Just My Thoughts: The World of Sports (Apr. 12-26)

The Road to Redemption

Pittsburgh Penguins v Boston Bruins - Game Three

Every spring Canadians become captivated by hockey and the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Players will sacrifice it all to help their teams inch closer to a Cup win. Consider Gregory Campbell who played through a broken leg in 2013 with the Boston Bruins. However, some players have their playoff dreams ripped away from them be it due to injury or even off-ice issues. Zack Kassian became an overnight sensation, after scoring two crucial game-winning goals for the Edmonton Oilers in the first round. On the other side of Canada, Clarke MacArthur launched Ottawa into a frenzy when he scored the overtime-winner in Game 6 of the Senators’ first round series to send the Sens to round two. Both players endured a lot of pain, stress, and doubt; but, they are finally breaking through.

zack-kassian-car-crash

On October 4, 2015, Zack Kassian found himself in troubled waters. The Windsor native had not played a single game for the Montreal Canadiens, when he was involved in a car accident that day, suffering a broken nose and fractured left foot. Kassian was found to be under the influence of alcohol, at the time of the accident, though he was not the driver. However, this revelation saw him placed into the NHL’s substance abuse program. The once highly-touted prospect had hit rock-bottom. Traded three times and considered a bust, Kassian needed help and was forced to get it. After finishing his stint in the NHL’s substance abuse program Kassian was told not to report to the St. John Ice Caps (the Canadiens’ affiliate) and was traded to the Edmonton Oilers.

8945361

As if it was not hard enough for Kassian to join the fourth team of his NHL career at the age of 24, Kassian was joining a team that hated his guts. During a pre-season game in 2013 Kassian blatantly high-sticked then-Oiler Sam Gagner in the face, resulting in Gagner losing four teeth and needing a plate and six screws to repair his mouth. To make his own matters worse, when Gagner returned in a game against Vancouver later that season, Kassian decided to taunt him for having to wear a face-shield as result of the injury. Kassian became public enemy number one in Edmonton. Yet, Oilers General Manager Peter Chiarelli saw untapped potential and a low-risk opportunity in Kassian, and gave him a final chance to prove himself. It was not an easy road for Kassian; but, this was the best offer he was going to receive, and he wanted to make the best of the opportunity.

edm119399869_high

After a short stint with the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL, Kassian got the call from Edmonton to return to the NHL, and made his debut with the Oilers on January 14, 2016. Just under a week later, he scored his first NHL goal in over 10 months. Since then, Kassian has found a consistent role in the Oilers’ lineup. The 26-year old played a career-high 79 games this season and recorded 24 points, while providing valuable minutes on the team’s penalty kill. Though, nothing can be as sweet as Kassian’s playoff production, which has truly been a coming out party for him on a national stage. The gritty Kassian cashed in on a breakaway opportunity in Game 2 shorthanded and sent Edmonton into pandemonium. The Oilers would go onto win the game, and even up the series, however, Kassian’s heroics were not done there. In Game 3, a David Schlemko was gifted to Kassian who deposited the game’s only goal into the Sharks net, winning the game for Edmonton in doing so. This lea TSN’s Ryan Rishaug and Darren Dreger to question whether Kassian is on his way to becoming a playoff-star, when commenting on his breakout performance. Whether he is on his way to becoming a playoff star or not, one thing is for sure, Kassian is in a much better place than he was a year and a half ago, and is a better man for it.

cut

On the other side of Canada, a different story has been unfolding over the past two years. On February 16, 2015, in a game between the Ottawa Senators and Carolina Hurricanes, Clarke MacArthur found his team falling victim to an odd-man rush. Seeing this, MacArthur sped up to pick up his man going to the net. In doing so, though, MacArthur fell and goaltender Robin Lehner gave him an inadvertent blocker to the head. This was MacArthur’s first concussion, and, not thinking much of it, he made a goal to return to the Senators lineup later that season. MacArthur was a part of the Senators’ “Hamburglar” run, even stringing together a seven-game point streak to end the regular season. However, MacArthur’s return may have cost him. The Senators had high aspirations for MacArthur coming into the 2015-16 season, but only four games in, he suffered another concussion. General Manager Bryan Murray announced a week later that MacArthur would not be returning in the near future.

the-annual-senators-fanfest-took-place-sunday-september-25

In late March of 2016, MacArthur finally passed baseline tests to return. But, with the team far from playoff contention, the Senators shut him down for the season. With that in mind, fans were excited to see MacArthur skating with the Senators in September, and were ambitious and anxious to see the top-six forward back on the ice. On September 25, disaster struck. In a team scrimmage newly-acquired Senator Patrick Sieloff gave MacArthur a hard body check along the boards, and MacArthur instantly collapsed. Furious with the situation teammates Bobby Ryan and Chris Neil began to fight Sieloff. MacArthur was aided off the ice by teammates, and a happy day turned somber in the blink of an eye.

cut1

With another setback MacArthur was told to take his time, and to consult concussion doctors about his future. Amazingly enough, by late October, MacArthur was back around the rink. Senators’ Head Coach Guy Boucher informed the media that MacArthur would be travelling with the team, as he thought it would be good for him to be around his teammates. In early December, fans received promising news when MacArthur indicated he intended to join the Senators sometime in January. This news came as a surprise to many, as MacArthur had now suffered three concussions in less than two years. Training every day, and practising with his teammates in a non-contact jersey, MacArthur would stay on the ice after his teammates left, working as hard as he could to get back. On January 20, 2017, the final nail in the coffin appeared to have been put in. Senators General Manager Pierre Dorion announced that doctors had advised the team to shut MacArthur down for the year, and that they intended to do so. Dorion also refused to comment on MacArthur’s future. It seemed to be the end to an incredible comeback, and MacArthur was crushed. Yet, he refused to give up.

2017_4_15_69a4fdaf-ac42-47bf-afbc-e024a1a29d48_jpg_1920x1080

In late-March, the unexpected happened. MacArthur announced that he was not shut down and still intended to play. Boucher and Dorion, not in complete agreement with the comments, gave rather cautious responses to this. Then, on April 4th, Dorion shocked the hockey world by announcing that MacArthur would be in the lineup that evening for the Senators game against the Detroit Red Wings. The hockey community instantly became embroiled in a heated discussion, on whether MacArthur should be playing or not. However, when he hit the ice for his first professional game in nearly two years the building roared in excitement for #16. At the end of the night, the Senators and MacArthur had won, proving he could still play. He was noticeably emotional during his post-game interview, but set his eyes towards the playoffs, focused and determined to be ready if he got the call. And, he got the call. As described by Boucher, “all of Ottawa raised its arms when MacArthur scored in Game 2”. Then all of Ottawa celebrated again when MacArthur scored the series-winning goal in Game 6 to defeat the Boston Bruins.

eddiesharks2d2e31c260ff4bb3af302322287e78ba-2d2e31c260ff4bb3af30232-jpg

Two very different journeys by two men in different points of their careers. One unproven and undesired, and one injured and distraught. However, they both persevered and overcame their battles. Canada tunes into the Stanley Cup Playoffs and cheer for these men, commending them for their acts of courage and strength. Both Kassian and MacArthur serve as reminders to never ever give up on your dreams. No matter who is against you, you can always achieve those dreams if you work hard enough to get there. Congratulations Zack and Clarke, your dreams have come true, and it is wonderful to have you guys back on the ice.

 

Note to my readers: Sorry I could not provide you with the tidbits this week! As I was in exam period and have been quite busy! I hope you enjoyed this week’s piece, though, and hope you stick along for the ride in the summer! Enjoy the playoffs! And all should return to normal this coming week, my Facebook and Twitter will give updates if that changes! Thank you for your support as always!

Special thanks to Geoff Marlowe for helping with the editing work and a big thank you to you the reader for taking your time to read my work! Appreciate it! Hope you continue to read along, if you have any suggestions/comments/questions, please feel free to inbox me or talk to me on Twitter @sassysaslove.

Just My Thoughts: The World of Sports (Apr. 6-11)

Rediscovering Love for the Ottawa Senators: A Fan’s Journey from 2013-2017

the-ottawa-senators-bench-is-the-look-of-dejection-after-the

Coming into this season the Ottawa Senators had made the playoffs one time in their past three seasons. Dating back to the 2007-08 season the Senators had won one playoff series. They were a team who never seemed amongst the league’s best: even their unprecedented Hamburglar run in 2014-15 ended after six playoff games. Inconsistency, poor structure, and a lack of talent contributed to the Senators’ mediocrity. Through and through I followed the team, but there has been something missing in these past years. My life-long fandom of the Sens changed when this organization betrayed my trust and made me have mixed feelings about it on July 5th of 2013.

 

I had heard speculation that Daniel Alfredsson was looking at all offers, but I never believed he would leave the Senators. Then, around noon, news broke that Alfredsson would be leaving Senators to sign with the Detroit Red Wings. Originally I thought Alfredsson just wanted a Stanley Cup, but quickly I found out there was more to that.

daniel-alfredsson-wings-e1385989907946

Reports had originally surfaced that Alfredsson was handed a blank check. Then, this tweet appeared.  Alfredsson had his previous contract front-loaded, and had a salary of $1M in the 2012-13 season. This was done with the intention of Alfredsson not playing in 2012-13, as both the Senators and Alfie believed he would retire. However, that was not the case, and this side deal to keep the Senators’ cap down came under scrutiny. Having done the Senators a favour Alfredsson expected to be rewarded with his desired salary of $5.5M. Instead, he was asked to take another hometown discount. The Senators never believed he would leave, but the contract debacle forced Alfredsson out of Ottawa. I did not feel betrayed by Alfredsson, but by management, and more importantly ownership. Eugene Melnyk failed to reward Alfie for seventeen years of elite play and commitment to the city. That day marked the end of a chapter in Ottawa.

bobby-ryan

The Senators attempted to fill Alfredsson’s void by acquiring a new franchise winger. Bobby Ryan, was acquired from the Anaheim Ducks for Jakob Silfverberg, Stefan Noesen and a first round-pick (Nick Ritchie). Originally, the move was met with excitement, and was hoped to keep the fan-base happy despite losing Alfie. However, it has not worked out as hoped. Ryan was originally thought to be a perfect pairing with Jason Spezza, but the two did not gel together. Since then, Ryan has been under scrutiny for his lack of production. Up until this season, Ryan had performed respectably, recording multiple 50 point seasons and a couple of 20 goal years for Ottawa. However, he did not turn into the player they hoped for. The Ryan trade was rushed by Ottawa, as the Sens gave up a lot for what was seen to be a franchise winger. Now Sens fans remain bitter about the trade and wish it never happened.

031314_spezza

Shortly after Ryan arrived, Jason Spezza was selected as captain of the Ottawa Senators when Alfredsson left town and became the scapegoat for everything. Spezza tried his best to help guide a team with a lack of talent, but without talent to compliment him other than Erik Karlsson it was futile. Despite putting up 66 points in 75 games, Spezza struggled in the defensive zone, and blame was directed his way. Being the successor to Alfredsson was no easy task and it wore on Spezza, and after his first season as Senators’ captain he requested a trade. Spezza’s era as captain was short, sad and forgettable; though, it did mark a signal of change.

image

Spezza departure left the captaincy open, and the Ottawa Senators quickly announced that Erik Karlsson would take over. With this, the youth movement of the Sens took charge. Karlsson, aided by Kyle Turris, Mark Stone, and Mike Hoffman, brought exciting play to a team desperate for energy. But, management managed to kill some of that joy. After rallying from a three-goal deficit to win in overtime win over the Vancouver Canucks, the Senators fired Head Coach Paul MacLean. The firing seemed odd to many, given that MacLean had been a Jack Adams Trophy winner and that the Sens core was still young and developing. Reports began to surface that the move was not done by General Manager Bryan Murray, but by owner Eugene Melnyk. Once again, Melnyk had his hand in hockey decisions. Because, MacLean’s views did not align with Melnyk’s a great coach was fired.

1297795361144_original

MacLean was succeed by a less than dazzling one. Dave Cameron got Ottawa to the playoffs on the back of Andrew Hammond, but his systems were not solid and he was doomed to fail. His eye for talent was lacking, as Hoffman spent the end of 2015-16 in the bottom six despite being the team’s leading goal scorer, while players like Alex Chiasson and Jared Cowen wandered the ice. The Sens had little direction with Cameron. It seemed as though the Senators were just riding the roller-coaster of mediocrity. Then, a miracle happened.

1297803603192_original

Dion Phaneuf trade rumours were circulating. It was thought by many he would be on his way to Detroit, but then something crazy happened. The Phaneuf to Ottawa trade news broke. A smile and sense of excitement overcame me, I was elated. The Senators had rid themselves of underperforming players and received a leader, who other than a large contract was a perfect fit in the Senators top 4. This day I finally had some faith in management and ownership, as they made an excellent move. Which preceded more moves in the off-season.

NHL: Ottawa Senators Press Conference

After missing the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs Dave Cameron was fired, Pierre Dorion took over as GM of the Sens, and Eugene Melnyk challenged his players. It was time for change in the Senators organization, and change has followed. A new head coach brought structure and a new eye for talent to a team in dire need of it; a new general manager was brought in who was not afraid to make bold moves. Change has brought the Senators back to the playoffs, and sees them with home-ice advantage for the first time since 2007. This is also the first time since 2007 that I can confidently say this is a good hockey team. But most importantly, for the first time since Alfie left, I truly love this team. A season that has seen me cry, cheer, and sit on the edge of my seat is going to be capped off with a Senators playoff run, one that I believe will go more than one round. This season, I spent nights up writing, studying, and contemplating the Senators and their tactics, and I love it all. I am enthralled by this team, and am beyond excited for Wednesday’s clash with the Boston Bruins. With all that said, if you, like me felt betrayed when Alfie was cast away from the organization, please give this team a chance; I promise, they will not disappoint you. The Ottawa Senators are back, and they have some good times ahead.

 

Note to my readers: Sorry I could not provide you with the tidbits this week! Same will be the case of next week, as I am in exam period and am quite busy! I hope you enjoyed this week’s piece, though, and hope you stick along for the ride in the summer! Enjoy the playoffs!

Special thanks to Geoff Marlowe for helping with the editing work and a big thank you to you the reader for taking your time to read my work! Appreciate it! Hope you continue to read along, if you have any suggestions/comments/questions, please feel free to inbox me or talk to me on Twitter @sassysaslove.

Advertisements

Occasionally, some of your visitors may see an