Why I’m Hoping For a Washington Vs. Vancouver Stanley Cup Final

May 8, 2009

By Heather Parry… If years and years of watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs has taught me anything, it’s that miracles can happen.

And by “miracles” of course, I mean unexpected upsets resulting from hard work, determination, and just a little bit of luck.

For this reason, I don’t feel quite as ridiculous as I should when I say that I’m hoping for a 2009 finals series that pitches the Vancouver Canucks against the Washington Capitals.

Yeah, yeah, I know what everyone says: the Caps will never get past “human wall” Tim Thomas and his Boston Bruins.

On principle, I agree.

Yet there’s something that stirs within me watching the ever-growing strength of Washington’s second and third lines, and their new-found confidence in front of the enigmatic Varlamov that says different.

Is it hope, perhaps?

Sure, they haven’t even got past Sidney Crosby and Pittsburgh yet, but through my rose-tinted glasses it doesn’t seem all that unlikely, even in the wake of tonight’s OT loss.

It’s not just that I want them to win the conference either. I specifically want them to meet the Canucks at the end.

Again, I know that the surprisingly hot Blackhawks and whoever comes out of the Anaheim-Detroit series triumphant (Detroit, surely) both stand in the way of Roberto Luongo hoisting, or rather posing with, the Campbell Trophy, but in the realm of my fantasy final that’s all just a side story.

Just imagine it: Varlamov, the sprawling spider of a man who’s suddenly appeared from nowhere, up against the much more experienced but sporadically inconsistent Luongo, Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows getting shirty with the likes of Donald Brashear, and king of speed Alex Ovechkin coming up against the indefatigable Sedin brothers.

It would be hockey heaven.

It would also be a triumph of youthful vitality—the kids beating the old hands of Boston and Detroit, and pushing themselves to the very limits of their strength and speed.

Most of all though, it would be horrendously exciting; end to end, exhausting, and thoroughly thrilling.

Here’s hoping.

Crosby Vs. Ovechkin: Youth and Young Manhood

March 10, 2009

by Heather Parry… The recent Pittsburgh-Washington games have dragged up the overdone yet always entertaining Sidney Crosby versus Alexander Ovechkin debate.

The media loves nothing more than to pit these two against each other, and the fans gladly follow, because it’s fun.

What’s striking me lately is not how different the two are, but how similar they’re becoming. You only had to see Crosby’s laughable attempts to rough up his Russian counterpart a couple of weeks ago, and the subsequent snub from the latter, to see how the rivals are rubbing off on each other.

Yet, there still seems to be one defining difference between them: how they deal with their age. At 21 and 23, its obvious to all—including themselves—that they’re still growing as players.

Together, they may well have achieved more than any pair of youngsters in the show has managed to, but the fact still remains that they are still kids. Yet, one seems to see youth as his enemy, whereas the other sees it as his friend.

Watching Ovechkin play is always an exercise in how to be young.

With the energy of a 4 year old, and a recklessness only found in those young enough never to have injured themselves, he makes every other player in the league look like Chris Chelios, not to mention the fact that every goal he scores could be his first. At the occurrence of a goal, his happiness is extremely intense.

He embraces his youth and is loved for it. Would a more mature player have convinced Evgeni Malkin to dress him up like an idiot on ice for the All-Star skills competition?

No.

Despite all the fevered joy of his game, it’s his immaturity that’s keeping him from moving forward.

He’ll be the kid of the Caps until his game gets more serious and his highs and lows plateau to a more comfortable but much less exciting consistency.

Crosby, on the other hand, is mature enough for the both of them.

The youngest team captain in NHL history, “Sid the Kid” has been a serious game player from his first game—a situation that probably arises from having the expectation of Canada on his shoulders since he was 14.

It makes him a solid player rather than a thrilling one, and ensures that we’ll probably never see him falling out of a shady club with a skinny blond in the postseason.

Yet for all this, he’s still only just old enough to drink in the U.S.

In all respects, then, his age works against him—he wants to be much older than he is.

Like everything repressed, though, when it sneaks out, it comes back with a vengeance.

His inability to take a hard hit, his abject despondency at losing games, and his infamous complaining to the officials are all a result of his otherwise well-hidden youth breaking free from its cage of false maturity in sporadic bursts and vandalizing his reputation as much as possible.

In time, however, Crosby’s control over juvenile outbursts can only get stronger, allowing his game to become ever more stable.

It’s Ovechkin’s youthful vitality, then, that seems destined to wane, leaving his future uncertain and his fans somewhat nervous.

What really sets the league’s best young players apart is their difference in ideals, and while Ovechkin’s love of young might win at the moment, maybe the fact that Crosby strives for young manhood will make him the player of the near future.

The Curse of Leafs Nation

February 6, 2009

by Heather Parry…

I’ve only lived in Toronto for four months.

I’ve never had a poutine, I don’t own hockey skates, and I still pronounce the last ‘T’ in the city’s name. In short, I’m still a foreigner in these here parts.

So why, in a hockey city of five million people, am I one of only a few who seem to appreciate the Toronto Marlies?

It’s the fault of the Maple Leafs.

Let’s look at the facts

- They won their division and came second in their conference last season.

- Their goalie was called up to start for the Leafs.

- You can watch them play for 10 bucks.

In contrast, here’s how the Leafs are doing:

- They are currently fourth out of five in the Northeast Division

- They are nine points shy of a playoff spot.

- They last won their division in 2000, and haven’t made the playoffs since 2004

- They have two goalies both over 30, one of whom is over 40, and who can’t produce a consistent run between them.

- You have to shell out $100 and sell your soul to a broker to get tickets.

Despite this, the Maple Leafs’ average attendance is fifth best out of 30 NHL teams, while the Marlies’ average sits only two places from bottom in a 29-team league.

So why the hell are the Leafs selling out the 18,000-seat ACC while Ricoh Coliseum sits half-full every weekend?

My buddy suggested to me that Torontonians are just spoiled for sport.

Between the Jays, the Leafs, the Raptors, the Argonauts, and the glory of HNIC, people can’t be bothered to sit freezing in the Ricoh watching lower league hockey.

My own situation makes me think there’s a lot of truth in this.

Having been a hockey fan for 16 years, and lived in a country where the vast majority of people don’t even know the sport exists within their borders for all that time, I jump at the chance to watch live games whenever my bank account allows.

I am amazed that I can see the Marlies play at the level closest to the NHL for half the price of a Elite League ticket back home—a league where ex-NHLers are scarce and infamous, despite the fact that they’re clearly past their best (Theo Fleury made quite a splash in the lockout season).

But maybe its not just the prevalence of the Leafs that has left the Marlies out in the cold.

Has the relentless frustration of supporting NHL’s most valuable franchise made Torontonians cautious and mistrusting of potential success?

Has the craving for disappointment become the curse of Leafs Nation?

If that’s the case with you, here’s the cure:

Buy a Marlies ticket instead of a Leafs one, and with the money you’ve saved buy a beer, once every period, at the Ricoh Coliseum once a weekend.

That’ll perk you, and the Marlies, right up.

Hockey Players Could Beat Up My Dad

December 19, 2008

by Heather Parry… I guess everyone whose friends like different sports has had this conversation before.

Its kind of an adult version of the ‘my dad could beat up your dad’ idea: Which sports players are really the best?

I’m as resolutely biased in this game as I was in the kids’ version: hockey players are the ultimate sportsmen and my Dad could totally take yours.

However, I think I’m slightly more justified in championing the athletic prowess of the Gretzkys and Messiers of this world than I was in believing in the decidedly lacklustre fighting skills of a certain Mr. Parry.

To start, hockey players prove their worth—and prove it often.

Not only is the Stanley Cup the hardest sporting trophy to win in terms of playing hours if nothing else. In the climax of the playoffs, a team can be playing four games a week, with the possibility of extensive overtime making that mountain ever more difficult to climb.

This makes the soccer world’s week between final legs seem positively pathetic.

It’s not just the post-season either. From September to April, the schedules look almost as gruelling, with the struggle to fit in 82 games throwing up some hectic months.

And not just that—they’re tough.

Though I’ve never actually been hit by a Canadian brick wall moving at speed, I can imagine that it is neither pleasant nor trivial. Yet these guys react most of the time as if they’ve merely had a small pillow thrown at them.

Even when the force of the hit is too much to be denied, they still carry on.

For a brilliant example of this resilience, check out the video of Sami Kapanen getting sent into orbit by Darcy Tucker from a few years ago. He was laid out to the point of unconsciousness and with little to no idea where he was. Kapanen still managed to drag his mangled frame to the bench, allowing Forsberg to swiftly replace him and score.

It’s a far cry from most sports stars, who throw themselves to the floor screaming because someone looked at them harshly.

Yet this toughness isn’t enough.

There’s a name for players who rely solely on physical presence in the game and its very telling. These ‘goons’ lack the intricate puck-handling skills needed to reach the very top.

To succeed in hockey, you have to cradle the puck like a particularly ill kitten, play with it gently, then send it into warp speeds milliseconds later.

If you can do this while deking through defense like a warm knife through butter, then score while you’re on your back and facing the boards—that’s just peachy.

The glue that holds these opposing attributes of strength and gentleness together in the perfect cadence is intelligence. A good hockey player not only pulls tricks and lays people out, but knows when to do which.

This intelligence shows itself in their public appearances and post-match interviews. I’m not saying they could explain the theory of relativity, but they’ve got grey matter where its needed and their vocabularies tend to extend somewhat further than the phrase “at the end of the day”.

All this is held together by a gentlemanly conduct that necessitates respect and gives it back in equal measure. It’s a cliche now that “what happens on the ice, stays on the ice”, but it’s one that is thankfully still around and for the most part, still true (with the notable exceptions of Patrick Roy and Sean Avery).

However, the thing that really raises hockey players in our esteem is their ability to do all this with a sense of fun and a pure love for the sport.

The things they might have to do aren’t always easy, but like all good dads, they make it look like a walk in the park.

In fact, age and rational thinking have overturned my original, naively but strongly held belief.

In the cold light of day, it’s true, though it may be difficult to say: hockey players could definitely beat up my dad.

Turning to the Blue Side: How Leafs Nation Got Me

December 18, 2008

by Heather Parry… Since moving to Toronto just three months ago, I’ve been fairly ambivalent about the Toronto Maple Leafs.

As a New Jersey fan, and longtime NHL-watcher, the Leafs have always been something of a comedy team for me.

Their apparent inability to bring home anything of worth in the last few decades has provided me with an unlimited stream of heckles with which to taunt my Leafs-fan buddies.

That’s not to say that they’re not talented, but it’s just too much fun to rinse my friends whenever the opportunity arises—and when they’re Leafs fans, it arises often.

However, the potent love of the team that penetrates most areas of Toronto life has been swaying me ever since I arrived.

The attitude of most Torontonians is this: Yeah, they suck—but we love ‘em.

I perhaps didn’t realize the extent to which this had been affecting me until I stumbled on some Leafs-Devils tickets for Dec 16. And by “stumbled upon” I mean “lopped my arm off and sold it to medical science to get.”

The big question was this: Who am I supporting?

I had bought a cheap vintage Leafs jersey a few weeks previously, with the excuse that I just like collecting shirts, and living in Toronto and not owning one is obscene.

Evidently, the jersey meant more to me than I had first imagined.

Leaving my blood-red Devils shirt at home, I found myself sitting in 318 in the blue and white cheering for no one in particular. I half-heartedly applauded the Devs in the first period, mainly as no one around me seemed to be bothered either way.

After a couple of goals and a couple of fights though, things began to change.

Taking the cue from their team’s second goal, the ACC crowd suddenly woke up and started making some noise even when the overlord of the arena didn’t tell them to.

“I love you Tomas! I love you Tomas Kaberle!” That was persistently screamed from behind me, and the Leafs, if not Kaberle himself, fed off this appreciation and paid it back threefold.

By the time the Devils evened up the score at 2-2, the Leafs looked electrified, Toskala looked on fire, and I actually felt excited for the Leafs on every breakaway, no matter how unlikely a goal seemed.

I was definitely not a neutral bystander.

Overtime came and went, and I finally realised that the atmosphere had got me: I wanted the blues to take the game in the shootout.

The teams seemed even in the first few attempts, but Jason Blake’s do-or-die spin move, that thankfully “did”, and ended up as the GWG, left us all, and especially my friend at his first NHL match, wide-eyed in disbelief and deafened by the sound of a Leafs Nation finally having something to cheer about.

It also put the last nail in the coffin of my Leafs pessimism.

I was wearing the shirt, I was cheering the goals, and my heart was thumping for a Leafs win over my much loved New Jersey Devils.

Despite all my best efforts, it seems I’ve turned to the blue side.

So they’d better start winning.

A Beginner’s Guide to the Blue Jays; or Why Baseball Isn’t As Bad As You Think

December 8, 2008

by Heather Parry… 11 years ago, on her first visit to Toronto, a young Heather Parry sat in her hotel room with her dad, watching a Blue Jays game on the TV.

Not really understanding what was going on, and seeing nothing to get excited about, they roundly decided that baseball was crap, and they should probably stick with hockey.

Just over a decade later, that same Parry daughter finds herself back in TO, this time to live for as long as they’ll let her stay, and she’s changed her opinion on this most peculiar of sports.

It was the lure of $7 tickets that ensnared me into attending my first Blue Jays game, a little more than a week after I arrived in glorious Ontario.

With nothing much else to do in between finding ourselves places to live, a few friends and I set off to the venue formerly known as the Skydome (surely a far better name than the corporation-ass-sucking current one) to see the Jays in action against Boston Red Sox (although we’re not sure why a team would be named after an item of clothing).

We weren’t prepared for what we were about to see.

After reaching our seats in the nosebleeds, we settled down into what must be the most relaxed sporting atmosphere in the civilised world.

No one complained when we walked in late and had to constrict their view to get to our seats; people chat away pleasantly while keeping a cursory eye on the game; the guys next to us didn’t even mind when the foreigners had to ask them what exactly was going on.

Several of the sportsmen in front of us were bordering treacherously on the “overweight” line, and the pace of the game left a lot to be desired.

Yet after a while I find myself enjoying the whole scene. You get a beer, have some peanuts and catch some rays without having to worry about someone scoring while you’re looking the other way.

As soon as something interesting happens, the crowd lets you know, and you have chance to focus on the play before the batter finishes his run or someone catches the ball.

Strangest of all, though, is the crowd’s willingness to participate.

They may sit quietly the majority of the time, but when asked to stand and sing along with the laughable song and accompanying graphics on the screen….they do! They play ridiculous chants, and the crowd sings along. They start a Mexican wave, and everyone joins in.

The whole time I don’t hear a heckle, or an abusive call, or someone complaining about the fact that the Jays go the whole game without getting a home run or doing whatever else it is that’s positive.

What’s going on?

The bottom line seems to be this: it’s not about winning; it’s about having a good time.

The message that Phys Ed teachers drilled into Torontonians at primary school planted a seed that has now bloomed into a whole sporting philosophy, and though Jays fans, Leafs fans and Raptors fans the city over might bitch and complain when their team yet again fails to win anything of significance, the truth is that it doesn’t matter—they support these teams not really for their abilities, but for the sheer love of engaging with sport.

And so, my enlightenment is complete: people don’t go to the Blue Jays to sit on the edge of their seats, panicking about the ticking clock and the lack of scoring ability in their team.

They go to sit in the sun, enjoy a cold beer, and have a relaxing time.

I can appreciate that; who wouldn’t?