Thursday, 21 January 2021

Expect bubble system to be part of sports for a while yet

Clark writes from Hockey Canada bubble

Emily Clark, centre, is at a Hockey Canada bubble training camp.
Until the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic goes away, expect various parts of the sports world to continue using the bubble environment.

That environment could be a more loose bubble. That basically means athletes exist by just community back and forth traveling between home and their athletic facility.

You don’t associate with anyone else outside of that little world.

The tight bubble sees all athletes from a team or league get rounded up and live at a hotel connected to an athletic facility. Those athletes are cut off physically from the rest of the world, and they live in their hotel rooms, a social room with their teammates or at the athletic facility.

Athletes and team officially are usually tested daily for COVID-19 in that setup.

That tight bubble environment is what most people think about of when it comes to a bubble environment. That bubble environment was used successfully by the NHL, NBA and WNBA to successfully complete their post-seasons in 2020.

It was used successfully by the International Ice Hockey Federation to complete the men’s world juniors in Edmonton, Alta., which wrapped up Jan. 5 when the United States blanked Canada 2-0 in the gold medal game.

An Emily Clark hockey card.
That type of bubble environment is being used by Hockey Canada again to host training camps for the senior national women’s team and the national para men’s team in Calgary, Alta.

The national women’s team camp began on Sunday and runs through to Saturday, Jan. 30. A total of 35 players will take part in this camp, while 12 were invited an unable to attend due to school commitments and other reasons.

Sophie Shirley, an alumna of the Saskatoon Stars female under-18 AAA team, was one of the invites that was unable to attend as the star centre is playing NCAA regular season games with the University of Wisconsin Badgers.

The national para men’s team began camp on Saturday and runs through to Tuesday, Jan. 26. A total of 14 players will take part in skating sessions in that camp, while another 13 players were invited but unable to participate.

Players have to quarantine for three days upon arriving in Calgary, and they are closed to the public and media.

On the women’s side, national team veteran and Stars alumna Emily Clark typed out a post on Hockey Canada’s bubble blog on Tuesday.

In the short piece Clark wrote, the 25-year-old Saskatoon product said she went straight to her room upon arriving at the team hotel. Once she was at her room, she unpacked and waited for her first COVID-19 test and dinner to arrive at her door.

For down moments, she brought a Nintendo Switch game system and books to pass the time.

Clark wrote about all the Zoom meetings she took part in on Monday along with medical check ins. She visited with teammates on FaceTime and wrote it was strange to visit with someone that way, when they are in hotel rooms in the same building.

An action shot Emily Clark hockey card.
Clark said she was grateful to be under the same roof as all her national team teammates, and she noted it had been 11 months since they were all together. She ended by saying she believes the next two weeks were going to a lot of fun.

Clark’s full piece can be found by clicking right here.

In both camps, the players will start on ice sessions by skating in small groups before they grow to the size of full practice groups. In both camps, the full practice groups will see the players split into teams red and white.

The camps will progress to the point where there are red and white intrasquad games.

These tight environment bubble camps Hockey Canada is having for the national women’s team and the national para men’s team won’t likely be the last of their kind.

It is a good bet the tight bubble environment will be used for camps and league and post-season games in the sports world for the foreseeable future to come.

Video shows Badgers at their best

When the University of Wisconsin Badgers women’s hockey team gets rolling on all cylinders, they might be the most exciting team in the overall female game.

Last weekend, the Badgers looked like the 1980s Edmonton Oilers sweeping the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers at the LaBahr Arena in Madison, Wisconsin. The Badgers hammed the Gophers 5-0 last Friday and rolled to a 6-3 victory last Saturday.

The Gophers entered the two contests as the top ranked team in NCAA women’s hockey, while the Badgers were ranked number two.

The two-game series was expected to be a hard-fought showdown, but the Badgers proved to be too much improving their overall record to 6-2.

Badgers star centre Sophie Shirley, who is an alumna of the Saskatoon Stars female under-18 AAA team had a goal and an assist in Friday’s win and followed that effort up with a three-assist night in Saturday’s victory.

The 21-year-old has three goals and eight assists appearing in all eight of the Badgers games so far this season.

The Badgers roster also contains Sophie’s younger sister, Grace. Grace, who plays forward, is another Stars alumna.

The Badgers were so impressive in the sweep that the University of Wisconsin athletic department put out a cool one-minute highlight video on their social media feeds. The video can be found below.

Hurricanes suffer small loss in 2019-20, other notes

Peter Anholt, left, watches over his Hurricanes in Dec. 2015.
The WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes almost broke even on their 2019-20 season that was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, but they are expecting a sizable loss in 2020-21.

During a virtual AGM that was held on Monday, the Hurricanes announced they lost just $1,030 on the 2019-20 campaign. As one of four community owned teams in the WHL, the Hurricanes present their financial statements at an annual general meeting.

Their financial loss was quite a bit less than the WHL’s other three community owned teams, which are all located in Saskatchewan.

On Sept. 29, 2020, the Swift Current Broncos announced they lost $791,000 on the 2019-20 campaign. On that same day, the Moose Jaw Warriors announced a loss of $391,299 for 2019-20.

On Oct. 7, 2020, the Prince Albert Raiders announced they lost $331,895 on the 2019-20 season. In the Raiders case, they would have easily made money had they hosted their final two home regular season games and from their home playoff dates.

The losses of all four community owned teams were compounded by money they didn’t receive from the Sportsnet television contract for broadcasting CHL games. Sportsnet didn’t have to pay out for games that weren’t played due to the COVID-19 pandemic and from the 2020 Memorial Cup tournament that was cancelled in Kelowna, B.C., that annually determines a CHL champion.

The Hurricanes celebrate a goal in 2017-18.
It was also easier for the Hurricanes to get closer to the break even point compared to the Saskatchewan community owned teams due to the fact the Lethbridge side plays out of a bigger rink. The Hurricanes averaged 3,970 fans per game in 2019-20, while the Warriors averaged 2,981 spectators per game, the Raiders averaged 2,642 patrons per game and the Broncos averaged 1,954 supporters per game.

As for the future, the Hurricanes are estimating they could lose as much as $1,3-million for the 2020-21 campaign. The WHL is still planning to play a regular season for 2020-21 with each team playing 24 regular season games exclusively against division rivals.

The games will likely be played without fans.

Danica Ferris of Global News reported that Hurricanes general manager Peter Anholt said playoffs are planned to be held to crown division champions, but the post-season structure hasn’t been decided upon.

When asked why the league has decided to go ahead with a season that will mean a significant hit to clubs, Anholt said it’s in the best interest of the league’s future.

“You know there’s always the other side of it, if we don’t do it, what’s our league going to look like coming out the back end,” said Anholt. “I think that’s a big, big concern to us.

“So this season is all about development for our players and for our players alone.”

Ferris’s story can be found by clicking right here.

  • On Thursday, Jan. 14, Kalli Hiebert, who is a 17-year-old defender with the Saskatoon Stars female midget AAA team, committed to join the Fredericton based University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds women’s hockey team in the U Sports ranks for the 2021-22 campaign.
  • Last Friday, Boston Buckberger, who is a 17-year-old defenceman with the Saskatoon Blazers under-18 AAA hockey team, announced he has committed to play for the Madison based University of Wisconsin Badgers men’s hockey team in the NCAA ranks. Buckberger plans to play in the junior A ranks first before joining the Badgers.
  • On Monday, offensive lineman Mattland Riley signed with the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders. The Roughriders selected Riley in the first round and seventh overall in the 2020 CFL Draft. Riley, who is from Melfort, Sask., played four seasons for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team from 2016-19. Suiting up at left guard, Riley was a second team U Sports all-Canadian all-star in 2018 and a first team U Sports all-Canadian all-star in 2019.
  • On Monday, the International Ice Hockey Federation announced the men’s world championships were being pulled out of Belarus following pressure from opposition groups and threatened boycotts by sponsors due to political unrest in that country. The tournament was slated to start on May 21 and was to be co-hosted with Latvia. The IIHF said it will seek a new co-host country or elect to allow Latvia to host the event on its own.
  • On Tuesday, Diane Jones-Konihowski, who was a superstar with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s track and field team from 1969 to 1975, was named to the Canada West Hall of Fame. She helped the Huskies win Canada West title in 1970, 1971 and 1975, while capturing 12 individual gold medals. Jones-Konihowski represented Canada at the Olympic Summer Games in 1972 and 1976 and won gold for Canada in the pentathlon at the 1978 Commonwealth Game in Edmonton, Alta.
  • The QMJHL is slated to resume its regular season on Friday. The major junior circuit last hit the ice for regular season games on Nov. 29, 2020 and paused after new COVID-19 cases continued to rise in the communities the circuit is based in. The 12 teams in Quebec will play in protected environment bubbles in Chicoutimi, Drummondville, Rimouski and Shawinigan. The circuit postponed a total of six games involving the six teams in the Maritimes Division slated for Friday and Saturday following meetings with government and health officials in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
  • On Wednesday, the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) levied sanctions against Basketball Canada after it decided its men’s senior national team would not to attend a FIBA AmeriCup qualifier this past November on the advice of medical experts amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Canada was to play two games in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Canada could lose a point in the FIBA AmeriCup standings and is slated to be fined between $80,000 to $160,000 in Swiss Francs, which worked out to $113,988 to $227,997 in Canadian funds. If Canada plays the final stage of the FIBA AmeriCup qualifier set for Feb. 18 to 22 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Canada won’t lose a point in the standings and only be fined the lesser amount. CBC did a detailed story about this situation, and that piece can be found right here.
  • Happy birthday shout outs for Thursday go to Jordan Kulbida, who is a forward with the University of Regina Cougars women’s hockey team and a pitcher for the Saskatoon G-Force women’s softball team, and Kirby Dach, who is an alumnus of the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades and a centre with the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks.
  • On Thursday afternoon, the Manitoba Under-18 AAA Hockey League went public with a letter to Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister to reopen sports facilities and let games resume in the midst of that province’s COVID-19 restrictions. The open letter cited fears about the mental health challenges young player face due to being isolated and not playing sports. The letter is sure to be controversial. People from the sports community have chimed in agreeing with it in initial reactions. Others have chimed in accusing this being the work of selfish parents that want to live their lives through their children and jeopardize public health in the process. Just want to note that I am just passing on the message. The letter can be found right here.
  • On the fun side of things, I’ve been reintroduced to the WWE Universe thanks to the kick butt storyline involving Alexa Bliss, Bray Wyatt, who goes by his alter-ego persona “The Fiend,” and Randy Orton that has gone on for the last seven months. I was checking out various social media accounts from WWE talent and marveled at home many “Millions and Millions” of followers they have. A veteran line John Cena has 12.7-million followers on Twitter and 14.7 million followers on Instagram. Charlotte Flair has 1.8-million followers on Twitter and 4.3-million followers on Instagram. There are fan accounts of these WWE superstars that have tens of thousands of followers. Two really good ones follow Bliss. The @Era_Of_Bliss account on Twitter has over 20,000 followers and the @alexa_bliss_wwe._ account has over 59,000 followers. The fans also make tribute music videos of the WWE Superstars they follow and post them on Youtube. A lot of them are quite good. I came to a new realization just how big the WWE Universe actually is and how many people follow. I am also impressed with the passion of the ultra-passionate fans.
  • On Monday, I watched Monday Night RAW from beginning to end live just for the second time in the last three years. The main aim was to check out Alexa Bliss and what would happen next with her new evil persona character, and that didn’t disappoint. She was so good. The other part of the show I got a kick out of was duo of The Miz and John Morrison. They made fun of Goldberg and WWE Champion Drew McIntyre on their interview show “The Dirt Sheet” having Gillberg and mini Drew McIntyre appear on the show. The whole segment is hilarious. The Miz and Morrison are outstanding in the comedy department.
  • Sticking with the WWE, after Alexa Bliss hit Randy Orton with the “fireball shot heard round the world” on the Jan. 11 edition of Monday Night RAW, the WWE put out a top 10 video of “Superstars throwing fire” this past Sunday. The Bliss fireball topped the list. The fireball stunt is a dangerous one, and most of the videos in the list are from the 1980s and 1990s. That shows the WWE doesn’t bring it back very much. One of the videos on the top 10 list featured Sabu from the ECW days. One I forgot about that made the list was Hulk Hogan taking a fireball shot from Yokozuna’s photographer at King of the Ring in 1993. Yokozuna proceeded to win the WWE title after that fireball shot. The top 10 fireball shot video can be found by clicking right here.
  • In checking out the WWE, I noticed their creative team is great at weaving a glimpse of the personal lives of the company’s talent away from the camera and the show’s storylines. One was a video from October of 2020 of Alexa Bliss, whose real name is Lexi Kaufman, visiting with her mom, Angela Kaufman, who works as a nurse in Florida actively treating COVID-19 patients. The video was one of the few in person meetings the two have had during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it can be found by clicking right here.
  • The sports community in Saskatchewan is morning the passing of veteran Regina-based sports broadcaster Warren Woods. Woods passed away on Wednesday at age 66 due to complications battling COVID-19. Woods was a mainstay on Regina’s version of Sportsline, which air on STV that later became Global Regina. He then moved from Global Regina to work the radio waves with CJME. He was involved with many sports communities with the strongest ties going to the curling community and the University of Regina Rams football team. All-time great Regina Leader-Post sports columnist Rob Vanstone typed a heartfelt farewell piece on “Woodsy,” which can be found right here.

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Saturday, 16 January 2021

Saskatchewan curlers take class to new heights

Rylan Kleiter releases a shot on January 1, 2020.
During these coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic times where there seems to be a lot of toxic talk on the local sports scene, the curling community in Saskatchewan has provided a breath of classy fresh air.

On Thursday, CurlSask announced the provincial men’s, women’s and mixed double curling championship tournament have all been cancelled due to government restrictions with the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Tuesday, the Government of Saskatchewan extended existing Public Health Orders that include a ban on team sports until Jan. 29.

On Wednesday, CurlSask had its bubble proposal to hold provincial championship tournaments rejected by the Government of Saskatchewan.

As a result, CurlSask used points system taking account the performance of teams over a two season window to determine representatives for men’s and women’s nationals. The evaluations included roster changes on teams.

On the men’s side, the Regina foursome skipped by Matt Dunstone including lead Dustin Kidby, second Kirk Muyres and third Braeden Moskowy were picked as the provincial representative for the Canadian nationals - The Brier.

On the women’s side, the Saskatoon foursome skipped by Sherry Anderson including lead Breanne Knapp, second Chaelynn Kitz and third Nancy Martin were selected as the provincial representative for the Canadian nationals – the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

The Regina duo of Ashley Quick and Mike Armstrong, who won the 2020 provincial mixed double title, have been tabbed to represent Saskatchewan at the Canadian mixed double championship tournament. They actually never got to play in the 2020 Canadian mixed doubles tournament, which was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

All three of those nationals will be held in a bubble environment at the Markin MacPhail Centre in Calgary, Alta. The Scotties runs Feb. 19 to 28, The Brier is slated for March 5-14 and mixed doubles nationals are set for March 18 to 25.

Normally, you would expect teams that are left out in the cold to be crying foul with these announcements. The opposite happened when those teams took to social media after CurlSask came out with its announcement.

Team Kleiter’s Facebook page post on Jan. 14.
The Saskatoon foursome skipped by Rylan Kleiter including lead Matthieu Taillon, second Trevor Johnson and third Josh Mattern are in their first full season on the men’s circuit after winning four straight Saskatchewan provincial junior men’s titles.

On Thursday night, the Kleiter foursome put up a great post on team’s Facebook page saying they would be cheering for the Dunstone and Anderson rinks.

The Kleiter rink post also said, “It has been a difficult year for everyone, and we are thankful for the games we did get to play. We respect CurlSask’s decision knowing health and safety is a top priority.”

The grace and class by the Kleiter side was outstanding. Kleiter has shown great professionalism and sportsmanship on the football field helping the Saskatoon Hilltops win CJFL titles in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019.

The class was being shared by the big rival curling teams of the provincial representatives too. On the women’s side, the North Battleford foursome skipped by Robyn Silvernagle, including lead Dayna Demers, second Jessie Hunkin and third Kristen Streifel shared a very understanding post on their squad’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.

The post that rink shared on Thursday started by extended best wishes to Anderson’s rink and went on to state, “This has been a very challenging year for CurlSask navigating through a pandemic, and we thank you for going above and beyond during this challenging time. Your efforts and hard work did not go unnoticed.

“We are all Team Sask, and we will be cheering hard as per usual!”

The team one would expect to be the most upset would be the Saskatoon foursome skipped by Colton Flasch, including lead Dan Marsh, second Kevin Marsh and third Catlin Schneider.

Those who follow curling were expecting the Dunstone and Flasch rinks to engage in old school hockey style throw downs.

The Flasch rink stated over the team’s Facebook and Twitter lines on Thursday, “Disappointing news today, but understandable. We are well aware it was difficult for CurlSask.

“Good Luck to Team Dunstone as Team SK!”

The Flasch rink’s posts finished stating fingers were crossed with regards that foursome could slide into a wildcard position.

Those posts concluded with the classic “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” gif.

Overall, the curlers showed great respect to their provincial sport governing body and were outstanding with the dignity they showed each other.

Saskatchewan’s curlers showed how those in sports should carry themselves in these pandemic times.

It would be great if those on all the other sporting bodies in Saskatchewan could follow that example. A lot are, but there are too many vocal ones that aren’t.

Sask. government gives funds to WHL and SJHL

The Blades and Pats in action on Feb. 5, 2020.
The Government of Saskatchewan appears set to do what it can to help the province’s five WHL teams and junior A Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.

On Friday, the Saskatchewan provincial government announced it would give $600,000 to each of the provinces five WHL teams for a total of $3-million to help those clubs navigate their way through the COVID-19 pandemic.

The SJHL will receive $1-million in support, and that funding will be provided to the circuit.

The funding is being provided to help those WHL clubs and the SJHL offset revenue shortfalls due restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic.

All of the SJHL teams are community owned.

Three of the five WHL teams in Saskatchewan are community owned including the Moose Jaw Warriors, Prince Albert Raiders and Swift Current Broncos.

The Regina Pats are owned by five local businessmen including Anthony Marquart, Todd Lumbard, Gavin Semple, Shaun Semple and Jason Drummond.

The Saskatoon Blades are owned by Mike Priestner, and his son, Colin, is the Blades president and general manager.

Of course, there were some over social media who showed displeasure about taxpayer money going to fund junior hockey teams.

I myself am fine with the Government of Saskatchewan giving financial help to those junior hockey teams get through something that no one can control.

The ownership group of the Pats and Blades owner Mike Priestner have gone beyond the call of duty over the years to make those teams go. I am good with them getting help in these unprecedented times.

The provincial funding won’t cure all the financial hurt these junior teams have absorbed during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it will help.

Sask. hockey not expecting game action until March ends

The Saskatoon Stars and Prince Albert Northern Bears are on pause.
The Saskatchewan Hockey Association seemed to be getting grilled by some for being the messenger.

On Thursday, the Saskatchewan Hockey Association sent out a memorandum regarding a virtual call on Wednesday between all Saskatchewan sport governing bodies and Ken Dueck from the Provincial Government’s Business Response Team.

During that call, the provincial sport governing bodies were told there would be no consideration of return to play where you would see game action for at least four weeks and a return to game play before the end of March was unlikely due to how the COVID-19 pandemic was playing out.

Saskatchewan had a number of days this past week where in led Canada in active COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people.

The Saskatchewan Hockey Association said it was reviewing the state of the game and going to conduct zone meetings over the next two weeks.

Thursday’s development seemingly created a sizable uproar on social media from Saskatchewan residents regarding this development. It seemed a number of people wanted to return to game action the next day, if that could happen.

It should be noted that Saskatchewan Hockey Association general manager Kelly McClintock and his crew did a mountain sized pile of work to get game action going that did happen before November of 2020 came to a close. Even the best thought out plans can easily fail in these crazy COVID-19 pandemic times.

McClintock and his crew have been really transparent throughout the pandemic.

Also, the Saskatchewan Lacrosse Association put out a memorandum to its membership on Thursday, and that memorandum was fairly similar to the one the Saskatchewan Hockey Association released.

Bliss fireball heats up great WWE storyline

Action in the WWE is heating up literally these days.

I must admit I haven’t been the biggest WWE follower over the last 12 or so years. I did watch it a tonne growing up, and followed it fairly heavily in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

On Friday night, I found a couple of online media reports that said Randy Orton, who one of the all-time greatest heels in sports entertainment, received minor burns due to off timing on a stunt on the last Monday Night RAW.

In a cliffhanger ending of that episode of RAW, Orton was left rolling around the ring in pain after being on the receiving end of taking a fireball to the face from Alexa Bliss, who has become one of the top performers in WWE.

The stunt of Bliss shooting a fireball into Orton’s face looks very cool on video. Orton is expected to recover in short order from his minor injuries.

I noticed that Bliss was playing a very dark persona on that night, and she sold it hardcore. I ended up spending Friday night going through various videos on Youtube checking out Bliss’s storyline from the last seven months.

I knew she held multiple singles and tag team women’s championships in WWE and had been one of the company’s most popular performers that came on the scene in the last eight years.

Bliss has over five-million followers on Instagram, over two-million followers on her Facebook page and over 1.5-million followers on Twitter.

Over the past seven months, Bliss has been in a storyline with Bray Wyatt, who also goes by alter-ego persona “The Fiend,” and Orton.

The storyline contains a mix of darkness, scary disturbed stuff and humour. Like many storylines from the late 1990s and early 2000s, this one is all shades of grey as opposed to having clearly defined good guys and bad guys.

The villains that get a following ultimately become antihero types.

Bliss has kind of a persona like comic book villain Harley Quinn taken a step further on the evil spectrum. In the storyline, Wyatt at “The Fiend” pulled Bliss over to embrace the dark and evil side.

Together, Bliss and Wyatt can be playful and comical from a dark humous side and switch to being outright cool and ruthless. The storyline plays them out to being connected to the supernatural.

They feud with Orton, who still plays his classic egotistical legend killer persona to perfection. His character is always being cunning and manipulative looking to strike with a sneak attack at any time while being outright ruthless.

Orton actually sets Wyatt in his persona as “The Fiend” on fire in a late December pay per view. That of course eventually led to Bliss’s fireball attack this past Monday.

Overall, that whole storyline and feud has been the most enjoyable WWE storylines I’ve seen in the past 12 years. Usually over the past 15 years, I’ve found the main event performers in WWE to be enjoyable, but I’ve usually felt the rest of the company’s roster doesn’t have the depth it once had.

I found a lot of the storylines to be bland.

The Bliss, Wyatt and Orton storyline was a fantastic change from that.

For me, checking out that storyline from various clips on Youtube provided a night of great escapism.

Hofmann featured in video on Young Bucs account

Logan Hofmann is getting some love from the communications crew of the MLB’s Pittsburgh Pirates.

On Thursday, Muenster, Sask., product was featured on a video placed on the Young Bucs Twitter account, which brings news and features on the young players coming up through the Pirates minor league system.

In the MLB Draft that was held on June 11, 2020, Hofmann was selected in the fifth round and 138th overall by the Pirates. The right-handed pitcher, who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 190 pounds, signed a rookie contract with the Pirates on June 27, 2020.

The 21-year-old has developed strong command of four pitches in his fastball, change-up, curveball and slider. He is good at getting to help out youngsters who are coming up through Saskatchewan’s minor baseball system, when he gets back to his home province.

Hofmann gives Saskatchewan lots of love in the video on the Young Bucs Twitter account. The video can be found below.

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Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Not all backburner items done in pandemic times

A Roughriders scoreboard clock that has never been used.
Maybe my Saskatchewan Roughriders scoreboard clock needs to be more out of sight out of mind.

Every time I open my closet, I look up to the top shelf, and it just seems to stare down at me. The scoreboard clock was a Christmas gift I received around 2010, when I was still living in Medicine Hat, Alta, working as a sports reporter for the Medicine Hat News.

Back at my old home in Medicine Hat, it sat in its box in my closet unused. I always vowed I was going to hang it up somewhere, but that never seemed to happen with my busy schedule in “the Gas City.”

In the summer of 2014, I moved to Saskatoon to be closer to family. That scoreboard clock has sat on the top shelf of my bedroom closet of my Saskatoon home since that time.

I actually don’t have a place in Saskatoon to hang it. As a result, my plans for the scoreboard clock changed.

One day, I was going to take the time to actually plug it in to see if it still worked. If it still worked, I was going to put it for sale on Facebook Marketplace or eBay.

I figured it would be worth $20 to someone.

Before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic hit, I was visiting a sports memorabilia store at Market Mall in Saskatoon. I was talking with the store owner, when he answered a phone call.

The phone call was a quick one, where the store owner told the person on the other end of the line he didn’t have what that person was looking for. After hanging up the phone, the store owner told me the caller was looking for a Saskatchewan Roughriders scoreboard clock.

My old basement fun room in Regina back in 2000.
If the store owner took that person’s name and number, I could have sold that person the one I had.

When the restrictions for the COVID-19 pandemic started to increase in intensity in March of 2020, I made a list of things I wanted to do in my head as my schedule got lighter.

The list in my head including a number of backburner projects along with revisiting some old fun pastimes I haven’t engaged in for years.

I have been able to tackle some backburner projects and revisit some old fun pastimes.

With that said, I have been able to keep busy during the COVID-19 pandemic with my work as the communications coordinator with the Gordie Howe Sports Complex and writing stories and columns for this blog.

Sports related freelance reporting opportunities still pops up here and there too.

Before the pandemic hit, I would say I was at a state where I was life-consumed busy.

These days, I am comfortably busy, which does allow me to have free time.

Even with the free time, I haven’t had a chance to tackle all the backburner projects or old fun pastimes.

One backburner project is dealing with the Roughriders scoreboard clock. Actually looking in my basement, I have a whole bunch of old sports collectables I really should clear out.

Some of the collectables are old posters and pictures that used to line the walls of my basement fun room, when I lived in Regina and went to school at the University of Regina.

Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby in collectable form.
One of the posters is like a wall sized one of Joe Montana from the 1980s, when he played for the NFL’s San Francisco 49ERS. That hasn’t seen the light of day in two decades.

Other collectables I need to find a new home for include an extra Mario Lemieux bobblehead doll from when Canada’s men’s hockey team won gold at the 2002 Winter Olympics, an extra McFarlane figure of Sidney Crosby celebrating his golden goal for Canada’s men’s hockey team at the 2010 Winter Olympics and extra Roughriders gear from their Grey Cup wins in 2007 and 2013 as CFL champions.

I have a handful of old toys I should try and clear out too.

Of course, the Transformers I have from the 1980s stay.

I should make time and set up posts for one or two items just to get started.

When the pandemic ends, it is possible some of those items could be donated to be used as silent auction items for sports fundraisers.

If I had to, I know of stores in Saskatoon that could resell those collectables. The worry is always there about dealing with a move all of a sudden, which would mean selling those items off at 10-cents on the dollar.

I understand business. Those stores have to cover overhead somewhere. Best part is they are run by good people.

On the fun pastime side, I still haven’t fired up the old Sega Genesis to play NHL 94. I even have the adapter to allow four players to play the game at once, when the Public Health Orders change to allow friends to gather inside homes again.

An NHL 94 cartridge.
I actually have two cartridges for NHL 94, because I fried the memory on my original due to playing it so much back in the day.

Of course, Teemu Selanne is in that game and his attributes were based fresh of his NHL record 76-goal rookie season with the Winnipeg Jets. Of course, I would use the Jets.

When I want to beat friends, I would usually use the Montreal Canadiens. While that game was made fresh off the Canadiens winning the 1993 Stanley Cup, they weren’t the most talented team in the game outside of the fact Patrick Roy was a cheat code in goal.

I did get really good with using the Canadiens and being able to set up one-times with every line on that team. When I played against friends, I usually won when I used the Canadiens.

As the pandemic goes on, who knows if I will revisit these items. If I had already revisited these items, it would have meant my work front was really dead.

In the grand scheme of things for me, it is good to be comfortable busy.

Shortened WHL season to show off players, other notes

Chase Wouters has been a career member of the Blades.
It appears a shortened 2020-21 WHL campaign might just be a showcase event for the players.

Late Friday night, the WHL announced that the circuit’s board of governors has made a commitment to play a 2020-21 WHL regular season. The start date for the 2020-21 regular season has been pushed back a number of times due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Currently, a start date for the 2020-21 WHL campaign hasn’t been made due to current restrictions the four provinces in Canada and two states in United States have in place to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2020-21 WHL regular season will consist of 24 games for each team. Competition will be limited regionally inside each of the circuit’s four divisions.

Starting on Monday, various executives in the WHL have been making the rounds on the media circuit to talk about the potential 2020-21 campaign.

Pat McKay of CTV Saskatoon talked with Saskatoon Blades general manager Colin Priestner for a story that appeared on Monday on CTV’s web platform.

Priestner said there won’t be any fans in the stands. Following the regular season, Priestner said there could be a divisional playoff, but he couldn’t see a post-season that would see the Ed Chynoweth Cup handed out to a league champion.

The Blades GM added nothing has been decided on the post-season front and noted there are a lot of other variables that still need to be worked out including protocols, safety, insurance, logistics, roster sizes and what happens if things get shut down after starting up.

Gregg Drinnan put out a couple of media round up pieces on his Taking Note blog regarding the developments around the WHL at the start of this week. On Tuesday, Drinnan came across a report from Travis Lowe of CHBC-TV in Kelowna, B.C.

Lowe had interviewed Bruce Hamilton, who is the general manager and owner of the Kelowna Rockets and the chairman of the WHL’s board of governors. Hamilton said the new season probably wouldn’t get started until the end of February or early March.

Drinnan also wrote he heard from a source the Prince George Cougars could play the season out of Kamloops, while the Victoria Royals could play their campaign out of Kelowna. The league is looking at cutting down on travel in B.C.

Cole Sillinger in action for the Tigers in 2020.
There were also a couple of other developments.

On Tuesday, the Lethbridge Hurricanes sent out a release saying they will be issuing full refunds to everyone who purchased season tickets for the 2020-21 campaign.

On Wednesday, the Medicine Hat Tigers announced they were releasing their star NHL Entry Draft eligible 17-year-old centre Cole Sillinger to the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL. Sillinger is slated to return to Medicine Hat the conclusion of the 2020-21 campaign.

Last season, Sillinger had 22 goals, 31 assists and a plus-19 rating in the plus-minus department in 48 regular season games with the Tigers.

“Each situation is unique and with Cole having dual citizenship, it was felt that this option would give him the best ability to showcase his talent for the upcoming NHL Draft,” said Tigers general manager and head coach Willie Desjardins in a release.

If the WHL does pull off a 2020-21 season, it will basically allow players to put their talents on display for NHL clubs or put together film for other professional opportunities or to show off for U Sports teams.

It would also allow players like Blades 20-year-old captain Chase Wouters to give the circuit and his team a farewell. Wouters has been with the Blades for his entire WHL career becoming a full-time member of the club as a 16-year-old.

At this point in these pandemic times, the WHL is trying to salvage something for the 2020-21 campaign.

  • Drinnan had two great round-up pieces regarding the developments in the WHL on Taking Note. His post from Monday can be found by clicking right here, and his post from Tuesday can be found by clicking right here.
  • On Monday, the Red Deer Rebels announced Cam Moon, who has been the team’s play-by-play voice since 1998, has joined the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers as their radio announcer for the 2020-21 campaign. Moon’s first game will be Thursday, when the Oilers host the Vancouver Canucks for a second straight night. Moon called the Rebels 2001 Memorial Cup title win, and he held the role as the team’s director of broadcasts and media. Greg Meachem wrote a farewell piece on Moon for the Red Deer Rebels website, which can be found right here.
  • On Monday, Skate Canada cancelled its 2021 National Skating Championships and Skate Canada Cup due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Skating Championships were slated to run Feb. 8-14 in Vancouver, B.C. The Skate Canada Cup was planned to be a virtual event in replacement of pre-novice and novice competitions at the 2021 Skate Canada Challenge.
  • On Monday, defenceman Jay Bouwmeester announced his retirement from playing hockey in an interview he gave Pierre LeBrun of the Athletic. The 37-year-old Edmonton, Alta., product played 17 seasons in the NHL from 2002 to 2020 for the Florida Panthers, Calgary Flames and St. Louis Blues. He appeared in 1,240 regular season games collecting 88 goals and 336 assists for 424 points. Bouwmeester was a member of the Blues Stanley Cup winning team in 2019. Before joining the WHL, Bouwmeester starred for the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers from 1998 to 2002 appearing in 194 regular season games posting 40 goals and 111 assists for 151 points. Nearly a year ago, Bouwmeester collapsed on the Blues bench during a game due to a cardiac episode. He had surgery to install a defibrillator to restore his heart’s normal rhythm.
  • I went live with a couple of posts for the Howe Happenings blog, which promotes the Gordie Howe Sports Complex, on Saturday. I wrote a post about the Saskatoon Short Mat Club moving to the facility, and that piece can be found by clicking right here. I included a piece on the Going Yard Training Centre, and it can be found by clicking right here.

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Saturday, 9 January 2021

Buckle up – we’re still in for a long pandemic ride in 2021

Circuits like the SFU18AAAHL are in a holding pattern.
We’re only nine days into the new year, but it already feels like the bloom has come off the 2021 rose.

When the calendar changed from 2020 to 2021, there seemed to be big celebrations among the general public and high hopes with a symbolic new beginning. Most couldn’t wait for the year 2020 to be over.

Of course, 2020 will always be the year that will be associated with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that saw massive restrictions and lockdowns take place all over the world. That resulted in numerous annual events getting canceled along with special festivities like weddings.

Along with the cancellations, annual events like high school graduations didn’t occur in traditional fashion. The sports world was thrown into havoc with seasons being cancelled, while some sports played modified seasons.

North America got caught firmly in the grips of the coronavirus on March 11, 2020, when the NBA elected to pause its season and domino effect of shutdowns began to occur in all walks of life.

Due to the upheaval created by the COVID-19 pandemic, most could wait to kiss 2020 goodbye.

A stick tape job to cover an event in a pandemic.
The only problem was the pandemic didn’t go away when the calendar flipped over to 2021. As the days go on, it seems like the people who test positive for COVID-19 are starting to become more and more people I know.

Vaccines for COVID-19 started to roll out in December of 2020, but the rollout is still a long way away from returning society to a pre-pandemic state.

When vaccines appeared, it seemed to be a realistic optimistic expectation that things might return to normal by September of this year.

With that said, there were media reports this week that vaccination of the general population in Alberta and Saskatchewan might not start until September of 2021.

According to Worldometer over the last three days, the United States had a 24-hour period where it experienced 279,204 new COVID-19 cases and 4,245 deaths due to COVID-19 and a following 24-hour period that saw 307,579 new COVID-19 cases and 4,010 deaths due to COVID-19.

In Saskatchewan, there were still 3,186 active COVID-19 cases as of Saturday. Alberta still had 14,437 active COVID-19 cases on Saturday and detected Canada’s first case of the South African variant of COVID-19.

On Thursday, Alberta announced its tight COVID-19 restrictions would stay in place until Jan. 21, and British Columbia extended its gathering restrictions until Feb. 5.

Over the first nine days of 2021, there has been so much noise coming on the COVID-19 front that it still feels like 2020.

A house decorated for Christmas in Saskatoon.
Despite the pandemic, good feelings from the Christmas holiday season in 2020 did come into existence, but it feels like those happy holiday feelings are already long gone.

Besides the noise around the COVID-19 pandemic, we haven’t even gotten into the coup insurrection attempt that happened in the United States on Wednesday, when supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

Before the calendar flipped from 2020 to 2021, any realist would know that 2021 was going to be far from a normal year. It is already playing out as being far from a normal year.

People all over the world are still going to have to navigate the daily noise that has occurred for almost the last 10 months during the COVID-19 pandemic possibly through the entire calendar year of 2021.

The challenge seems to get tougher and tougher for individuals to focus on what they can control and try not to go overboard emotionally with the news that comes out on a daily basis. People are still going to have to self-regulate the amount of time they spend consuming the news or the seemingly continuous toxicity that occurs on social media.

In the sports world, you can expect constant changes and will likely continue to see governance decisions that have no consistency.

The NFL is in playoffs, the NBA has started a regular season and the NHL is slated to begin a regular season this coming Wednesday on Jan. 13.

A classic movie viewing during the pandemic.
In the United States, some NCAA sports have resumed including regular season action involving the University of Wisconsin Badgers women’s hockey that features Saskatoon sisters in forwards Sophie and Grace Shirley. Both are alums of the Saskatoon Stars female under-18 AAA hockey team.

The Badgers were only able to play two regular season games before Christmas due to positive COVID-19 tests on the team.

In Canada, most sports have been mothballed unless you play NHL hockey. In Saskatchewan, sports teams and groups can conduct training in groups of eight, but there are provinces that have been shut down on that front all together.

This past week in Saskatchewan both the 53rd Bedford Road Invitational Tournament in Saskatoon and the 69th Luther Invitational Tournament in Regina have been cancelled for 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Both are extremely prestigious events on the high school basketball calendar in Saskatchewan.

Late Friday night, the WHL announced a renewed commitment to play the 2020-21 campaign with each club playing 24 games. A new start date still hasn’t been announced for the season.

The start date for the 2020-21 WHL campaign has already been pushed back a handful of times.

There has been speculation in hockey circles that major junior and junior A leagues might be willing to push campaigns back to the point games will be played in June or July in order to get playoff champions crowned.

Each WHL team hopes to play a 24 game regular season.
Who knows how well that will go over as there could potentially be huge season creep with spring and summer sports like baseball, golf, softball and soccer. That just scratches the surface with sports schedule conflicts that could happen, and there are a number of other sports that get going in spring and summer.

There has also been speculation that all hockey seasons in Canada that aren’t NHL campaigns might not ultimately continue their 2020-21 campaigns.

For myself, I covered two Saskatchewan Female Under-18 AAA Hockey League games this past November. Those are the only two live hockey games I’ve covered since March 12, 2020.

Going forward, I will continue to try let things develop as they develop without putting any expectations on them. Whenever sports do get going again, I will start feeling my way through when it comes to covering or just being involved with events again.

I was in the process of doing that with the two SFU18AAAHL games I got out to this past November before the season got halted.

As hard as it is, I will try not to immediately act emotionally to how events evolve around me. I find for myself dealing with others acting out emotionally to evolving events makes it harder to take things as they are.

I hope those in society will try and take deep breaths before reacting to how the world unfolds moment by moment.

Me pictured at the Art Hauser Centre on Nov. 21, 2020.
I have also accepted people in general are selfish. In general, most in society expect the world to bend to their selfish needs. I also have to remember that humanity as a collective never learns from past mistakes.

However the cards get dealt my way, I just have to play them the best I can and hope one or two others do the same.

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Friday, 8 January 2021

In a world juniors like no other, Canada had a good run

It can be easy to cannibalize of over-dissect a loss in the world of sports, especially if it happens with a program that has constant success.

On Tuesday, Canada entered the gold medal game at world junior men’s hockey championships, which were being held in a bubble environment at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alta., in impressive fashion.

Though the preliminary, quarter-final and semifinal rounds, Canada had a 6-0 record outscoring its opponents 41-4. The record grows to 7-0, if you add in Canada’s 1-0 victory in exhibition play over Russia.

Canada, which topped Group A in the preliminary round, hadn’t trailed in any of its game at world juniors until hitting the gold medal game.

Throughout the day on Tuesday on various Canadian sports talk stations and media outlets, there was discussion that this was the best team Canada had ever sent to world juniors including the gold medal winning team featuring Sidney Crosby in the 2004-05 campaign.

The excitement all came down to a crashing thud with Canada falling 2-0 to the U.S.A. in a contest that had a huge following on Canadian television over the TSN airwaves.

Due to the fact there were no fans in the stands and no other hockey was taking place in Canada due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that had gripped the world, the Canadian side that took the ice at this edition of the world juniors had arguably way more attention paid to it than any other Canadian team in the history of that tourney.

Opinions seemed to fly around everywhere about why Canada wasn’t able to win.

In all reality, the result of Tuesday’s gold medal game likely came from the fact Canada was playing in a one-game showdown. The United States did what it needed to do to win on that day.

During the first half of the game, the players on the United States side showed they weren’t afraid of the pedigree on the Canadian side and came out and played the game tenaciously. You could tell it truly meant a lot to the players on the United States side to win that contest.

In a one-game showdown, I think that whole aspect caught the Canadian side off guard. After the U.S. got ahead 2-0 early in the second, Canada had a lot of good chances in the final 10 minutes of the second to get back in the game.

The images of Canadian offensive-defenceman Bowen Byram hitting the post on a short-handed rush shortly after the midway point of the second likely won’t escape the minds of most of Canada’s supporters.

Canada could never get that traction goal to trigger a comeback. While Canada held a 15-1 edge in shots on goal in the third, the U.S. played a textbook defensive game in that frame and kept most of those chances on the outside.

Had both teams played another game 24 hours later, it can be argued that Canada might have won. If the battle for the gold medal was a best-of-three, best-of-five or best-of-seven series, Canada’s odds of gaining victory would be very good.

Still, star forward Trevor Zegras, netminder Spencer Knight and the rest of the U.S.A. side took the one-game showdown with Canada fair and square. The United States gets full marks for playing a great 60-minute game to claim victory.

On a side note, the officiating in the tournament had to grade out as being great in the tournament, so huge kudos to the crew there.

Canadian netminder Devon Levi couldn’t be faulted on any of the two goals the United States scored, and he was more than worthy of being a tournament all-star.

Canadian forward Dylan Cozens, who stars with the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes, topped Canada in scoring with eight goals and eight assists for 16 points in seven games. He had a sensational tournament being named a tournament all-star.

Byram, who is a star of the WHL’s Vancouver Giants, was stellar at both ends of the ice and was also more than worthy of being named a tournament all-star.

On a Saskatchewan front, Kaiden Guhle, who is a defenceman for the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders, had a solid tournament. Saskatchewan products in Prince Albert’s Braden Schneider, who plays defence for the WHL Brandon Wheat Kings, Yorkton’s Kaedan Korczak, who plays defence for the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets, and Saskatoon’s Connor Zary, who plays centre for the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers, all had strong tournaments.

Going back to the selection camp held in Red Deer, Alta., the Canadian side spent about 52 days together in a bubble environment. That included the fact the team had to go through a 14-day quarantine period in hotel rooms early in the selection camp due to positive COVID-19 tests.

In the exhibition game win over Russia, Canada lost captain and centre Kirby Dach with a fractured right wrist. Dach is a member the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks and an alumnus of the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades.

Canada’s coaching staff led by head coach Andre Tourigny, who is the head coach of the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s, did a remarkable job that included dealing with pandemic induced factors no other Canadian world junior coaches had to deal with.

The assistant coaches should get big credit for ensuring thing kept going forward.

The assistant coaches included Mitch Love, who is the head coach of the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades, Tyler Dietrich, who is an assistant coach with the Blades, Michael Dyck, who is the head coach of the WHL’s Vancouver Giants, and goaltender coach Jason LaBarbera.

LaBarbera was the goaltending coach of the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen, but he moved over to become a full-time goalie coach for the NHL’s Calgary Flames before world juniors started. The Flames own the Hitmen.

Over a period of 14 days beginning on Dec. 23, 2020 with the exhibition game against Russia, Canada’s entry at the world juniors provided numerous thrills for a host country with most regions experiencing lockdown conditions to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.

Team Canada provided a welcomed breath of fresh air. It was just a winning result in the event’s gold medal game was not to be.

Original Hardy Trophy sits in Sask. Sports Hall of Fame

The original Hardy Trophy has a new home.

On Friday, the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame showed pictures of the Hardy Trophy being dropped off on their grounds by Evan Daum, who had been the associate director of communications and marketing for the Canada West Conference.

The original Hardy Trophy was presented from 1922 to 1996 to the conference’s championship team in football. It pre-dates the U Sports national championship trophy for football – the Vanier Cup.

U Sports, which is the national umbrella the Canada West Conference plays under, first awarded the Vanier Cup in 1965 to the University of Toronto Varsity Blues.

The original Hardy Trophy was named in honour of Evan Hardy, who was the former head of the agricultural engineering department at the University of Saskatchewan. The trophy was first presented to the University of Alberta Golden Bears in 1922.

It was last presented on November 9, 1996 at Griffiths Stadium to the University of Saskatchewan Huskies after they downed the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds 37-16 in the Canada West title game.

The Huskies would move on to win that year’s Vanier Cup 31-12 over the St. Francis Xavier University X-Men.

The Huskies had a dynasty in the 1930s winning the original Hardy Trophy on five occasions in 1930, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937 and 1938. The 1930 championship marked the Huskies first Canada West title win.

When the Huskies won the Canada West title in 1996, the original Hardy Trophy fell apart during the on field celebrations. It was replaced by the current trophy in 1997.

The original Hardy Trophy was forgotten at the U of Saskatchewan until finally being unearthed under a pile of storage boxes in 2008. Daum, who became the director of brand marketing and communications with the WHL’s Regina Pats this past November, had been the keeper of the original Hardy Trophy for the last four years after it was reassembled.

It is a sweet piece of Canadian sports history that the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame now has.

Funds raised to help “Woodsy” on COVID-19 recovery trail

Warren Woods is best known as a warm feeling sports broadcaster in Regina, but he is now riding a lengthy comeback trail recovering from COVID-19.

“Woodsy,” who is 66-years-old, contracted COVID-19 in early this past December and has been fighting the virus and its effects at Regina General Hospital ever since.

Woods is in the recovery process and a GoFundMe campaign was started by 10 of his friends four days ago to help him with his medical needs. It is expected Woods will be needing physical therapy for the next year.

The campaign has a goal of $50,000 and has raised $52,513 at the time this post went live. Anyone who wants to donate to the campaign can do so by clicking right here.

Woods was an original member of the sports department with STV Regina when it first went on the air in 1987 and later became Global Regina. He became one of the hosts of Regina’s first half-hour nightly sportscast when Sportsline went on the air.

Woods is best remembered for hosting the show with the show’s other original host in Ron Rimer and later with Craig Adam.

In 2013, Woods moved to radio working in several roles for CJME.

Woods has covered sports of all sports and is best known for being around the football and curling circles or enjoying himself hitting numerous rounds of golf during the summer months. He is also a lifelong fan of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs.

Woods has always been a guy everyone enjoys socializing with, and it is safe to say all who know him wish him well on the recovery trail.

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