There was a rare animal on display during last Saturday’s National Lacrosse League Champion’s Cup: a perfectly equal trade.
The Washington Stealth rallied past the Toronto Rock for a resounding 15-11 victory. The championship was the franchise’s first ever NLL title, and was the perfect cap to the team’s inaugural season in Everett, Washington after relocating from San Jose, California.
The Rock led 7-5 at halftime and kept it up well into the third quarter. Toronto was up by four with 13 seconds left in the third, but the Stealth had two quick goals to end the period - highlighted by an empty net goal by defenceman Eric Martin with 0.2 seconds left.
Washington went on to score six consecutive goals in the final quarter to secure the Champion’s Cup.
It was a fitting end to a season that had effectively begun with all-star forward Colin Doyle being traded from the Stealth to the Rock in exchange for Lewis Ratcliff, Tyler Codron and Joel Dalgarno.
The trade was a homecoming for Doyle, who grew up in the Kitchener-Waterloo area near Toronto. He had played with the Rock at the start of his career, winning five championships and earning Playoff MVP honours in 1999, 2002 and 2005. He was also the league MVP in 2005 at the zenith of Toronto’s lacrosse dynasty.
His reappearance in Toronto helped the Rock to a 9-7 regular season record and the Eastern Conference title, a major improvement over their 6-10 record in 2009 and no postseason berth.
Ratcliff, who hails from London, England but resides in British Columbia, responded well to playing on the West Coast. He scored a league-best 46 goals and was second in scoring with 97 points during the regular season.
His impact was most apparent in the championship game. Ratcliff’s five goals were rewarded with the NLL Playoff MVP honours and, of course, the Champion’s Cup itself.
Although there’s no doubt that the Toronto Rock wanted to win the NLL title, there can be no regrets about trading Ratcliff, Codron and Dalgarno for Doyle. It benefitted both sides and was remarkably even.
Earlier today it was announced that boxing superstar and WBO champion Manny Pacquiao has agreed to WBC champion Floyd Mayweather’s demands and will submit to random drug screening as part of a deal to make a dream welterweight match happen.
“As long as they’re not getting a large amount of blood, I am willing to give out blood as close to two weeks before the fight,” Pacquiao told the Bulletin late Wednesday night.
This is the second time the two pugilists have agreed to fight; their first encounter was cancelled when Pacquiao refused to be tested for performance enhancing drugs, a procedure that Mayweather insists that he and all of his opponents go through.
Whoever wins this match will be considered the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world. It promises to be an exciting pairing, one that fans of the sweet science have been clamouring for for years.
Some corners feel that this was simply an excuse for Mayweather to duck the seemingly superior Pacquiao. That the drug tests are a stalling tactic by Mayweather to protect his perfect record.
I’m not sure that this is the case. I hope not, because I think that Mayweather has the right idea.
With so many athletes in so many sports testing positive for steroids, human growth hormone or even recreational drugs, many fans are becoming increasingly cynical. Steroid scandals have dealt body blows to the reputations of baseball, cycling and the Olympics.
By voluntarily submitting blood samples to the United States Anti-Doping Agency Mayweather is not just protecting his legacy, but improving the tarnished image of sports.
It’s a breath of fresh air, and particularly refreshing given the sorry state that boxing is in. The sweet science is losing ground to mixed martial arts by the day. This is a sport that has too many titles, too many flashes in the pan.
But Mayweather’s aggressive pro-testing stance means that boxing’s dwindling number of fans, whether they like him or not, at least know that there is some integrity whenever he steps in the ring.
Personally, if I were a professional athlete in any other sport I would be doing the same thing. By getting voluntarily tested on a monthly basis for the duration of my career, there would be no doubt about the veracity of my records.
This is especially topical since disgraced Tour de France winner Floyd Landis revealed to his sponsors today that he has been doping since 2002.
If I were another professional cyclist I would want to guarantee that everyone knew that I was clean, no matter how well I did. A sure-fire way to do that would be to hold myself to an even higher standard than that of by sports’ governing body.
Although the North American legal system relies on burden of proof – that everyone is innocent until proven guilty – this isn’t about laws. This is about regaining the public’s trust and establishing a reputation of integrity. In that respect, Floyd Mayweather is doing the right thing.
For example, it is rare for a movie to have a plot that unfolds in real time. Television shows are limited in length by half-hour increments, allowing, of course, for commercials. You may see a program that’s 15 minutes long, but never 45 minutes.
It’s theoretically possible to have a show be 20 minutes long or a movie that is in real time, but it’s rarely if ever done in practice.
Comic books are no different. They have their own rules and standards that creators are obliged to follow.
One of the most peculiar things about sequential art as a medium is that it is largely devoted to a single genre – superhero action/adventure.
There are certainly lots of comics that do not involve capes or tights. But the vast majority of the comics produced in this medium prominently feature superheroes.
It wasn’t always this way. In the aftermath of the Second World War, superhero titles began to disappear off the rack. Only Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman survived in any form. Titles like Captain America, Captain Marvel and Green Lantern were replaced by Westerns, Romances and especially horror books.
However, as the Silver Age dawned with Showcase #4 and Fantastic Four #1, superheroes came back in to vogue. DC and Marvel plunged into producing cape and tights stories almost whole hog. Even characters that were of other genres like Nick Fury, Jonah Hex, Mille the Model, Patsy Walker and the Two-Gun Kid were folded into their mainstream continuity.
Since then, the medium and the genre have been inexorably linked. Sure, there are still some comics that do not feature superheroes, but they are few and far between.
It would be like if CBS and NBC’s programming was almost entirely police procedural dramas.
All this serves a lengthy preamble to talk about Alan Moore’s America’s Best Comics, an attempt by the famed author to break free from the superhero genre. He introduced books like Top 10, Promethea and Greyshirt that were departures from the usual comic book fare.
The most prominent work in the ABC line was Tom Strong, an analog of Doc Savage, Tarzan, Tom Swift and other pulp-styled heroes of the early 20th century.
Although still definitely an action-adventure story, Tom Strong is not a crime fighter or vigilante of any sort. His primary interest is science and education. He’s constantly inventing Swiftian devices that, predictably, become useful in his latest adventure. He is a utopianist devoted to improving his world.
Of course, Strong is often beset by villains who want to destroy his hometown of Millennium City or kill him to avenge an earlier defeat. Enemies like Nazi air pirate Ingrid Weiss, technological plague the Modular Man and Strong’s arch-nemesis Paul Saveen plague the hero and his family.
They’re all fun, off-beat characters that can make you laugh while remaining threatening to the safety of Tom Strong and his extended family.
As always, Moore does a fantastic job of developing characters quickly and creating entertaining traps for Strong to unravel, all while maintaining the traditional sense of fun inherent in all pulp fiction.
Chris Sprouse’s artwork shines. It’s crisp, clean and expressive, while being remarkably detailed where required. He’s a master illustrator who can communicate emotions to his readers in a single, textless panel. It’s some of the best artwork I’ve ever seen in a comic.
Sprouse isn’t the only penciler on this series though. Other acclaimed artists like Arthur Adams, Gary Frank, Dave Gibbons and Jerry Ordway lend a hand. Their inclusion in the project was done in a very clever way – they draw all the flashback scenes. Because these looks into Tom Strong’s past are presented as older issues of the series, the different styles aren’t jarring and, if anything, add to the whole piece.
I would recommend Alan Moore’s Tom Strong to anyone who enjoys comics, but especially to those who want a break from the more mainstream and mundane superhero books that clutter shelves at your local shop. He remains one of the few creators in the medium that can shed the cloak of superheroes.
As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve got a season’s pass for the 500 section of the Rogers Centre for all of the Toronto Blue Jays home games.
This is the fifth season that I’ve had the pass and it’s always a good purchase. The last two years have been particularly enjoyable since the Jays have been very good, particularly in the spring.
However, there’s a problem that creeps up every few games which bugs me. It happened at the last two games I attended and, frankly, I am fed up. So this morning I sent the following email to the Blue Jays:
Dear Blue Jays/Rogers Centre Staff,
I've been a Toronto Star Seasons Pass holder for the past five seasons. I enjoy going to the games and cheering on the Blue Jays.
However, I'm frustrated with my experience at the Rogers Centre and the lack of instant replay on close calls.
This was underscored by the games on Sunday, May 16 and Monday, May 17.
On Sunday John Buck hit a long ball that, from my vantage point in the 500s, looked like a grand slam. However, it was called a ground rule double.
To the umpires’ credit, they went into the dugout to review the play.
Unfortunately, due to the Rogers Centre policy of never showing a close call on the JumboTron, I couldn't see whether or not the officials were making the right call. I was robbed of the chance to judge for myself. I only learned that the umpires had made the correct call when I got home and saw the highlights on TV.
Similarly, at Monday's game, a close call was not shown on the JumboTron.
Lyle Overbay bobbled a throw from Jose Bautista, earning an error. He then threw the ball to third, which sailed past Bautista, earning another error.
Again, thanks to the Blue Jays' short-sighted policy of not showing close calls, I never saw that Overbay had mishandled Bautista's throw.
Instead, I had to rely on this morning's SportsCentre to learn that the umpires had, in fact, made the right call.
These are not the only examples of this frustrating policy, they're just the most recent.
It would do a lot to improve your organization's in-stadium product if you would stop protecting your players and the umpires from the occasional round of heckles.
Please start showing replays of all plays - even if they're close or controversial - because it greatly increases the enjoyment of the game for your audience.
I’ve discussed it with some of my friends and co-workers and have learned that the policy is a passive directive from Major League Baseball’s head office.
The Toronto Star’s Richard Griffin summed it up last Wednesday:
“It is in fact a recommendation from Major League Baseball that teams not show a) close ball-strike replays; b) close plays that may incite the crowd against umpires; and c) plays that are under review i.e. home run calls. Now not every team abides by that rule, although all do on balls and strikes, but the Jays are good, responsible corporate citizens and do not show close calls on the replay board. I disagree because why should fans sitting at home know more about the game than those in the ballpark?”
Obviously, I agree with Griffin’s sentiments.
I would add an important note: In both cases this weekend the umpires had made the correct call. It was close, but they were spot on. Therefore, an instant replay wouldn’t incite the crowd against umpires.
Yes, as a Toronto fan I would have booed because I was frustrated with Overbay’s errors, but I would not have felt any anger toward the umpire for making the right call.
Further, Buck’s ground rule double wouldn’t have caused me to boo at all. He still batted in some runs and gave the Jays the lead. Not as good as a grand slam, but ultimately, there’s nothing to boo there.
If the officials are making objective and correct calls, then the commissioner’s office should have enough confidence to include their fans in what’s happening on the field.
No good can come from leaving your fan base ignorant of what’s going on in the course of a game and MLB as well as its franchises should adjust this rule.
In particular, the Rogers Centre has a beautiful JumboTron that should be put to good use. The Blue Jays should be able to trust their sedate Toronto supporters to not freak out over a controversial call.
An interesting experiment occurred on Thursday night as the Boston Celtics eliminated the Cleveland Cavaliers from the National Basketball Association’s Eastern Conference semifinal with a 94-85 victory.
As league MVP LeBron James stepped up to the free throw line in the second half the Boston crowd began to chant “New-York-Knicks! New-York-Knicks!”, referring to one of the more moribund destinations that the soon-to-be free agent might head to in the offseason.
Later, the Celtic faithful began to chant “MSG! MSG!”, the acronym for Madison Square Gardens, the home of the Knicks.
This was all part of a grand scheme concocted by ESPN.com’s Bill Simmons, Boston’s most famous sports fan, and it may just revolutionize spectatordom.
Earlier in the week, Simmons created a Twitter account called CelticsChants for the express purpose of organizing chants for the decisive Game 6 of the Cleveland-Boston series in an attempt to get under the skin of James and affect the outcome of the game.
“Even if 500 people at the game were following that account, wouldn't that be enough fans to get those chants rolling so everyone in the stadium joined in?” said Simmons in an article posted on Tuesday. “Just for fun, I'm trying this for Game 6 in Boston.”
It seemed to work.
Although James led Cleveland with an impressive triple-double (27 points, 19 rebounds and 10 assists), he seemed distracted by the taunts. He was an inefficient shooter, making just eight of 21 field goal attempts and sinking nine of 12 from the free throw line.
Worse yet, the rest of the Cavaliers seemed rattled by the crowd and the thought that this might be James’ last game with the team. Cleveland shot .384 from the floor and .681 on foul shots.
By the final minute of play the Cavs looked listless and totally uninterested in playing. There’s no doubt that they were out-played by the Celtics, but the stinging heckles from the crowd was driving them to distraction.
Simmons certainly seemed pleased with himself as the game wound down.
“Mission accomplished - the last chant was deafening. Thanks so much to everyone who participated + spread the word,” he said via the CelticsChants Twitter account. “Next up: Orlando.”
Perhaps more than anyone else in journalism, Simmons understands new media like blogs, podcasts and Twitter. It’s not surprising that he’s come up with such an ingenious way of employing cell phones to influence games.
It’s the most organized a crowd has been since the 1980s when hooligan supporters of Chelsea F.C. used walkie-talkies and binoculars to direct their attacks against the supporter mobs of other teams.
Obviously, it’s much less malevolent and hopefully more likely to catch on than the English ploy. With sports fans increasingly tech savvy, it’s easy to imagine that this innovation catching on with other teams.
There’s no doubt that Game 6 of the Cleveland-Boston series was an exciting game. LeBron James may have played his last game with the Cavaliers and the Celtics are in the midst of a surprising playoff run. But in the long run, the most interesting development may be that Bill Simmons has added a new wrinkle to the NBA that might outlast the results of the game itself.
As I mentioned about three weeks ago, I’ve been doing some freelance work for Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame.
The Hall is moving from its current home at the Canadian National Exhibition fairgrounds in Toronto to a new building at Calgary’s Olympic Park. The move itself is a long and protracted story - detailed in the final four paragraphs of this history – but it’s suffice to say that a permanent building is long overdue.
My job is to research and write the content of displays that will be installed in the galleries of the new Hall of Fame. Specifically, I am working on entries for timelines that will be incorporated into the entrance of each gallery. These chronologies will highlight the greatest moments in the history of Canadian sport.
Conacher’s storied career had many incredible moments but I chose to focus on June 1922. In a single day he drove in the winning runs to lead the Toronto Hillcrests to the city’s baseball championship and then he took a cab to Scarborough where he led his lacrosse team to the Ontario senior championship.
With James I focused on the period of March 19-25, 1990 when she scored 11 goals and two assists in just five games as Team Canada swept through the first-ever Women’s World Championship of Hockey.
Of course, Plante’s tale revolved around the night of November 22nd 1959 when the Montreal Canadiens were playing the New York Rangers and the all-star goaltender’s nose was broken by a shot. After that he began wearing a mask, the first National Hockey League goalie to regularly wear one.
I even added a little bit about Andy Bathgate – the man whose shot broke Plante’s nose – and that the Rangers forward had intended to hit the goalie in the face with the puck.
Now I’ve got to do another 50 moments and I couldn’t be more excited.
I’m still in the planning process of picking which athletes I want to do for this phase of the project but I am thrilled that I’ve been chosen to work with Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame.
The intersection of sports and Canadian history is like a perfect Venn diagram of my interests and I am honoured to be playing a role – no matter how small it may be - in the creation of a new monument to the great athletes of this nation
Playoffs in the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League, the world hockey championship and the announcement of World Cup rosters have all garnered headlines in sports sections across the country.
But one piece of news was sure to rankle Canadian sports fans more than the rest – Roy Halladay’s return to the Rogers Centre in late June has been relocated to Philadelphia.
The series was supposed to be a homecoming for the former Jay who is now anchoring the Phillies' rotation.
However, because of a security perimeter set up around the Metro Toronto Convention Centre for the G-20 Summit, Halladay won’t be returning to his old stomping grounds until at least 2011. That is when the Jays and Phillies will next face each other in inter-league play.
Although this year’s series will now be held in Citizens Bank Park, the Blue Jays will still be the home team of record, with the American League’s designated hitter rule in effect and Toronto still getting to hit at the bottom of the inning.
“We would have been bringing people down into an area where people aren’t being asked to come to,” said Blue Jays president and chief operating officer Paul Beeston.
Although safety concerns should be a primary concern of the Toronto franchise’s front office, they could have handled this situation better.
After all, American League rules won’t protect the Blue Jays from Philadelphia’s notoriously obnoxious hecklers. Having the last at bats of the game won’t mitigate the fatigue of travel. It really isn’t an ideal alternative.
The Phillies will also be seeing some kind of profit margin from this change of scenery. Although Beeston insists the endeavour will probably be revenue neutral, I find it hard to believe that the Jays wouldn’t have benefited from a temporary boost in attendance figures.
It would also have been cathartic for a beleaguered Toronto fan base that is still reeling from the loss of Halladay, arguably the greatest player in franchise history.
A better idea would’ve been to put the series at PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. It would still be some distance for Toronto fans to travel, but it would also have been a long drive for the Phillies and their supporters.
Pirates fans would be just as likely to root against their Pennsylvanian rivals as they would be to boo the Blue Jays, so it would eliminate Philadelphia’s home-field fan advantage.
Another logical choice would have been Coca Cola Field, home of the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons. Even closer to Toronto than Pittsburgh, the park has a capacity of 18,025. That’s not up to Major League Baseball’s usual standards, but it would definitely be big enough to hold Toronto’s average crowd of 15,207.
Again, the New York state crowd would be just as apt to heckle the Phillies as they would the Blue Jays.
The move to Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park is yet another failure by the Toronto Blue Jays front office to show any kind of respect for its fan base. They could have done better. Done more than just shrug and brush off any concerns at a press conference.
Moving from the Rogers Centre for the duration of the G-20 summit was necessary, but it seems like they put little thought into viable alternatives. Beeston and company have mishandled the situation and done their supporters a disservice.
The former captain of Canada’s world junior team has now been charged with assault causing injury months after he knocked Mikael Tam of the Quebec Remparts to the ice with an elbow to the head.
Cormier was suspended by the QMJHL for the rest of the season, a punishment that was supported by the National Hockey League and the American Hockey League, preventing the New Jersey Devils’ prospect from playing out the rest of the season as a professional.
Criminal charges, however, take things to a whole new level.
There is going to be a huge outcry over this – both positive and negative – and then gas will be poured on the issue during the first intermission of tonight’s broadcast of the Vancouver Canucks-Chicago Blackhawks game when the CBC’s Don Cherry is given some airtime on Coach’s Corner.
Hits to the head, French-Canadian players and the law weighing-in to judge hockey? Oh man. This is like the perfect storm of Cherry Pet Peeves.
In any event, a ton of ink is going to be spilled in over the possibility of a hockey player doing time for an act on the ice.
Of course, the big question is – should Cormier even be charged in the first place? It pains me to say it but, yes, he should.
As evidenced by the strong reaction of the Canadian Hockey League, the QMJHL and the NHL that play was definitely outside the normal parameters of safe play. Further, there’s an argument to be made that Cormier did it on purpose. The video evidence certainly makes it look like Cormier purposely targeted Tam.
Despite the protests of some fans, there is precedent for the law getting involved in overly-physical hockey disputes. In fact, it’s happened on 14 different occasions since 1900.
If that happened on the street it would undoubtedly result in the victim pressing charges, so why shouldn’t it on a rink?
It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but for justice to be completely done, Cormier must go through a criminal trial.
After all, the Ontario Hockey League and Western Hockey League didn’t have any games on Saturday or Sunday after the Windsor Spitfires swept the Barrie Colts out of the playoffs and the Calgary Hitmen took out the Tri-City Americans in five games.
The Spitfires wrapped up their series last Tuesday with a decisive 6-2 victory over a rattled Barrie. Calgary finished off the Americans on Friday with an equally strong 6-1 showing.
This leaves just the Moncton Wildcats and the Saint John Sea Dogs to settle the outcome of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s President’s Cup.
Moncton has a 3-2 edge on the series, but it would be foolhardy to count the Sea Dogs out just yet. After all, Saint John skated to the regular season championship with a 53-12-3 record, five points ahead of the second place Drummondville Voltigeurs and seven points beyond the Wildcats.
Their regular season match-ups were very close, with a 4-3-1 record tilting in favour of the Sea Dogs. That said, five of those games went to extra time, so this is a decidedly close pairing.
For one of these teams to prevail and face the Brandon Wheat Kings, Hitmen or Windsor in the Memorial Cup tournament they’ll need their defence to step up.
In their five games, the lowest shot count was Saint John’s 26 in Game 1. Since then, totals have routinely been above 30, with some games seeing as many as 44 shots on net.
Both teams from New Brunswick need to bear down and slow down the game’s pace if they want to survive.
For Moncton to achieve this they’ll need defencemen Mark Barberio, David Savard and Brandon Gormley to continue to lock down the Sea Dogs’ best forwards.
Saint John will look to winger Nicholas Petersen as well as rearguards Nathan Beaulieu and Yann Sauve to be lights out in their own end.
As a budding sports journalist I am supposed to shed all my personal biases. It’s one of the key sayings in the business – No cheering in the press box. You stand for the anthem, you might clap if an injured played is able to rise to their feet, but that’s it.
The reason behind this anti-fandom is obvious: we don’t want to betray any sort of favourite because the relationship between journalists and their audience relies heavily on the media remaining impartial. Readers need to know that our articles or reports aren’t filtered by any agendas.
That said – I’m glad I’m not covering the Orlando Magic during the National Basketball Association playoffs because I sure am conflicted about them.
Like most Torontonians, I have a deep-seeded loathing of Vince Carter. It runs deeper and longer than my career as a sports journalist, so it's difficult to shrug off.
The animosity toward Carter stems from the 2004 season – his last with the Raptors – when there was a noticeable drop in his production on the court. He was traded to the New Jersey Nets that December for what amounted to spare parts, damaging the team for the next few years.
In early January 2005, TNT's John Thompson asked Carter if he always played hard.
“In years past, no,” he replied. “I was fortunate to have the talent. You get spoiled when you're able to do a lot of things. You see that you don't have to work at it.”
As you can imagine, this flew as well as a lead balloon in Raptor-land.
Now Carter is with the Orlando Magic, one of the three best teams in the NBA’s Eastern Conference, and playing against the over-matched Atlanta Hawks.
Orlando is seemingly destined to move on to the next round of the post-season after beating the Hawks 112-98 on Thursday night to take a 2-0 series lead.
Worse yet, there is a lot to like about the Magic. They’ve got a cast of young players that have an up-tempo style of play. Their success has lead to a nice rivalry with LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers, a possible opponent in the Conference Final. Most basketball fans would agree that if the Cavs and Magic meet in the playoffs, as they did last season, it'd be one of the most exciting pairings of the post-season.
In particular, centre Dwight Howard is one of the most charming players in the league. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year has thrilled at Slam Dunk competitions and always remains playful with interviewers and fans.
He’s the kind of player that you want to see succeed. But his progress will drag Carter along, putting many Torontonians, myself included, in a difficult position. We want Howard and the Magic to thrive, but is it too late for Orlando to trade away Carter?
Thank God I don’t have to report on this series. It’d be too hard to stay objective.