Monday, December 19, 2011
Mike Murphy Enjoys the Coffee!
Mike Murphy dressed for the recent game between his Carolina Hurricanes and the Toronto Maple Leafs. He has been rehearsing, so to speak, for his chance to play in the National Hockey League for some time.
Following his stellar OHL career with the Belleville Bulls, he was drafted by the Hurricanes, and signed a three year, entry-level contract. He backstopped the Bulls to several successful seasons, including a trip to the Memorial Cup.
His accomplishments with the Bulls: Rookie All Star, First team All Star in 2008, OHL Goaltender of the Year in 2008 and 2009, and Canadian Hockey League Goaltender of the Year in 2009.
According to the charts and expectations of scouts today, Murphy is relatively tiny. He stands five feet, eleven inches, and tips the scales at about 180 pounds. That does not seem to bother the brass with the Hurricanes. Following the 2009 season, he attended his second conditioning camp for the ‘Canes.
He worked under the watchful eye of Tom Barrasso, who is credited with some of the success experienced by the ‘Canes number one netminder, Cam Ward. At that time, he appreciated Barrasso’s influence: “I think he understands my style. He’s been in the NHL a long time, and he’s seen a lot of styles. He improved my game from last camp when he told me I played like Marc-Andre Fleury did early on: using a lot of energy, not in position as much.
Murphy broke into junior hockey with the Kingston Township Voyageurs. He got the call from the Belleville Bulls in 2005, and finished his OHL career with the Bulls in 2009. His first professional assignment was with the Albany River Rats.
He has appeared in 39 games this year with the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League, winning 21 and losing 11. He has a very respectable 2.57 goals against average this year at the AHL level. One must always keep in mind that “Murph” has yet to celebrate his 23rd birthday, and most goaltenders need the minor league experience before heading to “The Show”.
Murphy appeared in two NHL games during his recent “call up”. Get this: he was charged with the loss in one game, and yet he saved every shot, and has a perfect save percentage from the game. How does that work? The opposition potted an empty net goal, and he was the goalie of record at the time.
The Hurricanes also have two other fine netminders in the wings along with Murphy: Brian Boucher, and Justin Peters. Boucher is currently injured, and that helped set up the arrival of Murphy to the NHL. After the game, I spoke with Murphy in the Hurricanes dressing room. There was a sombre atmosphere, as the Leafs had won by a goal on a very fortuitous rebound. All hockey bags were packed and ready to go less than ten minutes after the game.
“It is really exciting for me to be here,” he told me. “It is great to play in the American Hockey League, but this is part of the dream.” Just as he was ready to leave the room, Bryan Allen strode by. Allen began his junior career with the Ernestown Jets. He has played more than 500 games in the NHL with the Canucks, Panthers, and the Canes. I noted that both Murphy and Allen were from the Napanee area. Murphy added: “All of the guys have been great. They have been helpful in many ways since I got the call”.
Murphy was returned to Charlotte after the game. I am sure he realizes that there is plenty of the “call up, send down” stuff before one becomes entrenched at the NHL level. All part of paying the dues. And he is ready to step up when required.
December 19, 2011
Monday, December 12, 2011
Eagles Still in Flight!
To say that the Philadelphia Eagles began this season with high expectations would be an understatement. They were supposed to “cake walk” their way to the Super Bowl”. Along the way, wheels fell off, here and there. Injuries, dropped passes, missed assignments, dumb penalties: they all took their toll as the team crashed to earth after an impressive start.
They went into Miami last weekend with no pretentions. As is most often the case, the fortunes of the team lay squarely on the shoulders of their quarterback, Michael Vick. He had been nursing broken ribs (“upper body injury”), and had not played for almost a month.
The troops rallied and managed to beat the Dolphins 26-10. Vick relied on his offensive line to protect him throughout the day. They are responsible for keeping Dolphin defenders at bay, and for opening holes for Eagle running backs to head upfield. After the game, Vick gave the big boys credit: “The line settled in and protected me well”.
One of those giants on the line is a rookie who has come a long way to wear #63 as a starting guard for the Eagles. Danny Watkins hails from Kelowna, British Columbia, and is a poster boy for late bloomers. He did not start playing football until he was twenty-two years old!
Following his high school days at Mount Boucherie Secondary School, he headed south to attend a Butte College, a Junior College in Oroville, California. But his first love was hockey, pure and simple. “I was a true Canadian hockey kid.” In Grade 12 he realized that hockey might not be part of his future, because at that time, he weighed 270 pounds, and was well over six feet tall.
As he began to look at the football option, he realized there were some similar aspects to the game, especially for hockey defencemen and pulling guards. “The way you put your feet in the run game is similar to skating. Obviously, moving backwards in hockey was very natural to me and in pass protection. A lot has been able to carry over to my benefit.”
Watkins left Butte to attend Baylor, and played 25 games, earning “All-Big 12 honours as a senior in 2010”. The Eagles liked what he was doing, and drafted him in the first round, 23rd overall.
In 1986, another Canadian broke into the ranks of the NFL named Mike Schad. He was also drafted in the first round, at the 23rd spot, by the Los Angeles Rams. Both players were also selected in the first round of the Canadian Football League; however, both chose to sign contracts south of the border. All things considered, Danny Watkins has 7.9 million reasons why he signed to play in Philly for four years. Schad also made good money playing in the States, and has remained in the Philadelphia area.
I spoke with Mike yesterday. He was thrilled with the progress that Watkins has made this year. “It is never easy for a rookie to step into a starting role in the NFL. Rookies rely on experienced guys to show them the ropes. In his case, he also has a rookie centre on the line with him, and a couple of other guys who have changed positions. The Eagles also have a new offensive line coach as well. They have not had a lot of time to develop the chemistry required to work together as a unit.”
Mike had difficulty talking to me on the phone as he was struggling with Colt, his three year old son. Colt wanted to put more stickers in the sticker book. The Schads also have a six year old girl, who was busy at the time selecting goodies from Christmas catalogues.
Schad returns to Canada several times a year to visit his parents in Belleville, to check on his brother in Ottawa, and to help keep the duck population under control in the County. He finished his career with the CFL team in Ottawa, then coached at Temple in Philadelphia. He now keeps busy in the finance world.
Always a keen observer of the game, he was thrilled with the McMaster win at the Vanier Cup. “I watched the game in Ottawa.” He was also impressed with the winning season of the Moira Trojans, his high school alma mater. The football field at Moira is the Mike Schad Field.
There is a tiny crack in the window of opportunity for the Eagles to make the playoffs. Likely far too many “ifs”. Another season of promise……
James Hurst-December 13, 2011
Monday, December 05, 2011
Angelo Mosca-Tell Me to my Face!
Angelo Mosca is seventy-four years old. He walks with the assistance of a cane, on well-used knees. He has seen his share of pain and suffering in his years, after decades of football and professional wrestling.
Many of us remember Angelo from his days as a fierce player in the Canadian Football League. He began his career with the Hamilton Tiger Cats in 1958, spent seasons with the Ottawa Rough Riders and the Montreal Alouettes, and finished in 1972 with the Tiger Cats.
Along with John Barrow, Mosca was a stellar defensive lineman with the Ticats. He was an all star five times. He participated in nine Grey Cup games, more than any other player. He won a Cup with The Riders in 1960, and four more with the Tiger Cats.
Angelo Mosca filled up a lot of space, standing at six feet, six inches, tipping the scales at three hundred pounds. He was agile when need be, and took few prisoners. He played mean, and often disagreed with referees when they threw flags. On one notable occasion, he stepped over the line.
It was in the Grey Cup game in 1963, when the Tiger Cats were playing the British Columbia Lions. Mosca hit running back Willie Fleming a little late, slightly out of bounds. Fleming did not return to play in that game, and the Ticats went on to win the Cup. Lions fans were incensed, as was their quarterback, Joe Kapp. That wound festered until recently, when Kapp and Mosca appeared on stage at a luncheon prior to this year’s Grey Cup game. The purpose of the meal was to raise awareness of post-concussion syndrome, something experienced by many professional athletes who have played contact sports.
Kapp and Mosca exchanged pleasantries at the luncheon. The powers-that-be thought it would be cute to show a video of Mosca’s hit on Fleming, some forty-eight years ago. One thing led to another when Mosca took a swipe at Kapp, dodged a right cross, then landed in a clump on the stage with Kapp. That has created a media frenzy throughout North America, watched millions of times on all major networks, on countless web sites. Nothing more than a couple of old foes scuffling on a stage.
Kapp has never shied away from controversy, even as a coach. But he was also a fine quarterback, and the only player in history to play in the Rose Bowl game, the Super Bowl, and the Grey Cup.
Mosca went on to the world of professional wrestling following his Hall of Fame football career. When I met him in Toronto, I asked him, slightly tongue-in-cheek, if any of the matches were “pre-arranged”. He scoffed at the notion. “I wrestled all of the greats,” he told me. “In fact, someone recently told me that I went into the ring 117 times with Andre the Giant.”
Steve Milton has covered the sporting scene for the Hamilton Spectator for many years. He sat down with Mosca for several sessions which has resulted in the book about Mosca’s life entitled, “Tell me to my Face”.
Notes from the blurb about the book include: “The intimate and inspiring story of my journey from a hard scrabble upbringing to playing in a record nine Grey Cups, becoming the most hated man in the CFL, and wrestling as the infamous “King Kong” Mosca.” His childhood was not pleasant: his father was racist and abusive, his mother was half-black, (his words), and an alcoholic. “Once I left home, I had no respect for my parents. They didn’t want me, so I didn’t want them.” Pretty tough circumstances.
The telling of his tale was certainly an epiphany for Mosca. “I never even told my best friends some of this stuff. I feel good about doing the book.” There were moments in his sessions with Milton when tears rolled down the old warrior’s cheeks. Understandably so.
The book is available at your local book store, on line, and at your library. Well worth the read.
December 5, 2011