Ten years ago, I was wrapped up in a miserable situation, writing for a thrice-weekly newspaper under the most bipolar, harassing editor one could ever meet. I took the Christmas month off for short-term medical leave but managed to keep going to the WHL games at Riverside Coliseum … or was it SportMart Place by then?
I knew one of Gregg’s reporters would be leaving shortly on maternity leave. I turned to my pressbox mate during the first intermission and said, ‘So when is the deadline for applications?’
Yesterday, he mumbled in his sometimes distracted way as he pored over his laptop for stats and news from around the league.
Oh, I said with a hint of dejection in my voice.
He perked up.
‘You’re not interested, are you?’
Well, yeah. It was time for a change, time for a new challenge, time to shake up life a little bit after five years of going nowhere fast.
Before the puck dropped to start the second period, I had a new job.
Gregg saved me. He will tell you I saved him.
‘Do you know how many people think they can do our jobs,’ he said with a smile.
Under Gregg’s tutelage for the next year, I learned more about balanced, fair, in-depth reporting than I had ever learned in the 10 previous years of my career.
So, it’s with a shade of shock that I discover today he’s been banned from the pressbox for negative reporting.
Gregg has been writing about the WHL since its inception. He covered the Regina Pats for two decades before moving to Kamloops, B.C., in — I think — 2000.
He upholds the integrity of journalism with every word he writes, every breath he takes.
And the Blazers, over whom he has lost sleep, years of his life and probably hair, now decide he needs to be a cheerleader for their cause.
While many may think it’s the local newspaper’s job to rah-rah and sis-boom-bah for its team, it’s just not that way … although many newspapers today can convince you otherwise.
It is a local newspaper’s job to report the news in a manner that allows you to make up your own mind. They write columns or opinion pieces to stir your thoughts, incite your fire and provoke your response.
When it comes to Gregg’s work, it is always based in fact … and a desire to ensure his readers are the most informed they can be.
I’ll go to my grave respecting the body of work Gregg Drinnan has compiled on the WHL.
But tonight, I lose quite a bit for the Blazers, a team of which I became a fan after I put my sports writing days behind me.
The tree, the Nativity scene, the gifts piled up to the ceiling …
Aren’t these the first Christmas traditions that come to mind?
Then there’s the MacIsaac household. It wasn’t all that different from any Canadian home at Yuletide.
Obnoxious Santas, elves, angels, the Three Wise Men … all the wonderful confusion of childhood fantasy and Catholic conscience.
And hockey on the TV.
Yep, that’s right. Back when Eric Lindros was Jesus, not Sidney Crosby. Remember?
We would huddle around the floor-model tube TV, the same set which still sits in our living room and casts a greenish hue, and watch the World Junior Hockey Championship.
There wouldn’t be much said, there never was. Dad didn’t like chatter while he watched the game.
Nonetheless, it was a tradition.
All four of us faithfully carry it on each Christmas, I believe. We’re all big hockey fans.
It’s indelibly stamped on my life since I became immersed in the major junior world during my seven years on the WHL beat in Kamloops.
This year, however, I’m going to miss most of it.
The tourney kicks off Boxing Day with the match that’s always one of the best of the round-robin, Canada vs. Russia.
That one, I’ll catch.
But the next day, I leave the country for seven days.
Oh sure, for a few days, I’ll still be in WHL country, hanging out in the land of the Spokane Chiefs.
I don’t yet know, though, if it’s broadcast on TV the same way TSN smothers us with WJHC coverage.
And hockey isn’t exactly the first thing you see on the TVs when you walk in the bar.
Plus, I’ve already promised myself I won’t be connected during my vacation … no laptop, no Twitter, no Facebook, no RSS feeds …
I’ll be north of the 49th again on January 3, probably too late for either of the semifinal games but you can be damn sure I’ll be planted somewhere serving cold Molson beer for the Wednesday medal games.
The Calgary Flames signed Brendan Morrison today, desperately needing to plug some holes in light of injuries to centres Daymond Langkow and Matt Stajan and wingers David Moss and Ales Kotalik.
Morrison is 35, got dumped by the Vancouver Canucks just hours earlier today and was looking only for a one-way contract, guaranteeing he wouldn’t spend possibly his last season in the minors.
Yes, it’s easy math. At $750,000 for one year, Morrison is a bargain … not much of a cap hit, even though his numbers have dropped severely since his glory days on the Canucks top line with Markus Naslund and One of the Names I Dare Not Speaketh.
He’s a capable centre for the third line, while Olli Jokinen tries to keep the young upstart, Mikael Backlund, at bay for the first-line position.
I just wish the Flames didn’t have to go fishing so early.
It’s still considered ‘training camp,’ since the new 2010-11 season doesn’t start until Thursday.
And yet the Flames can’t go to the bench — the AHL team in Abbotsford — to find an able centre to fill the spot.
It’s troubling that this kind of talent doesn’t exist on the farm, that Backlund was the lone hope to make the jump to the bigs this year … that T.J. Brodie’s feisty play on the blueline is a more-than-pleasant surprise, forcing the Flames brass into some tough decisions in the very near future.
Two players? That’s it?
Yes, we saw great things from Jon Rheault.
But that’s it?
We knew the Flames didn’t have a ton of depth but their inability to ring the bell in Abbotsford ought to serve as a warning sign.
It’s time for general manager to stop trading away draft picks to get aging, B-level stars and start drafting the right way.
Start building this team from the ground up, instead of regurgitating has-beens and other teams’ castoffs.
Declare a five-year plan like Brian Burke did in Toronto, then turnaround and dump some of these guys on some poor unsuspecting sap somewhere else in the league, just like Brian Bur … oh wait. Crap.
Sutter might think the Calgary fan base is content to watch these guys muddle their way to a mediocre finish and a first-round knockout.
But we’re not.
We’d be just as happy to watch the team struggle through a season or two, knowing the Flames are building towards something, instead of making desperate attempts with guys whose glory days are behind them.
Miikka Kiprusoff won’t last forever, you know.
And at least Morrison didn’t get a no-move clause.
The first rule of Fantasy Hockey Club is nobody gives a shit about your fantasy hockey team.
Tough. I’m gonna tell you who I got tonight for my fantasy hockey team, knowing full well there are few people more bring than someone who drones on about how many points he got from ‘Cindy’ Crosby, who he hates but, Lord, he’s so lucky he got the second overall pick and yada yada yada.
Ten of us sat around the picnic table in the back of Jimmy’s yard, each of us picking 10 skaters.
Last year, I had a middle pick.
This year … score! … 10th of 10, meaning I get two picks in a row. Thank goodness I was late getting to the show. Traffic was a bitch, you know.
Yes, I’d like to claim it was a strategic move to be late and ‘get stuck’ in last but I just didn’t get there on time.
It worked out, even though nine of the very top guns in the NHL were gone by the time I walked through the door and got to pick.
But I think I made out all right.
1. Ilya Kovalchuk, New Jersey Devils
You mean Kovalgate, right? Yeah, it’s time to put the contract drama behind us and let Kovalchuk get to work. 90 points? 100?
2. Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings
70 points last year … hmm, that’s down from his usual 90. Datsyuk is never a bad pick. Kid’s got moves so sick he leaves goalies sneezing.
3. Mike Richards, Philadeliphia
Dang, another guy whose production was down last season. He was a point-a-game guy before he got only 62 points in 2009-10. Yuck. Still, a lot of confidence built up during a healthy playoff run and less pressure on Richards could add up to more points.
4. Alex Tanguay, Calgary Flames
If you read last night’s post, you pretty much have an idea why I took Tanguay here, even though some pundits had him ranked way lower than 40th. Hell, he’s feeding Jarome Iginla. As we say in Newfoundland, ’nuff said.
5. Nathan Horton, Boston Bruins
Can you imagine leaving the Florida Panthers and heading to a place with a rich hockey tradition like Beantown? Nathan Horton can … and he’ll be inspired like a fat kid in a donut shop.
6. Johan Franzen, Detroit Red Wings
Coming off a knee injury, he’s an iffy pick but you know how they are in Detroit. The guy’s one of the top wingers in the league and he had 18 points in 12 playoff games after returning from the IR.
7. Dustin Penner, Edmonton Oilers
Sheesh, now that I’m looking at some of the reviews, I’ve made some pretty ballsy picks. Penner was inconsistent last year and his ice time may suffer with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle tabbed as the new studs. I’m hoping they light a fire under Penner’s ass.
8. Patric Hornqvist, Nashville Predators
Pretty pretty goals. That is all.
9. Dan Boyle, San Jose Sharks
One of the top point-getting defencemen in the league. No-brainer.
10. Derick Brassard, Columbus Blue Jackets
It’s tough taking anyone from going-nowhere-fast teams like Columbus or Minnesota. Brassard is slotted to play between Jakub Voracek and Nikita Filatov. That’s basically Russian for ‘lots of assists.’
11. Scott Hartnell, Philadelphia Flyers
We need to start getting points for penalty minutes. Then this would have been a brilliant pick. He’ll still get me somewhere around 50 points.
12. Tomas Holmstrom, Detroit Red Wings
You’d think I like the Red Wings or something … come on, they’re always up there and they have lots of players who like to get bags and bags of points. God bless ’em.
13. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins
A 50-point defenceman. ‘Nuff said. But if he drops off after he signs a mega-long contract, I can take him … I just need a stool or a stepladder.
14. David Booth, Florida Panthers
OK, not the safest pick but one of the guys took Maxim Afinogenov, who signed a contract to play in the KHL this season. Duh … Booth has a soft head, not as bad as Marc Savard, but has Stephen Weiss with him in the Sunshine State … 30 goals or so, I figure.
15. Mikael Backlund, Calgary Flames
Backlund is going to spend his rookie season on the top line. And kid can handle it. We saw him do it in glimpses last season while he was up from the Abbotsford Heat. He’ll be feeding and getting fed by Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay. Welcome to Calgary, kid.
16. Steve Downie, Tampa Bay Lighting
Have you seen the way Steve Stamkos is playing? Yeah and Downie is tabbed to be on the same line. Thank you.
17. Andrei Kostitsyn, Montreal Canadiens
Come on, this guy’s nickname is Tits, right? You have to … he is also due for a breakout year. Soft and lazy … things might change now that his brother is in Nashville.
18. Erik Cole, Carolina Hurricanes
I have football on the brain. I totally wrote Carolina Panthers first. If Cole and Eric Staal can fire each other up, he’ll get a point per game.
19. Andrew Ladd, Atlanta Thrashers
25 and he has two Stanley Cups … the word is, Ladd signed with Atlanta because he didn’t want to be on the third line anymore. He can step into a top-line position with the Thrashers. He’ll get lots of points. He just won’t win many games.
20. Ales Kotalik, Calgary Flames
Not a lot of people have very much good to say about Kotalik … call on me … Kota … I digress … damn you, Alex Ruiz. I like what I’ve been seeing from Kotalik in the preseason and after all the shit-talking about him, I’m hoping he carries a chip on his shoulder. All. Season. Long.
There you have it. One more season with no one from the Toronto Maple Leafs or Vancouver Canucks.
I remember when you were lighting it up in Denver, Col. Drafted 12th overall in 1998, you were a fresh-faced youngster from Ste-Justine, Que., jumping out of the QMJHL with 214 points in three years for the Halifax Mooseheads — my favourite Q team, after all.
You were a highly touted rookie and you proved your merit as a skilled power forward with promise.
You won the Stanley Cup in 2001 but, as time went on, the Avalanche had to clean house, start over again and rebuild.There was no place left for you and the salary you commanded as a 25-goal scorer.
When you landed here in 2006, I was thrilled. Some thought, ‘what? he’s not that great.’
I thought, ‘no, he’s the perfect playmaker for Jarome Iginla.’
But you weren’t ready for the shit show that you were to face here. The Flames hired Mike Keenan to run the ship and you didn’t respond well to his dictatorial style of coaching, constantly juggling the lines when many of us knew where you were supposed to fit.
And don’t even get me started on that whole Todd Bertuzzi experiment. Ugh.
You lasted two seasons here. Instead of paying you what you were worth after 99 assists in two campaigns, the Flames let you go.
Off to Montreal with you. How odd. Two years later, they did the same thing to your replacement, Mike Cammalleri.
Neither of you wanted to leave Calgary either. But Calgary didn’t want to keep you.
After bouncing to the Tampa Bay Lightning for a season you’ve come back, signing for a bargain $1.7 million, compared to the bags o’cash you were making here before.
During tonight’s pre-season game against the Edmonton Oilers, I watched you on the top line with Iginla and stud rookie Mikael Backlund.
You were exactly what this team was missing last year: a forechecker, a digger in the corners and that guy who can make that pass from wherever and whenever and get that puck to that Iginla, who only needs that laser-like wrist shot to score a goal.
It was beautiful.
And it tells me you’re going to do some good things here in Calgary this season.
So thanks for coming back and giving Cowtown another chance.
That’s the first question my friend asked me when we met at the bar after our games on Monday night.
No. Not even a little bit.
And that must mean I’ve made the right decision.
If you’ve been following along, I’ve decided to hang up my cleats. Actually, I will probably be throwing them out, given each one has a big hole on the instep.
My dad first put a bat in my hands when I was five or six. He carefully wrapped his arms around me and helped me hold the bat while Shane pitched the ball to me.
Our parents — mostly my mom — painstakingly built a little baseball diamond for me and my three brothers in our backyard. They took two big tree branches from the pasture behind our house and a couple of old fishing nets from our neighbours … lo and behold, we had a backstop.
The grass was dug out of four spots and those were our home plate and bases.
It was magnificent.
We had our very own baseball diamond … oh and the field in my grandfather’s backyard next door was our soccer pitch.
We didn’t have much when we were kids but our parents made sure we had what we needed.
And what kid doesn’t need a baseball diamond in her own backyard?
We were all pretty active kids. We played soccer and competed in track and field in the summer time. The boys played hockey and I figure skated in the winter.
I was even the first girl to play Little League baseball in Antigonish, much to Kevin’s chagrin because I always ended up on his team.
I remember trying out for our junior high softball team and staking my claim on first base. I had brief dreams of playing for the Kell’s Angels, the rep junior girls fastpitch team in town.
By the time I reached age, I’d long given up on that dream and stopped caring about sports a little bit … at least as much as I wasn’t playing but thinking about boys playing sports.
When I moved to Newfoundland, I immediately connected with a new hairdresser — because what girl doesn’t need a good hairdresser?
As I sat in her chair and she clipped away at my tresses, she interrogated me … you’re new in town? who are you? what do you do? oh, you’re the new sports reporter? do you play sports? can you play softball? will you play for my team?
Uh, sure … what better way would there be to start to get to know people in my new town?
Um … FYI … when you’re a young female sports reporter in a fairly old-fashioned and pretty small town in the middle of nowhere, you don’t have any problem getting to know people. Especially the guys.
In any case, for the next four years, I played with the same team and represented my new home town on the all-star team at provincials.
Softball has always been a way for me to get to know people in my new home towns. It was the same gig in Kamloops and again in Calgary.
I’ve met some of the very best people. And I’ve met some of the very worst people.
I’ve seen the very best of myself. And I’ve seen the very worst of myself.
The game has provided lesson after lesson about me, about other people and about life.
Most importantly, I’ve had to learn how to figure out the differences between those best people and those worst people.
I’ve had to learn how to figure out how to be the better me and stop being the worse me.
Coincidentally, my last games on the ball diamond were against my old team, a roster of friends and of people who resent me for drama which caused my departure from the team.
I hugged each one of those people I call friends and walked away.
But not from those friends. Those are people I want to keep in my life, just not on the ball diamond.
I’ll want to see them in real life and, if I don’t, it means it’s time we grew away from each other anyway.
Because life’s funny like that. It’s OK to grow away from things and people.
Just as it’s time — after three decades and more — for me to grow away from softball and move onto other things.
No more buying the newest, best bat on the market, no more slide rashes, no more broken hands or torn rotator cuffs, no more sinuses clogged with ballpark dust …
When I Tweeted my retirement, one friend replied ‘As one door closes, another opens.’
And it’s true. I’m throwing open the door to other opportunities, whatever they may be.
Another friend wrote on my Facebook page, ‘So what do I say to you when I see you at the ball fields next year?’
I didn’t answer her.
I will now.
You can ask me ‘where’s your gear?’
And I’ll pull a different kind of bag off my back this time and show you all my lenses.
I wish all my softball-playing friends the best of luck and health and sunshine in the seasons to come.
Yup, I know. I have a knack for stating the obvious.
Everywhere she goes in the women’s game, she dominates.
She made headlines by becoming the first woman to play a skating position on a professional men’s hockey club (goaltender Manon Rheaume was, of course, the first woman to ever play pro men’s hockey).
She lives and speaks with the same kind of fire with which she plays.
She was the quotable quote at the Salt Lake City Olympics when word struck Team USA players were trouncing on the Canadian flag in their dressing room.
More recently, she has become an advocate for growth of women’s hockey, not just in Canada but also globally — all in the face of back-room chatter that the sport isn’t strong enough to maintain Olympic status.
She spoke eloquently last month at the Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit, challenging countries to reach beyond societal stigma of women playing sports and help young girls grow and flourish as athletes.
Danielle Goyette, Dinos head coach, recruited her longtime teammate on the national squad.
“She will show the girls how hard you have to work to become the best player in the world,” Goyette said during the official announcement. “It’s going to help our team to get better and bring it to the next level.”
Hayley’s going back to finish her kinesiology degree.
She has five years of eligibility at the CIS level.
And she’s 32.
Kinda ripe for a rookie.
For Hayley, though, it was the right timing. Typically, she spends her off-Olympic winters skating with the Oval X-Treme in the Western Women’s Hockey League.
But that team has suspended operations for the season.
Or, she’s gone to Europe to play pro men’s hockey.
You have to figure, though, moving her family to Finland or Sweden has to be tough.
So here she’ll stay and don the Dinos colours.
You are split on the decision.
@DerekTaylorFSR: Here’s what’s wrong with Cdn. college sports…32-year-old former pros can play CIS hockey. http://bit.ly/9bpj9X #Wickenheiser
@ValerieWatts: Hayley Wickenheiser to play for U of C… Is that even fair!?
@FrammaZamma: Hayley Wickenheiser @wick_22 needs to get over herself. Move on and give a spot to a deserving young player.
@JSaggau: I don’t know if it helps the women’s game at all but I would definitely go watch. She’s a Canadian legend.
@JimPap: Nope. Taking a spot from someone who busted butt to get there, just so she has somewhere to play. Totally selfish
@askrickdotcom: No! Great move for herself. Not doing anything for women’s hockey. Shannon Millers coaching university hockey helps.
@ToriePeterson: I can’t wait to check out the Dinos. I’ll admit it – she’s piqued my interest. I’m sure I’m not alone in this.
@DanPagan: Yes, depends on if Hayley can help bring the Dinos team to the next level and make other players better.
@itstara88: I’d love to go see one of her games
@AbbyPlaysHockey: someone with her credentials should really boost interest. i’d def go see if i was in the area or nearby.
@brennancreative: If it draws more attention to the CIS woman’s game and increases attendance it can’t hurt.
A status update on Hayley’s Facebook fan page lit up with well wishes, positive messages and congratulations.
Here’s the thing.
She’s the best player in the world.
Yeah, I already said that.
She has three gold medals and one silver medal at the Olympics. She has six golds and three silvers at the world championships.
So the question is why? Why Canadian Interuniversity Sport women’s hockey? Why three, four, maybe five or six steps down from what she’s used to playing?
“It was the right timing, coming off the Olympic year,” she said during the press conference. “I want to go back to school and work on my degree. Everything worked out where I have the option to play here, practise with the men’s team and still play all of the national team events. It seemed like it was the best situation at this time.”
It’s fair to expect she will skate onto the ice and instantly dominate.
It’s fair to expect she will skate circles around the competition.
Maybe it’s also fair to expect she will serve as a player/assistant coach, helping Goyette and the rest of the Dinos coaching staff in teaching the intricacies of the game and leading her teammates through the various stages of improvement.
And how can anyone deny this excitement:
“I think it’s amazing being able to play with Hayley,” Dinos goaltender Kiersten Giesbrecht said. “I’ve been dreaming about it since I was little. It’s going to be great.”
Last month, at the Summit in Toronto, Hayley was part of a panel that discussed Canada’s national-team members acting as mentors, sharing their skills and knowledge with grass-roots organizations around the world.
But it’s also important to remember that we need to keep developing the game on our own soil.
Maybe this is Step 1 for Hayley becoming that mentor, not just inspiring little girls and young women around the world with her play, her gold-medal chewing and her flag waving, but also with her teaching and her support.
Maybe major junior hockey only needs one import player per team.
The Canadian Hockey League may consider reducing the number of import players per team from two to one, said league commissioner David Branch at the closing press conference of the Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit.
Each major junior team – WHL, OHL and QMJHL – selects two players from non-North American countries and then they have to bust their asses to get those players over here.
And Branch earlier this week heard sharp criticism from those non-North American countries, who are holding the CHL import draft responsible for the destruction of their junior development systems.
“We heard some passionate comments,” Branch said. “They were great comments and they were concerning comments. We have to look at it from the importance of growing the game and the importance of the health of the game.”
There was a time when the CHL had huge issues in attracting the best, young players to their teams, Branch said. But the organization which serves as an umbrella for the three regional leagues made a commitment to better facilities, better coaching and a recognized scholarship program.
Let’s not kid ourselves here, folks. The CHL offers the best route to the NHL for an aspiring pro hockey player. Young men of any country should want to play in this forum for its similarity to the NHL — from its schedule to its culture and its rules — simply to prepare themselves for achieving their dream of playing pro hockey.
But for Branch, he’s committed to the growth of the game, not just at home but also globally.
“We can’t overlook the need to do what’s best for the game and we will address this area with serious discussion,” he said.