Archive for September, 2012

10th Season of the Silvertips

Posted: September 22, 2012 in Hockey

Tonight marks the beginning of the magical 10th season for the Everett Silvertips in the Western Hockey League.  Looking back over the previous nine years it has been quite the ride with countless ups and nearly as many downs.  It feels like it was only yesterday that I was walking into that arena for the very first time to watch the team’s inaugural home opener.  Little did any of us know then what was in store.

I will openly admit that I was one of the skeptics when I first heard that Everett was building an arena for a hockey team.  Wait, what?  Seriously?  Who on earth thinks that Everett is going to be able to sustain a hockey team?  I knew I’d be into it for sure, but what about the rest of Snohomish County?  Definitely not your stereotypical hockey hotbed.  Oh well, it was going to be hockey in our back yard so might as well enjoy it while it was here – which I didn’t think would be for long.

Inside the barn that first night you could tell that a large portion of the crowd was made up of life long residents in the area who came out just to see what this new exciting chapter in the city’s history was all about.  There were definitely a lot of blank stares as people tried to sort out what it was they were witnessing.  On the other hand, there was a great contingent of us hockey fans who knew exactly what this was all about and were extremely appreciative of it.

As that first season wore on the team turned into not just a local phenomenon but somewhat of an international one as well.  The WHL had never before seen an expansion team put together the success that the Tips had and it all culminated with a trip to the league final.  That post-season run is easily the most valued memory that I have from a fan standpoint with the highlight being the conference championship series against the Kelowna Rockets.  To this day if you bring that series up with anyone who was following the team back then both of you will get shivers down your spine and the adrenaline starts pumping.

Through the years since, the organization has made itself arguably the community’s most cherished possession.  There were the highs of winning three division titles and being the league’s best team during the regular season.  There were the lows of playoff upsets and of the loss of members of the Tips family in Dave Piland, Jordan Mistelbacher and Jim Smith.  There were too many events in between to even begin thinking about mentioning them.

All I know for sure is that it has been a great ride.  My personal pinnacle of which was having the absolute honor of working for the team from February of 2007 to February of 2008; plus a few “one-off” games in the couple of seasons after.   I can truthfully say that every single night – whether in the press box for home games or working road games in my bedroom via radio/internet video feed – I would have a couple of different moments where I got a huge smile and was very grateful that I was actually working in the Western Hockey League for one of the league’s premiere organizations.  I will forever cherish those memories.

Now, here we stand tonight on the brink of a once in a life time opportunity.  It’s not every night that you get to share in such a milestone event with your favorite sports team.  This evening will be full of excitement, reflection and hope – lots and lots of hope for the next ten years.  We have absolutely no idea what to expect between now and then.  Nine years ago, we didn’t know either.

I think it turned out pretty well.

Richie Sambora’s new solo album was released on Tuesday and sadly not enough people are aware of that.  Aftermath of the Lowdown is Richie’s third solo release and first since 1998’s Undiscovered Soul (his debut album was Stranger in This Town in 1991).  It is a great record that genuinely reflects the personality of the man behind it and gives great insight to the tumultuous road he has traveled down the past handful of years.

My initial reaction after my first listen was that I felt kind of lost.  At first, there didn’t seem to be much of a flow in terms of his sound.  Of the eleven tracks it could be argued that there are three distinct sub-albums within the main album: one-third is in your face rock with lots of effects both vocally and with the guitars; one-third is light on those effects and consist of Richie straight rocking out; one-third are a lot lighter with great grooves, easy to follow vocal tracks and could easily be big radio hits.

That, as I said, was my initial reaction.  I have since listened from start-to-finish more than a half dozen times and am a huge fan of the whole production.  Those heavy effects that I found to be a bit distracting?  They are what give the songs a true identity.  The seemingly pointless jumps from song style A to B to C back to B back to C back to A and so on?  They are a crystal clear projection into the heart and soul of one of music’s most unsung guitar heroes and songwriters.

As everyone knows, Richie is most easily identified as the lead guitarist for Bon Jovi as well as Jon Bon Jovi’s best friend and right-hand man.  However, even if you’re not a fan of the band then you’re probably all too well versed via the tabloids and paparazzi in Richie’s personal struggles of everything from alcohol addiction to divorce to on again, off again relationships.  All of which are vocalized by him in every line of every song on this album.  Every emotional hit he has ever taken, every bottle of alcohol he has ever thrown back, every “one pill too many” he’s swallowed down, every love lost – he makes you feel it all.  For that he deserves every ounce of credit.

The man is an artist, a musician both with his guitar and his pen.  I am an amateur (at best) songwriter and have been asked how I find it so easy to put my emotions down on paper and to share such personal feelings.  Well, if it was hard then that would defeat the purpose.  A song is written to convey the innermost thoughts and emotions of the songwriter and putting it out for public conception is the whole goal.  It’s how we communicate.  Richie communicates to the point where the listener is left with absolutely no doubts as to what was running through his heart and mind when he wrote these pieces.

I’m not going to give a breakdown of all the songs, or even a snippet of the track listing because most of you have not listened to any of them.  I don’t like reading about a song’s breakdown before I’ve heard it because I run the risk of falling victim to the reviewer’s point of view.  The whole concept of listening to new music is to gain your own perspective by way of the artist’s perspective.  I found I easily relate to most of the songs on Aftermath but not necessarily for the same reasons as Richie.  That’s okay.  Just because it’s easy to feel where he himself was at in life when he was feeling those emotions doesn’t mean my heart can’t translate those same emotions in a different manner.  Same words and same emotions just different thoughts, memories and perspectives.

Life gives us those emotions.  They then get stored in our heart and soul until we figure out what to do with them.  Some people keep them there forever.  Some people act them out whether for better or for worse.  Some don’t know what on earth to do with them.  Some unique people turn them into words which empower others when they are heard.  Richie is one of those unique people.  Aftermath of the Lowdown is one of those unique albums.

However, we now know that maybe Richie isn’t as unique as we really think.  Ultimately he’s just a man who hurts, bleeds and cries like the rest of us.  Pick up a copy of Aftermath of the Lowdown and do your own hurting, bleeding and crying with him.  It’s okay.  We’re not too unlike my first impressions of the album: at first things seem all over the map, not much rhyme and reason, but after a while you come to realize that in life all of that craziness is what makes it work.  You get to take every emotion you’ve ever carried with you and put them to use.  Somehow.  It’s your choice.

Thank you Richie for choosing to share yours through music and don’t worry – we will always be here to listen.  And we’re all better for it.

OHL + NHL = Get it together…now!

Posted: September 19, 2012 in Hockey

I am not in any way a fan of David Branch.  The Ontario Hockey League commissioner is, in my opinion, the worst person of authority in major junior hockey.  He really makes you sit back and wonder how much of a hockey fan he really is.

It has been going on for a while now but it really picked up last season when Branch was placed on record in the New York Times talking about how the desire is out there to minimize fighting in hockey.  Minimizing being a best case scenario as many people want to see it completely outlawed.  Why?  Supposedly to increase player safety.  Again, you have to wonder if folks with this mindset are truly hockey fans.  My guess is no.  I don’t care if they’re former players.  I don’t care if they’re highly regarded front office staffers.  I don’t care if they’ve been around the game for 45-years and have seen the numerous different eras that have come and gone.  Because if they were any of those three they should even more so understand and appreciate the art of fighting in hockey.

Starting this season, Branch is going to impose a two game suspension to players going beyond a total of ten fights (plus an additional $1,000 fine to the player’s team).  Should a player get tagged with an instigating penalty after reaching his ten fights then the suspension doubles to four games.  The most absurd rule of all encompasses the types of fights that carry an automatic two game suspension (regardless of the player’s overall fight count for the season): instigating in the final five minutes of a game, fighting at the opening of a period, “staged” fights at any time and whenever the player purposely takes off his helmet before a fight.

Real quickly I can rebut these in one paragraph.  Let’s start with instigating in the final five minutes and here’s the scenario: your team is up 3-0 having thoroughly outplayed your opponent.  Their second line center takes a non-penalized checking-from-behind run at your fourth liner who’s out there trying to earn playing time and as the enforcer you can’t do a damn thing?  How is that protecting player safety?  Or what about not being able to “stage” fights?  In all honesty that’s the absolute safest way for a fight to occur.  Both participants are willing, therefore, they know it’s coming.  Staged fights usually happen at a face-off or when both players are fresh into shifts so both have maximum energy and can withstand the rigors of the tilt.  But above all, it allows them to take care of the situation right then and there.  It doesn’t allow for heated emotions to fester and boil over; eventually that leads to a third member getting dragged into the mess and a mid-play fight erupting while there’s already enough chaos happening on the ice.

Okay, yes player safety is extremely crucial and all steps for possible improvement need to be investigated.  However, it is still hockey.  It is still an extremely fast, heavy contact game played on ice.  Injuries that threaten careers will forever be a part of it with some of those coming accidentally and some of them coming as result of players not watching out for one another.  So let the game police itself.  We don’t need men in suits who played for a little while in bantam (if even that) telling the guys on the ice when they can and can’t standup for themselves or their team mates.

——————————————————————————————-

Here I go with another quick rant.  I know I spoke of the NHL lockout in my last post, but since then it has become a finalized situation and just today all pre-season games through September 30 have been canceled.  There was only one major meeting last week and barely anything scheduled for this week.  How much of a bigger slap to the face of the fans could the NHL dish out?  Three lockouts in the last 18 years with the most recent of which still talked about on a regular basis as having been the darkest moment in the league’s history.  My only question is where is the commissioner Gary Bettman in this whole deal?

Oh, that’s right – he’s 100% on the side of the owners and doing their negotiations for them.  How on earth does that make any sense?  As I’ve said before: I’m just a simple man and don’t fully understand how these situations work.  But what I do fully understand is that I’m a fan of hockey and there needs to be a new Collective Bargaining Agreement made immediately and the one man who should be most concerned about it is the one leading the charge to lockout the players.  Gary Bettman is the COMMISSIONER – it’s his sole duty to make sure his league operates as smoothly as possible.  Well, guess what.  It’s not operating at all right now.  There is no reason why Bettman should be taking any sides.  He needs to sit the owners and the players association down in a room, lock the door, set a timer for 24-hours and tell them to figure their crap out by the time it dings.

It was no secret that the CBA was going to expire this fall.  Why no rigorous stretch of meetings ever occurred is an absolute travesty.  Everyone knew this time was coming and no efforts were visibly made (from a fan’s perspective) to protect the game.  What a joke.  The owners should be disgusted with themselves.  Gary Bettman should no longer have a job.  Give us back our game.

Just drop the puck!

First and foremost, Alex Zanardi won Paracycling gold today at the Paralympics in London.  His horrendous Champ Car crash in Europe in 2001 was a fatal accident in all respects.  The ferociousness of the impact itself, the loss of blood, the injuries – if you’ve ever read or heard the information from the doctors who were involved in the situation there is no reason to believe that he stood a chance of survival.  But, survive he did.  Not only did he recuperate to a normal life without his legs, he went on to compete again in racing thanks to his prosthetics.  As if that weren’t accomplishment enough he proceeded to win races again, win another championship and now a gold medal.

He has already written one book and is now almost assuredly necessitated into writing a second.  Alex is my number one example of inspiration and a never give up attitude.  If anyone in the world is in a state of their lives where they need a role model to look up to, Alex Zanardi is their guy.

—————————————————————————————-

The Grand-Am series and the American Le Mans Series announced today that they are merging beginning with the 2014 racing season.  This is a great step forward for sports car racing in this country but I am very cautiously optimistic.  In my opinion, sports cars are the purest form of four wheeled racing that there is.  From distinctive manufacturers to the challenge of racing through all hours of the day and night no matter what the weather conditions are.  That is why I lean toward ALMS more than Grand-Am.  The latter is essentially owned by NASCAR and it shows: cars look identical with the only difference being engine manufacturers, races are on (slightly) smaller tracks, rules packages created to cause close racing.  Where ALMS on the other hand displays very distinguishable differences amongst the manufacturers, races tend to be a bit longer and are done on tracks that really test man and machine.

With that said, the way in which this merger transpires is extremely crucial for the success of the series.  While sports car racing is my personal favorite, it’s not suited for the typical American race fan.  That’s why NASCAR is so popular in this country: it’s straightforward, designed (and in my opinion sometimes “scripted” – for lack of a better word) for close racing and easy to follow.  Sports car racing has been solid but not overly successful in this nation with two separate series.  However, this stretches beyond our domestic boarders and has international concerns.  ALMS is named after the world’s most famous race: 24 Hours of Le Mans.  Depending on what rules packages the new series incorporates, that could jeopardize American based teams getting invites to compete every June in France.  That would be a massive heartbreaker and killer for the potential growth of the series.  I certainly don’t think any of the powers-at-be are stupid enough to ignore that aspect of the merger, but I have my concerns.  After all, it basically includes NASCAR involvement and I don’t trust that organization one bit.

—————————————————————————————

The first game of the NFL’s regular season was played tonight.  What’s my favorite part about football season?  The fact that it means it’s damn near hockey season.  The purest, most beautiful team sport in the world is at risk of losing yet another season from its premiere league.  The NHL needs to get its crap together.  The current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires next Saturday and for all intents and purposes from a fan’s perspective absolutely zero progress has been made.  Now I know I’m just a simple man who doesn’t fully know the true extent of the negotiations, but I do know the whole situation stinks.  I know there should be more efforts being made to get meetings put into session.  I know Gary Bettman is a horrible commissioner.  Seriously, in my opinion he’s brutal.  Shouldn’t his primary concern be not having a repeat of the last lockout in which an entire season was lost?  What has he done to this point to prevent that?  Again, I know I’m just a dullard when it comes to the current CBA situation but from my perspective he hasn’t done nearly enough to get the two sides together to hash out an agreement.  He is the commissioner.  It’s not his job to pick a side; it’s his job to make sure a new CBA gets done.  Period.

I absolutely love hockey.  It’s my saving grace.  When I’m having a bad day or needing a “pick-me-up” in life and Bon Jovi’s music isn’t available, I know that a hockey game will do the trick.  With that said, I will lose an incredible amount of respect for the NHL if a lockout happens yet again.  I will in no way look at the league the same and won’t hesitate to distance myself from it.  Those who know me need look no further than my life growing up in racing to understand that I mean it when I stand up for what I believe in and denounce the people, places and things that I don’t believe in.  If this lockout happens, I will lose a lot of belief in the NHL.  Almost as much as I’ve lost in Bettman.  Almost, but not quite.

—————————————————————————————

I’ve never really gotten too personal on these pages before.  Yes, everything I type is a personal chunk of me but I’ve always tried to keep it professional.  However, in my personal life next week something very incredible is going to happen.  My cousin and absolute best friend is getting married and I get to be her Man of Honor.  Yes, that’s right.  I’m standing on her side of the wedding party.  I cannot stress enough how incredibly honored and insanely proud I am to have such a role.  To even be told that you get to be in a wedding is quite the experience that not everyone gets to enjoy, but to be a Man of Honor?  How many men get to say that?  Yes, I have faced a lot of laughs and weird looks when I’ve told people my title, but I just beam a huge smile back and tell them to screw off.  It will for sure be an absolute highlight of my life – not just for the obvious selfish reason, but because I get to be standing up there with my best friend to watch her enter into the new chapter of her life with her soul mate and true love.  I can’t wait!