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:

LOBB

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?

“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.

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?

 

 

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.