Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Queen Elizabeth visits Ottawa's Museum of Nature...


"Royal Watching" must be a sport somewhere in the world...

Queen Elizabeth visited the Museum of Nature in Ottawa today, and The Voice of Sport was there to cover all the action.

Photo by The Voice of Sport

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Edmonton Oilers Select Taylor Hall in 2010 NHL Draft


When NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced that Edmonton was “on the clock”, the 2010 Draft was officially underway at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. For the Oilers’ managers, scouts and fans, a disappointing season resulted in the first-ever number one pick in franchise history and it could be said that they had been on the clock since injuries to several key players resulted in loss after loss and a slide down the standings.

The Edmonton Oilers selected Taylor Hall of the Windsor Spitfires first overall in the 2010 Draft, ending months of speculation as to who the team would select - Hall or Tyler Seguin. The strong skating winger/center from Calgary, Alberta is thrilled with his new team and the honour of being selected in the top spot, and is looking forward to making an impact on a franchise ready to move up in the standings.

“Just to join such a great franchise,” Hall told the Edmonton media (available at NHL.com). “Hopefully I can make that team next year. That's my first step. We can really re-create some of the magic they had there. I think when you have a young team, that's something I'm really looking forward to joining.”

A two-time Memorial Cup winner in Windsor, as well as being named the tournament MVP on both occasions, Hall has all the tools to be a star in the NHL. In 183 games in the Ontario Hockey League, he scored 123 goals and added 157 assists for 280 points. He won Gold with Canada’s Under-18 team in 2008 and Silver at last year’s World Junior Championship.

“He’s such an impressive young man,” Edmonton GM Steve Tambellini told the media after the announcement. “I don’t think I have ever met a more focused, competitive athlete in a long time.”

Head Scout Stu MacGregor was equally impressed with Hall during his many hours of scouting and interviewing the prospect before this year’s draft.

“Taylor just plays so hard, he gives us something we haven’t had in a long time - that absolute passion and drive,” said MacGregor. “He’s a guy that rises up, he wants to win, he wants to win a Stanley Cup. He was the first guy of all those high ranked players that talked about winning a Stanley Cup right from the get-go. He’s a hockey guy; we’re really excited about him.”

Hall will be the key component in the Oilers rebuilding process, but he is not alone when it comes to great young prospects in the Edmonton system. Jordan Eberle (first round, 22nd overall in 2008), Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson (first round, 10th overall in 2009), and Anton Lander (second round, 40th overall in 2009) could all make the Oilers opening night roster in October.

Eberle, his generation’s “Captain Canada”, has excelled in every International tournament he has been a part of, and scored 50 goals and added 56 assists this past season with the Regina Pats in the Western Hockey League. Considered a natural goal scorer, many analysts believe he is ready for the NHL. Paajarvi-Svensson has also stood out on the International stage and scored 20 goals in 134 games with Timra in the Swedish Elite League. Highly skilled and 6’1, his speed has been compared to former Canadiens great Mats Naslund, and his gritty play has been compared to Peter Forsberg. Anton Lander also spent last season with Timra in the SEL, accumulating 16 points in 49 games last season. A great two-way player with good on-ice vision, Lander and Paarjarvi-Svensson could be the NHL’s next dynamic duo, as the two played on a line together with Timra.

While the NHL Draft is only the first step on the road to the NHL, Taylor Hall has officially begun his journey. The Edmonton fans are ready for a winning season, and the new face of the franchise, along with the other young talent assembled by Kevin Lowe, Steve Tambellini and Stu MacGregor is ready to deliver one.

Photo by Tabercil on Flickr.com

Friday, June 25, 2010

One Week After Halak Trade, Montreal Fans Still Fuming...


This article was first published in the June 25th 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 start of the NHL’s off-season is supposed to be the time of year when the fans of every team watch roster moves quite intently, hoping their team makes a move or two that will bring them closer to the Stanley Cup Final, or at least in contention for a long playoff run. However, that is not the case in Montreal, as fans of the Canadiens are saddened and bewildered by a stunning trade.

In the week since the Montreal Canadiens traded their playoff MVP Jaroslav Halak to the St. Louis Blues for two unproven prospects, the reaction has been swift and very one-sided; fans are furious with General Manager Pierre Gauthier.

Long-time Montreal Gazette columnist and Habs observer, Red Fisher, described the trade in his June 18th column as, “The mother of all brain dead trades in recent history.” Personally, I am left wondering if St. Louis GM John Davidson is a sheep farmer, because he certainly fleeced the Canadiens in this trade. It is not only the lack of star-power in the players headed to Montreal, it is the timing and the optics of the deal that makes this one of the greatest sports disasters in recent memory.

Yes, Jaroslav Halak was set to become a restricted free agent, meaning that he could look at offers from other teams, but Montreal had the right to match any offer or receive three first round draft picks as compensation if they believed the offer was too much and let Halak leave town. Montreal could have worked on a trade or a contract extension with Halak until mid-August - there was no urgency in this situation, which is what makes it so stunning. If the two sides could not come to an agreement by then, the Canadiens could say, “We tried” and claimed Halak was being greedy; creating a less volatile situation for Gauthier.

The fact that the Canadiens never approached Halak or his agent about a new deal is mind-boggling. Not only have they given away a legitimate number one goaltender, they have unwittingly handed the keys to the bank vault to Carey Price. By claiming they could not afford Halak, Montreal has handed the role of number one goaltender to Price, and he is also in the restricted free agent category. If the Canadiens cannot sign him soon, he too could receive (and accept) an offer from another team. Knowing that Montreal desperately requires his services, Price and his agent can ask for a long-term, multi-million dollar contract. This trade is going to prove costly on many fronts.

While this year’s Stanley Cup Final displayed two goaltenders that are not superstars, I am yet to be convinced that this will become a trend. At the heart of any great team, or a long playoff run, is an All-Star goaltender, capable of stealing games from the opposition. In Halak, Montreal had exactly that - a goalie capable of shutting down the opposition when facing over 50 shots a game. Where would the Canadiens be in the history books without Plante, Dryden or Roy in goal, the New Jersey Devils minus Martin Brodeur, or the 1980’s New York Islanders dynasty minus Billy Smith? Quite simply, they would not be in the history books at all.

The players obtained from St. Louis are quality prospects; I am not saying they are not. However, Halak is a proven number one goaltender in the league; surely, he was worth re-signing or at the very least had earned a conversation about his contract status. The pressures of playing in Montreal are well documented and I feel for the players arriving from the Blues. Not only must they earn their way to the NHL, they will be forever attached to “the trade” - Have a great sports day everyone.

Photo by s.yume on Flickr.com

Friday, June 18, 2010

Don Reddick and The Trail Less Traveled



This article was first published in the June 18th 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.

“Lost amidst our traveling turmoil is the simple, overwhelming love of hockey. Caught up in the day-to-day schedule, interviews, and personal problems, we forget the essence of this whole adventure, that a group of guys could so love a game, be so enamoured of its history that they would drop everything in their lives for a month just to re-enact one game.”

- Don Reddick in The Trail Less Traveled

During the past few months in my Main Street columns, I have discussed the importance and relevance of hockey’s history in the modern game. Through my work as the Ottawa Senators analyst at The Hockey Writers.com, Nauset Sound Publishing contacted me, asking if I would like a copy of their latest release. As an avid reader, you can imagine how delighted I was when award-winning author Don Reddick’s newest book, The Trail Less Traveled, arrived on my doorstep.

The Trail Less Traveled is Reddick’s personal account of the 1997 re-enactment of the Dawson City Nuggets versus Ottawa Senators Stanley Cup series, which originally took place in 1905. Masterfully combining the history and folklore of the Yukon, with details of the original journey, and the author’s trials and tribulations as the Nuggets follow the same path as the original team from Dawson, Reddick has created a book that is an essential part of any collection.

In the early days of hockey, the Stanley Cup was a challenge cup, and any team in Canada could petition the Cup Trustees for the opportunity to take on the champions. From 1903 to 1906, one of the most successful and legendary teams in hockey history was the Ottawa Silver Seven. They held the Cup through ten challenges, with the most famous challenge coming from the Dawson City Nuggets. Traveling by dog sled, bicycle, steamship and train, the Nuggets embarked on a twenty-four day journey before arriving in Ottawa for a best of three series. The Silver Seven quickly dispatched of the Nuggets by scores of 9-2 and 23-2, but the team from the Yukon carved out a special place in the record books and earned the status of legends for themselves, right alongside the future Hall of Famers on the Silver Seven.

In Reddick’s book, the reader gains a true sense of the magnitude of the journey, both the original and the re-enactment. Even with modern day conveniences, the trip from Canada’s north to the nation’s capital is no easy task; some of the world’s most rugged terrain lies between the two cities. Whether he is describing waking to minus 40 degree temperatures in the Yukon wilderness, sharing stories by the campfires in the evening, or insights gained during conversations with the modern day Nuggets on the train across Canada, we learn more about Reddick and his fellow travelers as he learns more about himself.

Interestingly, a writer from Vermont has captured the essence of being Canadian in a way that many of our own writers have failed to accomplish. His words capture the vast beauty of our landscapes and when describing the efforts by all involved in the re-enactment, Reddick illustrates our passion for the game of hockey, a game that has grown with our nation, woven into our history and our identity as a country.

Upon completion of The Trail Less Traveled, I did something that I rarely do, something reserved for “the classics”... I turned to page one and began the book again. Much like the original Nuggets’ challenge, The Trail Less Traveled has achieved the status of legend - a true classic. For more information on Don Reddick and his wonderful creations, visit his website at www.donreddick.com. Have a great sports day everyone.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Congratulations to the Hershey Bears - the 2010 Calder Cup Champions!


Hockey fans in Hershey, Pennsylvania witnessed history last night, as the American Hockey League's Hershey Bears won the Calder Cup for the 11th time in franchise history. With their 4-0 win in Game 6, which finished off the Texas Stars 4-2 in the best of seven series, the Bears captured their second consecutive AHL Championship. The AHL affiliate of the Washington Capitals, the Bears have made four trips to the Calder Cup Final in the past five years, winning on three occasions.

After a record setting regular season, in which the Bears established a league record with 60 wins, a 12 game winning streak, and 24 consecutive home wins, Hershey was ready to defend their title in the 2010 playoffs. The Bears defeated the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (4-1), the Albany River Rats (4-0), and the Manchester Monarchs (4-2) to capture the Eastern Conference title and set up their showdown with the equally impressive Texas Stars. With a great mix of AHL veterans and prospects from the Washington Capitals, the Bears set a playoff record with 8 overtime victories in the 2010 playoffs.

Led by 24-year-old forward Chris Bourque (7 goals and 20 assists), the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy winner as playoff MVP, Hershey’s offence was also powered by Alexandre Giroux (14 goals, 13 assists). Giroux scored 103 points in the regular season (50 goals, 53 assists), and finished the season three points behind teammate Keith Aucoin (35 goals, 71 assists) for the league scoring title. In the playoffs, Giroux and Andrew Gordon provided timely goal scoring, picking up six goals each on the power play.

The win also provided a tremendous ending for John Carlson’s season. The young defenceman and first round draft pick of the Washington Capitals (27th overall in 2008), won Gold at the World Junior Championship with Team USA in January, was an AHL All-Star, emerged as a legitimate NHL defenceman in the Capitals first round playoff exit to Montreal and capped off a whirlwind season with a Calder Cup Championship.

Of course, any Hershey Bears article here at TVOS would not be complete without mentioning TVOS supporter, friend, and Hershey Bears captain Bryan Helmer. For the 38-year-old Helmer, a veteran of almost 1,000 AHL games, the win is his third Calder Cup victory (1997 Albany, 2009 Hershey, 2010 Hershey), and it is tremendous to see a man that loves the game so much, rewarded for all of his hard work and dedication to the sport. It was only fitting that as the clock struck zero, the puck was on Helmer’s stick, and the celebrations began. Watching the highlights of Bryan at center-ice, receiving the Calder Cup from AHL Commissioner David Andrews, and celebrating with his teammates on home ice in front of 11,000 of the greatest fans in the AHL is a special sight.

Congratulations to General Manager Doug Yingst, Head Coach Mark French, and everyone in the Hershey Bears organization for winning the 2010 Calder Cup!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Marian Hossa - TVOS Player Profile


Former Ottawa Senators sniper Marian Hossa finally has a Stanley Cup victory to celebrate. After losing in the Finals with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2008 and the Detroit Red Wings in 2009, Hossa helped the Chicago Blackhawks and their fans erase 49 years of misery with a 4-2 series win over the Philadelphia Flyers.

While Hossa did not show the goal scoring prowess he is normally associated with, scoring only 3 goals and adding 12 assists during the 2010 playoffs, he appeared determined to not let his third chance slip away, providing constant pressure on the back-check and lifting sticks to disrupt several Philadelphia scoring chances.

Born in Stara Lubovna, Slovakia, Hossa began his North American hockey career in 1997 with the Ottawa Senators, playing in seven games and picking up one assist before being assigned to the Portland Winter Hawks in the Western Hockey League. Selected in the first round of the 1997 NHL Draft (12th overall) by Ottawa, Hossa played alongside future NHL stars, Brendan Morrow, Andrew Ference, Matt Walker and Jason Labarbera in Portland; scoring 45 goals and adding 40 assists in 53 games, and winning a Memorial Cup during his only year in the WHL. In a strange coincidence, Hossa has lifted two championship trophies from two different leagues, while wearing the same uniform.

In his first full season with Ottawa, Hossa played in only 60 games because of a knee injury suffered in the Memorial Cup, yet he managed to score 15 goals and added 15 assists in his rookie campaign. A sign of things to come, Hossa would play 467 games in a Senators uniform, scoring 188 goals and 202 assists. Coming out of the NHL lockout, the Senators decided they could not fit Hossa into their long-term salary cap plans and he was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers in exchange for Dany Heatley.

During the 2005-2006 season, playing alongside Ilya Kovalchuk, Hossa scored 39 goals and assisted on 53 for 92 points. It was in his second season with Atlanta that Hossa reached the 100-point plateau for the only time in his career (so far). He became the first player in franchise history to reach the 100-point mark, scoring 43 goals and setting another career high with 57 assists. On his way to free agency again, the Thrashers made Hossa the centerpiece of a blockbuster deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins. In 222 games with the Thrashers, Hossa accumulated 108 goals and 140 assists.

Hossa played a total of 32 games with the Penguins, 12 at the end of the 2007-2008 season and 20 more in Pittsburgh’s run to the Stanley Cup. To obtain Hossa (and Pascal Dupuis), the Penguins sent Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, Angelo Esposito and a 2008 first round draft pick. A high price to pay for a pending free agent but Hossa performed admirably in the Cup run, even though they fell short of their ultimate goal, as the Red Wings won the 2008 Stanley Cup in six games. During his first attempt at the Cup, Hossa scored 12 goals and added 14 assists, scoring several key goals along the way.

Hossa’s decision to turn down a multi-year deal in Pittsburgh to sign for one year in Detroit was not without controversy. His reported comment that the one-year deal in Detroit offered him the best chance to win the Stanley Cup is where many fans believe the “Hossa Curse” began. He would suit up in 74 games with Detroit, scoring 40 goals and accumulating 71 points, but his production dropped in the playoffs, scoring only six goals and nine assists in 23 games. Pittsburgh would defeat the Red Wings in Game 7 of the Finals, leaving Hossa on the losing side for a second year in a row.

A free agent again, Hossa signed a 12-year deal with the Chicago Blackhawks, a replacement for the recently departed Martin Havlat, another former Senator. His debut was delayed by off-season shoulder surgery but he made an immediate impact in his first game, scoring two goals on November 25, 2009 against the Sharks. He would play 57 games in his first year in Chicago, scoring 24 goals and 27 assists. As the Blackhawks continued to rise to the top of the Western Conference standings, another trip to the Stanley Cup Final became a possibility for Hossa. When they reached the final round as Western Conference Champions, Hossa became the first player to reach the Final three years in a row with three different teams.

The four-time NHL All-Star finally has his Stanley Cup win to go along with his Memorial Cup and in a very classy move, Chicago captain Jonathan Toews handed the Cup to Hossa after he lifted it himself for the first time. With the talent on the Chicago roster, another appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals as the defending Champions is certainly a possibility; Hossa certainly hopes so...


Photo by Shay Haas on Flickr.com

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Stanley Cup Droughts - the Top 5 Active Streaks in the NHL


Perhaps Tom Petty said it best, “The waiting is the hardest part.”

Now that the Chicago Blackhawks have the fourth Stanley Cup victory in their franchise’s history, they can happily remove themselves from a list that no NHL team wants to be on - the consecutive seasons between Stanley Cup victories. They appeared in the Finals five times since 1961, but they always went home empty-handed. The Blackhawks’ streak reached 49 years, a lifetime for many of their fans.

Three teams are the new owners of the streak, The Toronto Maple Leafs, the Los Angeles Kings and the St. Louis Blues. All three have waited 42 seasons for their Stanley Cup parade; but at least Toronto has their name on the Cup, Los Angeles and St. Louis has never had that honour. For several NHL teams on the list, not only have they never won the Cup, they have not even been to the Stanley Cup Final.

Toronto Maple Leafs: The last time the Maple Leafs lifted the Stanley Cup was in 1967, a date etched on the minds of every Leaf fan. Perhaps even more painful then not winning the Cup is the fact they have not reached the Finals even once during their 42-season drought. After years of mismanagement at the hands of owner Harold Ballard, the Leafs are slowly returning to respectability under the guidance of General Manager Brian Burke. One lesson learnt by watching the Blackhawks’ victory is that incredible depth is required for a team to compete for, and win the Stanley Cup. The Leafs are certainly not there yet, but they are on the verge of becoming competitive in the Eastern Conference.

The Leafs have their name on the Stanley Cup 13 times, second only to the Montreal Canadiens and they have reached the Conference Finals on several occasions, but they remain the only Original 6 team that has not won the Cup since the league expanded after the 1966-1967 season concluded. During the early nineties, the Leafs came painfully close to returning to the Final, losing in the Conference Final to the LA Kings in ‘93 and the Vancouver Canucks in ‘94. A trip to the Finals in 1993 would have given hockey fans a Canadiens/Maple Leaf Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1967.

Los Angeles Kings: The Kings have had many great players on their team over the years; including Hall of Fame members and hockey superstars Marcel Dionne and Wayne Gretzky, but they have never brought the Cup home to Los Angeles; putting their drought at 42 seasons as well. Their best chance came during the Gretzky era, defeating the Maple Leafs in the Conference Finals, only to meet yet another “Team of Destiny” from Montreal. The Canadiens won the series 4-1 and the downward spiral for the Kings began.

The Kings have quietly been stockpiling some tremendous young talent in the past few seasons and made a return to the post season this year, their first appearance since 2002. With future Norris Trophy winner Drew Doughty anchoring their defence, Anze Kopitar up front, and several good prospects in the AHL, the future looks bright in LA. Bright enough to win their first Stanley Cup any time soon? Perhaps not... but they are certainly a step closer then they were a few seasons ago.

St. Louis Blues: Fans in St. Louis have been singing the Blues since 1970, the last time their team made an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final. In fact, the Blues reached the Finals in their first three seasons in the league and have never been back. When the NHL expanded, the new teams formed the Western Conference, so the Blues were battling other newcomers in the league for the right to compete for the Cup. When they did reach the Finals, their reward was facing the Montreal Canadiens (‘68 and ‘69) and the Boston Bruins (‘70), all losses.

Some big names have donned the St. Louis sweater, Chris Pronger, Al MacInnis, Brendan Shanahan, Doug Gilmour, Brett Hull and even Wayne Gretzky to name a few, but none of these superstars could bring the Cup to St. Louis. Currently in a “rebuilding mode”, the Blues surprised many hockey analysts in the 2008-2009 season, emerging from the bottom of the Western Conference to finish the season in sixth place, only to be swept aside by the Canucks in the first round. The Blues are gathering some great young talent, but they are yet to land the one or two superstars needed to become regular contenders; it will be several more seasons before the Blues can start thinking their Stanley Cup drought will end. The Blues’ Stanley Cup drought is equal to that of the Leafs and the Kings - 42 seasons.

Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres entered the NHL in time for the 1970-1971 season and have yet to win the Stanley Cup, putting their “drought” at 39 seasons and counting. Buffalo reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 1975, losing to the Philadelphia Flyers in six games; this series marked the first time two expansion teams battled for the Cup. Led by Sabres’ legend Gilbert Perrault, Buffalo was the second victim of the “Broad Street Bullies” (Boston was the first), as Philadelphia won the Cup for the second consecutive year, which coincidentally, was there last Stanley Cup win (34 seasons and counting).

Buffalo’s best chance for their franchise’s first Cup victory was 1999 against the Dallas Stars. The Hull “foot in the crease” goal that won the Cup for the Stars in Game 6 has been well documented, so let’s no open that wound. However, if you ask any Sabres fan, they will tell you that part of the ‘99 Cup belongs in Buffalo.

Buffalo has the depth and the stellar goaltending of Ryan Miller, but they are lacking in the superstar department. Tyler Myers will be a force on defence for years to come but the Sabres are in need of adding a top-six forward that can score on a consistent basis. It should be said though, that in the weaker Eastern Conference, with Head Coach Lindy Ruff and his ability to preach a total “team concept”, the Sabres could ride the hot-hand of Ryan Miller and end their drought before any of the other teams on this list.

Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks joined the NHL at the same time as the Sabres, so their streak sits at 39 seasons as well. Stanley Cup finalists in 1982 (steamrolled by the New York Islanders dynasty), and in 1994 (a heartbreaking Game 7 loss to the New York Rangers that ended the Rangers 54 year drought), Vancouver is poised to be contenders for the next few seasons.

The question plaguing the Vancouver franchise is how to turn regular season success into post-season success. With each passing year, the pressure on the franchise’s top players to bring home the Cup mounts. The Sedin twins have emerged as legitimate NHL superstars and Roberto Luongo is one of the best goaltenders in the game and all three are signed to long-term contracts, but they are yet to gain any momentum in the playoffs. The Canucks have built great depth at the forward position but they have been thin on defence at times, an element that played a factor this season. Getting through the Western Conference in the playoffs is no easy task, but with the some help on the blueline, the Canucks could be the next team to remove their name from the dreaded Stanley Cup Drought List.

These are the top-five active streaks, but several teams have not sipped champagne from the Stanley Cup in a long, long time, or ever in some cases:

Boston Bruins (38 seasons), Washington Capitals (35 seasons), Philadelphia Flyers (34 seasons) and the Winnipeg/Phoenix franchise (30 seasons). Although they did not have a team for decades, the fans that have waited the longest for another Stanley Cup are in Ottawa; the original Senators last won the Stanley Cup in 1927.


Photo by jvh33 on Flickr.com

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Jonathan Toews and the Chicago Blackhawks bring the Stanley Cup home with OT win in Philadelphia


Summer is about to begin, but the drought is officially over in Chicago... 49 years after the Blackhawks last lifted the Stanley Cup, a new generation of NHL stars has brought the Cup home to the Windy City. With Patrick Kane’s overtime winner, that for a moment had Dallas/Buffalo in 1999 written all over it, the NHL season ended. In a year with so many upsets, so many surprises and so many new heroes emerging, could it have ended any other way?

The 4-3 Chicago victory in Game 6 over the Philadelphia Flyers ended the longest Stanley Cup drought in the NHL and brought the Cup home to an Original 6 city that has witnessed an unbelievable resurgence in recent years. Although they ended up on the losing end in the series, it should not go unmentioned that the Flyers had an incredible run through the post season as well, and should be congratulated as the Eastern Conference Champions. This year's Stanley Cup Final had so many stories, over the next few weeks, TVOS will look at many of them. For today though, let's look at Chicago’s 34th Captain and Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP, Jonathan Toews.

Despite being held off the scoreboard for most of the Final, limited to just three assists in the deciding series, Toews led the way for his team throughout the playoffs with 7 goals and 22 assists; his 29 playoff points was only one behind the overall leader, Philadelphia’s Danny Briere (12 goals, 18 assists). Much like his Olympic experience, Toews brought more then just his goal scoring ability to the rink every game. Whenever there was a crucial face-off in either zone, Toews was on the ice and his winning percentage of 60.2% was third best in the playoffs, behind Washington’s Eric Belanger (66.7%) and San Jose’s Manny Malhotra (60.7%). Of course, Belanger only played 7 games; Malhotra played 15.

Head Coach Joel Quenneville called Toews a “special human being” and went on to explain what Toews brings to the ‘Hawks. “The bigger the setting, the bigger the game, the bigger he seems to rise to that challenge and that occasion,” said Quenneville. “He was a big factor tonight; he was a big factor in his leadership. He doesn’t say too much, but his competitiveness of wanting to be the best he can be every time he hits the ice is noticed.”

Singled out for his leadership by Quenneville and his teammates, Toews quickly shifted the praise to his fellow Blackhawks, “It’s every single guy, it’s the sacrifices every guy made; it is an unbelievable road, and a long one, but we worked hard to get here.”

For Toews, the win caps an incredible year that saw him win an Olympic Gold in Vancouver, being named the tournament’s top forward and leading Team Canada in scoring, receiving the Conn Smythe Trophy, and of course, the Stanley Cup. During my post-Olympic conversation with Edmonton Oilers President Kevin Lowe, when asked which player was the biggest surprise for the Team Canada Managers, Lowe said without hesitation that Toews surpassed all of their expectations and praised the young forward for his “overall poise and play, offensively, defensively and physically.” The experience gained in Vancouver certainly helped Toews bring his game to a new level - a championship level.

With the win, Toews becomes the 24th member of the exclusive Triple Gold Club, and the youngest - he has Gold from the 2007 World Championships, his 2010 Olympic Gold and now Lord Stanley’s Cup. He joins fellow Canadians, Rob Blake, Scott Niedermayer, Joe Sakic, Brendan Shanahan, Chris Pronger and Eric Staal in the TGC.

One month after turning 22-years-old, Toews already has an impressive resume; World Junior Champion (2007), World Champion (2007), nominated for the Calder Trophy (2008), Olympic Champion (2010), a Conn Smythe Trophy and perhaps most importantly for the Winnipeg, Manitoba native, 2010 Stanley Cup Champion.

Photo by Dinur on Flickr.com

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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Executive Director of the NHL Alumni Association, Mark Napier


A shorter version of this article appears in the June 2010 edition of Main Street; it is reprinted here with permission from the editors. Drop by www.mainstreetweeknews.com to have a look at a great community newspaper.

During his career in the World Hockey Association and National Hockey League, Mark Napier always dazzled fans with his lightning quick skating and his ability to stickhandle past defencemen with ease. He scored 375 goals and accumulated 795 points during his stellar career. Still very active in the hockey world, Napier is the Executive Director of the NHL Alumni Association and recently took the time to share some thoughts and insights with Main Street and TVOS.

While the Montreal Canadiens did not add another Stanley Cup to their trophy case this season, Napier was impressed with his former team. Despite losing in the Eastern Conference Final to the Philadelphia Flyers, the unexpected playoff run will certainly be one to remember for fans of the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge.

“Philly was a big, strong team and played them physical, but played smart and did not take too many penalties,” Napier said on the telephone from his Toronto office. “I’m sure it was very exciting to be in the city; I talked with a few people there and they were very excited with what was going on. The fans should be very proud of how well Montreal played.”

We often hear about players “taking it one game at a time” during long playoff runs. While some sports fans may feel it is a cliché, it is an essential tool for players competing for Lord Stanley’s Cup. Looking too far ahead or past an opponent and thinking about the next round can prove costly during the NHL’s second season.

“You never wanted to get too far ahead of yourself,” Napier said about his trips to the post season. “They always say the fourth game of the series, if you have won the first three, is the toughest to win and I believe that. Sometimes you can get way too far ahead of yourself and lose a little bit of focus. If you give the other team any kind of edge, it’s usually not a good thing.”

A two-time Stanley Cup champion during his career with Montreal (1979) and Edmonton (1985), two teams considered to be among the great dynasties in the history of the NHL, both Stanley Cup victories hold a special place in Napier’s heart, but for different reasons.

“To win the first one was pretty special; it was the Canadiens fourth in a row. Unfortunately, I was 21 years old when we won it and I really didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have,” recalled Napier. “It was fabulous, I had been dreaming about it since I was 5 years old, lifting the Stanley Cup over my head. With the Montreal Canadiens team that was in place, I was thinking we could win five or six Stanley Cups in a row. It was my first year in the league, a rookie with Montreal and we won the Stanley Cup; I thought - this could go on forever.”

“So it was pretty special to win my second one in Edmonton. That one I really appreciated a lot more and learned never to take winning the Stanley Cup for granted again,” Napier said with a laugh.

During his time in Edmonton, Napier played on the Oilers with Kevin Lowe. I share a hometown with Lowe, so I asked Mark to reminisce about his former teammate and my fellow Lachute, Quebec native.

“There are a lot of fond memories of playing with Kevin, he was an unbelievable competitor and he hated to lose. It’s all the little things he did so well; the blocked shots, that first outlet pass was always tape-to-tape. His biggest attribute was that he always led by example, he’s one of those guys that was really respected in the dressing room.”

Napier shared in another historical moment with Lowe in 2003, taking to the ice at Commonwealth Stadium in the Heritage Classic. As a Stanley Cup Champion with Montreal and Edmonton, he suited up with the Canadiens; how did he decide which team to play for in the outdoor event?

“I went for the team that asked me first,” Napier said with a hearty laugh. “It was such a special game, I was so lucky. It was such a thrill for me to play in that game and to see all the guys. It was cold out there, and it was too bad the ice was a little choppy, but all in all, it was a fabulous time. It would have been nice if the game had ended in a tie (Edmonton won 2-0)... for me that would have been perfect. I don’t even think half the people remember what the score was, they just remember how much fun it was, and a lot of money was raised for charity with that game.”

As the Executive Director of the NHL Alumni Association, Napier and the organization help recently retired players prepare for life after hockey, assist older players in financial difficulty due to health problems or life circumstances, and they raise money for many charitable organizations. Playing in the NHL is a common bond for these men and the Alumni Association considers anyone that has played even one game in the league a family member.

“I consider myself one of the luckiest guys in the world, I have a fabulous job and I love coming to work every day, which is nice to be able to say. It is really nice to be in a position where you can help the members that need help and we raise a lot of money for various charities.” Napier said proudly.

“For me, it is pretty special because these really are family members, when any of them get into any kind of problems; we are here to help them out. A lot of guys, they don't know where to turn if there is a problem, they are all pretty proud guys. We try to make it known to them that we are here if they need us.”

Regular readers will be aware of my efforts to raise awareness of the severity of concussions in sports. With more awareness among the players, the number of reported concussions has risen in the NHL; has the Alumni Association witnessed a rise in health related problems?

“We certainly do not have the problem that say, football has,” confided Napier. “We’ve actually looked at that and are working with Baycrest Hospital (in Toronto), to do some studies with our players - they have been a really good partner of ours. I really have not seen an inordinate amount of ex-players that come down with dementia or Alzheimer’s; it is certainly not anything that is so prevalent like with football.”

“I think a big difference from when I played and current players, is that hockey was very progressive in looking at concussions and weighing whether a player was fit to play. I think in hockey we were very lucky that they did notice that there was a problem and they were proactive in helping solve that problem, so that a player would not be any more injured then he already was.”

With his work as the Executive Director of the Alumni Association and the many hours he gives freely to help various charities, Mark Napier is a shining example for today’s hockey players, both on and off the ice. For this columnist, it was an absolute pleasure and an honour to share some of his time. Have a great sports day everyone.

For more information on the NHL Alumni Association, visit their site: www.nhlalumni.net

Photo is by Sgt. Roxanne Clowe and is listed on Flickr.com as IS2007-1096, uploaded by lafrancevi. In the photo, Mark Napier and a group of NHL Alumni members visit with the Canadian Troops in Kandahar in May of 2007, to play some hockey and show support their support for the troops.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Dirk Hayhurst and The Bullpen Gospels


The 2010 baseball season was going to be one to remember for 29-year-old right-handed relief pitcher Dirk Hayhurst. After seven seasons at various levels in the minor leagues, a roster spot in the Blue Jays bullpen appeared to be a certainty and opening day was to coincide with the release of his highly anticipated first book, The Bullpen Gospels: Major League Dreams of a Minor League Veteran. Unfortunately, off-season shoulder surgery has delayed Hayhurst’s big league aspirations but The Bullpen Gospels debuted on the New York Times Best Seller List while he was rehabbing an injury that could have threatened his career.

“It has been a lot of hard work and for it to pay off like this is so rewarding,” Hayhurst said about the reaction to The Bullpen Gospels. “I will say this though, if I could trade in my New York Times Best Seller List and be healthy and playing in the big leagues right now, I would do that.”

“When the injury happened, I was really afraid I was going to miss the whole year,” Hayhurst confided. “I’m confident that I will be back in some capacity but it’s rough. I was right at the threshold of being a guy that could break camp with the team for opening day and then one day, one weight-room routine, and everything changes.”

As a writer, Hayhurst first began to share his personal experiences with Baseball America in 2007, writing the Non-Prospect Diaries for the popular magazine; a column now emulated by several other baseball players. He became a storyteller instead of describing the day-to-day activities of the team and the column led to writing The Bullpen Gospels, chronicling his 2007 season with the Single-A Lake Elsinore Storm and the Double-A San Antonio Missions.

“I didn’t think that people would be OK with me writing a book while I was playing and it not being an exposé book, which it isn’t,” said Hayhurst. “I didn’t have to sell somebody out to make it successful and I am proud of that.”

In his most popular column for Baseball America, which also appears in his book, Hayhurst describes a young mother and son standing near the bullpen fence, attempting to get the attention of the pitchers. With fans clamouring for baseballs and autographs on a daily basis, the pitchers tried to remain aloof and not acknowledge the pair. When Hayhurst finally relented and approached them, the young mother whispered that her son had terminal liver cancer and his dream was to meet the players.

Hayhurst quickly lifted the boy over the fence and the entire pitching staff showered the youngster with affection and autographs. It brought into perspective what baseball can mean to people and the role he could play. As he wrote at the end of that column, “I still can't explain why people treat us so special for putting on a baseball uniform. But in those few moments together, it didn't really matter, in those few moments, baseball made perfect sense.”

“The book and how I get the perspective of writing about baseball the way that I do is basically by rejecting the way that it was sold to me when I was younger,” revealed Hayhurst. “Which is, it is some kind of god-like occupation that elevates you out of the struggles of everyday people's lives, that shelters you from everything bad and that you can use this sport to fix all of your problems - but you can't.”

“Let’s be honest,” continued Hayhurst. “There is more to baseball then who is winning, who is losing and who signed the biggest contract, but that's really all you hear about anymore. I kind of made a personal vow, that as long as I was in this profession I would try to do something different with it. I wanted to go a different route and I wanted it to be honest and real.”

Any revelations in Hayhurst’s book are about himself, not his teammates; his self-doubts about making it to the big leagues and the pressures of being judged as a statistic, a life threatening injury suffered by his father when he fell off the roof of their home and experiencing poverty when his parents lost their jobs. Hayhurst also candidly discusses his brother’s alcoholism and the resulting violence in his family. Masterfully combined with stories and anecdotes of endless bus rides and quirky conversations in the bullpen amongst the relievers, The Bullpen Gospels is a thoroughly compelling read.

“This book has a mass audience appeal,” said Hayhurst. “Essentially the vehicle of the book is baseball but the story and the essence of it is not, it is about the human struggle. It is about redeeming yourself in baseball and about finding the truth of who you are underneath the jersey.”

With The Bullpen Gospels, Hayhurst has reached his goal; the book has touched many and made a positive impact on their lives since its release. The honesty contained within its pages not only gives the reader a glimpse into the world of baseball, it successfully shows us the man beneath the jersey, a man that has searched for answers on the field and found them within himself. The Bullpen Gospels is an essential addition to every sports fan's collection.

For more info on Dirk, visit his website: www.dirkhayhurst.com

Photo by TVOS
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Friday, June 4, 2010

Canadian Grand Prix Back on Track


This article was first published in the June 4th 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.

Formula 1 racing fans will have something to cheer about in the coming weeks, as the Canadian Grand Prix returns to Montreal's Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 13th after a one-year absence. Removed from the F1 schedule after the 2008 racing season, the Canadian Grand Prix was the only North American stop on the 19-race circuit. It is an essential marketing tool for the manufacturers, so everyone involved with Formula 1 is pleased to see its return.

While the F1 teams are lacking in Canadian content, there is still plenty for Montreal area race fans to be excited about. After almost imploding last year due to a dispute between the F1 bosses and several of the teams over spending limits and the granting of technical advantages to teams that could limit their spending, F1 appears to be one big happy family again.

Perhaps the biggest storyline in the 2010 racing season is the return of 7-time Drivers’ Champion, Michael Schumacher. No longer driving the famous “prancing horse” of the Ferrari team, Schumacher is at the wheel of a Mercedes for the 2010 season. During his illustrious career, the German driver has captivated F1 fans with his prowess on the track, winning an astounding 91 races in 256 starts. Schumacher retired after the 2006 racing season and while he has yet to return to the podium with Mercedes, he has finished fourth on two occasions this year. He is extremely familiar with the Montreal track, which could lead to an exciting day for his supporters.

At the top of the Drivers’ Championship this year is Australian, Mark Webber. Driving for the Red Bull Racing team, which is powered by Renault engines, Webber has a slight lead in the Championship over England’s Jensen Button (93 points to 88 points). His best finish in Canada was a 5th place in 2005 while driving a Williams-BMW, but the Red Bull car is extremely quick this year (winning two of the last three races), which should make for an exciting showdown at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve between Red Bull Racing, McLaren-Mercedes and Ferrari.

Button and his McLaren-Mercedes team are currently first in the Constructors’ Championship (the best overall team performances). A winner in six of the first seven races last season, Button won his first Drivers’ Championship and McLaren-Mercedes brought home the Constructors’ title in 2009. With two wins already under his belt in 2010, Button and teammate Lewis Hamilton (the 2008 Drivers’ Champion) are a very dangerous duo; expect to see one of these two drivers to be on the podium when the race concludes.

In the Formula 1 world, you can never count out the Ferrari cars. Currently third in the Constructors’ Championship, the driving pair of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso bring speed and a vast amount of knowledge to the track every race. Alonso is a two-time Drivers’ Champion and Massa has won 11 races during his career. The legendary Italian cars seem to win on will power alone at times and their reputation as one of the best teams in the history of the sport precedes them. Ferrari has 16 Constructor’s Championships and 15 Drivers’ Championships in their illustrious history.

Of course, when travelling at speeds up to 360 kilometres per hour (220 mph), anything can happen. Add the possibility of inclement weather and my predictions on “who to watch for” could all go out the window, with a driver from the back of the pack stealing the victory at the challenging Montreal racetrack. Regardless of who wins, having Montreal back on the F1 schedule is a victory for Canadian race fans. Have a great sports day everyone.

Photo by iragazzidiredbull on Flickr.com

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Toronto Maple Leafs need to keep Kaberle...


TVOS Question of the Day: Am I the only person in the world that thinks the Toronto Maple Leafs should hold on to Tomas Kaberle.

With no first or second round selections in the upcoming NHL Draft, Leafs GM Brian Burke is entertaining offers for the Toronto defenceman; a draft pick being one of the pieces he is looking for in return. According to reports, five teams are seriously considering making a move for Kaberle, and why not? A first round pick is a small price to pay for a team that thinks they are close to competing for the Stanley Cup. Burke has said it himself - there are no guarantees that a player taken in the draft, even a first round selection, will evolve into a legitimate NHL player. If you are a team on the verge of contention, adding a power play specialist will go a long way to putting your team over the top. Isn’t that what the Leafs say they are about to become, Stanley Cup contenders, or at the very least, contending for a playoff spot?

Since Brian Burke took over the reigns of the Leafs, he has done a tremendous job reshaping the roster. I agree with the addition of Phil Kessel (yes, even for the high price he paid), the Phaneuf trade was a steal, he has re-stocked the Marlies with some fine young talent and JS Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson will be a formidable pair in goal. They are certainly in need of a top-six forward (or two), but the in the weaker Eastern Conference, there is no doubt that the Leafs will find themselves in the playoff hunt next season; even if the roster remains the same.

As a long-time Leaf, I realize that many Toronto fans want to see Kaberle gone for that fact alone, but as a team on the rise, why would you trade away one of the best puck moving defenceman in the league? It is fine to say, “We have Phaneuf now”, but he is a triggerman with awesome firepower similar to Brian McCabe - Who will set him up at the blueline with clean, crisp saucer passes?

Kaberle is 32 years old and under contract for $4.5 million through to the end of the 2011 season. He has never been known as a defensive gem, so his ability to bang and crash in the corners should not diminish - he does not play that style to begin with. Considering Kaberle has refused to leave town for the past several seasons, re-signing him to a three-year deal at $4 million per year or less would be no problem. He wants to stay in Toronto...

Let’s look at the offence that comes out of the lineup with Kaberle gone:

In 820 career games with Toronto, Kaberle has 80 goals and 420 assists.

2010: 82 games - 49 points
2009: 57 games - 31 points
2008: 82 games - 53 points
2007: 74 games - 58 points

I will repeat what I have said above, Burke stated at the time of the Kessel trade that he knew what he was getting in Kessel, and with a draft pick, you can never be sure. Now, in an effort to get a first round pick, he is considering trading an all-star power play specialist. In Kaberle you already know what you have, sure, he has his faults, but when the 2011 trade deadline approaches and the Leafs are in the hunt for a playoff spot, they may be on the hunt for a player exactly like Kaberle. My advice, keep Kaberle, re-sign him at an affordable price and try to find a top-six forward somewhere else - he’s not going to come in the bottom half of the first round in this year’s draft.

Photo by Aaron Webb on Flickr.com

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Everyone is talking about Chris Pronger - Mission Accomplished!


A few quick thoughts from TVOS on “Puck-Gate”...

In a move reminiscent of Wayne Gretzky’s 2002 Olympic “Don’t blame the players” speech, Philadelphia Flyers defenceman Chris Pronger made himself the focus on the off day between Game 2 and 3 in the Stanley Cup Finals. While there was still plenty of hockey talk during the press conferences, everyone had to ask and then weigh in on Chris Pronger’s thievery - taking the game pucks in Chicago. The fact that the Flyers top forwards have yet to take-off, or that Michael Leighton has struggled at times in net, and that Chicago is two wins away from eliminating the Flyers seemed secondary to Pronger’s actions.

The Flyers defenceman leads the league in ice time, averaging 28:56 minutes per game and his 16 post season points is tops among defencemen (and 11th overall) and he has been very effective at limiting the damage from Toews and Kane. Chicago’s young guns have zero points and only eight shots combined in the first two games of the series. Will Pronger’s actions or comments after the game fire up the Blackhawks? To put it bluntly - No, this is the Stanley Cup Finals, if you are not fired up already, perhaps you are in the wrong profession.

“I can tell you we didn’t talk about it - that did not come up,” Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said yesterday. “We didn’t talk about who was going to steal the puck in Game 3.”

Playing at home, the tradition states that it would already be the Flyers puck, so it would be up to someone on Chicago to grab it if the thievery is to continue...

Chicago forward Patrick Sharp laughed at the puck debate yesterday, saying with a smile, “We’re thinking about hockey, if he wants the puck he can have it.”

Sharp has played over 400 games in the NHL, he knows what Pronger is up to, but will some of the younger Blackhawks be able to keep their cool when Game 3 begins? While the Hawks are saying all the right things to the media, I have to wonder, is someone in their dressing room secretly contemplating grabbing the puck after Game 3 to “get even”? Besides distracting from his own team’s mistakes, perhaps Pronger has planted a seed of foolishness in the Hawks. Will the battles in front of the Flyers’ net become a little more heated, as the Chicago players try to get the last shot in on Pronger? An elbow or an extra crosscheck or two? If a parade to the penalty box starts, then Pronger has done his job; the one or two extra power plays awarded to Philadelphia could make the difference in the final outcome of the game.

Described as poor sportsmanship, gamesmanship, classless and juvenile; the simple fact is, Chris Pronger's “taking” of the puck after games one and two in Chicago has everyone talking about Chris Pronger, not the Flyers 0-2 deficit in the Stanley Cup Finals. A genius move by a wily veteran in his third Stanley Cup Final; I would say mission accomplished Chris!

Photo by Dinur on Flickr.com