By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Nov. 2) – If speculation about Roberto Luongo joining the Maple Leafs comes to fruition – as I firmly believe – James Reimer will change uniforms as well. It likely will not be as part of a trade with Vancouver for Luongo, given the Canucks have settled on Cory Schneider as their starting goalie. Reimer has earned the privilege of re-claiming the No. 1 role he stunningly procured from Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson in January 2011. If Luongo is wearing blue and white, that won’t happen here. Based on his apprenticeship with the American Hockey League Toronto Marlies, Ben Scrivens would more-than adequately fill the No. 2 role behind Luongo, allowing Brian Burke to trade Reimer. Burke – as fair to players as any GM in the NHL – would undoubtedly seek to place Reimer in a situation where he could assume the No. 1 mantle: Edmonton and Tampa Bay among possible targets, as neither Devan Dubnyk nor Mathieu Garon have established long-term credentials (veteran Nikolai Khabibulin of the Oilers will be 40 in January and prospect Anders Lindback of the Lightning – acquired from Nashville – is largely unproven). Florida Panthers could also be in the mix. I believe Burke when he professes faith in Reimer; we saw the young goalie’s potential before suffering a head/neck injury in Montreal early last season. If a trade for Luongo does not materialize, Reimer will return as the Leafs’ starter. But, Burke is no longer in a position to gamble between the pipes. Luongo would provide Leafs the veteran stability in goal they have lacked since the Curtis Joseph-to-Ed Belfour hand-off more than a decade ago – nudging the team into firm playoff contention while enhancing the skill and confidence of those around him…
JAMES REIMER SURROUNDED BY MICROPHONES IN TAMPA LAST NOVEMBER.
Cancellation of the Bridgestone Winter Classic by the NHL was about as surprising as a cold winter day in Edmonton. Though hugely disappointing for the league – and, particularly, for fans in Toronto and Detroit – this was a logistic move, not a symbolic one. The scope of the event and its peripheral activity required there be no ambivalence at this point in the calendar. If part of the NHL season is recovered, it likely will not include a Toronto at Detroit match-up. Under the current schedule format, Eastern and Western Conference teams play each other, home and away, in alternate years. The Red Wings were at Air Canada Centre last Jan. 7. Expect Detroit’s home encounter with the Leafs, therefore, to be preserved for a re-scheduled Winter Classic next year… Until recently, I felt the entire 2012-13 NHL season would go up in smoke shortly after annulment of the Jan. 1 outdoor game. I don’t feel that way anymore. A far-greater travesty would be the league canceling the playoffs and not awarding the Stanley Cup for a second time in eight years. There is still ample opportunity to salvage a reasonable schedule and full playoff competition… Coincidentally, a revamped 82-game season, part of the owners’ Oct. 16 offer to the players, was scheduled to begin hours after the Winter Classic died… Born and raised here in Toronto, I never thought I’d say this, but I felt rather sorry for fans of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Thursday night. The storied Canadian Football League team was eliminated from the playoffs when Swayze Waters kicked a 51-yard field goal with no time left on the clock, giving Toronto Argonauts a wild, 43-40 victory in the regular-season finale for both teams. I listened to the post-game call-in show on CHML-900 in Hamilton; agony was the prevailing sentiment. One caller lamented, “I’m 28 years old and the Tiger-Cats have had winning seasons in only seven years. For three-quarters of my life, they’ve been losing.” Host Ted Michaels took the show until midnight but could have gone into the wee hours. Hamilton is an exuberant football town with a large, devoted fan-base. As with hockey zealots here in Toronto, forbearance is prominent; in a league of only eight (occasionally nine) teams, Tiger-Cats haven’t won the Grey Cup since 1999. The Argonauts also have an eager following, but not nearly as abundant – per capita – as their neighbor, 55 kilometers down the QEW… Was glancing at the 2007-08 Edmonton Oilers media guide the other day and happened to look at the club’s dominant seasons of the mid-1980s with Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey and Grant Fuhr – each of whom are now in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Numbers were staggering. In 1983-84, for example, the Oilers compiled a 57-18-5 record. The club was 19-3-1 after 23 games and went on a 17-1-2 tear between Dec. 14 and Jan. 27. After a bizarre, 11-0 loss in Hartford on Feb. 12, Edmonton finished the season with an 18-4-0 run. Oilers beat the New York Islanders for their first of five Stanley Cup titles. Brushing aside fears of a Cup hangover, Gretzky and Co. began the 1984-85 season with a 20-3-3 mark en route to a second championship – over Philadelphia… Is there a more unsuitable name in all of professional sport than Miami Dolphins offensive guard Richie Incognito? The University of Nebraska product is 6-foot-3, 324 pounds – roughly as incognito as Mount Everest… Check out the new website-look at Sportsnet.ca – an intriguing format in which articles and photos can be accessed horizontally on your computer screen. It’s neat… My election pick for Tuesday: Barack Obama over Mitt Romney by a slightly bigger margin than recent polls indicate. Obama’s response to the Hurricane Sandy disaster along the eastern seaboard clinched a second term in the White House… Speaking of Sandy, CNN has milked the tragic event to a level of exploitation, which is unfortunate for those who were lost in the storm, and their families. Overkill is common at the 24-hour cable-news outlet… In the second quarter of the Hamilton-Toronto CFL game Thursday at Rogers Centre, Chad Owens of the Argonauts established a league-record 3,863 combined (rushing, pass receiving, kick returning) yards in a regular season. He eclipsed the mark held since 1997 by former Argo Mike (Pinball) Clemons, always a team rallying -point. Clemons, the most ebullient, likable athlete in Toronto sports history, was on the sideline for Owens’ achievement – hoisting the new record-holder into the air with unfettered joy. It was a splendid moment; typical of the gusto Clemons has displayed throughout his affiliation with the Argos, dating to 1989… Another Toronto sports icon – ex-Leaf captain Mats Sundin – was similar in nature. He showed as much genuine excitement for a goal scored by a teammate as when scoring himself. Sundin will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Nov. 12…
FROM TSN THURSDAY NIGHT: FORMER ARGO MIKE (PINBALL) CLEMONS HOISTING CHAD OWENS INTO HE AIR AND THEN POSING WITH THE NEW CFL RECORD-HOLDER.
I’ve been enjoying the autobiography of Jeremy Roenick, written with long-time USA Today hockey guru Kevin Allen. During his 20 NHL seasons, Roenick skated with five teams: Chicago, Phoenix (twice), Philadelphia, Los Angeles and San Jose. He is one of only four American-born players to eclipse 500 career goals – joining Mike Modano, Keith Tkachuk and Joe Mullen. Fans of the Maple Leafs still abhor Roenick for beating Ed Belfour in overtime at the Air Canada Centre on May 4, 2004. It remains Toronto’s last Stanley Cup playoff moment. In his first season with San Jose (2007-08), Roenick played for Ron Wilson – later to become coach of the Leafs. He described, in his book, a stormy encounter with Wilson: During the 2008 playoffs, we played the Calgary Flames in the first round and we weren’t at the top of our game. We were all on edge, and Ron screamed at me during Game 5 because he believed I had taken a long shift. I screamed back, using my full arsenal of expletives, because he was f—ing wrong in his assessment. I had only been out there 25 seconds or so because the centre before me was late coming off. Between periods, I went into [Wilson’s] office and told him I didn’t f—ing appreciate the way he screamed at me on the bench when I was innocent of the f—ing charge. Then I unleashed a string of foul language that would have made a prison guard blush. Ron didn’t budge an inch and told me profanely that I had no right to speak to him like that. He climbed into the gutter with me and we pounded each other with foul language and insults. Ron is a memorabilia collector and his office contained several historically significant artifacts. Among them was a game-used stick he had been given by New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur. I grabbed the stick and flung it against the wall. At that point, I believe Ron may have momentarily lost his mind when he saw the Brodeur stick airborne… Luckily, the stick wasn’t broken, but I felt terrible after it happened. Ron loved his items and I had shown disrespect to a coach I liked and admired. Needless to say, Roenick was benched for the remainder of that playoff game. J.R. – THE FAST, CRAZY LIFE OF HOCKEY’S MOST OUTSPOKEN & COLORFUL PERSONALITY (HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.) is currently on bookshelves at $32.99 CAD. It will make a swell Christmas gift, though salty language may be an issue for young children…
FRONT AND BACK COVERS OF JEREMY ROENICK AUTOBIOGRAPHY.
How disappointing it must be for the Ontario Hockey League to play in front of such meager audiences here in the Toronto area. The Brampton Battalion and Mississauga Steelheads cannot draw flies despite modern, comfortable arenas. Fortunately, there is abundant passion in many other OHL cities. I attended the Kingston at Kitchener game a couple of weekends ago that drew 6,901 enthusiastic fans to the renovated Kitchener Auditorium. Rangers are celebrating their 50th anniversary season in the Ontario Junior A circuit. Girders in the concourse area under the stands have been painted in the club colors (blue and red) and adorned with the names and numbers of such franchise legends as Paul Coffey, Bill Barber, Shawn Burr, Mike Robitaille, Walt Tkaczuk and Mike Richards. A dozen rows of blue-colored seats have been added on one side of the arena, along with new press and radio facilities. I thoroughly enjoyed the environment in the historic building – home of the Memorial Cup tournament in 1962, 1975, 1984 and 2008.
KINGSTON FRONTENACS AND KITCHENER RANGERS IN OHL ACTION AT THE KITCHENER MEMORIAL AUDITORIUM A WEEK AGO SUNDAY. RANGERS HAVE MAINTAINED A LOYAL FOLLOWING THROUGH THE YEARS AND ATTRACT BIG CROWDS. FRESH PAINT IN CORRIDORS DEPICT FRANCHISE LEGENDS IN THE CLUB’S 50th ANNIVERSARY SEASON.
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