Queen’s Hockey: Build them a Rink

gaels-win

It’s hard to imagine how much Friday’s win over McGill meant to Brett Gibson.  An overnight success takes time.

Eleven years of hard work building a program, doing it the right way and trusting, in the end, it all pays off.   In recent years, CHL players started committing to Queen’s and they built an elite program.  But, it seemed like every year at playoff time ‘good wasn’t quite good enough’, and with it came plenty of playoff heartbreak.

Heading into Friday night’s game at the Memorial Centre, sixty minutes of hockey stood between the Gaels and the CIS championships.  McGill hit the post twice in the early going and it seemed like on this night the Gaels would actually catch a break.   Dylan Anderson scored three times and goaltender Kevin Bailie, who has been brilliant all season,  turned aside 34 shots, many were big saves at key moments.

Last time Queen’s went to the CIS finals was in 1981 and it’s fitting another Gananoque native,  Fred O’Donnell, was behind the Queen’s bench.   I ran into Fred leaving the rink Friday night,  he was there to support Gibson and the Gaels and remarked how this Queen’s team, “is good enough to win it all”,  and he should know.

What’s most remarkable about the program Gibson built are the fifteen former CHL players he recruited to play here.  Players with plenty of options, who could play anywhere in the country or turn pro.

Queen’s is not an easy sell.   Academically the entrance requirements are as high as any school in the country, with no exceptions made for student athletes.  The hockey facilities?  Shameful.

The Kingston Memorial Centre is a perfect home for the local Church Athletic League kids, but for a CIS team challenging for a national title, are you kidding me?   The ‘glory days’ for the M-Centre were 60 years ago when the Kingston Goodyears Senior teams were packing the place.  It’s worse than going to a Queen’s football game (prior to last year) and worrying the grandstand might collapse underneath you.  Queen’s poured tens of millions into the new opera house at the Tett Centre,  great for the arts, but somehow they’ve managed to turn a blind eye to the hockey programs and the desperate need for a new facility on-campus.

Did I mention virtually every CIS program has a full-time hockey coach?  Yet Gibson runs a successful family business by day,  and in his off hours has built a hockey program that is among the best in Canada.

I’m sure when Gibson brings a new recruit to town he sells every other aspect of the hockey program before showing them the rink.   Yep, it’s a 20-minute walk from campus and there’s an oversized portrait of Queen Elizabeth that’s been hanging there since the doors opened in 1951.  She looked pretty good in her 20’s didn’t she?  Want to see our off-ice facilities?  Well, here’s our fitness & wellness center;  3 stationary bikes beside the washer & dryer at the back of the old Kingston Frontenacs change room.    These players had access to better facilities in their hometowns when they were playing Double-A Novice.

When Queen’s knocked down the Jock Harty Arena, to make way for the new ARC and provide the basketball and volleyball teams with state of the art facilities, there were promises a new hockey facility would be built. The Memorial Centre was a stop-gap measure and yet years later here we are.   Did Stu Lang ever play hockey?  He might be worth a call.  He pretty much self-funded the newly refurbished Richardson Stadium for the football team.

Queen’s isn’t exactly the Ryerson Rams.  They have 130 years of hockey pedigree with the tricolour, played in some of the earliest games of hockey on record and challenged for three Stanley Cups.

Gibson has done his part, building a program that might deliver Queen’s a National Championship.  It’s time Queen’s made hockey a priority and built them a decent rink to play in.

Mark Potter is a former Kingston sports broadcaster and member of the Kingston & District Sports Hall of Fame

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Remembering Dick Trotter

Isn’t it something that a man named Trotter would spend most of his life around horse racing?   The aptly named Dick Trotter, a longtime broadcaster, passed away on December 27th in Port Perry, Ontario at the age of 79.

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His passing made me reflect back on a great time in my life; the CKWS newsroom in the 1980’s.   We were a tight-knit group, most of us in our early 20’s trying to fake it until we made it.   We worked hard and played even harder.  Dick was like the dad from a TV sitcom, older and wiser he stayed above the fray quietly smirking at our jokes and ongoing antics. Years before he had been there, done that.   Somehow you just knew he had much better stories from his 20’s then anything we were doing, he just never bothered to share them.

Dick seemed quite crusty when you first met him, but when you got to know him he was a great guy with a very dry, sarcastic sense of humour.

He was two feet to my left on the news desk for over a decade and every night I’d go on and bash the Leafs or throw verbal bricks at somebody.   Anytime I could get a snicker or muffled laugh out of Dick I knew I had just delivered a good line.

Dick was old-school, the consummate broadcaster with a level, measured tone never veering off script.   A true anchorman.  He spent most of his early career in sports before arriving in Kingston.   In the 1960’s he did play-by-play for the OHL’s Oshawa Generals and it led to a stint in the pros; calling games for the Detroit Red Wings short-lived minor league affiliate in Virginia.

From there he found his way to Peterborough, near a race track of course and he worked in local radio.  He built a reputation as one of the best race callers in standardbred racing, where he was highly respected and seemed to know everyone in the harness racing industry.   Lots of broadcasters do play-by-play; very few can call a horse race, the rare and unique talent he had mastered.

In the early 1980’s Dick was hired by CKWS to read the sports on the six o’clock news and to be the track announcer at Kingston Park Raceway.   At the time, the legendary Max Jackson had just retired from CKWS.   I was doing sports on the eleven o’clock news and I wasn’t thrilled when I learned that Dick was being brought in from Peterborough to do the six o’clock show.  However, it didn’t take me long to appreciate he was a really good guy, who had far more experience in life and in broadcasting.

Not long after,  tragedy struck our newsroom.  David Green, who was in his 30’s, was the news anchor at six o’clock.   One day Green came into work not feeling well and less than two hours before his nightly newscast he left the newsroom, walked into the hallway and shockingly dropped dead of a massive heart attack.

It was tragic and one of the saddest events you could imagine.

Dick was asked to step in and read the newscast.   I will never forget under the worst circumstances imaginable, Dick Trotter went on the air, calm, collected and professional.

None of us could have possibly done what he did.

His maturity, his leadership, and professionalism got us through that night and the sad days that followed.   It’s a memory that will never leave me.   Dick then became the permanent news anchor and I took over the sports.

That lasted for about 10 years and co-anchor Christine Ross was with us most of that time.  We truly were a team and often heard from viewers they could see we genuinely liked each other and got along well.  That’s pretty rare in television news.

I also heard from viewers that, “it must be great to work with your Dad”, apparently we had really bad graphics in those days or they weren’t paying real close attention that he was Trotter and I was Potter!

In 1992, I was running out of material and the Leafs had traded for Dougie Gilmour, so I left to start a new career in the financial world.

A year or so later Dick left CKWS to try to resurrect Kingston Park Raceway.  He found a Toronto-based business partner, they reopened  the track and tried to make a go of it.  They put everything they had into it, but without slot machines it was a bleak time for harness racing in Ontario and they couldn’t make it work.

I didn’t see Dick again until 2004,  at the 50th anniversary of CKWS-TV when the old gang reunited to anchor the six o’clock newscast.  Dick and Christine Ross read the news, Dave Lewington did the weather and I was back on sports.

For one night we were back together and it was like Dick had never left.   He still had his textbook on-air delivery; calm, measured and smooth.

Dick Trotter left his mark on television viewers in southeastern Ontario and with harness racing enthusiasts province-wide.   I am sure in heaven, long-time CKWS photographer Peter Owen, who took the photos at Kingston Park Raceway and also passed away in 2016, is taking Dick’s photo in the ‘winner’s circle’ and they’re toasting with a cocktail or three to celebrate lives well-lived.

Mark Potter is the former Sports Director at CKWS-TV

Red Deer Roadblock

If if’s and but’s were candies & nuts,  wouldn’t it be a Merry Christmas!” –  former football great ‘Dandy’ Don Meredith

For the Kingston Frontenacs the Road to Red Deer and this year’s Memorial Cup came to a crashing halt in St. Catharines Wednesday night,  the best shot they’ve had in twenty years ended with Niagara fans throwing brooms on the ice to celebrate a sweep.

The Fronts were  2,247 miles and a dozen more playoff wins away from Red Deer.

So now we go back to being the OHL’s all-time leader in;  could have’s, would have’s and should have’s (Dandy Don nailed it).

Note to self;  this time let’s blame it on the hot goaltender who stole the series.

A bitter pill to swallow for die hard Kingston hockey fans,  who were ‘all in’  on the dream this was going to be the year.    It was easy to be fooled,  the hometown Fronts played like champions all season and won their first Eastern Conference title.  They set franchise records for wins and points along the way.   Lots to be proud of.

They exorcised those playoff demons that haunted them for two decades,  actually getting through the first round –  stopping Oshawa in five games.   It’s where you start counting for real in most OHL cities,  but no small accomplishment in this town.   Following that giant leap,  nothing could stop this team;  it was Red Deer or bust.

Then they ran into ‘Ned’.   That’s Alex Nedeljkovic, the six-foot, 20 year old Niagara goalie,. a second round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes.  This is Ned’s third OHL stop, thrown a lifeline when he was acquired from the trainwreck in Flint.

Ned was pretty much unstoppable against Kingston.  But to say a hot goalie ended the dream for the Fronts wouldn’t quite be fair or accurate.  Ned was spectacular,  but Kingston never played the way they did all season.  It’s really hard to explain why?

That’s the question that will haunt the players,  it’s coaches and fans for a long time.    In the last ten minutes of regulation in that thrilling Game Two at KRock,  the Fronts  pumped three goals past Ned, making him look almost human.    If Kingston played like that for the entire series,  there’s no way this ends the way it did.  But they didn’t.

Kingston’s top guns produced,  but the secondary scoring was missing.  Too often they started slow and were back on their heels .   The goaltending wasn’t as good as it should have been,  even going back to the Oshawa series.    Coach Paul McFarland couldn’t decide who was his number-one,  that’s never good for the goalies or the team.  Mishandling the goalies showed his inexperience,  as did the inability to change the game plan to counter what Niagara was doing.  They had beaten the Ice Dogs 3 of 4 during the season and finished 20 points ahead of them in the standings.

Niagara coach Marty Williamson is going to his fifth conference final in 12 OHL seasons. That’s the difference.  He’s been there done that and  knows how to win when it really matters.   With McFarland,  the Fronts have a young head coach facing big time playoff expectations for the first time.

At playoff time when the pressure turns up,  you start to “leak a little oil”.  You  overthink things,  your team gets tense and it hurts more than it helps.   When it’s over you’ve hopefully learned some valuable lessons, but I’d rather have a coach who has already learned those lessons – coaching someplace else.

What about the future?   This is a veteran team that was built for a long playoff run,  with a lot of guys moving on.   Michael Dal Colle, who was electric from the day he arrived,  will continue his season with the New York Islanders AHL farm team.  What a pleasure he was too watch.    Many others will move on in hockey and in life,  remembering fondly a great regular season & the banner they earned,  but carrying with them the weight of what could have been?    They’ll watch the Memorial Cup like the rest of us,  knowing they likely could have beaten any team that’s there.

Kingston gave up a boatload of draft picks to get Dal Colle and Desrochers.   That’s going to mean long waits between picks at the draft table and missing out on building blocks for the future.

They mortgaged the future to take a run at it,  good for them, but when it doesn’t work,  it will make those long nights ahead even longer.

It will  be another decade or more before we see another Kingston team as good as this one.   Until then, 2016 was just another dagger to the heart for Fronts fans.

 

View from the overpriced seats

Anybody still bitching about playoff ticket prices?   Not anyone who was there for Friday’s epic battle at the KRock Centre.   Game Two had something for everyone, the best entertainment for your hockey dollar was right here in Kingston ,  except there was no storybook ending.

4,700 fans were sitting in those overpriced seats when Kingston jumped out to a 1-0 lead just two minutes in on a powerplay goal by Connor McGlynn.    With the crowd behind them,  the Fronts couldn’t find a way to build off that early momentum.

In fact, for most of the night Kingston just didn’t play like they had all year.   More importantly,  they were missing the swagger that should come with being the best in the East and beating Niagara three of four during the regular season.

Niagara clearly looked like the top ‘Dogs,  dominating the Frontenacs for much of the night.  Early in the third period after putting two quick ones past Jeremy Helvig, they had a 5-2 lead and it looked like this one was over.  Hopes of a deep playoff run for the Frontenacs were fading by the minute.

Desperate times call for desperate measures.   Things got so bad coach Paul McFarland went back to his number one goalie Lucas Peressini.

You might remember Lucas?   A year ago Peressini was the OHL’s best goalie,  now stapled to the end of the Frontenacs bench finishing out his overage year.  There was no expectation Peressini was coming in to kickstart a comeback,  he was sent in to ‘mop up’ and save Helvig’s confidence from being completely destroyed.

But at that point the momentum changed,  and for the first time in a long time the Fronts faithful got really loud.   As loud as I have heard it for hockey at the KRock Centre.

The Kingston hockey crowd has a reputation for being pretty quiet even when they show up in big numbers.  But not on this night, they paid their money and they were going to be heard.   They didn’t wait for something to happen, several times the crowd spontaneously began chanting ‘Go Fronts Go’,  which never happens unless Rockin’ Reid is standing in front of three fans on the big screen offering them free pizza slices.  Reid was nowhere to be seen and the whole building was rocking. Cheering every hit, every scoring chance and every big play.   Yes, sitting in these vastly overpriced seats,  the home crowd had come alive and willed the Fronts to a spectacular comeback.

Feeding off the crowd Kingston rallied and scored three goals in the last ten minutes to knot it at 5-5 and force overtime.   The momentum carried over into the extra period, Fronts outshot Niagara 18-6 in OT and had chance after chance,  but could not beat Niagara goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic.  At one point Nedeljkovic went down injured,   it created a very long delay and it appeared he may not continue.  No such luck for Kingston.   Then with a 2nd overtime looming,  faceoff in the Kingston end, Niagara’s  Anthony DiFruscia beats Peressini with a wrister and just like that the night was over.

Maybe this franchise is really cursed.  On a night when they clearly deserved a much better fate the hockey Gods wouldn’t let it happen.   If the Fronts can play in St. Catharines the way they played in the last 30 minutes of Game Two this series is not over. Kingston fans seem pretty confident they will be back home for Game Five next Friday.

THIS &THAT

The Fronts make the 2nd round for the first time in almost two decades and all anyone wants to talk about is ticket prices.   That’s your worst nightmare if you’re the Fronts organization.  According to work done by our friends at CKWS-TV,  Fronts have the most expensive seats of the eight cities left in the OHL playoffs.  When you have starved your fan base of decent entertainment for two decades, why try to stick it to them when you finally get there?    They should have done ‘Throwback Thursday” for Game One and sold every seat in the place for 10 bucks  ..  Look for Helvig to be back in for Game Three Sunday  …Where would this team be without Dal Colle?  … Now that they’re getting a little attention,  why don’t the Fronts bring back some of their former players to be honoured pre-game.  A guy like Mike Moffat would be a good example.  This franchise pays no attention to its 40-plus year past.

 

 

 

Remembering Mike Moffat at the ’82 World Juniors

Moffat _ arriving Bruins

The World Junior Hockey Championships have become a staple for millions of Canadian hockey fans during the holiday season, as we watch Canada’s best young players battle for gold.

Things were much different in 1982, when Canada iced its first true national junior team and a goaltender from Kingston backstopped Canada to a gold medal.  Prior to 1982, the Memorial Cup champions bolstered by a few additional players had represented Canada at the tournament.

Mike Moffat, from Cambridge, ON,  was a 19 year old goaltender for the OHL’s Kingston Canadians when he made the national team, sharing the goaltending duties with Frank Caprice of the London Knights.

It was Moffat who played the crucial games; he got the start against the Soviet Union in a Boxing Day game in Winnipeg that was televised nationally on CTV.  Both teams were undefeated, but Canada embarrassed the Soviets 7-0 and Moffat got the shutout.

The gold medal game saw Canada play Czechoslovakia in Rochester, Minnesota, there was no TV coverage of the final and it was only heard on CBC radio.  Canada had won its first six games; the Czechs were 5-and-1.

With Moffat back in goal, Canada trailed 2-1 after forty minutes,  General Manager Sherry Bassin went into the Canadian dressing room during the second intermission waving a gold medal he had borrowed, telling them, “If you don’t win the third period, you will only be able to tell people you were 20 minutes away from being world champions.”

Canada scored two quick goals to take the lead in the third, Czechoslovakia tied it and it ended 3-3, giving Canada the gold.

Kingston’s Scott Arniel was one of the offensive stars of the tournament for Canada,  scoring 5 goals and collecting 11 points over the seven games, tying for third in team scoring.  Arniel split the 81-82 season between the Cornwall Royals and Winnipeg Jets.

As the Canadian players lined up for the national anthem to celebrate the gold medal win, the anthem never played.  So the players sang O’ Canada a cappella, in what has now become a tradition when Canada wins the tournament.

Moffat was unbeaten in 4 games with a 1.75 goals against average.  He was named to the tournament all-star team and chosen as the outstanding goaltender,   ahead of the USA’s John Vanbeisbrouck,  who went on to be an NHL star.  Within a couple days, Moffat was back in Kingston.

Every player on that Canadian team would go on to play in the NHL.  When Kingston was eliminated from the playoffs;  Moffat was called up by the Boston Bruins (he was a 7th round pick of the Bruins in the 1980 NHL draft) and played two of the final regular season games.   When the playoffs began,  to his surprise Moffat was named the starting goaltender by Bruins coach Gerry Cheevers.  Leaving veteran Rogie Vachon, in his 16th and final NHL season, watching the rookie and Marco Baron  – who had played 44 games for the Bruins that season – on the bench.

Moffat led the Bruins to 4-game sweep over Buffalo in the first round and was the talk of the hockey world.  In the next round, Boston went seven games against Quebec, Moffat was outstanding but the Bruins lost game seven 2-1.

It appeared Moffat had earned the right to be the Bruins goalie of the future, but that summer Boston acquired veteran Pete Peeters from Philadelphia and he would win the Vezina trophy the next season.   Moffat was never able to win back the Bruins job, played just 19 games in Boston over three seasons and was gone from the NHL by age 22.

He later confessed he found being an NHL goaltender very stressful; suffering through terrible pre-game nerves, chronic headaches and insomnia.

He gave up on hockey, returned to school at Wilfred Laurier University and ultimately ended up back in Kingston in the late 80’s , where he worked for several years at the local Rona store and played forward in a Kingston men’s hockey league.

Now 53, he lives in Toronto, still plays pickup hockey and works as an outside sale rep for Rona Lumber Supply.

But, there was a time three decades ago, when Mike Moffat was briefly the hottest goaltender in hockey.

 

 

 

Big Expectations for Dal Colle

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photo by Aaron Bell

Michael Dal  Colle woke up New Year’s day to a new beginning after sleep walking through the first half of the OHL season in Oshawa.   If he doesn’t know it already,  #71  will find out quickly he is Kingston’s new white knight;   joining a franchise with more playoff baggage than terminal one at Pearson International airport over the holidays.

Dal Colle knows he is here for one reason,  to lead the Frontenacs to an extended playoff run and erase almost 20 years of futility in KTown.   He has the pedigree to do it,  a first round pick of the NY Islanders (5th overall in the 2014 NHL draft,  right behind Sam Bennett) , he led Oshawa to the Memorial Cup last spring and I was in Quebec City to witness part of it.

Dal Colle is an elite player,  a difference maker,   the kind of player you need to win in the post-season.

In last year’s OHL playoffs he had 31 points.

To put that in perspective,  it  would have put him among the Frontenacs top ten scorers during the entire 68 game regular season.

But he hasn’t been that player this season.

After back to back  39 and 42 goal seasons, Dal Colle has looked very ordinary,  scoring just 8 goals for a Generals team that is a shadow of last year’s Memorial Cup team.   The New York Islanders are likely more thrilled with this move than Kingston is, having spent a high first round pick to get a player who has really struggled this season when he should be one of the league’s leading scorers.

The Frontenacs are banking on a change in scenery and new linemates will help Dal Colle regain his previous form,  after being cut for the second straight year by Canada’s World Junior team.

As a rental player he didn’t come cheap.

Kingston gives up their first round pick in 2015, Robbie Burt,  along with two second round picks and two third round picks.  Back in November the Fronts acquired 19 year old defenceman Stephen Desrochers from Oshawa, giving them 2 key pieces from a Memorial Cup winning team,  but they also parted with a lot of their future;  10 draft picks ( two are conditional) to get two final year players.

This is the second straight year Kingston GM Doug Gilmour has traded away his first round draft pick.  Robbie Burt could be an elite player in 2 or 3 years and Dal  Colle will be a distant memory.

Dealing your first round pick every year likely doesn’t sit well with your scouting staff and is no recipe for long term success.  Last year they traded their top pick, defenceman Reagan O’Grady, to Sudbury.  And of course who can forget in 2011 top pick Max Domi refused to come to Kingston and was traded to London.  But in his 8th year in Kingston and with zero playoff series wins to show for it,   for Dougie G the future is right now.

Ask  Blue Jays fans whether they were upset when Toronto  traded away most of its top prospects  last summer ,  in return for a memorable playoff run after 20 plus years of being a mediocre .500 team.

It’s long overdue for Kingston to be bold and to make a run.

They already have four elite players in their lineup; Peressini,   Crouse, Watson and McKeown.  Add Dal Colle to the mix and now there are no excuses for not going deep in the playoffs this spring.

The Fronts are saddled with the baggage that comes from their last playoff win dating back to after the ice storm in ’98.

They have mortgaged the future and the time is now.

Mr. Dal Colle,  welcome to Kingston,  now just win us a friggin’ playoff series.

 

 

 

 

Hulton Back On An Island

Jim Hulton is back on an island.  The Wolfe Island native has landed in Prince Edward Island, hired as the new head coach of the Charlottetown Islanders of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.  It’s been a long road back to the Canadian Hockey League, since Hulton was ‘voted off the island’ by the Kingston Frontenacs in 2006 following an 81-point season and a first round playoff exit.

That was the worst decision on a very long list of bad decisions for a Frontenacs organization that hasn’t won a playoff round since 1998.  

After being fired by the Fronts,  Hulton spent a year coaching at Royal Military College,  a season back in the OHL working alongside Dave Cameron and the Mississauga Icedogs, followed by a 3-year stint in the NHL as an assistant coach with the Florida Panthers.

He came back home to Kingston and was out of hockey for a couple of seasons,  before moving to Nebraska and leaving his family behind in 2013 to coach the Tri-City Storm of the United States Junior Hockey League.  

Hulton was named coach and GM in Tri-City , and for the first time in his career actually had input on the players he got to coach.  The first year they finished under .500, but this past season they tacked on an extra 20 regular season wins and people began to take notice.

You knew it was only a matter of time before an opportunity opened back up for him in the CHL.  The Frontenacs should have hired him back as coach and GM, but that would have involved admitting a previous mistake and you know that doesn’t happen here.  So as the Fronts continue upon their merry little trek to oblivion, Jim Hulton packs up again and heads to the Maritimes to an Islanders team that looks like it has some pieces.

Neate Sager in a post on Yahoo Sports, points out the Islanders have two second round NHL draft picks and a goalie on Team Canada’s radar for the World Juniors. The team posted a 35-28-1-4 record this past season and won a playoff round for the first time since 2004.

Almost 70 candidates applied for the job, but GM Grant Sonier told The Guardian newspaper in PEI he wanted Hulton, “He is a motivator, a teacher, and a guy that we think can bring this team to the next level. We’re really elated to get him.”

Just over a decade ago, after being fired by the Montreal Canadiens, Alain Vigneault went to PEI to relaunch his coaching career in the ‘Q’.

Hulton will feel right at home in PEI, they’re his kind of people, and on-ice success will be sure to follow.