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It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which losing six games in a row could be positive, but with the Toronto Maple Leafs currently stuck in a four-way tie for the two Wild Card playoff entries, the half dozen straight defeats that led the team to this point seem especially horrific.

On Tuesday night, Toronto suffered its most recent failure, losing 5-3 to the St. Louis Blues. Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf struggled mightily throughout the game, not unfairly tagged as a primary accomplice to his team being outshot 49-25.

It was a bad day at the office, and as a result, the defenseman opted out of his obligation to speak to the media following the loss. This, to the many pundits who weighed in following Phaneuf’s no-show, represented an atrocious lack of leadership, and partly explained Toronto’s recent struggles.

Things came to a head on Wednesday when Phaneuf phoned in to a local sports talk radio show to explain himself, after one of the hosts ranted about the player’s notable absence following his poor performance.

To be completely honest with you, I was emotional about the game. I didn’t want to let my emotions get the best of me. I feel bad about not being available. At that point in time, I was disappointed in the way that I played and I was emotional after the game. That’s why I did not talk.

As sports fans, we grow to accept the flawed “conventional wisdom” force fed to us by years of following our favorite players and teams through newspapers, television and radio.

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Spoiler alert: People can be cruel.

While certainly not to justify the malice of others, it goes without saying that the majority of people on earth are well aware of the human capacity for cruelty. If you didn’t learn about it on the school playground, it can easily be experienced within five minutes of traveling on public transit. If you lack patience, thirty seconds of a television news broadcast should suffice.

Nonetheless, there are those in the employ of media outlets who believe that written barbarity communicated through social media is evidence of a special breed of human meanness deserving of mention and reporting. These stories are typically associated with references to the world going to hell in a hand basket or society losing its way.

If only these writers and editors were granted access to a collection of all the mean things written on post-it notes, papyrus and stone, they might come to the conclusion that people have been jerks for quite some time without the benefit of Twitter and Facebook.

Until then, we’re to make due with days like today when three Canadian news organizations – the National PostGlobe and Mailand Toronto Star - all reported on the wife of Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer undergoing a disgusting bit of persecution on Twitter, presumably because she dared to marry someone who was unable to stop pucks to the satisfaction of miscreants with a primitive understanding of the written word.

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All day long, we make compromises. We jump through hoops designed by others — often meaningless and almost alway arbitrary — so as to achieve something that we can genuinely appreciate for ourselves.

We learn from an early age that any individual revolt against the system to which we’re born will be met with less comfort than merely going along with it, and so, excluding a few heroes, we mostly agree to play the game. We turn a blind eye to great injustices, step around challenging authoritative structures, and lead an inauthentic life for the sake of amenity and contentment.

You and I share a lot in common with the guy from The Matrix who sells out his team. We know it’s all an illusion, but we’d rather live undisturbed there than deal with the reality of our situation.

We’re frequently reminded of this by devilish misanthropes, forever eager to broach the subject of a far more disturbing trend whenever we complain of something trivial.

Lines at the airport got you down? At least you’re not in Aleppo being bombed by the Syrian army. Are you tired of the cold weather? At least your child wasn’t infected with drug-resistant tuberculosis. And so it goes.

Recently, I’ve found myself feeling similarly about the ongoing — and admittedly trivial in a grand scheme of things sort of way — NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

It’s a sporting event unlike any other. 68 teams of comparable age and varying talent compete in a massive three week tournament, in which the representatives of a single school have to win six straight games against what’s meant to be increasing levels of competition before being crowned National Champions.

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Despite its overwhelming success, it’s easy to understand why the new purveyor of Hockey Night In Canada would seek to change the broadcast’s brand. A difficult balance has to be achieved: After paying $5.2 billion for broadcast rights over the next 12 seasons, Rogers wants to adjust the flagship hockey broadcast in Canada enough to ensure the acknowledgment of Sportsnet’s ownership, but not so much as to alienate a long devoted audience.

Enter George Stroumboulopoulos, an “alternative” voice on which all Canadians can agree.

Stroumboulopoulos is the perfect choice to replace Ron MacLean as host of Hockey Night In Canada. Boasting a style that gives the illusion of rebel, the talk show host consistently reinforces the values that most Canadians hold dear. He appeals to a younger demographic while simultaneously possessing the ability to placate the old.

Having their cake, and eating it, too, Rogers also announced on Monday that MacLean would stay on not only as Don Cherry’s handler for Coach’s Corner, but also to fulfil hosting duties for Sunday night’s coverage. Once a year, he’ll continue his fine work anchoring the Hockey Day In Canada broadcast.

It says more about MacLean’s history than Stroumboulopoulos’s capability that expectations of the new host have been mostly tempered. Roll your eyes all you want at the cliches about big shoes to fill and a tough act to follow, the sentiment remains true: MacLean offered something to a Canadian institution that no one else could.

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The previous week’s thaw combined with the recent freeze to make large potato chips out of the frozen sections of snow and thin layers of ice. The crunch of every step would break multiple sheets, but never so much as to leave an imprint on the eighteen inches of ice below. It felt like you could see forever on the frozen lake, but look back after trudging for ten minutes and your starting point was immersed in fog, illusory curtains covering the recent past.

The plan was simple. I’d leave Saturday morning, and my brother would meet me halfway. From there, we’d travel to his ice fishing hut that was less than an hour’s drive from his home. In the days leading up to our excursion, my brother would send pictures of the inside of the hut. It had a heater, fishing rods, tools I’d never seen before and whiskey. It also had a tiny grill.

I asked him if it was for cooking the fish that we’d catch, and he let me down gently, “Oh, we won’t catch any fish to eat.”

My brother and I lead drastically different lives. He’s country. I’m city. The population of his town is under 10,000. Mine is over 2.5 million. He has cross-stitching and family photos on the walls of his house. I have movie posters and art work on mine. He can build stuff with lumber. I worry about splinters. He owns a fully stocked chest freezer. The inventory of the freezer atop my fridge consists of ice cubes, vodka and a couple of dark chocolate bars I’ll never eat.

Despite the overwhelming amount of differences between us, we share a similar outlook on life. Generally content to watch it unfold, we’re spectators deriving no shortage of amusement from all of the hullabaloo that others cause. This characteristic occasionally extends beyond a healthy detachment, but on the whole it seems a better perspective than most alternatives.

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Tennis is back after a brief hiatus and we’re a little anxious.

Let me clarify, I’m a little anxious.

This year’s holiday season saw your correspondent consume far too much alcohol. To make matters worse was the rampant cigarette abuse. As a smoker for sometime I knew about the highs and lows. One smoke one day can be followed by the decimation of a pack the next. This wasn’t that. My mouth was the equivalent of a landfill found near a McDonald’s rendering plant.

I decided to quit. I had to.

Seven days later I’m still going strong, and aside from lashing out at 2-3 people a day for no reason I’m doing well.

My relationship with the Australian Open goes back a long way, with most of my memories consisting of smoking a cigarette at 4 am while watching a quarterfinal.

I won’t have my vice this year, but the excitement is still there. The most wide open major of the year falls in the month of January, where rust is constant and upsets remain bountiful. Read the rest of this entry »