Friday, August 28, 2009

The Montreal Canadiens Prepare for 2009-2010 Season

This article was first published in the August 28th edition of Main Street Week - page 5, and is reprinted here with permission from the editors. Drop by to have a look at a great community newspaper or sign up and have Main Street Week delivered right to your inbox every Friday.

The Montreal Canadiens Prepare for 2009-10 Season

According to the calendar, summer has rolled through our part of the world, even though it was difficult to find summer amongst the rain. As we say goodbye to August, National Hockey League training camps are set to begin in a few weeks and the Montreal Canadiens and the twenty-nine other teams in the league are preparing to hit the ice and begin the long journey through another hockey season.

The keyword in Montreal going into the season is new. With a new ownership group in place, new Head Coach Jacques Martin at the helm, a yet to be named new captain and numerous changes to the line-up, it will take some time for this group of players and coaches to find some chemistry. The organization hopes the changes will enable the team to move on from the disappointment of last year's playoffs and a first round sweep at the hands of the Boston Bruins and find their way back to the top of the Eastern Conference.

The Canadiens play the first of seven pre-season games September 17th against the Florida Panthers, Jacques Martin’s former club, quickly followed by two games, September 18th and 19th, against Alex Kovalev and the Ottawa Senators. The line-ups will be a mix of new and returning players in these early games as Martin and General Manager Bob Gainey evaluate the team and decide which players will begin the year in Montreal and who will head for Hamilton to play for the team’s American Hockey League affiliate to start the season.

The first game against the Panthers will certainly have a different feeling for fans searching for Saku Koivu, Alex Tanguay, Alex Kovalev, Robert Lang, Mike Komisarek and the other unrestricted free agents that Gainey sent packing at season’s end. The loss of Koivu and Kovalev will be the most emotional for fans of the bleu, blanc et rouge. Both players were stars in Montreal for many seasons and seeing Kovalev in his Senators sweater and Koivu in the colours of the Anaheim Ducks will seem unnatural.

As in life, so it is in hockey, change is inevitable, especially in Montreal where Cup crazy fans demand more of their favourite players. Entering the hallowed Montreal dressing room this year will be forwards, Scott Gomez, Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta and Travis Moen. Jaroslav Spacek and Hal Gill will join the defence and fans hope they will bring stability in the defensive zone and allow Carey Price to reach the next level as he enters his third season in the Montreal net.

This year, Price must step up as Gainey’s goalie of the future as he enters the final year of his contract. Back-up goaltender Jaroslav Halak also enters the final year of his contract and management will have to decide their plans for the duo as the season unfolds. Gainey also signed free agent goalie Curtis Sanford in the off-season and there is only room for two goaltenders at the NHL level, so someone will have to start the year in Hamilton.

After a summer of changes, all thirty NHL teams and their fans will wonder, is this our year to bring home the Stanley Cup? In Montreal, the more things change, the more they stay the same and fans are desperately hoping their team brings home a 25th Stanley Cup. It will certainly be an interesting season to come. Have a great sports day everyone.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Article 100 at The Voice: Nationals Win MLL Championship

The Toronto sports scene has witnessed its share of last place finishes in recent years and being home to all of the major sports leagues, one would think that eventually a championship would find its way to the city.

Canada’s largest city is home to the NHL, CFL, MLB, MLS, NBA, NLL, MLL and the occasional NFL game when the Buffalo Bills pay a visit once a year to the Rogers Centre. One thing all of the Toronto teams have in common is a growing disappointment among their fan base. The tide could slowly be turning, as this past weekend the Toronto Nationals won the Major League Lacrosse (MLL) championship trophy, defeating the Denver Outlaws 10-9. In honour of the victory, why not look at what has happened the past few years and the remarkable fact that every team in Toronto missed the playoffs last season.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are the biggest attraction in Toronto and the Original 6 team has struggled since the NHL lockout in 2004. The Leafs have officially missed the playoffs for the past four seasons and fans are hoping Brian Burke is the GM that will lead them back to respectability. Their last playoff success came during the 2003-04 season when they advanced to the second round of the playoffs but lost to the Philadelphia Flyers. Since that time, the Leafs have watched the post-season from the sidelines and finished last in the NHL’s competitive Northeast Division for two consecutive years. Will the 2009-10 season be the year the Leafs return to the playoffs and compete for the Stanley Cup?

There is a sinking ship in Toronto and it is called the Argonauts. After a loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the Division Final during the 2007 season, the Argos followed up their 11-7 first place finish with a 4-14 record in 2008. This year was supposed to be different, with a new coach and a new game plan, the Argos have started the year with two wins and five losses. A successful Toronto team in the CFL is essential for the league and the future of the team and the fans are holding out hope the Argos have a new game plan coming off their bye-week. Playoffs? It could be another year before they challenge for the Grey Cup.

O-K-Blue Jays, let’s play ball... just not in the post season. By far the hardest invite in all of sports, the Blue Jays have not qualified for the playoffs since they won back-to-back World Series titles in 1992 and 1993. The Jays used to be guaranteed a third place finish in the AL East, behind the Yankees and Red Sox but the up and coming Tampa Bay Rays have now relegated the Jays to a consistent fourth place finish. They did a masterful job of organizing a reunion of the World Series teams in August, playing the game of remember when we were good but fans have stayed away from the ballpark and proclaimed they will not return until management can deliver a winning team. Trouble is, the more fans that stay away, the less money goes into payroll. The Jays will not make the playoffs again this year or next and who knows where they will be in the standings by 2011?

The Raptors have made tremendous changes this off-season, trading and releasing most of their roster. With many new faces, fans are excited by the prospect of a winning season in 2009-2010. Their last NBA playoff appearance came in the 2007-08 season, where they lost in five games to the Orlando Magic. The Raptors came from out of nowhere to win their division in 2006-07 season and a Coach of the Year Award for Sam Mitchell. When they were supposed to be in the hunt for a title in the 2008-09 season, they failed miserably and Mitchell was fired after only 17 games. What will the upcoming season bring to Raptor fans? Well, they are expected to be better this year, so will they continue the city’s playoff drought... Time will tell...

Since 2007, MLS soccer has called Toronto home and Toronto FC has captured the hearts of soccer fans in the city. BMO Field is the place to be when TFC are in town and there is still a love affair between the city and the team, despite the lack of on-field success. In their expansion season, TFC finished last in the East and 13th overall in the league and followed up with another seventh place finish in the East but moved up to 12th overall. Expectations were high going into the team’s third season and the goal was a playoff position. At this point of the season, TFC has an 8-8-6 record and find themselves in a fight to achieve their goal. After a convincing home victory that moved them into third in the East, they travelled to the West coast and looked uninspired in a 2-0 loss to Chivas USA. With most of their remaining games on the road, TFC will see an improvement in their record but may yet again miss the playoffs.

Toronto is also the home of the National Lacrosse League’s Toronto Rock. Considered a dynasty as they won five of seven NLL championships from 1999 to 2005, the team has fallen out of contention and missed the playoffs two years in a row for the first time in the team’s history. With a new owner and management in place for the upcoming season, Rock fans are hoping the team can improve on their 7-9 and 6-10 records in the past two seasons. The next season of indoor lacrosse in the NLL begins in January 2010 and with a dedicated ownership group, they should once again return to the playoffs in the 11-team league.

Which brings us to Toronto’s only Champions, the Toronto Nationals. In their first season in Toronto, the former Rochester Rattlers took to the field at BMO Field and finished second in the 6-team league behind the Denver Outlaws with a 7-5 record. The Rattlers were league champions in 2008 and the winning continued in 2009 with their 10-9 victory over Denver. Scoring with 45 seconds left in the game to take the lead, Toronto won a key face-off and killed the clock to win the Steinfeld Cup for the first time as the Nationals. For those unfamiliar with the MLL, the other teams in the league are in Boston, Long Island, Washington and Chicago.

One of the key players on the Nationals is Kitchener-Waterloo native, Colin Doyle. A former Toronto Rock, Doyle was the NLL MVP in 2005 and playoff MVP in 1999, 2002 and 2005 with the Rock and he currently plays for the Washington Stealth in the indoor league. NLL ranked the top fifty players in that league and Doyle finished in the top spot and is considered one of the most versatile players in the sport. With the Rattlers and the Nationals in the outdoor league, Doyle has played in 30 MLL games and scored 30 goals while accumulating 92 total points. He has also represented Canada at the World Lacrosse Championship, held every four years, which Doyle and Team Canada won in 2006.

The Toronto winless streak has ended and who would have imagined it would be the Nationals bringing home a championship in their first year in the city. The win gives the team an important marketing tool as they look ahead to the 2010 season. The Nationals have done something no other professional Toronto team could accomplish - they made the playoffs! Have a great sports day everyone.

** Well, there it is folks, article number 100 here at The Voice of Sport... There will certainly be hundreds more over the coming years and I look forward to writing each one. There is nothing better then talking and writing about sports and I enjoy all of your emails and story requests - keep them coming! You keep reading and I’ll keep writing... Cheers for now - Andrew

Friday, August 21, 2009

Quebec Capitales Search for a Playoff Position

This article was first published in the August 21st edition of Main Street Week - page 5, and is reprinted here with permission from the editors. Drop by to have a look at a great community newspaper or sign up and have Main Street Week delivered right to your inbox every Friday.

Quebec Capitales Search for a Playoff Position

The second half of the Can-Am baseball league’s split-season schedule is under way and the Quebec Capitales find themselves in the hunt for first and a place in this year's playoffs. After a disappointing first half, the team has performed well in the second part of the season and are at the top of the standings with the Brockton Rox.

In the Can-Am League, the winner of the first half of the season qualifies for the playoffs, as do the second half winners; the two teams with the next best overall records will join them in the hunt for the championship. Already assured a playoff spot are the New Jersey Jackals. Their 28-19 win/loss record earned them the top spot in the first half. The Capitales were fourth in the six-team league with a 22-25 record at the halfway point.

While the Capitales have struggled at times on the mound and at the plate, they have fought their way to a 17-10 record to start the second half and continue to improve as the season progresses. If they do not win the second half, their overall record has them in third place and they should qualify for the post season with New Jersey, Brockton and Worcester. Anything can happen in the world of sports but it appears that Sussex and New Hampshire will be on the outside looking in at the end of the season.

The Brockton Rox are first in team batting average, with a .288 average, while the Capitales are fifth with a dangerously low .269 team batting average. Leading the way for the Capitales are Alex Nunez (.313) and Pat Deschenes (.303), both are among the top ten in batting average in the league. The heavy hitter on the team is Gatineau native, Pierre-Luc (Pete) LaForest. He is third in the league with 16 home runs and 56 runs batted in (RBI’s). Drafted in 1995 by the Montreal Expos, LaForest has played in 68 games in the Majors with Tampa Bay, San Diego and Philadelphia.

On the mound, the Rox have the best team ERA (earned run average), allowing 3.63 runs per game. The Capitales are fourth in the league, allowing 4.37 runs per game. This spring, Quebec City made national headlines with the signing of former Cy Young Award winner Eric Gagne. After a slow start and working through injury, Gagne has found his stride and he is now 5-3 in 13 starts with a 4.42 ERA.

The one statistic that Quebec City leads the league in is attendance. Baseball fans in the provincial capital have once again shown their love of baseball this season and in 33 home games, the Capitales have seen 119,116 fans pass through the turnstiles. Averaging 3,610 fans per game, the Stade Municipal is the place to be in Quebec City during the Can-Am baseball season.

Adding to the history of the Stade Municipal on August 15th were four special visitors. NHL players Maxime Talbot, Mathieu Garon and Philippe Boucher brought a special guest to the game, the Stanley Cup. All three were members of the Pittsburgh Penguins last season and Talbot was instrumental in the Finals, scoring both goals in the 2-1 game seven victory over the Detroit Red Wings.

Perhaps a Stanley Cup visit will be the incentive needed to finish the season strong and earn their place in the playoffs. Embraced by the city of Quebec, the team and the players would love to bring the Championship trophy home as they did in 2006. Have a great sports day everyone.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

One Hill of a Player: Aaron Hill Returns from Concussion

The Toronto Blue Jays season has witnessed its share of highs and lows this year, with trade rumours swirling around Roy Halladay and a promising start to the season that has quickly faded into a “wait until next year” mode. After starting the year firing on all cylinders, except for Vernon Wells and the recently departed Alex Rios, the Jays were the talk of the town and by May 18, they sported a 27-14 win/loss record. Then the slide began and by August 19, they were 19.5 games out of first in the American League East division with a 55-63 record.

Compounding the problem in Toronto this season is the inability to win the close games. The team is 5-11 in extra inning games and 14-22 in one-run games. Fans are calling for a change at the top and with a new team President expected this fall, many wonder if this is the last season J.P. Ricciardi will be at the helm as General Manager. However, one of the bright spots in a season gone wrong is the play of second baseman Aaron Hill.

The Visalia California native made his Toronto debut on May 20, 2005 after being selected 13th overall in the first round of the 2003 draft. The former Louisiana State University Tiger has become a defensive gem at second base and this year, he is having a career year at the plate.
While many expected Hill to be a regular contributor after he hit 17 home runs and had 78 RBI’s in 2007, his career took a back seat to his health after suffering a concussion in 2008.

Hill played in 55 games for the Jays in 2008 before a collision with teammate David Eckstein on May 29 sent him to the 15-day disabled list. Moved to the 60-day DL after he continued to experience what he described as a “heavy head and fatigue” after light workouts, he spent the rest of the year at home, wondering if his career would ever resume.

What a difference a year can make, as Hill returned to the team this spring, he has picked up where he left off in 2007 and has already set career highs in home runs and RBI’s. Hill finds himself at the top of the American League in total bases with 256, his 80 RBI’s ranks seventh in the league and his 28 home runs is tied for third with Minnesota Twins first baseman and 2006 MVP, Justin Morneau. With 44 games remaining this season, Hill should reach the 30 home run - 100 RBI plateau and continue to be the anchor of the Jays infield.

The return from his concussion was never a certainty. Although baseball does not have the contact that football and hockey players thrive on, a brain injury is extremely serious and can have life-altering effects. The possibility of secondary concussions looms large and taking the necessary time to heal becomes paramount, as research conducted by the Sports Legacy Institute has revealed. Hill need only look at former teammate, Cory Koskie to witness how things could have been very different.

Koskie was a Jay for only one season, playing 94 games with Toronto at third base in Hill’s rookie year. In 2006, while a member of the Milwaukee Brewers, he suffered a concussion while diving awkwardly for a pop fly. The Canadian born Koskie attempted a comeback this spring with the Chicago Cubs, only to feel his symptoms return in a Spring Training game. At 35 years of age, with a young family, he wisely made the decision to retire from baseball and avoid risking his long-term health.

For the 27-year-old Hill, he is symptom free and swinging one of the hottest bats in baseball this season. In July, he found himself in the starting line-up at the all-star game, beside some of the greatest names in the game. Although he has returned to the game he loves, Hill does not take his on-field success for granted, telling the Canadian Press at the all-star game, “I’m just grateful to be back in a uniform and be successful.”

As Jays fans look ahead to next year, they can boast about their second baseman and know that with his health issues behind him, Aaron Hill will help lead the way back to the top of the division. Have a great sports day everyone.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Does Pete Rose Belong in Baseball's Hall of Fame?

In recent weeks, the names of former Boston Red Sox teammates Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz joined New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez as players linked to performance enhancing drugs. As names continue to leak from baseball's equivalent to Billboard's Top 100, the once anonymous list is slowly becoming public and the repercussions for some of baseball’s biggest stars may become apparent when their playing careers end and they await the call for baseball’s hallowed hall in Cooperstown New York.

The substances taken by the players on the list were legal in baseball at the time of the tests and questions continue to swirl regarding the eligibility for the Hall of Fame. Baseball writers have the final say on voting for the hall and players like Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire have witnessed their chances at induction ebb and flow as more star players come forward with admissions of drug use, whether it is supplements, steroids or human growth hormones.

As fans and media discuss the issue of eligibility, the conversation invariably turns to baseball’s all-time hits leader and admitted gambler, Pete Rose. Is it time for Charlie Hustle to have his lifetime ban lifted in light of the decade long steroid problem in baseball? One Hall of Fame member and respected baseball veteran Hank Aaron, thinks the time has come, others are not so certain.

For those not acquainted with Rose, he enjoyed a stellar playing career with Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Montreal from 1963 to 1986. Setting the all-time mark for career hits with 4,256, a remarkable 17 all-star appearances at 5 different positions and winning three World Series rings; two with the Reds and one in Philadelphia with the Phillies.

After retiring, while managing his hometown Cincinnati Reds, reports began to surface he placed bets on baseball games, including 52 games that involved the Reds. While there was no proof he bet against the Reds, possibly fixing the outcomes by his managerial moves, Rose was banned for life from baseball by Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti. A move he voluntarily accepted to avoid a final finding on the gambling allegations. In August 1989, one of baseball’s greatest players could no longer take part in any official on-field activities (reunions and celebrations, etc) and deemed ineligible for the Hall of Fame.

In a recent interview with ESPN, available at, Aaron expressed sadness that one of the greatest players of all-time is not in the Hall of Fame with him.

“The thing that saddens me, because of what kind of ball player he was... he needs to be part of this Hall of Fame. He needs to be right here with all of the rest of these guys, his records speak for themselves.”

Asked if the ban on Rose should be reconsidered in light of the steroid allegations facing today’s players, Aaron demonstrated the wisdom and understanding that makes him one of the greatest of all-time.

“If anybody comes clean and anybody says, I did it, I’m sorry, I ask for your forgiveness, then we need to look at it, whatever they did.”

Pete Rose did apologize for his actions; unfortunately, the apology came in the form of a book he wrote and the optics of apologizing for his actions while making a profit on it does not sit well with many baseball fans and Hall of Fame members. If Rose returns to baseball, his eligibility for the Hall of Fame ballot has expired and the decision to induct him with the greatest players would come from a vote among the living Hall of Fame members.

While Pete Rose, the famous Charlie Hustle, awaits news from the Commissioner’s Office that they are considering his reinstatement, in this writer’s opinion, the fact that he bet on games he was managing is an insurmountable obstacle to reinstatement. An apology is not enough when taking into account the integrity of the game. Former NBA referee Tim Donaghy is currently serving a jail sentence for fixing games and while I do not believe Rose should have served jail time for his actions, I must repeat that one simple fact - he bet on games his team was involved in; case closed.

Many of the players in the steroid era were using supplements not banned at the time and while their records deserve an asterisk, the blame in this situation lies more with the Commissioner’s Office and the blind eye they turned to the growing drug problem. While they enjoyed the improved attendance and television ratings after the 1994 lockout forced the cancellation of the World Series, they placed the integrity of the game and the health of their players at risk.

Pete Rose was one of the greatest but his punishment should remain in place, perhaps serving as an example to other coaches and players at all levels of every sport, that betting on your own team is never a winning proposition. Have a great sports day everyone.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Interview with Keith Primeau in Main Street

This interview first appeared in the July 31st edition of Main Street Week and was published in the August print edition, available today at With permission from the editor, I have posted it here to help raise awareness regarding the serious nature of concussions and head injuries. A very big thank you to Chris Nowinski, co-founder of the Sports Legacy Institute and NHL veteran Keith Primeau for taking the time to speak with Main Street.

Former NHL Player Keith Primeau Discusses Concussions

While the Sports Legacy Institute (SLI) has investigated the debilitating concussion related injuries of former NFL players and wrestlers, the issue of concussions is not limited to these particular sports. The National Hockey League has certainly witnessed its share of concussions in recent years. Several current and former NHL players are now working with Chris Nowinski and the Sports Legacy Institute to search for solutions to gain insight and awareness. Will future research help shine the spotlight on concussions in hockey?

“It absolutely will put the spotlight on hockey,” stated Nowinski during his recent interview with Main Street. “Once we have looked at a brain of a former hockey player and get a better understanding of what the collisions do in that sport. It’s a different game, in that hits to the head are not a natural part of the game like they are in football. In football, they are unavoidable; in hockey, they are almost completely avoidable.”

One NHL player working with the Sports Legacy Institute is former Philadelphia Flyer’s captain Keith Primeau. A veteran of 15 years and 909 NHL games, Primeau’s career ended after receiving several concussions during his days on the ice. Suffering from post-concussion issues and looking for answers, he became aware of the SLI and their work.

“I think indirectly I had heard about the program through the original article that appeared in the New York Post or Times.” Primeau told Main Street. “I never really paid it much mind but I was doing an interview with a reporter in Western Canada and he was doing an article on post concussion and so forth and he mentioned to me again if I had heard of Chris' program.”

Making the decision to donate his brain to the SLI after he passes was not an easy one. Primeau stated in the interview that it took some “soul searching and contemplating” before he made his final decision.

Primeau explains, “Chris sent me some information on his programs and exactly what he was trying to accomplish and at that point I began cultivating in my own mind if it was suitable for me. Once I realized this was the direction I wanted to go, I broached the subject with my wife and got her approval and from there I spoke with my parents and siblings that I intended to donate my brain and basically that is what got us to the point where we are at today.”

“I felt that my brain has been damaged and I don't know to what extent but I applaud Chris' efforts and at some point, somebody needed to take a stand and begin to make a difference. Ultimately, my decision won't help my situation but down the road, it may help someone else's child. I feel very inspired to do it.”

While the NHL keeps statistics of all kinds, one important number that is unknown is how many careers have ended due to concussions. Asked if the league has a responsibility to its players to work with groups like the SLI, Primeau can speak from personal experience.

“I would like to think that there is another side to the business of professional hockey and that there would be a desire to stay connected or to understand just how severe the issue really is and how many players have lost or ended their careers because of head trauma and post-concussion. Whether that will ever happen or not, I am not sure. But yes, I sure would like to see it.”

Primeau recently joined the ECHL’s (East Coast Hockey League) Las Vegas Wranglers as a Special Assistant to the General Manager and Director of Player Development. His role with the hockey team will include scouting and recruiting, as well as evaluations and assessment of the team’s players. Like Nowinski, despite having his career cut short and dealing with serious health issues from his concussions, Primeau looks fondly upon his time in the NHL and has a positive attitude going forward.

“I was always very realistic about my career, it was only going to be a certain part of my life but I feel extremely blessed to have had the opportunity to play the game as long as I did. Absolutely, I have no regrets and as I said, I am extremely blessed.”

After a remarkable playing career, Keith Primeau is once again demonstrating the leadership that made him a valuable team member and captain in the NHL. His efforts and those of the Sports Legacy Institute have already raised concussion awareness to a new level and their research may one day save the lives of our young athletes. Have a great sports day everyone.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Bryan Helmer Returns to Hershey Bears for 2010 Season

News from the American Hockey League: The 2009 Calder Cup Champion Hershey Bears announced on July 28th that team captain Bryan Helmer had re-signed with the club for the 2010 season. A valuable member on the blue line, Helmer played in 63 games last season, scoring 2 goals and adding 25 assists. In 22 playoff games, he scored 3 goals and 5 assists as Hershey won a record setting 10th Calder Cup. Last season, Helmer returned to the NHL for the first time since 2004, playing 12 games with the Washington Capitals.

In a press release from the club at their website, Hershey President and General Manager Doug Yingst discussed the important role Helmer played on the team last season and praised his leadership, “Bryan was a terrific leader in our dressing room during our Calder Cup run last year. We are very pleased that leadership will return again next season.”

At thirty-seven years old, Helmer embarks on his 17th season of professional hockey and speaking with him in late June, days before he met with the Bears General Manager, it was clear that there is plenty of hockey in Helmer’s future and Hershey was a destination of choice.

“I would love to come back. I am actually going to talk with the General Manager on Thursday (June 25th),” said Helmer. “I told myself, I really want to come back. My family really loves it here in Hershey and I love it here. Where else on a Wednesday night can you play in front of 9,000 or 10,000 people in the AHL?”

Having a young family also played a role in Helmer’s decision, “My son has made a lot of good friends here as well. I’d love to stay and we will see what happens I guess.”

A Calder Cup Champion with Albany in 1995, Helmer admitted that the Cup win in Hershey holds a special place in his heart; not only being part of a great team, his family was there to share the moment.

“They both hold a special place but this time was a little sweeter just because I got to share it with my family,” recalled Helmer. “I was dating my wife at the time when I won in Albany but she never celebrated it with me and this time, to have her there and also to have my son who is 8 and my daughter who is 4, to be a part of it made it that much sweeter. They both mean a lot to me but I think the second one has a bit more meaning to me because I could celebrate it with my family.”

Asked if coaching was in his future after his playing career, Helmer was quick to point out playing is still his main desire.

“It’s funny I get asked this all the time,” Helmer commented. “Some days I want to and there are other days when I don’t. I just want to keep playing to be honest and so I have not really thought of going into coaching yet. Obviously I love going to the rink and stuff, I love going out there and competing. Right now, I am just focusing on my career.”

The son of an Ontario Provincial Police Officer and born in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Helmer grew up near Ottawa in Winchester, Ontario. He still returns to the Winchester area during the summer to recharge from a long season on the ice and this year, his family had a special guest, the Calder Cup.

“We spend our summers on the water, just relaxing and spending time with our family,” said Helmer. “The last time I won the Cup we never got to do this (bring the Cup home). I don’t know if it is something that Hershey does but I am going to take it home for a few days and then I send it on to the next guy; it’s going to be fun.”

As another exciting season of AHL hockey approaches and the Hershey Bears attempt to win back-to-back Calder Cups, an important piece to the puzzle is now in place; Bryan Helmer will once again take to the ice at the Giant Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania. A role model and leader, on and off the ice, the Bears have a tremendous hockey citizen and captain for another year.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Yankees Win the Battle of the Big Spenders in New York

While the Toronto Blue Jays celebrate their back-to-back World Series victories in 1992 and 1993 with a reunion of former players this weekend, two of this year's top contenders are going head to head at the new Yankee Stadium in New York. First in the American League East, the Yankees are attempting to build on their lead in the division over the Boston Red Sox.

With no wins in their first eight meetings against Boston, the Yankees have taken the first three games of the series, including a 15-inning marathon Friday night and going into today’s game, they have a 5.5 game lead as the schedule hits the 110 game mark. The Yankees have now won six in a row, while the Red Sox have dropped their last five games; including a two game sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays before this series began. As Boston chases the Yankees, the Rays have quietly moved into the race for the American League wild card and now trail the Red Sox by only 1.5 games.

The Yankees appear to have the edge at this point of the season, as A.J. Burnett (10-5 in 22 starts) and CC Sabathia (12-7 in 24 starts) displayed their talents in games two and three of the series. Burnett pitched 7.2 innings in Friday’s 2-0 Yankee win, limiting the Red Sox to one hit while striking out six batters. Alex Rodriguez finished the Sox with a two-run shot over the fence in the 15th inning and Phil Coke (3-3) picked up the win as Burnett and the bullpen limited the high powered Sox to only four hits.

Game 3 saw Sabathia take a no-hitter into the sixth inning, finishing with nine strikeouts in 7.2 innings and allowing only two hits, while walking two. In his post game comments, Sabathia explained the extra incentive for the Yankees going into the series, “We want to set the tone for the rest of the season.” said Sabathia. As their lead in the division grows, the Yankees certainly are setting the tone for the rest of the season.

The Red Sox now find themselves with a 27-30 record on the road and questions surround their pitching rotation. MLB veteran and former Atlanta Braves star, John Smoltz (2-5 in 8 starts), allowed eight runs in Thursday’s loss, pulled after only 3.1 innings of work and he has been designated for assignment with Boston’s triple A affiliate. The team has ten days to release Smoltz or trade him if he refuses the demotion. Early speculation has Smoltz accepting the triple A assignment in hopes that he re-discovers his game.

The Sox now await the return of knuckle ball pitcher Tim Wakefield (11-3 in 17 starts) and their number one pitcher, Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-5 in 8 starts). Wakefield is currently on the 15 day DL with a lower back strain and is expected back in the coming days after a throwing session August 6th showed no signs of trouble. It will be a longer wait for Matsuzaka’s return to the line-up. Currently on the 60 day DL with an injury described as “weakness in his right shoulder”, Matsuzaka will attempt a throwing session August 11th, which could lead to his return in early September.

The final game of the four game series goes tonight in New York with Boston’s Jon Lester (9-7 in 22 starts with a 3.79 ERA) attempting to stop the losing streak against 15-year veteran Andy Pettitte (9-6 in 22 starts with a 4.35 ERA). A loss will see the Red Sox fall to 6.5 games behind the Yankees for the division and depending on the outcome of the Texas Rangers game against the L.A. Angels, the Sox could find themselves tied with the Rangers for the wild card in the American League.

While there is still plenty of baseball to be played, the Red Sox must regain their winning form quickly or they may find themselves on the outside looking in come playoff time. Baseball’s biggest spenders still have six games against each other, a three game series in Boston (August 21-23) and three games in New York (September 25-27).

It may be the Rays playing spoiler in the battle for the A.L. East division. The Rays and Red Sox play six more times, while the Yankees play seven more against Tampa Bay. If Tampa can keep pace with the bid spenders, they could be in position to win the division with a strong effort in their head-to-head meetings. It should be an interesting run to the end of the season. Have a great sports day everyone.