Wishful thinkers need wake-up call

JOHN SHORT

, Last Updated: 10:43 AM ET

Most of the time, it's good that Oilers general manager Kevin Lowe ignores the open-line opinions of sports fans.

The guys and gals who buy the tickets pay the freight.

They're his employers, in a real sense.

But "fan" is short for "fanatic" and nobody in pro sports can afford to forget it.

With the Oilers on their current hot streak, some enthusiasts in the public are starting to insist - yes, already - that another trip to the Stanley Cup final, probably with a title guaranteed this time, is a sure thing.

Ryan Smyth is productive enough to earn himself a long-term deal for about $5 million a year, isn't he? Shawn Horcoff and Fern Pisani are certain to boost their scoring totals, aren't they? Captain Jason Smith will rescue himself from the minus-10 plus-minus territory he has occupied for most of the season, won't he?

If things were only so simple ...

The only reason the Oilers are close to the top of their division is the fact that Dwayne Roloson is playing like the best goaltender in the entire league at this point. Great play in the nets can cover a multitude of flaws.

Right now, the team isn't tough enough to handle good teams on a regular basis, and the puck doesn't come out of the defensive end fast enough for anybody to start reserving tickets for another visit to the Stanley Cup final.

THANKS, MOM

The Sherwood Park Rams mix sentiment and success in a formula that is impossible to overlook.

This team, the foundation of top high school and junior programs in the province, celebrated its fourth consecutive provincial bantam football championship by making sure every player was recognized and their parents got special attention.

For at least one observer, the highlight came when each player handed his mom a rose to say "thanks" for the sacrifices necessary to fit a minor-sports schedule.

Another key moment: 14-year-old cancer survivor Matt Perry was picked as the team's top defensive back and the trophy was named in his honour. He has a standing invitation to present the trophy at every year-end banquet from now on.

Eskimo safety J.R. LaRose was an inspired choice as the featured speaker. All athletes are role models, whether they like it or not, and this fast-maturing graduate of the junior Huskies is a good one.

PLENTY OF PEP

Former featherweight champ Willie Pep, who died this week, was one of my favourites on old boxing broadcasts from Madison Square Garden. He was almost too clever to be believed.

In a main event against the capable Del Flanagan, Pep once won a round on the card of two judges and a referee without attempting to throw a punch. Much funnier is the tale that a radio station once broke the erroneous story that Pep had died.

"I didn't go to heaven," he said a few days later. "I haven't been out of the house."


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