Friday, February 26, 2010

Hockey Gold

It seems the experts are saying the reason they’re picking Canada to win the hockey gold medal Sunday is that the U.S. was terribly outplayed in the preliminary round game last Sunday night....even though they won 5-3. And if you just look at the shots-on-goal and the territorial edge in play of that game it would be hard to argue against that.

But what I think might be being overlooked is that the Americans took an early lead in the game…perhaps undeserved because of the shoddy netminding of someone thought to be the best, Martin Brodeur…but a lead nonetheless. If you watch enough hockey, surely you’ve seen teams play to protect a lead. I would say Ron Wilson and the American coaches were likely drumming “no stupid passes” and “no stupid penalties” into the heads of the U.S. players as soon as they went up 1-0 knowing that Ryan Miller, and keeping the Canadians off the scoresheet, offered the best chance to win. They likely had “keep it out of our own net” at the top of their minds. And the Canadians were in situations in which they needed to pour on the gas to attempt to pull even. A defense-first style by the Americans, no doubt, contributed to their ability to pour.

They did pull even at 1-1.

Then the Americans score again to make it 2-1…and go back into protect-the-lead mode.

Canadians make it 2-2. The U.S. makes it 3-2. Then 4-2. Canada scores to make it 4-3. Then the empty-netter seals it.

So, I think there was an awful lot of potential in that game for playing protect-the-lead hockey. Sure, the shots-on-goal at the end were terribly lopsided. And sure, Miller had to make many magnificent saves. But nobody said going in that the Americans had the most talent. Probably no-one will even if they win the gold medal on Sunday. And I would agree with that. But what they might have is the best team of the two countries. They may have attempted to construct…and I’ll bet GM Brian Burke would verify this…the better roster to win hockey games. And I tend to think they may have done so.

Who looks at the Canadian group of all-stars and says…”Now there’s a team”? No, you would say…”Now that’s a collection of terrific players.” As to a team, a group of guys who understand their roles and carry them out to professional perfection, that’s what you have in Team USA.

So, if you believe that the most talent ultimately wins…oh, like in the U.S.-Soviet Union game in 1980 or 1960... he said sarcastically…then Canada surely will skate all over the U.S. team on Sunday. But if you believe that the U.S. win over the Canadians last weekend was not a fluke, or figment of the imagination. And, if you believe Ryan Miller could be just as tough for the Canadians to beat this Sunday as he was last. And, if you believe both teams are loaded with professional players, and that the U.S. may just have constructed the better outfit to win one big game, then you can forget what the experts are saying and believe, as I do, that the U.S. will win one for the ages as they did 30 years ago at Lake Placid and 50 years ago at Squaw Valley. I’ll say 4-3.

And, I don't think I've read anywhere that one has to state the obvious to qualify as an expert.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Music Appreciation

-Once again I write with the expectation that younger people likely will dismiss these words as nothing more than the ramblings of an old guy whose opinions don't matter.

As I was getting in my workout yesterday, I had on Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits. I fancy myself as a fan of all types of music from all eras. But as I listened I thought...and here we go..."Nobody writes music like this anymore!" (That sounds like something I would have dismissed too if one of my parents had said it.) But...well..they don't. Someone under forty might also say "That's a good thing". But I'm talking here about the construction of a piece of popular music more than whether it makes a sub-woofer jump off the floor or rattle a car.

As I listened to I Am a Rock, for instance, I heard poetry. I heard wonderful, lilting melody. I heard performers who understood the importance of the beat, but also nuance, storytelling, tonal quality, lyrical rhyme and interpretation. This wasn't a song that set down a beat, a looping melody line, and then attempted to pound out some words to make a commercial package of some kind out of it. This was a beautiful story told in poem form and set to a melody built with the efforts of multiple master musicians.

Oh, I'm not here to complain that everything new is bad...and everything old school is good. Far from it. But the commercially successful music of the 21st century is more of a cookie-cutter, formulaic effort, in which true artistry is secondary to the look, and often, the outrageousness of the performer. Oh sure, all eras have their bombast and buffoonery when it comes to music. But the songwriters of today seem to be totally secondary to the make-up artists, costume designers, and studio engineers. True musicianship and artistry have a hard time getting recognized. Can we agree on that?

Even country music songs which, unlike other genres, seem hell-bent on telling a story, often are over-produced and drowned in special effects and instrumental hooks. And does anyone know how to rhyme lyrics anymore? Its frustrating listening to country songs that can't seem to find two words that end in the same syllable. Since when does truck rhyme with walk? Come on's not really that hard if you put some effort into it. I know you're trying to tell your story...but there are some generally accepted rules to writing poetry...and a song is a poem put to music...right? If you take poetic license it should only be an occasional thing.

I'm certain I'm not going to change the tastes of the popular music world by what I write here. But please, let's continue to fund music education, creative writing and literary appreciation in our schools. And let's also pay someone who's qualified to teach it. That's the only way real music artists will be developed...and the rest of society will know one when we see one...or hear one. And listen to a little Simon and Garfunkel once in a while to understand where I'm coming from. Thanks. I feel better.

Friday, February 05, 2010

How Close the Cup?

-It was very interesting to me to learn that the Blues were apparently a strong player in the Ilya Kovalchuk trade discussions prior to him being dealt from Atlanta to New Jersey. Team President John Davidson is quoted by Jeremy Rutherford of the Post-Dispatch as saying The Note had "legitimate interest" and "had been working on it for the better part of a week". This got me, for the sake of full disclosure a part-time employee of the club, to thinking... What does this mean?...and where are we with the youth movement and rebuilding process which began several years ago? 

I'm not going to be critical of anyone here. I'm just asking the question I'm sure many other Blues fans must also be pondering. Actually there are many questions that go into it.--

-Do we have a legitimate superstar player anywhere in our organization?
-Do we have enough good to very good players to negate the need for a superstar?
-What assets (the term JD uses for players) were we willing to part with in order to land Kovalchuk?
-Which of our current core of young guns (Johnson, Berglund, Oshie, Perron, Polak, etc.) are seen as untouchable in trade discussions...if any?
-If you were willing to part with more than one of the above in a Kovalchuk deal, is the leading edge of the youth movement now seen as having acquired tradeable assets instead of long-term franchise cornerstones?
-Who, currently playing at Peoria, juniors, or in college, is ready to step into an NHL job next year to prove that the drafting and trading of the last 5 years has been done with aplomb? (Eller, Pietrangelo, Junland, Palushaj, Sonne, McRae, Hjalmarrson, Lehtera, Cole, Bishop, Allen?)
-If none of the above are ready, then who leaves the roster after this year...and who replaces them?
-There are some high-dollar, low-output veterans manning spots on the roster. Do we expect them to rebound to the level of their pay scale? Or do we cut bait?
-If few leave, do we have any near-term hope of turning the corner from being an entertaining, up-and-coming team to a legitimate Cup contender?
-What is a reasonable goal year for being a Cup contender? A few years ago it was 2010.
-Is the front office now forced to look outside the organization to build a truly exciting, elite-level roster? (Was that one answered with the Kovalchuk trade talks?)

All of these questions need answers. And the answers have to be rooted in common sense for the fans of the team to continue the level of excitement and resulting support they've shown during this season. The St. Louis hockey faithful have bought into the re-build with 22 sellouts so far this season. Can we expect that to continue if the pipeline is drying up, or was overrated? Is it drying up and/or overrated?

Do the Kovalchuk discussions, and the willingness of the front office to acknowledge the level of interest, send a signal to the fans that we have gone from the cute, little, soon-to-be-great one that's questioning the talent in our already drafted and signed players. Or is it that we just think that one piece of the puzzle that's missing happens to be somewhere else? It would be nice to think that we are still just one or two years behind Chicago in developing an elite on-ice product. It seems for that to be realistic the in-system kids need to keep, two, or three per season.

So many questions. I'm confident JD, Larry Pleau, Doug Armstrong, Al MacInnis and the rest of the team supervisors have answers. To keep things headed in the right direction, I'm pulling for them to have the right ones.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

A Mind is a Terrible Thing

-In perusing the headlines today, I came across the pitiful story of Leif Garrett. For those who weren't around in the 70's, this guy pretty much had the world as his oyster for several years. Here's a wiki link if you need a little background. Anything he did was big news to the teen mags and the screaming hordes of young girls of the day. He had "the look" that most guys wished they had. See vintage pic at right. And underneath...his drugged-out mug of today.

What made Leif Garrett go from that to what he is now is probably going to be made into a movie some day. That some day will likely be after he finally succumbs to whatever demons are currently operating inside his head.

Today he was arrested by L.A. County sheriff's deputies on a downtown Los Angeles train platform. They said he was sweating profusely and shaking uncontrolably. Garrett, now 48, told the officers that he "gets nervous around law enforcement because of his prior experience". He denied having any drugs and allowed the deputies to search him. But then informed them that he was hiding black tar heroin in his shoe. He has been in and out of jail and dealing with drug-related problems for a number of years. Amazingly, he also has kept somewhat busy in show biz despite his acknowledged drug habits appearing on several reality TV shows and doing voiceovers and such. 

How is it that so many young performers end up like this? People who have fame and fortune thrust on them at an early age seem to, more times than not, find a way to screw up their lives. You don't need me to list them.

Leif "on the farm" pic is from his official website where he apparently is still trying to sell his music.

I'm no psychologist, but it seems it must have something to do with a poor sense of self and an inability to maintain a connection with one's real identity in the face of failure as a celebrity. The mind has convinced them that they are the person that everyone fawned over and oh-so loved as a performer. And when the spotlight fades, all that's left is the real person...and some of the money to spend on whatever makes them have a better feeling about the real self. Did they not know that they were living a false reality in show business? I guess not. Its interesting. At least to me.  

One also has to wonder what awful suffering Garrett's family has been put through watching the guy self-destruct. I'm sure their lives will be as important to the eventual movie as his. I just hope that somebody gets ahold of him somehow and is able to help write a happy ending to the guy's story. Seems unlikely at this point.