Recalling an NHL legend and one-time Toronto Maple Leaf:

August 31, 2008

by Scott Madore...http://images1.wikia.nocookie.net/icehockey/images/thumb/5/5d/Jacques_Plante_masque.jpg/150px-Jacques_Plante_masque.jpg Jacques Plante is best remembered for his backstopping of the Montreal Canadiens to five consecutive Stanley Cups from 1956 – 60. However, some may recall his impact at a much latter stage of his NHL career, right here in Toronto.

Acquired by Toronto from St. Louis for cash, Plante’s debut season with the Leafs in 1970/71 was spectacular. His 1.88 goals-against average led the NHL and was the only sub-2.00 GAA that season. In fact, for the next 25-years (1971/72 – 1995/96), Plante’s 1.88 GAA was the second-best single-season mark by any goaltender in the league. It was surpassed only by Tony Esposito’s 1.77 GAA in 1971/72.

Plante was also selected to the NHL’s Second All-Star Team in 1971, an incredible feat considering that he was 42-years-old, a grandfatherly age for a goaltender.

Another impressive statistic about Plante’s 1970/71 season with the Leafs is that despite playing in just 40 games, he finished 5th in goalie wins with 24. What makes this achievement even more impressive is that from 1970/71 – 1992/93, Jacques Plante & Mike Palmateer were the only Toronto Maple Leafs goaltenders to place among the top-five in goalie wins in any season.

Wake UP with Moon Bloodgood

August 31, 2008

Gotta tell ya, the name first caught me off gaurd, now I’m sort of liking it, in a bloody good kind of full moon way. “nome same?” Moon Bloodgood is known for her exotic beauty, musical talent, and her dancing as a Laker girl at the age of 17. She is of Korean, Irish, Dutch and Native American ancestry. Her first name Moon is Korean, and her lastname Bloodgood is Dutch. Proving once again that we here at T.O. Sports go out of our way to bring you HOT babes with as unique bloodline as possible. Bloodgood, you can come and moon me any time, really!!

Where The @$#! Is…….Bryant Reeves?

August 31, 2008

by Joshua Khan…http://www.cbc.ca/gfx/topstory/reeves0407.jpg

Maybe it was because he played for Vancouver, or perhaps that he looked like a stereotypical farm boy, but either way, Bryant “Big Country” Reeves was awesome.

But what happened to him?

For those of you who didn’t have basketball-crazed dads back in the fad-packed and grunge-filled 90s’, Bryant Reeves was a rather unique athlete. Standing 7 feet tall and weighing 275 pounds, Reeves dominated the college basketball world while playing as a “Cowboy” for Oklahoma State University. In his senior year, “Big Country” made the court his playground pasture as he averaged 21.5 points per game and led OSU to the Final Four in 1995. But his career at Oklahoma isn’t what impressed the masses located here in Canada.

Equipped with rather awkward-looking uniforms, the Vancouver Grizzlies entered the National Basketball Association. Many wondered if Canadians could handle the orange rubber ball, but their speculations were instantly dismissed after they realized who was leading the NBA’s new team. Becoming the Grizzlies first-ever draft choice, “Big Country” was selected six overall in the 1995 NBA Draft.

With his gigantic frame, Reeves was perfect for the Grizzlies. His clean good-boy haircut and image showed that he was a kind and gentle person, while his massive hands spoke volumes to fans everywhere. It may be rude to state the following, but Reeves was the ideal image for Vancouver because he looked like a rustled lumberjack. Sure he had a dumbfounded look that’s almost comparable to the game-face of Toronto Blue Jays’ pitcher Jesse Litsch, but his appearance represented rural Canada. Some of us can’t chop a tree for our life, but we can sure chug beer like hostile cavemen and give you a beat-down your dad would approve of.

In his rookie season, Reeves wasn’t a disappointment. His mediocre average of 13.3 points per game was bumped up to 16.2 and soon the mountain man was swimming in a new six-year, $61.8 million dollar contract. The deal might seem astronomical, but it somehow motivated the kid from the country to do better. In the 1997-1998 season, Reeves was at his best, averaging 16.3 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.08 blocked shots per game. “Big Country” even mopped the floor with the Boston Celtics by scoring a career-high (for most centers too) 41 points!

But after 1998, Reeves’ career took a tumble down a lonely road that’s more boring and unappealing than some routes in Southern Ontario. Along with adding a very homosexual goatee to his Paul Bunyan image, “Big Country” just got bigger and injuries came and went like horrible Scary Movie spin-offs. With his statistics going down and his ridiculous contract making him impossible to trade, the boy from Arkansas was stuck in a hard place.

The idea of moving to Memphis seems like it could somehow motivate Reeves to change his ways and try to be the player he was, but that wasn’t the case. The former starting center only played two preseason games and with chronic back pains being a problem, he called it quits. Reeves had finally left the organization midway through the 2001-2002 season and disappeared forever (hopefully with an enormous blue ox named Babe).

Even if you had some clue, now you know what the fuck happened to Bryant “Big Country” Reeves.

Alex Steen or Matt Stajan: Who Is the Better Player for the Toronto Maple Leafs?

August 31, 2008

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by Shane House… With the possibility of Mats Sundin returning to Toronto looking bleaker by the minute, I am trying to think of who will replace him.

I mean, you can never replace a Mats Sundin, but it somehow has to be done on this Toronto Maple Leaf team. I honestly don’t believe Nik Antropov has the leadership qualities or the potential to do it, so I am looking elsewhere.

Which brings me to these two players: Matt Stajan and Alex Steen.

Both are good players and contribute a lot to Toronto, but who is the better player?

I believe that both are defensively sound (despite Matt Stajan’s -11 plus/minus rating shows) and both are very good handling the puck.

When it comes to offense, I believe that Alex Steen can be a much better play-maker and offensive threat. This is based solely on the fact that Steen has put up better numbers and shows more offensive prowess than Stajan.

So how is there a comparison then?

Easy. Leadership.

Matt Stajan gives everything he has on the ice every shift and is willing to do whatever it takes to win. He is a heart and soul player with the character and grit to lead a team.

Alex Steen, who I have seen give up on plays, isn’t always willing to get dirty when necessary in order to win a game.

Plus, I feel Stajan is an offensively gifted player, just not to the extent of Steen.

Knowing all of this, as much as I like both players, I think that Stajan contributes more overall to Toronto than Steen. Stajan has character, he has heart, and is good at both ends of the ice. Because of this, I feel he is better for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Future Of Croatian Football: Nikola Kalinić

August 30, 2008

by Anthony Kern… It was Croatian football coach Slaven Bilić who dubbed the young striker, Nikola Kalinić,  ”the future of Croatian Football”. With a tally of 30 goals in 35 matches, for the National Youth Squads, no one can question his ability, which begs the question, when will his time come?

I say the time is now.

In the the next two weeks Croatia will kick off its campaign to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and will face England on September 10th. This time around England is out for blood, and Bilić’s Croatian side is not as strong as it was when it eliminated England last November. Since then it has lost two of their main attacking options in Eduardo Da Silva and Niko Kranjćar.

Attacking midfielder Ivan Rakitić, after netting two goals, proved in their recent 3-2 win over Slovenia that he can make up for some that slack. However, if Rakitić has an off day, there will be little then to turn to for hope.

Sure, there is still Tottenham Hotspurs star midfielder Luka Modrić, but Modrić is a playmaker not a goal scorer. And as we saw in Austria and Switzerland this summer, having a playmaker without a goal scorer is costly.

Fortunately though, and unlike in other years since ‘98, Slaven Bilić’s Croatia has depth upfront, but they only do if Bilić choses to use it. I know that statement may seem silly, but this is what Croatia does. They keep a very capable young player on the bench for four years, until there is enough of a public outcry (usually resonated after disappointing tournament showings) to give the kid a chance.

In Nikola Kalinić’s case, the stakes are much higher because Bilić will not just be keeping a quality young player on the bench, he’ll be keeping “the next Davor Šuker” on the bench.

Slaven Bilić has created a national squad that has commanded the world’s respect, but if he fails to listen to his own words about Kalinić, Croatia may lose the respect it so rightfully deserves. On September 10th in Zagreb, Croatia will face arguably it’s toughest opponent since France in ‘98, sure the stakes may not be as seemingly high, but can you ever put a price tag on the merits on honour and respect?

I believe that if Croatia want to remain the European super power that they are, and a title which some still refuse to acknowledge; then Croatia will have to embrace the light of a new generation in Croatian Football, Nikola Kalinić.

YOU WISH YOU WROTE IT!

August 30, 2008

by Mark Ritter… The “brainiacs” who run the LPGA are dangerously teeter-tottering on Racism with their recent demands to have all golfers speak English or face suspension. This has gotta be the dumbest thing I have ever heard! These Ladies are here to hit the crud out of the ball, interviews are secondary. Sure we all like to hear what Athletes have to say after their match, but most of them talk like “Droids” and recite the same old rhetoric over and over again. I think we can all live without another “I am just taking it hole by hole, good Lord willing, I hope to be amongst the leaders on Sunday”. Gee, thanks for that incredible insight! With nearly half of the LPGA’s golfers being of Asian decent I say they should all boycott the LPGA and start their own league, specializing in Cantonese, Japanese and Mandarin interviews, maybe the LPGA will be forced to speak their language in less than a year, good luck on that one!

The Red Sox appear to be on their way to another wild card birth, whoopiddy-do! Am I alone in thinking that I am completely bored of seeing the Red Sox and/or Yankees in the playoffs year after year? Enough is enough already, somebody please knock these guys off their pedestal before I get another migraine having to listen to all the Red Sox fans toot their collective big mouths. Red Sox fans seem to forget that they went through a slump for nearly a century before they actually won anything, get over yourselves! Oh, and by the way, the Jays handed your heads to you all season, ‘nough said!

Anyone else bored to death of all the “will he or won’t he come back” Mats Sundin crap? If he comes back good for him, if not, enjoy retirement. In Many Leaf fans hearts Sundin is already dead to them, so who the heck cares if he comes back or not? We Leaf fans will forgive Mats for not letting Cliff Fletcher trade him, but for now, bye Mats, don’t let the door hit you in the arse on the way out!

The Argos got rid of Michael Bishop, outright gave Kerry Joseph the starting quarterback job and now Joseph lets it be known that he no longer wants to call his own plays? Looks to me like Joseph is trying to distance himself from any responsibility whatsoever, not exactly what you want from the supposed “leader” of your offense. You heard it here first, the Joseph era is going to get worse before it gets better and it’s going to end ugly.

Toronto loses the bid for the World Junior Championships to Edmonton and Calgary, who’da thunk it? The reality is Torontonian’s do not support Junior Hockey well at all, so what makes Torontonian’s think that they deserved the World Juniors? Regardless of how strong the bid was, you just know the World Junior Championships would have become some huge cash-grab if it were awarded to Toronto and that’s exactly what I don’t want to see. Smaller venues, like Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatchewan and Winnipeg offer a way better “Hockey Experience”; they appreciate the World Juniors, follow the players in far more depth than most GTA residents and do a great job hosting the event, Congrats!- Now don’t screw it up!

The NFL season is about to start…..did I mention that the Buffalo Bills suck yet? Those pointing to the New England Patriots lack of success in the pre-season leading to regular season struggles have been hanging out on the corner of Dundas and Sherbourne smoking crack! The Pats (who I am not a fan of) will “git ‘er done” all season long; does anyone think they give one iota about the “pre-season”??? He’ll no! I’m looking forward to watching Brett Farve work his magic with the New York Jets this year, let’s just hope that all the temptations of New York don’t bring “Farve-bean” back to his old addictions. Farve should carve up the AFC secondaries all season long, look for the Jets to make the playoffs and surprise a few people along the way.

Until next time,

Peace!

Rebuilding the Toronto Maple Leafs: What Constitutes a Successful Season?

August 30, 2008

by Josh Lewis…

With sweeping summer changes almost finished and training camp just around the corner, it’s clear that Cliff Fletcher has done what he promised to do: get off to a good start rebuilding the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Gone are Darcy Tucker, Kyle Wellwood, Andrew Raycroft, Chad Kilger, Hal Gill, Wade Belak, and probably Mats Sundin. Next week, we should be able to add Bryan McCabe to the list. Fresh faces include Jamal Mayers, Niklas Hagman, Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, Jeff Finger, Jonas Frogren, and Curtis Joseph. The Leafs have gotten considerably younger, faster and, Ron Wilson hopes, tougher.

Which leads us to the next question: what next? What goals should Leafs management set heading into the first year of the rebuild? In short, what would constitute a successful 2008-09 season? It’s a difficult question.

Only the most delusional of Leaf fans would expect the squad to make the playoffs this season. Despite their big contracts and inconsistent play, the Buds have lost a great deal of talent in Tucker, Wellwood, and McCabe, and the captain will be missed greatly if he chooses not to return. The new players have the potential to be great additions to the roster, but aside from Mayers, Hagman and Joseph, they are very much unproven.

Obviously, a playoff berth is an unreasonable goal for this team, and that makes it a heck of a lot harder to set a tangible benchmark. Complicating things is the opportunity to nab a high pick in the 2009 draft, which features teenage wunderkinds John Tavares and Victor Hedman.

Not surprisingly, this has divided Leafs Nation into two camps: those who want to make a strong push for the playoffs and those who want to tank and land a franchise player in the draft. That means Leaf fans have two completely different barometers for success. One group would be satisfied with a playoff berth or a 90-point season, while the other would only be happy with Tavares or Hedman.Then there are those who find themselves somewhere in the middle, and perhaps not surprisingly, I’m one of them. A ninth- or 10th-place finish would be very disappointing for me. I’m sick of getting the worst of both worlds: missing out on the playoffs and a decent pick.

At the same time, I don’t believe in tanking. Which is not to say I’d be unhappy with a last-place finish; it’s slightly more complex. I don’t want our players entering games with a losing attitude. I want them to go out there and give it their all every night.

It’s crucial that they develop the mindset of a champion, and that means coming to play every night and always doing the little things right, even if you’re trailing by five goals. It’s also very important that our young guys develop as players. That’s less likely to happen if they’re losing every game, because confidence is key in reaching your potential, especially in a market like Toronto.

I lean toward getting a high pick, but it shouldn’t happen by tanking. If the Leafs go out and put it all on the line every night and lose most of their games, that’s fine by me. However, it would be unacceptable and very damaging to our future to wind up with Tavares or Hedman through a lack of effort.

So, how do I define a successful season for the Leafs? Player development. If youngsters like Kulemin, Grabovski, Jiri Tlusty, and Anton Stralman take big steps toward reaching their potential, regardless of their production, I’ll be happy. If Nik Antropov can handle the pressure of being the team’s top forward, I’ll be pleased. If Alex Steen and Matt Stajan carry the team on their backs and display strong leadership traits, I’ll be ecstatic.

At the same time, the importance of getting a high draft pick cannot be ignored. The Leafs have done well in restocking their prospect cupboard this summer, but they have a long way to go. The organization still lacks a franchise player up front, and the 2009 draft will be its best chance to land one.

If, when the dust settles in April, Toronto has gotten strong seasons from its youngsters and is holding a top-five pick, everyone in Leafs Nation should be happy.

It’s Over…but Travis Snider has arrived!

August 30, 2008

by  Navin Vaswani…  It’s official, I’ve pulled the plug. Rest easy, 2008 Toronto Blue Jays. Yes, it was over long before last night, but Carl Pavano, Carl fucking Pavano, drove the final nail into the Toronto coffin.

Whatever was ailing the Blue Jays under the John Gibbons regime has returned. With a vengeance. Toronto pitching held the first place Tampa Bay DEVIL Rays - yes, it’s still hella weird to say they’re in first place - to only six runs over three games, but the Jays left Tampa for New York with only one win.

Last night, A.J. Burnett pitched a complete game, seven-hitter in the Bronx, and he took the 2-1 loss. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it cannot be fun to pitch for this group of hitters.

Speaking of the anemic offence, Jays fans got a glimpse of the future last night, as Travis Snider made his major league debut. I don’t know about you, but I had a hard on when he came up to the plate for the first time.
The kid didn’t disappoint. He stroked a ball deep into centre field for a double his second time up, and scored the Jays’ only run of the ball game. He’s only 20 years old, but Snider is going to make playing out the stretch a lot more interesting and fun to watch.

Snider’s arrival was paved thanks to the trade-age of Matt Stairs to the Philadelphia Phillies. Stairs is, as my main man Steve Paikin always says, a great Canadian. We all knew he wore that Toronto Blue Jays jersey with a hell of a lot of pride, and I’m definitely sad to see him go. He had some great things to say about Toronto, and you can read all about it at the Thullard Jays Fans website.

Stairsy’s on his way to a contender, and I don’t doubt that he’ll help the Phillies in their quest to make the playoffs. His career is winding down, and I think it’s great that he gets to finish it with a team like the Phillies, instead of riding the pine here in Toronto, as we’re clearly going with more of a youth movement. Thanks for the memories, Stairsy.

I’m looking forward to new ones from Travis Snider.

More of Navin here

Fish Vs. Blake—Best Friends Meeting When It Matters

August 30, 2008

by Btyan Thiel… It’s late August, which means that it’s time for one thing.

The U.S. Open.

While baseball teams are making late-season moves through the waiver wire, the NFL is  just setting it’s wheels in motion with the beginning of it’s regular season, and NHL training camps are a few weeks away (with NBA camps being even farther), the ATP is in the midst of it’s fourth installment of it’s Grand Slam, live from Flushing Meadows.

So far, the men’s seeds have performed strongly heading into the third round, while aside from Julie Coin’s upset of Ana Ivanovic, the women’s field has performed just as well.

But before we get to the finals, the semis, or even the round of sixteen, I’ve found the match that will probably top the Open for me (barring a repeat of the Wimbledon final between Federer and Nadal).

In the third round, Mardy Fish, the 35th seed on the ATP will take on James Blake, seed number nine.

For both of these players, this match evokes the kind of feelings that would arise if Bob and Mike Bryan were to face off against each other.

Since they both started on the tour, Fish and Blake took a shining towards each other. As they were both Americans, the bond was a simple enough one to begin with. They were two young players just starting out on the tour (1999 for Blake while Fish began in 2000) that were hungry for success. Despite that, as anyone can attest to, the younger you are, the easier it is to make friends—especially with the people that you can see yourself in, and James and Mardy are so close that they can play off each other perfectly.

As they developed as players and friends, their personalities and attitudes helped them to become extremely close friends, and the well-documented tragedy that Blake succumbed to during 2004 brought them even closer together.

Although Fish remained on the tour during Blake’s absence, the two could be seen together every so often, sharing a laugh, or deep in conversation. Prior to the 2004 U.S. Open, Fish used his unorthodox sense of humor to help Blake find a little levity in the Zoster disease that had ravaged his face, and Fish was one of the first to congratulate Blake on his first win during his comeback in a tournament in Delray beach.

To prove how close Fish was with Blake, he was a select few of the players on the tour who knew precisely what was wrong with Blake when he was away from the tour (before it all became public). The other players didn’t know.

But despite Fish’s busy schedule, and Blake’s dedication to returning to the tour, they still found time for each other.

Fish would hit with Blake, and offer him an ear whenever he had anything to say, and Blake offers the exact same thing back to Fish. The two have worked alongside, and hit with each other so often that they know the nuances of the others’ games—their strengths, their weaknesses, which shots they can and can’t deal with, and how their attitude can affect their performances on the court.

In 2004 when Blake was invited down to visit America’s Davis Cup team, the first thing Blake did was hit with Fish, and as James says in his book Breaking Back: “it was just like old times”—Fish hit a drop-shot (a shot that Blake can’t stand), and forced Blake to come in. Sure Blake pulled his groin going for the shot, but Fish was able to help Blake enjoy his time on the court once again, and aid in his rehab to get back to the sport he loves.

Going into their third round match, the old times could provide a very close match.

In three career matches against each other, all of them have been on hard courts (San Jose, Memphis, and New Haven). Two of them (Memphis and San Jose) have come in the round of 32, with Blake winning the first in 2002 in a full three sets (the final set ending at seven games to five), while Fish won in 2005, requiring a third set tie-break.

Their most recent meeting was at the finals in New Haven in 2007, where Blake won in straight sets 7-5, 6-4.

So as the remaining seeds of the round of 32 are established, Fish and Blake are left to prepare for each other—something they’ve seemingly been doing their entire career.

So when I tune into the match, I’ll probably be wearing my J-Block t-shirt in hopes that Blake can ‘fire it up one time…BAM!‘, but although I’m pulling for the man from Yonkers, I’m more expectant of a great match between two best friends, rather than a resounding win from my favorite tennis player.

After all, without Mardy Fish, James Blake would have no one to hit him drop shots or help keep his head cleanly shaven. I guess that’s what friends are for.

Preseason Football Like Looking in Girls’ Locker Room

August 30, 2008

by Nicholas Case…

If you were a red-blooded male in high school, then, at the time, there wasn’t much on your mind: sports, women, sports, women, food.

Your time was tempered by wondering what the girl of your choice would look like in the suit that nature had made for her.

Also, if you were like most red-blooded males, you knew you had zero chance of ever finding out.

However, there was one way. One hope. One wish. One dream.

The girls’ locker room.

“If only…” you would think to yourself. “If only I could see through to the other side.”

Your high-school dreams and fantasies could be realized with one simple wish granted, and no doubt you’d like what you saw at first. Even if it were just a glimpse. Then time would continue on. You’d still look, but realize that you wanted more.

Viewing was nice, fine, awesome…but you wanted the next experience, the next step. You were no longer satisfied with just seeing. You knew the world was bigger than just that view, and you were ready.

Every year, this experience plays out in a smaller, less perverse way: The NFL preseason.

Come training camp, it’s like we’re in high school again. We wonder what’s behind that door, because the most beautiful sport just walked through. Only, in this scenario, we get to see through the walls. It starts with the Hall of Fame Game and that first week, we’re pumped. We’re excited. We see the beautiful girls.

There’s Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady! Look, Donovan McNabb, Tony Romo, and T.O.! It’s Big Ben and Fast Willie!

The wall has come down and we see, in all of its glory, what our eyes had craved for so long.

Then the cheerleaders would leave and the women’s rugby team comes in.

Gus Ferrotte? Charlie Batch? Jim Sorgi? Oh man…what am I watching?

The enjoyment of what we once yearned for quickly fades, as we realize: not every girl is hot. Likewise, not all football is entertaining.

We bide our time, like waiting for that special night, when the proverbial cherry is popped and the new season starts. It may not leave you as breathless, but you’re relieved it’s over, and you talk about it with all of your friends.

Much like your high school love, the preseason attraction will fade, and most of you will have your hearts broken. One of you in 32 will marry that woman you saw on the other side of the wall, and you’ll love every flaw that you saw on her.

The thing about this school is that you don’t graduate. At the end of the year, you’re right back to wishing you could see through those walls. You forget all about what just happened; even the happily married couple revert.

You’re right back to wishing you could see that track star after her run, know what that cheerleader looks like, and you don’t even think about that rugby team.

Right now, I’ve had enough of looking through walls.

I’m ready to cash in my v-card for the 2008 season.

Let’s go Steelers. May you make a beautiful bride.

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