Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Game Seven Outcomes-Always a Mystery!


The Belleville Bulls have been playing a little shinny in the Ontario Hockey League for more than 30 years. On his Monday morning sports news broadcast, Jack Miller noted that the team had been on the brink more than half a dozen times.


Throughout the winter, many hockey fans listen to the games on the radio, they watch the games on local cable networks, or they click on the appropriate keys to get the games via computer, world-wide. A local furniture company sponsors the web site, and those of us lingering in parts far and wide can catch all of the action.


Many of us have followed the exploits of the Dukes and the Bulls on our laptops. It certainly does not beat live action at the arena. It does require a certain amount of attention, and some imagination. Hearken back to the days of Foster Hewitt and Hockey Night in Canada on the radio, or those special moments when Jack Devine reported on the progress of the Belleville McFarlands from Prague.


Miller mentioned the 1999 edition of the Belleville Bulls, and their journey to the Memorial Cup. The playoff run began with a four game sweep of the Sudbury Wolves, outscoring the Wolves 31-12 in the process. The second round opponent was the Ottawa 67’s. The Ottawa team had little to lose, as they had an automatic berth in the Memorial Cup final as the host city.


The Bulls and the 67’s split the season series, with six wins and a pair of ties each. The 67’s were led by a young defenceman named Brian Campbell, now a perennial star in the NHL with the Florida Panthers. The Ottawa squad won the first game in double overtime, and from that point on, the Bulls took control. Justin Papineau was the first star in Game 2, and Mike Renzi netted the game winner in the third game.


Coach Lou Crawford decided to bench goalie Cory Campbell for an extra attacker in Game 4. Kevin Baker scored in the dying seconds to tie the game. Glenn Crawford scored in overtime to give the Bulls a 3-1 lead in the series. Captain Ryan Ready fired a tying goal in regulation time, and a winner in overtime to win the series. This gave the 67’s an incredible five week vacation until they had to take the ice again as they hosted the Memorial Cup.


The Bulls had to earn their way to the Cup final. They then faced the Oshawa Generals, who had come from behind to knock off the Barrie Colts. The Bulls won the series in five games to advance to the OHL final, their second in team history. The Bulls had lost to Guelph in 1986, when defenceman Steve Chiasson scored in overtime to win the series.


The London Knights provided the opposition for the Bulls in the final. Coach Crawford is quoted in Aaron Bell’s wonderful book about 25 years with the Bulls: “Our players are ready to do the job. We’re a workhorse hockey club and that will be our approach”. The Bulls were led by Justin Papineau who won the award as the most valuable player of the OHL playoffs. But it was Jon Cheechoo who provided most of the magic in the seventh and deciding game. He scored five times in the game, leading the Bulls to a 9-2 victory, and a berth in the Canadian Championship.

                                                                    Jon Cheechoo
On Monday night, the 2012-2013 edition of the Bulls faced off against the Barrie Colts with former NHL star Dale Hawerchuk behind the bench. It was also a Game Seven, “winner take all” event. To the delight of a couple of local families---the Yuills and the Halls---the Colts defeated the Bulls to advance to the final.


All the seats were taken at the Quinte Sports Centre, and there were not many places to stand and watch the game. That was good to see. There are several outstanding players returning to the Bulls next year, with great promise for another fine season.



James Hurst


Sunday, April 21, 2013




Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia, in 1919, and attended high school and university in California. An outstanding athlete, he chose baseball over the other sports, and played for the Kansas City Monarchs for several years in the Negro League.

Branch Rickey worked for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and he loved winning. He wanted the best players on his team, and decided that Jackie Robinson could help his team win championships. He contacted Jackie, and signed him as a free agent in 1945. His ultimate goal was to have Jackie play in the National League for the Dodgers.

The major stumbling block to his plan was that Jackie Robinson was black, and no black person had ever played in the major leagues. History has shown that there were many black players who could have played, had there not been a colour barrier.

The story about Robinson’s struggle to break the barrier, and his triumph is wonderfully portrayed in the movie “42”. That was Jackie’s uniform number, and it has been retired by Major League Baseball. There is one player who still wears that number, Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees. Once Rivera retires, no other player will suit up as number 42.

Not well known is the fact that another young baseball player was also lured to the Dodger chain, Roberto Clemente. Clemente was born in Puerto Rico, and played minor league ball in Montreal with the Royals; however, he was drafted by the Pirates in 1954, and spent his career with Pittsburgh until his untimely death in 1972.

Robinson also played for the Montreal Royals before making his debut with the Dodgers on April 17, 1947. The movie focuses on the few years that he prepared to enter the big leagues, and his early years at that level.

One of his teammates on the Dodgers was a wonderful pitcher named Carl Erskine. Erskine still lives in Indiana, and is often asked to comment on Robinson’s days as a Dodger. “I always admired his patience,” he states in an interview on the internet. “There were guys in the Negro League that didn’t think he would make it. But Mr. Rickey saw his charge was bigger than winning baseball games. The fact is, Jackie was an ordinary human being, but he was denied all the rights of a human citizen.” Erskine is proud to have played with Robinson.

The movie demonstrates that many fans were opposed to seeing Robinson play in the National League. The team received hundreds of threatening letters, as did Robinson. Several opponents and even some teammates did not want to see the colour barrier broken. But it was time, and Jackie was the man to do it.

Jackie was later joined on the team by the great catcher Roy “Campy” Campanella, and Don Newcombe. In a matter of years, all teams had African Americans on their squads, and the Negro League was disbanded.

Chadwick Boseman plays Jackie in the movie. He spent weeks honing his baseball skills, resulting in the most realistic baseball movie yet to hit the silver screen. Harrison Ford plays Branch Rickey, whom he describes as a “colourful and emotional character”.

Do not miss it.

James Hurst

Monday, April 15, 2013


Coming Down the Home Stretch-NHL 2013

The season began in mid-January. Since that time, neither the fans nor the players have had time to catch a breath. Because of all the crunching done to the season following the lockout, teams have had to play far more games in a shortened season than they would have normally.

For the contenders, nothing can be left on the ice. Every period, every shift is important. Gaining a playoff berth at the end of the regular season might come down to one goal in a shootout.

The Florida Panthers said goodbye to the post season about a week ago when they dropped a couple of games on a road trip. They are in a position to mess things up for several other teams, as they face contenders in these last few games. They close out the season against the Leafs, at home, on the 27th of April. At this time, General Manager Dale Tallon, Alternate Governor Bill Torrey and the rest of the brass with the Panthers are assessing the young talent that has spent much of the season in the minors.

Drew Shore, Jonathan Huberdeau, Greg Rallo, Nick Bjugstad and Quinton Howdon are young players getting a closer look at this point in time. Huberdeau has had a fine season as a rookie, and is in contention for honours in that regard. He has the makings of an outstanding player, and will be an important part of the future of the Panthers.

There are many Leaf fans in the Quinte area anxiously awaiting the final games of the season. The Leafs have games with contenders, with teams vying for position in the standings, and teams that are preparing for next year. They have games remaining against the Islanders, the Sens, the Lightning, the Panthers, and the Habs. They are in the driver’s seat at this time, but need a couple of wins to assure themselves of a favourable spot in the dance.

They have received good goaltending throughout the year. Reimer and Scrivens have split the season, with Reimer starting most of the games. He has won 15 games, lost 5, and entertained 5 games in extra time. His save percentage is a respectable .919, and his goals against average is 2.52.

                                                                       Nazem Kadri

I chatted with Nazem Kadri when he visited South Florida earlier in the season. He has 40 points at the time of writing, including 17 goals. Surrounded by a dozen scribes in the dressing room after the game, his main focus was to try to get the radio people to pronounce his name correctly. All good citizens of the Leafs Nation could help them in that regard!

Coaches often state that their best players must come to the fore in order to win the big games. That has been the case for the Leafs this season. James van Riemsdyk, Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak, and Dion Phaneuf follow Kadri in scoring, and that is as it should be.

The Leafs could end up facing the Habs in the first round of the playoffs. It’s a good thing that there are two television sets in a lot of households in Eastern Ontario!

James Hurst   April 15, 2013

Thursday, April 04, 2013


Let the Playoff games Begin!

                                 Coach Gregg Poss, Owner Craig Brush, Ryan McGinnis 

The regular season has concluded; the playoffs have arrived. The Florida Everblades of the ECHL have begun their quest to repeat as champions of the league. Last May, in overtime, they defeated the Las Vegas Wranglers to win their first Kelly Cup.

For team owner, Craig Brush, it was a relief. The team struggled through all of the woes of the hockey wars to come out on top. Even the thought of just making the playoffs was vague in February. There were no guarantees. Much of the credit for getting to the top has been credited to the coaching staff, and rightly so: Head Coach Greg Poss, and his main assistant, Brad Tapper.

The ECHL is described as a “AA” professional league. Essentially, it supplies the American Hockey League affiliates with players, when their rosters get thin. That happens when the NHL teams pluck players from the AHL teams. Consequently, the ECHL teams have to scramble to find players to play the game. They come from all ranks. With the NHL lockout, this was especially difficult this year.

Some are college players from American and Canadian colleges. The current number one netminder of the Everblades is Jesse Deckert. He arrived just at the right time, and has only been beaten once in 11 starts for the ‘Blades. The Winnipeg native played junior hockey in the Western Hockey League with Regina, Tri City and Prince Albert, before registering at the University of Manitoba. He spent five years there, and led his team to the semi-finals this spring.

He will be backed up by Brady Hjelle, who has arrived from Ohio State. John Muse was the MVP of the Kelly Cup playoffs last year, and he has been designated as a “Playoff Eligible” player for the “Blades. Pat Nagle stopped a lot of pucks for the Florida team last year, and he also could step between the pipes. Rob Madore, another former ‘Blade, is currently with the AHL affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers. He also might get the nod.

To complicate the issue a little more, keep in mind that the team also has connections with the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL, the Carolina Hurricanes and the Tampa Bay Lightning of the NHL. And of course, any players that have finished their season in the CHL might also find work in the ECHL. Any player who has played five games in the ECHL as a member of the ‘Blades is eligible for the playoffs.

                                                    Brad Tapper and Mario Lemieux

Tapper played for Poss in Germany for the Nuermberg Ice Tigers. His career was shortened by injury in 2009, when he took his hockey knowledge behind the bench of one of the Toronto-based teams in the OPJHL. We met at the old “DukeDome” in Wellington when his team faced the Dukes. Poss appreciates Tapper’s work: “He is good at skill development, and has a great rapport with the players. He runs the defence during the games.”

In one of the last regular season games, the ‘Blades faced the Orlando Solar Bears, a franchise re-established this year after a ten tear hiatus. A couple of former Belleville Bulls skated with the Bears: Michael Neal and Ryan Berard.

After his years with the Bulls, Neal played three years with the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL, with stints in the AHL with the Texas Stars. This season, he has registered 32 points in 44 games with the Solar Bears. Berard spent almost three years with the Bulls, beginning in 2003. In 2008, he signed on at Carleton University in Ottawa. He recently joined the Bears.

The Blades face the Elmira Jackals this weekend at the Germain Arena. Thus begins their quest for another Kelly Cup. Only six players remain from last year’s championship squad. Days of ninety degree heat surround the rink. No matter. Throw a jacket over your arm for the game.

James Hurst

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