Tuesday, January 09, 2018

An Open Letter to Gary Bettman

While I might have neglected my blog, I certainly haven't neglected my Ottawa Senators.  2017 was a memorable one, at first for good reasons (an unexpected, emotional final four finish in the Stanley Cup playoffs) but now, for bad ones (currently 29th out of 31 teams in the league).  And while even in this disappointing season there was still some memorable games, including their participation in the Global Series in Stockholm and the outdoor NHL 100 Classic against Montreal where they triumphed 3-0 in freezing weather, the stench of unstable ownership reeked havoc on the Senators fan base and became the top story of 2017.  Yes, the never-shy-to-comment Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk couldn't help but open his mouth on the weekend where the NHL was supposed to celebrate 100 years of existence of professional ice hockey.  Instead, he decided to blame fans for attendance issues that became noticeable since last season, even threatening to move the team if things don't get better.  Everyone is to blame, it seems, except for the guy writing the cheques, Eugene Melnyk.

It's hard to candy-coat the attendance issues going on at Canadian Tire Centre, especially when they took the step of tarping off some sections in the upper levels of the arena.  And while Sens fans aren't happy they're up, it was an attempt to perhaps increase demand by restricting supply, a move they felt they had to make.  In the end though, this is a type of band-aid solution.  Eventually, attendance does need to improve and the owner threatening relocation or tarping off seats can only do so much.  But when it comes to threatening to relocate, it will not have the results Eugene is looking for.

First off, Melnyk likes to come across as a saviour, who bought the team for approximately $93 million US back in 2003 when the previous owners sought bankruptcy protection.  It was all for the community, you see.  He had journalists spew unverified nonsense about how he has lost $10 million or so each season to operate the team.  But why would you hold on to a franchise that's losing so much money?  Wouldn't you sell?  No, he hasn't and has declared on numerous occasions that he won't.  And there's good reason for it:  The asset of the Ottawa Senators franchise is valuable.  Over $400 million, according to Forbes.  Not a bad return for something he bought about 15 years ago.  So even if you believe his "losses" at face value, he still comes out ahead...like most old, rich white guys involved in major sports ownership.

In the last few years, Melnyk started to really turn off the fans whenever he'd go on the radio or TV to discuss the state of the team.  Kept on using words like "budget" over and over again.  And now it's an open secret that the Senators hockey operations is running at one of the lowest budgets in the league.  Rumours have surfaced that he failed to meet staff (not players) payroll during December, which Melnyk flatly denied.  But when you look at all of this, what we seem to have here is an owner who, on paper, has a valuable asset, but doesn't have cash on hand to run the team properly.  In other words, it's nice that you own a luxurious mansion, but you still need to cough up the dough for maintenance and repair.  And it seems Melnyk is struggling on this end of the equation.

And Mr. Bettman, this is where you come into the picture.  From the very little that I know about sports franchise ownership, my understanding is that you can't arbitrarily force an owner to sell their team just because you ask them to.  But perhaps you can look at his books, look at his cash flow statement, and say, "Look, Eugene, you simply don't have the financial health to run the team properly", and find an owner that will pay fair market value, or even more, to assume ownership of the Ottawa Senators.  Apply the pressure.  Because as long as he's running the show, Melnyk will hurt the team, from staff to management to players and as we can see now, the fans.  While the Senators struggle on the ice, fingers are getting pointed on who to blame:  Players?  Sure.  Coaches?  Sure.  And then the finger gets pointed at General Manager Pierre Dorion.  But here I actually feel for the guy, as I believe he cannot run the team and make the transactions he feels are necessary to make the team better as long as Melnyk is looking over his shoulder, reminding him of cost constraints that need to be imposed.  While a lot of fans were excited at the prospect of Canadian Olympian Matt Duchene joining the Senators, not many thought it would be at the cost of losing a solid player and community guy Kyle Turris.  All things seem to point to Turris wanting to stay, but had no interest to do so under current ownership.  Plus his wife openly mocked a quote from GM Dorion on Twitter, claiming he's in charge and doesn't have to run to the owner on every decision.  Fans have started to come out to say that as long as Melnyk is in charge, they will not buy tickets.  There have been issues unique to the city that many say are causing the attendance issues, such as the Phoenix pay system affecting thousands of government employees for example, or the commute to the suburbs to reach the arena in the first place.  While they are a concern,  I am also of the opinion that should Eugene Melnyk sell the team to an owner who has the proper resources to run the team properly, fans will respond accordingly at the box office and buy up tickets.

As long as Eugene Melnyk is in charge, who is still carrying a liver donated to him by an anonymous Sens fans who just asked he do all he can to bring a Stanley Cup to Ottawa, his ungratefulness he has demonstrated to the community and fans cannot be overstated.  His threat to move the team was uncalled for.   And he has to go.

There are a couple of things Sens fans have to look forward to in the next little while.  An announcement regarding a move to Lebreton Flats, where an arena located downtown would FINALLY solve the nightmare of driving to Kanata to attend a game, should come soon.  And I'm also looking forward to next season's re-branding, where it has been said the centurion logo would be abandoned as the primary logo in favour of the heritage "O", which in my view has been long overdue.  I look forward to a new jersey purchase when it looks nice.

But, there are other things that have Sens fans terrified.  Mainly, will their franchise defenceman Erik Karlsson stay with the Senators when he's eligible for a new contract this summer?  It's one thing when a player believes the team is no longer competitive (their current place in the standings is terrible) but on top of that, if Melnyk is still in charge, would a player of his caliber really want to play for an owner like that?  I wouldn't.  Again, another situation where the on-ice product could potentially suffer because Eugene Melnyk is the owner.

2018 will be quite the defining year for the team.  Some good, but a lot has the potential to be disastrous for the Senators.  Much can be rectified though, by a change at the top.  And Gary Bettman, I implore to do something, anything, to get Melnyk out of there.  The team, the league and the fans will definitely be better off for it, and who knows, maybe if you can pull this off, there will be one city in the NHL that won't boo you while you're handing over a Stanley Cup.



Thursday, January 12, 2017

Hacksaw Ridge - A Review


There are three things I think about when I hear the name Mel Gibson.  1) He's a good director 2) He likes his Jesus and 3) He sure likes his blood (I guess there's that other thing about him that's pretty much assured his A-list actor days are long, long gone, too.  But let's not think about that for the moment).  It makes sense that Gibson would be attracted to this true story: Set in World War II with a lead character who's smitten with his bible and related teachings.  A sinister part of me also wonders if Gibson didn't mind the fact you're dealing with a pretty much all-white cast until the huge battle finale (No SBP, no.  Don't think that!).  I digress a little.  This is a very well done war film that should get plenty of Oscar nominations when they are announced in a couple of weeks and demands viewing on the big screen.

The beginning of the film is probably the weakest part of it and probably holds it back from being an all-time classic.  While being introduced to the characters and the 1930's/40's time the events take place in, the "aw shucks, golly gee" dialogue and mannerisms overwhelm the screen,  Desmond Doss, born and raised in Virginia, is portrayed as a devout God-fearing type at a time when it seemed (at least as portrayed to me in movies and television) this was a time where everyone was a devout God-fearing type.  He is also awe struck when he meets his future wife, Dorothy Schutte, calling her "ma'am" and being quite syrupy-sweet in her company.  After Doss enlists in the army, Dorothy hands him her bible and picture of herself before he leaves for training.  Once this occurs, the real meat of the film transpires and gets a lot, lot, better.

Doss enlists in the army to be a medic, despite the fact he objects to guns and killing.  He refuses to handle a rifle and states he will not do so during battle, but will aid those in need through his medic training.  As you can probably guess, this does not go over well with his platoon and Sergeant (fellow righty Vince Vaughn, in a strong performance), and you might argue the training sequences and treatment of Doss might be cliche.  But, knowing this is a true story, you can accept it at face value and not be bothered by it too much.  You feel his pain, his struggles with his beliefs, and the resentment of his fellow soldiers.  You're rooting for Doss, and in the end the movie is successful if it gets the audience emotionally invested in him.  And I certainly was.

The battle at "Hacksaw Ridge" is the movie's climax, and Gibson's desire to portray the horrors of war pulls no punches and spares no body part.  Blood is everywhere.  Much like his Oscar winning Braveheart,  instead he trades swords and bows for machine guns and grenades.  I'm sort of torn about violence at my age.  Before, I didn't really think about it too much, but these days I question the necessity of scenes of extreme blood and gore.  Again though, because the movie centres around Doss' strong belief in the Fifth commandment, "Thou Shalt Not Kill" (I think these words need to be capitalized), seeing the end results of going to war certainly proves what Doss is talking about.  So, you could definitely argue the film isn't exploiting violence just for the sake of it.

While the movie bombards you with violence, it also, in a number of places, doesn't mind hitting you over the head with the proverbial bible.  But since Andrew Garfield's portrayal of Desmond Doss is convincing and sincere, you buy in to his beliefs.  I don't think he'll win an Oscar, but Garfield certainly proved to me he's much more than a generic superhero.

Hacksaw Ridge, if you can stomach some extreme violence, deserves your attention.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A Letter to the Senators

First world problems indeed.  I sent this to the Senators today.  I sense in general terms, the fan base feels the team isn't really listening to them and makes a lot of decisions without considering how it would affect them:


I am writing this to you to share some experiences I've had in the last few months as a fan and former season seat owner of the Ottawa Senators.  A friend of mine took me to last night's Coyotes' game and I was shocked to see the attendance at just over 11,000 fans.  I don't think since the days of playing at the Civic Centre has it been that low.  Because of this, I thought I'd write to tell you a handful of things that occurred to me as a customer and fan of the team and perhaps use my experiences to improve fan relations.

I bought a 20 game flex package in the Sport Chek zone last season.  The price was really good, and I liked the flexibility of choosing your own games.  I don't mind not getting to see all the "premium" games on the schedule, for the most part picking games that fit my schedule is more important.  In any case, when the season ticket renewal campaign started in February/March, I was contacted by an agent about renewing for next year.  When I expressed interest in renewing the flex pack, that's when I was informed this option is no longer available in the Sport Chek zone, the reason being that this section "is already discounted".  I said "Oh, okay".  The agent told me that the flex package was instead replaced by a 10 game pack game.  This 10 game pack, however, was not available in the Sport Chek zone either.  The agent suggested I can look at the sections that are available and make a decision.

I ended up not buying any more tickets for next year.  From this call, and I never really thought about it until now, how come:

1) I wasn't given advanced notice that my flex package would not be available until this phone call?
2) The agent never suggested similarly priced options?

When I went to the website, I was frustrated that the 10 game pack or flex package (I'm actually confused about this point, because the flex package appears to be available and I don't see a 10 game pack option now) didn't appear to be available at similar prices, or at least one that I could find.  So I didn't buy any.

Now once the Alfredsson retirement night game was announced, this renewed my excitement for the season and I wanted to go to that game.  But I was disappointed to learn you had to become a 1/2 or full season ticket holder to be able to go, and no single tickets would be available.  Any chance of me buying a flex pack/10 game pack ended because now you were telling me I couldn't pick a game that I wanted to go to, and I can't commit financially/time wise to being a 1/2 season or full season ticket holder (one day I hope to, but I can't for the moment).  I certainly could understand a restriction such as if you buy a 20 game flex package, maybe you're limited to 2 tickets for the Alfie game, but being shut out altogether, I felt that my patronage isn't needed or wanted.

So I ended up dropping about $280 to buy a ticket on Stubhub to see this game, which is roughly 1/2 of my Sens ticket budget for a season.  I will probably go to a few more games but not as many as I did last year.  I only hope the ticket I bought won't turn out to be a fake as this is the first time \I've used StubHub, but I can't help but think sending money to this anonymous seller would have been better served being sent to the team.  (I do see you now offer an 11 game Alfie pack, some of the games I would have been able to go to, some not, but I already bought a Stubhub ticket anyway).

My last experience I want to share with you revolves around your request to fans to send in items to donate or loan for the 25th anniversary of the team.  Despite sending my item suggestion months ago, I still haven't heard one way or another if my item has been accepted.  A few weeks after I sent my submission, I replied to a Facebook ad about this stating I hadn't heard anything.  The person responded saying they have hundreds of items to review but they'll get back to me.  At the end of July or August, I did get an email saying they have my submission and they'll let me know.  As of today, I still haven't heard anything.  I really shouldn't be too upset about it, and if the item (a goal puck scored by Cody Ceci from the Heritage Classic in Vancouver) isn't wanted that's okay, but I was willing to give you an item I paid about $250 US dollars for, and I'm having issues giving this to the team!  I want to pay money for tickets, \I want to give you items from my collection...but it's been difficult for me to do so.

I hope you seriously look at my feedback and use it to help make the Senators give their fans the best experience possible.

- SBP

p.s. Hearing President Cyril Leeder state the team isn't considering TD Place as an option for an outdoor game if Parliament Hill doesn't work was deflating.  No one expects team to win the Stanley Cup soon, so an outdoor game would be a very exciting game for fans to look forward to to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the very first NHL game played.  Not going to TD Place for political reasons only hurts your fan base.  Please, don't throw away an opportunity to create a memory that would last forever for Sens fans.  Whether on the Hill or on Bank St, please make it happen.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Random SBP Thoughts

It's been the longest in between posts ever since I started blogging here some time ago.  Figuring out what to write has been hard whenever I did take the time to think about it, so why not just write a bunch of different things to get the ball rolling?,,,Right now I'm watching the Ottawa RedBlacks start their season against Edmonton.  Never thought I'd become as big a fan of the team as I am when they returned to Ottawa, but here we are...With the 1st round of the NHL draft over and free agency here in less than a week, I expect the Sens to not upgrade anywhere important and miss the playoffs for a 2nd straight season...The World Series of Poker is past the mid-way point and every year, I always wish I could be there.  The plan is though to attend next year's event, the new tag team event introduced in this year's edition.  Hopefully it's a popular enough event that it will still be around in 2017 of course...The best movie I've seen this year is probably Eye in the Sky...And speaking of movies, I'm not sure if I'm getting a little more uptight as I get older but the graphically violent pictures being produced are starting to turn me off.  For instance, Deadpool was entertaining for the most part, but the origin scenes when Ryan Reynolds gets set on fire and then impaled, I mean, is all of that really necessary?  Hateful Eight was another that just went over the top with the blood and gore  Wish Tarantino would try something different...I'm all about podcasts these days.  My favourites are Serial, Talk is Jericho and Someone Knows Something.  Makes the bus rides to and from work pass by much better...My ball hockey team finished last again, and my current Ultimate team isn't doing much better.  Time to retire?,,,The other day, my five year old daughter asked me, "Papa, est-ce qu'on peut regarder Star Wars?"  Yes you can sweetie.  Yes you can!  :-)

Friday, December 18, 2015

Star Wars - The Force Awakens: A Non-Spoiler Review



A complaint I heard before seeing The Force Awakens on the night before the official Friday opening, was that this movie isn't breaking new ground.  If you compare the plot and characters from this movie to the one that started it all (Episode IV - A New Hope) new audiences might be hard pressed to tell them apart.  Is my Star Wars bias not allowing me to confront this "truth" and dismiss this entry in the series?  Maybe, but look at it this way: Martin Scorsese made a groundbreaking gangster film called Goodfellas; some say perhaps the best mob movie ever made.  A few years later, he directed Casino.  Was it as good as Goodfellas?  Was it oozing with originality?  Perhaps not, but in my mind, the execution of the story was so good, I could forgive the apparent "homage" to the previous gangster entry.  Keep me entertained and/or engaged, and I can overlook these issues.

The prequels for the most part were a disappointment (although I did enjoy Episode III) and my expectations for The Force Awakens was to be better than those.  No one is expecting another Empire Strikes Back necessarily, considered the Holy Grail of the films, but at the very least the spirit of the original trilogy needed to be captured again.  And in my opinion, director J.J. Abrams' did that in spades, with tremendous action scenes, strong visual effects that looked real and not CGI-ish (not always, but most of the time) and great characters.  The two new additions to the saga that look to be the centerpiece of the story moving forward, a young scavenger girl named Rey and a disenchanted defector named Finn, seamlessly blended in with the established likes of Han Solo and General Leia, and I imagine will be revered by fans forever once this new trilogy reaches its conclusion.

The new villain, the masked Kylo Ren, is a bit of a quagmire for me.  While establishing his evil ways effectively at the start of the film, by the end of it I was wondering if there was a missed opportunity to make him appear more iconic like Darth Vader.  The decision to have his mask removed for a handful of scenes (not a spoiler, press release photos showed Adam Driver sans mask) I think was a mistake, removing some of the mystique this character could bring.  Out of all the new major characters, I felt Ren was the weakest of the lot.

When the movie was over, you know it hits a home run when you think to yourself, "Damn, I'm going to have wait until 2017 to see what happens next!"  Several unresolved plot points that should be answered as the movies are released were laid out to digest, and much like in Empire Strikes Back where you wondered if Darth Vader was telling the truth when he revealed to Luke he was his father, they can be debated with fellow Star Wars enthusiasts until the next one provides you with answers.  Myself, I can't wait.  The first movie of the new trilogy looked, sounded like and felt like the Star Wars we grew up with, and I can only hope the remaining two entries will be as good, or better, than The Force Awakens.




Sunday, July 19, 2015

Terminator Genisys - Review



(Warning - Spoilers galore!)

I can only imagine the pre-production meetings that took place when the studio heads were trying to figure out how to rejuvenate the Terminator franchise:

"LET'S MAKE JOHN CONNOR A ROBOT!"

"ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER AS A T-1000?  OH HELLLLLLLLLL YEAH!"

I'm not made of stone.  The Terminator movies hold a place in my nostalgic heart.  I first saw the original Terminator on TV as a kid, recording it on a blank Beta videotape.  They took out a bunch of swearing and some of the violence (as you have to do on broadcast television) but man did I think it was awesome.  Terminator 2 is up there as one of my all time favourites: I saw it with a video store colleague, Travis, who just worked his last shift and was moving elsewhere.  We saw it at a late night advanced screening, completely sold out, and I left the theatre thinking it was perhaps the best movie ever (I was 16 at that time...but it is still pretty awesome).

Since then, there hasn't been too much to brag about with the Terminator movies.  I actually thought part 3 was okay, while Terminator: Salvation was an installment that was depressing and rather forgettable.  When they announced a fifth movie and that Arnold Schwarzenegger was going to be in it, I thought, "Hmmm, well at least Arnold is starring, so maybe they're on the right track".  Then they showed the first trailer, which just made me doubt the project even more.  The next trailer was even worse, as the whole "John Connor is a robot" plot element was revealed.  In hindsight, I think the studio heads figured it was probably best to let the cat out of the bag now so the built-in paying audience can digest that fact first before going to see it,  I figured if they were revealing that plot point now...well I actually thought it might be a red herring or something.  Surely they wouldn't go in that direction, would they?  Despite all these doubts, I knew I was still going to see it and they would get my money.

Well, it's $13.99 I'm never going to get back.  At the beginning of the movie when they go to 1984 where it all began, it was just a big exercise in getting rid of the huge inconvenience of the plot, heart and the whole reason why the Terminator movies are well-liked by the general public.  It's like they took a big collective dump on everything that was established by the James Cameron-directed films because they were incapable of coming up with something coherent that still respects the canon previously established.

So Arnold Schwarzenegger's "new" terminator goes back earlier in time to the mid-70's to protect Sarah Connor as a child, against something that is not explained very well in the flashback scenes.  They don't know who sent him back though because his memory was erased before heading back through the time machine.  So in other words, the writers couldn't think of another character that may have sent him back.  This is explained after the 1984 scenes when they show the original (in CGI form anyway) terminator sent back to kill the 19 year old Sarah Connor, followed by a T-1000 also sent back to kill what I assume is the Kyle Reese character, who was sent back to save Sarah Connor.  This takes place before the unmentioned plot of Terminator 2 of a different T-1000 sent back to kill young John Connor, followed by part 3's story of a T-X (from memory, I'm too lazy to Google it as my hand is falling off typing all this) sent back to kill all of John Connor's "lieutenants" and John Connor himself, if you're lucky enough to find him.

Am I the only one who thought the time travel plot device had run it's course?  The one thing that I thought Salvation had right was that it looked like they were ready to build towards the big battle between the humans and machines over Earth.  I mean, how AWESOME would that have been?  And you can still pay homage to the original movies by showing how the time travelers were sent back, how they figured out it was going to happen, etc.  Alas, Salvation was poorly executed, and the current creative minds behind Genisys decided John Connor becoming a bad robot was the way to go, while still incorporating time travel in the script.  What is the movie trying to say when it does that?  John Connor was a hero, his backstory of rallying the humans to fight back against the machines was one of the main reasons the audience was drawn to the story in the first place!  But it looks like they're headed towards a big confrontation between, according to the credits, a "T-5000" (John Connor was apparently a "T-3000"), the artificial intelligence spawned by the creation of Skynet who turns John Connor into the robot (but as the box office numbers have been disappointing, the sequels are in jeopardy).  The end of the movie is actually the group of Sarah Connor, Reese and Arnold trying to stop him from being formed, and you think they pulled it off, but, well, I won't spoil everything but stick around for the credits so you can roll your eyes another time.

And by the way, my earlier comment about Arnold becoming a T-1000 DOES actually happen, when he is accidentally dumped into prototype "liquid metal" in the final minutes of the movie and his brain chip, I guess, falls into it.  And much like when you pull out a CPU processor from your Xbox and stick into your iPhone motherboard, it will immediately adapt and work properly.

But if you think that's plausible, maybe you will enjoy Terminator: Genisys.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

How a Hamburglar Brought a City to Life

As I write this, the Ottawa Senators have two games left in the regular season, including a tilt tonight with the President's Trophy winning New York Rangers.  They might make it to the playoffs, they may not.  Regardless of the results, this run has been one of the most spectacular I have witnessed and a reminder as to what we are sports fans to begin with.

It was a pretty lacklustre year for the team.  Win won, lose one, win one, lose two, tie one...they were spinning their wheels and it appeared they would be one of the franchises looking to win the Connor McDavid sweepstakes, as fans would sarcastically root against their team for better odds at the number one overall pick.

But then in a freak accident back in February that knocked out their number two goalie Robin Lehner and top six forward Clark McArthur, Andrew Hammond, an undrafted 27 year old, was called upon to backstop the team and tank nation figured the Senators might finish in the bottom five.  Hammond didn`t impress all that much in his pro career, so how well could be possibly do playing at the highest level of hockey in the world?

I don`t know how, I don`t why, but Hammond has been awesome.  And to top that, the team playing in front of him, coincidence or not, has been playing their best hockey all season since he got the start in goal.  The youth  movement has taken over, and the confidence of these younger players has been growing to the point that, even if they fall short in their quest for a post-season spot, the future looks extremely bright for years to come.

Hockey has been fun to watch again.  The play has been exciting.  The story of Andrew Hammond, the Hamburglar, is one of the best feel good stories in the NHL: A guy who played in the BCHL (where?) because he wasn't good enough the WHL junior league.  A guy who played for Bowling Green, a college hockey program that doesn't exactly attract the top talent in the hockey world   But here he is, with only one regulation loss in over 20 games, named player of the month in the NHL for March, is carrying the team like no else could, And the fans, wondering if the team will ever be able to contend again like they did years ago, now have many reasons to be optimistic this team will contend for a championship in the foreseeable future.

How far they go remains to be seen.  It could end by this Saturday evening, or the run may continue,  But I can honestly say I haven`t had this much fun being an Ottawa Senators fan in a long, long, time.  GO SENS GO!!!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Missing

Missing people.  With an emphasis on missing children.

Not sure how I came across it, or how it has become a semi-obsession for me, but this topic has reached out to me in a way that has literally changed my life.  My two children are still very young, and they do not yet go out on their own to do things like visit a friend or go for a bike ride.  But as I deal when the time comes when I feel it’s okay for them to venture out by themselves without mom and dad, I’m also trying to figure out strategies where perhaps mom and dad can accompany them on their outings without coming across as being overbearing or overprotective.

A site that has garnered my interest is missingkids.ca.  It is a website with a database of nationally registered children who are missing and have families that are still looking for them.  What’s especially disturbing to me is how long some of these individuals have vanished without a trace.  A case that comes to mind is a ten year old boy named Richard Marlow, who was last seen riding his bike outside of his home in 1944, and no one has seen him since.  Or two year old Diane Prevost, who was with her family at a provincial park near the beach on vacation in 1966.  One minute she was there, the next she was gone.  Was she taken in by the water?  Did she wander off on her own?  Was she abducted?  It’s like a mystery novel when you search further about the details of these cases and the clues left behind, and read how authorities still pursue any leads that may come forward (although as you can imagine, not many do anymore in the aforementioned cases since so much time has passed).

The mystery element that intrigues me dissipates quickly though, because then you really sit and ponder what the eventual fates were of these innocent children.  What happened in their last moments, or are they still alive?  You think about the parents who live with guilt for the rest of their lives, not being their when their kids needed them most.  Many hold out hope their children are still alive; I recall one case of a couple who lost their four year old son several decades ago.  They hope that their child was at least taken by someone who wanted a family but couldn’t, and was desperate enough to kidnap a child.  Perhaps they will at least be loved and be cared for, even if they can’t see their child again.  Some tell themselves it is likely their kids are dead and live each day trying to accept that fact.  In either case, there is no closure for them.  And how they move on with their lives, I’m not sure how they do it.

There is another site I visit, charleyproject.org, which compiles missing person’s cases and also publishes resolved cases.  I read the resolved section because some do have a happy ending.  A lot don’t, that is true, but reading about the families having closure and the stories about reuniting with missing loved ones after years have passed does make you feel hopeful an equally happy ending will await others who still deal with losing a member of their family.

In the meantime, I’ll keep an extra set of eyes on my children, try not to be too paranoid, and hope I'm fortunate enough to never have to go through the nightmare of losing them in my lifetime.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

The Ottawa RedBlacks...horrible name, horrible team...but a fun night out

Ottawa's major sports franchise, the Ottawa Senators, has an arena built on the other side of the city that takes forever to get to and takes even longer to get out of (thanks to that God-forsaken parking lot).  It is something of a running joke in this town, although fans like myself grin and bear it.  We've been dealing with it for such a long time, I don't too many people give it much of a thought any more.  Most other cities have their arenas and stadium centrally located, where using public transportation and getting there in a reasonable amount of time are variables to look forward to in getting to the game.  It's something taken for granted I'm sure.  Anyway, I usually plan to leave about two hours before the game starts, and if the game ends at 10 pm, I know I'm likely home by 11:30 pm on average.

So when the Ottawa RedBlacks made their CFL debut at TD Place, TD Place being a football stadium located in the Glebe, or downtown, Ottawa, it was a refreshing change of pace.

Even though the team hadn't yet played a game, and let's be honest, the RedBlacks name is still somewhat of a head-scratcher to put it mildly, the number of fans already decked out in RedBlacks apparel was something to behold.  Public transport would drop off fans right in front of the stadium, free of charge with a game ticket, and on the way there you can see the fans walking to the stadium, ready to cheer on their team.  The local pubs have decked out their establishments in local sports team colours, people are enjoying beer, buying food from street vendors, you can hear some music from a live band in the background...in short, it felt like a GAME day.  Something that is truly refreshing when it takes you over an hour to get from your car to the exit ramp after a Sens game.

Atmosphere...yes, that's what it is!  You know there's a game about to be played...there's a buzz with the fans and it adds to the enjoyment.  Actually, that's pretty much the highlight so far this season.  The RedBlacks, being an expansion franchise, are the worst team in the CFL and it doesn't look like it'll change any time soon.  But the three games I've been to, I've enjoyed all of them.  The stadium is sold out and people just seem to enjoy the fact there's some football happening, whether or not it's the winning kind.

I hope they stick around, and maybe the Senators can finally take a look at the big picture and find a way to get their team to play in a downtown arena.  I'm certain it will add to not just to the convenience of fans of heading to a central location, but will add to the fun factor that seems to be missing.



Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Random Story

With this year’s edition of the World Series of Poker having already commenced and continuing on for the next month or so, I always pause and think how much fun it would be to head up there again to play.  I've only been twice, and don’t have anything to show for it, but the experience is second to none.  Anyone passionate about poker should make the visit.

But thinking of my last visit four years ago got me thinking about an incident that occurred at a Denny’s one of the days I was there.  Not sure why I thought about it because it certainly isn't a huge deal…anyway, here’s what happened:

Like I said previously…Denny’s!  I was having a late lunch and wanted to go somewhere cheap, so Denny’s got the call.  The restaurant was completely empty, save for two girls who were chatting to each other at one of the tables.  There were a lot of tables that needed cleaning and still had dirty plates on them.

With only two other people in the entire restaurant, the host (very friendly, btw) sat me down DIRECTLY BESIDE THEM.  This was odd.  I’m sure they wanted to have a little privacy as you can hear pretty much everything they said to each other, seeing the restaurant was completely empty and quiet.  But here’s the thing:  The two women were black.  Who cares?  Yes.  But I didn't want to come across as some sort of racist.   “Excuse me, can you sit me somewhere else?  The people beside me aren't from the master race”.  Now looking back, I’m sure if I said something along the lines of, “I would like to give these ladies some privacy; can you sit me at another table?” I’m sure everything would have been fine and nobody would think I was David Duke.  That’s not what I thought of saying at the time though, so I didn't say anything at all and we all sat there somewhat uncomfortably for the next 15 minutes or so before they got their bill.

Was I over-thinking the situation?  Probably.

And that’s the end of that story.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Melnyk Must Go

It is truly amazing how much time, money, thought and energy I spend into my passion for the only professional sports team I like, the Ottawa Senators. And I hate how it's owner, Eugene Melnyk, is treating it.

This guy sure likes to come across as a shining knight in armour who "saved" the team just over 10 years ago, when former owner Rod Bryden filed for bankruptcy. Making out like he bought the team because he's a saint, he did Senators fan a huge favour, nothing more, when he bought the team (from anywhere between $95 to $125 million depending on who you believe). And it hasn't been all sunshine and lollipops since buying the team for him. For you see, Melnyk claims he's been losing about $10 million a year since acquiring the franchise. I'm not sure if that includes the 1/2 season played because of the last lockout (did he lose "just" $5 million for that year?) or if he lost any money for the full season that was lost to a different lockout, but that's what he claims. So if you figure the maximum $125 million he paid for the team (and arena), the approximate $110 million or so he lost operating the team, $235 million spent for the sake of being a saint seems pretty steep. But wait! You see, Forbes magazine estimates the Senators value at $380 million. So, big shock, a rich old white man claims to be poor but in essence acquired an asset that has appreciated in value and will net him about $145 million if he sells the team.

Melnyk is sneaky. And while he's also maddening to the fan base, he isn't stupid. He's crying poor to land a casino to build right beside his rink. No one seems to be buying this "I'm poor" business, and I'm one of them. But it doesn't matter what I think, for me all that matters is that he tries to run a team effectively to bring the Stanley Cup back to Ottawa one day. But if he wants to run the team into the ground, what can we do?

Judging though from the actions of the team in the last year, it has to go down as one of the worst in history. Not points-wise (the early expansion years have that honour) but in terms of expectations and handling of their roster. They started out by not resigning their franchise player Daniel Alfredsson, their Captain and most loyal soldier since the mid 90s. Then Melnyk starting spouting out the word "budget" any chance he'd get, pretty much telling the fans he isn't interested in signing the best talent potentially available. Then the team tanked and missed the playoffs. And lastly, the current captain Jason Spezza looks to be traded in the next month. Another franchise player gone, two Captains leaving in a year.

I blame Melnyk for this entire mess and unfortunately as the owner of the team he can run it any way he wants. But to sit there and claim the Ottawa Senators are a money loser and he's some sort of good person for buying the team in the first place...c'mon Eugene. This summer and next season must just be the longest in Sens history, and the only way I can see it getting better is if he gets out of the NHL and sells it to someone else.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Poker Calls Again

It has been over three years since I played a big poker tournament. I barely play with my friends now; almost all of us are married with kids and time is at a premium. Getting that free time and then hoping it's the same free time as your friends...it makes for much less games. That's the way the cookie crumbles, and that's life.

So when the World Series of Poker Circuit came to town at the Lac-Leamy casino (instead of their planned Montreal destination), I couldn't pass up the opportunity. I could only really afford to play one tournament, but that was fine. I was glad the WSOPC was here! Having virtually no practice and just recently read Gus Hansen's "Every Hand Revealed", I took my chances. Just under 160 players signed up, and the structure was such that blinds increased every thirty minutes. After several levels had passed, forty and eventually sixty minute levels would be become the norm. But, as I only lasted about an hour and twenty minutes, it didn't end up mattering all that much.

So why would I write about a failure like this? This tournament ended up being the worst outing I've ever had after steadily increasing the amount of time I was left playing at previous tournaments. Well, putting my mistakes for all to see, I'm hoping not just myself but my friends can perhaps learn from my experience and do better when they give it a shot. I try to encourage my friends to play as it's so much fun, results be damned. I'll share a couple of hands that I played and you can make your own judgments on what you would have done. My first hand I played was just a few hands in, folded to me on the button. We all started with 10,000 in chips and the blinds were 25/50. I had Queen Ten offsuit. I decided to limp in, the small blind called an the big blind checked. The flop came all spades, all medium to low cards. So the blinds checked to me. Actually the big blind was so eager to check, he did so out of turn. Seeing this eagerness to not bet, I decided to take it down with a small 100 bet. Fold and fold. Ben wins! Even though I completed missed my hand, it was a board no one was interested in. I didn't have to bet a lot to take it down, and it was nice to take down my first pot...despite it being a rather small one.

Some time later on, I played another hand where everyone folded to me, again, on the button. I look at ace-six offsuit. The blinds were 100-200. I only played a few hands so I had a tight image. I thought a raise might allow me to get the blinds and if I do get called, an Ace isn't the worst card to have. I raise to 600 and both blinds flat call. Hmmm, interesting. The flop comes: Ace-Ten-Eight. The ten and eight are both clubs. Paired the ace...might as well bet and take 'er down. Both players check, I bet 600 and both players call. The next card: 3 of diamonds. I'm guessing one of the blinds is chasing a flush. Does the other have an ace? I want to keep the pot small and they aren't too aggressive, so after checking to me again, I bet another 600. They both call. The river card: 2 of spades. After getting called twice on the flop and turn, I know I'm beat. I figure I have kicker issues with my low 6 accompanying my ace while the other guy likely missed his flush. So I ask myself, do I want to try a bluff to take down the pot? Both players check to me again. I can cut my losses and check and muck my hand when one of my opponents shows me an Ace with a better kicker. But maybe I can bet out and make them think I have a strong hand...maybe I can sell a two pair hand? Or maybe a set?

Perhaps influenced by Hansen's book, I decide to give it a shot. I'll have to bet a decent sized amount, large enough to scare away my opponents. So I bet out 1500. With our starting stack sizes of 10,000, it's a good sized bet. In relation to the amount of chips in the pot, maybe not big enough. The player to my left went into the think tank for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably about one minute. He decided to call and the big blind folded. The player showed me a Ace-Jack and I muck my cards, and he takes down the pot.

Should I have tried the bluff? It's easy to say no when you lose, and if he did fold I probably would have patted myself on the back for such a bold play. But really, it probably wasn't a good idea. More times than not, it's likely not a good idea to try these plays when the tournament has just started. The blinds are relatively small, and your initial stack is more valuable than gambling with chips that you won in other pots. There is a time to try a bluff, but later in the tournament, with a bigger stack and high blinds worth acquiring, is likely a better time to try it.

At least that's what I think, anyway.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Fait dodo

I don't usually post too much about my kids, but for some reason I felt compelled to share this small, uneventful occurrence that might be forgotten later on. My 3 year old, Sophie-Anne, and myself were in the basement watching Toy Story en francais as she requested. It was a cold, rainy day so it was a good time to pop in a blu-ray. She then said, "Papa, fait dodo!" and pointed to me while I sat on the couch. This meant she wanted me to lie down. "Papa, ferme tes yeux!" Close my eyes. To be sleeping you need to close your eyes, no? How else can I prove I'm asleep? Then she took a blanket and put it over me. I can't recall if she ever actually did that before, but she did this time. After the blanket covered me, she then brought herself onto the couch and snuck under the blanket. She climbed onto my side and laid her head on my shoulder. She took my arm and put it around her, and we just watched Toy Story en francais for another twenty minutes without saying a word. It was really, really sweet.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

August 3, 1979

Life ended for my Dad.  I was 4 years old and have few memories of him.  I think I know what his voice sounded like: I have one phrase in my memory where he says "Oh, they had too many strawberries".  My sister and I went strawberry picking and ate more than we collected and got sick.  Never touched a strawberry again until I was a teenager.  Was that voice real or imagined?  The day you died, I remember our next door neighbor playing Lego with me and Kylie to keep us occupied.  I also remember walking into your bedroom, with mom's back against the window, surrounded by people I didn't know.  It was like she was being interrogated or something, although that could have been just a figment of my imagination.  The saddest part of the whole night was that I learned as an adult not everything was done to keep you alive.  Mom tried to call the base emergency number and no one answered.  Mom also tried to call the doctor who lived up the street.  He showed up later than late, not believing mom that there was a real emergency on hand.  You were 35 years old.  It hit me three years ago that I've outlived you on earth.  How can I possibly be older than you now, Dad?  It doesn't make sense or seem right.  I could go on and on about this, but this is what life dealt us.  Of course I'll always wonder what my life would be like if you were still here, but things turned out okay in the end.  I think about how mom did a great job raising two kids by herself.  If there's something waiting for us when our life on earth ends, I hope you will be there waiting for me.  We can talk hockey and your love of the Bruins and Gerry Cheevers, I'll order a Tom Collins and you can have your Heineken.  But I'll just order one then switch to a Pepsi.  Then maybe have one beer then back to the cola drinks!  I'd love to hear your stories of being a high school football star and maybe you can explain to me how those athletic genes skipped this generation!

I never really vented these thoughts outside of my head.  My family tends to guard their feelings perhaps more than we should.  I don't want anyone to feel sorry for me or sad.  It feels good to put these thoughts down.  Miss you Dad, always XO.

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