Tuesday, December 29, 2015

"Tries hard, needs to produce more on the ice"

I haven’t written as much as I intended to this season. (That much should be obvious.) I could blame it on my schedule, my increased fatigue due to minor health stuff (which is the same thing that slowed me down a couple of years ago, eventually leading to the demise of my Plus Minus column), or the slow, inevitable decline of my Macbook. All of those are legit reasons (except for the Macbook, because I’m probably to blame for its decline. I was not kind to its battery. I should have done better. I’m a terrible laptop mother. Let’s move on.) But one of the reasons why I haven’t been writing about hockey is that in order to be writing about hockey regularly, I’d have to be watching hockey regularly, and I’ve been watching fewer and fewer games and SportsCentres.

The sport, and the culture surrounding it, have lost a bit of their luster. The newfangled major hockey broadcasts, with their oversized ice-blue sets and laughable analysts (#NotAllAnalysts), just don’t do it for me. It’s like watching a show long after it’s jumped the shark – I still watch, but sometimes it’s a little more painful than I’d like. Hockey culture, among fans, journalists, and players, has disappointed me this year. There were some incredible highs, but the lows just sucked. (If one more man tries to tell me how to feel about the charges brought against Patrick Kane, I’ll… maybe I shouldn’t finish that sentence, because I’m not an elite athlete and anything I do will most certainly have consequences.) It’s been hard to love a sport where the bad gets worse and the good rarely gets better. It’s kind of no fun to not really care that the Habs are on a losing streak even though everyone’s screaming about it as if the sky is falling, as if the team’s MVP is not on IR, as if the players themselves are not people. Sometimes I don’t know what to do or what to write about.

But I guess you can say that about anything, right? Every musical genre had at least one horrible hit song this year. (So many unnecessary throwbacks to the early-to-mid-2000s. So many.) Every TV network had hits and misses. Every stand-up comic had the kind of performance that made them wish they had stayed home. (Or maybe it was just me.)

So I will try to focus on the good that happened this year. On the female hockey players who are finally starting to get the respect, attention, and remuneration they deserve. Or on Spider-Mable, the little cancer patient in Edmonton who rescued some Oilers players from the clutches of an evil villain. Or Mike Condon doing his best to continue earning the NHL ice time he worked so hard for. Or the incredible progress that Max Pacioretty has made, that led him to become captain of the Montreal Canadiens. Or the rest of the world finally realizing that Carey Price is one of the best hockey players on Earth and don’t you deny it. Or the drive, on and off the ice, that makes PK Subban superhuman. Or the enduring legacy left by men like Dickie Moore.
Hockey isn’t all bad. 2015 wasn’t all bad. Let’s focus on what’s good, and work on whatever needs improving, and maybe the hockey world will be a little better for it by this time next year.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

What I'd Name My Fantasy Hockey Team, If I Joined a Hockey Pool This Year

Not Tone Deaf

Bunch of Rape Apologists

Voluntary Deportation

Guys Who Need Better Mental Health Professionals

How To Get Away With... okay well maybe a hockey player has never murdered anyone, but the way things are going, let's not count our chickens before they hatch

But They're Nice Guys!

What Happened to "Innocent Until Proven Guil... ajlhwkjhtiuergbkgcbuyrwtbeyu

Listen, They're Really Good at Hockey Pucks, ok

Why Can't My Team Just Be PK, Price, and Pacioretty? No, like, why?

Better Than NFL Players*

Gary Bettman Cares

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Things I'm Too Polite To Tell You At Your Baby Shower

I hope you love your baby as much as I love "Uptown Funk": fully, shamelessly, even if it makes you uncool.

I hope you love your baby as much as I love Beyonce's cover of "Uptown Funk." She hasn't actually recorded one, but I imagined it, and that counts, right?

I hope you love your baby as much as Beyonce loves Blue Ivy.

I hope you love your baby as much as I love Blue Ivy.

I hope you love your baby more than I loved turning my concert ticket money into "piece of fuzzy cloth with a face on it" money.

I hope you love your baby as much as I love being able to drink wine right now. Seriously. This unoaked Chardonnay. You have no idea. I'm going to try pairing it with sushi. I don't know whether or not they'll pair nicely, but how great is sushi? So delicious.

I love you love your baby as much as you love Pinterest.

I hope you love your baby as much as I love going to parties that serve no purpose other than to give you gifts. The baby industrial complex is REAL.

I hope you love your baby as much as I am going to love asking you to buy me things when I have a baby. Even if it's just a toy baby like in American Sniper. You'll throw me a toy baby shower, right?

I hope you love your baby as much as I loved buying a dozen grey onesies for your baby, just like you asked.

I hope you love your baby enough to eventually introduce it to colour, like it's living in The Wizard of Oz or something. I hope you consider synching your labour to some Pink Floyd songs. It'll totally line up.

I hope you love your baby enough to never make it watch that Oz movie with James Franco, but that you also love it enough to teach it about patriarchy and that white men are liars who ruin stuff (just like the Wizard, or Sam Raimi.)

I hope you love your baby so much that you forgive it for being the reason you pooped in front of doctors during childbirth.

I hope you love your baby. Because I do, but not enough to change its diapers. Hope that's okay.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Oscar Nominations Are Part of a Bigger Problem

The Academy Award nominations reminded me that I have a lot of films left to watch. They also reminded me that the Oscars can be pretty damn biased.

There were some interesting snubs and surprises in multiple categories, but I think that one in particular is worth discussing. How come Ava DuVernay, generally considered a lock for a Best Director nomination, didn't get that call this morning? She was hand-picked to direct Selma, a film that is socially important (especially this year) and incredibly well-made, despite many struggles to bring it to the screen?

It's not that there was a lack of directing talent this year. Morten Tyldum's work in The Imitation Game turned what could have been just a boring Oscar movie into a layered, engaging, well-acted drama. Alejandro González Iñárritu is an accomplished director and Birdman was highly inventive and just buzzy enough to garner the attention of the right people. Bennett Miller, quite simply, knows how to make a movie that will get noticed by Oscar. Wes Anderson's films have always been critically beloved, and this year The Grand Budapest Hotel is poised to have a hell of an Oscar night. (Or win nothing. There is no in-between.) And Richard Linklater's hard work on Boyhood resulted in a film that was not only original, but that captivated its audience.

Here's the thing about Richard Linklater - he was one of the first directors I learned about when I started studying film. He is talented and has a distinct voice, and Boyhood is an amazing, unprecedented accomplishment. But there is a chance that Boyhood would never have been made if Linklater had not been an established director when he started making it. He certainly worked to become an established director. His breakout film project, Slacker, was a success at Sundance not only because he is a talented director, but because he worked hard enough and was lucky enough to have it screened there. The film industry is a boys' club. It's not entirely closed to women and people of colour, but there does seem to be a certain camaraderie between men and most of them are white. Part of being successful in film is who you know. I loved my experience studying film, but I was taught by a staff that was mostly composed of white men. (Not that they weren't brilliant or good at their jobs, but there was a certain homogeny among the people I learned from.) In fact, a lot of the people I learned from were either white or male. Many of the students who got a leg up from professors were white guys who worshipped white guy directors. (And Robert Rodriguez.) And that's who we learned about, too - in class, I watched so many brilliant films from different eras, but even the modern films I watched (and that were discussed) were mostly made by white guys. I remember watching one film by Wong Kar-Wai. And Lost In Translation, because it was gaining a lot of buzz at the time. That's about it. We discussed Richard Linklater and Jim Jarmusch, but I don't remember talking about Spike Lee. Slacker and Do The Right Thing are completely different films, but they're both fascinating films made by young, ambitious directors.

I'm getting a little off topic. Film school made it very clear that filmmaking is about more than just hard work and creativity. It's about luck. It's about who you know. It's about who believes in you. If Richard Linklater didn't have the good fortune to screen Slacker at Sundance, his career could have been very different, and he might never have had the opportunity to make or release Boyhood on the scale that he did. Bennett Miller is beloved by Oscar voters - and he's talented enough to deserve that love, but there are plenty of talented people in Hollywood who get overlooked for Oscars. (And on the flip side, there are people who Oscar loves. Meryl Streep could probably get a nomination for a message she left on someone's voicemail. I bet she was excellent in that voicemail, though!)

All this to say that the problem with the Oscar nominations isn't just the Oscars. It's symptomatic of the industry as a whole. If more minorities were afforded the opportunities and the approval that people like these Best Director nominees were fortunate enough to have on their way to the top, we'll see more perspectives in feature films and at the Oscars. It won't solve everything, but it would be a good start. Maybe this is a start. Maybe Selma is the career push that Ava DuVernay needed to become a big-name director. But is it? And how many more directors like her will be afforded similar opportunities?

Sunday, January 4, 2015

I Solved The 2017 WJC Dilemma

So, Montreal is getting a bad rap because of poor attendance during World Juniors games. Obviously this isn't something that should happen, in a country that lives and breathes hockey and a city that can sell out an entire NHL season in an hour. But it did, and we all know why. Here's how to fix it for 2017 instead of just yanking the games from Montreal entirely:

Make tickets more accessible. I know that opening a ticket lottery right after the previous year's WJC was probably the best way to generate and maintain interest - but with so many empty seats, was it such a great idea to make fans feel special for winning a chance to commit to a 13-game ticket package? Even passionate hockey fans might not be able to make that kind of financial or time commitment. (As an aspiring homeowner, the cost of a 13-game package is what I call "house money." For the price of two ticket packages, I could probably plan a trip to a WJC in another country.) Hockey Canada gave no signs that fans could buy less than 13 games' worth of tickets until less than two months before the tournament. It seemed to be all or nothing, and that's a pretty big ultimatum to make.
Ticket prices were pretty ridiculous, too. Why else would the cheap seats at the Bell Centre be so much fuller than the lower bowl? Canadiens fans are blinded by their love for the team - that's part of what drives the demand for, and high price of, Habs tickets. No one likes forking over that much money to see their team, even if they do, so it's an awfully big assumption to make that hockey fans would pay the same amount of money to see two teams they're not as attached to.
I don't have any memory of this, but maybe I'm wrong. Lotteries and high ticket prices aren't conducive to group sales. It's near impossible for a youth hockey team to go to the Bell Centre for a Canadiens game, I know. But I've seen kids' soccer teams at Impact games and basketball teams watching the Harlem Globetrotters. Why not make seats more available to the children and teens who are basically the backbone of Hockey Canada?

Advertise better. This isn't really anyone's fault. I feel like the World Juniors had better buzz in previous seasons, when they were broadcast on the same network as NHL games. This year has just been awkward, with no lead-up to the World Juniors during Wednesday Night Hockey, no friendly reminders from James Duthie that the tournament starts soon. But there isn't really anything that the World Juniors can do about the feast of fools that is the NHL on Sportsnet. (It could have been so much better.)
Still, there's got to be a better way to build up buzz. If the Olympics can do it on a very large scale, why can't the World Juniors do it on a small scale? If it's a big deal on TV (spurring endless editorials about the pressure on young players), why can't it be a big deal in real life? Where are the sponsors before the tournament starts? The tournament is sponsored by a bank and a gas station - all of their locations could have posters and countdowns going for weeks before Boxing Day. Sponsoring airlines and couriers can put Team Canada logo decals on their vehicles. All of the sponsors can have contests, giveaways, anything. If my bank sent me an email with a draw for gold-medal game tickets instead of another credit card offer, I'd be thrilled.

Make a bigger deal out of training camp. If training sessions and scrimmages are open to the public, shouldn't the public know about it? There's a market for offseason hockey, and Hockey Canada and the IIHF need to tap into it. Make training camp dates, times, and locations readily available to fans - don't keep the information exclusive or bury it somewhere in the depths of your website.

Paint the town red. It's times like this that I wish there wasn't so much construction and congestion around the Bell Centre. Fans need space! There's more space around the ACC. Time for the WJC to truly take over the city. I mean, where is Mayor Coderre in all this? I thought he was supposed to be our sports bro. I know there's a fan jam at Windsor Station, but to be honest, they made a bigger deal out of the Grey Cup festival in 2008. (And people say this is a hockey town.) How about launch parties at local bars or arenas a few days before the tournament? Why not appoint someplace in Montreal the local "hockey house", like Toronto has with RealSports? The beer sponsors can have a ball with this. We're Canadian. Let's do what we do best.
Worried about promoting federalism in Quebec? Push the hometown heroes. I'm sure that Quebecois players love the idea of having home ice advantage in an international championship. Make them the local face of Team Canada. This province has embraced athletes like the Dufour-Lapointe sisters and Charles Hamelin, so there's no reason why they wouldn't do the same for any francophone member of Team Canada.

Encourage the international fans. It is, after all, a world championship. Why not encourage a little friendly rivalry? Make it easy for fans of Germany, Russia, and Slovakia to find whatever merchandise they want. Sell tickets to team-specific sections at the Bell Centre. Help fanbases to find locations for watch parties. I consider myself pretty fortunate to live in the country and NHL city that I root for. If ever I moved, I would love to find a place where I could surround myself with other Team Canada or Habs fans. It would be so much fun to see a Sweden section cheering on their team, or to hop around different hubs in the city meeting fans and trading flags.

It's unfair to think that Montreal somehow failed the WJC when this tournament was mis-managed. Contrary to popular belief, sports fans don't only exist to make money for people who already have it. If the IIHF and Hockey Canada do a little better next time, they'll reap the rewards of better attendance.