TORONTO (Apr. 22) — Let’s assume, without first–hand knowledge, that the Toronto Raptors knew long before Friday they were going to fire coach Nick Nurse. The decision caught no one by surprise; it had been “in the air” even before the club folded, 10 nights earlier, against Chicago in the National Basketball Association qualifying round (Toronto blew a 19–point, second–half lead and lost 109–105 to the Bulls, thereby missing the playoffs).
Under no circumstance would the Raptors make the announcement on the day of a playoff game for their Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment brethren. So, Tuesday and Thursday, when the Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning clashed in Games 1 and 2 of an opening Stanley Cup series, were out of bounds. That left the “off” days of Wednesday and Friday for the basketball wing of the company to intervene. Strangely — in fact, almost incomprehensibly — the Raptors chose Friday to break the news… and nearly obliterate the pleasant tidings of the bounce–back romp by the Leafs the previous night. In the interest of corporate public relations, wouldn’t Wednesday have been a more–appropriate (and merciful) time to try and deflect hockey news? After the Leafs had looked like a scraggy, beer league outfit in the first match of the playoff round, losing 7–3 to the Lightning? Don’t you think that Cynthia Devine, the interim president and Chief Executive Officer of MLSE, could have put heads together with Board chairman Larry Tanenbaum and found a way to get the Leafs off the front page of TSN and Sportsnet websites in the wake of Tuesday’s Game 1 disaster? Especially given that the two national sports networks are also owned by MLSE (Bell–TSN, Rogers–Sportsnet)? Or, are these questions simply too logical?
THERE WAS NO ROOM FOR THE TRIUMPHANT LEAFS ON TODAY’S COVER OF THE TORONTO SUN.
If asked directly, of course, the Raptors would claim they did not arrive at the Nurse decision until Friday. Which would be similar to declaring that fried liver didn’t make me hurl until I became an adult, rather than during my force–fed years as a child. Of course the Raptors knew, long before the end of this week, they were going to change coaches. Why they elected to step on the one–day Leafs parade is an abiding mystery. Such leading sports columnists as Steve Simmons (Toronto Sun) and Dave Feschuk (Toronto Star) spent Friday chronicling the “Debbie Downer” news from Scotiabank Arena, rather than extolling the Maple Leafs, yet again, for their 7–2 annihilation of the Lightning. When all of it could have easily been accomplished two days earlier, with our ass–bitten hockey heroes looking to crawl into a hole and the majority of Maple Leaf rooters consulting therapists. Go figure.
FAVORING THE “HOME” TEAM
This will come as hardly a shock to media watchers, even if horribly slanted. Good old Sportsnet, whose parent company, Rogers Communications, owns 37.5% of the Maple Leafs, paid for cheerleading reporter Luke Fox to be in Tampa for Games 3 and 4 of the opening playoff series. Yet, veteran Edmonton scribe Mark Spector could not travel to Los Angeles for the same juncture of the Oilers–Kings series, having to write off Friday’s third match from his living–room. Perhaps we can make the weak argument that the Toronto hockey audience drives reader and viewership numbers on Sportsnet. While easily countering that Rogers did not have to go cheap with coverage of the world’s best hockey player (Connor McDavid) and, arguably, the NHL’s most–exciting team. If you wonder why hockey watchers outside of southern Ontario are perpetually annoyed with the Toronto–centric posture of the two all–sports TV networks, here’s a glaring (and unnecessary) example. Fox, though a glorified fan, did offer justification, today, for having a reporter on site with the Leafs. He wrote a good insider story with defenseman Luke Schenn about the latter’s fight with Tanner Jeannot in Game 2 the other night… and the follow–up confusion in the tunnel at Scotiabank Arena. Spector had no–such access to the Edmonton players he covered all season long. It was yet another puzzling and poor decision by the tall thinkers at Rogers… Fox was conveniently on hand at Amalie Arena today when Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman took the morning skate. He posted a photo and message on Twitter. I will repeat: There is no substitute to a reporter being on site for any story, news or sports… As mentioned in an earlier blog this week, the Toronto Sun has followed through with its plan to freeze all playoff travel, thereby placing its staff at a major disadvantage against the rival Toronto Star. Leafs beat–writer Kevin McGran and lead columnist Bruce Arthur are in Florida for the opening–round series, while Sun counterparts Lance Hornby, Terry Koshan and Simmons must write from home. The Star posted an update by McGran from Tampa just prior to 3:30 this afternoon. There was still nothing on the Sun’s website. “The Star is still looking after its flagship newspaper while we are just another paper to the Postmedia corporation,” offered a Sun staffer.
IT’S BEEN 47 YEARS: For those unaware, or with a long memory, it was on this date in 1976 that “Pyramid Power” briefly entered the Leaf lexicon. Searching for mystic intervention that would help his team overcome the heavily favored Philadelphia Flyers in the Stanley Cup quarterfinals, coach Red Kelly ordered the top Toronto shooters to place their sticks under strategically located pyramids in the home dressing room at Maple Leaf Gardens. It sure looked as if Kelly were onto something when his troops powdered the Flyers, 8–5, with captain Darryl Sittler equaling a Stanley Cup record by scoring five goals on former teammate Bernie Parent. With the resounding triumph, the Leafs knotted the best–of–seven affair at three games apiece. The equipment staff carefully packed the pyramids for redeployment, three nights later, at the Philadelphia Spectrum, prior to the decisive match. Again, they appeared mystical when Toronto forward Jack Valiquette opened the scoring just 1:24 after the first faceoff and when Bob Neely offset a Flyers goal by Andre Dupont with only 1:04 remaining in the period.
But, “Pyramid Power” became “Pyramid Puff” in the middle frame, when Philadelphia erupted for four goals in a 3:16 span (two by Mel Bridgman, singles by Don Saleski and Ross Lonsberry) and took full control of the match. And, particularly after Leafs defenseman Claire Alexander (as pictured, above) left the game with a fractured ankle. Alexander, once a milkman in his home town of Orillia, Ont., was an average NHL’er but he skated well and knew how to handle the puck. He’d been causing the Flyers fits in the opening 20 minutes. The Leafs were pounded, 7–3, and sent into summer. We doubt, all these years later, that the equipment staff hauled those miserable pyramids back to Toronto. They’ve never since been seen.