Going Streaking

You’d think with a title like that Will Ferrell’s luscious naked body would lead things off. Nope. That there is the girl known as “Snorg Tee Girl.” She pretty much owned google image searches for a period of time and is a personal favourite. Not bad.

The Oilers are in Minnesota tonight. Any current-day Oiler fan thinks of the twin-cities with terror and disgust. The Oil drop have not won a game at the Xcel Energy Center since January of 2007. It has been awhile.

Marc-Andre Bergeron got the game winner that night on the powerplay. Petr Sykora and Shawn Horcoff the helpers. Joffrey Lupul also scored (one of the few pieces of tangible evidence he was actually an Oiler). Dwayne Roloson got the W between the pipes. The captain was Jason Smith. The leading ice-time getter was Jarret Stoll. And between the two clubs (that’s 50 players remember) only 6 remain (Ladislav Smid, Horcoff, Tom Gilbert, Ales Hemsky, Nick Schultz, and Pierre-Marc Bouchard), seven if you include Ryan Smyth.

The coaches for both franchises have changed twice over, the Minnesota sell-out streak has stopped, and, sadly, two players from that night have passed away since then.

The President was George W. Bush. The Ipad hadn’t been invented yet. The Oilers were defending Western Conference Champions. And Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was in junior high, probably trying to figure out how to hide erections on the bus (note: just hold your backpack in front of you when you walk).

Not to mention the last time the Oil were in Minny they lost three defensemen to injury, among those Taylor Fedun who needed his leg put back together with hunks of steel. Geez.

But if they win tonight and with the win on Sunday that’s two in a row. Around here we call that a winning streak. It might be just enough to erase the four years of futility. Maybe. Hey I remember when it used to be Minnesota who couldn’t beat the Oilers. Anywhere! Nevermind just at home. It took the Wild something like 30 games to get a regulation win against us. One win can change everything.

We go streaking tonight!

——————————

For the last couple of days I’ve been rapidly devouring Peter Gzowski’s book, “The Game of Our Lives.” Essential reading for any Oilers fan of any generation, anyone from Edmonton, or especially anybody who experienced the glory years of the Oilers firsthand (like most of the older members of my family).

Gzowski, a sports journalist from Galt, Ontario, wanted to do a sociological study on the ways hockey cultivates identity. The book is not a boring ethnography nor is it a theoretical assault on Canada’s game; rather, it is a tenderly crafted  memoir of Gzowski’s time following the 1980-1981 Edmonton Oilers season.

At its foundation the book is an expose on the commercialization and commodification of hockey, a game that once belonged to everyone is, in 1981 anyway, becoming the possession of the elite. Where previously the game was played by folk-heroes and characters one would think only imaginable by Homer or Aseop, and the integrity of the sport rested in the hands of innocent youth playing on the frozen ponds, lakes, outdoor rinks, and backyards of Canada,  it has transformed into a business where players are millionaires, pricy arena endorsements are given the edge over homemade signs made by fans, and expansion south has diluted the talent pool.

On the advice of Wayne Gretzky, whom the author had met back in the early ’70s while he was playing minor hockey for a tier two traveling Toronto team, Gzowski chose the Oilers to follow because they were “young, improving, and very much representative of the themes I wanted to explore” (pg 91). That is to say, the ’80-’81 Oilers were fast-becoming the toast of the league, the vanguard of the new NHL, and with an uncensored look into the inner-workings of the team at its genesis Gzowski hoped he could find the raw transformation taking place.

He pretty much nails it.

I can’t stop reading this book. This is mostly fetishistic on my part though because this cluster of young kids, and the fruits of their talents (6 Stanley Cup appearances in 8 years), does not belong to me. Yet I latch on to their legacy as if it were my own. At the time, Jari Kurri, Charlie Huddy, Paul Coffey, and Andy Moog were rookies. Mark Messier was sent down to Wichita to find some maturity, twice. Dave Semenko couldn’t stay in the lineup. And Stan Weir was the number two centerman on the powerplay. The veterans on the team included Pat Price, Lee Fogolin, Blair MacDonald, Brett Calighen, Curt Brackenbury, Don Murdoch, and the duo of Ron Low and Eddie Mio in net. They were an inconsistent bunch but they had Gretzky, and he was already the most prolific scorer in the NHL.

Reading the book with the knowledge of the events to come makes the anecdotes Gzowski laces together all the more intriguing and fascinating. I can only imagine what those who experienced the growing pains of those early Oiler teams were going through. At times, the tone of expectation of their greatness is not completely different from the tone I hear from a number of sports writers these days about the current cluster of Oiler talent. Like this description of Wayne Gretzky that could easily be found printed in today’s Journal about Ryan Nugent-Hopkins:

“He is deceptively fast… Around the league, and even on the Oilers’ own roster, there are players who might out-race him over a distance or who, once they had gained their momentum, might pass him on an open stretch, but no one ever beats him to an open puck. He is as quick as a whisper. His supleness seems to extend to his ankles…. He is able to swerve suddenly without appearing to move his upper body. Often, though, he leans into these turns, dropping one shoulder so low that is seems inevitable he will fall, but catching himself at the last moment, and scooting off in a different direction. There are opponents who swear he can move sideways” (pg 35-36).

Ok, maybe not yet; but reading his scouting reports from Red Deer I could swear they sound like Gzowski wrote them sight unseen. Or how about this one on Messier:

“He is so young in many ways and so old in others. He can be the best player on the ice, or the worst, and sometimes he is both on the same shift. In conversation he can be solemn, reflective, articulate, or as surly as a punk rocker, just as in a game he can be as thrilling as any player on the team or, without apparent reason, can decide to go for a leisurely skate” (pg 29).

Sound like Taylor Hall, no? Perhaps a little too enigmatic as Hall is a bull out there most every shift. I think I may be forcing the comparison between the two teams, 30 years apart, but the comparisons are there for those who want them.

I’m not finished the book (approx. pg 180 of 260) but the conclusion is starting to show itself already. Plus, we know how great these guys become so the gushing optimism is understandable if not acceptable. Still, throughout the narrative we start to notice the steady presence of commercialism creeping into the game, stripping it of its innocence.

Subtle at first. Gzowski will describe a scene where the Oilers play a little pick-up game in the bowels of Maple Leaf Gardens where Dave Lumley uses Low’s goalie equipment while Kevin Lowe and Dave Hunter take potshots at him with a paper ball, written with a nostalgia that hints at a dying image; or more obvious later when Grezky orders a quiche at his favourite restaurant in Edmonton, Walden’s downtown, and to drink “a wine cooler with 7-up (one of his sponsors) instead of ginger ale” (pg 178). It is a little reminder that Gretzky is a spokesman even when he’s grabbing a quick bite to eat.

Yet, hints of the old game, the game that Gzowski grew up playing, the game of his childhood, the game of his life (hence the title), still lingers in the modern NHL like smoke in a recently vacated room. There are whispers that the young men playing are aware they are apart of something bigger than themselves, something that came before them, even while they seek to redefine it. Leaving us with the game and a league we love today.

A brilliant read.

Advertisements

5 thoughts on “Going Streaking

    • I might have had to pull that trick out a time or two.

      City bus + swaying of traffic + any animate object = teenage excitement

      Thank Buchie for three-handled back packs.

  1. Pingback: Who Would You Rather Be? | Buchberger Keepin'

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s