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Canada's best tennis ever PDF Print
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Friday, 11 July 2014 15:09

By Rob Ficiur
Canadian Tennis experienced three firsts at the Wimbledon Tournament this week. 
For most of my sporting life, tennis has been something ignored by the main
stream media. However, when Canadians began reaching new heights at
Wimbledon, one would think that tennis had become the summer version of
hockey.
1. On Friday Milos Ranoic became the first man to make it to the
semi-finals of a major tournament in over 100 years. The 8th ranked player
in the world lost to fourth ranked Roger Federer in the semi-finals. Four
years ago (July 2010) Ranoic was ranked 278th in Men's singles tennis (and
448th in doubles.) Since then he has steadily risen in the world's
rankings: July 2011 (26th) July 2012 (24th) July 2013 (13th) and now in
July 2014(after his Wimbledon showing) Ranoic will rank 6th in the world.
Along the way Ranoic has won five titles, and now progressed farther than
any Canadian male tennis player in over 100 years. 
How far will Milos Ranoic go? 11 months ago he became emotional when he
found out he had moved up to 10th in world ranking. This week, when he lost
to semi-final, he was not happy with his play in the semi-final. Federer
took advantage of every Ranoic error and Milos had no response. Being
unhappy with a career best performance shows how determined Milos is
determined to take his game to the next level.
2. Canadian Eugenie Bouchard made it to the Women's Final at Wimbledon;
again a Canadian record. Her current 13th place ranking is amazing compared
to where she was four years ago. Her year-end rankings have been:  2011
(302nd); 2012 (144th)and 2013(32nd). The day before the Wimbledon final
she probably saw more reporters than she had in her entire career. While
many were applauding her great performance, Eugenie not happy to simply get
to the final. She said "I am here to win.That is what I expect."
3. In the doubles competition, away from the main media circus, Canada had
one more Wimbledon surprise. Vancouver native Vasek Pospisil and his
American partner, Jack Sock claimed the men's double's championship. This
was the first time the pair had played together - so their rise to the top
was not as predictable as the Bouchard and Ranoic singles showing. Vasek's
doubles title made him the second Canadian to win in that tournament at
Wimbledon. Canada's Daniel Nestor won two Doubles Titles at Wimbledon, in
2009 and 2008. 
Remembering our First Canadian Tennis Star - This week was not the first
week that Canadians played in the Wimbledon semi-finals. Back in 1908,
Bobby Powell made it all the way to the Wimbledon men's semi-finals.  Powell
led Canada's Olympic team in the 1908 games. He was Canada's best tennis
player for nearly a decade. In 1914, when World War I broke out, Bobby
Powell enlisted to serve his country. He died in 1917 in the Battle of Vimy.
Until this week Bobby Powell's tennis legacy was largely forgotten; but
thanks to the internet articles we can remember one of Canada's early sports
heroes, who sacrificed for his country.
What next for Canadian tennis?
1. Fans follow winners - In team and individual sports fans follow winners.
Now that Bouchard and Ranoic have been in the media spot light can they
build on it? If they continue to do well (even if they are not number one)
fans and media will follow them. The excitement that this can bring,
especially when the tournaments are in Canada,(like next month) will build
on itself over time. 
2. Avoid the Florida Panthers syndrome. In 1996 the Florida Panthers set
an NHL record by reaching the Stanley Cup final in only their third year of
existence. They were on the rise and more great things were coming, right?
Since then the Florida Panthers have missed the playoffs twelve of the last
thirteen years;and have not won a series since that 1996 run. If Ranoic
and Bouchard slip back in rankings or fall early in the major tournaments,
two years from now, average fans will not remember them.
3. Success builds future success across the country. Twenty years ago
there were a handful of Canadians in Major League baseball and the NBA. In
1997 when Larry Walker became the first Canadian to win an MVP in baseball,
who would have predicted that two other Canadians would win soon after (Joey
Votto 2010 and Justin Morneau 2006). When Steve Nash became the first
Canadian to win the MVP in 2005 (and again in 2006) no one would have
predicted that Canadians would be drafted first overall two years in a row
Andrew Wiggins (2014) and Anthony Bennett (2013).
Thirty years ago I remember watching dramatic tennis matches between John
McEnroe and Bjorn Borg. Maybe I will find that same drama in tennis in the
(near) future.

 
Sports report card PDF Print
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Thursday, 03 July 2014 19:56

By Rob Ficiur
On the last day of school, children race home to share their marks with their parents (sometimes). If the sporting world got report cards, some would want their parents to see their marks; others would intentionally forget to share their final grade.
A+ Canada – (Alberta) (South East Alberta)  - We live in one of the best places in the world. Yes, we have legitimate concerns about numerous issues – but before we list our valid concerns, do we (I) count the good things we have? If you are in doubt, just watch the news, and see what other place you would like to live.
A – Toronto Blue Jays – At the moment of this writing the Blue Jays (that is the Toronto Blue Jays) have a 1.5 game lead on top of the American League East Division. The last the last time the Jays were in first place this late in the year was in 1993. Yes they are 4-6 in their last ten games – but after the slump they are still in first place. 
Why are the Toronto Blue Jays ten games better than they were a year ago? Their pitching has been steady – and steady wins games. (Blue Jays had the best earned run average for starting pitchers – guess that is not too bad – best in the league). Hitting has been hot; and fielding has improved.  Since the improvement has been a group effort, then it is more likely to be sustainable for the next two months. If so, there will be meaningful baseball in Toronto in September.
B- Calgary Flames – Last season the Calgary Flames finished 26th in the 30 team NHL. Yet, as they entered this week’s entry draft – and the free agent frenzy that follows July 1 – Flames fans and reporters are excited about the team’s future. For the first time in a decade the team has a core of young players that could develop into a solid team. Last season their work ethic made them competitive, even when they lost more games than they won.
C-  Canadian Football League - This week the CFL season got off to a start with a unusual clouds and sunshine hanging over it (at the same time). For the first time since 2006 there is a team playing in Ottawa – we are back to the traditional 9 team CFL. Ottawa and Hamilton will be playing in brand new arenas – a sign that the CFL is on solid financial footing.
The cloud over all this is the recent labor dispute between the league and the player’s association.  The players wanted a higher salary cap – giving them a higher portion of the increased revenue in the league. Eventually a deal was struck, but many players were unhappy with the deal.  Unhappy players in a sports league is not new – but for the CFL to be at a point in history where it is strong enough for a labor battle to occur shows promise for the future.
C - LeBron James – In his four years with the Miami Heat, LeBron James took the team to the finals every year; winning two championships. Within his legal rights, this week LeBron exercised his contractual option to go to free agency. Fans and the media are fickle in how they slant things.  LeBron James can sign with whatever team he wants. He can invite all of his free agent friends to sign with that team as well. He did this four years ago – he can do it again. Fans don’t mind teams collecting the players they want, why can’t players collect their friends on the team they want? 
The problem with LeBron James and Free Agency #2 is that he milked the media the last time. He made the free agent signing a show case about him.  While we all knew his signing was about LeBron – when a player goes out of his way to bring attention to himself – we either like him or hate him.  It is easy to hate the player at the top of the league, no matter what he is doing. 
F – No failing marks this on Canada Day.  Refer to item #1 – imperfect as it is, we live in the best country of the world.

 
2014 World Cup of Soccer PDF Print
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Tuesday, 24 June 2014 16:26

By Rob Ficiur
The day after the NHL awarded the 2014 Stanley Cup, a new sport took over every sports channel and sports cast. Two years before the Rio Summer Olympics, the world is converging on Brazil for the World Cup of Soccer. Organizers expect (hope) the tournament will generate $4 billion in revenue.
The 2014 World Cup is being played in Brazil for the second time in its history. In 2010, Africa held the games for the first time ever.  014 will be the World Cup’s fifth stop in South America: Brazil 1950, Chile 1962, Argentina 1978 and the first World Cup in 1930 was held in Uruguay.
The World Cup tournament has been played every four years since 1930 (with the exception of 1942 and 1946 because of World War 2). Brazil, with five World Cup titles, has won more than any other country. Italy has won four and Germany has three championships, Uruguay and Argentina have two; and Britain , France and defending champion Spain have one each.
Canada is not one of the 32 countries competing in the 2014 championship. Currently Canada is ranked 110th in the soccer world. Four years ago we ranked 62nd. Canada’s only appearance in the World Cup of soccer was in the 1986. At these Mexico City games Canada lost all three games and were outscored 5-0. 
Twenty four of the thirty two teams participated in the 2010 World Cup. New comers to the tournament this year are: Bosnia and Herzegovina (1st ever World Cup). Teams returning from lengthy absence include Colombia (16 years) Russia and Belgium (12 years). Croatia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Iran are back in the World Cup after not qualifying in 2010. 
The 32 teams that qualified for the World Cup of Soccer were divided into eight groups of four.  The four teams each group play a round robin tournament. The two top teams in each group advance to the Round of 16. Once the second round begins, winners go on and the losers go home.
As with any tournament there have been upsets in 2014.  One week into the World Cup, 2010 Champion Spain was eliminated after losing to Chile 2-0. Coming into the 2014 World Cup, Spain had earned its place in the tournament by winning its European division. The Spanish did not look like the team that had been favored to repeat as champions. When they lost their opening game 5-1 to Australia, I was amazed at the poor defense shown by the team (and I know little about soccer).  Even before their third game of round one, the had been a eliminated. It was only the fourth time in tournament history that the defending champion was eliminated in round one.
In less humiliating fashion, Britain’s team has gone home after round one for the first time since 1958. Losing 2-1 games to both Italy and Costa Rica sent the English home with fans asking many hard questions. (To translate this into Canadian language – How would Canadians feel if our Men’s Olympic hockey team was eliminated in the preliminary round? That coach and those players would not be on the national team four years from now).
Predictably controversy follows the World Cup on and off the field. A referee at the center of controversial calls has been suspended for the tournament. Off the field controversy and second guessing goes on. One of the twelve stadiums built for the World Cup is located in a remote area, and the chances of it ever being used again are more remote than the location. 
When Brazil was awarded the 2012 World Cup and the 2014 Summer Olympics, it made sense to construct facilities to be used for two major events. (Unlike Montreal’s Olympic stadium who has not had a major tenant for ten years.) Construction delays, protests, strikes and ballooning budgets that follow the World Cup will continue two more years leading into the Summer Olympics. (Construction delays, cost over runs, over budget stadiums, that sound like every other Olympic game that has happened in the last forty years – this time the World Cup gets to be part of the complaining).
The 2015 Women’s World Cup of Soccer will take place across Canada. The first Women’s World Cup took place in 1991. Like the men, their tournament takes place every four years. Unlike the men, North American teams have had success.
The Americans have won the event twice (1991 and 1999) and finished in the top four every time.  The Canadians finished fourth at the 2003 games. With home ice … sorry home pitch advantage, perhaps Canada can win its first World Cup of Soccer medal; we find out next year.

 
Comeback kings climb trying road PDF Print
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Thursday, 19 June 2014 16:35

By Rob Ficiur
In 2012 the dominating LA Kings won the Stanley Cup by going up 3-0 in every series and then coasting to victory.  No team has ever won the first three games in four consecutive series.  The Kings 2014 run to their second championship in three years was the steepest climb any team has made to win an NHL championship.
1. Comeback Kings - After the Kings lost the first three games of Round 1 to the San Jose Sharks, they became only the fourth team in NHL history to make the Impossible comeback and win the next four. (Neither the 1975 Islanders nor the 2010 Flyers went on to win the Stanley Cup) For the Kings losing streaks continued in the next two rounds; three in a row to Anaheim and two in a row to Chicago.  Losing streaks usually indicate a team has lost momentum, confidence and the will to go on.  Once the Kings fell behind (again and again) they picked up their game and won the series.
2.  Game 7 Road Record – The Kings became the first team ever to win three Game 7’s in one playoff year (and all three were on the road).  Justin Williams, who has averaged just over half a point a game in his NHL career, has seven goals and seven assists in seven career Game Sevens.  (Williams, now the NHL’s career all-time leading scorer in Game 7’s is 7-0 in the deciding games).  Other teams mates have a history of coming through in the deciding games; team mates’ Marian Gaborik and Mike Richards perfect 6-0 record in Game 7’s.
3. Two goal down no problem – In the last two rounds of the playoffs, four of the Kings’ eight wins came in games where they were behind by two goals.  Down 2-0 in Game #2 against Chicago, the Kings looked like a team out of gas, until they scored six consecutive goals to win Game 2 changing the momentum of that series.
The Kings set a comeback record that no one will want to try to beat.  In three consecutive games (Game 7 against Chicago and Games 1 and 2 against the New York Rangers) the Kings were behind by two goals before they came back to tie it and win in overtime.  In those three games the Kings lead for exactly zero minutes (another record).
4.  After this, his third season as Kings’ coach, Daryl Sutter has won ten playoff series and lost one.  His team has played in 64 playoff games in that time; an NHL record.  Prior to Sutter coming to LA, the Kings had not won a playoff round in 19 years.  What does Sutter do?  He implements a system and expects his players to follow it.  Even when the team was down to San Jose, the veterans knew if they played the system they would come back and win.  We know that all players say they can make these Impossible Comebacks, but watching the Kings come back again and again you could see the players kept to the system and it worked.
5.  Defense (at the right time) wins championships.  The Kings playoff goals against average of 2.69 which is good, but not great.  Seven of the sixteen playoff teams had a goals against average of 2.71 or less.  However, the Kings got the defense and goaltending when it mattered most.  In their 26 playoff games they outscored their opponents 30-16 in the third period; and outscored them in overtime 5-2. 
6.  Turn on the Offense – The Kings averaged an NHL leading 3.38 goals in their 26 playoff games.  During the regular season (when goals are easier to come by) the Kings averaged 2.42 goals per game – 25th in the 30 team NHL.  The Kings averaged one goal more per game in the playoffs playing against elite teams. Marian Gaborik led the playoffs with 14 goals (including three game tying and one over time marker).  He had 11 goals in the regular season (tying him for 215th  in NHL goal scoring race).  Gaborik joins Colorado’s Claude Lemieux (1997) as the only players to score more goals in the Playoffs than regular season (minimum ten goals)
7.  Edge of your seat action until the end – During Game #5’s double overtime hockey we saw sports as good as it gets.  Unbelievable saves at each end; goal posts here; great shots there; so much end to end action I got tired out watching.  You knew it had to end - my nerves hoped it would end soon – but keep the game going.
The 93 playoff games is the most ever in NHL history.  Comebacks were so common that two goal leads and two game leads meant nothing.  The upsets and the action were top notch in every round.  Hockey fans need a few months to rest their nerves (and probably catch up on the neglected household tasks). 
Only three months until training camp starts for 2014-2015 NHL season.

 
D-Day 70 years ago PDF Print
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Tuesday, 10 June 2014 20:03

By Rob Ficiur
June 6, 1944 – 70 years ago - over 150,000 Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy, France. Their goal was to take back Europe that Hitler had conquered over the past five years.  Volumes have been written on the subject. But I want to mention some basic facts that can help us (me) appreciate the true heroes that gave their lives seven decades ago.
By 1942 Hitler’s Nazi’s had taken over all over Europe. Their surprise attack into the Soviet Union put them only kilometers from Moscow and Leningrad. Much of Northern Africa was in Nazi control. Only Britain appeared to be the only country that could stop a complete Nazi take over. History shows that Hitler’s early success became his down fall.  With his troops spread too thin, he was vulnerable to attack on several fronts.
Two years later, June 1944, the tide of war had turned against the unstoppable Nazi’s. Prior to D-Day, Allied troops had taken back Northern Africa. The southern half of Italy had been taken by Allied troops. The Soviets were also pushing the Germans back. D-Day was the final push to recapture France and eventually all of Europe.
-Thirty-two years ago my landlord Nick Wilson told me about his experience as a young solider on D-Day. (Maybe that is why this day became memorable to me). Before dawn the soldiers were sent to the beach on small landing barges. The landing barges were greeted by Nazi gun fire of all sorts. Nick told me that every solider on the landing barges before him were shot before they reached the beach. Somehow he got on to the beach and to safety. Since then war movies don’t look so heroic to me because I see Nick and feel some of the pain he had in his eyes when he shared his story.
-Though Generals had been planning D-Day for over a year, the invasion did not work out as planned. Prior to the troops landing on shore, bombers were sent over to destroy the German bunkers and pill boxes. Hitler’s goal had been to construct a cement barrier from Norway to Spain. From these bunkers the Nazi’s would fight back any and all Allied invasion attempts. Cloud cover the night before D-Day disrupted the bombing. Instead of destroying Hitler’s bunkers at the top of the beaches, sites a mile or two inland were bombed. When the soldiers arrived, they Nazi’s were waiting for them.
-Once on the beach, Nick and the other soldiers encountered land mines, barbed wire and continued shooting from the Germans on top of the beach.  Those veterans interviewed in the History Channel’s D-Day to Victory series (http://ddaytovictory.ca/) all said the heroes of D-Day were the thousands of men who died on that beach. “We are survivors,” one commented.  Decades later the veterans showed signs of survivor guilt as they shared with the world the ugliness of war.
-Navy Battleships came into to support the struggling soldiers. Even as they nearly ran aground they shot their cannons at the German high positions. Somehow by the end of June 6, the allied troops had taken the 20 miles of beaches were now call Normandy.
-In the days to come Allied troops were greeted as heroes by the French. Their four years of Nazi rule had come to an end because of the bravery and sacrifice of these young men. D-Day to Victory has seven one hour episodes that chronicle the struggle to take Europe back from Hitler.
-Hal Baumgarten is one of the veterans featured on D-Day to Victory. During the D-Day invasion he was shot (and injured) five times. As June 6, 1944 came to an end, Hal’s injuries were too much for him to fight anymore. He was being carried back to England.  He would not see action again.
Hal described how his day of battle changed his life. He said that his D-Day experience taught him that life is short. None of us know how long we have. As his life went on, he would tell his wife and children daily (usually about five times a day) how much he loved them.
Sports fans easily talk about their athletes going to war against another team. Remembering D-Day and the other sacrifices made by our peace keepers puts in perspective what is important and how lucky we are to live where and when we do.
Correction to the veterans on the documentary – You are more than survivors you are heroes.

 
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