Sunday, January 29, 2012
Pond Hockey-Part Two
On the snappy cold mornings of the Fifties and Sixties, we thought nothing of heading out with our skates and sticks on our shoulders. For most of us, it was a short walk to the court yard of the Hastings County Court House and Gaol. We did not realize it at the time, but we were most fortunate to have the perfect place in the world to play a little shinny.
The jail walls were constructed of limestone in the middle of the nineteenth century. Dozens of similar structures still stand, usually in a most regal fashion, throughout Ontario. They were usually built in a prominent area of the community, and housed all areas of justice. They had holding areas for the accused, court rooms for the trials, cells for the convicted, and gallows for the doomed.
We skated in the southern yard of the complex, surrounded by the towering walls, perhaps twenty feet high. The yard immediately north of the rink yard had been used for the four hangings which took place at the court house: Peter Edwin Davis in June, 1890, James Kane in May, 1891, Harold Vermilyea in May of 1935, and Frederick Thain, who met his Maker in 1941. Thain had been convicted of murdering the Wellmans during a botched robbery attempt. Vermilyea was led to the gallows for taking his mother’s life.
When the gallows were removed following the last hanging, they became the boards for the rink on the campus of the Belleville Collegiate Institute and Vocational School on Church Street in Belleville, across the street from the Court House.
Preparing an outdoor rink for skating purposes is a difficult proposition. It requires incredible amounts of time and patience. Above all, the weather must co-operate. Naturally, cold weather is critical, not just to maintain the surface, but to establish a firm basis for the hundreds of gallons of water required to establish and to maintain a perfect ice pad.
We were lucky to have an ideal crew to create and look after our rink. They were several unfortunate individuals incarcerated at the jail. I use the word “unfortunate” not because they were behind bars, but because of their lot in life. Most were veterans of the Second World War, and simply could not cope once they had returned from Europe. They were alcoholics, and lived from one day to the next, from one drink to the next.
They would be picked up by the local constabulary, and housed at the jail for weeks or months at a time. For many, it was a warm room and three square meals a day in the winter. They enjoyed a bit of fresh air, they took pride in their ice-making skills. All to our benefit. They constructed fine nets from two by four lumber, with gunny sacks to trap the pucks. Admittedly, we were completely spoiled.
There was one minor drawback to the conditions. I wore a red tuque to play one crispy Sunday. Occasionally, one could get bumped, unintentionally of course, against the limestone wall. I did not realize it at the time, but after that day on the ice, I retreated home, still wearing my tuque, when I noticed a slight smear on my hand after I removed it. As is the case with most small head wounds, I had bled like the proverbial stuffed pig into the tuque. It rinsed out nicely in the sink. No stitches required. And no tears.
We all owe a debt of gratitude to the jailer, Archie Winters, and to the governor of the jail, Bob Scott. Scott had several children who benefited from the rink. The neighbourhood clan, once dubbed the “Church Street Clippers” by journalist George H. Carver, was comprised of a truly motley crew: my brother David, Peter Carver, Bob Jeffrey, the Collins kids, the Denyes kids, and others from the area.
We were required to shovel the rink, on occasion. But the real maintenance took place in the evening, after we had left, or in the morning before we arrived. Our friends would be there, smiling at us from behind the bars as we laced up our skates for another great day on the perfect ice.
January 29, 2012
Friday, January 27, 2012
Slip sliding away........
I am certain that one of the most uncomfortable feelings a coach or a manager might experience would be when a lead dissipates in the latter stages of a contest.
It happens easily in basketball, where momentum can reign supreme. Last night the Orlando Magic took it to the Celtics in the first half. In the second, the Bostonians clawed their way back into the tilt, and snatched the victory from the jaws of infamy.
In the baseball world, Yogi Berra said it best: “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over!”. There is no time clock; therefore, three outs are required at the bottom of the last inning to complete a game.
They are tinkering with overtime rules in the National Football League playoffs. As was apparent in the Tebo-Denver victory, things are not quite perfect, just yet. Too sudden, not quite fair.
In hockey, once the overtime period has been exhausted, the shootout is for all the marbles. One does not leave the arena until the fat lady sings.
Last night at the Germain Arena, the Florida Everblades took the ice at the start of the third period with a lead of three to zip over the Greenville Road Warriors. The Blades were trying to dig their way out of a nasty hole at this point in the season, having lost four in a row to ECHL opponents.
Brayden Irwin opened the scoring for the Blades at 14.44 of the first period on a fine feed from Matt Marquardt. The Blades extended their lead on two second period goals. Scott Pitt split the Warrior defence and tucked the puck under goalie Jason Missiaen at 14.10. Matt Beca made no mistake converting a fine passing play with only fourteen seconds remaining in the period. That is always a great way to send the opposition to the dressing room.
The Warriors found a little magic in the proverbial bottle during the intermission. With his goalie on the bench for an extra attacker, Marc-Olivier Vallerand sealed the deal with a wicked wrist shot from the slot with less than a minute remaining in regulation to tie the game at three apiece. Vallerand stands at 5’ 11”, tips the scales at 200 pounds, and looked eerily familiar to a similar-sized # 17 who played for the Leafs, Wendel Clarke.
The Blades did pick up a point for their effort, but they could not capitalize in the overtime period, failing to get one shot on goal. The Warriors dominated the shootout, with goals from Brandon Wong and Vallerand, the game’s first star.
Pat Nagle was chosen as one of the game’s stars for his efforts in the Blades’ goal. But it was a few costly mistakes that sent the Florida team to defeat, something that Coach Poss would like to eliminate in Saturday night’s tilt.
Final Score 4-3. Not what the doctor ordered.
Thursday, January 26, 2012
Ah, the life of the Commissioner! Hockey’s head honcho, Gary Bettman, had just packed his bags and was headed for the airport. He needed to be in Ottawa, Canada’s capital, for the All Star Break.
It had been a relatively fine season, with the usual bits of nonsense here and there. The league had chosen well in placing Brendan Shanahan in charge of the administration of justice for those who go above and beyond the rules of the game.
Ratings are fine, fans are filling the rinks, even in Florida. Several teams are experiencing results which were not expected at the beginning of the season. And the big bad Bruins, having overcome the euphoria of their Cup win last year, finally got on track in November and are headed to the playoffs again.
One of the perks that goes with winning the Stanley Cup is that your team gets invited to the White House, to meet the president, to get the old “jolly good show, boys” pat on the back. He gets a sweater with his name on it. The winners get to enjoy crumpets and tea.
Which leads to Mr. Bettman’s latest migraine. One of the Bruins, goalie Tim Thomas, decided not to attend the festivities at the White House. He was not ill, everyone in his family is fine, to the best of my knowledge. He simply decided to boycott the event because he does not support the president and his policies. He is one of two Americans on the team. All the other players are hockey aliens in the United States.
In his words, “I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People. This is being done at the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial level. This is in direct opposition to the Constitution and Founding Fathers vision for the Federal government. Because I believe this, today I exercised my right as a Free Citizen, and did not visit the White House. This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an INDIVIDUAL”
All of the other Bruins’ players and management were in attendance with the session with President Barack Obama. Smiles and chuckles and cute little conversational jabs all around. The decision that Thomas made certainly did not sit well with team management.
Cam Neely, now Bruins’ team president and a recent inductee into the Hockey Hall of Fame, was clearly miffed. “He chose not to join us. All the guys came except for Tim. It’s his decision and his choice.”
Bruins’ General manager Peter Chiarelli said that he could have suspended Thomas for his actions. “But I’m not going to suspend Tim. Whatever his position is isn’t representative of the Boston Bruins or my own. But I’m not going to suspend him.” Do you think, perchance, it may have crossed Chiarelli’s mind?
Thomas has been quite clear in his political leanings. His position, or at least their interpretation of his position, has been lauded by the right-wing pundits. A website founded by conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart entitled Big Government, celebrated Thomas as a “true Tea Party patriot”.
Another blogger on the Yahoo! Sports site, supported Thomas’s decision. “Good on Thomas,” writes Greg Wyshynski, who calls himself “Puck Daddy”. “Good on Thomas to make a political statement of his own.”
To add a little more fuel to the fire, Washington’s Alex Ovechkin has decide to forego the event, in a huff because he has been suspended for three games for an illegal hit. Wrong choice. He could pull a Jagr and take all of his marbles back to play in Russia some day. He would be missed, not much, and not for long.
I am certain that most of the All Stars will get a chance to meet Canadian Prime Minister Harper while in the coldest capital in North America, once he returns from Switzerland. Likely not Tim Thomas.
His loss, from start to finish. Tarnishing a spectacular season of triumph.
Enjoy the week, Mr. Bettman.
P. K. Subban paid the price for taking a foolish penalty in the Habs 7-2 shellacking of the Red Wings last night. He sat the second period. His teammate, Erik Cole, referred to Subban in a post-game interview as “selfish”. Not a happy camp right now in Montreal.
Monday, January 23, 2012
Shawn and Shawzeee!
Last Friday night, Andrew Shaw chased a puck into the Florida Panthers’ zone in the last minute of play in the third period. Panthers’ goalie Jose Theodore was on the bench in favour of an extra attacker. Shaw got to the puck but fired wide of the open net.
He has been on target much of the time since he was called up from the Black Hawks’ American League affiliate in Rockford. In fact, he had scored in each of the previous four games.
He has become the talk of the town. For those of us who have seen him progress through the minor sports systems in Belleville, none of this comes as a surprise. Always rambunctious, Andrew brings a special quality to the game, and it has ignited the fans in Chicago. He plays a feisty game. It took all of three minutes for him to drop his gloves in his first NHL game in Philadelphia, much to the delight of the busload of fans who made the trip from Belleville to the game.
But he has continued to play well, earning the praise of broadcasters and hockey pundits everywhere.
One way to ascertain his position with the Hawks is to look at the number of minutes he has played in each game since he was called up from the minors. In his first game in Philadelphia, on the fifth of January, he played a little more than twelve minutes. Since that game, Coach Quenneville has increased his ice time significantly. He has also seen duty short-handed, and on the power play. Almost unheard of for a rookie, let alone a mid-season call up.
On the other hand, former Belleville Bull Shawn Matthias has gradually worked his way up the ladder to his current position with the Florida Panthers. He has eight goals and nine assists for seventeen points, the most in his career in the NHL. There is still another game before the All Star Break.
Matthias has also seen his ice time increase this season. In October, he averaged about ten minutes per game. That has increased significantly under new head coach Kevin Dineen. Matthias sees action on the power play, as well as in short-handed situations. He parks his large frame in front of the opponent’s net on power plays, a la Phil Esposito.
For a rangy athlete, Matthias has surprising speed. When the opportunity arises, he will be there. In a recent game in Fort Lauderdale, he was penalized on a very questionable call while killing a penalty. He was hooked, and hauled to the ice. In the process, he attempted to clear the zone. The puck flipped over the glass, and Matthias had to serve a delay-of-game penalty. Not much justice there.
When the penalty had expired, he broke toward the opposition net. A nifty pass from Kopecky sent Matthias in alone, and he made no mistake, beating Rask in the Bruins’ net.
After the game, Matthias indicated his frustration with the loss. “We played hard from the start.” Boston had opened the scoring, and had held the Panthers in check for most of the first period. Near the end of the period, the Panthers Ed Jovanovski and the Bruins Daniel Paille dropped their gloves for a scrap. “Jovo stepped up and really got us going at that point in the game. We needed that.”
He also commented on the fact that they were playing the Stanley Cup Champions. “They’ve been killing teams this year. There was an intense atmosphere in the building. You could really feel it on the bench.”
Now in his fifth year with the Panthers, Matthias has stepped up to the plate off the ice. Last year, when I caught up with him here in the South, he was recovering from a broken ankle. But he did take the time to have his head shaved, raising almost $ 100 000 with his teammates for cancer. This year, he joined his teammates and grew a moustache for the “Movember” cancer awareness campaign. His effort was described as “greasy” by teammate Mike Weaver.
A couple of boys with Belleville roots, just playing the game.
January 23, 2012
Sunday, January 15, 2012
Answering the Bell
When duty called last Saturday night at the Germain Arena in Fort Myers, Florida, Ryan Donald answered the bell. The native of St. Albert, Alberta circled in his own end of the rink in anticipation of the referee’s whistle to participate in the shootout.
Donald buried his chance. Not a soul had left the arena, as Donald was the fifteenth shooter on the Everblades roster attempting to get one by the Chicago Express goaltender Peter Mannino.
“It was my first shootout goal, ever,” he told me after the game, sporting the traditional hard hat in the dressing room. The Calgary Flames established the hard hat tradition, as each star is required to don the ridiculous-looking hat while being interviewed by the CBC after the game. When I asked Ryan if I could take his picture wearing the hat, he smiled proudly and added, “Most certainly!”
It was Donald’s fourth goal of the season, although shootout goals do not count in one’s season totals. The rugged defenceman has also added eight assists, and was a plus eight going into the game. He leads the team in penalty minutes.
Donald’s hockey statistics are listed in the incredible web site entitled “Hockeydb.com”. You should make that one of your favourites. RIGHT NOW! Ryan Donald got his start in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, then played for the Camrose Kodiacs in 2005-2006. He then spent four years at Yale University before beginning his professional career.
He did in get three games in 2010 with the Springfield Indians after his last season at Yale, then split the next year between the Providence Bruins of the AHL, and the Reading Royals in the ECHL. This is his first season with the Everblades.
A quick look at the ECHL record book shows that Donald’s goal will not make the grade on the list of prolonged hockey games. On October 16, 1992, Brett Burnett scored for Birmingham on the forty-second shot to beat Hampton Roads. Each player on both teams would have had at least two shots, some three.
“The only shootout I was ever involved in that lasted longer than this was in Nuremburg, Germany,” Everblades’ Coach Poss told me after the game. Both he and assistant coach Brad Tapper experienced that marathon. It went to seventeen shooters.
“Naturally, this is a big win for us,” Coach Poss added. His team had picked up its third straight win over the Express, and had moved into first place.
Due to financial restraints, when teams come to Florida on a road trip, they often play three straight games against the Blades. Naturally, this can lead to a certain amount of animosity. There were a few “fisticuffs” in the second game last Friday night, but no fighting majors in the last game.
Tyler Donati was the second star of the game. The leading scorer for the Express added a goal and an assist to his totals. He has continued to put up fine numbers, following his stellar career with the Belleville Bulls. “This is really tough,” he told me after the loss. “Just awful. We took quite a few bad penalties, and it cost us.”
We discussed the fact that this league uses two linesmen, but one referee. “I hadn’t thought about that, “ Donati added. “We had two refs in the OHL, too. There should be another ref.” There was a nasty incident in the third period, which might have been avoided with a two referee system.
Ryan Donald took a moment at the end of the game to bask in the joy of victory. “We’ve had trouble closing out at home, so this is a big win for us. It is huge for us to take three out of three against them.”
He was wearing the blue hat proudly when I left the dressing room.
January 15, 2012
Monday, January 09, 2012
Pond Hockey-Part One
For those of us who have grown up in northern climes, we can be excused if our eyes mist a little when we think about pond hockey. South of the border, the fifth annual Winter Classic hockey game has just taken place in Philadelphia. The Rangers snuck by the Flyers, with Henrik Lundqvist thwarting a last desperate penalty shot attempt by Daniel Briere of the Flyers.
They carted away the Zamboni from Citizens Bank Park, leaving the field in the hands of the grounds crew to prepare it for Phillies baseball in April.
The National Hockey League is tickled with the results. Television ratings were the highest for any NHL game thus far this season. The place was sold to the rafters for the game, and also for the special veterans’ tilt the day before, when Mark Messier got another chance to intimidate the opposition. Fans carted home bags of souvenirs.
Bean counters estimate that the game is worth more than twenty-five million dollars to the host city. Consequently, the league has booked the game with the television networks until 2021.
Steve Rushin writes for Sports Illustrated on the internet. (si.com). He wrote about the game, but took exception with the concept. His idea of a “winter classic’ is the game played on a pond, under the lights of a ’72 Dodge Dart. Only one puck, and that requires a stoppage in play while players thrash away at the snowbanks with their sticks to locate the black beauty. No Zambonis, just shovels. Rubber boots for goal posts. No “raisers” and definitely no slapshots!
One of the first outdoor games involving NHL teams took place near Detroit. The Wings played an exhibition game against the inmates at the Marquette Branch Prison. Gordie Howe and company led the cons 18-0 at the end of the first period. They put away their pencils at that point.
The Florida Panthers recently took the opportunity to play a little hockey on an outdoor facility in central park in New York. A few years ago, Marc Crawford, the coach of the Vancouver Canucks, arranged for the team to play a little pickup hockey on the harbor in Belleville, Ontario. They were, however, at the mercy of the elements. It snowed so hard that it was difficult to see the puck, even between your own skates!
In his recently released compilation of hockey columns entitled “Wayne Gretzky’s Ghost”, Roy MacGregor shares several looks at outdoor hockey. It might have been in the Gretzky back yard, in Brantford, where all of Walter’s children learned the game. It could have been on the Bay of Quinte, where the Hulls first took up the game. It may have been the ice beside the barn in Viking, Alberta, where six Sutter brothers learned enough about the game to earn a ticket to play in the National Hockey League. Gordie Howe took his first skate in Floral, Saskatchewan, on a pond, outdoors.
There are thousands of locations in the Northern Hemisphere that were ideal for outdoor hockey. Certainly, the rivers and ponds and lakes in Northern Europe have produced some fine stick handlers over the years. I once chatted with Borje Salming about his pre NHL days in Sweden. He acknowledged the value of the outdoor facility. Ditto I am sure for Finland, and Russia. And the harbors in Wellington and Picton as well.
Bobby Orr recognized the importance of the outdoor surface in a written foreword to a collection of essays about the game: the backyard rink is, in his opinion, “the heart and soul of hockey”.
There will be scenes of another famous outdoor skating facility as we approach the NHL All Star game in Ottawa. The Rideau Canal was once described as the “longest skating rink in the world”. It has been there for almost two hundred years, and has seen its share of shinny.
I am sure that Lord Stanley himself witnessed a game or two on the canal. There are a few Senator fans who would like to see his silverware on display, for a year or so, in their fair city. Likely not in the cards for a year or two.
January 8, 2012
Monday, January 02, 2012
Happy New Year-2012!
From 2005 to 2008, a couple of Toronto kids skated around the ice in North Belleville at the Sports Centre to celebrate New Year’s Day. The Bulls have traditionally used the afternoon to celebrate the arrival of the New Year.
Shawn Matthias and P. K. Subban were teammates on those very successful Bulls’ squads. Nowadays, the tables have turned slightly, and they have become arch rivals.
PK began his NHL career with the Montreal Canadiens, played at a couple of games with the parent squad, and spent the rest of the 2009-2010 season with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League.
Matthias got to skate with the Florida Panthers when he was called up during the 2007-2008 season. He completed his junior career with the Bulls that season. The following year was divided between the Panthers and the Rochester Americans of the AHL.
Both former Bulls have played 38 games this season. Subban has three goals and thirteen assists for sixteen points, whereas Matthias has seven goals and eight assists. Naturally their positions help dictate the point output, with Subban on defense, less is expected. On the other hand, Subban logs far more ice time than does Matthias.
Both the Habs and the Panthers limped into their New Year’s Eve tilt rather desperate. The Habs had the additional challenge of trying to adjust to a coaching change. Randy Cunneyworth was recently invited to stand behind the Canadiens bench, at least on a short-term basis. There is no question that he has a fine hockey mind. The doubters simply point out one glaring void in Cunneyworth’s resume: he does not communicate well in French.
That has reared its ugly head on many occasions in the sporting world in Quebec, but with greatest importance with the Habs. I do not believe it is an insurmountable situation. But it is one that garners a lot of press and conversation in the province. No matter that more players come from European nations than French-speaking areas. It is deemed to be a critical skill that the coach be able to communicate with the fans and the press in French, and at this time, that whole scenario is a distraction to the team.
No matter. When the puck was dropped at centre ice, it was “Game On”. Close to twenty thousand fans were buckled into their seats, ready for take-off. The Habs struck first on a wicked shot from the wing by Travis Moen, a cannonating drive, reminiscent of a young Lafleur or a young Cournoyea. The fans in the red, white, and blue sweaters outnumbered the Panther fans at the Bank Atlantic Centre, and they staked their presence throughout the evening with their “Go Habs Go”.
Tomas Fleischmann tallied for the Panthers in the second period to knot the game at a goal apiece, heading into the third period. Then, early in the third period, Matthias stole the puck from Lars Eller, wheeled into the Canadiens zone, and fired a shot at Carey Price. It did not have a lot of mustard on it, nor was Price screened. It simply eluded him, and found the back of the net.
Fleischmann netted an empty net goal for the Panthers which should have sealed the win; however, the Habs stormed down the ice with less than a minute remaining and narrowed the margin to 3-2. They also flew into the Florida zone with an extra attacker in the dying seconds of the game, to no avail. Close, but no cigar.
In the area designated for family and friends in the bowels of the arena, Subban was surrounded with well-wishers. Other players quietly signed a few autographs for their fans. Subban was reminded to get on the bus several times, with the threat of a fine. Slightly reminiscent of the days in Toronto when Bobby Hull held up the team to take care of the faithful. Times have changed in that regard.
Matthias was sitting quietly at his stall when I caught up to him. During our conversation, General manager Dale Tallon came by and gave him a “fist bump”. No words, but a look that said “Great job”. Matthias had been selected as the second star of the game. I asked Shawn about the effect the goal had on his game. “It is really exciting to score, especially in a close game.” I noted that he seemed to pick up the pace at that point in time. “No question about it. There’s a little more jump in your step, you hit a little harder.” He asked me to convey best wishes to all of his friends in the Quinte areas did Subban.
The game ended at 10:30pm. The temperature outside was twenty degrees Celsius. Enough said.
January 2, 2012