Monday, March 25, 2013

Double-breasted moo moos, Dracula collars and other Monday morning musings


It's a bit of a shame that Canada's most marketable athlete competes in a sport that's fighting for survival. James Hinchcliffe has it all. He's young, good-looking, articulate, charismatic and strikes a perfect balance between humility and fierce pride in his Canadian roots. Unfortunately, he competes in IndyCar racing, where his first career victory yesterday in St. Petersburg, Florida, was won in the giant shadows cast by NASCAR in North America and the globally-dominant Formula One brand. The good news for IndyCar is that Hinchcliffe is exactly the kind of talent the circuit needs on and off the track to get back on the motorsport map...I'm of two minds on the Red Bull brouhaha at the Malaysian Formula One Grand Prix. Sebastien Vettel didn't win three straight world championships by deferring to anyone, but team orders are team orders, and yesterday wasn't the first time he tangled with teammate Mark Webber. Fire in the belly is one of the hallmarks of a champion, but Vettel's competitive streak crosses the line into selfishness...Three of a possible six points is probably two fewer than the Canadiens had targeted last week in three games with conference bottom feeders. The saving grace is that aside from a first period letdown against Buffalo Tuesday, the effort was there, the Habs stayed true to the system and Carey Price was banana-free, all of which which bodes well ahead of back-to-back road games in Pittsburgh and Boston...Don Cherry's Saturday night get-up (as seen on P.K. Subban's Twitter account) took Cherry's lifetime ode to Liberace to a whole new level. I've heard of guys wearing jeans or even shorts under the anchor desk, but Cherry is the first male television personality I've ever seen rocking the full-on, double-breasted moo moo...Meanwhile, I'm less concerned about P.J. Stock's Dracula collars than I am with running into P.J. in a fog-shrouded cemetery under a full moon at midnight...I defy you to watch Sergio Garcia's shot from eight feet up in a tree at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and tell me Darwin was wrong.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Things my friend Mark says - athletes and actors


My friend Mark is as funny and articulate as anyone in the blogosphere, but too lazy/humble/indifferent to start his own blog, so he just writes gold and sends it to me. His observations need to be shared, for amusement's sake if not for the betterment of mankind.
So Tiger Woods and Lindsay Va-va-Vonn are as one.
I must say that the popular press is positively slavering in hopes that this romance will come to a colorful and rocky end. It certainly has all the makings. Like most elite athletes, these are two utterly self-centered and actively unpleasant specimens who will remain together for precisely as long as it takes until either grows tiresome or annoying to the other.
I think I told you that my old friend, Alan Richman (whom you last saw at our wedding), has written frequently about the difference between athletes and actors as people. Alan has had 3 very successful careers. He was a top notch sportswriter for the Philadelphia Bulletin, Montreal Star (to cover the 76 Olympics from top to bottom), the Boston Globe and finally the New York Times as their Head Feature Sportswriter. He then moved on to career #2 - personalities. Head Writer for People Magazine, then "Writer at Large" for Esquire and GQ. Career #3 centers on food and wine, and he has won every major available award in those fields - some of them many times over. (Also a Bronze Star for service in Vietnam - Swift Boats. Oprah was at his wedding.)
Anyway, Alan says that he would definitely prefer to interview nearly any actor in the world to interviewing nearly any professional athlete. The reason? With very rare exceptions, actors know exactly how lucky they are. They are accustomed to being told "no" time and time again - even after they've gained a measure of success. Nearly every one of them knows how close they came to a lifetime of frustrated failure and obscurity, and how quickly it could be so again. Top level actors tend to be textured and pleasant people, who are pleased to make themselves available. It's part of success, and there are very few Lindsay Lohans out there. (This applies to actors only; musicians and politicians are specifically excluded from the Richman Rule.)
But elite athletes - from the moment that they show signs of special talent (usually around the age of 8) - become these little cossetted prince-lings and princesses. They don't have to study, they don't have to show respect to anyone, or be well mannered or even obey most laws. Their parents, teachers, coaches, principals, local police and even Judges look the other way, cover up, and make excuses. Those Steubenville, Ohio high school football players are a classic example - and CNN's Candy Crowley and others are taking real heat - as they should be - for lamenting the lot of the poor rapists, who are such fine boys, after all.
Top athletes grow up to be churlish and utterly self-serving. You've had to deal with them. But how could it be otherwise? They're surrounded by sycophants and toadies who egg them on. One former tennis star, notorious for his bad behavior on and off the court, is an obviously intelligent man who has matured nicely (in public) from his bratty youth. He's well into his 50s now and an active philanthropist; but he is still known to be rude, curt, dismissive, and really nasty to strangers and reporters in private.
So I hope that Eldrick and Lindsay have a good time rubbing their pleasure centers together until they grow to hate and betray one another. When Tiger is happy, he plays better golf - which is fun to watch. I hope their relationship lasts past Augusta.
Old Cynical, Accurate Me

Monday, March 18, 2013

Not that there's anything wrong with that(and other Monday musings)


Jarred Tinordi's impressive NHL debut in New Jersey Saturday gave the Canadiens a dimension they've been missing on defence since Vladimir Malhakov: blue chip talent in a jumbo format. Tinordi doesn't have the offensive upside to be the next Larry Robinson, but the second coming of Rod Langway would be a perfectly delightful scenario. For the record, that's out-loud wishful thinking, not an expectation...I didn't hate the century old Vancouver Millionaires uniforms that the Canucks dusted off for their game with Detroit Saturday. I'm merely appalled that they wore white pants before Victoria Day...If the season-opening Formula One Australian Grand Prix was a harbinger, last year's competitive balance will be a theme again in 2013. There was nothing processional or predictable about the results in Melbourne, where Kimi Raikkonen took the checkered flag from seventh on the starting grid and represented Lotus as one of three different teams on the podium...With a crowd exceeding 20 thousand, UFC 158 at the Bell Center was the most successful homoerotic spectacle in Montreal since Kitten Kaboodle's drag queen revue in the upstairs room at the Cabaret Cleopatra. Apparently.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

How do you like the trade now?


Were it not for PK Subban continuing to flaunt his increasingly undeniable credentials as a Norris Trophy frontrunner, Lars Eller would have been the best player on the ice at the Bell Center last night. With Subban casting a giant shadow, Eller settled for being the best forward by a substantial margin, and scored the first and last goals in a 4-3 win over Ottawa.
The numbers still don't scream all star, but for anyone who's watched Eller game in and game out, his development since coming over from St. Louis three summers ago is as obvious as it is impressive. Eller has an industriousness that not only complements but enhances his considerable natural ability. His work ethic last night earned Eller a shootout opportunity that he made the most of by undressing an overmatched Robin Lehner for the deciding goal in a game the Canadiens almost let slip away.
The deal to acquire Eller was widely ridiculed at the time and for some months - if not years - afterwards, but there's finally a broad consensus that former general manager Pierre Gauthier made the right choice when he kept Carey Price and traded Jaroslav Halak. At some point and however grudgingly, Gauthier has to be given credit for getting something approaching fair value in return for Halak, and if Eller's development continues apace, we might eventually have to entirely revisit the debate over fleeced whom.

Monday, March 11, 2013

I are a broadcaster(and other Monday morning musings)


Brian Gionta also appears to wonder why Cassie Campbell is on Hockey Night in Canada.

When was the last time you were emotionally invested in a baseball game in March? Yesterday's World Baseball Classic elimination showdown between Canada and the US wasn't Yankees-Red Sox-in-October intense, but it went a long way towards legitimizing a tournament that's still searching for an identity among all but the most hardcore baseball fans. Not all of the best players in the world show up, but the ones who commit to the tournament treat it like it matters...The run differential tiebreaker at the root of Saturday's Canada-Mexico brawl might be the WBC's most misguided rule, but it's not the dumbest. That distinction goes to the mercy rule, which has its place in Little League and one-sided boxing matches, but smacks of ill-considered paternalism in a baseball contest involving grown men and accomplished professionals...After going virtually injury-free in their first half run to the top of the Eastern Conference, the Canadiens' depth is being suddenly and seriously tested. Rene Bourque and Rafael Diaz were key contributors before being sidelined indefinitely with concussions, and Brandon Prust's shoulder injury will cost the Habs their consensus mid-season MVP for 10 to 14 days. The loss of Prust could also initiate or accelerate the process of acquiring another player in the Prust mold who can play a regular shift and isn't afraid fight above his weight class. Or maybe Travis Moen and Colby Armstrong can step it up a notch or three...Canadiens rookie defenceman Greg Pateryn must have wondered if he was back in the minor leagues Saturday when noted broadcast giant Cassie Campbell opened their intermission interview by saying "I'm here with rookie the first time game Greg Pateryn." We'll be right messages after this back.

Friday, March 8, 2013

How Carey got his groove back

Now that was more like it.
On the heels of back-to-back debacles against Pittsburgh and the Islanders, Carey Price played arguably his best game of the season last night, backstopping the Canadiens to a 4-2 win over the Hurricanes in Raleigh, where Carolina outshot Montreal 43-28 on the night, including margins of 21-5 in the second period and 30-11 over the final 40 minutes. It was sweet if short-term redemption for Price, who even called himself out this week, saying he had to be more competitive. His body language last night suggested he was much more involved mentally and physically. He even got in on the Edmonton Oilers retrospective revue, putting some serious mustard on a first period glove save a la Grant Fuhr, while Brandon Prust and Josh Gorges were making like Gretzky and Coffey in the offensive zone. Without question, Price stole two points for the first time in a long time if not for the first time this season. Now all he has to do is play like that for the next seven weeks, take the Canadiens on a deep playoff run and get nominated for the Vezina Trophy, and then repeat the process every season for at least five years.
Is that so much to ask?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Ah, shaddap

Whether or not he took it to heart, Claude Julien got a lesson this week in the power of social media.
Within hours of the Boston coach's rant about the Montreal Canadiens embarrassing the game of hockey by embellishing to draw penalty calls, Twitter and Facebook were flooded with incontrovertible evidence that Julien's Bruins are among the NHL's most accomplished embellishers. Not surprisingly, Brad Marchand is a one-man Fearless Freep highlight reel, but there are also easily accessible videos of Andrew Ference, Tyler Seguin and even heavyweights Zdeno Chara and Shawn Thornton delivering Oscar-worthy performances.
Still, it's not Julien's breathtaking hypocrisy that defines his outburst after Sunday night's loss to the visiting Canadiens. What's most revealing and disappointing is that a guy who by all accounts was decent and honorable when he was coaching in Montreal is drinking the Boston Kool-Aid, which precludes giving any kind of credit to other teams in general and the Canadiens in particular. Presumably, the petty resentment against the Canadiens is born of their historic domination of the Bruins, whose inferiority complex persists even though they've clearly held the upper hand in recent seasons.
The ultimate irony is that a team and a fan base that sell themselves as the rough and tumble ambassadors of hockey machismo can't find it in themselves to man up on those rare occasions when they're second best.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Doing right by Saku Koivu

After years of being soiled by a not-so-dearly-departed underachiever, the shine is back on jersey number 11 for the Montreal Canadiens courtesy of hard-working rookie Brendan Gallagher, who honoured tradition by giving up number 73 to accomodate reacquired veteran Michael Ryder. If I had my way, Gallagher would have to find yet another number when Saku Koivu retires from the NHL, because I strongly believe that Koivu is worthy of having number 11 retired in his honour. We put that out there as our Twitter Question of the Day on the TSN 690 morning show last week, and most listeners felt Koivu's body of hockey work in Montreal doesn't justify retiring his number. My case is based on Koivu on and off the ice. The courage he demonstrated during his well-documented battle with cancer and his tireless charity work for cancer research and treatment represent a unique and exceptional legacy. That's more than good enough for me, and for Susan Farley, who gets the last word in this e-mail she sent me last week.

Ted,
Your Twitter question yesterday touched a deep-down beautiful chord with me. I'm not on Twitter so this message is coming a day late. May I tell you a short story? I grew up with four brothers, mom and dad in the 60s. Sports reigned in our house. Hockey Night in Canada was...well, just about the best night of the week! But back then, I wanted nothing to do with any of it...hockey, or football for that matter. (Think of the glorious years, and the players, I missed out on...) Those growing-up years flew by as years will always do, and we're fast-forwarding now to the night of April 9, 2002, the Molson Centre, when Saku Koivu returned in triumph to the team. I was watching that game, glued to the TV as the captain spun around in small circles on the ice, again and again, raising his stick in salute to the fans, his shiny, bald head gleaming in the lights. The 8-minute ovation for this courageous man swelled in undulating waves, unstoppable like the ocean tide upon the shore. I thought they would never, ever end. And I was hooked. I've been a hockey (and football) fan since then. It happened to me just like that. And I thank Saku Koivu. The way I see things, it was a disgrace how he was allowed to disappear from the team, from the city, from our lives without a backward glance his way, without a proper thank you. The legacy he has left is a tapestry of rich, textured, vibrant threads woven into the life of Montreal, and we are all the richer for him having been here.
So, to answer your Twitter question of yesterday, Ted: Yes, I think Saku Koivu's #11 should be retired.
I listen to you three guys every day...love the show!

Susan Farley
Montreal

Friday, March 1, 2013

DiPietro's demons


Better late than never, Rick DiPietro took his demons out for a walk yesterday.
Nearly three weeks after Bell's "Let's Talk" day for mental health advocacy, the much-maligned and oft-ridiculed goaltender revealed in a television interview that he has entertained suicidal thoughts during his 13 year descent from number one overall NHL draft pick to New York Islanders castoff. DiPietro subsequently tried to downplay his comments, suggesting they were exaggerated to illustrate how important his wife's support has been to him. Still, it's difficult to not take a guy at his word when he muses about driving his car into a tree or off a bridge, especially just seconds after DiPietro calmly and deliberately said the Islanders "ripped my heart out, stabbed it, set it on fire and flushed it down the toilet" when they placed him in waivers and demoted him to the minor leagues.
Obviously, DiPietro would have been better served speaking privately to a mental health professional, and reserving any public comments for after he received the appropriate help and care, a la Clara Hughes, Michael Landsberg and other high profile celebrities who've openly discussed their battles against depression. DiPietro's belated attempt at damage control smacks of denial, but that he got his demons out there - no matter how awkwardly and on however dubious a platform - is the first step in the right direction.