Sunday, February 23, 2014


Following Former Dukes in Florida

Following Former Dukes in Florida

                                                 Chris Auger, James Hurst, Scott Fleming

Early last week, Scott Fleming and Chris Auger rolled into Fort Myers with the rest of the Fort Wayne Komets. They were scheduled to play three games against the Florida Everblades at the Germaine Arena: Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. This is not an ideal situation, as certain hostilities can flare up more quickly with games packed so tightly together. It is necessary, however, due to the financial restraints of the East Coast Hockey League. And the players do not mind one bit. They get almost a week of fine Florida sunshine in the midst of one of the nastiest winters on record.

Both former Dukes are enjoying outstanding seasons in Fort Wayne. They play on the most productive line on the team with Brandon Marino, another college kid from Bemidji State. The Komets lost the first game of the late season series on Wednesday night. The Everblades turned in a solid defensive effort, winning 4-1. I spoke with the Comets’ coach, Gary Graham, after the game.

“I coached Chris Auger two years ago in Fort Wayne. I am quite familiar with his game. I was aware of the fact that he had experienced a good summer on the ice in Canada, preparing for the season. (In the 2012-2013 season, Auger was seriously injured, and played only four games.) I was really pleased with Auger’s progress.”

Another pleasant surprise came to coach Graham in the form of Scott Fleming. “Chris told me that he had a friend who might be interested in playing in Fort Wayne. I checked him out with previous coaches, and everyone had nice things to say about Fleming. I was a little concerned because he played very little last year.” (Six games in the ECHL with the Gwinnett Gladiators.) 

Graham summed up his report card on both players. “They bring quality to the team, and to the locker room. They are cerebral players, and know how to play all sections of the ice. They want to be Komets, and they want to win.”

Fleming and Auger played two full seasons together with the Dukes , from 2004 to 2006. The following year, Auger went on to play at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell, enjoying an outstanding college career. He played in the CHL the following two seasons, beginning in Mississisppi with the RiverKings. After 50 games this season in Fort Wayne, he has 23 goals and 19 assists.

Fleming moved on to Dartmouth College in the ECAC after leaving the Dukes. He spent four years there, and had a cup of coffee with the Gwinnett Gladiators last year. He has 11 goals and 23 assists this season.

Dukes fans will remember both of these players as crafty, elusive players. Fleming had 68 points in 48  games in his last season with the Dukes. Auger rang up 92 points in 47 games in his concluding year with the Dukes.

                                            Neil Diamond impersonator Jay White!

Jay White sang the National Anthem, and Sweet Caroline between periods! Great job! Kitchener born, he also loves to tend the twine in his home town, Las Vegas. He plays with NHL Old Timers!

Kyle Bonis continued his fine play for the Everblades in the series. The former Bancroft Hawk who played against Auger and Fleming in the OPJHL, Bonis now has 32 points in 46 games, and is competing with Fleming as the league’s rookie of the year.

On Saturday night, the Komets took the rubber match 3-1, despite furious pressure from the Blades in the dying moments of the game.

The Everblades goaltender, Kristers Gudlevskis, is now on his way back to South West Florida after a stellar performance in Sochi for his native Latvia. He very nearly relegated the Canadian team to the netherland, losing 2-1 in a very close match.

Relax now. No more Olympics for another four years.

James Hurst        

Monday, February 17, 2014


ACE Group Classic 2014 The Champions Tour

There are occasions when I find I must defer to a colleague or a friend when it comes to writing about particular subjects. When it comes to golf, that would be Al Stitt. Al has played the game for many years, has replaced a grip or two for thousands of clubs, and has designed sets of clubs for many in the Quinte area. Al knows golf. Now into his seventies, he plays at a 4 handicap, and often shoots his age. Those of you who play the game know the significance of that.

                                                     Al Stitt with Chippewa's Rod Spittle

I took Al down to Naples, Florida, to get a better understanding of the game at the ACE Group Classic, the golf tournament held at TwinEagles Golf Club. This was the third year that I have attended this tournament, and if you are in the area when it takes place, you really should drop by. The players are all over 50, and therefore it is a Seniors’ competition, on the tour known as the Champions Tour.

This year’s tournament wrapped up last Sunday with Kirk Triplett dropping a six foot putt on the final hole for a one stroke victory. Triplett had won three times on the PGA tour, but this victory was unique for him. “I’ve never won out here on this side of the world. I’m a West Coast guy through and through, so to win on this Bermuda grass is, I think, a little bit of a minor miracle for me.”

                                                                        Kirk Triplett

It was Triplett’s first visit to TwinEagles. “Sometimes you’re playing in these tournaments and you’re not in contention. Then in the last round you get there with three or four holes to go. It is such a shock to be playing with the lead group, and you get really nervous. But since the middle of yesterday, I’ve been playing on the leader number, so you kind of get in that mode of, ‘It’s not life or death.’” He picked up   $ 240 000 for his efforts.

After watching Canadian Rod Spittle on the practice tee, Stitt marveled at the play of the seniors. “They are technically superb. They don’t hit the ball as far as they did on the PGA Tour, but they still have the fine rhythm, and they still drive it 250 yards or more.” He said that he found the game “more meaningful than watching the younger professionals.” He remarked that they hit the ball squarely, rarely slicing or hooking from trying to hit the ball too hard.

He watched Billy Andrade hit a shot over water from 165 yards out, with very little green to hit. The ball landed six feet from the green, and resulted in a birdie putt. The 18th hole proved toughest over the three days of the tournament. Stitt marveled at Tom Watson’s play on the hole. “He hit his second shot over the water on the hole to within about 8 feet of the cup. But he also had three putts on another green. He can be human too!”

                                                       Tom Watson with Al Stitt

Al considers Brad Faxon to be one of the finest putters in the game today. Faxon had a downhill putt of about 60 feet. He showed his fabulous touch by lagging the putt to within 18 inches of the hole.

                                                                         Brad Faxon

Stitt concluded his observations by adding, “If you want to see great shot makers, this is the place.” In fact there were 8 World Golf Hall of Fame members in the tourney: Hale Irwin, Tom Kite, Bernhard Langer, Curtis Strange, Colin Montgomerie, Nick Price, Larry Nelson, and Tom Watson.

                                                                   Colin Montgomerie

Hal Sutton returned to the tour after having hip replacement surgery in the fall of 2013; however, he did not finish his first round.  He had a heart attack on the course, and was rushed to Naples Community Hospital. “I had blockage in my heart, they put a stent in, and I’m fine now,” he declared on Sunday. “I’ll practice this week and look forward to playing in Newport Beach in three weeks.”  The miracles of modern medicine.

February 17, 2014

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


At the Olympic Break 2014

I trust that most of you are spending a fair amount of time, even some in odd hours, to catch a few Olympic waves. I also trust that you watched the tribute to “The Beatles” on Sunday night, the 50th anniversary of their show on Ed Sullivan. Flurries of memories danced in the brain as one performer after another performed the great tunes of the “Fab Four”.

                                                     George, John, Ringo, Paul-The Beatles

I was introduced to The Beatles in a basement on the East Hill of Belleville in late 1963. Bev Davies had a birthday party, and she had picked up the Beatles first album in London, England. After “It won’t be Long”,   “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, and the rest of those great tunes on that album, I was hooked. Still resounds in my head today.

Last Thursday I crossed the state to watch the Panthers and the Red Wings. It has been a tough season for both teams, a struggle most of the time. Naturally, the expectations are a little higher in Detroit, as failure has never been an option. The Red Wings are supposed to be in the playoffs every season, and are expected to be in the hunt for the Stanley Cup. There are some players who are near the end of their careers in Detroit, and management is becoming increasingly impatient with them.

They have plenty of talent down on the farm, and Coach Babcock and General Manager  Ken Holland will not hesitate to shuffle the lineup for results. Last Thursday, Daniel Cleary, Todd Bertuzzi, and Patrick Eaves were scratches. Eaves is not yet thirty, but Bertuzzi is 39, and Cleary is 35. The Wings also rely on the aging Daniel Alfredsson this year, after he was poached from the Senators. He too is in his forties, but still has plenty in his tank.

                                                                        Daniel Cleary

It is a little unsettling to think of Cleary and Bertuzzi as old grizzled veterans in the NHL. It seems like yesterday when we ranted against Bertuzzi, as he tore apart the Bulls every time he came to the Quinte Sports Centre. He was a force to contend with as a junior, much larger and stronger than most of the Bulls. Cleary was an elite player when he came to Belleville, skilled in every department. He struggled with his own demons early in his NHL career, survived, and has experienced rewarding seasons in Detroit. He asked me to pass on my best to all of his friends in Belleville.

Even though it has been fifteen years since he skated for the Bulls, he keeps in touch. “Are they building a new rink in Belleville?” he asked me when we chatted after the game. He had heard the rumours. I indicated that the situation has not changed since Dr. Vaughan had the team. They could use a larger arena, but it would be an expensive proposition.

                                                             Kyle Quincey and James Hurst

Kyle Quincey was originally drafted by the Wings as their second choice in 2003. He had spent a couple of years in the Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League, not far from his home in the Caledon Hills. He attended high school with my brother’s kids, and I introduced myself. He is a typically Canadian professional hockey player: easy to chat with, friendly and unassuming. Most scribes on the professional sports circuit maintain that hockey players are by far the easiest athletes to interview from all of the major sports. It is a credit to the players, and their organizations, that they remain somewhat humble, considering the circumstances.

Quincey is looking forward to the Olympic break this year. In 2012, he played on the Canadian team in the World Championships. Although drafted by Detroit, he has played for the Kings and the Avalanche, before returning to the Wings in 2011. He has played 350 games in the NHL, and has more than 100 points. He also has accumulated 334 minutes in penalties, an average of almost a minute per game.

The Wings scratched out a 3-1 victory, with an empty net goal. The Panthers had one shot on goal in the first period, until Scott Upshall jumped out of the penalty box, raced in alone and scored on Howard at 19:34. Hardly a potent offensive attack! The Wings scored twice on Tim Thomas, played “kitty bar the door”, and skated away with the win. Tough times ahead for both squads.

Enjoy the Olympics!
February 10, 2014

Thursday, February 06, 2014


Canadian Ukranian Sharing His Views.

Oldest living ex-Detroit Lion, 94, boasts short career, classic American story, shares fans' angst

February 5, 2014   |  Mike Kostiuk, 94, of Sterling Heights, holds his all-star jersey. He is the oldest living former Lion.
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Mike Kostiuk, 94, of Sterling Heights, holds his all-star jersey. He is the oldest living former Lion. / Ryan Garza/DFP
By Carlos Monarrez

Detroit Free Press Sports Writer
Mike Kostiuk still remembers being a kid in Detroit in the 1920s and ’30s — a time so long ago that cars hadn’t yet become ubiquitous, even in the Motor City.
“We used to play football on the streets,” Kostiuk said. “Back then, if a car or two would come by you’d think, ‘Why don’t you take another street?’ ”
Kostiuk grew up strong, shoulder-to-broad shoulder with his city. He arrived in Detroit when he was 5 or 6 years old, not speaking a lick of English. His parents were Ukrainian immigrants who left their wheat farm in Krydor, Saskatchewan, for a better life amid the industrial expanse of an emerging city.
While John Kostiuk traded his plow for a welder’s torch at Dodge, his son got busy forging his greatness on the gridiron. And he was a natural.
Kostiuk starred as an offensive and defensive lineman at Hamtramck High. He played college ball at Detroit Tech, for the Army during World War II and for two seasons in the NFL, in 1941 with the Cleveland Rams and in 1945 for the Detroit Lions.
At 94 years old, Kostiuk is the oldest living former player for both franchises, and he is believed to be the NFL’s ninth-oldest living former player. Kostiuk didn’t have the greatest NFL career, but his life has been nothing short of extraordinary.
While working at a Lions game in high school, Kostiuk patrolled the end zone at University of Detroit Stadium and saw Chicago Bears great Bronko Nagurski charge toward him.
“I didn’t meet him personally, but I seen him coming,” Kostiuk said. “He had about two, three guys hanging on him, that son of a gun. And he scored. They said he was like a bull.”
Kostiuk turned down a chance to play with Tom Harmon at Michigan in order to follow his high school coach, Hal Shields, to Detroit Tech.
And he was one of the NFL’s frontiersmen, playing in a legendary era among giants like Slingin’ Sammy Baugh, Don Hutson and Sid Luckman. Curly Lambeau was still coaching the Green Bay Packers. Teams traveled by train, and helmets didn’t have facemasks.
Heck, he even played pinochle with Detroit Red Wings goalie Terry Sawchuk at the Ukrainian Democratic Club in Hamtramck.
But make no mistake, Kostiuk is one of us. His story is our story, an American story, a Detroit story. He was born in Canada, but he is a son of Detroit, a man who made the most of his opportunity.
And he even grouses like us.
Kostiuk sat next to his 90-year-old wife, Jean, at their Sterling Heights home last week as he talked football. Like everyone else, he complained about the Lions’ lack of discipline. Mike and Jean have been married for nearly seven decades and she looks like she has heard this once or twice before.
But Kostiuk is encouraged. He likes new coach Jim Caldwell’s message about more discipline. Of course, it’s probably not going to be the same brand of toughness Lions coach Gus Dorais once doled out to wingback Art Van Tone on the train after a tough loss at Green Bay.
“I remember old Gus coming up to him: ‘When we hit Detroit, you keep on going,’ ” Kostiuk said. “Ooh! That was it. Fired right there.”
Things were certainly different in the NFL back then. In 1941, Kostiuk got a call from Billy Evans, the Cleveland Rams’ general manager and baseball’s famed “boy umpire” who once got into a bloody fistfight with Ty Cobb.
The offer was for $115 a game and Kostiuk jumped at it. In 2013, the NFL rookie minimum salary was $23,823 per game.
But he only played one game for the Rams in 1941.
“And then I got drafted again — by the Army,” Kostiuk said with a twinkle in his eye.
He was a sergeant and served stateside as a drill instructor. When he got out in 1945, he ran into his former line coach at Tech, Julius Goldman.
“He said, ‘Why don’t you sign up with the Detroit Lions? They’re looking for ballplayers,’ ” Kostiuk said. “I said, ‘That sounds good.’
“So he took me to the office. I met Gus Dorais. He says, ‘OK, we’d be glad to sign you. We practice in Canada.’ ”
Kostiuk got a raise, too. This time it was $200 for each of the six games he played during the ’45 season.
Kostiuk got wind that Dorais was thinking about cutting him when he got a great offer from the general manager of the Buffalo Bisons, a new team in the All-America Football Conference.
“Before I could answer, he said, ‘I’ll give you $1,000 to sign a contract,’ ” Kostiuk said. “I said, ‘Whoa!’ Back then, I was a millionaire.”
It didn’t last. Coaches assured him he would play. But after three games, Kostiuk quit.
“The third Sunday, still on the bench,” he said. “I didn’t say a word. After the ballgame, I went to my hotel room, packed up and flew back home. And that was the end.”
He played one last season, in 1947 for the Paterson (N.J.) Panthers of the American Football League. Then he hung ‘em up.
“I’d had enough of it,” he said. “High school, college, army, then going into pro ball.”
Kostiuk had met Jean by then. He knew another life was calling. Marriage, kids and three decades of service as a firefighter. Mike and Jean were married Sept. 20, 1947, in Passaic, N.J.
“Within six months, I married her,” he said. “I was afraid someone was going to steal her.

“On our honeymoon, I had to fly back to Paterson because I’m playing ball the next day. I was a first-stringer. So she came for the ride. Only honeymoon she had. And we’ve been married almost 67 years.”

A wonderful story! The Ukranians and  other Europeans made the Canadian west their home. Bronko Nagurski was also born in Canada, the only Canadian in the Hall of Fame in Canton. The name Jackie Kostiuk comes to mind...from  Queen's University.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014


FCGU Eagles Keep On Rollin'

There is something very special about American college basketball. There is a hint of excitement, a buzz in the stands, an expectation of something special about to take place. In the case of the last game against Stetson, the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles wasted no time in getting the fans into the game.

There is the usual hoopla before the game, as expected. The introductions, the cheerleaders, the flags, the anthems. As is often the case, the anthem singer’s microphone crapped out on her about three bars into the song. To its credit, the crowd took over, and belted out the Star Spangled Banner to accompany the vocalist. A job well done, and a bit rare in this nation that does not often sing with the singer. It then took less than three seconds to get the fans on their feet at the start of the game. Brett Comer spotted Eric McKnight cruising near the basket, lobbed him the ball, and watched the twine stretch as he slammed the ball through the ring! Welcome back to Dunk City, everyone.

Comer is a special player, a treat to watch. He plays fearlessly, now sporting a protective mask to protect his broken nose. But that does not deter him from slashing to the basket when the situation presents itself. Quite often he does not see the result of his efforts as he is sent sprawling across the floor after putting up a shot. Twice, in the dying minutes of the game, he scored to help the Eagles keep pace. Both critical baskets, but I am certain he did not see the ball go in the hoop as he was pasted in his attempt. And no foul called.

As the Eagles brought the ball up the court with time running out, and the score tied, Comer drained the clock down to less than 10 seconds. The Eagles had a set play in order, with McKnight setting a high post to allow Comer to get to the basket. Stetson read it well, and shut the door on Comer. He tossed the ball over to Bernard Thompson. The crowd followed the arc of the ball as it sailed, from beyond the arc, through the rim with 2.4 seconds remaining. The deal was sealed when Stetson lost the ball with an errant pass.

The Florida Everblades and the Eagles use a similar tactic to treat their fans: they shoot and throw tee shirts into the stands. The Everblades get the fans ready by showing a clip from “The Simpsons”, with Homer, shirtless, rubbing his belly and singing, “It’s Tee Shirt Time”. The Eagles send the cheerleading crew on the court, twirling the shirts. They also have a gun crew to fire shirts to the upper regions of the Alico Arena. Popular treasures for the fans.

Chase Fieler spent 38 minutes on the court, resting but 2 minutes. He does not often play that much, but was filling a gap left when Filip Cvjeticanin, 6’ 9” forward was asked to sit out for a while for violating team rules. Fieler also had a fine game, posting 15 points, hauling down 14 rebounds. It was his sixth double-double this season.

The Eagles’ record now stands at 14-9, but they are 8-2 in the A-Sun Conference. They play Jacksonville on Thursday night in a game promoted as a “pink” game. Fans are encouraged to wear a different coloured shirt for several of the home games. Their game against the University of North Florida on Saturday night is a “Greenout Game”. The stands will be awash in green in support of the Eagles.

                                                   She just caught an FGCU Tee Shirt!!

You may find the odd fan wearing a different coloured shirt. But this is a dedicated and hearty lot. Many are in their mid seventies, more than a little grey at the temples. We are, after all, in South West Florida. I assure you about half of the men in the audience are retired high school basketball coaches. I would not be surprised to see Bill Latchford, Pat Glancey, Brian McFarland and Ken Smith quietly applauding for the Eagles.

Great entertainment. Ten bucks a pop. Worth every penny!

James Hurst

February 4, 2014   

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