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Sports predictions for 2014 PDF Print
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Tuesday, 31 December 2013 18:06

By Rob Ficiur
Last week I reported that 38% of my 2013 sports predictions were correct. My 2014 predictions were researched in greater depth than ever before. (Which is a way of saying since I predicted them, most of these won’t happen).
1. World Junior Hockey Championship – In 2013, I predicted the Canadian men would win Gold. Sorry that did not work out. This year the tournament is in Finland, the only country that might be as hockey crazy as Canada. Canada will get a medal, but will go a fourth year in a row without winning gold.
2.  Playoffs in Toronto – There will be playoff games in Toronto this calendar year. At the time I am writing this, the Raptors and the Maple Leafs are both in a playoff spot. However, after a great start the Leafs have a 3-5-2 record in their last ten games. The Raptors are only in a playoff spot because five of the eight playoff spots in the East are held by teams under .500. That will even out in the second half of the season. Blue Jays management assures fans that they will be competitive with the same team that was not competitive in 2013. Only one of Toronto’s four sports teams will make the playoffs this year. The most likely candidate is the Toronto Argonauts, since over half of CFL teams make the post season.
3. The Calgary Flames rebuild will blow up in their face. The team will not make the playoffs; not a hard prediction since they are 11 points out of a playoff spot at the Christmas break. Worse for the Flames is that they are not bad enough to get an elite top 3 draft pick. Franchise players are more often found in the top three draft picks than anywhere else. (Yes, they can come later, but the first three picks are usually a cut above the rest). If the draft were held today the Flames, who are 26th in NHL standings, would probably draft fifth. The Buffalo Sabres are 11 points below the Flames and playing so poorly they may not match the Flames 34 points before season’s end.  The Flames will get a good draft pick, but not an elite pick.
4. Ottawa Red Blacks will have a great inaugural season in the CFL. The league’s new draft rules allowed the Red Blacks to choose a top notch quarterback (Kevin Glenn) and other starters. The team has solid management team and a new stadium. The Red Blacks will finish 7th in the 9 team CFL. Most new franchises are expected to finish dead last, but Winnipeg and Edmonton were so weak in 2013 the Red Blacks looked better than those teams before Ottawa team drafted any players.
2014 Winter Olympic Predictions. In February the world will gather in Sochi Russia for the Olympic Games. The following predictions will let you know how Canada will fare in that competition.
5. Canada won 26 medals (14 gold) in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Over the past four winter Olympics, Canada has won an average of 20.5 medals. The 2010 and 2006 games were the first time Canada won 20 medals in the winter games. While Canada may not match their all-time record of 26; they will get at least 20 medals in Russia.
6. Canada will win not win the gold in women’s hockey. The Canadian women have won the last three Olympic gold medals. In December the Canadian team made a surprising coaching change.  Something internally was not right with the organization. When it comes to the games, when one goal means the difference between gold or not; sadly Canada will not win it this time.
7. Men’s Olympic hockey is the key event for many fans. In 2010 Canada won the Gold Medal at home. That was the first time that a home team won Olympic gold since the 1980 American miracle on ice. Russian hockey fans are hungering for gold. The Russians have not won an Olympic hockey gold medal since 1992; back when NHL players did not come to the games. In the four Olympics since the NHL players have played in the games, Russia has a silver (1998) and a bronze (2006).  This is the games where Ovechkin, Malkin and others want to bring gold to their home land. Sorry, the Russians won’t win gold at home.
Check back in 52 weeks to see how accurate these predictions were.

What sports should Santa bring for Christmas 2013? PDF Print
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Tuesday, 17 December 2013 16:47

By Rob Ficiur
On a Saturday in December, I was in a crowded store looking for something. (I know shopping in December is a dumb idea which we vow we won’t do next year). One lady with a cart full of stuff grumbled to a friend “Can Christmas be over yet!” The present and gift giving part of it can be over as quickly as you (or I) decide we have bought enough.
What would be the ideal gifts for Christmas or any time of the year? Many people ask for world peace, family health or a winning lottery ticket. Sports Santa does not deal with World Peace or Pollution. Sports Santa only fulfills Christmas lists that have to do with the world of sports. Sometimes the gifts are what people need not what they ask for. Here are a few of the 2013 gift that Sports Santa should bring:
1. Concussion proof helmet – In hockey and football is it possible to make a better helmet that would prevent many of the concussions that occur? We know that in these high contact sports, there will be hitting so concussions will never go away. However, why can’t a helmet be designed that would better cushion the head? I have heard some “experts” describe why this can’t be done. 
In 2013 I have a cell phone that takes pictures, scans the internet and once in a while receives phone calls. Ten years ago that was impossible. There must be some way to invent this “impossible” concussion proof helmet.
2. CFL Size Football Stadium for Eastern Canada – In 2014 the CFL will expand to nine teams as Ottawa re-joins the league. A brand new football stadium will help the team become financially viable. For years people have said that there is not a large enough population base in the Maritime provinces to support a CFL team.  That is not the real problem.
The population of Saskatchewan in 2011 was 1,033,381. In 2013 the Saskatchewan Roughriders hosted the Grey Cup, Won the Grey Cup and created more revenue for the CFL than any other team. Yes we know that the people of Saskatchewan have a unique love and devotion to their one team.
The Maritime Provinces of Canada have a population of 1,813,102 almost twice that of Saskatchewan. Newfoundland and Labrador has a population of 514,536. There are only ten home games in the CFL season. With over two million people within driving distance could the Maritime Schooners survive in the salary cap world of the CFL? 
The answer is maybe. Saskatchewan is thriving economically at this time. When they were struggling the Roughriders did not win or create revenue like they did this year. The Maritime Schooners would have to build a loyal fan base from scratch. In time their fans could be as rabid as those to our east. Or the team could be a failure like the Ottawa Renegades who lasted only four season because of mismanagement.
A modern 25,000 seat arena would give the Maritime Schooners a chance to be financially viable. The problem is no one wants to invest $500 million dollars (or more) on a stadium. If Sports Santa could drop one off on his way around the world, the Maritime Schooners would be in the CFL before the snow melts.
3. Star Trek – like drug testing machine. In the forty years I have watched sports, illegal / disallowed drugs have always seemed to be one step ahead of the testers. Forty years ago we only saw evidence of this at the Olympics when people were disqualified. As team sports implemented drug testing (for all kinds of supplements and illegal drugs) drug testing has not stopped the problem. Every player who tests positive, promises before the media that he is innocent and something is wrong with the test. If we had a Star Trek like testing device that was 100% right there would be no argument. Alex Rodriguez, the latest superstar athlete to fight a positive drug test, claims that the baseball commissioner does not like him. A fool-proof drug tester will solve that problem – (except we would still be dealing with the same type of fools).
The Best Gift for all of us would be gratitude. On December 25, and everyday thereafter, if we took the time to write down (or say out loud) one thing we were grateful for that day, we would soon realize how rich we are. Yes, we can and should work toward other goals for our future. However, as daily count one of our many blessings we have, we will realize how richly blessed we are to live in such a wonderful country.

Sports books for Christmas 2013 PDF Print
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Wednesday, 11 December 2013 16:54

By Rob Ficiur
There is nothing a sports fan likes more for Christmas than a good book. (Interesting to note that the online prices are considerably cheaper than the list prices. Could it be that shopping on the internet is the wave of the future?)
1. Bobby Orr; My Story (32.00 list price; available for 19.00 on line).
The cover of this hard cover book is Bobby Orr flying through the air as he scored the overtime winning goal giving the Boston Bruins the 1970 Stanley Cup. Orr’s hockey career ended too soon because of knee injuries. He has largely remained out of the NHL spotlight, why write a biography now? A write up on chapters website has the answer.
“After decades of refusing to speak of his past in articles or "authorized" biographies, he finally tells his story, because he has something to share: "I am a parent and a grandparent and I believe that I have lessons worth passing along." 
2. Gordie Howe’s Son (by Mark Howe) (list price 32.99; available on line for 21.77). When Mark Howe was selected to the Hockey Hall of Fame he beat the odds. There are only four Father-Son combinations in the Hockey Hall of Fame: Gordie and Mark Howe; Bobby and Brett Hull; Lester and Lynn Patrick and Oliver and Earl Siebert. The last two combinations played in a six team NHL with limited media coverage. In spite of the public pressure, Mark Howe became a Hall of Fame defenseman.
The Chapters website gives the reader a sneak peak to the book:  “Did you ever wonder what it would be like to have Gordie Howe as your dad? If you're like thousands of Canadian children who grew up in the 1960s and '70s, you need look no further than Mark Howe's funny, intimate account of being a Howe.”
3. Tales from the Toronto Blue Jays Dugout: A Collection of the Greatest Blue Jays Stories Ever Told (by Jim Prime) (23.95 list price; 17.95 on line).
The cover of this book has a picture of Blue Jays outfielder Joe Carter as he hit the home run that won the Jays the 1993 World Series. That in itself might be enough to get loyal and disappointed Blue Jays fans to buy the book. If the Jays can’t win in the 21st century, we can read the background stories from when they did win it all.
4. Great Expectations: The Lost Toronto Blue Jays Season (list 19.90; online price 14.40) (by John Lott and Shi Davidi)
The 2013 Blue Jays started the season with so much hope and flopped. Why? These two reporters followed the Jays all season long. After reading this, loyal fans might want to buy item #3 to remind them that there were days when the Blue Jays did win.
5. League Of Denial: The Nfl, Concussions And The Battle For Truth by by Mark Fainaru-wada,Steve Fainaru (list price 32.00; online 20.06)
Of all five major team sports in North America, I follow the NFL the least. However, this book interests me because it is not just a football story. How many lives were ruined because concussions were not properly dealt with? We know that down the road there will be an NHL version of this book.
6. The Complete Book of the Winter Olympics: The Vancouver Edition - Winter 2010  (list price 23.95; used copy available for 6.30)
Buyer beware! This looked like the ideal book to have as the 2014 Winter Olympics are only two months away. However, as I read the fine print, I had second thoughts. This book was published in preparation for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. While this book may have a great pre-2010 history of the Winter Olympics, know that what you are getting does not include the Vancouver games.
7. Red Ribbon & Red Ink (9.21 E-book download).
Ten years ago none of us knew what an e-book was. This book may fill in the gap left by item #6. It delves into the finances and results of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.  Publishing date in June 2013, why did they wait three years go put out an Olympic book? Guess you have to read to find out.)
8. Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success by Phil Jackson. Phil Jackson won 11 NBA titles.  Yes he had the best players of his era when he coached, but he got the best out of those players. The winner of 11 championships must have done something right.
No matter how fanatical or how casual the sports fan there is a book out there that can captivate your sports fan, and keep him occupied for hours on Christmas Day gaining new insights into what he thought he knew.

Accidentally on purpose PDF Print
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Tuesday, 03 December 2013 17:25

By Rob Ficiur
There was 8.3 seconds left in the basketball game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets.  Nets coach (and former All-star) Jason Kidd had no time outs left, how could he diagram a play for his team? Kidd called over his point guard, Tyshawn Taylor. As the two met, Taylor accidently-on-purpose knocked the coach’s glass of water out of his hand, spilling liquid all over the basketball court. NBA regulations do not allow players to play on a wet basketball court, so the work crew got out to dry up the mess. Since there was an “unexpected” time out, Kidd’s assistant coach drew up a play for his team to run.
The day after Jason Kidd accidentally-on-purpose spilled water on the court, he was fined $50,000 by the league for delay of game. Video replays of the “accident” show Kidd mouthing “hit me” to Taylor was the coach called him over. It took no lip reading skill to understand the words and the message. In this story, the Nets did not prosper from their delay of game. Yes the team drew up a play to run. However, two Laker players in the Nets huddle easily within ear shot of the coach’s instruction. It wasn’t a time out, so why should the Lakers’ players not listen to the upcoming play?
Human nature seems to be that many of us (not you and me of course) push rules to the limit. People, who are accidentally-on-purpose going 20 kilometers an hour (or more) over the speed limit, slam on their breaks when they see a police car (or one that looks like a police car). Little tip on that, if you see the police car chances are he can see you. If his radar gun is on it is already too late.
In pro-sports there are always accidental-on –purpose things teams can do to shift the rules in their favor. When this happens the league makes new rules. And so on and so on. Here are some examples of accidental-on-purpose rules that have been implemented to try and reduce the cheating.
1. Warming up the back- up goalie. Years ago when an NHL team decided to pull their goalie, the new goalie was given a few warm up shots to sort of get him ready for the game. Since there was not a rule for how long you had to keep the goalie in the game, it became a common practice for NHL teams to leave the new goalie in for only one whistle, then the starting goalie went back in. The warm the goalie trick gave coach’s an unofficial time out. Now goalies get no warm up.
2. Diving (also known as falling accidentally-on-purpose) When I first began watching hockey there were players who gained the reputation of being divers. A rather soft hit from behind would send some players flying all over the ice. How did those players make the NHL if a soft tap like that sent them flying to the ground? In 1992 the NHL added a new rule against diving. The “new” rule is not perfect. Often we see a tripping penalty called on one player while a diving penalty is called on the other. Yes, there was a bit of a penalty, but the second player did not need to exaggerate it. As with anything, when a call is left to the discretion of a human referee there will always be disagreements.
3. Clear puck over the glass. At one time, when a hockey team was under pressure in their own zone, players would accidentally-on-purpose shoot the puck over the boards and out of play.  Unlike the diving penalty the NHL made a new rule cut and dry. If the puck goes out without hitting the glass (or another player or stick) it is automatically a delay of game penalty. Even though the rule is clear, in the 2013 playoffs, teams (and announcers) complained that there were too many clearing the puck penalties. Maybe, but that was because before the rule too many shots went over accidentally-on-purpose.
4. Almost-injuries often occur when the team needs a break. A player (in any sport) can take his time getting off the field (rink) to help give his teammates get a quick break. In football this is discouraged by mandating a player go off for three plays if the trainer comes out.
For every new rule that a league comes up with, players (and coaches) find a way to get around it. While every team and player does their best to win the game, certain players (and teams) develop a reputation for pushing the rules. When split second judgment calls need to be made, the referees will not give the benefit of the doubt to those who have often accidently-on-purpose exaggerated a play. Having been fooled one time too many but an accidentally-on-purpose play, the refs will make the call the other way.  Eventually the calls (and universe) will find a way to repay those accidentally-on-purpose plays.

Tiger Cats vs. Rpoughriders Grey Cup(s) PDF Print
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Tuesday, 26 November 2013 21:17

By Rob Ficiur
The 1972 Tiger Cats were the first home team to win the Grey Cup since the 1952 Toronto Argonauts. Winning the Grey Cup at home is not an easy task. Since there have been eight (sometimes nine) teams in the CFL, the numbers would tell us that every eight years the host city should win the Grey Cup. In the 27 Grey Cups between 1973-2010 only two host teams won the Grey Cup (BC 1994 and Montreal in 1977). During that same 27 year time period five home teams have lost the Grey Cup in front of their disappointed loyal fans.
The first Grey Cup game I watched was the 1972 championship. The Saskatchewan Roughriders lead by Ron Lancaster and George Reed played the home town Hamilton Tiger Cats lead by Chuck Ealey and Tony Gabriel.
The Roughriders of that era were similar to the Calgary Stampeders of our day. Every regular the season the Riders (and now Stampeders) were a dominant team that fell short when the playoffs came. That year of 1972 was no exception. Hamilton pulled ahead ten to zero, thanks in part to a touchdown catch by Dave Fleming.  Replays show that Fleming was out of bounds during the play, but the refs missed it. The Roughriders battled back to tie the game 10-10. 
No Grey Cup game has ever gone into overtime, but this one was close. With the score tied 10-10 and under two minutes to play, Hamilton got the ball at their own ten yard line. Chuck Ealey threw three pass completions to Tony Gabriel which took the Tiger Cats down to the Riders 31 yard line. On the last play of regulation time, Tiger Cats nineteen year old kicker Ian Sunter kicked the winning field goal. 
Hamilton and Saskatchewan are unique cities in the CFL. All the other CFL cities have had NHL teams. Neither of these cities is large enough to support a major sporting franchise; their numbers barely support a CFL franchise.  The Tiger Cats are like perennial under dogs playing in the shadows of big city Toronto. They are traditionally seen as the working class team compared to their provincial cousins. The Regina based team is supported by an entire province of around one million people. If you have ever lived in Saskatchewan it seems like they paint your brain green – because once a person joins Rider nation they are fervent in that support no matter where they live.
The Riders and Tiger Cats have traditionally struggled financially. In the mid to late 1980’s the Roughriders were the weakest financial link in a league struggling to survive. It is amazing that a team that appeared so close to bankruptcy 20 years ago now generates more revenue for the CFL than any other team. The Tiger Cats were also near bankruptcy when Hamilton billionaire Bob Young bought the team. The Tiger Cats probably still lose a million dollars a year, but their billionaire owner is still building for the future. The immediate future will include a brand new Tim Horton’s football stadium set to open in down town Hamilton in 2014. 
The last time the Riders and Tiger Cats met in the Grey Cup was in 1989. I still remember that as one of the most entertaining Grey Cup games ever. (I don’t remember every game – but a few stick out).  With the game tied and less than a minute to go, Saskatchewan quarterback Kent Austin led the Riders 48 yards with three pass completions. With nine seconds left Dave Ridgeway kicked the field goal to give Saskatchewan its first Grey Cup in 23 years. 
The 2013 Grey Cup will be considered a classic only to Rider-Nation. The Roughriders 45-23 win over Hamilton makes the game sound closer than it was. However, the Saskatchewan Roughriders won the team’s fourth Grey Cup, but the first one ever won on home field. Rider fans, who are more numerous now than they were a week ago, don’t care about their rivalry with the Tiger Cats – all they care about is they are the 2013 Grey Cup champions. 
Now the rest of the CFL can be green with envy.

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