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.