Sunday, August 31, 2008

August Odds and Ends

As my regular readers may have noticed, the articles have been few and far between this month. I was preparing for, and then travelled to Waterloo, Ontario, where I was performing with old friends and new ones as several bands from my past re-united for a wonderful evening of music, laughs, and catching up. A special thanks to Robbie and Brenda for all of the organizing; Robbie, Dianne, James, Chris, Marty, and Ron - it was a pleasure to share the stage with you all again; Norm, Ron, and Rodney all did an amazing job on lights and sound - thanks guys... and I have to mention old friends, George and Clara M. and new friends, Betty and Brock S., it was great to see everyone...

Starting in October, I'll begin my NHL coverage, breaking down each Conference; who will make the playoffs and who misses out? Looking at the teams on paper, it's hard not to pick Detroit as an early Cup favorite. Dallas is looking good too, having Brad Richards for an entire year and bringing Avery in to replace recently retired Stu Barnes. Combine them with goalie Marty Turco and that makes them one of the best in the West. Of course, the Kings and Islanders will be fighting for 30th place and the chance to draft first. The Kings are on the verge of becoming Pittsburgh of the West, filled with top draft picks but not ready to make the jump yet - wait a season or two to see real improvement. On Long Island however, things will only go from bad to worse, Ted Nolan's out of the NHL again and the Islanders will be in a fog. With some of the leagues worst attendance figures and needing a new arena, I believe New York may be looking for a Canadian home in a year or two. Red Bull Energy has a team in the Austrian Hockey League and they are rumoured to be interested in a NHL team to add to their MLS soccer team and their Formula 1 racing team (formerly Jordan Racing). The Islanders, Thrashers and Panthers all need a new home to strengthen the NHL.

As Brian Burke told TSN last year, there are only so many points available in an 82 game schedule, if a team makes a 10 point improvement, someone else drops 10 points. Things will be getting tight in the standings this year as Chicago, Phoenix and Tampa Bay look for better seasons. Just one more hockey thought - has anyone told Tampa that they still need a goalie to go with their high priced additions?

The Can-Am Baseball League playoffs get started in early September. Our expansion Ottawa Rapidz were comfortably in last place all season but still averaged 2400 fans per game. Needing a 3000 average to break even, the Rapidz came close to their goal and made an impact on the Ottawa sports scene - that's where I'll be tomorrow as the season wraps up September 1st.

And... I have to admit when I'm wrong. I've watched too many Seinfeld episodes in my life, and their portrayal of George Steinbrenner was always on my mind as I predicted a Tampa Bay collapse and a Yankee return to the post season. George always seemed to get the job done... I'll finally admit that the Rays are for real this season. After living in the basement of the A.L. East for years, they have accumulated enough top draft picks to become legitimate World Series contenders. The Yankees continue to battle injuries (Wang and Matsui have missed most of the season), age is becoming a factor (Jeter and Giambi are not getting any younger), and the New York tabloids (A-Rod hasn't helped himself or his teammates with his high profile divorce). The Yankees might find themselves battling Toronto for third in the next few seasons if they don't look in the mirror this off-season. Could we see a return of Joe Torre to the Big Apple? George is getting angry...

Have a great sports day everyone.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Bishop's rough ride ends in Regina



I have begun to wonder if the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Toronto Argonauts share West Jet or Air Canada as corporate sponsors. The frequent flyer points between these two cities are beginning to add up for both clubs, and perhaps after the next trade, the players and coaches will travel for free.

Last season, Saskatchewan won the Grey Cup with former Argonauts Kent Austin and Eric Tillman at the helm. When Austin went South to be Offensive Coordinator at the University of Mississippi, his former school, Gm Tillman brought in former Argo Assistant ken Miller to be Head Coach for 2008. Miller proceeded to bring Argo staffer Paul LaPolice to Regina as Offensive Coordinator and Gary Etcheverry as an Assistant Coach.

Meanwhile in Toronto, Defensive Coordinator Rich Stubler was becoming Head Coach after Mike "Pinball" Clemons moved into the front office. Clemons is perhaps the most popular player and coach in Argonaut history, rising above the CFL to mega-star status on the Toronto sports scene. With future Hall of Famer Damon Allen retiring, Stubler and his staff were planning an easy transition to Michael Bishop as starting QB, signing him to a contract extension in the off-season. When Clemons and the Argo ownership group saw the chance to bring 2007 Outstanding Player Kerry Joseph to Toronto, they pounced on the opportunity. Leaving the defensive minded Coach Stubler a new problem, two starting QB's that had been promised the number one job. Bishop is quoted as saying in Dave Naylor's Globe and Mail report, " I think Rich is a hell of a Defensive Coordinator. He's placed in a situation where I don't know if those were all his calls." From the outside looking in, it's hard to say Bishop is wrong.

Since this problem has been brewing for the entire season, why make this trade now? Toronto's 3-5 record and the QB situation had the Argo players picking sides and ready for a mutiny. According to reports in Toronto and Regina, Bishop went home to Texas during the bye week and contemplated not returning to Toronto, and Joseph was ready to ask for a trade after being pulled in a loss to the Als. On the other side of the equation at 6-2, the Riders pace has slowed. Since starting with six wins, Gm Tillman felt the team under-performed in the last two games and the coaches wanted a change. Said Tillman in the Regina Leader Post, " My job is to facilitate what the coaches want. Michael is a proven winner, he brings many things to the table, and he has a big time arm."

As the Riders lost one star player after another to injury, Tillman's eye for talent was evident as the depth players stepped in to take the team to the 6-0 mark. For Tillman to step in and trade a conditional pick to Toronto for Bishop is brilliant; after all, he helped create Toronto's problem, trading Joseph there in the first place. In recent moves, Tillman has acquired Bishop, Offensive Tackle Greg January, a 2008 1st round pick, a 2010 2nd round pick and other small parts for Joseph, a conditional pick, and a 3rd round pick. Toronto sent Defensive Tackle Ronald Flemons in the Joseph deal, only to bring him back from the prairies for another pick. When Kerry Joseph came to the CFL, only the lowly Ottawa Renegades would give him a chance at QB. He has carved out a fine career, with a Grey Cup ring, but has he plateaued? 2007 may have been his best year. Bishop on the other hand, is coming off a career year, going 11-1 as a starter in Toronto with 2,920 passing yards and 22 TD's. This former Arena Football League star holds several of that League's rushing records and his mobility is an asset in the CFL. Success has followed Michael Bishop in his football career.

Drafted in 1995 by the Cleveland Indians of Major League Baseball, Bishop chose football and was a star at Kansas State University, going 22-3 as a starter, and setting school records in rushing TD's for a QB with 23 and 1,314 rushing yards. In 1997, Bishop's Kansas team defeated Donovan Mcnabb's Syracuse University in the Fiesta Bowl. In 1998, he was second in voting to Ricky Williams for the Heisman Trophy, but did win the NCAA Davey O'Brien Award as best collegiate QB, an award Peyton Manning won in 1997. After being a 7th round pick of the New England Patriots in '99, Bishop was on their roster for the 2000 season, eventually being released and replaced by another 7th round pick, Tom Brady.

The Bishop trade is certainly a turning point this season. In a very strong Western Division, Saskatchewan was about to fall back to the pack but now seem destined to host a Western play-off game. Toronto and Kerry Joseph will decide their own fate in the Labour Day Classic in Hamilton. In their 3 win seasons, this game is Hamilton's Grey Cup, they'd like nothing more then to kick the Argos while they are down. This year, the Ti-Cats could emerge from the cellar if Coach Stubler can't hold off the mutineers.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Voice on the Olympics



On the eve of the Olympics in China, let me start by saying, this will be the only Olympic posting here at The Voice, and I won't be watching one second of coverage. Why you ask? Well, I've had enough of the fumbling and bumbling of the International Olympic Committee, the politics, or lack of politics leading up to the China Games, and the constant inclusion of Professional athletes in the World Showcase of Amateur athletics.

Much has been made about the smog and air pollution in China - and a promise to clean it up; the abysmal human rights record of the host nation - and a promise to clean it up; there was to be no censorship of foreign media during the Olympics - a CNBC reporter on Prime Time with Bob McCown openly stated his e-mails will be read by the government, his cell phone will be monitored, and he is quite sure his hotel room will be bugged. Reporters speaking out against China before the Games will never get there. Reporters speaking out against China during the Games will be immediately expelled from the country. One of the problems with the demands of the IOC, is that they put no deadline in place for China to meet these goals. Why do the work? The 2008 Olympics were never going anywhere else. The games should have been pulled from China fourteen months ago and moved to Australia, where the infrastructure was already in place from the 2000 Olympic Games.

On CBC Newsworld today, David Emerson, Member of Parliament, stated now that the Games are starting "it's no longer about politics." Really? Ask the Tibetans about China's politics. Emerson went on to state he hopes "Canada's Games are only about the athletes." Why Mr. Emerson? Is it because Canada is doing all that it can to remove the poor and drug addicted from Downtown Vancouver? It could be because Canada has been criticized by the United Nations repeatedly for forcing our Native populations to live under appalling conditions on Native Reserves; where even the most basic services like clean water is often unavailable. It's the usual Canadian governmental response - none, at least nothing of substance. We could soon have "favoured Nation status" with China, meaning their citizens can travel and visit Canada with fewer restrictions, and that means revenue for Ottawa. In my opinion, now that the games have started, the political conversations should be escalating, not declining.

In Athens, Canada finished tied for 19th in medals with world powerhouse - Bulgaria. Our government began the "Road to Excellence" program with much needed funding for our amateur athletes. The Canadian program will receive $24 million over the next two years, and then $24 million per year "to ensure our summer athletes have the support they need to perform at top levels of International competition". (From a government press release, March 2, 2008). When the 2008 budget is fully implemented, the government investment in sport will be at an all time high of $164 million annually. Do we really need to spend $164 million to squeak past Bulgaria? A small side note - The Olympic Stadium in Montreal, built for the 1976 Olympics, was finally paid for in the last few years. The final cost? A staggering $2.2 billion... that's the real Olympic legacy. Back to my point... We are spending to help amateur athletes and then the Canadian Olympic Committee does this:

The case of Ottawa Marathon runner and Radiologist, Matt McInnes, represents all that is right and wrong with the games. Working in the Health Care profession, one would assume McInnes is a hard working, dedicated, respected member of the community, and he still finds time to train and compete as a Marathon runner. The Olympic standard to qualify for the Games is 2 hours, 18minutes. At the Ottawa Marathon, Giijat Machoric of Burlington finished at 2:16:55, McInnes finished right behind at 2:16:59. So where's the problem? The COC has set the Canadian standard at 2:12:38. We now have four runners who could have gone to the Olympics but are staying home because the COC feels if they can't medal, why send them. Is this what the road to excellence is for? Didn't the Olympics start as a Marathon?

The final straw has been the inclusion of professional athletes. Canadians will say, "what about hockey?" Well, there is a World Championship every year, the Junior tournament, the under 18 tournament, there used to be a Canada Cup. I can remember growing up watching Canada's National hockey team. Sean Burke standing on his head in 1988; we didn't win Gold, but how have the pro's fared? Nagano anyone?? Let's get back to China though...

A 1989 rule change by FIBA, the International governing body for basketball, allows NBA players to assemble as the U.S. "Dream Team" every four years. This is almost acceptable to me, at least the Olympics are held during the NBA off-season; why though, do FIBA's rules carry more weight then the IOC's mandate to promote the best in amateur athletics? Recently, in a secret vote, IOC members voted out baseball and softball as Olympic sports. Many believe the heavily European committee was upset that MLB and the Players Union refused to stop the season in progress every four years to send players to the Olympics. I repeat again, I can't stress this enough, the Olympics are for the best Amateur athletes in the world. A figure skater, working for the Ice Capades, can't show up at Skate Canada and qualify for the Winter Games - they are considered Professional. The Yankees third baseman, Alex Rodriguez, and his $2o million plus salary would qualify for the Olympics if the IOC had gotten their way... that's absolutely mind boggling.

As I close, let me say for the record, I do support Canadian Athletes and I believe they should be properly funded. However, when the COC and the IOC can't get themselves organized, where is our money going? Are the Olympics for pro athletes? If so, why bother continuing the charade of drug testing? Obviously the IOC wants Ad revenue and TV ratings, why not have a 5 second - 100 meter World Record?

To put things in perspective, let's take a look at the athletes from Iraq. First banned because of "administrative irregularities", the IOC overturned their decision, now they will allow the athletes to compete - both of them. There were only 7 to begin with, but 5 missed the deadlines in their sport and cannot compete because of the temporary ban. Discus thrower Haider Nasir will be joined by 21 year old sprinter, Danma Husein. The young sprinter lives in Baghdad and would occasionally have to avoid sniper fire while training. When Iraq was first banned by the IOC, she was told "there is always 2012"; her response - "In this horrible situation who can say I will even be alive in 2012."

Canadian athletes think they have funding problems? There's your reality check. I hope for $164 million we get that Kayaking Gold... but I sure won't be watching. Have a great sports day everyone.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

MASH 4077 - CFL odds and ends



If you see Hawkeye Pierce or BJ Honeycutt on the Saskatchewan Roughrider sidelines, your eyes may not be playing tricks on you. Despite being the leagues only undefeated team, it's starting to look like MASH 4077 in Regina. As week 6 wrapped up in the CFL, many big names are now watching from the trainer's table.

At 6-0, last year's Grey Cup champions have opening day QB Marcus Crandell back under center. The former East Carolina star missed several games with a hamstring problem, but will he have anyone to throw to now that he's back? Injuries have hit the receivers, with Andy Fantuz the latest to go done with a broken left tibia, he's gone for 10 weeks. Thankfully, the Riders have the CFL's top rusher in Wes Cates; leading the league with 632 yards and 7 TD's. GM Eric Tillman is fully deserving of his recent contract extension; after losing Head Coach Kent Austin to U.S. College football and trading away last season's MVP and starting QB Kerry Joseph, many expected the Riders to stumble out of the gates. The team has rallied under new Head Coach Ken Miller and his staff. With one-third of the season gone, the Saskatchewan trainers and scouting staff are in the lead for this year's MVP award.

While in Montreal last week, an article by Herb Zurkowsky, July 30th in the Montreal Gazette caught my eye. The Alouettes 2005 first round pick, Matthieu Proulx, was supposed to start the season as Montreal's Safety, but injuries forced him to miss the first four games. He played week 5 against B.C., only to have his hamstring "pop" practising for week 6. After missing 20 games in the last three seasons, Proulx wondered in the Gazette, "I love football, but it seems football hates me." He went on to say, "I don't think I'm a bad guy. I think I'm a reasonable person. I'm doing all I can to be healthy. Maybe I just wasn't physically made to play this game." It's a shame that after an outstanding College career at Laval University, he was also the 2005 East Division's Outstanding Freshman, and now his career may be cut short.

That brings me to another Montreal story... I didn't have access to TSN for the Montreal/Hamilton game in week 6, so I listened on CJAD 800 AM; the Alouettes English radio home. I always enjoy sports events on AM radio, that late night crackle... but I must take issue with a comment regarding Tiger-Cats Running Back, Jesse Lumsden. After being questioned on TSN about being injury prone, Lumsden, who has never rushed for 100 yards against the Als; left the game in Montreal with an ankle injury. The commentators immediately referred to the TSN "injury prone" issue and basically said - there's your proof, he's hurt again. Well, in a sport where every hit is the equivalent to a minor car accident, I'm amazed more NFL and CFL players are not injured more often.

Lumsden was a star at MacMaster University, carrying the load for the Marauders and breaking Canadian University records along the way. For several seasons, he tried to catch on in the NFL with Seattle and Washington and didn't see any real game action. Now that he's the man in Hamilton, his body needs time to re-adjust to the regular pounding, week after week. Despite Hamilton's usual 1-5 record, Lumsden ranks 5th with 443 rushing yards and 5 TD's; those are not the statistics of a "soft" player. Ti-Cat teammate Tre Smith is number two in rushing with 528 yards and 4 TD's. That's a pretty formidable 1-2 punch.

Hamilton will need Lumsden and Smith, as former Kansas City Chief and B.C. Lion, Casey Printers continues to struggle as the starting QB. In six games, he's yet to throw a touchdown and he has a 75.3 QB rating. Compare that to Montreal's Anthony Calvillo's 16 TD's, 1979 yards passing and a QB rating of 108.1. If Montreal's defense played an entire 60 minutes, they would be 6-0 with Saskatchewan instead of having a mediocre 3-3 record.

Going into week 7, seven of the top ten Receivers are in the Western Division. Montreal's Kerry Watkins is one of the few Eastern players to crack the top 10. He caught Calvillo's 300th career TD pass versus Hamilton last week. Keep an eye on former Tulsa star and Winnipeg rookie, Romby Bryant. He is the only good news coming out of Winnipeg this season, leading the league with 580 receiving yards. The only other Bluebomber headline has been a cheerleader controversy; the cheerleader coach quit because of private photos that became public. At 1-5, new cheers won't improve the on-field product, maybe more front office changes are coming... Although, all the Bombers need to do is get past Hamilton in the East Division to make the playoffs, and as a Ti-Cat fan it hurts to say, but it won't be that hard to do. After a strong start, it looks like another 3 or 4 win season for my Cats... Have a great sports day everyone.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Can-Am Baseball League - a new option



Here in Ottawa, we love our NHL Senators and the OHL 67's, but other professional teams have tried and failed to make an impression on the Ottawa sports landscape since the early nineties. After over one hundred glorious years, the CFL's Rough Riders were folded in 1996, only to be reborn as the Renegades in 2002. The Renegades were losing on the field, and due to bad management they were losing at the ticket office; which led to the same result in April of 2006, the Renegades folded.

The Ottawa Lynx, our former triple A baseball team now calls Pennsylvania home. Originally affiliated with the Expos, the popularity of the Lynx ebbed and flowed with the fortunes of their parent club. As Montreal tore up the Majors in the early nineties, the Lynx were setting attendance records and winning a Championship in 1995. With the Expos gone, the Lynx were affiliated with Baltimore, and then Philadelphia and fan support dropped sharply. Lynx Stadium, which is owned by the city of Ottawa didn't stay empty for long, as the independent Can-Am baseball league moved in this summer, and the Rapidz are now Ottawa's newest residents.

The Can-Am League, is an eight team league based in the North Eastern United States, Ontario and Quebec. The Rapidz joined Les Capitales de Quebec as the Canadian stops on a schedule that includes the Atlantic City Surf, New Jersey Jackals, Brockton Rox, Nashua Pride, Sussex Skyhawks, and the Worcester Tornadoes. The teams play a 94 game, split season schedule starting in mid-May and finishing the regular season September first. The winners of the first and second half of the season, play the two teams with the next best records for the League Championship.

Any expansion team will struggle, and the Rapidz are no exception, posting a 13-34 first half record. The franchise continues to have growing pains on the field, they are 20-46 for the entire season, but they recently put together a winning streak and infielder Jabe Bergeron was named Batter of the Month in July. The Rapidz are averaging 2,147 fans per game, just under the league average of 2,333 ; more on-field success and more local coverage in the media will help the team finish strong at the ticket office and prepare for season two.

Ticket prices in Ottawa are $10 for adults, down to $4 for children. Can you get parking at a MLB game for under $20? The future success of sports leagues depends upon the next generation of fans. The Can-Am league has positioned themselves well for future success with an affordable day at the ballpark. There's nothing like being a kid at a ball game, the players all seem larger than life and a foul ball off the bat of the home team becomes a cherished possession.

I recently had the opportunity to interview the league Commissioner, Miles Wolff, for an article which will appear August 13th in the Main Street - www.laurentianlife.com . The Commissioner was very generous with his time, taking a moment from a hectic schedule to return my phone call, answer my questions, and then talk baseball for another 5 minutes. His passion and love for the game is unmatched. Hopefully, with a hard working Commissioner like Mr. Wolff at the top, the Can-Am League will have a permanent home here in Ottawa. I'll do all I can here at The Voice to help promote the league. If you're not in a Can-Am city, visit Online at www.canamleague.com for more info...

Do you remember when we used to talk about baseball the sport and not baseball the business? It's been too long. While MLB has the glitz and the glamour, I'm tired of hearing about a $20 million per year player who's not even trying. It should not be acceptable to say, "oh, that's just Manny being Manny"... Have a great sports day everyone.