Saturday, October 13, 2012

Episode 4: What the Lockout Means to Me

My name’s Peri and I’m a Leafs fan from Australia. Let me tell you just what the NHL lockout means to me.

I’ve been into ice hockey for about 10 years. I spent six months living in Peterborough, Ontario when the Leafs last made it to the conference finals. But while I was in Canada, I never once went to an NHL game.

Since then, I’ve kept up however I could. Games are on about 9.30am here, so on weekends I sit around and listen to Joe Bowen’s radio commentary over the internet. Sadly, I now know the Alarm Force phone number off by heart. Sometimes I sneak home from work at lunch to watch the game in six videos on the Leafs’ website, putting a post-it note over the screen so they won’t tell me who wins. There are only a couple of games per week on cable TV here, and no-one has that anyway.

I have got into the hockey here in Australia. There’s a semi-pro league, and the local team is pretty good. I’ve been to dozens of games, and even volunteered as the arena announcer for a while. I gave it up after a few months because frankly I’d rather be sitting in the stands, watching the game.

Over the years, I’ve accumulated a lot of merchandise. I’ve had every hockey game from NHL 2K5 to NHL 13. I have this daggy old T-shirt, a vintage T-shirt, another vintage T-shirt, a Holy Mackinaw T-shirt, a jersey (Gustavsson, I know); a bunch of my friends previously went in to get me a Darcy Tucker jersey, but it got stolen out of my car one time. I have a bar mat, two face washers, a flag, a book, a squishy puck, a non-squishy puck, an Anaheim puck signed by Francois Beauchemin, a tiny Sundin, a middle-size Tucker, and an excessively large nutcracker. I’ve paid my dues to the NHL.

More recently, I spent several thousand dollars on flights to the US. After 10 years, I’ve still never been to a game. It takes about 18 hours’ flying to get to LA, so it’s a fairly significant undertaking. This November I’ll be at my mum’s place in Colorado for Thanksgiving. The schedule was released and the Leafs were going to be in Denver on Thanksgiving eve – I thought the stars had finally aligned. Ten years of waiting, a third of my life, was about to end.

Obviously, my grasp of labour relations in North American sports is not quite strong enough. I assumed, foolishly, that no sport struggling for recognition would shut itself down so millionaires and billionaires could haggle over the huge amounts of money they’d all been making. And the worst part? This lockout is making me bitter at the team I’ve followed for all these years.

So in closing, I’d like to offer a song to Gary Bettman and the owners, for shooting down my lifelong dream so they can get 53 per cent instead of 47 per cent. Some collective bargaining advice, if you will.

[Opening bars to “Give a Little Bit”]

Just play the damn game!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Episode 3: I Apologise for the Delay

It has been a little while. I apologise for the delay. But two years have passed, and here we are!

That whole job thing intervened. You see, what happened is: I intended to make a blog documenting a year in the life of a Leafs fan. But two years have now passed, partly due to the fact I moved from here, to here, to here.

[Points to Adelaide, then Port Pirie, then Murray Bridge on a map.]

So life's good, but my quest remains unresolved, and the Leafs still haven't got into the bloody playoffs. For goodness' sake, people.

So we're going to try this again. The tickets are booked and the trip is back on. I'm hoping to finally, after 10 years, see some NHL hockey sometime later this year, as long as there isn't a lockout, which would upset me greatly.

In all fairness, I had a third episode ready to go. Although some things have changed since then, some of them haven't. It was going to go something along the lines of...

Tell you what, these brutal Australian winters.

[Blue sky.]

The middle of the year is always an interesting time to be a Leafs fan. There's the draft - well, that's not always very interesting for a Leafs fan - there's free agency, there are all sorts of interesting things to keep an eye on.

To celebrate the occasion, we're at a place called Light's Vision in Adelaide. Let's just hope that the Leafs see the light over the next couple of weeks.

What we're about to see is Brian Burke's vision for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and it should be an interesting one. We want to see a team as testosterone-filled as men who wear short-sleeved garments in the middle of winter, as belligerent as the bells of this cathedral, as pugnacious as this post, and as truculent as this truck.

...So that has all happened. But we've actually got a first-round draft pick this year, which is helpful. Tomas Kaberle, the last Leaf who was playing for them at the time I was in Canada 10 years ago, has long since moved on, so there's a bit less continuity there.

One more thing to keep an eye out for in the next couple of weeks: the draft is coming up. Forget the first round, forget the second round, forget the third round - meaningless. What you're looking for is in the later rounds. There is an Australian guy whose name is Nathan Walker. He would be the first Australian ever drafted into the NHL. He was the first Aussie ever to play professionally in Europe, in the Czech Republic. He's rated the 25th-best skater in Europe, so come on, son - I'm waiting for the Leafs to draft our Aussie boy so I can have two reasons to cheer for them.

Look forward to it. See you then, Leafs Nation.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Episode 2: Ice Hockey, Aussie Style

Ice hockey in Australia isn't absolutely the most popular sport. AFL football and cricket are probably number one and two, depending who you ask, but the standard is still good. Adelaide's ice hockey team - which a couple of years ago was the Avalanche, then the As, and now the Adrenaline - is the reigning national champion in a league of seven teams. Our captain was the captain of Australia for a while, and we've got imports from Canada, Finland and all good hockey-playing countries.

Also, yeah, we're driving on the left. Freak out!

You get to see some of the best players in the country. Admittedly they're probably not international superstars, but that's okay. Hey, they're good enough to play for the Leafs.

[Enter the Ice Arena. Advance Australia Fair plays and the game begins.]

First period over. Nil-all. Fifteen-minute periods, smaller ice surface, but still good fun.

[A zamboni cleans the ice, an announcer welcomes the team back onto the ice, and the game continues. The crowd cheers two Adelaide goals.]

Two minutes left. Time out to the away team. Tension's on. Three-two.

[Canberra's goalie denies several Adelaide chances. The crowd counts down the final seconds until the game ends.]

With the game over, we shake hands like real sportsmen here in Australia.

So that's ice hockey, Aussie style. Stay tuned, folks.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Episode 1: Seven Year Rut

G’day Leafs Nation, and welcome to Adelaide. If Toronto is the centre of the hockey world, then I’m up in the back of the bleachers. As you can see, it’s a sunny, 21-degree day in May, which means winter is coming to Australia and the hockey season is on! Or off, depending how you look at it.

You’d be right to ask how I came to love the Leafs while living 16,623 kilometres away. Well, eight years ago I spent a while living in the bustling metropolis of Peterborough, Ontario. That was the year the Leafs made the Eastern Conference final, thanks to Mats Sundin, Darcy Tucker, Bryan McCabe and the rest of ‘em. Since then it seems like Toronto has been on a downhill spiral, every single year - until now.

This video blog is the story of a year in the life of a distant Leafs fan, and a year of unfinished business. When I lived in Canada, it took me a while to get into hockey, and so I never got a chance to go to an NHL game. I never even went to see the Peterborough Petes, in the days when some kid named Eric Staal was lighting it up around there. I was given a Darcy Tucker jersey for my birthday a few years ago, but that got stolen out of my car. Brutal! So I need to get to a game on another continent, and I need a new jersey. And most significantly, the Leafs need to make the playoffs, cos they haven’t since frickin’ ages ago.

Well! If there’s any sense of poetry in the world, that’s gonna change. Fact.

My name’s Peregrine, I am a journalist in training, and over the next 12 months I’ll be introducing you to my city, some Aussie ice hockey, and perhaps the journeys that’ll get both me and the Leafs out of this seven-year rut. So stay tuned.