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Feb 28, 2011

Trade Deadline Day!

I hope Laura got me a nice present!

- - -

Anyone with more than one child will, with only the slightest invitation, be able to regale you for hours about how different their kids are from one another.

And so it is in our house. Our guys are both good kids. The older one more goal-driven and eyes-on-the-prize about life, the younger one more into the journey than the destination, a carefree spirit.

I sometimes think Chris is more aware and more thoughtful about things around him than his older brother, but that could also simply be a stage-of-life thing. His older brother has a plateful of things to keep his mind occupied whereas Chris is just discovering the first hints of what the world can offer.

Recently Chris came home from school quite jazzed about a special guest speaker they had. Fergie Jenkins, the hall of fame pitcher from Chatham, Ont., spoke at Abbey Park High School and he made a big impression on young Chris. Pad never mentioned it.

Jenkins was there as a part of Black History Month. And he spoke about the challenges he faced coming up in the game – not being able to eat in the same restaurants as his white teammates, or even stay at the same hotels. The fans in some cities were ruthless in their abuse.

We don’t shy away from these issues at home but for the cloistered kids of Glen Abbey, I’m sure it was still a powerful and shocking eye opener on a part of the world as it was, and sadly still is in some places.

That Fergie Jenkins makes the effort to get out in front of kids and tell those stories, not with bitterness, but with illumination, is a great thing.

He’s a guy kids like Chris should listen to and look up to.

And that Chris was impressed says something about him too.

You can read about Fergie Jenkins’ visit to Abbey Park High School here.

- - -

Is it just me, or has it become just about impossible to buy Wagon Wheels – the chocolate-covered biscuit – in Oakville?

These things are a staple of my kids’ lunches.

Sobeys doesn’t carry them at all.

Metro has the jam-filled ones, but not the good old plain ones my guys like, and they haven’t had them in weeks.


Is there a strike?

Are the workers at Metro hoarding them?

Have aliens swept down and taken all the Wagon Wheels?

If you know what’s happened on the Wagon Wheel front, I want to know.

Email me!

- - -

When Pad was a house league hockey player I coached him for a few seasons and then as Chris hit the age where he was ready to play, I made the strategic decision to turn Pad loose into the system and let him experience other coaches and their styles.

I felt it was important for him to hear other voices and get some independent evaluation of his game as he grew.

It was a good call and he was lucky to have some wonderful experiences and he met a ton of great kids along the way, too.

For a time, there was a goalie on his team that he became very good friends with even though he didn’t go to the same school.

But he and Brendan “clicked” and they’d hang out and play video games and road hockey what not.

As often happens, life and hockey pulls kids in different directions and like two trains leaving Union Station, one kid goes one place and the other goes somewhere else. Other than passing in rink lobbies occasionally, they rarely see each other.

But Brendan is a nice kid and his parents are great and were always good to Pad.

And that’s why a story that was in the Beaver on the weekend jumped off the page at us.

Brendan’s sister has been dealing with some pretty serious challenges and doing so courageously.

The story is compelling and heartbreaking, but it is hopeful and forward looking too.

Please take the time to read it.

Friends of the family held a fundraiser yesterday to help raise money to offset the enormous medical bills they have incurred. Information on how you can help is included near the end of the story.

It’s worthy of your attention. You can read it here.

- - -

Chris and the Jets lost a squeaker Friday night in their playoff opener, losing 3-2 on a goal with 44 seconds left. It was a very good hockey game.

The tyke Blackhawks, though, were on the right side of a 3-2 score on Saturday morning, to even their playoff record at 1-1. The dream lives!

- - -

On Friday night after Chris’s game I went to the Abbey Park High School gala dinner, dance and silent auction and I showed up in good humour and stayed that way all evening.

A good time was had by all, a big number of dollars were raised for the school, my wife and the other wives got to dress up and dance, and the husbands chatted, gambled poorly and laughed.

I went back and forth over the items on the silent auction tables a number of times, bidding on a bunch of Leaf tickets and driver's ed classes for Pad and other things, and hoping that the one thing I really wanted I would actually win.

I don’t generally care one way or another, but I wanted this one.

At the end of the night I got my prize. I handed over $40 and we headed for the car.

It was about 12:30a and the boys were both in bed, although I knew Chris would be awake, and I tapped on his door and there he was, the room dark except for the glow from his iTouch lighting his face.

I told him I got something at the silent auction and I wanted him to have it, at which point he got very interested because free stuff for Chris will always get Chris’s attention.

I handed him a small glass case, inside of which was a baseball signed by Chatham, Ont., native Fergie Jenkins.

He smiled from ear to ear and said “Cool. Thanks.”

Cool, yes. On many levels.


Feb 25, 2011

The end of another week – sort of. I expect to be working significant chunks of Saturday and Sunday but that’s OK.

My family will wait on me hand and foot while I work.

No wait. I dreamed that last part.

- - -

The annual Abbey Park High School gala dinner dance, silent auction and street brawl is on tonight.

Laura doesn’t ask much of me (!) but she does ask that I go to this, show up in good humour and stay that way all evening.

And even though I rarely wear a tie to work and I have to wear one to this event, I will show up in good humour and stay that way all evening.

Tickets are still available you want to come, too.

You could sit on the sidelines and make fun of the way I dance, which is a lot like a middle-aged white guy. Middle aged, that is, if I intend to live to be 130 or something.

The point is: My kids love their school.

They have great pods of friends and I’m endlessly impressed by the way the kids support each other. So, it seems the least I/we can do is support the school that supports them.

It will come as no surprise to anyone who has met Laura and her friends that they are up to their hips volunteering to make this all happen.

But tonight, they will dress to the nines and . . . well, that’s generally a spectacle worth catching.

So, count me in.

- - -

The gala will be my second stop of the night.

Gala be damned, Chris and the bantam Jets open the playoffs tonight and I’ll be there. That’s the good news.

The bad news is they drew the first-place team for the opening game.

On the other hand, the Jets finished third, not all that far behind these guys so . . .

As the old saying goes, that’s why we play the games. There are no sure things.

Go Jets.

On my way home from the annual Abbey Park High School gala dinner dance, silent auction and street brawl, where I assure you and my spouse that I will show up in good humour and stay that way all evening, I will go to Kinoak for the tyke Blackhawks second game of the playoffs on Saturday morning.

We dropped the opener last Saturday while I was in London with Chris. When I was back Sunday for the exhibition game (which coach Dave missed) we won.

Coincidence? Hmmmm.

Anyway, I’ll be there.

- - -

That sound you hear of people pushing, shoving, and screaming hysterically is the sound of Toronto trying collectively to get aboard the Leaf bandwagon all at once.

Um, thanks, but I’ll sit this one out. And be careful not to twist an ankle jumping off in a couple weeks.

It’s not like I don’t have life-size posters of Clarke MacArthur on the family room wall.

And it’s not like I don’t like experiencing the thrill of watching Carl Gunnarsson with my boys, so that when he’s inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame we can share a quiet moment and recall that we were there, right from the beginning of that magical 2010-11 season.

OK. Call me a cynic.

But even after beating Montreal last night – which is always a good thing – I still do not believe even for a second that the Leafs can or will make the playoffs.

They are getting better. (They sort of had to.)

But, they are not playoff calibre.

Read about last night’s win here. Doug MacLean called it the biggest win for the Leafs in the Brian Burke era.


I want to party with Doug MacLean.

- - -

I don’t expect Doug MacLean to be at the annual Abbey Park High School gala dinner dance, silent auction and street brawl, where I assure you and my spouse that I will show up in good humour and stay that way all evening. So I’ll party with the guys from the street tonight.

And by “party” I mean play blackjack until the school has all my money and sip one beer until it’s warm and then drink Diet Pepsi while the women dance in a pack to something called Lady Gaga.

Tomorrow night and Sunday? Virtually no hockey (after the tykes. And Chris’s timekeeping. And the junior A skate. Almost nothing.)

Saturday will represent the 2nd hockey-free Saturday night we have had since Labour Day – the first one having been Christmas Day. (We went to the rink, but it was closed. Wimps.)

Wherever the road you are on this weekend, watch out for dancing dads and hot hockey moms dressed to the nines.

And the kids.

Don’t forget to hug the kids.


Feb 24, 2011

You would have to be living under a rock not to be aware of what’s happening in the Middle East right now. It is a very big deal, but where it will end and what will actually come of it is almost anyone’s guess.

Many of the borders in the region are artificial designs of convenience imposed on the region by the West after one or both of the world wars. Inside many of those borders are tribes, sects and factions that would quite literally prefer to cut the throat of the folks 10 miles down the road than forge a democratic political future.

But, the only certainty is change and how the world’s only true superpower, the United States, is going to respond to it all is still unclear.

But if you’re a bit of a wonk and you want to see an informed view of what Americans should do, and how they got themselves positioned on the side of despotic dictators and kings in the first place (think “oil” and you have a big part of the puzzle) click here.

Good read. And the Americans will never do it.

- - -

I have now enjoyed three consecutive evenings at home without attending a hockey game or practice.

It’s a bit unnerving.

- - -

The Globe continues it’s excellent reporting on concussions, all of which continues to highlight the issue of head and brain injuries in sport, particularly hockey.

Two items of note today.

The first is on a renowned doctor calling for a dramatic culture change around hockey. Good luck with that, but I’m with you. Read more here.

The other item is on research aimed toward building a better hockey helmet.

Again, I’m with you and good luck.

I tried to get my older son to wear an M11 helmet this year – the bucket is purported to be specifically engineered to reduce concussion risk. I figured as a junior A rookie, it made sense.

Jut as he vetoed the face cage in favour of the visor, he also vetoed the M11.


“It’s ugly.”

Pardon me.

So, the big guy is wearing another brand that is apparently much more fashionable. And that’s good, because the babes like their brain-damaged guys in cool buckets.

Read more on the helmet research here.

Read about the M11 here.


Feb 23, 2011

After last night’s win, the Leafs are now 12 points ahead of Ottawa in the standings.

Granted, that’s sort of like showing up at the country fair “Best Rose” competition and staking a claim to be the tallest weed.

But hey. We’re Leaf fans.

Context is everything.

The Leafs are also not in the bottom five in the league right now, which will have draft lottery implications for Boston from the Kessel trade.

But you already know that. And there’s still a lot of hockey to play.

And yes, I know the Leafs are only six points out of a playoff spot.

And no, I ‘m not changing my weeks-old prediction that they will miss the playoffs.


Read about last night’s game here. Rejoice in being not as bad as Ottawa.

- - -

My kid was working out last night at the usual spot and – seriously – broke a barbell.

Now, I don’t really know how one breaks a barbell. But the evidence is below.

He assured me he didn’t have the thing over his head when it happened, which is good.

But he set off considerable angst on Facebook among his BTNL brethren for snapping the “good” bar.

He said he was clean lifting 250 pounds when the bar shed its earthly coil to touch the face of God.

Or something like that.

Anyway, Pad got a big kick out of it. Everyone else, less so.

Good to see the grocery bills are paying off in something, even if it is just the destruction of gym equipment.


- - -

Note to readers who follow such things: Chris likes rugby, which I wasn't really expecting. He's been a regular at the high school pre-season workouts.

Here we go again . . .


Feb 22, 2011

I kind of got lost in the fog of Family Day weekend, even though I worked yesterday. But, I’m back.

- - -

There was an interesting story in the Star on Monday about a peewee AA team from Barrie that got itself in a scheduling jam while participating in the Quebec International Peewee tournament recently.

It seems the team management overlooked the fact that they would be in league playdowns at the same time as the Quebec tournament, and the OMHA declined to revisit its policy on scheduling deadlines for completion of the series (with Aurora).

Team management may be well intentioned, but it is 100 per cent their fault.

To get out of the jam, the team’s sponsor chartered a plane to fly the boys back from Quebec City to Barrie to play the league game, and then take them back to Quebec City to resume the tournament. All paid by the team sponsor.

So gee. Why didn’t the OMHA just extend the deadline for completing the league series so the boys could enjoy the tournament?

Well. The parents in Barrie can wring their hands all they want on this point, but unless you came into town on a turnip truck (and few AA rep coaches have) then you KNOW that league playoffs will not be rescheduled. Ever. Ever. Ever.


It doesn't happen in house league and it doesn't happen in rep. It doesn't happen and everyone knows it doesn't happen.

It seems like a tough and arbitrary rule, but imagine trying to schedule local and regional playoffs if every league has teams asking for extensions, exemptions, and one-offs?


I have no doubt the Quebec experience was fun – Quebec City in winter is a remarkable venue. And the French? Well,m they have a different word for everything, as Steve Martin used to say.

But I have to confess my stomach turned over at the prospect of all that dough being showered on a peewee hockey team for such an indulgence.

There are better uses for a few thousand bucks, but it’s the sponsor’s money and his decision. And if I was a peewee hockey player, I’d have loved it.

Read more here.

- - -

Chris and the bantam Jets went one and two at the tournament in London. They were competitive in all the games but there was no magic in Forest City for the boys.

But having said that, the team and parents all had a lot of fun – in fact, I had more fun at this tournament than I have had in a while at such an outing.

On personal note, one of the more ridiculous moments came on Friday evening after we unpacked and took a moment to survey the technology we had among the four of us (yes, even Pad came along for the trip. I think one reason I enjoyed it so much is that we all were together for two days. That never happens anymore.)

1 iPhone.

2 Blackberries.

1 cell phone.

2 laptops

1 netbook

1 digital movie camera

1 digital SLR camera

We also brought skates, two sticks and hockey gear, a bottle of wine and two six packs of beer, only one of which got opened and never finished.


- - -

As soon as we got home Sunday night, it was almost time to go back to the rink for an evening tyke exhibition game.

The Blackhawks played a select team from Hamilton and, thanks to a quick start and what I will call a Justin-palooza of goals in the first period we cruised to a 4-1 win.

The game was notable for:

  • Justin’s natural hat trick
  • The play of Hamilton’s goalie, who was very good.
  • The play of our goalie, Chase, who is not our regular minder of the mesh mansion but played very steady in picking up the win.
  • The play of our regular goalie, Noah, who played as a defenceman determined to score a goal (he didn’t but he came close.)
  • And my buddy Ben, who played the best game of his life and will now have great expectations heaped on him for the rest of the season to repeat that performance. He was spectacular.
  • Nolan’s post-goal celebration, that made Tiger Williams’ stick-riding antics back in the day look mild by comparison. Nolan really, really enjoyed scoring a goal, but not as much as I enjoyed watching him celebrate

- - -

Hey look!

It’s the bantam white Flyers, fresh off winning a tournament in Arthur on the weekend.

They bet New Hamburg 2-0 in the final to cop the hardware, some cool medals, and the affection of the local girls.

The Flyers are: Coaches Chris Saunders, Doug Piercey, Paul Ellis.  Players Jonathon Forster (C), Fergus MacDonald (A), Zachary Ristivojevic (G), Brenner Mingorance (A), Nicholas Puzio,  Mihailo Dzekic, Steven Ellis, Tomas Marek, Mariano DeNicola, Calvin Piercey, Ryan Stanbury, Brendan Saunders, Liam Oudman-Debek, Christian Cordiano, Adam Culumovic, and Eric Van Hees.

Way to go guys.

Feb 17, 2011

Things are a bit hectic on all fronts so apologies in advance for the unbearable lightness of blogging yesterday and today.

Among other things, however, the Chris and his team will be playing in London this weekend in a tournament, so I’m getting my head around that. Hopefully it will be fun.

It means I miss the weekend action with the tykes, but the tykes are going to be fine without me.

- - -

The Leafs won in Buffalo last night, which is a pretty rare circumstance.

But the big issue in the game was again properly identifying concussions.

Leaf sniper Mikhail Grabovski took two pretty good knocks to the head two nights ago vs. Boston (also a Leaf win) and was clearly, unquestionably rattled by one of them.

But he stayed in the game and even scored the winning goal.

But . . .

The larger question is, should he have been on the ice at all?

He played last night vs. the Sabres. Leaf GM Brian Burke made no apologies for keeping Grabo in the lineup.

Suck it up, boys. Grow a pair and get back out there.

The Globe gave the issue front-page treatment today.

Read more here.

- - -

Over and out for me. I’ll be back with something before hitting the road for London tomorrow. The weather is supposed to be very, very warm.

I’ve never experienced that in London in winter before.


Feb 15, 2011

Great time last night at the Bon Jovi concert. Laura (and all the other women) had a lot more fun than me, but I still enjoyed myself.

As the man himself said: “Bon Jovi is like Viagra for women.”

There wasn’t a man in the building last night who would have argued the point.

The band started at 8:30p on the button and played pretty much non-stop until 11:05p.

If you are among the legions of men out there who don’t think you know any Bon Jovi songs, the set list for last night’s show can be found here. It’s My Life. Runaway. Bad Medicine. Livin’ on a Prayer. Keep the Faith. Lay Your Hands on Me. Bed of Roses. I’ll Be There For You. Wanted (Dead or Alive). You Give Love A Bad Name.

On and on. The ACC was steamrolled last night by the Jersey hit machine that has generated more top-40 songs in the last 25 years than any other.

Second show is tonight.

I’ll be asleep on the sofa.

Below is someone else's recording of the final song of the encore last night. I'm pretty sure that's Laura's voice you hear.



- - -

I was at dinner last night with Laura when I got a text from a friend telling me that the Leafs had traded Versteeg. It was the first I had heard of it and I replied “geez, don’t tell me they traded him to the Flyers for Pelle Linbergh!”

Lindbergh was one of the most promising young goalies in the NHL in the mid 1980s. He died drunk at the wheel of his Porsche, which he drove at high speed into a wall in front a school. His blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit. A horrible waste, truly.

Anyway it turns out I actually got the team right, but the Leafs will get a first and third round draft pick for Versteeg, who will be a big asset to the Flyers, who already have one of the best teams in the East.

Read more here.

- - -

 There's a kid in Nova Scotia -- he's 15 -- who is being compared to Sidney Crosby.

That seems nice, but it seems also to be a little unfair to a kid.

If we lined up all the guys from the last 25 years who were going to be the next Gretzky, or the next Lemieux, we could fill the ACC.

But you're smarter than me. Read about it here and make up your own mind.

I hope the kid is as good as they say.

I hope they give him some room to find out, too!


Feb 14, 2011

It’s Valentine’s Day.

Nothing says “I love you” like a Hallmark card commemorating the decapitation of a Catholic saint and the massacre of a bunch of gangsters.

It’s true – I’m a hopeless romantic.

- - -

I’m not really big on having Hallmark tell me when I need to do something nice for my wife. My wife does that.

But tonight there is an odd coincidence that makes me look like one of the great enlightened husbands in the GTA (and I assure you, I am not.)

Tonight, the leggy blonde and me will be having dinner at the Jump Café in downtown Toronto and then making the short stroll to the Air Canada Centre for the Bon Jovi concert. We bought the tickets ages ago. The concert just happens to be tonight.

If you have never seen Bon Jovi then you are unaware of what you are missing.

I doubt that there is another band touring in the world that is capable of playing for two and half hours and playing nothing but hits (they don’t do this, but they could.)

Second, Jon Bon Jovi is the world’s biggest babe magnet for women 30 and up. So, there’s always a lot to look at, if you like that sort of thing. (Laura asked me last night whether I thought Jon would like her hair straight or wavy.)

Third, the band is pretty amazing. I have seen many concerts and Bon Jovi’s show is polished and raw at the same time. A good New Jersey boy -- not our favourite New Jersey boy, but a respectable 2nd to Bruce.

Fourth, seeing Bon Jovi makes Laura happy. Happy wife, happy life.

The first time I saw the band was in February 2003.

For the encore, the band played David Bowie’s Heroes, their own Keep the Faith and Bad Medicine, and then three rock and roll classics with all the lights on that nearly collapsed the building.

The Isley Brothers standard Shout!, followed by the Chuck Berry classic Rock and Roll Music, followed by Twist and Shout. (You may know the Beatles cover version!)

Anyway, the encore left me endlessly impressed because of its tribute to good old rock and roll. It really was wild.

Like the cliché says, we’re paying for two seats tonight but we’re not going to use them. It should be fun.

- - -

So, in summary, the least you should be doing for your wife tonight is taking her to a nice restaurant for dinner and then Bon Jovi.

- - -

Chris and the Jets scored with nine seconds left to win their last game of the regular season Friday night. They finished third in a 10-team loop, three points out of first (I think).

Pad’s team lost its last game of the regular season on Saturday night, and the tyke Blackhawks lost their last game of the regular season earlier in the day.

So, I guess regular seasons are winding down.

For his trouble, Patrick got a split lip in his game – a guy came in hard on the forecheck as Pad came out of the corner with the puck and the collision could be heard in Hamilton. The other guy bounced of Pad, they both staggered, and the other kid’s face cage (or, cheese grater as Pad calls it) hit my guy in the mouth.

Lots of blood but all the teeth were intact.

Usual post-game lecture by me on the virtues of a cage over a visor, which he completely ignored. As usual.

Patrick posted a picture of him and a teammate who also split his lip (it’s a trend!) on Facebook with the caption: This is what real hockey players look like.

I’d put it here, but it would only encourage him.

- - -

I’ll finish with rock n’ roll today too.

Eight or nine years ago Patrick got his first electric guitar – a cheap one, but it was cool to him. Chris was very young and jealous. With tears welling in his eyes (he was like five or six years old) he asked: “Why does Pad always get the really cool stuff?”

Chris and I spent nearly three hours yesterday at Mojo Music in Oakville, after which he emerged with a new guitar. I guess the other seven guitars we have were getting worn out.

I’m kidding (about the wearing out, not the number of guitars). Both our guys play and they have been taking lessons for close to a decade.

It was fun to have a proud parent moment that didn’t involve standing in a rink:

Chris was looking at guitars and pulled one off the wall. The guy in the store found him an amp and plugged him in. People were milling around.

And then as cool as anything he played “Blackbird” by the Beatles, and dead nailed it. People just sort of stopped for a second and looked over at the skinny guy playing.

And then he flipped a switch on the amp and played Black Dog by Led Zeppelin and everyone moved away. He looked up and smiled and the sales guy grinned and just said “keep playing.”

He bought – mostly with his own money -- aa replica Les Paul made by Vintage. He looked like I looked when I got my first car. And Patrick doesn’t always get the cool stuff.

It was a good day for Chris. And his dad.


Feb 11, 2011

Back to hockey stuff today.

Every kid in the loop Pad plays in, the Ontario Junior A league, dreams of big-time hockey the same way that the guys on my Saturday morning tyke team do. No difference at all, and honestly, the probabilities of it happening are likely about the same for members of both teams.

But given a 2nd choice of dream, one a little more within reach, the junior kids talk about NCAA hockey. I’d guess it’s about a 70-30 split – with 70 per cent wanting to chase a scholarship and the rest hoping to hook on in the OHL. (Canadian university hockey is another matter. Pad has been told by several CIS coaches that they like what they see, but at only really interested in 20-year-old freshmen. Come back in three years.)

Anyway, most juniors don’t get to fill either dream, but there’s no shame in that. Dreams are for the chasing.

I was put in mind of all of that when I saw a piece in the Wall Street Journal today on some of the great rinks in US college hockey.

Maine, Cornell, and University of Michigan are absolutely legendary, the latter being for the behaviour of the student fans who invent cheers to mock – and entertain – everyone.

But there are many with unique charm, and this list just scratches the surface.

You can read that story here.

Ah, to be 17 again . . .

- - -

Another tyke-related item:

In more than a dozen years of coaching, I only ever said it of one kid. Just one.

Of the hundreds of players I have been privileged to coach over the years, only once did I watch a player on my team and think, this guy could go all the way.

I have mentioned here before that Coach Dave and I call the player of the game trophy we give out each week the Festarini. The original Festarini was retired at the start of this season to make way for a larger, gaudier, bauble worthy of adorning the mantle of a world champion of . . . I dunno. F1 auto racing or something. The kids love it, and that’s all that matters. It’s a staple of Show and Tell at Oakville schools.

The original, more modest trophy now sits on a lonely shelf somewhere in my house, but its history is rich. It has been lost, stolen, and broken. It was found, returned, and fixed. It has been held aloft by players on the fast track to rep, and players happy to be playing one terrific house league game a week.

It picked up its nickname from a particularly talented minor atom goaltender, a 1993 as we hockey dads say, who showed up in Oakville from Iroquois Falls, Ont, one summer and played his last season of house league hockey for me before chasing the rep dream. Way back when.

He won the trophy so many times that season that we just started calling it The Festarini.

Because I know several of the tyke parents have become regular readers, and one in particular is the dad of a flowering goaltending prospect who will, among other things, severely challenge his parents’ ability to save money for school, retirement and other purposes as dollars flow for equipment, lessons, and more, a story on the trophy’s unofficial namesake is timely and appropriate.

Of all the kids I ever coached, I only ever said “he has a chance to go all the way” of one of them. That’s how much this guy stood out, even back in minor atom.

I still see him around town, especially in summer because he and Pad work out at the same training facility. When he sees me he shakes my hand and calls me “coach” and exudes politeness, confidence and respect. Hockey talent aside, I find it thrilling to meet guys like him as young men now and see how well they're doing. It takes a village, right?

And yes. I still think he can go all the way.

Today’s edition of the Erie Times-News carries a nice feature on how the OHL’s goaltending tandem prepare for games.

Required reading for tyke goalie dads (and moms, too) can be found here.

- - -

This weekend is shaping up less busy than the last couple. Bantam hockey tonight. Tykes tomorrow morning. Juniors tomorrow night. Bantam practice on Sunday. Only one out of town trip – a quick jaunt to Georgetown.

A snap!

The forecast promises warming weather – plus 5 and rain by Monday. So the cold snap is behind us. Would it be tempting fate to dream that we’ve broken winter’s back?


Have a great, safe weekend. Chris has the early game tonight so we’re excited to think that we might actually have a normal evening at home. Anything is possible I guess.

Drive safely. Cheer for the good guys.

Hug the kids!


Feb 10, 2010

Nothing too interesting happening today.

- - -

I meant to post this aerial photo I took of Kinoak Arena (“The Coldest Place on Earth ™) on Sunday night at the coveted 9p practice. But, I forgot. So, here it is.


OK -- there's no fooling the quick-witted among you. This isn't really Kinoak. And I didn't take the picture. No, it's not tell a lie Thursday.

This is actually a photo of Siberia, taken by the coach of Chris's hockey team who wasn't actually at practice on Sunday night at Kinoak (“The Coldest Place on Earth ™) because he was piloting a large airplane to (or from, I'm not actually sure) Beijing. (That's in China.)

Coach Rick is a good guy and great with the boys and he's a fun guy to have piloting your plane, especially if you're cool with the pilot taking pictures while you think he's busy looking at all those dials and gauges, which Brian and me think are just there to impress women. Unless you're a woman pilot, in which case they're there to impress men. Unless . . . never mind. Too far off topic.

Anyway, while we were at Kinoak (“The Coldest Place on Earth ™) on Sunday night, Rick sends us a picture of Siberia, which seemed oddly appropriate given that the rink was actually colder than the great Russian tundra. Siberia would have seemed liked a step up.

And because Brian and I are hopelessly witty bon vivants, we remarked that it looked really cold in Siberia and Rick said he would not want to do an emergency landing there and Brian said he could leave that to us, just have a few beers standing by for when we were done.

Not to mention rescue vehicles and the coroner.

Yes, I realize this is a lame entry. But, you got to see Siberia and I'm guessing you were not expecting that.

Coach Rick is a good guy and he throws a hell of a party -- the only problem is on-street parking is a bitch in his neighbourhood in River Oaks because with all the cuts at Air Canada he has to keep the Boeing 777 in his driveway when he's not flying it and, well, you can imagine how much space it takes up.

(The good news is that the police can't reach the windshield wipers to leave a ticket, so, as Brian would say, it's all good.)

- - -

I warned you I didn't have much.


Feb 9, 2011

Today is Day 13 of the hockey rink marathon -- and assuming I cannot make it to Thursday's tyke practice (and that is still a safe assumption unfortunately) then the streak ends tonight at Iceland in Mississauga.

To which I say, Amen.

I like hockey as much as the next guy but this run has taxed my energy -- maybe I'm getting old.

A quick, back of the envelop calculation shows 11 rinks visited (some more than once obviously) in 13 days in five different towns across a strip of southern Ontario about 170 kilometres wide.

After a couple more weekends, things will slow down considerably. Within six weeks, it will be a veritable crawl by comparison.

One more rink . . .

- - -

A guy I know who make a living holding mics in front of sweaty hockey players tell me an important bit of info about Phil Kessel.

He is shy. Really, really shy.

And I have to say that as a parent, watching Kessel on TV trying to dig himself out of something he said but may or may not have actually meant is awfully painful.

The guy is a kid -- only 23.

Suspend judgment for a moment on The Trade and whether he's worth $5 million a year.

Look at him as a parent, if only just for a moment.

The last place he ever wants to be is standing with 10 TV cameras pointed at him. That is life in Toronto for an underachieving goal scorer in one of the world's most intense hockey markets.

I hope he starts to score soon because right now, the kid looks simply miserable.

I cannot imagine that it is easy being under the spotlight for the Leafs, especially at the age of 23.

Which, in context, makes the way that someone like Sidney Crosby conducts himself simply remarkable by comparison.

Crosby is exceptional in many ways. I suspect that Kessel's shyness and ability to fracture a quote is more typical of what to expect from guys of his age.

Give him a break.

The Star has a story on the shy-superstar syndrome here. I don't agree with some of it, but there's some insight there.

- - -

Last week, most of the schools in Toronto were closed for a snow day, a decision based more on precaution than bad weather. Fine. First snow day in a decade. Let the kids sleep. No big deal. But the local school boards were raked in the media for being a bunch of snow wimps.

In my home province of Nova Scotia, the proud land of wooden ships and iron men, the school boards seem to have put Mel "Call in the Army" Lastman on retainer.  Four snow days in two weeks, the latest being today.

They haven't actually called in the army yet, but suspicions are growing that the snooze button on someone's alarm in the school board hierarchy is the device that triggers decisions on snow days.

It snowed a lot in Halifax yesterday. I'm told it stopped at 3p. On TUESDAY. Schools today are closed because of high wind and icy roads.

Wind? Ice? Blowing snow? IN THE WINTER?

Jesus H Christ. Get Mel Lastman on line one NOW!

I was getting emails from friends near Halifax talking -- railing, actually -- of clear, sunny skies and yes, closed schools from Yarmouth to Sydney. For many school boards its the 4th snow day in two weeks. As my very smart niece in Cape Breton said on Facebook: " . . . This is ridiculous."

It sure is.

I will spare the world a "when I was a boy" speech. But, I will say this.

Nova Scotians have officially lost the right to ever make Mel Lastman jokes and Toronto snow jokes. Ever.

They have become the reigning snow wimps in Canada.

Wooden ships. Iron men. And jellyfish.


Feb 8, 2011

I’ve railed here about concussions many times. My son sustained a concussion in a junior game this season. On Day 2 after the concussion I remember thinking, as the headaches and dizziness persisted, that I didn’t care if he ever played hockey again. I just wanted his brain to be ok. (It is.)

I’m going to rail again, but this time with a story that illustrates how in the bizarre world of hockey a seven-year-old tyke hockey player can get better preventative attention than the consensus best hockey player on Earth.

Sidney Crosby is out right now, not playing the game he is paid millions to play – something he does very, very well. Crosby sustained his “official” concussion on Jan 5, but only an idiot would think that the blind-side hit he took on Jan 1 in the Winter Classic also was not a concussion of some degree.

But the NHL being what it is when it comes to concussions – ask Eric Lindros the next time you see him – Crosby finished that game before taking a 2nd head hit a few days later that has sidelined him for a considerable period of time. He may not be back with his team until March.

Other smarter people have written about what a disaster this is for the NHL to have its marquee athlete sitting in his parents’ family room in Cole Harbour, NS, waiting to get better. And that’s how you get over a concussion. You wait.

Those people have pointed out what a disaster it is that the NHL failed completely, utterly, totally, to not just protect Crosby and every other player in the league with new rules to crack down on head hits – inadvertent or not.

So, what does all this have to do with tyke house league hockey?

I’m officially the trainer on our tyke team (bench staff wear many hats – co-coach, juice carrier, driver, daycare worker, and motivational speaker to name a few). I like to think I am fiercely protective of the well being of the 16 kids on our team. The reality is I am no more or less protective of them that the rest of bench staff, or the bench staff on any other team. Or the parents. Or grandparents.

I’ve seen all the coaches on the other teams. They all care a lot.

Tykes are little boys (and some girls) learning a sport and having fun. Our job is to help them, teach them, and make sure the experience is fun and as safe as can be reasonably expected. After all, it is hockey and things happen.

A couple of weeks ago, a thing happened.

One of our guys was skating a couple of hard laps in warmup and lost an edge. He crashed into the boards and banged his head. I saw him go down and immediately went on the ice.

I have Hockey Canada’s trainer certification and one of the first things they teach you in the course is what you are NOT. You’re not a doctor, or a nurse, or a paramedic. You’re not certified in first aid. You are not qualified to treat anything. What you are is basically trained to identify when someone needs real medical attention from someone who knows what they are doing.

When I got to the player’s side he was crying a little – perhaps annoyed, perhaps hurt, perhaps embarrassed. With seven year olds it can all run together.

Anyway, after determining there was no neck injury and all the necessary parts were in working order and he was able to move safely, I used what I learned about identifying a potential concussion.

It became clear to me quickly that while the player appeared to be OK, he also appeared to be a little confused. Now, that might be because he had me in his face asking him to count backwards from 13, or to tell me what he had for dinner last night. (Most days I would have trouble with that question, too.)

I do this thing to make the kids laugh where I slap my hands quickly on my chest. On good days, it sounds like a helicopter. I asked him if he thought he needed the Blackhawks helicopter to take him to the doctor but he said he didn’t. It’s a good joke, but he didn’t laugh.

We got him off the ice and got his dad over to talk to him and he quickly came to the same conclusion. Something just didn’t feel right.

It was an easy call. I told him he was done for the day, and I sat with him in the dressing room as his parents pulled off his gear. I assured him there would be lots of games ahead but right now, at that moment, it was more important to make 100 per cent sure he was OK than to play a hockey game.

Why no one did this with Sidney Crosby after he got levelled by a hit to the head on Jan 1 is a shameful negligence the Pittsburgh Penguins should answer for, but may never have to. Why the guy that hit him in the head skated away free and clear is something the NHL has to answer for, but never will.

As bench staff with a bunch of seven year olds, all we have to answer for is the welfare of the kids. Wins and losses and ice time are incidental.

After a trip to the doctor our guy was given the all-clear, much to everyone’s great relief. He is fine.

In the tournament in Brantford he was the defenceman who made two game-saving plays in the last minute of the championship game and he was named our MVP of that game. When we gave him his award his smile could be seen three counties away.

Have I ever mentioned that there’s nothing quite like tyke hockey?

Sidney Crosby isn’t smiling. Neither is Colin Campbell or Gary Bettman or the NHLPA leadership or any of the other deep thinkers at the top end of pro hockey.

Maybe someone should have brought out the Penguins helicopter and told Sid he was going to sit for a few days. The hit on Jan 5 would never have happened. Maybe he would be on the ice again now.

Hockey Canada takes a lot of flack for the way some things get done in the highly political world of minor hockey. But they are doing a good job raising awareness about concussions so that dummies like me can keep the kids as safe as we reasonably can.

When in doubt, sit him out.

- - -

Parents/coaches/trainers: you can download the Hockey Canada “concussion card” here, and you should. Print it out, keep it with the players’ medical forms that you bring to every game.

Ditto for this – the Sport Concussion Assessment tool. Every trainer should printer this one out and have it on hand. Memorize some of the basic assessment criteria to guide you on when medical attention is needed.

Also, an interesting read in the Globe today on the lack of respect in the NHL, where marginal players will do anything to stay in the big leagues. Read it here.

End of rant.

- - -

For the benefit of family back in NS -- Pad's team did their team photos last night. It was as unremarkable as you would expect.

But there was a funny moment.

Pad is easily the tallest kid on the team (#18 below).

Each time the photographer prepared to snap a picture, the three players to his left tried to stand on their toes.

It's not an easy thing to do on skates.



Feb 7, 2011

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, another weekend rolls by with the tyke Blackhawks competing in an out-of-town tournament in Oshawa.

We played twice Saturday and once Sunday, so combined with the trip to Brantford the previous weekend the boys – who normally get one game a week – got to play eight games in the last two weekends.

We’re not sure Kinoak will be able to contain their hunger for hockey now as they’re a little bit spoiled by all the ice time, but we’ll burn that bridge when we get to it.

Unlike Brantford, which was commuting distance for everyone, most of the team camped out in Oshawa for Friday and Saturday nights. For some of the families, it was their first taste of one of the great rituals of minor hockey.

Mini stick hockey games in the hall, dads (and moms) leaning in the doorways enjoying a beer and replaying every shift of every game. And of course, the hotel security guard asking parents to clear the hallways of kids and sticks.

Overall: Everyone relaxing and having fun.

(Well, everyone but me – I had to boot it back to Oakville to hold up my end of the child rearing in our house, but that wasn’t a problem – except for the drive in the snow.)

To make a long story short, it was hard to imagine anything topping the thrill of the OT game the boys played a week ago in Brantford.

Well, the one way to top that is to go to a shootout, and that’s what the Blackhawks did in the B pool final in Oshawa on Sunday morning.

I had to miss the final game Sunday (again, busy with my own guys!) but I am told I missed a game for the ages that took seven (7) shoot-out snipers from each team before the mighty Hawks lost to the Oshawa tyke selects.

Dave and I had only one goal for the tournament phase of the season – expose the kids to tough competition and hopefully let them have some fun playing in situations similar to what playoff hockey might throw their way.

The boys hit home runs on both counts, getting to play in a pair of overtime games and getting to experience a long, thrilling shootout.

There’s wide range of talent on our team, and that’s not unusual in tyke hockey. The thing that never stops surprising me is how quickly the kids adjust their output to keep up with the competition. Everyone stepped up.

The key word for the weekend  was “compete.”

“We want you to compete as hard as you can. We don’t care if you lose 10-0, but when we sit in this room after the game we want to be able to say we tried as hard as we could.”

And wow. Did they try.

Stealing a phrase coined by a player I know now in bantam, we had the hardest triers in all of hockey this weekend against some very stiff competition.

Congratulations to the 16 heroes on the Blackhawks who never stopped competing or trying. Extra large helpings of fun.

Below the boys are celebrating their hardware after the final game (our goalie Noah, in front, looks like he’s ready to lay down for a nap. And the way he played on the weekend, I wouldn’t be surprised if Brian Burke calls his dad.)

The second picture is boys being boys in the hotel’s hot tub time machine. (Before the picture was taken, coach Dave yelled "Everyone make the fart noise" hence the hands in the armpits.

I'd apologize to the moms, but honestly it only gets worse as they grow older. Embrace it!



- - -

The second game Saturday ended at about 4:30p. I had to immediately jump in the car and drive back to Oakville – Pad had an 8p game, meaning he had to be at the rink for 6:30p, meaning we had to leave by 6p.

En route, the snow storm that no one forecast started and by the time I got to Oakville it was practically a whiteout. I enjoyed a leisurely 10 minutes at home and then got back in the car and headed for Mississauga with Pad through basically borderline blizzard conditions. A drive that normally takes about 25 minutes took almost an hour and while we were late, lots of guys showed up after him.

Turns out he could have taken his time as his team won by a dozen goals. Too little, too late though as he’s going to miss the playoffs this year.

- - -

Meanwhile on Friday night, Chris and the bantam Jets drew the coveted 9:30p start and I figured Chris would have a lethargic evening.

Boy did he prove me wrong. He played his best game of the season as his team won 3-1 (the game was tied 1-1 with 51 seconds left.) He had a pair of breakaways, was hard on the puck all night and parents from both teams kept asking me “what’s up with your kid?”

Um, I wish I knew! Sure was fun to watch.

- - -

I was really tired last night.

Weekend recap:

Home from work Friday at 7p, out to Chris’s game at 8:30p. Home from game at 10:45p, out to party to retrieve wife at 11P. Home from party at 11:45p.

Saturday: up at 6:20a, out the door by 7a for drive to Oshawa for 8:30a game. Noon to 1p -- sleep in car in rink parking lot. Game 2 at 33:30p. Leave Oshawa at 4:30p. Arrive in Oakville at 5:40p. Leave Oakville at 5:50p. Arrive in Mississauga at 6:45p. Leave at 10:45p. Arrive home at 11:35p (snow!!!)

Sunday: Chris has snowboarding lesson in morning, Pad has junior game in the afternoon in Burlington, home at 6:30p, open beer (repeat until happy.)

Sleep. Hard.

Green Bay wins. Yay! Fall asleep.


Feb 4, 2011

Happy Friday, everyone.

I intended to have some stuff for you here today but it didn't work out.

More rinks and driving in my future. Your's too, I bet.

Rather than go through all that boring stuff, a little something in honor of the tyke Blackhawks.

- - -

Laura recently undertook the thankless job of cleaning out the basement family room.

It's a bit of a traumatic exercise in all honesty. Toys, games, etc from the boys childhoods being given to charity to find new life and new homes.

Some things -- like one of Oakville's most impressive collection of Thomas the Tank Engine toys -- was not given away. But lots of things were, and yes, it makes you a little sad.

One thing our guys did when they were little was to "battle." Dress up in plastic armour and pound each other with plastic swords or funky Star Wars toy light sabres.

When I saw this new advertisement for Volkswagon, that will appear during the Super Bowl this weekend, it stopped me dead in my tracks.

I know that kid. I know his brother, too. And I bet you do, too.

And I know 16 sets of parents who also know him, and we'll be rockin' the ice in Oshawa tomorrow.

Tyke hockey is cool.

And so are the tykes.

Have a great weekend. Hug the kids.


Feb 3, 2011

Today is the 52nd anniversary of The Day the Music Died. I have written (long and very boringly) about this before so I won’t plough that particular acreage today.

But for those many, many of you who, like me, are fans of music, it is a very important day in music history.

The day that plane crashed in an Iowa field on an icy February morning truly was the day the music died. In the years before the crash, the top songs on the charts were artists like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Ritchie Valens (who died in the crash), Elvis Presley, The Crickets (Buddy Holly also died), Carl Perkins, James Brown, and Bo Diddley, to name a few.

In the five years after the crash, the charts were topped by the likes of Patsy Cline and Andy Williams and Bobby Darin and Perry Como. You get the idea.

It wasn’t until The Beatles performed on the Ed Sullivan Show almost five years to the day after the plane crash that killed Valens, Holly and the Big Bopper that rock and roll on this side of the ocean really came back to life.

You can read more about all that here.

- - -

A US-based researcher, who is actually a Canadian, says raising the age at which bodychecking is introduced to hockey would be a big mistake.

The theory, which I agree completely with, is that the longer you put off full-body contact, then the higher the risks for the kids learning it. If they learn contact early, it becomes an instinctive part of the game, not a “mechanical” one.

You can read the story on this here, and if you want to read about USA Hockey’s move to consider delaying the introduction of bodychecking, click here.

- - -

As snow days go, Wednesday was something of a disappointment but the schools were closed and that was good enough for my guys, who slept blissfully through the morning.

Pad played shinny for two hours in the afternoon and then had a 90-minute practice, and then after that he and Chris headed out for a weekly youth club they like to attend.

That left Laura and me at home alone, so you can only imagine what sort of craziness we got up to.

Actually, I’ll tell you.

I’ve never been a fan of minor sports “picture day.” Giant pain in the zoom lens, if you get my drift. We used to let the boys get extra photos and junk (hockey cards, key chain, etc) with the hockey photos, but for lacrosse we just went with the basic team photo and single individual portrait. How many photos of my kid with a stick do we need?

Chris has been bugging his mother for months to put up his hockey and lacrosse team photos in his room. The pictures came down more than a year ago when we renovated his room, and he wants them back up.

So, Laura did that yesterday and last night we ended up standing there in his room looking at those old photos of little boys trying to smile properly for the camera.

Good lord, the memories and not just of my guy, either.

Laura grabbed my arm and leaned on my shoulder and pointed to the team photo from 2002 of the Big Blue Machine, Chris’s squad from IP, his first year in hockey.

“Can you name the players?”

Front row, left to right. Back row, left to right. I never had to hesitate over a single one. The faces and memories are as fresh to me now as the tykes I see every week.

After I rattled off the names, Laura commented that every kid in that picture is still playing hockey. Two are AAA players now, but the bulk of them are house leaguers who we see regularly at bantam games and practices. I’ve coached most of them more than once, whether it was hockey, lacrosse or (briefly) soccer.

They’re nice kids, too. Inevitably when our paths cross I still get a big smile and a loud “Hi Coach Gerry!” as they drag their gear through some rink lobby.

I stood there for a long time looking at those pictures.

A long time.

Then we went to the kitchen and opened a bottle of wine.

- - -

Juxtaposed against that little jog down memory lane is the future.

Specifically, the array of university acceptance letters and brochures littering the last place where Pad sat down. It seems every day the mail brings something new.

On the one hand, he’s lucky to have choices. His mother instilled some pretty rigourous study habits early and he has good grades. On the other hand . . . is he really in his last semester of high school?

Last spring, a dad I don’t know very well wrote me an email on another matter and we exchanged thoughts on kids. He proudly pointed out that his daughter was heading off to Queens in the fall, but it was his next line that resonated.

“I’m not ready for this part yet.”

I think we may dodge a bullet on that front as Pad may stay (relatively) close to home to play another year of junior hockey. But the same question remains.

Where do the years go?

- - -

I’m now about half-way through the 13 consecutive days and nights in rinks on my calendar.

A road game tonight for Pad, then one tomorrow for Chris, then the happy panic that will be Saturday spent with the Blackhawks in Oshawa, before racing back for an evening home game for the big man.

A few minutes spent touring the photos on Chris’s wall last night was all the reminder needed that I’m not ready for quiet nights with no rinks to visit without a vested interest in proceedings.

I hope the roads are better than they were last night.


Feb 1, 2011

It’s going to snow – a lot. At least a lot by Toronto standards.

My sister in Moncton – where they get 30 centimetres of snow as a matter of routine – would scoff at us.

My inlaws in Cape Breton would be similarly disinterested in this once-a-winter dusting coming our way.

My folks in Windsor Junction near Halifax have seen five nor’easters already in 2011.

So, it’s February in Canada and it’s going to snow.

We’ll cope.

- - -

Having said that, a couple of predictions:

  1. Chris will do all in his power to make sure the snow doesn’t amount to anything until after his hockey practice tonight. And then after that, he’ll be summoning favours from all deities, imagined and real, to try and make Wednesday a snow day.
  2. No ground hog in this part of the world will see his shadow tomorrow. It may take a large snow-moving machine just to find the rodent. Not that it matters, because Groundhog Day is a pretty stupid occasion.
  3. The Leafs will lose tonight. (Not because of the weather, but just because.)
  4. GO transit will apologize for Wednesday’s inevitable inconveniences.

- - -

Having survived exams and having slept a lot in the aftermath of exams my boys are back to school today. A new semester of high school, new courses, and probably the same complaints. Laura is happy to see the return of a routine.

I think.

- - -

I took Monday off because it was a PD day for the boys but since no one was moving around the house in the morning I took advantage of the time to go to Service Ontario and renew my driver’s licence, register the car, and renew my OHIP card, all of which expire shortly.

When I left the house I took a book, figuring I was in for a long wait.

It took less than 10 minutes, total, including waiting in line (there was no line.)

As they say at Staples, that was easy.

I don’t know why it was easy, but I was impressed with the service.

- - -

A funny video is making the rounds among those of us who make our living feeding the news beast, producing content for newspapers, radio and TV, web sites, etc., all to keep you informed.

I have a line I often use when a friend calls me at the office and asks what I’m doing. I’ll say something to the effect that “I’m working to protect democracy for another day.”

It’s sort of a joke – a little hyperbole to remind myself what we do in between assignments to get a reporter to Wiarton, Ont, to wait for a ground hog named Willie, or the latest news on Justin Bieber, or perhaps something important in the foreign news file about Paris Hilton.

Anyway, this video should be required viewing for anyone pondering a career in journalism.

When you finish viewing it, check to make sure you have batteries for your flashlights and enough cold beer to see you through the storm.