Monday, November 25, 2013


Football in November 2013

Football weather has arrived!


Last weekend in Quebec the Laval Rouge et Or captured the Vanier Cup as the best university football team in Canada, disposing of the Calgary Dinos in short order. The temperature was brutally cold, with enough wind to seriously affect the game.


The 101st Grey Cup game was played in Regina, in relatively balmy weather. It was slightly below freezing, quite nice compared to the minus 30 degree weather earlier. In case you were asking, 30 degrees below zero is cold, no matter if you want to use Celsius or Farhrenheit.


Those of us who have become reasonably adept with a channel changer were treated to a fine NFL game on Sunday night. In a battle between two of the very best quarterbacks of all time, Peyton Manning laid a severe beating on the New England Patriots, and their QB Tom Brady, in the first half. An almost insurmountable lead, 24-0. For those of you who managed to stay up for the entire game, AND the overtime, it was truly a remarkable result. Their place kicker, Stephen Gostowski, split the uprights in the overtime to grab the victory.


Closer to home, the Trojans from Moira Secondary School captured the National Capital Bowl title, defeating the Gananoque Trojans 26-8 in Belleville. This is the second year in a row that Moira has won the Ontario title, the only Belleville team ever to do so. The Centennial Chargers won the same title in 2000 at the SkyDome in Toronto, and became the first local team to capture the title.


All in all, the Grey Cup victory was a very satisfying achievement for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Quarterback Darian Durant won his first championship as a starter, future Hall of Famer Geroy Simon caught his first two Grey Cup touchdowns, and running back Kory Sheets rewrote the record book. Sheets ran for 197 yards, breaking the record established by Edmonton’s Johnny Bright in 1956.


Home cooking may have contributed to the success of the Green Riders. Twelve of the starters for the Riders are Saskatchewan natives, including Chris Getzlaf. He snagged three passes for 78 yards in the game, and was chosen as the top Canadian.


Durant was on the money most of the game, completing 17 passes on 24 attempts for 245 yards. His pass to diminutive Weston Dressler in the end zone sealed the deal for the Riders. Dressler is listed at five feet, seven inches, on the charts, but that may be stretching it a little. With teammates in the huddle, he looks a little out of place; however, since entering the league in 2008, he has made his mark. He gained Rookie of the Year status, and always ranks with the best as a pass receiver.


The Buffalo Bills spent the weekend gearing up for their game against the Atlanta Falcons this Sunday in Toronto. Naturally, there is plenty of excitement surrounding the game in Hogtown, beginning with a Friday night tilt between the Sabres and the Leafs. Folks in St. Catharines will be using the fast lane through customs in Fort Erie a number of times this weekend.


Speculation has it that the Bills will spend a lot of time in the Falcons’ backfield. The Atlanta offensive line is porous, and the Bills’ rushers can’t wait to fatten up their sack totals.


The grid iron in late November? It is where you should be.



James Hurst

November 25, 2013   


Monday, November 18, 2013


On the Road again...

Between forty and fifty times a season, National Hockey League players stuff all of their gear in their hockey bags. The bags are then carted to a truck, loaded onto an airplane, and carried to the next town on the schedule. Fortunately for the players, the trainers and equipment managers are responsible for getting the bags into the right locations at the arena. (One equipment manager once told me he would prefer to be the equipment manager of a basketball team. Think about it: shorts, top, warm up suit, shoes, a roll or two of tape. It all fits in a small gym bag!)


Following their victory over the Ducks last week, the Florida Panthers tossed their stuff into the bags. I caught up with former Belleville Bull Shawn Matthias as he finished zipping up the bag. He was quite pleased with the result of the game. The Panthers have struggled this year, to the extent that the coaching staff was replaced last week. General Manager Dale Tallon also let it be known that he expects more from each player every night.


Matthias scored his second goal of the season on a nifty play from the slot. The Panthers trailed by two goals heading into the second period. Unfortunately, that situation has been all too common for the Cats this year. Matthias received a pass from Brian Campbell, wheeled around and threw a backhand shot at the Duck’s net. It slid under Frederik Andersen’s pad to put the Panthers on the board. Florida scored twice more gain the victory.


Tim Thomas made some fine saves in the third period to lock down the win. One of their best players, Ryan Getzlaf, was missing from the Duck’s lineup, as was Matt Beleskey. I was looking forward to chatting with Beleskey, another former Belleville Bull. He was injured in a pre-season game, and is on a conditioning assignment. Teemu Selanne did skate for the Ducks, in his final visit to Sunrise, Florida.


Selanne has experienced a remarkable career in the NHL. He scored 76 goals in his rookie season, and has continued filling nets since that time. He currently has 678 goals in his career, a few behind the incomparable Jaromir Jagr. He needs 12 goals to reach Mario Lemieux, who stands in ninth place on the all time list. This is Teemu’s 22nd season in the NHL, and he has accumulated 1 437 points in 1 401 games. He is a lock for the Hall of Fame when he retires. You can take that to the bank.


Like so many of the Panthers, Matthias has struggled somewhat this year. “We’re really pleased to get this one for Coach Horachek. It’s his first win. It’s a great way to get the ball rolling as we head out on a five game road trip. We have put ourselves in a tough situation, so we are really happy with this win.” Someone asked about the puck on his goal. “Soupy threw it to a fan,” he chuckled. I asked Bryan Campbell about it, and he also smiled about the situation. There will be others, they both know that.


Coach Horachek was also pleased with his first win. “We played with a lot of energy, and a lot of gumption. Up to this point, we have not played up to our capabilities. There have been too many unforced errors. We need to keep our emotions in check. We’re looking for more consistency.”


The Panthers knocked off the Colorado Avalanche on the weekend, yet another team near the top of the heap. But, as Matthias hinted, they will need to play really well to get themselves into playoff contention in the near future. Especially on the road.


James Hurst

November 18, 2013


Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Big Win For Eagles!

Big Win for the Eagles

The Florida Gulf Coast University Eagles clawed their way back from a twelve point deficit early Tuesday morning to defeat the Hartford Hawks 65-51. It was the first home game of the season, following a disappointing loss last Friday night in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Winning in Nebraska, as I learned after the home game, would have been a very tall order. The Cornhuskers were playing their first game in a new site in downtown Lincoln. The place was jammed to the rafters, more than 15 000. They started long before tip-off with tailgating, pep rallies, and cheerleading. At that point, they cranked up the music, spinning hits from Bon Jovi, Motley Crue, and the like. And then….and then…..

The Hartford Hawks coach was asked in his post-game interview why the Eagles might have had trouble in Nebraska. He replied: “After all that, they had Tommy Lee come out on the court to juice up the crowd! The Eagles had no chance.” Tommy Lee, as you may recall, is a rock and roll legend who sang with Motley Crue. He married Pamela Anderson and Heather Locklear, amongst others, and was famous for mooning his audiences at every show.

Tommy Lee cruised the campus at the University of Nebraska as part of a reality television show in 2004. He did not actually enroll at the school. But he was there long enough to establish a link, and he was successful in jacking up the crowd.

I digress. Apologies.

Head Coach of the Hartford team, John Gallagher, had a few nice words to say about his counterpart in Fort Myers. “With Joe Dooley, FGCU got one of the best coaches in America.”

His comments centered around the outstanding performance of the Eagles’ Chase Fieler. Fieler scored almost half of the Eagles’ points, netting 30 of the 65. He drained two of three from the 3 point rage, was perfect from the line, and 13 for 17 from the floor. Not too shabby. Gallagher: “we just didn’t have an answer for Fieler. We were trying to front him. We set a defensive play as you would in a football defense where the safety would come in to break up a play. In our case, the safety didn’t show up.”

When asked about playing so early in the morning, Fieler indicated it was not a new situation for him. “We had a few games like that in high school. We just tried to treat it as a normal game. By 7:00am, we had already been up for three hours, and had eaten well before game time.” About the game itself: “We were more calm than we were against Nebraska. I personally tried to be more aggressive, on offense and defense. And yes, it did feel good to dunk!” (Which, incidentally and understandably, brought the crowd to its feet.)

Brett Comer is also one of the mainstays from last year’s team. He had great praise for the folks at Alico: “This had to be the most energetic crowd that we have ever had. It was packed on other occasions, but this was the loudest. And we hope it continues that way!” When questioned about comparing this year’s team to last: “Every year, every team is a new team. We will try to build off this win”.

Following the game, the Eagles packed their bags to head to Furman. They return home to play Eckerd on the 18th of November.

Monday, November 11, 2013


Florida Gulf Coast University Eagles Start Early!

FGCU Eagles Set the Alarm Clocks Early!

On Tuesday morning, several thousand supporters of the Florida Gulf Coast University Eagles and the players, had to rise early for their first basketball game of the season. The event was part of a special day of basketball promoted by the sports network ESPN. Game time? 7:00am. It was advertised as “Breakfast at the Beach”. Hartford supplied the opposition.


At first I thought it was a printing error on the schedule. It is simply not a concept I would ever consider; nonetheless, it is what it is, and the Alico Arena near Fort Myers was packed to the rafters.


The Eagles gained national attention last year as the “Cinderella Team” in the NCAA basketball mix. They played their way into the “Sweet Sixteen”, quite unexpectedly. They knocked off Georgetown and San Diego State to advance last March. It is a relatively young school, with players not expected to be drafted high by the NBA teams.


Call it what you will: a fine mix, great chemistry, a perfect storm. Once they got into the playoffs last season, they had a magnificent run, waking the basketball world. Coach Andy Enfield vowed to stay with the team for years to come, then saw the colour of California money and flew the coop, heading to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. He apparently signed for $ 1.5 million a season, just a touch more than the  $ 150 000 he had been paid at FGCU.


Some of the key players from last year’s team have moved on. Brett Comer, Chase Fieler, and Bernard Thompson are returning players, and are expected to lead the team this year. Two other outstanding players transferred to FGCU last year, but were ineligible to play, according to NCAA four year transfer regulations. Nate Hicks and Jamail Jones cannot wait to get on the floor.


“We have an enormous amount of talent on this year’s roster as well as an extremely knowledgeable coaching staff. We have the ability to be every bit as successful as we were last season,” Hicks reported to the FGCU newspaper.

Joe Dooley has taken over the coaching duties at the school. He was an assistant the past ten years at Kansas, under coach Bill Self. The Jayhawks won nine straight Big 12 regular season titles, and one national championship under Self and Dooley. Brett Comer described Dooley as being “intense,” and “more vocal and strict” than Enfield. Dooley is more defensive-minded than Enfield, which will involve some adjustment by the players.


The Eagles played their first game on the road last Friday, and lost to a strong opponent in Nebraska. The Cornhuskers started fast, and never trailed, winning 79-55 in their new stadium in downtown Lincoln. But the night is young, and there is a strong movement for more success here in “Dunk City”!


James Hurst

November 12, 2013



Monday, November 04, 2013


Blades off to Great Start!

Blades off to a Great Start!


The Florida Everblades lost a heartbreaking game against the Orlando Solar Bears in a ECHL shootout last Friday night; however, they defeated the Bears the following night to maintain their lead in the South Division. A good thing, as well, because the South Carolina Stingrays have had an identical start: 8 games, 7 wins, and one shootout loss.

Due to the nature of the game itself, the start is quite remarkable. There are about a dozen returning players on the team. The nature of the league is transitional; players move up to the NHL, or, most often, to the AHL. There is even a lot of movement between the teams, as most teams are affiliated with two AHL teams and two NHL teams. The Blades are tied in with the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Carolina Hurricanes of the NHL, and the Charlotte Checkers and the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL. Just before the game last Friday, forward Danick Gauthier was called up to Syracuse, joining goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis.

Forward Matthew Pistilli began his pro career with the Blades in the 2009-2010 season. He has spent time with the Charlotte Checkers and the Albany River Rats in the AHL. He is off to an excellent start this year, leading the team in scoring, and has been named the CCM ECHL Player of the Week. Not far behind Pistilli is a first-year player with the Blades, Kyle Bonis. That name may sound familiar to Dukes fans, as Bonis played some of his minor hockey for the Bancroft Hawks. He moved on to the Port Hope Predators in the 2006-2007 season and spent the next two seasons with the Traverse City North Stars of the North American Hockey League.

In 2009, Bonis entered Ferris State University, graduating in 2013 with a degree in Business. “It was an awesome place,” he told me after last Friday night’s game. “I went there to work out before beginning the season here in Fort Myers. I still talk to a lot of the guys from the school, friends forever.”

Bonis hails from Lindsay, Ontario, and knows a thing or two about hard work. His family has a two thousand acre farm, with soy beans, corn, wheat, and a herd of a hundred beef cattle. He returns to the farm every summer to help out with the chores. Hockey players raised on farms have a toughness that is hard to beat.

Bonis chuckled as we discussed his time at the old “Duke Dome”. “I hated that place. It was a terrifying place for us to play in the playoffs, especially with that “Whiskey Corner” right beside our bench.” He appreciated hearing about the new arena.

Bonis noted that the Blades’ start was especially fine due to the fact that six of their wins were on the road. They spent several days in the west, at Ontario  and Bakersfield, in California, and Las Vegas. He noted the great support the team receives at home, and loves the Fort Myers area. “But I’m not a beach guy,” he added.

He enjoyed his time in Bancroft, playing for one of his favourite coaches, John Johnson. He remembers his amazement one day at North Hastings Secondary School, when he arrived to half-empty classroom. The reason? “The first day of deer hunting season,” he told me. His father coached him until he was about twelve years old. He also credits his coach at Traverse City, Anthony Palumbo, for his success.

The Bonis family follows his game via the internet. “They have a huge television, and they watch the games at home. After the game, I hear from them. They are my best fans, but also my keenest critics.”

He also keeps in touch with Adam Wood, now with the Dukes.

The Blades face the Elmira Jackals and the Toledo Walleye this week, at home. Try to get to the Wednesday game: Hot dogs, Bud light drafts, and wine are two bucks each! There should be curb service to Whiskey Corner!


November 4, 2013

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