No Rest for the Wicked

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There was a time no one liked to be sitting on the bench while another player gets some playing time. How times have changed. Getting benched is not what it use to be. No longer is it seen as a form of punishment, it is now viewed as a reward of some kind.

Many sports teams usually give their star players a night off in certain games. The idea here is by having your best players not face any game action, they will be at their best during the playoffs. I can understand that. Some teams rest their starters once they have clinched a playoff spot, or division title, or secured home court advantage in the post-season. But more recently, we are seeing teams sitting their whole starting line up for the entire game, even if a playoff spot is still in doubt. Is that good? I suppose many Knicks fans in New York would be pissed that they forked out $300 to see the World Champion Golden State Warriors only to find out the day before game that Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson would all be sitting out the game.

I also get that it’s the fans who end up paying their salaries, but I also want to ask which fans? I would like to think people in Pittsburgh are the ones paying Sidney Crosby’s salary. Therefore, my opinion on whether he should play or sit should not matter any more than a true Penguins fan living in Pittsburgh. If someone in a city outside Toronto bitched and whined about the Maple Leafs not dressing Auston Matthews to play in a game against their home team, I would have kindly told them to worry about their own team… then I would have flipped him/her the bird. But as I mentioned before, hockey players are a different breed than any other athlete. They don’t take nights off, or make political stands, and often plays hurt.

Giving players the odd night off is smart but I also think resting your entire starting line up is not the way to go. If mailing in a game is the secret to being a champion then I don’t want to be a part of it. I believe the team should compete in every game regardless of the circumstances. Health is important but I think when you start to worry about injuries, that is when it starts to affect your team.

In a previous post, I mentioned fatigue should be a factor when determining the winner of the game. I think the same applies to the determining the league champions. I think when teams take their position for granted, it will come back to bite them. Nobody won a title resting on their laurels. Champions ought to be measured by how much sweat they lose.

Also see:

Play ‘Til You’re Dead: Why Overtime is the Best Way to Decide a Game
Two Views on the Valencia Move and the Importance of Role Players in Sport
People Don’t Watch Sports, Fans Do

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Looking Out for the Next Number One

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This week, I attended the OHL Cup tournament in Toronto. The tournament features the top minor midget hockey teams in Ontario and parts of the United States. It also acts as a way to showcase players for managers and scouts of major junior teams. Since much of the players in this tournament will be in junior hockey next year, and since the Barrie Colts are picking first overall in this year’s OHL Priority Selection, I was curious to see who will be in the league come September.

The last time the Colts selected first overall was in 2011. They took a 14-year-old from Belle River, Ontario named Aaron Ekblad in the draft that year. The rest as they say is history. This year, many OHL scouts, coaches, general managers, and media I have talked to are speaking highly of Jack Hughes (pictured), a talented forward from Orlando, Florida who is playing with the Toronto Marlboros of the GTHL (the Marlboros are one of the teams taking part in the OHL Cup). Despite his small size (he’s listed as 5’11” but many think he’s shorter than that), they feel he has the skill-set to be an impact player for the Colts. But Hughes is also being attracted by NCAA schools and the United States National Development Team. The Colts have been burned in the past for using their first selection to draft players (particularly those who are American-born) that intend or have made commitments to other programs. So whether the Colts will take him at number one at the April 8th draft remains to be seen.

While we’ve seen the likes of Ekblad and Connor McDavid at the NHL level, many have not seen the two develop in the junior ranks. I was fortunate enough to cover these two players as they spent a good portion of their teenage years in the OHL. I also had the pleasure of watching Jason Spezza, John Tavares, Steven Stamkos, and Bobby Ryan play in the league. It is fascinating to see them play at a high level well before they became household names.

Despite what you hear in the media, hockey players (and other athletes) do not grow on trees. Finding a great hockey player is more than about whether he can score goals. There are a number of factors involved. How well does he skate? How is his hockey IQ? Does he make too many mistakes with the puck? What about the program he is currently in? Is it constantly developing good hockey players? Does he make other players on the team better? What’s he like away from the rink? What about his upbringing? His family?

This kind of thinking also applies to other sports especially when it comes to family. Lonzo Ball is projected to go number one in the upcoming NBA draft. But most of the talk isn’t about the UCLA standout, it is about his father, former US collegiate basketball player LaVar Ball. The elder Ball seems to have taken control of his son’s budding basketball career, bragging about his abilities and putting an enormous value and unnecessary pressure on him. Add to that, LeVar Ball is willing to pick fights with anyone who criticizes him like Basketball Hall of Famer Charles Barkley. These things would scare many NBA teams into not drafting Lonzo Ball, not because of his talent, but the unpredictability of his father. Fortunately, there are few people like LeVar Ball in this world.

It is interesting to find out who the next Sidney Crosby, LeBron James, or Mike Trout will be. They can be found in places like the OHL Cup, the local ball diamond, or high school gymnasium. Go see them play at your local arena before you have to fork out $200 to do the same at the Air Canada Centre.

UPDATE April 8:

The Barrie Colts selected forward Ryan Suzuki of the London Junior Knights as their first pick of the 2017 OHL Priority Selection. His older brother Nick plays for the Owen Sound Attack.


Hughes, by the way, was taken by the Mississauga Steelheads 8th overall.

Also see:

Draft, Schmaft
Getting the First Overall Pick: Big Deal? Or Big Deal?
Lessons From the World Juniors

Canadians Expected to Compete in Every Sport

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A couple of observations from this past weekend. Abbotsford, British Columbia’s Adam Hadwin won the Valspar Championship, his first victory on the PGA TOUR. Meanwhile, Team Canada were winless at the World Baseball Classic. Two sporting moments, two different outcomes, but both had the same expectation: to win it all.

Maybe it is too much to say that the Canadian WBC team was expected to win it all or even advance to the next round. Even if you had every Canadian Major League Baseball player on the team, there are holes in a few positions, namely in middle infield, where they are lacking significantly. In the case with Hadwin, he has been close to winning before, most recently at the CareerBuilder Challenge where he shot a round of 59. It was simply a matter of time before he would eventually be in the winner’s circle. Next stop for him is the Masters in Augusta.

It used to be if a Canadian was in an event such as the Masters, or Wimbledon, or the Indianapolis 500, the notion is: “we are just glad to be here.” Not anymore. With the exception of perhaps soccer, Canadians are expected to compete, if not win, on a regular basis in every sport, not just hockey. That is a different mindset than say 10 years ago or even longer where we would settle for a participation medal. With better athletes and better training, Canadians are expected to take home the hardware when they take on the rest of the world.

The difference I believe is attitude. At one time, winning a championship was seen as too difficult of a task. Now it is looked at as a challenge everyone wants to face. To me, that is a good sign that Canadians have goals, some albeit lofty, that they expect to meet. The days of just hoping and praying are over. Today’s Canadian athletes are able to control their own fate more often.

Now, there is still a lot of work to do when it comes to actually winning championships. Canada’s baseball team needs a middle infield to go with the strong pitching and power hitting. Milos Raonic and Eugenie Bouchard will have to overcome their physical setbacks before they can compete in major tennis tournaments. Canada’s basketball team is one Center away before they become a serious threat to the dominating US team.

But one thing is for sure, athletes need to continue to aim high. That separates the participants from the contenders and it will bode well for Canada in producing not just great athletes, but champions.

Also see:

Do You Need International Success to be a Great Canadian Athlete?
Lessons From the World Juniors
Olympics are All About the Games

 

There is Something to be Said About Loyalty

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there-is-something-to-be-said-about-loyaltyThe late Tony Gwynn played 20 seasons with one team, the San Diego Padres. Despite a Hall of Fame career that included 8 batting titles, 5 gold glove awards, and 15 all-star appearances, Gwynn appeared in only 2 World Series, both times he was on the losing team. The Padres franchise had just a handful of winning seasons with Gwynn on the team. But the thought of leaving for another team never entered his mind. Gwynn is perhaps an example of loyalty.

There are other two names that come to mind, Shane Doan of the Arizona Coyotes and Joe Thomas of the Cleveland Browns. Both players have established themselves of being elite players on teams that would be best described as mediocre. Both deserve to be in their respective Hall of Fames once their careers are over. But neither have asked to be traded to a contending team nor have they gone on the market and signed with another team. They decided to stay where they are.

You could be excused if you were someone like Kevin Durant or LeBron James who left their respective teams to join ones who are already championship calibre or a so-called “Super Team” where the line up is made up of superstar quality athletes. But to those who stuck it out with one team or one organization throughout their entire career, you should be saluted. To them, it is more about being associated with one team than it is about winning championships. I find that people appreciate a player’s loyalty even if they had every reason to leave.

Loyalty is perhaps the most unappreciated quality in the world. No one seems to care if you dedicate yourself to one team or organization. In fact, loyalty is often seen by some as being associated with losers. But if you are one who works hard and shows up everyday, you maybe on a losing team but you are hardly a loser. Sometimes being a big fish in a small pond is better than being one of million in an ocean.

So let’s give kudos to those who are staying with the only place they knew for their entire lives. One maybe a lonely number, but for some, it is the only number they know.

Also see:

Stability Key to a Successful Team?
Backers Abandon Cam, Broncos Win One for Peyton
Is it Always Good to Go Out on Top?