A True Sports Fan’s Guide to Playoff Hockey

So, your hometown team didn’t make the playoffs.  In fact, they went from being an absolute lock for a playoff spot and a contender for the Western Conference title to pathetically stumbling to the finish line with a team being held together by some scotch tape, glue and probably a lot of cortisone shots.

Now what? Pack up and go home for the summer? No, not this girl. I may not watch nearly as avidly or intently as I would during the regular season, but if it’s a good match up, and the potential for a knock-down drag-out series, I’m all over it. (See: Chicago v. St. Louis, Boston v. Montreal). I will get my butt out of bed for the crazily scheduled 10AM game on a Saturday morning. Hockey is hockey, and I for one think you should take what you can get, while you can still get it. (I’m looking at you, Gary-ye-of-the-lockout-happy-Bettman).

Sure, I could watch the Memorial, or World Championships, but the calibre of hockey would still not be as high as in the NHL. And, arguably, the guys playing for the Memorial or the World Championship title would MUCH rather be fighting for Lord Stanley’s Cup. I’m serious.  There’s a reason the Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy to win in professional sports. There are no first-round byes in hockey, 16 teams are in contention from the go,  MLB has 8 by comparison. You have to win 16 games to come out on top, or play up to 28. That is a LOT of hockey, if you factor in overtime, where 2 and 3OT is not a rare sight. That’s 2 60-minute games, in one night.

It takes a team to win this championship, a clutch 3-pointer, 70 yard end zone run, or home run isn’t going to seal the deal. The entire team, physically and mentally needs to persevere with each round, facing tougher opponents and ever-ailing bodies. 82 games a year, and another 28 in the playoffs at full throttle will wear on the best, and it certainly does. I mean seriously, who plays for a championship with a broken rib, separated right shoulder and a punctured lung? Hockey players, that’s who.

Stories like these of the injured players fighting as hard as they can, and their superstitions are the reason I still watch hockey this late in the year. I like to see who is arrogant enough to lift or touch the conference trophy on the way to the Stanley Cup Final, how their personalities change in locker-room interviews the closer they get to the holy grail. Call me a nerd, a geek, a silly fan (if you call me a puck bunny, you have another thing coming), but THIS is what hockey is all about. And this is why I don’t pack up and hang out by pool all summer, like Junior over there.

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How to Deal When You Love Hockey, But Your Team Majorly Sucked This Season

Obviously, if you’ve read any of this blog in the past two years, you can safely determine that I am a tiny bit of a hockey fan. So, recently, faced with a new “my-Canucks-sucked-so-bad-they-didn’t-make-the-NHL-playoffs-and-oh-my-God-the-team-is-going-to-blow-up” world, a thought occurred to me. What’s it like to be a hockey fan in the depths of summer, when you have no one to cheer for? I posed this question to a friend of mine, we’ll call him Junior, and asked him to write his take of life deep into the most exciting time of the year, with nothing at all to be excited about. Is it really about the world’s best and most beautiful sport? Or do allegiances taint the love?

Junior:

It’s Wednesday, May 14th and the eyes of the hockey fans around world (really, mostly North America) are focused on the TD Boston Garden where the Bruins are set to face the Montreal Canadiens in Game 7 of their war of attrition 2nd round playoff series. As a Vancouver Canucks fan, you would think that I would be greatly anticipating the prospect of the Bruins’ season ending at home – to a Canadian hockey team no less.

The sad fact is: I just don’t really care either way. I guess it’s a symptom of watching your favourite team’s season end before the playoffs even begin. Without a vested interest in the NHL playoffs, you find yourself saying things like “that Marchand is a talented two way forward” and “Milan Lucic sure seems like a classy fellow.”  Yes – you can become a bandwagon fan for a few weeks and cheer for a feel good story – there’s nothing wrong with that. (Editor’s Note- There is, 100% absolutely something wrong with BOTH of these former statements, and I have supporting evidence to both, but I digress.) But if you have not spent an entire season following a team through its highs and lows (and being a Canucks fan, there have been plenty of crippling, deeply dark, lows lately), that emotional component that makes the road to the Stanley Cup so exhilarating is noticeably absent. In other words, I could give a duck. It’s impossible to feel good about hockey in general when you realize that in the span of about eight months, your team went from being a high-calibre, playoff ready squad, to having two rookies in net, lowest scoring totals in half a decade, and an injury list that could reach Los Angeles.

Playoff Hopes

 And this is how I have come to feel strangely indifferent about the NHL playoffs this spring without the Vancouver Canucks’ involvement. There were never any potential second or third round match ups to worry about. Never any lineup controversies to get into a heated argument discuss with co-workers. Never any ridiculous time pumping quotes to analyze. No, being a hockey fan come playoff time when your team does not even qualify for postseason play is an altogether dreary experience. It’s like knowing someone’s going to win the lottery, someone you know, maybe even like a little, and you’re not even getting a penny of it. Maybe admitting this fact makes me a sad excuse for a hockey fan, but it also makes me an honest hockey fan. I’m a one-team, and one-team only kind of guy.

 The rest of you can enjoy watching hockey well into June. I’ll be sitting by a swimming pool somewhere eagerly awaiting (and maybe dreading) October.

Church is in Session (The NHL is upon us)

The first week of October is brings with it many great things. Pumpkins start arriving on porches throughout my neighbourhood; the few deciduous trees in my lovely province begin to turn elegant shades of yellow, orange and red;  and cooler temperatures arrive, meaning sweater weather is upon us. Best of all, this means I can dust off my superstitions and get ready for another year for heart palpitating, anger-inducing and family-tie-testing hockey.

Yes, it’s Christmas in October for us die-hard fans. This year is especially great, coming off an NHL lockout that tested loyalties last year, a new collective bargaining agreement in place and rosters set, we can finally get rolling on a real season. I mentioned superstitions before, and I was not kidding. I take hockey very seriously. Last night, the first game of the season was on deck for my team, the Vancouver Canucks. I never, ever, watch the first game of the season. The handful of season openers I have watched, we’ve lost, embarrassingly so.

It’s for this reason I did my absolute best to avoid it on TV last night. Unsurprisingly, my brother-in-law turned it on at one point. Of course, I couldn’t look away. What was the result? Up 1-0 after two periods, and lost 4-1. I told them. I explicitly said, I don’t want to watch it, I can’t. So, thanks RDK, thanks a whole damn lot. I mean, sure, the Canucks historically seriously suck in October, but we didn’t need to start off with a loss.

Now begins 8 months of agony and boundless gloating. Things on the family front will stay stagnant until about December, then with the holiday cheer will come new levels of torment from kin and friends. This is life in Canada. People actually do get together on Saturday nights to “watch the game(s)”, it is our past-time. The Americans have baseball, football and Budweiser. We have hockey, poutine and Don Cherry. It’s just how the cookie crumbled.

Buckle up, gang this blog will continue to have light hockey commentary until hopefully June 2014. Next year is the year that keeps on giving in that sense, NHL and the Sochi Games will take place, and hopefully a Canadian repeat is in store for gold.

The One Where She Ate Her Words

What I am experiencing today can most succinctly be described as disappointment. This will be a brief post. I can, without a doubt, launch into a retrospective diatribe of the Canucks play this post season, blown calls, missed glorious scoring chances, and puck luck.  But I’m not going to. No, this season will likely be summed up by pundits and amateurs as the “their-last-chance” season. I agree with this for the most part, some changes need to be made, an aging team is a hard thing to hide and pretend nothing is wrong, unless you’re the Detroit Red Wings and draft/develop players with wizard-like efficiency.

I will say one thing, with respect to last night’s game. My boys definitely laid everything on the ice. They hit hard, shot often, and were out duelled by the hungrier team. Surely plenty of changes will occur this off season, or in a shocking move, none at all. In any case, even though I know for sure that no one at the Canucks organization will read this, I say simply one thing: Thank you. The Canucks are a hell of a team to cheer for, one I am proud to say I have been behind for 20 years. From top to bottom, management to coaching staff, and in particular the players, they give back to the community in a lot of anonymous ways. This is not unnoticed by those of us who know where to look. To those of you who stick around for next season, I hope you have a rested summer, come back healthier, stronger, and fully recuperated from whatever the hell ailed you this year. To the departing, thanks for the memories, (well, maybe not you, Derek Roy, we never really got to know you, or like you).

Until training camp, boys.

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Hockey Heartbreak

I am writing this in advance of my team’s fourth (and potentially final) game of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs.  I am by no means admitting defeat, in any way shape or form, of my beloved Canucks to the San Jose Sharks.

Today, I am here to confess that I am a hockey instigator. In no way do I claim to know all about hockey, rather the opposite.  However, I am no slouch. I know teams, most relevant stats, player statuses and rumours inside and out. It is this knowledge that becomes my best friend and mortal enemy during playoff season.  You see, I am not what one would call a “silent spectator”. Sure, I watch games in relative silence, I enjoy the peace, for goodness sakes we all know I have to watch the first period of a regular season game on mute! Playoff hockey brings out the Jekyll in me. I am a raging, high-strung, stressed-out, heart-racing, clawing-at-my-jersey, monster. A monster. There, I said it.

This can best be exemplified by my actions last Friday evening. I was having a girls day out, ending of course in time for puck drop to go spend the evening with my boys. We watched Ottawa and Montreal play, Montreal winning 3-1, and I convinced the keeper of the remote to play the Vancouver-San Jose game immediately after. Down after 20 minutes, Ryan Kesler (Kes-lord to you plebes), strapped the Canucks on his back to score twice in the third, ensuring a Canucks win, with a minute left to play, right?  Wrong. Patrick Marleau, ever invisible, scored the game-tying-goal at 19:04 in the final frame.

Now, until this point, I was quiet. Occasionally looking skyward, praying to the hockey gods for a goal or four to break the opposing goalie’s Berlin Wall-esque demeanour. There were  a few groans on bad hockey plays, and a few instances of shouting at the TV while the boys looked on at me in disbelief. I only acutely resembled this guy, I swear!

At 19:04 of the third, everything changed. I made the quick decision to split, immediately.  Forcing myself to bust-my-butt to get home for the start of overtime (OT).  I explained to the boys that I did not want them to see me “that way”, and scurried out the door. You see, OT makes me freak out. The sit in a corner of my room, rock back and forth and repeat “come on boys” kind of freak out. I am a mess when it comes to sudden-death overtime, why? Because that’s it. That’s all she wrote. No re-dos, no play out the rest of the period, that’s it.  Your goose is effectively cooked, and being down 2-0 in a series is never, ever a good thing, even worse when your next two games of a seven game series are in the other team’s house. Last Friday, I made it home for OT. I loaded up a stream in time to hear iron ring and pray to God that puck hit the post a few inches inside the bar, and not out.  God did not answer those prayers. A minute later, the Sharks scored, the game was over and my team is headed for what many feel is a second consecutive ousting in the first round of the playoffs.

Losing did not sting as badly as it should have. Losing in OT, when your team out hustled, out hit and out shot the winners is the stinger.  This, friends, is hockey heartbreak, and this is why I am writing this today, ahead of game four, down 0-3 in the series with supposedly no hope left. Friday night was heartbreak night, Sunday was time to be enthused and hopeful for 40 minutes, and then watch your team implode night. I have hope. There will be a game 5, at least. There has to be, because if not, I have to hear it from my “friends”, the Leafs fans, in particular, who after 9 years of ridicule, shame, and constantly cheering for a team who fails to live up to expectations, they will seek their revenge.

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And Then, There Was Hockey.

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It is a very well known fact that I love hockey.  I make no effort to hide my passion, nor do I apologize for feigning paying attention to people when they are poorly positioned in front of a screen showing a game.  Nothing about this side of me improves between April and June of every year (barring a lock out).  I hermit away with friends, mostly male, and follow the NHL playoffs as though our lives depend on the outcome (they do).  The race for Lord Stanley officially gets underway this evening, and I for one, could not be happier.

The female contingent of friends in my life do not understand this “craziness”, as they call it.  Most of them could care less about the carnage that will be left in the wake of the Los Angeles Kings- St. Louis Blues series.  They won’t have a vested interest in the outcomes of  Boston and Toronto or Montreal and Ottawa.  The sideline stories will have no consequence, either.  Who cares if Number 87 battled back from a concussion. You probably remember he was out for over a year. Then he had his jaw broken by a puck. Crosby’s head has been through a lot.

No, to the ladies in my life, it does not matter that the Maple Leafs will be facing every terrible trade they’ve made in the last decade stare them in the face at puck drop against the Bruins.  This is all OK.  They (for the most part) understand that for about 3 and a half months every year, my priorities change around.  I am not interested in martini night, shopping or lady gossip.  I would much rather toss on a pair of jeans, my favourite Canucks T-shirt, grab a beer and sit in silence and watch a game or three in one evening.  Bless their hearts for putting up with me.

This will be the first year ever, that I will be attempting to follow my hometeam’s playoff run from a different time-zone, and I cannot say that I am looking forward to it.  Catching a Canucks game in Ottawa is hard enough during the regular season, but add in that their first round games all have a start time of 7:30PM PST, and it’s near impossible to find establishments or friends with appropriate cable packages to exploit.  It is my quest, this playoff season to rectify this injustice.  I will politely cheer for the adopted home-team’s victory over Montreal and revel in the superhero-like recovery of the Senators hot-shot defenceman, Erik Karlsson.  And at 10:30PM EST I will plead with the person in charge of TV programming for the evening to please turn on, and turn up the real hockey game.

That’s it, ladies and gentleman, hockey’s second season has officially arrived, and I take no prisoners or fault for what may be said in the coming weeks in this blog.

Adieu, and good luck, fellow NHL fans.

P.S. Go Canucks Go!

 

TGI…2012

I would not be honest if I said I was sad to see 2011 go. The tail end of it sort of kicked my ass 5 ways from Tuesday. In all, I would categorize it as a “learning year”, one in which you find out things about yourself or others you didn’t know to begin with. A lot of my relationships developed or digressed in various ways, all of which I am safely say I am pleased with, now; ah, hindsight, my sweet mistress. Plenty of milestones took place in 2011: I planned my first bachelorette party; baked a cake that didn’t kill anyone, rather the opposite; helped my eldest sister down the aisle; discovered that I do not, in fact dislike infants; had 4 close friends get married, and another 3 engaged; got laid off for the first time; applied for employment insurance for the first time; and discovered I was emotionally stable enough to deal with all of the above and come out unscathed. Meera 1, potential breakdowns 0.

The beginning of 2012 most definitely brought with it a lot of reflection, and of course goal setting. My brother in law is something of my part-time life coach. Whether he knows it or not, our conversations have definitely helped form the resolutions I’m going to outline here, and, more specifically the phrasing of them. If anything, I’ve learned that a goal is not, in fact, a goal until it is written, or said in a certain way. The reason I am talking about goal setting with resolutions is two-fold. 1) Some of my resolutions are goals; and 2) Goal setting, at least this method, is a new thing to me, and in an effort to  have accountability, publishing this will give me a kick in the pants we all sometimes need. To outline this, I’ll refer to the Lululemon Goal Setting Worksheet. From the offset, you can see that a goal should be written in the present tense, be specific, and with a deadline. Right away, this gives you an anchor to work toward, some of us need that (me!), where as others are more in tune with the vague. (The Lululemon worksheet works in yearly increments, whereas I am focussing on this 1 year, and some longer term goals). With that, I give you my resolutions! Drumroll please….

  1. I blog at least once a week, by the end of 2012.
  2. I travel outside Canada once this year, (2012), for at least a week, job or no job.
  3. I am employed by March 1, 2012.
  4. I bake one item for all family celebrations this year, not repeating recipes.
  5. I improve my decorating and frosting skills by taking a class, or practicing a lot.
  6. I am more kind, and patient in all of my relationships (long-term goal).
  7. I dent my 30 x 30 goal*, in the next 3 years in a big, big way.
  8. I reconcile with “being selfish”- doing things for myself, for no other reason.
  9. I read 50 books by December 31, 2012.
  10. I learn a second language (again): French/Italian, from my school days (long-term).
  11. I get healthier, so as to prolong my life. Activities include: cardio, more yoga, hiking three times a week, to start (long-term goal).

*30 x 30 goal explanation below*

There we have it, my 2012 resolutions. As you can see, my book resolution is well under way, about 3 weeks ahead of schedule. My 30 x 30 goal is probably the one that confuses you most. 30 x 30 is an idea I had when I was backpacking around Europe a few years ago: that I want to have seen 30 countries by the age of 30. Now, you’re thinking “well, just do one of those 21 country, 23 day trips and Bob’s your Uncle!” I travel differently. Those tours are often so rushed, and packed that you don’t remember one country to the next. I do not consider a country officially on my list until it meets certain criteria: I’ve eaten traditional food, drank traditional alcohol, met one person from the country, or can confidently provide directions to a stranded person. I have a three-year-old checklist of countries I want to see, some of which will be rearranged in priority order based on environmental or political concerns. Of that checklist, I have knocked off 9; 10 if you include a trip to Kenya when I was three, but all I can remember is camping in a cave, a pool at some beach-side hotel, and monkeys stealing our lunch during a picnic. Simple math would tell you that I have 20/21 more to go. You can see how this is now a lofty little goal, and without a doubt is probably the one closest to my heart. (But more on that later).

For now, I leave you with just one question: What are your resolutions for 2012?

P.S. I will be live-blogging/tweeting a very very very, VERY important hockey game tomorrow morning between the Canucks and the Boston Bruins at 10 am PST/1 pm EST. (We met them for all the marbles last year, and fell in the last game of the series- this is the first time we’ve met since, *gulp*).

Hockey 101

I am blogging once again during the intermission of a Canucks game. (Quick update- we’re on a three game win streak, capped by a lovely outing against the in-laws’ team, Detroit, Wednesday night). The theme of tonight’s post is based on the request of my friend to “teach her hockey, fast, so she can talk to a boy”. Well my dear, it’s Christmas, so your wish is my command. (It’s a one-time deal, so consider yourself cashed in). Below is my “cliff-notes” version of Hockey 101 for rookies.

Long story short, she’s interested in a Senators hockey-fanatic guy, and by proxy would like to learn the game to a point where should there be a potential for some quality time, she could pass with flying colours. Let’s start with the basic layout of the game.

Hockey is played in three 20 minute periods with intermissions of 15 minutes between. There are five men per team on the ice during play: the forwards- Right Wing, Center, Left Wing, Left and Right Defensemen and the Goalie. The players are formed into lines (the forwards), and pairings (Defensemen), both rotate throughout the course of the game. The goalie is the only player who normally plays a full 60 minute game, whereas the players average around 15-25 minutes per game, depending upon their position. So, to the rink we go. I’ve attached a photo of the rink layout below to help this explanation along. NHL rink specifications of 200 feet (61 m) × 85 feet (26 m). The corners are rounded in the arc of a circle with a radius of 28 feet (8.5 m). The NHL attacking zones are expanded, when compared to international ice sheets, with blue lines 64 feet (20 m) from the goal line and 50 feet (15 m) apart.

Next up, we go over a few basic penalty calls. Penalties are called when an infraction occurs against the NHL rulebook and the penalized team services between 2 minutes and 4 minutes in the box, giving a man advantage to the opposing team. When a penalty is handed out, the penalized team is on the “PK” (penalty kill) and the team with the man-advantage is on the “PP” (power play). Below is a basic run through of penalties that can be called during play.

Boarding– Checking a player violently into the boards.

Charging- Violently hitting an opponent as a result of speed and distance traveled, or by leaving their feet to deliver a hit.

Elbowing- Using an extended elbow to make contact with an opponent.

Holding- Impeding an opponent by grabbing onto them.

Butt-Ending- Jabbing an opponent with the knob of their stick.

Cross Checking- Checking an opponent with the shaft of the stick held in both hands.

High-Sticking- Hitting a player in the head or shoulders with a stick. A penalty (a single minor-2 minutes if no blood is drawn; a double minor-4 minutes, if blood is drawn).

Hooking- Impeding an opponent by placing the blade of a stick into their body.

All right, after this, I’m not sure anyone can handle more information. But, these are the basics to get you going, to sit through a game, comprehend it, and most of all enjoy it.

Who said you can’t wear heels and be knowledgeable about hockey?