By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Dec. 1) – Once again, Sid the Kid is showing the way.
As the NHL lockout approaches 2½ months, hockey fans may be getting tired of the game’s biggest star intimating that he will play in Europe. Every time Sidney Crosby appears on TV after an informal skate, he offers guarded opinion about the labor skirmish and a reason why he simply cannot wait much longer before joining a club overseas. It has become analogous to a veiled threat… amid unmistakable integrity.
Crosby and his agent, Pat Brisson, understand their unique domain on the periphery of the NHL/NHLPA squabble. Unobtrusively, they have shown enormous leadership and respect for the game. Both men know that Crosby could have fled to any country in Europe as soon as the lockout began on Sep. 16. There were (and still are) issues to address: primarily Crosby’s risk of further head trauma and correlated insurance. That said, had No. 87 chosen to bail out and steal a hockey job in Europe with the lockout corpse still breathing – as did “me-first” players across the league – he’d have been suiting up within days; cameras and microphones following his every move.
Instead, Crosby and Brisson chose to act responsibly.
SIDNEY CROSBY AND AGENT PAT BRISSON HAVE RISEN ABOVE THE NHL LABOR DEBACLE.
Both sides of the labor quarrel should observe the manner in which they paused; looked at the big picture; considered repercussion and – ultimately – rose above the nonsense. Though Crosby has never been particularly revealing, neither is there concern that he’ll spout off impetuously like others around the league (many of whom couldn’t hold his skates). You won’t hear contemptible words like “idiot”, “cancer” or “little dictator” spoken in reference to the NHL commissioner. Long mentored by Brisson, the game’s most recognizable figure is undoubtedly miffed over the stalemate and futility of negotiation. He wants to play as badly as anyone, But, the awareness of his influence on the sport has prevailed over personal ambition.
Soon, Crosby will bow to instinct. As of this moment, there is no reasonable expectation for the lockout to end. Having missed so much time recovering from head injury, he needs to get back into a competitive environment. The entire continent of Europe awaits his arrival. And, no person on either side of the lockout ledger will have reason to begrudge any decision he makes.
Sid the Kid and his agent have been pure class.
Others should follow their lead.
TORONTO RAPTORS vs. PHOENIX SUNS
at AIR CANADA CENTRE
Though I’ve seen the NBA Toronto Raptors play in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Atlanta and New Jersey during my hockey travels, I haven’t been to more than a handful of home games. Included among them was the first-ever appearance by the club – an exhibition game at SkyDome against Atlanta Hawks in October 1995. With the NHL on hiatus, I took my son, Shane, to Friday night’s encounter at the Air Canada Centre between the Raptors and Phoenix Suns. We were able to buy a pair of tickets off StubHub in the upper balcony, directly at centre-floor, just before 5 p.m. – two hours prior to tip-off. Face value of the tickets were $36. We got them for $15. I was interested in observing not only the arena environment for a club staggering at 3-13, but also the size of the crowd on a weekend night with nothing else on the local sporting calendar. Both elements were impressive. It was hardly a preview of the NBA final, but the match remained in doubt until the very end.
As per usual, I had my trusty Nikon with me:
VIEW FROM OUR SEATS (ABOVE) DURING PRE-GAME SHOOT-AROUND.
TIP-OFF JUST AFTER 7 O’CLOCK P.M.
THE CROWD WAS ANNOUNCED AT 18,246 (1,554 BELOW CAPACITY). NUMEROUS SEATS WERE UNOCCUPIED IN THE CORNER OF THE UPPER-BALCONIES (ABOVE AND BELOW), BUT THE ARENA WAS OTHERWISE FULL.
THERE WERE PLENTY OF HOCKEY REMINDERS OVERHEAD (ABOVE AND BELOW).
RAPTORS PLAYED STRONGLY IN THE SECOND HALF.
IT WAS QUITE A SHOW AT THE ACC, PARTICULARLY DURING TIME-OUTS.
THOUGH RAPTORS HAVE NOT BEEN ABLE TO CLOSE OUT TIGHT GAMES, THEY HELD OFF THE SUNS IN THE LATE GOING (ABOVE) AND WON BY FOUR (BELOW).
WEEKEND NOTES: Some years down the line, it’ll be intriguing to ask Gary Bettman, Donald Fehr and/or the most hardened purveyors of this labor debacle exactly how it benefited the game. Answers will likely be scarce; finger-pointing pandemic… Raptors victory over Phoenix lightened the atmosphere at the ACC. Franchise value notwithstanding, these are difficult times for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. The new ownership triumvirate of Rogers, Bell and Kilmer Group (Larry Tanenbaum) is awaiting its first NHL night. Since Feb. 7 of this year, the Leafs, Raptors and Toronto F.C. have played 119 regular-season games, combining for a record of 31-76-12. Feb. 7 was the night, in Winnipeg, that Leafs began their nosedive last season… If Bettman and Fehr agree the two sides should gather without their respective leadership, how can they be considered leaders? No chance a deal gets done without them. To me, it’s more wasted time… Watched a documentary on Thursday, produced by ESPN, that detailed the financial hardship among pro athletes. I was astounded to learn of the big-name players that have filed for personal bankruptcy through the years, including Bill Buckner, Jack Clark, Lenny Dykstra, Rollie Fingers, Ray Guy, Tony Gwynn, Dorothy Hamill, Harmon Killebrew, Bernie Kosar, Graig Nettles, Gaylord Perry, Warren Sapp, Lawrence Taylor, Bryan Trottier and Johnny Unitas… I can tell you from much personal experience: the place to be at this time of year is Los Angeles. Sunny; 70 degrees F during the day; a comfortable 50 at night. None of the cold, damp, grey stuff we endure up here. And, if you’ve never watched the sun set directly over the Pacific Ocean from Santa Monica or Venice Beaches at 4:40 in the afternoon, put it on your “things-to-do” list… Just a hunch, but if the Bills lose at home on Sunday to the horrendous Jacksonville Jaguars, the wrecking-ball may finally emerge. I would expect a change at the coaching and/or GM levels. There is a limit to everything – even in star-crossed Buffalo… Speaking of losing in the NFL, John Kryk of the Toronto Sun has written an excellent column here: http://bit.ly/VaMfZI… Anyone that watches the NFL on TV knows how tortuous the experience can be. Networks must cater to bountiful advertising, but a game last Sunday was just a bit over the top. CBS took a commercial-break when one of the teams called time out. A touchdown was then scored and it went to video-review. Commercial break. The touchdown was confirmed and the extra point kicked. Commercial break. The scoring team then kicked off. Commercial break. Each set had four 30-second ads and a network promo. Which means there were 16 commercials and four promos in 55 seconds of play. Oy vey and double-oy vey!.. The fourth anniversary of Brian Burke as president and GM of the Maple Leafs hardly passed without notice on Thursday. It was a hot topic among several media outlets. Burke assumed control of the Leafs nearly two months into the 2008-09 season; his tenure has been disrupted by a family tragedy and the current lockout. If fate allows him to generate momentum – and he is able to pry Roberto Luongo from Vancouver – Burke will likely enjoy several more anniversaries with the Blue and White… Double-B still trails many of those that preceded him in the GM’s chair. John Ferguson held the title from August 2003 to January 2008; Pat Quinn from June 1999 to August 2003; Cliff Fletcher from June 1991 to May 1997; Gerry McNamara from January 1981 to February 1987 and Jim Gregory from April 1969 to April 1979… Barring an immediate move by the NHLPA toward de-certification, league owners will probably take another baby step by Thursday of next week and cancel games through the end of December. After that, it’s anyone’s guess what might happen. Beyond upheaval that would follow dissolution of the P-A, the calendar – even at this point – allows for a finite opportunity to conduct a viable schedule… Best wishes to one of my closest pals in the media business – Mike Zeisberger of the Toronto Sun – who is recovering from a health issue. All of your fans miss you, Zeis. Hope you are tappin’ away again really soon…
MY VIDEO-IMAGE IN DECEMBER 2009 OF SUN SETTING BENEATH PACIFIC OCEAN FROM THE BEACH IN SANTA MONICA, CALIF. THERE’S NOTHING QUITE LIKE IT.
Chad Owens, spark-plug of the Grey Cup-champion Toronto Argonauts, is undoubtedly the most charismatic athlete in our city right now. If fans warmed to him the way they do lunch-pailers on the Maple Leafs, he’d be the biggest name in Canadian sport… Though I was critical of rookie coach Scott Milanovich for the lack of discipline he engendered during the regular season, Argonauts would not have won the Grey Cup without his decision to anoint Chad Kackert the team’s feature running-back. Milanovich did so – in August – by discarding Cory Boyd, who led the CFL in rushing at the time. It was ingenious foresight… A reminder that Paul Henderson will be signing copies of his new autobiography THE GOAL OF MY LIFE on Saturday at Indigo in the Yorkdale shopping mall (Allen Rd. and Highway 401) from noon to 1:30 p.m. The Team Canada legend tells an interesting story about jumping from the Leafs to the Toronto Toros of the old World Hockey Association in 1974. Leafs were paying him $75,000 a season and Toros’ owner Johnny F. Bassett told Henderson he would double the salary and give him a five-year, no-trade contract. Henderson sought advice from Frank Mahovlich, the high-scoring winger who won four Stanley Cups with Leafs and was traded to Detroit for Henderson in March 1968. Mahovlich had defected from Montreal Canadiens to the Toros the previous year. “When I asked [Mahovlich] what he thought about me signing with the Toros,” Henderson writes, “I also told him I was hesitant on account of my desire to one day win a Stanley Cup. He told me in no uncertain terms what he thought of that. ‘You’ll never win a Stanley Cup in Toronto as long as Harold Ballard is the owner,’ Mahovlich said. ‘The Leafs will never win with him.’ He was adamant about that. And, his words turned out to be prophetic. [They] strongly influenced my decision to sign with the Toros.”… The top five professional athletes in Toronto right now: Owens, Jose Bautista, Phil Kessel, Ricky Ray and Edwin Encarnacion. Within five years, Morgan Rielly will be near the top of that list… So, I’m crawling down the Don Valley Parkway to the Raptors game Friday night when I see one of those electronic message signs in the distance. Great, I said to myself, we’ll soon find out the traffic conditions ahead. Yeah, right. “AUTOMOBILE CRASHES DON’T HAPPEN BY ACCIDENT – DRIVE CAREFULLY” read the sign. Gee, and I always thought highway mishaps were purposeful. Another fine example of Ontario tax dollars at work… It’s been a long time since a first-round draft pick by the Leafs has truly impacted the hockey club – 1985, to be precise, when Wendel Clark was chosen first overall… The acclaimed 24/7 documentary that would have involved Leafs and Detroit Red Wings was canceled with the Bridgestone Winter Classic. But, a splendid facsimile is being shown by Sportsnet here in Canada. On The Edge is an eight-part series that intimately follows coach Lorne Molleken and the Western Hockey League Saskatoon Blades through the current season. Blades will host the 2013 Memorial Cup next May. Unlike 24/7, profane language is beeped out. Otherwise, the documentary is identical to the ground-breaking NHL version. Part 1 was aired this week. Watch for TV listings as the series continues…
PAUL HENDERSON WILL SIGN COPIES OF HIS AUTOBIOGRAPHY (ABOVE) AT INDIGO AT YORKDALE SHOPPING PLAZA (ALLEN RD. AND HIGHWAY 401) SATURDAY FROM NOON TO 1 P.M. INDIGO WAS SELLING THE BOOK THIS WEEK AT 50% OFF THE $32.99 CAD COVER PRICE.
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