My Photo With* the Stanley Cup

The Stanley Cup is visiting the Portland area, part of its summer PR tour (in these tough economic times, I guess even icons have to promote). Hockey’s great trophy, which was originally a decorative English punch bowl, was downtown today. It’s also visiting a couple of local ice arenas, and Captain Ron’s Sports Bar & Grill in Sherwood, where my hockey team used to drink. It’s going to all the storied places!

Anyhow, it was appearing today at Pioneer Square, at lunch. Time for a field trip to see the hallowed cup, which has been drop-kicked onto the Rideau Canal (1905), stolen (1907), forgotten in Montreal (1924), stolen again (1970), and sunk in a swimming pool (1993).

Despite (or maybe because of) its colorful history, it’s one of the most cherished prizes in sports.  Captains of hockey teams that win conference championships have a superstition of refusing to touch the conference trophy–they don’t want to jinx their chances of lifting the Cup.

Actually, its popularity extends much farther than NHL hockey teams. For decades, the two titans of Canadian beer production, Molson’s and Labatt, engaged in epic, stalemated trench warfare for market share. Then one year Labatt hit on the idea of including miniature Stanley Cups in specially marked cases of beer. In a market where a fraction of a percentage point gain in market share is big news, they scored the equivalent of a marketing hat trick. The lesson for you marketing students is that the gift-in-the-Happy-Meal model works for beer drinkers too–but only if you give them exactly the right gift.

Back to today. I could have my picture taken with the cup if I donated to charity, but by the time I arrived, the square was full of people:

I didn’t have time to wait in line. So I walked out on that cement ledge on the left, and got a little closer:

Better, but not that great. Then I talked a nice girl, who was taking a lunch break from jury duty, into taking my picture:

Sure, you could quibble, that the Cup is small, and out of focus, and 100 ft. behind me. All true. On the other hand, I paid it some respect. Unlike the dork in the red t-shirt (below) …

… who had his picture taken–but only after he’d put his stuffed purple octopus in the top.

Well, whatever. Mission accomplished, with only a slight asterisk. Oh, and Sherwood Helping Hands? I owe you a donation.

A Prayer for Halak

It’s Stanley Cup Playoff time, which means it’s time for hockey prayers. Here’s one (I didn’t write it):

HALAK, Toi qui es dans les buts, Que ton plastron soit sanctifié, Que tes pads règnent, Que ta vue ne soit jamais obstruée, À cinq contre cinq ou en désavantage. Donne-nous aujourd’hui notre victoire en série. Pardonne-nous nos huées Comme nous pardonnons aussi a Melançon qui nous a offensés Et ne nous soumets pas a la…… défaite, Mais délivre nous de Crosby. Amen!

Jaroslav Halák:

The Power of the Pants

In a post-Olympic praise-and-blame column for Yahoo sports, Dan Wetzel mostly got it right, calling curling a winner:

What other sport could offer this sentence: The Danish women’s skip, who is a part-time topless model, broke into tears because the Canadian crowd was too rowdy.

This isn’t your father’s curling anymore. The sport received wall-to-wall television coverage in Canada, the United States and China, the latter a rising power. Long mocked as shuffleboard on ice, curling suddenly was cool. It’s the unlikely breakout sport of the Olympics.

He also gave rightful props to Petra Majdic, the Slovenian cross-country skier who crashed during a training run, falling off an embankment and into a small creek. Despite being injured, she went on to compete and win a bronze medal–despite having four broken limbs, and a collapsed lung.

However, Wetzel said fashion was a loser:

The Norwegian men curled in checkered pants. The American snowboarders had baggy jeans — where is General Larry Platt when you need him? In men’s figure skating there was a skeleton costume, a sailor and a farmer. Johnny Weir ported “male cleavage.” The hot items on the street were silly red mittens with a white maple leaf on the palm. Somehow they tricked Wayne Gretzky into wearing them.

True enough I suppose, but Wetzel overlooks the fact that the Norwegians and their pants won silver medals in men’s curling. Of course, FPI was onto this story from the get-go, noting the intangible advantage such pantwear gave them, not to mention the Facebook fan page.

The trousers that swept all the way to the finals

True, they lost in the finals, but they lost to Kevin Martin’s Canadian team, the favorites (Martin: four-time Brier champion,  three Olympic games, former World Champion and has won eleven Grand Slam titles on the World Curling Tour).

Then other news comes out of Canada, that the silk necktie worn by coach Mike Babcock when the Canadian men’s hockey team defeated the U.S. in overtime is now sold out.

Mike Babcock, sporting his 'lucky' McGill tie. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Despite playing on home ice, the Canadians squeaked by Slovakia and the U.S. to win … clearly, his sartorial lucky charm was effective. (And yes, Virginia, it too has its own Facebook fan page. But with only 1,500 fans.)

So, I dunno. Maybe Wetzel’s right that Johnny Weir shouldn’t have sported pink fringe or cleavage…. but in my mind, there’s no denying the power of the McGill tie–or the Norwegian pants.

When It Is Spring, One Must Wear Daisies

I was in Toronto a couple of weeks ago, while the Stanley Cup was still in progress. That meant Hockey Night in Canada, and that meant color commentator Don Cherry. Now, Don has his problems, but if you’re going to be a color commentator, it doesn’t hurt if you wear something colorful.

Here’s his get-up the night I saw him on TV:

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Daisies. I have nothing more to say.

When Hockey Gets Weird

First, I was on Twitter, and one of the election memes was “Zamboni Palin.” WTF? Turns out it’s from an upcoming interview with People Magazine, in which she also considers herself an intellectual (more here).

… well, “intellectual” might be a stretch, since last I checked, she’s on record as mentioning that “dinosaurs and humans walked the Earth at the same time.”

Anyhow, it also turns out that one of her intellectual excursions is into baby naming, and she told People that she always wanted a son named Zamboni. No, I’m not kidding.

Then, in breaking news from Alabama, this past weekend’s Disney on Ice show screwed up the rink in Huntsville that the local hockey team (the Havoc) had to cancel their game. (Insert your skating rodent joke here.)

Finally, this verbatim headline: “Swedish hockey fans delay match with dildo downpour.”

I won’t bother explaining. I know you’re going to click the link anyway.

The Other Thursday Night Massacre

This Thursday we get to look forward to Sarah Palin debating Joe Biden (perhaps you missed her interview with Katie Couric?).

But what about next Thursday? Ahh, next Thursday my Toronto Maple Leafs play the Detroit Red Wings. The good news is that expatriate me will get to see the Leafs on TV. The bad news? Let’s let Sports Illustrated’s Scott Wraight explain:

The mighty get mightier. That was the sentiment around the league after the Red Wings snagged Marian Hossa in free agency. Sometimes things just aren’t fair. According to the Edmonton Journal, coach Mike Babcock told Hossa “see you soon” during the ceremonial handshake at the end of last season’s Cup Final. Veteran Chris Chelios also reportedly called Hoss to convince him to come to Motown for more than just a chance to win a title. I won’t be surprised one bit if the Wings end up winning back-to-back Cups.

(Wraight rates the Wings number 1 in his “power rankings”)

Webster’s defines “agony” as extreme and generally prolonged pain. Leafs fans would classify agony as no postseason appearances since 2003-04 and no Cup since 1967. That won’t change as management takes the long-term approach. “If you asked us if you were to pay for a Stanley Cup team this year, but you were to be lousy for the next five years, would you do it? The answer from the ownership point of view, absolutely not,” co-owner Larry Tanenbaum told the Toronto Star. Is that really how Leafs fans feel?

(Wraight rates the Wings number 30 — that’s dead last — in his “power rankings”)

So … who d’ya think’s gonna fare worse?

Hockey Aptonyms

An aptonym is one term for someone whose name is apt for what they do. The Freakonomics blog loves aptonyms, and there’s a good discussion of them on Slate. The Slate article notes that they’ve been talked about since Roman days, when they were nomen et omen. They’ve also been called “aptronyms,” “namephreaks,” “eponymy,” “cognomen syndrome” (which sounds painful), “nominative determinism” (which sounds like crap straight out of my old philosophy books).

But the Slate list leaves out hockey players, so I’m adding to the world’s knowledge of these. Without further ado or Zamboni laps:

The National Hockey League All-Aptonym Team

First Team:

  • Brad Bombardir, Defense, Nashville Predators
  • Radek Bonk, Center, Nashville Predators
  • Brian Savage, Left Wing, Philadelphia Flyers

Second Team:

  • Jon Quick, Goalie, Los Angeles Kings
  • Derian Hatcher, Defense, Philadelphia Flyers

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Savage bonkery.

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Radek getting bonked. (Or so implied the photo caption.)

Elegy for a Vanishing Pastime

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Every so often I come across someone living a life I wished I’d lived, who’s written a piece I wished I’d written. I came across such a person and essay today in the New York Times. The piece is called “Elegy for a Vanishing Pastime,” and it’s by Charles McGrath.

Here’s the lead:

IN the New England of my youth, back when we still had winter, ice — the kind you skate on — was as reliable as the calendar. It usually turned up overnight, smooth and glistening, the week after Thanksgiving, and it lasted, with perhaps a minor thaw or two, until Washington’s Birthday at least. What you did every day back then was skate — which is to say, play hockey. After school, your mom dropped you off at the pond, the lake, the frozen river, the flooded playground, and she picked you up when it was dark. On Saturdays she made you a baloney sandwich to take along, but by the time you remembered to eat it, it was frozen hard as a puck.

Talking about the ice this winter:

While it lasted, though, the ice was as good as it has ever been — as black and hard as a mirror. Your skate blades left marks like an engraving tool, and the surface was so free of ripples that if you looked down you could see plump orange carp cruising under your feet like submarines.

And if that hasn’t persuaded you, you’re an idiot here’s the end of the piece:

… it wasn’t nearly as much fun as skating outdoors. Nothing is — or nothing you do in daylight, anyway — and it’s sad to think that the practice could one day die out, another casualty of global warming. Archaeologists dredging the pond someday in the future may come across a puck, a waterlogged stick — maybe the very ones we lost this year on Martin Luther King’s Birthday — and wonder how on earth these implements ever found their way to such a beautiful and unlikely place, where fish swim and waterfowl congregate. People then will still skate, I trust, and still play hockey, but not with the same freedom and the same joy. Something will be gone from our collective muscle memory.

There’s even a slide show. Go. Read. Now.

(Image credit: Flickr user Eastick East)

Hockey Analysis: Not Rocket Science

Every weekend during the NHL All-Star weekend, they do a skills competition, which is good fun. One of the competitions is the hardest shot. The reigning champion for all-time hardest shot is Al Iafrate, who in 1993 uncorked a 105.2 mph bomb.

(NHLers don’t need helmets for this part of the competition, so that night Iafrate uncorked another bomb: a combination comb-over and mullet. The flashback video was fairly horrifying.)

In the competition there’s a fair bit of time in between shots, so the hockey analysts were going on about composite sticks, and boy, don’t they help the guys shoot harder.

“Yeah, just look at the flex on that stick,” one analyst said, as they froze the screen to show a stick bowing as it connected with the puck.

Then they interviewed Ron Wilson, the coach of the San Jose Sharks, who says it’s added 10 mph to his slap shot.

“Boy, just think how hard the older guys could shoot now!” one analyst enthused.

At some point I thwacked my forehead in exasperation. According to these same analysts, the “modern” NHL player is allegedly stronger, fitter and more skilled than pucksters of yore (sorry, bad phrases become me tonight), and many of them are certainly taller. Zdeno Chara is 6’9; Iafrate a mere 6’3″.

Boy, I just hate it when hockey analysts are dense. If the composite sticks are so freakin’ good, why hasn’t anyone beaten Iafrate’s record? Why hasn’t Chara, who’s been over 100 mph two years in a row?

Because composite sticks don’t help you shoot harder, that’s why. Duh. Below is Al MacInnis, six-time winner of the hardest shot competition. Note the flex of the wooden stick.

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Demented Leafs Fan Paints a Plate

There’s some sort of environmental debilitation that results from growing up in Toronto as a hockey fan. It’s an affliction characterized by a hopeless yearning for a team that is, at best, mediocre, and destined never to win the Stanley Cup—and thus destined always to break your heart.

This used to be a common affliction in Boston before the Red Sox won the World Series. Now only Chicago Cubs fans suffer from it.

In Toronto, where hockey’s spiritual gravity is equal to football + baseball + basketball, this means rooting for the Toronto Maple Leafs, despite their 40-year Stanley Cup drought. Who can explain this passion? It’s certainly not rational. I mean, honestly? who puts Maple Leafs license plate frames on their car?

So, when I decorated a plate at work a couple weeks ago, there was really only one design decision to make: blue maple leaf on white, or white on blue?

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