Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Game on!

Today is the big day for Blue Jays fans. After a busy winter, today is the day the new look Blue Jays take to the turf at 'The Cable Box' (aka Rogers Centre) in search of their first World Series in 20 years. Of course before they get there they have to play 162 regular season games over the course of five plus months.

Five months where anything can go wrong. And that is exactly how the fans and more precisely the Toronto media is likely viewing this season since for most included in this group, the Blue Jays are the favourites to win the World Series. Who is really to blame them though as Rogers Sportsnet (that's right, another branch of the company that owns the team) has been continually replaying the 1992 and 1993 World Series since December 2012, shortly after the 'Big Trade' with the Miami Marlins.

With the owners building up the fans expectations of a World Series so much that many are already planning the parade route, in earnest this year and not just as a hypothetical situation, what chance does the team really have to live up to the hype? Five months playing on turf covered concrete and uneven fields is a long time for a team full of stars to stay healthy enough to play every day and compete at the highest level. And to do that in a city whose media dwells on the negative makes it even harder.

Today is the day we begin to see if the Blue Jays can live up to the hype. The fans and media need to remember that this is only the first of 162 games this season and win or lose, Toronto is in store for some exciting baseball this summer.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

2011 NLL season turned into a test year

Late last year I talked about not getting season tickets for the Buffalo Bandits this year only to reverse my decision shortly after. My biggest fear about not getting season tickets was that I would miss the excitement and entertainment Banditland offers. Well, I am learning this year that the fear may not exist any longer.

This season I bought season tickets, picked some games to go to and sold the tickets to the other games that I couldn't get to. As it turned out, I missed a game I was suppose to go to due to illness. Without going into details, both my wife and I were not well enough to spend over two hours in a car to get to Buffalo. We even had a babysitter scheduled for the game so we would have had a night out alone. Neither of us were too happy we missed a night out alone.

Anyhow, back to the point. Not having been to a Bandits game in almost two months has not been as bad as I would have thought. As it turns out, my kids are keeping me busy that not only do I enjoy doing nothing every chance I get, but I also have no energy to really follow anything too closely. Having the Rock on TSN2 has helped some I suppose; I'm still getting a lacrosse fix even though I have no invested interest in the game. I have paid attention to the standings enough to notice that Buffalo needs to win two more games (one against Rochester) and they secure at least one home game in the playoffs, regardless of the other games (among various other scenarios).

This season has turned into a test year for next year when I don't have season tickets. And this time I won't change my mind; two kids and a two hour drive with a potentially long wait at the border is more than I can take. With luck I will once again get season tickets for the Bandits but perhaps I will be content with just a couple game a season like in the years prior to being a Bandit season ticket holder. Time has a way of changing things though.

Monday, February 28, 2011

NLL All Star Game

There was a time, not too long ago, that I enjoyed the National Lacrosse League's all-star game. Back then the game s more reminiscent of a regular season game instead of being a typical all star game. The game would be competitive and players would hit each other, perhaps not as hard as in a season game, but hitting was nonetheless part of the all-star game. This fact not only set it aside from other sports all-star games but also made it very enjoyable to watch. One year (perhaps in 2005 when the game was in Toronto) the game was even advertised as not your typical all-star game.

Sadly that time has passed us by.

Yesterday's NLL all-star game was exactly like the traditional all-star game. Players avoided most body contact, there were hardly any battles for loose balls, players would hover around the opposing teams end waiting for the long pass and the defense took over a quarter to finally provide a little help to the goalies. An all-star game in lacrosse is not needed if the sole purpose is to highlight the offensive talents of players. For the most part, the offensive players didn't do anything different from what they would normally do in a season game. Colin Doyle frequently scores the ridiculous over the shoulder/behind the back goals; John Grant takes a dozen or so behind the back shots a game; there are several behind the back passes each game; Dan Dawson has patented the between the legs shot; John Tavares tries to score from behind the net every couple of games, many times with successful results; and Mark Steenhuis frequently cradles one handed and tries all sorts of 'trick' shots as he drives to the net.

To see the stars shine in the NLL all one needs to do is attend a game. With so few teams in the league each team has at least a couple stars who have adopted some special move as part of their regular plays. It is almost a necessity to beat the great keepers in the game. With the increased competition in the league and more players using special moves during regular games, the all-star game is really unnecessary. The NLL should get back to the more competitive all-star game or end the silly dress rehearsal.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Set NLL salaries based on years of service?

A few years ago I pondered the idea of salaries in the National Lacrosse League and wondered if a sports league could standardize base salaries. I had put this thought into the overly large nether region of my mind until this blog post brought the thought out of hiding.

My work experience is far from extensive given that I've worked at one place since graduating from college, but I am with the understanding that pay scales are used by companies in compensating employees for their work. This pay scale could be formally set out and known to those in the company or perhaps there are unspoken limits that are known only by the top management or owners of smaller companies. Perhaps some companies do not refer to their practice as pay scales but I don't doubt there is an upper limit for each position within a company, big or small.

The big question is why can't a sports league use this principle in determining base salaries. The basic premise, which is pretty much all I have, is to set a standard base salary for rookies and each additional year in the league adds a predetermined amount for each year of service. These increases would be used to create set amounts for each year of service so year one is $20,000, year 2 is $22,000, etc. This would keep all players at each year of service at the same base salary and prevent timing differences in when a player joins the league.

Without leaving the beloved player's union out of the equation, they can still cause havoc...er, help players with respect to negotiating different pay scale increases for different lengths of service instead of a constant increase each year. For example maybe year 2-5 the increase will be $2,000/year, years 6-15 base salaries increase by $3,000/year and for over 15 years of service base salaries increase by $6,000/year. Of course those figures are only relevant if the league's revenues increase but the idea is the same. In addition, the PLPA would still be able to bargain for higher annual cost of living increases, better pensions and other such items that management wants to take away or not provide to their employees.

This amount being only the base salary. Whether this is already applicable in the NLL or not, any performance bonuses will continue to be in addition to base salaries (no need to get rid of player agents now is there?...). I am not too familiar with how bonuses work but perhaps there can be a requirement for a minimum performance level to retain certain bonuses for the length of the CBA, or individual contract. Perhaps bonuses can be left out of the NLL altogether...

As I said earlier, this is only a basic thought with some areas that need some significant thought yet, like how to deal with the salary cap, how to keep the bonuses respectable and have some bonuses that are a challenge to reach. As the league revenues grow the base salaries could increase as well. This might be able to keep the league affordable as it grows as well and that is a key benefit for me and I'm sure most followers of the NLL would like the league to remain affordable. I don't see why this concept could not be applied to a sports league but it is my idea and I am often blinded to the practicality of my thoughts when I think I have a good one.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Bandits 2011 home opener

An air of excitement filled the HSBC arena Saturday night, as the cross border rivals Toronto Rock were in town to help the Buffalo Bandits open their 2011 home schedule. As the 16,685 fans, mostly clad in orange or black, made their way to their seats the excitement grew and exploded on the first note from the bagpipes. As the image on the big screen of a solo bagpiper zoomed out to reveal several more bagpipers and a drummer leading the Bandits to the floor, the fans got even louder. From this point one could tell it was going to be an entertaining game.

After a slight delay waiting for the signal to start the game, it began. And what a beginning it was for the Bandits. In under two minutes the home side was up 3-0 on goals by John Tavares, Chad Culp and Brett Bucktooth. Almost a minute later the Rock got on the board with Blaine Manning’s first of two goals and before long the game was knotted at 3. The first quarter ended with Buffalo holding a 4-3 lead.

The second quarter was back and forth and by the end the Bandits held tight to their one goal lead despite Colin Doyle scoring three in the quarter for the Rock. The third quarter was all Buffalo. They held the Rock scoreless in the quarter while netting three themselves and chasing Bob Watson from Toronto’s net. Just over a minute into the third period Buffalo opened a five goal lead but, similar to Toronto the previous night, they couldn’t put the game away.

Whether it was Toronto’s defense picking up their game or Buffalo’s sudden inability to make a cross floor pass in the offensive end that was the cause, the Bandits couldn’t seem to get a quality shot on Campbell. On the other side of the floor, the Rock seemed unstoppable as Garrett Billings and Blaine Manning took over feeding passes that ended up in the back of the net. This quarter it was sophomore Stephen Leblanc as the beneficiary of the Billings-Manning passes more times than not as he scored a hat trick the saw the game tied at 14.

With ten seconds left the Bandits won their fourth face-off and immediately called a time out leaving just over 7 seconds on the clock. Tavares lead the charge down the field but his shot was deflected out of play. After some quality chances by the Rock in overtime it was Scott Self scoring on a breakaway just over four minutes into the extra frame to win the game for the home side.

The game overall was extremely entertaining, well, with the exception of the numerous and lengthy reviews, but was not necessarily a good one. Can a game be called good when both coaches were yelling at the refs throughout the game? I am not sure how coach Cordingly didn’t get tossed from the game; he was inches from stepping onto the floor at one point near the end of the fourth quarter. The refs missed many calls, and I’m talking about obvious penalties where a ref was clearly watching the play, and called some soft penalties that must have left the opposing team chuckling.

There were times when my mind flashed back to the preseason scrimmage between these two teams (I’m talking about the brawl not the actual “game” as unfortunately I wasn’t there) and was amazed that there was no fight nor any penalties called during these scrums. I’m not sure who gets credit for keeping the players in line but it definitely wasn’t the refs.

In the end it was a much needed victory for the Bandits in front of their home crowd. Not a pretty one but win nonetheless. Toronto suffered their first loss of the season but still remain atop the East division standings. The Bandits sit tied for second with their New York rival Knighthawks. Toronto hosts the Bandits next Saturday for their second of three meetings.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Patience pays off

Growing up with parents raised around the Kitchener area, junior hockey, more specifically, the OHL was held in high regard, although usual from a Kitchener Ranger perspective. From what I understand from my dad, Kitchener is a great town for junior hockey and after sitting in the crowd at the Aud in 2008 for the Memorial Cup, I found out first hand how classy and knowledgeable the Kitchener fans are.

So of course when it was time to 'settle down' I picked a location that has not only an OHL team but one of the most storied franchises (if not the most) in the OHL, Oshawa. Of course, it helped to have friends living there. The Generals have such a storied past and graduated perhaps the best hockey player ever, Bobby Orr, into the NHL. Okay so I am biased towards number 4 but he ranks right up there with the likes of Gretzky, Howe and the Rocket.

Almost five years has passed since first moving to Gens Country (just made this term up if you hadn't realized...it's rather lame) and in that time I have purchased a couple jerseys for OHL teams but not one from my new hometown Generals. (The two were Brian Kilrea's Ottawa '67's and of course the Rangers). That all changed this year with the release of their alternate (a.k.a third) jersey. The retro blue sweater worn at the time Orr was in junior hockey. It was almost a given since I had been trying to decide whether I should buy the red or white Generals jersey for a while now. I saw the blues around the rink last year and was wishing those were an option to buy.

Thanks to the HST cheque that was just received I was able to make this purchase. Of course there was money left so I took a drive to Belleville and purchased their third jersey that I have wanted since the 2008 Memorial Cup. That's right the 'ugly' gold jersey with the red bull dead centre. I don't even like the Bulls but that jersey will definitely stand out wherever it is worn. Perhaps my love for that jersey stems from my sister's dislike of it, who knows. For me it is another jersey to add to my collection. 4 OHL jerseys down, 16 to go...maybe only 14. Brampton's is possibly the worst in sports and I don't know if I can bring myself to buy a Petes jersey, at least not if I want to retain my Oshawa friends.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

On second thought...

maybe I will get season tix this year after all. Friend of mine contacted me and convinced me to buy tix this year and he would buy some from me. I may not get to all the games but I am sure to enjoy the ones I do get to. Now I only have to wait a couple months for my first game.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Winter without season tix

This winter is going to be a long one for me as I am giving up my season tickets for the Bandits. I'm hoping this is just a temporary thing and in a couple years I will be able to get them again but right now the future is uncertain. I'm thinking I'll need to do a road trip this winter at least once; I'm not sure I can go the whole winter without HSBC nachos or a beef on weck. I still have about a month before my renewal comes so maybe something can be worked out.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

On to Round 2

The first round of the OHL playoffs seemed to go as expected. Barrie had no trouble getting by Sudbury by winning four straight; the defending Memorial Cup champion Windsor Spitfires also won in four straight against Erie; Mississauga blanked Peterborough in their series; Ottawa, London and Plymouth had little trouble in their series as well as they all won four games to one; but Kitchener had a little more difficulty with Saginaw’s Spirit but still managed a four games to two series victory.

The only series to go the full seven games and the only series where the lower seed won was the Brampton / Kingston series where Brampton pulled out the game seven win for the series. Despite being the ‘underdog’ in the series I think most people expected Brampton to win this series with their star Cody Hodgson back in the lineup. Kingston gave all they had but in the end it was just not enough.

Round two sees Windsor play Plymouth, London play Kitchener, Barrie play Brampton, and Ottawa play Mississauga with the teams listed first having the home ice advantage. These series should be a little more competitive but I’m thinking all the favourites will win except for Ottawa so the true top teams in the league will battle for the league title. The second round action begins tomorrow night for all four series.

What a crazy season

The 2010 National Lacrosse League season has been a really crazy one thus far. Toronto started 6-1 and looked almost unbeatable but have since lost five in a row and are sitting in a tie for second place in the East division. Buffalo on the other hand started 0-4 but have won four straight and have gone from last in the entire league to tied for second in the East. The Rochester Knighthawks, with John Grant Jr back, has struggled to get the offence going and are in danger of missing the playoffs. They do have a game in hand on those teams tied for second so they are not that far behind despite their inconsistent play.

Out in the West, the Washington Stealth, without the services of Colin Doyle after his trade back to Toronto, is sitting tops in the league and became the first team to clinch a playoff spot last weekend. Perhaps the craziest story of all this year is that the re-tooled Edmonton Rush are sitting in second place in the West (above the 2009 champion Calgary Roughnecks) and are one win away (or a Colorado loss) from clinching their first ever playoff spot.

This coming weekend can see two more teams enter the playoff picture in the West. If Buffalo can continue their great play and defeat Colorado Saturday night, and if Calgary can beat either Toronto or Rochester, both Edmonton and Calgary will claim a spot in the 2010 playoffs. The East as usual will likely come down to the last weekend and tiebreakers will likely be needed to decide the seedings for a third year in a row.

Can this season get any crazier? I'm thinking it can but we will have to wait and see what the last four(?) weeks has in store for us. Craziness or not, I expect we will be treated to some great lacrosse as the season winds down.