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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

NEW ARENA DEBATE PICKS UP STEAM

The city has endorsed seven different scenarios for a new arena, with the most popular one being a 5000 seat arena and a 700 seater.  This would be a tax payer cost of close to $39 a year.

I thought it would be appropriate for me to re-post my thoughts on a new entertainment complex.  I wrote this last year and I think it still rings true today.  Here it is in its entirety: 

IN SUPPORT OF A NEW ENTERTAINMENT FACILITY FOR THE NIAGARA REGION

By: TV Cogeco Niagara
January 20th, 2011 @ 4:30pm
On the corner of Geneva Street and Gale Crescent sits a vintage arena full of charm and memories that pre-date World War 2. The Gatorade Garden City Complex, formerly the Jack Gatecliffe Arena has a capacity of 3145 when it is filled, a lively atmosphere that is the envy of many teams and and drew high praise from the entourage of the Swedish World Junior Team who trained there for the recent Under 20 World Championships.
 
With all due respect to our Scandinavian brethren and the rabid atmosphere, the flip side is a different story, The arena was constructed in 1938, the same year that Hitler won Time Man of the Year and began his march on Czechoslovakia. It has limited, almost non-existent parking and much of the available parking features a brisk walk and the crossing of a major intersection. Once inside the arena, the dance of choice is “The Shuffle” due to the lack of space to walk around the arena and if I were a chiropractor, I'd set up an on-site business due to seating more suited for those who are vertically challenged. Niagara Ice Dog fans are the best in the league simply due to the fact that they still attend games in droves with nary a complaint. Though, I hardily think that this arena was the long-term vision of owners Bill and Denise Burke when they moved the team from Mississauga before the 2007-2008 season.

Simply put the time for a new facility is now and the possibilities for a new facility are endless. Firstly, one misconception has to be addressed in order to get the non-hockey fans on board. This really should be a proposal for an entertainment facility not a hockey arena. With that small change, you expand the focus not only to different sports but to many other forms of entertainment and thus appeal to a wider spectrum of the population. The basics of economics dictate that an arena is only as good and as profitable as the events that put backsides in the seats (and I stress seats, not two seat benches). The pot of gold at the end of this rainbow is the addition of corporate or luxury boxes, a must for any new facility, even those in the mid-range in terms of seating capacity.
 
Ice Dog owner Bill Burke sees a wealth of potential with a new facility
 
“Along with the new Arts Center, St. Catharines will become the entertainment district of Niagara. Think of the people that will be flocking to downtown virtually every night.”
 
TV Cogeco on-air personality,a long-time Welland resident and business owner Ed Burkholder concurs
 
“Socially, its' what Niagara needs. It gives Niagara people something in common collectively.”
 
So lets put together a more than reasonable list of non-hockey events. Concerts, trade-shows, pro-wrestling are all very realistic non sports events that could conceivably make St. Catharines a regular stop. Brock University and Niagara College could move certain special attractions to a new facility and could bid for OUA (Ontario University Athletics) and OCAA (Ontario College Athletics Association) provincial events and CIS (Canadian Inter-university Sport) and CCA (Canadian College Athletic Association) events.. Minor hockey tournaments would be an attraction., keeping the arena humming and bustling

You know what means? It means area hotels being used, products being purchased , restaurants and sports bars being eaten in and jobs being created. In short a trickle down effect, and an increase in ancillary revenue in the region. Ever see a hotel on the weekend of a minor hockey tournament? Its a beehive of activity, and that sound you hear? That's the sound of cash registers ringing, and debit and credit cards swiping.. All of this is before consideration of the anchor tenant, who are the Niagara Ice Dogs, good for 40 dates in the arena at an average of 3500-4000 fans a pop, and that estimate is conservative.
 
Economically speaking the numbers add up. Owner Bill Burke estimates that on top of the substantial investment that he and his wife Denise have in the Niagara Ice Dogs, that Ice Dog fans spend on average $7-10 dollars per game outside the arena. Do the rough math and that's nearly 1 million dollars spent per year in the St Catharines region. Think of that sort of revenue not being tapped into, and potentially being spent elsewhere.
 
Long-time Niagara resident and TV Cogeco producer Darren Sawyer says
 
“A lot of people travel across the boarder or to Hamilton or Toronto with their entertainment dollar. A new facility would keep that money in Niagara. “
 
Although informal polls suggest that there is good support for a new facility, there is however a backlash. Taxpayers don't want to see their bill go up, at the expense of a new facility because they are not hockey fans. They have already seen their money go to pay for The Seymour-Hannah Complex, a four pad arena, that has seating for 2000, but is not nearly large enough to accommodate an OHL tenant. .
 
Grumbles one reader in a letter to the St. Catharines Standard
 
“This is a major expenditure that will impact tax payers for decades”.
 
Adding to that recently news came forth that the federal government will not kick any money top help build the facility, which leaves municipal tax payers and private interests as the sole revenue streams in financing the facility.
 
To answer that the Region needs to leave no private enterprise stone unturned in their quest for offsetting the cost to tax payers. Though the arena will be located in St. Catharines, the Ice Dogs have always marketed themselves as a regional team. Tapping into private resources should follow that model. Looking at revenue streams and sponsorship in wine country should be a jumping off point. Selling the naming rights to the arena would provide more revenue.
 
The model of using the arena as a centrepiece to a vibrant downtown core is London. The John Labbatt Centre is perched majestically in the middle of an already bustling area and thrives on the ardent support the Knights generate from Londoners as well as the student population at the University of Western Ontario Restaurants, and other shopping destinations all benefit from an arena that houses a number of events, including OHL hockey and is the crown jewel not only of London, but the surrounding area. While London benefits from not having a lot of arena competition in the surrounding area, the comparison and the potential for St. Catharines is too hard to resist.
 
Should a new facility not be built, the Niagara region, not just St. Catharines could face the very real prospect of having the Ice Dogs leave town. Lost would not just be a hockey team, but an indelible and ingrained part of the Niagara region. Players and coaches visit schools, have hockey clinics holds open practices, become heroes and set positive examples in the community. The Gatorade Garden City Complex would remain, nothing would be revitalized, and many events that could generate revenue will go elsewhere.
 
It is time to build a new entertainment facility with the Ice Dogs as the anchor tenant. Its the right thing do do both socially and economically.
 
The last word on this should go to Ice Dogs owner Bill Burke:
 
“If city council votes no on a new spectator facility, then they are saying no to the Ice Dogs, so we will have to take the team and the two million dollars we spend in St. Catharines elsewhere”
 
You cannot put it more succinctly than that.

Friday, November 18, 2011

ICE DOGS 3 MAJORS 0

A tidy 3-0 win by the Ice Dogs over the Majors last night  should keep the anxiety level of Ice Dog fans down.  There are those who have been fretting about the teams' inconsistent play.  However, last night a 0-0 stalemate was broken by Billy Jenkins' goal with :45 left in the 2nd period.  Dougie Hamilton roofed one :48 seconds into the third period while Alex Friesen added some insurance late in the game. Mark Visentin broke off a personal 0-3-0-1 streak and recorded his 3rd shutout of the season.

The Ice Dogs, who have been sub-par on the road (2-6-1) travel to Kingston on Friday and Ottawa on Sunday.

Highlights are courtesy of TV Cogeco.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM AND THE SKY IS FALLING MENTALITY OF FANDOM


The proliferation of sports media and the sheer number of outlets have spawned a  "the sky is falling mentality"when covering teams. On sports radio in Toronto, with two sports stations, four newspapers, several TV stations and a great number of social media outlets, there is not a stone left unturned when it comes to analyzing the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The trickle down effect is starting now in the Ontario Hockey League.  There has been an increase in social media coverage, fan sites, TV coverage, blogging, radio coverage, the list goes on.  For the most part these mediums have a "live in the moment" sort of mentality.  Never look back, never cast an eye forward, always exist in the present.  It's sort of like OHL discipline, but that's another story line altogether. 

Fans will offer an opinion, and start a thread that is purely based on emotion and observation from afar.  If you believe the fan sites, Niagara's Mark Visentin can't stop a beach ball and should not be considered for Team Canada's World Junior team.   In fact one thread on the popular www.thenoof.com site was entitled "Visentin Horrid".  A tad off base, and sensationalist don't you think?  A more well-reasoned approach to Visentin's early season inconsistency can be found in this great article by the St Catharines' Standard. You can read it HERE

I'll admit that I will "lurk" the fan sites.  They can have offer something of a barometer in terms of how a fan- base is feeling, but for the most part, and I know that I run the risk of alienating myself here, its a bastion of ranting from the those who have "The Smartest Guy in the Room" syndrome.  They think that they have all the answers, but normally it comes from a position of bias.  Again, I have no problem with the expression of opinion.  Heck, I'm a law teacher who regularly teaches The Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Freedom of Expression.

However, analysis can become downright silly and its not just limited to the fans.   There have been those in the media who love to play arm chair commissioner and start throwing out number of games a player should be suspended before the decision is meted out.  I'm not sure if the motive is to lobby, or if there is a pool out there for this, but I don't think it serves a purpose.  Debate the merits after the suspension and at least you have a basis point for discussion.  Doing it before and promoting it through various forums, to me is a tad irresponsible. 

QUICK POINTS:
- Curious decision-making to say the least as Ryan Rupert gets 5 games for stick swinging and connecting while Alex O'Nell gets 10 games.  Precedent, it seems, is a dirty word, for the OHL

- Freddie Hamilton and Ryan Strome really shone in the Subway Series.   Freddie Hamilton was a 5th round draft pick.  No, that is not a misprint.  This guy is going to be a fine NHL'er and a lot scouts and teams have some 'splainin' to do about how they missed him

- Ice Dogs take on Mississauga Thursday November 17th at 7 pm on the OHL Action Pack/TV Cogeco.  Ed, Al and I will have the call.

Steve Clark
www.twitter.com/SteveClarkMedia

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

KUHNHACKL PART 2: 20 GAMES IS TOO MUCH

Twenty games for Tom Kuhnackl is unduly harsh.   Now, I already will acknowledge that my reasoning for  this is flawed because it is predicated on analyzing the rule of precedent/case law, a basic tenant of any legal system and one that has its roots in 12th century Britain.  

The rule of precedent allows that a previous decision in a case could have an impact on a current case.  Hockey has rarely used precedent in determining its decision-making.  If you are a fan of hockey's justice system, you see it as showing no bias, looking at supplemental discipline with an extremely narrow focus, and the focus is on the individual act.  If you are not a fan of hockey's justice system you see it as haphazard, inconsistent  and making it up as you go along.

I'd say in Kuhnhackl's case that I do not see the justification for 20 games, or 40% of the remaining schedule in this case.  Firstly, when you are talking 20 games, you automatically think of  Zach Kassian's hit on Matt Kennedy, the last time that 20 games was used as a punitive measure.  That hit is here, and to these trained eyes the Kassian hit is far worse than the Kuhnhackl hit in that he literally launches himself  at an unsuspecting Kennedy.  Now there is a fine gentleman from Windsor who took serious umbrage with the decision, barking" 20 games for interference".  Plus, unlike Kuhnhackl, Kassian was a repeat offender, so in all likelihood escalating consequences were a part of the decision making.

Another take was by well respected Junior hockey writer Neate Sagar who essentially contradicts himself  in his article found here

He also says
 As for the length of the suspension, it's fair. It's the longest ban in the OHL since Zack Kassian also got 20 games for a head shot on Barrie's Matt Kennedy in January 2010 and that play was arguably worse, although Kassian was also a repeat offender and K├╝hnhackl was not"

Again, this time we are both accused of using using the flawed rule of precedent on this, though Sagar contradicts himself a number of times by saying the suspension of Kuhnhackl is fair, but says that the play was worse and that Kassian was a repeat offender. To me you can't give a guy the same amount of games when you find inherent differences.  

Some people, like Damian Cox, have carelessly referenced Mike Liambis Hit on Ben Fanelli as a basis for comparison.  In fact Bob McCown asked David Branch about comparisons to the Liambis hit and he did not immediately dismiss it.   To me, the Liambis hit is nothing like the hit delivered by Kuhnackl, and without delving into a long-winded explanation, the ends justify the means.  Liambis was banned for over 50 games for that hit, so really it is not a valid comparison.

So if we use the OHL system of justice and analysis of hits, I still don't see 20 games in all of this.  Again. flawed comparison as I'm basically arguing against 31 seconds of video footage and 4 points of reference by the OHL, but here we go. It should be noted that the fact that a penalty was called on the play is not included in the OHL's interpretation  Here is the OHL's interpretation of the hit by Kuhnhackl, and here is what they said in terms of their reasoning:
  •  Contact to the head
  • Vulnerable, unsuspecting player
  • Speed and considerable distance travelled
  • Injury

Lets set aside the obvious facts, which we can agree on.  Yes, there was contact to the head, and yes there was an injury.  There could be minor quibbling of a mitigating circumstance because Murphy did return to the game for a couple of shifts, but not nearly enough to impact the decision.  These two stand alone points pretty well give Kuhnhackl 10 games as a starting point.

The other two points can be debated.  For me, personally, I think the only time a player could be construed as vulnerable is when his back is to the play or he is on the ice.  Again, this is an interpretive measure. What my eyes interpreted are different to the decision-makers.  The other point about speed and distance travelled is debatable as well.   Yes the collision was at a high rate of speed, but Kuhnhackl, according to my colour partner Ed Burkholder, was aggressively following the path of his forecheck. I bet that I could get 20 junior coaches to draw up their forecheck plan and almost all of them would trace the path that Kuhnhackl travelled.  Again, minor quibbling, but worth investigating. 

If I take all those points into consideration, I come up with 13 games, or 1/4 of the remaining season. Again, I'm basing it on a lot of factors that may or may not have been taken into consideration by the OHL.

QUIBBLING POINTS:
  1. I have a ton of respect for David Branch, and although I may not agree with his decision, he has not been afraid to be out front of any trends.  That said, I think he did not do himself any favours by, according to the St. Catharines Standard,  not contacting Marty Williamson directly with the details of the suspension, but was able to find the time to do interviews with Bob McCown on Prime Time Sports and with Cybalski and Company on TSN Radio.
  2. Damian Cox mentioned in his short article about protocol of a suspected head injury because Murphy did return to the ice for a couple of shifts.   Perhaps in the days and weeks to come there will be more discussion of this point because in all supplemental discipline, the safety of the athlete is always a consideration.  It should be no different here.

Steve Clark- TV Cogeco/ OHL Action Pack Play by Play Niagara Ice Dogs
www.twitter.com/SteveClarkMedia

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

TOM KUHANCKL'S HIT ON RYAN MURPHY

See full size image




A couple of years back the Erie Otters were the first team to come to town after Mike Liambis' horrific hit on Ben Fanelli and our crew was charged with the responsibility of breaking down the hit and talking about it.  It was and still is tough footage to watch, but our crew did an admirable job of analyzing the hit. 

Fast forward to last Saturday, and ironically with Fanelli's Rangers in town, another controversial hit reared its ugly head. On Friday Tom Kuhnackl felled Ryan Murphy with a jarring, shocking- pick your adjective check.  Certainly this hit was suspendable, and the concern goes to young Ryan Murphy, a player with a bright NHL future.  Kuhnackl, not the sort of the player, to deliver a hit of this ilk and viciousness, also suffered a knee injury on the play.  No one wins here.   We watched the footage at least 10 times in the truck and broke it down step by step during the first intermission.  A summary of our thoughts follows here:

- Kuhackle, according to colour man Ed Burkholder, was following his fore check path. Ed, as a scout and former coach is well versed in the nuances of the game
- Murphy had lost sight of the puck, but it was still in his vicinity
- Murphy, skating low to the ground to a horrific amount of impact to the head
-Kuhanckl's arms were to his side, but he made no effort to slow up
-Kuhnackl did not leave his feet at the point of contact, but the aftermath had him leaving his feet

The hit is here and the footage is courtesy of our good friends at Rogers TV who do a wonderful job covering OHL hockey.

In the end we all felt that reckless was the best way to describe the hit rather than malicious.  While the intent was not there there was a level of recklessness in the hit.  Kuhnackl could have slowed up, but  did not and by not taking care to protect Murphy, his opposition, a suspension was imminent.  I don't like to play the public game of determining length and quite frankly loathe those who try to play commissioner.  I also intensely dislike those who choose to publicize and promote the "David Branch is ruining our game"  message.   You may not agree with the assessment of David Branch and his staff in all the decisions, but to say that he is ruining the game is beyond comprehension. 

The other debateable point here is that Murphy, while clearly shaken up, returned to the ice for a couple of shifts, adding an assist on a power play goal.  He was finally shut down in the 3rd.  Logical thinking dictates that when you have a player in that amount of peril, perhaps it is not in the best interest of player safety to return to the ice.  Hopefully that part of the equation will be up for discussion so that protocol can either be revised or  be put in place for situations like this
The bottom line here is that there are no winners.  I feel immensely bad for Ryan Murphy, one of the OHL's bright lights and shining stars and I hope his recovery is speedy. For Tom Kuhnackl and the Ice Dogs, the hope here is that his physical recovery is speedy and that they accept the decision with dignity. 

Steve Clark

Friday, November 4, 2011

A QUICK ANALYSIS OF THE ACQUISITION OF TOM KUHNACKL

The price was steep, no doubt about it, but to acquire a sniper of Tom Kuhnackl's quality and ability you pay a premium. 

Arguably, the Ice Dogs made their most impactful trade for a bonafide player on Wednesday with the addition of 39 goal marksmen Tom Kuhnackl.  Now I acknowledge that there may be those who quibble with my statement considering the blockbuster trade bringing in Ryan Strome.  My argument is that Strome had not yet developed into the elite level player that he is now when the Ice Dogs traded for him.  

Kuhnackl is a player owho could also potentially spend another year in the league, and that sets him apart from the dividend paying trade involving Darren Archibald last year. Furthermore the Ice Dogs boast a top six quality of forward that few possess in the league right now.   Coach Marty Williamson has the luxury of mixing and matching Strome, Freddie Hamilton, David Pacan, Andrew Aggozino, Alex Friesen and Kuhnackl in both his regular lines and his power play. 

The cost for the Ice Dogs was three 2nd round draft picks, Jaroslav Pavelka, Phil DiGuesseppe and a 1st round import pick.  The Ice Dogs also picked up Windsor's 2nd round import pick.  While it would appear to be a mortgaging of the future, the Ice Dogs do possess a surplus of picks stockpiled for just these purposes.  DiGuesseppe, currently plying his trade with Michigan, was never a part of the Ice Dogs future and Pavelka had not been the right fit in net during his short tenure. 


All in all to add a forward of Kuhnackl's quality while not sacrificing anyone off the current roster gets a Clark hale and hearty seal of approval

QUICK SIDE NOTES
1. Kuhnackl has excellent blood lines too.  Father Erich, a robust 6'5,  is widely regarded as West Germany's best hockey player, once potting 83 goals in a 48 game season in German hockey.  He also was a member of the 1976 bronze medal winning West German hockey team

2. Far be it for me to offer up a criticism of something related to the Ice Dogs, but I have to question the criteria in choosing the stars of the game.  In Oshawa's 5-3 victory over Niagara, the stars went as follows 1. Steven Shipley (1 goal) 2. Tom Kuhnackl (1 assist) 3. Kevin Baillie (42 saves) Boone Jenner's 1 goal and an assist and +2 and Nicklas Jensen's +3 got overlooked.  Now to give Shipley a star is perfectly acceptable, but to me the stars should be 1. Baillie 2. Jenner 3. Shipley.   To give a losing team two stars and the number one star smacks a wee bit of home town cheer leading not seen since the likes of Bring it On (dated reference #1)

3. Congratulations to Dougie Hamilton, named defenceman of the month for October in the OHL.  Looks like the Hamilton family has to break out the hammer and nails and add another shelf in the awards room.

4. Kuhnackl skated on a line with Joel Wigle and Steven Shipley in his first game, a mild surprise considering those who saw automatically in the top six.  Marty Williamson opted for balance it appears.

5. Luke Mercer fell awkwardly into the boards in the first period and did not return to the game.   On the replay it looked bad and here's hoping the young defenseman is not out long term

Next up for us on TV Cogeco and the OHL Action Pack are the Kitchener Rangers on Saturday.  Game time with Ed, Al and I is 7 pm

www.twitter.com/SteveClarkMedia