Saturday, February 18, 2006


Matt Cooke at the Olympic Break

Matt Cooke, the pride of Stirling, Ontario, was fed up. With two games remaining before the Olympic break, he had missed almost half of his team’s games this year. Currently, he is playing in his seventh season for the Vancouver Canucks, drafted 144th overall in the 1997 entry draft.
Last November, his jaw was broken when he was struck by a puck in practice. Again in a practice session in January, he suffered a severe sprain to his ankle after getting tangled up with Jarkko Ruutu.
Cooke, a former Wellington Duke, desperately wanted to play before the break. He wanted to test the ankle, to find his limits. His rationalization? “I’m hurt, but I’m not injured!”
And so he suited up against the Ducks and the Wild just before the break.
Normally, “Cookie” will spend between 15 and 20 minutes on the ice in a game. Coach Crawford took no chances with Cooke’s ankle, and had him spend less than nine minutes in action in the first game against Anaheim.
The following morning, Cooke tested the ankle again in practice, and declared himself fit to go for the game against the Minnesota Wild the following night.

The entire league was facing a two week break following the game. Several of the players on both teams were headed for Turin, Italy, to play for their national teams. Cooke wore the Canadian jersey as a junior, and once described the experience as “my greatest hockey moment”. Many of the Canucks including Cooke were heading west following the game to enjoy a little rest and recreation in Hawaii.

Crawford juggled his lines a little for the Wild game, a little tinkering in an attempt to find the perfect combination. Cooke lined up with Ryan Kesler, a promising first round pick, and Todd Bertuzzi---who has had more distractions in his career than Carter has pills.
In the first period, Cooke threw a long cross-ice pass to Bertuzzi just inside the Wild zone. Kesler converted Bertuzzi’s pass for his seventh goal of the season. Later in the game, Cooke and former Belleville Bull Richard Park assisted on Bryan Allen’s marker from the blue line. (Allen spent his OHL days in Oshawa, but reminded me that he did spend one season with the Ernestown Jets!)
The third period was a defensive struggle, with several skirmishes around the net---often with Cooke in the middle of things---a little shove, a tiny slash, perhaps a glove in the face of a towering defenceman. Always agitating, always a disturbance.
In the overtime, the Sedin twins worked a nifty passing play before Daniel ripped the winner past Fernandez.
For his efforts, Cooke was chosen as the first star of the game by former Trentonian John Garrett. It was the first time this year that Cookie had been chosen as a star. On the Canucks web site, he was selected as the game MVP by 33 % of the fans. More than 12 600 registered votes---plenty of people with too much spare time on their hands!
I spoke with the Wild’s Dwayne Roloson after the game. He has spent almost ten years in the NHL, including stints in Calgary and Buffalo. He attended UMASS in Lowell, Massachusettes, but prior to that he played for the Belleville Bobcats. “Moe Hunter coached the Bobcats at that time. I had tried out for the Bulls, but Mav sent me to the Bobcats,” he told me after the game.
Cookie also brought me up to date with the latest rookie report on his son Jackson, not yet two. “He is working on his slapshot, and loves to fire rockets at Bobble Head dolls.” No doubt that he is headed to the NHL.
With more than half of their season under their belts, the Canucks are in a dogfight in their Conference. They have been plagued with injuries. They have always faced huge travel times relative to their Eastern foes. Coach Crawford called the win over the Wild “huge” going into the break. Cooke felt that the win was “huge for our morale. Heading into the break, it’s nice to do it on a high note,” he reported. “ The Wild are a tough team to play against. They hang around and hang around, but you can’t get frustrated. They don’t give you a lot, but when they do, you have to put them in the net.”
I gave Matt a copy of the “Hockey Festival Guide” from the recent all star game in Belleville. There was a story about him in that issue, including a copy of his rookie card when he played for the Quinte Red Devils. It came from the Pee Wee hockey tournament in Quebec. Both Naslund and Linden stared at him incredulously when he told them he was the second biggest player on the team!
Coach Crawford, Cooke, and Richard Park also received copies of the 25Th Anniversary book of the Belleville Bulls. Park was thrilled to see the book. “I have great memories of the time I spent in Belleville. Pass on my best to everyone,” he stated after the game.
Another week of sun and surf and then back to the grind for the NHL, to complete the season, playing the best game on earth.

James Hurst

Thursday, February 02, 2006


Scotiabank Place-Ottawa-New Name, Same Game

Don’t drive around the block too many times looking for the Corel Centre in Ottawa. It’s gone.

In its place you will find the remarkably similar Scotiabank Place---home of the Ottawa Senators. It is still a little west of Downtown Ottawa, off Highway 417. The population of the area surrounding the capital has tripled in the last 20 years. The number of highways is still the same. Give yourself plenty of time to get to the rink. And if you want some decent grub at the building, call ahead to book at Marshy’s or at Finnegans. Very popular spots. And they beat the hell out of the cold pizza at the concessions.

The Senators have iced one of the premier teams in the NHL this season. They have the complete package---one suited to the “New NHL”. Such a goofy expression. In a nutshell, it means that the team has players who can skate, handle the puck, shoot, and are bright enough not to tackle opponents in front of the many referees cluttering up the ice surface.

On the occasionally rare night, opponents come to town and have their way with the Sens. Such was the case recently when I attended a Sens-Bruins game.

It did not start well for Ottawa’s backup netminder Ray Emery. A bit of a free spirit, Emery had recently dyed his hair, received a tattoo---he asked the media to photograph the procedure---and had his mask repainted. For the game I attended, Mike Tyson adorned his facial protection. Emery knows and loves the fight game, and has had other pugilists on his mask. Tyson, apparently, was not a popular choice, once a picture was splashed all over the Ottawa media.

Emery allowed two first period goals by the Bruins. A Chris Phillips shoot-around to clear the zone was snared by Brad Boyes, flipped to Patrice Bergeron, and popped the red light. Boyes slipped a second goal by Emery to up the count to two just before the end of the period. How they hurt, those end of period goals.

Goal number three was shorthanded, in a two on one situation, with no help from his D. The fourth was banked off the middle of his back. The fifth resulted from a rebound that sat in the crease, ignored by three Sens in the area. A rough night for the young rookie who played his entire OHL career in the Sault.

To add insult to injury, there was an LCBO message about drinking and driving on the big centre ice screen late in the third period by the same Ray Emery. The fans booed mercilessly. And they applauded him derisively when he stopped a couple of easy ones in the third.

There are two of the things I do not enjoy at a major sporting event. But there are others.

1. Anthem singers who embellish their presentations. The OPP who sings in Ottawa does a good job, but he tends to get a little carried away with his performance. At least he knows the words, Robert Goulet!
2. Messages on the Big Screen telling fans what to do---“Make Noise”, or “Scream if you’re a Sens fan”.
3. Extended commercial breaks for television purposes. They can really disrupt the flow of a game.
4. Rude fans. If someone near you is wearing the opposition’s shirt, it is not necessary to challenge them to a fight.
5. The wave. That speaks for itself.
6. Referees with microphones. Fine for football. Idiotic for hockey. We see the signal for slashing. We see the number of the player in the penalty box. We hear the announcer, in both languages. It was once written in stone that the best officiated game was one when the referee was almost invisible. Not any more.
7. Dumb music. After the Bruins scored their third goal, they played “Help” by the Beatles.
8. Unsupportive fans. There were less than 3 000 fans left in the arena at the end of the game. Some of the corporate folk stay in the lounge for most of the game with their Martinis. Others simply scalp their tickets, and write it off.
9. Irritating mascots. Some are acceptable, but not many.
10. Intermission events that add nothing to the evening. In Ottawa, an elderly chap was placed in a glass booth, and tried to grab flying bills as they blew around in the box. He won $ 50.
11. Guns that shoot things badly. I once saw a sandwich gun firing meatball subs, which disintegrated as they neared the fans. Hot sauce everywhere!

Perhaps you could add to the list. I realize that I am a bit of a purist, and that I usually go to the event for the game. Some minor distractions are fine, but…

The Sens will recover from that minor blip, and a few others. They have all that fire power, all that talent. Former Belleville Bull Jason Spezza played very well, as did Heatley and Alfredsson. You will hear from them again. And often.

Keep ‘em sorted.

James Hurst ---

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