Thursday, March 27, 2014

Appropriately bittersweet

     The tireless efforts of a dedicated band of volunteers come together this weekend when major league baseball returns to Montreal, however fleetingly.
     The 1994 Expos will be honoured at a gala dinner celebrating a team whose most ardent supporters are convinced were headed to the World Series before the season was infamously derailed by a labor dispute.  Major League Baseball is throwing the die-hards a bone in the form of a two game exhibition series at the Big O between the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets, which so far has generated ticket sales in excess of 80,000 - equivalent to the combined turnout for a 10 game homestand in the Expos' dying days.
     While this weekend's events represent the most ambitious and conspicuous chapter in a grassroots campaign to bring baseball back to Montreal, even the wildest dreamers are doing their best to stay rooted in reality.  There are no current MLB expansion or relocation scenarios, and even if there were, Montreal hasn't found the elusive angel investor to cough up the billion or so dollars required to finance a team and a new stadium (and a billion might be a conservative estimate).
     Anyone who expects this weekend to pave the way for baseball's rebirth in Montreal is setting themselves up for disappointment.  Take it at face value and enjoy it for what it is, and the weekend will at the very worst be bittersweet, which in the context of franchise history would be entirely in keeping with the Expos fan experience.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Lucic nut job

    Montreal hockey fans and media were predictably critical of the conduct and comments from the Bruins' Milan Lucic during and after the Canadiens 2-1 shootout win in Boston Monday.  In the interests of getting a balanced perspective in a heated rivalry, I read several Boston media accounts of Lucic's latest go-around with Canadiens defenceman Alexei Emelin. 
    While the notoriously partisan Bruins media would only go as far as to say it appeared that Lucic speared Emelin in the midsection behind the play in the third period, they reported the incident and Emelin's earlier textbook hip check that so enraged the Bruins without comment or opinion.  They were similarly fact-bound in their reporting of Lucic's postgame tirade in which he called Emelin a chicken for not fighting.  But really, what could they say?  Lucic's puerile reaction to a legal bodycheck and lame denial of the stickwork charge despite clear video evidence to the contrary smacked of a pouting schoolboy's wounded pride. 
    I didn't read, watch or listen to every Boston-based account, but the ones I saw reflected a consensus that there's no credibility in defending the indefensible - even when you're catering to an audience that's more than willing to live the lie.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The mad genius of MT

    Canadiens coach Michel Therrien made an educated guess with his starting goalie last night and came away looking like a mad genius, as Peter Budaj backstopped the Canadiens to a 2-1 shootout win over the Bruins in Boston.  The method to Therrien's apparent madness in starting a career backup ahead of Olympic champion and Vezina Trophy frontrunner Carey Price on the road against the class of the conference was that historically, Budaj has had the Bruins' number, with a career 3-0 record and 1.67 goals against average at Boston's TD Garden going into last night's game.  He rewarded Therrien's hunch with what was arguably the best performance by any Canadiens goaltender so far this season.
    It doesn't explain or excuse those occasions when Therrien gives Francis Bouillon and Travis Moen more ice time than he gives PK Subban and Alex Galchenyuk or sets Jarrod Tinordi's confidence back by two months with a zero tolerance policy on rookie mistakes, but even his harshest critics have to concede that Therrien made the right call in goal last night.  He continues to win in spite of himself - a mixed blessing if ever there was one for Canadiens fans.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

An inspired choice

     The usual suspects - which is to say people who resent anyone with a greater level of success and popularity than their own - are decrying Rogers Sportsnet's choice of George Stromboulopoulos as the new face of Hockey Night in Canada.  "What ever happened to paying your dues?" rings the predictably indignant refrain.  "Why should a VJ- turned-talk show host get the most coveted sportscasting gig in the country?"
     Let's be clear: Stromboulopoulos is an accomplished broadcaster who has paid his dues.  He's been on the air for more than 20 years, working his way from reporter at a Toronto all sports radio station all the way to his own show on CNN, before settling back into his longstanding gig as host of George Stromboulopoulos Tonight - a respected nightly talk show on CBC television, where Stromboulopoulos demonstrates an easy rapport with A-list celebrities from actors and rock stars to global geopolitical leaders.  He is as polished and intelligent as any sportscaster in the country, more engaging than the lot of them, and has demographic appeal that transcends both age and gender.  He's a passionate and knowledgeable hockey fan, and anything he doesn't know he can learn.  It's hockey, not abstract algebra or statistical thermodynamics. 
     Rogers and Hockey Night in Canada already have more than enough sportscasters and ex-jock analysts kicking around to handle the journalism and insight.  The selection of a hip, popular and proven host to bring a tired formula into the 21st century is a stroke of genius. 
     Lose the earrings, though, George.  The occasion and circumstances demand at least that much conformity.