Saturday, 23 April 2022


Guy Lafleur 1951 - 2022

The last time I saw Guy Lafleur play a National Hockey League (NHL) game, number 10 was him, but it wasn’t. Sort of a Schrodinger’s cat winger. He was the only player on Edmonton’s Northlands ice not wearing a helmet. His uniform was wrong, Quebec Nordiques powder blue. There was one fleeting, shining moment of another time and another place: Guy led a rush and once inside the Oilers zone he half spun and made a blind backhand pass, tape to tape; an assist for a legend who was already in hockey’s Hall of Fame and who used to score at will.

The NHL was formed in Montreal in 1917. Le Club Athletique Canadien was formed in 1909. The team was a stroke of marketing genius, a Quebecois antithesis to the existing Anglo Maroons and Wanderers. The Montreal Canadiens eventually came to dominate the NHL for three consecutive decades, the fifties, the sixties and the seventies. Those teams had tremendous depth but their identities were singular, each era featured a Quebecois superstar. “Rocket” Richard was the first NHLer to score 50 goals in 50 games. He is a myth now but during the fifties he was a veritable psychopath from the blue line in. Jean Beliveau exemplified the sixties, an elegant, rangy centre, a gentleman who later in life respectfully declined an offer to act as Canada’s Governor-General, our ceremonial head of state.

I came of age in the seventies, for better or worse. I think of Guy, “the Flower” in the English press and “le demon blond” in the French press, as a rocker. Like Jagger and other great front men during rock’s pop culture hegemony, he was all flash and all substance, utterly electrifying. The most exciting hockey player I have ever seen. Ken Dryden, the erudite goaltender of those phenomenal seventies Canadiens teams, wrote in his seminal book The Game that their best player whose game was built for speed was always destined to burn out rather than gracefully fade away.

It didn’t help that Guy tended to live like a rock star too. The sporting press in those days wasn’t tame but nor was it prurient. Beat writers and columnists kept their copy to performance, to shifts, to final scores: off ice was off limits. It was an open secret that Guy enjoyed a couple cigarettes between periods. When he nearly decapitated himself in a single vehicle accident after the bars had closed, well, hadn’t he played hard that night and subsequently grown tired driving the speed limit along a notoriously dark stretch of highway?

I’d rather watch old footage of Guy than regurgitate his statistics, but some are telling. He notched 1000 points in just 720 games. The goals and assists, reliably combining to more than 100 through six consecutive winters, were registered against every team in the league. Cleveland Barons, Kansas City Scouts, Colorado Rockies, Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers, bad teams, good teams, the opposition didn’t matter. And when it really mattered 134 points in 128 playoff games, including 58 goals. One glorious slap shot in one series ended the coaching career of Bruin buffoon and blowhard Don Cherry. Guy played another series aware that he might be sniped at or his family kidnapped. That’s why his name has been engraved on the Stanley Cup five times.

Hockey fans know the eighties heralded a changing of the guard. The Canadiens were getting older and the New York Islanders were getting good. When the Islanders got old, which didn’t take long, the Edmonton Oilers were getting good. The Canadiens began to play boring, defensive hockey. The neutral zone trap did not suit Guy, there was no space for élan, panache, fun. Of course, he’d lost half a step or so by that time. Still, he complained. The team awkwardly engineered his bitter retirement in 1985. It had all been so fleeting. It must have galled him that the Canadiens managed to steal the 1986 Stanley Cup without him skating on the right wing of the power play and the first or second forward lines.

Guy had been a god in the hockey capital of the world. The Theology Department of the Universite de Montreal now teaches a course on the Montreal Canadiens. The Shroud of Turin’s got nothing on the bleu, blanc et rouge sweaters. The old Forum on Ste-Catherine, since ineptly repurposed, remains something of a shrine. This is now. In 1988 Guy came out of retirement at age 37 to play for the New York Rangers and the Nords. He managed 107 points in 165 games thereby reducing his points per game average to a mere 1.20. C’mon. Wow. At least those clubs let him play what was left of his style of game.

The Montreal Canadiens ultimately made up with Guy because all the team had to market for its centenary was the past. The reluctant ambassador stumped for the club that had cut him loose years before. The Canadiens have always displayed a bland corporate mentality in that the organization is ruthless in ridding itself of what it perceives as difficult or diminishing assets. Trouble is the club has seldom got it right as flamboyant individuals do not fit easily into slots and they tend to thrive in less cloistered climes.

Guy’s life on the other side of the rinkboards was all a bit bizarre. He recorded a disco album. He plugged his scalp with implants and so when he flew on skates his blond hair no longer fluttered so much as sat through his velocity like some perfectly combed helmet. He touted Viagra on television. He tried to sway the legal proceedings surrounding one of his two sons only to find his godlike status in Quebec was confined to the Montreal Forum. Right wing, right thing, maybe he hadn’t been the world’s best father. He could not effect change in court, only on the ice. His restaurant business was, frankly, a bit of a boring drag: a mere greeter, a man like him. Heart problems followed for a star who’d played every game with every ounce of his own. Lung cancer too.

Unlike Beliveau, Guy was never a diplomat. And so when the Canadiens presented their presumedly rehabilitated goodwill Guy to the sports media to promote the team, he had no qualms going off message, revealing why he thought the current incarnation of the team sucked. I always sensed a certain glee, fire wagon hockey schadenfreude. Because, you know, when he played the game… I loved watching him. He moved like Jagger.         

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of hard-hitting, insightful sports coverage since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is my latest book. Visit to find your preferred format and retailer.

Monday, 11 April 2022


Baseball Is Back

Somehow baseball’s major leagues managed to stop arguing about insane amounts of money long enough to stage the traditional opening day for their quaint sport. Come the sixth of June, Edmonton’s downtown ballpark will host its first opening day in two years. Locked down, socially distanced summers are, for the moment, a thing of the past and the Canada – US border is pretty much open with proof of vaccination. Enter the West Coast League’s (WCL) Edmonton Riverhawks. I’m no ornithologist but their logo resembles the head of a bald eagle.

The WCL was established in 2005. It’s short season, collegiate level baseball. As all of its other franchises play in the province of British Columbia and the states of Washington and Oregon, Edmonton, Alberta northerly and on the other side of the Rockies, will be one hell of a long bus ride away for the other 14 teams. The WCL follows on the spikes of the Western Canadian Baseball League, the Northern League, the Canadian Baseball League, possibly the Golden League if I remember correctly - God knows which other leagues I’ve forgotten – and, for a glorious time, the legendary Triple A Pacific Coast League. Seamheads will recognize a pattern of faith and foolishness here, one as exact as a diamond. Once more into the batter’s box, dear friends! Weather permitting.

I remember watching the Class D Edmonton Tigers back in the seventies. Since then local baseball fans have cheered for the Trappers, the Capitals, the Prospects and the unfortunately named Cracker-Cats. That name was spun straight-facedly as a whimsical play on the hydraulic technique of fossil fuel extraction known as cataclysmic fracturing. Riverhawks is another one of those clumsy and curiously unathletic sports neologisms, a proper noun that’s no portmanteau. I know what a river is. I know what a hawk is. My Birds of Edmonton reference book describes both sharp-shinned hawks and red-tailed hawks. I don’t know what a riverhawk is; must be a mythical creature, like a roc.

The team’s base colours are two shades of blue accentuated with black and gold. Their colours all have special Ralph Lauren paint swatch names of course because, because uniform palettes require a certain exclusive designer gravitas. Anyway, dark and light blues and black to me caw magpie. There are more than a few around town. What the hell was wrong with Edmonton Magpies?

John Feinstein is an incredibly prolific sportswriter. In 2014 he published a book about life in baseball’s minor leagues called Where Nobody Knows Your Name. This is the level of baseball I’ve come to appreciate since I moved from Quebec to Alberta 32 years ago. While the infield’s dimensions are universal, the scale of the game is human, intimate. Feinstein has also written a book about the men’s professional golf tour called A Good Walk Spoiled. I’ve not read it because I absolutely and utterly loathe golf. But, his title never fails to make me chuckle. Watching live baseball in Edmonton is similar, a leisurely conversation with a companion in a clichéd storybook setting infrequently interrupted by the action between the foul lines.

Barely edible food, icky condiment dispensers, revolting toilets and overpriced beer, what’s not to love about a fine summer’s afternoon or evening at the ballpark? A particular quirk of mine is critiquing the signage on the outfield wall, a hangover from a life in advertising. Billboards are generally viewed from moving vehicles, the drivers and their passengers have perhaps three seconds to register a simple message. An outfield sign may seem like a billboard looming over a captive audience, but the reality is that fans see a rectangle about the size of a business card. For all the outfield (and sundry venue and hockey rinkboard) signage I conceived and executed on behalf of a former employer for various markets in Alberta, I like to think I instinctually got it right - for the most part. Whether those branding exercises ever realized a return on investment remains an unquantifiable mystery.

The Riverhawks market what the club describes as a “flex” pack. Ten discounted tickets that may be used in any combination for any game. I bought one for $150, my order number is 44. Oh, Henry! The gods of the game have smiled upon my need to return to the ballpark. In the latter half of the eighties I used to buy Montreal Expos “mini” season tickets. Two seats for six (possibly eight) designated games. They were affordable on a grocery store union wage augmented by freelance writing cheques; I want to say about $150 total. I don’t remember, but I do recall the visitors being the Philadelphia Phillies and the Pittsburgh Pirates, and not the Portland Pickles.

Between my cash outlays, when I was working on all that baseball signage, I was the default recipient of Trappers graft, a pair of season tickets for three seasons running. No one else in the advertising department, indeed the entire division office, cared about Triple A baseball. I did.        

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of hard-hitting, insightful sports coverage since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is my latest book. Visit to find your preferred format and retailer.

Wednesday, 6 April 2022


Corpse Reviver No. 2

Ann and I had been missing my sister Anne and her husband Al. They arrived in Edmonton late last month from Montreal for a week’s visit although arrival and departure days don’t really tally up to seven. Normally Ann and I head east. We speak frequently and the four of us travel well together. Our group had been on pandemic hiatus for a couple of years.

When the family bonds are healthy and strong you need not worry about hosting frenetic entertainment and activities, distractions; the joy lies simply in proximity and presence, just hanging out. Ann and I know Anne’s and Al’s preferences. I knew they’d rifle the shelf of paperbacks in our basement needing something to read during their stay and I knew they’d do it again Monday morning a few hours before AC 334 was due for liftoff. I ensured the Crooked 9 stereo was spinning the good old stuff, Tony Joe White, Sonny & Brownie and Todd Rundgren. Ann had previously altered our usual errands, amending our grocery lists and retailers. We were prepared to grant one additional degree of central heating complemented by tobacco scented fleece jumpers. We also deployed the emergency space heater in the guest room.

“Come and laugh about our funny little ways…” 

My sister Anne is a medical doctor, only semi-retired because the patients in the clinic she oversees need tending and advocacy in a health care system plagued by covid. Al is semi-retired too, a dedicated researcher in a specialized area of health science. And don’t you want a scientist mixing up the medicine come five o’clock? Ann and I thought we’d thought of everything, bags of lemons and limes, and new bottles in our liquor cabinet. Even the ice cubes in the freezer were freshly frozen - Rolling Stones tongue logo moulds and everything. The master of toxicology disagreed because a Ziploc leftovers container just wouldn’t do as a cocktail shaker. I didn’t dare suggest that our Rubbermaid stuff might have a better seal.

Our primary group excursion during their visit was a search for a proper cocktail shaker and an arcane ingredient or two for a proper Corpse Reviver No. 2. The cocktail dates from the Great Depression. It’s thought to have been conceived at London’s Savoy Hotel and subsequently refined stateside by the legendary Trader Vic. It’s a delicious, addictive mix of gin, orange liqueur, lemon juice and absinthe, originally concocted as an alcoholic hangover cure: a tart start to another perfect day back then.

There’s an array of yard tools stood against the side of the house outside the back door: a shovel, two types of ice chippers and two differently shaped fan rakes. It’s springtime in Edmonton. My sister’s past visits have always been more obligation than vacation, uncomplainingly driven by family events. This one was just because, different. Ann and I hoped our various weather apps would reach some sort of agreeable concord about blue sky and solar heat for our dearly welcome guests.

Saturday’s afternoon blossomed into a still and golden Happy Hour. We took our handmade cocktails outside and took seats on the front porch of the Crooked 9. We discussed big important stuff: Who does the best version of “Rainy Night in Georgia”? We talked trivialities: family matters and national affairs. But mostly we just basked in a comfortable silence and the sun machine’s warm beams, cradling our Corpse Revivers.

“Well, we’ve had a few minutes to breathe…”        

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of thanks and praise for John Sebastian lyrics since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is my latest book. Visit to find your preferred format and retailer.