Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Where is the honour?

Ok let’s start the debate again. Was Matt Cooke’s blindside hit on Marc Savard legal or not? It was clearly cruel and intentional but was it illegal?

I have listened to the guys who call themselves “old school” and claim its part of the game and Savard has a responsibility to protect himself.

I am old school but obviously I went to a very different school. I love hard hockey but I greatly dislike hockey without honor and that hit had no honor. I watched it 20 times on Youtube and Cooke clearly saw what he wanted to do and also clearly knew Savard had no clue he was behind him. That is the key for me. Hitting a man like that simply because you can, knowing he doesn’t see it coming is just wrong.

I have spoken to Matt Cooke several times and have always enjoyed the conversations. He seems like a wonderful guy, but you can’t escape the history. All you have to do is type his name into Youtube and you can find all the video you want. His hit on Shean Donovan that blew his knee out. His head shot on Artem Anisimov which got him a measly 2 game suspension. The time he kicked Detroit goaltender Chris Osgood. His kneeing of young Zach Bogosian. Blowing out Eric Cole’s knee. Slew footing Kurtis Foster. Crosschecking Andrei Markov from behind into the boards. Anyone can go to Youtube and type in his name and these are some of the videos’ that come up, but these aren’t the only incidents.

There is a very serious pattern here. The pattern is a complete disregard for other player’s safety. There also seems to be too much evidence to suggest this is just a series of coincidences from a player who has to play on the “edge”.

My question is, why is a player with this history not seeing the level of supplementary discipline escalating? You don’t injure this many people by accident.

Talk of a “new rule” this summer to be added which will curb these kind of hits kind of makes me chuckle. The NHL rule book is already twice as thick as it needs to be. Officials can’t call current rules consistently enough now and we are going to add more rules? How about this for a revelation. The rule already exists. It’s called intent to injure. That is already in the book and is next to never used despite the fact players in this league intend to injure each other every night.

Officials need to use the power they currently have to do their part. The NHL needs supplementary discipline at a high enough level to change behavior and players need to find a way to inject a little honor back into the game.

The countdown clock is ticking. We are getting closer and closer to the next on-ice death. Mark my words it will happen and when it does all 3 of the above mentioned bodies will have questions to answer.

See you at the rink.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Gord is the hardest working man in hockey.

I want you to know a little bit about my longtime partner on radio, Gord Wilson. You hear him on the radio doing games and likely have little understanding of what goes on in his life each day.
First you should know he is and has always been a hockey junkie of the highest order, so while his schedule seems ridiculous, I can assure you he loves every day of it.

Let’s take Saturday for example. Before anyone else from the media is at the rink, Gord is already there with his suit on. He doesn’t have the luxury of going home during the afternoon to change, so he is ready to rumble before any of the rest of us are even there. Gord is MCing an ESSO fan event which will happen during the morning skate and he is at the rink early to prep for that and start gathering information which he will use in the afternoon to build his depth chart for the Leaf game later that night.

After the MC thing is over, he grabs his notes and a pen and heads up to the stands to watch the morning skate and take note of line combinations and who is missing, who is playing with whom and gather tid bits from some of our friends who cover the Leafs to add to our radio broadcast.

When the skate is over, it’s downstairs to listen to Cory Clouston’s media conference and after that a separate one-on-one interview Gord does with Corey to run during the pre-game coaches’ show. Right after that he is handed a mic by a camera man and it’s into the locker room to interview players for Sens TV. When that is completed its back into the stands to watch the Leafs skate and take more notes before heading downstairs to talk to Leaf players and listen to Ron Wilson.

One third of Gord’s working day is now done. He goes back to our broadcast office, takes his jacket off and gets down to work. On each game day we each construct a depth chart. It’s a layout of line combinations, league and personal stats of all the players in the game and taking all the tid bits both researched and discussed in the morning and logging them onto the depth chart for easy access during the game. It takes on average a little over 3 hours to build a depth chart for each game.

Since this is a Saturday, Steve Lloyd is off and that means Gord is also hosting the 2 hour pre-game show on the Team 1200. Gord is not the kind of person to just walk into the booth, flip the switch and start filling time. He wants it to be current, compelling and a must-listen for hockey fans. That takes work. Gord collects interviews and sound bites from earlier in the day and gets them ready for drop-in’s during the pre-game show. He gets his out of town scoreboard information ready which entails researching what is going on with each team playing in the NHL that night. He then writes his opening to the show and lays out a plan to synchronize when topics will be raised and how much time each discussion point will be given.

When most of the rest of the media heads to the meal room for the pre-game meal, Gord heads to the booth upstairs to get ready for the pre-game show. At 5pm he is on the air and first up is a conversation with Bob Mackenzie. You don’t talk to this man without being prepared and Gord has already figured out every question he is going to ask Bob. The 2 hours fly by as Gord controls and guides the 4 ring circus of himself, Mike Eastwood, Bruce Garrioch and yours truly. When that ends its on to a 3 hour game which includes 2 intermissions, both of which Gord hosts and digs into what has happened in the game as well as what is going on in the rest of the NHL.
Usually the first commercial break in the 2nd period is when Gord runs down the hall to go to the bathroom. You may want to listen to that some time because if you know the inside story you will get the inside joke. I often ask Gord a question about something that happened during the 30 or 40 seconds of play he missed while running back from the bathroom. A question he cant possibly know the answer to, but I love asking him anyway just to hear the imaginative, vague answer which is always a masterful bluff.

When the game ends, Gord and I go through the game summary, pick the 3 stars along with the hardest working Senator. When the stars are announced in the rink, they always say it’s the Team 1200 broadcast crew who picks them, but really that is Gord too. When the selections are required in order to radio down and grab the guys as they leave the ice, the game is actually still on and I am still calling it. So while I have input during the game, it is Gord again who is left with the responsibility to make the final picks and fill out the form while trying to keep at least one eye on the game which is still going on.

Now our part of the actual game coverage ends but that is not the end of Gord's night. He heads straight downstairs and does a post game on-line show for Bell which begins as soon as he gets back down to the locker room area. When that is done, Gord's working day is done.

Very few people know what goes into a hockey broadcast and nobody puts more into their broadcast day than Gord Wilson and he does it every day with Professionalism, poise, good nature and great patience. Another part of Gord’s daily life is babysitting his 2 play-by-play announcers. Both Dave Schreiber and I rely on Gord for a great many things, some of which have nothing to do with hockey.

Gord and I have known each other for almost 25 years and very few people know me better. Gord has always been my behavior monitor. I wish I were not this way, but I can often say some inappropriate things both on and off the air. I am a blunt and often sarcastic person and Gord is the one who lets me know which things require my inside voice and not my outside voice. He has saved me from myself many, many times.

Our broadcasting styles are very different. I pride myself on not becoming emotional while doing a game. I feel I lose concentration and the ability to accurately describe what’s going on if I don’t treat the game like a science project which is to be described correctly, analyzed correctly and broadcast correctly. Gord is the opposite. He wears his emotions on his sleeve and you are never wondering how he feels. I believe that is why we have made a very good team for a very long time. My weaknesses are his strengths and vice versa.

Selfishly I love working with Gord because he gets my sense of humor and we truly enjoy each others company in the booth. Both of us know exactly how lucky we are to have these jobs and we never take them for granted and with that shared appreciation of our circumstance comes a shared gratitude for each night we get to spend in a booth calling the greatest game in the world.

Gord Wilson is a talented and outstanding broadcaster who is rarely appreciated for how much he does and how well he does it.

I just wanted the rest of you to know.

See you at the rink.

Just what the Doctor ordered

Just before the NHL traded deadline, Senators GM Bryan Murray brought in Matt Cullen from Carolina and Andy Sutton from the Islanders. Neither move brought a shudder from the rest of the NHL. There was no need in other Eastern Conference cities to make a move to match the bomb blast in Ottawa. Neither player created a feeling amongst other teams that they had to match nukes.

Both these players however are very important in subtle ways. Neither is a front line player. Neither is a game breaker. Neither is expected to come in and be “the man”. They are expected to fill a role.

Cullen is expected to be experienced and versatile. Play centre, wing and the point on the power play. He does 2 of the 3 very well. He does seem lost a bit when he plays the wing. Sutton is expected to play solid, boring defence in his own end. It is solid but not so boring when he uses that 6’6” frame to crush someone into the boards. Both have plenty of experience and most importantly the maturity to understand roles, situations and fitting in.

Sutton has walked into the lineup seamlessly and looks like he’s always been a Senator. Cullen has had a slower path to finding his spot and chemistry with his line mates, but as a smart veteran he will figure it out.

There have been other deadline deals that looked good at the start, but turned out to be busts. Many of those were not successful because the players being brought in were expected to play roles greater than they were able to. Murray and Clouston are not asking Cullen and Sutton to do anything they haven’t done regularly for the last 10 years.

These 2 players may quietly end up being 2 of the best deadline deals this franchise has ever made.

See you at the rink.

Hallmark has gone Hockey

The NHL trade deadline has now passed and we will all speculate and guess about what deals were good and which ones were bad. We will all try to figure out who won and who lost. It caused me to think about this whole day as I watched Sportsnet and TSN and listened to the Team 1200 and the constant pinging of my blackberry all day.

TSN has done a masterful job of becoming the sports broadcasting version of Hallmark. The Hallmark greeting card company decades ago realized that by creating events out of what had been loosely held traditions, was good for business. People would need their products to celebrate those events. Things like mothers day, fathers day and others were literally the invention of Hallmark. It was a genius move.

The CBC has done that with Kraft Hockeyville and HockeyDay in Canada. TSN has done the same thing with the world junior hockey tournament. It used to be another one of those age group international hockey tournaments that no one other than parents and scouts paid much attention to. TSN has turned it into an event in Canada almost as big as the Grey Cup, the Briar or the NHL playoffs. Most of the same players took part in the world under 17 championship and nobody really cared about that. The reason is no network has turned it into an “event”.

The same holds true for the NHL trade deadline. It used to be a conference call that everyone knew about the day after it happened and life leading up to it and just after it, didn’t seem all that different. TSN changed all that and now every media outlet treats it like an event with special coverage and countdowns and tallies. It is now like an election.

I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing but I know it is now a “thing”. I love it! I love the excitement, the wondering, the anticipation and the hundreds of thousands of amateur GM’s who now break down every trade that either was or wasn’t made.

See you at the rink.

Congrats Vancouver

The Olympic Games are now over. It is very easy to pick out every little thing that didn’t go as planned and drone on and on about some poor decisions. Putting a chain link fence around the flame was a bad idea. Karin Lee Gartner and Gaetan Boucher not being a part of the opening or closing ceremonies was a bad idea. Drinking beer and smoking cigars on the ice was a bad idea. Yes all these things are small negatives. But overall only a grim pessimist would focus on those types of things instead of what the games really brought out.

These Olympic Games may be the best thing to happen to this country since confederation. In my lifetime I can not remember anything that tied this country together like these games. The pride in our athletes was topped only by our pride in Vancouver and how well they hosted and that is topped only by how we as Canadians embraced our song, our country and most importantly each other.

It is certainly important that the rest of the world walks away from the games with a positive impression of Canada and Canadians, but selfishly I believe the greatest legacy will not be the facilities and infrastructure but rather the connection Canadians seem to feel in each other. The only other thing since confederation to unite this country in this way has been war. This is a far better form of national glue than the death and sacrifice of war.

Congratulations to the organizers, the broadcasters who brought it all into our homes, the people of BC for selling us this bill of goods and congratulations for all of us skeptical and reserved Canadians who bought what they were selling.

See you at the rink.