Jays Fever Sweeps Canada

Jays Fever Sweeps Canada

It’s good to have people talking about baseball again.

Normally at this time of year, 100% of the Canadian sports fan focus is shifted towards the debut of the new National Hockey League season. Games are underway, and it typically seems as though all other sports fall by the wayside once the puck drops each fall.

As a massive baseball fan, it is the time of year where I find the small group of people to talk ball with, with those few others that watch my favourite sport right through to the end of the World Series.

There aren’t many of us, especially in the desolate outpost of Edmonton.

But not this year.

This year, there are the Toronto Blue Jays, giving us something to cheer about once again.

bj3After their massive trade deadline deals and rise to the top of the American League East, and then a great comeback to dispatch the Texas Rangers in the first round of the playoffs, the Jays are back, and have created excitement across the country.

People are Jays fans now. And they are talking baseball once again.

Many people would argue that it is a bad thing that there are so many bandwagon jumpers at this point in the year. People who had ignored the Jays for the past 20 years are now back, glued to their TVs with every pitch, and talking about the team non-stop. But it’s not a bad thing. It is creating a buzz, an excitement for the game that has been absent in Canada for a long time. This Jays run is creating a new generation of baseball fans, who are learning the game, and loving watching our nation’s only team win. The Jays, simply put, are making new baseball fans, and while there is no chance that all of them will stick around if the team is lackluster next season, there is a good number that will enjoy the thrills of the sport, and be hooked on baseball for life.

bj4Even out here in Edmonton, thousands of kilometers away from Toronto, perhaps the most despised sporting city in Canada, people are all in on the Jays. Car flags, men dressed in blue unitards on the streets with signs asking for honks to support the team, packed bars in the afternoon to cheer on every big play, and seemingly everybody willing to talk baseball for the first time in a long time, it’s a great thing to see. The country has rallied around the team. There are even concerns that our federal election will be affected by the Blue Jays Game 3 on Tuesday. That is some powerful drawing power.

It doesn’t hurt that the 2015 Blue Jays are filled with fun players with big personalities. They are an exciting team to watch, and have provided some thrills along the way already. The cheers ringing to the rafters of the local pub I was at during that magical 7th inning in Game 5 against Texas reminded me of other nation-unifying events, like Canada’s run to Olympic gold medals.

The Jays games are being watched in schools, on in the background, or as a centerpiece to the lesson of the day. It reminds me of being a teenager in 1992 and 1993, when the Jays were winning their World Series titles, and us students being loaded into the library to watch the game on a painfully small tube television, the only place in the school where cable TV was available. It was a great time, back then, watching them win it all in epic fashion.

And it has started off being fun again.

While they are in really tough with the Kansas City Royals- the one team I feel they match up poorly against- it should be an exciting ride as they try to win the American League pennant for the first time in over two decades.

Edmonton, as well as the rest of Canada, is on board.

2015-16 NHL Predictions

2015-16 NHL Predictions

I guess it’s that time of year, to make ridiculous predictions in relation to how the National Hockey League will play out this season, and to make an attempt at guessing the order of finish for the four divisions in the league.

The new year always promises excitement, with questions to be answered, and results to be seen.

Here we go!

(x- denotes playoffs)

Atlantic Division

  1. x-Tampa Bay Lightning: No reason to see any regression in one of the more exciting, young, teams in the league. Goalie health will always be the main question; the rest of the team is solid.
  2. x- Montreal Canadiens: Carey Price. PK Subban. That is all. Will all lead to another playoff flameout because of lack of grit and secondary scoring.
  3. x- Detroit Red Wings: It has become impossible to not pick them to make the playoffs. They always find a way.
  4. Boston Bruins: Weird off-season, no signs of improvement.
  5. Florida Panthers: A team on the rise, but there are still too many teams to overcome to be a serious threat.
  6. Buffalo Sabres: A lot of excitement around the changes to this bottom-feeder, and rightfully so. Should be entertaining to watch, at least.
  7. Ottawa Senators: Goalie regression. That is all.
  8. Toronto Maple Leafs: It’s great to have Babcock at the helm, but he is basically trying to coach a raging tire fire of a roster.

Metropolitan Division

  1. x- New York Islanders: They are one of the more entertaining teams in the league, filled with a ton of offense. There will be a lot of 5-4 games. Which is awesome. Time for them to take the leap.
  2. x- New York Rangers: Becoming a perennial contender. Good looking roster, with plenty of depth.
  3. x- Columbus Blue Jackets: A team destroyed by injuries last year. Their top line will rack up the points this year. An underdog, but should not be overlooked.
  4. x- Pittsburgh Penguins: I still see the same problems with the Pens: very top heavy, with very little depth once you get past the first line and a half of players.
  5. x- Washington Capitals: A trendy Cup pick that I don’t see doing much more than it usually does.
  6. Philadelphia Flyers: Not enough change on a roster that failed next year. They will be playoff contenders, however, and should make it interesting down to the end.
  7. Carolina Hurricanes: The team that most people forget even exists in this league. Nothing to really report on here. Just become the Quebec Nordiques already.
  8. New Jersey Devils: A weird looking roster filled with dinosaurs. The lone bright spot is Cory Schneider.

Central Division

  1. x- St. Louis Blues: So much depth. Need to break the playoff curse against the ‘Hawks.
  2. x- Minnesota Wild: Underachieved for most of last year because of terrible goaltending. The problem seems to be fixed, and it is time they made an upwards move instead of simply being a fringe team.
  3. x- Dallas Stars: The Islanders of the West. All offense, questions on whether or not they can actually prevent goals. Upgrades all around during the off-season. Tyler Seguin for the Art Ross?
  4. x- Chicago Blackhawks: They have to get tired after all the playoff games at some point, right? Right?
  5. x- Winnipeg Jets: A solid looking team (as long as Ondrej Pavelec gets fewer and fewer starts in net) stuck in a very good division.
  6. Nashville Predators: How many off-seasons can they have where they do nothing to improve their middling offense?
  7. Colorado Avalanche: Probably better than they were last year, with bounce-back years from their kids. But not good enough to take over from any of the teams above them, all of whom have playoff potential.

Pacific Division

  1. x- Anaheim Ducks: Just a strong team all around. They will grind their way to the top.
  2. x- Los Angeles Kings: The roster is too good to miss the dance for a second year in a row.
  3. x- Calgary Flames: All heart, wanting to prove that last year was no fluke. Many are calling for them to drop in the standings because of poor fancy stats. I don’t see much of a drop.
  4. San Jose Sharks: Maybe one of the tougher teams to get a read on. Questions in goal will doom them.
  5. Edmonton Oilers: After nearly a decade at the bottom, they will finally begin to rise. Should be entertaining to watch, and oh yeah, I see McDavid as a legitimate threat to win the scoring title in his rookie season.
  6. Vancouver Canucks: There is basically nothing to like about this roster. They have done very little from their heyday a few years ago, and now they look old and boring.
  7. Arizona Coyotes: A ton of potential and young talent with this team, and should be scary. In a couple of years.

Insane Stanley Cup Prediction

In the West, I see the Blues finally breaking through, beating the Kings in the Conference Final. On the other side of the continent, I’ll go with a crazy prediction and take the Islanders to top the Blue Jackets in the semis.

Blues vs. Islanders final. The Blues win the Cup, and the Islanders re-establish themselves as legitimate contenders for years to come.

Islanders go Brooklyn

Islanders go Brooklyn

After everybody knowing they were going to do it, the New York Islanders recently revealed their new, Brooklyn-inspired third jerseys.

For a team with a long history of some pretty awful third jerseys and questionable uniform-related decisions all around (the swirly, wave like bottoms of the notorious Fisherman jerseys comes to mind), fans of the team were pretty nervous to see what concoction they would come up with this time. Moving to Brooklyn from Nassau County, it was clear that the team was going to go black and white, to match their arena mates, the Brooklyn Nets.

isle6The results are…pretty good.

The Islanders have come up with something simple yet pleasing to the eye. Looking at these unis, it is clear that they will look pretty good on the ice, contrasting the white of the team the ice, and of the team that they will be playing against.

isle5Here are some of my thoughts on the new third jerseys:

  • The “NY” logo, started last year for their outdoor game, is a nice, simple design that really stands out on the jersey. It is not too radically different from their classic logo, yet works very well as something different.
  • The four orange stripes on the stick portion of the “Y” is a great element. It offers the slightest amount of pop in colour, and of course is a nod to the teams four Stanley Cup wins.
  • I love the thin striping on the sleeves, matched by the same ones on the socks. It looks classy. Again, related to the four Cups.
  • Thankfully, there is a stripe at the waist. Every team that has gone away from the bottom stripe looks awful, and makes their unis looks like pajamas.
  • The name and numbers font is clean, uncluttered, and easy to see. isle2
  • I like the simple white stripe around the wrist, as well. It offers a nice contrast, and again, avoids the PJ look.
  • The new BKLYN wordmark that will be worn on the helmets looks really good. It is dangerous to change things up, but the designers have done a good job in blending the classic with the new. Again, the four orange stripes make an appearance. isle
  • On the pants, there is a pretty large NY on the left thigh. I have a read a couple of reviews that don’t like this element at all, but I don’t mind it. I feel it breaks up the black nicely, providing a nice visual contrast. Of course, we know what team it is, since the jersey logo isn’t too far away, but I think it adds a certain amount of flash to the uniform.
  • The white ring that goes almost all the way around the collar also provides that nice contrast. It is simple, and not gimmicky. It works for me.

isle3Overall, I would say that this is a big jersey win for the Islanders. After so many debatable ones, this black-and-white comes across as a winner. They will wear the new threads a dozen times in the upcoming season, and for the first time in a while, it will not be an eyesore to see them on the ice. They are clean, and have a level of sophistication, which makes them one of the better thirds in the entire league.

Boost (Book Review)

Boost (Book Review)

Savvy is in grade 8, but she is already over 6 feet tall, making her someone with the natural gifts needed to succeed, and excel, at basketball. Moving across the country after her family experiences some financial problems, she needs to start again in a new city. Trying to make new friends, help run a farm, and most importantly, make an impression on a new basketball team.

She makes the choice to try out for the tough under-18 team, the Fire, despite her young age, and is forced to deal with rough teammates, a cute boy, and the pressure to be the best.

Along with the pressure of school on and off the court, Savvy is also forced to deal with her family issues: a hospitalized Aunt, forcing her to be in charge of the livestock, a hard-working mother, a former golf pro father who had to retire due to his crippling injuries, and a sister dealing with her own pressures to be thin and make the cheerleading team.

boost2Boost  has some highs and some lows, as far as YA novels go. There are moments when the book is pretty strong; especially during the basketball passages. The descriptions of the game are in-depth and well done. However, there are many flaws with the book, even for the younger reader. It is pretty predictable throughout, and is often too riddled with YA cliches. There are some groan-worthy scenes in the novel, seemingly ripped from the pages of Lifetime movie of the week script. The lessons being learned by the characters about relationships, and specifically about the use of drugs to get ahead in the sporting world are too overt and obvious. Even the most open-minded young reader could find them redundant and sounding like a health class pamphlet.

The protagonists and antagonists of the novel are also fairly cookie cutter. Think of any sports movie, and you basically have the set up of the Fire, the good team, and the Power, the plays-on-the-edge-for-a-tough-coach team that is full of villains. Essentially, it’s set up like a Mighty Ducks film.

While author Kathy Mackel has already published several YA novels, mainly focused on sports, parts of Boost read like she is a novelist still trying to find her distinctive voice. And to her credit, there are those moments in Boost where it feels like she has found it. It is unfortunately not sustained for the duration of the narrative, however. Her strength lies in the relationships that are built through the novel, specifically between Savvy and her volatile sister Callie, and between Savvy and the new herding dog the family must get in order to stave off coyote attacks on the farm. These are the moments that give Boost its heart and soul.

Overall, this is a solid read, despite being flawed. Young readers, specifically young female athletes, should like the novel for its competition and understanding of the pressures to be the best. Being an adult reader, it is easy to pick on some of the cliches, but it is often important to remember that many young readers are not yet familiar with these archetypes and situations that have become so common for those who have been reading for decades. Boost is a winner, in the end, and should definitely appeal to the niche audience it was written for.

New 49ers Uniforms

New 49ers Uniforms

Having loved the San Francisco 49ers since I started watching football as a little kid, seeing my all-time favorite player, Joe Montana, take the field in the iconic red and gold of the team, it has become increasingly difficult to cheer for this team, 30 years after I began to love them.

The next step in their own destruction is the introduction of their new alternate jerseys for the upcoming season.

They are black.

Like, all black.

49ers2Black is not a colour in the 49ers palette, and the whole uniform looks like it belongs back in the late-90’s, when everybody seemed to want a black jersey. This is a lazy design, and it simply doesn’t look good at all. The red numbers on the black uniform look like they will be difficult to see from a distance, and the complete lack of gold (aside from the tiny Nike swooshes) is an abomination. Not that I would ever agree with this team bringing in a black uni, but not having gold on it was a massive mistake, especially since the combination of black and gold is always a solid one (even if they may be venturing into the New Orleans Saints territory there). But if red was added on top of it, then there may have been something there, aside from this incredibly dull set.

My most significant beef with these jerseys is the way that they match with the iconic Niners’ helmets. Meaning, they don’t belong together at all. Without a hint of black on the helmets, it looks like this is a team that is actually wearing the wrong jerseys, or the wrong helmets. They are that mismatched, and out of place. I could understand it if there was gold on the uniform, or if the helmets were primarily red, but they are not. It looks terrible.

I get the idea that they want to sell more uniforms, and having an iconic look limits sales to either a red, or a white, jersey. But aside from the obvious money grubbing of this uniform move, I simply don’t understand it. It is such a move away from the tradition of the team, and it serves at stripping away the identity of the NFL’s great franchises. I’m simply not sure why anyone would do that.

My only hope for this uniform set is that they are used twice this season (the maximum number of times they can be worn), and then they fade into obscurity because there are enough fans that feel the same way I do, and don’t shell out a bunch of money to buy these things. Hopefully, in a decade, we can look back at lists of the worst uniform changes in league history, laugh at how there was that time the Niners tried to wear black, and then move on from it, happy that the 49ers still wear red and gold, as they should.

42 (Film Review)

42 (Film Review)

For any fan of baseball history, there are few moments more important to the game, and to the changing views of American society, than the introduction of Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to even suit up and play Major League Baseball.

To this day, the MLB still celebrates Jackie Robinson day, a day in which every single player in the league wears number 42 on their backs to celebrate the trailblazer who changed the game forever when he played for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

It is completely unsurprising that there is a Robinson biopic, titled 42; it is more surprising that it took this long for there to be one.

42 is an all-around solid sports movie. It gives us our central characters, Jackie and Branch Rickey, the owner of the Dodgers who was so focused on winning and making money, that he decided to be the first professional baseball owner to break the colour barrier.

424What 42 doesn’t do, however, is provide us with much of a supporting cast of characters. There are brief glimpses into the lives of the men who managed Robinson, in both Montreal (the Dodgers AAA affiliate), and Brooklyn, and there are glimpses of some of the Dodgers players. But that’s about it. We don’t get to know anything about them at all, and the moments of them finally realizing that Robinson is on their team, and that they need to stand up for him no matter what come across as fairly run-of-the-mill. There is the vitriol of some players, and coaches, and managers, and fans that exist, and Robinson needs to overcome these things.

But it all seems a little bit too Disney. I feel that the real story is much darker, much harsher, and much more impressive an accomplishment than 42 portrays. We still get it that he overcome the longest of odds to become a legend, but the whole story seems pretty cleaned up, when it could have been absolutely brutal. At times, it seems like the writers and director of the film were wanting to make something more, that transcended more than just the game of baseball, but were wrangled into making a feel-good sports movie that would appeal to the largest possible audience.

422And there is the fault of 42. There are a thousand stories to tell about the arrival of Jackie Robinson, including what could have been much more focus on his teammates, and the rise of the Dodgers as a powerhouse team after his arrival. We are given the broad strokes of an incredible feat, and an incredible career. His time in Montreal is given a quick flyby, even though it historically was extremely important. His interactions and friendship with Hall of Fame shortstop Pee Wee Reese is glossed over to a few brief moments in the final film.

But those are superficial beefs, I suppose. Starting to watch 42, I knew that the film was not going to produce a gritty retelling of the legendary ascent of one of the game’s best players, and the revolution of the sport that happened after his arrival. I knew that it would be rife with cliches, and not offer the depth, or breadth, of the story that I would be hoping for.

Regardless, this is a strong film. It tells the story, which is the most important thing. For those who are younger, and don’t know his story, or the lasting impact that it has had, 42 is a good place to start. The film has good performances throughout, and allows us to get the general idea of what was happening in that time, and why this feat is so impressive.

423There are some really great moments in the film, those moments when you know that things are going to change, whether it is the attitude of the fans, or the owners, or the players themselves. The moment when Reese slings his arm over Robinson’s shoulders in front of a hostile crowd is one of those moments. And these moments are what make 42 so good: despite the desire to know more, and see more, we are given parts that really do justice to the story of Jackie Robinson.

At the end of the day, I liked 42 quite a bit. I don’t think it will soar to the heights of the greatest baseball movies of all-time, simply because I wanted more of the story. But it will stand as a good film about an important moment in the history of the game, and generally, it does a pretty good job of doing it.

Heartbreak for McDavid

Heartbreak for McDavid

You really could see the crushing disappointment in his face, and hear it in his voice.

This kid, along with every hockey fan, is not happy that the Edmonton Oilers have again won the NHL Draft Lottery, making it the 4th time in the past 6 years that they will get the #1 overall pick in the upcoming draft.

mc6And this time, they have the chance to draft Connor McDavid, who is widely viewed as being a generational talent, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Sidney Crosby.

Normally, a Canadian kid would probably be pretty happy that a Canadian team won the lottery. But not when that team is the raging dumpster fire that has been an Oilers franchise that has missed the playoffs for the past 9 straight seasons (longest playoff drought in the league).

The hate of the Oilers began before the lottery even began. Nobody wanted to see them win, and this includes many of the fans in Edmonton. Sure, it is incredibly exciting that the future best player in the league will be coming to town, but it is also terrifying for many fans, because we have seen first hand what has happened with the other three #1s that currently litter the Oilers roster. Fans around the league would have preferred to see McDavid go absolutely anywhere outside of Edmonton. An Eastern team (aside from Carolina) where his profile would be massive, and he would help the game continue to grow. Or the Leafs, because even if their season was an absolute train wreck, they have someone in charge now who isn’t afraid to make the needed changes to get better. Or how about Buffalo, the team that tried the hardest to get him by giving up on this season two years ago?

mc3Even Arizona, a team that everybody is simply waiting to move to Quebec City, would have been a better option than Edmonton. They have some great young talent coming up, and having McDavid down there would have helped the team as much as possible. If the Coyotes couldn’t make it with him, then it really is time to pack there things and head for La Belle Province once and for all.

There was a such a league-wide groan of disbelief when the gold Oilers placard was pulled from the envelope, signalling that they had won the lottery. Absolutely, there was a ton of excitement among fans. But it is also embarrassment that this is the 4th time they are doing this. Facebook messages and sports message boards all over the place are lighting up with renewed vitriol towards the incompetent Oilers management, that has brought them to this place of being so unbelievably terrible.

Most of that hatred, naturally, is focused on Kevin Lowe, the team president that has engineered the entire downfall of the organization over the past decade, and keeps getting promoted because of it.

Also, there is focus on Craig MacTavish, the General Manager that doesn’t seem to really get it, and what it takes to win in this league. He was even quoted as saying that “offense wins championships,” after winning the lottery. Does it really? Ask the last few Cup winners about the importance of their defense and goaltending in the playoffs.

mc4Immediate calls are being made by the fans to finally see that there is a player to build around, and make some moves to help the poor kid out, so that he doesn’t need to be a part of the poisonous losing culture that exists in Edmonton until he is a free agent at age 27. Trade Taylor Hall, a dynamic offensive player with a long injury history, painfully obvious defensive flaws, and a divisive attitude in the community for a D-man. Package a couple of these guys, like Nail Yakupov, one of their other high picks, for a goalie that can at least be competent in the net to give the team a chance to win. Moves need to made, or Connor McDavid will be wasted.

Already, he is going to a market where the majority of the fans of the sport will never hear much from him. Edmonton loves hockey, there is little doubt about that, but they are buried deep in the West, and McDavid will not get the coverage that he deserves because he is in a small market. Think of how underrated John Tavares is, simply because he plays for the Islanders. If he was as good as he is on the Flyers, he would be a megastar. It will be the same for McDavid.

mc2So what can this kid do? Does he have any options if he truly doesn’t want to be a part of this team that is eternally rebuilding, and seems pretty clueless about how to do it? Or does he just need to suck it up, come be an Oiler for the first 8 years of his promising career, and hope it doesn’t destroy him, like it has other top talent that are doomed to come to this team?

1. He can pull a Lindros. He can tell Oiler management before the draft that he never intends to play for them, so that they should trade the pick and get a massive haul for him while they can.

Pros: He would force the team’s hand, and he would be dealt somewhere else. The Oilers would probably get so much back for him that they could fill in the massive gaps in their roster with just this one move. There would be no shortage of trading partners that would drool at the idea of getting McDavid. Think that when the Nordiques traded Lindros after drafting him, they got the pieces that won them two Cups.

Cons: McDavid would quickly become public enemy #1 in Edmonton, not that he would really care. He would only need to see them once a year. And even still, if this happened, I feel that many fans would continue to hate the team management, and not really blame the kid for not wanting to come here. The perception of McDavid then would be that he was a whiner, but again, I don’t know that too many people would actually blame him for pulling a Lindros move.

2. He can go to the KHL for 2 years. If a player doesn’t sign with the team that drafts them, after two years they will either re-enter the draft (if they are still under 20), or become Unrestricted Free Agents. There have been cases of this before.

Pros: He would avoid the Oilers completely. He would still get to play pro hockey, even if it isn’t in the best league in the world, where let’s be honest, he is so good that he needs that kind of challenge. When he came to the NHL, if he was a UFA, he would get to choose where he would play, and it would create the biggest and most exciting bidding war in league history.

Cons: Upon entry to the NHL, he would be forced to sign a rookie contract. Not the biggest deal, but he would essentially be losing out on a lot of money (but would he? Some KHL magnate would be sure to pay him ridiculous money to go play in Russia). He wouldn’t be playing in the NHL, which is really the biggest drawback.

3. Count the days until he is 27. Being the good soldier, and then moving on, is probably the most likely choice.

Pros: He would be the most sought after free agent of all-time, assuming he lives up to the hype, of course. He would be starting his prime, at age 27, and could play anywhere he wanted to, including for his beloved Maple Leafs.

Cons: 8 years in Edmonton is a long time. If he hasn’t been broken by the losing, or tired from shaking his head at the incompetent managerial moves, or confused over the number of coaches he has probably had to work with, then he really might be the next Great One. In Edmonton, he will play in relative obscurity, while at the same time having to face the tough media and fan base here. If losing continues, how long until fans turn on him as well?

4. Hope the Oilers do something very Oilers-y at the draft. There is no question that the group running this team is incompetent. Are they incompetent enough to do something ridiculous before the draft, and not end up getting McDavid? They have arguably taken the wrong player with each of their previous #1 picks…could they do it again?

Pros: You never know with this team. You just never know.

Cons: Even the clueless MacT has to know that McDavid is a twice-in-a-lifetime player. Doesn’t he?

There really is no win here for McDavid. Surely, if you could get an honest answer out of a hockey player, he would say that he would rather be in Phoenix, or Buffalo, or Toronto, or anywhere but Edmonton. But he will never say that. He will be drafted by the Oilers, and come play here like a good soldier.

He will be awesome, and he will be a hero in the city.

mc5But sadly, this is just giving this terrible management another life to live. MacT will keep his job, because he was the guy that got them McDavid. So will Kevin Lowe. Well, that, and the fact that he is best friends with an owner more concerned about money and hanging out with his 80s friends than money. The management team will soon forget that it is because they are so absolutely terrible at their jobs that they have been able to put this losing waste of a team together, which in turn landed them a stud like McDavid. No skill was involved in getting this kid. In fact, it is the complete opposite.

My heart genuinely breaks for this kid, having to walk into this complete mess, and be expected to be the savior of the whole thing. Even though what the management has done is put together some good players that barely look like a cohesive team on most nights.

Personally, as a citizen of this city, I am torn. My entire life, I have cheered against the Oilers, even during the dynasty years that nobody here will ever let go. I want them to fail and continue to be a laughingstock for the rest of my days. But I just feel bad for this kid, because I truly feel that elsewhere, he would have been one of the greats. That by no means that his career is over by becoming an Oiler, as some have suggested.

It just won’t be the same.

Welcome to Edmonton, Connor McDavid.