Tuesday, September 25, 2018

 

Stan Mikita-Hockey Legend





Several years ago, one of the Belleville McFarlands hockey players shared a story with me. Many of the players had all kinds of adventure stories from their days behind the Iron Curtain, in the country then known as Czechoslovakia. Tournament games, played in 1959, took place in Bratislava or in Prague. Players were followed everywhere they went. Some of the players even managed to “give the agents the slip”, driving them crazy as they attempted to monitor every movement the players made.


The Macs player their final games in Prague, and they were sold-out affairs. According to the story I was told, the Canadian players were escorted into the rink for the final game. A man near them did not have a ticket. The Macs were told that he was, in fact, Stan Mikita's father. The team buried Mr. Mikita in their ranks, and he managed to get into the rink without a ticket. That was the last they saw of him.


Stan Mikita was born in Sokolce, in the Slovak Republic. His name at birth was Staislav Guoth. He moved to St, Catharines in late 1948, when he was 8 years old. He was adopted by his aunt and uncle. Their surname was Mikita, and that is how Stan got his name.


Mikita broke into the NHL in 1958 after playing three years for the St. Catharines Teepees. The Teepees were affiliated with the Chicago Black Hawks. He put up good numbers for the Teepees in his three junior seasons, racking up more than 200 points in his three seasons. He also had a mean streak at that time, spending more than 100 minutes in the penalty box each year.


Mikita continued to play “with an edge” for several years in the NHL. After watching her dad on television, Mikita's young daughter once asked her mother: “Why does daddy spend so much time sitting down? (in the penalty box) Mrs. Mikita shared the information with Stan, and he completely changed his game, winning two Lady Byng Trophies as a player who combined sportsmanship and excellence on the ice.


Mikita was one of the first players to use a curved stick. He discovered it could do strange things to pucks, using a slap shot. Bobby Hull adopted the style of stick shortly afterwards, making goaltenders even more nervous. In 1970, the league limited the curvature to 1/2”.


Mikita was an all star for many years. But he always played in Bobby Hull's shadow. Hull was more flamboyant, more friendly with the fans. Mikita was an outstanding face-off man, and was the first Black Hawk to have his number retired. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983.

He became a “goodwill ambassador” for the Hawks. Tony Esposito, Denis Savard, and Bobby Hull also serve in that capacity. Mikita's statue is located at Gate 3 ½ at the United Center.


Stan Mikita passed away on August 7, 2018.


James Hurst September 18, 2018

 

The US Open Tennis Championships 2018



After he struck the final blow in the United States Open on Sunday, Novak Djokovic collapsed, face up, on the tennis court. He had defeated Juan Martin del Potro in straight sets to win the title. They had both suffered from oppressive heat for two weeks in quest of the Grand Slam title. Even though he was seeded 6th, Djokovic was clearly in control in the match. He was coming off a win at Wimbledon earlier in the summer.


Remarkably, del Potro was a previous winner of the US Open in 2009. In the world of competitive tennis, that is a very long time. He has battled numerous injuries over the years, and he looked forward to kissing the cup after the match. To his dismay, he had to settle for more than two million Canadian dollars, and a silver plate. Djoko got the trophy, and more than four million dollars.


There was a lot of noise from the spectators throughout the match. Tennis fans expect decorum during the matches. As time goes by, there is less and less respect for the umpire's request for silence. I hate to say it, but fifty years from now, there might be out and out bedlam at the courts. Quite often, players have to “regroup” and compose their thoughts before serving. They bounce the balls several times before tossing the ball overhead to serve. On a couple of occasions, Djokovic screamed at the Argentinian contingent supporting del Potro. They were neatly packed in a box in the rafters. They had organized cheers. They were loud, and distracting. All well and good, so long as it does not happen before a service.


After the match, Djokovic thanked the spectators, the Serbians and the Argentinians, for their enthusiasm.


Both Federer and Nadal were eliminated before the final. There is plenty of fine tennis left in both of them, but this may have been a watershed of sorts for them. They are a little older, and a little smaller than the up and coming talent. Many of today's professional players stand well over six feet, and some almost seven feet tall. That gives them a distinct advantage when serving, and when playing the net. The smaller guys make up for it by being quick and crafty. It all makes for great tennis.


Naomi Osaka won the women's title. She defeated Serena Williams in the final, in a somewhat controversial match. On one occasion, the umpire took a point away from Williams because he judged that she was receiving coaching advice from Patrick Mouratoglou. When the players changed sides, she accused the umpire of being a “liar” and a “thief”. He then penalized her a game, in the final set, to make the score 5-3.


It was the first time a Japanese player had ever won the US Open. There were plenty of tears when she clambered over a railing to receive congratulations from her family and friends.


There is still tennis ahead at the Masters 1000 tournaments in China and Paris, and also the ATP Finals.

James Hurst September 10, 2018

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

 

This and That in September, 2018




Father time has again marched on past another Labour Day. On Monday, they played the Classic football games in the East and the West, part of the Canadian Football League.


The rivalry between the Toronto Argonauts and the Hamilton Tiger Cats has always been one of the best in all of sport. There is an animosity that begins on the Monday before the actual game. And then, last Monday at 6:30pm, the teams began The Classic at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton.


As is usually the case, the game was anything but predictable. The Ticats raced out to a huge lead in the first half, only to see it dissipate, in typical CFL fashion. Fumbles, interceptions, unsuccessful broken plays. Throw in a few spectacular catches, great running plays, and a couple of nifty tosses from the quarterbacks. There you have it. Exciting football in the CFL.


The National Football League gets underway south of the border this Thursday night. Many of you pay more attention to that game. So be it. I prefer the bigger field, the action in the backfield prior to the snap, the three downs to get the job done. Then again, football is football. I did mention last week that the Queen's Golden Gaels started off their season on the right foot. They took a drubbing last weekend, indicating that their season will be an interesting one.


There are more than a few broken-hearted Blue Jay fans in our sports area today as they realize that the season is now in the toilet, flushed, and nicely settled in the septic tank. Josh Donaldson has left the building. There were slight hopes at the beginning of the season that old wounds could heal quickly, and that the team might have been able to salvage a decent season. Such is not the case.


Gone is the excitement from a handful of great players: Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, J.A. Happ, and a few others who were not able to step up to the plate and get the job done. For many reasons, these talented players have been jettisoned from the team. The spin from management is that “they are building for the future”. The correct interpretation of that comment is that Jays' fans had better prepare themselves for a few very long seasons. “A player to be named later” can bring great rewards, or bitter disappointment.


There are plenty of empty sets now at the Rogers Centre. Understandably so. There are some exciting young players in the lineup, and some in the minors who will make a difference next year. For team management, it will be a matter of getting the best from the entire roster.


The Red Sox have pretty well sewn up the American League East. Despite their earlier success, the Yankees are now struggling to get a wild card. In both of those cases, money does matter.



Our hopes for a Canadian to succeed in the United States Open Tennis Championship have been dashed, on both the men's and ladies' sides. Veterans Federer , Djokovic, and Nadal continue to impress as does Serena Williams. In all these cases, experience does make a difference.


The cicadas are still buzzing away. That all bodes well in this last gasp of summer.


James Hurst
September 4, 2018

Monday, September 10, 2018

 

Matt Stajan-Off to Germany 2018





One of the most popular players in Belleville Bulls history is taking his game — and his family — to Germany.

Matt Stajan, who once topped an Intelligencer fan vote for Most Popular Bull, has inked a deal with EHC Red Bull Munchen of the German League after 15 years in the NHL. The Mississauga native played in the OHL for the Bulls from 2000-03 and was a second-round selection (No. 57) of his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2002 NHL draft.



This week, Stajan told Postmedia reporter Kristen Anderson he was already teaching his three-year-old son, Elliot, a few words in German. The 34-year-old centre says playing in Europe, where it’s a good guess he might wrap up his career, will be an awesome adventure that his family — which also includes wife Katie and infant son Dylan — is eager to embrace.
“It’ll be fun,” he said.


Stajan was definitely fun to watch during his Bulls career, especially his final season (2002-03) in the OHL when he played between rugged and sure-handed wingers Cody McCormick and Adam Paiement on Belleville’s vaunted Executive Line. An offensively-challenged Bulls team could muster just 195 goals that season and the Executive Line accounted for 100 of those— McCormick, 36; Stajan, 34; and Paiement, 30.


Stajan tacked on 60 assists to lead the Bulls with 94 points in 57 games. Plus, he and his Executive Line mates were the reason underdog Belleville almost pulled off what would’ve been a shocking upset of heavily-favoured Toronto St. Mike’s in a first-round playoff series that went the distance.


Rarely coming off the ice during that thrilling seven-game affair, the Execs were the only three Bulls to collect more than 10 points over the course of the series — Stajan, 5-8-13; Paiement, 6-5-11; and McCormick, 4-7-11.


As has been mentioned more than once in this space before, Bulls head coach Jim Hulton claimed no sudden stroke of genius when he slapped the Executive Line together. He did it out of pure necessity. “They were by far our three best guys,” said Hulton. “They had to play together.”


But scoring goals and setting up his teammates was only part of Stajan’s game in Belleville. Not the biggest player on the ice at six-foot-one and, then, probably less than 175 pounds, Stajan played an all-around game. He was excellent on the draw, played solid in the defensive and neutral zones, and was rarely — if ever — outworked by anybody wearing an enemy jersey.
And, along with all of that, Stajan was simply just a good, down-to-earth kid. Fans loved him here, especially the young ones.


As the story goes, after Stajan was drafted by Toronto, his dad — who was operating a factory in the city — summoned all of his employees into the lunchroom and treated them to beer and sandwiches to celebrate. Production? It was shut down for the day.


Except for one full season with the AHL Baby Leafs in St. John’s where he enjoyed his most prolific professional campaign — 23 goals, 66 points in 80 games in 2004-04 — Stajan spent six seasons in Toronto before a trade to Calgary. He played for the Flames for nine winters, including 68 games last season, and became something of a semi-player-coach for the NHL club in the later stages of his big-league career.


Stajan never put up the kind of numbers in the NHL that he did in Belleville — 16 goals, twice; 40 assists; and 55 points are his single-season career-highs — but his work ethic and responsible defensive play allowed him to stick around and make a valuable contribution for more than 1,000 games in The Show.


Stajan’s contract with Calgary has expired and he said going to Europe to play in Germany will fulfill a personal goal. And, he feels wanted again.
“The team, the management has been great with communicating and arranging everything,” he told Postmedia. “We have no regrets. We’re excited to move there and move forward, and experience playing over there.”


Stajan isn’t the first former Bull to play in Europe late in his pro career. Steve Bancroft played for the Augsburg Panthers in 2004-05 and still raves about the wonderful time he and his family had there as he put a capper on a lengthy and satisfying career.
More recently, Bulls franchise Iron Man — Stephen Silas — spent last season in France with Epinal.


• Need to know: Stajan was a fourth-round steal by the Bulls in the 1999 OHL draft. Over his three-year career in Belleville, he produced at better than a point-per-game clip with 206 (76 goals, 130 assists) in 182 regular-season games and 31 (nine goals, 22 assists) in 25 playoff contests.


Notes from The Intelligencer....Paul Svoboda


Wednesday, September 05, 2018

 

Carson Waite-First Year Football


Carson Waite is well aware of his role as a first year football player at Queen's University. After looking at several other offers, he decided to sign with Queen's, and has spent the last few weeks in training camp.


Carson began his football career by playing in the Belleville Minor Football League. He then became a star running back at Centennial Secondary School in Belleville. Throughout his high school career, he excelled in football and in rugby. “I really love rugby”' he told me recently when we spoke by phone. He was on his way home from practice, ready to tear into his submarine sandwich. “Rugby is a brotherhood, and I like the whole team aspect of the game. But the same applies to football, of course”.


As a rookie, Waite knows that he will have to bide his time before cracking the starting lineup. “There are six guys on the depth chart at my position. There are more than 25 recruits. I know it is my job to work hard and be ready”. As the season progresses, Waite hopes to get some action on special teams, likely “containing the edge” on kickoffs and punts.


He had just received word that he had been accepted to stay in the Watts Residence this year. “It's a really nice place”, he told me. He is also enrolled in the Arts program and hopes to get into teaching some day. In the meantime, he is expected to eat, sleep, and live football for the next few weeks.


There will be a strong contingent of Prince Edward County fans at Richardson Stadium this fall keeping an eye on Waite. I received a tip from his uncle Phil Neary to watch for him. His mother Sandra is a member of the illustrious Platt Family from Wellington. His father Terry is our bank manager in Wellington. Carson would not likely have a lot of difficulty acquiring his student loan.


Waite is a Hamilton Tiger Cat fan. He follows the Canadian Football League each year, and would certainly consider that as an option in the future.


Carson stands five feet, ten inches tall, and tips the scales at around two hundred pounds. He could be considered an average size for a running back in Canadian football. This may date me a little, but I remember attending a Queen's game several years ago when a couple of backs of similar stature piled up the yards against the University of Toronto: Ronnie Stewart and Gary Schreider. A former school principal and coach from Belleville, Jack Sisson also played on that team.


I told Carson that I hope to be there on October 20th for the game against the Ottawa Gee Gees. It is the 50th anniversary of my graduation from Queen's, and the old grads get to “walk the track” at half time. The parade swings by the student section, and we reflect on those great undergraduate days and long nights of study, preparing papers, and getting ready for exams.


The Gaels opened the season on Sunday in Toronto. They defeated the York Lions 42-21. Next Sunday they play Laurier in Kingston at Richardson Stadium, starting at 1:00pm. Should be a good one!


James Hurst
August 27, 2018







Friday, August 24, 2018

 

The Malarchuk Story





I am sure that most of us cannot remember what we were doing on the evening of March 22, 1989. One of my good friends remembers that date vividly. His name is Rick Meagher, and he was playing hockey in Buffalo, New York, for the St. Louis Blues.


                                    Rick Meagher, # 22 in front of the referee.
                                     Trenton's Tom Tilley in the foreground.

He was standing near the Buffalo net when there was a stoppage in play. There was a good reason for the whistle because the Sabres' netminder, Clint Malarchuk, had been seriously injured. A skate blade had come up and hit his neck, cutting his jugular vein. Only quick action on the part of several individuals saved his life. It was one of those freak accidents that happens occasionally in sports.

Perhaps preventable, but likely not. Players up to a certain level now wear neck guards, but there will still be injuries due to the sharpness of skate blades. Malarchuk recovered quickly, and was back on the ice in ten days. There was an extended recovery period, as he had received more than 300 stitches to close the wound.

A few years ago, I chatted with Rick about this and other injuries he had experienced when he was playing. I will allow you to finish your breakfast before I continue in that vein.

Malarchuk soldiered on in the hockey wars, and posted respectable numbers for his career. But that one night, that harrowing experience, took its toll on him as he aged. He began to tumble down that long and slippery slope to despondency, desolation, and darkness. He was diagnosed with “Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome”. This tag is usually attached to soldiers, police officers and individuals that live and experience serious crises. He was also categorized with the “Obsessive-Compulsive” syndrome.

There are many names one can attach to people who have great difficulties with their mental state. The whole thing falls under the big umbrella called mental illness. For Malarchuk, it became so difficult for him that he attempted suicide, using a gun. He blew off the front of his face, losing teeth in the process. He pleaded with his wife not to phone the police, nor emergency services. She took appropriate action that day, and continues to stand by him.

They travel together, and pass on their message to large crowds. Seek help, if you need it. We all know that the help one needs does not come easy. Hospitals and clinics in the mental health field are constantly looking for psychiatrists and psychologists. I might add that competent and sympathetic workers in this field are the ones who do the best work. Understandably.

The sports world lost one of the really good guys yesterday. “Meadowlark” Lemon, a star with the Harlem Globetrotters, passed away. It was a joy to watch him, as he led the team to one victory after another against the hapless Washington Generals. It would be difficult to estimate the amount of good will and happiness that the Globetrotters have spread over the years. If you have never seen their live performance, please do it.


James Hurst
August 21, 2018

 

Secrets of The Sandbanks-Our Home

The surprising secrets of Sandbanks: 6 reasons why this provincial park is even better than you thought

Even if you go often, you might not realize you can reach out and touch ancient history

Kimberley Fehr · CBC Life · August 15
(Photos courtesy of Instagram/@sandbanksapp)






Sandbanks Provincial Park is renowned for gorgeous soft sand and endless beaches, safe shallow waters and epic sunsets, as well as being a great base to explore Prince Edward County's pastoral wine country. And you can check "see world's largest freshwater baymouth dune system" off your bucket list. Last year, the park's Outlet Beach achieved Blue Flag status, only the second Provincial Park in Ontario to receive this honour for high quality beach management based on environment, education, safety, and accessibility.
Though, here, sandcastles take on epic proportions, kites seem to touch the sky and you can take a stroll on the beach and walk forever, Sandbanks is far more than three beautiful beaches. Anyone who visits can tell you that this is a special place, but even they may be pleasantly surprised to learn about six more reasons the park is better than one might expect.
You can reach out and touch ancient history
Sandbanks feels like many different retreats, all within one park. The two-kilometre cycling and walking trail at West Point, between the Park's Outlet Beach and Lakeshore Beach on Lake Ontario, feels a million miles away from the busy beaches. The narrow shelves of limestone jut out into the pale blue waters of Lake Ontario. Look closely at the rock shelves to see 450 million-year-old fossils such as the hinged shell of the brachiopod, the flower-like crinoid or the shiny black pieces that are broken trilobites. An excellent cross-breeze makes this a cooling break from the beach on a hot day, and a great place for a picnic.
Tranquility, and paddleboarding, can be yours
You can rent a canoe, kayak or stand-up paddleboard right on the water at the Park's Woodyard, and paddle up and down the river, or even venture out to the Lake. Between the Park's East Lake and Outlet Beach on Lake Ontario, lies the Outlet River, a short, meandering stretch of placid water winding through cattail marsh and lily pads, where painted turtles sunbathe, dragonflies hover and red wing blackbirds chirp. You may even spot a muskrat in the marsh. The paddle might take less than an hour but the scenery makes you want to stop and linger. Warning: as you're near Lake Ontario it gets so shallow you'll likely have to get out and drag your boat.  
Magic can happen before your eyes in the freshwater pannes​
Want to see something magical? Wait for the rain. One moment the pannes in between the sand dunes at West Lake appear to be dry. After rain changes the levels of Lake Ontario and Park's West Lake, the pannes transform into swampy wetlands, then the next day they can be perfectly dry sand again. "The sand is permeable," says Jack Stokes, a Natural Heritage Education Assistant at the park. "These freshwater pannes are a sand wetland where the water level fluctuates on daily basis. Last year when we had all our flooding, the pannes were basically a swamp."
No rod, no problem!
The Outlet River is an ideal place to drop a line and try fishing. It doesn't matter if you "don't fish" — at the Park's Woodyard, you can sign out a rod, reel and fishing tackle. Sandbanks participates in the Tackle Share Program, established by the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH) and sponsored by Ontario Power Generation. East and West Lake are popular for yellow pickerel, smallmouth and largemouth Bass, Northern pike and various pan fish. Or on a hot day you can stand right in the Outlet River to stay cool while you fish.
The monarchs love it here too
Summer is the season for monarchs and they begin to arrive at Sandbanks and the shores of Lake Ontario in May. A species of "special concern" in Ontario, monarchs are threatened by dwindling habitat and the loss of milkweed along their migration routes. The females lay eggs, pass on, and the next generation hatches into caterpillars and takes flight in late summer, the numbers intensifying into September and October. The butterflies hang out on the Lake's north shore, waiting for a tailwind to carry them south across the lake, flying as much as 80 kilometres in a single day. Not only do these featherweight creatures fly right across Lake Ontario, but some 3,000 kilometres to central Mexico where they spend the winter. Sandbanks is a popular choice for the monarchs — but nearby Presqu'ile Provincial Park does usually attract even more butterflies.
The incredible tenacity of trees (and people)
Take a walk in the dunes and you'll see trees that have taken root in these sandy inhospitable conditions and grown despite it all; amazing roots that reach down and suck life out of shifting sands. The Park is working hard to bring back the forest to the dunes and surrounding landscape. Over 100,000 trees have been planed over the past decade or so, and approximately 37,000 pine, spruce and oak trees were planted in spring 2018, in partnership with the organization Forests Ontario and with the help of volunteers and the Friends of Sandbanks, a local non-profit that supports the park.





 

Johnny Be Good!!


                                                                     Johnny Manziel



You might recognize that as an old rock and roll song from Chuck Berry. In the summer of 2018, the phrase applies to the Canadian Football League, and more specifically to the Montreal Alouettes.

About a month ago, the Alouettes acquired Johnny Manziel in a trade with the Hamilton Tiger Cats. Manziel had signed with the Cats on May 19th, but had seen very little action. Manziel is an athlete, and he wanted to play the game he loves. He jumped at the chance to move to Montreal. He was encouraged to do so because Montreal Head Coach Mike Sherman was Manziel's coach in Texas, when Johnny began playing his college ball.

Of course this is a human experiment. But it is not without precedent. CFL observers can tell you a young man named Doug Flutie came north to play a little football, Canadian-style. Flutie was also a slightly undersized quarterback, with great athletic skills. He also had a dismal start in the league, when he threw more interceptions than touchdowns. Manziel threw four interceptions in his first game at the helm for the Alouettes, before he was replaced.

He was most contrite after the game, taking full responsibility for the loss. But this is a team game, and it certainly was not entirely his fault. Receivers dropped passes, balls were tipped into the hands of hungry defenders. Motivated linemen blitzed with enthusiasm when the saw Johnny lining up to pass.

Manziel was only given a few days to get ready for his first game. He is in the process of learning all of the quirky things about our game: the field is much longer, and wider; there is one extra player on the field; replays take place on pass interference calls; players in the backfield are entitled to move long before the ball is snapped. Once he gets a better vision of all of these things, and many more, he will put up big numbers in the CFL.

Essentially, he has big shoes to fill in Montreal. It has been a few years since Anthony Calvillo quarterbacked the Alouettes. No one has been able to step up to the plate since he retired. He virtually mastered the Canadian game, directing the team to several Grey Cup games during his career. He now coaches quarterbacks in the CFL, but in Hamilton. It appeared to me that Manziel might have been a great fit there when they signed him. For some reason, that just did not work out.

To say that Johnny has had his demons over the years is almost an understatement. He was a rich kid who was adored as an athlete from the time that he was in grade school. He could play all games. (He was even drafted by the San Diego Padres.) He was drafted in the first round by the Cleveland Browns long before he would have finished his university career. He loved to party. He had anger-management issues. He was young and was constantly pushed to the higher levels in the game. He was not ready for the prime time in the NFL.

He was married in the spring of this year, he has been diagnosed with mood disorders, and is taking medication for that. He enjoys listening to Drake! All good.

No matter where he plays the rest of this CFL season, he will put bums in the seats. He plays in Edmonton this week, and the Eskimos sit at 5-3 so far this year. The Alouettes have won one game in nine tries. It is tough for any Eastern team to win in the west. But we know that the season is but half over, and this is the CFL, and anything can, and does happen.

Johnny will revive interest in Montreal. It is imperative that he stay healthy the rest of the year. Go Johnny Go!

James Hurst
August 14, 2014.

Note: Johnny had his bell rung attempting to score...and sat out the next game.





 
Ouch!!




As a slight change of pace from the usual column, I thought I might take a moment and write about truly horrible losses in sport. You know, the ones where you are left scratching your head, muttering, “What happened?”



These moments may happen in all games and sport. They can also happen in political situations as well. If you are a Torontonian, I do not need to elaborate on that.


For the most part, I refer to those times when your team has an almost insurmountable lead, with little time left in a game. You begin to count all the ways that you might spend the fortune you have won, if you are a gambler. You break into an enormous smile in your living room, as your friends are suffering defeat. You are awaiting that moment when you are about to receive all the accolades. You will get to raise the trophy above your head. You will do a victory lap. Your driver will do victory donuts on the infield.


And then, and then? You guessed it. Something dreadful happens. Sometimes this occurs slowly, painfully. Quite often, instantly.


It can happen at all levels of sport. Example. There is a bar near our place in Fort Myers that has enough television sets to fill every living room in Scarboro. And it has one giant screen that shows the most important game. A few years ago, we went there to see a World Junior Hockey Championship game between Canada and Russia. All of the circumstances surrounding that game are now muddled in my brain. But I do remember that the Canadian squad was leading by three goals at the start of the third period.


At that point, I should have remained humble. But that did not happen. I began to high-five all of the other Canadian supporters at the bar. We wore red shirts. There were plenty of maple leafs. Some carried little flags. Little did we know that there was some chemistry brewing in the dressing rooms before the start of the third period. I suspect that the Canadian dressing room was quietly confident. Goodness only knows what was going on in the Russian room.


The Russians began to nibble away at the Canadian lead. I began to feel that something dreadful might be happening. When they cut the lead to one goal, you wanted the coach to call a time out to halt the collapse. It felt like a great freight train was barreling down the tracks at you, and there was not a damn thing you could do about it. At the end of the game, we filed quietly from the bar. I swore to myself that I would never again get so carried away in such a situation.


I came very close to doing the same thing the other night. The Ottawa Red/Blacks were ahead of the Argos by twenty-four points in the second half of the Canadian Football League game. I was about ready to turn out the lights because I thought the party was over. I was sure I could hear the fat lady singing loudly. Alas! Wrong again.


The Argos' quarterback, an unlikely hero named McLeod Bethel-Thompson, began to hit his stride and led the Double Blue to an improbable 49-48 victory. He sailed a pass into the end zone in the dying seconds of the game. It was snatched, just in bounds, by Armanti Edwards to win the game. That victory has likely changed the entire season for the Argos. The Red/Blacks were left licking their wounds.


Fans of the Buffalo Bills can provide you details when you mention two words: wide right. The team went to four Super Bowls without ever tasting champagne. More recently, the Toronto Maple Leafs experienced a third period collapse against the Boston Bruins.


I am sure you get the idea. It just hurts.

James Hurst
August 7, 2018.

Friday, August 03, 2018

 

Dustin Johnson Wins the Canadian Open

                                                 Credit: PGA Canada


With almost surgical precision, Dustin Johnson carved up the course at Glen Abbey in Oakville to win the RBC Canadian Open. The Canadian Open is the third oldest national open golf championship, established in 1904. The Open, in Great Britain, of course, and the U. S. Open are slightly older.


The tournament moves to Hamilton next year to the Hamilton Golf and Country Club, and is scheduled to start in early June in the week before the U. S. Open. This is a significant change for golfing aficionados, as there was always a slight conflict in previous years. As you will recall, The Open took place last week in Scotland, and many of the touring pros skipped the Canadian Open annually, because it took place too soon after The Open.


To his credit, the # 1 player in the world decided to put the Canadian Open on his list for this year. He now has more than one million reasons for thinking that was a good idea.


There is not a lot that phases Johnson as he prowls along a golf course. He entered the final round tied for the lead with three other players: Kevin Tway, Whee Kim, and Byeong Hun An.


Johnson birdied the first two holes. He added four more birdies on the back nine to secure the victory. “It was definitely good to get off to a fast start,” he said after the round. No kidding.


As they say, he is engaged to Wayne Gretzky's daughter, Paulina. With Brantford not too far down the road, the galleries were crowded with Johnson fans all week. He knew they had his back: “It was a lot of fun out there this week. I thought I had a lot of support. It's a lot of fun to play out there for a big crowd”.


Top Canadian in the field was Mackenzie Hughes. He ended up in a tie for 8th place, his best finish thus far this year. He was awarded the Rivermead Cup, which he called “a pretty good consolation prize”.

Several people from this area made the trek to Cooperstown this past weekend. It was reported that more than 50 000 people crowded the village for the Hall of Fame weekend. I have been there several times, but never on the Hall of Fame weekend. With Mariano Rivera likely heading that way next year, I am supposed to accompany the New York Yankee fan that I live with to the ceremonies.


Congratulations to these players entering the Hall this past weekend; Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome, Trevor Hoffman, Alan Tramell, and Jack Morris. Guerrero paid tribute to Montreal, and Morris to Toronto, where they played, respectively.


A final baseball note. Francisco Arcia, a Venezuelan, is 28 years old. He has been playing minor league baseball for twelve years! Last weekend he got a call to play for the Angels. In his first two games, he had ten runs batted in. He is the first player in Angels history to homer in his first two games. He was batting .244 in the Minor League this year. Go figure.

James Hurst
July 30, 2018

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

 

Kennedy Feasby at The Games

7 Port Perry athletes off to London for Ontario Summer Games

Local hockey, rugby, lacrosse players taking part Aug. 2-5

Community 11:59 AM Port Perry Star
Ontario Winter Games



Seven Port Perry athletes will compete at the Ontario Summer Games in London Aug. 2 to 5, including, from left: Kennedy Feasby, Ashley Adams, Emma Woods, Haley Doyle, Kiera Kuebeck, Madeline Laird. Lucy Lee, missing from photo, will also take part. - Photo supplied by Stephen Laird
PORT PERRY — Seven Scugog athletes will be competing at the Ontario Summer Games in London Aug. 2 to 5.

Madeline Laird, Ashley Adams and Haley Doyle will compete in women’s hockey, Kennedy Feasby, Emma Woods and Kiera Kuebeck in rugby and Lucy Lee in field lacrosse.
Laird, 15, started playing hockey with the Port Perry Minor Hockey Association Timbits program at six and now plays AA hockey with the Clarington Flames.
“I am very excited to have earned the chance to participate in the Ontario Summer Games,” she said in a press release. “It means that I will be competing against the best in the province. It will be an experience that I will never forget.”


 

My Apology




As we head into the latter stages of summer in 2018, I apologize for being so lazy, and not keeping my sports blog up to date.

I have been admonished a few times lately about it.

I have been a raggedy ass about a lot of things this summer.

I am awaiting a call to have back surgery. In the meantime, I hobble around, in some pain, and do what I can.

So please forgive my laziness. I am now up to date.

You will not find any “fake news” in my columns.

You should know that by now.

Cheers,



James Hurst
July 25, 2018

 

Home Run Derby-2018




There is an outside chance that some of this column may be written with a slightly Canadian perspective. That makes sense. After all, I am Canadian. I live most of the year in Canada. I rise to the occasion, now and again, and swell with pride in my country.

I watched the Major League Baseball All Star Home Run Derby last night with my grandson. We watched every round, as competitors got knocked out because they did not hit enough home runs. There were no Canadians in the event, so that did not colour my perspective. There was however, one key American clouting balls. His name is Bryce Harper, and he wears his nationality on his sleeve. Figuratively and literally. Seriously. He had a shirt sleeve with the Stars and Stripes on it. He carried a bat with an American logo. He wore a red and white striped head band. (All of the other contestants wore baseball caps.)


Harper was there, playing in his home baseball park, to put a stamp of the activity, to tell the fans that it was his house, and he was going to do something about it. He went about his business carefully, and managed to squeak out victories over his competitors to reach the final. He beat the Braves' Freddie Freenan 13-12 in the first round. He the disposed of Max Muncy of the Dodges by the same score. That put him in the final against the Cubs Kyle Schwarber.


Schwarber batted first, and hit 18 home runs in the allotted time. Such drama! Harper stepped up to the plated to face his pitcher, in this case his father Ross. Ross began to lob pitches towards home plate, hoping that his son could connect on just enough of them to send then fans home smiling. More than 43 000 fans showed up for the event.


Those of us who watched on television were kept abreast of baseball\s latest technology from Stat Cast, presented by AWS. That agency tells us statistically just how far each home run would be, if it were allowed to land on the ground rather than in a fan's mitt in the left field bleachers. This is what we are given: 1. Exit velocity; 2. Launch angle; and 3. Projected distance.


Some numb skull determined that a batter could hit two home runs with a projected distance of more than 440 feet, that he would receive an additional 30 second bonus. Sure, that sounds about right.


So we watched them whale away, all of these big boys from both leagues. There was only one competitor from the American League, Alex Bregman from the Astros. He was sent packing in the first round. The top ten Home Run producers in the American League declined to participate in the event, for a variety of reasons.


The main reason, of course, is that it is an unnatural baseball activity. Not the swinging of the bat, nor the attempt to hit a long ball. But the continued pressure to hit many long ones within a certain time is not natural to the game. Many “Big Boppers” have suffered after performing well in the Home Run Derby. Their contention is that it messes with their swing, and their timing. Not all players feel that way, but most do.


So if you expected to see the big boys from the Yankees, or Edwin Encarncion, the former Blue Jay, or Mike Trout, you were out of luck. Am I saying that the format should be changed. Yes, indeed, Horace.


In the meantime, let Harper have his day in Washington. He is, after all, a free agent at the end of the season. Who knows what uniform he will wear next year?


James Hurst
July 17, 2018.




 

World Cup, Wimbledon, All Star Game


It's a busy sports world out there, well worth a comment or two.


Alexander Ovechkin, a Russian player who won the Stanley Cup this year, took the opportunity to transport the Cup to Mother Russia in support of his team playing in the World Cup. He raised the trophy to the delight of supporters at a Fan Fest. He ate a little caviar from the bowl, and drank several beverages as well. To no avail.


The Croatian team beat the Russians on penalty kicks (aka “penalties”) and moved on the the semi-finals to play the English on Tuesday afternoon. These are exciting times for the English squad, as they have not advanced this far in many years. The last time the English won the World Cup was in 1966, and the star of the final game was a man named Hurst. No relation.


In the other semi-final game, France and Belgium square off. It should lead to an interesting final. I will be looking for President Putin in the stands.


They are coming down to the crunch at Wimbledon this week. Canadians are pleased that Milos Raonic has advanced to the quarter finals, and is scheduled to play the American giant John Isnor. Raonic got to the final a couple of years ago, and lost to Andy Murray. All of these players are very finely tuned athletes, and they can break down physically at any given moment. Raonic had had his share of injuries, primarily because he plays such a tough physical game, No one serves it harder. He puts tremendous stress on all parts of his body as he stretches to return shots to all areas of the court.


Roger Federer is still in the running, having won more consecutive sets than any other player, ever. Rafael Nadal always plays his best tennis on clay, but he will be tough to contend with down the stretch. Djokovic seems to be in form. The truly great players in the game will battle it out this week. Serena Williams was not listed as one of the top ranked players for the tournament, but she is still in the hunt, playing very well.


Baseball players will be hanging up their spikes for a few days as the stars of the game with show their stuff at the annual All Star Game. It will be interesting to see which players will add their names to the list to play in the “Home Run Derby”. Several players pass on that event, even though they qualify. There is a growing feeling that the activity messes with one's swing, and upsets a player's natural hitting style. More often than not, successful players in the event suffer, power-wise, in the second half of the season.


Here are the players to watch for at the event:
American League: First base-Jose Abreu, Second base-Jose Altuve, Third base-Jose Ramirez, Short stop-Manny Machado, Catcher Willson Ramos....Fielders: Mookie Betts, Mike Trout, Aaron Judge. Designated Hitter-J. D. Martinez.

National League: First base-Freddie Freeman, Second base-Javier Baez, Third Base-Nolan Arenado, Short stop-Brandon Crawford, Catcher-Wilson Contreras...Fielders: Nick Markakis, Matt Kemp, Bryce Harper,


The only Blue Jay assigned to the squad is pitcher J. A. Happ. There are strong rumours that he will be traded during the break. He has has a decent season, but has fallen off lately.


And the Canadian Football League season continues to unravel as teams now have four or five games under their belts. I have already purchased tickets for the family for a game in September in Ottawa. Always a treat!!


James Hurst
July 10, 2018



 

Tavares Moves to Toronto


The most important sports story affecting this area of the world in the last little while has to be the signing of John Tavares by the Toronto Maple Leafs. There were weeks of speculation as to where he might end up as a free agent. The “Leafs Nation” was in collective suspense. All of that mystery has been put to bed. The name Tavares is on the contract.


He will stay in Toronto for a few years. He will be an important part of the building job that has been under way in Toronto for several years. The question is whether or not he will be the key link to move the Maple Leafs to the ultimate success in the NHL. There is definitely a thirst in that town to sip champagne from the Stanley Cup. All members of the “Leafs Nation” can tell you that the last time the parade wound through the streets of Toronto to cheer on the Blue and White was 1967. They can even name most of the players from that team!


Tavares was the best player on the free agent block. He was the first overall pick by the New York Islanders in the 2009 draft. The Islanders had been struggling up to that point, and many hoped that he could lead them to repeat their glory days. The Islanders had won four straight Stanley Cups from 1979 to 1983. They were led by Denis Potvin, and relied on the talents of Mike Bossy, Clark Gillies, Butch Goring, Bob Bourne, John Tonelli, and Billy Smith in the net. They may have won more cups, but along came a kid named Gretzky and his pals in Edmonton. So ended the glory days of the Islanders.


From his first days on Long Island to the end of last season, Tavares has been a consistently brilliant performer. He has never won a scoring title, mind you, but has always put up fine numbers. He has been an all star the past two seasons. I am certain he will not disappoint the Toronto fans. Coach Babcock will work him into the lineup with his two other fine centres, Auston Matthews and Nazem Kadri. Babcock has had a taste of success in the NHL. He was brought into Toronto as part of the process to win the Cup. Just a little pressure on the coach.


Another free agent signing that will rock the sports word is that of LeBron James. On many occasions in this column I have asserted that he is the best player in the National Basketball Association, Make that the world. He decided to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers (again) and head to the bright lights of Los Angeles. There is a long history of success in Laker Town, and Magic Johnson, one of the greatest players ever in the NBA did his best to entice James to sign with the Lakers. LeBron fell a little short in the finals this past spring. He just plain ran out of gas against Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors. He may have a little revenge on his mind now that he is with the Lakers. They have surrounded him with good talent. We shall see, come October.

And the World Cup of Soccer continues in Russia. All teams from Africa have been eliminated. Some of the pre tournament favourites are gone. England has not hoisted the trophy since 1966. This may be the year. In soccer, it comes down to one game, win or go home. And, occasionally, it comes down to penalty kicks. Not a nice way to lose. Not at all.


Stay cool!!!

James Hurst
July 3, 2018




 

The Belleville Sports Hall of Fame-2018




From my vantage point here on the north shore of Lake Ontario, I am able to enjoy sports from around the world through my television. I am also able to witness many sporting events each year, due to our proximity to great sports venues in our area. In my travels, I have seen fine athletes plying their trade on other continents. There are important halls of fame throughout the world, places where athletes and organizers are recognized for their efforts. There is one in Prince Edward County, and another in Belleville.



James Hurst, Bobby Hull, and Arty Hurst

When Bobby Hull was inducted into the Belleville Sports Hall of Fame, he stated a few words that stayed with me. “ I have been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, and various other halls of fame. I have received recognition from many agencies and countries around the world. But none of these is as important as being recognized by your home town folks, by the people you grew up with. That is why I am here today.”

Since that time many other people from a variety of fields of sport have been recognized in Belleville. The latest crop of inductees was announced the other day, and they will be inducted on Saturday, September 15th, at the Quinte Sports and Wellness Centre, the home of the Belleville Senators.

The Belleville Sports Hall of Fame opened its doors in 1987. It was the brainchild of Paul Kirby, a local write and historian, currently in the publishing business in North Hastings. I served on the committee along with Drury Denyes, Denis Newman, and Fred Brooks. Since that time, hundreds of worthy athletes have been inducted into the Hall.

This year's induction ceremony takes place at the Quinte Sports and Wellness Centre (the place where the Bulls played) on Saturday, September 15th at 1:00pm. It is always a good opportunity to meet with old friend, and to share a story or two with the inductees.

Brian Price is a most worthy inductee. The County resident for many years, he was the rowing cox in Beijing when the Men's Eight team won the Gold Medal, and in London when they won the Silver Medal. He was afflicted with a form of cancer as a child, but overcame that obstacle to become the best in the world in the big boat.

Dennis Stark graduated from Quinte Secondary School, and received a scholarship from East Tennessee State. While there, he gained All American honours in1981, 1982, and 1983. He also set records at the Canada Summer Games in the 1500 and 5000 metre events.

Andrew Raycroft played his OHL junior hockey in Ontario, after graduating from the minor hockey system in Belleville, and some time with the Wellington Dukes. He was drafted by the Boston Bruins, and in 2004 he won the Calder Trophy as the rookie of the year in the NHL. He moved on to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs, establishing a team record for the number of wins. He finished his 280 game NHL career in Colorado.

Drew Ross made his impact on the sports world on water skis. He had a successful career as a member of the Canadian National team, and won several medals at the Pan American Games.

1n 1966, Terry Wellesley, Harold Townsend and Grant Vandervoort formed the backfield of the Quinte Secondary School football team. They won the Bay of Quinte title, then the COSSA championship. He played his college ball at the University of Colorado and at Texas Tech. In 1970, he broke into the CFL with the Ottawa Rough Riders. He won a Grey Cup in 1973. He played two seasons with the Hamilton Tiger Cats, and retired in 1976.

The 1988 Belleville Enright Midget Girls Softball team won the Provincial Championship in 1988. They went on to play in the Canadian Championship in New Brunswick, winning silver medals.

Finally, the last name on the list is yours truly. In a recent column, Paul Svoboda wrote in The Intelligencer that I am “older than dirt”. I suppose that longevity can have its rewards.

Hope to see you there!


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