way. One-time open wheel phenom Juan Pablo Montoya won this past weekend's Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen, New York, where fellow former F1 drivers Scott Speed, Jacques Villeneuve and Nelson Piquet Jr. also competed - the latter two in the Nationwide Series event. It taxes my memory, patience and Googling powers beyond their limited capacities to come up with a single prominent NASCAR driver who's ever made the move to Formula 1, which is why I was momentarily puzzled and excited by the notion of someone of Kahne's calibre and repute forsaking the good ole boys to hobnob with the Eurotrash. I'm not saying it's an easier transition from F1 to NASCAR. That's a debate for the drivers themselves. Suffice to say they are two significantly different disciplines in two profoundly different milieus, and if you doubt that for even a minute, try finding a set of souvineer Ferarri cufflinks at Talladega or a decent pulled pork sandwich in Monaco.

Monday, August 9, 2010

MONDAY MORNING MUSINGS - AUG.9/10





The systematic dismantling of the Chicago Blackhawks on the heels of the franchise's first Stanley Cup in 49 years is a brutal testament to the impact of the salary cap on a team's ability to keep its roster intact. Eight players who were in uniform for the Cup-clinching win have been traded or released, but here's the thing: with the arguable exception of goaltender Antti Niemi, the Hawks haven't lost a single player from their championship nucleus. Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Brian Campbell still represent as strong a core as exists in the NHL, and make Chicago a credible threat despite the roster turnover to become the first team in a dozen seasons to successfully defend its title...Friday's 30-26 win over Saskatchewan was a tale of two halves for the Alouettes offence, which ran up a comfortable 24-7 lead in the first 30 minutes but played the second half like somebody spiked their Gatorade with a combination of correctol and ativan, leaving a heroic and exhausted Montreal defence to clean up the mess...My nine year old blond-haired son got a crewcut last week and I can't figure out whether he looks like Roger Maris, Johnny Unitas or Red Berenson, so I've decided he looks like Charlie Bird with a crew cut...After finishing with a career-worst 72 hole total of 18 over par at the Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio, Tiger Woods reportedly drove to the airport doing 42 miles an hour in a 60 zone because he wanted to remember what it was like to be 18 under.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

WHAT I DID ON MY SUMMER VACATION

On my summer vacation, I took Danielle and the kids to Niagara Falls. I'll always remember the first time I saw the Falls - on the way to a Rolling Stones concert in Buffalo in 1981 - and how impressed I was by the majesty of it all. They made less of an impression on Danielle, who remarked "I thought it would be a lot bigger." Not the first time I heard her say that...
The Niagara Falls tourist district is as tacky as the Falls themselves are breathtaking. There's a wax museum on virtually every corner. We actually checked into a wax replica of a Marriott hotel, adjacent to a wax Keg restaurant, where I enjoyed a wax steak with a side of wax mushrooms.
The town was packed because it was a long holiday weekend in Ontario, and while I understand the business philosophy of making hay while the sun shines, that still doesn't excuse some of the price-gouging that was going on. One chain restaurant that I won't name - but its initials are TGIF - had the nerve to charge five star prices for three star fare, including a potato skins appetizer for 17 dollars. I don't even want to think about what a whole potato would have cost.
Of course, it's all about the family, and Sam and Charlie are at the perfect age for Niagara Falls, which is kind of like Las Vegas for kids, without the hookers (or at least the workings girls are less conspicuous in Niagara Falls). The undisputed highlight for the boys was Marineland, where Charlie went on a ride called the Sky Screamer, which he said was ten times scarier than he thought it would be. This from a kid who doesn't scare easily. Sam, on the other hand, decided discretion was the better part of valor and watched from the ground. I decided isolation was the better part of valor and stayed at the hotel, where two year old Allison and I tested our courage and resolve with whiteknuckle rides on the elevator.
I figure we spent more money in two days in Niaraga Falls than we spent in the better part of a week in the south of France a few summers ago. I'm not complaining - I'm just saying that for my money, the view from a castle hotel overlooking the Dordogne River valley beats the House of Frankenstein every time. But what do I know? I'm just Dad.
And that's what I did on my summer vacation.

Monday, August 2, 2010

MONDAY MORNING MUSINGS - AUG2/10

At an age when most running backs are experiencing eroding skills and declining production, Avon Cobourne keeps getting better. The 31 year old Alouettes dynamo rang up a career high 231 all purpose yards in last Thursday's rout of Toronto at Molson Stadium, and is on a pace to exceed his totals from 2009, when he was named a first team CFL All Star and won the Grey Cup MVP Award. Cobourne could even break quarterback Anthony Calvillo's stranglehold on the Als nomination for CFL Player of the Year, except that the ageless Calvillo keeps putting up league-leading numbers...Here's good work if you can find it. St. Louis Rams rookie quarterback Sam Bradford, who has yet to play a single down of professional football, just signed a six year contract worth 72 million dollars, including 50 million guaranteed, which begs the question: where, exactly, is the motivation to earn the other 22 million?...They've already got former Canadiens goaltender Cristobal Huet - now the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Black Hawks are reportedly courting Jose Theodore. If talks with Theodore fall through, maybe they can take a run at Doug Soetart...For a political movement based on altruistic principles, the Green Party has taken a sharp turn to the right by naming former NHL enforcer Georges Laraque as its deputy leader. Laraque brings a number of fresh elements to the environmentalist cause, not least of which is his new campaign slogan: "Recycle or I'll beat the shit out of you."

Monday, July 26, 2010

MONDAY MORNING MUSINGS

The supposedly bittersweet spectacle of Andre Dawson going into the baseball Hall of Fame as an Expo is a lot more bitter than it is sweet for Montreal baseball fans. The chronic lamenting six years after the demise of the franchise can be a bit tiring, but it's also a measure of how badly a loyal fan base was betrayed by the deliberate sabotage and subterfuge of Claude Brochu, Jeffrey Loria and Bud Selig.. Meanwhile, if it's any consolation, two Expo Hall of Famers represent two more than the Blue Jays have had inducted in their 34 years-and-counting existence...Talk about living in big brother's shadow: the defending Grey Cup champion Alouettes win their home opener in front of a 96th consecutive sellout crowd that included an additional five thousand fans at the newly-expanded Molson Stadium, and more people are still talking about Jaroslav Halak, whom the Canadiens traded five-and-a-half weeks ago. Anyone who didn't know any better would think it was the Habs and not the Als who've given the city two championship parades in the last eight years...If John Daly had a younger, bespectacled Swedish half-brother who also played professional golf, it would be 2010 Canadian Open winner Carl Pettersson, whose blond hair and roly-poly physique make him a dead ringer for Daly. Despite his substantial girth, Pettersson's online PGA profile lists him at 195, apparently heralding the beginning of golf's transition to the metric system.

Friday, July 23, 2010

THE NAME OF THE GAME

Even if he never plays a down of professional football, Colt McCoy will go down in NFL history as having the best name EVER for a quarterback, not to mention a sherriff, a rodeo rider and a would-be matinee idol. McCoy has signed a four year contract with the Cleveland Browns after being drafted out of Texas. Where else would a guy named Colt McCoy come from, and what position would he play other than quarterback? Speed positions are reserved for LaDainians and DeSeans and the line of scrimmage is the domain of Bubbas and Flozells, but Colt McCoy is as good a name for a quarterback as Bubby Brister was a bad one, although for a guy named after a Jewish grandmother, Brister had a pretty good run - 15 seasons split between five NFL teams, and as bad names for pro athletes go, he was marginally better off than St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols, retired NFL player Harry Colon, former NHL goalie Ron Tugnutt, and race car driver Dick Trickle. Unlike Colt McCoy, none of those guys has a handle that makes a seamless transition to the big screen if they decide to take up acting - although I think I might have once rented a movie with Harry Colon and Dick Trickle from the room behind the curtain in the back of the video store. I'm Ted (and glad my parents didn't name me Harry ) Bird.

Monday, July 19, 2010

MONDAY MORNING MUSINGS - JULY 19/10

Bully for Louis Oosthuizen that he won the British Open, but focusing on an obscure South African whose last name sounds like a noise you make when you sneeze is probably not what ESPN and the BBC had in mind for the final round of golf's oldest major tournament from the game's most fabled venue. Serial adulterer or not, the networks and fans are still cheering for Tiger Woods to be at or near the top of the leaderboard - probably less now for his golf talent than for the spectacle of Woods living out his sordid personal nightmare in the public eye...With all due respect to newly sworn-in Canadian citizen Andrei Markov, his decision to continue representing Russia at international tournaments is a wise one, if only because he's got a much better chance of making the Russian roster than he does of cracking the Canadian lineup...Sports Illustrated's Michael Farber can add the New York Yankees to the Montreal Canadiens and the House of Windsor on his list of the only Western institutions with a true grasp of ceremony. Friday's pre-game tribute to owner George Steinbrenner and long-time Yankee Stadium public address announcer Bob Sheppard, both of whom passed away last week, struck a perfect balance between sorrow and celebration, and was made all the more stirring by its simplicity...It makes for exciting racing and the fans love it, but the Carl Edwards-Brad Keselowski NASCAR rivalry is going to end in tragedy if cooler heads don't prevail...So, I'm watching highlights of Saturday's Edmonton-Saskatchewan CFL game and a white guy chases a black guy down from behind in the open field to prevent a touchdown. If this keeps up, one of us might even learn to dance.

Friday, July 16, 2010

I KNOW THEY INVENTED THE GAME BUT SCOTLAND IS A DUMB PLACE TO GOLF

You don't have to be a golfer to appreciate that the British Open is steeped in tradition, but it's always struck me as a bit off that one of the sport's most prestigious tournaments is often held on terrain better-suited for tank manoeuvres, or in weather that would test the resolve of the hardiest storm chaser. I tuned in tape-delayed coverage of the 2010 Open last night and saw the usual spectacle of golfers in head-to-toe rain gear standing under umbrellas or hunched against a cold wind and driving rain in front of empty stands at the Old Course in St. Andrews, and wondered how in the name of Sam Snead first round leader Rory McIlroy tied a major championship record with a nine under par 63. Well, it turns out McIlroy was among the fortunate players who teed off early in the day, when the weather was merely gloomy and hadn't yet turned nasty. That kind of unpredictabilty may be part of the Open's charm, but it doesn't exactly make for a level playing field. It's a bit like having NASCAR drivers draw straws at the Daytona 500 to see who gets the 865 horsepower Dodge Charger and who gets the 1970 Ford Country Squire station wagon with wood grain paneling. Far be it from me to mess with golf's heritage, but considering that what's left of the British Empire includes Bermuda and no fewer than five islands or island groups in the Caribbean, it occurs to me that they could hold the event where the sun actually shines without compromising its geographical integrity as the British Open. Just a suggestion from a guy who's not a golf traditionalist but knows a logical alternative who he sees one.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

JESSE JACKSON (*yawn*) PLAYS THE RACE CARD

If there's any real leadership in the 21st century American civil rights movement, they'll come down like a ton of bricks on Jesse Jackson for his incendiary take on Lebron James - or more specifically, on Cleveland Cavaliers' owner Dan Gilbert's reaction to losing James. Gilbert's tirade after James left Cleveland to sign as a free agent with Miami was petty, mean-spirited and worthy of the fine imposed by NBA Commissioner David Stern, but it had nothing to do with runaway slaves, masters or plantations - all loaded terms that the Reverend Jackson used in a predictable, half-baked and reckless attempt to correlate modern sports free agency with the Emancipation Proclamation. He accuses Gilbert of having a "slave master" mentality and of treating James like a "runaway slave." If that's not an affront to the memory of generations of African Americans who suffered and died as captive, forced laborers, I don't know what is. Jackson also cherry picks his facts by invoking the names of Curt Flood and Spencer Haywood, two black athletes who, in Jackson's words, "changed the plantation rules," but he conveniently ignores Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally - two white baseball players who were instrumental in striking down the reserve clause and paving the way for free agency in sports. Dan Gilbert's sour grapes over losing Lebron James were small-minded and unbecoming, but Jesse Jackson's transparent attempt to spin it into a race issue is dangerous and irresponsible, and exposes Jackson as a racist more than it does anyone else.

Monday, July 12, 2010

THE "BEAUTIFUL GAME," YOU SAY?

Every time I hear soccer referred to as the beautiful game, it reminds me of a drunk guy in a bar telling another drunk guy that he just met an hour ago that he's the greatest guy in the world. There may be an element of emotionally if not alcoholically-fuelled sincerity, but there's no credibility. There was nothing "beautiful" about Spain's stultifyingly tedious 1-0 win over the Netherlands in yesterday's World Cup final. It was merely a continuation of a painfully dull tournament that had some terrific feel good elements as an event, but offered nothing in the way of defining moments on the pitch, unless you count brutal officiating among cherished memories...If there's such a thing as a sore winner, Red Bull's Mark Webber was it at the F1 British Grand Prix, where Webber complained bitterly before and after the race about preferential treatment for teammate Sebastien Vettel. What's ironic and more than a little hypocritical is that Webber and Red Bull team principal Christian Horner spent part of the week speculating on team morale at McLaren...Every professional, amateur and aspiring stadium public address announcer lost the ultimate role model yesterday when Bob Sheppard, the voice of Yankee Stadium for more than half a century, passed away at the age of 99. Sheppard was unapologetically old school, and his understated class and consistency will be sorely missed in a profession that's become a breeding ground for shrill and shameless homerism...I'm as moderately pleased as the next Canadian that we've got a rider in the top 10 at the Tour de France, but the downside to that kind of success is that it's only going to encourage the Lance Armstrong wanna-be's who already consider Lakeshore Boulevard and the Lachine Canal bike path their own personal Champs-Elysees...And yes, you heard me right: the score in the World Cup final was 1-nothing, not 1-nil. It might be 1-nil if you're British, but where I grew up and where I live, if one team gets one goal and the other team gets none, the score is 1-nothing, or 1-zero, not 1-nil. Just like Billy Preston didn't sing nil from nil leaves nil, and I don't drink Coke Nil.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

MONDAY MORNING MUSINGS (Yeah, I know, it's Tuesday - I had Monday off)

In a time and a town where winning can afford to play second fiddle to the bottom line, outgoing Canadiens president Pierre Boivin's tenure will go into the books as a resounding success. When Boivin succeeded Ronald Corey in 1999, the Canadiens were mired in mediocrity, both as a hockey team and a business concern. They still blow hot and cold on the ice, but under Boivin's watch the marketing end of the operation has boomed, and he'll hand over the keys to a money-making machine that's firing on all cylinders when he gives way to Geoff Molson at the end of next season...Kahnawake's Dexter Stacey and Derek White made up in moxie what they lacked in momentum at the Canadian Tire NASCAR race in St. Eustache. Dexter didn't quit until his car quit on him and Derek went the distance despite engine and transmission problems. That kind of resolve will stand both racers in good stead when they get their mechanical issues sorted out...In the ultimate good news/bad news scenario, neither Argentine coach Diego Maradonna nor Paraguayan lingerie model Larissa Riquelme will be forced to make good on a promise to run naked through the streets of their respective national capitals if their team won the World Cup. On a consolatory note, soft-core content of Riquelme is as plentiful on the Internet as semi-nude photos of Maradonna are rare...In the spirit of generosity and freedom of choice, I've decided to arbitrarily double the number of men who should be legally allowed to wear Capri pants, from Rafael Nadal to Rafael Nadal and the guy on the horse in the Old Spice commercial.

Monday, June 28, 2010

MONDAY MORNING MUSINGS

It's impossible to predict whether or how an 18 year old hockey prospect is going to pan out at the NHL level, but there's a lot to like in the scouting report on the Canadiens first round choice in the 2010 amateur draft. Six foot six, 205 pound Jarred Tinordi is projected as a top four defenceman on the basis of massive size, strong physical play, above-average mobility and good bloodlines. Tinordi is the son of former NHL defenceman Mark Tinordi, and presumably learned a lot through osmosis during his father's 12 seasons in the NHL, including four years as captain of the Minnesota/Dallas Stars...The Canadiens need to wash their hands of Sergei Kostitsyn. If he produced, Kostitsyn might be worth the trouble, but what's the upside to re-signing a malcontent who doesn't contribute?...Two words, FIFA: instant replay, and bring major league baseball to the party while you're at it...The on-board camera footage of Mark Webber's airborne crash at the European F1 Grand Prix is the closest thing I've seen in real life to a Wile E. Coyote debacle. The only thing missing was Webber holding up a sign that said "Yikes"...Prince Harry is by all accounts an accomplished polo competitor, but judging from his form throwing out the first pitch at the Mets game in New York Saturday, he's not much of a ballplayer. Harry, who was invited by the Mets to commemorate UK Armed Forces Day, is a British Army officer with front line experience in Afghanistan, which may explain why he throws a baseball like it's a grenade...At least His Royal Highness had a shred of dignity, unlike Red Hot Chili Peppers Flea and Josh Klinghoffer, who left their hats on while playing a distorted electic guitar version of the Star Spangled Banner prior to Friday's Yankees-Dodgers in Los Angeles, leaving an entire 25 man roster of deceased Dodger All Stars spinning in their graves...Between the smashed windows and burning police cars, if I didn't know the G20 was meeting in Toronto, I'd have thought the Leafs just won the Stanley Cup and recruited Canadiens fans to choreograph the celebration.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

TWO WORLD WARS AND ONE WORLD....never mind.

Technically, I suppose, the point of the English soccer song "Two World Wars and One World Cup" still stands, since it refers to the 1966 World Cup final in which England beat (West) Germany. But it rings pretty hollow after the schiessekicking the Germans laid on Old Blighty in the round of 16 at South Africa 2010.
Either way, "Two World Wars and One World Cup" was used as fodder for one of the best commercials of this year's tournament.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

GIVE GRAPES THE ORDER OF CANADA, ALREADY

Here's everything you need to know about the Order of Canada: pioneering abortionist Dr. Henry Morgentaler has one, iconic hockey commentator Don Cherry does not. When Cherry was passed over again last week for the country's highest civilian honor, it did nothing more than reinforce the notion of the Order of Canada as a glorified Boy Scout merit badge for political correctness. Love him or hate him, Cherry is a national institution whose supporters far outnumber his detractors. He's an unabashed Canadian patriot, champion of the underappreciated Canadian Armed Forces and vocal proponent of evolutionary and revolutionary rule changes to make hockey a safer sport. But he also openly admits that he likes a good hockey fight and prefers Canadian players over Europeans, and that's where Cherry apparently fails to meet the Order of Canada criteria. You can spin abortion into a women's rights issue but there's no politically correct interpretation for favoring the traditional smashmouth Canadian style of hockey, unless you happen to be a differently-abled transgender lesbian dwarf. Order of Canada, indeed. They can pass the thing out like after-dinner mints, but when the most popular and recognizable Canadian in the land doesn't get one, that pretty much renders the rest of them meaningless.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

ENGLAND - BEST LOSERS EVER

According to a Bird family history compiled by my late great-aunt Joy (that's late-great aunt, not late...great...aunt, although she was a great lady), the Protestant loyalist Samuel Bird emigrated from Northern Ireland sometime around 1820, which makes me something like an 8th generation Canadian, so you'll have to excuse me if I don't fly the St. George's cross from my car in support of England at the World Cup. My emotional ties to the old country don't run nearly as deep as those of a second generation St. Michel Italian or a recently-arrived civil war refugee from Cote d'Ivoire. In fact, I take an almost perverse pleasure in any misfortune suffered by England at the World Cup - not out of any sense of malice, but because of the mordant humour that adversity invariably stirs in the English character. From the London Mirror's Hand of Clod headline to the Guardian newspaper's hilarious Lego recreation of goalkeeper Robert Green's already infamous blunder, the sardonic nature of the media coverage in the wake of what the English universally consider a 1-1 loss to the USA in their tournament opener has been infinitely more entertaining than the predictable crowing and self-congratulations that would have followed an England victory.
For erstwhile imperialists, the English are remarkably comfortable in the role of the underdog. Their resolve was never tested as severely as in the early days of World War Two, but historical accounts of the London Blitz are rife with anecdotes and examples of typical English mockery and cheer under the most dire circumstances. With the help of her allies, England rallied to victory from those dark days, as she may yet rally at the World Cup.
Just so long as the Germans don't win. That part never changes.

Monday, June 14, 2010

MONDAY MORNING MUSINGS

Lewis Hamilton took the winner's place on the podium at the 2010 Canadian Grand Prix, but there were no losers on Formula One weekend in Montreal. The weather cooperated, the crowds were huge and the race was as eventful as ever on Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, which is to say compelling, with frequent gusts to riveting...Didn't get to the track this year, but got a full-blown case of F1 fever at Friday night's TW Steel media dinner at Rosalie's on Mountain Street- expensive cars and beautiful people everywhere, including a statuesque blonde waitress who looked like a hybrid of Charlize Theoren, Katherine Heigl and Scarlett Johannsen. Boy, if I was 20 years younger..and not married...and rich...and handsome....Best headline in the wake of England goalkeeper David Green's epic World Cup blunder against the US: "The Hand of Clod", courtesy of the London Sunday Mirror...I was relieved to learn that the constant buzzing noise in the background at World Cup soccer games is coming from small plastic horns called vuvuzelas, and not from angry swarms of African killer bees...Memo to Canadiens fans: there were two million people and no arrests at the Blackhawks Stanley Cup victory celebration in Chicago, where they waited 49 years between championships and still managed to savor the moment without setting fires, assaulting police or destroying public or private property...I know NASCAR needs sponsors to pay the bills, but the Sprint Cup Helluva Good Sour Cream Dips 400 has to be the worst name ever for a car race, at least until the inaugural Kaopectate Stool Softener 250.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

THE WORST-TO-FIRST FORMULA FOR NHL SUCCESS

It never seems like it at the time, but there's a lot to be said for being one of the worst teams in the NHL. Ask the last two league champions, who've parlayed inadequacy into Stanley Cup titles, each within three years of bottoming out in the standings. Of course, it's one thing to finish low enough to qualify for the draft lottery, and something else to actually pick the right players to lay the foundation for success. Pittsburgh did it by taking Evgeny Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal with the numbers 1 or 2 selections in 2004 through 2006; Chicago built its championship team around Jonathan Toews, who went third overall in 2006, and 2007 number one pick Patrick Kane. Which brings us to the Montreal Canadiens, who've qualified for the playoffs more often than not over the past decade, but whose consistent middle-of-the-pack standing has deprived them of the opportunity to draft at the head of the class. The highest first round pick the Canadiens have had in the last 10 years was the fifth selection in 2005, which they used to take goaltender Carey Price, on whom the jury is still out five years later. This year, they'll pick 27th overall, by which time potential franchise players Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin will have tried on their Edmonton and Boston jerseys, held their first NHL news conferences and gone off to celebrate with family and friends. It's a sad state of affairs, but in the absence of a consistently productive scouting and player development program, the road to success begins in last place.

Monday, June 7, 2010

MONDAY MORNING MUSINGS

It's no coincidence that the Philadelphia Flyers were badly mauled on a night when their three best players in the 2010 post-season collectively had their worst night of the playoffs. Michael Leighton got the hook after giving up three goals on just 13 shots in the first period, and Chris Pronger and Claude Giroux were a combined minus 9, including a minus 5 for Pronger, who was also in the penalty box for one of two Chicago power play goals. Hey, everybody is off their game once in a while, but to see their three playoff MVPs all go south under such crucial circumstances doesn't exactly inspire confidence, with no wiggle room left heading back to Philadelphia...Is four kitchen stools the best remote set design TSN could come up for its NHL hockey panel in Chicago? If they were sitting any closer together, Pierre McGuire would be on Bob McKenzie's lap, and nobody wants to see that...It's fitting that longtime Alouettes centre Brian Chiu is retiring as a champion, because he is by all accounts a standup guy and professionalism personified on and off the field. As a seven-time CFL All Star, Chiu is also a first ballot lock for the Canadian Football Hall of Fame...In a move supposedly designed to promote sportsmanship and foster self-esteem, an Ottawa youth soccer league has announced a new rule stating that any team that wins a game by more than five goals will actually lose by default. At first glance, it seems like political correctness run amok, but in reality, a rule penalizing success serves as a useful primer for a lifetime of paying into the Canadian income tax system, under which the more money you make, the less you take home.

Friday, June 4, 2010

BETTMAN OWNS MACLEAN

Gary Bettman 1, Ron MacLean 0. The traditional intermission sparring match between the NHL's long-serving Commissioner and Hockey Night in Canada's longtime studio host during Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final Wednesday was one-sided in Bettman's favor to the point of embarrassment. MacLean's attempts to pin Bettman down on the viability of US Sun Belt franchises were as uninteresting as they were awkward, and Bettman was entirely justified in calling out MacLean for pursuing a line of questioning irrelevant to most viewers, and for presuming to speak on behalf of the players and their interests as business partners. MacLean knows a lot about hockey but was out of his depth in a business conversation with Bettman - a law school graduate accustomed to moving in much more sophisticated fiduciary circles than MacLean, a high school graduate who hangs out with Don Cherry. Ron MacLean often gives as good as he gets in his exchanges with Bettman, but he's a better journalist and interviewer than he demonstrated Wednesday, and whether it was his decision or his producers told him to get in commissioner's grill for putting NHL franchises in places like Florida, Phoenix and Carolina instead of Quebec, Hamilton and Winnipeg, it backfired in a big, bad way. Unfortunately for MacLean, who helped save a drowning man yesterday, there was no one to save him from drowning in his own naivete.

Monday, May 31, 2010

MONDAY MORNING MUSINGS

Not that the Canadian Grand Prix needs any additional hype - especially after a one year absence - but yesterday's stunning turn of events at Istanbul sets the stage for a hugely dramatic return of Formula One to Circuit Gilles Villeneuve June 11th to the 13th. The shocking collision between the frontrunning Red Bulls on lap 40 of the Turkish Grand Prix paved the way for a 1-2 McLaren finish, creating a logjam atop the drivers' and constructors' standings and positioning Montreal as a potential turning point in the season...I can't get past Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti's Scottish accent. It's like a guy named Angus MacKenzie speaking in a southern Calabrese dialect...It's a measure of how soft the Canadiens were on Philadelphia goaltender Michael Leighton that he went from comparisons to Bernie Parent against Montreal to looking like the dead guy in Weekend at Bernie's against Chicago...Who says nobody's perfect? Oakland's Dallas Braden and Philadelphia's Roy Halladay pitched perfect games 20 days apart this month - a remarkably short time span considering that only 20 perfect games have been pitched in the last 130 years...Soccer legend Diego Maradona's promise to run naked through the streets of Buenos Aires if Argentina wins the World Cup pretty much guarantees a global groundswell of support for anybody but Argentina. Maradona was no prize in his athletic prime. Five months shy of 50, he looks like he should be living under a bridge. No offence to the hairy trolls who already live there.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

MONDAY MORNING MUSINGS (ON A TUESDAY)

Well, that was a fun and surprisingly productive playoff run for the Canadiens, and there's definitely something to be said for getting to the Stanley Cup semifinals in a 30 team league, but that doesn't excuse showing up only twice in five games against Philadelphia. As upstarts themselves, the Canadiens of all people should have known that there are no free passes in the post-season, but after upsetting top-ranked Washington and defending league champion Pittsburgh, they looked unmotivated and unprepared against the seventh seeded Flyers. The other lesson learned is that speed doesn't kill as much as size matters...After losing track of the play last night for the umpteenth time in the series, Hockey Night in Canada's Bob Cole actually said "Wait a minute." I've waited 30 years for CBC to pull the plug on Cole. What's another minute?...At the risk of jumping to conclusions, do you like Antti Niemi or Jonathan Toews for the Conn Smythe Trophy after Chicago wins the Stanley Cup?...It's official: Steve Nash now looks more like a boxer than he does a basketball player...Is there still baseball?....Leave it to a woman to bring emotional honesty to the sporting arena. The next time a macho male athlete claims he can block out taunts from the crowd, remember what Danica Patrick said after she was booed during qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 (and I quote), "That hurt my feelings." All athletes have feelings. Props to Patrick for dealing with them in a more forthright manner than, say, the Hanson brothers.