Monday, March 30, 2015


Twins have Molitor at the Helm

                                                   The Cover of the 2015 Media Guide

As I was leaving Paul Molitor’s office the other day, I mentioned to him that I was from the Toronto area. He quickly stood , reached over and shook my hand. “I want you to know,he told me, “that my time in Toronto was a grand chapter in life for me”.

I had just spent 15 minutes in that very small room. On his desk was an assortment of small recording devices which belonged to the scribes there, discussing the game. The Twins had just defeated the Blue Jays in a game played in Fort Myers. The stadium is still called Hammond Field, but it is part of a larger complex called Century Link Sports Complex.

Jose Reyes led off the game for the Jays, as he did in 143 ball games last year. He is a very exciting player to watch, and he will ignite the team throughout the season. This is his 13th season in the Major Leagues, and he is approaching impressive levels of hits (1772) and stolen bases (455) in his career.

The Twins allowed the Blue Jays back into the game in the top of the ninth inning. Mark Hamburger gave up a single to Devon Travis, then induced Jays’ outfielder Ezequil Carrera to ground out, allowing Travis to advance to second base on the fielder’s choice.  Dalton Pompey then stroked the ball in front of the plate. Hamburger fielded the ball, wheeled around, and threw wildly to first. Travis scored on the errant throw, and Pompey ended up on third. He then scored on Daric Barton’s single, tying the game at five apiece.  The Twins won the game on a run producing single in the bottom of the ninth.

Todd Redmond started for the Jays, and, with the exception of Brian Dozier’s home run in the first inning, breezed through to the end of the third inning. We also had a look at Liam Hendriks, Bo Schultz, Chad Jenkins, Scott Barnes, Kyle Drabeck, and Bobby Korecky. The Twins did most of their damage in the seventh inning on a blast from Torii Hunter. Hunter is in the twilight of his career, as he will be 40 on his next birthday. He has returned to the Twins this spring after spending several seasons on Los Angeles and Detroit. He will be well received when he runs onto the field for the first time at Target Field.

Molitor began his post-game comment by saying, “It got a little ugly there defensively in the eighth and the ninth.” He commented on Rosario’s hit to win the game: “Eddie was not intimidated in that situation. He delivered.” Regarding the Jays’ run production in the eighth, he noted, “They got a couple of hits to right field, and it turned into a little more than it should have.”

When asked about roster changes, he indicated that the team had “12 or 13 days to the opener, and that things should be cleaned up by the weekend.” He also commented on the play of some individual players.

What impressed me the most was that there is no question about who is in charge. Molitor has certainly paid his dues, waiting for his chance to manage in the major leagues. He knew that he was following a legend in Ron Gardenhire, but he is certainly ready. Each and every aspect of the game was vivid in his mind as he fielded a number of questions from the hoard after the game. This is his fifteenth season at the coaching level. 

He spent most of his career with the Milwaukee Brewers, then joined the Blue Jays in 1993. He stayed three years, winning the World Series in 1993, and was the Series MVP. He finished his career with the Twins in 1998. He entered the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2004, on the first ballot. 

Not yet sixty, Molitor has signed to be at the helm of the Twins for the next three years. The Twins last experienced post season play in 2010, when they were swept by the Yankees. Molitor will certainly work towards better things for his Twins this year. On opening day, they will be ready.

James Hurst

Monday, March 23, 2015


Other Reflections on the loss of the Belleville Bulls

I searched high and low last week at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida, to speak to Danny Cleary. He had skated in the warmup for the Red Wings, but did not dress for the game. After the game, I strolled out to my car. I noticed a very distinguished-looking gentleman near the parking lot chatting with friends, including former Wing goalie Chris Osgoode. The man has a nicely trimmed beard, spectacles, and resembled Harrison Ford, in his distinguished professor days-Indiana Jones days. A second glance convinced me that it was Cleary.

                                                           Daniel Cleary, Former Bull
“I want you to tell everybody in Belleville how sorry I am that the Bulls are leaving. I am sure that it must be devastating for everyone,” he told me. Belleville was Danny’s home for several years, in his junior Bulls’ days. Without question, Danny Cleary is one of a small group of people who put Belleville on the hockey map. He brought great skills to the rink as a youngster from Newfoundland. He refined those skills under Coach Larry Mavety, and has had a long and distinguished career in the NHL. And the first Newfie to hoist the Stanley Cup as well, I might add.

One of the young Panther players also paid tribute to Mavety after the game. Eric Gudbranson is becoming one of the anchors on the panther defense, along with rookie sensation Aaron Ekblad. He played his OHL hockey in Kingston. He told me that it upset him when he found out that the Bulls were leaving. “There was such a great rivalry between the Bulls and our team. This is crazy.” He said that he wanted me to report that he owed a great deal to Mavety as his mentor in hockey. “Mav was so important to me in my career. I still talk to him when I get a chance,” he added.

Another Panther who skated a few times on the cavernous pad in Belleville is Aaron Ekblad. Ekblad was also shocked by the news. “I couldn’t believe it when I heard it. It was so sudden”. Ekblad is having an outstanding season for the Panthers. He has already broken all of the existing scoring records for a rookie Panther defenceman, and is in the upper echelon of most categories for all rookie defenders in the league: blocked shots, assists, goals, etc. He is closing in on the rookie point total of another pretty good defenceman, Bobby Orr. Orr had 41 points as a rookie, and no one would be surprised if Ekblad surpassed that mark. And, by the way, Aaron and I had a good chuckle about his picture on the cereal box.

                                          Aaron Ekblad, courtesy of the Florida Panthers

With only a dozen games remaining in the season, the fight for a playoff spot has intensified in the east. The Bruins have struggled lately, and have allowed the Panthers and the Senators to close the gap. By next week, the picture will be a little clearer. If you know how this is going to end, your guess is better than mine! I have not yet purchased my playoff tickets!

James Hurst
March 24, 2015  


Saturday, March 21, 2015


Paul Svboda chats with Greg Royce about the Bulls

Greg Royce was attending the CIS men's hockey championships in Halifax when he first heard rumours that the Belleville Bulls might be moving to Hamilton.

Saturday, while driving his son to a minor bantam hockey game in Scarborough, the former Belleville Bulls forward and current scout for the NHL Buffalo Sabres still couldn't believe it's true.

“It blindsided me,” said Royce, 50. “I thought there was no way they could push it through that quick. Wow. What happened to the deadline for moving franchises?”

                                                         Shawn Matthias-former Bull

That's what a lot of people wondered when Bulls majority owner, wealthy Uxbridge businessman Gord Simmonds, announced on March 12 that the Bulls were indeed sold and moving to Hamilton next season. It seemed to happen so fast with little or no warning to city officials, fans or potential local owners that a deal was already done.

Royce understands the Canadian Hockey League has been eager to move into major markets in all three of its leagues. It's big business.

But he says the foundation of major junior hockey remains in the smaller towns and cities — like Belleville.

                                            With another favourite, Cody McCormick

“Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Quebec City — they're all great,” said Royce. “But the fabric of junior hockey is the small towns. Prince Albert, Baie-Comeau, Victoriaville, Belleville. That's where the hockey is the lifeblood of the community in winter.”

                                          Doug Gilmour, also a former Bull, at his induction.

He's also disappointed the city never properly addressed shortcomings at Yardmen Arena, although he says it's far from the worst building in the CHL.

“I was in Victoriaville scouting a QMJHL game the other day and it has a rink as small and as old as they come,” said Royce. “They put in a few suites. It would've been nothing to do that at Yardmen Arena, on the balcony side above the visitors bench.

                                       With PK Subban, former Bull, now with the Habs.

“Owen Sound too. Their upgrades were putting in some more seats and some suites. It wasn't a major reno. Yardmen Arena still has more potential.

“It's too bad Belleville couldn't have taken the appropriate steps to upgrade Yardmen Arena, even a little bit.”

During his 11-year ownership tenure, Simmonds often said dwindling attendance at Yardmen Arena was threatening the future of the franchise.

                                          Former Bull, Keith Gretzky, now an NHL Scout.

Bulls rank 18th in the 20-team OHL this season with an average home crowd of 2,509. Only Peterborough (2,495) and the Plymouth Whalers (2,337), who move to Flint next season, draw fewer fans.

Royce said a consistently attractive product combined with rink renos might've solved the problem in Belleville.

“It's a bit of both,” he said. “Upgrades may have gotten more people into the building, but did some fans object to the on-ice product? With the product not as successful the last couple of seasons or maybe not as exciting on a regular basis as previous years, some people may have objected.

“I'm not blaming the coaches. But people love a winner. If you have a winner, I think attendance would spike back up.”

Though it's been 20 years since Hamilton last had an OHL team — the hapless Dukes — the city has been a wasteland for junior hockey in the past. The AHL Bulldogs, who move to St. John's at the end of this season, are averaging just more than 4,000 spectators in an enormous 17,000-seat facility.

                                 Belleville's Brad Richardson, now a Canuck, with his dad.

Many OHL observers wonder if even half of those fans will opt to support a junior team when they lose the minor-pro Bulldogs.

“I just can't believe a team is gone with so much history,” said Royce. “It's no different than if the Petes left Peterborough.”

March 21. 2015 
From the Intelligencer

Thursday, March 19, 2015


Belleville City Council Budget Discussions....

Renovations to Yardmen Arena, estimated at $21 million, have been given the stamp of approval by city council.
During a full day of capital budget discussions, council ended Tuesday by approving, in principle, the much-discussed upgrades to the Cannifton Road complex. The single largest expenditure in the $72-million capital budget, the item received a little more than 30 minutes of discussion.
The majority of that came in the form of a dissenting opionion from Coun. Taso Christopher who enthusiastically explained he would not be supporting the renovations and their $21-million price tag. Christopher immediately moved to have the item deleted from the capital budget.
"The thing is, at the end of the day, it's going to be tax dollars," Christopher said. "There are just too many 'what-ifs.'"
Coun. Egerton Boyce reminded Christopher if council leaves the item in the budget, it does not necessarily mean the project will go ahead. He said further information will be received by council and if councillors are not happy with what comes back, council can back out of the planned renovations.
Under the motion, the city could spend $21 million to add an extra 1,000 seats in a "horseshoe bowl" configuration at the arena's north end. The proposed renovations will also create four new permanent concession areas, new public washrooms, a wider concourse and renovations to the existing group suites at the south end of the rink creating a bar and restaurant area.
Christopher argued the city has too many infrastructure needs and the money would be better spent in that area. The Yardmen renovations, he said, are a 'want' item and not a 'need.'
Christopher used theatrical props last budget to underscore his desire to have needed items take precedence over wanted budget issues.
He said the burden of such expenditures would fall on future taxpayers to absorb.
"There are kids that haven't even been born yet and we're going to mortgage them."
The only other voice of opposition to the expenditure was Coun. Tom Lafferty. He also argued there are too many unknowns about the project to allow him to support it.
"If we don't have the information to move forward on this then we shouldn't," he said, noting if council approved the project it would, undoubtedly, end up being done. "These things just move through osmosis."
Coun. Bob Dolan said he has heard for too many years that young people leave Belleville because there is nothing here for them. By moving ahead with the renovations at the arena, it represents a major centre for attractions that may help make Belleville a destination rather than an exit point.
Coun. Pat Culhane agreed and said the city could simply approve the project and learn more before moving ahead with a final decision to launch the project.
"I'm not prepared to shelve it based on fear," she said.
In a recorded vote, only Lafferty and Christopher voted against the expenditure.
Council also approved creating a steering committee and community advisory group to investigate what can be done with the Yardmen Arena in its new form. Chief administrative officer Stephen Hyndman explained to council there is more to the Yardmen than just the Belleville Bulls and community input into potential uses for the site and what may be altered in the renovations is necessary.
Coun. Jackie Denyes said she is concerned the city could move ahead with the renovations with no clear idea how long the Bulls hope to remain in Belleville.
Mayor Neil Ellis said he could not go into details on how negotiations with the Bulls have been proceeding, but assured council the team's owner, Gord Simmonds, has made it clear to Ellis the team wants to remain in the community.
"Mr. Simmonds wants to keep the team here," Ellis said. "He doesn't want to move the team. He wants to stay here."
Council reconvenes at city hall for its budget session Thursday.

From Intelligencer Files...

January 28, 2009  Brice McVicar

Monday, March 16, 2015


The Old Ball Game-Spring Training

The Old Ball Game-Spring Training

                                              Michael Murray and James Hurst

About a week ago, I received a phone call from Michael Murray, a Picton resident, and a recent transplant from Ottawa. He wondered whether or not I would like to accompany him to a Spring Training game in Fort Myers. I told him that he did not have to ask twice. We had met at a Florida Everblades game, and discovered we had a common interest-sports.

He has been involved in sports all of his life, from the national level down to the minor leagues. He worked for Hockey Canada, and knew a lot of the folks around the Quinte Sports Centre. The national junior hockey team used the Olympic ice surface on occasion to prepare for international competitions. He spent time with the Canadian Football League, in administration. He was a strong supporter of the Ottawa Lynx, during their baseball days in Ottawa.

I have attended thousands of baseball games over the years, from the first game in 1954 at Yankee Stadium. Never have I ever caught a ball in the stands, nor sat beside anyone who managed to snag a ball. That changed at the game I attended with Michael. A foul ball soared over our heads, hit the wall behind the seats, ricocheted off a couple of fans and landed cleanly in his palm. For a moment I experienced a pang of jealousy. But just for a moment.

                                  Always surprise at Spring Training Games: Nice Clouds!

Spring Training is in full swing here in South West Florida. Pitchers and catchers always arrive a little early, and the other players follow suit about two weeks later. I spent a chilly morning at the Twins complex in late February. I watched Mark Hamburger as he threw hard for about 15 minutes, then headed out to field ground balls. I asked him about being there in chilly conditions. “Sir,” he told me, “If I was unhappy with these conditions, I’d be a fool. It is great to be here, and great to be able to play this game.” Hamburger has been around for some time, and has worn a few different hats. He is hoping to catch on with the Twins this year.

                                             Mark Hamburger, at the Twins facility

Hamburger is a local guy for the Twins, He was born in St. Paul, and signed with the Twins in 2007. He was with the Rangers last year, and hopes to catch on with Minnesota this year. Thus far, he has logged three innings in relief, chalking up four strikeouts and has two saves.

But that is what Spring Training is all about. There are thousands of athletes at these camps, working to find a spot on a major league roster. Those that are close will start the season in “AAA” ball, and there is a variety of leagues below that level. The Twins maintain a facility in Fort Myers that is used throughout the year, and they have a minor league team that plays at Hammond Stadium, the Miracle. The stadium has undergone significant changes this last year, and is a beautiful place to idle away a warm spring day enjoying the great game of baseball. Former Blue Jay Paul Molitor is at the helm. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2004, and has been involved in the game forever.

                                                                 Peanuts, naturally.

The Red Sox play near the airport, and my recommendation is to head out there at 10:00am for the game. It will likely take you an hour to get situated, because of the traffic. But once inside Jet Blue Park, you are in for a treat. The scoreboard and the Green Monster were positioned here after renovations at Fenway. There are plenty of places to whet your whistle, or to grab a ballpark snack. Naturally, the food choices are somewhat typical of the south, with crab shack delicacies, and lobster rolls-to suit the Maine palate.

Murray even had two additional balls that he had scooped up with his glove along the first base line during batting practice. I asked him where he was stationed, precisely. He gave me that look that you’d get if you asked a fisherman about his secret locations.

On this particular occasion, I was asked by someone to “take me out to the ball game”.  For me, that is simply a rhetorical question.

James Hurst
March 16, 2015

Saturday, March 14, 2015


Who's to Blame for the Death of the Bulls?

Who takes the blame for the death of the Belleville Bulls?

Ryan Kennedy

Belleville's Adam Laishram (photo courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images)
As much as we all like sports and the arenas they are played in, it has been pretty well established over the years that taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for creating such buildings, at least at the professional level. if Los Angeles doesn’t get an NFL team because a new stadium isn’t built, the good citizens of that metropolis can simply go see baseball, basketball, hockey, college football or go to museums, art galleries, movie premieres, and so on.
But what about small towns like Belleville?
The Ontario community is home to about 50,000 people and until yesterday, a major junior hockey team. But the Bulls will be moving to Hamilton next year and for the first time in 35 years, there will be no OHL hockey in town.
Yardmen Arena was the biggest issue. The Bulls’ antiquated facility was in need of a facelift and has been for years, but neither ownership nor the city was willing or able to pony up the cash. That hasn’t helped attendance, which sits near the bottom of the OHL – and it’s worth noting that last-place Plymouth is moving this summer as well, to Flint, Mich.
It would be easy to say that major junior hockey is leaving small towns behind, but then you have North Bay (around the same population as Belleville) succeeding after departing Brampton, with a population of more than 500,000. Plus, next year’s Memorial Cup will be hosted by Red Deer, which beat out Vancouver for the right to throw the CHL’s biggest party.
But there does seem to be more pressure on small markets. Is it fair that the good people of Belleville lost their team because they didn’t want to pay (I say “they” because while elected officials ultimately decide the town budget, the people elected those officials) for a new arena, or at least for renovations?
Some would say that’s the price of putting your town on the map, but it’s a steep one. The Bulls were something the town could rally around, but clearly only some people really cared. In terms of ownership, it would be great if every major junior team had someone with deep pockets at the helm, but there are only so many of those folks out there that care to own a hockey team that may lose money more often than it makes it.
Michael Andlauer was willing to take on the Bulls and try his luck with OHL hockey in Hamilton and Steel City should be thankful for that. But from the sounds of it, Gord Simmonds had been trying to make it work in Belleville for a long time and it just wasn’t getting done.
In a statement from the OHL, commissioner David Branch said “It is the OHL’s hope, as with other small cities in our league, that one day, with the right conditions, OHL hockey will return to Belleville.”
It’s too bad that a city had to lose its team in this game of franchise musical chairs and maybe Belleville will get another team in the future. But with major junior becoming more of a professional show with each passing year, it’s hard to see that happening without a new arena – and another chance.

Friday, March 13, 2015


OHL Board of Governors Letter Regarding the Bulls

A summary of Years of Junior Hockey in Hamilton

1989-1991 Dukes of Hamilton
1984-1988-Hamilton Steelhawks
1974-1976, 1977-78 Hamilton Fincups
1960-1974 Hamilton Red Wings
1953-60 Hamilton Tiger Cubs
1946-47 Hamilton Szabos
1945-46 Hamilton Lloyds
1943-44 Hamilton Majors
1942-43 Hamilton Whizzers


The Moving of the Bulls-A London Perspective

Major junior hockey shows its true colours again as small city Belleville loses its team to big city — and big money — Hamilton

By Morris Dalla Costa, The London Free Press
Thursday, March 12, 2015 10:33:26 EDT PM

Brody Silk, middle, of the Sudbury Wolves, attempts to fire a puck past Charlie Graham, of the Belleville Bulls, during OHL action at the Sudbury Community Arena in Sudbury, Ont. on Friday March 6, 2015. (QMI Agency)

Earlier this year it was the Plymouth Whalers who were sold and moved to Flint.
Last year it was the Brampton Battalion that moved to North Bay.
Thursday it was the Belleville Bulls who after being in Belleville since 1981were sold and will move to Hamilton.

The message can’t get clearer.

The Ontario Hockey League is no longer a mom and pop operation. It can no longer subsist on tradition and good feelings. It is going the way of professional hockey. It is a business and like all businesses it’s either supported or goes out of business or it moves where operators of that business think they can be successful.
And it doesn’t just come down to fans. It comes down to what a city wants to do to keep a franchise.
Consider any business that wants to set up in a city especially if the business is as big as an OHL franchise. Big businesses that attract flow-through dollars that bring positive publicity to a city; those businesses expect to be treated differently. They expect to get help making their business successful because in the long run, it proves advantageous to the city.
Brampton didn’t attract enough fans. The Bulls had issues with their arena as did the Whalers. All three teams opted to move or sell.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow for those that supported those teams but the business wheels of the OHL grind on relentlessly.
“The Bulls have been a part of the Belleville community for over 30 years and we respect the role they have played in the community,” OHL commissioner David Branch said. “It is the OHL’s hope . . . that one day, with the right conditions, OHL hockey will return to Belleville.”
Translation: The team and league tried to work things out in terms of arena improvements and hoped to draw more fans. It didn’t happen so we’re letting the team move and maybe, if you get another chance, the city will have learned its lesson.
No one is suggesting any city in the league kowtow to a private businessperson who owns an OHL team and gives them whatever they want. But that is a decision each city has to make on its own and with its taxpayers.
Is it worth it?
If the answer is no, the fans and city need to recognize that if they can’t meet the demands of a hockey team’s owner then that owner will do what he needs to do to make money because they take the risks.
The approval for the move went through with the speed of sound. The OHL Board of Governors announced the approval of the transfer Thursday.
The team will be called the Hamilton Bulldogs, to replace the Bulldogs of the American Hockey League who are pulling up stakes.
Hamilton has a long history of major junior hockey including the Red Wings, Fincups, Steelhawks, Dukes of Hamilton and others.
Dale Hunter, coach of the London Knights but also majority owner of the team, doesn’t have to worry much about fans or arena. He’s in a building with more than 9,000, which are full most games, and has plenty of private boxes. The Knights are one of the most successful junior hockey franchises in the country.
“I can’t really comment on the situation in Belleville because I don’t know everything about what was going on,” he said. “I know though that the change in hockey has been unbelievable. You look at the number of fans and the buildings — you have to be able to keep up.”
Hunter understands how difficult a situation would have to be in order to move a long-located franchise.
“It would be a very hard decision to make to move a team,” he said. “A very hard decision.”
Knights’ Aaron Berisha played with the Bulls.
“I’m a little shocked,” he said. “But on the other hand, I’m not really surprised. It’s an older arena and there were some problems last year. It’s too bad.
“There were some games when we didn’t get a lot of people but the fans were great. It was a good city to play in.”
That may have been good enough 10 years ago, but it isn’t anymore. Don’t take it personally, it’s strictly business.
Teams either move ahead or move away.

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