Tuesday, December 19, 2017
The Senators Have Arrived!!
Because of my wandering nature, I had not been able to attend a Belleville Senators game until this past weekend. I was not quite sure what to expect, in the overall picture, but I did know that there would be darn good hockey. I was not disappointed in the least.
Many of the fans that I have spoken to have tried to make comparisons to the Belleville Bulls. To jog your memory just a little, the Bulls were an OHL team that was unceremoniously yanked from the city at the end of the 2014-2015 season. Then there was that hockey void. Season ticket holders got irritable in mid-September of that year, There was really nothing in the vicinity to fill the void. A few headed off to Peterborough to watch the Hamilton team play the Petes. Or perhaps they headed east to watch the remnants of the Bulls up against the Kingston Frontenacs.
All that changed, dramatically, about a year ago when it was announced that an American Hockey League franchise was moving to Belleville, That would mean that the city would be hosting the best hockey it had ever hosted. In the late 1950s, the Belleville McFarlands played at the OHA Senior “A” level. Some of their players had played in the American League, some even in the NHL.
Initially, it was a little hard to fathom. As far as we knew, the powers-that-be had been able to break a rental arrangement in Binghampton, New York, and move that franchise to the confines of the Yardmen Arena. Magically, hockey had returned to Belleville in a big way.
Commitments were made to make the rink acceptable to the standards of the league. Sadly, as far as I was concerned, they reduced the size of the ice surface to NHL standards. For 34 years, we had become accustomed to the Olympic size. It led to a certain type of play, often capitalized by the host team. The Bulls were often built to suit the ice size; speed, great passing, wide open play. It would have been nice to see an AHL team with that advantage.
All of the parties got to the proverbial discussion tables, and agreements were solidified. In the Winter Issue of Watershed Magazine, Orland French supplies the details of the agreements. Those in favour of the Senators in Belleville will tell you about the economic spin-offs that will make this viable to the city. The detractors will tell you that the city has sold the farm with the deal.
The rink looks great. Capacity has been expanded to 4 500, give or take. The hockey is exceptional. The team had a rough go last year, and the pundits did not have high expectations for the Baby Sens. But they have had a reasonable year thus far, playing .500 hockey. The play is much faster than junior hockey; the hitting is harder; the passes are crisper; the shooting straighter and faster;the players are larger and older.
The Senators scored twice in nine seconds near the end of the second period to tie the game. The Manitoba Moose proved that they are the top team in the league by burying four unanswered goals in tn the third period to take the win.
Many of the players on both teams have had a couple of cups of coffee or two in the National Hockey League. According to the whims and desires of the parent club, at any time any of the Baby Sens could be traveling along the 401, north on 416 to the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa. It is a capricious life.
Thus far, the Sens have played Toronto, Syracuse, Manitoba, Hartford, Hershey, Providence, Charlotte, Laval, Rochester, Springfield, Utica, Lehigh Valley, and Binghampton. They will face other teams, just not all of them. Eventually they will have road trips to California. No one will complain, in mid-February.
Get to the rink. Enjoy the great hockey!!
Thursday, December 14, 2017
One of the Greatest Moments in Baseball
Roger Maris and Tracy Stallard
In 1961, on the last day of the baseball season, Roger Maris hit a pitch on a 2-0 count into the short porch seats at Yankee Stadium to break Babe Ruth's home run record. He was encouraged to leave the dugout, several times, by his teammates to receive the accolades of the fans.
They played 162 games that season, whereas Ruth played 154 games. Some felt there should have been an asterisk beside the record. My personal opinion is that his record stands today. It has been broken since, but only by players who are in the steroid group. What I mean by that is those that have admitted to using steroids, and those who unquestionably used them to enhance performances.
It was a struggle for Maris to get to that point. Throughout the season, he and Mickey Mantle battled for the home run lead. Mantle was a fan favourite in New York. In fact. Maris received threats as the two of them headed down the stretch to the end of the season. Mantle eventually hit 54 home runs.
The achievement took its toll on Maris. Most athletes suffer when they have a special record within their grasp. They lose sleep, they often experience significant hair loss, they have difficulty concentrating on tasks, the are known to be most irritable. There is a great relief when the goal is achieved.
There is a similarity between hockey and baseball in this regard. When a hockey player scores a significant goal, the name of the goaltender is often quoted in the pursuit. In baseball, it is the pitched. Maris hit his home run off Tracy Stallard.
Stallard was in his first major league season with the Boston Red Sox. His reaction to that particular game is truly remarkable. “I'm not going to lose any sleep over it,” he said after the game. He pitched the first seven innings of the game, which the Yankees won 1-0. “I'd rather he hit a homer off me than I walk him.”
Later on, in 1998, when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were in the process of smashing the home run mark, Stallard reflected on his game against the Yankees. “I don't have any shame at all. I lost the game 1-0, and I didn't feel any thing about it. People are always trying to read something into it. But it has never bothered me to talk about it.”
Stallard had been signed by the Red Sox out of high school in 1956. He made his first major league start in 1960.
Remarkably, there were plenty of empty seats in Yankee Stadium that day, with a recorded attendance of 23, 154.
Stallard spent most of the 1962 season in the Red Sox farm system. He also pitched for the Mets, and the Cardinals. He finished his major league career with a record of 30 wins and 57 losses. He owned a coal business and worked for a construction company.
He became friends with Maris as the years went by. Maris died of cancer when he was 51, in 1985.
Tracy Stallard passed away last Wednesday in Kingsport, Tennessee. He was 80 years old.
Tuesday, December 12, 2017
NHL Alumni at the Essroc Centre
Last Friday night, several members of the NHL Alumni group took the ice at the Essroc Arena to play against the local “Law Enforcement All Stars”. The game was in aid of the Special Olympics for Ontario.
We were a bit late getting to the arena, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that there were very few seats available at that time. That bode well for the Special Olympics, as a cheque for more than $ 4 000 was turned over prior to the game.
Walter Gretzky was in attendance, carefully signing autographs in the foyer for young and old hockey fans. I doubt that anyone in Canada has signed more autographs.
His son Brent suited up for the Alumni. Brent played several games for the Tampa Bay Lightning. A former Belleville Bull, he was part of the Gretzky connection in this area, His brother Keith also played for the Bulls. The oldest brother. I think his name is Wayne, was once part owner of the team with Dr. Vaughan.
Since Mark LaForest went to all of the trouble to suit up as a goaltender, Ron Tugnutt did a decent job as a skater!!
Other Alumni on hand were: Mark La Forest, Tom Fergus, Ron Tugnott, Gilbert Dionne, Al Iafrate, Nik Antropov, Rick Vaive, Dave “Tiger” Williams, and Mike Krushelnyski. Dave Hutchinson wore the striped shirt and gave a running commentary throughout the game, similar to the work that “Red” Storey did many years ago.
LaForest took the puck on his stick in the first period, skated out of his net, deked a couple of guys and got as far as the opposition blueline before ffeding a perfect pass. That brought the crowd out of its seats!!
The crowd really enjoyed the game, focusing on the play of the former NHLers: smooth skating, intricate patterns, quick shots mixed with plenty of comedy.
A good time was had by all!
Thursday, December 07, 2017
The Hero World Challenge
Tiger Woods and Rickie Fowler
I trust you are enjoying this incredible early December weather. I am certain that some of you wish that you could get out on the golf course one last time before the snow flies. Some of you might be lucky enough to escape to the south to play. Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head, and many places in Florida beckon to relieve you of some of your hard-earned cash as you meander around those links.
There are plenty of wonderful golf courses in the islands of the Caribbean. The Bahamas is a favourite location for golfers from all over the world. The Hero Wold Challenge was played last week in New Providence in the Bahamas. It is a PGA event. Sort of. It is an invitational event, with only 18 players invited to play.
Golf Channel carried hours of the event, and they were rewarded with some exciting play at the event. Some of you may contest my use of the word exciting in relationship to the game of golf. Be that as it may, many of you love the game, and were following the exploits of Tiger Woods at the event.
The tournament was Tiger's first opportunity to play four rounds of golf, in tournament play, in an awfully long time. He has been nagged by an aching back, and has had extensive work on it, including surgery. He is now 41 years old, not necessarily ancient by golfing standards. But he realizes that the young Turks are barking at the door to become the leaders in the game. He has his work cut out for him if he wishes to compete at the highest level.
Tiger more than proved himself last weekend. He scored well on the first two rounds to be in contention for the lead. The third round, however, was his undoing, as he shot 75 in blustery conditions. A good score on the final round resulted in his tie for ninth in the tournament. Rickie Fowler torched the course on Sunday, shooting a 61 to win the tournament.
Charley Hoffman finished in second place. Jordan Spieth and Tommy Fleetwood tied for third. Hideki Matsuyama. Patrick Reed, and Justin Rose finished together in a tie for fifth place.
Most of the attention was focused on Tiger Woods. I assure you, if he stays healthy, that will be the case the entire 2018 season. For several reasons, the golfing public is fascinated by Mr. Woods. He is a controversial figure, loved by some, shall we say not so loved by others.
One of my good friends in Belleville is my golf consultant. His name is Al Stitt, and he is a student of the game. He is also a fine player, regularly shoots his age, (75), and has won several championships. He believes that Tiger could win a PGA event this season. He also feels that age will play a part in Tiger's continued golf career.
Several years ago, at the annuak PGA Golf Show in Orlando, Al spoke at length with one of Tiger's former golf teachers, Hank Haney, about life on the golf course. Haney's book, “The only golf lesson you will ever need” is a good one for all golfers. Haney teaches that a “one plane swing” is critical to your success. Essentially, your arms, the shaft, and the club face should move in a straight line for consistent success.
Haney became Tiger's former coach when he tried to get Woods to change his swing. He wanted a more fluid motion, one that would put less stress on the body to make his career more sustainable, with perhaps less stress on his back.
The proof will be in the pudding. In the meantime, hit 'em straight.
December 4, 2017
Sunday, December 03, 2017
Grey Cup Weekend-2017
With Mark Seale
It is true that the Grey Cup game on Sunday was another wonderful sporting event, and well worth the writing.
I would like to begin this column with a note about the Vanier Cup, the championship game held annually to decide the best team in Canadian University football. The Western Mustangs from London, Ontario defeated the Laval Rouge et Or to win the Cup this past Saturday. Both of these teams have always been perennially strong. Laval won the title in 2016, but also won in 2013 and 2012, looking back over the past few years.
I have attended several Vanier Cups, going back to the days in the late Sixties when my alma mater, Queen's University was a force. I had attended Western after I had completed Teachers' College in Peterborough in 1963. Queen's had great football teams in those days, led by quarterback Cal Connor. They also had magnificent festivities after the games, enough to induce me to transfer to the Kingston campus. I went to the Vanier Cup to see Mike Schad in his final college game as a Golden Gael, only to discover that he would be watching the game in a wheelchair.
My brother David and I sat with our wives in the end zone at Varsity Stadium on Bloor Street in Toronto. It was a nasty day, so bad that those in charge were letting field goals and converts remain in the stands. The Gaels lined up a field goal aiming directly at our section. The batter fluttered up towards us. I took out a would-be receiver so that my brother could catch the ball. I would have been penalized were I on the field.
David caught the ball, and darted out the exit to put it in his car. As he left the stadium, two mounted Metro policeman cornered him, asking for the ball. After a short pursuit, which ended at a locked residence door, David had to give up the ball. Adding insult to injury, he had to pay to get back into the stadium top join us.
The Mustangs defeated Laval 39-17 for the 2917 championship, the first title for veteran coach Greg Marshall. He has been in the coaching ranks in colleges and the Canadian Football League for many years-finally a title.
We flew into Ottawa a couple of days before the game. We ran into Mark Seale, who was on our flight. He was roughly 6' 6”, and a shade over 250 pounds. Leave it up to me to ask the obvious: “Did you play football?” Indeed he did, for several years in the CFL, winning a Cup with Winnipeg in 1988. He also told me that he played Pee Wee hockey in Belleville, a few years ago.
On Sunday afternoon, the rest of the nation prepared for the 105th Grey Cup. The Toronto Argonauts had risen from the depths earlier in the season to challenge for the title, although they were clearly the underdogs in this game. Their manager Jim Popp, and their coach Marc Trestman signed on this year, after years with the Alouettes. The Calgary Stampeders came east to Ottawa to avenge a difficult loss in the Grey Cup game last year. They were favoured to win the game.
There is an expression related to Hogtown called “The Argo Bounce”. The ball does not always fall in favour of the Double Blue. But on Sunday, in the heavy snow falling in Ottawa, the Argonauts clearly got the breaks.
Playing conditions were dreadful. Most of the lines, and the advertising markings on the field were covered in snow. Commentators suggested that ball control would be a key factor to the game. No kidding. And yet, there were no turnovers until late in the fourth quarter. Calgary fumbled near the Toronto goal line, Cassius Vaughn scooped up the ball and ran 109 yards to the Calgary end zone. The two point convert tied the game.
With 49 seconds left in the game, Lirim Hajirullahu punched a 32 yard field goal through the uprights to seal the deal for the Argos, 27-24. A last ditch effort by the Stamps resulted in an interception in the End Zone. Heartbreaking for the Westerners.
Half time entertainer Shania Twain was brilliant. A step or two above Gordon Lightfoot!
The parties have just begun in Toronto. Meet the team on Tuesday at the City Hall Square. The same location where the Leafs will celebrate, some day!
November 27, 2017.