Tuesday, January 27, 2015


SuperBowl XLIX-Arizona

It is a busy sports week in Arizona. They will play golf, and expect enormous crowds on Saturday. The Arizona Coyotes will be on the road, playing the Leafs, the Senators, and the Canadiens. The Phoenix Suns entertain Washington Wizards, and the Chicago Bulls. The football teams will arrive in time to practice a little, and to drive the press corps absolutely crazy. The media have limited opportunities to grill the players and the coaches, and that is not a bad thing. After all, this is supposed to be about a game.

For those of you who spend a little time following American football, it comes as no surprise that there has been some discussion about the amount of air that should be inside a football. There is a great story in the local rag here, the Fort Myers News-Press. One of the sports writers for the paper, David Dorsey, ran the issue by one of our local residents, Larry Rose. Rose worked for 17 years in the NFL as a side judge, and his insight into the issue is well worth noting. Ever since the Patriots soundly trounced the Colts 45-7, there has been a furor over the condition of the footballs. The Patriots have been accused of some skullduggery, hissing a little air out of the balls so that Tom Brady could get a better grasp of the pigskin.

Mr. Rose outlined the process of getting the game balls into the game. There are a dozen balls used for kicking that are delivered to the officials prior to the game at their hotel. “Those balls are in a box, sealed. We take them with us to the stadium. We clean them. We rub them. We scrub them. We do everything with them.” In other words, the officials look after the kicking balls.

His next few statements shocked me. “Each team brings in their own balls. The balls have their own logos burned into the rubber.” The ball boys deliver the balls to the officials. They clean, scrub, put a marking on them, and fill them with air. They bag them, and lock them up.  When they take the field, they deliver the balls to a supposedly secure area. Rose added: “Once we get to the field and drop the balls off, it’s out of our control. We’re out refereeing the game. We’re not worried about the balls.”

Rest assured, there will be better controls from here on in. I watched NBA basketball referees at courtside before the game. They carefully marked three game balls, the two reserve balls remaining at the scorer’s table. Reflect back to the pranks of the Harlem Globetrotters! They had some great ball tricks, including deflation! NHL pucks are frozen before each game, and are carefully guarded at the timekeeper/scorer table. Major League baseball umpires rub down baseballs before a game with special mud, taken from the New Jersey side of the Delaware River. The balls are then kept from the teams, until the umpires put them in play. Pitchers may take liberties with the balls after they receive them, subject to penalty.

In conclusion, no other major sport allows teams the opportunity to mess with game equipment before the start of the game. I am certain the practice has ended for the NFL.

Russell Wilson and Brady will go head to head in a classic SuperBowl encounter. The Seahawks will attempt to spring their running backs early, whereas the Patriots will rely on Gronkowski, Edelman and company to pave the way. You still have three days to stock the fridge and fill the chip bowls. Enjoy!

But first things first! Off to see the Florida Panthers and the Detroit Red Wings tonight!

James Hurst
January 26, 2015  

Monday, January 19, 2015


Wear an Old Hat!

                                                Chris Kushneriuk and Patrick McEachen

If you are attending a hockey game featuring two high scoring teams, wear an old hat. At a recent Florida Everblades game, we sat near the last row in the arena. Chris Kushneriuk netted his third goal in the game. I expected the avalanche of hats to hit the ice. To my utter dismay,  only one hat was thrown on the ice. One! Some tribute!

I was shocked. Bobby Feldman, a serious hockey fan, and long-time Florida resident, said that hats are just too expensive nowadays. That being the case, I suggest that you buy cheap hats to wear to hockey games.

Kushneriuk began the weekend with four goals in 23 games. He added markers in his last three contests, and now has nine as the teams break for the All Star game. The Everblades stand in first place in the ECHL’s East Division of the Eastern Conference. They have 53 points in 34 games, but remain only 12 points ahead of the fifth place team from South Carolina.

Kushneriuk has truly experienced the most amazing route in his career. An Ottawa native, he began his junior career with the Orleans Blades in the Central Junior loop. He played his University hockey in the States, finishing up at Robert Morris University. In 2010, he began his pro career in Wheeling, West Virginia, with the Nailers. He also played for the Bakersfield Condors the following year, and began experiencing discomfort.

Chris was twenty-five years old at that time, often the prime time in one’s hockey career. Following several trips to the doctor, he learned that he had Stage Four testicular cancer, and that it had spread to his lymph nodes, his liver and his abdomen. He underwent treatments of chemotherapy and surgery at Indiana University, under the care of Dr. Lawrence Einhorn.

He regained his strength with the support of his professional hockey friends, his faith, and his former mates from Robert Morris University. He now works with the Canadian Cancer Society, offering assistance and motivation whenever possible. “I call it a bad dream I had to wake up from. It’s cool being on the other end of it, and being able to turn something so devastating into something good.”

He spent almost half an hour on the ice after the others had left practice, with Patrick McEachen, working on quick passing and shooting drills. McEachen returned to the ice last weekend after missing several games due to injury.

The Blades are on the road this coming weekend for a pair of games against the Gwinnett Gladiators. They lost 7-2 to the Gladiators on Saturday night, and yet Coach Poss is happy with their position at this time. “This break is coming at the exact right time for us.”

No matter. Just get out there and buy a cheap hat, if you don’t mind!

James Hurst
January 19, 2015   

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


Snakes and Ladders 2015 Hockey

To refresh your memory: Snakes and Ladders was the wonderful board game of your youth. You rolled the dice, and moved your piece on the board. With good fortune, you would avoid the snakes. If you landed on a snake, you could go from almost winning to definitely losing. The ladders helped. You could climb your way to the next level. Carefully.

Such is the nature of hockey in the minor professional leagues. We are back in Fort Myers, not too far from the Germain Arena, home of the Florida Everblades. The Blades play in the Eastern Conference of the ECHL along with nine other teams. Five teams are located in the south east, the others in the north east. There is also a Western Conference consisting of 11 teams, from California to Alaska.

Most of the teams in the league have affiliation with American Hockey League teams, and NHL teams. The Everblades align with the Charlotte Checkers and the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL, and the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Carolina Huricanes of  the NHL. Some affiliate with one team, some with none. It is the ultimate goal for every player at the ECHL level to move up to the AHL, and then to the NHL. Along the way, however, are those snakes and ladders.

Injuries often get in the way. Patrick McEachen spent the first few games this season as an observer. The team carried more defencemen that required, and Patrick was the odd man out. Players were moved to the AHL, and to other teams, and subsequently, Patrick was inserted into the lineup. He played well for eight games, then ran into the injury bug. He has been skating lately, and his return to the lineup is imminent.

                                              Chris Kushneriuk and Patrick McEachen

Quite often it depends on the chemistry of the team, and how the coach perceives that chemistry. Some coaches like to build speedy teams with smaller, highly skilled players. If you are a gigantic slug, you should look elsewhere for work. But teams cannot rely entirely on speed. At the ECHL level, all teams must be prepared for physical play as well. In this regard, the Everblades rely on Tyson Gimblett.

Gimblett began his Junior career with the Cobourg Cougars of the OPJHL in 2000. He played 45 games, and spent 92 minutes in the penalty box. Tyson stands 6’ 3”, and tips the scales at 215 pounds. I imagine he was a big lad when he started with Cobourg, but he was 15 years old at that time! The following year, he played briefly with St. Michael’s Buzzers, then moved up to the Majors. He played for Owen Sound and Saginaw in the OHL before returning to the Georgetown raiders of the OPJHL. He told me he knew the interior of the DukeDome, intimately. He also spent five years at the University of Prince Edward Island, with former Dukes Steve Cooke and Dayne Davis. He is in his third season in Florida.

The ‘Blades are experiencing a banner season, thus far. They have won 24 games, lost 5 and have 2 shootout losses. They lead the East Division of their conference. Much of their success can be attributed to their coach, Greg Poss. Due to his experience and knowledge, he is able to juggle the lineup for every game. He must make adjustments weekly for the players he loses to the parent teams. Former Belleville Bull, Alex Aleardi, was recently called up to the Checkers, leaving a gap in the lineup

                                                            After the Game-Why not?

They play the Wheeling Nailers tonight! It’s the $ 2 drafts, dogs, and wine night. All night long. Bring your appetite, and your thirst! 

James Hurst
January 13, 2015   

Tuesday, January 06, 2015


Tic Tac Tao, Baby!

Darnell Nurse quoted his coach, Benoit Groulx, at the end of the IIHF World Junior Championship game on Monday night in Toronto. The entire Canadian nation heaved a huge sigh of relief as the seconds ticked down to the end of the game against Russia. Coach Groulx made the slip of the tongue in the early part of the tournament, and the “tao” part of the expression simply was a mispronunciation. It refers, of course, to a quick passing play, effective in any language.


It was a game full of momentum shifts, right from the drop of the puck to start the game. The sponsors certainly benefited from the drama. No one in this house moved away from the television set in the third period. And yet, with the barrage of goals in the first two periods, no pucks entered the nets in the third.


Canada started the final period up a goal at 5-4, and that’s the way it ended. There were chances, but no conversions. Throughout the game, the checking was fierce. It was truly a magnificent struggle between two great teams. As a case in point, Nurse battled behind the Canadian net with a larger, much stronger opponent for several seconds. But he stayed with his man, and eventually won the battle.


The Canadian boys advanced to the final game with a win over a spirited squad from Slovakia. They had trounced the Slovaks 8-0 in the preliminary round, but had to play three solid periods to earn the right to play for the gold medal. Nicolas Petan led the way in that game with a hat trick. But the real star of the game was the Slovak netminder.


After each game in the tournament, awards are given for outstanding performance. Even before the name had been announced for the “Player of the Game” for the Slovak team, the fans began a chant of “Goalie, goalie”, recognizing the play of the Slovakian netminder. When another player was chosen, they continued their chant. He acknowledged their cheers with a cute little pirouette, waving his catching glove in recognition. Slovak fans raised their sign, “In Godla we trust”.


The Slovaks defeated the Swedes to win the bronze medal, a bit of an upset. After the final game, Godla was chosen as the best goalie in the tournament. Max Domi won the award as the best forward in the tourney. He certainly played spirited hockey. He is a spunky player, and deserved recognition. He will now return to his junior team, the London Knights.




Most of the players head back to their junior teams; however, some will resume their professional careers at all levels, including the NHL. Connor McDavid, the sensational kid from Newmarket, returns to the Erie Otters to complete the season. He had been sidelined with a broken hand for several weeks. He will be joined by Remi Elie and Jake Marchment. They were traded to the Otters on Monday from the Belleville Bulls. Elie was one of the last cuts from the Canadian Junior roster. Marchment is a strong young player who cut his junior hockey teeth with the Wellington Dukes.


Many of the players from the other squads will also continue the season in the Canadian Hockey League. Naturally, most of the European players will head to their teams in Europe, at the junior or at the professional level. Several American players will return to their colleges.


Canada has a history of coming up a little short in important games against the Russians. The Russians never show their best in the preliminary rounds, then turn it up a notch for the big games. Unfortunately for the Ruskies, they didn’t crank it quite enough.


Exhale Mabel. The kids won the gold! Get some sleep!


January 6, 2015.



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