I recently got the opportunity to interview current Chicago Bulls and former Toronto Raptors play-by-play announcer Chuck Swirsky. Here’s what he had to say:
Q. What inspired you to get into sports broadcasting?
A. Well, I wasn’t a very good athlete so I had limited options in terms of wanting to play. When I was a little boy I became intrigued by turning on the radio and hearing a voice describing what was going on with baseball, football, soccer, and basketball games. Suddenly, at the age of five, I knew exactly what I wanted to do and that was to be a broadcaster.
Q. You’ve been in the business for nearly 30 years and yet you still seem as passionate as ever. What’s your secret?
A. It’s down to the enjoyment and the enthusiasm of being around the game, the sport itself, and the players, and the atmosphere. You’re right, I’ve never lost that passion. The day I do I’ll probably decide to go into another line of work, but I don’t foresee that as I enjoy waking up in the morning and being blessed to be in a position to call NBA games with some of the greatest athletes in the world.
Q. What’s it like to be back in the Windy City after ten years away?
A. It’s a wonderful, world class city—by far the best sports city in America. The passion that fans have in Chicago for all sports is unprecedented. It’s great being back.
Q. If you think back over your years of calling Chicago games, what are your best memories from on the court?
A. The first time I was in Chicago after 15 years, before I moved to call the University of Michigan games, and then the Toronto Raptors’. I was the public address announcer for the Bulls, originally But the Bulls before Michael Jordan arrived when they struggled on the floor and struggled to sell tickets.
Then all of a sudden Michael Jordan gets drafted and you know the rest of the story there! He is the greatest player that ever put on a pair of basketball shoes. Just being around that environment, day after day, was incredible.
Q. Speaking of Michael Jordan, his induction speech caused a lot of controversy. What are your thoughts on that speech?
A. I understood what people were saying, but that was his moment. He elected to do it and I can’t speak for him. Every player, coach, and contributor who goes into the Hall of Fame; that’s his moment and so for me to second guess, criticise, or ascertain why he did it, or the direction he went, would probably be foolish on my part.
Q. During your time in Toronto calling Raptors’ games, you became a Canadian citizen. This obviously shows how much you love the place, but what do you miss most about the city?
A. The mosaic atmosphere and the multi-cultural dimension of the city. The people are great. It’s an unbelievable place—we spent ten years there and loved it. As you say, I became a Canadian citizen and I thought I’d spend the rest of my life there, but things come up that you don’t foresee and we moved on.
The Raptors’ organisation is first class, but we’re in Chicago now and making the most of it. The Bulls are very similar to the Raptors from the standpoint of great ownership. The men and women who work behind the scenes are all top-class so I’m very thrilled to have been involved with two organisations that do it the right way.
Q. You were back in Toronto recently to call a game and the organisation took the opportunity to honour you. What was going through your mind?
A. It was very humbling. The organisation was extremely supportive while I was there and I can’t begin to thank them for their kindness and their appreciation of what I tried to do on a daily basis. I was moved.
While in a sense I’m very excited about the future and thrilled about the past, I live in the moment and for that moment in Toronto, it was certainly one of my highlights.
Q. I recently read in your blog that you miss the fact there’s no basketball anymore in Seattle or Vancouver. Looking at the Seattle situation in particular, and the circumstances surrounding their departure to Oklahoma, what are your thoughts on how it happened?
A. Well, I’m disturbed, to be honest with you, because I think the Vancouver situation was poorly handled by ownership and I wish the league had been a little more patient. I understand that it’s a business, but I think Vancouver is an outstanding city.
I know the dollars are different between the United States and Canada, and it fluctuates from time to time, but it’s unfortunate Vancouver’s no longer in the league.
The same with Seattle. That whole thing was a mess. I realise you can’t just get $600-$700 million and ask for a loan from the state or the city. I don’t know exactly what happened or how much was willing to be given up by the owner for a new arena in the Pacific Northwest for the Sonics, but to not have Vancouver and Seattle in the league is, I think, a travesty.
Q. The Chicago Bulls came over to England during the summer to play a preseason game against the Utah Jazz. How did you find the experience?
A. We had a tremendous time in London. The people were outstanding. The co-operation we received, the group, everything was first class and the people in England are the best. I wish them nothing but good health and success.
I hope to get back there very soon. I love London and I want to go beyond the city core and experience other parts of England that I’ve never been to before, so hopefully I’ll get to do that soon.
Q. Our time’s nearly up so just one last question. You’re well known for your catch phrase, “Bring out the salami and cheese.” What was the inspiration behind it?
A. That’s the one that ended ball games when the Raptors won. About five or six years ago now, I got a handwritten letter from a guy who watches the Raptors games with his wife.
He said, “You know, Chuck, I get so excited, I can’t move away from the TV set. I’m starving and I want to go in the refrigerator to make a sandwich, but I can’t because I don’t want to miss a play. So when you think the Raptors have won a game and it’s sealed, can you just let me know so I can go on my merry way and make a sandwich. Oh, by the way, I like salami and cheese.”
So the next game, the Raptors are up by 8-10 points with 30 seconds to go. I feel pretty confident they’re going to win the game so I say, “Get out the salami and cheese mama, because this game is over!’ The fans kind of bought into it and one thing led to the next.
Q. Chuck, thanks for your time.
A. My pleasure.
By Mark “The Hard Hitter” Ritter…
On September 10, 2009, I had the pleasure of meeting with Washington Capitals franchise player and perennial NHL all-star Alexander Ovechkin at Pro Hockey Life in the Vaughan Mills shopping center.
Ovechkin was at Pro Hockey Life to endorse his hockey equipment and, more importantly, play a little ball hockey with a lucky group of kids. More on that later.
Originally promised an exclusive 10 minute interview, I was saddened to find out that, due to traffic delays and Ovechkin’s cellphone malfunction, that I would no longer get my exclusive and, instead, I would be forced to join the ever growing number of media members in what could only be called a ‘scrum’.
Well, as they say, something is better than nothing. So, joined by T.O. Sports own “Captain”, I slid my way backstage, made my way to the front of the media pack and, with the help of the Captain, we managed to get a few questions directed at Ovie.
T.O. Sports: Ovie, we have some kids out there that have a few questions for you. First, why do you wear the number eight?
Ovie: My Mother played professional basketball and her number was eight, so that’s why. ***(Side note: Her name is ‘Tatyana’ and She won two gold medals as a member of the Soviet Woman’s Basketball Team, 1976 in Montreal and 1980 in Moscow)
T.O. Sports: How often did you practice when you were ten?
Ovie: Oh, ya, I practice a lot, I used to be on the ice all the time. ***(Side note: Ovechkin enrolled in hockey school at the age of eight).
T.O. Sports: Do You like Fishing?
Ovie: Not yet.
Ok, enough with the kids questions, now it was time for me and a few other media members to ask some hockey questions…..
T.O. Sports: If you could win one thing this year, which one would it be, the Stanley Cup or an Olympic Gold Medal?
Ovie: First it’s going to be the Olympic tournament, and after the Stanley Cup, both of them.
T.O. Sports: I like your optimism Alex… After game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals you lined up to shake the Pittsburgh Penguins hands, what did you say to Sidney Crosby?
Ovie: I told him to win the Stanley Cup.
T.O. Sports: I read that you were going to play in the Olympics in 2014, do you expect other NHL players to follow you?
Ovie: No, not really.
Interviewer X: I know you got to drive a Zamboni to promote the video game NHL 2K10, for which you are on the cover, how fast did you go?
Ovie: Not too fast, it was on the street in New York
Interviewer X: What was more fun, driving the Zamboni or the golf cart where you almost hit your head on the door that came down?
Ovie: Oh, driving the golf cart was way more fun, way more fun (Laughs).
Interviewer X: Besides Hockey, are there any other sports you enjoy?
Ovie: Auto sports, I like Nascar
Interviewer X: With the Olympics coming to your Country, are you going to stick around to play in them?
Ovie: Yeah, that’s for sure, I’m very excited.
Interviewer X: can you tell me what you’ve done in the last 24 hours?
Ovie: Well, actually, I was in New York for the last two days and I’m here on business for today. I want to get it out of the way before training camp.
And, just as quickly as the interview started, Ovechkin was whisked away to go and play some ball hockey with some lucky kids. There wasn’t much time, clearly we all had many more questions, next time, right?
On my way to the make shift outdoor rink, my girlfriend (Lesley) and I encountered Ovechkin’s Limo driver, who looked like he could have been the head of security. He was inclined to make a few comments, including the fact that the reason for Ovechkin being late was that his Blackberry battery died. So, in a logjam of traffic, Ovechkin got out of the limo and rushed into a downtown Toronto store to get a new battery.
I must say, Ovechkin was a very soft-spoken man, which kinda threw me off-guard. On the ice Ovechkin is full of energy and life, this evening he seemed a little distracted, perhaps tired from the two days prior he spent in New York. Still, he showed up for the kids, which is, after all, the important part.
Once we got to the outdoor rink the fans erupted at the first site of Ovechkin. Kids from all over had entered a contest to win an opportunity to play alongside/against Ovechkin, clearly this day was going to be a dream come true for some lucky kids.
Ovechkin, who was dressed in flip-flops, threw on some shoes, dawned a black, red and white jersey and awaited word of which teams he would face. The announcer Yelled out the first team, the “Toronto Royals” were winners!
The Royals were decked out in royal blue jersey’s that emulated those of the Toronto Maple Leafs, complete with name patches and all, they were a thing of beauty!
Another team that had their names called were the ‘AA’ “Caledon Hawks”. I had the pleasure of talking to “Louis Gordon”, who insisted I call the team something unrepeatable…sorry Louis, I am sticking to the Hawks! If you are reading this, what was the final score? Did Ovechkin get any goals on your goalie?
Two other teams were called out and within minutes they commenced what was going to be an hour of road hockey with one of the NHL best players.
You could hear the thrill in everyone’s voice. The winners yelled out cheers of elation, ‘high-fives’ were everywhere and screams of “Dad, where’s my hockey bag, I can’t find my stick” echoed throughout the parking lot.
The first two teams entered the rink and, after a few introductions to the crowd, the bright orange colored ball was dropped and the game was on!
Ovechkin, who had been coming off as a little smug, now had a big smile on his face, missing teeth and all! Even though he was playing road hockey with a bunch of kids, one could sense that Ovie was in his element and ready to give back to the kids who so envied him.
Ovechkin gathered up a quick outlet pass from one of the kids, he placed the little orange ball squarely on his stick and, with everyone in attendance in awe, he took a quick snap-shot that went flying past the goaltenders stick side and into the adjacent parking lot. One of the fans, who spoke Russian, yelled out something. I asked him what it meant, he replied, “You missed”…See, even Ovechkin misses sometimes!
As I watched the kids, their families and coaches look on, I realized, this wasn’t as much about Ovechkin’s clothing line or the interviews, this was about the kids. It was pretty special to be there, a once in a lifetime occurrence.
In the end, Ovechkin had accomplished what he had travelled to the City of Vaughan for, he had made a dream come true for some lucky kids and, in the process, he made a few new friends and a bunch of new Ovechkin fans.
It’s not often we get to see a professional athlete up close and in person. There are few opportunities in life where we get to meet our hero’s, shake their hand and exchange “Hello’s”. I am glad I had the opportunity to meet Ovechkin, more importantly, I was thrilled to watch those kids faces light up, I will never forget either moment.
Special thanks to the players of the ‘AA’ Caledon Hawks. Louis, William, Arlen, Jake, Colin and Coach Tony. Thanks for letting me experience your excitement for Ovechkin. Good luck to you and your team this season.
Also, a big thanks to Alexander Ovechkin- good luck on your way to the Cup…and to ‘Carolyn’ and ‘Cam’- thanks for arranging the interview!
Until next time,
by J.A. Allen… The top-seeded women continue to fall while the top-seeded men rise to the occasion. Will Ferrell is in attendance…
Results: Day Session—Women
(1) Flavia Pennetta 6-1, 6-1
Seeded No. 10, the hot, hot lady from Italy cooled off the Canadian Aleksandra Wozniack, 6-1, 6-1. The Italian Pennetta is making quite a name for herself this summer! Her results have been very impressive.
Pennetta next meets Russian Vera Zvonareva in the fourth round.
(2) Daniela Hantuchova 6-2, 6-2
One of the mighty U.S. faded on day five. Alas, Vania King could not make it two in a row. She had taken out Australian Samantha Stosur, seeded 15th, in the first round, but the American could not withstand the power of Daniela Hantuchova.
The Slovakian, seeded No. 22, is a long, thin and graceful player. Hantuchova will face No. 2 seed Serena Williams in the next round.
(3) Serena Williams 6-3, 7-5
Second seed Serena Williams faced Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez, taking the first set at 6-3. It appeared to be business as usual. In the second set, however, the Spaniard broke the American twice, serving to go up, 3-1.
Serena did not take this lightly and broke back. The American found herself in a position to level the second set at 3-3 if she could hold onto her serve. She did just that. Martinez-Sanchez held on to go up, 4-3.
The serve-and-volleyer proved to be a major hurdle for Williams. They battled, staying on serve with Martinez-Sanchez going up 5-4 in set No. 2. Serena then leveled the set at 5-5.
At deuce No. 8 in game 11, Martinez-Sanchez double-faulted, losing her serve. Serena served for the match at 6-5. She won the set at 7-5 and moved on to the next round, where she faces Hantuchova.
(4) Francesca Schiavone 4-6, 6-2, 6-2
Victoria Azarenka had a break of serve against Francesca Schiavone in the opener. That was enough to allow her to secure that first set, 6-4.
Azarenka continued the pressure by breaking Schiavone in the first game of set two. But the Italian broke right back to level it at 1-1. They seesawed back and forth. Schiavone finally broke and held the break to go up 4-2, eventually taking the second set with another break at 6-2.
Schiavone broke Azarenka’s serve immediately in the third set. The Italian played a very smart match against the No. 8 seed, with the lady from Belarus growing increasingly agitated.
Azarenka lost the third set in a stunning upset with Schiavone taking the match, causing the No. 8 seed to throw her racket down in total disgust. The crowd booed her—but the feisty Azarenka hates to lose! Another upset of the women’s top-seeded players. Schiavone will next face Na Li of China.
(5) Vera Zvonareva 6-2, 6-4
The two Russians met on unlucky court No. 13. But it did prove to be a lucky day for Vera Zvonareva seeded number seven who faced Elena Vesnina and ripped through the first set 6-2.
The second set was a bit more of a struggle but Zvonereva held on to win the match, 6-2, 6-4. Zvonereva will meet the rejuvenated Italian Flavia Pennetta in the fourth round.
(6) Na Li 6-4, 6-2
The Chinese Li, seeded No. 18, met Russian Maria Kirilenko in the third round. Li took the first set, 6-4, and then took the second set, 6-2. It was all over quickly. Li will next face the Italian Schiavone, who upset Azarenka earlier on the day.
Results: Night Session—Women
(7) Kim Clijsters 6-0, 6-2
Clijsters ran through her opponent fellow Belgian Kirsten Flipkens. She will next face Venus Williams in the fourth round.
(8) Venus Williams 6-2, 7-5
Williams seeded No. 3 met and defeated Magdalena Rybarikova in straight sets. Even with her heavily taped upper thigh, Venus won convincingly and will next face Kim Clijsters in the fourth round.
Results: Day Session—Men
(1) Marin Cilic 4-6, 2-6, 6-0, 6-3, 6-0
Meanwhile U.S. interloper Jesse Levine made life miserable for the leaner looking Marin Cilic, the No. 16 seed, going up two sets to love at 6-4, 6-2. Then reality set in and Cilic ran away with set No. 3—taking it at love.
Levine fought hard but Cilic took the fourth set, 6-3. They moved on to a fifth set. Unfortunately for the American, his day was done after the first two sets. Cilic won the fifth set, 6-0, and the American was on his way home—wondering what happened! Cilic next faces Denis Istomin.
(2) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-5, 6-3, 6-4
Tsonga, seeded seventh, had a relatively easy time dispatching Jarkko Nieminen, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4. Nieminen was just returning after surgery on his wrist. What was interesting were Jimmy Connors’ comments regarding the multi-talented Tsonga.
Connors remarked that sometimes you can have too much talent.
When you have too much talent, you do not work as hard because the mechanics come too easily. When you do not work at tennis every day, you are not fit—not mentally or physically as fit as those guys who dedicate themselves to their art.
Such truth coming so early in the day from Jimbo! You see it reflected in Tsonga—who is often hurt, as is another French wild man—Gael Monfils. Talent, it seems, is not all it takes to make it to the top. Nobody ever made more of his talent than Jimbo! Tsonga meets fellow Frenchman Julien Benneteau.
(3) Juan Martin del Potro 7-6, 6-3, 6-3
Del Potro, seeded sixth, started off slowly, suffering a break of serve; the Argentine quickly found his way back into the match with Jurgen Melzer, though, as his serve sizzled.
Melzer contended, but del Potro took the first set, 7-6, after seizing the tie-break. With a break of serve in the second set, Juan del Potro took it, 6-3. In the third set, Melzer fought hard but lost his serve and eventually the set, at 6-3. The match went to del Potro, who next faces Daniel Koellerer.
(4) Juan Carlos Ferrero 1-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4
Ferrero (24) lost the first two sets of his match, but came back to win the third set, 6-4, against Philipp Petzschner of Germany. Ferrero also took the fourth set, 6-2.
The fifth was a real contest—unlike the the Cilic vs. Levine final set. Ferrero fought back from being down a break to even the fifth at 4-4. Then he broke Petzschner to go up 5-4, serving for the set—which he did successfully.
Like Cilic, Ferrero came back to win the last three sets, taking the match in five. Ferrero will meet Gilles Simon in the next round.
(5) Julian Benneteau 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, 6-0
Benneteau won the first set, 6-1, then lost the second set to Victor Troicki (30), 3-6; the Frenchman came back and won the third set, again at 6-1, finally closing it out at 6-0 to win in four sets.
So far on day five, two Frenchmen have moved on. Benneteau must face fellow Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the third round.
(6) Tomas Berdych 6-3, 6-7, 7-6, 6-2
No. 17 Berdych faced Horatio Zeballos in a second-round contest. Berdych took the first set, 6-3. It looked to be a easy day for the Czech. Looks, however, can be deceiving.
The second set went to a tie-break which the Czech lost. In the third the players remained dead even—with Berdych finally taking the set in another tie-break. Berdych was up two sets to one as they headed for the fourth set.
Berdych broke the Argentine’s serve a couple of times to go up 4-1. He finally captured the final set 6-2. He will next face Fernando Gonzalez.
(7) Denis Istomin 2-6, 6-4, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6
Istomin played a hotly contested match with Nicolas Lapentti that went the distance—five sets with a final tie-break in the fifth to determine the winner. Istomin held on to win this marathon match and he will meet Marin Cilic in the next round.
(8) Gilles Simon 6-3, 6-2, 6-4
Another Frenchman, Gilles Simon, appearing on Court 11 seeded No. 9, faced Brazilian Thomas Bellucci. Simon is not enjoying quite the splash he did last summer. He broke Bellucci to go up 2-0 in the opening set, eventually going up 3-0.
But Bellucci broke back and evened things up. Simon regained momentum and took the first set, 6-3. Soon after, Simon won the second set, 6-2. In the third set, Simon and Bellucci stayed on serve and were even at 3-3.
Eventually the baby-faced Frenchman won the match, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4. He will face Juan Carlos Ferrero in the third round.
(9) Nicolas Almagro 6-7, 6-2, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4
American Robby Ginepri met Nicolas Almagro (32) on Louis Armstrong in a second round contest. They stayed on serve through the first set—with Ginepri taking the tie-break to go up 7-6. Almagro fought back and took the second set 6-2.
In a tightly fought contest, Almagro took the third set, 6-3, with Ginepri coming back to win the fourth, 6-4. This match went to a fifth set with the crowd backing the American.
Eventually, Almagro hung on to win in the fifth, 6-4. He next faces Rafael Nadal in the third round.
(10) Daniel Koellerer 3-6, 6-2, 6-1, 6-4
Koellerer met and defeated Pablo Cuevas in the second round to set up a meeting with Juan Martin del Potro in the next round.
(11) Andy Murray 6-2, 3-6, 6-0, 6-2
Much as expected, Andy Murray was not severely challenged by Paul Capdeville, running away with the first set, 6-2. But Capdeville came back and broke Murray in the second set to go up 4-1. In a surprising result, Capdeville took the second set 6-3.
The No. 2 seed seemed to take a respite from the match in the second set and camped out behind the baseline. After returning to the game, Murray raced through the third set, 6-0, and then took the fourth and final set, 6-2. He will next meet Cilic in the third round. It gets interesting from this point forward as the seeds begin to meet.
(12) Fernando Gonzalez 6-4, 6-7, 6-3, 6-4
Gonzalez met another of the legion of talented Frenchmen Josselin Ouanna. The Chilean seeded No. 11 took the first set 6-4.
The second set played even with the Frenchman taking it in a tie-break. But Gonzalez bounced back and won the next two sets. Gonzalez will next meet Tomas Berdych.
(13) Gael Monfils 6-3, 7-5, 6-3
Meanwhile, another Frenchman, 13th-seeded Gael Monfils, faced Andreas Beck from Germany taking the first set 6-3. Monfils broke the German’s serve early in the second set, going up 3-1.
Eventually Monfils won in straight sets. He will look forward to playing Jose Acasuso.
(14) Taylor Dent 6-4, 5-7, 6-7, 7-5, 7-6
Dent, the American, shot out to a 3-0 lead against Navarro on the Grand Slam Court. But Navarro fought back to level it at 3-3. After another break of serve, Dent took the first set. Then it settled into a battle royale!
It was a thrilling match for the American to win with the crowd in full vocal support. Dent’s next opponent is Andy Murray.
(15) Jose Acasuso 6-3, 3-6, 1-6, 6-3, 6-2
David Ferrer, seeded No. 18, met Jose Acasuso in a hard-fought baseline contest that went the distance. After five grueling sets, Acasuso took the fifth set by the throat and reined in the victory.
The Spaniard Ferrer continues to flounder. Acasuso will face the Frenchman Gael Monfils in the third round..
Results: Night Session—Men
(16) Rafael Nadal 6-0, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4
Nadal (3) faced the German Nicholas Kiefer. Nadal took the first set at love. But Kiefer found his game and came back in thrilling fashion taking the second set 6-3.
What started out to be a lop-sided contest quickly grew interesting. It was tight and exciting all the way with single breaks of serve providing the needed leverage in both the third and fourth sets.
Nadal won under the lights with the crowd fully engaged.
by Jeremy Visser… You don’t have to remind Zeke Moreno of the rivalry between the Argos and Ti-Cats. The linebacker spent 2007 and half of last season in Hamilton before being traded to Winnipeg in September and then again to Toronto in February. Moreno led the CFL in defensive tackles each of the past two seasons, recording 114 in 2007 and 97 in 2008. This season, the 30-year-old leads the Argos with 38 tackles and shares the team-lead with two interceptions. I spoke with Moreno about the importance of Toronto’s next two games against Hamilton, beginning Labour Day (September 7) at Ivor Wynne Stadium.
Q: You’ve been on both sides of the Toronto-Hamilton rivalry. Is Monday just another game or is the intensity level higher?
Moreno: There is extra incentive — it’s a big game. For some reason there’s a big rivalry going on between Toronto and Hamilton. I’ve been on both fields and seen it from both perspectives, and ultimately people want to come out and have a good time and cheer for their team. As a player, it’s exciting. It’s one of those things — the Battle of the Lake, you could call it. It’s going to be fun.
Q: Last year you were with Hamilton, but got traded to Winnipeg just after Labour Day. Any hard feelings toward the Tiger-Cats, or is it just part of the business?
Moreno: Any hard feelings were set aside last year. This is a new year. I have no feelings about them — it’s not bringing any extra adrenaline to the game. It’s just fun and exciting facing your old teammates. You face them so long in camp and in practices, and now you’re on the opposite side of the field.
Q: You didn’t spend too much time with Arland Bruce III in Toronto, but what are your thoughts on facing him as a Ti-Cat?
Moreno: He’s a great weapon — he and Prechae Rodriguez pose quite a double-threat. He has made a quick statement, catching a lot of balls and a lot of touchdown passes. It’ll be exciting for him. I was in that situation last year after being traded to Winnipeg, and it’s always fun to play your former teammates. At the same time, we’ll be prepared and do our part to contain him.
Q: The defense has played strong early the past two games but struggled late. What’s the key to closing out games and getting wins?
Moreno: It’s just a matter of staying hungry and not getting too conservative. It’s hard to pinpoint it, but we lost that edge — it just wasn’t there in the fourth quarter. We started playing on our heels, and it wasn’t the same.
Q: It’s still relatively earlier in the season. What does this team have to do to get over the hump and make a playoff push?
Moreno: First, we have to take care of the Hamilton games. Being a back-to-back, I think it’s good. It’s a team we’ve faced (Toronto won the season opener 30-17 at Ivor Wynne Stadium) and we’re confident, but nothing is going to come easy. We’ve been a strong-starting team, but defensively our struggle has been the fourth quarter. Hopefully we can get over that hump and get a couple wins.
Q: Sticking with the rivalry theme, you’re a USC guy and Justin Medlock is out of UCLA. With the NCAA season starting up, is there any friendly trash-talk going on?
Moreno: Well he know’s we’re a better team, so there’s not much. I don’t think the Bruins could give USC much competition, so I don’t think he’s putting much money down. He’s confident they’ll do well this year, but he knows they have no shot against the Trojans. When it comes down to game time though, there might be some friendly
by Andrew Echevarria… Ryan Ellis, drafted by the Nashville Predators at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, had great success at the OHL level with the Windsor Spitfires. Is he ready for the next level? Let’s find out!
Andrew Echevarria: Hey, Ryan. Once again, thanks a lot for agreeing to do the interview. I really appreciate it.
Ryan Ellis: Yeah, it’s no problem at all.
AE: Let’s get started by getting to know you a little better. Tell us about yourself growing up and how you started playing hockey.
RE: I grew up in a small town outside of London, Ontario called Belmont [and] played single B hockey for a while. And once I moved back to Hamilton, which is where I’m originally from, I started playing more competitive hockey: single A, triple A, stuff like that. Finally, I was drafted into the OHL and began playing in Windsor, and now I was just drafted into the NHL.
AE: Did you have a favourite team growing up?
RE: I was always a Leafs fan, I think. My parents and all my grandparents were Leaf fans, so I think it just kinda grew on me, and I watched them every Saturday night…It’s kind of in my blood, I guess
AE: That’s cool. Tell me, Ryan, how did it feel playing alongside other top prospects for the ‘09 draft at the World Juniors? And is there anything you’ll take from this experience and use later in your career?
RE: I think it was just pretty awesome, not just [playing with] the other prospects like Tavares and guys like that, but other people who have already been through the draft like Thomas Hickey. It was really surreal at one point knowing I played with these guys that were drafted before I was, and it was an amazing experience that won’t be forgotten.
AE: Yeah, it must’ve been great.
RE: Yeah, it was pretty awesome.
AE: This question is a little out of date, but you and the Spitfires were amazing last season. What or who would you credit for an amazing regular and postseason?
RE: I think it had a lot to do with the character in our room. We lost a big part of our team last year, and I think we became close, and definitely one of the closest if not the closest team in the CHL as far as team values is going. I think that our coaching staff engraved in our head that team comes first and team mentality is how we play the game. But I think we had the best coach in the CHL for the last two years, [so] that’s been a big part of our success, and I think the players as well;. The players who get drafted are brought in and have been a big part growing as players on and off the ice
AE: Yeah, and it’s definitely shown with you guys winning the Memorial Cup and all. You were also a big part of the team, and without you, they probably wouldn’t have done as well as they did. A lot of people judge you by your height, but do you think you would’ve been a better player and perhaps gotten more points if you were higher? Do you think height makes a big impact on the game?
RE: I don’t think so at all. There’s a lot of players that haven’t put up the numbers I have that are 6′2″, 6′3″, whatever you want to say. I don’t think it’s ever held me back, and don’t think it ever will as far as playing at the next level goes, and I think you’ve got to with [a] what God’s sort of given you thing. I’ve grown up the same way I have the past 18 years, so I can’t change how tall I’m going to be or how strong I’m going to be or anything like that. I don’t think it’s ever been a problem, I don’t think it’s ever going to be a problem, and I’m just looking forward to the future.
AE: Moving along, I’m sure you were very anxious on draft day to know who was going to draft you. Were you surprised that Nashville picked you to be part of the team?
RE: I think yeah, a little bit. I talked to them and had a good interview at the combine, but I think there were a few other teams on my radar that I thought I was going to go to. Once they took me, I couldn’t be happier, though. I think a lot of weight came off my shoulder, and I finally knew what NHL team I was going to be a part of and hope to be a part of one day, and I think all my family and friend were pretty excited when my name was called.
AE: OK, this is a question just out of curiosity. Did the Toronto Maple Leafs contact you at any time?
RE: Yeah, I had an interview with them at the combine, and that was about all the interviewing I did with them. I think they were keen on getting a forward in there, and I think they found a gem with Kadri.
AE: Interesting thought, Ryan. What do you think you can bring to a team like Nashville that hasn’t been very successful in the recent years?
RE: I think they got a lot of talent. Their defence is one of the tops in the league—they have guys like Suter and Shea Weber and Dan Hamhuis, so I think the defense is a pretty solid part. I think they want a more offensive style game and a more up-tempo game, and I think that’s where I come in and that’s where I can fit in with the team. Wether I’m contributing offensively or defensively, I think Nashville’s going to be a heck of a team in the future, even in the next year. They’ve got some great players coming in, and I think there’s a real future for me there
AE: Yeah, there’s definitely a big future for you there, hopefully things go well. Along the lines of yourself as a player, do you think you’re ready to play in the NHL start next season?
RE: I’d like to think so. I’ve done a lot of work in the weight room, and even on the track and what not, so a lot of off ice work this season. I haven’t have had a lot of time, but I think I’d like to think I am ready to play in the NHL next year, but that could be a stretch. We’ll have to see how NHL’s training camp goes, and I think that’s really when I’ll be able to pace myself and see how long or if I am ready or whatnot, and if I’m back in Windsor, I think we have another great team and a great chance of winning something again.
AE: Yeah, definitely. Ryan, you’ve been compared to players like Bobby Orr and Brian Rafalski, how exactly do you see yourself in these comparisons?
RE: I think being compared to Bobby Orr is definitely a stretch, He’s one of the best, if not the best, player ever to play, so I think that’s a bit of a stretch. I think Brian Rafalski’s an unbelievable player [with] great talent. He’s been a big part of the team with Detroit and even in New Jersey, [and] he’s won many cups and he’s done a great job in the NHL and he’s a great player. And he’s making a lot of money, so I think to be compared with someone like that to myself would be a great compliment.
AE: Are there any organizations you hope to be involved with sometime down your career? Also, are there any players you’d like to play alongside in the future?
Ryan: I don’t think there are too many certain teams—I think that playing in the NHL is good enough for me. It doesn’t matter what team I’m playing on or whatnot, but players, for sure. There are guys you can learn from and guys you want to meet. You hear stories about how good of a captain or leader they are, and I think to play with someone like Mark Messier if he was still playing would be an unbelievable experience. But I think playing with guys like Sydney Crosby and people like that, that would be a dream come true too, knowing how good they are and the talent they have and the people they are on and off the ice would be something special.
AE: Have any thoughts of what you’ll do when you’re done playing hockey crossed your mind? Whether it’s from coaching to management?
RE: Not too much. I think I’m just focused on playing the game, and I’m only 18, so hopefully I’ll have a long career and not have to think about that too much, especially right now where I’m focused on making the jump and not what’s going to happen afterwards.
AE: Well Ryan, you’ve clearly learned a lot from when you started playing hockey to where you are now. Do you have any advice for young hockey players out there?
RE: I think just kind of stick with it. I think a lot of people have doubted me and other people over the course of my and their careers, so just kind of stick with it and don’t give up and listen to what other people say. Just kind of believe in your heart, and I think that’s what matters the most, and that’s what you’ve got to believe, and you can never go wrong with that.
You can find out more about Ryan Ellis on Alan Bass’ article Ryan Ellis: NHL Draft Prospect You Won’t Want To Miss
by Jeremy Visser… If there were any questions about the Argos’ running game prior to this season, no one’s asking anymore. Jamal Roberston emerged from training camp as the team’s starting running back, and hasn’t looked back since — through Week 6, he’s third in the CFL in rushing yards (447) and has scored three touchdowns, also good for third in the league. Robertson’s 17 receptions are tops on the Argos, and his 794 combined yards rank fourth in the CFL. I had a chance to talk to Robertson Wednesday afternoon:
Q: What is it like being a running back in a passing-oriented league? Does it ever get frustrating not getting many touches on the ground (Robertson had just six carries in Montreal last Friday), or do you like the opportunity to go out and make plays as a receiver?
Robertson: I’m an all-around running back and I just want to be there for the team wherever they need me. We have a passing offense and when they need you, you need to be able to explode for them.
Q: You came into camp looking to earn a starting spot. Now, six weeks into the season you’re one of the league’s top rushers. What has been the biggest factor in your ability to step up?
Robertson: The biggest difference between this season and last is the playing time. I’m just playing my game, the same way I’ve been playing all my life. Now I’ve just got more of an opportunity to show it.
Q: Coach Andrus has taken a hard line as far as discipline and accountability this season. How does his coaching style suit you as a player?
Robertson: I’m used to it — I’m used to a no tolerance type of situation. It’s a professional league, so you have to do professional things. So far it’s suited me well, and I appreciate the opportunity coach has given me this season.
Q: The big news around the team this week is the promotion of Cody Pickett to starting quarterback. You spent some time in the backfield with him at the helm last season and also played with him in San Francisco (Robertson and Pickett were teammates on the 49ers in 2004). What does he bring to the table as a starter?
Robertson: Cody is going to be a spark for us. He’s a good quarterback. He has a quick release — he can get the ball out of his hands as fast as anyone. He can get out and run if need be. He’s an all-around good quarterback and we’re looking forward to seeing what he can do.
Q: The season is one-third of the way complete and the team is sitting at 2-4. What has to be done to get back on track and make the playoffs?
Robertson: We’ve just got to win games. It doesn’t matter how we get it done, we just need to come out with wins. We have a good group of guys and I think we can get it done.
by Derek Harmsworth… There is likely a point in some kids life growing up in Ontario, where he would skate on his backyard ice rink and drift into a fantasy world. In most of these fantasy worlds, the dimly light home made ice patch gives way to the bright lights of the Air Canada Centre. The young kid skates up a small patch of ice, and blasts a slapshot into an old, rusted and vacant net.
But that’s not what they see.
They see the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Finals. They see themselves flying down the wing, getting the puck on their stick, and driving home the winning goal for their beloved Toronto Maple Leafs.
For Jesse Blacker, that dream became his reality about one month ago.
Since being drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the second round of this year’s NHL entry draft, Blacker, a native of Toronto, has had a crazy summer.
When I asked him about the prospects of being able to, at least for a little bit, kick his feet back with a cold beverage and reflect on his accomplishments this past year, Blacker gives a quick laugh.
“It’s been a short summer due to the long run we had with the Memorial Cup and everything, there hasn’t been much time to relax, but my main focus right now is on training and being ready for September, wherever I may be.”
Blacker has spent the bulk of his summer working out in the morning, and skating in the afternoon. He admits he still gets some time to himself during the nights.
It may seem like a supreme sacrifice for an 18 year old, but for Blacker, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s still a surreal feeling for me when I think of being drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs. It’s an unbelievable feeling, and it’s a great honour to play for your hometown, particularly when they have as much class and history as the Leafs do.”
Being a Spitfire has taught Blacker a few things about tradition. A hard working city that expects the same out of it’s hockey team, the 6’1” defenseman even got a chance to play in the famed Windsor “Barn.”
“I didn’t get to play there a lot, only my first year. But I scored my first goal there(laughs.) The fans and the city are great and deserve the best.”
Blacker has worked hard to get where he is today, but admits he wouldn’t be able to do it if it weren’t for all the great coaches he has had along the way. His latest, former NHL Defenseman Bob Boughner.
“The coaches in Windsor have been great, and have been a huge part in my improvement so far in junior hockey.”
Blacker’s confidence in the Windsor coaching staff was reaffirmed this past May, when the Spitfires won the Memorial Cup in Rimouski, Quebec.
“Playing in the Memorial Cup was very important to my development and was also a lot of fun” said Blacker, who reflected on this past year’s playoff run which saw him win Canada’s junior championship. “As a player you want to play against the absolute best. It will only make you better in the long run.”
It wasn’t easy for Blacker and the Spitfires. They stumbled out of the gate, opening the tournament 0-2. Just when it seemed like it was no longer possible, Windsor found a way to once again thrill their fans, and all of Canadian junior hockey. They are the only team to start the tournament 0-2, and go on to win the Memorial Cup.
It was a turnaround that Blacker said came quite naturally.
“You know, at the end of the day, I think we finally realized just what it was we needed to do. We were trying to be too fancy, and we got away from playing our style. Finally as a group we just clicked and got back to playing that physical Spitfires style.”
Blacker also said there was extra added incentive in their quest to bring Windsor the championship.
“We also realized how important it was to the city of Windsor. It hasn’t been the easiest year with the economy.”
All these experiences have come together to make Blacker the player he is today. But just what type of player is that exactly?
“I think I am a two-way defenseman for sure” Blacker started. “I think I am a responsible guy in my own end, but can also be a presence in the offensive zone. I think a lot of that will hopefully translate to how I fit in with the Maple Leafs as well. I like to be a player who makes it hard for opponents to play against.”
Blacker admits that it will be a little goosebump inducing the first time he gets on the ice at the Air Canada Centre.
“Yeah I mean, I remember my first game their as a fan. I think we beat Florida 4-3 in overtime that night. I mean, as a young kid who plays hockey, you’re sitting there thinking to yourself how great it would if you could someday play here as a member of the Maple Leafs.”
For Jesse Blacker, who finished up rookies and prospects camp with the Leafs a few years ago, he knows he has a long road to go. But he also knows he will be given every opportunity to improve his skills and one day become an NHL player with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
And as someone who is self described as an “honest, hard working player who will do anything to help his team win” It’s hard not to pull for a kid like Jesse Blacker.
check out Dereks blog http://leafsnationlive.com/
by Jeremy Visser… (Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski) There’s no questioning the versatility of Argos wide receiver Reggie McNeal. The 25-year-old started at quarterback in college for Texas A&M, was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals at that position and even signed with Toronto as a quarterback last season. When injuries to the Argos’ receiving corps forced him to line up wide in his debut last August, he McNeal responded with six catches and 101 yards. He was Kerry Joseph’s top option in Toronto’s home opener against Saskatchewan last Saturday as well, hauling in five receptions for 114 yards and a touchdown. I had a chance to talk to McNeal Tuesday afternoon after practice:
Q: You’ve always been a versatile player — you were a quarterback in college, the NFL and were signed as one in the CFL. Now you’re a full-time wide receiver. Are you finally starting to find your niche at that position?
McNeal: Yeah, it’s always fun when you can run around and catch passes and score touchdowns. This is a quarterback-receiver league. A lot of stats get put up — touchdowns, yards — from both quarterbacks and receivers. Right now I’m able to focus on catching the football, and it’s a lot of fun.
Q: How much easier is it to prepare for a game knowing what your role is week-to-week?
McNeal: It’s a whole lot easier, because I can just go in and focus on my position and go 100 miles per hour. I don’t have to worry about throwing balls or the perfect placement of a pass. Now I can just go out and read zones and I’m good.
Q: Does it help to have that quarterback mindset as a wide receiver?
McNeal: Oh yeah, all the time. It slows down the game — when defenses start rotating I see it all from the receiver’s spot and I also see exactly what the quarterback’s seeing.
Q: What player did you most look up to growing up?
McNeal: I was a big Warren Moon fan growing up, and a Michael Vick fan when he got to the league. I was still in high school and coming up and college — they were my two favourite quarterbacks.
Q: Do you still have aspirations of playing quarterback, or are you settled as a wide receiver?
McNeal: I’ll be blessed if it happens, but I’m happy playing receiver for now. The team gives me all the opportunity to play, so I can’t be mad at that.
Q: What’s the most memorable moment of your football career?
A: Probably my freshman year at Texas A&M when we beat Oklahoma. They were ranked number one and we were the underdogs, and I came in and led my team to the win.
Q: What do you think this Argos team is capable of doing this season?
McNeal: We can really do something special. We’ve got a lot of talent, from O-Line, D-Line, linebacker — everywhere. You just look at our whole roster from top to bottom — it’s a lot of talent. Everybody is on the same page, everybody is going in the same direction. The sky is the limit.
By Louis “King of Roncesvalles” Pisano…
Kevin Millar has always been one of the guys that has kept his team loose in the locker room, which, during the rollercoaster ride that is MLB is a definite asset with all of the pressures that come with being a professional athlete. I had the chance to sit down and shoot the breeze with this cool Cali cat.
Click on this audio link to hear the interview.
Photo by James “The Lens” Patterson…
Stayed tuned for more interviews from you favourite sports personalities! If you have any questions you’d like us to ask…. well, send them in, that’s right, right now!! We’ll even give you credit for the questions asked… how cool is that? Very!!
By Louis “King of Roncesvalles” Pisano…
You can tell by the look on my face that I am serious when talking about the bright future of this young gun Brett Cecil. His hurried vault into the big leagues has been a bonus for the Blue Jays, though management is unanimous when it comes to not wanting to hurry his development. This guy has all the skills it takes to be in this league for a long time, and with great control over his four pitch arsenal his strike out to walk ratio has been outstanding. He has been thrust onto the scene twice now due to injury and in his first stint up in the majors, aside from a bump in the road while playing in Boston, he’s was outstanding.
He progressed in sports under his father, Duane’s supervision, who, happens have been a U.S. Marine at the time and who got him involved initially in various sports as a youth, along with his older brother. He played Football, Soccer and Baseball, obviously choosing the right sport to stick with. He said of his father “…He’s a very very responsible human being, he’s a tough guy, really real tough guy, you wouldn’t see it on his face but, my sister brings a guy around, it’s like watch out!…You better salute him!” We both were laughing at this.Brett is the first pitcher from the 2007 draft to have made the jump to AAA not to mention the majors. This guy has a great attitude and while sitting with him in the Jays locker room before a game I got to know another side of him, the one that stats don’t tell nor a post game interview.
Brett follows other sports and told me “Definitely hockey’s one of them, I like that kind of sport, its quick moving, not like baseball…” we were both laughing at that comment, he continued saying “ it’s a lot of action going on…” He said he’s a fan of the Washington Caps and that Ovechkin is his favourite player “He’s just a good all around player he’s a good skater, shoots the puck very well, obviously, he passes, he’s very physical, and that’s what makes him better than Sid the kid, Sidney’s got all that stuff but he doesn’t play a very physical game, and he’s kind of a baby.” He was on the money with that, as Ovie just took home the Hart Trophy (League MVP, hockey writers vote) and the Pearson Award (Top player, players vote), along with winning the Rocket Richard Trophy (top goal scorer). As for celebrations in sports he said “Watching others guys do it, I think it’s cool to see, but I’m not a really big celebrator, unless it was a no hit shutout, I’m just going to walk off the field like normal.”
Not a NFL fan but more so college football, sort of, “I went to Maryland but, you know I just did the tailgates, just for the tailgates, not really to go to the football games after.” He said as we both had a good laugh again!
As for his hero’s growing up “In high school it was actually Andy Pettitte and David Wells, I actually tried to pitch like Andy Pettitte, I tried to have his wind up, tried to have everything…yeah those two guys.” Later as a closer he said he tried to emulate Mariano Rivera, I noticed he mentioned lot of Yankees and I dragged it out him that he grew up a Yankee fan and I asked him how it felt now being up in the majors and playing against some of his hero’s, “It was definitely a good time…, but yeah I was brain washed as a kid, I have a picture from when I was six months old, I have a picture of me in a Yankee uniform.”
Well he may have grown up a Yanks fan but this guy gives it all for his team, and I know the Blue Jays team and fans are cheering for him, as am I. He is getting his second stint up with the big club and getting the start Saturday as the team makes its way into Washington to face the struggling Nationals. Good Luck Bro! Go Jays GO!
Photo by James ”The Lens” Patterson
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