Crosby has 2 goals, 2 assists in NHL return after long recovery from concussion

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The Pittsburgh Penguins would have accepted an average Sidney Crosby in his first game in nearly 11 months – a routine performance, a regular night at the office.

Instead, they got the extraordinary.

Crosby scored the game’s first goal on his first shot since Jan. 5, scored again in the third period and added two assists during the NHL’s most-awaited comeback game since Mario Lemieux’s return in 2000 as the Pittsburgh Penguins roughed up the New York Islanders 5-0 on Monday night.

Choose an adjective befitting the superlative, and it worked on this special night: Dazzling, exceptional, brilliant.

No one in the hockey world knew exactly what to expect as Crosby, hockey’s biggest star, played his first game in 321 days following his prolonged layoff with a concussion that caused him considerable discomfort for months. But few probably expected him to be this good, this fast, this dominant.

This much like the Sidney Crosby of old.

Even the score was the same as when Lemieux returned from a 44-month retirement to collect a goal and two assists against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Dec. 27, 2000, in the last NHL comeback to generated this much interest.

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The Penguins, already one of the NHL’s top teams, now have a superstar looking just like the player who was dominating the NHL scoring race at this time a year ago, when Crosby was on pace for the league’s highest scoring total in 15 years before he was hurt.

Crosby showed not a speck of rust from his extended absence and was the fastest player on the ice from the very start of a memorable night. He helped set up a Chris Kunitz shot off the crossbar on his very first shift – shades of Lemieux getting an assist only a half-minute into his comeback – and was a motivated and driven player from the start.

And who could have scripted this any better – Crosby grabbed a Pascal Dupuis pass in stride on his third shift, accelerated to the net and, while fending off defenceman Andrew MacDonald, lifted a hard backhander under the crossbar only 5:24 into the game. Islanders rookie Anders Nilsson, making his first NHL start, never had a chance.

It never got any better after that for the Islanders, who dropped their 12th game in their last 14 overall and their 13th in a row in Pittsburgh, a city that isn’t very hospitable to them even when Crosby isn’t playing.

Now Crosby is back and, based on Monday’s game, appears to have the same form that saw him to score 32 goals and pile up an NHL-leading 66 points in 41 games before he sustained a concussion in early January.

For Crosby, the first-place Penguins and the league that has long awaited the return of its signature star, it couldn’t have gone much better than this.

He also took a few hard hits – the kind that can’t be handed out in practice – with Travis Hamonic shoving him in the end boards during the first period. Crosby quickly jumped up, not shaken a bit.

The standing-room crowd of 18,571 in Consol Energy Center was predictably loud and supportive, holding up Welcome Back Sid: signs by the thousands while chanting “Crosby, Crosby” as a huge No. 87 was displayed on the scoreboard before the opening faceoff.

There were signs everywhere – one read “Merry Sidmas” – from a crowd that came prepared to welcome back Crosby no matter how well he played, and was rewarded with a performance that bordered on the otherworldly.

During the morning skate, Penguins forward Steve Sullivan warned it might take any player coming off an extended layoff a few games to regain his timing, his top speed and his game legs, even if he managed to play a game or two on adrenalin.

Crosby looked as if he hadn’t missed a shift, much less half of one season and one quarter of another. He showed his playmaking abilities as he set up the Penguins’ second goal following a four-minute break between shifts late in the first period. His backhander from the left wing boards found defenceman Brooks Orpik at the point for a one-timer that beat Nilsson to the stick side at 16:29.

The score was only 2-0 but, given the emotion and the energy generated by the Crosby comeback, it was all but over.

It was a difficult assignment from the star from Nilsson, whose only previous NHL playing time was a 40-minute stint during a 6-0 loss to Boston on Saturday night. Crosby’s comeback didn’t make it any easier.

Neither did the Penguins’ third goal, scored by Evgeni Malkin on a power play with Crosby assisting 3:17 into the second period. Crosby drove hard to the net after coming off the bench and was turned aside by Nilsson, but got the puck back and fed it to Kris Letang at the point, who in turn sailed a hard pass to Malkin near the left post for his 10th goal.

Crosby didn’t figure in Pittsburgh’s fourth goal, scored by Sullivan off Malkin’s set-up only 2 ½ minutes later. The big lead allowed coach Dan Bylsma to start trimming Crosby’s ice time a bit, given the Penguins play three more times in the next five days.

Not that Crosby was done.

He finished off the unforgettable night with his second goal, slamming a hard backhander off defenceman Steve Staios and by Nilsson after carrying the puck from behind to net to along the right-wing boards 2:06 into the third period.

With so much attention on Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury quietly went about putting together his 21st career shutout and second of the season, stopping 29 shots as the Penguins won their sixth in a row at home and improved to 12-6-4.

Now, for Crosby, it’s one game down, two goals scored and the rest of the season to go.

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Occupy Calgary protesters cool to city deal, ask for electric hookups

CALGARY – Talks between Occupy Calgary and city officials went cold Saturday as protesters wavered on a deal that would see them vacate Olympic Plaza.

Despite facing temperatures below minus 20 degrees, the campers vowed to continue their occupation. Protester Aaron Doncaster read the city’s proposal out loud during a general assembly on Saturday.

“Personally, if I had my own choice, I would light this on fire,” Doncaster said, holding a copy of the city’s offer.

Last Thursday, city officials presented protesters with an informal proposal that would allow them to host several public forums and establish an information booth somewhere near the plaza in exchange for the group leaving the park.

But protesters balked at the offer, citing several concerns including the proposal’s informal nature. Doncaster invited Mayor Naheed Nenshi and other city officials down to the camp for further discussions.

“They won’t even come down to our (general assemblies) and recognize us,” he said. “That is an open line of communication that needs to be acknowledged.”

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Saturday marked the fifth week the group has occupied Olympic Plaza. The city previously ticketed and threatened to evict the protesters, but has since taken a more neutral stance, citing constitutional rights to freedom of expression.

The movement seems to be waning in several Canadian cities. Protesters in Vancouver have been given until Monday to pack up and camps in Regina and Victoria have already been dismantled.

 

“Calgary’s said from the get-go we’re looking for a peaceful resolution,” said Bill Bruce, director of animal and bylaw services.

Several protesters called for access to electrical services before they’d continue talks with the city. Bruce said there is no plan to offer power to the camp.

“That’s not on the table from the city’s side,” he said. “Realistically, we’ve cautioned them about the weather.”

The idea of continuing without power didn’t sit well with all the occupiers. Anthony Hall, a University of Lethbridge professor who recently joined the movement, said they have the right to use electrical devices, such as laptops.

Hall would like to see city hall engage the group in a respectful discussion on the matter.

“We’re human beings,” he said. “He (Bruce) deals with bylaws and animals, and he’s dealing with us like we’re animals. We’re humans. It’s winter in Canada.”

Protesters say they hope to make a formal counter-offer to the city by next Saturday.

“The city is missing the point in that they don’t seem to understand that the way this group operates isn’t through demands or proposals,” said protester Arran Fisher.

However, Fisher didn’t have a solution as to how the two parties could reach a deal.

“I can’t think of an appropriate response apart from just letting it happen.”

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Mayor says his 5% tax plan is doable

CALGARY – Mayor Naheed Nenshi has released a roadmap to stick with a five-per-cent tax increase for 2012 by the end of this week’s budget debates, but he likely lacks the support to get there.

He is confident the police chief can handle 45 fewer officers at community and district desks and in other support services, feels transit won’t suffer with fewer service hours, and thinks less money for parks maintenance will prompt more efficient delivery of the service.

“On the face of it and on the facts, there is no reason we can’t do it,” Nenshi said of his tax plan.

He’s going to have a tough job convincing others on council.

At least one councillor who reluctantly joined Nenshi’s push to keep property tax hikes to the rate of population and civic cost growth now wants to go higher – six per cent, perhaps – to prevent service reductions for police, transit or snow clearing.

“We’re going to have to add. I just don’t see places where we can cut,” Jim Stevenson said Sunday, the day before council begins a likely marathon stretch of hearings and debates on the 2012-2014 city fiscal plan.

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When council gave city managers pre-budget direction on taxes in June, Stevenson was one of nine members who initially backed finance committee chairman Councillor Gord Lowe’s plan for an eight-per-cent increase in 2012, and six points in the next two years.

He was then one of the three councillors who switched their stances after Nenshi pitched hikes of 5.0, 5.1 and 5.5 per cent in successive years.

Lowe plans to bring back his eight-point tax proposal, and colleagues have eyed many department budgets to shore up.

A plan to add no new transit routes outside the west LRT corridor and cut $1 million in transit service in 2013 has won few fans other than the mayor, who argues the new LRT line will offset the need for more bus service.

The police commission has many members in their corner – including Stevenson – calling to reverse the planned elimination of 45 officers this year, and hire additional police.

“I’m so happy with what (Chief) Rick Hanson has done over the years. I just don’t agree we should hamstring them,” the Ward 3 member said.

Nenshi supports the idea for new officers as the population grows but will ask council to await word on possible aid from the Redford government.

Many also oppose a $5.7-million clawback to parks maintenance over three years, and there’s apparent unanimity against a $3.5-million cut to the roads budget that would end the newly upgraded plowing strategy for side streets.

To staunch that problem, Nenshi will propose taking $7 million from the rainy day reserve to start a snowy-day fund so the city can draw from it in tough winters, and add to it in lighter winters.

Civic Camp, a group of urban activists which Nenshi helped form, will appeal today for the higher tax hike that Lowe endorses and the mayor is against.

There’s streamlining to be done, but even the city’s own pre-budget consultations showed Calgarians favour enhanced services, Civic Camp organizer Peter Rishaug said.

“They are willing to pay more for certain services, if they are reliable and improve quality of life,” he said.

There will also be public speakers coming out for operational dollars to further the cycling strategy, which got short shrift in a budget that cuts back in most areas.

“It will result in savings that exceed its costs many times. The benefits include improved health, long term transportation cost savings, more vibrant street life and increased tourism,” said Bike Calgary’s letter to Nenshi and council last week.

For support on a more modest tax hike, Nenshi can likely count on Councillors Dale Hodges and Andre Chabot, as well as Peter Demong, who wants a four-per-cent hike. But they’re aware of the long odds.

“I don’t think council will have the intestinal fortitude to get it below six per cent,” Chabot said.

On top of tax rates and service levels, council will also tackle user fees. Many members will try to alter the draft plan to hike the senior’s annual transit pass to $55 next year and $96 by 2014, from the present deeply discounted $35 (low-income seniors would still pay $15 a year).

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Calgary Catholic considering closure of two inner city schools

CALGARY – Calgary’s Catholic School Board is planning some big changes for next school year but the proposals aren’t sitting well with some parents.

The changes include the possible closure of two inner city schools including the St. John Fine Arts school on Kensington Road, which has been open since 1916.

“There are a lot of students that are from a different location than where that school is located so it may make sense for them to go to a different location for transportation reasons, for facility usage,” says Janet Corsten with the Calgary Catholic School District.

Parents like Gloria Walls, who lives in Rocky Ridge, are thrilled with the idea of the fine arts program relocating to a school to Calgary’s suburbs.

“If they are going to take the bus sometimes it takes an hour. Let’s say when it’s snowy, it takes an hour and a half.”

But other parents who live in Hillhurst are disappointed with the idea of losing another inner city school.

“There is a lot going on in the inner city but not necessarily for children so it’s nice when there are programs for families like us who live in the inner city,” says Liz Bohach.

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Another proposed change is moving the French immersion program form Ecole Madeline D’Houet in Hillhurst to Escuela St. Margaret, making St. Margaret Calgary’s first combined Spanish and French Catholic School.

“I think children who learn a second language when they are young generally have affinities for leraning languages, so having access to the teaching staff, French, English and Spanish, is a positive thing,” says Dermot O’Connor, whose child attends Esuela St. Margaret.

The Catholic School Board is still looking for public input into the plans; if approved, they would be implemented next fall.

Parents can have their say by emailing the school board or attending public input sessions on December 6th, 7th and 8th. Click here for more information.   

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Newt Gingrich’s arrogance, baggage likely means his bounce in polls is short-lived

WASHINGTON – First came Michele Bachmann, then Rick Perry, then Herman Cain. And now Newt Gingrich is the latest candidate raining on Mitt Romney’s parade in the Republican presidential race.

Six months after his campaign got off to a near-disastrous start, Gingrich has risen like a phoenix “out of the billowing smoke and dust of tweets and trivia,” to borrow a phrase from one of the formerly embattled candidate’s infamous news releases at the time.

A new USA Today/Gallup poll has the former speaker of the House of Representatives as the favourite of 22 per cent of Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters, in a statistical tie with Romney at 21 per cent. Cain, damaged by a sexual harassment scandal and difficulties answering foreign policy questions on the campaign trail, is in third at 16 per cent.

“I was dead in June and July,” Gingrich said recently at a Florida campaign event, making reference to a period of his campaign when his entire team quit en masse in frustration over some of his decisions.

“As a candidate – not as a person – as a candidate. And now I’m apparently not dead.”

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And like Bachmann, Perry and Cain before him, Gingrich’s moment in the spotlight is leading to scrutiny about his liabilities, with many detractors pointing not only to his checkered personal past but also to his storied arrogance.

“He’s condescending and rude to just about everybody,” Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire’s political survey centre, said Monday.

“He’s a smart guy, but likeability is an important factor; it’s one of the things people judge when they go to the polls. And Newt Gingrich really doesn’t have it.”

Some of Gingrich’s recent public proclamations are providing his detractors with plenty of ammunition, particularly his Occupy Wall Street comments.

“Go get a job right after you take a bath,” Gingrich said over the weekend, prompting an outburst by one cable news personality.

MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski called his comments “arrogant” and “disgusting” on Monday given Gingrich has admitted he received payments from the beleaguered housing agency Freddie Mac.

“To hear Newt Gingrich standing on literally his high horse, after taking advantage of the system, cashing in on it, being literally the biggest hypocrite in the Republican field, probably in politics today, and then to cast aspersions and to speak down to these people as if they should be flicked away – it’s disgusting,” she said.

On ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, George Will, the Washington Post’s high-profile conservative columnist, said Gingrich “embodies almost everything disagreeable about modern Washington.”

“Poor George,” was Gingrich’s simple retort when asked about the comments on the campaign trail in New Hampshire a day later.

Gingrich also welcomed news on Monday that a congressional supercommittee has failed to reach an agreement on deficit reduction, calling the development “good for America.”

He blamed both U.S. President Barack Obama and a Congress he claims doesn’t work nearly as well as it did when he was a key player in the 1990s – when the federal government, incidentally, briefly shut down after a brawl between Republicans and Democrats over former president Bill Clinton’s spending plans.

Gingrich later confessed he forced the shutdown in part because he was miffed that Clinton made him sit in the back of Air Force One during a presidential trip.

Even today, however, Gingrich says the shutdown was the right thing to do, denying it hurt Republicans even though Clinton’s poll numbers soared, while Gingrich’s plummeted, in the aftermath of the shutdown.

Gingrich once again touted his accomplishments as speaker on Monday, citing the balanced budgets and welfare reform legislation he pushed through despite a Democrat residing in the White House.

“We followed a strategy fundamentally different from the way Washington is operating right now,” he said.

He also said he was the best debater in the Republican field, suggesting primary voters should throw their support his way because of his oratory skills.

“Who do you want to have debate Obama to draw clarity between the various lies they will be telling and the truth?” he asked. “I think most people end up thinking I’m probably a better debater than my friends are.”

Not only that, Gingrich added in an appearance at Rivier College in New Hampshire, he’s got better ideas than his rivals.

“The scale of the solutions that I propose … are much bigger and much more comprehensive than any other person running for office,” he said.

As the news media fixes its attention on Gingrich in the weeks to come, however, it’s clear he’ll face tough questions, particularly about his personal life. Gingrich left his ailing first wife for his second, and then carried on an affair with Callista Bisek, a congressional aide who went on to become his third wife, while still married to Spouse No. 2. All this went on as he publicly assailed Clinton for the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

He’s already faced questions about his past on the campaign trail; one response spurred giddy reaction from late-night talk show hosts when Gingrich claimed his passion for his country fuelled some of his bad behaviour.

Last week, the Gingrich campaign unveiled a new website to confront those questions head-on.

“Newt has been honest and forthright about the fact that he has had moments in his life that he regrets, that he has had to seek reconciliation, and go to God for forgiveness,” a post on the site reads.

“Newt believes that by continuing to be honest and forthright about his past failings, voters will come to understand the man that he is now and conclude they can trust him to represent the American people in the White House.”

But Smith says the new website likely won’t do much to prevent his personal life from coming back to haunt him.

“Most of the public doesn’t know Newt Gingrich anymore; people stopped paying attention to him years ago, so the personal stuff is going to come as news to some people and it will hurt him,” he said.

But it’s the Freddie Mac payouts that will prove most damaging, he predicted. Gingrich said he earned only US$300,000 working as a “historian” for Freddie Mac before it emerged last week he made almost $2 million doing consulting work for the mortgage giant.

“He’s been a lobbyist or a political fixer in D.C. for years, ever since he resigned, and to be going for the nomination in a year when the party is running against Washington – you’ve got to be clean of any serious associations to Capitol Hill, and he’s not,” Smith said.

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Quebec Innu start international campaign against Charest’s northern plan

QUEBEC – Quebec’s Pessamit Innu say they will go to major American and European cities to denounce Premier Jean Charest’s cherished northern development plan.

Raphael Picard, chief of the Pessamit Innu band council, says the Plan Nord violates the rights of aboriginal people and “rapes” their land.

Besides the international protest, the band is ready to go to court to stop the government and has also threatened to block a key highway in the area 400 kilometres northeast of Quebec City.

Picard says his band wants $5 billion in compensation over 50 years for past and future development of the area’s resources.

The provincial government has offered $350 million in compensation paid out over five decades. That amount would come as $113 million from the government and more than $210 million from other economic proceeds.

Picard rejected the compensation flatly, calling it an insult.

“It’s frivolous on the part of the government, it’s disrespectful,” he told a news conference on Monday.

“It’s sad to see them returning to a colonial attitude, (where they) offer us knives and hatchets in return for bundles of furs. They think we’re stupid.”

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Premier Jean Charest said in Montreal he regrets that negotiations have failed but said the door remains open to further talks.

He pointed out the Pessamits are only one community and others support the wide-ranging plan. Plan Nord would increase mining, energy production, transportation and protected land across a huge stretch of land.

“It does not compromise the Plan Nord,” Charest said of the Pessamits opposition, adding the government negotiated in good faith.

Plans for an international awareness campaign are reminiscent of Cree protests in the 1990s against the Great Whale hydroelectric project.

It was eventually cancelled because of public concerns about its impact on aboriginal communities and the environment.

The Cree canoed to New York City from Hudson Bay to lobby potential electricity customers; they also took out newspaper ads denouncing the project.

Picard was scathing in his criticism of Charest, saying he had sold American, European and Japanese companies a load of “false advertising” during trade missions to promote the plan.

The Plan Nord centres around the mining and energy sectors and lays out, for example, 11 new mining projects during the next few years. It is considered a likely legacy item of Charest’s premiership.

Charest has said the Plan Nord could lead to $80 billion in public and private investment over the next 25 years.

The Innu aren’t the only ones with harsh words for the plan.

Former Parti Quebecois premier Jacques Parizeau said in a recent newspaper interview that he felt the government wasn’t getting enough from the private proceeds.

He noted that new infrastructure such as roads would have to be built in the area to accommodate companies’ operations.

Charest didn’t dispute Parizeau’s right to have an opinion but said the government had done its homework and Quebec would be getting a fair deal. He also said Parizeau should refer to previous deals cut by PQ governments in similar circumstances.

(With files from Lia Levesque in Montreal)

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Modest medal prospects for Canada at Lake Louise World Cup ski races

CALGARY – John Kucera has experienced some of his highest highs and his lowest lows while racing at Lake Louise.

So it’s with mixed feelings the Calgary skier makes his return to the World Cup there after a two-year absence.

The 2011 Lake Louise Winterstart World Cup opens Saturday with the men’s downhill followed by Sunday’s super-G.

Kucera broke his left leg during the men’s downhill at Lake Louise in 2009. It was a catastrophic injury that prevented him from competing at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

But two of Kucera’s three World Cup medals were won at the mountain resort west of Calgary. He became the first Canadian to win at Lake Louise when he took super-G gold in 2006, followed by silver in 2008.

“I think of a hill I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with right now,” Kucera admitted Monday in Calgary.

“It’s a hill I know very well. I’ve had some great success there in the past and I’m comfortable there. Obviously, I also had that brutal injury there.”

Kucera capped the 2008-09 season by winning the men’s world downhill championship in Val-d’Isere, France, which set him up nicely for the Winter Olympics the following year.

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But his Olympic aspirations ended just a few months later, when Kucera crashed going about 100 kilometres per hour at the season-opening downhill at Lake Louise.

Kucera broke his tibia and fibula and the impact of the crash pushed a bone through the back of his leg. A rod was surgically inserted through his tibia.

Just as Kucera was getting back on snow, he broke the bone again while training in Aspen, Colo., last February.

The confidence to race on the edge of danger will be slow to return for the 27-year-old.

On the bright side, Lake Louise provides a familiar venue for Kucera to start erasing doubt from his mind. The first of three scheduled training runs is Wednesday.

“Getting that confidence and getting that mental edge back, I would say it will be the most time-consuming thing,” he said. “The great thing about Lake Louise is it’s the first time I’m getting back into a world-class field.

“I’m going to run the training runs and see where I stack in. Obviously, the better it goes, the quicker that confidence comes back but I’m also prepared that it might take a little longer.”

Louise first hosted a World Cup ski race in 1980 and has done so annually since 1994.

Canada’s teams for both the men’s World Cup and the women’s races next week were introduced Monday in Calgary at Canada Olympic Park. They were ushered into a room full of excited schoolchildren, who rang cowbells and presented the athletes with hand-painted signs.

Canadians were shut out of the medals at Lake Louise in 2010 for the first time in five years. Podium prospects for 2011 are also not strong, even though there are proven performers among the men.

Erik Guay of Mont-Tremblant, Que., is the reigning world downhill champion. He backed away from heavy weight training in the off-season to deal with a chronic back problem.

He’s lost about 20 pounds. In a gravity sport, less body mass may slow him down.

“I can feel I’m struggling to keep pace with the other elite athletes,” Guay said. “We just got back from a camp in Colorado and I could see that I was playing catch-up a little bit.

“I’d expect a slow start to the season in Lake Louise, but I’m typically a slow starter anyway.”

There’s Kucera, the 2009 world champion, whose racing abilities are currently unknown. Calgary’s Jan Hudec was a silver medallist at the 2008 world championship, but a herniated disc in his back also forced him to abbreviate off-season training.

Robbie Dixon of Whistler, B.C., has posted 10 top-10 results during his career. Dixon suffered a season-ending concussion midway through last season, but says he’s symptom-free.

Manuel Osborne-Paradis of Vancouver won the super-G at Lake Louise two years ago, but he’s rehabilitating a knee injury. He’s not expected back on the World Cup circuit until January.

So men’s coach Paul Kristofic tempers expectations for Lake Louise.

“I don’t expect a huge weekend from the guys, but I expect solid skiing and good tactics,” Kristofic said.

“A lot of guys missed time on snow so from that perspective I would say we’re a touch behind schedule as far as coming into the race season completely in top form. We’re well on our way. We’ve had a great training period the last couple of months. We’re going to look to Lake Louise as a builder for us.”

The women arrive next week for downhills Dec. 2-3 followed by a super-G on Dec. 4. Canada’s medal prospects are even less for a women’s speed team decimated by injuries and retirements.

Kelly VanderBeek of Kitchener, Ont., and Larisa Yurkiw of Owen Sound, Ont., are the most experienced, but have yet to return to racing following knee injuries. Emily Brydon of Fernie, B.C., and Britt Janyk of Whistler, B.C., retired after the Olympics.

Marie-Michele Gagnon of Lac-Etchemin, Que., and Madison McLeish of Whistler, B.C. are 22 and 19 respectively. They may be joined by one or two racers from Canada’s developmental team.

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Massive leadership failures stalled probe of missing sex workers, inquiry hears

VANCOUVER – A massive leadership failure within the Vancouver Police Department stalled the investigation into reports of missing sex workers in the late 1990s, the public inquiry into the Robert Pickton case heard Monday.

That failed leadership extended all the way up to the chief, who was apparently unaware of the most basic details of the case and did nothing to ensure it was taken seriously, according to a review prepared by an outside police agency.

“While some recognized the increased number of missing women as significant, certain officers failed to take ownership and ensure the proper resources were dedicated to the problem,” says the report by Deputy Chief Jennifer Evans of Ontario’s Peel Regional Police.

Evans’ report offers scathing criticism of both the Vancouver police and the RCMP, which together failed to stop Pickton as he hunted sex workers in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He was able to continue killing for years after he was first identified as a suspect.

Portions of the report were read at the hearings Monday, as Vancouver’s current deputy chief, Doug LePard, entered his second week of testimony. LePard said he agrees with nearly all of Evans’ conclusions.

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By early 1999, the investigation consisted of just a single dedicated officer, despite growing concern within the community and among Vancouver police officers that the disappearances weren’t being taken seriously.

That officer, Det. Const. Lori Shenher, gave a public presentation in the Downtown Eastside in February 1999, providing an update on the investigation. She told the audience it was her opinion “the majority of these women have met with violence” – an assessment she had already shared with her superiors months earlier.

All of that appeared to come as news to the chief at the time, Bruce Chambers.

“The fact that he (Chambers) was shocked at the news in February ’99 following Det. Const. Shenher’s community meeting demonstrates that senior management was not aware of such an obvious concern to the community,” said Evans’ report.

“I believe he took no action to address the concern. I believe he did not recognize or take ownership of the missing women issue during his tenure.”

The missing women investigation didn’t receive any additional resources until April 1999, when Const. Dave Dickson, a well-known beat cop in the Downtown Eastside, was assigned to the case. In May, a review team was created consisting of six officers and a civilian clerical worker.

The problems weren’t confined to Chambers, according to Evans’ report, but reflected an apathy that defined how Vancouver police management viewed the missing women investigation. That, in turn, prevented the investigation from receiving adequate resources, Evans wrote in her report.

For example, in September 1998, a working group was preparing to launch an investigation into whether a serial killer might be at work in the Downtown Eastside and was weeks away from issuing a news release to inform the public.

But the head of the force’s major crimes unit, Insp. Fred Biddlecombe, didn’t believe the missing sex workers had met foul play. He successfully argued to have the working group disbanded.

Biddlecombe didn’t receive any pushback from others on the force’s management team, wrote Evans.

“It’s unfortunate that members of senior management could not discuss their concerns regarding the missing women issue in a more constructive manner, instead of deferring ownership and effectively washing their hands of it,” said the report.

That lack of urgency didn’t change when Chambers was replaced and a new chief, Terry Blythe, took over, according to Evans’ report.

Blythe was already aware of the missing women’s case, having encountered it when he was deputy chief of the section within the force that handles major investigations.

“I believe it was his responsibility to pursue that information and remain informed,” said Evans’ report.

“He had every opportunity to review what was going on and take action. I saw no evidence of that. I believe he failed to take ownership over the issue and ensure that this growing concern was addressed in the best possible way.”

The inquiry has already heard allegations that both the Vancouver police and the RCMP were slow to investigate reports of missing sex workers and neither dedicated enough attention or resources to solve the case.

The Vancouver police has already offered a public apology for failing to catch Pickton, and an internal report released last year admitted a number of failings.

The RCMP has not offered such an apology or admitted there was anything wrong with its investigation.

An internal report prepared in 2002, released at the inquiry last month, offers a relatively positive review of the RCMP’s investigation and concludes “nothing would have changed dramatically if those involved had to do it over again.”

Pickton was arrested in 2002, when a junior officer who wasn’t working on the missing women investigation obtained a search warrant related to illegal firearms.

The arrest set off a massive search of Pickton’s farm, where investigators found the remains or DNA of 33 women.

Pickton was eventually convicted of six counts of second-degree murder, though he has claimed that he killed a total of 49.

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Trustee in MF Global case says US$1.2B in customers’ money missing

WASHINGTON – The court-appointed trustee overseeing MF Global’s bankruptcy says up to US$1.2 billion is missing from customer accounts, double what the firm had reported to regulators last month.

The trustee, James Giddens, also said in a statement Monday that his plans to release about $520 million from accounts that have been frozen will mean nearly all the assets under his control will be distributed.

Giddens has been combing through the accounts and finances of MF Global, which filed for bankruptcy protection on Oct. 31.

Regulators are investigating whether MF Global tapped money from clients’ accounts as its own financial condition worsened. That would be a violation of securities rules. The FBI is investigating whether New York-based MF Global violated any criminal laws.

MF Global was led by former New Jersey governor Jon Corzine. The firm collapsed after making a disastrous bet on European debt.

Giddens’s office said in a statement that “the apparent shortfall” was as much as $1.2 billion or more, but noted that the figure could change.

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Last week, the judge overseeing the bankruptcy proceeding approved Giddens’s request that 60 per cent of the funds in about 23,300 frozen cash-only accounts be returned to customers. The money could start moving to customers before Thanksgiving, a spokesman for Giddens said.

Giddens has previously returned to customers $1.5 billion in collateral for their trading accounts with MF Global. He has a goal of eventually returning 100 per cent of all funds to customers, though that could be reduced by the apparent shortfall.

Customers use the accounts for trading derivatives. The value of derivatives is based on the value of an underlying asset, such as interest rates, oil prices or currency rates. MF Global was one of the biggest players in the derivatives market.

In Canada, the Canadian Derivatives Clearing Corp. said Monday that it has completed the transfer and closure of all remaining open positions related to the bankruptcy of MF Global Canada.

Customer positions for which the clearinghouse received transfer instructions were moved to a receiving clearing member, with the remaining positions closed out in the market after receiving instruction from the Trustee for MF Global Canada.

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A healed Crosby returns to a sick league: critics

OTTAWA – Sidney Crosby’s spectacular return to the National Hockey League Monday night has fans across North America breathing a collective sigh of relief. He scored two goals and notched two assists as his Pittsburgh Penguins downed the New York Islanders 5-0.

While his brain may be healed enough to return to the ice, critics are warning he and his fellow hockey players won’t be safe until the NHL tackles concussions.

The 24-year-old Canadian star of the Pittsburgh Penguins was sidelined by a concussion for 10 months. Crosby was injured in January when he sustained two hard hits in back-to-back games.

The length and pace of his recovery is an anomaly in a sport where players often feel pressure to get back on the ice as soon as possible.

Crosby, on the advice of his doctors, stayed off the ice until the concussion-related symptoms including sensitivity to light and loud noises, dizziness and fatigue were completely gone.

He may be back, but the most current science suggests that Crosby will be even more susceptible to injury than before.

“We know that once you sustain one brain injury, that is one of the major risk factors for another,” said Dr. Michael Cusimano, a neurosurgeon and researcher at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.

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Despite their increased vulnerability to concussions, players will return to a work environment rife with risks to play a game that is often their sole livelihood and their favourite activity.

Cusimano says asking a player to give up a job he has worked so hard to achieve is too much pressure to bear. Instead, he says, the NHL needs to step up and change the way it handles concussions, focusing on prevention and adequate treatment of injured players.

“They have to step up to the plate and accept social responsibility. Their players have to be kept safe,” he said. “It should be your right to work in a place that is safe, as safe as possible. If we know about environmental risks, in any other workplace we try to minimize them.”

Concussions simply aren’t a necessary part of sport and society needs to realize it, said Dr. Paul Echlin, a sports medicine specialist.

“We don’t have to do this,” he said. “It’s the refusal to change the way we play the game.”

Echlin said all levels of hockey have to address the intentional violence in the game.

Jesse Wallin, a former NHL player forced by a concussion to retire, says it is impossible and undesirable to eliminate risk from hockey.

“There an element of danger in the sport and that’s why a lot of guys play it,” he said.

The Red Deer Rebels coach says he believes the league is taking the rights steps when it comes to managing risk of injury.

“As far as the risk and danger in the sport, you are never going to eliminate all injuries,” Wallin says. “If the player has been given clearance to play and wants to play, I don’t think anyone would be putting a player at risk that shouldn’t go back.

Spurred on by public pressure and a growing number of high profile injuries, the NHL has taken some steps to improve player safety.

“With all the concussions we have seen over the past few years, I think it has made the league stand up and say: ‘We have to do something,’” said Dr. Mark Aubry, the chief medical officer with Hockey Canada.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman in March unveiled tighter rules on hits to the head and stronger return-to-play criteria for injured players.

The new policy requires players who show signs of a concussion to be evaluated off of the team bench by the team physician instead of ice-side by a trainer.

Later in the year, the NHL tightened Rule 48 by prohibiting head shots, not just lateral or blindside hits. Still, the rule has a lot of room for interpretation by referees, meaning fans and players will still see head shots on the ice.

“I think that is positive in the sense that the league is listening,” he said, adding that how Crosby was treated shows an evolution in the way players are treated.

“We tend now to keep players out and we’ve kept the players out longer than what they’ve traditionally been told,” he said.

Crosby’s injury and recovery will be a case study for the league to learn from, said certified athletic trainer Dustin Fink.

“He is going to be followed closely afterwards,” he said. “It’s good to know that if it is treated correctly and done right you can get back to what you want to do.

Fink said one of the most important lessons for player and coaches from Crosby’s injury is to let the symptoms – not the league, the coaches or the player – be the guide when it comes to return to play.

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Alberta now projecting $3.1-billion deficit

EDMONTON – After a rosy spring for Alberta’s finances, weakening resource revenue and poor investment income during the summer have combined to put the province farther into the red.

Delivering its second-quarter fiscal update on Monday, the government is projecting a $3.1-billion deficit at the end of its 2011-12 fiscal year. While that’s still ahead of initial budget estimates of a $3.4-billion deficit, it’s considerably worse than the $1.3-billion deficit predicted after the first quarter than ended June 30.

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One main reason for the change is a decline in resource revenue. Conventional oil royalties are now projected to be $462 million less than they were at the end of the first quarter. This is due to a drop in oil prices and a less favourable exchange rate with the U.S. dollar.

Bitumen royalties are expected to be nearly $1 billion lower than the first-quarter estimates, due to higher operating costs that has led to lower-than-expected production in the oilsands.

These declines were somewhat offset by a projected record year in the sale of Crown leases, which is expected to generate revenue of $3.3 billion this year. That is a $2.3-billion increase from the budget and $955-million increase from first-quarter projections.

Weak global markets have also hit the province’s investments, resulting in a revenue forecast $625 million lower than at first quarter.

On the expense side, government costs have risen $860 million from the budget and $210 million from the first quarter.

The main reason for the change is increased bills for responding to disasters and emergencies, including forest fires, flooding and the battle against the mountain pine beetle. The province is spending $234 million this year to deal with the Slave Lake wildfire.

The provincial books have also been affected by Premier Alison Redford’s decision to restore $107 million in education funding.
Overall, the province is predicting total revenue of $36.8 billion, and total expenses of $39.9 billion.

The deficit is being covered by the province’s sustainability fund, the value of which is projected to dip to $8.1 billion by year end on March 31, 2012.

As for the Heritage Savings Trust Fund, its value stood at $14.7 billion by Sept. 30. That’s decline of about $400 million since the end of the first quarter, due to poor investment markets.

This drop has meant a decline in investment income from the fund, which the province puts toward its general revenue. 

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Tigers ace Verlander beats Bautista to claim American League MVP award

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Detroit’s Justin Verlander stymied the Toronto Blue Jays with a no-hitter in May. He shut them out again Monday by becoming the first starting pitcher in a quarter-century voted Most Valuable Player.

Verlander earned the American League MVP honour after receiving 13 of 28 first-place votes and 280 points in results announced by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

“Obviously pitchers are not just written off all of a sudden because they’re pitchers,” Verlander said.

Boston centre-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury was second in voting with four firsts and 242 points, followed by Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista with five firsts and 231 points.

Bautista led the major leagues in home runs (43), walks (132), slugging percentage (.608) and on-base plus slugging (1.056) to become the first player since Barry Bonds in 2001 to lead in four offensive categories. He also batted .302 with 132 RBIs.

The Blue Jays outfielder received a top-10 vote on ever ballot, but was ranked as low as ninth by one writer.

Verlander added the MVP to the Cy Young Award he won last week.

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“Not even in my wildest dreams had I thought of this,” he said. “I want to say this is a dream come true. I can’t say that because my dream had already had come true … to win a Cy Young. And the next dream is to win a World Series. This wasn’t even on my radar until the talk started. And then all of a sudden it was a this-could-actually-happen type of thing.”

Verlander won the AL’s pitching triple crown, going 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts, the most wins in the major leagues since Oakland’s Bob Welch went 27-6 in 1990. Verlander pitched his second career no-hitter at Rogers Centre in Toronto on May 7.

Last week, he was a unanimous Cy Young winner. On Monday, he became the first pitcher voted MVP since Oakland’s Dennis Eckersley in 1992 and the first starting pitcher since Boston’s Roger Clemens in 1986.

“I think that a starting pitcher has to do something special to be as valuable or more so than a position player,” Verlander said. “Obviously, having the chance to play in 160-some games in the case of Miguel, they can obviously have a huge impact every day. That’s why, I’ve talked about on my day, on a pitcher’s day, the impact we have is tremendous on that game. So you have to have a great impact almost every time out to supersede (position players) and it happens on rare occasions, and I guess this year was one of those years.”

The 2006 AL Rookie of the Year, Verlander joined the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Don Newcombe as the only players to win all three major awards in their careers.

“I think this set a precedent,” Verlander said. “I’m happy that the voters acknowledged that, that we do have a major impact in this game and we can be extremely valuable to our team and its success.”

Verlander appeared on only 27 ballots and was omitted by Jim Ingraham of The Herald-News in Ohio, who voted Bautista first. Sheldon Ocker of the Akron Beacon Journal voted Verlander eighth.

Ingraham doesn’t think pitchers should be eligible for MVP.

“I’d wrestled with this for a long time. If I was ever going to vote for pitcher for MVP, it would be him this year,” Ingraham said. “He hasn’t appeared in 79 per cent of their games, any starting pitcher really doesn’t appear in 79 per cent of his team’s games in a year.

“Would you vote for an NFL quarterback for MVP if he only appeared in three of his team’s 16 games, which would be 21 per cent? So that’s part of it. Another part of it is I think they’re apples and oranges. The guys that are in there every day, there’s a grind to a season that a starting pitcher doesn’t, I don’t think, experience the way the everyday position players do playing 150, 160 games.”

Other pitchers to win MVP and Cy Young in the same year were Newcombe (1956), Los Angeles’ Sandy Koufax (1963), St. Louis’ Bob Gibson and Detroit’s Denny McLain (1968), Oakland’s Vida Blue (1971), Milwaukee’s Rollie Fingers (1981) and Detroit’s Willie Hernandez (1984).

Since Mickey Cochrane (1934), Hank Greenberg (1935, 1940) and Charley Gehringer (1937), all Tigers voted MVP have been pitchers, with Verlander joining Hal Newhouser (1944 and 1945), McLain and Hernandez.

While Verlander earned a US$500,000 bonus for winning the Cy Young, he didn’t have an MVP bonus provision. Tampa’s Evan Longoria receives $25,000 for finishing 10th.

The NL MVP winner will be announced Tuesday.

Before learning he won, Verlander had given up hope.

Last week, he was told he had won the Cy Young at about 12:40 p.m. He watched the clock Monday.

“I figured somebody else got the call,” Verlander said.

Then Brian Britten, the Tigers’ director of baseball media relations, called at 12:56 p.m., about one hour before the announcement.

“It was just a weight off my shoulders,” Verlander said, “and pure elation, really.”

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Murder trial for Hells Angels members begins in Vancouver court

Seven Okanagan men, including two full-patch Hells Angels, made their first appearance in a Vancouver courtroom Monday in the beating death of Kelowna’s Dain Phillips last June.

The men — Hells Angels members Robert Thomas and Norm Cocks — as well as Cocks’ dad Robert, brothers Daniel and Matthew McRae, Anson Schell, and Thomas Vaughan, were charged with second-degree murder two weeks after the fatal assault on Phillips last June 12.

They made their initial appearances in Kelowna provincial court, where five of the accused were released on bail.

But Crown prosecutors have decided to proceed by way of direct indictment, meaning the case goes straight to B.C. Supreme Court without a preliminary hearing at the provincial court level. And prosecutors have moved the case to Vancouver, where the accused appeared Monday in a new high-security courtroom built for an unrelated gang murder case.

There is a ban on publication on evidence and submissions in the case.

Justice Arne Silverman put the matter over until Dec. 19, with a tentative start date for the eight-month trial sometime in January, 2013.

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Thomas, 46, and Norm Cocks, 31, appeared wearing red prison garb from the North Fraser Pre-trial centre, where they remain in custody. The others – Dan and Matt McRae, 21 and 19, Schell, 19, Vaughan, 22 and Robert Cocks, 53 – arrived with relatives and supporters, each being directed to their seat behind bullet-proof plexiglas.

No one from the family of Phillips attended Monday.

The Vancouver Sun earlier reported that Phillips, a married father of three, tried to intervene peacefully in a dispute two of his sons were having with a pair of brothers with whom they had attended Rutland Secondary.

When Phillips drove to a meeting place on McCurdy Road in the early evening of June 12, he was attacked by a group of men who had arrived in two separate vehicles. He died later in hospital.

Insp. Pat Fogarty, of the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, said after the arrests that Phillips was simply trying to do the right thing and resolve the problem when he was savagely attacked.

The elder Cocks is president of a Hells Angels puppet club called the Throttle Lockers, while the four youngest accused were described by police as associates of the notorious biker gang.

The case is believed to be the first in the 28-year-history of the Hells Angels in B.C. where a club member has been charged with murder.
 

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