Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Rubin "Hurricane" Carter-Always Daring to Dream

As an inveterate sports fan, my interests in sport have run the gamut.

In the 1950s, I followed all of the major league sports closely. I loved the Yankees, and hated the Dodgers. I loved the Leafs, and hated the Canadiens. I was an Argos fan, had no time for the Tiger Cats, nor for the Alouettes. I liked the New York Knickbockers, loathed the Celtics.

But I also had time for other sporting events, including Gillette’s Friday Night Fights. Those were early television days, curled up in front of the old black and white, glued to the set for an hour or two in my pjamas.

Sugar Ray Robinson, Ezra Charles, Kid Gavilan, Two Ton Tony Galento, Primo Carnera, Archie Moore. Then, of course, there were the heavyweights: Rocky Marciano, Joe Louis, and the host that followed.

To me, the concept was simple. Two men, of equal skill, going toe to toe until a winner is decided, with the occasional draw.

Most of them hailed from the United States, most were black. The fights were exciting, one of those conflicts that simplified the struggle of life-man against man. The fight game was also, at that time, one of the very few options that ghetto kids had to catch the brass ring, to escape, to succeed.

Rubin Carter was born in 1937. Under the circumstances, life was not easy, but to compound the situation, he stuttered severely. In a quirky fateful way, that certainly contributed to his ability to fight. And fight he did, as a youth. Continuously. He knew people laughed at him because he stuttered, and he would not tolerate the humiliation. He fought furiously, flailing away at his opponents. He was dubbed “The Hurricane”.

In 1966, America was in the throes of turmoil-there were segregation riots, demands for equality, and that nasty situation in Vietnam. Rubin was twenty-nine years old, and was preparing for a world title bout. He was on his way home late one evening when his car was pulled over by the police. In a matter of hours, he was fingered for a triple murder, and was eventually sentenced to three life terms in an American prison.

He began to spend his time preparing for his release, never an easy thing to do, let alone for a black man in the American justice system at that time. All of the detectives who had arrested him, booked him, targeted him were white. The lawyers, the jurors, the judge-all white. A little tough to find justice at that time.

Carter now involves himself in the undoing of injustice, wherever it may be. He works with “Innocence International Inc.”, doing whatever it takes to right wrong. He also speaks publicly, and eloquently. His passion is infectious. He is now in his seventies, fit as a fiddle, and can throw a combination with a right cross that would instil fear in most sensible prize fighters.

His message is simple, and threefold: 1. Dare to dream. 2. Seize every opportunity that comes your way. 3. Go the distance.

As a man who spent nearly thirty of his first sixty years in prison, those are powerful messages.

After his first thirteen years in prison, he received a letter that eventually changed his life. It was from a young lad, originally from the States who had been adopted by three Canadians. They were raising him in Toronto, and had taken him to a book sale. He was angry, black, and illiterate. He stumbled through that book, The Sixteenth Round, Carter’s autobiography written in prison. He sent Carter a note. Carter responded, and the wheels began to turn.

That foursome headed to Jersey, convinced Carter they were serious about obtaining his release, and began researching his case. Finally, in 1988, Carter was released from prison. He headed to Canada, and obtained his citizenship in 2000.

Surprisingly, there is little animosity when he speaks. He says that hatred put him in prison, but that love got him out.

Fortunately for me, I was able to take advantage of his second message. I had seized the opportunity to hear him speak recently in Belleville. He is now Dr. Rubin Carter, having obtained an honourary doctorate from the University of Toronto and another from Griffith University. He has addressed the United Nations General Assembly, and stood beside Nelson Mandela as a speaker.

And the young lad who was the catalyst for his renaissance? That would be Lesra Martin, who graduated in law from U of T, and is now a lawyer in British Columbia.

Bob Dylan’s song, “Here comes the Story of the Hurricane” served notice to the American public that there might have been a miscarriage of justice.

There is a very powerful movie at your local blockbuster store that merits watching, above all. It is simply titled: “Hurricane”, and stars Denzel Washington.

Go the distance.

James Hurst

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Jan Mursak-Belleville Bulls' Rising Star

by James Hurst

In 1991, Slovenia seceded from Yugoslavia. That led to a difficult period of time for the tiny independent country, but it has recently recovered with the development of small and medium sized business. Also since that time, the country has sent two wonderful hockey players to the city of Belleville.

Branko Radivojevic came to the Bulls in 1998, and was part of the Championship team the following year. Since then, he has played more than 400 games in the National Hockey League with Phoenix, Philadelphia, and Minnesota. A rugged right winger, he can often be found in the corners, doing whatever is necessary to get the puck to his linemates.

Jan Mursak came to the Belleville Bulls at the trading deadline in January of this year. A couple of weeks later, he celebrated his twentieth birthday. It was a significant trade for the Bulls, as they gave up goalie prospect Edward Pasquale, a former Wellington Duke, centre Brendan Taylor, and two draft picks. In return, the Bulls received a solid defenceman in Nigel Williams, and goalie Parker Van Buskirk.

In a recent playoff game against the Oshawa Generals, Van Buskirk left the bench to take over goaltending duties for Mike Murphy who had a shaky start. The Bulls were down 3-0 early in the first period. Van Buskirk shut the door on the Gens, and the Bulls stormed back to score four times to steal the victory.

Many of the hockey pundits in Section 12 at the Yardmen Arena in Belleville believe that Mursak has been the key player in that trade. He has quietly won the hearts of many Bulls fans, especially with his great skating ability. Many times since his arrival in Belleville, Mursak has blown by unsuspecting defencemen to create excellent scoring opportunities. He is difficult to separate from the puck, working well from corner to corner in the offensive zone. He has played an important role on the power play, and kills penalties.

Certainly, the loss of Shawn Matthias has hurt the Bulls. You simply cannot take a player of NHL calibre out of the lineup of a junior hockey club without significant effect; however, Mursak has more than adequately filled the hole Matthias vacated when he went down with tonsillitis, then mononucleosis.

Mursak is thrilled to be playing hockey in Canada. He spent his first season in Saginaw with the Spirit, racking up 27 goals and 80 points in his rookie season. He had spent the previous season in the Czech Republic, Slovenia’s neighbour. He believed that he would never had the opportunity to improve his game to the same level in Slovenia. The closest hockey community to his home town of Maribor is Graz, Austria, only thirty miles away. Brent Gretzky and several other Canadians have toiled at the game in that city.

Maribor is one of those delightful small European cities with plenty to offer: castles, a picturesque town square, a large river, mountains nearby. It has had its share of woe, having been overridden by German forces in both World Wars.

A little Google research led me one of its more remarkable citizens: Leon Stukelj. Leon was a gymnast who won six Olympic medals- three gold, two silver, and one bronze, when he was thirty-eight in Berlin in 1936. He was one of the oldest celebrants when the Games were held in Atlanta in 1996. He worked as a judge in Slovenia, and died four days shy of his one hundred and first birthday in 1999.

Another athlete who has crossed the Atlantic from Slovenia is Sasha Vujavic. Born in 1984, he is an excellent three point shooter for the Los Angeles Lakers of the NBA.

As can be expected, most of the professional athletes from Slovenia are soccer players. There are several playing in cities throughout Europe, and around the world.

When Mursak came to Belleville, he told The Intelligencer that he hoped that “his quickness would pay dividends on the Olympic sheet ice at the Yardmen Arena. I like the big ice. I think I am a pretty good skater and can use more of my speed here.” Drafted in the sixth round of the 2006 draft by the Detroit Red Wings, Mursak will have plenty of opportunity to display his skating ability in the weeks ahead.

On Wednesday night, the Bulls have an opportunity to complete another round of playoffs. They lead the Generals by three games to one. The Bulls disposed of the Barrie Colts and the Peterborough Petes in the first two rounds. Depending on the result of the Kitchener series with Sault Ste Marie, the Bulls are not too far from securing a berth in the Memorial Cup.

The Yardmen Arena will be rocking Wednesday night. The Bulls have come a long way in their quest for this championship. A remarkable season indeed for the entire organization. It will be standing room only, with every corner filled with fans. For those of you not fortunate enough to get a ticket, the game will be on the Cogeco network as well as on the Quinte Broadcasting radio network. I am almost certain that people in Kingston will hear the “Go Bulls Go” chant. Maybe even a few in Slovenia, depending upon the wind direction!

James Hurst

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


The March of the Penguins

Just two years ago, Jordan Staal sat quietly at a dinner table on the ice surface of the Quinte Sports Centre in Belleville. He was there for the Ontario Hockey League All Star Game. We spoke briefly during dinner. He was a kid of few words. Since that time he has learned the “hockey speak” that all players adopt when they face the cameras at the conclusion of their NHL games.

Facing the media hoard has become second hat for the lad from Thunder Bay, the second of the Staal clan to hit the rinks in the NHL. Older brother Eric has been with the Carolina Hurricanes for the past four years. On Monday night, Jordan Staal of the Pittsburgh Penguins towered over the hoard of reporters in his six feet four inches on skates, and shared a few tidbits for their readers.

The game was well played and hard fought for two periods. If you are a Sens fan, it only took you twelve seconds into the third period to realize that the end was near. That Crosby kid from the Maritimes slid the puck past Martin Gerber, and that was that.

Most observers felt that after the second period, tied at ones, it was anybody’s ball game. Jordan Staal told me a different story: “We felt we had momentum going into the third period. We were fully confident after two periods. But we knew we had to take advantage of any opportunity they gave us because this is a loud rink, and it is tough to calm the storm here” (once the Sens get rolling).

When asked about the prospects of a sweep, he added: “The fourth game is the hardest game to win any time. But we came here to win every game.” Staal had a nick on his nose that was patched with quick tape. “That came off Heatley’s stick,” he said, referring to a critical four minute penalty that resulted in another Penguins’ marker in the third period.

Adam Hall hails from Kalamazoo, Michigan, but began a long hockey road with the Bramalea Blues of the Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League in 1996. He spent four years at Michigan State, was drafted by Nashville, and had stints with the Rangers and the Capitals before landing in Pittsburgh. The burly winger signed with the Pens as a free agent last October, and played his 350th NHL game this year.

In the role as a plugger and a digger, he has become yet another cog in the wheel for the Pens to roll towards the Stanley Cup. As he quietly removed his equipment in the crowded Pens dressing room following the game, he reflected on Crosby’s goal: “That goal solidified what he means to us.”

ScotiaBank Place was rocking from the moment they opened the doors to the sold-out crowd. Despite nagging injuries, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson dressed for the game, and played valiantly. Alfie is constantly greeted with roaring cheers, and that inspires his play.

The Senators suffered from a couple of other nemeses during the game that will drive any coach to distraction: dumb penalties, questionable refereeing, and somewhat shaky goaltending. It has been a tough go for the Ottawa crew for quite some time. There has been turmoil in the dressing room, some distractions outside the rink. All in all, not an easy couple of months for the Red Team on the Rideau.

But they will rebound, regroup, and play around with that fifty million dollar cap to start again next September.

And the Pens will reload for their next opponent along the road to Stanley’s Bowl.

James Hurst-sportslices.blogspot.com

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


The Cup's in Town 2008!

James Hurst

Now that the regular season is finished, the games that are truly meaningful are ready to begin. The Detroit Red Wings have bagged the President’s Trophy for finishing first overall in the National Hockey League. That is of little consequence to them. They want to take Lord Stanley’s Bowl to their home towns, and let all the little munchkins therein get their pictures taken with the silver prize.

The Wings did earn home town advantage throughout the playoffs. That only counts when you continue to win, and that is what the Wings have failed to do consistently the last few years. When a certain Steve Yzerman left the fold, a catalyst was lacking to fuel the engine to get the job done. Two former Belleville Bulls are now with the Wings. Darren McCarty and Daniel Cleary, both fan favourites in Belleville, are with the Wings.

The greatest mysteries lie beyond the Mississippi. What goes on in the west? Anybody’s guess. Last year, as I am sure you will recall, a motley crew from California, beards and all, headed east to play the prolific Senators. When the smoke cleared, the Ducks raised the Cup above their heads, and carted it to their homes. The Sens had played valiantly, but there was little left in their tanks at the end of it all.

Following weeks of training camp, pre-season games, and an eighty-two game schedule, every NHL player has to dig a little deeper when it comes to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Several years ago, I spent some time with Rick Meagher and the Blues when they were facing off against the Leafs in post season play.

Following the game at the Gardens, we were chatting in his hotel room with a couple of the other players. Doug Gilmour was with the Blues at that time, and removed his sports coat in the room. He was virtually skin and bone. I said to him: “Dougie, you must be down to 165 pounds!” That would have been a little below his regular playing weight. His response? “I wish that I were 155 pounds!” Mean and lean? Certainly. Gaunt? Absolutely.

It is a long haul to the end of the road. Injuries, illnesses, freaky puck bounces. They all contribute to great success, and to dismal failure.

Above all, it comes down to goaltending. Last year, Jean-Sebastien Giguere backstopped the Ducks to their title. He had languished with the Whalers and the Flames prior to his move to Anaheim. He struggled for a couple of years with the Ducks. Last year, he found his groove, and won 36 games while losing just ten in the regular season. Suffice it is to say that he is one of the very best in the league.

The Wings boast the incomparable Dominic Hasek between the pipes. He has logged a lot of hours on the ice since joining the Black Hawks in 1990. Prior to that he had played in his native Czechoslovakia for almost ten years with Tesla Pardubice. At 43 years of age, he still has the uncanny ability to keep the biscuit out of the basket, in the most unorthodox ways. He is still “The Dominator”.

Enter the Habs from the East. The Bell Centre will be packed to the rafters with fans waiting to chant their beloved “Na na na na, hey hey good-bye” in victory. The powers that be in Montreal have decided to place all of their faith in a rookie goaltender who has shone at lower levels of hockey in the past couple of seasons.

In the 2007-2008 Habs media guide, Carey Price is not even listed with the regular players. He is pictured with 43 other players who are “in the system”, including the Belleville Bulls’ P K Subban. He had been in the nets for the Canadian Juniors when they won the Worlds last year. He managed to play two regular season games for the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League. He then played 22 playoff games for the Steeltown Habs, and won the award as the Most Valuable Player in the playoffs. He is twenty years old.

Midway through the season, the Habs decided to throw the torch to Price, and moved Christobal Huet out of the Bell Centre. A truly dramatic move on their part. But not without precedent. We all recall a similar move when a rookie named Ken Dryden was thrown into the fray by the Habs. It is not difficult to envision him, both hands on the top of the butt end of the stick, awaiting the buzzer to signal that the Canadiens had won the Cup.

Sit back, relax. You know this could go on until June. But it will be a fine ride until then. Turn the volume down a touch when all of the experts begin their “Yatta, yatta, yatta” and make their predictions. They are usually right fifty per cent of the time.

Sing the anthems. Drop the damn puck. Let’s get on with it. Lord Stanley is waiting.


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