Back in his day, Frank Orr was as large in his field as Bobby Orr was in his. No, they weren’t related.
Frank Orr, who died Saturday at 84, was a hockey writer with the Toronto Star when I met him. It was at the 1991 IIHF World Junior Championship that was held in Saskatchewan. I was the Regina Leader-Post’s sports editor, and spent most of the tournament in Saskatoon.
By that time, Orr was a legendary hockey writer; I was a scribbler from Lynn Lake, Man., who was 20 years into his career. Within an hour of meeting Orr, it was like we were best buddies and had been for a long time.
That is how personable he was. He was a master of the one-liner and had travelled extensively — so what if most of it was on expense account — so had tasted the food in many tremendous eateries. Now here he was in Saskatoon, where the weather was miserably cold, and he was loving every minute of it. Well, almost every minute of it . . .
On Dec. 30, Orr and three others drove to Regina to watch Canada play Sweden, choosing to return to Saskatoon after the game. About 30 minutes outside Saskatoon, a red light lit up the dash of their rental car. They limped into the city, finding out later that the PCV valve had frozen open and the car’s oil had blown out all over the engine compartment.
Later, Orr admitted that he had broken out in a cold sweat at the thought of meeting his maker on the frozen prairie.
“I always thought it would end with someone’s husband chasing me down a street,” he said with a laugh.
Sleep well, old friend.
Mark Zwolinski of The Star has more on Frank Orr right here.
ICYMI, the Edmonton Football Team has a shortlist of seven possibles for its new nickname — Elk, Evergreens, Evergolds, Eclipse, Elkhounds, Eagles and Elements all are in the chase. . . . We are left to wonder what happened to Editors, Elaters, Elephants, Ernies, Eroughriders, Eskers. . . . Having lived in the north where there are eskers, I would be inclined to lean that way. . . . Edmonton Eskers. Yes!
Dwight Perry, in the Seattle Times: “If the Lord’s Prayer can be inscribed on the head of a pin, engravers can certainly fit the full name of Tampa Bay Bucs run-stuffer Vita Vea — Tevita Tuli’aki’ono Tuipulotu Mosese Va’hae Fehoko Faletau Vea — onto a Super Bowl ring, right?”
Perry, again: “Players for the Western Hockey League’s Red Deer Rebels will live at the team’s rink in Alberta this season to reduce the COVID-19 risk. ‘Fine with us,’ said every stay-at-home defenceman.”
Congrats to Gilles Courteau, the commissioner of the QMJHL, who celebrated his 35th anniversary in office on Saturday. Stephane Leroux of RDS points out that Courteau spent 15 years as president and now has been commissioner for 20 years. Leroux also points out that Courteau was hired on an interim basis in 1986.
“The NFL patted itself on the back with a spot bragging that the league is donating $250 million ‘to combat systemic racism.’ And that doesn’t even count the millions it paid to Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid for keeping them unemployed.
“If you don’t think it’s racism that’s keeping Kaepernick out of The League, tell me what you think would have happened to (Tom) Brady had he taken a knee in protest.
“Kaepernick and Reid sat out this season, but Tyreek Hill and Antonio Brown suited up and were covered in glory in the National Football League of Second Chances.
“And the 49ers announced they have re-signed Josh Rosen, whose resume now includes this: 1,000th washed-up quarterback to sign an NFL contract since Kaepernick ‘retired’.”
Here’s Ostler, again: “It’s sad to see Pebble Beach get squeezed out of golf relevance by Saudi Arabia and Los Angeles. Pebble’s famed annual AT&T National Pro-Am got snubbed by the world’s top golfers, partly because they want a rest between last week’s big-payoff Saudi International and next week’s Genesis Invitational in L.A. The AT&T has become the great little family diner you speed past on your way from IHOP to McDonald’s.”
A digital subscription to the San Francisco Chronicle is well worth it to read the likes of Ostler, Ann Killion, Eric Branch, Bruce Jenkins et al. . . . And with pitchers and catchers about to report, you may want to subscribe to the Washington Post just for the musings of Thomas Boswell.
When Major League Baseball revealed the details of the shakeup heard ’round the minor leagues, the Pacific Coast League was nowhere to be found. The league that sent so many players to the big leagues — like Joe DiMaggio and Willie McCovey — now is Triple-A West. . . . The California League is gone, too. It’s Low-A West. . . . Here’s hoping saner heads will prevail and that when it does there aren’t corporate names involved. . . . With MLB’s reorganization now complete, there are 120 minor-league teams left. Forty others are nowhere to be seen.
With all that we’ve been through over the past year, who had ‘Earthquake strikes near Banff’ on their 2020-21 Bingo card?
Earthquakes in #Banff are not as rare as you may think. Banff and Cascade Mtn are on the Rundle thrust fault. Including today, there have been at least 11 quakes of M3.8 or greater in the area since 1984. Biggest: M6.0 on Feb 4, 1918. #earthquake
Someone figured out that starter Trevor Bauer’s deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers will pay him somewhere around $10,000 per pitch. Keep in mind, too, that he only performs every fifth day. Can you imagine being a carpenter and getting paid $10,000 for every nail you hammered or every screw you turned? No, neither can I.
It could be that the best feud in hockey features Brian Burke, the new president of hockey operations with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and columnist Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun. . . . This goes back a few years and is far from being over. . . . In his book that came out last fall, Burke sniped at Simmons a time or three. . . . On Sunday, in his weekly notes column, Simmons wondered about Burke’s recent hockey accomplishments, or lack of same:
“Which makes the hiring of Burke in Pittsburgh as president of hockey operations more than a little surprising, although you won’t hear anything like that from all his media pals who laugh along with every word he speaks. It is the hiring of yesterday’s man, who won in Anaheim more than a decade ago, who made the Sedin deals (his signature NHL moves) 22 years ago. What has Burke done lately in hockey, except write a best-selling book and become valued entertainment in between periods? Truth is, it’s a lot of sound and fury, in reality, signifying nothing.”
JUST NOTES: You watch the Daytona 500 and you just know the last lap is going to turn into a demolition derby. . . . Had to chuckle at the WHL fan on social media last week who was debating with a guy named Brent Parker about the role of tutors with teams. Don’t think the fan realized that Parker is a former general manager of the Regina Pats. . . . If you’re wondering how we’re doing over here, well, there aren’t any bodies buried in the back yard so I guess that means we’re still getting along. . . . The St. Louis Blues and Arizona Coyotes will meet today for a seventh straight time. Tell me again how this NHL season won’t warrant an asterisk when it’s all over. . . . On the subject of this NHL season, if you watch enough games it really becomes apparent just how much emotion and passion fans bring to the games. Yes, the players are trying hard, but it just isn’t the same, is it?
If you’re a regular in these parts, you will have noticed that I took a couple of days away from here earlier this week. It wasn’t anything serious, but I had to recharge my batteries so that I could continue treading water.
After all, isn’t that what we’re doing as we pretend to be battling the virus that seems to be everywhere. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we don’t seem to be winning this war. At least not at this point, not with the virus now sending its variant friends into battle.
Here in B.C., our premier, John Horgan, suggested that we all “dig down a little deeper,” never mind that some of us have been digging for more than 10 months now.
On Monday, Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, urged us to “do more.” Sorry, Dr. Henry, but some of us don’t know what more we can do. Haven’t eaten in a restaurant since March 11. Ordering groceries online. Haven’t travelled from Kamloops since Sept. 20. I could go on and on but you get the point.
Once upon a time, I spent 17 years at the Regina Leader-Post. In the first few years (aka before Conrad Black bought the joint and started milking it dry), employees were able to take part in various seminars. One of them dealt with the medium of mixed messages.
And we certainly are seeing a whole lot of those these days.
Remember when 300 positives tests in a day was cause for near panic? Now we’re seeing 400 or 500 a day and nothing changes. Ten or 12 people die every day and nothing changes. Did deeper, we’re told. Do more.
Last week, from Tuesday through Friday, the four western provinces reported 4,812 new cases and 140 deaths. (B.C. was 1,952 and 35; Alberta, 1,829 and 47; Saskatchewan, 953 and 38; and Manitoba, 478 and 20.)
Guess which province lifted some restrictions about 10 days ago and then watched as shoppers flocked to big box outlets as though it was Boxing Day? Hey, Manitoba, I’m looking at you.
And guess which province announced Friday that it will be easing up on restrictions early in February? Hey, Alberta, you realize that Friday (543 and 14) wasn’t a good day. Right?
No matter. The numbers come out — more than 20,000 Canadians now have died of this scourge. Ontario lost 1,658 citizens in January, which was the province’s deadliest month of the pandemic. So far.
The politicians offer condolences to the families of the dead. Others shrug. And life goes on.
A friend who works in our local hospital — which has experienced 79 positives among staff and patients over the past few days — posted this on social media on Friday night: “As I’ve said before, burnt out is what we felt MONTHS ago. We’re well beyond that now, I don’t even know what it’s called now.”
And no matter how you look at it . . . the end isn’t in sight.
So by all means . . . let’s ease up on restrictions and let’s not worry about these troublesome variants until some point down the road. Let’s not concern ourselves with showing the healthcare workers — the doctors, nurses, aides, cleaning crews et al — the respect they are due; after all, they’ve only been working in this mess for going on a year now. The teachers? What about them? Retail workers? Restaurant workers? Who?
Let’s just keep on keeping on, doing the same dance we’ve been doing for most of a year. But, that being the case, let’s stop thinking there will be a different outcome. After almost a year, you would think our dancing feet would be sore enough that we would want to try something else. But . . . no.
BTW, did you know that Perth and southwest Australia are into a full five-day lockdown after discovering the area’s first case in almost 10 months? Contact tracing has started and they’re ramping up their testing. When the music stops, they change the dance.
Doesn’t seem to be any mixed messages Down Under.
There . . . I feel better.
F Brandon Sutter enjoyed the first three-goal game of his NHL career on Monday night as the host Vancouver Canucks dismantled the Ottawa Senators, 7-1. . . . Some notes from Jesse Campigotto of CBC Sports’ The Buzzer:
“Brandon Sutter can look forward to the next family get-together now. It took him close to 800 regular-season and playoff games, but the Vancouver forward became the sixth member of his clan to score an NHL hat trick. Brandon joined his dad, Brent, who had six hat tricks, and uncles Brian (7), Darryl (3), Rich (1) and Duane (1). Brandon also could be moving up the family goals rankings soon. With 147 career regular-season goals, he’s just two behind Rich for fifth place. Brent leads with 363, followed by Brian (303), Ron (205, but no hat tricks) and Darryl (161).”
Looking for a good read to kill a few hours in these pandemic times? You can’t go wrong with Broken, from Don Winslow, who also brought us The Power of the Dog, The Cartel and The Border, among other books. While those three novels were epic tales centred on the Mexican drug trade, Broken is six short stories that are oh, so much fun. Give it a try and thank me later.
No doubt you are aware that those who vote on entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame came up with a zero this time around, meaning the likes of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens won’t be walking into the hallowed hall.
Here’s Pete Blackburn of CBS Sports:
“The HOF can bury its head in the sand and try to pretend the steroid era didn’t exist, but Bonds is in the record books as baseball’s home run leader and he’s indisputably one of the best to ever play the game. He was well on his way to a Cooperstown-worthy career before the steroids — I mean, he was intentionally walked with the bases loaded in 1998 (a year before it’s believed he started juicing) and that should be an automatic induction.
“Instead of completely shunning these obviously legendary talents that were tied to a league-wide steroid problem, why not just start a steroid wing of the HOF and let them have a semi-tainted induction that matches their semi-tainted careers?”
A year ago, Robert Saleh was on the coaching staff of the San Francisco 49ers, who would lose, 31-20, to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl. Here’s what he told Pro Football Talk Live about trying to shut down QB Patrick Mahomes: “You’ve got to be relentless. He has ridiculous arm talent. But any time you’re a pass rusher, just understand that he might do his little old man jog in between plays where it looks like his feet hurt. Don’t kid yourself.” . . . Saleh is the New York Jets’ new head coach.
THE COVID-19 CHRONICLES . . .
Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle, with a message for the NFL:
“Just letting you know, we are on to your little trick of using replay challenges to ram extra commercials down our baby-bird-like throats.
“One recent game, there was a challenge of a catch at the sideline. The first replay shown on TV provided crystal clear proof that it was a legal catch. Case closed in five seconds, right?
“Wrong. As with every challenge, TV cut away to a commercial. And then another. And another. SIX commercials later, we were allowed back to the football game, although by then I had forgotten who was playing.
“Don’t insult what’s left of our intelligence after the hammering of our skulls by the events of the past year.”
“San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich announced on his 72nd birthday that he’d gotten a COVID-19 vaccine, telling AP: ‘Sciencewise, it’s a no-brainer,’ ” reports Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times. “In other words, good shot selection.” . . .
Hockey Winnipeg announced Saturday that it has cancelled the remainder of its 2020-21 season. From its website: “Effective Jan. 30, 2021, the board of directors and executive members of Hockey Winnipeg have made the difficult decision to cancel the remainder of the 2020-21 regular hockey season and playoffs. . . . This decision is not closing the door on hockey this year, just Hockey Winnipeg regular-season and playoff games. This will allow for area associations within Hockey Winnipeg to provide local programming for the balance of the season as public health restrictions may allow.” . . . Hockey Winnipeg said that it “and our area associations will be working to provide fair refunds to our members over the next few months.” . . .
The Chicago Blackhawks cancelled a Saturday practice “out of an abundance of caution due to potential exposure of COVID-19.” . . . The Blackhawks, who dropped a 2-1 decision to visiting Columbus on Friday night, are scheduled to play the Blue Jackets again tonight. . . . Chicago has three players on the COVID-19 protocol list — D Adam Boqvist, F Alex DeBrincat and F Lucas Wallmark. . . .
But I just heard for the last three months in Saskatchewan that hockey doesn’t spread / is immune from COVID because a bunch of leagues that played 3-5 games or less had no localized cases 😯😯😯 how is this even possible??? https://t.co/vOBjy79kxJ
A Saturday night AHL exhibition game between the Henderson Silver Knights and visiting San Jose Barracuda was halted after the second period due to COVID-19 protocol. . . . The Silver Knights later announced the suspension of play wasn’t due to a positive test from their players or staff. . . . On Sunday, the Barracuda revealed that one of its players had tested positive with the result having arrived during the game. . . . The Silver Knights were leading 1-0 on a goal by former Kamloops Blazers F Jermaine Loewen. . . .
F Marco Rossi, 19, captained the Austrian team at the 2021 World Junior Championship after having tested positive for COVID-19 in November. After the tournament, he joined the Minnesota Wild, which had selected him ninth overall in the 2020 NHL draft. He had yet to play for the Wild, thanks to what was speculated to be an upper-body injury. On Saturday, the Wild announced that Rossi has gone home to Austria to recover from complications due to COVID-19. There isn’t a timetable for his return. . . .
The Montreal Canadiens pulled F Josh Anderson from Saturday’s game with the Calgary Flames with what head coach Claude Julien said was flu-like symptoms. Anderson tested negative for COVID-19, but will be tested again on Sunday. . . .
F Kyle Palmieri of the New Jersey Devils didn’t play in Sunday’s 4-3 victory over the host Buffalo Sabres. The Devils said it was a “COVID-related absence.” . . .
D Andrej Sekera of the Dallas Stars didn’t play in Sunday’s 4-3 shootout loss to the host Carolina Hurricanes. Sekera had played in Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the Hurricanes. The team said Sunday’s absence was “in accordance with the league’s COVID protocols.”
If you are interested in being a living kidney donor, more information is available here:
Some questions and some thoughts as we jump into 2021:
1. When did so many people develop such a lack of respect for healthcare workers?
2. When it starts to snow, why does it never seem to know when to stop?
3. Taking Note doesn’t salute a team of the year, but if it did the 2020 award would go to the junior B 100 Mile House Wranglers. In announcing in September that the Wranglers would sit out the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League season, team president Greg Aiken told Kelly Sinoski of the 100 Mile Free Press: “We’re concerned for the health of our community, just bringing 35 foreign bodies to our town is a risk. To me, that just doesn’t make sense with this pandemic going on. Who knows what is going to happen with the kids going back to school . . . I can guarantee there’s going to be a spike in cases. It’s not getting better.”
4. If you were wondering, the 2021 World Junior Championship really gets started in the Edmonton bubble on Saturday with quarter-final games.
5. The NBA season is off to something of a ragged start with blowouts and some horrid shooting — New York Knicks’ starters were 0-for-23 shooting threes on Thursday night. You wonder if that’s a precursor for an NHL season that will start about two weeks after training camps opened and without the benefit of exhibition games.
6. A “random thought” from Janice Hough, who is at leftcoastsportsbabe.com: “The NBA season is very young. But there appear to be some very bad teams. Wonder if the Washington Wizards could beat the Washington Generals?”
7. We are almost a year into this pandemic, so how is it that some people still can’t follow the one-way arrows on the floors of malls and stores?
8. So . . . that domestic terrorist who blew up part of Nashville the other day apparently was a believer in the lizard people conspiracy. Somehow, I wasn’t aware of the lizard people until The Sports Curmudgeon clued me in on Thursday. That conspiracy really does explain 2020, so I know that I will sleep better tonight.
9. I really do hope that you got to watch Kelli O’Hara sing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir over the festive season.
10. “Rumour has it two members of the Red Deer Rebels believe in Santa,” writes RJ Currie over at sportsdeke.com. “The rest are Rebels without a Claus.”
I don’t know how your 2020 ended, but it couldn’t have been any better than Ray Ferraro’s . . . You can bet they’ll be playing street hockey at the intersection of Ferraro Drive and Allison Way, too. . . .
If you have some time on your hands for some entertaining reading, click right here and you’ll find Dave Barry’s 2020 in review.
Doc Rivers on being in Orlando,where some are walking around maskless like there's no pandemic:"I mean, listen, I don’t want to take a shot at any state, but my God yesterday, I was under my bed I was so scared. People are walking around like there’s nothing here. I’m surprised.”
The first three paragraphs of an editorial written by The Editorial Board of The New York Times:
“Look no further than the storied Rose Bowl game to understand the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s disingenuous and perilous posturing about the sanctity of its athletics programs while the coronavirus has ravaged the country and college campuses.
“Ignoring health officials who have deemed the annual playoff matchup too dangerous to be held on New Year’s Day in Pasadena, Calif., amid a massive spike in Covid-19 cases, the N.C.A.A. simply allowed it to move to Texas, where local officials are willing to let some 16,000 fans attend. It’s the worst kind of forum shopping.
“The N.C.A.A. likes to tell itself that it is in the business of educating students about the virtues of competition and sportsmanship. What it is showing them now by example is that some sports — the moneymaking kind — are more important than public health.”
And the last paragraph . . .
“Delaying the basketball season is the right choice. After a folly-filled football season, university and college administrators and the N.C.A.A. can show real leadership by putting the safety of their players and their communities first.”
An early Christmas present . . . Here is for KING & COUNTRY with their version of Little Drummer Boy . . .
Sweden has lost a second player off its national junior team to a positive test. F Karl Henriksson, who was selected by the New York Rangers in the second round of the NHL’s 2019 draft, won’t play in the World Junior Championship that opens Dec. 25 in an Edmonton bubble. Henriksson likely would have been the Swede’s first- or second-line centre. . . . On Saturday, it was revealed that Swedish F William Eklund, one of the top prospects for the NHL’s 2021 draft, had tested positive.
Three players from Boston U — G Drew Commesso, F Robert Mastrosimone and D Alex Vlasic — won’t be attending USA Hockey’s national junior team selection camp. Jeff Cox of the New England Hockey Journal broke the news on Sunday, saying that the decision involves COVID-19 protocols. BU had a positive test last week so shut down activities involving the men’s hockey team and postponed its season-opener that was to have been played on Saturday against UConn. . . . Cox also reported that Boston U won’t be playing another game until Jan. 8. . . . Team USA replaced those three on the camp roster with G Logan Stein of Ferris State, D Tyler Kleven of the U of North Dakota and D Hunter Skinner of the OHL’s London Knights. . . . Commesso was a second-round pick by the Chicago Blackhawks in the NHL’s 2020 draft; Chicago took Vlasic in the second round in 2019. . . . The Detroit Red Wings picked Mastrosimone in the second round in 2019. . . . Neither Stein nor Skinner has played this season because there teams haven’t been able to get started. Kleven, a second-round pick by the Ottawa Senators in 2020, was playing for UND at a bubble in Omaha. . . . Skinner was a fourth-round pick by the New York Rangers in 2019. . . . Team USA’s camp opened Sunday in Ann Arbor, Mich. The roster includes 29 players and the plan is to trim two defencemen and two forwards on Dec. 13.
Steve Simmons, in the Toronto Sun: “If I was a parent of a junior hockey player or even an agent, I’m not sure I’d want my kid locked in an Alberta hotel room for two weeks, all in the name of quarantine and the apparent upcoming world junior tournament.”
Headline at fark.com: Washington is finally giving Texas a Wall.
Jeff Marek of Sportsnet tweeted early Sunday that the ECHL is expected to announce the loss of three more teams for the upcoming season — the Cincinnati Cyclones, Idaho Steelheads and Kalamazoo Wings. That means 11 of the league’s 26 teams have opted out, the others being Adirondack Thunder, Atlanta Gladiators, Brampton Beast, Maine Mariners, Newfoundland Growlers, Norfolk Admirals, Reading Royals and Worcester Railers. . . . Marek also wrote that he has been “told the Toledo Walleye and Fort Wayne Komets are still undecided.” . . . The ECHL is planning on having some teams being play on Friday.
“Heisman Trophy QB Johnny Manziel said on rapper Mike Stud’s YNK Podcast that he received impermissible benefits — i.e., cash — during his playing days at Texas A&M,” reports Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times, the shock dripping from his keyboard. “Or as Manziel is now known in booster circles, Johnny Windfall.”
Perry, again: “Star guard James Harden, who reportedly wants out of Houston, didn’t appear for the Rockets’ individual workouts Thursday as the opening of training camp looms. Harden apologists, fittingly enough, believe he was traveling.”
Bill Littlejohn, who writes from South Lake Tahoe, Calif., suggests that fans of the Cleveland Browns — hello there, Jeff DeDekker — are getting a bit ahead of themselves with their glee over their favourite team going into this weekend with a gaudy 8-3 record. Here’s Littlejohn: “Fans of the Cleveland Browns getting giddy over their team’s being 8-3, of which seven wins came against foes with losing records, should recall the case of Heavyweight contender Duane Bobick. Duane built up a record of 38-0 against a succession of stiffs and tomato cans before being demolished in 57 seconds by Ken Norton, Sr.” . . . The Browns now are 9-3 after beating the host Tennessee Titans, 41-35, on Sunday. Yes, that’s even gaudier than 8-3. Next up? The visiting Baltimore Ravens on MNF on Dec. 14.
“The Houston Texans had two players test positive,” notes Janice Hough, aka The Left Coast Sports Babe, “and it was just for PEDs. Seems so quaint.”
COVID-19 CHRONICLES . . .
I wear a seat belt when I drive my car, I wear a mask during a pandemic and I wear a parachute when I jump out of a plane.
Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times has taken a long look at sports in these pandemic days and that piece is right here. It carries the headline: Sports rolls on in the U.S. while the pandemic rages: Is it worth the risk? . . . It’s a good read.
CBC News: Manitoba is reporting 383 new cases of COVID-19 and 14 additional deaths related to the virus. 1 of the deaths is a man in his 20s. The province’s 5-day test positivity rate is 13.6%. 2,231 tests were completed Saturday.
CBC News: Saskatchewan is reporting 415 new cases of COVID-19 and 4 new deaths. Today’s case count reflects a backlog from Saturday for the Saskatoon region. There are 4,550 known active cases province-wide. 135 people are in hospital, including 26 in intensive care.
Mo Cranker, Medicine Hat News: 1,836 new cases of COVID-19 were identified in the last 24 hours by the province. . . . There are also 19 new deaths being reported. . . . Medicine Hat stayed at 94 active cases. The province reported six new cases in the Hat, as well as six new recoveries.
CBC News: Alberta now has 19,484 known active cases, including more than 7,200 in Calgary and over 8,900 in Edmonton. 601 people are in hospital, including 100 in ICU. Alberta’s test positivity rate is 7.8%.
B.C. on weekends: Crickets! . . . Watch for big, big numbers on Monday afternoon.
CBC News: Ontario reports new record high of 1,924 COVID-19 cases. There are 568 new cases in Toronto, 477 in Peel and 249 in York Region.
CBC News: Quebec is reporting 1,691 new cases of COVID-19. The province added 24 deaths to its total, 10 of which occurred in the last 24 hours. 778 people are in hospital, including 102 in intensive care.
CBC News: Nova Scotia is reporting 4 new cases of COVID-19, all in the Central Zone. 3 cases are under investigation; the remaining case is travel-related. There are 88 known active cases in the province. No one is currently in hospital. . . . Nova Scotia is amending today’s COVID-19 case count to add 1 more. Health officials say the latest patient is a student at an elementary school in Dartmouth. That school will now be closed until Dec. 10. The new diagnosis brings the number of new cases in the province today to 5.
CBC News: New Brunswick is reporting 4 new cases of COVID-19. 2 are in the Saint John region, 1 is in the Moncton region and 1 is in the Edmundston region. There are 82 known active cases in the province. 2 people are in hospital, including 1 in intensive care.
CBC News: P.E.I. is reporting 4 new cases of COVID-19. All are contacts of cases in the cluster reported Saturday. Dr. Heather Morrison says the source of the current outbreak is unknown, and more positive cases are expected. There are now 11 known active cases in the province. . . . P.E.I. is bringing in ‘circuit breaker’ measures for the next 2 weeks. Some of the regulations: In-restaurant dining, gyms and casinos must close. Retail stores can operate at 50% capacity. Organized gatherings like weddings and church services can have a maximum of 10 people.
CBC News: 4 new cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Newfoundland and Labrador. 3 of the cases are travel-related, and the other is a close contact of a previous known case. There are 30 known active cases in the province. No one is in hospital.
CBC News: Nunavut is reporting 2 new cases of COVID-19 in Arviat, after 8 new cases were reported there Saturday. There are 51 known active cases in the territory, all in the communities of Arviat and Whale Cove.
CNN: More than 30,000 new Covid-19 cases were reported in California Sunday, the highest number of new daily cases ever recorded in the state. Hospitalizations there are also at an all time high.
Sweden tried to achieve herd immunity through no lockdowns, restrictions or masking. Last week, they hit 7,000 deaths. Denmark, Finland and Norway, all similar-sized countries who instituted safety measures, have just 878, 415 and 354. Herd immunity failed https://t.co/wUcblpFEeh
The Gonzaga Bulldogs, the No. 1 men’s basketball team in the NCAA, has postponed all games through Dec. 14. It was to have played the No. 2 Baylor Bears on Saturday but the game was postponed 90 minutes prior to tipoff after the Bulldogs had a pair of positive tests. . . . Gonzaga U is based in Spokane, Wash. . . .
The U of Texas has shut down all football activities after three players and two staff members tested positive on Sunday. All five are said to have tested negative on Friday, before visiting Texas whupped Kansas State, 69-31, on Saturday and then tested positive on Sunday. . . . Texas is scheduled to play at Kansas, at Lawrence, on Saturday.
“I want more than anything else for others to make this gift for their fellow human beings. It takes just one kidney to give someone back their life.” shared Dr. Doti, marathon runner and living donor. #BigAskBigGivehttps://t.co/NM14Z85PF4
JUST NOTES: The Heritage Junior Hockey League, a 14-team junior B league in Alberta, has shut down at least until January. A release from the league states that it “will meet in January to discuss the best way to move forward.” . . . The Vancouver Canucks didn’t have any choice but to rid the organization of that dunderheaded anthem singer. . . . “The Vancouver Canucks have kicked anthem singer Mark Donnelly to the curb because he’s an anti-masker,” writes Patti Dawn Swansson, The River City Renegade. “Guess that rules out an appearance on The Masked Singer.” . . . If you sat down in front of a TV set on a Saturday morning and watched football through Sunday night, how much wine would you drink if you took a sip every time you saw a coach improperly wearing a facemask?
What follows is Part 2 of a three-part look at some of the books I have read over the past 12 months. Before we get to those, here are a handful of suggestions from the thumbnails that appeared here a year ago. If you haven’t read these, you can’t go wrong with any of them:
Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times, by Mark Leibovich
Bower: A Legendary Life, by Dan Robson
Football for a Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL, by Jeff Pearlman
Hockey Fight in Canada: The Big Media Face-off Over the NHL, by David Shoults
K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches, by Tyler Kepner
The Last Cowboys: A Pioneer Family in the New West, by John Branch
Scotty: A Hockey Life Like No Other, by Ken Dryden
Us Against You, by Fredrik Backman (but only if you already have read Backman’s Beartown)
Now here is Part 2 of this year’s bookshelf . . .
Gloves Off: 40 Years of Unfiltered Sports Writing: Lowell Cohn, now retired, had a lengthy career as a sports columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press Democrat. This is his look back at some of the people he dealt with and things that he witnessed. He doesn’t pull any punches as he writes about his career; no, it’s not a compilation of columns. I’m a sucker for books of this type, but this one really is an entertaining read.
The Good Earth: My mother was a reader and I can remember seeing Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth in a bookcase at home. But I can’t explain why I hadn’t read it before the summer of 2020. Published in 1931, it follows the life of a Chinese farmer and his family through more than 50 years of change, and it always returns to the importance of owning land. It won a Pulitzer Prize so I don’t need to tell you how good it is — but it’s great. It also is the first book in Buck’s House of Earth trilogy, the other two being Sons (1932) and A House Divided (1935).
The Gray Man — This is the book that started the legend of The Gray Man, aka Courtland Gentry. He’s an assassin who at one time worked for the CIA but most times freelances. In his debut, there is a bounty on his head, and he faces down a dozen kill squads, but not without paying a price. Author Mark Greaney has created a likeable leading man, and the excitement is palpable between the front and back covers.
The Grim Reaper: The Life and Career of a Reluctant Warrior — With help from writer Kevin Allen, then of USA TODAY, former hockey enforcer Stu Grimson told his story in a book that came out in the autumn of 2019. The book’s title is a touch misleading because Grimson, who had about 400 fights combined in major junior and the NHL, doesn’t seem to regret any of it. That may seem a bit strange seeing as he was forced into retirement by post-concussion syndrome. Anyway, he provides some valuable insight into the thought-process of NHL heavyweights — their anxieties and fears, both for the present and the future. Grimson, who was adopted, also opens up about his personal life, including a surprising introduction to his birth father.
The Guardians — Cullen Post is a lawyer/minister who spends more time lawyering than preaching. His lawyering is aimed at correcting wrongful convictions and the group he works with, Guardian Ministeries, has had some successes. This book, by the prolific John Grisham, is about one of those cases, and a whole lot more. It’s good Grisham and the genesis, unfortunately, was a true story, as the author informs us at book’s end.
The Huntress — I absolutely loved The Alice Network, and The Huntress is every bit as good, if not better. Both books were written by Kate Quinn. The Huntress is the story of two young men who pursue war criminals and are brought together with a Night Witch, a woman who was part of a female crew that flew night bombing missions for the Russians during the Second World War. The hunters’ latest target is a woman in Boston, who isn’t what she is trying hard to be. There are great characters and much intrigue here. You won’t be disappointed.
The Jordan Rules — I don’t have any idea why I hadn’t read Sam Smith’s book prior to May. I finally read it while taking breaks from watching The Last Dance, the 10-part documentary on Michael Jordan, co-starring the Chicago Bulls, on Netflix. Smith, a writer with the Chicago Tribune, details the Bulls’ 1990-91 season. As the Bulls run to their first NBA title, the reader is left to decide whether The Jordan Rules was the name for the way the Detroit Pistons played defence on Jordan or how his teammates came to feel about what dictated life with the Bulls. If you haven’t read this, it’s great. Interestingly, Smith now writes for the Bulls’ website.
Major Misconduct: The Human Cost of Fighting in Hockey — Author Jeremy Allingham, a reporter with CBC in Vancouver, takes an in-depth look at the post-hockey lives of three former enforcers — James McEwan, Stephen Peat and Dale Purinton — and what he uncovers isn’t at all pretty. Interestingly, all three got their starts as enforcers in the WHL, a major junior league that has yet to ban fighting. This is a horrifying look at life after hockey fights and should be read by anyone involved in junior hockey — from fans to parents to executives.
The Mighty Oak — Tim O’Connor is the fighter — goon — for the West Texas Hockey League’s El Paso Storm. But his best days are behind him and he’s feeling it all over. O’Connor, whose nickname is Oak, hasn’t yet come to grips with the fact that a hip and a shoulder and a whole let else have him headed for hockey’s junk heap. He’s hoping the Oxy and Toradol and Adderall and whatever else is available will get him through it. Then he punches a cop. Author Jeff W. Bens has written an engrossing character study of a hockey enforcer trying to find a way back into a previous life.
Mission Critical — I had heard of author Mark Greaney and his Gray Man books, but I hadn’t ready any of them until this one, which is No. 8 in the series. Court Gentry is The Gray Man; he also is an assassin, code name Violator. In Mission Critical, Violator is working for the CIA and there is a lot of nastiness happening in a paperback that runs 706 pages. But it is readable and it is fun.
Mohawk — I don’t know if there is an author who captures small-town life in all of its idiosyncrasies like Richard Russo. Such is the case, again, in Mohawk as he follows a handful of citizens through the routine of their daily lives and stays with them as they deal with life’s ups and downs. Mohawk was published in 1986 and it is as great today as it was then.
Molly’s Game: The True Story of the 26-Year-Old Woman Behind the Most Exclusive, High-Stakes Underground Poker Game in the World! — A member of the U.S. freestyle ski team suffers a career-ending injury and ends up running high stakes poker games in Los Angeles and, later, in New York City. This is the story of how Molly Bloom did all of that and more. She spills some of the beans in anecdotes that involve players like actors Tobey Maguire, who comes out rather poorly, Leonardo DiCaprio and Ben Affleck, and some Russian gangsters. The obscene amounts of money thrown around in these games prove only that some people have no idea how the rest of us live. In the end, though, it all comes crashing down. Unfortunately, the book ends before the end, which is the part where Bloom pleads guilty to federal charges. You’ll have to turn to Google to find out what happened in court.
Here is the fifth and final piece on the WHL’s first 25 years. The five stories were written in the late 1990s, while I was the sports editor at the Regina Leader-Post. I had pretty much forgotten about it until recently when I was asked if I might post it again. So I have done just that over the past couple of weeks. . . . As you read each piece, please remember that I wrote them more than 20 years ago and they cover only the league’s first 25 years. It isn’t an all-encompassing history, but hits on some of the highlights and a few lowlights. . . . The stories are pretty much as originally written. . . . Here, then, is Part 5 of 5. Thanks for reading along. I hope you have enjoyed these stories, and thank you for all of the positive feedback. . . .
The fifth five-year segment was easily the best of the WHL’s first 25 years.
There was success in the stands, particularly in the Pacific Northwest corner of the United States, and in Saskatoon where the Blades welcomed a new facility.
There was stability, too. Recent additions, like the Tri-City Americans and Lethbridge Hurricanes, settled in for what appeared to be long stays.
But the greatest success came on the ice where the WHL won four Memorial Cup championships during the five seasons, opening with three in a row and closing with a victory by the Spokane Chiefs.
The 1986-87 season actually started on something of a strange note. The Regina Pats signed Doug Sauter, who was under contract to the Medicine Hat Tigers, to a two-year deal as general manager/head coach. The result was that the Pats agreed to compensate the Tigers.
The compensation turned into two veteran players — defenceman Kevin Ekdahl and forward Kevin Clemens. It was the first time in WHL history that a coach had, in effect, been traded.
The Pats also welcomed back another familiar face with Dennis Sobchuk, the greatest and most-popular player in franchise history, signing on as assistant coach/assistant manager.
This was a time of great change in the front offices and behind the benches. Barry Trapp left the Moose Jaw Warriors, saying, “I wasn’t fired. It was just a mutual agreement. It was a very friendly parting.”
Medicine Hat signed Bryan Maxwell to replace Sauter, while Peter Esdale was the new coach in Spokane and Wayne Naka took over the Cougars in Victoria. In New Westminster, John Olver was the GM, with Ernie McLean the coach. Harvey Roy was out as the Bruins’ director of marketing, but he would surface in Moose Jaw as the GM and would hire Greg Kvisle to coach the Warriors. In Prince Albert, GM/head coach Terry Simpson left to coach the NHL’s New York Islanders and Rick Wilson took over.
Perhaps the biggest news in the summer of 1986 came on June 2 when the WHL announced it was doing away with round-robin playoff series in the East Division. Instead, the top two teams would get first- round byes.
In the WHL office, Richard Doerksen’s title was upgraded from executive assistant/referee-in-chief to vice-president.
There was trouble in Brandon, where the Bank of Nova Scotia called in a $77,000 demand loan, asking for payment on July 31. This resulted in the Wheat Kings’ board recommending to shareholders that the franchise be sold.
In August, shareholders voted 1,411-404 in favour of selling the Wheat Kings. Offers were received from two groups — one in Edmonton headed by Vic Mah, the other comprising Brandon businessmen Bob Cornell and Stuart Craig, and Winnipeg businessman Dave Laing.
Cornell’s group purchased the Wheat Kings for more than $300,000 and then added a unique twist to the situation by signing a 10-year working agreement with the Keystone Centre. The Keystone took over operation of the club, and hired Bill Shinske to run the front office. Shinske hired Marc Pezzin as coach.
The WHL also welcomed the Swift Current Broncos to the fold. Behind the bench was Graham James, who had recently reached an out-of-court settlement with the Warriors over a lawsuit he had started the previous year.
“If we continue to average close to 2,000, we’ll have a real successful year and we’ll show a profit of about $80,000,” Gary Bollinger, the Broncos’ vice-president and alternate governor, said. “That doesn’t include playoff revenue. We were budgeting for an average of 1,600. If we averaged that, we’d still make a bit of a profit.”
The first coaching change of the 1986-87 season took place on Dec. 8 in Seattle when Sheldon Ferguson gave up the Thunderbirds’ coaching reins, but stayed on as GM. Dan McDonald was the new head coach, with former Portland Winter Hawks star Jim Dobson as the assistant.
Disaster struck on Dec. 30 when the Broncos, en route to Regina to play the Pats, were involved in a bus accident. Four players — Scott Kruger, Trent Kresse, Brent Ruff and Chris Mantyka — were killed.
“There has never been anything more devastating that has happened to me personally,” Ed Chynoweth, the WHL president, said. “The question I keep asking myself is ‘Why?’ My heart goes out to all the parents and the people involved. I wish someone would call and say this is all a mistake.”
John Foster, the Broncos’ publicity director, said: “This team will band together and win it for those guys who died. The (survivors) were absolutely professional under stress. If the people of Swift Current could have seen them, they would have been proud.”
There was never any thought of the team not continuing. As team president John Rittinger said: “It’s up to the players and the fans now. We aren’t ready to throw in the towel.”
Defenceman Ed Brost, talking about the club’s next game, stated: “It will be difficult. To go right back out on the ice would be cheating ourselves emotionally and physically. Right now people have to remember athletes are human beings, not robots.”
Moose Jaw centre Theoren Fleury was in Czechoslovakia with Canada’s national junior team at the time of the accident.
“I just can’t believe it,” Fleury said. “I just sat on the bus all the way to practice today thinking about what’s going on with all those guys on that team right now. It just blows me away. I don’t know what to say. There’s nothing we can do about it and I think being helpless is the most frustrating thing about it.”
As if losing four players in the accident wasn’t enough, Herman Kruger, 67, suffered a fatal heart attack as he entered the church for his great-grandson’s funeral.
And later the same day, Sauter and Regina trainer Stan Szumlak came to the rescue of Keith Giles, a member of the Prince Albert executive, who was choking on some food.
Donations in memory of the players poured into the Broncos’ office and an education fund was set up in their memory. Another fund was started to raise money that would go towards the cost of replacing the bus.
On Feb. 2, a longtime veteran of the WHL’s coaching wars returned for one last fling when John Chapman replaced Wally Kozak behind the bench of the Calgary Wranglers. Chapman also was the Calgary GM.
On Feb. 15, Portland won a game in Spokane and Ken Hodge took over as the winningest coach in WHL history. His 547 victories were one more than Ernie McLean.
Tragedy struck the WHL again on March 1 when Regina centre Brad Hornung was checked into the end boards at the Agridome and suffered a broken neck.
Dr. Chris Ekong, a neurosurgeon, said Hornung suffered a burst fracture of the third cervical vertebrae and a crushed spinal cord. “Brad has no feelings in his arms and legs,” Dr. Ekong said. “He is completely paralysed from the neck down.”
Hornung would never regain the use of his arms and legs, but that didn’t stop him from going on with his life.
As the WHL completed its 25th season, Hornung was continuing with his education, taking courses at the University of Regina.
Despite the bus accident, Swift Current made the playoffs in its first season. But there wouldn’t be a Cinderella story as the Broncos dropped a best-of-five series to Prince Albert, 3-1.
April was highlighted by three coaching changes — Esdale’s contract wasn’t renewed by Spokane, Kvisle resigned in Moose Jaw and McLean stepped aside in New Westminster.
And Medicine Hat won the WHL championship. The Tigers faced elimination twice in each of their last two series, and dumped visiting Portland 7-2 in the seventh game of the championship final.
The Tigers would win their first of two consecutive Memorial Cup championships, the first under Maxwell, the second under Barry Melrose. Both came with Russ Farwell as general manager.
John Van Horlick took over as coach in New Westminster for 1987-88, with
Butch Goring the coach in Spokane. Jim Harrison was the new head coach in Moose Jaw, with Ed Staniowski his assistant. Harrison and Roy, the GM, were friends from their days in Estevan, while Staniowski was a former all-star goaltender with Regina.
And the WHL was returning to Lethbridge. The Tier One Junior Hockey Club of Lethbridge purchased the Wranglers for about $350,000 from Brian Ekstrom. The Lethbridge franchise would be called the Hurricanes, causing Lethbridge Herald columnist Pat Sullivan to wonder if the logo would be an overturned mobile home.
The sale also meant that there wouldn’t be a franchise in the city in which the WHL office was located. But the office wasn’t about to be moved.
“It was decided that it was certainly the most central location for our league,” Chynoweth said.
Going into the new season, the WHL passed a rule cracking down on checking from behind.
“We do use (NHL) rules and the NHL doesn’t have hitting from behind instituted in its rule book,” Chynoweth said, “but I predict that within two years the NHL will have the same rule.”
That is exactly what happened.
There was change in the WHL’s boardroom, too, as Portland’s Brian Shaw stepped down as chairman of the board and was replaced by Saskatoon’s Rick Brodsky.
On June 5, Swift Current celebrated its first birthday by revealing the franchise was no longer in debt.
Rittinger said: “We bought the franchise and we borrowed money to buy the franchise. So we took the season-ticket money to pay the bank loan off. The bank loan is paid off. We don’t owe the bank anything. And that’s incredible because we just got the franchise last year.”
Maxwell left Medicine Hat, joining the Los Angeles Kings as an assistant coach. Lethbridge named Glen Hawker as its first GM/head coach. Before the season started, Lethbridge reorganized, with Wayne Simpson taking over as GM.
On July 6, Hornung, in his first interview since being injured, told the Regina Leader-Post: “You have to accept it. Life goes on and you do the best with what you have. At first, it was a time of change, shock really, but right now, it’s actually gotten easier because you get used to the adjustments. Like everybody else, I have my good days and bad days. But I don’t have many bad days.”
Separate pregame warmups came to the WHL on Sept. 28.
With Seattle off to a 2-15-0 start, owner Earl Hale told Ferguson, the GM, to take a leave of absence. On Nov. 16, Ferguson was fired. A couple of weeks later, Hawker was fired in Lethbridge, where Blaine Galbraith took over. And on Dec. 8, Moose Jaw fired Harrison and hired Gerry James, the only person to have played in a Grey Cup game and Stanley Cup final in the same season.
On Feb. 2, Saskatoon beat Regina 7-2 before 3,308 fans in the final game at the Saskatoon Arena. Regina coach Doug Sauter, for one, was glad to see the end of the old barn: “I get screwed every time I come in here and I haven’t been kissed yet.”
One week later, on Feb. 9, Saskatoon beat Brandon 4-3 in front of 9,343 fans at Saskatchewan Place. Chynoweth announced prior to the game that the 1989 Memorial Cup would be played in Saskatoon.
On March 11, amidst rumours that the Warriors were on the verge of major financial problems, it was announced that Roy’s contract wouldn’t be renewed.
WHL attendance figures compiled by the Regina Leader-Post showed that Swift Current drew 82,080 fans to 36 home games, which was 99 per cent of capacity. Portland led in total attendance — 200,911. The league drew 1,405,874 fans, an increase of almost 80,000 over the previous season.
For the first time in league history, the scoring race ended in a dead heat.
Two centres — Fleury and Swift Current’s Joe Sakic — finished the regular season with 160 points. Sakic had 78 goals, Fleury 68. But there was nothing in the WHL bylaws to deal with the situation so the scoring race was ruled a tie.
The rumours were true — there were financial problems in Moose Jaw. The Warriors began sorting things out by separating the hockey side of things from the business side. With an accumulated debt of $234,000, Joe Celentano, a former referee with basketball’s Harlem Globetrotters, was hired as business manager.
On April 17, Medicine Hat beat visiting Saskatoon 3-0 to win its third straight East Division title. The only other team to win three consecutive East titles was the Flin Flon Bombers, beginning in 1968-69.
On May 3, the Tigers beat visiting Kamloops 5-2 to win their second straight WHL title, this one in six games.
The very next day, Bob Vranckaert, who was in the construction business in Alaska, said he would like to put an expansion franchise in Anchorage in time for the 1990-91 season. Born in Drumheller, Alta., and raised in Burnaby, B.C., Vranckaert spent more than 20 years in general commercial construction 800 miles north of Anchorage.
The WHL said it would play two exhibition and four regular-season games in Anchorage and use that, plus the 1989 world junior championship, which was to be held in Anchorage, as a barometer.
On May 8, the Pats announced that Sauter’s contract wouldn’t be renewed.
A week later, Sauter’s old team, the Tigers, beat the Windsor Spitfires 7-6 in Chicoutimi to become the sixth team in the 70-year history of the Memorial Cup to win back-to-back championships.
The board in Moose Jaw put H.J. (Toby) Tobias in charge and then resigned en masse. Tobias was empowered to chair a committee whose immediate responsibility was to carry on a fund-raising campaign aimed at erasing the club’s debt. The immediate goal was to raise $150,000.
Tobias said he would look into the team’s accounting procedures, recommend constitutional changes and appoint an auditor to present a year-end statement at the club’s annual meeting.
“To me it’s a four-stage project,” Tobias said. “Stage 1: Solve the immediate debt crisis and give us some breathing room. Step 2: Have a look at the front office and see if there are some things we can tighten up. Stage 3: Come up with a budget we can live with in years to come. Stage 4: Make sure fund-raising becomes a year-round effort.”
In mid-May, Pezzin resigned as coach in Brandon. He would be replaced by Sauter, who was reunited with Shinske. The two were old friends, going back to the Estevan and New Westminster Bruins. Sobchuk replaced Sauter in Regina.
Celentano resigned in Moose Jaw, saying: “By my staying I become just another liability, one of those accounts payable that they have to make every day, and they don’t have the money.”
On May 31, Tobias announced that the Warriors had reached their goal of $151,800. That figure covered debts accrued up until March 31. Tobias said: “The phoenix has risen from the ashes. The financial health of the club remains fragile . . . but it’s business as usual from here on in.”
Indications were that New Westminster owner Ron Dixon would move the franchise to the Tri-Cities area of Washington State. He just happened to be building an arena, the Tri-Cities Coliseum, there.
In July, Farwell and Melrose resigned in Medicine Hat. Shortly after, they signed in Seattle. Wes Phillips was named GM in Medicine Hat and hired Ron Kennedy, a former Estevan player, as coach. Before the season started, Phillips quit, citing business and family pressures, and Tim Speltz replaced him.
Peter Anholt was named head coach in Prince Albert, where Wilson quit to join the L.A. Kings as an assistant coach. Brad Tippett was the GM in Prince Albert.
The WHL arrived in Anchorage on the weekend of Sept. 24 and 25, 1988.
Kamloops and Portland played two exhibition games in Anchorage, drawing 2,100 to the first game and 1,750 the next night.
A shakeup occurred in Spokane. It started on Oct. 14 when Spokane GM Bob Strumm acquired six players while giving up four others in trades that involved three other teams. The Chiefs were 1-4-0 and had given up 33 goals in those five games.
Twelve days later, with the Chiefs 2-9-0, Strumm relieved Goring of his duties. Strumm, with a three-year contract extension that would take him through the 1991-92 season, went behind the bench, went 2-4-0 and immediately installed Gary Braun as coach.
On Nov. 11, Moose Jaw dumped Gerry James and installed Kvisle as head coach/director of hockey operations.
Three days later, Regina shook up things. Sobchuk moved from coach to GM, with Bernie Lynch moving up from assistant coach to head coach.
It was announced on Nov. 17 that Vranckaert had purchased the Victoria Cougars from Fraser McColl. Ownership actually had changed hands 10 days after the end of the season.
“Bob has been after me for a long time,” McColl said. “He wants to get into the business with a passion. And, perhaps, that’s the type of enthusiasm this team needs right now.”
On Nov. 20, the Tri-City Americans, having played their first 17 games on the road because the Coliseum wasn’t ready, opened at home with a 4-3 overtime victory over Seattle in front of a sellout crowd of 6,004.
Swift Current started the season with 12 straight victories, and went into the Christmas break at 28-5-0 and on a 10-game winning streak. Referring to the bus accident of two years previous, James said: “I think the bus accident galvanized the spirit of the community. I think that was a catalyst. Since then we’ve had to provide a product that’s been worthy of fans coming, but I think that incident certainly rallied the community.”
Added centre Tim Tisdale: “That’s all anybody in town talks about. It’s hard to believe. You go downtown and you’re eating in a restaurant and everybody at the next table is talking about the Broncos. It definitely helps your hockey.”
There was big news out of Calgary on Jan. 3, 1989, when Petr Nedved, a centre with a midget team from Litvinov, Czechoslovakia, defected after a midget tournament. His WHL rights belonged to Moose Jaw, but the Warriors would deal them to Seattle.
The season wasn’t over when Spokane owner Vic Fitzgerald said that Braun wouldn’t be returning.
On March 14, Chynoweth revealed that the WHL “had an inquiry from Terry Simpson about putting a team in Red Deer. They would have to get a new building.” A conditional franchise was sold to Simpson on Aug. 12, 1991. The Rebels would begin play in the fall of 1992.
Attendance figures compiled by The Regina Leader-Post showed that attendance was up 232,951 over 1987-88. Most of that was attributable to the first-year Americans who attracted 203,532 fans, which was 156,149 more than they drew the previous season in New Westminster.
There was a change in Seattle on April 11 when Medicine Hat businessman Bill Yuill bought the Thunderbirds from Earl Hale of Calgary.
The usual spate of front-office changes began in earnest with the news that: 1. Galbraith would not be back in Lethbridge; 2. Al Patterson, who quit in Victoria after the season ended, had signed as Tri-City’s GM; 3. Ron Byrne had signed as the GM in Victoria; 4. Sobchuk had resigned as GM in Regina; 5. Shinske had resigned in Brandon; and, 6. Tippett had quit in P.A.
Swift Current won 4-1 in Portland on April 30 to sweep the Winter Hawks in the championship final. The Broncos became the first team to sweep its way to the WHL championship — they also got past Moose Jaw and Saskatoon in four games each. The Broncos, just a season and a half after having four players killed in a bus accident, went 55-16-1, the best record in the CHL.
“This is a great accomplishment for our franchise,” James said. “But I don’t want the Memorial Cup to decide if we had a great year.”
Tisdale added: “We have the team to do it this year. If we can’t get up for four games, we don’t belong there. I’ll be disappointed if we don’t win the Memorial Cup.”
On May 14, Tisdale’s goal at 3:25 of the first sudden-death overtime period gave the Broncos a 4-3 victory over Saskatoon in the final game of the Memorial Cup. The game was played in front of 9.078 fans in Saskatchewan Place and brought to an end the most successful Memorial Cup tournament ever played.
Shortly after the Memorial Cup, the changes continued: 1. Lynch found out his contract in Regina wouldn’t be renewed; 2. Rick Kozuback signed a two-year contract as coach with Tri-City; 3. Simpson returned to Prince Albert as GM/head coach; 4. Bill Hicke was named GM in Regina; 5. Tippett signed as Regina’s head coach; 5. Maxwell returned from L.A. to sign as co-coach and director of hockey operations in Spokane; 6. Braun was Spokane’s co-coach and assistant director of hockey operations; 7. Melrose left Seattle to become head coach of the AHL’s Adirondack Red Wings; 8. Marcel Comeau signed a two-year deal in Saskatoon but shortly after resigned to become head coach of the AHL’s New Haven Nighthawks; 9. Anholt quit in P.A. to join Seattle as head coach; 10. Rob Daum signed as assistant coach/assistant manager in P.A.; and, 11. Terry Ruskowski signed to coach the Blades.
On June 14, 1989, Moose Jaw, so close to financial ruin just one year earlier, revealed at its annual meeting that there was a paper profit of $119,722 and that the Warriors had about $40,000 in the bank.
At its annual meeting, the WHL had two major announcements. It had decided for the first time to use full-time referees. “We’re hoping it leads to more consistent, professional refereeing,” Regina governor Ted Knight said. By the time all was said and done, the WHL had hired eight full-time and four part-time referees.
The WHL also said it would no longer allow teams to list 13-year-old players. From that point on, 14-year-olds would count for two spots on a list, players 15 and older for one.
Seattle set a single-game attendance record on Oct. 7 when 12,173 fans showed up to watch the Thunderbirds edge Portland, 4-3. “We could have sold 2,000 more tickets,” Seth Landau, the club’s director of marketing and public relations, said. “We were sold out the day before the game.” The previous attendance record belonged to Portland, which had attracted capacity crowds of 10,437 to Memorial Coliseum on numerous occasions.
The first coaching change came on Oct. 15 when Naka resigned in Victoria. Lyle Moffat replaced him.
On Nov. 1, Ken Hitchcock, 36 years of age and in the neighbourhood of 400 pounds, went public with the news that he was going on a serious diet.
“There comes a time in life when it becomes a case of now or never,” said the popular coach of the Kamloops Blazers. “I look down the road four or five years from now, what do I want to be doing? If that’s what I have to do to move up the ladder, that’s what I have to do.”
Victoria made another coaching change on Nov. 13 with Garry Cunningham becoming the Cougars’ third coach of the season. Moffat stayed on as marketing director.
A lawsuit launched by Hornung was settled out of court in November. Thirteen defendants, including the WHL, were named in the suit launched in July of 1987. Details of the settlement weren’t made public.
At a WHL board of governors’ meeting on Nov. 20, the chair switched bodies again. It was a case of deja vu, with Shaw taking over from Brodsky.
On Dec. 17, Sauter was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a disorder that strikes at the central nervous system. He would not return to coaching until late in the 1990-91 season when he finished the winter with the SJHL’s Estevan Bruins. Brandon GM Kelly McCrimmon moved in behind Brandon’s bench.
There was a player revolt in Tri-City when Dixon named Bill LaForge director of player personnel. LaForge said he had a five-year contract.
On Dec. 31, with Portland scheduled to play in Tri-City, the Americans players refused. A statement signed by 19 players read in part: “We will definitely not participate in any further games without the termination of Mr. Bill LaForge from the Americans organization.”
The players ended their holdout the next day, winning 8-4 in Portland. Dixon had contacted players earlier in the day and said LaForge would no longer have any contact with them.
Defenceman Colin Ruck later explained the Tri-City deal: “He came into the dressing room screaming and cutting guys down. To get to us, he said we had to call him Coach. He had (coach) Rick Kozuback picking up pucks during practice. That really upset us. Bill came out and ran a really brutal practice. We felt we had to do something.”
Byrne was gone as Victoria’s GM before January ended, while Cunningham was out as coach on Feb. 5. Moffat went back behind the bench. The Cougars would set a CHL record, losing 29 in a row.
On Feb. 7, Seattle centre Glen Goodall had an assist in a 5-3 victory over visiting Tri-City to break the WHL record for most points in a career. That lifted his point total to 530, one more than Craig Endean, who had played with Seattle and Regina.
Two nights later, Seattle broke the WHL single-game attendance record as 12,253 fans watched a 5-3 victory over Spokane.
Figures compiled by the Regina Leader-Post showed that attendance totalled 1,678,651, up about 40,000 over the previous season. Tri-City, which sold out every home game, led the way with total attendance of 216,360. Saskatoon, in its first full season in Saskatchewan Place, played in front of 209,542 fans. Seattle, which finished with its best-ever record (52-17-3; the best previous was 32-28-12 in 1977-78), drew 181,211 fans, up 66,189 from a year previous.
On March 28, Chynoweth admitted that two groups had applied for an expansion franchise for Tacoma, Wash.
The Spokane franchise changed hands on April 10, with Fitzgerald selling to the Brett brothers — Bobby, George and Ken — for more than $600,000. Bob Brett wouldn’t say what they paid, other than to say it was “too much.”
The postseason changes started in April when Speltz and Kennedy learned that Medicine Hat wouldn’t renew their contracts, and Rick Hopper was named head coach/director of hockey operations in Victoria. Jack Shupe, the Tigers’ first GM/head coach in 1970-71, was the new GM in Medicine Hat. He hired Tim Bothwell as coach.
On April 29, Kamloops scored a 6-5 overtime victory in Lethbridge to win the WHL final in five games. Kamloops lost the opener and then won four straight. The Blazers struck out at the Memorial Cup, though, as the Oshawa Generals, with Eric Lindros, won it all in Hamilton.
There was much expansion talk in the WHL, resulting in this comment from Brodsky: “It’s sort of like being in love. If you have to ask yourself whether you’re in love, you’re probably not. If we’re wondering why we should expand, then maybe we’re forcing the issue a bit. If expansion is right, we’ll know it.”
Farwell left Seattle to become GM of the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers. Anholt added the GM’s nameplate to his door, and hired assistant GM Dennis Beyak from Saskatoon. Beyak had been in Saskatoon since 1981 and was the person deemed most responsible for the success of the 1989 Memorial Cup in Saskatoon.
Simpson left Prince Albert again, this time to become an assistant coach with the Winnipeg Jets. Daum was promoted to replace him.
There were shockwaves in Kamloops when Hitchcock resigned after six seasons with the Blazers. He signed as an assistant coach with Philadelphia. Tom Renney replaced Hitchcock, who left with a 291-125-15 regular-season record over six seasons, his .693 winning percentage the highest of any coach in WHL history.
Leaving wasn’t easy for Hitchcock, who said: “I got cold feet a couple of times. I almost went into (GM) Bob Brown’s office and said, ‘Call the whole thing off, I don’t want to go.’ ”
On Sept. 30, Chynoweth chatted about expansion: “There are what I like to call tire-kickers in Boise, Idaho; Eugene, Oregon; and, Tacoma, Washington. The WHL is in good shape and we’re aggressive to expand by one, possibly two teams in the West Division sometime soon. We are coming off our second record-setting attendance season. We’re also proud of the fact that this is the third year in a row we aren’t opening a new site. Believe it or not, but we’re stable.”
Bruce Hamilton, a former player and scout with the Blades, headed a group of Saskatoon and Tacoma investors who were eventually granted a franchise for Tacoma to start with the 1991-92 season.
On Oct. 30, with the 1990-91 season one month old, one night before Halloween, James went wild in Swift Current. Upset with referee Kevin Muench after the Broncos turned a 7-3 second-period lead into a 9-8 loss to visiting Medicine Hat, James went on to the ice in pursuit of Muench, then returned to the bench and threw sticks and water bottles onto the ice. James then removed his jacket, tie, shirt and one shoe and threw them onto the ice before his players escorted him to the dressing room.
Bothwell summed it up: “All I can say is, ‘Wow.’ I don’t know what words can describe what happened out there, from a lot of different aspects.”
James was suspended for six games and fined $2,000. “At least they didn’t ask me for the shirt off my back,” he said. The incident would show up on video on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and the David Letterman Show among others.
There was some silliness in Spokane, too. On Dec. 6, with Tri-City visiting Spokane, Maxwell and Americans assistant Gerry Johannson got into it after first period.
Here’s Maxwell: “He was waiting for me. He was yapping at me. He challenged me and I accepted the challenge.” Maxwell was said to have out-punched his opponent, 4-0.
Here’s Johansson: “He throws punches like marshmallows.”
Maxwell was suspended for three games and fined $500. Johansson got hit for $1,000 and four games.
Remember that $1 parking fee in Regina? Well, on Dec. 17, Regina Exhibition Park announced it was doubling it to $2. “I don’t think our fans will take very kindly to it if it does happen,” said co-owner/GM Bill Hicke. “If that’s the case it’ll drive another nail in the coffin.”
The Pats’ lease would expire after the 1990-91 season and Hicke had already made at least one trip into the Pacific Northwest to scout buildings.
A change in Prince Albert had Dale Engel move in as GM, with Rob Daum giving up that title but staying on as coach. It was no surprise when Daum left P.A. for Swift Current at season’s end.
On Feb. 4, Saskatoon fired head coach Terry Ruskowski, replacing him with former Blades defenceman Bob Hoffmeyer.
On March 17, Seattle was awarded the 1992 Memorial Cup.
The Leader-Post’s attendance figures showed that Tri-City, with 36 sellouts, again topped the WHL with 216,360 fans. Seattle was next at 215,248, up 34,037 from the season previous. But overall attendance was down 22,861 to 1,655,790.
On April 17, Marcel Comeau was named the first head coach of the Tacoma Rockets. Hamilton would be the GM, with Lorne Frey, most recently with Swift Current, as director of player personnel.
Spokane scored a 7-2 victory over home-town Lethbridge to sweep the WHL final. The Chiefs would go on to win the Memorial Cup, with goaltender Trevor Kidd and right-winger Pat Falloon wrapping up dream seasons. Both played for the Canadian junior team that won the gold medal in Saskatoon.
One thing more than any other summed up the WHL as it headed into its second 25 years. When the 1991-92 season opened, the league not only had the same 14 teams for the fourth consecutive season, but it had welcomed the Tacoma Rockets to the fold.
If you haven’t already seen this, take a few minutes out of your day to give it a listen/watch. This one will make you think about what not to do if you ever end up with a stinky, rotting whale on your beach. . . .
WATCH: The Exploding Whale, remastered for 50th anniversary of legendary Oregon event!
How did I spend my Sunday? Thanks for asking. The two rather large trees in our front yard got their haircuts on Friday, So on Sunday most of the outdoor Christmas lights and decorations are up and ready to shine. Another hour, hopefully on Monday, and it’ll be all done for another year. . . . Temperature on Sunday afternoon reached 11 C, so it was quite enjoyable out there. . . . Oh yes, we also had our first taste of this festive season’s fruitcake. Merry Christmas!
After the Boston Red Sox brought back Alex Cora as manager, Greg Cote of the Miami Herald wrote: “Adjusted bromide: ‘Cheaters Almost Never Prosper.’ ” . . . Cora served a one-year suspension after being manager of the Houston Astros during their cheating scandal.
Headline at TheOnion.com: Cora gets another kick at the can in Boston.
The USHL has been having its issues with COVID-19, and has had to postpone/reschedule a number of games. The Waterloo Black Hawks and Tri-City Storm both played on Saturday night and were supposed to face each other on Sunday. But the game, according to the league, “has been declared a No Contest. Per league safety protocols, minimum standards were not met to play (Sunday’s) game.”
A news flash from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times: Dateline Washington, D.C.: Donald Trump finally concedes he lost — to the Baltimore Stars in the 1985 USFL playoffs.
Perry’s Tweet of the Week came from @Southampton FC, which, upon finding itself atop the Premier League standings for the the first time tweeted: “Stop the count.”
Come April 6, it will be three years since 16 people were killed in a crash involving the bus belonging to the SJHL’s Humboldt Broncos. Michelle Straschnitzki and her husband, Tom, are two Broncos parents who aren’t prepared to give up on wanting to have seatbelts declared mandatory on medium and large highway buses and school buses. Bill Graveland of The Canadian Press reports that these parents “are angry at what they see as inaction from the federal and provincial governments on measures that could prevent another tragedy.” . . . Michelle told Graveland: “It’s just disgusting that nothing has changed. It should be legislated as of yesterday. It should be across the board, across Canada. It makes me nuts. This is not OK. We should not be fighting for this 2 1/2 years after the bus crash. It’s not right.” . . . Graveland’s story is right here.
ICYMI, St. Mary’s, Remsen beat Montezuma, 108-94, in an Iowa eight-man football state semifinal the other day. Interestingly, St. Mary’s had only 144 yards through the air, while Montezuma QB Eddie Burgess threw for 744 yards and nine TDs, then told the Cedar Rapids Gazette: “Credit to them. They kept us contained for some of the game.” . . . Blaine Harpeneau, the winning QB, was named player of the game after running for 354 yards on 40 carries. He scored four TDs and threw for four more. The teams combined for 1,497 yards of offence.
RJ Currie at sportsdeke.com: “Vasek Pospisil’s three-set loss in the Sofia Open final made Canadians 0-6 in ATP finals in 2020. You might call it Mission Im-Pospisil.”
A few years ago — actually more years ago than I care to remember — I took a look at the first 25 years of the WHL in four lengthy stories. The other day, someone who stops by this space on a regular basis wondered if I might post those pieces again. . . . So I have dug them up and they will appear here over the next while. Keep in mind that they were written more than 20 years ago, and I will post them as they were written. Also please keep in mind that they don’t pretend to be all-inclusive; they include some highlights and some lowlights and hopefully will help keep the past alive.
This is an all-time favourite hockey photo. Never mind the great stuff on the ice, take a look at the faces in the crowd . . .
I see three guys in the stands smiling. They obviously didn't the memo that all pre-1970 NHL games were to be absorbed with the solemness of a funeral. pic.twitter.com/tOzPwiHXDQ
Canadian provinces are still doing better than most U.S. states, but provinces like Manitoba and Alberta are climbing. For new daily infections (7-day average) Manitoba is just behind Arizona, which is 37th among the states
CBC North: 10 new cases of COVID-19 found in Nunavut, with signs of community spread in Arviat.
Ana Cabrera, CNN: US surpasses 11 million coronavirus cases. It took just 6 days to go from 10 million to 11 million.
Seattle Times: Gov. Inslee orders sweeping restrictions on indoor gatherings, restaurants, bars, gyms as COVID-19 cases surge in Washington state.
CBC News: 2 new cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Newfoundland and Labrador. Both are travel-related. The province has 10 known active cases, including 1 person who is in hospital.
CBC News: New Brunswick is reporting 3 new cases of COVID-19 for a total of 22 known active cases in the province. The new cases are in the Moncton, Saint John and Fredericton regions. 1 is travel-related and the other 2 are being investigated. All 3 new cases are self-isolating.
CBC News: Quebec is reporting 1,211 new cases of COVID-19. The province also added 15 deaths to its total, 2 of which occurred in the past 24 hours. The province has seen a total of 123,854 cases, including 6,626 deaths and 104,848 recoveries, since the pandemic began.
CBC News: Ontario is reporting 1,248 new cases of COVID-19, including 364 in Toronto, 308 in Peel and 125 in York Region. Provincial Health Minister Christine Elliott says an additional 1,062 cases have been resolved and more than 42,200 tests were completed.
Global News: Person in 20s dies from COVID-19 as Saskatchewan reports 2 deaths, 181 new cases.
CBC News: Calgary’s emergency management chief says Alberta needs a 28-day lockdown to battle COVID-19 — now.
CTV Edmonton: With 991 new cases, there are more than 9,600 active cases of COVID-19 in Alberta.
Global News: 10 more COVID-19 deaths in Manitoba Sunday, 494 new cases. There are 220 people in hospital with 41 in intensive care, and the number of deaths due to COVID-19 is 162.
The DEL in Germany is expected to announce sometime next week a mid-December start to their season with no fans.
The eight-team South Coast Women’s Hockey League has cancelled its 2020-21 season. The league, which features teams from Kamloops to Vancouver Island, had hoped to open in January, but ended up cancelling. . . .
The U of Vermont has delayed the start of its men’s and women’s basketball and hockey seasons until Dec. 18. “Our state is obviously seeing a significant increase in COVID-19 cases and it’s important that our programs are operating in a manner that is consistent with guidance from state officials,” Jeff Schulman, the director of athletics, said in a statement. . . . If you are wondering what former NHL head coach Mike Babcock is doing these days, he’s a volunteer advisor to the coaching staff with Vermont’s men’s hockey team. The Catamounts play in Hockey East, which is scheduled to start up next weekend. . . .
Jim Boeheim, the longtime men’s basketball coach at Syracuse, has tested positive. Boeheim, 75, is asymptomatic and is self-isolating at home. One other person in the program also tested positive, although it’s not known if it’s a player, coach or somebody else. The school also has stopped all basketball-related activities. . . .
The University of Massachusetts-Lowell paused men’s basketball activities last week after two positive tests. Practices are expected to resume on Wednesday.
More Yogi! @Yankees & @Dodgers met in the W. Series, Yogi took a train to Brooklyn. He arrived just before game. "I got lost & took the wrong train," he said. Next day when asked if he took right train, he said, "No, I knew I'd get lost again,so I left 2 hours earlier!" @sigg20
Tom Seaver passed away on Aug. 31. He was 75. The cause of death was complications of Lewy body dementia and COVID-19, according to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Here are two Jim Murray columns on the pitcher known as Tom Terrific.
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 17, 1973, SPORTS
Copyright 1973/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY
Seaver Deserves Better
NEW YORK — Usually when a pitcher is a veteran who has a series of 20-win seasons and has pitched his team into two World Series in four years, he is a grizzled old party who spits tobacco and you could scratch matches on his beard. He talks in four-letter words and comes from coon-hunting country and never reads anything that doesn’t have pictures in it and his favorite actor is John Wayne.
But George Thomas Seaver looks as if he just stepped out of the pages of a Ralph Henry Barbour novel or is one of the Merriwell brothers.
He looks as if he might go around helping old ladies across the street or rescuing babies from drowning. As if he had just two more knots to tie or fires to start rubbing sticks together to get his Eagle Scout badge. He is Mr. Cleancut; as wholesome as a Saturday Evening Post cover, or a Disney movie, the kind of guy who would put splints on broken cats, the sort of fellow who would help his mother with the dishes and bring home all A’s on his report card.
You’d want your daughter to marry someone like Tom Seaver. You’d want your son to grow up like that. They call him “Tom Terrific.” He looks as if his name should be “Roger Trueheart” or “Peter Pluck.” He’s the kind of guy who might spend more time in museums than bar rooms. He’s concerned, was one of the few baseball uniforms to take a stand on the Vietnam war.
His fastball makes baseball men drool and hitters slobber with rage. He could throw the proverbial strawberry through a battleship. His control is uncanny. Tommy Strikethree has as much control of his pitches as he has of himself.
Without him, the Mets are a .380 club. He pitches nearly 300 flawless innings a year. He’s such a competitor, he would bite a lion or pull a bear out of a tree.
You would think, if God were paying attention, Tommy Strikethree, by now, would be working on his fifth or sixth World Series win. I mean, guys who would be lifted by the fifth inning pitching against him have won that many.
But George Thomas Seaver’s record in World Series is about what you would expect from a crooked-armed junk thrower with a hitch in his delivery and a bad habit of tipping his pitches.
The Mets get him runs in clumps of one. They send about 28 men to bat the night he pitches.
Take Tuesday night. In a gelid Shea Stadium amid an Arctic front moving through Queens, Seaver, sporting a 19-win year and an earned-run average you would need Palomar to read, struck out the side twice. He had the feared Reggie Jackson, a 117-runs-batted-in MVP candidate looking like a revolving door. He struck out 12, walked none and was — well — Terrific.
His team gave him a one-inning attack. They didn’t really need bats for the other eight. Seaver was in there.
Over on the other mound, Catfish Hunter who is not “Mr. Terrific” or Walter Wonderful and is more of a pitcher who nibbles around the outside and wears out the corners of the plate, had given up a homer, a double, assorted singles, a wild pitch, several walks and even threw in an error for good measure and wasn’t around for the seventh inning. But he got exactly what Tommy Strikethree got — a standoff. His World Series record is still 1.000. Seaver’s is still .500.
I’m glad to see God has better things to do than see justice served in baseball games but, the point is, Tom Seaver joins some distinguished company. Walter Johnson was .500 for his six Series decisions.
Tom Seaver is nine decisions behind Whitey Ford who won 10 World Series games but look at some of the company he’s chasing besides Ford. Shucks, Orval Overall won three and only lost one. Bill Hallahan (surely you remember Bill Hallahan? “Wild” Bill Hallahan?) won three. Ernest G. Shore was 3-1. Guys like Harry Brecheen and Lew Burdette and Mickey Lolich won three in ONE Series.
Great pitchers like Christy Mathewson were .500 for World Series. But they did get five victories.
Lefty Gomez never lost a World Series game. He was in some real cliff-hangers. He won one 18-4 in 1936. That’s more runs than the Mets get Tom Seaver a season.
For Seaver, it’s like someone painting a masterpiece and having somebody use it for a doorstop or to hang in the garage at work. He’s their bad luck charm.
It was a foregone conclusion the Mets would lose for Seaver. On a passed ball, at that. They’re not much of a ball team when you move off the mound. They have to hoard runs. Never have so many done so little for so few. The pitching staff consists of five guys with their fingers in the dike.
But I have a feeling somewhere there’s a ghostly crew looking on and nodding safely — Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson and a lot of other guys who pitched 300 innings or 400 victories and then got in World Series only to see journeymen win the car or the plaudits.
SUNDAY, AUGUST 31, 1975, SPORTS
Copyright 1975/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY
The Other Seaver
If they were caught in a hotel fire, lots of people would try to throw their jewels or stocks or money out the burning window. Tom Seaver would want to throw his right arm.
As ex-teammate Tug McGraw once said, “Seaver is exploring the possibility of keeping his right arm at Ft. Knox over the winter.”
He won’t sleep on it, open car doors with it, cut meat with it, drink beer with it. He won’t hang it out the car window, let it get sunburned. He treats his arm as if it had a life of its own. He won’t pat dogs with it, play tennis with it, cut wood with it or comb his hair with it.
He treats it the way a captain treats a ship, a gunman his gun, or a cowboy his horse. He pampers it, worries about it. He trots it out only every fifth day.
Most pitchers pitch every fourth day, but Seaver’s arm lets him know it needed an extra day’s rest, and Seaver never contradicts his arm.
No Hope diamond, no Rembrandt, no British Guiana stamp ever recorded the tender loving care of Seaver’s right arm. He does everything but keep it under glass. He takes better care of it than a bank takes care of money — and for the same reason. It is probably the most expensive parcel of fleshy real estate in the game — $250,000 a front foot.
It is a one-purpose appendage. It throws strikes. It has no other function. That is all Seaver asks of it.
Any manager in the big leagues can tell you it is valuable only because it comes with Seaver attached. But Seaver is not persuaded. He lets the rest of Tom Seaver shift for itself. He will even open beer cans with his left arm, slice bread, let it hang out the window, comb hair, shave whiskers, and do all the things God intended an arm to do. It is an orphan. Cinderella. Tom makes it do all the work he wouldn’t dream of asking its brother to do.
Tom sat in the dugout at the ballpark the other night and watched, fascinated, as two Dodgers pitchers, Mike Marshall and Andy Messersmith, practised double plays around first and second base. “Isn’t that swell?!” he said, not unsarcastically. “They’ve got the double play down pat. Shouldn’t they be working on getting guys to hit into them?” The lesson was clear: Seaver would never ask his arm to complete a double play. Start one, perhaps, but there were other arms to take it from there: arms that couldn’t sneak a fastball part Henry Aaron.
“You can transplant organs — kidneys, hearts, livers,” Tom said, “but you can’t transplant shoulders and elbows. Or arms. You get one to a customer.” Even in casual conversation, Seaver tends to forget his poor, sit-by-the-fire left arm.
There have probably been purer arms in the major leagues — although I don’t make that even money, by any means. But there’s never been one more consistent. Seaver can trust his arm. And vice versa. Every year, it delivers 200 strikeouts, some 280 innings pitched, 18 to 20 complete games and the occasional pennant. The pennant borders on a miracle. Because the New York Mets are a one-armed team.
The Arm delivers a rising fastball, a sinking curveball, a slider so deceptive it looks like both of them at once. It puts the ball where Seaver wants it to — usually where the hitter least expects it.
With It in there, the Mets are armed and dangerous. Without It, they’re just a good Triple A club. And maybe not so good, at that.
It is never erratic, rebellious, temperamental. It doesn’t win one game, 1-0, and lose the next, 10-2. It has allowed 652 runs in 312 games in nine years, which comes out to two runs per game. If the Mets score three, they win.
Seaver knows every muscle, tendon, bone or capillary in it. But to the Mets, it is not full of trapeziuses, triceps, adductors or whatever else comes in ordinary arms, it is full of dollar bills.
Some men send their gloves to the Hall of Fame when they get elected. Others send bats, shoes, mitts, masks or caps. Seaver may just cut off his arm and send it on. After all, Roy Rogers stuffed his horse. And, by that time, Tom won’t need it anymore. Tom’s other arm will have long since learned how to take care of him now that It is no longer needed to keep that funny little team from falling through the bottom of the league anymore.
Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times
Jim Murray Memorial FoundationP.O. Box 661532, Arcadia, CA 91066
Twenty-two years ago today, the world awakened to the news of Jim Murray’s passing shortly after 11 o’clock the previous night — Aug. 16, 1998. He died of cardiac arrest at his West L.A. home after returning from Del Mar where he had covered the Pacific Classic. He wrote his final column on a horse named Free House ridden by jockey Chris McCarron.
From the first column to the last column, Jim kept his readers entertained for 37 wonderful years at the Los Angeles Times and before that at the L.A. Examiner, Sports Illustrated, Time Magazine and more. He brought humor to an otherwise statistics heavy section of the paper. He gave us a glimpse into the people (and sometimes animals) who played the sports we loved to watch.
Jim aspired to be Eugene O’ Neill. Hemingway, even Tolstoi. But Harry Luce, the publishing giant of Time and Life magazines, the blockbuster journals of their time, made Jim a sportswriter.
To quote Jim. “Harry knew everything there was to know about world politics, the domestic economy, Hollywood, Foggy Bottom, Whitehall and Park Avenue. But he didn’t know any more about sports than Mother Teresa.”
Harry traveled the world over, dinner conversation would invariably switch to sports. Demanding to know why, he was told, “. . . sports, like music, is a universal language. Everyone speaks it.” With that, Harry Luce retorted, “Well, then why don’t we have a sports magazine?”
On that chance remark, Sports Illustrated was born. Jim was a Time magazine cinema correspondent in Hollywood at the time.
Jim got to be a sports writer in his journalistic dotage “which is just the right time for it,” he said.
– Linda Murray Hofmans
Some classic Jim Murray quotes:
The Bears aren’t very genteel; some teams tend to remove the football from you, the Bears remove you from the football — it’s much quicker.
For those who know golf, no explanation is necessary. For those who don’t, no explanation is possible.
(Seattle) Slew was a compassionate horse. He never beat anybody more than he had to. He was like a poker player who lets you keep your watch and carfare home.
A racetrack crowd comprises the greatest floating fund of misinformation this side of the pages of Pravda, the last virgin stand of optimism in our century.
Pete Rose played the game for 24 years with the little boy’s zeal and wonder until, if you closed your eyes, you could picture him with his cap on
sideways, knickers falling down to his ankles and dragging a taped ball and busted bat behind him, looking for all the world like something that fell off NormanRockwell’s easel.
Seeing a goal scored in hockey is like picking your mother out of a crowd shot at the Super Bowl.
What follows is Jim Murray’s final column, the one he wrote after covering the Pacific Classic at Del Mar. . . . ENJOY!
SUNDAY, AUGUST 16, 1998, SPORTS
Copyright 1998/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY
You Can Teach an Old Horse New Tricks
DEL MAR — Well, it was a slam dunk for Free House, a “Where is everybody?” win.
The Bridesmaid finally caught the bouquet. The best friend got the girl in the Warner Bros. movie for a change. The sidekick saves the fort.
Free House just won’t fold the hand. Three times last year, in the most publicized races in the sport, he chased his competition across the finish line in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont. In the money in all of them, in the photo in one of them, he was the hard-luck champion of horse racing.
He was expected to go quietly into the sunset. A game effort but no cigar.
He got a measure of revenge Saturday in the Pacific Classic here. He ran away from Touch Gold, who beat him in the Belmont. The horse who beat him in all three Triple Crown races, Silver Charm, didn’t make the dance or he might have gotten a different view of Free House, too.
The Pacific Classic is not your Run for the Roses. No bands play Stephen Foster as the horses come on the track. But it’s not your basic overnight allowance, either. It’s a $1-million race, major on the schedule. It’s a very big win for Free House. He’s not What’s-His-Name anymore. He’s Who’s Who.
You know, in most sports, the athlete gets a generation to prove himself. A Jack Nicklaus wins his first major at 22 and his last at 46. A George Foreman wins Olympic boxing gold in 1968, and 30 years later he’s still fighting. Babe Ruth hits his first home run in 1915 and his last in 1935.
But a racehorse has to act like he’s double-parked. He gets only months to prove he has been here.
And if his prime coincides with that of Man O’War, Citation, Secretariat or even Count Fleet, he might as well have been born a plow horse.
What did Free House do that turned him into a star? Well, he got older.
You know, it’s the public’s notion that the racing begins and ends with the Kentucky Derby and its Triple Crown satellites. Everything else is New Haven.
Trainers know better. Every real horseman knows a colt’s (or a filly’s) 3-year-old season is not indicative of real prowess. I mean, a Kentucky Derby is not only too early in the career, it’s too early in the year.
It has been won by a lot of horses who are just better than claiming horses. It has been lost by a lot of horses who were too good to have that fate. Native Dancer comes to mind. Gallant Man. Damascus. Bold Ruler.
Of course, a horse doesn’t know whether he won the Kentucky Derby or not. But his owner does. His rider does. History does.
But trainers as a class manage to hold back their enthusiasm. There’s even evidence a trainer resents a Triple Crown race.
That’s where a Pacific Classic comes in. It’s a trainer’s race. A real test of his skill in bringing a horse up to a race. The real business of racing.
A Kentucky Derby can be a crapshoot. Not a Pacific Classic. You win a Pacific Classic because you’re at the top of your game, not because eight other horses were still wet behind the ears. Many a Derby has been blown by an immature runner jumping shadows, spitting bits, lugging out, horsing around.
Not a Pacific Classic. Here, the horses are all grown up, professional. These are the true class of the sport, older horses. Dependable, crafty. Consistent. They don’t beat themselves.
There probably has never been a good older horse who couldn’t beat a good 3-year-old. It’s so taken for granted, they have to give the kids weight. Handicap horses used to be the glamour stars of the track anyway. They made a movie about Seabiscuit, who never ran in the Triple Crown and never got good till he got middle-aged. They wrote poems about John Henry, who never did either, even though he ran in 83 other races. They used to Equipoise “The Chocolate Soldier.” Exterminator, called “Old Bones,” ran 100 races.
They were the heart and soul of racing.
Free House bid fair to join them Saturday. He won so easily, jockey Chris McCarron should have brought a book. He rode him like the Wilshire bus. “You could have ridden him today!” he called out to Free House’s co-owner Trudy McCaffery.
McCarron rode such a confident race, he remembers thinking, “If I were a cocky individual, I would have turned to the other riders and said ‘Shame on you!’ ”
Added McCarron, “This horse is so generous with his speed, I knew if he ran the way he trained, these guys were beat.”
He has one holdover from his misspent youth: He tends to kick out sideways and decelerate in the stretch, almost start to tap-dance. “He gets to wondering where everybody went and to want to slow down and wait for them,” McCarron explained. McCarron hustled him across the finish line four lengths ahead of second-place Gentlemen on Saturday and about 16 lengths ahead of Touch Gold.
Ironically, McCarron rode Touch Gold to victory in the Belmont.
So, is he glad the order was reversed Saturday? Is yesterday’s jinx horse today’s king of the handicap division?
“Arguably,” said McCarron, “a case could be made.”
Anyway, it’s nice to know getting older has its flip side.
Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times
Jim Murray Memorial FoundationP.O. Box 661532, Arcadia, CA 91066
The OHL announced Wednesday that it is hoping to begin a 64-game regular schedule on Dec. 1. It would end on April 29, with 16 of its 20 teams moving into playoffs. . . . The OHL also revealed that the plan is for the 2021 Memorial Cup to be played from June 17-27 with either the Oshawa Generals or Soo Greyhounds the host team. . . . Here’s David Branch, the OHL commissioner, in a news release: “Players will remain at home until the season resumes and teams will work closely with them on both their academic studies and overseeing their on- and off-ice development. In addition, the league will liaise with our facilities to ensure that our venues are safe for our return to play.”
The WHL, which earlier said that it hoped to begin play on Oct. 2, is expected to announce today — governors chatted on Wednesday — that it has moved that date to early December. I am told that date could be Dec. 4 and that the WHL schedule is expected to include 68 games for each of the 22 teams. Teams will spend the first two months playing inside their own divisions. . . . Of course, among a whole lot of other things, like testing and tracing, the WHL still will have to solve the U.S.-Canada border conundrum and the fact that, at least in B.C., large gatherings aren’t likely to be allowed by health officials until at least the new year.
A thread on the pandemic, junior hockey and the financial realities of return to play. Spoke with 5 execs across the CHL to see how financially tough this season is going to be for their clubs…
The ECHL was to have started its 2020-21 regular season on Oct. 16. It announced Wednesday that it now hopes to get started on Dec. 4, with teams playing a full 72-game schedule. . . .
The NBA announced Wednesday that it conducted 343 tests over the previous week with no positives. In the two weeks before that it conducted 344 and 346 tests without any positive tests. . . . The NBA has its teams in a bubble in Orlando, Fla., as it works toward finishing its season. . . .
The U of Connecticut has cancelled its 2020 football season, citing the coronavirus pandemic. UConn, which left the American Athletic Conference after last season (when it finished 2-10), was to play this season as an independent. . . . It is the first FBS school to cancel its season. . . . The Huskies’ roster includes two Canadian quarterbacks — Jack Zergiotis of Montreal and Jonathan Senecal of Quebec City. . . . Here’s David Benedict, the school’s athletic director, in a news release: ”After receiving guidance from state and public health officials and consulting with football student-athletes, we’ve decided that we will not compete on the gridiron this season. The safety challenges created by COVID-19 place our football student-athletes at an unacceptable level of risk.” . . .
A group of more than 1,000 Big Ten football players is calling on the conference and the NCAA to devise a comprehensive plan to ensure the safety and well-being of players leading up to and during the upcoming fall season. #BigTenUnitedhttps://t.co/C8gt2Fddbs
The U of Louisville has suspended all activities involving its men’s and women’s soccer, field hockey and volleyball teams after 29 players on the four teams tested positive. A number of other teammates and student-athletes from other sports are in quarantine after contact tracing. The primary source of the outbreak apparently was an off-campus party. . . .
Enio Sacilotto has taken over as the head coach of the Vancouver Northwest Hawks U15 AAA team. . . . Sacilotto, 62, spent the past three seasons at the West Van Academy. . . . He has extensive coaching experience in Europe, including with the Croatian national team program. . . .He also spent six seasons as an assistant coach with the WHL’s Chilliwack Bruins/Victoria Royals.
A wee bit of an update here, I know it was announced that my last day with the Pats was July 31. However, I will be staying with the organization for the foreseeable future, working as Director of Media and Communications until further notice!
The Regina Pats announced on June 29 that Phil Andrews, their director of media and communications, was leaving the club effective July 31. On Wednesday, Andrews, who also has been the club’s play-by-play voice, tweeted that he will be hanging around for a while longer. . . . It seems that he will be with the Pats until the whole pandemic thing gets sorted out and there is more definition surrounding the start of a new season.