This is a little, silly side project I’m working on. Check it out here.
This is a little, silly side project I’m working on. Check it out here.
Is it just me, or does this image of N.Y. Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist from the Sports Illustrated NHL season preview issue look a lot like the illustrationof Gordie Howe from the Simpsons episode “Bart the Lover”?
As it sit here writing this on a packed TTC bus heading north to the rink with all of my goalie gear, I can’t help but think of the people who call me crazy. If you’d like to know, on average I play hockey four days a week. And, if I can, I like to play more. (For the record, I only take the bus to one of those games.)
Some people find my hockey frequency excessive, some find it ambitious, while others find it inspiring. I suspect my girlfriend, Claudine, finds it cute, but mildly annoying. Me, I find it necessary.
Fact is, I don’t possess the words to adequately describe the sense of joy and contentment I get when I’m playing hockey, whether it be as a goalie (my true position) or as a skater — on ice or off. Participating in other sports gets me close to this feeling, but hockey, as some say, must be in my blood. Such a cliche, I know.
I wasn’t born with skates, but since I can remember all I wanted to be was a hockey player. Like most people who share the dream of playing pro sports, I tried hard but fell short. If you ask my parents, I had a wonderful career and just needed that one big break. If you ask me, I was good but not mentally strong enough as a teenager to ever make it out of junior level hockey. As an adult I understand and savor the game in a way I never could as a teenager.
I suppose my attachment to hockey has something to do with consistency; hockey being one of the constants in a childhood that contained a fair share of moving and friend changing. No matter how disconnected I may have felt, I knew there was a rink nearby and a game to play.
I “retired” when I went to university. I spent the last two years of my hockey career bouncing around various Jr.C and B teams, being told I was good, but not big enough. I was even recruited to Lake Superior State college in the NCAA, but I had had enough of the politics of hockey and I decided that at university I would focus on school (partying).
Last week I met a guy named Jeff Keacher, and his journey got me thinking a lot about hockey and my relationship to it.
Jeff is an American from Minnesota who picked up the game as an adult in his early 20s. He is now turning 30 and has been playing goal for near 8 seasons. Jeff has said that his desire to play hockey came from the notion that as a resident of the State of Hockey, he had to live up to his birthright.
Now, Jeff is on a six-month hockey-playing odyssey — a road trip that will take him through all 50 American states and 10 Canadian provinces. (Follow his blog to track his progress.)
When I learned of his trip I contacted him, and on his stop in Ontario I invited Jeff to take over my crease and suit up as the goaltender for the Pylons, my Tuesday night league I’ve been playing for 7 years. The Pylons have never been an incredibly successful team, but what the group lacks in skill they make up for in team spirit — it is the best group of guys, and the dressing room couldn’t be more fun.
I was happy to introduce Jeff to such a fun loving, tight-knit group of guys. And he responded well, taking a few barbs and spouting a few comebacks before it was all said and done. The game ended in a blowout, uncharacteristically won by our team. I played defense — I figured if I couldn’t protect the goal, I might as well protect the guy in it.
After the game beers and pizza were consumed, heroics were relived and stories were shared. Jeff and I talked some about the book of his travels he hopes to write when he finishes his trip. All in all, it was a nice tidy evening.
A week has gone by since Jeff played, and a few days have gone by since I started this post (we won the game I was traveling to, 3-2!), and Jeff is now in PEI continuing his North American tour. I was really happy to become a part of Jeff’s odyssey, and his love of the game has made me think of my hockey story.
I came back to hockey as an adult. After being away from the game for four years, I slowly made my way back by playing ball hockey once a week with a group of artists and writers who had started Roscoe Magazine so many years earlier. To begin playing in the zero-pressure environment of ball hockey was bliss. It was a return to my youth, and to how I was introduced to the game. Ice hockey was great when I was young, but it was controlled and scheduled. Ball hockey was ours, and was played without coaches or supervision; it was as pure as sporting fun could be as a youth. Reliving that as an adult was inspiring. I soon dug my equipment out of the closet and began playing ice hockey again. As Don Gillmor describes his return to hockey in his essay, “Hockey’s Prodigal Son,” I, like Don, could feel myself being sucked back into the national business.
Playing hockey also brought me back to watching hockey, which in turn brought me to sports publishing. Now I’m the sports editor at Firefly Books, and we are the official publisher of the Hockey Hall of Fame. I pretty much eat breathe and sleep hockey these days (so much so that I make saves in my sleep that wake up Claudine).
I used to have a t-shirt with a slogan that read, “Hockey is life, the rest is just details.” and while those “details” now are pretty darn important, my relationship with hockey as an adult has grown beyond what I could have ever imagined when I would pull on that shirt as a teenager. I love my details and I love hockey. In fact, my details and hockey are so intertwined that they are no longer separate. I suppose my t-shirt now could just read, “Life.”
Well, hello stranger. It has been almost two years to the day since I lasted blogged. When I started Beer League I did so with great intentions and ambition. Then life happened and blogging took a back seat.
But, I’m back! I’m excited to write again. I’m also excited to do some easier blog-type stuff. Like what? Well, like this post, which is a picture of my lunch: a very tasty salad made with tomatoes and cucumber from my garden.
I’m not going to promise anything specific with this blog (which is what I did when I started and I ended up painting myself into a corner). I’m just going to write and post about stuff i want to share when I feel like it.
I hope to see you around,
I read an interesting New York Times article today about VANOC and the Canadian government’s resolve to “Own the Podium.”
It seems that Canada is not playing nice with other nations in regard to the use of Vancouver 2010 facilities for practice runs and training. John Branch reports that the status quo for many sports that have structured runs (luge, skiing, bobsled) is that every nation may practice on those runs prior to the Games. Although VANOC officials are allowing competing nations small amounts of practice time, it is nowhere near the norm for what is expected from the host nation in Olympic preparation. And what’s more is that the Canadian government and the VANOC organizers recognize this fact. It is all part of the Own the Podium plan to help Canada reach its goal of 35 medals. It is “home-field advantage,” as they say.
Foreign nations are not happy. But, is Canada wrong to exercise its home-field advantage?
I’m on the fence about the subject.
Hockey teams in the NHL get to learn the bounces of their home rinks and take advantage of those. What’s the difference here? If it is your home, you’re going to know it better. Intimate knowledge of a playing surface/building is definitely an advantage, so why give that away? Because it isn’t fair? Maybe? But then shouldn’t the Olympics always be held at a neutral site that no one sees until the event happens? It’s assumed when a nation gets its day in the Olympic-hosting sun, that they are going to win some medals — and familiarity with the playing space is a part of that whole deal.
But, at the same time, to go against time honoured traditions seems cheap. It seems to go against the Olympic spirit, in a way. The “gentlemen’s agreements” made over practice runs for Olympic preparation have been upheld for a long time, and while not written in stone, I see this conflict opening up a whole pile of problems for Canada in international circles, sporting and otherwise, down the road. These are the Olympics, lets not forget. Nations take this seriously, and a snub now could have consequences that reverberate for years to come.
I also think that the policy Canada/VANOC has adopted puts our athletes at a disadvantage. They will be considered with scorn by their competitors, which may mar the otherwise great medal haul we could win. Not only that, the stance we have taken undermines the talent of the Canadian athlete. The message being sent to the world is that our athletes need this advantage.
Then again, in a world where winning is becoming increasingly difficult and all athletes are looking for that extra edge, maybe the home field is the ultimate competitive advantage?
The Black Dice Cafe
1574 Dundas Street West
*The sign currently reads “Vida Cafe,” but that will be changing soon enough.
My friend Hideki is opening a bar this weekend in the Dundas and Lansdowne area, which is slowly becoming a hipster hotspot, as the nearby strip of Ossington at Dundas has become saturated with ironic mustachioed men and star-tattooed women, as well as the yuppie (yuppster?) Queen West crowd. The Dundas and Lansdowne area is also home to another new hipster locale, the Hen House. The Black Dice Cafe is going to be a 1950s biker inspired rebel-without-a-cause type bar. I haven’t seen it yet, but I know that one of the many things to look forward to is Hideki’s vintage jukebox, which will be spinning a collection of classic 7” singles. The Black Dice Cafe opens for business Saturday, September 12 at 6pm.
Now, The Black Dice isn’t going to be a beer bar, but, as a beer guy, I offered Hideki my assistance in helping him select a suitable beer list for his spot. I was able to give my advice about the beer bottle and can selection, as Hideki had already made his draught list, which is pretty good. The Black Dice Cafe will feature four taps, on which Hideki will pour: Wellington Special Pale Ale, Great Lakes Devil’s Pale Ale, the Great Lakes seasonal selection (he will start with a few weeks of Orange Peel Ale, and will then have the very tasty and highly sought after Pumpkin Ale), as well as Sapporo.
When I made my bottle and can list, I had no idea of what capacity Hideki had at the Black Dice Cafe, or what his budget was. So, I made a relatively modest list that could very easily be built larger or smaller. I wanted beers that would follow the theme of the bar and cater toward the hip, locavore clientele that I imagine the bar will attract. My list was in two parts: season-round stock and beer for fall. I’ll have to wait until Saturday to see what made the cut. I hope to see you there, too!
Bottle and can recommendations for season-round stock
Mill St. Tankhouse Ale
This is about as good a North American style red ale as you are going to get. It is deep copper with a complex malt body and plenty of hops in both the nose and the finish. Delicious. Besides, the old-style bottle with its applied ceramic label is classy looking and has a very nice mouth feel.
Hockley Valley Stout
This beer is to replace Guinness, which Hideki is not going to carry on tap, but he had considered having in cans. The Hockley Valley Stout holds just as much volume as a Guinness can, and is a great stout with a malt complexity that finishes with hints of coffee and chocolate. The mouth feel of the Hockely Stout wont be as smooth as Guinness, which uses nitrogen to produce its fine bubbles, but I’m okay with that.
This is an amazing American beer produced by an amazing American brewery. Brooklyn Lager is probably my favourite lager in the world (Neustadt Lager is a close second). This beer is light to medium bodied and has a subtle fruit notes and a nice hop finish. Brooklyn lager is a real winner and beer drinkers will appreciate its addition to the list. As well, the logo is reminiscent of the old Brooklyn Dodgers script, which is definitely Americana at its finest.
Cameron’s Cream Ale
A style originated on this side of the ocean; a true original, just like James Dean, Steve McQueen and JFK, although, this beer has had a better fate. Cream Ale gets its distinct smooth characteristics on account of its production: traditionally warm fermented ale yeast is fermented in cold storage, the way lager yeasts are fermented. In the case of Cameron’s Cream Ale, the results is a medium bodied brew with a golden reddish colour, a light malt profile with a mildly hopped finish, a classic brew that even the rebel bike gangs of the 1950s would call one of their own.
Molson Stock Ale
This beer is for the hipster crowd — an affordably priced beer that has some ironic cache to it — a beer rejected by the mainstream but one that still maintains a nostalgic and kitschy quality. In Toronto, the beer of choice for the hipster community is, for the most part, Labatt 50 (there are others, Pabst Blue Ribbon and Shlitz come to mind). But Molson Stock Ale is another hipster favourite, which, despite its amazingly retro logo (I believe is the same logo it has had since its heyday in the 60s and 70s) seems to be lagging behind in public house visibility. I like Molson Stock purely for its aesthetic. As far as taste and quality goes, it wouldn’t be my first choice, but it is a macro North American blonde ale done well: medium to high carbonation, adjunct notes (corn), a light to medium body and with a middle-sweet malt taste, little hop finish and clean aftertaste — it will do the trick, and more often than not, the price is right.
Bottle and can recommendations for fall beer
This beer was easy to recommend, and not because it is far and away one of my favourite brews, but because the upside-down motor oil jug used for its tap head would fit perfectly into the 1950s vibe that Hideki is creating. It is my hope that this beer will become a season-round draught item. With a name like 10W30, Neustadt has set this brew up as one bad motherfucker. Its complexion is deep, dark brown, so dark that in the light of most pubs it seems black. But behind the name and darkness is a lovely, sweet malty brew with little hopping, lingering coffee and chocolate notes, and a surprisingly thin body.
Black Oak Nut Brown Ale
This beer makes me think of fall in Canada. It is dark and robust with a great roasted nut flavour. I don’t see it offered at many pubs, and that’s a shame, because this beer is a Canadian classic.
Mill St. Coffee Porter
The verdict is out with some people on coffee beer, but for me, this coffee porter is a great extension of the malt complexities typically found in the rich porter beverages. Mill Street’s offering is a dark, mildly effervescent brew with an off white head (on account of the coffee, and perhaps the roasted malt?) with a great coffee kick that contains some nice chocolate notes, as well as a moderate bitterness that is quite enjoyable. Like standard wine porters, this is a great after dinner beer.
Neustadt Scottish Pale Ale
A great fall offering. This beer is amber, like Scotch ale, but effervescent and hopped like pale ale. The combination is a medium bodied, affair with a great malt presence, a little smoke and a dry hopped finish.
Church Key Holy Smoke Scotch Ale
A personal favourite, Holy Smoke Scotch Ale is produced by one of Ontario’s best and most unique craft-breweries, Church Key Brewing of Pethrick’s Corners, just outside Campbellford; the brewery, runs out of a late 19th‑century Methodist church! Holy Smoke is a major-league Scotch ale. Deep, dark brown—almost black—this ale subverts the norm for Scotch-ale alcohol content (which is usually low) with an ABV of 6.25 percent. The brew is medium-bodied with a healthy malt flavour and little hop taste. The aroma is that of barbecue, bacon and smoked peat. I’ve actually heard it described as liquid barbecue! The smoky flavour and aroma are the result of imported Scottish smoked whiskey malt. It is a unique adventure, that’s for sure!
For my first post I’m going to borrow a summertime feature idea from Puck Daddy, an NHL blog on the Yahoo network. Over the month of August, Puck Daddy posted “Five Reasons” from all kinds of different people throughout the hockey spectrum, from TSN personalities to dudes in hockey novelty bands. As I read each individual take on the best game you can play, I felt it would be fun to put out my top five. Here goes nothing…
5. The Last Name
This really goes for all sports, but it hit home with me as a seven-year-old kid who lived, ate and breathed Wayne Gretzky. I, like many kids, bore out my NHL fantasies playing road hockey, and one day in particular while shooting around by myself, I announced, “Steve shoots, Steve scores!” Speaking my name aloud in celebration didn’t really have the desired effect I had hoped for, and as a result, the top-shelf goal I’d just potted to win the Stanley Cup didn’t really seem all that great. A little bummed, I put my stick away and went inside. Later that day I asked my older cousin Amy why it was when Bob Cole would say, “Gretzky shoots, Gretzky scores!” it sounded cool, as opposed my name, which sounded lame. Amy opened my eyes by saying, “try your last name.” That was all I needed to be brimming with pride and confidence as I won the Stanley Cup — “Cameron shoots, Cameron scores!” was music to my ears.
4. Rooting for the sports-market underdog
Calling the NHL a sports-market underdog is borne of the fact that mainstream sports media, like ESPN and Sports Illustrated, largely push hockey to the periphery. Whenever I come across a sports fan that doesn’t get hockey, I immediately want to convert them into a passionate hockey fan: I want to force them to watch the most amazing plays of the year; I want to take them to a live game; I want to take them to the Hockey Hall of Fame and show them the Stanley Cup. Nothing makes me happier than seeing hockey skeptics fall in love with the game. And for this reason, I root for hockey to get all the good publicity it can. I love it when NHL paraphernalia is worn in hollywood movies or television shows, and I secretly enjoy it when David Letterman is spotted at the Rangers game. I also love reminding American sports fans that both ESPN and SI have called “Miracle on Ice” (the 1980 US Olympic hockey victory over the Russians on home soil) the greatest American sports moment. Go, hockey!
3. Hockey tournaments when I was a kid
I was talented enough to play on the travel team when I was growing up, and lucky enough to have parents who scrimped and saved to pay for all the costs associated with playing travel hockey. Some of my favourite memories were the road tournaments that would take an entire weekend to play. These travel tourneys are the kid version of the adult road trip: You get to go to some unknown place (maybe even on a bus!), you get to stay in a hotel, you get to eat out at restaurants and you get to play a minimum of three hockey games. Perfect. From playing mini hockey in the halls of the hotel, to spending time in between games at the local mall buying crap that wasn’t needed, to crushing the poor American host team in the semi-finals, it all added up to a magical time. I am still swept with romance at the notion of the travel tournament, which is why, today, I love playing in the Canadian National Pond Hockey Championships; it is the Beer League equivalent of a kids hockey tournament.
2. The Live Game
Have you ever witnessed a shot ring off the post? The sound of frozen rubber slamming into steel pierces through a cheering and jeering audience of 18,000 strong as clear as if it were you alone in the building. It elicits sighs and despair from some, cheers and relief from others, as the play continues on with the promise of more chances. Have you ever heard 18,000 people collectively hold their breath when a player is sprung for a break away? It is so quiet you can hear a pin drop. And the inevitable exhale, regardless of the outcome, is always a marvel of acoustics. Live hockey is pretty damn exciting. It is rough and tumble and skilled and beautiful all at once. It is a team game where superstars take shifts and grind in the corners like everyone else. And it is because of moments like those listed above — the moments that capture not just the excitement of sport, but the thrill of the unknown — that the uninitiated, and initiated alike, exist on common ground.
1. The Stanley Cup Presentation and Ensuing Celebrations
The Stanley Cup is possibly the most unique thing about the game. It predates the NHL, has more good stories than F. Scott Fitzgerald and is the only major sports trophy to be engraved with every player’s name from the winning team. But the presentation of the Stanley Cup, and the ensuing laps around the rink with players passing the Cup to one another and sharing the moment with the fans is, I think, the best part the game. The Cup wasn’t always passed around. It was in the 1980s that the iconic celebration started, when Gretzky became the first player to go from simply hoisting the Cup, to skating with it and passing it off. The tradition is something special, and it allows each player a moment to revel in victory and live the childhood dream of hoisting the Cup. It also provides hockey fans a chance to see their favourite player hoist the Cup, even if your favourite player is kind of obscure, like Jiri Hrdina — and he hoisted it three times! Who knew? The presentation and the ensuing celebrations where each player gets to have the Cup for one day is yet another layer to the great Stanley Cup legacy. This didn’t become common place until 1995, and it has now become the unmistakable right of those who win it. In no other sport is a championship trophy so loved. The gesture of bringing the Cup down from its mantle endears fans of hockey to the trophy and the majesty of the game even more. I was in Cole Harbour when Sidney Crosby brought the Cup home this summer. There were multiple thousands in attendance, and I bet many in attendance were as excited to see the Cup as they were to see Sid the Kid. As Sidney described it best, “I think there are a few people here today that are Cup crazy!”