Monday, March 12, 2018

My NHL Moments

Hockey is a sport that the majority of Canadians have a passion for. Not everyone I'm sure but for most our National Sport is something we all enjoy and to some extent worship. 

All levels of the game are appreciated and celebrated. I liken it to the fervor that surrounds football in the United States or soccer in Europe. Hockey in Canada is a way of life and a source of national pride. And aside from international tournaments where our very best compete, the highest level of competition comes from the National Hockey League.

The NHL provides the best and brightest in the game a place to play and entertain. Certainly the talent level is watered down now that the league has grown from six to 31 teams but each team has its stars and there's nothing like sitting in the crowd to cheer on your favourite team in person.

My favourite team is the Montreal Canadiens. Twenty-four Stanley Cup victories and a perennial playoff participant usually. I've been fortunate to be alive for 10 of those Championship seasons. Sadly, this season they've faltered but don't get me started on that.

I come by my love for the Habs honestly. My father is and always has been a Montreal fan all of his 80 years. We'd sit in front of the TV and listen to Danny Gallivan and Dick Irving Jr on Hockey Night in Canada. Of course for my dad, it started with Foster Hewitt and the Montreal and Toronto rivalries.

My grandfather was an Engineer for the Canadian Pacific Railroad and my father as a young man also found work with CP in the train yard in our hometown. Back then CP ran passenger trains as well and among those passengers were the Montreal Canadiens players who would from time to time stop in Trenton on the way too and from Montreal. For a young man to see these legendary figures was something to behold.

So the Habs have been my team for 50 years and I hear if from my friends who are Toronto Maple Leafs fans quite often. We enjoy some friendly jabs back and forth but despite our loyalties to our respective teams, we all share a common love for the game.

Over the years I've been lucky enough to attend some of these game in person. Ticket prices now are for the most part obscene and attending a game is a rarity. I have however been witness to some wonderful memories at the few games I have enjoyed at the rink.

The best player to ever play the game, in my opinion, is Wayne Gretzky. Number 99 holds all kinds of records and to see him play with Edmonton and Los Angeles on TV was a treat. But there was nothing compared to seeing him play live. I had an opportunity to see Wayne play for L.A. in 1991 at Maple Leaf Gardens.
My ticket stub from the game.
When you see what he did when the camera wasn't on him it was so impressive. The way he could anticipate the play and where he needed to be was one of a kind.

Going to the game I remember thinking to myself, "I'd just like Wayne to score a goal." It was the one and only time I was going to see him play and I just wanted to say I saw him score once. My all-time favourite player was Guy Lafleur and I did have an opportunity to see him play in person at the end of his career but his age was a factor and even though the thrill of seeing him was there, he just wasn't the player he used to be. That wasn't the case for Gretzky on this night. Not only did Wayne score one goal but he added another and two assists on the way to a 5-2 win over the Leafs. Luc Robitaille also had two goals in the game and one assist. I left the rink a very happy 23 year old kid at heart.

My last time in Maple Leaf Gardens was also the last time the Montreal Canadiens played there as well. I had a pair of tickets to see the Leafs host the Habs in the final meeting between these two teams at MLG. Being able to say you were there was pretty cool.
My ticket from the game.
My friend Matt and I were seated at the south end of the rink and before the game even started, the level of excitement was intense. It usually is when these two teams meet but on this night with what it represented it went to a whole new level.

The game itself was entertaining and Montreal would win 2-1 but it was the pre-game festivities that I was most excited about and will never forget. With this rivalry and the history we knew something special was going to happen and we weren't disappointed. Welcomed to the ice for the ceremonial puck drop were two legends, former Maple Leaf Ted "Teeder" Kennedy and former Canadiens player Maurice "Rocket" Richard. I didn't put a stop watch on it but the standing ovation for these two greats had to have lasted at least 10 minutes if not longer. My hands were killing me by the time the applause finally subsided. The love and appreciation shown to these two men I'm sure was something to see on Hockey Night in Canada but to be there in person was exhilarating.

The last of my favourite NHL hockey moments doesn't involve any player. It centers around a man who I've admired, loved and aspired to be like my whole dad.

In the past I had on a couple of occasions to take my dad to see Montreal play but it was always on the road. We saw them play the Lightning in Tampa a couple of times and after this we saw the Leafs and Habs play at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. Seeing a game with my dad has always been special, even a Junior hockey game.

My dad had never seen Montreal play in Montreal. The Forum would have been fantastic but sadly it was gone and the team was playing in the Bell Centre but I was determined to get him to a game to experience a Habs home game first hand. 

The game was on Valentine's Day in 2012. We took a train to Montreal and got our hotel room for the night.
Dad standing beside the plaque of his favourite player.
It was freezing cold so we couldn't venture out too long but we could see the Bell Centre just a block away so we decided to bundle up and go down in the afternoon to view the monuments and history outside the rink. We then went and enjoyed an early supper before going back to the hotel to get rested and then left for the rink to be there when the doors opened. I must say, we didn't speak a word of French and anyone we talked to were kind enough to switch to English no problem at all both on the street and in the arena.

Seeing dad look out at the ice once we get inside was kind of a cool moment for me. He was finally going to see a Habs home game. It didn't matter if they won or lost, we were just thrilled to experience the atmosphere first hand. And I can tell you, even for a regular season game against Carolina, the crowd and feeling inside that arena was like nothing else. It's true what they say about seeing a game in Montreal. In the end the trip cost me a pretty penny but the memories I have and to experience that with my dad was priceless.

I've included a video below that I shot of my dad walking out and seeing the rink for the first time.

I have been very lucky to witness some very cool NHL moments in person and I'm sure many of you have similar experiences as well. What saddens me is seeing what the prices of tickets are now and knowing that there are a lot of hockey fans who will never get to have similar opportunities simply because they can't afford it or justify spending so much money on tickets to a game. Greed has taken priority today.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Family Blessings

Looking outside as I type this, the snow is falling and the mercury has begun to plummet into double digits. This time of year I always find myself being a little conflicted.

The summer is my favourite season. The mosquitoes and bugs kinda suck but I'll take the warmth, golfing and time spent sharing campfires under the stars with Lee and the family all year round if I could. Something so simple brings me so much happiness. For this reason I despise winter because I don't like the cold, being stuck inside for months and the sun is rarely seen.

For as much as I can't stand the arrival of winter, I also appreciate that it brings the end of the year and a perfect opportunity to reflect on what has happened over the last 12 months and to appreciate the people in my life.

I am so blessed on several points. I have a loving, funny, beautiful and intelligent girlfriend who; despite my quirks and weird behaviour; embraces my faults and brings so much happiness into my life every day.

Her two beautiful daughters and their husbands have welcomed me into their lives from day one and I appreciate them very much. The year has been stressful at times but our support and love for each other grows every day. I love you Lee.

My parents are still alive, which in my father's case is a miracle. Over three years ago, in June 2014, dad was diagnosed with with Stage 4 Renal Cell Carcinoma. Cancer had formed in his only remaining kidney and had moved beyond it. The prognosis was not good and the Oncologist told us that Christmas 2014 would be his last.

My dad is my hero and I've never known a stronger, sweeter, more hard working or caring man. But he also showed me just how much of a fighter he is as well. The road hasn't been easy for him but he's still fighting hard and if all goes well he'll celebrate his 80th birthday in June.

Mom has faced her own battles as well, including surgery to have a defibrillator / pacemaker placed in her chest. The woman never stops going.
At 76 she still caters for the Lioness Club, canvasses for the Cancer Society and prevents dad from becoming a permanent part of the furniture by keeping him active. I don't say it enough but I love you mom and dad.

The year brought some fun moments along the way including a visit from my brother Scott, sister-in-law Erin and the kids who traveled from Florida to spend a couple of weeks here in the summer. We had so much fun and made some amazing memories.

Lee's daughter Addison got married to Conrad in October in Collingwood and we were so happy to be a part of their special day. Now we await the arrival of a baby girl due later this month. Lee's oldest daughter Jessyca and her husband Matt were here a few weeks ago and we all celebrated little Dax's first birthday.

I truly believe that family is always the most important thing in our lives and I have been blessed to have oodles of family moments this year. Life may throw you some curve-balls and challenges along the way but family is always the glue and support system you can count on.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

One Bullet For Him

The following is a true story and sad story told to me of a long time friend of mine. The names of been changed to protect their privacy.

Growing up, every summer beginning as a newborn, my parents would pack up the car and we’d be off camping at Presqu’ile Provincial Park. These vacations were a highlight and to this day hold some of my favourite memories as a child.

While camping there we met and became friends with a family from Pennsylvania, the Anderson's, and our vacations would be planned so we would be there at the same time. They had several children who were older than me but I would spend a lot of time hanging out with them from the time I was 10 until I was in my teens. To this day some of them still come up to camp although their parents have long since passed on.

They convinced a friend of theirs to make the trip north in the late 70’s. His name is Bubba. Well, that’s what he went by. If anyone spoke his real name he didn’t appreciate it much. Bubba had such a good time that trip that he too decided to visit us every summer as well.

One year, Bubba brought his girlfriend Noreen up with him and they decided to get married while they were here.

We all helped to organize a little reception for them at the campsite after they returned from the Justice of the Peace. It was such a happy occasion surrounded by their friends and they’re still together to this day.

Time passed and Bubba and Noreen would always make the trip across the border to celebrate their anniversary at their favourite camping spot and I always made a point to visit them for a beer and maybe some card playing.

This continued up until about five years ago when we stopped seeing them and heard nothing from them. We knew Bubba had retired but as far as we were concerned all was okay, they just weren’t able to get away for some reason. Sadly, even in this day and age we didn’t even have an email address to contact them.

Fast forward to this fall when one of the Anderson boys showed up at the park again for some Fall camping. He gave us the scoop on what had happened to Bubba and why we hadn’t seen them in years.

Bubba enjoyed hunting. One day he grabbed his gun and ammo and decided to trek into the wilderness of Pennsylvania by himself. He’d done this before and he always went well off the beaten path where he’d never see another human, only wildlife.

This excursion began like so many before but eventually took an unforeseen and scary turn. It was during this trip that Bubba became ill.

He started to feel odd and eventually collapsed on the spot. I can’t even imagine the panic that must have been going through his mind. He was unable to stand or walk. He lost all use of his legs and any chance to get out of a hopeless situation. It was quite likely that where he sat was where he’d die.

Things were bleak to say the least. Bubba’s only hope was to fire off his gun and hope that someone would hear it and find him. The chances of him being found in time or that anyone would hear the gunshots or cries for help were bleak and he knew this. He loaded and discharged his weapon repeatedly most of the afternoon with no luck. As his ammo was getting low, he made the horrible choice to save one bullet for himself. If it came down to freezing to death or being lost forever in the hills of Pennsylvania, he decided that he’d rather end his life on his own terms.

It was looking more and more like his only remaining option would be to use that final bullet. The sun was setting, the temperature was dropping and not surprisingly he hadn’t seen or heard anyone the entire day. All of a sudden as if God had heard his prayers, someone emerged out of the bush right where he had collapsed. This was unheard of. In all the years hunting this area, Bubba had never encountered a single soul. But to his amazement, standing before him was his saviour.

Immediately the call went out to rescue him. Search and Rescue were scrambled and located him deep in the forest propped up against a rock and unable to move. Bubba was placed on a helicopter and air lifted to a hospital where it was eventually determined he'd had a serious stroke.

To this day, I'm told, he has been unable to regain the use of his legs and remains paralyzed from the waist down. His life is changed forever but he has his life thanks to a bullet he never used and miracle he never expected.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Remembrance Day Myth

Halloween has come and gone and with it went my diet and craving for chocolate. I think I might have set a new record for most tiny Aero bars eaten in the time it took to hand out candy to the trick or treaters visiting the house.

No sooner does All Hallows' Eve pass and the annual controversy surrounding Remembrance Day and Christmas resurfaces with a passion and anger no other holiday can achieve.

I'm not sure what fueled this debate but I can guess that the world of retail sales likely had a lot to do with it.
How dare these stores start pumping Christmas carols out of their speakers before November 11th and the day we honour our veterans of past conflicts and wars. Why is this even controversial?

Is there some rule or bylaw that states celebrating the holiday season can't begin until we've officially recognized the sacrifices made by our brave men and women in uniform? Am I disrespecting their memory by listening to Jingle Bells on November 8th?

I consider myself lucky to have spent my entire life living in a military city. I have known many people who have served in dangerous places as peace keepers and in areas of brutal conflict. My uncle served in World War 2 and I knew a couple of men who landed on Juno Beach in Normandy on D-Day and survived. One man hit the beach and had friends on either side of him shot and killed as they moved forward.

These men I knew have since passed away but I asked one of them several years ago about this very subject. While he didn't like to talk about the war too much, he did feel strongly that he fought to preserve our freedom and way of life. Freedom means being able to celebrate whatever you want whenever you want and he had no issue or complaint with people celebrating Christmas prior to Remembrance Day.
He only asked that for that minute at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month you think about the sacrifices he and his fellow soldiers gave so that we may live as we do today.

I don't think that's too much to ask which is why I always try to attend the service at the cenotaph on November 11th or at the very least stop and silently remember them. I know for a fact that if I'm listening to Christmas music on the way to the service he'd be completely fine with that and that's good enough for me.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Give Up Drivng

I think it's fair to say that the majority of people who drive their chosen mode of transportation will tell you they're a good driver. I'm here to tell you that that is complete crap for a vast majority of them!

While I feel I am an excellent driver overall, there are times when I do falter in this department. I've been guilty of driving too close or speeding, although I don’t drive nearly as fast now as I did in my younger years. I rarely speed within city limits by more than 5 km/h and on the highway when its smooth sailing I might be 15 to 20 km/h over. Judging by the number of vehicles that pass me like I'm standing still, that doesn't seem so bad. 

My biggest annoyance on the roads today is how so many drivers feel their destination is more important to arrive at than anyone else's.

This need to be first usually results in people running red lights, excessive speeding, dangerous lane changes and the general disregard of most common sense and safety concerns.

Racing to beat the traffic lights is so common in my town that instead of policing this problem and nabbing these scofflaws, the city has added delays to the most accident prone intersections. These morons now know that when they go through a red light, the delay of four seconds before the light turns green the other way means they can break the law safely. I can see the added safety by instituting these delays but this does nothing to deter this illegal practice which has reached epidemic proportions.

A few years ago I was stopped at a red light and once it turned green I slowly proceeded through the intersection only to have a woman fly through the red and sheer off the front of my new car. Had I been faster to move forward she could have T-boned me and left me seriously injured. As it was it took over $10-thousand to fix my car. Sadly, a year later a tire came off the front of a truck approaching me and demolished the front of my car again. That also cost $10-thousand to repair but luckily the tire didn't bound through the windshield and kill me. 

Speeding within the city limits is out of hand as well. Nobody likes to get where they're going more than I do but getting there in one piece and safely is most important. I'd like to say I've slowed down as I've matured but the truth is I see aggressive drivers of all ages today. To be honest however, these speed demons seem to be more often of the female persuasion and of all ages. This isn't sexist, it's a fact. I've had women agree with me on this. The majority of male speeders seem to be younger in age.

The stats speak for themselves and between speed and distracted driving these are the most likely causes of accidents today. In a province where using a hands free device is the law, I'm shocked by the number of people I see every day with phones to their ears or texting while driving.

Before the law changed and the fines became so severe, I would be one of these people and I know from my own experience that this was a dangerous practice. Once the laws against distracted driving came to be, I went 100% hands free and it was the best decision I ever made. And with the new operating system on my iPhone, I don’t get any notifications while I'm driving so I'm not even tempted to look at texts or alerts. In today's vehicles with Bluetooth a standard feature, there's no excuse to break the law.

Some days I dread leaving the house because I know I'm going to have several near misses or witness numerous illegal and dangerous examples of driving and it frustrates me beyond belief. One thing it allows me to do however is use my horn more and curse a blue streak at these menaces to society.