As we count down the minutes to the Vancouver Whitecaps first-ever home playoff date — the back end of a home-and-home tie versus the dirty, rotten, stinkin’, bearded Portland Timbers that starts tomorrow — poet in residence Russell Arbuthnot offers up his quill to the soccer gods with the six stanzas below. We at Pucked in the Head wholly endorse the product of Russell’s sleepless enthusiasm, but claim no responsibility for questionable grammar, rhyme scheme or metre therein.
End of Season by Russell Arbuthnot
With the regular season laid down to rest
And with the playoffs drawing ever near
The Whitecaps found themselves among the league’s best
Reflecting on one helluva year
We waved goodbye to the Cascadia Cup
And welcomed in that of the Voyageurs
Coach Robbo patch-worked his CONCACAF lineups
Delicately navigating fixtures
Displaced in June by a Worldly tournament
Meant the men wearing Whitecaps blue and white
Lived in hotels for what seemed like permanent
But they fared quite well in the six-week fight
A rookie named Parker came out of the blue
And from Waston an MVP season
Ousted and Techera were essential too
Expectations mounting, with good reason
Injuries mounted, the infirmary filled
With bumbles and stumbles down the homestretch
Hope and belief grew increasingly chilled
The faithful grew restless, began to kvetch
The franchise regrouped, dispatched the Dynamo
Earned a bye straight to the semifinals
One more week to patch up Captain Pedro
And a chance to knock off their fiercest rivals
If you’ve spent any amount of time around the Pacific Coliseum this season, you’ve heard someone or other mutter that Vancouver Giants GM Scott Bonner has some tough choices to make. With franchise poster boy Tyler Benson back from off-season surgery to remove a cyst from his low back, not to mention three viable WHL goaltenders crowding the crease, the Giants just had too many hands on deck. A good problem to have, you may say, but with just 10 points in the first 12 games, the G-Men needed a change.
At 20 years of age, Houck is in his fifth WHL season, all of which have been spent in Vancouver. He has scored 91 goals and 108 assists for 199 points in 267 games, good for seventh spot on the franchise’s all-time scoring list. While Tyler Benson recovered from off-season surgery to remove a cyst from his low back, Houck wore the captain’s C. Houck was not offered a contract by the Edmonton Oilers, who drafted him 94th overall in 2013, and is now a free agent.
Left winger Jakob Stukel is probably looking forward to a change in scenery after scoring just 16 points in 49 games as a WHL rookie last season. Originally a blue-chip prospect, Stukel has struggled to find rhythm at the WHL level and isn’t listed on many scouts’ radar in this, his draft year. Cody Porter, for his part, likely welcomes a shift as well; he has made just two appearances in the Giants net this season after playing a full 40 games last year.
Coming to Vancouver are a pair of 19-year-old picks in the 2014 NHL Draft. Chosen 119th overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning, Ben Thomas offers some help to a Giants back end that has had difficulty closing out games in the third period so far this season. His challenge will be to fill the shoes vacated by Mason Geertsen, who anchored Vancouver defensively as well as quarterbacking the power play.
Chase Lang is a sixth-round pick of the Minnesota Wild (167th overall) who was just shy of a point a game with the high-flying Hitmen last season. Hopefully, he’ll appreciate being closer to his hometown of Nanaimo, and use that to put up some similar numbers at the Coliseum.
With Houck’s departure, the Giants are currently carrying only two overage (20-year-old) players; the WHL maximum is three, and it’s extremely unusual for teams to play a full season without taking advantage of those older bodies on the roster. Look for Scott Bonner to make at least one more deal in further efforts to shake up the lacklustre dressing room that has, frankly, lost too many games for too many seasons.
With the Top Prospects game mere weeks away, the full attention of the country’s best hockey minds will soon land on Vancouver; it’s in Bonner’s best interest to give Tyler Benson every opportunity to shine before then.
I admit it: I’m a Trekkie through and through. Back in the day, I saw Vancouver TheatreSports League‘s Star Trick musical no fewer than two dozen times, and wrote a front page story for the WestEnder about it, to boot. I ain’t no fan of the Ferengi, but I’ve wasted more than my share of hours watching TV, movie and fan fiction productions of at least three different Star Trek shows. Hell, ask Chris: I’ve played William Shatner’s Rocket Man over public address systems at college basketball games.
It’s not the cheese factor, though, that brings me to pump William Shatner’s 2004 cover of Pulp’s Common People into my earbuds on the hoof.
Produced by Ben Folds for Shatner’s adventurous album Has Been, this track just plain kicks ass whether you’re at the gym, at the track, or driving the highway. Musically, rhythmically, socially, you name it — Common People is anything but a common track. Shatner delivers an angry fuck-you spoken-word vocal, perfectly set to irritable guitar, simplistic keyboard and indie rock drums. Folds blends Joe Jackson’s sublime vocals into the chorus. Between the three of them, Folds, Jackson and Shatner make us believe they all three of them have been trounced by some uppity rich chick who just wants to slum on the other side of the tracks.
I can’t get into the original Pulp version, musically, but damnation the lyrics here are fantastic. I’m a sucker for writing that effectively tells a complete story; if someone can do that in the context of a pop song, count me in. Jarvis Cocker nails the phenomenon of class tourism so predominant in the 80s and early 90s — think FightClub for a participatory exploration of hitting bottom. Later, reality shows like Honey Boo-Boo would allow “normal” viewers to point and laugh at those they perceive as less intelligent, less developed, less rich or just less.
“Everybody hates a tourist, especially one who thinks it’s all such a laugh.”
“Laugh along even though they’re laughing at you and the stupid things that you do because you think that poor is cool.”
Album: Has Been
Release date: 2004 Beats per minute: 178 Subject: Class / Money / Sex / Content warning: None Video (Shatner cover):
Back on November 16, 2013, Tyler Benson made his WHL debut. He wore a full face cage, as rules stipulate Bantam-aged prospects must. He also stood 5’11” and weighed 185 pounds at the time, which should probably be against the rules when you’re 15 years old. Here’s a picture I took at that game, as Benson tried a shifty backdoor play. He didn’t get on the scoresheet that night, but he’s figured prominently in Vancouver ever since.
It was a disappointing day by many standards. The Vancouver Whitecaps, sitting atop the MLS standings, hosted the dirty, rotten, stinkin’ Seattle Sounders. A win would mean a third straight Cascadia Cup for the Caps, and put a dagger in Seattle’s attempt to revive a lacklustre season.
Instead, the boys in green and blue beat the Whitecaps at their own game: they sat back and let Vancouver come at them, and waited patiently for opportunities to come on the counterattack. At the end of the day, the Whitecaps are still the class of the Western Conference and sit tied for top spot in MLS — thank you, woeful Real Salt Lake for pummelling the LA Galaxy when we least expected it.
The season series between Seattle and Vancouver has seen home teams struggle. The Sounders won 2-0 here back in May, and the Caps put in one of their most complete games at Century Link with a 3-0 victory on August 1. The latter was a low point in the Sounders season, with coaches and players sniping at each other after the fact for poor preparation and effort levels, respectively.
Saturday offered a much more balanced game, but it was Seattle who took advantage of their chances. Octavio Rivero had several opportunities early in the first half, including a glorious clean shot at goal from ten metres, but put the ball high and wide every time. Every other shot toward Stefan Frei was pretty much a gift to the Swiss-born keeper. (I can think of perhaps two saves that required him to actually move.)
Then, seconds before the halftime whistle, Obafemi Martins dribbled away from four white jerseys and put a perfect aerial pass on the foot of striker Andreas Ivanschitz, who had snuck in behind rookie defender Jordan Smith. The German with rather predictable sophomoric nicknames slotted the ball neatly behind David Ousted to open the Sounders account on the evening.
The Caps pushed for the equalizer throughout the second half, but that opened them up to yet more fast breaks the other way. The Sounders waited for their chances, then buried them. Love him or hate him, Clint Dempsey is one hell of a player when he keeps his head about him. Yes, he spends an inordinate amount of time whining to referees — more on these antics below — but he also spent this entire game feathering one-touch balls and delicate passes to his mates, giving the Whitecaps midfield fits at times and directly resulting in two of the Sounders goals. He fed Gonzalo Pineda with a lovely pass at the lip of the box, and Pineda put a perfect shot off the post and in to double the lead in the 71st minute. Sixteen minutes later, Dempsey outhustled Cristian Techera — yes, you read that right, he outran the Bug — before sliding a gimme to Martins for the 3-nil scoreline.
For many, however, the biggest disappointment didn’t happen on the field of play at all. Longtime season ticket holder Christy Clark created quite a stir on our local corner of the interweb, as she tried to poke fun at the Flounders’ proclivity for lying on the BC Place turf nursing non-existent injuries. Sadly, her old-timey insistence upon using girly references to insult male athletes kinda backfired.
Did the Sounders spend a lot of time with their butts glued to the turf? Yeah, sure they did. Were fans rankled and riled about it? You bet your Southsiders scarf they were. Does that make it okay to throw sexist jabs around in a public forum, when you’re an elected official, and to boot a role model to women interested in entering politics? Absolutely fricking not.
The BC Premier is no stranger to social media firestorms. She has nearly 51,000 followers on Twitter, and she upsets a great number of them with even the blandest of posts. In this case, however, folks really ought to get their hackles up. Clark is a self-professed champion of the anti-bullying movement — she helped to spearhead BC’s involvement in Pink Shirt Day a few years ago, and continues to make public comments that pooh-pooh language, actions and systems that belittle or exclude portions of the populace.
Members of the Southsiders, Rain City Brigade and Curva Collective supporters groups all actively dissuade neanderthal members of their groups who denigrate women. Even five years ago, chants of “SHE FELL OVER” were commonplace when an opposing player hit the pitch. These days, references to gender and/or sexual orientation just aren’t accepted any longer by BC Place supporter groups. (Note: Sadly, sexism is still rampant in the football world. The comments screamed at Chelsea medical staffer Eva Carneiro by opposing clubs have been atrocious. The Vancouver Canucks, and women’s rights groups for that matter, have put up with dolts calling Henrik and Daniel “the Sedin sisters” from day one. Hell, the NHL even made an ad that featured Hank & Dank showing up for a fan’s stag party as twin Swedish dancers
. Ice girls at men’s games are the embarrassing norm, when teams should be putting resources into setting up a serious women’s pro league. The sad fact is, loads of sports fans turn their noses up at the prospect of watching professional women’s sports — the Women’s World Cup drew fans, but YVR is still without a women’s Whitecaps team. At least in Vancouver, widespread homophobic or misogynistic jeers aren’t the norm. Clark’s tweet is harmless on the face of it, but flies in the face of very anti-bullying campaign she claims to honour.)
Friday was 27 degrees Celsius, a truly glorious day. I took my daughter to her second day of Kindergarten, ducked into Governor General Literary Award winner The Sisters Brothers, then proceeded to spend the afternoon playing with Lego and making some decidedly awesome Chesapeake Bay chicken. Literally, I played the winner, winner, chicken dinner card.
The evening got better. I shot SFU hockey, then ran a personal best 5km at the track while watching my old school’s football team put up a truckload of points against a lesser rival. Spent over an hour chatting with five-time Grey Cup champion Leroy Moss after he complimented me on my run — yes, he’s the uncle of Randy Moss — and he happens to be a charming and generous storyteller to boot. He spent time with the BC Lions, Edmonton Eskimos and Cincinnati Bengals, and played with and/or against the likes of Warren Moon, Lui Passaglia, Tom Wilkinson and Larry Highbaugh. Nice talking to you, Leroy!
Enjoy my first hockey pictures of the 2015-16 season, from pre-season action between the SFU Clan and the Trinity Spartans. Against the flow of play, TWU took the game 3-1 down at Bill Copeland Arena in Burnaby.
The Vancouver Giants are just two days away from their first pre-season game. Puck drops Saturday vs the dirty, rotten, stinkin’ scoundrels that are the Kamloops Blazers at 7pm at the Ladner Leisure Centre.
Here’s a bit of Throwback Thursday for you: Tyler Benson wheeling into the offensive zone during WHL action at the Pacific Coliseum. Benson is largely predicted to go in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft, assuming the mysterious, undisclosed injury that’s kept him out of contact drills and scrimmages through training camp is as minor as team officials are claiming.
Last week, Chris Withers took offence to my list of ten must-watch sports films, and responded by posting one of his very own. While his list contained some gems, I’ll admit — A League of Their Own and The Battered Bastards of Baseball are impressive entries, in particular — but questioning my taste just because I included an awkward Canadian bobsled film? That’s just low, man.
Oh well, at least he went full Bob Barker and punched Adam Sandler in the face with his words.
Here are five more sports movies you oughta know.
5. Bull Durham Buy it here.
I am not the biggest Kevin Costner fan in the world, trust me, but I have to admit the guy had a spell there where he could do no wrong. No Way Out, JFK, The Untouchables… Even Dances with Wolves, for all its tatanka cheesiness, was a remarkable accomplishment. One of the first post-modern instances of a star pouring their own resources into a project when studios were backing off Dances with Wolves can be argued as the forefather of such films as Good Night and Good Luck, franchises like Mission: Impossibleor series like True Detective, House of Cards and Arrested Development. But I digress. Bull Durham sees Costner at his stoical best, plain-Janing the lead role while chaos swarms around him. Susan Sarandon is steamy and smart as a baseball groupie who latches onto the Durham Bulls minor league team; Tim Robbins is hilarious as a young pitcher who focusses as much on his libido as the strike zone. The jokes hit more than miss, and the acting chops of everyone involved mean we actually care about the people trapped in this special breed of small town hell — two things Major League can’t claim for all of its nearsighted gags and MLB licensing. Bull Durham is worth watching for Tim Robbins standing on the mound in high-end lingerie.
4. Dodgeball Buy it here.
Is it smart? No way in hell. Is it funny? Hells yes. Vince Vaughn turns in his only watchable performance, and Ben Stiller nails the brain-dead obnoxious a-hole he’s known for. Let’s call a spade a bleeping shovel here: Dodgeball boasts an insultingly formulaic script. The owner of a small gym (Vaughn) needs $50,000 to prevent being bought out by a soulless corporation (run by a hilariously over-the-top Stiller), so of course they go head-to-head in a dodgeball tournament with a winner-take-all payout of — wait for it — $50,000. The script, while simple, hits every point a sports movie should: the set-up, the team-building, the initial failure, the swelling of doubt, the seemingly insurmountable obstacle, the almost inhuman opposition, the celebrity cameo, the colourful play-by-play, the moment of truth. We know what’s coming, and when it’s going to come. Still, Dodgeball works, because it features a stellar cast of comedians, all playing to their strengths. It’s worth watching for Rip Torn’s wheelchair-bound ex-world class dodgeballer whipping the contents of his toolbox at his team: “If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball!”
3. The Rookie Buy it here.
Dennis Quaid takes the lead in this Disney movie based on the real-life story of science teacher Jim Morris. In his late 30s, nearly 20 years after injuring his shoulder and cutting short a promising baseball career, Morris finds himself coaching a small town high school baseball team. When he challenges his sad sack team not to quit, they throw his own shortened career in his face. “We’re quitters? You’re the quitter!” And thus, a wager is born: if the team wins the local tournament, Morris will try out for a major league team once again. Cue the montage of Rocky-esque training techniques that shows improbable improvement in a few short minutes. Likewise, compact years of marital tension into two perfectly scripted 30-second scenes. Just like that, the team qualifies for the state championship, and Jim Morris sneaks off to a conveniently timed open tryout for the Tampa Bay Rays. It turns out, that shoulder surgery he’d gotten all those years ago didn’t wreck his arm at all. In fact, he’s now throwing 98-mile-an-hour fastballs. History — and a few years later, Hollywood feature — was made, as Morris became the oldest rookie in Major League Baseball since World War II. Director John Lee Hancock isn’t exactly known for a light touch; still, he’ll appear twice on this list with this and #2 below. The Rookie is worth watching for the acceptable cheese in those Disney moments: “Owls win! Owls win!”
Here’s an interview with Quaid and Morris that took place during the film’s promotional cycle:
2. Cinderella Man Buy it here.
When Ron Howard directs Russell Crowe, only good things happen. Okay, the Best Actor Oscar for 2002 went to Denzel Washington for Training Day — while I loves me some Denzel, this was a travesty as far as awards go. Washington won for two political reasons: first, in an attempt to erase decades of quite literally whitewashing their awards, the Academy as a whole was in love with the idea of giving both lead actor statuettes to black performers. Training Day is far from Washington’s best performance, but then again it’s unfathomable that Al Pacino won his Best Actor statue for the pedestrian Scent of a Woman. Second, Crowe had taken home the big prize just one year earlier as the lead in Gladiator. Digression achievement unlocked.Other than Best Actor at the Oscars, A Beautiful Mind won just about every award available in 2002. Three years later, Paul Giamatti was nominated as Best Supporting Actor for Cinderella Man —a Depression-era boxing movie that is at once gritty and gorgeous, superb and sad. It wouldn’t be a Ron Howard picture without a dramatic happy ending, but even that is drenched in a palette of mud browns and dust greys. Like Quaid’s Jim Morris in The Rookie, Crowe’s ex-boxer James J Braddock overcomes injury (in this case a broken dominant hand) to come back better than ever. His wife, played angrily by Renée Zellweger, is so tortured by her hubby’s choice to go back into the ring that she can’t bear to watch the title fight. Cinderella Man is worth watching for its brutally realistic boxing scenes. I felt like Max Baer was hitting me in the midsection in those final moments.
Here’s some highlights from that 1935 title fight:
1. Seabiscuit Buy it here.
I’m sensing a bit of a pattern here. The Oscar-nominated Seabiscuit features a broken athlete who defies the odds to come back after devastating injury. Tobey Maguire plays Red Pollard, a Depression-era jockey whose side gig as a small town boxer leaves him blind in one eye. That’s not good enough, you say? Well, he shatters his leg at one point in the film as well, but comes back to ride the famous race against War Admiral. Oh, I’m sorry, was that a spoiler? Come on, you know the beats in this film every bit as well as the ones in Dodgeball.The difference: this film features Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper, Elizabeth Banks and William H Macy instead of Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller, Jason Bateman and Rip Torn. Another: it’s written and directed by Gary Ross, of Pleasantville, Big, The Hunger Games and The Tale of Despereaux, whereas Dodgeball was helmed by a guy whose only other widely known feature is the mediocre road flick We’re the Millers. Seabiscuit is worth watching for excellent performances up and down the cast, but especially for the stirringly well-shot racing sequences. This is a gorgeous film; the American Society of Cinematographers gifted Seabiscuit its Oustanding Achievement in Cinematography award for 2004.
If you’re interested in some historical perspective, here’s actual footage from the 1938 match race between Sea Biscuit and War Admiral:
The ads for the 2015 Odlum Brown Vancouver Open boldly touted the STRONGEST, FIELD, like, EVAR, but the winner’s circle was full of familiar faces on Sunday. British right-hander Johanna Konta won her second singles title in three years with a straight sets victory over the top seed, Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium, 6-2, 6-4. It was a productive week for the 96th-ranked Konta, who also won the women’s doubles title with American partner Maria Sanchez.
Dudi Sela won his fourth Van Open championship in straight sets over Australian John-Patrick Smith. Sela broke once in each set for a 6-4, 7-5 victory over Smith, who came into the tournament as defending men’s doubles champion with American Austin Krajicek.
Sela accepted the inaugural Vancouver Open men’s trophy in 2005, then repeated in 2008 and 2010. The only other repeat winner on the men’s side is Marcos Baghdatis, who took the title twice, in 2009 and 2014.
Six players on the women’s side were ranked in the top 100 in the world, with quite a few offering impressive resumés. Most notably, Francesca Schiavone came in having won the 2007 French Open, as well as three Fed Cup titles playing for Italy. She lost in the first round, however, to 20-year-old Tunisian Ons Jabeur. A number of other high-profile players bowed out early, such as former number 4 in the world Kimiko Date-Krumm, who stepped aside in first-round qualifying with injury.
Canadians Sharon Fichman and Carol Zhao made the women’s doubles semi-finals, when they lost to eventual champions Konta and Sanchez, 7-6(2), 6-2.
After years of finding new and shocking ways to lose the Canadian Championship, the Vancouver Whitecaps played a statement game in the second leg of the 2015 final, and — finally — won the damned thing.
No penalty kicks, no extra time, no aggregate gaffes, no games halted for bad weather. Just solid play from first and second squad players alike.
Octavio Rivero opened the scoring midway through the first half when he got his foot on a ball that Cristian Techera had already rolled to the very goal line. It was his first goal from the run of play since Middle Earth was a relevant pop culture reference, and turned out to be the tournament-winning goal. It seems only fair; if Techera hadn’t back heeled that wonderful ball from Kekuta Manneh against FC Dallas just four days ago, it would have landed at Rivero’s feet in that exact same spot. Tit for tat, I always say.
Rivero owes Techera a steak dinner after nicking his goal. #VWFC take a 1-nil lead in the 41st min. #CanChamp
Tim Parker headed home a Pedro Morales corner in the second half to double the lead. Given the team’s collapse in Montreal a fortnight earlier — when a late 2-nil scoreline became a 2-2 draw in mere minutes — many of the 19,000-plus fans at BC Place were more nervous up by a brace than they had been when the lead was just one. However, between Parker and Kendall Waston, backed up by a committed David Ousted, two goals was more than enough to seal the deal this time round.
The fact is, the Whitecaps have now shrugged off just about every minor monkey that’s been riding their shoulders since joining MLS. First it was earning points against stronger teams — the LA Galaxy, Sporting KC, DC United. Then it was getting some individual hardware, like a Golden Boot and a Newcomer of the Year award. Then it was winning against those powerhouses on the road. They’ve won back-to-back Cascadia Cups, and are a win away from making it a threepeat. With the Canadian Championship in their pocket, this year’s somewhat backwards entry into the CONCACAF Champions League no longer needs an asterisk.
Each of these accomplishments are huge steps for a franchise to take. None of them should be sneezed at, nor belittled. Every single one of these players deserves to cherish that medal, and kiss that Canadian Championship trophy as long as they care to pucker.
But now that these smaller firsts have been taken care of, the Whitecaps can set their sights on bigger fish.
These Whitecaps aren’t just the best in Canada this season. They’re among the best in the league. A Supporters’ Shield is no pipe dream — it’s a distinct possibility. With eight games remaining, the Caps have the number one points-per-game ratio in MLS. Playoff success isn’t just a pipe dream; it’s expected.
David Ousted should win Goalkeeper of the Year, if the June Player of the Month award and four Save of the Week honours mean anything. Kendall Waston ought to be in the conversation for Defender of the Year, if for no other reason than because he’s too big to ignore. And if Carl Robinson isn’t nominated for Coach of the Year, there’s something downright fishy going on.
Dare we say it, even the MLS Cup is a distinct possibility. Okay, that’s perhaps reaching, and the LA Galaxy will make life in the playoffs more difficult than a Silviu Petrescu disciplinary hearing. But hey, the Caps have beaten the Galaxy outright twice this season, once here and once in LA. Handily.
The rest of the season is going to be verrrrrry interesting. Pick your dance partners, folks, because this party is just getting started.