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(FRANK GUNN)
(FRANK GUNN)

Usual Suspects

Remembering Ernie Add to ...

They were the generation of voices that took baseball from radio into TV. Vin Scully, Red Barber, Mel Allen, Harry Caray, Jack Buck and Ernie Harwell. They didn't simply broadcast the game. To the millions who listened on the radio and TV, men like Harwell were baseball. The Detroit Tigers' legend passed away Tuesday night at age 92. To any baseball fan who heard the gentle Georgia burr coming from a car radio or a transistor under the sheets, Harwell was the ideal baseball companion for 42 years. To any young reporter encountering Harwell in the rickety halls of Tiger Stadium's press box, Harwell was gentility personified.

He worked the World Series years of 1968 and 1984 in Detroit. And he worked some years where the Tigers were the worst team in baseball. But he was remarkably cheerful, a man of faith who counted every day as a pennant winner. It's a cliché to say we won't see the like of Harwell again. But in this world of shouters and shriekers and sycophants figures like the man who coined the phrase "Bless you, boys" are an anachronism. And baseball is the worse for their passing.

Stick 'Em Up: Maybe the NHL needs a new TV commercial. "What if Nick Lidstrom's stick hadn't blown up in Game 2?... History wouldn't be made without a composite stick."

Usual Suspects has noticed more explosions than The Hurt Locker when it comes to composite sticks in these playoffs. Lidstrom's stick shattering on San Jose's winning goal Sunday is the latest and most spectacular example of stick frailty creating game-changing plays. The ice is regularly littered with broken RbKs or Eastons-- and broken chances.

It's not just snipers like Sidney Crosby who are losing scoring opportunities to busted cues. It's defencemen such as Montreal's Josh Gorges last night having his sticks blow up under pressure in his own zone or Detroit's Darren Helm breaking his stick on a faceoff and then-- sans baton-- trying to block a shot that hit him in the throat. Pittsburgh's Kris Kunitz had to abandon a promising offensive rush last night when his stick broke in half. (Occasionally, broken sticks actually help teams, too).

Yet, outside Lidstrom's disaster, collapsing composites are largely ignored as a topic in the media obsession with goals off skates, crashing the crease and players losing Chiclets to slap shots. The featherweight sticks have become a competitive gamble. (And for up to a couple hundred dollars apiece, they've become a huge financial concern for teams.) Yet few are talking.

TSN's Ray Ferraro says it should be a bigger issue.

"Sunday was the best and worst of composites," he told Usual Suspects en route to Detroit for Game 3. "On one hand, you had Mike Cammalleri and Pavel Datsyuk whipping great shots with them for goals. On the other hand you had Nick Lidstrom's stick blowing up on the game-winning goal. Lidstrom without a stick is like him being without his skates.

"There have been so many sticks blow up at crucial times during these playoffs. I never used one, but if I missed a great chance because my stick blew up I'd be beside myself. If you're a guy who scores five goals a year what are you using a composite for? Really. If you're Hal Gill, not to pick on one guy, you can't take a chance that your stick will blow up when you're on a 5-on-3. There has to be a way to make them more durable."

And to make TV panels talk about it when it affects the outcome of games.

Fun With Numbers: Gary Bettman was pounding sand in Chicago about the NHL's improved TV ratings south of the Dominion. Apparently the numbers on preferred carrier Versus are higher than at any time since the dreaded ESPN carried the league a decade ago. Shazam and all that. Reality check: The NHL is reaping a perfect ratings storm with huge TV markets Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston, Detroit, San Jose (Bay Area), Denver, Phoenix and New Jersey all in the playoffs this year. And just three (now two) Canadian markets. Funny how your numbers jump when you're not pimping St. Louis, Carolina or Columbus come April.

Point Shots: Is TSN getting federal stimulus money? How else to explain the latest hockey-guys- between-jobs on the panel? This time it's free agents Martin Biron and Aaron Ward doing the live job application. They follow in the just-parking tradition of fired coaches/ GMs Craig MacTavish, John Tortorella, Peter Laviolette, Mike Keenan (you're growing sleepy), Jay Feaster... Nice close-up in Boston before Game 2. TSN showed the standard crowd shots, settling on a couple of bearded Boston beauties cheering their team. Hey, aren't they jolly! Oops, the guy with the Chara jersey delivered a single-finger salute to the Philly Flyers... Speaking of panels, when is someone in the media going to say that the reason Mike Cammalleri has become a star in Montreal is not because Toronto offered too little but that Calgary GM Darryl Sutter budgeted too little to re-sign him/ Sutter instead blew his cap space on underachieving Daymond Langkow ($4.5-million), Cory Sarich ($3.6-million) and Mr. Three Goals, Jay Bouwmeester ($6.68-million). Cammy would have stayed for the right deal in Alberta.

Finding Faults: For once tennis fans may feel they got the break from TSN on coverage. Sunday, TSN2 was scheduled to carry the NBA playoff game between Atlanta and Milwaukee. But as game time approached, it was clear the rain-delayed ATP World Tour Masters 1000: Rome would not be finished on time. But the network allowed the tennis to finish before TSN2 switched to the NBA game, making hoops fans as unhappy as tennis fans were happy.

Give Me A W: Finally, makes a fella' proud to be a Washington Redskin. According to the Washington Post, a returning U.S. serviceman wanted to surprise his wife, a Redskins cheerleader, by showing up early -with an ABC camera crew in tow. The ABC station ran the feel-good story past the Redskins who - feeling dudes that they are - nixed the idea. Instead, the NFL club's NBC TV partner was tipped off to the story (how we'll never know). To put lipstick on this pig, a TV executive told the Post that the Redskins threatened to fire the cheerleader if she told the real story (a claim the team denies). Tuesday, owner Dan Snyder had to apologize to the ABC station for barring them from their own story. We think that went well, don't you?

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