Saturday, April 29, 2017
The Other Playoff Picture 2017
Of course I realize that you are most concerned about the Stanley Cup Playoffs. There is, however, another set of playoffs that are of great concern to many Torontonians. Now that the Leafs have exited the playoff picture, you may now focus on the Toronto Basketball Team.
The Toronto Raptors have begun their playoff round against the Milwaukee Bucks. There have been two games played in Toronto at the Air Canada Centre. Just outside the west doors of the Centre is an intriguing square, affectionately known as Jurassic Park during the basketball season. Fans gather there in the hundreds to watch the game on a big screen. They will even gather there in the cold weather when the games are in the opposition's building. Serious supporters.
The Raptors have enjoyed a successful season. They finished higher than the Bucks, and earned the right to host the first two games. In basketball, having the home court advantage is critical. Basketball teams win home games with a greater percentage than do teams from the other major sports. There is a significant amount of “hype” generated by the fans to inspire the players.
Unfortunately, that was not the case for the Raps. They dropped their first game at home against the Bucks, digging themselves a considerable hole.
Most basketball teams rely on one or two players to lead the troops. The Cleveland Cavaliers, led by LeBron James, have already moved on to the second round of the payoffs, primarily because of LeBron's play. The Golden State Warriors rely on Steph Curry to provide the straw to stir their drink.
The Raptors have two key personnel to lead them: Demar Derozan and Kyle Lowry. Lowry has spent significant time in the sick bay this year, but appears to be ready for these post season games. In their third game of this series, Derozan had a terrible game. The ball would not go in the hoop. He ended the game with less than 10 points.
The Bucks returned to the court for the fourth full of enthusiasm. At half time, teams were even at 41. Demar had regained his touch, and outscored the rest of his teammates, combined. At the end of the game, he had 33 points, and 9 rebounds. Lowry added 18 points. After the game, trying to explain his dramatic improvement, Derozan added, simply, “Won't happen twice. Never happen twice”.
The Raptors also got a dozen points from Jonas Valanciunas, the same from Norman Powell. Serge Ibaka added ten, with 8 rebounds.
Most of the attention in this series is focused on a young Milwaukee player, Giannis Antetokoumpo. He was born in Nigeria, but raised in Greece. He is referred to as “The Greek Freak”. He was a first team all star, and is a dominant player. He had 14 points and 9 rebounds in the loss, clearly not his best game. Toronto's defensive tactics clearly held him in check.
Game five is on Monday night, in Milwaukee. Bucks coach, Jason Kidd will spend some time on game films before the tip. Ditto for Dwane Casey of the Raps. Momentum is vital in all NBA games. The winner of this series gets to play the Cavaliers!
One of the Memphis Grizzlies made 3 three point shots on Saturday night. First time ever accomplished by a 40 year old. Vince Carter. You remember the name.
UPDATE: April 29, 2017
The Raptors took care of business, almost letting a 25 point lead slip away. |Thye now face the Cavaliers in a 7 game series. Needless to say, they have their work cut out for them.
April 24, 2017
Saturday, April 22, 2017
A Most Interesting Observation.
Points well taken; however, there is money to be made in all playoff series. The nature of the beast.
Thursday, April 20, 2017
Andrew Courtney Hangs up his Blades.
By Paul Svoboda, The Intelligencer
Andrew Courtney wouldn't change a thing.
Well, maybe one thing.
The 31-year-old Belleville native recently announced his retirement from professional hockey at the conclusion of the 2016-17 ECHL regular season.
Courtney, a six-foot-three, 200-pound forward, spent his entire seven-year minor pro career with the Missouri Mavericks in Independence, MO, where he finished the season as the fourth team captain in the club's eight-year history.
In a letter on the Mavericks website, Courtney said he couldn't have asked for a better place to play. His lone regret was not being able to share a league title with Mavericks fans, he said.
"I was just a young college kid wanting to continue his hockey career,” he said. “Looking back, I couldn't have asked for a better organization to continue my career with. To be able to play for the same team my whole professional career has been a blessing.
"There'll always be a spot in my heart for the Missouri Mavericks family.”
Courtney leaves some big skates to fill with the ECHL affiliate of the NHL New York Islanders.
He holds Mavericks franchise records for most games played (360) and goals (149). The former Jr. A Trenton Sting added 142 assists for 291 career points, along with 396 penalty minutes.
In 40 career playoff games, Courtney scored 19 goals and tacked on 14 helpers for 33 points.
Courtney played five years of university hockey with the Lethbridge Pronghorns before turning pro with the Mavericks during the 2010-11 season. He left Lethbridge on a high note, earning 23 points in 23 games in his final CIS season.
Courtney burst onto the minor pro scene in his rookie campaign with Missouri, scoring 29 goals and adding 30 assists for 59 points in 63 games. Between 2013-15, Courtney scored single-season career highs of 34 and 36 goals, respectively.
Battling the injury bug this season, the rangy forward scored nine goals and totalled 26 points in 42 games. Mavericks finished fifth in the seven-team Mountain Division and missed the playoffs.
Mavericks were seventh in average home attendance in the 27-team ECHL this season (5,068) and Courtney saluted the “Orange Army” for their support during his career.
"Best fans in the league,” he said. “Through all the ups and downs, you've never left our side. I'll never forget the noise you bring to every game. My only regret is not being able to bring a championship to you.”
Courtney, who met his wife, Kara, while playing for the Mavericks, said his teammates, coaches and training staff helped prepare him for life after pro hockey.
"What I've learned from all of you will help me make the transition into the next chapter of my life,” he said.
• Need to know: Former Belleville Bulls defenceman Stephen Silas signed with the Mavericks following the 2016-17 Ontario university season with the Waterloo Warriors.
Copied from The Intelligencer on April 20, 2017.
Tuesday, April 18, 2017
A Potpourri of Sport in the Spring
So many avenues, so little time!
A couple of weeks ago, equipment managers packed up the trucks and headed north with baseball equipment so that Major League teams could begin their pursuit of a World Championship. The object of that exercise was to make sure that everything was in place for a successful start to the season.
For the Toronto Blue Jays, most fans are waiting for the good times. In order to succeed at this level, all important aspects of the game must be applied at the same time. Thus far in their dreadful season, the Jays have not been knocking on all cylinders, rhythmically. Some days, good pitching and no bats. Other days, good offence, and bad pitching. Then there are days of poor defence, bad judgement. Not a lot to inspire confidence. Twelve games into the season with two victories, unexpected, and unacceptable.
For Leaf fans, these are exciting times. They knew that the Washington Capitals would be tough in this playoff series. But the Leafs emerged from the Easter weekend knotted at a game apiece, with lots of energy. Kasperi Kapanen and Tyler Bozak both scored in overtime to give the Leafs a lead in the series, Toronto's most important playoff goals in many years. The Senators and the Bruins are also in a battle. But the Sens also have a 2-1 lead, thanks to overtime goals from Bobby Ryan and Dion Paneuf.
The Canadiens have moved ahead of the Rangers by one game in that series. The Ducks lead Calgary 3-0, The young Oilers have moved ahead of the Sharks 2-1. The Penguins and the St. Louis Blues now have commanding 3-0 leads. The Predators have proved to be stubborn opponents for the Hawks, leading 3-0 in that series. In the playoffs, especially if you have a hot goalie, anything can happen.
Canadian golfers fared well this past weekend. Alena Sharp finished one shot out of second place in the LOTTE Championship in Hawaii. She banked slightly more than $ 80 000 for her work. Brooke Henderson finished five shots back of Sharp, pocketing $ 33 000.
Stephen Ames, now playing out of Vancouver, won the Champions Tour event in Georgia by four strokes, picking up $ 270 000. Rod Spittle recovered from a disastrous first round to post two par rounds to finish the tournament. Graham DeLaet was on the leader board for most of the RBC Heritage tournament in Hilton Head, South Carolina. He finished 3 strokes off the pace, and pocketed $ 217 000. Adam Hadwin and Nick Taylor bot picked up $65 00 for their efforts. David Hearn won $ 14 000, flying the Canadian colours.
The Toronto Raptors opened their playoff series this past weekend against the Milwaukee Timberwolves. They dropped the first game in Toronto, 97-83, and play again Tuesday night in Hogtown. They surely do not want to drop that game. The western shores of Lake Michigan could be mighty unfriendly.
If I have not touched on your favourite sport, I apologize. This little brain can only handle a few things at a time.
Hope you had a fine Easter weekend. We hit the road a week from today. See you soon!
April 18, 2017.
Thursday, April 13, 2017
Opening Day and Other Stuff
The Toronto Blue Jays flew out of Tampa last Sunday after dropping the last game of a four game series against the Rays, 7-2. They had the day off, on Monday, to prepare for their Home Opener yesterday, against the Brewers. It has not exactly been a picnic this far this season for the Jays.
Tropicana Field is a two hour drive north of Fort Myers, just off Highway # 75. It is a piece of cake to reach the parking lot, with a short walk to the field. Do not worry if you do not have tickets before reaching the Dome. The announced crowd was a little over 15 000, but I suspect there were far fewer bums in seats. The do everything possible to attract the fans-bobble heads, back packs...all kinds of giveaways. Many seats remain vacant.
Wonderful Bridge to Baseball
The Rays are playing good baseball. They spotted the Jays two runs in the first inning, off a Josh Donaldson home run, a walk to Bautista, and a double by newcomer Kendrys Morales. At that point, the door was shut. Quite solidly. Morales was hit by an Odorizzi pitch to start the fourth inning, but was doubled off. He was the only baserunner for the Jays until the two out double by Bautista in the ninth. The Rays had recorded 25 outs, without a hit or a base-on-balls.
They put up four runs in the third inning on home runs by Dickerson and Souza. The added another run in the 4th, and two in the 8th, off a series of “miscalculations” by the Jays. Marco Estrado took the loss for the Jays, after five innings of work. Tepera, Loup, and Lawrence finished the pitching assignment for the Jays. Odorizzi got the win for the Rays, with assistance from Jumbo Diaz in the 7th and Tommy Hunter in the 9th.
Diaz is a bit of a phenomenon. He was signed by the Dodgers in 2001, but did not see Major League action until 2014, at the age of 30. The native of the Domican Republic, he is listed at 6' 4”, and 278 pounds. He is a huge guy. His pockets were empty when they weighed him. He did look a little like CC Sabathia, from the cheap seats.
The Blue Jays tied their worst start in club history wit the loss. They have won once, in their first six games. Let us not forget it is a very long season, and it is early. Nonetheless, most Blue Jay fans would like to see many victories during their long home stand against the Brewers, the Orioles and the Red Sox.
For some reason, the Jays have always had trouble against the Rays, especially in Tampa. They have won 33 games, but have lost 61! Go figure.
Hammond Stadium, Opening Night
Last Saturday night was Opening Night for the Fort Myers Miracle. Hammond Stadium was packed, with the assistance of Wendy's Restaurant which gave out thousands of free tickets for the game. Free fireworks followed the Miracle win over the Jupiter Hammerheads. The teams play in the Florida StateLeague, along with the Dunedin Blue Jays.
Perhaps a little of your sporting focus has been captured by the games leading up to the Stanley Cup finals. Aunt Tilly has the chips and cold ones lined up beside the channel changer on her table beside her chair. I dare you to sit there! She will be watching her Leafs take on the Capitals, and that ogre Ovechkin. But she will also keep an eye on Ottawa-Boston, Pittsburgh-Columbus, Montreal-Rangers, Hawks and Predators, Ducks and Flames, Blues and Wild, and Oilers and Sharks. Your guess is as good as, or likely better than mine to determine the outcmes.
And a special tip of the golf hat to Sergio! Senor Garcia finally won the Masters, his first Major after 71 tries. I know he has a big following in many parts of the County. That will be another story, some day.
April 10, 2017.
Wednesday, April 05, 2017
Andrew Shaw-With the Canadiens
By the time that the final bell rings at the end of this season, Andrew Shaw will have played almost 70 games for the Montreal Canadiens. Major changes took place prior to the season for the Canadiens, including the addition of Shaw from the Black Hawks. He was certainly a fan favourite for the Hawks, and he has endeared himself to the Habs fans in just one season.
Those of us from his home area know the reason. Many of the tired old cliches apply in this case, but none more appropriate than the one that says, simply, “He leaves it all on the ice.”
He is a heart and soul player. He is a tenacious checker. He is fearless. He plays a lot bigger than his size. (He is listed at 5' 11”, and 175 pounds. I suggest both of those statistics are slightly exaggerated.)
Andrew has played more than 400 games in the National Hockey League. He got his first taste of action in the league in the 2011-2012 season, also spending time with the Hawks AHL team in Rockford. He did the same the following season, and then never looked back. Despite his ferocious style, he rarely has missed a game.
As of the end of March, he has 11 goals and 17 assists for 28 points. His penalty minutes are up a little from his average. He has had to sit in the sin bin for 108 minutes, bringing his career total to over 400 minutes, almost a minute per game. The Lady Byng Trophy may be just out of his reach, at this point in his career.
Many of us knew Andrew as a rough and tumble kid, one of Doug and Darlene's lads who rarely went home for supper with clean clothes. They were a scrappy bunch, always dedicated to the task when it came to sports. No one could ave predicted that Andrew would have become a star in the NHL at that time. Then again, none of us is completely surprised.
A week ago, I caught up with Andrew following his final trip to Florida. The Habs defeated the Lightning in Tampa, 2-1, and had just knocked off the Panthers 4-1. Andrew scores the first goal for the Habs. While parked in front of the Panthers net, he just happened to be in a perfect location to bang in his 12th goal of the season,on a perfect play set up by Artturi Lehkonen, and Alex Galcheyuk, his linemates.
Near the end of the second period Andrew was involved in a quirky play. He put up his hand to block a shot into his zone. The puck deflected off his glove, into the crowd. He received a two minute, delay of game penalty.
I asked him about his opinion on the five come onto the ice to scrape the surface. “ I really appreciate those breaks,” he told me. “First of all, the ice here is not good at this time of year, because of the heat. (It was almost 30 degrees celsius during the day.) Secondly, I like the chance to rest a bit during those breaks.”
He told me he is delighted with the coaching change that too place not long ago. “Coach Julien is a players' coach. He also has good systems, and is very positive in his approach.”
Several gaffes in the third period led to good scoring chances for both teams. The puck slid off Panther defender Michael Matheson's stick at the Panther bluline, and Lehkonen made no mistake burying his 15th goal. He added his 16th when Paul Bryon's breakaway attempt banged off the end boards, onto his stick. He blasted it by Panthers' goalie Reto Berra, earning first star status. (James Reimer and Roberto Luongo are both injured at this time.)
Radulov fired a long empty net goal for his 18th this season. Hab fans broke into the “Ole, ole, ole business”, just to rub it in. Note: A few thousand empty seats, in case you happen to be in the area next year; however, I suspect the Cats will be in a better position at this time next year, barring nasty injuries.
Post game temperature? 75 degrees.
As he wandered back to the dressing room, for a post game workout, I hollered at Andrew, “See you in the summer!” He shouted back, “I'll let you touch the Cup!”
Hockey night in Florida. Like no other.
April 4, 2017
Sunday, April 02, 2017
When Madisen Abramson was three years old, she underwent a CAT Scan as part of a sleep study. Since birth, she had struggled with respiratory difficulties. Further tests revealed that she had a brain tumour, subsequently treated with Chemotherapy.
Fortunately, she now lives the life of a typical 12 year old, with the exception that she undergoes an MRI every three months. She has become an ambassador for Brain Tumour Survivors. In nine years, more than $ 500 000 has been raised to benefit cancer treatment centre charities throughout the nation. The fundraising takes place in and around nine tennis courts at The Landings, in South West Florida.
Friends and family came up with the concept of a tennis-based activity to help raise funds. This year's edition is the ninth, and included receptions, silent auctions, galas and live auctions. On the tennis side, there is a camp, pro-am events, and professional tennis exhibitions.
Kathy Rinaldi and Shawn Gullickson
Several tennis legends add their names, and their sweat to the event. Kathy Rinaldi was once ranked # 7 in the world. She had victories over Steffi Graf, Pan Shriver, and Jana Novotna. She currently serves as the Fed Cup Team Captain for the United States. I watched her doubles match with her partner Shawn, Tom Gullikson's wife. They were matched against the club professional at The Landings, Sam DiSimone, and his partner.There were not playing polite, Sunday afternoon tennis. Wicked serves, plenty of slice, topspin lobs that required serious hustle, nasty dropshots. All part of the game.
I spoke with Sam after the match. “We are really pleased to be able to host the event here at The Landings. It is lots of fun, with friendly competition.” The competition is friendly, but played at a very high level.
Mardy Fish played several doubles matches throughout the day, then lined up against Robby Ginepri in the final singles match. During his pro career, Mardy won six ATP titles. He was once ranked # 7 in the world, and was the # 1 American in 2011. When the ball leaves his racket, it makes a sound that I have never duplicated.
Other tennis legends at the fund-raiser included: Tom Gullikson, who won many titles with his brother Tim. He has served as US Davis Cup Team Captain, US Men's Olympic Team Coach, and is a former US Mixed Doubles Chapion; Luke Jensen, who has won 10 Doubles Titles on the ATP tour, including the French Open with his brother Murphy; Mikael Pernfors, formerly a top ten singles player who had victories over Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, and Mats Wilander; and Chani Anderson, who was a Doubles semi-finalist at Wimbledon.
Auction items caught me eye, but I managed to keep my hands at my sides: a Rolex watch, tickets to the US Tennis Open in New York City, with a 2 night hotel stay, Springsteen tickets, and hospitality access, of course, Lady Gaga tickets, with a week in a Jaguar, and a football signed by Patriots coach, Bill Belichick. Fully inflated.
Duane Chaney started the event on behalf of his niece, and is to be commended for his efforts. A great day at the courts!
April 2, 2017