Wednesday, March 7, 2007

The Final 30 Seconds of the AHL All-Star Game

Originally Posted: 01/31/07

Really, it takes a certain kind of deception for the media to refer to the AHL All-Star game as a classic. Not only am I incapable of recalling a single highlight or final score from any of the preceding so-called classics, but I actually had this game confused with the CHL all-star game, and was expecting to see hitting and fighting and Don Cherry and Bobby Orr exchanging a C-note at centre ice. But as we quickly discovered, this was decidedly not that game.

We managed to score some free tickets for the game from our fellow Natti Light Football Poolie, Nolan Baumgartner (the intricacies of the NLFL are an entirely separate entry), who happened to be starting on the blue line for the Canadian side, and who was gracious enough to hook us up despite the fact that our relationship is essentially based on corresponding entirely via email, and even then only to relay juvenile insults regarding fantasy football transactions and the propensity of his obscenity-slinging wife to carve him to pieces at every opportunity.

Ronnie, Damen and I wandered into the Ricoh just as the pregame ceremonies were getting under way, and after the moment of silence in memory of the Gumper, we were treated to two of the worst renditions of the national anthems that I'd ever heard. This poor girl is destined for a future of over-singing Hoobastank ballads as she hosts a mid-week Karaoke night in a Junction neighbourhood bar. She made the likes of Carl Lewis and Borat seem like perfectly viable options as wedding singers.

When the game eventually got underway, things improved only slightly. There was no hitting, nothing resembling a backcheck (Planet
USA had a 5-on-1 at one point, which they failed to convert on), and in this era of ten powerplays per game, the refs put their whistles away and didn't make a single call. The result? Although noticeably better than the NHL debacle of last week (whenever the Raps game went to a commercial last Wednesday, I actually found myself switching to American Idol instead of the best players in the NHL - I wish I could say I was making that up), could and should have been a better game. But then you realize that these guys have already been drafted and signed to decent contracts, so there's no real incentive for them to play hard. Which is precisely why they should wager on the game.

And I know that it will probably never happen, but if the average AHL salary is somewhere in the neighbourhood of $60,000 a year, you'd have to assume that the guys playing in the all-star game are making considerably more than that. And when you factor in that 92% of the guys in the AHL classic will go on to play in the NHL (as all of the promos were constantly reminding us in their futile attempts to build interest), then I don't think it would be out of the question for each player to put up five-grand, just to make things interesting. And a building interest would be the exact result.

Just imagine if there was a $10,000 swing riding for every guy out on the ice? You don't think you'd see guys busting their ass to get back? You don't think you'd see guys crashing the net and actually acting like they gave a fuck about the outcome? Everything about the game would be better, from the style and intensity of play to the interest and emotional investment of the crowd. And sure, people will complain about the moral issues of players gambling on a game in which they're participating, but that's the thing I've never understood about the argument to keep Pete Rose out of the hall of fame: what the hell is so bad about betting on your own team to win? Isn't that what sports is all about? Having the balls to put it all on the line in competition? I understand if you bet against your team, yeah, castrate the guy and have him pay back every fan who ever bought a ticket to watch him play. But a guy who has the stones to bet on his own team? A guy who believes in his teammates and wants to win so bad that he'll put money on it? That's a guy I want on my team, and that's a guy I'm gonna pay money to see.
And to be honest, in the end, that five-grand per guy in the AHL All-Star game isn't going to make any kind of a difference because chances are they're all gonna get together afterwards to spend it on buying lap dances for one another at The Brass Rail anyway, but the fact that they'd have something on the line; and the fact that the fans would know about it; would make the game infinitely better.

But as it was last night, nobody in the Ricoh centre could have cared about what was happening on the ice until the mascots either started throwing T-shirts into the crowd (the only time the 7,000+ stood and/or cheered), or the mascots strapped on the skates and went at one another between periods. And really, if the mascots are stealing the show at your signature event, it might be time to rethink the entire production.

So because of the complete and utter lack of any semblance of atmosphere inside the rink, Ronnie, Damen and I were forced to create our own atmosphere, which essentially consisted of hammering back Delgados (the nickname given to overpriced, stadium sided, extra large beers in Toronto), discussing all things Natti Light (particularly how we are less than a week away from the Superbowl and still have yet to receive our week-15, quarter final results - don't ever let the commissioner of your Fantasy Football League get called up to the NHL in the mid-December), the reason Skeeter would have ever moved back to Oakville (not a city guy, wanted to be closer to Ash and Jacquie's softball team, homosexuality), and the ethics and intricacies of grill-glazing (Ronnie's physical re-enactment of Dinner's Friday night exploits in front of the family of five and the two Octogenarians sitting behind us didn't exactly go over as well as we hoped). All in all, it was an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours.

It wasn't until there was about a minute left in the game, with the score tied 6-6, that the players on the ice began to take noticeable interest. And then a funny thing happened. Because as the players began taking interest, the game actually picked up speed and intensity. And then almost instantly, the fans began paying attention, and the vibe in the Ricoh improved exponentially. And when The Baumer picked up the puck behind his own net with 27 seconds left, the entire AHL community surged with the palpable feeling that something special was about to happen.

I'm not sure if that something special was Ronnie standing and yelling above a shocked and horrified and predominently family-oriented crowd: "BAUMER! YOUR WIFE'S A WHORE!!!"; but it was something along those lines.

In any event, our boy took the puck from behind his own net, and with Ronnie's derogatory abuse echoing amongst the rafters, began an end-to-end rush that would surely make every sportscenter highlight reel and have him back up with the big club before you could say "Salary Cap? Hell, I'd play under a salaray cap!". But something happened on the Iafrate-like rush, and somehow Planet USA ended up bringing the puck back down to the Canadian end, and as the Baumer made a last ditch effort to break up the play, the Planet USA AHL All-Stars buried the game winner with 3 seconds left on the board, leaving a fleetingly riled-up crowd utterly dissapointed and completely unsatisfied (somewhere, the girl I lost my virginity to was having an inexplicable case of deja vu), and a devestated Nolan Baumgartner splayed across the ice for a fantastically memorable length of time.

The entire sequence was one of the most thrilling, hilarious, and perfectly scripted chains of events I'd ever been a part of, and it made the entire ordeal - the pitch-defying rendtions of the anthems, the morgue-like atmosphere in the rink, the fact that the kids sitting in Section 112 will probably need decades of psychiatric treatment after picking up fragments of the endless barage of colloquial debauchery coming out of Row M - worth every last minute.

I have no idea where the 2008 AHL All-Star Classic will be taking place, but rest assured, if The Commish can one-up his fellow Natti Light blue-liner, regardless of whether or not they have five-large riding, the NLFL faithful will represent, even if doing so means
Portland in January.

1 comment:

Sean McCallum said...

The fact that you have a link to the commish's profile is priceless