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Professional Hockey an Opportunity for North Adams
By Andy McKeever On: 06:27PM / Monday January 27, 2014
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There are too many factors that go into any venture to say something will or will not succeed even before it's begun.

A recent Berkshire Eagle column suggests that there is little chance an independent pro hockey league would survive in North Adams. But I say it can and here's why.

It hasn't been tried.

The column suggests the No. 1 reason why the team will fail is because of population numbers. It cites that Pittsfield and South County as being too far away to supplement ticket sales. I question why that is so vital.

Pittsfield has a historic baseball field and in 10 years saw five teams start up — only to strike out. During that period, the North Adams SteepleCats have continued to outlast nearly every other team in the NECBL, becoming second to the longest tenured team in the league. They've outlasted cities with much larger populations. And they didn't build their fan base over time as suggested — the fan base was there from the start.

Oddly, the column cites Hoosac Valley championship teams as reasons why local sports fans are more interested in high school instead. While I agree high school sports are well followed around here, that doesn't mean fans wouldn't be interested in others.

To explain why I prefaced that with "oddly" is because Hoosac's success is the town of Adams' success - not the entire county's. One should never underestimate Adams when it comes hometown support.

While Pittsfield has basketball programs struggling to keep the doors open, Adams' Dana Labbee Youth Basketball League continues to grow and the town continues to pay for infrastructure to support it. Thousands of people go to Adams for a ski race — that's only been run once in three years. The town is supporting growth of PAL leagues, the Youth Center and has a die-hard football program. Sports are so important to Adams that town officials are branding Adams as a center of recreation.

How can they do this without a teeming population? (By the way, they are the third largest population in the county.) They do this because it is who the people of Adams are. There is a huge sports base in Adams. They will be more dedicated to a local team than almost any other town in the Berkshires.

Plus, what about Bennington, Vt.? Might they want to take a trip to see a hockey game before dinner at the Freight Yard Pub? What about students at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts who do not have a hockey team of their own?

What an independent team poses for North Adams is more than a show: It is an opportunity.

The Northern Berkshire Black Bears Youth Hockey has been a thriving organization and the Peter W. Foote Vietnam Veterans Memorial Skating Rink is a hotbed of activity — from adult and youth leagues to open skates. And the city has continually supported that facility.

The league is an opportunity for North Adams and North County to continue to build a name for themselves.

North Adams is sick of seeing things being taken from them. There was outcry when the North Adams State College changed names. There was outcry when the North Adams Transcript was merged with a larger paper.

Every time the city's name has been pulled off a nameplate or business card, it is a pang to the heart of everyone who lives there. Now, there is a chance that their city can boast a professional hockey team.

There will be exceptional players on the same ice that the residents themselves have skated on trying to achieve greatness. And if I know anything at all about North Adams, they'll be damned if they don't try their hardest to make that succeed.

It isn't just an opportunity for a city. It is an opportunity for the youth hockey program as well.

Massachusetts pumps out a lot of talented players. But, sadly, the Berkshires have been left out of that for too long. That can change. The semi-professional team can add to that program.

There is a smaller pool of players drafted and playing in minor leagues in the professional hockey so many of our players go off to college and return undrafted. They may be very talented. One option would be to stay in junior hockey leagues but many of those leagues are far away. A local team and a chance for those players to come back and continue to pursue their love.

Meanwhile, any players reaching higher level success will have the Berkshires attached to their resumes and brings excitement to the local youth hockey programs.

I won't say it is going to be easy to succeed. Hockey is an expensive sport, attendance is hard to drive and there are other options (Springfield Falcons are only an hour away, Albany Devils even closer). But it can work with the right business model. There is no reason why the city wouldn't support them.

It is easy to say something will fail. It is difficult to say it will succeed. That's human nature. But if you don't try it, it never has a chance.

Somewhere in a long faded memory some of the best bare-knuckle boxers in the world traveled to North Adams for matches and training. For years, the city supported boxing and that was their sport. Now, let it be hockey.

Andy McKeever is the Pittsfield bureau chief and occasional sports writer for iBerkshires.



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Serious Injuries and Sports: Chara Under Investigation
By: Andy McKeever On: 08:46PM / Monday March 14, 2011
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More reason to hate the Montreal Canadiens was reported by the Boston Globe this morning. Montreal Police are opening an investigation on Zdeno Chara for the hit last week.

Yes, I said police. Cops. Pigs. Fuzz. 5-0. Whatever term you want to use. The police are investigating the on-ice play that the National Hockey League said was perfectly legal.

I want an investigation on all fighting incidents involving Canadien players. Assault and battery. Let's go.

What year was it when half the Canadiens were charged with organized crime? And the police are finding a way to charge our defenseman with a crime for a legal hit? Oh, might I add that Max Pacioretty, who suffered a severe concussion and cracked vertebrae because of it, said not to charge Chara.

Why don't we just make it against the law in Boston to play hockey in a Canadiens uniform? The police can just arrest the entire team next time the puck drops between the two. It is apparently against the law to be a better hockey team in Montreal. I know they were winning at the time but as of today there is only one team better than the Canadiens in the division.

That was a Lenny from Of Mice and Men hit. That's what that was. Chara is a beast. He doesn't want to hurt anybody with his 105 mile-per-hour slapshot - people just get in the way. He doesn't want to hurt anybody when he wants the puck - they just get in his way.

Now to be a little more serious.

What is happening in the NHL when it comes to serious injuries is happening in all sports. The players just keep getting bigger, stronger, faster and basically have overgrown the sport. Concussions are not something to be taken lightly. A person can die from them.

That being said, it is up to the employers to do everything they can to ensure the safety of their employees.

You have to watch that same crappy movie about lifting boxes and putting fires out every year to be up-to-date on the safety techniques at your job. There needs to be fire extinguishers in businesses, proper ventilation and emergency exits. There are procedures in place. There are health codes. There are laws that define this. There is a labor board. A lot of men and women work hard to ensure you work in safe conditions. With sports, it's the same principle on a larger scale. They are workers under a microscope.

Athletes are working people and the leagues need to do everything they can to ensure safety. There are rules about dangerous plays that are now being enforced. If you can't provide safety for your employees, you should not be in business. That's a sad thought when it comes to sports because we love them. But frankly, I would rather see the sports go than see situations like Pacioretty and Chara.

I fully support every league's attempt to make the game safer but I think the worst part about making this argument is that I am a huge fan of hard-hitting hockey. If I built a team, they would be bruisers. Same thing with football. I also do not want to see other sports do what NASCAR did with the restrictor plates. You can't take away part of the competition.

Retraining players to eliminate dangerous plays can go a long way and I hope it does. You can still have physical play without as many serious injuries. Too many people are getting seriously hurt in all sports. The way the games are played needs to change from the youth up. It will be sad to see the old styles of play gone but we'll get used to it.

Unrelated:
Why can't the Bruins win at home?
I have tickets to the Blackhawks v. Bruins in two weeks. My allegiance is torn (not really). I used to live in Chicago.
Baseball needs to cut down on the number of preseason games. Maybe I am partially bored with the Red Sox preseason because we saw most of these guys in the show last season.



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Baseball and Hockey - Gotta Love The Spring
By: By Andy McKeever On: 05:08PM / Friday March 04, 2011
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Tune In. We have both baseball and hockey on TV now.

The Bruins just won seven straight games - six of those on the road - against top team. NESN received its highest hockey ratings with Thursday's game against the frightening Tampa Bay Lightning to take over second place in the conference. Penguins and Canadians on deck. Remember the last time the Bs played Montreal?

Lucic is in the midst of his best season yet and added a gaming-winning goal in the waning minutes of Thursday's game. That goal was a thing of beauty. With nearly all the players for both teams lumped into a pile in front of the net, Lucic calmly took the puck from the goal line, slid it out and the tapped a wrister into the top corner for the winning goal.

David Krecji got his 200th career point with that and Lucic got his third goal in three games.

I'd like to see more hitting by Lucic. Penalty minutes and assists are down from the season that made Lucic a fan favorite but goals are up, way up. Lucic has 11 more goals already this season than 2009. He had 262 hits two years ago and is currently at 136 this year. Thursday he beat up Brewer and then scored the game winning goal. He can do both.

I like seeing Rask in net more. I was getting nervous that they would burn Thomas out. Rask needs to get some more experience under his belt and Thomas plays well with rest.

Yankees tonight in spring training. I still get excited for it even though the games mean nothing and most of the lineup we may never see again. Plus, this is the first time in a long time I can watch some baseball. This is the best time of year - hockey going toward the playoffs and the Sox are back. Keep that TV on NESN.

I think more people are excited about baseball because it's a reward for dealing with the winter.

On to football; will we have football? Of course we will have football.

Pats signed Marcus Stroud. You can never have enough depth and never have enough mentors. The Pats are young, Stroud is not. They signed a playing coach. They'll likely draft some kid in the second or third round and station his locker right next to Stroud.

He will also be a great addition when they start facing teams with good pass protection.

Last note on football - I am sick of the Pats' running game. Please draft a powerback. I don't care which pick it is but please, please, draft a north/south runner.



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Best Bruins Road Trip In History?
By: By Andy McKeever On: 05:05PM / Friday March 04, 2011
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Are you watching this road trip for the Bruins? This team is cup contenders. There is no better way to show that than to walk into Vancover in the midst of a West Coast trip and beat the best team in the NHL with the best home record and a stigma of cheating.

I know most of you don't watch hockey until the playoffs let alone a 10 p.m. midweek game. You have to work, why would you stay up for that? Well, let me fill you in on why I believe this is the most important Bruins road trip in recent history. They haven't had a road trip like this since the 70s.

The Bruins picked up some players at the deadline and they're just now getting to know each other and learn the system. The Bruins are pushing and pushing hard for a cup and is there a better way to get the most out of the late-comers than to have them win the toughest games? They see right now what type of team this could be and can start now to develop the teamwork and chemistry for the long run.

West Coast trips are hard. Here in the east we have short, little trips. Philly, DC, New Jersey, New York, Boston. On the West Coast, nothing is close. Why do you think all the older players look to move east?

Vancover is the best team in the NHL and that's based on the defense. That game went back and forth. It was hard fought and the Bruins out muscled and out hussled Vancover. That is what this team is capable of and that is what the fans should expect when we see our rematch with Philly or even better Montreal in the playoffs. (Did you see that Montreal game a few weeks back. Awesome.)

Tomas Kaberle. Best passer I've seen in Black and Gold. This guy can play. He has had a few miscues but I think those were because he wasn't sure where his teammates will be. That'll improve.

Great trade despite losing Colborne. I really wanted to see Colborne. I don't mind losing Wheeler and as much as I liked Stuart, Kaberle is worth it. Colborne though - sad.

However, it is better than he is off to a team that will get him ice time quicker. The Bruins are backed up in prospects and draft picks so this will help both sides out.

Tyler Seguin needs to start playing better. He's got great feet but he is not getting it done. No grit. No fight. Look at Marchand - he shouldn't even be on the team but he fought and scrapped his way to the top 6. We need that out of Seguin.

Overshadowed by Kaberle, Rich Peverley was a great pick up too. He earned 55 points last year.



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