Saturday, December 15, 2018

 

Hazing-Part Two



I do not often spread a topic over two weeks. Such is the case, this time.

In last weeks blurb, the issue of hazing was tied to bullying. Both of these topics relate to power, to the people who have it and how they use, or abuse it. As a result of the hazing, and the abuse of power, individuals are subjected to traumatic experiences, and needlessly suffer from them.

I am not wearing rose-coloured glasses here. We have all experienced trauma, on many different occasions. We learn how to deal with it, how to cope with it. Hazing involves unnecessary trauma, making it just plain wrong.

Ryan Munce experienced this type of trauma as a rookie goaltender with the Sarnia Sting in 2002-2003. “I was shocked when it happened. It goes against the fabric of what you're supposed to be doing,” he stated in the radio interview. He was supposed to be involved in a team- building exercise.

He was supporting the position taken by Daniel Carcillo, an NHL player who retired in 2015. Carcillo has been experiencing the effects of too many shots to the head, and is no longer involved in the game. Carcillo played 429 games in the National Hockey League, for the Coyotes, the Black Hawks, the Kings and the Rangers. He amassed 1233 penalty minutes in those games, and had 100 points.

As is the case in all walks of life, there is a code of behaviour, often unwritten, to which members of the group must conform. Hazing generally falls into that category with sports teams. Shoulders are shrugged, there may be some quiet mumbling among the coaches and management, activities are condoned.

But when the hazing involves serious physical or sexual abuse, the line of appropriate behaviour has been crossed. It should not be tolerated. It should be reported.

Many of the sports in question are physical in nature. Football players must be strong and aggressive to be successful. Hockey players also need to be aggressive, must be able to perform well on skates, and carry sticks to bang on opponents, legally. Neither game is for the feint of heart.

Veteran players feel that hazing is sort of a test of a young player's heart. If he, or she, can take the abuse, then they belong. Bizarre thinking, but that's the way it is.

Ryan Munce was asked in the interview why he just didn't leave when he was hazed. “I did not want to give up on my dreams. Occasionally, some players (in that situation) get traded. Some get sent home.

Munce never did make it to the NHL. He played three years for the Sting, then several years in the American Hockey League, and the ECHL. He retired from hockey as a player in 2011. He is still involved in the game. I am certain he keeps a close eye on “rookie activities”. And that is a good thing.

He is helping to break the chain of unnecessary violence.

James Hurst
December 2018.

 

Hazing-A Nasty Business





It has always been my position that if a player has the talent and the skills to become a member of a team, he or she should not be subjected to the activity commonly known as hazing. The topic has been in the news recently, due to the information that came out of St. Michael's School in Toronto, and several other incidents which have taken place over the years.

I recently noticed on Sean Kelly's Facebook page that he was discussing that topic with a former hockey player, along with a doctor from Belleville, Dr. Julie Gowthorpe. The player in question was Ryan Munce, and he was mainly referring to his time with the Sarnia Sting. Another of his teammates, Daniel Carcillo, has also discussed hazing incidents from that time with the Sting, recently reported in The Globe and Mail.

I was able to listen to the show via the internet, as I currently reside in Fort Myers. I have always been keenly interested in the topic, and, for the most part, I am completely against any dehumanizing behaviour that goes under the guise of “hazing”. Many schools entertain activities to “welcome” new members, particularly sororities and fraternities. I believe there are no fraternities nor sororities at Queen's University in Kingston, because there were serious injuries that resulted from those activities, many years ago.

Hazing is usually done by older members of the organization to “initiate” the new members or the rookies. The intent is to bring the new members into the family, so that they get to develope the team attitude or spirit. Unfortunately, in many situations, the veterans go far over the line. Therein lies the tragedy.

In Junior Hockey in Canada, some of the veteran players are 21 years old. Many of the rookies are barely 16, and do not live at home. In some instances, far from home, with billets. Many of the billets, families who provide a home for the players, are wonderful, and offer a great comfort to the young players. Others are horrific, in the game to collect money from the team, but supplying little to the players. These young men have voracious appetites, and need plenty of nutrients to survive. There are cases of billets who lock fridges and cupboards; there are others who provided a can of beans and an opener for dinner. Teams attempt to screen for good billets, but there are a few who slip through the cracks.

Essentially, these horrible hazing practices involve bullies. The whole topic of bullying has become an important one in our society. I hinted that the difference in age is a factor in junior hockey. There is more to it than that. The older players are usually larger and stronger. They have been together for 3 or 4 years, and may hang around together. The “veterans” were bullied and hazed when they were the rookies. They believe it is their right to dish it out to the new kids. Occasionally, they go too far.

Hazing arises from bullying. Bullies exist in all walks of life. To name a few: sports, religion, education, politics, business, certainly in the military. I am certain you could add many other categories to this list, individual areas that might have affected you.

During the interview, it was pointed out on several occasions by Dr. Gowthorpe that hazing can be a traumatic experience, and a very unnecessary one. For Ryan Munce, and Daniel Carcillo, it was indeed traumatic.

To be continued next week.


James Hurst

Sunday, November 18, 2018

 

Toronto Raptors 2018-2019



On Monday night, the Toronto Raptors played their thirteenth game this season against the New Orleans Pelicans. The Pelicans were led by Anthony Davis, with 24 points. Their backcourt players, Holiday and Moore, also stung the Raptors for a combined 59 points. The Pelicans come out on top 126-110. But it was only the second loss of the season for the Toronto squad, as they still lead the Eastern Division.


Fans are packing the venue in which they play. There are Scotiabank symbols on the roof, and it is named after the bank. You may have known it as the Air Canada Centre. The Raptors share the facility with the Toronto Maple Leafs. I checked out the web site with the seating plan, and current ticket prices. You will have to fill both of your pockets with large bills if you want to procure a ticket from a scalper. The nature of the beast is that if teams are successful, the price of tickets rises.


The place is filled to the rafters for the games. At this point in time, Toronto fans are loyal to the Raptors. As they should be. They place an excellent squad on the floor for every game, under the direction of new head coach, Nick Nurse. At the end of the season last year, management made a few significant changes, effectively altering the direction of the team. Dwayne Casey had coached the team for several years, and had even been selected as “Coach of the Year”. In hockey, that is the kiss of death for a coach. Apparently, the same applies in basketball.


The team also jettisoned star player Demar DeRozan, and that was not exactly a popular decision at the time. DeRozan and the team's other star, Kyle Lowry, were the mainstays for several seasons. In a significant shakeup, DeRozan was sent to the San Antonio Spurs in a multi-player deal for Kawhi Leonard and others. I am not going to suggest at this point in time that it was a great trade. Not enough time has elapsed to assess the trade properly. But at this point in time, the results are very positive for the Raps.


Leonard was a bit of an unknown quantity when he arrived in Toronto. He was known as an outstanding defensive player, and some considered him to be in the top five of the talented players in the league. He was, however, prone to injury, and had missed several games the previous seasons. Raptor fans have discovered that when he comes to play, he is a force on the court. He sees the court well, and makes excellent choices, passing and shooting.


With the departure of DeRozan, Kyle Lowry has assumed a different role with the team, and seems to have a more pronounced team approach. Standing slightly above six feet, he is dwarfed by most of the players on the court. With a better supporting cast this year, he has had more opportunities to display his talents. He seems more sure of himself, and is willing to dish the ball to teammates more often. He still has no fear of dashing to the basket when that is required, and he plays hard every minute he is on the court.


Keep in mind that there are always five players on the court, all very important at all times. Teams need really big guys to clear the boards, to take down rebounds at both ends of the court. The Raptors are relying on Jonas Valanciunas, Pascal Siakam, and Serge Ibaka to fill the lanes under the basket, to clear the boards, to block out defenders, and to make the easy baskets around the rim. Valanciunas has also shown a nice touch on three point shots, at important stages in the game. Danny Green came over in the Kawhi trade, and has been most important to the Raptors' fortunes thus far. He is averaging 10 points per game, shooting a most respectable 45% on three pointers.


Fred Van Vleet has averaged over ten points a game, in the 8 games that he has played. One gets the feeling, and it is an important one, that this group is more of a team than we have seen come out of Toronto in many years, perhaps ever. There is not a joking, smiling , and fooling around on the court with these guys, especially with Kawhi. It is all business, and the rest of the league is taking notice.


I like the fact that the supporting cast with the team is ready to go at any time, and often outscores the starters when they hit the floor. Kudos to OG Anunoby, Lorenzo Brown, CJ Miles, Norman Powell, Malachi Richardson, and Delon Wright for their contributions.

This will be a year to remember.


James Hurst.

 

Blue Jays Transformation 2018 to 2019



There was something in the news recently about the World Series trophy (officially the Commissioner's Trophy) making an appearance in Puerto Rico. The Boston Red Sox now possess that piece of silver, and their manager, Alex Cora, took the trophy into his childhood neighbourhood to visit with his old pals. This is a tradition that began several years ago with the Stanley Cup. And yes, last summer, the enormous Russian superstar, Alex Ovechkin, took the Cup to Mother Russia to display it to his countrymen, and countrywomen.


It has been some time since the Toronto Blue Jays had the opportunity to display the World Series trophy as champions. Back to back, as you recall, '92 and '93. Ah the glory days of baseball in Toronto! There was a glimmer of hope a couple of years ago. The powers-that-be opened up the vaults and brought in some fine players to help win the Big One. Alas, they fell a little short. Since that time, they have thrown all of the pieces of the puzzle back into the box, and are in the process of building another contender.


Part of the restructuring had to do with upper level management. Ross Atkins is now the General Manager of the Jays. Mark Shapiro is the President and CEO of the team. About two weeks ago, the team announced that they had found a replacement for John Gibbons, the on-field manager of the team.


Charlie Montoyo was selected to lead the Jays next year as manager. He is a native of Manati, Puerto Rico, and has been involved in baseball in America for many years. His only Major League experience as a player came in 1993, when he played four games for the Montreal Expos. He spent 10 years as a professional player in the minor leagues.


As is usually the case, the team has said good bye to a couple of their coaches, batting coach Brook Jacoby and first base coach Tim Leiper. Most of the time, when a new manager is hired, he is given a certain amount of freedom in the hiring of his coaches. There will be other changes in the coaching staff before next spring.


Montoyo has been with the Tampa Bay Rays' organization for almost 20 years. Last year, he was a Bench Coach for the team. He worked as their third base coach for three seasons. But it was as manager of the Durham Bulls for 8 seasons that he learned the ropes on team management.


He realizes what is at stake at the helm of the Blue Jays. “Managing a team that represents an entire nation is incredibly special. My family and I look forward to working towards the ultimate goal of winning a championship for this city”. He signed a three year deal.


The Ottawa Senators asked their fans a simple question last weekend. “Would you rather lose 9-2, as they did on Saturday night, or 3-2 in overtime, as they did on Sunday?” And yes, they were entertaining that dreaded two goal lead in the third period, yet again. They seem to run out of steam near the end of the game, and cannot sustain their leads. Not a lot of fun for their fans.


Our beloved Buffalo Bills were simply crushed again on the weekend. There's a tough assignment: staying loyal to that cause!


James Hurst
November 5, 2018.









 

Solving the Nylander Enigma




The world of professional sport is an extremely complex one. When it comes to salary caps, long term contracts, bonus payments, collective bargaining agreements, free agency, unrestricted free agency, and the myriad of other terms used in that world, I am clueless. There is a lot of smoke and mirrors involved in much of the business.


The Toronto Maple Leafs organization has put together a fine team for this season. Nothing is perfect, of course, and there will be losses with the wins. But when it comes down to one excellent player, William Nylander, still biding his time on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, there can be no doubt that he would be a valuable contributor to the team this season. But there he sits, waiting for all of the negotiations to be completed before he takes to the ice at the rink in Toronto.


In this case, there is a good deal of frustration. Although I am not privy to the amount of money he has been offered, I am certain most of us would be quite comfortable with it. There have been indications that either he, or his agent, is looking for six million dollars a year, or perhaps more.


Now with the injury to Auston Matthews the situation has become more critical. Matthews is not expected back for at least a month. He missed several games last season due to injury, and he is prone to shoulder injuries. Never a good thing.


This would be an ideal time for Nylander to show his loyalty to his team, sign the papers, and get back to business in Toronto. Not going to happen. At this point, the people in the Nylander camp are even talking about playing in the Russian pro hockey league, the KHL. One can earn some serious cash there, once they decide to pay you.


Nylander was actually born in Calgary, Alberta. His father, Michael, was also a professional hockey player. I would venture to say that his passport was well stamped. He played almost a thousand games in the NHL. He was constantly on the move from team to team, with stints in 7 NHL cities, 3 American League teams, and 14 European teams.


William has one brother, Alex, in the Buffalo Sabres' organization. Both lads were drafted in the first round, eighth overall.

Meanwhile, Leaf fans, coaches, and executives must await the consequences of Nylander's stance. You can tell from all of the words flowing from the Toronto media that there is great frustration. Nylander expects to turn those emotions into serious dollars.


The Boston Red Sox disposed of the Los Angeles Dodgers rather handily to win the World Series. Last May, Steve Pierce was trying to crack the Blue Jays lineup as a journeyman. Now he is the toast of the town in Boston as the MVP of the World Series. There was a certain amount of redemption for lefty David Price, as he had experienced some difficulty in post-season play.


And the Raptors dropped their first game of the season on Monday night. But they have stormed out of the blocks this year, at a record pace, and there are high hopes for them this year.


With this current chill in the air, we are reminded that the Grey Cup is not too far away. Always a great event!!


James Hurst
October 30, 2018




Friday, October 26, 2018

 

Tim Hortons Cards 2018





I am not terribly fussy about commercials on television. I am sure that 92% of you would agree with that comment. Recently, I watched a commercial for Tim Hortons that made me jump out of my chair.


A Zamboni slowly edged its way to the window for the driver to place his order. None other than Sidney Crosby pronounced “Double double”. A translation into English means that he was ordering two coffees, each with two sugars, and two creams. His friend on the Zamboni reminded him to buy some hockey cards. The commercial could have been shot in the summer in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia. Both lads are from that place. The other rider on the ice machine is Nathan MacKinnon, a fine hockey player in his own right, who plays for the Colorado Avalanche.


The promo was for the Tim Hortons hockey card collection, which is currently available at the restaurants. Some restaurants even offer special “Trading nights”. Collectors are invited to bring their doubles or traders on those nights to help complete their collections. There is a trading night coming up this Thursday, October 25th, in Belleville, at two locations. There is also a Trading Night in Wellington. The times at both locations are from 6:00pm to 9:00pm.


As is usually the case, there is a large collection of cards in the series, beginning with # 1, Tim Horton himself. There are 120 cards in the “Base Set”. The last card in the set is John Tavares. He is shown in his New York Islanders uniform, likely because they printed the set before he became a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Max Domi is shown in his Arizona uniform, although he is now a member of the Montreal Canadiens.


Even the Sedin twins are included in this year's set. It seems like eons ago when they decided to pack their bags, and head back to Sweden.


Statistics are shown on the backs of the cards for the last five years. As an example, the stats for Shea Webber include his days with the Nashville Predators for three years. He was then traded for P. K. Subban, and has spent the past two seasons with the Habs. His first year in Montreal was quite productive, and his plus/minus total was plus 20. He ran into injuries last year, and only played 26 games. Goals, assists, penalty minutes, and power play goals are included in these stats.

For those of you who have braver hearts than I, and thicker wallets, there are insert sets.There are: Top Line Talents, NHL All Star Standouts, Game Day Action cards, Superstar Showcase cards, Golden Etching cards, and Claer Cut Phenoms.


There are also really special autograph cards, and “Jersey Relics” autograph cards. I recommend that you do not try to buy your way into these rarer cards. With the mandatory beverage purchase, it will set you back $ 250 000. You read that correctly. There are also autographed Brad Marchand Timbits cars, one in every 123 384 packs.

Personally, I am happy with the Base Set. 120 really nice cards, the best players in the game. Now I will share a little secret. I buy a few cards, with beverages, just to see what is on offer. Then I make a call to a friend of mine, and I buy the entire 120 card set from him for $ 25. It saves a lot of hassle, and a lot of money. If you would like one of these sets, give me a call. I am in the book. I still have a “land line” to help me communicate with my friends.


James Hurst
October23, 2018.


Sunday, October 21, 2018

 

Getting to the Top-Hannah Hellyer

Hannah Hellyer


There are two main routes to be followed if a man or a woman wants to play golf on the PGA or the LPGA tour. Route # 1 starts after you finish college or university.
Route # 2 starts whenever you think you are ready.


Canada's premier female golfer today, Brooke Henderson, followed the second route. She became a full time professional golfer while still in her teens, without ever cracking a text book at an institution of higher learning.


Hannah Hellyer followed the first route which naturally takes a little longer. The Stirling, Ontario, native honed her skills on the rolling terrain of the Oak Hills Golf Club, under the watchful eye of long-time pro Ralph Kuster. She earned a scholarship to play four years at Gardner Webb University in North Carolina, where she studied international business.


In her youth, she spent several years as a centre on the Stirling Blues hockey team, occasionally adding her talents to teams from Madoc and Napanee. While working on her MBA at McKendry University in Lebanon, Illinois, she helped coach hockey and golf.


Work began at Windermere Lodge in the Muskokas. As a young golf pro at a golf course, she was responsible for a variety of functions: preparing clubs for the guests and members, assisting at the pro shop, arranging carts for the guests. She moved on to a similar position at St. George's in Toronto. Last year, she qualified to play in the Canadian Open in Ottawa. The experience helped kindle the flame in her to become a touring pro. In her second year in Toronto this year, she decided to pursue that dream.


She knew there was a long and expensive road ahead of her. She completed the first stage of qualification in California, successfully, and is in the early stages of the second round. The main group of professional female golfers is currently on the “Asian Swing”. Those that played on the secondary tour, called the Symetra Tour, and were in the top group, have already qualified to play on the LPGA Tour next year.


Hannah played her first round of the Stage II qualifying tournament on Monday. She scored 77. She was joined by 192 other hopefuls on the Panther Course and the Bobcat Course of the Plantation Golf and Country Club in Venice, Florida. Each competitor plays 72 holes of stroke play, with no cut. The top 25 players advance to the next stage, taking place in Pinehurst, North Carolina, in late October.


With newcomers like Hannah, and veterans from other tours, it is not an easy way to get to the top. Csiesi Rozsa hails from Budapest, Hungary, and just finished her second year on the Symetra Tour. She knows what she faces. “It is going to be a tougher field because there is going to be fewer spots making it through”.


Each of these “schools” costs in the range of $ 3 000. A “go fund me” page has been set up to help Hannah along the way. Understandably so. Not for the feint of heart.


James Hurst
October 15, 2018.

 

You Can't Teach Speed



One of the favourite expressions used by scouts of all sports is, “You can't teach speed”. Athletes can be taught pass patterns, breakout plays, base stealing. But only a select few have the speed to be successful at positions requiring speed.


Football is a violent game. Every single player who suits up to play professionally knows that before going onto the field. They have experienced the violence from childhood, playing at the “Pop Warner” level. We use other names for minor football in Canada, but it is still the same: physical contact requiring significant protection.


Players wear helmets. They are made of durable material, and are lined with foam rubber to protect the player. Some helmets have air cushions. All equipment is designed to give players as much protection as possible.


On most plays, the player receiving the snap is the most vulnerable one on the field. Penalties have been created to protect the quarterback and the punter. There are also penalties for roughing the person who receives punts. In Canada, players must not encroach on a punt receiver for less that five yards, until he touches the ball. In the states, players can indicate a “fair catch”, and no one is to touch the receiver until he touches the ball. Good safety rules.


Most kick and punt returners are the fastest players on the field. They run elusively, and hope to churn up as many yards as possible before being tackled. Unfortunately, in the United States, kick returns have virtually been eliminated from the game. This is beyond my comprehension. One of the most exciting aspects of pro football has been eliminated. They say it is in the name of safety. Hogwash, I say. There are so many other situations in football equally as dangerous as kick returns.


Most kickoffs are returned in the Canadian Football League. One of the reasons for that is because the fields including the end zones are shorter in the NFL. Their kickoffs to start games, and those after touchdowns are rarely returned. Shameful.


Mike “Pinball” Clemons works for the Toronto Argonauts. He is the best ambassador the league has ever known. Thousands have met him, been photographed with him, (even before the selfie thing), collected his autograph. But when he retired as a player from the Argos, his name was near the top of many punt and kick return record categories for the league.


He returned 300 kickoffs in his career. The leader in that category is Henry “Gizmo” Williams with 325. Both players lead the league for yards collected on kickoff returns in their careers.


In the CFL, missed field goals can be returned for touchdowns. Tied for the record of only two in their careers are Ezra Landry and Marcus Thigpen. The remarkable thing about all of the players I have mentioned is that neither stands above 5' 7' tall. Even that is a stretch. Several of the public school kids from Belleville Minor Football met Landry after a game. “Is he ever small!” they remarked. But, I told them, as tough as nails.


In the United States, the list of great kick returners is led by Devin Hester, Deion Sanders, Gale Sayers, and Dante Hall. Great players who might be out of work in today's game.


Just one man's opinion. Run fast, run deep, I say!


October, 2018

 

The Ryder Cup-2918





More than one hundred thousand golf fans packed the fairways and the grandstands of a golf course near Paris, France, last week, to watch the latest edition of the Ryder Cup. Most of them were there, of course, to watch the Americans lose.


The Ryder Cup takes place every two years, and the trophy is named after an English businessman who donated the cup. The first Ryder Cup took place in 1927, in Worcester Country Club, Massachusetts. Nowadays, it has become the scene of very bitter rivalries. American fans are delighted to chant “USA, USA” when their players are doing well. The Europeans reply with “Ole, Ole, Ole...” which is heard, occasionally, at the Bell Centre in Montreal.


There has been a bit of animosity toward the Americans for decades. It may have come from the methods used by the Americans to help the Europeans after the World Wars. There may be a hint of jealousy on the part of the Europeans towards the Americans and their success in world economics. The rivalry on the golf course is intense.


Until recently, there was a certain dignity on golf courses. Marshalls and course personnel hold up signs to quieten the crowds while players prepare to putt. For the most part, that is still respected. What is somewhat bothersome is the mean-spirited way fans explode when one of the rivals misses an easy putt. It's like cheering a double fault in tennis. Just rubbing it in.


I am certain that all of this commotion has an effect on the players. Many American players who are normally unfazed by the clamour played very poorly in France. The team was defeated 17 1/2 points to 10 1/2 points. In golfing circles, a pretty sound thumping. Bubba Watson, Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth, Rickey Fowler all suffered defeat in the singles competition.


Francisco Molinari is the first golfer in history to win a major tournament, and then end up with a perfect 5-0 record at the Ryder Cup. He was mobbed by his fans after he drained his putt to defeat Phil Mickelson, ahead by 4 holes with two holes to play.


Sergio Garcia defeated Fowler in his singles match. With his victory, he became the winningest competitor in Ryder Cup history. The European team consists of players from Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Italy, Germany, Spain , and France.
The next Ryder Cup will take place at Whistling Straits, Haven, Wisconsin. Two years later, the championship will be held in Italy. Molinari seemed to be in agreement with that decision.


It made for riveting television. The format is match play, and players can make substantial gains when opponents have a couple of bad holes. Tiger Woods, who recently won his first tournament in several years, was weary after the Cup. “It's been a long grind,” he told ESPN's Bob Harig. “This is my seventh week of golf out of the last nine weeks. I believe I've been grinding at it.”


When they lifted the golden goblet out of its case, you could almost hear the roar on this side of the Atlantic. Rest assured, if the Americans are successful in Wisconsin in a couple of years, there will be plenty of “USA” cheers. Guaranteed.


There are still a few nice golfing days remaining. Hit 'em straight.

James Hurst
October 10, 2018.




 

REDBLACKS Football-Dodging the tornados



                                               Hunter Loft with Jean-Christophe Beaulieu


The wicked winds of September streaked across Ontario last Friday night. By the time they reached Ottawa, they had formed three tornadoes, with sufficient strength to cause hundreds of millions of dollars of damage. One of the whirlwinds jumped across the Ottawa River, causing extensive destruction in Gatineau, Quebec. Non-partisan winds.


Ever the troopers, we jumped in the car Saturday morning and headed to our nation's capital for the REDBLACKS' game against the Edmonton Eskimos. We had no idea about the extent of the damage. But once we entered the inner city, we knew something was amiss. None of the traffic lights worked, and there was chaos on the roads.


More than 150 000 hydro customers were affected by the storm. Fortunately, for us football fans, there was power in and around Lansdowne Park. Game on, girls and boys!! The stands filled slowly as people struggled to get to the game. We took the advised route by going to Canada Post headquarters, (the building where mail is stored!) and taking the bus from there. A normal half hour journey took more than an hour.


The game began at 4:00pm, in brilliant sunshine. The little flags on the top of the goalposts danced only slightly, indicating little or no significant wind on the field. In the first half, neither team was able to get the ball into the end zone on most opportunities. Fortunately for the REDBLACKS, their rookie kicker, Lewis Ward, was right on the money throughout the game. He blasted seven field goals through the uprights for the second time this season. Late in the game, Ottawa quarterback Trevor Harris hit Greg Ellingson for a touchdown to complete the scoring. Final score: Ottawa 28, Edmonton 15. (Or should that read: Lewis Ward 21, Ottawa 7, Edmonton 15.)


The score was close throughout the game. Ottawa would nudge ahead, only to be caught by the Eskimos. Teams began the second half with Ottawa leading 12-7. They rolled down the field, but failed to move the ball on second down in the red zone. They got 3 points on their field goal to edge ahead 15-7. The Eskimos stormed back on a touchdown pass to their brilliant receiver, D'haquille Williams. Their two point convert tied the score. But those were the last points that the Eskimos tacked onto the scoreboard.


The game was marred by penalty flags, turnovers and bad decisions. But all of those things, as well as some brilliant play, made for an exciting afternoon of football. The REDBLACKS now enjoy a bye week, whereas the Eskimos will face the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on September 29th.


Our grandson, Hunter, spent an hour after the game meeting with many of the players from both teams. They were all very pleasant and courteous, Chatting with him, signing his Belleville Minor Football League jersey. One player gave him his headband. Another told him that he was sorry, that he could not give him his gloves because they cost $ 45, plus tax, and he had to pay for them himself!!


We drove back to The County after the game, hesitating at all of the non-functioning traffic lights. A great way to spend a very fine Canadian autumn day!!


James Hurst
September 25, 2018

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


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