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Ladies and genetleman, in light of the NHL and the NHLPA finally reversing their anal-cranial inversions and returning us to our regularly-scheduled programming, I give you the top 15 songs actually about hockey.
Note: I'm foregoing songs unrelated to hockey but for their title, like Super Furry Animals' "Ice Hockey Hair" or The Vandals' "Change the World with My Hockey Stick." I'm also skipping some great songs with passing mentions of hockey, like Joni Mitchell's "Raised on Robbery."
I've included three by the excellent strictly hockey band The Zambonis, whom, yes, I've seen in concert — in all their vintage Jofa glory. And yes, whose entire catalog might as well have been included (and is well worth a listen).
In any case, here they are...
15. Gordie and My Old Man — Grievous Angels
14. Big League — Tom Cochrane
Yes, the same guy who gave the world the horrid "Life is a Highway."
13. Fifty Mission Cap — Tragically Hip
The tragically hockey story of Bashin' Bill Barilko!
12. You High Sticked My Heart — The Dinks
11. Wendel — The Zambonis*
Because where else can you get ballad lyrics like "I saw him take out Kovalev"?
10. Hockey — Jane Siberry
9. The Ballad of Wendel Clark — The Rheostatics
So many Wendel Clark ballads, so little time....
8. Away Game — The Zambonis
7. (I Wanna Drive the) Zamboni — The Gear Daddies
6. Hit Somebody — Warren Zevon
The ballad of a hockey goon. Because "What's a Canadian farm boy to do?"
5. Dangle, Snipe & Celly — Sammy Ob (w/Kid Pudi)
4. Slapshot Man — The Zambonis
2. Fireworks — Tragically Hip
1. The Hockey Song — Stompin' Tom Connors
Come on, nothing beats Stompin' Tom Connors.
Honorable Mention (not about hockey, but the hockey world is a better place for their existence):
A few minutes before midnight, and I'm thinking about pizza. I'm skating, and my head's mostly in the game, but it's summer, hotter than normal, and it's been over an hour with only two subs on the bench, and I'm dead tired. And thinking about pizza. Also beer.
Other nights, I crave some other specific food (it's always food) — some carb or protein bomb my body wants to offset what is the single quickest loss of calories it knows.
The game is the game, and I love hockey like no other. There is little, in fact, I'm willing to trade precious sleep for, but this Wednesday night skate is my weekly ritual. Year-round, for the past decade. Part insane hard-core workout, part shvitz, part meditation. It's exhausting, cleansing, invigorating.
At the same time, it both slowly debilitates me and keeps me alive.
But right then — with my sweat-drenched, stinking gear making me feel like I've shrunk incrementally since 10:45 — it's really just about putting one leg in front of the other until Bill, the rink man, punches the blessed buzzer to end the session, and warms up the Zamboni.
A few minutes till I hit the locker room, peel off my gear, pop a melatonin, put on my civilian clothes, and head home for a shower. My bag feels ten pounds heavier than before. And by the time I get back to the house 15 minutes later, I'd be willing to pay someone to save me the several minutes I spend hanging up my pads to dry and air out (as if such a thing was possible).
When, mercifully, the buzzer does sound to end our night, there is immediate silence. No messing around, no jump. Just a collective sigh and exhausted plodding as water bottles and extra sticks are gathered in.
Unless something really noteworthy happened, there is little talking as we each change — but for the younger few still seemingly amped up enough to chatter away bits of useless (and generally self-referential) post-game analysis.
I drive past several still-open pizza places on the way home. My body has burned fat and is eager for me to replace it with dough and cheese and sauce. And I am eager to fulfill the request. But I don't.
Over the past decade, I haven't once stopped for pizza. Though I crave it, it seems a beered-up college thing to do. And I graduated college over 20 years ago. So it's always straight home, a few pints of water, the most important shower of the week, and then the sleep of the dead.
When I wake the next morning to the sound of kids running around, I am exhausted and aching. Between bed and the bathroom, my joints snap, crackle, and pop like amplified Rice Krispies. But it's an inverse trade of bodily strain for mental — and I have cleared my head of all work stress and am mentally refreshed. More ready than any other day in my week to face the kids, the wife, the work, the life.
Well, I realize now that I set myself up two weeks ago by posting my Recipe for a Stanley Cup. So, with the finals upon us this very evening, I must follow through. So...
Can either team win? And if so, which one?
Let's go to the tale of the tape, as it were.
Well, there you have it. Both teams have what it takes to win a Cup. By my parameters, the BRUINS have more advantages than the Canucks, and should therefore win.
In reality, of course, the CANUCKS will win.
When mud season passes and even the northerly hotbeds of hockey drift into Spring's brightening wheelhouse, the urge for fishing and golf is strong — yes — but for many, nothing less than a Stanley Cup will do. To those diehards among us for whom this is the case, I offer the following recipe (serves 20, plus coaches and GM).
Gently fold in all ingredients, then beat well:
It's hockey season once again. And not a moment too soon. Even after a blessedly short summer, I was starting to slip into thinking about national politics until the puck dropped last week. I understand that the rest of you might not be so eager, so let's ease into things with a look at the cult of wearing a hockey jersey for a decidedly non-hockey reason. That is, jersey as everyday fashion statement — the mere thought of which might make the more grizzled NHL vets (say, Wendel Clark, Doug Gilmour, Tiger Williams) roll over in their retirement to once again kick some ass.
For the rest of us, click on any pic for a closer look.
There are just not enough words to describe the atrocity of shaving a jersey into one's hairy back (for starters, think about the fact that he had to have a willing accomplice), but that's how some roll. Just pray he's not sitting in front of you.
Maybe you don't want to call quite so much attention to yourself off the ice — out in the dusty Montana sagebrush or wherever. No worries. There's a jersey for that.
Armed services? Check.
Or maybe you'd rather rock the Kiss Army jersey? Got that too.
In fact, The Internets are just completely lousy with hockey jerseys for bands (believe it or not, also with jerseys for poker tours, tournaments, websites, and even individual players) — only a couple of which would I be proud to wear to the rink for some shinny. Can't say I'm a real fan of the band, but that White Zombie jersey is to die and return to life as the undead for. On the other side of the coin, the Backstreet Boys fans needed a jersey. Really?
Or maybe you think wrestling guys like "Stone Cold" Steve Austin are cooler than any of these folks, and you want to wear his name across your chest while kicking it around the — uh — wherever it would be that you and your buddies drink cases of Keystone Light.
Me, I'd rather drink a local old-school brew with a decent logo, some street cred, and a sweet "sweater" available.
Royalty? Damn skippy we got royalty. Check out this shot of Queen Elizabeth II with Canadian PM Stephen Harper. I've got about as much patience for monarchies as I have for Glenn Fucking Beck, but that jersey in the background there would be a cool snot rag to fart around the house in while listening to Never Mind the Bollocks.
Politics? Sure. Got both winners (damn, these presidents get so much freaking shwag it's not even funny)...
My personal favorite though — for its pitch-perfect early-'80s font, logo, and overall styling (very Charlestown Chiefs, actually) — would have to be that of The Organ Grinder.
Apparently, it was a huge pizza joint in Toronto that produced this now-vintage marvel. But I prefer to imagine The Organ Grinder as a small-town butcher shop outside Kamloops sponsoring a team of 50-somethings in the local beer league.
Best part of the jersey? The flip side.
There are even jerseys to support good causes — the best among them being Haitian-born Georges Laraque's entry to support post-earthquake Haiti. A very cool jersey, actually. And Laraque will always get credit in my book for being not only the toughest guy in the league, but an outstandingly sportsmanlike one as well ("Good luck, man.")
The National Hockey League has, after so many missteps over the years, put together a really cool marketing campaign for the playoffs. Their history will be made TV spots are a cool bit of simple cinematic trickery for the casual viewer; historically poignant for the true fan; and, as a smart piece of business, quickly expandable.
Helpful too that as it turns out in this year's long slog toward The Stanley Cup finals, the Philadelphia Flyers actually did make history deserving of their own ad (with which they were quickly rewarded), pulling off one of the most amazing comebacks in sports history. Down 3-0 in the second round to the Boston Bruins, they won game 4, game 5, and then game 6 to force a game 7.
To those of us who follow sports, Game 7s are the pinnacle of excitement, anxiety, fear, gamesmanship, skill, guts, exhilaration; in short, everything that is sport itself.
Even when the Flyers are not part of the equation, I will watch any game 7, any time, anywhere. Game 7s are like the Super Bowl, but with a soul.
And Flyers-Bruins 2010 delivered. In game 7 itself (in Boston), the Flyers found themselves down 3-0 after the first period. There was an odd perfection to the score. After going down 3-0 in the series, the Flyers were now facing the same deficit in goals. To win the series they would again have to come back against seemingly insurmountable odds.
Here, I just have to say that I've played hockey nearly all my life. It is the single greatest game I know. I've been on the wrong side of blowouts, and the right side; won close playoff games (one in the final second of play), and lost them. And I have to say, even for the ultra-competitive among us, it's not all that difficult sometimes to just give in to losing. Professionals and athletes at every level — good, hard-working, honest people I respect and would be honored to go into battle with — give in to losing. It is easy — simply going to sleep in the face of hypothermia. Something we can relate to. It is not death, only sport. And even if sport is one's life, we realize the material difference between the two and perhaps that is precisely why it is so easy to just give in and give up.
Only the Flyers didn't.
They regrouped, dug in, cowboyed up, got a bounce, and went to work. They found a way to win in the face of certain loss.
I have been a Flyers fan literally all my life. They are my one team; the single thing over which I fall prey to true fanatacism. And yet, I'm a middle-aged guy, and practical; equal parts dreamer and cynic. So where they found the enormous stones to do this, I cannot say. Only those few (those "happy few") on this team might ever know exactly where the strength of this team lies. But what they pulled off in their series of comebacks was one of the most incredible sporting feats I have ever seen.
Riding the wave of their win over the Bruins, tenacious forechecking, and smothering team defense, the Flyers went on to beat the Montreal Canadiens in five games, and now — mind you, after making the playoffs not only on the final day of the season, but thanks to an overtime shootout victory on that day — we find ourselves (yes, that is how we fanatics discuss our teams) back in the Stanley Cup finals, after a 13-year respite (and a 35-year drought of being Cup champions).
And it feels damn good.
I love our chances too. Perhaps more than I should. I mean, Chicago is the hot young team; they're supposed to win. But the Flyers, by any measure, have precisely what it takes to win a Cup: hot goaltending, team defense, a relentless forecheck, clutch snipers, skillful role players, a few absolute shutdown defensemen, a couple a-one pests, fearless shot-blockers, a combination of young legs and veteran experience, excellent coaching, a system the team believes in, confidence in their abilities, and as we've seen, the biggest cojones there are.
Forget about the odds, forget destiny even; we're in it to win it.
Drop the puck already.
The hockey playoffs are upon us. This year — as nearly every year — they begin full of cautious optimism and promise for those of us whose lives and moods wax and wane with the fortunes of our team.
I am 40 and a grown-ass man with a respectable job, but I continue to root for a team of kids, all of whom are younger than I — and some of whom are not even as old as a tattoo I've got. I have and will always root for the Flyers. They were born a year before I, and I was born rooting for them. I know no other life.
And so each April (when we are fortunate enough to make the cut) begins with the possibility — some years better than others — that this will be the year they skate till June and make us weep with ecstasy and relief as they drink bad beer from that monstrous and glorious silver cup for the first time in 34 years.
The playoffs wreck my sleep. I get both less sleep and less relaxing sleep. After late-night wins, my heart is pumping and nerves fried. After losses, my body is exhausted but my mind is racing, turning over what-ifs and lost opportunities. And I'm not even playing. But that's the playoffs for you. The end is inevitable, and the longer each series goes on, the less the payback seems when the whole thing ends with a lost final game.
Back in 2000, before I had cable TV, a sympathetic friend who did was nice enough to leave me his keys so I could watch the games while he was out of town. One night early that May, I stayed up till 3 am to watch the most exciting game I may ever see. Because in the playoffs, there are no ties, and there are no shootouts. And so occasionally the overtime periods pile up like dirty laundry until a weary soul scores to end the marathon. When that night's mayhem ended in the fifth overtime period, my unstifled scream surely woke up my friend's tenants one floor below, and possibly their unborn relatives.
I drove home in maybe the most contented silence of my life. And when I got back to my apartment, I walked into the darkness to find a blinking red light on the message machine. I had checked messages remotely a few hours earlier, so this signaled to me that either my brother or my parents had also managed to stay awake. It was my brother, as it turned out, and that little light was a beacon in the night, the embodiment of our lifelong bond — to both each other and to the orange and the black.
My dad called me at work the next day to tell me — literally — that he was proud of me. I had cowboyed up to not only watch the entire game but, running on fumes, report to work on time the next morning.
The playoffs bring my family together. We have a shared history, sure, but the playoffs provide context. We know what year it was and where we were when J.J. Daigneault sent the Flyers back to Edmonton for game 7 of the Cup finals. It was 1987 and we were seated in section 12 of the old Spectrum — and we all knew right then and there two things: that we would be forever linked by that glorious moment (it was so loud the building literally shook); and that one shot was the peak of J.J. Daigneault's career and it was all downhill from there. We were right on both counts.
Several weeks after that five overtime game in May 2000, the Flyers fell apart as AKL and I traveled through Italy. It was early in our relationship — her first playoffs — and if she was concerned about my sanity, she managed not to show it. I ducked into internet cafés and surfed day-old scores and highlights, and when the boys coughed up three straight series-clinching games to the Devils in the conference finals, it felt like I had been sucker-punched. I found it difficult to speak. It was our final night of the trip, in Fiesole, a beautiful little hill town overlooking Florence, and I felt as ill as Eric Lindros after the Scott Stevens hit that left him in the fetal position on the ice.
It was not my finest hour. I was tired and irritable and still under the impression that as I went, so went the Flyers, and vice versa. I was unfocused at the time, so they were unfocused. They imploded emotionally, so I did too. No, it doesn't make sense on an intellectual level, but being a hardcore sports fan has nothing to do with intellect. Because the word fan is short for fanatic. And fanatics, whether religious or political or sporting, are people blinded by emotion.
I was much more able to let go four years later, when — again in the conference finals — the end came. Again in game 7. Again with the Flyers unraveling, again while we were traveling. We were, thankfully, in paradise. It was my first trip to Jamaica, and we were there to celebrate AKL's mom getting remarried. After a decade of living and working together, she and her partner decided to tie the knot in a low-key ceremony, and we were invited along as the sole witnesses. We did not come cheap, and I was damned if I was going to ruin my mother-in-law's shindig.
There was joking as I excused myself from drinks and dinner a few times that night to check the game 7 scores live on the web. And when the end came, the victors shortly went on to win the Stanley Cup, and the Flyers went home to fish and play golf. It goes without saying that I was hugely disappointed. But that year's team had overcome hardship and injuries and had gutted out some of the most satisfying wins in franchise history. And I was, after all, in Jamaica with a bellyfull of fish and a head full of rum. And so, with my wife lying beside me, and a soft cacophony of lapping waves, island birds, and heavy rain, I had possibly the most peaceful night of sleep in my life.
I woke up completely refreshed and hungry for the day, if a bit shocked at my sudden ability to let go of a bad game and put the season, and life, in perspective. Was the Planter's Punch I'd been drinking really Prozac for the sports-minded, or was I actually maturing?
Honestly, I don't know. It's five years later, and the Flyers are fighting tooth and nail to advance. It's the playoffs; anything can happen. I'll let you know when it's over.
Until then, don't freaking call me during the game.
I know I said I'd cool it on the politics for awhile, but then someone makes a decision to mess directly with my first love. And so:
In the 40 years my family has held Philadelphia Flyers’ season tickets, I can only once remember politics entering the arena of play. That was January 11, 1976, when the Soviet Red Army team came to town, and my mom and I and 17,000 of our friends went down to the Spectrum to collectively say, “Not in our country. And certainly not in our house.” It was the Cold War; we were united that day. The Flyers won the game, and with it, the respect of the league.
Now they risk losing the same, as Flyers’ owner Ed Snider waves a bright red flag of another kind, invoking politics in our house and inviting Republican VP nominee and “hockey mom” Sarah Palin to drop the puck at Saturday’s Flyers-Rangers tilt — bringing public scorn and ridicule to what is otherwise one of the classiest organizations in all of sport.
Shame on you, Mr. Snider. Your childish, bald-faced pandering during this bitterly divisive election may play well to your Republican base, but it will not to that of your Flyers.
We’ve seen the pictures of you palling around with Governor Palin during her last Philly visit, and that’s fine. We don’t begrudge you or any other public figure their political beliefs. But do not shove them down our throat.
Admittedly, I happen to disagree pretty strongly with Sarah Palin's political views. But this is not a question of partisanship, it is about you horning politics of any shade into our world of leisure and escape — a privilege, by the way, for which we pay you handsomely. Not only through ticket sales, but through our Comcast premiums.
Forty years ago, I was born into the Flyers community, and into a love for hockey that continues to this day. Flyers’ games, and the Spectrum in particular, were arguably the spiritual temple of my youth — and like the globally respected notion that war must not enter places of worship, we fans should be able to check our politics at the arena door.
I won't be at the game on Saturday, but my folks will. They won’t boo, because they'd argue that Governor Palin doesn’t deserve name calling and the sort of spleen that my family generally reserves for, say, the Rangers. Their 20,000 friends, of course, will be another story.
So there you have it, Ed. You want to trot out your show pony to start off the season? May you both reap all that you have sown.