Tuesday, November 29, 2016


Mavericks on the Road

                                                             With Andrew Courtney

One of the hockey teams that occasionally comes to visit the Florida Everblades hails from Missouri, the Mavericks. They play most of their games in the central United States, with an occasional visit to South West Florida.

They recently wrapped up a weekend visit, coming away with two victories. Their captain sat out one of the games, nursing a sore back. His name is Andrew Courtney, and he hails from Belleville.

He played all of his minor hockey in Belleville, then signed with the Trenton Sting, in 2003. He spent two years with the Sting, amassing 78 points in 88 games. He also racked up more than 100 minutes in penalties. His coaches in Trenton were Mike Kiley and Lou Crawford.

He moved on to spend 5 seasons at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta. In his final two seasons, he chipped in a point a game. He graduated in 2011, with a degree in Kinesiology.

Following his graduation, he signed with the Mavericks, then members of the Central Hockey League. Now playing in his seventh season in Missouri, he has four points in the 12 games played up to this point in the season.

He has played more than 300 games for the Mavericks. Last season, he set a Mavericks ECHL record with 36 goals. He tied for fourth in the league in scoring. Twelve of those goals came on the power play. At 6' 3”, weighing over 200 pounds, he takes up a fair amount of space around the net.

We sat with Andrew during the game. He mentioned that the veterans in the league have that key advantage of experience, being able to think a play ahead. There are many young players from American Colleges and Universities, and several from the Canadian Hockey League. He moved to the edge of his seat when the gloves were dropped near the Blades' bench.

                                         Discussing strategy with Lyle Lloyd

One of his teammates a couple of years ago was Jason Shaw, also from Belleville. Jason's brother, Andrew, now toils with the Montreal Canadiens.

Andrew told us that American billionaire Lamar Hunt, Junior, was the owner of the Mavericks. They play out of Silverstein's Eye Centre Arena, built for the Mavericks ans seats 5 800.

Courtney's brother Eamon also played a fair amount of hockey in and around the area. He also played for the Sting, as well as the Dukes and the Pickering Panthers of the OPJHL.

The Everblades picked up a couple of wins last weekend, and continue to lead the South Division of the ECHL with 27 points in 17 games. The Mavericks are in the middle of the Mountain Division with 17 points in 17 games.

At the end of regulation play, the Blades and the Mavericks were tied at a goal apiece even thought the Blades enjoyed a 35-15 shot advantage. Following a 3 on 3 overtime, Sam Povorozniouk from Northbrook, Illinois, scored to seal the deal for the Mavericks.

Andrew was married this past summer in Missouri, with his former next door neighbour, Brian McGuigan, in the groom's party. A long way from Shamrock Road, Belleville.

November 28, 2016.

Sunday, November 27, 2016


Thre Star Selection...History

Tradition of selecting three stars after every game is almost as old as Leaf franchise itself.
Leafs legends Johnny Bower and Ron Ellis were two of the three stars after a win over the Habs in Game 4 of the 1965 Stanley Cup semifinals.
Leafs legends Johnny Bower and Ron Ellis were two of the three stars after a win over the Habs in Game 4 of the 1965 Stanley Cup semifinals. 
As part of the Leafs’ centennial season, the Star is taking a look at significant moments in the franchise’s history, written by hockey historian Kevin Shea:
Imperial Oil introduced Three Star Gasoline in 1931 and began to sponsor children’s hockey teams, branding them Three-Star Hockey Clubs, or simply Three Stars.
In 1932, the Three Stars of each Maple Leafs home game were chosen by Charlie Querrie, a Toronto sportsman who had owned, managed and was the final coach of the Toronto St. Patricks before Conn Smythe and his consortium purchased the franchise in 1927. The selections were then printed in the Toronto Globe the next publishing day. Newspapers at that time didn’t print a Sunday edition, so Saturday’s Three Stars would appear in Monday’s edition.
When Imperial Oil joined Hockey Night in Canada as principal sponsor of its radio broadcasts beginning with the 1936-37 season, the sponsor promoted Three Star Gasoline by establishing the tradition of selecting the best three performers at the conclusion of each hockey game broadcast on the radio station. The stars would be announced via the public address system post-game, and the players would skate out separately to be recognized. Like the newspaper choices, they were also selected by Querrie. Three Star Gasoline was phased out in 1949, replaced by Esso Gasoline, but the Three Stars continued to be an extremely popular feature of Maple Leafs radio broadcasts.
Thanks to the generosity of Toronto’s Roden Brothers, a local silversmith, each Leaf player selected received a silver spoon. Alf Roden, the company president and former commodore of the Parkdale Canoe Club (now the Boulevard Club), a sporting powerhouse in Toronto during the early part of the last century, would personally deliver the spoons to the dressing room. He added, “I have told the boys that if they have too many spoons, all they have to do is to come and see me and I’ll make an exchange on anything they want.” Roden Brothers was sold to Birks Jewellers in the 1950s.
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When Hockey Night in Canada and La Soiree du Hockey television broadcasts debuted in 1952, the Three Star selections continued on both radio and TV. Foster Hewitt, who did the radio play-by-play, selected the stars on English broadcasts, and then joined his son Bill, who did the television play-by-play, to announce the names.
Imperial Oil/Esso ended its sponsorship of Hockey Night in Canada following the 1975-76 season, but the Three Stars continue to this day. Virtually every level of hockey has embraced the tradition of recognizing the best players in games.
Beginning with the 1973-74 season, Molson Brewery began awarding the Molson Cup to the Leaf who collected the most Three Star selections through the course of the season, a practice later expanded to include all Canadian NHL teams. Borje Salming was the first Leaf recipient, and went on to win four Molson Cups. Darryl Sittler and Mats Sundin are the only other Leafs to win the Molson Cup on four occasions.
“It’s part of the tradition of the game,” said Frank Selke Jr., a former broadcaster, NHL executive and son of a former assistant general manager with the Leafs. “It’s a little bit of show business.”
Kevin Shea is a hockey historian and author of The Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Club: Official Centennial Publication, 1917-2017. His column will appear every other week throughout the Leafs’ centennial season. Follow him on Twitter at @kevinsheahockey.

Monday, November 21, 2016


2016 LPGA Tour Championship

There was a slight breeze curling down the eighteenth fairway on Sunday morning. Some of the local golfers thought it might affect play later on in the afternoon. But that was not to be, as the day played out---sunny and warm, with a slight puff here and there.

Charley Hull had completed 54 LPGA events without a victory. She atoned for that quite nicely, earning a fine glass goblet, and half a million dollars. There was also a glass globe up for grabs, with three ladies in the running: Canada's Brooke Henderson, Ariya Jutanugarn from Thailand, and Lydia Ko from New Zealand. Along with the globe came a box containing one million dollars.

The tournament was the last one of the season, with its fine prizes. Henderson reflected before the start on Thursday. “I definitely want to give it all I got. Hopefully, I will have a long career in the LPGA. The next season is just a couple of months away. I hope to be able to play my own game, take it shot by shot, and finish the tournament in a good spot.”

The fairways and the greens were lined with Henderson fans all week. I would venture to say that she had more fans at the tournament than any other player. There are thousands of Canadians wintering here, perhaps not as many as in previous years due to the weakness in the Canadian dollar. But they were there to support the girl from Smiths Falls, and you could tell she appreciated the turnout.
That's what her mother told me. Who am I to disagree with her? She shouted out to her friends from the Wellington On The Lake Golf Course, affectionately known as “Nuts and Bolts”! Paul and Sandra previously had a hardware store in Smiths Falls.

When the last putt hit the bottom of the cup, Brooke finished in a tie for 24th place. She had two opening rounds of 72, then the final two rounds of 69. She picked up a cheque for $ 16 236 for her efforts. Last year was her rookie season on the tour. She ranked 90th, earning $ 100 294. She surpassed that amount this year with earnings and prizes close to two million dollars. She turns 21 next September. She will now head home and enjoy a few Ottawa Senators games. Once they begin scoring! (Eleven goals in the last ten games? Ouch!)

Ariya and her sister Moriya will return to Thailand with the box. The head honcho from CME presented to her at the end of the tournament. Lydia Ko was certainly in the running for the title, with a spectacular round of 62 on Friday. She faltered slightly on Saturday and Sunday, and ended the tournament in 11th place. She was most gracious, congratulating Charley and Ariya for their accomplishments.

Remarkably, most of the contenders are very young. Ariya just turned 21, and Lydia will be 20 next April. Charley Hull will be 21 next March. She had a core of fans from her home in Great Britain. She has assumed the torch from Laura Davies, now in the twilight of her career. Davies is in the over 50 group, but made several starts last year on the tour. In 2014, she was appointed “Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire”. I will mind my manners, in her presence!

The course in Naples, called Tiburon, was in great shape. With the Ritz Carlton next door, there are facilities for golfers and administrators. Perfect weather the entire week. I did not see any flurries!

James Hurst
November 21, 2016.

Monday, November 14, 2016


2016-2017 Hockey Season

I got a bit of a head start on the hockey season this year by purchasing the O-Pee-Chee set. Some of my friends believe that I am a little too old to be messing around with hockey cards. Thankfully, my wife has realized, after forty some years of marriage, that I am incorrigible.

I do not open packs of cards any more to complete sets. I leave all of that leg work up to my friends. In this case, it is Al Wood. He used to have the Quinte Card Shoppe in Belleville, and I know that many of my collecting friends still use him as a contact to pick up cards. To complete the set of O-Pee-Chee cards, by opening packs, I would have had to spend at least $ 1 000 on packs. I picked up the set from Al for less than $ 200. I also recommend visiting J & B Books in Trenton. They have plenty of “traders” to help you complete sets, and they will treat you fairly.

There are 660 cards in the set, a long way from the sets from some years ago. There were 264 cards in each set in the Sixties; they then boosted the number to 396. It stayed that way until the hobby went crazy with new companies, and all kinds of insert cards. Those things are still popular with many collectors. Not this guy, thanks.

I like the larger set because it does help me keep up with the game, to some extent. By this time in the season, there have been almost one thousand players lacing up the blades. Some of them have names that I cannot pronounce. Others play one game, then are returned to the minors, or back to Junior teams. Naturally, I focus on the cards of my favourite team, and also on the cards of former Belleville Bulls, and cards with a local connection to the Quinte area.

Mike Smith hails from the Napanee area, but has serious roots in Prince Edward County. Montreal's Andrew Shaw spends his summers around Roblin Lake, but he was born in Belleville. Justin Williams has had a long and successful career, with more than 1 000 games under his belt, in the NHL, but he is a Cobourg kid. My limited research tells me that there has never been a County-born and raised kid to ever play in the NHL. I do hope it happens some day, soon. I offer that as a challenge to County kids.

Former Bulls in the series include: Matt Beleskey, Matt Stajan, Shawn Matthias, Philipp Grubauer, Jason Spezza, and PK Subban. Daniel Altshuller had a very brief cup of coffee with the Bulls, and now plays for the Florida Everblades.

Alan Quine's card has me befuddled. It states that he was born in Belleville on February 25, 1993. Other sources indicate his birthplace was Ottawa. He did play part of a season for the Bulls, but hockeydb.com indicates he was born in Ottawa. More research required.

It is a little disconcerting that the company lags way behind the trade transactions. Shaw played for the Hawks last year, and is pictured in his Hawks uniform. But he became a Hab in the Spring, on June 24th, long before the set was produced. Someone should send them a list of trades, so that they could “Photo Shop” heads on new uniforms!

There are 50 rookie cards near the end of the set, and these always garner plenty of attention. There is no Auston Matthews card, for the Leaf fans. That comes next year, the rule being that a player must get in a game in the pro ranks before they can release a card.

There are 15 “Season Highlight” cards, including # 601 Connor McDavid. Others in this group include: Jagr, Toews, Sedin, Stamkos, and Patrick Kane. Team checklists and “League Leaders” round out the set to the 660 number. Many of these are not necessary, but fill the bill.

We will make the trek across Alligator Alley a few more times this year to see the best hockey in the world: Senators, Oilers, Leafs, Hawks, and Habs. It is almost the same distance to Tampa Bay. That should be on the list, for a game or two. Seems to be a fine year to cheer for the Habs. As long as they don't have to face the Blue Jackets every night! Yikes!

James Hurst
November 14, 2016.

Saturday, November 05, 2016


After the World Series 2016

There are pockets of euphoria around here respecting the victory of the Chicago Cubs. There are a few die-hard White Sox fans who cheered, listlessly mind you, for the Cubs. For the most part, most South West Florida baseball fans cheer for the Red Sox. A few for the Minnesota Twins. That is perfectly natural, as those two teams hold their training camps here in Fort Myers. There are fans who winter here solely because they come from those northern areas.

The baseball tournament known as the Roy Hobbs World Series is well underway in this area. It is an enormous undertaking with hundreds of teams. If you went to JETBLUE Stadium today, on field #6, at 2:00pm, you would find a thrower of some distinction on the mound. Mind you, he is better known as a football hurler: Doug Flutie. Flutie, of course was MVP of everything when he played for the Argos in the Canadian Football League. I stood on the field in Buffalo when he drop kicked the ball through the uprights for a convert against the Bills. He was with the Patriots at the time. As reported to my friend Glenn Miller, “A big reason I play is it's just fun to be around the guys, your buddies, people you know and played with. It doesn't get much better than that.”

Perhaps it is a male thing, this hatred of commercials. That is why we need remote channel changers. They are critical on Sunday afternoons during football telecasts. I was never without mine during the World Series. One commercial that I saw eighty-two thousand times had to deal with a car that had won more awards “than you can shake a stick at”. Another kept me grinding my teeth for hours.

Bryce Harper is a fine baseball player, one of the best nowadays. Perhaps his team should have been in the World Series, perhaps not. When all of the playoffs were finished for the pennants, the Washington Nationals, formerly known as the Montreal Expos, had been eliminated. One television sponsor elected to use Bryce in a commercial. He is shown in a laundry facility with a young lad, discussing some type of television reception via phone. To his credit, Bryce helps the young lad fold his laundry, including a delightful pair of underwear, green, and adorned with baseballs.

At the end of the commercial, when discussing the potential of the product to show live baseball on a cell phone, Bryant says: “What if I just hit a walk-off bomb?” The implication is that the kid would have missed it. The fact is that Bryant was at home, trying to figure out why the Nationals were not in the World Series. No one cared about Bryce at that point. Great hitter, bad timing.

I read a spot of criticism this morning about John Smoltz. John was a fine pitcher, good enough to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He shared the microphone with Joe Buck during the World Series. More times than not, he could not keep his mouth shut. He is one of those irritating analysts who feels it necessary to predict every pitch. Those types also like to manage the entire game. You hear things like, “I would send the runner on this next pitch”, or, “This is certainly a bunting situation”. When a ball is hit over an outfielder's head, he was playing too shallow, according to Smoltz. What really irritates me is that Smoltz should know better.

The pre-game and post-game analysts were poorly chosen. Pete Rose? An admitted cheater who bet on the game and is banned for life from the game. Alex Rodriguez? An admitted user of performance enhancing drugs, quietly retired this year, likely ineligible to the Hall. There are perhaps hundreds of other options, and the Fox network chose those two! I really giggled at one of Rose's gaffes.

Kyle Schwarber did not get a hit the entire season for the Cubbies. He blew out his knee the first game of the season. He struck out his first time at bat. Rose questioned his even being in the lineup He predicted that Schwarber would strike out three times in the game. Schwarber had two solid base hits in his next two times at bat. I would have taken Rose's bet on that one!

That leaves us with just a few days before the elections in America. For those of us living in the southern areas of Canada, we have seen our share of commercials and news broadcasts about this election. To put it mildly, November 8 cannot come soon enough for all of us. Most of our friends here in the south are fed up with it as well.

Thank goodness for football and hockey seasons. I will hold the remote, thank you.

James Hurst
November 5, 2016.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016


World Series 2016

The World Series may have concluded last night. That is, if the Cleveland Indians were to defeat the Chicago Cubs in the sixth game of their best of seven series. However, if the Cubs won last night, the final game will be played this evening in Cleveland. In either case, the game will likely be close. Most of the other games in the Series have been close, determined at the end of the ninth inning.

There is one thing I would like to see at the end of the Series, after the final out is made. I would like to see the teams line up, on the infield, and graciously shake hands, as is done after every major hockey championship. Well, maybe not graciously. Many of these players are friends off the field; many have played for both teams; many come from the same cities in Latin America. It would give a brief moment for the losers to say, “Great job,” and the winners to acknowledge that.

The one thing I do not want to see is little minions scampering around the victors trying to place goofy hats on their heads, and ridiculous shirts on their backs. “Hey!” they shout to the players, “I know you have the name of your team on your shirt, and your team logo on your hat, but Major League Baseball wants to sell tons of these goofy hats and shirts, and we want you to promote this”. Most of them will be soaked in champagne after the game, and will end up in the laundry bins. The players are obligated to do this, and they look uncomfortable doing so. But I imagine there is money involved. Therein lies the motivation.

One of the ingredients in this Series, perhaps moreso than any previous Series, is that managers are constantly replacing players with other players, especially pitchers. The Indians like to get five innings out of starting pitchers, then revert to their strong bullpen to seal the deal. Andrew Miler is almost unhitable when he takes over in the middle innings. Allen mops up at the end of the game. The Cubs use the same approach, and rely on Aroldis Chapman and his hundred-mile-an-hour fastball to finish games.

Both managers move around other players as well, especially in the late innings, for defensive purposes. In a recent game, the Indians brought in Yan Gomes to catch. Blue Jay fans may remember Gomes, as he broke into the major leagues with the Jays in 2012. He was the first Brazilian to play major league baseball. He was traded to the Indians after that season. Gomes did not play baseball until he was 12 years old, having refined his athletic skills on the soccer pitch. In 2014, he won the Silver Slugger Award for catchers in the American League.

As is always the case, there has been a fair amount of controversy about the “Strike Zone”, and the calls made by the home plate umpire. It has been a bone of contention since the game began. If a batter has three balls and no strikes, how good does a pitch really have to be in order to be rung up as a strike? An inch or two off the plate? Steeeerike! Six inches too low? Steeerike! It got so bad in the late 1960s that Carl Yastrzemski of the Red Sox led the American League in hitting with a .301 batting average. Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals won the ERA title with a 1.12 ERA, unheard of in today's game.

No one likes to strike out, especially looking at a third strike that may be out of the strike zone. Many catchers are adept at “framing pitches”. After they catch the ball, the move their glove slightly into the strike zone to help the umpire make the call. If I were behind the plate, I might gently put my size ten into the catcher's rump and remind him not to attempt to affect my opinion.

I believe baseball did the right thing by involving replays and challenges for many of the calls made by umpires. Even the foul poles have been enlarged to get rid of the guess work. But when it comes to balls and strikes, those decisions should be left to the umpires. With the game on the line, in the ninth inning, with tying and winning runs on base, an umpire must have the wherewithall to make the call. That should never be left to a machine.

May the best team win!!

James Hurst
November 1, 2016

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