EDIT: The Globe and Mail has now uploaded my video on lacrosse goaltender pads. You can view it here.
A few weeks ago Neil Davidson, my editor at the Canadian Press, suggested I do a video feature story on the padding an indoor lacrosse goaltender wears. We agreed that having a professional lax goalie put on all his gear and demonstrate how it protects him would be perfect for a short, two-minute piece.
As a result, I spent last Saturday morning in the bowels of the Air Canada Centre interviewing Pat Campbell, the back-up goaltender of the National Lacrosse League's Toronto Rock. Pat was incredibly nice and a great interview. We shot some really good footage of him putting on his gear and explaining each piece - including some funny asides about his personal superstitions - as well as a general dicussion in the stands about being a goaltender.
Neil then suggested I turn my extra quotes from Pat into a written feature story. After all, most of the Canadian Press' clients are smaller dailies across Canada that don't carry video on their websites.
Both the video and the article were released late yesterday, with the story popping up in several places online, including TSN.ca and the Winnipeg Free Press. I'm still searching for the video online, but I'm sure it'll pop up at some point.
"There’s a simple reason why an indoor lacrosse goalie looks like, in the words of the Toronto Rock’s Pat Campbell, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.
A lacrosse shot can go faster than the average hockey slapshot — and usually is fired from closer range.
“You just can’t be afraid of the ball,” says Campbell, an 11-year veteran of the National Lacrosse League. “I often have to convince myself that it’s a rubber ball, not a bullet." - Kitchener-Waterloo Record, Feb. 2nd 2011.
Autumn has arrived once again and with the changing of the leaves comes the busiest time of the year in the world of sports.
That applies to the journalists who cover sports as well, so this blog has fallen into disuse for the past week as I’ve been cranking out articles for other outlets. Here’s a quick rundown:
On Tuesday the Globe and Mail (and other websites) ran an article I wrote about the Ontario Hockey League indefinitely postponing their All-Star Game.
Wednesday the Winnipeg Free Press picked up a bit of an OHL season preview I did.
I’ve been busy over at HockeyPrimeTime.com as well, writing pre-season looks at the Northeast Division starting with the Boston Bruins and then moving on to the Buffalo Sabres, Montreal Canadiens and the Ottawa Senators before finishing with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Hockey’s not the only sport I’m following this fall either, as field lacrosse has started up. I’ve got a vested interest as I’m continuing my involvement in the Canadian University Field Lacrosse Association as its Communications Director.
I’ve already written a review of the first week of play for the league’s website and I'll be penning a second one today.
That’s a quick update for you, but you should expect more content from me in the next week, starting with the return of My Weekend in Junior Hockey on Monday.
As of this morning the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team continues to be banned from entering the United Kingdom and therefore will likely be unable to participate in the 2010 World Lacrosse Championships in Manchester this week.
At issue is the Iroquois’ use of their Haudenosaunee passports, documents that for 33 years have been accepted by Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries.
Unfortunately, as all the citizens of Fortress North America know, in the wake of 9/11 stricter travel regulations have been put in place and the British now refuse to accept the low-tech passports that do not have any bar codes or electronic chips.
The Iroquois Nationals were scheduled to play England in the tournament’s first match later today, but instead the host nation is going to scrimmage with Germany.
The Iroquois are still hoping to make it to the tournament, but right now their participation is highly doubtful and they will be hard pressed to win the championship, having defaulted a game.
They’ll have a lot of hoops to jump through before they can play – although the American government has given them a one-time waiver at the behest of Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, they still need approval from the Canadian and British governments.
As I said on Monday, it’s a ridiculous situation. Ultimately, we’re talking about a group of people being barred from playing a sport they invented, because no one is sure they’ll return to a continent they’re indigenous to.
One of the most disappointing parts of this story is that its roots lie in the best of intentions. The Iroquois have a national team as a nod to the native roots of lacrosse and the Haudenosaunee passports have been available to the Iroquois people for decades because their traditional lands straddle the Canadian-American border.
Although it’s obvious that the Haudenosaunee passports could use an upgrade, it’s apparent that the Canadian and American governments were negligent in excluding the Iroquois and other native peoples from their new security strategy.
Why did no one foresee a day when an Iroquois passport holder would want to travel outside of the United States and Canada? Couldn’t this have been avoided?
This tournament has been scheduled for four years, so it’s shocking that the three state departments involved could find a way to accommodate the Iroquois.
It’s my sincere hope that if the Nationals are unable to participate in the tournament, the 29 teams from other countries find a way to show their support for their Iroquois friends. One option would be for the other lacrosse teams, particularly the American and Canadian teams, to wear purple armbands as a show of solidarity.
Of course, the ideal solution would be for the British government to smarten up and agree to allow the 47 members of the team into the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, any chance to avoid one of the most disappointing episodes in lacrosse history has almost passed.
But since I was waiting on some editorial turnaround, I decided to go on a baseball pilgrimage of the northeastern United States, touring the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., the new Yankee Stadium and Citifield in New York City and then on to the oldest stadium in the majors, Boston’s Fenway Park.
It was at the home of the Red Sox that I proposed to my fiancé Katy, capping off an amazing vacation.
But I owe you, my readers, an apology. I was so busy planning my trip and proposal that I didn’t do my due diligence and post links to my most recent writing before leaving for the U.S. I’m sorry because I like to keep you all updated on my various projects.
Even worse, my holiday matched up with one of the craziest fortnights in sports history. Let’s recap with a few quick hits.
Only Japanese officials from now on – Yes, early favourite Spain did win the World Cup on Sunday. But their victory, along with the results of many other games, was tainted by terrible officiating.
What was particularly galling in the championship game was that Spanish forward Andrés Iniesta’s winning goal was made possible by an undeserved goal kick - the ball had clearly been deflected out of bounds by a Spanish defender.
By my eyes, the only consistently strong officials hailed from Japan, odd for a nation that has only recently taken to soccer. The 2010 was a huge opportunity for FIFA to expand its brand to North America, a chance that was blown by the officials.
Iroquois Nationals might not make FIL World Championship – In a completely bizarre situation, the Iroquois Nationals team is currently unable to attend the lacrosse world championship in Manchester, England later this week.
Inside Lacrosse editor-in-chief John Jiloty explains:
“The issue centers around the Nationals (a group of 42, all members of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy) traveling on their Haudenosaunee passports. For more than 20 years, they’ve traveled on these passports with no problem. But the United Kingdom will only allow them into their country if the United States will let them back in. And as of Friday, the Iroquois did not have that assurance from the U.S.”
This is totally nuts. Yes, they’re travelling on a very specialized kind of passport, but the Iroquois are all Canadian and American citizens and upstanding ones at that.
The idea that they might miss out on playing a sport they invented because they can’t return to a continent that they’re indigenous to is pure lunacy.
The Decision LeBacle – I know, I know. Everyone and their aunt has already talked about LeBron James’ one-hour ESPN special where he callously announced his move to the Miami Heat. But how can I not talk about it? It will undoubtedly become one of the turning points of sport in the past 50 years, not just because that hour of television was a public relations disaster, but because it’s going to change the face of free agency in the National Basketball Association, and probably other major league sports as well.
I’ve got a lot more to say on all these topics, but I’ll leave you on that note. Blogging on weekdays has returned! Brap-brap.
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.
Field lacrosse is supposed to be a gentleman's game. Referees can hand out penalties for swearing or, if they’re particularly strict, if anyone other than a team captain speaks to them.
In fact, one of the senior lacrosse referees in Ontario regularly admonishes athletes for swearing on the field by saying “Watch your language, I’m carrying a picture of my mother in my pocket.” He’s not afraid to hand out fouls for anything he deems to hurt the image of the game.
Sportsmanship toward opponents, officials and teammates is considered a prized characteristic in lacrosse players.
Unfortunately, this respect for the game doesn’t always translate to respectful or even legal behaviour off the field.
On Monday University of Virginia senior lacrosse player George Huguely was arrested and charged with first degree murder of Yeardley Love, a member of the school’s women’s lacrosse team.
According to news reports, the two had a relationship that recently ended. Huguely admitted in a search warrant affidavitissued to Charlottesville, Va., police that he and Love had an altercation and that he “shook Love and her head repeatedly hit the wall.”
It’s a shocking tragedy that has upset the community surrounding UVA. A young life has been snuffed out before it even really began.
This isn’t the first time that NCAA lacrosse has been rocked by controversy. In 2006 three members of Duke University’s team were accused of raping a black student from North Carolina Central University who was hired as a stripper at a party held at the house of one of the captains of the Blue Devils.
Although all charges were dropped against the three athletes, the messy affair created a firestorm around Duke’s campus and ignited racial tensions in North Carolina. The lives and reputations of many of the parties involved were ruined.
Obviously, the Duke scandal and the murder in Virginia are unrelated crimes that took place years apart and involve independent parties.
Still, they offer a sad commentary on the behaviour of varsity lacrosse players. Both incidents underscore the fact that many young men involved in athletics are violent, often towards women.
It’s not limited to lacrosse at the university level either. There have been many famous professional athletes accused of sexual assault including NBA superstar Kobe Bryant and, more recently, Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Coaches, captains, athletic directors and anyone else in a position of authority on these teams have to start stepping up and teaching their athletes the importance of respect and discipline on and off the field.
The emphasis placed on sportsmanship and good conduct when playing lacrosse should also be applied to real life beyond the confines of competition. Yes, winning is important. Drive and determination are too. But being able to succeed on the field is even sweeter if it’s accomplished by a classy, respectful person off the field.
I’m not saying that coaches can control their athletes or single-handedly stop domestic abuse. Everyone involved with sports, at all levels, should re-double their efforts to breed a healthier attitude toward women.
That Ontario Lacrosse Association referee has the right idea - banning swearing may seem quaint, but encouraging a gentlemanly attitude in all facets of life is a worthwhile pursuit.
Sadly, there will likely always be violence in society. It will never be completely eradicated. But in an atmosphere like a varsity team where young athletes are being shaped into men, role models like coaches or senior players should still do their best to encourage healthy and respectful interactions.
None of this can reverse the tragic fate of Yeardley Love, but her memory can be honoured by the athletic community as it addresses this issue.
That’s when, like everyone else in the civilized world, Canadians become obsessed with the NCAA’s Division I basketball tournament. However, unlike our neighbours to the south, we can come at it from an oddly objective place.
Let me explain.
Obviously, there are no Canadian schools in the tournament. There are rarely Canadians to root for, either. Like following the National Football League we’re left to our own devices to figure out which teams to pick. We are unfettered by any kind of loyalty or regional bias.
Really, in general, Canadians are blissfully ignorant of college basketball until about early March. There’s little coverage on Sportsnet or TSN. Only hardcore basketball fans who seek out games on the Score or online have any real knowledge of the NCAA game. Everyone else gleans what they can from American shows like Pardon the Interruption or Around the Horn. Our focus is, and always will be, hockey.
Does that stop Canadians from participating in March Madness pools? Not even a little. Practically everyone I know has at least one bracket, and suddenly basketball is on all kinds of TV channels. After all, there is no better way to while away the time once your NHL team is eliminated from the playoffs.
My only NCAA allegiance is to Syracuse University Orange. Not because of Carmelo Anthony, but because of their lacrosse team. After all, that’s where Gary and Paul Gait went. Not to mention the Powell boys. Also, it’s kind of local to Toronto. I guess that's nice.
Aside from that small preference for the Orange, I can enjoy the tournament bias free. Heck, I’m even indifferent to Duke University which, according to ESPN’s Bill Simmons, people hate.
Personally, I enjoy the fact that as a Canadian I can operate from a point of objective ignorance: It means that I rarely over-think things. My judgement is never clouded by preference or conflicting sources of information.
If 75% of users are picking a team online, it sounds good to me. I’ll never be tempted to pick an underdog, since, hey, I don’t know anything beyond the seeding. Historical trends? Don't know, don't care. It’s wonderfully liberating.
My strategy is to pick teams I’ve heard of, relying on the assumption that if they're on my radar up here in Canada, they must be good. Failing that, I go with the higher seed. If two well known teams meet at some point in my bracket, I follow the lead of my fellow online users. When I feel particularly daring I’ll take an underdog (usually a 12 seed over a five) but that’s as wild as I get.
It’s actually a pretty good system. It leaves me open to upsets, but that’s rarely a problem beyond the Sweet 16.
Now I can just sit back and enjoy the show, along with my free health care. The beauty of being Canadian.
I can still remember the exact moment when I fell in love with lacrosse. My godfather had given me tickets to the Toronto Rock as a Christmas present. They were the newest team in the National Lacrosse League, having played in Hamilton the previous season as the Ontario Raiders, and this was their home opener.
I’d heard of lacrosse, but never seen it played. But, hey, it was at Maple Leaf Gardens, a treat by itself. It was easy to persuade my friend Ruben to come along.
As the fourth quarter wound down, Toronto’s goaltender Bob “Whipper” Watson stopped a shot and came out of his crease to pass to a streaking “Speedin’” Stevie Toll. As Watson released the ball, one of the Buffalo Bandits cross-checked him in the back of the head and knocked him out cold.
I seem to remember Toll scoring on the play, but I was distracted by the mayhem that exploded around me.
As players paired off to fight, the crowd chanted “BUFFALO SUCKS”. The offending player got free of his dance partner (possibly after knocking him out as well) and ran around the floor, giving the finger to the crowd. Fans tried to climb over the boards to get at him while the referees and arena security tried to gain control of the situation.
It was the greatest thing I’d ever seen.
Ruben and I didn’t know it at the time, but we were watching the birth of a dynasty. The Rock would win the championship that year, and win another four in the next five years. They’d win their division from the team’s inception in 1999 and every year after that until 2005.
For a championship starved city like Toronto, it was incredible.
Ruben and I didn’t understand half of what was going on in that first game, but sitting in the Reds of Maple Leaf Gardens we decided that we were going to pick up the sport.
We went to more games that season and got a small petition together to start a team at our high school. Unfortunately, the head gym teacher told us that he just didn’t have the staff to coach another team and our dreams were dashed.
In my second year at the University of Toronto I ended up playing a few minutes with the varsity team, but I was much too late to the sport to be any good. The next year I became an assistant coach, and became more and more involved in the administration of the game.
I watched as many games as I could, read magazine and internet articles, played intramurals and gradually began to understand the Xs and Os of lacrosse.
Eventually, I became the Director of Communications for the Canadian University Field Lacrosse Association and interned with the Toronto Nationals, a professional field team that plays in Major League Lacrosse. I’ve been lucky enough to meet greats like Gary Gait, Colin Doyle and Dan Dawson, as well as interview Paul Gait and the legendary Syracuse University coach Roy Simmons Jr.
Even though I'm relatively new to the sport, everyone I've ever met in the lacrosse world has been nothing but kind, friendly, and accommodating. It's the most accessible professional sport that I can think of, with fast action, cheap tickets and athletes that the average fan can relate to. In a crowded sports market like Toronto, there's nothing like the Nationals or Rock.
Although I’ve written about lacrosse extensively and seen a lot of the behind-the-scenes action of pro teams, I’ll always be a fan first. That’s why I’m so glad that I’ve been able to watch all of the Rock’s televised games this winter. Lacrosse has a spot in my heart that no other sport will ever be able to occupy.