Posts tagged Lethbridge Hurricanes
Posts tagged Lethbridge Hurricanes
Only a few months have passed since I joined the “retired local celebrities” club. Despite the fact I’m no longer active at Global Lethbridge, I still have had the chance to pitch in and help out our community by emceeing local events.
Recently I returned to host the annual Lethbridge Hurricanes Celebrity Dinner and Auction. Over the years it has proved to be a very enjoyable evening as our local Western Hockey League club puts the event together to raise money for a host of local charities, including The ‘Canes Scholarship Fund, The United Way, The Kidney Foundation and The Michael Maniago Fund.
Every year the dinner has a special guest speaker and those who have visited in the last few years have included the likes of NHL Hall-of-Famer Lanny MacDonald and comedian Gerry Dee.
This February the organizing committee hit another home run as Curtis Joseph came to visit the ‘Bridge. Like his predecessors “Cujo” was a gracious guest, taking lots of time for those who attended, posing for pictures, signing autographs and telling some stories.
After a great dinner put on by LA Chefs at the Coast Convention Centre, it was time for Cujo and myself to sit down for an in-depth one-on-one interview. I’ll admit, even though I watched Joseph for his entire NHL career, all 19 seasons of it, I really didn’t know much about his back story.
Adopted by Jeanne and Harold Joseph, Curtis grew up in a family of mixed race in south-central Ontario. While he was a fine athlete as a child, Joseph never started playing hockey until he was in his pre-teens. At first he tried playing as a forward, but his admittedly “poor skating,” eventually found him play goaltender. This turned out to be a great turn of fortune.
After playing minor hockey and some junior in Ontario, Joseph then moved to the prairies, suiting up for famed Notre Dame of Wilcox, Saskatchewan. Here he helped the Hounds win the Centennial Cup in 1987. Cujo told a great story about how when Notre Dame travelled to Calgary for a Game 7 of the Abbott Cup finals. As memorable as the victory, was the fact that Notre Dame students travelled west for the game by promising to attend school on a Saturday as a make-up date.
This experience put Joseph on the radar of National Hockey League scouts and he then went to the University of Wisconsin. An undrafted player, he again excelled with the Badgers, earning a berth on the WCHA All Conference Team. This led to a bidding war by NHL teams to sign him as a free agent. In the end, St. Louis stepped up and inked him to a $1 million contract. No doubt this was helped by Joseph’s recruiting trip to the Gateway City, where none other than Brian Sutter picked him up in a limousine and had him over for dinner.
From little known to NHL starting goalie in the matter of a few years, Joseph got a baptism by fire as a professional. The Blues were a great offensive team in his time there led by the likes of Brett Hull, Adam Oates and Brendan Shanahan. However, they often left Cujo to fend for himself. He twice led the NHL in shots faced in a campaign and 3 times made the most saves.
But Joseph’s time came to an end when Mike Keenan came to St. Louis. Notably hard on goalies, “Iron Mike” moved Joseph on to Edmonton where he joined an inexperienced Oilers squad. Despite their youth, the Copper and Blue overachieved, knocking out favoured teams Dallas and Colorado in consecutive playoffs. But his time in the Capital was rather short, as he moved on signing a free agent contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
While the Buds never did end their long Stanley Cup drought, Joseph and friends certainly had some very good teams. Curtis cemented his status as one of the best ‘tenders of his generation, twice finishing runner-up for the Vezina Trophy.
Even with all of his success in Toronto, Joseph was once again on the move, signing with Detroit in 2002. But his time with the Red Wings proved to be his most trying in the NHL. With huge expectations, the Wings twice flamed out in the playoffs after having superb regular seasons. His last year in Motown, Cujo was even sent to the minors for a game as the club had a three goalie conundrum with Dominic Hasek and Manny Legace on the squad as well. Joseph had to keep positive and credits Don Cherry for having his back on Coaches Corner, showing his support. He related with the crowd how staying positive got him through this very trying time.
After two seasons with the Wings, Joseph then headed to Phoenix to play under Wayne Gretzky. Another great story was one night Cujo was the back-up goalie. As we all know, the Coyotes have had attendance issues forever, so it’s pretty easy to see what’s going on in the crowd.
In this game, Curtis noticed his teenage daughter walking down the steps holding hands with a boy. It turned out to be Gretzky’s son. As Joseph related, “He was my boss, so what was I supposed to do?” At the time Cujo never brought it up to The Great One, but years later at a mutual event, Gretzky in fact saw what happened and gave his former goalie a tough time about it. Joseph countered about Gretzky’s own daughter Paulina, who is pretty famous herself these days.
From there it was stops in Calgary and then Toronto again. Along the way, Joseph helped Canada win gold in 3 international competitions and one silver. He goes down 4th all-time in NHL wins and will be in the conversation for the Hall-of-Fame soon.
What I got from our near hour long chat was Joseph never doubted his abilities. Even when he had his troubles in Detroit, he worked hard to regain his all-star form. He took the road less travelled to make it to the NHL, showing everyone that belief in oneself is very powerful indeed.
Some great stories from Cujo, thousands of dollars raised for local charities, and the chance to catch up with some old friends, made this year’s ‘Canes Celebrity Dinner and Auction another big success.
I can’t wait for next year.
In what’s become an annual tradition here at For What It’s Worth, here are my hopes and wishes for sport for the upcoming year, 2013. We had many great moments in 2012, along with the usual disappointments and outright shocking events. This is why sport is so great: Truly anything can happen—and often does.
THE END OF THE NHL LOCKOUT
As we hit January, it still looks like this may never happen. Great Toe Blake’s Ghost I hope not. The fact there is another National Hockey League work stoppage is outright indefensible. I grew tired of this story in 2004. To have it happen again (and again, and again) is a shame.
If a season begins, it will be interesting to see how fans respond. It’s hard to give up the NHL, as it showcases the game we love with the planet’s top players. Still, wouldn’t be nice to see a consolidated effort to boycott the league for a time, to show both the owners and players that we fans are tired of their shenanigans.
THE LETHBRIDGE HURRICANES WINNING HOME ICE FOR THE FIRST ROUND OF THE WHL PLAYOFFS
As the Western Hockey League embarks on the second half of the 2012/2013 campaign, the Lethbridge Hurricanes are firmly positioned to make the playoffs after a 3-year hiatus. If you haven’t been down to the Enmax Centre lately, you’ve missed out as this team has played some pretty exciting (if still a bit inconsistent) hockey. But this is a developing side with its best days ahead. After all, the ‘Canes remain the Dub’s youngest squad.
The group of forwards have great offensive potential, and a few like Jaimen Yakubowski, Russell Maxwell and Brady Ramsay have taken a big step forward this season. On the back end, Daniel Johnston may be the WHL’s most underrated d-man, with a crop of first or second year skaters filling out the blue-line including the impressive rookie Ryan Pilon. Ty Rimmer has been a rock between the pipes, often spectacularly giving the club a chance to win every game.
For the Hurricanes to crack the Eastern Conference’s top four, it’s going to be a challenge. Defending WHL Champion Edmonton is a good bet to repeat. One of the top two seeds will go to the East Division champs, which Prince Albert is the first half leader. However, I still wouldn’t put Saskatoon out of that race. The Blades have shrugged off a poor start and are playing more like a team befitting to host the Memorial Cup (and you know Saskatoon will make any moves necessary at the trade deadline to bolster its lineup in its pursuit of glory).
Calgary is back in a big way, as the Hitmen may challenge the Oil Kings for the Central Division Crown. That leaves the ‘Canes battling the Red Deer Rebels, either the Raider or Blades as the East race plays out, and probably a couple of other teams in the second half for a top four seed. It will be fun to watch, that’s for sure.
A BIG SECOND HALF FOR THE UOFL BASKETBALL TEAMS
As we know, Southern Alberta loves its basketball. It’s even better when the University of Lethbridge teams are in contention. Some of my favourite memories were watching the Pronghorns teams led by Danny Balderson and Spencer Holt rock the ‘Old Cave’ more than a couple of years ago.
Now, neither of these year’s ‘Horns teams are a national powerhouse, but both the men’s and women’s sides have a chance to make the playoffs, providing they win more than they lose in the second half of the Canada West schedule.
The men’s squad is trying to overcome the loss of two key cogs from last season—Dominyc Coward and Daryl Cooper—and have done a pretty good job of doing so. The ‘Horns are averaging nearly the same amount of points for and against per game.
Derek Waldner is playing his best basketball. The 5th year senior is the only man on his team in the top 20 in Canada West scoring and is among the conference’s rebounding leaders. From there, it’s a team effort with different players rising to the occasion on different nights like Logan Reiter, Julian Spear Chief-Morris, Morgan Duce and Chaz Johnson.
In order for the UofL Men’s team to make the playoffs, a win on the road is most likely needed, as the squad was 0-4 in the first half. Still, the ‘Horns should be threatening until the end, with a post-season invitation hanging in the balance.
As for the UofL Women’s basketball team, I believe most people are surprised by their 5-5 start to the CanWest season. First year head coach Erin McAleenan has nearly matched last season’s win total of 6, this after 5-year senior, and leading scorer Lauren Taal graduated.
Stepping into the breach is Ali Cameron. The 3rd year guard is has led the team in scoring, adding nearly 7 points-per-night to her average. The Raymond native is in the top ten in Canada West scoring—a nice surprise to be sure.
If the ‘Horns are going to make the playoffs, more offence is going to be key. Two other starters—Kim Veldman and Erin Skippon—are both averaging double-digits, however, the squad is in the bottom half in scoring offence overall.
To have both ‘Horns hoops squads in the playoffs in March should get the 1st Choice Savings Centre rocking in 2013.
…The Toronto Blue Jays to win the American League East. The Jays have been the darlings of the Major Baseball League offseason, making huge deals, first with Florida to acquire Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and others; then another swap with the New York Mets for Cy Young winner RA Dickey. With the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox both looking vulnerable, this may just be the year the Jays regain at least a playoff berth. I’m not a Jays fan, but if they are good, it’s great for baseball here in the Great White North, which I am all for.
…The Los Angeles Clippers to win the NBA Championship. Hollywood’s other team; the Clippers have long been one of The Association’s laughingstocks. However, this winter, the side is coming together as a legit championship contender. Led by Chris Paul, the Clips have run out to the NBA’s best record (as of December 28th). There’s a great mix of youth (Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan) and veteran experience (Chauncey Billups, Jamal Crawford and a now in-shape Lamar Odom). If my Celtics can’t win another title—why not the Clippers? As long as it’s not the Lakers…or Heat.
And of course, most of all, I hope for a safe a prosperous New Year to all of the Lethbridge Journal’s readers and their families.
A little something for now and the Lethbridge Hurricanes are hoping for a whole lot more down the road.
This month the Western Hockey League Bantam Draft took place and for the third straight year, the ‘Canes had another high pick. Another season missing the playoffs meant the locals were lottery bound once again, coming away with the fourth overall pick.
However, as significant as that selection is, the Hurricanes made even bigger news, acquiring one of the Dub’s best netminders—Ty Rimmer from Tri-City. In exchange for a pair of future draft picks (2nd rounder in 2013, 3rd rounder in ’14) the squad picks up an established, highly productive puck-stopper. The Edmonton native earned an all-star selection and was a runner-up for the goalie of the year award this season (losing out to Medicine Hat’s Tyler Bunz).
This is a big deal, as the Hurricanes were facing a somewhat unsettled netminding situation this fall. Damien Ketlo has graudated, leaving the club with Liam Liston, who was inconsistent in his time since coming over from Brandon and perhaps Tanner Kovacs, who started the year with the ‘Canes only to be sent to the AJHL for seasoning. Needless to say, there was a pretty big question mark between the pipes for the squad, which should now be a position of strength thanks to the addition of Rimmer.
With Rimmer coming on board, the Hurricanes will have some difficult decisions to make concerning their overage situation. Others in competition for the other two 20-year-old spots are Daniel Johnston, Landon Oslanski and Tyler Kiziuk on defence and Graham Hood and Nick Buonassisi up front. Each one of these young men bring something different to the table.
Johnston is the team’s best bet in its own end. Despite the ‘Canes finishing well under .500 and giving up 68 more goals than they scored, the Calgary native managed to finish at an even plus/minus rating, the only rearguard on the team to accomplish the feat. Oslanski had a couple of more points than Johnston last season, but his -31 rating shows he needs some work defensively. As for Kiziuk, he vastly improved over the previous campaign, but he has the lesser pedigree of this trio. To imagine the Hurricanes keeping more than one of these three next fall would be a major surprise.
Up front, Buonassisi gave the club a big spark and if he sticks around, will be expected to be one of the club’s offensive leaders. Hood has tremendous size, and when he’s physically involved, the Martensville, Saskatchewan native is a lot to handle for the opposition. However, there are too many nights when Hood fails to play up to his bulk. Still, with some young, small forwards on the squad, I can see the ‘Canes perhaps holding on to him. Again, like the case for defence, I believe the percentage is pretty small that there’s a scenario where the ‘Canes keep both Buonassisi and Hood.
It gives General Manager Rich Preston some interesting homework for the summer, and then at training camp, to determine which 3 players will man the overage slots on the roster. Expect a couple of more trades at some point, as everyone above mentioned has value as a WHL player next season.
As for the draft, the ‘Canes tabbed Giorgio Estephan with that 4th overall selection. The Edmonton native terrorized the Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League in the 2011-12 campaign, racking up 43 goals and 57 assists for an even 100 points in just 32 games. It was good enough to give the forward the league’s scoring title and most valuable player awards. Plus at 5’11”, 168 pounds, Estephan has good size already at just 15-years-old.
While it was hard to execute at the time, the ‘Canes trade of captain Cam Braes at the WHL Trade Deadline gave them the 18th overall pick as well. With it, the club zeroed in on the blue-line, tabbing Thomas Lenchyshyn. The Steinbach, Manitoba product has good size (6’, 178lbs) and actually played on a midget AAA team this past winter. Looking like a gritty, hard-nosed defender, Lenchyshyn picked up 123 penalty minutes in 42 games while adding 14 points.
From there, the organization made 9 more selections, adding depth to its protected list. Notably, the club traded back into the third round to get Colt Conrad. Another Manitoban, from St. Alphonse, the forward put up video game-like numbers at Bantam AAA, amassing 79 goals and 71 assists in 53 contests. This kind of production is hard to fathom and hard to ignore.
All-in-all it was a momentous day for the Hurricanes. While the team got some more youth to help out in 2 or 3 years, it also got a great player for the here and now. This will not be the only move the side makes leading up to training camp later this year. After another season out of the playoffs, it looks like Preston is going to go about ensuring it doesn’t happen again next spring.
The Hurricanes shored up the present, while stocking up for the future. All-in-all, that’s a draft to remember.
When Lanny McDonald is in a room, he’s usually the centre of attention. After all, his visage is one of the most memorable in hockey history, accented by his legendary moustache. Yet when his time came to address those who attended the Lethbridge Hurricanes 7th Annual Celebrity Sports Dinner, many of the Hockey Hall-of-Famer’s stories ended with his former Calgary Flames teammate as the punch line.
The stories were flying as McDonald addressed the 400-plus in attendance at the recent function held at the Coast Hotel and Convention Centre. Many of the them were about the shenanigans the Flames got up to back in the 1980’s, led by the team’s top prankster—Jim Peplinski.
One of the many highlights was hearing McDonald recall the time he donned nothing but a bathing suit on a flight from Chicago to Los Angeles to take a stroll through the airplane. Upgraded to first class for the journey, he wanted to impress upon rookies like Joe Nieuwendyk and Gary Roberts who were back in coach, that there was a pool up front. However, the joke was turned squarely on Lanny, as Peplinski stole the rest of his clothing, forcing McDonald to go through airport security in LA, wearing nothing but his trunks.
However, not everything was about the man McDonald won a Stanley Cup with the Flames back in ’89. Lanny started with some tales about his time as with the Toronto Maple Leafs, playing in the rough-and-tumble ‘70’s against the likes of the Broad Street Bullies and the Big Bad Bruins. Then there was his stint with the Colorado Rockies, coached by the iconic Don Cherry. While the team was terrible at the time, and the losses piled up, McDonald at least got a number of great stories out of it—perhaps a fair trade in the end.
When you get a chance to meet McDonald in person, it takes all of 2 seconds to realize why he was such a popular teammate and fan favourite: He’s a very affable and down-to-earth gentleman. It was apparent as he worked the room before and after the programme; Lanny truly enjoys meeting fans, new and old, and tried his best to make a great memory for them, even if it was but a brief encounter.
Of course, McDonald played here in the city, as a member of the Lethbridge Sugar Kings in the late ’60’s and early ‘70’s. He recalled his time “attending” Winston Churchill High School (his story about some of the hockey players organizing a tobogganing day, at the expense of going to class was great) and the time the old Lethbridge Arena burned to the ground during an AJHL playoff game. When he said he loved his time here in the ‘Bridge; it’s impossible to not believe him.
McDonald played his part to the tee, in what was a great night all-around. Also on hand, was comedian Clark Robertson. It’s funny, because ‘Don Cherry’ also made an appearance, although I never saw both of them in the room at the same time. While ‘Don’ introduced Lanny on-stage, it was Clark who then came back later in the night to do his show. All-in-all, both ‘Cherry’ and Robertson were very entertaining as well.
While there were plenty of laughs, the most important part of the event is raising money for many worthy charities. Over the years, this gala has collected over $250,000, going to many worthwhile causes. This year, funds were raised for the Michael Maniago Memorial Scholarship Foundation, United Way of Lethbridge and Southwestern Alberta, the Kidney Foundation and the Canadian Cancer Society.
I am continually impressed and immensely proud about how Southern Alberta always seems to rise to the occasion to support a wide variety of causes. No question, people from our area are always very generous with their time and monetary support. I guess that’s what makes living here in Lethbridge and its surround communities so special.
I want to thank the organizing committee for inviting me back to emcee. A big tip of the hat to everyone who helped make the night a big success: including all of the volunteers, the Lethbridge Hurricanes staff and players, and of course, the public.
I’m sure the 2013 event will be even bigger and better—although assuredly—not as impressively moustachioed.
Just days after the Western Hockey League Trade Deadline, the Lethbridge Hurricanes were on the books for only one move. The Cam Braes trade to Moose Jaw was somewhat expected, if only because the club is clearly in a transitional state.
However, many people believed the Braes trade would also trigger a bunch of other moves as any 19 or 20-year-old player would also be shipped out of town to bolster the team’s supply of prospects or draft picks.
It never happened. The Braes trade was the only one ‘Canes GM Rich Preston made. And for at least one player on the club it was bittersweet. Shortly after the Tuesday, January 10th, 3 p.m. deadline, Brody Sutter met with various local media. At this time he stated he had asked for a trade. In the end, Preston says he could not find a move that made sense for the Hurricanes, so the son of Duane is staying put in the ‘Bridge.
I am not really surprised Sutter had requested to be dealt. After all, in his final WHL season as an overage player, he has only one more chance to make a run at the Ed Chynoweth Cup. And unless the local lads make some sort of miracle second-half run, chances are it will not happen here in Lethbridge.
It is somewhat surprising Brody admitted to the media he was hoping for a move. In today’s age, it is rare for a WHLer to come out with that kind of information. It can often lead to a player being vilified by certain parties who are not close to the situation.
However, I think it’s pretty easy to understand Sutter’s stance. He is a competitive kid. I am sure he’s far from the only Western Leaguer who prior to Tuesday afternoon was hoping to go to some place like Portland or Edmonton. Taking a run at the cup in the WHL Playoffs is the ultimate way to test one’s mettle and prove one’s worth when the stakes are highest.
Just a few days after the deadline, the ‘Canes announced Sutter will replace Braes as team captain. Now, many fans may wonder why that move was made considering what came to light earlier in the week. However, never at any point did Sutter publically say he was unhappy with the organization or the city. While he was a bit resigned to the fact his trade request was not fulfilled, he followed up with his acknowledgement of his role with the Hurricanes going forward: leading by example and helping the number of youngsters on the roster.
The Hurricanes have made some big strides since the start of the season. Moving a bunch of players out at the deadline, Sutter included, for the sake of making moves in nonsensical. There are only so many draft picks a club can have, only so many young prospects that can make the team on a year-to-year basis. Veteran players are still needed to lead the way and play the tough minutes in the always competitive WHL.
While Sutter may not add more playoff games to his resume, captaining a young team down the stretch can look even better on his CV as he prepares for what is hopefully a long professional career. If the Hurricanes continue to roll up wins and make a run at a post-season berth, with Brody leading the way, he will earn a huge amount of respect.
When one door closes, another one opens. What matters is how we choose to walk forward after it does.
Word came out early this Monday that the Lethbridge Hurricanes had called a press conference. With the WHL Trade Deadline just over 24 hours later, there was little question about why the club called it. There was a trade to announce. And there also little question about who was on the move. Who else would require a press conference? It could only be Cam Braes.
And it came to pass, the ‘Canes swapped their captain to the Moose Jaw Warriors for 1st and 2nd round WHL Bantam Draft Picks. While the locals have played so much better since a horrendous start this campaign, making the postseason is about as likely as the windless March in Southern Alberta. Undoubtedly, this was a hard decision to make for both Braes and the Hurricanes, even if it was a necessary one.
There is a reason Braes made the ‘Canes as a 16-year-old. There is a reason why he was on the ice a lot as a rookie during the team’s run to the 2008 WHL Finals. There is a reason why he had a shot at setting a franchise mark for all-time games played. There is a reason why he was named captain this season.
Cam Braes comes to the rink to give his all. Not the biggest or most skilled player, the Shawnigan Lake, B.C. native is a fierce competitor. Any player can get up for a playoff game. However, there are special athletes who bring their all game in and game out, no matter the situation. For me, Braes is that kind of player.
When things were spiralling down for the Hurricanes during a winless October, a stretch where it lost 19 of 20 games, it would have been easy to write off the season and wait for a ticket out of town. However, it seemed that was not an option for Braes. Instead, in large part from his play on the ice, and through his leadership, the club turned things around and started to win some games. Rather than settle for getting pushed around, the ‘Canes started to push back. And on many nights, the player pushing hardest was Braes.
The Warriors know exactly what they’re getting in this deal and Braes sure looks like he fits in well with what they’re trying to do. The East Division leaders, Moose Jaw has National Junior Team member Quinton Howden and fellow NHL 1st rounder Dylan McIlrath to lead the way. There’s a lot of grit on the club, and Braes will only add to it. He also had 12 more points than anyone else on the roster at the time of the deal.
We shall see if this is the first of a few moves by the Hurricanes ahead of the deadline. While looking ahead to the future, the team also needs to continue its growth this season. The loss of Braes in the dressing room is huge. Other veterans will have to step up in his place. We have seen a lot of good things from the rookies on the club the last couple of months and here’s hoping that they all take a page from Cam’s game and try and play as tenaciously as he does.
For the first time in 5 years, Cam Braes won’t be wearing the familiar red, white and blue. It’s not much of stretch to say his impact on the organization and the community will be fondly remembered for many, many years. On a personal level, he’s definitely one of my favourite all-time Hurricanes to cover. Cam was always gracious with his time; never one to dodge the tough questions in the face of defeat.
While it’s hard to see Braes leave, I can’t think of a more apropos team for him to join. He’s a warrior in every sense of the word.
As we say goodbye to 2011, and welcome 2012, we also welcome another new year in sport. 2011 gave us plenty of great moments and I am looking forward to 366 new days of athletic excellence. Here are some of my hopes for the upcoming year in sport.
SOUTHERN ALBERTA GIVES THESE LETHBRIDGE HURRICANES A CHANCE
After an unimaginably woeful start to the 2011-12 WHL season, the Lethbridge Hurricanes have turned things around. However, this club still may finish near the bottom of the Eastern Conference Standings. Does this mean the ‘Canes are worth writing off? Not in the least.
While the trade deadline may see the team move out some veterans, bolstering its chances for the future; there is a lot to like about it in the present-term and beyond.
Go see the young guys like Jamal Watson, Jay Merkley, Macoy Erkamps, Sam McKechnie and others. Enjoy the maturation of Brady Ramsay and Russell Maxwell. And finally appreciate the veteran leadership of Cam Braes, Brody Sutter and Damien Ketlo. With a strong December, the ‘Canes played their way back into the fringes of the playoff race. Even without a berth into the second season, this club is up for an interesting second half of the season.
ALBERTA’S NHL TEAMS MAKE THE PLAYOFFS
The odds of both the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers both making the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs is remote. As things stand at the turn of the year, both were on the outside looking in. In the always tough Western Conference, even seeing one of these squads play in the second season might be asking for too much.
After a typical slow start, Calgary has come on. In order to continue to push for a post-season berth, the Flames will need to see more offence. Among the league’s bottom third when it comes to lighting the lamp, the side needs to get about one more goal per game to see some of their one-goal losses turn into wins. One area that would help immensely is seeing more offence from the blue-line. As always, Flames fans are wondering when Jay Bouwmeester is going to pot some goals, and with Mark Giordano’s injury the d-corps offers little in the way of goal-scoring.
As for the Oilers, a dream start has turned into a December to forget. No question, the kids are alright, as Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent Hopkins, (and when healthy) Taylor Hall are bringing it more often than not. However, it seems the roster is top-heavy at the moment. Veterans like Ryan Smythe, Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemskey must step up. When things were going good, the Oilers were playing tremendous defensively. However, it was a pace that was unsustainable. Still, shoring up some things on in their own zone, and improved 5-on-5 play are a must.
It would be great to see the buzz generated if both the Flames and Oilers could make the post season. And as both teams showed last decade, just getting into the dance can turn into a long June run.
THE CFL FINDS SOME QUARTERBACKS
99.9% of the time, a successful football team has a good quarterback. The CFL dearly needs a new influx of talent at the position. While BC Lions fans will disagree, 2011 was a pretty forgettable year for the league. Ratings were down everywhere, except for Saskatchewan (a place where the Roughriders are as important as God, sunlight and Pilsner).
To me, the league was lacking quality play at pivot. Outside of BC and Montreal, and to a lesser extent Edmonton, QB was a position of concern everywhere else.
Good quarterbacking makes for better football—plain and simple. Anthony Calvillo has to slow down at some point. Travis Lulay is a keeper for the Lions, but outside of that, the other clubs are looking for stability under centre. The Eskimos traded Ricky Ray to Toronto. Is Steven Jyles the answer for the Green and Gold? He certainly wasn’t for the Argos (or ‘Riders). The Stampeders appear to be on the verge of turning the QB reins over to Drew Tate. The Iowa Hawkeye took over for Henry Burris towards the end of the 2011 campaign and showed flashes but had a miserable West Semifinal. Kevin Durant regressed in Regina. Buck Pierce never stays healthy—bad news for Winnipeg. Kevin Glenn was okay for Hamilton and after a recent trade has Henry Burris to compete for playing time. Ray takes his unsexy game to Toronto.
Add it up and it looks like a less than inspiring group at QB in the CFL in 2012.
…Health for Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. This trio played some unbelievable matches in men’s tennis in 2011. If all three can be on top of their game this year, the grand slam events are must-see TV.
…Speaking of health, plenty of it for UFC’s top fighters. Jon Jones, Georges St. Pierre, Rashad Evans, Cain Velazquez, Carlos Condit, Frankie Edgar, Gray Maynard, Brock Lesnar, BJ Penn, Jon Fitch and countless others injuries to MMA’s top stars led to chaotic match-making in 2011 for Dana White and company. Yes, MMA is a violent sport, and people get hurt. Here’s hoping it happens less this year.
…A Tom Brady vs Aaron Rodgers Super Bowl. Hey, as a Kansas City Chiefs fan, I will be an unbiased viewer of this year’s NFL Playoffs (outside of vociferously cheering against any other AFC West team that makes it). As per my previous point about the CFL, I want to see two of the top QB’s on the planet go at it on North American sport’s biggest stage. New Orleans’ Drew Brees would be a good consolation prize if Green Bay can’t get it done in the NFC.
…The Masters to get here sooner. I can’t wait for another season on the PGA Tour and especially the majors. So many interesting storylines await that don’t involve Tiger Woods. Rory McIlroy, Keegan Bradley, Charl Schwartzel, Darren Clarke, Luke Donald, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter’s pants, Adam Scott (and his caddy), KJ Choi and a cast of hundreds make the game so compelling on a weekly basis.
And most of all, I hope you and yours have a safe, prosperous and healthy 2012.