Willie O’Ree’s Wild Ride into Hockey History

Sports: Hockey Hall of Fame Willie O’Ree smashed the National Hockey League’s colour barrier when he was recruited by the Boston Bruins, but the newly inducted Hall-of-Famer gave a young hockey fan from the ‘burbs a big city thrill. By Rod Mickleburgh Every now and then, the National Hockey League, even under Gary Bettman, does the right thing. So it was with the recent selection of Willie O’Ree to the Hockey Hall of Fame. O’Ree, 82, was chosen under the hallowed institution’s “builder category,” as the first black to lace ‘em up in the NHL and a long-time ambassador for youth and hockey diversity. In recent years, the honours have piled up for the likeable O’Ree. Banners raised, arenas named, ceremonies, inductions to other, more local halls of fame, and in 2008, the Order of Canada. O’Ree has taken it all in stride, evincing little bitterness over the setbacks and racist taunting he experienced at times during his long hockey career, which lasted until he ...

A Great Big Yes to James Paxton’s No-No in Toronto

Sports: Baseball Ladner B.C.’s James Paxton is the first Canadian to throw a no-hitter on home turf, but the man they call Big Maple refuses to chuck his Canuck identity. By Rod Mickleburgh When James Paxton came out for the bottom of the ninth against the hometown Toronto Blue Jays, he was pumped. Three outs away from an historic no-hitter, the steely hurler from Ladner, BC was not going to lose it by nibbling around the edges of the plate with sliders and curve balls. He came right at the Blue Jay hitters with fast balls. Despite having already thrown 92 pitches and never having pitched a complete game in his six-year, injury-plagued career, they were his fastest of the night. One broke the 100 mph barrier (160 kilometres per hour in Ladner). All seven were strikes. Anthony Alford fouled out on the first pitch. Hot-hitting Teoscar Hernandez went down swinging on three blazing fastballs. And dangerous Josh Donaldson lashed the ball hard, but straight at the Seattle Mariners’ ...

How do you spell Canada? C.O.U.R.A.G.E.

Sports: 2018 Olympic Games in PyeongChang The Great White North is currently enjoying one of its best Winter Games ever, but the winning ingredient may not be money, fame, celebrity or even patriotic support. It's guts. By Rod Mickleburgh This year, I thought, my lifelong love of the Olympics, was, if not at an end, under serious challenge. PyeongChang? The site of the Games conjured up no vision at all. Nor, with newspapers and other media so reduced, was there any real build-up to these Winter Olympics to whet the appetite. Once Gary Kingston, the Vancouver Sun’s consummate chronicler of BC’s winter athletes, departed, coverage dropped to virtually zero. As for the Globe and Mail, my former paper has regularly sent a healthy contingent to the Olympics, including, on occasion, me. This year, the Globe opted for a small force of three. The late, dispiriting, get-out-of-jail-free card delivered to Russia’s organized dopers didn’t help. Given that, the lack of buzz ...

Everything you need to know about the 2018 Olympic Games

Sports: 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang When do they start? What will the time difference mean to viewers? What about Russia?: A snapshot look at the Winter Games in South Korea By Bev Wake 1. THE IMPORTANT STUFF These are the second Olympics in South Korea, following the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul. They officially begin on Friday, Feb. 9 and end 17 days later on Sunday, Feb. 25. By the time they are done, 2,925 athletes representing 92 countries will have competed in 15 sports. Some athletes will begin their quest for gold prior to the opening ceremonies: mixed doubles curling starts Thursday — Wednesday night back in Canada — as does ski jumping. On Friday — again, Thursday evening back in Canada — moguls skiers will compete in qualifying heats, while the team figure skating competition opens with the men’s and pairs short programs. 2. ABOUT THAT TIME DIFFERENCE ... There is a 14-hour time difference between South Korea and Toronto and a 17-hour time difference ...

20 International athletes to watch at the 2018 Olympic Games in PyeongChang

Sports: 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang From South Korean skaters to 'Olympic Athletes from Russia': A snapshot look at some of the top medal prospects from outside of Canada at the Winter Games in South Korea By Bev Wake 1. MARIT BJOERGEN, Cross-Country Country: Norway Born: March 21, 1980 Why you should watch: Already the most successful female athlete in Winter Olympic history — with 10 medals, including five gold — she’ll try to add to her collection in PyeongChang. She won three medals in Sochi, all gold, and despite missing time after those games to have a baby, there’s little indication she’s slowed down. She left the 2017 world championships with four medals, all gold, in the 10-km classic, 7.5km + 7.5km double pursuit, 4x5km relay and 30km freestyle. She is within three medals of Norwegian biathlete Ole Einar Bjorndalen’s 13 for most Winter Olympic medals all-time by an athlete, male or female. 2. CHOI MIN JEONG, Short Track Country: South ...

Baseball’s Off-Season Cues Symphony of Majors and Minors

Sports: Baseball Looking back at the year of ball that was, Rod Mickleburgh finds the big league diamonds were rough, but the minor games at the likes of Nat Bailey Stadium were small gem experiences in a priceless setting. By Rod Mickleburgh And so baseball winter has begun, made even harsher by the tragic death of Roy Halladay. The hopeful breezes of spring, the lazy hazy crazy days of summer and the beautifully slanted light of fall have all departed from the diamond, leaving us to bundle up and shiver through the bleak wintry months of no baseball. In that sweet, far-off time when I was a kid, the Series was always over by the second week of October, in time for the players to do their fall hunting. Now, with so many wildcard and playoff games piled on, the Series stretches into November, as ridiculous a month as ever was for the summer game. In November, you don’t think baseball, you think winter. There was hardly a “wow” ending. The highly-anticipated seventh game ...

What The Knuckler?

Sports: Baseball When everything about baseball is new, having a knowledgeable buddy to help you get a grip on balls, strikes and four-seam fastballs can be more fun than shagging a can of corn (The following is part of a continuing correspondence between Charley Gordon, journalist and veteran baseball fan, and novelist Brian Doyle, author of books such as Martin Marten, The Plover and Angel Square. He is also a newly minted follower of the boys of summer.)   May 3, 2016 Dear Dr. Gordon: I have a friend who has been a baseball fan for 70 years. I am, as you know, a neophyte baseball watcher. My friend (let's call him "Mike") has a superior attitude and is sneeringly patronizing when it comes to baseball comments. I fear, when I come out of the closet, he is going to dismiss and even scoff  at any observation I might make about the game. I want to say something about knuckle ball pitchers in general and R.A. Dickey in particular. I want my comment to ...

Muhammad Ali: The Greatest, in All Ways, Always

Tribute: Muhammad Ali No one can quantify the extent of outrage and villification that spewed down on Ali when he turned his back on everything American. Yet, with everything to lose, Ali stood up for his rights as a black man, loudly and unabashedly. By Rod Mickleburgh A tough week for us sports fans of another generation. Losing two great heroes of our youth: Muhammad Ali, and now, Gordie Howe (he never changed his name to Gordon..). This is about the champ. It’s been said many, many times, but it remains true. Never again will we see the likes of Muhammad Ali. “For all you kids out there”, it’s difficult to convey just how dominant a figure he was during those first 20 years he reigned as by far the most beloved and admired athlete in the world. Evidence of his unsurpassed skill and courage in the rink are easily found on YouTube. And most accounts written after Ali’s death relate in great detail his bold, in-your-face defiance of white America. He stuck it to ...

Close encounters on the third base line

Sports: Jays' Spring Training in Dunedin Whether you're sponging up the baseball, sponging off the spilled beer, or buying a sponge in a seaside tourist shop, catching Blue Jays spring training in Dunedin is a ball fan's beery version of Valhalla By Jay Stone DUNEDIN, Fla. — On my first day in Dunedin this year, I went to a spring training baseball game and saw a pitcher named Pat Venditte, who can throw with either arm. He has a special six-finger glove with a thumb at each end, and he can put it on whichever hand he wants and throw with the other arm. Venditte, who is in the Toronto Blue Jays camp, has been in the league for a while — he was with the Yankees two years ago and Oakland last year — and there’s even a rule named after him. It says that he has to declare which arm he’s going to throw with against a switch-hitter. This keeps baseball, which is kind of a leisurely sport anyway, from becoming an endless game of chicken, with Venditte moving his glove from ...

András Schiff conquers gridiron goliaths

Rod Mickleburgh: The Super Bowl vs. Classical Piano Recital How a 62-year-old pianist in a knee-length tunic made one lifelong sports fan forget about the Super Bowl, and feel the magic of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert By Rod Mickleburgh The treasured Leila Getz, described in the program as “Head Honcho” of the Vancouver Recital Society, welcomed us with her usual enthusiasm. “Thank you for choosing András Schiff over the Super Bowl. The magic begins.” And indeed, it did. Moments later, the stately, 62-year old master pianist, wearing a knee-length black tunic, walked out from the wings, acknowledged our applause, sat down on the cushioned bench, rested his hands on the top of the piano for 20 seconds of contemplation, and began to play. While gazillions tuned into the greatest annual event in the history of the world, aka the Super Bowl, which surpasses even the Eurovision Song Contest in global importance, I sat entranced, with hundreds of others at the packed ...