Monday, October 29, 2007

Whither, World Series?

What's up Major League Baseball? With Boston's win over Colorado now, that's four years straight where the World Series loser has barely offered up any token resistance on their way down. In fact the second place team has scrounged up one win over that stretch. Over the last four years the winning teams have compiled a record of 16-1. There's nothing compelling about a World Series sweep. You need to get on this MLB.

Boston versus Colorado. The New Evil Empire versus The Faceless White Guys From Colorado (I wasn't paying that much attention during the game but seriously the Rockies' batting order looked like it was picked off a family farm in Iowa). I wrote back in April that the Rockies would spend the season being the one MLB team I knew nothing about, and it's seven months later now and I still don't know anything about them except that they have a hot shot Canadian pitcher, Jeff Francis, who looks like he's seventeen.

Can't cheer for the Rockies, just like I can't cheer for No Name Brand food. Sure I'll eat it, but I'm not going to get excited about it. Can't cheer for the Red Sox, not when they're in command of pro-baseball's second highest payroll. Dudes aren't underdogs anymore. Haven't been for awhile.

Money doesn't matter, they were saying as the Rockies and the Diamondbacks played their series. These guys pay diddly for their players and look how far they got! Got them far enough to play Boston, and look what the Sox did to them. Wiped them clean. Rockies barely put up a fight.

Red Sox fans, probably still suffering from ugly duckling syndrome, don't see anything wrong here. Why would, or should they? The Red Sox went so long without a title that they might as well stockpile as many as they can now while they have the momentum. I just hope though that next year when the Red Sox backlash finally, finally arrives, Sawks fans don't act confused at how normal baseball fans could possibly hate on MLB most stacked team. The Red Sox used to be all hip and indie. Then they won a World Series, lost touch with their roots, let the fame go to their head and turned into the very thing they were supposed to be against. Yeah, I know, the Red Sox are the new iPod.

Endnotes: Jacoby Ellsbury would make an awesome hockey name.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Lead Even The Leafs Couldn't Blow

I was starting to wonder if it actually existed, if there was a lead out there that even the Leafs could hold on to. Two goals has proven too shaky for them, but four? Not even these guys could screw up that bad. Pittsburgh, the patsies who absorbed Toronto's goals this time cut the lead to three goals before the game was out, in an eventual 5-2 loss.

The Leafs looked good. Toskala looked good. Antropov looked good. Steen looked good. Tlusty looked good. No third period self destructions this time. Three straight periods of solid hockey.

The Leafs were playing with a different looking roster, though involuntarily. Tucker and McCabe sat out with injuries, and was this a case of addition by subtraction? Tucker has been a non-factor so far and for McCabe, we don't really need go over that again. Their injuries opened up room for two rookies, two promising rookies, which is something we as Toronto fans have been conditioned to not expect. Anton Stralman and Jiri Tlusty. Tlusty had the big game no one really dared expect from him. Coach Maurice was saying they didn't want to put the world on his shoulders, though too late for that, he's wearing blue and white already right? Tlusty (doesn't rhyme with lusty) scored twice in his first career game, the first a deflection off his derrière - the worst way ever to score your first goal? He made up for it a minute later rushing in on Fleury and snapping the puck top corner far side.

These Leafs are a funny team to gauge eleven games in. Their record is 4-4-3, pure mediocrity right there. They also lead the league in both goals scored and goals allowed which means if these guys could just clamp down defensively and get one of their goaltenders to play consistently, they might have a shot at something. Next game is against the Rangers, one of the few teams who have started this season more disappointingly than Toronto. No reason the Leafs can't win that one.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Singing the Varsity Football Blues

I run this little blog here and I like to say it is devoted to Toronto's futility and all the crumminess found on the sports page and yet I have never acknowledged the one team that truly embodies every aspect of Futility in Toronto. This changes, now.

The University of Toronto Men's Football team, the Varsity Blues, has not won a football game in six years, a stretch dating back to 2001 and encompassing an eye-brow raising 48 loses in a row. These guys are good at being bad. Really good. Undisputed champs, but only when it comes to losing.

You would think that at Canada's most prestigious university (it must be if I go there) they would have enough left over cash to invest in an equally prestigious football team. They certainly charge enough. Hah! But that's a complaint for another day. Right now it's all football.

The problems started back in '93 when some policy wonk with memories of being shoved in lockers by over testosteronated high school jocks still keeping him awake at night decided to slash the budget of what had once been a pretty darn decent football organization. We're a place of dignified higher learning after all, and football is so... so uncivilized.

All 48 loses can be attributed to one coach which shows just what kind of organization we are dealing with here, a place where as long as you go out, have fun and try your best guys, there are no losers. And grape popsicles after every game! If this had been any one of Ontario's, ahem, lesser universities, a line probably would have been drawn a long time ago.

I'm not sure if this team is even heading in the right direction. They have a swanky new stadium, but that just might be to keep up appearances. The Phoenix Coyotes got a new stadium a couple years ago and damned if they ever did anything to deserve it. At this point you just have to sit back and appreciate the Varsity Blues for what they are: a group of lovable losers destined to forever finish behind on the scoreboard. And as long as these guys keep it up, we'll be able to objectively say that the Maple Leafs are not the worst show in town.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

McCabe, McCabe, McCabe

Bryan McCabe! Don't listen to the boos. It's not your fault you're the highest paid player on the team. If John Ferguson drove up to my house with a few garbage bags full of money I'd take it too.

This just isn't your week that's all, what with scoring against your own team in overtime. Let's not even mention that tricky net that hip checked you. I mean, who expects that kind of dirty play from the net? But that own-goal was brutal. It's like you're trying to give Toronto a reason to hate you. We certainly can't hate Antropov anymore, he leads the team in goals! Remember that time you scored 19 goals in a season? Yeah, that was pretty sweet.

And it's not like you were the worst defenseman for the Leafs in Buffalo. Did you see Pavel Kubina? He was awful! You should partner up with him McCabe, you'll probably look better just by comparison. And how come no one is pointing fingers at Mats Sundin, huh McCabe? He was on the ice for four goals. Surely that's at least equal to one own goal?

The third periods are killing you guys McCabe. You guys were beautiful for the first two. Didn't allow a single goal for two whole periods! I guess I just know you guys too well because I couldn't even enjoy those two periods because I kept thinking "They still have to play the third period" which is like in triathlons when they say, "They still have to run the marathon." It's not even close to being over. So I can't say I was surprised McCabe when you guys let Buffalo score two really quick goals to the game. Heck, Pittsburgh did the exact same thing to you guys. It's almost like your personal trademark. "How fast can we blow the lead?"

I was impressed that you guys managed to respond quickly. That Chad Kilger, I mean he knows when to show up, but then it went into overtime and someone took a penalty (was it Kubina, McCabe? I don't remember who but I'd put hard money on him being the goat) with less than two remaining, and whooo boy, little warning bells were going off.

Don't worry McCabe, I estimate it will only take two more own-goals before Fergie will have no choice but to get rid of you. I bet Long island would take you a second! Wouldn't that be cool? Back to New York? I know they already made Guerin their captain and everything but you have prior experience with the job. I think it would work out is all I'm saying. And just think of it, then you'd be able to score on the Leafs all you want, and nobody would get mad at you. I think it's a lot more satisfying that way.



Thursday, October 11, 2007

Rout the Islanders and Call Me in the Morning

Sometimes I wonder why I even follow hockey. Why do I invest so much energy into a passion that has provided so little return? You have your team that you cheer for and if you are lucky it's not run by soulless corporate jerkoffs and if you are really lucky, they even win championship or two. But sometimes you are not lucky and you find yourself stuck cheering for a group of stiffs on skates and it becomes really easy to remember how trivial sports can be, when compared to quiet revolutions in Burma or even just one man's fight against cancer. Sometimes for me it's just a bunch of bulky ballerinas chasing a rubber puck around on skates.

And then sometimes something special happens, and I am reminded why anyone would care about hockey, would care about baseball, would care about football, would care about professional snookers even. Sometimes Mats Sundin takes the all time scoring lead in Maple Leafs history and the ACC erupts into delirious ovation and Mats can just sit there beaming, wiping the hint of tears from the edges of his eyes as he acknowledges the crowd's appreciation as many times as they need it and on times like that, all I can do is sit back and remember why I bother with any of this at all. We're all waiting for those special moments, whether they are as obvious as winning the championship, or the small personal accomplishments that set a benchmark in perseverance and dedication. A shiny headed Saku Koivu stepping on to the ice. Cal Ripken breaking the Iron Man streak. Mats Sundin passing Darryl Sittler. That's why I'm here.

The best part of the night was that Mats received two ovations for the occasion. The first was a false alarm, a ghost assist tacked onto deft goal by Kaberle. Leafs TV, and Mats himself (this guy is Class), were quick to point out that he had not so much touched the puck on the scoring play. Didn't stop the PA from dropping his name, and it certainly didn't stop the crowd from giving Mats his due. The assist was retracted eventually, though Sundin wasn't finished. In the third he sent a cross ice pass that deflected off an Islander defenceman and past Dubielewicz and there was no argument on this one. The officials paused the game, and the cheers rained down as Mats couldn't keep his smile down. We may never see him raise a Stanley Cup, but if he has a bigger smile than the one he had tonight, a Cup win is the only time we'll ever see it.

And how about the game? The Leafs were coming off a 7-1 undressing from the resurgent Hurricanes (who ended Ottawa's win streak tonight, oh yes, oh yes), so of course they responded with eight goals of their own tonight against Long Island, good for an 8-1 win, number two on the season.

Raycroft was solid, though this just creates more questions in net. Raycroft or Toskala? I have a soft spot for Raycroft, and if he's going to pay off like he did tonight, I say ride that pony for all he's worth... It's pretty clear after just one game but Simon "Smache" Gamache should have started the season with the big team. Though the guy looks like he's been called up from the Ozarks, not Ricoh Colosseum... How about Matty Stajan. He had a goal and three assists to give him six points in his first five. I'm going to start calling him the Big Stage... Alex Steen played on the first line and got his first goal for it. I like Steener and Sundin together. It just occurred to me that because this game was broadcast on Leafs TV, a very large number of people who might normally be watching did not, and therefore missed Mats' milestone. This is so wrong. Seeing it on the highlight reel is not the same.


PS I'm just finding this out now, but Mike Comrie has hooked up with Hilary Duff which is both non sequitur and a decent explanation for his strong start. It also raises the number of famous hockey girlfriends in the NHL to, by my count, two. I expect the LA Kings' youth brigade to get working on this shortage. I mean, if the sight of Anze Kopitar doesn't get you hot...

Monday, October 08, 2007

Oh, Ok, It's Just The Cancer

Back off on Jason Blake guys, he's got the cancer. It's called chronic myelogenous leukemia which must also be known as the form of cancer for the busy, modern man-about-town who simply does not have the time to commit for lengthy rounds of chemotherapy. It's eminently treatable with just a few pills a day say doctors, which is good - this is not Phil Kessel redux. Not to lose sight of the only reason we care about Mr. Blake's health, he won't be missing any hockey. This must be the most civilized, agreeable form of cancer there is. I think most Leaf fans, on hearing the word "leukemia" linked to their newest saviour three games into his blue and white career were not thinking, "I hope the Blake family all the best, and a speedy recovery."

More like, "Who the hell is going to play with Mats now?"

But it's all moot. The little lug'll be fine, so it's ok to joke. It would be different if it was a more malignant strain; if Jason Blake's life was at stake. Then the question would be, "Does a dead player's salary count against the cap?"


Sunday, October 07, 2007

This is a Real Fear of Mine

Sometimes when I watch my Leafs stumbled around the rink I start to worry that the last goal they scored will be the last goal they ever score. I get this unshakable feeling that the Leafs' tentative, unsure forecheck will never click and that their sloppy passes and weak shots will never connect in any meaningful way. Sometimes they can muster all the creativity, all the originality of a Hallmark greeting card, relying on a lackluster dump'n'chase and far too many weak passes. Watching them, I sometimes think that whichever team holds the record for most shut-outs against in one season doesn't have to worry much longer.

The bright-side, if there is one, is that when the Leafs do score - yeah it happens every now and then - it feels like they have defied some incredible odds to put the puck in the back of the net. To me, with every goal it feels as if they have accomplished so much more than I had any right to ever expect. Each Leaf goal counts extra for me, each Leaf goal is something to cherish and hold on to because who knows how long it will be before the next one will show up. The longest goalless streak in league history always feels just around the corner.

Every time a Leaf pass is intercepted in the neutral zone or another blue and white rush crashes into the opposing d-line only to be stopped in their tracks, every time an opposing goalie makes a save he has no business saving it just serves as further proof as to the futility of the Leafs' offence. The tools to put it together seem to be there, they just need to find where they lost the instruction manual.


Friday, October 05, 2007

How About Those Third Periods

Vesa Toskala over Andrew Raycroft? Yeah? For real? Wrong again Maurice...Two games in and Toronto has a recurring theme going in the third period. Those late goals are brutal... Mats Sundin did what he couldn't last year, tie Daddy Sittler for goals as a Leaf... Me and Matt Stajan have this thing going where I make fun of him, and then he goes and scores a goal. Two games straight now. Hey Matty, I gave your mom syphilis... I think Darren Dutchyshen does coke. I can't explain him any other way... Wake me up next October...


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Meditations on a Loss

This is great. It's only a game into the regular season and we already get to second guess Paul Maurice. Raycroft over Toskala? Yeah? For real? Oh this is just the start. Toskala will start game two, and Ottawa will win, because they're Ottawa, and everyone will be all, Toskala over Raycroft? Yeah? For real? This is going to be a fun season, I can tell.

The Leafs were competitive, especially during the second, but Ottawa ramped it up in the third and Heatley, who I really thought was heading to free agency next season, rewarded the team that had rewarded him so handsomely with a pair of goals. He's averaging almost a goal per game when he faces Toronto. Raycroft was ok, and I don't want to blame the loss on him. How about a powerplay that couldn't score? And how about Wade Redden, who looked like he had a personal vendetta against Toronto's fourth line. I like this side of Redden. Kudos to the Leafs for getting Ottawa to sink to that level. Or it might just be Mighty Duck syndrome. Everybody wants the fighting majors these days.

Andy the Woz was solid, having to go one on one with Heatley a couple times. Antropov is gonna have one of those good seasons. I'll keep saying it. I made fun of Matt Stajan yesterday, and then he scored. Hey Matt, your face is stupid.

Oh and in "hey he's just noticing this now?" news, Pierre Maguire is not very good at his job. There is no law of commentating that states that the quality of commentating increases proportional to the number of decibels you can hit. In fact it's probably the reverse. Gord Miller is also pretty blah. And poor Dave Randorf, I associate his voice with B-grade world championships and Spengler Cups. I can't take the guy seriously. While I'm criticizing TSN, Kanye is not the right musical artist to be sponsoring four middle aged white guys talking about hockey. It only leads to Bob MacKenzie namedropping Fiddy, and this is not something anyone needs to hear, ever.


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The Toronto Maple Leafs: A Pre-Mortem

Leafs start the season tomorrow and as much as I want to be optimistic about these guys, it's hard to do. Safety Razor and Toskles failed completely to instill any reason for confidence in Toronto's goaltending situation. Yeah, the pre-season doesn't matter. But does Toskala really think having the Leafs full roster in front of him is going to really make that much of a difference? Has he seen Toronto's starting roster? Matty Stajan is our number two centre.

Injuries to Wellwood and Colaiacovo hurt hard. This was supposed to Wellwood's Year. Same for Carlo. Why doesn't Belak ever get injured.

I like the the prospective fourth line of Devereaux-Newbury-Battaglia. That's a scrappy line. Blake-Sundin-Anybody is shaping up like it might be worth the hype it gets. After that I don't know. Antropov will have a big year. He has to. The Woz will final get the chance he deserves but I don't think there's room back there for Anton Stralman. Maybe once they trade McCabe...

Opening two straight against Ottawa doesn't help anyone, but otherwise October looks pretty winnable for the Leafs. Nine games at home to just four on the road and games against potential punching bags like Long Island, Washington and Florida. That would be cautious optimism I'm trying to express.

Game one starts 7:30 tomorrow, but I'm in class till eight. I forgot to schedule my classes around the Leafs schedule, again. Does this make me somehow less of a fan?

Yeah, probably.


Endnotes: Wikipedia has a list of properly sourced hockey nicknames and is totally not something I just made up. I'm done.