When the Greatest Game in the World Breaks Your Heart

Shaw in the Penalty Box

Screen cap via YouTube

I don’t write about it much, but if you’ve taken the time to read the “About” page on this blog, you might have noticed something about me. I’m gay. I’m also married and have kids – I didn’t come to fully accept being gay until about a year ago – but there it is. Life is weird and complicated, and so, you know. That’s just that.

I only mention this because I’m having a hard time collecting my thoughts on the Andrew Shaw controversy from last night’s Blackhawks-Blues Stanley Cup Playoff game. If you don’t know what happened – or if you aren’t as obsessed with hockey as some of us (cough, cough) – Shaw got called for a stupid penalty with only 2:04 left in the third period and the Blues up 4-3. That meant the Blues could essentially close out the game on the power play, and they didn’t even have to score. Mind you, this happened as the Blackhawks were mounting a comeback, having been down 4-2 until Duncan Keith scored a power play goal with about 5:20 left to play. Basically, Shaw’s penalty cost the Blackhawks a chance to tie the game, and possibly even to win in regulation, by pulling goalie Corey Crawford and playing six-on-five.

Who knows what would have happened, but it was an awful penalty to take.

Anyway, after being called for interference, Shaw blew a gasket, calling the referee a “fucking faggot” – twice, actually: Once when he was still on the ice, and once more from the penalty box. The second incident was caught on video, plain as day, but I saw both. In the moment it happened, I knew exactly what he said, and it felt like a punch in the gut. It’s hard to explain. It’s not so much that it hurt my feelings or even made me angry; it’s that it’s really humiliating. So much so, I had to pretend I didn’t realize what he said. But I did.

The hard part, though, is not that some jerk called somebody a “faggot.” The hard part is, Andrew Shaw is one of my favorite players. That’s not a popular opinion among hockey fans. Shaw is irritating, talks too much, seems to be a little thin-skinned. And he often gets called for stupid penalties, like he did last night. Yet, sometimes he plays with a level of intensity that you don’t see from more traditionally gifted hockey players. He has an almost Dennis Rodman-like ability to get under opposing players’ skin, and so he draws them into making stupid mistakes of their own. Also like Rodman, he’s actually an exceptionally skilled athlete; so he’s not just a goon who fits a particular niche. I don’t know quite how to explain it, but there’s something compelling about the way Shaw plays, flaws and all.

Hockey is, far and away, the quirkiest of all the major sports, and that quirkiness is a huge part of why the sport is so addictive. It has its own language (they’re sweaters, not jerseys, and the space between the goalie’s legs is the five-hole). It’s the meanest sport ever invented, but it was invented by Canadians, the nicest, politest people on the planet. It makes absolutely no sense (it’s basically soccer or polo, but you play it on ice so no matter how skilled you are you fall flat on your ass on a regular basis). And because of all that, it’s exactly what Eddie Olczyk says it is. It’s the greatest game in the world.

So for reasons I can’t quite explain, Andrew Shaw just sort of fits it perfectly.

But it’s more than that. There’s a lot to like about Shaw as a person. When he first came to the Blackhawks, he wore a wristband with the name of the local iron workers’ union from the small town in Ontario where he grew up, because most of his friends back home worked in the steel mills. During the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, Shaw took a puck to the face, costing him a half-dozen or so stitches. He later auctioned the stitches on eBay to raise money for charity. And during last year’s Stanley Cup run, his brother came to Chicago to work construction on the Wrigley Field renovations.

All of this makes Shaw more of a three dimensional person than the typical hockey troublemaker, and I do think that, for the most part, he’s a decent guy. On Twitter, Chris Hine, an openly gay sports reporter for the Chicago Tribune who covers the Blackhawks, said that after both Shaw and the Blackhawks organization issued their most likely PR-inspired apologies for the incident, Shaw took the time to talk to Hine personally:

That’s not the sign of a horrible person; that’s the sign of a good guy who made a horrible mistake.

At the same time, as Hine noted in today’s Tribune, even causal use of a slur like that has a real impact:

That word is why gay athletes everywhere hide their sexual identity and often live lives of torment. It’s why some contemplate suicide and develop emotional and psychological issues they might never rectify.

Obviously, it’s not just athletes who feel that pain. We all do, whether or not we’re out, and whether or not we have supportive family and friends.

Truthfully, it’s a lot worse when a likable person – a good guy – uses a slur like that, because it causes you to question all the likeable people you know. It causes you to question all the people who appear to be open-minded and supportive, because you realize even open-minded, supportive people grew up in an environment where the casual use of words like “faggot” was generally accepted.

I hate to say this, but incidents like Shaw’s rant are the sort of thing that make me leery of, even uncomfortable around, people I don’t know. They make me wonder if I’m safe around other people, especially strangers, and whether it’ll ever be okay for me to be myself.

When you can’t even sit down to watch a playoff hockey game without being confronted with questions like these, it’s … I don’t know. It’s just hard, I guess.

And lord knows, playoff hockey is stressful enough.

© 2016 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day

Starry Plough

The Starry Plough flag, flown by the Irish Citizens’ Army during the 1916 Easter Rising

While some of you may have been dying your hair green and preparing for a day of cultural appropriation and debauchery, I was up at the usual ungodly morning hour to run, which is how I like to commemorate the day. As I (ahem) might have said on various social media platforms, I don’t get drunk on the Feast of St. Patrick because I’m actually Irish and I’m not a goddamned amateur.

I do, however, like to mark the occasion in honor of My Sainted Irish Mother™, whose ancestral home, County Sligo in Connacht in the northwest of Ireland near Ulster, is where William Butler Yeats came to rest beneath a tombstone the reads:

Cast a cold Eye
On Life, on Death.
Horseman pass by.

And there’s no better way to mark the occasion than with music, Irish being a particularly lyrical culture. While the Pogues’ “Thousands Are Sailing” is nearly perfect and is easily the most poetic rock ’n roll song ever written …


Where e’er we go we celebrate the land that makes us refugees

… my go-to song every seventeenth of March is Thin Lizzy’s version of the Irish saga, “Róisín Dubh,” or “The Legend of the Black Rose”:


Tell me the legends of long ago, when the kings and queens would dance in the realm of the Black Rose …

Here’s the thing about “The Legend of the Black Rose.” It’s a great song. It’s loud and fast and epic, and it has guitars that sound like bagpipes. What’s not to like? But more than that, “The Legend of the Black Rose” satisfies, in and of itself, the entire universe’s need for a lengthy, bloviating rock ’n roll saga. This one song, bagpipe-sounding guitars and all, easily surpasses – and could easily replace – every self-indulgent eighteen-minute rock ’n roll opus written, recorded, and bludgeoned to death by the likes of Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, the Moody Blues, early Genesis, Jethro Tull.

And don’t even get me started on the mid-to-late ’70s prog-rock imitation bands (your Kansases, your Styxes, and whatnot). Just … no.

Anyway, this one badass Irish rock ’n roll legend could easily replace – really, ought to replace – the entire oeuvre of every band that ever attempted an album-side-length historical/fantastical rock ’n roll saga/epic/lyric poem/ballad snooze-fest.

Ever.

In case I wasn’t abundantly clear.

Plus, it’s got guitars that sound like bagpipes.

I mean, it’s not Joe Strummer singing “I Fought the Law” with the Pogues …

… but it’s pretty freaking great just the same.

Sláinte!

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Catching Up On Running: From Winter to Spring and Back Again

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You are reading that right. Today, the last day of February in the Year of Our Lord two-thousand and sixteen, the temperature hit fifty-two degrees Fahrenheit in the midst of my midday run. Which is nothing, actually, when you consider it was a balmy 54º on Saturday afternoon for an easy five miles on the high school track …

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… and we hit a new record high of 63º on Sunday …

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… while Your 2015 Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks were squeaking past the League-leading Washington Capitals 3-2 at the United Center.

So, naturally, we’re supposed to get between two and four inches of snow overnight tonight and through the day on Tuesday.

We live in wondrous times.

Truth be told, last week was pretty awful. Between the stress of work and other related nonsense, I basically took the week off running … except for that five-miler on Saturday. And with the dicey weather we’re facing over the next couple of days, who knows how much running I’ll get in this week.

Which made today’s run in spring-like temperatures all the more necessary.

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Side-note: The great weather we’ve had over the past few days just proves my Theory of Weather, which is this. In an ideal world, we’d have about four-and-a-half months of autumn, followed by two months of winter, another four-and-a-half months of spring, and about a month of summer. And that’s just to break up the monotony.

Because heat is the enemy of good running. Or maybe that’s just me.

Meanwhile, the Blackhawks are (temporarily, at least) back in first place in the Central Division (which means first place in the West), and are looking like a legitimate contender, while the Cubs are back at Spring Training and are likewise looking legit. As to the latter, I note that the 2016 season will mark 108 years since the Cubs’ last title, and I’m going to turn 54 soon. I really don’t want to have to say that I’ve lived through more than half of the Cubs’ World Series draught, so, you know …

No pressure Cubs.

© 2016 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

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A.M. Run: This Is Madness

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I’m not going to lie. It’s been a rough week. (I know what you’re thinking. Wait. Does that mean you ordinarily do lie? No. It’s just an expression. Calm down.)

But, as I was saying, it’s bee a rough week. For reasons that remain a mystery, I haven’t been able to sleep much over the past seven days. So, although I managed to get a run in every day this week, I only made it out early on one occasion. We took Monday off because the kids were out of school, so I headed out in the afternoon for an easy run. On Tuesday, I headed out around noon, and Thursday and Friday I made it out by about 9:00 a.m. Wednesday was the only day I got up at the usual 4:45 a.m. and headed out. I’m glad I got each run in, but the lack of sleep and the inconsistency wreaks havoc on my actual work schedule.

The thing is, I run primarily because it relieves stress and anxiety. But getting little to no sleep night after night only adds to that stress and anxiety. So, when I get up insanely early to run, and therefore don’t get enough sleep, I’m cranky all day despite running. And when I opt to sleep in instead of getting up early to run, I’m anxious and stressed out (not to mention guilty-feeling) because I didn’t get up to run. But this week was the worst of all possible situations, because I struggled to sleep most nights, then couldn’t drag myself out of bed super early to run; and then I went out to run later in the day when I should have been working because I desperately needed the stress-relief. Which meant I didn’t get enough work done. Which stressed me out all the more.

So let’s just say it’s been a frustrating week all around.

On the upside, the weather was freakishly gorgeous for a February morning in Chicago, so I most certainly will not complain about that.

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It’s supposed to be equally beautiful on Saturday, so I’m looking forward to a nice, long (albeit slow!) run tomorrow. And when the Western Conference leading Chicago Blackhawks play the Wild outdoors in Minneapolis on Sunday, it’s still supposed to be in the 40s here, which is still unseasonably warm for this time of year. I hope it’s a little cooler up there in The State of Hockey so the ice doesn’t melt.

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The only downside to unseasonably warm temperatures – the premature Spring thaw!

Meanwhile, what you really need is a little Friday afternoon Clash to make it all better …

“Gates of the West” from The Cost of Living EP (1979)

Happy Friday, everybody!

© 2016 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

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A.M. Run: Icy!

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I got about a half a block from our house this morning, and I nearly bagged it. We had gotten an inch or two of snow over the weekend, and yesterday it warmed up to the mid-30s … so, predictably, the snow began to melt and then re-froze overnight, making for some treacherous footing early this a.m. Luckily, we got a light dusting of snow over the ice, which meant that for most of my 3+ mile route, there was enough traction to avoid wiping out. But when I first headed out the door, it seemed pretty perilous.

In any event, my persistence (or recklessness) paid off, and I got a nice run in despite the conditions.

Fortunately, I’ve been able to maintain a fairly consistent running routine, if not a consistent blogging routine, over the past several weeks since I recovered from a nasty post-holiday cold. The wildly fluctuating temperatures and frequent icy conditions have made this winter challenging so far, but we’re expecting temperatures in the low to mid-50s by Friday, which means the current ice and snow should disappear.

That’s a good thing, because at this point, a lot of folks have just given up on shoveling what little snow we’ve gotten over the past couple of weeks. This was Monday afternoon, after Sunday’s snowfall:

I hate to be picky, but when it snows on the weekend, it really shouldn’t be that difficult to clear your sidewalks. Hell, the last time we had legitimate snow on a weekday, some folks had already shoveled by 5:00 a.m. Now, that’s dedication.

Meanwhile, as spring gradually approaches, I think it might be time to take down those Christmas decorations …

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I mean, it’s Lent already, you know?

© 2016 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

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Saturday Afternoon Run: Still Frigid

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So, we headed over to the high school track for an easy run this afternoon.

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The sun was out, but the temperature was still pretty frosty. Not much different from my early a.m. run on Friday:

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Nonetheless, the combination of brilliant sunshine, relatively mild win … and a some live Bruce Springsteen made for an excellent four-mile run.

That’s right. After Bruce had to cancel his Madison Square Garden show last month due to the east coast blizzard, he made the audio of his recent Chicago show available to download for free for a couple of days. Needless to say, I availed myself of that opportunity, and it’s just fantastic.

Here’s “Meet Me in the City,” a song originally recorded during The River sessions, which was the opening number in Chicago:

Now, if the Blackhawks can only break their two-game home losing streak against the Ducks tonight, all will be right with the world.

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Happy Saturday, everybody!

© 2016 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

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A.M. Run: Ice Age, Part II

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So, we’re in for a few more days of this bitter cold. Overnight Friday into Saturday morning, temperatures could bottom out around 0º F, but it looks like we’ll get back into the 30s and 40s next week.

Given the cold, I was tempted to skip the early a.m. run today, but I had to be in court out in the suburbs by 9:00 a.m., and I’m supposed to be doing a podcast this afternoon (more on that as it develops); so, my only choice was to get up at 4:45 or skip today’s run altogether. I am loathe to take days off, because I’m always afraid I won’t get back to my routine if I miss a day or two.

So, out I went.

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Why do I always look so … um … blurry at this hour?

Whereas yesterday the temperature actually dropped while I was running – from 12º down to 10º – today, it was a consistent 10º the whole time. Add in a stiff north wind, and my toes were none too happy. On the other hand, running in this weather is a lot like knocking your head against a wall. It feels great when you stop.

Thankfully, tomorrow should be a relatively calm, quite day, leading into a three day weekend. So there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

Happy Thursday!

© 2016 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

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