Sunday, March 31, 2013


Matthias Leads the Prowling Cats

                                                                   Shawn Matthias

Bill Lindsay works as a colour commentator for the Florida Panthers. His partner is Steve Goldstein, and they complement each other quite nicely. Lindsay takes a fair amount of good-natured ribbing from Goldstein, and laughs it off easily. Lindsay played for the Panthers in the team’s inaugural seasons, and has been around the NHL many years. He knows the game well, and is able to communicate his knowledge to his audience.

                                                                      Bill Lindsay

He makes no bones about the fact that Shawn Matthias is having a banner season. Following last night’s overtime victory over the New Jersey Devils, Lindsay summed it up perfectly; “Shawn Matthias can’t wait to get to the rink and lace up his skates”. Game in and game out, the puck continues to follow Matthias, and he has learned what to do with it.

He scored both of the Panthers’ goals in regulation time last night giving him 14 for the year, the last in the dying seconds, after Florida had lifted their goalie for an extra attacker. Lindsay noted in his post-game remarks that Matthias is now being used on the power play, killing penalties, participating in shoot-outs, and playing on a regular shift with Jonathan Huberdeau and Peter Mueller.

Following the recent victory over the Sabres, Matthias expressed his satifaction: “This was a great team win.” When I asked him about the opportunity to notch his first hat trick in the NHL, he commented, “It would have been nice to get a third goal, but Miller had my number in the overtime.”

Huberdeau is on the short list to win the Calder Trophy. He credits his linemates with much of his recent success. He leads the league in several categories, and logs more ice time than all other rookies. His 12 goals in his first 25 games in the league place him in good company. Four other active players have accomplished a similar feat: Ovechkin, Crosby, Malkin, and Teemu Selanne. Not too shabby, at all.

Mueller has come into the spotlight recently, because of the way he works with the other two forwards. They are all superb skaters, and regroup quickly in their own zone. They storm the opposition zone, quite often in a 3 on 2 situation, to their advantage. For Panther fans, a breath of fresh air as the season winds down.

They are all big guys: all over six feet and close to 200 pounds. Matthias has become difficult to move from the front of the net, and has added to his point totals by filling the space. For the past couple of weeks, the trio has supplied much of the offense for the Panthers.

It has been a difficult year for the Cats. They had an excellent playoff last season, the first in several years. The lockout seemed to have affected the momentum the team had generated at the end of the season past. But the biggest factor affecting the team this year has been the number of injuries. The Panthers have amassed the largest number of games lost due to injury of all of the teams in the NHL.

The coaching staff has had to make readjustments throughout the year, offensively and on defense, because of the trips to the sick bay. Ed Jovanovski has missed most of this season, and is currently on the shelf with a “lower body” injury. Mike Weaver, another fine blue-liner, has missed the past 16 games. The Cats also dearly miss the services of forwards Kris Versteeg and Stephen Weiss, now gone for the season. There are several other players who have spent time watching the games, due to injury. It was an expectation, I believe, due to the shortened season, and the lack of preparation in training camp.

The Panthers were also counting on veteran Alex Kovalev to provide leadership, especially to the rookies. That experiment failed dismally, as Kovalev recently decided to hang up the blades, after determining he could no longer cut the mustard in the league.  

Rob Ray supplies the colour for the Sabres. He had high praise for Matthias when we spoke during an intermission. "He's really stepped up his game. Good to see."

                                                                Stirling's Rob Ray

There are a dozen games remaining for the Panthers. With such a young team, and the potential for good draft picks, there is a bright future for the team.


Friday, March 29, 2013


Florida Gulf Coast University Basketball 2013

                                                           At the Campus-FGCU

For the past two weeks, the world has awakened to the fact that there is a university on Florida’s South West Gulf Coast. There are some Canadians who can be a bit snobbish about their university roots, sometimes referring to Guelph University as “Moo U”, as an example. (For many years, Guelph was an agricultural college. My brother Dick played football there as an OAC “Aggie”.)

Florida Gulf Coast University suffered the same fate here in Florida. Nestled in the hinterland between Estero and Fort Myers off the Ben C Griffin Parkway, the university has been dubbed the “Florida Golf Cart University” by students at the other institutions of finer learning in the state. But no more. The Eagles have definitely landed, and are enjoying their day in the sunshine.

The men’s basketball team has put the university on the map, and the entire area is feeling the love. If you want to buy a FGCU hat or a T shirt at this time, you will have to wait in line for more than an hour. No sooner do the items hit the shelves than they are swept into plastic bags and are out the door. Staff at the stores indicate that sales are six times what they were a year ago.

                                     Catching a few rays, prior to the game against Florida

For those of us who spend our winters here as “snow birds”, all of this comes as a bit of a surprise. Certainly the areas near the beaches come alive during the spring break, and the local constabulary beefs up its numbers for the usual revelry. For the most part, this is a sleepy area, especially compared to the rock and roll Miami-South Beach area on the East Coast of Florida.

Three weeks ago, the team began gearing up for a chance to gain a berth in the NCAA finals. Never before had they earned that opportunity. Last year, they lost to the Belmont Bruins in the final. The Bruins claimed the automatic A-Sun berth into the NCAA tournament. Two of the Eagles were on the floor when the Bruins celebrated their victory, in spiffy new bow ties. Sherwood Brown and Brett Comer were waiting to receive all-tournament honours. They were miffed at the ceremony, and used it as motivation this year.

Coach Andy Enfield has been at the helm for two seasons. He began his work at the University in 2011, and once the team had gained a berth in the 2012 March Madness, the media circus began. Enfield has always made it perfectly clear that he is not in this business for the money. He did receive a $ 5 000 bonus for making it into the tournament. He has also earned an extra ten grand by reaching the round of Sweet Sixteen.

Enfield’s first work in the NBA was with the Milwaukee Bucks from1994 to 1996. He worked as an assistant for Joe Pitino and the Boston Celtics from 1998 to 2000. He left basketball to work in the healthcare field. In 2006, he got back into coaching at Florida State. It is estimated that he will receive between two and three hundred thousand dollars for his work this year. Most pundits agree that he could sign for ten times that amount, once the season ends.

Here is the twist, according to Enfield, as reported in the Fort Myers News-Press: “I didn’t get into coaching for the money. If I wanted to be retired already, I would have gone to Wall Street, and stayed there. I got into coaching because it’s what I love to do. I know I’m underpaid here. I took a pay cut to come here. Assistant coaches at power conferences make more money than I do as a head coach. I took this job as an opportunity”.

Another factor that has endeared the nation to the Cinderella Eagles is that Coach Enfield is married to a former fashion model, Amanda Marcum. She enjoys all sports just as much as he does, and attends most of the games, vainly trying to keep the brood in line. 

Andy Enfield likes to get up in the morning, in the winter, and head to the gym in 75 degree weather. There is no need to keep an ice scraper in the glove compartment. His children and his wife love it in South West Florida. He enjoys the players on the team. It may not be a dream job, but it suits him well, for the moment. 

Go Eagles!  

James Hurst

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Jackie Bradley, Junior

I usually pick up a copy of Lindy’s Baseball before every season. I checked this year’s edition before heading out to the Red Sox game against the Baltimore Orioles at Jet Blue Stadium in Fort Myers. There is one Red Sox player who has caused a great deal of commotion in the offices of the decision makers here and in Beantown---Jackie Bradley Junior.

                                                   Pre Game-At The Batting Cage 

Red Sox fans have taken notice, as did J. Lindy Davis, Junior, in his guide. Davis listed Bradley as a “Top Organizational Prospect” who would be “Coming Soon” to the big Leagues. That usually means in a year or two.

Bradley came to camp with no Major League experience.  After attending the University of South Carolina, he played most of the season last year in Class A at Salem, Virginia.  He impressed many of the Red Sox fans in the Boston area, including Art Mercier. “We knew he was destined for the Majors. It was just a matter of time,” Mercier told me after Bradley went two for four yet again for the Red Sox. But that raises concerns for the team, according to Mercier. “If he is taken to Fenway with the team, that will affect his position in terms of free agency, and in trade talks”. The Red Sox will do whatever is necessary to protect Bradley Junior, at all costs.

                                                            Ken Rosenthal-Baseball Guy

The FOX Network baseball guy is, in my opinion, about as sharp as they come when it comes to baseball analysis. Ken Rosenthal knows his stuff, but remains objective about his views. Recently, he commented on Bradley junior’s status; “If the Sox keep him, they will need to demote him for only 20 days over the next six years to delay his free agency until after the 2019 season…Frankly, all teams would welcome such a problem.”

Following the 2011 season, he was ranked by Baseball America as Boston’s # 3 outfield prospect, and # 10 prospect overall. He was also ranked as the best defensive outfielder in the system. After the 2012 season, he was recognized by the Boston Baseball writers as the “”Red Sox Minor League Player of the Year”. He was signed by Quincy Boyd, the Northeast crosschecker in the Red Sox system.

                                                                 Bradley, Junior

In a week, this year’s season begins. After 18 games in the Grapefruit League, Bradley Jr. is batting second among all players with a .436 batting average. His on base percentage is .551. He has smacked two doubles and a two home runs thus far, and has stolen a few bases.

Designated hitter David “Big Papi” Ortiz has been sidelined with a strained Achilles tendon, and shortstop Stephen Drew is out with post-concussion difficulties. As a result, there may be roster positions for Manager John Farrell to fill before the first of April.

When asked about that possibility, Farrell was flummoxed. “That’s a helluva question. We’ve got two weeks to determine that. He’s not on the roster right now. You can’t deny the fact that he’s having a hell of a spring training. But when a player comes to the Big Leagues, you want to make sure they are getting regular at bats. That’s another part of the equation,” he told the local press.

Bradley Jr.’s read on the situation? “I’m excited, no matter what happens to go down. I’m still going to get my work in. I eventually want to get to the Big Leagues like everyone else.”

Bradley’s father played more basketball than baseball. He said that he wanted to be the next “Dr. J” when he played the Fayetteville North Carolina College in the 1980s. He currently drives a bus in Richmond, Virginia. He was able to attend many of his son’s games last year in Salem.

Jackie Bradley Jr. makes a point to have the name “BRADLEY JR.” on the back of his uniform. “My Dad always told me, “You’d better put the ‘Junior’ in there because, if you ever get in trouble, I’m not going to jail for you.”

The proof will be in the pudding in less than a week. Keep an eye on your score sheet.

James Hurst

Monday, March 18, 2013


Northern Migration-2013

Northern Migration
In less than three weeks, the “Boys of Summer” will be heading to their baseball homes to begin the 2013 season. As is always the case, all teams are expected to contend for the World Series. That is as it should be. There should always be promise in the season to come, whether it be rookies that look like they can win twenty games, or veterans who can knock the cover off the ball.

The Toronto Blue Jays baseball club has done its fair share of tinkering in the off season. They have brought in a heap of talent, and are listed as a serious contender this season by the experts in Vegas. The starting rotation will look something like this: 1. R. A. Dickey, 2. Brendan Morrow, 3. Mark Buehrle, 4. Josh Johnson, and 5. Rickey Romero.

The Jays play out of Dunedin, Florida, in the spring. They travel throughout the state to get ready. The spring season is dubbed the “Grapefruit League”, and statistics are recorded for the efforts of the teams, and the individual players.

I caution you not to put much faith in those statistics. I remember seasons when the Jays were front-runners in the spring, only to collapse against the mighty opponents in the Eastern Division. At present, the Jays sit near the lower end of the pack, playing .400 baseball. There are many factors to consider regarding these results.

The rosters of all major league teams are temporarily disrupted this year because of the World Baseball Classic. Players represent their respective countries in an Olympic-style event, concluding shortly. Both the Canadian and American teams have been eliminated from the tournament. The Canadian team went down fighting, literally. The entire bench stormed the field against the Mexicans, in a good old fashioned rhubarb.

There are also many players recuperating from off-season surgery, and others working through the aches and pains of playing the game. (I have never been hit in the backside with a baseball thrown 100 miles per hour. I can imagine the pain.)

The Tampa Bay Rays play out of Port Charlotte, north of Fort Myers. I saw them play the Philadelphia Phillies last week, in brilliant sunshine. The Boston Red Sox and the Minnesota Twins use Fort Myers as a home base. All teams have wonderful, compact stadia which hold ten to twenty thousand fans. The contests are, for the most part, relaxed and without great expectation. Management wants to see what the players have to offer. There are a few jobs on the line.

                                                                      Tommy Hottovy

Tommy Hottovy hails from Missouri. He attended high school in Riverside, then proceeded to Wichita State University in Kansas. He was drafted by the Red Sox in 2004, and has had a taste of Major League experience. He appeared in 17 games with Kansas City and Boston the past two seasons. He is currently in the camp of the Toronto Blue Jays.

His career was put on hold in 2008, when he underwent “Tommy John” surgery. Since then, he has redefined his style, and now hurls sidearm.

I spoke with Tommy in Fort Myers, as he toured the Edison and Ford Winter Estates on McGregor Boulevard. “I expect to be with Buffalo to begin the season,” he told me. (To keep out of trouble here, I work as a volunteer at the Estates.) Hottovy was accompanied by a couple of relatives wearing flashy new Jays’ caps. I asked about their choice of teams here in Fort Myers, where Red Sox and Twins rule. Thus I discovered his presence.

Hottovy will be 32 this coming July. He has paid his dues, and would dearly love to move back into the Blue Jay ranks, as the season progresses. He was most affable as we chatted briefly. I cautioned him about the use of his pitching arm as he was carrying  his young baby in his right arm. He sloughed off my concern. “No problem,” he answered. “I’m a lefty!”

This week I have tickets for the Red Sox and the Orioles, and the Twins and the Yankees. Nothing like a ball park frank in March!  

James Hurst

Monday, March 11, 2013


Habs in Florida-Home for Southern Fans

                                                                       P. K. Subban

Just in case you didn’t know, P. K. Subban is always in a hurry. Not a lot of dust settles on the man. And as we have seen in the past little while, he is keeping busy on the ice with the Montreal Canadiens.

The former Belleville Bull arrived a little late for the season. He is neither the first player to arrive late, nor will he be the last. It is simply, perhaps unfortunately, part of the negotiating process. Then began all of the rumours of disention among the ranks with his teammates. There was also a bit of furor about his relationship with the coaching staff.

As I expected, he signed the papers to play this season, took the ice and began to do his job. And now, half way through the season, with his team in first place, there are plenty of smiles in Montreal. There will always be an enigmatic side to P. K. Subban. But when the puck reaches his stick, on the blue line, in a power play opportunity, all critics are silenced. Many of us can hear Danny Gallivan categorizing the shot as a “cannonating drive”.

His slap shot is one of the hardest in the league, and results in additional scoring when it is stopped. On Sunday night, he recorded two assists from the point. Both came from well placed wrist shots which were tipped into the net. A Habs official note, “Nice to see his wrist shot used. He almost had a third assist that way”.

For his part, Subban was thrilled with the win. The Canadiens are heading home after a successful stint in Florida. In fact, they have won 8 of eleven games on the road this year. Check that out with Doug Van Vlack if you don’t believe me! On his way to a “team dinner” Subban told me that “It felt really good to get those two points. I’m happy to see the guys come through. We showed great character on this road trip”. The three assists in the game give him 18 points in the 20 games he has played this year.

As he proceeded away from me, down the hall, I chirped at him about scoring on his brother as a future Bruin. “I look forward to it,” he laughed as he flew by.

                                                              Malcolm Subban

                                                                  Shawn Matthias

Shawn Matthias continued his strong play for the Panthers, although he does not suffer losing lightly. He was visibly upset when the microphones were poked in front of his nose in the locker room. “I’ve been through this before. It’s not fun. We are all sick of losing. It’s very frustrating. We knew that they had been on the road for several games, and that they were ripe for the picking. But we just could not take advantage of that.”

The Habs got on the board quickly, and added two more goals in the second period to take a commanding lead. Eight minutes into the third period, Francis Bouillon ripped a loose puck into his own net to put the Panthers on the board. Matthias added another on a fine wrist shot from his wing. Alas. Too little. Too late. The Habs added another on a power play to seal the deal.

                                                         Hab Fans in fort Lauderdale

Matthias  knew that the arena was full of Habs fans, as is always the case in South East Florida. They gather along the Atlantic coast, and anxiously await their opportunities to cheer for their beloved “Bleu, blanc et rouge”. “It’s always better for us if we score early. In this game, we didn’t do anything to silence the Habs fans,” Matthias noted.

Matthias netted his seventh goal of the season, and continued a streak of four games with at least a point a game. He averages almost fifteen minutes of ice per game, killing penalties, causing havoc in the crease on power plays, getting the job done.

With the season more than half gone, the Panthers need a strong push to get into the playoffs, to avoid an early summer.

James Hurst
March 1, 2013  

Friday, March 01, 2013


Longevity and Its Merits

                                                 James Hurst and Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke

There is a lot to be said for longevity, especially in the sports world. Experience is a valuable asset.

In conversation the other night with former Wellington Duke Matt Cooke, he suggested that I check on the number of games he has played in the NHL, and compare it with the number played by another Stirling native, Robert Ray. Cookie thought that he needed one more game to surpass Robbie’s total.

                                                                      Rob Ray

This is what I gleaned from the ultimate hockey data site, “”. During the regular season, Ray played 900 games. He also played 55 playoff games. Matt Cooke has played 907 regular season games, and 82 playoff games. There is no doubt in my mind that Cookie is now “King of the Hill” in the village north of the Bay of Quinte. Mind you, Robbie amassed more than three times the number of penalty minutes! Neither of them has ever qualified for the Lady Byng Award.
                                                                   Matt Cooke (Getty Photo) 

The Penguins had fallen to the Florida Panthers in a game that always means something in this shortened season. Tomas Kopecny had jumped on a loose puck, and fired a strike to seal the deal into the empty net. It was his first career hat trick, and the Panthers were relieved with the result.

The Panthers, last year’s South East Conference Champions have struggled this season, primarily due to shaky goaltending and a weak power play. They scored their first four goals on the PP, chasing the Penguins’ Vokoun from the net. Enter Marc-Andre Fleury. However, Jose Theodore was equally inept in the Panthers net, and was replaced at the start of the third period by Scott Clemmensen.

I spoke briefly with former Belleville Bull Shawn Matthias in the Panthers’ dressing room after the game. Because of his strong play, the Penguins failed to amount a sufficient attack to win. Panthers led 4-1 at one point, but the Pens stormed back to tie the game. Strong defensive play, and steady work by Clemmensen kept the Penguins from stealing the victory. “We felt strong before the game,. We really had nothing to lose, so we went for it. We just went out and had fun. It’s not ideal. But it is what it is.”

                                                                   Shawn Matthias

He then added, “Go on over and hear what Kopecny has to say,” Matthias told me. I mentioned his strong play, swooping in and out of the Penguins zone to break up attacks. He shrugged and said that he works all summer on his skating. It has certainly made a difference in his game.

Naturally, Cooke was subdued after the loss, but took the time to chat. He looks forward to spending time on “The Bay” this summer. But he is also going to be heavily involved with his son’s baseball activities in Pittsburgh. “He plays for a team that travels to other states. He is not yet ten years old, but pitchers are already throwing in the mid sixties. He is a catcher, and one of his training drills is to receive pitchers, and blocking them, without a glove! He loves it!”

Penguins missed the work of Evgeni Malkin, who is on the injured list with a concussion. He was injured in a previous game against the Panthers by Eric Gudbranson, and fell heavily into the end zone boards. Some hockey observers expected repercussions would take place during the game. Such was not the case. The injury was quite accidental, to my eyes.

The Penguins spent a couple of days in Florida, then headed off to Montreal. Panthers entertained the Sabres last Thursday, and lost in the shootout.

For both teams, that pretty well wraps up half the season.

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