Tag Archive for Toronto Maple Leafs

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…”

It’s All in the Jacket

1175 for publication August 8, 2016

Ross Brewitt

What a summer for a hat trick column, huh? The Olympics are into the opening week, and on a daily basis we have both young and old heroes to admire, and new sports added to the Games.

Like American old-guy Michael Phelps, adding to his medal collection. Or swimmer Penny Oleksiak, the Canadian 16-year-old who has been picking up one medal after another by herself, or with her relay teammates. Suddenly thrust into the national spotlight she has shown the poise and aplomb of a veteran, actually getting better with each interview. Sixteen!

Contemplating such success on the world stage, it got me to thinking about my sixteenth summer of no comparison. We, the ANAF Juniors had won the baseball championship over the East Ends. No clunky medals for us, we received jackets, creamy-white crested jackets. As I recall we rarely took them off until the winds of winter blew through the Lakehead.

Back to the five-ring circus, if there was one sport that stole the early thunder by gaining positive attention more than Rugby-Seven, both women and men’s teams, then point it out for me. It’s an old game whose time has come.

On the real-life side, the Games began the orderly parade of events despite the ever present doping concerns, the mosquito threat, and the practical fears of crime and terrorist attacks. Sad isn’t it, factors like these must be monitored, covered, and dealt with until the close of the games.

Still, the best is yet to come. As we all know, it isn’t until the track meet starts that the Olympics really come into full perspective.

In talking about the pull of the Olympics this week I was asked by a friend “which pro team in Canada had the most appeal?”

It was a an attention diverting, loaded question. Of course he, being a Leaf devotee, meant my answer didn’t count, because it was his aim to elicit any reply I wanted, then dazzle me with footwork. Those who ask such questions have already made up their mind, and they don’t require another opinion, certainly not mine.

But I went along with the charade and led-off my comeback with the key words, “well, the Toronto Maple Leafs…” and at that point the questioner gave himself a fist-pumping “YES” and proceeded into a wild, spastic victory dance of sorts much like clog-dancing. I gave it a few seconds before completing my statement.

“… have always seen themselves as the leader in this field, but forty-nine years of ineptitude, soon to be a fifty-season record of futility, have eaten into their fans capacity to be anything but… oh, to be gentle, let’s call it, resigned.”

My buddy’s look was summed up in the word “aghast,” perhaps “horrified.” Either or didn’t matter, he was offended.

Piling it on, I continued. “The Blue Jays are lookin’ good in today’s coast-to-coast market, and don’t forget the Raptors and their nationwide fan base. At one time the Leafs and Canadiens were the only competition as heirs to the throne. Not any more Buster, there are another five Canadian teams diluting the pool, and watch out if either baseball or basketball go all the way in the near future. Austin Mathews and Mike Babcock aside, it’s going to be a while before you’re struttin’ down Yonge Street in June.”

So, for the last part of this hat trick, I had a note from a Buffalo acquaintance inquiring why I had stated Marco Estrada was my choice as the Jays leading complete pitcher?

Acknowledging J.A. Happ had 16 wins, Aaron Sanchez 11, I pointed out Estrada got by without the velocity the other two possessed, and succeeded with pin-point location, changing speeds, and a fastball that rarely makes the 90mph threshold.

I also noted his back problems were more than he made out, and noticed the tell-tale sign he was drifting left off the mound on his follow-through.

See, it’s something only a Lefty with a creamy-white jacket would notice.

Happy Olympics everyone!