Twas the day before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring — they were all on the couch watching the Rams and Raiders.
All right, St. Nicholas, you pious old fraud. Come in and drop your bag. If you’re making a list and checking it twice, how about the following for a merry little Christmas?
* Give the Dodgers a center fielder, they already got enough second basemen and right fielders to start a league.
* Give boxing another Joe Louis.
* Give Charlie Whittingham another Sunday Silence. Give Laz Barrera another Affirmed.
* Give Laffit Pincay the mount on either one of them. Give Chris McCarron the other one.
* Give the USC Trojans another Mike Garrett or O.J. Simpson or Marcus Allen. Give us back Student Body Right.
* Give the Raiders a quarterback, Al Davis will take it from there.
* Give L.A. the Olympics again. Or, rather, give the Olympics L.A.
Twice in 50 years the city saved it.
* Give Magic Johnson a man in the pivot to play off. It doesn’t have to be another Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. A Bill Laimbeer would do. Magic can’t take on the league’s skyscrapers, the Patrick Ewings, David Robinsons, Akeem Olajuwons by himself.
* Give Mike Ditka a rubber room.
* Give Buddy Ryan a copy of ‘How to Win Friends And Influence People.’
* Give Oklahoma a football team it can be proud of.
* Give Bill Walsh one more team to build up. The San Diego Chargers come to mind.
* Give the Cowboys back to America.
* Give Joe Montana the ball.
* Give Steffi Graf some competition.
* Give Flipper Anderson a pass that stays up and a zone he can beat.
* Give the Cubs a pennant.
* Give Mark Langston another pitch or a fast outfield so the press
can’t crow that he’s getting a million dollars an inning on his bad nights.
* Give Larry Bird the outside shot with the playoff on the line and the
defender sagging, just one more time.
* Give Mike Tyson a Gene Tunney so he can become a lovable figure in sports instead of a scary one.
* Give Cito Gaston or Frank Robinson a pennant so we can get on with it.
* Give Wayne Lukas another pretty little filly who doesn’t know she’s not supposed to beat the boys in the spring of the year.
* Give San Diego an America’s Cup challenge. Let the New Zealanders win it in the waters, not the courts, with a boat, not a writ. Can you imagine Sir Thomas Lipton letting some landlubber in a wig and a robe award him the cup?
Give Michael Jordan the ball.
* Give Wayne Gretzky the puck.
* Give Noriega 50-to-life.
* Give the Rams a pass rush.
* Give Bo Jackson a bat, give Marcus Allen the football.
* Give Gene Autry a pennant.
* Give Mario Andretti a car that will hold together for 200 laps and
Roger Penske to set it up for him so it will.
* Give Al Davis the keys to the city.
* Give Pete Rose back baseball. He’s sick, not crooked. The Black Sox’s addiction was greed, not gambling.
* Give the states the word to stop trying to solve fiscal problems by
legalizing gambling. They’ll create more problems than they’ll solve.
They’ll achieve a human deficit.
* Give golf another Jack Nicklaus.
* Give Rickey Henderson an MVP or discontinue the award.
* Give Wade Boggs a cold shower.
* Give Steve Garvey a hobby. Come to think of it, he has one.
* Give Don Zimmer a lineup he can juggle. Better yet, give him one he can’t juggle.
* Give us an overtime Super Bowl. But, first, pass a rule it can’t be decided by a field goal.
* Give instant replay to the Indians.
* Give the designated hitter to the birds. That’s what it’s for.
* Give the Jets, Atlanta and Tampa Bay a coach. Look what a difference one made to Green Bay, Kansas City and Detroit. To say nothing of San Francisco 10 years ago and Green Bay 30 years ago. There are no bad teams in the NFL, only bad schemes.
* Give me the day off. On second thought, I just took it.
* Give each and every one of our sports fans out there the merriest of holidays and winners on the cards. Just remember, everything turns to sugar anyway. So, enjoy.
Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times
Jim Murray Memorial Foundation, P.O. Box 60753, Pasadena, CA 91116
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The Jim Murray Memorial Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, established in 1999 to perpetuate the Jim Murray legacy, and his love for and dedication to his extraordinary career in journalism. Since 1999, JMMF has granted 104 $5,000 scholarships to outstanding journalism students. Success of the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation’s efforts depends heavily on the contributions from generous individuals, organizations, corporations, and volunteers who align themselves with the mission and values of the JMMF.
When looking at the WHL’s Western Conference teams in the run up to the Jan. 10 trading deadline, the most intriguing question marks would seem to surround the Victoria Royals and Kamloops Blazers.
The Royals are in the thick of things, just one point out of the conference lead and tied for top spot, with Kelowna, in the B.C. Division.
The Blazers, who started 0-9-0 and seemingly deep-sixed their playoff hopes before the season was out of its infancy, are on a 16-8-1 tear and just one point out of a playoff spot.
So what’s the problem?
Well, management from both teams has committed to bidding to be the host team for the 2020 Memorial Cup tournament. That leaves one wondering if these teams will be buyers or sellers between Dec. 27, when the Christmas trade moratorium is removed, and the deadline.
Will Victoria general manager Cam Hope and his Kamloops counterpart, Stu MacGregor, go shopping in attempts to strengthen their present-day rosters? Or will they be more concerned with working to build championship-calibre teams for the 2019-20 season?
Your guess is as good as mine, but what is the message to fans if a GM dismantles a competitive team in order to try and build for two seasons down the road?
One other thing worth noting about the Western Conference is that none of its 10 teams has really fallen off the playoff pace, although the Prince George Cougars may be on the verge.
With everyone seemingly in the hunt, might we be in for a quiet trade deadline?
Asked last night if there was “anything brewing” and if “phones were ringing,” one general replied that it has been “really quiet.”
Anyway . . . here’s a look at the Western Conference’s 10 teams — eight will get into the playoffs — with the trade deadline on the horizon:
1. EVERETT (21-13-2): The Silvertips whacked visiting Portland 8-3 on Sunday, the final day before the Christmas break, to move past the Winterhawks and into first place in the U.S. Division. The Silvertips were mediocre early in the season, but put together a nine-game winning streak that served notice to the other teams in the conference. . . . G Carter Hart, who sat out all of October with mononucleosis, has been unworldly. He is 13-3-1 with five shutouts, a 1.32 GAA and a .961 save percentage. Before joining Canada’s national junior team early this month, Hart named the league’s goaltender of the week four times in a row. . . . With Hart gone, Dustin Wolf, 16, has proven that he’s the heir apparent, going 5-2-0, 2.00, .942. . . . Hart and Wolf backstop the conference’s best defensive club and Everett is scoring enough goals to win; it went into the break on a 9-1-0 roll. . . . Offensively, the bulk of the goals — 86 of 111 — have come from six players. As long as those six keep scoring and Hart keeps stopping them at the other end, the Silvertips will be in the chase. . . . Garry Davidson, the general manager, will be monitoring the market but will be leery to do anything that might break up a good thing.
2. (tie) PORTLAND (21-11-1): The Winterhawks threatened to run away with the U.S. Division before stumbling and going 2-7-1 on the run into Christmas. Some of that will have been due to a schedule that called for 10 of 13 games on the road during a 26-day stretch. They also are without three high-end players — F Kieffer Bellows (U.S.), F Joachim Blichfeld (Denmark) and D Henrik Jokiharju (Finland) — who will appear in the World Junior Championship. Take away players of that calibre and a team that had been doing fine defensively gave up 14 goals in losing its last two games. . . . Portland also went 23 games without F Ryan Hughes (leg), who will add secondary offence once he gets back into the flow of things. . . . Portland has the conference’s best talent — F Cody Glass is in the conversation when you’re talking about the WHL’s best player — and has been getting top-notch goaltending from Cole Kehler, 20, who got a nifty Christmas present in the form of a three-year free-agent deal with the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings. . . . Come mid-January, the Winterhawks will have all their wheels rolling and the fans will be sleeping better. . . . I wouldn’t be surprised if Mike Johnston, the general manager and head coach, chooses to play the hand that he has right now.
3. (tie) KELOWNA (20-11-3): The Rockets won seven of their past 10 games as the break approached and find themselves tied for second in the conference (with Portland and Victoria) and tied for first in the B.C. Division (with Victoria). . . . The Rockets appear to be a team to be reckoned with in the second half. F Kole Lind, who was felled by strep throat for a handful of games in November, and F Dillon Dube, who is with Canada’s national junior team, are having monster seasons, as is F Carsen Twarynski, 20. . . .F Kyle Topping and D Cal Foote, who also is with Canada prepping for the WJC, are point-a-game guys. . . . G Brodan Salmon was to have been their starter, but he has played in only one game since Oct. 15, than on Nov. 4. In his absence, James Porter, a freshman from Bonners Ferry, Idaho, has done well, going 13-5-2, 3.49, .895. . . . Still, the Rockets need to be better defensively, which means general manager Bruce Hamilton may be looking for some experienced help.
4. (tie) VICTORIA (20-13-3): The Royals fell off the B.C. Division’s top perch by dropping 10 of their past 16 games. They opened the season with seven straight victories, so are 13-13-3 since then. But they’ve got the guns to compete with anyone and their top line — Tyler Soy, Matthew Phillips and Noah Gregor — is as good as any in the WHL. . . . However, Soy left in the second period of the Royals’ final game before the break — it appeared to be a shoulder injury — and his status isn’t known. . . . Victoria badly needs to get F Regan Nagy, 20, back into the lineup. He’s got 18 goals in 26 games, but a finger injury has kept him out since Nov. 28. . . . GM Cam Hope isn’t afraid to pull the trigger — he acquired Gregor from Moose Jaw for F Ryan Peckford on Dec. 11, adding yet more speed while giving up grit, and getting a fourth 20-year-old by dealing for D Kade Jensen from Brandon on Dec. 1. When Nagy gets back, Hope will have to make another move because he can only keep three of Nagy, Soy, Jensen and D Chaz Reddekopp. . . . Like so many other general managers, Hope may be looking for a strong stay-at-home defender to help Griffen Outhouse, one of the WHL’s top goaltenders, but one who has been facing too many shots.
5. VANCOUVER (18-13-4): The Giants closed out the first half by winning six straight games and going 8-2-0 over 10 games. That lifted them into third place in the B.C. Division, just three points behind Kelowna and Victoria. That’s wonderful news for a franchise that has missed the playoffs in each of the past three seasons and four of five. . . . Vancouver has been led by F Ty Ronning, who has 46 points, including 31 goals, in 35 games. F James Malm also is a point-a-game player, while F Tyler Benson, who finally is healthy (touch wood), put up 32 points, including 13 goals, in 22 games. . . . Aside from Ronning, the MVP may be G David Tendeck, who is 12-6-1, 2.90, .913 and showing signs that he’ll be the go-to guy in the second half. . . . D Bowen Byram, the third overall selection in the 2016 bantam draft, has been getting better as his confidence grows with each passing game. He’s a keeper, for sure. . . . The Giants still need to be better defensively, like so many other teams, but don’t expect general manager Glen Hanlon to be involved in anything that might disrupt the franchise’s future. He likely could be convinced to add a veteran defenceman if the price isn’t steep.
6. TRI-CITY (18-10-3): The Americans won their last three games and find themselves third in the U.S. Division, four points in arrears of Portland. . . . The Americans went into the break on a three-game winning streak; they are 5-4-1 in their last 10 games. . . . If they are to compete with the big guys, the Americans need more offence and better defence. The offence may come from within as F Michael Rasmussen has played in 22 games (31 points) and D Juuso Valimaki has gotten into 19 (20 points). When they are healthy, it raises the level of Tri-City’s all-around play and turns the power-play unit into a deadly weapon. . . . Tri-City is the only WHL team to have evenly split its goaltending duties to this point. Patrick Dea is 8-5-3, 3.19, .915 in 958 minutes over 17 games. Beck Warm also has gotten into 17 games, going 10-5-0, 3.31, .890. . . . Bob Tory, the Americans’ veteran general manager, once was dubbed ‘Trader’ Bob. There was a time when he would jump into the trading pool well before the deadline, before the prices got driven up. Last season, however, he made only one deal between Dec. 1 and the trade deadline, that coming on Dec. 2 when he sent G Kurtis Rutledge to the Kootenay Ice for a 2019 seventh-round bantam draft pick. It could be that Tory will provide a repeat performance.
7. (tie) SPOKANE (18-13-3): The Chiefs are tied with Tri-City for third in the U.S. Division, however the Americans hold three games in hand. . . . Spokane went into the Christmas break with a sour taste in its mouth, too, after losing 10-3 to visiting Seattle on Sunday night. “Let’s forget about that one,” Chiefs head coach Dan Lambert told the Spokane Spokesman-Review. . . . Spokane needs to find a way to be better at home, where it actually has lost more than it has won (9-8-2). . . . Still, the Chiefs have three of the WHL’s most-exciting players — F Jaret Dolan-Anderson, D Ty Smith and F Kailer Yamamoto. The first two are scoring at better than a point-a-game, while Yamamoto, who started the season with the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers, has been around for only 12 games, and now is with the U.S.’s national junior team. . . . Once mid-January arrives and the distractions are gone, the Chiefs’ talent level — F Hudson Elynuik, 20, is having a career season with 17 goals and 29 assists in 34 games — would indicate that the second-half should be better. . . . That might indicate that Scott Carter, the general manager, won’t make much of a splash between now and Jan. 10.
8. SEATTLE (15-14-4): The Thunderbirds, the WHL’s defending champions, have fallen into the U.S. Division basement, five points behind Tri-City and Spokane. . . . Seattle is on a two-game winning streak, however. . . . The fall isn’t at all surprising when one considers that Seattle lost its four leading scorers from last season and six of its top nine. . . . You simply don’t replace that kind of production over one offseason. . . . Still, the Thunderbirds are in possession of the conference’s second wild-card spot, and you have to think the team’s new owners — brothers Dan and Lindsey Leckelt — would be pleased with a playoff spot. . . . G Carl Stankowski, who, as a 16-year-old, sparkled in the playoffs last spring (16-2-2, 2.50, .911), but hasn’t played this season thanks to hip woes. . . . In his absence, Seattle has used three goaltenders, who have GAAs of 3.30, 3.32 and 3.67, and save percentages of .895, .894 and .888. . . . Yes, the goaltending needs to be better. . . . With a number of teams hankering for experienced defencemen, GM Russ Farwell’s phone might be busy, because he’s got three — Turner Ottenbreit, 20, Austin Strand, 20, and Jarret Tyszka, 18 — who might bring a king’s ransom should he choose to sell.
9. KAMLOOPS (16-17-1): Head coach Don Hay went into the season needing 22 victories to equal the WHL’s career record for most regular-season coaching victories. The Blazers promptly lost their first nine games and it looked like Hay might not get there this season. . . . But the Blazers followed that skid with a 16-8-1 run and now are just one point out of a playoff spot. Hay is seven victories shy of becoming the winningest head coach in the league’s regular-season history. . . . If you are GM Stu MacGregor, what do you do? With ownership have announced that it will bid on the 2020 Memorial Cup tournament, do you focus on making a run this season, or do you sell in an attempt to gather assets that will help in 2019-20? . . . But a team that hasn’t drafted particularly well in recent times and perhaps has lost F Massimo Rizzo, the 15th overall pick in the 2016 bantam draft, to the BCHL’s Penticton Vees, has 13 players on its 23-man roster who aren’t likely to be around for 2019-20. . . . It could be that MacGregor really is between a rock and a hard place — darned if he does, darned if he doesn’t. . . . MacGregor’s dance may be the most interesting of them all between now and Jan. 10.
10. PRINCE GEORGE (12-17-3): The Cougars, who won the first pennant in franchise history last season when they finished atop the B.C. Division, have lost three in a row. They are last in the five-team B.C. Division, four points behind Kamloops. . . . The Cougars haven’t been a hit at the gate this season, despite going all-in a year ago and finishing 45-21-6, only to bow out in the first round of the playoffs. So it could be that management feels a playoff spot this season is of the utmost importance. . . . Prince George will come back from the break to play four games in six days — two in Victoria and two in Langley, B.C., against the Vancouver Giants. After that, the Cougars will return home to face Tri-City twice. Then the Giants go north for a doubleheader that will straddle the trade deadline. . . . In other words, between now and Jan. 10, the Cougars will meet the Giants four times and Victoria twice. Might the outcome of those games dictate which way GM Todd Harkins chooses to go? . . . The Cougars’ roster includes D Dennis Cholowski, and you can bet that Harkins is fielding calls about him. Cholowski, a first-round pick by the Detroit Red Wings in the 2016 NHL draft, is in his first WHL season but has shown that he is of all-star calibre.
When I was working at the Regina Leader-Post, I always looked forward to a visit by the Saskatoon Blades when Daryl Lubiniecki was with them. Now there’s a story teller! . . . We used to joke that his Regina office — a bar called The Pump — was across Victoria Street from the paper and visible from a window beside what was then my desk. . . . So what is Lubiniecki up to these days. Darren Zary of the Saskatoon StarPhoenix caught up with him right here.
With the 2018 Memorial Cup and all that goes with it ticketed for Regina, Leader-Post columnist Rob Vanstone points out in this piece right here just how flawed the present system is. Yes, the present host-team, tournament-style system is as flawed as a piece of glass pretending to be a diamond. But, hey, it makes money and in today’s world that’s what matters.
You may recall hearing in October about a man named Mike Gould who was in the headlines after pledging a donation of $7.5 million to the junior B Kimberley, B.C., Dynamiters of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League. . . . You may also have heard that the Dynamiters are no richer today than they were on that day in October. Well, if you missed it, Douglas Quan of Postmedia did a terrific story on the situation earlier this month. That story, which is about as bizarre as you might expect, is right here.
Meanwhile, Gould now is facing fraud- and forgery-related charges, as Karen Larsen of CBC News reports right here.
Dave Robinson, who played four seasons (1973-77) with the Kamloops Chiefs of the Western Canada Hockey League, died on Sunday. Robinson, 60, died in Kamloops after fighting cancer. . . . Robinson played more games with the Chiefs (247) than anyone in the team’s brief history. He had 15 goals and 71 assists, along with 573 penalty minutes. . . . Robinson and his wife, Ernestamarie, had three sons — Ryan, Danny and Darcy. . . . Darcy played five seasons in the WHL (Saskatoon, Red Deer, 1997-2001). He went on to play with Asiago in Italy, where he died of a heart attack during the opening game of the 2007-08 Serie A season. He was 26.
J.F. Best, who is in his first season as an assistant coach with the Victoria Royals, will be at the World Junior Championship with Team Denmark. Best will be working as a consultant in performance analysis. . . . The tournament is scheduled to open on Dec. 26 in Buffalo, N.Y. . . . Best has worked in the area of performance analysis with the Danish Ice Hockey Federation since 2015. He was with Team Denmark at the 2017 WHC in Montreal and Toronto, and worked with Denmark’s men’s team at the 2017 World Championship in Paris, France, and Cologne, Germany.
The Kootenay Ice has signed F Holden Kodak, 16, to a WHL contract. Kodak, from Cloverdale, B.C., put up 59 points, including 35 goals, in 25 games this season with the Yale Hockey Academy’s midget prep team in the CSSHL. . . . Kodak was selected by Portland in the 11th round of the 2016 bantam but something didn’t click and he didn’t sign with the Winterhawks. The Ice placed him on its protected list in October.
Same price (3 firsts and 2 seconds) that Saskatoon paid to get Schenn from Brandon seven years ago. At least Veleno still has two years of junior eligibility after this season though. Schenn was a half year rental. https://t.co/Tg7AWBKERb
In the QMJHL, the defending-champion Saint John Sea Dogs have traded F Joe Veleno, 17, to the Drummondville Voltigeurs for three first-round draft picks and a pair of second-rounders. . . . The Sea Dogs acquired first-round selections that originally belonged to the Gatineau Olympiques (2018), Blainville-Boisbriand Armada(2019) and Drummondville (2020). . . . Velono, who is from Kirkland, Que., is the only player in QMJHL history to have been granted exceptional player status, meaning he was allowed to play regularly at 15 years of age. The Sea Dogs selected him with the first overall pick in the QMJHL’s 2015 draft. . . . This season, Velono has six goals and 25 assists in 31 games. In 138 regular-season games over three seasons, he has 32 goals and 82 assists. . . . Velono is a potential first-round pick in the NHL’s 2018 draft. . . . Drummondville (20-9-2) is fourth in the QMJHL standings. . . . The Sea Dogs (8-17-6) are struggling — they have the league’s second-poorest record — after losing in the Memorial Cup semifinal last spring.
The run to the WHL’s Jan. 10 trade deadline began for real on Nov. 13.
That was the day on which the Regina Pats dealt D Jonathan Smart, F Cole Muir, second- and sixth-round selections in the 2018 bantam draft, and a conditional pick in 2019 or 2020 to the Kootenay Ice for D Cale Fleury. Yes, Regina gave up a possible five assets for one player, albeit a good one.
Since then, and including that deal, the WHL’s 22 teams have combined to move 25 players, 14 bantam draft selections and three conditional bantam draft picks.
It’s fair to say that the Moose Jaw Warriors, Swift Current Broncos and Regina Pats, the latter the host team for the 2018 Memorial Cup, are all-in this season. They definitely are buyers.
But . . . who is selling? And are there other buyers out there?
It’s interesting, too, that the East Division, at least at the top, is so much stronger than the Central Division, whose six teams have combined to lose 53 games more than they have won.
With the WHL now on its Christmas break and with the schedule pretty much at the halfway mark, let’s take a look at the Eastern Conference, with teams ranked in order of points:
1. MOOSE JAW (27-6-2): The Warriors lead the overall standings, meaning they also are atop the Eastern Conference and the East Division. General manager Alan Millar will buy if there is something out there that grabs his eye, but he’s already done some shopping by getting F Vince Loschiavo, 19, from the Kootenay Ice and D Ryan Peckford, 18, from the Victoria Royals, although he gave up a pretty good player in F Noah Gregor in the latter swap. . . . Don’t discount the value of veteran F Barrett Sheen, a gritty guy, who came over from Kootenay on Nov. 13. . . . Now it’s a matter of Moose Jaw getting everyone healthy and keeping them that way.
2. SWIFT CURRENT (25-7-2): The Broncos are four points behind the Warriors and hold one game in hand. Manny Viveiros, the Broncos’ director of player personnel and head coach, ventured into the Pacific Northwest on a November scouting junket. He returned home and immediately shoved all of his chips into the centre of the table, sending five players and a second-round pick in the 2018 bantam draft to the Calgary Hitmen for F Matteo Gennaro, 20, F Beck Malenstyn, 19, and a fifth-round pick in 2018. Only time will tell if Viveiros gave up too much — F Conner Chaulk, 20, F Riley Stotts, 17, D Dom Schmiemann, 18, D Josh Prokop, 15, and G Ethan Hein, 15, are the players who went to Calgary. . . . Prior to the deal, the Broncos were very much a one-line team and Viveiros knew that as the season wore on opposing teams would be harder on F Glenn Gawdin, F Aleksi Heponiemi and F Tyler Steenbergen. . . . The deal with Calgary will take some heat off those three. Keep in mind that Malenstyn (wrist), a 32-goal man last season, has played only four games this season. . . . The Broncos went into the break on a five-game winning streak. . . . They’ll get Heponiemi (Finland) and Steenbergen (Canada) some rest after the World Junior Championship, then add Malenstyn to the lineup and see if they can make some noise.
3. BRANDON (24-8-1): The Wheat Kings went 9-1-0 in their past 10 games and now are seven points behind Moose Jaw and three behind Swift Current. Of course, the Warriors are 8-1-1 and the Broncos 8-2-0 in their past 10. . . . But who saw the Wheat Kings making this kind of noise this season? They won the WHL championship in 2015-16, then got swept by Medicine Hat in the first round last spring. . . . A terrific combination of maturing younger players and solid veterans has the Wheat Kings in the hunt. . . . They appear to have a good thing going, so it’s doubtful that GM Grant Armstrong would do anything major that might disrupt it. . . . But, hey, never say never.
4. MEDICINE HAT (18-14-2): The Tigers lead the Central Division, but have stumbled of late, going 3-5-2, and watched their lead over Lethbridge and Kootenay get sliced to six points. Still, if they playoffs were to start today, Medicine Hat would have a first-round bye. . . . The Tigers also have yet to play even one game with F Mason Shaw, 19, a 94-point man last season, in their lineup. He suffered a knee injury while playing with the Minnesota Wild rookie team at a September tournament in Traverse City, Mich. He is expected to return at some point in the season’s second half, so the Tigers have that to look forward to without even making a deal. . . . Even without Shaw, the Tigers can score. But are they able to defend well enough to contend, or are Shaun Clouston, the GM and head coach, and Carter Sears, the director of player personnel, looking for an experienced defenceman?
5. REGINA (16-17-3): Ahh, yes, the Pats. The host team for the 2018 Memorial Cup was in last spring’s championship final, but has scuffled to this point of this season and finds itself fourth in its division, 14 points behind third-place Brandon. Yes, 14 points! . . . While Regina does hold down the conference’s first wild-card spot, it is just two points ahead of Prince Albert and Saskatoon. . . . Yes, things are messy in Regina. In fact, columnist Rob Vanstone of the Regina Leader-Post this week called the Pats an “embarrassment” in a column that is right here. . . . You know that the Pats will be buyers between now and Jan. 10, but considering their record and recent performances, one wonders if there is a big enough shopping cart available to fix whatever it is that ails them. . . . GM/head coach John Paddock acquired D Cale Fleury from Kootenay on Nov. 13, but Regina is only 5-9-1 since then, so it would seem that more is needed. . . . Paddock no doubt will be first in line for the Boxing Day sales.
6-7. PRINCE ALBERT (13-14-7) and SASKATOON (15-17-3): These two teams are tied for the conference’s second wild-card spot. The Raiders hold a game in hand, but the Blades have two more victories. They return from the Christmas break to meet in Saskatoon on Dec. 27 and in Prince Albert on Dec. 28. . . . Neither team is on the same level as the conference’s top three, but it’s important that both show improvement over last season when neither made the playoffs. . . . I wouldn’t expect either team to sell, sell, sell, but you can bet that both will be prepared to move older assets for younger players.
8. LETHBRIDGE (15-16-2): Have the Hurricanes underperformed? Or was last season (44-21-7 and a run to the conference final) an aberration? . . . Despite the inconsistent play, the Hurricanes are within reach of first place in the Central Division, and you know that GM Peter Anholt will be working the phone lines. At the same time, though, he has to be wondering if his roster, as it stands today, isn’t good enough to chase down Medicine Hat. . . . Earlier this month, Anholt added veteran F Lane Zablocki, who turns 19 on Dec. 27. He had 28 goals last season, splitting time between Regina and Red Deer, but was spinning his wheels with the Rebels this season. Anholt is hoping that Zablocki will fill the void created when F Ryan Vandervlis, a point-a-game guy, was lost for the season with shoulder woes. . . . The bottom line, however, is that the Hurricanes need to be better defensively, and that includes the goaltending department. Stuart Skinner is a better goaltender than this season’s numbers. Perhaps Anholt will be able to bring in a stay-at-home defender.
8. (tie) KOOTENAY (15-17-2): The Ice won 12 games two seasons ago and 14 last season. So by those standards, this season, the franchise’s first under the ownership of Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell, is a success. Of course, a playoff spot would be even nicer, but Fettes and Cockell, and head coach James Patrick, can’t allow the short-term view to circumvent their long-term plan. . . . Cockell already has traded away three veterans — D Cale Fleury, F Vince Loschiavo and F Barrett Sheen — and you can bet he will move even more experience if he thinks a deal or deals will improve the future outlook.
10. RED DEER (10-18-6): What happened to the Rebels? A season that began with promise has imploded and they find themselves seven points out of the conference’s second wild-card spot. They went into the Christmas break having gone 1-4-5 in their past 10 games. In the Central Division, they are one point ahead of fifth-place Calgary. . . . Red Deer’s biggest problem is that it can’t score. Only Edmonton (88) has fewer goals than Red Deer (96). . . . Brent Sutter, the owner, GM and head coach, may have signalled his intentions on Dec. 8 when he dealt veteran F Lane Zablocki, who turns 19 next week, to Lethbridge, getting back sophomore F Josh Tarzwell, 17, a second-round pick in the 2019 bantam draft and a conditional third-rounder in 2020. At that point, the Rebels had lost 10 in a row and 16 of their previous 17 games. . . . Yes, Sutter, as much as he won’t like it, will be selling. . . . Interestingly, Red Deer is carrying two 20-year-olds, one under the maximum allowable. While Sutter isn’t going to want to bring in someone to take playing time away from a younger player in this situation, that vacant spot may prove useful come the deadline.
11. CALGARY (10-18-5): The Hitmen have lost 13 more games than they have won, and find themselves eight points out of the playoffs. In order to get there, they will have to pass four teams, which is unlikely, even with 39 games left on their schedule. . . . Former Kootenay president/GM Jeff Chynoweth, in his first season as Calgary’s GM, signalled his intentions on Nov. 25 when he dealt veteran forwards Matteo Gennaro and Beck Malenstyn to Swift Current for a goody bag that included five players. At the time, Chynoweth said: “We’re not giving our players away, and we’re not throwing in the towel for the season. We expect to make the playoffs.” Of course, what was he expected to say? . . . He’ll be selling more if the price is right.
12. EDMONTON (7-22-4): The Oil Kings spent three seasons (2011-14) in the penthouse, winning at least 50 games each time and appearing in three straight championship finals, winning two of them. That was then; this is now. . . . The fall began in earnest last season (23-43-6) and it has continued, with the Oil Kings sporting the WHL’s poorest record. . . . They’ll be sellers, just don’t expect GM Randy Hansch to give away any of the franchise’s promising youngsters.
We’re back and we’re scattershooting on a Sunday night while watching the Dallas Cowboys and the Raiders playing in Los Angeles, and what a day it was for whacky NFL happenings:
Thanks to all who contacted me over the past day or two. I especially like the note that referred to Taking Note’s return as a Christmas miracle. Uh, no. But I do live with a miracle.
While I was on hacker-enforced hiatus, the Saskatoon Blades issued an injury report that actually specified the injuries. Yes. Seriously. According to the Blades, G Ryan Kubic (knee), F Gage Ramsay (groin) and F Caleb Fantillo (knee) all were sidelined. . . . Of course, by the time the WHL office posted its weekly roster report, all three were out with “lower body” injuries.
The day may come when the WHL realizes that a renewed emphasis on transparency might translate to more fans in the stands.
According to the WHL standings, the Seattle Thunderbirds have a .515 winning percentage. But their record is 15-14-4, which means they have lost three more games than they have won. Sorry, but that doesn’t compute to a .500 record. Oh, and don’t bother telling me that it has to do with loser points, something that has bastardized standings and the record book unlike anything else in sporting history.
The Regina Pats were one of those bogus .500 clubs going into Sunday’s games. They were 16-16-3, which the WHL claims is .500, before losing 3-1 to the host Saskatoon Blades on Sunday. The Pats now are 16-17-3, which the WHL claims is .486.
The Pats, of course, are the host team for the 2018 Memorial Cup. With 36 games remaining in a 72-game schedule, they have lost four more games than they have won. Yes, their fans are in a tizzy. Should they be? No, not yet. They need to relax, enjoy Christmas and check back about Jan. 17. By that time, the trade deadline will have come and gone, meaning general manager/head coach John Paddock will have played out his hand, the World Junior Championship will be over, and there will be few remaining distractions. That’s when what Regina fans see is what they’ll get.
In the meantime, Regina hockey fans will be hoping their bankers all are friendly and that interest rates stay low, what with two outdoor games, an Eagles concert and the Memorial Cup all quickly approaching.
I’m having trouble remembering a more unusual WHL season at the Xmas break. Best 3 teams all in the same division, Mem Cup host is a mess, best player in the league is a goalie, the team that was running away with the west can’t seem to score or win now.
While Regina fans have their hands hovering over the panic button, followers of the Portland Winterhawks are staying away from bridges, and fans of the Red Deer Rebels are wondering what happened to their season.
Brent Sutter’s Rebels snapped an 11-game losing streak with a 4-1 victory over the Tigers in Medicine Hat on Friday night. Prior to the start of this season, who saw Red Deer with an 11-game losing streak included in its record? The Rebels are 10-18-6, leaving them seven points out of a playoff spot. They are 1-4-5 in their past 10 games.
Don Hay, the head coach of the Kamloops Blazers, goes into the Christmas break with 736 regular-season victories. He needs six more to get to 742, which will move him into a tie with the retired Ken Hodge for the WHL’s career record.
The Blazers will come back from the Christmas break to play 13 games, seven on the road, from Dec. 27 through Jan. 21. That crazy WHL schedule then calls for them to play Portland three times in fewer than 48 hours, meeting in Kamloops on Jan. 26 and 27, and in Portland on Jan. 28. Of course, Hodge put up most of his coaching victories while with the Winterhawks.
You may have noticed that Portland F Cody Glass wasn’t able to crack the roster of Canada’s national junior team. That means that the Canadian team must be pretty darn good. . . . F Matthew Phillips of the Victoria Royals didn’t even get invited to the selection camp. . . . Yes, Canada must be really, really good.
The Vancouver Giants go into Christmas having won six straight games, including home-and-home sweeps of Portland and Victoria. The Giants now are 18-13-4 — that’s a legitimate plus-500 — and only three points out of first place in the B.C. Division. That’s rarified air for a team that won 20 games last season and has made the playoffs once in the past five seasons.
With a new year on the horizon, the WHL’s 2017-18 Official Guide remains, well, unavailable. This is the second season in a row in which the WHL hasn’t been able to make the Guide available in a timely fashion.
ICYMI, the home arena of the Everett Silvertips underwent a name change while I was on hiatus. What once was Xfinity Arena now is . . . wait for it . . . Angel of the Winds Arena. The Angel of the Winds Casino Resort is paying US$3.4 million over a 10-year agreement for the naming rights. The casino is operated by the Stillaguamish Tribe. . . . Apparently, there wasn’t enough support to have the facility renamed The House That Kevin Left.
If you weren’t aware, the WHL now is shut down for Christmas. Most players will return to their teams on Boxing Day (aka Black Tuesday), with all 22 teams scheduled to play on Dec. 27. All 22 teams also will be in action on Dec. 30, after which each team will have returned from the break to play three games in four nights. Six teams — Brandon, Moose Jaw, Portland, Tri-City, Spokane and Seattle — also will play on Dec. 31, meaning those players have four games in five nights to think about while trying to enjoy Christmas.
At Calgary, D Jonathan Smart scored 30 seconds into OT to give the Kootenay Ice a 4-3 victory over the Hitmen. . . . The Ice (15-17-2) has points in three straight (2-0-1) and is tied for second with the Lethbridge Hurricanes (15-16-2) in the Central Division. . . . Kootenay won 14 games all of last season and 12 in all of 2015-16. . . . The Hitmen (10-18-5) have lost two in a row (0-1-1), both to the Ice. . . . Calgary is eight points out of a playoff spot. . . . On Sunday, the Hitmen took a 3-1 lead into the second period. . . . F Jakob Stukel (15) gave the home side a 1-0 lead at 5:28. . . . The Ice tied it at 6:09 as F Michael King (6) scored. . . . The Hitmen then got goals from F Andrew Fyten (4), at 9:32, and F Mark Kastelic (8), shorthanded, at 17:36. . . . F Cameron Hausinger (9) pulled the Ice to within a goal, on a PP, at 5:18 of the second period. . . . Kootenay F Alec Baer forced OT with his 13th goal at 16:47 of the third period. . . . Smart, who was acquired from the Regina Pats on Nov. 14, won it with his fourth goal of the season on the only shot of OT by either team. That was his second score in 13 games with the Ice. . . . F Colton Kroeker drew an assist on each of his side’s last two goals. Baer also had an assist on the winner. . . . Kootenay was 1-6 on the PP; Calgary was 1-1. . . . Kootenay got 18 saves from G Duncan McGovern. . . . Calgary G Nick Schneider stopped 17 shots. . . . Announced attendance: 6,269.
At Saskatoon, the Blades scored the game’s first two goals and went on to a 3-2 victory over the Regina Pats. . . . Saskatoon (15-17-3) is tied with the Prince Albert Raiders (13-14-7) for the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card playoff spot. . . . The Pats (16-17-3) have lost four straight (0-3-1). The host team for the 2018 Memorial Cup holds down the conference’s first wild-card spot. Regina is fourth in the East Division, 14 points behind the third-place Brandon Wheat Kings. . . . On Sunday, the Blades took a 2-0 lead on first-period goals from F Braylon Shmyr (15), on a PP, at 11:08, and F Chase Wouters (7), at 19:35. . . . F Matt Bradley (22) got the Pats to within one, on a PP, at 4:43 of the second period, only to have Saskatoon F Josh Paterson (12) get it back, on a PP, at 15:42. . . . F Jake Leschyshyn pulled the visitors back to within a goal at 14:40 of the third period. . . . Shmyr also had two assists as he figured in each of Saskatoon’s goals. . . . Saskatoon also got two assists from F Kirby Dach. . . . Saskatoon was 2-4 on the PP; Regina was 1-6. . . . G Nolan Maier stopped 27 shots to earn the victory. . . . Regina got 22 stops from G Tyler Brown. . . . The Pats were without F Sam Steel and D Josh Mahura, both of whom are with Canada’s national junior team. Mahura had been among the players cut from the selection camp, but was recalled to the team on Saturday following an injury to D Dante Fabbro of Boston U. Fabbro suffered an undisclosed injury in an exhibition game against Denmark on Friday. If Fabbro isn’t able to play, Mahura is expected to be named to the 22-man roster on Dec. 25. . . . Announced attendance: 3,534.
Just before Halloween, the @WHLsilvertips were 4-9-1 and last in the U.S. Division.
Just before Christmas, they have gone 17-4-0-1 … and have seized 1st place.
At Everett, the Silvertips moved past Portland and into first place in the U.S. Division with a resounding 8-3 victory over the Winterhawks. . . . The Silvertips (21-13-2) have won two straight and are 9-1-0 in their past 10. They lead the Winterhawks (21-11-1) by one point atop the U.S. Division. They also lead the Western Conference, by one point over Portland, the Kelowna Rockets (20-11-3) and Victoria Royals (20-13-3). . . . The Winterhawks have lost two in a row and are 2-7-1 in their past 10. . . . On Sunday, the teams were 2-2 going into the second period where the hosts exploded for five goals. . . . Portland F Skyler McKenzie, who has 23 goals, scored twice in the opening period, sandwiched around Everett goals from F Bryce Kindopp and F Luke Ormsby (1), who is from Monroe, Wash. That was Ormsby’s first goal since he was acquired from the Seattle Thunderbirds. . . . Kindopp (11) snapped the 2-2 tie at 5:20 of the second period to start the onslaught. . . . Before the period was over, Everett had goals from F Martin Fasko-Rudas (1), F Akash Bains (2), F Patrick Bajkov (20) and F Riley Sutter (13). . . . F Jake Gracious (5) of Portland and Everett F Brandson Hein (2) exchanged third-period goals. . . . Everett got two assists from each of D Montana Onyebuchi, F Reece Vitelli and F Connor Dewar, with Fasko-Rudas, Ormsby, Sutter and Bains getting one apiece. . . . Everett was 0-3 on the PP; Portland’s PP unit didn’t get on the ice. . . . G Dustin Wolf stopped 26 shots for the Silvertips. . . . Portland starter Shane Farkas allowed five goals on 24 shots in 29:15. Cole Kehler, who turned 20 on Sunday, came on to stop 12 of 15 shots in 30:45. . . . Portland F Ryan Hughes played his second game after returning from surgery to repair a broken leg suffered on Oct. 10. . . . Everett was playing its third game in fewer than 48 hours. It went 2-1-0. . . . Announced attendance: 3,817.
At Spokane, F Nikita Malukhin scored his first two WHL goals to help the Thunderbirds to a 10-3 romp over the Chiefs. . . . Seattle (15-14-4), the WHL’s defending champion, has won two in a row and holds down the Western Conference’s second wild-card spot, five points behind Spokane (18-13-3), which now is 17-2-1 when scoring at least three goals. . . . Malukhin, a freshman from Kazan, Russia, went into the game with one assist in 18 games. . . . F Blake Bargar, who has seven goals, and F Zack Andrusiak, who has 18, also had two goals each for Seattle. . . . Andrusiak opened the scoring 20 seconds into the game. . . . F Jaret Anderson-Dolan, on a PP, tied it for Spokane at 3:14. . . . The Thunderbirds took control by scoring the next five goals. . . . F Nolan Volcan (13), who drew four assists, and D Austin Strand (12) scored before the first-period ended, and Bargar, Malukhin and Andrusiak added second-period goals. . . . Spokane got to within three goals, at 6-3, as Anderson-Dolan (16) scored, on a PP, at 7:12 of the third period and F Riley Woods (13) counted at 8:37. . . . But the Thunderbirds wrapped it up with the game’s last four goals, from Bargar, F Matthew Wedman (4), D Reece Harsch (6) and Malukhin. . . . Wedman added two assists to his goal, with Strand, Harsch, Bargar and Andrusiak each getting one. . . . D Ty Smith had two assists for the Chiefs. . . . The Thunderbirds were 2-3 on the PP; the Chiefs were 2-4. . . . G Matt Berlin earned the victory with 31 stops. . . . Spokane starter Donovan Buskey was beaten five times on 19 shots in 34:50. . . . G Campbell Arnold, 15, made his WHL debut with the Chiefs, coming on in relief at 14:50 of the second period. He allowed five goals on 10 shots in 25:10. Arnold, from Nanaimo, B.C., was added on Friday after the Chiefs returned G Declan Hobbs, 19, to the SJHL’s Nipawin Hawks. Hobbs, whose rights were acquired from the Kootenay Ice in July, had been with the Chiefs since Dec. 1. Arnold has been playing for the prep team at the Yale Hockey Academy in Abbotsford, B.C. The Chiefs selected him in the second round of the 2017 bantam draft. . . . Announced attendance: 4,042.
At Langley, B.C., the Vancouver Giants ran their winning streak to six games with a 2-0 victory over the Prince George Cougars. . . . The Giants (18-13-4) are 8-2-0 in their past 10 games. They are third in the B.C. Division, just three points out of first place. . . . The Cougars (12-17-5) are last in the Western Conference. They are four points out of a wild-card spot and 11 points behind Vancouver. . . . D Bowen Byram (2) broke a scoreless tie at 11:31 of the third period. . . . F Ty Ronning scored Vancouver’s second goal, an empty-netter, at 19:00. He has 32 goals in 35 games; last season, he totalled 25 goals in 68 games. In 2015-16, he had 31 scores in 67 outings. In his career, he has 98 regular-season goals in 250 games. . . .Ronning also drew an assist on Byram’s goal. . . . G David Tendeck stopped 40 shots for his second shutout of the season. He is 12-6-1, 2.90, .913. . . . The Cougars got 31 saves from G Tavin Grant. . . . Vancouver was 2-5 on the PP; Prince George was 0-2. . . . The Giants went 3-0-0 as they played three games in fewer than 48 hours. They swept the Victoria Royals in a home-and-home set. . . . The Cougars went 0-3-0 in playing three games in fewer than 48 hours. They lost 4-0 in Everett on Saturday, meaning they have been blanked in two straight games. . . . The Cougars return from the Christmas break to play four road games — in Victoria on Dec. 27 and 28, and back in Langley on Dec. 30 and Jan. 1. . . . Announced attendance: 4,088.
If you would like to contact Taking Note with information, have a question or just feel like commenting on something, feel free to send an email to email@example.com. I’m also on Twitter (@gdrinnan).
When Canada won the 1987 Izvestia Cup, Eric Duhatschek was there. He was in Moscow, covering the tournament for the Calgary Herald.
“I’ve long maintained,” Duhatschek, who now is with The Athletic, wrote in a Hockey Canada newsletter, “this was Canada’s Miracle on Ice — winning, on the road, against a
Russian team that played three 6-5 games against the Canadian team of Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Dale Hawerchuk three months earlier. A special, if under-appreciated moment in Canada’s hockey history.”
I wrote this feature five years ago and it first appeared in the pages of the late Kamloops Daily News. Guy Charron lives in Kamloops where he is enjoying retirement. Vaughn Karpan is the director of player personnel with the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights.
There have been many memorable moments for Canadian teams on the international hockey scene.
Yes, it all starts with the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union.
There also have been many memories made by Canada’s national junior team. And the 1961 Trail Smoke Eaters have to be included on anyone’s list.
But what of the 1987-88 Canadian national team?
This team, under head coach Dave King, deserves its own place high on that list . . . really high.
All Canadian hockey fans know that Paul Henderson’s goal on Sept. 28, 1972, scored in the Luzhniki Ice Palace in Moscow, won the Summit Series for Canada. What you may not know is that over the next 15 years not one Canadian team was able to win even one game against the Soviets in the Soviet Union.
And it wasn’t for a lack of trying, because Canada was a regular participant in the Izvestia Cup, a pre-Christmas tournament that was sponsored by the Izvestia Daily newspaper. (The tournament now is the Channel One Cup and is sponsored by a television company.) The purpose of the tournament, which began in 1967, was to get the Soviet national team some top-notch competition before the following spring’s World championship.
Prior to 1987, Canada’s Izvestia take amounted to silver medals in 1969 and 1986, and a bronze in 1978. But Canada had never won gold.
That drought ended in December 1987.
“It wasn’t as known or important to a lot of people,” Guy Charron, the head coach of the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers and an assistant coach on that Canadian team, says. “People
don’t know and don’t care that Canada won the Izvestia tournament. But it’s the only Canadian team that has ever won Izvestia.”
As Canada headed for Moscow in December 1987, the 1988 Olympic Winter Games were on the horizon, scheduled for Feb. 13-28 in Calgary.
“Izvestia is something that was always on our schedule, and especially the season of the Olympics,” recalls Charron, who worked under King and alongside fellow assistants Tom Watt and Dale Henwood.
“Guy was a critical part of the team,” says Vaughn Karpan, a forward on the Canadian team who now lives on the Lower Mainland and works as a pro scout for the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens. “Dave was tough and he was on 24/7; he had to be. He led the charge. He got the most out of every one of his guys.
“Guy was the guy the players could go to. He was good at it. I can’t say enough good things about Guy.”
The team was stationed in Calgary, where it spent most of its season practising. But there were jaunts to various locales for games and tournaments. And this would be a big one.
The 1987 Izvestia Cup would allow the competing teams to get a read on where everyone stood with the Olympics just two months away.
“It was the biggest competition prior to the Olympics,” Charron says, adding that it would allow the Canadians to see where they were at “and how can we compete with the Russians, knowing that they were going to be a big machine in the Olympic Games.”
Ahh, yes, the Soviets.
This was before the Iron Curtain fell. The Soviet Union was one gigantic nation. Czechoslovakia hadn’t split in two. West Germany had a hockey team. Times were a whole lot different.
“We had gone there a number of times,” Charron recalls. “We played Izvestia every year. Getting into that rink was always very special. I have great memories.
“They had key ladies . . . you had a designated room and we always had the same key lady. I remember her saying my name in Russian . . . ‘Welcome Guy!’ I have great memories of going to Russia even at a time that was much different from now.”
For example, there was the hotel.
“Our accommodations were the pits,” Charron says. “I had to sleep with the lights on so the bugs wouldn’t crawl down the wall. I’d walk into the room and say, ‘I’m back!’ “
He’s laughing now, but you can bet it wasn’t funny 25 years ago.
“You got accustomed to it,” he adds. “It was always a great experience and Dave always brought us to different places to learn about their culture. I just wish I had had the opportunity to go into a family home.”
There was no doubt that the Soviets would win the 1987 Izvestia Cup. After all, they had won this event eight of the previous nine Decembers, the exception being 1985 when Czechoslovakia had shocked the hockey world.
In 1987, as in most appearances at this tournament, the Canadian amateurs were seen as cannon fodder.
“We didn’t have the names,” Charron says. “With the exception of some of the players, we were an amateur team. Some of those players played in the NHL afterwards but this team was not made of NHL players.”
Goaltender Andy Moog was between NHL jobs, while defenceman Randy Gregg had played in the NHL. But it’s safe to say there were more household names on the Soviet roster than on Canada’s.
The Soviets had the KLM line – Vladimir Krutov, Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov – and it was magic on ice. More often than not, those three were on the ice with defencemen Vyacheslav Fetisov and Alexei Kasatonov. In fact, those five were known in the hockey world as the Green Unit, thanks to the green sweaters they wore in practice.
The Soviet roster also included a young Alexander Mogilny, as well as the likes of Evgeny Belosheikin, Vyacheslav Bykov, Sergei Yashin, Valeri Kamensky, Anatoly Semenov and Sergei Starikov. The team was under the thumb of legendary head coach Viktor Tikhonov.
The Canadians? Along with Moog and Gregg, the roster featured Gord Sherven, Ken Berry, goaltender Sean Burke, Karpan, Marc Habscheid, Zarley Zalapski, Cliff Ronning,
Serge Boisvert, Brian Bradley, Chris Felix, Bob Joyce, Serge Roy, Wally Schreiber, Tony Stiles, Claude Vilgrain, Craig Redmond, Ken Yaremchuk and team captain Trent Yawney.
The Canadian team was just that – a team in every sense of the word. Hey, even the coaching staff did grunt work.
Charron uses the word “camaraderie” to describe what he experienced.
“Here I am, I’ve played in the NHL and we’re unloading the bus and I’m carrying sticks with Dave,” he says. “I remember a couple of times we had guest coaches and they couldn’t believe that Dave and I were carrying luggage and sticks and bags.
“For me, it was the Olympic team and everybody had to chip in.”
The 1987 Izvestia opened on Dec. 16 with the Soviets pounding West Germany 10-1, Czechoslovakia getting past Finland 2-1, and Canada edging Sweden, 3-2.
The next day, the Soviets and Finland played to a 3-3 tie, while Sweden beat West Germany 3-2, and Canada dropped a 4-1 decision to Czechoslovakia.
The Izvestia Cup’s world was unfolding as it should.
After a day off, the tournament resumed on Dec. 19 with the Swedes beating Czechoslovakia 2-1 and Finland dropping West Germany, 8-2. The day’s big game, however, featured Canada and the Soviet Union.
“As an underdog, you go into those games competing, making sure you don’t embarrass yourself with one of the best teams in the world,” Charron says in describing Canada’s mindset. “I’m not sure we went into the game thinking, ‘We can beat these guys.’ But we had momentum and we felt good about ourselves. We said, ‘Let’s go out there and play, play hard, play the best we can.’ “
As the game progressed, the Canadians started to believe, maybe not in miracles, but that they could win this game.
Just talking about it 25 years later causes Charron’s voice to tremble a bit.
“Wow! All of a sudden realizing we can win this game, there was lots of emotion, lots of intensity,” Charron remembers. “It was like a big-time game when you have a sense that you can win this game. There was a lot of tension and a lot of intensity, a lot of big-game feelings at that game.”
Karpan, a native of The Pas, Man., had to sit out the game because of a high ankle sprain suffered against the Czechs. He got it taped and later played in Canada’s last two games.
But he remembers that “Sean Burke and Cliff Ronning were the stars for us that night” against the Soviets.
Berry came through, too, scoring a pair of third-period goals as the Canadians skated to a stunning 3-2 victory.
“I can vividly recall the smells and sounds in the arena,” Burke wrote in a Hockey Canada alumni newsletter, “and how in beween periods we were served hot tea. The crowd sitting in wood seats all dressed in greys and blacks and whistling their disapproval at the Russian stars, realizing they might actually lose in their homeland to a bunch of unknown Canadians.
“I can still see Ken Berry scoring from long range and the immediate thought that we were going to have to hold on for dear life to win the game . . .
“And then I remember the euphoria of our dressing room and the faces of guys that had worked so hard for this moment. We all knew we still had to beat the Finns to win the tournament, but how could anyone stop us if we just beat the most feared team in the world?”
A lot about Canadian hockey had changed after our first really sustained look at the Soviets in the eight-game series of 1972. Practice habits were different now, and there was more of a European influence in the flow of the game being played in North America.
The Soviets, however, hadn’t changed.
As Charron puts it, in 1987 he was glad “they didn’t pick up on our way of doing things sooner.”
“It didn’t matter how the game went on, he rolled four lines,” Charron says, referring to Tikhonov, the great Soviet coach. “If the fourth line was up for the power play, the fourth line played the power play. He wouldn’t double-shift the KLM line.”
Charron remembers watching the Soviets play earlier in the tournament and feeling the urge to yell at Tikhonov.
“Even watching against other countries, I was shocked,” Charron says. “I’d say, ‘Gawd, put that line back out there.’ But it was the fourth line’s turn, so . . .”
Charron also remembers one other thing about the Soviets from that era, something that is oft-mentioned by hockey observers from back in the day.
“There was no emotion from them,” Charron says. “The energy that Canadian teams have when they sense they can win something . . . that was something I noticed and I thought if they could ever have brought emotion. . . . Now they do.”
Charron noticed quite a difference when he was on Team WHL’s coaching staff when it played a Russian team in a Subway Super Series game in Kamloops in 2010.
“I could see the (Russian) kids in the hallway having fun, playing games,” he says. “I thought, ‘Wow, that’s different from what I was used to seeing in those years.’ “
Beating the Soviets put the Canadians in control of their destiny. But the Canadians still had to play West Germany and Finland.
Even after the high of having conquered the great Soviet team, there wouldn’t be a letdown.
“We knew what we were on the verge of accomplishing,” Karpan says.
On Dec. 20, the day after beating the Soviets, Canada got past West Germany, 2-1, while Sweden and Finland tied 2-2, and the hosts beat Czechoslovakia, 5-3.
Two days later, the tournament concluded with Canada beating Finland 4-1, West Germany getting past the Czechs, 4-3, and the Soviets disposing of Sweden, 4-1.
But even after the tournament ended, the games didn’t stop.
“The Russians always won,” Karpan says, adding that the hosts loved the tournament-ending trophy presentations. “They didn’t win this time, so they had a trophy made up for the team that had won the most Izvestias.”
Years later, in the alumni newsletter, Sherven, a forward from Weyburn, Sask., admitted he was really looking forward to the presentations.
“As it was my third Izvestia,” Sherven wrote, “I remember really looking forward to hearing our national anthem at the closing ceremonies, instead of the Russian anthem. Unfortunately, they never had a recording of our national anthem, so we had to listen to the Russian anthem again. I guess they didn’t expect us to win.”
This Canadian team would beat the Soviets again, also by a 3-2 count, this time in Saskatoon in a tuneup game a week before the Calgary Olympics began.
As Karpan points out, this was the same Soviet team that Mario Lemieux and Team Canada had beaten in the third game of a best-of-three series to win the 1987 Canada Cup in September. After the Soviets won Game 1, Lemieux scored the winning goal in each of the next two games, one in double overtime and the other with 1:26 to play in the third period.
“We had two wins in our three games against them,” Karpan says.
“We won Izvestia, which was a great thing for Canada,” Charron says. “But looking back, winning a medal in the Olympics probably would have been more important to all of us.”
There would be no medal for Canada in Calgary. Canada placed fourth, with the Soviets winning gold, Finland taking silver and Sweden bronze.
“It gave us a good feeling going into the Olympic Games,” Charron says of the Izvestia victory, “except I’ll never forget Dave’s comment after we won. He said, ‘We just won too early.’ “
As most of you will be aware, my original site got hacked late in November and I have been idle since then.
Tonight, I have opened a new site that may be temporary. If the other site is repaired soon, I will move back there.
But I wanted a spot to post these book notes — Parts I, II and III.
I am sorry they are so late but, hey, stuff happens.
In the meantime, enjoy!
What follows is the third of three parts.
Enjoy, and please keep on reading!
Morning Miracle: Inside the Washington Post a Great Newspaper Fights for its Life — Late in 2016 came news that the Washington Post was making money, again, and was soon to hire as many as 60 journalists. Written by Dave Kindred, who is best known as a sports columnist, this is a tremendous look at the inner workings of one of the world’s best newspapers as it fights for its life. Kindred was given access to every nook and cranny, and the book reads like it. Published in 2010, it is as relevant today as it was then. There also is a world of hurt here, as journalists continue to do what they do, while their world collapses around them.
My Song: A Memoir of Art, Race, and Defiance — You may know Harry Belafonte best as a singer — Day-O, Island in the Sun, Man Smart (Woman Smarter), etc. — or perhaps even as an actor. After reading his memoir, written with Michael Schnayerson, you will come to realize that Belafonte, 90, was one of the most important civil rights activists of our time. He was there with Martin Luther King Jr., and with Nelson Mandela and behind the scenes when so much more history was written. This is an amazing book, with Belafonte leaving no stone unturned, personal or otherwise. I was reading this book as January turned into February, which made it that much more relevant.
Night of Thunder: A Bob Lee Swagger Novel — This is the fifth of author Stephen Hunter’s nine (so far) books that detail the fictional exploits of Bob Lee Swagger. Night of Thunder takes place around Bristol Motor Speedway and a NASCAR race, with a family of crooks working to rip off the joint. Unfortunately, they involve Swagger’s daughter, Nikki, who is a reporter for a local newspaper. The rest is gunfire, helicopters and explosions. You’ll have to guess who wins in the end, though.
Night School — This is book No. 21 in the best-selling Jack Reacher series, which is written by Lee Child. The story, which is set in 1996, this time takes Reacher to Europe, mostly Hamburg, Germany, as he works to untangle a mess that involves terrorism and all kinds of federal and foreign agencies, including, yes, the CIA and FBI. Unfortunately, taking Reacher to Europe just doesn’t work. Something is missing here. Perhaps not enough bad guys got their heads banged by Reacher. Or, perhaps, Child simply ran out of Reacher-related ideas. While we hope this was a one-off, we will wait to see what’s next in the adventures of Jack Reacher.
North River — This is a novel about Dr. Jim Delaney, who works in an Irish-dominated neighbourhood in Brooklyn in the latter part of the Great Depression, prior to the Second World War. He comes home one day to find his three-year-old grandson on the doorstep and the child’s mother long gone. But this book is so much more than that because author Pete Hamill, a legend in the world of New York City’s newspapers, brings that city to life like no other writer. What’s that on your tongue? The grit and soot from the streets of New York. . . . Damn, this is a good one. I didn’t want it to end.
One Night Only: Conversations with the NHL’s One-Game Wonders — As of the writing of this book, there were, according to author Ken Reid, “about 350 men, give or take” whose entire NHL careers comprised one game. Reid, an anchor at Sportsnet, talks with 39 of those men in this book. As the title infers, the book features conversations as opposed to story-telling. Reid spoke with many of his subjects via telephone, so there isn’t a lot of up close-and-personal here and, after a while, the stories start to run together. Still, it’s especially interesting to read how these men felt as they realized the dream of playing in the NHL, and then later realized that, just like that, it was over. There is one horrible editing error — the chapter on Dave Chartier, who played with the Brandon Wheat Kings, features a photo of Dave Chartier, a player of the same name who played for the Saskatoon Blades.
The Pride of the Yankees: Lou Gehrig, Gary Cooper, and the Making of a Classic — Author Richard Sandomir, who writes for The New York Times, has written a wonderfully interesting book that chronicles the last days of Gehrig’s career with the Yankees and all that went into making the movie that followed his death. Sandomir details the search for actors to play Gehrig and his wife, Eleanor, and all that went into getting the movie to the big screen in a hurry. Interestingly, MGM boss Samuel Goldwyn wasn’t a baseballer; he wanted a love story. Gary Cooper, who plays Gehrig, wasn’t a baseballer, either. In the end, there was little about baseball in the movie. Still, the movie is a classic and this book tells the story of how it came to be.
Rink Burgers — Author Todd Devonshire was born, raised and played his minor hockey in Big River, Sask. He and his wife, Dawn, go home for a weekend and open boxes and memories, almost all of which are connected to his days as a minor hockey player. This book is rich in reminiscing and will result in a lot of smiles, especially if you have ever been in a small-town arena that was awash in the smells that come with rink burgers and fried onions.
The Sisters Brothers — A weirdly comic western by Patrick deWitt features a pair of bad brothers — Charlie and Eli Sisters — although one is quite a bit badder than the other. They are assassins for hire and their latest job takes them from Oregon City into California in search of their next target. The humour, you should know, is darker than midnight. In the end, though, the Sisters brothers prove that even the bad guys can go home again.
Stick a Fork in Me: A Novel — Pete Wallace is the athletic director at Western Ohio University and he’s closing in on retirement. Author Dan Jenkins uses Wallace’s reminisces and all kinds of characters to skewer the NCAA, professors, coaches, husband/wife relationships (his wife has a serious case of golf) et all. This is a quick read, but it’s Jenkins at his sarcastic and hilarious best.
Testimony — Imagine being a teenager fresh out of Toronto and finding yourself in Arkansas playing the dives and juke joints with Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks? That’s how Robbie Robertson got his start in the music business, and he tells us all about it in Testimony, an amazing memoir. Robertson now is 74 years of age; this book ends with The Last Waltz, the final concert in the volatile run of The Band, on Nov. 25, 1976. All that transpired between Arkansas and The Last Waltz is between the covers of this book and a lot of it isn’t pretty. That includes a European tour as Bob Dylan’s backup band as Dylan was going electric. Robertson packed a lot into the 33 years covered by this book and he introduces the reader to a whole lot of music history.
Time of Departure — I picked this book because the author, Douglas Schofield, is from Kamloops. A crown prosecutor-turned-writer, he now lives in the Cayman Islands, where he writes and practises law. This book is a crime mystery wrapped around Claire Talbot, who works in Florida and has recently been promoted to Felony Division Chief. I can’t reveal too much without ruining it for future readers, but it’s all about the unsolved murders of nine young women, and there is quite a twist in this story.
War Room: The Legacy of Bill Belichick and the Art of Building the Perfect Team — This one of the best football books that I have read. Author Michael Holley delves into the Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots in explaining how the organization got to the top of the NFL ladder and how it manages to stay there. Holley also looks at how Scott Pioli and Thomas Dimitroff left the Patriots’ front office to join the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons, respectively. There is lots of inside football stuff between these covers.
The Whistler — Disbarred lawyers. A casino on Native American land in Florida. Organized crime. A crooked judge. What could go wrong? There’s all that and more in the latest work from John Grisham. Maybe it was just me, but this one really didn’t grab me. It’s pretty straight-forward with few surprises.
— This is book No. 21 in the series of books by Michael Connelly that features Harry Bosch. He now is retired from the LAPD but has his private investigator’s ticket and also is freelancing on cold cases for the San Fernando Police Department. That means that in The Wrong Side of Goodbye, Bosch is working two cases — he’s looking for a serial rapist and, at the same time, searching for a possible heir to a fortune — both of which have the usual twists and turns. This is more good reading from Connelly.
(Part 3 of 3)
Here are the top 11 books that I read over the past year, in no particular order (I attempted to limit the list to 10 but I just couldn’t do it):
Indian Horse, by Richard Wagamese
North River, by Pete Hamill
Billy Martin: Baseball’s Flawed Genius, by Bill Pennington
Testimony, by Robbie Robertson
My Song: A Memoir of Art, Race, and Defiance, by Harry Belafonte, with Michael Schnayerson
The Miracle Mile: Stories of the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games, by Jason Beck
Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann
A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles
Born to Run, by Bruce Springsteen
The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse, by Tom Verducci
Game Change: The Life and Death of Steve Montador, and the Future of Hockey, by Ken Dryden