Cover photo by marnie webb, used under Creative Commons license

Chrash

Back in October I blogged about the amazing start to the Montreal Canadiens season: eight wins in eight games. That had never happened, even during the dynasty years. Things looked promising.

Then things went in the shitter. Carey Price got hurt, and ended up sitting out the entire season. He wasn’t the only long-term injury: the Canadiens are third in man-games lost this year, and as this chart from mangamelost.com shows, more injuries tends to equal fewer wins.

They were effectively out of the playoff race months ago. They didn’t even finish the season that badly — they didn’t tank so much that they’ll get a top-5 draft pick.

It could be worse though. I could be a Leafs fan.

.:.

Cover photo by marnie webb, used under Creative Commons license

Navy strength

On Wednesday Nellie and I rushed out of work (early; it was New Year’s Eve, after all) to come home, pick up our stuff, collect a couple of friends, and start driving north. We had all been invited to spend New Year’s Eve with our friends Kaylea & Matt at their Bat Lake cottage.

We worried about the forecast, but with little reason: we made the drive with almost no issues save the usual traffic slowdowns on the DVP and 401, and a few minor snow squalls along the way. After a stop or two we arrived just in time to watch the second half of the Canada/USA World Junior game. Canada won. Of course.

There were ten of us in total, and we were the last four to arrive. On top of what we’d brought, the place was already full of food and drink (including a 30L keg of beer). We hugged our hellos, poured a drink, snacked on meats and cheeses, and settled in. After a while the chef (Matt) and sous (Nellie) began preparing dinner. Though, Matt had been preparing some of it all day, smoking a brined chicken and a lamb shoulder. There was also beef (not sure where that came from, actually) and Nellie made scalloped potatoes with chorizo sausage, and we all plowed into it. We’d also been drinking some tremendous wines brought along by Kaylea’s friend Jordin, including an Italian style I’d never heard of (and can’t remember, dammit), a beautiful Barbaresco, and this amazing Barossa F.U. Shiraz (seriously) that was massive (17.5%!) and complex and puzzling. I can’t imagine I’ll ever get to try it again.

We played some Cards Against Humanity (I won; I am depraved) and then got bundled up so we could go out to where Matt had set up a fire. We stood around it, enjoying the warmth, and eventually sliding around for a bit on the lake itself, as the ice was plenty thick.

By midnight we were back inside, ready to drink a Magnum of another stunning wine: a 1998 Nicolas Feuillatte Palmes D’Or. It was Out. Goddamn. Standing. It was a fitting way to pay tribute to 2014, and welcome 2015.

We’d all had busy days, and had all been eating and drinking since 5pm (or earlier), so everyone crashed around 1:30. The next morning we slowly stirred ourselves, did a token clean up, had coffee from Fahrenheit, ate bacon and cranberry french toast, and drank breakfast Caesars.

Most people went out for a winter walk, but I stayed behind with downstairs Jeff (it’d take too long to explain the moniker; just go with it) to help clean up and then relax. The crew had taken warm cider with them; I poured myself a cup (with a little Navy Strength gin thrown in for good measure), sat by the window, and nerded out with Matt’s copy of The World Of Ice & Fire.

Eventually everyone came back from their trek…some got cold and came in to warm up, while others tried to light another fire. I waited until it was going strong (I’m a sissy, and no longer of any use with outdoor things) before joining them.

We drank Winter Ale and Okanagan wine by the fire, taking shelter from the snow and wind amongst the trees, and felt about as Canadian as we could feel.

Eventually we too got cold, and went back inside for more food, and a Cards Against Humanity speed round (Steph won; she is depraved). For dinner Matt had made chili, and it was the most amazingly delicious chili I had ever eaten. It was sweet and spicy and the perfect consistency. I went back for seconds. I had to talk myself out of thirds. As it was I just kept taking great heaping spoonfuls of it from the pot and shoving them in my gob.

We weren’t done with the outdoors; a few of us wrapped up again and went back to the lake. It was so dark, and so snowy, that you couldn’t see the other side of the lake. Just a faint outline of the tops of trees amidst a Hoth-like blank spot on the earth. I’ve lived in the city for so long I’d forgotten how quickly winter can create this sense of distance and danger, even when you’re only a few hundred feet from a warm house.

Back at the cottage everyone was starting to wind down, or already napping. We were full of food and drink and tired from the cold. My body began rejecting everything…any more food, any more drink, being awake at all. Nellie began folding laundry. Began, never finished. We were all wiped, apart from upstairs Jeff who watched George Carlin’s classic Seven Words sketch on late-night TV. As one does.

I woke up Friday morning worrying about how I would get our rental car up a snowy driveway, but then the local Mr. Plow showed up and saved the day. We cleaned the place as best we could, scarfed down some scrambled eggs and toast, packed up, and jumped in the car with our charges to head home. Nellie and I had to get back to the city for a 3:00 puck drop in the first World Jr. semifinal. Fortunately it got less snowy as we drove south, and we had no problems on the way home (extreme nausea and over-full bladders excepted) and we hit Toronto by 2:15. We offloaded our stuff, put our travel companions in an Uber limo, dropped the rental car, and made it to the ACC just in time for the game.

It was a weekend of celebration: the new year, superb people, the Canadian outdoors, and plenty of amazing food and drink:

For the record, that’s 8 bottles plus 1 magnum of champagne, 5 bottles plus 2 magnums of red wine, 3 bottles of white wine, 1 bottle of port, 6 large bottles of (strong) beer, and the better part of the rum, scotch, gin, and vodka. Plus about 2/3 of the keg in the background and a while bunch of tallboys we didn’t even bother to count.

Night, 2014. Morning, 2015!

Cover photo from the Michael's On Simcoe site

Michael’s on Simcoe

Yesterday was our 11th anniversary. We spent it watching hockey. That’s how cool my wife is.

After we watched Sweden smoke Denmark (accompanied by two hours of loud, drunk commentary by the world’s most annoying human behind us, who was mercifully tossed from the building before the final period) and Switzerland manhandle the Czechs, with a couple of heavy beers (Black Oak Nutcracker porter and the Muskoka Winter Jacket) at Corks in between games, we got ourselves tucked in for dinner at Michael’s On Simcoe. It’s a steak place we’ve been meaning to try since it opened over a year ago.

When we walked in we noticed most of the activity was in the dining room ahead of us, but they led us into the stark, quiet bar at the front. It seemed like they dropped the tables they expected to be lightweights into the bar area, and but for one table and a single dude at the bar we were alone in the whole section. No matter; the food would be the same.

It turns out our server had been in Nova Scotia last week, just as we were, and also grew up near where Nellie’s family was stationed for years. So that’s why she was so nice.

We started with glasses of Veuve Clicquot and Fleur Du Cap Chardonnay (which took us back to our days in Cape Town) to go with our starters: aragosta gnocchi w/ fresh lobster, spiced tomato, garlic, lobster stock, and fresh basil for Nellie, and tonno crudo (fresh tuna, basil, cucumber, shallot, crisp chick peas, and tomato dressing) for me. For our main we split a 25oz bone-in ribeye, w/ sides of shredded brussels sprouts with apple and bacon, and heirloom tomato & cucumber salad. We paired it with a bottle of 2006 Palmaz Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was rich but not overwhelming in the way that some California cabs are. Strong but subtle, it paired beautifully with the steak. The steak was excellent. Maybe not the best I’ve ever had — it was a little overcooked at the edges — but definitely worthy of a celebration.

We underestimated the size of their desserts and ordered one each: a maple walnut butter tart w/ cinnamon ice cream and poached pear for me, and sticky toffee pudding w/ a caramelized apple for Nellie. My butter tart was more like a butter tray, so I’m glad I ordered a smoky bourbon to counter the overwhelming sweetness. Nellie ordered Amarone with her dessert; we’re not quite sure what she got but it wasn’t Amarone.

We had no complaints about our meal — on the contrary, we quite enjoyed it. But it did nothing to knock Jacobs & Co out of our #1 choice for Toronto steakhouses.

.:.

Cover photo from the Michael’s On Simcoe site

#HereWeGo

It’s an annual Christmastime tradition to me, watching the World Junior hockey tournament. Since this year’s tournament is being split between Toronto and Montreal we bought four ticket packages — two for us, two for CBJ+M. We won’t see Canada play any preliminary round games, but we’ll see them in the playoffs. Assuming they make the playoffs. *gulp*

We missed the exhibition game against Russia last week while we were in NS, so our tournament started with the official games. We watched Russia barely squeak past Denmark in what turned out to be a very exciting game. Apart from pockets of Russian fans the entirety of the ACC was cheering for the underdog Danes, and with a 2-0 lead they nearly pulled it off. Alas, by the time it got to a shootout the Russian skill took over.

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We had almost two hours to kill before our second game, so we wandered over to Maple Leaf Square. The Real Sports Bar was predictably packed, so we went in search of Corks, a rumoured craft beer bar in the back corner of a Longo’s supermarket…no, seriously. We found it, and chose from a very solid list of local craft beer and wine. I had a Black Oak Nut Brown; Nellie had a Collective Arts Rhyme & Reason pale. Nellie was full from her earlier bucket of Coors Light at the game but I had an additional half pint — alas, the Great Lakes Winter Ale special tap was off, tasting flat & watery. Still, at $6 for a pint of craft and with local wines from Tawse, Fielding, Malivoire, etc. on tap I can see this being a regular hangout during the tournament.

We got back to the ACC in time for game 2, wherein Sweden thumped the Czechs. The Toronto fans were delighted when their prospect, William Nylander, scored a goal. Shortly thereafter a “Go Leafs Go!” chant went up, which was as sad and painful as it sounds. With the game safely in hand we left ahead of the crowd and found some dinner.

We found it in the latest outpost of Pizzeria Libretto, which we’d never visited on Ossington or the Danforth. The lineups at the original when it opened put us off for a long time, but the hype is real: the plain old pepperoni special was a perfect pizza. I can see this place becoming a new favourite. We left for home, full but not too full, and watched Canada destroy Slovakia 8-0.

Today we’ll head back to the ACC to see whether Denmark can make a game of it with Sweden, and to see Switzerland make their debut.

Photo by woody1778a, used under Creative Commons license

20 years ago today

This day twenty years ago was one of the happiest of my life. I watched my Montreal Canadiens defeat the Los Angeles Kings 4-1 to win the Stanley Cup in five games. Sure I’d been alive for five Canadiens cup wins up to that point, but don’t remember ’76 through ’79, and was only vaguely aware of the 1986 cup win. I didn’t become a hardcore fan until the early 90s, and by 1993 I was obsessed.

It’s all stuck with me so clearly. I can still remember the results of each game in order. I can still name the forward line combinations and defense pairings to a man. I can picture all the crucial points in the playoffs. Vincent Damphousse winning game 3 of the first round against Quebec, the only time the Habs were really threatened. All those overtimes against Buffalo and the Islanders. Guy Carbonneau asking to shadow Gretzky after 99 ran roughshod over Kirk Muller in game 1 of the final. Eric Desjardins’ improbable hat trick in game 2 after coach Jacques Demers rolled the dice with an illegal stick call. Patrick Roy winking at Tomas Sandstrom. John LeClair owning overtime in LA. Demers dressing Donald Dufresne for the final game so he could get his name on the cup. Carbonneau, the captain, letting Denis Savard lift the cup first.

Until that point the Canadiens had never gone more than seven years without a cup win. While it’s nice to celebrate the 20th anniversary of an unexpected win, it’s sobering to think of how much the team, and the league, have changed. Not just for the Habs: no Canadian team has lifted the cup since that night in Montreal, two decades past.

.:.

Photo by woody1778a, used under Creative Commons license

Photo by Hockadilly, used under Creative Commons license

Honorary assist to Brant Blackned

19 years ago when I was a university sophomore in Halifax (side note: I AM OLD) the city got an exciting new sports team: The Mooseheads. They were the first team from the Maritime provinces to join the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (there are now six) and it was the first opportunity I’d had to watch the primary feeder league to the NHL.

I confess, I didn’t follow the team too much after I left Halifax, but was excited to see them win the 2013 Memorial Cup — the  tournament between the top major junior teams in the country — tonight in Saskatoon. Well done lads, and congratulations to Halifax. I surely wish I could be there tonight.

.:.

Photo by Hockadilly, used under Creative Commons license

Tension grows and the whistle blows

I love sports. The classic match-ups. The iconic venues. The unforgettable moments.

I was lucky enough to be back in Boston last weekend for work. In between conference sessions I had a pretty good steak at Davio’s, made a return visit to Stoddard’s to meet a friend, saw the memorial on Boylston Street, and drank a few good pints of craft beer (Allagash White, Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout, Ommegang Abbey Ale) at the conference’s hotel pub. But mostly I was lucky because I got to experience one of those iconic venues. I got to watch a Red Sox game at Fenway Park, from atop the Green Monster no less.

I ate a ballpark dog and drank a Sam Adams. I leaned out and touched Carlton Fisk’s foul pole. I listened to the crowd sing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” and, much more emphatically, “Sweet Caroline”. I watched David Ortiz crank a 439-footer to straightaway center not a week after his hilariously inspirational speech following the bombings. I watched the Sox beat Houston 7-2 on a blustery April evening and couldn’t think of anything more Bostonian to do.

The next day I flew back to Toronto, just ahead of my parents who flew in from Moncton for a (not quite) two-day stay. We had dinner at Starfish, explored the Distillery District, and sampled some of the breakfast sausage we made last weekend, but the real reason they were here was to see one of those classic match-ups: the Montreal Canadiens vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night. Nellie had somehow lucked into gold seats for the final game of the season, and gave up her seat so that my dad could watch his first NHL game in 49 (!) years and our first together.

Luckily for me, my Canadiens won. I felt bad that my dad had come all the way from Nova Scotia to watch his beloved Leafs lose, but I’m sure he felt the same way I would have had my team lost: just getting to watch such a big game together is now one of those unforgettable moments that sports can sometimes produce.

Photo by Thomas Hawk, used under Creative Commons license

The kid

I watch lots of hockey. Lots and lots and lots. In fact I’m watching a Montreal Canadiens game, en Français, as I write this. I’ve also been to a fair number of games now, mostly at the ACC, as my work sometimes affords me a chance to go. I feel bad about that — I despise the Leafs, and feel bad taking a seat from someone who would dearly love to see a game, but don’t want to be rude to those who invite me, and anyway still enjoy seeing the game played live. You just don’t get a sense, watching it on TV, how fast and fluid the game is.

Last Thursday I was lucky enough to see the Leafs play host to the Pittsburgh Penguins. I’d actually seen that match-up live once before, but with a key difference: Sidney Crosby didn’t play the first time. Last week I got to see the best player in the world live.

To be honest, it freaked me out a little. Like I said, I watch a lot of hockey, and I’ve gotten pretty good at reading the play, spotting the open man, guessing where the next pass will go, identifying openings and seams which — if exploited — could lead to a goal. So, normally when I watch a game I feel like I’m about half a second ahead of the play. But not with Crosby. With Crosby, I was behind. Actually, I was completely out of the play. Two or three times he passed the puck somewhere I hadn’t been expecting, to a space I didn’t know was occupied until his teammate had the puck on his stick. Like the one at the 2:38 mark in this video, behind his back to Pascal Dupuis who was so open Crosby was likely the only player on either team who knew he was there.

The Pens came from behind to beat the Leafs 3-1, and I got to see Sidney Crosby play, so I was a happy guy.

Oh, and we had dinner at Aria before the game, my first time there. It was…just okay. I wouldn’t go out of my way to go back, but it’s certainly better than most other options that close to the ACC.

.:.

Photo by Thomas Hawk, used under Creative Commons license