Tuesday, March 30, 2010

SUCKS ABOUT METRO

Glen Metropolit won't be enshrined as an honored member of the Hockey Hall of Fame or even play in an NHL All Star game, but for every Hall of Famer who never won a Stanley Cup, there are dozens of players like Metro who've sipped champagne, beer or a stripper's breast milk from hockey's sacred chalice. (Okay, the stripper thing is speculation on my part, but it's an educated guess.)
The Canadiens were already longshots to win the Cup this season even if they make the playoffs, and their chances are significantly dimmer after Metropolit suffered a separated shoulder that doctors say will sideline him for the duration, although typically, he says otherwise. It's not about his numbers, which aren't shabby with a team-leading 10 power play goals among a career high 16 goals in 69 games. It's about his veteran savvy and leadership by example, born of building a successful professional hockey career against all odds.
This is a guy who never gives up. If you follow the Canadiens at all, you're probably aware of Metropolit's disadvantaged childhood in Toronto's notorious Regent Park projects. Hockey was his escape from that neighborhood, but it still didn't come easy. He didn't play major junior and was passed over in the NHL draft before embarking on a five year minor league odyssey that included stops in Nashville, Atlanta, Pensacola, Quebec, Grand Rapids and Portland, as well as 34 games split between three teams in the long-gone and barely-lamented RHI roller hockey league.
Metropolit finally made his NHL debut with the Washington Capitals at the age of 25 in the 1999-2000 season, but his travels and travails weren't over. There were four more demotions to Portland, as well as NHL and Europeean league stops in Tampa Bay, Finland, Switzerland, Atlanta, St. Louis, Boston and Philadelphia before the Canadiens acquired him on waivers a little over a year ago.
Some - if not most - general managers would look at a resume like Metropolit's and assume from his vagabond hockey existence that he's a troublemaker who wears out his welcome in short order. By all accounts, Metropolit is quite the opposite - a solid citizen with a tireless work ethic and a commitment to putting the team ahead of himself under any and all circumstances.
You can win a championship without a Joe Thornton, Mats Sundin or Eric Lindros, but you don't win a Stanley Cup without half a dozen guys like Glen Metropolit. The Canadiens will miss him more than most people know.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

MONDAY MORNING MUSINGS

I don't get as excited as I used to about major league baseball's season opener because I don't think the sport as it now exists holds a candle to its mid 20th century golden years, but one of the advantages of living in the past is that I can still appreciate Vin Scully without having to buy into the notion that Barry Bonds is baseball's legitimate home run king or the Boston Red Sox used anything other than economic clout to conquer the Curse of the Bambino.
Despite a recent fall that required hospitalization, the 82 year old Scully is gearing up for his 61st season as the voice of the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers. That's the longest tenure with one team in the history of sports broadcasting. For added perspective, Scully's career with the Dodgers was already five seasons along when a young Red Fisher cut his teeth as a Montreal Canadiens beat writer the night of the Richard riot.
If you have a passion for baseball, broadcasting, history or any combination thereof, do yourself a favor and listen to the dean of sports broadcasters online on one of the Dodgers radio affiliates during any home game this season. In the meantime, enjoy some highlights of the legendary career of the great Vin Scully.

-Speaking of the Dodgers, this 1976 clip of former manager Tommy Lasorda after Dave Kingman hit three home runs vs. Los Angeles never gets old. Listener discretion is advised.

-So apparently Formula One is breathing a collective sigh of relief after an eventful Australian Grand Prix that gave 2010 considerably more promise than a "boring" season opener in Bahrain. I've been following F1 for nearly three decades but I guess I'm still not savvy enough to appreciate the subtleties, because the way I see it, as long as the cars are loud and fast and the women are beautiful, what's not to like?

-Hung with the Don Cherry movie for the first hour last night but bailed in favor of The Pacific at 9 sharp. CBC biopic vs. Spielberg-Hanks collaboration on HBO? Do the math.

-If I'm the Montreal Canadiens, I would rather eat tree bark, wear an asbestos jock and listen to Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music 24 hours a day than meet the New Jersey Devils in the playoffs.

Friday, March 26, 2010

PACIFIC MISSES THE BOAT ON TARAWA

As much at the HBO miniseries "The Pacific" brings overdue recognition to the "other" theater in World War Two, military historians and enthusiasts will be disappointed that it bypasses the most brutal battle of the war against Japan - the Battle of Tarawa.
It's not an oversight on the part of the producers. The miniseries is based on the experiences of three U.S. Marines whose combat tours included the battles of Guadalcanal, New Britain, Peleliu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, but not Tarawa. There was terrible carnage on all of those battlefields, but Tarawa was its own special corner of hell. The main battle was fought on the tiny island of Betio, which is half a mile wide at its widest point and not quite three miles long. For three days in November 1943 on that puny scrap of coral in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, nearly five thousand well-entrenched Japanese defenders took on an American invasion force of 35 thousand, with catastophic consequences for both sides. Fewer than two dozen Japanese survivors surrendered. American dead totaled nearly 1,700. There were bloodier battles from a numbers standpoint, but for sheer savagery at close quarters, Tarawa was in a league of its own, which makes it all the more surprising that it has never been the subject of a major motion picture.
Maybe that's because even Hollywood would be hard-pressed to out-do the actual combat film footage taken on Betio and packaged into a 20 minute film called "With the Marines at Tarawa." It's not very slick by today's production standards, and the music and narration has a propaganda feel to it that reflects the times, but the images are so compelling and graphic that it required presidential permission to be released to the public. U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt granted that permission so that people on the home front would be under no illusions about the sacrifices their brothers, sons and fathers were making on the other side of the world.
"With the Marines at Tarawa" won the Oscar for Best Documentary Short in 1945. It can't match The Pacific for production value, but for gritty realism and historical merit, it stands alone.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I HATE TO SAY IT BUT...Toronto rocks, sort of

Lauren and I noticed it at exactly the same time.
The flashing neon lights, clusters of huge, colorful billboards, jam-packed sidewalks, bumper to bumper traffic...
"Hey," I said, "this reminds me of..."
"New York," she finished.
We were on Yonge St. in Toronto.
Honest to sweet baby Jesus. My daughter and I were looking south down Yonge at Dundas in the heart of downtown Toronto, but at a glance, we might have been at Broadway and 40-somethingth.
I've been to New York, and I know Toronto isn't New York, but as much as it pains me to say this as a Montrealer, there's no (honestly) denying that Toronto has a New York veneer, especially in parts of downtown and the theatre district. It is a massive, thriving, multicultural metropolis that in many ways puts our provincial burg to shame. Not in every way, just in many ways.
Don't get me wrong. I'm from neither Toronto nor Montreal, but I've lived in both and I prefer Montreal by a significant margin. But I'm not going to pretend that Toronto is any longer the dull and tedious Hogtown of old. It's a world class city and a jewel in the Canadian crown.
The biggest problem with Toronto is Torontonians. They're a decent enough bunch, but they're still in search of an identity. They're not abrasive like many New Yorkers or as offensive as some Parisiens. They're really not much of anything except whitebread bland - even a lot of the ones who aren't white but whose familes have been there long enough that they've assimiliated into the mainstream vapidity. A lot of them are still my friends, but as a group, the cool social reserve of the people who live there makes Toronto a city with everything except a soul.
It's small consolation, but Montrealers can at least take a measure of perverse pleasure in knowing that the local alumni has had a considerable hand in making Toronto the country's center of business, commerce and real political power. In the afterglow of Expo 67, Montreal was poised to become the most dynamic city in North America, until Quebec politics intervened and chased the future down the 401. Ironically, the PQ was the party that built Toronto.
Makes you wonder what they could have accomplished if they'd had Montreal's best interests at heart.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

MONDAY MORNING MUSINGS

Don't blame Jaroslav Halak for the Canadiens coming up short in Toronto. Yeah, John Mitchell turned Halak inside out with a terrific move on the winning goal in a shootout, but the die was already cast. It was my daughter's fault. Halak is now winless in all six of his starts with Lauren Bird in attendance at the game, which she was Saturday courtesy of Dad's friend Randy Redden, who parlayed a litte legwork, a lot of luck and four months' advance notice into a pair 26 rows up behind the Canadiens net. Randy and I must both be doing something right - earlier in the day, we had lunch with him and his 16 and 13 year old daughters, Rebecca and Virginia, and it was 90 minutes of wall-to-wall hockey talk, with the girls carrying most of the conversation. What Canadian father doesn't treasure a daughter who's passionate and knowledgeable about hockey?

-Meanwhile, I saw more of Maple Leaf Gardens than I ever wanted to when I lived in Toronto and covered the Leafs from 1979-84, but Saturday was my first game at the Air Canada Center. Some thoughts on the visit and the rivalry tonight on CTV's Bird's Eye View at 6:40 and 11:45.

-Headline on tsn.ca: "Satan powers Bruins to much-needed win over Rangers." Well, if the Prince of Darkness was going to play hockey for anyone, it figures that he'd play for Boston. (Sorry, but as long as Miroslav Satan is in the NHL, I am compelled to trot out that joke or some derivative thereof.)

-No bright lights or big city for "Regular" Joe Mauer. The three time batting champion and reigning American League MVP has signed an 8 year, 184 million dollar contract extension with the Minnesota Twins, who were spared a potential bidding war with the the Yankees, Dodgers, Cubs et al when Mauer decided to stay in the Midwest town where he grew up and broke into the big leagues.

--For the sake of consistency, figure skating competition for the visually impaired at the Paralympics should be marked by visually impaired judges. (By the way, if you don't read that joke to the visually impaired, they can't be offended.)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

TIGER STILL DOESN'T GET IT

One of the first things you learn in rehab - whether you're in for alcohol, drugs or sex addiction - is that you can't control people, places and things, and the more you try to control, the more out of control life tends to become.
Tiger Woods must have missed that day's meeting, because he's still trying to manage the unmanageable. By choosing the Masters as the backdrop for his return to competitive golf after going into self-imposed exile to get his domestic ducks in a row, Woods is trying to insulate himself from a potential media circus and endless haranguing from the unwashed masses. The gatekeepers at Augusta are pretty particular about who they let in, and they'll do their utmost to make sure Tiger is handled with kid gloves when he plays his first 72 holes (well, golf holes, anyway) since 2009. But the PGA doesn't play every tournament at Augusta, and it's only a matter of time before Tiger has to face the public consequences of his private life.
Addiction recovery is an ongoing process that most people go through in relative anonymity, and Woods is only about three months removed from being a total pig who nailed just about anything that moved. He doesn't have the luxury of being just another recovering addict, and the downside to the kind of preferential treatment he'll receive at the Masters is that it'll give him the same sense of entitlement that inspired him to behavior that badly tarnished a seemingly unassailable legacy.
It's difficult to surrender to reality or live life on life's terms when you're in the surreal position of being able to dictate the terms. Unlike Tiger Woods, Joe Blow from Kokomo has to meet his demons head-on when he gets caught stepping out on the Missus, which is why the Blows probably have a better chance than the Woods' do of patching things up.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

MONDAY MORNING MUSINGS

The NHL's crackdown on head shots is an earnest endeavor, but the league has to be careful not to give players a false sense of security when they're in the trolley tracks. Case in point: Canadiens winger Andrei Kostitsyn lowering the boom on Boston's Milan Lucic Saturday night at the Bell Center. Lucic was watching the play unfold behind him when he should have had his head up, and Kostitsyn - coming from directly in front of Lucic - made him pay the price. I don't believe Kostitsyn deserved a penalty on the play. It's called finishing your check.

-If Carl Edwards had done on a public highway what he did on the racetrack in Atlanta last week, he'd be in jail awaiting trial and/or a pyschiatric evaluation. Instead, NASCAR put Edwards on probation for three races. That's insane.

-Technological, personnel and rule changes make following Formula One a full-time hobby. Fully half the drivers who finished in the (revised) points at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Pix were with different teams in 2009. Brawn GP, which won both the drivers' and constructors' championships last season, doesn't even exist this year. A ban on in-race refuelling means larger fuel tanks and the re-design that entails. Whatever. As long as the cars and the women are still fast and beautiful...

-Speaking of which, I got to stand beside Cindy Sherwin and Annie DeMelt on the CTV float in the St. Patrick's Day Parade. No disrespect to my erstwhile CHOM radio colleagues, but it sure beat the shit out of standing between Too Tall and Bad Pete.

Friday, March 12, 2010

F1 FEVER!

My friend Stuart Morrison is in Bahrain for this weekend's 2010 Formula One season opener and posted some pictures on his Facebook page. Stuart is the Public Relations and Communications Manager for TW Steel watches - the official timepiece of the Renault Formula One team. I will be sucking up to him big-time when F1 comes back to Montreal this summer.

ONCE MORE FOR OLD-TIME'S SAKE

Well, the parade is this Sunday, and I haven't had a platform for a good old-fashioned "diddly-diddly," but I dug up some audio from one of the Terry, Ted and Kim CHOM St. Patrick's Day breakfast broadcasts a few years ago. It doesn't include a full-on "diddly-diddly," but Terry's description of the drunks on the parade route is classic, as is producer Jeff Bartlett's mocking laugh. Hope you enjoy it.
Erin, go get your bra. Or something like that.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

PROUD CANADIAN MOMENTS

New Gazette blog. Back here tomorrow with incoherent ramblings of suspect nature and dubious taste.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Horsecoq=Funny

Check out the abundant hilarity in my friend Edfoot McKrunchy's blog, then sign up to follow him because I'm his only follower and I think it may be making both of us slightly uncomfortable.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

COOKIES!

I owe Tina and everyone else at Smart for Life a huge debt of gratitude, so I'm putting their banner on my blog site as a thank you. I went from 237lbs. to 205 on the Smart for Life cookie diet, and I know other people who've lost twice that amount of weight or more. Smart for Life really works. Visit their Laval or Pierrefond locations. Tell them Ted Bird sent you, and watch them call the cops.

Monday, March 8, 2010

MONDAY MORNING MUSINGS

If respect from your peers is the ultimate measure of your professional reputation, Maxim Lapierre's already marginal stock went into even more serious decline when he was suspended for four games for checking Scott Nichol head-first into the boards in the Canadiens game with San Jose last week. Fortunately, Nichol wasn't hurt as badly as he might have been under the circumstamces, but even if you give Lapierre the benefit of the doubt on intent to injure, the hit was as irresponsible as it was cheap. Reckless drivers usually don't consciuously set out to hurt someone, but that doesn't make them any less negligent or culpable when they cause a serious accident.
Lapierre is probably the Canadiens most notorious agitator since Claude Lemieux, and as a player opponents and opposing fans love to hate, he's in a class with Sean Avery, Darcy Tucker and Dale Hunter, to name a few past and present hockey villains. However, the others bring or brought something to the table besides bad manners. Lemieux was Mr. Clutch in the playoffs and a four time Stanley Cup champion. Tucker and Hunter both had multiple seasons with 20 or more goals, and even if Avery doesn't have a lot of offensive upside, he's not afraid to drop the gloves and doesn't hide behind his teammates in scrums.
Maxim Lapierre could still go a long way as an NHL hockey player, mainly because he's got such a long way to go.

-Please tell me we're not still having the conversation about which goaltender should shoulder the load down the stretch for the Canadiens.

-Must admit I missed the Habs comeback in Anaheim because I switched to the Academy Awards after the Ducks lit up Carey Price three times on 11 shots in the first period. Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin were fantastic hosts. I love it when entertainers of their stature take the piss out of themselves and the industry on Oscar night. Puts Hollywood's pretentious posers in their place.

-I know the Tim Horton Brier is so-designated because of corporate sponsorship, but I still find it ironic that the Canadian curling championship is named after a hockey player.

-With all the money James Cameron made from Avatar and Titanic, you'd think he could buy his wife a sandwich.

Friday, March 5, 2010

ANY MORE QUESTIONS?

You've heard of the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker.
Meet the broadcaster, the headhunter and the sewer fly consulant.
It all started around a century ago, when commercial radio stations went on the air and provided not only a means of entertainment and information dissemination, but gave confused, gobsmacked and otherwise befuddled citizens a reference resource for questions both simple and profound.
Is it going to rain today? Call the radio station.
Who won the game last night? Call the radio station.
Do animals go to heaven when they die? Call the radio station.
My all-time personal favorite "call the radio station" story occurred when I was working at CFTR Toronto in the early 1980's, and a guy called the newsroom and asked me how far Mississauga is above sea level. When I asked him what in the world made him think I would have the answer to that, he replied that he'd just purchased a new barometer, and that the instructions for setting it up said to consult your local radio station to determine your position vis a vis sea level. So even the people who make barometers think radio stations have all the answers.
Well, I haven't worked at a radio station for two-and-a-half months, and people apparently still think I have all the answers. Among the e-mails I received today was one from a guy from the Maritimes who knows I'm from the Maritimes and whose grandfather once told him that when you need help, find a Maritimer, so do I have any advice on where this guy can find a job in Montreal? Hey, if I knew where to find a job in Montreal, I'd apply for it myself. Back of the line. I'm not insensitive to his situation, but I'm now burdened with the responsibility of upholding an entire culture's reputation for kindness and generosity by helping Buddy get off the dole.
That was only the second best e-mail I got today. The best was from another guy who was having problems with sewer flies, and seems to recall hearing on the radio that I had similar problems a few years ago, so could I give him a call? Again, I'm sensitive to the dilemma, but I'm really not comfortable with phoning total strangers for a little sewer fly chin wag. Between Internet resources and professional exterminators, there must surely be a more logical and productive plan of action that e-mailing the local radio doofus.
But you know what? It comes with the territory, and if people send me e-mails that personal in nature, it's because they feel like they know me, and that's the highest compliment anyone can pay a broadcaster - even an unemployed one. So I'm going to e-mail Buddy and try to give him a job lead or two and phone Sewer Fly Guy to tell him how we fixed our problem, right after I ask my wife how we got rid of our sewer flies. Because if there's one person who knows more than the guy on the radio, it's the radio guy's wife.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

TRADE DEADLINE THEATRE

I loathe what Canadian sports television has done to NHL trade deadline day. I love the live coverage and as-it-happens reporting on major deals that could make or break a team's Stanley Cup aspirations. It's the painfully contrived way in which it's presented that bugs my white freckly caboose. I realize that having anchor men and analysts answer their cell phones live on the air as the deadline looms is supposed to give the impression of plugged-in immediacy, but to me it comes off as rude and unprofessional at best, and insultingly phoney at worst. An announcer who interrupts a broadcast to take a phone call is no less discourteous than the self-indulgent blowhard who texts or yammers away on a cellphone in a restaurant to the exclusion of the other people at his or her table. I also wonder how many of the calls are real and how many are staged for effect. Is that really Scotty Bowman talking trade scuttebutt on the other end of Pierre McGuire's Blackberry, or is McGuire asking some hapless corner store owner if he's got Robin Hood by the bag? Is Nick Kypreos actually on the line with some of his New York cronies, getting the goods on the latest Rangers deal, or is it Nick's turn to order pizza for the the gang at Sportsnet? It all adds up to a cluttered, confusing and campy package that has a tendency to alienate the audience, while information gathered OFF the air and fed to a focused anchorman whose committment is to the viewer would make for a much more polished and credible presentation. So please, keep the cell phones holstered, and spare us the theatrics. (*cell phone ring*). Hello? Yes, Pierre. Yes, as a matter of fact, my refrigerator is running. I'll do that. Bye now.