Help Me, Jeebus

Please, please, please let it be the Columbus Blue Jackets, Florida Panthers, Tampa Lightning or New York Islanders whose ball falls first out of that stupid lottery machine tonight.

I do not want to hear about Phil Kessel for Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin for the rest of my life, despite the fact that I support this trade.

Update:  Toronto’s pick will be the 2nd overall pick in this year’s draft.  Peter Chiarelli and Tyler Seguin were kind of making googly eyes at one another, I thought.  Meanwhile, Taylor Hall’s lips will almost certainly freeze right off within four months of his arrival in Edmonton.

“Gustavsson” Scores a Goal on Sportsnet: Thanks, Joe Bowen

Sometimes in professional sports, in the latter portion of a lost season, one can get the impression that folks are just mailing it in.  Akin to garbage time in a game too far out of hand to salvage, the idea is that a team can be so far out of contention for a championship or qualification for the playoffs that those associated with the team have ceased to care about results in the remaining games.

Typically, fans are concerned that their professional heroes have given up and are going through the motions;  team management typically attempts to assuage these fears by stressing that players are auditioning for jobs for the next season.  They commonly also offer hope that the team is using the remaining games as a developmental exercise – setting specific goals and trying to learn how to win by achieving those goals, regardless of their ultimate factual irrelevance.

Happily for Toronto Maple Leafs fans, it would seem that the Leaf players are buying in to this narrative for the most part.  The Blue and White put in a mostly spirited effort against a depleted Bruins club that has given them fits this year, eventually prevailing in overtime on a goal by Nikolai Kulemin.

So no worries about anybody going through the motions in Leaf-land, right?  At least for one night?

Well, not quite.  The television broadcast crew that brought us the game on Sportsnet last night had some real difficulties.  In particular, Joe Bowen and Greg Millen seemed to be having an inordinate amount of difficulty keeping Jonas Gustavsson and Carl Gunnarsson straight.  It’s true that both men are Swedish and both are relatively new additions to the Leaf team whose last names begin with the letter “G”.  Really, though, is it too much to ask that the crew whose job it is to know about these players could, by the time game number 66 rolls around, reliably distinguish between the team’s much-hyped young goaltender and a defenseman who has pleasantly surprised?  Nevertheless, throughout Tuesday night’s game, Bowen and Millen continuously tripped over the Gustavsson/Gunnarsson identification.

This unfortunate difficulty manifested itself most notably late in the second period with the Bruins leading 2-1.  Following a faceoff in the Bruins’ zone, Carl Gunnarsson directed a shot at the Bruins’ goal that found the twine, tying the game at twos.  Regrettably, Joe Bowen attributed this goal to Jonas Gustavsson – the Leafs’ goaltender.   Check out the clip (from YouTube) below:

Phil Kessel: The True Story

Imagine, if you will, Brian Burke sitting at his desk in the MLSE offices today.   Any GM

Clancy is an intimidating ghost
Clancy is an intimidating ghost

of the Leafs  is no doubt a busy man, but  Burkie’s recently been a bit busier than most.  On top of the usual day to day stuff, he’s still dealing with some of the remnants left behind by the previous occupant of the office:  emptying the crayons from the top drawer in the desk, tossing out the half-finished Word Jumbles and comic books scattered throughout the office and executive bathroom, and (most labour intensive of all) scrubbing  the yellow highlighter off the computer screen.

Imagine that as Burke is attending to these various tasks, shuffling things about on the managerial desk, he finds a dented and scratched old coffee can that’s filled with a bunch of dust.  The magic marker/masking tape label has long ago faded and is now illegible.  What Burkie can’t know is that the battered tin, a relic from days gone by, contains the ashes of a deceased player  – unceremoniously stored there years ago after the player’s cremation by a skinflint owner determined to economize wherever possible .

Seeing the tin, Burke is puzzled. He feels sure he would have noticed the disfigured canister on his desk before, but he has not.  He picks it up to examine it, and as he does so, it tumbles from his hands to the floor.  A pile of dust spills on to the plush blue carpet; there is a flash of light and a puff of smoke.   Burke rubs his eyes in disbelief and stares at the apparition that now stands before him in the office.

Something very rare and incredible has happened:  Brian Burke is speechless.

Slightly less unusually, the ghost of a hockey player dead for more than 23 years has spontaneously appeared in a downtown Toronto office building wearing full equipment and a period uniform.

The ghost appears as he did on the night of March 17, 1934:  wearing a bright green sweater with a large shamrock emblazoned across the back where his trademark number 7 ordinarily appeared.  He is carrying a stick and wearing skates. He is pale and very obviously dead.

GHOST: Greetings, Mr. Burke.  I (dramatic pause) am…

BURKE: (recovering his senses)   Great, another stick-wielding zombie  in my office.  Look, I told Chris Chelios just a couple days ago, we’re not looking for any undead players at this time..

GHOST: Silence!  Speak not, mortal.

BURKE: (rising from his chair) What the hell?  Listen pal, nobody talks to me like that, and certainly not in my office.

The Albert Canadian Tire Ad

Posts two days in a row after a month of silence?  What what?

I can’t let the NHL playoffs pass without observing that it’s a shame that Boston defenceman Andrew Alberts didn’t play for a Canadian-based team, and about twenty years ago.  The reasons for this are, in my opinion, obvious – provided you spent some time in Canada during the 1980s, owned or had access to a television in that same time period, and currently have space available in your brain’s memory banks to devote to useless ephemera.  Useless ephemera, you say?  Sounds like the intellectual wheelhouse for HiR:tb…

If Alberts played in Canada back in ye olde 1980s, there is no question in my mind that nary a game would have gone by without an “Albert” (no “s”) chant getting started at some point.  Alberts wouldn’t have needed to play particularly well, he wouldn’t need (necessarily) to be on the ice, he might not even need to be dressed for the game;  Canadian fans would have gotten a kick out of having a legitimate opportunity to chant this guy’s name.  Why?  Because of this ad (which, incidentally, was pretty much ubiquitous in the Great White North about 25 years ago):

This commercial was wildly popular back in the day, despite – or maybe because of – the sappy script, the cheap sentimentality and the clumsy acting.  There is of course, also an obvious and glaring flaw:  why the hell is Albert’s given name on the back of his jersey at the end of the ad?  How did something so deeply flawed become such a widespread cultural phenomenon?  Some mysteries will endure forever, I suppose.

Anyway, I know that Canadian fans would have been chanting for Alberts, because the “Albert” chant at the end of that spot actually did make an appearance at some games back in the late 80’s, despite the complete absence of anyone on either team with such a surname.

Stick with me for a moment, because I need to flesh out some of the cultural background for this story.   When the Leafs were truly awful in those latter Ballard years, the frustration of a fanbase that is now (unfortunately) called “Leaf Nation” was overflowing.   Keep in mind that back then, we The Disappointed did not have this public spleen-venting outlet you kids call The Internet, because Al Gore hadn’t got around to inventing it yet.  There was no Barilkosphere within which to proclaim loudly our anger, restlessness or dissatisfaction.  So we did things like showing up at Leaf games with paper grocery bags on our heads¹.   Expressive grocery-related haberdashery was all well and good, but chief among the limited and primitive expressive mediums of sports fans at this time was The Chant.  The Chant is essentially the same idea as The Heckle – a shouted barb or witticism, occasionally devolving into mere profanity – but syntactically simplified (to permit the synchronization of many mouths) and with a super-added element of loose mob-style organization (to give it superior moral authority).

Thus did it happen, and not infrequently, that as the Leafs were once again thoroughly outclassed on home ice by their opposition of the day, Leaf fans from time to time expressed their angst by chanting “Albert!  Albert!  Albert!”  This was truly a watershed moment in the evolution of chanting:  highly constrained by the inherent technical imperatives of the short-form structure of the medium, chant-makers had historically struggled to bring depth and intellectual maturity to their work.  Consider, for example, the innate challenges in bringing lyrical beauty or a deeper truth to the world through an expressive form traditionally used to publicize the onset of a toga party, to encourage the commencement of a food fight, or to recommend the drunken public display of female breasts.  Yet the “Albert” chant succeeded where so many others had failed:  making use of an ironic and humorous reference to a shared cultural externality, Leaf fans made it clear that they needed – nay, demanded –  a real life hero, someone like Albert, to lace ’em up for the Blue and White.

——————-

¹That sentence is so dated culturally, it’s the lexical equivalent of an archaeological dig in Egypt.  For example, going to the game with a bag on your head made reference, in a way, to the Unknown Comic.  Also:  paper grocery bags were then still the industry standard, not the enviro-retro-chic that they are now (suitably recycled, of course).

Gr8 Game Seven Coming

Watching Game 6 of the Caps/Flyers series tonight, I was struck by how great a game Mike Green was having. From the hit he laid on Sami Kapanen (the one where they had to get the Philly Fire Department to pick l’il Sami out of the rigging up in the rafters) to his rapid and purposeful sprints up ice, to his masterful puck handling along the Flyers blueline while on the attack, Green made me a believer. I wish this guy was on our team.

Of course, Green’s play was overshadowed by that of certain a hairy Russian force of nature. What a play Ovechkin made on the go-ahead goal; he blocked the point shot of his constant tormentor Timmonen, then immediately broke for open ice between the two Flyers defencemen, instinctively knowing that the partially blocked shot would surely be recovered by Kozlov and that he had an opportunity for a breakaway – but only if he didn’t hesitate. Ovechkin took two lightning quick steps towards centre and was eight feet past a now very alarmed Timmonen and the much maligned Kozlov hit Ovechkin on the tape with a beautiful pass as Ovie blazed up the middle of the ice. Everybody in the rink, including Martin Biron, knew that Alex the Gr8 would not be denied, and moments later the Caps had taken a very improbable lead.

The Philadelphia fans had barely resumed breathing through their open mouths when, for a change, it was the Flyers who took a “too many men” penalty (really, Gabby – three of those in the last couple of games is waaaaay too many). On the ensuing powerplay, Ovechkin was served up another beautiful pass, this one from Brooks Laich and Ovechkin hammered that thing so hard, everybody seated in the stands behind the goal ought to immediately drive to the nearest church, synagogue, mosque or temple and thank the resident deity or deities that Ovie’s shot bulged the twine, because if that puck had hit the glass it would have killed everybody in the first six rows. Do you think that game will shut the TV monkeys up about Ovechkin needing to “step up”? Probably not; five’ll get you ten that’s still the main theme harped upon by the flapping gums – “monster” or not.

Alex’s interview on TSN after the game was awesome; it was so obvious to me that he wanted to strap the blades on and play Rasputin-PDGame Seven RIGHT NOW. This guy is Rasputin on skates – aside from the near spooky physical resemblance, there is the matter of Mr. Ovechkin’s superhuman constitution to be addressed. He played a shift in the second period that lasted well over two minutes of concerted attack. The Flyers may well need a group of Russian assassins and some cyanide-laced confections to take down their hirsute nemesis, because neither the substantial hits applied within the rules by Richards, Umberger and others, nor the straight up punches to the back of the head administered by the ever-classy Derian Hatcher have done the trick, and the hitherto-successful Philadelphia scheme for Ovechkin prophylaxis by the constant application of major doses of Timmonen has run its course. Ovie has figured out how to get away from that coverage, as evidenced by the six shots he had on goal in Game Five and the further seven (not to mention two goals) he added tonight.

This is going to be a great Game Seven.

Can I ask what the hell Pierre McGuire was babbling on about when he kept referring to Martin Biron’s “active glove”? Umm, Pierre, that’s just stupid. No goalie has a “passive” glove. They catch stuff with them. They’re called “trappers” and “blockers” for a reason; these items of equipment represent an active concept. Anyone who stands there just waiting to get hit, is… well, Andrew Raycroft does that. Perhaps that’s a bad example, but you get my meaning.

As for the other game this evening, I didn’t see much of the Habs/Bruins Game Seven. I did see Game Six of that series and much of Game Five too. One thing I don’t understand is the media babble about Carey Price supposedly having come apart at the seams. The so-called experts point to the ten goals surrendered by the Habs ‘tender in those two games and lazily conclude that Price played poorly. Now I’m no Habs fan, but I do know a classy and talented kid when I see one – Spouse and I were lucky enough to see almost all of Price’s games with the Hamilton Bulldogs during last year’s Calder Cup winning run – and Price is most certainly getting a bum rap from the wags on that one. Yes, he coughed up the puck late in Game Five to put the B’s ahead, and yes, he looked rattled after he made that rookie mistake, but none of the five that got past him on Saturday night in Game Six could be called soft goals. The pundits ought to have been asking where the defensive coverage and veteran leadership was on the Habs bench; how, it might fairly be asked, were the Bruins allowed to continually come back and score throughout the third period? With the series on the line, the Habs got a questionable effort from the Kovalev unit, for example, which was a -3 on the evening. I do not recall hearing much mention being made of that fact; it’s too easy, I guess, to point the finger at the goalie. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for whatever kind of Habs-related misery there can be, but it’s the job of those in the media to correctly identify the reasons why the Habs suck, not to pin the whole shootin’ match on  a twenty year old rookie who was playing in the WHL last year at this time.