TORONTO - This is a proud, emotional weekend for Cliff Fletcher: Two of his boys are being inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Twice in his career, Fletcher made terrific team-changing trades for Doug Gilmour, one of them leading to a Stanley Cup win in Calgary, the other leading to the most dazzling and emotional Maple Leafs’ excitement of the past 44 years.
Fletcher came to admire Gilmour’s talents in 1986 when Gilmour almost single-handedly carried the St. Louis Blues to a seven-game series win against a much superior Flames team. It wasn’t in any way coincidental that two years later, Fletcher traded Mike Bullard and others for Gilmour and won his only Cup that first year.
It was different with Joe Nieuwendyk, whose career began under more scrutiny than was probably fair. He was a Flames draft choice, a player chosen with the pick that came from Fletcher’s controversial trading of Kent Nilsson. On draft day 1985, when the Leafs selected Wendel Clark with the first pick in the draft, Toronto chose defenceman Ken Spangler with its first choice in the second round.
Five picks later, Nieuwendyk was selected from Cornell, prompting a Calgary Herald headline of “Joe Who?” The Leafs, with a skeleton scouting staff, had basically the same reaction to Nieuwendyk’s selection. They scoured their draft list after the Flames made the selection but couldn’t find Nieuwendyk’s name anywhere. Truth was: They didn’t know who he was. Nieuwendyk, who scored 51 goals in each of his first two NHL seasons, including the Cup year in Calgary, had a marvellous career and is one of the most respected players in hockey history.
As for Spangler, things didn’t work out so well. He never did play an NHL game.
THIS AND THAT
There must be some bittersweet feelings to Mark Howe’s Hall of Fame induction. He finally gets in, with his father there, but with his longtime defence partner, Brad McCrimmon gone. In 1986, Howe was a ridiculous plus-86 with the Philadelphia Flyers while McCrimmon was plus-83. Next best on that team was Rich Sutter at plus-28. To put this in context, the NHL leader last season was Zdeno Chara at plus-33 ... It is really too bad that Pat Burns isn’t part of this Hall of Fame class, even though he has passed away. Burns was Gilmour’s favourite coach and Gilmour was his favourite player ... Applications are being accepted now for the Ron Wilson Journalism School. Courses include: Questions you can and can’t ask parents. Nothing is being offered regarding how to kill penalties but if you want, you can major in snarky ... When the Leafs signed Ed Belfour as a free agent to replace the very popular Curtis Joseph, the move didn’t exactly go over well with fans. But for two years, they were treated to finest goaltending Toronto had seen post Bower and Sawchuk. The only one who predicted Belfour would thrive in Toronto: The Hall of Famer’s former coach, Ken Hitchcock.
HEAR AND THERE
Phil Kessel probably knows this, or maybe not, but no American has ever led the NHL in scoring. As of Saturday afternoon, NHL scoring looked like an international smorgasbord. The top point-getters were an American, two Swedes, an Austrian and a Slovenian ... Kessel also leads the NHL in even-strength points, a statistic I place a lot of value in. Kessel has 18 ESP, way more than the Sedin brothers (10 each), Steven Stamkos (11), Pavel Datsyuk (7), Alex Ovechkin (7) and the impressive Claude Giroux (10) ... The Blue Jays are having a pretty good off-season and they haven’t really done a thing. The Red Sox have lost their manager, their general manager, their closer Jonathan Papelbon and will lose Big Papi, David Ortiz. On a team that was messed up internally last year, losing glue guys like Papelbon and Ortiz benefits the Jays ... Some guys just fit certain uniforms. With Ryan Smyth, it’s being back with the Edmonton Oilers. At 35, Smyth is among the league leaders in goal scoring, and hands up, both of you, who saw that coming? ... Why I love stats: Because they show Dallas goalie Kari Lehtonen with an 11-2 record, a 2.20 goals against average and a .934 save percentage as the best goaltender this season while Roberto Luongo at 6-5-1, 3.14 and .891 as one of the worst.
SCENE AND HEARD
With the passing of Joe Frazier, a thought occurred: Could anybody name the three heavyweights claiming to be world champions today? They are, for those who care, Alexander Povetkin, Wladimir Klitschko and Vitali Klitschko. The only thing that could draw me back to heavyweight boxing: A Klitschko-Klitschko title match. But no quoting the parents ... I hate it when anyone around the CFL refers to Canadian players as non-imports. I hate it even more when it’s a Canadian coach making the reference ... Is Sunday Marcel Bellefeuille’s last game as head coach of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats? A win saves his job. But only a win ... That clock you hear ticking is time running out on good-guy Paul Maurice as coach of the Carolina Hurricanes ... Not saying this because I happen to appear on the station, but sports radio just doesn’t get better than The Dan Patrick Show this past week, with its coverage of the Penn State scandal and Patrick’s calm intelligence ... Some of the politicians who have backed Joe Paterno for the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the highest honours in the United States, have not so quietly withdrawn their support.
AND ANOTHER THING
The Green Bay Packers have won 14 games in a row dating back to last season. None of them have been closer than six points. Aaron Rodgers is playing quarterback about as well as it has ever been played ... The fallout from the Penn State scandal hit television as well. One of the sponsors on the ESPN broadcast of Penn State-Nebraska pulled its advertising, sighting the contract clause they would televising only “reputable universities.” ... The Columbus Blue Jackets are 12 points and seven teams out of a playoff spot. In other words, their season is over ... Did you know the much-talked about college quarterback, Andrew Luck, is the son of Warren Moon’s former backup, Oliver Luck .... And bet you didn’t know that Mark Rypien’s daughter, Angela, is the quarterback for the Seattle Mist of the Lingerie Football League ... Diabetes has done to Kamala what no WWE wrestler could: The almost 400-pounder recently had his foot amputated ... NHL teams are getting touchy about talking to goaltenders. First, the Philly Flyers manage Ilya Bryzgalov’s availabilities and now the Leafs are doing the same with Ben Scrivens ... What kind of odds would Vegas have given against Joffrey Lupul on the NHL all-star ballot? ... Happy birthday to the great Gil Perreault (61), Cedric Minter (53), Pat Hentgen (43), Steve Christie (43) and Vinny Testaverde (48) ... And hey, whatever became of Ken Linseman?
WE KNOW HOW THIS ENDS IN THE LONG RUN
There are basically two certainties to every lockout/strike in pro sports history away from the NFL: 1) The players always win; 2) The owners need a system in place to protect themselves from each other. And they, in the end, can’t control themselves. If you look at the NHL today, some six years after the lockout, what’s been solved? There are more teams in trouble than ever before. Players, for the most part, are being handsomely rewarded, you could argue overpaid, for their services. So other than implement rule changes and streamline league business, what was accomplished? If you can play at all in pro sports, you will be compensated beyond your wildest dreams. Take Jose Calderon for example. The average NBA guard is scheduled to earn $9.7 million this season. How can he or any NBA player vote no to that?
Canuck-skilled football talent never been better
The quality of the Canadian football player has never been better than it is right now. It isn’t just what Israel Idonije is doing with the Chicago Bears and O.J. Atogwe with the Washington Redskins. Defensive lineman Vaughn Martin is emerging as a force with San Diego and recently Jamaal Westerman started at linebacker for the New York Jets. Two of those players came out of the CIS. Add to that Jerome Messam rushing for 1,000 yards in Edmonton and right behind him was Jon Cornish of Calgary: The two becoming the first all-Canadian backfield on a divisional all-star team in CFL history. And with emerging young receivers like Johnny Forzani, Shawn Gore, Akeem Foster and Cory Watson, the talent pool has never been this deep or athletic. Said Wally Buono, a Canadian himself who has been around forever: “The skill position Canadians in the league are better athletes today than the imports were when I played. That’s how far football has come in this country.”
Why didn’t he just stop it?
You walk in to a dressing room and allegedly witness a grown man raping a young boy in the shower — and you do nothing???
How would you react? Would you not attack the adult in question? Would you not scream, grab, punch, pull hair, do everything in your power to protect the child? And if you don’t, how do you live with yourself? The more we learn about what went on with Jerry Sandusky at and around Penn State University, the more I am troubled by the actions of Mike McQueary, the former quarterback, graduate assistant and now assistant coach on leave from Penn State. Institutional silence is one thing: But where was the human, instinctive, emotional reaction here? McQueary is not the perpetrator, but he could have and should have stopped all of this years ago.