Hammer and Tongs on the Hardwood

Wow! In one of the best ballgames I’ve seen in a long time — one of the highlights of the Ottawa sports scene (sorry, Senators, and to all the hockey-heads for whom this was not even on jock radar (Jock Radar! Now there’s a good name for an ex-athlete detective)) — the Carleton Ravens followed up their loss last week to Brock with their first home loss after 56 consecutive wins in the Nest. Even more compelling, it was to their hometown rivals, their main competition for Ottawa basketball talent, the U of O Gee Gees. It was a renewal of the Battle of the Daves, Carleton’s Smart (“what rivalry?”) and Ottawa’s DeAveiro (who had not beaten the Ravens in his head coaching career, something like 14 attempts).

It was what we all wish Canadian university sport could more often be. There was a sold-out audience in a quality athletic facility (in Canada, that means 2000 people – compare that with the “quaint and undersized” Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke, where demand is feverish for the 8000 seats, or North Carolina’s on-campus Dean Dome” and its 21,000 bumholders). There were student fans with energy and imagination, and well-trained and talented athletes playing for their lives. 63-62 was the final count, and neither team ever led by much. It was tense from the opening tip, and the Gee Gees had an answer for everything Carleton had, including holding its star and leader Osvaldo Jeanty in check. Alex McLeod hit big shots for the Gee Gees, but it was an unlikely three from their quick but poor-shooting point, Teti Kabetu, that gave Ottawa a 5-point lead late and sealed the deal.

They call it the Canal War, and if you were too attached to your television and its through-the-motions January Blaw professional sports offerings, you missed something great. I’m only gloating because I was there, and proved to myself, once again, that sports can be a vibrant spectacle even without bright lights and TV timeouts. Especially then. When I was a high school teacher and coach, kids would ask me who my favourite team was. I’d say, “The Blue Devils, of course!” and I didn’t mean Duke. (I like them, too.) These were the McKinnon Park BDs, and try as we might, we had limited success in getting guys to take off their Yankees caps and Raiders jackets and come watch athletes they actually knew.

“Small service is true service,” wrote Mr. Wordsworth, and hometown fans may be the truest of their kind, too. (Hey, get a load of that — I got a poetry reference into the hoop scoop!)

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