Tuesday, March 28, 2017


Black Hawks Limp out of Florida

Richard Panik played for the Belleville Bulls for two years-splitting his first season with the Windsor Spitfires, and the second with the Guelph Storm. He was drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning, and sent a few years in their chain before playing in 2014-2015 for the Leafs. The Slovakian native moved to the Chicago Black Hawks the following year. He is enjoying great success this year, netting his 21st goal on Monday night. Playing on a line with Jonathan Toews has its rewards.

The Florida Panthers hosted the Hawks last Saturday night. The Hawks now have more than 100 points, one of four teams in that category. They have clinched a playoff spot, but would like to put a few points on the board for home ice advantage in the playoffs. On the way upstairs to watch the game, I overheard one scout say to another, “The Hawks can call up guys, or just slot in rookies, and they just seem to fit right in”. He may have been referring to John Hayden, who had just finished his season as a senior at Yale. In five games with the Hawks, Hayden has three points.

The game against the Panthers was the first of their two game Florida swing. The Hawks played the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday night. The y were on a roll, having won six of their seven previous games. Corey Crawford got the starting assignment in goal for the Hawks, James Reimer for the Panthers. The first period ended scoreless, and most analysts expected the Hawks to break the game open in the second period.

For the Hawks, that is when the roof caved in. Crawford was yanked after allowing four goals, four minutes into the third period. His replacement, Scott Darling, was no better, giving up three goals before the horn sounded, mercifully, to end the game. The Hawks did not get a puck past Reimer, who recorded his first shutout of the season. It was the largest margin of victory for the Panthers since an 8-0 drubbing of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2008.

Several caps were tossed on the ice as a tribute to Jonathan Marchessault, the young Panther who scored his hat trick in the third period. He has been the brightest star for the Cats this season, having signed a free agent contract in the summer. He is one of those smaller forwards who can really shoot the puck, and knows how to find open spaces. His three goals increased his total to 28 thus far this season.

Richard Panik's night ended quietly, as he tussled with the Panthers' Derek MacKenzie. The scrap was deemed to be a fight, the second one after the play had stopped. They were tossed from the game half way through the third period.

After a couple of days in the sun, the Hawks took the ice against the Lightning, who are desperate to make the playoffs. The Hawks lost that game as well, falling 5-4 in overtime, after coughing up a 4-1 lead. Ouch!

                                                            Bob Pulford

Scotty Bowman's son Stan is the General Manager of the Hawks. Scotty was there to keep an eye on the team, as was Bob Pulford. Pulford is now 80 years old, and is certainly a veteran of the hockey wars. He played more than a thousand games in the NHL, and coached 829 games with the Kings and the Hawks. He has 4 Stanley Cups and 2 Memorial Cups on his mantle at home. In 1967, he notched an overtime winning goal for the Leafs in game three. Most Leaf fans recall that year. Pulford entered the Hall of Fame in 1991.

                                                   Bob Pulford, at the Panthers game.

The season was disappointing for the Panthers, decimated by injuries to their best players. Those still with the team are playing their hearts out, trying to leave a good impression with the brass. Contract time is just around the corner.

James Hurst
March 28, 2017

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


The Home Stretch-NHL 2017

Most of the NHL teams have about ten games remaining at this point in their season. Some teams have already locked up a post season berth; some are planning for next year; several teams are on the bubble, playing for a chance to earn some playoff cash, and an opportunity to drink from the Stanley Cup.

The Florida Panthers recently had their best West Coast road trip ever, winning five out of five games. Once they returned home, with high expectations, they went, as they say, “in the tank”. They won once in the next nine games. Ouch.

The Toronto Maple Leafs took the ice against the Panthers on their recent Florida trip. The naysayers in the Toronto camp were upset that the team had arrived a little early, and that they had time for a little fishing and tanning. Expectations were high for the Leafs as the puck dropped at the B T & T Centre in Sunrise.

Those hopes were dashed quickly when the Panthers struck after 18 seconds had ticked off the clock. Jonathan Huberdeau fed linemate Alexsander Barkov for an easy tally, slipping the puck past Frederik Andersen. On their second goal, Toronto defender Nikita Zaitsev lost an edge at a critical moment, allowing Colton Sceviour to score short-handed.

James Reimer tended goal for the Panthers, and allowed two pucks to get by him as the Cats defeated the Leafs 7-2. I am certain that Reimer relished the win against his former team. No matter what might be said, there is always that extra motivation in those circumstances. He spoke modestly after the game. “It's nice to win this one and have a good feeling. I think you enjoy it, for the moment. But then you've got to get back to work, for the next game.” He has been steady in goal for the Panthers, especially when the Number One tender, Roberto Luongo, has been sidelined. But at this point in the season, the Panthers needed spectacular goaltending, and neither Reimer nor Berra have been able to provide that.

The Leafs flew out to the west coast of Florida after the game. They trounced the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-0. The Panthers headed north to Ohio to face the Columbus Blue Jackets, and lost a squeaker 2-1. Most hockey pundits agree that parity is responsible for results like this. Most teams are so evenly matched that anything can happen on any given night.

The Panthers seem to be pleased to have Tomas Vanek in their lineup. He arrived via the trade route on March 1st. The big winger has 43 points in 54 games this season, and is just 33 years old. He had four assists in the game against the Leafs, and does not play on the first line.

The B B & T Centre was evenly divided between Leafs and Panthers fans, as is often the case around March Break. The Leafs trailed 3-1 at the end of the first period, but 6-2 at the end of the second. At the end of the day, the Panthers trailed the Leafs by five points in the playoff hunt. Two days later, that gap was seven points. The Carolina Hurricanes shaded the Panthers 4-3 on Tuesday night, moving ahead of the Cats by two points. The Panthers trail the Leafs by 8 points, with ten games to go. A tough chore, with little time remaining.

The Florida Gulf Coast Eagles men's basketball team had their hopes dashed in the first round of the NCAA playoffs last Thursday night. The Florida State Seminoles proved to be too strong, and outlasted the fiery Eagles 86-80. A fine effort, and a great season for the Eagles.

Spring Training is in full progress here in Fort Myers with the Twins and the Red Sox vying for attention. The Blue Jays trail in the Grapefruit League. Need I remind you that these games do not count?

James Hurst
March 21, 2017.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017


Eagles Repeat as ASUN Champs

The Florida Gulf Coast Eagles men's Basketball team soared in the second half of their game against a stubborn North Florida team to win the title. The Eagles trailed at half time by six points. The team seemed sluggish in the first half.

The game had a true championship flavour. At opposite ends of the court, school bands assembled in the stands to play bright and sassy tunes. Cheerleaders, dance teams and mascots took the floor to stoke the fires. For more than an hour, players from both teams practiced shooting from long range, and from the paint. The public seating area filled quickly, resulting in a record crowd of 4 711. It was the noisiest place I have ever been in my life, except for the Slash concert in downtown Belleville.

                                              The Dirty Birds, with "Wings Up"

I sit under the basket at the FGCU students' section. They are affectionately known as the “Dirty Birds”. They spend the entire game trying to unnerve the opposition. Some of their comments are hilarious, some quite biting. With five minutes left, and with the Eagles holding a substantial lead, they chant, “Season's Over”!

In the first half, shots were either falling short, or clanking off the iron. They had only made one shot from 8 attempts from three point range. Even with their twin towers under the hoop-Demetris Morant and Marc-Eddy Norelia, they were being outrebounded by the Ospreys. It did not look good heading into the second half.

Coach Joe Dooley, in his fourth season with the Eagles, commented: “We were a little bit tight in the first half, but it was a great college atmosphere. I thought the fans were terrific, and they really got us going in the second half. We figured it out and started making plays.”

With less than five minutes gone in the second half, the Eagles had retaken the lead by three points, and gained some momentum. A Norelia block at one end, followed by a three point shot by Christian Terrell extended the lead to 12 points, from which the Ospreys could not recover. The dagger dashed their efforts.

The Eagles continued their man-to-man defence throughout the game, even in the forecourt, frustrating the Ospreys, often resulting in turnovers. The Ospreys elected to play zone defence the entire game.

Brandon Goodwin, previously announced as the “ASUN Newcomer of the Year”, was named tournament MVP after the game. Were it not for the efforts of the big men-Norelia, Morant, Simmons, and Mickle, the Eagles might not be awaiting the draw for their NCAA selection next Sunday. Goodwin and the other smaller players did contribute, but it was the play of the giants in the second half that made the difference. They outscored the Ospeys 20-6 in the second half on shots in the paint.

The Ospreys had succeeded in the first half by making half of their shots. The smothering defence of the Eagles held them to an 18% shooting percentage in the second half, just not good enough. From three point range, the Ospreys shot a dismal 7.1%. The Eagles lead the nation in points scored in the paint.

Five of the players on the Eagles finished in double figures, and the nine dunks the team recorded surpassed the mark established by the original “Dunk City” team that advanced to the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA final tournament.

Spring training baseball is in full swing here in Fort Myers. The Twins and the Red Sox are the hosts in this area, with the Tampa Bay Rays not far north up the coast.
At a recent FGCU Eagles game, Red Sox players were invited to throw the T shirts into the crowd. They then spent some time after the game shooting hoops, just like in high school, according to David Price. On Thursday, the Eagles are slated to throw out the first pitch at the Red Sox game.

                                                              David Price

The Everblades continue to lead in the ECHL. They continue to get stellar goaltending from Anthony Peters. They play tomorrow night at the Germian Arena in Estero.

The Leafs play in Florida next week, trying to nail down a playoff spot. It is on our agenda to catch that game with our grandson Hunter. A great time for sports in SW Florida!!

James Hurst
March 7, 2017

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