Thursday, October 24, 2002

It's hard to believe that a young man of 21 years with the talent of Pavel Brendl is fighting to salvage his NHL career.
He was once touted as the next Jaromir Jagr. Now, at the age of 21, Pavel Brendl is fighting for redemption.

Once heralded as one of the top teenage prospects in the world, the Olomouc native was selected high in the first round of the 1999 draft by the New York Rangers of the National Hockey League, the fourth pick overall. If there hadn't been some nagging questions over his health, he likely could have gone as the first or second player chosen that year. He scored a whopping 172 goals in just 178 games for the Calgary Hitmen of the junior-level Canadian-based Western Hockey League.

Since turning pro, however, his career has hit roadblock after roadblock. His rights were traded by the Rangers to the Philadelphia Flyers as part of the blockbuster trade that saw disgruntled All-Star center Eric Lindros sent to New York.

So far Philadelphia has been unhappy with Brendl. He scored only 15 goals for the Flyers' reserve team last season and the Philadelphia brass have been critical of what they say are Brendl's poor work habits and lackluster defensive-zone play.

Hitchcock is a coach who focuses on technical hockey, has a proven defensive system, and is known for strong special teams. He drove Dallas players crazy with his attention to details, which Hitchcock believes is the essence of winning a Cup. However, like old time Flyer coach and Clarke mentor, Freddy Shero, Hitchcock knows that regardless of how good your system, the main factor is motivation.

"Before you can even talk about winning, you have to build a team," Hitchcock said. "You have to have a group that is tight and cohesive and has a real spirit to fight together... . If you build a spirit within your group, you can overcome a lot at the end."

Let's hope Pavel catches some of that motivation!

Separatism killed the Expos

If memory serves me, it was the mid-seventies when we began our sojourn to Mo-ree-al to imbibe the culture, inhale the smoked meat, catch a Spoes game and, of course, drink beer. Bob “Bobbo” Broderick, a sanguine faced, mountain of a man owned a 1975 baby blue Dodge Polara, complete with white vinyl roof. Bobbo was the short-order cook at Innis College, U of T, where a motley crew of hockey playing near-do-wells gathered, eventually forming the vaunted (at least in our minds) Innis College Rink Rats. Bobbo’s girth was so great; he sat in the back seat to drive. The rest of us squeezed into the remaining space and with the thoughts of cheap beer dancing in our heads, the MacDonald-Cartier (better known as the Queen’s Highway 401) beckoned us eastward.

Deep in the east end of Montreal, where no sensible Anglo would ordinarily venture, even before the Pequistes came to power, we rested our weary heads in a flophouse on St. Denis just minutes from the cobblestone streets of old Montreal. Le Metro, the subway or Tube as the Brits would call it, was a moments walk away, so on game day, after a nourishing breakfast, deux oeufs and strips of bacon side-by-each, we rolled onto the eastbound train; destination Olympic Stadium. It was great to watch a game at the “O” because in Montreal, unlike Toronto, you could sit in your seat and allow vendor after vendor to bring you beer after beer (huit biere, s’il vous plait). And so it went on a warm summer afternoon in a foreign land where the good ole American pastimes of baseball and beer brought together two solitudes to bask in the joy of the game.

Jonathan Kay of the Post writes:
The question then, is not why Montrealers never fell in love with the Expos, but why an otherwise interventionist provincial government was so hesitant to bless the marriage.

The answer goes straight to the mindset of the Parti Québécois, which has ruled the province since 1994. To help sell separatism, the party does everything in its power to promote the idea that French-Quebecers comprise a "people" who, like Palestinians, Tibetans and Kurds, suffer a form of foreign occupation. The PQ has agitated strongly to keep non-French immigrants out of Quebec, and desperately tries to maintain the French "character" of the province. Quebec City spends about $10-million per year -- twice what it offered the Expos -- on its Office de la Langue Français (AKA Language Police). Thus, it shouldn't surprise us that it has little use for a sport played by people with names like Graeme, Masato, Jose and Vladimir -- instead of Guy, Maurice and Yves.

Montreal's sports history has presumably reinforced the PQ's prejudices. During the Hockey Riot of 1955, Canadiens fans took to the streets to protest the suspension of Maurice "Rocket" Richard. Modern scholars cite the fracas, which quickly took on a tone of generalized resentment at the wealthy anglophone establishment that ran both hockey and Canada, as a seminal event in the creation of a separatist movement in Quebec.

Tuesday, October 22, 2002

The lawyers have become involved, and once that happens, everything changes, usually for the worse.

Al Strachan rightfully asserts that the end of the Bobby Baun legacy, playing on a broken leg, is drawing near.
The Dave Babych lawsuit against the Philadelphia Flyers hasn't even finished hearing testimony yet and already it is having an impact in the National Hockey League.

Team doctors are being more careful about their recommendations regarding player availability.

In Ottawa, Chris Neil, who is recuperating from a broken leg, told the media: "Babych is suing for making him come back too soon and they don't want me to rush back. They don't want me to come back too soon."

This comes as no surprise to Flyers general manager Bob Clarke, who testified last week.

Afterwards, he said: "I'll bet every doctor is watching this, and I think you have to. (Babych) is done his career and now he's coming back to sue the doctors and the team. It's really scary."

It is. And it's more scary to some teams than others.

For decades now, the Flyers have had a reputation as a team that put on-ice success ahead of the players' health -- even when Clarke was employed elsewhere.

But let's face it, the professional hockey mindset demands that players play hurt, and not just in Philadelphia.

Meanwhile, on the outside, the hypocrisy can be staggering. Often, the people who criticize the concept of urging players to ignore an injury are the same people who laud Bobby Baun for playing on a broken leg. In fact, Baun's feat is one of the most glorified acts in hockey history.

But as of this trial, we're reaching the end of that road. The lawyers have become involved, and once that happens, everything changes, usually for the worse.

Monday, October 21, 2002

Yes Virginia, there is British hockey

The Sheffield Steelers, by far the best team in the largely British based Superleague had victory snatched from their grasp because

Sheffield Steelers, the Superleague leaders, will find out later this week whether their match at Bracknell Bees will be replayed after it was abandoned on Sunday with 10 minutes remaining because the ice had become dangerous. The score was 1-1 at the time.

The Scottish Eagles, who have had a disappointing start to the Superleague season, have reached the third round of the Continental Cup, a "fantastic achievement" according to their managing director, Bob Zeller.

The Eagles defeated Storhamar Dragons, of Norway, and the French hosts, Rouen, to ensure their progress even without their final match, against Latvia's Skonta Riga, being played after the ice melted. They face Belfast Giants, Norway's Valerenga and the Austrians of EHC Linz at the Odyssey Arena between 22 and 24 November.

The Eagles' progress capped a super weekend as they also moved into the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup, which they won last season, after Belfast lost to Sheffield Steelers.

Zeller said: "This is a fantastic achievement. We'd been written off by just about everybody but Paul Heavey and the boys showed just what ice hockey is all about – determination, team spirit, and a will to win in the face of overwhelming odds.

"Not only does our European dream continue, we are also on course to retain the Challenge Cup we won last year."

Sunday, October 20, 2002

Les Maudits Anglais

MICHEL THERRIEN guessed correctly. Now he will pay dearly for it.

Jeff Hackett gave Therrien's Montreal Canadiens the goaltending they needed to earn a 2-2 tie with the Maple Leafs last night, a very strong performance that included a breathtaking, game-saving stop on Mats Sundin, merely one of the NHL's best scorers in extra sessions.

But now Therrien will have a full-blown goalie controversy on his hands. Reigning league MVP Jose Theodore watched from the Habs bench for the second straight contest last night, and Therrien's choice to face Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins Tuesday night will be closely watched indeed.

As Montreal goalies from Rogie Vachon to Ken Dryden to Patrick Roy could tell you, a goaltending competition in Montreal is unlike that which takes place in any other city. The sensitivity of the French-English issue in a city where francophone journalists openly root for Québécois players and look for anti-French conspiracies behind Canadiens personnel decisions is amplified ten-fold when it comes to goalies.

Forget that Hackett has outplayed Theodore by a wide margin this season. The smartest decision in this young season would have been for Therrien to start his MVP netminder if only to demonstrate forcefully that Theodore will be unchallenged as the No.1 puckstopper. Now it's all open to question. If Sundin had beaten Hackett in OT last night, it would have been easy for the Montreal coach to go back to Theodore...writes Damien Cox.