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Hiking: Summer's ideal sport for all ages PDF Print
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Tuesday, 29 July 2014 16:26

By Rob Ficiur
Years ago when I was just out of high school hiking was my favorite sport. Every day off from work, I was up earlier than a work day and off to a new hiking site somewhere in the mountains. Now more than 30 years later, these memories are still as fresh in my mind as the mountain air. (I cannot remember what I had for breakfast today, but I remember the smell of fresh air three decades ago.)   Some of those mountain memoirs include:
1. Victoria Day 1980 with several friends we climbed table mountain near beaver mines camp ground.  There was a trail to the top but we chose a steeper hike. When we got to the top the hurricane force wind nearly knocked me over. 
The most memorable part of that mountain climb was what I saw in the was the dust from Mt. St Helen’s that had erupted in Washington State the day before.
2. Victoria Day 1981 – A year later I climbed (tried) the same mountain with four different friends. The paths that were bare and dry in 1980 were snowed covered a year later. Undaunted my four hiking partners thought we could still go up the mountain in waste deep snow.  We were young, we had energy to burn, but still we only got about one third of the way up. 
The rest of that week, my eighteen-year old self learned the value of sunscreen – and the painful consequences that follow the lack of sunscreen. The sun had not seemed that bright during our Victoria Day hike. However, the sun reflected off the snow created the worst sunburn I have ever had in my life. When I took of my glasses I looked like a racoon. Three of my four hiking comrades were equally burned – and we commiserated the next weekend. The fourth hiking partner was an Indian. His darker skin meant he alone did not have the scarred blistered faces the rest of us did four days later.  He did assure us that his skin had felt a little hot the next day.
Hiking is not just for young energetic teenagers. This summer (now over 50 years old ) I felt like I could hike just as easily as I did three decades ago. Saw some great scenes, but found there are still life lessons to learn.
3. Cameron Lake Waterton – There is an easy hike on the west side of Cameron Lake which leads to the border of Alberta, British Columbia and Montana. My wife was my hiking buddy this time. Being the obedient citizen she is, she stopped where the trail ended (and the sign said to stop). I thought it would be neat to get a picture of where those three borders met.s meet. A few steps beyond the trail end I found a path (well sort of a path) which lead around some trees to a new better view of the spot. Wait…just around that tree, around that little hill, beyond that clearing…. I kept moving looking for the ideal spot for the perfect picture. I meant to only be gone for two minutes, but when you are hiking, time has no meaning (unless you are the obedient hiker waiting on the safe side of the You are In Bear Country sign). When I returned I re- learned an oldest and safest hiking rule (and marriage rule), stay with your hiking partner (or at least let them know what you are doing)
4. Bear’s Hump -  Back in my hiking younger years, running up Bear’s Hump was a hop, skip and a jump you could do after a day of hiking. This year, three of my sons (all in their 20’s) suggested we climb Bear’s Hump. How hard could that mini hike be? According to the internet Bear’s Hump rises 240 vertical metres on the one kilometer path. Once I had gone about a hundred metres, I knew something was amiss. Had my children somehow changed the steepness of the Bear’s Hump climb? That seemed unlikely,  as I gasped for breath at the 200 metre mark, I figured out that they had somehow they had taken me off the normal hiking trail on to a 100% vertical route to the top. When they asked if I was okay at the 500-metre mark, it was hard to tell if they were asking out of concern or smirking because I was lying on the ground gasping for air. (I was more worried about breathing than interpreting the look in their eyes). 
Bear’s Hump is supposed to have 18 switchbacks – so at about 750 metres I was sure we were on some new alternate trail because my knee (my ankle, my back and my lungs) all told me that this must be the 180th switchback. I was about to collapse on the side of the steepest mountain in the world and admit defeat, when the peak of Mt. Bear’s Hump came into view.  With a burst of energy I scaled the final 200 metres with the speed and agility of a mountain goat. Mighty Hiker again!
Hiking is one of the greatest sports because we are all winners – and we can tell the story any way we chose to remember it.

 
Can a superstar return home an win a championship? PDF Print
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Thursday, 24 July 2014 15:38

By Rob Ficiur
As I drove to my appointment the sports “experts” on the radio were sure, positively sure, absolutely positively convinced, that Lebron James would re-sign again with Miami Heat. An hour later, when I left the appointment the same experts were astonished, Lebron James had signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The top player in the NBA was moving from the team he had led to four finals and two championships to a small market team…why? Answer was simple: Lebron’s home town of Cleveland has never had an NBA championship.
Has a superstar ever returned to “His” team and won a championship?
1. Lebron James returning to Cleveland in the prime of his career (age 29) is rare in team sports. Superstars are rarely traded until they are on the down-hill side of their career. Wayne Gretzky was a younger than Lebron when he was traded to the LA Kings. The difference is that Gretzky was traded; Lebron was a free agent who chose to sign with another team. In this case Lebron chose to return to his home town of Cleveland where he began his NBA career.
2. Michael Jordan is the only elite athlete that I could think of who came back to his former team and win a championship.  After winning three NBA titles in a row, Jordan retired in 1993. His brief, and unspectacular, baseball career may have been what brought Jordan out of basketball retirement two years later. Michael won three consecutive NBA titles when he returned to the Bulls.
3. Marion Lemieux returned the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup after three years in retirement. Having led the Penguins to two Stanley Cup championships could he lead them to another one? Mario’s return to Penguins lasted parts of five NHL seasons, and the Penguins only made the playoffs once. However, Mario was the Captain of Team Canada as he led Canada to its first gold medal in half a decade. His six points in five games show he was a leader on and off the ice.
4. Roy Halladay, In 2014 the Blue Jays Cy Young Award pitcher, retired as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays after four seasons with Philadelphia. The only problem with Halladay’s return to Toronto was that he signed a one day contract. Officially he retired as a Toronto Blue Jay the team who will always claim him as their own. These types of retirement home comings are the most successful because fans and media ponder how great it would be to have this player back on the team (in his prime).  This year as the Blue Jays suffer through a July losing streak, they could use just a few of those Roy Halladay strong starts… but that is dreaming again.
5. Ryan Smyth – In July 2011, I was in Edmonton the week the Oilers reacquired Ryan Smith. Smyth led the Oilers to within one win of the 2006 Stanley Cup. Late the next year he was traded. After four years away from Edmonton he was coming back to Oil country to provide veteran leadership to the Oilers young stars. Smyth’s return was what one would have logically expected. His first year back he scored a respectable nineteen goals, only two in the lockout year and this past year the former 36 goal scorer netted only ten goals. (Fact: Players in their mid 30’s aren’t as good as they were ten years earlier) Smyth’s leadership did not translate into a single playoff game. Like many others before him, the expectations when coming home exceeded the results.
While players rarely succeed when they come home, can coaches regain the magic the previously had with a team?
6. Billy Martin was the manager of the New York Yankees when they won the 1977 World Series. He was fired and re-hired by the Yankees four different times. None of those returns ended up with any type of championship – in fact most of the returns lasted less than a year before he was fired again.
7. Al Arbour led the New York Islanders to four Stanley Cups from 1980-1983. After Arbour retired in 1986 the Islanders floundered. (Looking at the numbers, after losing the 1984 final to Edmonton the Islanders slipped a notch in Arbour’s last two years as head coach). The Islanders missed the playoffs in three of the six years after Arbour’s return. In 1993 the Islanders got into the semi finals – only three wins away from the chance for another Stanley Cup. But, after winning four in a row, coming close was not what was expected. Al Arbour’s home coming was a failure because of the (unrealistic) high expectations.
8. Jerome Iginla (2017) Three years from now the Calgary Flames on the verge of their best season ever will trade for veteran Jerome Ignila. Iggie will return to Calgary and lead the team to a miraculous 2017 Stanley Cup championship – the one Iggie and the team had thought would never come.

Comebacks are greater in what they could be / might be – even should have been than what they usually become.

 
NHL free agency PDF Print
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Wednesday, 16 July 2014 19:13

NHL Free Agency - Winners and Losers
By Rob Ficiur
If (when) you have ever gorged yourself at a buffet it probably seemed like
a good ideas at the time. The ham looked so good! What could be wrong with
another (few) chicken wings?   have to have another piece of that pie! It
is after we gorge ourselves, our bodies tells us that we had pigged out too
much - and then we pay for overdoing it. 
Every July 1 NHL teams glut themselves at the buffet of free agents. Free
Agent Frenzy is the time when teams sign players to inflated contracts as
quickly as they can before another team takes that player. Like a buffet
gone wrong, free agency leaves teams with contracts they regret and players
they eventually don't want. The last two years, teams have had a chance to
buy their mistakes out without the cost going against the Salary cap. That
will no longer be the case - now teams will have to pay for their mistakes
on the ice and in the salary cap.
For eight hours on Canada Day the Canadian sports channels dissected and
predicted who were the winners and losers for all the free agent signings.
On July 1 every team claims they got the best deal possible - but a few
years later the real winners and the Biggest Losers are obvious.
Winner - The richest deal goes to the St. Louis Blues new center Paul Stasny
who will make $7 million per year for four years. The Blues think they are
only a few players away from a Stanley Cup run. A year from now they might
regret paying elite dollars for a sort of sniper who has only averaged a
point a game once in his eight NHL seasons.
Loser - Minnesota Wild signed winger Thomas Vanek to a three year deal at
$6.5 million per year. Yes, the 30 year old winger had 27 goals last year;
but did the Wild notice that during the playoffs, Vanek's poor play found
him demoted to a fourth line winger? When the obvious is pointed out, teams
still over pay when they ignore the facts. When questioned they reply that
with their team this player will be different. Good luck with that.
Winner -  Florida Panthers - The Panthers signed three former Stanley Cup
winners:  David Boland (Chicago 2010 and 2012) Shawn Thornton (Boston 2011)
and Willie Mitchell (Los Angeles 2012 and 2014). What will it do for a
young team to have three veterans who have played and won in recent Stanley
Cup playoffs?
Winner - Edmonton Oilers have missed the NHL playoffs for eight consecutive
season (the longest current futility streak in the NHL). Moves made this off
season may help the Oilers find out what it is like to participate in
playoff hockey. For a young team with half a dozen young snipers, the
Oilers signed two veteran stay at home defensemen: Nikita Nikitin (age 28
with 206 career NHL games) and Mark Fayne (age 27 with 242 NHL games) may
bring defensive steadiness that the team lacked in past years.
Winner Calgary Flames signed three players on July 1 that will fill the
needs for veteran leadership as a young team develops. Jonas Hiller is the
veteran back up goalie the Flames have not had in over a decade. Mason
Raymond is a veteran 20 goal scorer who can take pressure off young
forwards. Defenseman Deryk Eggelland provides the type of veteran depth
that a team can never have too much of.
Ultimate Winner was a loser during Free Agent Frenzy - Most of the time the
ultimate winner cannot be determined for a year or two. In 2011 the LA
Kings went hard after free agent center Brad Richards, before he chose to go
to the New York Rangers. In 2010 the Kings went hard after Ilya Kovalchuk
until he chose to sign with the New Jersey Devils. In 2012 and 2014 the
Kings defeated the Devils and Rangers for the Stanley Cup.  Since that time,
Kovalchuk left the Devils to play in Russia; (but not before the league
penalized the team for circumventing the salary cap); in June (2014) the
Rangers bought out Brad Richards, because he was not earning the money they
were paying him. Would the Kings have won either Stanley Cup if they had a
high priced sniper who was underachieving? Sometimes the best deals are
really the ones you don't make.
Free Agency twist - Basketball Free agency took a new twist this week.
Cleveland Cavalier fans camped out at the home of Lebron James, hoping their
home town hero would re-sign with the Cavaliers. We will find out if any
elite athlete returned home and bring a championship to his former team.

 
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.

 
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