Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Canadians Preparing for Playoffs
There have been very few surprises thus far at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Ottawa. The Canadian squad, perhaps even stronger than first suspected, has romped to victory in its first three games. With one game remaining against the United States, the team will finish the preliminary round and await other results to determine the playoff status.
With a little good fortune, the boys will go directly from the New Year’s Eve game against the Yanks to a playoff semi-final on Saturday.
The Americans had little trouble in their first game against the Germans. Following the game, I spoke with Belleville Bulls’ captain Eric Tangradi. This is Tangradi’s first taste of International Hockey, and he is enjoying the experience. “It’s been great. I thought we played really well as a line.”
He told me that the team had spent some time in Lake Placid and in Kingston before the tournament. “We didn’t get any turkey this year for Christmas dinner. Just lots of pasta!” He is looking forward to the New Year’s Eve game against the Canadians and fellow Belleville Bull P. K. Subban. He did face another Bull in the German game, as goalie Phillipp Grubauer played the third period against the Americans. Tangradi did not have a chance to communicate with Grubauer during the game.
In Canada’s first game against the Czechs, coach Pat Quinn instituted a curious, yet effective power play system. Most Belleville Bull fans know about P. K. Subban’s shot from the point---it is remarkably similar to a howitzer. Coach Quinn moved Subban down towards the net, directly in front of the goalie, poised to blast whenever the puck neared his stick. A chilling thought for anyone who has ever stood between the pipes.
Consequently, only one Canadian defenceman roamed the blueline, from point to point. With a good puck handler in the corner, there were several good options for a play to be made. The puck could go to Subban in the slot, or to John Tavares perched on the edge of the crease. On the second Canadian power play goal against the Czechs, Tavares ripped the puck into the net.
Subban smiled when I asked him about the ploy, adding modestly: “I am more of a decoy out there. Most of the time the puck should go to John. Every goal we score at this tournament is huge.” Perhaps, although in the fifteen goals the Canadians tallied against Kazakhstan, there may have been a couple of unimportant markers!
Subban commented on the flow of the game: “It was great to get those first goals and to get the bodies flying out there.” Coach Quinn chatted with Subban about his role with the team before the game. Subban had been used as a forward in an exhibition game before the tournament. “The coach talked to me about the importance of being ready. He told me how Wendel Clarke had been used in a similar way, and that it was important to step in and play hard whatever the circumstance.”
Quinn had praise for one of his unsung heroes after the game. “The big hit by Cormier really woke up the crowd. Boychuk also set a tone for our team with his physical play. Boychuk played well in the game without the puck.” And in Quinn style he added: “He has a good voice for a young man. He is not negative in his thinking.”
Quinn appeared a little more relaxed than he did a couple of years ago when he coached the blue and white in Toronto. He even took time to express a bit of humour. When asked why he picked up the puck at the end of the game, he quipped: “It’s important nowadays to keep our world green. We should all pick up litter when we can.”
He was also asked about the possibility of moving through the preliminary round too easily, without adversity. “I would rather win without adversity than lose with it. A little doesn’t hurt. But we don’t need a lot of it.”
Certainly, the big test for Quinn’s boys is New Year’s Eve. I am certain Dick Clark won’t mind if you click him off for an hour or two for some good old fashioned shinny. For Auld Lang Syne!
December 30, 2008
Monday, December 22, 2008
World Junior Hockey Championship-2008
Once all of the Christmas wrappings have been cleaned up, and the rumblings of turkey have subsided, you will be prepared for the World Junior Hockey Championship beginning on Boxing Day in Ottawa.
The Canadian squad is going through its final stages of preparation with a few exhibition games. The coaches are assessing the boys from a variety of viewpoints; however, at this point in time, there really is little to learn. The players have been under the microscope for several years, likely from their minor bantam days. They have been scouted by other teams, by college and university coaches, by pro scouts.
The coaching staff, under the direction of head coach Pat Quinn, will be looking for those little extra things as they put the finishing touches to the team. They will be looking for the right line combinations, matching defensive pairings, weighing the merits of goaltenders. They will be looking for that magical chemistry that will lead to a blended product heading into the tournament.
The tournament ends on the 5th of January. At that point in time, someone will wrap gold medals around the necks of the victors. For the past four years, Canadian boys have had that honour. Just a little more pressure on this year’s squad. Coupled with the fact that the tournament is in this country, that ScotiaBank place in Ottawa can be a mad house when it is jammed to the rafters, and that the host team always enjoys home field advantage, placing a two dollar bet on the Canucks should be reasonably safe.
The Belleville Bulls have three players at the tournament, all wearing different uniforms. P. K. Subban will represent Canada for the second straight year, after going through the gruelling process of making the team. There was a summer camp, then the pre-tournament camp, and a final cut-down time. On all of these occasions, coaches informed disappointed kids that their services were no longer required. The team has eight players in the defensive corps. From what I saw in the exhibition game against Finland, Subban must play well to get ice time. In that game, he was used almost exclusively as a forward, something rarely done by the Bulls’ George Burnett.
Eric Tangradi, the Bulls’ captain, will lead the team from the United States. He is enjoying an excellent season for the Bulls, and will provide stiff competition for the Canadians when they face each other in the preliminary game on New Year’s Eve. Tangradi is third in league scoring, with 49 points. The Bulls’ backup goaltender, Phillipp Grubauer, will suit up for Germany.
It is expected that the team will be led offensively by the Oshawa Generals’ John Tavares. Tavares, now eighteen years old, is in his fourth season in the Ontario Hockey League. Despite the enormous pressure put on this young phenom, he has continued to surpass expectations year after year. He again has won Player of the Week and Player of the Month awards this year, and currently leads the league in scoring. He has found the net in both of the exhibition games held this week. Naturally, he will command a lot of attention from opponents, freeing up space for his teammates.
Another OHL player on the team is Barrie’s Stefan Della Rovere. He also has copped a Player of the Week award this year in the OHL. Don’t look for him to fill the net. You will more often than not find him in the “Sin Bin”-an old but not yet tired moniker for the penalty box. Della Rovere leads the league in penalty minutes. He is truly fun to watch, a whirling dervish who will hit anything that moves that is wearing the opposing sweater. His checks are punishing, and in a dump and chase attack, opposition defensemen will be looking over their shoulders as they attempt to clear the puck from their zones.
Former Wellington Duke Matt Cooke also represented Canada on the world stage in Junior Hockey. “Cookie” played a style similar to that of Della Rovere, with great success, and has enjoyed a remarkable NHL career since that time.
There are ten teams in the tourney, with two divisions. Canada will play the Czech Republic on Boxing Day, and will follow with games against Kazakhstan, Germany, and the USA. Sweden, Finland, Latvia, Slovakia, and Russia are on the other side. Playoffs begin on January 2nd, after round-robin play.
Have a great Christmas, and a Happy New Year. Happy Hanukah to all of our Jewish friends. Keep your stick on the ice, and your head up. The puck is YOURS. Don’t let anyone take it away from you!
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Tips From Orchard park
As expected, there was a ton of belly aching after the football extravaganza recently in Toronto at the Rogers Centre.
The Toronto media beat up the organizers quite fiercely following the event. The criticism was about everything.
They went after the Toronto brass about the tailgating concept. They were unhappy with Ontario’s stringent alcohol laws. The VIP tailgate party left a little to be desired. No one could have predicted that it was going to be the coldest day of the winter up to that point. No one informed the caterers that corn on the cob should be served hot. It was fun to watch the Flutie Brothers Band. It would have been more fun for Argo fans to see both of them doing their football thing on the field wearing double blue about a month ago.
The game itself was a bit of a bust. The Bills could not muster enough offence to squish the fish, and the Dolphins continued their reasonably successful season, after a horrible year last year. (One win in 16 games!)
Even the GO train hit a snag on the way home, and we were held up for an hour and a half. We also discovered that tailgating is not permitted in the GO station parking lot, but that was after the fine wings and bubbly had been consumed.
Overall, the NFL experience in Toronto did not go as well as the organizers had hoped. But they now have one year under their belts, and four more to go. Hopefully, they will heed much of the whining that took place after the game, and will make adjustments.
Former Bills’ great Jim Kelly spent some time in Toronto promoting the event. He spent a few moments near some of his memorabilia at the NFL Hall of Fame exhibit in the VIP area. I overheard a couple of fans stating that they were in that area because it was the warmest spot in the tented area. Kelly went on record as a supporter of NFL football in Toronto. He also indicated that the Buffalo franchise was not the one that should go to Toronto. He is working with a group in Buffalo to keep the team in the Queen City of the Great Lakes.
It is indeed unfortunate, and probably impossible, to get all of the Buffalo fans to sit in a Bills’ area. The Bills’ fans were scattered throughout the Rogers Centre, mixed with a large number of Dolphin supporters. (Some observers thought the Miami fans may have outnumbered the Bills’ supporters.)
Bills’ fans need to work together as a unit. When the opposition begins a series of downs, home town fans are required to make a lot of noise so that the opposing quarterback cannot shout audible plays to his players. On second down, home fans are required to scream even louder to disrupt the offence. On third down, Bills’ fans are required to scream so loudly that they should not be able to converse for at least two days afterwards. Each and every time the opposition has the ball.
Unfortunately at the Rogers Centre, fans were not used to the offence-defence noise concept. It was really the same whether or not the Bills or the Dolphins had the ball---and pretty quiet at that. I do hope it will not be necessary for the authorities to post the “Noise” signs on the screen to encourage cheering. Save that silliness for other sports franchises which rely on such encouragement to get the fans into the game.
Allow the fans onto the field after the game to meet the players. It will result in the same kind of friendly banter as takes place following a CFL game. There is never really a crowd, and the superstars do not wait around for anyone.
Invite Kenny to the area outside the stadium to show the fans some of the finer arts of preparing a tailgate meal. Keep the party area closer to the stadium. It was almost half a mile to the game from the approved tailgate area.
Allow motion in the backfield. Run back missed field goals. Give up the free catch. Count a point on a missed field goal. Widen the field. Lengthen the field. Expand the end zone. Count the completion if only ONE foot hits inbounds.
Above all, enjoy the game. No matter where it is played.
Monday, December 08, 2008
Win with Dukes Super Sports Draw!
Through the valiant efforts of the players and directors of the Wellington Dukes, the “Super Sports Draw” is entering its final stages. There are less that 25% of the tickets remaining for this year’s draw.
Here are a couple of details about the draw that have been kept secret until this very moment.
There are sixteen Leaf tickets in the draw. The ticket prizes will be awarded in pairs, and the opponents include: New Jersey Devils, Edmonton Oilers, the Washington Capitals, and the New York Islanders.
The sixteen Senator tickets include games against the Montreal Canadiens, The Buffalo Sabres, The Vancouver Canucks, The Carolina Hurricanes.
It gives the fan an opportunity to see Liam Reddox, former Wellington Duke in action with the Oilers. Former Bulls Jason Spezza with the Senators, Matt Stajan with the Leafs, the Devils’ David Clarkson, and the Islanders’ Richard Park are also players you may potentially watch.
Perhaps the best defenceman in the history of the Wellington Dukes, Bryan Helmer, has been called up to the NHL for a few games with the Capitals.
The Toronto Raptors will be playing the Utah Jazz on Sunday March 8th at the ACC. You will have great seats, if your ticket is pulled.
For those of you who enjoy your games on a playing field, there are also plenty of great tickets. Two excellent seats are available for the Toronto Football Club, which is, of course the Toronto Soccer team. All their games sell out quickly, so this is a good prize for the soccer fan.
The Blue Jay seats are in the front row. You will be able to share your deepest, darkest secrets with Alex Rodriguez, or any other third baseman who happens to be playing that day. Please don’t mention Madonna’s name. He doesn’t like that.
Along with Belleville Bulls’ tickets, and a season ticket for the Dukes next year---you have enough prizes to warm the cockles of any sports fan’s heart.
Finally, the chair. It is the most enormous, and most luxurious sports chair you have seen! You may also have your own personal favourite team logo emblazoned on the chair. You may catch a glimpse of said object in the window of Lavender Furniture in Wellington.
All in all, great prizes and a great cause-the draw is to supplement the busing costs of the Dukes.
Perfect stocking stuffers! The draw will take place on the ice during the Dukes last regular season home game this year-February 8, 2009.
Tickets are also available by emailing the Dukes bookkeeper firstname.lastname@example.org, or yours truly: email@example.com. You may even phone me for a ticket; 613-399-2278.
Parking is also included with many of these prizes-a good thing at ScotiaBank place in the middle of a nasty Ottawa winter. Good Luck!
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
Let's Go, Buffalo!
The Buffalo Bills will host the Miami Dolphins this Sunday at the Rogers Centre in Toronto in the first National Football League regular season game ever to be played in Canada.
Game time is 4:30pm, but we will be there long before that time. We need to gear up for such an event, and the city is now in preparation. In the National Football League, on a percentage basis, the game accounts for approximately 23 per cent.
We will be heading for the Budweiser pre-game festivities which begin at 11:00am. There are a couple of bands slated to entertain: Otis Day and the Knights, and the Flutie Brothers. Yes, the same Flutie Brothers who dominated the Canadian Football League. Memory serving me correctly, they have been hammering out the tunes for more than twenty years. The Syracuse University Marching Band will also be on hand.
Last year, I caught the Syracuse-Washington State football game at the Carrier Dome, and thoroughly enjoyed the marching band. The Buffalo Jills, the cheerleading squad, will also brighten the landscape that cold and dreary December morning.
In order to prepare the city for the event, Bills’ quarterback Trent Edwards spent several hours in Toronto last week promoting the game. He signed autographs until his fingers ached, and then a few more.
As far as the game itself is concerned, the past few weeks have not been kind to the Bills. There was excitement after the first six games, because the Bills had won five of them. The Bills were looking at all kinds of titles, and were whispered to be in the hunt for that elusive Super Bowl title. The season was unfolding like no other for the past eight years. Over that stretch, the Bills had not played in a playoff game.
Then came the massive implosion. There are many reasons for this disappointment. For the most part, the team has not executed well when it was required. Missed field goals, poor passes, fumbles, interceptions. If it is something indicative of poorly played football, the Bills showed us how to do it. As a result, they have won one game, and lost five in their last six games. Which leaves them at six and six, with only a slim chance of making the playoffs.
Players to watch from a Bills’ perspective include quarterback Trent Edwards, providing his injury last week allows him to play. Marshawn Lynch has ground out 844 yards as a back this year, with a respectable 4.1 yards per carry. Lee Evans leads the receivers with 890 yards on 49 receptions, gaining 18.2 yards per catch.
Enter the Miami Dolphins, the Bills’ opponent in Toronto. The Dolphins improved to 7-5, and are now a game ahead of the Bills. If the Bills were to knock off the Dolphins, they would both be 7-6, each with a slim chance to play after the regular season.
The Dolphins have Chad Pennington at the helm, and are led by Ronnie Brown in the backfield. Brown has carried the ball 690 yards, with a 4.1 yards per carry average, identical to the Bills’ Lynch.
Following this game, the Bills travel to New York to play Brett Favre and the Jets, and play in Denver on December 21st. They finish the regular season at home against the New England Patriots.
There is a wonderful quote on the last page of the Bills Game Day program that is given free to fans when they enter the stadium. A fan named Tony Califano was seated in Section 101, Row 1, Seat 3. The Bills had just scored a touchdown. “He ran to us in the end zone, came over and handed me the game ball.” Sort of a quiet Lambeau Leap.
The ad continues: “It’s a whole different game when you’re there.” Just ask Tony. When he went to Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, near Buffalo, he never expected to leave with a part of Bills’ history. “To truly experience Bills’ football, you just have to be there.”
In our case, not in Orchard Park, but in Toronto. Please rise for the opening kickoff.