Archive for November, 2008

Legendary goaltender back where he belongs

Posted in Lethbridge College Endeavour Column, Montreal Canadiens, NHL on November 26, 2008 by Scott Schmidt

First published in the Lethbridge College Endeavour, Nov. 26, 2008

The greatest big-game goaltender in history is finally back home where he belongs.

This past Saturday, the Montreal Canadiens made amends for one of the worst handled situations in the existence of sports, by bringing back Patrick Roy and retiring his legendary No. 33.

All any Habs fan will say to that is: Thank you.

They could say ‘What took you so long?’ or ‘It’s about time you realized how stupid you were to ever have let him go in the first place,’ but the important thing is the feud is over.

Any follower of Le Bleu Blanc et Rouge will remember Dec. 2, 1995, when the Red Wings embarrassed Roy and the Habs 11-1. They will also remember — with hatred I might add — that head coach Mario Tremblay didn’t much care for Roy and felt a good nine-goals-on-26-shots bout of humiliation would serve him well.

When, in fact, all it did was anger the most important player on the club to the point that he could not cool down. It also set in motion a trade with Colorado that sent the Habs into a 10-year tailspin that turned them from the most storied and successful franchise, into a league doormat and inner-city laughing stock.

If it wasn’t for the 2000 purchase of the team by George Gillett Jr., you can bet that downward spiral would be ongoing. Th e only thing that would have kept fans from ending it all by now is the knowledge that no matter how terrible the organization becomes, it’s still not the Leafs.

Gillett realized, even though his club had turned things around under GM Bob Gainey, something was still not right. That’s when he personally went to Roy and said enough is enough.

The Habs are celebrating their centennial this season, and Gillett was not going to allow the party to exclude the best puckstopper in team history. He apologized on the organization’s behalf, reminded Roy of his glory days with the club, and assured him he would be well received by fans.

If you were lucky enough to possess the right cable package, you might have seen that reception on Saturday.

The fans cheered and sang at piercing decibels and wouldn’t let up. A 20-minute ceremony took well over twice that long to complete and, had the series of speakers not decided to simply talk over the crowd, it would probably still be going on.

It’s not often that a fan will side with a player over their team during a dispute, but you can trust me when I tell you, Habs fans never stopped loving Roy and they needed the closure that Saturday provided.

How could they not love Roy? He basically invented goaltending as we know it and has been the idol of every French-Canadian goalie since 1986. All they wanted was to say thank you.

Before Saturday, there were two ovations in Habsville that gave me shivers right to my bones: the day they closed the Forum and brought in Maurice ‘Th e Rocket’ Richard, and then when a very sick Saku Koivu stood on the bench, 30 pounds lighter and missing all his hair, to greet the fans for the first time since being diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, a deadly form of cancer.

Now there are three.

Leafs aren’t even good at being bad

Posted in Lethbridge College Endeavour Column, NHL, Toronto Maple Leafs on November 19, 2008 by Scott Schmidt

First published in the Lethbridge College Endeavour, Nov. 19, 2008

Congratulations to the Toronto Maple Leafs for finally realizing their strategy for winning a Stanley Cup was anything but textbook.

For 41 years the Leafs (or Leaves as I prefer to call them) unsuccessfully attempted to be good enough. They have, however, succeeded in throwing away their future time-and-time again through crippling transactions that have led to continuous embarrassments in the world’s biggest hockey spotlight.

If they weren’t trading away future 40-goal guys like Brad Boyes for overrated senior citizens like Owen Nolan, they were coaxing a retired player-turned-Washington-Capitals-scout and convincing him to put skates on for the first time in two years.

As it turns out, signing players who are hundreds of games passed their prime doesn’t actually lead to long playoff runs.

Well it may have taken four decades, but the organization finally claims to realize its own incompetence and has apparently changed their misguided ways. The fact it’s coming three-and-a-half decades after the rest of the world figured it out is really neither here nor there.

Spending millions on lifetime underachievers is no longer in their plans. Interim GM Cliff Fletcher even publicly stated last spring that he would shed most of their main players and rebuild from the bottom up.

Anyone who follows behind-the-scenes hockey knows that ‘rebuilding from the bottom up’ can be loosely translated as ‘attempting to be as awful as possible in order to score a spot in the draft lottery’. There’s really no shame in it either; with 30 teams to get through, it can be all too easy to fall into mediocrity, and landing a top-five draft pick can boost a team right out of that rut.

Fletcher lived up to his word too. Mats Sundin, gone. Darcy “bank it off me and in on the power play” Tucker, see ya’ later.

Brian “is it OK to be awful defensively and still call myself a defenceman” McCabe, don’t let the door hit you in the Calvin Kleins on the way out.

Frustrated Leaves fans everywhere were finally going to see their club make some progress towards a future, and they loved it. You know your fans are ridiculously loyal when you can literally tell them you are going to try to be bad and they applaud you for it.

With Ontario-born phenom John Tavares waiting to go No. 1 in next year’s draft , it seemed like the perfect plan. Unfortunately, plans can only remain perfect if they are effective, and this one simply is not.

The Leaves sit ninth in the conference a quarter of the way through, are playing .500 hockey and have shown a consistent solid effort throughout. Some players have been downright excellent and have helped create a buzz in Leafs Nation.

A corps of young talent, coupled with an established coach in Ron Wilson and a fantastic goaltender have made this team very exciting to watch and, quite frankly, way too good. All of a sudden, instead of patiently awaiting last place, the fans and media are discussing the club’s potential for right now.

Really? Potential? Are they serious?

Potentially, they’ll be 41 more laughable years without a championship if they keep this up.

The team is ninth in a conference where eight teams make the playoff s. That’s like being the next in line as soon as a concert sells out. What’s the point in showing up?

If they don’t finish 13th or worse, then the plan was a waste of time. Period.

They have serious work to do to get there though, because someone forgot to tell the players to tank the entire season and they keep trying to win.

As noble as it is to watch, if they don’t follow through with failing miserably this season, then they are risking piling on another handful of decades onto their Cup drought.

Actually, come to think of it, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every solitary second of my life occurring without having to watch Leaves fans celebrate.

So on second thought, never mind, don’t change a thing.

Fear of the Green should be strong

Posted in BC Lions, Calgary Stampeders, CFL, Edmonton Eskimos, Lethbridge College Endeavour Column, Montreal Alouettes, Saskatchewan Roughriders, Winnipeg Blue Bombers on November 5, 2008 by Scott Schmidt

First published in the Lethbridge College Endeavour, Nov. 5, 2008

Since we’re in Western Canada, I’ll assume there are a few people who actually still care that the CFL playoff s have arrived and provide you with how the league might — and probably should — turn out.

While six teams remain, let’s face reality, only four have a shot at winning the Grey Cup and none of them are Winnipeg or Edmonton. Incidentally, when Winnipeg hosts Edmonton in the Eastern semifinal, does anyone wonder why the league gets laughed at?

Anyway, Montreal gets the nod as a possibility only because the big game is at Olympic Stadium and they get to play whichever of the aforementioned nobodies that survives the not-so-East semifinal.

However, regardless of the site of the Cup, the likely champ will come from the West. Th e logical favourite seems to be the Calgary Stampeders and their ridiculous arsenal of offensive weapons.

Considering they only have to win one home game to get to Montreal, feel free to bet on Henry Burris sinking those humongous Crest-white teeth into Lord Grey’s trophy when it’s all over. Their defence is solid enough and their receivers are, without question, the best in the nation.

The team, the coaching staff , and the fans of the red and white should be extremely confident that a sixth championship is coming home. The only problem is, not one of those people is going to sleep well as long as a certain team from a certain wheat-filled province still has a heartbeat.

They’ll all tell you they don’t care who wins the West semifinal, but the entire Stampeder organization will be praying for B.C. on Saturday because they do not want to play the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Whether they admit it publicly or not, the Green Machine scares the living daylights out of the Stamps.

Most people will say the defending champion Riders had no business winning more than half of the 12 games they came out on top in. But the truth is, had certain events not unfolded in Riderville this season, they would most likely be enjoying the first-round bye.

After a storybook championship run last season, the Riders shipped out three major components — including league MVP Kerry Joseph — and were expected by the experts to be, well, awful.

They weren’t.

Six games into the campaign, there they were, undefeated and looking fierce. Three of those wins even came after the worst bout of injuries I have ever seen, in any sport, began to hit the Riders like a shock- and-awe campaign.

What can only be described as an all-star team of starting players began to drop like flies. Flies with broken fibulas, that is.

You couldn’t cause as many broken legs to a team as the Riders suffered this year if you had a basket of voodoo dolls and a sledgehammer. If it wasn’t a bone snapped in half, it was a torn Achilles.

Back ups to player’s back ups were getting injured. To give you an idea of how silly it got, an astounding 18 different receivers caught passes for the Riders this year. Eventually the injuries caught up with the team and they struggled out a record of 3-6 over their next nine games.

Somewhere in that stretch, the mass of media and fan experts that exist out there seemed to ignore the injury problem as a viable cause to the losing skid. It makes little sense because there are several reasons to fear a healthy Green.

Never mind the club won no less than seven times through fourth quarter comebacks, some of which were by epic pro- portions. Never mind Wes Cates almost won the rushing title despite missing four games. And never mind the offence managed 130 points in their last three wins, even though the quarterbacking tandem combined for 10 interceptions in the same span.

Th e Saskatchewan Roughriders are worth the fear for one simple reason: When slot-back Andy Fantuz is in uniform this season, they are 9-0.

Of course this is all based on the theory the B.C. Lions fall to the green and white first. Th e Lions probably sealed their own fate by forgetting to go to their final game in Calgary, allowing the Stamps third-string quarterback to run all over them.

However, any team sporting Cameron Wake’s 23 sacks brings some terrifying characteristics of their own.