“Everything has a soul, and hockey is no different”

Soul on Ice explores racism in minor and major league hockey

“Everything has a soul, and hockey is no different”

It’s not often that an entire culture can be summed up in one word — especially in Canada, which boasts one of the most diverse populations in the world. But when you mention hockey, Canadians are often on the same page; it’s not a sport but a way of life.

Why, then, in a country that is a tossed salad of heritages, ethnicities, and cultures has our national past-time only been reserved for a select few? This is but one topic explored in the Canadian documentary Soul on Ice: Past, Present & Future.

A tri-campus collaborative effort between Hart House, the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education, and the athletics and recreation departments at UTM and UTSC, Soul on Ice was screened Thursday night at Goldring to a sizeable crowd.

“We thought it would be kind of neat to put it in an actual sports space, which is why we’re hosting it at the Goldring Centre,” said Michelle Brownrigg, director of co-curricular education and the chief program officer at Hart House. “It just kind of creates a different experience than perhaps seeing it in a theatre in terms of the connection to sport.”

In the documentary, filmmaker Kwame Mason traces the history of racism in hockey, specifically in Canada, from Willie O’Ree, the first black NHL player in the league’s history, to up-and-comer Brampton native, NHL draft pick Jaden Lindo.

Mason describes the lack of Canadian cultural discourse about the Coloured Hockey League as inspiration to sell his condo and pursue the making of the documentary three years ago.

“I grew up here, so how come nobody in school told me about this?” asked Mason, regarding the moment he learned of the league’s existence. “How come Hockey Night in Canada never talked about this? How come nobody spoke about this?”

Established in Nova Scotia in 1895, the Coloured Hockey League was comprised of black hockey players from leagues across the Maritimes. It is widely considered as the first league to allow goalies to drop to their knees to stop a puck — a rule later adopted by the NHL — and may have been the first league to see a player execute a slap shot. 

Despite the emergence of the league, racism continues to pepper hockey, exemplified by the lack of diversity among rosters. “As Canadians… we say ‘we’re a multicultural country,’ we always say that hockey is our national sport, so when you combine the two you would think that the sport would reflect what our country looks like, and it doesn’t” said Mason. “It’s 2016 and there’s 10 per cent minorities in hockey so you have to wonder why [that is].”

The movie screening finished with a panel discussion featuring Mason, the Blues men’s hockey coach Darren Lowe, and Jaden Lindo’s mother, Heather Lindo. Lowe, who along with being the first black head coach in university hockey, was a member of the NHL playing, like Jaden Lindo, for the Pittsburgh Penguins. 

Lowe, who played in the 1983-84 NHL season, explained race is not the identifying factor that should separate players in the game: “The weirdest thing for me is when I played for the Pittsburgh Penguins, the story in the paper was ‘first black player for the Pittsburgh Penguins’ and I was so excited to be in the NHL I didn’t know why that was so important,” said Lowe. “For me, hockey is a huge part of my life. I’ve coached here for many years and enjoyed the experience, and I never really think of myself as a black coach or black hockey player, just a hockey person.”

Calling the shots

Examining the athlete-referee relationship

Calling the shots

The animosity hockey players reserve for referees is infamous. As with many officiated sports, this tension has been a part of the culture of sport for as long as there have been athletes to break rules and referees to enforce them. A missed call, unfair penalty, or even the whisper of bias is enough to earn a referee a scolding, and sometimes warrants a full-blown tantrum, from a player or coach who disagrees with an official’s decision. 

It is no surprise that in the heat of the moment, some athletes feel the need to voice their discontent with the person who is calling the shots, but does this anger stem from something deeper than just one bad call? 

This question has very recently come to the forefront of discussions surrounding the athlete-referee relationship, especially in hockey. On February 3, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety handed out one of the largest suspensions in history to Calgary Flames defenseman Dennis Wideman. 

Wideman returned after serving a 20-game suspension without pay for hitting an on-ice official, resulting in a concussion for the referee. The hit occurred when Wideman was leaving the ice after being the subject of a hard-hit himself. The NHL’s disciplinary committee believed Wideman’s hit acted as a retaliatory measure against the referee for not calling a penalty against the player who had hit him first. Brian Burke, the Flames’ President of Hockey Operations, has expressed his disagreement with the league’s decision, and maintains that Wideman collided with the referee and the impact was accidental. 

Most sport fans can agree that intentionally hitting or attempting to injure a referee in an act of retribution goes far beyond the boundaries of expressing discontent.   

When asked about the incident, In an interview with The Varsity, referee-in-chief of the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) men’s hockey program and former Director of Officiating for the NHL, Bryan Lewis says that situations like Wideman are few and far between . 

In his experience of officiating over 1000 games in the NHL, Lewis says that “95 per cent of the time…Players and coaches respect referees,” and that verbal disagreements are just a part of the game. He also emphasizes that just because players don’t like a call and try to dispute them, doesn’t mean they can’t respect it. Lewis acknowledges that referees can make mistakes and miss certain calls. “Bad calls happen, but you have to give referees the benefit of the doubt,” he said.   

With the exception of incidents like Wideman’s, the game’s officials largely accept the feelings of players. For career referees like Lewis, dealing with players’ anger is just another part of the job and doesn’t signal deeper institutional issues. Lewis says, “you have to understand that, when you call a foul on anyone, that player isn’t going to turn around and say thank you.”

In a game that is characterized by high energy and strong emotion, it is no surprise that players are irritated over negative calls and feel the need to express themselves. By and large, referees understand this emotion and accept the fact that the discontent between them and players is just a part of the game.

To ice or to heat, that is the question

What’s really the best recovery temperature?

To ice or to heat, that is the question

When it comes to sports and fitness, how you recover from a hard workout is as important as the workout itself. If proper care isn’t taken, you can actually do more harm than good to your body.

Traditionally, ice packs or ice baths have been considered the go-to method for post-workout recovery; temperatures below 15 degrees Celsius can reduce inflammation and swelling. Recently, however, the icing approach has been called into question. It is now being debated whether heating, instead of icing, makes for optimal recovery.

Numbing the pain

Cryotherapy, or cold therapy, has always been the favoured and recommended method for kick-starting the muscles’ process of recovery — and for good reason.

Icing has proven to numb local pain neurons so the sense of relief from aching muscles is instantaneous. Cold therapy also causes the temperature of the local muscle tissue to drop, reducing inflammation and swelling.

Inflammation is your body’s natural and automatic response to overworked and micro-injured areas, so reducing the amount of inflammation around these areas is an important part of post-workout recovery. Ice treatment also reduces and prevents more serious tissue injuries such as muscle strains and spasms. Heat, on the other hand, has adverse effects. When temperatures above 87 degrees Celsius are applied to inflamed and swollen areas — especially when applied incorrectly — it increases blood flow and the release of inflammatory responses, which could make the injury worse.

This settles the debate, right? Not quite. Although ice treatment has long been the favoured method for post-workout recovery, Some experts advocate using heat instead of cold to treat overworked muscles.

Bringing the heat

After exercise, muscles contract; during the healing process, they slowly relax and return back to their pre-workout state. Due to cold therapy’s numbing effects, using ice will disrupt and delay the muscle’s relaxation, postponing the healing process. Heat promotes this process and aids the muscle back to a relaxed state, thereby contributing to the relief of sore and overworked muscles. Because heat therapy increases blood flow, it also helps to remove by-products from the muscles created during exercise.

The final showdown

Considering the confusion surrounding the topic, there are surprisingly few studies on which method is best.

Cold therapy reduces the inflammation and swelling of sore and injured muscles directly after exercise, but applying ice for prolonged periods of time can actually do more harm than good to your muscles. Heat therapy, on the other hand, could potentially increase inflammation at sites of injury, but it also aids the muscle back to a relaxed state.

With that in mind, icing is the most beneficial when used immediately after a workout to reduce the amount of inflammation and swelling of overworked muscles. Former CIS champion and Varsity Blues track and field athlete Maggie Hanlon agrees and cites a dip in the ice-bath as her go-to recovery method post-workout; former Blues fastpitch player Elizabeth Benn agrees.

Steve Hays, a marathoner and track and cross-country coach for Whitman High School in Bethesda, Maryland, suggests a compromise. “Two cycles of 10 minutes of ice, alternated with two cycles of 10 minutes of heat.”

The ice and heat work together to reduce inflammation and to rid the muscles of by-products created during exercise. Often referred to as contrasting, icing then heating is a method Blues hockey captain Kristi Riseley uses. “I find a combo is best,” she says. “Like switching from hot to cold, back to hot, then cold and follow a pattern. This method gets the blood flowing as the muscles are contracting and relaxing, so it’s great for recovery and removing lactic acid.”

Based on the information we do have, using a combination of icing and heating at the right times is likely the best choice for optimal post-workout recovery.

Hockey post-season recap

OUA hockey season ends in bitter disappointment for both Blues hockey teams

Hockey post-season recap

Men’s team

The men’s hockey team continued their inconsistent play, going 4–6 in 2016 to finish 11–15–2 for the season. While the team was frequently blown out down the stretch, they did show signs of improvement, by shutting down quality teams and winning a number of tight games.

An upset 4–1 victory over first-seed York capped off the regular season and set the tone for what would be a surprising playoff run. Despite their record, the Blues slipped into the final playoff spot and prepared to face that same York team in a best-of-three series.

At first the men looked like they were out of their league, dropping an embarrassing 5–0 result in York. In front of a raucous crowd at Varsity Arena though, the Blues earned a come-from-behind 3–2 victory to stave off elimination.

The Blues’ goalie Andrew Hunt, who began the season as the third-string option, continued to frustrate the Lions in game three, by making 32 saves and shutting down the league’s best offence. For the second year in a row, the Varsity Blues pulled off a shocking upset and moved on to the second round to face the second-ranked Western Mustangs.

This time, the men got off to a great start, silencing the London crowd and leaving with a 3–1 victory. Hunt turned in a legendary performance, making an incredible 53 saves.

The Blues’ porous defense let them down in game two at Varsity Arena. The Mustangs punished the Blues’ undisciplined play, which evened the series with a 7–3 victory.

Back in London for game three, an electric crowd was treated to a close game as the Blues came-from-behind and forced overtime. Unfortunately the Cinderella run ended there; the Mustangs scored an early goal, winning both the game and the series.

The men can be proud of their hard-fought playoff run and stunning first-round upset. While their reliance on remarkable goaltending may be unsustainable next season, the run demonstrated the team’s potential. The Blues still have a lot to work on defensively and will have to translate their hot streaks into consistent successes if they want to take the next step and become an OUA contender. 

Women’s team

The women’s season was a streaky one to say the least. They began the first half with a six-game winning streak followed by a four-game losing streak. The second half of their season saw the opposite; a four-game losing streak followed by an incredible eight-game undefeated stretch.

Throughout the season, the team had a 0.500 record in overtime, capped off by a tough streak-snapping shootout loss in the regular season finale.  Thanks to their 18–10 record, the second-seed Blues were heavily favoured entering their first-round series against the Wilfred Laurier Golden Hawks. This matchup, however, would prove to be remarkably even.

Game one at Varsity Arena was a tight, defensive affair. Laurier played smart, well-coached hockey, and the Blues had trouble hitting their stride offensively. Fifth-year Jacqueline Scheffel scored two goals in the first forty minutes and came inches away from a hat-trick late, but the Hawks held strong and kept the Blues from taking the lead. 

In the dying moments of overtime, veteran Taylor Day finally broke the deadlock and gave the Blues the series lead. Game two in Waterloo, an even stingier game than the first, also went into overtime after 60 scoreless minutes. It was the Golden Hawks who would strike, however, forcing a decisive game three at Varsity Arena.

If the first two games seemed even, game three blew them out of the water. Lauren Straatman broke a scoreless tie early in the third period, but Laurier swiftly tied the game and once again the Blues found themselves in a sudden death situation, this time with the season on the line. The Blues dominated the shot count, almost doubling their opponent, and rookie goalie Valencia Yordanov held down the fort through fifty scoreless minutes. Early in the third overtime, however, Golden Hawks forward Dollee Meigs finally broke the tie, completing the upset and ending the Blues’ season. 

After such a successful regular season and on the heels of a dominating winning streak, the Blues can’t help but be disappointed with this finish. The fact that they dropped two consecutive overtime games despite dominating offensively will be even more difficult to accept. Next season will be a crucial one for the women, as their offense will have to cope with the loss of veterans like Scheffel. With an excellent coaching staff and Yordanov in net, the team should expect another winning season.

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CIS vs. NCAA basketball

Where is Canada’s March Madness?

CIS vs. NCAA basketball

March has arrived, and for many sports fans it’s the greatest time of the year. March Madness — one of the most prominent sporting events in North America — will kick off this week and promises match-ups between some of the best intercollegiate athletes in the world.

The tournament is comprised of Division I NCAA men’s basketball teams, who compete for the national championship. Due to the size of the men’s basketball court in the US, only certain teams are selected to participate in the competition; these teams were chosen yesterday on Selection Sunday.

Akin to CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sports) conferences like the OUA, NCAA conferences — like the Big East and Big Sky — compete and are eventually whittled down, until only the top two teams remain. 

The entire tournament is televised on major sports networks like TSN and Sports Centre, similar to the NBA championship — an incredible feat considering that there are no professional athletes involved. March Madness is an important time for Division I players, as some college players are recruited to play for the NBA. 

While March Madness enthralls many collegiate basketball fans, there are also plenty of talented university basketball players competing in Canada. 

There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that CIS teams are garnering the skills necessary to compete with NCAA teams. Without a doubt, the NCAA features more up-and-coming superstars and polished athletes (due in part to fierce recruiting and full-ride scholarships). Nevertheless, the CIS is closer to the NCAA than most people think.   

For the past few seasons, some of the top Canadian university teams have faced off against the NCAA in pre-season exhibition games. Despite the difficulty of assessing if these matchups measure the competitiveness of Canadian teams — as they were played in the pre-season — it is still important to consider how Canadian teams have fared. 

Last summer, the Baylor Bears, a Big 12 Conference team, played Canada’s top college basketball team, the Carleton Ravens. Carleton held their ground as they went 1-1 against the NCAA powerhouse, winning their second game by six after marginally losing their first game by two points. In the summer of 2014, the Ottawa Gee-Gees also beat the Indiana Hoosiers, while Carleton beat Vermont. These CIS wins suggest that Canadian teams can play at a competitive level and hold their own against top American teams. 

A few games played in the pre-season are not enough to compare the CIS with the NCAA.

In the NBA, the Toronto Raptors have grown tremendously in the past 21 seasons. They have made their way up the Eastern Conference and are serious contenders for a championship, despite being the only Canadian team in the league.

Why hold March Madness just for American basketball teams? Clearly, CIS teams have enjoyed some success against NCAA teams. This integration would be an enormous step forward for Canadian basketball. 

In the past year, many Canadian talents such as Simi Shittu and Christian David transferred from Canadian high schools to American preparatory schools in order to increase their professional exposure. Canada Basketball must find a way to retain and nurture their own talents. One way to achieve this could be through connecting the CIS and NCAA in a tournament like March Madness featuring teams from both associations.

Basketball has been improving tremendously in Canada both in terms of popularity and talent, and we also have the fans and the support to cultivate more teams and players. It is time to put these tools to use and truly compete with the US at the collegiate level and above.

Breakthrough technology grows human tissue at U of T

AngioChip can grow realistic human tissue, could be used for drug testing and discovery and eventual organ repair or replacement

Breakthrough technology grows human tissue at U of T

University of Toronto Engineering researchers have developed a new “organ-on-a-chip” technology, a scaffold called AngioChip that can grow realistic human tissue outside of the body and be used to test and discover new drugs. 

AngioChip, the product of years of research by Professor Milicia Radisic, graduate student Boyang Zhang, and their team of collaborators, is hoped to fix or replace damaged organs in the future. 

AngioChip operates just like a vasculature in a human body and contains a lattice around it where other cells attach and grow. AngioChip is especially ground-breaking because it creates cells and tissues closer in resemblance to those found in the human body than those produced in a flat petri dish, thanks to its three dimensional structure and artificial blood vessels. 

POMaC, a biodegrable and biocompatible polymer, was used by Zhang to make the scaffold that the individual cells grow on. “This polymer is easy to synthesize and it is cross-linkable with UV light which is what made our fabrication method (3-D stamping) feasible,” said Zhang. 

The scaffold is composed of stacked layers that form a three dimensional structure of artificial blood vessels. UV light is used to cross-link the polymer and connect it to the layer below it. These layers have channels, with diameters close to that of a human hair, that function as artificial blood vessels. The design was so seamless that, when AngioChips were implanted in rats, their blood moved naturally through the synthetic vessels without any concerns, such as clotting, to speak of. 

Upon the completion of the structure, the researchers filled the chip with living cells that stuck to the channels and started to grow, just as they would in a human body.   

The platform was used to create functioning artificial heart and liver tissue. The liver could actually generate urea and metabolize drugs, and when the scaffold was filled with heart cells, it contracted like real heart tissue, complete with a steady rhythm. The blood vessels of the two synthetic organs can be connected and used to show the interactions between them. For instance, white blood cells were injected into the vessel, where they moved through gaps in the vessel wall toward the tissue on the opposite side, just as would be expected in a human body.   

“It is a new platform that shows a lot of potential,” Zhang said of AngioChip. “I think the more immediate impact will be in drug discovery. But it is also a very competitive field with a variety of platform[s] out there.” 

AngioChip could be used to test the harmful side effects of drugs before they hit the market, thus reducing their risk to humans. Additionally, AngioChip could test out current drugs on the market for effectiveness or discover new drugs by screening collections of chemical compounds. 

The AngioChip-grown human tissues could also be used to test drugs or products in place of using controversial and expensive animal testing or controlled clinical trials. Although cultures of human cells from two-dimensional petri dishes have been used for testing in the past, AngioChip cells would be especially useful since they exhibit more of the functions of real human cells.   

AngioChip’s most ambitious application is probably using its artificial tissues to repair disease-damaged organs in the human body. The cells used to create the tissues could come from the patient himself, thus lessening the threat of organ rejection. This idea isn’t too far away: it has been proven that the artificial blood vessels of the AngioChip can connect to the circulatory system of a living animal. Plus, the scaffolding biodegrades after a few months thanks to its polymer composition.

The next step for the researchers is to find a more efficient way to manufacture the AngioChip, since they can currently only be made by hand. 

Science (finally) made public

U of T researcher uploads lab notes in real-time

Science (finally) made public

Rachel Harding, a postdoctoral fellow at the Structural Genomics Consortium (SGC), is a pioneer of open source science; she makes her lab notes available online as she writes them. Harding uses a wide variety of online platforms in real time to speed up the findings of research in a potentially revolutionary method of scientific communication.

“The more a community communicates, critiques and collaborates on research, the faster and more effective[ly] you should be able to answer scientific questions,” Harding points out in an interview with The Varsity.

Harding’s research focuses on the development of therapeutic agents for Huntington’s disease, a neurodegenerative disease that is currently incurable. She believes the initiative will lead to “better dialogue,” and “improve real-time peer review,” while “develop[ing] therapeutics more rapidly.”

Open source science involves sharing real time lab notes in their raw form online. Its emergence followed the success of the collaborative developments in open source software (OSS).

A primary concern raised by open source initiatives is the inability to patent published works,  which can lead to possible research theft and a lack of investment.

“Researchers are under pressure to publish in high impact peer-reviewed journals in order to get the next stage of funding/fellowships, however, I am not sure this is how to do the best science,” Harding admits.

The SGC is a globally renowned research institution, known for its open access policy and initiatives. In order for Harding to release her notes, she needs the approval of the SGC and the source of her research funding. 

Harding posted her first installment of methods and data in real time on Zenodo, a platform hosted at CERN, which allows researchers to share their work online. On the same day, she posted her first set of lab notes on Lab Scribbles and Twitter. 

“This is the next step [to practicing open source science]. We don’t know if this process will work. We are planning to study my open notebook to see if it really does all the things we hope [such as] community engagement, collaboration, faster research output and so forth,” Harding explained.

Raymond Hui, a principal investigator with the SGC and Jim Woodgett, the director of research at Mount Sinai Hospital are other pioneers of open source research initiatives. Both have been interested in open source science for a long time. 

This past July, Hacklabs hosted Hui and Woodgett in order to discuss the benefits of open source science. During the talk Woodgett made several references to scientific methods and integrity. He warned against the many instances where scientific methods or results have not been reproducible.

Harding believes that open source science initiative encourages the true objective of scientific investigation. He states that science should be “more focused on answering the scientific questions relevant to our field rather than individual gain.” 

Are french fries healthy after all?

Rejoice, U of T scientists have published a study in defense of the potato

Are french fries healthy after all?

A recent study published in the online journal Nutrition & Diabetes authored by U of T’s Department of Nutritional Science has found that potatoes and potato-by-products may have garnered an undeserved bad reputation among the health-conscious community.

Dr. G. Harvey Anderson,  executive director of the Centre for Child Nutrition and director of the study, would like to make it very clear that his findings do not give you the scientific green light to start inhaling as many french fries as you can get your hands on.

In fact, the key to results lies precisely in the fact that eating french fries will help you moderate your carbohydrate intake more effectively than alternative sources of starch.

“I grew up on a farm, [so] I’m a meat and potatoes person,” Anderson explained in an interview with The Varsity, “and you know I’m not young anymore, and I have no health problems. So I got thinking… if we eat meals, with [some] of those carbohydrates as a side — the french fries, deep fried or mashed potatoes, or rice, or pasta — which ones would stop you eating quickest?” 

To answer this question, Anderson and his team brought in 20 children, between the ages of 10 and 13, for a randomized crossover study to compare the participant’s caloric intake, blood glucose level and insulin production for three potato-based and two non potato-based types of carbohydrate.

The trick however, was that all the participants had to consume 100 grams of lean meat, in the form of meatballs, before they were allowed to start stuffing their faces with french fries.

According to Anderson, the ‘satisfaction factor’ of eating until you’re full had been frequently overlooked in previous studies on calorie intake, which is why the consumption of protein prior to the consumption of starch was such a key point of the study.

“If you have protein with your meal, protein is also satisfying,” Anderson explained. “…[T]his is often the problem with Italian pasta meals and so on, is that it tends to be all carbohydrate and not much protein, and so people get fat.” 

Ultimately, the human body requires carbohydrates to function. Yet not all carbs are created equal. What was most unexpected about the results, is that even french fries cooked in oil came out higher in the carbohydrate health hierarchy than pasta and rice. Mashed potatoes were the real winner, with children consuming 30-40 per cent fewer calories at meals.

The fried french fries (as opposed to baked french fries) lead to the lowest meal and post-meal glucose and insulin levels out of all the starches tested.

“The blood sugar for these kids went up quickly when they ate mashed potatoes,”  said Anderson, “and [although] it went to the same level as the rice and the pasta, but because it went up  quickly [for the potato starches], they stopped eating quicker. Somewhere on there there was a trigger.”  Anderson also pointed out that in addition to feeling satiated faster, starches consumed from potatoes rather than grains will fill your body with far more nutrients per calorie than those consumed from grains. 

“Potatoes have a better source of vitamin C than orange juice or bananas, and yet doctors recommend bananas… for potassium,” Anderson explains. “Potatoes are a very healthy vegetable — they’re a vegetable. Rice is not a vegetable, it’s a grain, and so is pasta.” 

Anderson emphasizes that young people shouldn’t be afraid of carbs — especially not potatoes. As all nutrition advice goes: all meals should be balanced, and all foods should be consumed in moderation.  “All I’m saying is that the advice is… don’t just eat pasta by itself or french fries by itself,”  says Anderson, “ make sure you have a protein. It could be tofu, it could be a vegetarian source, or it could be fish — it doesn’t have to be meatballs.” 

“Take the time to eat a meal, eat a combination, and then all your carbohydrates are healthy.”