Desert no place for ice hockey

Robin Brownlee
March 26 2009 11:05AM

Wayne Gretzky looks into the desert and contemplates his existence in Phoenix

This just in from the Department Of The Obvious: residents of Phoenix (the people who haven't lost their houses to foreclosure and still live there) don't give two squirts about the Coyotes, let alone the Edmonton Oilers.

We know this because the Coyotes play in a half-empty building, even though they paper Jobing.com Arena with tickets that can be purchased with a used burrito wrapper and two pieces of pocket lint.

Is it really surprising that a city made up largely of condo developments full of leather-faced widows and that has an average age of 117 sucks as a hockey market? Some spring training games at Ho-Ho-Kam Park draw more fans for the Chicago Cubs than the Coyotes do.

That'll be the case again tonight as the Coyotes, out of the playoff race, play out the string against the Oilers and mark the days until golf season officially winds down -- it works in reverse in Arizona because players in the desert hit the links during the season before it gets too hot in May and June.

What the Oilers need to do is forget about all the empty seats and the look on Wayne Gretzky's face that says, "Somebody get me out of here because I'm dying a slow death," and take the two points, which they will, then head for Anaheim.

Get outta town

A recent poll, reported by the Arizona Republic, reinforces what we already know: "Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican survey research firm based in Virginia, conducted phone interviews with 300 Glendale voters on March 23. When asked whether Glendale should give the Coyotes $3 million to $15 million each year to keep the team local or to allow the team to move out of state, 72 percent said to let the NHL team leave."

When I worked the beat, Phoenix was one of my favourite places. It's a great break from winter. There's fine restaurants on almost every corner and it was fun sitting on a patio somewhere on a January night wearing short sleeves and having a cigar with Rod Phillips while people back home where freezing their asses. More on that later.

That said, I never once mistook the Valley of the Sun for a hockey market, even years ago when former GM Mike Barnett first showed Jim Matheson and I a scale model of all the development that's now a reality around the hockey rink.

NHL bossman Gary Bettman should do everybody involved a favour and get behind relocating the franchise. Arizona is a great place to visit, but hockey doesn't sell there. It never will.

Back to Winnipeg, Kansas City, Seattle, wherever.

Desert tales

Between covering the Oilers, spring training for baseball and boxing when Scotty Olson was kicking flyweight backside, I've probably been to Phoenix 25 times on work gigs. Lots of memories...

One of the few times I've seen an NHL player blush was in Scottsdale, and that player was Mike Comrie back in November of 2001.

Comrie, who'd had a great bantamweight scrap with Daniel Briere of the Coyotes at America West Arena the night before, and the rest of the Oilers contingent was gathering around the bus at the Ritz Carlton Hotel before heading to the airport.

It so happened the Orlando Magic were also staying there. Out walks Patrick Ewing, all seven-feet and 260 pounds of him. Ewing, in his final season as a player, went to the Oilers game and saw the fight. He spots Comrie, wanders over and chats him up.

Ewing looks down, way down, at Comrie and says, "You're one bad man. I wouldn't mess with you," instantly drawing guffaws from teammates and setting Mike's cheeks ablaze.

And...

Witnessed easily the best piece of hair-on-fire journalism I've seen in the bowels of America West Arena in 1996.

Mark Spector, now of Sportsnet, was working the Oilers beat at The Journal . I was also in Phoenix for The Journal, covering spring training, and had come in to write a sidebar.

Anyway, with the bus waiting, Spector has his game story done with 15 minutes to spare, a laugher in deadline terms. Problem is, when his computer asks if he wants to "save changes" before he sends, Spec has a brain cramp and hits "No." Story gone. Every word. Empty screen.

Spec re-wrote the piece, about 600 words with a quotes and all, in about 11 minutes and still made the bus. That's smokin'.

During the 1999-2000 NHL season, a colleague and I from another newspaper, who shall remain anonymous, were at a little bar named Eli's, a dimly-lit trendy kind of joint I'd discovered during my baseball days.

Some dame starts chatting up my winger. She wants to dance. She wants to drink. She's all over him. I get the nod that I might have to cab it back to the hotel myself, if you get my drift.

To make a long story short, when the house lights come on at closing time, one glance tells us that we've met somebody who looks like Joe Frazier, and he's wearing a wig.

-- Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6pm on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on TEAM 1260.

Aceb4a1816f5fa09879a023b07d1a9b4
A sports writer since 1983, including stints at The Edmonton Journal and The Sun 1989-2007, I happily co-host the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 twice a week and write when so inclined. Have the best damn lawn on the internet. Most important, I am Sam's dad. Follow me on Twitter at Robin_Brownlee. Or don't.
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#1 The Towel Boy
March 26 2009, 11:07AM
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Best thing I've read all day. Hands down.

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#2 Mother Pucker Hockey
March 26 2009, 11:12AM
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Haha that leather faced, and average age of 117 comment made this article for me! Nice work!

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#3 BUCK75 - FMNF
March 26 2009, 11:14AM
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PHX should die a quick death, but wouldn't it show some weakness form the "little big man" running the league? He is a joke, hopefully Jim Balsillie can buy the Habs & get some people on board to fire this joke of a commissioner.

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#4 jeanshorts
March 26 2009, 11:15AM
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God Brownlee. You need to write a book about all the ridiculous stories gathered from 90 years on the road covering hockey since the inception of the NHL. I bet there is some wild party stories to come out of the 20's!

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#5 Colin-FMNF
March 26 2009, 11:28AM
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Awesome and I agree, a dispersal draft lottery or relocating the team would be fine, I'm good with either.

Cool stories too, write a book, I'd buy it.

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#6 Archaeologuy
March 26 2009, 11:29AM
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Brownlee, is that any kind of Burrito wrapper, or will any latin wrapped food suffice?

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#7 baggedmilk
March 26 2009, 11:32AM
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I was at a game in Phoenix in November and they had some deal going on where it was 4 tickets, 4 drinks, 4 hot dogs for $70 give or take. All things combined, and converted into Rexall pricing... $613,000.

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#8 OilersNinja
March 26 2009, 11:33AM
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HAHAHHAHAHA 2 squirts (insert type of animal urine here)

I dont give 2 squirts of mountain lion piss about the coyotes.

signed - Betty Skawowski Chandler, AZ

That a girl Betty!

signed Pink Hats Kenasta Society of Arizona

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#9 sittingatmydesk
March 26 2009, 11:43AM
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Best article in a while....

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#10 Jonathan Willis
March 26 2009, 11:44AM
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jeanshorts wrote:

God Brownlee. You need to write a book about all the ridiculous stories gathered from 90 years on the road covering hockey since the inception of the NHL. I bet there is some wild party stories to come out of the 20’s!

I'd read that book.

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#11 The Towel Boy
March 26 2009, 11:44AM
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I think I saw on sportscentre last night that the Coyotes got in trouble from the league cuz they started a promo where you get 2 free tix with the purchase of a particular bottle/brand of Vodka. Haha. Sweet.

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#12 RLH
March 26 2009, 11:44AM
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Wait, did someone mention an NHL franchise coming to Seattle? *pant pant*

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#13 I'm a Scientist!
March 26 2009, 11:48AM
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So, anyone see America's Next Top Model last night???

*crickets chirp*

No?

*looks around in panic as he realizes he is the only one at the water cooler today*

Oh, the water cooler chat was yesterday. Stupid all day meetings.

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#14 swany
March 26 2009, 12:01PM
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When I play Black Ice by AC/DC the Oil waven't lost in reg, needless to say Black Ice will be pounding all day, 2 points tonight and then shoot the Ducks next.

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#15 Ender the Dragon
March 26 2009, 12:11PM
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So, if (when) Phoenix finally relocates/folds, what does Gretzky do? Has he had enough of hockey? Maybe takes his money and retires completely? Or does he stay involved in some capacity with the NHL? My gut says that once the Coyotes are done, so is Gretzky by personal choice.

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#16 Robin B
March 26 2009, 12:13PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

jeanshorts wrote: God Brownlee. You need to write a book about all the ridiculous stories gathered from 90 years on the road covering hockey since the inception of the NHL. I bet there is some wild party stories to come out of the 20’s! I’d read that book.

And I'd love to write it, except everybody I know would want to kill me (more than they do now). Remember that time at Tootsie's in Nashville Kevin Karius and I . . . Or the time in Boston a cart load of steaming hot towels arrived in Rod Phillips room just after he checked in and . . . Then, there was the time I was taking a quiet walk along a pier outside our hotel in Tampa Bay after a long flight in from Vancouver and I look in the window of this condo and . . .

Nah, can't do it . . . and the 70s were WAY better than the 20s.

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#17 Gene's Pubes
March 26 2009, 12:15PM
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"I was at a game in Phoenix in November and they had some deal going on where it was 4 tickets, 4 drinks, 4 hot dogs for $70 give or take. All things combined, and converted into Rexall pricing"

I was at that very game, and we has 2 tickets, 1st row on the 2nd deck for $19 a piece. Compare that with the $70 bucks a seat I spent to sit in row 59 for the Cardinals game, or the $85 I spent to see Nascar.

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#18 Robin B
March 26 2009, 12:20PM
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Ender the Dragon wrote:

So, if (when) Phoenix finally relocates/folds, what does Gretzky do? Has he had enough of hockey? Maybe takes his money and retires completely? Or does he stay involved in some capacity with the NHL? My gut says that once the Coyotes are done, so is Gretzky by personal choice.

Don't see Gretz getting out of hockey when he inevitably gets out of Phoenix. We've talked a few times, even when things have been pretty brutal on the ice as well as off, and he's never given my any indication he's giving up on Phoenix. That's testament to his willingness to stick with it and his love of the game as opposed to there being any real chance things will turn around there. He'll stay in the game when he's done in Arizona.

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#19 Harlie Chuddy
March 26 2009, 12:21PM
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You know how to pick the trendy places Brownlee! Let me guess...the songs playing on the juke that night at Eli's were:

Aerosmith - Dude (Look's Like a Lady) Lou Reed - Walk on the Wild Side Kinks - Lola

"Lola" is a song written by Ray Davies and performed by The Kinks which details a romantic encounter between a young man and a transvestite he meets in a Soho, London club.

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#20 Archaeologuy
March 26 2009, 12:24PM
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@ Harlie Chuddy: and now you know...the rest of the story

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#21 Robin B
March 26 2009, 12:26PM
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Harlie Chuddy wrote:

You know how to pick the trendy places Brownlee! Let me guess…the songs playing on the juke that night at Eli’s were: Aerosmith - Dude (Look’s Like a Lady) Lou Reed - Walk on the Wild Side Kinks - Lola “Lola” is a song written by Ray Davies and performed by The Kinks which details a romantic encounter between a young man and a transvestite he meets in a Soho, London club.

Pretty good call on the tunes and, yes, I know the story behind Lola. The 'Smokin' Joe on this night was actually a woman, but she was a cross between Frazier and Ernest Borgnine. Wanye would have run her for sure, but we got to stepping pretty fast when the lights came on.

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#22 Peter Pan
March 26 2009, 12:31PM
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jeanshorts wrote:

God Brownlee. You need to write a book about all the ridiculous stories gathered from 90 years on the road covering hockey since the inception of the NHL. I bet there is some wild party stories to come out of the 20’s!

I agree. Lots of good writers in E-Town, but Brownlee tops the list.

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#23 Hanson#4
March 26 2009, 12:31PM
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Likely no chance but Gretzky would look good behind the Oilers bench. Keeps the old boy club in shape and maybe just maybe offense returns to Oilers.

Maybe Katz could buy him out of Phoenix for a three year coaching contract.

(BTW I would also buy the Brownlee road stories book !)

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#24 Peter Pan
March 26 2009, 12:34PM
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Brownlee wrote:

To make a long story short, when the house lights come on at closing time, one glance tells us that we’ve met somebody who looks like Joe Frazier, and he’s wearing a wig.
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAHAHAHAHA! Awesome...
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#25 Archaeologuy
March 26 2009, 12:37PM
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@ Hanson#4: Please god no! It's this hard to get rid of a bit player from the Wonder Years, imagine how hard it would be to get rid of a guy whose statue is outside of the building! If he coached here they might as well install a throne on the home bench from which Gretzky can call line changes and argue with refs, or as he would refer to them, serfs.

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#26 Robin B
March 26 2009, 12:38PM
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Peter Pan wrote:

Lots of good writers in E-Town, but Brownlee tops the list

I'm a rank amateur compared to Matheson and Phillips. Kids these days might not belive it because time flies and we all get old, but they were LEGENDS in the 70s.

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#27 Wanye Gretz
March 26 2009, 12:39PM
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Best. Article. Ever.

*dances shooting imaginary AK in the air*

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#28 Wanye Gretz
March 26 2009, 12:43PM
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Robin B wrote:

Wanye would have run her for sure, but we got to stepping pretty fast when the lights came on.

I missed this comment. Agreed. I would go her so long as there was no suprises of the wang variety waiting for me in my dimly lit hotel room after last call.

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#29 jeanshorts
March 26 2009, 12:43PM
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Robin B wrote:

Remember that time at Tootsie’s in Nashville Kevin Karius and I . . . Or the time in Boston a cart load of steaming hot towels arrived in Rod Phillips room just after he checked in and . . . Then, there was the time I was taking a quiet walk along a pier outside our hotel in Tampa Bay after a long flight in from Vancouver and I look in the window of this condo and . . .

TEASE!!!!!! As much as I'd be afraid to make eye contact fear of being smashed across the head with a rolled up newspaper/pitcher of beer/bar stool/etc. Brownlee seems like one of those guys you could sit with and listen to talk for hours on end.

I want to be one of those guys when I'm old balls, because lord knows no one wants to listen to anything I say now.

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#30 Jonathan Willis
March 26 2009, 12:48PM
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Of course, as interesting as the stories about journalists would be, I'd rather read about NHL'ers that Brownlee's interacted with.

That Boris Mironov story you told a while back was great, and I like those sorts of tales.

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#31 Chaz
March 26 2009, 12:53PM
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I think the reasoning of the NHL going to Phoenix in the first place was that all the Canadian snow birds who flock there in the winter would fill the seats up. They didn't take into consideration that the Canadians go down to Phoenix to get away from all things winter. Ahhhhh.....sweet sweet hindsight.

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#32 Malc
March 26 2009, 01:00PM
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Archaeologuy wrote:

and now you know…the rest of the story

Wow, I'm not the only one who listened to awesome radio.

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#33 Malc
March 26 2009, 01:03PM
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And why doesn't Seattle have an NHL team? I think it would be a great market. There would be a rivalry with Vancouver, not to mention the other Pacific coast teams. It would also make Western road trips a little more worth it... etc. etc.

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#34 Chaz
March 26 2009, 01:03PM
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Malc wrote:

and now you know…the rest of the story Wow, I’m not the only one who listened to awesome radio.

RIP Paul Harvey!

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#35 Bruthah
March 26 2009, 01:04PM
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Robin B wrote:

and it was fun sitting on a patio somewhere on a January night wearing short sleeves and having a cigar with Rod Phillips

Damn, that just sounds cool. Who needs friends, R-Bro? WRITE THE DAMN BOOK!

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#36 jeanshorts
March 26 2009, 01:09PM
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Malc wrote:

And why doesn’t Seattle have an NHL team? I think it would be a great market. There would be a rivalry with Vancouver, not to mention the other Pacific coast teams. It would also make Western road trips a little more worth it… etc. etc.

Clearly you've never been to Seattle. All they like there is coffee, technology and plaid. I have a buddy that literally lives 30 minutes from the Canadian boarder, and he's a HUGE sports fan. Loves all things football, baseball, even soccer he'll watch. So we figured it was going to be an easy transition to get him to like hockey. But he never took to it. Didn't understand it and just never got into it. Seattle is such an odd place for things like that.

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#37 Robin B
March 26 2009, 01:10PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Of course, as interesting as the stories about journalists would be, I’d rather read about NHL’ers that Brownlee’s interacted with. That Boris Mironov story you told a while back was great, and I like those sorts of tales.

There are plenty of those, but you know the saying "what happens on the bus, stays on the bus." It usually works out that way, for the better, save for the relatively tame stuff. OK, another vignette . . .

It was the mid-1990s and I wanted to talk to Phil Esposito about a feature I was doing on Russian players. I track him down at the Ritz in Chicago and the switchboard puts me through to his room.

"Phil, it's Robin, I'm doing this story on Russian players and . . ." Esposito cuts me off. "Just a second, I have to take a crap," he says. I figure, no problem, I'll just wait.

Turns out Esposito was on the toilet when I called and he'd answered the phone that's in the washroom of each room. What follows is about a minute of Esposito muttering something about bad clam sauce and a play-by-play of him taking a dump that couldn't have been any clearer if he'd taped the telephone to his ass.

With the flush still echoing, Esposito picks up the telephone and, like he'd never put it down, says, "I hated those f*cking guys."

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#38 442Junkie
March 26 2009, 01:11PM
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Bruthah wrote:

WRITE THE DAMN BOOK!

Yeah you have kids now, friends are a thing of the past. Now it's play dates...

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#39 The Towel Boy
March 26 2009, 01:11PM
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jeanshorts wrote:

All they like there is coffee, technology and plaid.

Some things just go good together.

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#40 The Towel Boy
March 26 2009, 01:13PM
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@ Robin B:

Awesome. You should make it a mandate of yours to share at least one story like that every week at least.

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#41 442Junkie
March 26 2009, 01:14PM
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Robin B wrote:

Turns out Esposito was on the toilet when I called and he’d answered the phone that’s in the washroom of each room. What follows is about a minute of Esposito muttering something about bad clam sauce and a play-by-play of him taking a dump that couldn’t have been any clearer if he’d taped the telephone to his ass. With the flush still echoing, Esposito picks up the telephone and, like he’d never put it down, says, “I hated those f*cking guys.”

Can't stop laughing long enough to type witty response...come to the realization none is needed.

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#42 Word
March 26 2009, 01:19PM
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Robin B wrote:

Remember that time at Tootsie’s in Nashville Kevin Karius and I . . .

You gotta spill on the story about the D-Bird at Tootsies....

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#43 Cam
March 26 2009, 01:25PM
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I was at a phoenix game (in Phoenix) in February, and it was like being at Rexall since everyone was wearing copper and blue. Vancouver and Calgary also usually sell out at the Jobing.com arena. Other than those six games they are lost.

One way to get more revenue for Phoenix would be to move them to the NW division, then they would have three more sellouts... lol.

They will never move back to Winnipeg because then Bettman would have to admit an error. It won't happen. I agree that the team can't stay there for long... especially with the economy in Phoenix being "on it's face". It was amazing to see the amount of Bank Sales down there.

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#44 baggedmilk
March 26 2009, 01:30PM
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@ Robin B:

Robin, I think my favorite story to date is Marc Crawford looking for a night on the town with all of you guys and then spent the night alone with the Victoria Secret catalog.

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#45 RLH
March 26 2009, 01:37PM
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The Towel Boy wrote:

jeanshorts wrote: All they like there is coffee, technology and plaid. Some things just go good together.

Especially since he forgot all the microbrews.

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#46 Harlie Chuddy
March 26 2009, 01:38PM
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@ Robin B:

The Espo tale is epic! He sounds the exact same way (minus the swears) on XM. Actually one day i was listening and he kept referring to a certain player who does well when playing in the slot. Problem was that the way Espo pronounced it he usede a "u" versus and "o". So he goes on and on about this player playing in the "sl*t" and then after a couple of minutes he catches himself and starts laughing about it. My respect for the man grew 2 sizes that day!

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#47 Gene's Pubes
March 26 2009, 01:43PM
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baggedmilk wrote:

@ Robin B: Robin, I think my favorite story to date is Marc Crawford looking for a night on the town with all of you guys and then spent the night alone with the Victoria Secret catalog.

The male Victoria Secret catalogue?

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#48 freeze
March 26 2009, 01:54PM
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Awesome post. It really picked up my afternoon.

Here's hoping for another win ala Colorado.

*clap, clap*

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#49 The Menace
March 26 2009, 02:03PM
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Robin B wrote:

Remember that time at Tootsie’s in Nashville Kevin Karius and I . . .

We need a "Tootsie's" in Edmonton - I'd definitely hang out a Tootsie's.

"Would you like to Tootsie-size that?"

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#50 Robin B
March 26 2009, 02:18PM
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The Menace wrote:

Robin B wrote: Remember that time at Tootsie’s in Nashville Kevin Karius and I . . . We need a “Tootsie’s” in Edmonton - I’d definitely hang out a Tootsie’s. “Would you like to Tootsie-size that?”

Then, there was the time Spector and I were in Legend's Corner, which is right beside Tootsies. Legend's Corner has an open stage and a lot of young, upcoming artists and bands play there.

Spec and I had a few drinks, OK, more than a few, and for some reason we got fixated on wanting to hear the song, "Hot Rod Lincoln," which isn't exactly a country tune. Barry Melrose was there, and so was Brian Ross, the Oilers video coach, and Caillie Quinn, who is Pat Quinn's daughter.

Anyway, we decided we damn well weren't going to leave the joint until one of the bands played the song. By about midnight everybody was sh*tfaced and when a new band would take the stage we'd be yelling from our table, "Hot Rod Lincoln, Hot Rod Lincoln . . ." To this day, I can't remember if any of the bands played it, but we had a helluva time waiting for it.

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