Tuesday, May 27, 2008


A Little of This, a Little of That

Potpourri from the world of sport. A dog’s breakfast of athletic events. Mid-week tidbits from the arenas, the ball diamonds, from all of the sporting venues.

The Detroit Red Wings are at it again. They have put together a group of grizzled veterans, several mid-round draft picks, and a few castaways to arrive at the brink of yet another Stanley Cup. Few would have predicted that they would be led by Chris Osgood, the backup goaltender to Dominic Hasek at the beginning of the season. Even the most learned red wings fan is jolted by the fact that “Ozzie” has now won more playoff games than Terry Sawchuk!

Not long ago it would have been almost blasphemous to say or write such a thing. Osgood began his NHL career with Detroit, and, following a couple of dismal playoff seasons, moved on to the New York Islanders, then to St. Louis. He returned to Detroit for the 2005-2006 season. He did not even play any playoff games for the Wings in the past two seasons.

The Penguins are not likely to give up without a fight. They have plenty of young weapons, although they have begun this final series completely “out of sync”. The kids will be happy to return home to their Igloo to play the Wings in more friendly confines.

How about those Blue Jays!

Their roller coaster ride continues. They bested the Kansas City Royals in a four game sweep this past weekend for the first time in history. There is no question that they have the arms.

Game after game, they receive most commendable performances on the mound. The most serious concern thus far this season is that they have not been able to hit with “runners in scoring position”. I put that in brackets because I find it a little irritating after a while. Man on second, two men are out, and the batter at the plate is averaging .200. What do you expect? Sometimes I think a runner in scoring position has his foot six inches off home plate while the ball is caroming around the outfield wall.

Matt Stairs began his major league career as an Expo in 1992. Since then, he has stepped to the plate more than five thousand times. Acquired as a free agent last year, he provided the Jays with timely hitting, and 21 home runs for good measure. His attitude is infectious; he plays hard every game, every inning. Always a treat to watch.

The Belleville Minor Football League season has begun. Several local kids have participated in the program over the years. Many have gone on to star in High School and College. A few have begun professional careers after getting a start at the minor level in Belleville. Games are played on Friday nights and Saturdays /in Belleville at Quinte Secondary School.

Track and Field Championships are now on the go in the Elementary and High Schools. It is always gratifying to see records broken every year. The Olympic Motto of “Faster, Higher, Farther” comes into play in these events. Many of the top local high school athletes move on to provincial and national championships to record personal bests.

Only four teams remain in the hunt for the National Basketball Championship. Both struggles are Titanic. Kobe Bryant leads the Lakers against the San Antonio Spurs in the West. In the East, the Boston Celtics have their hands full against the Detroit Pistons. The home team wins a very high percentage of the games, more than in any other professional sport. It will be interesting to see which teams can break the deadlock, and emerge to the final.

And finally, a tip of the hat to the Belleville Bulls. For only the second time in the team history, they played in the Memorial Cup finals. They played valiantly, and ran into some tough luck and an inspired opponent in the Kitchener Rangers. The Bulls will regroup, and will ice another excellent squad next season. After ninety-nine games, hundreds of practices, hours in the gym, and a few sleepless afternoons before the big games. They deserve a rest. Great job, boys!

The Belleville Club is promoting its annual “Trip To the Blue Jays” on Fathers’ Day, June 15th. Tickets are field level seats. Cost of the entire excursion with the Foley Coach is $ 70. Tickets may be obtained by calling the Club, or by calling 613-399-2278. It is your opportunity to be “Taken out to the Ball Game”.

Keep your Stick on the Ice!


Monday, May 19, 2008


Haorace "Lefty" Gwynne Olympic Gold Medallist

This November, Lennox Lewis will be inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame. Lewis won the Olympic Gold Medal in the Super Heavyweight Division in 1988, in Seoul, Korea. Lewis went on to an impressive professional career, at one time the reigning Heavyweight Champion of the World. His name appears on an exclusive list of two hundred Olympic Boxing Gold Medallists. Some of the greatest names in boxing are also on that list: Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Sugar Ray Leonard, the Spinks brothers, Oscar de la Hoya, Floyd Patterson, and Horace “Lefty” Gwynne.

Lefty Gwynne was born in Toronto in 1913. In his early teens, he began to hang around the old Woodbine racetrack in east Toronto. He and his two brothers were small in stature, with Lefty five feet four inches at the best of times. He became an exercise boy, then moved on to become a jockey.

Lefty rode in several maiden jockey races, without much success. He later recalled: “I rode in every one. Didn’t win one.” In the mid 1920s, he and his brothers headed to Havana to work as jockeys. Lefty remained there for two years.

According to his son, John, Lefty and his brothers must have been young scrappers from the day that they were born. Lefty told John that he and his brothers donned the gloves to entertain the Canadian troops on their way to Europe in the First World War. Lefty was four years old at that time, and he and his brothers would “duke it out” on the ship, much to the delight of the soldiers.

In the mid 1920s, Toronto was a boxing town. Lefty was well suited as a bantamweight-compact, muscular, mobile. He won a few fights and began training seriously at the Central YMCA in Toronto. By 1932, he had earned a spot on the Canadian Olympic team which was heading to Los Angeles, California.

Lefty had to win three bouts to win the Gold Medal. He squared off against the Italian champion, Vito Melis, in his first bout. The fight was no contest, as Lefty won all three rounds by a wide margin, once decking the Italian with a powerful right.

His next opponent was Jose Villanueva from the Philippines. He also offered little resistance to the scrappy Canadian.

In his final match against Hans Ziglarski, a German policeman, Lefty boxed cautiously. The German rushed at Gwynne from his corner at the opening bell, throwing overhand rights and wild lefts. Lefty avoided the onslaught, countering with sharp left hooks to the head and crossing rights to the body. He won the first round easily.
Ziglarski hit the canvas for a count of two in the second round, and the German never recovered. For the first time since Schneider won the lightweight title in 1920 in Antwerp, Belgium, the Canadian flag was hoisted to indicate Gwynne’s victory.

Lefty returned to Canada in the height of the depression. There was no money to be made in amateur boxing. Lefty turned pro, and headed to Detroit. Henry Ford hired him as a guard at one of his automobile plants, giving Lefty time to work out for upcoming fights. He was at Jim Brady’s boxing stable in Detroit, but made little money in the fight game.

In Doug Fisher’s excellent book about Canada’s Sporting Heroes, Lefty recalled: “I made so little on fights around Michigan that it didn’t pay to take time from work. Got a fight against Henry Hook, and we were guaranteed seventy-five bucks apiece.”

Conn Smythe also hired Lefty to fight in Toronto---five fights for $ 1000. But the Major also had strings attached. He also had Gwynne working around Maple Leaf Gardens, and at one time was the stick boy for the Leafs!

Gwynne fought his last fight in 1941, a fund-raiser for the war effort. He then began work as a volunteer at several Community Centres in the city of Toronto. This led to employment as a Recreation Director at a variety of centres in the city---Moss Park and Regent Park, to name a few.

He retired to his favourite area in the Honey Harbour region of Georgian Bay.

According to his son John, who resides just north of Trenton, Lefty never bet a nickel on a horse race, although he knew the game well.

He discouraged his sons from entering the fight game, often referring to it as “a mug’s game”. He followed boxing carefully after he retired. John remembers watching the Gillette Friday Night Fights with his dad. Lefty’s commentary would have been priceless. John recalls that his father was rarely wrong with the decisions he made during the bout.

Lefty Gwynne died in 2001, in his eighty-eighth year.

James Hurst

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


2008 Memorial Cup

In 1919, the Memorial Cup was presented to the Junior Champions of the Ontario Hockey Association for the first time. It was created as a tribute to all of the soldiers who gave their lives for their country in the First World War.

On Friday, the 2008 edition of the Memorial Cup Championships will open in Kitchener. The Western Hockey League will be represented by the Spokane Chiefs, from Washington State. The Quebec League boasts the Gatineau Olympiques. The Ontario Hockey League will have two representatives: the Kitchener Rangers and the Belleville Bulls. The opening game pits the Olympiques against the host Rangers.

The Belleville Bulls will be playing in their second Memorial Cup Championship. In 1999, they won the J. Ross Robertson Trophy as league champions, but eventually lost to Ottawa in the semi-finals of the Memorial Cup. The 67s went on to defeat the Calgary Hitmen 7-6 in the final game to win the championship.

Last Monday night, the Bulls tried valiantly to overcome a three game deficit to the Kitchener Rangers as league champions. The Bulls clawed their way back into the final, winning three straight games. In the seventh and final game, the Rangers received full credit for their play. They defeated the Bulls 4-1 to win the league crown; however, due to the quirky Memorial Cup format, the Bulls had previously qualified for the Canadian championships.

The merits of winning the league championship are debatable. Certainly it is nice to win a championship. It is also fine to enter the ultimate title round on a winning note. Many local pundits wanted the Bulls to knock off the Rangers rather than going to the Memorial Cup “through the back door” as the second fiddle.

At this moment, that is all irrelevant. The Bulls are going to the finals, and there is a “Send Off Party” arranged for City Hall in Belleville on Wednesday at noon. Teams are required to be in Kitchener for all of the hoopla, even though the Bulls do not play until Saturday.

The tournament is a Round Robin affair, with teams playing against each other once. There is a tiebreaker game, if required, a semi-final and then a final on Sunday, May 25th.

The Bulls play Spokane on Saturday, Gatineau next Monday, and Kitchener on Wednesday, May 21st.

In last Monday’s game, Shawn Matthias suited up for the Bulls and scored their only goal. He has been sidelined with mononucleosis, and an enlarged spleen. He is arguably one of their best players, and was missed in the playoffs. It appears that the Bulls will be at full strength when they take the ice Saturday night.

That has not been the case for most of the playoffs. Their spectacular goaltender, Mike Murphy missed several games with an “upper body” ailment. In the secretive hockey vernacular, that could mean anything from a stomach ache to an ear infection. In Murphy’s case, he had stretched a few back muscles.

Just before the Bulls’ semi-final game against Ottawa in 1999, I chatted with Jonathan Cheechoo in the foyer of the arena. He was resting on his crutches after sustaining a season-ending knee injury in a previous tournament game. The Bulls also played without Justin Papineau, another of their stars, who had suffered a severe concussion earlier in the tournament.

Injuries can play such an important role in a short tournament. Two bad games and you are likely watching the semi finals and the finals from Row 16 in Section 24. There is little room for error, for mental lapses, for serious injuries. It is, however, junior hockey. There will be mistakes made, not always converted into good scoring chances as is the case in the NHL.

In a nutshell, that is what makes Junior Hockey so exciting for the fans: kids playing a kid’s game, going full tilt on every shift to show their stuff. (The tournament is also a great place to showcase one’s skills for an upcoming draft.)

It comes down to these four teams representing the other fifty-six teams in the Canadian Hockey League, playing for a trophy that symbolizes the efforts that Canadians have acknowledged for the past ninety years.

At dinner time Sunday night, on the 25th of May, you will get a chance to see who will circle the ice surface at the Auditorium in Kitchener with the Memorial Cup as CHL Champions.

Note: The photograph of the Memorial Cup is from the Group One Beehive Corn Syrup collection, issued from 1934 to 1943.

James Hurst

Monday, May 05, 2008


Stanley Cup Playoffs 2008

And then there were Four….

As the Stanley Cup Playoffs wind down, more and more of you are bitterly disappointed because your favourite team has been eliminated. The Habs bowed out on the weekend, amidst a flurry of excuses.

The Flames went out quickly, as did the Sens and the Oilers. For some of you, that means that there are no Canadian teams remaining. That particular expression really irks me, as there are more Canadian players on most of the remaining teams than there are on some of the teams based in Canada.

The Sharks bit the dust Sunday evening. Excuse me, that was early Monday morning. A valiant effort, but after several hours of hockey, even I had one eye closed as they entered the fourth overtime period.

The Detroit Red Wings continue to roll along, thanks to a brilliant mix of experience and youth, offence and defence, and buckets full of heart. They are playing like they really want to win it all. Some of your favourite players who are now golfing did not play with the same intensity.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have shown us what can be done by young players who want it all. Their media guide has this year’s team expression on the cover: “Experience the Evolution”. Not exactly the most motivational moment in history. Perhaps they were preparing for years to come. For the loyal Penguin fans, the future is now: Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, Talbot, Whitney, Jordan Staal, Orpik, Malone. All under 30 years old. All very hungry.

Probably the biggest surprise this year has been the play of Johan Franzen of the Red Wings. In the ten games that the Wings have played thus far, he has scored eleven goals. That is a Red Wing record. He has scored more goals in the playoffs this year than any other Wing in the history of the team. The record was jointly held by three players; sniper Petr Klima, Sergei Fedorov, and another pretty good goal scorer named Brett Hull.

Gordie Howe recently celebrated his 80th birthday. He had held that goal scoring record for many years, until Klima broke it in 1988. Gordie was at the Spring Expo 2008, the semi-annual Sports Card Show in Toronto last weekend signing autographs.

Gordie’s single autograph on a flat surface was fetching $ 99. If you wanted him to sign a Red Wings Sweater, you had to fork out $ 299. On the other hand, Gerry Cheevers, Peter Mahovlich, and Bob Probert signed anything for $ 25.

Johan Franzen’s accomplishments come as no surprise to die-hard Wings fans. For those of us outside Motown’s sphere of influence, he is not exactly a household name. He was drafted by the Wings in 2004, their third round pick, 97th overall. The Wings have a knack for choosing wonderful players after the first round who come into their own three or four years after their draft year-particularly European players.

Players on their top ten scoring list for this year’s playoffs include, with the round in which they were drafted: Pavel Datsyuk (6th round), Thomas Holmstrom (10th), Jiri Hudler (2nd), Nicklas Lidstrom (3rd), and Henrik Zetterberg (7Th).

Thrown into that mix are two former Belleville Bulls enjoying post season play. Both players starred with the Bulls and have made remarkable turnarounds in their careers this year. In spite of a serious facial injury suffered near the end of the season, Cleary has returned to work his magic in the offensive zone. McCarty continues to demonstrate the grit and determination that kept him in the NHL for so many years.

So it’s the Wings and the Stars, the Penguins and the Flyers. The best of the rest, at this point.

And in a week or so, a Stanley Cup final to keep you up late at night. Men playing the boys’ game-the greatest game.

James Hurst-sportslices.blogspot.com

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