Archive for November 27, 2015

Grey Cup and the Price Injury

1134 for publication November 27, 2015

Ross Brewitt

Prior to Wednesday night the Montreal Canadiens were tied with the New York Rangers for first in the Eastern Conference. When the dust settled at MSG the Habs were the top team in the NHL, posting a 5-1 road win that drove King Henrik to the bench.

Banishing H. Lundqvist to spectator status is no small feat considering even with the 5-1 loss he remains atop the individual leader board in both goals against at 1.94, and save percentage of .939.

What the game didn’t show were the circumstances. Like the Habs playing without their most-valuable-disturber, Brendan Gallagher, out with broken fingers. Then came the loss of Carey Price that night, the League’s number two netminder, who re-injured his “LB,” the sixth lower-body injury for Price since 2013. Only one of those hurts has specifically been identified as a knee problem.

Given Price’s no-contest position of “the man” In Montreal, for the sake of argument the question arises once again, was this a return to service a tad too soon after a groin pull or knee strain? Does it also suggest that the prudent way to handle any injury requiring plenty of time to heal, is using this perfect opportunity to take plenty of time to heal?

Other than that, the Canadiens took care of business by extending the contract of Executive VP and GM, Marc Bergevin, through 2022. Smart move.

In the hockey business, in fact any team sport, it spells longevity. Even deeper is the sense of security, continuity, and direction it offers the team of successful coaches, assistant GM’s and scouting personnel. Hard to put a value on that element, other than to say it’s all positive.

It’s also the roadmap on how to run a solid organization.

Now, looking to the very near future, we have the Grey Cup game on Sunday. If you can allow me a time for reflection, it was back in Thunder Bay where as an early teen I was first drawn to the appeal of the national championship. Perhaps it was the residual of the late 40’s Calgary Stampeders bringing their riding horses and western wear to staid and stuffy “Toronto the Good.” They stood Hogtown on its ear, and Grey Cup games thereafter were never quite the same.

A couple of decades later I would attend the 1973 game, held at Toronto’s CNE Stadium, between Edmonton and Ottawa, my wife and I sitting two rows back and three seats left of Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, who these days is remembered as Justin’s dad.

It would be years later when I first described our proximity as human shields that day for anyone trying to take a shot at PET. But the reason we had choice seats is our company made the Grey Cup magazine, and I was the producer and editor.

Edmonton were the last minute favourites to win, based on the fact the Ottawa QB Jerry Keeling was a scratch due to a knee injury, and the Rough Riders would be starting backup Rick Cassatta.

As fate would decide, Tom Wilkinson the Eskimo all-star QB was taken out of the game in the first quarter, on an injury reputedly inflicted by an arm-cast on one of the Ottawa defenders.

As the game wore on the wind picked up, the rain began and both teams now running on adrenalin had made it to 22-18 on an Ottawa field goal by Gerry Organ. I still recall the game MVP being an Ottawa defensive end. That should spell out the fact the game wasn’t anything to write home about, but like all one-and-done championships there was plenty of drama.

Still, years later, at the Syl Apps Golf Classic in Kingston I would meet and play with Gerry “Soupy” Campbell, the Hall of Fame Ottawa middle linebacker out of Idaho State who would tell me stories about that specific ’73 game. It was his third Grey Cup win, and he was the hard-nosed middle leader of the Ottawa defence nicknamed “Capital Punishment.” Sadly, we were over-served, and I can’t recall any of those remarkably funny anecdotes.

But, Grey Cups are special, whenever and where-ever they are played, as this one on Sunday between the latest versions of Ottawa and Edmonton will be.  Enjoy.

Hat Trick: Leafs, All Stars, Blue Jays

1133 for publication November 20, 2015

Ross Brewitt

James Reimer is one of those unlikely heroes because his situation is playing with the Leafs. In goal. You’d have a hard time picturing Reimer’s future, in Toronto or anywhere else for that matter.

Constantly relegated to the “back-up” role, he was a favourite scapegoat after a lengthy list of on-ice gaffes, and often the victim of goals carrying the “stinky” label. Whoever was the Leaf coach of the year, “34” was usually in his doghouse.

James Reimer is the epitome of an embattled netminder. OK one night, pulled the next outing. I once suggested he enroll in a summer baseball camp. The reason? “He can’t catch.” Sure, he was fearless, but hell I’ve never met a goalie who wasn’t.

There were flaws in his game, like loose pucks, rebounds, handling the puck, and looking lost when an attack came from the low side or from below the goal-line. Like many of the latest puck-stoppers, he chooses to hold the post from a half-kneeling position, rather than upright and tight to the post.

But with the increasing wonky play of Jonathan Bernier, Mike Babcock was forced to rap on Reimers door, and this may be where a career connection was made between the coach and his netminder. Therefore, if Babcock’s coaching system is working for the Leafs, look no further than the resolute play of Reimer.

In addition to his positive attitude, patience, determination, and hard work, remember that Babcock took the job with no end of detractors. Yet lately the Leafs are showing signs of progress and improvement, two key-words and trends that were rarely in any Leaf sentence before Babcock arrived.

The Leaf nation was told to expect years of slim-pickens and heartbreak, and in the early going there was nothing indicating a change of plans. The Leafs were out of position, out of recruits, and out to lunch.

But Babcock’s trademark system and his muleskinner ways were imposed and began paying off, maybe not on offense but on the defensive side  subtle changes were being noticed. Eighteen games into the season it’s obvious the players were buying in, instead of cashing out. The stressing of responsibility and accountability was showing dividends. Now the Leafs are 5-3-2 in their last 10 games and Reimer is the man.

Still, there’s a long way to go and it won’t last forever or go as visualized, but reputations are built on results and of late, Reimer’s efforts are big steps forward for the Leafs.

Sticking with the NHL, they announced their new-look All Star Game format this week and we have, ta-da, another gimmick. Frankly, anything other than the recent past presentations are at least worth a try.

As Sportsnet’s Doug MacLean noted, the All Star game had “become a farce.” He was bang on. Even worse, the recognition value to and from the players was negligible, considering the annual drop-out rate, the no-shows, and lack-lustre approach most nominees took from the high-scoring, low-effort play. The game was a source of dressing room ridicule, a caricature of what it once meant.

The NHL has been tinkering with the game since Gary Bettman arrived in 1994. From 2007, with games cancelled in Olympic years plus the occasional lockout, the scores have been 12-9, 8-7, and a 12-11 mercifully settled after a shootout. In 2011 it was 11-10, followed by 12-9. Then came last season at 17-12.

The only surprising difference of note for 2016? The team winning the new All Star “Tournament” will receive $1-million. Now the NHL has a monetary gimmick.

Speaking of monetary gimmicks, I had already written David Price off the Jays lineup, but the Blue Jays dodged a bullet with the amicable re-signing of starter, Marco Estrada, and Josh Donaldson has won the AL MVP award. They have shown to the rest of the baseball world they have every intention of competing.

No-one can control injuries, or trade opportunities, but one more starter, one workhorse middle-reliever, both lefties, and they’re back in business.