Sunday, December 26, 2010


The Russians are Coming!

The Russians are Coming!

The title of this column is the title of a movie produced in 1966. The East and the West were in the midst of a Cold War of nerves, following several potentially serious political crises.

The comedy, starring Carl Reiner, Brian Keith, and Eva Marie Saint, dealt with a Russian submarine that was grounded off the American coast. It sent the local inhabitants into a frenzy. Well worth watching.

The Russians are indeed coming, but this time to Prince Edward County. On this occasion, it will be a team of Junior Russian hockey players, on tour in North America. The team is comprised of outstanding junior players who were the last cuts from the Russian Junior team involved in the World Junior Championships in Buffalo.

They will play the Wellington Dukes on January 4th at the Essroc Centre. There are tickets available at Lavender Furniture on Main Street in Wellington. You may also call Betty at 613-399-1573.

The team is coached by two former National Hockey League players: Alexander Semak, and Vyacheslav Butsayev.

They played together for several Russian teams, including Olympic teams.

Semak had a more extended NHL career, as he played in 289 games with a variety of teams: New Jersey, Tampa Bay, New York Islanders, and Vancouver. He also had stints in a host of American Hockey League cities. He finished his professional career with half a dozen seasons in the Russian league.

Semak posted respectable totals in the NNL, netting 83 goals with 91 helpers in his career. His best year was in 92-93 when he had 37 goals and 42 helpers in 82 games.

Butsayev was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in 1990. He moved on from there to play for the Sharks, the Mighty Ducks, the Panthers, the Senators and the Tampa Bay Lightning. He returned to Russia in 2001, and continued to play there.

On Boxing Day, the Canadians and the Russians were knotted at three goals each heading into the third period. The Canadians prevailed; however, they are still in the preliminary rounds, and the Russians have often emerged from opening rounds to play much better at later stages in international tournaments.

The game in Wellington will be the first international contest at the Essroc Centre. The Dukes are grateful to the corporate sponsors of the game: McDougall-Stanton Insurance, Picton Home Hardware building Centre, and Prinzen Ford from Bloomfield.

The Russian Red Stars team will also have some graduates from their junior program. It is expected that the Dukes will bolster their lineup with a few players from other teams in the league.

Game time is 7:30pm. The following weekend the Dukes will play Kingston on Friday night, and Lindsay on Sunday. Enjoy!

James Hurst
27 December 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Pictures and Words-2010

Local bookstores may have that perfect gift on the shelves for you. There are plenty of hockey books that have hit the market this year, many by well respected hockey people.

As can be expected, Don Cherry has yet another revenue stream heading his way with Hockey Stories Part 2. I think he also has “Rock ‘em, Sock ‘em
-the Seventy-eight Edition” ready for you as well. Cherry’s book connects hockey to early England, and contains a look at his personal journey into the Junior hockey world.

Bill Fitsell, the eminent hockey historian from the Limestone city, has compiled a look at really basic hockey roots-all the way back to ancient Rome, where field hockey was played, and where the losers had to face the lions in the Colisseum! (Fine, I apologize! I made that last part up!) Fitsell has always been at the forefront of the Society for International Hockey Research, and was a wonderful resource for all of the Belleville McFarlands activities last year. Look for his book: How Hockey Happened.

The Society, known in polite circles as “SIHR”, has also released its own publication through Quarry Heritage Books of Kingston. Pucklore: The Hockey Research Anthology. This book, compiled by the president of SIHR, James Milks, contains a collection of articles from twenty-two authors. For the true hockey fan, this book is a must.

Another group from the Society has assembled a volume strictly for Toronto Maple Leaf fans. It is entitled Diary of a Dynasty, 1957-67. Within that period of time, the Leafs won four Stanley Cups, and dominated the game just as television was making its appearance in every Canadian household.

As a young teenager, I remember once lying in front of a tiny black and white set at the home of a friend, Rod Turner, in Belleville. It was in the late 1950s, and amongst the group was Dennis Hull. An American network was broadcasting the Hawks game, and every time Bobby Hull hit the screen, Dennis let us know who was on the ice: “That’s my brother!” Not too long afterwards, Dennis was also destined to star for the Hawks.

A fine picture book about Bobby Hull has also hit the shelves. It covers his entire career from the third of January, 1939. He was born and raised in Point Anne, almost across the Bay of Quinte from Big Island in Prince Edward County. Hull still maintains his roots in this area, primarily through his cattle farming.

There are wonderful photos in the book of Bobby from a babe to a veteran of the hockey wars, now helping the Black Hawk cause as an ambassador for the game. On page six, there is a photo of Bobby’s Bantam team, the Bruins, with his coaches: Lloyd “Red” Doran, Dan Cowley, and his father Bob. Bobby is in the front row on the left, and Charlie Rowbotham is on the right.

I spoke with Charlie recently in Belleville. “Bobby was a great player in those days. He really didn’t stay around very long after that. He would finish the football season at BCI, then head off to Hespeler or Woodstock.”

Charlie remembered Bobby in the classroom. “He always had a portable radio. That was important to us during the World Series. Bobby would keep us posted with the latest scores.” Hully likely would have been discreet with the radio, as he avoided the eagle eye of Miss Mary Dwyer.

Bob Vaughan, the venerable doctor who brought the Belleville Bulls to prominence, grew up with Hull, and played against him. “On one occasion, our goalie didn’t show up. I’d always wanted to try that position. I strapped on the pads, and headed for the goal. Bobby scored eight times on me that game. That was the last time I was ever between the pipes!”

Alas, there are countless stories, and a hockey bag full of books awaiting your eyes. Happy holidays, and happy reading!

James Hurst
December 21, 2010

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Ultimate Fighting-Just Plain Wrong

Last weekend patrons filled the Bell Centre in Montreal to watch the latest Canadian chapter in the ultimate fighting experience. It was entitled UFC 124, indicating that one of the sponsoring organizations had promoted one hundred and twenty-three previous experiences.

For a certain segment of society, these are cool events. There is an element of competition, as two opponents enter the cage and battle. Ultimately, and unfortunately, it comes down to money. The province of Ontario had banned these events until recently.

Premier Dalton McGuinty has indicated that it is “very unlikely” that he would be attending the first regulated fight in Ontario to be held in Toronto in late April. As quoted in a recent article in the Toronto Star, he stated: “I’m pleased that Ontarians who have a real interest in this will now have this option available to them”. With very little imaginative thought, I can come up with half a dozen ideas that people in Ontario might be interested in, but will never be regulated in this province. You may have your own suggestions in that area.

McGuinty was pleased that the match in Ontario would generate about six million dollars in revenue for the province. Big deal. It’s still blood money.

I am not opposed to combat in the ring. I have followed boxing for fifty years, and enjoyed the likes of Jersey Joe Walcott, Kid Gallivan, Archie Moore, Rocky Marciano, Ali, Spinks, and Lennox Lewis. I have always chuckled at the exploits of the professional wrestling world, although I knew every match was pre-determined.

The mixed martial arts contests take the whole human personal combat experience several steps further. If I had young children, I would try to shelter them from the experience. Most of the competitors are boisterous and rude. Most are tattooed from stem to stern. Many have had plenty of experience with steroids and other illegal drugs. I would not like my kids to think this activity is acceptable.

The fights have been shown on televisions in bars in Ontario for several years. Bar staff find these nights to be a real challenge. Patrons hoot and holler throughout the fight, then carry the aggression onto the parking lot.

Granted, there is an audience for the events. It borders on a lunatic fringe. Tickets for the last event in Montreal sold for $ 550 each on the Ultimate Fighting Challenge website. You can get two weeks in Cuba in February for the same amount!

Some of the quotes from the Star article were truly disturbing. Matthew Fidalgo is described as a “road warrior for the Ultimate Fighting Championship”. His thoughts? “It’s a big deal. It’s what everyone in Ontario wants, and …now we have it in our home turf and it’s the best thing ever.” I don’t quite agree with your every word, Matthew. There is always sliced bread!

Slick marketers have done a good job selling this product. They garnered television rights; they hyped the “blood and guts” nature of the product; they emphasized the sizzle.

The activity does not belong on the front page of a sports section of a major Canadian newspaper. It does not belong on any page of a sports section. It is not a sport. Nor is professional wrestling. They are for entertainment. If that is your choice for entertainment, go for it. Tickets will be on sale soon for the event in Toronto. More than fifty thousand fans are expected at the event. That does not make it right.

But since this is a sports column, and not an entertainment feature, this concludes my weekly rant.

James Hurst

December 14, 2010

Friday, December 10, 2010


Good Bye to the Grand Old Girl!

It is never easy to say good-bye. But like an old pair of sneakers, the Wellington and District Community Centre on Niles Street is tired, and weary, and the time has come to bid farewell.

That occasion will be this coming Friday night for the Wellington Dukes.

They will take the ice at 7:30pm to play the Cobourg Cougars, seeking a touch of revenge. The Cougars tripped the Dukes up in overtime, last Monday night, ending another incredible string of Dukes’ victories.

There will be seats available at the Duke Dome. Please carry your blankets with you to the rink. The tradition of laying down your comforter to save your place went out the window years ago, but still lives in the hearts and minds of a few faithful. There are more than three hundred season ticket holders for the Dukes, and their seats are designated; understandably, the remaining seats are available on the old “first come, first with your bum on the bench” basis.

There are hundreds of seats available for the first game in the new arena, the Essroc Centre. No hard wooden planks in this palace, thank you. Individual seats for almost a thousand patrons, as well as plenty of standing room. That place will be rocking on Friday, December 17th, when the Dukes host the Whitby Fury in their first game at the new Duke Dome.

The memories flood back from the first days at the old barn. Before it was constructed, funding was achieved in a variety of ways, but none more persistent than a certain Foster Bailey. I am pleased to write that last week I sold Foster a ticket for the Dukes Super Sports Draw. One of the most satisfying moments in my entire life. Most of us have a drawer of losing tickets that we purchased from Foster over the years.

I spent a few years coaching and managing teams in the old barn. “County Kings” went on the road to other venerable barns for a little shinny: Tweed, Douro, Warkworth, Marmora, Madoc, Frankford, Tamworth, Belleville, Trenton, Napanee. The list is not complete. One gets a chill thinking of the conditions in some of those facilities.

I can still see the faces of many of those youngsters, learning the game, making friends, growing. Some were chasing the dream to play at higher levels, perhaps to the National Hockey League. (None ever reached that goal. For the record, no one born and raised in Prince Edward County has ever played one minute in a regular season NHL game. But they all had fun trying!)

We will also cherish our memories of afternoon skates with the family. It has been the home for countless Figure Skating pageants and spectacles over the years. White skates, black skates, blue skates, silver skates; they all cut the ice at the Dome.

As a school teacher and coach in elementary schools in Belleville, I often showed up late for practices for a team I managed at the Bantam level. On one occasion, a parent stormed at me just as I entered the arena. He was upset with the way his son had been treated. I brushed him off, and went to chat with the coach. He reported that the boy had caused trouble all practice: jabbing at the back of his teammates’ legs, whacking helmets, shoving skates to cause players to fall. He spoke with the culprit. He was told where to go, with an emphasis on the “Queen Mother of Swear Words”.

He then told me that the boy needed a little time to cool off, so he put him in the penalty box. I agreed with that decision. Then he added: “I forgot to open the door of the box!” Oops! Lessons learned, all around!

The list of names of Wellington Dukes, and players from other teams is endless. I have often run into young adults from the Toronto area who have fond memories of playing in the Duke Dome. They learned very quickly that the boards at the north end of the arena were quite unforgiving. They learned about “Whiskey Corner”. They learned about team support.

And that will not change in the new building. We will be there. In full force, with our maple syrup cans, and our bright red shirts. Go Dukes Go! Forever!

Bryan Helmer played for the Dukes when they first arrived from Belleville. He has always been a perennial fan favourite. It is expected that he will assist with Opening Ceremonies at the new arena.

James Hurst
7 December 2010

Wednesday, December 01, 2010


Round Ball Notes-2010

Despite the fact that I have not poured a lot of ink into basketball columns this year, that does not mean that I have ignored the game.
As a sports fan, that would be difficult to do. The news stream coming out of Miami in the last few days has grabbed headlines from coast to coast.
Apparently, the troops are a little disgruntled with their head coach. A relatively young coach, Erik Spoelstra cannot ignore the rumours surrounding his position with the team. Heat president Pat Riley has been through the NBA wars for many years, and could easily step in to right the ship. And it is a ship that contains the crew from the blockbuster deals before the season began.
Chris Bosh from the Raptors, and LeBron James from the Cleveland Cavaliers joined Dwyane Wade in Miami. These three are arguably on a list of the top ten players in the game today. Certainly, Wade is on the list, and James is near the top. The jury is still out on Bosh, probably because he is still a little hesitant to go to the basket when the occasion arises.
The Heat have left the gate slowly this year, trying to get all of the new pieces working together. LeBron recently assessed his progress in working with Wade as “slow”. He said that he and Wade are both “used to having the ball, making plays, finishing plays. It’s a process of having to still be aggressive, but playing off the ball. We are trying to figure this thing out.”
The Heat are just over the .500 mark at 9-8, but they are 4-6 in their last ten games.

Closer to home, the Raptors have been seriously bitten by the injury bug once again. Their best rebounder, Reggie Evans, fractured his foot last week. He will be out of the lineup for several weeks, perhaps months.
A week ago, the Raptors made a trade with New Orleans to unload Jarrett Jack, an unhappy camper who could not adjust to the role he was expected to play this year. In return, the Raptors received a seasoned veteran, Peja Stojakovic. And not a day too soon!
It is expected that Stojakovic will step right onto the court with little time to learn any particular Raptor systems. At six feet, ten inches, he can handle himself in traffic, and has an outstanding shooting range.
Exciting young sophmore DeMar DeRozan will benefit from Stojakovic’s experience.
In a recent interview, Coach Jay Triano discussed some of the challenges facing young payers in the NBA. “Back to back games are always a challenge. Learning how to adjust in that situation is part of their growth as young men. DeMar will learn how to get to the (free throw) line more often, he will improve his scoring in transition. He will find that he will have to add new moves to his game.” That would be in response to the amount of scouting that is done in the game. If you only have one great move, your opponents will learn how to defend that move, very quickly.
Triano knows that DeMar has a lot to learn, in his “on the job training”. It is not made any easier when you consider that “he has to guard the best positional players in the NBA”.

When discussing the game, on an internet interview, Triano added: “This game is full of mistakes. Your job is to limit the number of mistakes.”
The Raptors will rely on Jose Calderon, the Spanish playmaker. Andrea Bargnani, the seven foot Italian, has been playing much better lately, and leads Bosh in a points per game basis.
On any given night, the Raps can put it together, and beat the best. When their transition game is sound, there is real excitement in the Air Canada Centre.
They face the Washington Wizards Wednesday night. First tip at 7:00pm.

James Hurst
29 November 2010

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