Category Archives: Edmonton

Toronto’s Olympic dream Canada’s nightmare

Why the people of Toronto continue to think that their collection of villages is the centre of the universe as we know it remains a sweet mystery.

Why many others across Canada seem to keep swallowing this nonsense hook, sink and line has become an enigma beyond belief, too.

On the heels of the Pan American Games, whose bill is yet to be revealed, so all of us learn how much this sham is going to cost us, there seems to be a growing sentiment abroad, insisting that Toronto should bid for the 2024 Olympic Games. Why, they say, it’s the ideal moment in history: the PanAm Games have been a resounding success (says who? Oh, they say so, which means that’s how it’s got to be!), and besides, the other potential North American suitor has just pulled out of the contest. A window of opportunity if there ever was one!

If only they listened to what Boston’s Mayor Martin S. Walsh had to say.

Announcing that he was asked to sign a contract that would guarantee that the city of Boston would be responsible for potential financial losses, Mayor Walsh said he couldn’t in good conscience do anything of the kind. He is of the view that this ought to be somebody else’s responsibility (read: the organizers ought to be responsible, not the taxpayers). Besides, he was asked to sign a document the precise language of which would be revealed to him some two months after he had signed on the dotted line. No option to negotiate, Mayor Walsh added, and that sealed it for him.

In that one sentence, Mayor Walsh revealed the criminality of the Olympic system as we’ve known it for decades.

Olala, Marcel!

Enter Marcel Aubut, head of the Canadian Olympic Committee.

To refresh everybody’s memory (in case it needs refreshing), that would be the same Marcel Aubut who drafted Eric Lindros first overall in 1991 even though he had been perfectly aware that Lindros would refuse to join the Quebec Nordiques no matter what. As a result, Lindros, considered by many Wayne Gretzky’s second coming, would lose an entire NHL season. That makes Aubut’s move even more unconscionable. As a hockey official of extensive experience Aubut must have known that professional players’ careers are limited.

And he crowned this sordid drama by trading Lindros a year later to two teams (the excuse that he and Pierre Page had no way of informing one another about their individual but separate talks does not hold water). The case had to be settled by an independent arbitrator, a scene that still makes the crowd at 1185 Avenue of the Americas in New York cringe.

To refresh everybody’s memory again (in case it still needs refreshing), that would be the same Marcel Aubut under whose personal and expert guidance the Quebec Nordiques were eventually forced to leave Quebec City in a financial shambles, only to resurface in Denver as the Colorado Avalanche and win the Stanley Cup within a year.

Of course, in fairness, who knows whether the Avalanche would have won anything without the presence of Patrick Roy in their net? It seems quite obvious that, had the Nordiques stayed put, theirs wouldn’t be the club the Montreal Canadiens would trade Roy to.

But that is hindsight. The fact that remains is that it was Marcel Aubut who caused the Lindros scandal, and that it was Marcel Aubut who helped bring the Nordiques to financial ruin and ignominious departure.

So, having this guy say that “It’s time to make it crystal clear, I am officially declaring that I will use the full power of my office to lead and advocate for Toronto’s candidacy to hold the 2024 Olympic Games,” that would be a clarion call for everybody concerned to run for cover.

Not so easy

Let them apply, so what? many might suggest.

Alas, that’s not how it works.

To put together a presentation for an Olympic Games bid costs money. There are firms that specialize in this kind of work. They charge their clients for every box of Kleenex they use when they happen to sneeze. With the deadline for bid submissions set for September 15, 2015, these consultants would have to work pretty hard and fast. Double (or triple) the original demand in order to account for the deadline pressure.

So, taxpayers would be shelling out their hard-earned loonies just so the International Olympic Committee (IOC) members have something to read in their leisure time. Without any guarantee whatsoever. Marcel Aubut might be presenting himself as a heavy hitter whose word spreads general fear in the IOC offices in Lausanne, Switzerland, but, in fact, he’s a featherweight so far as the Olympic poohbahs are concerned.

But, while the Olympians get set to gather to ponder on the individual bids by hicks who are willing to mortgage their citizens’ future for the chance they might appear on TV screens, bidding cities will have to prove they have sufficient facilities to host events on such scale.

No problem, the Toronto bid supporters will yell, we’ve just had the PanAm Games, and our facilities worked just fine.

First of all, they would be lying through their teeth. Track-and-field experts have been shocked by the small-country-county ambience of Toronto’s fields. Even Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium worked better during the track-and-field world championships in 2001.

Besides, the Olympic would-be royalty demands that their events happen in brand new facilities. They claim, as an excuse, that these facilities would then remain as legacy for future generations to use. Another bald-faced lie. There have been exceptions, to be sure. Some of the winter sports facilities in Calgary still remain in use. But going into more detail would reveal some horror stories that are better left for windy and rainy autumn nights. They are best shared by crowds that are sitting by the fireplace, with toddies all around. These stories are scarier than most of the Halloween costumes people could ever imagine.

In any case, even facilities built brand-new for the PanAm Games would be obsolete (in Olympians’ view) nine years hence.

Here’s what happens

Hordes of realtors, developers and sundry financiers will overwhelm all levels of government telling them this or that kind of work’s got to be done immediately, even before the Olympic crowd bothers to descend upon the bidding city. Whether it’s a conspiracy, as many Olympic watchers suspect, remains to be seen. But the fact is that, when asked, Olympic officials will nod in agreement: what, you didn’t read the fine print?

Interestingly enough, government officials proceed to spend like crazy sailors on shore leave. After all, it’s not their money they are spending. And there is a sufficient number of fools amongst their electorate who fall for the shamelessly idiotic propaganda about the Olympic Games. It’s the greatest sporting event on earth, and one that takes its responsibilities seriously, whether it’s the environment or the cleanliness of the athletes. We as citizens should be proud that the august Olympians decided that ours is the best spot on planet Earth to hold this event, that’s the motto.

And not even the fact that it took Montreal almost four decades to pay off its Olympic debt, and that it’s going to take Vancouver about that same amount of time to pay off its Olympic debt changes the hoopla.

If the Olympic Games were produced and paid for by private organizers and if they made money in the process, three cheers for them.

But since the Olympic Games are produced and paid for by taxpayers who have literally no say in what is going on, the picture changes.

There have been case studies during which analysts presented private entrepreneurs with Olympic budgets and accounting books, so far as they could lay their hands on them.

The private entrepreneurs were shocked both by the budgets and by the accounting that followed.

To use a most recent Canadian example, none of them would have thought of bringing snow (using trucks and helicopters) from Manning Park all the way to the mountains around Vancouver.

The more thoughtful people in the entrepreneurial crowd hated what they saw. Not because none of them got to hop on the gravy train. Because they saw where their taxes were going, and they didn’t like it one bit.

To be sure, by the way, this kind of megalomania is not limited to Canada.

During the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, alpine skiing events took place quite far from the sea shores, separated from the Black Sea by massive mountain ranges. The organizers, in an attempt to make access easier for the tourist hordes who would want to watch the break-neck artists hurtling down the slopes, broke through the mountains. One tunnel after another, one artificial pass after another. The result: the moist sea air made it all the way through to the alpine events areas. Tons of artificial snow and sundry chemicals made the slopes acceptable for the skiers. Not for the nature. The alpine meadows have been devastated beyond belief and it will take decades for the scientists to be able to say whether they would ever recover.

So much for the Olympians’ environmental responsibility.

But sports are good for your health!

Absolutely. But not sports as performed at highest-level events.

First and foremost, to even have a chance of becoming an Olympic-level athlete, you’d have to become a professional in your chosen field. Nobody can make it on talent alone any longer.

Becoming an Olympic athlete is no guarantee of success, either.

Now, if you decide you want to spend the rest of your productive life jumping over hurdles or throwing all kinds of stuff so far as they can fly, it’s your business. You may even think that what you’re doing is useful for society. It’s your right to have opinions.

The buck stops once you accept a cent of public funding. And getting money from sports federations equals exactly that. These bodies wouldn’t be able to survive a single season without getting government support.

As an athlete, you may claim that you are presenting yourself as a role model for the younger crowd so that they become hooked on sports, too.

There’s nothing easier to explode than this myth. If money various levels of governments grant to various sports federations, up to and including the Olympic committee, were spread among schools, so they can build and maintain sports facilities, hire and keep physical education teachers, and are able to keep physical education as a daily class on their schedules, that would be the proper way of engaging in sports.

The highly trained gladiators just don’t cut it. And that’s ignoring all their doping and other dirty shenanigans.

To sum this angle up: the federal government has, quite properly, resisted spending taxpayers’ money in support of professional hockey clubs.

It should tell the same thing to all those who come, caps in hands, asking for federal government support in staging events such as the Olympic Games. The government is not in the business of professional sports.

And if those would-be organizers start pushing their point by saying what an economic bonanza their event would turn out to be, the government should issue a collective smile and say: Is that so? So, go ahead, invest, and be successful. We’ll watch your progress with considerable interest.

And if the potential organizers, blackmailers, one and all, start crying, the answer should be even simpler. Let them eat cake.

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Nostradamus would run away rather than predict Edmonton Oilers’ future

So, now that the original Edmonton Oilers-linked hoopla has died down for a moment, let’s try to have a detached look at what has just happened.

To sum up: until proven otherwise, Oilers’ fans have just been taken down to the river where they were sold a bill of goods. Again.

The Edmonton Oilers will be picking first in this year’s draft, and they are going after Connor McDavid. That’s what all and sundry say. The only thing we know for sure is that they are picking first. The newly installed poohbah Peter Chiarelli is on record as saying he’s not trading the pick no matter what. He is not on record as saying young McDavid it is and will be. Considering the Oilers’ needs can be found elsewhere (blueline, net), what if there’s a blue-chip, NHL-ready defenceman available?

Yes, most commentators would insist, but Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel are generational players, and McDavid even more so than Eichel.

Mumbo-jumbo

Care to explain the word: generational?

Care to elaborate in what sense: generational?

It just so happens that there are several definitions of generations, all of them valid. Some use demographics, others sociology, some others use the economy. All of these definitions have some features in common: a generation defines approach, use of whatever tools, vision, among many other characteristics. The span of a generation is based on the specifics of its definition: an economic generation covers a different number of years than, say, a generation that shares similar tastes in what kind of jeans to wear.

How did the word “generational” make its way into professional hockey? In a debate over one beer too many, that’s how.

A reminder: hockey is a team game. Wayne Gretzky didn’t produce the Stanley Cup in Los Angeles no matter how hard he tried. Mark Messier, despite the frequently-repeated legend, didn’t win the Stanley Cup in New York: he would have been nowhere without, say, Mike Richter in goal.

And if there was a player who re-defined his position, it would have been Wayne Gretzky. And, behind the blueline, Bobby Orr.

Did you notice? These guys re-defined their positions. Not the game. As Wayne Gretzky himself liked to say, nobody’s bigger than the game.

Yes, Connor McDavid keeps turning heads by his play. In junior. Here’s hoping that he’s going to keep turning heads once (and if) he makes the big show. Still, bluntly, he hasn’t re-defined anything. Not yet, in any case. Oh, definitely, he’s playing with flair rarely seen in professional hockey these days, and he doesn’t make too many mistakes, either.

How will all of this junior stuff translate into the NHL?

Nobody knows. Connor McDavid least of all.

In any case, there are at least as many questions linked to Connor McDavid and his future with (let’s assume) the Oilers as there are answers.

How did we get here?

Let’s try some chronology.

Until the lockout of 2004-2005, the Oilers served as a useful farm team to the richer clubs in the NHL. They would develop young talent and, once those players’ contracts have expired, it’s goodbye, it’s been nice knowing you, Edmonton will for ever remain etched in my heart, but, for the moment, my cheque book is more important.

No need to blame the players: their careers are limited and what they don’t make now, they won’t make in the future. Most of them, at least.

Whether this kind of approach is fair to the rest of the masses of the unwashed is irrelevant here. This kind of approach is what we have. Let’s live with it. There’s not much else we can do about it.

The NHL reigned the players’ salaries in by introducing a salary cap. It would be an extravagant exaggeration to say this solved everything: the ratio between the salary cap and the league’s hockey-related revenues deserved better, and it would take another lockout for the league and its players to at least attempt a new, more flexible, tack.

In any case, next thing you know, the Oilers were in the Stanley Cup finals, extending the eventual winner (Carolina Hurricanes) to seven games, losing by a lousy single goal (empty-net goals, as it happened to end then, do not count).

In the process, the then-coach, Craig MacTavish, managed to outsmart his Detroit Red Wings counterpart, Mike Babcock, and the Oilers went on to eliminate the mighty Wings in the first round.

Less than three weeks after the final game in the Stanley Cup finals, star defenceman Chris Pronger officially asked to be traded. According to insiders, this wasn’t the first time; those same insiders claim Pronger managed to change the Oilers’ dressing room into a poisonous snake pit by the previous Christmas. Stories about reasons for Pronger’s request differ: his wife Lauren didn’t like Edmonton as such, also, she didn’t like it that her husband was recognized by all and sundry whenever the couple decided to go out for a quiet dinner in one of the poshier eateries in town, or she didn’t like alleged extramarital activities some claimed her husband was guilty of.

All of this is irrelevant now.

What is relevant are two things: Pronger went to Anaheim, and the Oilers ended up landing Joffrey Lupul, Ladislav Smid and, eventually Jordan Eberle. Not bad for a general manager (Kevin Lowe) who had to deal from a position of weakness as Pronger had let the entire world know in advance that Edmonton wasn’t his cup of tea.

The roof fell in next season: the Oilers didn’t make the playoffs. That the eventual Cup winner, the Hurricanes, didn’t make it, either, was of little or no consolation. How can one even dare considering comparisons between the fanaticism of Carolina’s supporters with the flames that burn in the hearts of Oilers’ fans?

One issue remained: thanks (or due) to Chris Pronger’s shenanigans, the Oilers’ reputation among potential free agents hit the freezing point. In attempts to lure help, the Oilers simply had to be satisfied with second- or even third-ranked free agents, and they still had to overpay them to attract them.

No, neither Kevin Lowe nor Craig MacTavish turned stupid overnight. The issue was (and remains to this day) they had to play the cards they’d been dealt.

They had to deal with inept ownership, too.

First, the so-called Edmonton Investors Group bought the club from its original owner, Peter Pocklington, in 1998. That would have been nice and dandy, on one condition: if most of the more than 30 participants didn’t think they knew hockey better than people who had been in it professionally, and with considerable success, for decades.

Gone was Glen Sather who had been grooming Kevin Lowe for his position for quite some time. Instead, Lowe was moved into Sather’s office. Prematurely, it seems in hindsight. Why prematurely? Simple because if he had some general-management experience to fall back on, he would have told the meddling Investors Group crowd to stop giving him advice on hockey-related matters, no matter how well-meant.

Enter Daryl Katz, he of the Rexall pharmacy chain fame, and a self-proclaimed Edmonton Oilers’ fan. He made an offer to buy the club that amounted to hostile takeover, as one of the chiefs of the Investors Group said at the time.

Another Katz’s claim to fame: he’s a bosom friend with some of the boys on the bus, Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish, in particular.

Both Lowe and MacTavish are very capable hockey people, and honest, too.

After all, it wasn’t that then-general manager Steve Tambellini fired MacTavish after the dreadful 2008-2009 season. MacTavish stepped down himself because he felt he didn’t have much more to give. That must have taken a lot of courage.

While away from Edmonton,. MacTavish worked on his vocabulary as a TSN commentator, kept up with coaching as the bench boss for Vancouver Canucks’ then-farm in Chicago and, most importantly, earned his Master’s degree in business administration (MBA).

Perfectly impressive.

But in the cold-blooded world of professional sports, with the cutthroat competitiveness that rules ruthlessly all over that kind of universe, two questions emerge:

Should it have been thus?

Was Kevin Lowe’s “best-before” date in Edmonton Oilers’ hockey operations past? While his knowledge, experience, talent and hard work are unquestionable, would it not have been for the better for everybody concerned if he either moved himself to another side of the operation or (even) offered his services to another organization? Kevin Lowe chose the former for the time being. Let’s see where it leads him (and the Oilers).

The question in Craig MacTavish’s case differs. It is based on a theory developed by Laurence Johnston Peter, a Canadian who rose to fame in the Excited States. As author of the wildly popular book on hierachiology, Peter Principle, he said: “In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence … in time every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out its duties … Work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence.”

Mind, incompetence in this context does not mean stupidity in any shape or form. It only means that the waters around you are too deep for comfort.

So, what was the case with Craig MacTavish?

As anybody who has ever touched any basic study on the theory of negotiations would quickly attest, it is wrong to even mention publicly your shortcomings, in addition to making your time limitations known. That, alas, is precisely what Craig MacTavish did when he was introduced as the Oilers’ new general manager. He would be making bold steps, and he was impatient. Bold steps mean: I haven’t got much time. I’m impatient means: I can hardly wait because I have no time at all.

Both statements must have made 29 other general managers giddy. Craig MacTavish just gave them weapons to help them defeat him.

Being a general manager of a professional sports team doesn’t give one too much time to learn on the job. Craig MacTavish only got two years.

Except: in strolls a guy who just lost his job because his club didn’t make the playoffs. On one hand, it seems to indicate different culture: one misstep, and you’re gone.

Alas, a look that goes deeper reveals a few more missteps. Another proof that the economic theory that holds that quantitative changes accumulate until they reach a tipping point after which they become qualitative changes. Meaning, in Peter Chiarelli’s case, such steps as trading Tyler Seguin to the Dallas Stars. He got, in exchange, players who aren’t bad but who won’t reach Tyler Seguin’s potential if their lives depended on it. All that because of some off-ice misbehaviour and indiscretions attributed to young Mr. Seguin. How come the Dallas Stars managed to put young Mr. Seguin on the straight and narrow before even the next season started?

How will Peter Chiarelli fare in his new job? Fine, he didn’t open his statement by saying he was going to be bold and impatient. He put the young (and most talented) core on notice, instead: you may be out of town before you know what hit you, if we get someone of equal or better value to the club in return.

As a philosophy, this is as it should be. Even Wayne Gretzky wasn’t untouchable, after all.

But as part of your opening statement, before you even shook hands with the guys?

Looking ahead

Will the Oilers be chasing the cup this coming season?

The answer is simple and straightforward: no.

Oh, yes, miracles do happen, but it seems the club has collected on its share of miracles by yet another improbably lucky draft lottery win.

Once we get closer to the free-agent deadline, we’ll know whether those who are now saying that picking Connor McDavid were correct in suggesting that this would help the club immensely. Top players will be lining up to offer the Oilers their services, and at a discount, too.

Besides, considering the Oilers are not trading away their first pick, it remains to be seen whether anything has changed. There have been reported cases of Oilers’ hockey people being overruled (and guess three times who is in a position to do that). The scouts were drooling about NHL-ready defencemen, and the club would end up picking yet another forward.

If this doesn’t change, then the bloodletting made no sense. Except that it made overwhelming headlines about issues that are frightfully overrated, bordering on the irrelevant, at a time when we’re supposed to be deep in thought about whom we’re going to elect to run Alberta for the next few years.

The clean-air report nothing but another “skies-are-falling” drivel

The air in Toronto is cleaner than the air in Edmonton.

Thus a study, dubbed “scientific” by Toronto-based national media.

We would have to adopt two wild assumptions in order to even begin considering it seriously, never mind accept it.

The first wild assumption: the study would have to be based on facts, not on so-called straight arithmetic averages; the data used would have to be verifiable and verified. And that would be just the basic requirements for judging the study.

The second wild assumption: we would have to assume that those who reported it knew whereof they spoke (wrote). Meaning, basically, that they were not guided one bit by the generally accepted misconception that a journalist’s job is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. Judging by the current mainstream media’s output, their instructors in sundry journalism schools never told the candidates of this craft that their job is to inform.

As a minor aside: why do these journalism schools exist in the first place? Story-telling and curiosity are the only two abilities a journalism candidate requires. Neither can be taught. The technology, laws, etc., these things change at least once between a journalism candidate’s first entrance into the hallowed halls of learning and her/his departure.

Equipped with a diploma, they are convinced that here they are, ready to change the world. They are nothing of the sort. Especially considering that changing the world is not their job.

Which brings us back to the clean air story.

To make it read or sound believable, our intrepid journalists started asking questions. Their selection of those they feel are fit to enlighten us is frightful. The usual suspects who claim (in the case of Edmonton, and Alberta in general) that it is the industry that is to blame, and the government is guilty for not doing anything about it, and, besides, car exhausts are a terrible culprit, as well, what with everybody and their dog riding around either in a pickup or, Heavens forbid, an SUV.

Short memories

It seems proponents of government-enforced radical change ought to remind themselves of several facts. These facts happen to complicate their simplified outlook somewhat, but, alas, that’s life.

Such as: even if we do accept the Toronto-based report and pretend it answered all the questions it was supposed to answer in order to be considered a serious scientific paper, there are a few unpleasant questions remaining. Not only about its methodology. About nature, as well.

First of all: oh, absolutely, we should not be abusing our environment, but mind telling, for example, the Russian taiga forests to stop burning?

It just so happens that for a number of decades running our atmosphere has been seriously damaged by smoke coming all the way across Santa’s North Pole condo, making the regions south of Edmonton within days.

Here’s what’s happening: the Russians let, on way too many occasions, the taiga forest fires burn out all by themselves. Forest fires, they say, with some justification, are a natural occurrence. They would only act if these fires came too close to forced-labour camps (yes, they still have them, and most of them are in Siberia). Russian authorities consider these camps a useful source of cheap labour, as they always have been. Might as well protect them.

There have been several other occasions, such as that the fires came too close to nuclear installations. That’s when the Russians would act.

Don’t expect for a moment that they would employ water bombing aircraft. But they would employ bombers. Russian (formerly Soviet) air force bombers stationed in those regions would practice carpet bombing. These bombing sorties would become part and parcel of military training, while creating buffer zones against the spread of the fires. What the fires do inside those zones, that, the Russians would tell you, was either God’s or nature’s decision, depending on that particular Russian’s religious inclination (or lack of same).

Compared to the inferno that keeps happening with regularity in Russia’s taiga, British Columbia’s (or Canada’s, in general) forest fires are nothing but small camp fires, used to roast meat, play the guitar or banjo, down a beer or two, sing a few songs and enjoy each other’s company. Not only that, we as Canadians feel we have the obligation toward both the forests and the wildlife that inhabit them. That’s why the best water bombers have been designed and built in Canada. They are used in civilized countries all over the world. Canada leads the field.

How about closer to home?

Now that winter seems to have left Edmonton for a few weeks, it took the city administration more than a month to wake up to the fact that a thorough clean-up job would be in order.

The system we have here borders on the insane. It may have even crossed that border.

If you, as a tax-paying citizen, have issues with too many potholes in your area, don’t expect city crews to be aware of them without you telling them. No, they are incredibly busy, and if you tell them, and are persistent enough to keep calling them every even (or odd) hour to remind them, chances are they will patch them up just as the leaves start falling and birds begin their journey southwards with the autumn coming in.

No, they will not fix them. They will only patch them up. Whether this is an attempt to create full employment in Edmonton remains to be seen. It looks like it.

The same goes, and now we come full circle back to clean air, for city roads.

After a few weeks went by without major blizzards, you could see city crews cleaning the roads. This is not to say they were doing a heck of a job of it, especially when they were watering the roads just as spring rains began hitting the place. Still, as a beginning it looked interesting. That, of course, didn’t mean that the debris left behind the watering cisterns would be swept away during that same operation. First, the water had to dry. Besides, you should give the debris a fair chance to enjoy the windy weather and do a bit of flying around, in order to see their neighbourhoods.

Then came the turn of sweeping away the debris from the grass along the roads. Where? Why, back to the road surfaces. Meaning: those surfaces that, allegedly, had just been cleaned.

Now what?

Now nothing.

When nothing had been happening for a week, an annoyed citizen called the city complaint centre, filed her or his concern, left her or his name and phone number, and got a call from someone in the city administration another three or four days later. Just don’t you worry, we’re going to get around to it.

When?

Ah, said the unnamed city employee (unnamed because he wasn’t told in advance he might be quoted for publication), anyhow, ah, said that employee, in a week or two. He sounded somewhat troubled when that citizen mentioned that, due (or thanks) to the last windy days it would make no sense for anyone to come to clean the road a week or two from now: the debris would be all in the air by then.

The city employee went on to explain that these things are the responsibility of two separate departments, as if two departments could not co-ordinate what they’re doing. And let’s not even mention the bold idea that cleaning roads in a city Edmonton’s size should not require two separate departments.

Feet on the ground

Of course, all this makes environmentalists’ cries sound somewhat ridiculous.

Get rid of coal-burning power stations. Stop using pickup trucks or SUVs. Solar or wind power stations are the answer. And so on.

It doesn’t take much research to establish that solar and wind power stations are one of the least effective (and efficient) sources of electricity. To put it simply: the energy these electric power sources create is way too expensive to even maintain the economic status quo.

Yes, the environmentalists would say, but if that’s the cost for healthy living, so be it. Is there anything to that argument? Turns out there isn’t. There would be more if these people were on record as saying that all of us should turn the lights off whenever we leave a room.

It just so happens that Canada is in the forefront of nations devising, building and using with spectacular effectiveness equipment to filter unwanted emissions from coal-fuelled and diesel-fuelled electric power plants. Except, it seems, the environmentalist crowd haven’t been made aware of it. Why they didn’t make the effort to find out themselves is another question.

How about nuclear power stations?

Well, they may be the song of the future. As soon as someone invents a way of safe disposal of radioactive waste.

How about power stations that use tide?

Another idea whose time might yet come. Perhaps as soon as someone develops a working plan how to control the tides so that the supply does not depend on the Moon’s mood alone.

The main issue

Here’s what the so-called environmentalist movement is all about: let the government decide what’s best for you. And you. And you. And, speaking of it, you, too.

Who guarantees that government knows best? Why, the government, of course!

There’s a world of difference between the science of ecology and the ideological movement of environmentalism. While it is a fine idea that all of us should contribute to keeping this planet clean, lying about the current state of affairs borders on the criminal.

Indeed, yes, lying.

How would you explain the cries that we’re entering yet another ice age just a few decades ago, to be followed by similarly loud cries (by the same people, too) that we’re going to burn, that’s how the planet is heating up.

And all that within just a few decades.

Of course, the real explanation is simple: none of these changes are new, and those yelling the loudest have obviously missed their high school science class when their teachers were explaining the basics of solar cycles.

What makes this even more dangerous is that mainstream media, ideologically blind and incapable of learning, ignores signs that what we’re dealing with here is frightful nonsense.

On top of it, mainstream media these days is unable (read: unwilling) to tolerate opposing views. It presents the terribly warped statements by climate alarmists as fact, while those same climate alarmists are laughing all the way to their banks, going to collect another set of grants for their more than questionable would-be research.

Speaking of which: how much have you learnt from mainstream media about the e-mail traffic within the East Anglia climatology institute? That would be the place that co-ordinates all of the worldwide climate alarmism.

Turns out a Russian hacker managed to break into the system and publish its content. Frank exchanges about falsifying basic data and conclusions galore. Has it made mainstream media’s front pages? Was it leading news broadcasts? And how about the fact that this doctored East Anglia drivel has remained the basis of the United Nations’ regular alarmist climate change reports?

An old fairy tale tells us about a boy who would shout in feigned horror that wolves were coming. He would have great fun watching his neighbouring villagers running out, their weapons at the ready, hoping to chase the wolves away before they got to the kid.

One day, as the boy was taking a herd of whatever domestic animals to pasture, a pack of wolves appeared.

The kid cried in horror. Nobody bothered to even look out of the windows. Next thing the kid knew, he was on the wolves menu.

Bon Appetit!

Hockey Unlimited offers impressive season finale

There are 30 NHL teams. They have 690 players on their active rosters.

A few thousand players in minor professional leagues are working their behinds off to join the anointed 690. And then there are tens of thousands players in all kinds of sundry competitions, from university level to any other kind of a league. Some of them are in North America, others play overseas. Many of them dream of making the NHL and, ultimately, lifting the Stanley Cup over their heads.

But the 30 NHL teams can only accommodate 690 players all told.

Selecting those few who might have what it takes to make the show is what NHL teams’ scouts’ jobs are all about.

With this being this season’s last installment of Hockey Unlimited, and this year’s NHL draft coming in just a couple of months, the Aquila Productions’ documentary took a behind-the-scenes look at the way NHL clubs search for new talent. With professional insiders leading the way, we get to see the many things that have to happen before a general manager, surrounded by his coaches and scouts, mounts the podium to announce his team’s selection.

Sportsnet aired this season’s Hockey Unlimited finale Thursday, and there are several repeat broadcasts scheduled (see below for additional information).

Finding the future NHL stars makes looking for a needle in a haystack an easy job. Remember, it’s not only the first-rounders who are expected to make an impact within a season or two. It’s the late bloomers who make this exercise so exciting. In fact, as Hockey Unlimited shows, not all first-rounders develop into bona fide NHL players, while quite a few players selected in later rounds of the draft end up becoming stars (Pavel Datsyuk comes to mind).

So what does it take? Analytics, of course, say the insiders, but gut feelings, too, and those are usually based on wealth of experience. Scouts gather this kind of experience through trial and error. They spend many years going from one arena to another in some God-forsaken places, looking for gems no other scouts have noticed. And, of course, talking to the coaches and to the players themselves helps reveal significant angles, also.

To sum up, it’s a tough job, but if a professional sports league such as the NHL wants to survive, somebody’s got to do it.

A visionary’s vision

A visionary Roman Catholic priest, Père (Father) James Athol Murray, loved God, Canada and hockey. Not necessarily (or not always) in that order. The founder of a high school now known as the Athol Murray College of Notre Dame of Wilcox, Saskatchewan, this learning institution has given the hockey world a number of stars, some of whom reminisce in the second segment of this episode of Hockey Unlimited about the time they spent in the community of fewer than 400, studying in the boarding school that earned international fame since its founding in 1927.

That the Notre Dame Hounds form a team most other hockey clubs respect, and very rightfully so, is one thing. The other is that the school educates its students academically and, perhaps most importantly, as human beings, too.

As students and alumni tell us, on top of it all, they form friendships that they expect to last them till death do them part.

It’s one part of what Hockey Unlimited does so well: it puts the game into perspective.

Fighting a frightful battle

Nowhere does Hockey Unlimited show it better (and with more understanding) than in telling the final story of this episode.

Here’s what it’s all about: Noah Fayad, a 14-year-old player on the St. Albert Sabres AAA Bantam team in the Edmonton Major Bantam Hockey League, was becoming more and more tired. His coaches noticed, and his dad asked his son. Alarmed and shocked by the answers, rounds of visits to medical people followed. The diagnosis that came back was overwhelmingly scary: leukemia.

It is quite possible that without young Noah’s active involvement in sports, nobody would have noticed. Or, they would consider the signs a part of the many changes people go through during puberty.

Except, Noah Fayad was physically very fit, indeed, one of the stars on his team. So, the decline in fitness and stamina was more noticeable than if he was a couch potato.

A physician interviewed for Hockey Unlimited said Noah’s prognosis seems encouraging. Not only because of his physical fitness, and not only because medical people detected (and started treating) the disease early enough. The friendship and support shown by his teammates and opposing players alike, must have been a boost, too.

Sabres’ young assistant coach Brady Reid lost his father John to the same disease when he was about Noah’s age. He understands what Noah’s family is going through. And he is proud of his players who wear a sticker with Noah’s initials and number (NF 12) on their helmets to show they are in the battle with their teammate.

And when players from other teams show up wearing similar stickers, or just plain stickers announcing they are trying to help find a cure for leukemia, no words can express how grateful Noah and his family must be.

And Hockey Unlimited, not a show known for too many words, is even quieter here. It lets the pictures do the talking.

As always, hockey coach Steve Serdachny offers a few tips: this time, on passing the puck. Fitness guru Simon Bennett makes sure we learn the seemingly easy exercise that would make our hips capable of withstanding the toughest tasks we confront them with.

Serving with distinction

Hockey Unlimited is a fine documentary. Yes, it helps that it covers Canadians’ national passion. What makes it so distinctive is the fact that it not only keeps looking for contexts, it also finds them. Its creators respect both their subjects and their audiences, and that shows, too.

Its tradecraft is impeccable, something we’ve got used to with Aquila Productions’ programming. But its ability in looking for and finding stories that would interest even those few Canadians who prefer anything to hockey, now, this is an ability that makes it extraordinary.

It seems that the timing is right, too. Television audiences are slowly but distinctly becoming bored with fast-paced shows that consist of furious factoid hits without giving the viewers any time to at least consider thinking about what they are seeing.

Hockey Unlimited gives their audiences as many facts as it can give them to let them think and form their opinions. It doesn’t force its own opinions on its viewers, either.

This is what great documentary making is all about, and here’s hoping Hockey Unlimited still has a few seasons ahead of it.

 

BROADCAST SCHEDULE:

 

Thurs. Apr. 9

3 PM ET SN One

Fri. Apr. 10

1 PM ET SN Pacific, West, Ontario, East
11:30 PM ET SN One

Tues. Apr. 14

5:30 PM ET SN Pacific, West, Ontario, East

 

 

The black art season is upon us, Hockey Unlimited promises

(Updated with detailed broadcast schedule below.)

Remember the Edmonton Oilers selecting Steve Kelly sixth overall in the 1995 NHL draft? The event took place in the Northlands Coliseum (remember THAT place? No? Would the name Rexall Place put it into context?). When then-Oilers’ president and general manager, Glen Sather, and the team’s then-chief scout, Barry Fraser, were mounting the podium, the audience went berserk, demanding the locals select one Shane Doan.

Doan went to the Winnipeg Jets who were selecting seventh. He’s been with them through thick and thin till this day, and he’s still their desert incarnation’s captain in Arizona.

Come to think of it, Edmonton native Jarome Iginla went 11th overall in that same draft, straight to the Dallas Stars, only to be traded to the Calgary Flames for Joe Nieuwendyk.

Where’s Steve Kelly now? Retired, that’s where, after achieving the unpleasant title “underachiever,” never playing more than a half of a season for any given NHL team, going through the German DEL hockey league all the way to the AHL, and ending his career there, following an injury.

Whether it was Kelly’s pure bad luck is irrelevant now. The only thing that matters is that, in hindsight, his selection in the first round was a mistake.

A mistake? After all, as we all know, hindsight is 20-20.

Again, it depends on your point of view.

In 1993, the Ottawa Senators have selected Alexandre Daigle first overall. They were so ecstatic to have landed him, they gave him an outrageous salary by the standards of the day, forcing the league to introduce more or less sensible limitations on rookie income (entry-level contract, as we know it now).

Daigle became famous right then and there. Not so much for his hockey prowess but, rather, for his frightfully idiotic statement that he’s happy to be picked first because, you know, who remembers the guy selected second.

Hartford Whalers (today’s Carolina Hurricanes, for the uninitiated) were selecting second. Chris Pronger was their choice.

Who of the two has achieved more? A rhetorical question.

This being its last installment for this season, Hockey Unlimited’s eighth episode opens with what it calls the science and black art of scouting.

Remember, the regular season will be almost over on the day Rogers Sportsnet airs this episode, Thursday, April 9. (See broadcast schedule below for further broadcast times.) The playoffs will be upon us, but so will be the draft lottery, and, ultimately, the draft itself.

Even with today’s use of advanced statistics and other hugely involved tools of what their priests call the analytics, teams are selecting real, living people, hoping they’re finding a series of gems in the rough. This, in and of itself, makes the draft a hit-and-miss proposition, easily comparable to guessing the sex in one-day-old chicken. Winning over one-armed bandits in casinos carries more probability than picking the right player.

And that even with the hoopla about the so-called “generational players,” such as Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel this season.

Teams that place first and second in the draft lottery should be very careful about what they wish for. Just to refresh your memory: the abovementioned Alexandre Daigle carried the same “generational” label.

Having an insider take us through the maze of trying to find big-league talent is going to make this an interesting segment, for sure.

It is quite logical that, following this insider look into the NHL draft, the second segment of Hockey Unlimited is going to concentrate on a school that has produced so many hockey stars.

It’s known as Athol Murray College of Notre Dame. Founded in 1927 by a visionary Roman Catholic priest, Père (Father) James Athol Murray, Notre Dame has given us stars like Curtis Joseph, Wendel Clark, Vincent Lecavalier, Tyler Myers and Jaden Schwartz, among many others. Located in the relatively small village of Wilcox, Saskatchewan, this high school academy has been developing the spirits, minds and bodies of its students since its inception.

The school’s alumni have remained “hounds for life,” as the second segment of the season’s final episode of Hockey Unlimited shows.

It wouldn’t be Aquila Productions if they didn’t find a hockey story that puts the whole thing into perspective.

Noah Fayad, a 14-year-old player on the St. Albert Sabres AAA Bantam team in the Edmonton Major Bantam Hockey League, has been stricken by leukemia. His quietly courageous battle against this disease has inspired both his teammates and his opponents alike.

Fayad’s battle has helped create a special bond between him and the Sabres’ young assistant coach Brady Reid, who lost his father John to the same disease when he was about Noah’s age. As has become the series’ tradition, Hockey Unlimited will again offer viewers valuable tips on hockey fitness from high-performance personal trainer Simon Bennett and on-ice skills from NHL instructor Steve Serdachny.

Episode eight of Hockey Unlimited will begin airing on multiple Sportsnet channels on April 9, with repeat broadcast at various times over the following week preceding the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs. (See broadcast schedule below for further broadcast times.)

 

BROADCAST SCHEDULE:

 

Thurs. Apr. 9

3 PM ET SN One

Fri. Apr. 10

1 PM ET SN Pacific, West, Ontario, East
11:30 PM ET SN One

Tues. Apr. 14

5:30 PM ET SN Pacific, West, Ontario, East

Hockey Unlimited tackles kids’ bodychecking issue head-on

A good documentary does not shy away from issues that are bound to create controversy. Indeed, a good documentary does not shy away from issues that already are controversial, either.

But, at the same time, a good documentary is perfectly willing to give voice to all sides in the argument.

Hockey Unlimited is a very good documentary.

Episode 7 that aired Monday on Rogers Sportsnet, with repeat broadcasts scheduled for later (see schedule below), opened with a serious look at an issue that has split Canada’s hockey community beyond belief. When should young players be permitted to engage in bodychecking?

Hockey Canada says not before they’ve outgrown their peewee level.

The Saskatchewan hockey association says not so.

Hockey Canada is basing its decision on parents’ fears. Those fears are based on NHL-level hits, repeated on television in super-slow motion over and over again, ad nauseam. We all know the consequences of such events, often career-ending, and quite frequently having dreadful impacts on players’ lives long after their careers have ended.

As Tom Renney – who heads Hockey Canada – put it, his organization is responsible to its members. As it should be, of course.

Except, Saskatchewan hockey people say they are responsible to their members, too, and their members agree with their view that teaching kids this age the art of bodychecking will make their later hockey lives easier for them.

The Saskatchewan hockey people support their views with findings from sports medicine experts, including specialists in kinesiology. They say what kids need is for someone to teach them the art of safe bodychecking. And they’re not merely talking about it. They are holding clinics for coaches, teaching them how to teach bodychecking right.

It seems the gap is in the definition. Where Hockey Canada sees bodychecking as a martial art always linked with a huge hit that sends the victim head-first into the boards or the victim performing a salto mortale (full somersault) in the middle of the ice surface, Saskatchewan hockey association sees it as an ability to insert one’s body between the opposing puck carrier and the puck, with the objective of taking the puck away.

Hockey Unlimited does not go out to say so openly: it is a documentary, after all. But it gives its viewers sufficient amount of information to form their own decision.

Speaking of peewee hockey, its international tournament in Quebec City is now 55 years old and still going strong.

Hockey Unlimited’s segment on this event doesn’t show us only what’s going on on the ice inside the Colisee. It takes us backstage and introduces us to numerous volunteers who make the tournament the success that it has been since its inception in 1960.

They don’t use fancy computers to capture and type-out everything. An old typewriter has seen such names as Guy Lafleur, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Rick Nash and Steven Stamkos among the 1,200 players who would excel in the NHL. It still works when volunteers are typing out game sheets. The idea is simple and straightforward: why spend money on office equipment when you can spend it on making your players’ experience unforgettable?

The players are happy that they play against some strong opposition, and that they play in front of thousands of fans who fill the seats in the good, old Colisee, no matter who’s playing whom. Considering, especially, that many of them are used to playing whenever their local arenas are free, in front of their parents and closest family members only, seeing such huge crowds borders on the overwhelming, but it’s wonderful fun, the players say.

And you can feel everybody’s enthusiasm just come across from the Colisee right into your living room (or wherever you’re watching).

Just as you can feel the enthusiasm coming across from players who brave blizzards and crazy temperatures to play hockey at the self-styled World Pond Hockey Championships.

Official pomposity purists might suggest it would have to be happening under the auspices of the International Ice Hockey Federation ((IIHF) to be able to call itself the world championships, but participants do not care. The more players come, the merrier. That’s all that matters. And they DO come from all over the world, with the possible exception of the Antarctica. Come to think of it, how many teams from that continent have we seen at IIHF events, anyhow?

It’s a beer-league event to end all beer-league events, attracting players from all over the world. Staged on the Roulston Lake in Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, the number of players easily doubles the number of people who live there. That the beer flows quite freely is quite obvious when the teams face the camera to introduce themselves, but the hockey is free-wheeling, too, and the handshakes and hugs that follow the games are genuine.

And when the weather gets worse, and the temperatures dip, so much the better, the Aquila Productions documentary shows. How many people can claim they scored a game-deciding goal in a blizzard with temperatures hovering around mins-30 Celsius?

You can add to it another question: how many camera crews would brave these elements the way the Aquila Productions’ crew has? After all, these guys weren’t keeping warm skating, and in good mood drinking beer. They were there to document others doing it, and what a great job of documenting they have done!

Useful tips on hockey fitness from high-performance personal trainer Simon Bennett and on-ice skills tips from NHL instructor Steve Serdachny have become Hockey Unlimited’s tradition; they make the show complete.

Broadcast schedule:

Mon. Mar. 30

5:30 PM ET SN Pacific, SN West, SN Ontario, SN East

Wed. Apr. 1

9:30 PM PT (12:30 AM ET) SN Ontario, SN East, SN Pacific

Fri. Apr. 3

12:30 PM ET SN One

Kids’ bodychecking: Yes? No? Hockey Unlimited joins the debate

Should Hockey Canada have banned bodychecking at peewee hockey level?

It did so a couple of years ago, and only the Saskatchewan hockey association had the guts to say it found the decision weak-kneed and frightfully un-hockey-like.

Whether Saskatchewan youth hockey poohbahs were right or wrong remains to be seen: it’s too early to be coming up with definitive answers.

But Hockey Unlimited has entered the fray to see why the proponents of young players’ bodychecking believe what they do. And here’s what they believe: properly taught, bodychecking actually makes the full contact game safer for kids as they get older.

Airing Monday, March 30 on Rogers Sportsnet, with repeat broadcasts to follow (see schedule below), Hockey Unlimited again promises to deliver thought-provoking sports documentary programming.

Hockey, no matter whether it is in whatever organized or somewhat disorganized form, just happens to be part of Canada’s national fabric. To prove this point, the Aquila Productions documentary will show two events that run at about the same time and that can hardly be more different.

In 1960, hockey organizers in Quebec City have come up with a brilliant idea. The Quebec International Peewee Hockey Tournament has become the largest minor hockey tournament in the world. Guy Lafleur, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Steven Stamkos have been among the 1,200 former and current NHL players to experience it. Kids rub shoulders with top teams of 11- and 12-year-old players from all over the world: Canada and the U.S., Europe, Asia and even Australia.

You won’t find too many future NHL stars at the World Pond Hockey Championships, however. The beer league event to end all beer league events attracts players from all over North America, but it brings guys from London, England, too,

Just imagine these gentlemen of all ages, clearing off snow on Roulston Lake in Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, so they can face off in games more hotly contested than Stanley Cup’s games seven in fifteenth overtime. Except, instead of NHL teams’ trainers ordering pizza for every second intermission, beer flows on Roulston Lake as if there was no tomorrow. Unlike the often concussed professionals, frostbite and hangovers are the main risk to players here.

And, of course, it wouldn’t be Hockey Unlimited without tips on hockey fitness from high-performance personal trainer Simon Bennett and on-ice skills from NHL instructor Steve Serdachny.

Broadcast schedule:

Mon. Mar. 30

5:30 PM ET SN Pacific, SN West, SN Ontario, SN East

Wed. Apr. 1

9:30 PM PT (12:30 AM ET) SN Ontario, SN East, SN Pacific

Fri. Apr. 3

12:30 PM ET SN One