Tuesday, October 29, 2013


A Belleville Kid, and His Mom, in South Florida.

A Belleville Kid and His Mom, in South Florida



A week ago, the Chicago Black Hawks lost in overtime to the Tampa Bay Lightning. It was the second of two games they played in a mini-tour of Florida. They had played the Panthers on Tuesday , a game which they won in a shootout. As a result, they took three of four points in the Sunshine state.


Darlene Shaw is likely moderately happy with the result. She was part of an entourage of ladies who attended the game in Fort Lauderdale. “We want to leave Florida with four points, ” she told me from the box set aside for the Black Hawk mothers. There is an annual excursion   that the team provides, to the fathers and the mothers, on an annual basis. “I am thrilled to be here. Everything is first class. We flew in here from Chicago, and we fly out to Tampa after the game.”


Darlene is justifiably proud of her son Andrew. He was a key ingredient in the Hawks drive last year to win the Stanley Cup. Some pundits wrote off Shaw during his junior hockey days. He is relatively small, in current National Hockey league standards. But he more than made up for his size with his heart, and his tenacity. He is a feisty player, the kind who drives opponents crazy. As is often the case in hockey, when the opposition retaliates, they are penalized, giving the disturber a two minute power play.


Remarkably, only two of the players’ wives did not make the trip. Without checking off each and every Mom, the list would include women from many countries: several provinces in Canada, eight of the United States, Sweden, Finland, Russia, and the Czech Republic. Many other mothers were also invited, including those of the broadcasters, managers, and a host of others connected with the team. Stan Bowman is the Vice President and General Manager of the Hawks, and, naturally, his mother made the trip. She also brought along his father, Scotty, a man who knows a thing or two about the game. Scotty is a senior advisor with the hockey operations of the Club.


Scotty was sporting an enormous Stanley Club ring which will likely take its place beside several others on his dresser. He won the Stanley Cup eight times as a coach, and a few more in a managerial capacity. He was born in Montreal, and player his Junior hockey there, with the Montreal Jr. Canadiens. His first coaching stint was with the Hull-Ottawa Junior Habs in 1956, and he coached there the following year when they skated against the McFarlands at the Memorial Arena in Belleville. He moved up to the NHL in 1967 with the St. Louis Blues.


Darlene Shaw got to know the other moms on the team during last year’s playoff run. “We all started going to the games on a regular basis during the last two series of the playoffs. Nick Leddy is Andrew’s roommate in Chicago, and his mother has become a good friend of mine.” The players ate with their mothers on this trip, and accompanied them on a cruise out of Tampa. She indicated that there was occasionally a language barrier with the European mothers, but nothing serious. Winning helps in those situations.


The Hawks ended the second period ahead 2-0 on a late goal by Bryan Bickell, assisted by Niklas Hjalmarsson and Andrew Shaw. The Panthers climbed back into the game with goals by Kulikov and Tomas Fleischmann, but lost in a shootout. Shaw is pictures in the USA Today chasing Kingston’s Erik Gudbranson around the net during the game.


Exciting times for a small town boy and his Mom!



James Hurst


Tuesday, October 22, 2013


There is Energy in the House!

There is Energy in the House!

If you are a frequent reader of this column, you may tire of my suggestion that you must get to the house to capture the experience. By the house, of course, I mean the arena, the ball park, the field, the place where the sports event takes place. That is the only place where you can truly experience the magic of the game, as it unfolds before you.


Last Tuesday, I attended the game between the Leafs and the Minnesota Wild at the Air Canada Centre. With a little time on my hands, I was able to drop the car off at the GO station in Oshawa, and train into Union Station. Less than ten bucks, return. For those of you who battle Hogtown traffic every day, and search for decent “Event” parking for $ 20, the train is a great deal. Plenty of time for a pre-game nap.


The game against the Wild offered the opportunity to watch former Wellington Duke Matt Cooke with his new team. He moved on to the Wild in the off season. I spoke briefly with coach Mike Yeo before the game. “Matt Cooke is a big time character guy. That’s why we brought him here. He’s playing great for us.” Cookie leads the Wild with six points in nine games, with a game winning goal last week. I am certain that he is justifiably proud of his selection as the Edward J. DeBartolo “Community Service Award” for his time and effort on community and charity projects last year, when he was with the Penguins.


Tyler Bozak put the Leafs on the board first, converting a nifty passing play from Cody Franson and Dave Bolland. Shots on goal were hard to come by for the Leafs, as the Wild play a very tight defensive game. Mason Raymond, an addition to the Leafs from the Canucks prior to the season, snuck to the front of the Wild net backwards, wheeled around, and found the mesh. It was the seventh shot by the Leafs, at the 12:23 mark in the second period. At that point, Coach Yeo decided to replace his starting goalie, rookie Darcy Kuemper, with Josh Harding. 


 James Reimer was beaten once in the game. “I wasn’t that happy with my game. It’s a little tougher to get into a rhythm with ten days off. But it’s important to come to the rink and work hard, to try to battle out there. You have to make those key saves in a game, whether or not you face 3 shots or 30 shots. I didn’t feel as sharp as I could have. But I was mentally focused. So it’s nothing to be alarmed about. And yes, I really felt sorry for Kuemper. He’s a good goalie, he’ll bounce back.”


After the game, Cooke told me he is very comfortable with the Wild. “This is a great young team. We are learning to play sixty minutes.”


Since that game, which the Leafs won 4-1 with an empty net goal, the Wild have picked up nine points in nine games. The Leafs have 12 points in nine games, and will be joined by former Belleville Bull David Clarkson for their next game. Clarkson served a ten game suspension for an illegal hit. Joffrey Lupul leads the Leafs with ten points. Raymond, Phil Kessel, and Nazem Kadri have eight points each.


Only seventy more games until the playoffs!


James Hurst





Monday, October 14, 2013


This and That in Junior Hockey


Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. This, of course, applies to all of you who live north of the border between Canada and the United States. The American Thanksgiving comes much later in the year. Canadians are in the process of harvesting all of the goodies from the gardens, and fields, and orchards before the frosts and snows of winter.


I caught two fine hockey games last weekend. The Wellington Dukes continue to roll along, and, across the Norris Whitney Bridge, the Belleville Bulls pulled out a squeaker Saturday night. They edged the Guelph Storm 6-5. The real corker from this result is that the Bulls’ netminder, Charlie Graham, was the first star of the game. Almost unheard of, considering that he was scored on five times.


I neglected to mention that he faced 72 shots in the game. No overtime. No shootout. Just a constant barrage throughout the game. Normally, goalies face an average of thirty shots per game. Belleville took 29 shots at the Guelph goalie to skate away with the victory. That totals more than 100 shots in regulation, a lot of rubber for the ‘tenders to face. The Storm crept back into the game late in the third period, but could not seal the deal.


You sometimes hear the word “rebuilding” with reference to Junior hockey. Personally, I believe that coaches and general managers must rebuild yearly. There are many factors that influence the success of junior teams, none more critical than age. Simply put, the players will move on just when they become really good, because of their age. And the best players move on before the time limit expires!


The job facing all personnel involved in junior hockey is to get the best players possible from the minor ranks, and keep them as long as you can. European players can also be an asset; however, it is difficult to get the best Europeans in the draft.


The Bulls recently added Remi Elie to the lineup. He was impressive Saturday night, and will be an asset this year. He is 18 years old, and has been drafted by the Dallas Stars. The Bulls have two other players on their current roster who have been drafted into the NHL. Jordan Subban and Brendan Gaunce were both chosen by the Vancouver Canucks.


They are both veterans on the squad. I use that term rather loosely, as a veteran in the OHL might even be nineteen years old! The team does rely on these older players for leadership, because of their experience in the league. They have gone through the homesickness, the days at school without all of the assignments completed, all of the experiences growing up away from home. That, of course, would be magnified for the European players.


The Bulls have won twice in ten games. They lost once in overtime, and once in a shootout. They now face a period of long stretches of inactivity. They do not play until next Friday night when they travel to Erie, and move on to play on the road against Niagara on Saturday. The following weekend will be spent on the road as well in the annual northern swing: Sault Saint Marie on Friday, Sudbury on Saturday, and North Bay on Sunday.


Their next home game will be Wednesday, October 30th at the Yardmen Arena. Wear a mask. A Hallowe’en mask, not a goalie mask!


On Friday night, the Bulls will face the latest Player of the Week for the OHL, Connor Brown, a draft pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He is the Otters’ captain, and has 20 points in nine games so far this season. 


The best way to experience Junior Hockey action is at the rink! See you there!


James Hurst


October 14, 2013-10-14


Tuesday, October 08, 2013


Canadian University Football 2013

Canadian University Football -2013

There are times when I should keep my big mouth shut.


One of those occasions was last weekend at the football game between Queen’s and Laurier. It was a crazy game, full of errors by both teams. Very catchable balls were dropped, fumbles took place for no good reason, runners scored touchdowns at the least expected times. Coach Pat Sheahan from Queen’s described the game as “ugly, filled with plenty of missed opportunities.”


Here’s the situation: Laurier was not expected to stay with Queen’s the entire game. They had given Western a scare, and Western outscored Queen’s 50-31 last week. Nonetheless, it was supposed to be a relatively easy win for Queen’s, and it started that way, in the first half.


By the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Golden Gaels were in trouble, down 27-16. They mustered some offence, and closed the gap. With little more than a minute remaining in the game, they went ahead 34-27. Laurier had the wind at their backs, a factor throughout the game. Following a poor kickoff which went out of bounds, the Laurier Golden Hawks marched down the field, and tied the game with seconds remaining.


In overtime, each team scrimmages the ball on the 35 yard line, and is given the opportunity to score any way possible: touchdowns, field goals, single points (rouges). One team takes a crack at it, then the other. Laurier started but failed to score.


Queen’s put together a couple of first downs, and huddled inside the ten yard line. The quarterback, Billy McFee, moved the ball in front of the uprights and took a knee. Coach Sheahan decided to try the field goal on second down, “just in case the snap was bobbled”. It was at that time that I exclaimed, “They could block that, you know”.


                                              Joanne, with her golfing pal Donna Purcell

The fans closest to me, including my wife, threatened to tar and feather me, but with more forceful language. Sure enough, the field goal attempt was blocked. From our vantage point, we could not figure out what happened next. Following serious detective work, I have pieced together the other pieces of the play.


                                            James, Holly Molaski-our niece, and Joanne

The place holder, # 5 Aaron Gazendam, had the presence of mind to grab the blocked kick and punt it into the end zone. The Laurier players waited while the ball squirmed on the ground, hoping that the Queen’s players would encroach, inside the five yard restraining area. In the meantime, Gazendam snuck around the befuddled players, and pounced on the ball. His right. His touchdown. Game over.


                                   Queen's University Defensive Coordinator Pat Tracey
Coach Sheahan told the Gaels after the game, “It took every last play to win this game. I gave credit to Coach Pat Tracey for the final play. So there is a Belleville connection to this”. Tracey learned the game on the fields in Belleville as a student at Centennial Secondary School. He went on to win the Vanier Cup with Guelph University, and coached special teams in Hamilton for the Tiger Cats. “Pat is the architect of the kickout play, and he has practised it every Friday. But I have to be honest with you. We hadn’t exactly practised it that way!” No kidding!


                                                       Student support for the Alumni

As side note, it was the 45th Reunion Year for my Arts and Science classmates of 1968, and we were afforded the opportunity of walking on the track around the stadium at half time. There is always a wonderful reception from the student section. Our niece joined us for a photo opportunity. Thumping of leather jackets. A sea of purple. Plenty of smiles and chuckles.


                                 Ron Bannerman, in his leathers, just ahead of Peter Milliken.

Jonah Pataki hails from Wallaceburg, Ontario, and is in his first year at Queen’s. He played for Team Ontario, and visited the campus at Queen’s a year before deciding to become a Golden Gael. “A perfect fit,” he told me after the game. “This is an exciting win. Never before have I seen anything like this. You see a blocked field goal, and you expect the worst.” He shared the moment with his mother after the game.


                                             Jonah Pataki #35, with his Mother. I assume.

Queen’s now has a record of 5 wins, one loss, and remains in third place behind Western. Laurier has one win this season. But this is Canadian university football, and as I have indicated, anything can and will  happen!

                                                    All the latest fashions, as well!


James Hurst


October 7, 2013-10-07


Thursday, October 03, 2013


The National Hockey Season Begins 2013-2014

They dropped the puck last night to open the 2013-2014 season in the National Hockey League. Pipers piped, and drummers drummed, and yes, they unfurled a banner to acknowledge that the Chicago Black Hawks indeed won the Stanley Cup last season.


I got the jump on the season by purchasing a set of the O Pee Chee 2013-2014 cards. There are 600 cards in the set, with a ton of rookies at the end of the set, including Jonathan Huberdeau. He won the Rookie of the Year Award last year in his inaugural season with the Panthers. He certainly is a presence on the ice, and has a style somewhat similar to former great players from Quebec---Jean Beliveau and Mario Lemieux come to mind. He contributed 31 points in the 48 game season, and is expected to lead the Panthers into the playoffs this season.


Former Belleville Bull P. K. Subban played 42 games last year. As I am sure you will recall, there was a bit of fuss at the beginning of the season after the lockout when he and the team could not reach an agreement. There was rumours that he would be traded, that he was not ready to be part of the team. So much for that. P. K. had an exceptional season, and won the award as the best defenceman in the NHL, the Norris Trophy. A couple of other Habs come to mind in that category: Doug Harvey and Larry Robinson. Pretty select company.


And for the Toronto Maple Leafs, another season with plenty of hope. They have chosen to place Jonathan Bernier between the pipes, along with James Reimer. Bernier was tired of backing up Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles. He considers himself to be a number one puck stopper, and does not like riding the pine. Naturally, the coaching staff will always go with the hottest goalie, so there will be a battle in Hogtown to see who gets the start. A little rivalry between goaltenders is not a bad thing. I always smile when I hear them saying, “We’re best friends. It does not matter who gets the start, as long as we win”. Nonsense.


Belleville’s Brad Richardson has moved up the west coast and will be starting with the Vancouver Canucks this year. Team sources have told me that he will play a more significant role this year, moving from fourth to third lines, killing penalties, providing support in all areas.


Last night I caught bits of an interview with the intrepid Brian Burke, now chief honcho with the Flames. He rarely minces words, but does not often throw players under the bus. He was discussing the play of a young player. He explained to the media, that there were three areas on the ice that require attention, and that the rookie had learned about one of them. A fairly direct notion that all players must learn how to play defensively. The rookie will begin the season in the minors.


On the Western Front, at least from the Canadian West, there is growing optimism in Edmonton. The Oilers are now listed at 20-1 favourites to win the Cup. There’s another good reason never to bet on sports. The Flames have not improved dramatically over the summer, and will have difficulty reaching the playoffs.


The Winnipeg Jets spent the past couple of days at a resort. They had on-ice sessions, and participated in “team building” activities. Did Brian design those?


In the most interesting coaching change seen in years, John Tortorella and Alain Vigneault traded places. “Torts” will work behind the Canucks bench, while Vigneault will guide the Rangers. I am still shaking my head on that one!


We will also see an introduction to new “Icing” rules, referred to as “hybrid”. It will cut down on the suicide races to touch the puck, but will result in questionable calls. Linesmen will have to wear extra sharp skates, in order to determine the proper call. There should be a line between the circles. This imaginary stuff is fit for soccer, not hockey.


Welcome back to “The Greatest Game in the World”!



James Hurst


October 1, 2013  


The Home Stretch-Major League Baseball 2013


It wasn’t that long ago that the boys of summer were kicking around the dirt in the Spring, somewhere in the south. Then began the gruelling, grinding, often painful quest to become the best team in baseball-the winners of the World Series.


Many of those decisions have already been made, and, within a day or two, the final post-season participants will be dressing for games in October. The great game of baseball traditionally holds its final games in the Hallowe’en month. Even one of the stars of the past, who had an exceptional day in Yankee Stadium, was dubbed “Mr. October”. He hit three home runs in one game to earn the honour, and never let us forget it!


Max Scherzer should be a name to remember this October. He pitches for the Detroit Tigers, and he will start the first game for them in the Championships. He won 20 games this year for the Tigers, and lost but three. There are always cute quotes on the back of the Topps baseball cards, room permitting. “On days that Max is “on”, hitters have no chance. Once, in a minor league start, he retired all 21 batters he faced, striking out 13. In 2010, he became the first pitcher ever to fan 14 in a start of shorter than six innings. ‘The low ball looks like it’s 100 miles an hour, and the high ball looks 110,’ says Dan Carlson, one of his former pitching coaches.


The Yankees were moving towards a shot at the finals when they ran into a stubborn Blue Jay team a week and a half ago. The Toronto squad refused to roll over and die against the Yankees, and all but killed their post-season hopes. The Jays took two of three games against the Bronx Bombers, spoiling their dreams. It is a time of the year when those who cannot make the playoffs need to show off their younger players who have toiled in the minors all season. If the rookies are hot, the contenders suffer.


Yankee fans were hoping that they would make the playoffs so that their closer, Mariano Rivera would have a final chance to show his stuff. He will retire at the end of this season, and he is a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame in five years. He has recorded more saves that any other pitcher, ever, establishing a record that will last for years. He is most gracious, and has contributed much to his native country, Panama.


It is coming down to the wire for the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cincinnati Reds. The Pirates are led by a dynamic outfielder named Andrew McCutcheon-the man with the long locks. He has provided superb defence throughout his career, and had a respectable .276 batting average at the beginning of the season. These will be exciting times for Pirate fans. They have not had a taste of playoff baseball for decades, and they are hungry,


The Red Sox, the Tigers and the Oakland Athletics have locked up their divisions, and await results from the wild card play. In the National League, the Atlanta Braves and the Los Angeles Dodgers have already punched the ticket. The Cardinals, the Pirates, and the Reds are all chasing the dream in the Central Division of the Senior Division.


They will be some exciting ninth inning heroics somewhere in the next month. “Play Ball!”


James Hurst


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