Where I'm Coming From - Part 1

Kent Wilson
July 27 2013 11:14AM

 

 

And now for something completely different.

We'll continue to add prospect profiles and other fun numbers based analysis over the next few weeks, but for now I'd like to share a few things about who I am and why I write about hockey. It recently occurred to me that FlamesNation has grown rapidly since I joined in 2009 and that a large-ish portion of the readership may not be aware of my background and my crooked journey from hobbiest to freelancer to editor-in-chief for the Nations Network. I'd also like to discuss why I tend to focus on critical, numbers based anaylsis in my writing.

I'm hoping a biographical bit will fill in the blanks for some folks, but I'm also aware it's terribly self-indulgent so feel free to skip this article entirely. Fair warning.

Playing and Coaching

Like no doubt everyone else here, I grew up a Flames fan. A native Calgarian, I started playing hockey for PSA in novice and stayed in the game until I was about 16. The closest I got to playing at a high level was my second year in PeeWee, where I landed in the try-out group for the top 2 teams. Unfortunately for me, I was both undersized for my age and a December birthday, which frequently meant playing against guys who were older. In my final year of PeeWee, my parents lobbied the association to allow me to stay back one season given my size and the fact that I missed the birthday cut-off point by about 2 weeks. The effort was denied because my potentially making the top team would have been too difficult to navigate politically. Anyone who played hockey at a moderately high level as a kid - or who has kids playing at that level now - knows things get rather serious when you start getting close to "team 1".

I still loved the game even after I left the ice as a player. My brother, six years my junior, had grown up around the rink as a result of my involvement in hockey and was much more naturally talented than I was. I helped coach several of his teams with my father. He consistently made #1 clubs starting at the age of 6 and was a player on an Alberta selects team who went to compete in a European tournament held in Germany when he was a teenager.

My dad was a frequent coach of ours over the years. He started several summer hockey schools and eventually coached some high quality teams at Peewee and Bantam levels, independent of our involvement. Some future NHL hopefuls made their way up the ladder under his tutelage, including San Jose draft pick Michael Moore. He eventually ran the Bow Valley hockey association for several years.

My father was the first person who taught me to look at the game with a critical eye. We talked about line combinations when I was younger, be it on my own teams or on my brother's. He told me why he would move guys who had played forward their whole life back to defense based on their package of skills. We talked about the importance of anticipating where the puck was going on the ice rather than focusing on where it was; or why you should look for the late man on breaks into the offensive zone; or how under-utilized the points were when it came to younger teams. As a smaller player who couldn't adequately compete in certain physical areas of the game, I understood pretty quickly I had to learn and think on the cie at a high level in order to be useful. 

As a university student, long after my playing days were over, I helped evaluate and coach peewee level kids for a year or two, but the rigours of school and work made consistently commiting to that sort of thing untenable. I put my head down and concentrated on being rabid Flames fan for awhile in between homework and shift work.

After the 2003-04 cup run, blogs and podcasts were becoming a bit more mainstream. Some friends and and I discussed starting a podcast, but settled on a blog first since it seemed like a more natural initial step. I have always been 1.) opinionated on stuff and 2.) a writer, so I took to it pretty rapidly. Moving from university and wage slavery to the office also afforded me more opportunity to read and write about the game.

Thus began my blogging days.

It Begins

We started our blog, fiveholefanatics, on blogspot (which has since been mothballed) in the wake of the first modern lock-out in 2005. It was conceived as a group endeavour, with a few guys throwing in their two cents here and there. It wasn't really a coordinated or organized effort, just mad scramble of articles randomly published. Because of my background and circumstances I was able to take to writing a bit more eagerly and inside the first few 6-12 months, I was the lone, consistent voice posting on the site. I think we maybe topped out at 50 readers per month that first year.

Some who have only read my work here may be surprised to learn that I didn't arrive on the scene with a graphing calculator in hand and the unshakable intention of upending many of the games conventions. I had no aspirations of becoming a sports writer of any impact or notoriety. Like many bloggers, I was satisfied with sharing some rants, bitching about stuff and arguing with people in comments sections. I was fully in line and convinced of the general, received wisdom which still tends to dominate hockey discussions around water coolers: the need to build from the net out, the value of leadership, the absolute necessity of the enforcer, etc. I tracked traditional counting number religiously, engaged in easy snark and spouted angry mutterings at the team and the hockey gods whenever the Flames lost.

Of course, my blogging habit grew to include reading other material being generated by amateurs like myself. I stumbled on Battle of Alberta early in my travels and rapidly learned a couple of things:

First, that I needed to become a much better writer if I wanted to hang around the scene. And second, that I didn't understand the game like I thought I did. Not really.

BofA was a gathering place for intelligent, erudite and influential writers. It was through that community I encountered seminal voices like Tyler Dellow and Vic Ferrari and was exposed to a growing discussion around the efficacy of both existing and new stats to track on-ice performance at a granular, quantitative level. Writers like Matt Fenwick (yes, the fenwick stat is named after him), Colby Cosh and Andy Grabia approached the game with a sharp, critical eye and discussed concepts like market efficiency, roster management and performance prediction that I found at once intimidating and fascinating.

I clearly remember my first true encounter with "new" advanced stats. The writers and regular commenters at Battle of Alberta began to toss around something called "ESP/60". I had no idea what they were talking about. 

Googling the term yielded nothing. It was inserted into discussions with familiarity and ease by those who used it, but it seemed like a foreign, secret language to me - a series of numbers and letters without useful context or referent.

I eventually learned by lurking that the term represents even strength points per 60 minutes of ice time for a skater. It was a relatively simple calculation designed to see how efficiently a player scored at 5on5. It was a way of instantly correcting for a players usage and a new manner to grade planners performances - one that struck me as more useful than simply reading his general stat line...

Next week, I'll discuss the growth of advanced stats as well as how I went from hobby writer to "pro". 

39d8109299a9795cb3b41a4e9b49d501
Former Nations Overlord. Current Fn contributor and curmudgeon For questions, complaints, criticisms, etc contact Kent @ kent.wilson@gmail. Follow him on Twitter here.
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#1 MacG84
July 27 2013, 11:26AM
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Nice look into "The Man, The Myth, The Legend". Keep it coming KW.

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#2 Maimster
July 27 2013, 12:03PM
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Ive been reading (and occasionally contributing) since the FHF days and can back up Kent's claim that his thoughts on the Flames and writing have continued to evolve in a positive way since the beginning. Agree or disagree, I've always appreciated the transparency and clarity of your writing, Kent.

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#3 clyde
July 27 2013, 12:06PM
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Look forward to the next article Kent. That December birthday is the kiss of death for far too many young players. Didn't Ken Dryden propose some sort of rotating cut off a few years back?

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#5 @Gingras34
July 27 2013, 12:25PM
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Link this article to Walker. I'm sure he'd love to know more about you Kent.

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#6 febreze
July 27 2013, 12:32PM
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I was quite happy to read this and only when we get closer to Part 12 will it start to seem "terribly self-indulgent". I don't post very often in part because I don't have a chance to watch the games because of timezone/location but I like and have learned from the critical view.

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#7 Brent G.
July 27 2013, 12:45PM
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I still remember when I found five hole fanatics back during the lock out. Let me say it has been a pleasure to follow you from that time through the myriad of blogs you hosted between here and now (there was a blog you shortly hosted between FHF and M&G right?). It's crazy to think it has been about 8 years already.

You've come a long way and I'm sure when it all began you never truly believed it would turn into what it has.

Thanks for your interesting perspectives all of this time.

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#8 BigRed
July 27 2013, 02:42PM
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Part 1???? There are more parts to come??? No offence but we seem to be scrapping the bottom of the barrel here guys. I thought this was a Calgary Flames Blog?!

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#9 ChinookArch
July 27 2013, 02:50PM
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Conservatively speaking, I've probably read 90% of the articles written on this site over the last 2 years. I'm glad I found it, FN has enhananced my overall hockey experience as a fan. I too now look at the game differently and, while I don't consider myself a 'stats guy', I really enjoy I appreciate the perspective and value the information. Funny, when I first started reading I had to discover the secret meaning of PDO, thankfully Google was quite useful.

Thanks for the bio.

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#10 suba steve
July 27 2013, 04:11PM
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Coming Soon! suba steve bio, Cars I Have Owned and My Memories of Them. Part 1, 1980 Mercury Cougar RX7. Coming soon! The cars will get better (mostly) as the weeks turn into months. The 1987 Olds 88 chapter will be a little dry though.

Sorry Kent.

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#11 bezer
July 27 2013, 05:23PM
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Love the site Kent. The articles have been awesome, especially lately. I really miss the online chat during Flames games but you explained why that isn't happening anymore and it's understandable.

But the best thing is how this site has opened my eyes to advanced stats. It has enhanced my view of the game although I am still an amateur. But I can quantify and qualify why I think a player/team is good using stats rather saying "Hey that guy is good". But I still think there is room for intuition.

I am also glad to hear that you are a life long Flames fan and raised in Calgary. Its important to understand the history of a franchise.

Keep up the good work (Including the other writers)

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#12 joey joe joe jr shabadoo
July 27 2013, 06:23PM
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Who writes this crap??

joking aside. great blog. certainly has made an impression on how I think about the game.

keep it up Kent.

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#13 beloch
July 27 2013, 06:46PM
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A big problem with mainstream sports reporting is that a lot of it might as well be computer generated using a formal grammar. Many articles seem written purely by formula with blanks left to fill in scores and outcomes just prior to publication. If team X plays team Y, an article reporting the outcome is expected. So some monkey turns the crank and churns one out without including any insight or passion. Reading this crap wastes precious moments of your life.

(That kind of stuff rears it's head here in a lot of game-day articles too, but those can be excused as serving the necessary role of providing a place for the game-day thread.)

What makes this site different from the herald's sports column, for example, is that there's a lot of passion that goes into what people write. Passion for the game and for the teams. The polish isn't always there, but there's definitely a lot less turning-the-crank going on. Driven by this passion to understand, for example, why the Flames or Oilers stink, this site has a lot of technical discussion of advanced stats.

I can't shake the feeling that the stats here are mere numerology compared to the stuff that goes on behind closed doors where math people are paid to work full-time on prognosticating the future of NHL players with tape and angles the public doesn't get to see. Then again, the actions taken by teams, presumably at least partially based on those predictions, often seem to stink! If nothing else, the discussion of advanced stats here adds a new element to the appreciation of the game for us fans.

Good work. Keep it up!

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#15 JoeFlames
July 27 2013, 08:31PM
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BigRed wrote:

Part 1???? There are more parts to come??? No offence but we seem to be scrapping the bottom of the barrel here guys. I thought this was a Calgary Flames Blog?!

I have read essentially every article over the past two years, and have come to recognize each writer's style, biases and sense of humour. But it is nice to read some background info on them to gain insight to where their opinions come from. If an article doesn't interest you (e.g. you don't like the topic or don't agree with some of the advanced stats) you are free to skip them. The writers are working for free (as far as I know), or at least we don't pay anything to read them, so they are free to post what they feel will add value to their body of work. With a rebuilding team we don't have the luxury of debating which of our star line combination will lead us to the cup, so having diverse articles helps keep things interesting. The alternative is to discuss nothing but prospects ad nauseum, most of whom will never sniff the NHL. Keep up the good work, FN writers!

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#16 please cancel acct
July 27 2013, 08:36PM
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Love this site, IMO the writing is very informative and articulate. I am a student of all the stat's ,and a believer in the concept that information is power..

I have my own value system for all the player's in the Flames fold, and that system has most definitely been influenced by writers and fellow bloggers alike.

Thanks for the insight Kent. Enjoyed it.

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#17 Ryan Pike
July 27 2013, 09:34PM
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If Kent is ever desperate for content, I'll eventually post a similar bio. Being younger than Kent, my story is (thankfully) much shorter and less interesting.

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#18 SydScout
July 27 2013, 09:43PM
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Kent Wilson wrote:

Thanks gents,

I think so Clyde, but no matter where the cut off is placed it's going to be detrimental for someone.

I was never big enough or good enough to really play at a high level anyways. I might have gotten there briefly as a teen for a year or two with a different birthday, but it's not really something that bothers me these days.

Has there ever been a trial of hockey dependent on size at junior levels. Sorry, could be a stupid question as I didn't grow up in your hemisphere, but I did hear about competition based on size in New Zealand rugby. It mitigates the effect of the oversized Polensian bruiser from beating up the kid with skills but not (or not yet) the size to handle someone twice the weight or strength.

Age based selection is something that this site should be vehemently against - its a terrible 'stat' to use! Can't imagine the talent that is being left out there thanks to this stupid method. I don't want to bring up Jankowski but even more reason to do a RexLibris and forget him for a few years so he can get over the arbitrary age gap.

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#19 bookofloob
July 28 2013, 12:48AM
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I want to learn more about Eric Francis, so...

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#20 clyde
July 28 2013, 01:15AM
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SydScout wrote:

Has there ever been a trial of hockey dependent on size at junior levels. Sorry, could be a stupid question as I didn't grow up in your hemisphere, but I did hear about competition based on size in New Zealand rugby. It mitigates the effect of the oversized Polensian bruiser from beating up the kid with skills but not (or not yet) the size to handle someone twice the weight or strength.

Age based selection is something that this site should be vehemently against - its a terrible 'stat' to use! Can't imagine the talent that is being left out there thanks to this stupid method. I don't want to bring up Jankowski but even more reason to do a RexLibris and forget him for a few years so he can get over the arbitrary age gap.

I agree. I am coaching an elite group of young players and my biggest guy is exactly double in weight of my smallest. I don't know the answer to this problem but hoping someone does as I feel we are losing too many quality players at far too young of an age. I am an old school guy but I think scrapping hit hockey in peewee was a good move at least until we better correct and change the way we are treating things.

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#21 Robear
July 28 2013, 09:09AM
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Love the context Kent. Good to know the source, or as MacG notes "the Man the Myth the Legend".

I don't often comment, but I love how this site has opened my eyes to advanced stats. It has dramatically enhanced my view of the game. I can't imagine how much time you and the FN writers spend behind the scene completing your research and evaluations, but I certainly appreciate it. From your team's hard work I get to understand better why I think a player/team is good, or how they may project rather than using lagging indicators, like counting stats (which I now quantify as results stemming from good advanced stats).

Keep up the good work Kent and the FN boys! Bring on Part 12!

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#22 44stampede
July 28 2013, 09:53AM
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Good to know the man behind things. Thanks for all you do.

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#23 Flamesbrain
July 28 2013, 10:26AM
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With blogging being a relativly new phenomina, along the lines of we used to dial our phone to connect to the internet. I think that this is a fascinating glimpse into the growth of a new type of media.

Will later parts cover more general backgrounds like the growth of the nation to other cities and the aquistion of NHL numbers?

Thanks Kent, I look forward to part 2.

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#24 Sapp Macintosh
July 28 2013, 02:21PM
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I remember those days Kent. I found it pretty funny that I started off my blog thinking I could spread some insight and ended up learning far more from you and the other guys you mentioned. Hell, IOF was barely comprehensible at times.

Makes me happy to see you're making a bit of a living doing this stuff as no one out there really put as consistently well prepped stuff out there on a regular basis like you, until arguably JW came along with the original Copper and Blue site.

Cool post.

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#25 Jeff In Lethbridge
July 28 2013, 03:19PM
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bookofloob wrote:

I want to learn more about Eric Francis, so...

hahaha

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#26 Jeff In Lethbridge
July 28 2013, 03:23PM
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I think the Flames should throw you a healthy bone now and then as this stuff is better then anything they put out. i am willing to bet that many fans are like me, meaning of the hald dzen sights i might hit up to find something interesting related to the Flames, this sight is always first. I rarely hit the flames page as irs useless.

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#27 SydScout
July 28 2013, 04:47PM
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clyde wrote:

I agree. I am coaching an elite group of young players and my biggest guy is exactly double in weight of my smallest. I don't know the answer to this problem but hoping someone does as I feel we are losing too many quality players at far too young of an age. I am an old school guy but I think scrapping hit hockey in peewee was a good move at least until we better correct and change the way we are treating things.

A quick google search uncovered this from Auckland rugby. Appears that it's based on weight AND age so there must be a good number of participants to allow for further disaggregation of players into the various categories. If rugby in NZ has the numbers for it, Canada can easily do it given there is about six times the population.

http://www.aucklandrugby.co.nz/Weights-and-Ages-Chart.aspx

BTW - massive respect to you and all junior coaches out there. Stellar work.

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#28 everton fc
July 28 2013, 10:01PM
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Kent:

Enjoyed this piece. Good to know your story.

Blogging has opened up tremendous opportunties for some real good writers, regardless of genre. I've enjoyed your blog for a while now. Have enjoyed pretty much all the contributors. Again, thanks for the background. Good stuff.

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#29 MC Hockey
July 28 2013, 11:04PM
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ChinookArch wrote:

Conservatively speaking, I've probably read 90% of the articles written on this site over the last 2 years. I'm glad I found it, FN has enhananced my overall hockey experience as a fan. I too now look at the game differently and, while I don't consider myself a 'stats guy', I really enjoy I appreciate the perspective and value the information. Funny, when I first started reading I had to discover the secret meaning of PDO, thankfully Google was quite useful.

Thanks for the bio.

Ditto to everything you said, goes for me too!

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#30 RossCreekNation
July 28 2013, 11:04PM
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I remember when Wanye asked me to start writing years ago - I was a Flames fan that was active at Oilersnation in the comment section and he asked me what Flamesnation needed, and how/why I started reading ON. I told him to get Kent from M&G and get somebody from FAN960. I think I wrote for a month or 2 before both those things came to fruition - Kent was (back) on board and Pat started writing here, and I went back to the comment section.

Nice to see you weren't always a numbers guy, and that we as hockey fans can evolve and change the way we think about the game - I know I have, thanks in large part to guys like you and Bob, and Tyler, and Jonathan, and a host of others.

Keep up the good work, Kent... it's much appreciated and respected.

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#31 MC Hockey
July 28 2013, 11:07PM
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please cancel acct wrote:

Love this site, IMO the writing is very informative and articulate. I am a student of all the stat's ,and a believer in the concept that information is power..

I have my own value system for all the player's in the Flames fold, and that system has most definitely been influenced by writers and fellow bloggers alike.

Thanks for the insight Kent. Enjoyed it.

Ditto to this also for me

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#32 the-wolf
July 29 2013, 11:07AM
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Interesting read.

The important thing isn't being right all the time or being a stat whiz, but isntead being open to new ideas and concepts and willing to grow beyond one's existing perceptions.

This site has certainly helped me do that, so thanks!

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#33 The Towel Boy
July 29 2013, 01:23PM
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So...you weren't captured by a marauding horde of barbarians when your village was attacked and forced to live out the rest of your days being whipped while you turned a large mill, honing your stamina and building immense strength until the one day you made your escape into the countryside?

Orrrr am I confusing you with Conan The Barbarian?

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#34 dean the raven
July 31 2013, 12:10PM
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febreze wrote:

I was quite happy to read this and only when we get closer to Part 12 will it start to seem "terribly self-indulgent". I don't post very often in part because I don't have a chance to watch the games because of timezone/location but I like and have learned from the critical view.

I echo febreze. My time difference is +9hours (game time here is around 4-5 am) so it's truly wonderful to be able to have access to your insights and those of the others who play along here. Thanks all! Also like to say I'm glad to read your last post about the Kanzig monster. I remember how hard the slagging was when the pick was made and now with some perspective maybe we have another Beast from Feaster to look forward to seeing in the future.

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#35 mikeH
August 01 2013, 04:01PM
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@bookofloob

You should definitely post an Eric Francis bio piece on here, "Know Your Bad Sports Writer". Knowing is half the battle after all...

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