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The Neutral Zone

On Tuesdays at 11 a.m. Eastern, Brock Richardson and his panel of sports experts engage in a lively roundtable discussion about Parasports and professional sports news and newsmakers.

The Neutral Zone

On Tuesdays at 11 a.m. Eastern, Brock Richardson and his panel of sports experts engage in a lively roundtable discussion about Parasports and professional sports news and newsmakers.

November 29, 2022

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Are you ready?

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Let's go.

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From AMI Central.

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Now start playing in the Neutral Zone.

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Here's a pitch on the way. 36 yards for the win.

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This ...

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Here comes a big chance. The shot.

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Is ...

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[Inaudible 00:00:13]

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The Neutral Zone.

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Oh my God.

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This is as good as it gets.

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Now here's your host, two-time Paralympian, Brock Richardson.

Brock Richardson:
Well, it feels a little bit more empty in our proverbial studio today, and that's because Claire Buchanan is working. I think it has something to do with wheelchair rugby if I remember correctly. And one, Cam Jenkins is on a beach somewhere.

Josh Watson:
Yeah, he deserted us.

Brock Richardson:
Drinking many, many Cerveza And that's totally okay. I believe he's in the Dominican, is where he is. This is why right now only is myself, Brock Richardson, host of the show. Welcome, if you ... the first time you've ever tuned in. And secondly, Josh Watson is also joining me.
Josh, how are you?

Josh Watson:
I am doing well, Brock. It is another day of The Neutral Zone. It's been an interesting weekend in sports. And if you're up for it, I have a question for you and our intrepid viewers and listeners.

Brock Richardson:
Yes, please do. Hit me.

Josh Watson:
All right. You may notice that I am wearing a lovely forest green sweater with some pattern in it today. I decided to try to follow my host's lead and dress up just a little bit. But there's a reason. My office is having an ugly Christmas sweater-themed party in a couple of weeks. And in true procrastination fashion, I still have not found an ugly Christmas sweater. So if you or anyone else you might know or who might be watching or listening knows where I might find such an item, you can certainly send me a tweet and let me know.

Brock Richardson:
Yes, I have bought a couple of ugly Christmas sweaters from the same location. But as we were talking about this before we went to the air, I can't remember for the life of me the name of the place where I got them. So that's no help-

Josh Watson:
That's what I get for springing it on you.

Brock Richardson:
That's no help to you at all. But I will tell you that on our last episode before Christmas, which is somewhere around the 18th of December, 19th of December would be our last one before the Christmas break, I will dawn one of my ugly suit jackets. It's got candy canes and it looks like Don Cherry. And I had to do that for a family function as well. So if I can think of the name when you see this on the 19th, which might be too late for your party by this point, but-

Josh Watson:
It will, unfortunately.

Brock Richardson:
... that's where I got it. But you and I have offline communications, so as soon as my wife tells me, "Oh yeah, it's here," then I'll send you a message and say, "That's where it is."

Josh Watson:
Perfect.

Brock Richardson:
Because I can't remember.

Josh Watson:
If it's close to you, I will have to go for a drive.

Brock Richardson:
No, it's one of those places that's in every mall everywhere. It's not like it's a-

Josh Watson:
Oh, okay.

Brock Richardson:
It's not like it's-

Josh Watson:
Got you. Got you. Got you.

Brock Richardson:
It's not like it's a specialty thing. I can't remember for the life of me the name of the store, but it'll come to me in the next-

Josh Watson:
I'm sure it will. Probably in the middle of the show.

Brock Richardson:
... hour or so. Maybe by the time producer, Jeff Ryman joins us for the last third of the show. Then it'll be blurted out in the middle of a chat about the World Cup and he'll be wondering-

Josh Watson:
That would be perfect.

Brock Richardson:
... what the heck I'm chatting about.
But what I don't have to remember is that it's time to do our headlines.

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Neutral Zone headlines.

Josh Watson:
We start this week's headlines on a bit of a sombre note. Earlier this week the hockey world lost a legend and Hall of Famer. Anders Borje Salming has lost his brief but courageous battle with ALS. He announced his diagnosis in August and passed away on November 24th of 2022. During his NHL career, he scored 150 goals, 637 assists and 787 points with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and later with the Detroit Red Wings. His Maple Leaf goal total of 148 was the second most goals scored by a Swedish player in franchise history and was only recently tied Friday night by William Nylander. He is survived by his wife, Pia, and children Theresa, Anders, Rasmus, Bianca, Lisa and Sara, as well as his brother Sig. Borje Salming was 71 years old.

Brock Richardson:
The thing that comes to my mind as of recently regarding Borje Salming is the Hall of Fame induction and the crowd giving him that roaring standing ovation. It's almost like they knew that this would be the last time they would publicly see him. And almost eerily, less than two weeks later he is no longer with us.

Josh Watson:
Well-

Brock Richardson:
I echo those sentiments. May he rest in peace.
Go ahead.

Josh Watson:
The thing that was interesting to me was I assumed that he was being inducted that night. But it turns out, he was actually inducted back in 1996. He just happened to be in town to celebrate the number of Swedish players that were being inducted that night. Very nice to have been able to see him one last time.

Brock Richardson:
I fell for that very same trick because I thought that because he was there that he was being inducted. Very interesting.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Manchester United have agreed to mutually part ways. This decision comes amidst the World Cup as Ronaldo is representing Portugal.
I got to tell you that when I hear the word, mutually parting ways, I question whether it's always mutual or it's not. In this case, I understand that Mr. Ronaldo was not happy with his situation with the Manchester United and neither were they. So maybe in this case it was mutual, but I have my doubts.
Switching gears to the Parasport world. Team Canada begins its pursuit in the Para Hockey Cup on Sunday as they faced Italy on home ice in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia. The final score in their first game was Canada eight, Italy zero. The team will continue the tournament this week with games against the United States and Czechia. They are trying to get their first gold medal at the event since 2013. And the head coach has a mix of young talent and veterans, almost half and half, as half the team represented in Beijing at the Paralympic Games.

Josh Watson:
Canada's Stefan Daniel reclaimed his place as the king of para-triathlon, while Kamylle Frenette celebrated her first podium at the 2022 World Championships in Abu Dhabi. Calgary's Daniel won his fifth career World Championship title in the men's standing division, while Frenette climbed onto her first World Championship podium after taking the bronze in the women's standing classification.
Triathlon's an event that you could not pay me enough to do. So I have the utmost respect for both Stefan and Camille. Congratulations to you both.

Brock Richardson:
Those are your headlines for this week. Let's check in on our Twitter poll questions and let's go back to last week. How do you think Canada will do at the World Cup of Soccer? 56% of you said win at least one game. 28% of you said, advance to the knockout stage. 10% of you, I think this 10% is a bit crazy, but they said, win it all. And 6% said, be winless.
This week's question still sticking to the World Cup because I know it is a phenomenon that goes on every four years and I'm curious and we are curious to know, with the World Cup a little more than a week old, how much of it have you taken in? A lot? A little? Only Canada's games? You can cast your votes at our Twitter handles coming at you right now.

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And welcome back to the Neutral Zone AMI broadcast booth label.

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Play ball.

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We are set to get this ballgame underway. The first pitch was brought to you by Brock Richardson's Twitter account at Neutral Zone BR.

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Strike.

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First pitch. Strike. Hey, gang, why not strike up a Twitter chat with Claire Buchanan for the Neutral Zone? Find her at Neutral Zone CB.
And there's a swing and a chopper out to second base right at Claire. She picks up the ball, throws it over to first base for a routine out.
And fans, there is nothing routine about connecting with Cam and Josh from the Neutral Zone @NeutralZoneCamJ, and @JWatson200. Now, that's a winning combination.
This organ interlude is brought to you by AMI Audio on Twitter. Get in touch with the Neutral Zone. Type in @AMIAudio.

Brock Richardson:
Joining us today is Tony Walby, who is a two-time paralympic athlete in the sport of judo. He is currently set to represent Canada at the ISBA Judo 10 American Championships being held December 11th, 2022 in Edmonton, Ontario. And he joins us from Ottawa, Ontario.
Tony, welcome to the program. Thanks so much for joining.

Tony Walby:
Thank you. My pleasure.

Josh Watson:
Tony, to start off, you had an opportunity to compete in able-bodied judo before your vision loss. I'm wondering if you can talk to us a little bit about what it was like competing first as an able-bodied athlete.

Tony Walby:
I've grown up in judo. I've spent the last 42 years in judo so I've got to experience competing as a little kid all the way up until my late 20s. I spent a little over 18 years on the Senior National Judo team as an able-bodied athlete before I retired. I retired due to losing my sight and then transitioned, got yanked back into competing at the para side of it.
Competing able-bodied was fantastic. I was national champion. I was a member of our international team for many years. I was number two to the great Nicolas Gill for a number of those years. One of the best times of my life was travelling and competing on a national team.

Brock Richardson:
One of the toughest things in life is transitioning from one thing to another. I, for one, do not like change and I don't adapt well to change. Can you chat to us a little bit about what the transition was like between able-bodied judo and para judo?

Tony Walby:
It's not that different other than in able-bodied judo, you start apart from each other, and in para judo you start connected to each other with a grip and you must always ... one of the parties must always at least have one grip, one connection to their opponent. Otherwise, if there's zero connection, the referee will stop the match and bring you back together.
A big part of able-bodied judo is fighting for that initial grip, that initial control, where in para judo you start with a neutral grip. You each have the exact same grip. If it's right, you're each gripping right lapel, left sleeve. If it's left, you're each gripping left lapel, right sleeve, et cetera. And you're connected there. And then a referee will ensure that everybody is relaxed and then they'll start to match and then you can tense up and start fighting for more control.
That's actually the biggest difference between able-bodied judo and para judo is that with para judo, you start with a grip.

Josh Watson:
Being someone that doesn't have a lot of experience with judo, and you have mentioned that as being a major difference, are there any other maybe more subtle differences between the two?

Tony Walby:
Yeah, there's some more subtle differences. In able-bodied judo, some of the tactics is to try to get your opponent to step out of bounds. In para judo, it's similar to that but the referee's telling you when you're getting close to the edge because, well, you obviously can't see it. So he's using words to tell you you're close. There's a word called, [inaudible 00:12:58]. He's yelling it out as you get close to that line to let you know that you're getting close to it, to circle back towards the center or work your opponent back towards the center. Your opponent obviously knows that, "I have him near the edge, I can make him step out." So you can still be penalized for being stepping out, but it's less of a sneak tactic and more of a, I know where I am because the referee's telling me, tactic.
Other than that, the judo is pretty much the same. The rules are the same, the scoring is the same. Other than the fact that two blind people are fighting against each other and you're starting with a grip, it's pretty much the exact same sport. And it's one of the few parasports where able-bodied and visually-impaired can train together. They can interact together on the mat. It's much better than a lot of the other sports where the para side of the sport is segregated from the able-bodied side of the sport.

Brock Richardson:
Just as a follow-up to what you just said. When you're training with an abled-bodied athlete, do they train under your rules of always having contact, or is it a combination of both in that case?

Tony Walby:
For the most part, they train under my rules of always having a grip for safety because we're fighting with a bunch of other people on the mat. We're training with a bunch of other people on the mat. I'm also a high-performance coach as well. All of my athletes know my visual impairment. All my athletes know they need to look out for me on the mat to ensure the safety of all of them and everybody else around us, including myself. So it's a symbiotic relationship with me and my athletes.
Most para-athletes in judo have to train with that connection and have to have the rest of their clubs supporting them. There are so few para judo players in Canada that we're all training at able-bodied clubs. There are no para-specific clubs, it's all able-bodied. In Ottawa, I'm the only para-judo athlete. In Montreal, there's two. There's one out west. We rely on the able-bodied athletes to, A, train with, and B, to watch out for us for our safety on the mat.

Brock Richardson:
You are a six-degree black belt. Let me repeat that. Tony is a six-degree black belt. Can you talk a little bit about the process and the work that you put in to get such a belt?

Tony Walby:
A six-degree black belt in judo is referred to as a [inaudible 00:15:35] The belt's actually not black, it's red and white. I have to wear a black belt when I compete, but the belt that I wear on the mat when I train is a nice red and white belt.
To get to that level there's a lot of prerequisites. There's a national grading syllabus that lays out the prerequisites from showdown, which is your first-degree black belt, all the way up to, in Canada, the highest belt we have is a ninth degree. And we have a couple of those in Canada. These are the requirements necessary to get there and there's a lot of prerequisites. Some of it is time. Some of it is level of competition, whether you've competed at the Olympic or Paralympic level. Some of it is your coaching status, what level of national coaching certification you have and how long you've had that. What you've given back to the sport, how many athletes you've trained.
There's so many prerequisites to get you to the point where you're allowed to go for your grading. And then the grading is another step. You have to go in front of the National Grading Committee and perform. So for my sixth degree, I had to perform three different katas, two of them as the attacker and one of them as the defender and with a partner. The two katas that I did are weapons-based katas. The two that I did as the attacker, the one I did as a defender, again, was a weapons-based kata. And then I had to do a 15-minute presentation on my style of techniques and how I teach and explain the different levels of techniques.
The hardest part for me, obviously, was the katas because it's partner work. I don't see my partner and we are separated and I'm either attacking him with a weapon or he's attacking me with a weapon and you have to avoid it and, at the same time, do the technique necessary after that. So a lot of timing and counting steps and positioning. Countless hours went into that.
Actually, from that grading I've decided to compete internationally in a weapons-based kata. So my partner and I, two years ago, became the first ... I became the first blind judo player to ever compete at the World Kata Championships. My partner is sighted. So much work went into that six-degree black belt. It was countless hours but it also was 42 years in the making, too. I've been 42 years in judo and I got my black, my showdown, my first-degree black belt when I was 15. So it's been a long time coming to move up those ranks.

Josh Watson:
That is very impressive.
As we previewed off the top of the show, you're getting ready to compete in the IBSA Judo Pan-American Championships. Can you tell us a little bit about that event and what you can expect?

Tony Walby:
Canada's hosting it. As you said, it's in Edmonton. It is one of the qualification tournaments for the Paris 2024 Paralympic games. There are a number of different qualification tournaments. The top eight ranked in the world at the end of all the qualification tournaments will qualify for Paris. At this event, I can expect to go up against the two Brazilians that, just as recently as two weeks ago, placed bronze at the World Championships. They're the top two ranked in the Americas and they're the third-ranked in the world right now. So I can expect to have both of them in my division as well as a pretty tough American and possibly Venezuelan or a Mexican that I've competed in the past.
It'll be a tough competition. It'll be a fun competition. I haven't competed in what we call [inaudible 00:19:24] fighting since the 2016 games in Rio. So it's been six years since I've actually fought a match, so it's going to be fun.

Brock Richardson:
Looking at the event in Canada in Edmonton, what are you most looking forward to about competing on home soil?

Tony Walby:
I love to compete in Canada. Especially in an event like this where I believe it's being held at the West Edmonton Mall. I believe it's being held at the arena at the West Edmonton Mall. I've been to a few tournaments that have been held at this mall. So people walking by see this event and they see the action going on and they stop and they watch and they get an awareness of judo and they'll get awareness of the para judo at the same time. It's great to compete where you'll have an audience, and a new audience if people haven't seen the sport before.
For me, as well, the reason it's in Canada is the reason why I'm competing again. Judo Canada asked me if I would compete just so that we can put on the strongest team possible. I hadn't competed in six years and they knew that. So it was more of a, they want to put as many judo players that fit the qualifications into the tournament as they could to show a force of strength. And I said to them, "Well, I'll do this, but I'm going to train for it and I'm going to prepare for it and I'm going to make the weight category."
So I've been pushing pretty hard for the last four months to prepare for this competition. For me, it's a chance to compete against a classification that I didn't get a chance to do back in Rio and in London. Previously, judo in para judo, all the three different visual classifications competed against each other. They were called B1, B2 and B3 and they just competed against each other. Now that's been separated out into two classifications, J1 and J2. I will be classified as a J1, completely blind, and I'll only fight against other J1s. Where in the past, I had to fight against people with a lot more sight than I have. So I'm looking forward to being able to compete against somebody with the same limitations I have and just to see how I can do even though I'm quite a few years older than the last time I did this. But I'm very excited for it.

Josh Watson:
Now this question is probably going to be the easiest one of the day. What would you say is your goal for this event for you, personally?

Tony Walby:
I knew this question was coming, obviously. The easy answer is I expect to win. But the honest answer is, I expect to do my best. I expect to do my coaches proud, to do my club proud, to do my country proud, obviously. But I expect to go out on the mat and fight as hard as I can fight and just to leave everything there and to have no regrets. So I expect to do my best. Winning is the ultimate goal, but the way I coach and the way I teach my athletes is that if they give it 100% and they leave everything on the mat, then they have everything to be proud for and nothing to regret.

Brock Richardson:
I love that.
As part of our getting this together, our marketing department have forwarded you on to us. And one of the things that was noted in the initial email which I thought was cool is that you are the chair of the Canadian Paralympic Committee Athletes Council. Could you talk a little bit about that role?

Tony Walby:
That's actually one of my proudest jobs that I do these days. I sit on a number of different boards and I work for the federal government as an accessibility expert. But as chair of the Canadian Paralympic Committee's Athlete Council, I was elected by our Paralympians through all the different sports that compete at the Paralympics. All our Canadian Paralympians voted for seven representatives on the council that I lead. And then that seven representative council voted me to be their chair. That role is basically, we are the representatives of all Paralympians in Canada to the Board of Directors of the Canadian Paralympic Committee, but we're also the representatives to Sports Canada, to Own the Podium, and to a number of different other organizations.
Our main role is to advocate on behalf of these athletes to protect their rights as athletes and to bring forward any issues that they may have leading up to games, at games, or even within their own national sporting organizations. But we also are there to advocate on behalf of all people with disability. The Canadian Paralympic Committee was one of the working groups that was part of the ACA, the Accessibility Canada Act back in 2019. The athletes were able to put some of their own comments in towards that as the minister was putting the bill together. So we get to advocate on behalf of athletes with disabilities and it's just, it's one of the greatest roles I have. I'm very thankful that the athletes voted me into that role, but I'm proud to do it.

Brock Richardson:
Well honestly, Tony, we could spend another hour discussing your role on the council. And I'm hereby saying this now on the air, that we'd love to have you back, first of all, to find out how your event went. But secondly, to talk more about the role and where you see things at the time for para-sports and where we're pushing forward. I'll reconnect with you of course and we're going to redo this hopefully in the new year because I think that's another fascinating conversation we could have with you down the road.

Tony Walby:
Absolutely. I look forward to that.

Brock Richardson:
That was Tony Walby who was joining us today to talk about his event coming up on December the 11th, where he will be competing against the Pan-American athletes in Judo. And he comes to us from Ottawa, Ontario.
If you like this interview or anything else we do on the program, here's how you can connect right now.

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Brock:
As we embark on the last little bit of the program, we added in some reinforcements because some of our reinforcements left us for various reasons this week. So we called upon Jeff Ryman, who is involved in Kelly and Company as a producer today, but they are going to be switching to Kelly and Ramya very soon. Jeff, your role is some kind of technical something over on Kelly and Ramya. Can you tell us a little bit more about what your role is over there?

Jeff Ryman:
Yes, absolutely. So I am the new visual producer for Kelly and Ramya once we head to TV in January. So basically what that entails is anything that you see come across your TV screen in terms of graphics basically would have to come through me. So yes, very much on the technical side there, Brock.

Brock:
Yes, I couldn't remember what it was, so that's why you're here and you could tell us what it was. In other news for one, Jeff Ryman was recently married and we did congratulate you on our first podcast after the wedding. But I'm going to congratulate you here since you're sitting here with us. Congratulations on the wedding. It was a wonderful day and I hope all is well with you and Erin.

Jeff Ryman:
Yes, absolutely appreciate the love. I saw the shout-out a couple of weeks back, so I appreciate that. The wedding was perfect. Can't complain. Glad you guys could join me, Brock and I mean, married life is-

Brock:
You didn't do what I did and pulled down my entire cupcakes lot. Although, although there was times that when I went into the reception, my wife was very concerned about that lovely table that you guys had laid out and I almost got my wheel caught. So it was like, "Ah, this is not good. I need to stay away from tables." Luckily your table stayed up and all was well, but congratulations and I hope, as I said, things are going well. Anyway, it's time to chat a little sports. Let's start with the World Cup of soccer.
At this point of recording, Canada has played two games. One was against Belgium, which was a really good game, to be honest with you. It was a one nil loss to Belgium and everybody thought, "Oh, this is good. We're all going to be happy and it's all going to work well towards Croatia." John Herdman went ahead and said, "That's okay, we're going to F-up Croatia, we'll be ready to go." Then Croatia's game came and Alfonso Davies scored the first goal in history for Canada at the World Cup. And then Croatia said, "Yeah, we're going to come back with four unanswered goals and we're going to thank John Herdman for his level of inspiration." So as our guest for today, Jeff, how would you outline the first two games for Canada?

Jeff Ryman:
Yeah, the first two games have been exciting, to say the least. Of course, Canada playing for the first time since 1986. We've all heard that headline probably a ton in the last week or two. That first game was incredible. I think you could really feel how excited the nation as a whole really was. Like if you watched that game live and if you followed along on any sort of form of social media, Canada was buzzing. It was trending everywhere. So people were just super excited, myself included. Obviously, going against the world number two in Belgium, I mean that is pretty impressive in itself.
They didn't score, but I think what a lot of people really liked was the effort and they only lost one nil. It wasn't a blowout, which some people may have thought coming into that game against the world number two. So Canada very much held their own. I think the chatter after that game was about how Canada is really starting to solidify themselves as a household name in FIFA, not only on the woman's side who have done very well over the last decade or so, winning a gold medal at the last Olympics, but now with the men's team show showcasing their skills at the World Cup in holding Belgium to that one nil loss. Pretty impressive. So I think people really excited about that. Heading into game number two, of course Davies scored the first ever men's National World Cup goal, really special moment.
I mean, that is one of the moments of the year for me personally as a sports fan. Really impressive stuff. And then after that it was a little bit downhill. Of course, you mentioned the 4-1 loss. They really started to unravel towards the second half of the first half if you can follow along with that. And then in the second half it was even worse. But nonetheless, still exciting to watch. Really proud of what this team's been able to accomplish. And for me personally, somebody who was born in the nineties, this is my first taste of Wolf of watching the men's team on the international level such as the World Cup. So pretty impressed so far by these guys and hopefully, they can pull out a win come Thursday.

Brock:
Yes, I would agree. And Josh, what would you say for your thoughts on what you've seen thus far?

Josh Watson:
Well, so far I give them a lot of credit for what they were able to produce against Belgium. I was far too young when we last were in the World Cup. I believe I told Kelly and Ramya that I was eight, so don't remember much of that World Cup. But this one I definitely enjoyed the game against Belgium. I thought they played a very strong game. I was very, very impressed. I thought they might actually be able to score a goal in that game, but it didn't come to pass, which is fine. Had high expectations going into game two because the talk was that Croatia was a little bit weaker than Belgium. John Herdman's comments, not withstanding the first half seemed to go very well. I was out grabbing some breakfast and got back just as the game was starting and had to rewind the tape because I missed the goal when it originally happened. But thought, "Oh okay, we've got a goal, we're up one-nothing. This is good, this is great, we're going to do great."
And then the first half just kept going and going and going and going. And they added five minutes of extra time just for good measure and we kind of collapsed like a house of cards. But under the circumstances you're still playing two of the top teams in the world. So my feeling about the World Cup has always been that we're not supposed to do well at this one. This is the one you get to and you teach yourselves that, "Okay, we are here, we can play against the best teams in the world now we've scored a goal, we know we can score against the best teams in the world." This is all, in my opinion, building towards the game against Morocco. But more generally than that, it's building towards 2026 when the United States, Mexico, and Canada are co-hosting the World Cup. And I think that is where you're going to see all of the hard work and all of John Herdman's tactics and training and getting everybody ready come to fruition. I think that will be where we hopefully will get past the group stage, maybe past the knockouts. We'll see.

Brock:
The next comment I'm going to make is one that might be unpopular, but it's one that I question because every Canadian sport that you think of, and the first one that comes to mind is hockey. It's always, "Win gold or not." And I do understand that the group was a tough one, but Jeff, it just feels like everyone's satisfied with the fact that we participated. And as a Canadian sports fan, I'm like, "Huh, I'm not used to this. We're all happy just participating. What's going on here?" Help me understand this please.

Jeff Ryman:
Yeah, well I mean I understand where you're coming from. There's that NFL quote, "You play to win the game." You obviously want to win, you want to win it all. That's just the competitive nature of sports. You don't go into a tournament thinking, "Okay, let's lose." No one thinks that. So obviously you want to win, but at the same time, like we mentioned 1986, haven't been there in this long, haven't even scored a goal ever at the World Cup and hitting those... Baby steps, Brock, little baby steps as you work your way up.
Like Josh mentioned, looked good in the first game, got that goal under their belt, they know they can score against some of the top teams in the world and then maybe just they can pull out a win come Thursday. And then of course, like you guys mentioned, 2026, which is going to be hosted here in our own country split in North America as well. So I think that's what they're kind of building towards and we can't really forget that to take those baby steps. You can see the inexperience in the team right now. And I wouldn't say John Herdman is an inexperienced head coach because he's been there with the woman's team and now he's been there with the men's team. Probably different beats in terms of how much talent there is on the men's side in on the international level.
There are just some major powerhouses on the men's side that we haven't really seen. We haven't ever really played outside of international friendlies here, the CONCACAF, Mexico and USA. We've seen those teams that are currently in the tournament, but even still those teams aren't necessarily the top teams come the World Cup. So I think gathering this experience, they've got a fairly young roster mean especially headlined by Alfonso Davies whose still not even touching his prime. In four years time, he gets that much more experience, he'll probably be in his prime. And I think you know what everybody's saying right now is they're building for 2026. But to answer your question, Brock, just baby steps. Come on man.

Brock:
I do. I understand all that. It seems so foreign to just everyone just be happy and it's like we're celebrating a goal. And trust me, I celebrated that same goal. That's just not trying to sit here and act like the goal isn't historic. It's just I'm not just so not used to this whole, "We participated. Good for us." But I also Josh understand, that the greater picture is 2026.

Josh Watson:
Yeah, absolutely. You want to put through a good showing when you are the host. It's just like when you are hosting any other major world event you like, when we hosted the Olympics, those different years, 1988 and in Vancouver in 2010, that's when you see the money coming in and that's when you see the team trying to put itself out there at its best because it's your stage. You want to look good on your own stage. But I think if we can get a little maturity, get a little more teamwork because it looked like the teamwork maybe broke down a little bit in that game against Croatia.
And who knows where this team can go? I mean, we've seen a number of upsets in the group stage already in this tournament, so you never know what could happen. You get a couple of bounces, you get a header here and a ball off of a foot there or whatever, you could very easily win a game. So that's I think the next step is let's face Morocco, let's win that game so that we can show ourselves that we can win a game at the World Cup. And then the sky's the limit. Because this team, as Jeff said, is still quite young and there is still room to grow.

Brock:
Before we leave off the Canadian World Cup conversation, I've got to ask both of you, your thoughts on John Herdman's comments. And for those that don't know, John Herdman came off of the game against Belgium feeling pretty good. No one expected a one-nil game and he told his players, "Okay, it's time to go F-up Croatia." And then he got seen that Croatia, in fact F-ed up Canada and then he went to the podium and did this whole song and dance about, "Oh yes, well it was major respect for both countries and I probably should have walked a different line." And then some of their players were coming out saying, "Appreciate the motivation John. I'm happy about it." And then John said, "Yeah, I probably should have done this a bit differently. Could have done it a bit differently." Josh, your thoughts on this and do you believe it did inspire Croatia in one way or another?

Josh Watson:
I'm sure it was on their radar, but realistically when you're a side like Croatia and you were the runner-up in the last World Cup, you don't need the motivation of some head coach in Canada. It's more of a fun talking point than anything else. I know what John was trying to do, he was trying to amp up his team, he's like trying to convince them that, "Yeah, we can do this on a roll," and it backfired. Coaches say things all the time that backfire.

Brock:
Jeff?

Jeff Ryman:
Yeah, I agree to a certain extent. I think it was more so an emotional response from John Herdman. I mean this guy, the interview was right after that game against Belgium where they looked good and they're probably riding a high, even though they lost. Again, this country was absolutely buzzing and I'm sure that Herdman felt a sense of pride holding Belgium, again the number two ranked team in the entire world to a one-nil win. So I think it was more so an emotional response and further to that I think it was more so to try to get his team riled up and to sort of send a message to Canada saying, "You know what? We are here to play." I don't think it was meant any disrespect to Croatia. I think he also mentioned that when he was talking about that after the fact.
As for Croatia using that as motivation, I think it is. Whenever you hear the opposing coach sort of talk down to you, it may give you a little bit more oomph. But again, sort of what Josh said, they don't really need any oomph. They made the finals the last time round. They're already a good enough team, they just want to win. They want to beat Canada. Although I know they are having a little bit of fun with it now after the fact. Croatia is, there are a couple of quotes that come out from some of the players and I know the tabloids over in Croatia having a heyday with the newspapers and whatnot. But it's all fun. I mean that's what sports are. It really is fun and I'm glad that there's a little bit of personality in it. And John Herdman definitely injects a good amount of personality into the game of soccer and definitely for Soccer Canada. So you know what, I like it.

Brock:
I outlined this in one of my hits in the early part of the week and I said that... And Jeff you touched on it, the Croatia media is having a heyday on this, like an absolute heyday. And one of the newspapers that I saw was John Herdman with originally no clothes on, covering up the parts that needed to be covered up with Canadian flags on them. And I mean when I saw it, I laughed and Josh, you said when you heard the comments to me on Twitter from the players, you said, "Well I think we saw this coming." And I would agree, but I don't see it as being motivation at all in any way, shape or form.
I think if you need that motivation from another coach talking down to you, you probably need to check your pulse as an athlete because you want to win a game regardless of whether the coach says, "You're the greatest team on earth or they're going to F-you up." I just think that doesn't serve as much of motivation or shouldn't serve as much of motivation. So Canada gets another crack at this on Thursday against Morocco at 10:00 AM Eastern. I'm really hoping we see a win on this because the whole nation would just be thrilled with that. Yeah, I just think it's good. Before we move on to the Toronto Raptors, are there any other games that you're interested in from other nations? Josh, start with you.

Josh Watson:
Well, given my own personal heritage and if you climb my family tree high enough, we've got English, Welsh and Irish and Scottish in the family bloodline. So I always pay attention to England and they appear to be doing well this time around. And there's talk about them bringing the World Cup home for the first time in I don't know how long, so I'll probably follow them a little bit. I'll be interested to see what happens with Germany because they have not performed the way they were expected. And then there are some upstart teams that have scored some upsets that would be interesting to see. Teams like Costa Rica or Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia, I think put a scare into Messi and Argentina there a couple of days ago and kind of woke them up a little bit. But it'd be interesting to see if they can move on. That's the thing about the World Cup, I've seen a few of them now and if Canada's not in it or not relevant, I usually try and pick a side and just kind of follow them through and see what happens.

Jeff Ryman:
Yeah, I'm the same way as Josh. Always following your bloodlines. And for me it's German and English, so I've always kept pretty close tabs on England and of course Germany and both those teams typically powerhouses, more Germany than England. So that's who I'm sort of focusing on now that Canada has been not officially eliminated but eliminated. And also what Josh mentioned, whenever there's an underdog story, whenever there's that Cinderella story, Saudi Arabia beating Argentina, and I think the first game of the tournament that was pretty special. And I like how Saudi Arabia mentioned or announced the next day that it was a national holiday. That was a great storyline in seeing an underdog win in a tournament like such. How can you disagree with that? So Germany and England for me, and also looking out for those underdogs, Brock.

Brock:
Yeah, for me, it's England heritage. I've always rooted for England. I think they're always a good team. But I like both of you look at Saudi Arabia and want to see them do well, especially when you look at the national holiday. I mean, there were videos of guys ripping doors off of their houses because they were that excited. I mean, it was just insane what was going on in Saudi Arabia. I love it. It's like-

Jeff Ryman:
Who thinks of doing that? "We won, let's rip my door off."

Brock:
But it's circulated all over social media. So yeah, there'll be lots of good storylines. I think the winning streak for Argentina being over was one of the biggest early storylines and there'll be more as we delve into the final three and a half weeks, three weeks of this tournament. And don't worry, even though Canada's been eliminated, we will discuss as we get into the knockout stages, what's going on. We will not leave the World Cup alone even though our country and native land has been eliminated after Thursday. Let's chat just briefly, we've got about five minutes left. Let's chat briefly about the Toronto Raptors. They are currently eighth in the east with a record of 10 and nine as we record. Josh, is this what you expected from the Toronto Raptors?

Josh Watson:
Admittedly, no. Once a team wins a world championship, I kind of expect them to remain relevant, but you have to look at the number of injuries that they've had so far this season. I mean, they had a game not too long ago where Achiuwa and Siakam and VanVleet and Porter Junior and Trent Junior and every Junior I can think of, were on the injured list. So considering that they're one game above 500 with all those injuries, I think they're doing all right and it's a long season.

Brock:
And they're in that stupid playoff format. Oops, did I say that stupid playoff format with the 10th place team? Anyways, Jeff, you go on that lovely playoff format. Do you like it? No?

Jeff Ryman:
I hate the playoff format. I don't think we've enough minutes-

Josh Watson:
No, we don't.

Jeff Ryman:
In a day for me to rip on it that much. But yeah, again, Josh, I think hit it perfectly. The injuries have really caused the Raptors to be, I guess, fairly average. I mean that's basically what their record is as at the time of this recording, pretty much around 500. They're in that stupid Play-In tournament. But that's, honestly, I kind of expected them to be somewhere in between that six and 10 range. I think last year, number five, that was pretty darn impressive. I don't think anybody expected that, especially when they got great play from Scottie Barnes as a rookie. I mean that was pretty darn impressive.
But you look at their roster, aside from O.G. Anunoby and rookie Christian Koloko, every other player on that roster has missed three games or more. Including Pascal Siakam, who looks like he could be on the verge of returning any second now, which is really going to be fun to watch because he was playing like a top-five player in the league before he went down with his injury. I mean, you look at every statistical category that there is, and he was basically putting up career numbers. He was facilitating the ball really well, playing great defence, shooting the ball, lights out. Basically what the Raptors kind of wanted and expected when they gave him that max contract a couple years back. So hopefully when the team is back and healthy, they can improve their numbers a little bit.
But at the same time, the East, they have some really good teams and some teams that are also underperforming. I mean, I'm looking at Brooklyn, you're just waiting for them to turn it around with the legs of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons. I think a lot of people expect them to do a little bit better than where they are currently in a team like Boston. I mean, they're just an incredible team to watch and they're number one for a reason. And even teams like Philadelphia who are starting to climb the standings after kind of a slow start as well. So yeah, I sort of expected the Raptors to be in that six to 10 range, and that's exactly where they are. But at the same time, with a healthy roster, you can expect them to climb just a little bit.

Brock:
Remember when everybody wanted Pascal Siakam traded after the bubble season and everyone said, "He's useless, he's no Kyle." Yeah, look at us now talking about Pascal Siakam and what he's meant to this organization. And to be quite honest with both of you, this is the Raptors for now, at this point where I expected them to be. I need them just for my own sanity to be above that wonderful silly playoff. I need them to be sixth or better. They are good enough to be in the Play-In. I don't understand the Play-In enough to want to sit down and go, "Okay, who are we playing and why are we playing them?" It doesn't make sense to me. I think we made it very clear that nobody on this panel likes the playoff format-

Jeff Ryman:
That's a discussion for another day.

Brock:
Yeah, we could literally be here all day, but Mark's giving me the one minute mark, so I'll just tell you that. Enjoy watching the Toronto Raptors for what they are. They've been through a lot of injury and we'll see where they end up, but they are fun to watch, for sure. That is the end of our show for this week. I would like to thank Josh Watson and Jeff Ryman. I'd also like to thank our technical producer, Marc Aflalo and our manager of AMI-audio is Andy Frank. Tune in next week because you just never know what happens when you enter The Neutral Zone. Have a great week. Be safe. Be well.