Sunday, December 30, 2012

No. 522 – Still … You Turn Me On

Performer: Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Songwriter: Greg Lake
Original Release: Brain Salad Surgery
Year: 1973
Definitive Version: The studio version

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve never seen a really big baseball milestone fall live. That isn’t true of hockey, and I’ve been to far fewer hockey games over the years (as has everyone else this year).

At about the time that my ELP rediscovery was in full bloom in the winter of 1992-93, Bill got together a hockey road trip to Buffalo. Now that the Flint Bulldogs were up and running and Bill was covering them, he became the No. 2 hockey writer for the Journal, as well as all of Booth Newspapers. That meant he got to cover Red Wings games when Len, the main hockey writer, took a break.

One of those breaks corresponded with a Detroit road game in Buffalo, and Bill decided to get together a crew to go over. Robb and I jumped in immediately; Dave bowed out because of work. (The game was a Wednesday, and Robb and I could move our schedules around more easily.)

The plan was we’d drive over Wednesday morning, leaving enough time to hit Bill’s favorite card store in London and then the game. Bill would be in the press box, so Robb and I had to get tickets. I can’t remember whether we bought the tickets ahead of time—I’m reasonably sure we did—but our seats were up in the rafters of the Aud, which, of course, was one of hockey’s glorious barns, now demolished. The seats actually weren’t as bad as they could have been, I suppose.

After the game, we’d crash somewhere in Buffalo and drive home the next day. (As it would happen, the Bulldogs were playing St. Thomas in St. Thomas the next night, and it’s possible that we made that a second game of our road trip, but I don’t specifically remember that.)

The drive over was fun, and Robb and I took great pleasure in bashing Bill when we got to Buffalo, and he was looking for Lower Terrace street, which he pronounced, Teh-ROSS. We couldn’t find it, until finally I said, Bill, you mean TEAR-ess? It’s right there. Robb was beside himself, and, of course, from then on the name of the street—and anything else that was spelled terrace—was dutifully pronounced Teh-ROSS.

The game was a great one, back when hockey was wide open before the powers that be in their dubious wisdom (and I’m looking at you, Gary Bettman) allowed teams to get away with clutch-and-grab defense that drained the life out of the game. Buffalo won 10-7—more goals than you might see in four games nowadays (assuming they ever play again).

But within that game, here’s what we were treated to: Pat LaFontaine took over the scoring lead for the year; Alexander Mogilny score a natural hat trick in the first period; Steve Yzerman got his 50th goal of the season; Mogilny netted his 60th goal of the season (he led the league with 76); and most important, Yzerman scored his 1,000th career point. That’s a pretty good game, no?

But the highlight of the trip might have come the next day. On the drive over, as we drew close to the Canada-U.S. border, we made a large S curve around a farmhouse out in the middle of nowhere, and I spotted a Big Boy statue, like those at the venerable fast casual chain on an island in the middle of a pond by the house.

No one else saw it, and they didn’t believe me when I told them, but when we headed back the next day—a crystal clear February day—sure enough: We came around the corner, and there was Big Boy big as life in the middle of that pond. I told you.

The sight of Big Boy hoisting a burger in the middle of an iced over Canadian pond was too weird to not take note. So we pulled over and took reverent photos and video from afar. I mean, Yzerman’s 1,000th point was great, but this was freakin’ Big Boy after all.

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