Archive for March, 2009

Kodiaks need your support next year

Posted in Lethbridge College Endeavour Column, Lethbridge College Kodiaks on March 25, 2009 by Scott Schmidt

First published in the Lethbridge College Endeavour, March 25, 2009

All year long I have focused my columns on the hilarious world of professional sports.

As the Endeavour releases its final issue of the school year, I would like to turn my attention to collegiate sports.

I would like to get as serious as I’ve ever been.

The message: support Kodiak basketball next year.

After spending the entire season watching, covering and getting to know the coaching staff and players, I can tell you, with full confidence, that the Kodiaks basketball program is unmatched across the country.

Did they win a national title? No. Were they good enough to win a national title? Absolutely.

The fact that countless variables such as luck can prevent the best team from winning each year doesn’t change that.

On the men’s side, head coach Mike Hansen and his club had to battle a month-long, team-wide fl u.

They had to play in probably the toughest division, not to mention conference, in the nation and they had to make their entire playoff run on the road.

All this and the club narrowly missed a trip to nationals.

The men will be back, mark my words, and they will find themselves wearing a national medal a lot sooner than later. Hansen is a player’s coach, who takes care of his own and provides a fun, yet competitive atmosphere for his team to develop in.

Do his players agree? A few of them had an opportunity to play for the university and chose to play at the college for one reason, coaching.

Yes they will enter next season without team leaders Denver Corbiere and Ndale Philbert but you can bet that Hansen is already planning a solution and will no doubt send a very capable group to the floor in the fall.

As for the women’s team, the reasons for coming to support the club next year are almost endless. How about head coach Brad Karren being named the 2009 CCAA coach of the year?

How about the fact he has been nominated for the award fi ve times in only 10 years heading up the team?

Not convinced? How about his fi ve national tournament appearances, including three podium fi nishes and a title? Not good enough?

OK, then what if I said the best player in the country will be back too? Kayla Lambert didn’t win the player of the year, though she was one of five nominees, but she easily could have and maybe even should have.

Her statistics were nothing short of spectacular and she hardly saw the floor in a fourth quarter all year since her club spent nearly every game nursing a 25-point lead.

Also likely to return is Anne Mercer. Having just watched the best-of-the-best compete in Quebec last week, I have no issue endorsing her as the best six-footer in Canada. All she does is dominate under the hoop until she’s ready to step outside and drain threes.

In a national tournament game versus MacEwan College, Mercer had their best player, a fellow centre, so rattled by the third minute of the game that she was rendered useless. Mercer went on to drop 25 points and grab 11 rebounds. All her opponent received was the embarrassment of being schooled, not to mention the embarrassment of watching her father thrown out of the gym for non-stop complaining. Thanks for coming out.

Aside from Lambert and Mercer, the Kodiaks could return every single player but one to next year’s group. But even if his club doesn’t all come back, Karren has made a name for himself as being one of the best recruiters in the nation and will have no problems finding viable replacements. But as good as these two clubs have been, and will be, they need better support from fans.

In Quebec last week, the host fans were insane. In the Val Matteotti Gym during the year, the fans were quiet, if not nonexistent.

The college has a fantastic facility in which to watch a game and offers some of the most competitive athletes in the nation. So next season, get out to some games and show your teams the support they deserve.

It’s free for crying out loud.

Montreal Canadiens gave it their best shot at the playoffs

Posted in Edmonton Oilers, Lethbridge College Endeavour Column, Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders, NHL, San Jose Sharks, Toronto Maple Leafs on March 18, 2009 by Scott Schmidt

First published in the Lethbridge College Endeavour, March 18, 2009

No matter how you say it — Les Canadiens, Les Glorieux, Le Bleu Blanc et Rouge or the Habs — the Montreal Canadiens are unmatched in hockey for history and success. Twenty-four Stanley Cups in 99 years is not only amazing, it’s ridiculous and no franchise will ever catch them.

Had I wrote this piece between the September afternoon I thought of it and two months ago, that wouldn’t have been the last positive thing I said. I would have gone on to talk about the great Habs of all time, the up-and-comers and the phenomenal job the organization has done putting together a spectacular centennial celebration.

Boy can things change.

It was Jan. 24 and the continent’s eyes were on Montreal. A three-day event focused around the Canadiens. It was all-star weekend, or what I now dub; the weekend the Habs jumped the shark.

Since then, the team, who sat second in the East at the break, has gone a mediocre, if not awful, 9-12-2. For some teams — cough, cough… the Leafs — that’s a pretty respectable mark. However, when you’re the defending conference regular-season champions, the first hockey team to turn 100 and from a city containing people who burn city property when you anger them, that record is called a tailspin.

Even when the Habs have actually won, they’ve looked terrible doing it. It’s one thing to be outshot 50-20 versus San Jose but when the league-worst New York Islanders skate your team into the ground on home ice, something needs to be done.

Of course, something could have been done at the trade deadline but once they added a half-speed, 39-year-old Mathieu Schneider and a fourth-line centre, who gives you seven solid minutes a game in Glenn Metropolit, why make another move?

Habs GM Bob Gainey said, during a press conference on March 4, he wants the group he put together to prove him right and that’s why he didn’t make a deadline deal. But what I heard was ‘I tried to trade everyone of these lazy underachievers but every GM in the league had a stroke from laughter when I attempted to get real talent in return.’

Of course there are many possible reasons why every single player seems subdued. It hasn’t exactly been a banner year away from the rink.

The team’s best player and biggest baby, Alex Kovalev, was spending too much time worrying about the “the kids on his team he can’t control” and zero time actually exuding effort. Gainey had to send him to the corner for a two-game timeout to think about what he had done, which didn’t help the club finish off a disastrous road trip.

Kovalev might have had a point about the kids. While he was at home trying to forget how to be brutal, a story broke naming a handful of Habs linked to an organized crime syndicate. It turned out to be less than first thought but it looks like the Kostitsyn brothers’ parents left something out of the “don’t take candy from strangers” lesson. I believe you’re not supposed to take cars and hookers from a criminal either.

Kovalev seems to be at least back to caring a little and is producing on the score sheet, anyone under police investigation has looked completely lost and the team continues to lose. Gainey’s response to this debacle was like most GM’s who feel the pressure. He fired the head coach.

What has this last act of desperation brought his troubled team? One lousy overtime win over the powerhouse Edmonton Oilers. Wow, break out the champagne.

No offence Habs, fans but take it from someone who actually believed the club had a chance to win on its centennial; there is no turning this around. No amount of desperate attempts will change that.

Coaches take blame for uninspired teams

Posted in Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Lethbridge College Endeavour Column, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, NHL, Ottawa Senators, Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning on March 11, 2009 by Scott Schmidt

First published in the Lethbridge College Endeavour, March 11, 2009

Seven down, 23 to go.

On Monday morning in Montreal, Les Canadiens’ head coach Guy Carbonneau became the seventh, and most shocking yet, NHL bench boss to be fired this season. These aren’t a bunch of nobodies receiving early golf seasons either.

Every single one of them is a household name and has achieved great success in their hockey careers.

The other coaches who were let go are: Barry Melrose (Tampa Bay), Peter Laviolette (Carolina), Denis Savard (Chicago), Craig Hartsburg (Ottawa), Michel Therrien (Pittsburgh) and Tom Renney (New York Rangers).

Were all of these men doing terrible jobs? Therrien coached the same system that got his club to the sixth game of the Stanley Cup finals last year but had to do it with way less talent. Carbonneau’s team finishes first in the East last year, suffers some injuries this year, folds like origami and he get’s blamed.

Tom Renney’s boss, Glenn Sather, hasn’t made a decent move in a decade and constantly overpays overrated wash-ups, yet he survives while he changes coaches like a teenage girl changes her mind.

Tampa signs a couple of senior citizens in the off season to play with one superstar, an 18-year-old, and a pile of never-willbees then sends its coach out after 16 games — a coach they recruited out of a cushy broadcast post with ESPN.

The stories get discussed for a few days and then the world goes right on spinning.

But this is all just continuing evidence that coaching in the NHL has become completely insignificant.

All of these teams get a new leader, enjoy a week or two of inspired play, and generally go right back to their old selves anyway. Years ago, before the world made athletes richer than banks, coaches used to enjoy a crazy little concept called “job security.”

The job was evaluated over extended periods of time. When general managers would let a coach go he would generally do it after the season, or at least give them some time to turn around an elongated slump before dropping the hammer.

Now if a team underachieves for a few weeks the coach is instantly on his way out. It doesn’t take much to get fans asking for a swift hook either. How many losses in a row does a team need before fans call for a coaches’ head? Five? Six?

This is where the real problem exists.

What choice does a GM have when his club is tanking games and sliding in the standings?

Between just players and coaches a GM oversees around 30 men at any given time. Twenty five of them are either in multi-million dollar contracts or youths who are soon-to-be multi-million dollar contract holders. Three or four of them are assistant coaches, whom only diehard fans can even recall by name.

If fans are calling for action, that leaves one poor shmuck to foot the entire bill.

It’s entirely unfair but it’s not going to change. GM’s have someone to answer to as well and aren’t about to be accused of sitting idle while a team falls apart. Fans seem to be OK with this because coaches come and go all year, every year, and not much gets said.

But why aren’t fans calling for a player’s head from time to time? Aren’t they the ones that get paid money the rest of us can’t even fathom?

If you watch enough hockey it becomes clear that not many players give full effort for 82 games.

If fans aren’t too busy spending terrible amounts of money on tickets to notice this, then they’re off losing their savings because they gambled on a lackluster team and the concept eludes them.

Either way, if people don’t start demanding more from an overpriced product then coaches will continue to take the fall.

And if coaching continues to be useless how, exactly, will the game improve?

Final quarter will be interesting

Posted in Calgary Flames, Detroit Red Wings, Lethbridge College Endeavour Column, Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, NHL, Ottawa Senators, San Jose Sharks, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks on March 4, 2009 by Scott Schmidt

First published in the Lethbridge College Endeavour, March 4, 2009

Unfortunately, with the impeccable timing of today’s noon NHL trade deadline, by the time you read this, all transactions will be final. Therefore, it makes little sense for me to predict what has already happened.

However, if any Leafs fans are reading this, I sure hope you are basking over all the dead weight Brian Burke just shipped out. And Habs fans; I sure hope Glen Metropolit wasn’t Bob Gainey’s last acquisition of the year.

Moving on.

Regardless of who was picked up by whom, the playoffs are fewer than 20 games away and it should prove to be a very exciting homestretch. There are great races ahead at both ends of each conference. There are feel-good stories, and of course, there are even some feel-not-so-good stories — as if the media would allow anything less.

In the Western Conference, literally no one is out. The division winners seem set as Detroit, Calgary and San Jose have seemingly insurmountable leads. Speaking of San Jose, excellent work picking up 97-year-old Claude Lemieux. Not only will he provide amusing anecdotes with grumbled phrases like “back then, we didn’t have remote controls…” but fellow senior Jeremy Roenick finally has a bridge partner.

While we’re on the subject of the elderly, Mats Sundin has begun to pay off for Vancouver. Their slow start after his arrival will likely keep them from challenging the Flames for the division but I can guarantee you one thing: Sundin will get the Canucks at least as far as he got the Leafs.

As for the rest of the West, I don’t much care how it plays out as long as it’s entertaining. But if this conference produces a Cinderella story, as it loves to do, and that story comes from a place beginning with ‘Minne’ and ending with ‘sota,’ I’m writing all my columns about professional darts until the Cup is won.

The Eastern Conference contains more of the league’s bottom-feeders than the West, but the next 20 games might just be more interesting closer to the Atlantic. A photo finish looks quite plausible at the top of the standings, where Boston looked to have things sealed last August. When New Jersey lost Marty Brodeur, most of us figured the Devils would drop in the standings, at least a little. Instead, the living legend undercuts his recovery time by a month and then waltzes into the dressing room of the division leaders. Oh and he’s 3-0 with two shutouts since returning (pending Tuesday’s game). I wonder if anyone made a move today bigger than getting back the best goalie of all time?

Heading into last night’s affair versus Brodeur, the Leafs had won four in a row. A beat reporter for the team asked head coach Ron Wilson if, now that they are only eight points out of the playoff s, they should abandon their plan to sell veterans for prospects and picks. I don’t know what comes out of the faucets in Toronto but if it mixes with coke and ice, I’m going.

The little honeymoon that Ottawa fans were enjoying after switching coaches seems to be over. Can we please just put this team to rest already? If someone brings me a trumpet, I’m pretty sure I remember how to play Taps.

The New York Rangers solidified their hilarity as an organization by jumping at the chance to grab Sean Avery. Is this their answer to a free fall? Put a loudmouth player on the bench with their new loudmouth coach? Once they rid themselves of Avery last year, was it really a good idea to get him again? I didn’t think people actively pursued cancer.

Anyway, enjoy the last quarter. It just might be a crazy one.

UFC ’96 Predictions

Posted in Lethbridge College Endeavour Column, UFC on March 4, 2009 by Scott Schmidt

First published in the Lethbridge College Endeavour, March 4, 2009
With Sean Young

Previous Picks (UFC 94)
Scott: 3 of 5 right (60%)
Sean: 2 of 5 right (40%)

Gray Maynard vs. Jim Miller
A product of Randy Couture’s Xtreme camp, “The Bully” Maynard, is undefeated in his eight MMA bouts. Accused of being a lay-and-pray fighter by many fans after three consecutive unanimous decision wins, Maynard needs to finish the fight with flare if he wants to move up the 155lb ranks. Miller (13-0-1) is coming off a unanimous decision win over Matt Wiman at the “Fight for the Troops” card last December.

Sean’s pick: I’ll take Maynard. He has good wrestling and occasional KO power.
Scott’s pick:
Who’s Sean taking? I’ll take the other guy.

Matt Hamill vs. Mark Munoz
“The Hammer” rebounded from his first KO loss at UFC 88, with a second round KO over Reese Andy last December at UFC 92. “The Ultimate Fighter 3” standout’s only other loss was a controversial split-decision to UK star Michael Bisping. Munoz is coming off two impressive TKO victories in the WEC and will look to demonstrate why he is nicknamed “The Philippine Wrecking Machine” in his big league debut.

Sean’s pick: Munoz has a Thai-clinch and good wrestling so I’ll take him.
Scott’s pick:
For sure Hamill. He’s getting better each fight and his nickname isn’t nearly as stupid.

Pete Sell vs. Matt Brown
After dropping four straight UFC fights at middleweight, Sell found much needed success in his debut at 170lbs with a unanimous decision victory over Josh Burkman last October. “The Immortal” Brown avenged a robbery decision loss to Dong Hyun Kim with a sweet arm-lock submission victory over Ryan Thomas at UFC 91 last November.

Sean’s pick: Brown has the momentum and skills to get it done.
Scott’s pick:
Th is fight proves how awful this card really is. I want to go against Sean but I can’t. I’ll take Brown too.

Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Shane Carwin
Losing to Randy Couture at UFC 74 and then Fabricio Werdum at UFC 80 knocked “Napao” Gonzaga down the Heavyweight ladder a few rungs. But, Gonzaga put his name back in the title contender hat with his one-minute whack-a-skull routine on Josh Hendricks at UFC 91.

With a perfect 10-0 record, and a massive 6 ‘3’, 262lb frame, Carwin is being touted by many fans and analysts at the answer to Brock Lesnar’s size and athleticism. But, the big man must prove he can handle top-level competition like Gonzaga, before any prophencies can be redeemed.

Sean’s pick: Gabe Gonzaga. Carwin has yet to face a beast of this nature.
Scott’s pick:
Ah, back to reality. Carwin will win again and Sean only takes these guys because he thinks their name sounds tough.

Quinton Jackson vs. Keith Jardine
A first-round KO victory at UFC 92 last December, which made Wanderlei Silva resemble a freshly laid slab of marble, put to rest any doubts that a “Grand Theft Auto” style car chase with police and changing camps to England would affect Rampage’s performance in the cage. The end of 2006 marks the last time Jardine was able to put up back to back wins, but “The Dean of Mean” has faced nothing but top level competition and holds victories over former champions Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin, and most recently Brandon Vera at UFC 89 last October.

Sean’s pick: Rampage all the way. You can never count on Jardine to win but expect Page to be wearing the belt by the end of this year.
Scott’s pick:
I really like Jardine because he trains with some of my favourite fighters but Jackson is going to hurt him and hurt him a lot. Rampage guaranteed.