Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Lose An Engine, Wind Your Watch: Grizzlies After Three Straight Losses

I remember this funny thought I had on the day the entire world learned the name, Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger.

US Airways Flight 1549 with Captain Sullenberger (Insert)
If his name still eludes you, Captain Sullenberger was the pilot of US Airways Flight 1549 on 15 January, 2009.  The plane struck a flock of Canadian Geese during its climb out of LaGuardia, NYC and ended up making an emergency ditching in the Hudson River just a few kilometres from the World Trade Centre.  To this day, most aviation experts consider the actions of Sullenberger and his crew that day to be one of the finest examples of airmanship in the history of commercial aviation.

Back to that funny thought which I had as I gazed, mouth wide open at the live CNN television coverage of an airliner floating on the surface of the Hudson River, its passengers all standing on the wings.  I remember thinking about the pilot and wondering out loud about something which the guys at work all thought was crazy of me to ponder.  I wondered if the pilot had just wound his watch.

Craig Didmon is one of the few coaches in the BCHL who I would humbly submit might need to wind his watch at the moment.  After three games to start the new season, the Victoria Grizzlies are 0-3 and off to one of the slowest starts in recent memory.  If the Grizzlies were the Vancouver Canucks, the local Vancouver media would be up in arms and there would be a line-up of reporters outside of Coach Willie Desjardins' office demanding answers.  In short, there would be bedlam in Vancouver after an 0-3 start.  That's just the way it is nowadays in this world of instant gratification.  The fact is that many hockey coaches and GMs in the game would at this point be either hitting the panic button or at least searching frantically for its location.

And that's where Captain Sully Sullenberger and his wrist watch comes into the Grizzlies' story.

Capt Sullenberger and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles
When I was a teenager and was working on my Private Pilot licence, I had this great old school instructor at the Ottawa Flying Club. I always remember his instruction concerning in-flight emergency procedures.  I remember one day when he threw this emergency at me while we were in the air over Carp and he watched me conduct a series emergency procedures.  After the drill was over and I was feeling quite proud of myself for nailing it, (or so I had thought), he told me that I had forgotten the most important and first thing you need to do when you have a serious problem in an aircraft.  "And you know what that is right Clay?" he queried over the aircraft's headsets?  Flush with my freshman philosophy about flying at the time, I retorted with a typical teenager response to a good question from a great teacher, the sound of crickets.

Captain Sullenberger with a young flying enthusiast (possibly author's 1986 doppelganger)

I  remember my instructor smiling and explaining to me that when things are really "turning pear shaped" in the cockpit, you should always take a moment and wind your watch.  The basic idea behind this seemingly strange routine is to slow your mind down.  This way you tend to not overreact with too much "fast hands and feet" which could make a bad situation a whole lot worse.  If you don't take a second to think and you just react, you might take a recoverable aircraft which is in trouble and put it into an unrecoverable position and end up having a really bad day.

When we got on the ground and we shut down, he told me that I was quite strong with my emergency procedures and checklists but that my "hands and feet" were a bit too fast and that I needed to slow down a bit and take time to think.  "And that's why you always just check your wrist and wind your watch before you do anything, OK?"  I felt a little lump in my throat as I looked at my instructor and recognized the wisdom of this invaluable lesson in both flying and life.

When it comes to the Grizzlies, a panicky type would point to the fact that The Grizzlies have been outshot in 6 of 9 periods thus far and point to the lack of offense.  One might notes how many players are well into minus numbers in their +/- stats after three games.  A "Nervous Nelly" might demand action pointing out the fact that in the last 300 minutes of play, (less 5 mins in Cowichan) going back to 7 March 2015, the Grizzlies have trailed in every minute of those 300 minutes.  The over-reactive type might call for a bunch of drastic line changes and maybe even a few roster moves.  Good move or bad move, a panicky coach would certainly forget to wind his watch and he just might start making wild moves.

Gelsinger (22) and Pickup (14) Leading the Grizz
But let's step back for a moment and talk about how the Grizzlies are playing.  Frankly, I am not overly concerned, heck we are only three games into a 60 game schedule.  I think in general, the Grizzlies are playing quite well in spite of the three road losses.  Remember the Grizzlies have only seven retuning veterans in the lineup and two of them, Cody Van Lierop and Nick Guiney were sidelined in the last two losses with Van Lierop, a top D man missing all three games.  The losses have all been close one or two goal contests. The Grizzlies have one of the best goaltending tandems in the BCHL and team defence looks solid so far.  The Power Play can score goals and the team's leaders like, PJ Conlon, Cole Pickup, Kevin Massy and Brayden Gelsinger have lead the way offensively pretty well so far.  Don't forget that the Grizzlies also own the #1 PK in the league, which currently sits at 91% efficiency.  In fact the PK would be at 100% efficiency if it were not for Kevin Massy being tripped while killing off a Clippers PP on Friday night which temporarily left only three penalty-killers on their feet, which turned a 5 on 4 PP into a 5 on 3 situation.
So are things really that bad?  I think not.

Capt Sullenberger and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles
If you go on-line and listen to the Cockpit Voice Recorder, (CVR) of US Airways 1549 its really quite chilling.  There's Sully Sullenberger, climbing out of LaGuardia on a cold January afternoon on his way to Charlotte, NC.  He even points out to his co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles how beautiful the Hudson River looks on the day.  Suddenly he says to his Co-Pilot says: "Birds."  The Airbus A320 flies through the flock of geese and within seconds the two pilots know that they have lost both engines. They know as well that they have zero chance of a re-start on either engine and they have nowhere to land as they are now gliding over Manhatten at well under 5,000 feet.  This is what pilots call "an in-flight emergency".  Within three minutes, the airplane would be carefully managed to a safe and effective emergency water landing in the middle of the Hudson River and all passengers would exit unharmed and be rescued by various water craft who would rush to the stricken airliner.  Meanwhile Captain Sullenberger, after wading through water up to his knees in the back of the airplane to check for any forgotten passengers, would be the last to board a rescue craft.  No panic, no emotion, just a cool, professional reaction to a frightening situation.

Coach Didmon at The Office
And frankly, that is what the Grizzlies need at the moment, just a calm and professional reaction by the one commanding "the aircraft".   I am pretty sure that is exactly what Coach Didmon has in mind; I have watched him coach for years now.  At the end of the day, The Grizzlies have simply lost a few hockey games.  They have lost a few hockey games with a roster full of talented rookies, each of whom who are slowly finding their way in the early days of their respective BCHL careers, hardly an emergency.

You know I read somewhere that Tom Hanks is going to play the role of Captain Sully Sullenberger in a new Hollywood movie coming out soon about Flight 1549.  I wonder what they will have his character do when he suddenly sees that flock of Canadian Geese appear in his window and he finds himself at low altitude over America's largest city in an airplane full of people and fuel with no operating engines?  I hope they show him winding his watch.

Grizzlies Meeting Author's Idol, Ron MacLean (note author not in photo)

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