Monday, June 29, 2009


Welcome Home, Matt Cooke!

For more than a few National Hockey League players, there is a question in their minds about where “home” actually exists. They may be journeyman players, having travelled from team to team over many years. They may be from foreign lands, thinking about putting down roots in North America.

For Matt Cooke, home is the Quinte area, and he is happy to be home.

He has paid his dues. He has the bumps and bruises and scars that are all part of the game. He has survived. He has grasped the Stanley Cup and raised it above his head.

Matt has had a little time to collect his thoughts following the final game of the Stanley Cup finals. It was, of course, game seven of the best of seven series. His team led the Stanley Cup Champions by one goal. There was an important faceoff deep in the Penguins territory. Only seconds remaining on the clock. It was as if the situation has been orchestrated to heighten the drama to its highest possible level for the players and the fans.

The Red Wings won the draw, and had opportunity to tie the game. “Cookie” has had a week or so to reflect on the situation.

“Those were the longest six seconds of my life. All of us guys on the bench stood, watching the clock and the play at the same time. From the moment that they dropped the puck, it was like slow motion. Fleury blocked that final shot and that was it.”

The entire season came down to those final seconds, a season of some frustration and moments of doubt. “There were times when I wondered why we were playing so bad,” he told me. We had our share of injuries, with Gonchar out for such a long time, and with Fleury out with a pulled groin. We traded Whitney for Kunitz, and that turned out great for us. And of course we responded well when there was a coaching change.”

There are a number of photographs circulating on the internet of a palatial estate. On that estate is a pool, and in that pool is the Stanley Cup, surrounded by kids and adults. I asked Matt about those photographs, because they appeared to be designed, and quite unreal. He laughed. “They’re real all right. In 1992 when the Penguins won the Cup, they took it back to Mario’s house and it had a swim then. So it was only natural for that to happen again.” He added: “That is Hal Gill in the pool with the Cup!”

Comparisons were made frequently during the series with teams from twenty-five years ago. At that time, the New York Islanders were battling an upstart team from Edmonton. The Oilers were a bunch of kids led by Gretzky, Anderson, Messier, Coffey and company, and they were hungry. The New York Islanders were veterans, and many of them had already had a sip or two of champagne from the Cup.

“They said that at the end of those games that the Islanders were in the back hall with lots of ice bags on their bumps and bruises. The young Oilers did not feel the pain. I think that is how we reacted as well,” Matt added.

Cookie paid his dues in the Stirling Arena, and in Ennismore, and Madoc and in countless other small town arenas. And he is aware of the new area to be built in Wellington. He has fond memories of his year with the Dukes, before he headed off to Windsor in the OHL.

“That was a great season for me in Wellington. Wayne Marchment was a great coach. There was always camaraderie in the dressing room too, with guys like Reggie Gallagher and Chad Ford. And I remember that wall at the one end of the rink!”

Matt Cooke has just completed his tenth National Hockey League campaign. He has experienced serious injury, but has always responded well, and rarely misses an opportunity to crunch an opponent on the ice. Throughout the series, the Red Wings became more aware of Cookie’s presence on the ice, and they played with their heads up. That gave Matt’s teammates more opportunity to wheel and deal.

Silversmiths are now etching the names of Crosby, Malkin, Staal, and Cooke on the Cup. It may soon arrive at an arena near you. Take the opportunity to come out to see the Cooke family, and to congratulate Matt. You might even slip out of work for an hour or two.

Players often invite their families down to the ice level following a triumph. Matt Cooke scooped up his boy Jackson after the victory. When asked about the time spent at the games, Jackson confidently told millions of Canadians watching the post game ceremonies: “I skipped school”. Interviewer Scott Oake completely lost it. “He went right to his knees!” Matt related.

For the Cooke family, it is time to relish the triumph. For Matt, a short respite. Training camp is less that two months away, hardly time to snag a pickerel or two out of the Bay of Quinte.

Welcome Home, Matt!

James Hurst

Monday, June 22, 2009


Fathers and Sons

Happy Fathers’ Day!

I trust that you may have had the opportunity to share an hour or two with children and grandchildren, with brothers and sisters, with all of your family.

Many Major League baseball players took the opportunity to pay tribute to their fathers, and also to focus on cancer research, particularly prostate cancer. Players wore powder blue arm and wrist bands, some had powder blue uniforms, even blue markings under their eyes instead of black. As you well know, there are simple and easy tests that facilitate early detection of cancer, always critical in the treatment.

As is the case with all of life’s endeavours, sons tend to follow in their father’s footsteps. The medical profession seems to work this way, father and son. Funeral directors, bricklayers, bridge builders and yes, even lawyers and accountants!

In the sports world, the skills of the game are quite often passed on from fathers to sons. No matter what the sport, children learn from their parents, and often excel at their particular sport.

There have been many hockey fathers who have seen their sons rise to excellence. There were many occasions when we would find Bobby Hull perched high above the ice surface, marvelling at Brett’s goal scoring prowess in the National Hockey League.

The Los Angeles Lakers recently loaded another National Basketball Association trophy on a float to parade through the streets of L. A. Hall of Famer Bill Walton watched his son hoist the trophy. Walton Junior threw a hook at his Dad when he announced that this championship was more important because it happened in L. A., and not in Boston.

Several NFL and CFL players have seen their toddlers grow up to become fine athletes. Kellen Winslow was interviewed for this column, and he carefully watches his son as he prepares for another season in the NFL. Bronco Nagurski, the only Canadian in the NFL Hall of Fame, saw one of his sons become an All Star with the Hamilton Tiger Cats.

But the sport of baseball has fostered the greatest number of father and son combinations, on a per capita basis. The Boone family had three generations, one after another. Ken Griffey and Griffey Junior have played Major League Baseball for the last thirty years. They even had a chance to play a few games together.

Many of the sons spent years in the clubhouses, in the dugouts, on the ice, on the sidelines. They lived and breathed the game long before they strapped on the equipment. The advantages were there, as was the disposition in many cases. Throw in size, strength, metabolism, good nutrition. The ingredients were there to foster another generation of athletes.

The Montreal Expos had several father and son combinations involved in the game. From 1992 to 1996, Felipe and Moises Alou were together with the Expos. Moises patrolled left field, while Felipe managed. Two of Felipe’s brothers also had fine Major league careers---Matty and Jesus. On one occasion, they formed the outfield of the San Francisco Giants.

Another former baseball great, and former Expo, also managed in the Majors. Maury Wills was with Seattle at that time, when he faced his son Bump as a Texas Ranger.

In 1991, Tim Raines and his son Tim Jr., played one game against each other in a regular season game in the International League in Ottawa. “The Rock” and “Little Rock” also handled the pre-game lineup card exchange at home plate. Raines told the Ottawa Citizen: “This was a great day. I’m glad it was able to happen. It was another learning experience.”

Chris Speier played seven years with the Expos, and has seen his son Justin on the mound for the Toronto Blue Jays. Hal McRae, Pete Rose, Sandy Alomar, and Ozzie Virgil: they have seen their sons play in the Big Leagues.

Casey Candaele, a utility player for the Expos, surely enjoyed the great baseball movie, “A League of their Own”. It was inspired by his mother, Helen Callahan, an outfielder with the Fort Wayne Daisies of the All American Girls Baseball league. She was called the “Ted Williams of women’s baseball”.

With that, a belated Happy Mothers’ Day as well!

James Hurst

Monday, June 15, 2009


Bryan Helmer-Calder Cup Winner Again!

Last Friday night, the Pittsburgh Penguins won game seven of the Stanley Cup final to defeat the Detroit Red Wings. You knew that.

Bryan Helmer did not watch that game. He is a keen hockey fan. His hockey career began twenty years ago. He has played more than a hundred games in the National Hockey League. You would think that he would be glued to a television set to watch the NHL final. But he had his own little piece of business to take care of that evening.

He is the captain of the Hershey Bears. Last Friday night while Cookie, Sidney and Company were disposing of the Red Wings, Helmer and his mates were in Manitoba to take care of the Moose. It was game six of their final for the American Hockey League Championship.

I spoke with the former Wellington Duke on Sunday, after their Saturday night celebration in Hershey. “They had seven thousand people at the arena. It was awesome. It certainly was a major highlight in my career.

We really wanted to beat them at home in game five. But we ran into a hot goalie, and so we had to go to Winnipeg to finish the series. We knew we could beat them because we were really playing well.”

Helmer also extended congratulations to another former Duke, and fellow Pennsylvanian, Matt Cooke. So the state ended up with the two major professional hockey championships in one night: Cookie with the Penguins and Helmer with the Bears.

“When I signed with the Bears at the beginning of the season, I knew that expectations were high. What I did not expect was that the team players would select me as their captain, in my first season there. It was truly an honour.” When I reminded him that he had also been selected as captain of the All Star team, he replied, in his usual modest way, “Yes, that was pretty special too!”

He would like to play again next year in Hershey. But the contract papers are still on the table, and the pens are still in the ink wells.

“It was a great experience playing in Hershey,” he recently told the Bears staff write Jim Starr. “When I came to Hershey as a visitor, it was always tough to play in this town and head home with a win. The fans really are the seventh player on the ice. Their cheers and support pull a little more out of each player.”

“Hermy” became a Wellington Duke in the fall of 1989. He had been at the Belleville Bulls camp, but did not impress coach Larry Mavety enough to keep him in Belleville. He made the trip across the Bay Bridge with Tod Lavender, and became an unofficial Lavender from that moment on. He played more than two hundred games for the Dukes, and is always the most popular alumni at Dukes’ events.

He made the quantum leap to the Albany River Rats from the Dukes, and has visited almost every hockey arena in North America since that time. He has played for four NHL teams: Canucks, Coyotes, Blues, and Capitals.

His minor league travels are truly impressive: Las Vegas, Worcester, Kansas City, Winnipeg, Springfield, Grand Rapids, and San Antonio.

Dan Steinberg writes a sports blog for the Washington Post. He interviewed Bryan recently, following Helmer’s latest shuffle between the NHL and the minors. Helmer’s seven year old son Cade was “pretty pumped” about having his dad play in the NHL once again.

Steinberg asked Helmer how he prepares for the shuffle. Helmer’s approach? “I always say, as long as you have your wallet and your cell phone, you can pretty much buy whatever, if you forget something. And your passport.” He also packs three changes of clothing.

Helmer can still play the game, at any level. He proved that this past year-to himself, and to his family. “I made it back to the NHL. And my family got to see me play. That was my goal. I love my job, and I love coming to the rink. If it has to be in the minors, it’s gonna be in the minors. If it’s up here (in the NHL), it’s a bonus.”

Wherever he plays, Helmer spends many afternoons touring hospitals to put smiles on kids’ faces. He is a great ambassador for the game. And now, for the second time, a Calder Cup Champion.

James Hurst

Tuesday, June 09, 2009


Stanley Cup Final-Cooke against Cleary

There is a bench outside the Wellington Grill. Most mornings you will find Vernon “Beef” Macdonald holding court on that bench with a couple of his cronies. This morning Beef asked me to predict who would win the game tonight. I told him I don’t make predictions. I leave that to those wiser and more foolish than I.

But the Wings do lead the series three games to two. With game six in Pittsburgh, the outcome is in some doubt.

For most of us observers in the Quinte region, from a player standpoint, the focus is on two players: Matt Cooke and Daniel Cleary.

Both have paid their dues. Both are virtually at the prime of their careers, and are excelling at what they do best. Cleary has been earmarked as a defensive specialist who just happens to have found his scoring touch in the playoffs. “Cookie” is out there to stir things up, and to pot a goal or two when the occasion arises.

Both players excel as penalty killers, a rather difficult task when you consider the firepower that each team has on the bench. On more than a few occasions in these playoffs, both players have thrown a scare into the opposition while on the penalty kill.

What stands out with both of these players is that they play with heart. They go into the corners, they protect the puck, they can take a check. They have become gritty players, invaluable to their respective teams, particularly at this point in the season.

Both know the DukeDome well. Cookie played for the Dukes in 94-95, before signing with Windsor of the OHL. Daniel Cleary played in Wellington the year before that, but as a member of the Kingston Township Voyageurs. He was drafted by the Belleville Bulls, and played four years in Belleville.

Cleary signed with the Chicago Black Hawks after his junior career, and was with them for two years. He then spent four years with the Oilers, and one year with the Coyotes before signing with the Red Wings. This is his fourth campaign in Detroit. He was thirty-one last December.

Matt Cooke hails from Stirling, Ontario, but you might find him, occasionally, at the Dairy Bar on the western fringe of Wellington during the summer break. He has been known to haunt the bays of the Quinte area, in search of that elusive pickerel.

He began his NHL career with the Vancouver Canucks in 98-99, and played seventeen games for Washington last year. He has played more than six hundred NHL games, as has Cleary. At the beginning of this past season, Cookie led the scoring race between the two by two goals! Cooke had 86 and Cleary 84. Cooke had 124 assists, and Cleary had 125. Really quite remarkable.

In these playoffs, the puck has bounced a little more favourably for Cleary and the Red Wings. Daniel leads all players in the plus/minus category---a tribute to his stellar defensive play.

Cookie has done well to avoid the penalty box. At this stage of the game, penalties can be really deadly. He continues to swarm the Red Wings whenever necessary, creating a little havoc here and there.

By the time you read this column, the issue may have already been settled. One of these two will have hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup high above his shoulders.

And Beef Macdonald will have all of his questions answered.

James Hurst

Monday, June 01, 2009


Thanks for the Memories

Most local historians agree that there has been no single event more significant in the Quinte area than the victories of the Belleville McFarlands. Granted, the catastrophic events of both World Wars were far more important than the accomplishments of a hockey team. The return of troops from those wars was a time to celebrate in the area, and that was done with style.

When the Macs returned from their Allan Cup Championship in Kelowna, British Columbia, in 1958, the entire province got into the celebration. The numbers themselves verify that fact. At that time, the population of the city of Belleville hovered around 20 000. Most reasonable estimates indicate there were more than fifty thousand celebrants at the parade in Downtown Belleville.

The same phenomenon occurred when the team returned home from the World Championship in Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1959. Fans automatically came out to the event from the local area. Unexpectedly, many others drove from Kingston, Peterborough, Toronto, and other parts of the province for the celebration. It was a justifiable event, worthy of a good time.

Despite the nasty weather conditions, many hardy types lined Front Street in Belleville a couple of months ago to celebrate the Fiftieth Anniversary of the triumph. A cavalcade of convertibles, and one lonely Smart car, paraded down the street. Almost a dozen true fans waved pennants that they had purchased fifty years ago to celebrate the championship!

Others waved signs to cheer on the players. There was a spit and spatter of rain, and howling winds. There were flakes of snow, here and there. But the Macs came out, and so did their fans.

Jean Paul Payette was all smiles for the event. For many fans, even his name brought back vivid memories of his dashing style on the ice at the Memorial Arena. He would sweep by an opposing defenceman, bury the puck, and raise his arms in celebration.

Captain Floyd Crawford had ample opportunity to wave to his supporters. Floyd patrolled the blueline night after night, lending support to his good friend, the late Gordie Bell, the Macs’ premier netminder.

The lone Prince Edward County player, Keith MacDonald, enjoyed the parade. Following the victories of the McFarlands, MacDonald spent many years wearing the stripes, quietly separating combatants at many levels of hockey.

Lionel Botly still spends countless hours every winter in arenas throughout North America as a defenceman. Pete Conacher does the same, playing with NHL Oldtimers groups. Both were thrilled to be part of the celebrations, sharing the memories with their teammates and their fans.

Belleville’s David Jones also won a provincial championship with an intermediate team from the County prior to the Macs titles. On many occasions at “The Memorial”, he cruised the ice, found the “biscuit” and buried it in the “basket”.

Wayne “Weiner” Brown, the Deloro native who came down from the north to play a little shinny, has really enjoyed the festivities. “Weiner” stayed in Belleville following the McFarlands conquests. I introduced Wayne to Belleville Bulls’ Brandon Mashinter before a Bulls game. Mashinter stands six feet, six inches, with skates and helmet almost seven feet. “Weiner” gazed up at the giant, and commented: “If I were as tall as you, I might still be playing!”

Many Macs fans were thrilled to meet Moe Benoit once again. Feared by most opponents, Moe dished out a few patented hip checks that left their mark at the Memorial. He also blistered slap shots that intimidated goal tenders (no masks, remember?), as well as his team mates who stood in front of the opposition net. They often reminded Moe to keep the shots low.

It was good to see Turk Barclay at The Regent in Picton. Turk tended the twine for the Macs, kept the equipment in good order, and generally managed most of the details on their road trips.

These occasions are important for the participants. But it also gave us time to reflect on the accomplishments of those who are no longer with us: Gordie Bell, Barton Bradley, Ike Hildebrand, Roy Edwards, Bep Guidolin, Joe Lepine, Eddie Marineau, Al Dewsbury, Fiori Goegan, Jean-Paul Lamirande, John McLellan, and Lou Smrke.

The final public showing of the documentary about the team will take place this Sunday, June 7th at 4:00pm at the Wellington Legion. Everyone is welcome. The book about the team, Moe Macs More, will also be available. Hope to see you there.

And to the players, thanks again for the great memories.

James Hurst

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?