Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Crossing At The Light

Maybe we’re just a couple of cars
Crossing at the light
One look and that’s it
Off into the night

Remembered when I didn’t know a thing
When there were open skies
The road was eternal
No graves for dreams

I was wanted in so many places
But only wanted to be one
The morning air was crisp
But the night got hazy

Suddenly I woke up this morning
And saw no tomorrow
People I knew had come
And gone

The heart was anchored
By some knowledge past
The sails flattened
No wind in the sound

The ship was moored
Like a permanent restaurant
Until health code officials
Would take it away

These places, these faces
Were once dreams come true
Today a Paradise Lost
Waiting for a new dream
To take its place

Fire fire burning bright
Embers floating into the night

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Melted Ice

When I was in high school, in art class, I sculpted action scenes on ice influenced by Ken Danby.  Recently, I remembered that inspiration as I mapped where  historical goalie masks were worn. 

Hockey was this cool. 

I was one of those fans who memorized stats on hockey cards. 

Ken Dryden's hockey stick traveled from the Montreal Forum by train to my street on Sunset Avenue in Windsor, Ontario, when I was 4, after a game. And that is how I became a Montreal Canadiens fan.  

While playing defense, I learned from Bobby Orr whose hockey card was the first I ever had. I followed photos of his book showing his moves and Gordie Howe's book on how to use your elbows in the corners. Going to high school by bus, I'd stop in every morning at my neighbor's house. My friend's Dad later became the first referee inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. And this is a true story. Matt Pavelich was the one who picked up Bobby Orr's puck for that famous flying leap goal and was the only one on the ice not photographed.

Religiously I watched hockey twice a week on TV  - and even listened to games on Radio Canada. I went so far as to learn French (my best grade) to do so. I even wrote speeches in French about hockey. You probably could not even name something else I loved more in life.

Sure there were tough times.  Just ask any Toronto Maple Leafs fan and all the owners they've seen since 1967. The last time they won a Cup, television was still in black and white. And City Hall was at a different location for the Stanley Cup parade. 

And that's nothing for tough times. Just ask any Alan Eagleson client. Just ask Bobby Hull, Bobby Orr, Darryl Sittler or Ted Lindsay.  

Sometimes it got so tough, the game no longer mattered.

Just ask Sheldon Kennedy or boys who worked as ushers at Maple Leaf Gardens. Just ask Theo Fleury. 

There have been  parents wanting their kids to be so perfect nothing else mattered.  

We also know every sudden death on or off ice. It's one of the few places in life where almost every fan knows every car accident, heart attack, skate cut, plane crash or cancer battle involving someone in hockey. Now that's tight-knit.    

* * * 

Through thick and thin, my love for hockey continued strong through all of this. Hockey  gave me something, nothing else did. 

I still arrived at the rink at 5 am before 6 am practice for extra ice time.  I was not a Wayne Gretzky fan but admired his work ethic to skate 3 hours daily on his hockey pond in Brantford. 

Later in life, next to me at a sports bar on Robson Street in Vancouver, I heard a man speak in French on his cell phone and saw scars on his face. I asked him, "Did you play hockey." He replied, "I used to." He was watching Dallas vs Detroit on TV. I then replied, "I used to pretend to be you...Whatever happened to Dan Daoust?"  Habs captain Guy Carbonneau, who taught me how to block shots,  replied, "That was a long time ago."  I then said, "I still remember your last goal."  I re-enacted it at the bar scoring while on one knee on the floor. OT!  He got a kick out of it. That's what dreams are made of. 

Later on in life, I even worked with an NHL team to launch the 1st Pay-Per-View hockey game online. The fans stayed on for four hours!  We added interviews from the Legends of Hockey. They were glued to the screen.    

* * *

I am not sure when NHL hockey eroded its relationship with me. 

Was the loss of Winnipeg or Quebec the start? Was it The Cup not coming back to Canada (20 years and counting). Leafs fans will also remember how they got cheated on Wayne Gretzky's high stick on Doug Gilmour  the last time the Cup was in Canada (1993).  It was like the NHL wanted to usher a win for Los Angeles. 

Was it bankers and sponsors dominating the rinks? Or expansion to the desert and Gulf of Mexico? Perhaps it was expansion into summer games for a winter sport. Or loyalty getting traded every year for money. 

The word "rival" (synonym "passion") 
has been lost from the hockey dictionary. 

Was it the 2004 strike, with the Cup staying two years in the Gulf of Mexico to remind us what hockey had become: For snowbirds, not ice men. This all added up to one thing. I didn't miss 2012 at all because of the strike. 

Perhaps even climate change causing the slow extinction of outdoor hockey rinks in Southern Ontario had something to do with it. 

Today Gretzky would have nowhere to skate outside everyday.  Hockey talent will erode as a result. 

This is where Gary Bettman is wrong to compare the NHL to other sports. It isn't. 

I've played all major sports and followed them hard as a fan.  To love hockey, we need outdoor ice, and winter magic. We need players and owners who reflect the fresh snowfall and "bring a lunch pail to work" to quote one former NHL GM.  We want to smell hot chocolate not money at the rink.

* * *

The players and owners don't get it. Fans don't care about your multi-million dollar salaries, TV eyeballs or skyrocketing ticket and concession stand prices. The hardcore fans don't care about hockey for status.   Stats yes, status no. We are not bankers or sponsors.  We care about something else.  The Game.

If you were to ask me a decade ago if losing interest in NHL hockey  was in the cards for me, I'd say absolutely not. Are you crazy?  I learned nearly every small town in Canada through hockey because that town had a team. And each player had a dream of being in the NHL. 

So what happened? Maybe I don't matter. I'm getting older. New fans don't remember the past.  I'm not a banker or free agent. I'm not a sponsor, rink ad or video game developer. I'm not even a hockey equipment rep.  I just loved hockey more than anything else in the world. 

When the Chicago Blackhawks traveled on bus to Gravenhurst, Ontario to surprise a grieving GM at his Dad's funeral,  immediately I thought, it's because of this team magic, they will win the Cup. And they did. Then business took over. Players got traded and who knows if they'll ever win in our lifetime again. The Cup is now in Hollywood.  

This is a true story. One day  goalie Andrew Raycroft then on Toronto Maple Leafs came into our sports bar in Toronto's Little Italy after another season over. I told him you gotta sign this card for good luck. It's for my friend Leo, a hardcore Leafs fan. He saw the Leafs win the Cup in 1967. Raycroft then says, Hal Gill must sign it. Gill signed it too and then got traded immediately and won the Cup next season!  

Just before my brother died of cancer at 29,  I recited the play-by-play of the Leafs beating Boston 8-2,  March 6, 2008, just like we did as kids.  It seemed like fantasy as they had never won so handily since...well, we couldn't remember.  I'll never forget his look of excitement and disbelief. "Leafs won, 8-2?!!!" Some of his last words in life. Leo and I earlier at our sports bar  had danced as if they had won the Cup. My brother would leave life on a high note.  The Leafs actually came through! I had driven through a stormy winter from New York to Toronto to make it back on time to see the game.

In 2006, we had a project to photograph true blue hockey fans at Air Canada Centre.  You'd figure it would be very easy to find a hardcore Toronto Maple Leafs fan going to a game.  The photographers took three times longer  to get the job done.  Two-thirds of the fans walking from Union Station to the game wore suits. No hockey jerseys. And this really sums it up. I don't enjoy going to a Canadian bank. 

I don't want to be a Toronto Maple Leafs fan watching the NHL's richest team only care about money and not care about losing. But I do love hockey. Take me to any amateur rink, any day of the week, and you can see my joy. Pure unadulterated joy.