Another hockey season has come to an end and the improbable or for some the impossible happened. The St Louis Blues defeated the Boston Bruins in seven games winning their first cup in franchise history. Yes, those same Blues that on January 3rd had the worst record in the league.
So how the fuck did that happened? As many stunned hockey fans and bookies in Vegas were saying out loud.
Back in January, the Blues were a mess and management was ready to blow the team up. But something happened when rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington was pulled from the abyss of minor league hockey. His unflappable play sparked the Blues and they went 26-6-4 making it into the playoffs as a long shot, and I mean a long shot. Vegas had them at 250-1 winning the cup. At the beginning of the playoffs, I didn't give them any thought or a realistic chance of making it far. But they did by grinding it out and defeating the Jets, Stars, and Sharks.
That set up a cup finals with the Bruins. But there were a lot of people thought the Blues could give the Bruins a good fight. I had the Bruins winning in seven because of their depth and experience. The X factor in the series was Binnington who despite having one bad game was stellar the entire series and he single handily won game 7 stoning the Bruins numerous times. The Blues scored twice in the 1st period and I started to sense that this was going the Blues way. The Bruins had no answers until the late in the 3rd period they finally scored, but by then the game was out of reach and they Blues were going to end their 52-year drought. The Plager brothers, Bernie Ferderko, Brian Sutter, Brendan Shanahan, Brett Hull, Adam Oates, Cujo, and even Wayne Gretzky couldn't do what a bunch of nobodies did, bring home the Stanley Cup.
So how did the Blues win it all? Looking at their roster, they don't have a superstar. Nothing really pops out. But when you examine the stats sheet a little closer, you'll notice they have four solid lines. They're a big physical team. Everybody contributed. But what they had was a stud goaltender. When a goaltender gets hot, especially in the playoffs watch out, because he can carry a team. Others will say they caught lightning in a bottle. Once in a while there's a team that sneaks in the playoffs like the 2012 LA Kings and gets hot. Everything seems to go their way from flukey goals to missed calls from the refs.
For a Leafs fan like me, it's a bitter pill to swallow. I'm a diehard that bleeds blue and white. I was a fan back when they really stunk in the 80s. Most of my friend were Habs fans and I was ridiculed. The biggest hater was my father and during the hockey season, he would constantly talk trash. At times it was unbearable. But I never wavered much like those diehard Blues fans that toughed it out over the decades.
The closest the Leafs came to a cup was in 1992 when they were on the cusp of making to the finals. Late in the 3rd period Gretzky high sticks Doug Gilmour and it draws blood, but ref Kerry Fraser misses it and doesn't call a penalty. Me and other Leafs fans screamed at the TV. The inevitable happens as Gretzky scores and the Leafs lose 5-4. That was 27 years ago and it's still etched in my memory and my hatred for Fraser will go to my grave with me.
I watched the cup presentation and there were some Blues fans in attendance overjoyed and crying. For many of the Blues players, this was their first cup. Ever kid from Canada dreams of hoisting it over their heads. The motley collection of players sporting playoff beards and missing teeth gleefully skated around the rink living their childhood dream. Only I wished it was the Leafs doing it.
Now the they have the dubious distinction of owning the longest cup drought at 53 years and counting. I just hope they don't win it when I'm a nursing home sitting in a wheelchair drooling and unable to comprehend who the Leafs are.
"Is that a friggin gar??"
I curse under my breath as I watch a couple of them cruise by me. Just the sight of them is a pretty good excuse to call it a season. A few days before a little birdie told me that a couple of guys were catching some walleyes on the lower end of the Rocky. Eager at the chance of getting some, I was a couple of days too late. By now the river was clearing and there was practically no flow. Before the arrival of the gars, the month of May was one of the wettest since 1953 and it was cool enough that late arrivals found perfect conditions and lingered after spawning. Ever since I lived here, it was one of the best late season steelheading I've ever had. I took full advantage of the fishing as many of my fellow steel headers decided to call it quits weeks ago. It was more than I needed to get it out of my system because more than often, I go into fasting mode once I toss the gear in the corner.
Summer is when I take a break from fishing. I know that sounds crazy. Nearly every person I know waits with great anticipation to head out onto the big pond for walleye, bass, or perch. Others make their annual pilgrim to Canada for lakers or pike. It's a combination of being burned out chasing steelhead since last September and I need to make up for all times that I conked out on my girlfriend after a long day on the river.
So what do I do during the off season?
If I'm in the mood, I'll head over to the Vermilion to fish for channel cats in late May or early June. The lower Vermilion has plenty of deep holes and pools for cats to spawn in. Before making the trip, I'll go to the grocery store and haggle with one of the clerks working the seafood department asking what's the oldest shrimp on display. I often get a bewildered look when I ask and then that blank stare is gone when I tell them it's bait for catfish. With shrimp in hand, I let it stew on the counter for hours, the funkier, the better. Cats love the smell of rotting shrimp. The other available big quarry is carp. I've been dabbling in fly fishing for them, but ever since that virus swept through Lake Erie, the carp population got hit hard and there isn't as many as before. I've been spoiled by the hard-charging and violent fights of the steelhead that catfish and carp aren't quite up to the task. Call me a snob or an elitist, but my heart lies with the steelhead and I'm quite content to wait out the summer.
Summer is when I'm the busiest with work. The last thing I want to do is be out on the water after a day being out in the field when the sun is scorching and the humidity is stifling. Most of the time I just don't have the time because I pursue my other passion which happens to be running and once steelheading season starts, I toss the sneakers into the closest. I love to run through the metropark in the evening. It releases a lot of the stress of dealing with a busy schedule. It refreshes the mind and cleanses the soul. The weekends are devoted to spending time with my significant other. She's a saint that puts up with my passion and I try to make up the time, by taking her out for dinner on a patio somewhere in Cleveland or lying on the hammock in the evening and listen to the chorus of tree frogs.
Whenever I enter my office, there's all of my gear is scattered about. The waders and jacket are hanging up. The waders need a patching job as there are several leaks that need attention. The jacket needs a wash and coating of water repellant and the cleats on my boots are worn to a nub. But, I'm procrastinating. I always do it every year. I could devote an evening to do it, but I keep telling myself that I have all summer. You would think it would be so easy, but it's not. More than often I just forget or I don't pay attention until something like my feet are freezing because that little leak has finally turned into a bigger one.
We all need a break from our passions and pursues. As much as I love steelheading, I start to get burned out and in some cases jaded from catching so many. I know my wallet takes a beating and I fret that I'm going over my mileage limit on my car's lease. Then there's the times when I loathe sitting at the table and tying sac after sac. I look at the time and it's almost midnight and I'll be on the road in five hours driving almost a 100 miles. Over the season it starts to add up.
After the 3rd week of May, I start my fasting from steelheading and when the cool winds come across Lake Erie in the fall, I start to feel that hunger come back.