Why We Fan


It’s a feeling unlike any other.

As a diehard sports fan who hasn’t had much to cheer about throughout my life, I have had a lot of fun teams to root for. My childhood sports experience was dominated by the Vancouver Canucks, Pavel Bure, the “West Coast Express” line and the never ever to be duplicated Sedin twins. I’ll go to my grave with the belief that there has never been and there will never be a happier first baseman in the world than Carlos Delgado. The Blue Jays have fluked their way into year after year of home run mashing teams ever since Jose Bautista arrived on the scene. Chris Bosh was one of the best almost-superstars.

The point is, in spite of my lack of major professional sports championships experience (it’s zero, by the way), there has been a lot of joy along the way. I’m not jaded. At least, not yet.

The Toronto Raptors are doing their best to keep it that way for me. After a stunning victory in game 4 over the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Raptors are legitimately still in the thick of what was supposed to be a 3 team playoff race.

While I’ve watched more than my fair share of sports over the years, it’s hard for me to explain why this Raptors run is nothing like anything I have ever experienced as a Canadian sports fan.

The Toronto Blue Jays went on an incredible, magical run last year. It was amazing. However, it never felt this way.

The Vancouver Canucks went to game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011. It was also amazing. However, outside of Alex Burrows’ game winning goal in round 1 against the Chicago Blackhawks, it never felt this good.

The only explanation I can come up with for why the past few days have been so different is the nature of the victories. The season was almost over. Twice. This series was definitely supposed to be over by now. That was a foregone conclusion. After game 2, I had an intense text discussion with a friend about whether the Raptors should let Demar DeRozan walk this offseason.

Here we are though, 2-2. This is why you play the games.

Since Saturday’s unexpected victory over Cleveland, I have been downright giddy. Consuming every bit of Raptors news and analysis that I possibly can. I thought the season would be over by now. We all did. I wonder how many people feel the way I do.

This is the reason that I don’t care about bandwagon jumpers. Come on aboard. The bandwagon fans don’t bother me because I know they can never feel this good. At the risk of sounding cliché, it is only the ones of who have been through the lows who get to experience the highs.  The diehards.

The ones who watched far too many Andrea Bargnani and Rudy Gay clanked jumpers, Rafael Arajuo attempt to play NBA basketball, Hedo Turkoglu believe he needed more “ball” and Jay Triano try to coach a team to play league average defence.

I’m still young. A part of me believes that the chase is more fun than actually winning. This, of course, coming from a fan who has never experienced actual winning. It may be a defence mechanism or I simply might not be jaded enough yet.

Nevertheless, it’s the past few days that instill in me this possibly ridiculous belief that I would rather cheer for my hapless group of teams than be, say, a San Francisco Giants fan. If I had grown up a Boston sports fan, what would I have to cheer for? I have no idea if I am in the minority on this but I wouldn’t trade what I have for anything…I think.

Yes, as Herm Edwards so famously said, you play to win the game. At the same time, the journey matters just as much, if not more for sports fans. Winning is not the be all and end all. It can still be a heck of a lot of fun even when your chances of winning a championship are slim to none.

And isn’t that the point of all this?

Sports have been around for centuries for our entertainment. We watch because it is fun.

We have fun watching Bismack Biyombo wag his finger like he’s the second coming of Dikembe Mutombo. We enjoy, or at least some of us enjoy, witnessing the national media skewer LeBron for flopping around like he isn’t 6”8, 260 pounds.  Most of all, we love the fact that we were all wrong about the Toronto Raptors’ chances in this series. Regular season Kyle Lowry and Demar DeRozan are alive.

I recognize that it’s absurd to be this excited about a series that will probably end in 6 games. This isn’t even the NBA Finals. But I had to document this moment. I want to remember what it felt like when the Raptors pushed the Cavaliers and King James to their limits. . I want to remember why I do this to myself. Why all of us sports fans do this to ourselves.

It’s this weird, lasting feeling of mild euphoria that is impossible to explain and even harder for most people to understand. You have to be one of us to truly get it. It’s a small club. I’m just happy I get to be a part of it.

Man Without a Plan 2.0

Mike Gillis

It feels as if we have seen this movie before.

An unconventional general manager is hired with the expectations of being inventive, imaginative and savvy. His tenure starts out all sunshine’s and rainbows but eventually the creative ideas fail. In lieu of his failure, he begins to stray from his original tactics. He starts to wing it knowing that he will be axed if success doesn’t come. However, he is too proud to cut ties with what he thought would be the franchise cornerstone. What follows is every free-agent signing, every trade, every face-saving comment to the media is wrong, wrong, wrong. Finally, he is mercifully axed to the delight of fans but not before he has run the team into the ground.

Former Toronto Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo was the star of that movie. Current Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis is shooting the sequel as we speak.

Related: Never an Idea

Mike Gillis’s path to becoming a GM was not typical. He did not rise through the ranks of the front office. Gillis went straight from player agent to general manager in one of the most pressured filled markets you will find in sports. Gillis wasn’t like the other GM’s. He was supposed to be cut from a different cloth.

Bryan Colangelo was cut from a different cloth too. He was the son of one of the most influential figures in Basketball, Jerry Colangelo. Bryan Colangelo didn’t follow the blueprint of other GM’s. He went to Europe to find cheap talent that could help contribute to a successful team. He selected a 7 foot Italian stallion in his very first draft who became the symbol for his shortcomings. It was the European invasion and Colangelo was spearheading the operation.

Gillis was innovative. He went all-in on Roberto Luongo and then made his goaltender the captain. No one did that (and probably won’t ever again). Heck, the rulebook doesn’t even allow a goalie to wear the ‘C’ on his chest. Gillis had stones.

As a GM coming in after the dreaded 2004-05 lockout, Gillis began designing a team that didn’t need a whole lot of grit and toughness. The new rules were going to allow him to do that.

He created an environment that players wanted to play in. He worked around the cap system by convincing players to take less money because this was where a Stanley Cup would be won. Some of his notable bargains include the Sedins, Alex Burrows, Dan Hamhuis and Manny Malhotra.

Unfortunately, when things started to go wrong, Gillis was unable to stay calm under pressure. He panicked. Despite his team reaching game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals with more injuries than a Patrice Bergeron hospital report, Gillis was rattled.

As Bryan Colangelo had done, Mike Gillis started winging it. He threw his plan of a speedy, finesse and skilled team out the window. He was embarrassed to have his roster bullied the way it was by the Boston Bruins. He couldn’t have that happen again even though the core of the roster he had assembled was not made for tweaking in that manner.

He shocked Vancouverites by trading Cody Hodgson for a tough, young and skilled Zack Kassian. Although the story had more to it than just trading finesse for grit, it felt as though Gillis pulled the trigger too quickly in anticipation of another potential match-up with Boston. For a franchise in win-now mode, trading a quality NHL center for a prospect who was far from ready for big-time NHL minutes wasn’t sensible.

Most egregiously, like Colangelo, he refused to admit defeat on his most prized possession (see: Andrea Bargnani). Gillis did not acquire Luongo from the Florida Panthers, but he signed him to the 12 year contract when people still foolishly believed that 12 year contracts were a clever way to circumvent the cap. The Luongo situation was his fault so he insisted that he would be content with an awkward as a 3-legged giraffe goalie circus. Maybe he convinced himself he was.

Nevertheless, when he had the chance to get some value in return for Roberto Luongo, Gillis got greedy. He didn’t want the Luongo debacle to be viewed by the public as a debacle. If he could trick a team into believing in Bobby-Lou, Gillis could get back into the good graces of the fans.

Alas, he was more patient than Ghandi on a hunger strike. Luongo lost every minutia of trade value that he had a year previously so Gillis had to improvise as Colangelo did far too many times. He started shopping the man he gave the keys to the crease to. In the end, he traded an elite goaltender for a draft pick that won’t be ready for quite some time.

For a team in win-now mode, the Schneider trade is perplexing. He went with a short shelf-life coach in John Tortorella only to trade for the future. It has completely overshadowed what my Facebook feed says was a very good draft for the Canucks.

If it wasn’t obvious enough that Gillis has scrapped his plans and tossed it in the trash, he made sure everyone knew that he has done so. In an attempt to justify his decision to trade Cory Schneider, Gillis said that “Our plan three years ago was to develop Cory and move him for a high pick, and that’s what we ultimately did”.

Devious, Mike.

This is almost as bad as if Toronto mayor Rob Ford had come out and said he planned to leak the crack video 3 years ago in order to gain publicity because, you know, all publicity is good publicity.

New Raptors GM Masai Ujiri did what Bryan Colangelo was never willing to do yesterday. He got some spare parts and draft picks in exchange for Andrea Bargnani, which is better than anyone ever thought he could do. What does that say about what Bryan Colangelo could have gotten in return for Bargnani last off-season?

It’s a lesson for GM’s. Having the ability to detach themselves from their bold choices that go south. Now, just as Bargnani symbolized the futility of Colangelo’s tenure, Luongo is the official poster-boy for Gillis’ failings so far.

Although the ending to the Gillis movie has yet to be determined, what we have been shown eerily mirrors that of Bryan Colangelo.

Mike Gillis is hoping that this isn’t the sequel.

Agree? Disagree? Reply in the comments section below or e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com

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One and Done

The Vancouver Canucks are supposed to be a team that is built for annual Stanley Cup runs. This isn’t supposed to be the last time. In fact, this is supposed to be the beginning. General Manager Mike Gillis has much of his core locked up for multiple years including the Sedins, Ryan Kesler, Roberto Luongo, Dan Hamhuis and Alex Burrows.

Championship hangover is something most seen in hockey and football. Makes sense, they’re the 2 most physical. It takes a lot out of a team to make 1 championship run, much less 2. This might not be a championship hangover for the Canucks but it might as well be.

Only 5 teams in the last 20 years have reached back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals and 2 of those have gone on to win in consecutive years. They say that hockey is the hardest championship to win. 4 gruelling series, 16 victories, all over a long 2 months. Brutal.

However, bodies aren’t the only thing that the players invest. It’s how much they invest emotionally.

The Canucks have invested as much and probably more than most teams have in the past. It was their year and it was time to get the monkey off their backs. Everyone was tired of being the city without a championship. Tim Thomas just got in their way.

The team was battered, bruised and decimated. Alex Edler played on broken fingers, Kesler on a torn groin, Higgins possibly on a broken foot and the list goes on and on. They left it all on the line and fell short.

It’s hard to imagine that they have one more in them next year.

This season was too much for the entire team. The drive they had to bring the team and the city of Vancouver a Stanley Cup was enormous. It showed throughout the playoffs. The toll that this run will take on the team is going to be all too evident next year.

Moreover, if the NHL wants to continue this ridiculous trend of avoiding calling penalties in the playoffs the Canucks will have even more trouble next year. The whistles went away for the most part throughout the playoffs and this is a roster not meant to match up to the physicality that a playoff series prior to the lockout presented. This is a roster meant for the open ice and skill that the new era was intended to be.

The one guy you wouldn’t expect to suffer from a hangover is Ryan Kesler. This true warrior, who skated as hard as he could through the drug-masked pain even with a minute to go in a 4-0 game 7, was teary eyed. “I really thought we were going to win this one” said Kesler following the loss, “I can’t put it into words right now.” He gave it everything he had but it wasn’t enough. The whole team did.

Related: Why Isn’t Anyone Worried About Ryan Kesler

Roberto Luongo has had to battle through so much. Mentally he must be drained. His psyche must be like one of those flipped, flaming cars on Robson Street.

Justifiably he has been berated by the media and toyed with by the fans. A Stanley Cup would have shut them all up. Now it’s another long year of having to answer question after question about his mental toughness and ability to come up clutch.

He’s thinking of giving Lebron a call for some advice.

For a guy whose psyche is as delicate as a newborn baby, Roberto Luongo is going to have trouble shrugging this one off. His continual inability to play well on the road, the more overpaid by the day 12 year contract, a red sea parted five hole and the cardboard blocker he tries to pass off as a glove on his left hand all add up to one messed up goalie. This coming after new goalie coach Rollie Melanson completely remodelled his game prior to the season.

3 words: 11 more years.

Related: Roberto Luongo the Ex-Factor

More bad news for the Canucks comes from the thought that 3 of their top 6 defensemen are coming off the books in the summer. Kevin Bieksa, Christian Ehrhoff, and Sami Salo have expiring contracts. With no way to sign all 3, the Canucks will have to find a way to compensate in that regard. The fantastic play of rookie Chris Tanev is a good start.

If the Chicago Blackhawks are any indication of what lies ahead, the Canucks should be worried. Although the Blackhawks roster was decimated, it was apparent during their round 1 series with Vancouver that they weren’t playing with their hearts fully committed during the regular season. This was a team that underachieved greatly but had the talent and ability to turn their play up when the season was on the line.

The core of their roster stayed intact, which gave them arguably the best team in the Western Conference. They couldn’t muster up enough for the regular season though. The toll their championship run had taken on them was too drastic to overcome.

Vancouver will likely be seeing much of the same next year.

The Canucks have the team to contend next year, at least on paper they do. This is their small crack in the window of opportunity. In spite of that, nothing can make up or account for the roller-coaster that the team has gone through this year. The roller-coaster that will ultimately lead to the team’s downfall next season.

In theory, being that close to winning a championship should motivate them more. In practice, the thought of retribution won’t be enough to toil through the grind of another deep run into a 2nd consecutive Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Related: Trip Back in Time Killing Canucks

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com. Also, follow me on twitter @paintstheblack and I will gladly return the favour.

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Trip Back in Time Killing Canucks

The NHL has taken a trip back in time these playoffs. Well, at least the referees have and the Canucks are paying the price.

The vast amount of inconsistency among the reffing has been a major storyline throughout the playoffs. Following a penalty filled game 1, the referees seem to think it’s 1995 all over again. That’s the only plausible explanation for their ignoring the excessive amount of physical play that has taken over the series.

Yeah, it’s the playoffs. The reins are supposed to be loosened a bit but in the last 3 games the reins have fallen right off.

Since the lockout, those fierce battles in front of the net have been a thing of the past. Players are supposed to be allowed to stand in front of the net and do their work instead of having to assault their opponent for every half-inch of ice. Don’t tell the refs though because Zdeno Chara is brutalizing Ryan Kesler in his new found home every chance he gets.

Related: NHL Referee Conundrum

The unnecessary and absurd amount of cross-checking hasn’t escaped the attention of many, except of course the referees who have suddenly decided to check out of 2011.

The time travelling is no doubt hurting the Canucks and giving the Bruins a significant edge. The physicality being displayed, that is not supposed to be in the game anymore, is allowing the Bruins to travel even farther back in time to bring back the Big Bad Bruins of old.

Man, do they ever need it.

The Boston Bruins need this excessive physicality in order to slow down a Canucks team that is much faster and skilled. It is part of what has allowed them to get back in this series. The Canucks are not built as a team that can handle the physicality of a 1990’s playoff series, when violence that would be worthy of a prison sentence away from the rink was the norm. Don’t even get me started on the extra-curricular activity going on after the whistle.

Saying that you have to let the players play or that it’s the playoffs are easy cop outs for fans and analysts. You don’t rustle any feathers and that way you can maintain the status quo.

It’s not fair to the Vancouver Canucks. It’s like changing the rules in the middle of the game.

The Boston Bruins obviously don’t mind because it plays right into their hands. Not that it had any effect on the game, but the fact that Tim Thomas was allowed to body check Henrik Sedin shows how much things have gotten out of control. That was just game 3.

It’s difficult for a finesse inclined team to work under these conditions. Conditions that they could not and should not have expected.

This isn’t the only problem affecting the Vancouver Canucks because you can point to a zillion other things. However, the extreme physical play, that doesn’t look like it is going to be put to halt anytime soon, is something far out of their control. This is something severely hindering their play that they have no power over.

No Canuck coach or player is going to come out publicly and complain about this. I mean, it is the playoffs. You can bet though that they’re trying to address this behind closed doors. Too bad they don’t have the personnel to address something that should be a non-issue.

The game of hockey has changed from the animal-esque Neanderthal play we witnessed prior than the lockout. The game may have evolved but it’s clear that the refereeing hasn’t.

It’s killing the Canucks.

Related: Roberto Luongo the Ex-Factor

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com. Also, follow me on twitter @paintstheblack and I will gladly return the favour.

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Significant Injury?

Nathan Horton lies on the ice following a late hit by Aaron Rome

Humans are social beings and as social beings our lives are overrun by emotions. Emotions cloud our judgement. Emotions change our perception of what we see and how we react to events.

Naturally, when a person is lying on the ice seemingly unconscious and having to be carted off our emotions get the best of us. No self-respecting person wants to see a person badly hurt no matter the circumstances.

Seeing Nathan Horton immobile for a good ten minutes following a devastating hit by Aaron Rome is a scary sight. As humans, we want revenge on the guy that did it. The Boston Bruins fans showed their displeasure by booing for a considerable length after watching the replay. Luckily, Nathan Horton was reported to have had movement in all his extremities while at Massachusetts General Hospital.

The sight of a motionless Nathan Horton led to a 5 minute penalty for Aaron Rome and a game misconduct. That wasn’t the end of it though. Today, Aaron Rome was suspended a whopping 4 games for his hit on Nathan Horton. The reason given by NHL Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations Mike Murphy was that “The hit by Rome was clearly beyond what is acceptable in terms of how late it was delivered after Horton had released the puck and it caused a significant injury.”

Significant injury?

This is yet another critical error in their method of determining suspensions. As humans, we feel that the length of a suspension should be correlated to how hurt the victim is.

Our emotions get the best of us. The sight of a severely injured player brings out the emotions that we don’t want to feel like fear, anger and horror. The emotion of a seeing fellow human being in distress can bring out the worst in us. Despite the many angles that advancement of technology allows us, the replay of a hit is suddenly far worse in our eyes when we know that the player has been brutally injured.

If you subtract the Horton injury from this equation and look at the hit from an objective standpoint it really isn’t all that bad. The hit is obviously late and is deemed late based on the timing criteria utilized by the NHL. The hit was 28 digital frames (whatever that means) from release of the pass and the NHL standard for a late hit is longer than 15 frames which equals 0.5 seconds. Rome’s hit does not qualify as a blind side, even though Horton is not looking, because Horton is moving in the direction of Rome and Rome simply steps up on him. Most importantly, there is no intent to injure. The elbow in no way flies out and Rome’s shoulder makes contact with Horton’s head because Horton is admiring his pass while smack dab in the middle of the ice.

The hit isn’t pretty but it is nowhere near some of the worst hits we have seen recently in the NHL. Intent to injure with a hit to the head has been a major issue in the NHL, with a terrible amount of inconsistency regarding the handing out of suspensions.

Aaron Rome isn’t one to dish out dirty hits and this wasn’t intended to be one. Rome has been on the receiving end of a couple of big hits in recent memory and has suffered a concussion because of it. Rome’s agent said yesterday that “Aaron told me he was sad to see Horton lying on the ice because he’s been that guy twice within the year and would never intend to injure another player. He hopes Horton is OK and is sorry.” Rome also texted Horton today telling him that it was never his intention to hurt him.

Aaron Rome on contact with Nathan Horton

Now the fact that Rome apologized shouldn’t be a factor in the decision-making process either but it’s a gesture that most likely shows there wasn’t any malicious intent. The replay of the hit shows that too.

There have been too many instances over the past couple of years where players have been on the receiving end of very dirty hits but were not injured. The players who dished out the dirty hits have constantly avoided a suspension of considerable length in large part because their victim was not injured.

It doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t make any sense that the statement given by Mike Murphy (who has taken over for Colin Campbell temporarily) includes the reasoning that the length of the suspension was determined because it caused significant injury.

The action should define the suspension not the result.

You can “dig” through the archives from a month ago and remember Raffi Torres’ filthy hit on Brent Seabrook. Torres got 2 minutes for interference and avoided suspension. That hit was from the blind side, he was gunning for his head but Seabrook got up and continued to play.

Related: Throw the Book at Torres

The issue here is that if Seabrook had lain motionless in a similar fashion to Nathan Horton than we no doubt would have seen a suspension given to Raffi Torres. It is completely illogical that the same action can result in a different penalty based on the injury of the victim.

The NHL isn’t alone in their ill-fated logic but I guess this is all a part of their endless display of contradictory messages. Contradictory message #243 — Hit but don’t hurt.

There are at least a dozen hits that immediately come to mind that are much worse than the hit by Aaron Rome. Steckel on Crosby, Kunitz on Gagne, Downie on Lovejoy, Downie on McAmmond, Cooke on Savard, Cooke on Mcdonagh, Cooke on Tyutin and well Cooke on pretty much everyone. Listing everyone is pointless because there are just so many but you get the idea.

The city of Montreal wanted blood for all the wrong reasons when Zdeno Chara accidentally nailed Max Paciroetty into the stanchion. Boston fans want blood for what Aaron Rome did. They want blood for the wrong reason.

Aaron Rome is now out for the rest of the Stanley Cup Final and all because his hit caused “significant injury.”

Related: NHL Head Shots

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com. Also, follow me on twitter @paintstheblack and I will gladly return the favour.

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