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Friday, July 20, 2018

THE BROADCASTING GRIND

Every two or three years I get very reflective and self-absorbed about my freelance career in sports broadcasting.  Those who know me well know my passion for the industry and my zeal in getting to the most elite spot possible, but man it is a grind.   What started as a passion and a hobby turned into something with real goals or desires.  Nothing wrong with that, but the further you get, or attempt to get in the broadcasting industry it takes it toll.  Let me try to further clarify.   

DISCLAIMER #1:  This is not a "poor me" piece designed to elicit sympathy or positive feedback. Though those sentiments are greatly welcomed, I am not fishing for compliments- at least not this time.   Ask my wife about that.  I will do something around the house, and then try to milk it for all it is worth!   This is not my goal.   I write because I find it cathartic, and I really enjoy writing because it helps clarify a lot of things in my mind.   While I hope you enjoy it too, I know I'm not penning the next great novel, nor am I Hemmingway-esque in my prose. 

Firstly, a brief history of why I got into this incredibly competitive, frustrating, rewarding and certainly time consuming line of work.  I always had the broadcasting bug in me. Combine a love of sport, a mediocre level of athletic talent, and a memory for random and useless sports stats, and there you have it.   I never had a chance to pursue anything until university when I was at Western for my first year of undergrad and I gave the single worst audition for a spot on Western's TV channel. The less said about that the better, and thank goodness there was no YouTube back then!  Next year, in 1992,  after a transfer to McMaster I landed at 93.3 CFMU-FM, the campus radio station and never really left until 2007 doing anything and everything I could.  I created shows, hosted shows both sports and non-sports, called play by play for the basketball teams and football teams, made trips to Halifax,  Fredericton, St John's, Thunder Bay for national championships and broadcasts.   It was pretty fulfilling stuff .  Not many get to travel the country to broadcast their favourite teams.  I even parlayed the volunteer work into a couple of paid gigs as I was Sports Director of CFMU for a short time and worked in the athletic department at McMaster for a year.    I was 26 years old, wanted a career in broadcasting but had no idea how to do it.  I made crude demo tapes, tried to reach out to people but not knowing how to network, or to seek out contacts, the dream fizzled and I went to Teachers College after a couple of unfulfilling career choices.  The dream reignited itself as I returned to CFMU to call basketball games and then tried local TV where I tried to call anything , or everything I could.  Minor hockey tournaments?  I'm there.  High school basketball?  I was your man.  Calling games for McMaster and York?   Sign me up!You get the picture.  

Then in 2006 , a great break occurred when I got to fill in for FAN 590 stalwart Roger Lajoie on play by play for a couple of Oshawa Generals game.  That break led to me applying for and getting the regular TV gig for the Niagara IceDogs, a position I hold today and this year will be my 12th year as the TV voice of the Niagara IceDogs.   At the time I got the IceDogs job, I thought the world was my oyster.  I was 35 years old and on TV in a respected and high profile league.  I honestly thought at the time that I would put two or three years in at the OHL level and then jump up to the next level, or get to the NHL.  Funny how you have these great dreams, hopes and aspirations and the world does not step aside to ease your path.    I am now 46 years old calling OHL games, and I am not getting any younger, but the business is every bit as competitive as it was when I started with the OHL , maybe more so with the increase in sports broadcasting specific schools and post -secondary programs and the increased opportunity thanks to technology.   Everyone has the resources to broadcast games, and that leads to increased competition and really more polished broadcasters. 

DISCLAIMER # 2 Many people have told me that I am very fortunate to be doing what I am doing as not many people get to to this and get paid to do that. I've called games for the TSN brand on radio and online, spent two years as the TV play by play voice of the Hamilton Bulldogs when they were with the AHL.  Yep, I was one league away from the NHL.    I am very grateful for what the broadcasting world has offered me , but it does not safeguard me for my desire to reach the very pinnacle of broadcasting.   

A lot has changed personally since I started with the Niagara IceDogs in 2007.    In the past 11 years, I got married to a beautiful woman, have an even more beautiful daughter and have continued a very fulfilling career as a high school teacher. 18 years teaching now with 12 to go before retiring , but who's counting?    Hey! Gotta pay those bills somehow, as freelance broadcasting is decent money, but it does not pay the freight.  As you try to be a good dad and husband, your goals have to calibrated.  No longer am I able to apply for AHL or ECHL play by jobs as that would result in a lot of travel, and a reduced pay cheque.   I am well aware of my "head of the household responsibilities" and would never want to compromise that.  That limits the opportunities for sure, but when the alternate is providing for your wife and daughter and keeping family harmony, I am more than OK with that.   A few years back I likely was the lead candidate to take over the Hamilton Bulldogs radio job when Derek Wills left to take over the Calgary Flames radio gig. However, my daughter was three, and life on the road would not have been conducive to family life,  In the end not going through with the application process was an easy decision to make.    

However, despite being comfortable with decisions that may have had a significant family impact, here is where the grind part kicks in.    My wife is incredibly supportive of my goal of broadcasting at the NHL level, and of any new gigs that come my way.  When I got the job of calling the AHL on TV with the Bulldogs, that added 14 games to a broadcasting season that already had me calling 34 games plus playoffs.  That is a lot evenings away from home on top of a full time job.  When I got the job calling McMaster football for TSN 1150, she arranged her schedule as best as possible.  She has been amazing considering I have made some selfish decisions in broadcasting and called games when I really should have been at home.    If I had one piece of advice to broadcasters, it would be to strike a balance between home life and broadcasting life.  I wish I could impart more on that subject, but I know that I have not already done that, and those decisions have at times taken a personal toll and a toll on my family.   

This is where the grind part comes in and this brings me to the main crux of why I wrote this long meandering piece.  I find myself coming to a bit of a cross roads.  I used to like to think of myself as a young, hot prospect in broadcasting, a guy who was ready to take the sportscasting world by storm, and be a great NHL broadcaster.  Well, a funny thing happened on the way to the NHL.  I'm not a young man, though I do have lots of life left in the broadcast world.    I have applied to a plethora of  places in the NHL with varying levels of application success. The closest I came was when I interviewed for the Calgary Flames radio job back in 2015.   The first choice Rod Pederson was past over due to some personal issues he was going through (I can say that Rod has moved beyond that and is still a quality, quality broadcaster in Saskatchewan). The second choice was Derek Wills , a very good play by play voice with a long tenure at the AHL level.  I have had positive conversations with the Dallas Stars and New York Islanders when their positions come up but ultimately they looked elsewhere.  So far I've applied for play by play gigs in the following NHL cities : Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal, Buffalo, Dallas, Colorado, New York Islanders, Los Angeles Kings, Arizona, Nashville,  Las Vegas and Florida.  12 teams and 12 "thank you but no thank you messages back". In a highly competitive industry, it is not unexpected but it does take its toll. Every year, I also reach out to all 31 NHL teams to see if they have any broadcasting needs. and reach out to TSN , Sportsnet and the CBC to ascertain their broadcasting needs.  The response rate from this place is hit and miss.  Many choose not to respond, as is their right as cold call emails likely are not high on their list of priorities.  Those who respond, are polite, and articulate but the message remains the same.  I try not to repeatedly contact local sports radio stations and my contacts there as I do not want to burn any bridges or cross that fine line from being earnest and enthusiastic to being bothersome or annoying, but at the same time if you're not showcasing yourself, you are in trouble.  You cannot just sit back and hope decision makers recognize your vast talents and that they are dying to reach out to you.  It rarely works out that way.   I also have created, and maintained my own website and that is extremely time consuming as I go through footage, record it, edit it, and upload it onto my website.  I am proud of my self made broadcasting portfolio, but man it takes a long time.   

DISCLAIMER 1 ADDENDUM-  At this point I might be coming across as a whiner, which is neither the goal nor my desire .  I am just trying to convey my own personal reality. Again, not looking for sympathy or compliments here.   

All this meandering stream of consciousness has led me to this. Right now I hold two great broadcasting gigs. One is at TSN 1150 where I call games for McMaster University football.  There is nothing like broadcasting for your alma mater. I have all the time in the world for the McMaster Marauders.   Also, I will return to the IceDogs for a 12th year.  I have a wonderful gig there too, as I get to work with good friends and turn out an on air product, I feel puts us on par with regional NHL broadcasts.    I will spend the next year grinding and working harder than ever to reach the highest point in broadcasting that I can.   After both of the seasons are done, I am going to sit down and seriously assess where I am and make some firm decisions.I am not saying that I will leave broadcasting, though I might.  I might have to take a step back and broadcast for the love of it, rather than as a means to an end and a path to the next level.   I don't know what that will look that to to tell you the truth.  I might decide to take a deep breath and go balls to the wall for another year.  It all depends what shakes out at the end of the 2018-2019 season.  The third one seems less likely as that means another year of the grind, or cold calling or emailing, applying for jobs with 200 other people, risking becoming that needy broadcaster who wears out his welcome or runs the risk of tarnishing his reputation, or legacy by being annoying.   On the other side of the equation the last three years of the grind has produced some great experiences.  I do not get the McMaster football job without grinding.  I do not get to call World Junior Training Camp games for TSN GO without the grind. I do not get to call FIBA Basketball without the grind.   

The next year is pivotal for me.  Serious reflection and decisions will have to be made.  I am just letting the chips fall where they may for now. I will worry about the future when it gets there.   So, with that in mind, let the countdown to the first McMaster broadcast on August 26th being, and let the countdown to the first Niagara IceDogs broadcast on September 28th begin! 

In Neil Young's great song Hey, Hey, My, My he sings "It's better to burn out than to fade away" . That night work out for rock stars, but its not the mantra for this broadcaster. 

Thanks for reading 
Steve Clark - Play by Play : Niagara IceDogs TV, McMaster University football radio


Monday, June 18, 2018

TOP 10 O.H.L. Draft Prospects

Every year Brock Otten who runs a great prospects site does a media/scout O.H.L. Top 10 poll, and I am happy to participate whenever time permits.   DISCLAIMER:  Trust me, I'm not a scout , and as a play by play broadcaster I am looking at the game from a different lens than those guys do.  They are the professionals who look for the tangibles and intangibles and their depth of research is beyond reproach.   Sure, I see a lot of players year to year, but I look at factors such as statistics, prior rankings and whatever I see with the naked eye.  For better of for worse , here are my Top 10 O.H.L. prospects, as submitted to Brock, who collated all of the responses to average out the prospects for a final ranking.   

Brock, by the way runs a great website here :OHL Prospects and his Twitter handle is @BrockOtten


OHL TOP 10 RANKINGS 2018 DRAFT

1. Andrei Svechnikov-   I still think that he is going to have the most successful NHL career, and that is saying something given that Rasmus Dahlin is in the draft.   He's big, aggressive, plays on the edge, has terrific instincts on the ice, a heavy shot and a quick release.  Plus, you are drawn to him whenever he is on the ice.  He's that talented.    He'll score over 30 in his first year and would not surprise me if he hits 40. 
  
2. Evan Bouchard-    One of the biggest risers and the beneficiary of Dale Hunter selling at the deadline because he , along with Alex Formenton became the focal point for London.  He played major minutes, did not miss a beat and if not for Nic Hague pounding over 30 goals wins CHL D man of the year.  Thrived with the max minutes and it showed as scouts rocketed him up the draft 

3. Barrett Hayton- it says something when you standout amidst a stacked team like Sault Ste Marie .    He does everything well, and showed that he could thrive in pressure situations. 


4. Ryan Merkley- Based on talent alone, Merkely moves up on my list from mid-season.  We know the issues with discipline, and the defensive lapses, but I am counting on NHL teams putting him through the grinder when it comes to questions of character.    He's a smaller, dynamic puck moving D man who can QB your power play.  They do not grow on trees.   If he keeps his head on straight, he's worth the investment 


5. Akil Thomas-  Ever try to learn a new position on the fly , and have that new position be centre?   That's what Akil Thomas did with Niagara this year, and he did well.  He held his own in terms of face offs, and became more of a play maker (57 assists) than a goal scorer (24 goals).  He elevated his game in the post season, and meshed well with Pittsburgh FA signing Sam Miletic.  He is on the smaller side, but was fine with playing the physical game.   The skill set and speed is certainly there.  Had one NHL Player Personnel person tell me he has 100 point potential. 


6. Serron Noel-    Noel did not have a great playoff versus Niagara, as he was not able to use his size and strength and took a lot of penalties , though some of those calls were curious to say the least.    The thing is that he is a 6'5 winger with a long , and fluid stride who put up close to 30 goals and is expected to play an even bigger role with Oshawa next year.  


7. Ryan MacLeod-   a similar type player to Akil Thomas, but did not have as good of a year, but then again Mississauga as a team under performed, based on the talent that they have .   MacLeod is a dynamic skater and sees the whole ice well and a deft finisher.  He will be either a centre piece trade acquisition for someone, or will be the leader and likely captain in Mississauga.  He just looks like he has a pro game already.   


8. Rasmus Sandin-     Smooth skating European D man?  Yes please!   Sandin is such a treat to watch.  He has great vision, sees the ice well, can lead a rush, jump into a rush and play his position.  He also adapted very quickly to playing  CHL hockey and stepped into an excellent Sault Ste Marie team seamlessly.      


9. Ty Dellandrea-   Sometimes you have a guy who steps into a great team effortlessly and not look out of place and then you have a guy like Dellandrea was the best player on a rebuilding Flint team that missed the playoffs.  To me the measure of a player is how he plays in adversity and Flint had plenty of it last year.   He's a highly skilled player who likely hits 80 points on a better team.  Plus, he's a top 3 OHL draft pick who lived up to the pressure. 


10. Kevin Bahl- Likely not top 10 talent wise, but I've got a soft spot for Bahl because he's a big , physical, throwback type D man.  He stands 6'6 over 220 lbs and you notice him on the ice with his size and strength.  He will hardily dazzle you with his scoring but his reach and defensive play was very good on a very young and talented Ottawa 67's team that will be among the leagues better teams next year.  Expect Bahl to play a large role with them. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The Golden Age of Sports?

After a two year absences, it's good be back writing.  I used to maintain this blog quite regularly, engaging in my passions such as broadcasting, hockey and other stuff that popped into my head.  Then I stopped and lost interest in writing.  I found that when I revisited this blog that I found that writing for me was an outlet and it was cathartic, and I enjoyed doing it. How long Thoughts From The Broadcast Booth Version 2 will last is yet to be determined, but I'm happy to back writing again!   If a topic is worth tackling, I'm happy to do it! There might be some longer reads, or more bullet point versions such as this one.  Most will be sports, or sports entertainment (yep, I like wrestling), and some not.  There will be updates on my own broadcasting adventures, and journey and content on the leagues I cover like the OHL and OUA Football.  Expect anything! So here we go.... 

THE GOLDEN AGE OF SPORTS? 
Media, including sports media,  has taken quite the hit recently.  Technology has made positions redundant or shifted the means of production.  Subscription based models have scrambled to either offer a digital subscription to satiate those who are cord cutters, or have had to accept that revenue derived from a subscription based model just is not going to be as lucrative as it was before when you could count on those signing up bolstering your bottom line.  Ad revenue has shrunk as traditional models are not working for companies and they choose to shift their ad dollars to social media platforms such as Facebook or engines such as Google.    

Through all of this sports, and professional leagues remain vibrant as they seek to increase their revenue streams, build stadiums and arenas, engage in start up leagues or add expansion teams which come with a hefty price tag with the spoils being divided among other franchises.  Sports is Teflon, when compared to other forms of media.  Its live and immediate and much more tougher consume when recorded or on demand, and the content it provides fills airwaves.  

THE BOLD VISION OF THE CPL
Here in Canada, a new soccer league called the CPL plans to launch in 2019, armed with solid franchises, with stable ownership , probably a relatively lucrative broadcasting deal and an economic model they insist will work.  And you know what?  It probably will work.  Attempts to start professional leagues in soccer have never really taken flight.   This one has fulfilled the promise of being patient with its start up and not rushing things.    That allows the league to pick cities and franchises and give them the time to develop the infrastructure, marketing and revenue streams needed for success.  The CPL will launch with eight franchises , mainly in leagues where there is a CFL presence, and come with CFL ownership.   As long as the seasons do not stretch the consumer dollar, the cross marketing possibilities are endless.    The league fills a void and piggy backs on a game that is played widely in Canada. 

CFL EXPANSION?
The CFL will add a 10th team it seems in the near future and finally be a true Canadian league from coast to coast.  The move to have the East Coast as a viable entity in the CFL seems to finally come to fruition with a sensible plan, backed by sensible ownership and the stadium.    There seems to be something of a revival in Toronto and Hamilton , cornerstones of the league. New venues that are fan friendly, a Grey Cup win for Toronto , and the star power of Johnny Manziel to Hamilton have led the renaissance.  The CFL has done a crafty job of staying in the public eye in the off season by promoting their draft more, and introducing CFL week in the middle of the off season to sustain fan interest. 

HOW MANY LEAGUES CAN BE SUSTAINED IN CANADA?
There is even a new Canadian based basketball league coming.    Even the NBCL lurches from season to season with more lives than a cat, this new league billed as the CEBL (Canadian Elite Basketball League) fills that they can fill a void that the NBLC has not filled.     That league, headed up by former CFL star and Hamiltonian Mike Morreale will launch likely with six teams next year.  Franchises are confirmed in Hamilton, Guelph, Niagara , Saskatchewan and BC, with more to come.   

TOSSED SALAD,SCRAMBLED EGGS AND THE NHL IN SEATTLE
Meanwhile, in the NHL while Quebec remains the girl dressed up for prom with no date, Seattle has muscled their way into the league and looks certain to be the 32nd franchise.  Quebec did everything right.  They had solid ownership, a beautiful, modern arena, and a passionate hockey market.   It's biggest problem is that it's Quebec City, a city with limited ancillary revenues streams and a smaller population.  Seattle gives Gary Bettman a coveted spot on the west coast, a large potential audience to draw from and ready made rivalries with Vancouver and the California based teams.   Building on the wildly successful venture into Las Vegas in which the arena has been full, the fan base passionate and the branding has been outstanding , Seattle hopes for much of the same.   Though, a Stanley Cup Final appearance might be too much to ask.   

Leagues are growing. Content for sports media and broadcasting is growing.  There are more options than ever for fans discretionary income.  Will these new franchises, leagues sustain themselves?  Or will we writing about their demise ?  Only time will tell. 

Steve Clark 

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Round Two Predictions and Other Notes

Just took a look at my first round predictions.   Not bad... not too bad I must say.  In the Eastern Conference, I nailed 3/4 series and the correct number of games, failing only in the Mississauga/Barrie series as I had Barrie in 5.  Full credit to the Steelheads for stretching the Colts, and exposing some flaws and inconsistency.  Barrie coughed up a 3-0 lead, losing 6-3 and then got thumped 7-0 in Game 6.  You can't have games like that in the playoffs going forward if you expect to have a deep run.   Game 6 was a real red flag as Barrie completely lost their collective minds and formed a steady parade to the penalty box with some horribly undisciplined play.   In the West, I, like many misfired on Sarnia and Sault Ste Marie as I had Sarnia in 6.  The rest I got right, though I only correctly picked Erie to sweep  Saginaw.   

I will say it was a great first round of hockey for the OHL. Normally with the selling off of assets by lower ranked teams, you get the ice tilted a fair bit, but to have three game 7's made for one heck of a night of channel flipping, and who would have thought that Sportsnet would grab a Tuesday night game for their network? Gotta give RJ Broadhead and Sam Consentino a lot of props for the work they do.  Even though the travel can be taxing and they are not covering a regular team, these guys are always prepared and call a very good game.   

Enough preamble- On to the second round!   

ICEDOGS OVER KINGSTON IN 6
Here's the thing.  My choices in this were Kingston in 5 or the IceDogs in 6.  Weird split right?   Even though the IceDogs played some of their best hockey at times versus Ottawa, there is always that inconsistent green monster that can rear its ugly head with the IceDogs.    To me, it all comes down to goaltending.  This is the series that the IceDogs got Alex Nedelkjovic for and I think he will be the difference maker in this series.    That said for Kingston Hevig and Peressini are a pretty formidable duo in net too.  Add in Lawson Crouse, Michael DalColle, Warren Foegle and Spencer Watson, you can see why Nedelkjovic will have to be at his best.   I haven't been called a homer in a while, so if you want to call it a homer pick be my guest! (But you'd be wrong)

NORTH BAY OVER BARRIE IN 6
Another one in which no one would begrudge me if I said Barrie in 6.   Barrie's inconsistency was unnerving to watch.  They were terrible at times vs Mississauga.  Plus, Dylan Sadowy missed Game 7 , and who knows if MacKenzie Blackwood is 100%?  North Bay fought hard to win a seven game series over Peterborough, who were a lot of people's sleeper pick for good reason. Stan Butler normally has his teams prepared and disciplined and have in my opinion one of the top 3 or four players in the league in Mike Amadio.   He will have plans for Justin Scott, who potted 10 goals in the series versus Mississauga

LONDON OVER KITCHENER IN 6
I was surprised that Kitchener only needed five games to beat Windsor, but many of those games were close and Windsor blew many a lead during the series.  Plus, Windsor lost Brendan Lemieux for a couple of games in the series.  In short, Kitchener got a break or two in the series and took full advantage of it.  London lost Max Jones for what could the be rest of the playoff run, but can roll out a plethora of offensive talent with the likes of Dvorak, Tkachuck, Marner. Tyler Parsons played well, and he needed to be at his best against an Owen Sound team that was relentless.  I like London's talent level, if they can stay somewhat disciplined.  

ERIE OVER THE SOO IN 5 GAMES
You have to give the Soo tons of credit.   Sarnia had a sold out building and a crowd waiting to bust out as the Sting were on the brink of the second round.   The Sting even opened the scoring, but the Soo remained composed and used the talents of Zack Senyshyn Gustav Bouramman among others and outstanding goaltending by Brandon Halverson to win Game seven on the road, not small feat.     Erie had Devin Williams a little banged up but are well rested, and whatever uneven play they demonstrated late in the season they seemed to avoid in sweeping Saginaw.   Give this one to Erie in five hard fought games, and it would not surprise me to see a couple of these go to OT. 

FURTHER NOTES: 
The schedule for Kingston/ Niagara calls for the series to start Thursday and Friday evening with the good folks in Kingston handling the call for Cogeco.    Our crew will cover Sunday's game (start time 2pm) and Wednesday's game.

I noted how well Sportsnet cover the game of junior hockey.   They really do a bang up job with their production from the studio to the game coverage.  I suppose if there is one criticism, they could be a little more representative of all three leagues, but I have a feeling that travel budget may play a role.  Their NHL coverage has come under a lot of fire, much of it being unfair.     In a cost cutting move, one of the key men in bringing you NHL coverage was let go.  His name is Gord Cutler. I know people do not normally sprinkle sunshine and rainbows over Rogers, and they surely could get along fine without the likes of me defending them, but I have to say that they were dealt a lousy hand for the first two years of the deal.   They've had a lousy areLeafs team who have admitted that the playoffs are not on the radar.  This year they had a lousy Leafs team, a lousy Montreal team, a Connor McDavid injury, all the Canadian teams missing the playoffs, and even strong American draws like Boston, Pittsburgh and Detroit all guilty of indifferent play at times, and two of those teams may not make the playoffs.  It does not matter what bells and whistles you come up with, that is tough to overcome and Rogers has paid for it in the ratings. In TV land, less ratings mean less ad revenue.  When you have $5.2B to make up, then you can imagine the hand wringing.   Next year the luck cannot be that bad for them, and they can get ratings to rebound.  That said, they do need strong teams from Montreal and Toronto to help drive the ratings bus, and I expect there to be some coverage streamlining.  Good luck to them and hopefully the playoffs can provide good story lines! 


Thursday, March 24, 2016

OHL PLAYOFFS: ROUND 1 PREDICTIONS

A rare "Ice Accretion Day" has given me a little more time to pontificate and ruminate on the OHL playoffs, which start tonight.  I'm normally lousy at predictions, as past records in NCAA Tournament pools would attest.   As I did not follow college basketball at all this year (Thank you mediocre Georgetown!),consequently I did not fill out a pool.  Upon hindsight, the usual trend is the more I know the worse I do, so maybe I should have filled one out this year.   

Predicting the OHL playoffs can be just as fraught with angst as trying to fill out an NCAA bracket.  You're dealing with roughly the same age range, though the NCAA's are a one off, and subject to upsets, while the OHL playoffs CAN be a little more predictable as over a long series the better team can usually prevail.  That said, making assumptions is when you start to get in trouble. 

Before the predictions, a little aside.  I took my 4 year old daughter to the Hershey Centre for the IceDogs season finale vs Mississauga.  Post-Game I was able to get pictures of my daughter with Josh Burnside, Sean Day, Alex Nylander and of course 'Sauga the mascot.   Many thanks to the players who were kind and gracious and helped make a little girl's day.  Apologies to all players though as Josh HoSang remains far away #1 in her heart.  She watches the game for the sole purpose of seeing HoSang either on the ice or on the bench.  Also, I am sure that those chatting with Alex Nylander were likely a little confused when I approached Alex for a picture as I was , at my daughters request, wearing a Hamilton Bulldogs cap, while she had on an IceDog cap and a Steelhead t-shirt, thanks to me leaping with a vertical beyond my years to snag a free t-shirt.   It may not have worked out quite that way, but it's my blog and I get to spin the narrative and stretch the truth when it suits me.   

On to the predictions, which I will keep brief. 

EASTERN CONFERENCE: 
KINGSTON OVER OSHAWA IN 5.  Kingston will finally get to exercise their post-season demons that have seen them not win a playoff round since the late 90's.  Last year's Memorial Cup winners get credit for making the post-season after losing a good portion of their core due to graduation and trades 

BARRIE OVER MISSISSAUGA IN 5:  A month ago, I might have played this differently.  Barrie has been very good and is playoff savvy.  Mississauga, at times, has spun their wheels.  Next year is the Steelhead's time .  X factor could be Mississauga G Jack Flynn, who has been outstanding this year while maintaining a heavy workload.  He could steal a game or two. 

NORTH BAY OVER PETERBOROUGH IN 7.  I almost had this as an upset special until I realized that the past couple of years, I have shown no faith in North Bay in the post season and have been burned by it.   I like the Petes as they're a veteran laden team, but North Bay and their veteran G Jake Smith, outstanding all around player Mike Amadio, and super OHL rookie Cam Dineen will ultimately win out. 

NIAGARA OVER OTTAWA IN 5.  With the IceDogs inconsistency, I am surprised myself that I am picking this squad in 5, but I am heavily relying on the fact that Ottawa is not as good as a team as they were last year, and on paper the IceDogs are a better team. 

WESTERN CONFERENCE
ERIE OVER SAGINAW IN 4.  Saginaw may steal a game and Erie had some eyebrow raising curious results down the stretch (an 8-0 drubbing vs Owen Sound being one of them).  Too much talent, and firepower for the Spirit to overcome. 

SARNIA OVER SAULT STE MARIE IN 6.  Sarnia, like Kingston, has some playoff demons to exorcise.  To my recollection they have not advanced past the first round since 2007-2008 when Steven Stamkos led them to the second round, where they promptly got blown out by Kitchener.  They will get a scare from the Soo, and will be better for it the rest of the playoffs. 

LONDON OVER OWEN SOUND IN 5.  London lost out to Erie for 1st in the conference the last day of the season, and thus becomes a highly touted 3 seed.   If I base Owen Sound on the two games in which they owned the IceDogs, I might predict a longer series.  London has a wealth of talent, and depth though I could see their highly undisciplined play be a factor at some point in the playoffs

WINDSOR OVER KITCHENER IN 7.  Kitchener too owned the IceDogs sweeping them in the season series, while the IceDogs swept Windsor.  I am throwing that small sample size out the window.  This should be a whale of a series.  Though the Rangers have home ice advantage, I'm going with Windsor, led by mercurial Brendan Lemieux in a minor upset.   

Steve Clark

Monday, February 22, 2016

THE WEEK THAT WAS..

While the title of this particular missive is "The Week That Was", the focus will be kept to an area of experience of which I feel comfortable talking about and is more closely aligned with what I cover.   I've found that few people really give a snap ( my 4 year old daughter says we should replace all potential bad words with the word "Snap".  I will follow that decree! ) about my thoughts on the Leaf tear down which so for as seen three players off-loaded, three picks and a player returned, and an unwanted Raffi Torres, marooned somewhere on AHL island. 

Lets get to the local and relevant stuff.  

ICEDOGS STRUGGLE. 

The natives are restless, the team cannot score and the coach is really, really snapped off (see earlier reference to snapped).  All this has resulted in a four game losing streak, two against opposition below them in the standings at the time in Mississauga and two versus the elite of the league in London and Kingston.    So the IceDogs cannot beat the teams below them, and really have no measuring stick games when it comes to stacking themselves up against the contenders in the league.  Purgatory is not a nice place to reside, and neither is the dog house.  Marty Williamson laid waste to his team after a listless 6-2 thumping at the hands of the Steelheads.   He had them running the stairs of the arena immediately after the game and then lambasted them in the newspapers, reserving some of his finest vitriol about the team for DJ Brooks and Matt Young of Niagara This Week.  If motivation by demotivation was the goal, it did not work as the IceDogs lost again on home ice to the Hamilton Bulldogs 4-2, and there were man-handled by the conference leading Kingston Frontenacs who used their back up Jeremy Helvig on route to a 4-0 shut-out.  The most positive thing that has happened was the cancellation of Saturday's game versus Ottawa was "rained out" . Apparently those who work in arena management could not control a leaky roof and after a couple of hours of thoughtful standing around and staring at the roof, it was ascertained that the roof was indeed leaking and subsequently the game was cancelled.  The IceDogs will get a chance to salvage something from the weekend tonight when the game is replayed tonight at 7pm in Ottawa.  Here's hoping the team can send the bill for their extra bus miles and hotel rooms to the 67's!   

Niagara This Week Article is : HERE

So what's wrong with the IceDogs, and can they right the ship in the last 12-13 games of the season ? 

1. TRADES HAVE NOT PANNED OUT
While the acquisitions of the likes of Michael DalColle by Kingston, and Travis Konecny by Sarnia have paid immediate dividends the same cannot be said of the IceDogs.    It's a little unfair to compare as the IceDogs kind of went for the "sum of their parts" attitude, but it is clear that Tyler Boston, Stephen Harper and Pavel Jenys are all scoring below their average before being traded.   Josh Wesley and Alex Nedelkjovic are in a holding pattern, but it is clear that none of the trade acquisitions have made the splash that was hoped. 

2. BREAKDOWNS/POOR DECISION MAKING
Several times mistakes have lead directly to goals.  Turnovers in their own zone from a player trying to do too much ended up in the back of the net.   It's a little bad luck as players do make mistakes and subsequently get bailed out, but some of these errors have been glaring and were committed by players who really should know better

3.SQUEEZING THE STICK
Offensively, the IceDogs have not scored more than three goals since January 29th, a 6-1 W over Sudbury.   There is a ton of offensive talent on this team, but it is really under performing.  Goalies have played well versus Niagara, but there are guys who are blindly shooting rather than placing and a lack of the gritty, drive the net , get the rebounds goals.   Offensively they have become predictable and this league that can catch up to you awfully fast. 

Is there reason for concern?  Yes. Does this mean that should abandon the S.S. IceDog as if your hair is on fire? Snap no!   The IceDogs can get hot in the last 8-10 games and head into the post-season with momentum.  Plus, really things are so tight 3-7 in the conference, you could pick the teams out of a hat at this point.  

RIVERLIONS FIRE COACH/GM
In a show of empathy towards their fellow Meridian Centre tenants, the RiverLions created a little news and controversy of their own by dismissing Head Coach/GM Ken Murray after coming out of the gate at 5-14.  A release by the team cited an "inability to close out games" as being a key factor.    While it is true, expansion teams are supposed to struggle, and there is no question that the RiverLions were highly competitive in most of their games.   Grace Lokole, the assistant and local product takes over for the balance of the year.  Also, what was curious was the timing of the release.  It was announced at 10pm on Saturday day night, hardily the optimal time to announce such a key change.   You could say the team was burying the lede, and trying not to call attention to the move but that is speculative on my part.    In another move, Windsor interim coach Tony Jones turned over the coaching reigns back to brother Bill who returns from exile/suspension after last year's Game 7 debacle.  Tony went out with a flourish by getting the boot for picking up two technicals in rapid succession.  If you were in the Meridian Centre on Friday, then you saw the last game coached by both Tony Jones and Ken Murray.  All teams qualify for the playoffs in the NBL, so the rest of the regular season will be used for positioning and momentum.  It is hoped that Niagara can derive some momentum for the rest of the year under the new coach. 

TIGER CATS SCHEDULE RELEASE
One of the recent trends in sports has been building up a schedule release as something that is vitally important to a fans life. It really is clever marketing as a game that might be considered to be a stop in the schedule, can be built up as a must attend/must watch game.  As a broadcaster, I always love the anticipation around the release of the OHL schedule, and schedule releases as a whole have become appointment viewing.  Fans love to plan road trips to various destinations, and just are plain curious to see how their teams schedules play out. The CFL rolled out is schedule in somewhat grand fashion, bookending the season around the Argos move to BMO Field. They will open the season in Toronto, and that is where the Grey Cup will be as well.  There is a sense that a move to an outdoor, grass facility will revitalize a fan base that was largely dormant at the too big and too impersonal Rogers Centre, and more along the lines of the revival in Montreal.   The hometown Hamilton Tiger Cats are the natural adversary for the first game at BMO, and their schedule was released with fanfare, player visits to radio stations.  The team is looking to build a little goodwill and continue the streak of sellouts at majestic Tim Horton's field.   

SPORTS RADIO NERD ALERT
There is a group of hardcore and casual people who follow both TSN 1050 and the FAN 590 and love to comment on the various personnel.   As someone who is invested in growing their sports media role, I rarely comment on personalities, unless it's positive, but there are some who are hardcore listeners and have strong opinions about all personalities.  Both stations have changed up their on-air roster, in much the same way a team changes their roster to find the right chemistry.  The Fan , via cutbacks said good bye to two on air personalities in Greg Brady and Jeff Sammut and will debut the Andrew Walker Show weekdays 1-4pm. Brady had formerly co hosted that show.  TSN 1050 practically detonated key elements of their lineup moving Mike Richards from the key AM drive slot to 1-4.  Moving the Leafs Lunch crews to the drive home time of 4-7, and re branding the show Overdrive.  Andi Petrillo hosts a one hour version of Leafs Lunch from 12-1 and the new morning team is Dave Naylor and Michael Landsberg.   That' s a lot of changes, but when you are behind in the ratings, it does not hurt to change things up.  It will give the listeners new destination listening, and also something to talk about.  Good luck to all that are new, and have been moved, and best of luck to those who were let go.  Both guys are too talented not to land on their feet. 

Until next time. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

NIAGARA RIVER LIONS OPEN WITH A BANG

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Months and months of studying the demographics, finding out where your basketball fans are.

Goals of trying to fill the Meridian Centre, a tough building to fill.

Coach unveiling, team unveiling.  Logo unveiling. Colours and uniform unveiling.

Tirelessly banging the drum for a sport like basketball that often leaves a hollow beat, when talking about pro basketball. (Remember the Niagara Daredevils? Went belly up in a matter of months, the ending like a smashed barrel going over the Falls.

You work hard to put as many paying customers into the seats, not knowing what lies ahead.

Yep, minor league sports can be a bitch to promote, and reach the conscience of the casual sports fan,  the worst animal possible.

And yet, the best marketing happened in a split second.  Clinton Springer Williams, former star of the Carleton Ravens hits a fall away buzzer beating three pointer and ignites a Niagara basketball fan base and sends them deliriously into a crisp St Catharine's evening ready to hustle to Gords Place or Kully's, or any of the great Niagara establishments to talk about their latest heroes and relive each heart stopping moment of Niagara's newest team.

Aahh, there's nothing like a walk-off victory in your home opener, and 1st ever game at the sparkling Meridian Centre.   Yep, the RiverLions will be the talk of the town and hopefully will spill over into next Sunday's game at home, and the next game, and the next game.

You can do all the marketing you want. There is no better marketing than winning, and in such a dramatic fashion?  You couldn't script it any better.  They'll be clamouring for this performance at Niagara's Shaw Festival next year.

Heck, I was not even at the game and I felt compelled to write about it.  Watched some of last nights live stream, and watched the 1ast half of tonight's live stream, and wished I was there both nights.  Therein lies the rub.  People who wished they were at the home opener will want to buy a ticket and hope to catch the next great moment in RiverLions history. 2800 and change attended the game tonight.  It will seem like 10 000 were there as the buzzer beater will be relived time and time again.  

"You were there?  Me too, Section E. Saw you, meant to come over"   

Must admit, that I had my doubts and I'm a huge basketball gane. I got my broadcasting start calling OUA basketball and beat the drum for the sport for years.    Nothing against the team, but pro basketball has not fared well in these parts.  The last pro team with any success was the Hamilton SkyHawks of the early 90's. I was in my early 20's and cynical about the team.  Put me in my early 40's "Get off my lawn years", and cynicism becomes skepticism.

I still harbour high hopes for local basketball in this region.  Butch Carter's league the CBL, came out of the gate with a flourish, announcing a workable cost effective model and a deal with CHCH TV.  After some delay, the league is expected to be a go, though without Kitchener- Waterloo, hailed as one of its flagship franchises.  A quick perusal of their website sees Hamilton, Ottawa, Scarborough, and Vaughan in their schedule.    There are enough basketball fans to accommodate the two leagues, though will they support the worthwhile ventures?   

in 2007 the IceDogs came into this region with some of the same skepticism.   Here they are 9 years later, entrenched in the region, and without them the new Meridian Centre likely remains a parking garage.

2015, the RiverLions with their sharp, sharp uniforms, well regarded coach , and savvy marketing department might just make a permanent footprint in the Niagara Region.

Tonight, a basketball team arrived in the Niagara Region.  They just might entrench themselves like their hockey forefathers.

Steve Clark

Of Note:  I erroneously posted that Butch Carter's CBL was on hiatus until 2016.  That is incorrect as I was informed that the league will play this year.  The blog has been corrected to reflect this and I aplogize for the mistake.