I’m shifting to a sports theme in this week’s column, since so many hockey happenings are capturing my attention these days.
Mind you, it isn’t always easy to pick a team to support. Take the recent Quebec Major Junior Hockey League play-off series between the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles and the Rimouski Oceanic. Rimouski’s goalie, Colton Ellis, is a native of Whycocomagh that’s been tearing up the QMJHL since he was acquired from Cape Breton two years ago. His eight wins in nine post-season games include a 3-0 shutout of his former team in Sydney, where Rimouski won all three of its second-round road games to oust the Eagles in five.
If Rimouski and the Halifax Mooseheads advance to the league finals, I’m sure we’ll see even more smiles on the face of Colton’s mom Joanne, a familiar, friendly face at the Strait Area Veterinary Clinic. And if the Oceanic and Mooseheads clash for the Q title, they’ll both qualify for a Memorial Cup rematch in Halifax, where Rimouski – including Port Hawkesbury’s Aaron Johnson on the blueline – claimed the Canadian Hockey League title when our provincial capital last hosted the national junior hockey championship 19 years ago.
The Screaming Eagles’ play-off exit was especially bittersweet as it marked the end of hard-working Antigonish native Declan Smith’s junior career. The Highland Heart of Nova Scotia may continue to have a major impact on the team’s future, however, if those persistent rumours about Paul MacLean becoming Cape Breton’s newest coach are even remotely true.
As I write this, the Strait Pirates trail Sackville 3-2 in the best-of-seven Nova Scotia Junior Hockey League finals. Whoever comes on top, two things are clear: (1) It’s been a tight, entertaining, back-and-forth series between two quality hockey teams, and (2) the large swaths of empty seats at the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre are baffling to say the least, especially since the Pirates just rang up their best-ever regular-season record in their 54-year history.
The spotty attendance in the second and third rounds of the NSJHL play-offs are equally mystifying given that the opening-round seven-game series against the Antigonish Bulldogs routinely packed Veterans’ Memorial Arena, with a capacity crowd taking in the Pirates’ thrilling Game 7 victory. This might say just as much about Bulldog fans as it does about Pirate fans.
Considering how ferociously the Canadian and American teams have battled for international women’s hockey supremacy over the years, it’s somewhat ironic that the future development of female hockey participation in Canada might rely on a U.S.-based league. Following the recent announcement that the six-team Canadian Women’s Hockey League would fold, the National Women’s Hockey League announced that it would add two Canadian clubs – in the CWHL cities of Montreal and Toronto – to its five American franchises. We can only hope that the drive to continue female pro hockey opportunities isn’t restricted to Central Canada from here on in.
On an entirely different male-female hockey note, Cathy and I were delighted to see that CBC is giving Battle of the Blades a fifth season after a five-year hiatus. I’ll be curious to see if any more female hockey players climb on board to take a crack at figure skating, given that the third-season champion was Olympic gold medallist Tessa Bonhomme, now one of the best things TSN’s on-air staff has going for it.
Speaking of hockey broadcasts, what a delightful surprise to see the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network and Sportsnet deliver a recent broadcast of Rogers’ Hometown Hockey in Cree, including the play-by-play of a Montreal-Carolina game and the between-period interview segments. If every sports broadcaster approached their job with the enthusiasm of Earl Wood, Jason Chamakese and Clarence Iron, I’d be inclined to watch more major-league sports than I already do.
Apart from the final score of that game, which helped seal my Habs’ play-off fate, the only thing I disliked about that broadcast was the latest ridiculous post-game celebration by the host Hurricanes, with half of the team sitting on the bench with fishing rods that “reeled in” the remaining players. These so-called “Storm Surges,” including an on-ice basketball slam-dunk, a full-team glide down the rink with their sticks serving as Harry Potter-like brooms, and a human bowling league (I’m not making this up), were among the most shallow, moronic things I’ve ever seen a hockey player do in my entire life.
I figured Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay would make a great Eastern Conference Final; I can’t imagine anybody figured those two teams would each be booking tee times after only four play-off games, particularly with the Lightning’s romp through the regular season. Which proves once again that it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.
And with that, I’ll finish here. More hockey to come, believe it or not… Stay tuned, folks.