Game five of the OHL Championship series goes tonight at the WFCU Centre in Windsor, 7:05 p.m. I fully expect Spits fans to absolutely blow the roof off the new rink tonight when the Spits take the ice, and the team is going to come out charged up and ready to roll. I am very much hoping, as I have written elsewhere, that the Spits to book their ticket to Rimouski tonight. I am still charged up from watching the Spits beat the Battalion 4-1 the other night in Brampton.
The other thing that emerged from my visit to Brampton’s Powerade Centre: the following list of seven reasons that the Brampton Battalion should NOT win the OHL Championship.
(1) The team colours; guys: it’s called olive “drab” for a reason.
(2) The Brampton players emerge from their dressing room and enter the ice surface at the start of the game through a giant inflatable tank. First, nothing says “invincible” like a giant air-filled pillow; and second, the “muzzle” of the tank droops rather obscenely. When we first saw it, my Dad expressed some degree of concern that they might use the damn thing to fire t-shirts or other swag into the crowd (a la the t-shirt bazookas in use at other facilities). He was right to be concerned. These guys really carry the military theme a touch over the top.
(3) They have a freaky looking mascot called “Sarge”. And I mean freaky, this thing is some kind of messed up. If a real live person were dressed in olive drab combat fatigues but had an oversized head that looked like one of those weird apple core dolls, that person would:
scare the shit out of me; and
look exactly like “Sarge.”
I think this mascot decision of the Battalion’s is very curious; whereas teams like the Calgary Flames have “Harvey the Hound” (an oversized, furry and friendly mutt), the Brampton Battalion have chosen to attempt to endear themselves to the children by circulating among them a perpetually scowling drill sergeant with an alarming complexion and a warlike demeanour. Not the choice I would have predicted.
(4) For about two or three minutes prior to the beginning of each period, arena staff play a recording of some sort of cannon firing over the facility’s loudspeakers. What a way to create a festive environment! What better way to evoke the carefree abandon of New Orleans at Mardi Gras or the joyful ebullience of the old Chicago Stadium: mimic the ambience of a warzone. I know I never quite feel like partying until the artillery bombardment has begun.
(5) They refer to the Battalion players as “troops.” ‘Nuff said.
(6) In the first intermission, “Sarge” (see above) skated around the ice and infrequently lobbed t-shirts over the glass to terrified children who reflexively returned his salute. His musical accompaniment, broadcast over the arena public address system, was the music from “The Great Escape.” A lone male in an olive drab costume slowly circling the ice, waving his arms to the music from a film about P.O.W.s – to me, it very much looked like the worst idea for the men’s short program ever conceived.
(7) At the end of each period, when there are but sixty seconds to play, the arena announcer bellows out “One minute to ceasefire!”
Really? Dude, the military motif? It’s too much. Seriously. Oh, and Dude? ONE GAME ‘TIL CEASEFIRE!!
Windsor 4, Brampton 1. My Spitfires are one game closer to (and only one win away from) their second OHL Championship. After suffering a setback on Monday in game 3 at the hands of a determined Brampton club, the Spits stormed out of the gate in the first last night and attacked the Brampton goal (occupied by Thomas McCollum) repeatedly and in waves. The sold-out Powerade Centre in Brampton was bursting at the seams with 4,861 junior hockey fans (including, I am happy to note, a very noticeable and very vocal contingent of Spitfire supporters), but the Battalion players seemed unable to draw sufficient energy from their assembled well-wishers to assist them in mounting an effective counter-attack at the outset of the game. The Spitfires carried by far the vast majority of the play in the first frame and outshot the home side by a margin of 12-7; in fact, with only the occasional generally fleeting Brampton foray into Windsor territory, to my mind that shot count is somewhat misleading as it fails to reflect the territorial advantage enjoyed by the Sptifires throughout the period. I suspect that many of those 7 Brampton shots were accumulated during the power-play they had when Windsor’s Richard Greenop was called for high-sticking well behind the play. At times during the first, the Windsorites seemed to cycle the puck low in the Brampton zone almost at will. To the credit of the Brampton defenders, they prevented with some frequency the prolonged Windsor cycling from developing into truly high quality scoring opportunities. In fact, for much of the period it seemed as though the Battalion would manage to survive the sustained offensive pressure in their zone; of greater concern for Brampton coach Stan Butler, no doubt, would have been Windsor’s success in the transition game. I counted at least a half-dozen odd-man rushes generated by Brampton turnovers either at, or just over the Windsor blueline – including one early four-on-two attack that must have had Butler reaching for the Alka Seltzer.
Prior to Game One of The Crosbys vs. The Ovechkins, I posted a photo I took of Alex Ovechkin in February during our visit to the Sunshine State (otherwise known as the Week We Retired).
Keeping in mind the worldwide influence of this blog, it would seem apparent to me that the appearance of the said photograph directly contributed to the Caps’ victory over their arch-rivals. No doubt it was my photography that spurred the Gr8 Eight to play up to his potential, begin to justify the hype concerning this series and to chip in a goal to boot. In addition, I am sure that Simeon Varlamov’s otherworldly performance was his way of attempting to grab the attention of these pages and to earn the posting of an image of his own.
Because the Caps are my adopted team once again this post-season, and because I believe very strongly that the Penguins will play better in Game Two, I am going to use some ninja psychology on the 21-year old Capital netminder: I am going to decline once again to post his photograph hereabouts. Instead, I shall post a picture of Calgary speedster and Norris trophy candidate Mike Green. I am posting this photo of Green because:
It might help him remember what to do if he happens to be involved in a play during which the Capitals advance the puck into the Penguins’ net – unless he’s been drywalling his ceiling at home, it’s been a while since Green has had occasion to raise his arms over his head; and
If the appearance of this photo doesn’t spur Green on to change his approach to the game, a public posting of this image might get it considered for use on the side of the milk carton that will inevitably begin circulating inside the Beltway as those Rockin’ the Red begin to earnestly wonder about Green’s wherabouts.
Seriously, Mike, one shot on goal in twenty-six minutes of ice time and a partially blown coverage that led to your boy Simeon’s masterpiece save just aren’t getting it done right now; not for a marquee player that the Capitals are depending on. Anyway, Ovie, Green and their mates better cowboy up and get ready for a different kind of rodeo tonight.
Update 12:10 p.m. : On Frozen Blog is reporting that Capitals defenceman John Erskine left the morning skate early and that the Caps have recalled prospect defensemen Karl Alzner and Tyler Sloan from their AHL affiliate, Hershey (a club that is itself involved in a playoff series, believe it or not against the Penguins’ AHL farm team). Erskine was half of the duo I saw Boudreau matching up with Sidney Crosby in Game One (Fedorov was Sid the Kid’s shadow by times as well). Injuries on the blueline to critical personnel combined with an undoubted sense of urgency among the Penguins to bring a better game mean that the Caps’ task tonight will be significantly more difficult. I’m pulling for them, but I foresee a Penguins victory tonight following an improved showing from both Crosby and Malkin.
Elsewhere on the Ice Tonight
A certain Major Junior A team from a certain City located in the extremities of Southwestern Ontario takes to the ice tonight against the Brampton Batallion for Game 3 of the Ontario Hockey League Championship Final. I have had some difficulty getting the live streaming audio from CKLW AM 800 to work properly for me throughout the OHL playoffs; I am hoping that won’t be the case tonight. Obviously, I have a choice to make – Crosbys vs. Ovechkins or Spits/Batallion. I think I’ll probably watch the NHL game on the tube and try to record the Spits broadcast using Freecorder; then I’ll listen to the .mp3 of the Spits game broadcast on my iPod when I go to bed. How far indeed – and yet not so far at all – we have come from those days falling asleep listening to Dave Quinn’s call of the game over my crystal radio set. The technology has changed radically; 35 years later, I’m still looking forward to the excitement of the Spits on the radio.
As it turned out, I wasn’t able to make it to tonight’s Spitfire/Batallion match, the second of the OHL best-of-seven final. I had looked into buying tickets earlier in the week, but work concerns had me wondering whether I’d be able to get out early enough to make it down the 403 in time for the game. My concern was justified, as it was half past six again tonight before we were able to straggle out of the office.
I didn’t even get a chance to listen via Internets radio.
Windsor won, 5-3. Game three is back in the Rose City on Monday. I have purchased tickets for Wednesday night’s game, and I am hoping – without jinxing anything – that the J. Ross Robertson Cup will be making an appearance on the ice that night. It would be nice to see the Spits book their ticket to Rimouski for this year’s Memorial Cup.
Unrelated bonus humour, brought to you at my expense:
I have been experiencing some soreness in my right shoulder. Nothing serious, but enough of an annoyance to cause the occasional gasp as a stealthy stabbing pain sneaks up and punches me in the mind. Spouse was theorizing that this might be resulting from Lord Henry’s recent decisions concerning the sleeping arrangements – always cuddled up tight against my ample girth, he has been moving progressively closer to my pillow over the last couple of weeks. I was telling her that on one particular early morning, Henry was nestled into the “crook of my shoulder”.
Spouse looked at me, not comprehending.
“You know, the crook of your shoulder,” I said, pointing to the general area in question.
“What’s the crook of your shoulder?” she asked.
“You know, the crook” I said, frustration beginning to creep into my voice.
“Are you talking about your armpit?” she asked.
“Uhhh, yeah. Armpit. Armpit is a hard word to remember, you know.”
With the OHL playoffs approaching (and the Leafs out of contention for this year’s post-season tournament), I am excited about the prospects for my former favourite team in the whole goddam world, the Windsor Spitfires. I have to confess that it has been a long time since I attended a Spits game – I think it was 1992 and I was in my last year of law school at the time. After moving away from the Rose City in the summer of ’92, I haven’t really followed the team very closely at all. With the economic downturn absolutely slaughtering the North American auto industry – and taking out a large part of the town I grew up in the process – I am happy, for the people of Windsor, to see that the Spitfires have been a dominant force in the league this year.
WINDSOR, Ont.–Goaltender Andrew Engelage earned his 46th win last night, setting an Ontario Hockey League single-season record, and the Windsor Spitfires beat the Plymouth Whalers 5-1.
Engelage made 23 saves en route to beating the former record of 45 wins set by Steve Mason of the London Knights in the 2006-07 season. Mason is now in the NHL with the Columbus Blue Jackets and a leading candidate for rookie of the year.
Dale Mitchell opened the scoring for Windsor with his 33rd goal of the season when he took a centring pass from Mark Cundari and deposited a backhander behind Whalers netminder Matt Hackett.
Eric Wellwood scored short-handed to put the Spitfires up by two goals before the end of the first period. Andrei Loktionov and Taylor Hall scored 34 seconds apart midway through the third period to chase Hackett.
Scott Wedgewood replaced Hackett. The Plymouth netminders combined for 31 saves.
Jesse Blacker had the other goal for Windsor (57-8-0-1), which has already wrapped up first place in the OHL.
Matt Caria scored for the Whalers (35-26-5-0), who missed a chance to move into a tie with Saginaw for third place in the Western Conference.
Windsor has supported junior hockey in general and the Spitfires in particular very well over the years, through a lot more thin than thick. There were a few years in the late 80s where the team was something else.
Leaf fans could well understand the heartbreak of the 1988 season. After years of mostly middling mediocrity that left the team either outside the playoffs looking in or eliminated in an early round, the Spits went on a run in 1987-88. Led by the Shannon brothers (Darryl and Darrin), and coached by future Kings coach Tom Webster, the team went on a phenomenal streak that saw them go all the way to the Memorial Cup final game, where they faced a Medicine Hat Tigers team that featured Trevor Linden. Going in to this game, the Spits had remarkably gone undefeated through the entire OHL playoffs; in all, they had won 39 of their previous 40 games entering the Cup Final. As I recall, they even led through two periods but some late game heroics on the part of the Tigers – involving Linden himself, if I remember correctly – produced a one goal victory for Medicine Hat and a heartbreaking Memorial Cup “almost” for the lads from Windsor.
Times are tough all over and in a globally interconnected world economic reversals are not isolated or insular, but the people of Windsor are taking a disproportionate shit-kicking right now because of the difficulties being experienced by the North American auto industry. The heavy concentration of people employed directly by the automakers or indirectly by their suppliers has Windsor’s unemployment rate, according to today’s Windsor Star, at 12.6% – the highest in the country.
I know it’s facile to suggest that the success of a Major Junior A hockey team could realistically alleviate the suffering that any of the families directly affected are going through, and I’m not going to go there. Those people are more concerned about how they’re going to put food on the table and keep the heat on. For those folks, I wish them well and hope that they are able to start caring about such trivial things again sooner, rather than later.
As for the rest of the people in the area, though, some Sptifire success would help. I was living in Windsor during the last recession in the early 90’s, and I have seen first hand the kind of effect that such high unemployment rates can have on everybody living in the area – people all over town get kind of grim and worried, and rightfully so. Even those who still have jobs and whose businesses aren’t failing see the problems their neighbours are having. They feel terrible for their neighbours and wonder how long it will be before the wolves are at their own door. They wonder what long-term damage is being done to their community by the impoverishment of the tax base. They wonder how long will investment in the construction and repair of infrastructure will be put off in hope of more prosperous times, and they wonder if their town will survive the downturn and continue to be the kind of place in which they can live, work and raise their kids.
The thing that keeps people determined to keep going in times like that is hope, and hope – like fire – needs a flash point. So here’s hoping, on behalf of all of those in the City of Roses waiting and hoping desperately for some good news for a change, for those needing something “feel good” to nourish their flagging spirits, that the Spits can go on another run this spring and bring home a Memorial Cup Championship. I am going to make it my mission to follow along a little, where I can.
I have mentioned elsewhere that following the Spitfires as a kid is what really gave me the taste to follow sports of any kind. I well remember sitting high in the stands at the old Windsor Arena on a Sunday afternoon with my father, my uncle and my brothers; listening to the cowbell lady urging on her charges from somewhere down near the end boards; feeling the passion of the assenbled throng follow her, gather, and find expression in a full-throated Go Spits Go chant that could, in the tiny confines of that building, visibly be seen to spur the Spitfire players on to tremendous flurries of pressure; and finally erupting in the joyful celebration of a late goal to send the Spits to victory over their hated rivals the London Knights. I want to do my part to start the chant right here, and right now: Go Spits Go! Go Spits Go! GO SPITS GO!
As much as I hate the suits at MLSE with the white hot burning heat of a thousand suns, I can’t quarrel too much with their deliberate pace on this hiring decision to date. It’s a tough decision, and one that will have far-reaching consequences for the future of the organization. The reason that I despise the current board is, of course, its abject failure to avoid meddling with the affairs of the hockey team over the last few years, coupled with its failure to install a chief executive with sufficient vision and experience to plan for success in the post-lockout environment. That having been said, it would appear that the board has, since the firing of John Ferguson Jr., made the right decision: to correct its mistake in that regard and hire a top-quality chief executive to whom control over the hockey operations will be ceded. In other words, MLSE has decided that maybe they ought not to do this job themselves. I congratulate them for making the right call at this critical first step of the decision-making process; it is so obviously the right decision, it’s kind of like congratulating your kid for deciding (for the third day this week!) not to eat a jar of paste while at school, but it’s important to celebrate even modest successes with those who have intellectual challenges and to positively re-inforce behaviour we want to encourage. So yay, MLSE!
Step two of the hiring process was to find the right person to replace John Ferguson Jr. Apparently unable to locate a person with the right credentials on a permanent basis last spring, the club turned to Cliff Fletcher and asked him to act as steward of the club’s fortunes during the initial stages of the rebuilding process. In doing so, the Leafs successfully managed to put one foot in front of the other. (Again, yay!) Fletcher has, it must be said, acquitted himself quite well since his appointment: he made a deal on draft day that got the Leafs into position to pick up Luke Schenn; he signed Niklas Hagman and Jeff Finger; for every questionable acquisition (Ryan Hollweg), there has been a great pickup (I’m looking at you, Mikhail Grabovski); for every Jamal Mayers, a Mike Van Ryn. It is too early to say whether these players, and others (such as recently acquired Lee Stempniak ) constitute the necessary pieces of the puzzle, though it is unlikely that they form the core of a Cup winning team. To get there, some of these assets will have to be moved elsewhere, and fresh talent added to the basic building blocks at a later date. At this stage, as we’ve been told by team officials, it’s not about wins and losses: it’s about changing a culture of entitlement that had settled over the dressing room – a debilitating malaise that somehow begun interfering with the players’ performance. At step two, Cliff Fletcher earns the MLSE another passing grade.
First, a correction: the games were NOT on CKWW; they were on CKLW AM 800 (I always had trouble, truthfully, keeping the two straight when I was a kid). Second, my Dad and I were having some trouble remembering the name of the fellow who did the play-by-play for those games. I Googled around a bit but couldn’t find anything about the Spitfires’ broadcasting crews of yore, save and except for some information about Budd Lynch, such as this article telling the story of how Budd went from World War II to broadcasting (original) Spitfires games in the 40’s and then moving up to the show and taking over the microphone for Red Wings broadcasts, all in time to call such memorable moments as Gordie Howe’s 545th career goal (breaking Rocket Richard’s then existing career goal-scoring record) and the only two Stanley Cup Final Game Sevens to ever go into overtime.
Finally, I broke down and sought out the answer the old-fashioned way: I asked somebody who I though might know. I sent (in a somewhat less old-fashioned way) an email to CKLW and asked them if they could tell me the name of the play by play guy from the late 70s, early 80s. You will see from the comments following the post in question that my Dad and I were pretty sure the man’s name was “Dave”, and that I had previously hazarded a guess that his surname might have been “Quinn”.
A very nice person by the name of Tania D’Angela, a programming assistant with the company who owns the station, emailed me back (within 14 hours, I might add) to advise that she had made some inquiries of her own and that indeed, the gentleman whose name I was looking for, was none other than – drum roll please – Dave Quinn. Apparently, Mr. Quinn did the games until 1987, possibly starting as early as 1972. Just in case there’s anybody out there searching for the answer to the question, “Who followed Dave Quinn as the Windsor Spitfires’ play-by-play man?” the answer to that question is “Steve Bell”, the current Sports Director at the station.
Thank you Tania and Steve for allowing me to properly identify the man by name, and to thank him for the many hours of enjoyment I spent listening to his calls from the old barn on McDougall Avenue (pictured above in a photo copped from wikicommons): thank you, Dave Quinn, for helping me love the game of hockey.
Back in the mid-1970s, when I was about seven or eight years old, I built a crystal radio set. The radio came in a kit, and I got it as a gift, I think probably for my birthday. Building the radio was fun, and I learned a little bit about electronics and how radios work; really just enough to whet my already substantial appetite for any kind of technology. It was cool fitting the pieces together and actually using a piece of technology that I built with my own two hands (thanks to heavily scripted and almost entirely idiot-proof instructions in the Radio Shack kit). In my mind’s eye, I can still see the little dark green box made of transparent plastic (all the better to see the resistors, capacitors and such).
Even more fun than that, though, was listening to the radio at night when I went to bed. Once tucked away under the covers, I would pop the (one) greyish, ugly and bulky earphone into my ear and tune in whatever I could find on the AM dial (man would the kids today, with their fancy noise-cancelling iPod earbuds and 80 GB mp3 capacity be shocked by this whole concept). I learned that Elvis had died listening to my crystal radio. [ed. note: for clarity, Elvis died on the toilet – my radio was nowhere near him at the time. I learned about the King’s unfortunate demise while I was listening to the set; that’s what I meant to say. ]