Hockey Fans Unite?

by Steve, December 26th, 2006

hockeyA reader left a note requesting visits to hockeyfansunite.com, and support for their call for “bringing back a traditional North American brand of hockey to the NHL.” The site urges fans to take part in a mass action on January 20th, when almost all NHL teams are playing. The message? As best I can tell, they blame the new rules enforcement crack-down for taking away the excitement of the game.

Uh. Well. I’m afraid I can’t jump on this bandwagon. Sorry, guys. First off, they seem to be yearning for “old time hockey”, i.e. the rough-and-tumble game of the 70s. This is not going to happen. No way. No amount of pleading or sign holding or threats of ticket boycotts is gonna help. Second, the new rules enforcement addresses something that happened in the 90s, which was the slowing down of the game with intensive defensive systems (the “trap”) and lots of clutch and grab. Honest to God, guys, you want to go back to trapping and grabbing?

Seriously, the game is much faster, with far more end-to-end action on a nightly basis than you’d ever see in the 90s. I dare any of you guys to go back and watch game seven of the 2004 Stanley Cup Final (the last year of unofficially sanctioned clutch-and-grab) and compare it to the 2006 series with Carolina and Edmonton. The difference is stark.

The “rules changes” (really, there were only a couple changes, mostly it’s just more strict enforcement of pre-existing rules) have addressed the slow down of the 90s, when league expansion diluted the talent pool to the point that teams were allowed to obstruct the offense in order to compete. Smart coaches took advantage of the relaxing standards of enforcement, and developed tight neutral zone defense (the trap). Once a team got a one-goal lead, the game was basically over. Two goal lead going into the third? Might as well channel surf, cuz the game was over.

Between zero-tolerance on obstruction penalties (hooking, tripping, holding) and the elimination of the two-line pass call, the trap has become far less effective. Games with two-goal leads in the final five minutes are turned around and forced to overtime. No team is comfortable sitting on a one- or two-goal lead anymore. The game is far more exciting than it had become in the 90s. Is it “old time” like the 70s? Nope. But it never will be. The game is always evolving, and frankly, it’s far better now than it was pre-lockout. With any luck, things will keep getting better, and we will never return to the boring defensive style so prevalent before the rules changes.

Hockey roundup

by Steve, December 21st, 2006

hockeyNHL in Portland? Since the Pennsylvania gaming commission unanimously voted to deny Isle of Capri a slots license, the future of the Penguins in Pittsburgh looks bleak. Scott Burnside on ESPN points out that any realistic Pens fan had to see this coming. “Penguins fans, in your heart of hearts, you knew it was going to play out this way, didn’t you? It would have been too neat, too tidy otherwise,” writes burnside. Now Mario is saying the team is off the market, and he is looking into relocation. The top contenders for an NHL team are Houston, Kansas City (which has a sparkling new arena without a major tenant), and perennial bridesmaid (but never a bride) Portland.

I’ve never liked the idea of NHL here, but I’m starting to warm up to the idea. Especially if the deal involves Malkin, Staal and Crosby. Maybe the Trailblazers will move to Seattle, and Mario will buy the Rose Garden and move the Pens here. It’s a long shot, but it could happen.

Beaulieu suspended for forced flag signing: Jacques Beaulieu, head coach and G.M. of the Saint John Sea Dogs, has been suspende by the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for forcing his team to sign a flag to be sent to Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan. One player was cut from the team, ostensibly for refusing to sign the flag. The league determined that the player, 20 year old Dave Bouchard, was cut for performance reasons, not the flag incident, but still found that

the request from the Sea Dogs to have the players sign the flag was inappropriate and the comments made by Jacques Beaulieu in regards to Dave Bouchard violate the QMJHL anti-discrimination policy. The comments can be hurtful to the player and can be construed as a violation of his rights and consequently, of our anti-discrimination policy.

Gaustad moves up: Sabre’s coach Lindy Ruff has moved Portland boy Paul Gaustad to the second line with Chris Drury and Ales Kotalik. The move entails Gaustad moving from center to left wing, and will mean more ice team and probably more scoring chances.

13 Trips to Mexico

by Steve, December 20th, 2006

And now for something completely different: A short story for Thursday Thirteen.

Thirteen Trips to Mexico

The first time Mark went to Mexico was as a tourist, Lonely Planet style. He carried a wilderness backpack full of enough gear and food to survive 2 weeks. He saw Guadalajara, Mexico City, Veracruz, Oaxaca, Merida, the Mayan ruins of the Yucatan. He encountered 72 Iowans at a remote Caribbean beach. He wore his beard and hair long, and wore Ray-Ban sunglasses. Children pointed at him and cried “Dios! Dios!”

The second time was on a lark, with a spur of the moment flight to San Diego and then trolley, foot and bus to Ensenada for a few days of oddity, including an inadvertant stay in a brothel.

The third time was to see Rory, an ex-patriate friend in Puebla, who lived in a squat concrete home clinging to an unstable cliff above a small river below. Though it seemed like the trucks on the road that curved above would surely lose their traction crash into Mark’s bed, none did. But the place did flood that night in a down-pour and soak his passport and return ticket.

The fourth trip was again to Puebla, and also to Acapulco on ilicit business, and finally Mexico City to tour the treasures of murals and ruins and history. It was in Acapulco, of all places, that the strange things began to happen. The light in the sky at first appeared as a bright shooting star, then abruptly changed direction, flew south at a steady rate and stopped dead. It hung in the sky for at least an hour while Mark bullshited with his companions on the roof of a half-finished house, then it moved steadily across the sky to the northeast, where it stopped again. Felipe, Rory’s brother-in-law, got nervous. “I think they’re watching us,” he said, half joking, half serious. They all laughed, then made their way down the shaky ladder into the darkness of the unfinished house.

All that was nearly forgotten by Mark’s fifth trip south, when he met Rory in Mexico City. Rory had phoned Mark urgently the day before, insisting he catch the next flight out of Portland to Mexico City. They met at the Hotel Monte Carlo, where D.H. Lawrence is said to have lived. Rory continued to be circumspect about the nature of his urgency until they passed a magazine vendor at Alameda Park and he bought a tabloid with a headline screaming “UFOs Over Tepoztlán”. “We’re going here,” said Rory. They boarded a bus, and fewer than 24 hours after leaving Portland, Mark found himself lying on his back in the courtyard of a centuries-old church, watching points of light bob and weave over-head. When he left Mexico City two days later, it was an unusually clear day, affording stunning views of the towering volcanoes Popocatépetl and Ixtaccíhuatl. Between them lay the Paso de Cortés, the high passage from which Hernan Cortes first beheld the glorious Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, then among the largest cities in the world. From the air, it was clear to see how the causeways of the Aztecs are still main thoroughfares of Mexico City, dividing the old city into four quadrants.

Again, the memory of the lights in the sky, though they were surely unexplainable, faded into the routine of life back in Portland. Then five years later, a sixth trip became necessary. Rory sent urgent e-mail, explaining that his mother-in-law had died unexpectedly, and he needed help moving her belongings out of her house before the squatter in the upstairs apartment pilfered them. This seemed completely implausible, but, it being December in Portland, a trip to Mexico sounded pretty good. Rory insisted on meeting him at the airport this time, and they took a cab to a bus station, and then a bus to Acapulco. Mark was confused, knowing Rory’s mother-in-law lived in Puebla. “Felipe has something you have to see,” was all he would say, as the first class bus hushed into the chill of the mountain evening.

Felipe was agitated when they showed up at his apartment on the southern outskirts of Acapulco. His wife and daughters suddenly left when the two gringo travelers showed up. Felipe was sweating in the night, though it wasn’t hot by Acapulco standards, and he produced a small plastic box. In it was a small white rock, that seemed to pulse with a gentle glow. “What is it?” Mark asked, looking at Felipe and Rory. “We don’t know,” said Rory, “but it showed up right after we saw that light in the sky.” Felipe hadn’t thought anything of it, though the judicial police had showed up the next day asking questions of Felipe’s mistress. Did she see anything? Was there anybody in her house that she didn’t know last night? Being accustomed to lying about her relationship to Felipe, she had simply told them no, and they went away. Felipe then found the rock on the roof a few days later. Now, seven years later, the rock had begun glowing and humming, and Felipe was convinced the feds were going to come back for it. He was further convinced that he couldn’t let them, but he couldn’t express why. Mark was still trying to figure out what this had to do with him, when Felipe pressed the rock into his hand. It felt warm, and it sent a tingle down his spine when he closed his hand around it. “You have to take it out of Mexico. They won’t look for it in the north,” said Felipe. A calm descended on Mark. For a moment everything dropped away, and he stood alone in empty space. In that moment, he saw his own birth, his own death, and his ascendancy into an all-encompassing light, and he knew he was taking that small stone back to Portland. “He’s going,” said Rory to Felipe. “Put it in your pants,” said Felipe. “There are sometimes checkpoints between here and Mexico City.” “He means your shorts,” said Rory, “Put it in your skivvies.”

The seventh time Mark went to Mexico was in his dream as he jetted from Mexico City to Portland, a small, glowing stone tucked awkwardly next to his genitals. In his dream, he was visited in his bedroom by two small gray creatures, who took him aboard their space ship. On board the ship, they flew instantaneously to Mexico City, but it was quickly clear that they had not only skipped across a great deal of space, they had also skipped across time. For from their vantage point above the Paso de Cortés, the little gray travelers gestured for Mark to see the great city of Tenochtitlan, built on an island in lake Texcoco. As they gestured, it was as if they were summoning the vision forward, and Mark could suddenly clearly see a great churning of humanitiy at the main temple, people running, Spanish soldiers swinging swords, and suddenly the sound came to his ears: the shrieks of terror and then, finally, the smell of blood, rich and pungent in his nostrils as the stewardess abruptly woke him to tell him he had to put his seat back into the full upright position.

The eighth, ninth, tenth, and eleventh trips were also like this, in dreams, in the four nights after Mark returned to Portland. On each subsequent night, he was shown historical events of central Mexico. On the fourth night, the gray men in their space ship took him to Acapulco, and showed him three men standing on a roof top. “What was that?” asked one of them. “I thought it was a shooting star, until it changed direction like that.” “Look it’s still there. It’s got to be a machine. It is flying under control, not falling.” Mark watched himself and Felipe and Rory on the roof from seven years ago, and listened to them puzzling over the light. When the perspective shifted again, and the three of them laughed nervously and left the rooftop, Mark found himself descending bodily, the small white stone glowing in his outstretched hand. He placed the rock where his own past self had just stood, then woke up suddenly, his heart racing. On the fifth night, he couldn’t sleep, but it didn’t matter. The phone rang. It was Rory. “They’ve arrested Felipe,” said Rory. “I think they’re looking for me. Is the…” Rory paused. “Yes,” said Mark. He took the stone off his night stand. “Yes, everything’s fine.” The phone line went dead, and the neighbor’s dog started barking. Another dog across the street was barking, too. Mark went to the window and peaked around the curtain. A car was idling in front of the neighbor’s house with its lights off. A police car was down at the end of the block on the cross street, and another one at the other end of the street. Suddenly, there was total darkness. The power went out all up and down the street, including the streetlights. Mark stood at the window, trying to figure out whether to make a run for it, or to just hide the rock and act dumb. Before he could decide, he was blinded by an intense beam of light from the sky. A voice came to him: “Freeze! Don’t move! We have the house surrounded!”

The twelfth trip to Mexico was in the custody of two US Marshals. They bypassed security at Portland International Airport and flew first class to Mexico City via Houston. They encouraged him to drink on the flights, and bought him drinks at the Houston airport, where two Mexican agents dressed in black suits joined them. “We need to speak with you about your recent travels,” said one of the Mexican agents, by way of introduction. “We think you might have some information we need about Felipe Cordoza and Rory Peterson.” Mark thought about the trip, several years previous, when he accompanied Rory on a trek from Puebla to Acapulco to buy a half kilo of pot from Felipe. This was the same trip when they’d seen the light in the sky, and Rory had made the return trip to Puebla with a large parcel of marijuana in his shorts, just as Mark would do with the small stone on the later trip.

The thirteenth trip was in Mark’s dream as he slept, handcuffed to a bench at a judicial police office in Mexico City. In his dream, he returned to Mexico in 2012 as Quetzalcoatl, the plumed serpent, first as a light in the Eastern sky, then descending into view of all humanity in multi-colored glory. “I return,” he said, “to take away time. Behold the All, the Everlasting, the One.” He held forth the stone, which began to glow more brightly and grow and grow, until it completely obscured him in the view of all humanity. It was like a sun in the night sky, but it did not hurt to look at. All of the people of Earth gazed upon the light and fell down before it and they all cried out as one: “Behold, the beginning of the end, the end of the beginning. The circle is complete and we are as One.” Mark woke up in his own bed in Portland and squinted at the clock. 8:30. Fuck. He was going to be late for work again.

Freedom of expression

by Steve, December 18th, 2006

hockeyA junior hockey player in Quebec has been canned for not signing a Canadian flag that was sent to soldiers in Afghanistan.

Now, don’t get them wrong:

[Saint Johns Sea Dogs coach Jacques] Beaulieu said he believes in freedom of expression but added that any player who refused to sign would have been kicked off the team.

In other words: You’re free to express yourself, just not on my team.

I went to the fights the other night…

by Steve, December 18th, 2006

…and a basketball game broke out!

But seriously folks, I’m not a fan of hockey fights. You won’t hear me defending it as part of the game (even though it is part of the game). But at least hockey players know how to square off, exchange blows, then head to the box. If you watch the basketball fight with the eye of a hockey fan, you’ll crack up. The NBA suspended 7 players a total of 47 games for the little dust up at Madison Square Garden the other night. There was maybe one decent punch landed. Mostly it was just shoving and running away. Seriously. These guys look like a bunch of pansies out there, afraid to really stand and deliver.

Last season, I took a friend to his first hockey game. When a fight broke out, he was first surprised that the officials let them fight. Then he was surprised that not only would they not get suspended or even ejected, but just sent to the box for five minutes. So I guess you could say there is an upside to having the fighting institutionalized. And, of course, when it does get out of hand, it’s pretty unlikely to spill into the crowd.

Personally, I never miss it when I see a hockey game with no fights (something that is increasingly common). But come on. If you’re gonna fight, at least do it right. Basketball? What a joke!

Edited 12/18/06 5:16 PM: For a more sober take on the Knicks/Nuggets “brawl”, read Dave Zirin at the Nation.com.

Bong Hits for Jesus Part 2 (the Merchandising)

by Steve, December 6th, 2006

Of course, as soon as I post about “Bong Hits for Jesus”, I start getting hits from people searching Google for a bumper sticker. So I figure, what the hell, give the people what they want:Bong Hits 4 Jesus bumper sticker

Bong Hits for Jesus

by Steve, December 1st, 2006

From the bust a gut at work department comes this news: The Supreme Court of the United States has agreed to step into a case involving a high school student who was suspended for holding a banner that read “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” as the Olympic torch passed. (The URL from CNN summarizes the humor nicely: “scotus.bonghits”.) Adding to the “nuh-uh!” factor, Ken Starr (yes, that Ken Star) is representing the school district pro bono.

Why is this particularly funny to Himself, you may ask? Well, for as long as I’ve known Wacky Mommy, we’ve sung this song, which I think she made up:

Bong hits for Jesus,
Bong hits for Jesus!
Load ‘em up and suck ‘em down,
The bong hits for Christ!

(Actually, I think I made up the last two lines.) My heathen dirt worshipin’ mother (who doesn’t do bong hits and can’t imagine why anybody would) thinks it’s just hilarious. The dog, well, he thinks it’s one of his songs and starts dancing around like he’s going to get a biscuit or something. It really doesn’t sound anything like the biscuit song (what does he know, he’s a dog), which goes like this:

Oh I’ve got a biscuit for doggy,
A crunchy little biscuit for dog (bark! bark!)
A yummy little biscuit for doggy,
The kind that he loves to scarf (bark! bark!)

If you sing this song, you better give him a biscuit. If you don’t, Wacky Mommy is likely to say something like “Aw, you made him get up. Now you have to give him a biscuit.”

The dog actually has a whole hit parade of them songs, ranging from “Doggy potato chips are the chippiest chips around!” (sung to the tune of the old Lay’s potato chip jingle) to “I got my dog right here, his name is Doggy Dear, and a man that says if the weather’s clear…” (sung to the tune of Fugue for the Tinhorns from Guys and Dolls). Then there’s the doggy participation number, “Where is Doggy”:

Where is Doggy?
Where is Doggy?
(Roooo roooo roooooo!
Roooo roooo roooooo!)
How are you today sir?
(Bow woo roo roo roo roo!)
Run and play,
Run and play!

I’m not sure which he likes better, this one or the biscuit song.

But my favorite will always be “Bong Hits for Jesus”.

I wonder if Ken Starr will be humming our tune on his way up the steps of the Supreme Court.