John Chidley A blog about reading, writing, pop culture and sports.


Old school, new school

Last Friday hockey fans saw another example of how the world of journalism can be a divided place.

Matthew Barnaby, currently of ESPN and formerly of the Buffalo Sabres, tweeted that Tim Connolly might have been punched in the eye by his teammate Derek Roy. He then retracted the statement saying that his sources were wrong.

This opened the door for John Vogl of the Buffalo News to say in a blog post that:

“The Roy-Connolly story began Monday night with 'rumors all over Twitter.' After putting on hip waders, rubber gloves, a gas mask and taking an anti-vomit pill, I ventured to the God-forsaken site and discovered what I expected to discover: One person posted the rumor, and a lot of other people copied and/or linked to the one comment, making it look like more than one person actually had an original thought.”

Seems like Vogl’s editorializing about Twitter is a little bitter, a little personal, doesn’t it? That’s because it’s only the latest example of an ongoing feud in reporting circles.

This is because journalism, like any industry, has cliques, rivalries and feuds.

There’s the obvious disagreements along political fault lines, rivalries both corporate and individual as well as the usual disagreements that plague all places of business.

Of course, there are also clashes of style and personal bias. It should be expected. Journalism demands long hours, often late into the night with tight deadlines. Tensions will always run high in that kind of stressful environment.

But in the past couple of years a new, more philosophical, divide has appeared amongst journalists: traditional (or mainstream) outlets versus the New Media.

Boundaries and alliances have been drawn with print, radio and some television journalists lining up against web-based news outlets, particularly bloggers.

The knock on new media is that it’s not true journalism. Bloggers haven’t been to J-School and therefore aren’t bound by the ethics of journalism. They might even be anonymous, able to wantonly libel and slander anyone they want without any threat of legal repercussions.

Similarly, a tweet doesn’t go through the checks and balances of the editorial system employed by traditional outlets. The immediacy of the Internet opens it up to quick-triggered reports that could be false.

Ask popular singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot about that speed – this time last year he was widely reported to be dead. He definitely was not, and many whip-fast online editors were red-faced.

Champions of the new media point out that blogs and Twitter can be just as accurate and perceptive as any traditional news source. Also, the speed of the Internet is as much an asset as it is a liability.

Also, online journalism sometimes benefits from its editorial freedom.

Take for example the media-criticism website Deadspin. In early October it reported that famed National Football League quarterback Brett Favre made a Hail Mary pass to Jenn Sterger, a sideline reporter with the New York Jets, by sending a text message containing a photo of his penis.

Even though it spread like wildfire across the Internet, it took weeks for mainstream media to pick up the story, likely because conservative editors were reluctant to take a run at a sacred cow like Favre.

Flexibility is also a major strength of e-journalism. Where else can a consumer watch a video of the G20 riots, read a commentary on the ensuing arrests, then listen to an interview of a protestor and get regular updates on the ongoing violence in downtown Toronto?

The Internet also allows users to participate, a double-edged sword to be sure, but nonetheless, interactivity is a valuable tool.

This debate rages in all journalistic circles, but has become especially contentious in sports journalism. It’s the corner of the reporting world that probably has the most amateur online journalists and it also has athletes, reporters and fans can interact via email and Twitter.

Sports are also the fastest paced arena for journalists, with multiple stories being generated for every game played worldwide on a daily basis. The output of any sports department is massive, earning the nickname “the Meatgrinder” in many newsrooms.

When there’s a full slate of games in several leagues, North America’s sports media complex churns out thousands of stories.

That’s why sports journalism is prone to incidents like the erroneous report that long-time National Hockey League coach Pat Burns had died on Sept. 16. The media machinery was locked, loaded and ready to go, and the speed of the Internet made it impossible to stuff the genie back in to the bottle.

In the aftermath of the premature report of Burns’ demise, journalists pointed fingers at each other. Traditional media outlets blamed the blogosphere and Twitter for the rapid spread of the story, but new media was able to trace the rumour back to several print and radio outlets.

Unfortunately, the false alarm made Burns’ actual passing last week even more uncomfortable as many readers were once bitten, twice shy about the news.

Similarly, ESPN’s Bill Simmons had to write a lengthy apology and explanation on Oct. 13 after he accidently broke the news that Randy Moss was being traded to the Minnesota Vikings on his Twitter account. There was much less controversy surrounding that flub though, because it turned out that Simmons was right. Still, it was a startling demonstration of the power and speed of online journalism.

The pervasive lack of respect for new media amongst print journalists ignited a small storm of controversy right here in Toronto when the local Sun newspaper printed a story about an interview with Tomas Kaberle’s father – without citing the translation provided by the Pension Plan Puppet’s blog that it was apparently based on.

Things got ugly on Twitter when Yahoo! Sports hockey blogger Greg Wyshnicki and the Suns’ Steve Simmons debated the journalistic ethics of the newspaper’s behaviour. It’s hard to breakdown the entire debate, but if you’re interested go to either feed and scroll all the way back to August 20.

At the heart of this dispute seems to be a basic misunderstanding of what makes a blog or a Twitter feed.

Simply put: they are media, not genres.

Saying “bloggers aren’t journalists” is like saying that “television isn’t funny”. No, television isn’t necessarily funny, but it can be. Books aren’t all fiction, but they often are.

A blog can be photos, it can be recipes, it can be fiction or it can even be journalism. Not to get all McLuhan up in this, but the medium does not define the genre or subject matter.

There might be a blogger who is irresponsible and posts inaccurate information online, but the same could happen to a print or television journalist. Poor reporting isn’t any more or less intrinsic to New Media than it is to traditional outlets.

When traditional journalists rail against Twitter or blogs I imagine they sound a lot like radio producers did when television first became popular – a little scared, a little ignorant and very short-sighted.

New media is here to stay, there’s no disputing that. But it’s a new, open frontier that experienced reporters and writers should be embracing, not just because it’s the future of the industry but because they’ve been presented with a rare opportunity to set the new rules and paradigms and maybe, just maybe, improve the quality and quantity of content.

Let’s give credit where credit is due. Some of the old guard have done a fantastic job of adopting (or adapting to) the new technology. TSN’s Bob McKenzie, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King and ESPN’s Bill Simmons are all examples of veteran reporters who are using and experimenting with New Media.

This is to their infinite credit.

They see the potential of Twitter, blogs and the Internet in general and are embracing it, to the benefit of their fans around the globe. They understand that handled correctly, an energetic and ambitious reporter or editor can help set the tone for journalists for decades to come in New Media.

Journalists and consumers alike will be better off when everyone learns this lesson and embraces online media instead of dismissing it.


My weekend in junior hockey Nov 26-28

Lukas Cingel scored the biggest goal of the Baie-Comeau Drakkar's season on Friday night.

When I’m writing or editing Canadian Hockey League stories I always try to keep in the back of my mind that these players are amateurs.

Not just amateurs, but young men (and occasionally women) who are completing high school or starting university soon. More often than not they’re living far away from home, away from their families and friends.

Because of that, I try to focus on the positives in a game.

For example, I don’t like to mention who took a costly penalty that led to a power-play game-winning goal. It may have been an honest mistake and sometimes penalties are worth taking – like tripping or hooking to stop a breakaway.

Also, I try to avoid over-emphasizing that a team lost. I would never write “Bobby Jones made 10 saves in a losing effort.” There’s no need to underscore that a team lost, it’s already apparent in the story’s lede. It might be true, but it’s unnecessary to rub it in poor Bobby Jones’ face.

There’s just no need to go out of my way to point out the mistakes of amateur athletes who, in some cases, aren’t even old enough to vote.

But I had to break that rule for Friday’s Quebec Major Junior Hockey League round up. The Baie-Comeau Drakkar finally won their second game of the season, bringing an end to a 25-game losing streak, the third longest winless streak in league history.

Although most of the article detailed the historic significance of Baie-Comeau’s skid, there was a focus on the fact that they had won, and on the remarkable play of Lukas Cingel.

Friday, Nov. 26th 2010
It took months, but the Baie-Comeau Drakkar finally won again.

Lukas Cingel scored on the power play with 17 seconds left in the game to lead Baie-Comeau past the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies 4-3 in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League action Friday night.

It was just the second win of the season for the Drakkar, snapping a 25-game winless streak.

Ryan Ellis was the star of the show without even scoring a goal on Friday night.

Zack Kassian scored twice and Ellis had three assists as the Windsor Spitfires defeated the Oshawa Generals 5-2 in Ontario Hockey League play.

Ellis, Windsor's team captain and the 2009 first-round draft pick of the Nashville Predators, was honoured in a pre-game ceremony for becoming the all-time leading scorer in Spitfire history.

Kevin Sundher had two goals and two assists as the Chilliwack Bruins thrashed the Western Hockey League-leading Portland Winterhawks 7-2 Friday night.

Ryan Howse registered a goal and an assist, while the Bruins (12-9-3) scored seven unanswered goals in the second and third periods.

Saturday, Nov. 27th 2010
David Honzik is starting to find his legs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Honzik made 27 saves as the Victoriaville Tigres rolled over the P.E.I. Rocket 6-0 on Saturday night.

It was the 17-year-old goaltender's first shutout in his rookie season in the QMJHL.

Saturday night was a good night for scoring streaks in Barrie.

Daniel Catenacci scored a pair of goals to lead the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds to a 6-5 victory over the Barrie Colts in Ontario Hockey League action.

Catenacci, who extended his current goal streak to six games, has now picked up a point in 19 of his last 20 contests.

Once the Kootenay Ice got scoring there was no stopping them Saturday night.

Kootenay ended a long scoring drought with three power-play goals in the first period and went on to rout the Seattle Thunderbirds 6-2 in Western Hockey League play on Saturday night.

Sunday, Nov. 28th 2010
The Saint John Sea Dogs are riding their hot streak to the top of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League standings.

Zack Phillips opened scoring for Saint John with back-to-back goals as the Sea Dogs trounced the Halifax Mooseheads 7-1 on Saturday afternoon.

Casey Cizikas, Devante Smith-Pelly and Riley Brace kept their team rolling on Sunday afternoon.

The line combined for four goals and seven points in leading the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors to a modern-era franchise record in the Ontario Hockey League with a 6-3 victory over the Owen Sound Attack.


When predictions turn ugly

Whether it’s picking a champion before a season begins or presaging the outcome of a draft, there’s a good chance a sports writer is setting themselves up to fail when they make predictions.

It’s inherent in sports journalism. The predictable nature of a season naturally lends itself to playing oracle.
You know there will be a Most Valuable Player award and even at the start of the season you can narrow it down to three or four likely candidates. Guessing who it’s going to be is easy copy and it gets the consumers involved in the debate as well. It’s too tempting to pass up.

Of course, more often than not, those predictions are way off and then you have readers sending you crank emails lecturing you on how you’re the wrongest wrong who ever wronged.

Hindsight is 20-20 and those bold statements, predictions of future success (or struggles) and deep explanations embedded in an article can sour quickly, ruining an otherwise fine piece of work.

I touched on this before in my review of SI’s Great Baseball Writing. Throughout that collection there are passages or even entire articles from the late 1990s and early 2000s that try to explain the sudden power surge late in the careers of Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa.


This is at the heart of the Sports Illustrated or EA Sports cover curses – the subject is chosen because of what they’re expected to achieve and, more often than not, they disappoint because they’re being held up to more intense scrutiny or our expectations (raised by the hype of being on the cover) are unrealistic.

Right now I’m reading Bill Simmons’ Book of Basketball and I’m making my way through his lengthy Pyramid section where he ranks the top 96 professional basketball players of all time.

It’s an entertaining and informative piece, until you get to the subchapter on Lebron James. Here’s a few paragraphs of the book that, in turn, were pulled from Simmons’ April 15, 2009 posting where he makes the case for James as NBA MVP.

“Not since Magic Johnson has a superstar doubled as such a galvanizing teammate. If there's an enduring image of the '08-09 season, it's the way LeBron stamped his personality on everyone around him. They orchestrate goofy pregame intros (my favorite: the team snapshot), trade countless chest bumps, giggle on the sidelines, hang out on road trips and support each other in every way. What's telling about LeBron's in-traffic dunks -- and he unleashes them more frequently than anyone since Dominique -- is how he seeks out his bench for feedback, and even better, how they give it to him. It makes the forced camaraderie of the Lakers seem glaring. If you want to watch a team that pulls for each other and follows the lead of its best player, watch Cleveland.

And if you're a Cavs fan trying to talk yourself into LeBron staying after 2010, your best chance is this: Through 24 years, LeBron has proven to be an inordinately devoted guy. When you're with him, you're with him. The upcoming documentary (supposedly superb) about his high school years bangs this point home. So does the fact that he jettisoned his agents and surrounded himself with high school buddies. So does everything that happened this season. He's as good of a teammate as a player. The more I watch him, the more I wonder if such an intensely loyal guy would ever say, "Thanks for the memories, everybody," dump his teammates, dump his hometown and start a fresh life elsewhere. Although he isn't surrounded by the most talented players right now, collectively, it's a team in the truest sense, with a devoted set of appreciative fans, and maybe that's all LeBron James will need in the end.

I thought he was a goner four months ago. I think he's staying now. Regardless, he's our Most Valuable Player for 2009. It won't be the last time.”

Although Simmons’ schtick is enthusiastic hyperbole, I do believe that he was very sincere in his belief that James is a loyal, team-oriented player and a true son of Ohio. And, credit where it's due, the Sports Guy was right that James would win NBA MVP in 2009 and that it wouldn't be his last.

But Simmons was wrong about Lebon's character. I think it's fair to say that the Decision, the hour-long ESPN special where Lebron announced that he was “taking his talents to South Beach” proved that as it ripped out the hearts of Cleveland Cavaliers’ fans and tarnished Lebon's image.

It turned out that James is not particularly loyal, that his high school friends/managers totally misread the impact of his television special and that the Lebron camp are so out of touch with his fanbase that they signed off on this ad for Nike, rubbing salt in the wound.

Yikes. Knowing what we know now, reading Simmons' glowing praise of Lebron makes me cringe.

In fairness to Simmons, he did change his mind as the free agency deadline loomed this past summer, backpedalling from his earlier belief that James was going to stay in Ohio as new information came to light.

And hey, it’s not like I haven’t made my own terrible calls. Long-time readers of this blog just need to think back to my March Madness predictions from this past spring, or my Canadian Hockey League playoff predictions from about the same time to see that I’m no seer myself.

I just want to underscore just how tricky this predictions game can be. It’s a wrinkle that makes sports journalism just a bit tougher, a little more unpredictable and definitely a lot more uncomfortable for columnists.

Blog posts, books, magazine covers, whatever, are all created in a particular moment but then stand forever.

Unfortunately, sports journalists are often called upon to make predictions, foresee the future and the incorrect guesses last much longer than the actual outcome ever does. It can turn good copy bad, real fast and it can also make me put down a book for a few minutes to reflect on how fleeting insight can be.


My weekend in junior hockey Nov. 19-21 2010

Tyler Toffoli of the Ottawa 67's celebrating yet another goal.

Unfortunately, my Twitter account has been acting up a little, both online and on my Blackberry. Otherwise, I would have been Tweeting all last week about how excited I was for Sunday’s match between the Ottawa 67’s and Rangers in Kitchener, Ont.

Those two clubs have the best offences in the Ontario Hockey League and rank with the Portland Winterhawks, Moncton Wildcats and Lewiston Maineiacss as some of the most potent attacks in junior hockey today.

The Rangers have league-leading scorer Jason Akeson as their top forward. Unbelievably, this talented winger has gone undrafted the past two years,  and went unsigned after a free agent tryout with the Anaheim Ducks.

Akeson’s 12 goals and has set up 34 others so far this season are undoubtedly making general managers across the National Hockey League regret not signing him.

Who’s trailing Akeson in the scoring race? Ryan Martindale of, you guessed it, the 67’s. He’s got 17 markers and 23 assists so far this season.

Martindale’s linemate Tyler Toffoli is leading the league in goals scored with 22. Kitchener’s Gabriel Landeskog is right behind him with 19.

In other words, Sunday’s game promised to have some offensive fireworks.

The game definitely did not disappoint, either.

Toffoli and Shane Prince ­– fourth in OHL scoring – scored in the shootout as the 67’s edged the Rangers 5-4. Toffoli also scored twice in regulation, Martindale had two assists and Prince had one.

Landeskog had a pair of goals and an assist, while Akeson padded his scoring lead with a goal and an assist.

Games like that are what make hockey great.

Friday, November 19th 2010
The Halifax Mooseheads started one streak and kept another alive Friday night.

Konrad Abeltshauser put away the winner 4:09 into the third period as Halifax shaded the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies 3-2 in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League action.

Devante Smith-Pelly's second goal of the game midway into the third period lifted the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors to a 2-1 victory over the Niagara IceDogs in the Ontario Hockey League Friday night.

The winner came as Smith-Pelly broke in on the right wing, took a pass from centre Casey Cizikas and beat Niagara goaltender Mark Visentin from close range.

Greg Lamoureux's goal 1:58 into overtime gave the Vancouver Giants a come-from-behind 5-4 victory over the Regina Pats in Western Hockey League action Friday night.

Brendan Gallagher led the Giants (13-8-3) with two goals and an assist and also drew the penalty that set the stage for Lamoureux's winner. Matt MacKay and Nathan Burns also tallied for Vancouver in a wildly entertaining game before a raucous crowd of 11,476 at the Pacific Coliseum.

Saturday, November 20th 2010
The Lewiston Maineiacs continued to roll through their Quebec Major Junior Hockey League competition Saturday.

Olivier Dame-Malka scored in overtime as the Maineiacs edged the Shawinigan Cataractes 2-1 for their 10th straight win. Lewiston sits fourth overall in the QMJHL.

Captain Andrew Agozzino led his Niagara IceDogs by example Saturday night.

Agozzino scored four times as Niagara dropped the Ottawa 67's 5-3 in Ontario Hockey League action.

Nino Niederreiter scored a pair of goals and Taylor Aronson had a goal and two assists to lead the Portland Winterhawks past the Kamloops Blazers 6-4 in Western Hockey League play on Saturday night.

The game turned ugly at the end of the second period with three fights breaking out after the horn had sounded.

Sunday, November 21st 2010
The Quebec Remparts knew they needed to beat the Lewiston Maineiacs to hold on to their lead in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's East Division.

Martin Lefebvre opened the scoring for Quebec and added two assists as the Remparts got a crucial 4-2 victory against the rival Maineiacs Sunday afternoon.

The Ontario Hockey League's most prolific offences were on full display Sunday afternoon.

Shane Prince and Tyler Toffoli scored in the shootout to power the Ottawa 67's past the Kitchener Rangers 5-4 in a game that showcased some of the best forwards in the league.


My latest for – Like his personality, Burns leaves large legacy

I'm particularly proud of my work last weekend for I wrote a brief piece on Pat Burns' impact on the National Hockey League's Northeast Division and my hockey fandom. Check it out and tell me what you think.

Like his personality, Burns leaves large legacy
A former policeman, Burns looked the part behind the bench with his thick moustache, but didn’t act like any cop that would visit my elementary school or volunteer with my Cub Pack. He was always yelling, screaming or trying to get at the other team’s bench. My parents had to awkwardly explain what he’d just said to the referees that had gotten him in so much trouble. (Although I had no problem understanding the idea of sending him to the locker room as punishment.)

He was easily my favorite of the Leafs. As news of Burns’ death spread Friday night, it quickly became clear I wasn’t the only one.


My weekend in junior hockey, Nov. 12-14 2010

Chris DiDomenico, formerly of the Drummondville Voltigeurs, weighs in.

All three organizations in the Canadian Hockey League have their own style of play, their own personality.

Everyone knows that the Western Hockey League is rough-and-tumble prairie hockey, the Ontario Hockey League is defensively oriented and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League is all scorers, goalies and good, clean play.

The QMJHL is also marked by streaky play. Teams can easily reel off wins in the double digits.

Winning streaks can reach crazy heights in the Q - the 1973-74 Sorel Eperviers hold the record with 25 in a row, but last year’s Saint John Sea Dogs came close, taking 22 consecutive games.

Saint John wasn’t the only team to embark on an impressive winning span last season either as the Drummondville Voltigeurs won 16 straight.

In fact, of the ten longest win streaks in QMJHL history, six have happened in the last decade and five in the past three years.

Therefore, it’s a big deal when a top team’s streak comes to an end because it might just shape their season and seriously affect the QMJHL’s playoff picture.

So when the Sea Dogs twisted the knife on the stumbling Quebec Remparts with a 6-0 victory on Sunday afternoon, it’s notable.

Almost as a direct result of that stomping, Saint John switched places with Quebec in the CHL’s weekly power rankings and stole the Remparts’ momentum, possibly shifting the balance of power in the QMJHL.

Don’t believe me? Consider the comment Chicago Blackhawks’ prospect Chris DiDomenico left on Sunday’s QMJHL round up on

“A championship calibre team wins those 3 games in 3 nights. Our last road trip we had 4 games in 5 nights, the toughest schedule given to any team in the CHL this year. We went 4 wins 0 losses in that stretch and dominated the 4th game. Quebec has a good offensive team and a great goalie but defence wins championships. Saint John is solid at all ends of the ice including a surprising great goaltending from Piche and once Deserres gets back to his regular Memorial Cup form than expect a longer BMO #1 status than last year.”

DiDomenico knows what he’s talking about. He was drafted by Saint John in 2006 and was traded to Drummondville in 2008. In other words, he was a key player  when the Voltigeurs ran wild for 16 games last season.

So now the big question is – will the Sea Dogs start racking up the wins after their big statement game against their nearest competition?

Friday Nov. 12th 2010
The Quebec Remparts are starting to turn things around after a disappointing week.

Jonathan Audy-Marchessault had two power-play goals as Quebec stopped a three-game slide with a 5-2 win over the Acadie-Bathurst Titan in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League play Friday night.

Tyler Toffoli provided just enough scoring for the Ottawa 67's on Friday night.

Toffoli scored all three goals as Ottawa posted a 3-2 win over the Sarnia Sting in Ontario Hockey League play.

The Saskatoon Blades engineered a small upset in one of the most anticipated matches of the young Western Hockey League season.

Marek Viedensky had a goal and three assists as Saskatoon rallied past the Portland Winterhawks 4-3 Friday night.

Saturday Nov. 13th 2010
Guillaume Nadeau made 17 saves as the Drummondville Voltigeurs shut out the Moncton Wildcats 4-0 in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League action Saturday night.

It was Nadeau's third clean sheet of his rookie season in the QMJHL.

The Kitchener Rangers haven't had a lot of luck in southeastern Michigan.

Kitchener won for the first time in Plymouth since the 2007-08 season Saturday with a 3-2 victory over the Whalers in Ontario Hockey League action.

Brandon Stone made an early exit, but he still got to take the final bow.

Moose Jaw's rookie goalie was tossed from the game with eight seconds left to play after stopping 32 shots as the Warriors shut out the Lethbridge Hurricanes 3-0 in Western Hockey League action Saturday night.

Sunday Nov. 14th 2010
The Saint John Sea Dogs made a strong statement Sunday afternoon.

Jacob DeSerres made 22 saves to earn the shutout as the Sea Dogs rocked the Quebec Remparts 6-0 in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League action.

The Kingston Frontenacs would not give up Sunday night.

Ryan Spooner scored in overtime as Kingston rallied to a 6-5 win over the Sarnia Sting in Ontario Hockey League action.


Review: Civilization V

Otto von Bismark is just one of the 18 world leaders you can play as or against in Sid Meier's Civilization V.

Last week I finished writing a review of Sid Meier's Civilization V for the Canadian Press. It was picked up by a lot of news outlets including,, the Kitchener-Waterloo Record, the Guelph Mercury, the Winnipeg Free Press, 570 News, Sympatico's Sync, the Medicine Hat News, 680 News and Yahoo! Canada.

I was pretty pleased with the finished product, although props have to go to editor Neil Davidson for adding some spit and polish to the finished product.

As long-time readers of this blog know, I love writing my own reviews, but hopefully I'll be able to do more video game review in the near future.

Please follow the links above or below to read the whole piece.

Minutes become hours that bleed into days with "Sid Meier's Civilization V."

The latest instalment of the classic PC game casts the player as the leader of a Stone Age society tasked with guiding a nation to the heights of civilization.

"Just one more turn" is an unofficial motto of "Civilization V" players, as they plot their nation's progress city-by-city and develop social policies, trade routes and technologies. Waiting for the responses of enemies and allies creates a compulsive need to play more and more.


Top 10 ideas the National Hockey League should institute

With the National Hockey League’s 30 general managers currently meeting in downtown Toronto to discuss changes to rules and policy, I figured I’d take the opportunity to chime in with my two cents. Times 10. My 20 cents, if you will.

Lengthen overtime
Extending overtime is already on the table as the GM’s try to cut down on the number of shootouts, but I wanted to voice my support for this idea.

Right now, the extra period is just five minutes of 4-on-4 followed by the shootout. OT is the tensest period of play in any hockey game with each penalty, missed pass or deflected shot putting the game on the line.

There’s been a lot of talk of having five minutes of 4-on-4 and then five of 3-on-3. The former doesn’t really strike me as too interesting - I don’t see why they couldn’t just do 10 minutes of 4-on-4, or, what the hell, a full 20 minutes of 4-on-4 followed by the shootout.

It’ll still cut down on the number of shootouts and will create more tension and therefore more excitement. Fans tend to enjoy excitement.

Get rid of archaic blackout rules
As I’ve mentioned before, my fiancée Katy and I are a mixed couple – I’m a Leafs fan and she supports the Oilers.

It makes for the occasional tense moment, but what really aggravates things is that we can only watch the Leafs and rarely the Oilers thanks to the NHL’s ridiculous TV blackout rules.  This regulation prevents anyone with a standard cable package from watching an out-of-market hockey game.

In other words, although Sportsnet West was carrying the Edmonton-Carolina game last night, we could only watch the Toronto-Tampa Bay match or the Washington Capitals-New York Rangers game. I understand the original reasoning behind this rule was to keep fans interested in their hometown markets.

However, this hurts the NHL more than it helps. If a fan in Minnesota wants to cheer for the Pittsburgh Penguins, then so be it. Associating yourself with frustrating rules that limit your fans ability to watch your product is never a good idea. Dropping this ridiculous regulation would also tie in with…

Embracing fantasy hockey
I think we can all agree that the National Football League is the best run professional sports league in North America and arguably the world. So why not tear a page out of their playbook and embrace fantasy sports?

In addition to showing the scores from games, the NFL runs tickers of the top five stat lines from each position during their Sunday broadcasts. That running update on the individual success of its players is aimed straight at fantasy football managers eager to see how their personal team is doing.

The NHL should do likewise: run a ticker with the statistics of the top five forwards, defenders and goalies each and every broadcast night.

Clamping down on vague “lower body injury” reports would be a good idea as well. Force the teams to reveal more details about their hurting players for the benefit of fantasy hockey managers. Anything to make fantasy hockey more accessible and enjoyable.

Show where shots are coming from and going
This has long been a bugbear of mine. During games broadcasters will happily tell you how many shots a goalie has faced. That’s all well and good, but not all shots were created equal. A shot from the slot is a lot more dangerous than one from the blue line.

Hockey broadcasts should show where on the ice players are shooting from and where they’re going on net. The technology is already there – Major League Baseball can track the trajectory of pitches and the National Basketball Association regularly shows where players shoot from on the court.

Both concepts should be applied to hockey. It would really help viewers understand the underlying strategies and tactics within a game as patterns begin to emerge in shot selection and location.

Is the defence successfully pushing forwards to the outside? Are they giving up a lot of breakaways? Is the power play unit feeding to the rearguard for big shots, or working it down low? Are shooters trying to pick top corners, or shooting along the ice for big rebounds? It would really add more depth and understanding for the average viewer.

No touch icing

No touch icing is an easy - and obvious - way to avoid scenes like this.

The favourite hockey cause of the CBC’s Don Cherry, no touch icing is an idea that is long past due. With increasing concerns about head shots and concussions, why is the NHL persisting in having a rule that routinely has two players racing the full length of the ice toward unforgiving boards? Just take it out of the game already!

Crossover playoffs
The NHL has a lengthy and rich history, particularly amongst its storied Original Six franchises.

Unfortunately, thanks to their current playoff system, many of the oldest rivalries in the game will never be put on the league’s biggest stage: the Stanley Cup final.

 The Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs, the biggest and best feud in all of hockey will never play with the NHL championship at stake again. Neither will the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings or the Habs and Boston Bruins.

My solution is actually an old idea: have the top 16 teams in the league in one playoff pool. President’s Trophy winner will take in the 16th seed, the other conference champion will take on No. 15, and so on. It’s how the playoffs were structured in the 1970s and 80s, and it’ll work again today.

Get back in touch with the history of the game
Other than the MLB, there is no major North American sport that has as rich a history as the NHL. Unfortunately, commissioner Gary Bettman clearly sees this as a weakness and tries to cover up or even undo a lot of the league’s historical underpinnings.

This is a mistake.

By shying away from that history it makes the NHL seem like a new, fly-by-night operation, particularly when franchises are being parachuted into Sunbelt markets that are unfamiliar with the game.

The NHL should embrace its past with throwback jerseys, prominent marketing of its namesake trophies (like the Lady Byng) and make sure to compare today’s stars with some of the legends of hockey. History and tradition are strengths, not weaknesses.

No more two-piece sticks
Look, I’m all for innovation. I’m not some Luddite who poo-poos every new idea. But let’s get real: two-piece hockey sticks break a lot more than good ol’ fashion wooden sticks.

Not only is this dangerous to players, linesmen and potentially fans, but it slows down the game as the remnants of that $200 fibre composite is cleared off the ice. If an all-wooden stick was good enough for Al MacInnis’ record holding slap shot, it’s good enough now.

Reinvest in amateur hockey
I don’t actually think that the Sun Belt expansion was that bad an idea. New markets and new fans really can work. It just wasn’t done right.

The NHL should take the time to invest in amateur hockey at the grassroots level because those are the fans – and players – of the future.

Amateur hockey would help educate parents and kids about the sport and create an instant niche market of coaches taking their teams to games.

When moving in to Phoenix, Miami or Atlanta the league should have set up minor hockey systems to introduce those cities to the sport. Obviously, that ship has sailed, but it might help with some damage control if they got local kids involved in the game.

Send NHLers to the 2014 Sochi Olympics
This was, of course, a hot-button debate at the World Hockey Summit this summer, but it’s worth mentioning again.

Bettman and co. must let NHLers play in the Olympics, and they should make that announcement sooner rather than later.

Why? Because although the Stanley Cup and the Winter Classic do a great job of raising hockey’s profile, nothing does a better job of exposing the sport to the masses like the Olympics. Nothing.

This year’s men’s hockey final between the United States and Canada was the most watched hockey game, ever. It drew 44.2 million viewers across North America and was the main event of the two week sporting event.

The NHL would be foolish to give up that kind of mainstream media attention. Bettman should make the announcement soon as well and what better place than this year’s newly reformatted All-Star Game?

What do you think? What ideas do you have for the NHL GMs? Post them in the comment section below.


My weekend in junior hockey Nov. 5-7th 2010

The re-emergence of New York Islanders prospect Kirill Kabanov is just one of many storylines developing in the CHL this season.

News stories at the start of the Canadian Hockey League season – really, any sport’s year – tends to focus on team events.

After all, there are team previews,  predictions and personnel moves to write about. On the other hand, there are no individual accomplishments that are worth reporting on.

Let’s face facts: the current scoring leader isn’t that impressive when there are a dozen players within two points.

This weekend saw many of those individual stories finally begin to develop.

Friday night was the beginning of the latest chapter in Kiril Kabanov’s Quebec Major Junior Hockey League career as he debuted with the Lewiston Maineiacs, his third junior club in as many years.

On Sunday, Kitchener’s Jason Akeson and Ryan Murphy were put on centre stage as they continued to dominate the Ontario Hockey League’s scoring race, dishing out seven assists between the two of them as their Rangers easily handled the London Knights.

I wholly expect that, barring injury, Kabanov, Akeson and Murphy will be players that I write about all season.

Sure, there are still some team-oriented stories to write about, like Saturdayès story of the surprising losing skid of the top-ranked Quebec Remparts, but the development of individual storylines will help add a little diversity to my news stories.

Give the CHL a few more weeks and we’ll really see some of the individual characters start to shine in the QMJHL, OHL and Western Hockey League.

Friday, November 5th 2010
The debut of Kiril Kabanov barely figured into the Lewiston Maineiac's impressive win streak on Friday night.

Olivier Dame-Malka scored twice, including the eventual winner, as Lewiston prevailed over the Val-d'Or Foreurs 5-2 in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League action.

Ramis Sadikov celebrated in style on Friday night.

The Erie Otters' second-year goaltender recorded his first Ontario Hockey League shutout in a 4-0 win against the Midwest Division-leading Owen Sound Attack.

Taylor Aronson scored 3:40 into overtime to give the Portland Winterhawks a 4-3 win over the Red Deer Rebels in Western Hockey League play on Friday night.

The Winterhawks spent most of the extra period in Red Deer's end of the ice, generating several chances. 

Saturday, November 6th 2010
Suddenly, the Quebec Remparts don't look so hot.

Louis Leblanc's power-play goal early in the third period stood as the winner as the Montreal Juniors slipped by the Remparts 3-2 in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League action Saturday night.

The Kingston Frontenacs just won't let up on the Belleville Bulls this season.

Kingston continued to have the Belleville's number Saturday night, pulling out a 3-2 shootout win in Ontario Hockey League action.

Brendan Rowinski scored twice and added an assist for the Moose Jaw Warriors in their 5-3 win over the Regina Pats in Western Hockey League action Saturday night.

Moose Jaw scored five unanswered goals to register their fifth-straight win.

Sunday, November 7th 2010
Zach O'Brien and David Gilbert did most of the heavy lifting for the Acadie-Bathurst Titan on Sunday afternoon.

O'Brien and Gilbert had shootout markers to lead the Titan past the Chicoutimi Sagueneens 4-3 in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League action.

Jason Akeson and Ryan Murphy are getting results through their unselfish play.

Akeson had four assists as the Kitchener Rangers had three unanswered goals to race past the London Knights 5-4 in Ontario Hockey League action Sunday afternoon.


Book Review – The End of Baseball by Peter Schilling Jr.

Peter Schilling Jr. came up with a fascinating what-if scenario for his novel The End of Baseball: what if famed baseball owner and promoter Bill Veeck purchased the Philadelphia Athletics and filled its roster with the stars of the Negro leagues in 1941?

It’s a tantalizing prospect. Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell and other greats shattering segregation and theoretically playing the best baseball ever.

Unfortunately, Schilling over-reaches and the final product is disappointing. The sprawling narrative just has too much going on, with too many characters for the reader to keep track of.

Focusing on Paige, Gibson, Veeck and perhaps three or four other characters should’ve been enough – the drama of integrating baseball during World War Two is a novel in itself – but Schiller had lengthy sections on supporting players like pitcher Dave Barnhill and Artie Wilson.

At first it’s fun when characters like all-round all-star Martin Dihigo, gossip columnist Walter Winchell, FBI head J. Edgar Hoover and the Sporting News founder Alfred Spink are inserted into the plot, but eventually they clutter up the story and distract from the main plot of the Athletics' struggle to win the American League pennant.

There’s no doubt that Schilling is an excellent storyteller. As a professional journalist he’s covered baseball for the Minnesota City Pages and he’s worked as a film critic for Rake Magazine and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

He has a deft touch chapter by chapter. None of the scenes fall flat, and the descriptions of the baseball games themselves are richly drawn, building tension for the reader with each swing of a bat or cold stare.

Schilling also certainly know his history. Literally every player on the team was a star in his day, and bringing all their personal histories together on to one team is a treat.

Unfortunately, the busy narrative is just unavoidable. Beyond the central plot of the A’s season, there are no less than six subplots. Coupled with asides and vignettes designed to add to those seven storylines, and it’s easy to get lost.

At 337 pages, there’s just not enough room for all these characters. By trimming the fat, Schilling would’ve had a stronger novel.

Peter Schilling Jr.’s The End of Baseball was, by moments, a fun read. It’s got a solid premise to build off of and from chapter to chapter is enjoyable. Unfortunately, the central storyline gets lost in a tangle of plot threads. Maybe worth reading if you’ve exhausted all other sports-related options.

You can read more about this book at Schilling’s website, including a free sample and reviews by other critics.