Monday, June 27, 2011


Canadian Football League-2011

The British Columbia Lions travel to Montreal to face the Alouettes in the opening game of the 2011 CFL season on Thursday night. For some of you, this may come as a bit of a surprise. You may still be celebrating the Bruins Stanley Cup victory. (I ran into a guy in Belleville who had just returned from the parade in Beantown-now, there’s a fan!) You may be in limbo about the NFL season: strike, lockout, whatever. There is not a lot of football action south of the border.

Or you may be like many sports observers who do not realize that the CFL usually gets under way around the July First weekend. On Canada Day, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers head to Hamilton to take on the Tiger Cats at Ivor Wynne Stadium. The Argonauts head to Calgary to play the Stampeders on Canada Day. Finally, on Sunday, the Edmonton Eskimos play the Rough Riders in Saskatchewan.

The 2011 season of the great Canadian game will be well underway by the following weekend. That does not necessarily mean that you should drop a bundle in Vegas on the winning teams from the first weekend. Many teams are notoriously slow starters. Don’t be hoodwinked by the results from the exhibition games. The Ticats trounced the Als in pre-season. The Lions mauled the Rough Riders. The Stamps outlasted the Eskimos 37-22.The Argos stole a win from the Bombers 30-23. None of that means anything now that the regular season is about to unfold.

As an added wrinkle to the television production of the Argos-Bombers game, the coaches and the quarterbacks were “Mic’ed Up” for the game. They wore microphones, and the fans were treated to most of their comments. Naturally, there were moments when some of the comments were reserved for individual players. For the most part, however, it was no holds barred in the dialogue.

For myself, the play calling was most intriguing. Now you must realize that a CFL Play Book for each team is as thick as your wrist, and you had better know what to do when a play is called. If not, you will be on the next bus to Brandon. Here are some examples of plays called by Winnipeg;

“66 Ghost. Backside. Ohio State.”
“Ace Right. Pistol. Two Bar Blue”
“Eagle Left. 351. Henry. Henry.”
“326.Ace Right. Ghost. Ohio State.”
“Ace Left. Personal 3. Bar Blue.”

As you can see, there were some patterns beginning to unfold. I did my best to read the plays, to no avail. Near the end of the game, one of the Blue Bombers was penalized for “objectionable conduct”. At that point, we overheard the coach advise the player: “You can’t say the “N” word on the field.” (The “N” word, of course, indicates a racial slur.) I am almost naïve enough to think that such things do not happen any more. But not quite. In the heat of the moment, anything can slip out. As is always the case, it is wise to choose an appropriate place and time.

The Bombers put 14 points on the board in the fourth quarter to make the game close. The Argos countered with a late touchdown to win the game.

But it was, after all, an exhibition game. A chance for coaches to evaluate personnel.

Following the game, teams pared down their rosters as required by the league. Really difficult choices for all of them. Because of the nature of the game, many of those cut on Saturday will be recalled for a variety of reasons: injury, discipline, poor play, or a combination thereof.

Find your way to a stadium near you. Get set for a great season. Grey Cup? November 27th. Mark it on your calendar now.

James Hurst
June 27, 2011.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Vancouver's Lament-2011

The streets in Vancouver have pretty well been restored to order following the Canucks’ devastating loss to the Boston Bruins. The series went seven games, with the final played on Canada’s west coast. For several days, fans had gathered in downtown Vancouver to “feel the love” and to watch their team as it struggled in Beantown.

The Canucks had managed to win the first two games at home. Both victories were squeakers, by one goal. The losses in Boston were not even close. Through it all, in the games on the south side of the Canadian border, the Boston fans were merciless with Roberto Luongo.

The Canucks’ goaltender felt the wrath of the Boston fans. They chanted his name whenever he touched the puck. They got “inside his head” to the extent that, on several occasions, he was replaced by Cory Schneider, the backup goaltender.

There is not enough space in this column to outline all of the woes suffered by the Canucks in the final series. They had key injuries. They had an unwarranted suspension. They had a few bad beaks. But as you have read here before, and likely will again, they did not put enough pucks in the Boston net.

No goaltender in the National Hockey League plays badly for any length of time. One of Luongo’s advantages is that he is a big guy. Even when he cannot see the puck through the maze of players in front of him, he will stop it, often by sheer luck. The trick is to cover the rebound before it gets shovelled into the net. The odd soft goal gets by him, but not many.

At the other end of the rink, Tim Thomas smiled his way to the Stanley Cup triumph. He talks with the referees, he jokes with his teammates, he carries on as if the Bruins were playing a mid-season game. He appeared to be very relaxed, and it paid off for him. He won the award as the most valuable player in the Stanley Cup finals, and rightly so. The trophy is named after Conn Smythe, the former owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Thomas received his trophy from the Commissioner of the National Hockey League, Gary Bettman. Now I can understand why the fans in the rink in Vancouver were upset after losing the final game. What I cannot comprehend is the animosity toward the diminutive Commish. Gary has put a lot of money into the pockets of young Canadian men. There are literally hundreds, perhaps thousands, of hockey players who owe a debt of gratitude to Bettman. He has helped orchestrate the expansion of hockey in the United States. All of these young Canadian studs would be working menial jobs were it not for the game.

After the game in Vancouver, the idiots went to town. They smashed windows, they looted, and they overturned cars. They were not hockey fans. Some carried face masks and gasoline cans into the downtown area to create havoc following the game. Anarchists, nihilists, whatever. For some of them, the consequences will be devastating. Apparently, one young rioter was slated to attend university this fall on an athletic scholarship. His photograph was taken at the scene. He has lost his scholarship.

Many of these young people do not think these things through very carefully. Then again, many of us were in the same position years ago, perhaps not to that extent; however, there were no cell phones to take pictures of us being idiots. Nowadays, there are cameras everywhere. Like it or not, Big Brother is never too far away. In a matter of fifteen seconds, one can do something stupid that will be recorded, and will haunt you for the rest of your life. You would be better off not shoving that rag in that bottle of gasoline before you head to town.

The gentle giant of the Boston Red Sox, “Big Papi” David Ortiz was captured on television last night hoisting the Cup in Boston. The Bruins had taken Lord Stanley’s mug to Fenway Park as part of the celebration. And there it will stay until next June, when we as fans will be treated to another great playoff. Kudos to the Bruins.

James Hurst
June 21, 2011.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Peter Newman at the Belleville Club

Peter Newman told the near-capacity audience at the Belleville Club last Thursday that the archives of the Hudson’s Bay Company weighed sixty-eight tons. They were shipped from London, England, to Winnipeg. He is a bit of an authority on those manuscripts. He spent ten years with those files, as he was composing the history of the Company.

Newman was born in Austria in 1929, and moved to Canada prior to the Second World War. Hogtown became his home, and he immersed himself in studies at Upper Canada College and the University of Toronto. He then began his most illustrious career in journalism.

To try to list his main accomplishments would be utter folly. He has sold more than two and one-half million books, primarily non-fiction, often dealing with Canada’s political and financial leaders. In 1975, he published The Canadian Establishment, following years of observations and notes about the power brokers across the country.

But it was in 1959 that he found his niche for writing about Canadians. His book, Flame of Power: Intimate Profiles of Canada’s Greatest Businessmen, launched his career in the book world. He began his writing career as a humble ink-stained wretch with the Financial Post. He edited for the Toronto Star, then moved to McLean’s, and still writes a column for the weekly magazine.

To say that he has annoyed a few politicians in this land over the years would be an understatement. John George Diefenbaker was crushed when he faced Newman’s Renegade in Power: The Diefenbaker Years. His 2005 book, The Secret Mulroney Tapes: Unguarded Confessions of a Prime Minister, severely damaged Mulroney’s political career.

Now an octogenarian, he revels in the opportunity of chatting with a few friends about his life, and his work. He helped raise significant funds for the new Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County at the Club. He pressed the point that archives are the key to the scribes who write the history books.

More than anything, he enjoyed telling mischievous tales from his own past, intermingled with untrue jokes about his friends. An example: In his latter years, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau visited Israel. He was most impressed with a cemetery there, and called Prime Minister Begin to enquire about availability. Begin told him there was room, but that it was expensive.
“How much?” asked Pierre.
“A million dollars,” replied Begin.
“That’s a bit steep,” answered Trudeau. “After all, I’m only going to be there three days!”
Yikes! At that point, I realized that little is sacred with Peter C. Newman.

He took a little shot at Bill Clinton. At his trial, Clinton had a problem. He was asked to “Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” he could not decide. He thought they were three different things!

He addressed the Canadian mission in Afghanistan. A Canadian soldier found a genie in the sands near Kandahar. The genie granted him one wish. The soldier asked for a good map of the country, so that he could better understand the mountains, and valleys and local terrain. The genie thought it was a simple wish, so he told the soldier he could have another more grandiose wish. The soldier replied, “In that case, because of all the bloodshed, I want peace in the world.” The genie paused, then added, “We’d better get that map out again.”

With his sparkling wit, great timing, and enormous stockpile of Canadian history and affairs, Newman can entertain. And it was thoroughly enjoyed by all in attendance. He now makes his home in Belleville, and we are the better for it.

James Hurst
June 14, 2011.


Dallas Mavericks-2011 NBA Champions

I am quite sure I was not the only basketball fan in North America who sat stunned in front of the television set while the seconds counted down Sunday night. The Mavs defeated the Miami Heat in six games to win the crown.

The end result was completely unexpected. Most NBA fans hoped the Heat would lose. They just did not expect it would happen. The Heat had enjoyed a very successful season, perhaps not as spectacular as they would have liked. They had pinned their hopes on the “Big Three” at the beginning of the season: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. James had arrived ceremoniously from Cleveland, Bosh from Toronto. Wade was the sparkplug. When the season began, most observers felt that the Heat had the key components to win it all.

Naturally, the injury factor had to be considered. If either of the three experienced a serious injury, the expected result could change. Most injuries are now well concealed by major sports franchises. Once the games are finished, players step up to the microphone and announce, “I didn't play as well as I could because I have a torn Achilles tendon, a shattered patella, a torn rotator cuff, and a serious concussion.” Reporters drop their inquiring heads and mumble, “Ah, now I understand why you played so poorly”.

Such was not the case with the Miami Heat. They were healthy, they were hungry, and yes, they were cocky. They just did not get the job done. They struggled greatly in the fourth quarter of all six final games. Here are a few observations in that regard: Lebron made only one three point shot in all six games in the fourth quarter. Dirk Nowitzki, the one superstar in the Mavs lineup, outscored James 62-18 during the same period. The main reason for the difference is experience.

Given another opportunity, James will be there, and he will get the job done. He played poorly, and he realizes that fact. He also knows that, even though he has been under the media spotlight the entire season, things are different in the playoffs in basketball, especially in the finals. He tries to be accessible and obliging to his fans and to the media. He Tweets and Twitters. He now realizes that every word that he puts out in the public will be misconstrued, analyzed, and misinterpreted to make him look bad. He should keep his Balckberry in his gym bag.

James was overwhelmed down the stretch. In his confusion, he failed to play the game he knows best: an aggressive, passionate game. He stood still. He was easy to guard. He failed to make perimeter shots under pressure.

Kudos must go to the Mavs coach, Rick Carlisle, for his work. He orchestrated great defence, and prepared his team to play one of the best lineups in NBA history. They moved well, they spaced themselves well, they ran intriguing picks and rolls and hedges to find good opportunities to score.

Both teams suffered cases of nerves near the end of the game. There were bad passes, poor shot choices, hurried attempts at the buzzer. Even Dwyane Wade dribbled the ball off his foot. He stared at it as it rolled out of bounds, as if to say, “Did I do that?”

Nowtizki ran to the locker room as the game ended. A few of the other players milled about on the court. Basketball needs to take a page from hockey in this regard. Players should remain on the court, line up, and shake hands at the end of the game. The court should be clear of all of the non-playing personnel that are involved in the game.

Fans should not be allowed on the court. In fact fans should not be allowed to sit as close to the court as they do. There should be no seating closer than twenty feet from the court. Too often people in those seats have an effect on the game. Jason Kidd had to clear fans out of his way to throw the ball into the court at the end of the game.

Kidd will relish this championship. He has been around the league a long time, not always as a fan favourite. But in these finals he played hard, and let his play on the court speak for itself.

Nowitzki also earned the MVP title for his play in the finals, and rightly so. He adjusted his game by playing more aggressively. He showed strength getting to the rim. He fought off all of the defensive strategies the Heat threw at him. He emerged victorious.

Job well done. In this case the Mavs did indeed take the Heat!

James Hurst
June 13, 2011


Stanley Cup Finals-2011

They have put away their brooms in Vancouver. Those on Canada’s West Coast who thought their Canucks would cruise to a sweep of the Bruins got a rude awakening Monday night. After a scoreless first period, the Bostonians stormed out of the gate, and hammered the Canucks. The final score was 8-1.

The first two games in Vancouver were very close. No one expected the Canucks to run away with the series; however, there might have been a hint of over confidence in the minds of some of the players heading into Monday night’s game.

It was a little surprising that Coach Vigneault did not pull goalie Roberto Luongo after the fourth or fifth goal. Luongo stayed until the very bitter end, and raced to the bench after the buzzer sounded. He looked a little shell-shocked at that point. Perfectly understandable.

At the other end of the ice, the venerable Tim Thomas stood on his head on a couple of occasions, indicating to his teammates that he was giving them a chance to win. Not only did he keep the puck out of the net, he also decked one of the Sedin twins in the third period with a fairly solid forearm shiver. The puck was dangerously close to the goal line, Sedin was concentrating on scoring, the Bruins’ defenceman was in a position to clear the puck, and Thomas decided to assert his authority.

There was a crucial moment in the first period when the Bruins might have faltered. One of their key forwards, Nathan Horton, had been decked coming over the blue line, and had been carried off the ice. The Bruins took that opportunity to regroup, and never looked back.

I suspect that the rest of the series will be rough and tumble hockey. There is nothing wrong with that. There will be a few occasions when the men in stripes will have to step in to cool some jets. (That is a small “j”. The naming process in Winnipeg has not yet been completed.) One can only hope that the officials will not get “whistle happy” and call each and every minor infraction.

The style of hockey played in game three might be considered to be Boston Bruins hockey. The Canucks will not shy away from the rugged activity. I do not believe that the Canucks have bitten off more than they can chew. This will be a great hockey series. I suspect we will lose a little sleep now and again, as they battle through overtime sessions.

Those of you who prefer the round ball game will follow the exploits of the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks. Up to this point, it has been interesting. I suspect that Lebron and Wade will impose a little more as this series progresses, and it will mark the beginning of a very controversial dynasty.
James Hurst June 7, 2011

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