Archive for June 10th, 2009


The NHL in Hamilton

June 10, 2009

Hockey fans are waiting for an American judge to make his decision on whether the failing Phoenix Coyotes can be sold to Canadian businessman Jim “BlackBerry” Balsillie and moved to Hamilton, Ontario. This has been a polarizing issue among hockey fans — actually, it’s a fairly old issue — because Hamilton is close to existing teams in Toronto and Buffalo, and is the kind of small market the Gary Bettman-led NHL has been trying to avoid for the past couple of decades.

I have never understood that. There are two teams in Florida, a team in Columbus, Ohio, and something like a dozen teams in California … but places where hockey is hot, like Canada and maybe Seattle, are denied new teams.

At one point, Canada had eight teams in the NHL: Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Quebec City and Winnipeg. The Winnipeg Jets moved to Phoenix. The Quebec Nordiques are now the Colorado Avalanche. The Montreal Canadians like to lick pucks. Anyway, I have always felt that those two departed teams could be re-instated in some fashion — as happened in Minnesota, which lost its North Stars to Dallas, but landed a new team in a later expansion — for one simple reason: Canadians love hockey.

We really do. Even people who say they don’t can rhyme off player stats from the 70s. Every Canadian, despite what they tell you, has worn a hockey sweater at least once. Most of us have one in the closet.

Hamilton makes sense for an NHL move. It’s in the Golden Horseshoe of Ontario, a huge metroplex of millions of people. Google Earth Toronto, and you’ll see that its neighbouring communities wrap around Lake Ontario like one giant city. There are more than enough people to support another team; if New York can have three teams within slapshot distance, so can southern Ontario.

Hamilton did once have a major-league team: on TV. A short-lived Canadian series called Power Play, which aired in the late 1990s, was a brilliant look at how the league operates. My favourite moment saw the team, called the Steelheads, in danger of being sold and moved to Texas; its owner appealed for federal government aid, and got it. However, because of the name of the team, the organization was taken over by the federal Ministry of Fisheries. Comedy gold, I tell you. Also, it starred that guy who married Tori Spelling.

If the team is going to move, Hamilton’s the place and Balsillie’s the owner. The court may order him to pay the league millions — maybe $100 million or more — in compensation to Toronto and Buffalo for the impact the move would have on their markets, but he can handle that. For a guy like Jim, $100 million is pocket change. Because here’s the thing: He cares about hockey. He plays hockey. He doesn’t want to buy a team because it’s an investment. In fact, he’s sure to lose money, particularly once he takes on the challenge of upgrading the aging Copps Coliseum in Hamilton (a major sticking point for the league, which likes big shiny new mydickisbiggerplexes). It doesn’t matter. Jim Balsillie will spend what it takes to run a team in Canada, because he wants to run a hockey team in Canada. And if he can keep current Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky aboard, all the better. Gretzky’s no great coach, but the marquee value of his return to Canadian ice would sell the place out every home game.

Balsillie has been denied teams before. His attempts to buy other struggling franchises, like Nashville — and why the puck is there a hockey team in Nashville, anyway? That’s just stupid — were blocked by the league. This time, everyone should look at what’s best for hockey, for the fans, and for the league, and go with it.

As for what to call the team, here’re some ideas I had last year when the words “Balsillie” “Toronto” and “Expansion” were being tossed around.

Here’s a look at Power Play:


The Baby Dolly and Me

June 10, 2009

It’s just after 9 o’clock Wednesday morning. The sun has just cut through several days’ worth of grey and rain. I am walking through a forest, along a well-worn trail. Two teenaged boys, complete with shaggy hair, baggy jeans and that goaty smell, pop out of a side trail, stop when they spot me, and snicker.

I am a 40-year-old man, alone in the woods, holding a baby dolly and a bouquet of daisies.

There’s a story here. See, my kids, 10, 7 and 5, wanted to walk to school this morning. This is not something we normally do, even though their school is just a kilometre away. The road I live on has no sidewalks, and during rush hour is used by morons from the outlying villages who are commuting to their city jobs, or racing to shop at Wal-Mart. They bomb down my 50 km/h road at more than 80. It makes getting out of my driveway sometimes a problem; I don’t like the idea of my kids walking it, even with me there.

The other option is the forest. My field and the kids’ schoolyard back onto the same patch of forest, several square miles of trails and tangle. We spend a lot of time back there — always with a bit of caution, because we’ve come across a homeless campout or two — and we know the trails well. Well enough to know that after three days of rain, the trails are thick, dirty mud, and the going can be tough.

But they wanted to go. And I finally said “okay, what the hey.” We set off at 8:15 or so, the four of us. At the last minute, my daughter grabbed her favourite dolly, the one that laughs when you squeeze its belly, and said she wanted to bring it to school. I gave up arguing about this months ago.

The trails weren’t bad. We had a couple of puddles to manage, but we stayed dry. Along the way, my youngest picked a sizeable bouquet of daisies for his teacher. He loves his teacher. We all do, really. But as the bouquet grew bigger, it became harder to hold onto it.

  • Him: “Daddy, you carry it.”
  • Me: “I’m already carrying your backpack. You want to pick the flowers, you carry them.”
  • Him (turning to sister): “I was kidding about giving these to Mrs. W. They’re for you.”
  • Her: “Thanks! (adjusts backpack and doll) Daddy, can you carry my flowers?”

So this is how I ended up carrying flowers.

We arrived at the schoolyard. My daughter looked at her friends, looked at her doll, then had some kind of weird moment. She handed me the dolly. “I don’t want her after all. Can you take her home and babysit for me?”

I ended up standing near the doors (I have to wait until my youngest’s kindergarten class enters the school) holding the daisies and the dolly as students eyed me up and down. With my kids scattered acround the playground, it may not have been apparent that I was a parent. Finally, the bell rang, and in they went, and I headed home.

Aside from the encounter with the teenagers, the only other problem came when I ducked out of the woods to avoid the mosquitos and shortcutted down a street that runs off mine. This is a quiet cul de sac with a dozen or so McMansions on it, one of our city’s nicer streets. These people already eye my little old house with disdain; this morning, they got to see unshaven me trudging past their manicured lawns, with a doll and flowers, snickering away (I was listening to Crimes Against Food). While the teens in the forest made me blush a little, I didn’t feel bad about upsetting that middle-aged white guy hosing down his BMW.

Maybe I’ll wear my Spider-Man costume when I go pick the kids up. It looks really funny now that I’m carrying a few extra belt-pounds.