Farewell, Northlands, and thank you

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(Photo from Wikimedia Commons, taken by “WinterE229”)

In a real sense, Northlands Coliseum…er, Rexall Place…is a primary reason why I became a hockey fan.

It was the success of the WHA’s Edmonton Oilers that led to the move of the original Oil Kings to Portland, where they became the Winterhawks. My love of hockey was born of being a fan of some incredible teams in the late 1970s and 1980s, including the 1983 Memorial Cup champions.

But as I was learning more about the game in that time, I learned about the Oilers and that the Oil Kings struggled mightily as the WHA team became more successful. At some point, I adopted the Oilers as my pro team, following them vicariously through the sports pages as they went through their final WHA season, then on into the NHL.

While Memorial Coliseum was my local hockey home, it was the Northlands, almost 1,000 miles away, where my focus lay on many nights. As luck would have it, the Oilers made the last WHL Final in 1979, and after a tough first year in the NHL, made the playoffs in 1980 and started the legendary run that led to five Stanley Cups and an amazing amount of memories. I may have been one of the few in Portland (and, later in Seattle) that celebrated those Cups mightily.

Some nights, it was a struggle to get any updates on games. But when all was right, I would get lucky and hear Rod Phillips welcoming listeners to the Northlands and Oilers hockey. While I would get the Canucks, Kings and (after 1980) Flames on a more regular basis on their big AM radio stations, it was when they would play the Oilers when I would do just about anything to listen. When they were in Edmonton, at Northlands, it sounded like, and felt like, a different game.

Much has happened since the dynasty, of course. The Gretzky trade, the Messier trade, various coaches and players who passed through Northlands in the 26 years since the last Cup. The Coliseum has also been through many changes, including to its name (Edmonton Coliseum, Skyreach Centre, Rexall Place). It wasn’t a pretty building on the outside by any means, and it has been rebuilt on the inside a few times, now looking nothing like what it did during the glory years.

There have been times when the Oilers’ future has looked very bleak, of course. There was Peter Pocklington’s flirtation with Minnesota, the near-sale and move to Houston, Daryl Katz’ tour of Seattle…at times it seemed like the Oilers were not long for Edmonton and Northlands. But they’re still there, and the memories of decades of Oilers hockey, the very good and the very bad, are based in that place.

But all things come to an end, and it’s never more so than with sports stadiums. The places where I began my fandom of many teams are just history now. The Pittsburgh Pirates going from Three Rivers to PNC Park, Arsenal shifting from Highbury to the Emirates, the BC Lions from Empire Stadium to BC Place and the 49ers going from Candlestick to Santa Clara. But some places remain, like Portland’s Memorial Coliseum. Some are even still used, such as the legendary home of the Portland Timbers, Providence Park, and Rexall Place in Edmonton.

That changes April 6, when the Oilers play their final game at the legendary arena. No, I never made it there. On a couple of occasions I actually bought game tickets and was ready to head to Edmonton, but circumstances meant I wasn’t able to make it. It’s still one of the things I do regret, that I never made it to Northlands to see an Oilers game. Maybe, at some point, I’ll make it to the new Rogers-named arena in downtown Edmonton and see the Oilers once more in person. Not sure when, but I’ll make it.

And it will always be Northlands to me. Not Edmonton Coliseum, not Rexall Place, and certainly not Skyreach Centre. Some of the best, and wildest, hockey I ever saw was played in that building. The highs of the Cups wins, the lows of the crushing playoff losses, the great teams and the horrible teams, the beauty of hockey being played by legendary players for the Oilers and others…heck, the Winterhawks even won a WHL title in Northlands over the new Oil Kings. So many memories.

And this is where it all ends. Another bad Oilers season is about over, and the new Rogers Place will be open by time the new season begins in October. It’s the end of 42 years at Northlands, not quite as long as the Edmonton Gardens stood, but with all the history one can ever hope for in an arena. It’s the end of a chapter for people in Edmonton, and the end of a major chapter in my hockey life. This is probably just like how Canadiens fans felt losing the Forum, Leafs fans losing Maple Leaf Gardens, Bruins fans losing Boston Garden, etc. History is but a memory, but when it’s good, it’s the best memory of all.

And with that, I raise a glass to Northlands Coliseum. Yes, you’re known as Rexall Place now, and you’ve been called other names, as well. But what happened within your walls, the great and the bad, is a big part of my life as a sports fan, as a hockey fan, as an Oilers fan. Your first name will always be the one I know you as.

Thank you, Northlands. You’ve done well.

Tukwila NHL arena news will reshape Seattle arena debate

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In one moment on Monday morning, the entire arena debate in Seattle changed.

Maybe the entire sporting landscape in the Puget Sound region did, as well.

When ESPN’s Craig Custance posted on Monday morning that Ray Bartoszek’s RLB Holdings Sports and Entertainment had filed a request for a zoning code interpretation with the city of Tukwila, with the intent of building an arena in the city, that woke up hockey fans across the region. Suddenly, the long-awaited alternative to the painfully-slow arena process in Seattle had arrived. Custance said that the zoning request was filed last Wednesday, with the SEPA application (basically, the start of an environmental impact study) to be filed by Friday. Tukwila officials said that Bartoszek’s group first approached the city about the arena site early in 2014.

Oh, and the arena would be privately-funded, too. That’s a big point and crucial to the coming process.

If the name Ray Bartoszek rings a bell, that’s because he was part of the ownership group that almost brought the National Hockey League to Seattle in 2013. The then-Phoenix Coyotes were one Glendale City Council vote away from being sold to Bartoszek and Anthony Lanza, who would have moved the team to Seattle and have them play in KeyArena for three seasons as a new arena was built. He’s stayed in contact with the NHL and commissioner Gary Bettman since, and as Bettman wants a team in the Seattle area, this could be a major step towards that.

While both Tukwila officials and Bartoszek emphasized to Custance that it is still early in the process, with Bartoszek calling the current situation a “potential real estate project”, the intent is there. A possible arena in Tukwila was now not just a thought, but steps are being taken to make it a reality. The date mentioned for a possible opening for an arena is the fall of 2017, about the time any new NHL expansion teams would likely start playing. So, likely, that date being mentioned has a larger meaning, and maybe an end date for any NHL team starting in the Seattle area.

Maybe the biggest surprise from what we learned on Monday morning was the planned location for the arena. For months, the assumed arena site in Tukwila was believed to be the “Sabey site”, land owned by David Sabey at the south end of Boeing Field, just inside the Tukwila city limits on the border with Seattle. This was the one mentioned in previous articles.

But the site Bartoszek is working on is not that location. Instead, his arena location is on the east side of the city, south of I-405 and between the West Valley Highway and the former Longacres site, just north of the recently remodeled Tukwila Amtrak/Sounder station. It’s in an area that Tukwila has designated as a Transit Oriented Development (TOD) area, planning to make it an area where public transit, such as Sound Transit’s Sounder commuter rail line, Metro Transit’s RapidRide bus rapid transit system and other Metro routes (all of which serve the arena site, or run close to it) could easily serve employers in the area. An arena would benefit from solid transit, as traffic on I-405 around the West Valley Highway interchange, and around Southcenter to the west and Renton to the east, can get very congested.

What’s not at the location is Sound Transit’s Central Link light rail line. That goes through the Sabey site, and Tukwila’s light rail station is on the far west side of the city, along Highway 99 and near Sea-Tac Airport. So a direct transit connection from and to Seattle, outside of the Sounder, is out of the equation for the time being. That might become an issue down the line.

The timing of the Tukwila arena news doesn’t seem to be a coincidence. The Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for Chris Hansen’s proposed arena in Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood, south of Safeco Field, is to be released on May 7. With that process being drawn out for years, with opposition from the Seattle Mariners and the Port of Seattle starting to be known again, the anticipation on what the FEIS will say, and what timelines that the city of Seattle puts on the next phases of the project will be crucial to whether it even can get to the point of considering a date to break ground. The news from Tukwila now puts a lot of pressure on the process, especially on the point where construction of the SoDo arena could only start when an NBA team was gained. It forces the city, and Hansen, to take more seriously the need to allow the arena to proceed if it’s the NHL that comes to Seattle first.

That’s where the pressure goes up on Vince Coleman, as well. He’s been negotiating with Hansen on trying to get the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) changed from only allowing the arena to be built if Hansen brought the NBA back to Seattle. He’s been in constant contact with Bettman on the arena situation, and there was a time when it seemed like progress was being made. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, who was seen at the beginning of his term by some as anti-hockey, had even begun to soften his stance on a possible NHL-first MOU change.

But Coleman hasn’t been heard from recently, and the state of his negotiations with Hansen is still unknown. Much of this hinges on what the FEIS says when released next week, but Coleman needs to let Seattle fans know that he’s still interested in bringing the NHL to Seattle. He needs to be talking to Murray and the Seattle City Council, trying to get the MOU changed so it can be NHL-first. He needs to be seen, or announce some sort of action that tells NHL fans in the region that he’s still in the race. Otherwise, he will be seen as out of the picture, and Bartoszek becomes the only one with Bettman’s ear. Then again, with Monday’s news, and that Custance’s story mentioned that Bettman will talk to the NHL Board of Governors about Bartoszek’s plans, he may already be the only one.

If the NHL arena plans in Tukwila gets on a fast track, that likely means the SoDo arena project becomes much less likely. And much of the blame has to go to Hansen, as his attempts to bring the NBA back to Seattle seem to have done more harm than good, on many fronts. His failed attempts to buy the Sacramento Kings and Milwaukee Bucks may have ticked off a number of NBA owners, and the NBA keeps saying that there’s no plan to put a team in Seattle anytime in the next few years, or even within the decade (if at all).

The tide has already turned against Hansen, at least from one front. King County Council member Pete Von Reichbauer told KOMO NewsRadio’s Charlie Harger that Bartoszek’s arena plan in Tukwila was better, and with Steve Ballmer’s purchase of the Los Angeles Clippers, he believed that Hansen no longer had the money to get an NBA team or to build an arena. He also believed that Tukwila was a better location than SoDo for the arena. Since King County is also involved in the SoDo arena process, if Van Reichbauer is expressing the majority opinion of the county council, that’s a massive blow to Hansen.

That Hansen made the exact same mistake that Barry Ackerley made in 1990 likely led to a similar result, only coming much faster. It was Ackerley who killed the hopes of an NHL expansion team at that time when he bailed out on the prospective ownership group and struck a deal with the city of Seattle to remodel the Seattle Center Coliseum into a basketball-centric arena, which became KeyArena. It can be argued that the end of the Sonics in Seattle began with that decision, as it meant KeyArena couldn’t make the money it needed to make a profit and helped give the NBA the first excuses it needed to say that the building was obsolete, and gave the city a reason to let the team go away.

Hansen never learned from that. Insisting on making the MOU NBA-first was a monumental mistake, but it came at a time when he was making many in the region believe that he could…no, he would…bring the Sonics back. The excitement was very high, and it seemed like Hansen could do no wrong. He got the deal he wanted from Seattle and King County, and it seemed like a matter of time before the arena in SoDo would be built, even if the Mariners and the Port of Seattle came out strongly against it. The M’s even took a massive public relations hit for opposing the arena, and that played into Hansen’s favor, as well.

But Hansen also said that he had no interest in hockey, and that the NBA was his sole focus. Even the rendering of the arena in a hockey set-up seemed half-hearted, as many pointed out that the proposed look lacked player benches and penalty boxes. He said that he wanted hockey to be a part of the arena project, but he himself wanted anything to do with a team. Someone else had to get the hockey team to become his tenant. It was only after it became more apparent that the NBA still had no interest in Seattle, and that the NHL still had strong interest, that Hansen started to talk with possible owners. For a time Jeremy Roenick was connected with Hansen, but that soon went away.

Eventually, it became clear that the lack of an NHL-first plan for the SoDo arena would be the Achilles heel of the entire project. That Bartoszek and Lanza were so close to moving the Coyotes to Seattle in 2013, maybe closer than Hansen had been with the Kings, added to the angst. It was clear that Hansen was seemingly living in a dreamland where the NBA would still allow him to bring back the Sonics, even when the evidence was increasingly against him.

Meanwhile, the arena FEIS dragged on. First it was supposed to come out in late 2014, then early 2015. Then Murray announced a date of May 7, and it seemed like the arena might finally make a little progress. But all outside of Hansen, and maybe some on the City Council, had come to realize that there would be no new Seattle arena unless the MOU allowed for NHL-first. Hopes were raised when the news that Hansen had started negotiating with Coleman on a possible NHL-first plan, but that was back in 2014. Not much has come out since, and if Tukwila gains momentum, then the idea of an arena in SoDo is all but dead. Then Hansen would have to deal with Bartoszek if he wanted an arena for the Sonics, and he would be dealing from a position of weakness. And, in the end, he can only blame himself.

That Bartoszek’s group would build the arena in Tukwila with no public money works against Hansen, as well. The SoDo arena plan is based on Seattle and King County chipping in about $200 million (the county contributing $80 million if the NHL was involved, $5 million if not), with Hansen paying the money back in installments. Some on the Seattle City Council have been hesitant to support giving Hansen that money, and if Tukwila ends up approving a privately-financed arena there, then the anti-arena forces on the council could kill it right there. Monday’s news may already have the Seattle arena project closer to not happening, even with the FEIS coming out on May 7.

And what about the other proposed arena location in the Puget Sound region, in Bellevue? No news has come out of there since the site at 116th Avenue NE and NE 4th Street since it was mentioned in February, but the car dealership at that location burned in a massive 3-alarm fire on Saturday. That puts the future of the site in doubt, but with the news from Tukwila, any arena plans that may be in the works could be dead very quickly.

Which brings us back to Monday’s news, the news of Ray Bartoszek’s possible arena plan for the east side of Tukwila. That Gary Bettman will be mentioning those plans at the NHL’s Board of Governors meeting in June, along with the Las Vegas season ticket drive, is a massive endorsement for Bartoszek. That the fall of 2017 was mentioned as the earliest opening date for the arena is also big, as that would be the earliest any NHL expansion teams would begin play. The dream of the NHL coming to the Seattle area, a dream that was supposed to happen in 1976, and was supposed to happen again in the early 1990s, may actually be back on track.

It will take a while to know if it is. But, for today, the hopes of hockey fans across the Puget Sound region just got raised significantly.

And Ray Bartoszek may become what Chris Hansen wanted to be. The arena builder.

Sir Alex Ferguson: Begrudging respect for a retiring legend

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(Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

With the announcement on Wednesday morning that Sir Alex Ferguson was to retire as Manchester United manager, it ends an amazing era in English, and world, soccer.

But who knew what the next 26 years would bring when he was hired from Aberdeen.

The year was 1986. It was a time when the top soccer league in North America was an indoor league (ah, the MISL), the NASL had been dead a couple of years, the US national team was still looking for its first World Cup appearance since 1950 (Canada…Canada!…went to the World Cup in 1986) and it was still 10 years away from the birth of Major League Soccer. It could be seen as the dark ages for American soccer fans.

It was during this time that I really started to take an interest in English soccer. I had adopted a side that had been great at one time, but had become very mediocre in the early 80s. That club was Arsenal, and the time that Terry Neil and Don Howe were in charge of the Gunners were not all that fondly remembered, outside of an FA Cup win under Neil in 1979 and two other FA Cup final appearances in 1978 and 1980. But the results weren’t that great, and wouldn’t change until George Graham was hired for the 1986-87 season.

It was a challenge to keep up with soccer in England. There was a Football League highlight show that Prime Sports Northwest showed on a weekly basis, but you had to get up early on Sunday mornings or record it during a midweek afternoon to see it. That was my link to English soccer, and there was one week in the fall of ’86 when there was a brief bit on the arrival of Ferguson at Old Trafford, and highlights of his first match in charge. That was a loss at Oxford United, and it was almost an afterthought on the show, from what I remember.

When Manchester United decided to sack Ron Atkinson and bring in Ferguson, who had been so successful at Aberdeen. From the papers I read at the time (and I was reading Canadian newspapers in libraries, since American newspapers barely knew English soccer existed), there was a question on whether the Scot, who had done the impossible and knocked off Celtic and Rangers from the top of Scottish soccer, could work his magic at Old Trafford. In a sense, Manchester United were in the same place as Arsenal, a side with past glories but now dealing with mediocrity.

There was even a time when United fans were anxious to sack Ferguson, as he didn’t bring the club immediate success. After all, Liverpool was still on top, Arsenal was back to being a power and Leeds United was now battling for the top spot in England. But what they didn’t know was that he was building something very special, and that they would start seeing the fruits of that work very soon.

Now, as an Arsenal supporter, I am inclined to despise Ferguson. After all, Manchester United was the club that stood between the Gunners and an untold amount of titles. The rivalry between Arsene Wenger and Ferguson could get personal, and that the ManU-Arsenal rivalry was the biggest one in England from about 1997 to 2005 fed into whatever feelings I, and 99 percent of Arsenal supporters, had for Fergie.

But now, that amazing era is about to end. Sir Alex Ferguson will retire in a couple of weeks, having won another league title. He spent 26 seasons at Old Trafford, something we may never see again. And all of those trophies…yeah, I’m jealous. After all, I can only imagine how many Arsenal would have won if not for the Ferguson-built powerhouse.

But there’s also a lot of respect, well earned. What Ferguson did will never happen again, not in this big money, immediate results required era. He was a leader, admired and feared. He got the best out of his players, and when they wouldn’t give their best effort, he would send them on their way. He created legends, he brought in superstars, but the core was always internal. Look at the side that won the Champions League in 1999. Most of the core of that side were brought up through the ManU system, the system Ferguson had created. The structure of Manchester United, outside of the debt carried by the Glazer family (which owns the club), is almost perfect. United is the club every club in England wants to try and be like. Not Manchester City and their oil-fueled rise, not Arsenal and their spending habits (though that may have been the case at one time), not Chelsea and its impatience. It’s Manchester United, and, as much as it pains me to say it, being an Arsenal supporter, the numbers don’t lie. Ferguson got the best of George Graham and, for the most part, of Arsene Wenger. They are the standard that every team in England aspires to get to.

What happens now? The balance of power in Europe has shifted, with two German clubs (Bayern Munich and Borussa Dortmund) meeting for the Champions League title at London’s Wembley Stadium in a few weeks. Clubs that were buyers at one time have lately been sellers (Arsenal, Liverpool). Clubs are struggling to keep up financially with those in the top of the Premier League, who are in a different universe money-wise. The soccer that existed in 1986, when Ferguson arrived in Manchester, is a distant memory. It’s all big business now.

But, through it all, Sir Alex Ferguson was the standard. And now he leaves, on his own terms. The way we all expected him to leave.

Begrudgingly, he is one I respect greatly. I wish him well as he enters the next stage, whatever that is. He’s more than earned it.

The son and the father, never forgetting, but finally forgiving

Today would have been my father’s 65th birthday. Tomorrow will be two years since his passing.

My relationship with the man whose name I share always was difficult. The leading thing that probably drove me for long stretches, especially in my 20s, was that I was going to be nothing like him. On more than one occasion was I talked out of changing my name to drop the “Jr.” from it. To this day, unless I am forced to, I never use “Jr.” in my name. Heck, I wasn’t even supposed to be a “Jr.”, as my father admitted that he gave me my name when he filled out the birth certificate, ignoring the previously-agreed to name that he and my mother had compromised on. Instead, he named me after himself.

What drove a lot of this? Memories. Memories of how he treated my mother while they were married and for years afterward. Memories on how he and his second wife treated me, often acting like I wasn’t all that smart or that I just “wouldn’t understand”, to use a phrase that his wife would use towards me. Memories of him when he was drunk, which was as scary as anything one could come up with.

On a few occasions, he would try and reach out to me. On occasion, I would try and reach out to him. On each occasion, at least well into my 30s, I always felt the same. The moment a call ended, I was hoping that was the last I’d hear from him in a long while. It always ended in frustration. In fact, I often refused to even say that he was my father. He was simply, “Raymond”.

For a long time, the only time he’d try to contact me was if there was some kind of family reunion. Everyone wants to see you, he said. Everyone wants to know what you’re up to, he’d say. Well, I’d respond, give them my phone number. Give them my email address. I’m not hard to find, I’d say. Whether he ever gave out my phone number or email, I never knew. The silence from southeast Idaho was deafening.

Unfortunately, it took a tragedy to thaw things out a bit. When my mother died suddenly in 2006, I felt like I had to contact my father to let him know. After all, they had been married for almost 13 years, and I was their blood, so it was my responsibility to let him know. It took a bit, but one of my uncles gave my wife his number, and he was called. He was affected a bit, and we had a good conversation. It also led to some contact with other members of that side of my family, who I hadn’t heard from in decades.

It was at that point that I started to feel the anger towards him release. I realized that while I could never forget the horrible things he did to me and to my mother, at some point I had to forgive and let go of the anger. After all, despite all of his faults, he was my father. He was also suffering, as the diabetes he had dealt with for many years was starting to take its toll. Yes, he was stubborn, and that included driving himself to a hospital when he had a stroke. It wasn’t long after that when he was moved to the state veteran’s home in Pocatello, and his health started deteriorating at a faster rate, including having a leg and numerous fingers amputated because of the diabetes.

There were a few conversations after that. I ended one because he started drifting into politics (which I hate with a passion). But, as 2011 came along, I was getting word from my uncle that my father wasn’t going to be around much longer. The end was coming near.

The last phone call was heartbreaking. My father couldn’t speak, so Russell, the youngest of his brothers (and, as such, the youngest of my uncles), called me, said he was handing the phone to my father and I could talk. And I did. I talked about my work, about my family, about how happy I was at that time. I could hear him try to talk, but he was getting frustrated that he couldn’t say anything. At the end, when I knew the time had come, I ended with the four words I probably hadn’t said in 30 years.

“I love you, Dad.”

Russell said my father cried a bit at the end of the phone call, and smiled a lot during it. I told him that I was glad I had the chance to speak to him one last time. When the call ended, I knew that was the end.

A few days later, Russell called. My father had stuck it out to make his 63rd birthday, being stubborn as usual, but shortly after his birthday was done, he was dead. Five years and three months after my mother had passed, my father was now gone, too.

To my left right now is the DVD that was shown at his memorial. A lot of photos, taken during the many stages of his life, are on that disc. There is a photo in there of him and my mother, taken at their wedding. It was a simple affair, with neither knowing what the coming years and decades would bring. Or just how much their son would lead such a drastically different life than what they were thinking would happen. I’ve watched that DVD a number of times, and it never fails to bring tears to my eyes.

As time goes by, the memories fade a bit. The bad parts, and the good. No, my father and I never had the perfect relationship. Heck, for many years, we didn’t even have a relationship, likely as much my fault as it was his. But in the end, while all was not forgotten, all was forgiven.

He’s been gone two years. And, yes, I do miss him.

I love you, Dad.

The hazards of sources (even if they end up being almost right) in a Twitter-driven sports universe

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Jarome Iginla, in a 2008 photo (Wikimedia Commons photo by “Resolute”)

One of the hazards of working in the media is that, every once in a while, a story that you seemingly have scooped everyone on ends up being wrong because a reliable source had the wrong information.

Another hazard is finding out later that the info was possibly right in the first place, but just a part of a bigger picture that the source possibly didn’t know about.

That’s what happened in the saga of Jarome Iginla and his impending trade from the Calgary Flames on Wednesday night. Many hockey fans on the East Coast went to bed thinking Iginla had been traded (or was about to be traded to) the Boston Bruins. They woke up finding out that he was instead dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

So, how did this happen? It’s a classic case of relying too much on a source, especially if that source is usually reliable. But it’s not really that simple.

The first report about a possible Iginla-to-Boston deal was put out by Aaron Ward, a reporter and analyst with Canadian sports channel TSN. One of his sources told him that the deal was done, and that the deal would be official on Thursday. In the meantime, the Flames decided to not play Iginla for their Wednesday night game in Calgary against Colorado, and the players supposedly heading to Calgary from Boston were scratched from their games, as well. The dots seemed to be connected. Bruins fans on Twitter were elated, as they were convinced that they had snagged the biggest prize in the NHL trade market, and they were boasting pretty loudly about it.

However, there was a nagging feeling that all was not done. A few reporters on Twitter said that more could possibly happen, and Sportsnet (another Canadian sports network) was going with the story that nothing had been finalized yet between Calgary and Boston. The Bruins themselves said that no announcement would be made until Thursday. But, at the time, that only seemed to be a formality. Many were going with what Ward had reported, and blog posts were made all over the hockeysphere proclaiming that the Bruins had won the Iginla sweepstakes.

But the plot changed. Media in Calgary were asked to stay late after the Flames win over the Avs, as there was an announcement to be made. As the announcement was being made at 11:15 p.m. in Calgary, there were some rumblings that maybe something else was about to happen. The Flames wouldn’t announce the Iginla trade without Boston going along with it at the same time, right?

As it turned out, the Bruins weren’t involved. Just before the announcement, the Penguins tweeted that they had acquired Iginla. The Flames tweeted the same soon after, and moments later Calgary General Manager Jay Feaster confirmed the deal. The most popular athlete in southern Alberta was heading to the team that now looked to be the favorite to win the Stanley Cup (assuming their goaltending gets straightened out), Pittsburgh.

As usual, the Twitter reaction was interesting. Once we all got over our shock (and, yes, I was among the tweeting masses who was surprised as things transpired), the aftermath became a mix of emotions. The biggest ones were from Bruins fans who were still awake, who started tearing into Ward on his Twitter account for getting things wrong. More did the same as they woke up and realized what had happened. And, by the look of some of what was sent to him, much of it was quite vile.

Do we blame Ward for getting things wrong? Yes and no. Of course, relying on one source to break a story that, at the time, seemed like a blockbuster story in the hockey world is always hazardous. If there’s not a second source backing that up, or no one else is willing to confirm, then there’s always the chance that it was all wrong and you end up, as a reporter, having to apologize and facing the torrent of criticism that will come your way. There’s always the pressure to be first in today’s media, and sometimes that pressure leads to things backfiring on you.

But, a reporter can only report on the information that is given to him/her. If the source has bad information, and that source is usually reliable and trusted, you are pretty much at their mercy. You also can’t call them out on it, because the next time they have a scoop or some inside info, you won’t get it first (or at all). It’s a fine line when it comes to sources.

However, could both trades have been right? There were stories on Thursday that the Flames actually preferred a deal with the Bruins, but Iginla chose to be dealt to the Penguins. If that was the case, then Ward may have actually been somewhat right, having been given the Bruins deal that Calgary preferred, rather than the Penguins deal that Iginla decided to go with. So, while he had to deal with a lot of venom once the Flames and Penguins announced the deal (and he apologized on Twitter, saying he got it wrong, in a much more stand-up and classier manner than his detractors would have done), Ward was likely on to something.

And, as it turned out, the Bruins thought they had Iginla, too. Boston GM Peter Chiarelli said on Thursday that they were told by the Flames that they had “won the Iginla sweepstakes”.

In the end, like with most stories in sports, the moral is that it’s really not over until it’s over. Sources get things wrong, reporters report bad info at times because that’s what they have been given, and everyone freaks out for about 12 hours. Sometimes, as a reporter, you’re at the mercy of someone else and have to take the shots for their mistakes, because you are the messenger.

Then, on the next morning, the sun rises. It’s a new day. And it all starts again. Time to do your job.

Unlike those who have it easy and only have to react, troll or fume.

Get a beverage, grab a seat, enjoy the show

“Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends, we’re so glad you can attend. Come inside! Come inside!”

“Karn Evil 9”, Emerson, Lake & Palmer

One of the advantages of living within walking distance of a major regional mall like Alderwood is that I never have to fight the traffic to get there. A quick five-minute walk down the hill and I am there.

It’s especially advantageous at this time of year, when the holidays turn ordinary people crazy and borderline insane. From those who will run a red light simply to sit in traffic on the other side for 10 minutes (defeating the purpose of running that red light, I assume) to those staring blankly at something at a kiosk inside the mall, thinking that it might be something that someone might like. Never mind the pure chaos from the sheer number of people all trying to be in the same place at the same time. At times, it’s quite entertaining.

(And if police were around to hand out tickets to everyone who runs a red light or makes illegal left turns around here for the two weeks before Christmas, Lynnwood’s city budget could run a surplus for years.)

My usual bit at this time of year, on days I’m not working, is simple. Grab a beverage (I tend to get a mocha from the E-Bar at Nordstrom or the Tully’s kiosk, because the lines at the mall’s three Starbucks are usually very, very long), find a seat either in the food court or someplace in the middle of the mall, kick back and watch the spectacle. The current time, with three days remaining until Christmas, just may be the most entertaining people watching of the entire year.

And on Monday night, for the last couple of hours that the mall is open before shutting down for the holiday, my wife & I will likely be down there, beverage in hand, watching the panicked last minute shoppers trying to figure out what to get at the very last moment. Then, at 6 p.m., the shoppers will have to go find somewhere else. Maybe we move to the Target down the street and watch, because it has seats and a place to watch frantic shoppers, too.

Yeah, at times I’m easily entertained. But at the same time, it’s fun to watch.

Happy Holidays!