Wednesday, March 22, 2017
The Home Stretch-NHL 2017
Most of the NHL teams have about ten games remaining at this point in their season. Some teams have already locked up a post season berth; some are planning for next year; several teams are on the bubble, playing for a chance to earn some playoff cash, and an opportunity to drink from the Stanley Cup.
The Florida Panthers recently had their best West Coast road trip ever, winning five out of five games. Once they returned home, with high expectations, they went, as they say, “in the tank”. They won once in the next nine games. Ouch.
The Toronto Maple Leafs took the ice against the Panthers on their recent Florida trip. The naysayers in the Toronto camp were upset that the team had arrived a little early, and that they had time for a little fishing and tanning. Expectations were high for the Leafs as the puck dropped at the B T & T Centre in Sunrise.
Those hopes were dashed quickly when the Panthers struck after 18 seconds had ticked off the clock. Jonathan Huberdeau fed linemate Alexsander Barkov for an easy tally, slipping the puck past Frederik Andersen. On their second goal, Toronto defender Nikita Zaitsev lost an edge at a critical moment, allowing Colton Sceviour to score short-handed.
James Reimer tended goal for the Panthers, and allowed two pucks to get by him as the Cats defeated the Leafs 7-2. I am certain that Reimer relished the win against his former team. No matter what might be said, there is always that extra motivation in those circumstances. He spoke modestly after the game. “It's nice to win this one and have a good feeling. I think you enjoy it, for the moment. But then you've got to get back to work, for the next game.” He has been steady in goal for the Panthers, especially when the Number One tender, Roberto Luongo, has been sidelined. But at this point in the season, the Panthers needed spectacular goaltending, and neither Reimer nor Berra have been able to provide that.
The Leafs flew out to the west coast of Florida after the game. They trounced the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-0. The Panthers headed north to Ohio to face the Columbus Blue Jackets, and lost a squeaker 2-1. Most hockey pundits agree that parity is responsible for results like this. Most teams are so evenly matched that anything can happen on any given night.
The Panthers seem to be pleased to have Tomas Vanek in their lineup. He arrived via the trade route on March 1st. The big winger has 43 points in 54 games this season, and is just 33 years old. He had four assists in the game against the Leafs, and does not play on the first line.
The B B & T Centre was evenly divided between Leafs and Panthers fans, as is often the case around March Break. The Leafs trailed 3-1 at the end of the first period, but 6-2 at the end of the second. At the end of the day, the Panthers trailed the Leafs by five points in the playoff hunt. Two days later, that gap was seven points. The Carolina Hurricanes shaded the Panthers 4-3 on Tuesday night, moving ahead of the Cats by two points. The Panthers trail the Leafs by 8 points, with ten games to go. A tough chore, with little time remaining.
The Florida Gulf Coast Eagles men's basketball team had their hopes dashed in the first round of the NCAA playoffs last Thursday night. The Florida State Seminoles proved to be too strong, and outlasted the fiery Eagles 86-80. A fine effort, and a great season for the Eagles.
Spring Training is in full progress here in Fort Myers with the Twins and the Red Sox vying for attention. The Blue Jays trail in the Grapefruit League. Need I remind you that these games do not count?
March 21, 2017.
Tuesday, March 07, 2017
Eagles Repeat as ASUN Champs
The game had a true championship flavour. At opposite ends of the court, school bands assembled in the stands to play bright and sassy tunes. Cheerleaders, dance teams and mascots took the floor to stoke the fires. For more than an hour, players from both teams practiced shooting from long range, and from the paint. The public seating area filled quickly, resulting in a record crowd of 4 711. It was the noisiest place I have ever been in my life, except for the Slash concert in downtown Belleville.
The Dirty Birds, with "Wings Up"
I sit under the basket at the FGCU students' section. They are affectionately known as the “Dirty Birds”. They spend the entire game trying to unnerve the opposition. Some of their comments are hilarious, some quite biting. With five minutes left, and with the Eagles holding a substantial lead, they chant, “Season's Over”!
In the first half, shots were either falling short, or clanking off the iron. They had only made one shot from 8 attempts from three point range. Even with their twin towers under the hoop-Demetris Morant and Marc-Eddy Norelia, they were being outrebounded by the Ospreys. It did not look good heading into the second half.
Coach Joe Dooley, in his fourth season with the Eagles, commented: “We were a little bit tight in the first half, but it was a great college atmosphere. I thought the fans were terrific, and they really got us going in the second half. We figured it out and started making plays.”
With less than five minutes gone in the second half, the Eagles had retaken the lead by three points, and gained some momentum. A Norelia block at one end, followed by a three point shot by Christian Terrell extended the lead to 12 points, from which the Ospreys could not recover. The dagger dashed their efforts.
The Eagles continued their man-to-man defence throughout the game, even in the forecourt, frustrating the Ospreys, often resulting in turnovers. The Ospreys elected to play zone defence the entire game.
Brandon Goodwin, previously announced as the “ASUN Newcomer of the Year”, was named tournament MVP after the game. Were it not for the efforts of the big men-Norelia, Morant, Simmons, and Mickle, the Eagles might not be awaiting the draw for their NCAA selection next Sunday. Goodwin and the other smaller players did contribute, but it was the play of the giants in the second half that made the difference. They outscored the Ospeys 20-6 in the second half on shots in the paint.
The Ospreys had succeeded in the first half by making half of their shots. The smothering defence of the Eagles held them to an 18% shooting percentage in the second half, just not good enough. From three point range, the Ospreys shot a dismal 7.1%. The Eagles lead the nation in points scored in the paint.
Five of the players on the Eagles finished in double figures, and the nine dunks the team recorded surpassed the mark established by the original “Dunk City” team that advanced to the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA final tournament.
Spring training baseball is in full swing here in Fort Myers. The Twins and the Red Sox are the hosts in this area, with the Tampa Bay Rays not far north up the coast.
At a recent FGCU Eagles game, Red Sox players were invited to throw the T shirts into the crowd. They then spent some time after the game shooting hoops, just like in high school, according to David Price. On Thursday, the Eagles are slated to throw out the first pitch at the Red Sox game.
The Everblades continue to lead in the ECHL. They continue to get stellar goaltending from Anthony Peters. They play tomorrow night at the Germian Arena in Estero.
The Leafs play in Florida next week, trying to nail down a playoff spot. It is on our agenda to catch that game with our grandson Hunter. A great time for sports in SW Florida!!
March 7, 2017
Tuesday, February 28, 2017
Oilers in town to face the Panthers
Last week I had my first chance to see Connor McDavid in action. The Oilers were in Sunrise to play the Florida Panthers. There wa s a distinctive buzz in the arena. Some of it pertained to the exciting young Oilers team. But there is also excitement about the Panthers.
They had just completed that deadly five game road trip to the West Coast. It remains a difficult chore for all sports teams. Even the Raptors never look forward to that trip. The Panthers emerged from the trip with five victories, first time in the history of the franchise.
After picking up my pass, I headed down the hall to the elevator. Three guys were ahead of us, turned, and asked directions to the elevator. At that point, I almost blurted out, “You look quite familiar. Do I know you from somewhere?” But I bit my tongue and said, “Sure, follow me,” when I realized it was Wayne Gretzky. He was with his brother Keith, a former Belleville Bull, and Peter Chiarelli, president and General Manager of the team. Keith Gretzky is listed in the official guide as “Assistant General Manager”.
Both the Panthers and the Oilers have several young, exciting players. With less than a quarter of the season remaining, it is only natural that they might slow down a little at this time. Not on this occasion. It was full tilt all the way. McDavid raced around defencemen to nullify icing charges. He scooted through the neutral zone to set up two on one opportunities.
But the Panthers returned the favour to the Oilers. Huberdeau, Barkov, Trocheck, Ekblad, Marchessault, Matheson....they keep coming off the bench to provide the Panthers with spirited play. James Reimer got the nod to play between the pipes.
Oscar Klefbom opened the scoring for the Oilers in the first period. He was handed the puck on a giveaway at the blueline, and ripped a shot into the net. The period ended with the Oilers leading 1-0.
Alexander Barkov evened the score at the 21 second mark of the second period on a power play goal. The teams traded markers during the period. With just 3.9 seconds remaining in the period, Yandle hit Marchessault with a long pass, and the game was tied 3-3. Plenty of fireworks from both teams.
With almost 8 minutes gone in the third period, McDavid raced from his own end with the puck, dropped a pass to his linemate Leon Draisaitl. Leon shuffled the puck to Kris Russell who hit the twine for the winning goal, his first of the season.
The Panthers had some excellent chances near the end of the game. The puck trickled off Jagr's stick as he stood alone in from of the Oiler net. Moans and groans, but the red light remained unlit.
Attendance for the game was listed at 15, 300. There were some empty seats, some of them going for twenty bucks apiece. Not quite the case at the Air Canada Centre, nor the Bell Centre. For those of you heading south for a little sun this spring, it is a perfect opportunity to see the game at its best.
The Panthers need to maintain the momentum they picked up on the West Coast. They added Keith Yandle in the off season from the Rangers. He spent most of his ten years in the NHL with the Coyotes. When asked about the loss, he referred to the preceding games: “We just weren't able to get that one at the end of the game that we needed. We weren't as sharp as we needed to be coming off the road.”
McDavid Family gathering, with Janet and Wayne Gretzky
That is often the case, and can be a coach's nightmare. For the Panthers, that is part of the challenge for the remainder of the season. The Oilers are pretty well assured of a playoff berth. At that point anything can happen.
February 26, 2017.
Moe Berg-Keeping an Eye on Things
When baseball greats Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig went on tour in baseball-crazy Japan, in 1934, some fans wondered why a third-string catcher named Moe Berg was included. Although he played with five major-league teams, from 1923 to 1939, he was a very mediocre ball player. But Moe was regarded as the brainiest ballplayer of all time. In fact, Casey Stengel once said: "That is the strangest man ever to play baseball".When all the baseball stars went to Japan, Moe Berg went with them and many people wondered why he went with "the team"Lou Gehrig and Babe RuthThe answer was simple: Moe Berg was a United States spy, working undercover with the Office of Strategic Services (predecessor of today's CIA).Moe spoke 15 languages - including Japanese. And he had two loves: baseball and spying.In Tokyo, garbed in a kimono, Berg took flowers to the daughter of an American diplomat being treated in St. Luke's Hospital - the tallest building in the Japanese capital.He never delivered the flowers. The ball player ascended to the hospital roof and filmed key features: the harbor, military installations, railway yards, etc.Eight years later, General Jimmy Doolittle studied Berg's films in planning his spectacular raid on Tokyo.His father disapproved and never once watched his son play. In Barringer High School, Moe learned Latin, Greek and French. Moe read at least 10 newspapers every day.He graduated magna cum laude from Princeton having added Spanish,Italian,German and Sanskrit to his linguistic quiver. During further studies at the Sorbonne, in Paris, and Columbia Law School, he picked up Japanese,Chinese,Korean, Indian, Arabic, Portuguese and Hungarian - 15 languages in all, plus some regional dialects.While playing baseball for Princeton University, Moe Berg would describe plays in Latin or Sanskrit.Tito's partisansDuring World War II, Moe was parachuted into Yugoslavia to assess the value to the war effort of the two groups of partisans there. He reported back that Marshall Tito's forces were widely supported by the people and Winston Churchill ordered all-out support for the Yugoslav underground fighter, rather than Mihajlovic's Serbians.The parachute jump at age 41 undoubtedly was a challenge.But there was more to come in that same year. Berg penetrated German-held Norway, met with members of the underground, and located a secret heavy-water plant - part of the Nazis' effort to build an atomic bomb.His information guided the Royal Air Force in a bombingraid to destroy that plant.The R.A.F. destroys the Norwegian heavywater plant targeted by Moe Berg.There still remained the question of how far had theNazis progressed in the race to build the first Atomic bomb. If the Nazis were successful, they would win the war. Berg (under the code name "Remus") was sent to Switzerland to hear leading German physicist Werner Heisenberg, a Nobel Laureate, lecture and determine if the Nazis were close to building an A-bomb. Moe managed to slip past the SS guards at the auditorium, posing as a Swiss graduate student. The spy carried in his pocket a pistol and a cyanide pill.If the German physicist indicated the Nazis were close to building a weapon, Berg was to shoot him - and then swallow the cyanide pill.
Moe, sitting in the front row, determined that the Germans were nowhere near their goal, so he complimented Heisenberg on his speech and walked him back to his hotel.Werner Heisenberg - he blocked the Nazis from acquiring anatomic bomb.Moe Berg's report was distributed to Britain's Prime Minister Winston Churchill, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and key figures in the team developing the Atomic Bomb. Roosevelt responded: "Give my regards to the catcher.”;Most of Germany's leading physicists had been Jewish and had fled the Nazis mainly to Britain and the United States. After the war, Moe Berg was awarded the Medal of Freedom - America 's highest honor for a civilian in wartime. But Berg refused to accept it because he couldn't tell people about his exploits.After his death, his sister accepted the Medal. It now hangs in the Baseball Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown.Presidential Medal of Freedom: the highest awardgiven to civilians during wartime.Moe Berg's baseball card is the only card on display at the CIA Headquartersin Washington, DC.Now you know.
Thanks to Will Pringle for this.
Sunday, February 26, 2017
Bunton: Ivy League Player of the Year.
Bunton: Ivy League Player of the Year
Belleville's Hanna Bunton of Cornell battles a Dartmouth foe during 2016-17 women's Ivy League hockey action. (Cornell Athletics photo)
Belleville's Hanna Bunton is the NCAA Div 1 women's hockey Ivy League Player of the Year.
The former Belleville Athlete of the Year led Cornell to its 13th Ivy League title this season, pacing the Big Red with an overall team-high 26 points on 10 goals and 16 assists. Bunton was second overall in Ivy League scoring with five goals and a dozen points; her two game-winning goals and three power-play tallies tied for top spot.
Bunton, a senior at Cornell (Ithaca, NY) was also named to the Ivy League First All-Star Team. She achieved a plus-5 rating in 31 games overall and ranks in the top-25 in the ECAC for points (17th), assists (17th) and goals (24th); her team-leading five power-play goals and four game-winners rank in the top-five in the ECAC.
Last season, in her junior year at Cornell, Bunton was named an Ivy League Second Team All-Star. She was Ivy League Rookie of the Year in 2013-14 and earned selection to the ECAC All-Rookie Team.
The St. Theresa Secondary School graduate and former Belleville Bearcats girls minor hockey standout has accumulated career totals of 37 goals and 50 assists for 86 points in 122 games with the Big Red — including 12 game-winners, 10 on the power play and two shorthanded.
Cornell captured the six-team Ivy League title this season with an undefeated 7-0-3 record to finish five points ahead of runner-up Princeton (5-3-2). Overall, the Big Red were 19-7-5 in 31 games.
• Need to know: Bunton assisted on the O.T. game-winning goal in the 2013 IIHF U18 women's hockey final as Canada beat the arch-rival Americans 2-1 in the gold medal match.
Monday, February 20, 2017
AProud Canadian in South West Florida
Butch Wilhelm with Rod Spittle
Occasionally, I like to focus on a fine athletic achievement. If it so happens that a Canadian is involved, all the better. We have been accused of not being a terribly proud people. That may be true, but certainly not in this case.
For many years, I have followed the golf exploits of Rod Spittle. Rod grew up in the Niagara area, Chippewa to be exact. They have announced that he is from St. Catherines and Niagara Falls. No matter. He was fortunate enough to attend Ohio State on a golf scholarship. Once he graduated, he chose to stay in the United States to sell a little insurance and play a little golf.
Around the time of his fiftieth birthday, he toyed with the idea of trying to make the grade for the PGA Seniors Tour, for those over 50. Despite some initial setbacks, he has achieved success on the tour, finishing well and even winning one event. When he arrived at Naples, Florida this week, he had no guarantee that they would even let him play. He was the “Fifth Alternate” on the list of players who would be allowed to play, if others dropped out.
We ran into Rod, and his caddy Butch Wilhelm, on the practice range on the day before the tournament. One after another, he was cracking drives 250 yards down the middle of the fairway. He mentioned that his wife Ann had traveled with him from their winter home near Dunedin. Apparently, she was back at the hotel packing the bags to head to Dunedin because Rod had not been informed that there was a place for him.
So, on the first day of the tournament, Rod hung around, just in case. Ten minutes before the start, he was informed that he was in the field. “You know, we can't make this up! I was the first alternate last week, same thing, so I was around for three days. And then I got the call.”
He birdied the first hole, and finished four under for the first round. As he prepared for the second round, I chatted with Butch near the range. I mentioned that a friend of mine from Belleville had been in touch with me, and wanted me to ask about Rod's putter grip. It is called a “P2”, and comes from a local golf guy named Steve Auger. Butch pulled the club, and we talked about it. The putter head cover was adorned with Canadian flags.
The "P2 Grip", available from Steve Auger at Black Bear
or at the Loyalist Golf Centre.
“Rod met Steve at the PGA show recently, and loves the grip. Mind you, he did make a slight adjustment to it. He reversed the grip, bottom up.” Rod's wife Ann confirmed that bit of information. He scored rounds of 68, 68, and 69 to finish in a tie for third with Jerry Kelly and Jeff Sluman. He pocketed $ 96 000 for his efforts.
Miguel Angel Jiminez
Fred Couples finished first, 16 under par. Miguel Angel Jiminez from Malaga, Spain was second, at 13 under par. The victory for Couples was his 12th on the PGA Tour Champions, the first since 2014. The win vaulted him to the top of the Schwab Cub Standings, ahead of Bernhard Langer. Spittle also made significant gains in the standings.
Langer won the tournament last year. In fact he has won the tournament three times in the last six years, but never in successive years. That is a word of caution to all players in case he plays next year!
Playing conditions were perfect all week long. The start for the final round was delayed slightly, due to an early morning fog. Most players felt that the course at Twin Eagles was in superb condition. Attendance was up significantly, due, in part, to the presence of John Daly.
Rod and the boys move on to Tucson to play this coming week. He has earned an exemption into that tournament. When asked whether or not he might take a little confidence from his play this week, Rod replied, “Without a doubt. I'm healthy and rested and practiced up and ready to go This is a great way to get started.”
And so, the “gentle giant” from the Niagara area made us all a little proud, this past weekend. The television announcers were really impressed with his game. They referred to it as the “feel good” story of the week.
You can also check Rod's progress at PGA.com, or on the golf channel.
February 20, 2017.
Friday, February 17, 2017
Milt Schmidt, Bruin Legend
Major Mat Joost and Joanna Calder, RCAF ~
Milt Schmidt, the last surviving member of hockey’s famed “Kraut Line” and a former member of the Royal Canadian Air Force, died Jan. 4, 2017, in Massachusetts. He was 98, and the oldest living former member of the National Hockey League (NHL).
It was an iconic moment in hockey history.
On Feb.11, 1942, the “Kraut Line” led the Boston Bruins to an 8-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens at the Boston Garden.
Then, as the crowd cheered and the Boston Garden’s organist played “Auld Lang Syne”, members of the rival Bruins and Habs teams hoisted the three members of the Kraut Line – Milton Conrad “Milt” Schmidt, Woodrow Clarence “Woody” Dumart and Robert Theodore “Bobby” Bauer – onto their shoulders and carried them off the ice.
They were heading to the Royal Canadian Air Force and the war in Europe that summer.
They were heading to the Royal Canadian Air Force and the war in Europe that summer.
The three long-time friends from Hamilton, Ontario, had been dubbed the Kraut Line when they joined the National Hockey League because of their German heritage.
“I don’t think I’ll ever forget what happened,” said Schmidt in an interview before he died. “The players on both teams lifted the three of us on their shoulders and carried us off the ice and the crowd gave us an ovation. A man couldn’t ever forget a thing like that.”
On July 23, Schmidt was posted to No. 1 Bombing and Gunnery School in Jarvis, Ontario. Three months later he and Woody Dumart were posted overseas to No. 6 Group (Royal Canadian Air Force), which was part of Bomber Command.
Even overseas, though, they couldn’t leave hockey behind. Both played in the 12-team RCAF League – although as opponents. Dumart’s RCAF Station Linton-on-Ouse team won the championship against Schmidt’s RCAF Station Middleton St. George team.
Schmidt was commissioned on Aug. 17, 1943, and held the rank of Pilot Officer. At this time, he was the Middleton St. George sports officer. Physical fitness was an important aspect of life on any station and as sports officer he oversaw many activities, including basketball, soccer and softball, recreational swimming at Thornaby Baths, as well as intra-unit sports. He was also involved in the station hockey team, which played one game in November 1943 and four games in December at the Durham ice rink.
In the 1943-44 RCAF Overseas hockey season, Pilot Officer Schmidt was on the same team as Bobby Bauer, who had arrived in the United Kingdom that summer. This time, Schmidt’s team beat Dumart’s. This was a special time for Pilot Officer Schmidt as he was promoted to the rank of flying officer on Feb. 17, 1944, and his team won the league championship on March 9.
After the war came to an end, he was posted to No. 1 Repatriation Centre on Sept. 27, 1945, for return to Canada. He was released on Oct. 31, 1945.
Schmidt played with the Bruins for his entire career until he retired in 1955 at the age of 36. During that time, he played in 776 games.
Before going to war, he led the Bruins to two Stanley Cup victories in 1939 and 1941.
Following his return to hockey for the 1945-46 season, he went on to win the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player in 1951. After he retired he coached the team to the Stanley Cup finals in 1957 and 1958.
In 1966 he became assistant general manager and the following year was promoted to general manager. During his tenure in 1970 and 1972, the Bruins took home the Stanley Cup. He moved up to an executive position but then, in 1974, he became the first general manager of the Washington Capitals.
Schmidt remained involved with the Bruins through their alumni team and their “Boards and Blades Club”.
The day following his death, the Bruins honoured Schmidt’s memory before a game against the Edmonton Oilers.
“Yesterday, our Bruins family lost a man we have all come to know as the ultimate Bruin,” the announcer said. “Milton Conrad Schmidt arrived here [at the Boston Garden] in 1936 and, in many ways, he never left… Milt Schmidt embodied everything we know about being a Boston Bruin and no one was prouder to represent the organization, as he had for more than 80 years.”
“Uncle Milty”, as some called him, was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1961 and his No. 15 jersey was retired in 1980.