Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Rick Hansen-Man in Motion
Terry Fox lit a flame in this country in 1980 that still burns brightly today. In 1985, another resident of British Columbia decided that he would also lead the nation by embarking on a journey across Canada. He started his trip in B. C. and headed east.
Rick Hansen had been paralyzed in a truck accident when he was fifteen. A man of incredible fortitude, he began his rehabilitation. He became the first disabled person to graduate from the University of British Columbia with a degree in physical education. He was a world class athlete, won several medals at Olympic Games, and also won nineteen marathon races.
Hansen’s dream was to make the world more accessible and inclusive, and to find a cure for spinal cord injury.
For 26 months, Hansen and his team wheeled over 40 000 kilometres in the world tour. The tour passed through Belleville in the fall of 1985. It was the day of Hallowe’en celebrations at Sir John A. Macdonald School.
I paraded my Grade Six class, in their costumes, down Avondale Road to stand on Dundas Street. There were three “Ghostbusters” in our group who left some of their ghost-fighting equipment in the ditch on the side of the road as we ambled on to see Hansen. Within minutes, Rick Hansen arrived in his wheelchair. He smiled and “high-fived” the students as he scooted past on his way to Trenton.
Rick Hansen is now in the process of re-enacting that marvellous journey. He will be in the Quinte area this coming weekend to continue the struggle to find a cure for spinal cord injury.
Wellington’s Ken Rushlow will be there to help spread the good word. Almost twenty years ago, Rushlow suffered a spinal cord injury in a car accident. He has been selected to be a medal bearer in this year’s Man in Motion tour.
“It is quite an honour,” he told me. “It is similar to the Olympic Torch Relay, but in this case, we will have a special medal around our necks.” Rushlow will wear the medal for about 250 metres along Bridge Street West from the Curling Rink to Stinson Avenue. The route then travels south along Palmer Road to Dundas Street, to the precise area where we stood twenty-five years ago. Rushlow will start his leg of the relay at 9:53am on Tuesday, November 1st.
Rushlow became aware of the tour while watching television. He completed the on-line application, and was selected to wear the medal a few weeks ago. “As a medal bearer, it is my job to rally the community. Everyone is encouraged to come out and walk, bike, run, bring their pets and show their community support with me.”
Always an avid sports fan, Rushlow spent four months working in the media field in Toronto for the Global Television Network. “Jim Tatti was my boss,” he told me. “It would have been great to stay and work in that field in Toronto, but it just didn’t fit our agenda at that time”.
There is a special “End of Day” celebration planned for the city of Belleville on Monday, October 31st. There will be a gathering at the Market Square at 4:00pm, followed by another celebration at the Quinte Sports Centre at 5:00pm.
Through the Foundation that bears his name, more than $ 250 million has been raised to accelerate progress towards a cure for spinal cord injury, and a more accessible and inclusive world.
A great opportunity to support a fine organization, and to witness heroes in our midst.
October 25, 2011
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
A Tale of Two Goalies
Jordan Ruby is ready to move on in the next phase of his hockey career. He is combining his hockey life with an academic one. He is now enrolled as a full time student at the Rochester Institute of Technology, a school which plays at the highest level in American College hockey-Division One.
Originally from Tavistock, Ontario, Ruby spent the past two years with the Wellington Dukes as their Number One goaltender. He led the team to the Royal Bank Cup, standing between the pipes for almost one hundred games, including the regular season and the playoffs. He became one of the best junior goaltenders in the country, earning his scholarship at RIT.
He was a leader off the ice as well, and became an important part of the community. Ne was always most approachable, and overwhelming with his good nature and kindness, especially with young fans.
“He was a very focused individual,” Dukes’ coach Marty Abrams told me recently. “He prepared everything in his life very carefully, meticulous in his ways. He was highly respected by his teammates, and was a positive influence on many of them. He became a leader, not only with the team, but in the community. All reports from RIT indicate he will have an outstanding college career as well.”
James Reimer is about three years older than Ruby. He hails from Western Canada, and spent three years at the Major Junior level with the Red Deer Rebels in the Western Hockey League. He was drafted in the third round, 99th place, by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2006. Following stints in the American Hockey League and the East Coast Hockey League, he was invited to spend some time at the end of last season with the parent Toronto Maple Leafs.
He made the best of that invitation, playing in 37 games for the Leafs. He won 20 games, lost ten, and recorded three shutouts. He established himself as a potential number one goaltender for the Leafs prior to the current season. He has helped the Leafs bolt from the gate this season, winning the first three games, losing the fourth Monday night in overtime.
Reimer and Ruby are goaltenders. In their own quiet manners, they are leaders. They are both devout religiously. They are Mennonites. For many of us who know little about their religion, this may come as a bit of a shock. There are very few professional athletes who come from Mennonite communities. I asked a member of one of the conservative branches of the faith about this when I was in Alberta for the Royal Bank Cup. “We encourage our youth to play within the community.”
Reimer’s parents and Ruby’s parents took a slightly different approach. “My parents wanted me to experience the game at the highest level I could attain,” Reimer told me recently. “I played all kinds of sports outside the community---soccer, baseball, swimming.”
Ruby also had the support of his parents throughout his hockey career. He was encouraged to play on the all star teams in his area, always moving to the higher levels with his parents’ blessing.
There are relatively few Mennonites in the world today, less than two million. They are scattered world-wide, with a large population in Canada. Essentially, they are devout Christians, and have a long standing tradition of pacifism. There are twelve different groups in Canada, ranging from ultra conservatives to relatively modern groups. The conservative Mennonites continue to dress traditionally and follow “old order” ways: horse and buggy, no electricity, no television!
Both Ruby and Reimer come from communities that are more modern in their ways. Reimer put it this way: “I appreciate gasoline and electricity!”
I shared a few of Ruby’s accomplishments with Reimer. He had never heard of the former Duke. I gave him a gentle caution in that regard, indicating that some day Jordan Ruby might be after his job. Reimer smiled. He has learned how to handle challenges.
As the season unfolds, we will keep an eye on the careers of both of these individuals. Great teammates, great leaders, important assets to their communities.
October 18, 2011
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
The Leafs Invade Trenton!
Toronto Maple Leaf hockey fans have come out in droves to watch their favourite players go through their paces in Trenton, of all places.
After winning their first two games in Toronto, the team headed east for three days in eastern Ontario. Most of their agenda is a deep dark secret, military style. But they are practising, and the practices are open to the public, and the fans could not be more happy.
They lined up patiently outside the home of the RCAF Flyers, and entered the building in groups of four to five hundred to watch their heroes. They were shuttled into the seating area on the western side of the rink, chatting excitedly while snapping thousands of photographs behind the glass.
There were hundreds of blue and white hockey sweaters in the throng. There is no doubt that the people were there because they were hockey fans, and faithful Leaf supporters.
This is not something that happens on a usual basis. I would venture to say that it is unheard of in the Quinte area. I cannot remember any NHL team ever spending more than a night in the area.
Several old timer teams have entertained fans in area rinks. Years ago, teams played exhibition games in support of local organizations. On one occasion, the Detroit Red Wings played an intermediate team in Napanee. They had played in Toronto, and were en route to Montreal, by train. A game had been arranged against the Napanee squad.
Hugh Brennan played for that Napanee squad, and remembers it well to this day. “We were young and had some skill. Naturally, they toyed a bit with us. But at the end of the first period, the score was close. I walked by the Wings dressing room and was astounded to hear their coach, Sid Abel, tearing a strip off their players. He was not at all happy with their effort.”
The Wings goalie, Terry Sawchuk, did let a couple of shots get by him in the game. Brennan remembers that the great Hall Of Fame netminder complained that the net was too wide. They measured the net the next day and found that it was indeed, a couple of inches wider than regulation.
In the mid Sixties, the New York Rangers trained in the Kingston area. Several teams have used the Peterborough area as a training ground. On one occasion, the Canadiens played against the Petes in support of a young Pete who had lost an eye playing the game.
The practice in Trenton was intense. There were the usual drills of two forwards chasing a puck dumped into the corner, then a three on two, etc.
All the while, James Reimer stood patiently between the pipes at the north end of the rink, anticipating the odd rush to the net. He was clad from head to foot with his warrior-like gear, masked in blue and white.
In another drill, Coach Greg Cronin stood in the corner to Reimer’s right, with fifty pucks at his feet. He fired one puck directly at the net which Reimer deflected away from trouble. He then passed the second puck to a semi-circle of players in front of Reimer. One of that group blasted that puck at the net. Again and again. One shot hit Reimer’s mask, another made him grimace as it glanced off his shoulder, striking an unprotected area.
Captain Dion Phaneuf is now in his third year as a Leaf. He was the first to take the podium, to address the hoard of media at the arena. “This is almost like training camp. It’s exciting. We’re here with the military on the base. We’re here to hang out and have some fun. After practice, we are going for lunch with some of the military personnel. It’s like the first road trip each year during the season, which is always a lot of fun. It gives us a chance to get to know the new guys.”
To a man, the Leafs spoke in grateful terms about their experience on the base. They appreciated the turn out from the fans. They were most pleased with the hospitality of the Canadian Armed Forces. Phil Kessel, Reimer, Luke Schenn, and others spoke of their appreciation for the invitation. Coach Wilson smiled when he talked about this respite from the usual grind.
They will be on the ice at the Air Canada Centre next Saturday night at 7:00pm to face the Calgary Flames. Thousands of Leaf fans from the Quinte area will park themselves in front of their television sets to watch the game. They have had a taste of the real NHL experience, and will appreciate the game all the more because of that. Thank you Mr. Wilson.
October 11, 2011
Tuesday, October 04, 2011
Larry Soule March 20, 1944-September 6, 2011
Larry Soule was always a fierce competitor. From his early days at Queen Victoria School on Pine Street in Belleville, to his final moments in Cambridge, Larry Soule fought valiantly.
He battled cancer for twenty-four years. Two years ago, at sixty-five years of age, he ran a ten kilometre run for cancer survivors, and finished first!
Larry’s best friend, Stu Muirhead, was also a fine athlete. He moved from minor hockey in Belleville to have an outstanding career with the Peterborough Petes. Stu remembers his early days playing with, and against Larry. “I always hated to play against Larry, even practise against him. Larry just had to win. It would drive me nuts! It was like playing against a pit bull, always aggressive and tenacious. Larry excelled at every sport he played: baseball, football, hockey, tennis, and even tin can cricket, which was a favourite game at the “East Hill Playground”.”
Larry was an outstanding running back for B.C.I. & V.S. When he was handed the ball, he easily found the best hole to hit. But he was also well known for making yardage on his own, smashing and slashing into the opponent’s backfield. He also would grab a rebound on the basketball court, making the opposition pay in the process.
“Soulesy” could get under your skin, and would not back away from trouble sent his way. He was chatty on the playing field, always smiling as he ripped opponents. He could unnerve even the most composed players. Larry played with the Senior Kenmore baseball club. As Muirhead remembers, he got the best of one of Kingston’s finest athletes, Charlie Pester. “Charlie stood well over six feet, had played professional baseball for many years, and towered over Larry. Near the end of the game, Pester threw a pitch high and hard at Larry’s head. Larry dove out of the way, and really went after Pester, verbally. In the next inning, Larry made a spectacular catch on a ball that Pester had driven deep to the outfield.
Before Larry went up to bat again, he cautioned his catcher, Larry Mavety, to be ready. Sure enough, Pester threw again at Larry’s head. Soule dropped the bat and charged the mound, as did players from both teams. After the dust settled, Pester and Soule were tossed from the game. The Kenmores won. That was all that mattered to Larry!”
There will be a private memorial for Larry. In lieu of flowers, his wife Terry has requested that donations to Lisaard House Hospice, in Cambridge---www.lisaardhouse.com
National Hockey League 2011-2012
In a matter of days, they are going to drop the puck to initiate another season of the National Hockey League. There is another team playing out of Canada this year. The Atlanta franchise was shifted to Winnipeg, and the game will be the better because of the change.
There are a few clouds hovering over this year’s season. The fraternity lost three former players in the off season, in tragic circumstances. They were all rugged players, and played the game intensely. They had taken their share of bruises, and bumps to the head, over the years.
In order to continue playing, they, like most other players, also took medication to get by. Not all of it was prescribed. At times, it may have been mixed with a little hot toddy. In some cases, the players suffered from depression. With all of this in mind, these three players died this past summer, perhaps unnecessarily.
Then again, as I have stated on more than one occasion, the human mind is a very fragile instrument. We certainly do not know all of the factors that may have contributed to their deaths.
Another tragic situation in the off season took place when a Russian air liner crashed in Russia. An entire hockey team lost their lives in that accident, including several former NHL players.
As the season is about to begin, controversy swirls around the fact that several players have been seriously affected by blows to the head. These blows come from fists, elbows, and shoulders, for the most part. They are not always intended to injure an opponent. Over the years, head checks became part of the game.
All that is about to change. There may be a period of adjustment, when referees, and management overreact to the situation. The league has chosen Brendan Shanahan, a former player, to adjudicate in these circumstances. He has been anointed to be the judge and jury in dishing out penalties for blows to the head.
“Shanny” knows the game well. He finished his career recently, and he played the game hard. He knows his mandate is to cut down on the number of hits to the head, in order to keep players in the game. A couple of years ago, a kid from the Maritimes entered the league with plenty of fanfare. His name is Sidney Crosby, and he has lived up to the expectations, even exceeded them.
But he took a couple of hard knocks on the head, and he will not start this season. He missed several games with the Penguins last year, seriously affecting their chances to win the Cup. He is also a marquis player in the league, and puts bums in the seats wherever he plays. When he sits in the press box, the Penguins are not the team they would be otherwise.
For many years, I have been advocating a partial solution to this crisis: build rinks with larger ice surfaces. Belleville got it right when they built the Sports Centre with Olympic-size ice. Players are much larger now than they were when the rinks were first designed. They need more space.
Secondly, players wear gladiatorial equipment. The league should insist on leather shoulder and elbow pads. The current materials used can and do cause serious injuries.
Thirdly, players who fake serious injuries when they are not hit in the head should pay a price. In a recent game, a player threw up his hands as if he had been shot with a howitzer. He had been grazed only slightly. We cannot allow the game to be abused in a manner like the beautiful game. No Academy Award performances allowed! Suspend the actors too!
Finally, always remember the game is played with sticks. They are quite hard. It hurts when you get hit with them. Players hit each other all game long. Occasionally, players let opponents know when enough is enough. They drop their gloves. No big deal. Part of the game, as it should be.
October 3, 2011