Monday, January 31, 2011

Whither Crosby and other Monday morning musings

The deep pool of talent in the NHL went a long way towards making All Star weekend a success in the absence of the game's best player, but it didn't make Sidney Crosby any less conspicuous by his absence. Crosby was having one of the best seasons of any player in recent memory when he was sidelined indefinitely by an entirely unnecessary and avoidable blindside blow to the head on New Year's Day. Like Wayne Gretzky a quarter century ago, Crosby is the undisputed face of the league, understands his place in the scheme of things and conducts himself accordingly for the betterment of the sport. That the NHL continues to pussyfoot around the head shot issue after watching its most visible and valuable commodity taken out by a dirty hit is almost beyond belief...Good for P.K. Subban for staying true to his exuberant self and putting on a show at the All Star skills competition despite frequent criticism for being cocky and disrepectful. Subban says borrowing Carolina rookie Jeff Skinner's Hurricanes jersey for the shootout was Dan Boyle's idea, or as the 21 year old Subban called the 34 year old Sharks defenceman, "Mr. Boyle." Yeah, that's pretty disrespectful...Ben Cahoon's retirement from the CFL last week was like everything else in Cahoon's career: elegant, classy and understated. Quarterback Anthony Calvillo showed some class of his own by waiting 48 hours before announcing that he would be back with the Alouettes, allowing a two day window for the spotlight to focus on Cahoon, who was always worthy of far more than the amount of attention he sought or received...Nothing against 2011 Australian Open men's singles champion Novak Djkovic and runner-up Andy Murray, but as a casual tennis observer, I feel shortchanged any time Roger Federer doesn't make it to a Grand Slam final. The creepy middle-aged man part of me feels the same way about Maria Sharapova.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Gretzky at 50 - why do we care?

Wayne Gretzky is not dead. He's 50. So are Jari Kurri, Guy Carbonneau, Mike McPhee, Hakan Loob and Walt Poddubny, but there was no blanket media coverage of their 50th birthdays like there was for Gretzky yesterday. I know he's the Great One and all, but come on, it was his birthday. We went through all those same interviews, accolades, restrospectives and highlights 12 years ago when he retired, and they'll be in the can for his inevtitable passing, which - God willing - won't be for another 30 years at least. On a deeper psychological level, the fuss is probably less about Gretzky than it is about the passage of time, and how old it makes the rest of us if Wayne Gretzky is 50.
At 52, I'm Gretzky's chronological peer, and frankly, it's encouraging to have someone of his stature accompany me into the early stages of geezerhood. You want old? My great grandmother, of whom I have fond and distinct memories before she passed at 97, was born in 1873, which means I personally knew someone who probably knew someone who fought in the Napoleonic Wars. Age is a matter of perspective. Fifty is old if you're 20 but young when you're 70, and if we're going to measure our own mortality by the age of retired hockey players, Gretzky hitting 50 is a lot less jarring to me than the fact that Terry Harper turns 71 today and Jean Beliveau is seven months shy of 80.
Any way you measure it, happy birthday, Wayne, and many happy returns. Sorry I didn't get you a present.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Fans do right by Koivu, HNIC not so much

Saturday's Saku Koivu love-in at the Bell Center was a welcome departure from the festival of abuse normally visited on opposing players in general and ex-Canadiens in particular, but it didn't set an altrustic precedent. Alex Kovalev received a similarly warm welcome in his return as an Ottawa Senator last season. Meanwhile, ex-Hab-turned-Anaheim Duck Maxim Lapierre was resoundingly booed Saturday, proving once again that despite the blatantly nationalist sentiment among a portion of the francophone hockey media, it's still about what you've done, not where you're from...Hockey Night in Canada showed its usual disdain for Montreal by assigning the maddeningly inarticulate Bob Cole to call Saturday's game, although to his credit, Cole at least got Koivu's name right, which is more than he did for "Max Paciorelly"...Don Cherry didn't even acknowledge Koivu's homecoming on Coach's Corner, which wasn't surprising considering Cherry's open dislike for Montreal and Europeans, but his producers and co-workers do the audience a disservice by letting Cherry dictate the agenda according to his own personal likes and dislikes. Ron MacLean more than anyone should know better...Although both games had their moments, the NFL conference championships yesterday were less than riveting. Hard to believe they can be that sloppy at this time of the year...For marquee appeal, Rodgers versus Roethlisberger in the Super Bowl has a better ring to it than Sanchez against Hanie. No knock on Chicago third string quarterback Caleb Hanie, who was better than starter Jay Cutler or backup Todd Collins, but on the list of famous Hanies, he's a distant second to the local Hooterville con man on Green Acres.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Why my money is no good at the Bell Center (and other Monday morning musings)

Random observations from section 108 at the Bell Center Saturday night: I wasn't trying to be a big shot. The hundred dollar bill was all I had, but in a building where hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash was changing hands, none of the concession stands or souvineer shops would accept a c-note. Trust me, if I was going to play the big shot, I wouldn't have smuggled in the three granola bars and thermos full of Yop...So, Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who gives up gives up 3 goals in 3 minutes and loses his cool, is named second star, and Carey Price weathers a third period barrage, saves the game for the Canadiens and doesn't get a star? How does that work?...Thanks to Andrei Kostitsyn for showing up Saturday and scoring his first goal since before Christmas and his second since November. See you again next month...Hey, dude in the Mike Komisarek Canadiens jersey. Komisarek's been a Leaf for a-year-and-a-half. You might want to replace that thing, or at least change the name on it to Dick Duff or Alfie Turcotte...On the other hand, at least there was some relevant context to wearing a Komisarek sweater to a hockey game. The guy in the Troy Polamalu Pittsburgh Steelers jersey looked like an escaped mental patient...There may come a time in the evolution of the Earth when a half-litre bottle of water is actually worth 4 dollars and 80 cents, but Saturday night was not that time. And if you're charging 5 bucks for water, you might want to revisit your policy of not breaking hundreds.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Pens get payback, such as it is

If ever there was an NHL game that you might actually hope would go to a shootout, it was last night's second meeting in a week between the Canadiens and the Penguins at the Bell Center, where Montreal goaltender Carey Price ran afoul of Pittsburgh pride by striking a pose after making the decisive save in a shootout win for the Canadiens last Thursday.
Well, the Penguins got their pound of flesh in regulation time, shelling Price for 5 goals on 36 shots after making it clear in pre-game interviews that they weren't impressed with Price's folded arms gesture last week - a move Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury emulated at the end of last night's game.
You would think the Penguins would be more concerned with losing Sidney Crosby indefinitely to a cheap shot from Washington's David Steckel, but you'd be wrong. For one night, at least, they were more preoccupied with hurt feelings than they were with their superstar captain's ongoing concussion issues.
So, why is it that a skater can celebrate a goal with a fist pump while dragging one knee on the ice, but a goaltender celebrating a game-winning save is seen as violating some sort of sacred code? Price was just having a little fun in the shootout, and it's not as if he skated past the Pittsburgh bench and said "nanner-nanner-nah-nah" with his thumbs in his ears while sticking out his tongue.
Hockey people really need to get over themselves when it comes to their so-called codes. It's a game. Games are supposed to be fun.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Injuries force Martin's hand with Subban

You might want to sit down for this, and if you're already sitting down, try not to fall off your chair. Jacques Martin actually had something nice to say about P.K. Subban.
Within a few weeks of turning Subban into half the player he was at the beginning of the season, the Canadiens coach is actually dispensing compliments, which he normally throws around like manhole covers, especially when it comes to young players whom Martin believes have become too big for their britches. Well, the Canadiens have some big britches to fill on the blue line after Josh Gorges joined Andrei Markov on the sidelines for the remainder of the regular season. Martin called last week's shootout win over Pittsburgh Subban's best game of the season, and added more indirect praise when he credited "the kids" with sparking a dramatic comeback against Boston Saturday at the Bell Center, where Subban was plus 2in a team-leading 26-and-a-half minutes of ice, and assisted on Max Pacioretty's game-winning goal in overtime.
There's no upside to losing two of your top four defencemen, but there is this: Martin now has to dress and play Subban on a regular basis the rest of the way, and the coach seems to recognize that it's in everyone's best interests - his own included - to restore the confidence he undermined when he made Subban a healthy scratch fives times in a four week stretch last month. Even if it's a forced show of faith, it's better than no faith at all.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Stool softener and other Monday morning musings

Max Pacioretty might want to pick his spots a little better the next time he decides to rub an opponent's face in it. Saturday's overtime hero for the Canadiens demonstrated poor sportsmanship and even poorer judgement when he enraged 6-foot-9 Boston defenceman Zdeno Chara with an unneccessary shove after capping the Canadiens' improbable comeback against the Bruins at the Bell Center. It looked even worse on Pacioretty when sawed-off Scott Gomez stepped in and threatened to punch Chara right in the knee...Don Cherry rattled off an impressive list of Canadian kids who weren't at the world juniors in Buffalo because they're playing in the NHL, but it's not as if Canada is the only country whose best 18 to 20 year olds have turned pro. Cherry is playing a mug's game, and should take his own advice and lose with honor...The only NFL team to benefit from home field advantage on wild card weekend was the team that deserved it the least...How well do you suppose Philadelphia kicker David Akers slept after missing two makeable field goal attempts in a five point loss to Green Bay?...If you still think US college football is about athletics more than it's about money, get a load of some of the latest corporately-sponsored BCS bowl games: the Bowl, the Meineke Car Care Bowl, the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, the Beef 'O'Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl, the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl and the Colulax Stool Softener Bowl. Okay, I made that last one up, but it would be a good one to play right after the Slim Jim Beef Jerky Bowl.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Mighty Conz and other Monday morning musings

Swiss national junior hockey captain Nino Niederreiter says he wakes up every day wondering why goalie Benjamin Conz hasn't been drafted by an NHL team. A lot of the rest of us are wondering the same thing after the show Conz put on at the world championships in Buffalo, including yesterday's 46 save performance in a quarterfinal loss to heavily-favored Team Canada. Conz proved his exceptional play at last year's tournament was no fluke, and it's difficult to believe he won't get a much longer look from a lot of teams at the 2011 NHL draft...The New Year's Day Winter Classic at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh was another marketing and public relations success for the NHL, but it was also a reminder that there are no weather guarantees, and you can only take an outdoor game so far south...More of the best and worst of P.K. Subban yesterday at the Bell Center, where the Canadiens rookie defenceman scored a game-tying, second period power play goal but took the penalty that set the stage for Dustin Byfuglien's overtime winner for Atlanta...New York Giants co-owner John Mara's promise to retain head coach Tom Coughlin despite missing the NFL playoffs was an appropriate gesture, and an indictment of the players as much as it was a vote of confidence in Coughlin. More than anything, the Giants missed the playoffs because of sloppy execution...Has any team ever had a quieter 14-2 season than the Atlanta Falcons. Can you even name five Atlanta Falcons?...So, I turn on the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day and it's Wisconsin against Texas Christian University. Really? Teams nicknamed the Badgers and the Horned Frogs in the granddaddy of all bowl games? What happened to the Spartans, Trojans, Fighting Illini and Crimson Tide, and who do you like in the Orange Bowl tonight - the Whippoorwills or the Dung Beetles?