John Chidley A blog about reading, writing, pop culture and sports.


Great Debate: Team Rest-of-Canada v. Équipe Québec

As I’ve alluded to before, I used to work at a Very Large Bookstore in downtown Toronto and my co-workers and I often devised games to entertain ourselves on slow days.

A popular one amongst the hockey fans on staff was: Who would win in a best-of-seven series between an all-time all-star lineup of players from Quebec and the Rest of Canada?

I mean, let’s not kid ourselves. If you pit an all-time Canadian team against an all-time from any other country team it’s a pretty straight forward answer: the guys with the maple leaf on their chest. Seriously, only an all-Soviet/Russian team would avoid the sweep.

But pitting Canadians against Canadiens? That is a tough call. At first glace, you've got to give the advantage to Quebec's goaltenders. Jacques Plante. Patrick Roy. Martin Brodeur. Roberto Luongo. La Belle Provence has a sterling history of producing world-class goalies.

Naturally, defence appears to favour the Rest of Canada. Naming off the National Hockey League's best defencemen of all time reads a lot like the bench of Team ROC.

Up front is where things get tricky. Gretzky against Lemieux. The Rocket versus Stevie Y. It's a dead heat.

The rules are simple:

  1. Each team gets four lines of forwards, six defencemen and three goaltenders.
  2. Any player from the National Hockey League’s history is eligible.
  3. These theoretical rosters are composed of the players in their primes. Bobby Orr's knees are in perfect shape and Michel Goulet hasn't been concussed.
  4. It’s Rest-of-Canada versus Quebec, not French Canada versus English Canada. For example, Dion Phaneuf, a Francophone, could theoretically play for Rest-of-Canada, as he’s from Edmonton. Similarly, Doug Harvey is from Montreal so he’d play for Quebec, even if he is maudit anglais.Of course, English against French can be a fun exercize as well, but we’re trying to keep things politically sensitive on this blog.
  5. No, Brett Hull doesn’t count.

I want to know who you think would win, and why. If you’re feeling ambitious, post your rosters as well.

Here are my picks for the rosters, as well as the winner

Team Rest-of-Canada

C - Wayne Gretzky
Steve Yzerman
Gordie Howe
Sidney Crosby
Mark Messier
Bobby Hull
Phil Esposito
Ron Francis
Joe Sakic
Mark Recchi
Doug Gilmour
Adam Oates

Bobby Orr
Larry Robinson
Larry Murphy
Paul Coffey
Scott Stevens
Chris Pronger

Terry Sawchuck
Ken Dryden
Glenn Hall

Équipe Québec
C-Maurice Richard
Henri Richard
Mario Lemieux
Marcel Dionne
Guy Lafleur
Luc Robitaille
Denis Savard
Pierre Turgeon
Gilbert Perrault
Jean Ratelle
Jean Beliveau
Michel Goulet

Ray Bourque
Doug Harvey
Denis Potvin
Serge Savard
Guy Lapointe
Jacques Laperriere

Patrick Roy
Martin Brodeur
Jacques Plante

Winner: Team Rest-of-Canada in seven games.

Led by captain Wayne Gretzky, Team Rest-of-Canada would win because they would abuse their biggest advantage: defence.

With goalies and forward pretty even, the largest disparity is clearly at the blue line. Yes, Bourque and Harvey are two of the best defenders of all time, but they aren’t the best.

Bobby Orr is the best offensive-defenceman of all time and Larry Robinson is the best defensive-defenceman ever. That one-two punch, coupled with the depth of their rearguard corps gives ROC a real advantage.

Rest-of-Canada’s defence is also much bigger than the average forward for Équipe Québec. Although the Richards might be able to slip by the likes of Paul Coffey and Larry Murphy a few times, they’d be exhausted when it comes time to lace ‘em up for Game 7.

Also, ROC's defence would be able to jump up into the attack. Obviously, Orr was capable of scoring just as many points as any forward for Quebec, and Coffey would be able to keep La Belle Provence's defence honest too.

One of the big surprises is that ROC is actually pretty good between the pipes. Yes, the case can be made that one of Roy, Brodeur or Plante are the greatest goaltender of all time - but the same can be said of Sawchuk. Further, Dryden and Hall aren't exactly slouches. Sawchuk, coupled with the reliable defence in front of him, would be more than enough to stop the best that Quebec has to offer.

Up front would still be a dead heat. The Rest-of-Canada couldn't possibly match the flair and play-making ability of Quebec, but with talented and tough forwards like Howe, Gilmour and Recchi bearing down on them on the forecheck, the blue-and-white would feel rushed and pressured on most of their shifts.


Sandwich Review: KFC’s Double Down

Inviting, isn't it?

It took months to make it possible, but yesterday I finally ate a Double Down from KFC.

Normally, reviwing a sandwich is not my bag. After all, my good friend and neighbour John already does a bang-up job over at In Search of a Sandwich. Why would I want to compete?

But the Double Down - KFC’s bacon, sauce and cheese sandwich that substitutes the bread for pieces of deep-fried chicken - transcends a normal sandwich.  Just as the Double Down pushes the envelope of sandwich technology, I must expand my blogging horizons for this fast food delicacy.

Not since the Earl of Sandwich put meat between two pieces of bread has a sandwich created so much buzz.

The novelty of the breadless sandwich coupled with the thrilling sense of danger that accompanies each sodium-filled bite has made the Double Down into something of a pop culture phenomenon, with people proudly announcing on Facebook or Twitter their desire to consume the grease-laden treat, often accompanied by photo galleries shortly thereafter.

Diana Mehta, my colleague at the Canadian Press, wrote an excellent feature story on the Canadian debut of the Double Down, including the many health risks associated with downing one of these bad boys.

I’ll skip all the warnings from nutritionists though, since I’d like to think my readers are smart enough to know that two pieces of fried chicken with bacon, cheese and special sauce stuck between them isn’t good for you, and move on to the review.

I travelled up to York University campus for my Double Down, purchasing my lunch from the combination KFC/Taco Bell at the school’s food court.

My eating companions were my fiancé Katy and her co-workers Andrew and Rachel. It was clear that we weren’t the only ones feeling adventurous that day: the outlet had the longest line in the entire food court.

After a pretty lengthy wait each of us sat down to our Double Downs and Pepsis.

 The first bite was, predictably, very greasy and hot although it really did taste good. After the second bite though, the overwhelming saltiness of the Double Down became a problem.

A necessity when eating the Double Down

Fortunately, Katy had picked up some hot sauce for us to dip our sandwiches into and the spice really helped cut through the savouriness of the sandwich. I’d definitely recommend having some hot sauce to anyone trying the Double Down for the first time. The added heat makes it much more palatable.

About three-quarters of the way through my sandwich I had a gut-check. Was I going to make it through? My body was already starting to feel uncomfortable with the mess I was forcing it to digest. But I looked at the wad of meat in my hand and decided that although I might regret it, I was still hungry and could easily put the rest of the chicken and bacon away.

I was right. In fact, when Katy struggled to finish hers, I was able to eat that too.

This sampling had been a long time coming. Katy and I actually had “Eat a Double Down” on our itinerary during our road trip to New York City and Boston this past summer. Unfortunately, we could not find a KFC, and so we had to wait for the Canadian release.

That delay probably created an unfair sense of expectation, but we came to an inescapable conclusion: the Double Down is a bit of a disappointment.

Don’t get me wrong, it really is quite tasty, if a bit too salty. But when I was done my sandwich I was actually still hungry. I regretted the fact that I didn’t order a combo. I could’ve used the fries to complete the job started by the Double Down.

Further, it’s really expensive. The sandwich by itself is $6.99 before tax. I can get a more filling – and healthier – meal from countless fast food chains, so why would I eat the Double Down, aside from the novelty?

I’m sure I’ll have it a few more times, undoubtedly as part of a full combo meal with some hot sauce to dip the sandwich into, but I can’t imagine that the Double Down is going to be a success in Canada.


A low day in lacrosse history

The Iroquois Nationals in New York City's Times Square as they await their travel visas.

As of this morning the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team continues to be banned from entering the United Kingdom and therefore will likely be unable to participate in the 2010 World Lacrosse Championships in Manchester this week.

At issue is the Iroquois’ use of their Haudenosaunee passports, documents that for 33 years have been accepted by Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries.

Unfortunately, as all the citizens of Fortress North America know, in the wake of 9/11 stricter travel regulations have been put in place and the British now refuse to accept the low-tech passports that do not have any bar codes or electronic chips.

The Iroquois Nationals were scheduled to play England in the tournament’s first match later today, but instead the host nation is going to scrimmage with Germany.

The Iroquois are still hoping to make it to the tournament, but right now their participation is highly doubtful and they will be hard pressed to win the championship, having defaulted a game.

They’ll have a lot of hoops to jump through before they can play – although the American government has given them a one-time waiver at the behest of Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, they still need approval from the Canadian and British governments.

As I said on Monday, it’s a ridiculous situation. Ultimately, we’re talking about a group of people being barred from playing a sport they invented, because no one is sure they’ll return to a continent they’re indigenous to.

It’s madness.

One of the most disappointing parts of this story is that its roots lie in the best of intentions. The Iroquois have a national team as a nod to the native roots of lacrosse and the Haudenosaunee passports have been available to the Iroquois people for decades because their traditional lands straddle the Canadian-American border.

Although it’s obvious that the Haudenosaunee passports could use an upgrade, it’s apparent that the Canadian and American governments were negligent in excluding the Iroquois and other native peoples  from their new security strategy.

Why did no one foresee a day when an Iroquois passport holder would want to travel outside of the United States and Canada? Couldn’t this have been avoided?

This tournament has been scheduled for four years, so it’s shocking that the three state departments involved could find a way to accommodate the Iroquois.

It’s my sincere hope that if the Nationals are unable to participate in the tournament, the 29 teams from other countries find a way to show their support for their Iroquois friends.  One option would be for the other lacrosse teams, particularly the American and Canadian teams, to wear purple armbands as a show of solidarity.

Of course, the ideal solution would be for the British government to smarten up and agree to allow the 47 members of the team into the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, any chance to avoid one of the most disappointing episodes in lacrosse history has almost passed.


March Madness: Day 1 – Ignorance is bliss

Ohhhhh yyeeaaahhhh!!!One of the most peculiar periods in the Canadian sporting year is the last two weeks of March.

That’s when, like everyone else in the civilized world, Canadians become obsessed with the NCAA’s Division I basketball tournament. However, unlike our neighbours to the south, we can come at it from an oddly objective place.

Let me explain.

Obviously, there are no Canadian schools in the tournament. There are rarely Canadians to root for, either. Like following the National Football League we’re left to our own devices to figure out which teams to pick. We are unfettered by any kind of loyalty or regional bias.

Really, in general, Canadians are blissfully ignorant of college basketball until about early March. There’s little coverage on Sportsnet or TSN. Only hardcore basketball fans who seek out games on the Score or online have any real knowledge of the NCAA game. Everyone else gleans what they can from American shows like Pardon the Interruption or Around the Horn. Our focus is, and always will be, hockey.

Does that stop Canadians from participating in March Madness pools? Not even a little. Practically everyone I know has at least one bracket, and suddenly basketball is on all kinds of TV channels. After all, there is no better way to while away the time once your NHL team is eliminated from the playoffs.

My only NCAA allegiance is to Syracuse University Orange. Not because of Carmelo Anthony, but because of their lacrosse team. After all, that’s where Gary and Paul Gait went. Not to mention the Powell boys. Also, it’s kind of local to Toronto. I guess that's nice.

Aside from that small preference for the Orange, I can enjoy the tournament bias free. Heck, I’m even indifferent to Duke University which, according to ESPN’s Bill Simmons, people hate.

Personally, I enjoy the fact that as a Canadian I can operate from a point of objective ignorance: It means that I rarely over-think things. My judgement is never clouded by preference or conflicting sources of information.

If 75% of users are picking a team online, it sounds good to me. I’ll never be tempted to pick an underdog, since, hey, I don’t know anything beyond the seeding. Historical trends? Don't know, don't care. It’s wonderfully liberating.

My strategy is to pick teams I’ve heard of, relying on the assumption that if they're on my radar up here in Canada, they must be good. Failing that, I go with the higher seed. If two well known teams meet at some point in my bracket, I follow the lead of my fellow online users. When I feel particularly daring I’ll take an underdog (usually a 12 seed over a five) but that’s as wild as I get.

It’s actually a pretty good system. It leaves me open to upsets, but that’s rarely a problem beyond the Sweet 16.

Now I can just sit back and enjoy the show, along with my free health care. The beauty of being Canadian.