Monday, January 16, 2017

 

Moving Day!



                                            Currently with the Binghampton Senators


I hope that the Binghampton Senators will really enjoy their stay in the Belleville area, which includes vast stretches of land from north of Bancroft to the shores of Lake Ontario, south of Prince Edward County. 

I was in the crowd recently when it was announced that they were relocating to Belleville. There were a lot of smiling faces in the crowd. Many of those people were formerly Belleville Bulls' fans, and were thrilled to see that hockey was returning to Belleville. In the same token, I am certain there were some disappointed fans in Binghampton.


Many of those people remember the glory days of hockey in the Quinte area when the Belleville McFarlands reigned supreme. There were some lean years following the exploits of the McFarlands. But there was decent Junior hockey and some senior hockey as well.


There were a few reasons why the Belleville Bulls left town.


The seating capacity was a little small. Mind you, even at the best of times, one could still find a seat here or there. Most of the time, even during the heyday of the Bulls, there were seats available during the regular season. Of course it was another story during the playoffs. But that situation really pertains to all levels of hockey, at crunch time.


The style of play was a big factor. Most fans had had enough of George Burnett. Let's just say that he was a defensive-minded coach, and did not emphasize an offensive game. There are many styles of play, and George emphasized the wrong one for Bulls' fans. Many refused to renew their seasons' tickets because of that.


In the dead of winter, it is cold in Ontario. No kidding. And yet, the Bulls' home games were broadcast live on television. So Don and his bride are sitting at the dinner table, and it is ten below zero, and he asks her if she might be interested in heading out to the Bulls game. They will have to park half a mile from the arena's entrance. On the other hand, they could crack a cold one, and watch the game on TV, in comfort, by the fireside.


There have been reports of relocations taking place at this time in the National Football League. Silly stuff. But the San Diego Chargers are likely on their way out of town, to become the Los Angeles Chargers. The Raiders are destined for Vegas, to join the hockey Knights. Sad times, as those with good memories will recall. The Colts bolted from Baltimore in the middle of the night, leaving a bad taste in many mouths. Sadly, it's all about the buck.


So let's get back to the playoffs. We now have the Steelers traveling to New England to play the Patriots, the Packers going to Atlanta to face the Falcons. Football fans across North America will enjoy this weekend's playoffs, with the SuperBowl only weeks away!




January 15, 2017.



Sunday, January 15, 2017

 

Ovechkin's Latest Triumphs-Who Cares?




In the midst of a deep personal self evaluation, I am trying to uncover the reason for an opinion I cannot shake. I am not an Alex Ovechkin fan.

I am not enthralled with his remarkable exploits. I am not overwhelmed by the fact that he has won the Maurice Richard Trophy for scoring the most goals in the regular NHL season six times, including the last four years. He recently passed Richard's goal total, moving into 84th place in the all-time points list.

I am always impressed with players who remain faithful to their teams, and play their entire career in one city. Ovechkin has done that, in a Washington Capitals uniform. One cannot say the same for that other European superstar, Jaromir Jagr. Jagr has played in several cities, eight, in fact,and even bolted to play in Russia for several seasons. It likely had something to do with money.

It may be because “Ovi” plays for the Caps. I have never been a Capitals fan, likely never will be. I have never scanned the morning news to find out whether or not the Capitals won or lost. I have had many favourite teams over the years, just not the Capitals.

It may be because it has taken him so long to learn how to communicate in acceptable English. I have watched his interviews over the years. It appears that he really does not care what I think of his ability to communicate with me.

I am not a big fan of those who like to “hot dog”. Ovechkin has always put on a fairly obvious personal display when he scores a goal. “Good for you”, I say to myself. But seriously, after scoring 544 goals, you just might tone down that nonsense, just a little. Of course I am old school about that. Score the goal, go to centre ice for the face off. It is not necessary to high five, kiss and hug every player on your bench every time you light the lamp.

I think he is a brilliant player. He is a real force to contend with, at six feet, six inches or more in stature on the ice. He weighs 240 pounds without the equipment. My bones creak a little when I imagine getting creamed into the boards by Ovechkin.

I love the way he shoots the puck. He manages to find that little spot in the open, prepares to fire, and watches the twine bulge. Only a handful of players have had that timing. He is not a big assist guy, and now has chalked up 455 assists in his career. He trails another Russian, Evgeni Malkin. Malkin has 492 assists, and is in 146th place on the all time list.

He appears to be a good teammate. They gather around him after he scores. Then again, what else are they supposed to do?

Perhaps you, the reader, could help me in this regard. I would take 50 other players ahead of Ovechkin as my favourites. Am I wrong here? Does he have endearing qualities? Am I overlooking something?

He is still relatively young, at 31 years. He does not shy away from the rough stuff, and he may not last as long in the league as other players who tend to avoid serious confrontation.

Is it because he has never hoisted the Stanley Cup?


James Hurst
January 12, 2017

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

 

Chad Bain Joins the Pro Ranks.


By Paul Svoboda, The Intelligencer


Chad Bain is making history.
The Belleville native and Quinte Secondary School graduate has become the first-ever Ontario player to sign with the expansion Toronto Wolfpack professional rugby league team. The club announced the signing Monday.
Eric Perez, CEO of the Wolfpack, who'll open their inaugural season in May in Toronto, said Bain is a solid addition to the fledgling club.
"I’m really pleased to welcome Chad to the team,” said Perez. “He worked really hard and has proven to us that he has what it takes to contribute to the squad, and it’s even better that he is a native of our province of Ontario. Chad is the first Ontario domestic player to be signed by the Wolfpack, and is a perfect example of the growth of rugby league in this province.
"We're eager to grow the sport in our region, and it’s players like Chad who're helping us lead the way.”
Bain, a six-foot, 265-pound prop, participated in open tryouts for the Wolfpack held across North America last summer and was among only 18 finalists invited to participate in a trial match in December in England. The Wolfpack hopefuls defeated semi-pro rugby league club, Brighouse Rangers, 28-26, and Bain was named Man of the Match after leading the Toronto tackle count.
The 24-year-old Bain said he was thrilled to officially join the Wolfpack.
"It's been a crazy 24 hours,” he said. “I still can't believe it. There's no other club I'd rather play for. Not only am I representing Toronto, but I'm representing Canada as a whole.
"I appreciate everyone who's supported me. This is the start of something big for rugby league in Canada and around the world and I'm glad to be part of it.”
Bain played junior and senior rugby for the Belleville Bulldogs before being introduced to rugby league through an Ontario domestic competition. Rugby league features 13 players per side, as opposed to 15 in rugby union, with other technical differences.
Bain went on to play for the Canadian national rugby league team — the Wolverines — including at a World Cup qualification tournament in Florida.
Wolfpack officials, in a press release, said Bain brings “rugby league experience alongside his impressive size, speed and strength” to the Toronto club.
Brian Noble, the Wolfpack's director of rugby, said Bain earned his opportunity with the club through grit and determination.
"I'm so thrilled that Chad is continuing his rugby career with the Wolfpack,” said Noble. “He joins an elite program with elite players and thoroughly deserves his place at the top table. Throughout the trials he has excelled at overcoming obstacles, and like his playing style, has smashed them out of the way.
"Now the hard work begins."
Bain’s first official match with the Wolfpack will take place on Jan. 22 in an exhibition match against Hull FC, in the U.K.
Beginning in May, the Wolfpack become the first-ever trans-Atlantic team to play in the English Rugby Football League (ERFL). They'll play home games at Lamport Stadium in the ERFL's Third Division, which is two steps below the Super League — the NHL of rugby league.
The Wolfpack have already signed the bulk of their roster, featuring a mix of veteran and up-and-coming professionals, mostly from the U.K. Bain is among a select group of developmental players who'll each make their debut as professionals this year.
Need to know: Bain is the third Canadian-born prospect to be signed by the Wolfpack.

Note: Chad Bain began his football career with the Belleville Minot Football League. Several local players have gone on to play professional sports from the Belleville Minor Football League.



Monday, January 09, 2017

 

Blades Continue Winning Ways-2017


One of Three!


Last Wednesday, the Florida Everblades played the first of three home games against the Manchester Monarchs. They trailed the Monarchs by two points in the Eastern Conference, with both teams sitting on the top of their respective divisions. After Saturday night's game, the Blades earned their spot at the top of the standings, winning all three games . This coming week, they also play three games against rival South Carolina Stingrays. It was only the second Manchester visit to Florida in the last five years.

Travel costs are a serious consideration in the ECHL with 27 teams from all points in North America, including Brampton, Ontario, and Alaska! Consequently, teams often play three games during their week in South West Florida. They also look forward to a little fun in the sun. No big deal is made of the few days that they can enjoy a few rays. Otherwise, they might take the abuse heaped on the New York Giants for their little junket last week. For some reason, they just weren't ready to beat the Packers on the frozen tundra in Green Bay last Sunday.

                                                         Coach Brad Ralph

I asked coach Brad Ralph about his team's success thus far this year. This is his first season behind the Blades' bench, succeeding Greg Poss. He held up two fingers after I asked the question. “Heart and chemistry”, he told me. The Blades have played 33 games this season, losing 7 times in regulation. They began the season with 13 games without a regular season loss. Coach Ralph added: “Our team is very determined, really grinding every game”.

On Sunday, the Blades trailed at the end of the first period, but tied the game on a wicked shot from Evan Bloodoff. Midway through the third period, rookie Michael Ferrantino stole the puck in the neutral zone, cruised in from the wing, and beat Monarch's goalie with a nifty shot to the top of the net, right up beside the peanut butter jar.

The Blades added a late period goal, but gave one back when the Monarchs scored after pulling their goalie with few seconds remaining. Too little, too late. The Blades survived the late onslaught to win 3-2.
                                              
                                                        Blades Goalie Anthony Peters


Much credit for the win went to Anthony Peters, the first star of the game. The Blades were often short-handed, and Peters had to be sharp throughout the game. He had good things to say about his teammates: “They played really well in front of me. They tightened up defensively when required, giving us a chance to win. We split our games on the road against the Monarchs, so we knew they were a good team. But we do well on home ice, especially when teams are here for three games.”

You are familiar with the Florida Panthers' tradition of tossing rats on the ice after a home game victory? Well, the Everblades have something similar in mind, using plastic alligators. It has a ways to go. I counted three.

More than four thousand spectators enjoyed the game at the Germain Arena in Estero, easily visible on the eastern side of the main highway # 75 on the South West Coast. Next Saturday night will also be a special one for the Blades. “Canada Night”, presented by the TD bank. Live music and “Bounce Houses”. I would not have it any other way, unless there is an age restriction. Game time 7:00pm.

James Hurst- January 9, 2017

Sunday, January 01, 2017

 

So Long, 2016!!



Yes, girls and boys, it's time to turf that ragged old 2016 calendar, and unfurl the one that arrived in the mail. Reflecting on the past year, sad to say, we lost a fine group of athletes from many different areas in the sporting world.

In no particular order, I shall address those losses. Some of them may not move you deeply, as they matured, like a fine wine, to a great old age. Others left us too soon, for a variety of reasons.

Arnold Palmer left us last year. He was certainly a legend on the golf links, and managed to stay in the game long enough to have great impact.

Muhammad Ali died in 2016. I trust you have seen some of the documentaries, or movies of the man. He dominated the fight game for many years, and was a lightning rod for the promotion of racial integration in the United States.

Two other great fighters also died last year: Aaron Pryor, and Sonny Liston, who helped promote the game with Ali, Frazier, and a few others.

Dick McCauliffe was a fine baseball player, and won a World Series with the Tigers in 1968. Monte Irvin was one of the pioneers of the game, the last survivor of the Negro Leagues. The Hall of Famer was 96. Joe Garagiola died last year, at the age of 90. His story, and that of his son, is documented in a previous column. Milt Pappas starred with the Cubs, Orioles and Braves during his career. The most tragic baseball loss last year was that of Jose Fernandez. Fernandez managed to escape from Cuba to became a star with the Marlins in Florida. A superstar .in the making, his life was snuffed out in a late-night boating accident off the coast of Florida. Drugs and booze involved? Of course. Tragic? Absolutely.

We lost NBA Hall of Famer Nate Thurmond, and another in Bobby Wanzer who played for the Rochester Royals and became an NBA Champion in 1951.

Johann Cruyff was declare Europe's best player of the 20th century on the soccer pitch. He helped promote the game world-wide.

Winston Hill was a key player in the career of Joe Namath. Hill was a tackle with the Jets, and protected “ Broadway Joe” when he won his only championship. Buddy Ryan was a legendary coach with many NFL teams. His sons are currently unemployed, after unsuccessful seasons with the Buffalo Bills.

A slight nod to the wrestling game. “Chyna” passed away last year. She was 46 years old, and had difficult times outside the ring.

So many friends left the ice for good last year, but none greater than Gordie Howe. Have a look at the record book. No matter what Jagr does, Gordie will reign supreme. But we lost one of his nemeses, Lou Fontinato as well. One of the Plager brothers, Bill, who brought a little small town non-nonsense hockey from the north left us last year. Ted McKaskill only played one year in the NHL, but father a pretty fine ball player, his son Kirk.

Bill Gadsby played 21 seasons in the NHL. Rudy Migay starred for the Leafs, Charlie Hodge for the Habs. Former Red Wings Benny Woit and Bill Dineen have left the building. Normie Kwong won four Grey Cups with the Eskimos, but also had his name scratched on the Stanley Cup as one of the owners of the Calgary Flames. Kingston's Bob Dailey passed away last year. A stalwart in early Olympic hockey, Ken Broderick is gone.

And Ron Wicks, the long-time NHL referee, also passed away last year.


May you have a spectacular 2017. May all of your sports dreams come true. ( Keep in mind the word “Rebuilding”! That covers a lot of ground!)

Monday, December 19, 2016

 

Open-An Autobiography by Andre Agassi




Andre Agassi is a tennis player. One of the very best of all time. Andre Agassi hates tennis. In the preface to the book, he writes that he has always hated tennis. He will admit, however, that tennis has been pretty good to him.

There is a positive note to his tortured life. His foundation has raised more than $ 85 million for a school for underprivileged children in Las Vegas. Naturally, the school is named “The Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy”. The road he took to establish the school had its twists and turns. This autobiography will take you down that road, warts and all.

His father moved the family to Las Vegas, so that he could build a court to teach his son the game. When Agassi was four, he was hitting balls with tennis greats as they passed through Las Vegas, beginning with Jimmy Connors. Agassi's father strung rackets for the great players.

Mike Agassi was born in Iran, and had represented that country at the Olympic Games, as a boxer. He worked in Vegas as a casino captain, seating people at the shows. When he is not at the casino, he is obsessed with the notion that his son must become the best tennis player in the world. He arranges tennis matches against celebrities passing through Vegas for Andre, when Andre was nine. A match against Jim Brown, one of the greatest running backs of all time in the NFL, as an example. For ten thousand dollars. They settled for $ 500, and Andre won easily, 6-2.


Andre remembers harrowing rides with his father. If someone bumped his fender, Mike Agassi would fly out of the vehicle and fight the other driver. If there was an incident of road rage, his father would open the glove box, remove his pistol and aim it at the head of the other driver.

Agassi moved to Florida in his early teens to improve his game, attending the Bollettieri Academy. There is constant pressure, and the competition is intense against the best young players from around the world. He hates the place, but realizes it is the best place to improve his game.

Then begins a series of adventures through the tennis world, with the end result that Agassi becomes the number one player in the world. He is pitted against Boris Becker, Patrick Rafter, and his arch rival, Pete Sampras. He is paired with some very impressive ladies: Barbara Streisand, Brooke Shields etc. In fact, he was married for two years to Shields. He dabbled in illicit drugs, and was suspended for a time.


It is easy to group him with many of the other spoiled tennis brats that have taken the courts over the years: Connors, McEnroe, Ille Nastasse. During his career, tennis became entertainment, moving from the dignified days of Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall, Cliff Drysdale, Roy Emerson, John Newcombe, and Lew Hoad.

To conclude, it appears as if Agassi and his family are now on the right track. He and his wife, also a former number one player, Steffi Graf, are in the process of raising two children. (Agassi says that he does not care if they play tennis.) They are busy with the administration and fund-raising for the school.


A phoenix from the ashes.

This book is now in the Wellington Public Library. Enjoy.

December 19, 2016.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

 

The Enforcers-A Dying Breed






Midway through last year's hockey season, the NHL held its All Star game. John Scott became an instant fan favourite. He became the captain of the Pacific Division, scored two goals in the three-on-three event, and won the honours as the MVP of the game. He recently retired at age 34, quite young nowadays.

We will always remember that, without intending to do so, he endeared himself at the 61st All Star game in Nashville to the entire hockey world. Prior to the game, he was tossed around like a small rag doll, figuratively. At 6'8”, and 260 pounds, there are few who could move him very far. He was waived by the Coyotes, signed by Montreal, then quickly demoted to the American Hockey League. It was all too obvious to most sports fans that the league tried to shove him aside.

Scott had been an NHL player since 2008. In 286 games, he had amassed 544 minutes in penalties. He also scored 5 times, and added 6 assists. He was an enforcer.

One of the last, according to Rob Del Mundo, author of “Hockey's Enforcers-A Dying Breed”. In the book, he presents us with 48 tiny chapters, bits and pieces of information about most of the toughest guys ever to play in the NHL. He begins with Eddie Shore, infamous for ending Ace Bailey's career.

I recently asked him why he chose this particular subject. “A while ago I noticed this trend moving away from fighting in the game. There did not seem to be as many 'policemen' as there were previously, like John Ferguson.”

In the Introduction to the book, Del Mundo tells the reader that in 2008-2009 there were 734 fights in 509 of the 1230 games played that season. Last year, there were 344 fights in 288 of the 1230 games games played. That's a drop of more than 50 %.

One rule change that took place in 1987 curtailed hockey brawls. “Any player leaving the bench or the penalty box for the purpose of starting an altercation automatically received a ten game suspension,” quotes Del Mundo. The instigator rule has also dramatically affected the number of fights in the game. No player wants to leave his team a man short when evening up a score, in a pugilistic sense.

Another factor diminishing the role of the enforcer relates to increased awareness of the long term ramifications of blows to the head. The concept has been considered for years related to prize fighting. Football players are likely suspect in this regard. More than a few of hockey's tough guys have had their careers shortened because of blows to the head, although not always from fights. And there are some who have passed away at a young age, perhaps due to their hockey activities: Wade Belak, Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, and Bob Probert.

Bobby Orr writes that there is a need for fighting in the game: “I would say this about the place of fighting in the game. I believe that especially at the pro level you need to be held accountable for your actions, and the threat of a fight can accomplish that.”

The main difference between hockey and all of the other pro sports is that hockey players carry a stick. And use it, sometimes illegally.

Many of the old-time enforcers in the game were actually protectors. Marty McSorley was assigned to keep the idiots away from Wayne Gretzky. Rob Ray sat patiently on the Sabres bench, biding his time until the opposition took liberties with the better players on his team. I sat in the stands at a Buffalo game, and heard the mob scream, “We want Ray! We want Ray!” Robbie confided in me that he did not always want to fight, especially when he was nursing badly-bruised hands and fingers. “It was a matter of grabbing the opponent, to see who would go down first.”

Del Mundo has covered the Maple Leafs for 16 seasons for the Fischler Report. His Leafs articles appear at: “TMLFans.ca”. Copies of this book are available at Chapters and Indigo Books, and also on line at Chapters and Indigo. My copy of the book will be available tomorrow at the Wellington Public Library. Enjoy.

Wanna Go?” Just kidding!


James Hurst
December 13, 2016

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