Heady Times at MLSE

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (Nov. 10) — After a glorious weekend in which the Maple Leafs and Raptors combined for four victories, you can bet there are plenty of smiles at 60 Bay St. today. Profits aside, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment hasn’t had much to celebrate in recent years, so a Friday-to-Sunday clean sweep by its Air Canada Centre occupants is big news.

Numerically, the Maple Leafs and Raptors are on fire with a combined 14–4–2 record in their past 20 games. The hockey club is 8–3–2 during that stretch while the basketball team has bolted from the gate with a 6–1 mark. Heck, it’s almost enough for mayor-elect John Tory to propose a municipal holiday (which perhaps he should before reality sets in). Next thing you know, MLSE will purchase the Toronto Argonauts and move the Canadian Football League club into a newly-renovated BMO Field, home of the company’s mostly-wretched Major League Soccer outfit, Toronto F.C. Good times, after all, beget better times, don’t they?

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JAMES REIMER MAKES ONE OF HIS 38 SAVES IN OTTAWA ON SUNDAY NIGHT AS THE MAPLE LEAFS DEFEATED THE SENATORS 5-3. ANDRE RINGUETTE GETTY IMAGES/NHL.COM

This, of course, is hugely intoxicating for asymmetrical Leaf fans, many of whom wrote off the season with 80 games to play. “Get rid of ’em all!” was the general tone of post-game radio callers after season-opening losses to Montreal and Pittsburgh. These same tortured souls are now planning for a day off in the middle of June, once the Stanley Cup final has ended. Of course, should those scoundrels from Boston come to town and spank the Maple Leafs again on Wednesday night, the “get rid of ’em all!” sentiment will instantly reappear. Remember, this is Toronto.

As for the improving Raptors, a bit of headway is hardly unexpected, though Sunday night’s 32-point annihilation of Philadelphia should be taken lightly. The 76ers could go 0–82 this season; if not, it would appear that winning ten games is out of the question. Still, the Raptors made big strides in the second half of last season before providing Toronto sports fans a rare taste of playoff euphoria in the spring. Competitive basketball is likely to prevail here in town throughout the 2014-15 schedule.

So, how ’bout a quick toast to MLSE.

Enjoy the good times. They don’t typically last.

PERKY’S COMING ALONG: I spent half-an-hour late this afternoon visiting my long-time pal and mentor Dave Perkins at Sunnybrook Hospital here in Toronto. The now-retired Toronto Star columnist suffered a heart attack last Tuesday while at the Sportsnet-590 studio, prior to guesting with Bob McCown on Prime Time Sports. “Just as I approached the entrance to the radio station, I felt a small tightness in my chest,” Dave recalled. “I sat down and had a cup of tea with (Prime Time Sports producer) Ryan Walsh when a sudden wave of nausea came over me. I began to sweat profusely and I knew pretty fast what was happening.”

After throwing up several times, Perkins asked Walsh to dial 911. Paramedics arrived quickly and transported him by ambulance to Sunnybrook; Dave with an abnormally rapid heart-beat. “My vitals were nothing to write home about, let me tell you,” he said. After being stabilized, Perky spent a couple of days in Emergency and was then transferred to the cardiac intensive-care unit. When I saw him earlier today, he was awaiting transfer out of the ICU to a regular bed, which was great news. Dave initially sustained a heartbeat irregularity in September and spent four days in hospital. An Angiogram last week showed some arterial blockage but nothing dramatic. “My plumbing is okay; now they have to fix the wiring,” Dave said with his typical flare.

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I TOOK THIS PHOTO OF DAVE PERKINS TALKING WITH CITO GASTON LAST JUNE DURING A TORONTO–ST. LOUIS BASEBALL GAME AT ROGERS CENTRE. PERKY COVERED, FOR THE TORONTO STAR, THE BLUE JAYS WORLD SERIES TEAMS IN 1992 AND 1993 THAT CITO MANAGED.

Perky became a legend at the Star during the 1980’s and 90’s — first covering the Blue Jays as a beat reporter, then writing a general sports column. He retired earlier this year. I learned much from Dave about dealing with sports figures and reporting honestly, but with balance. Among the fondest memories of my 23 years at The FAN-590 are baseball playoff and World Series dinners (in 1992 and ’93) with Dave and the late Star columnist Jim Proudfoot, who we both absolutely loved. “Chester,” as he was known, died from complications of a stroke in April 2001.          

RANDOM THOUGHTS: Prayers go out to Dennis Hull, the Chicago Blackhawks’ sniper of the 1960’s and 70’s, who is battling Pancreatic cancer. The younger brother of Bobby Hull scored 303 regular-season goals with Chicago and Detroit between 1964–65 and 1977–78. He was also a member of Team Canada 1972 for the legendary summit series against the Russians. Dennis will turn 70 on Nov. 19… If you follow my weekly “notes” blog, you’ll know that I’ve been keeping track of which uniform the Buffalo Bills wear each week. Having gone winless in their home blue jerseys and undefeated in their white roads, I figured the Bills would surely wear white against Kansas City this weekend. As the home team, it was Buffalo’s choice to make. For some reason, the club picked blue. The result: A blown 13–3 lead and a potentially crippling 17–13 loss to the Chiefs. Again — Buffalo in white: 5–0. Buffalo in blue: 0–4. Either superstition is clearly not part of the Bills gameplan or the people that make uniform choices are not paying attention. I am. Maybe Doug Marrone and Co. should check with this corner before hosting the New York Jets on Nov. 23. And, I’ll be shocked — once again — if Miami doesn’t make Buffalo bring its blue jerseys to Sun Life Stadium for the Thursday night NFL game this week… Given that James van Riemsdyk scores regularly for the Maple Leafs, his defensive shortcomings are almost always overlooked. But, they flared rather dramatically in the first period at Ottawa Sunday night when a poor read along the boards and a neutral-zone turnover contributed directly to the Senators’ first two goals. Though he scored later in the 5-3 victory, van Riemsdyk has to be more responsible without the puck… We could be in for a dandy three-way race between the 76ers, Buffalo Sabres and Oakland Raiders for the worst team in North American professional sport, with the Jacksonville Jaguars not far behind. As mentioned, the 76ers may easily challenge the franchise record for worst-ever season by a team in the National Basketball Association. Philadelphia established the mark with a 9–73 disaster in 1972–73 under coaches Roy Rubin and Kevin Loughery. The 76ers lost their first 15 games and endured a 20-game losing streak later in the schedule. The Sabres won’t likely stumble to the worst all-time mark in the National Hockey League. At 3–11–1, Buffalo needs to go a tidy 5–56–4 to equal the expansion Washington Capitals of 1974–75 (8–67–5 in an 80–game schedule). The Raiders, at 0–9, are more than halfway toward the ignominy of the 0–16 Detroit Lions in 2008. Jacksonville can still go 1–15 in the National Football League, having somehow knocked off Cleveland, 24–6, on Oct. 19… The Leafs are winning but tempting fate rather dramatically. In seven of its games thus far, the club has been scored upon first — and quickly. Ottawa took a 1–0 lead against James Reimer Sunday night at 2:58 of the first period, less than 24 hours after the New York Rangers scored on Jonathan Bernier at 53 seconds. In Denver on Thursday, it took the Colorado Avalanche all of 31 seconds to grab a 1–0 edge. This is not a habit the Leafs want to prolong… Leafs are getting by nicely at the moment with shared goaltending responsibility but they won’t likely challenge for much until one of Bernier or Reimer grabs the undisputed No. 1 mantle. Look at the best teams in the NHL and you’ll find one big-time stopper. Not two. Sharing almost always indicates that neither man is getting the job done particularly well…

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WHEN WILL THE BUFFALO BILLS LEARN? WEAR WHITE AT HOME! NOT BLUE. CBS/CTV

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At the executive level in the NHL, it is doubtful there is much of an appetite to move away from the shoot-out. Any form of gimmickry seems to grab the attention of fans in the arena and watching at home. It is primarily the logic behind the league’s refusal to ban fighting. A terrific alternative to ending games, however, is a three-on-three overtime format. While also a gimmick — virtually never happening in the regulation 60 minutes — it better portrays the essence of team sport. Fans in this region got a first-hand glimpse of three-on-three overtime during the Maple Leafs–Colorado game in Denver. Carry-over penalties resulted in six skaters on the ice for much of the five-minute extra period; inevitable odd-man rushes and scoring chances proved rather thrilling (Colorado won, 4-3, in a shoot-out). The American Hockey League is experimenting with three-on-three overtime this season. There is no apparent drawback to the scheme and it allows for games to end more credibly. My choice would be for the NHL to do away with shoot-outs. Play three-on-three for five minutes and award an old-fashioned tie if neither club scores. It would serve to limit the three-point games that distort the standings over the course of the season… How silly it is for the NFL Raiders — as dreadful as they are — to be playing home games with the giant upper-deck at Oakland Coliseum covered by a tarp. Alameda County had no choice but to build the massive structure on the east side of the Coliseum (the outfield for baseball games) before the Raiders returned from Los Angeles in 1995. Nicknamed “Mount Davis” after the Raiders’ late general partner, Al Davis, it was a non-negotiable element of the transfer. It also obliterated the wonderful scenery beyond the stadium — the rolling hills of east San Francisco Bay. I enjoyed that spectacular view from the auxiliary press box during the 1992 American League Championship Series between the Toronto Blue Jays and Oakland A’s. I also sat in “Mount Davis” for an NFL match between the Raiders and Minnesota Vikings in 2003, the day after covering a Leafs–Sharks hockey game in San Jose. Elliotte Friedman and I squinted into the sun all afternoon but enjoyed a excellent view of the field. Now, the entire stand it is covered by plastic and occupied by seagulls. Go figure… Don Cherry left no doubt about his frustration during Saturday night’s edition of Coach’s Corner on Hockey Night In Canada. For reasons that have not been explained, Rogers, which now controls Hockey Night, has reduced Cherry’s intermission segment from seven to five minutes this season. The transition is proving difficult for Cherry and co-host Ron MacLean, who are trying to cram the normal amount of material into lesser time. Cherry was practically screaming at the top of his lungs on Saturday about the Coach’s Corner reduction, which led to this column (http://bit.ly/1u34EgU) by Steve Buffery in the Toronto Sun. Columnist Joe Warmington of the Sun followed up with Cherry today (http://bit.ly/1xsEm8L). You may need to be a Sun digital subscriber to access these links. Suffice to say, Grapes is not a happy camper…

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“MOUNT DAVIS” — THE UPPER DECK ON THE EAST SIDE OF THE OAKLAND COLISEUM — IS NOW OCCUPIED BY BIRDS RATHER THAN FOOTBALL FANS. CBS/TSN

OLD HOCKEY BOOKS: I was asked in an email last week about the oldest hockey books in my collection. I have more than a few and I thought I would share several here today, and then some others in a later blog.

How many of these do you have, or remember?

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PUBLISHED 1973.

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PUBLISHED 1967 (LEFT AND RIGHT).

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PUBLISHED 1970 (LEFT) AND 1971 (RIGHT).

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PUBLISHED 1963 (LEFT, UPDATED IN 1968) AND 1965 (RIGHT).

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PUBLISHED 1969.

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PUBLISHED 1971 (LEFT) AND 1974 (RIGHT).

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PUBLISHED 1971 (LEFT) AND 1967 (RIGHT).

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PUBLISHED 1953 (UPDATED IN 1961 AND 1968).

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PUBLISHED 1969 (LEFT) AND 1970 (RIGHT).

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