Blogs > From The Bleacher Seats

A roundup of news on sporting events, people and places in Southeast Michigan by columnist Jim Evans.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

It's not just hockey for the MC Monarchs

Team owner Mark Gilman shares a laugh with MC Monarchs coach Jason McCrimmon (Photo courtesy of John Corzine/Hockey Weekly)

“He’s part hockey coach, part Father Flanagan.”
That short summation by team owner Mark Gilman described Macomb County Monarchs head coach Jason McCrimmon.
Following a recent practice at Fraser Hockeyland, McCrimmon gathered a handful of players in his office and closed the door.
“They have developed big heads,” he explained later, smiling.
Who can blame the upstart Monarchs for their confidence? The team opened the season by winning its first six games. Those wins included sweeping a three-game series against the third-ranked Tier 3 Junior team in the country, the Soo Firehawks, as well as a victory over the previously undefeated Detroit Fighting Irish.
The Monarchs were in Traverse City last weekend to play the hometown Hounds.
“Jason is a very well-respected as a coach,” said Gilman. “He can be tough on the players, but he also knows when to laugh. He is not a yeller.”
The Monarchs are a first-year Junior A (Tier 3) team that plays out of Fraser. They are a member of the Midwest Junior Hockey League. The Macomb County team joined the Alpena Flyers, Berkley Bruins, Decataur Blaze, Michigan Ice Dogs, Soo Firehawks and Traverse City Hounds.
The MJHL is an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) sanctioned Tier III league. Its stated primary goal is to develop its players on and off the ice for higher levels of junior hockey and to be able to play college hockey.
After the MWJHL’s inaugural season, more than 30 players had secured college hockey offers at the NCAA Division III level and at all three levels of ACHA hockey. That number was similar after the 2013-14 season.
Still, the Monarchs seem to be about much more than wins and losses. A look at the unique resume on the back of McCrimmon’s hockey trading card might provide a clue.
McCrimmon was born and raised in Detroit. He’s from the city and even though Detroit is called Hockey Town by some that is hardly the reality.
“My mom was a social worker. She made me try hockey when I was three years old. I hated it. Why did I want to stand around on some ice and freeze to death? None of my friends were playing,” he said, laughing.
But McCrimmon kept playing, more out of obligation to his mom than anything else. When he was 10, he moved on and played with some teams in Grosse Pointe and then later with Belle Tire.
At 16 he quit. Other priorities beckoned, just like they do for plenty of teens. He did not play again until he was 20 years old.
“I didn’t have any passion for the game,” he explained. “I had other priorities.”
An opportunity presented itself at Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin. After two years there, he moved on to the University of Massachusetts Boston. He later played for Muskegon and Flint of the IHL, as well as other teams.
McCrimmon had just returned from a multi-year stint as the captain of the Hela-Kiekko professional team in Finland when he met with Gilman, who was intrigued by the 6-4, 260-pound McCrimmon’s story.
“I knew he had a lot of fights in his career and wanted to see the toll that was paid on his knuckles. He made me laugh when he said the worst part about hockey fights was not broken bones in the hand, but that you never get used to being hit in the face. He wanted out,” said Gilman.
Scar tissue doesn’t negate compassion.
The Monarchs have formed partnerships with the Hope Center in Fraser as well as with McCrimmon’s Ice Dreams hockey program in Detroit.
The Hope Center is a non-profit, Christian-based, human-services organization whose purpose is to address the hunger crisis and respond to the needs of county residents. Ice Dreams is designed to introduce ice skating and hockey to kids in Detroit.
“We want these players to be productive citizens. Not only do we want them to get better on the ice but off the ice as well. We are not only building players, but young men, too,” said McCrimmon.
The majority of the players are from Macomb County. Several are Oakland County residents. There are also two on the roster from the Cape Cod area and one from the Czech Republic.
The team will play 46 regular-season games. The playoffs follow the regular season.
“I love hockey. Jason and I are really good friends and he deserves this chance. I’ve seen so much bad coaching and situations where the kids aren’t treated right. We wanted to start a team that would do right by the kids. We’ll follow through on our promises,” said Gilman.
Gilman is the owner of Decus Strategic Consulting and Communications, a marketing and public relations firm in Waterford. He resides in Clarkston with his wife, Patti. They have five children in their blended family. Three of them either played or are playing hockey.
“I’m just a hockey geek,” said Gilman.
Edward J. Flanagan, the founder of Boys Town, was a kids geek. The Irish priest believed there were no bad boys. McCrimmon seems to espouse that same belief.
Even those boys who occasionally get big heads.

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Thank You note to Mike Ilitch

This is a Thank You note.
Not to my aunt for a pair of argyle socks or my nephew for a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles T-shirt.
Nope, it is to Mike Ilitch.
And no, Mr. Ilitch didn't give me a Hickory Farms basket for Christmas.
I want to thank him for the Red Wings. I want to thank him for the Tigers.
I was watching the Red Wings beat the Bruins in their home opener Thursday night and it got me to thinking; the Wings have made it into the playoffs the last 23 seasons and I’m not sure we all appreciate that fact.
I remember when Mike Ilitch bought a Red Wings’ team that was so woeful he had to give a car away pretty much every game just to get people to stop by the arena.
They had been called the Dead Wings by Channel 4 broadcaster Al Ackerman. Or was it the Dead Things? Either way, neither was very complimentary.
It's 11 o'clock, do you know where Ned Harkness is?
Those Red Wings were a joke and that is something that should be remembered when people grouse about these Red Wings not getting to the conference finals or the Stanley Cup Finals or even winning the Stanley Cup.
I just wanted to send a Thank You note to the team owner.
Not for argyle socks. Not for a T-shirt. Not for a Hickory Farms assortment basket. But for turning the Red Wings back into a winning organization and keeping them there.
While I'm at it I ought to get back to the Hallmark store and pick up another card.
Dear Mr. Ilitch, thanks for the Tigers.
I know they have to be frustrating the heck out of you lately. You spent all of that money and not all of it has brought a good return. A team that was supposed to make a serious run at the World Series championship stumbled in the opening round of the playoffs.
But the team has won the Central Division the last four seasons. They have played some outstanding baseball and the lineup is sprinkled with some of the best and brightest in the game. Comerica Park is a great place to watch baseball and there has been lots of good baseball to see in recent seasons.
I know you are a baseball guy. I know you grew up a fan of the Tigers and even had a shot in the minor leagues.
You are one of us. Someone from here who has a passion for the game. You want the Tigers to win as much as we do if not more and you're willing to pay the price.
That passion alone is something to say thanks for.
You have proven that you can field competitive teams -- and even championship teams -- in a town about as far away from the bright lights as you can get. We don't have South Beach. We have Metro Beach. We don't have Broadway. We have Henry the Hatter on Broadway Avenue in downtown Detroit. We don't have Malibu. We drive Malibus.
But we have Cabrera. We have Zetterberg. We have Datsuyk. We have Verlander. So I guess that means we have Upton, too (Kate, not B.J. or Justin)
We have our share of stars. We have more than our share of wins and even a few titles.
We have a pretty darned good owner.
That Thank You note is in the mail.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Fanning the flames

Sports talk radio.
Hi, I’m Wes from West Bloomfield. Joe Nathan is a jerk.
Hey, I am Frank from Fraser. Brad Ausmus is abysmal.
Hello, this is Rick from Royal Oak. What is wrong with Matthew Stafford?
Yeah, this is Oliver from Oak Park. Oops, all right, I have turned my radio down. How come the Pistons have been so pathetic recently?
So there you have it. The voice of the fans.
Everybody has an opinion, especially the irate. Everybody can be heard loud and clear, especially if they yell loudly enough. Not just on the radio, but also on television, through blogs, on Twitter, Facebook and a variety of other social media tools.
And, at the stadium.
Freedom of speech. It is guaranteed in our constitution. I’ll bet our forefathers never envisioned Tweets.
Everybody is entitled to their opinion. Wes from West Bloomfield. Frank from Fraser. Rick from Royal Oak. Oliver from Oak Park.
Even yours truly.
Criticism is part of the game. Especially when Nathan blows a one-run lead in the ninth. Or Ausmus makes questionable decisions from the dugout. Or Stafford throws two interceptions. Or Jimmy Howard lets in four goals. Or the Pistons lose yet again.
That brings up this old truism. The worst jobs in town are the closer for the Tigers, the starting quarterback for the Lions, and the top goalie for the Red Wings.
Those folks are frequently the most unpopular people around. The best jobs in town: the backups for all of the above. Hurray for Joakim Soria; yahoo for Dan Orlovsky and Kellen Moore; and how come Jonas Gustavsson doesn’t play more?
We adore our athletes. We despise them occasionally, too. We love our teams. We just don’t like them sometimes. Win and we’ll put chocolates on their pillows. Lose and there is a flaming bag on the front porch.
It is the epitome of a love-hate relationship, and when fans hate we speak very, very loudly. Justified or not, the volume increases when we start thinking about how much our professional athletes who are screwing up make. They are all largely millionaires.
Conversely, most of us are not. We pay to get into the stadium. We pay 20 bucks or so to park our cars. If we go out to eat, the food is more often than not served via a drive thru window. We regularly have to make decisions like whether to pay the mortgage on time, or instead pick up a prescription at the drug store; should we put a new muffler on the car or deal with Detroit Edison and Consumers Energy?
I am not sure our professional athletes agonize over the same things. Do they want a Porsche or Mercedes; an Escalade or Land Rover? What do they feel like eating tonight, filet or lobster tails? Where will they vacation; the French Riviera or Tahiti?
Sure we get mad at times, but don’t take it personally, guys. We love you. We love our teams. At least most of the time.
When we don’t it’s time for Wes from West Bloomfield, Frank from Fraser, Rick from Royal Oak and Oliver from Oak Park to speak up.