Wednesday, November 25, 2009


I'm going to come right out and say this, and I know faithful reader(s) of this blog will be astonished by this Thanksgiving Eve admission. But here goes:

I am thankful for hockey.

There. I'm glad that's off my chest.

As I get older, I find that following professional sports doesn't pay dividends like it used to. It was once a fantastic and fun diversion to follow your favorite teams and players, revel over the incredible winning plays and improbable comebacks, and agonize over the crushing defeats and missed opportunities. But it's an emotional investment that I find myself unable to immerse myself in. And after being prescribed medication for high blood pressure, I realized that living and dying with your team just isn't worth it.

Photo courtesy of APHowever, hockey is a fantastic sport to watch, follow, discuss, enjoy--and get borderline crazy over. It's fast paced with passes, hits and goals happening in the blink of an eye, and team momentum changing just as quickly. Some of the best talent the sport has ever seen is on the ice right now (OVIE! SID! MARTY!), and overall the NHL is highly competitive with every game worth watching and every team having a legitimate shot at the playoffs. It also features actual skilled athletes that are in shape, not morbidly obese men crashing into each other for 5 seconds before resting, chemically enhanced he-men swatting 600 foot dingers, or (god forbid) rednecks driving cars real fast in a circle. It's a true team sport in which defense is rewarded. It's the best sporting event to watch live, and at home it benefits the most from a widescreen, flicker-free HD broadcast. Additionally, there's very little dead time for color analysts to blather incessantly about the previous play, and for showing replays from 14 different angles. It's as close to perfect as you can get (despite commissioner Gary Bettman's endless attempts to screw it up).

The best thing about the NHL right now is that the casual fan has either tuned out since the lockout, or just aren't compelled to pay attention to it anymore. This is the best thing that could happen to a hockey fan. Who wants random people at work talking about the Rangers and Devils in the playoffs who didn't see one regular season game? Who needs people suddenly wearing their team's paraphernalia (sometimes in shades of pink-oh the horror!) only when they're playing well? Not me. I'm quite happy being a hockey fan that only has to discuss hockey with OTHER HOCKEY FANS. I used to bemoan the fact that ESPN and their ubiquitous SportsCenter barely covers the NHL, but now I cherish that reality. Everything ESPN touches turns to shit (Monday Night Football, NBA, sports highlight shows), so I'm happy that they don't give the sport the time of day. This way, I'm 100% sure I don't need to watch.

Yes, I'm thankful that hockey exists, one of the best things Canada has ever invented (along with back bacon, Bill Shatner and alcoholism). HOORAY HOCKEY!


(I had to slip that in.)

Photo courtesy of AP

Thursday, November 19, 2009


For those of you in the US [who am I kidding, no one reads this blog; in the US or elsewhere], you may not be aware of the controversy surrounding France's "qualification" for the World Cup last night. Short story shorter: tied on aggregate after 90 minutes, the Ireland-France game goes to extra time, Thierry Henry controls a free kick with his hand twice, passes to Gallas who heads it in. Goal stands, inexplicably, and France wins. Lot's of other people cry "CHEAT"

I'm not sure this video will work (and it's shitty quality, but it's one of the few that haven't be pulled down)

I have two comments:

1. I've been saying for years that there's too much cheating (esp. Diving) in professional soccer and it's obviously that FIFA, UEFA and the national associations have no real desire to remove it from the sport. Henry's Hand of God moment may have been deliberate, or it may not have been; In the video it looks like he does move his hand to control it, but this is split-second action. In any case, my opinion has the refs in the sole position to judge legality. No Henry should not have gone up to the head ref and said "you know what, I controlled with my hand, strike it from the record." When I played high school soccer we were taught to "keep playing till you hear the whistle;" handball or not you just kept going.

2. As soon as Brent Hull says "I had my foot in the crease and I want you to remove my name from the Stanley Cup for that year" I will advocate the French Football Federation to do the same. I laughingly "hate" Brett Hull, but the fact that the Sabres got fucked lies solely on the NHL and the refs heads. Not on the individual player or the profiting party (although I admit, I took great pleasure from the Devils' win in 2000).

The pundits are correct; this further decimates football/soccer's image, but that is an administration-level problem, not an individual or national-team level problem. I am sure that every one of the screaming ninnies on the interwebs today have benefited from a blatant cheat (diving, embellishing, controlling with the hand...) by their national team or favorite club.

For soccer to remain above a farce FIFA, UEFA and the national associations must do the following:

1. Video replay on all goals of a controversial nature (offsides? handball? in/out?).

2. Institute a very strict post-match video review and crack down on diving. A warning and a fine for the first dive that results in a free kick in the offensive zone. 1 game suspension for a second offense of above or for a dive within 18 meters of the net. 2 games for yellow card drawn or an additional offense of above. 3 games for a red card drawn or an additional offense of above. How quick would diving leave the game? I bet that after a couple of suspensions for all-world players would greatly cut back on the diving.

What a dive may look like

Yes, video replay isn't perfect (see: Sabres, Buffalo, 1998-1999 Stanley Cup Winners), but it's better than the current system.