Friday, April 30, 2010

Familiar Foes, Familiar Faces

It doesn't seem to matter how many times I do the formula: it always comes out the same. Maybe it's because I'm short-sighted in some ways or because I flunked chemistry. Well, nearly flunked chemistry, thank goodness for the elements table and my ability to memorize acronyms.

In any case, the formula always comes back to this, so this is me spoiling the ending of the story before telling it. The Stanley Cup Finals will come down to Pittsburgh and Detroit, the same match up as the two previous years of the Stanley Cup Finals. It's sort of sad when the finals comes down to a volleyball match between the same two great teams, throwing the Cup back and forth between them every year, but it looks like the Finals this year will be a case of deja vue for all.

The first round is behind us and what a great round it was. My last count on the too many men called was roughly 18. The officiating was either really absent or bloody awful in most of the series. And the superstars either came out in a big way (Crosby) or disappeared silently into the background (Ovechkin, Semin).

Washington deflated completely and was ousted in a shocker against Montreal, although that just may be the President's Cup Curse, alive and well.

Pittsburgh and Ottawa met again, as they have in many playoff series, and despite some game 6 heroics, and all of the hard work by the Great Dane, it ended predictably in Pittsburgh's favour.

Philadelphia upset New Jersey, but they have a reputation of just upsetting people period, so there should really be no surprise there, except for Brian Boucher, who looked more surprised than anyone when he shook Marty's hand at the end of the series.

Boston and Buffalo looked too hard to call until Vanek got pushed out of the lineup due to an injury. Once that occurred, it was pretty clear that Buffalo's days were numbered, because despite the fact that Miller can do just about anything, he's really not in the best position to score.

Nashville and Phoenix were long shots for the finals, but they made it in, and for that, we have to give them props. San Jose finally shed that first round curse (thank you Washington!) and look like they might even make it past the second round too! Vancouver, Canada's best bet for the second round, did not disappoint, particularly Luoungo who is a spectacular snow angel. And Detroit showed once again why they're hockey town and why nobody pushes them around (except for maybe themselves). Chicago has also been living up to its billing as a top contender, but don't forget that bad joujou mural they made with pig Toews painted next to the Cup and Kane's antiChrist hair.

So this is the way the formula runs:

Montreal vs. Pittsburgh- Pittsburgh in 5
Philadelphia vs. Boston- Philadelphia in 7
Detroit vs. San Jose- Detroit in 6
Vancouver vs. Chicago- Vancouver in 7

When pitting the good team play vs. Crosby-Malkin and their good team play, Montreal falls way short, but they'll fight to 5. When pitting the dirtiest cheaters against the largest NHL Captain, Boston will fight tooth and nail, but ultimately lose. When putting the great goaltending of Nabokov against the warhorse that refuses to die, Detroit will conquer. When bad hair collides Swedish twins and Lou, Vancouver will overcome, but not without a major fight.

So the next steps will be:

Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia - the Battle of Pennsylvania
Detroit vs. Vancouver - An oldie and a goodie

So no matter how I keep switching the matchups around in my head, the conclusion always ends the same way. There may be some surprises along the way, but this is the way that I see it so far.

Of course, I am near-sighted and can't properly predict the bus when it comes. That could be because the city has poor bus service, but I think that my ESP is MIA.

In any case, I love the playoffs.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Montreal Miracle

You know that dream where you're trying really hard to move and you can't? You feel like you've been reduced to some baby like state, wanting desperately to move ahead but completely unable to get your body to respond. It sometimes happens when we're trying to run away from something in the dream or when we have to do one thing that we just can't do in order to make the dream stop.

You know that other dream you sometimes have when you start off in one place and then end up somewhere completely different, but have no idea how you got there? You just sort of move effortlessly through time and space and all of a sudden, you are where you didn't expect to be.

Dream one has got to be the way that Alexander Ovechkin feels today. It seemed like all he had to do was just move faster, hit harder, charge the net more in order to stop the Montreal Canadiens. But somehow, he just couldn't get things to happen for him. You can see it in his face in post-game interviews, where the normally dynamic rock star of the NHL hung his head in disbelief, words unable to express the sadness and shock of the loss. In many ways, it must have felt like that dream, unreal, scary, strange.

But what happened for the Montreal Canadiens was the second dream. Starting the first round of the playoffs off just inching into that last spot, I don't believe that the Canadiens themselves believed that they would suddenly find themselves where they are today. Unlike the strange, incomprehensible nature of dreams where you start off in your kitchen and then end up in the house that you grew up in decades ago, this move was planned and calculated. But who could have predicted the outcome?

One of the Habs that probably did was Mike Cammaleri. By the way that he was leaning over with his hand on his hip in the post-game interview with that big smile on his face, you'd think that he had locked up the series all by his wonderful self. With a point a game, it's hard to argue that fact. What a way to redeem himself after season long rumours of locker room drama between him and other members of the team.

But the real hero of this series was no doubt between the pipes. Halak is going to have a new God-like following in the city of Montreal, after his hard fought show of skill and mettle that is reflective of his performance for Slovakia at the Vancouver Olympics. That performance almost shut Canada down, which people should keep in mind whenever they doubt the older, more seasoned goaltender who always should have been the star over the younger, undisciplined Carey Price.

Guess the whole flip-flopping over the goaltender situation in Montreal will come to an abrupt stop. Halak is the new toast of the town and nobody will be able to take away this seventh heaven match up from him, nor will they forget his 53 stops in a breathtaking game 6. Regardless of the outcome of the second round of the Stanley Cup finals, Halak will have a lasting legacy in Montreal.

So what exactly happened to the Washington Capitals? You could say a lot about the shaky goaltender situation, but Varlamov was solid for the Caps and didn't get blown out of his net with goals. You could say a fair bit about the Montreal defense, playing tight on the Capitals and not backing off, with Spacek's great perfomance in the first few games on Ovechkin. But the defense wasn't tight all of the time, and it's not clear that this was the real difference-maker, especially considering some of the mistakes, bad penalties and a certain someone's theatrics when it comes to diving (Lapierre). And the offense was good, but the scores are not an indication of clear offensive dominance either.

Where Montreal truly deserves credit is the fact that they beat Washington as a team. There is no one star player that took out the top seed. There is no one man who contained the Russian bear. People discounted Montreal not only for their low rank at the end of the regular season, but also for their size. But as small people all know, when you're smaller, you have to try harder. The only way to tame a bear is to do it together. We are stronger together.

Not to take credit away from Montreal, but there is one more factor in Washington's ousting which has nothing to do with stats or plays. It's the President's Cup curse. Every team that has won the prize for the most points in the regular season has been eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup finals. It's as if the hockey gods find it unfair that one team may win two Cups. You may call this silly, but how silly does it feel to see San Jose hoisting the Cup in the EA Sports simulation, only to be taken out in the first round two years in a row? And now that the curse has been lifted off the Sharks, guess who's lived to see the second round?

It's gotten to the point in the NHL where teams refuse to touch the Cup in the year that they win, choosing instead to circle around it nervously as if it's part of some strange pagan ritual. Can't say that I blame them, though. Sports and superstitions do come together and we all believe strange things when our dreams are on the line.

To the boys in the stands, bowing down to Halak in the old style "we're not worthy" Wayne's World rock god worship- save your energy. You may be doing a lot more of that in the future.

Bonne chance les Habs.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Round 2 of the Cup playoffs in sight

Things are wrapping up in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs and it's been an exciting couple of weeks. First the spoiling, then the favourites battling back to prove their dominance, then the last minute near elimination surprise comeback and the conclusions remain more or less true to what was predicted.

The big surprise has definitely been the Phoenix Coyotes, the little organization that could. They almost couldn't a year ago, and that was with the coaching and support of the Great One, the one and only Wayne. Most of the critics explained the pitiful performance of this team by the fact that they were young, inexperienced and often made rookie mistakes because, they were, well, rookies. Other people would explain this through the old those who can do, can do and those who cannot, well, teach. Maybe the Great One was just too great to know how to transfer his natural skills to anyone else. It's like that brilliant math teacher that you have in high school who can out-formula the best of them but doesn't know how to write it out for simpletons like you.

And it could be that all the things going on outside of the locker room were also a factor in the poor play on the ice. There were financial difficulties, management problems, that crazy deal with the arena and very poor game attendance could not have gone unnoticed by the team. For all the silly things that they say in interviews, players aren't stupid people and they know when things on the outside aren't going well.

It's incredible to think that despite all of these difficulties, the near-bankruptcy and the bitch fight between Balsillie and Bettman, that this team has managed to pull itself together to put on a real fight against THE Detroit.

This story had all the makings of a great Hollywood film. Dirty laundry got aired in a very public way, with details of a possible betting scandal with the Great One's wife, talks about conflict with him and the rest of the management, details about bonuses and trade talks and rumours and secret meetings with perspective buyers before filing for bankruptcy, and any number of imagined things also occurring. One could imagine jerseys being printed for the Hamilton Coyotes or Balsillie plotting to turn off the Blackberries of his enemies or using them to send Bettman subliminal messages.

Then the good things started to happen and the dust started to settle. Bettman won a decisive battle over Balsillie, who will be back one day, and the NHL settled things, albeit on a provisional basis with the city of Phoenix and the banks. The Great One also made a quiet exit from this mess. The acquisition of Shane Doan has been a positive factor for this team as well, but it alone doesn't explain how a team pulls itself out of the obscurity and the mud to become a real challenger. Could it be that this is a team defined by adversity? If so, they're an incredible force to reckon with and a victory over the Red Wings would make them the Cinderella story of the year.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sens vs. Pens- Game 6, Round 1

Pittsburgh 4, Ottawa 3

We could have had it.

That's what makes the game 6 loss so heartbreaking. We almost had it. The Sens played so hard and so well in the first 2 periods of the game the other night, they had the crowd yelling like a Cabinet Minister's House session, they developed a fantastic lead over the Pens and then, that crummy third period happened.

The difference between periods 1 and 2 and that dreadful third? We played those first two periods to win and we played that third not to lose. Simple as that. The defensive style of play in the third was basically as bad as the detrimental effects of loser talk. The Sens let the Pens take over that period and spent way too much time in their own zone, with only one good rush.

This was not the time to back off, especially not against a team with the offensive power of the Penguins. The Sens should have come in just as strong in that last period as they had in the first two if they really didn't want their season to end. But instead, they let the Pens walk all over them in that last period, played a very tentative game and they paid for it.

Matt Cullen had a great game. He was active, gritty, and he competed hard on every shift. Alfie played a good, strong, dependable game with very few errors, as to be expected from the captain. Pascal Leclaire also had a very good game with a few fabulous saves, particularly working well with the glove. Sutton didn't kill anyone, so we're happy with him and his big hits. He also had a few good defensive plays in front of the net and you have to give the big guy credit for being so calm in the zone. It's not just his size that makes him valuable, but his calm and his ability not to panic in tight situations. In the asset-liability debate, he is clearly an asset, if only he can keep his checks in control.

The duds on the ice last night were unfortunately two otherwise good players. Number 19 has had a big target for criticism on his back and for good reason. The guys on the team 1200 show said that it's not a question of effort with Spezza, but let's face it, it is a question of effort. Spezza does not play with any grit. He plays a very clean, soft, pretty game where he likes to have a lot of space to skate around and get nice goals. He's a showboat. He's not a workhorse. When it comes to the playoffs, it's not the showboating that wins you the games. It's work ethic. It's all about cycling hard, forechecking, getting into the dirty zones, fighting for position, battling in the corners and off the boards. You don't win games with players who are too pretty and important to bother with getting their hands dirty.

This is the reason that some hockey fans get into it over the two Conferences. The East is more focused on speed and skill, while most argue that the West is more about muscle and grit. A guy who plays like Spezza can't do a third of what one guy does on the Detroit Red Wings bench. He would be done in a couple of games. Many people argue that Spezza is a face of the franchise type player. But if the face of that franchise is one of soft play, big contracts and entitlement, this is not a face worth keeping. Let's also remember that this face hasn't won a Cup. The other side of this debate is that the only face of the franchise that can legitimately be called as such is Alfie's and I would have to say yes to that one. On that debate, it's worth a lot to me to keep him as our Captain.

The other weak link in this game is Chris Phillips. A normally stable presence on the ice, for some reason, either through panic or just simple miscalculation and absent-mindedness, Phillips had an unreal amount of bad giveaways, just throwing the puck at times right onto the Pens sticks. This is not something you would expect from a player who generally has such poise. It was a very disappointing display.

All in all, I do think that we have to be proud of the Senators for the kind of season that they had. This was their time to shine on home ice and it was a shame that they couldn't deliver in the end. But we did have that great run before the Olympic break this year and our team battled back from injuries and that horrible Heatley debacle before the season began. And if there's one reason for optimism, it's the performance of the young guys, the next generation of Sens stars. Regin, Karlsson, Elliott, and Zack Smith have all shown great potential and they're only going to get better. As long as we don't spoil them too much, not to name names or anything (Spezza, Heatley, Emery).

We've gotten way more out of our young guys than we've paid them for or could have paid them for. They've proven themselves time and time again and have battled hard all season long against seasoned teams. They deserve a ton of credit, not just because of their excellent show of skill, but also for their sheer desire and will to win. And we can win with them.

Go Sens Go.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Sens vs. Pens- Game 5, Round 1

Ottawa 4, Pittsburgh 3

I have never ever before experienced exhaustion, panic attacks and momentary flashes of blindness all at the same time. Last night's game gave it all and it gave it all in triple overtime.

I don't even know where to begin with this one. It all seems so unbelievable. But something felt so incredibly different from the moment that the puck dropped on the ice for the first face off. If I was one of those vain, all-powerful, self-important people, I would believe that all of the things that I've been yelling for the past few games at the TV, to colleagues and here on this blog, have actually been heard and put into effect. But I know better than that. I know that Cory's likely been yelling the very same things to everyone and everything around him and it finally stuck.

Who was this team? This is the Ottawa Senators team that I've been cheering all year long. And who was that happy-looking, chatty, tall forward? That was the Spezza that I miss. And who was that between the pipes? The ill-fated Pascal Leclaire who's been given a hard time all year long for freak accidents and injuries that have relegated him to a back up position when he was promised a number one spot in the nation's capital. But this is the Leclaire that we received in the Vermette trade to the Columbus Blue Jackets which was supposed to take us to the promised land of the post season. And did he ever deliver.

It's as I've said before. When things go bad with the Senators, it ALL goes bad. It's that day from hell that you experience with one bad thing after another, just hoping that it ends. But when things go well with the Senators, it ALL goes well. Think back to the 13 game winning streak that we experienced which put all of Ottawa on a collective high during some of the hardest winter months. We got the good calls, the good bounces, the good positioning in front of the net, the good defensive plays when it was really necessary. Last night was one of those nights.

I'm not sure what was the 'it' factor that changed this game for the Sens or if this was a combination of factors. The goalie change obviously had a psychological effect on both teams, a positive change for Ottawa and a surprise for Pittsburgh. It also made for one of those French goalie showdowns which wouldn't normally be considered a factor, other than the fact that some of the best goalies of all time are Frenchmen or have trained in Quebec. It is amusing to imagine the two yelling at each other in French from across the ice with references to Montreal and Rimouski.

Then there's history. On the one hand, history is against Ottawa, as most teams don't rally back from a 3 game hole in the playoffs. On the other hand, history is for Ottawa because Pittsburgh traditionally has a bad habit of losing that last crucial game when they're up by 3. There's no real explanation for the inability to seal the deal with this particular game for the Pens; the reason used in the past has been inexperience, but that hardly holds water now, as they are the defending Cup champs. Perhaps it's the weight of expectations? The pressure of trying to win it at home? The pressure that comes with being the favourite?

In that same vein, maybe Ottawa played so well because they relish the role of underdogs. Everyone counted them out with this match up and even I watched it with interest, but not with faith. They really turned it on when their backs were up against the wall and they were entering hostile territory down at Mellon Arena. Was that the thing that turned them around?

In terms of the improved play, they did what they were supposed to do. They made a better effort at getting in front of Fleury, interfering with him and sitting in the paint. I think Mike Fisher and his backside were both listening when it was said that they have a destabilizing effect on the goalie; it worked. They also played a much more disciplined game, taking fewer penalties and keeping calm. It was a tough game, but nothing like the Friday night fight fest that was previously had. They also got better in the neutral zone and some players (19) laid off the bad turnovers.

Sidney was his usual great self, and the fact that they managed to contain him as much as they did, particularly when the overtime periods began, was exemplary. Other than his calm, cool collectedness, there was a bit of unravel from the rest of the team. They didn't seem as disciplined in their end as they have been in the past few games, and there were some wild passes and missed checks which were highly uncharacteristic. Their game didn't seem as physical or as inspired.

Can Ottawa bring this momentum home with them? Game 6 is tomorrow night at Scotiabank Place and it was far from a sure thing. I think Brian Murray was watching with one hand on the phone, just waiting for the moment to order more playoff towels for Scotiabank Place in time. Will the ultimate French goalie showdown of Leclaire vs. Fleury promise to be another overtime nail biting thriller?

Last night came about as close to a miracle on ice as I've ever seen. I hope that I get the chance to witness one in person, way high up in the rafters where I will be sitting, screaming like crazy and yelling random advice to all the players and high fiving strangers. I hope that I have playoff seats that I won't really have to use because I'll be so busy on my feet, cheering like a true fan. I can't say what the game will actually be like or if the team that comes out to play on the ice will be the glorious, fighting, streaking team of last night, but I can definitely predict a lot of excitement and nervous moments and mass booing of the Penguins.

And just in case there's more overtime craziness, I'm bringing extra beer money.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Bring on Round 2

It looks like the writing's on the wall for most of the first round teams. If you look at history, it pretty much dictates that the teams with 3 victories under their belt will make it through to the next round, leaving their opponents behind in the dust. You can feel the end is near for Montreal, Ottawa, Buffalo and New Jersey. As much as you want to be a fan, as much as you may believe in rewriting history and overcoming the odds, things look pretty clear.

I'm not a big believer in beginner's luck occurring twice, just as I'm not a believer in lightning striking the same place more than once. I'll watch tonight's match up between Ottawa and Pittsburgh more out of interest than a real hope of a win. And I'm a fan, so I'll stick with my team to the bitter end, which may be aptly said.

So my mind's already fast forwarded to the second round. There's a lot to look forward to. Boston may have a chance at taking on one of the dirtiest, rottenest teams in the East, the Philadelphia Flyers, led by Pronger. Will dirty play overcome scary Chara in the cage mask? And who can resist the showdown between Sid the Kid and Alexander the Great? Will this be a chance for revenge for the Russian Bear? Will the Great 8 get a chance to show just how good he really is when faced with his more attractive nemesis?

The West is not as easily won. There are still some good competitions going in the Western Conference with quite a few teams evenly matched. Expect some real nail-biters as these teams battle for position over the next few days. Unfortunately, being a hockey fan on this side of the coast, I'll be biting into pillows.

I still hope that Vancouver advances, as the only Canadian team with a viable chance at the second round. San Jose has history working against them again this year and I have mixed feelings about wanting them to succeed. On the one hand, it would be nice to see the team rewarded for their efforts and talents, on the other hand, I'm loathe to see Heatley succeed after his debacle in Ottawa.

I'm watching Detroit with interest because I have tremendous respect for the old warhorse. And wouldn't it be something if Nashville beat out the favourites for the Cup, the all-star Chicago Blackhawks? That would be an upset for the ages. It would also force us to re-evaluate the so-called Hossa curse.

Still more to come...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sens Vs. Pens- Game 4, Round 1

Pittsburgh 7, Ottawa 4

I'm Blind, I'm Deaf, I'm a Ref.

Pittsburgh had too many members of their team on the ice the other night. No, not too many men, too many members. The refs and the linesmen were not sitting on their bench, but they may as well have, because their one-sided arbitrary arbitration style was clearly pro-Pittsburgh.

This is not to say that Ottawa was blameless in this loss. Ottawa had a lot of problems, including the fact that they seem slow on the cycle, they still pass too much, they don't put enough pucks on the net, they can't seem to get that one guy in the blue paint when they're on the attack and they're losing battles in the neutral zone like it's nobody's business.

This was further aggravated by the performance of a certain Jason Spezza, who we can add to the list of too many members for Pittsburgh, because his bad giveaways and turnovers made a lot of those goals all but too easy. I'm pretty sure that he should have picked up a couple assists on those Pittsburgh goals, particularly that one where Crosby took off like a shot for the net after a lazy move and a fall from number 19.

Bad calls will change the momentum of a game. They give scoring chances to the opposition and wear down a team that may already be trailing by making them work twice as hard in their zone. It also causes frustration and anger, particularly when your team takes a stupid penalty (too many men when an errant skate happened to linger on the ice for .05 seconds while crossing the boards), only to have the opposition do exactly the same thing minutes later with no call at all. How do you expect any team to feel after that?

I know that the guys on the Not-fan 1200 sports radio show will tell you that players must overcome bad calls and that refs are just doing their job and there's nothing to be done about it. This is a non-answer for something which is clearly an issue. You don't have to nitpick about details and individual icing calls, but just admit that you know a badly regulated game when you see one. Come on. Even angry fans deserve to have some recognition of the unfairness of the situation, particularly when it's blatantly obvious in the replays and stats.

But you don't get any of that from the so-called sports analysts. All you get is the Crosby show, a 15 minute tribute to the greatness of Sid the Kid. We all know how good he is. We're tired of hearing about him and the dynamic duo he makes with Evgeni Malkin, his Russian counterpart. We don't need to hear more of it.

The first period of this game went fairly well. The defense was playing pretty tight and that's exactly what they needed to do. Too bad it didn't last. The defense seemed to have a meltdown after a few of those errant goals went in. You really can't blame Elliot for those. He was solid enough, but he needed support from his defense and he needed his team to generate some offense for him too.

Thankfully, there were 3 goals in the second period and one of them was just a beauty from Alfie. It was good to see the Captain get involved and put one away for the team. But the joys of that were short-lived after the errors in the neutral zone pretty much cut off the team's hope of swinging the momentum back in our favour.

Don't say bad calls don't affect the game, because the defense started to look nervous in the third period, due to some bad calls from the refs on little taps. The Pens were allowed to steam roll our team in the Sunday match up and this has obviously affected the behavior on the ice. Our guys are just not willing to take big risks, knowing that every little thing that they do is going to get called one way or another, while the Pens are allowed to beat them up.

Fleury is a proven goalie, but he had a lot of defense helping him out and a big cushion of a lead provided by his team. I'm not convinced that Fleury is better than Elliot, particularly because he didn't have much to prove on the night. I'm sure that he fell asleep at some point in the game, particularly when that one shot almost trickled in behind him as he momentarily considered what he wanted for dinner in his mind. Fleury is luckier, better supported and had a lot less to do than Elliot. I don't blame Elliot for this one at all.

Other than the beautiful goal put away by Alfredsson, my favourite highlight of the night was the double flying leap hit with Fisher on the boards. You could hear the entire stadium gasp at the same time. That's something that doesn't happen very often. My other favourite highlight of the night? The fans with the body paint. I love when drunken frat boys show up to events with no shirts and body paint.

I would usually finish up a post like this with some advice for the next game. I'm not so sure that would be useful, considering that it's not different from the past 2posts. Here's the summary:

Keep it simple

Put more shots on net

Get in the ugly zones and sit on Fleury; the paint doesn't belong to him alone

Don't get Spezza to play Crosby; the Kelly-Foligno-Phillips line has done so much more for the team than Spezza's line

Cheechoo? Really? He was such a non-factor all season long and he continues to be so in the playoffs. Bring back Dono and Shannon.

I feel the end is near. I suppose it will be nice in some ways to get back to a more regular pace of life, to not watch hockey every night on the couch and to get outside and maybe see people that I will talk to. Maybe blog about world politics or other such issues or maybe delve into that Masters degree textbook on the Dead Sea Scrolls that's been sitting on my shelf at home.

Oh well.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Beginner's Luck?

You have to wonder if those first games in round 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals this year was really a case of beginner's luck for the underdogs. Nobody expected to see Washington beaten by Montreal, Pittsburgh beaten by Ottawa, Chicago beaten by Nashville. It stunned just about everyone, maybe even the teams themselves.

It's probably a fair bet that the top teams came in with a lot of confidence in the idea of a quick series win. Underestimating the competition was surely a factor in those victories, no matter what kind of politically-correct interviews were conducted with players talking about how much they respect their opponents. The favourites are out in full force now and there's probably going to be a big momentum swing in these series.

Some series have become easier to call and others are going to be tight races until the very end.

The Vanek injury is probably a good sign that Buffalo's days are numbered. The Bs are good at winning the one goal game and now that Buffalo's striking power has been severely reduced, there will probably be more of those.

San Jose seems to have started a meltdown and the day to day status of Dany Heatley doesn't help matters either. Unfortunately, their playoffs record over the years kind of speaks for itself.

The guessing game remains for:

Philadelphia and New Jersey- you'd think that Brodeur would have this team in his back pocket, but that doesn't seem to be the case. There has been discussion about questionable calls and non-calls, as with a lot of the series right now, but there doesn't seem to be a clear advantage for one side in this match up. This could be a coin toss.

Detroit and Phoenix- you'd think that the lock in this series would be warhouse Detroit, but Phoenix has bounced back with spectacular play from their goalie and otherwise consistent play on their offense. This could be one of the toughest fights for Detroit, but their fight may have gotten just a little bit easier with the loss of Shane Doan. To be continued.

Vancouver and LA- don't count out LA as a real potential spoiler. Vancouver's had a great season and they still look like Canada's best bet to get a team in the second round, but LA seems to like their spoiler role and is doing a good job of living up to it. If Lou and the Sedins don't shut them down, you kind of have to wonder, who can?

As for Montreal and Ottawa, both teams knew that the hardest obstacles to overcome in this round would be Ovechkin and Crosby and they have delivered. They want to win. The next few games may just be a question of sheer will for these two team captains. It's what champions are made of.

It's still early to tell, but while it may be sad for both Montreal and Ottawa to lose their chance to make it to the next round, I think most people are relishing the thought of another Sid the Kid vs. Alexander the Great showdown. That would just be another treat in a great year for hockey.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Sens vs. Pens- Game 3, Round 1

Pittsburgh 4, Ottawa 2

You know how you sometimes have that day where everything just keeps going wrong? It usually starts off in the morning when you oversleep, miss the bus, forget your lunch, spill your coffee and drop your keys in an air vent. And as the day drags on, you get the feeling that this is all that's going to happen and that you may as well give up and forget about anything good happening. And true to form, the day doesn't improve and things don't get better and you come home feeling miserable and hoping that you don't have the same day tomorrow.

That's pretty much how last night's home opener of the Stanley Cup Finals felt for Ottawa. Anything that could go wrong, did go wrong. And it's not just the shots off the crossbar that didn't go in that should have gone in, it's not just that disallowed goal on a distinct kicking motion that was clearly not distinct, and it's not that last minute heroic batting of the puck before it crossed the line by Fleury on that heart-breaking should have been tie goal. It was a hell of a lot more than that.

The refs were the worst I've seen in a long time, allowing the Pens to steam roll over the Sens several times, with a particularly bad non-call on a pull on Alfredsson and a back check right on the numbers for Peter Regin. There is no way that should have been a 2 minute minor. And guess who the offender was? Matt Cooke, the nicest, softest guy in the NHL. We all remember that little love tap that he put on Marc Savard, right? The one that effectively ended his season and put him in a grade 2 concussion? Yeah, that guy. That's definitely the kind of guy that you want be easy on when it comes to dirty hits and cross checking.

I'm not saying that the Sens are blameless on this front, since there was clearly a lot of undisciplined plays and some selfish penalties. But when you think about it, there should have been a lot more calls on the Pens and a lot more goals for the Sens in this match up. Any of one of those Regin slapshots could have gone in. There were definitely opportunities there. Sometimes you get those good bounces and sometimes they just don't happen for you. That's tough and that's just the nature of the game.

But you couple a lot of bad bounces with a lot of non-calls and it's certain that the frustration level is going to go up, especially when your opponent is seemingly getting away with murder in their zone. How else do you expect people to react when faced with that? That's like finding out that the guy who stole your lunch from the fridge got a promotion over you.

Listening to the sports show on the way home from the game while stuck in the snake-like traffic of the parking lot, the announcers wouldn't touch the bad reffing with a 10 foot pole, noting that it wouldn't make a difference either way. While it's true that their opinions on the bad reffing weren't going to change anything, it's also equally true that their opinions on any aspect of the game doesn't change it either. I'm sorry, the guys on the radio show don't influence the ebb and flow or the quality of games or the players. Their job is to comment and analyze. You can analyze bad reffing and you can do it from an objective point of view. Getting frustrated with callers and telling them to suck it up is not a good way to treat your fanbase.

Throw out some facts and stop acting like you know everything on the face of the planet better than everyone who calls into your show. Comment on the fact that the Sens are one of the most heavily penalized teams in the NHL for one. Comment on what qualifies as a 5 minute boarding major. Open up the debate. Don't tell your listeners that they have to accept the two major realities of the game which were 1) reffing happens and you must overcome that and 2) Crosby's untouchable and he stole the entire game.

Yes, the guy's amazing. Yes, his team won. Yes, his team won because it played better and it played smarter. Yes, our team should have risen to the occasion and learned to change the pace of the game to their advantage, just as any team has to do in the playoffs. But it's a lot easier to do any of these things if you can just get a break.

One more point to make and I hate to do this because I honestly adore the fun-loving Spezza. In the pre-game interview, the media was giving both Alfie and Spezza heat over the fact that they're not producing. Fair enough, they're the top paid, the top six, their job is to produce and put up big numbers. It's obviously not to play defense, as we've seen many times. Alfie responded in his usual responsible and quiet manner and I can't say that anything he said really surprised or offended me. Spezza, on the other hand, was clearly feeling a little defensive, and he said something to the effect that he wasn't changing his game plan to please anyone.


How does that even begin to make sense? Does that mean he's not interested in pleasing anyone, not the fans who come out and support him, not the team or organization that he works for, not the city that he represents? And how does he think that his current game plan is working? He had so many bad giveaways the other night that the opposition is probably nicknaming him Santa for all the little gifts they received.

So here's what I think of this whole situation. I think that Cory's got to sit his guys down and give them good and proper hell. He has to call out the first line for the stupid things that they are doing and get them to simplify their game and throw more pucks to the net. All of Ottawa knows how lovely you pass. We really do. Your passes are magical and if they were food, they would be little cream puffs. Great.

But nothing ever happens if you don't throw pucks on the net. Bad angle shots, through traffic, off people's backsides if you have to. Get in there and get ugly. It doesn't have to be highlight real pretty. The puck is not a girl; don't get cute with it.

Stay out of the box. Hard calls are tough to take, but the stupid penalties are even harder to swallow because they serve no purpose. Get our agitators out there agitating. Get our big hitters out there hitting.

The Pens have learned not to give you time and space. That was their mistake in the first game, that and the fact that they didn't pair up Crosby with Malkin. Now that they've got that match up nailed and they've learned to cut you off, you have to play smarter as a team. In the first period, there were 3 Pens around their own net and not a single Senator. If you know where the defense is, you also know where they aren't. If they're all sitting up top of the blue paint, move them around the perimeter and use them to create a screen. There's 3 of them there, remember?

And there's no good reason why there shouldn't be someone sitting on Fleury. Remember that great goal from Karlsson in the first game? That wouldn't have been possible without Fisher's backside blocking Fleury's view. That will give him something to sweat over.

I hope someone is reading this.

I'm just glad that this day is over and that there's a new day and a new game on Tuesday. I hope that the guys are talking these points over and simplifying their game.

I'm also keeping my fingers crossed for a break.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Hat tricks, Goalie Change and Russian Bear- Oh My!

The Montreal and Washington series is full of drama and it's only going to get better now that things have evened out. Like most of the first round series, these competitions are not one-sided and a healthy sense of competition is definitely in play.

Last night's game was full of drama, with Theodore pulled after 2 goals on 2 shots in favour of backup Varlamov and two hat tricks for Kostitsyn and Backstrom. One of the best stories of last night's game? The awakening of the Russian Bear. Ovechkin went from being a non-factor in game one to a plus 4 in game two, delivering the big hits that we know him for, and playing the kind of gritty, in your face game that we're used to seeing. This is the reason why crazed Washington fans actually want Ovie to run the Oval office. It has a nice ring to it.

One of the fun quotes that Ovie delivered before the game? When asked what he was going to have to do to make a comeback in last night's game, Ovie responded that he would have to drink more energy drinks and listen to more music. You can always count on the man to have some great quotes in his heavily accented English.

The big difference in Washington's game seems to be more disciplined play. In game one, passes seemed to be going everywhere in the offensive zone and defense was lackadaisical and even lazy for the Caps. It's as if the attitude was pretty much "yeah, we got this, we'll just score the hell out of them in the third and that will be game over."

The Caps are probably one of the only teams in the NHL with their offensive power that can rely on this kind of game plan. The problem is, this is the playoffs, and Montreal wants it bad. They know that their best game plan is to contain them as much as possible and to take advantage of the big gaps in defense early on in the game to get the early goals. Getting the upper hand early on is the best way for Montreal to maintain momentum and confidence so that they can get to that third period shut down mentality. And it worked in game one.

If Washington wants to finish this series a winner, they have to start playing with more respect for their opponents. They have to take them seriously and come out to play on every single shift. Shooting the net a couple of dozen times in the third period isn't going to be enough anymore. The game has to get better at every level.

It seems like all the top teams needed to learn this lesson on the first game. Let's see if this increases the level of compete for the underdogs or drives them into the ground. This is definitely where true character comes out.

I also hope that Plekanec doesn't get the last laugh on Theodore. I'm disappointed for him that he didn't get the results that he wanted out of this series so far. I hope that he gets the last laugh over the trash talk and rejects him in the final. I also hope that he has enough class at the end of it all to shake his hand after the last game and not say a word. Just as winning is the best revenge, sometimes silence is the best answer.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Sens vs. Pens- Game 2, Round 1

Pittsburgh 2, Ottawa 1

Time for the favourites to show why they're the favourites once more. San Jose, Detroit, New Jersey and Pittsburgh have all come back after a surprise game 1 loss to their lower-ranked counterparts to prove why they're the best. And Sidney Crosby was leading the charge for Pittsburgh in a bruiser of a game to show the Sens why he's a champion.

Is there anything that this guy can't do on the ice? If there is, we haven't seen it yet. He scored a goal, picked up an assist, played keep away with Spezza, gave some hard hits and even had a save on the night, helping out a sprawling Fleury in the third period off a shot that almost squeaked its way over the blue line. That save was huge, because that would have been the nail in the coffin on that one. It's hard to regain momentum off a goal that late in the game, no matter who you are. But that didn't happen.

The Pittsburgh Penguins bounced back extremely well after things got off with a bang with a goal from Regin 18 seconds into the game. It was a hard-fought game, with bodies and sticks flying everywhere. The pace of the game was incredible, but it wasn't far off from becoming a full-blown Slap Shot style thug fest.

Andy Sutton did exactly what I feared he would do. He delivered his signature WWE style body smash against the boards, where, instead of getting his shoulder down and planting a football style tackle on his opponent, he leaps into the air, all 6-6, 250 pounds of him, and just crushes them. He's a good defensive player and I love that he has presence on the ice, but I can't get behind this bone crushing move. He delivered a big one on Leopold last night and I still cringe now when I see it in replays. Leopold looked dead. Really. He just fell like a rag doll, face planted, body sprawled, and I swear that they could have put a chalk outline around him. It was awful. Can you imagine what his family and friends felt when they saw him go down like that? What about his significant other? I'd be calling the police if I was that woman.

For lack of anything else, you have to say that this was a spirited game. Both teams wanted it really badly. They fought and they fought hard. They fought so hard that I would be surprised if any of them can walk today. I have to say that I wasn't happy about the big hit on Zack Smith at the end of the second period which threw open the zamboni doors. That was clearly antagonizing with someone who had nothing to do with the thuggery of that period. Glad he held his own, but you know, as Cherry said, he's one of those good Alberta boys and made of tougher stuff. Orpik punching Spezza was also one of those moves that didn't impress me.

All the rough stuff aside, there were some impressive performances and some real duds too. Crosby goes without saying as being the best player on the ice period. Elliott delivered another solid performance despite the loss, Fleury's thrown off whatever was left of his jitters, Regin is living up to his designation as the Great Dane and Karlsson looks like he's been playing in the playoffs his whole life.

Honourable other mentions for Pittsburgh includes Leopold for even getting off the ice on his own power after the Sutton hit. Malkin's still doing his thing well and he seems even more fired up when he gets to partner with Crosby.

The duds? It's hard to be a Spezza fan at the moment. He's a good player, but he's prone to streakiness, bad giveaways on high risk plays and let's face it, a little bit of laziness. He loses his man often enough when he's made to play defense and when he's not on a hot streak, it doesn't look like he cares. But this is the Stanley Cup playoffs and his team is playing the defending champions. If this isn't enough to make you care, well, what the hell is?

The series is tied now and is going to make its way to Ottawa. I hope that the guys can pull it together and make a real quality show at home. I'll be there in red, screaming my heart out for my team and I hope that they give me plenty to cheer about. I hope that Alfie shows why Scotiabank Place is his house and that Spezza snaps out of it. I also hope that the refs are responsible and stop some of this unnecessary extra curricular activity. I don't want the game to get soft, but the low blows and face washes aren't what fans want and doesn't make for quality hockey.

I also hope that the underdogs make another comeback to take another game. It helps to keep things interesting. Because nothing is less interesting in the finals than a 4 game total sweep.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Don't let the Spoiling Spoil You

Have you ever heard that old expression, don't let the spoiling spoil you? It's a way of saying that it's good to be spoiled and catered to, but don't let it sour you on the experience or make you feel entitled to it. It's a testament to the fact that we should appreciate good things when they happen to us, even if we don't expect them to.

There's probably no better way to put it than that when it comes to the first round of the NHL playoffs. It looked like the writing was on the wall before the first games took place, but now, the spoilers keep piling up. The underdogs have put in rock solid performances, with Ottawa leading Pittsburgh, Philadelphia leading New Jersey, Montreal leading the top-ranked Washington Caps, the Colorado Avs leading the mighty San Jose Sharks and the once-lonely desert dwelling Phoenix Coyotes leading the old Warhorse Detroit Red Wings.

It just goes to show you that nothing is out of the question when it comes to the world of sports. People have off days, injuries happen, overconfidence and complacency can kick in, people get tired or their game gets lazy and uninspired and sometimes coaches go a little mad. Those are all possible factors that can change a seemingly dominant playmaking monster into just another opponent.

There's a rumour going around in Washington that Alexander Ovechkin was playing injured last night and that his personal trainer from Russia was in town, something that only ever happens when the Great 8 is down and out. There's no telling if that's the truth or an excuse, but most people woudl believe it. How else can you explain his lack of speed and power on opening night? Spacek deserves a ton of credit for containing the Russian bear anytime he got near the puck, but even so, there have been games in the past when you could have put an entire team around Ovie and he would make them all look like pylons.

And then that begs another question: if Ovie's taking all the defense with him, why were the Caps not capitalizing on that? By knowing where the defense is (all around number 8), you can easily determine where the defense isn't (all around the other players). By those standards, Semin, Fleishman, Laich and Backstrom should all have had more time and space to work in. But they didn't.

Halak had a great game and looks like he did back in the Olympics when he was holding down the fort for Slovakia. Theodore also had a good game, all things considered, despite Plekanec besting him on that last shot in overtime. It's a shame when the trash talker makes the winning goal. It kind of makes me hope that Theodore will use this to help him shut him down when it really counts. No matter who you cheer for, it's always nice to see trash talkers silenced.

But it's the playoffs and anything (seemingly) goes.

A couple of predictions did come true: Miller was true to form and helped his team beat the Boston Bruins, as many expected he would and Vancouver did beat out the underdog LA Kings. That's still far short of what most people thought were locks.

Now another one to watch: Chicago vs. Nashville tonight. Let's see if Nashville has what it takes to polish off a favourite from the top-ranked list.

That may be more spoiling than we should have. But it's so good when it happens.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sens vs. Pens- Game 1, Round 1

Ottawa 5, Pittsburgh 4.

It was the result that I dared not hope for. A win for Ottawa against the Stanley Cup defending mighty Pittsburgh Penguins!

Of course, this has happened in the past before. There have been many occasions where these two teams have clashed in the playoffs, with each one getting the upper hand on different years. It's become such a classic match up that one can't help but notice the searing identity crisis which occurs inevitably from having such similar sounding monikers. Go Pens and Go Sens sounds remarkably the same and what really nailed it the other night was the fact that it was the infamous white T-shirt night in Pittsburgh, but the team was wearing black and the visiting Sens were wearing white. Weird. But I have to say, I was very grateful that Pittsburgh decided against wearing their powder puff blue uniforms for a playoffs game. They're not exactly the picture of intimidation and raw power in those things.

It was a very exciting night and there was a clear case of the jitters from both sides of the ice. Marc Andre Fleury didn't fall this time as he came jumping out of the gate, thankfully, but he may as well have. Sorry to say, with all due respect to a guy who already has a Stanley Cup ring and an Olympic Gold Medal, but all bets were on him that he would be the experienced, calm and cool playoff veteran goalie in this match up against the 25 year old Brian Elliot, appearing in his first ever playoff game. But those bets lost.

The sports shows all had fun poking fun at Elliot who joked with the press that he had played game 7 before in college road hockey. Last night's game was about as far as you could get from college road hockey, but he played like a pro once he got those first nerves out. But the nerves just kept on going for Fleury, who actually misplayed the puck completely at one point, wandering off behind the net to pick up the puck when a leaping Chris Kelly ran it in. That foot race with Kelly, which he lost, should never even have happened if he had stayed in place. Gross miscalculation there.

I actually do feel for Fleury. A couple of those goals were just bullets, like the Regin and Neil ones. They happened so fast that if you stopped to put your beer down, you would miss it and curse. And Karlsson's goal was successful in part because of Mike Fisher's blocking of Fleury with his, uhm, backside. That has got to be distracting. That would have been the ultimate insult to injury too. A lot of players are accused of 'sitting' on the goalie, but very few of them come close to actually doing it. Wonder if that counts as an assist? Someone should call Bettman and ask.

For the Pens, you have to give it to Malkin. He was their best player out there and it's not surprising that he was the hardest one to contain. Crosby picked up some assists because he's all over the ice and his little backhand passes are fantastic. The Pittsburgh team is full of weapons and the Sens are smart enough to know that you don't shut down this team, you contain them as much as you can. That's Clouston's strategy and you know it's working.

It's great to see that the Sens aren't a one-line team anymore and that their secondary guys have really stepped it up. The heroes of this game weren't the usual suspects, Alfie, Spezza, Kovalev (out for the season) or our one-time starter goalie Pascal Leclaire. The heroics came in from Kelly, Neil, Ruutu, Regin and Karlsson, the guys who have been carrying the team through an injury-riddled season. And our back up guy Elliot, who has played his way to the number one spot.

I have to say that another 71 that deserves recognition is Nick Foligno. Despite not getting on the board last night, he is a hard worker, getting into the corners, hitting hard, fighting for the puck. He fights like it matters and it's great to see that. Wish that Spezza would show a bit of the same spark.

How will this team maintain this momentum into the next game? Keep it simple, play a tight game, don't give them time and space and stay out of the box. It sounds so easy, but like most things in life, the easiest things are the hardest ones to do.

This team has confidence and it has talent. I hope that they can keep it going.

For the Pens, I don't think they have to change up their game at all. They kept the game going right up until the end. What seemed to go wrong for them is that it appears that they underestimated their opponent for one, and that they panicked near the end, for another. Their play in the third was incredibly hurried and sloppy, and with the exception of Crosby, who likes to play keep away with the puck, they didn't make Ottawa play their game. Another potential fatal flaw? The mouth. It seems like there's a lot of talking going on when the game's not going their way.

As much admiration as I have for Crosby, I have to say that he should tear a page out of Alfie's book and lead by example by being the strong, silent type. I'm pretty sure that he said more words at his 1000th game commemoration ceremony than he's actually said in 1000 games. That's a guy we can all get behind.

Go Sens Go!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Race for the Cup

I watched the TSN Playoff Previews show and I can't say that I disagree with any of the predictions put out for the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. I have to say that it hurts me to say this because there's a deep internal struggle that I feel between what my heart wants and what my head thinks.

My head totally agrees with Montreal being beat by Washington, Ottawa being beat by Pittsburgh and I even have my doubts about the Vancouver Canucks making it past round one. My heart doesn't want to see it happen, though. I don't want to see all the Canadian teams get beaten out in the first round and to end up with the typical all star dogfight that generally comes out of the playoffs.

But it's going to happen. Inevitably, there's going to be the Crosby-Ovechkin saga playing out again, the Brodeur-Miller fight for the best goalie, the Toews-Kane line out to kill, and the debate about whether or not the Sharks will tank once again in the first round and whether the old warhouse Detroit Red Wings still has it.

There is the potential for a couple of spoilers. There are some surprise teams that nobody really expected to see in the playoffs at all that have the potential: Phoenix, Nashville and LA. Phoenix has made the most surprising leap of all in the standings, a considerable feat given the fact that at the beginning of the season, they didn't even know if they would be able to play. They were giving away seats to fans and the summer-long smackdown between Bettman and Balsillie kept everyone guessing right up until the end. Nashville, a place known more for its country music than for professional sports, also made a surprise rise in the standings. And LA has shown a lot of promise with young stars like Doughty and Quick.

There are 3 factors that come into play in the post-season: statistics, superstitions and confidence. Statistics is the most logical way to smartly predict which teams will place where in the finals. But they don't say it all. You can't possibly compare the 82 regular season games with the pace of a quick-fire, high pressure tournamant series. Given those circumstances, the most cool, calm and collected teams have been known to crack.

Superstition is also a huge factor. If you follow the logic that the team with the most regular season wins (Washington) always gets booted out of the first round, or that you can't paint your captain with the Cup before you win it (Chicago) and then the beards (everyone over the age of 23 who can do more than dirty mustache line), well, it's all up in the air.

EA Sports has predicted that the final Stanley Cup showdown will be between Chicago and Washington with Toews lifting the Cup at the final. But there is a lot of hockey to be played between now and then and so far, the stats and the confidence factors both play on their sides, but superstition does not. There are four rounds to go and anything can happen.

Including my heart winning over my head.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Facebook South Parked

Facebook, you have now been South Parked. The recent episode where the boys create a Facebook profile for Stan which slowly starts to invade his life and tick him off, right up to the point where he has to encounter his powerful profile in a fight to the finish over a Yahtzee tournament is pure solid gold as satire and social commentary. It represents the best of South Park, a controversial and irreverent show which often stings with its offensive and immature nature, just as much as its biting observations about the ridiculous nature of people.

It's hard to believe that South Park didn't make up the fact that Facebook includes harvesting crops and playing board games online. What a colossal waste of time. Not only does Facebook create this strange, artificial world where people are 'friends' with anyone they can find online, but it also suckers them in with useless activities that lock its users on computers for hours at a time, poking, updating, messaging, changing their status, harvesting crops...what the hell? Who has time to be doing all of this crap? Who has hours to spend a night doing this?

Think about all of the quality time that you could spend with a real friend, a person of actual flesh and blood, who could actually come over to your house or meet you at a pub for a real conversation. Think of how deep and meaningful your friendships in real life could be if you devoted that much time to it. You could actually create a real small garden at home with free hours every night. If you got off the stupid computer, stopped poking and updating profiles for no apparent reason, you could have enough time to have your friend over for dinner with basil that you've grown yourself out of a pot on your terrace.

Social networking does have its place, especially for those who are displaced, traveling abroad, or who are living apart from the people that mean the most to them. But for the rest of us, we could be spending a lot more time focusing on where we actually are and who actually surrounds us, rather than who's online at the same time.

South Park gets it right again.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Wedding Nightmares

I don't understand what's happened to weddings. I'm sure that there are historians and sociologists who have some kind of handle on how weddings went from being solemn occasions where people decided to spend their lives together and had their friends and family witness this exchange, right up to the point where they became pageants and stage productions that required supporting casts of dozens and budgets in the thousands.

Back in the day, people used to get married in their living rooms and have a simple afternoon ceremony. It didn't take long for people to make up their minds and then exchange the vows. Nobody waited an entire year between the proposal and the actual ceremony, mostly because people just didn't have time to waste in terms of getting their married life started and because there wasn't the need to organize or plan for much. The ceremony was always simple and receptions were not the norm; in fact, receptions were really gravy, if the couple or their parents had enough to supply it. The bride would generally wear a simple dress or her mother's dress as the case may be, and there would be a fresh bouquet of flowers chosen that very day. Maybe there would be coffee and little cakes served by the family and the gifts were optional too.

It's nothing like that now. Every woman needs a minimum of one year to plan a wedding nowadays and to save up for it. They need the big venue, the dinner, the reception hall, flowers, decorations, lots of alcohol, the big dress, the snazzy transportation, the favours, the cake, the photographer, the videographer, the DJ or band, and all the little details and extras that people love to have, such as candy bars or entertainers like dancers.

In some ways, it's incredible to see these big weddings unfold and it's even better to be a guest at them. The doors of the imagination have been flung wide open and now, anything goes with weddings, from crazy fantastic themed weddings to outrageous adventure style weddings that include everything from skydiving to exchanging vows on skis. People can show up in ferraris, helicopters, elephants, you name it. It's a once in a lifetime occasion for people to live out their fantasies of being a rock star, a princess, a thrill-seeker.

While all this is truly amazing, there is a very, very ugly side that comes out of all this fancy and extravagance. This world of choice turns easily into a world of hurt when people discover that their ideas may be infinite, but their cash flow is not.

I think that every little girl (with some exceptions, of course) dream about their fantasy wedding with all the beautiful details and hold on to this image for several years to come. Unfortunately, I think that these same ideas are formed before girls even have a concept of what money is or what it does or how hard it is to earn. This is back in the glorious days of the mythical money tree that we think still exists somewhere in the backyard where mom and dad disappear off to when bills appear.

But once it becomes our turn to get married for real, I'm surprised by the amount of women who are not willing to compromise their fantasy images for the reality of actual budgets and numbers. What surprises me even more than this is the way that some of these women behave. Their attitude, their sense of entitlement, their need to have everything exactly the way that it should be, the way that they put down or verbally attack their spouses to be in order to get what they want, regardless of the cost...all of this makes me sick.

I can't believe that anyone wants to marry these women when I see them chewing out their fiances over the cost of wedding cakes or bonbons. I hate it when they make a big show of getting their way with such statements as "this is my day, I am the bride, I am the queen, I will get what I want when I want it and exactly the way that I want it and there's nothing that you can say or do about it that's going to change my mind."

Who wants to spend the rest of their lives with that? Who wants to make a vow borne out of love, fidelity, good faith and hope to someone who sounds like a spoiled 4 year old planning a birthday party?

And who wants to spend thousands of dollars on a single day which turns out to be a stage production, full of fanfare and silliness? Does anyone honestly believe that they're a princess for a day and that it's worth spending a down payment on a home to feel that way? And does anyone think that their guests will keep talking about the wedding for years to come, telling grand tales to all their friends and families about your over the top mythical occasion?

I think that before women allow themselves to get carried away, they should remember the following few things:

1- Don't confuse want with need. All you really 'need' for a wedding to happen is two consensual adults, an officiant or priest, a marriage license and a pair of witnesses. That's all you 'need' and everything else is a 'want'.

2- It's not your day. A lot of women feel pushed to go big with their wedding because it's supposed to be their big day, their one and only chance to shine like a princess, but really, it's not. Everyone else likes to get involved and share their opinions, especially other female members of the family and the male members of the family just want everything to be cheaper. So don't get caught up in this illusion that it's all about you and that everyone wants what you want. And don't forget the infighting. You think that your parents are cool, but that's up until the day that they fight you over centrepieces. Not cool.

3- It's an honour to be asked. Before you get on your high horse and start demanding roses in crimson that fold at a 35 degree angle, you should remember that the point of the wedding is to celebrate the fact that you are about to be bound for life in love with another human being. This means that someone else on the planet actually considers you to be worthwhile for a lifetime of togetherness and monogamy. This is a beautiful, wonderful thing and it doesn't happen to everyone, no matter what Hollywood dictates or what your parents say about only weird people not getting married. If someone ever considers you for this honour and you think enough of them to want to say yes to it, don't get mired in stupid details. Just be happy that you're not alone on this journey called life and celebrate it in a simple, dignified manner which is appropriate to this type of occasion.

A lot of women have dreams and nightmares about their weddings. But the sad thing is that it's weddings themselves that are becoming the nightmare.

Recessionista Long weekends

We all need a break now and then. Taking advantage of long weekends is a great way to have a short break from your everyday life without the hassles of a lot of planning or major bucks. Here are some hassle free tips to get the most out of these ventures:

Do your research

Make sure that you surf the net for all of the deals that are out there. There are countless sites that can be used to find bargains at hotels. There’s and and The choices are endless, so be sure to spend some time doing the research before taking out the credit card. Consider hotels where they include breakfast. Hotel packages are often hassle free and include some extras that you may not have considered, such as cocktails or spa time. Another plus? Hotel packages often include tourist activities, like entrance to museums, special exhibits or shows.

Trains and automobiles

While it may be tempting to fly to certain destinations for a quick refresher weekend, you may want to consider short distance trips. They are less stressful and economical. Consider road-tripping it with your best friend or taking the train. The train offers great rates if you book early enough in advance and they often stop right downtown (no traffic to fight or parking to pay- and best of all, you don’t get lost!)

Munching and Lunching

When you go away, be sure to pack water bottles and snacks like granola bars or almonds. Considering that you’re likely to be very active going from one place to another during your trip, it’s best to budget for some cheap munches while you’re on the go and a decadent dinner later in the evening, when you have plenty of time to rest and enjoy a bottle of nice wine.

No itinerary

A truly relaxing weekend can be one where there is no itinerary or planned activities. Wander around the city, take in various sites and side streets that you may never have seen before, and when you see something interesting, go and explore it some more. This is a great way to unwind and get more familiar with a city where you may only know one side of it. Walking is free!

Shopping Time

Well, what’s a good weekend away without some shopping time? If you’re still hoping to have some fun on a smaller budget, then you need to budget your shopping time. Make sure that you put aside a bit of time for shopping and pre-set your budget limit before leaving. Better yet, withdraw your shopping cash before hitting the stores. Working with cash means that you can see where the money goes and you have to stop once the cash flow does.


An excellent way to take advantage of your long weekend on a shoestring budget is to stay at home. Take little day trips to local attractions and surrounding towns. You can skip the hotel and B and B rates by just hopping out for the day and coming home to your abode at night. Or explore your own town by going to places that you’ve never been before. Try that restaurant you’ve never been to before. Visit that museum you’ve heard about. See some local artists, theatre or food markets. A stay-cation is also a good opportunity to indulge in all your city has to offer by scouting out the best local latte, the best local martini, and the best local food.

Recessionista Social Scene

The worries about the economy may have you worried about how much you may be spending on entertainment and this is a valid concern. Of the various things that we have to take care of in our monthly budgets, we should be more focused on the essentials and paying down any of the debts that we may have. But this doesn’t have to mean a lot of nights in on the couch with a can of soup. We have to find ways to go out and have some fun while keeping our pocketbooks slim. Here are some great ways to do this:

Make it a Later Night

Instead of dinner out followed by drinks, have a quick dinner in when you get home. Then meet up with people for a few drinks, spacing out your cocktail treats with a glass of water. Your body needs the H2O, and it will slow down your consumption as well as bring down your bill. If it’s going to be a long night, you can start off with a non-alcoholic beverage like soda or sparkling water which will help you ease into the night. Make sure that you also budget for a cab ride home or have a designated driver chosen well ahead of time.

Reinventing the Night In

Remember all those fun nights in that you used to have with friends when someone would bring over a cheesy board game or when you would improvise with a game of charades? It’s time to bring back the simple fun of those days! Invite friends over for a wine and cheese evening and have them each bring a silly game.

Have potlucks with your friends for dinner parties and have everyone bring either an appetizer, a main course, or a dessert. Better yet, have a wine tasting party with friends. Buy a flight of wines with good recommendations from a sommelier on site and hide the bottles in paper bags with the different names of the wines listed in random order. Then have your friends try to guess which names belong to which wines. You might be surprised at who has the best palate! If you have a connoisseur in your group, make them taste theirs blind.

Teenager Times

Remember when a day out with friends cost less than $20? This probably hasn’t happened since you were a teenager. How did you pass those carefree days and still have tons of laughs and good times? It’s time to take a page out of that period of your life and learn how to have fun like a kid again!

Take a long walk to an ice cream counter with friends. Invite friends over to watch a movie and order in a pizza. Go to a karaoke bar and sing away your troubles. Hang out at the mall and grab a burger from the food court. Take a pleasure road trip out to the country and split the gas bill. Go to the local park and toss around a Frisbee. Don’t forget to bring lots of snacks!

Loyalty and Free Times

Sometimes, it pays to be loyal. If you are a collector of air miles or any other number of loyalty club or points systems, take advantage of them for freebies down the line. Many memberships are free and you can often get benefits like movie passes or discounts at certain stores. The more points you accumulate, the better your chances to get something you really want down the line.

Free times are also a great way to benefit from the museums or galleries in your area. Almost all of them have a timeslot reserved during the week where the admission is free. Research them on the internet and figure out which ones work for you.

Less is More

With all these great ideas, it would be easy to fill in your week with social engagements. But one of the best tricks to toning down your budget is that less is more. Make sure that you have a few nights a week where you stay in, either reading a book or going to the gym. A healthy, balanced lifestyle should include time to improve your mind and body, as well as time for your relationships.

Recessionista Out of The Closet

Tough economic times have forced a lot of people to cut back, not just on little luxuries, but even on essentials. But any way you look at it, we all have to get dressed in the mornings. And as many of us face increased stress at the workplace, the possibility of layoffs, debts, budget cuts, and uncertainty concerning our investments and pensions, expanding our wardrobes is not necessarily top of our priority list. But here are a few simple ways to keep your closet lean and fabulous (just like you!)

1- Take stock

Get into the closet! Take a look around. Sift through the different seasons and try to find pieces that you haven’t worn in a long time, that are worn down, out of style or simply don’t fit. Make a keep pile and a toss pile. The toss pile should be packed in a box and immediately dropped off at a goodwill service or donated to charity. Don’t procrastinate on this one! Getting those old clothes out of the closet helps to give you perspective and fulfill the next exercise on this list.

2- Do an inventory

Once you can see some clear space in your closet, this will give you a good idea of where the gaps are. Every woman needs a wardrobe that’s well adapted to her busy lifestyle: work, the gym, socializing, special occasions, family functions and lingerie. Depending on your current priorities, you will need different types of clothing at different times. Don’t wait for a special occasion to pop up before having a dress handy; last minute purchases leave much to be desired and often lead to closet remorse. Also keep in the mind the seasons. Be strategic about your purchases. Think about what you will need and when and give yourself plenty of time to get what you need before it’s time.

3- Make a list

Be strategic about your purchases. Think about what you will need and when and give yourself plenty of time to get what you need before it’s time. Shopping is fun, but it’s not a hobby! Watercolour painting is a hobby. You need to make a list of the things that you need and look for them. This is a simple concept that most of us know, but many of us don’t apply it to our wardrobes, but this is just as important as it is for anything else. You wouldn’t leave the house without a grocery list, right? Right…

4- Prioritize

Do your research! Compare prices. Shop for clothes out of season. Look online for bargains. Think about what you absolutely need and what can wait. This might be the year that you need a new winter jacket and some weatherproof boots for those Canadian winters. This might be the wrong year to purchase a new suit for work since you’re traveling less and not attending so many meetings. Try to anticipate what your wardrobe needs will be and prioritize. Just like the list, we apply this rule to many of our other goals in life and it makes sense to do so.

5- Splurge vs. Bargain

There are some big ticket items that you should splurge on, even when times are tough. As always, moderation is the key and it is a question of need vs. want. But when you have to decide between splurging and picking up a bargain, these rules work well:


Splurge on a designer bag made of real leather that you can wear with any jacket during any season. Black is the one colour that is fashionable every year. Look for something durable with good lining and which is versatile, complementing your jeans on the weekend and your suit during the weekday.


Purchase bargain bags of various colours, shapes and sizes that may go out of style as early as next season. It’s better to have one good quality piece rather than dozens of out of date trend pieces. Maybe the girls in Hollywood can get away with matching their shoes and bags for every little dress and every little occasion, but that’s just dreaming for the rest of us.


Buy a couple of nice, tailored suits. They should be in neutral tones with conservative, office-friendly cuts and be tailored to fit your shape and size. Avoid flashy details like colourful accents and stick to slicker, more solid colours. Buttons are preferable to zippers because they’re easier to repair.


Buy off the rack suits. Because they’re not tailored to your size and shape, they look sloppy and have more wear and tear. They also don’t last as long as tailored suits from better stores and rotate every season, whereas the classic cuts are always in vogue.


Invest in outerwear. Make sure that your coats are appropriate to our four seasons and that you have some quality transitional pieces.


Buy an array of transitional off the rack pieces. They clutter your closet and often go out of style. As well, for the time that you invest in them, they are not worn as often as seasonal wear, so it’s not worth hoarding them.


Invest in underwear. Nothing is more uncomfortable than a badly fitted bra or underwear that rides up. Good lingerie can also make the difference between a nicely fitted outfit and a bunched up disaster.


Skimp on the bras. You don’t want to let down some of your best assets.

Do’s for Bargains

The items above give you the most bang for your buck. The items that you can let slide are accessories. Belts, jewellery, hats, scarves and the like can all be picked up for rock bottom prices and still look fabulous, emphasizing quality pieces and adding punches of colour. These can also be recycled and borrowed among friends; clothes and shoes may be a no go if your best friend is tall when you’re short, but accessories can be passed around and reinvented. Socks are also an inexpensive and often cute addition to outfits, particularly with your weekend gear.

Lounge wear and sports wear are also places a lot of us can trim. Unless we’re training for marathons, most of us don’t need more than basic shorts and tees to go to the gym. And jogging pants can double as lounge wear or active wear, making it unnecessary to double up on these items at the cash.

Going out need not be expensive either; there’s nothing more classic than a little black dress and many of these can be picked up at any store. And assuming that you don’t have an audience when you go to bed at night, pajamas are one part of the wardrobe that can be cheap, comfortable and sometimes, completely ignored.

A Manifesto for Civility

Most people have heard of the social contract by John Locke. It's a fairly simple concept that when people live in a society, they are willing to let go of certain freedoms in exchange for the security and benefits of living within a society where people look out for each other, protect each other and help each other in times of need. This is the premise on which civilization can work, otherwise, most of society would be comprised of savages and outlaws, taking whatever they wanted whenever they wanted, preying on the poor, the weak and old.

Civilization has come a long way and people manage to live with each other fairly well. Nevertheless, there is always room for improvement. People are abiding by the social contract well, but life within society is not always what you would call pleasant. So if we want to move beyond that basic social contract and move to real civility, allow me to suggest a few simple things that people could do that would make life a lot more pleasant.

Respect for Others

I think that we need a refresher on the very basics, the stuff that mom and dad are supposed to have covered early on, but doesn't always happen. Please, thank you, excuse me. We should all be making better use of these expressions, particularly when we run into people (this is a rude thing to do, even if it's by accident), when we ask for something (could I have that please?) and when people do nice things for us (thank you.)

These rules also extend to our behaviour with technology. The computer, our video games, our cell phones, our ipods, etc. It is not acceptable to be locked into any of these things when we have people over or when we're hosting people at our home. It's definitely not acceptable to use any of these on a date.

It seems foolish to have to even say these things, because they seem so obvious, but people have proven time and time again that they need to be reminded. Case in point, think about the last date or party that you've been at. Did the person take a call on their cell while you were out, or did the host of the party take some quick time out to check their email while you were over? There's a good chance that the answer at some point was yes and that it annoyed you, even if only for a minute.

Another case in point: the basic rules of the road. Your parents have been telling you this for years: Look both ways before you cross the street. You didn't have to get hit by a car to know that this was a good idea. And yet, recently in the news, the city of Toronto has been ticketing pedestrians for jaywalking like mad. Apparently, there have been 13 deaths in one month of people just not bothering to look as they cross the street, so busy and important, that they don't have time to bother with traffic signs or lights. 13 deaths in one month is about the same amount of deaths that have occurred in one year! The increase seems to be due to the fact that people just don't want to wait anymore for anything. So here's another basic: Wait your turn.


Part of having respect for others stems from having respect for ourselves. If we care about how we appear to other people, in both our appearance and our behaviour, it reflects well on other people and often inspires them to do the same.

It's not necessary for us to walk out the door looking like supermodels, but we should, at the very least, shower every day and take care of our basic hygiene. Brush our teeth, brush our hair, roll on deodorant or spray. It's those little touches which show that we're not savages, particularly if we take public transportation.

Another indication of civility? Table manners. Eating together is one of the most sociable activities that people can undertake and every effort should be made to keep it this way. Eat with your mouth closed. Don't reach over other people. Don't eat off someone else's plate. Don't take more food than you can handle and don't take the best of a given dish before other people have had a chance to serve themselves.

Showing courtesy is an easy thing to do every day. Opening doors, offering seats on the bus, helping others, obeying traffic rules, showing etiquette when it comes to technology, waiting our turn for things, being courteous when people provide services for us, practicing good hygiene. All of these little things make life that much more pleasant and society bearable. If we all tried to be more civil in little ways like this, we'd live in a better place.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Glamourous Jobs Wanted

I think a lot of us sit around in offices and wish that some magical call will come through to us, offering us the glamourous, high-paying, fun job that we've always really wanted. It's like when we were children and we used to play pretend and say that we were going to be such and such when we grew up. Some days, we wanted to be astronauts, other days, we wanted to be supermodels, and then on really quirky days, we wanted to be cats.

There are so many things that fascinate me that I would like to work in, so if anyone who comes from these professions is reading this, please get in touch with me. Please. Leave a post or something. Some sort of sign. Pretty please and thank you.


I've never wanted to be a pro athlete because even I'm not self-delusional enough to think that I could do more than run for the bus. But I've always wanted to be a sports writer, either writing fantastic sports fiction or fan writing on the sides or covering one team all season. I'd like to do the analysis, but I don't want to talk to players. Player interviews are generally not what you would call stimulating and I would hate to hear myself asking dumb questions like 'so how do you think you did?'

One of my dream jobs is to work in the war room in Toronto. To be surrounded by humongous, beautiful, clear screens just chockablock full of hockey. Making the big decisions of whether or not it goes over the line, squinting, angling, arguing. Looking to see paint. And then making the all-important calls to cheers and jeers.


As much as it sucks to serve drinks to people, I think that I would be willing to do it in order to get 4 weeks of vacation a year and travel first class anywhere in the world. A jet-setting life in a sweet little airline outfit while travelling around with pilots? That totally works for me. Too bad I'm not 5 foot 4 without shoes.

I would also love to be a travel agent, but I think that it would be difficult to book travel for people, all while thinking that I want to be on that vacation myself. But at least I would know the tricks of the trade and get cheap flights to great places. Not to mention all of the time spent swapping tales of cultural practices and language issues. It's kind of cool.

I think the sweetest deal in the travel world would be to work for a magazine like Conde Nest Traveller and go to the best destinations, writing reviews about crystal blue waters and lazy sunsets. I don't know what this place is that I'm talking about, but man, I want to go there.

Food and Drink

It would be really cool to own your own restaurant, brew pub or coffee shop. But this is a lot of work and a big investment. There's a ton of risk associated with this kind of business, but part of me thinks that it would be really cool. What a great feeling to get up in the morning and turn the key into the door of your own business.

I would love to be food and wine critic. Getting paid to eat in different restaurants every night, to try different wines and beers. But if it was that easy to get this job, we would all have it, right? You need a lot of expertise, experience, savoir faire and a fair palate for this. I would still be up for the challenge though. I love to eat out. All I need now is someone to pay me for it.


There are so many aspects of film that attract me. Casting, directing, editing. Being on a set all day, watching scenes come to life, characters form, things explode. The thing that I would really love to do is screenwriting. I know that many people see their scripts dismantled and repackaged several times over the course of a film and that it can be a long, exhaustive process over several years, but the end result is tangible and the rewards are many if you're successful. It's also great to see actors breathe life into a script, bringing emotion and passion into your stories and making them seem more real than real life. It must be a beautiful thing.


I absolutely love watching Fashion Television with Jeannie Beker. I totally fantasize about sitting in the front row in those swank chairs at a runway show and watching the skinny 6 feet tall glamazons strutting down the catwalk in platforms and edgy, sexy wear. What I wouldn't give to be around fabrics and textiles all day, surrounded by hats, accessories, shoes. It's like a never-ending shopping trip. Haute couture gowns and even the weird, expressive, unwearable stuff is fascinating. I would love to work for a fashion magazine, I don't care how many extra hot cappuccinos I have to pick up from Starbucks.

And yes, I am the same person who started this post by saying that I wanted to work in the war room in Toronto. If Flare and the war room calls at the same time, I can't be sure which one will win out. Flare would have to offer me a designer hand bag and the war room would have to offer me a night with the NHL player of my choice.

Of course, now I'm just dreaming. :)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Hey Sports Fans!

It's that time of the year when sports fans just go berserk and SportsCentre is an hour long and jam-packed with stats and information. The Sports section of the paper suddenly becomes the size of the Sunday special and it takes a few hours to peruse it. And we couldn't be happier.

It happens twice a year that the professional sports calendar gets this crowded; once in April, when you have the beginning of baseball, the end of basketball, the NHL playoffs run for the Stanley Cup, car racing, MMA, and some of the most prestigious golf tournaments. Then it happens again in September, with the end of baseball and the run to the World Series, the beginning of hockey, basketball, MMA, etc. There's also soccer tournaments in Europe and other outdoor sports shows. It's an exciting lineup and a great time to be a sideliner.

Speaking as a total sports geek, I love spending that hour glued to the couch, checking out the greatest plays and the latest news. I love the old horse race for playoffs spots and following the NHL draft's Taylor vs. Tyler drama. It's great to have all the excitement, the hot-headed debates, the drama, the heartbreak. It's like reading a rich and layered trilogy, an epic tale of love, loss and betrayal, without the sometimes ridiculous dialogue.

People will say that sports are trivial, but really, they're not. They're just as rich and powerful as good literature or history documentaries. When you think about it, they're all about stories. Every franchise in the professional sports world has a history, full of intrigue, controversy and feeling. The fans and the players alike remember every victory, sad loss, the anticipation of a new year, the excitement of a new acquisition, the potential of a rookie, the legacy of a veteran to sign off. As well, they remember and carry the bitter rivalries, the bad injuries, the bad trades and the in-fighting. Team managers, owners and CEOs are a part of this mix as well, with some of their eccentricities and passions making up the best stories in sports.

Sports are incredibly personal in this way, but they're also very social. They instill a sense of pride within people who are less and less rooted to a particular spot in the world. You can live anywhere on the planet, but nothing shows your allegiance to a place like rooting for its team. It's rare in today's world to see people come together with a common purpose, but you can get thousands of people to cheer on a team to win the Cup for weeks at a time. There is something truly special about that. No matter who you are or where you're from, there is a need deep within us to belong to something, and sports can fill this void.

They also serve an evolutionary purpose. Many species need to assert themselves, showing off who's the fastest, the strongest, the most agile. Even the most disinterested people can't help but be impressed by the fastest, the strongest and the most agile. We love to see the best do what they do best and they love to set the bar higher and higher for everyone. Records are broken, milestones are had and dreams are made on the fields and in the arenas.

That's a lot for such 'trivial' activities.

Now to end with a few predictions (I'm almost always wrong, but I like to do it anyway. I'm a writer, not a fortune cookie).

Tiger Woods is going to hand in a mediocre performance at his first time back, given the intense media scrutiny and moral ass-whooping that he got to mark his debut;

Taylor Hall may still be bested by Tyler Seguin in the final standings for the NHL draft, but he's still going to be the best rookie of his year;

As is the general rule in baseball, the most spoiled teams with the richest budgets will face off again in the World Series, aka New York Yankees and someone else;

Balsillie will try to buy another team and bring them to Hamilton and Bettman will find a way to thwart him again;

Danika Patrick will hold on to her crown as the sexiest car racer;

The Sens will make it past the first, but not the second, round of the Stanley Cup playoffs;

The Stanley Cup Final may have either Chicago or Phoenix, yes, you read that right, Phoenix, taking on the defending champions Pittsburgh or the Great 8's Washington Capitals.

But the sports world is full of surprises and spoilers and anything can happen. Another reason why it's so great.