In Ron We Trust

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In Ron We Trust

There seems to be a lot of pride swallowing in the offices of Rogers Communications this past week. Sportsnet President Scott Moore announced that Ron MacLean will return as host of Hockey Night in Canada after a two-year absence. Mind you, MacLean was not entirely exiled to the broadcaster’s dog house. He was hosting Hometown Hockey and still serving as Don Cherry’s sidekick on Coach’s Corner. But ever since George Stroumboulopoulos took over the hosting duties of Hockey Night in Canada in 2014, there seemed to be a void left on television screens across the country.

Some will point to the lack of Canadian teams in the playoffs resulting in low ratings as a key factor in the decision to put MacLean back in the host’s chair. But I, as you all know, have a different and more accurate take. Those in charge may have been born in Canada or once played hockey as a kid but they really had no clue as to who watches Hockey Night in Canada. It is not the so-called millennials, it is your regular Joe and Jane who have a job, family, mortgage, etc..

MacLean is not just a recognizable face. There is something about him that resonates with the average Canadian. MacLean knows hockey but it goes beyond that. You have a guy who thinks the same way we do. It is that connection that makes you want to trust MacLean with your life.

What this also tells me that sports fans don’t care much about social problems. They are concerned about things like the environment and domestic violence but that is not why they tune in to watch hockey, baseball, football, et al. As I have mentioned before in another piece, Stroumboulopoulos was brought on to inject more pop culture and politics in to the show. To his credit he stayed away from those two things during his two-year tenure. But it seems that wasn’t enough for him to connect with the Canadian hockey fan. Even younger viewers respect the past. They know full well that you do not kick pioneers to the curb.

While all seems right again in the hockey universe, not everyone is happy that MacLean is back as host. Wannabe political pundit Keith Olbermann recently ripped Moore about the decision.

Olbermann is also Donald Trump’s biggest critic. As they say, just sayin’.

So everything old is new again, at least as far as having MacLean back is concerned. But Sportsnet still has one big hurdle to overcome, and that is trying to pry the original Hockey Night in Canada theme from TSN.

Also see:

In Defense of George Stroumboulopoulos
Nobody is Watching Sports Channels
Sports is the Only Reason to Keep the CBC

Which Drought is the Next to Fall?

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Which Drought is the Next to Fall

Watching the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday coming back from a 3 games to 1 deficit to not only win the NBA Finals but also dethrone the defending champs was pretty amazing. It is also great for the embattled city of Cleveland. Not since 1964 (3 years before the first Super Bowl) when the Browns won the NFL Championship have they experienced seeing a major sports team win a championship.

Lately we have seen long droughts in sports end with a splash. The Golden State Warriors, this year’s runner-up in the NBA, won the Championship last year, their first in 40 years. The Kansas City Royals won the World Series, the first title in that city since 1985. And it is not just professional sports teams that saw the well no longer dry. American Pharaoh won the Belmont Stakes in 2015 to complete horse racing’s first Triple Crown since 1978. Droughts in sports are starting to fall fast.

So who’s the next team or city that will end their championship drought? The Chicago Cubs are perhaps the best bet to kick that damn Billy Goat curse to the curb. The Cubs last won the World Series in 1908. They came hard out of the gate to start the 2016 season. As of this post, the Cubs are 47-21, 1st place in the NL Central, an 11-game lead on the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cubs have a great pitching staff, a talented line up, and one of the best managers in the game.

The city of Toronto has come close the last year. The Blue Jays were two wins shy of reaching the World Series in 2015. Their last playoff appearance was in 1993, the year Joe Carter single-handedly captured the Blue Jays’ second consecutive World Series championship with his 9th inning home run. The Raptors fell two victories short of appearing the in NBA final for the first time in franchise history. Both teams are poised to make another run.

And then there are the Maple Leafs. 1967 was the last time the Original Six franchise last hoisted the Stanley Cup as champions in the National Hockey League. The team finished this past season dead last in the 30-team league. But they did secure the first overall pick and will likely take highly touted prospect Auston Matthews. The Leafs have a competent coach in Mike Babcock, and a management team with a winning pedigree. They are one, maybe two, players away from bringing Lord Stanley home.

As much as two or three championships in a row is great, nothing is more sweeter than winning the first one in a long, long, time. Hopefully, the Cubs will win the World Series this year. That team deserves it.

Also see:

Winners Blaze Their Own Trail
Tournament Win Destroys Myths
Nobody’s Perfect

The Hockey Player’s Hockey Player

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The Hockey Players Hockey Player

Last week, we lost another great sports legend. Gordie Howe was one of those special people who has changed the way their sport has played. You often hear from those who follow hockey that there will never be a hockey player quite like Howe. And with good reason.

Howe was the type of player that every hockey player wanted to be: tough, physical, with hands as soft as silk. There is even a hat trick named after him given to a player that records a goal, an assist, and gets penalized for a fight, the very qualities that Howe carried throughout his entire hockey career. That is why many consider him to be the greatest hockey player ever. Even Wayne Gretzky, a player many consider the best to play the game of hockey, has bestowed that honour on to Howe.

Howe is best remembered helping lead the Detroit Red Wings to 4 Stanley Cups titles. I was lucky enough to see Howe play at Maple Leaf Gardens while he was a member of the Hartford Whalers. Being so young, I didn’t realize at the time what a big deal it was for Howe to be playing hockey with two of his sons at the age of 51.

While some would say there will never be another Gordie Howe, the cynic in me says nobody wants another Gordie Howe. As in someone who can rough it up as well as put pucks in the net. That kind of hockey seems to be frowned upon today and yet these same people like to reminisce about the “good old days” of hockey.

Whether a player like Howe would play in today’s NHL is anybody’s guess. As you all know, I like hockey players who play with an edge. Meaning, they like to be physical as well as score goals. Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews are just a couple of players who exhibit those characteristics. It just goes to show that Howe is the kind of player every hockey player looks up to, even today.

So rest in peace, Mr. Hockey. You will be missed. (Gordie Howe, 1928-2016)

Also see:

Bad Blood is Good for Sports
The Latest Futile Attempt to Ban Fighting in Hockey
Hockey is a Tough Sport, Get Use to it

Ali: Sport’s Original Trash Talker

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Ali The Orginal Trash TalkerI am not old enough to remember Cassius Clay. The Olympic gold medalist, world heavyweight boxing champion. I only knew Muhammad Ali. Boxer, advocate, trend setter. Most importantly, he is best known for what we know today as trash talking.

The way he spoke right to you, got into your head, and backed things up. Ali did it all to perfection. He is the original trash talker. Ali wouldn’t need to say much to make people think. His use of the English vocabulary combined with anger and intimidation resonated with millions of people around the world even if you didn’t understand the English language. Ali became an imposing figure largely for what he said than for what he did in the ring and his words have stood the test of time.

No better example of Ali’s ability to talk the talk and walk the walk than the famous 1964 fight against Sonny Liston in Miami. There were heated words between Ali and Liston. Ali berated Liston at every opportunity he had and worked it to his advantage. Ali proclaimed that he would win the fight in 8 rounds, it only took him 6 to become heavyweight champion. It was after beating Liston in that fight did we hear Ali utter the words: “I am the greatest.” It was also after that fight that it would be the last as Cassius Clay.

There are many people who are disgusted by today’s athletes who spew nothing but empty words. At the same time they would claim they were inspired by Ali’s actions. That may seem contradictory but I can tell you that is not the case. The likes of Floyd Mayweather, Chad Johnson, Stephen A. Smith and others, who claim they too look up to Ali, can’t hold a candle to the former heavyweight champ. As I explained earlier, Ali would never say anything empty. His words had meaning. He was poignant, articulate, and passionate, and always believed what he said.

Ali also never had tools like Twitter and the Internet to throw out his famous quotes. People today can now easily brag about their sports teams or athletes. But back then, everything was written with pen and paper, photos from cameras with big flashbulbs that took two hands to operate, and sound recorded onto magnetic tape.

Perhaps it is Ali’s fault that he set the bar way too high. Because no one else in the sporting world has been able to reach that level. The first and best trash talker in sport has been silenced.

RIP, Muhammad Ali (1942-2016).

Also see:

Sports is Not a Platform for Activism
Getting Dirty About Talking Sports
Everyone’s a Critic