Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Beaucoup ado de rien de tout

Straight to voice mail

And you thought the Academy Awards were long-winded and boring.
At least Oscar has a payoff, even though you have to sit through three-and-a-half hours of awards for best musical score in a foreign language animated short before they get to the good stuff.
For pure tedium, self-congratulatory Hollywood has nothing on NHL trade deadline day - a dawn-'till-dusk-and-beyond exercise in speculative verbosity with little or no payoff for viewers who blister their thumbs to the bone channel surfing between Canada's four major television sports networks in the vain hope of seeing or hearing something - ANYTHING - of substance.
Even though more than three-quarters of NHL teams are American-based, trade deadline day is a non-event in the US, to the point where it rated about a minute's mention on ESPN radio this morning, after coverage of the NBA All Star game - which was played two days ago - and the Boston Red Sox' ban on beer in the clubhouse. One minute is about all it takes to summarize the interesting and relevant transactions that occured before the 3pm Monday trade deadline.
It's either a testament to Canadians' love of hockey or a gigantic miscalculation on the part of the national sports media that trade deadline day in this country got more wall-to-wall coverage than last night's Daytona 500 got in the US. Not that the two events are entirely dissimilar - they both feature frequent wrecks, albeit of a different nature.
Maybe that's the solution. Make the trade deadline coincide with the Daytona 500 every year, and have James Duthie, Bob McKenzie, Nick Kypreos et al ride shotgun and report, analyze and rumourmonger down the backstretch at 200 miles an hour. It might not be logistically practical, but considering the relative failure of conventional marketing methods, it's one way of reminding the American market than the NHL actually exists.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Cassie Campbell fail English? That's unpossible!

Incoherent double-threat - veteran windbag Bob Cole with the alarmingly inarticulate Cassie Campbell

Rejean Houle is a nice guy who deserves better than to be remembered as the worst general manager in Montreal Canadiens history, and a modicum of Reggie`s honour has been restored, thanks to Pierre Gauthier. It would have seemed inconceivable 15 years ago, but the Canadiens are actually more of an embarassment today than they were during the ill-fated Houle era. Gauthier is the main culprit, but he's not the only one who's culpable in this calamity. Team president Geoff Molson has been anything but presidential, and the players quit weeks ago. The only actor in the tragedy who gets a pass is Randy Cunneyworth, because whether or not you like his coaching style, Cunneyworth was a hamstrung lame duck from the get-go, having been thrown under the bus in his first week on the job by both Gauthier and Molson for the sake of political expediency...If you're bummed about not being able to watch the Daytona 500 today because you have to go to work or school, be grateful you're not one of the legions of NASCAR fans who actually went to Daytona and didn't make provisions for a rain delay. For anyone who came from beyond driving distance, it's a long way to go and a lot of money to spend to watch it rain for four hours...Gramatically-challenged Hockey Night In Canada dingbat Cassie Campbell was at it again Saturday, reporting that she had "a off-air conversation" with Toronto general manager Brian Burke. I'm sure it were an fascinating chat...Goon was number one at the Canadian box office on its opening weekend, proving once again that Canadians love a good romantic comedy, as long as it's awash in hockey fights, inappropriate sexual innuendo and f-bombs.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Ribeiro rubs it in

Mike Ribeiro's unapologetic display of self-satisfaction two nights ago at the Bell Center left a bad taste in a lot of mouths, but it was the taste of sour grapes.
As a Montreal native and a Canadiens castoff, Ribeiro had every reason to feel vindicated after leading the Dallas Stars past the listless Canadiens 3-0. Sure, he missed the exit to the high road, but Ribeiro's semi-sarcastic bow to the crowd after being named first star was a long time coming. It was his first regular season game at the Bell Center since being traded by the Canadiens in 2006, and there wasn't a honest Habs fan in the house Tuesday who wouldn't undo the deal that sent Ribeiro to Dallas for the eminently forgettable Janne Niinimaa, who at last report was leading the European Elite League in vowels.
There's no question that Ribeiro's work ethic was suspect and his priorities skewed when he played for the Canadiens, but he's far from being the first hockey player to literally jump on what Montreal has to offer before settling into his role as a hockey professional. With experience and maturity, he's gone on to become the consistently savvy playmaker and steady producer that the Canadiens thought they drafted in 1998, which is why anyone whose sentiments lie with the Habs has a lot more to worry about than whether Ribeiro's first star circus act was out of order. The more relevant concern is that he's yet another poster boy for the perils of giving up on a young player too soon.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Baruchel's "Goon" a delightfully inappropriate romp

Of the millions of Canadian kids who aspire to play pro hockey, fewer than one percent of one percent actually make it, but their numbers are legion compared to the ranks of Canadian kids who grow up to realize their dream of making a feature film about hockey.
Goon, which premiered in Montreal last night and opens in wide release this Friday, is the money shot in co-star, co-writer and co-producer Jay Baruchel's lifetime love affair with hockey. Goon has the NDG native's St. Hubert BBQ chicken-stained fingerprints all over it, whether it's in Baruchel's own delightfully inappropriate character in the film or in the wickedly clever and crude script he co-authored with accomplished Hollywood screenwriter Evan Goldberg - a script hilariously brought to life by Baruchel, co-stars Seann William Scott, Liev Schreiber and Alison Pill and an overwhelmingly Canadian supporting cast including Marc-Andre Grondin, Eugene Levy, Kim Coates, Richard Clarkin and Ricky Mabe, all under the capable direction of London, Ontario born-and-raised Michael Dowse. While the presence of Schreiber and Scott give the film its A-list legitimacy, it's the Canadian content and influence that make it a credible and fall-down funny hockey movie.
Goon is not for the faint of heart or those easily offended. It's Slapshot and then some (call it Slapshot meets the Trailer Park Boys, complete with a cameo by the Boys themselves) and you're going to have it see it twice to hear the lines you missed the first time because you were too busy trying to catch your breath.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Habs get it right, NBC not so much

The Canadiens haven't done a lot to distinguish themselves on or off the ice this season, but they got it right last night with their pre-game tribute to the late Gary Carter, whose memory was honored in a ceremony befitting his stature as a Montreal sports icon. The same can't be said for the NBC Hockey Network, which was covering the game but skipped the Carter ceremony, presumably to show something they had already pre-packaged as part of their Hockey Day in America programming. That no one in a position of influence at NBC had the good judgement to call an audible under the circumstances speaks volumes about the people in positions of influence at NBC...Given his sketchy track record, nobody expected Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier to get as much as he got for Hal Gill. A second round draft choice was compensation enough for an almost-37 year old pending unrestricted free agent, but Gauthier was also able to squeeze a couple of prospects out of Nashville, including the grandson of Hall of Famer and Canadiens legend Boom Boom Geoffrion. The return probably speaks as much to how highly the Predators value Gill as they go all in for a Stanley Cup as it does to Gauthier's bargaining savvy...Meanwhile, the part of me that enjoys a good freak show can't wait until the Hamilton Bulldogs arrive in town for Friday's game at the Bell Center and American-born-and-raised Blake Geoffrion does his first English-only scrum for the Montreal hockey media. Le grand fils de Boom Boom seulement en anglais? C'est un scandale...And I'm happy for Canadian Archbishop Thomas Collins that he became a Cardinal over the weekend, but I really don't see him duplicating Albert Pujols' run production.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Faith fuels the Kid's indomitable spirit

That someone as seemingly indestructible as Gary Carter could succumb so quickly to the ravages of cancer is a grim testament to the insidiousness of the disease. What can never be destroyed is Carter's spirit, which defined him as a ballplayer and as a man.
Carter's ready smile and unbridled enthusiasm would have been insufferable were they not genuine. Unfortunately, some of his teammates snickered behind Carter's back about his media-and-fan-friendly ways, dismissing it as shameless self-promotion, but maturity and restrospect have a way of putting things in their proper perspective.
Wally Backman, who played with Carter in New York, recalls that the other Mets used to roll their eyes and complain about the team bus being held up while Carter signed autographs, but Backman says it eventually dawned on them that Carter figured out way before everybody else how to treat people.
Carter didn't have a lot in common with most of his teammates. He spent the bulk of his career playing with two teams that caroused with at least as much enthusiasm as they competed, whether it was the hard-partying Expos in Montreal or the high-living Mets in New York, but he never wavered from his own path as a clean-living, faith-driven family man.
The statement released by Kimmy Carter to announce her father's passing yesterday was at once heartbreaking and uplifting, and made clear that in their unflagging Christian faith, the Carter family and Carter himself found peace and comfort in the worst of times.
The merits of a Higher Power are a matter of personal conviction, which some people choose to deny for their own reasons, but if faith provides the reservoir of inner strength that will keep Gary Carter's indestructible spirit alive among the people who loved him the most, it doesn't matter what anyone else believes.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Marchand playing a dangerous game

There was only one thing more despicable than the Bell Center crowd cheering when Boston's Zdeno Chara got hit in the face with the puck last night, and that was Brad Marchand calling out the fans. Considering Marchand's own conduct, that's a bit like Charlie Manson casting aspersions on Jeffrey Dahmer.
If precedent counts for anything, Marchand's dirty, low-bridge hit on Canadiens defenceman Alexei Emelin at the end of the second period should be good for an eight game suspension, given that the Bruins forward got five games earlier this season for an almost identical cheap shot on Vancouver's Sami Salo. In both instances, Marchand deliberately went low with a hit that's outlawed because of its potential for long-term or even career-ending injury. Yet there was Marchand holding court with reporters after the game, calling the fans' conduct embarrassing and classless, and saying it's important to be concerned for other people's safety.
Marchand is often described as one of those players you hate to play against but who you'd love to have on your own team. Well, you can have him, because there's no room on my team for a hypocrite and a gutless coward who hides behind Chara, Milan Lucic and Shawn Thornton, and whose day of reckoning - while not necessarily etched in stone - is only a matter of time.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Linsanity: like it or lump it

The basketball phenomenon known as Linsanity gained momentum last night, but there's trouble on the horizon for the New York Knicks and their rising star point guard, Jeremy Lin. While Lin drained a game-winning three pointer with half a second left in Toronto, the NBA beat media was abuzz over whether the 23 year old Lin and established Knicks superstar Carmelo Anthony can co-exist when Anthony returns from a groin injury - a question that says more about Anthony's ego than it does about anything else.
It's a credit to the prevailing mentality of hockey players that NHL history is awash in examples of superstars who not only co-existed on the same team but pulled together to win championships - Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier in Edmonton, Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr in Pittsburgh, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin with the Penguins, Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito in Boston, Mike Bossy and Bryan Trottier on Long Island, and Rocket Richard, Jean Beliveau or Guy Lafleur and any one of a score of Hall of Famers they collectively shared the room with during the glory years at the Forum.
NBA history is less liberally sprinkled with examples of dynamic championship duos, and the most obvious ones - the LA Lakers pairings of Kareem Abdul Jabaar and Magic Johnson and Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant - won their titles despite their relationships with each other rather than because of them.
If Carmelo Anthony can't share the ball and the spotlight with Jeremy Lin, Anthony is the one who's got to go. It doesn't matter how good an athlete he is - a self-serving attitude in a team dynamic is poison, and an almost guaranteed recipe for failure.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Sundin worthy of Beliveau comparison (and other Monday morning musings)

So, I'm watching the Leafs' tribute to Mats Sundin Saturday, and I mention on Twitter than I consider the longtime Toronto captain to be the Swedish Jean Beliveau - a reasonable comparison, I thought, given that both players were big body centermen who epitomized elegance, grace, humility, ability and leadership on and off the ice. The backlash to the comparison was swift and damning. How dare I mention Sundin in the same breath as Beliveau and Beliveau's multiple Stanley Cup championships? Well, it's like this: give Sundin Beliveau's supporting cast and Sundin would have enough rings that he'd had to wear one on each thumb. There's nothing wrong with setting team loyalties aside and giving credit where credit is due. It's what grownups do. I have no doubt that Beliveau would be flattered by the comparison, and that's good enough for me...I didn't hear it, but apparently, eyewitness to the Old Testament Bob Cole mistook PK Subban for Josh Gorges during Saturday's broadcast, providing further proof that Cole should be put out to pasture as a play by play announcer. I'm not saying Cole has completely outlived his usefulness. He'd make an excellent air raid siren, right up until the first time he mixed up the attack warning with the all clear...Tonight's game against last place Carolina at the Bell Center represents an important test for the Canadiens, who have a bad habit of coming home from a big road win and messing the bed against an opponent they should beat. With 26 games to play and a seven point playoff deficit, it's a habit they can no longer afford to support...I hear the Canadiens have called up Schultz for tonight's game. In keeping with the theme, I think they swing a deal with Columbus for Carter and try to lure Lebeau out of retirement.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

There's no "Gronk" in "team"

Longstanding American tradition holds that there is no greater honor than a parade down Manhattan's Canyon of Heroes, whether the celebration is for history-making space explorers, warriors returning victorious from overseas or champions of sport, but yesterday's blowout for the NFL champion New York Giants might have been the second-most talked about post-Super Bowl party.
Within hours of Mrs. Tom Brady's widely-reported public trashing of her husband's New England teammates, video turned up on the Internet showing some of the Patriots partying up a storm in the hours after losing the biggest game many of them will play in their football careers. It was a pre-planned party and the Pats are entitled to it, but what their fans might find distasteful is that the featured dance number was performed by none other than Rob Gronkowski. He's no Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire, but the record-setting New England tight end whose high ankle sprain minimized his impact on the Super Bowl looked none-the-worse-for-wear on stage, and Patriots supporters can be excused for wondering where those moves were on the playing field.
Gronkowski is no stranger to controversy. He turned up on Twitter earlier this season, posing for pictures with a porn star whose company he was keeping during the Pats' bye week. I suppose he's entitled to keep the company he chooses and party when and where he wants to as long as his off-field endeavors are within the personal conduct guidelines spelled out in the collective bargaining agreement, but the nature of Gronkowski's personal choices in the public eye speak poorly of him as a teammate and a professional.

Monday, February 6, 2012

You can't spell "Elite" without Eli

If you look directly at the sun in Eli Manning's world today, your retinas could burn out. For once in his life, Manning totally eclipsed his brother Peyton by winning the Super Bowl and the Super Bowl MVP Award for the second time in four years, giving Eli one more NFL championship than Peyton has won in 14 seasons. The conversation is no longer about Eli versus Peyton as much as it's about Eli and his place among the elite, multiple Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks like Joe Montana, John Elway, and yes - Tom Brady...It's always gratifying when a proven cheater like Patriots coach Bill "Fashions by Shrek" Belichick loses, but even a Giants fan can muster some compassion for Patriots owner Robert Kraft, whose wife of 48 years passed away last summer. New England players wore a patch with Myra Kraft's initials on their uniforms all season, and more than one Patriot said after last night's game that their greatest regret was not being able to honor her memory with a championship...Based on the Viking-esque get-up Madonna was wearing at the start of the haltime show, I was half-expecting her to segue from "Vogue" into "Kill da Wabbit"...Anybody who wondered whether the cheering every time Scott Gomez touched the puck at the Bell Center this weekend was mockery or genuine support hasn't been paying attention. It was nothing less than a derisive demonstration of open contempt for a player who's drawing a 7.5 million dollar salary and hasn't scored a goal in more than a calendar year...One small measure of consolation for the 26th place Canadiens is that not all Leafs jokes are transferrable. There are still enough Cups in Montreal for the Canadiens to have a tea party, and there's no gardening tool called a Hab blower.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Pats motivated but still no match for Manning and the Giants

The New England Patriots aren't as good a football team as the group that marched undefeated into Super Bowl 42 four years ago, but that doesn't make them any less dangerous. If anything, the Patriots are probably hungrier this year because of what transpired in 2008, when what was supposed to be a coronation turned into the most stunning upset since Joe Namath and the Jets knocked off the heavily-favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl 3.
Fate has offered the Pats a payback scenario by delivering their nemesis as opponents Sunday in Indianapolis, where a win over the New York Giants would go a long way towards healing the psychological scars from having their pursuit of perfection derailed by the upstart Giants four years ago.
The problem for the Patriots is that the Giants are a substantially better team now than they were then, especially at the most important position on the field. Right now, Eli Manning is the best quarterback in football. He thrives under pressure. The bigger the stakes, the better he plays, and it doesn't get any bigger than the Super Bowl. Between Manning and a defensive pass rush that neither Green Bay nor San Francisco could stop, the Giants are the better team on both sides of the ball. Throw in a three point cushion as the oddsmakers' underdogs and the smart money is on the Giants again. This time, though, they'll only ruin the Patriots' day - not their whole season.
Prediction: Giants 30 Patriots 20.