There won’t be any need for Viagra or Cialis in Toronto today. The beloved Maple Leafs have secured a spot in the National Hockey League playoffs. This will have the folks at the CBC in absolute raptures as post-season play returns to Canada’s largest hockey market. Big audiences mean big bucks.
The fact that the Leafs are marking a half-century since their last Stanley Cup victory makes their appearance in the playoffs just a wee bit sweeter. One good playoff run leading to a Cup and fifty years of futility will be erased. Never happened, a mere blip. Hockey will have been invented in Toronto on that day.
I am happy that the long-suffering hockey fans of Toronto can get their hopes up; as they say, anything can happen in the playoffs. But what I am not looking forward to is the irksome pro-Toronto bias of the CBC.
Let me state clearly that I harbour no belief that the NHL itself is in anyway biased towards the Leafs or any other team. Many will make that assertion but it is just silly. The NHL is a major business entity that would never stand for it. The officials are professionals who call ‘em as they see ‘em, both ways.
That having been said, the CBC most definitely proudly wears a huge Toronto tilt on its sleeve. Note that the broadcasts of hockey on the ‘national public broadcaster’ (i.e. the one supported by all Canadians tax dollars) are supposed to be neutral. Think back to before the current days of sports specialty channels when NBC’s Game of the Week was the only national baseball broadcast. Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek would pop up on our black and white television from a different city each week, depending on the importance of the game. They provided play-by-play and colour commentary from a neutral perspective. They were NBC announcers, not Yankee or Red Sox or Dodger announcers. Hired guns if you will.
Sometimes watching a Leafs game on CBC can give the viewer the impression that the announcers are watching a different game altogether. A Leaf player bumping an opponent is described as a ’massive blow’, a Leaf player down must have been tripped, almost every Leaf goal is highlight reel worthy by their standards. It borders on the infantile. Like Gowdy and Kubek on NBC, the announcers of Toronto Maple Leafs games on CBC are NOT working for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Toronto Blue Jays announcers Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler work for Sportsnet specifically to do Jays play-by-play and colour commentary. Sportsnet is a private business. It is a whole different situation, even if the games are broadcast nationally.
However as a Montreal Canadiens fan perhaps I should keep schtum; who knows, maybe the Hockey gods don’t like the homer approach of the CBC and have been taking it out on the team and fans for fifty years!
Last Sunday the Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers rekindled their tetchy past with a good old-fashioned Donnybrook. Well, as good as baseball fights get. At least in this dugout-clearing brawl there was one real punch thrown. Unlike hockey scraps, baseball fights tend to involve lots of players grabbing and holding, pushing and shoving, hooting and hollering but very little actual fighting.
To understand what spurred the altercation you have to go back to last year’s American League Division Series. In the seventh inning of game five Jose Bautista smacked a three-run homer. He stood for a moment admiring the hit and watching the ball sail over the fence, then he cockily flipped his bat as he began his home-run trot.
A smart-ass, unprofessional move that, not surprisingly, riled the Texas players. Fast-forward to last Sunday. The Major League Baseball schedule had Toronto in Texas for a three-game series; the two teams would then not meet again this regular season. With the Rangers up by one run in the top of the eighth inning, rookie Matt Bush took advantage of Bautista’s potentially last at-bat to send a message: something you normally would not do in a one-run game, he threw at him. Not at his head, but a fastball to the ribs.
You want to talk the talk; now let’s see you walk the walk.
Bautista took his place at first base and Bush was tossed from the game. The next batter hit a double-play ball, Texas second baseman Rougned Odor touched the base for the force, then turned to throw to first only to have Bautista try to barrel into him. Odor dodged him, hopped over him, but naturally took offense and confronted Bautista, shoved him and, just like Chris Nilan or John Ferguson, popped him with a right that knocked off Bautista’s sunglasses and left the Blue Jay wondering what day it was.
That’s right, a baseball fight with a real punch not only thrown, but squarely landed. Bautista was peeved at having been hit (by a rookie at that) but surely he must have realized that his take-out slide was going to cause a reaction. Someone needs to explain to him that it is never a good idea to start a fight, and lead with your chin.
Just as an aside, in my long career as a recreational pitcher, many, many rungs below the major leagues, it always seemed to me to be stupid to throw at a batter. The pitcher has a ball, the hitter a bat. If the pitcher throws at the hitter, he’d better kill or maim him. If not the pitcher finds himself facing an angry sore man who still has his bat, while the pitcher has thrown his only weapon and is left armed with a leather glove. I ever liked my chances with a glove versus a man with a bat. I’m no George Patton, but it is my humble opinion that throwing your only weapon is never a good idea. But I digress.
I was watching the game on Canadian TV with Blue Jay announcers Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler both of whom went to great lengths to state that Bautista was in the right. Huh? At least studio analyst Gregg Zaun implied that Bautista should not be surprised at the treatment he got.
I enjoy watching sports on television. Not binge-type watching, but a bit here and there. I enjoy baseball, football, a bit of basketball and soccer and, of course, as a good Montrealer my favourite is hockey.
There is a very popular sport called football in most of the world, and soccer here in North America. It is also often referred to as the ‘Beautiful Game’, no doubt for its emphasis on simplicity and grace. While growing in playership here, it still lags in television viewership and that is after all what pays the bills.
When it comes to baseball and football I am familiar with the rules of the game. When I watch basketball or soccer, my ignorance of the finer points of the game often has me confused about which player broke the rule when an infraction is signalled. Who was fouled by whom? But not so with hockey, our national pastime, a game I have watched all my life. Well, maybe that’s not true any more. Lately there have been times when I have thought there was a movement afoot, perhaps even a conspiracy, to make hockey soccer.
Indeed on several occasions, even with the benefit of replays from various angles at various speeds, I am at a loss. It does not look to me that any penalty occurs on the play; yet sure enough a player is sent off the ice. Or the player I thought had transgressed is actually the victim.
I believe this has to do with several ‘crackdowns’ the league imposed a few years ago. After a season was lost to negotiations the NHL took advantage to tighten up the way the rules were applied.
Let’s look at the holding penalty. I recall when a player had to actually hold an opponent to be assessed a holding penalty. Now if it looks like a player might hold another, if he ‘reaches in’, a penalty is called. Like horseshoes, close is now good enough. And frankly the degree of overt holding used to be taken into consideration; a little tug on a player’s jersey would warrant a shouted warning from the referee – ‘Let it go, Bobby’ – not a two minute penalty.
When I was a boy playing hockey the rule was that, with the exception of holding it, you could do pretty much what you wanted to an opponent’s stick. Bang it, poke at it, slap it. If you had your stick knocked out of your hands, it was you who, upon returning to the bench, got a lecture from the coach about holding it tightly. God forbid your stick should break as a result of an opponent’s jab. Then the taunting – ‘Hey, when’s your father going to get a job and buy you a real stick? – was merciless. Now the NHL calls penalties against those who ‘slash’ another’s stick.
Some recent rule changes have certainly made the game better. A team that ices the puck can no longer change players, and there is no commercial break after an icing. The idea of using the icing to put fresh legs on the ice, or catch your breath is no longer possible. This has improved the flow of the game. Also the new means of determining an icing call is much safer.
A player who shoots the puck over the glass, without it touching the glass, is given a penalty for delay of game. God rest his soul, somewhere Gump Worsley is rolling over in his grave.
As is the case with most sports much attention is finally being paid to head injuries and their prevention. But other rule changes have affected the physical aspect of the game. A penalty called clipping, a very low check that endangers players knees, has reduced the number of good hard hip checks.
There was a time, not so very long ago, when the sounds of a forward streaking away with the puck included not only the slicing of the ice under his skates, but the smacking of a trailing opponent as he whacked the thigh pads of the player ahead with his stick. These were not vicious slashes, but just reminders that the player was there. Now that is a penalty. Part of the conspiracy to make hockey soccer.
It has even been suggested that the playing surface be enlarged to allow for more freedom of movement and, correspondingly less physical contact. Sadly yet another aspect of the conspiracy to make hockey soccer.
Breaking news from the Montreal Canadiens. Young hockey players sometimes act like young hockey players!
Over the last few days the media focus has been on an ‘incident’ involving 21-year old Canadiens player Alex Galchenyuk and a domestic dispute. At eight o’clock one recent morning police were called by a neighbor to Galchenyuk’s place to investigate a loud altercation. It seems Galchenyuk’s 27-year old girlfriend Chanel Leszczynski arrived to find Alex and teammate Devante Smith-Pelly and some women.
Needless to say Ms Leszczynski was not best pleased. However in an interesting twist, she was the one taken away by the police, having allegedly clocked Galchenyuk in the snout with enough force to draw blood. So evidently we have a couple of players having fun in a private residence with some girls. An irate girlfriend arrives and pops her boyfriend. I’d like a quarter for every time that has happened.
There was a time when, unless you were a neighbor, you would not even know about this. But in this era of social media, word travels fast.
It has often been pointed out that given hockey’s near-religion status in this city, when you are a member of the storied Montreal Canadiens you live in a fishbowl both on and off the icel. At one time that meant word-of-mouth and the rumour mill. If player X had a few too many drinks and made a scene, only those present, and those they told, were aware. There were no photos snapped by umpteen iPhones then uploaded to Twitter and Facebook accounts.
Evidently the two players were called up on the carpet for a chat with the team’s General Manager. Not being at the meeting, I have to imagine that when the details were outlined it was decided that no further action would be pursued, including no charges being sought against Ms. Leszczynski. While any domestic squabble can potentially have dire results, it was an odd sort of relief that the woman was not the victim in this one.
I suspect young hockey players will continue to act like young hockey players, social media or not!
If you are a baseball fan you will no doubt be familiar with last weekend’s nasty game between the Toronto Blue Jays and Kansas City Royals. After several batters were hit by pitches, and players from both teams were ejected, the match degenerated into a dugout-clearing altercation.
As a lifelong hockey fan I always get a kick out of watching baseball fights. The players look great dashing out of the dugouts and sprinting in from the bullpen to confront their opponents, but as they near each other the brakes tend to come on and more grabbing and chirping takes place than does the throwing of hay-makers. Add to the mayhem the fact that both teams were wearing uniforms of similar colors and the fun really begins!
The most serious problem with last weekend’s set-to wasn’t the ‘brawl’, but the throwing of beanballs. Major league pitchers, even those who rely on ball movement instead of the outright velocity of their pitches, can cause serious damage should one of their tosses bonk a batter on the cranium. Even with a helmet.
I never played anything close to Major League Baseball, but as a pitcher the thought often crossed my mind how stupid it is to throw at a batter. I’m not talking about moving an aggressive batter off the plate a bit, but to actually try to hit the batter.
I base my opinion not on kindheartedness, but pure logic. Consider this: the pitcher stands a mere sixty and a half feet from the batter. Each player has but one weapon: the pitcher has a ball, the hitter a bat. What part of throwing your only weapon at your opponent is sound? It puts the pitcher in the position of needing to at least knock-out the batter, merely winging him will only result in a sore, angry and still bat-toting hitter coming at the now weaponless pitcher. Not a great position to be in unless you like your chances with the business end of a Louisville Slugger. I never did.
Throwing beanballs is dumb as it poses a great danger to the batter, and dumber as a means of warfare!
The more I watch soccer (football for the rest of the world), the less I understand. Which is odd when you consider that, as a Canadian, I’ve had a steady diet of hockey which bears some resemblance to soccer.
For instance, from time to time during a hockey game the puck will end up in the net, having been put there accidentally by a player defending that net. It may go in off of his or her body, or hockey stick. In some cases the player attempts to clear the puck and inadvertently pops it into their own net.
These are clearly accidents, unintentional, not on purpose. Of course the goal counts for the opposing team, and is credited to the last player on that team to touch the puck before it ended up in the net. The player who unfortunately put the puck into his or her own net is not ‘officially’ named. Unlike soccer where the player who accidentally scores an ‘own goal’ is clearly indicated on the score sheet.
This was evident earlier this week In FIFA’s Women’s World Cup 2015 when England’s Laura Bassett popped the ball into her own net while trying to clear it away from the front of the goal. Sadly this happened in the 93rd minute with the score tied. It would hold up and provide Japan with a berth in the final. On the Japan side of the scorecard the goal appears as Bassett 90 +2 (OG). As if she was on the Japanese side and worked at the goal.
That’s just plain cruel! Everyone knows she put the ball in her own net, and those who didn’t see it happen have seen it replayed by now. The whole world is aware of Bassett’s mistake and subsequent anguish. Why rub salt in the wound by naming her?
During a recent Red Sox game at Fenway Park a woman, sitting in the expensive seats along the third base line, was struck by the business end of a broken bat. At this time she remains hospitalized in a ‘life-threatening’ condition. While I understand that being close to the action is a considerable draw for baseball fans, it is time Major League Baseball takes action to ensure fans’ safety before – fingers crossed – there is a fatality.
The National Hockey League used to have much lower glass ringing the rink. Officials regularly grabbed the top of the glass to hoist themselves out of harm’s way when players clashed along the boards. This is no longer possible as the glass is much higher and affords better protection for fans.
Then in March of 2002 Brittanie Nichole Cecil was struck by a puck while watching a game in Columbus, Ohio. She would subsequently die from the injury, the only fatality in the league’s history. But one too many.
Much like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, the NHL made it mandatory that teams install mesh netting at the ends of the rinks. Some felt this would compromise visibility, but it has become accepted, albeit too late for Brittanie.
For years the low glass and lack of mesh provided fans sitting behind the net with countless souvenir pucks. How the league went for 85 years without a fatality is a mystery to me. Imagine Bobby Hull with his banana-like curved stick and wicked slap-shot, or for that matter a man nicknamed Boom Boom, the Canadiens Bernie Geoffrion, because of the power of his slapper, having their shot tipped by an opposing player’s stick and up into the crowd.This happened literally countless times, yet miraculously without a death.
The recent incident in Boston, like all foul balls, broken bats, and lost grip flying bats, was an accident. There was certainly no intention. However MLB is intentionally not making netting mandatory, and must therefore be held accountable. I hope MLB will not wait for a fatality before considering the installation of mesh behind the dugouts. It only takes a few moments, maybe less than two innings, to get used to it. It may well save your life.
In recent years the National Hockey League has taken strides to clean up its act, namely by attempting to totally eliminate fighting. Fine, but it may now want to take a look at its officials if it wants to be taken seriously.
Is the situation not a wee bit arse-end foremost when Montreal Canadiens player Brandon Prust blows the whistle on an NHL referee, pun fully intended, and he’s the one in hot water? It would seem to me that the league has no grounds to levy any punishment against Prust as he didn’t criticize the quality of an official’s judgement, but rather called into question that official’s intention to perform his duty in an unbiased manner, based on what the official said. In baseball terms Prust is not arguing balls and strikes, but rather bringing to light referee Brad Watson’s attitude that flies in the face of fair officiating. No official who goads a player into a penalty by swearing at him and threatening to ‘run him out of the building’ should be allowed to continue in his position.
I understand there is a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ that states that what happens on the ice stays on the ice. But that agreement requires two gentlemen; frankly if Wilson did in fact say the things Prust alleges he did, he has no place officiating in the NHL and it behooves the league to take action. In a move reminiscent of Edward Snowden, Prust has exposed the NHL’s tiered system of refereeing that must be dealt with forthwith.
In addition, Watson’s colleagues should want the league to act, lest they be tarred with the same brush. If they do not distance themselves from Watson, and this biased system of refereeing is in fact widespread, the league has a huge problem on its hands.
Would the NFL accept an on-field official telling a player he is going to be singled out for special treatment? The NBA? I think not.