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The west best and the east the least: Myth or reality? PDF Print
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Tuesday, 19 August 2014 16:14

By Rob Ficiur
At this moment the last place team (fifth) in the Canadian Football League’s Western Division would be first in the CFL’s East. A month into the NHL’s 2013-2014 season the top eight teams in the NHL were all Western Conference teams. Is the West the Best? Over the last ten years has there been some kind of a shift so that western teams in North American sports dominate? If this is true, why would the East (where majority of people live) be the least of the two? (I will only be looking at the NHL, CFL and NBA because in these sports, the championship final is always between the East champion and the Western champion.)
1. CFL Numbers
Who were the top four teams in the eight team CFL? In the last ten years, the West holds a slight advantage.  Five of the last ten years the top four teams had two West and two Eastern teams. Of the remaining five years, the Western team had three of the top four teams on three occasions and in 2004 three of the top four CFL teams were in the East. (That year did the West lose its Zest?)
The West has won six of the last ten Grey Cup games.
Conclusions? - The West won two more Grey Cups than the East. The West standings were ahead of the East three more times in the last ten years. The numbers seem to show that the West is wining a bit more than the East. Up until this year the East was a bit behind, but not so far out that their teams seemed like a junior league compared to the west.
2. NHL Numbers – In early November 2013, the top eight teams in the NHL were all in the Western Conference.  At the end of the season six of the top ten teams were in the West. What about other years? I have only looked at the last nine years when the NHL has had a salary cap.
In the last nine years, how many of the top ten teams were in each conference? Four years there were five teams from both conferences in the top ten. Only once (in 2006) did the East have more teams in the top ten than the west. The West outdid the East four of the nine Salary Cap years
The West has won seven Stanley Cups and the East has won two.
Conclusions? - Most regular seasons the East and the West had about the same number of teams in the top ten. However, if there was an advantage the western conference teams bettered the east 4-1. When it came to winning championships, the West has dominated the East in the last nine years. The West has been the best in the Salary Cup era.
1. Western teams travel more. In the NHL sixteen of the thirty teams are in the Eastern Time Zone. The other fourteen teams travel many more miles throughout the year. Three of the last nine Stanley Cups have been won by Pacific time zone teams. During a long final series the western teams were used to the grind of cross country travel. (Remember a slight advantage is all it takes to win a overtime game).
2. Have to be great to make the playoffs –Teams in the west know they must reach a certain level (.600 in the NBA) to make the post season.
3. Playing Weaker Teams = Being a weaker team – Many teams play to the level of their opponents. Playing in a weaker conferences might not fine tune the skills the same way as playing against elite teams every game.
On the Other Hand –
Teams don’t necessarily think exclusively in East or West. To claim a championship they have to be better than all the teams around them. Being in a weaker conference might (just might) mean the West has to play through more difficult teams to get to the final. The Eastern team that might have had an easier road to the final could defeat an battle worn Western team in the final.
The numbers don’t show this as a pattern, but we will keep watching sports for another ten (or twenty)  (or forty) years and see how the pattern continues to develop.

Canadian content in the USA PDF Print
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Tuesday, 12 August 2014 19:50

By Rob Ficiur
This summer we spent a couple of weeks visiting family in four different cities across the USA. During these visits, it is interesting the random Canadian content that comes up.
1. Tim Horton’s is a common restaurant near Rochester and Buffalo, New York. This makes some sense. Tim Horton was a defenseman with the Buffalo Sabres at the end of his career. Saw several times where Tim Horton’s was teamed up with a Wendy’s restaurant. However, outside the Buffalo-Rochester area I have not seen a Tim Horton’s anywhere in the USA. Most Americans don’t know what Tim Bits are.
2. Grassy Lake Graduate – Nearly 2500 miles from home, I ran into a former Grassy Lake resident. Tom Redd was the volunteer in charge of helping maintain about 500 men’s costumes at the Hill Cumorah Pageant near Rochester.
3. Canadian Health Care – As we met one of our son’s friends, this 25+ year old’s first response to our Canadian-ness was “Wish I had your health care system.” At home we know that our Canadian health system is not perfect, but there are many who wish they had what we Canadians take for granted.    
4. Canadian Family Connections – At least twice (this trip) as we met friends of our family it was pointed out when people had relatives in Canada. One lady told me (when no one loyal American could hear) that her distant Canadian relatives were Loyalists during the American War of Independence. Loyalists were those who supported the King of England (and thus did not support George Washington). When the war was over, many Loyalists moved to the remaining British Colonies of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Upper Canada (Ontario).
Earlier that week I had watched a TLC television show called “Who do you think you are?” In this show celebrities find out about their family history as researchers take them to the sites their fore bearers had once lived. In this episode an American actor was horrified to find out that his fifth Great Grandfather fought against George Washington in the War of Independence.
It was not like these people’s distant great grandparents were criminals who spent years in prison. They chose the losing side in a government protest that went viral. Two and a half centuries later, Americans interpret this war as a fight for personal freedom and liberty. It could easily be argued that the revolution began as an economic protest against high taxes; in other words a fight for money.
5. Canadian Sports Teams? Thirty years ago when I married into a family of 100% Americans, living in the New York state, it was nearly impossible to find much Canadian sports content in the local rural New York papers. Since the Toronto Blue Jays played in the same division as the New York Yankees they were easy to follow. 
In the age of the internet I thought I could access all the Canadian content I wanted. Not so! Several Canadian sports websites would not allow me to download video clips. The error message said that since I was outside of Canada that video was unavailable. Still found out more Canadian content on the internet than I did thirty years ago.
6. Senior’s Visit - My wife and I visited Mary in a senior’s home. Thirty years ago she was at our wedding. As a wedding present she knitted an afghan blanket with the Canadian Maple Leaf on it. Three decades ago Mary shared with me a moment of Canadian history that no one else, (that means no Canadians as well) has ever shared with me.
Mary’s story went back to 1965. After years of debate and contests, the Maple Leaf was officially approved to be Canada’s flag.  Mary told me several times (all enthusiastically) about the amazing experience it was to watch Canada’s new flag to be unfurled for the first time. (For Your Information on February 15, 1965 the old flag (the Red Ensign) was lowered at the stroke of noon and the new maple leaf flag was raised. The crowd sang "O Canada" followed by "God Save the Queen".
7. Eh? Eh? I have spent more than thirty years trying not to say Eh? infront of Americans. The phrase Eh seems to trigger an automatic giggle out of many south of the border. When other Canadians use Eh in their daily speech, I get to hear about it.  Normally Canadians are passive, but I stood on guard for our country by replying “Eh sounds very sophisticated.”  I am right…eh?

2004 Calgary Flames - 10 years later PDF Print
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Tuesday, 05 August 2014 15:47

By Rob Ficiur
This month, former Calgary Flames defenseman, Robyn Regehr will have his first day to take the Stanley Cup to his home town.  Flames fans still argue that his first chance should have been in 2004 when the Flames overtime goal in Game #6 (that would have won that Stanley Cup) was not noticed by anyone on ice or off ice.
After the Flames lost Game 7 in Tampa Bay, there was a long plane ride back to Calgary. During that flight, players vowed they would be back in the finals next year. Defenseman Rhett Warner, (now a commentator on Sportsnet 960 ) knew then how hard it was to get back to the finals. The 2004 finals loss was the third time Rhett had been to and lost in the final and neither team – Florida 1996 and Buffalo 1999 – has come close to making a playoff run since.
Returning to the NHL final next year after losing has become a nearly impossible task. The 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins and the 1984 Edmonton Oilers are the last two teams to get back to the finals after losing the year before. Since 1970 only two other losing teams have returned the finals and won within two years. The Detroit Red Wings lost the 1995 final and came back to win in 1997; the New Jersey Devils lost the 2001 final and came back to win it all in 2003.
Many teams have gone through long losing streaks after losing in the Stanley Cup finals. The Calgary Flames have not won a playoff series since 2004. Other teams that have not won a playoff series since their Stanley Cup final loss include: Edmonton  Oilers (2006) Vancouver (2011) and Florida Panthers (1996).
The 2005 NHL lockout hurt the Calgary Flames more than any other team. A year of no hockey clicked away time from contracts and lost momentum build in that 2004 playoff run. Ten years later only six of the 2004 Flames were still playing in the NHL last season: Jerome Iginla, Regher, Jordan Leopold, Tony Lydman, Andew Ference and Chuck Kobasew. Interesting to see that four of the Flames starting six defensemen in 2004 are still in the league ten years later. Kobasew spent most of last year in the Pittsburgh penguins minor league system. Matthew Lombardi signed this summer to play for the New York Rangers after playing last year in Europe.
When Robyn Regehr won the 2014 Stanley Cup with the LA Kings, he was only the fourth member of that 2004 team to win a Stanley Cup. Regehr was part of the Kings Miracle Comeback against the San Jose Sharks in round 1. Down three games to zero, the Kings rallied to become the fourth team in NHL history to win a series. In Game 1 of round two Robyn was injured and did not play again in the playoffs. By the Game 2 of the finals he had been cleared to play, but Coach Sutter (same coach Robyn had ten years ago) could not justify changing a winning line up. Kings players said that fans would never know the impact Regehr had in the dressing room…maybe fans did notice when Regehr was the first player to hold the cup after the captain.
(Two key members of the 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning (Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis) were part of the New York Rangers team that lost to Regehr and Coach Sutter in 2014. Did they think about the Cup they stole from Calgary as they watched the Kings celebrate the 2014 Cup?  Tampa GM Jay Feaster spent two years as GM in Calgary and was only harassed about the stolen Stanley Cup a few times. )   
In 2006, former Flames defenseman, Mike Commodore won the Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes.  The Flames used nine defenseman in the 2004 cup run. Commodore played on 12 regular season games, but due to injuries he played 20 of the team’s 26 playoff games. (Side note Flames defenseman Brendan Evans’ only played two NHL games in his career, both during the 2004 playoff run).
In 2011 – former Flames defenseman Andrew Ference won the Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins. Ference has since signed as a free agent with the Edmonton Oilers – and was their captain last year.
The Coach and GM of the 2004 Flames was Daryl Sutter. He coached the Flames one more year  (2006) and then moved upstairs to focus on job as General Manager. Coach Sutter is the only member of the 2004 Flames team to win two Stanley Cups – having won them as coach of the Kings in 2012 and again with Robyn in 2014.
Ten years later the Flames miracle run to the Stanley Cup final seems like yesterday. The team that had not been to the playoffs in seven years came within a goal of winning it all. Underdogs like them will be remembered longer than a championship team (like Tampa Bay) that win one championship and then disappear. Maybe we will remember them more because that goal really was in the net in Game #6 so the Flames were robbed.

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.

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