Only Losers Look for Someone to Blame

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No Finger Pointing

Seems those in Leafs Nation are more focused on who they want to lay blame to. And who can blame them? Lost 8 in a row going into tomorrow’s game versus Calgary (hi ya doin’ Brian?). My reasons for the losses have been documented. They are not hitting, moving the puck, or taking care of their own end. With the exception of St. Louis, every team the Leafs lost to during the slide was beatable. It is embarrassing to see them lose to soft teams. But I seem to be the only one that wants to see them win rather than hoping they lose in order to continue to find a player to blame. What I keep hearing from those people are excuses.

First we blamed James Reimer, then Dion Phaneuf, later it was David Clarkson, Phil Kessel, and Randy Carlyse. Before the losing is over we’ll end up blaming Carlton the Bear. As we dwell on another season missing the playoffs, we seemed to be accustomed on blaming someone whether is a player, coach, or manager. We always preach our kids that hockey is a team game yet we like to point the finger at certain individuals. Calling them hypocrites is being polite.

What’s more, and here’s what really gets me, the very people who are calling for fighting to be out of hockey, don’t like hitting, and like fancy passes, are the same ones who are criticizing Phaneuf’s play of late. Don’t get me wrong, Phaneuf has been playing soft but for these people to call him soft is like the Toronto Star calling Olivia Chow a left-wing pinko.

There are too many fair-weather fans in Leafs Nation and that has got to change. It’s easy to bail a sinking ship or jump on to a winning bandwagon. It takes someone with strong will to stay with them through thick and thin. I seem to be the only one who fits that bill.

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No, I Won’t Join the Chorus, the Leafs WILL Make the Playoffs

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Maple Leafs Logo

You read that right. Book a spot for the Buds in the playoffs.

Now, I understand a lot of people in Leafs Nation are in a panic mode since the Buds lost 4 straight after coming back from California. But here’s why they have been losing. Lately, there have been too many times where the Leafs tried to make cute passes whether it moving left to right or attempting to split the opposition defencemen. The end result is usually a turnover in the Leafs’ end and, in most cases, a goal for the opposition.

We’ve seen this act before. In the years Ron Wilson has been coach of the Leafs, lots of emphasis was placed on making those plays. Why? Because the Toronto media likes it. They are obsessed with the style Detroit has been using where there is not much focus on physical play. But that is not Toronto’s style. We all know how it ended for the Leafs in each of the four seasons with Wilson behind the bench.

The Leafs are in a playoff spot because they have been playing tough, physical hockey throughout the season. They need to go back to that. There have been injuries to key players along the way but that is hardly a reason to change course. The Buds have been most successful when they play a system that gives opposition players little room to maneuver. Not a trap system mind you but a form of defensive play that is more aggressive than reactive. Players are given assignments and they execute them. I am confident Randy Carlyse can get the players going again.

Contrary to popular belief, the Leafs played well against Montreal on Saturday despite the loss. Guys like Bolland, Clarkson, and Orr were knocking Habs players off their skates. Kessel, Kadri, and JVR carried the puck into the offensive zones. No fancy passes, just good play making. That is the reason the Leafs will make the playoffs and, hopefully, face the Canadiens in the first round. The wins will come. But they will have to continue playing that way if they want to show that last year’s playoff appearance was no fluke.

Health will Determine if the Blue Jays Contend

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Blue Jays

The disabled list ought to be banned from the Blue Jays clubhouse this baseball season.

Going into the 2013 season, one area I believed that the Blue Jays needed to shore up was pitching. With the offensive talent they had, they were one starter away from reaching the playoffs. Alex Anthopoulos not only got one starting pitcher in the off-season but three. It should have resulted in a contending team but injuries to many key players ultimately derailed that. We witnessed some of the struggles the Blue Jays went through last season. With the exception of Munenori Kawasaki and Esmil Rogers, nobody else on the roster were able to fill the holes created by injuries.

Other than the addition of catcher Dioner Navarro, there have been no significant changes to the roster going into the 2014 season. Many pundits have pegged Toronto to finish last in the American League East but I feel confident about this team getting into the playoffs. There is no other line up in the American League East, one through nine, that I will take over the Blue Jays’. But health will be the key factor. I can count the number of times they fielded a line up with all nine regulars in 2013 with one hand. Imagine what would happen when all nine regulars are playing 140 to 150 games. I can bet no one would be asking whether the Blue Jays can get to the .500 mark.

That being said, the Blue Jays finished behind a Yankee team that fielded a Triple-A line up, a Tampa Bay team with sub-par pitching, and a Baltimore team that crushes balls but does little else. Those are three teams that were as bad if not worse than the Blue Jays in terms of talent and health, and they couldn’t beat them on a good night. I thought going into last season, the Boston Red Sox was the one team that can compete with the Blue Jays in the American League East. And, as it turned out, I was right. They stood up for one another and played as a team en route to a World Series championship.

The attitude on the Blue Jays has got to change. One Blue Jay player said after the end of last season that the clubhouse had a country-club atmosphere and needed more grinders. Indeed, the guys need to suck it up and play with some bumps and bruises this season if they want the rest of the league to take them seriously.

It’s Not the Size, it’s How You Use it: The St. Mike’s Arena

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With the OHL playoffs just around the corner, I thought I would bring up an old arena with a lot of history.

It was home to current NHL players Tim Brent, Matt Ellis, Cal Clutterbuck, Kevin Klein, Shane O’Brien, and Peter Budaj. Jason Spezza played his last game as a junior there before becoming an Ottawa Senator. Fellow NHLers and Canadian Olympians Rick Nash and John Tavares also played in that rink as visitors. It was also home to Hockey Hall of Famers Frank Mahovlich, Dave Keon, and Ted Lindsay. The St. Michael’s College School Arena is located on the grounds of St. Michael’s College School on Bathurst Street in the historic Forest Hill section of Toronto.

There was some incredible hockey played that venerable old barn. It was small compared to an average major junior hockey arena — 185 by 80 instead of 200 by 85 (or 200 by 100 like the one in Belleville) — but the atmosphere was exciting. I remembered being perched high above the rink in the northeast corner of the building when I was covering the OHL’s St. Michael’s Majors for York University radio. This was before netting at the ends of the rink were mandatory so me and my colleagues in the press gallery had to take cover when a flying puck was headed our way. Intimacy and hockey are two words one would never associate but in this case it worked.

Attendance was also small compared to other OHL cities but the place was packed every game. To put it in perspective, 1,700 fans at a 5,500-seat arena like the Hershey Centre in Mississauga is disappointing. However, 1,700 inside St. Mike’s is not just a sell out, it’s considered a fire code violation. No one was more than 20 feet away from the action. When the Majors scored you felt like the place was going to come down.

If there were downsides to the venue, it would be the amenities were not up to date. There were no seats, just benches so fans were packed like sardines. It was not easy getting around because of the lack of room in the concourse. If you were able to get to one of the two washrooms in the arena, there was a considerable amount of waiting time. Beer consumption was restricted to the lounge at the south end so there was no alcohol allowed in the stands. Hydro wasn’t exactly the most reliable. One time the lights went off during a playoff game that forced a postponement. Parking was also limited on the property so people had to park their cars on the street several blocks away from the building. I guess not many people knew that the arena was just steps from the St. Clair West subway station.

But it is those kinds of characteristics that makes St. Mike’s a great place to watch hockey. Nothing too fancy, just enough for us to enjoy the game. Nowadays, much of the focus has been on venues that can hold 10,000 people and has money-making luxury boxes. The Majors have since moved away from their natural home to Mississauga. In 2012, they also changed their name to the Steelheads. It’s too bad that we may never see a venue like this in the OHL again.

If you like to know more about the hockey history of St. Michael’s College, I suggest you pick up the book St. Michael’s College: 100 Years of Pucks and Prayers by Kevin Shea.

Habs Fans Becoming Snobs

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Habs Fans

Last week, someone pointed out that the Montreal Canadiens have two gold medal Olympic hockey players on their roster and the Toronto Maple Leafs have none. That person seemed to forget that the Habs had a total of seven Olympians on their team — including two on a talented Russian squad that was favoured to win a medal — compared to three on the Leafs. They also forget that one of their two players on the gold medal-winning Canadian Men’s Olympic Hockey team spent most of the tournament in the press box. I like to hear them brag about that.

Are Habs fans becoming snobs? Do they feel because their team has the most Stanley Cup championships of any NHL club that they feel entitled to gloat about their success? I equate this to children of rich parents. None of them did any hard work to achieve the lifestyle they enjoy. They simply ran on the coattails of their moms and dads. I can think of two people in the news that fit this description and the only difference between those two and Habs fans is the latter doesn’t have a sex tape.

I can respect fans in Chicago, LA, and Boston. Their teams were recent Stanley Cup Champions. The Canadiens have not won the Stanley Cup since 1993 when someone named Patrick Roy practically carried the team on his back that season. It is one thing for previous generations to talk about the Canadiens because they were around when the team did win Stanley Cups. Habs fans today simply like to brag about past success. And they laugh at Leafs fans for supposedly doing the same. There is only so much weight that a crutch can hold. It’s going to crack at some point.