Monday, January 30, 2017
2017 NHL All Star Game
For the first time in several years, I really enjoyed the NHL All Star festivities.
I have read several reports on the All Star contests, both pro and con. One of the indications that I took from the event was that the players were having a fine time. Of course, there were one million reasons why the boys from the Metropolitan Division had a fine weekend. That was a mighty big cheque handed out at centre ice!
At last year's All Star event, John Scott really distinguished himself. He walked away, perhaps I should say “skated away” with the MVP honours from the game, much to the delight of fans and players alike. He was a journeyman player, without question, and is no longer playing hockey. But that was his moment in the sun, and he was paid the ultimate compliment by his teammates. They hoisted him on their shoulders after he received his award. There was even a bit of television coverage of John Scott at home, enjoying his young family.
This year's MVP was Wayne Simmonds from the Philadelphia Flyers. He scored three goals in the shinny tournament held to determine a winner. It was three on three hockey, certainly a challenge. We are familiar with the format, because it is used in regular season overtime. It is exciting hockey, requiring great speed and great goaltending.
The NHL is divided into four divisions. There have been so many changes in the conferences, and the divisions, that I have to check the newspaper to see how they currently line up. Currently, there are four divisions in two conferences. The four teams in the tournament: Atlantic, Metropolitan, Central, and Pacific. Pacific beat Central 10-3, Metropolitan beat Atlantic 10-6. The winners faced off in the final, won by the Metropolitan boys 4-3. Sure, it was a bit confusing, and hardly memorable. But it was good hockey. Games were 20 minutes long.
One of the highlights of the weekend was the homage paid to the top 100 players from the last 100 years. Of course, many have passed away. But almost 50 of the greats of the game showed up. From all of the smiling faces, it was apparent that they all really enjoyed the weekend. Wisely, there was no mention of grading. We can agree on many of the top players, but there will always be disagreements. Gordie Howe is in the top ten on everyone's list (at least he should be). Bobby Orr is on my list as well, as is Bobby Hull. I still maintain that Wayne Gretzky is number one.
I also enjoy the skills competitions. I believe the players enjoy that as well. They hang along the boards chatting while watching their peers shoot for accuracy and for speed. It is always noteworthy to see who is clocked with the fastest speed in the league.
Other noteworthy sports events last week included Roger Federer's victory in the Australian Open against Rafael Nadal. It was a long and grueling five set match. It has been several years between victories in major tournaments for Federer, who is in the twilight of his career, but still the king of the court.
Five Canadian golfers made the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open. Several notable players failed to make the cut, including Tiger Woods in his comeback attempt.
And yes, there is football south of the border this weekend: the New England Patriots will take on the Atlanta Falcons in Houston this coming Sunday. As always, there will be some interesting commercials.
January 30, 2017
Monday, January 23, 2017
Hockey Life, On The Road.
Columbus Cottonmouths' Bus
A hockey life is a very transient life. For a variety of reasons, you do not often stay in one place for a long time. You might get traded, or demoted. Then again, you might get “called up” to play in a better league. Injuries are always a factor. There may also be personal reasons for changing your locale.
Junior players only stay in their junior towns or cities for a few years. They may move on to colleges or universities. They may join the professional ranks, or simply decide to hang up the blades. There are only so many jobs in professional hockey.
Andy Bathgate, former Belleville Bull
Some of those jobs happen to exist in leagues that are not widely known, like the SPHL. There are nine teams in the league, and, over the years, many local players from the Quinte area have laced up their skates for one of these teams: Columbus Cottonmouths, Evansville Thunderbolts, Fayetteville FireAntz, Huntsville Havoc, Knoxville Ice Bears, Macon Mahem, Mississippi River Kings, Pensacola Flyers, Peoria Rivermen, and the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs.
Most of the players who toil in the SPHL are there because they love the game. The love the camaraderie, the competition, the action. They are in the process of “living the dream”, in hopes that they might some day play for substantial money. I suggest that if they really did not like playing, they would walk away from the game.
Rusty Hafner plays for the Columbus Cottonmouths. He played his college hockey at Bowling Green. Be he also spent an exciting year with the Wellington Dukes, playing 20 playoff games all the way to the Royal Bank Cup. Andy Bathgate also plays for Columbus. He skated on the big ice in Belleville for several years with the Bulls. That ice and that team, as you well know, no longer exist.
Rusty Hafner, Former Wellington Duke
The SPHL is a bus league. Teams travel thousands of miles each season. Columbus ventured north last weekend to play the Peoria Rivermen. At 1:15pm, on Friday afternoon, their bus rolled off the highway in Illinois. All of the players on the team, and team personnel went to the hospital. First reports indicated that there were serious injuries.
On Sunday evening, they played the second game of their weekend schedule against Pensacola. Only six players from the team were able to play. Coach Bechard had his hands full.
“It was one of the most emotional events I've been involved with. We had six guys from our team playing and we had twelve guys from all over the country, some that I knew, some that I didn't know. And they came together. It wasn't a pretty game, by any means, but they did everything they needed to do, and really showed what being a team is all about', he reported to the local media.
Goaltender Brandon Jaeger was released from hospital yesterday, and is home recovering with his parents. David Segal has played pro hockey for ten years, more than 417 games. “I have never played in a more meaningful or emotional game in my entire career,” he said, after the game.
The team lost the game to Pensacola 6-3. I am certain it was a game that none of them will ever forget. Thankfully, they are all on the mend.
Not just another day in minor pro hockey.
January 23, 2017.
Monday, January 16, 2017
Currently with the Binghampton Senators
I was in the crowd recently when it was announced that they were relocating to Belleville. There were a lot of smiling faces in the crowd. Many of those people were formerly Belleville Bulls' fans, and were thrilled to see that hockey was returning to Belleville. In the same token, I am certain there were some disappointed fans in Binghampton.
Many of those people remember the glory days of hockey in the Quinte area when the Belleville McFarlands reigned supreme. There were some lean years following the exploits of the McFarlands. But there was decent Junior hockey and some senior hockey as well.
There were a few reasons why the Belleville Bulls left town.
The seating capacity was a little small. Mind you, even at the best of times, one could still find a seat here or there. Most of the time, even during the heyday of the Bulls, there were seats available during the regular season. Of course it was another story during the playoffs. But that situation really pertains to all levels of hockey, at crunch time.
The style of play was a big factor. Most fans had had enough of George Burnett. Let's just say that he was a defensive-minded coach, and did not emphasize an offensive game. There are many styles of play, and George emphasized the wrong one for Bulls' fans. Many refused to renew their seasons' tickets because of that.
In the dead of winter, it is cold in Ontario. No kidding. And yet, the Bulls' home games were broadcast live on television. So Don and his bride are sitting at the dinner table, and it is ten below zero, and he asks her if she might be interested in heading out to the Bulls game. They will have to park half a mile from the arena's entrance. On the other hand, they could crack a cold one, and watch the game on TV, in comfort, by the fireside.
There have been reports of relocations taking place at this time in the National Football League. Silly stuff. But the San Diego Chargers are likely on their way out of town, to become the Los Angeles Chargers. The Raiders are destined for Vegas, to join the hockey Knights. Sad times, as those with good memories will recall. The Colts bolted from Baltimore in the middle of the night, leaving a bad taste in many mouths. Sadly, it's all about the buck.
So let's get back to the playoffs. We now have the Steelers traveling to New England to play the Patriots, the Packers going to Atlanta to face the Falcons. Football fans across North America will enjoy this weekend's playoffs, with the SuperBowl only weeks away!
January 15, 2017.
Sunday, January 15, 2017
Ovechkin's Latest Triumphs-Who Cares?
In the midst of a deep personal self evaluation, I am trying to uncover the reason for an opinion I cannot shake. I am not an Alex Ovechkin fan.
I am not enthralled with his remarkable exploits. I am not overwhelmed by the fact that he has won the Maurice Richard Trophy for scoring the most goals in the regular NHL season six times, including the last four years. He recently passed Richard's goal total, moving into 84th place in the all-time points list.
I am always impressed with players who remain faithful to their teams, and play their entire career in one city. Ovechkin has done that, in a Washington Capitals uniform. One cannot say the same for that other European superstar, Jaromir Jagr. Jagr has played in several cities, eight, in fact,and even bolted to play in Russia for several seasons. It likely had something to do with money.
It may be because “Ovi” plays for the Caps. I have never been a Capitals fan, likely never will be. I have never scanned the morning news to find out whether or not the Capitals won or lost. I have had many favourite teams over the years, just not the Capitals.
It may be because it has taken him so long to learn how to communicate in acceptable English. I have watched his interviews over the years. It appears that he really does not care what I think of his ability to communicate with me.
I am not a big fan of those who like to “hot dog”. Ovechkin has always put on a fairly obvious personal display when he scores a goal. “Good for you”, I say to myself. But seriously, after scoring 544 goals, you just might tone down that nonsense, just a little. Of course I am old school about that. Score the goal, go to centre ice for the face off. It is not necessary to high five, kiss and hug every player on your bench every time you light the lamp.
I think he is a brilliant player. He is a real force to contend with, at six feet, six inches or more in stature on the ice. He weighs 240 pounds without the equipment. My bones creak a little when I imagine getting creamed into the boards by Ovechkin.
I love the way he shoots the puck. He manages to find that little spot in the open, prepares to fire, and watches the twine bulge. Only a handful of players have had that timing. He is not a big assist guy, and now has chalked up 455 assists in his career. He trails another Russian, Evgeni Malkin. Malkin has 492 assists, and is in 146th place on the all time list.
He appears to be a good teammate. They gather around him after he scores. Then again, what else are they supposed to do?
Perhaps you, the reader, could help me in this regard. I would take 50 other players ahead of Ovechkin as my favourites. Am I wrong here? Does he have endearing qualities? Am I overlooking something?
He is still relatively young, at 31 years. He does not shy away from the rough stuff, and he may not last as long in the league as other players who tend to avoid serious confrontation.
Is it because he has never hoisted the Stanley Cup?
January 12, 2017
Tuesday, January 10, 2017
Chad Bain Joins the Pro Ranks.
Chad Bain is making history.
The Belleville native and Quinte Secondary School graduate has become the first-ever Ontario player to sign with the expansion Toronto Wolfpack professional rugby league team. The club announced the signing Monday.
Eric Perez, CEO of the Wolfpack, who'll open their inaugural season in May in Toronto, said Bain is a solid addition to the fledgling club.
"I’m really pleased to welcome Chad to the team,” said Perez. “He worked really hard and has proven to us that he has what it takes to contribute to the squad, and it’s even better that he is a native of our province of Ontario. Chad is the first Ontario domestic player to be signed by the Wolfpack, and is a perfect example of the growth of rugby league in this province.
"We're eager to grow the sport in our region, and it’s players like Chad who're helping us lead the way.”
Bain, a six-foot, 265-pound prop, participated in open tryouts for the Wolfpack held across North America last summer and was among only 18 finalists invited to participate in a trial match in December in England. The Wolfpack hopefuls defeated semi-pro rugby league club, Brighouse Rangers, 28-26, and Bain was named Man of the Match after leading the Toronto tackle count.
The 24-year-old Bain said he was thrilled to officially join the Wolfpack.
"It's been a crazy 24 hours,” he said. “I still can't believe it. There's no other club I'd rather play for. Not only am I representing Toronto, but I'm representing Canada as a whole.
"I appreciate everyone who's supported me. This is the start of something big for rugby league in Canada and around the world and I'm glad to be part of it.”
Bain played junior and senior rugby for the Belleville Bulldogs before being introduced to rugby league through an Ontario domestic competition. Rugby league features 13 players per side, as opposed to 15 in rugby union, with other technical differences.
Bain went on to play for the Canadian national rugby league team — the Wolverines — including at a World Cup qualification tournament in Florida.
Wolfpack officials, in a press release, said Bain brings “rugby league experience alongside his impressive size, speed and strength” to the Toronto club.
Brian Noble, the Wolfpack's director of rugby, said Bain earned his opportunity with the club through grit and determination.
"I'm so thrilled that Chad is continuing his rugby career with the Wolfpack,” said Noble. “He joins an elite program with elite players and thoroughly deserves his place at the top table. Throughout the trials he has excelled at overcoming obstacles, and like his playing style, has smashed them out of the way.
"Now the hard work begins."
Bain’s first official match with the Wolfpack will take place on Jan. 22 in an exhibition match against Hull FC, in the U.K.
Beginning in May, the Wolfpack become the first-ever trans-Atlantic team to play in the English Rugby Football League (ERFL). They'll play home games at Lamport Stadium in the ERFL's Third Division, which is two steps below the Super League — the NHL of rugby league.
The Wolfpack have already signed the bulk of their roster, featuring a mix of veteran and up-and-coming professionals, mostly from the U.K. Bain is among a select group of developmental players who'll each make their debut as professionals this year.
Need to know: Bain is the third Canadian-born prospect to be signed by the Wolfpack.
Note: Chad Bain began his football career with the Belleville Minot Football League. Several local players have gone on to play professional sports from the Belleville Minor Football League.
Monday, January 09, 2017
Blades Continue Winning Ways-2017
One of Three!
Last Wednesday, the Florida Everblades played the first of three home games against the Manchester Monarchs. They trailed the Monarchs by two points in the Eastern Conference, with both teams sitting on the top of their respective divisions. After Saturday night's game, the Blades earned their spot at the top of the standings, winning all three games . This coming week, they also play three games against rival South Carolina Stingrays. It was only the second Manchester visit to Florida in the last five years.
Travel costs are a serious consideration in the ECHL with 27 teams from all points in North America, including Brampton, Ontario, and Alaska! Consequently, teams often play three games during their week in South West Florida. They also look forward to a little fun in the sun. No big deal is made of the few days that they can enjoy a few rays. Otherwise, they might take the abuse heaped on the New York Giants for their little junket last week. For some reason, they just weren't ready to beat the Packers on the frozen tundra in Green Bay last Sunday.
Coach Brad Ralph
I asked coach Brad Ralph about his team's success thus far this year. This is his first season behind the Blades' bench, succeeding Greg Poss. He held up two fingers after I asked the question. “Heart and chemistry”, he told me. The Blades have played 33 games this season, losing 7 times in regulation. They began the season with 13 games without a regular season loss. Coach Ralph added: “Our team is very determined, really grinding every game”.
On Sunday, the Blades trailed at the end of the first period, but tied the game on a wicked shot from Evan Bloodoff. Midway through the third period, rookie Michael Ferrantino stole the puck in the neutral zone, cruised in from the wing, and beat Monarch's goalie with a nifty shot to the top of the net, right up beside the peanut butter jar.
The Blades added a late period goal, but gave one back when the Monarchs scored after pulling their goalie with few seconds remaining. Too little, too late. The Blades survived the late onslaught to win 3-2.
Blades Goalie Anthony Peters
Much credit for the win went to Anthony Peters, the first star of the game. The Blades were often short-handed, and Peters had to be sharp throughout the game. He had good things to say about his teammates: “They played really well in front of me. They tightened up defensively when required, giving us a chance to win. We split our games on the road against the Monarchs, so we knew they were a good team. But we do well on home ice, especially when teams are here for three games.”
You are familiar with the Florida Panthers' tradition of tossing rats on the ice after a home game victory? Well, the Everblades have something similar in mind, using plastic alligators. It has a ways to go. I counted three.
More than four thousand spectators enjoyed the game at the Germain Arena in Estero, easily visible on the eastern side of the main highway # 75 on the South West Coast. Next Saturday night will also be a special one for the Blades. “Canada Night”, presented by the TD bank. Live music and “Bounce Houses”. I would not have it any other way, unless there is an age restriction. Game time 7:00pm.
James Hurst- January 9, 2017
Sunday, January 01, 2017
So Long, 2016!!
Yes, girls and boys, it's time to turf that ragged old 2016 calendar, and unfurl the one that arrived in the mail. Reflecting on the past year, sad to say, we lost a fine group of athletes from many different areas in the sporting world.
In no particular order, I shall address those losses. Some of them may not move you deeply, as they matured, like a fine wine, to a great old age. Others left us too soon, for a variety of reasons.
Arnold Palmer left us last year. He was certainly a legend on the golf links, and managed to stay in the game long enough to have great impact.
Muhammad Ali died in 2016. I trust you have seen some of the documentaries, or movies of the man. He dominated the fight game for many years, and was a lightning rod for the promotion of racial integration in the United States.
Two other great fighters also died last year: Aaron Pryor, and Sonny Liston, who helped promote the game with Ali, Frazier, and a few others.
Dick McCauliffe was a fine baseball player, and won a World Series with the Tigers in 1968. Monte Irvin was one of the pioneers of the game, the last survivor of the Negro Leagues. The Hall of Famer was 96. Joe Garagiola died last year, at the age of 90. His story, and that of his son, is documented in a previous column. Milt Pappas starred with the Cubs, Orioles and Braves during his career. The most tragic baseball loss last year was that of Jose Fernandez. Fernandez managed to escape from Cuba to became a star with the Marlins in Florida. A superstar .in the making, his life was snuffed out in a late-night boating accident off the coast of Florida. Drugs and booze involved? Of course. Tragic? Absolutely.
We lost NBA Hall of Famer Nate Thurmond, and another in Bobby Wanzer who played for the Rochester Royals and became an NBA Champion in 1951.
Johann Cruyff was declare Europe's best player of the 20th century on the soccer pitch. He helped promote the game world-wide.
Winston Hill was a key player in the career of Joe Namath. Hill was a tackle with the Jets, and protected “ Broadway Joe” when he won his only championship. Buddy Ryan was a legendary coach with many NFL teams. His sons are currently unemployed, after unsuccessful seasons with the Buffalo Bills.
A slight nod to the wrestling game. “Chyna” passed away last year. She was 46 years old, and had difficult times outside the ring.
So many friends left the ice for good last year, but none greater than Gordie Howe. Have a look at the record book. No matter what Jagr does, Gordie will reign supreme. But we lost one of his nemeses, Lou Fontinato as well. One of the Plager brothers, Bill, who brought a little small town non-nonsense hockey from the north left us last year. Ted McKaskill only played one year in the NHL, but father a pretty fine ball player, his son Kirk.
Bill Gadsby played 21 seasons in the NHL. Rudy Migay starred for the Leafs, Charlie Hodge for the Habs. Former Red Wings Benny Woit and Bill Dineen have left the building. Normie Kwong won four Grey Cups with the Eskimos, but also had his name scratched on the Stanley Cup as one of the owners of the Calgary Flames. Kingston's Bob Dailey passed away last year. A stalwart in early Olympic hockey, Ken Broderick is gone.
And Ron Wicks, the long-time NHL referee, also passed away last year.
May you have a spectacular 2017. May all of your sports dreams come true. ( Keep in mind the word “Rebuilding”! That covers a lot of ground!)