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.