What draws me to hockey

Working as a full-time hockey writer changed the way I look at hockey.

When you have to cover all the teams and players objectively, you really begin to shed the binary nature of hockey fandom.

It’s no longer about “us vs. them.” You actually begin to appreciate and even root for  teams and players that you would not have in the past.

That was my experience, at least, because what draws me to hockey the most is the stories the game produces.

As I’ve written before, my love for hockey grew strong through the 90s, and I’ve been captivated by the stories the sport has told ever since.

Stanley Cup championships, great players, not-so-great players that I loved regardless, trades, signings, coaching hirings and firings, and on it goes – all these stories captivated me then (and still do), and I pored over the sports section every morning not for the box scores, but rather the quotes, player profiles and rumours du jour.

Look, it’s not hard to see how messed this sport can be. Despite declaring it to be fully so, the NHL clearly is not yet for everyone, and hockey culture has a ways to go before women, people of colour and the LGBTQI community feels welcome, supported and appreciated.

There are moments when I’ve been tempted to walk away from a sport that doesn’t know what it has in these faithful fans, but I can never quite pack it in.

A couple years ago, I pitched a story for theScore that was fairly well received – Season in a sentence: 1 positive storyline for every NHL team. It was so fun and rewarding to write, I did it again on this prior to last season.

That’s the stuff that keeps me coming back to this game.

Here’s a couple more recent examples for good measure.

Full disclosure: I’m not yet over Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, and as much as I don’t want it to bother me, I cringe at the thought of Boston losing to St. Louis. And then I think about what that win meant for Lalia Anderson, and it all gets put back in perspective.

And let’s not forget the game itself can be magical to watch. Again, I use another instance where my favourite team was at the wrong end of things. Yes, shit went off the rails between these two players off the ice, but how can you watch this and not fall in love with hockey?

This all doesn’t tell the whole story, but it’s a start.

Being a hockey fan can be maddening and upsetting, but I truly believe it’s the greatest sport in the world and I’m happy to be a very tiny part of the community.

Here’s to making it a better place in 2019-20.

The NHL is a Lazy Susan

Picture a large dining table surrounded by 31 white rich dudes.

They’re all gathered together anticipating varying degrees of cuisine – some are prepared to spend top dollar for the best possible food experience, while others are happy to spend the bare minimum on appetizers, content just to have a seat.

In the middle of a table is a Lazy Susan, replete with all that is needed to help make the meal a success – condiments, cutlery, serviettes etc.

One man plucks something that catches his eye off the Lazy Susan. He pours what he think is gourmet sauce on his steak, and right in front of his eyes, it becomes ketchup garnishing a Cheeseburger Happy Meal.

Unsatisfied, he puts the sauce right back on the turntable.

The man seated to his right, having just witnessed what happened to his colleague, recalls a time when this particular sauce actually helped improve a meal. And so he grabs the exact same bottle, adds some to his plate, but experiences the exact same disappointing result.

Others around the table catch wind of what’s going on, but instead of requesting something new from off the table in order to avoid the same plight, they simply keep repeating the cycle.

And so the Lazy Susan keeps going around and around the table, with the same bland results.

This is the National Hockey League whenever a general manager or coach is fired and the list of replacement candidates is named.

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.

 

#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.

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.

The time hockey made me cry

There’s nothing wrong with crying.

I don’t tear up as much as I used to, having said that. My first memory of crying comes from kindergarten, when I slipped on some ice outside the school, busted up my chin and had to get stitches. In Grade 3 or 4, someone tossed a pencil at me and it landed in my glasses, poking me in the eye. I cried then, and was so embarrassed when the teacher helped wipe my nose that I yelled “HONK” into the tissue.

I absolutely wept when Lauren decided to work at a different camp during the summer we were first dating, which is quite embarrassing in retrospect. I cried on our wedding day, when each of our sons was born, when our youngest was undergoing a procedure at 4 months to have a heart issue repaired, when Lauren was diagnosed with breast cancer and many times during her treatment.

These days, I mostly get emotional watching an episode of This Is Us and when one of our boys tells us a story from school about kids not including them.

Hockey has only made me cry once, as far as I can recall. It was back in 2011, and the Bruins had just won a Game 7. They did that three times that year, and the one that got me emotional might not be the one you’d expect.

I had been a Boston hockey fan for over two decades by that point, really coming to love them in the early 90s thanks to Cam Neely, Adam Oates and Ray Bourque. In fact, one of the big pushes to cheer for this team was the fact my older sister was mad about Edmonton, and I took it upon myself to passionately cheer for the enemy during 1990 Stanley Cup Final. That didn’t go well for me, but the black and gold stuck.

The team hadn’t attained much success in the intervening years, and the previous year had featured the infamous collapse against Philadelphia.

Their run in 2011 almost didn’t happen, seeing as Montreal had gone up 2-0 in the opening round courtesy of two road win. The Bruins fought back and pushed the series to seven games, winning in overtime thanks to Nathan Horton.

No tears to that point, though.

Those would come in Round 3, actually. The Bruins were once again faced with a Game 7 on home ice, this time against Tampa Bay. Vancouver had already won out West, and as the Presidents’ Trophy winners, were sitting pretty as the Cup favourites awaiting their next combatants. Be that as it may (or mayn’t, as it happened), all I wanted was for the Bruins to have a shot at winning it all.

The game remained painstakingly scoreless until late in the third period, when Horton once again clinched it off a sweet feed from David Krejci. The Bruins held on, and as the celebrations began, I started crying.

 

 

We had a 9-month old baby, and he and Lauren were both sleeping at the time, so I went out into the backyard, raised my hands in the air, and let out whispery, teary, celebratory cries into the atmosphere. If my neighbours had looked out the window right then, they would have thought I was nuts.

It seems silly, looking back. Crying over a game played by people I’ve never met. I was certainly overtired at the time (see note about baby), and I had never really seen my favourite team advance to the Final with years of disappointment behind me. The fact it was up in the air until the very end set it apart from Game 7 of the next round, which was won with far less dramatics and was enjoyed my yours truly with smiles and beers.

I’m not sure it will ever happen again, either. Even if the Bruins were to go all the way this year or in the future, I’m not in that space anymore. My head and heart don’t have as much emotional real estate for fandom as they used to, and my time writing full time about hockey helped me learn to appreciate good stories all over the NHL and therefore become less invested in one particular outcome.

Still, I’ll never forget that moment.

Horton from Krejci forever.

5 Simple NHL Trade Deadline Rules

Copy of custom home trends 2019

 

I mentioned on Twitter the other day that this will be my first NHL trade deadline as a casual observer since 2013. In recent years, I had the privilege of covering the annual gong show as “work”; this year I’ll be at my home office, performing my current duties while obviously keeping an eye on the proceedings (although I did write something for Daily Hive already).

 

 

In my experience, these are 5 simple NHL trade deadline rules you need to follow:

  1. Don’t expect anything to happen before lunch – If you tune into the trade deadline shows in the morning, you’re basically watching a hockey version of The View.
  2. Don’t fall for breaking news from fake insiders and team accounts.
  3. Remember that not every report or rumour is fact until it’s announced by the teams, even if it’s coming from the most trusted hockey people.
  4. Don’t immediately judge a trade. Sometimes these things take years to gestate. (Exception: Anything resembling Erat for Forsberg).
  5. I originally have “everyone have fun out there!” here, but Ashley (who rules and you should all be following on Twitter) wisely came through with a good and important one here: Don’t @ your team.

Finally, don’t forget there are actual human beings with feelings and families involved in these decisions:

Seriously, this is too much.

What say you? Did I miss anything?

Guelph Storm unveil John McCrae Veterans’ Game jersey

The Guelph Storm unveiled plans for the team’s annual Veterans’ Week game on Sunday, November 9 vs. the Barrie Colts.

The team will honour all veterans and Guelph native John McCrae with themed jerseys that will be later auctioned off online, with every dollar raised donated to local Royal Canadian Legions including Guelph’s Colonel John McCrae Memorial Branch 234.

Here’s a look at the special threads:

From the team’s official release:

Always remembered in his hometown of Guelph with the conversion of his family home into the McCrae House Museum, the Guelph Storm are honoured to recognize the local, national and worldwide legacy of Lieutenant John McCrae exactly one hundred years after his passing.

On Friday, November 9 at our annual Veterans’ Week game, Storm players will be part of the #CanadaRemembers campaign by wearing Lieutenant John McCrae jerseys that include images of one of Guelph’s most famous sons, the words of “In Flanders Fields”, the poppies blowing “between the crosses” on Flanders Fields and the statue that was erected at Guelph Civic Museum in 2015.

John McCrae was born in Guelph on November 30, 1872, and attended Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute before leaving to attend the Royal Military College of Canada. In 1915, he was appointed as Medical Officer and Major of the 1st Brigade Canadian Field Artillery.  When his friend – Lieutenant Alexis Helmer – was killed in the Second Battle of Ypres on May 2, 1915, his burial inspired McCrae to pen Canada’s most famous wartime poem, “In Flanders Fields”. Less than three years later on January 28, 1918.

These jerseys, then, also commemorate the 100th anniversary of his untimely death.

As per tradition, a Remembrance Day ceremony will be held at John McCrae House on Nov. 11.