Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Making it to the Top

It is the type of story hockey fans love to witness and read about come Stanley Cup playoff time. It features the third-string goalie or player from the minor-leagues, who leap from obscurity and takes their place under the spotlight.

So far in the first round of the 2012 tournament, the man taking centre stage in Washington is goalie Braden Holtby. With Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth on the sidelines, Holtby has come to the rescue in Washington.

Back in the 1949 playoffs, it was Sid Smith's turn to show what he could do. Having spent the bulk of his time with the Pittsburgh Hornets (AHL), Smith was summoned by the Leafs for their Stanley Cup run. And no one could blame the Leafs for making this move. In 68 games on the farm, the Toronto born left-winger, lead the American League in goals with 55 and in points with 112.

Sid Smith took this opportunity and ran with it. In game two of the Cup final against Detroit, Smith completed his hat trick at 17:58 of period two. He scored all three tallies in Toronto's 3 to 1 win in the Olympia. All told, Smith skated in six contests during the '49 playoffs. He scored five goals and pitched in with two helpers.

His performance certainly caught the eye of Hap Day. "I can't ever recall a player coming from the American League to join a team in the Stanley Cup playoffs performing with the brilliance that Sid Smith has shown us," commented Day on the new addition to his roster.

~On and Off the Ice~

A marriage between the Montreal Canadiens and agent Pat Brisson could result in a new birth for the historic franchise. How long after their trip down the altar, would a new bundle of joy descend on the Bell Centre? The prediction by some is that by 2013 they will be in a position to make a grand announcement.

Headlines around the hockey world will herald the new arrival - "The Montreal Canadiens and general manager Pat Brisson welcome their new son, Sidney Crosby!"

The blessed event could take place in 2013, when Crosby becomes an unrestricted free agent. No word yet if Don Cherry, John Tortorella or Mike Milbury will be asked to fill the role of godfather.

I wonder if Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment chairman, Larry Tanenbaum, ever saw the movie "Love Story"? The film, released in 1970, starred Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal. In the script, screenwriter Erich Segal penned this gem, "Love means never having to say your sorry."

In his letter of apology to Leaf faithful, Tanenbaum noted, "We have fallen short of everyone's expectation, and for that we are sorry."

It's okay MLS&E, we still love the Leafs. However, using the "S" word at this point is like the zookeeper standing before the TV cameras and apologizing for leaving the gate to the lions cage open. We don't blame the lions for escaping and roaming the streets just as the bell is ringing to mark the end of the school day. Instead, the zookeeper has to held accountable beyond saying sorry. In both situations (Leafs and the zoo), actions speak louder than words.

For Tanenbaum and company, the movie quote should be changed to "Winning means you never have to say your sorry."

I'm not a big fan of playoff games taking place during the day on weekends. The whole exercise of sitting all day and night in front of the tube doesn't make sense to me. The spice of life is variety, and with so many options (PVR - VHS), steps can be taken not to miss any action.

Clearly, the weekend match-ups are scheduled to accommodate television demands.

For the sports networks in Canada and south of the border, their intention is to space-out as many games as possible on Saturday and Sunday. The double/triple header concept is tailor made for this purpose. They are hoping for a captive audience, who will stick-it-out from start to finish.

 Included in this grouping is the CBC and their Hockey Night in Canada franchise. When a game is being broadcast, not too many properties in their stable can muster-up better numbers than hockey - day or night. As freelance TV columnist, Bill Brioux, wrote on the weekend, HNiC "still means the most to Canadians and brings in the most commercial revenue."

In the U.S. the opposite is true. NBC benefits from not having to disrupt their prime-time agenda. State-side, the sport has regional interest, and making an impact on the national ratings is almost impossible, even with the overnight figures improving so far this playoff.

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