Tuesday, December 23, 2014


We The North


Ah! The battle cry of the Toronto Raptors! The words have effectively fused Raptor fans into a family of basketball aficionados, to the extent that it has become increasingly difficult to purchase tickets for the games. That’s a good thing for the team. Home fans generate the energy required to motivate teams, and the Raptors will need that in the weeks to come.


Mind you, they have done a pretty good job of managing things up to this point in the season. They stand in first place, and they are second in scoring in the NBA. They have more wins this season, before the Christmas break, than at any other time in team history. They are doing all of this without their star player, DeMar De Rozan.


The Raptors embarked on a long road trip on Monday, beginning with a night with the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls are also in the process of a fine season, and they are now getting some minutes from their star player Derrick Rose. Rose is a fragile entity, and suited up for the Bulls against the Raps on Monday night. It was his play in the final quarter that sunk the Raptors.


Rose ended the night with 29 points, and the Bulls breezed to a 129-120 victory. For some reason, likely for several reasons, the Raptors collapsed in the final stage of the game. They shot poorly, their shot selection was questionable, and they stopped playing defence. They did get 34 points from Kyle Lowry, and he played hard the whole game. He showed no fear as he challenged Chicago defenders with his cuts to the basket. But you can only do that so many times in the NBA, and you will eventually break down. It is a tough process under those baskets. Pau Gasol, recently arrived from the Lakers, and Joakim Noah also kept the Raptors at bay in the final quarter.


Coach Dwane Casey threw out a couple of comments recently, perhaps to inspire the troops as they head into the toughest road trip of the season. “I see our team like a hungry team. We have to play hard with a chip on our shoulders as a group. You can go through our roster, we have a lot of guys with something to prove. Whether you can win the championship with guys like that I don’t know, but we’re going to try to find out some day. That’s what you find in guys with chips on their shoulders.”


Reading between the lines is always a good idea when it comes to dissecting philosophical comments from coaches. In this case, I would suggest that he wants his players to play hard, especially on the current road trip. The fourth quarter in Chicago was not exactly what he had in mind. The Raptors led the game at one point by 11 points, but that lead dissipated quickly in the final stages. The Bulls scored 49 points in the last 12 minutes, the most ever allowed by a Raptors team.



The Raptors have a break now, until December 27 when they play the Clippers on the West Coast excursion. They play Denver the next night, then Portland on the 30th. They then head to Sacramento and Utah, before they head home. To some extent, the World Junior Hockey Championships have some impact on availability at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.  


There is a fine pair of tickets for a Raptor game of your choice in the Super Sports Draw which takes place on January 6th. You will be seated in a box with your food and refreshments included in the package. You may contact me by phone (613-399-2278) to get tickets. There are 25 prizes in the draw, with less than 100 remaining.


Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! To one and all!!


December 23, 2014    

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


The Amazing Mr. Jagr

Jaromir Jagr recently made headlines in the hockey world because he continues to move up in the career scoring leader board. He now is ranked third on the list, having passed Marcel Dionne.


For much of his playing career, Jagr has been an enigma. To say the least. Once asked to name his favourite player, he quickly replied “Jaromir Jagr!” He has baffled and amazed his opponents, as well as his teammates since the first year he arrived in the NHL in 1990.


He was the first player chosen in the draft who did not have to sneak out from behind the “Iron Curtain”. Ho chose to wear number 68, as a tribute to his fellow countrymen who made sacrifices during the Prague Spring Rebellion in 1968. His grandfather died in prison that year.


Jagr was chosen fifth that draft year. The players selected in front of him? Owen Nolan, Petr Nedved, Keith Primeau, and Mike Ricci. As you can well imagine, this drafting process is not always a perfect science. Only one other member from that draft class still plays in the NHL. That would be Martin Brodeur, now with the St. Louis Blues. Barely a month ago, Brodeur was at the Quinte Sports Centre as a fan, and as the father of a player from the Oshawa Generals.


I met Jagr after the very first game he played at Maple Leaf Gardens. He caught the attention of every fan in the rink. He has imposing size, at six feet three inches. He tips the scale at 230 pounds. He takes up a lot of room on the ice, and he has always used his size to his advantage. He was a fresh-faced lad in 1990, skating for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Along with Mario Lemieux, they began to rebuild a hockey dynasty in Pennsylvania.


As he left the arena, I asked him how much he enjoyed playing in Canada for the first time. He replied, “No spicka de English”. So much for that interview! I read recently where he tried to learn the language by playing Scrabble with his teammates. But Jagr was well aware of his abilities, and he knew he could make his statements on the ice.


In 1999, he won the Lester B. Pearson Award as the league’s most valuable player. He had previously won the Hart Trophy. His comment? “With this award, you get voted on by the players you play against every night, and I think they understand the game better than the media”. Ouch! He did win the Pearson Award on two more occasions, but not the Hart Trophy, as selected by the same media.


In 1994-95, he returned to the Czech Republic to play a few games for Kladno, his birthplace. He began his career there in 1988. He has returned to play there on several other occasions. He has no trouble making that squad. His father is the president of HC Kladno.


Now 42 years old, Jagr does not discuss retirement. He leads his current team, the New Jersey Devils, in scoring. He has also played for: Washington Capitals, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Dallas Stars, and the Boston Bruins. From 2008 to 2011, he left the NHL and played for Omsk in the Russian Kontinental League.


Always controversial, he has fought with the tax man and accountants throughout his career. He reportedly ran into difficulty with off-shore gambling folks in Belize, good people to avoid. Be my guest to check web sites which discuss his many love lives. No shrinking violet, Mr. Jagr.


Do not be surprised to find him enjoying himself in the NHL next season. The man knows how to have a good time!


There are still a few tickets remaining in the “Super Sports Draw”. You can catch me hanging around arenas, here and there. Or you might give me a shout at home: 613-399-2278. Twenty-five great sports prizes!


December16, 2014 

Tuesday, December 09, 2014


Florida Gulf Coast Eagles Basketball

Protecting the Nest

                                                                  Bernard Thompson
How time flies! It was Hallowe’en when I attended an open practice for the Eagles before the start of the regular basketball season. Coach Dooley put the boys through the paces for more than an hour, then let them loose for a few moments to chat with the local media.


Bernard Thompson told me that he was excited to start the season. “Our depth is going to be really valuable to us this season. I don’t think anyone is going to be tired at the end of a game. Sure, we did just finish a good practice. We went through everything, trying to get all the new players used to our style. Ball movement is critical, to get the open shots.”


In a blurb I received yesterday from the team, it appears that Bernard hit the nail on the head over a month ago. For the second time in three weeks, he has been recognized as the “Men’s Co-Player of the Week” in the Atlantic Sun Conference. He led the Eagles to a pair of wins, shooting 77% from three point range.


The coach is impressed. “Bernard is a great player, and he’s really starting to get into a rhythm offensively the past few games,” he noted. “It’s another great and well deserved honour for him, and it’s once again a testament to the players around him, in particular Brett Comer. They do a terrific job of getting Bernard the ball in spots where he can continue to score and knock down open shots”.


                                                                      Brett Comer 
Comer is the NCAA active career assist leader now with 681, averaging eight assists per game. That mark is third in the nation, and he is tied for the national lead with 72 assists. He also protects the ball well, averaging just 2.1 turnovers per game.


Newcomer Marc-Eddy Norelia has been a welcome addition to the team this year. He is averaging double figure points, and leads the A-Sun Conference with an average of 8 rebounds per game.


The team is off to its best start as an NCAA Division One team. They are 8-1 heading into a week’s break for exams, always a bit of a harrowing time, memory serving me correctly. Those exams can certainly cut into one’s social calendar as well.


The Eagles return to action on Sunday, December 14th, when they host cross-state rival FIU for an afternoon tilt at Alico Arena.


Thompson also told me in the pre-season interview that it was “crunch time” for the Eagles, and particularly for the players who had transferred to the team. “They can’t be timid at this time. We are an athletic team with very high potential. This is the best team since I’ve been here. We are better prepared this year. Last year, we weren’t consistent with our half-court defence. The coach is trying to teach me to be a leader, to pay attention to details. There is great chemistry with all of the players on this team.”


The ultimate goal is to play in the madness in March. “That’s where I want to be,” Bernard stated emphatically.


Pass me my sunglasses. I’m heading to the Arena!



December 9, 2014  



Tuesday, December 02, 2014


Post Cereal Hockey Cards 2014

About this time last year, I was pleased to report that the Post Cereal Corporation was unveiling a series of junior hockey cards on their cereal boxes. I have discovered that they are at it again. My grandson Hunter is most pleased with the results.


I caught up with Hunter after his game last Saturday at one of the rinks at the Quinte Sports Centre. He is now eight years old, and plays for the Belleville Junior Bulls in the Novice Division. His mother has no trouble getting him to the rink for his practices and his games.


One of the first books that we shared with him was a story about Maurice “The Rocket” Richard. Hunter can tell you several facts about Richard, and about the Canadiens. He also enjoyed the classic Canadian hockey story called “The Sweater”. His grandmother has shared her passion for the Habs with the child. He will tell you in no uncertain terms that Montreal is his favourite team, but only if he thinks she is listening.


He has always been a Sidney Crosby fan, and lists Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Patrick Roy as his favourite players.


There are six different cereal boxes in the Post collection. In the photograph, Hunter is holding the Aaron Ekblad box, taken when he was wearing his Barrie Colts sweater. Ekblad currently plays for the Florida Panthers in the National Hockey League. Sam Bennett plays for the Kingston Frontenacs, and is featured on box # 3.


Kikolaj Ehlers, from the Halifax Mooseheads, Nicolas Petan from the Portland Winter Hawks, Jake Virtanen from the Calgary Hitmen and Jeremy Roy from the Sherbrooke Phoenix are also displayed on the front of the boxes.


There are four cards on the back of each box, making a set of 24 cards in the series. The company also has a contest associated with the CHL, with a trip for four to the Memorial Cup as the prize.


Hockey Canada today released the names of 29 players who have been invited to the selection camp for the Canadian junior team that will play in the World Junior Championships this year. Players featured on the cereal boxes in that group include: Hayden Fleury, Joe Hicketts, Michael Dal Colle, Connor McDavid, and Brayden Point. Virtanen and Petan are also in the hunt for one of the 22 final roster spots. Remi Elie, a forward with the Belleville Bulls, will also attend the selection camp in Toronto.


The NHL has a “roster freeze deadline” on December 19. The folks at Hockey Canada need to convince teams like the Florida Panthers to release good junior age players for the tournament before the freeze takes place. I am fairly certain that Ekblad will not be released by the Panthers. Currently, he has 12 points including 3 goals in his first 22 games. He turns 19 in February, and yet he plays with poise shift after shift.



By the time the tournament begins, Hunter will have most of the names of the players memorized. He did tell me he has difficulty with the French names. He attends Quinte Mohawk School, and studies Mohawk rather than French.


Before he headed home he added that he could use another box of Sugar Crisp!


James Hurst


December 2, 2014     

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