Grey Cup Preview: BC vs. Winnipeg

November 24, 2011 8:36 am
Grey Cup

The hierarchy of the Canadian Football League, dominated in recent years by the Montreal Alouettes and the Saskatchewan Roughriders, underwent a significant transformation in 2011. After two consecutive Grey Cup showdowns, neither the Als nor the Riders stood as one of the CFL’s final four teams, with Montreal falling in the division semi-finals and Saskatchewan missing the playoffs entirely. Instead, the 99th Grey Cup will feature a pair of unlikely foes: the East Division champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the West Division champion BC Lions, who will meet in the title game for the first time since 1988.

The 2011 CFL regular season was defined by a nearly unprecedented level parity. The Lions, the Edmonton Eskimos and the Calgary Stampeders all deadlocked at the top of the West Division standings at 11-7, while Winnipeg and Montreal both finished atop the East at 10-8. Having emerged victorious in their respective playoff games, the Bombers and Lions will square off this Sunday at BC Place, both fighting for the second-most esteemed trophy in Canadian professional sports.

Both Winnipeg and BC suffered through extended losing stretches that threatened to derail their playoff aspirations. Seven weeks into the season, the Lions sat at 1-6, having already dropped two games to the Bombers and languishing at the bottom of the CFL standings. BC would thrash Edmonton 36-1 the following week, setting the stage for an improbable eight-game win streak and a West Division championship. The Lions would place a league-high eight players on the CFL All-Star team, headlined by quarterback Travis Lulay and linebacker Solomon Elimimian.

BC quarterback Travis Lulay finished 2nd in the CFL with 4,815 passing yards.

Winnipeg, meanwhile, exploded out of the gate, starting the season 7-1, with their lone defeat coming in a one-point game against Calgary. Just as the Lions began to vault up the standings, the Bombers fell off, losing twice in a row to the lowly Roughriders and dropping seven of their final 10 games. They would manage to secure first place in the East based on their two victories over Montreal, earning a bye to the division final while the Alouettes fell to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Despite their slow start, BC’s sterling defense conceded the fewest points in the CFL, buoyed in part by four games in which they held their opponent to six points or less. Their offense would fall just four total points back of Montreal for the league’s top ranking, with Lulay passing for over 4,800 yards and 32 touchdowns. The interminable Geroy Simon, in his 11th season with the Lions, ranked second in the league in receiving, while Elimimian, the reigning CFL Rookie of the Year, patrolled the field with reckless impunity, racking up 98 tackles on the season.

Winnipeg’s statistical profile is noticeably less impressive, as the Bombers have struggled to regain the swagger that permeated their entire roster through the early weeks of the season. While quarterback Buck Pierce set a career high in passing yards, he also tossed 18 interceptions, establishing himself as little more than a somewhat reliable game manager. Leading rusher Fred Reid will not suit up in the championship game due to injury, leaving second-year player Chris Garrett as the primary back. Defensive end Odell Willis led the CFL in sacks, with 13.

Buck Pierce signed with Winnipeg in 2010 after being released by the Lions.

There is no shortage of storylines surrounding the 99th Grey Cup, with players and coaches on both sidelines seeking to cement their legacy or prove a point to their former team. BC, for their part, is attempting to become just the fourth team in league history to clinch a championship on their home field. Though the Lions played only four of their nine regular season home games at BC Place (with the others coming at Empire Field, which is scheduled for demolition), they were unbeaten at the newly renovated stadium, including a 40-23 win over Edmonton in the West Division final. The Lions are also searching for their first Grey Cup title since 2006, while Winnipeg’s last championship came all the way back in 1990.

Sunday may also mark the final CFL game for Lions head coach Wally Buono, who has won four Grey Cups in his 22-year coaching career (3 of which came between 1992 and 2001 with Calgary). Regarded as one of the best offensive minds in the history of Canadian football, Buono shrugged off the Lions’ dismal start to 2011 to clinch his 13th career division championship. While he has yet to make a decision on his future with the Lions, Buono may very well walk away from football after this year’s Grey Cup – particularly if he can lead his team to victory one last time.

Buono’s counterpart on the opposite sideline will be Paul LaPolice, the Bombers’ second-year head coach. LaPolice served as an offensive assistant for four teams before joining Winnipeg in 2010, enduring a 4-14 campaign in his initial year as head coach. Just like Buono, LaPolice has his team primed for a Grey Cup appearance in his second season (though Buono’s Stampeders fell to Toronto in the championship game in 1991).

Wally Buono is in his 22nd season as a head coach in the CFL.

For Pierce, Sunday’s game represents more than a chance to win his second Grey Cup as a CFL quarterback. After spending five seasons with the Lions (and winning a title as the backup to Dave Dickenson in 2006), Pierce was released by BC in March 2010, having been passed on the depth chart by the up-and-coming Travis Lulay. Plagued by injuries after signing as a free agent with Winnipeg, Pierce played a crucial role in Winnipeg’s 7-1 start in 2011, before gradually fading along with the rest of his teammates. Equally proficient with his feet and his arm, Pierce will try to regain the spark he displayed at the beginning of the season, in the hopes of defeating his former team and hoisting the Grey Cup.

The 99th Grey Cup is likely BC’s to lose, Winnipeg’s two early-season victories against the Lions notwithstanding. Although the Bombers’ defense throttled Hamilton in their 19-3 East Division championship win, the Lions have lost just once since August 13th, when they fell to Winnipeg 30-17. Pierce will have to limit turnovers and Garrett will have to replicate his effort from the Hamilton game, where he gained 190 yards on the ground, for the Bombers to win. If Lulay and Simon can establish a connection and Elimimian and the rest of the defense can put the pressure on Pierce, then the Lions should capture their sixth Grey Cup in franchise history.

Sunday’s game will be preceded by the 47th Vanier Cup, which will take place Saturday at BC Place between the top-ranked Laval Rouge et Or and the OUA champion McMaster Marauders. Laval is attempting to repeat as defending champions and capture their sixth national title in nine years, while McMaster is appearing in their first Vanier Cup since 1967. While the game promises to be a hotly contested affair, it will serve as a little more than a prelude to Sunday’s Grey Cup, where BC and Winnipeg, two teams left for dead at one point or another this season, will attempt to establish themselves as Canada’s best football team.

The Moral Failure of Penn State

November 17, 2011 9:14 am
Paterno

After the initial wave of damage had taken its toll, after the coach had been fired, the president forced to resign, the athletic director indicted and the former defensive coordinator arrested on 40 counts of sexually assaulting young children, there was still a game to be played. This story is no longer about football – it encapsulates football only in that the man who stands accused used his position within the football program to facilitate his horrible crimes, and that the inaction of the men who ran the program allowed the crimes to continue. The scandal, the shame and the sorrow transcended football. It rendered football meaningless.

But the college football schedule dictated that there was a game to be played at Beaver Stadium on November 12th. The Penn State Nittany Lions would take the field at home, ranked 12th in the country and sporting an 8-1 record, facing the 19th-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers. Penn State had risen to the top of the Big Ten standings on the strength of their suffocating defense, with their only loss on the year coming to the Alabama Crimson Tide, one of the top teams in the nation. The Nebraska game would be crucial for Penn State’s chances of competing in a major bowl game at the end of the season. Before November arrived, there was no reason to believe that the contest would be anything more than a matchup between two very good football teams.

Penn State took the field last Saturday without their legendary head coach, Joe Paterno, who had been fired by the school’s Board of Trustees three days before. Paterno wasn’t let go for any issues pertaining to his job performance – he won 409 games in 46 years as the coach of the Nittany Lions, and even this season, at 84 years old, he had the team cruising towards another bowl appearance. After nearly five decades of faithful service and success, Paterno’s legacy is irrevocably tarnished, not because of a sudden inability to win games, but for an offense that surpasses football and infringes on the boundaries of basic human decency.

Penn State head coach Joe Paterno was fired on November 9th.

The story behind the scandal at Penn State dates back several decades, to Paterno’s early years as head coach. In 1977, longtime Paterno assistant Jerry Sandusky founded The Second Mile, a non-profit organization that would be based in State College, Pennsylvania, and provide help for underprivileged and at-risk youth. (Sandusky was also promoted to defensive coordinator of the Nittany Lions that same year.) Sandusky would remain at Penn State until his retirement in 1999, though he continued to use the school’s facilities to operate summer football camps. In 2002, he was presented with an Angels in Adoption award for his work with The Second Mile.

Sandusky’s involvement with the organization and the Penn State football program were thrust into focus on November 5th, when he was arrested and charged with 40 counts of sexually abusing young boys, following a three-year investigation by a Pennsylvania grand jury. Characterizing the findings of the grand jury report as disgusting or repugnant would be to sell Sandusky’s actions short; the details in the report are grisly, and readers should be warned of the sickening nature of the accusations levied against the former coach. The report lists eight unidentified victims, each of whom first became acquainted with Sandusky through The Second Mile, and each of who were subjected to varying forms of assault from the sexual predator who ran Penn State’s defense for 22 years.

Sandusky, for his part, professed his innocence in an exceedingly uncomfortable interview with NBC’s Bob Costas on Monday (though it took him a surprising amount of time to deny that he was sexually attracted to young boys). If Sandusky is, in fact, guilty of these unspeakable crimes (as every other source of testimony indicates), he faces a potential life sentence in prison. Much of the focus on the case, however, has fallen not on Sandusky, but on the men who turned a blind eye on the allegations and allowed Sandusky’s actions to continue – most notably, Paterno, former Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and former school president Graham Spanier.

Former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky is accused of sexually assaulting eight young boys.

The most damning revelation in the grand jury report comes from Nittany Lions assistant coach Mike McQueary, who testified in December 2010 that he had witnessed Sandusky engaging in anal intercourse with a boy of approximately ten years old in a shower at the Penn State football complex. (The incident occurred in 2002, when McQueary was a graduate assistant. The victim is identified as Victim 2 in the report.) McQueary informed Paterno of what he had witnessed the next day. Paterno, in turn, reported the incident to Curley, who passed on the information to Spanier. None of the men brought it to the attention of university or local police. Curley eventually made the decision to bar Sandusky from the Penn State locker room, though the former coach would remain free from the law for nine more years.

It is apparent that Paterno, Curley and Spanier were more interested in protecting the brand that is Penn State football than in bringing Sandusky to justice. After the grand jury determined his testimony to be not credible, Curley was charged with perjury; he has been placed on administrative leave. After 16 years as president of the university, the Board of Trustees fired Spanier on November 9th. He remains a potential target of the investigation.

The bulk of the media coverage has fallen, predictably, on the beloved head coach, Paterno, whose statue stands in the concourse outside Beaver Stadium. After his firing was announced last Wednesday, despondent Penn State students rioted on campus in protest, flipping over a news van and imparting the message that football would take precedence over the welfare of Sandusky’s victims. (To their credit, Penn State students would hold a candlelight vigil for victims of child abuse two days later, after the national media rightfully skewered them for the knee-jerk reaction to Paterno’s dismissal.)

Penn State students took to the streets on November 9th to protest the firing of Joe Paterno.

Paterno is not directly culpable for any legal offense, as Pennsylvania is not one of 18 states that require all adults to report suspected child abuse to the police. The Pennsylvania Attorney General has stated that Paterno will not be investigated for his role in the case. Paterno instead failed the moral obligation of stopping Sandusky when he had the chance – armed with the information presented to him by McQueary, Paterno (along with Curley and Spanier) chose to stand idly by as Sandusky continued to prey on young children, threatened with nothing but his banishment from the Penn State locker room.

While the Board of Trustees was right to immediately relieve Paterno and Spanier from their duties, both the school and the football program face a long road to recovery. Tom Bradley, Sandusky’s replacement as defensive coordinator in 2009, has replaced Paterno as head coach in the interim, while a new athletic director will need to be hired. It remains to be seen if the Penn State student body will be remembered for the ill advised riot in the wake of Paterno’s firing or for whatever actions they take in the near future to restore the reputation of their university.

As for Paterno, his legacy has been tarnished beyond repair. He isn’t the first college football coach to undo decades of success with a single miscue – Woody Hayes’ assault on an opposing player springs to mind – but he is at the forefront of the most severe scandal in the history of collegiate sports. The victims of Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse will, hopefully, recover as best they can. Sandusky, meanwhile, should spend the rest of his life rotting away in a federal prison, while Paterno will spend the rest of his life wondering what he could have done to prevent a tragedy from unfolding in State College.

Of course, before anything else was to be done, a football game had to be played. Penn State took the field last Saturday without their legendary head coach, who watched from his home a few blocks north of Beaver Stadium. They lost 17-14.

Flu shot or not? Bryce Wylde Talks to OLM

November 10, 2011 9:22 am
Products Bryce Wylde supports

As Bryce Wylde walked into the elegant Ottawa Sheraton lobby, wearing a blue suit with an affixed poppy to his collar, we shook hands. “You feel well?” he asked attentively. Shocked by the formulation, I quickly answered, “yes, yes, I’m fine thanks, you?” He smiled and nodded convincingly as we moved across the lobby to the salon where, four blue leather club chairs seemed to be patiently waiting for us to sit and start to chat.

Widely known as an alternative medicine expert and as the host of Wylde on Health. He also regularly appears on The Doctor Oz show, CTV’s Canada AM, The Marilyn Denis Show and Steven and Chris to name a few.

Growing up, Wylde learned the roots of homeopathy early through his mother’s old home-antidotes. “Garlic remedies, mustard plasters, among others, were all part of my childhood,” said Wylde. “My mother, perhaps a little ahead of her time, was a vegetarian and a strong believer in natural remedies.” As mother is the experience of wisdom, Wylde began to take an interest in alternative medicine after completing his Bachelor of Science in Bio-Psychology from York University. Wylde explains his tipping point, “after working at Queens Street Mental Hospital, my experience was somewhat negative not being able to access patients through cognitive behavioural psychology techniques since they were often on a lot of medication and it felt futile dealing with “drug pictures.” He became a strong supporter of organic products and anything natural from the ground up. Wylde later received a Diploma in Homeopathic Medicine and Health Sciences from the Ontario College of Homeopathic Medicine.

While Wylde is not afraid to plant his feet down when it comes to justifying preventive medicine, he stresses not to exclude other types of health care.  “It’s important to integrate non-conventional medicine and make it complementary to conventional medicine,” said Wylde, while on his Nationwide prevent the flu tour. The ‘No Flu For You’ campaign is a coast to coast tour alerting citizens of alternatives to the seasonal flu shot. “I’m not against the flu shot, I just want people to educate themselves before taking it,” he said. “One problem with the flu shot is the mercury in it and there are no safe-levels of mercury.” Wylde also points to a recent Lancet study showing a 59 per cent efficiency rate for the flu shot. “Healthy people might want to consider something else,” he said.

The back of the No Flu For You T-Shirt

Wylde doesn’t claim to have the magic pill, his goal is to toss the seeds of homeopathy . “There are no miracle solutions guaranteeing you will not be sick, but there are alternative medicine options which will get your body working better,” said Wylde, who continuously tills the ground of alternative medicine. To boost our immune system Wylde points to Vitamin D for us who live north of 32 degrees. “We need to learn more about how to optimize the body and the mind.”

Consumers also want to optimize their wallets and Wylde warns against certain products. “Some cough-drops have more sugar than anything and sugar can aggravate your cough or flu” said Wylde.“Certain ingredients in those products are efficient, such as eucalyptus oil however, you’re better off buying all-natural drops and rub them on your chest,” he said.  “There are many products out there which are useless, buyers beware.” According to Wylde, checking for DIN-HM or NPN number is a good way to ensure you’re buying an efficient product.

In 2009, Canadians spent $338 million on over-the-counter cold and flu products. Profit margins for pharmaceutical companies are excessively high. In 2002, these companies enjoyed a median profit margin of 17 per cent compared with 3.1 per cent for other industries. Last year, four major pharmaceutical companies found themselves on the top 100 companies of Fortune’s ranking of Americans largest companies. Wylde isn’t against pharmaceutical companies, “if you feel there is something wrong, in the words of Jesse Ventura ‘just follow the money’.” The homeopathic does however have a problem with certain methods of advertisement these companies use. “What I find sick are those underlining messages they use, when they tell someone to ask for a specific brand.”

Bryce Wylde Host of Wylde of Health

In Wylde’s top ten list of flu prevention tips which include the neti-pot, hand washing, petroleum jelly, the number one suggestion is the Echinacea plant based Jamieson Flu Shield. In 2005, a report in the New England Journal of Medical Review declared the plant to be ineffective in combating the flu and cold, yet Wylde asserts the report is defunct. “It was the best science at the time and they did not analyze the version of the plant used in the Flu Shield,” which is the Echinacea angustifolia variation. In Italy, Wylde  meet-up with the Italian scientists which handle the Echinacea used in the Flu Shield. They removed the immune suppressant found in the plant, making it different from the one studied in the report. Furthermore, the Flu Shield’s Echinacea has no cross-pollination with other types of Echinacea allowing it to keep its immune boosting and flu fighting characteristics. “There are clinical evidence to support the solutions,” said Wylde.

However, Dr. Earl Brown, Medical Professor at Ottawa University disagrees with the statement. “There remains no evidence Echinacea is helpful to fight the flu or the common cold,” said Brown, a specialist in immunology. “I’m not against natural products, in fact, some of the best medicines stem from natural products, such as penicillin and aspirin,” explains Brown. “This whole discourse sounds more like a sales pitch.” Now, you have the choice either you can get the flu shot, pick-up a Jamieson product or just take a shot of natural Jameson Irish Whiskey to fight the flu.

While we try to combat the flu many attempt to condone homeopathy and Brown’s arguments augment the already present skepticism around alternative medicine. For Wylde, “skepticism is healthy, it pushes people to prove what they support.” Wylde, who supports evidence-based products, does have a problem with close-minded people who ignore new valid-arguments. “I just find it unhealthy,” he said. As we went our different ways Wylde said “feel well!” Shocked by the formulation, I responded, “oh yes, yes, you too!”

Canada loses show jumping superstar

November 9, 2011 3:05 pm
Hickstead3

Canadian and world equestrian enthusiasts were left shocked and saddened this Sunday after the death of show jumper Eric Lamaze’s legendary stallion Hickstead. The champion horse died shortly after he and Lamaze completed a course at the Rolex FEI World Cup in Verona, Italy, in front of an arena packed with horrified onlookers.

Veterinarians tried unsuccessfully to revive Hickstead. While Lamaze has stated his teammate died of an apparent heart attack, the exact cause of death remains unknown until an autopsy has been completed.

Hickstead’s death tragically ended a partnership that helped push Canada to the top of show jumping, a sport usually dominated by Europeans and Americans. The superstar stallion, who has often been referred to as the “Michael Jordan of the Equestrian world”, had a legendary track record. Hickstead’s accomplishments include an Individual Gold and Team Silver at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, 1st place at the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Kentucky, USA, and winner of the $1 Million CN International at the Spruce Meadows Masters Tournament in Calgary, Alberta. Together Hickstead and Lamaze have fetched over $3 million dollars in prize money. To say that Hickstead was one of Canada’s greatest athletes would be an understatement.

Hickstead and Lamaze won an individual gold and team silver at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Lamaze, who is currently the number one rider in the world, is deeply saddened by his loss and mourning his long time teammate. The Montreal-born athlete had a special bond with Hickstead which he will likely never duplicate with a new mount. And with less than nine months before the London Games, many are wondering if Lamaze will be able to find one that is Olympic-calibre. Akaash Maharaj, the CEO of Equine Canada has stated, “It’s fair to say there certainly isn’t another Hickstead in the world, and that will be a misfortune for Eric.”

Hickstead is the horse which largely helped to redeem Lamaze as a rider. During team tryouts for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Lamaze tested positive for cocaine use, and was subsequently banned from competing for four years. (Later this suspension would be reduced to seven months). Lamaze earned a spot on Canada’s Equestrian Team again in 2000, but once again, tested positive for banned substances. The athlete spent the next six years rebuilding both his showjumping career and damaged reputation. When Lamaze met Hickstead, who was surprisingly turned down by the American showjumping team, it was a match made in heaven. Lamaze’s riding style, which is often described as fast and aggressive, was a perfect match for the bold, quick Hickstead. Together the team went on to be arguably the most dominant pair in the world of showjumping.

Generations of future equestrian enthusiasts will draw inspiration from Hickstead's career.

Thousands of fans are showing their support for Lamaze and paying tribute to Hickstead on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites. In addition, many memorial videos are being uploaded to Youtube, which highlight Hickstead’s raw talent and the incredible bond between Lamaze and his mount. Equine Canada has a tribute page, in which Hickstead fans can both share sentiments and grieve his loss.

On the tribute page, one person eloquently wrote: “Once in a lifetime comes a really great team who absolutely inspires everyone around them – Eric, you and Hickstead were such a team and you thrilled us each and every time we saw you. Hickstead, you will always be loved and sadly missed.” While Hickstead will never truly be forgotten, fans can take pride in the fact that thanks to him and Lamaze, we all flew a little closer to the stars.

Let Your Body Do the Talking with Ayurveda

November 7, 2011 1:46 pm
Ayurvedic & Herbal Products1

For the uninitiated, Ayurvedic massage comes as a surprise. It’s not every day after all that your body – not you or the massage therapist – gets to decide what massage oils will be used. But ensuring that your body receives the right treatment at the right time in the right way is key to Ayurvedic treatments.  And there is no better way to do so than by tuning into your body’s own wisdom.

For those unfamiliar with the term, Ayurveda, Sanskrit for “the complete knowledge for long life” is a millennia old system of traditional medicine from India.  At its centre is the knowledge that everything in the universe is made of five elements (space, air, fire, water and earth) including humans. And that is where matching products to the needs of your body comes in. In Ayurvedic treatments, constitutional imbalances are determined first. Does an individual have too much fire, water or earth? If so, what products might be needed to restore natural balance?

 

Local company Face to Grace, located in Wakefield Quebec offers Ayurvedic treatment and products to soothe out of balance constitutions and in the process tame the most stressed out soul. Products are created with natural oils and elements with the constitutions in mind. There are three main constitutions – Pitta, Vata and Kapha. Pitta is associated with fire, Vata with air and Kapha with earth. Each person has elements of each but some are more predominant than others – and the element can be out of balance.

To calm down frazzled constitutions, Face to Grace produces a variety of hand crafted heavenly scented all natural products. The products are used for different types of Ayurvedic treatments from facials, to foot massages and all body massages. Like the body massages, Ayurvedic facials involve the use of products to cleanse, exfoliate , detoxify and nourish skin depending on need.The type of product and treatment required are determined by an Ayurvedic practitioner trained to tune into the vibrations and needs of each constitution. Face to Grace also offers courses on how to make luscious Ayurvedic products such as making moisturizing creams designed to meet your personal needs. As beauty comes from the inside out in Ayurvedic philosophy, Face to Grace also offers self development courses to promote harmony between the emotions, mind and body.

 

Last month, I was fortunate enough to have an Ayurvedic massage from Face to Grace owner Samyukta Blanchet. After determining I had a Pitta constitution (Ayurvedic code for a Type-A Personality) massage products designed to calm down the fire in my system were selected.  While I stood with my eyes closed Samyukta held various substances such as vanilla and mint essence next my liver area. An inclination toward the substance or a veering away determined if my body needed the product – or not.

The massage then began with Samyukta placing her hands above my body to determine which areas were in need of special attention. The massage was light and unobtrusive unlike a traditional Swedish massage where reaching into and soothing muscles is the aim. After an hour or so, the massage ended resulting in one highly relaxed human being. The secret?  As Samyukta puts it “We need to remind our body, mind and soul of its original health and beauty, we need to use the awareness and intelligence of our body, of nature and of the environment.” In the course of an hour, the Ayurvedic massage did that and more.

To find out more about Face to Grace products, services and courses, please visit the Face to Grace web site at: wwww.facetograce.com or visit the blog of Face to Grace owner Samyukta Blanchet at http://facetograce.blogspot.com.

Ottawa Senators Monthly Report: October

November 1, 2011 2:39 pm
Sens

When some of us dared to suggest the Senators wouldn’t be a playoff team last season, many a set of pearls were clutched in Canada’s capital city. But when the bottom fell out and the Sens didn’t get good goaltending and Sergei Gonchar came out auditioning for The Walking Dead and their lack of depth was fully and completely exposed, even ownership admitted the franchise was closer to a full-on rebuild than a post-season berth. Without a doubt, there are pieces worth keeping – including Calder candidate blue-liners David Rundblad and Jared Cowen – but if you don’t agree this team has more holes than a (insert your most hated rival team’s name here) convention, you’re officially hole-identification challenged.

The Hockey News’ Adam Proteau was one of many accredited hockey scribes to gleefully pile on the Ottawa Senators prior to the 2011-12 NHL season, slotting the Sens dead last in his projected Eastern Conference standings. Despite bottoming out last year with a dreadful 1-13-4 midseason stretch, the Senators managed to recover well enough to finish 5th-last in the league – yet Proteau felt confident enough in the Sens’ inability to play the game of hockey that he pegged them to finish even further down in the dregs of the NHL standings.

With six months of hockey still to be played, there’s a chance that Proteau could be correct in predicting that the Sens will be picking in the draft lottery come June 2012. If the opening month of the season is any indication, however, these pesky Sens will do all they can to stay out of the NHL’s cellar – especially with a six-game win streak to protect and several players challenging for the league lead in various scoring categories. Here is a summary of the month that was in Hockey Country, featuring the ever-resilient Ottawa Senators.

Record: 7-5-0. 2nd in Northeast Division. 4th in Eastern Conference. T-6th in NHL.

Leading Scorers

Jason Spezza (12 GP: 7 G, 8 A, 15 PTS)
Milan Michalek (12 GP: 7 G, 6 A, 13 PTS)
Erik Karlsson (12 GP: 1 G, 12 A, 13 PTS)
Sergei Gonchar (11 GP: 0 G, 9 A, 9 PTS)
Colin Greening (12 GP: 4 G, 4 A, 8 PTS)

Game-by-Game Recap

Proteau and his cohorts in the media looked prescient through the first half of October, as the Sens crawled to a 1-5 record, allowing a league-worst 30 goals and falling behind by at least four goals in four different games. After conceding five straight to the Detroit Red Wings in the season opener, Milan Michalek netted two goals to cut the score to a manageable 5-3 margin. The next night, Ottawa would go down 4-0 to Toronto, before mounting a furious third-period comeback that nearly saw them come away with a point, losing 6-5. The Sens would finally notch a victory in their home opener against Minnesota, spoiling Dany Heatley’s second return to Scotiabank Place in a 4-3 shootout win.

The wheels would fall off in a 7-1 home defeat at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche, where Ottawa displayed atrocious defensive zone coverage and the inability to move the puck past their own blue-line. They’d rebound with a solid effort in a 2-1 loss to Washington, before allowing seven more goals to the Philadelphia Flyers. The tide would quickly turn, however, with the Sens registering two home victories over two of the NHL’s bottom-dwellers: a 4-1 win over Winnipeg and a 4-3 triumph over Columbus, punctuated by two goals in the final 36 seconds to crush the hopes of the then-winless Blue Jackets.

The club’s first away victory would soon follow, as the Sens topped Carolina 3-2 in a shootout. Nick Foligno would score with under four seconds left to break a 3-3 deadlock and beat Florida, before the Sens then came back from a three-goal deficit to defeat the Rangers 5-4 in a shootout. They would finish the month on a high note, eking out another one-goal victory with a 3-2 triumph over Toronto, bringing the win streak to six games and elevating the Sens into the upper tier of the National Hockey League.

There are still definite areas that need improvement, with Ottawa’s defense still sitting last in the league with 45 goals against. Craig Anderson has been steady, allowing just one shootout goal in eight attempts, though he’s yet to reach the level he operated at during the latter parts of 2010-11. Nikita Filatov and Bobby Butler have, thus far, failed to establish themselves as surefire top-six forwards, and while Mika Zibanejad showed some promise during his nine-game NHL stint, he was returned to his Swedish club, Djurgarden, with the mandate of developing his offensive game.

Player of the Month

Milan Michalek is playing the finest hockey of his short tenure in Ottawa, crashing the net without fear, controlling the boards and rapidly accumulating points. His line-mate, Colin Greening, has picked up exactly where he left off in the final quarter of last season, parlaying his speed, power, grit and a surprisingly lethal wrist shot into a permanent position on the Sens’ first line. Erik Karlsson has been simply fantastic, recording 25 minutes of ice time on a nightly basis and providing stellar defensive play against the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Erik Staal.  (Not to mention, he leads the league in assists, with 12 in 12 games.) Daniel Alfredsson and Chris Neil have provided a veteran spark, as they continue to do the jobs they’ve done for the past decade. Even Sergei Gonchar has rebounded from a dismal start to help lead an explosive Senators power play unit that currently sits atop the NHL.

And yet, all of these players merit no more than an honourable mention. The key to the Senators’ success through the month of October is none other than their first-line centre, Jason Spezza, who has matched his torrid offensive pace (tied for 2nd in the NHL in scoring) with a renewed commitment to two-way play, logging valuable minutes in all in-game situations. Spezza’s neutral-zone turnovers are still cause for aggravation, but he more than offsets his mistakes with unmatched flourishes of offensive creativity and production. With all due respect to Karlsson and Michalek, Spezza is the most important player on the Senators roster (as evidenced by the team’s catastrophic downfall following his injury in December 2010), and his emergence as a complete player and veteran leader has coincided beautifully with the Sens’ rebuilding efforts. Despite a lackluster effort through the first few games, Spezza’s overall dominance has keyed Ottawa’s current six-game win streak, which is more than enough to earn him player of the month honours for October.

Goal of the Month

Again, there are several worthy options that could make a case for this section of the awards. Stephane Da Costa and Erik Karlsson’s back-and-forth against Toronto, Peter Regin’s sharp-angle wrister against Washington and Karlsson’s snipe in the waning seconds against Philadelphia all offered up highlight-reel material in their own distinct way. For all intents and purposes, though, none can top Colin Greening’s breakaway tally in Ottawa’s 3-2 win over Toronto off of David Rundblad’s unfathomable outlet pass.

Please, watch the clip again. It’s difficult to outdo a 150-foot tape-to-tape, breakaway pass between four defenders, narrowly avoiding an offside and capped off by a smooth wrist shot off the crossbar and in – to tie the game against your team’s hated archrivals, no less. Combine that with the fact that Rundblad was appearing in only his tenth NHL game, and you’ll see why Sens fans are salivating at the prospect of the team’s future defensive corps.

Hit of the Month

No contest here – Chris Neil’s destruction of Minnesota forward Clayton Stoner stands alone atop Ottawa’s October hit parade. Neil’s bombshell changed the course of the game – Ottawa would score five minutes later to cut the Wild’s 2-0 lead in half, before eventually tying the game in the 3rd period and clinching it in a shootout. Neil would add the Sens’ second goal, cementing the performance as one of his best in an Ottawa uniform and sealing the victory in the team’s home opener.

Game of the Month

Oddly enough, the Senators’ best overall performance in October may have come in a losing effort, against Washington on October 15th. Having allowed 21 goals in the season’s first four games, the Ottawa defense rebounded well, shackling the vaunted Capitals offense to 2 goals and nearly defeating the prohibitive pre-season Eastern Conference favourites. Peter Regin scored Ottawa’s lone goal in the loss, while Erik Karlsson played over 27 minutes.

The Sens also played strong games in 3-2 victories over Carolina and Toronto, outworking the favoured opposition to secure a hard-earned two points in both cases. After nearly mounting seismic comebacks against Detroit and Toronto in the season’s first two games, Ottawa managed to complete two absurd third-period comebacks against Columbus and the New York Rangers, while also scoring with under four seconds left to top Florida.

Looking Ahead

Ottawa will play 12 games once again in the month of November, beginning with a trip to Boston to face the defending Cup champs and ending with the Sens’ return to Winnipeg on November 29th. In between, the Sens will embark on a grueling six-game road trip over the course of 15 days, including a trip to Western Canada to face the Flames, Oilers and Canucks. The Sens’ toughest test should come on November 25th, when they’ll travel to Pittsburgh to the NHL-leading Penguins. Four games will be played at Scotiabank Place – November 4th against Montreal; November 5th against Buffalo; November 9th against the Rangers; and November 27th against Carolina.

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