TORONTO (Nov. 16) — This is going nowhere… much like a sports Sunday that had “Toronto” written all over it: Argos cough up a 12–point lead and lose a playoff game at Hamilton with no time left on the clock. Maple Leafs yield two crappy goals and lose at New York with 54 seconds left on the clock. Raptors get outscored by nine in the fourth quarter at Sacramento and lose by six to a team with a 3–7 early–season record. Heck, if the Blue Jays had been playing, the bullpen would’ve served up a fat one in the ninth.
But, back to our shinny crew. It’s time to cut bait with Jonathan Bernier. Yes, we’re still in the embryonic portion of the 2015–16 National Hockey League schedule and, yes, Bernier can still be a good puck–stopper in the NHL. It just ain’t gonna happen in our town. As I’ve written here in the past week, that hardly places J.B. in an exclusive category. For more than 10 years now, Toronto has been a city where goalies come to die. And, Bernier has the rattle. He’s turning as blue as the jersey that covers his equipment on home ice. Not even a visit to the Intensive Care Unit (or the press box) can save him. If I’m Lou Lamoriello, I quickly investigate what I can salvage for Bernier — a second or third–round draft pick would amount to larceny. Trade the Montreal native; officially anoint James Reimer as No. 1 goaltender (he’s earned it), and move on.
Many will counter with “why now? Wait ’til the trade deadline.”
And, I’ll counter with “why wait?”
Or… “did you watch Sunday night’s game at Madison Square Garden?”
Given the best evidence, Bernier’s stock — however marginal it may be — will only plummet the longer he remains in a Toronto uniform. At this point in his career, he doesn’t have the mettle to perform with a bad team in a torrid hockey environment. Perhaps he never will. This isn’t about winning or losing in a development season. It’s about providing the Maple Leafs with structure and stability under a high–profile coach. There’s enough work to be done without the needless distraction of choosing a No. 1 stopper on a game–by–game or week–by–week basis. Reimer isn’t bound for the Hall of Fame, but he’s proven adept at ignoring the white noise that is hockey in Toronto. And, he’s cultivated the trust of Mike Babcock in a way that Bernier likely never will. Allow Optimus Reim to carry the load for the remainder of the ’15–16 schedule; occasionally see what you have in Antione Bibeau, and attend to myriad matters elsewhere.
The Bernier experiment has hit a dead end.
Much like our sports teams on a mid–November Sunday.
WEEKEND THOUGHTS: Any way you slice it, the Argonauts lost to a fourth–string quarterback at Hamilton in the Eastern semifinal. Give Jeremiah Masoli credit for a good fourth quarter at Tim Horton’s Field, but he’s among the least–heralded and lowest–ranked pivots to ever win a playoff game in the Canadian Football League. And, if you’re a fan of the Double Blue, don’t bellyache over a marginal roughing–the–passer call in the Tiger–Cats winning drive. Officials in the CFL always determine important games, as they did the Grey Cup last November in Vancouver — calling back a final–minute kick return for a touchdown by Hamilton’s Brandon Banks. The CFL doesn’t invest enough time or money in its officials. It never has. And, therefore, officiating will always be the least–credible element of an otherwise commendable product… Not sure why Argos coach Scott Milanovich gets a free pass from those that cover the team. Maybe he’s a nice guy — I’ve never met him. What I’ve seen through much of his sideline tenure is a club poorly prepared to start games and one that blatantly lacks discipline. In the flag–happy CFL, the Argos draw more than the average number of penalties. And, way more than the average number of lousy, untimely penalties… All leagues and teams in North America should be proud of the way they paused on the weekend to remember those that died in the senseless Paris carnage. It was tastefully done on both sides of the border… Transplanted Canadian Mark Greczmiel is working on a documentary about the California Seals — the 1967 NHL expansion team that played for nine seasons in Oakland. Greczmiel grew up north of the border before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area. He attended numerous NHL games between 1967 and 1976 at the Oakland Coliseum–Arena — now Oracle Arena, home of the defending National Basketball Association–champion Golden State Warriors. Among the former Seals he has interviewed for the documentary are Gilles Meloche, Gary Simmons, Dennis Maruk, Charlie Simmer, Ernie Hicke, Gary Smith, Ron Stackhouse, Rick Hampton, Joey Johnston and Walt McKechnie. The Seals moved to Richfield, Ohio in 1976 and became the Cleveland Barons. After two seasons of poor attendance, the Barons merged with the Minnesota North Stars. I’ll have more details on the documentary as they become available… The photo, below, of defenceman Bert Marshall in his 1968–69 Seals uniform went viral after I posted it on Twitter Sunday morning, thanks to “Mr. Twitter” in the hockey world: Bob McKenzie of TSN.
In this edition of The Vault, we look at a program from the first time I saw the Toronto Maple Leafs play a game on the road. It was during the Christmas break in 1976 at the old Civic Arena in Pittsburgh.
Me and my friend, David Silverman, took a bus from Toronto and stayed with cousins of mine in suburban Monroeville. I’ll never forget the day of the Leafs–Penguins game. I sat in the livingroom watching the National Football League semifinal from Oakland, in perfect weather, between the Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers while a blizzard raged outside. David and I had earlier driven my cousin Judy’s car and had difficulty climbing a medium–sized grade. How on Earth, if the terrible weather continued, would we make the 14–mile trek downtown along Interstate–375 for the hockey game? Saner heads than mine were willing to forget it and stay put. But, me, acting quite younger than nearly 18 years of age, somehow convinced my always–good–natured cousin — Stephen Tobe — to give it a try. Thankfully, he still talks to me today.
The crawl along I–375 was slow and treacherous. Steve kept abreast of road conditions toward Pittsburgh on his C–B (Citizen’s Band) radio — the forerunner to cellphones. I remember more than a few people replying to “stay off the highway.” Ultimately, we got to the Civic Arena which had a front parking lot that sloped downward from the main entrance. As long as I live, I’ll remember my cousin’s car careening sideways down that slope and somehow missing all other vehicles. Once inside, we were among perhaps 2,000 other clods that chose to ignore the weather. Our tickets were near center–ice, roughly halfway up from the glass. But, all the lower seats were empty so we moved to a location beside the visitors’ bench.
These were the Leafs of Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald, Tiger Williams, Borje Salming and Mike Palmateer — coached by Red Kelly — that I watched regularly in my teenage years from Sec. 30 of the south mezzanine Blues at Maple Leaf Gardens. I left Civic Arena with a 0–1 lifetime record on the road, as the Penguins prevailed, 4–2. Here are contents from the program on that blustery night nearly 39 years ago:
PHOTO FROM GAME OF NOV. 18, 1975 AT CIVIC ARENA BETWEEN THE PENGUINS AND CALIFORNIA GOLDEN SEALS. VIC HADFIELD (11) HAS THE PUCK FOR PITTSBURGH WITH BOB PARADISE (2) BEHIND HIM. ON THE ICE IS GARY HOLT OF THE SEALS. IN THE BACKGROUND IS CALIFORNIA VETERAN JIM PAPPIN, A KEY MEMBER OF THE MAPLE LEAFS 1967 STANLEY CUP TEAM. IT WAS THE SEALS FINAL YEAR IN OAKLAND. THE FRANCHISE MOVED TO RICHFIELD, OHIO IN 1976–77 AS THE CLEVELAND BARONS.
THE LEADING SCORERS ON EACH TEAM — DARRYL SITTLER AND SYL APPS JR. — ARE TODAY RELATED THROUGH THE MARRIAGE OF THEIR DAUGHTERS. MEAGHAN SITTLER AND AMY APPS ARE GAY, AND MEAGHAN ACQUIRED A SPERM DONOR. DARRYL AND SYL WERE PRESENTED A GRANDSON (SAWYER APPS–SITTLER) ON FEB. 26, 2014. SYL APPS SR. (d. DEC. 24, 1998) WAS A FORMER CAPTAIN OF THE MAPLE LEAFS AND ONE OF THE MOST ESTEEMED PLAYERS IN FRANCHISE HISTORY.
GOAL MAGAZINE STORY (ABOVE AND BELOW) ON THE OLD COLORADO ROCKIES (PRE–DON CHERRY). THE FRANCHISE BEGAN AS THE KANSAS CITY SCOUTS IN 1974–75; MOVED TO DENVER IN 1976–77; WAS COACHED BY CHERRY IN 1979–80, AND BECAME THE NEW JERSEY DEVILS IN 1982–83.