Introducing Locked On Boston Bruins

As I’ve been pounding home ad nauseam on Twitter, I’m incredibly excited to soon be hosting a new daily Boston Bruins podcast.

I recently recorded a trailer, which you can listen to by clicking here:

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For the readers among us, here’s the transcript to help get you acquainted with what you can expect.

Hello and welcome to the Locked on Boston Bruins Podcast, part of the Locked On Podcast Network. My name is Ian McLaren and I am excited and honoured to be the host of this new daily podcast about all things Spoked B. You can follow me on Twitter @iancmclaren and the podcast @LO_BostonBruins.

Listen and follow for free on Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, Stitcher, Spotify, Pocket Casts or wherever you listen to podcasts, and you can play Locked on Boston Bruins on your smart speakers by saying play podcast Locked on Boston Bruins.

So what are we doing here?

Your favorite hockey team. Every Day. That’s the simple but powerful premise Locked On was founded on. Going forward, you can expect around 25-30 minutes on the latest in Bruins news,  and insights. And don’t worry – I won’t be going it alone every day. I’ll be connecting with talented folks who cover the team in person on a daily basis for their unique perspectives.

Why me?

I feel very fortunate to be able to host this show.n I have been following this team for 30 years or so, and the Bruins are without question my No. 1 sports love. 

I started writing about them several years ago for The Hockey Writers and SB Nation. That experience – and some other independent hockey writing – helped me secure a position as an NHL News Editor for theScore, which I held for 5 seasons. Through theScore, I was able to cover the league from afar on a daily basis, and I also had the opportunity to cover Mark Recchi’s Hockey Hall of Fame inductions and Toronto Maple Leafs practice.

I also hosted my own podcast, through which I was able to interview the likes of Rich Peverley, Kelly McDavid, and Canadian celebrities Jeremy Taggart and Jonathan Torrens.

Speaking of which, this won’t be an exclusively hockey podcast. As an avid pop culture enthusiast, you can expect references to TV, movies, books and music, and the odd dad joke as well.

But first and foremost, this is a black and gold zone, a daily Boston Bruins podcast where will we answer questions like:

  • How much gas does Chara have left?
  • Why is Patrice Bergeron so perfect?
  • Is it Zach Senyshyn season?
  • What 2nd line winger will Sweeney acquire before the trade deadline this season?
  • How good can Charlie McAvoy be?

I’m very excited to get started, it’s going to be a blast and I hope you all enjoy this first season with me. Please subscribe, rate and review, and tell your Bruins-loving friends about this great new show Locked on Boston Bruins.

It all gets started on Sept. 30, a few days before the season opener.

Let’s. Go.

5 simple suggestions for enjoying NHL training camps

In years past, I was very plugged into NHL training camps. This, however, will be my second fall out of the full-time hockey writing game.

Last September, I was lamenting my (lack of) place in the game, but stumbled upon some cool writing opportunities and hot through it. This year, I’ll be back writing here, there and anywhere, and am just trying to have some fun out there.

Sadly, we’re still a few weeks out from the regular season. Here’s some tips on how to get through the way too long training camp and seemingly endless exhibition schedule.

5 suggestions

  1. Don’t freak out over line combinations and defensive pairings. The preseason is very fluid, things can and will change before opening night. Let the coaches tinker.
  2. Root for the guys who likely won’t make the squad. Exhibition games can be boring as hell, but for some of these players, it’s the only time this season they’ll put on NHL jerseys. Cheer like hell when they score and hope they make enough of an impression to beat the odds.
  3. Don’t judge the kids too harshly. There’ll be a lot of rookies out there trying to impress, some of whom will succeed and fail to varying degrees. Go easy on the ones who fall into the latter camp.
  4. Remember who can end up where. Here’s a good primer on why some young players can be assigned to the AHL while others have to be returned to their junior clubs. It’ll help you avoid misassigning players on Twitter.
  5. Pray for trades. There’s still plenty of unsigned RFAs out there, and several teams looking to create cap space, dump contracts or add to the roster. Trades make any day much more entertaining. Give me as many as possible.

What did I miss?

Blake Griffin wonders why Christians don’t act more like Jesus

Blake Griffin just dunked on the church.

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The NBA superstar appeared on You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes this week, and as is custom on this podcast, the topic of faith and the meaning of life came up towards the end of the lengthy conversation.

Griffin said he grew up going to a non-denominational church that’s now a huge mega-church, and he understandably doesn’t know how to feel about that evolution.

Despite moving away from that foundation and questioning that model, he still retains a measure of faith.

“I still like the idea of believing in God,” he said. “If you don’t, fine. I like it. It gives me something bigger.”

Griffin then added more context to his faith journey. He went to a Christian high school where he attended weekly chapel, took bible courses and learned about other religions in order to refute them.

To explain where he’s at now, he then worked through a common line of thinking that dissuades many from the church these days.

Note: He was careful with his thoughts here and I transcribed as best as I could as he stopped and started along the way,

“My issue with Christianity is I just don’t understand how a religion that is following somebody who stood for these things … In the Bible, you know, Jesus would eat with the sinners, the prostitutes. And yet Christians believe, for instance, homosexuality is a sin. But then you can’t accept? I don’t get it. Why can this person who you’re supposed to be following do these things but you can’t?”

Great question, Blake.

Jesus was notoriously hanging out with those on the margins of society, and yet Christianity is sadly seen as a religion that makes in/out, us/them distinctions.

It doesn’t make any sense at all, and that disconnect is a big reason why Millennials in particular are running from the church.

As a side note, I had no idea Griffin is a stand up comic in the off season, making his chat with Pete even more interesting. Pete’s utter lack of basketball knowledge is also hilarious.

I listen to every YMIW, but this one’s got wide appeal and should be a stand out episode.

I’m officially more of a Griffin fan than I was a few hours ago.

Paradise is a Parking Lot

 

If you’ve known me for any length of time, you’ve likely heard me talk about Derek Webb. For the better part of 20 years now, he’s been one of my favourite musical artists, from his time with Caedmon’s Call through his solo career (and podcast, which I appeared on).

Webb’s Album ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ turns 10 this year, and it remains one of his best, in my opinion.

Here’s what I wrote about it back in the day:

A huge theme on Stockholm Syndrome is sexuality. I have already blogged about the not so controversial song What Matters More, but sexuality is also a theme in the upbeat but cautionary tale of Jena and Jimmy, in What You Give Up to Get It [Like sex when you’re too young … Oh it’s never quite worth what you give up to get it], and in the final tune American Flag Umbrella. I am a big fan of the song Freddie Please, a song directed to the figurehead of Westoboro Baptist Church, infamous for their anti-homosexuality demonstrations featuring the ‘God Hates Fags’ signs. This song seems to be sung from the perspective of Jesus, who asks this question of Phelps: ‘Freddie please / How could you do this to Me? / How could you tell me you love Me when you hate Me Freddie please?’

One of my favorite songs right now is Becoming a Slave, which addresses the reality of imbalance in the world in which we live and causes the listener to consider the price that is paid in order for us to have the ‘things’ that we value so highly – ‘There’s always a price to pay / It’s gotta hit somebody’s back / Trust me, new worlds / Don’t just build themselves.’ Slavery is alive and well in the world, and Christians must sit back and think about our implicit participation in oppressive systems. We are slaves to our ‘stuff’ whether we acknowledge it or not, and this cycle will continue until we fight for ‘justice in the system.’

Other key tracks for me are Heaven, Black Eye and The Proverbial Gun, but who I am kidding, I dig them all!

While some may argue that this album is quite critical of contemporary Christianity and perhaps might even come across as judgmental and short on grace, I would say that Webb provides an important prophetic voice that constantly points us back to the key question, ‘what matters more?’ While doctrinal debates rage on, the world around is desperately looking for a group of people to embody a different, more loving way of living. This is what the Church has to offer; that we can be a hand to hold to keep the world on its feet, a reminder that, though Chrust, the following is true: ‘And in the end it will all be OK / That’s what the wise men tell us / So if it’s not OK / Then it’s not the end, oh my friends / There’s hope for everyone’

To commemorate the occasion, he’s going on tour to play the album top to bottom (fingers crossed that I can swing a trip to the closes venue – a mere 6 hours away), and he also released a ‘making of’ documentary on YouTube. I share it here in hope that you’ll watch it and come to love Derek as much as I do.

Enjoy.

“What the hell is life apart from moments?”

The only thing the sport gives us are moments. But what the hell is life, Peter, apart from moments?

September 1. Where did the summer go?

It began for me with a pair of massive sports moments that fell on opposite ends of the spectrum – a crushing defeat and a first time championship.

Those moments have remained with me over the past few months. I felt joy whenever I put on my Raptors lid or championship t-shirt, and wondered if it was too soon to don any black and gold in public.

Thankfully, the summer was filled with moments that made me forget about sports. A quiet bench by the lake, picnics on beaches at conservation areas, a visit to my parents’ cabin, a week at church camp with our oldest son, another in Ottawa with two of the boys, fun times at Wonderland, trips and bike rides to the corner store.

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The quote above is another great one from Beartown and delivered by Ramona, the town barkeep. It reminded me of Pete Holmes and his adoption of the mantra “yes, thank you.” This excerpt from a recent GQ article explains what that’s all about:

It’s a mantra that Holmes began to use after he noticed his inability to be present. He’d find himself at a museum or in a garden near his home, and instead of enjoying his surroundings, he’d find himself stressed about making sure he saw the right paintings, or comparing every tree he saw to another he’d seen before. He calls this “running the program:” going into the oh-so-human mode of judging, evaluating, or interpreting what you’re seeing—instead of just experiencing it as it is.

Saying “yes, thank you” is Holmes’ way of being grateful for things exactly as they are, something he learned, at least in part, from Ram Dass, an important teacher of his. And as you find out in his book—a spiritual manifesto disguised as a very funny memoir—this was particularly important for a man who, still in his twenties, got divorced, began to question the Christian faith within which he was raised, and had something of an existential crisis.

Those huge shake-ups caused a lot of pain, obviously, but they also helped him understand that you don’t just say “yes, thank you” to the trees and white roses. You have to say yes to the challenges, too. That’s how you make friends with the constant, inescapable changes that define human life.

What the hell is life apart from all the moments, both good and bad? Nothing.

Bruins lose, Raptors win: “yes, thank you.”

One summer day with my kids is bright and full of sunshine and laughter, another is replete with challenges and doubts about my abilities as a parent: “yes, thank you.”

Seasons come, seasons go: “yes, thank you.”

Moments are all we have. Embrace each one. Good and bad.

Beartown Thoughts: “Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion”

What follows is one of the most powerful quotes from Frederick Backman’s Beartown.

Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion. The world becomes easier to understand and much less terrifying if you divide everything and everyone into friends and enemies, we and they, good and evil. The easiest way to unite a group isn’t through love, because love is hard, It makes demands. Hate is simple. So the first thing that happens in a conflict is that we choose a side, because that’s easier than trying to hold two thoughts in our heads at the same time. The second thing that happens is that we seek out facts that confirm what we want to believe – comforting facts, ones that permit life to go on as normal. The third is that we dehumanize our enemy.

 

Beartown Thoughts_ _Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion_

 

It’s important to note the context, though, before digging in. This comes at a part in the book where a junior hockey player has sexually assaulted the team manager’s daughter, and as the fallout from this horrific act begins to spiral. I’m therefore going to share some old thoughts on hockey fandom that tie into it, as well as on hockey culture in general.

First, let’s talk about why things are the way they are in regards to hockey fandom, and discussions around the sport in general.

Jeff Marek made an interesting point on the MvsW podcast back in the day that speaks to a divisive nature that is all too prevalent. His basic premise was that sports marketing and culture is set up to create and “us vs them” mentality, and that this is expressed most clearly in the use of “(Blank) Nation” or “(Blank) Army” or “(Blank)Fam” *barf* to describe a fan base.

What this does is establish a mobilization of the fans wherein we feel as though we are actually part of the battle, so to speak. We follow and support the cause of our favourite teams, and feel intimately linked to the outcomes that befall them. If they win, we take to the streets to celebrate; if they lose, we feel like our home and native land has been invaded and pillaged, leaving us wander aimlessly until the battle picks up again.

The fallacy here, of course, is that what will be will be, regardless of how we personally feel about the team in question. Our attachments to our teams and the players are mostly peripheral, in the sense that we likely have no personal knowledge of or attachment to the actual people who are playing the game.

We pay money for tickets, jerseys and cable packages, investing in war bonds if you will, but we don’t affect the outcomes of the games, Bartman notwithstanding.

Again, regardless of what happens, it’s not a reflection of who we are personally; if they win, we cheer but the accolades are not ours, and if we lose, it stinks but the failure is also not really ours.

Another thing that this mobilization does is create a black and white way of looking at the world. We get so drawn in to the cause that the lines between right and wrong or good and bad are blurred.

For example, if Player X on Team Y commits an egregious act either on or off the ice, we rightfully demand that he be held accountable. BUT, sometimes if Player Z on our favourite teams commits a similar act, well then we spin it any which way to make it out to be not so bad, that the world is just out to get him/us.

In short, mobilized fan bases creates “us vs them” and “black and white” thinking, often allowing emotion to trump logic and decency.

So how do we get around this?

I can only speak about my own situation, but here are two ways in which I’ve been able to balance being a fan, enjoying the game and reconciling my place within its often toxic culture.

First, over the past several years, I’ve dipped my toes into the hockey writer pool. While whether or not I’m any good at it is very much up for debate, what I’ve learned through the process is the importance of trying to maintain a level head, to look at situations from all sorts of angles, and to remain as reasonable and logical as possible when watching games and analyzing news.

Obviously that’s easier said than done, especially for a hetero white dude who’s been conditioned to wear a loyal fan hat in all circumstances, reason be damned.

But the reality is that approaching the game from a position of responsibility and with a view to building credibility lends itself to being more honest, more realistic, less attached, less emotionally engaged in the success or failure of the team, way more reluctant to Stan players no matter what trouble they get into.

An old boss of mine used to say to me “it’s not whether or you not you disagree, but how.” There’s no question that I will, at times, see things through the lenses I’ve been conditioned to use, as any fan of any team will. It’s OK to disagree about what happens on and off the ice, the merits of roster composition and fancy stats or which team won a trade, but if one is not prepared to step aside and admit that their biases and preconceived notions might be off, then it’s game over and there’s no point in continuing the conversation.

The second big part of it for me is my current stage of life. I’m 38, married, and have 3 boys age 9 and under, all of whom are playing the game at some level.

I want my boys to appreciate and love the game the way I do, and I also want them to be good people, to respect others, to think and care about the things in life that really matter.

What kind of example would I be setting if they saw me getting worked up about a hockey game to the point where I can’t speak to friends and family, or started cursing out guys on TV or Twitter, or losing sleep over the outcome of a game or playoff series?

Additionally, how could I tell them “hockey is for everyone” if I sit back and accept the ongoing ostracism and outright rejections of women, people of colour, and the LGBTQ community?

But what I’m trying to learn and subsequently demonstrate to my boys is that you can be a loyal fan and a good person, enjoying the game for what all games are supposed to be – FUN and INCLUSIVE!

Even more than that, your team can lose and you can be happy for the fans of the OTHER team because you know they care as much as you do.

I want to be known as someone who enjoys being a fan of this team, who enjoys watching the game I love, and who’s able to allow all others to do so in relation to their team of choice in any way they see fit. Not only that, but we also need to empathize with those that hockey continues to shun or disregard, standing up for what is good and right in the face of a way-too-slow-to-change culture.

All this to say, I love hockey, but it’s only hockey.

And hockey should never take precedence over being a decent and loving human being.

Danny McBride’s relationship with the church is heartbreaking and familiar

The ever-hilarious Danny McBride has a new HBO show called The Righteous Gemstones in which he plays a prominent member of a “world-famous televangelist family with a long tradition of deviance, greed and charitable work.”

 

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McBride recently appeared on Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard, and due to the nature of his new show, the topic of church was raised. I was surprised to learn McBride grew up going to church, but the story he told about his experience there was all too heartbreaking but not unfamiliar.

He told Dax he grew up going to a Baptist church and his parents were both really involved. His mom even did puppet ministry. And then life happened, and his family’s relationship with the church came to an unnecessary end:

We went hardcore. We were there all the time. My parents were so involved in it. And then my parents got divorced when I was in sixth grade and my dad kind of ran out on us. Suddenly, here’s my mom who works in a department store at the mall, she’s got two kids living in an apartment, and you’re thinking “maybe this church you donated all this time to will be supportive.” Instead, the people there turned their backs on her, shamed her for getting a divorce. I can remember seeing my mom and how much the church meant to her, and now she didn’t feel like she could enter the church.

He said his mom would take the kids back to church for a couple months after her husband left, but  their relationship with the church ended altogether shortly thereafter. And while McBride didn’t exactly love going at the time, he did feel a bit of an emptiness when that it was all over.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a rare occurrence. All too often, the church is a place of shame and judgement when we are at our lowest points instead of a loving and supportive refuge in times of trouble.

In my life, I’ve experienced the good that church can offer, there’s no doubt. Meals delivered to the house, visits and prayers in times of need, the development of lifelong friendships to name a few.

But I’ve always witnessed my fair share of what McBride detailed above – shunning those who didn’t live up to expectations and a complete lack of love when it was needed the most.

No church is perfect because it’s made up of imperfect human beings.

But you can never, ever go wrong with love.

Introducing Beartown

It’s no secret that two of my great loves in life are hockey and books.

So when I first heard about Beartown, I was all in.

For those who don’t know, it’s the story of a middling Swedish junior team in an industrial town, both of which are slowly but surely dying out in favour of bigger and brighter markets.

This year’s Beartown team, however, is on the verge of contending for a national championship, thanks to a star talent, a tight supporting cast, a young and unexpected contributor, and a former NHLer who returned home to manage hometown club.

As we all know, hockey is a beautiful game that’s all too often sullied by the boys club culture that’s built up around it, and Beartown doesn’t escape the ugly effects. As a result, this book becomes less about the game and more about the people and their failures and successes, rights and wrongs, virtues and victimization both on and off the ice.

Author Frederick Backman weaves it all together with masterful storytelling and careful exposition, and I’m excited to read this book again and share some thoughts about it here as my part of my Beartown Book Club.

I grabbed my copy today and invite you to read along (both the book and my posts) and share your thoughts in the comments below and on Twitter.

I’ve got one book to finish, and will start later this week, so no rush picking up. Once you do, you won’t be able to put it down.

Beartown book club

Beartown (Beartown, #1)With Disney announcing so much new content for their streaming service, it got me wishing for a Mighty Ducks reboot but with a Friday Night Lights meets hockey vibe.

That reminded me that HBO Europe is developing a Swedish-language series adaptation of Beartown, the best-selling novel by Fredrik Backman.

Then I remembered it’s been way too long since I read that amazing book.

So, while we continue to wait for hockey to start up again here in North America, I’m going to work my way through it again, posting some thoughts on here from time to time.

I’d love for you to join me! Please feel free to read along and comment here or on Twitter as I post.

If you love hockey and have yet to experience this book, you won’t regret it; if it’s a second, third or fourth reading, you’ll still get something out of it. I know I do every time I pick it up.

Let’s Beartown together, shall we?