Sunday, June 03, 2018
Vegas on Fire!!
The Vegas Golden Knights continue to roll along in the 2017-2018 NHL playoffs. It has become one of the greatest mysteries in sport.
The team was given a few guidelines to set up shop, and they drafted a few players to get their inaugural season underway. The other teams in the league were told they could protect several players, but that they might have to let a few good players go in a draft to Vegas. It appears that the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Florida Panthers were hurt the most in the Vegas draft. The Pens left Marc Andre Fleury unprotected, and the Panthers let Jonathan Marchessault fly the coop.
The Vegas team had to fork out $ 500 million to get into the league. They had to guarantee seat sales. They had to show that the city deserved a major league franchise. I am sure that league management worried about their decision to set up shop in Vegas. No need to worry any more.
The Golden Knights are for real, as they proved again on Monday night. They faced the Jets again in Winnipeg, and they knew they had to face that “Whiteout” crowd again. They were not phased. They stormed out to a 2-0 lead, and never looked back. The win tied the series at a game apiece, with five games remaining. The win put Vegas in the driver's seat for the series. They have a relatively small player to thank for their success.
His name is Jonathan Marchessault, and he hails from Quebec. He was born and raised there, and spent his entire Junior hockey career there. He credits his junior coach, Patrick Roy, for some of his success. Listed at 5' 9”, and tipping the scales at 175 pounds, Marchessault was never drafted in the NHL. He was signed as a free agent by Columbus, shipped off to Tampa Bay, then to the Panthers. The Panthers left him unprotected, and Vegas picked him up. He is in the second year of his contract, and he will make less than a million dollars this year.
That will change significantly next year, more than 5 times that amount, at the very least. He netted two markers last night, and now has 6 goals and 9 assists in the playoffs. He recorded 75 points in the regular season on 27 goals and 48 assists. Last season he led the Panthers with 30 goals, and added 21 assists.
Another part of the Marchessault mystery lies in the number of years that it took for him to gain this status. He bounced back and forth to the American Hockey League in his first attempts to crack an NHL lineup with stints in Connecticut, Springfield, and Syracuse. Imagine the frustration he felt from 2011 to 2015. All in the past. Now it's Vegas, baby!
The Canadian side of my brain is cheering for the Jets. Yet another part of my brain marvels at the accomplishments of the Golden Knights. When I met Marchessault in Florida a couple of years ago, he really struggled with English. In last night's interview he stated clearly, “We showed the hockey world that we deserve to be here.”
To sip from Lord Stanley's mug, the winner of the Western Series will have to get by the winner from the East. Would that be Tampa Bay or the Capitals? You and I both know that Ovechkin and company do not intend to get silver medals.
Ah, but all local eyes are now centered on Chilliwack, British Columbia, the site of the Royal Bank Cup. The Dukes won in overtime last night, almost guaranteeing a spot in the semi finals, at the very least.
For those of you who follow basketball, and the Toronto Raptors, the conclusion to this season was a dreadful disappointment. Again, as has been the case many times, the Raptors came up against the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James. The Raptors had nothing to stop James in his quest for another NBA crown. They swept the Raptors in four straight games. The score in the last game played Monday night? 128-93. As they say at the end of every Raptor season, there is work to be done.
Alexander Ovechkin and his Washington Capitals finally found a way to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins also on Monday night. It has been a long struggle for the Capitals in their quest to conquer the Pens. Sidney and his teammates raised the Stanley Cup the last two years, and they seemed prepared for this year's playoffs. But the big Russian bear and his fellow Caps put an end to that, abruptly, in overtime, earning the right to face the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Lightning appear to be the favourites in this Eastern Conference match up. Team guru Steve Yzerman has put together a team that is ready for almost any kind of play. The defensive corps is second to none, and offensively, they have Steven Stamkos. Teams focus on Stamkos to try to limit his play, and tend to forget about the other outstanding talent on the team.
I was thinking about writing the word “surprising” to describe the Las Vegas Golden Knights. At this point in time, there is very little about that team that could be construed as unknown. The team is well coached by Gerard Gallant, and it was put together carefully. Mind you, they picked up some pretty fine talent in their draft. The finest, of course, is Marc Andre Fleury, whom they plucked from the roster of the Penguins. He has been nothing short of spectacular, and seems to be enjoying the experience. The Knights now await the winner of the Nashville-Winnipeg series.
The Jets were all set to close the door on the Predators Monday night. Their fans packed the MTS Centre arena, and were impressive with their “white-out shirts and towels”. They blow the doors off with their noise, and can be very intimidating. All of that stuff did not phase the Predators. They waltzed out to a 4-0 shellacking of the Jets, and will meet in the seventh and deciding game on Wednesday night. The game will be played in Nashville. Belleville Bulls fans will follow the play of P. K. Subban in that game.
If the Predators do move on to face the Knights, Mr. and Mrs. Subban will be somewhat torn. P. K.'s younger brother Jordan is the backup goaltender to Fleury. The two did face each other in the regular season.
In a thrilling final game at the Dudley-Hewitt Cup, the Wellington Dukes emerged victorious, and they are now packing their bags to head to Chilliwack, British Columbia to contest the Royal Bank Cup. We went to watch one of the games at the DukeDome. It was great to see all the Dukes' fans there. But frankly, the television picture was horrendous, and we decided to rely on radio coverage. We locked into the Dryden radio station, naturally a little biased. We plan to do the same for the RBC.
Download the “Mixlr” app and search for the Chilliwack Chiefs. You do realize I got that information from my son, and I am not sure how well I could handle that. It is unfortunate that one of the local stations is not carrying the game. They did carry the broadcasts of previous visits of the Dukes to the Canadian finals. Hopefully, the Dukes will play in the final game which is usually picked up by TSN, The Highland Hall at the arena would be packed for that contest!!!
Monday, May 07, 2018
John Druce- Leading the Way
The entire village of Wellington, and, dare I say, the whole population of Prince Edward County, have risen to the occasion in support of the Wellington Dukes. The Dukes have already won one big piece of hardware, the Buckland Cup, and are now in Dryden in search of another, the Dudley-Hewitt Cup.
I spoke recently with Randy Uens, the Vice-President of hockey operations for the Dukes. Randy paid tribute to his head coach, John Druce, and to his assistant, Derek Smith. Many Duke fans will remember “Smitty” as a really solid defenceman who moved on to several higher ranks in hockey, including the NHL.
Druce is most famous for an incredible playoff stretch he had with the Washington Capitals. He had split the season between the Baltimore Skipjacks and the Capitals. He played 15 games in the playoffs that year, 1989-1990, and scored 14 goals. In any interview-type situations, that is the first subject that comes up. Druce is tired of it. His pro hockey career began in 1986, following three years with the Peterborough Petes.
He was selected in the second round, 40th overall, by the Capitals, and spent two years with the Binghampton Whalers. The following year he went to the Skipjacks, and spent the next ten years, for the most part in the NHL. He finished his pro career in Germany with Hannover and Augsburg. He scored 113 goals in the NHL, and added 239 assists in 531 regular season games.
His most recent coaching experience, outside Wellington, was with the Cobourg Cougars. He led them to the Royal Bank Cup which they won last spring in Cobourg. He then returned to his other lives in Peterborough, selling for Freedom 55, and involving himself in the restaurant business. A few years ago, John lost his daughter to leukemia. Since that time he has spearheaded research efforts to find a cure through the “Peddle for Hope” organization. Pretty busy guy.
Randy Uens knew John through the old Peterborough hockey connections: Herb Raglan, Steve Chiasson, Brent Tully, to name a few. The town has always been a hockey hotbed, and many NHL players and retirees spend their summers there dropping a line or two in Stony Lake, humming Ronnie Hawkins tunes while they fish.
Last January 4th, Randy was able to convince Druce that it would be a good idea to come to Wellington to finish the season. Which leads us to the present: the round-robin, four team series in Dryden.
On two other occasions, the Dukes have been on the brink of capturing the Canadian Hockey Championship at this level, “Junior A”, once in Prince Edward Island, and once in Alberta.
As they line up on the blue lines for the 2018-2019 season, many Wellingtonians would like to see that Royal Bank Cup banner unfurled at the “DukeDome”.
The games will be shown at the arena in the Highland Hall. I expect to see you there.
April 30, 2018
Thursday, May 03, 2018
Sixty years ago, Mighty Macs ruled Canadian senior hockey
By Paul Svoboda, The Intelligencer
Belleville went bonkers.
Sixty years ago today — May 1, 1958 — the city's senior hockey club, the McFarlands, captured the Allan Cup as national champions and with it, a ticket to Czechoslovakia for the 1959 world championships, which they would also win.
Down 3-1 in the best-of-seven Allan Cup final against the Kelowna Packers, with the entire series played in the Okanagan valley town, the Mighty Macs battled back with three straight wins to claim Canadian senior hockey supremacy. Game 7 ended 8-5 in favour of the MacFarlands and loyal Belleville fans, listening back home on radio, went nuts.
Days later, when the team returned home via cross-Canada train, the lead headline on the front page of The Intelligencer proclaimed: “Fifty thousand welcome Macs home.”
Wearing cowboy hats, which they'd picked up during a stopover in Calgary, the Macs were thrown a victory parade unlike anything Belleville had ever experienced before. Riding in convertibles, players and team officials waved and cheered and hollered along with what appeared to be twice the population of Belleville at that time, all crammed downtown and seemingly delirious with joy.
"Never in the history of this city has Front Street rocked and rolled to the acclaim of thousands,” read The Intelligencer story. “People stood in some places 10 deep, cheering and waving as the motorcade went by.”
Macs goaltender, Gordie Bell, was especially moved by the outpouring of love from Belleville's hockey faithful.
"I think this is the most wonderful reception I've ever experienced,” Bell told The Intelligencer. “I'm very glad we won because I would hate to lose and have to come back and face such a swell bunch of people.”
Team owner, Harvey McFarland, simply called it “the proudest moment of my life.”
Reporter Denny Boyd saluted the Macs and their stunning comeback with these words in a story that appeared in the Vancouver Sun after the Allan Cup final:
"Those Macs, a rag-tag Senior B team two years ago, used courage for a crutch as they plodded up what seemed an insurmountable hill to become the senior amateur hockey champions of Canada. Thursday night, they reached the summit. They defeated the Packers 8-5 with a defeat-defying rally that shook the blossoms of fruit trees for miles around.”
May 1, 1958. A date never to be forgotten in Belleville. The day the city ruled Canadian senior hockey.
• Belleville McFarlands 1958 Allan Cup national championship roster: Eddie Marineau, Jean-Paul Payette, Wayne (Weiner) Brown, Barton Bradley, Keith MacDonald, Lionel Botly, Armand (Bep) Guidolin, Joe Lepine, Keith Montgomery, Davey Jones, Donald (Turk) Barclay, Floyd Crawford (captain), John Muretich, Gordie Bell, Maurice (Moe) Benoit, Russell Kowalchuk, Gerry Goyer, Hilary (Minnie) Menard, Ike Hildebrand (player-coach), Drury Denyes (manager) and Arthur Charlton (trainer).
Monday, April 30, 2018
Dave Smart- Canada's Remarkable Coach
I have spent the last few years south of the border during the basketball season called “March Madness”. It is a time when many Americans start to wave the flag of their favourite college basketball team. It is not necessary for a fan to attend the school they support. In fact, there are many Kentucky fans, for example, who cheer wildly for the team, never having set foot on the campus. Ditto for Duke, Michigan, and the rest of them.
But it is a fine time for all. Even President Obama’s selections in the Final 64 Pool are carefully scrutinized. Several of the coaches in this year’s tournament have had great success in the past, but none greater than John Wooden, who coached at UCLA. Wooden led the Bruins to ten NCAA Championships, a number that will likely never be reached by any other coach. In fact, several talking heads stated that no professional or college coach will reach that number.
I disagree. This year, the Carleton Ravens won their 11th National title, with Coach Dave Smart at the helm. Now, of course, this happened in Canada; therefore, it was disregarded by the American media. Nonetheless, it is a national title, and the American basketball public is well aware that there are some pretty good players in this country.
Smart played university ball at Queen’s, and was a perennial all star. He played from 1991 to 1994, and set the all time school record for highest points per game career average at 26.6. In 1992-1993, he became the only Queen’s player ever to lead Canada in scoring average, at 29.4 points per game.
Following his college career, Smart began coaching. One of the teams he coached was called the Guardsmen, out of Napanee. It was referred to as a “Club” team, and played throughout Ontario and Northern New York State during the season. His brother Rob also coached with the organization. Two of Rob’s children, Rob and Mike, were outstanding players with the Guardsmen, and went on to have stellar careers at Carleton, with their uncle at the helm. Prince Edward Collegiate graduates Matt and Pat Ross also played at Carleton.
Smart began coaching in 1997 at Carleton, as an assistant under head coach Paul Armstrong. He assumed the head coach title in 1999. The victory this year was against the University of Ottawa Gee Gees, The final score was 93-46, and was never in doubt.
I recently spoke with Dave about his remarkable basketball career, on the floor and on the bench. “Every championship is different,” he told me. “They are not the same because the kids are different.” Most college players in Canada usually can play for four years. On the State side, if a player is outstanding, he may bolt for the NBA after one college season. The point is, coaches need to plan several years down the road to remain competitive. Obviously, Smart has been doing a good job in this regard.
He experienced another fine season this past year, but told me that he was having difficulty motivating his players for the final games. An article appeared in the Toronto Star the day before the final against the Gee Gees. It was an interview with the coach of the Ottawa team, essentially criticizing Smart’s team, and his coaching style.
To paraphrase: “Our ultimate goal is that, after the season, our guys will still want to play basketball. We would like our players to have a personality on the court.” In other words, he ripped Smart for his style. Smart’s players responded to the criticism. “I have never seen a situation where the team was so motivated, where one of our players was so dominant,” Smart told me.
Smart also benefited from the fact that his sister sent her boys to play at Carleton: the Doornekamp lads from Napanee. They stood almost seven feet tall, and had been handling basketballs in their cribs! His nephew Robbie is now his assistant at Carleton.
I intend to share his success with my American neighbours in the fall.
I neglected to post this some two years ago.....just found it popping up on FB. That happens!!
Thursday, April 19, 2018
The Playoffs- Spring, 2018
There are important playoff games taking place all over North America. Perhaps not as many hockey playoff games in Canada as you would wish, but that is the nature of the beast: play well in the regular season, and you may share some of the spoils of the post season. So goes the year in these cities: Ottawa, Vancouver, Montreal, Calgary, and Edmonton. As is usually the case, great expectations in the fall, only to be dashed by injuries, poor coaching and management decisions, and the like.
In the hockey world, sixteen teams survive after the regular season. Some of those survivors continue on through the playoffs, scoring timely goals, taking fewer penalties, hitting fewer goal posts, getting lucky breaks. My guess is that will apply to the Penguins, the Knights, the Blue Jackets, the Predators, the Sharks, and the Lightning. Leaf fans got something to cheer about on Monday night when the Blue and White defeated the Bruins in Toronto. Frederik Andersen played brilliantly in the Toronto net, especially in the third period.
Once we enter the second round of these playoffs, it will be a little easier to determine results. Our entire nation pins its hopes on its one and only basketball team, the Raptors. For the first time in franchise history, they won their first playoff game.
The Eastern Conference in the NBA was to be dominated by the Cleveland Cavaliers. After all, LeBron James has played in the last eight NBA final games, with the Cavs and with the Miami Heat. Few doubted that things would change much, although the team has undergone major restructuring this season. They lost their first playoff game at home last Sunday, an almost unheard of event. The Raptors also play two more games at home before heading out to Washington.
It was just fine to see that little Canadian flag attached to the leader's name in last weekend's LPGA event. Once the last putt had dropped into the cup on the 18th green, Smiths Falls' Brooke Henderson had emerged victorious in the Hawaiian event. She methodically mowed down the opposition over the last nine holes to finish four strokes ahead of the pack. Her sister Brittany is her caddie, and they worked together to get the job done in the breezy weather. Simply put, they were able to work in the conditions better than any other pair. Remarkably, Brooke is only 20 years old, and has already etched her name on many pieces of golf hardware.
Sandra Post is still considered to be Canada's greatest female golfer. Henderson only needs to win a couple of events to surpass Post in that regard. That could certainly happen this year. Henderson will respond in that same manner when she realizes what she has accomplished: brilliant smile, few words, and an anticipation to get on to the next tournament.
Also in the hockey world, the Florida Everblades begin their quest to win the Allen Cup this week as the champions of the ECHL. They play two games against the Atlanta Gladiators at the Germain Arena. They finished the season with record totals, most points ever. A tribute to coach Brad Ralph. And yet, the important job lies straight ahead: becoming the victor in “The Playoffs”.
April 16, 2018
Monday, April 09, 2018
A Long Ways to Go
Marjory Stoneman Douglas was an American pioneer who grew up in Florida. She became an author, a journalist, and a devout conservationist. One of her chief life ambitions was to preserve “The Everglades”. Throughout her life she fought efforts to drain the Everglades to reclaim land for development. Many of the modern Floridian cities were forged from reclaimed land, swamp land essentially, when the mangroves were torn up and the canals routed to the nearest rivers and oceans. As a tribute to her success, a school was named after her in Parkland, Florida, just north of Fort Lauderdale and Miami, on the East Coast. Marjorie Stoneman died when she was 108.
There are thousand of schools named after good citizens who contributed much to their local communities. It is a fine way to recognize those who have shown good community spirit. Most of those schools remain unknown, nationally and internationally. Tragically, the school named after Marjory Stoneman has become infamous.
Last Valentine's Day, as students were preparing to head home from school, a lone gunman raced down the halls, and open fired on the crowds with an attack weapon. He killed 17 students and teachers, and wounded 17 others. It left a community in despair, and a nation in shock.
One graduate of the school who was deeply troubled by the massacre is Anthony Rizzo. Rizzo now plays for the Chicago Cubs. It just so happened that more than a year ago, the Cubs had been slated to open their 2018 season in Miami. Rizzo remembers his high school days fondly, as do most of us. In a nutshell, he said, that's “where I grew up”.
The day after the shootings, Rizzo delivered an emotional speech at the vigil for the victims. Understandable, he was deeply affected by the horror. Several other athletes and their families were also affected by the events. The Florida Panthers practise hockey in an arena not far from the school, and many players and team personnel live in gated communities in the area.
Rizzo was expected to attend university after high school, but chose to sign with the Red Sox. In 2009, he began moving up the chain, with stints in Salem, and the Florida Gulf Coast Red Sox. He was traded to the Padres on June 9, 2011. He made his Major League debut a year later on June 6, 2012.
Rizzo stands at 6' 3” and tips the scales at 240. The rangy first baseman really hit his stride after he was traded to the Cubs. He was an all star in 2014, 2015, and 2016, and won the Gold Glove Award in 216. He was one of the key ingredients in the Cubbies World Series victory in 2016. He has averaged almost 100 runs batted in, 30 home runs, and a .267 batting average with the Cubs.
All of the uniforms of the Cubs and the Marlins had a “MSD” badge front and centre. Rightfully so. As we have seen, the world has changed because of the events of that day. There has been great discussion about gun laws, with some legislative changes. The enormous power of the National Rifle Association has been challenged. Students from the school have taken to the podia of the world to spread the message that this should never happen again, anywhere.
There has been an enormous outpouring of sympathy for the community, and the students. Politicians are now pondering the rights and wrongs of possession of assault weapons, for citizens. This is not the first time that such a tragic event has occurred. Sadly, it will not be the last. Not only do these things happen in America. Man has shown inhumanity world-wide. It is up to the rest of us to work hard to reduce the chances of it ever happening again.
I would venture to say that Anthony Rizzo feels the same way.
April 2, 2018
Saturday, March 31, 2018
When Will They Ever Learn?
Our Spring Training experience began this year with a game between the Minnesota Twins and the University of Minnesota Gophers baseball team. It is an annual affair, and the Twins are kind enough to the fans, and to the Gophers to start the game with most of their regulars in the lineup.
Dozier led off, followed by Mauer, Sano, Rosario, Morrison, Buxton, and the rest. Batting eighth was Jorge Polanco. Polanco was suspended on Sunday, March 18th for 80 games after testing positive for the banned substance Stanozonol.
Stanozonol has been around a long time. I am sure you will recall that Ben Johnson was disqualified after he won the 100 metre race in the Olympics in Seoul in 1988, because he had used the same performance-enhancing drug.
In a statement from the players' union, Polanco said that he did not “intentionally consume this steroid”. He said that he requested a substance from his athletic trainer in the Dominican Republic, but was given something else.
Polanco is 24 years old, from the Dominican Republic. As a regular shortstop with the Twins last year, his second half of the season was nothing short of remarkable. He stole 13 bases, hit .316, had 10 home runs and 42 runs batted in. He batted third in the order, and helped the Twins get to the American League wild card game. Of course, the question remains as to whether or not he was “on the juice” at that time. We will never know.
The second baseman on that team, Brian Dozier, summed up his feelings on Polanco's situation, with drug-taking. “We don't want it in our game. We want a clean game. It sometimes is disappointing in seeing guys still trying to use performance-enhancing drugs.”
Polanco is not alone this season. Other players suspended thus far: Jorge Bonifacio-Royals, Oscar Hernandez-Boston, Steve Geltz-Phillies, Jon Singleton-Houston. Their suspensions range between 50 and 100 games.
The Twins, and the rest of the Major League baseball players break camp this week, and head north to begin the grind-162 games of regular season baseball. Opening games take place on Thursday night. The Twins open in Baltimore against the Orioles, then head to Pittsburgh for two games before heading to the Twin Cities.
The Jays still have a couple of exhibition games slated for this weekend in Montreal, as the league continues to toy with the idea that baseball will sell in the city.
The Twins have options for Polanco's position. Eduardo Escobar played five positions for them last season, had 21 home runs and 73 runs-batted-in in 457 at bats-respectable numbers. A couple of other players might also be considered: Erick Aybar and Ehire Adrianza.
Polanco is not one of those players making huge amounts of money. He was to receive slightly more than $500 000 this year. That's not going to happen. He did indicate some remorse for his error. “My hope is that, though this is an extremely disappointing situation, other players will learn from my mistake”. Some perhaps, but not all.
Dozier did show some sympathy for his teammate. “When it comes to a guy on my team, that's my brother. He needs love right now.”
Enough, already. Play Ball!!!
March 26, 2018