Thursday, 21 September 2017

Battle hardened Broncos provide big challenge for Blades

Division rivals open WHL regular season at SaskTel Centre

Blades head coach Dean Brockman oversees a team practice.
    Dean Brockman knows his Saskatoon Blades are going to have their hands full opening the regular season against a battle hardened division rival.
    The Blades face the Swift Current Broncos in the regular season opener for both teams on Friday at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre. Last season, Saskatoon posted a 28-35-7-2 record to finish fifth in the East Division, ninth overall in the WHL’s Eastern Conference and five points back of the Calgary Hitmen (30-32-8-2) for the conference’s second and final wildcard berth.
    The Broncos posted a 39-23-4-6 mark to finish third in the East Division and fifth in the Eastern Conference. After eliminating the Moose Jaw Warriors in a tough seven-game series in the first round of the WHL playoffs, they went to a series deciding Game 7 in the second round against the Regina Pats before bowing out of the post-season with a 5-1 loss in that contest.
    Swift Current returns a number of players from their team last season, and Brockman, who is the Blades head coach, knows it is tough to face any club that gains experience from a strong playoff run.
    “It is always a challenge,” said Brockman. “We know that their top two lines and their back end will be as good as any of the contenders in our division.
    “Certainly when they have the Hepos (Aleksi Heponiemi) and the Gawdins (Glenn Gawdin) and those types of guys, you have to be aware of them. I think certainly they are a great challenge, and they will be a challenge throughout the year.
    “The experience that they got last year with their playoff run just makes them more hungrier for this year. For us, it is going to be definitely be a battle right from the start.”
    Gawdin is the Broncos captain, and the 20-year-old centre potted 26 goals and 33 assists in 52 games last season. Heponiemi is a high-flying 18-year-old Finnish winger who piled up 28 goals and 58 assists appearing in all of the Broncos 72 regular season games.
    Swift Current’s most dangerous offensive player is likely 19-year-old winger Tyler Steenbergen, who topped the Broncos in scoring with 51 goals and 39 assists.
    On defence, the Broncos are anchored by 19-year-olds Colby Sissons and Russian Artyom Minulin. Minulin became an effective power-play quarterback piling up eight goals and 42 assists in 70 regular season games.
Goalie Joel Grzybowski takes part in a drill at Blades practice.
    Of course, the Broncos acquired overage netminder Logan Flodell from the Blades in a trade on Wednesday. Flodell was a second team WHL Eastern Conference all-star last season posting a 22-20-4 record, a 2.81 goals against average, a .912 save percentage and three shutouts.
    While the Broncos have a number of dangerous players, Brockman said his Blades have to focus on their own performance.
    “I think every game is a measuring stick whether you show up or you don’t show up, (and) how good were you and how bad were you,” said Brockman. “We don’t want to use Swift as the measuring stick.
    “We want to be playing hard, you know a hard working hockey team. We just want to have those trademarks right from the start. We want to be a team that makes it difficult for them to play here and make it hard and try and match their work ethic and do better.”
    Like last year, the Blades will start the season without the services of star centre Cameron Hebig, but under different circumstances. Hebig missed all of last season due to injury.
    The local product starts his overage season sitting out Saskatoon’s first two games due to a league imposed suspension for receiving a checking from behind major penalty and a game misconduct in the Blades final pre-season game last Saturday, which was a 2-1 victory over the Oil Kings in Edmonton. Hebig had five goals and an assist in four pre-season games.
    Overage winger Braylon Shmyr topped the Blades in scoring with 35 goals and 31 assists in 66 regular season games. Saskatoon is loaded with a number of strong young forwards in 17-year-olds Michael Farren and Chase Wouters and 16-year-old Kirby Dach, who the Blades selected in the first round and second overall in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft.
    On defence, the Blades are anchored by overage captain Evan Fiala and Czech import Libor Hajek. Fiala was returned to the Blades on Tuesday after attending training camp with the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings. Hajek was at the Tampa Bay Lightning’s NHL training camp, and he was assigned back to the Blades on Thursday.
    Saskatoon starts the season with a new goaltending tandem in 19-year-old Ryan Kubic, who was acquired in a trade with the Vancouver Giants on Wednesday, and 18-year-old rookie Joel Grzybowski. Kubic was the Giants starting goaltender for the past two seasons, and Grzybowski had a stellar campaign last season in the junior A ranks with the Battlefords North Stars.
    “We definitely have some young guys that are going to be really good players in our league,” said Brockman. “Hopefully, we’ve insulated them enough with some of the older guys.
Blades assistant coach Bryce Thoma keeps things loose with humour.
    “As your guys take progressions and steps, some guys have to take bigger steps than others. It is a good mix. We’ll find out whether the chemistry is there to get that mix over the top or not.
    “Time will tell. Our group is always learning and always working.”
    The Blades will be trying to make the post-season for the first time since 2013. Brockman said he is aware of the importance of the overall view of the campaign, but in order to get to the playoffs, he said his team’s focus has to be on the present.
    “You have to look big picture, but again, I want to look right what is in front of us,” said Brockman. “If you get looking too far ahead, you’ll be looking behind.
    “You have to make every day count and every game count. If you look at it in away last year, I think we missed it by five. If you get a point per month (extra), you are in the playoffs.
    “We have to really, really focus on what we have in front of us and not look too far ahead.”

Engele puts meaning behind the Pac-Man

Blades assistant coach Jerome Engele speaks are a presser on Monday.
    The Saskatoon Blades have created a real buzz, when they officially announced in late August they were returning to their famed Pac-Man logo and look on a regular basis.
    The Blades used the Pac-Man look throughout the 1980s and in the early 1990s. Even when it was not in use, it was still the signature look that was associated with the Blades. The team also had the majority of its most successful and memorable seasons wearing that look.
    Besides drawing approval from fans, the return of the Pac-Man look has been warmly received by the team’s alumni. During a press conference on Monday to announce the Blades would be honouring former captain and long-time Saskatoon Police Services officer Bruce Gordon before Friday’s home opener, veteran assistant coach and retired Saskatoon Police Services officer Jerome Engele spoke about what the Pac-Man logo meant.
    Engele’s words carried pretty good weight and meaning, when you consider he played five seasons for the Blades as a defenceman from 1966 to 1971, was the team’s head coach in 1979-80 and has been an assistant coach for a number of stints starting in the 1989-90 season.
    “We strive very hard to teach our young people coming here about integrity, honesty, hard work and with that responsibility that comes along with it outside of this arena,” said Engele. “Like our police world, you’re wearing a badge.
    “That badge we’re held at another level through the Police Act that we are responsible to, so we are held at a level higher that what the public is. Our Blades are also held at that level away from the rink. We expect them to treat everybody with respect.”

Future wedding bells to ring for Howe and Parkinson

Davis Parkinson, left, and Corey Howe at the SaskTel Centre in Sept. of 2016.
    While the Saskatoon Blades will honour their former captain Bruce Gordon before Friday’s home opener, a year ago the team honoured the Saskatoon area’s greatest sporting hero ever in the late hockey icon Gordie Howe, which produced an interesting tidbit.
    A year ago, Howe’s ashes and those of his late wife, Colleen, were interred at the base of the Gordie Howe statue that sits in front of the SaskTel Centre. During the festivities to honour Howe, the Blades helped play up the love story between grandson Corey Howe, who was raised in Ohio, and a young woman named Davis Parkinson, who was raised in Saskatoon.
    In April of 2016, Corey moved to Saskatoon, because he wanted Parkinson in his everyday life. The connection made for a cute story in the local media, and off camera, the two chuckled when they talked about how Blades president Steve Hogle played things up.
    Out of the obscure pieces of information that seem to come my way, I discovered that the young couple had gotten engaged. They are slated to be married on Aug. 25, 2018.
    If you have ever seen Corey Howe and Davis Parkinson together, they make a really sweet and cute couple, and both have a great sense of humour. Here is hoping they have a spectacular wedding day, and they make a lifetime of wonderful memories together.

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Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Blades come out looking good with goalie moves

Ryan Kubic takes part in his first practice with the Blades.
    You never want to trade an all-star netminder, but sometimes the business of major junior hockey pushes you to make that move.
    On Wednesday, the Saskatoon Blades acquired 19-year-old goalie Ryan Kubic from the Vancouver Giants in exchange for a second round pick in the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft. Right after that move, the Blades dealt overage puck stopper Logan Flodell, who was a second team WHL Eastern Conference all-star last season, to the Swift Current Broncos in exchange for a fifth round selection in the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft and a second round pick in the 2020 WHL Bantam Draft.
    Moving Flodell allowed the Blades to get down to the Canadian Hockey League limit of three overage players. The 20-year-olds who remain on Saskatoon’s roster include high-scoring forwards Cameron Hebig and Braylon Shmyr and defenceman Evan Fiala, who is also the club’s captain.
    The loss of Flodell, who stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 170 pounds, is a big one. He played a key part in helping the Blades get close to earning a playoff berth last season posting a 22-20-4 record, a 2.81 goals against average, a .912 save percentage and three shutouts.
    Saskatoon put together a 28-35-7-2 record to finish ninth overall in the WHL’s Eastern Conference and five points back of the Calgary Hitmen (30-32-8-2), who locked up the conference’s second and final wildcard berth.
Blades GM Colin Priestner speaks with reporters.
    Kubic, who stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 186 pounds, has played his entire WHL career with the Giants appearing in 109 regular season games posting a 32-58-12 record, a 3.53 goals against average, a .895 save percentage and five shutouts. The St. Andrews, Man., product has been in Vancouver on a full-time basis for the past two seasons, where he accumulated 106 of his career starts.
    The Giants have been in the midst of rebuilding during Kubic’s career and have finished second last in the entire WHL in each of the past two campaigns. Last season, Vancouver posted a 20-46-3-3 mark, which was the third worst record in franchise history dating back to when the Giants started in 2001.
    Kubic has been shelled over the past two campaigns, and he made a club record 1,681 saves for the season in 2016-17 posting a 15-32-6 record, a 3.67 goals against average, a .895 save percentage and one shutout. He was named the Giants rookie of the year in 2015-16 and played for one of the Canadian entries at the World under-17 Hockey Challenge held in November of 2014 in Sarnia, Ont.
    During his time in the WHL, Kubic played behind weak defensive units, but he still managed to keep his stock up as a strong goaltender. He became expendable, when the Giants decided to go with a younger tandem in goal in sophomore David Tendeck, who turns 18 in November, and rookie Todd Scott, who is a 17-year-old Albertville, Minn., and is pegged with having a huge upside.
    When you are a general manager in major junior hockey, it is always prudent to kick tires and figure out all your options on the trade front.  Blades general manager Colin Priestner has to be given big credit for doing the background work to make the moves he did on Wednesday.
    This season, there is a glut of players on the 20-year-old front in the WHL, where every club has at least three overage players and most teams need to shed players to get down to the league limit of three. Due to that fact, it is not easy to move an overager to another team.
Ryan Kubic gets set in goal during a drill in practice.
    WHL clubs have until Oct. 10 to cut down to three overage players, and the Blades could have been in a spot where they might have had to waive one of the four overagers they had on that day.
Priestner knew he had to take advantage of an opportunity, if one presented itself.
    “They were difficult deals to make, because any way we went with the four (overage) guys we were going lose a great player in one of the four,” said Priestner. “I wanted to get ahead of this before the season started and the pre-season ended and just have it shored up and have our 20-year-olds know that these are our guys.”
    Now Priestner has a capable starting netminder playing behind a defensive unit that was stronger than the one in Vancouver and can potentially suit up for two complete seasons. The Blades get to keep Fiala, who is the heart of the defensive unit and one of the club’s best ambassadors in the community.     
    They will also benefit from having the talents of Hebig and Shmyr, who are both top end forwards that will likely put up strong offensive numbers.
    The Blades scored the second fewest goals as a team in the league last season at 190, so it is always prudent to keep players like Hebig and Shmyr, who both have a history of putting up points. The presence of Hebig and Shmyr will allow the Blades to gradually work their younger forwards into bigger roles.
Logan Flodell had an all-star season in 2016-17 with the Blades.
    “This gives us a chance to have Shmyr and Hebig together on that first line,” said Priestner, whose Blades face the Broncos on Friday at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre in the regular season open for both sides. “It is shaping up to be one of the best lines in the league and a line that we can throw up against anybody.
    “I just didn’t feel comfortable rushing those (younger) guys into first line roles. I knew they would battle and they’d bring everything they have, but I think they are going to be able to thrive under those circumstances. I think we are a much more well-balanced team now.”
    With Flodell arriving in Swift Current, the Broncos might be looking to cut the overage netminder they currently have in Taz Burman, who has put up good numbers playing for three different teams in his WHL career but has never been a starter for a full campaign. The Broncos still have a trio of overage forwards on their roster in Glenn Gawdin, Arthur Miller and Conner Chaulk. Swift Current has the potential of being one of the WHL’s stronger teams this season.
    As for the Blades, they have their overage question settled, because Priestner made the best out of what was a tough situation on that front. Had he held on to Flodell, the Blades could have had a bigger hole to fill on their roster when Oct. 10 rolled around.

Pats top CHL pre-season rankings despite departures

Sam Steel and his Pats top the CHL’s pre-season rankings.
    In what has to be viewed as a bit of a surprise, the Regina Pats, who will host the Memorial Cup this coming May, topped the Canadian Hockey League’s pre-season top 10 poll.
    A panel of NHL scouts selects the CHL top 10 rankings, and they must think that everyone else’s rosters in major junior hockey has been shuffled as much or more than the Pats roster has this past off-season.
    Regina finished first overall in the WHL last season posting a 52-12-7-1 record and advanced to the WHL Championship series. The Pats fell in the best-of-seven WHL title series 4-2 to the Seattle Thunderbirds.
    The fact the Pats topped the CHL pre-season poll is a curious one, when you consider they lost a number of quality players. Captain Adam Brooks, who was arguably one of the top three forwards in the league, was lost to graduation as was winger Dawson Leedahl and defenceman Chase Harrison.
    Imports Sergey Zborovskiy and Filip Ahl are both heading on to careers in the professional ranks in North America and Europe respectively, and they would have ate both import and overage spots had they returned. Overage defenceman Connor Hobbs appears to be a lock to play in the system of the NHL’s Washington Capitals this year. Overage winger Austin Wagner is a question mark, because he is slated to miss the first half of the season due to shoulder surgery.
    Backup goaltender Jordan Hollett was traded to the Medicine Hat Tigers, and star 18-year-old winger Nick Henry is expected to miss an extended span of time due to shoulder surgery.
    The top CHL ranking should also be questioned due to the fact a WHL club has won only one of the last nine Memorial Cup championship tournaments with the Edmonton Oil Kings victory back in 2014. In the last Memorial Cup tournament held in May in Windsor, Ont., the Thunderbirds lost all three of their games and were outscored 18-3 in the process.
    Until teams from the WHL start doing better in the Memorial Cup tournament like winning the event on a little more of a frequent basis, the top team in the CHL rankings should be either from the Ontario Hockey League or the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Teams from the OHL have won five of the last nine Memorial Cup tournaments included the last three in a row.
    In August, I wrote a column that said the Pats might stumble out of the gate, and it can be found right here.

Borbandy to stay with Huskies

Walk on defender Teagan Borbandy will stick with the Huskies in 2017-18.
    Defender Teagan Borbandy will be sticking with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team for the 2017-18 season.
    Huskies head coach Steve Kook passed on confirmation on Monday that Borbandy had earned a spot on the team. She was trying out for the Huskies as a walk on.
    The Langdon, Alta., product, who is celebrating her 20th birthday today, is entering her third season of U Sports eligibility having played the past two campaigns with the Red Deer College Queens women’s hockey team in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference ranks. In 29 career regular season games with the Queens, Borbandy, who is a defensive defender that stands 5-foot-4, has two assists and 22 penalty minutes.
    She helped the Queens win an ACAC title in the 2015-16 campaign. Before joining the Queens, Borbandy played three seasons with the De Winton, Alta., based Rocky Mountain Raiders female midget AAA team from 2012 to 2015, and finished her time with the Raiders as captain.
    The Huskies are 3-1 in pre-season play having posted 6-0 and 2-0 victories this past Saturday and Sunday respectively over the Mount Royal University Cougars in Calgary.
    The Dogs continue their pre-season schedule this coming Friday, when they host the MacEwan University Griffins at 7 p.m. at the ancient Rutherford Rink. The two teams go at it again this coming Saturday at 2 p.m. at Rutherford.
    U of S opens the regular season on Oct. 6 hosting the U of Regina Cougars at 7 p.m. at Rutherford.

Back in the Express with Willoughby named captain

Huskies star forward Kaitlin Willoughby takes the puck from an opponent. 
    I was back in the pages of the Saskatoon Express this week with a story about Kaitlin Willoughby being named the captain of the Huskies women’s hockey team.
    The 22-year-old forward is entering her fifth and final year of eligibility with the Huskies. The Prince Albert product first turned heads in the U Sports ranks being named the rookie of the year for women’s hockey in the 2013-14 campaign.
    She scored the double overtime winner in a series deciding Game 3 of the 2014 Canada West conference championship series against the U of R Cougars to give the Huskies their first conference championship. The Huskies proceeded to win a bronze medal at that season’s U Sports nationals.
    In 106 career regular season games, Willoughby has piled up 41 goals and 51 assists. She is on the verge of being the fourth player in the history of the Huskies women’s to score 100 career points.
    The story on Willoughby becoming captain can be found right here.

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Monday, 18 September 2017

Blades set to hit another homer with home opener

Team to honour former captain with return of the Pac-Man

Dave Chartier, left, speaks to reporters about Bruce Gordon.
    On an emotional level, the Saskatoon Blades appear to be set to match the spectacle of last year’s home opener at this year’s home opener.
    Almost a year ago, the Blades opened the 2016-17 campaign with “Thank You, Mr. Hockey Day” where the club saluted hockey icon in the late Gordie Howe and interred his and the ashes of his late wife, Colleen, at the base of the Gordie Howe statue that resides in front of the SaskTel Centre.
    This year in a campaign where the Blades return to their famous Pac-Man look from the 1980s to the early 1990s, the club will honour a former captain who wore that logo and made a lasting impact on Saskatoon after his hockey days. 
    When the Blades open their regular season schedule on Friday at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre against the Swift Current Broncos, the blue and gold will honour Bruce Gordon, who was well-known for his career with the Saskatoon Police Service that spanned 28 years, in a pre-game ceremony.
One of the Blades team pictures featuring Bruce Gordon.
    The Marsden, Sask., product came to the Blades in a trade with the Medicine Hat Tigers early in the 1980-81 campaign, and the grinding winger quickly became the Saskatoon club’s captain. He would leave the major junior ranks following the 1981-82 campaign having collected 17 goals, 53 assists and 552 penalty minutes in 112 regular season games with the Blades.
    Following his time playing hockey, Gordon moved on to build a distinguished career with the police starting out on regular patrol, becoming a detective sergeant in the sex crimes unit and then to major crimes. Gordon became well-known for cracking cases that appeared to be unsolvable.
    At age 50, he retired from policing to study law at the University of Saskatchewan with the goal to become a defence lawyer. Gordon graduated from law school last spring, but on June 8, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. On June 29, a special ceremony was held at the Court of Queen’s Bench in Saskatoon to call the 54-year-old to the bar.
    This ceremony is traditionally held in autumn, but an exception was made in Gordon’s case to hold the ceremony earlier due to his cancer diagnosis.
Bruce Gordon’s old Blades uniform on display.
    The Blades announced their plans to honour Gordon, who also coached minor hockey and volunteered at local road races, during a press conference on Monday at the SaskTel Centre. A fitting trio of characters who have character were brought in to speak at the presser who all have links to both the Saskatoon Police Service and the WHL.
    The trio included Dave Chartier, who was one of Gordon’s former teammates with the Blades and a former partner with the police service, and he talked about his deep friendship with the hard-working forward. Long time veteran Blades assistant coach Jerome Engele, who was a former Blades defenceman from 1966 to 1971 and built his own distinguished career with the Saskatoon Police Service, also delivered a short but heartfelt tribute. Both Chartier and Engele are retired from the police service.
    The third member to speak was Patrick Nogier, who played goal for two seasons in the WHL from 1985 to 1987 split between the Kamloops Blazers and Broncos and is still an inspector for the Saskatoon Police Service, and he spoke about Gordon’s never give up characteristics.
    Chartier was a 17-year-old rookie defenceman when he became teammates with Gordon in 1981-82, when the latter was embarking on what would be his final season in junior hockey. They developed a lifelong friendship and actually live next door to each other in the current day.
Inspector Patrick Nogier speaks about Bruce Gordon.
    Chartier will be one of a number of former teammates on hand for Friday’s festivities including Brian Skrudland, Daryl Stanley, Todd Strubey, Roger Kortko and Ron Dreger. Dennis Beyak, who is the voice of the Winnipeg Jets and the Blades assistant general manager during Gordon’s years, will be the emcee for the ceremony. Jackie McLeod and Daryl Lubiniecki, who both had long runs in the roles of head coach and general manager of the Blades, will also be on hand.
    During the presser, Chartier recalled one of the many recent talks he had with Gordon.
    “I asked him if he was scared,” said Chartier. “He said he was not scared.
    “He was just sad. He was sad for things that he won’t see his grand kids (and) his great relationship with his wife (Chris). It doesn’t surprise me one bit that he said he is not scared.
    “As a young guy going to training camp, I saw the determination and the lack of fear that he had as a leader for the Blades.”
    Engele spoke about how members of the police service are held to a higher standard than what is expected of the general public and that the Blades players are expected to hold themselves at a higher level away from the rink and treat everyone with respect. 
Long time Blades assistant coach Jerome Engele talks about Bruce Gordon.
    He said Gordon fit those expectations perfectly.
    “Bruce (Gordon) was a very good example of that as a police officer,” said Engele. “You couldn’t ask for a better person to work with - a harder working person.
    “I would call him a police officer on the ice. He was a hard-nosed hockey player who did his job and worked extremely hard.
    “You would put him more in terms of a plumber level player when he was on the ice. When he was on the ice, he carried a lot of respect.”
    Nogier, whose son Nelson played defence for the Blades from 2012 to 2014, worked with Gordon in the sex crimes unit for a couple of years. The former netminder spoke that the members of the police service think of Gordon when evaluating potential new officers noting the former Blades captain’s integrity and work ethic.
    “When we are looking to hire new prospective young individuals that want to join our police service, we are looking for people that bring certain characteristics with them,” said Nogier. “We look for the person that we know is going to be put into a situation and take those situations on head on.
Blades president Steve Hogle outlines the festivities for Friday night.
    “I heard that there was only six degrees of separation from talking about the sporting world and the policing world. What I’ve learned that when it comes to hockey there is only 1.5 degrees of separation when it comes to that.
    “When I met Bruce (Gordon), I knew quite quickly that this was an individual that for obvious reasons had all those characteristics.”
    Besides former teammates, police officers from Saskatoon and Regina will be attending Friday’s game along with lawyers, triathletes and cross fit athletes. Gordon completed as a triathlete and also took part in ironman competitions.
    During Friday’s game, the Blades will be raising money for cancer research at the Royal University Hospital with the auction of a Kelly Chase signed jersey, the sale of “Be Like Bruce” t-shirts and the proceeds from the night’s 50/50 draw.
A display of some of the Blades Pac-Man jerseys.
    “He (Gordon) exemplified at the rink what a teammate was all about,” said Chartier. “He didn’t want any glory.
    “He took care of each and every one of us. I think we all owe him the respect of coming back this Friday and saying thank you.”
    Blades president Steve Hogle expects few tears will be shed during the festivities on Friday night for Gordon.
    “Everybody he came into contact with was absolutely blown away about how he put others first,” said Hogle.
    “The impact he has had on people is made obvious to us by the reaction that we’ve seen with the alumni, with the police, with the triathlon community, with the legal community, with the cross fit community and they are all rallying and coming out on Friday night.”
    The tribute for Gordon is more than justified. You would be hard pressed to find anyone else that wore the team’s old Pac-Man logo that went on to have bigger impact on the Saskatoon community than Gordon did.

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Sunday, 17 September 2017

Hilltops defence crushes Colts

Tom Schnitzler and the Hilltops defence had a big day Sunday in Calgary.
    The Saskatoon Hilltops defence proved to be too much for the Calgary Colts to handle.
    On Sunday at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, the Hilltops forced a number of turnovers resulting in 18 points, and they put Colts quarterback Bailey Wasdal under pressure all afternoon. When the dust settled, the Hilltops came away with a convincing 41-9 victory.
    The Canadian Junior Football League clash between the two sides was a tight one until the Hilltops pulled away after halftime. The points Saskatoon piled up off turnovers really changed the complexion of the contest.
    Early in the first quarter, the Hilltops built a 9-0 lead on a three-yard touchdown run from star running back Logan Fischer and forcing the Colts to concede a safety. Calgary cut the gap to 9-6, when Colts kicker Jaden Sheilan hit a 34-yard field goal at the end of the first quarter and 12 yard field goal at the start of the second quarter.
    At that point, Hilltops standout middle linebacker Cameron Schnitzler came up with an interception for the visitors thanks to pressure applied by Hilltops star defensive lineman Tom Schnitzler on Wasdal. Saskatoon’s offence quickly turned that turnover into points on the ensuing series, when quarterback Jordan Walls hit fifth-year receiver Ryan Turple with a 38-yard touchdown pass to put the visitors up 16-6.
    Sheilan hit a 44-yard field goal on the final play of the second quarter to cut the Hilltops lead to 16-9 at halftime.
    The turnover parade continue in the second half. Early in the third quarter, Tom Schnitzler recovered a fumble from a Colts player on a punt return to set the Hilltops up on the Calgary 18 yard line. Saskatoon punched that gift quickly into the end zone, when Walls hit fourth-year receiver Jason Price on an eight-yard touchdown strike to put the visitors up 23-9.
Ryan Turple had a big TD catch for the Hilltops.
    The Toppers defence proceeded to recover another Colts fumble. The turnover resulted in the Hilltops going up 26-9 on a 16-yard field goal from safety-kicker James Vause.
    Tom Schnitzler then came up with an interception for the Toppers, and the visitors got a single from a 27-yard missed field goal from Vause to give Saskatoon a 27-9 lead entering the fourth quarter.
    Early in the fourth quarter, Walls hit fourth-year receiver Sam Mike with an eight-yard touchdown pass to surge ahead 34-9. Vause rounded out the rest of the scoring in the contest hitting field goals from 45 and 23 yards out. In between those two made field goals, Vause scored a single from and 18-yard missed field goal.
    Defensive lineman Riley Pickett wreaked havoc on the Colts passing game sacking Wasdal three times, while also being part of a gang that brought Wasdal down on another occasion. Defensive back Jared Giddings had a late fourth-quarter interception.
    The 18 points scored off turnovers was a welcome site for the Hilltops. The Topper are used to piling up points on takeaways, but failed to do just that on two takeaways in their previous outing, which was a 29-26 setback to the Regina Thunder on Sept. 9.
    With the win over the Colts, the Hilltops improve to 4-1 to sit in a tie for second place in the Prairie Football Conference with the 4-1 Thunder. The Hilltops and Thunder split their two head-to-head meeting, but Saskatoon holds the standings tiebreaker outscoring Regina 63-49 over those two contests.
    The Edmonton Huskies sit first in the PFC with a 5-0 mark.
    The Colts fall to 1-4 sit fifth in the PFC. After making the last three straight PFC championship games, the Colts are in big danger of missing the post-season all together in 2017.
    The Winnipeg Rifles sit fourth and hold the PFC’s final playoff berth with a 3-2 record with three weeks to play in the regular season. The Rifles hold the standings tiebreaker with the Colts taking the only schedule encounter between the two sides this season 42-22 back on Sept. 2 in Winnipeg.
    The Hilltops return to action this coming Sunday when they host the Rifles at 1 p.m. at Saskatoon Minor Football Field.

Rams’ Picton joins 8,000-yard club and other notes

Noah Picton has passed for over 8,000 yards in his Canada West career.
    University of Regina Rams star quarterback Noah Picton hit a big milestone in his team’s 28-18 victory over the U of Alberta Golden Bears on Saturday at Mosaic Stadium.
    Picton became the eighth quarterback in the history of the Canada West conference to surpass 8,000 yards passing for his career. The fourth-year signal caller completed 30-of-42 passes for 334 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in the Rams victory over the Golden Bears.
    With that performance in the books, Picton has 8,318 career yards passing to sit fifth in conference history. He trails Greg Vavra (8,401) who played for the U of Calgary Dinos, Billy Greene (8,626) who played for the U of British Columbia Thunderbirds, Darryl Leason (8,800) who played for the Dinos and Rams and Teale Orban (9,449) who played for the Rams.
    Picton has been on fire this season completing 78-of-114 passes for 969 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions in leading the Rams to a 2-1 start.
    Cousin and receiver Mitchell Picton, who is a draft selection of the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders, hauled in seven passes for 69 yards and two touchdowns. The fifth-year pass catcher has 19 career touchdown receptions to equal Jason Clermont for second on the Rams all-time career list during the team’s time in the U Sports ranks. Chad Goldie sits first on the Rams all-time career list during the team’s time in the U Sports ranks with 21 touchdown catches.
    The Golden Bears drop to 0-3 with the loss.
  • Regina Thunder quarterback Sawyer Buettner is establishing a reputation for mastering the end of the game two-minute drill drive. On Saturday night in Regina with the Thunder trailing the visiting Winnipeg Rifles 24-23 with under two minutes to play at Mosaic Stadium, Buettner drove the hosts 97 yards in 10 plays culminating in a seven-yard touchdown run by Victor St. Pierre-Laviolette with 34 seconds to play. The score gave the Thunder a 29-24 victory. Buettner finished the contest completing 25-of-42 passes for 382 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
  • The U of C Dinos are showing their 39-3 pre-season loss to the U of R Rams in Medicine Hat, Alta., meant nothing. The Dinos have jumped out to a 3-0 start in the regular season outscoring the opposition 177-69 looking like the NFL’s 2007 New England Patriots running rough shot through the Canada West Conference. On Saturday, the Dinos traveled to Winnipeg and crushed the host U of Manitoba Bisons 76-17. At the moment, it appears there won’t be a demise for the defending Canada West champs.
  • The UBC Thunderbirds re-established their status as a U Sports powerhouse dumping the visiting U of Saskatchewan Huskies 31-10 on Saturday night in Vancouver. After falling in Week 1 to the U of R Rams 36-20 in Regina, the Thunderbirds have continued to improve over the course of two straight wins in building a 2-1 record. Having won the Vanier Cup in 2015 and guided by head coach Blake Nill, the Thunderbirds might find themselves back in the Canada West final for a third straight year. UBC drew 9,542 spectators to their win over the Huskies.
  • The U of S Huskies are regrouping after dropping to 2-1 falling in convincing fashion to the Thunderbirds. UBC held a slim 10-7 edge at halftime before blowing the game open in the second half. The Thunderbirds piled up 684 yards of total offence. Injuries are piling up at linebacker for the Huskies, which is creating challenges on defence. The Huskies lost third-year linebacker Ben Whiting to an arm injury in their Week 2 win over the U of Alberta Golden Bears and fifth-year linebacker Justin Filteau was injured before the start of the regular season. It is also common knowledge in Saskatoon’s football community that Filteau’s injury is season ending. The injuries are forcing players like first-year linebacker Thomas Whiting to learn on the fly.
    Chloe Marshall in action during her midget AAA days in 2015.
  • On the hockey front, it appeared that Jasey Book and Jessica Vance were going to enter the season as goalies A and 1A for the U of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team. That was before Chloe Marshall entered the picture. Marshall, who is from Neilburg, Sask., transferred to the U of S after playing one season for Northland College in Ashland, Wis. In Saskatchewan hockey circles, Marshall was best remembered for playing two seasons with the Battlefords Sharks of the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League from 2014-16, where she put up a career .914 save percentage. During her time with the Sharks, Marshall, as the old cliché goes, saw more rubber than a dead skunk on the Trans-Canada Highway due to the fact the midget AAA club wasn’t that strong. Marshall has won both her exhibition starts for the Huskies giving up just one goal, which includes a victory over the defending U Sports champion U of Alberta Pandas. It is conceivable she may emerge as the successor to the now graduated Cassidy Hendricks as the Huskies starting goaltender.
  • The WHL regular season begins on Friday with eight games across the circuit. In Saskatoon, the Blades open against the Swift Current Broncos at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre. That contest will mark the first time the Blades hit the ice for a regular season contest with their classic Pac-Man jerseys as their regular look since 1994. Saskatoon was 4-2 during the pre-season.

Tweet of the day goes to Clermont

    The Tweet of the day has to go to former U of Regina Rams receiver Jason Clermont, who was a CFL star with the British Columbia Lions and Saskatchewan Roughriders from 2002 to 2011.
    Upon hearing Mitchell Picton tied him for second all-time on the Rams career touchdown receptions list at 19 for the team’s time in the U Sports ranks, Clermont, who is the Rams vice-president of marketing, wrote this little piece below.

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Saturday, 16 September 2017

Broncos’ Steenbergen is just too sweet on the ice

Swift Current star one of the WHL’s great hidden gems

Tyler Steenbergen speeds down the ice on a rush for the Broncos.
    If you miss seeing the Swift Current Broncos in action on the WHL circuit this season, you might be sorry.
    Located in the smallest market of the Canadian Hockey League, the Broncos have been experiencing a resurgence in Swift Current. The resurgence is being led by one of the WHL’s most dynamic star players in Tyler Steenbergen.
    Last season, the skilled forward from Sylvan Lake, Alta., had a breakout campaign appearing in all of the Broncos 72 regular season games piling up 51 goals, 39 assists and a plus-29 rating in the plus-minus department. His 90 points were good for a three-way tie for ninth in the WHL scoring race with Victoria Royals centre Matthew Phillips and Tri-City Americans centre Morgan Geekie.
    Steenbergen’s 51 goals ranked him in a tie with Tyler Wong of the Lethbridge Hurricanes for tops in the league. Out of the 51 goals Steenbergen scored, he netted the game winner on 12 occasions to lead the WHL.
    Thanks to these efforts, Steenbergen was named a second team all-star in the WHL’s Eastern Conference, and he was awarded the Brad Hornung Trophy as the WHL’s most sportsmanlike player.
Tyler Steenbergen (#17) of the Broncos cuts past Sam Steel (#23) of the Pats.
    In last June’s NHL Entry Draft, the Arizona Coyotes selected Steenbergen, who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 188 pounds, in the fifth round and 128th overall. At some point in the future, the Coyotes might look back and admire Steenbergen’s selection as a draft steel.
    Entering his 19-year-old season, Steenbergen is likely not the most recognized star name in the WHL circuit. The circuit’s most recognized returning standout is likely Regina Pats captain Sam Steel, who took the WHL’s and CHL’s scoring titles last season while also winning the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy as the WHL’s most valuable player.
    Last season, Steenbergen’s exploits were often lost behind a number of other established star players who played or likely played their final major junior seasons before embarking on professional careers like Adam Brooks and Connor Hobbs of the Pats, Brett Howden of the Moose Jaw Warriors and Mathew Barzal and Ethan Bear of the league champion Seattle Thunderbirds.
Tyler Steenbergen controls the puck in the offensive zone.
    Besides being lost behind other star players, Steenbergen likely doesn’t get a tonne of notoriety due to the fact he does play in Swift Current, which is often ignored on the national media front. Inside the WHL itself, the awards he won last season show those inside the circuit have definitely taken notice.
    While Swift Current is overlooked on the national media front, it might be the perfect setting to help prepare Steenbergen for a professional career. The Broncos players are stars in the small Saskatchewan city, and people notice everything you do. When you play for the Broncos, you realize quickly how valuable it is to carry yourself in a well-mannered way to make yourself look good and ensure the Broncos look good.
    Anyone that has dealt with Steenbergen even for a short time on a one-on-one basis will come away impressed with how well he carries himself.
    When the people in Swift Current view that the Broncos players are genuinely good guys, they will back them in a strong way. The loud sellout crowds of 2,890 that crammed the Credit Union i-Plex during the Broncos six home playoff games last season are testament to that.
    Steenbergen was at the centre of excitement of what went on in Swift Current last season. When he hits the ice, he made things happen. The home crowd in Swift Current rises to their feet, when Steenbergen hits the offensive zone with speed on a rush.
Tyler Steenbergen (#17) celebrates a goal for the Broncos.
    It seemed like he was always in the middle of things when the Broncos needed a play in clutch time.
    Thanks to Steenbergen’s efforts, the Broncos posted a solid 39-23-4-6 in the regular season in 2016-17. In the playoffs, Steenbergen recorded eight goals, six assists and a plus-one rating as the Broncos won a first round series that went the maximum seven games against the Moose Jaw Warriors and fell in a second round series that went the maximum seven games to the Pats.
    When Steenbergen dresses for the Broncos, he always gives the best effort, and you anticipate offensive fireworks happening that night.
    He is one of those players that is worth the price of admission any time he plays in a WHL game.

Schenn’s bumps in Blades days long forgotten

Brayden Schenn skates at the Chase Fantasy Hockey Camp.
    When Brayden Schenn returns to Saskatoon, he is a hometown hero, and the bumps he had to navigate during his short time with the Saskatoon Blades are long forgotten.
    It should be noted the bumps Schenn faced with the Blades were never his fault or the team’s fault. The bumps were a learning experience about what could happen when an extremely high profile player laces up the skates for his hometown major junior hockey team.
    For three seasons from 2007 to 2010, Schenn was the star centre with the Brandon Wheat Kings and a highly rated NHL prospect along with teammate Scott Glennie. In the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Schenn was selected in the first round and fifth overall by the Los Angeles Kings, while Glennie went in the first round and eighth overall that same year to the Dallas Stars.
    At the start of the 2010-11 campaign, Schenn, who was in his 19-year-old season, made the Kings and appeared in eight NHL contests. He also suited up for seven games with the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League for conditioning purposes before being sent back to the Wheat Kings.
    The Blades were in a race for first overall in the WHL that season, and they made a monster trade with the Wheat Kings to get Schenn. In the deal that was made Jan. 10, 2011, the Blades received Schenn and a third round selection in the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft from the Wheat Kings in exchange for the Blades first and second round selections of the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft, a first round selection in the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft, a first round selection in the 2012 CHL Import Draft and then prospects in defenceman Ayrton Nikkel and centre Tim McGauley.
    Schenn played 27 regular season games with the Blades piling up 21 goals and 32 assists. Saskatoon topped the WHL standings with a 56-13-1-2 record for 115 points in the standings. The 56 wins and 115 standings points are still Blades club records.
    While Schenn always carried himself well, it seemed there were some in the public that wanted to bring him down.
Brayden Schenn looks to make a pass at the Chase Fantasy Hockey Camp.
    During the Blades first round playoff series with the Prince Albert Raiders, someone went online and made racist comments towards First Nations peoples in Schenn’s name via a fake Facebook account. That development caused the Blades to hold a news conference to state Schenn didn’t have anything to do with that fake Facebook account and request a police investigation. At that time, the Blades found nine fake Facebook accounts in Schenn’s name.
    Schenn wasn’t made available to the media at that press conference, but the Blades issued a statement from the skilled forward. One can only imagine how much time was spent putting this fire out that Schenn and the Blades had no part of starting.
    The Blades proceeded to eliminate the Raiders 4-2 in a best-of-seven series. Saskatoon was swept away in a best-of-seven second round series 4-0 to the Kootenay Ice, who went on to win the WHL championship.
    In 10 playoff games, Schenn put up six goals and five assists for the Blades. Expectations were high that year that the Blades would win the WHL title and sizable crowds were showing up the rink that is now known as the SaskTel Centre.
    During the immediate aftermath of their playoff ouster, there were a number of people in the vocal minority of the Blades fanbase that blamed the post-season elimination on Schenn.
    I was working in Medicine Hat during that time covering the WHL’s Tigers for the Medicine Hat News, and relatives in Saskatoon told me that Schenn couldn’t show his face in public in town in the days that followed the Blades playoff exit. I do recall seeing a Facebook group that existed to dump hate on Schenn for costing the Blades the Memorial Cup. I can no longer find that Facebook page.
    Thankfully, the notion of being upset at Schenn quickly faded away. Disappointment over the fact the Blades didn’t have a long playoff run that season likely still lingers a little bit.
    Since leaving the Blades, Schenn has been a career NHLer appearing in 433 regular season games mostly with the Philadelphia Flyers collecting 109 goals and 139 assists. Thanks to an off-season trade at the NHL Entry Draft in June, the 26-year-old will suit up for the St. Louis Blues in the upcoming NHL campaign.
    Anyone that has dealt with Schenn and his family comes away with a fresh realization that they are all a good bunch. Anytime I take a photo of Schenn at a charity event and share it on Twitter, it usually gets a few likes from locals, and that is always great to see.

Cool seeing “BT” enter Canadian Football Hall of Fame

    It was definitely a cool sight to see the pictures and video legendary University of Saskatchewan Huskies football head coach Brian Towriss officially enter the Canadian Football Hall of Fame on Thursday night in Hamilton, Ont.
    Towriss resigned his post as Huskies head coach on Dec. 19, 2016 having complied a U Sports record 196 career wins, 11 Canada West titles, nine Vanier Cup appearances and three Vanier Cup titles. On March 22, an announcement was made that Towriss would be part of this year’s Canadian Football Hall of Fame class along with CFL player greats in Anthony Calvillo, Geroy Simon, Mike O’Shea and Kelvin Anderson along with former Calgary Stampeders president Stan Schwartz. 
    Towriss and Schwartz entered the Hall as builders.
    When Towriss saw his lifelike bust and put on his Hall of Fame jacket and ring, he looked really happy, and it was a happy look that was usually reserved for times when one of his player did something great. It was fun to see him enjoy his moment.
    Towriss was joined in Hamilton by his wife (Vicki) and their children (Kellie and Jake), and they got to experience something special that will be with them forever.
    It is always a great when good things happen to good people. Congratulations to “BT” on his Canadian Football Hall of Fame induction.

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Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Borbandy aims to catch on with U of S Huskies blue-line

Defender Teagan Borbandy hopes to catch on with the Huskies.
    Teagan Borbandy doesn’t want to hang up her skates just because she had to switch schools.
    For the past two seasons, Borbandy was a defensive defender with the Red Deer College Queens of the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference. Over two seasons, she appeared in 29 regular season games with the Queens posting an assist and 22 penalty minutes, and she helped Red Deer College win an ACAC title in 2016.
    The Langdon, Alta., product is pursuing studies in bio-chemistry and knew she would have to transfer out of Red Deer College to a University to finish her degree. Borbandy wanted to transfer to the University of Saskatchewan for academics, and her thoughts started to drift towards the Huskies women’s hockey team, who play in the U Sports ranks.
    “I love Saskatchewan, and I love this school,” said Borbandy. “It is beautiful.
    “They have a really good program, so I thought I would come. I decided about two months ago that I wanted to continue to playing hockey, so I came out as a walk on.”
    Borbandy found a phone number for Huskies head coach Steve Kook and called about trying out as a walk on. From that conversation, Borbandy joined the Huskies for their training camp.
Huskies AC Brian McGregor, left, talks with Teagan Borbandy.
    She made the trip with the Huskies to Athabasca, Alta., for the Athabasca College Hockey Challenge last weekend and dressed for one of two exhibition games U of S split against the defending U Sports champion U of Alberta Pandas. The Huskies fell 3-2 after a tiebreaking shootout last Friday and won 2-1 last Saturday.
    As for Borbandy’s status with the team, things are progressing a day at a time.
    “We don’t have an idea of how many defencemen that we are going to take if it is seven, if it is nine,” said Kook, who returned to the Huskies after a one-year professional leave of absence. “If we think you are going to help us, we’ll carry you.
    “We agreed to take it day by day. At the end of every practice, we have a chat, and we’ll let her know if we like to see her another day. It is how it has been.”
    Borbandy, who stands 5-foot-4, comes to the Huskies with a solid hockey background. Besides playing for the Queens, she suited up for three seasons from 2012 to 2015 with the Rocky Mountain Raiders based in De Winton, Alta.
Teagan Borbandy listens to instructions at practice.
    Traditionally, the Raiders have been one of Alberta’s stronger female midget AAA programs, and Borbandy was an assistant captain with that club before finishing her time with that squad as captain.
    She always loved the comradery she had with her teammates and being active on the ice. Her first interactions with the Huskies players and coaches have built a desire to want to stay.
    “They are great,” said Borbandy. “They are such nice girls. They are very opening and helpful.
    “I’ve never seen so many girls that want help each other. It is not a competition within the team. It is a competition to make everybody better.
    “The coaches are great, very nice, encouraging and very supportive. They are always telling me things to improve on which is great. I love feedback.”
    Borbandy’s love for hockey hasn’t diminished over her career. She said it was great to join the Huskies having come from a good situation of having played with the Queens, who were 14-7-3 last season. The Queens fell in a best-of-three ACAC semifinal series to the MacEwan University Griffins 2-1.
    “It was a good step out of midget,” said Borbandy. “I enjoyed my team.
    “I had a great set of girls. I enjoyed the opportunity to continue playing. The school is a great school.”
Teagan Borbandy starts a rush out of her own zone.
    The Huskies had a strong campaign last season posting a 15-10-3 record. They fell in a best-of-three Canada West semifinal series to the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds. The Dogs fell 3-1 in a series deciding Game 3, but had they prevailed, they would have earned a berth to the U Sports final eight national championship tournament.
    When Borbandy talked to Kook about joining the Huskies, the bench boss advised the young defender, who will turn 20 on Sept. 20, to not leave anything behind.
    “We had a chat with her early in the summer, and I said if you are going to come to this thing and if you are going to come to tryouts, don’t come halfway be all in,” said Kook. “Whether it lasts one day or three days, you have to just make sure there are no regrets.
    “What I told her today is you are having a good camp so far. Comeback tomorrow, we want to see more. The way it works is pretty soon you are going to be coming back enough days that you are going to find yourself on a bus with us somewhere.”
Teagan Borbandy moves the puck up ice in a transition drill.
    The Huskies are returning five defenders from last year’s team, so ice time will be at a premium for any newcomers. Going forward, Borbandy can gain further motivation from another hockey development in her family.
    Last Friday, her younger sister, Emma, who is current playing defence for the Raiders, signed a letter of intent to play for the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds women’s hockey team for the start of the 2018-19 campaign. If Teagan stays with the Huskies, it is possible the two siblings might face each other on the ice one day.
    With all that in mind, Teagan said she just wants to work on getting better in the present.
    “My hopes are to work on things I know I need to work on, to improve and get to where some of their top defencemen are and maybe play a few games,” said Borbandy. “It would be awesome.”
    The Huskies resume their pre-season schedule this coming Saturday and Sunday, when they travel to Calgary to face the Mount Royal University Cougars on each of those days. The green and white open the regular season on Oct. 6 against their provincial rivals the U of Regina Cougars at 7 p.m. at the ancient Rutherford Rink.

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Tuesday, 12 September 2017

“No brainer” – Fiala named Blades new captain

Captain Evan Fiala, left, and HC Dean Brockman show off a third Pac-Man jersey.
    When it came time to speak to reporters about being named the new captain of his home area Saskatoon Blades, Evan Fiala was hit with a case of the nerves.
    “My stomach is still not settled here,” said Fiala. “Obviously, it feels good that is for sure.”
    The 20-year-old product of Clavet, Sask., which is located just outside of Saskatoon, was named the 58th captain in Blades team history during a press conference at Merlin Ford Lincoln on Tuesday, where the club also unveiled their new third alternate Pac-Man jersey. The gritty, stay-at-home defenceman became the first to put on and wear the new alternate jersey during the press conference’s festivities.
    The Blades acquired Fiala in a trade last December shortly before the WHL Christmas break from the Spokane Chiefs. In 70 games split between the Chiefs and Blades last season, Fiala recorded four goals, 15 assists, a plus-11 rating in the plus-minus department and 139 penalty minutes.
    Growing up in the Saskatoon area and being well liked in the community, Fiala said it was special to be named captain of the Blades.
    “It is a huge honour that is for sure,” said Fiala, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 212 pounds. “Every guy would love to have that.
    “With our team, it is not a big deal that is for sure. We have a lot of good guys who are more than capable. It is a pleasure to wear it that is for sure.”
New Blades captain Evan Fiala puts on the team’s new Pac-Man jersey.
    Blades head coach Dean Brockman said his team did a complete evaluation when it came to deciding who would be the club’s captain. The bench boss noted his squad has some younger players who were deserving and had been with the Blades longer than Fiala.
    Even with that fact in mind, Brockman said Fiala was the obvious choice for the role.
    “When you are picking a captain, you want to check the boxes,” said Brockman. “He has certainly checked more than other guys.
    “He just plays the game with a lot of passion. He wears his heart on his sleeve all the time.
    “When you are watching him in practice or whether you are watching him in the gym or whether you are talking to him, it is just you can have that adult conversation and the tough conversation with him, and he never takes it the wrong way. When you are on the same page, it makes things a lot easier.”
    While Fiala was short-spoken during the press conference due to nerves, Brockman said the rugged rearguard does command the Blades dressing room, and the other players listen when he says something. The veteran coach said Fiala leads by example in showing strong traits for other players to emulate.
Evan Fiala shows off the front of a new jersey.
    “We talk about the passion that we want to play with and show our fans that we want to have a work ethic second to none,” said Brockman. “(Fiala) is just one example.
    “He is that contagious kind of guy. When you have a contagious kind of guy like that, you need him to be your leader and to do things right and do it every day, and that is the toughest part.
    “We just found that the connections that he makes with his teammates were second to none.”
    Fiala’s community links were another characteristic that led to him being named the captain of the Blades. Since arriving in Saskatoon, Fiala has been active in making all the Blades community appearances.
    “He knows the Saskatoon Blades,” said Brockman. “He knows the area. He knows how important it is for us to have this team bigger in the community, bigger in events.”
    The Blades haven’t had a captain since they sent centre Wyatt Sloboshan to the Chiefs in the deal to acquire Fiala. Sloboshan was subsequently traded to the Regina Pats on Jan. 2, after electing to not rejoin the Chiefs after the WHL Christmas break.
    Saskatoon finished the 2016-17 campaign with three players as assistant captains in now graduated defenceman Bryton Sayers, import defenceman Libor Hajek, who is now in his 19-year-old season, and winger Braylon Shmyr, who is now in his overage year. Hajek is taking part in training camp activities with the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning.
    Brockman said the Blades are still deciding who their assistant captains will be for the 2017-18 campaign.
Evan Fiala shows off the back of a new jersey.
    Last season, the Blades posted a 28-35-7-2 record to sit five points behind the Calgary Hitmen (30-32-8-2), who finished eighth overall in the WHL’s Eastern Conference and earned the conference’s final playoff berth.
    “I know everyone from last year saw that we were that close,” said Fiala. “If we have a whole year like we did that second half, we will be just fine.”
    The rearguard described what type of passion he would like his side to play with to earn their first playoff appearance since 2013.
    “We’re coming out every game, and we are going to take that win from you that is for sure,” said Fiala.
    Besides being named the Blades captain, Fiala departs for the main training camp of the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday. He heads to camp as an undrafted and unsigned invite. Wings camp starts Friday and runs through to Tuesday in Traverse City, Mich., and Fiala heads to that camp with some positive momentum.
    “I felt it was important to send him off on a good note and to tell everybody whether it is Detroit or whoever is watching that he is a great leader,” said Brockman. “Those are the attributes you have to look forward to seeing.
    “I think he is the type of kid that if he goes there and plays well we feel we want him to stay there. Internally, I don’t want him to, but for his sake, we hope he goes there and does well. This is just a step in the direction to playing where we think he can play.”
    Fiala attended Wings development camp back in July, and he is looking forward to main camp, where he will attempt to turn heads to earn an NHL contract.
New Blades captain Evan Fiala speaks to reporters during a scrum.
    “It is a lot coming at me at once,” said Fiala. “I’m excited for it all. I’m ready for it.
    “Everyone who is there is obviously a good hockey player, so I am trying to take a little bit from everybody.”
    Fiala is one of four overage players the Blades have on their roster including centre Cameron Hebig, Shmyr and goaltender Logan Flodell. WHL clubs have to cut down to three overage players on Oct. 10.
    The Blades, who have a 3-2 record in the pre-season, close their exhibition schedule on Saturday, when they travel to Edmonton to take on the Oil Kings. They open their regular season schedule on Sept. 22 at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre against the Swift Current Broncos. The Blades plan to celebrate their return to their Pac-Man look at their home opener.

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