Saturday, November 13, 2010

Fine Whine and other sour grapes

NHL: Top five pet peeves of hockey

Normally I’m not a person given to whining. When something annoys me and I can avoid it, I do.

I can’t stand going to any brass and fern decorated “family” type restaurant for the irritation factor that the same wait staff that can’t bring me the appetizers some time other that 30 seconds before the actual meal comes, can find the time to sing an off-key, overly loud proprietary version of “Happy Birthday”.

Just shut up and get me my damn Buffalo wings Skippy.

These are generally the same places that have three pages of different variations on a Margarita (…a CHOCOLATE Margarita?) but don’t have the ability to make the REAL version of that drink. Keep your stupid sour mix and Triple-sec and go back to Bartending School.

So, just like when Howard Sterns comes on the radio, I avoid these situations. I don’t go to those restaurants more than once and I change the channel when flatulent transvestites with mother issues (????) come on the radio. No problem here, I can adapt.

Unfortunately, some thing that annoy cannot be avoided. Like the people at the grocery store that wait until their whole cart is scanned, they are given the total, and THEN they start writing the check. Or the high-powered business-type moron who thinks the whole world needs to listen in on how much of a big shot they are when they’re at the drug store prescription counter, chatting on a cell phone at the top of their lungs.

Talk to Vanna, buy a vowel, and get a clue.

Hockey has produced several of these annoying moments that, for the fan, fall under the category of “unavoidable”. Here’s a selection of my top five hockey annoyances:

1) Diving/tripping calls: If it’s a dive, call it a dive. If it’s a trip, call it a trip. Don’t completely wimp out and call both. Diving is one aspect of the game that has always annoyed me. I don’t like it when my own favorite team does it. I really hate it when an opponent uses it as their primary defensive strategy. NHL, grow a pair and call a dive a dive.

2) Mascots: I know that Hockey wants to appeal to a larger audience, and I can live with the whole mascot thing for the AHL, where it is actually affordable to bring the whole family to a game. But the NHL in general and the Original six teams in particular annoy me with their perceived need to try to sell a team to me that I’ve ALREADY paid top-dollar to see. I like kids for the most part, I have several myself, but none of my kids (or the kids I’ve seen at a game) seem particularly impressed with the sweaty high-school kid stuck in a felt and Styrofoam costume who is having peanuts and empty cups thrown at him because he’s doing the Macarena in the line of sight while a two man rush is breaking up the ice.

3) “Let’s make some noise!!” prompts: What is this? The Dick Van Dyke show? Your hockey game is filmed before a live studio audience? Play better. I’ll cheer then. Trust me.

4) The Cell phone zombies: Tell me if this sounds familiar: “Yeah Dude, I’m at the game now…I’m at the game now…Yeah, I’m at the game…yeah…now. I should get out of here around 9:30…yeah, 9:30…9:30…yeah, I’ll be out front at 9:30…9:30…” This generally goes on in ten minute stretches for the entire game, except when it’s between periods, then the annoying twit goes silent as he’s trying to maneuver Nacho’s, a personal pizza, popcorn and seven diet soda’s down the wrong isle.

5) The “know-it-all” fan: This is that self-important goob who ended up with free tickets and has to regale his friends (who have apparently never heard of the game before) with his infinite knowledge and wisdom in regards to the finer points of hockey…all night. He is also the guy who usually sits directly behind me at the game and taps my shoulder after every play to ask me “Did you see that? Did that look like icing to you? I don’t think it was icing. Did they really call that as icing?” Now you know why they search people for weapons prior to a game, even though they probably shouldn’t.

So that’s it. I’ve vented and I feel better now. Please feel free to share any other hyper-annoying moments I may have missed in the responses.

Bad Sports Movies

Everyone has a favorite sports movie. That one that has you on the edge of your seat, cheering for an outcome that you already know in your heart has been predetermined by a script-writer, That one that has you misty-eyed for a bygone, more honorable time, That one that has the abused underdog rising up to conquer all odds and achieve that glory we all hunger for.

Few care to document the far more common product that emanates from tinsel-town: The really bad sports movie.

For every Field of Dreams or The Natural there is are dozen’s of Major League II’s.

For every Slapshot there is a flood of Youngblood’s

For every The Longest Yard there is…well, the remake of The Longest yard.

You get the point. Even the most open-minded and ambitious practitioner of suspension of disbelief has to admit that 95% of all sports movies ever made range from “hardly likely” to “ambitiously stupid”.

I’d like to review my favorite whipping boys of bad sports movie’s, separated by sport (the ones I have some interest in, sorry golf):

Racing: Days of Thunder:

There was a time I actually followed NASCAR, unfortunately it was also a time when “Stock Car” meant there was something resembling the stock car under the paint and stickers. This movie made sure I never developed that interest again.

See if this sounds familiar:

He’s a loner, a rebel, a maverick. He does things his own way no matter who it irks. She meets him. She can’t stand him- at first- but she learns there’s a good person under the macho façade. Soon she’s worried sick about him as he goes to do whatever dangerous thing he does. He does his dangerous thing, beats all odds and comes back to spring into her waiting arms.

Insert a race car, fighter jet, football or a very angry Jack Nicholson as the backdrop and you have a significant portion of Tom Cruise’s film repertoire.

As a racing film, this baby makes Stroker Ace look like a documentary on Speed channel. Driving into wrecks at full speed, getting “gift” engines from competing owners, having Tom Hagen as you mechanic, this movie has it all. Unfortunately it also has far more than I’m willing to digest.

Hockey: Youngblood:

Whew! Where to begin…

This is the story about a too handsome, too passive, too Rob Lowe junior league hockey player who finally snaps, goes berserk, and becomes the thing he despised the most.

And that’s supposed to be the happy ending.

He unfortunately runs afoul of a noted young goon when he makes the team ahead of him (who is later drafted in the 2nd round by the Maple Leafs, I’m kidding…). The Goon is jealous, angry, and has unsettling visions of having to take his girlfriend to see St. Elmo’s Fire in the future.

Said goon signs up with another team and goes on a premeditated spree of violence, cracking the noggin’ of one Patrick Swayze, Dean Youngblood’s (I’m not making that name up) newest and bestest friend.

Dean makes Craig Janney look like Jay Miller though, and won’t fight the uber-goon, so his dad and older brother (who between them must share 4.5 teeth) teach the talented young doofus how to fight.

There may have been more to the movie but I was trying to retrieve the beer from my two sizes too-big snorkel coat and may have missed some of the finer nuances.

Basketball: Whatever the hell that one with Whoopi Goldberg was.

I’m not much of a Basketball fan, and this movie didn’t help that.

Football: Varsity Blues:

This narrowly beat out the shakily filmed and piercingly shrill Any Given Sunday as the football movie most likely to make me want to take Bruce Dern’s place in Black Sunday, but Varsity Blues wins out on the weight of its incredibly disturbing vision of Texas High-School football.

John Voight, whose career trajectory appears to be rivaling Christian Slater’s, plays the most evil, nasty, vainglorious high-school football coach ever. His player motivational tactics make the coach’s and owners in North Dallas Forty look like extras from a Disney film. He’s just plain rotten.

The fact that he’s the devil incarnate and needlessly risks the lives of their children only make the dim-bulb parents love him more, even though the men remember hating him as well in their playing days (He’s been the coach for over 50 years apparently).

The secondary female lead in the film make Paris Hilton look like she’s found her religious calling, the boys all drive around in near-mint classic cars, and vodka appears to flow from every spigot in this part of Texas.

Oh, and the boys also discover that one of their teachers is also a stripper (apparently Van Halen wrote that into the film).

Eventually the drunken high-school players gather up there courage and STD’s to pull out a miraculous win in the final game’s second half after firing their own coach (huh??!).

Fade out, the End.

Baseball: Major League II:

I saw Major League I about a dozen times, I’ll admit it. It garbage, but it’s good garbage. I place it in the same realm as Escape from New York, The Mummy (1&2), and just about any movie with “The Rock” in it (what can I say, the guy cracks me up).

Even Major League III, while even dumber than the first, provided some slim semblance of enjoyment.

Major League II was somewhat like a peppers and sausage sub burp, not entirely like the original and endangering the shoes of those around you.
A chunk of the original cast was also in II, but that’s like making a Saved by the Bell movie. What else was the cast doing?

Wesley Snipes was noticeably absent, as he had another job requiring him to be a self-loathing, hyper-violent, but “good at heart” Vampire. This was considered a significant step up from his towering portrayal of “Willy Mays Hayes”.

Unfortunately you can go to the same shallow well only so many times, and the well runs dry fairly early as a few kooky new cast members are forced to interact with the almost retired return players.

Godfather II, this ain’t.

As a DVD, it makes a fairly decent drink coaster.

There you have it folks, I’m sure I missed some of your most despised and even offended the sensibilities of those fans that adore the movie’s I’ve trashed. It’s my list. I wrote it. Write your own list.

If you’d like to trash my tastes (usually my wife’s job), here are some favorites from each category:

Racing: LeMans: Steve McQueen. What more do you gotta’ say?

Hockey: Duh. You don’t even need to ask (No, NOT the Mighty Ducks)

Football: The Longest Yard (original): “…I think he broke his f#$%*@! Neck”.

Baseball: Eight Men Out: Think scandal in baseball is a new idea? Think again.

There it is. Black and White.

How hard can it be to be a film critic?

an Offensive unofficial history of pro hockey

It is hypothesized that all continents were once joined together, kind of like the cast of “Friends” before they split up to make really bad romantic comedies.

Like after a sitcom wrap-party, the continents then tried to get as far away from each other as is “earthly” possible.

Dinosaurs came, then were relocated to there present location- under miles of salt water or very large sandboxes, and received a new occupation- as oil.

Then the mammals came and evolved into ferrets, lions, dolphins, and in some case Lawyers and Player Agents (oh, but I kid the ferrets).

Some time after that, hockey came. Life was good for those athletic, good skating people who didn’t want to work winters in factories, doctors who specialized in mending broken bones, Dentists who specialized in removing tooth shrapnel and less talented factory workers who were flush with overtime money covering for those deadbeats of winter, hockey players.

It was decided by someone on high (or someone who drank slightly less than the vast majority) that this pastime should be organized. Sober people are very good at organizing…lousy at hockey, but good at telling other people what to do.

It was then decided to get some teams of less than sober people together and play against one another as too few people were nipping off appendages at factories and only 12 people had ever used the services of a dentist. Hockey would help to jumpstart both of those cottage industries while providing some meager scratch so players could buy; you guessed it, more booze. A new business was born on the weight of injuries, violence, competition, and not wanting to work at factories for a couple months a year.

Because there was a need for some symbol to reward those who worked harder, had more talent, and could not afford more alcohol, a trophy of significant majesty and impressive bearing was required.

So someone’s wife donated a chrome punch-bowl that didn’t move at the previous year’s yard-sale. Re-gifting had not been invented yet and the Stanley cup blazed into existence. It was decided that an additional ring be added in the future for every team that Mike Keenan destroyed as a GM and everyone blinded by Don Cherry’s suits.

Since winter in Canada is the finest eight months of the year, it was decided that all the teams should go there, within 12 miles of each other. Husky’s got remarkably poor fuel economy and weren’t very good at hauling equipment, players, wives, coaches, and booze. The dogs also had difficulty going in the right direction as toothless drivers do not exactly have the clearest enunciation.

This lack of geographic precision may have been how hockey started to appear in America, the husky’s got together and decided “screw this, these clowns don’t care where they end up-let’s just head south”.

Sure enough, the dogs were onto something, and hockey’s purity was corrupted by gaining despicable southern “expansion” teams, in the tropical vacation cities of New York, Boston, Chicago and Detroit.

Purists were beside themselves with indignant rage and hockey fans have been complaining about the dilution of talent ever since.

Players liked it though, as it gave them an opportunity to tan and play golf in only one to two feet of snow, as opposed to four to six feet back home.

The League could now travel more efficiently and quickly, as the automobile became more commonplace, introducing Hockey players to the latest popular activity; drunk driving. The wonders of technology never cease.

Like the dinosaurs, some of the original teams vanished leaving players unemployed but as their blood alcohol level was too high for them to become oil, they became journalists, announcers and coaches instead.

Soon, another glory age came for the great game of hockey, as the era of the “original six” was born, but since fans didn’t yet know that they were in the glory age, they just called the six teams “the six teams”. Media people were too busy watching Babe Ruth consume vast amount of hot-dogs, beer, and baseball team owners money to take an interest in hockey.

In only 50 short years, all that was to change.

Fast forward to that inspired and influential time, known as the seventies, and we find that hockey is on a meteoric rise on the professional sports landscape. A new team of geniuses even comes onto the scene to create a whole new league, using the same executive brain-trust that went on to develop other smashing successes like the DeLorean car company, New Coke, and the Chevy Chase show. The WHA is born.

After three weeks, the upstart league folds and creates a whole new glut of players that make too much money to work off-season in factories, but don’t know enough to be of any other use to society.

Since the original league had also gone on a further expansion binge, creating a further rift between the fuddy-duddy traditionalists, there was some place for these players to go, but not enough to support all of the players.

Since many city officials didn’t have the police force to monitor all the unemployed hockey players with drivers’ licenses, the NHL (named after Nedwin Harold League-the inventor of clichés like “take it one game at a time” and “we have to work harder out there”) decided to perform a public service and get these menaces off the public roads. So it created even more teams to keep them busy and keep them from getting behind the wheel of now faster cars.

A few more teams were added to Canada, a lot more teams were added to the United States, and life was made even more miserable for the traditionalists.

Here we are in the present day, as evolution seems to want to skate backwards and recreate the single continent of Pangaea, removing some of the southernmost teams and re-locating them to a place with far fewer golf-communities, hurricanes, Jimmy Buffet fans, and sand, otherwise known as “the North”.

Luckily the latest hockey brain trust has reeled in on its plans to place teams in Guam, Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil as the residents kept throwing the sticks away and tried to kick the puck towards a very sweaty goalie. Their expansion teams are on hold until 2012 or until magnetic north moves and puts them back in a polar region.

So what are the morals we can take away from this comprehensive history of our sport? Glad you asked...there are several:

1) Dogs are smarter than everyone thinks.

2) The cast of Friends should have stuck to TV.

3) Booze and Hockey go together. Hockey and driving doesn’t.

4) Since Hockey players will not turn into petro-chemicals, Don Cherry will never wear them as a day-glow plaid leisure suit.

5) No matter what, where, or how you do something, people will complain.

6) Revo still refuses to do research.

7) Pangaea is not a toasted sandwich (that’s a Panini)

Friday, July 2, 2010

What have you done for me lately?

In the classic comedy movie, Monty Python's Life of Brian there was a terrific scene where the surly members of the 'Judean People's Front' (not to be confused with the utterly useless People's Front of Judea) lament on all the horrors they've had to endure while under Roman rule.

Law and order, medical advancements, clean water, paved roads and several other advantages were all noted before the line was uttered 'but beside's all that what have the Romans really done for us?'

You may ask; before you go off on a tangent, shouldn't you establish a coherent chain of thought to stray from first?

Maybe, but bear with me...I'm setting up a witty metaphor here and I haven't quoted anything from Monty Python in days (to my wife's obvious but short-lived joy)

Like the JPF (again, not that vile group of wankers who populate the PFJ) many a Bruins fan has looked at Tim Thomas like he has pictures of Peter Chiarelli spooning Harry Sinden to have earned the contract he is playing for.

I swear before all that is holy that I will never trouble you with that mental image again...unless of course I do. I just needed the shock value to make a point.

Anyway, 'Roman' Tim Thomas (not to be confused with 'roaming' John Grahame') is now trapped under the dark cloud of 'what have you done for us?'

Apparently many Bruins fans have the memory retention of an Etch-a-sketch in a paint shaker, so let's review:

The year is 2005, the heir apparent behind the pipes is Andrew Raycroft, the previous seasons stats are impressive and things look good for the mighty B's in net. All is right in the world and fans are thrilled to have some stability minding the twine.

Unfortunately Raycroft has one slight issue to contend with; downsized goalie pads. His numbers plummet from a .926 sv% to .879, goals against are down from 2.05 to 3.71 (!!), wins shrink from 29 to 8. All is far from well and the truth comes out; unless his goalie pads are made of Seally posturepedic mattresses Andy is as effective a drain stopper made from a wiffle ball.

Tim Thomas comes in as a guy with more travel mileage than the Voyager probe, playing for peanuts and salvages precious hope for fans, posting a .917 sv%, 2.77 GAA, and 12 wins.

The year is 2006, the new young hope for goal is the slinky-spined Hannu Toivonen. The man appears to be made of silly putty, performing nad-crunching splits at will and having all witnesses experience visions of Dominic Hasek. Things are looking up yet again. Youth, talent and a difficult to spell name will carry the day. It's all good folks, you'll see.

Not. So. Much.

Hannu may have the elasticity of Plastic Man but he an eye for the puck that requires a seeing-eye dog. Acrobatics cannot overcome fear and bad positioning.

Tim Thomas comes in and posts a .905 sv%, 3.13 GAA, and chalks up 30 wins, carrying the load for a second time in as many years.

The year is 2007, a guaranteed number one puck-stopper is recruited in Manny Fernandez. He play an entire four games before (honest) stepping on a puck, sliding his legs out and knocking him out for the year with a groin injury. Fans are justifiably concerned since pucks are a somewhat essential part of hockey and goaltenders have a reputation for knowing what to do with them.

Tim Thomas, .921 sv%, 2.44 GAA, 28 wins.

The year is 2008. After a year of healing and going through intense therapy to overcome his fear of renegade pucks Manny Fernandez returns, prickly personality and brittle spine intact. Manny starts out shaky, plays decently as the season progresses, then stinks up the joint by the end of the season. Still he posts a .910 sv%, 2.59 GAA and 16 wins.

Tim Thomas, .933 sv%, 2.10 GAA, 36 wins.

If one looks close enough, they might notice a pattern here. The Bruins do notice and sign Tim to a $5 mil per year contract. Why? Besides the fact he won the Vezina Trophy?


The year is 2009. Two years after fleecing Toronto for Tuukka Rask (in exchange for Andrew Raysoft), a goalie brought along low and slow with the Providence Bruins, Tuukka comes in and shows a ton of promise in his first full NHL season. His skills are impressive, his age is encouraging, his poise is remarkable. He has a tremendous debut season in the NHL, posting .931 sv%, 1.97 GAA and 22 wins. Many Bruins fans froth at the mouth for this 22 year old wunderkind. Tim Thomas is deemed expendable after having a disappointing but hardly disastrous record of .915 sv%, 2.56 GAA and 19 wins. He is ranked 18th out of 47 goalies in the NHL.

Now we head toward the 2010 season, the Bruins armed with a promising young goalie that many feel is ready to shoulder the load as a bona fide number one, after one whole, entire season, making Tim 'Tank' Thomas obsolete.

Good thing history never, ever, in a zillion years repeats itself, right?