Disappearing Hockey Heroes

Soon either Pittsburgh with Sidney Crosby, Geno Malkin, Phil Kessel and company or Nashville led by P.K. Subban et al will find their way to a Stanley Cup.

When they win they know they will skate around the ice and hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup drowning in accolades and praise.  Many thinking back to junior hockey or the hard work in the minors that took them to the peak of greatness.  For some, this is the hardest trophy in sports to win-beyond maybe the World Cup.

After the celebration in the locker room with champagne and showers of beer, they’ll relax for a while knowing they’ve brought that trophy home with them for one day.  They can show it off to their hometown for 24 hours or take it to a party or anywhere they want-as long as they don’t lose or destroy it.

But the other perk of winning the prize is eternal recognition in the form of a square on the side of the Cup.  Each year another team gets put on the ring that goes around it forever displaying those that worked so hard to bring home the championship.

You may not know that Lord Stanley’s Cup is almost 125 years old.  It was first given out in 1893 in the form of the bowl you see on top of the trophy now.  As the years progressed and the NHL was formed they needed more room and added the bottom or the base that it currently sits on.  In pictures the rings with the engraved names can be seen along that base.  

125 years is a long time to keep a running record of who has won and at some point time catches up.  After this year, the ring from 1953 to 1965 will have to come off to make room for the next batch of champions.  Included in those years are Gordie Howe, Rocket Richard and a host of other Hall of Fame players.  Imagine the talents during those years that many of us never got to see.

I think about the famous picture of 11-year-old Wayne Gretzky meeting the late Gordie Howe when “Mr Hockey” visited the young player’s hometown.  Who would have guessed that those two would change so much about the game?  Eventually we will have to take “The Great One”‘s name off the Cup to make room too.

I can’t imagine what the future will be like in hockey, there’s the Matthews, Marner, and McDavid future.  But who else is out there that we don’t know about?  Will there ever be another iconic photo like those two legends of the game?

The last time I went to the Hockey Hall of Fame, my daughter and I went into the Esso Great Hall where the Cup is displayed.  She wandered right off to the shiny trophy on its magical perch.  I immediately made my way to the vault where the rings are held.  Not the winner’s rings but the rings that had been taken off the Cup to make room for more Champions.  I wondered about those men that had been engraved there and what they went through.  The struggles and the pain to win this elusive Cup.  It’s been said that once you win you are winner forever because your name is engraved on the side.  But tell that to those men who will find themselves tucked away in a vault on 30 Yonge Street in Toronto.  One day Wayne Gretzky will find himself there too.

I’ve Gone To Look For America

While watching the Penguins and Capitals play the favorite game of our neighbors to the North, an ad for a German car company included a tune from the folk duo of Simon and Garfunkel.

America.

I don’t remember the first time I heard the song that the two recorded almost 50 years ago that is almost the same age as the Pittsburgh Penguins.  What I do remember is that the song has haunted me every time I heard it.

A tune about a couple’s journey through tumultuous times trying to find themselves while discovering the wide world outside the places they once knew.  Everyone lives in their own fishbowl until they decide to jump out and swim in a different pond, taking that trip from different state to state or city to city.  Discovering ourselves.

Ironically the song mentions Pittsburgh as well – a place I’ve seen only from an airplane.

I was just a kid when I went looking for America – it felt like every summer my parents would pack up our car and head in every direction on the compass to some out-of-the-way destination.  I spent hours in the backseat of a car reading and sleeping on Interstate highways as we traveled the East Coast from Bangor, Maine all the way down to Daytona Beach, Florida.

In those trips, I found my America.  I found the parts of the country that excited me from the sports stadiums to the national monuments to the quirky foods to the dark and lonely roads that scatter this country.  I developed a love of french fries, an obsession with soda, a desire to see where pro and college teams play, the love of the cold from dipping in the Atlantic Ocean in Maine and a need to understand.

I found America when I saw the crack in the Liberty Bell, viewed the ships in Philadelphia harbor, looked up at Lady Liberty and saw the places where men fought over war that has been labeled “civil.”

I discovered different foods like clam chowder or carolina barbecue or shrimp scampi or fried catfish or pizza that wasn’t made in the South.  Although along the way I discovered that there are so many great things you can find in convenience stores like beef jerky and slurpees.

I also saw the Meadowlands, Veteran’s Stadium, Yankee Stadium, Camden Yards, Fulton County Stadium, Memorial Stadium in Baltimore and many college fields.

Most of all along the way I saw different things and different ways of life.  It was the need to understand the culture that I enjoyed so much.  Going to New York and seeing the fast pace of life after coming from the South where things moved so slow.  Or even going to Maine to see how vast America is.

Then there was the plane flight from Virginia to Pittsburgh to Seattle, flying over so much of the country to get to a place on the map that looked so far away.  Talk about culture shock for me – going from the sunny South to the dreary Northwest.  I admired the floating bridges of Seattle, the rain forest that was just hours away, the mystery of Snoqualmie Falls and the intrigue of Mount St. Helens.  The more I heard about Seattle the more I felt like it was so far away from Virginia even though it was America.

America.

The same America where sports teams will draft players who have multiple arrests: just recently the Minnesota Vikings who took Dalvin Cook and the Jacksonville Jaguars took Cam Robinson.  The Cincinnati Bengals who will draft a player, Joe Mixon, that knocked a woman out because she slapped him.  Or the Cleveland Browns who took Caleb Brantley even though he’s accused of battery on a woman like Mixon.

This is America.  America where sports has become so interwoven into our culture that baseball’s World Series is known as the “Fall Classic.”  College football is a religious day in the South only proceeded by high school football and followed by church.

Unfortunately we’ve become a product of our entertainment.  We’ve let ourselves be bought by glitz and glamour.  We’ve sold our souls for the promise of athletic achievement while giving up on common courtesy and humanity.  We are happy to use public funds to build sports arenas but balk at helping those who have nothing.  All the while sports owners use their funds to return to their mansions and luxury cars.

It’s the worry that our team might lose or we may never see them win a championship that keeps us hoping for next year yet we miss life passing in front of us.  We miss the things that Simon and Garfunkel went looking for on their trip through America.  We don’t enjoy the wire that we all walk in life and how much joy can be found in the little things.  We don’t understand the pain that everyone else goes through.  We don’t appreciate others.  We don’t value other parts of America.

America isn’t just a piece of land, or an ideal, it is people.  It’s humanity but it should also giving and caring.  It’s time we all went looking for that.

I’ve Had Enough Of The Blood

Human conflict has been going on for as long as history has been recorded and people have been arguing over everything. Obviously in the beginning it wasn’t over things like cars and televisions.  
I never began this blog to talk about politics or current events – only sports. However, I’m fed up and I’m tired of the scenes on social media and other screens showing horrible sights of needless injuries and deaths.  

Why the hell do these “acts of terror” keep happening?

Life is so short on its own – no one needs to take it from the innocent there is enough to deal with already. With cancer, accidental incidents, diseases and many other events there is plenty of ways that humans come into contact with crisis.

I’m tired of being concerned that someone I know halfway across the world could have been hurt in an incident by some crazed “terrorist.”

What is the point of taking a life? What is the point of violence?

I realize that violence is part of sports and many of us have enjoyed that violence, whether it is in football, hockey or even in sports like mixed martial arts. That violence I’ve questioned on multiple occasions as well because it reduces humans to their primitive roots. However it is a form of entertainment not a way to truly injure one another, or so I’d like to hope.
But when it comes to “acts of terror” the point is to kill, maim and destroy the way of life of people that do not share the same beliefs. I’d like to ask why everyone can’t get along but I know there’s no way that everyone will be able to get along-many can’t get along on a basketball court.  

All of this doesn’t mean that our differences need to be resolved by running people over with a vehicle, blowing them up or even shooting them. Humans have the advantage of a large brain and the ability to comprehend and communicate unlike other creatures on Earth. When we kill each other instead of using our brains we revert back to being just like an animal. We are no better than the lions and sharks that we see on television. I would hope that one day we advance past our desire to see blood and gore but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. In the meantime, know that we should all come together as humans and look out for one another.

It’s Time To Stop Bitching About The NHL Refs

The fastest skater in the National Hockey League’s skills competition this past January, Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid, completed a lap around the ice in 13.310 seconds. Imagine what you can do in 13.310 seconds. By the time you’ve read to the end of this sentence McDavid has already completed his turn around the ice.
For the average fan, we miss out on that speed when viewing the game on television. Everything blends together and at times the play can be quick but most times we get used to the pace of the players. That is until the ref misses a call and we wonder how they could have missed something right in front of them?

As someone who has been a ref for high school soccer games, there’s something to be said for making sure the game is called properly but not making the game about the rules. If you stop the game for every little infraction it could be a drawn out affair. Then again if you go into the game knowing the teams have a heated rivalry it’s important to let them know you are watching and by calling them out it improves the chances of level heads prevailing.

If you ref young kids, there’s the temptation to call everything as well. The best refs can “feel out” the game and speak to the players during the game to instruct them on what is going on.
“Hey number 8, stop pushing off. If you keep doing that I’m going to have to call it.”

Even when you blow the whistle as a youth ref it’s important to let the child know what happened and how to improve. I find that children get a lot of pressure from parents and coaches (even themselves) and sometimes as a ref it’s helpful to give them a little lift.

Getting back to the NHL, when it comes to being able to skate with these guys as well as watch everything that is going on on the ice-I’m in awe. These refs are truly amazing. If you think about the fact that some of them take pucks off of their bodies with no padding and skate the entire game with no line changes-they are some incredible individuals. Not only that but to see and break down the play of men who skate at speeds close to 40 mph according to some estimates, you have to cut them some slack.
I don’t want refs to be perfect. I don’t want them to be robots that get everything right. Bad calls and missed calls are a part of sports since their creation. Turning refs into computers and every play into instant replay slows down the speed and flow of the game. It makes coaches rely too heavily on fighting with the refs rather than coaching their players.  

I know I’ve bitched about Doug Gilmour getting high sticked in the playoffs and I’ll keep bitching. This is just the way it’ll always be. To be fair, the Leafs could have done more to not be in that situation to rely on that call. Good teams recover from bad calls and no calls. Sometimes it all comes down to luck and sometimes it’s just meant to be. Sometimes the better team wins-then again you can’t convince me the Kings were better!

Tony Soprano Made Me Believe In Jean-Paul Sartre

I don’t remember how many years ago it was when I heard “got yourself a gun” playing as James Gandolfini pulled into his suburban New Jersey playground.  What I do remember is being absolutely fascinated with the life of David Chase’s fictional mob boss who fought with the demons that danced in Gandolfini’s character, Tony Soprano’s head.

I didn’t have HBO when the show came out, but I can remember people around me talking about the ducks and how Soprano took care of the ducks.

I can remember thinking, “the hell are the ducks?”

After watching the series for the first time, I never got the connection that Soprano’s therapist, Dr. Melfi, proposed was the reason that Tony worried so much about the water fowl.

“They’re just ducks,” I thought, “who cares?  I’m more worried about the cannoli and the sfogliatelle.”

You know, “leave the gun take the cannoli,” Godfather style.  It’s that part of America that Chase dipped into when he created The Sopranos.  Guns, money, pastry, prosciutto and RICO – all part of what some would consider the lifestyle of a mobster.

I got so caught up in the smoke and mirrors that I missed the point that Chase was trying to make.  It’s a message hidden underneath the bodies that Soprano leaves in his wake, all six and a half seasons worth, even though during the series leaves us clues.

In the second season while talking with Dr. Melfi, Tony produces one of the most prolific existential statements one could expect from the troubled character:

“What’s the point? You go to Italy, you lift some weights, you watch a movie-it’s all a series of distractions til you die.”

I didn’t understand the existentialism the first time I watched the show. Years later, after reading Sartre I get where Tony is coming from. What is the point? All his choices that have been bothering him only matter because he made them matter to him.

At the same time, he’s responsible for his world, whatever happened around him was caused by his decisions. If he hadn’t killed Christopher’s shooter,Matt Bevilaqua, he wouldn’t have had to worry about being fingered for being at the scene.

For all the money and fancy things that Tony has he experiences the pain of a man that doesn’t understand himself. He struggles with a world devoid of happiness. The people that he runs with are just like him-brutal, dark and broken. But this is the only world that he knows and he can’t go into the “witness protection program” because that’s not his life plus he lives by omerta.

Even his family experiences this realization during the series. His mother, Livia, tells her grandson, Anthony, Jr.:

“Why does everything have a purpose? The world is a jungle. And if you want my advice Anthony, don’t expect happiness. You won’t get it. People let you down. And I’m not naming any names, but in the end you die in your own arms.”

Anthony, Jr learns about Friedrich Nietzsche at school which starts a revolt at home when he doesn’t want to be confirmed in the Catholic church.

“God is Dead,” he says.

Tony takes this to Dr. Melfi who tells him:

“When some people first realize that they’re solely responsible for their decisions, actions, and beliefs and that death lies at the end of every road they can be overcome by intense dread.”

There is the good doctor explaining to the world what happens when people read and understand existentialism for the first time. I could be forgiven for confusing Dr Melfi for Sartre, who said:

“Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.”

Yikes. While there is an ultimate search for truth, the place to start is truly inside of us all. In many ways I think Tony represents so many people’s search for what “it’s all about.” Another person’s world could look so intriguing and something that we may want to get into from the outside but it’s probably not. Things aren’t as black and white as they seem. Scrape away at the paint and you might not like what is underneath.

Then again, should we take our lives to the bright lights of the silver screen with hip hop beats and fancy CGI maybe we would like it better. It could be the perspective that matters. I thought when I first watched The Sopranos that Tony died way too soon. There had to be more things for him to do and more for the viewer to see.

Years later I’m convinced that Tony did what he was supposed to do, he showed that life is short and it’s supposed to be lived to the fullest. We have to ask questions-of ourselves and others-and search for the answers to whatever it is that we want to know. At the end of the day, it is us that answers to ourselves and it is us that are free.

 

 

Understanding The Numbness Of Alabama’s Loss

There’s a lot we can learn from losses – whether they are in the sporting world or in life.

Sometimes we believe that things can get no better.  Whether it is our new car or a trip to see our favorite team we think that everything is wonderful.  We ride around in our car and enjoy the smell of the new seats, the thrill and the experience.  Or even when we go to the game we soak up the sights and the sounds.  

I imagine when the University of Alabama lost to Clemson in the National Championship game they thought the rug had been pulled out from under them.  That new car with the thrill and experience hit a tree. After a season of wins, the final game produced what would be a devastating and disappointing loss.  How could anyone possibly deal with it?

Like Alabama, we must learn to deal with the losses in our life.  Though our defeats probably won’t be televised they will hurt none the less.  I think no matter what level of loss, it all affects us differently.  The pain and the depression all take their toll.

I know that whatever came out of Alabama’s loss the players will be stronger in the long run.  Maybe in the hours and days after the game they struggled to find a silver lining- something I’m sure we all can relate to.  After we experience our own devastation it takes time for us to recover.  The amount of time depends on the severity.  

I am no expert in loss and I can’t tell you how to get through the struggle of life.  I know we all have things to go through because just as Sheryl Crow sang, “no one said it would be easy, but no said it’d be this hard.”  

If time heals as they say, it’s only because we forget how much we hurt.  We forget how alone we can feel in that hurt.  How selfish we feel about our hurt.  The idea of sharing our pain sounds easy until we start to open up and then we close down those gates and store those feelings for another day.  I only know the things that hurt me when I was younger don’t now – because I don’t remember what or why they hurt.  I don’t remember the situations and the feelings.  Maybe if I could go back and relive time I would understand.  But who would want to go back and relive pain?

Do you think Alabama wants to go back to feel what the end of the National Championship felt like?  I don’t know about you but anymore it’s getting harder and harder to remember the good and the bad.  Wounds can be so fresh and bring such intensity but yet make us so numb.  Only time will tell how long the numbness lasts.  

Trying To Hit Life’s Curveballs

They say sometimes when things go wrong you just have to suck it up and keep going.  You could be mired in an 0 for 20 slump but you still have to go up to the plate and take a swing.

Then again, what happens if the manager decides to pull you from the lineup?  Isn’t there always someone there trying to take your place?  

I keep hearing coaches in football talk about this “next man up” philosophy.  Ok maybe not so much a philosophy as an idea.  The thought that if someone gets hurt or isn’t doing their job the person behind them is stepping up.  Injury?  No problem get the next person in line.

I guess you could say it’s probably not fair – but you know the old saying fair is that place you go to eat fried foods and ride the rides.  Ok maybe not.  I’d just like to think that we could share a little humility.  Some people plug alone in a position for years and then suddenly its next man up.  I guess that’s the story of life.  

I always thought that Paul Pierce would end his career as a Boston Celtic and in a way it bothered me to see him in so many jerseys.  However the more I think about it, I guess he still had more to give to the game and there were others who saw that.  Sometimes it takes stepping away from a stale situation in order to see that there is something moving in the horizon.  

When Frank Thomas left the Chicago White Sox and went to the Toronto Blue Jays, no one cries for him.  Plenty thought he had been finished for a while.  Unfortunately that’s the climate we live in.  Athletes are just like us, they find themselves in situations where they have to use their talents in the best possible areas.

I don’t think that Thomas and Pierce were happy to leave at first – I’m sure it was a struggle to adopt change.  Everyone has to come to grips with the fact that as the world spins things get off balance.  The more times the Earth goes around the Sun the more likely we are to struggle with our situation.  It’s just human nature to find some sort of problem with something in our lives whatever it may be.  We have to do our best to deal with it – it’s not always easy to do that.

If I knew how to deal with every situation I’m sure I’d write one of those books that would be on the New York Times bestseller list.  I’d be the guru to end all gurus.  But then again maybe that would be a bad idea.  See no two people deal with a situation the same way.  That’s part of being a human.  My philosophy on life and yours probably have differences.  I’m not going to always agree with the way you do things and you aren’t going to agree with me.  But the one thing we can try to do is make the best of whatever comes our way.  It may not be perfect or the thing that we wanted.  In fact I would bet that it’s going to be a curveball rather than the pitch you were looking for.