Thursday, May 24, 2007
Danny Bois-Once a Duke, now a Senator
Danny Bois will be celebrating his twenty-fourth birthday on the first of June. He will be in Ottawa for the event, as part of the Senators family preparing for the third and fourth games of the Stanley Cup Final.
Danny has been practising in Ottawa, as part of a taxi squad of Binghamton Senators. There are no current plans to have Danny suit up for the Sens in the Final; he will be participating in “inter squad” scrimmages. The Senators have a long layoff before the start of the Final. Coach Murray has been through this situation before, as the GM of the Ducks.
It is one of those “half full, half empty” scenarios. The team needs plenty of time for wounds to heal, to refresh themselves, to fill up their tanks. But experience has shown that a long layoff can leave a team rusty, slow to react, and a step behind the opposition.
Danny Bois arrived in Wellington as a Duke in 1999. He was sixteen, and had already established himself as a vigorous hockey player. Only once, since that time, has Danny NOT had at least 200 minutes in penalties per year. In 2002-2003 with the London Knights, he had 197 minutes. Danny Bois is a warrior, and has established himself as one of the toughest customers in the game.
This past year, he had his first taste of NHL experience. One game, mind you. But that is one game more than most of us. In fact, one game more than any native of Prince Edward County. Ever.
Danny was in Bridgeport, Connecticut, while with the Binghamton Senators, and got the call at 10:30pm. “I was thrilled with the call,” he told me. “I spent the next couple of hours on the phone, letting my friends and family know.”
When he got to the rink in Washington, all of his equipment, sticks, and skates were ready. “It’s really great. They took care of everything.” Even Donald Brasseur, the Capitals’ enforcer, was ready, as is usually the case. Danny and Donald got together briefly, and there are seven penalty minutes recorded on Danny’s NHL record from the game. Following the game, Danny returned to Binghamton to complete the season. He played under coach Dave Cameron, also known to Dukes’ fans as the father of former Duke Connor Cameron.
The Binghamton Senators season ended on the 14th of April. Bois ended the season with 14 goals and 13 assists. He did receive 153 minutes in the “sin bin”, well under his normal total.
Bois will return home to Thunder Bay, then head back to Ottawa for training. He hopes to get to Wellington for the Dukes Golf Tournament on July 14th. “I am playing a lot of golf. I usually play well on 8 out of the 18 holes,” he told me.
For the next couple of weeks, Bois will have the best seat in the house to watch the Stanley Cup final. He will be there to hear the crunching body checks, and the slap shots. He will pick up the aroma from “Motor City” Smitty’s Restaurant. He will see the spectacle as it unfolds, for better or for worse for the Senators.
I spoke with a season ticket holder yesterday about the price of tickets. One quote he had received was that ice level seats, four rows above the surface, were in the $ 3000 range. I’ll pass on that one.
And with the price of gas! And the parking! And the food costs!
I’ll watch it on TV. But it would be more fun to be there, with Danny Bois!
Sunday, May 20, 2007
Senators Quest for the Cup
Every eighty years or so, the Ottawa Senators get involved in serious Stanley Cup action. It was exactly eighty years ago that they won the Cup. Within a week, they will begin their quest once again, in the Final.
Local fans have been following the exploits of the Sens since their reincarnation a few years ago. They re-entered the league with the Tampa Bay Lightning, have paid their dues, and now stand on the brink of the ultimate success---winning the Stanley Cup.
Due to the proximity of both cities, loyalties extend from Quinte area fans to the Leafs and the Senators. There are Habs fans, and naturally, a few disgruntled Sabres fans as well. But the time has come for all Canadian hockey fans to support the team from the nation’s capital. (All you die-hard Blue and White fans, applaud politely.)
The Senators can attribute their success to a number of factors this year. They now have more playoff experience, they are well coached, they have speed and skill. Above all that, however, they have been denied in the playoffs several times lately. They have been bridesmaids long enough. They are hungry. And that is all the motivation they need.
They have the horses. If you happen to check the stats from the playoffs thus far, you will find three names at the top of the heap: Spezza, Heatley, and Alfredsson. They play on the top line for the Sens, and have been outstanding. There is a young netminder, named Emery, who has outplayed all opponents thus far. There are stellar defencemen: Redden, Phillips, Corvo, Schubert, Meszaros, and Preissing. And another named Volchenkov, who plays as tough as anyone in the league.
Throw in the speed of Vermette and McAmmond, and a strong supporting cast including Mike Fisher, Peter Schaefer, Eaves, and Chris Kelly. For added strength, the Sens have Chris Neil, Brian McGrattan, and a former Wellington Duke Danny Bois in the wings. Danny has paid his dues in the American League, and skated with the Sens this year---every Canadian boys’ dream.
When they knocked off the Sabres in Buffalo, the captain, Daniel Alfredsson, was presented with the President’s Trophy. He took the traditional photographs beside the trophy with Bill Daly, league Vice President. When asked why he didn’t hoist the hardware and parade it around the rink, he mumbled that it looked “too big”. In fact, it is a superstition that all players have that all that silver hardware is taboo until you win the Cup.
Alfredsson supplied the winning goal against the Sabres, and has been nothing short of spectacular in the playoffs. In previous years, his play was suspect. In fact, the Sens as a team never got untracked. Not the case this year. They are on a mission, and will be difficult to beat.
Belleville Bulls fans remember Jason Spezza well. He burned the Bulls as a Mississauga Ice Dog, and as a Spitfire. He landed in Belleville for a cup of coffee near the end of his OHL career, in a trade for Kyle Wellwood. I spoke with Spezza earlier in the season, at a time when the Senators were struggling. They had won 8 games, and lost 11. “We just need to get on a streak,” he told me. “Secondary scoring is really important. We need everyone to step it up.” Regarding the goaltending situation, he expressed confidence in Emery. (Emery had been splitting the duties with Martin Gerber.)
And now, the job is firmly in Emery’s blocker and trapper. A real bargain too---he is getting less than a million this year!
Chris Neil helps to keep things loose in the dressing room. He needled Alfredsson as they donned their street clothes after the morning practice: “Swede,” he barked. “You were really good today. I couldn’t take the puck off you.” Neil also spent some time in the practice before the game backhanding a shot high into the net from just beside the net. Sure enough, on a power play, that same situation arose. He deftly lifted the puck over Manny Fernandez’s shoulder into the top corner for his 7th goal of the year.
High in the rafters of all the arenas, John Muckler, the team’s General Manager, lives and dies with the action on the ice. He has been in the game for more than 50 years. He had coaching duties with the Oilers when they won five Stanley Cups in seven years. He played on the blue line in the minor pro ranks, mostly in the old Eastern Hockey League. I mentioned to him, when he was with the Sabres years ago, that I had seen his photo in a Belleville hockey program from the early 1950’s. His response? “That was good hockey, in those days.” He spent a year in Belleville.
As is the case with all high level sports today, strategies, methods, approaches are complex. Coach Murray tries to simplify the process. In one of his post game interviews, he expressed some of his opinions: “For us to be successful, our good players have to play well. With Redden playing well, it relieves the pressure off the other guy. (his defensive partner). It helps solve the problems in our own end. For any team, even when they are playing their very best, they will give up 7 or 8 good scoring chances a game.”
The television hockey talkers debated where the Senators would hold their Stanley Cup parade, or float, if they used the Rideau. That is not something for anyone to consider at this time. It is one of those jinx things. Forget it.
Start the Zamboni. Put the nets on their pins. Drop the puck. There will be twenty thousand fans on the edge of their seats for the next two weeks in ScotiaBank Place. The wait is over. The Sens are in the finals.
Blob Site: sportslices.blogspo.com
Thursday, May 03, 2007
Bulls against Bulls 2007 Playoffs
Last year the Belleville Bulls celebrated 25 years in the Ontario Hockey League. Since their inception, many graduates have played in the NHL. A few of those players have hoisted the Stanley Cup above their shoulders.
The possibility exists that another former Bull will drink from the grail of hockey some time in the near future. There are still a few former Bulls in the hunt this year.
Local sports fans are following the exploits of the following: Daniel Cleary with the Detroit Red Wings, Jonathon Cheechoo from San Jose, David Clarkson who is with the New Jersey Devils and Jason Spezza from the Senators. Other players still in the hunt include Matt Cooke of the Vancouver Canucks, and Danny Bois---who played his first NHL game with the Senators this year, (and is on the “taxi squad” in the playoffs). Both are former Wellington Dukes.
Cleary is having an outstanding playoff run this year with the Wings. He played well during the regular season, but has taken his game up a notch or two in post season play. It comes as no surprise to local hockey followers, as Daniel led the Bulls with his brilliant play when he was in Belleville.
Coach Mike Babcock has been instrumental in helping to revive Cleary’s career. He gave the native of Carbonear, Newfoundland a chance to prove himself. Cleary took the proverbial bull by the horns, and has never looked back. At the beginning of the playoffs, Babcock had this to say about Cleary: “He can really finish checks and really hang on to the puck and can play on our power play. He’s just a good usable player.”
More recently, Babcock’s assessment of Cleary’s play is that Daniel is “our best player on the ice”. With his graceful style of skating, his tenacious checking, and his gifted scoring ability, Cleary has something to add to the Wings’ game.
On the opposite end of the rink stands Jon Cheechoo. Cheechoo gave us many of our fondest memories of the Bulls with his brilliant play in Belleville. Like Cleary, it took “Cheech” a little time to find his legs in the NHL. Last year he led the league in goal scoring, capturing the Rocket Richard Trophy. His goal totals are off a little this year; nonetheless, he is a star with the Sharks, and a perfect fit with Joe Thornton.
Cheechoo is not afraid to mix it up in the corners, and his physical play as an attacking forward results in scoring opportunities for the Sharks. But it is his play in front of the net, and his deft scoring touch that are valued in the West Coast Offence.
On the Eastern front, the Senators are getting full value from Jason Spezza. His linemates, Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley complement his style perfectly. The trio leads the team, and presents a difficult challenge for Lou Lamoriello and his Devils. Spezza starred with the Bulls, and plays an important role with the Senators.
Coach Murray brought Spezza up slowly from his junior days, and Jason spent some time in Binghamton honing his skills. It is now full speed ahead for Spezza, and his play is reminiscent of a Beliveau, or a Lemieux, because of his size, his grace, and his tenacity.
David Clarkson began his OHL career with the Bulls, but was moved to Kitchener early in his second year. He had an outstanding OHL career with the Rangers, and has spent time in Lowell and Albany in the Devils’ farm system. Lamoriello likes Clarkson’s robust style of play, and his ice time has increased during the playoffs.
A couple of former Bulls are now at home watching the games following their teams’ exit from the playoffs. Darren McCarty is now with the Calgary Flames. The Red Wings proved to be too much for the Flames, relegating them to the sidelines.
Richard Park had a strong playoff with the Islanders; the crafty forward was an offensive wizard with the Bulls from 1992 to 1996. Park played all 82 games for the Islanders this season, always dangerous near the opposition net. The Islanders were no match for the powerful Sabres in the first round.
The Canucks surely miss Matt Cooke’s play. The team has been decimated with injuries, and miss Cooke’s presence on the ice. Not many players on the Ducks look forward to “Cookie’s” return---his physical play, and his constant chatter tend to distract during the game.
Another former Wellington Duke, Danny Bois, played his first NHL game with the Senators this season. Although he is not in the current lineup, Danny is “in the wings” on the team’s taxi squad enjoying the action.
Hot off the wire is the news that another former Duke, Derek Smith, has signed a two year deal with the Ottawa Senators. Smith has enjoyed great success in the NCAA at Lake Superior State University, and completed his third year there this year.
Having such a wealth of local talent in this year’s playoff run keeps us glued to the television on these fine spring nights. There will be time for grass cutting, pruning, planting, painting. Not yet Ethel, the game starts in twenty minutes. Game on!
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
Sports Talk with Kellen Winslow
Nestled away in Central Florida, far from the roar of the launches at Cape Canaveral, the motorcycles at Daytona, and the cell phones at Disney World, lies a sleepy golfing community called “The Villages”. A recently developed concept, it has captured the imagination of North Americans, particularly those from northern climes, who want the sun and the opportunity to chase the little white ball all year ‘round. There are Championship courses, stamped with the approval of Arnold Palmer and Nancy Lopez.
While perusing their local events calendar, I discovered they hosted a club there called “Sports Talk Club”. I made the appropriate call and signed up for that evening’s event at one of the Community Halls. The organizer of the event, the congenial Don Landry, has been hosting the gatherings at The Villages for three years. This was the seventh such meeting this year, and Harry Wendelstedt, former Major League umpire had been the previous guest. Wendelstedt, the senior, called balls and strikes in the majors from 1966 to 1998. That would be thirty-two years of joy with the likes of Earl Weaver, Billy Martin, and Lou Piniella. Junior Wendelstedt took over from his father in 1999, and still works for MLB.
Kellen Winslow was the honoured guest at the event. Towering over all of us at six feet five inches, Winslow was an imposing figure. Slim and trim, he added that he tipped the scales at 260 pounds, just slightly over his playing weight.
And play he did. From 1979 to 1987, he was the premier tight end in the National Football League. Since then, he has been recognized in the following manners:
1. Elected to the pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995.
2. Elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2002.
3. As part of the 75th Anniversary of the NFL, named as one of the top 100 players of all time.
Winslow took the microphone and spoke for about an hour. Easy going, unassuming, articulate, he covered the bases, then fielded a few questions.
He did not duck any issues. At that time, Jackie Robinson was being honoured by Major League Baseball, celebrating the 60th year since he broke into the major leagues. The previous week, Don Imus, a sports talk host, had trashed a women’s college basketball team with racial epithets. (Imus was later fired for his comments.)
Winslow has no time for such garbage. He ignores yappy sports talk hosts. “Male gossip” was his term for 24 hour sports talk stations. He often enjoys games with the mute button in full force. There are elements of the game he likes today: the magical “First down line” on the field. (How do they do that?). He likes real grass fields as opposed to artificial turf.
He likes the work that the players do behind the scenes: the visits to the hospitals, the supplies to flood victims, the purchase of homes for destitute single mothers. He regrets the fact that these things are often ignored by the press.
Winslow’s son plays for the Cleveland Browns. Winslow is justifiably proud of his boy, and he has high expectations for the lad. Kellen Junior has had his share of woe as he enters his NFL career. He has sustained serious injury, and has been hospitalized. On one occasion, he sustained a knee injury in an accident. News hounds ascended onto the scene, with their news trucks. Employees were badgered to get information about his condition. Winslow said that two employees were fired for attempting to access his medical records. In sum he stated: “We need to expect more from our media”.
Winslow chuckled when comparing current salaries with players from his day. “My son got more money in his signing bonus than I did in my entire career. Even after six months into his career, I was still paying his cell phone bill!” A normal father-son relationship.
He compared the life of an athlete today to those from the past. Players now work out all year, and live in the city in which they play. (Winslow Junior stays in Cleveland). Certainly, the Players’ Union has more clout today, but there is still room for improvement. Actual playing conditions and practice conditions need improvement---there are no uniform or standard conditions yet in place. Today’s athlete is bigger, stronger, more fit than those of yesteryear---and more susceptible to injury.
I asked him how he approached retirement. “It was at training camp. I told the offensive co-ordinator that I was going in. (to the locker room). As a nine year veteran, I was not questioned about my move. I took off my stuff and knew that that was it. I went in to see the coach the next day, and cried a little bit with him.
“I played golf the next year, and then went to law school.”
Winslow currently works for the Disney Corporation at Disney’s Wide World of Sports near Orlando. Several years ago, I attended my first Baseball Spring Training game at the facility. The complex hosts the Atlanta Braves training camp.
But the park is more than baseball. There are events throughout the year of all description: lacrosse, in-line skating, basketball, golf, soccer, track and field, football, wrestling. Check it out at “disneyworldsports.com”. Many American sports championships take place at the park.
Former major league baseball player Champ Summers is the club’s next guest. What a treat for all sports fans! What a great idea! (I will work on it---the Sports Talk Club, and invite any comments or suggestions.)
Winslow’s biography is available on the internet through the “NFL.com” web site. Move on to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and you can read about his greatest game, a tilt which some consider to be the greatest game ever in NFL history. You can also listen to his acceptance speech in Canton! The marvels of the Internet!
Winslow declined to share tales about his quarterback Dan Fouts. Something about the old adage of “What goes on in the locker room stays in the locker room…”
He graciously signed autographs for all parties following his talk. A fine gentleman. A great evening for all sports fans.
May 1, 2007