Tuesday, January 26, 2016


Following the Young Cats, and Mr. Jagr

Following the Young Cats! And Mr. Jagr!

With only a handful of games remaining before the All Star Break, NHL teams are assessing their expectations for the remainder of the regular season. The Break usually comes at a halfway point in the season; however, for a variety of reasons, some teams have played well over that amount. The Black Hawks play their 53rd game tonight, out of an 82 game season.

The Hawks were in Sunrise last Friday on their Florida swing. They had lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning, ending their 12 game winning streak. Former Belleville Bull Richard Panik was in the coach's doghouse for oversleeping the start of the morning skate, and he was relegated to the press box for the evening. They had a total of nine shots on goal in the first two periods. In the game against the Panthers, a real dagger came at the end of the first period when Quinton Howden picked up a loose puck in the Hawks zone, fired a harmless shot at Darling, and watched the puck trickle over the goal line. With 2.1 seconds remaining in the period. Ouch!!

Friday night was a difficult one for the Blackhawks. They trailed the Panthers 4-0 at the end of the second period. Coach Joel Quenneville pulled goalie Scott Darling at the midway point in the third period to try to spark the offense. More than 19 000 fans enjoyed every minute of the game.

                                                         With Coach Quenneville

The Panthers had been on a 12 game winning streak before losing four in a row. The Hawks had duplicated that streak. You could tell that both teams carried a certain winning swagger, but it just wasn't in the cards for the Hawks that evening.

The Panthers rely heavily on the play of Jaromir Jagr, and rightfully so. The question always arises: How does he do it? How does this man who turns 44 in February maintain his level of excellence? Damn hard work, I maintain.

In a chat with local reporter Dave Hyde, Jagr spelled out some of his secrets: “The more I practice, the more I play, the fresher I feel. To have a few days between the games, it's not really helping me. I have to play every day. My body's totally different than anybody else.” His fitness regimen defies logic.

He works out four hours every day. On or off the ice, he wears a 45 pound weighted vest. He also wears ankle weights, either 2 ½ pound or 5 pound weights. He warms up before games with a ten pound weight on his stick. He has always been a fitness freak, starting at age 7 when he did 150 push ups and 1 000 squats every day!

He plays on a line with two of the outstanding young players on the Panthers: Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov. They lead the team in scoring. A couple of other products of the OHL also help with the team's effort. Erik Gudbranson, who played for the Kingston Frontenacs, logs plenty of time on the blue line, and keeps the opposition honest. He will drop the gloves when required, and administers stiff body checks. His hit on the Hawks' Teuvo Teravainen was replayed on the screen several times, much to the delight of the rabble.

Of course, much of the credit for the Panthers' success is owed to Roberto Luongo. Enough said.

Aaron Ekblad, last year's rookie of the year, is a product of the Barrie Colts. The team relies on him more than on any other defenceman. He puts up good numbers, 19 points on ten goals in 42 games. But he also leads the team with a remarkable plus 17, the plus/minus stat. A very smooth skater, he sees the ice well, and plays far beyond his age. He will be 20 years old in February.

The Hawks' Andrew Shaw was nicked for stitches in the game, but returned to play. Why is that not a surprise? I continue to be really impressed with rookie Artemi Panarin. What a player! He led all rookies in the league with 45 points in the 48 games they had played up to that point. He is a bit older, at 24, as opposed to the other young rookies. But he was playing, at age 16, in the highest Russian league, the KHL He was signed by the Hawks last May, as a free agent. How in the world did a player of such immense talent go undrafted? I will work on that.

Enjoy all of the All Star festivities. I spent a very late night recently watching Milos Raonic at the Australian Open. Worth every penny!

Keep your stick on the ice! Serve well!

James Hurst

January 26, 2016   

Friday, January 22, 2016


Florida Hockey-In Sunrise!

Florida Hockey, in Sunrise

                                             Last year's Rookie of the Year, Aaron Ekblad

In case you have not been paying attention, there is a pair of pretty good hockey teams in Florida.
The Lightning play out of Tampa Bay, which is on the Gulf Coast side of the state. The Panthers are located in Sunrise, virtually Fort Lauderdale. No matter. I you happen to find yourself in the state, you can locate yourself at one of these cities for more than 40 games a year.

Consider the latest offer from the Panthers: Four tickets, parking, four dogs, four sodas---------$ 79.00! There are Toronto Maple Leaf single tickets available at this price, and not the greatest seats. I know that trying to get Leaf tickets is difficult in the Great White North. This is an acceptable alternative. During play offs several years ago, people flew to Sunrise to watch the games. The whole excursion was cheaper than buying scalped tickets in the north.

The Panthers are feeling the effects of that emotional roller coaster called momentum. They recently chalked up their twelfth consecutive victory. There was complete euphoria after every win. There was that feeling that it just might go on forever. But everyone knew that just would not be the case. There would be unlucky bounces, hot goalies, unintended errors, injuries---that kind of thing that suddenly puts the brakes on a streak.

All four of the above-mentioned factors have reared their ugly heads. The Panthers have lost their last four games, heading into Friday night's contest against the Chicago Black Hawks. There will be many Canadian bums in the seats for this one, especially friends of Andrew Shaw. He hails from our neck of the woods, and I know at least a dozen of his fans will be at the game.

Please note: It appears on the television screen that there are plenty of unused seats behind the benches. Those seats are paid for, and the occupants may be in one of the exclusive clubs under the stands. They do peek out during the playoffs. I fully realize they would be occupied in a Northern arena. It is simply the nature of the beast.

                                                     Andrew Shaw, with his parents.

The Black Hawks invade the BT&T Center tonight. They are coming off a loss last evening in Tampa Bay, ending their twelve game winning streak. Tampa Bay is also working on a sizable winning streak, so it was a matter of push coming to shove. At least they will be able to enjoy the Florida weather, somewhat superior to that in Chicago. Truth to be told, it has rained significantly the past couple of days here.

                                                 With Robert Marvin Hull, in Chicago

The Panthers are reeling from a four game winless streak. They have had a few days off to readjust, and heal. They will play a couple of games, then head into the All Star break. That does not last long. The home stretch is long, and often debilitating. Too often does a team expend significant energy just to make the playoffs, only to face a fresh opponent. In that case, an early exit from the post season activity.

The trick is to have a stronghold on a playoff berth long before the season ends. That allows time to prepare for the post season, to mend nagging aches and pains, to re-energize before the second season begins. Every team knows the drill. It is just a matter of putting it in place.

Stay tuned!!

January 22, 2016

Monday, January 18, 2016


Brampton Beast in Florida-201

The Brampton Beast flew into Fort Myers a week ago to spend a little time in the Florida sunshine. They left last Sunday with very light tans. Normal rainfall for the entire month of January is less than an inch. Last week we had more than six inches of rain, and a couple of tornados. So much for a week of fun in the sun.

Bryan Pitton planned to do a little fishing here. As Tod Lavender can attest, Pitton loves to fish. The weather hampered that activity, although he did get to drop a line at the end of the pier in Fort Myers Beach.

                                                                   Bryan Pitton

Pitton played for the Dukes during the 2004-2005 season, before moving on to the Brampton Batallion of the Ontario Hockey League. Following his junior career, he has moved up and down between the East Coast League and the American League, with one year in England and another in the Central League. He began this year with the Beast, and tore his calf tendon in his very first game.

He has been rehabilitating since that time, and was appreciative of the fact that the team brought him to Florida for some sunshine. We spoke about his stint with the Dukes, and his fondness for the community. He plans to visit this coming summer.

Don't be surprised to see another Beast goaltender in Prince Edward County this summer. Jordan Ruby got the nod for the weekend games against the Florida Everblades. The Beast are in last place in the Eastern Division of the ECHL, with thirty points. The Blades stand first, with 57 points. Ruby played well in both games, especially on Saturday night. He was beaten in overtime, as the Beast fell 2-1, and flew home with one point out of the three games played in Estero.
                                                                   Jordan Ruby

The Beast had a short bench last Wednesday, and signed another former Duke, Joe Zarbo, to the roster. Zarbo played Friday night. He started the season with the Evansville Ice, moved on to Colorado, where he had ten points in 23 games. Zarbo played for the Dukes in the 2009-2010 season, before heading off to Clarkson University.
Another player with a local connection is Luke Pither. He began his hockey career with the Bowmanville Eagles of the OPJHL, then spent time with Kingston, Guelph, Belleville, and Barrie in the OHL. Pither has posted 20 points in 24 games with the Beast.

Chris Auger spent three seasons with the Dukes before heading to the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. He is now in his fifth year of professional hockey. He is one of the scoring leaders for the Beast with 23 points in 33 games.

Yet another former Duke played last week in Estero. Anthony Peters had a proverbial “cup of coffee” with the Dukes in 2006-2007. He now plays for the Florida Everblades. Thus, two former Dukes faced each other on the weekend. Peters has played very well for the Blades, winning 16 games with 8 losses, and a sparkling 2.11 goals against average. He attended St. Mary's University in the Maritimes after his OHL career. He played seven games for the Rochester Americans last year.

Peters added a little extra to his team's overtime win Saturday night by assisting on the winning goal! It was Canadian night in Estero. They sang the anthem, (which they had neglected on Wednesday night). They served up buckets of Labatt's beer, and they even smothered fries with that horrid mixture of gravy and cheese. Did someone order poutine? The anthem was sung by Cory Marquardt, a country singer from North Bay. His brother Matt is the captain of the Blades, and one of their scoring leaders.

                                                    Fans lining up to paint the ice

After Fridays game, fans were invited to paint the ice. Seriously. It makes one helluva mess; however, it apparently does not affect the vision of the players. There was a long lineup to get the painting started; otherwise, I would have slapped a “Go Dukes Go” in some obvious section.

Oh, Canada!

James Hurst

January 18, 2016  

Thursday, January 14, 2016


It's Basketball Time, Baby!

The Florida Gulf Coast Eagles opened their Atlantic Sun Conference season with a flourish last Saturday with a 29 point win over the Stetson Hatters. The margin of victory was not expected, although the Eagles were expected to win.

They came out of the gate strongly, leading 32-14 with six minutes remaining in the first half. From that point on, they simply played fundamental basketball, taking advantage of the Hatter errors, playing soundly to half time.

At the half way point, the Eagles were shooting a remarkable 71% from the floor. Stetson, on the other hand, shot 21% from the floor. Time after time, Stetson shooters were thwarted under the basket. Demertis Morant had five blocked shots in the first half. Zach Johnson led the Eagles with 11 points at half time, and finished the game with 17 points.

                                               Zach Johnson, with David Moulton

For your information, I sit in a media row under the basket. Directly behind me, there is a section of about 1 000 quite rabid Eagles' fans. They believe it is their group responsibility to cheer on their boys, but also to unnerve the opposition if the opportunity arises. Here are a few examples, in loud unison chants;

When the score was 27-7, and the Hatters could not do anything right, the rabble chanted, “Single digits!”.

When there was 13:21 left on the clock, they shouted, “Warm up the bus!”. (I was reminded of the hockey fans at Oswego, New York, when the game was out of reach. They quietly removed their car keys from their pockets and rattled them, to signal the bus driver to get moving. The Habs fans start that obnoxious “Na na na na business”.)

Adding even more insult to injury, with 6:18 left in the game, they sarcastically chanted, “Let's go Hatters!”

And with three minutes left, the old...”If you're winning and you know it, clap your hands! That would be followed by much applause. Then “If you're losing and you know it clap your hands!” And that, of course, was followed by silence.

The point of the matter is that it is great entertainment, both on and off the court.

The Hatters were led by 5' 11” Divine Myles, a slashing point guard. He drove the lane several times, fearlessly, with some good results. He wore a fashionable orange Mohawk stripe, and could handle the ball as well as anyone on the court. A sophomore, he hails from Mobile, Alabama. Another key performer on the Hatters was a freshman from Beverly Hills, California, Derick Newton. Each had 11 points. They had one player, Kevin Ndahiro, listed on their roster from Ottawa. He did not dress for this game.

The Head Coach of the Hatters knows the game. Corey Williams played his college ball at Oklahoma State, and broke into the NBA with the Chicago Bulls, winning the title in 1993. He also played for the Minnesota Timberwolves before embarking on an extensive coaching career.
With less than two minutes left in the game, Coach Joe Dooley of the Eagles sent out replacements. Two freshmen, walk-on players at that, scored their first career points, erupting the crowd and the bench. Even the stars on the home team are thrilled when the men from the trenches get to share the sunshine. Great teams also play better when the non-starters make them work hard during practices.

The Eagles play twice this week at home: same great crowds, more than 4 000, cheerleaders, dancers, baton twirlers, mascots....all the hoopla!

College Basketball! Working to March Madness!

James Hurst
January 12, 2016.

Monday, January 04, 2016


World Junior Disappointment 2015-2016



Many of us have done our share of whining after the Canadian loss in the World Junior Championships in Finland. The boys did not do well in the preliminary rounds, but put up enough points to get the quarter final round to play the host team, Finland. Before the game, most of the experts had decided that Finland would win, by a fair margin.


It turned out to be quite a close game, but one that the Canadians could have won. Perhaps their greatest downfall was their lack of discipline. They took several unnecessary penalties, and some of those were downright selfish. There was no thought given to how the play would affect the team.


On one occasion, at a critical time in the third period, there was a skirmish near the Finnish goal. There was some pushing and shoving as there often is in those circumstances. Referees stand by to see if anyone steps over the line. Sure enough, a Canadian player threw a meaningless retaliatory punch at the Finn. Canada had to play a man short against an explosive Finnish power play.


On another occasion, a Canadian player was in a legitimate struggle for the puck as he and the opponent fell to the ice. Ideally, if the Canadian kid lets go of the stick, he avoids the penalty.  No such luck. And to go from bad to worse on the same play, he skates up the ice and whacks the stick of another Finn. Consequently, he received two minor penalties. The Finn was holding the stick ever so softly, and let it go as soon as it was touched, raising his hands to show that he had been violated. Embellished, I would say.


Authorities need to look at that situation a little more carefully. It is one thing to two-hand an opponent across the wrists, yet another to tap a stick. If the stick breaks, I can see a penalty. But even the sticks they use today sometimes break easily, often at critical times.


Another call that irks me slightly is a charging call when there is no charge. The authorities use the expression, “he left his feet”. Basketball players stand under the basket, waiting for rebounds. If a shot is missed, they leave their feet. There is no charging involved. In the game against the Finns, a smaller Canadian jumped to check his opponent. He was standing beside the Finn. But because he left his feet, he was penalized. Hogwash!!


 On several other occasions, Canadian players shouted at officials, and at the Finns, at times almost taunting. That indicates a lock of focus. Some of my friends are putting the onus for this on the coaches. I agree, but only to a certain point.


Because the players are selected from leagues across the country, they get together to practice for a very short time before the tournament begins. Coaches do not have a lot of time to work with them, to mould them into a cohesive unit. There is a lot of individual play at these tourneys, not always productive.  There were many occasions when a good crisp pass would have been better than a weak shot on goal. Players tended to hold on to the puck too long.


Players know that they are in the spotlight, and that their play in these tournaments will affect their ranking when it comes to the NHL Draft, the big prize for every player. Several players had already been selected. Some are now playing in the NHL, and the Canadian team could have used their services. Connor McDavid? Aaron Ekblad? Just to name a couple who still meet the requirements to play in a Junior Tournament.


There are several players on other teams who will come back to their teams in the Canadian Hockey league. More than 60 players fall into that category. You could say we train them well, so they could beat us! Russians and Finns in the final. No love lost there!



James Hurst



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