Monday, May 31, 2010

Jays' Jose Bautista matches career high set in 2006 with Pittsburgh


The Toronto Blue Jays started the 2009 season quickly, raising the hopes of their fans that perhaps this was the year that the Jays could compete for the AL East title, or at the very least, a wildcard spot. A young pitching staff, shaped around Roy Halladay, as well as a tremendous start at the plate by Adam Lind and a healthy Aaron Hill made the Jays the talk of the town in Toronto for the first time in years. Then the “streak” arrived, a nine game losing streak from May 19-27th that brought the Jays and their fans back down to earth. While they continued to play some good baseball, the team never seemed to recover from that slide.

At the end of May in the 2009 season, the Jays had a win/loss record of 29-24; in the 2010 season, the Jays are 30-22. Not too much of a difference... However, this is a team that was supposed to be rebuilding this season, expectations were low; their position at the bottom of the division was guaranteed by baseball analysts before the season began. This year’s Blue Jays squad has not only improved their record, they are within 4.5 games of the division lead heading into a crucial nine game stretch, a stretch that could make or break the 2010 season.

Starting with tonight’s game at the Rogers Centre, the Jays play three against the first place Tampa Bay Rays, followed by three against the New York Yankees (currently 3.5 games behind Tampa), and then the team travels to the sunshine state for three more against Tampa. Another nine game losing streak and the Jays will tumble down the standings; playing .500 baseball or even winning a series or two and there is a very real possibility that the Jays will be playing meaningful baseball games in August and September. The confidence they could gain from holding their own against the powerhouse teams in the division would be immeasurable.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in Toronto continues to be the number of home runs flying over the fences; the team still leads the MLB in home runs with 88 - Boston is second with 69. Toronto also leads the majors in several other offensive categories. Their 123 doubles is ten more then the second place Red Sox and Toronto trails the Yankees in RBI’s by two (266 for NY, 264 for Toronto). The Jays also lead the majors in total bases with 836 - Boston is second with 810. The only worrisome stat at the plate is Toronto’s team batting average. Hitting .244 as a group, the Jays are 25th in the majors; if the home runs stop flying and they need to start playing some small ball, there could be trouble. However, after slow starts at the plate, Aaron Hill and Lyle Overbay are starting to see their numbers improve, which should help the team’s overall numbers.

Two Toronto players in particular are contributing to the team totals and leading in the American League and MLB in several categories. Vernon Wells leads the AL in doubles with 18, teammate and new fan favourite Fred Lewis is third with 16. Wells’ 14 home runs ranks fourth in the majors, two behind the overall leader, Jose Bautista.

The Toronto right fielder is having a career year with 16 home runs and his 41 RBI’s is fourth overall in the MLB. Bautista has already equalled his career high for home runs, set in 2006 with the Pittsburgh Pirates and his RBI total through 52 games is one more then he had in 113 games last year. The WWE has a huge following in Toronto and wrestling fans in the city are very familiar with the “Batista Bombs”, now the baseball fans in Toronto are getting acquainted with Jose’s “Bautista’s Bombs”...

Photo by David Watson on Flickr.com

Friday, May 28, 2010

Blackhawks and Flyers ready to battle for Stanley Cup


This article was first published in the May 28th 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.

It took 82 regular season games and 3 rounds of playoff action to narrow the field down to two teams; the Stanley Cup Final is set to begin Saturday evening. There will be plenty of time throughout the summer to discuss and analyze the Montreal Canadiens season, so this week in MSW, The Voice of Sport takes a look at the Eastern and Western Conference champions that are set to do battle for Lord Stanley's Cup.

For the first time since 1992 and the days of Jeremy Roenick and “Iron” Mike Keenan, the Western Conference champion Chicago Blackhawks will attempt to bring the Stanley Cup home to the windy city. The Eastern champions, the Philadelphia Flyers, having finished off the Montreal Canadiens in five games, have reached the Final for the first time since 1997 and the Eric Lindros era.

While both teams have reached the final round for the first time in years, the drought between victories is even longer. The Flyers have not won it all since Bobby Clarke lifted the Cup in 1975, while Chicago fans and players have waited since 1961 to drink champagne from the Cup. As is always the case after such a long road to the final two, someone is going home heartbroken and empty-handed. Many analysts are predicting a Chicago victory, and while I do not necessarily disagree with that prediction, the series will be closer then many people think.

By defeating the Boston Bruins in the second round, the Philadelphia squad became the third team in hockey history (1942 Maple Leafs, 1975 NY Islanders), and only the fourth in professional sports (the Boston Red Sox in 2004), to come back from an 0-3 deficit in a seven-game series. The Flyers are a confident group as they head to Chicago for Game 1.

Both squads are solid in all departments, with Chicago’s Jonathan Toews (7 goals, 26 points) and Patrick Kane (7 goals, 20 points) leading the team in playoff scoring; they are also number one and three in the entire league. Philadelphia can equal them offensively with Mike Richards (6 goals, 21 points) and Danny Briere (9 goals, 18 points). Chicago has a solid defence led by Canadian Olympians Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook; the Flyers have the leadership and all-star abilities of Keith and Seabrook’s Team Canada teammate Chris Pronger. Besides being a workhorse on the ice, Pronger leads all NHL defencemen with an average of almost 29 minutes of ice-time per game (28:48); he also leads the league in scoring amongst defencemen with 4 goals and 14 points.

Goaltending and special teams could be the deciding factor in the series. The Blackhawks have a slight edge on the power play; Chicago’s power play percentage is 22.6 compared to Philadelphia’s 20.7. On the penalty kill, both teams are almost equal, with the Flyers having the slight edge, 87% to 86.6%.

In goal, the Blackhawks and Flyers are relying on previously untested net minders that have shone in this year’s playoffs. After playing in three NHL games last season, Chicago’s Antti Niemi emerged as the number one goaltender this year. In his first playoff run, he has 12 wins, a 2.33 goals against average and a .921 save percentage. For Philadelphia, Michael Leighton is the “feel-good” story of the year. After bouncing around the minors and several NHL teams during his nine-year career, which included parts of three seasons in Chicago, Leighton stepped in several times in Philadelphia this season when injuries forced other goaltenders out of the lineup. During this year’s playoffs, Leighton is 6-1 with a 1.45 goals against average and a .948 save percentage.

If this year’s playoffs have shown us anything, it is that anything can happen in a seven game series... One thing is for sure, it will be a tremendous Stanley Cup Final, certainly one to watch, even if one of the Canadian teams is not competing for the Cup. TVOS prediction: Chicago in six games... but don’t be surprised to see Philadelphia win in seven. Have a great sports day everyone.

Photo by Shay Haas on Flickr.com

Friday, May 21, 2010

Searching for Canada's Team in the NHL Playoffs


This article was first published in the May 21st 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

The NHL playoffs have reached the final four, as the Eastern and Western Conference Finals got underway last Sunday. The Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks, Philadelphia Flyers and Montreal Canadiens are battling for their respective conference titles, as well as a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.

With Montreal representing the six Canadian teams in the league as the only team from our country still in the hunt for the Cup, an interesting but unnecessary debate has emerged on sports talk radio shows outside of Quebec. With hockey fans desperate to see the Cup return “home” to Canada, should the fans be cheering for Montreal despite the fact that they have the fewest number of Canadian born players on their roster. Of the four remaining teams competing for the Stanley Cup, the Habs have the fewest number of Canadian players on their roster. I realize it is a ridiculous conversation, but it is occurring nonetheless, so let us look at the idea of Canadian content on NHL teams why we should cheer for Montreal.

In its early days, the NHL was almost 100% Canadian; it was considered “our” game and only the Canadian boys excelled at the sport. As the game grew in the United States, quality players from the US began to earn roster spots in the league and by 1980, the US hockey players were celebrating their “Miracle on Ice”, defeating the Soviet Union at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics. By the late eighties and early nineties, the Canadian and American all-stars were joined by a growing contingent of European players that have now staked their claim to roster spots; proving that hockey is no longer just “Canada’s game”, it has flourished throughout the world and is enjoyed in many nations.

Amongst the conference finalists, the Chicago Blackhawks have the greatest contingent of Canadians with 20 on their team, according to the official rosters available at the NHL's website (a list that includes all players on the team, not just those dressing for the games). The Philadelphia Flyers are next with 19, followed by the San Jose Sharks with 15 and Montreal with 14. A similar situation arose in the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals, when the Anaheim Ducks had more Canadians then the Ottawa Senators; it is one of those quirky statistical anomalies that sometimes arises in the sports world. If a fan is searching for “Canada’s team”, then the Edmonton Oilers earn that title with 23 Canadian born players on their roster.

So, why should all Canadians proudly cheer for the Montreal Canadiens instead of the Chicago Blackhawks or San Jose Sharks? The answer in my opinion is simple; it is the rich history of the game in our country and the legacy of the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge. From Morenz, to Vezina, Lach, Moore, Bouchard, Richard and Beliveau, from Lafleur, Savard, Robinson, Dryden, Gainey and St. Patrick Roy, the legacy of the Montreal Canadiens is woven into the fabric of our nation and our hearts. Today’s stars - Cammalleri, Gionta, Gorges, Plekanec, Gill and Halak, are all players that have embraced this legacy and rose to the occasion in the early rounds of the 2010 Playoffs.

In today’s NHL, it is not where you are from; it is the uniform that you are wearing. Should we stop cheering for Mike Cammalleri because he grew up near Toronto? Of course not - he wears the CH on his chest with pride and respect for the past. We cheer for the Canadiens, not because they have the most Canadian born players, but because they are Les Glorieux... Have a great sports day everyone.


Photo by Kevin Van Lierop on Flickr.com

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Jonathan Toews - One of many 2010 Olympic players shining in Western Conference Final


There is an interesting storyline developing in the NHL's Western Conference Final between the San Jose Sharks and the Chicago Blackhawks. Of the many match-ups in this year's playoffs, this series provides an interesting look at many of the stars from Team Canada's 2010 Olympic roster, as well as the stars from several Olympic teams. In the Western Conference Final, thirteen players participated in the 2010 Games with five different countries.

One argument put forward by those opposed to NHL players participating in the Olympic hockey tournament is that the compressed NHL schedule will adversely affect the stars of the league; the extra hockey will result in injuries or simply burning out during a long playoff run in the NHL’s second season. While there is no doubt these stars have played a lot of hockey and faced extra pressures this season, the opportunity to represent your country does not come along every year. For some players, the Olympics shone a spotlight on their talents and they have used the pressures to motivate themselves and bring their game to a completely new level.

Take Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews for example. He finished with one fewer point in the NHL’s regular season (69 last season, 68 this year), but improved his plus/minus rating from a +12 to a +22. Before the Games, many wondered why this young star was included on the team. Once the tournament began, the reasons for his Olympic invite became clear. Not only did he lead Team Canada with eight points, he finished tied for third in the Olympic scoring race. He was a key element in Canada’s gold medal and when I asked Kevin Lowe in our post-Olympic conversation for TVOS and Main Street who the surprise of the tournament was for Team Canada, without hesitation, he said that Toews surpassed their expectations with his poise and his offensive and defensive play when the pressure was on. The Blackhawks captain was also named the Best Forward in the 2010 Olympic tournament.

Also of interest in this series, is Team Canada and San Jose’s top line of Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton versus Chicago’s top defencemen and former Canadian teammates, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith; add Dan Boyle to the mix and there is a lot of gold medals on the ice at one time! Keith was another pleasant surprise at the Olympics and all of Canada was able to see what Chicago fans have known all along; Keith is a tower of strength on defence. In the Olympic tournament, Keith led all Team Canada defenceman in ice-time, logging almost 21 minutes per game. He also tied for second in scoring by defencemen in the tournament with six points.

While San Jose’s “Shark Attack” line did not dominate at the Olympics, they were key performers in the early games; combining for seven goals and seven assists in the tournament. It is in this year's NHL playoffs that they have begun to excel and overcome the perception that they are not playoff performers; combining for eight goals and twenty-two assists. If the Sharks top trio can solve Chicago goaltender Antti Niemi, San Jose will be the favourite in the Stanley Cup Finals.

The star of the NHL playoffs in the early rounds has been Sharks forward and Team USA member, Joe Pavelski. While he only picked up three assists at the 2010 Games, the silver medallist has emerged as one of the new, young stars in the NHL with nine goals and six assists, leading San Jose in playoff scoring. Fellow Team USA member Patrick Kane has used the Olympic tournament to raise his game to the next level as well. He was a key forward for Team USA, scoring three goals and adding two assists in the tournament and is second only to Toews in playoff scoring for the Blackhawks with seven goals and nine assists.

The performance of these players in this year’s playoffs is a great argument for NHL participation in the Olympic Games; while there are extra pressures in an Olympic year, the tournament can be used as a springboard to stardom and success in the NHL. Imagine the lessons learnt by a player like Toews, playing with Scott Neidermayer, Chris Pronger, Jarome Iginla, Rick Nash and the other Team Canada superstars. It is certainly something to think about...

The thirteen San Jose Sharks and Chicago Blackhawks players that participated in the 2010 Olympic Games:

Team Canada: Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Dan Boyle, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Jonathan Toews

Team USA: Patrick Kane and Joe Pavelski

Team Slovakia: Marian Hossa and Tomas Kopecky

Team Sweden: Douglas Murray

Team Russia: Evgeni Nabokov

Photo by Dinur on Flickr.com

Saturday, May 15, 2010

NHL Awards, A Lesson in Hockey History...


This article is in the May 2010 edition of Main Street and is reprinted here with permission of the editors. Drop by www.mainstreetweeknews.com to have a look at a great community newspaper.

In a recent Main Street Week column (Friday, April 9), I discussed how several hockey analysts would like to see the National Hockey League change some of their individual award names to help "modernize" the game and attract new fans. However, as I wrote in my column, the game of hockey has well over 100 years of history; is it better to educate the public about that history or cater to people that can't be bothered to learn about the league's past glory?

To continue the conversation and explore the NHL, past and present, here is a quick look at some of the awards, this year’s finalists and a brief description of the trophy’s history.

The Vezina Trophy - Awarded to the league’s Most Outstanding Goaltender. This year’s finalists are Martin Brodeur (New Jersey), Ryan Miller (Buffalo) and Ilya Bryzgalov (Phoenix). Originally awarded to the goalkeeper with the fewest goals allowed during the season, since 1981, the trophy has gone to the most valuable goaltender on his team as voted on by the General Managers. Georges Vezina was an outstanding goaltender in the early days of hockey; playing in the National Hockey Association and the NHL from 1910 until 1926. Diagnosed with tuberculosis after collapsing during a game in 1925, Vezina lost his battle with the illness, passing away on March 26, 1926. The owners of the Montreal Canadiens donated the award to honour their former goalkeeper in 1927.

The Hart Memorial Trophy - Awarded to the league’s Most Valuable Player. This year’s finalists are Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh), Alex Ovechkin (Washington) and Henrik Sedin (Vancouver). Dr. David Hart donated the Hart Trophy to the league in 1923. Hart’s son, Cecil Hart, was a three-time Stanley Cup winner as Head Coach of the Montreal Canadiens (1924, 1930, and 1931).

The Art Ross Trophy - Awarded to the NHL’s top point scorer during the regular season since 1947. Born in 1886, Art Ross was a defenceman for 13 seasons, the Head Coach of the Boston Bruins from 1924 until 1945 and General Manager of the organization from its inception in 1924 until 1954. This year’s winner of the Art Ross Trophy is Henrik Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks. A first-time winner of the award, Sedin scored 29 goals and added 83 assists for 112 points; beating out Sidney Crosby (109 points) and Alex Ovechkin (109 points). A native of Ornskoldsvik Sweden, Sedin’s career is unique - he plays on Vancouver’s top line with his twin brother Daniel.

The Calder Memorial Trophy - Awarded to the NHL’s Rookie of the Year. This year’s finalists are Matt Duchene (Colorado), Jimmy Howard (Detroit) and Tyler Myers (Buffalo). If you are a fan of the NHL, you have Frank Calder to thank - he served as the league’s first President from its inception until his death in 1943. Calder guided the league through the Great Depression and two World Wars and his efforts to help the league survive may have cost him his life. At a league meeting, depleted and strained from the stress of the job, Calder suffered a heart attack and passed away a short time later.

While it is important to keep the game of hockey exciting for the current fans and the league certainly needs to do all it can to obtain new ones, the NHL’s past contains a rich tapestry of stories and legends; it would be a shame to see them overlooked in the name of modernization. Have a great sports day everyone.

Photo by duspr on Flickr.com

Friday, May 14, 2010

Ottawa Fat Cats set for Saturday's Home Opener...


After the loss of the Triple-A Ottawa Lynx and the Can-Am League's Ottawa Rapidz, the stage is set for the return of baseball to the nation's capital, as the Intercounty Baseball League's Ottawa Fat Cats take on the Mississauga Twins in their home opener on Saturday, May 15 at 7pm. It is the first of three games this weekend at Ottawa Stadium, as the teams will play a double-header on Sunday, beginning at 1pm.

The Fat Cats made their Intercounty League debut last Sunday in Hamilton after the Saturday game in Guelph was postponed due to rain. The Fat Cats started the season on a winning note, picking up a 4-3 win over the Thunderbirds; Joel Richard picked up the win in relief of starter Mike Lynch and Tyler Durward recorded the save. Lynch went 4 innings, allowing 3 hits and 2 earned runs, while striking out 3 Thunderbird batters. Richard allowed only one hit in his 2 innings of work, Durward pitched the eighth and ninth for the save, allowing one run on 3 hits.

With the score at 2-1 for Hamilton after one inning, the scoreboard did not change until the top of the seventh when the Ottawa bats came alive, scoring 3 runs to take the lead. Marshall MacDonald and Jonathan Dale powered the offence with both batters working the Hamilton pitching staff for 2 walks and a double in the game; both would score on the day as well. Showing an astute eye at the plate, infielder Chris Latimer walked 3 times, coming home to score once, while fellow infielder, Cody Mombourquette, drove in what proved to be the winning run for his first RBI of the season.

The 2010 season is still in its early stages and the Mississauga Twins will be looking to get their schedule underway after their home opener versus Hamilton was rained out last Saturday. The Twins will be looking to improve on their 9-27 win/loss record in 2009, which left them 17 games out of first place at season’s end. The Ottawa pitchers will have to look out for Twins outfielder Branson Joseph; he led the team last year with 9 doubles while playing in only 29 games. Mississauga’s pitching staff was third in the league with 252 strikeouts but they could be wild at times as well, walking a league high 181 batters; their team ERA was also on the high side at 7.20, ahead of only the Kitchener Panthers.

While the Twins will be looking to start the season off on a winning note, the Fat Cats are playing in front of the home crowd for the first time and will be looking to impress Ottawa’s baseball fans as they look to solidify their place on the local sports scene. Patience at the plate will be the key for the Fat Cats; perhaps the Twins will be on the wild side again this year. Ottawa’s pitchers will have to be wary of Joseph’s knack for hitting doubles in with the stadium’s large outfield (404 ft. to centre, 325 ft. in right and left field, and 380 ft. in the alleys).

The time has come, the planning is complete, and Ottawa’s newest franchise takes to the field this weekend. Show your support for the Fat Cats and show your pride as citizens of Ottawa by coming out in large numbers for the opening weekend (and all the home games of course!). Tickets are $12 for single games, $18 for double-headers and there are various discounts available to the public - check the Fat Cats website for details.

www.ottawafatcats.com

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Habs Fans Loving the 2010 Playoffs...


“I don't claim we're this great team, I don't claim we're perfect and I don't claim that everything we do is on purpose; I think we're just finding ways to win.”

- Mike Cammalleri to the Associated Press after the Game 7 victory.

As the second round of the NHL playoffs conclude, it is safe to say at this point that everyone's playoff pool has been destroyed. The top five teams in the Eastern Conference have officially packed up their gear for the summer. Boston and Philadelphia, the sixth and seventh seeds are preparing for Game 7 of their series and the Montreal Canadiens, the eighth seed in the Conference, are already awaiting the victor; preparing for their first Eastern Conference Final since 1993.

Alex Ovechkin is on summer vacation, as is Buffalo’s Ryan Miller. With the 5-2 loss to the Canadiens last night, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are packing their lockers today and thinking about how nice the dressing room will be next season in the new Pittsburgh arena. While the NHL will take a hit with the loss of their biggest names, the fact that the most storied franchise in league history has advanced to the next round will ease the pain. The playoffs are called the NHL’s “second season” for a reason; every team starts with zero wins and zero losses and anything can happen, especially if you are Les Glorieux, the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge.

While it is unfair to call this playoff run an exact replay of the 1986 or 1993 Stanley Cup, those were different teams winning for different reasons, it does have a familiar feel for older Habs fans. However, it is a completely new feeling for the younger ones. With the last Stanley Cup parade happening 17 years ago, a generation of Habs fans only know their team as mediocre. This is their first opportunity to witness a lengthy playoff run in person, not in the history books.

Obviously, the story of this playoff run is headlined by the play of Jaroslav Halak and the goal scoring of Mike Cammalleri. The young Montreal net minder’s play has conjured up comparisons to Hall of Fame members St. Patrick Roy and Ken Dryden. While Roy and Dryden hold the franchise’s top-nine spots for playoff wins in one season, Halak is currently on pace to establish the franchise mark for best save percentage in the post season with his .933% through two rounds.

Cammalleri’s 12 goals through two rounds of the playoffs has matched Guy Lafleur (74-75) and Jean Beliveau (55-56) for playoff goals in one season and he trails Frank Mahovlich by two goals (14 in 70-71) and Yvan Cournoyer by three (15 in 72-73). For a young man that grew up in Richmond Hill Ontario, Cammalleri has truly embraced the history of the Montreal franchise, the city and the opportunity to shine in La Belle Province.

“I really appreciate the way the fans are cheering for me,” Cammalleri told Montreal Canadiens.com. “What else can I say but ‘Merci Beaucoup’?”

The effort put forth by the entire team has brought the Habs past the President Trophy winners, the Washington Capitals, and the defending Stanley Cup Champions from Pittsburgh. The experience brought into the dressing room with the addition of players like Hal Gill, Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez and Travis Moen has proved invaluable. The play of Dominic Moore, Maxim Lapierre and Tom Pyatt has been incredible; all three have registered a game winning goal in the playoffs.

Montreal fans have also witnessed the emergence of defencemen Josh Gorges (perhaps the front-runner for team captain next season), and PK Subban (perhaps next season’s Rookie of the Year). Both have become leaders on the ice, carrying the weight of increased minutes with the injuries to Spacek, Gill and Markov with little difficulty. In his professional hockey career, Subban has two regular season games under his belt, with two assists. In the 2010 playoffs, he has played nine games and has scored his first NHL goal to go along with three assists. He has been on the ice in many key situations and except for a few mistakes along the way, his skating and puck handling abilities has dazzled the fans and the opposition.

Perhaps my friend Jason in Montreal, a regular reader of TVOS and a life-long Habs fan summed up the situation best in a recent exchange of emails. After last night’s victory, he wrote, “I can’t believe this is happening,” and he went on to express what a lot of fans are thinking in Montreal after knocking off two of the NHL’s best teams and biggest stars. “I said the same thing after the Washington series and I’ll say it again,” Jason wrote. “Whatever happens happens... it is all gravy from here.”

Wherever this wild ride ends up, fans of the Canadiens have gotten a glimpse of the glory days and love it... Hopefully, the ride continues for a few more rounds...

Photo by Clydeorama on Flickr.com.

Monday, May 10, 2010

2010 Season underway for Ottawa's Newest Franchise...


The 2010 schedule has begun for the Intercounty Baseball League (IBL) and Ottawa's newest sports franchise, the Ottawa Fat Cats, made history on the weekend; winning the first game of their inaugural season by a score of 4-3 over the Hamilton Thunderbirds.

The IBL, a league rich in history dating back to 1919, is composed of teams in Toronto, Kitchener, Barrie, Guelph, Hamilton, Brantford, London, Mississauga and the newly formed Ottawa franchise. The nine-team circuit plays a 36-game schedule from May 1 through to July 18. The Fat Cats will call Ottawa Stadium their home; a beautiful stadium formerly occupied by the Ottawa Lynx and Rapidz.

What makes the Ottawa franchise unique in the sports world is their dedication to the community and the commitment to make a difference for the citizens of the nation‘s capital region. The team offers complimentary tickets to veterans and active military personnel, a complimentary ticket to seniors who purchase a ticket for a grandchild, and a wonderful initiative that makes 200 upper-bowl seats available in exchange for a donation to the Ottawa Food Bank.

For details, visit the team website: www.ottawafatcats.com

The Ottawa Stadium Group (OSG), owners of the franchise, has also established the “Field of Dreams” program, which will give little league teams the opportunity to stand on the field with the Fat Cats’ players during the singing of the Canadian National Anthem. The Ottawa Stadium Group has also set aside approximately 70 dates for community activities at the stadium, which will include games played by the National Capital Baseball League and elite level clubs. Groups or organizations interested in this opportunity can contact the Fat Cats organization for more information.

As their mission statement points out, the organization is dedicated to establishing the Fat Cats as a positive force in the community. With these initiatives in place, there is no doubt that they will reach this goal and the citizens of Ottawa should embrace this opportunity and the franchise.

The home schedule for the Fat Cats begins May 15 at 7pm with a game against the Mississauga Twins. The following day, a double-header gets underway at 1pm. Due to the travel involved, there will be several double-headers throughout the season. Tickets are $12 for a single game, $18 for the double-headers and there are discounts for seniors, children and military personnel as previously mentioned.

The opportunity to watch live baseball in one of the most beautiful minor league parks in North America is a chance other communities can only dream about; we now have the opportunity on a regular basis thanks to the Fat Cats and the Ottawa Stadium Group. With their reasonable ticket prices and community initiatives in place, it is time for the citizens of Ottawa to demonstrate the same support and rally around their newest sports franchise.

TVOS is committed to bringing you all the news from the ballpark and hopefully, this site can play an active role in helping the community and the franchise come together. Have a great sports day everyone - I will see you at the ballpark!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Toronto Blue Jays Taking Flight in 2010


With an 8-2 record in their last ten games, it is safe to say that the Toronto Blue Jays are red-hot again...

After starting the season by going 7-3, things slowed as they dropped 8 of their next 12 games; fans began to wonder if this was a sign of things to come. However, as I wrote during Spring Training here at TVOS, sometimes with a young squad, if a team can overcome the mindset that little is expected of them, they can accomplish great things. Sometimes being a young, unknown team is a good thing; if you do not realize you are supposed to lay down for your opponent and lose game after game, momentum and confidence can grow within the organization. Suddenly, a pitch that used to miss the strike zone rips past batters; a swing that used to take the ball to the warning track is suddenly clearing the fences for home runs. The group of players assembled by first-year General Manager Alex Anthopoulos are the type to put in that extra effort, getting their uniforms dirty, playing with heart and legitimately rooting for each other's success. We are beginning to see signs that this year's Blue Jays squad is for real.

While it is still very early in the season, the importance of these early season wins becomes paramount as the Jays attempt to improve on last year's 75-87 record. Many fans and analysts are surprised to see the rebuilding Jays still in the hunt in the American League East, only 5 games back of the Tampa Bay Rays (if the Jays are red-hot then Tampa is burning down the house they are so hot). The Jays are working well as a team; the pitchers are getting the job done with strikeouts, currently second in the majors with 238 and the team has used the long-ball to their advantage; the batters are first in the majors with 46 home runs.

The first surprise this year has to be the play of Vernon Wells. The much-maligned Wells, the target of ridicule and scorn amongst Jays' fans because of his lack of offensive production and his high-paying contract, has rebounded with a tremendous start to the season. While Wells was a lightning rod for criticism the past few years, he was often playing with nagging injuries. Perfectly healthy going into the 2010 season and the Wells of days gone by has re-emerged. His .331 batting average leads the team, as does his 22 runs scored and 39 hits. With 8 home runs, 12 doubles and 22 RBI’s, he is showing the power that made him an All-Star and the go-to-guy in past years. Perhaps it is simply because he is healthy this season or he has assumed a more active role as leader on the team, but he is on pace for a tremendous 2010, which is exactly what this young group needs.

Another Blue Jay getting it done at the plate is shortstop Alex Gonzalez. Can anyone honestly say that they expected to get so much offence from this veteran, currently in his 12th season in the majors? A former member of the Marlins, Reds and Red Sox, Gonzalez is on pace to match the best season of his career, which came in 2004 while with the Marlins. Besides making the clutch plays in the field, he has already hit 9 home runs and his 25 RBI’s lead the team. He is also tied with Wells for the team lead with 12 doubles.

The Jays are also getting some power at the plate from catcher John Buck (7 home runs), third baseman Jose Bautista (6), DH Adam Lind (5) and outfielder Travis Snider (4). The Jays need to work on their batting average, currently ranked 25th in the majors at .240, but this stat should improve as the season progresses.

On the mound, the Jays have been equally impressive on most nights. As previously mentioned, they are second in the majors with 238 strikeouts and their team ERA ranks 13th at 3.98. Their opponent’s batting average is .238, good for sixth overall in the majors. With the absence of Roy Halladay, they are yet to record a complete game but the bullpen, while shaky at times, has helped carry the load. Their closers have recorded 11 saves, tying them for first with the Washington Nationals.

The strength of the Blue Jays pitching staff lies in the young arms that are growing into everyday major leaguers. The starting rotation of Brett Cecil, Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and Dana Eveland has been solidified with the healthy return of Shaun Marcum. While there is a long way to go in the season and the youngsters have yet to travel into Yankee Stadium or the equally daunting Fenway Park in Boston, the starting five have performed well and their confidence will continue to grow with each successful outing and victory. Morrow and Romero are 12th and 13th in the majors in strikeouts with 42 (Morrow) and 40 (Romero).

Marcum is the key to the rotation as he returns to the lineup after missing significant time due to Tommy John surgery. How his arm responds to a full season will go a long way to dictating the overall success of the Jays this year. So far, so good for the young right-hander from Kansas City Missouri... His 48 innings of work is third in the majors behind Arizona’s Dan Haren (49) and surprise, surprise - Roy Halladay (56). It will certainly be interesting to see how Marcum’s arm holds up during the lengthy MLB schedule. All reports indicate that he is ready to be the workhorse the starting staff needs to be a competitive squad.

Through the first month of the season, there have been many great stories on the Jays, too many to document in one article, so look for more Jays talk here at TVOS throughout the season.

Some good news on the injury front for fans of relief pitcher Dirk Hayhurst, the owner of a fire-breathing, half-giraffe/half-moose known as a Garfoose...

Recovering from off-season shoulder surgery, Dirk told TVOS in a recent conversation that he is ready to start tossing again and should be on his way back to Florida soon to prepare for a return to the mound later this summer. A great pitcher and an even greater person, Dirk’s first book, The Bullpen Gospels, has been on the NY Times Best Seller list for several weeks now. Personally, I have read the book three times already and enjoyed every moment of it... Support an awesome individual and pick up your copy today at your local bookstore.

Photo by Keith Allison on Flickr.com

Friday, May 7, 2010

Montreal's new Six Million Dollar Man?



This article was first published in the May 7th 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

One of the surprises in this year’s NHL playoffs certainly has to be the Montreal Canadiens and the stellar goaltending of Jaroslav Halak. After backing into the playoffs on the final day of the season with one point from an overtime loss to Toronto, leaving them clinging to eighth place in the Eastern Conference, the Canadiens were not expected to be much of a challenge for the high-powered Washington Capitals offence led by Alex Ovechkin. Buoyed by the play of Halak, the Canadiens upset Washington in the opening round, winning the decisive seventh game by a 2-1 score in the US capital.

On several occasions this season, it has appeared that Halak was the only Montreal player ready for the game; when this has occurred, his numbers have been outstanding. In the regular season and the playoffs, he is 14-1 when facing more then 35 shots per game; when facing 40 or more, he is 10-0. With each spectacular save and with every victory, the pending restricted free agent is adding another million dollars to his potential salary for the 2010-2011 season; whether it is in a Canadiens uniform is the million dollar question.

Halak and fellow goaltender Carey Price are both restricted free agents this summer; meaning that Montreal holds their rights and can match the offer either player receives from any of the other 29 teams in the league. If the Canadiens choose to let the player leave Montreal, they would receive compensation in the form of draft picks. They could also trade away his rights, losing the player but obtaining some immediate help at the NHL level. In Halak’s case, there is also the very real possibility of a multi-million dollar offer from the Russian league - the KHL, which would leave the Canadiens with nothing.

In the salary cap era, Montreal is already near their spending limit with the large contracts of Scott Gomez ($8 million), Mike Cammalleri ($5 million), Brian Gionta ($5 million), Andrei Markov ($5.75 million) and Roman Hamrlik ($5.5 million) on the books for next season. The Canadiens must also find cap space for their leading scorer in the regular season, Tomas Plekanec (25 goals, 45 assists), as he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1st. With very little cap space and several of their younger forwards and defenceman also becoming restricted free agents, is Halak worth the high price that other top goaltenders in the league earn? That is the difficult decision facing the Canadiens current General Manager Pierre Gauthier.

A ninth round selection (271st overall) in the 2003 NHL entry draft, Halak was not expected to be clutch performer that he has become, especially with Bob Gainey's "thoroughbred" Carey Price in the organization. However, that is exactly what he has become since his debut in the American Hockey League during the 2005-2006 season. He holds the team record for career shutouts in Hamilton with 11. When he arrived in Montreal, he continued to establish himself as a legitimate number one goaltender, but despite having great statistics, he was always second on the depth chart behind Cristobal Huet and then first round draft pick Carey Price. Halak had already asked former GM Bob Gainey for a trade if he was not going to have a legitimate chance to be the number one goaltender in Montreal. In my opinion, his play of late makes him indispensable as the Canadiens plan for their future; Halak deserves a raise and an opportunity to shine in Montreal next season.

When I was growing up, one of my favourite television shows was the Six Million Dollar Man, starring Lee Majors as astronaut Steve Austin. With its fancy intro, sound effects, slow motion running and the opening line, "We can rebuild him - we have the technology," I tuned in for every episode... Montreal management may have the technology, but do they have the salary cap space for a Six Million Dollar Man? Have a great sports day everyone.

Photo by Clydeorama on Flickr.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Henrik Sedin wins Art Ross Trophy, nominated for Hart and Ted Lindsay Award


Perhaps it is the fact that most hockey writers and fans are too busy or too tired to watch the 10pm Eastern start times for the Vancouver Canucks games, but has there ever been a more unheralded Art Ross Trophy winner and Hart Trophy/Ted Lindsay Award nominee then Henrik Sedin? It is finally time for hockey fans and observers to take notice of a legitimate star in this league.

While the hockey world watches and discusses every move made by Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, both on and off the ice, Henrik Sedin wrapped up his best season in a Canucks uniform with 112 points and won his first major award in the NHL. Not only did he win the scoring race, he established new franchise records for points and assists (83) in one season. He also became the all-time assists leader for the franchise with 434 in his career. Considering the fact that Sedin plays in Vancouver, I am pleasantly surprised he was not dropped from the final three finalist’s list in favour of Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller, perhaps demonstrating that Henrik is finally receiving some well-deserved recognition.

Since his arrival in North America with twin brother and fellow Canuck, Daniel, he has steadily improved each season. In his first year in the league (the 2000-2001 season), Henrik played in all 82 games and accumulated 29 points (9 goals and 20 assists). The first year in Vancouver involved acclimating to life in Canada, as well as the jump from the 55 game schedule in the Swedish Elite League to the 82 game NHL schedule; by game 60 of his rookie season, Henrik and Daniel both appeared to run out of gas. However, since those early struggles, Henrik has gone on to play all 82 games in seven of his nine seasons in the league; a remarkable feat for a player deemed too soft for the NHL in his rookie campaign. He has missed a total of 10 games during his career, while representing Sweden in the World Championships and the Olympics in that span as well.

After last night's loss, the Canucks are walking a fine line; another second round playoff exit is on the horizon as the Blackhawks go up 2-1 in the series. There is no doubt that Henrik and Daniel will be the targets of the critics if this occurs. Headlines stating "The Sedins Must Step Up" are already appearing in newspapers and Online. However, Henrik and Daniel have 10 and 11 points respectively and Henrik is fifth in the entire league in face-off wins with a 59% winning percentage.

Their lack of scoring against the Hawks is a concern, especially Henrik and Daniel's -2 rating in Game 2, but let's not forget that the Canucks are playing one of the best teams in the Western Conference for the past two seasons. Vancouver is also trying to get the job done without Willie Mitchell on defence and a hot-and-cold Roberto Luongo in nets. To simply blame the Sedins for this year's post-season struggles and take away the shine from what has been another stellar year for Henrik is a mistake. This time of year, games are won and lost at both ends of the ice; Vancouver is losing this series in their own end and there is still plenty of time for a momentum shift in this seven game series.

Critics often say, that the Sedins are great together but merely good separately; Henrik won the scoring title while twin brother Daniel was sidelined for 18 games with a fractured bone in his foot. Both players have established themselves as legitimate NHL All-Stars, it is finally time for the NHL and all hockey observers to take notice and put some hardware in Henrik Sedin’s trophy case.

Photo by Mafue on Flickr.com

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Has Savard Returned too Soon?


We certainly all remember the hit - Matt Cooke's devastating shot to the unsuspecting Marc Savard of the Boston Bruins in a game on March 7th. The hit left the Bruins’ All-Star motionless on the ice, carried off on a stretcher with a Grade 2 concussion. Fans clamoured for retribution, several NHL stars demanded rule changes and spoke out against Cooke’s hit - including some of his Pittsburgh teammates. The league worried another Moore/Bertuzzi incident was on the horizon; warning both teams of serious repercussions if any players stepped over the line seeking revenge. At the time, Boston was clinging to the eighth and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference; not only had they lost their best player, their season was in jeopardy.

The issue of headshots became front-page news yet again and the debate raged on in all media circles, especially when the NHL did not or could not suspend Cooke for his actions. With the incident occurring days before the NHL’s General Managers were to meet to discuss this very issue, many believed, including this writer, the league was about to finally take action on a serious issue they had neglected for far too long. Once again, the NHL fell short in dealing with headshots properly. They took the dramatic step of immediately creating a new rule - in time for next season, declaring an "open season" on headshots for the rest of this season. They eventually implemented the rule for the rest of this year but was it out of concern for their players or because of the backlash and embarrassment of being ripped in the media?

Luckily, for Boston, their season did not end and they have since advanced to the second round of the playoffs after a first round victory over the Buffalo Sabres. The play of goaltender Tuukka Rask and the ageless wonder, Mark Recchi, propelled the Bruins into contention for the Stanley Cup and a possible match-up with Cooke and the Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals if both teams advance to the next round. By continuing their season, the Bruins had an unexpected addition to their line-up as they took to the ice against the Philadelphia Flyers - Marc Savard.

While it is tremendous to see Savard recover from his injuries and cleared to return to the line-up in time for the second round of the playoffs, the question that must be asked, is it too soon; regardless of having medical clearance? This is a difficult issue, especially in the multi-billion dollar sports world but there is certainly a need for the conversation to occur. Do players need to be better protected for their long-term health care and not just the immediate future?

There is an increased awareness on the long-term effects of concussions, thanks in large part to Chris Nowinski and groups like the Sports Legacy Institute. Some of the major sports leagues are now working with the SLI to develop new policies and guidelines to deal with injury, referred to as a concussion but to put it bluntly, is a severe brain injury. A concussion temporarily changes the brain’s ability to function properly; a frightening prospect for anyone.

As medical science advances, more is becoming known about the super-computer we call the brain, but there is still much to be learned about the organ that makes us who we are. An injury to the brain can leave a person, athlete or not, forever changed. Depending on the location of the injury, personalities can change forever; depression and suicides have been linked to the injury. The ability to function, grasp simple concepts and learn new ones, can be lost; leaving families destroyed and forever changed.

For more specific information on the long-term effects, visit the SLI’s website:

http://www.sportslegacy.org/

Or check the TVOS archives for the Chris Nowinski and Keith Primeau interviews...

One thing we have learnt is that one concussion greatly increases the risk of a second and third concussion. The force required to cause serious damage lessens with each subsequent blow to the head. Ask Savard’s teammate Patrice Bergeron; he missed significant time after a body check that sent him headfirst into the boards, which resulted in a concussion. When he returned the next season, he suffered another after delivering a shoulder-to-shoulder hit on an opponent. There was no contact with his head and yet the force of the bodies colliding caused a concussion. In fact, once a person suffers a concussion, they are as much as four times more likely to suffer another, even when the impact is less then the first. With each subsequent injury, the risk of a third, fourth, fifth and so on, escalates at an alarming rate. The number of concussions suffered by some players is into the double digits, which is a terrifying thought. Who will be there for these athletes after they retire and begin showing signs of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in their forties or fifties and become unable to function?

While we can hope that Savard is not in any immediate danger, there are risks involved with his return to the ice six weeks after sustaining such a devastating hit. It is not only up to the major sports leagues to change their policies on returning to the game, it is up to us as sports fans to change our views as well. His return is the “feel good” story media members love to write about, we can only hope he is not risking his life in pursuit of the Stanley Cup.

Photo by Dan4th on Flickr.