Friday, January 12, 2007


Toronto Maple Leafs-Belleville Connection

Part Two
Another reason why Quinte residents are keeping a closer eye on the Maple Leafs this year is because Andrew Raycroft stands between the pipes for most of their games.

At their home games, there is a large contingent of supporters at the Air Canada Centre. Most of those fans rock from side to side in their seats, attempting to help Andrew keep the puck out of the net.

One of Raycroft’s staunchest fans does not attend the games. In fact, she was upset when he left home to play in the OHL. Andrew was her paper boy, and, according to her, the best she ever had. “He was always polite and pleasant,” she told me. “And he always stayed on the sidewalk. Those others cut across the lawn all the time.”

Raycroft’s paper delivery days were long done when hockey began to take a lot of his time. He spent his minor hockey days with the AAA Quinte system, then headed to the Wellington Dukes. He has become one of many outstanding goaltenders to have tended the twine for the Dukes---Robert Gherson is in the Leafs organization, currently with the Columbia Inferno of the East Coast League. Daniel La Costa now plays for the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League. Dan Turple is also in the East Coast Hockey League with the Gwinnett Gladiators. Other former Dukes are now in the OHL, or at colleges and universities.

Local hockey buffs have followed Raycroft’s progress since he began with the Sudbury Wolves when he was seventeen years old. He spent two years in the shadow of the Big Nickle, then headed to the Limestone City. He hit his groove in Kingston, under head coach Larry Mavety. It came as no surprise to “Mav”, who knew Andrew while he was getting started in Belleville.

Raycroft wrapped up his OHL career by copping some impressive hardware: the Red Tilson Trophy as the OHL’s most outstanding player, the Goaltender of the Year Award for the CHL, and first All Star team selections. He also was selected as Belleville’s Athlete of the Year---the Robinson-Kelleher Award.

Now 26 years old, Raycroft has been under the tutelage of a variety of goaltending coaches. For several years, he has worked with Jon Elkin. Elkin runs a school for goalies in Toronto, then assists his clients by grading their performances during the winter in game conditions. Generally, goalies adopt the “Quebec Butterfly” approach to the art. Cut down angles, develop quick hands and feet, lateral movement, smother rebounds---anything to keep the biscuit out of the basket.

Andrew was drafted in the fifth round by the Bruins in 1998. He fell under the watchful eye of Hall of Famer Gerry Cheevers, who was responsible for young Bruin netminders in the system.

In 2000, he headed to Providence, the AHL farm team of the Bruins, and spent the next three years on the roller coaster between Boston and Providence. He got his first taste of the Big Time in the 2000-2001 season, posting a nifty 2.96 goals against average.

In his first official season in the NHL with the Bruins, Raycroft posted a 2.05 GAA, won 29 games, tied nine, and recorded three shutouts. Sufficient to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL Rookie of the Year, and a selection to the All Rookie All Star Team.

Then, “The Year of No Hockey”. Place the blame wherever you wish. Raycroft logged eleven games with Tampere in Finland, getting a taste of European cooking.

The following year, Raycroft got a late start due to lagging contract negotiations, and battled through minor injuries. By the end of the season, the Bruins had an entire different look. Gone were Joe Thornton, Sergei Samsonov, and Hal Gill. It was time for a fresh start for Raycroft. He became a Maple Leaf.

With more than half the season gone, with 44 games under their belts, the Leafs are in the thick of it. Raycroft has won 18 games, lost 14, and tied 4. His GAA is 3.01, under the watchful eye of goalie coach Stephen McKichan.

Many of the Leafs’ fanatics are wont to criticize every move made, not necessarily those of the goalies. Nothing pleases that hoard except win after win after win. Unfortunately, that is not the real world. It is, after all, a team game. Forwards need to come back to pick up their checks, defensemen need to clear rebounds and keep traffic away from the front of the goal, without upsetting the men in stripes. Pucks need to hit the twine in the opposite end of the rink. There is always an element of luck involved as well.

Players and team mates have recently expressed confidence in Raycroft. Enough said.

In a recent response to the tirades from those attending games at the ACC, Raycroft had this to say in the Toronto Sun: “Believe me, the only guys I’m worried about in the entire city, province, and country (as to) what people think of me are the guys in here and the coaches. I’ trying to do my best and that’s all that matters.”

It will be a battle all the way to the playoffs. At that point in time, anything can happen. Raise your hand if you predicted the ‘Canes would win the Cup last year. Right.
James Hurst

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


Toronto Maple Leafs-The Belleville Connection

From the earliest days of the franchise, when Conn Smythe was envisioning the concept of the Maple Leafs, there were dedicated Toronto fans in the Quinte area. There were also some serious Hab fans in the area as well, due to our proximity to Montreal.

Along came the Senators a number of years ago, pulling a few faithful to their camp.

Without question, most of the hockey world in this region supports the Blue and White from Toronto.

For those who are also keen Belleville Bulls fans, one of the favourite pastimes is to follow the progress of the players once they leave the Bulls. Players move on to a variety of lives---some out to work, some off to school, and some continue in the hockey world. Only a select few are able to reach the pinnacle by playing in the National Hockey League.

Matt Stajan, Kyle Wellwood, and Kris Newbury all toiled for the Belleville Bulls. They now play for the Leafs.

Andrew Raycroft never did play for the Belleville Bulls, but he played against them many times---even for former Bulls’ coach Larry Mavety. Mav had moved down the road to Kingston by the time Raycroft was winding down his OHL career. Mav scooped him up in a deal with Sudbury, and Raycroft rejuvenated his career to the extent that he won the Red Tilson Trophy as the most outstanding player in the OHL. He was also goaltender of the year.

Yet another Leaf with Belleville roots is Bryan McCabe. There are many of us who are long enough in the tooth to remember stopping for fish at the shop located on the old bridge linking the city to Prince Edward County. It was a swing bridge, often leading to frustration while you waited to hit the beaches at the outlet. There was a wide variety of fish for sale at the shop, and it was in the hands of Bryan McCabe’s great grandfather, Herb. His great grandmother, Effie, was a notable public figure in Belleville, often heading up important volunteer organizations.

McCabe’s grandfather was an athlete of note. He is the only Belleville resident ever to play Major League baseball. He was only there for a cup of coffee, mind you, but he made the grade.

“High Pockets” McCabe was born in Napanee in 1918, and pitched professionally for more than a dozen years. In 1946, he was pitching for Oklahoma City in the Texas League. In mid September, he got the call to pitch for Cleveland in the American League. He faced the Washington Senators on a steamy September afternoon in Cleveland.

The lanky righthander began his stint against another Canadian---Sherry Robertson from Montreal. Robertson tagged a McCabe pitch to lead off the game with a home run. That was the only damage off McCabe in the first inning, and he breezed through the second. Mickey Vernon launched a second round tripper off McCabe in the third, and he was replaced by Joe Krakauskas in the fifth. McCabe struck out three Senators in his only Major League game.

He played the next year in Oklahoma City, then moved on to Longview in the Eastern Texas League. He finished his professional career in the Provincial League in Quebec with St. Hyacinthe. He returned to the Quinte area, and coached minor baseball teams. He died in Windsor in 1974 at the age of 55.

McCabe’s children attended public school and high school in Belleville. His oldest son Terry was an outstanding basketball player, with a patented pull-up jump shot. Another son, Ralph, was a tenacious backfielder at Belleville Collegiate. Ralph’s son is the aforementioned Bryan McCabe.

I spoke with Bryan following a Leafs game recently. He indicated that he saw very little of the Belleville group, due to the fact that his family moved west when he was young.

Needless to say, the Leafs are counting heavily on McCabe this year. They are also looking for major contributions from their other players with ties to the Quinte Region---former Bulls Stajan, Wellwood, and Newbury. And, of course, Belleville’s own Andrew Raycroft.

Part Two to Follow.

James Hurst

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