Tuesday, February 23, 2016


Number 68-So Great!!

For a number of years, I have sent out little signals that Jaromir Jagr was not quite finished as a hockey player. He proved that yet again last Saturday night, when he moved into third place on the NHL All Time Goal scoring list with his 741st and 742nd goals. He now trails Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky. The Panthers topped the Winnipeg Jets 3-1.

He held court in his corner of the locker room for quite some time after the game. He wore the “Spacey in Space” hoodie which is given to the player of the game, as determined by his teammates. “When I got birthday cake for my 44th birthday, you get the wish. I said, “I wish to be a goal scorer. So it worked for me. Maybe I'm going to catch Gordie and maybe Wayne Gretzky too!”

He held the puck numbered “742”, and continued. “I don't really think about it, to be honest with you. I don't feel I played well the last few games, so I wanted to make sure I played a little bit better today. I had a little bit more jump. I'm glad I helped the team win.”

Milestones always feel better after a win.

Jagr's first goal came on a tipped shot, a seemingly harmless shot from the point off Kulikov's stick. 16 210 fans cheered for the oldest player in the league, including players from both benches who stood to acknowledge the feat. It was Jagr's 19th goal this season. Not to be outdone, Reilly Smith also potted his 19th goal on a crisp wrist shot, also assisted by Kulikov.

In the third period, Jagr found a loose puck at the front of the net and wristed it up to the top corner of the net, beside the proverbial peanut butter. He did an emphatic fist pump to celebrate, a little out of character. Again, both benches stood to pay respect.

Coach Paul Maurice pulled the Jets goalie Michael Hutchinson with 2:32 remaining in the game. Jagr made two trips to the ice to try to get the hat trick goal, to no avail. As the final buzzer sounded, the fans littered the ice with rats, again a customary gesture here in South Florida.

Roberto Luongo saved the Panthers bacon on several occasions in the game. One reporter asked him about the two clear breakaways in the second period. Luongo raised his eyebrows, smiled and said, “There were three!” After a couple of tough games, he told the throng that he felt good that evening. “My body was going toward the puck.”
He also commented on Jagr's game. “It was awesome. He was flying tonight. You could tell that he was on top of every puck.”

It was centre Kyle Rau's first NHL game. He played at the University of Minnesota, and was drafted by the Panthers in 2011. I congratulated him. “I am really fortunate to be in this position at this time.” Michael Matheson also played his first game for the Panthers.
The team lost Jonathan Huberdeau in the first period. There is a serious injury bug at this time for the Panthers. Currently in sick bay? Dave Bolland (24), Willie Mitchell (12), Erik Gudbranson (7), Alexander Barkov (5), Brandon Pirri (2), and Quinton Howden (2). Games missed are in parenthesis.

That needs to be straightened out before the playoffs begin. No kidding!

James Hurst

February 22, 2016.   

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


The Chubb Classic-2016

Bernhard Langer graciously accepted the award as the champion of this year's Chubb Classic at the Twin Eagles Golf Club in Naples. He is no stranger to the podium, as this was his third victory in the past six years.

                                   Bernhard Langer, waiting to putt, with the long putter

The PGA players in the tournament are those who have reached the magic age of 50. Some players elect to enter the Champions Tour once they turn 50, but not all. Some members of the tour decide, when they turn 50, to play full time as opposed to previous stints as club professionals, and the like. One of those players is Rod Spittle.

                                                                           Rod Spittle

To refresh your memory, Rod Spittle hails from Chippewa, Ontario, not far from Niagara Falls, and the American border. He attended Ohio State University, and settled there, working in the insurance industry. Nearing his fiftieth birthday, he huddled with his family, and shared his vision for the future. He wanted to play on the Champions Tour.

One does not exactly pack one's clubs in the trunk of the car and step up to the first tee on the Tour. It is something that must be earned, through schools and other preliminary contests. He initially struggled, but has done very well the past few years. Although he did not win any tournaments last season, he managed to pocket more than half a million dollars.

Spittle is a very classy guy. Some pros have no time for any distractions during the tournament. Spittle deals with them, as they arise. On one occasion, a fan hollered, just after Spittle putted, “Hey Chippewa!” Rod turned, smiled, and tipped his cap at the lout. During his final round, he asked his caddy for an extra ball. He flipped it to a little kid who was following him with his parents. He tossed a signed ball and a glove at a fan after a round last year.

A gentle giant at six feet five inches, and at about 250 pounds, he seems to get along with everyone. His wife Ann accompanies him at every hole on the course, as does her sister and brother-in-law. Another Buckeye supporter also walks the course with Spittle's threesome: Harry Meek. Although he would not disclose his age to me, Harry has seen seventy-five candles on his cake. I must admit I have struggled to keep up with him.

                                                                      Harry Meek

The golf they play is spectacular. Hole after hole, they drive almost 250 yards, seldom more than a few yards apart. Chip to the green, one or two putts, and on to the next hole. Occasionally, one of those chips bounces a couple of times, and rolls in the cup. A very long putt may drop. Those two strokes saved might be the difference of many thousands of dollars, at closing time.

Spittle finished the tournament with three sub-par rounds: 71, 69, and 70. he was six under par, trailing Langer by nine strokes. Fred Couples charged at Langer in the final round, to no avail. He finished three strokes back. Couples is very popular on the tour, and is followed by a large gallery. In comparison, some pros are followed by half a dozen members of their family.

                                                           Fred Couples, on the 18th tee

Spittle played with Grant Waite in the final round. Waite had two rounds of 70 on the first two days of the tourney. I chatted with his wife during the round. The Australian, who had won on the PGA Tour, had two back surgeries during the off season. On the final round, he was not sharp. One of his drives went out of bounds, the only one I have witnessed on all the rounds I have followed on the tour. He ended the day with an 80, and earned $ 2 720.

Spittle pocketed $ 22 528 for the week's work. Langer got $ 240 000 for the win, and moved into first place on the money list. At the end of the year, the person on the top of the list get a Gillion Dollars, or something close to that.

                    The Knudsens, in front, and the Tausendfreunds, Belleville

I ran into several friends at the tournament. It was played in almost perfect weather, although the breezes gave players fits on a few occasions. It is a perfect way to enjoy the weather in South West Florida.

                                              Joanne and Brian Fisher, from Tweed.

And if you are about to turn fifty, sharpen your game. You never know......

James Hurst
February 16, 2016

Tuesday, February 09, 2016


The Crosby Show

Even if you have only read a few of the columns in this space, you realize that I encourage you to attend sports events. Above all, if it happens to be hockey.

You may be lucky enough to watch a grandson or granddaughter playing in their first years. It may be a junior game, with regrets to Belleville Bulls' fans. It may be at the professional level, perhaps even the National Hockey League.

The Pittsburgh Penguins played the Florida Panthers last Saturday night. That means that the best hockey player in the world was on the ice. Sidney Crosby has stepped it up a notch, recently, and his team has responded in kind. Despite a dismal start to the season, the Penguins are now knocking on the playoff door. Once that door opens, anything goes.

When the whistle blew at the end of the game on Saturday, Sidney had left his mark in Sunrise, Florida. I am certain you have noticed that the Panthers have enjoyed great success recently. They enjoyed a 12 game winning streak. They lost a few, then won a few more. They are at the top of the Atlantic Division, in the Eastern Conference.

The Panthers have played inspired hockey this year, under the direction of their coach Gerard Gallant. Jaromir Jagr leads the team with his dedicated play, and the young Panthers have responded well to his leadership. With every goal and every assist, Jagr climbs the ladder of the all time leaders in the NHL. He is three goals shy of Brett Hull to become third on the goals list. His 1100 assist moved him into sixth place on that ladder. The remarkable thing is that there is no loafing in his game.

The Panthers have been very strong between the pipes this season. You would expect that from Roberto Luongo, who passed Tony Esposito to become seventh in wins in the NHL. But Al Montoya has played very well, winning 8 games in 11 starts this season, posting a Goals Against Average of 1.93, and a Save Percentage of .931.

Aaron Ekblad celebrated his twentieth birthday on Sunday. He was the Rookie of the Year in the NHL last year, and he continues to play well. His plus 23 rating for goals for and against while he is on the ice is the highest on the team. The rest of the young crew? Jonathan Huberdeau-10 goals; Alexander Barkov—15 goals; Reilly Smith-16 goals; Vincent Trocheck-17 goals; Brandon Pirri-10 goals; Jussi Jokinen-10 goals; Nick Bjugstad-9 goals. Lots of biscuits in the basket.

The Panthers led 2-0 well into the third period on Saturday. They had outshot the Penguins 34-18 at the start of the period. With 5:04 remaining in the game, Crosby threw a long pass across ice to his defenceman, Chris Letang. Letang was well-prepared to shoot the puck, and he hit the twine before Luongo had a chance.

The Penguins pulled their goalie, Jeff Zatcoff, with 1:22 remaining. Seven seconds later, Letang blasted a point shot at the net. It went in off Crosby's pants. With eight seconds gone in the overtime, Jokinen took a hooking penalty. It took little more than a minute for Crosby to find Letang, again, in exactly the same spot, with the same pass, to ice the game, in dramatic fashion.
Zatcoff appreciated his moment in the sun. “I got into a rhythm as the game went along. Most of their shots were ones that I saw very well,” he told me after the game. As I was leaving the dressing room, I spotted Crosby, by himself, carefully filling his hockey bag with all of the paraphernalia.

I told him I was from the Belleville area. “That's the home of Matt Cooke,” he said, in reference to his former teammate. “And Cory Cooper,” he added. “I worked with Cory at a hockey school.” He added: “We've given up a couple of 'shorties' the last couple off games. We had to be careful on power plays. But we worked hard. It was a case of not how hard the puck was moving, but where it was going”. I completely agreed. No point in arguing with a guy like that!

Last night the Penguins topped the Ducks. Crosby had two breakaway goals, and two assists. His seven game goal streak is the best in his career. Some player. A bit of a travesty that he was not invited to this year's All Star game.

James Hurst

February 9, 2016. 

Monday, February 01, 2016


The Wideman Hit

The Wideman Hit

For any of you who have ever worn stripes, or called balls and strikes, the behaviour of Dennis Wideman of the Calgary Flames likely upset you.

A professional hockey player, with several years in the NHL, with a reasonably good reputation as a clean player. After being checked in the corner, he skated toward the bench. Nearing the bench, he encountered a linesman standing along the boards, with his back to the game, for some unknown reason.

And for another yet unknown reason, Wideman crosschecked the linesman sufficiently hard to drop him. Guys that do the lines in the NHL are not exactly shrinking violets. They are all tough guys. They are required to skate miles every night; they get cut with pucks and sticks and skates, and even errant punches breaking up fights; they are in tremendous physical shape; they are as strong as oxen; they also have to be peacemakers, on occasion.

Not all officials are well liked by the players. There may have been a history with Wideman, and Don Henderson, but that is something that is not known at this time, and may never surface. Personally, I do not find it relevant.

Before they ever take the ice, they work out at the event level in arenas. They run, they stretch, they quietly do what's necessary to do the job. What they would never expect is the kind of thing that happened to Henderson. A cheap shot from someone who knew better.

I threw it out there on FaceBook after it happened. It has been widely viewed by sports fans. Most hockey fans have taken the stance that the league has no option but to follow the rule book to the letter. That would mean that Wideman would receive a 20 game suspension. That would cost him a chunk of change.

Others have taken the position that Wideman may have been hit so hard by Mikka Salomaki that he had no recollection of striking the linesman. I concur that he did take a good rap on the head. But he did get up, slowly, and made his way to the bench.

But before he got to his own bench, he physically abused the official. For that he should be punished.

He was suspended by the NHL, and awaits a hearing. Naturally, they will show video of the hit. There will be several lawyers present. There will be individuals representing the player, the teams, the officials, and others. They will have to reach a conclusion. It may come in the form of a suspension, or a fine.

The league has not had an easy time lately, botching the John Scott affair. He is the player who was elected to the All Star game, even though he does not have the skills to skate with the fastest players in the league. With the three-on-three format being used this year in the All star game, Scott would be in very tough. But he was chosen by the fans, in a format that I can guarantee will be changed.

Next year, the ballot should contain the names of players who have the skills to play the small team format. That is if the league wants the fans to vote on the players. The inmates may not completely run the asylum, in that case.

It was great to see the league handing over the cheque to John Scott as the captain of the winning team of the All Star games. The players certainly “circled the wagons” in support of one of their brother. Rightfully so! His story is touching, and one to follow. It will be interesting to see it all falls out.

The NHL meets with Wideman today to discuss his situation. As always, the clock is ticking....

James Hurst

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