Agony and Ecstasy: On 2 Nights of Sports That Pulled Me Through the Ringer

It was almost perfect.

Anyone who knows me even a little bit is well aware of my three sports loves: the Toronto Blue Jays, the Boston Bruins, and the Toronto Raptors.

I was fortunate enough to be of an age where I was able to appreciate the baseball team’s World Series wins back in 1992 and 1993, but it was a good while before one of that trio came out on top of its respective league.

18 years, in fact, and I’ve written about how I cried when the Bruins advanced to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011 and what it meant to me to be able to celebrate the win when Rich Peverley brought hockey’s holy grail to Guelph that summer.

The Bruins reached the Final again in 2013 (let’s not talk about that), but I honestly wasn’t sure I’d see this group – or any other in black and gold – get very far anytime soon.

The Blue Jays unexpectedly offered two straight years of playoff baseball, and I truly thought they’d get another win in 2015 – let’s not talk about that either.

As for the Raptors, the greatest joys I had previously experienced in all the time spent rooting for them since Day One resulted in a missed buzzer beater back in 2001 and an inability to get past LeBron James in more recent times, even with the best regular season teams assembled to date.

Cut to two recent nights in June, and the chance to witness two more league championship wins on consecutive nights.

Too good to be true, right?

Nailed it.

I’m honestly still not over how the Bruins fell flat in Game 7. It was honestly the perfect opportunity to win another Cup, and to cement the legacies of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci and Tuukka Rask, the only carryovers from 2011.

I felt pretty good through the opening 15 minutes, while lamenting a few glorious missed opportunities. As hockey is wont to do, the opposition found a way to capitalize despite limited shots on goal, and a late first period goal on one of the most ill timed line changes I’ve ever seen basically sealed the deal for the St. Louis Blues.

The TV was turned off with a few minutes left in the third period, if I’m being honest. Yes, I know “it was 4-1” once upon a time, but you could tell this group was lacking that magic on this night, and it was too painful an ending to watch.

Earlier than expected to bed I went, and that rest was much needed for the night after.

The Raptors have meant a lot to me over the years. Many of my college memories revolve around this team, and they’ve remained an easy talking point, an impetus to keep in touch with good old friends.

While I usually watch Bruins games alone because nobody around that I’m close with really cares as much as I do, I went to my brother-in-law’s house to watch Game 5 and 6 of the NBA Finals with him and his wife. The energy up here had been palpable for weeks chance to see the Raptors win their first Larry OB was to be shared with others.

Kyle Lowry came out firing, and Kawhi Leonard continued to prove why he’s one of the best players in basketball, and in the end, the Raptors did the damn thing.

I cheered, we hugged, we drank celebratory scotch, I cried and took to Instagram to express how I was feeling in that moment:

It’s a night I won’t soon forget, and the days that have followed have been filled with smiles, high fives, parade viewing, a championship t-shirt order and quiet moments of contentment and thankfulness that we all got to share in that long-awaited moment.

Still, I’m bummed about the Bruins. Through the Draft, the release of next year’s schedule, and as we move into free agency, I continue to lament what could have been, and daydream what could have been with a little more puck luck in those opening minutes.

But hey – if the Bruins themselves were able to party and celebrate getting that far only a couple days after the loss, then far be it for me to dwell on it for too long from a much greater distance.

Because let’s be honest. It’s rare to see the ideal or even expected scenario play out in reality. Lord knows we’ve seen our fair share of hardship around here over the past few years. That’s what puts all this sports stuff in perspective when it doesn’t go your team’s way, and makes life all the sweeter when it does.

Those two nights were a reminder to not take anything for granted, to accept that life will include losses, to celebrate even the smallest of victories along the way, and to enjoy the hell out of the big ones.

 

Favourite albums of 2019 (so far)

You wouldn’t know it by stepping outside, but it’s June and we’re nearing the halfway point of 2019. Here’s a quick look at my favourite albums of the year up to this point, with a song from each to help explain why.

Phoenix – Pedro The Lion

 

Archives – Gungor

 

Rattlesnake – The Strumbellas

 

People – Hillsong United

 

Pep Talks – Judah and the Lion

 

Living Mirage – The Head and the Heart

No, YOU’RE Kawhi-ing: On the Raptors finally doing the thing

The Toronto Raptors made me fall in love with basketball.

Sure, I watched Michael Jordan as a kid, and owned a Chicago Bulls Starter jacket, because who didn’t? But it wasn’t until Toronto got its own team that I truly embraced the game.

I was living in Ottawa at the time, and got my first taste of the Raptors on a Thanksgiving Monday afternoon, when my dad took me to see Damon Stoudamire and crew take on the New York Knicks in an exhibition game.

Cut to going nuts watching Vince’s dunk competition in one of my oldest friend’s basements, going to college in Toronto and regularly spending whatever loose cash I had on Sprite Zone tickets with my two best buds, making sure I secured the communal TV for Sunday afternoon games on CTV, taping up countless newspaper clippings outside my dorm room on the Wall of Vince, getting so pumped when the drop in centre we volunteered at let us use their season tickets, and finally getting to witness live playoff basketball and seeing them win Game 3 against the Detroit Pistons in 2002.

I’ll admit I haven’t watched as faithfully as I did back then – as life got busier, my main sports viewing was focused on the Boston Bruins. I’ve still kept up with the team, suffering through playoff heartbreaks through the Chris Bosh and DeMar DeRozan eras, even attending one of the disappointing playoff losses at the hands of the Washington Wizards a few years back. It was awesome back at theScore, getting caught up in the rabid passion and knowledge of many who worked there. So was gathering at our church to watch Game 7 against the Miami Heat when the Raptors first advanced to the Conference finals.

All of it had culminated in seemingly inevitable sadness, but this year, things felt different.

Mostly because of this guy.

Last night, some family gathered at the Albion Hotel here in downtown Guelph for my mother in law’s 60th birthday party, near the end of which I snuck downstairs to watch Game 6 against the Milwaukee Bucks.

By the time we left, the Raptors were down by 5 and things were looking not awesome.

Cut again to returning home (with a few ciders now in my belly). Toronto went on a crazy run, highlighted by the dunk above. I literally had my shirt off and was waving it over my head in our living room, and teared up when the game was over and the Raptors had clinched a berth in the NBA Finals.

Some will say it’s just an Eastern Conference championship, and the job’s not finished, and maybe won’t get done considering the opposition – the Golden State Warriors, who are in search of a threepeat.

The thing is, who cares? This straight up doesn’t happen up here, and Kawhi Leanord and Kyle Lowry have given us much more than a moment to remember.

I got texts and was tagged in Insta stories by some of my oldest and dearest friends, and was flooded with memories of good times past.

 

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At its best, sports is about community; they bring people together.

Thank you for this, Raptors.

#WeTheNorth

#GuelphForever: A playoff run I won’t soon forget

I thought my hockey writing days were over. Turns out, 2019 gave me an experience I won’t soon forget.

After leaving my job at theScore over a year ago, I knew I wanted to keep plying that trade in some form, but wasn’t sure if the opportunities would be there. I wrote a bit in this space over the summer, pitched a few ideas here and there, and was later given the opportunity to provide some content over at 

Why there? Guelph Storm defenseman Ryan Merkley was selected 21st overall by the San Jose Sharks – the team FTF covers for SB Nation – and I offered to track his progress for them from the point of view of a local.

Big thanks again Sie for adding me to the team, and to the Storm for giving me thumbs up to sit in the press box. It was a very cool way to stay in the hockey writing game and a perfect little side gig for me; work at home by day, head down to the Sleeman Center the odd Friday night or Sunday afternoon, and gain some media experience that I wasn’t afforded previously.

But then *record scratch, freeze frame* I learned that Guelph had traded Merkley to Peterborough, effectively ending my assignment. Sad! Thankfully, the guys at Second City Hockey soon reached out, asking me to cover the recently acquired Chicago Blackhawks prospect MacKenzie Entwistle, as well as London Knights defenseman Adam Boqvist.

Entwistle was one of several big names the Storm brought in prior to the OHL trade deadline, along with Nick Suzuki, Sean Durzi, Fedor Gordeev and Markus Phillips. This gave the roster an entirely new look, and the hope was they could contend for a league championship. While it was very touch and go at moments during the playoffs, they were able to do the damn thing in the end, pulling off three pretty incredible comebacks in the process.

I covered a thrilling Game 4 against the London Knights, and was fortunate enough to be there for the championship clinching game, which in and of itself was a bucket list goal for me. But to be able to take it in from the press box and even hit the ice in the aftermath to interview Entwistle … that was something truly special that I won’t soon forget.

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This team reminded me how much I love this game and why,  and I wish all these guys the best as they pursue pro careers.

Guelph’s run unfortunately came to an end with a Memorial Cup semifinal loss to the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies on Friday, but there’s no shame in losing to the top ranked team in the country, and finishing third is still something to be proud of.

Hopefully I’ll be able to do kind of the same thing next season, but Guelph certainly won’t be this good again with a number of players set to go pro.

Going all in with was well worth it in the end, and I feel pretty lucky to have been part of it in some small way.

Guelph forever, indeed.

I promised myself I wouldn’t cry …

They did it again. And so did I.

For the third time in nine years, my favourite hockey team is heading to the Stanley Cup Final. While I didn’t get as emotional as I did back in 2011, I will freely admit to tearing up a bit as the Boston Bruins their Eastern Conference finals sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes last night.

It wasn’t when an injured Zdeno Chara came out on to the ice in full gear to accept the Prince of Wales trophy that I got emotional, nor when Patrice Bergeron hung back as the last Bruin on the ice, hugging every member of the team as they skated off.

It was when Cam Neely personally congratulated the players on their way back to the locker room.

As the story goes, I became a Bruins fan because my dad and his mother were big Bobby Orr fans, and Boston hockey fans living in Ontario by extension. By the time I came around in late 1980 – over 2 years after Bobby scored his final NHL goal – a love for the Bruins was entrenched deep enough in my dad that it was passed swiftly down to me.

My Bobby was Cam Neely, and my heart broke as a kid when his Bruins got so close but failed to reach the pinnacle of hockey glory. To see him still get so fired up as an executive, with a look in his eyes that says he wishes he could still get out there and help the cause, that got to me.

Four more wins, please. That’s all I ask.

Highlands – Hillsong United (Video)

 

I’ve been a Hillsong United fan pretty much since the beginning. Their faith-based, positive lyrics, masterful musicianship and ridiculously catchy hooks have been a staple through good times and bad.

I must admit, though, I always haven’t felt like listening to them, unable to relate to their sense of reckless abandon in the face of the realities of daily life. It sometimes felt a bit much – how can one really be that full of praise ALL the time?

Their new album People is refreshing in that it seems more honest than their previous work. There’s room for doubt, for questioning. That seems to stem from band lead Joel Houston, as explained in RELEVANT:

Houston had questions about his future, his band and even his faith. Where does the person a generation has turned to for worship go when he’s no longer feeling inspired? Who does a leader ask when he has questions about faith? Houston needed help.

That’s what led him to that rundown farmhouse in the Scottish countryside.

He’d taken the invitation of a friend to go to Scotland, get away from things and spend some time talking through his struggles. Arriving at the farmhouse was a moment of revelation.

“I saw something inspiring for the first time given the season that I was in, in that moment,” he says. “I felt like I got a picture of my life.”

On the outside, the house was rundown, worn by weather and time. It was a shell of what it had once been. But if you looked hard enough, you could see that with a little work and care, it could be restored.

It could, for all Houston knew, be even more stunning than the place it’d been before.

“Sometimes, if you’re going to create something beautiful, you’ve got to get through the process of reconstruction,” Houston says. “And that involves deconstruction and all the rest of it.”

All of the above plays out in a beautiful new song that I posted above called “Highlands.” It makes me think of when Lauren and I lived in Scotland, everything we’ve been through since, and the fact we know everything is going to be OK in the end.

I can’t stop listening to this song, and I hope it’s an encouragement to others as well.

Guelph Nighthawks name opening night roster

The Guelph Nighthawks named their opening night roster for the 2019 Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL) season on Tuesday.

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The most recognizable name is G Myck Kabongo, a once highly-touted prospect whose pro aspirations derailed during his second year at the University of Texas.

Per Carlan Gay of NBA.com:

Kabongo averaged 12.6 points, 6.8 assists per 40 minutes in his freshmen season at Texas. His sophomore season was cut short after having to sit out a 23 game suspension for receiving impermissible benefits from an agent. He ended up playing in 11 games that season putting up decent numbers but never really fulfilled the promise he had coming in as a freshman in his two years at Texas. In 2013 he entered the draft but his stock had already been compromised with the suspension and inconsistency in his play – he went undrafted.

Since his draft year, Kabongo has spent time playing in the G-League – most recently with Raptors905 in 2018-19 – as well as leagues in Romania, Mexico, Spain and France.

In all honesty, I don’t know much about the rest of the squad, but have been offered a chance to cover some games this summer, and I’m pretty excited to learn more about these players and help welcome high-level basketball to our town.

I do know for one thing that their logo is pretty bad ass.

 

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“We expect the Nighthawks to have one of the top offences in the league,” said Guelph coach and General Manager Tarry Upshaw.  “We are a team that will really push the ball in transition and bring a high-speed, positive energy on to the court that we expect will permeate into the crowd here in Guelph.”

The Nighthawks are heading to Abbotsford, BC for the club’s inaugural CEBL game against the Fraser Valley Bandits on May 9th. Guelph will host a home opener on Saturday, May 11that the Sleeman Centre against the Saskatchewan Rattlers.

 

Searching For Sunday

Rachel Held Evans passed away today at the age of 37. 

I’m so sad and don’t know what to say.

All I can think to do is share this review of one of her books that she graciously sent me directly. It speaks to her impact on my life and how much she will be missed.

If you’re able, you can support her husband and two young boys here.

So church is, essentially, a gathering of kingdom citizens, called out – from their individuality, from their sins, from their old ways of doing things, from the world’s way of doing things – into participation in this new kingdom and community with one another.

imageThat’s the conclusion reached by Rachel Held Evans in her new book, Searching For Sunday: Loving, Leaving, And Finding The Church, wherein she describes her journey out of evangelicalism, through a church plant that didn’t quite get rooted, a break from church altogether, and into a deeper, richer and fuller understanding of what it means to be part of the body of Christ in the 21st century.

I read and enjoyed both of Rachel’s first two books – Evolving in Monkey Town and A Year of Biblical Womanhood – and have benefited from following her on social media and meeting her in person at the conference that spawned the book Letters To A Future Church.

But of all work, I can honestly say nothing has impacted me as much as this new book.

I’m not sure if I qualify as a millennial, but Rachel’s story of growing up in, moving away from and rediscovering ‘church’ resonated with me in deep ways, as if she was sharing my story and the stories of thousands of others in the same boat, beckoned to step out, in faith, to something different.

But this is distinctly her story, told through the lens of seven sacraments of the church, namely baptism, confession, holy orders, communion, confirmation, anointing the sick and marriage. Interspersed throughout are tales from her travels, some hilarious, others heartbreaking, all with a heavy impact.

What struck me most – and what might cause many to strike back – is her telling of stories shared at a Gay Christian Network Conference, stunning example of how the church is meant to look more like a support group than a country club.

Reading on the train on the way home from work, tears came to my eyes as I thought of the church’s wretched history and its brilliant future, one based on embracing the call to love and live together, as described above.

Reading this book felt like I was having a good, heartfelt chat over coffee with a like-minded, like-hearted friend, grieving that which has gone wrong and celebrating a bright hope for the future of the church, of this world, and ultimately, in Christ.

Very much worth checking out.

Oh, and I’m going to frame this quote, I think.

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A quick thank you

In June 2018, I put this website together in order to maintain some creative space.

I was a couple weeks removed from my full-time hockey writing job and venturing into the (somewhat unknown to me) world of marketing, but still wanted to be able to type words for public consumption.

I did manage to land a couple of freelance hockey writing gigs, and so this space has been a bit of a mixed bag, inconsistently offered at that.

But it’s getting some clicks, and for that, I thank you.

It’s kind of weird to start from scratch again, but it’s cool to know people still care about what I have to offer. April was the third-highest traffic month, and I’ve been trying to publish more regularly.

Don’t think the clicks and social media shares go unnoticed or unappreciated.

I appreciate you, dear reader.