Tuesday, April 28, 2009


On The Road Again!

On the Road Again

The Belleville Sports Hall of Fame is travelling to Prince Edward County over the next couple of months to share the story of the Belleville McFarlands with friends in the County. The Hall is grateful to Ron and Veronica Norton and the RE/MAX team from Wellington for sponsoring the events.

The first stop is in Picton. On Sunday, May 3rd, the historical documentary about the team will be on the big screen at the Regent Theatre, beginning at 2:00pm. The architect of the documentary, Peter Lockyer, will be on hand to discuss the project. The author of the book about the “Macs”, Aaron Bell, will also be at the theatre to sign copies of the book.

On June 7th, also a Sunday, there will be a repeat performance in Wellington at the Legion, beginning at 4:00pm. Lockyer and Bell will be there to share their thoughts.

More than 50 years have passed since the team won the World Hockey Championship in Prague, Czechoslovakia. At the present time, a team from Canada is battling with other nations in Switzerland for the World Title. Naturally, things have changed a little since the McFarlands brought home the cup.

First of all, the International Hockey Federation insisted that all players in the tournament had to have amateur status. Several of the Macs had been professional hockey players, and several turned pro after the tournament; however, while playing for the McFarlands in Europe, all players were bona fide amateurs.

On the other hand, there were suspicions about the European players. All of the Russian players were “soldiers”. They were registered as such, but spent most of their days in a hockey rink. They had privileged status in the military, and were almost revered.

The County’s Keith MacDonald lived the entire experience. Born in Picton in 1927, he had played hockey for several years in the local arenas, and signed with the Macs when the team was formed. On several occasions, recently, Keith has downplayed his part in the history of the team.

McFarlands captain Floyd Crawford sees it another way. “Keith MacDonald was a very important part of our organization. He was well respected throughout the league, and often stepped in to deliver a message to the other teams. ‘Don’t mess with our players.’ Keith never shied away from the rough stuff.”

(The hockey card pictured here is of Floyd Crawford when he played for Chicoutimi. Two of his teammates were Lou and Stan Smrke. The card is from the 1951-52 Laval Dairy, Quebec Hockey League Series. Other notables in this set include: Jean Beliveau, Punch Imlach, Herb Carnegie, Joe Lepine, and Jean Paul Lamirande.)

MacDonald has cherished every moment of the McFarlands experience. He is also enjoying the accolades the team is receiving this year as part of the Golden Anniversary celebration.

In 1959, it was for Keith the experience of a lifetime. He recently told me that he was seven years old when he travelled to Wainright, Alberta, with his family. That was the extent of his wanderings, as there were daily chores on the farm in The County.
His family had settled on that strip of land in Hallowell Township in the 1800s. Keith was part of the fifth generation of his family to till the soil, to milk the cows, to reap the harvest in that part of The County.

In 1958, the Macs had travelled to South Porcupine to play for the All Ontario Semi-Finals. They went by train from Union Station in Toronto. “Some of the guys suggested that I could use that wide open space at the station as a “hot pen” for the pigs that I was raising.” All of the travel that they did at that time was an eye-opening experience for MacDonald.

The Macs opened their gruelling series of fifteen exhibition games in Europe in Paisley, Scotland. From there, it was off to Finland, Sweden, Italy---and the rest of Europe. Quite an excursion for a rough and tumble group of hockey players destined for greatness!

MacDonald has returned to Europe since that time, at a far less hectic pace. But he will never forget those incredible days that he spent with the guys in their pursuit of the World Championship in 1959.

Both he and Floyd Crawford will be hosting the documentary at the Regent Theatre. See you there!

James Hurst

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Hockey Playoffs-2009

It’s time to fasten your seat belts, girls and boys, because the ride is going to get a little bit rougher day by day.

It’s time for hockey playoffs, in leagues throughout North America. The National Hockey League has opened the gates for teams to vie for the opportunity to skate around the rink with the Stanley Cup. Even though the first round has not yet seen a winner, the games have been a real treat. Mean and nasty.

The main difference between these playoff games and the last couple of weeks in the regular season lies in the intensity that we see in the post season games. Every faceoff, every shift, every scrum around the net. When the cameras focus on the faces of the players, you can see that they mean business.

As is the case in most playoff games, one goal can make a huge difference. It is the responsibility of every player on every shift to contribute to the cause, to find that chink in the opposition’s armour, to slide the perfect pass to set up an all important goal.

One goal often leads to shifts in momentum during playoff games.

The Belleville Bulls had their backs to the wall going into last Sunday’s game at home against Brampton. They had been hammered in Brampton, and Coach Burnett called on his veterans to contribute. Within a short period of time in the second period, they rolled over the Battalion. They poured over the blueline, fed perfect passes and converted all opportunities. They were unstoppable.

The Bills will play this Thursday in the Yardmen Arena at the Quinte Sports Centre. For some reason, there are always a few extra tickets left unsold for these games. I blame it on the rumour mill. The word on the street is that the games are sold out, and people do not make the effort to dispel the rumour. The same situation always occurred when the Wellington Dukes were in the playoffs. People on the other side of the bridge always assumed that the games were sold out, or that they needed to get to the rink early to get their blankets down. Myths die slowly.

This will likely be the last year that Bulls’ fans will be able to watch P. K. Subban. I would be hard pressed to think of another Belleville Bull who initiates as much discussion about his play. He has a great number of fans, and also many critics.

His play is exciting, without doubt. But his style also leads to turnovers, and to scoring chances for the opposition. Those situations give his critics fodder to rip away at Subban. He is, after all a defenseman, the last line of protection before the goaltender. If he coughs up the puck, it can mean quick disaster.

In this, his last year with the Bulls, he seems to take matters into his own hands, and often free wheels with the puck from his own zone. He rarely dumps the puck, but fights his way through the opposition, circling their net, looking for the open man in front of the net.

He has learned some patience, but still needs to consider his teammates more often on the ice. His infuriating habit of tapping his stick whenever he wants the puck does not happen as often as it did when he first arrived; however, he will not find that move popular at higher levels of the game.

His supporters believe that he is destined to wear the “Bleu, blanc et rouge” of the Montreal Canadiens next year. The Habs are a little thin on the blue line, as is indicated in their anaemic playoff results this year.

His detractors believe he needs more seasoning before heading to “The Show”. He must learn to see the ice better, to learn the flow. The nay sayers also find fault with his self control, especially at key times in games.

Most serious hockey observers believe that P. K. has the tools to be a fine player in the National Hockey League. Those of us who catch most of the games in Belleville have been well entertained with his play.

We would really like to see him play against the winner of the Windsor-London series. But that lies ahead, and it is anybody’s guess who will still be around next week.

Keep your head up, and your stick on the ice.

James Hurst

Monday, April 13, 2009


Your Credentials Await You!

In 1959, George H. Carver presented himself to the media desk in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Carver was a sports writer for the Belleville newspaper called the Intelligencer, and he was in Europe to cover the World Hockey Championships.

Carver had to line up with all of the luminaries from the sports writing world at the time: Scott Young, Milt Dunnell, George Bain, Ed Simon, and Peter Uebersax from United Press International. Even Manager Billy Reay and Coach Ike Hildebrand inked a few columns while in Europe.

Carver more than held his own with the heavyweights, and was credited with a few lines in the New York Times after the McFarlands had knocked off the Russians to win the World Title.

Although born in Luton, England, George Carver was educated in the Wellington, Ontario public and high schools. Following a stint in the First World War, he arrived at his desk as a sports writer with the Belleville Intelligencer. He carved out a daily column for more than thirty-two years.

Macs captain Floyd Crawford was always amazed at the clarity and accuracy of Carver’s columns. “Occasionally, he would take those 99 steps from the side door of the Memorial Arena to the Queen’s Hotel on Front Street, at the end of the first period. He would motion me over to chat with him after the game. He would record my comments on the back of his cigarette pack. Then the next day, I would read his column. It always read as if he had intensely watched every second of the game.”

Carver was never without his cigarette holder, and his fedora. He wrote about all sports, and occasionally about his city and its people.

On hot Friday nights, in mid-summer, he covered the wrestling matches at the Memorial. He witnessed the exploits of the greatest on the planet at that time: Argentina Rocca, Gorgeous George, Lord Athol Layton, Carpentier, “The Flying Frenchman”, Yukon Eric, and fan favourite “Whipper” Billy Watson. He also wrote about the evil faction in the ring: the Iron Sheik, Fritz Von Erich, and Hans Schmidt.

In the early 1950s, he was fed up with the supposed acting in the ring. For years, he had seen the foes beat on each other, shower up and dress in the same facility, then head off to Peterborough or Kingston in the same Cadillac to fight the next night. Earlier in the evening, one of the wrestlers had won his event with a “Sleeper Hold”, temporarily comatizing his opponent. “Nonsense,” cried Carver. “You’re just a bunch of fakers.”

With that, one of the wrestlers, most likely one with a German surname, grabbed Carver and applied the hold.

Half an hour later, long after the arena had cleared of fans, former McFarland forward David Jones found Carver fast asleep in the wrester’s dressing room. Jones was part of the famous ‘broom gang’ at the time, long before he would take the ice for the McFarlands.

George Carver strongly supported local athletes. He was thrilled to cover the exploits of Robert Marvin Hull when Bobby broke into the NHL with Chicago. Carver followed Hull’s progress, and was astounded when Frank Mahovlich was chosen as the Rookie of the Year instead of Hull. It was a decision strongly influenced by the powerful Toronto media.

So disgusted was Carver with that decision, he announced that evening at the dinner table, that three words were never to be uttered again in his household. Those words? Toronto Maple Leafs.

Carver was inducted into the Belleville Sports Hall of Fame in 1987.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009


Nowhere But Up for the Jays!

Some of the baseball experts have predicted that the Toronto Blue Jays will finish last in the American League East this coming season.

Despite their best efforts, they were not able to retain the services of A. J. Burnett. Burnett was a starting pitcher for the Jays the last few seasons. When all of the planets were properly aligned, he was almost unhittable. But he carried a little baggage with himself, in terms of attitude. Many Jays’ fans were not sorry to see him go.

Naturally, the success of this coming season rests squarely on the shoulders of “Doc” Halladay. Without question the best pitcher in baseball for several, the owners of the Blue Jays must wince a little when they consider playing a full season without the Doc. He has been an absolute marvel on the mound for the Jays.

He is a refreshing reminder of the way it used to be, in terms of competitive sports. He simply does his job. No complaints. No attitude. No glares at infielders who make costly errors. He simply wants the ball, climb the mound, and face opponents. And he does it better than anyone else.

The Jays do have offence, but that does not win enough ball games to fly pennants. Vernon Wells needs to have a healthy season. Alex Rios has the potential to become a super star, but must show that talent this year. Bautista, Snider and Lind will all serve in the outfield, and will contribute at the plate.

The greatest question marks surround the pitching staff. The number two and three starters are Jesse Litsch and David Purcey. Neither has made the hoard at the Rogers Centre jump out of their seats. The other two starters will need to put together a few quality outings to win over the rabble in Hogtown.

There is also a large question mark at the closer position. B. J. Ryan insists that the job is his; hopefully, he will have magnificent stuff, and will mow down the opposition. Realistically, there is a chance that Brandon League might be called on to assume that role sooner than expected.

They have played musical chairs with the catching position this spring, and will be relying on Barajas and Barrett to provide the work at the backstop position. Greg Zaun was a popular catcher, but could not throw out base runners. He was also one of many who got caught with their hands in the banned substance “Cookie Jar”.

This will be the first season of the post steroid/human growth hormone era. Frankly, I do not know enough about the drug market to determine the current situation. There are “masking agents” which help to obscure test results. Apparently, there are ways to manipulate the detection systems; nonetheless, the penalties are severe, and most players will at least think twice before using the performance enhancing substances.

Certainly, the balls will not fly out of the parks the way they did at the height of the “juice era”. Pitchers will not get quite the same mustard on their fastballs. In a recent book on Roger Clemens, it was reported that with a month or so of his alleged steroid use, he added almost 10 miles per hour to his fastball!

The Jays did add a proven commodity in Kevin Millar to back up Lyle Overbay at first base. With Scott Rolen healthy at third, there will be runs tallied on the score sheets. The Blue Jays are still lacking in “pop” in the other infield positions, which has hurt them significantly over the past few years. Marco Scutaro, John McDonald, and Aaron Hill will likely finish the season batting .250, with very few long balls, and few stolen bases.

The Rogers Centre has been gussied up for the season. More variety of food, more places to enjoy the atmosphere.

As you must well know from my perspective, it all happens between the lines.

Get out to a game or two to enjoy “America’s Pastime”. By the way, plans are in place for a great World Series reunion and tribute to the players from 1992 and 1993.

Play Ball!


March Madness and all that Stuff!

T. S. Elliott told us that April is the cruellest month. A quick look at the standings, and most Toronto fans will tell you that March was not all that kind either.

Both the basketball and hockey seasons, regular season play, that is, grind to a halt in early April. For some of you, the real games begin at this time-the playoffs. For Leaf fans, the time has come to reassess the talent and look to the future. Coach Ron Wilson has made it abundantly clear that all spots on the team next year are open, and that all players skating at this time had better be prepared to work their butts off if they wish to wear a Maple Leaf next year.

Both he and GM Brian Burke have had ample time to study this year’s product. Neither is happy. They are not in this business to lose consistently. Heads will roll before training camp this fall. Hope for Leaf fans always springs eternally in late August. The gauntlet is down. Who will survive? Anyone’s guess.

Over on the hard court at the Air Canada centre, there is also ample disappointment. Coach Mitchell was unceremoniously dismissed in mid season, not to much avail. He was replaced by Jay Triano, an astute basketball coach. But not to much avail. It has been another dismal season for the Raptors.

The Jermaine O’Neill experiment failed. A lot of eggs were in that basket, and the big fella just did not produce. Bad chemistry, I suppose. There were plenty of injuries, which never helps. For the most part, some of the other key ingredients in the Toronto basketball mix just did not develop into a successful product. Again, retooling is in the works for the Raps next season.

Congratulations are in order for Prince Edward County’s Richard Parks. Councillor Parks defeated other local politicians to win the Argonaut Challenge at the recent Home Show in Belleville. He was able to spiral enough tosses through the target to win first place. No fix was in. After all, I refereed the event, and made sure that County expertise would prevail. Bryan Crawford of the Argos brought greetings from the Double Blue to all Argo fans at the event.

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, especially if that fence happens to be in Florida. We caught a couple of baseball’s Spring training games in the American south, always so refreshing after a winter season. By the time I tap out another column, the season will be under way, with only another 160 games to play; however, each of the games played in April is just as important as those played in September. So says the coach!

The American College basketball championships will also wrap up by next week. Many of you are now on the sidelines, with your brackets in shambles. Alas, such is the nature of sport. Win a few, lose about as many. Should have gone with North Carolina!
The Belleville Bulls have dispensed with the pesky Sudbury Wolves, and have more playoff work to accomplish to get back to the Memorial Cup Championships. They came very close last year. They will have their work cut out for them trying to get by the giants from south-western Ontario; the London Knights and the Windsor Spitfires.

With the snow gone, the robins at their industrious best, and last year’s leaves begging to leave the garden, it is time to get out there and enjoy the spring.

Let’s move on to see who will sip from Lord Stanley’s mug this year. Maybe Sidney and his crew will come to the fore, and lead the Penguins to the promised land.

Originally, this column was supposed to be a comparison between Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. I will leave that up to you.

James Hurst

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