Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Too little, too late

Despite strong play in the second and third periods, a slow start and a propensity for taking ill-timed penalties proved to be their undoing as the Guelph Gryphons men’s hockey team fell 3-1 to the Waterloo Warriors in Saturday’s Frosty Mug event in downtown Guelph.
The annual event, which took place at the Sleeman Centre, welcomed nearly 1200 Gryphon fans as the Department of Athletics looked to showcase university sport in the greater Guelph community.

Unfortunately, the much-anticipated match up between the red-hot Gryphons and the speedy, tenth-ranked Warriors, finished in favour of the visitors as Waterloo scored twice in the first period and managed to hold off the hard-charging Gryphons in the final 40 minutes.

“When you take as many penalties as we did tonight, you give away momentum,” said Gryphons head coach Shawn Camp. “We were wasting a lot of energy having to kill penalties.”
Late in the game, Waterloo began to replicate the undisciplined play of the Gryphons, leading to nine Guelph powerplays that the home side failed to capitalize on.

“I think [killing penalties] hurt us when we were on the powerplay too,” said Camp. “We didn’t have the same energy, we didn’t execute as well on the powerplay as we have of late.”

Rookie centre Thomas Kiriakou, the Gryphons’ leading scorer this season, echoed his coach’s sentiments concerning the Gryphons’ lackadaisical start and lack of disciplined play.

“When you have a lot of penalties in a game, it’s a little distracting and, as a team, your confidence goes down,” said Kiriakou. “In the first period, we came out slow, and in the second we improved.

“We normally like to play on our toes, forecheck hard, make a play and take the body. We didn’t do that in the first period and [Waterloo] capitalized on that with a couple of goals. That really cost us the game.”

Waterloo came out aggressively in the first period, drawing four Gryphon infractions and tiring the Guelph penalty killers. Chris Ray and Shane Hart beat Gryphon goaltender Scott Van Bommel twice in the first period to put Waterloo in front. After Jake Lalonde answered for the Gryphons halfway through the second, Kyle Schwende scored an insurance marker with less than three minutes left in the period to give the Warriors some breathing room.

Keaton Hartigan made 11 saves in the third period to stave off the Guelph attack as the Gryphons outshot Waterloo 26-19.

For Kiriakou, his first season as a Gryphon has been nothing short of remarkable. He leads the team with 11 goals and 23 points in 21 games.

“I didn’t really know what to expect when I first came here but I’ve been able to gel pretty nicely and coach Camp has been tremendous [with] me and the guys,” said Kiriakou. “We get along so well and I’m really happy to be a Gryphon.”

The Department of Athletics had been actively promoting Saturday’s event, particularly by making inroads in the campus residences, similar to Homecoming in September. Given that Gryphon hockey games rarely attract more than 200 onlookers, the Frosty Mug was certainly a success in terms of attracting attention.

While many of the surrounding seats remained empty, a large contingent of onlookers observed the game from the Draught Picks Tap House & Grill overlooking the ice. As the Gryphons’ level of intensity increased in the latter two periods, the crowd excitement grew accordingly.

“It’s always nice to play [at the Sleeman Centre],” said Camp. “The facility is so professional, there’s a great atmosphere here and it’s a chance to show our brand of hockey to people in the community.”

As the playoffs approach, the Gryphons will look to take advantage of their favourable schedule, playing four of their final five games at home.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Frosty Mug provides an opportunity to celebrate the purity of sports

Week after week, the sports sections in the national media look strikingly similar to tabloid pseudo-journalism.

Baseball players are packing needles, NBA ballers are packing heat and Tiger is packing as many women as possible into his schedule of infidelity.

Celeb gossip has had enough of Hollywood and Miami Beach and taken up residence in sports bars and boxscore space. TSN, TMZ – same diff.

Except in the OUA.

For what it’s worth, Ontario University Athletics has maintained that level of purity in sport that has otherwise been frustratingly lacking at other levels.

Athletes here know that every game and every meet matters. They show up to play, play hard and do so without the glitz, glam, bodyguards and after-party mug shots.

It’s incredibly refreshing.

Only in university sport can you find a student-athlete who is balancing J.S. Mill with jump shots, trigonometry with tackling and lab time with lap times – get the picture?

So why not show a little support?

On a few occasions every year, the department of athletics takes the opportunity to showcase Guelph Gryphons athletics on a bigger-than-usual stage. Saturday is one of those chances.
The upcoming Frosty Mug event at the downtown Sleeman Centre is the highlight of the Gryphon men’s hockey season, an opportunity to escape their campus confines and prove to fans that university hockey is an exciting and very affordable means of entertainment, not to mention a great way to support your fellow students.

With a big venue, big prizes and big hype, Saturday night’s affair promises to be a hockey homecoming of sorts.

The only piece missing is the crowd.

Drawing attention and attendance to Gryphons athletics has been a sensitive and difficult issue that the department of athletics has wrestled with for a number of years.
Why does the interest in university sports in Guelph pale in comparison to other Ontario universities?

A lack of advertising dollars? Misguided marketing campaigns? An abundance of alternative forms of local entertainment? A general lack of interest in sports among U of G students? Take your pick.

I’ll go with ‘E’ – the multiple choice bailout answer of ‘all of the above’ seems most appropriate here.

But for once, let’s buck the trend. Eff the norm! These athletes deserve it.

Attendance at Gryphon events this season has been solid, but not spectacular. Winning draws a crowd and little by little, people are starting to take an interest in the success of our varsity athletes.

For three hours of your time and a few bucks to get in the door, Saturday is a chance to see university sport at its finest. Dedicated, competitive and remarkably talented athletes will take to the ice against the visiting Waterloo Warriors at 7:30 p.m. in what promises to be entertaining match up.

The Gryphons have come out of the holiday break playing their best hockey of the season, having recently upset the likes of Western and Brock and taking Waterloo and UOIT to the brink in a pair of edge-of-your-seat shootouts.

Show a little Gryphon pride this weekend and check out the Frosty Mug.

For what it’s worth, it sure beats the Leafs!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Picking out the positives

To say that the 2009-10 season has been a trying campaign for the Gryphon women’s basketball team would be a blatant understatement.

Mired in a tie for last place in the OUA West, the 2-8 Gryphons have struggled with turnovers, a lack of outside shooting and most importantly, the lack of a hardened game-tested veteran player. All three co-captains from last season, guards Morgan Jean and Kris Yallin, along with forward Rachel Hancock, have moved on in various capacities, leaving the team desperately seeking leadership.

The team’s most experienced players, forwards Alex Russell and Kara Muhlhausen, were both solid contributors in previous seasons, but did so coming off the bench with limited roles. Both women, particularly Russell, who has really taken advantage of her new starting role, have had solid seasons, yet still lack that late-in-the-fourth-quarter mojo that only comes via game experience.

The most talented players on the current roster, forwards Jasmine Douglas and Samantha Russell, are in only their second seasons and still learning the ropes of OUA play. To this point, their play has been very solid, but expecting them to play the role of the seasoned on-court general is asking a little much.

Nevertheless, despite their shortcomings and lack of a home victory to this point, the 09-10 season has still contained its fair share of positive performances worth noting.

Douglas, in just her second year has shown the ability to flat-out take over games. Sitting barely outside the top ten in league scoring while averaging just shy of 14 points-per-game, the fiery redhead has shown a tenacity to dominate the paint and crash the glass.
Along with her scoring prowess, Douglas sits fifth in the OUA in rebounding and third in blocked shots. The Gryphons’ lack of a consistent outside shooting presence has led to opposing defenders double-teaming Douglas inside the low blocks, however, her quickness and strength make her virtually undefendable one-on-one. She has a commanding presence on the floor and is an obvious choice for future team captain.

Douglas is joined in the front-court by fellow second-year forward Samantha Russell, who is coming off being named OUA West Rookie of the Year for 2008-09. While her sophomore season has been somewhat more difficult than her first, Russell’s emerging versatility gives head coach Angela Orton the opportunity to play her in a variety of positions. With her outside game still improving, Russell has the opportunity to become a dangerous dual threat for the Gryphons’ offensive attack.

Lastly, rookie forward Samantha de Jong has surprised many in her first season. A tall forward with the strength to push players around underneath, there have been several occasions where de Jong’s play looks strikingly similar to that of Douglas, giving the Gryphons a talented and powerful front-court rotation, along with the Russell sisters. For the second consecutive season, it appears that Orton’s recruiting class has turned out some front-court gems.

With the Gryphons on the outside looking in at the OUA playoff picture, it is important to note that this is a team still in the developing stages. With Alex Russell being the lone fourth-year player, the lady Gryphons are short on experience, but long on potential. By taking care of the ball and feeding it inside to the talented group of forwards, the wins will eventually come.

It just might take a little patience.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Regardless of the outcome, torch fiasco a black eye for Guelph

Political issues and criticisms surrounding the Olympics are vast and often justified. Whether it’s discrimination against our Native peoples and their lands, the excessive corporatization of the Games itself or the proliferation of false and arguably unnecessary nationalism, the Olympic Games has its fair share of detractors.

Furthermore, these lobbyists are currently coming to the forefront of local and national media coverage, as well as water cooler banter, given the fact that for the first time since the Winter Games were held in Calgary in 1988, Canada will be hosting this spectacular event next month. For better or for worse, the Olympic Games undoubtedly generates discussion.

And in light of events that took place on Dec. 28, the city of Guelph is attracting considerable attention across the country, with much of it negative.

During the Guelph leg of the cross-country torch relay, torch-bearer Cortney Hansen was allegedly knocked down by a protester, when anti-Olympic activists – many of which who belonged to a group called the Olympic Resistance Network – clashed with police.

Bearing slogans such as, “No Olympics on stolen native land!” and “Homes, not games!” the protesters seemed initially peaceful, distributing pamphlets outlining their arguments to the crowd of approximately 1000 observers, as the famed Olympic symbol made its way through the downtown core.

What followed this largely progressive demonstration is still under investigation, but has nevertheless cast a dark shadow over the Royal City.

Authorities are still trying to determine what exactly caused Hansen to fall – an officer’s foot or a protester’s malice – however, regardless of the outcome, this issue reflects poorly on the city of Guelph.

Similar protests have occurred across Canada during the torch trek, yet the Wyndham St. fiasco was the first such physical confrontation. Whether it was a group of overzealous and disobedient protesters, or the excessive overreactions of some overwhelmed officers, Guelph has attracted national attention for all the wrong reasons.

Two women associated with the resistance group have been charged with assault, while the protesters allege that the only violence that occurred was when an RCMP officer punched a protester. Witness accounts remain convoluted and contradictory, however, it is difficult to look at this as anything other than a black eye for Guelph’s renowned activist culture at a time when the community was in the national spotlight.

With the investigation ongoing and conclusions still lacking, it would be too subjective to pass judgment at this point on which story is true and what actually happened on the cold December morning. Regardless of the outcome, however, the entire event is a shame. Confusion notwithstanding, other communities read this story and are left with a sour taste in their mouth about what Guelph stands for.

Peaceful resistance and activism have been shining features on which the city has been able to hang its hat for several decades. Gwen Jacob’s 1991 topless stroll through downtown Guelph comes to mind when one recalls a progressive and non-violent example of the city’s activist culture. Sadly, the Olympic resistance will not achieve such reverence and admiration.