Category Archives: Featured

A Title 24 Years in the Making

I still can’t believe I’m saying this.

The Toronto Raptors are NBA champions.

Last Thursday night was the peak of my sports fandom. Having been a Toronto sports fan my whole life there were certainly more losses than wins.

This playoff run has been both both biggest rush and one of the most mentally taxing stretches. They say “act like you’ve been there before” but I literally haven’t been there before. The emotional toll that a playoff run puts you through is something I’ve never had to experience. Usually when my teams make the playoffs it’s like ripping off a band-aid and they get eliminated right away.

This year in retrospect this year was an absolute roller coaster. From the initial Kawhi trade, to the “load management” regular season, losing Game One of the playoffs to Orlando, Philadelphia taking it to seven games, “The Shot”, Milwaukee’s 2-0 series lead in the Conference Finals, Toronto charging back and winning four straight to advance to the Finals, the Klay injury, the Durant injury, the other Klay injury, the Game 6 win…nevermind foul was called before the inbound, Kawhi shoots free throws and then…

Pure bliss.

Best pictures from the Championship Parade

Kawhi Leonard’s championship style.

Frank Gunn / The Canadian Press

Kyle Lowry gazes at the sea of fans.

Steve Russell / Toronto Star

Kawhi Leonard holds his MVP trophy while celebrating with Drake.

Frank Gunn / The Canadian Press

Gerry Angus/USA Today Sports/Reuters

Albert Leung/CBC

Frank Gunn / The Canadian Press

Kawhi Leonard is happy.

Frank Gunn/Canadian Press

NICK TURCHIARO/USA TODAY SPORTS VIA REUTERS

MELISSA TAIT/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

My Blue Jays and Maple Leafs fandom is something that I was born into. My dad and grandpa were die hard fans so I would be remiss not to follow those loveable losers into the abyss. I used to bike over to my grandpa’s place on MLB Opening Day and the first Leafs game of the season, kick my feet up and watch the season end just as it started. My Grandpa and I were always optimistic that the likes of Alex Steen and Aaron Hill were the keys to turning their respective Toronto franchises around.

But when it comes to the Raptors, that is a team that I felt that  picked. Which isn’t necessarily a better feeling–I would be an absolute puddle to see the Blue Jays win a World Series or watch Auston Matthews lift the Stanley Cup–but it’s just a different feeling.

Growing up playing basketball in a small, hockey-dominated town, my buddies and I were a group of Raptors fans very much in the minority at the time. The Leafs could look for the right pieces to surround Sundin, we were looking for a point guard for Chris Bosh. The Leafs had Joe Bowen and Bob Cole, we had Chuck Swirsky and Jack Armstrong.

My Top 10 Fringy Raptors

10. Aaron Gray: Tall White Sideline Guy #1
9. Greg Stiemsma: Tall White Sideline Guy #2
8. Pops Mensah-Bonsu: Most Memorable Name for a forgettable player
7. Fred Jones: people forget he won a Dunk Contest
6. Reggie Evans: All Grit First Team
5. Jason Kapono: 3 Point Champion
4. Chuck Hayes: CHUCK HAYES!
3. Jorge Garbajosa: Sometimes the brightest flames burn the shortest
2. Sonny Weems: Clarence Weems AKA Money Sonny AKA Euro League All-Star
1. Jamario Moon: Former Globe Trotter

Being the white, incredibly short, slow, shooting guard that I was, I spent my fair share of time on the bench. My Italian buddy Mikey G would accompany me at the end of the bench. Honestly he’s probably an even big a bigger Raptors fan than me.

At the end of the bench we’d do our best Chuck Swirsky imitations and call play-by-play whenever our mediocre basketball team would sink a few shots. “Onions baby onions!” “Bring out the salami and cheese mama! This one is over!” And when the game in front of us inevitably get boring–usually in the middle of the third quarter of a 30 point dismantling–we’d develop blueprints in order to turn the Raptors around.

“In limited minutes Linas Kleiza has been a stud. If we start playing him more maybe we can catch a few teams napping.” “I for one think Sonny Weems needs more rope.” “Honestly Bargnani might be kind of lazy. But if he can build a bit of a game around his jumper he can be a poor man’s Dirk.”

Yeah we are idiots.

When the clock hit 0:00 in that Game 6 the first call I got a call was from that glorious idiot Mikey G. “We did it bud. Holy shit we did it.” Just an absolutely poetic moment shared between a couple of morons.

My top five Raptors moments

5. Demar DeRozan, “I am Toronto”

We may not have been able to get over the hump with Demar, but his fingerprints were all over this championship team. He was the first All-Star to embrace Toronto and actually decide to stay. Years of watching guys like Carter, McgGrady and Bosh leave for “greener pastures” left Toronto feeling like an ugly step-sister NBA franchise. Nobody wanted to be in Canada… until Demar.

4. “Fuck Brooklyn”

This was five years ago! The first “We the North”. The first “Jurassic Park”. This Raptors playoff team just felt different than the last iterations led by Carter or Bosh. It was a frisky team that the city rallied behind and really set the wheels in motion for what we witnessed last week.

3. I don’t know what to call this but it gave me chills

2. Kyle lifts the “Larry O’B”

Image result for kyle lowry champion

After the Raptors ownership group got the first hoist, Serge and Masai made sure that Kyle was the first Raptor to get his hands on the trophy. The guy is the last man standing from the first “We The North” 2013-14 team. For all of the heat he’s taken in years past over his ability to rise to the playoffs, it’s just poetic that Kyle led the way with 26 points, 10 assists and 7 rebounds.

1 A Kawhi’s Shot

As wild and exciting as Game 6 was last night, this shot–this crazy unrepeatable shot–was the defining moment of Toronto’s championship run. I’ve watched a lot of Raptors basketball and this shot just doesn’t go in. This moment signified that this year was different.

1 B Kawhi’s Laugh

https://twitter.com/espn/status/1140715624227696640

Now this whole piece might come off as the ravings and ramblings of a lunatic, but honestly watching the Raptors for two decades will do that to you. This championship just means so much. It’s just been a wave of pure elation. Cheering for the Toronto Raptors, through their ups and down, has been one of the most profoundly satisfying aspects of my life.

This joy for this Toronto Raptors championship is the cumulation of years of my love for the game of basketball. Driving to tournaments with my parents, practicing fade aways and post hooks in the driveway with my brother, not to mention the countless people I’ve connected with through the sport.

This in of itself is the essence of this Toronto Raptors team. It has just brought so many people together across Toronto, across Ontario and across Canada. It’s a beautiful thing. This was apparent when my brother and I took the whole day off to get into Jurassic Park for Game One of the Finals. In the area the were thousands of fans of different ages and races all brought together by the Toronto Raptors.

Look no further than that Raptors team itself to see how a trivial game can bring people together. Serge Ibaka and Pascal Siakam rose out of Africa to play on basketball’s greatest stage. Spaniard Marc Gasol finally got his first championship at age 34. Jeremy Lin was the first Asian American to win an NBA title. Undrafted Canadian Chris Boucher won a championship in the same season he locked up G League MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. Not a single player on the team was a lottery pick in the respective draft year. And rookie coach Nick Nurse–who started coaching coaching in 1990 for the British Basketball League’s Derby Storm–was the one to bring all of these loveable misfits together. This is one of the best and most fun professional sports teams that this city has ever seen.

Cherish every moment of this team while you can. There’s no point lamenting on the Kawhi decision more than you have to. Just soak it all in because there’s no guarantee we will ever see anything like this again.

The Toronto Raptors are NBA Champions.

2017 Toronto Blue Jays Season Primer

Embed from Getty Images

Last year’s installment of my Blue Jays season primer was done through a “Plus Minus Predictions” feature. While the concept gave me good talking points to express my thoughts on the core of the Blue Jays roster, the conservative Steamer Fangraphs projections that I used left me making some pretty lame “cold takes” with every prediction given the “barring injury” caveat. “Josh Donaldson is awesome.” Yikes you’ll need an ice bath after that hot take. Read more

PHPA Feature: Andrew Campbell

Excerpt from PHPA Article

“A lot has been made of the young, exciting Toronto Marlies. Run by Maple Leafs Assistant General Manager, Kyle Dubas, the Marlies are flush with dynamic prospects who are being groomed for the NHL, along with a mix of veteran talent.  Last season’s Marlies were an offensive juggernaut, finishing atop the AHL standings with 114 points, while leading the league with 294 goals.  It should come as no surprise with a roster stacked with young talent such as William Nylander, Zach Hyman, Connor Brown, Brendan Leipsic, and Kasperi Kapanen,just to name a few.  With all of this flash and sizzle, some players are bound to be lost in the shuffle. One name that is not given nearly enough credit, with his calming and steady presence patrolling the blue line, is Marlies captain, Andrew Campbell.

Known to teammates and coaches affectionately as “Soupy”, Campbell has owned this goofy moniker since his junior days with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). “I’m unsure of who gave it to me,” Campbell recalls. “I guess if your name is Campbell in any professional sport you tend to pick up the nickname.”

**Click here to read full article on the PHPA.com**

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PHPA Feature:Bryan Rust

Excerpt from PHPA Article

On December 11, 2015, the Pittsburgh Penguins lost 3-2 in overtime at home against the Los Angeles Kings. While in a vacuum this may not seem that consequential of a loss, at the end of the day it had much larger implications. This loss would drop the Penguins to a pedestrian 15-10-3 record, their fifth loss in their previous seven games. This slide would be bearable for most teams, but not so for a Pittsburgh line-up with Stanley Cup aspirations. While the Penguins’ record wasn’t bad by most teams’ standards, the greater worry was the lack of cohesion between their key players. It was clear something needed to change.

Following the loss to the Kings, the Penguins would fire their Head Coach, and promote Mike Sullivan, from Pittsburgh’s American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate in Wilkes-Barre / Scranton to be the team’s new bench boss. With the hiring of Sullivan, there was a golden opportunity for players who had been playing in Wilkes-Barre, who had come to impress and build a rapport with Sullivan, to get their shot at the NHL.  By season’s end, Pittsburgh would receive valuable contributions from AHL Wilkes-Barre alumni such as Brian Dumoulin, Tom Kuhnhackl, Conor Sheary, and Matt Murray on their way to capturing the franchise’s fourth Stanley Cup.  And there are those who argue the team would not have had the success they did without the heroic playoff performance of another AHL call-up, Bryan Rust.

Click to continue article on PHPA Website

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PHPA Feature: Tom McCollum

This is my second professional interview and article written for the Professional Hockey Players’ Association. Like Ben Harpur, Tom McCollum is a former Guelph Storm because… well to be honest when I submitted a list of potential interview candidates I just fired off former junior players that I was familiar with. Coincidentally Ben and Tom know each other despite never playing on the same team and Tom being 6 years older than Ben. Apparently they  met through the Storm and have skated with each other in past off-seasons because they live an hour apart on different sides of the border (Ben lives in Niagara on the Lake, Ontario and Tom is from Amherst, New York).

McCollum was a really cool interview for me. His OHL career spanned from 2006 to 2009. For me that was Grade 6 to Grade 9. Despite those Storm teams not being overly successful, I loved watching them play live. Off of the top of my head I remember watching McCollum, Drew Doughty, Peter Holland, Taylor Beck, Michael Latta, Tim Priamo, Rafael Rotter, Brandon Buck, Leigh Salters, Luke Pither…

I’ve regularly checked Tom’s HockeyDB page ever since he got drafted by Detroit. So after talking to him over the phone and hearing what he’s about, I wish him nothing but the best and am rooting for him to crack the NHL for good.

Tom is an awesome guy with a lot to say, which made for a great interview experience. He gave me too much good material to fit in my piece for the PHPA so I’ll share some of my unused quotes below.

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Eastern Conference Finals Primer: Raptors vs. Cavaliers

Schedule


Game 1: Tuesday May 17; 8:30 @ Cleveland on Sportsnet
Game 2: Thursday May 19; 8:30 @ Cleveland on TSN
Game 3: Saturday May 21; 8:30 @ Toronto on Sportsnet
Game 4: Monday May 23; 8:30 @ Toronto on TSN
Game 5: Wednesday May 25; 8:30 @ Cleveland on TBD
Game 6: Friday May 27; 8:30 @Toronto on TBD
Game 7: Sunday May 29; 8:30 @ Cleveland on TBD

X Factors


While my brother and I watched the first round series versus Indiana, we were discussing which players were the “X-Factors” in the series. The conversation then turned into us mocking stereotypical basketball commentary by calling every player on either team’s roster an “X-Factor”. Kyle Lowry? X-Factor. Paul George? X-Factor. Miles Turner? X-Factor. James Johnson? X-Factor (#FreeJamesJohnson (Why do some Raptors fans feel the need to tweet this?)). Ty Lawson? You better believe he’s an X-Factor (also the MVP at every dispensary he frequents). Bruno Caboclo? He could be the difference. But despite the term “X-Factor” being a tired trope, I’m going to use it as a talking point to bring up themes, strategies, and key figures that have the potential to effect the series. Read more

2016 Toronto Blue Jays Batting Over-Under Predictions

The 2016 season is coming in hot! I’ve already dusted off the old glove (and subsequently already thrown my arm out), read as much Blue Jays content as I can, and  acquired a couple of tickets for April. The only thing keeping me from total baseball mode are those pesky 50-win Raptors.  I am ready for a summer of Pillar web gems, Donaldson bombs, Stroman fist pumps and Bautista bat flips. But until then I may as well fill my time with writing predictions and ignoring school work.

I’m not that big into gambling, but I feel that the Over-Under concept is a great starting point for some of my Blue Jays opinions and predictions. Essentially I take a look at various projected stats for Toronto Blue Jays players and predict whether their real numbers at year’s end is over or under the projection. For the sake of this piece, I will use FanGraphs’ Steamer Projections. At this point most people bet money on the outcome of their over-under guesses. But taking into account my aversion to taking risks (some call this “being a coward”) and my limited funds, gambling just doesn’t seem meant for me. Read more

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