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.

You don’t have to root for Canadian hockey teams

The idea that all Canadians must actively cheer for the success of all this country’s NHL teams constitutes one of the great lies that we are sold as hockey fans.

There is absolutely no obligation for any hockey fan to support another team simply as a matter of geography.

My stance on this has softened in recent years, mostly due to having a job that required me to watch and write about every NHL team with as little bias as possible. That gave me an opportunity to appreciate teams and players all over the league, somewhat extinguishing the need to be tied to the fate of one single team. Life circumstances along the way also gave perspective to the fact hockey is, of course, only a game and mean to be an escape, not another trap.

Still, as a lifelong Bruins fan, it would be hard for me to bring myself to support the Canadiens or the Maple Leafs (the former as a matter of long standing tradition, the latter more recently as a result of dealings between the two clubs). At the same time, the 2011 Cup Final against the Canucks would eliminate all probability of me supporting Vancouver in the future.

So the simple fact that my team of choice is from an American city with rivalries with a few Canadian teams would preclude me from cheering for at least 3 of the 7, right off the bat.

On the flip side, and given the fact that I grew up in Ottawa, I will admit to having a soft spot for my hometown team, and did in fact get caught up in the excitement of the Senators ’07 run, albeit while living in Manitoba. And hey, since I did live south of Winnipeg for 2 years, I was pumped about the return of the Jets, and would get behind them in the future, provided that it did not conflict with my first hockey love from Boston (same with the Sens on that point, in fact).

As you can see, it’s all terribly subjective.

Personal preferences aside, one major question to consider is this: what makes a team more Canadian – where they play or how the roster is made up?

Let’s use the Calgary Flames as an example of the difference between supporting a Canadian team (ie: city) and a Canadian roster. Jump back to the 2004 Stanley Cup Final. The Flames, led by a good Canadian boy in Jarome Iginla, pushed the Lightning to 7 games, only to lose a Cup to a team based in Florida. What a sham, right? Again, nope.

While this idea of “supporting Canada’s team” was running rampant, there were many who were very much supporting Tampa Bay based on the the fact that their roster was made up of several incredibly talented Canadian players, including Brad Richards, Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis & Dan Boyle, among others.

When the Senators made it to the Final against the Ducks, would it have been treason to support Anaheim? Not when their roster featured names like Pronger, Niedermayer, Getzlaf, Penner, Perry, McDonald, Kunitz, May, Thornton (et al). Cheering for the Ducks is a little gross, mind you, but I digress … 

To build on that, teams containing several Canadians will no doubt have folks from their respective hometowns rooting for them with all their hockey loving hearts. Why? Because based on the tradition of every member of the team having the opportunity to spend one day with the Cup, chances are it could come to a town near you during any given summer.

Again, to speak from personal experience, it was a thrill for me to be able to combine my joy over the Bruins winning the Cup with the ability to head down to the Sleeman Centre here in Guelph to get my picture taken with Rich Peverley and that beautiful silver mug. In fact, the place was packed with fans of the black ‘n’ gold, all thrilled to death that the Canucks had failed to “bring the Cup home.”

All this to say, let’s put any talk of “getting behind Canada’s team” to death, shall we?

For one thing, being a fan of one team negates fluidity in terms of backing a rival, and quite often a team’s makeup makes it more Canadian than the city in which it plays.

Bigger picture, Canada certainly doesn’t own the game of hockey. They are legitimate fans of this game all over North America and worldwide, all with a passion for seeing their favourite teams or homegrown talent succeed in the NHL.

In short, root for whoever the hell you want. It’s not a big deal.

*Note: The first version of this article was posted on The Hockey Writers back in 2012.