Thursday, 8 December 2016

Hughton leaves friendly mark on Huskies

Retiring athletic director will be missed on U of S campus

Basil Hughton, left, watches a Huskies hockey game.
    The University of Saskatchewan Huskies won’t be able to replace Basil Hughton, but they will have to do their best to fill his void likely by committee.
    On Monday, the 60-year-old Hughton announced he was retiring as the Huskies athletic director effective June 30, 2017. He became the Huskies athletic director in August of 2008 after spending 30 years as a teacher and administrator in Saskatchewan’s school systems mostly with Saskatoon’s public system.
    When Hughton took over as the Huskies athletic director, it was a homecoming. He played with the Huskies football team in the 1970s, received his bachelor of physical education in 1977, bachelor of education in 1978 and a master’s degree in education in 1992 all from the U of S.
    Hughton returned to a Huskies program that was successful and had a great reputation on the national stage. His biggest challenge was to ensure the Huskies continued to achieve lofty goals in the classroom and in competition. Great success was achieved on both fronts.
    Under Hughton, almost 1,300 student-athletes were named to national or school all-academic teams. In competition, the Huskies won 15 Canada West championships and two national titles in the league now referred to as U Sports.
    One of those national championships came from the Huskies men’s basketball team in 2010 and the other from the Huskies women’s basketball team last March. Both were program firsts.
    All these achievements came from the fact that Hughton created a positive feeling environment.
Traditionally, athletic directors are viewed as authority figures. If you as an athlete had to visit one, you would stereotypically think you had done something wrong.
    Hughton was more like a kind second father. When you meet him, it doesn’t take long to realize he has a genuine sense of caring about the athletes in the Huskies program. He makes it a point to get to know everyone that plays for a Huskies team on some level.
    While a rookie athlete may have a good first impression about the U of S due to the recruiting efforts of a coach, the first meeting with Hughton is one of those welcome to the family type moments. You can feel there is an emotional investment and a hope that you will do well.
Basil Hughton, right, talks to a supporter at a Huskies volleyball game.
    That in itself is big, when you consider the majority of Huskie athletes are living away from home for the first time relocating to Saskatoon from some other town or city. Those athletes are taking their first steps in life as young adults, and it feels reassuring the top person in the athletics program cares that you do well.
    If an athlete needs to talk about something but doesn’t feel like telling a coach, Hughton’s door is always open.
    Right now, it is harder to be an athlete at the university level in Canada than it ever has before. An athletes’ time is stretched to the maximum due to commitments with academic studies, year round training, at times a job and maybe even a romantic relationship.
    When a Huskies athlete deals with ups and downs on all these fronts, it is nice to know Hughton is around to provide a friendly and positive presence which gives off a sense of stability.
    If you want to see the lengths Hughton will go to help the Huskies program, all you have to do is turn up on a Saturday morning at the U of S campus after a heavy snowfall. He will be out there shoveling away snow from the front of the Physical Activity Complex and the Rutherford Rink.
    If you’re a Huskies athlete and you see that, you have to be thinking if my athletic director is going to go out and do that I really need to bring it tonight.
    For me, the time it really struck me how much Hughton cares came from what I think was supposed to be a private moment. About a couple of days after Huskies men’s hockey team gritty, glue guy forward Cody Smuk passed away in June of 2015 due to cancer, I stopped to checked out the Smuk mural that was painted at the entrance of the Rutherford Rink on an early Saturday morning.
    I was alone only for a couple of minutes when Hughton pulled up. We talked for a few minutes, and it was visible he was in a moment where he was taking Smuk’s passing pretty hard. Hughton was working through his healing process dealing with the death of a member of his Huskies family.
    We both signed the mural and went on with the rest of our respective days. I came away thinking the Huskies were pretty fortunate to have Hughton as their athletic director.
    Still, Hughton’s time as the athletic director isn’t over yet.
    Last season, the Huskies had an extremely memorable campaign capturing four Canada West championships coming from men’s track and field, men’s wrestling, men’s hockey and women’s basketball. The women’s basketball team also won their national title.
    Hughton gets to go through one last winter semester, and maybe a couple more conference champions or even national championships might be around the corner. That would be the ultimate capper for a send off.

Grahams donate big for Merlis Belsher Place hoops courts

    The U of Saskatchewan Huskies continued to showcase the big donors for the Home Ice Campaign, and the two that took centre stage on Thursday have been long-time friends of the athletic program.
    During a presentation at the Physical Activity Complex, alums Ron and Jane Graham gave a gift of $4-million to support the construction of two basketball practice courts at Merlis Belsher Place. The donation will also fund locker rooms and team rooms for the Huskies basketball teams and give the university flexibility to consider developing an athletic research area in the new space.
    With this gift, the Grahams also became the largest cumulative alumni donors to the university in its history contributing close to $20-million. In their honour, the main court at the PAC will be named Ron and Jane Graham Centre Court.
    In the past, the Grahams have supported the expansion of the Graham Huskie clubhouse at Griffiths Stadium and the establishment of the Ron and Jane Graham School of Professional Development in the College of Engineering.
    The planned Merlis Belsher Place will be best known as a twin pad ice rink facility that will be the new home for the Huskies hockey teams and provide additional ice time for Saskatoon Minor Hockey and the community.
    The university is seeking the help of the community to raise the remaining $7-million towards the facility that will cost $41-million to build.

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Sunday, 4 December 2016

Stars locked in three way race for first in SFMAAAHL

Prairie Fire holds Saskatoon back with weekend split

Kianna Dietz (#12) gets set to fire a shot on goal for the Stars.
    It appears the Saskatoon Stars won’t be able to run away with top spot in the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League this season, because a couple of the circuits other powerhouse clubs won’t let them.
    This past weekend, the Stars split a pair of games with the visiting Melville Prairie Fire at the Agriplace Arena, and the Prairie Fire came into the series with aspirations of leaping over the Stars into first in the SFMAAAHL.
    Saskatoon came away with a 4-0 win on Saturday, but the Prairie Fire rebounded with a 3-2 victory on Sunday.
    The split allowed the Stars to hold on to first with an 11-2-1 record with 34 points in the standings. The Prince Albert Northern Bears jumped into second place improving to 12-2 with 33 points in the standings after a pair of road wins against the Battlefords Sharks.
Players from the Stars and Prairie Fire battle for the puck.
    Prince Albert trails Saskatoon due to the fact three of its wins came in extra time. In the SFMAAAHL, you get three points in the standings for a regulation win and two points for an extra time win.
    The Prairie Fire sits third with an 11-4 mark with 32 points in the standings coming from 10 regulation wins and one extra time win.
    Saskatoon and Prince Albert have regularly battled it out at the top of the SFMAAAHL standings over the previous two seasons. Melville has been a surprise club having finished sixth overall last season in the eight-team circuit with a 9-17-2 record.
Julia Rongve zips into the offensive zone for the Stars.
    Out of Saskatoon’s three losses, two have come at home to Prince Albert in October and the third came Sunday against Melville.
    In Saturday’s clash between the Stars and Prairie Fire, Saskatoon jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first with goals coming off the sticks of Joelle Fiala and Grace Shirley. Julia Rongve and Abby Shirley each added a power-play goal in the third to close out a 4-0 victory.
    Jordan Ivanco made 26 saves to earn the shutout win in goal for the Stars. Ashlyn Taillon turned away 22 shots taking the loss in the Prairie Fire goal.
    In Sunday’s contest, the Stars came out flying the first period outshooting the Prairie Fire 16-6, but only held a 1-0 edge on the scoreboard thanks to a single from Fiala.
    The Prairie Fire found some traction thanks to a goal from Megan Leblanc that tied the contest up at 1-1 just 34 seconds into the second period.
    Just 50 seconds after that goal, the Stars appeared to recapture the momentum going ahead 2-1 on a goal from Grace Shirley.
    Prairie Fire captain Georgia Kotylak ensured the Stars joy was short-lived as she scored 84 seconds after that tally to force a 2-2 tie.
The Prairie Fire celebrate their 3-2 win over the Stars.
    At the 4:47 mark of the third, 15-year-old forward Heather Fiske netted what turned out to be the winning goal in a 3-2 victory.
    Arden Kliewer made 19 saves to take the loss in goal for the Stars. Taillon stopped 31 shots to pick up the win in Melville’s goal.
    After falling behind, the Stars had chances to pull even including a beauty wraparound attempt by offensive defender Willow Slobodzian. For the most part, the Prairie Fire did a good job closing out the game, which included limiting Saskatoon’s golden scoring opportunities.
    The Stars now head into another showdown for first place when they travel to Prince Albert on Wednesday, Dec. 14 to face the Bears.

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Saturday, 3 December 2016

Pats pound Prince Albert

“Queen City Kids” light up Raiders 12-2

Sergey Zborovskiy (#2) and Rykr Cole (#22) celebrate a Pats goal.
    REGINA – Mini-slump. What mini-slump?
    The Regina Pats were hitting on all cylinders on Saturday night, and it spelled doom for the visiting Prince Albert Raiders. Overage Pats captain Adam Brooks roofed a goal home to the top left corner of the Prince Albert net just 63 seconds in, and the hosts poured it on from there.
    When the dust settled, the Pats came away with a 12-2 blowout victory, where they held a dominant 47-16 edge in shots on goal before 5,749 spectators at the Brandt Centre.
    Entering Saturday’s game, the Pats had lost three of their last five games, which included a 3-2 overtime setback in their last outing on Nov. 26 to the Rockets in Kelowna.
    Those struggles were left in the dust against the Raiders as the Pats improved to 18-2-4 and showed they are deserving of being the current top rated team in the Canadian Hockey League’s top 10 rankings. The Raiders, who seemed to be trapped in their own end for much of the contest, fell to 6-21-1 with the loss.
    “I think we played a complete game,” said Pats 17-year-old centre Jake Leschyshyn. “I think (playing) 60 minutes was our goal. We achieved that.
Pats captain Adam Brooks had a big night with two goals and three assists.
    “They are obviously kind of lower in the standings, and I think our challenge was to not take them too lightly. I think we did a good job of that.”
    Leschyshyn continued what has been a stellar sophomore campaign collecting a pair of assists in Saturday’s win to give him 10 goals, 16 assists and a plus-nine rating in the plus-minus category in 24 games.
    His contributions in the romp over Prince Albert seemed to be average on Saturday, when they were compared with some of his teammates.
    Russian defenceman Sergey Zborovskiy had a career night recording two goals, five assists and a plus-eight rating. His offensive outburst allowed the 19-year-old, who is in his third year in the league, to set a new career high for assists in a season at 18.
    He also came up with the game’s key play, when there still might have been doubt about the final outcome.
The Pats storm the Raiders goal.
    After the Pats took a 3-0 lead, Raiders Czech import left-winger Simon Stransky potted his 11th of the season to cut the host’s edge to 3-1 with 2:23 to play in the first.
    The Raiders followed that goal with a trio of energetic shifts.
    The short momentum burst for the visitors came to an end when Zborovskiy converted a beauty setup pass from Brooks to give the Pats a 4-1 edge with 1.3 seconds to play in the opening frame.
    Brooks, who was last season’s WHL scoring champion, finished the night piling up two goals and three assists. Left-winger Austin Wagner, who is heading to the main training camp for Canada’s world junior team that runs from Dec. 10-14 in Boisbriand, Quebec, had a pair of goals and an assist.
    Filip Ahl, who is a 19-year-old rookie winger from Sweden, added three helpers to the Pats cause. Rykr Cole netted a pair of goals for the Pats, who received singles from Dawson Leedahl, Riley Woods, Nick Henry and Connor Hobbs.
Pats winger Dawson Leedahl (#71) leads an offensive zone rush.
    Tyler Brown made 14 saves to pick up the win in goal for Regina.
    Austin Glover had the Raiders other tally. Nicholas Sanders started in the Raiders net, was pulled after Regina’s third goal but returned early in the third after the Pats went ahead 10-1. He stopped 15 of 20 shots sent his way.
    Ian Scott played the middle portion of the contest for the Raiders, and he turned away 20 of 27 shots sent in his direction.
    Leschyshyn said his Pats have done a number of things right in building their strong record so far this season.
    “First and foremost, we are a pretty deep team,” said Leschyshyn. “I think we have four solid lines that can be put out there in pretty much any situation.
    “I think we have a good shutdown (defence), and to compliment that, our forwards are fast. I think our team speed is a biggest asset out there.”
The Pats are all smiles after their romp over the Raiders.
    The only downer for the Pats on Saturday was the fact they lost overage defenceman Chase Harrison to injury after he received a head hit from Raiders left-winger Kolby Johnson just over five minutes into the second period. Johnson was giving a major penalty for checking to the head and a game misconduct for that infraction, and it will be up for automatic review by the league office for a possible suspension.
    The Pats return to action Sunday, when they travel to Swift Current to face the Broncos.
    The Raiders return to Prince Albert and will host the Calgary Hitmen on Tuesday.

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Monday, 28 November 2016

Stars a hidden gem in Saskatoon’s sports scene

The Stars are all smiles after scoring a goal at the Agriplace Arena.
    They often get overshadowed, but one of Saskatoon’s most successful teams resides in a little rink call the Agriplace Arena in the north end of town.
    Playing mainly in front of family and friends for the majority of their games, the Saskatoon Stars have piled up the wins and made their name known on the national stage. From 2010-12, they made three straight appearances in the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League championship series and won the prestigious Mac’s Midget AAA tournament title in the 2010-11 campaign.
    That era of the Stars featured current Canadian senior national team member Emily Clark, Katie Sigurdson, Lauren Zary, Marley Ervine, Sara Greschner, Kennedy Harris, Brooke Mutch and Alyssa Dobler. The latter five of that group moved on to help the University of Saskatchewan Huskies win their first Canada West conference title coming in the 2013-14 campaign.
Willow Slobodzian is a gifted offensive defender.
    Before the start of the 2014-15 campaign, Greg Slobodzian took over as the Stars head coach and the team reached new heights. In Slobodzian’s first campaign, the Stars posted a 45-5 overall, claimed a second Mac’s title, their first SFMAAAHL championship and first Western regional banner. The season finished with a bronze medal game win at the Esso Cup national championship tournament in Red Deer.
    The Stars were powered by the dynamic duo of Sophie Shirley and Nara Elia that season. Both currently play on the Okanagan Hockey Academy’s female prep team, and Shirley has also found a home in Canada’s national team system playing with the under-18 squad last year.
    Shirley and Elia departed after the 2014-15 season and the Stars proceeded to follow up with an amazing 2015-16 campaign. They posted a 45-13 overall record, won a second SFMAAAHL title and second Western regional banner and finished fourth at the Esso Cup in Weyburn.
    This season, the Stars have stormed out of the gates again posting a 10-1-1 record to sit first in the SFMAAAHL.
Skilled forward Mackenna Parker has gifted smarts on the ice.
    On Sunday at the Agriplace Arena, they bombed the Weyburn Southern Range Gold Wings 11-1, while dominating with a 63-10 edge in shots.
    Their two biggest names led the way in 16-year-olds Mackenna Parker and captain Willow Slobodzian, who both attended Hockey Canada’s selection camp for its under-18 women’s national team in August. Parker, who has gifted smarts, had a goal and three assists, while Slobodzian, a smooth skating offensive defender, rocketed home two goals and added a helper.
    What has to be scary for opponents is that fact the Stars are bunch of talented and hard-working players. In that romp over Weyburn, Anna Leschyshyn had a pair of goals and an assist. Singles came off the sticks of Jayda Sachs, Jordyn Gerlitz, Abby DeCorby, Kianna Dietz, Abby Shirley and Jordyn Holmes. Rookie goalie Arden Kliewer made nine stops to pick up the win in net.
    The list of goal scorers didn’t include standouts Grace Shirley and Joelle Fiala. Both turned heads last season as underage 14-year-old rookies and are just that much better one year later.
Anna Leschyshyn gets open for a pass on the wing.
    Taya McKersie had the Gold Wings (0-14) lone reply, while Loghan Hennes turned away 52 shots going the distance in the Weyburn goal.
    On Monday, the Stars traveled to Melville for a first place showdown with the Prairie Fire and skated away with 5-1 victory. Parker had a hat trick, while Gerlitz and Julia Rongve had singles. Sophomore Jordan Ivanco made 27 stops to earn the win in goal.
    Megan Leblanc replied for the Prairie Fire, who fell to 10-3. Ashlyn Taillon made 23 stops to take the loss in the Melville net.
    With Greg Slobodzian and assistant coaches Curtis Leschyshyn and Jason Schneider, the Stars have a staff that could run the bench of a Western Hockey League team.
    They also have to be excited about the group of players they have to work with. The bench bosses know they had a driven group that wasn’t going to skip any steps in off-season training. The coaches had to be eagerly anticipating how much faster and stronger their girls were going to be when they came to training camp.
    When the Stars returning players hit the ice, the improvement in their physical power was noticeable. Their wide open style became that much more difficult to stop and impressive to watch.
    They do it all without much media attention, but that is something these girls don’t notice. They are humble enough they blush at the attention they do get.
    For now, the Stars get to enjoy the journey of going through another season, where the rink is the greatest place to be. Next up is a two-game series against the Prairie Fire at the Agriplace Arena. The two clubs meet this coming Saturday at 7:45 p.m. and this coming Sunday at 2:15 p.m.
    From Dec. 26, 2016 to Jan. 1, 2017, the Stars will again be playing at Mac’s.
    It wouldn’t be a surprise to see them in the final of that event and playing hockey throughout March and April on another long playoff run.

Back in the Express with Dukate

Sabine Dukate sizes up an offensive situation for the Huskies.
    I was back in the pages of the Saskatoon Express last week with a feature story on Sabine Dukate, who is the starting point guard for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s basketball team.
    The 23-year-old, who is in her sophomore season, came to the Huskies from Ventspiils, Latvia. She played a big role in helping the Huskies captured their first ever U Sports national championship.
    In the U Sports title game last March, Dukate nailed four of seven shots from three-point range, recorded 22 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and three steals to power the Huskies past the Ryerson University Rams 85-71.
    The story on Dukate can be found right here.

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Saturday, 26 November 2016

Tigers roar again in the WHL

Medicine Hat returns to elite status after one rebuild year

Zach Fischer celebrates scoring a goal for the Tigers.
    It didn’t take the Medicine Hat Tigers long to start looking like themselves again, which means they alone are worth the price of admission on any of their Western Hockey League game nights.
    Last year, the Tigers saw their run of making the WHL playoffs for 13 consecutive years come to an end. Posting a 30-37-3-2 record in the regular season, the Tigers faced the Edmonton Oil Kings in a standings tiebreaking game for the final playoff berth in the WHL’s Eastern Conference and came away on the wrong end of a 6-4 final.
    After just over a third into the current campaign, the Tigers are back to their high speed and high skill form.
    On Saturday night at the SaskTel Centre, the orange and black systematically dismantled the host Saskatoon Blades 8-2 before 3,802 stunned spectators. The win was Medicine Hat’s ninth straight victory and has vaulted the Tigers to the top of the overall WHL standings with a 20-5-1 mark.
Max Gerlach snipes his hat trick goal for the Tigers.
    The Everett Silvertips (18-3-4) trail the Tigers by a point for first overall with a game in hand.
Veteran Tigers head coach and general manager Shaun Clouston has no complaints about where his team is at.
    “It has been great,” said Clouston. “I think our older guys, our leaders are doing a terrific job of making sure the room is ready every night.
    “We’ve got lots of guys contributing. We’ve had some guys really step up and have breakout years. (Mark) Rassell and (Zach) Fischer are good players and they just really had breakout seasons.
    “James Hamblin who was 16-years-old last year, he has taken big strides. We are getting contributions from our imports. I think those two additions with (Kristians) Rubins and (John) Dalhstrom really helped us.”
    The only big down parts the Tigers faced against Saskatoon came from the fact Blades left-winger Braylon Shmyr opened the game’s scoring at the 1:56 mark of the first period, and he added a second marker with 53.8 seconds to play in the opening frame to ensure both sides entered the first intermission locked in a 2-2 tie.
Chad Butcher circles in the offensive zone for the Tigers.
    The rest of the contest belonged to the Tigers. They transitioned up ice at a lightning pace stringing together various quick passes and were on top of Blades goaltenders Logan Flodell and then Brock Hamm with prime scoring chances. Medicine Hat also kept Saskatoon pinned in its own zone with a fairly aggressive forecheck.
    Fischer and offensive defenceman David Quenneville netted the Tigers first period tallies. The visitors blew the roof off the building in the second frame. Overage centre Chad Butcher scored 17 seconds into the middle stanza and right-winger Max Gerlach netted a hat trick, which included two tallies on impressive snipes, to put the Tigers up 6-2.
    Flodell was chased after the Tigers fourth goal at the 2:27 mark of the second turning away 17-of-21 shots sent his way. Hamm stopped 18-of-22 shots sent his direction as the Blade dropped to 10-16-1.
    In the third, Butcher collected his second goal of the night and Dalhstrom added a single to round out the blowout score. Netminder Nick Schneider turned away 22 shots to pick up the win in Medicine Hat’s goal.
    The Tigers effort was businesslike. After each goal, the players took part in a small celebration and calmly skated into position for the next faceoff.
David Quenneville rushes into the offensive zone for the Tigers.
    “It was pretty close there for a bit,” said Quenneville, who had an assist to go along with his goal. “We just played our game, and the floodgates blew open.
    “They were bound to fly open for a time being there, and they did. Honestly, we could have had five or six more, which is really exciting. It shows that when a game is pretty out of hand like it was tonight, that we don’t stop. That is real important for our group.”
    Clouston said one of the big keys this season was the fact his club stuck with a younger group of inexperienced defencemen last season. The Tigers usually like to keep a core of four to five blue-liners together over a three-year period to create a base and chemistry at that position.
    Medicine Hat’s back end has always been key in helping the Tigers quickly transitioning up ice with a quick first pass on to the tape of the stick of a forward striding at full speed. Clouston didn’t want to waive from his team’s style.
    “We knew that there was a certain way that we like to play,” said Clouston. “We could have changed our style a little bit (last season).
    “It might have helped us for the short term. We kept playing the same way and practicing the same way.
    “When we finally got through all our injuries and got healthy, it was starting to pay dividends towards the end of the season, and I think that is continuing this year.”
Goaltender Nick Schneider passes a puck up the boards for the Tigers.
    While he didn’t have an active night against the Blades, Schneider has been solid in his second full season as the Tigers starting goalie after spending about a season and a half as a backup. In 21 games in the current campaign, he has posted an 18-2-1 record, a 2.70 goals against average and a .905 save percentage. Clouston said Schneider has come a long way.
    “Last year, he struggled at the start of the year,” said Clouston. “It was his first opportunity to be the number one guy. It was a major challenge for him.
    “The way things worked out by the end of the year he was that number one guy again. Austin Lotz was with us for a short time, but had a season ending injury. By the end of the season, Schneids had kind of battled through his adversity and grew a lot from that experience, and that has carried over to this year.”
    Quenneville, who is in his third full season with the Tabbies, said it was important for his side to carry on and duplicate the team’s storied successes of the past. He believes his Tigers are getting back to that spot.
Captain Clayton Kirichenko gets set to drive a shot on goal for the Tigers.
    “Last year wasn’t our year, and we wanted to really get back to being a high caliber team in the Western Hockey League and dominating,” said Quenneville. “I think we have done that so far.
    “We have worked real hard. We’ve developed a lot in the last year, and we’re just continuing to get better, and that is the key for our group.”

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Friday, 25 November 2016

Shmyr sparks Blades, brings ugly skid to an end

Braylon Shmyr, left, celebrates his winning goal for the Blades.
    Braylon Shmyr sparked and finished things for the Saskatoon Blades.
    On Friday night at the SaskTel Centre, the 19-year-old Calgary product scored 12 seconds into a WHL clash against the visiting Brandon Wheat Kings to give the host side a 1-0 lead. Shmyr also tucked home a gritty winner from the right side of the Brandon goal with 41.9 seconds to play in the third period to break a 2-2 draw and deliver the Blades to a 3-2 victory.
    The win allowed “the Bridge City Bunch” to end an ugly four-game losing skid where they were outscored 24-6.
    “We always talk about having a good start, so that first shift that we had that we scored on, that set the momentum for the game,” said Shmyr, whose team improved to 10-15-1 with the win. “It is always nice getting those game-winning goals.
    “It is just all about battling and finishing right to the end. We had a week of just setting down and having team meetings. We were just figuring out what we could do to win games, and I think it paid off for us.”
    Wearing their classic blue Pac-Man jerseys, the Blades immediately engaged the crowd of 3,929 spectators with Shmyr’s first goal that seemed to come out of nowhere.
Jesse Shynkaruk speeds up the ice for the Blades.
    The hosts then appeared to have total control of the contest after overage centre Jesse Shynkaruk laser beamed his seventh of the season top left corner on Wheat Kings goaltender Logan Thompson. The tally gave the Blades a 2-0 edge at the 7:10 mark of the second.
    The visitors replied with a big push back.
    Just 33 seconds after Shynkaruk’s goal, Wheat Kings left-winger Tyler Coulter wired home his 10th of the season to cut the Blades lead to 2-1.
    Brandon evened the score up at 2-2 with 3:11 to play in the second, when defenceman Schael Higson floated home a point shot.
    When the second came to a close, the Wheat Kings were carrying the momentum holding an overall 21-17 edge in shots.
    The Blades recovered their footing in the third, where Shmyr came through with the winner. Brandon applied pressure in the final seconds but couldn’t put the puck past Blades netminder Logan Flodell.
Logan Christensen (#41) steals the puck for the Blades.
    Flodell made 31 stops to earn the win in goal. Thompson turned away 25 shots to take the loss for the Wheat Kings, who fell to 12-9-3.
    “It feels good just to win - period,” said Blades head coach Dean Brockman. “I think our group was pretty gutsy in the third.
    “It is good for our club. Hopefully, we can get some confidence going.
    “You could see we were scrambling a little bit in the third period. That is just a team that hasn’t won for a while.”
    Brockman was happy to see Shmyr come through with a nice night against his former team. The Blades acquired Shmyr in a trade with the Wheat Kings shortly before last season’s WHL trade deadline.
    “He has probably been our best player over the last 10 or 12 games,” said Brockman. “Just to see him get rewarded against his old team it is a really good for him.”
The Blades salute the SaskTel Centre crowd.
    The Blades return to action on Saturday, when they host the red hot Medicine Hat Tigers at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre.
    After pounding the Raiders 7-1 on Friday night in Prince Albert, the Tigers sit first overall in the WHL at 19-5-1 and have won eight straight games.

Hausinger dealt to Rebels

    The Blades were active on the trade front before Friday’s game rolled around.
    Saskatoon dealt 17-year-old right-winger Cameron Hausinger to the Red Deer Rebels in exchange for a seventh round selection in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft and a fifth round pick in the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft. 
    In 20 games this season, Hausinger had three assists, 22 penalty minutes and a minus-seven rating in the plus-minus department.

McCarty goes down

    The Blades lost team scoring leader Mason McCarty to injury late in the second period.
    The 19-year-old winger has 14 goals and eight assists in 26 games. His status is uncertain for Saturday’s game against the Tigers.

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Sunday, 20 November 2016

It’s not all bad for Blades

Saskatoon needs to stay in mix for January

Braylon Shmyr zips up ice for the Blades.
    If you’re a fan of the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades, you might be panicking like the sky is fall or groaning that it is “here we go again” time.
    Starting Thursday, “the Bridge City Bunch” began a stretch where they play three games in three nights and fell convincingly each night out. On Thursday night, the Blades fell at home 5-1 to the Moose Jaw Warriors (13-4-4).
    On Friday, Saskatoon hit the road for Brandon and was thrashed 8-1 at the hands of the Wheat Kings (12-7-3). The Blades and Wheat Kings went at it again on Saturday, and Brandon came away with a 6-3 victory.
    Thanks to this current three-game skid, the Blades fell to 9-14-1 and sit ninth overall in the WHL’s Eastern Conference standings. They are two points behind the Lethbridge Hurricanes (9-11-1-2) for eighth overall in the WHL’s Eastern Conference and the conference’s final berth in the WHL playoffs. The Hurricanes also have one game in hand on the Blades.
    Trailing both of those teams in the standings is the Calgary Hitmen (8-9-2). The Hitmen are one point behind the Blades with five games in hand and three points behind the Hurricanes with four games in hand.
    With Saskatoon having not made the playoffs since 2013, fans might worry the Blades are hitting that November wall, which could adversely affect the team’s post-season chances. The grind of the WHL schedule usually kicks in for most teams when the calendar turns to November, and with a club that hasn’t experienced much success in recent years like the Blades, Saskatoon fans likely have that sinking feeling.
    It also has to be said that all hope is not lost. While this might sound strange, the Blades will be in good shape, if they remain in the playoff hunt when January begins.
    From September to the end of December, Saskatoon’s regular season schedule is really road heavy. The Blades play 15 times at home and 24 times on the road.
    When the new year starts, the Blades regular season schedule rounds out with 21 home dates and 12 road contests. That schedule will work in Saskatoon’s advantage.
    If you in a playoff chase, you want to be playing at home as much as possible down the stretch when the pressure heats up. It helps a little more with keeping your team in a somewhat regular and consistent daily routine, and you also have the chance to catch an opponent in a bus lagged moment, which creates a chance for an easier win.
Goaltender Logan Flodell has been solid for the Blades.
    The Blades also have some bright spots to potentially lean on. Despite the recent losses, goaltender Logan Flodell is having a strong campaign. The Regina product has posted an 8-7 record, a 3.05 goals against average, a .913 save percentage and two shutouts.
    He will likely be the workhorse the Blades rely on during the second half.
    Gritty right-winger Mason McCarty has had a good start netting 14 goals and seven assists in 24 games to lead the Blades in scoring. The defensive pairing of overager Bryton Sayers and Czech import Libor Hajek have been a duo you can lean on.
    Sayers has three goals, nine assists and an even rating in the plus-minus department. Hajek, who is a second round NHL Entry Draft selection of the Tampa Bay Lightning, has 10 assists and a minus-five rating in 22 appearances.
    Saskatoon has stayed in the hunt so far despite having a trio of key players out with extended injuries. Star centre Cameron Hebig has been gone the entire season to date with an upper body injury.
    Last season, Hebig had 26 goals and 43 assists in 59 games. His offensive touch would be a huge addition back to the active roster whenever he returns.
    Left-winger Jesse Shynkaruk has missed 13 games with an upper body injury. He was off to a nice start with six goals and three assists in 11 games. The local overage product is set to come off the injury list.
Libor Hajek controls the puck at the point for the Blades.
    As a result of that development, the Blades dealt overage left-winger Ryan Graham to the Swift Current Broncos on Sunday in exchange for a second round selection in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft and a 4th round selection in the 2018 Bantam Draft.
    The move keeps the Blades active roster at the maximum of three overage players including Shynkaruk, Sayers and left-winger Kolten Olynek.
    Defenceman Jake Kustra has been down for 15 games with an upper body injury, and he was expected to be a solid piece on the back end as a 17-year-old sophomore.
    Had Hebig, Shynkaruk and Kustra not missed significant time, the Blades would likely have had a better record to date.
    Dean Brockman has had to do some juggling as a rookie WHL head coach. Before joining the Blades as an assistant coach in June of 2014, Brockman had a storied stay in the junior A ranks with the Humboldt Broncos, where he developed the reputation of being a players’ coach. He has the ability to make his players see the way.
    The Blades return to action on Tuesday, when they travel to Swift Current to face the Broncos (11-7-2-4). That contest provides another chance to stay afloat. If the Blades can remain in the playoff hunt through a tough first four months, the light is at the end of the tunnel.

Hilltops celebrate another championship campaign

Hilltops RB Logan Fischer shares the Canadian Bowl with some young fans.
    The Saskatoon Hilltops are enjoying the spoils of another Canadian Junior Football League championship.
    The Toppers claimed the Canadian Bowl with a 37-25 victory over the Westshore Rebels on Nov. 12 in Langford, B.C. The win marked the third straight year the Hilltops claimed the Canadian Bowl, and they became the first team to win six CJFL titles over a seven year period. Saskatoon has won a total of 19 CJFL championships.
    For just over the past week, the Hilltops have been enjoying the well wishes from the citizens of Saskatoon. On Saturday, they enjoyed their year-end Len Richardson Memorial Awards Banquet at the Radisson Hotel.
    The event featured lots of praise for outgoing starting star quarterback in the humble Jared Andreychuk. Andreychuk became the first Hilltops quarterback to start and win three straight CJFL championship games posting a perfect career 9-0 post-season record. He also was a member of a Hilltops CJFL championship team in 2012 as the backup quarterback.
    He was named the most valuable player of the Prairie Football Conference this past season, and on Saturday, he claimed the Drs. Landa-Doig Award as the Hilltops most outstanding graduate. During the banquet, the Hilltops players often chanted “MVP” or called out “Goat” for greatest of all-time for Andreychuk because of his accomplishments.
    He took all the praise with a bit of an embarrassed smile.
    Also at the banquet, Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant gave a good shout out for the efforts of this blog in covering his team. The shout out was big time appreciated.
    On Sunday, the Hilltops made rounds with the Canadian Bowl trophy at the Santa Claus parade held in downtown Saskatoon. During the odd moment, star running back Logan Fischer brought the trophy over to groups of children for them to see and touch.
    The Hilltops were one of three Saskatoon-based teams at the parade with championship hardware. The Saskatoon Valkyries brought their championship trophy for winning the Western Women’s Canadian Football League, and the Saskatchewan Rush brought the Champion’s Cup for winning the National Lacrosse League title.
    Like the Valkyries and Rush, the Hilltops are likely to make a number of rounds to various stops in the city with their CJFL championship trophy.

Back in the Express with Huskies Zary

Captain Lauren Zary (#13) speeds up ice for the Huskies.
    I was back in the pages of the Saskatoon Express this week with a cover story on Lauren Zary, who is the captain of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team.
    Zary is in her fifth and final year of eligibility and joined the Huskies after playing for Brown University in the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Before joining the post-secondary ranks, Zary was a star with the Saskatoon Stars midget AAA team.
    The story seemed to be well-timed one. On Friday night at the ancient Rutherford Rink, Zary had a goal and three assists as the Huskies downed the University of Calgary Dinos 5-3. The Huskies followed that game up by blanking the Dinos 2-0 on Saturday night at Rutherford.
    With the wins, the Huskies, who are rated ninth in the U Sports top 10 rankings, improved to 9-3 to sit second in the Canada West Conference standings.
    The U of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team split a pair of road games on the weekend in Calgary. On Friday, they downed the U of Calgary Dinos 5-0. On Saturday, the Dinos claimed a 2-1 decision after a tiebreaking shootout against the Huskies.
    With those results, the Huskies mens’ team, who are rated third in the U Sports top 10 rankings, saw their record move to 8-2-2 to sit second in Canada West.
    The Huskies hockey teams return to action this coming weekend against the U of Manitoba Bisons.
    The Huskies women’s team hosts the Bisons this Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and 5 p.m. respectively at Rutherford. The Huskies men’s team travels to Winnipeg to face the Bisons this Friday and Saturday.
    The Saskatoon Express cover story on Zary can be found here.

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