Monday, 26 August 2013

Slaying the dragon: Game 7, Flames-Oilers, 1986

"What did Steve Smith say to Mark Messier when he asked him to go out for a drink?
“I don’t know. I’ll have to bounce it off Grant Fuhr first.”
~a joke heard the day after Game 7 of the 1986 Smythe Division Final

It will never be given the credit it is due. Worse, it will always be remembered for an unfortunate bounce that led to the game-winning goal. But Game 7 of the 1986 Smythe Division final was not only one of the biggest upsets in NHL history, it was when the Calgary Flames signalled they finally had arrived. They showed they could get over that hump and beat the Edmonton Oilers. In 1986, they finally slayed the dragon.

One-sided Battle of Alberta
Back in the 1980s, the top four teams in each of four divisions automatically qualified for the playoffs. In each division first played fourth and second played third in the first round. The winners played in the second round. The winner of that played the other division winner in their conference for the conference trophy. The two conference winners played for the Stanley Cup.

This format meant the Flames faced the Oilers virtually ever year, and always in the second round. The Oilers had won in 1983 and 1984, the only two previous match-ups. The Flames had mounted a stirring comeback in 1984, down 3-1 in the series, to force a seventh game but could not beat Edmonton.

Meanwhile the Oilers had gone to the Stanley Cup final in 1983, 1984, and 1985, winning the championship in 1984 and 1985. During the 1986 regular season, the Oilers finished first in the NHL with 119 points, a full 30 points ahead of Calgary, who finished second in the division and conference, but sixth in the league, with 89 points. When the Oilers hosted the Flames in the 1986 Smythe Final, not only were they the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, but the best team in the league by far.

It was a severe mis-match – on paper.

The series no one expected
But hockey is not played on paper. Anything can happen in the playoffs. That's why they play the games. Regular season records no longer mattered, beyond determining home ice advantage and playoff positions.

The Flames certainly didn't play like they finished 30 points behind the Oilers. They jumped all over the Stanley Cup champions in Game 1 in Edmonton on April 18, skating away with a 4-1 victory.

Game 2 was two nights later, again at Northlands Coliseum, and it was a back-and-forth affair all night, probably the most entertaining game of the series. Regulation time settled nothing as the teams headed to overtime 5-5. The Oilers prevailed, tying the series 1-1, heading to the Calgary Saddledome for the next two games.

Calgary won Game 3 by a 3-2 score, before Edmonton again tied the series with a convincing 7-4 win. The fire power the Oilers showed in Game 4 gave everyone cheering for the Flames cause for concern. Edmonton had finally shook out the cob webs and played like the best team in hockey, and they were going home for Game 5 on April 26.

Again, the Flames took it to the Oilers, winning by the same 4-1 score as in Game 1 of the series. Shockingly, the Flames were one game away from ousting the Oilers and, had it not been for an overtime winner by Glenn Anderson in Game 2, the series would already be over. And the Flames were going back to the friendly confines of the Saddledome to try and close out the series.

Game 6 showed how talented the Oilers were. With their season on the line, they overcame a 2-0 Flames' lead, skating out of Calgary with a 5-2 win, and a chance to save their season in front of their home crowd.

Game 7 was set for April 30 at the Northlands Coliseum.

The Flames celebrate and Steve Smith mourns as he inadvertently
bounced the puck off his own goalie and into the net. It was one
of several miscues by the Oilers that led to one of the biggest
upsets in Stanley Cup playoff history.
More than one bad bounce
Everything came down to this one deciding game, but let's be clear here. The Oilers had lost three games already, two at home. They had played poorly and were lucky to even be in Game 7.

Once more, the Flames took it to the Oilers. That was a trademark of the series. Calgary consistently put Edmonton in a position where they had to play catch up. Game 7 would be no different.

About 15 minutes into the first period, Hakan Loob score a short-handed goal to give Calgary a 1-0 lead. This came with the vaunted Edmonton power play on the ice.

Two minutes into the second period Jim Peplinski made it 2-0. This goal was as soft as they get, but is never, ever mentioned. Oiler goalie Grant Fuhr came out to poke check the puck. It spun end over end over top of him, landed behind him and bounced into the net.

Now down 2-0, the Oilers re-grouped, as Anderson and Mark Messier scored unanswered goals to make the score 2-2 after two periods.

It should be noted that the entire game, Oiler defencemen, and all-star Paul Coffey in particular, were making dangerous cross-ice passes from behind their own net.  And, Fuhr aimlessly wandered in his crease while the play was going on behind him throughout the game. At one point, one of the announcers observed one of Coffey's passes came dangerously close to hitting the goalie.

Sadly, it was not Paul Coffey who would be etched into history. Instead, Steve Smith, a young defenceman celebrating his 23rd birthday the night of Game 7, went behind his own net to retrieve a shoot-in from Flame Perry Berezan. With 5:14 gone in the third period, his attempted cross-ice pass hit Fuhr and went into their own net. It gave the Flames a 3-2 lead they would not relinquish.

The Flames had finally slayed the dragon.

Everyone to blame
After that game, Oiler fans were outraged and blinded. They were looking for someone to blame, so they focused their fury on Steve Smith. Because Oiler fans were never very good at losing, they never knew how.

Well, there was plenty of blame to go around. First, the Oilers should never have been in that position in the first place. They had had one of the best regular seasons in NHL history, yet let a team of grinders continually get up on them.

Then, during Game 7, they made a myriad of mistakes. Surrendering a short-handed goal when you have one of the best power plays in the league? Inexcusable. Botching a poke check that ends up pinballing into the back of the net? Unacceptable. Allowing all your defencemen to make dangerous cross-ice passes from behind their own net, while the goalie is wandering into the passing lane? A horrible coaching mistake. Finally, having the most potent offence in the league and having more than 14 minutes to score one goal with your season on the line and coming up empty? Shameful.

Everyone was to blame.

High school memories

Can't believe it
As the series wore on, I recall the topic coming up virtually every day in social studies class. Our social teacher was Gid Vuch. I recall Mr. Vuch saying the Flames should not be winning the series.

My response was simple: “From what I understand, the team with the most goals at the end of the game – wins”.

He did admit the Flames were out-working the Oilers.

Hockey pool
Two guys in school, Troy and his cousin Jared, had a hockey pool. It was the first one I entered and it was pretty straightforward. They passed out the playoff draw, and we had to choose which team would win every series until we got to a champion.

In the end, Corinna and Shelly, two girls in Grade 10, won the pool by getting every series winner right.

I worked with Corinna and, at work one day, asked her how they did it.

"It's pretty simple," she said. "We looked at every pair and asked, 'Where is the best shopping?'"

Just that simple.

Only shirt
When the Flames first moved to Calgary in 1980, my mom bought me a Flames t-shirt with the flaming "C" on it. I was 10 years old at the time.

I dug out that old Flames t-shirt from junior high the next day to wear to school to show my support. I had grown quite a bit since the last time I'd worn that shirt. It was not just pride that was bursting that day.

The legacy
The Flames moved on to the Campbell Conference Final against the St. Louis Blues. They took a commanding 3-1 series lead, before allowing the Blues to come back. The low point was Game 6, where the Flames blew two three-goal leads to force Game 7. The Flames won that, but had nothing left for the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Final. The Flames did win Game 1, but dropped the next four games in a row. It would be three more years before they won the Cup, becoming the only team in NHL history to win the Cup in Montreal.

Meanwhile, the Oilers won the Stanley Cup the next year, and the year after that. Steve Smith had a 16-year NHL career and, ironically, finished it with the Flames.

The 1986 Smythe Division Final also still remains the only time the Flames have ever beat the Oilers in Stanley Cup playoff history.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Caught in the Cold: My first CFL game

Greg Peterson set a CFL playoff record
by intercepting a Matt Dunigan pass and
returning it 106 yards for a touchdown.
It was the highlight of the
1987 West Division Semi-final.
The feeling in my feet did not return for hours, the victim of my first Edmonton winter. The lesson I learned from that day in November of 1987 was how to dress right for the cold.

But the memories I have of that day are etched in my mind forever. Cold yes, but what made it memorable was on that day, I witnessed my first ever Canadian Football League game, and it was a doozie: the 1987 Western Division Semi-final.

Dream into action
Watching a pro football game live was like a dream, as corny as that sounds. I’d seen dozens of games on TV but that seemed like another world, like it wasn’t even real. When I headed off to university in Edmonton in September of 1987, that was not on the top of my list.

So, a couple months later when my next door neighbour Daryl invited me and my roommate Chris Vining to go to the Western Semi-final, I jumped at the chance. Not only was it a pro game at Commonwealth Stadium, but my favourite team, the Calgary Stampeders, was Edmonton’s competition.

It was just two short years earlier the Stampeders almost went under, if not for the SOS (Save Our Stampeders) campaign at the end of 1985, and the beginning of 1986. The Stamps managed to rebuild and make the playoffs in 1986 losing to the Eskimos, and were back again in 1987 looking for redemption.

The Eskimos were the defending Western Division champions, but were humiliated in the 1986 Grey Cup by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (which included Jim Rockford, who had played with J.C. Watts' Oklahoma Sooner team that mounted that amazing comeback in the 1981 Orange Bowl). They too were looking for their own redemption.

Road trip, no free parking
Daryl and his best friend Mike were from Whitecourt, and another friend of theirs drove us to the game. It really was surreal. We snaked through the traffic into what seemed like a residential area when suddenly, looming in the distance, was Commonwealth Stadium. It is hard to describe the size and grandeur of seeing that stadium for the first time. Television never did it justice.

Finding a parking spot was the first great adventure. Suddenly, people holding up signs with prices appeared, offering their yards and alleys for us to park. Our driver selected one and followed his directions into a yard where we were packed in like sardines. All I could think was, we better not leave early because we couldn't. How could this be legal? 

Game time
Our seats were in the bleachers in the west side of the north end zone, I think. The sun shone on that bright Sunday, November 15 afternoon, but it was deceptive. I thought I had dressed for the cold, and was bundled up with several layers – except for my feet. One pair of white athletic socks would prove not to be nearly enough.

The whole first quarter I just kept thinking, "I can't believe I'm here."

The Eskimos scored the only points of the quarter and led 7-0 after 15 minutes. The second quarter was pretty much the same, as they upped their lead to 10-6 by halftime. As became the norm at all games in Edmonton, no matter what the sport, we were surrounded by Edmonton fans. They never let us forget the score, or the fact the Eskimos were winning. It did not help that Calgary's offence could not move the ball. Their only points came off a couple J.T. Hay field goals.

Faint hope
Then things changed on a dime, as they often can in the CFL. After Edmonton kicker Jerry Kauric made the score 13-6, Calgary's offence sputtered again and they had to punt. On the ensuing drive, Calgary free safety Greg Peterson intercepted a Matt Dunigan pass in his own end zone. Me and Vining cheered loudly, our first hope. But Peterson broke a tackle, got into the open and took the ball all the way to the end zone. Our cheering got louder and louder as he approached us, climaxing in an explosion of high fives as Peterson crossed the goal line. We looked over in the direction of those obnoxious Eskimo fans and just smirked. When the smoke cleared, it was a 106-yard return, which was a CFL playoff record at that time, lasting 10 years. All of a sudden, miraculously, the Stampeders had tied the game at 13-13. It was a new ball game.

Not for long. The Eskimo defence smothered Calgary's offence, not allowing a touchdown the entire game. Calgary's defence kept Edmonton out of the end zone too, but the field goals began to mount. Kauric tacked on two more before the end of the quarter, making the score 19-13 with just 15 minutes to play.

There was still hope, but Edmonton never let Calgary get close. They traded field goals, and Edmonton added a single to make it 23-13. Calgary had one more hope, but turned the ball over deep in their own territory with very little time left on the clock. All Edmonton had to do was run out the clock to end a game they had already won. Instead, of going down on one knee, Dunigan plunged straight ahead on the goal line for another touchdown, making the final score 30-16. I never liked Dunigan as a player to that point, and revelled in his humiliation in the Grey Cup the year before. Now, he showed how little class he had, running up the score like he did.

The Eskimos went to Vancouver the following week, upset the first-place B.C. Lions in the Western Final, then won the Grey Cup, also in Vancouver's B.C. Place, the following week on a last-play field goal by Kauric.

The third option
Daryl and Mike were sporting the colours of their favourite team: the Saskatchewan Roughriders. It was my first exposure to that uniquely Canadian phenomenon: Rider Pride.

Part way through the second quarter, we we were jeering Dunigan. Mike and Daryl joined in.

"Matthew, you weenie!" Mike yelled.

"You suck," Daryl added.

Our newfound friends, the Eskimo fans, told them to sit down.

Then the Stampeders got possession.

"Boo," Mike yelled. "Calgary sucks!'

"Ya," Daryl chimed in.

The Eskimo fans were perplexed now.

“Who ARE you cheering for?” one of them asked.

“The Riders.”

Post-game show
As the temperature dropped, and our hopes faded, my toes got more and more numb. I could not believe I had not worn more than one pair of socks when I double and triple-layered all my other clothing. Still, it did not hamper my enjoyment of the experience.

After the game, Daryl took off and told us to join him. We ran onto the field, and just walked around for maybe 20 minutes. It was like standing on plush carpet, it was so soft and full of body. It was the last natural turf in the CFL, and had won all kinds of awards. I could understand why.

When we got back to our room in res, I immediately ducked under the covers to warm up, and stayed there for over an hour. I had been so cold – but it was so worth it.

Every time after that, and I have now seen close to 60 football games, I wore at least two pairs of socks, and sometimes three.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Rite of passage: My high school jacket

The Glenbow Museum has this photo of Kate Andrews
High School the way I still remember it.
It took a little while to warm to the idea. I’m not sure why I finally decided to, but part way through Grade 11, I bought a high school jacket. White leather arms, dark baby blue melton, and “KA” in black lettering. It took me a minute to figure out my grad year because it seemed so far away. I recall counting it out a few times to make sure it was 1987. So that’s what was on one shoulder “Grad ‘87”, while on the other shoulder was my name, “Rob”. That was it.

And that’s what made me hesitate. I always thought you had to earn a jacket, like if you played football or basketball. But really, it was the letters you earned. Everyone was a student at Kate Andrews so they had just as much a right to wear their school colours as the jocks.

What kind of put me over the top was something my best friend Chris Vining said.

“We can wear our high school jackets when we’re on campus.”

I had not even thought that far ahead.

A couple years later, that’s in fact what we were doing.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

McLennan’s: Discovering video games

Pac Man
Missile Command
Space Invaders
One of the drawbacks about growing up on the farm was that I did not get to spend a lot of time in town or with my friends.

That all changed when I entered junior high and we started taking shop classes over at the high school once a week. Every Thursday, we had regular classes at St. Joe’s then over lunch hour walked over to Kate Andrews High School.

It was a new freedom for me. A chance to check out Mac’s and Red Rooster and – the arcade. It was called McLennan’s and you could hear the video games even before you entered the building. It was in downtown Coaldale, right beside a butcher shop.

McLennan’s was where I first encountered Pac Man, and Ms. Pac Man, Q*bert, Centipede, its son Millipede, Missile Command, Berzerk and its cousin Frenzy, and my all-time favourite Space Invaders. It’s also where I first feared for my life and my safety.

There is nothing I have seen like the arcade atmosphere of the 1980s. There were players, and people who just crowded around the consoles to watch them.

The currency was the quarter, the goal was to stay alive as long as you could in whatever electronic environment you chose, earning as many points as possible along the way. You could become a man, a gun, a ship, even just a pair of crosshairs. Players lived vicariously through all of this video incarnations and much more.

Because I never really had a lot of money, I didn’t play a lot of video games. Not like some guys I knew who played a lot. That was the only way to get any good though was by practising. Unfortunately, some guys got addicted. They ended up stealing from friends and parents to play just one more game or another.

I can understand that compulsion to play. You kind of go through stages. At first you learn the rules, usually by watching other guys play. Then you get better by developing some sort of pattern. There is a high in going farther and farther, your score continuing to climb. The rush ends just as quickly when you run out of lives or men. Sometimes it is an irresistible urge to play again. Especially a little bit later when, if you plugged in more money before a certain time, you could continue from where you left off as opposed to starting all the way back at the beginning.

There was something different about arcade video games. I had an Intellivision and later a Commodore 64. It may have been the graphics, or the playability, or the atmosphere, but there was just something better about playing a video game in the arcade. Maybe it was standing up, as opposed to sitting or lying down. Or being surrounded by a dozen backseat players.

Early 18th birthday present: My first Bruins game

Glen Wesley was another favourite,
although his time in Boston was too brief.
Cam Neely, my favourite Bruin.
It could not have been a better present for my 18th birthday. Not only did I get to see my favourite hockey team in the whole world win, but they beat the best team in the world to do it.

I was in my first year university in Edmonton, not even away from home an entire year, when the Boston Bruins came to town. I had been a fan since I was five years old and, living on that farm, never thought I would ever get to see them.

Back then, the National Hockey League played an unbalanced schedule so the Bruins, who played in a different division and conference, came to Edmonton once a year. It was the same time of year, and it happened to be the second week of February, coming very close to my birthday.

In 1988, the date was February 12. The Engineering Students Society periodically sponsored a party and a bus to go to Oiler games. We had a friend on our floor, Mak, who always let us know and could get us tickets. The price included the game and a bus ride to and from the Northlands Coliseum. My roommate Chris Vining had already taken advantage once, going to see the Chicago Blackhawks.

As luck would have it, the engineers were going to the Boston game, and Mak made sure there were spots for me and Vining.

What followed was the most memorable game I have ever seen. Not just because it was my first ever NHL game either.

The setting
The Northlands Coliseum was just a picture on TV when I was a kid. We saw it often, because by the dawn of the 1987-1988 season, the Oilers had been to four of the previous five Stanley Cup finals, and won three of them. They were always on TV.

Nothing prepared me for the Coliseum. When we entered, it was surreal. Everything I had seen on TV the past seven-plus years was right in front of me. "That was the ice surface", I thought. When I turned to start climbing the stairs to our seats, I was amazed. I’d gone to a fair number of Lethbridge Bronco games at the Sportsplex, and that had been the biggest arena I’d ever been in for a hockey game. Looming in front of me was the Sportsplex with two bowls of seats added on top. It was huge.

As we climbed the stairs (Vining led the way), my nose didn’t bleed, but I was winded. And back then, I was in the best shape of my life. We were so high up, we could look down into the press box and see the replays on their monitors.

We settled in. Pretty soon, it was time for the national anthem, then the opening face off. I was pumped.

Gord Kluzak first caught my attention
as part of the 1981 Canadian World
Junior team.
Goaltender Rejean Lemelin, another  all-time
favourite, back to his days with the Calgary Flames.
The teams
The leader of the Boston Bruins was defenceman Raymond Bourque, one of the greatest ever to play the game. My favourite Bruin was rugged winger Cam Neely. They also added goalie Rejean Lemelin, who I’d grown up watching play for the Calgary Flames. They had four other great defencemen too: Glen Wesley, Don Sweeney, Michael Thelven, and Gord Kluzak (who had made his mark on that 1981 Canadian world junior gold medal team). Their coach was Terry O’Reilly, who was a tough guy with the Bruins when I was growing up. He was still relatively young, especially as far as NHL coaches went.

They were not a high-scoring team, but didn’t need to be playing in the low-scoring, defence-minded Adams Division. They were a tough, gritty team.

Conversely, the Oilers were one of the highest scoring teams in NHL history, boasting captain Wayne Gretzky, the best player on earth, and a cast of future hall-of-famers, including Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, Jari Kurri, and Grant Fuhr. They were the defending Stanley Cup champions and were one of the favourites to win it again.

This was what my favourite team faced.

The game: Inauspicious beginning
It did not look good early on. Before the game was too old, I almost began to regret the abuse I was sure I would take by buying a Bruins pennant at one of the souvenir stands. The Oilers scored early, and pretty often. Before I knew it, they had surged to a 4-1 lead.

"It only gets worse," one nearby Oiler supporter said when he noticed my Bruins pennant.

And he said that after every goal they scored.

Given the Bruins didn't have a lot of offensive fire power, things looked bleak.

The game: It only gets worse
Ray Bourque, one of the
best Bruins ever.
I wish I knew what O'Reilly said to his team in the first intermission. When the second period started, the Bruins were a different team. They scored, and scored again, and again.

Vining looked over at our newfound friend.

"It only gets worse!' he yelled – after every goal.

What was the Oiler supporter's response?

"Who's got more cups?"

That was the standard response of Oiler supporters back then, usually in response to the fans of their arch-rivals the Calgary Flames who had never won the Stanley Cup to that point.

I looked at this guy kind of puzzled.

"Um," I said. "The Bruins do."

The game: Bring on Warren
When we were growing up, there was a goalie who played for the Calgary Wranglers we came to like named Warren Skorodenski. On that day, he was backing up Grant Fuhr, who was one of the best goalies in the world, and had just beat the Soviets in the 1987 Canada Cup.

After the Bruins got a couple quick ones past Fuhr, me and Vining started another chant:

"We want Warren!"

The Oiler supporters around us had no idea what we were talking about, and told us so.

"See, they don't even know their own team," I muttered to Vining.

Oiler back-up Warren Skorodenski, who replaced
starter Grant Fuhr after the Bruins chased him.
Skorodenski was an old favourite from his
junior days with the Calgary Wranglers.
Suddenly everyone knew. It came over the loud speaker.

"Now playing goal for the Edmonton Oilers, number 30, Warren Skorodenski."

We screamed our approval. Everyone else frowned.

By the time the dust had cleared, the Bruins had scored six unanswered goals and cruised to a 7-4 victory.

Ten different Bruins hit the score sheet: Ray Bourque had a goal and an assist; Randy Burridge had a goal and three assists; Lyndon Byers had a goal; Geoff Courtnall, who would be traded to the Oilers not too much later, had two goals; Steve Kasper had a goal and two assists; Reed Larson had an assist; Tom Lehman had an assist; Ken Linseman, a former Oiler, had two assists; Bob Sweeney had a goal and two assists; and Glen Wesley had an assist.

The defence rests
About half way through the third period, the Oilers were crossing centre ice with the puck, when Vining said:

"Look at that. Five Bruins across the blue line."

Boston had boarded up the net.

Once the final buzzer sounded, we let out one last cheer. Otherwise, the place was a morgue. It was awesome.

I could never have asked for a better 18th birthday present.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

First concert: Boston, Fall 1988, Northlands Coliseum

The cover for Boston's self-titled debut album,
featuring "More Than a Feeling", and "Peace of Mind".
It was a dream come true, something I never dreamed possible when I was sitting in my bedroom with the headphones on late at night listening to Boston on tape. In the fall of 1988, just a couple months into my second year of university, I saw Boston live in concert at the Northlands Coliseum in Edmonton.

The seed
My love for Boston came pretty quickly. At the end of Grade 11, I started hanging out with a classmate named Randy. He was a year older than me, as was everyone in my class, and he had a car – and a stereo. And, his mom loved music. One day, he came to school with a tape he made from his mom’s collection. We listened to it while we cruised the streets of Coaldale after class. Two songs I distinctly remember being on that tape were “Dream Weaver” by Gary Wright, and “More than a Feeling” by Boston. That summer, we went to visit my brother in Calgary. He always said I could record any of his music, and the man had tons of vinyl. One of the albums was Boston’s debut album, which contained “More than a Feeling”. He recorded that album on tape for me, and I never tired of listening to it. Little did I know, there was more to come.

The Third Stage
Grade 12 was maybe a month old, when I was listening to LA-107 FM, and they advertised their next album highlight. Every week night, the album-oriented radio station played a few songs and provided a bit of history on a new record that had just come out. That night’s album highlight was “The Third Stage” by Boston. I had something else going at 7 p.m., so I actually set my ghetto blaster to record the album highlight. It was the best decision I ever made.

I didn’t listen to the tape until it was time for bed that night. I put on my headphones and got my first real introduction to Boston.

Since then, I have listened to that tape so often, I can pretty much recite the intro to that album highlight: "They were a pretty hot band in the 70's then kind of faded away. Now Boston's back with 'Third Stages'". I distinctly recall the deejay getting the name of the album wrong.

Then the slow intro to "Can'tcha Say" began and I was hooked. "Holly Ann" followed, then "Amanda", which was the first single they had released.

The deejay came back on and gave some history on the band, especially guitar player and band leader Tom Scholz. He was an engineer who experimented with sound. He invented a machine called a "Rockman" which was described as a pocket amplifier that a guitar plugged into, and its sound was evident throughout the album. Other artists, such as Berlin, would use the "Rockman" as well. A broken tone bender was also used in one song to create a distinctive sound.

After their debut album, which sat on the charts almost two years, they put out "Don't Look Back", a follow-up album that also charted well. Then, Scholz got into some legal problems, and did not fulfill his contract for another album. Consequently, some of the songs were more than a decade in the making, as the deejay referred to the notes to the album.

The version of Boston that produced the "Third Stage" album was completely different from the 1970s version of the band. The only holdovers were Scholz, and lead singer Brad Delp. His voice gave Boston the same vocal sound as we all heard on their first two albums. Gone were Barry Goudreau, Sib Hashian, and Fran Sheehan, although the last two were credited on the album.

The original lineup for Boston, which was long gone by 1986.
From left are Barry Goudreau, Tom Scholz, Sib Hashian,
Brad Delp, and Fran Sheehan.
That album highlight concluded with another song, "I Think I Like it". When the deejay introduced it, he said it was "To Be a Man". I guess he probably never checked the script against he songs.

I must have played that recording more than a hundred times. Eventually I bought the "Third Stage" record through Columbia House and my sister dubbed it onto a blank tape for me.

In Social 30, my teacher Mr. Vuch used to talk about music. One day he mentioned an article he read in Time magazine on Tom Scholz. I told him I had become a big fan, so he made me a photocopy. It was only a one-page article, but recounted how Scholz was an engineer who never let stardom affect him. He still lived in the same small, old brick house in Boston, and drove the same old Volvo.

By the late fall of 1986, "Amanda" caught fire and shot up to the top of charts where it stayed for two weeks. The album climbed the charts too, reaching and staying at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks.

The second single, "We're Ready" also charted, peaking at number nine, but there was no more top 10 success. They released "Can'tcha Say" and it peaked at number 20. I was surprised because I loved that song.

In concert
Boston remained in my listening rotation when I headed off to university in Edmonton in the fall of 1987, but they there was no follow-up singles or album, so they fell off my radar.

Then, in the fall of 1988, my second year of university, I heard they were coming to Edmonton. They would be making their first tour ever into Western Canada, and the Northlands Coliseum was one of the stops.

The problem was that I had no credit card, therefore little chance of getting a ticket. Besides I wasn't sure I had anyone to go with. And I didn't know what to do. I had never been to a concert – ever.

Enter a girl on my floor, Peg from Peterborough. She loved Boston and did all the work, getting tickets for me, her, and her boyfriend, which actually changed between the time she bought the tickets and we were riding the LRT to the concert.

When we got there, I experienced another first. I bought a concert shirt. It was black and had the same drawing as appeared on their first album cover.

The concert was awesome. Scholz came out, sporting a huge knee brace, limiting his mobility. He basically just stood there and played. That was fine by me, but critics panned his performance the next day. The Edmonton Sun headline was "Less than a feeling". I was enraged.

Anyway, Boston did just what I wanted: they played all the songs I liked – except "Holly Ann".

They left the stage for the obligatory encore. I hooped and hollered. Peg and Greg ran down to the concert floor (we were in the first row of seats behind one of the players' benches). All of a sudden the band returned – and they played "Holly Ann".

Then, I found myself alone. All the people who had been sitting around us disappeared. Scholz went into the solo at the end of the song, and played right along on my air guitar. He looked in my direction and I pointed at him. I swear he pointed right back at me. I swear.

Parting thoughts
You always remember your first. Considering Boston had never come to Western Canada, and I never thought they would, they were the best band to be the first I saw in concert.

In high school I was profoundly affected by Tom Scholz. He seemed like a nerd who had made good, and I had always felt like a nerd. Here was an engineer who was not only rocking out, but sitting on the top of the charts. He never sold out, or played by the rules set out by heartless recording companies. Instead, he seemed to stay true to his vision and I always admired that.

And Brad Delp's vocals are amazing. "Amanda" remains one of my top ten favourite songs, and it is his voice as much as everything else in that song. Sadly, Brad Delp committed suicide in 2007, and it was a waste, a sad ending to a life that entertained, and even inspired, a generation.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Walking the runway with Wang Chung

It came like a shock from the unknown. It was a simple question, really, but I had to ask myself, “Who me?”

It was Grade 12 and one of the members of the grad committee, confronted me in the lunch room right near the front doors. It was Kate Andrews High School, second semester, 1987. She looked serious. I worried.

“Do you want to be in the grad fashion show?” she asked.

Never, in a million years, had I thought that would ever happen.

It took close to one nanosecond for me to answer: “Ya.”

Stuff like that was always for the cool kids in school. Was I actually cool now? It really didn’t matter because I was working, going to school, having my heart broken by a girl, and beginning to see the end of high school, and university in a far off place looming on the horizon.

Clothes make the man
All us models were told to head downtown to Herb Fletcher’s Men’s Wear to choose a few outfits: one tuxedo, one semi-formal, and one casual.

It was an amazing experience. Herb, at least I thought it was Herb, knew just what to do. He gave us a catalogue of tuxedos to leaf through. Tuxedos! It was so cool. I chose a black one with a longer jacket.

I remember when one f the other guys, Tony I think, came out of the change room, fully decked out in his tuxedo. He walked about five feet, spun, looked me in the eye and said, “Bond – James Bond.” We both giggled, you know like two 17-year-olds should.

When I emerged from the change room in my black tuxedo, I was still in disbelief. It was so cool. Herb conveniently told us we could rent those tuxes for grad, and marked in the catalogue which ones we had modelled. I went home and told my mom I would love to wear a tuxedo for grad. She said she’d planned on buying me a suit, but this was just as good. In retrospect, to this day, I think it was better.

That day, I also chose a steel gray jacket with a tie for my semi-formal, and pair of black pants and a yellow shirt with a black boxed pattern for my casual wear.

My mom always said “clothes make the man” (or at least the German equivalent) . I felt like a man now.

Show time
We had no rehearsal, and no preparation. It was a week night, a Wednesday I think, and I drove to the school early. We got dressed, formal wear first, and that tux felt so nice. I ended up walking around the lunch room which was next to the gym. One of the girls had some modelling experience and demonstrated how to walk. Well, there was no way I could move like that. I thought I would just follow the lead of my partner.

It was show time, and the emcees were Ed Ryan, our guidance counsellor, and Angie Credico, our sewing/home economics teacher. Mr. Ryan, who was like a second father to me, was a radio announcer in his previous life, and he was a great host.

Suddenly, “Let’s Go” by Wang Chung was playing, and I accompanied my escort down the runway. It was so awesome! Once we left the stage, we quickly changed and repeated the runway walk.

There was a change of plans for whatever reason, for the casual wear. I went out with Jason and Rachel. We walked down the centre together, then each of them went in a different direction, leaving me facing the crowd. I didn’t know what to do, so I did what came naturally – nothing. I stood, and kind of walked in place. I felt like a soldier marching. They completed their turns, we joined up and walked off together. We were laughing so hard when we got off the runway.

It was the beginning – and end – of my modelling career. But every time I hear “Let’s Go” I think of that special night I got to feel, or at least dress, like I was important.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Cruisin’: The night of the "Easter Epic"

Where were you when the the "Easter Epic" ended?

What is the "Easter Epic" you ask? Well, back in 1987, it was not called that, but as the legend grew, one of the most famous first round series' and the longest Game 7 in Stanley Cup history, acquired this name.

Incidentally, I was in my parents’ 1974 Oldsmobile Omega cruising the streets of Lethbridge.

Nice night for a drive…and an overtime marathon
It was the spring of 1987, April 18 to be exact, and I had had my licence about six months. A normal Friday night for me was going to the Lethbridge YMCA with my friends, dropping down a $1 bill for “Teen Night”, and playing some racquetball, and later basketball. The place closed at 10 p.m., so we got something to eat, then went cruisin’.

We always took turns driving. This particular night, I picked up my best friend Chris Vining. Before I left the farm, I had watched a couple minutes of the Capitals-Islanders game. It was the Patrick Division semi-final, tied three games apiece with the deciding Game 7 in Washington. When I pulled up to Vining’s place in Coaldale, he told me it was 1-1.

That was the last we thought of the game.

Instead, we played some ball, had something to eat and cruised. It was the same route over and over, but we never got bored. Why? Because there was always the promise, or so we thought, of finding some girls to hang out with – no matter how remote the possibility was.

When I dropped Vining off, I joked: “I wonder if the game is still on.” It was about 12:30 a.m.
The New York Islanders celebrate Pat LaFontaine's goal in the fourth overtime period of Game 7 of the 1987
Patrick Division Semi-final. It remains the longest Game 7 in Stanley Cup playoff history.
LaFontaine's heroics
The next day, Vining phoned me.

“You know what?” he said. “When I walked in the house, mom said the game had just ended a few minutes earlier.”

It had turned out to be an epic battle. Washington came out flying, but could not beat Islander goaltender Kelly Hrudey. Finally, with 48 seconds left in the opening period, Mike Gartner scored for the Capitals, with assists from Greg Adams and Scott Stevens, to give them a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes.

Pat Flatley tied it for New York with 8:25 to go in the second period, but Washington responded. With 1:15 left in the period, Grant Martin put the Capitals ahead with help from Adams and Larry Murphy.

That 2-1 score held up until Bryan Trottier tied the game 2-2 with with just over five minutes remaining in the third.

There was no more scoring in regulation time, or the first, second, or third overtime periods. Finally, with eight minutes gone in the fourth overtime period, New York's Pat LaFontaine took a turnaround snap shot from near the top of the face-off circle. It looked harmless, but beat goaltender Bob Mason to end the game after 68 minutes and 47 seconds of overtime. The assists went to Ken Leiter and Gord Dineen.

Everyone was exhausted, but they had cemented their place in history. Hrudey stopped a record 73 shots, including 50 straight after Martin's goal had made it 2-1 for Washington.

The situation
Washington had finished second and New York third in the Patrick Division that year, setting up a semi-final series that was the fifth straight year the two teams met in the playoffs. The year before, the Capitals eliminated the Islanders the earliest time in their history, although New York had won the other three series.

Washington jumped out to a 3-1 series lead, before the Islanders won two straight to set up the decisive Game 7. Their victory was just the second time in 12 years a team had come back from that kind of deficit.

There was no rest for the wicked as the Islanders had to re-group to face the well-rested Philadelphia Flyers. Again, the Islanders fell behind in the series 3-1, and again they battled back to force a decisive Game 7. The clock struck midnight for this Cinderella, as the Flyers won 5-1 to take the series. They would go on to the Stanley Cup final, losing in seven games to the Edmonton Oilers.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Remembering August Schellenberg

Canadian actor August Schellenberg, who appeared
in virtually every TV series shot in Canada, died on
August 15. He was 77. He also played the
patriarch in the Canadian TV movie "Striker's Mountain".
Yesterday I heard Canadian actor August Schellenberg died. Most people I think would recognize him, even if they didn't recognize the name.

According to all the tributes, he is praised as being one of the best Native-Canadian actors ever. That description certainly fits, given such roles as Sitting Bull in "Crazy Horse" and "Bury My Heart at Wouned Knee" (for which he was nominated for an Emmy); Cochise in "Geronimo"; Randolph Johnson, Haida keeper of Willy the Orca in "Free Willy"; and the Algonquin Chief Chomina in "Black Robe".

He guest starred in virtually every TV series filmed in Canada from "The New Avengers", "ENG", "Street Legal", "Seeing Things", "Night Heat", and "Adderley", to "Hangin' In", "The Edison Twins", "The Littlest Hobo", "Road to Avonlea", "Friday the 13th", "The Hitchhiker", "Due South", "Lonesome Dove", "Counterstrike", and "North of 60".

He also guest starred in some American primetime series' such as "Grey's Anatomy", "The Equalizer", "Airwolf", and "Walker, Texas Ranger".

Striker's Mountain
However, for me, August Schellenberg's most memorable role is as "Jake Striker" in the Canadian TV movie "Striker's Mountain", for which I devoted a blog post in July.

He plays the patriarch of a family that owns a ski hill that has fallen on hard times, and is under threat from a developer. He is struggling between preserving the only way of life he has known, and trying new things to keep the operation viable, such as heli-skiing.

Schellenberg plays the consummate patriarch, navigating the difficult waters of a parent with grown children who have their own ideas.

August Schellenberg was a prolific actor. I was surprised at the depth and breadth of his work. Quite frankly, I was surprised he was a Native-Canadian actor, because the role of Jake Striker was a non-Native role, and that was the first role I saw him in. Still, it was a powerful and passionate performance, and gave just a hint of the talent he possessed. That talent was evident by the Emmy nomination he received in 2007

The fact he kept on working, right up until his death at age 77, is a testament to that talent and versatility.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Human League at the house party

Now I was not one of the most popular kids in high school. It wasn’t until Grade 12 that I got invited to my first house party, but a memorable one it was.
Every time I hear "Human" by the Human League, I think of that party in October of 1986.

Invitation only
This girl named Monica, who I had known since early in elementary school, was throwing a birthday party for one of her friends, Michelle I think. By then, in Grade 12, the social circles were evolving, and we all kind of began to become friends with each other. So I was surprised, and thrilled, that she invited me over to watch movies, with a bunch of other mutual friends.

There was Chris Vining, my best friend at the time. We were pretty much inseparable. My friend Randy, who I'd been bench partners the semester before in Biology 20, was also going so I was stoked. There was another very important reason to go.

For the better part of a year, I had this crush on a classmate that I had no guts to act on. By then, we were kind of on the outs, although that would change, and another girl, Mal, caught my eye. She had even shown some interest, by passing me a note in social class.

She was one of Monica's closest friends – and she was going to be there.

I picked up Vining, and we arrived at the appointed time, after the actual birthday portion of the evening was over. I had just got my driver's licence over the summer, and this was one of the first times I had the car on my own out at night. It was awesome, although I was nervous, as me and Vining pulled up to the party.

When we got to Monica’s, they were watching some videos Mal had taped. At that moment “Human” by Human League was playing. All the videos were kind of new wave-ish, like General Public and Human League. Bands with lead singers that were somewhat feminine and even a tad androgynous.

Vining scoffed, especially at General Public. Mal scoffed back because she really dug that stuff. I wasn't a fan either, but I did sure like that Human League song.

I cannot recall what movies we watched, which is odd, but I do recall sitting around and talking afterwards. I could not take my eyes off Mal. She sat on the floor, her legs crossed, looking all beautiful, just taking in everything that was being said. Randy left, and took Vining with him. Another friend of the time, Dave, kind of took over the conversation, along with Monica, and they were talking about ghosts and ghost stories. I kept looking over at Mal, making the occasional comment, trying to make her laugh or at least get her attention. I wasn't that successful though.

The evening was beginning to wind down. Mal needed a lift home, and it would have been the perfect time to talk to her.

Instead, I hesitated. Another buddy, Mike, who actually had a girlfriend, did the gentlemanly thing and offered her a ride home. I stood there, frozen in time. I recall, pulling out of the driveway and following them all the way to the four-way stop at the junction to Highway 3 in Coaldale. Mike was turning left, into town. I was going right to head back to the farm. As I pulled into the right turning lane, I saw Mal, a few feet away in the passenger side of Mike's car. She might as well have been a thousand miles away.

She looked over as I was staring at her. She smiled and waved.

Then she was gone. So was my chance.

Not much after that, she found a boyfriend.

Whenever I hear "Human", I wonder what could have been. What would have happened, had I taken her home, and had just a few minutes alone with her in the car? How my life would have been different, if I had just taken a chance. Or would it? We will never know.

After all:

"I'm only human
Of flesh and blood I'm made
Born to make mistakes"

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Ted Wass: Moving behind the camera

Ted Wass as Danny Dallas in the sitcom "Soap".
Recently I was watching a rerun of “2 Broke Girls” and it wasn’t the actors who rang a bell. That night it was the director – Ted Wass.

At various times he has been the father to “Blossom”, and the heir apparent to Inspector Clouseau in the “Pink Panther” movies. However, I remember him as part of a cast of one of the ground-breaking sitcoms of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Ted Wass played Danny Dallas in “Soap”, which broke taboos and addressed subjects rarely mentioned to that point on television. It was pioneering, and able to do that through a clever plot device. It spoofed soap operas, which were already renowned for outlandish plots. It provided the perfect cover to attack dozens of social issues, and Ted Wass played a big role.

Another Dallas in a soap opera
The show was created by Susan Harris, Paul Junger Witt, and Tony Thomas. It centred around two sisters: Jessica Tate (Katherine Helmond) and Mary Campbell (Cathryn Damon), who had more secrets than anyone could count.

Wass played Danny Dallas, Mary's eldest son, and protective older brother to Jodie Dallas (Billy Crystal). In the first season, Danny was told by the mob his late father had been murdered, and he was to avenge that death by killing his father's murderer. There was just one problem though: the supposed murderer was Danny's step-father Burt Campbell (Richard Mulliagan). He spends the first season first trying to kill Burt but unable to do so, when he discovers Burt acted in self-defence. Consequently, Danny has to take it on the run, ultimately cutting a deal where he has to marry Elaine (Dinah Manoff), the daughter of a mobster (Sorrell Booke, who later played Boss Hogg in "The Dukes of Hazzard") in exchange for his freedom. In the midst of all this, he actually goes from loathing to loving Elaine, only to see her kidnapped and murdered.

Commentary – social and otherwise
"Soap" tackled a lot of controversial issues, and brought a lot of taboo subjects to television at a time where they had rarely or ever been discussed. One of the characters was openly gay, another suffered post-traumatic stress disorder. There was a suicide attempt, the struggles of a priest who fell in love and tried to reconcile that with his sacred vows, and a boy abducted by a cult. "Soap" also mocked racial and gender stereotyping.

There was a lot of talk about sex, whether it was extra-marital affairs, promiscuity, impotence, or the power of the orgasm.

And there was of course, the perpetual spoofing of soap operas and their outlandish story lines. There was the demonic possession of a baby, an alien abduction, and a character suffering amnesia and getting lost.

Dimwitted Danny Dallas was in the thick of a lot of it.

My own take
I still cannot believe I was allowed to stay up to watch "Soap". On peasant vision, it was on Thursday nights at 9:30 p.m. on Channel 13. It followed a CTV-made show called "Live it Up", which was kind of a consumer/current affairs show hosted by Jack McGaw, Allan Edmonds, and Mary-Lou Finlay. I have vivid memories of all the plots, but never even came close to getting any of the sexual references or innuendo. It was only when the show aired every day after school in Grade 9, on Channel 7, that I began to understand what some of those deeper meanings were. Good thing too.

After four seasons, "Soap" went off the air in 1981. Ted Wass would go on to appear in some TV movies such as "I was A Mail Order Bride" with Valerie Bertinelli, and some theatrical movies such as "Curse of the Pink Panther" and "Oh God, You Devil".

There had even been talk of making Wass' character in "Curse of the Pink Panther" into a recurring character to keep the "Pink Panther" franchise going, but that never materialized after the movie bombed.

Instead, Wass landed another landmark role in 1991, as Nick Russo, Blossom's dad, in the sitcom of the same name. This show was actually produced in association with Witt and Thomas. "Blossom" also dealt with some social issues, often announced with the phrase "a very special episode".

After five seasons, "Blossom" went off the air in 1995, and Ted Wass retired from acting to focus on his directing career.

Ever since then, he has directed a episodes of "Spin City", "Everybody Hates Chris", "'Til Death", "Rules of Engagement", "Two and a Half Men", "The Big Bang Theory", and of course, "2 Broke Girls".

It is always interesting to see how many actors move behind the camera to become directors. It is just interesting for me to see how the work, and the people who directed them, influence their own direction.

Ted Wass played two distinct characters in television shows that did not shy away from tackling tough issues. Hopefully, that informs his current work, so he can bring that same depth and layering to sitcoms in the 21st Century.

Jack Klugman: Grandfather of medical examiners

Jack Klugman in his role as Quincy, medical examiner.
TV is full of medical examiners now – whether it is the crew of CSI, Maura Isles on "Rizzolli and Isles", Megan Hunt on "Body of Proof", or others. They are the next generation who owe it all to one man, someone we only knew by a single name: Quincy.

Watching some of these shows and the death of Jack Klugman over Christmas reminded me just how versatile an actor he was.

What is an autopsy?
Jack Klugman is perhaps best known in the 1980s for his role as the medical examiner with one name: Quincy. Fans never discovered what his first name was, even late in the series when he got married. The show debuted in 1976, and it is just on the outer edge of memory. I recall it being part of the rotation of the "NBC Mystery Movie" with "McCloud", "McMillan and Wife", and "Columbo". "Quincy" soon spun into its own show, that settled into a Sunday night time slot on peasant vision on CFCN-TV Channel 13. The first episode I recall seeing involved the discovery of a bone with a bullet hole in it at a construction site, and how Quincy and company re-constructed that and solved the case.

It also had a great opening. Quincy is doing a demonstration with a body on his table for police officers. As he proceeds, they begin to pass out and fall over one by one, until none are standing around his table any longer. Somewhat taken aback, Quincy just peers over his table.

The show introduced terms foreign to television before that: coroner, forensic medicine, autopsy, pathology. Apparently, the origin of the series lies in several sources. According to Wikipedia, Quincy is based on the novel "Where Death Delights" by Marshall Houts; as well as on Thomas Noguchi, known in Los Angeles at the time as "Coroner to the stars".

When I was a kid I also recall seeing a Canadian talk show with actor John Vernon as a guest. They talked about this show Vernon once starred on CBC called "Wojeck", and said it was the inspiration for "Quincy" which was then on the air. Steve Wojeck was the fictional coroner in Toronto in the 1960s.

The show had a strong ensemble cast, led by Canadian actor Robert Ito who played Quincy's assistant Sam Fujiama. There was also John S. Ragin, who played Quincy's supervisor Dr. Robert Asten; Garry Walberg who played LA homicide detective Frank Monahan; and Sal Bisoglio, who played Danny, the owner of the waterfront bar and restaurant they all frequented.

The relationships with Sam and Asten were particularly interesting. Sam started out as a trusty assistant, but his character evolved. I recall one episode where he was drawn into a web of intrigue that involved his family and the Yakuza, the Japanese version of the mob. As for Asten, there was always a healthy tension between Quincy and Asten who was his boss. Asten vacillated between being a bureaucrat and bean counter, and a pathologist himself who wanted to seek the truth as passionately and unhindered as Quincy did.

Unfortunately, as the series wore on, it became much more preachy, and less about mystery. It began to take on issues of social justice, with mixed results. At times it shone a light on issues such as the glorification of drugs in music; eating disorders; the condition of foster homes; and the definition of criminal insanity. However, Quincy became more prone to lecturing rather than examining, and there more and more soliloquies.

The last season, the show's eighth, ended in 1983. By then Quincy had met Dr. Emily Hanover, played by Anita Gillette, fallen in love and married her.

Dr. Megan Hunt, played by Dana Delaney, is a medical
examiner in Philadelphia on "Body of Proof".
Dr. Maura Isles, played by Sasha
Alexander, is a medical examiner
in Boston on "Rizzoli and Isles".
No matter how preachy and over the top the show became, the impact of Quincy on pop culture is cemented into history. The show introduced television to a part of crime investigation not before seen. Obviously, it was a rich mine for material given the explosion of medical examiners and crime scene investigators, such as Megan Hunt and Maura Isles. The technology may be more sophisticated, and the television production more slick, but there was no one better at solving a mystery than Quincy.