Praise and all glory to the NHL season, which finally feels like it’s here with preseason hockey starting Monday (and also the Oilers revealing a new mascot). The World Cup best-of-three final starts tonight (Good luck, Europe) and we not only get to the bottom of the Oilers mascot in this space, but to the bottom of the USA-Canada debate. Mailbag!
1. Hunter: Origins
@davelozo what the hell were the Oilers thinking?
I’ve seen the Edmonton Oilers catching a lot of grief about the mascot unveiled Monday: Hunter. “He’s terrifying.” “What does he have to do with the Oilers?” “Seriously, this is the most terrifying mascot I’ve ever seen, there’s no way this can be real.”
Maybe once you learn about Hunter’s life — the hardship, the pain and the redemption — you’ll feel differently about him.
It was November 1995.
American fighter pilot Reginald Hunter was flying a recon mission over North Korea, attempting to locate missile installations that intel operatives believed had nuclear capabilities. Along for the ride was Whiskers Von Snuggleston, a regular housecat Reginald brought along on missions because he didn’t care about regulations or what Admiral Nelson said about Whiskers. Reginald and Whiskers had flown dozens of missions together and loved each other very much.
That’s when it happened.
#Oilers fans, meet Hunter: our first-ever mascot!
Deep inside enemy territory, a bullet pierced an engine. One of the wings ripped off. The plane shook. Alarms and bells rang out. Reginald was losing altitude. He needed to bail but Whiskers’ specially made tiny seat would not eject. He kept scratching at the lever to no avail and while it was adorable, it was also clearly the end for Whiskers.
That’s when Reginald did for Whiskers what Whiskers would have done for Reginald — he gave Whiskers his parachute. “Tell them my story, Whiskers.” Whiskers put his paw on Reginald’s nose, tears in both their eyes, and ejected seconds before the crash. The explosion singed Reginald’s body, leaving only a helmet with “HUNTER” written across the front of it.
This was only the beginning of Whiskers’ journey into darkness.
The North Koreans tortured him for weeks. You name it, they used it on him. The laser pointer he could never catch. The cucumber quietly placed behind him while he was drinking water. The Garfield movie on an endless loop. Whiskers never cracked but was never the same.
Realizing Whiskers’ spirit was too strong, Kim-Jong Il himself gave doctors the go-ahead to inject Whiskers with a serum they had been developing for decades. It transformed Whiskers into a 6-foot tall, gigantically fanged monster, bloodthirsty for murder, its instincts enhanced beyond all reason.
Unaware of Whiskers’ true name, they called him by the only name they knew from the plane crash: Hunter.
Sure, Hunter resisted at first, but after two years of brainwashing, he did the North Koreans’ bidding. He slaughtered any mice that fought against the dear leader. Any South Korean birds that came across the border had their heads ripped off and eaten by Hunter. Squirrels that dared to confront Hunter met their grim deaths.
It was June 2000 when Hunter began yet another change, this one for good. He was sent on a mission, but the freedom-fighting South Korean dogs were ready. Hunter was lured into a trap, sealed in a room for three weeks with a running vacuum cleaner. Hunter’s wails could be heard for miles. He scratched at the walls. He was dying.
Finally, the dogs set him free. They knew the shame of being outsmarted by dogs and terrorized by a vacuum cleaner would result in North Korean leaders putting Hunter to death. Facing a firing squad, Hunter said his final request was to play with a ball of yarn one last time. Little did the generals know, this ball of yarn was attached to an explosive device that blew up the prison. Hunter escaped along with several genetically modified hamsters and began a trek that would change him.
Using a fake passport, Hunter crossed into Canada in 2002. He loved the quiet calm of Alberta. No one bothered him. He could be your average giant cat, slicing lumber or catching a fish for a day’s pay. He’d throw back shots of catnip at a dive bar while listening to Johnny Cash to blow off steam. Hunter ran from his demons but could never shake completely free of them.
He was a loner, but he was not alone.
That’s when Hunter had a choice — stay anonymous, keep moving, or help this single mom that was being harassed by a local sheriff into selling her land to evil developers. Hunter stayed and fought and after some understandable trepidation from the mom and her daughter, they came to love Hunter.
Did he want to stay and start a life with Carol and Ginny? Sure. But he had to be on his way, for there were other people in need of Hunter’s special services.
He broke up an illegal gambling ring in Swan Hills; he shined a light on police corruption in Athabasca; when an evil principal was punishing kids in an effort to keep their grades down so he could get more funding from the government, Hunter used karate and educational skills to help the kids of Fort Saskatchewan.
All the while, Hunter loved the Oilers. He’d watch them at bars. He’d sneak off to games when he wasn’t cracking the skulls of drug dealers and pimps. He’d always duck out of the arena before anyone could get ID, but after some coaxing from the current management team, Hunter agreed it was time to help children and families in a new way — as a mascot.
After all, Hunter is 44 years old and the years of fighting for North Korea and the rigors of lumberjacking were taking a physical toll. Stopping the mayor of Smoky Lake from burning down the town’s canoe factory for the insurance money was a little harder than it should have been, so now Hunter is here to help an organization that needs more help than any other in the NHL.
Is Hunter a scary mascot? Only if you’re not willing to look below the surface and see the good heart and heroism all mascots wished they had. Maybe what’s scary is opening your heart and letting Hunter in.
2. USA vs. Canada
@davelozo if there was a draft between USA and Canada (like Chapelle's race draft) who would be first off the board? Crosby & Chris Pratt?
— Tim Rutherford (@timmshady) September 26, 2016
Outside of hockey, it’s fair to say America is better than Canada in everything.
I started to think about it, and do we really have any good actors anymore? Pretty much any movie you’ve enjoyed over the past decade stars a British person doing an American accent. Music? Pearl Jam remains the world’s best band, but Seattle is a little too close to Vancouver for my taste. And politics? We had a good eight-year run with Barack Obama, but Justin Trudeau is mere months away from running the “hunky cool leader” show.
So if we were pitting the best Canadian vs. the best American in various fields, is America winning?
Actor: Ryan Gosling (Canada) vs. Matt Damon (America)
Advantage: Canada. Let’s face it — Damon is old and washed up. He’s about to turn 46 and nobody wanted that last Jason Bourne movie. Damon had a great run, but Gosling is 10 years younger, way more ripped and an elite song-and-dance man. It’s not even close, really.
Actress: Rachel McAdams (Canada) vs. Jennifer Lawrence (America)
Advantage: America. I love McAdams as much as anyone, but J-Law is our Connor McDavid and she’s only entering her prime.
Director: James Cameron (Canada) vs. Literally Anyone (America)
Advantage: America. I sort of felt relieved to learn the guy that made a movie about teens banging in the midst of one of the 20th century’s worst tragedies and Avatar was born in Canada. From 1989 to 1991, while married to Kathryn Bigelow (American), he wasn’t even the best director in his home.
Musician: Drake (Canada) vs. Beyonce (America)
Advantage: America. In a blowout.
Scientist: Alan Nursall (Canada) vs. Neil deGrasse Tyson (America)
Advantage: Canada. I have no idea what Nursall has ever done, as I Googled “Canadian scientist” and he was the first result. But I know he’s never spoiled The Martian for the entire world, so you win, Canada.
Food: Poutine (Canada) vs. Cheeseburgers (America)
Advantage: America. Sorry, friends to the north. Poutine is great, but you’re basically Charles Barkley playing at the same time as Michael Jordan. You should be proud of your career but you’re not beating us.
City: Toronto (Canada) vs. New York (America)
Advantage: Canada. Yeah, you heard me. I’ve spent a lot of time in these cities and Toronto has a) lots of good food, b) sports arenas downtown and c) doesn’t smell like hot urine in the summer. Everyone calls New York “the greatest city in the world,” which is like a dude who always claims he has a big penis. No one believes the guy and no one should believe New Yorkers who say it’s the greatest. It’s mediocre and large but not great, much like Emmitt Smith’s career.
3. Long Range
@davelozo Presuming the Rangers fall out of the playoffs this season, which team makes it in?
— ChristopherDiercksen (@C_Diercks) September 26, 2016
I don’t know if the Rangers drop out, but I’m all about the Sabres this year. All they need is above-average goaltending and I think they’ll get it from Robin Lehner if he’s healthy. The Sabres went from -113 to -21 in goal-differential last year, so I’m getting on board now.
4. Super Trouba
@davelozo Fits for Trouba and reasonable contract extension
— ralph (@RalphSchmengie) September 26, 2016
Seven years, $42 million is fair.
Fits: The Islanders make a lot of sense for Jacob Trouba. This notion that the Jets want a left-handed defenseman of equal value in return is a fair ask, but that basically limits you to like three trade partners. Maybe the Sabres. The Oilers seem like a logical partner, but hockey is a sport with the least logic.
Think about it. In baseball, when a player on a bad team becomes available, anyone can figure the teams that could use him and have the assets to get him. “Jonathan Lucroy is available? Well, the Indians and Rangers make the most sense.” Then he gets traded to one of them. It’s easy to follow.
Like, the Oilers make ALL THE SENSE. But they just traded one of the game’s top left wings for an OK defenseman. They reportedly didn’t want P.K. Subban because of his contract, which proves there’s no logic in this sport. The Devils’ roster screams “Trouba fits here,” but after trading Adam Larsson, they replaced him with Ben Lovejoy and took on Marc Savard’s dead cap space to get above the floor, so why would they add $6 million-plus per season at this juncture?
Sometimes hockey is too dumb to exist.
@davelozo Netflix and chill?
— tanner mcbride (@QuesoElDiablo) September 26, 2016
I don’t like you that way. Or Netflix. All in all, it’s a bad idea.