JUST DESERTS

NO, EDMONTON OILERS MANAGEMENT DIDN’T DESERVE CONNOR MCDAVID LAST YEAR. BUT THE LONG SUFFERING, OFTEN INSULTED OILERS FAN BASE DID

(This is a revised edition of a story that appeared on Hautnews.com last September)

In the days leading up to 2015’s NHL Draft Lottery, I’d abandoned any notion that my Edmonton Oilers had any chance (or business) winning it’s fourth first overall pick in the span of six years, let alone landing teenage phenom Connor McDavid. I assumed that Buffalo or Arizona or Toronto would win that honour and my Oilers would be drafting third or fourth. Around the time I was wondering if highly touted defenseman Noah Hanifin would be ready to step directly onto the Oilers woeful blue line the following season (and what the odds were that our inept management would rush him if he wasn’t anyway) I checked my phone to see who had won the McDavid sweepstakes.

Forget a double take, I had to do a triple one because I couldn’t believe my eyes the first two times. Somehow the Edmonton Oilers, the team I’d adored since childhood and who had spent the past nine years unapologetically wiping their feet on my exhausted loyalty, had won the biggest hockey lottery in recent memory.

Before I knew it, my social media was filled with complaints and howls of outrage (because I was somehow responsible for the way the lottery balls fell). The Oilers didn’t deserve another first overall pick! they screamed. Edmonton would ruin him, they whined. McDavid needed to pull a Lindros and refuse to play for the Oilers. And while the Oilers improbable victory should have laid the multiple conspiracy theories that the NHL’s draft lottery was fixed to rest, it sparked absurd new ones that the draft was fixed in Edmonton’s favour.

It was a sweet river of salty tears.

video via Jordan Love

It prompted a buffet of jokes, indignation and genuine fear that Edmonton would win the first overall pick in 2016 as well, earning the right to draft Auston Matthews this year (check out the comments to the video above). And I get it. I may be a die-hard fan but I’m also a pragmatist and few were more critical of this team’s horrible management then I was. I could go on for pages listing the Oilers numerous faults and failures, but Craig MacTavish summed it up during his end of season post mortem press conference last April. He predicted that the 2015-2016 season would be another “transitional” season. Translation: another season where the team spun its wheels at the bottom of the standings and were eliminated from the playoff conversation by Halloween (Christmas at the latest). This was virtually two years to the day that he promised bold moves to get the team back to respectability as the team’s new General Manager. In two brief years he had gone from selling long suffering Oilers fans hope to stealing it away.

And all of that after a nine-year playoff drought. It was a rotten time to be an Oilers fan. Until the evening of April 18th 2015, when the lottery balls blessed us with McDavid.

I was initially ecstatic, but that excitement soon gave way to dread. If there was any organization on Earth that could ruin a guaranteed shot at a generational talent, it was Edmonton. But even if they got it right (a rarity for Oilers brass), I was afraid that getting McDavid could hurt the franchise in the long run.

When Craig MacTavish replaced Steve Tambellini in April of 2013, Tambellini was widely considered the worst GM in the NHL. MacTavish (who had zero management experience on his resume) somehow made the team worse. And when team president Kevin Lowe wasn’t insulting Oilers fans, he was presiding over the entire train wreck. Lowe was the one constant during the Oilers nine year playoff drought; different players, coaches, GMs and even different owners came and went, but Kevin Lowe was there for all of it and was allowed to keep making decisions. The problem with the Oilers wasn’t their players, it was their management.

But it seemed like the franchise had finally reached a turning point where fan frustration and relentless on ice humiliation had reached critical mass. Fans who had defended management with their dying breath were now the minority as most of the fan base had turned on the front office. Fans bought billboards and full-page newspaper ads urging the team to fire Lowe and eventually MacTavish. Jerseys were being thrown on the ice, seats were left empty and scalpers couldn’t sell five-dollar tickets to see a team that once sold out night after night. Management had all but lost everyone in the local and national media and some Edmonton sports writers admitted that players were quietly urging them to keep the heat on the faltering management team. But McDavid could have been a get out of jail free card for the Gruesome Twosome, his arrival in Oil town possibly buying Lowe and MacTavish an extra few years where they could continue to harm the team through incompetence and neglect.

When people talk about McDavid saving this franchise in the years to come, they won’t just be talking about the miraculous things he’ll be doing on the ice. Less then 48 hours after winning McDavid, a hurricane of change was sweeping through Oil country with a vengeance.

Bob Nicholson, who built Hockey Canada into the powerhouse it is today, was appointed CEO of hockey operations. One of his first orders of business was to push aside Lowe and demote MacTavish, installing Peter Chiarelli, the architect behind the Boston Bruins (who won the Stanley Cup in 2011, returned to the finals in 2013 and won the Presidents Trophy in 2014) as GM and President. Chiarelli then brought in Todd McLellan, one of the best coaching free agents on the market, to tend the bench and the team continued to revamp its coaching and scouting staff through the summer. Would any of those dominoes have fallen without McDavid? Probably not.

As excited as I was last summer, I still tempered my expectations. There was just too much ground for this team to make up in a single year to return to the playoffs and the non stop parade of severe injuries to big names (which started as early as training camp) not only sabotaged Edmonton’s chances to compete for a playoff berth, but at times felt like karma’s way of punishing the Oilers for winning McDavid (who wasn’t immune to the injury jinx, missing three months to a shattered collar bone). But last September was the first time in years I was looking forward to the beginning of the season, the first time in years I had genuine hope. I even dug out the Oilers jersey that had been exiled in shame to the back of my closet.

So yes, the old regime didn’t deserve McDavid, and I absolutely understood the frustration of other fans. But Oilers fans deserved McDavid, not just for our loyalty or for enduring the years of jokes and insults, but for our faith that one day our beloved copper and blue would be free of the clutches of the incompetent and the reckless. It turns out McDavid was the key to that freedom.

Now let’s see what’s in store for McDavid: Year Two.

Shayne Kempton

Photo Connor Mah Standard Flikr License

 

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SHINY BUT EMPTY GLASS

ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS IS BRIGHT AND PRETTY BUT LACKS EVERYTHING THAT MADE THE ORIGINAL MEMORABLE WHILE FAILING TO BRING ANYTHING NEW TO THE FRANCHISE

Director: James Bobin

Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Sacha Baron Cohen, Matt Lucas, Rhys Ifans, Stephen Fry and Lindsay Duncan

Rated: PG

Studio: Walt Disney

Running Time: 1 Hr, 53 Mins

There was a lot to like about 2010’s Alice in Wonderland. Disney and director Tim Burton successfully brought Lewis Carroll’s fairy tale land and the characters that inhabited it to vibrant, brilliant life. Then there was Johnny Depp’s quirky, occasionally scary portrayal of the Mad Hatter (who occasionally deviated from his trademark benign lunacy to become a fearsome fighter with a deep Scottish brogue). But perhaps the most likeable element was Alice herself, who over the course of the movie grew from an uncertain, grief stricken teenager who was on the verge of being pimped off by her well meaning mother (destined to spend her remaining years in a loveless marriage, tending her husband’s digestive “blockage”), to an armour wearing, sword wielding warrior who saved Wonderland by slaying the terrifying and all powerful Jabberwocky.

Unfortunately the same can’t be said for its sequel, Alice Through The Looking Glass.

After captaining her late father’s merchant ship The Wonder for three adventure filled years at sea, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) returns home to discover that, in her absence, her mother’s been forced into a compromising financial situation. She soon finds herself facing a dreary life, barren of adventure and courage, at the same hands of the digestively challenged boor she was almost married to in the first film. All of that is pushed to the back burner when she’s summoned back to Wonderland, this time to save the Hatter (Johnny Depp), whose grief over his family (killed by the Jabberwocky years prior) has poisoned his mind and soul. Alice soon finds herself literally racing Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) to discover the fate of the Hatter’s family.

Along the way she learns a number of secrets (some of them uncomfortable) about her closest friends and the history of Wonderland. And in the midst of all this, the swollen headed, execution happy Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) has returned from her exile to take revenge on her sister the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), Alice and everyone else responsible for her defeat.

The visual effects and world building in Looking Glass easily live up to those of its predecessor and even surpass them on a number of occasions. Depp’s performance remains the best in the movie (though he’s more subdued and given less opportunity to try and salvage the film this time around) though Bonham Carter chews up more then her fair share of scenery reprising her role as the Red Queen. And hearing Alan Rickman’s voice-even for only for two lines-was a gentle but definite tug on the heartstrings (the movie was dedicated to his memory). There are even a few clever little wrinkles in the time hopping story, but unfortunately none of it is enough to elevate Looking Glass above a visually attractive but emotionally empty sequel.

One of the strengths of the original Alice was the sense of discovery. Not everything in Alice was new, but it was at least novel, and seeing Wonderland through an amnesiac Alice’s eyes (who had forgotten her first visit, made when she was a small girl years before) allowed a unique sense of wonder (pardon the pun). Telling the original fairly tale in hindsight and through flashbacks while also telling the new story was an inventive plot device that somehow worked. Alice in Wonderland was a successful exercise in unique movie storytelling, something rare for a live action adaptation of a fairy tale. The sequel lacks that inventiveness and it’s attempts to try and embrace larger concepts (particularly the bonds and demands of family and the need to sacrifice for and forgive our loved ones) fall flat.

Looking Glass is neither as ambitious nor fresh as Wonderland. It isn’t a bad movie, but it isn’t a good one either and it’s certainly not on the same level as Wonderland. The best way to think of it is as an amusing diversion that will be forgotten shortly after you’ve seen it (unlike Wonderland, there’s very little that’s memorable about it). If anything, it’ll put you in the mood to watch the original again.

Shayne Kempton

 

CLOSER TO OK INSTEAD OF X-CELLENT

DESPITE INCREDIBLE SPECIAL EFFECTS AND A STAR STUDDED CAST, X-MEN APOCALYPSE FOCUSES ON STYLE RATHER THAN SUBSTANCE

Director: Bryan Singer

Starring: James McAvoy, Micheal Fassbender, Jenifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Evan Peters, Tye Sheridan, Lucas Till, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Alexandra Shipp, Rose Byrne and Olivia Munn

Rated: PG

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Running Time: 2 Hrs. 24 Mins.

Taking place ten years after the conclusion of X-Men: Days of Future Past, X-Men Apocalypse reveals a world where mutants are no longer a secret and even live out in the open in the few places that have adopted slow albeit grudging tolerance for them. Together with Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), Professor X (James McAvoy) has turned his New York mansion into a School for Gifted Youngsters, offering acceptance and sanctuary to mutants from across the globe (including a young Scott Summers and Jean Grey, played by Tye Sheridan and Sophie Turner respectively). Since being caught on camera rescuing President Richard Nixon and standing up to Magneto in DoFP, Mystique has been elevated to a symbol of mutant resistance and equality, and she busy rescuing mutants from the uglier parts of the world where they’re still threatened and persecuted on a daily basis. Magneto meanwhile (Michael Fassbender) has disappeared despite being the most wanted criminal in the world, finding happiness as an becoming an everyman with a loving wife and daughter.

But when the world’s first and most powerful mutant (Oscar Isaac) awakens from a five thousand year slumber, it isn’t long until Professor X and his students are faced with an evil beyond their imaginations. Apocalypse isn’t just nearly omnipotent, he can also enhance another mutant’s existing power, which he uses to turn his chosen followers into unstoppable warriors (which includes a grief stricken and once again vengeful Magneto). At first Apocalypse plans to simply lay waste to the world, ruling over those strong enough to survive his cataclysm. But when he discovers a way to seize control of every mid on the planet, a power he has long coveted, he plans to become an actual God, feared and worshipped by his new master race of the strong.

Apocalypse boasts some of the best visuals in any of the X movies so far. It masters showing off the character’s powers, seamlessly weaving the visuals into shots that include global destruction and fast paced fight scenes. McAvoy continues to make the character of Professor X his own despite the impressive shadow of Patrick Stewart (it’s interesting watching the Professor’s perspective on the role his school and the X-Men have in the larger scheme of things change through the course of the movie and his final shot in the film tells the entire story of his evolution) and Jennifer Lawrence does her usually efficient job portraying Mystique, a reluctant hero and mutant icon forced into the role of warrior and subsequently teacher. Quicksilver’s (Evan Peters) extended super speed scene is the best visual sequence of the movie as well as its biggest source of laughs while Wolverine’s exaggerated cameo is arguably the best action scene in the film.

Apocalypse tells a good enough story, checking all the major boxes along the way and even addressing some loose ends from the continuity resetting DoFP while setting the narrative back on path (particularly with Wolverine). Technically, it does everything right, but it feels underwhelming. It feels like it’s going through the motions but lacks passion or conviction. This is a movie that threatens Mankind with global destruction and enslavement for the fragments of humanity that survive Apocalypse’s genocide, but the film lacks that emotional weight. There are scenes where entire buildings are yanked from their foundations and cars send spiraling through the sky like dead leaves in an autumn windstorm, but aside from the concerned looks on a bunch of politicians faces, the audience isn’t confronted with the human cost of that widespread destruction. It feels very . . . emotionally sterile.

That’s X-Men: Apocalypse’s weakness, despite it’s brilliant visuals it feels flat. It’s great seeing some of the classic characters in their formative youth, coming to grips with their identities and choosing to become heroes, but we’re given little to no connection to them. This is especially true of the newer characters, who all just kind of show up with little to no development or backstory. Even Olivia Munn’s Psylocke, who was heavily hyped and could have been this movie’s breakout character, comes across as just another extra, an afterthought to be addressed when the script calls for it.

Perhaps nowhere is this flaw more apparent then with the villain himself Apocalypse is supposed to be a larger than life, omnipotent, omnipresent presence, an unyielding force of nature pursuing purity through destruction. In other words, a homicidal demi-god. Despite the extensive makeup, prosthetics and FX, he fails to come across with anything close to that kind of presence. It isn’t Isaac’s fault, who plays Apocalypse as well as could be expected, it just fells like the movie exclusively concerned with how to make him look like Apocalypse and not how to make him feel like an ancient god-powered fanatic bent on the murder of billions.

Don’t get the wrong idea-X-Men Apocalypse is miles better then X_Men: The Last Stand and the Wolverine films (which were mercifully erased from continuity by Days of Future Past)-but it seems far more concerned with it’s look (which is very, very slick) and it’s style then it’s substance. It’s a movie built for appearances and not for delivery, which is a shame because it looks like it’s setting the table for some promising things (although unlike the Marvel and Star Wars films, there doesn’t seem to be a master plan or even a cohesive idea behind the growing tapestry of X-titles). Could director Bryan Singer and company be growing complacent with the franchise? There were even a few moments where Fassbender was looking borderline bored. Perhaps the time has come for an injection of new blood behind the camera as well as in the roster of characters.

Shayne Kempton

ON TOP OF THE WORLD

I PLAY ARMCHAIR GM AND OFFER CANADA A FEW SUGGESTIONS FOR ITS WORLD CUP TEAM

When Hockey Canada released the initial roster for its World Cup entry in February, just about every hockey fan north of the 49th looked at it, judged it and probably complained about it ad nauseam. That’s the fun of tournaments that pit our best against the rest of the world’s elite, and given how deeply hockey is entrenched in Canada’s collective national identity, we Canucks can get pretty passionate about our international rosters. Peruse your favourite online hockey board and you’ll see what I mean.

With everyone involved in this fall’s highly anticipated tourney scheduled to announce their complete rosters in the coming days, I thought it would be fun to name my own Team Canada and see how closely it resembles the actual roster that will carry the Great White North’s banner into icy battle this September. And the best part about being an armchair GM? Zero blame if things go south.

Some of these players have already been named to Canada’s squad and some are likely to be left off. You’ll notice I omitted defenceman Marc Edouard-Vlasic from my fantasy squad even though he’s already been named to Team Canada. I also didn’t take into account considerations like right and left-handed shooters, etc. This is just an exercise in pure fun.

The Forwards

Sidney Crosby: The conversation about forwards begins and ends with team captain, Sidney Crosby. Sid The Kid is a lightning rod for criticism and he took a lot of heat for a very slow start this season, but his critics became a lot quieter once Mike Sullivan took over behind Pittsburgh’s bench and Crosby quickly turned things around, dragging the Pittsburgh Penguins into a playoff spot along the way. While Sid had a very slow start (like seriously slow), he managed to climb into the NHL’s top scorers, finishing third in the League despite his horrible start. The Stanley Cup winning, multiple Hart Trophy recipient’s experience on previous Olympic Rosters (winning Gold in 2010 and again in 2014) would prove invaluable as well.

Jonathan Toews: The Chicago Blackhawks captain is one of the fiercest competitors in the game today, and while his scoring was a little below his normal standards last season, his leadership, physicality and strong defensive play more then compensated. There’s a good reason he’s weeks away from becoming one of the highest paid players in NHL history. With three Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe Trophy and two Olympic gold medals (he was named the top forward of the entire tournament at Sochi in 2014) already on his resume, Toews isn’t just destined to be a top member of Canada’s 2016 World Cup team, he’s destined to be one of its leaders.

Steve Stamkos: In a little over a month’s time, Stamkos is likely going to be the most pursued free agent in NHL history. And a day or two after he hits the market he’s likely to become the highest paid player in NHL history (at least for a season or two). There’s a reason for that. The first overall pick from 2008 already has a pair of fifty goal seasons under his belt, two Maurice Richard Trophies and a Stanley Cup Final appearance. When a 36 goal, 64 point season is considered a disappointment, that isn’t a put down, it’s a testament to how good a player you are. And after missing the Sochi Olympics with a broken tibia, Stamkos deserves a place on this squad and would be the perfect second line centre behind Crosby.

John Tavares: While John Tavares has no collection of NHL hardware or Stanley Cup rings in his trophy case yet, he is by far one of the best players in the game. He practically IS the New York Islanders (think of him as New York’s Carey Price, with him they’re a playoff bound team, without him they’re scouting the first overall pick). When you consider what Tavares has been able to accomplish on Long Island, your respect for him grows by leaps and bounds. There is no question who dresses as the third centre behind Crosby and Stamkos.

Jamie Benn: What to say about Benn? He won the NHL scoring championship in 2014-15 and was the League’s second top scorer last season. He’s perhaps the biggest reason behind Dallas’ recent resurgence and why the Stars were the highest scoring team in the League in 2015-16. While he can play centre, he’s more comfortable (and dangerous) playing left wing and if you slot him on a line with Crosby, Stamkos or Tavares, well you can just sit back and watch the opponent’s goal lamp light up.

Joe Thornton: Often overlooked because of his age and the sunny market he plays in, the 1997 first overall pick and current San Jose Sharks captain is still one of the most durable players in the NHL today (he’s missed just six games over the last seven seasons), he remains one of the NHL’s top point producers (he finished fourth in League scoring last season), he’s widely considered one of the best playmakers and pure passers in the world and is one of the game’s best two-way players. Add all that to his near two decades of experience and how do you not have this guy on your team?

Patrice Bergeron: Bergeron is a warrior and it isn’t a coincidence that every time he dons the red Maple Leaf, Canada usually comes home with gold. A versatile positional player whose considered the best two-way player on the planet (the three time Selke Trophy winner is nominated again this year), Bergeron doesn’t know how to quit. Imagine a high-energy line of Bergeron, Toews and Thornton. You know who doesn’t want to? The rest of the world.

Cory Perry: Like many of the NHL’s top scorers, Perry had a sub par season by his standards in 2015-16. Despite that, the Anaheim sniper finished ninth in the NHL in goals and he remains one of the top right-wingers in the game (as well as a someone who can find his way under the opposition’s skin). A veteran of Canada’s gold medal squads in both the 2010 and 2014 Olympics, you could suit the former Hart Trophy winner and 50 goal scorer up on Sidney Crosby or Steve Stamkos’ wing and watch him terrorize opposing goalies all tournament long.

Tyler Seguin: Seguin has really turned his career around since he land in the Lone Star state a few years ago, and he’s now considered on of the NHL’s premier snipers. When healthy he’s a top ten scorer, he can play both centre and right wing and has great chemistry with Dallas teammate and NHL All Star Jamie Benn. Why wouldn’t you have him on this team?

Taylor Hall: Hall had a great start to the 2015-16 season but faded in the second half (meaning he probably isn’t going to be named to the final roster). But the Kingston Cannonball is still one of Canada’s best pure left wingers (he already has a pair of top ten scoring finishes in his six season career on horrible Edmonton teams), he won back-to-back memorial Cups before turning pro and was a big part of Canada’s gold medal winning teams in both the 2015 and 2016 IIHF World Championships, proving he can come up big in big international tournaments.

Jeff Carter: Carter almost always gets overlooked by fans during these debates and his inclusion in these kinds of tourneys is always questioned by armchair GMs. But Carter can play all three forward positions with equal efficiency and can fill roles on any of your top three lines. Add that versatility to the fact that he’s a puck possession beast, and you can see why he deserves to wear Team Canada’s jersey. He was a huge part of L.A.’s Stanley Cup championships in 2012 and 2014.

Claude Giroux: Like many names on this list, Giroux’s numbers were a bit disappointing last season. Having said that, he was still good enough to lead the Philadelphia Flyers in scoring and finished 20th overall in the NHL. Not too shabby for a “disappointing season.” Giroux is a slick, almost sneaky skater with good size and skill to burn. The fact that he can play centre and right wing is an added bonus and he’d be a valuable asset in a brief but super competitive tournament like this one.

Ryan Getzlaf: Corey Perry’s line mate in Anaheim has also lost an offensive step or two the past few seasons, but he remains one of the NHL’s most efficient two way forwards who can play with a physical edge (and still give you 60 points a season). The Ducks captain would make an ideal thirteenth forward for this squad.

The Blue Line

Drew Doughty: Those who don’t think Doughty is the best defenceman in the game today will, at the very least, concede that he’s the second best. Doughty is arguably the best player in his own zone right now and while he’s no Erik Karlsson or Brent Burns, his offensive skills are often underrated. Make no mistake, Doughty can put the puck in the net (he finished ninth in scoring among NHL defenceman), but he’s all about taking care of business in own zone first. A Burns-Doughty pairing would easily be the best one in the tournament and a thing of pure beauty. He was arguably the most important skater in L.A.’s Stanley Cup victories.

Duncan Keith: Keith is one of a handful of players who have been part of all three of the Chicago Blackhawks recent Stanley Cup wins (the previously listed Jonathan Toews is another). How important has Keith been to the Blackhawks over the years? Other then his three Stanley Cup rings, his considerable resume boasts two Norris Trophies (2010, 2014) and a Conn Smythe Trophy (2015). Easily one of the most versatile and all round rear guards in the game today, Keith is a must have.

Brent Burns: How the Minnesota Wild must be kicking themselves after trading Burns away. The 6’5 San Jose Shark was the highest scoring Canadian born blue liner in the NHL last season, and his 27 goals were one of the biggest reasons why he’s a Norris Trophy nominee. When Burns begins a rush there are few who can challenge him and there are fewer still who can dictate play the way he can at any given point in a game.

Shea Weber: The best defenceman not to win a Norris Trophy (yet), Weber’s howitzer of a shot makes any power play twice as dangerous, the Nashville veteran can defend his net with the best of them and can throw his weight around with the heavyweights. There’s no conversation about Canada’s blue line that doesn’t include Weber.

P.K. Subban: Subban’s actually a long shot to make this team, and the question is why? You need offense? Subban was second among NHL blue liners in assists last season before an injury cut his season short (he still finished 12th among defencemen in scoring despite missing 14 games to said injury). You need physicality? Subban brings that by the metric tonne. You need someone who can play in his own zone? Subban checks that box too. The 2013 Norris Trophy winner brings everything you want in an elite defenceman to the table and then some. While he has matured a little over the years, his passion and agitating style sometimes gets him into penalty trouble. The reverse side of that coin is he’s one of the most frustrating opponents in the game and he draws just as many penalties as he takes, which would allow a fearsome Canadian power play to go to work. And few are as quick as Subban to jump to a teammate’s defence.

Kris Letang: Letang has plenty of experience playing in high-pressure games on star laden rosters. He’s easily one of the best puck carriers in the NHL today (he could probably carry the puck out of the deepest pit of Hades without breaking a sweat) and he’s the personification of perseverance. Letang has overcome a lot of health problems the last few years-including a stroke-but he’s bounced back every time. How can you not have a competitor with his combination of skills and an Everest sized heart on your roster?

Alex Petriangelo: Quickly developing into one of the most well rounded blue liners in the game, Petriangelo is one of the biggest reasons behind St. Louis’ playoff success this year. A perfect choice as Team Canada’s seventh defenceman, if for no other reason than to gain valuable experience for future tournaments.

The Crease

Carey Price: Carey Price is the best goalie in the world. How can you tell beyond the eye popping numbers he posts? With him in net, the Montreal Canadiens were one of the NHL’s top teams in 2014-15 and they won the first nine games of last season decisively. Then Price went down with a mysterious injury that sidelined him for the rest of the campaign and the Habs went into complete free fall, plummeting from early Stanley Cup favourites to playoff outsiders. His mere presence turns the Habs from a draft lottery team into a 100-point one-that’s how good he is. If fully healthy come September, there’s no question he’s Canada’s go to man between the pipes.

Braden Holtby: Your likely 2016 Vezina Trophy winner, Holtby tied Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur’s record for regular season wins at 48. With Price sidelined for most of the season, Holtby climbed to the top f the NHL’s goaltending food chain and while thoroughbreds like Alex Ovechkn and Evengi Kuznetsov got a lot of the attention in Washington, there’s no way the Capitals win the President’s Trophy without Holtby’s brilliance between the pipes. When Price needs a game or two off, Holtby is the obvious choice to man Canada’s net.

Corey Crawford: Crawford is the Rodney Dangerfield of the NHL. Despite backstopping the Chicago Blackhawks to a pair of Stanley Cups as their starter (2013 and 2015), he gets precious little respect. But he put up excellent numbers this year despite the struggles of the dynastic team in front of him and many felt the NHL’s failure to recognize him with his first career Vezina nomination was a snub of insulting proportions.

Shayne Kempton

Photo Anji Barton Standard Flikr License

 

CANADA ON ICE

TAKE A BREATH CANADA. NO, NONE OF YOUR TEAMS MADE THE NHL PLAYOFFS FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE 1970, BUT YOU’RE STILL THE BEST AT WHAT YOU DO

Take a deep breath Canada. It isn’t that bad.

When the 2015-16 NHL regular season wrapped up, Canadians faced a spring with no playoff hockey played north of the 49th parallel for the first time in 46 years. The last (and only other) time was in 1970, when Toronto and Montreal were the only Canadian squads in a twelve team league. The sting was a little sharper considering that last year, five of Canada’s seven franchises fought their way into the playoffs, with Montreal and Calgary advancing to the second round. How much have Canadian hockey fans been turned off by the absence of their teams in the playoffs? Rogers reported a viewership drop of over 60 percent for the first round of the playoffs versus last year and the St. Louis Blues have been running an add campaign to convince disenfranchised Canucks to support their post season drive. And Canada’s absence from the NHL playoffs has provided plenty of fodder for the prophets of doom who, without fail, herald the end of Canada’s hockey superiority this time every year. In fact, 2016 has been a banner year for the doom and gloomers so far.

When Canada’s 2016 World Junior team finished sixth last January in Helsinki, the caterwauling from coast to coast to coast was as predictable as it was deafening. The entire hockey blogosphere was running around like the world’s biggest headless chicken jumped up on bath salts screaming that the sky was collapsing, the typical Canadian reaction whenever one of it’s national entries doesn’t win gold in an international tournament.

Canada’s poor finish was a “debacle” according to the legions of fans who flocked to the Internet to voice their disgust. Its elimination was a national embarrassment and the players should have been ashamed that they disappointed an entire country. There was the inevitable finger pointing; according to the armchair GMs, Hockey Canada didn’t know what it was doing and selected all the wrong players (an opinion held about any international team Canada assembles even when the Great White North wins gold). The coaches were incompetent and the selections were all about politics and on and on (and mercilessly on). But the same message resonated beneath each accusing finger and every outraged breath; the players weren’t good enough.

If that wasn’t enough, American born sniper Patrick Kane lead the NHL scoring race all season long and is this year’s favourite to win the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player. And the Nostradamus collective of the hockey world will drag out their tired prognastations this June when the name of a Canadian born and trained player probably won’t be called until the sixth selection in this year’s annual entry draft. All are signs, they say, that Canada’s global hockey dominance has come to an end.

But relax Canada. It’s human nature to view the entire world through apocalyptic glasses, especially about something so deeply embedded in your sense of national self-esteem. Despite all the ominous portends you’ve suffered this year, Canada is still the apex predator of the hockey world. So calm down and consider the following.

First, let’s add a little perspective to this year’s World Junior’s performance. This year’s team had its issues; goaltending was suspect from the first puck drop, the team wrestled with on ice discipline-often taking bad penalties at the worst times-which wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world except it’s penalty kill struggled. But despite all that, this team was better than its sixth place finish indicated. Canada was eliminated by Finland in a sudden death tournament. By one goal. In overtime. And Finland, you may have noticed, went on to win gold, defeating Canada’s arch nemesis Russia to win the title. Canada was narrowly eliminated by the eventual world champs (that were powered by a top line that challenged just about every offensive record in the tournament’s history), meaning if the teenage Canucks had one or two lucky breaks they could have had a date with Russia in a rematch of 2015’s gold medal game.

Canada’s place atop the global hockey food chain is as healthy as it’s ever been. Not only is Canada the defending Olympic champions, having won gold in Sochi in 2014 and Vancouver in 2010, but it’s also the defending World Champion, winning the tournament in 2015 and again this year in dominating fashion. Canada is the odds on favourite to win next September’s World Cup and while the country was having a meltdown about the 2016 World Juniors, Canada was quietly winning the Spengler Cup, a tournament it wasn’t expected to do very well in this year.

A healthy chunk the NHL’s top twenty scorers are Canadians (during a season when Cole Harbour’s favourite native son, Sidney Crosby, considered the best hockey player in the world for the past decade, had a down year and his heir apparent, Connor McDavid, missed three months because of a broken collar bone) and as far as the draft is concerned, seven of the last ten first overall picks have been citizens of the Great White North and Nolan Patrick, currently projected to be taken at the head of 2017’s draft class, has a Canadian passport.

Besides, it wasn’t as though any of the Canadian teams were cup contenders this year. If one or two teams had managed to sneak in, they were destined to be first round casualties. Being represented in the post-season 46 of the last 47 years is nothing to sneeze at, so consider Canada’s one-year absence a well deserved nap.

The point is, Canada is still producing the best players on the planet, providing over half of the players (and over forty percent of the revenue) to the best hockey league in the world despite hosting less then a third of is teams. We should take pride in the fact that our greatest export is the best players in the game we love.

In the meantime, enjoy the rest of the playoffs and the story lines that are still unfolding (Will St. Louis win enough games to save Ken Hitchcock’s job? Will Tampa Bay be able to go all the way this year and capture the Stanley Cup without Steve Stamkos? And if so, does that seal his fate as a member of the Lightning? Can San Jose shake their rep as playoff chokers? How much crow will Phil Kessel force Leafs Nation to eat after they ran him out of down on a rail last July?). And all the naysayers can stick their stupidity in their pipes and choke on it.

Shayne Kempton

Photo: S. Yume Standard Flikr License

MOVIE SEASON MADNESS

MY TOP TEN LIST FOR THIS SUMMER MOVIE SEASON

Take a deep breath. Do you smell that? It’s summer movie season, Christmas time for movie fans and buffs. Four months of tent-pole releases, franchise films and blockbusters from every genre. We’re already a few weeks into this year’s summer buffet of movie goodness, and one of the titles on this list has already broken the box office, but these are the ten films I’m looking forward to the most this summer. I spoke about a few of them with Dr. Ted on his podcast a few weeks ago (check it out here) but we ran out of time to touch on all of them. So without further adieu . . .

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  1. Suicide Squad (August 5): Of all the movies on this list, this is the one that makes me the most nervous. I wasn’t a fan of the Suicide Squad comics (never read a single one, in fact) and after the sour taste that Batman Vs. Superman left in my mouth, my confidence in Warner Bros./DC is more then a little shaken. The fact that after the success of Deadpool (or more importantly the comedy in Deadpool), Warner Bros. ordered extensive reshoots for Suicide Squad to make it “lighter” isn’t exactly reassuring (when a movie is doing significant re-shoots six months before its release date, that’s a rarely a good sign). And honestly, is a movie about a team of super villains carrying out near impossible black ops missions in return for having their death sentences commuted the kind of film where you want a laugh a minute? But DC continues to build hype around Squad, there’s buzz that they plan to spin off Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn into her own movie and there’s no shortage of audience anticipation to see Jared Leto’s Joker. Could this be DC’s Guardians of the Galaxy: an obscure property that hits big in the steamy days of August? After the critical and box office disappointment of Batman Vs. Superman, they need it to be.

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  1. Alice Through the Looking Glass (May 27): When Alice in Wonderland hit theatres back in 2010, my niece had just graduated to being a toddler and I was becoming a little desperate looking for strong female role models in current media. I found one in Alice. Returning a teenage Alice to a broken and bleak Neverland as she’s essentially being pimped out to some high society husband so she can spend her days as an obedient, doting wife and mother was a brilliant stroke of storytelling. Making it so she had to overcome her self-doubt as well as her amnesia about the fantastic Wonderland before she could face the evil threatening it was even better. By the end of the movie, Alice was no princess needing rescuing or a damsel in distress; she was a sword-wielding warrior saving an entire world by slaying the ancient and dreaded Jabberwocky in battle. Toss in Johnny Depp’s performance as the Mad Hatter and Tim Burton’s signature visuals and Alice in Wonderland was a solid hit. Here’s hoping the sequel, with Burton producing instead of directing, lives up to the original.

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  1. Warcraft (June 10): Based on the uber popular online game, this Universal release has a reported 160 million dollar production budget. And by the looks of it, it was all invested in the special and visual effects department. Make no mistake, I’m not expecting any brilliant storytelling (the trailers seem to have already given away the plot), but I fully expect this movie to be sold on the basis of its breath taking visuals and the scope of its world design. What other movie are you going to see this year that includes knights, sorcerers, orcs, griffins, monsters and maybe a dragon or two? What it all boils down to is this is the perfect movie to satisfy my inner geek. It should also be interesting to see how Warcaft is received by moviegoers in general; while the game is still popular it’s not the global phenomenon it once was and video game movies have a pretty bad track record in Hollywood (let alone ones that have a 160 million dollar price tag). One thing’s for sure though, the producers of next December’s Assassins Creed will be paying very close attention to Warcraft’s box office performance.

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  1. Jason Bourne (July 29): I was never really a Jason Bourne fan-never read Robert Ludlum’s books and I still haven’t seen the last two movies-and besides, how often does the fifth film in a franchise rise above mediocre on the quality scale? But Jason Bourne looks like a smart, inventive action flick, reminiscent of last summer’s Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (my favourite action movie of 2015) and the fact that Matt Damon was lured back to the property by the script is a pretty good sign as well. It may very well be a dud, but it looks smarter and sharper then the rest of the action fare Hollywood is churning out these days.

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  1. Finding Dory (June 17): I was never really that pumped to see Finding Nemo. As much as I love Pixar, a movie about a talking fish searching for his lost son didn’t exactly captivate my imagination (I had the same feelings about Cars and Ratatouille). But when I finally sat down and watched Nemo the whole way through, I spent the entire time smiling like I was in the fifth grade again (and yes, I had similar reactions to Cars and Ratatouille when I took the time to watch and appreciate them). To this day, the mantra of the seagulls (Mine! Mine!) is one of my more favoured catch phrases (it just never gets old). So while the idea of Dory may not excite my imagination the way The Incredibles or Wall-E did, Pixar’s bar of excellence remains the highest in the animated film industry and I’ll walk into the theatre with an open mind and an inner child jumping up and down for joy.

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  1. Independence Day Resurgence (June 24): Hitting theatres almost 20 years to the day that the original Independence Day enthralled movie audiences, Independence Day Resurgence is following the same formula Star Wars: The Force Awakens did with its characters; it mixes some of the golden oldies from the original with a handful of new faces (although hardcore fans are already disappointed with Will Smith’s absence). The original Independence Day broke tonnes of new ground with its mind-blowing special effects and it looks as though the long awaited sequel is following in those same award-winning footsteps. And while I fully expect Warcraft to appeal to my inner fantasy geek, I expect the story of the human race fighting for its collective survival against a second, more pissed off wave of world conquering aliens to do the same for my inner sci-fi nerd. And while I doubt that a Mac power book will save human civilization this time around, I’m kind of hoping we’ll get to see the White House atomized again. Because let’s be honest, twenty years later that’s still everyone’s favourite scene.

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4.  X-Men Apocalypse (May 27): There are plenty of reasons to look forward to the next installment in the X-Men film franchise. When Fox made the prudent decision to erase the reviled X-3 (and possibly the two Wolverine solo films) from continuity with 2014’s Days of Future Past, they made a lot of fans-both of the X-Men comics and movies-very, very happy. After Wolverine’s time hopping in DoFP, many of the original X-Men are back, and we get to see them during their formative teenage years during the 80’s, aka the Decade of Absurd Excess. Storytelling wise, it was a time in the character’s lives when most fans fell in love with them (the ultimate teenage outsiders fighting off one world threatening menace after another) and in real world time, the 80’s were when the X-Men exploded in popularity and became Marvel’s comic cash cow juggernaut. My anticipation for this is also equaled by my curiosity-how do they plan on weaving in that curious Wolverine cameo they’ve been teasing us with? Freed from the cumbersome storytelling baggage of the previous X-Men movies, the special effects in Age of Apocalypse look amazing, you just know Jennifer Lawrence is going to kill it in what could be her final turn as Mystique (whose run the gamut between reluctant hero to villainous sidekick and back to reluctant hero again, with a stop as a world saver in between) and Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of Magneto, skating the tragic line between salvation and villainy, is always worth the price of admission. And Olivia Munn’s Psylocke looks like she could be this movie’s Black Panther or Wonder Woman, a breakout character that steals every scene she’s in.CVvJUtwWoAAO2Z5.jpg-large

  1. Star Trek Beyond (July 22): Hey, did you know that this year is the 50th anniversary of the Star Trek franchise? Did you know there’s a new movie coming out this summer to celebrate it? No? Don’t sweat it, because few people outside outside of Trek’s hardcore fan base or TV aficionados seem to. Up until last weekend, Paramount barely promoted it, dropping a handful of stills and a single trailer before this month’s fan event. You’d think that a summer tent pole release during Trek’s big 5-0 would have the studio bringing out and then breaking all the proverbial stops, but Paramount’s campaign has been the exact opposite so far. I love Star Trek. I don’t speak Klingon or own a classic Trek uniform but I’ve always enjoyed the various versions of Gene Roddenberry’s classic science fiction vision. But there are plenty of red flags about this movie already-Simon Pegg, who co-wrote it in addition to playing everyone’s favourite Scottish starship engineer, reportedly quit a number of times and had to be talked into returning by J.J. Abrahams (who remains with the franchise as a producer). Combine a possibly disgruntled Pegg with persistent rumours that the budget was slashed just before filming began and a head scratching lack of promotion and it could all add up to disaster for one of Hollywood’s greatest entertainment properties. I really hope I’m wrong, or at the very least my affection for Trek can blind me to any warts, no matter how big. Besides, Idris Elba as the big bad? That promises to make everything better.

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  1. Captain America: Civil War (May 6): This one has already dropped (you can read my review here) and it was everything I hoped it would be (which was primarily a much needed palate cleanser after the bleak, steaming mess that was Batman Vs. Superman). The third and final Captain America standalone film was everything BvS wasn’t; fun, bright, exciting, funny and it only needed two weeks to bury DC’s much maligned movie at the box office, beating both it’s domestic and international gross on its third weekend of release. It has also provided plenty of fuel for the online hate wars that have been raging over BvS since it was released last Easter. Seriously, the people who loved watching Batman and Superman beat the snot out of each other for five minutes in a two and a half hour movie need to find lives, get out of the house more and work on their blood pressure.

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  1. Ghostbusters (July 15): This movie started receiving record amounts of hate the second it was announced, most of it due to the fact that it has an all female cast. The haters don’t want to admit it but that’s what all the fuss boils down to. I love the original Ghostbusters and even the (admittedly inferior) sequel too-watch them every Halloween in fact-but unlike the Internet, I was thrilled to hear there was more on the way, female cast or no. It’s been both amusing and saddening watching the logical knots the haters have gone to trying to disguise their woman bashing. “Women can’t be Ghostbusters because the proton packs are too heavy and we all know how much realism we need in our movie about busting ghosts!” Or one of my favourites, “why can’t they leave such a classic alone?!?” Like I said guys, I love me some Ghostbusters, but this is a movie where New York was almost destroyed by a fifty story Stay Puff Marshmallow Man. This ain’t the Godfather, so calm down. Hopefully Ghostbusters is a box office success despite all the venom from the men’s rights idiots, #Gamersgaters and closet misogynists, who can then stick all those dollar bills in their collective pipes and smoke them until they run out of hate tears.

A MOTHER’S UNDERSTANDING

Mother’s Truly Are the Gatekeepers of Our Futures

Riding the bus one night, I overheard a woman talking with her young son. He was probably in the second or third grade and, like most kids that age, he thought dinosaurs were the coolest things on the planet and was completely absorbed in the dinosaur book he had with him. I couldn’t help but smile, remembering that at that age I felt the same way and had memorized the names and facts of all my favourites (the Stegosaurus was the absolute bomb). Dinosaurs were like Mother Nature’s super heroes and villains, that’s how cool they were to my rapidly blooming imagination and all these years later, it sounded like they had the same exciting, obsessive hold on this little guy on the bus.

Then the mother started talking and my smile (and his) quickly died.

“Let me see that book,” she said before dismissing it as nonsense. “You don’t even know if these things are real. This could all be made up.” Normally the denial of science would have been the first thing that would have inspired a rant, but it turns out she was just warming up.

“You know what happens to these useless jobs when the money runs out?” she asked, holding the book between her index finger and thumb like it was a filthy diaper. “They disappear. When things get tough the world needs people who can do real things like cleaning.” She lectured him for a few more minutes before reluctantly giving him the book back, and it may have been my imagination but it looked like his frail little shoulders sagged just a bit.

I remember watching as they got off at their stop, thinking to myself that he could have been anything from a paleontologist to a writer, a scientist to an artist, maybe even a great film maker down the road, but each day he spent with his mother, another of his dreams would be crushed, replaced by bleak, joyless mediocrity.

I had been searching for some poignant words for Mother’s Day this year, and coming up with a whole lot of nothing. Last year I told the story of how my mother, usually a reserved woman, punted a rooster into orbit when he tried to attack my little sister. This year I wanted it to be more heartfelt, more genuine and sincere. But what could I say that a million others (including Hallmark) hadn’t said already?

Staring at my keyboard the day after mother’s day, the little tale I just told popped into my head along with a line from a book I had read years before. “A parent’s harsh hand can always kill a child’s brightest talent.” The two memories, years and even cities apart, merged at that moment with scary clarity and I had it, the thing I had always wanted to tell my mother but always lacked the tools and skills to.

Growing up, the hockey arena was the most important building in town. It was more important than any of the schools, more important than any of the churches and definitely more important than Town Hall or the public library (which was really just a few book shelves shoved into a closet). Boys were supposed to play hockey and girls were supposed to take up figure skating. It was one of the unwritten rules and if you didn’t (or didn’t at least try) there was something very, very wrong with you.

Both my parents were stopped in broad daylight downtown (which was really only where the where the two biggest streets crossed) and chastised by other parents for not making me (i.e. forcing me) to play. I never really had much of an interest in sports growing up, and was more concerned with comic books, cartoons, Transformers, Star Wars, my imagination, and of course, dinosaurs. I did develop an interest in sports somewhere around my twelfth birthday but by then it was too late, especially in the eyes of most of our neighbours. I didn’t know how lucky I was until later.

In the town I grew up in, like a million places across the world, there was no time for things like books and art and music. Aside from the fifth grade Christmas pageant and Sunday school crafts, anything imaginative or artistic (or even scientific, while we’re on the subject) wasn’t just considered a waste of time but a sign of weakness, a sign of difference (and being different meant being wrong), a sign of deviance.

I lucked out twice. Not only did my parents not force me to play hockey (and my Dad was a coach, which made things way more complicated for him), but my mother, a talented artist in her own right, offered patient nurturing for my own modest talents with words. That isn’t to say that my father didn’t-he definitely did-but I don’t think my father understood the craziness that spilled out of the insane furnace that was my imagination. My mother probably didn’t either, but maybe she, as an artist herself, understood the grip it had on me a little better than my father could. She understood how much of a slave I was to it.

There is a very good chance that nothing may ever come of my attempts to be a writer. That’s a huge burden borne by everyone with any artistic aspiration. So many dreamers and so precious few opportunities in a world obsessed with Kardashians and free downloading. But at the very least I have a chance, a mercilessly thin one, but a chance nonetheless. And as it turns out, I’m actually in a better place then many of kids I grew up with, kids who were forced to play hockey by over bearing parents no matter what the child wanted. The Devil Himself can tell you how many times that particular road ended in a dead end where sons, no matter how skilled they had become (often as a result of doing nothing but playing hockey even at the expense of their school work) told their parents they never were through and never laced up a pair of skates again.

Me? I still have a pen in my hand and a dream in my heart. And I’m pretty sure I have my mother to thank for that.

Shayne Kempton