What is this, our monthly Raptor's report? Sure, let's go with that. Let's be fair though, the Raptors have earned this update.
For a brief moment, one glorious rotation of the Earth's axis, the Raptor's were playing .500 basketball. .500 basketball!!! As in, they had the same number of wins as losses; as in, for every game they had lost, they had also won one. In this neck of the woods, that is an Accomplishment.
It didn't last long, a loss to the Pacers cut it tragically short, but it is a sign of good things to come. This is a team that started off 2-8, remember? Remember? Now they (were) 22-22.
The Raptors, unlike almost every other team in the East, have a sense of optimism surrounding them. Chris Bosh, charter member of the always sparse Hard Working NBA Player Club, is now an All Star starter, voted in by the fans and everything. Kinda like Vince Carter, but, you know, more deserving. Andrea Bargnani almost literally improves with every game, going from wallflower to dancing queen in the span of half a season. Anthony Parker is Mr. Consistency. Even Pape Sow is back, after breaking his neck. His neck!
These guys have a playoff run in them. Fo' serious.
Sunday, January 28, 2007
What is this, our monthly Raptor's report? Sure, let's go with that. Let's be fair though, the Raptors have earned this update.
Friday, January 26, 2007
Thoughts from the NHL's All-Star Game:
- The new jerseys (the only reason we bothered to tune in, actually) are very, slick. Odd to look at after a lifetime of baggy, unflattering ponchos, but that will gladly fade with time. Sartorially speaking, the NHL got it right. Hockey players are some of the fittest athletes you are going to find, and it's about time they started showing it off.
There were a lot of dire predictions in the run-up to the unveiling, talks of 30 teams in 30 cookie cutter matching designs; of no more horizontal lines; of significant logo changes to fit the new parameters (notably, our Maple Leafs). That's all bollocks. Though some teams will be doing the logo shuffle (like the Columbus Blue Jackets, who will drop their expansion duds for their super fine, super patriotic third jersey, which is long over due) it won't be because the new jersey necessitates it.
- While we're at it, there are some people who might not benefit from the jersey shrink. That would be the league's smaller players, like Chicago's Martin Havlat, who looked particularly svelte at Wednesday's proceedings. And by svelte, we mean anorexic.
- Also, fat people.
- Tomas Kaberle was the Maple Leafs' lone representative in Dallas (though Alex Steen made the Young Stars game in light of his recent renaissance), an added after thought there to make sure somebody in Toronto was watching. Kaberle was easily their safest bet, no other Leaf, besides Darcy Tucker and Kyle Wellwood, who are both on indefinite injury leave, have really impressed much. Mats Sundin has been superhuman at times, but is scoreless in his last eight, and isn't doing anything particularly spectacular. Kaberle was a safe choice, if not an exciting one.
- Yannic Perreault was one of the most puzzling All-Star selections we can remember. A heart warming story - he didn't start the season with a contract you see - but is having a shiny faceoff winning percentage really all it takes to make it?
- Rory Fitzpatrick wasn't an All-Star. While we sent a few votes his way, it's probably for the best that he took the four days off: As vacuous as the All Star game is, all the players who make it there do it through their own hard work. Making it on a gimmick would have put Rory in awkward spot in that dressing room.
- For all the hype, Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin didn't do much of anything together. That's ok though, they'll have the next twenty consecutive All Star games to work on that.
- All Star games are really, really, really, really, ridiculously boring. Like, for serious.
Sunday, January 21, 2007
Somebody needs to sit Mark Recchi down and explain to him in big words that it is not his job to score goals. Somebody should take the time to explain to him that he is a washed up bum playing on a rebuilding team. Somebody should also explain to him that he is not being paid to score hat tricks, especially not at this point in his career, and especially not against our Maple Leafs. While that person is at it, they might as well take the time to explain to the Penguins' dressing room that they are a very, very young and inexperienced team and that they have no business scoring eight goals in one game, and certainly not against our Maple Leafs. And because they've already gathered all these guys in one place, they might as well take the opportunity to explain to them that their team isn't supposed to be holding down a playoff spot yet, especially when that spot could go to our Maple Leafs.
The NHL All-Star break is here, and Saturday night provided a case study in two teams that weren't expected to make the playoffs. On the one hand were our Leafs, owners of a whatever .500 record, exactly where they were expected to be. Injuries haven't helped, and Toronto has shown the odd flash of what they might be capable of, but over all it has been a half encompassed by mediocrity.
The Pittsburgh Penguins, in contrast, are flying (that is funny because penguins are flightless birds you see). Their roster has a tantalizing array of young goodies (like a box of chocolate that you've lost the which-is-which guide to. Eww... Coconut Malone) plus some direction pointing veterans. Some said that the Penguins were still a year away from making the playoffs, after all, Ma Fleury had yet to really establish himself, Evgeni Malkin had never played an NHL game, and Jordan Staal was scheduled to spend the season in the OHL. But the NHL's '09 Stanley Cup champs are nothing if not tenacious (though their D is still a little suspect) and they've proved that they have the cojones, if not the facial hair, to compete with anyone in this new NHL.
Our tale of two cities could still end well for both teams. The Leafs have shown that they can play with any team - when they feel like it. Mind you, Toronto is missing two of its top scorers right now, something a week long break will do nothing but help.
(Please note that we went through an entire entry on Pittsburgh without mentioning you know who. So... do we get a prize now?)
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
"According to FOXSports.com, the Blue Jays are one of two teams interested in
bringing the 43 year old (David Wells) back to Toronto should negotiations with the San Diego
Padres fall through. " - TSN.ca
Wait... so there's another team willing to bring David Wells back to Toronto? You know what? It's probably the Red Sox. Those cagey bastards, they must think adding Wells would actually hurt the Jays. They'd probably be right too.
Thursday, January 11, 2007
David Beckham is an impressive man. Not many athletes could parlay a couple of disappointing, underachieving seasons in one of soccer's most prestigious clubs, as well as being not-too-subtly kicked off the national team he used to captain by the new coach into a 250 million dollar, five year contract. But David Beckham can. David Beckham did.
Making use of the MLS's newly made, and oh-so-convenient Beckham Rule, the Los Angeles Galaxy dumped a few cement trucks full of money on Becks' front lawn, and then promised him a couple more, if he would just cross the pond and come play in the U.S' ever-nascent major soccer league. As if he had to think about that.
Beckham, quickly becoming a joke, and an unfunny one at that, over in Old Europe, hardly needed another reason to leave, especially 250 million other ones. David Beckham is 31, a depressing age for soccer players, but jerseys with his name splayed on the back still seem to sell like soiled panties in Japan. Go figure.
We want to make fun of Beckham for being a washed up bum, after all, what kind of goober looser chooses to play soccer in America when they could be playing football on the continent? But seriously, this guy makes more than Alex Rodriguez, and he is married to a Spice Girl. Anything we say now will just look like sour grapes.
But let's remember the last time big time soccer stars tried to milk their retirement from European soccer by playing in the US. Remember when Pele and Beckenbauer spent more time partying than playing, and remember how the Cosmos and the rest of the NASL went bankrupt trying to out do each other in their rush to sign over the hill players who had long ago past their best before date? We're just saying... Does the MLS really have the fan support, the media attention, or the big bankrolls to try their own arms race?
It is kind of cool that with Becks stateside, we actually have a chance to see him do his thing, that is, bend it, right here in Toronto. If Toronto FC ever gets around to playing, you can be sure David Beckham will sell a few tickets for the new BMO Field.
And we can hardly wait until other tired stars wanting a fat paycheque for minimal effort start landing in the MLS. Zidane unretires for Washington? Larsson in Columbus? Dare we say it, Ronaldo in Toronto? Oh yes, the MLS is just getting started.
Monday, January 08, 2007
Uh oh, it turns out we here at 64 Years and Counting are very, very bad Canadians. First, we spoke out against the prospect of a seventh Canadian hockey team joining the NHL (which, as transgressions go, would seem to be on par with a Catholic spitting on an image of the Virgin Mary). And now we have the gall to go and watch about 48 seconds of Canada's entire (and very successful) run at the World Junior Championship in Sweden.
That's grounds for revoking citizenship, if we're not mistaken.
An E12 back-page insert in most other places in the hockey playing world, the Juniors are front page news in Canada, for better or worse. We don't understand the thrill of watching twenty kids you've never heard of who still have trouble growing facial hair, let alone scoring highlight reel goals, but apparently there must be something to it, as millions of people tune in for each of Canada's games every time.
It's become a holiday "tradition", if you'll believe TSN, but the numbers don't lie. And neither does the press coverage. A lot of people seem to give a damn about this, but still, we don't get it.
Sure, maybe some of those kids will end up as future stars (that Toews kid, for example) but really, if past junior teams have taught us anything, most of those kids will end up as blue chip grunts, not marquee names.
The patriotic thrill of watching a red maple leaf dash up the ice? Now were on to something. Nothing gets people watching like a winner, and our junior teams have a funny habit of doing just that. This was our third straight actually. Woah, we don't even watch the damn thing, and we're bragging already. That's some powerful mojo.
Seriously though, we object to the Junior championships on the same grounds we object to college sports. You're putting kids on freaking pedestals and it's not right. These guys aren't ready for media scrutiny; most of them are still in school (or, old enough to be...). And these guys can't even profit off their exploits. That's quite the system. Doesn't apply so much to the the Junior tourney mind you, they wouldn't be getting paid no matter how old they were, but it really bothers us about American collegiate sports. All the media attention, all the money that rolls into it, and the players can't touch a penny of it.
But that has nothing to do with Junior Hockey. Back on topic.
It doesn't help that the Leafs farm system is always so woefully underrepresented at this thing. Excepting last year, when the gold medal game featured Leaf prospects in both nets, there never seems to be much, or any, Leaf presence. It gets a little depressing, actually.
Maybe we'll get into when we ourselves are a little older, and by a little older, we mean old enough to be able to look at the roster and not be able to say, "Hey, those guys were born the same year as I was!"
No really, true story.
Friday, January 05, 2007
Do you remember, when you were younger, and your girlfriend, the one you were with for something just slightly less than forever (yeah, her) broke up with you, and left your heart in two jagged pieces? And the first thing you tried to do was show her that you were so over her, and you did that by parading past her with a bunch of blonde floozies? Remember that?
Well, some people never grow up. Some people like Mario Lemieux. (Ok, for the sake of the preceding analogy, you will have to imagine Kansas City as a blonde floozy. It's a stretch, we know). Shortly after getting the cold shoulder from Pittsburgh, or at least, a not sufficiently warm enough shoulder, Lemieux was seen flirting shamelessly with officials in Kansas City.
Actually, we're going to have to switch metaphors now. Kansas City has it's very own
convertible hockey arena, and they've apparently gone and promised Lemieux free use of it (and Kansas City totally shaves, like every day!). That's a tempting offer. But what it really looks like is a shameless attempt at making Pittsburgh jealous. If you ask us, Lemieux doesn't have any intention of moving the Penguins to such a nowhere's burgh like Kansas City. Besides, if the Penguins do move, where exactly is number 66 going to hang from?
But forget about that. Right now we're talking about Mario Lemieux, the cocktease. This team will end up back in Pittsburgh next season, and the season after that, and in their new stadium too boot. Lemieux ought to be ashamed, a grown man like him, leading poor Kansas along like that.
We've stayed out of the whole Pittsburgh relocation discussion because our opinions on the matter didn't seem to mesh with most other Canadians. Back when Jim "Blackberry" Balsillie was leading Pittsburgh along, Canadians were salivating at the thought of another Canadian team. That was obviously Ballsy's intention all along. He payed the proper respects to the fine people of Pittsburgh of course, he's not stupid, but you knew that the moment the casino deal fell through, these Penguins were migrating north.
Here's the thing though. Canada doesn't need another NHL team. And even if we did, where would we stick it? There's no way hockey's going back to Winnipeg or Q-City, wouldn't that just be awkward? Some people were actually suggesting giving one to Kitchener-Waterloo, which, as delirious cloud-gazing goes, was pretty out there. The Kitcheloo Blackberries? Serious?
The NHL is trying to regain credibility in the US, remember? Remember? Forget about Canada, man. Get your head out of the sand. Hockey is rock solid in Canada. We know that. We invented the damn game. But we can't keep the NHL alive by ourself. We kinda really, really, really need American support, or else this whole thing tumbles down. And do you really gain meaningful cred by moving a team to something called Kitcheloo? Or even Hamilton, for that matter.
And that's ignoring the prominent fact that Pittsburgh deserves an NHL team. Two Stanleys, and Mario. And Mario! It was OK when Hartford moved, in their few decades in Connecticut, they did jack all. But Pittsburgh has history.
If you're so desperate to move a team, how bout that one in Phoenix? Do you know they have the gall to actually remind their fan(s?) that they've been there for ten years? They play with patches that say "Decade in the Desert". Umm... when you've only converted one of those seasons into playoff appearances, you'd think that they might want to keep that on the down low.
Thursday, January 04, 2007
It's always a tough time when the Raptors play the Phoenix Suns. Do we cheer for Canada's basketball team, or do we cheer for Canada's basketball player?
Steve Nash made the decision even harder the other night, putting up an MVP fourth-quarter to lift his Suns over our Raps, 100-98. Chris Bosh returned from an extended injury (though the Raptors distinguished themselves nicely during that time, going 6-6), but it wasn't enough to stop Captain Canada.
Our only wish is that Nash dons the newly stylish Toronto jersey sometime before he becomes a washed up bum. Can you imagine that? Steve Nash, the Raptor. Hoooo man. Hooooo man.
Following Monday night's humbling 5-1 loss to Toronto, Boston Bruins' coach Dave Tippet called the affair Boston's worst outing all season.
Dave, be careful how you challenge your team. Sometimes they might just go out and prove you wrong.
The two teams squared off for a rematch in Boston Thursday night, and the B's did just that. The Bruins not only served up their worst game of the season, easily outpacing the sheer godawfulness of Tuesday night, they also served up one of the worst games of hockey we've ever had the misfortune of sitting through, on route to an eventual 10-2 loss.
The Bruins defence was non-existent, and their goaltending from Tim Thomas (and his eventual replacement, Philip Suave) was softer than the scattered cheers in the lonely looking TD Banknorth Center. In fact, the loudest cheers were reserved for the announcer when he declared to the few faithful who remained, "Last minute of the third period". More welcome words are seldom uttered.
The Leafs got some lucky bounces, sure, but it was Boston's D that rolled out the red carpet, and it was the goaltenders who opened the door for them (Particularly Steen's third. That was ugly)
The ten goals are even more impressive when you consider who the Leafs had on the ice. We'll be blunt, they iced a team of nobodies. Darcy Tucker rejoined the disabled list, meaning that any semblance of veteran presence on the Toronto's roster was wiped away. But that's the great thing about young players, they have this funny habit of stepping up right when they have to.
Look at the score sheet. Ten goals and all Mats Sundin and Jeff O'Neil had to show for it was one assist a piece, Bryan McCabe nada. But Alex Steen, he of ten points in forty games, scored his first career hatrick. Matty Stajan, not doing much better, had a pair of assists to go with his two goals. Johnny Pohl notched a goal and an assist, and the line of Second Chances (Devereaux and Battaglia) combined for five points themself. Kris Newbury kept the pace up, providing a goal and assist, for three points in his two career games.
In other words, the Bruins were burned by a bunch of players who spent last season in the AHL. As if their night wasn't bad enough.
It's easy to cheer for a team that scores ten goals,
Monday, January 01, 2007
O'Neil - Sundin - Steen
Tucker - Stajan - Kilger
Battaglia - Pohl - Devereaux
Ondrus - Newbury - Belak
Can you spot the scoring line? Don't worry, we had the same problem.
The Maple Leafs have hit their second stretch of major injuries, and so far, they aren't handling it very well. The first time around, at the beginning of the season the injuries all came on defense. Ian White (who impressed enough to stay with the big boys) and Brendan Bell were the minor league call ups, and Wade Belak found himself skating backwards again. The Leafs jumped that hurdle handily, relying on lots of goals and stable goaltending.
Fast-forward. The injuries have started piling up again, this time among the forwards. It started with Nik Antropov, but that wasn't news, because hell, that guy's always injured. Then, in the same game even, Kyle Wellwood and Alexei Ponikarvovsky, as crucial to Toronto's game as viagra is to Chris Chelios' (that came off harsh. We've got nothing against the NHL's reigning octogenarian), were both injured. Not to be outdone, Mike Peca, went out and showed the kids how to really get injured, breaking his tibia. His freaking tibia. That's one of them season ending injuries, for those without the advanced degree in human anatomy and sports physiology.
So, the Leafs are down four of their key cogs. Poni and Wellwood are still anywhere from a couple weeks to tomorrow away from being ready, and Antropov, who knows with that guy. The Peca injury is the worst though, obviously. Signed in the off-season, more for his inspiring playoff run with the Oilers and his ace leadership qualities than his 23 points, Peca was one of the cornerstones of this team. And now he's not.
This leaves some gaping holes in important spots. The top line is currently made up of Mats Sundin (who is probably going to carry this team into the playoffs or literally die trying - seventeen points in his last eleven games), Jeff O'Neill (who may share the same name with the guy who scored 40 for Carolina a few years back, but little else - ten in his last ten) and Alex Steen (whose three goals over his last nine games is a major improvement over one goal through his first thirty). Not a line that exactly inspires confidence.
Here's the line we've fallen in love with, though. We call it the Second Chance line. Bates Battaglia (the technical term for Battaglia's job here is "nepotism", but we love the guy anyway), Johnny Pohl (this is still his first chance actually, but he's making the most of it - seven in his last eight) and guess who, Boyd Devereaux. Signed to one of those AHL contracts in the offseason, Devereaux has finally worked his way back into the NHL with Toronto, and he's made the best of it too - he has three points in his three games back in the bigs.
So what the Leafs now lack in skill and goal scoring, they make up for in grit and chutzpah (see last night's checking line of Belak, Ondrus, and Newbury, which actually scraped together a goal. Don't worry, in true checking line fashion, it trickled over the line).
Speaking of grit, the Leafs ground the Boston Bruins into the ground last night, 5-1. You can imagine the Leafs will be happy about that one, since a) this depleted roster has been a little starved for wins lately, and b) the Bruins have summarily kicked the shit out of Toronto all season. To see one go the other way was just a little nice. It helped that the Bruins played to lose, and that the Leafs cut down on the sloppy play that had been costing them recent games, and that Sundin continues to do most of the Leafs' goalscoring (and continues to ensure that no Leaf ever wears 13 again).
Because the NHL schedulers think they are funny, Toronto plays Boston again on Thursday. Believe it or not, it is possible to see too much of the B's, especially when they have this bad habit of winning against Toronto.