Monday, 9 February 2015

Ok Houston, We've Had A Problem Here

Hollywood Director Ron Howard actually made a movie which quoted those famous words from the April, 1970 moon mission of Apollo 13, his famous film by the same name.  The actual words were not spoken by Tom Hanks’ character, Mission Commander (CDR) Jim Lovell, but by Second in Command, Command Module Pilot (CMP) Jack Swagert.  When Swagert first reported trouble on that fateful evening in 1970 he did not yet know that in fact Oxygen Tank 2 (O2 #2) had exploded inside his spacecraft.  But for both he and his other fellow crewmen, Fred Haise and Commander Jim Lovell, they faced as a team a massive series of audible and visual alarms throughout the spacecraft.

Realizing instantly that something was seriously wrong with his ship, Swigert chose to use a rare and almost never used word in flying, the word “problem”.  And thus were born those famous words, which now appear in our day to day parlance when things go badly astray.  To this day, you will hear people sometimes say in the midst of catastrophe:  “OK Houston, we’ve had a problem here.”

As I watched Matt Kennedy make his way down the Players’ Tunnel on Friday night, I didn’t say those famous words on the air at the time, but I sure thought them in my head.  I am no clairvoyant by any means, but I knew instantly that the Victoria Grizzlies had just blown Oxygen Tank #2.

The Grizzlies problems however go well beyond simply a season ending shoulder injury to Powerplay Specialist and #2 Man on The Hands Line, Matt Kennedy.  Thomas Gobeil, the Grizzlies “Mark Messier” as I like to call him, is also out for some time and there are several others who are hurting.  Many are suffering from the February bumps and bruises which makes day to day play a struggle at times.  Beyond that, there is the issue of goaltending and overall team defense, an issue which has seen the Grizzlies outscored 13-3 in the span of the past two games.  To put it plainly, the Grizzlies readout display is blaring out what can only be described as a large number of “Cautions and Warnings”.

But lets’ go back to that fateful night in Houston in 1970 and the man who would change the course of events for that doomed spacecraft.  His name was Gene Kranz.  Kranz was a chain smoking steely eyed missile man and the Lead Flight Controller in Houston that night.  There he stood alone with a room full of controllers, engineers and computer experts all looking at him for guidance.  As he stood there amid a plethora of malfunctions, problems, alarms, not to mention an oxygen leaking spacecraft which was hurtling towards the moon partially out of control, he calmed everyone down instantly as he lit up another cigarette and said something which got everyone’s attention.  In short Kranz, who was Korean War veteran, simply would not panic in the moment of crisis.

In that moment he looked at his group of highly concerned, but equally competent controllers and then specifically to his Environmental Electrical and Control Officer (EECOM), an engineer by the name of Sy Leibergot to ask a simple question:

Kranz asked Leibergot, “Sy, let’s try and look at this thing from a standpoint of status; what have we got on the spacecraft that’s good?”

That question set off a sequence of events which culminated with the discovery of a series of answers and solutions which eventually lead to Apollo 13 returning safely to the Earth just 3 days later.  That return journey to Earth was filled with ad hoc repairs, large scale technical improvisations amid the highest drama in the history of spaceflight.  To this day, the work of Gene Kranz and his team of engineers and flight controllers in Houston in April of 1970 is considered by many historians as NASA’s finest hour.

I can only imagine what must be going on inside the office of General Manager and Head Coach Craig Didmon at the moment.  I suspect that both he and his very own “Cy Leibergot”, Assistant Head Coach, Scott Hawthorne are very busy at the moment trying to figure out what exactly they have "on the spacecraft" that's good.  You know, from a standpoint of status?
The fact remains that the Grizzlies still have seven regular season games left before they can begin their 2015 playoff run and there are still a great many problems.  There is no question that they will have to improvise and come up with their own series of ad hoc repairs. They know that this is what is required in order to get their season completed and get the Grizzlies heading into the playoffs as a team to be feared rather than a team to be beaten.  So I thought I would play a little bit of Sy Leibergot myself and offer you Grizzlies fans what I see in terms of what we have "left on the spacecraft" that's good.

The Powerplay is certainly damaged but it isn’t broken beyond repair.  Brett Gruber, Dane Gibson, Garret Forster and Jay Mackie can still move the puck around more than well enough.  Once Gobeil is back, he along with Jake Emilio will both be able to blast their trademark one timer slap shots just like before. Will it be as good a Powerplay without the vision and hands of Kennedy?  Likely no, but the Grizzlies will have to make do and forwards like Cole Pickup, Shawn McBride and Kevin Massy will have to play a bigger role.

That move should allow the astronauts to close the Reac Valves to Fuel Cells #1 and #3 and shut down the electrical control systems in the Command Module (CM) and stop the oxygen leak.
Next comes the problem of the The Hands Line, missing such a key piece as Kennedy. The line will see another player, likely Forster, an original member of the Hands Line anyway, to re-join the group and play the role of shooter while Gibson and Gruber will have to handle the puck a little more than before.
This decision will give the astronauts time to power up the Lunar Module (LEM) and use it as a “lifeboat” for the free-return trajectory and sling shot it around the dark side of the moon for a return to Earth.

Next is the issue of problems in goal.  The Grizzlies need a new approach; they need a goal-tending coaching emphasis on puck/play tracking and aggressive D-Zone team defense.  It must be one which will put all 5 skaters on notice in terms of the back-check and establish break-out responsibilities clear to all 4 lines.  They will have 4 days of practice including today to figure it out before they face the hot Alberni Valley Bulldogs on Friday night.
This step will allow the astronauts to fire the Decent Engine on the LEM at “Pericynthion + 2” (closest approach to the moon +2 hrs) for exactly 1 minute and 24 seconds, speeding up the return journey to the earth by about ten hours and allowing for a Splashdown in the Pacific Ocean rather than the Indian Ocean which will help the recovery forces.

Is everybody following me so far?  OK listen up, there's more.
Next is the issue of the Penalty Kill and missing players in the lineup.  PK specialists PJ Conlon, Mitch Barker, Cody Van Lierop and Zach Dixon who have been great all year, will have to do be even better in the next month.  Next, the team will likely need to call up the services of AP players like Tyler Welsh of the Campbell River Storm or Mark Krabben of the Okanagan Rockets Major Midget team to shore up the club for as long as necessary. And they will need to play lights out.
This procedure will provide the crew with the ability to rig an improvised system to adapt the Command Module's square carbon dioxide scrubber cartridges to fit the Lunar Module’s, which take a round cartridge to solve the issue of rising carbon dioxide levels in the spacecraft and allow them to breath safe levels of the poisonous gas from their expelled breath for their 3 day return journey to Earth.

Next the club will need to get more out of the 3rd and 4th lines.  The 4th Line which has been solid all year will now have to not only check well, but will now be called upon to score the odd goal in view of the lost offense from the absences or Gobeil and Kennedy.  Ayden MacDonald, Spencer Hunter and Nick Guiney will each have to look inside themselves and find a level of their game which they haven’t been asked to deliver yet this season.

This set of start-up procedures written by NASA engineers in Houston will ensure that the Command Module (CM) can be safely powered up by using only a miniscule amount of amperage left in the batteries. Once the CM is powered up after three days in sub-freezing temperatures, the astronauts will be able to leave the LEM return to the CM and use it for re-entry.
Lastly, the Grizzlies will have to look at one and other.  Along with the rest of the team, Chris Harpur, Meirs Moore, Sean Cleary, Tomba Huddelstan and Michael Stiliadis will each need to find a way, any way to make themselves just that little bit better before the end of the year.
This final course correction will allow the Command Module to re-enter the earth’s atmosphere at the precise angle required in order to safely make a successful Splashdown.

That’s how the Grizzlies can save their season. "Houston, this is ODYSSEY, its good to see you again."
Just like that famous moment in April 1970, it will take the entire team, the players, the coaches and the back-room staff to save the ship.  They will each have to accept the fact that major injuries and less than ideal play are all part of any hockey season and that the answers can only be found in the Dressing Room, from within.  And with that attitude and commitment, just like Apollo 13, saving their season from catastrophe may in the final analysis end up being the Grizzlies finest hour. -CC

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