North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Posts Tagged ‘Barrie Colts

Two Game Sevens, Two Heartbreakers

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The cool thing about sports is how it makes you care about stuff you really have no control over and no real stakes riding on. The outcome doesn’t really mean anything to you or me or anyone without a stake in the team itself. And even then, their stakes aren’t really all that huge. Toronto wasn’t going to go into the red if they didn’t make the second round.

But still: I cared about the Colts and the Maple Leafs. And on Monday night, both teams lost heartbreakers in game seven of their respective series. The Colts were down most of the game, tied it up late and right as the period wound down, London forward Bo Horvat scored and put the Knights ahead, so late the faceoff was just a formality.

It was as close as a buzzer-beater as I’ve seen in hockey in a long, long time (since maybe that Canucks/Flames series in the late 80s). It was that old line from ABC Sports: the agony of defeat, the ecstasy of victory, all that. The ref waved it off, then it went upstairs and the goal was allowed as the London crowd collectively lost their shit. Within a few minutes, the Colts cleared the ice, the Knights were posting team photos to Instragram (what a brave new world we live in) and I focused on the Leaf game.

And here too was, I suppose, agony. Toronto went ahead early and kept scoring on Rask. Kessel had a goal, then so did Kadri. Soon it was 4-1, Toronto. Later in the third, Boston cut it to 4-2 and with just under two minutes left, they pulled Rask for an extra man.

A little postscript for this season: Toronto was bad in their own end all year long. How many games did they have where they got pounded by shots and only Reimer kept them in the game? Shit, even against teams like New Jersey, the Leafs could barely keep the puck out of their own end. When you read tomorrow about how great they were at hitting the other team, remember that you don’t hit players when you have the puck. As I noted before this series, Toronto had one of the worst Fenwick Close numbers heading into the postseason.

So it shouldn’t have been a giant surprise when Toronto coughed up the lead, when Boston controlled the puck late, when the Bruins could just fire off shots as it looked like all the Leafs hung around in front of the net and couldn’t clear it out of their own end. Reimer just looked overwhelmed and, God bless him, he was. He faced more shots than anyone else in the NHL so far. And he got peppered again on Monday night: the boxscore has him facing 35 shots.

What’s there to say about overtime? Toronto came out strong, got a couple of chances and the same thing happened: Boston started forechecking, kept the puck in their hands and fired off shot after shot. And this time Reimer was literally overwhelmed: he was falling over and all outstretched when Patrice Bergeron put one past him six minutes into the extra frame.

Sure, it sucks, but this series was a fun ride. That’s the cool thing about sports: they’re fun as shit. After all, the Leafs were the also-ran in Toronto for a long time. The Jays have a longer playoff drought, but they had the excuse of Yankees/Red Sox payrolls, too. The Raptors haven’t won much in the past nine years, but they made the postseason a couple of times and even won a division title. And the Argos? They just won a Grey Cup, maybe you remember that. It happened on their home turf.

The Leafs lost, but they got into the playoffs. If nothing else, that’s something to hang on to: this season’s been better than any since the 2005 lockout. Things are slowly getting better for the Worst Sports City in the World (TM). I’m just happy they got this far. And besides, I picked Boston to win in six.

Written by M.

May 13, 2013 at 11:03 pm

Two Game Sevens In the City

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It’s an interesting day today, as the two hockey teams I enjoy watching both have game sevens tonight: the Barrie Colts have game seven of the OHL Finals in London while the Toronto Maple Leafs play game seven of their first round series in Boston. Both games are at the same time, so it’s going to take some creative remote-work to fit them both in, but it’ll be worth the effort.

It’s been a while since I felt so invested in a hockey game. Long enough that I don’t have anything in my archive here I can easily compare it to. I suppose there’s this 2006 post and another from 2007, but both were about the regular season. I’ve written here since 2005, which is just enough time to cover the Leafs postseason gap. So this is new and uncharted territory for this organ.

The first round’s been a mix of rad James Reimer goaltending and Tuukka Rask looking either impregnable  or soft. The series opened with four games with the winning team scored at least four goals, including an overtime game that I regrettably fell asleep watching (because I’m an old man). But in the last two games, it’s  tightened up considerably: games five and six were 2-1 affairs, each won by the Leafs.

They’ve been nerve-wrecking affairs, especially last night when Toronto didn’t score until the second and Phil Kessel put in the eventual game-winner on what looked like a giant fluke: a rebound that bounced to a rushing Kessel, who flipped it into an open net. As I might have said back in my sportswriting days, he took advantage of an opportunity. And truth be told, I didn’t think there was a great many of them; Boston’s defence has been pretty strong through six games and mostly kept Toronto’s scorers in check. For example, through six games, Kadri’s picked up just two assists and hasn’t scored on any of his 13 shots on net; this season, he scored on nearly 17 per cent, fourth-highest on the team.

At the same time, Reimer’s had a bunch of good games. His save percentage is tied with Rask at .932, despite having more goals allowed. This comes from how Reimer’s been peppered with shots through every game: the 237 shots he’s faced is most of any goalie so far. He’s had four games where he faced at least 40 shots and the 43-save performance in game five was one of the best Leaf goaltending performances in recent memory. It’s an easy thing to say about goalies, but he’s been the best Leaf on the ice for nearly every game so far. Watching him this spring has been a blast.

About an hour north of Toronto, the Barrie Colts have also gone through a tear this postseason. They  made quick work of both Kingston and Oshawa, but the series against Belleville was wild, with games swinging back and forth and both Malcolm Subban and Mathias Niederberger making big saves. Two of those games went to overtime and Barrie nearly blew a 3-1 series lead, including a third-period collapse in game six. But they won game seven on the road and moved to the OHL Finals, facing the London Knights.

You may remember how good the Knights were this season. Earlier this year, they went on a tear through the OHL, winning 24 games in a row. They’d finish the regular season with 50 wins, most in the league. Until the finals, they’d lost just two games in the postseason (one of them in double OT) and had two of the league’s best scorers in Max Domi and Bo Horvat, who have combined for 25 goals in 20 games. That’s a pretty good pace.

But Barrie’s has its own scoring monster: Mark Scheifele. Through this postseason he’s come into his own, scoring 41 points in 21 games. The other night, he scored four times in the third period as the Colts came from behind to win. He’s been a beast all season, especially after he returned from a short stint with the Winnipeg Jets. More than anyone else in the series, he’s stood out on the ice: number 19 is usually the guy with the puck and almost always the tallest guy on the ice. Even if Barrie loses tonight, he deserves serious consideration for series MVP.

In all, it’s a blast for as fair-weather a hockey as myself. I mentioned it earlier this season, but this year I’ve really dived into the OHL and this Colts team has been a blast. For one, Scheifele’s one of those players who’s bigger than everyone else and can just dominate on the ice. But there’s also Niederberger, who’s been a standout in net (.927 save percentage and two shutouts) and Zach Hall, who’s picked up 20 points in 18 games. There’s also Anthony Camara, who’s hitting is questionable at best.

These Colts have been a great team to get into junior hockey through; I certainly hope they advance to the Memorial Cup, but I’d be satisfied no matter tonight’s result.

Same thing for the Leafs. It’s been so long since they’ve played a playoff game that I’m just happy they’re even in the postseason at all. That Reimer’s been so much to watch and extended this series to seven games is a bonus. I’m nervous about the games, but it’s a nice feeling. I haven’t felt this way about hockey in a long time.

Written by M.

May 13, 2013 at 1:15 pm

Year of the Horse

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I lived in Oshawa a few years back. When I moved there I was’t much of a junior hockey fan; I grew up in a small town that didn’t have a local team and I was lucky if I saw a St. Johns Maple Leafs game on Saturday mornings in those days. That was the AHL. The OHL was a non-entity on television as a kid. It started showing up a little more as I grew up: I remember watching a Memorial Cup back when Sportsnet was owned by CTV.

But I honestly didn’t pay the league any attention until the 2005 NHL lockout when the only other hockey on was the occasional TSN re-broadcast of stuff from the 80s. That was the year Rimouski won 35 straight games, no doubt thanks to a young Sidney Crosby. They tore it up through the playoffs, only losing one game, before losing 4-0 to London in the Memorial Cup title game. I wasn’t a fan, but I was starting to get interested in junior hockey.

The next year, I moved to Oshawa to attend J-School.

John Tavares back his Oshawa days, albiet on the road

This was back when both Michael Del Zotto and John Tavares played for the Oshawa Generals. The Gens were about to move into a new arena downtown, the GM Centre, as part of a plan to kickstart the downtown economy. Explaining what happened to downtown Oshawa is a long, complex story (feel free to read my 2007 story about it) but the gist of it is big box stores and a methadone clinic drew people away from downtown and a bunch of stores closed, with pawn shops, cheque-cashing places and the like to move it. The city’s hope was a new arena would bring people back a few nights a week; with some luck they’d stick around and check out a restaurant or something.

At this time, the Gens played in the Civic, a relic of an arena located out by the 401, more or less out by a field. It was old, it wasn’t easy to get to and was something of a dump. Around the time I started J-School, the Gens moved into the GM Centre (the second thing to happen there, as I recall. The first was a Tragically Hip concert). Right away I was interested. I didn’t know much about Tavares, but I knew he was much younger than me, so young the league bent the rules to let him play, was name-dropped on TSN a lot and was playing just a bus ride away. When the buses weren’t on strike, anyway.

One advantage of living in a media market like Oshawa was it’s proximity to Toronto. If people wanted to hear the Jays, they could listen to them on the Fan; if people wanted to listen to classic rock, they listened to the Q. Oshawa radio stations had to do something to compete. CKDO, 107.7 FM, aired General games. They were my first introduction to the Gens.

My third year, I started volunteering at the local Rogers station. There I met a producer named Pinkerton who was training a mobile crew. Wandering out, he put me to work laying cable, then looping it in a figure eight, with a guy named Bernard. Before long I was friends with Bernard and working under Pink on Generals games. The routine was something like this: on game day, I’d take a bus downtown around noon and walk to the arena. Pink was usually there by then, driving a giant mobile studio with a huge image of Tavares and Del Zotto on either side. A crew of about 12 people would assemble, start unwinding miles of cables, pounds of TV cameras, cases and cases of lights, microphones, stands and extension cords. We’d work through the afternoon setting up, plugging in, turning on and testing lights, cameras, mics, chromakeys, everything you’d think a TV production has and about 15 things you’d never heard of before (Still Store! Shaders!). Usually I’d be working up top, in the media gondola.

The press box at the GM Centre isn’t big, maybe 30 or 40 feet long and about 15 deep. There’s four compartments: one for visiting media, one for the newspaper people (who never seemed to come up that far), one for the crew from CKDO (only two people, as I recall) and one for the Rogers crew, always Roger Lajoie, who I’d met before I started at Rogers and always introduced himself to me at every game and asked my name. He had this innate ability to show up seemingly minutes before game time, take a cursory glance at the lineup sheet and just rattle off the game like he’d been studying them all week. I was impressed, even morso the time I tripped and just about knocked a TV camera over during a live broadcast and he managed to turn around, shoot me a “What the fuck is wrong with you” look and ask if I was okay while seamlessly doing play by play. I swear, Lajoie’s some kind of genius.

This was Tavares and Del Zotto’s last season in the OHL, so Oshawa sold high on them and flipped them to London for picks and players. Down came the images on the side of the mobile. Without their two best players, Oshawa missed the playoffs this year by a single point. Covering playoff hockey would have been fun, but by this point I was interning at CTV and writing about wheat, diarrhoea and Britney Spears. Still, my time around the Gens had been a blast and I came away with a new appreciation for junior hockey.

The Colts logo. I think the horse’s name is Colts_OHLebooks? Not sure.

Soon, I moved back up north to a town near the Barrie Colts, a team only occasionally on TV and completely absent from the radio. I didn’t really fade from the OHL, but I didn’t really pay as much attention as I used to. Then last spring, the Colts went on a playoff tear and I went down to see them. It brought back some memories from watching the Gens, but mostly it was just a lot of fun. It was fun watching all six-feet-three of Mark Scheifele, big enough to power his way through the opposition. It was fun watching Mathias Niederberger in net, who kept making save after save and kept the Colts in the game when their offence wasn’t working. It was fun watching Aaron Ekblad and Colin Behenna score clutch goals. It was enough fun I found myself watching the rest of the series on TV, following a couple Barrie sportswriters on Twitter and feeling a little dejected when Barrie lost game seven of that series in overtime. I’m not about to buy a Colts jersey, but following them this fall seemed only natural.

But this was before the NHL lockout. For the second time in eight years, there’s no hockey this fall. If I want to watch hockey on TV, the Colts are probably my best bet (and they’ll probably be on TV a few times more, to boot). But the lockout has another impact, too: with no NHL teams to report to and try out for, it’s kept the team I liked last spring more or less intact; all of the players I mentioned above are still in Barrie. It’s made a decision to follow them a lot easier. It’s helped make 2012.13 the Year of the Horse.

Photo via Brad Saunders, logo via Wikipedia

Written by M.

September 25, 2012 at 11:41 pm