Sunday, September 26, 2010


Jennifer Botterill-Hockey Player

Jennifer Botterill has had an impressive hockey career. She is pondering the future regarding National Team play leading to the Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Her entry into the hockey world really came through the ringette arena. Prior to that, she was like any other kid on the playgrounds of Winnipeg, Manitoba, keeping busy with a variety of activities. “I played soccer, and I ran track. I really liked the hundred and two hundred metre races”, she told me during a recent visit to Belleville.

She was in town as a part of a program from the Royal Bank of Canada. She met the public at McDonald’s throughout the day, and spoke with a smaller group in the evening. The RBC Olympians Program hires athletes to share the Olympic messages of excellence, teamwork, and leadership. The Bank also contributes financially to several Olympic Programs. Even as we watched the games from Down Under last winter, we got the messages from the little man in the top hat telling us where to bank.

She told me that two of her favourite athletes were Catriona LeMay Doan and Mark Tewksberry. She added that she was “heartbroken” when the Winnipeg Jets left town. She was a huge Teemu Selanne supporter.

As her hockey career began to unfold, she started to look at the possibilities. As the Olympics of 1998 approached, she sat in the kitchen at lunch time, discussing her options with her father. She told him her ultimate dream would be to play in the Olympics in 2002. “Why not in ’98, he asked?” She was fifteen years old, and could not foresee the possibility of playing for the National team at that age.

She went to the Canada Games as a ringette player. She then moved on to the Hockey Canada tryouts, with 28 spots still available. Twenty cuts were made, and she had survived. From a list of several hundred players, she was still in the running. “I knew I had to focus on what I could control in the practices,” she added.

She made the team, the youngest of the group. She was given the opportunity to play with many of Canada’s finest female hockey players: Jayna Hefford from Kingston, and the incomparable Hayley Wickeneiser, the greatest female hockey player ever, anywhere.

The team won Silver at the 1998 Games in Nagano, finishing second to the only other dynamic women’s team, the Americans. In the succeeding three Olympic tournaments, Botterill and her teammates have bested the Americans on all occasions. She proudly displays three Gold medals.

The 2002 final in Salt Lake City, Utah, was a particularly trying experience. The referee called thirteen penalties to the Canadians, two to the Americans. Botterill believed that the referee had been intimidated by the partial and hostile American crowd; however, when the final whistle blew, they raised the Canadian flag. “At the medal presentation,” she told me, “every person standing there knew they had helped every other person win.”

She added that they realized for the next two Olympic Games, They would be pushed to the limit by the Americans. They went through “Spring Boot Camps” to toughen physically and mentally. She said that it was important to “have the right perspective” entering the Games.

Just before the final game at the Games in Vancouver, Steve Yzerman dropped by the dressing room to speak to the team. “He told us to trust ourselves, to trust our preparation, to trust our teammates. He said that it was important to outwork our opponents on every single shift.” She added that he wasn’t too hard to look at either!

Don’t be too surprised to find her name on the roster of upcoming World Championships, or even the games in Sochi. Hockey is, after all, her game.

September 26, 2010
James Hurst

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


A Tribute to Daniel Cleary

About a week ago, the Kingston Township Voyageurs paid tribute to one of their former players, Daniel Cleary. He was fourteen years old when he boarded the jet from Saint John’s, and headed to Toronto, his first flight.

“I was too excited over going away to play hockey. I didn’t think about leaving everything behind, my family and friends,” he recently reported to Patrick Kennedy of the QMI agency. “At 14, what did I know? At the time I never thought or considered how hard it must’ve been for my parents. I know now. If my child was going away at the age of 14…let’s just say I have a better understanding of how my folks felt the day I left.”

That was in the summer of 1993. Since that time, Danny Cleary has honed his skills to become one of the most effective forwards in the National Hockey League.

At the recent World Hockey Summit, I button-holed the Detroit Red Wings’ General Manager Ken Holland to ask about the contributions of Dan Cleary to the team.

“I followed Danny’s progress from the moment he was drafted into the NHL. He was a first round draft with great skills. But he was sixteen years old, and needed grooming. He had prodigious offensive skills. But he defensive play, and his conditioning were suspect; nonetheless, he had what it takes in raw skill to become successful at the NHL level.”

Those of us in the Quinte area knew that Cleary was destined to achieve success at the highest levels in hockey. He came to Belleville following his year with the Voyageurs, and spent three quality years with the Bulls, and even returned for a fourth year. The Chicago Black Hawks had drafted Cleary, and set him back to Belleville for a little more seasoning. He teamed well with Brian Second and Craig Mills, displaying great chemistry as a unit. They were all young, and feisty, and sometimes a challenge for Coach Mavety. But when the puck dropped at centre ice to start the game, they played so well together.

Cleary did score more than a hundred goals for the Bulls, but it was his deft play with the puck that amazed the fans, and the scouts alike. He always had the puck on the proverbial string, and knew how to protect it. I am sure it came from hours of shinny on the rock. It is from the old “Just try to take it from me,” challenge. He would set up behind the net in the offensive zone, and direct pucks to the other forwards as they sped around the net.

Holland continued: “Dan Cleary is a really good two way player. He is an excellent penalty killer. One thing about him that makes him unique is that he can play equally well with skilled players and with checkers. No matter what the situation, his coach can trust him. He will be most effective playing on the first line, or the fourth line.”

Dan Cleary was an enigma to many of the rulers in the National Hockey League for many years. From my personal perspective, he was a trickster from the rock. He loved to play, and he loved a good prank while with the Belleville Bulls.

He and his line mates drove over to Wellington for dinner one horrible winter evening. There were blizzard conditions, causing me to do a “360” on the Town Line Road. (Not the first, undoubtedly not the last!)

Almost exactly at supper time, Danny and his teammates arrived, with Danny at the wheel. “Great drive,’ he reported. His teammates were a little shaken by the adventure. Danny was approaching his sixteenth birthday.

Many have reported details of his woes off the ice: “growing pains” pretty well sums it up. A few mistakes, here and there. Nothing earth shattering. Growth, they call it. But now Danny is ready to play, and the confidence shown in him by Ken Holland will only lead to fine results on the ice for the kid from the Rock.

James Hurst
September 14, 2010.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010


World Hockey Summit-News and Views

World Hockey Summit News and Views

The most important decision makers in the hockey world recently met in Toronto to go over some of the key points of interest affecting the game today.

The summit got off to a bit of a rocky start with most of the Toronto media outlets panning the concept. The cost for the general public to attend all of the sessions was deemed outrageous at almost five hundred dollars per head; nonetheless, after all of the smoke had cleared, and the final curtain had been lowered, most had decided it was a real bargain to see the best hockey minds in the world at work.

By no means was there consensus on many of the topics.

One of the key sessions involved an evaluation of the Olympics in Vancouver, and discussions about how the game would evolve, internationally, from the Games last winter. I am sure all readers will remember that Canada won the Gold Medal. Most will remember that Sidney Crosby got the winning goal, in overtime.

Canada was just that close to losing. Now imagine the impact of the Games had Miller stopped that shot in the American goal, and that the United States had scored the final goal. We would have heard the oft-quoted expressions, “Miracle on Ice” and “Do you believe in Miracles?”

The point driven home by the international attendees, mostly European, was that the Olympics are critical to the game, and that they must be supported.

The National Hockey League contingent took a more cautious approach. Granted, they agreed that the Vancouver experience was wonderful; however, during his address to the hockey nation, the NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman broke from his remarks, looked out upon the crowd of five hundred and asked, “Raise your hand if you have ever been to Sochi?” I believe three hands went up. Many in the crowd did not know that the next Winter Games would be held in Sochi, Russia. Most did not have a clue about its location.

Sochi appears to be a lovely place. It is located on the shores of the Black Sea, and is the unofficial summer capital of Russia. You can see the snow-capped peaks of the Caucasus Mountains from the city. The population is near 400 000. There is one fact about the city that has me stumped. There are palm trees everywhere, many planted by Russian Presidents. In January, the average daytime temperature is 10 degrees Celsius. It hardly seems like a typical venue for a Winter Olympics.

The NHL brass, and the North American media types, are concerned about time with the Games in Sochi. For us to see the games live on television in “prime time”, they would have to drop the puck at 3:00am. That would not sit well with the players, nor the team owners.

Anders Hedberg, a Swedish star who played well with Bobby Hull in Winnipeg, said that the Olympic Games were more important to players than winning the title of the Russian Hockey League, or the Stanley Cup. One quarter of the players in the NHL are from outside the confines of North America. They would agree with Hedberg. But not the Americans and Canadians.

Bettman pointed out that the impact of the hockey played in Nagano, Japan, and Torino, Italy was mediocre, at best.

All participants agree with the concept of “Best on Best”. International competitions should involve the best a county has, at any age level.

As far as I can figure, that would eliminate the World Championships in the middle of the Stanley Cup finals. If you lose here, you get to play there, with other losers. The purpose of the Spengler Cup also escapes me. It is played near Davos, Switzerland, and is of little or no historical significance.

The number of empty seats at some of these international competitions has me befuddled. Organizers of these meets had better find ways to make them financially successful.

The head of the International Ice Hockey Federation, Rene Fasel, lauded the impact of the Olympics in Vancouver. He will have his hands full in negotiations with Bettman, Daly, and the National Hockey League Players’ Association when it comes time to working out the details for Sochi.

I would like to be a fly on the wall for those discussions.

James Hurst
September 7, 2010

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