Friday, October 30, 2009

Concussions in Hockey - Keith Primeau Speaks from Experience

The issue of headshots in the NHL is back in the spotlight recently because of Philadelphia Flyers forward Mike Richards' hit on David Booth of the Florida Panthers. Many will say it was a great hockey play - a devastating hit that is the injured player's fault for having his head down or admiring his pass. While this is partly true, players are deemed soft if they do not hit an opposing player; the question now becomes, when is it too much? The line is starting to blur between a great hit and ruining someones life because of a head injury.


Most sports fans are aware of the repercussions of knee injuries and the like, but what happens to players after repeated concussions? The Sports Legacy Institute's research has revealed startling evidence on the after-effects of concussions and post-concussion syndrome.


For more on the SLI, visit their website: http://www.sportslegacy.org/


In June, I had the pleasure of speaking with SLI co-founder Chris Nowinski for Main Street. We discussed the concussions that forced him to retire from the WWE and the lingering health issues that continued to plague him several years after his last head injury. We also spoke about the work and research being conducted by the SLI.


For the Chris Nowinski interview in Main Street, check the July 2009 archives...


That conversation turned to the topic of concussions in hockey and the recent news that several current and former NHL players had made the decision to donate their brain tissue to the SLI for research after they have passed away. One such player is former Flyers captain Keith Primeau and he has become an active spokesman for the SLI and the issue of concussions in the NHL. Nowinski suggested I speak with Primeau for a hockey perspective... With help from the NHLPA, I was able to contact Primeau and continue the discussion for Main Street.


For the original Keith Primeau interview in Main Street, check the August 2009 archives...


As a sports fan and columnist, my view on these "great hockey hits" has certainly changed. I do not advocate taking hitting from the game, far from it... but as I said earlier, when is it too much? Besides being our favourite players and hometown heroes, these are real people with very real health issues because of brain injuries. Let's make that distinction - a concussion is a brain injury. It is not just a term to be thrown around; "Oh, he just has a concussion, he'll be back on the ice in 10 days..."


Newspaper articles are often limited by a word count and a large part of my conversation with Keith did not make it into the original article. To bring the spotlight back on the injured athletes and raise awareness on the serious nature of brain injuries, here is the rest of my interview with Keith Primeau for Main Street. We spoke on the phone in early July, shortly after he took a position with the ECHL's Las Vegas Wranglers.


The Voice - After dealing with the effects of several undiagnosed concussions as a teenager and in my early twenties, I have had some of my own health battles over the last four years; that is why this topic is close to my heart. While talking with Chris Nowinski, we discussed if I would consider a brain tissue donation myself but I am struggling with the issue.


Keith Primeau - I was going to ask you that (He chuckles a bit)... I didn't realize at first that it (the SLI) was open to anybody in general who had been injured. For those people, they would be able to donate; there may be some positive information or feedback. Organs are donated all the time, this is no different.


The Voice - I am struggling with the issue. Was it a difficult decision when you decided to donate your brain tissue for research?


Keith - You know what, I don't know if it was... I guess the longevity of making my decision, which was about three to four months, was just coming to terms with it. You know, soul searching and contemplating, like I said, whether this was something that I valued and I really thought that it was. 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 and 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.


When I first looked at it, I told my brother Wayne and he was like, well, that's creepy... and I never really looked at it as being creepy or out of the ordinary. I wasn't an organ donor prior to that. It wasn't like, that's who I am, that's what I'll do... It really became this single issue of is there value somewhere, somehow for someone other then me in my choices and I felt there is.


The Voice - How is your health now? Are you still dealing with the effects of your concussions?


Keith - I continue to get better thanks. It's been a long process, I am by no means would I say 100%. I don't think I will ever 100% but the more time that stretches out between my last injury and present time, I continue to see minimal improvement that is always continuing and it's encouraging.


The Voice - You are starting to get your life back and can do more things...


Keith - Yeah...


The Voice - I read in a Toronto Star article that the NHL does not keep statistics on how many careers have ended due to concussions. Does the NHL have the responsibility to its players to begin keeping track of this injury and working with groups like the Sports Legacy Institute to raise the level of education among the players?


Keith - 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.


The Voice - The NHL competition committee recently decided to enforce current rules regarding headshots, instead of creating a new penalty for the offence. Is that going far enough? Would you like to see a specific penalty or a suspension when a player brings up their elbow while throwing a body check?


Keith - I would just like to see it dealt with consistently. If there is going to be change, first it has to come from the players. If they are not going to show enough respect for one another then it needs to be administered by the league and my greatest fear is that it just becomes part of the playing norm. What I mean by that is, there was a period of time where groin injuries were front and center and knee injuries were front and center but they began to build it into their business model. They accepted the fact that players were going to miss time because of sports hernias and they just ploughed through it or knee problems, and they just ploughed through it. To me, the head is so much different then just a torn abdominal muscle or a torn knee, in that it can be life altering. I just do not want it to become part of the business model and therefore accepted as part of the framework of the game. I want it to be more then that because we are dealing with peoples lives.


The Voice - Coaching hockey at the youth level now and joining the Las Vegas team in the ECHL, does it help with the healing process to stay involved with the game and at the same time, you can help raise awareness of this serious issue where it may count the most - in youth sports.


Keith - Yeah, I do not know if it is so much the healing process, as it is a real passion. I am very passionate about teaching kids and it is something that I really enjoy and get tremendous satisfaction out of. I have been asked if I miss playing the game. I certainly miss playing the game but as long as I am around the the game in some capacity, I am content. I feel as though it comes full circle. This is where I started out and I am right back to where I began.


The Voice - After a wonderful career in the NHL, can you still look back fondly on your playing days despite the effects of the injuries that you suffered?


Keith - Oh, absolutely! You know, 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.


The Voice - I did not want to take up too much of your time, I had Chris on the phone for over twenty-five minutes...



Keith - Did you? (he laughs) As I said earlier, I applaud his efforts and it was going to take somebody to have the initiative to make a difference and he really is making a difference. There is one other program you may want to do some research on - it is a spin-off of the Shoot for a Cure called Playing it Cool, which is the education of athletes and parents with how to deal with and recognize head trauma and post-concussion issues.
Here is the link for the program:
http://www.shootforacure.org/

Chris Nowinski and Keith Primeau are both tremendous individuals, speaking out about an injury that can devastate the lives of the injured athletes and their families. A very BIG thank you to both gentlemen for taking the time to speak with me and sharing their stories, views and advice. It was recently announced that Keith Primeau would be discussing the issue of concussions with the NHL's General Managers. Here's hoping the GM's do the right thing - LISTEN to the voice of experience and implement change in the NHL.

Alouettes Prepare for the CFL Playoffs

This article was first published in the October 30th edition of Main Street Week and is reprinted here with permission from the editors. Drop by www.mainstreetweeknews.com to have a look at a great community newspaper or sign up and have Main Street Week delivered right to your inbox every Friday.

Alouettes Prepare for the CFL Playoffs

The season is slowly winding down in the Canadian Football League and as Halloween approaches one thing is clear; the Montreal Alouettes are frightfully good. Riding the arm of Quarterback Anthony Calvillo, the legs of Running Back Avon Cobourne and the heart of the CFL’s best defence, the Al’s are once again the Eastern Division winners and will host the Eastern Championship game on November 22nd at the Olympic Stadium.

With the division title wrapped up and two games left to play, the Alouettes are in dangerous territory. The coaching staff will have to decide whether they have their starters playing significant time in each game risking injury or if they will keep the starting line-up off the field and risk an ineffective offence when the playoffs begin. Head Coach Marc Trestman will have some difficult decisions to make as the rest of the league battles for playoff positions.

Three teams could stand in the way of another Grey Cup appearance for the Alouettes. The much-improved Hamilton Tiger-Cats could be dangerous; with seven wins this season they have already surpassed their win total from the past two years combined. The dysfunctional Winnipeg Blue Bombers appear to be rounding into form at the right time and after a dismal start, they may earn a playoff spot for rookie Head Coach Mike Kelly.

Another possible opponent, thanks to the CFL’s crossover playoff format, is the Western Division’s Edmonton Eskimos; a team that has struggled at times this year and has not won back-to-back games since August. The Eskimos have Ricky Ray at Quarterback and he can be as dangerous on the field as Calvillo is for the Alouettes - he could steal a playoff game if given the opportunity.

As good as the Alouettes are, their 41-24 loss last Saturday to the Blue Bombers gave Montreal fans a glimpse of life without Anthony Calvillo at Quarterback. Backup QB, Adrian McPherson, was at the helm while Calvillo served as backup due to a leg injury suffered in Montreal’s 41-38 win against Hamilton on October 18th. While McPherson played well and many football analysts expect him to become the team’s number one QB in the future, he lacks the experience that Calvillo brings to the field. It is difficult to imagine an Alouettes team without Calvillo at the helm; this season is his 16th in the CFL and 12th with Montreal.

While Montreal has already qualified for the post season, the defence has relinquished 79 points in the last two games against the Tiger-Cats and Blue Bombers and that is something both teams could take advantage of in a playoff game. The opposing coaches will certainly look at the game tapes to examine what went wrong for Montreal, looking for an advantage in a possible playoff match-up.

To finish the season, Montreal is home to the Blue Bombers on November 1 and then they travel to Toronto to play the hopeless Argonauts on November 7. If Winnipeg loses in Montreal, their chances of securing a playoff spot could disappear. Have a great sports day everyone.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Former Expo in the MLB Playoffs Once Again

This article was first published in the October 23rd edition of Main Street Week and is reprinted here with permission from the editors. Drop by www.mainstreetweeknews.com to have a look at a great community newspaper or sign up and have Main Street Week delivered right to your inbox every Friday.

Former Expo in the MLB Playoffs Once Again

The baseball playoffs are underway in the MLB and the World Series will wrap up sometime in November. Hard to believe the boys of summer cannot end their season before the snow flies - but that is the topic for another discussion. After a gruelling 162 game schedule, only eight of the thirty teams qualify for the playoffs and for many players, earning a trip to the post season even once can take years; many players never reach the playoffs during their entire career. One exception to this trend is former Montreal Expos player, Orlando Cabrera.

Although his Minnesota Twins bowed out in the first round to the New York Yankees this year, Cabrera has earned a trip to the post season five times in the past six years since he left Montreal in July of 2004. This season, the Twins and Detroit Tigers finished in a tie for the American League’s Central division and a 163rd game was required to find a winner. With Cabrera in the line-up, it was not surprising to see the Twins win the game 6-5 in 12 innings and his presence was a factor, as he hit a two-run home run in the seventh inning.

Born in Cartagena Columbia, Cabrera joined the Expos organization as an amateur free agent in 1993. After working his way through the minor league system, with stops in Florida, Vermont, Pennsylvania and the franchise’s Triple A affiliate in Ottawa, he made his Montreal debut on September 3rd, 1997. After becoming the everyday shortstop in 1999, he would play in all 162 games in 2001 and 2003; earning a Gold Glove Award in 2001 for his defensive skills on the field. Cabrera joined the long list of young stars traded by the Expos in 2004, leaving Montreal in a trade with the Boston Red Sox.

It would turn into a great trade for the Red Sox, as they went on that season to break their curse and win the World Series for the first time since 1918; an astounding 86 years between championships. Cabrera was an integral part of the team, hitting .379 in the American League Championship and providing great defensive plays throughout the playoffs.

He left Boston as a free agent after the World Series and joined the Los Angeles Angels, where he stayed until a trade sent him to the Chicago White Sox in 2008. The 2006 season with LA is the only year since 2004 Cabrera has not played in the post season - his Angels finished second in the American League’s West division. He started the 2009 season in Oakland after signing as a free agent and once again, he was dealt at the trade deadline to Minnesota.

Although he only has one World Series ring, Cabrera has enjoyed a tremendous career and at 37 years of age, his career is winding down. During his 13-year career, he has played 1,732 games in the majors, with a .275 career batting average. He has hit 114 home runs and accumulated 761 RBI’s (runs batted in). A free agent once again, Cabrera will likely sign a one-year contract and find himself traded to a contender next July as teams take advantage of his post-season experience. If you are looking for a dark horse team for next year’s MLB playoffs, watch for where Cabrera ends up, chances are his team will be playing when the snow starts to fly. Have a great sports day everyone.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Coyotes are Winning but the Seats are Still Empty...

The Phoenix Coyotes fan base may be imaginary but this year's squad may turn out to be for real. The NHL season is still in its early stages and the troubled Coyotes franchise finds themselves in the thick of things in the Western Conference.


The Coyotes were in a playoff spot until the all-star break last season and a similar collapse could happen this year but after one of the strangest off-seasons in NHL history, the Phoenix players have a common goal this season - saving the franchise. Despite the quick start, the attendance numbers have yet to demonstrate that winning equals sell-outs in the desert as the NHL argued in bankruptcy court throughout the summer.


In their three home games, the attendance numbers are the worst in the league, averaging 11,197 fans per game. With a new promotion in place - “We win - You win”, where on certain nights a Coyotes win earns free tickets for all in attendance, it is difficult to see where the money is going to come from when they repeatedly devalue their product. Why pay full price when the struggling franchise continues to offer free tickets and their “sell-out” of the home opener was accomplished with $15 tickets.


Leaf fans would love to see this statement on their team’s website - from the Coyotes site “The team offers a variety of full and partial season ticket packages starting at only $9 a game, as well as a variety of individual game ticket specials.” With approximately $41 million in salaries, a $9 ticket is not going to pay the bills anytime soon.


While the off-ice issues continue to plague this team, headed into tonight's game at home against the Red Wings (3-3-1), the Coyotes are ahead of the Wings in the standings, probably for the first time ever and their 5-2-0 record has them in eighth place with 10 points.


A surprising statistic, besides their place in the standings, is the fact that the Coyotes have allowed the fewest goals against in the NHL - giving up only 10 goals through seven games. Led by Ilya Brygalov in net, the Coyotes lead the league in the goals against category with a team GAA of 1.43. Buffalo is second with a 2.00 GAA, with Colorado and Pittsburgh next at 2.11 goals per game. By comparison, Toronto is last in the league with a 4.57 GAA.


The goaltending duo of Bryzgalov and Jason LaBarbera has been phenomenal. Bryzgalov, a former Anaheim Duck picked up on waivers during the 2007-08 season, has a win/loss record of 5-1-0 with a 1.14 GAA and a .953 save percentage; his two shutouts this season lead the league. Recently named the NHL’s First Star of the Week with a 3-0-0 record, .095 GAA and a .959 save percentage, Bryzgalov defeated the Sharks, Blues and Bruins; stopping 70 of the 73 shots he faced in the three games. LaBarbera is 1-0-0 with a 2.03 GAA and an equally impressive .949 save percentage.


The major change in Phoenix this year is behind the bench. While Wayne Gretzky was a quality coach in my opinion, the addition of Dave Tippett as Head Coach and former Canadian National Team Coach, Dave King as an assistant, has improved the play on the ice. Their experience in the league and around the world in King’s case, should provide the veterans and up and coming stars on the Coyotes with some extra guidance when things go wrong that perhaps, Gretzky could not provide. A natural on the ice, was Gretzky able to teach his players when things went bad and the team began to slide in the standings?


Tippett, the former Head Coach in Dallas, had coached 492 games entering the season; his win/loss record is an impressive 271-156-28-37. King coached the Flames and the Blue Jackets, was an assistant in Montreal and most recently he was in Germany and Russia as a Head Coach. His record in the NHL is not as impressive as Tippet’s numbers but they demonstrate his abilities as a coach in the league. With Calgary and Columbus, he had a 173-182-42-13 record and he may be able to communicate with some of the young European players on the Coyotes with his experience overseas. Combined, the two men have 902 games of coaching experience as a bench boss in the NHL.


While it is far too early to call the Coyotes a playoff team, they are off to a great start and certainly have a new commitment to defence in their own zone. Will the sports fans in Arizona embrace the team if they continue to win? So far, they seem to be taking a wait and see approach but if they wait too long, their team may be entertaining hockey fans somewhere else next season. The NHL is banking on the fact that a winning franchise will save the day in Phoenix; if things stay the way they are, they may be approaching the bank for more funding to keep the Coyotes in the desert. Have a great sports day everyone.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Are the Kings Becoming the Penguins of the West?

As the Los Angeles Dodgers and Angels make their way through the MLB Playoffs, it is easy to see why the quick start of the LA Kings is hard to find in the sports pages of the LA Times. While it is surprising to see the Kings leading the NHL's Pacific division, the first place position is well earned.


Coming off a 4-2 loss to the New York Rangers on Wednesday night, the Kings have a good mix of young talent and with the resurgence of Captain Canada, Ryan Smyth; this team may be in the hunt for a playoff spot when March arrives.


After his trade from the Edmonton Oilers to the New York Islanders at the 2007 trade deadline, followed by an injury-filled season in Colorado in 2008, Smyth appears to be a man on a mission in Los Angeles, scoring 5 goals and adding 4 assists in 6 games. His line with Justin Williams and Anze Kopitar have scored 10 goals and tallied 25 points in 6 games; great stats for guys that only met in Training Camp this fall. Playing an average of 20 minutes per game, Smyth is leading his young squad to an unfamiliar place - first place.


Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi has quietly accumulated some quality draft picks as his team struggled in previous seasons and those picks are now at the NHL level making a name for themselves.


Drafted 11th overall in the 2005 entry draft, Anze Kopitar has always scored goals for the Kings; in 242 career games he has 214 points but his career plus/minus is a minus 42. His first three seasons with the Kings saw him accumulate 61 points in 72 games while being a minus 12 in his rookie year; followed by 77 points in his second year and 66 in his third, while playing in all 82 games. Despite a natural scoring touch, he was a minus 15 and a minus 17 in those seasons. This year, he is once again leading the way with 4 goals and 10 points, while being a plus 2. The best offence is a good defence and Kopitar seems to have bought into the idea that he needs to be more responsible in his own zone.


Speaking of defence, former Canadian World Junior Champion Drew Doughty has become a true NHL calibre defenseman. The 6’0 D-man from London Ontario is in his second season in the league and after playing in all but one game last year, which saw him accumulate 27 points in his rookie campaign, Doughty has 2 goals and 4 assists in 6 games this season. Drafted second overall in the 2008 draft by the Kings to anchor the defence and be a building block for the future, Doughty will be an all-star in the future and hockey fans in the East will begin to see him as one of the many young stars on the rise in the league.


The youth movement also applies to the net minders on the Kings as the team goes with the tandem of Jonathan Quick and Erik Ersberg. Quick is in his third year in the NHL and his second full year with the team after playing in four games his first season. A third round draft pick in 2005, Quick has a 4-1-0 record this year, with a 3.00 GAA and a .898 save percentage. His personal numbers are not overly impressive but his 4 wins are the ones that really count in the standings. Ersberg signed with the Kings as a free agent in May 2007 after starting his career in Sweden. In 43 NHL games, Ersberg has a 14-17-0 record with a .909 save percentage and an impressive 2.62 GAA. This duo will have some shaky moments this season but their numbers will improve as the team improves.


Sharing a stage with the Dodgers, Angels and the NBA's Lakers, it will take time, perhaps a few years of playoff appearances for the Kings to become headline material in Los Angeles but make no mistake, we could be witnessing the Pittsburgh Penguins of the West. With a solid core of young draft picks and reliable veterans, GM Lombardi and Coach Murray may become the talk of the town in Los Angeles.


As the Kings prepare for the hurting Red Wings tonight in Detroit, the Kings organization is celebrating a milestone moment from October 15th, 1989. That was the night Wayne Gretzky travelled to Edmonton to score a goal on his former squad. The goal was point number 1,851, passing his idol, Gordie Howe, as the NHL’s all-time point leader. Have a great sports day everyone.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Quebec Capitales Win the 2009 Can-Am Championship

This article first appeared in the October edition of Main Street and is reprinted here with permission from the editors. Drop by www.mainstreetweeknews.com to have a look at a great community newspaper. You can also sign up and have Main Street Week delivered right to your inbox every Friday.


Quebec Capitales Win the 2009 Can-Am Championship

Baseball fans in the province have embraced the Quebec Capitales since they arrived in Quebec City for the 1999 baseball season. With plenty of local talent, which includes the 2003 Cy Young winner and World Series Champion Eric Gagne, the team once again led the league in attendance with 160,992 fans dropping by the Municipal Stadium during their 45 home games this summer. A member of the Northern League when they began play, the Capitales joined the Can-Am League in 2005 and they have been one of the premier teams in the league; proving year after year, that baseball has a home north of the border.

The Quebec Capitales rebounded from a slow start this past season to finish third overall in the six-team Can-Am League and qualified for the playoffs, which took place in mid-September. As the winners of the second half in the split-season schedule, the Capitales began their quest for their second league championship at home with a best of five series against the Brockton Rox. After winning the first two games at home, the Capitales headed to Massachusetts to finish off the Rox and the series, three games to one.

A surprising series win by the Worcester Tornadoes over the first place New Jersey Jackals meant that Quebec would stay in Massachusetts for the start of the 2009 Can-Am Final. The Capitales and Tornadoes split the two games in Worcester and the Quebec City team returned to the best fans in the league tied at one game each in the best of five series. Eric Gagne took to the mound in game three, pitching a complete game in a 5-1 victory and Karl Gelinas, a native of Iberville Quebec, struck out five Worcester batters in a 7-4 win to claim the 2009 Can-Am Championship.

The 2009 Can-Am League title was not the only honour bestowed upon the franchise this season. For the second year in a row, the Capitales won the Organization of the Year Award. Capitales General Manager, Alex Harvey, discussed the honour in a press release at the Can-Am League’s website.

“To win the Organization of the Year Award for a second year means a lot for the whole front office,” said Harvey. “Everybody has worked really hard over the past year to remain a top organization.”

For the first time, the groundskeepers in Quebec City have won the award for having the Best Playing Field in the league. Built in 1938, the stadium has witnessed many baseball legends over the years, including Hank Aaron, Andre Dawson and Gary Carter to name a few. After undergoing extensive renovations before the Capitales arrived, Quebec’s Municipal Stadium is now one of the best ballparks in North America.

“It is a great honour for all employees from the City of Quebec who work on the field. They do it with passion and professionalism,” said Harvey in a press release. “Head Groundskeepers Guy Jacques, Richard LainĂ© and Marcel Nadeau are doing a tremendous job to set high standards of excellence.”

Before the playoffs began, Montebello resident Pierre-Luc LaForest won the Player of the Year Award in the Can-Am League. The catcher/first baseman led the league in several offensive categories and was an integral part of the championship season in Quebec City. The former Montreal Expos draft pick hit 24 home runs and had 84 runs batted in during the regular season.

Congratulations to all the players and staff involved in another exciting season of Capitales baseball. Personally, I would like to thank Can-Am commissioner and Capitales owner, Miles Wolff, for taking the time to speak with Main Street throughout the season. As the temperatures begin to fall below zero, remember folks, Spring Training is only six months away. Have a great sports day everyone.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Maple Leafs Must Improve PK and Face-Off Skills to get out of the Basement

Toronto Maple Leaf fans awoke this morning to see their team at the bottom of the NHL standings and it would not be a surprise if Leaf fans had trouble digesting their Thanksgiving turkey after a 5-2 loss to the Penguins on Saturday evening. Head coach Ron Wilson certainly had trouble digesting the loss and the 0-3-1 Leafs must now head to New York for a game against the 4-1-0 Rangers at Madison Square Gardens.


The NHL season is barely underway, so it is clearly too early to ring the alarms and claim the Leafs will be at the bottom of the standings all season but Wilson and GM Brian Burke certainly have some work to do in their effort to see the Leafs reach the playoffs for the first time in several years.


Watching the game Saturday evening, the Toronto penalty kill was a sad affair, as the Penguins picked up three goals on the power play; including two in the second period by Sidney Crosby. The Penguins appeared confident and moved the puck very well, with crisp passes and smart decisions. On the season, the Pittsburgh power play is 5 for 20 and the Leaf penalty kill made it seem like the Penguins were 20 for 20.


Besides waking up today last in the standings with one point in four games, the Leafs and the Islanders are the only teams without a win this season. The Islanders have picked up three points in overtime losses to keep themselves ahead of Minnesota, Florida and Toronto in the standings.


The blame for the slow start has fallen on the shoulders of starting goalie Vesa Toskala but there is more happening here then just bad goaltending, although that is a major contributor. In three home games, the opposition has outscored the Leafs 11-6 and Toronto lost their only road game 6-4. Toronto and Florida are tied for last place in the league in the goals against category, allowing 4.25 goals per game. Fans would like to see Toskala or any goalie for that matter steal a game or two, but the team in front of him has to play better, particularly on the penalty kill and in the face-off circle.


The Leafs are 30th in the league on the penalty kill, giving up 6 goals on 13 power play opportunities for their opponents. If the team is to be a rough and truculent squad as Brian Burke desires, the team will have to kill off some of the penalties that the referees will be calling on them. By announcing to the media that his new crop of players will be a hard working, in your face team, Burke also put the referees on notice to watch the Leafs more closely; which they will this season.


One of the best ways to kill off a penalty is to start with the puck by winning face-offs. Looking at the face-off statistics for the league, the Leafs are near the bottom of this important statistic as well, 23rd in the league at 47%. Matt Stajan has done well in this category, winning 34 and losing 25, for a 57.6 percentage but it goes downhill from there. John Mitchell is 19 and 19 for 50%, Rickard Wallin has won 20 and lost 23 for a 46.5 percentage and Mikhail Grabovski has a horrendous 26.5 winning percentage. He has won 13 while losing 36 face-offs. To control the puck and the clock, Toronto needs players like Grabovski to step up their game when the puck drops.


Toronto is averaging 16.5 minutes of penalties per game, which is the ninth highest total in the league. If they are to be shorthanded that often, the penalty kill must improve. Of course, a team’s best penalty killer should be their goaltender, which the Leafs have not been able to count on early in the season.


The Ranger power play is 20th in the league, scoring on 5 of their 20 power play opportunities. With a healthy Marian Gaborik on the number one unit in New York, tonight’s game could lead to more heartbreak for Leaf fans.


Another loss for Toskala could lead to Joey MacDonald getting the start Tuesday night when the Leafs host the Colorado Avalanche. The Avalanche are a surprising 2-1-1 and their power play is 5th in the league, which may lead to more trouble for Toronto if they take too many undisciplined penalties. MacDonald may be in the Toronto net until Jonas Gustavsson returns from a groin injury and it may be Toskala getting the start for the AHL Marlies if the MacDonlad/Gustavsson duo start stealing some games and earning some wins for the Leafs.


The Leafs have never lost five games in a row to start the season, while the Rangers look for their fifth straight win after dropping their season opener. It is still early but this Toronto squad may be worse then last year’s team. Tonight will be another test for Wilson’s team and besides wondering how their goalie will play, they must also solve Henrik Lundqvist; he comes into the game with a 3-1 record, a 2.52 GAA and a .917 save percentage. It is beginning to look like another long season in Toronto and Brian Burke must be wondering if he sent a lottery draft pick to Boston as part of the Phil Kessel trade. Have a great sports day everyone.

Does Calgary need a new Backup Goaltender?

The Calgary Flames lost for the first time this season, missing the opportunity to start 5-0 for the first time in franchise history. While losses will come, no one expected them to play 82 games without losing, the fact that the team fell flat in front of backup goalie Curtis McElhinney is cause for concern.


Last season, McElhinney posted a 1-6-1 win/loss record, with a 3.59 GAA and .889 save percentage, while appearing in 14 games. In the 20 games he has played in Calgary, McElhinney is 1-9-1 with a 3.30 GAA and .889 save percentage. While his numbers are decent in the AHL (131 GP, 64-49-5 win/loss record, 2.25 GAA and a .914 save percentage), he is yet to break through in the NHL as a reliable option.


With the Olympics coming up, many number one goalies in the league will not be getting a break in February and that includes Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff. The Calgary net minder will play a key role for Team Finland at the Games and coach Brent Sutter will need to find some days off for his all-star goaltender.


In the four seasons since the NHL lockout, Kiprusoff has averaged 75 games per season. When the playoffs arrive, his save percentage takes a sharp dive. His career average is .912% and in their first round exit last year, his save percentage fell to .884% with a 3.52 goals against average - those numbers will not get a team very far in the playoffs.


The role of backup on the contending teams will be more important then ever and Calgary is one team that needs to look at the goaltending position. Can Calgary rely upon McElhinney to steal a game or two against some of the NHL’s lower tier teams? Dallas was winless headed into last night’s game and it would have been the perfect time to make a statement by defeating a team that struggled last season.


Dallas will be in the lower half of the conference all year and Calgary should have picked up some points in this game. Unfortunately for the Flames, it was Dallas backup Alex Auld making the key saves in his first start with the Stars. McElhinney will have every opportunity to keep his job but the Calgary scouting department must be a little concerned and ready to work the phones if this trend continues. If Kiprusoff sustains an injury during the season, can McElhinney be an everyday goaltender in the NHL, even if it is only for a two-week stretch?


In his post game comments, available at the Flames website, coach Sutter was quick to point out the whole team struggled against Dallas.


“Could he have been better? Yes. But he was probably a lot like a lot of other guys,” said Sutter. “We’re talking about someone here who hasn’t had a lot of playing action in over a year. Does he need to be better? Yeah. But so did a lot of other guys tonight.”


One has to wonder if Mike Ribeiro’s goal one minute into the first period deflated the Calgary bench and set the tone for the rest of the game.


While a season is not won or lost by the backup goalie, playoff positioning and precious points are lost when a team fails to beat a struggling visitor. In the Western Conference, where teams like St. Louis, Columbus, Los Angeles and Nashville will be pushing the top teams for a playoff spot, the coaches in Calgary need to know they can start either goalie and have a chance to win.


The Flames have failed to advance past the first round of the playoffs four years in a row and the Sutter Brothers hope this season will see that streak end. Personally, I hope they break the streak too - Calgary is my pick this year for the Stanley Cup. Have a great sports day everyone.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Doc Halladay must be part of Blue Jays Future

The playoffs have begun in Major League Baseball and once again, the Toronto Blue Jays are on the outside looking in. After posting a 75-87 win/loss record, the Jays finished fourth in the AL East, 28 games behind the first place Yankees. As the season began to unravel, the fans demonstrated their dissatisfaction by staying away from the Rogers Centre and flooding call-in shows with doomsday predictions and demanding change.


It has been well documented, after a surprising 27-14 start, the wheels fell off the bandwagon and a long, slow, slide to the bottom of the standings began. Injuries to the pitching staff, a bad season for Vernon Wells and the now departed Alex Rios and grumbling from the locker room regarding Cito Gaston’s managerial style led to a season to forget in Toronto. A year that started with surprise and optimism, ended with a thud, as General Manager JP Ricciardi was fired with one year left on his contract while the Jays lost their final three games in Baltimore.


With the recent promotion of Alex Anthopoulos as the new General Manager and a good crop of young talent, drafted by JP Ricciardi, there are better days ahead for the Blue Jays - if they make some important roster decisions. While there are some signs that the Blue Jays may follow the Montreal Expos into the abyss, the situation is very different in Toronto from what Montreal fans went through - for now. However, the signs of a failing franchise are beginning to reveal themselves and in five years time, the Montreal - Toronto situations could become very similar indeed.


First on the list for Anthopoulos has to be the Roy Halladay situation. After Ricciardi fumbled around at the trade deadline, making the Halladay trade rumours a very public affair in a situation where discretion was necessary, the Jays need Halladay to stay in Toronto. The big off-season question facing the Toronto management and their pitching ace is this, does Doc want to stay with the organization.


A free agent after the 2010 season, Halladay will have the choice to leave Toronto during the off-season via a trade if he lets the new GM know he wants out. The 2003 AL Cy Young winner has earned the right to compete for a championship and if he feels his best opportunity will come in another city, the Jays must make the move and trade one of the best pitchers in baseball. However, if Halladay wishes to finish his career in Toronto, the Jays must open the vault at the Rogers Headquarters and sign the future Hall of Fame member to a new multi-year deal.


Halladay’s career record is 148-76 with a 3.43 ERA, while striking out 1,495 batters. In an era when major league pitchers have difficulty making it through five innings, Halladay has pitched 49 complete games in his career; including nine in each of the last two seasons. If the Blue Jays truly believe they will be rebuilding for a season or two before they can compete against the Yankees and Red Sox, what is the one thing they will need to be on par with these two powerhouses? Well, they will need an ace on their pitching staff, a franchise player that can shut the door on opponents at will. A pitcher that can win twenty games a season while pitching over 200 innings each year. Sound familiar - they already have that pitcher - his name is Doc Halladay. What will it cost to acquire a pitcher of Halladay’s calibre when the Jays earn their way to the top of the division?


The most important off-season roster move by Anthopoulos may be the one he does not make - not trading Halladay. Interim CEO Paul Beeston has stated in interviews this summer that money would not be a problem when it comes time to get Halladay’s signature on a new contract. In a recent interview on the Fan 590, former Blue Jay and three-time World Series champion Jack Morris called a possible Halladay trade “foolish”. I have to agree with Morris, if the Jays become competitive in the next few seasons with players like Aaron Hill, Adam Lind and Travis Snider at the heart of the batting order, everyone - including fans and management, will be saying - if only we still had Roy Halladay... Have a great sports day everyone.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Can-Am League Looking at Return to Ottawa

The Voice of Sport is in today's Ottawa Sun... a big Thank You to Sun Sports Editor Tim Baines!!

The Can-Am baseball league is looking at Ottawa as a possible home for the team from Nashua New Hampshire. Several groups have expressed interest in bringing a team to the nation's capital. Read all about it in the Ottawa Sun...

http://www.ottawasun.com/sports/baseball/2009/10/06/11325546.html

Have a great sports day everyone.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Brodeur Ready for Another Record

This article was first published in the October 2nd edition of Main Street Week and is reprinted here with permission from the editors. Drop by www.mainstreetweeknews.com to have a look at a great community newspaper or sign up and have Main Street Week delivered right to your inbox every Friday.

Brodeur Ready for Another Record

The puck dropped Thursday evening on another season of NHL hockey as teams hit the ice in several cities in Canada and the United States. The Montreal Canadiens visited the Air Canada Centre in Toronto to renew their rivalry with the Maple Leafs, while Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis and Florida start their quest for the Stanley Cup with two games in Sweden and Finland on October 2nd and 3rd. With a two-week break for the Vancouver Olympics in February, NHL teams will play more back-to-back games this season, which will test the endurance and desire of every player in the league.

As the league enjoys a rise in popularity with many young stars entering the NHL in recent years, one veteran player is preparing for another record setting season. New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur will be protecting the net on opening night for a record 15th consecutive season with the same team; one of the many goaltending records the Montreal native already holds. Brodeur has the record for most wins in a season with 48; he has 12 consecutive seasons with at least 35 wins and the four-time Vezina Trophy winner holds 30 franchise records in the Devils organization. Brodeur and former Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Ron Hextall are the only two goalies in league history to score a goal in the regular season and the playoffs.

After surpassing Patrick Roy’s all-time record for career victories in the regular season last year, the 10-time all-star now has his eyes set on Terry Sawchuk’s record for career shutouts. Sawchuk’s career mark stands at 103, while Brodeur enters the season with 101. A standout in nets for Detroit, Boston, Toronto and Los Angeles, Sawchuk was a four time Vezina winner himself and many believed his shutout record would be untouchable. Many attribute Brodeur’s shutouts to the defensive style employed by the New Jersey organization but he has continually led the league in several categories regardless of the players on the ice in front of him.

When the Devils start their season October 3rd against Philadelphia, Brodeur will join Patrick Roy as the only goaltenders to play 1,000 regular season NHL games; St. Patrick played in 1,029 games with Montreal and Colorado during his Hall of Fame career. He will also surpass Roy’s career mark for minutes played; Roy has the record with 60,235 and Brodeur is second with 59,021. With an average of over 3,900 minutes per season, barring injury, Brodeur should catch up to Roy in November or early December.

Under contract until the end of the 2011-2012 season, many records in the NHL will have Brodeur’s name next to it when his career finally ends. At 37 years of age, the future Hall of Fame goaltender hopes to add another Olympic Gold medal to his list of accomplishments this season. A winner in 2002 at the Salt Lake Games, Brodeur and Roberto Luongo will share the net minding duties in Vancouver for Team Canada in 2010.

When his career does finally end, Martin Brodeur's name will be at the top of the list of nearly every goaltending record in the NHL. A Stanley Cup champion, an Olympic champion and a future member of the Hall of Fame, Brodeur is certainly one of the greatest in the history of the league and he has earned every record and accolade. Have a great sports day everyone.