Archive for November 26, 2016

Matthews Passes the Quarter Pole.

1193 for publication November 25, 2016

Ross Brewitt

Two days ago I received a call from a known “disturber.”

“All you media guys must be losin’ weight, you know, lookin’ kind’a seasick, off yer feed.”

A few eons ago, around a Lakehead pool-hall hangout, this caller was the one we would have called “a flag.” Meaning, whichever way the wind was blowing, he’d be in it. Don’t worry folks, he’s OK, I’ve told him the same thing to his face.

One of the governing factors is persistent, the man is a long-serving Boston Bruin fan, with loads of old material to give any stray Leaf fans terminal acid reflux. His main goal in life seems to be getting one over on any handy Maple Leaf devotee, or any random media member.

“And why would we, the media, be displaying flu-like colours?” I asked.

“Well you, the media, are tellin’ everybody how terrific Austin Matthews is gonna be, and he hasn’t done anything on the score sheet since that first couple’a weeks comin’ out’a trainin’ camp.”

“Well,” I replied, “an outstanding start counts for something, especially if you’ve just turned 19. That, and the evidence that the big ol’ meanies in the NHL haven’t scared him out of the rink. See, I look for the finer points of interest and other things in a young center that most Bruin boosters would trip over. Like, how many face-offs does he win? I look it up I see where he’s good, very good, a few tenths of a point under 50 percent, almost half…” before I’m abruptly cut-off.

“So what? Where did his scoring touch go, and besides…”

I returned the favour. “Tut-tut-tut. I wasn’t finished explaining some of the finer points in grading an up-and-coming center in the National Hockey League. Well, lookee here. He’s second in Leaf scoring, his shots-on-net are 75, leading all other Leafs by 20, and any way you look at it, this young man has the tools to be the new Sundin. Those chances are going to turn into points.”

Meanwhile “the flag,” is itching to get a zinger in, barking “he’s lookin’ more like a guy whose career is gonna be yo-yo affair. Gettin’ enough points to get Babcock off his back, then a dry run… you watch.”

“Sure, we can watch,” I agree, “… but the best indications of his value may be the fact he has experienced a dry stretch but continues going into the tough areas, getting in close with that big body, and shooting. Wait until this teenager gets more experience, more education, and goes through his first NHL one-on-one challenge. That’s the moment he arrives. In fact I hope it’s Brad Marchand that decides to ask him if he wants to go”

The pause told me he was assessing the pitfalls of a gracious offer and, quick on the uptake, he asked, “why.”

I wait for a couple of seconds, then say, “cuz I don’t think he’ll come out on top.” It set off a foul tirade that offered me the chance to quietly disconnect. It’s OK, I always gave him 48 hours to recover.

This is gospel. For the first time in ages, the Leafs have a neophyte with all the tools, and showing the right responses and reactions to life in the Big Smoke. The even better news for all hockey fans is there are at least a dozen new faces scattered throughout the NHL in the same category. In fact, they have changed my assessment of where the League is headed.

By the way, on Wednesday, Matthews regained his scoring touch with a pair against the Devils.

However, in the NHL where pitfalls abound, rookies are faced with one trend that’s caught my eye. It started last season and now seems to be entrenched 20-games into the schedule. I call it “flick-slashing.”

With the new lightweight sticks and even lighter protective gloves, a flick of the wrist can become a slash with sting in it when delivered to the opponents hand-area. Doesn’t even appear to be dangerous. If you haven’t seen it, check out video of the Flames Johnny Gaudreau’s having his finger broken.

There’s always something to watch on post-game Google video.

 

It’s getting late… contact me directly at rossbrewitt@rogers.com if you are looking to order my new book, “the Five Hole Diaries…”

The Five Hole Diaries

1192 for publication November 18, 2016

Ross Brewitt

Mornin’.

This is now my 22nd year of writing a regular weekly column on the games people play, in fact I’ve been writing Friday columns on a regular basis beginning in the early 90’s.

A little history.  When I was with the Buffalo Sabres organization back in 1973 I was commissioned to write my first book by the Knox brothers, the benevolent owners of the Sabres. “A Spin of the Wheel” was the title, a reference to the tacky over-and-under midway carnie wheel the NHL brought in to decide who would get the first pick in the 1970 Entry Draft.

It was 20 years after, the “Spin” book, 1993, that I decided to get back into serious writing, and I came out with Last Minute of Play. I was lying in a hospital bed in Mississauga when my son called and said he was in downtown Toronto and the new book was taking up an entire window of a downtown store.

It went best seller in 6 weeks.

Getting back on my feet I set out on the cross country book tour. By then the doctors were advising I would be having a triple bypass scheduled for January of ’94. Turns out it was a quad, and after the rehab period, my dear friend and roomie in those NHL OldStars touring years, referee Bobby Kolari, chauffeured me hither and yon around Ontario doing the interviews for the sequel, “Into the Empty Net.” It came out the fall of ’94, same result.

Riding my new found celebrity, I interviewed with several newspaper dailies but settled for rejection notices. One in particular was revealing. At the behest of George Gross, the former sports editor of the Toronto Sun, I submitted two pieces I had written for Scott Morrison to peruse. In a nice return note he indicated “you sure know how to attack a point,” but then confessed, he had many long-suffering writers at the Sun who would riot if an outsider were to leapfrog the line of succession.

So in those final months of ’94, and the beginnings of 1995, I rolled the dice and decided to stick to sport. Good choice, considering the run is still running. Determined, I put on a sales campaign and over time lined up ten smaller dailies to carry my weekly rants.

From that fluctuating base came this collection of selected columns making up my seventh book “the Five Hole Diaries.

The span runs from ‘95 to 2016, has pieces on Orr, Crosby, and McDavid, Greg Zaun, the Blue Jays, Eagleson, minor hockey parents, Drew Doughty, Eric Staal, memories of golf, the blight of diving, a guy named Bettman, and a home run hit by another guy named Zaroski.

The stories are filled with “player humour” the kind of irreverent commentary you can find in any dressing room, anywhere. The type of humour that never gets old, and only the players and the equipment change.

Conversely, there is a quote in the new book sent to me by Jim McKenny, my dear friend and ex-Leaf defenceman who wrote, “if I could remember my life story, Ross is the only one I would trust to write it.” It won’t happen but I’ll cherish that thought.

Other columns in the book are kid’s soccer officials, the NHL shutdown of ’05, the Penn State shame, good ol’ Gabby Boudreau, the forgetting of Teeder Kennedy, Lucky Lindros, off-side parents, Shackie and Arthur, and a golf foursome I named “Yasser and Beans.”

I found column subjects in the people I played with and the courses we played, I even reflected on a golf hole I love lying at the base of a sun-dappled mountain.

I wrote on those who crossed my path, luminaries and personalities as variable as Dave Keon, and John Tortorella. I also considered ordinary people faced with today’s games and pitfalls, minor hockey parents, Sabres fans, kids on steroids, saving the hockey handshake, and the people I met in medical waiting rooms.

All ordinary, all run-of-the-mill like the rest of us. Yet they’re revealing, and exciting in their own way.

I sincerely hope you’ll enjoy the Five Hole Diaries.

You can order the book by connecting with Ross at rossbrewitt@rogers.com