Building a team within the confines of MLS isn’t a particularly easy task. By and large, the player pool is generally limited to in-betweeners (those who can’t quite make the cut in other leagues) and to players either in the dawn or twilight of their careers. It’s also limited to players who are willing to work and play on our vast continent and put up with the turf and the travel – there is minimal contrast between most when it comes to talent in a league driven by parity such as MLS.
The Designated Player rule is a means by which teams can bolster their roster – it is the most immediate mechanism clubs have to separate themselves from the pack. And when you’re hamstrung by the budget limitations enforced by the Whitecaps front office, it makes the necessity to utilize that mechanism all the more difficult – and crucial.
It is also a process that the Whitecaps have seemingly overlooked and/or underestimated repeatedly.
As a photographer, I’ve had the pleasure of capturing images of ATP Challenger tennis, football at MLS and FIFA international events, as well as puck from Timbits hockey and the beer leagues al the way up to the bigs. Somehow, though, I’d never shot Canada’s other national sport, lacrosse. Until last week, that is. Thanks to Jen and Erin at Tenth to the Fraser for encouraging me to try it out.
Here are my best pics from a nailbiter, a dramatic 10-9 win for the first-place New Westminster Salmonbellies on their home floor at Queen’s Park Arena.
For nearly half an hour on Wednesday night it looked as though the Whitecaps would become back-to-back Canadian champions. Vancouver took advantage of a Bradley-less, Irwin-less Toronto FC squad to stake out to a 2-0 lead (2-1 on aggregate) and carried that lead well into stoppage time. A disinterested and detached Giovinco, seen moping around the pitch at BC Place for 90 minutes, didn’t help TFC’s cause much either.
Everything was seemingly coming up Whitecaps. After a rather pedestrian first 45, Carl Robinson subbed in firecracker Nicolás Mezquida at half-time in place of Russell Teibert. The move paid immediate dividends when the Uruguayan scored just two minutes later. Tim Parker pushed the Caps into the pole position after a nifty chest-to-foot volley in the 68th minute found the netting in behind replacement keeper Alex Bono.
The pride of New Westminster, four-time All-Star infielder Justin Morneau, has recently signed a one-year contract with the Chicago White Soxs. He’s hoping for a return to the bigs sometime next month — probably after the All-Star Game — but will probably see some action with the AAA Charlotte Knights quite soon to shake off the rust. With concussion problems and a wonky elbow, Morneau was limited to just 49 games last season for the Colorado Rockies, who declined the contract option for another year. Enter the ChiSox, who currently sit in the bottom third of the league in just about every hitting category you can imagine. This is a team that desperately needs Morneau to bring even half of his batting title form to the plate if they hope to make a run at a Wild Card spot.
During the off-season, Morneau kept busy on a number of fronts. He had surgery to repair a tendon in that troublesome elbow, and focussed on continued recuperation from multiple concussions. Off the field, Morneau donated nearly $35,000 to KidSport in his hometown of New Westminster. KidSport is an organization that assists children of all backgrounds take part in registered sport. Morneau’s donation puts nearly 150 kids who might not otherwise be able to afford sign-up fees and equipment onto New Westminster fields, rinks and courts .
“Justin’s donation came at a time when we really needed it,” says Jen Arbo, KidSport New West Registrar. “KidSport New West has seen a significant rise in number of families applying for funding. In 2015, for example, we saw a 33% increase in total value of grants given out compared to 2014. So far this year, we are on track to see a similar increase. In January 2016 alone we gave out just under $6,000,” says Arbo.
KidSport New West Chair Sandon Fraser says the money is used for a variety of team and individual sports. “The only real limitations [for recipients] are that the sport be a full season, and that registration be with a provincial sport organization.”
For his part, Morneau downplays his donation, “I didn’t do this to receive attention,” he says, “but if it can inspire others to donate or help out with charitable causes then I guess it’s worth the media attention.”
Pucked in the Head: We all know about your success on the baseball field, and hereabouts it’s quite well known that you were a pretty good goalie back in the day. What other sports had a role in your development, personally and professionally?
Justin Morneau: We played almost any sport we could growing up. We played a lot of wiffle ball in my back yard, a lot of street hockey, pick up basketball and whatever else we could make up in our minds. The games we played were not usually organized by parents. We usually just got together and figured out our own teams and what rules we would play by. I think this is something that really helped my development as an athlete because it wasn’t forced by parents. I was getting better athletically without even knowing I was doing it. I feel like this isn’t something that is done as much by kids today.
PITH: At the highest competitive levels, how similar are the roles of catcher and goaltender?
JM: I’ve been asked this question many times in my life and I don’t think I’ve ever really been able to come up with a solid answer. I don’t think there are too many similarities.
PITH: According to Wikipedia, your favourite players growing up included Ray Bourque — who is also my favourite hockey player of all time, by the way — and Cam Neely, as well as John Olerud and Larry Walker. Travelling in pro athlete circles, have you met them at all? Does a pro athlete get the same thrill meeting those childhood idols that we mere mortals do?
I haven’t had the chance to meet Ray Bourque or Cam Neeley yet. I played against Olerud quite a few times and had some short conversations with him at first base. I was also able to get him to sign a bat for me, which was very cool. I have gotten to know Larry Walker quite well. I played my first game in the big leagues against him and before the game he sent over a signed bat that said “to Justin, make Canada proud”. And that’s what I’ve been trying to do ever since.
They tell me winning isn’t everything, but you’ve won quite a few things in your career. MVP awards, Silver Sluggers, a Home Run Derby, a division title and even a Memorial Cup. What is your fondest sports memory outside of the formal accolades?
I think my favourite memories of sports are the relationships that I’ve built along the way. All the way back to when I was playing tyke hockey in New West, to my minor league roommates and then people like Larry Walker. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Harmon Killebrew and Jim Thome. Not only are they two of the greatest baseball players of all time, but more importantly two of the most humble and genuinely nice people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing.
We all know that team sports, and athletics in general, are amazing tools for developing responsible, healthy, able youth. However, the recent discussion around concussions has some parents thinking twice about just how active their kids should be. Obviously, you have a very personal experience with the issue. What’s your take?
While the risk of concussion is real, I still feel the odds of getting one are low. I think the most important thing is that kids aren’t afraid to let someone know when they’ve experienced concussion symptoms, but even more importantly the parents are able to make the right decisions for the health of the child including taking them to a doctor and not pushing them back on the field or the ice for whatever reason. I think we have come a long way in educating parents that true toughness isn’t playing through a concussion like the olden days of “getting your bell rung, and getting back out there”, but of doing what is right in terms of long term health of the child and their brain.
At Fenway Park last week, the Mariners took the first game of three from the Red Sox. In doing so, they got a win against the best hitting team in the American League — and in fact in all of baseball. The Mariners are currently ranked second in the AL behind Boston, and fifth in the Major Leagues.
A year ago, if you’d told me I’d be able to write that paragraph this season, I would have laughed out loud. Now, in the Mariners’ 40th season in the Major Leagues, I have the pleasure of doing so.
My editor, who continuously nags at me on Facebook about my lack of baseball writing, wondered… why. Why is this Mariners team hitting so well? How did Franklin Gutierrez hit two home runs and drive in six runs in that game? Why is Robinson Cano, recovered from offseason surgery, having such a great season? How has this team hit 101 home runs — and how is it that they’re the only team in the Majors to have five players with double digits in the Home Run column? The answer, my friends: Edgar Martinez.
Not so long ago, I was tapped by Leaf Trading Cards to shoot photos for their junior hockey series.
I have dozens of dynamic action shots I’m super proud of, but the first one that got picked up for a set is this rather pedestrian still shot of draft prospect defenseman Max Lajoie. There are three more pics that are coming in a subsequent set, including two of Vancouver Giants Ty Ronning and Ryan Kubic; this one, however, will always be my first trading card credit.
The San Jose Sharks are going to win the 2016 Stanley Cup. Guaranteed.
1. Their beards are badass.
It all started with defenseman Brent Burns. When he entered the NHL a decade ago, he looked like any other surfer dude who learned that lettering in hockey meant a lifetime of babes, beer and ridiculous bling, dude. By 2013, well ahead of the hipster beard virus, he was a bloody X-File. Since coming to the Sharks, he’s found a new level for his game to go where he used to keep his shaving kit. Where his career high was previously 46 points (in 2010 with Minnesota), he’s racked up 48, 60 and 75 points in the last three seasons respectively. This guy has turned from a fair to middling blueliner with silly facial hair into a Norris Trophy candidate whose knowledge of beard oils and combs is sought out by superstars — like Joe freaking Thornton. Between the two of them and Joe Pavelski’s penchant for wearing his heart over the C on that uniform, the Sharks look like the American Civil War has risen again.
2. They know how to rebound from weird shit.
The Sharks may just have the oddest history in hockey. Remember, this is a league that features the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Down Goes Brown outlines it well here. Each individual playoff loss is all right; only one team wins it all each year, after all. But by the time the Sharks blew a 3-0 series lead against the Kings in 2014, they had dealt with own goals, traitorous stanchions and backroom deals that robbed them of first overall picks. (Canucks fans know about this feeling: imagine the 70s with Gilbert Perreault in the ol’ stink-in-rink jersey! Now give Eric Lindros to the Sharks in their inaugural season, and you get the idea.) After this collapse, Joe Thornton was stripped of his captaincy — which had been originally stripped from Patrick Marleau — and demoted to the rank and file.
This team has come back hungrier and hotter, bigger and badder from every single one of their misfortunes. Look for them to bounce off that Game One loss with a BONINOBONINOBONINO moment of their very own.
3. They’ve got a couple of milk hot dogs on their team.
Kevin Bieksa famously referred to the Sharks with this colourful metaphor back in 2011. Frankly, he was right. From captain Pavelski, through beardsville, on down to Tommy Wingels and Brenden Dillon, this squad has proven to be a serious bag of dicks to opposition teams. It’s no surprise they’re the team to survive the shithot battles of California — they’re big, they’re bad and they have all the feels. Even Evgeni Malkin has grown a Thornton in honour of the Sharks first Cup final appearance.
It ain’t just chinrats and attitude. The Sharks play the wall as well as any team in the league. They have three lines that will eat up the boards and spit out scoring chances like SCA fanatics chewing organic, fair trade fake tobacky. Where Pittsburgh likes to skate and make things pretty, San Jose grinds you into paste, smears you into their beards and shoves your puck into the blue paint. They’ve got some genuine superstars in the mix as well. Thornton is an Art Ross winner. Marleau has over 1,000 points. Burns had 75 points this year. Pavelski is one of the most dangerous playoff performers of this generation.
Roll the Jaws soundtrack, boys and girls. Those Penguins are done for.
Don’t let the weather forecast fool you. There’s a cold wind blowing in Pennsylvania these days, and it’s guaranteed to land the Stanley Cup right into Pittsburgh for the fourth time in franchise history. Here’s why:
1. Well, duh. They won Game One.
If NHL.com can be believed, the team winning Game One of the final has gone on to win the Cup over 78% of the time. To be exact, since the best-of-seven format was adopted in 1939, 54 of 69 teams have followed a Game One win with a championship parade.
2. The Pens are bloody fearless.
When Pittsburgh waved buh-bye to the Tampa Bay Lightning after Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals, captain Sidney Crosby didn’t hesitate to touch the Prince of Wales trophy. Where others quail at the prospect of physical contact with a silver bowl not named Stanley, Sid skated right up to Bill Daly and grabbed hold of that bad boy and passed it around like a dog-eared copy of Atlas Shrugged at a young Republicans convention.. Don’t get me wrong: Crosby is hella superstitious; nobody on the team touched the Wales trophy when they advanced to the final in 2008. After losing to Detroit, however, they decided to switch it up the following year. In 2009, Crosby & Co. hoisted the bejesus out of ol’ man Wales, and that’s when they won their third Cup. A new tradition was born.
3. Nick Bonino
The Anaheim Ducks wrote him off, and the Canucks tossed him overboard. Hell, even in Pittsburgh, Nick Bonino only had 29 points this season. But in the playoffs so far, he’s racked up nearly a point a game and ignited Phil Kessel on perhaps the best third line in this man’s NHL. His game-winner on Monday night wasn’t the prettiest goal you’ll ever see, but young Saint Nick picked a damned good time to put a dagger into the San Jose Sharks.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t include this outstanding call of that GOLAZO by Hockey Night in Canada’s Punjabi play-by-play crew:
He’s not known as a shooter, but he rifled a wicked wrister through Martin Jones with three minutes left in a tight contest. Bonino’s gone from also-ran to core player in a remarkably short period of time in Pittsburgh. Look for the man Raffi calls Boninophone to win whatever Unsung Hero award they give away in Pens land after the lift Lord Stanley’s greatest beer mug.
4. The Pens play a deadly north-south, firewagon brand of hockey.
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are able to play on the wall — Glenn Healy is fond of running film that shows off Sid’s low centre of gravity and upper body strength — but they much prefer to skate the puck up the middle of the ice. When they’re on, boys and girls, these two can create magic out there. Crosby is hungry right now. He knows a Cup this year will cement his legacy as one of the truly great leaders of this generation. It’s a banner that’s drooped since Jonathan Toews and Drew Doughty have put the Blackhawks and Kings on their backs over the past few years, so Sid is doing everything in his considerable power to shuck the “not a playoff performer” label he’s managed to acquire since consecutive final appearances in ’08 and ’09.
As long as the puck is moving back and forth, the Pens will scrub the Sharks into scoreboard submission.
Prediction: Pens in 6.
Coming up tomorrow: San Jose will win the Stanley Cup.
Welcome back to baseball, Major League style. Spring training is over, the games that matter (all 162 of them) have begun, and the Mariners find themselves at .500 going into today’s series finale with the Rangers.
Starting the season in Arlington Monday, the Mariners had a nine-year Opening Day win streak on the line. Unfortunately, despite a one-hitter from Felix Hernandez, the Ms lost 3-2. The King issued an uncharacteristic five walks in six innings, and was hurt by two Mariners errors, both in the fifth, which led to the Rangers’ three runs. This was the first time since 1913 when a team lost a one-hitter on Opening Day. Sometimes it feels like the Mariners are apt at being first in categories where one really would rather not lead.
Fortunately, the middle game of the season-opening series with the Rangers had a much better outcome. FOUR Mariner home runs (following two on Opening Day), including a Nelson Cruz #boomstick shot in the fourth, and three (that’s right, three) in the eighth inning off former Mariner Tom Wilhelmsen.
The eighth also featured the Mariners, including new manager Scott Servais, coming out of the dugout after Wilhelmsen appeared to intentionally hit new Mariner catcher Chris Iannetta. Wilhemsen wound up giving up five runs to as many batters in that inning, so he must have been frustrated. But the real story here was the quick response from Mariners players and Servais, who were quickly out of the dugout and yelling at the Rangers. Sure, baseball isn’t hockey, and no punches were thrown, but the passion and fire on display were a welcome contrast to some previous Mariners teams.
Other good stuff: Luis Sardinas hit his first home run yesterday. Robinson Cano now has two home runs, including a monster first-pitch solo shot off Wilhelmsen yesterday. And the Mariners bullpen threw four innings of one-hit ball, holding the Rangers scoreless after Iwakuma’s exit at the end of the fifth inning.
I told some guy who keeps nagging me about writing Mariners articles here that I think two keys to the season are how 1) Cano comes back from his injuries last year, and 2) how the bullpen performs. It’s very very early going, but so far both of those things look good.
[Author’s note: yeah, this is what happens when I put a post into draft and then forget about it. Without further ado, we take you back to January…]
This weekend Safeco Field hosted the latest edition of the annual FanFest event, a way for season ticket holder wannabes to take a look at their prospective seats…and for all of the rest of us to have some fan hanging out at the ballpark.
Although the line was longer than I wanted to wait through, the zipline in right field proved quite popular (Yogi’s “no one goes there anymore, it’s too crowded” is rather apropos). The kids enjoyed walking around the basepaths, snapping photos in the dugout, and knocking whiffleballs over the fence in left field.
The Q&A and autograph sessions with Mariners past and present were popular as always. Jay Buhner and Dave Valle enjoyed some time with Mariners broadcaster Rick Rizzs, but the highlight today had to be Charlie Furbush, who donned an epic hairpiece and shared some of his best karaoke moves with the fans. Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” was good, but Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” really stole the show, despite some technical difficulties. A brief Kyle Seager appearance (Seager: “Who’s your favorite Mariner?”, Furbush: “You!”) generated a lot of applause as well. Furbush definitely seems one of those guys it would be fun to have a beer with; not sure I could keep up with his singing talents, though.
Every year, as we get close to the start of spring training, fans find themselves searching for signs of hope. Will this be the year the catching improves, the starting rotation holds together, the bullpen solidifies, the infield and outfield defense is where it needs to be, and the hitting is timely? We’ll have more on those subjects soon, but at least from the players at FanFest today, there appears to be some of that impossible-to-quantify team chemistry brewing at Safeco Field this year.