Thursday, February 27, 2014

And another thing (or "Not a bilingual city, mon cul")

     If Michel Therrien calling himself a proud Canadian was a slap in the face to Quebec separatists, last night's pre-game ceremony at the Bell Center was a punch in the stomach.  
     A post-Olympic love-in for the gold medal-winning Canadian men's and women's hockey teams was capped by a thunderous a capella version of O Canada, sung loud and proud and in both official languages by a capacity crowd who made a mockery of PQ language minister Diane DeCourcy's ludicrous claim that Montreal is not a bilingual city.  It was also a symbolic rebuke of Premier Marois's congratulatory message to the men's team, in which she deliberately snubbed Canada, and only specifically mentioned the four Quebec-born players on the team. 
     It would be wishful thinking to hope that what transpired at the Bell Center last night was a watershed moment in Quebec society.  The government of the day pursues a divisive agenda and is ably assisted by sympathetic collaborators in media, academia and the union movement.  If nothing else, though, the game that unfailingly unites Quebecers of all backgrounds reminded us that day to day and at street level, we share common values and celebrate the same things. 
     We now return to the politics of hate and division, already in progress.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Michel Therrien, proud Canadian

    Michel Therrien made what might have been his most profound statement as head coach of the Montreal Canadiens yesterday, and it had nothing to do with his hockey team.  Therrien told reporters that watching Canada win the men's and women's hockey gold medals at the Sochi Olympics made him proud to be a Canadian.  
    That would be garden variety patriotism coming from most Canadian hockey coaches, but for a francophone Quebecer in a prominent position with Quebec's most revered cultural institution to call himself a proud Canadian must have singed every ear hair on even the hairiest-eared Quebec separatist.  Over the last 25 years, a majority of francophone Quebecers have been successfully cowed by a minority of fervent nationalists into keeping whatever loyalty they might feel for Canada to themselves.  About the only public display of affection for Canada that routinely takes place among French Quebecers is when they unabashedly sing the national anthem en masse out loud at the Bell Center - a curious phenomenon that only resurfaced in recent years.  Whenever an individual francophone Quebecer embraces their Canadianism publicly, it's usually someone like Therrien who's spent a good portion of his life in other cities, provinces and countries and isn't susceptible to the insular nationalist mentality.
    Still, for someone of Therrien's stature in French Quebec to call himself a proud Canadian takes courage.  It shouldn't, but it does.  Good for him.  Quebec needs more Canadians like him.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Hockey gold and Klingon problems

In the final analysis, there were no nits to pick on the Canadian men's Olympic hockey team.  Even the perceived snub of reigning Norris Trophy winner PK Subban rings hollow in the wake of Canada's near-perfect execution in back-to-back shutout wins to clinch the gold medal at the Winter Games in Sochi.  There's nothing Subban could have added to a defensive corps that was airtight in its own end and consistently instrumental in the offensive zone.  Even if it was mostly through osmosis, Subban acquired invaluable experience in what it takes to win at the elite level, while his teammate and friend, Carey Price, at long last established his own elite credentials beyond any shadow of a doubt.  

Every memorable Canadian win at the international level has included significant contributions from the best players of their day: Phil Esposito in 1972, Bobby Orr in '76, Gretzky and Lemieux in '87 and Sidney Crosby in 2010 and 2014.  As with Vancouver four years ago, there were grumblings about Crosby being held off the score sheet going into the gold medal game, but when it mattered most, he delivered.  The great ones always do.

The American media was conveniently late to pick up on the figure skating hijinks in Sochi.  After barely paying lip service to the fishy circumstances that gave the US the gold medal over Canada in ice dancing, there was blanket American coverage of the suspect judging that put Russian teenager Adelina Sotnikova atop the podium ahead of defending Olympic champion Kim Yu-Na of South Korea.  Awfully decent of them to go to bat for Kim, but there's no journalistic credibility in cherry picking which scandals you cover.  Unfortunately for the American media, there's nothing they can do to manipulate the coverage in hockey, where the scoreboard doesn't lie.

Even the most casual observer can make the obvious link between Team USA defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk and William Shatner, who played Captain Kirk in the original Star Trek series.  However, real Star Trek geeks identify with Shattenkirk because his first name reminds them of Starfleet officer Kevin Riley, who commandeered the Enterprise in Season 1, episode 7 ("The Naked Time") before trying to assassinate Kodos the Executioner in episode 13 ("The Conscience of the King"). 

lupDujHomwIj luteb gharghmey. (That's Klingon for "My hovercraft is full of eels", but you probably already knew that.)

Friday, February 21, 2014

The dreaded two goal lead

     There's a harebrained notion that's held as gospel by otherwise reasonable people that the two goal lead is the worst lead in hockey.  Never mind that it's a fundamentally flawed premise that an advantage of any kind is a bad thing.  Every once in a while, something transpires that adherents point to as proof of their cockamamie theory, like the Americans blowing a late 2-0 lead and losing 3-2 in overtime to Canada in the women's gold medal game at the Olympics.         
     The idea of advantage as a recipe for disaster seems to be exclusive to hockey. Football coaches play for the two score lead and the significant psychological cushion it provides.  In baseball, being up by two means you have what's called an insurance run, a bit of phraseology that hardly bespeaks a doomsday scenario.  If you're up two sets to none in women's pro tennis, you've already won the match.  These are logically considered to be fortuitous circumstances. 
     Proponents of the dreaded two goal lead theory point to a natural tendency for a team to take its foot off the gas, but there's nothing natural about it.  In today's game, it's a deliberate strategy to retreat into a defensive shell, rather than press the advantage.  If the two goal lead is in fact some kind of formula for catastrophe, it's not a naturally-occurring phenomenon.  It's a self-fulfilling prophecy born of a conservative mentality that caters to caution over killer instinct. 
   But mostly, it's a load of hooey.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Figure skating funny business

    When someone writes the definitive book on scandals in sport, let them not get so caught up in steroids, the Black Sox, Jake LaMotta, point shaving in basketball and Italian football match fixing that they overlook that most improbable of corrupt sports: figure skating. 
    The flagrant chicanery that cost Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir the ice dancing gold medal in Sochi could be chalked up to poor but honest judging were there not ample circumstantial evidence and precedent to suggest otherwise.  We went down this dirt road in 2002, when Canada's Jamie Sale and David Pelletier were belatedly awarded gold medals after a conspiracy was exposed involving the Russian and French judges.  Reports of similar backroom shenanigans between the Russians and the Americans surfaced in Sochi prior the ice dancing competition, and appeared to be borne out when - in the eyes of virtually all the experts except the judges - Virtue and Moir were blatantly jobbed.  The International Olympic Committee, which refused to investigate before the competition, now faces a choice of at least paying lip service to the conspiracy allegations or having its credibility equated to that of professional wrestling. 
   Actually, that's not fair to pro wrestling, where at least when the fix is in, everyone is in on the fix.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Passing on PK, separatist spin and other Olympic musings

 To borrow a phrase from the American patriot's handbook, it's my country right or wrong, and in the case of personnel decisions for the Canadian men's Olympic hockey team, it's my country wrong.  Even Don Cherry - the ultimate cheerleader for the white-bread, Upper Canadian/prairie boy hockey prototype - was flummoxed by the absence of PK Subban and Martin St. Louis from the Team Canada lineup for yesterday's round robin finale against Finland - a matchup tailor-made for the speed and skill of the reigning Norris and Art Ross trophy winners.  Cherry called Subban "the best defenceman in the NHL", and coming from a confirmed Habs hater who doesn't care for Subban's natural exuberance, that's saying something.  If Subban doesn't dress for the medal round, it'll be all the confirmation anyone should need that inviting him in the first place was nothing more than a public relations exercise, and a poorly-executed one at that.

Anyone with a shred of decency will agree that politicizing Quebec's disproportionate share of the Canadian medal haul at the Winter Olympics is undignified and offensive.  That said, there's nothing wrong with Quebecers taking pride in winning fully half of Canada's 14 medals so far in Sochi.  If any other province were that dominant, you can bet they'd be blowing their own horn and it wouldn't be an issue because there wouldn't be political overtones.  It's important to differentiate between the legitimacy of the genuine pride felt by most Quebecers, and the effrontery of the uncouth few who use athletes as unwitting pawns for political gain.

I don't know how they finagled the citizenship papers, but it's awfully nice of the guys from Duck Dynasty, ZZ Top and the Zac Brown band to represent Canada in the men's Olympic bobsled.

This is an uneducated guess on my part, but it would make sense to me if the skeleton is called the skeleton because that's what you turn into if you wipe out face first at 130 kilometers an hour on a glorified Krazy Karpet.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Michael Sam: good for him, bad for open, honest discussion

    The would-be first openly gay NFL player says his sexual orientation shouldn't matter and he's right, but it will matter, mostly for the wrong reasons. 
    It took courage for All American defensive end Michael Sam to declare himself openly and proudly gay prior to the NFL draft, although by all accounts, it was already widely known and a non-issue among his Missouri coaches and teammates.  If he's already living his lifestyle openly among family, friends and associates, making a public declaration is inviting attention and controversy, and that makes it a boon for politically correct bullies eager tar anyone who doesn't drink the Kool-Aid with the bigot brush.  ESPN's Herm Edwards was widely mocked yesterday for giving honest answers to legitimate questions about how the presence of an openly gay player could affect the locker room dynamic and whether it might affect Sam's draft status.  As someone whose association with pro football as a player, coach and commentator spans five decades, Edwards spoke from an indisputably credible perspective, but because he wasn't in complete lockstep with the rainbow flag mentality and dared to suggest Sam's public proclamation could have negative football repurcussions, Edwards was lumped in with real bigots and homophobes by morally superior internet passersby who don't have a fraction of his insight.
    There's no credibility in using shrill hysteria to shut down legitimate discussion.  Acceptance and respect are commanded, not demanded.  The biggest service the PC police can do for Michael Sam is to listen to him when he says his sexuality doesn't matter, let him earn acceptance from his football peers through his measure as a player and as a person, and stop using him as a prop to drive their agenda. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Much ado about not much

    It was a little bit like a honeymoon ending over a toilet seat that was left up or an uncapped tube of toothpaste.  A huge portion of whatever fan and media goodwill still existed towards Canadiens general manager Mark Bergevin went by the wayside yesterday when Bergevin traded once-promising defenceman and unrestricted free agent-in-waiting Rafael Diaz to Vancouver for fourth line winger Dale Weise.  From the reaction on Twitter, you'd have thought Bergevin traded Carey Price for the mortal remains of Pee Wee Reese.
    The hue and cry over what was fundamentally an exchange of spare parts between the Canadiens and Canucks is standard fare in the social media world, where every armchair general manager finally has a potential audience beyond his cat, and mainstream media pundits are compelled to weigh in for reasons of public visibility and professional relevance.   It's also a measure of the frustration with Bergevin's relative inactivity on the trade market despite his team's glaring shortcomings.
    Well, be careful what you wish for, because when and if Bergevin trades impending UFAs Andrei Markov and/or Brian Gionta for a lot less than the clamoring masses want or expect, it'll put the Diaz deal in its proper perspective.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Peyton's legacy, Gallagher gets mugged and other Monday morning musings

Going into last night's football game, Peyton Manning was already a Super Bowl champion, five-time NFL MVP and ten-time All Pro with multiple passing records to his credit, but today his legacy is under siege, based on the flimsy rhetorical premise that one Super Bowl championship doesn't cement his place among the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.  That's like saying Neil Armstrong was unproven as an astronaut because he only went to the moon once.  Super Bowl 48 was about a dominant Seattle defence and a show-stealing Seahawks offence more than it was about Manning's perceived shortcomings.  But haters gonna hate and the media needs talking points, so the meltdown at the Meadowlands will be fodder for fault-finding until the next distraction comes along in 15 or 20 minutes.  By the time Peyton Manning is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, anyone who tries to diminish his legacy on the grounds that he "only" won one Super Bowl will betray their own dubious credibility.

It doesn't get much more high road than African American players, former players and coaches taking part in the traditional pre-game reading of the US Declaration of Independence, considering their forebears were treated worse than cattle when that document was drafted.  Concluding the segment with First Lady Michelle Obama was an appropriate illustration of how far America has come, and its potential to live up to its ideals.

Blaming the referees for the outcome of a game is the ultimate loser's lament, but that doesn't put officials above criticism if it's warranted.  The blatant non-call when Brendan Gallagher was all but kidnapped and transported across state lines wasn't the reason the Canadiens lost to Winnipeg yesterday, but it was an example of the incompetent officiating that all too often casts the NHL in a poor light.

This weekend's PGA Waste Management Open in Phoenix is only my third most favourite tournament name on the pro golf tour, after the Discarded Syringe Invitational and the Chronic Dysentery Pro Am.