Saturday March 24 3 PM
My head hurts. Not a hang-over hurt. Not a normal headache. More of a dull ache. Maybe it's a withdrawl sympton. I've been off the air for over a week. Haven't had a Guinness or Jamieson since last sunday. Been away from Terry Ryan since later that night as he, in the words of the late Danny Gallivan "gingerly negotiated his way" down the ice- filled steps of my place, a St. Johns Leafs hockey bag flung over his left shoulder, another bag of jeans, t-shirts, cd's and dvd's he purchased while in Montreal flung over the same shoulder, while his right hand clutched a pair of hockey sticks he used to help lead the Melnick in the Afternoon team to the first ever Team 990 Molson-Ex Hockey Challenge Championship three days earlier.
Now he was gone. In an Atlas taxi heading to the airport. And my head started to hurt. Ryan-itis?
Long before I got to know him, I always liked Terry Ryan. What was not to like? A big winger with a bigger heart who could fight and score. Yeah, there were players the Habs probably should have selected (most notably Jerome Iginla) instead of using the 8th overall pick in the 1995 draft on Terry. http://www.hockeydb.com/ihdb/draft/nhl1995e.html
But how many players across the country were coming off the kind of season Ryan had for Tri-City? Playing on the same team as Daymond Langkow and Sheldon Souray, Ryan scored 50 goals, 110 points in 70 games while racking up 207 penalty minutes. He added another 27 points including 12 goals in 17 playoff games.
When he first joined the Habs Terry impressed, if not with his skating, then certainly his willingness to mix it up. He has a tape of me from the the old "Habs This Week" tv show I used to host suggesting that he might one day develop into a Rick Tocchet style player. Not exactly cherry picking his opponents, among Terry's early NHL dance partners was Tie Domi. Unfortunately that moment might be his lasting NHL legacy. NHL totals: 8 games, 0 points, 36 PIM. What happened? It's a tale better left told by Terry himself. Suffice to say the Ron Corey move of canning Jacques Demers and Serge Savard didn't help.
I met him over breakfast last summer while he was in Montreal for a ball hockey tournament. Turned out we share a love of sports and music. Very similar tastes. He also tells a great story.
And he was interested in radio. So he agreed to join me every monday at 4:10 from his home/office or on the road somewhere in St. John's. We talk, surprise surprise, hockey and music.
Looking for any reason at all to return to Montreal Terry jumped at the chance to play in The Team 990 Molson Ex Challenge. Especially as it lead into St. Patrick's Day weekend. While there seemed to be an awful lot of trash talk in our studio leading to the event (most notably by PJ Stock) I've always subscribed to the wonderful quote from who knows where (if anybody knows the source please pass along) "When you lose say little, when you win say less".
Based on the quote I should stop right here. But a bit of background info. I used to play hockey regularly (weekly, usually friday nights, saturday mornings at 3 or 4 AM) in my 20's; semi-regularly( once or twice a month, whenever a team needed a goalie) in my 30's, and almost never since I turned 40 (the odd charity game-last one I played in was five years ago, I think we(I) got beat the Alouettes, most of whom were very hung over and nasty on the ice. I do remember Shaun Starr playing defense, farting his way through most of his shifts, while Jacques Demers coached from our bench). Even though I didn't play much I skated often, especially with my kids, as I lived across the street from Westmount Arena for nearly a decade. I was very much looking forward to playing in the Molson Ex Challenge. Until I started to prepare for it. Lifting weights wasn't the hard part, although I did feel unusually gassed after three sets. Then I hopped onto my stationary bike in an attempt to peddle through the new John Fogerty concert DVD, The Long Road Home (It's terrific; Fogerty hardly looks or sounds like a guy in his 60's), or at least 20 minutes of it. One song in and I started to feel dizzy. Then I nearly fell right off. A completely blocked left ear was obviously affecting my balance. I tried the same exercise the next day with the same result. A call to my doctor eventually led me to an ear specialist who told me what I already knew except that it could last six weeks. Following a return visit the following week I was sent to the Audiology department at the Jewish General Hospsital for more tests (which included repeating taped messages of a soothing voice: "Say the word....castle" (I thought the word was hassle), "Say the word...tick" (I thought it was tit but realized it couldn't have been, I took a wild guess and said tick). Turns out I do have some permanent hearing loss, due mostly to aging and way too many concerts. Ear plugs are definately in my near future, perhaps as soon as this friday as I'm scheduled to catch The Allman Brothers at The Beacon Theatre in New York.
While I continued to work on the air, terribly over-compensating for my left ear blockage by blasting my headphones to the max, I was beyond uncomfortable. While many of us have worked or tried to work through various illnesses or injuries, I could no longer do my job properly because I could not hear myself. Kind of like a musician without a stage monitor.
And any hopes of making myself feel better by playing some hockey and running PJ Stock into the crossbar were dashed when "Who'll Stop The Rain" seemed to be turning into "Strawberry Fields Forever". I resigned myself to not playing. But I wouldn't miss the event. So I made my Bell Center coaching debut. How many men can say they stood where Guy Carbonneau stands and own a perfect record?
Special thanks to our Twin Towers on defense, Martin Paulhus and Paul Lambert, nearly 300 pounds of skill and muscle. Our second defense pair was right out of Molson headquarters, Geoff Molson with converted right winger Bradley Ogier, who once played against Chris Pronger in high school.
Team Marinaro might have had a Luongo in goal (Leo, very good) but nobody played better than our own 40 year old Triple D Domenic "Dominator" Durante who played up to his nickname.
Successful coaches know when to change on the fly and play matchs ups when possible. These guys made it so easy for me, all I really had to do was chew on some ice:
Marc Lussier, career beer leaguer Mark Bartholomew, longtime teammates Chris Hoffman and Anthony "Tony" Granato, Julien "The Comet" Francis, Bill "Vassy" Vassilas, Robert Varillo, and our regular contributors; Lorne "The Advisor" Rubin (better than any other freelancer), Andie "She's really getting dressed with us?" Bennett (and UNdressed!) and our captain Terry Ryan.
Marinaro has apparently been whining about not getting much rest between games. Each game was 24 minutes. That's a total of 24 minutes. Running time. Wonder what John Torterella would say?
Anyway, it was a great event. A mini fantasy camp for everybody involved. Special thanks to Molson's, The Bell Center (especially security and zamboni staff) La Cage Aux Sports and our on ice officials: Kevin Mitchell, Kevin Rechil, Derek Widgington and Tommy Carkovic. Look forward to defending the championship-while playing-next year.
Back to Ryan. His on ice mission now accomplished (I left the dressing room prior to the first game to let Terry adress his teammates. His remarks were apparently Messier-like in depth and inspiration. Grown men and women will be weeping for years whenever they're asked about it.) Terry's actual work was just starting. Shmoozing with the masses before running into old friends deep into the night at Hurley's, co-hosting Friday morning editions of The Stock Exchange and The Montreal Forum (thoroughly embarrassed by his teams' 0-3 mark, PJ Stock shipped off to Boston for the weekend), guesting with Stephen Brunt and others at our annual St. Patrick's Day blow out at Hurley's, discovering people and places and bodies he never knew existed while arriving in time for a saturday breakfast show at McKibbins with Joey Elias, heading to the Bell Center early enough prior to the Habs-Leafs match up to catch up with old friends Ron MacLean and Don Cherry, hanging out in their studio for a period before heading into a private lodge run by relatives of Marinaro, meeting up again at Hurley's following the game with a few members of the Canadiens family in the not-yet-officially-opened-for business brand new wing of the Pub (it's going to be gorgeous) on the second floor, resting up just long enough to land with a thud on The Team 990 float for the parade on sunday, taking the microphone during a computer malfunction, imploring hundreds along Ste Catherine and Fort to "Visit the Ryan's this summer in St John's!!!". And then his work was done. Oh, to be 30 again.
With Ryan safely (?) back home, my condition seemed to worsen. While I detected some movement in my ear tube (when sneezing) the rest of my body seemed to be telling me that I had done enough damage for awhile. I couldn't move for the week. Literally.
I slept. I shuffled to the sofa. I read. I ate. I watched hockey. I shuffled back to bed. I read more about Conrad Black than I ever thought I would. I read about a new 36 hole golf course going up in Israel adjacent to the Sea of Galilea. Craters from Hamas attacks will be turned into sand traps. I listened to music. Neil Young at Massey Hall 1971 is sensational. The new Rickie Lee Jones (The Sermon On Exposition Boulevard) is inspiring. The Stooges first cd in 30 years (The Weirdness) sounds like...The Stooges! If you like guitar heroes check out Joe Bonamassa. His latest is an all blues effort with help from Jason Bonham. Yes, they cover Zeppelin. http://www.jbonamassa.com/index2.htm
At least I still had an appetite. But I still can't hear out of my left ear. Next week will mark the magic 6 week period since I first noticed the blockage. I'll remain off the air until it clears up, or until the Canadiens clinch a playoff spot, whichever comes first.
Amazing what above average goaltending can do for a team, huh? Or, in the case of the NY Islanders without Rick DiPietro and the Habs prior to Halak II, below average goaltending. No deep mysteries. No wondering why the team is so listless (A Hall of Fame broadcaster recently went on tv to suggest that a friend of his, who has season tickets at ice level, complains that players in the penalty box show no emotion! The surest sign yet that there must be a coaching/leadership/chemistry/talent problem on the team.)
Over the years I have grown a very high tolerance level, as is a necessity in this business, for those who might sound off base on a particular topic. Everyone is entitled to an opinion should be printed on business cards for anybody in talk radio. But I must confess there is one topic I have virtually no time left to discuss, clearly no patience for and frankly, at this stage, no respect for anybody who buys into the Saku Koivu is not a real captain bullshit. It's enough to make my head throb, again. We all get e-mails from listeners who want to know why, after 10 years without winning "anything", I continue to support Koivu in the manner in which I do. As if simply by having the 'C' on his sweater gives him the power to carry everybody on his back and all the way to what...a Stanley Cup? Can anybody tell me which team Koivu has been a part of while he's been here that should have gone further than it did? You want him to, at some point, "guarantee a win" in a key game, a la Messier, who by the way, spent the last seven years of his career OUT of the playoffs?
If you have yet to figure out what kind of competitor, talent, spirit and leader this man is than you're either blind, ignorant or simply prefer to take out your frustrations on the most visible player(s) available, outside of the goaltender, without regard to facts or evidence.
It was very gratifying then, as part of lie-on-my couch week, to hi-lite PVR material which included tributes to Koivu on TSN and HNIC. The occasion was Koivu being cancer free for five years. And how he has helped and inspired so many others, without lifting a Cup.
That's character. That's leadership. That's a winner. In more than three languages.