I’m smarater than I was yesterday.
That’s because I am 50. Yesterday I was 49, which isn’t even half as good.
I see the world with a clarity unknown to me when I was just a pup. My faculties are at their highest, my observations more pithy than ever. It might go downhill soon, but for now, the view from the top is awe-inspiring.
You will read other commentaries online and in the papers. Do not believe them. Most are written by callow kids with no knowledge of life, let alone hockey.
Here are my 50th birthday hockey observations uncorked, like premium scotch, after half a century on the rack.
1. Dave Keon is the best Toronto Maple Leaf ever. He won four cups and, aside from Frank Mahovlich, was so clearly superior to everyone else there is little use in comparing.
2. Certain people will invariably be remembered for their mistakes. Bill Buckner let a ball get between his legs. Steve Smith put the puck into his own net to undercut an Oilers dynasty. The Panthers’ Keith Ballard will always be the guy who ripped open his goalie’s ear while trying to break his own stick on the crossbar. He is the sporting world’s most inept vandal. The clip of Ballard hacking down Tomas Vokoun will be kept alive for generations just for use in anger management seminars.
3. Alexander Ovechkin’s original missing front tooth should be recovered and given to the Smithsonian.
4. Worst exchange of free agents ever? How about the Minnesota Wild who let Marian Gaborik go and replaced him with Martin Havlat. Havlat has two goals for the Wild this season. Gaborik has tallied 21 times for the Rangers.
5. Fighting is not a spontaneous interruption of a game. It is a tactic, deployed as carefully as any defensive system or power play scheme. Any player who fights another player when his team has just gone up by a goal should spend the next night in the press box.
6. Best quote by a Leaf coach? That would be John Brophy’s profanity laced tirade in, I’m pretty sure, 1987. Brophy’s diatribe is so ridiculously funny, the Toronto scribe who got all of it on tape plays it periodically for the disbelieving. My favourite part, and I am paraphrasing slightly, is “trade them, who the @#$#@#$#@ would want them?”
7. The best sports ceremony of the last 50 years was the closing of the Montreal Forum in 1996, including the heart-stopping ovation for Maurice Richard.
8. Weirdest statistical debate? Who gets the win and shutout in Tuesday’s 3-0 Leafs win over Montreal. The game was made remarkable when Jonas Gustavsson
left with an elevated heartbeat in the first intermission. The Leafs had the lead, so Gustavsson garnered the win. The game counts as a team shutout since back-up Joey MacDonald only played two periods.
9. The greatest athletic event of the last 50 years was Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope. He completed a marathon 143 days in a row on one leg before the cancer that would kill him put him on the sidelines.
10. The most elegant of all Toronto Maple Leafs: Mats Sundin. Sundin played the game with unparalleled skill and never uttered a wrong word. He was a pillar, not just of excellence, but of character. Sundin’s ovation at Air Canada Centre last season ranks just under Richard’s moment at the Forum.