Saturday, 26 May 2018

Better to be asterisks champ than no champ at Memorial Cup

Old Regina Pats collectables from the 2000-01 campaign.
    Being the asterisks champ is fine and dandy, if you are the host team at the Memorial Cup.
    On Sunday, the Memorial Cup tournament host Regina Pats will try to capture junior hockey’s most prestigious trophy for the fourth time, when they face the QMJHL champion Acadie-Bathurst Titan at 5 p.m. at the Brandt Centre. The Pats last claimed the Memorial Cup back in 1974 downing the Quebec Remparts 7-4 in the national final held in Calgary Alta.
    Of course, there are a lot of sports purists that will be big time upset, if the Pats win the CHL title after bowing out in the first round of the WHL playoffs.
The Pats celebrate a goal by Nick Henry on Wednesday.
    The Pats did finish seventh overall in the WHL regular season standings with a 40-25-6-1 record and were bounced in a tough seven game series to the Swift Current Broncos, who were second overall in the WHL regular season at 48-17-5-2.
    The Broncos would move on to win the WHL title and go 0-3 in the round robin portion of the Memorial Cup dropping each of their contests by a one-goal margin.
    Regina was idle for 45 days before taking part in the Memorial Cup. It appears the coaches and players used that time constructively, as the Pats seem to be fresher and physically stronger than the three league champions at the event.
    The Pats story this season eerily mirrors the story of the Pats from the 2000-01 campaign, when the franchise last hosted the Memorial Cup. In both campaigns, the Pats were hovering around .500 at the WHL Christmas break, they made a number of trades after the Christmas break leading to the WHL’s trade deadline to strengthen the club, had a strong second half of the regular season, bowed out in the first round of the WHL playoffs and had a strong showing at the Memorial Cup.
Pats captain Barret Jackman in action in 2000.
    In the 2000-01 campaign, the Pats finished fourth overall in the WHL with 40 wins, 27 losses, three ties and two overtime losses. They fell to the Calgary Hitmen in six games in the first round of the WHL playoffs and sat idle for 47 days before taking part in the Memorial Cup.
    The Pats fell in their first two round robin games before downing the WHL champion Red Deer Rebels 5-2 in their final round robin game and eliminating the OHL champion Ottawa 67’s in a standings tiebreaker game 5-0.
    At that time, I lived in Regina and spent a lot of social time around the Pats. During the break, the players’ consensus was they didn’t care about arguments about not deserving to be there or getting in by the backdoor.
    They were working hard over those 47 days off, so you might as well go out and win the thing and proved you belong in that event. For a club that did bow out in the first round of the WHL post-season, the players on the Pats that season were incredibly tight. 
    They were backed by the support of a bigger group of friends they made that campaign through the University of Regina’s athletic teams.
Members of the Pats, the U of R Rams football team and the U of R Cougars teams were frequently out together in the same social circles.
Filip Novak in action for the Pats in 2000 at the Moose Jaw Civic Centre.
    The Pats bonds were really evident during a heartbreaking 5-4 overtime semifinal loss to the Val-d’Or Foreurs on May 26, 2001. With the game tied 3-3, Pats captain Barret Jackman scored on a beauty set up from behind the Val-d’Or net by power forward Garth Murray to give Regina a 4-3 lead.
    The Foreurs forced overtime inside of the final minute when a point shot by star forward Simon Gamache deflected off the stick of Pats left-winger Kevin Korol past netminder Chad Davidson into the Regina goal to create a 4-4 tie. That set the Foreurs up to win the contest in overtime, when a centring pass from Val-d’Or defenceman Chris Lyness from behind the Pats net hit Davidson’s stick deflecting into the goal.
Garth Murray warms up for the Pats in 2000.
    The setback was a gut punch for the Pats, who came so terribly close to making the CHL’s championship game.
    A day later, the Foreurs fell in the Memorial Cup final 6-5 to the Rebels in overtime with defenceman Doug Lynch scoring the winning goal.
    Unlike the Pats squad of 2000-01, the current Pats entered the 2017-18 campaign on the heels of reaching the WHL Championship series last season for the first time in 33 years. Regina fell in the 2017 battle for the WHL title in six games to the Seattle Thunderbirds.
    Star centre Sam Steel, centre Jake Leschyshyn, left-winger Nick Henry, left-winger Robbie Holmes and defencemen Josh Mahura and Liam Schioler are the holdovers from that team.
    If the Pats beat the Titan on Sunday, they won’t go down as one of the greatest clubs in the history of junior hockey that is revered like the 2004-05 London Knights, the 1994-95 Kamloops Blazers or the 1970-71 Quebec Remparts.
Captain Sam Steel will look to have another big game for the Pats on Friday.
    This year’s Pats won’t be held in the same esteem as their 1973-74 club that won the Memorial Cup by capturing a league championship along the way.
    Had the Pats found a way last year to win the WHL title series against the Thunderbirds and capture the Memorial Cup, they would be in that discussion amongst the greatest junior teams having a dream season topping the WHL regular season standings with a 52-12-7-1 record.
    The current Pats still have a huge opportunity to get their hands on junior hockey’s most prestigious trophy with one more win.
   The game will attract a large number of casual fans who will be engaged in the game and not care how the Pats got to that point. They will be consumed by the game in the present.
The Pats hope to celebrate a Memorial Cup title win on Sunday.
    If the Memorial Cup on Sunday means being viewed as backdoor champions, the Pats have enough good players and character to ensure they will do everything they can to make that happen.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.
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Friday, 25 May 2018

Steel cashes in on goalie gaff, Pats off to Memorial Cup final

Captain Sam Steel scored the winning goal for the Pats on Friday.
    If you give Sam Steel a golden opportunity, he is going to take it.
    On Friday night in the semifinal contest of the Memorial Cup tournament at the Brandt Centre, the host Regina Pats were holding a slim 2-1 lead in the third period over the OHL champion Hamilton Bulldogs. On a Regina dump in, Bulldogs netminder Kaden Fulcher came way out of his crease and nonchalantly passed the puck into an open area of the ice.
    The puck went on the stick of Steel, who is the Pats star captain. Fulcher fell down to the ice after being stick checked by Pats left-winger Nick Henry. Steel easily skated around the fallen goalie and placed the puck into an empty cage to give the Pats a 3-1 edge with 5:55 to play in the frame.
    That tally turned out to be very key. Just 73 second later, Bulldogs right-winger Will Bitten broke down the right wing of the Regina zone on a breakaway and lifted home a shot to the top right corner on Pats netminder Max Paddock to cut the Regina lead to 3-2. Bitten was sent in on his breakaway on a beauty spring pass from Bulldogs defenceman Benjamin Gleason.
    Hamilton couldn’t net the equalizer.
    Steel’s gift goal turned out to be the winner. He later came up with a key shot block in the final minute. Seconds after that shot block, Steel gave a set up to centre Jake Leschyshyn for an easy empty-net goal with 5.2 seconds remaining in the third to deliver the Pats to a 4-2 victory to send the announced sellout crowd of 6,484 spectators into a frenzy.
Pats centre Jake Leschyshyn scored into an empty net on Friday.
    With the win, the Pats improved to 3-1 in the CHL championship tournament and advanced to Sunday’s championship final to face the QMJHL champion Acadie-Bathurst Titan (2-1) at 5 p.m. at the Brandt Centre.
    Besides Steel’s big plays, the difference in Friday’s contest was the play of the goaltenders on both sides.
    Fulcher had by far the best statics in the round robin portion of the Memorial Cup. He was good but not outstanding in the Hamilton goal on Friday turning away 20 of 23 shots sent his way, which included the lapse on Steel’s winning goal. The Bulldogs finished the tournament with a 2-2 record.
    Max Paddock, who is the Pats rookie 17-year-old netminder, had a couple of shaky games during the round robin portion of the tournament, but looked like a rookie phenom making 44 saves against the Bulldogs.
    His biggest stops came after the Pats lead shrank to 3-2. Bulldogs left-winger Marian Studenic drove down the right wing and had an initial shot stopped and a rebound shot turned away by Paddock.
Goalie Max Paddock made 44 saves for the Pats on Friday.
    After the Bulldogs pulled Fulcher for an extra attacker, Paddock stoned Bulldogs right-winger MacKenzie Entwistle on a wraparound and Bitten on the rebound chance.
    That set the stage for Steel’s shot block inside of the final minute and his set up to Leschyshyn for the empty-net tally.
    Inside the first minute of the first period, the Bulldogs tried to set a physical tone as defenceman Riley Stillman nailed Pats right-winger Cameron Hebig with a big open ice hit.
    The Pats struck first scoring 5:22 into the first period, when right-winger Austin Pratt knocked home the rebound from an Emil Oksanen shot to go ahead 1-0.
    The Bulldogs evened thing up at 1-1 at the 7:35 mark of the second, when defenceman Nicolas Mattinen one-timed home a shot from the point off a set up pass from Gleason. Mattinen had been a bit snakebitten in the Memorial Cup firing a number of shots off goalposts, which included hitting the crossbar of the Regina net late in the first period of Friday’s game. 
Cameron Hebig had a goal for the Pats on Friday.
    Regina jumped back out in front 2-1 at the 11-minute mark of the second, when Hebig fired home a shot from the front of the Hamilton net after taking a good set up pass from offensive defenceman Josh Mahura.
    A short time after Hebig’s tally, Bulldogs captain Justin Lemcke took down Pats left-winger Bryce Platt in one of the rare fights that have occurred in about the last two decades of the Memorial Cup tournament.
    Lemcke’s attempt to spark his club had mixed results, as the Bulldogs fired a lot of shots at the Pats net but there wasn’t an explosion of offence for the Hamilton side.
    The Pats as team blocked a lot of Bulldogs shot attempts, and Regina brought a bit of a physical game too. Regina defenceman Cale Fleury had a big hot on Stillman in the third period.
    A week ago on May 18, the Pats and Bulldogs opened the Memorial Cup tournament with a round robin game that was claimed by the Pats 3-2, when Henry scored the winning goal in that contest with 32.6 seconds to play in the third period.
    The Bulldogs finished third overall in the OHL’s regular season standings with a 43-18-4-3 record and advanced through the playoffs with a 16-5 mark. The Bulldogs took out the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in six games in the OHL’s Championship series.
Josh Mahura had an assist for the Pats on Friday.
    In the third period of Friday’s game, the Bulldogs lost a number of hustle plays and physical battles to the Pats.
    The Pats entered the Memorial Cup off a stretch of having 45 days off after being eliminated in Game 7 of a tough first round WHL playoff series on April 2 to the Swift Current Broncos, who won the WHL title. The Broncos were eliminated in the Memorial Cup after going 0-3 in the round robin with all three setback coming by a one-goal margin.
    The Pats finished seventh overall in the WHL’s regular season with a 40-25-6-1 record and will attempt to win their fourth Memorial Cup title in team history, with the last championship coming back in 1974 when the tournament was held in Calgary.
    The Titan finished second overall in the QMJHL’s regular season standings with a 43-15-8-2 record and went 16-4 in the playoffs. Acadie-Bathurst claimed the round robin clash with Regina at the Memorial Cup 8-6 on May 20.
    As five out of the seven games played at the Memorial Cup were decided by one goal and two were decided by two-goals, this Memorial Cup has been one of the tightest contested ever, and which should bode well for expectations of excitement in Sunday’s championship final.

Viveiros departs Broncos for NHL’s Oilers

Head coach Manny Viveiros mans the Swift Current Broncos bench.
    After two memorable seasons with the Swift Current Broncos, Manny Viveiros is moving on to the NHL.
    On Thursday at a news conference in Swift Current, Viveiros stepped down as the head coach and director of player personnel for the Broncos to become an assistant coach with the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers.
    The 52-year-old from St. Alberta, Alta., led the Broncos to a 10th overall finish in the WHL’s regular season standings in 2016-17 with a 39-23-4-6 record. The Broncos advanced to the second round of the WHL playoffs falling in a tough seven-game series to the Regina Pats, who would advance to the WHL Championship series.
    This past season, Viveiros guided the Broncos to the second best record in the WHL’s regular season at 48-17-5-2. The Broncos set a record playing 26 games in the WHL playoffs winning the Ed Chynoweth Cup and capturing the league title for the first since 1993. Swift Current advanced to the Memorial Cup tournament to play for the CHL title.
    At the Memorial Cup tournament in Regina, Sask., the Broncos went 0-3 in round robin play falling by a one-goal margin each time out.
Manny Viveiros lifts the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
    Before joining the Broncos, Viveiros coached Austria’s national team at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. After the Olympics, Viveiros coached ERC Ingolstadt of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (Del) as an assistant coach in 2014 and head coach in 2015.
    In WHL circles, Viveiros is remembered for playing four season for the Prince Albert Raiders from 1982 to 1986 appearing in 251 regular season games collecting 60 goals and 261 assists. He helped the Raiders win the Memorial Cup in 1985.
    Viveiros was selected in the sixth round and 106th overall in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft by the Oilers. He appeared in 29 NHL regular seasons over three seasons from 1985 to 1988 with the Minnesota North Stars collecting one goal and 11 assists. He spent 16 seasons playing professionally in Austria from 1991 to 2007.
    The Broncos also announced director of business operations Dianne Sletten is moving to other pursuits leaving the team after six seasons.

Does the “Curse of the Drop” still live?

    Friday marked the 10th anniversary of one of the infamous and biggest blooper moments in the history of the Memorial Cup.
    On May 25, 2008, the WHL champion Spokane Chiefs downed the host Kitchener Rangers 4-1 in the Memorial Cup tournament’s championship game. It marked the second time the Chiefs captured the Memorial Cup to become CHL champions.
    After winning the title in 2008, Chiefs captain Chris Bruton accepted the Memorial Cup. Bruton turned and was going to give the Memorial Cup to defenceman Trevor Glass. Glass, who was in his 19-year-old season at the time, was with the Medicine Hat Tigers the previous campaign when they won the WHL title and fell 3-1 in the Memorial Cup championship game to the host Vancouver Giants.
    As Bruton reached out to hand the Memorial Cup to Glass, the trophy separated at the neck and fell to the ice to the shock of the spectators in Kitchener, Ont.
    Following that moment the WHL went on its longest drought ever of not winning major junior hockey’s biggest prize spanning five seasons from 2009 to 2013. Clubs from the WHL first became eligible to play for the Memorial Cup in the 1970-1971 campaign.
    The drought was broken by the Edmonton Oil Kings in 2014. Edmonton was playing to honour the memory of former player Kristians Pelss, who was with Edmonton’s 2012 WHL championship team and passed away in 2013 due to a recreation diving accident.
    After the Oil Kings win, the WHL entry was unable to win the next three Memorial Cup tournaments. The WHL has won one of the last nine Memorial Cup tournament, so the host Regina Pats will try and make that record two for the last 10, when they face the QMJHL champion Acadie-Bathurst Titan in Sunday’s championship game (5 p.m., Brandt Centre).
    The video of the Chiefs mishap with the Memorial Cup can be found below.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.
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Thursday, 24 May 2018

The heart of the WHL champion Broncos will live forever

The Broncos celebrate a goal from captain Glenn Gawdin, centre.
    REGINA, Sask. – They might have been running on fumes, but the Swift Current Broncos kept finding the emotional energy to keep pushing forward at the Memorial Cup.
    During their appearance in the CHL championship tournament, the Broncos showed the heart that allowed them to win the WHL championship this season. It marked the first time they won the league title in 25 years.
    The Broncos are responsible for the last three WHL championship victories by a Saskatchewan based club capturing the league crown this year, in 1993 and 1989. At the Memorial Cup, the Broncos were ultimately done in by the number of games they have played in the 2017-18 campaign.
    On Wednesday before a sellout crowd of 6,484 spectators at the Brandt Centre, the Broncos fell 6-5 to the host Regina Pats and were eliminated from making the Memorial Cup’s playoff round finishing last in the round robin at 0-3. Each Broncos setback came by a one-goal margin.
    Wednesday marked the 101st time the Broncos hit the ice for a hockey game in 2017-18 including action in the regular season, WHL playoffs and the Memorial Cup tournament. The Broncos played a record 26 games in the WHL post-season to capture the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
    Broncos head coach and director of player personnel Manny Viveiros said fatigue was setting in for his club at Wednesday’s post-game press conference, but he loved the battle his player kept continuing to show.
Colby Sissons created late excitement for the Broncos on Wednesday.
    “Our mistakes were I thought throughout this tournament were tired mistakes,” said Viveiros. “Our group is tired.
    “I noticed that coming into this tournament especially going into the first game and especially in that second game. Our energy level was very, very low. Normally when you are tired, you are going to make mistakes.
    “I am so proud of that group. It is a real special group, and (they) work real hard.”
    Injuries were piling up too. The Broncos lost star right-winger Tyler Steenbergen due to a concussion in their first game at the Memorial Cup, which was a 4-3 overtime setback to the QMJHL champion Acadie-Bathurst Titan last Saturday. 
    Star captain Glenn Gawdin had been playing with a separated should since the third round of the WHL playoffs, and Russian import defenceman Artyom Minulin needs surgery to fix a shoulder injury that he has been playing with.
    While all those things were working against them, the Broncos heart showed on Wednesday, when they refused to go away trailing 5-2 in the third period. A comeback attempt was sparked, when star Finnish import left-winger Aleksi Heponiemi scored with 5:38 to play in the frame to cut the Pats lead to 5-3.
Captain Glenn Gawdin piled up points while playing hurt.
    After the Broncos pulled netminder Stuart Skinner for an extra attacker, overage star centre Giorgio Estephan lifted a shot over the shoulder of Pats netminder Max Paddock with 2:49 to play in the frame cutting the Pats lead to 5-4.
    Regina appeared to restore order, when Czech import defenceman Libor Hajek scored a power-play goal with 1:37 to play in the third giving the Pats a 6-4 edge.
    The Broncos still didn’t go away at that point. Gawdin collected the rebound from a point shot taken by offensive defenceman Colby Sissons and popped home a power-play goal with 49.5 seconds to play cutting the Pats edge to 6-5.
    Swift Current kept pushing right up to the final buzzer of the third. In the dying seconds of the frame, Pats centre Matthew Bradley poked the puck out to the centre ice zone, and the Regina side began celebrating victory including the players on the ice and the coaches and players on the bench.
Broncos fans were loud and proud cheering on their team.
    Sissons tracked the puck down and fired a Hail Mary shot towards the Pats net. The puck went past an oblivious Paddock and defenceman Josh Mahura into the goal with 0.1 seconds remaining on the clock. Four Broncos players were pinned deep in the Regina zone, so Sissons potential equalizer didn’t count as the play was ruled offside.
    It was physically impossible for those Broncos players to clear the zone to prevent any play from being offside in that situation.
    With that said, Sissons never say die effort symbolized the resolve of the Broncos for the entire 2017-18 campaign, and that resolve almost allowed them to continue playing.
    The team’s resolve was shared by the club’s fans, who traveled from Swift Current and area in droves for the squad’s three Memorial Cup games. A lot of the supporters were farmers who took a break from planting crops in the fields to go cheer on their hockey team. The Broncos fans were just happy to see their team competing in major junior hockey’s most prestigious tournament.
    The Broncos fans provided one of the warmest moments of the event on Monday, when they gave a rousing ovation to Skinner after he received a first star award for making 54 saves in a 2-1 loss to the OHL champion Hamilton Bulldogs.
Aleksi Heponiemi nearly sparked a rally on Wednesday.
    Swift Current’s story was so good that it would been nice to see it continue.
    Still, the Broncos gave Swift Current an area a season to remember. They finished second overall in the WHL with a 48-17-5-2.
    Steenbergen scored the gold medal game winning goal for Canada at the world juniors that wrapped up in January in Buffalo, New York. Of course, they had a memorable post-season run to capture the WHL title.
    The run included the “Miracle at the i-Plex,” where the Broncos overcame a 3-0 deficit to down the Everett Silvertips 4-3 in overtime in Game 2 of the WHL Championship series at the Innovation Credit Union i-Plex. The Broncos won the league crown in Game 6 on home ice with a 3-0 win over the Silvertips.
    The heart of the 2017-18 Broncos will never be forgotten in Swift Current and area, and it will always be a warm memory in the city “where life makes sense.”

Media arrive at Memorial Cup in large numbers

Media members converge around Broncos goalie Stuart Skinner.
    In an era where the mainstream media has been cut to less than skeleton crew levels in Canada, it was a great to see a large media presence at the Memorial Cup.
    The media riser at the west end of the Brandt Centre has been full for all games at the Memorial Cup so far. The media scrums around players have been some of the largest I have seen in 19 seasons covering major junior hockey.
    Of course, all the media outlets from Regina are represented, and a number of media staffers have made appearances from smaller Saskatchewan centres.
    There has been some representation from media outside the province including a reporter from Prince George, B.C.
    For the younger members of the media, you can tell it is a big thing for them to be at the Memorial Cup. It was refreshing to see that as the number of people that cover the major junior hockey ranks in Canada on a beat writing basis has shrunk greatly over the last seven years.
    The more seasoned media members have enjoyed meeting the younger media members, but they seem to really enjoy renewing old links with other veteran media members they haven’t seen for a while.
    Face to face contact among media members covering sports doesn’t happen as often as it once did. With the way life changes, there is always uncertainty if you will cross paths with old friends from the media world in a media setting.
The media riser has been filled at the Memorial Cup.
    One of the best sights came after Wednesday’s round robin game, where the host Regina Pats downed the WHL champion Swift Current Broncos 6-5. 
    Due to the game starting at 8 p.m. local time, many were fighting deadlines and were trying to get work completed at an hour that wasn’t totally insane. For 8 p.m. starts, it is common for media members to finally leave the rink at 2 a.m.
    To help each other out, media members were sharing quotes and facts to help complete work faster.
    The influx of media members has to be viewed as a good thing for those that oversee the Memorial Cup. At a lot of national championship sporting events in Canada, you are often lucky to get a maximum of 10 members of the sports media out at your event. Often you might see less than five media members.
    About 20 years ago, one of the ways a sporting event was trumpeted as being a big thing was from the fact a large number of media members covered the event. That practice has long been abandoned, because of the dwindling numbers of sports media staffers in Canada.
    For those that manage the CHL, they can take comfort in the fact sports media member still want to go to the Memorial Cup, and it has a lustre. A lot of other national championship sports events in Canada can’t make the same claim.

Steel equaled record with five assist game

Regina Pats captain Sam Steel, right, had a record Wednesday night.
    Regina Pats captain Sam Steel joined some elite company on Wednesday night in the Memorial Cup record book.
    The star centre from Sherwood Park, Alta., collected five assists in the Pats 6-5 round robin victory over the WHL champion Swift Current Broncos before a sellout crowd of 6,484 spectators at the Brandt Centre. Steel equaled the record for most assists in one game at the Memorial Cup dating back to when it started to be played in a tournament format back in 1972.
    Two others also recorded five assists in one game at the Memorial Cup since it has been contented in tournament format. Back on May 14, 1985, centre Dan Hodgson had five assists for the Prince Albert Raiders, when they slipped past the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds 8-6 in a round robin game. The Raiders won that tournament held in Shawinigan and Drummondville, Que.
    On May 26, 2013, centre Jonathan Drouin of the Halifax Mooseheads recorded five assists in a 6-4 victory over the Portland Winterhawks in the Memorial Cup championship game, when the event was staged in Saskatoon, Sask.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.
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Wednesday, 23 May 2018

“Man of Steel” rises again for Pats in 6-5 win over Broncos

Regina eliminates Swift Current from Memorial Cup

Captain Sam Steel pushed the Pats into the Memorial Cup semifinal.
    REGINA, Sask. – The Regina Pats needed every bit of Sam Steel’s heroics as “the Man of Steel.”
    The Pats captain had five assists to help his team outlast a determined Swift Current Broncos side 6-5 in the final round robin game for both clubs at the Memorial Cup championship tournament on Wednesday night at the Brandt Centre.
    Steel’s effort almost wasn’t enough as Broncos captain Glenn Gawdin and Finnish import left-winger Aleksi Heponiemi pulled a Batman and Robin act to give the WHL champions every shot to pull out a victory before a sellout crowd of 6,484 spectators. 
    Gawdin had two goals and an assist, while Heponiemi had a goal and three assists.
Glenn Gawdin had two goals and an assist for the Broncos.
    With the win, the Pats conclude the round robin portion of the tournament with a 2-1 record and advance to play the OHL champion Hamilton Bulldogs (2-1) in a semifinal playoff game on Friday at 8 p.m. at the Brandt Centre.
    The QMJHL champion Acadie Bathurst Titan (2-1) qualified for the championship contest of the Memorial Cup thanks to the result of Wednesday’s round robin game. While the Pats, Bulldogs and Titan all had identical round robin records, the Titan finished first and the Bulldogs second thanks to a tiebreaking rule that used a mathematical formula involving the goals for and goals against between the three clubs in their head-to-head games.
    The Broncos finished 0-3 in the round robin portion of the Memorial Cup and were eliminated from making the playoff round of the CHL championship tournament.
Aleksi Heponiemi had a goal and three assists for the Broncos.
    Swift Current lost all three of its games at the Memorial Cup by a one-goal margin. The Broncos had finished second overall in the WHL’s regular season standings with a 48-17-5-2 mark.
    “They (the Broncos) are just a really good team,” said Steel. “They have a lot of heart to fight back.
    “We saw that tonight. We played a good game, got up and we knew they were going to have a push. It was good.”
    Steel helped the Pats go ahead 1-0 at the 7:36 mark of the first period, while working on the power play. The Sherwood Park, Alta., product found linemate Nick Henry with a backdoor pass in the left slot, and Henry fired home his first of three goals on the night.
    The Pats extended their lead to 2-0 at the 10:29 mark of the third working on another power play.
Left-winger Nick Henry had a hat trick for the Pats.
    Steel passed the puck from the right boards to linemate Cameron Hebig at the left post of the Swift Current goal, and Hebig redirected the puck into the net to give Regina a two-goal edge.
    At that point, the goals came at a rapid pace. Gawdin netted his first of the night at the 11:46 mark of the second to cut the Pats lead to 2-1. Steel set up Henry for his second goal of the contest at the 16:09 mark of the second, while Regina was short-handed to make the score 3-1 in the Pats favour.
    Just 23 seconds after Henry’s short-handed marker, Beck Malenstyn scored a power-play goal for Swift Current to cut Regina’s edge to 3-2.
Broncos D Artyom Minulin turns the corner on Pats RW Cameron Hebig.
    The Pats extended their lead to 4-2, when Steel found Henry with a crazy pass across the face of the Broncos goal. Henry fired his third tally of the night into the open left side of the net.
    “I just had a couple of good passes and guys were putting it in,” said Steel. “They were finding the right spots.
    “It is good to chip in. We got the win, and that is the most important thing. I’m just focused on getting a championship here.”
    The Pats appeared to seal the game away, when left-winger Bryce Platt scored at the 10:43 mark of the third period to put Regina up 5-2.
Libor Hajek scored the winning goal for the Pats.
    The Broncos fought back again. Heponiemi scored at the 14:22 mark of third, and Giorgio Estephan flipped a close in shot over Pats netminder Max Paddock at the 17:11 mark of the third to cut the Regina lead to 5-4. Estephan scored his goal after the Broncos pulled netminder Stuart Skinner for an extra attacker.
    With 2:12 to play in the third, the Broncos were penalized for too many men during a mix up, when they tried to pull Skinner again for an extra attacker. The extra attacker jumped on to the ice, while Skinner froze on his way to the Swift Current bench.
    On the ensuing power play, Steel got the puck to Czech import defenceman Libor Hajek. Hajek skated low slot to the left side of the Swift Current goal and put a shot past Skinner to give the Pats a 6-4 lead with 1:37 to play.
    Just as the Pats faithful were heavy in their celebrations, Gawdin potted his second of the contest with 49.5 seconds to play in the third to cut the Pats edge to 6-5. Gawdin’s goal came with the Broncos working on the power play.
    At that point, the sizable contingent of Broncos fans in attendance roared louder than they had at any point in the game.
The Pats celebrate Libor Hajek’s winning goal.
    In the final seconds, the Pats had a couple of big shot blocks, which helped preserve victory.
Paddock made 26 stops to pick up the win in goal for the Pats. Skinner turned away 22 shots to take the setback in goal for the Broncos.
    Way back on April 2, the Broncos knocked the Pats out of the WHL playoffs taking Game 7 of a first round series 3-2 at the Innovation Credit Union i-Plex in Swift Current. Steel said the Pats expected a big battle.
    “We knew what was on the line,” said Steel. “We knew these guys knocked us out.
    “We knew they were a really good team. We came out hungry.”
    Pats head coach and general manager John Paddock was pleased with Steel’s product on Wednesday, and the veteran bench boss said he was impressed with how Steel ensures he always ready to play.
    “He does everything he possibly can to prepare himself to play a game in practice,” said Paddock. “I think it relates a lot to his upbringing.
The fans at the Brandt Centre salute the Pats after their win.
    “He is extremely skilled. You just never have to worry about him. That is a really good compliment for a player when you don’t have to worry about him being ready to play.”
    Now the Pats look forward to playing the Bulldogs. Regina beat Hamilton 3-2 in the round robin clash between the two sides to open the Memorial Cup back on May 18. Henry scored the winning goal in that contest with 32.6 seconds to play in the third period.
    “We heard they weren’t too happy with their play,” said Steel, who leads all players in scoring at the Memorial Cup with one goal and 10 assists. “We expect a better performance out of them.
    “We have to be prepared for it and just come out and lay it all on the line.”

Stanley Cup pays a visit, other notes

Broncos supporters are picture with the Stanley Cup and Memorial Cup.
    Two of hockey’s biggest trophies were the centre of attention at Fanfest on Wednesday.
    The Stanley Cup made a visit to the Memorial Cup tournament, and fans could have their pictures taken with it and the Memorial Cup at the same time. It was a rare opportunity to see the biggest prize in professional hockey and major junior hockey at the same time.
    There was a pretty healthy lineup of fans willing to see both trophies in the 75 minutes leading up to Wednesday’s contest. With the final round robin clash featuring the two Saskatchewan entries at the Memorial Cup, fans wearing apparel of the WHL champion Swift Current Broncos and the host Regina Pats dominated the lineup of people waiting to have their pictures taken with the two iconic trophies.
  • During the press conference following Swift Current’s elimination from the tournament on Wednesday, Broncos head coach and director of player personnel Manny Viveiros said the club’s star right-winger Tyler Steenbergen suffered a concussion in the team’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Acadie-Bathurst Titan last Saturday. Steenbergen missed the Broncos last two round robin games. Viveiros said Broncos captain Glenn Gawdin has been playing with a separated shoulder since the third round of the WHL post-season and Russian import defenceman Artyom Minulin is going to have shoulder surgery in the off-season.
  • Including play in the regular season, WHL playoffs and the Memorial Cup tournament, the Broncos too the ice 101 games in 2017-18.
  • The round robin portion of the Memorial Cup was extremely competitive as five of the six games were decided by a one-goal margin. The one contest that wasn’t decided by a one-goal margin came last Sunday, when the Acadie-Bathurst Titan downed the Pats 8-6 with the aid of an empty-net goal.
  • Bulldogs 19-year-old netminder Kaden Fulcher tops all goalies at the Memorial Cup with the lowest goals against average at 2.01 and the highest save percentage at .931. Fulcher is the only starting puck stopper to have a goals against average that is under three goals allowed per game.
  • The annual Memorial Cup tournament brings together people from all over the hockey world. On Monday, I got to visit veteran junior hockey broadcaster Peter Loubardias, Swift Current Broncos athletic trainer Jamie LeBlanc, Regina Pats athletic trainer Greg Mayer and Prince Albert Raiders athletic trainer Duane Bartley at the same time. All four are great people, and you felt like you were hanging out with the cool kids when you are around them.
    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.
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Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Bulldogs slip past Titan 3-2 at Memorial Cup

Both squads ensured a top two finish in round robin standings

Robert Thomas had the winning goal for the Bulldogs on Tuesday.
    The Hamilton Bulldogs made sure they won’t be involved in a standings tiebreaker game and will now wait to see where they will sit for the playoff round of the Memorial Cup.
    On Tuesday at the Brandt Centre in Regina, the Bulldogs downed the QMJHL champion Acadie-Bathurst Titan 3-2 in the final round robin game for both clubs. Both teams have identical 2-1 records and will finish in the top two positions of the round robin standings.
    At the moment, the Bulldogs sit in first place thanks to their head-to-head win with the Titan. Hamilton will make Sunday’s championship final, if the host Regina Pats (1-1) fall to the WHL champion Swift Current Broncos (0-2) in Wednesday’s final round robin game. The Pats and Broncos go at it at 8 p.m. at the Brandt Centre.
    If the Pats beat the Broncos on Wednesday, the Broncos will be eliminated from the CHL championship tournament. The Pats would improve to 2-1 and invoke the three-way tiebreaking rules between them, the Bulldogs and the Titan.
    Under a mathematical formula involving the goals for and goals against between the three clubs in their head-to-head games, the Titan would vault to first place, the Bulldogs would finish second and face the Pats in Friday’s semifinal contest set for 8 p.m. at the Brandt Centre.
Netminder Kaden Fulcher made 33 saves for the Bulldogs on Tuesday.
    If the Broncos beat the Pats on Wednesday, those two clubs will go at it again on Thursday at 6 p.m. in a standings tiebreaker game at the Brandt Centre.
    As for Tuesday’s game, the Bulldogs jumped out to a quick start on the scoreboard in the first period. At the 14:33 mark of the first, Bulldogs defenceman Benjamin Gleason fired home a point shot through a screen for a power-play goal to give Hamilton a 1-0 lead.
    The OHL champions expanded their edge to 2-0 at the 17:27 mark of the first, when right-winger MacKenzie Entwistle fed a pass across the front of the Titan net to linemate Nicholas Caamano, who buried his first of the tournament.
    The Titan cut the Bulldogs lead to 2-1 at the 14:11 mark of the second period, when captain Jeffery Truchon-Viel converted a backdoor pass from offensive defenceman Noah Dobson.
    Just 64 seconds into the third, the Bulldogs struck again on the power play to go ahead 3-1, when star centre Robert Thomas ripped home a shot from the right slot to the top right corner of the Acadie-Bathurst goal.
    The Titan didn’t go away. They cut the gap to 3-2 at the 3:44 mark of the third, when centre Samuel Asselin redirected a backdoor feed from Truchon-Viel into the Hamilton goal.
    Acadie-Bathurst couldn’t find the equalizer allowing the Bulldogs to pull out their second straight win.
Benjamin Gleason had the Bulldogs first goal on Tuesday.
    In one the stranger things you will see in a game, the Titan went on the power play with 1:34 to play in the third but elected to not pull netminder Evan Fitzpatrick for a six-on-four advantage in the number of skaters on the ice to push for the equalizer.
    With one goal separating the two clubs, the Acadie-Bathurst coaches elected not to pull Fitzpatrick to avoid giving up an empty-net goal to upset the mathematical formula involving a standings tiebreaker between themselves, the Bulldogs and the Pats.
    Had the Bulldogs defeated the Titan by two goals on Tuesday, Hamilton would have locked up a berth in Sunday’s championship game. Hamilton fell 3-2 to the Pats in the tournament’s opening game last Friday. The Titan downed the Pats 8-6 in their round robin meeting on Sunday.
    Kaden Fulcher made 33 saves to pick up the win for the Bulldogs on Tuesday. Fitzpatrick turned away 31 shots to take the setback in goal for the Titan on Tuesday.
    An announced crowd of 6,072 attended Tuesday’s game, but with a lot of empty seats visible at the rink, it appears there were a number of no shows.
    It is expected Wednesday clash between the host Pats and the Broncos could be the first game of this year’s tournament that could be a complete sellout.

Broncos fans bring extra atmosphere, other notes

Swift Current Broncos fans have invaded Regina for the Memorial Cup.
    When the Swift Current Broncos hit the ice at the Memorial Cup, you sometimes wonder if anyone was left in the city “where life makes sense.”
    On Monday when the WHL champion Broncos faced the OHL champion Hamilton Bulldogs, there was a huge invasion of fans sporting Broncos jerseys or apparel on to the Evraz Place grounds in Regina. For anyone that has attended Broncos games at the Innovation Credit Union i-Plex in Swift Current, they would recognize many of the Broncos supporters as regulars at games in Swift Current.
    When the Broncos faced the Bulldogs, the Broncos fans stormed into the Fanfest area. A handful spilled into the Brandt Celebration Zone pre-game.
    With Broncos making their first appearance in 25 years at the CHL’s championship tournament, the expressions on the faces of the Swift Current fans shows they are just happy their team has made it this far. Almost all of them are intent on just enjoying the fact the Broncos are playing in the Memorial Cup and that this year’s prestigious major junior tournament is located in a centre that is just a two-and-a-half hour drive east of Swift Current on the Trans-Canada Highway.
Swift Current Broncos fans gather outside the Brandt Centre.
    Back in 1993, the Memorial Cup was held in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., so it wasn’t as easy for Broncos fans to follow their team on the road. When the Broncos won the Memorial Cup in 1989 in Saskatoon, a healthy contingent from Swift Current made it out to the tourney in that year.
    Before Monday’s game, Broncos supporters could be heard in Fanfest getting warmed up before the game with chants of “let’s go Broncos” minutes before the doors of the Brandt Centre opened. When the doors swung open, many Swift Current supporters took up position in the standing room on the concourse ring to see their team warm up. A couple displayed signs.
    Upon hitting the ice during pre-game introductions, the Broncos were greeted with a deafening cheers.
    The cheers were muted for much of Monday’s clash, as the Bulldogs spend huge amounts of time in the Broncos end. Hamilton outshot Swift Current 22-4 after the first period and held a 1-0 lead.
Broncos fans did have spurts, when they hammered on their cowbells and attempted to get the “let’s go Broncos chant” going. They brought huge cheers at the 9:26 mark of the second, when offensive defenceman Colby Sissons scored on the power play to tie thing up at 1-1.
    From that point, the Bulldogs proceeded to tilt the ice keeping the puck in Swift Current’s end for long stretches, which kept the Swift Current supporters quiet. Eventually, Bulldogs left-winger Marian Studenic netting the winner with 2:01 remaining in the third period. 
Swift Current Broncos fans cheer on their team at the Memorial Cup.
    When the third period expired with the Bulldogs pulling out a 2-1 victory while holding a 56-22 edge in shots on goal, the Broncos fans saluted their side, when they left the ice. A huge ovation was given to Broncos netminder Stuart Skinner, when he reappeared on the ice to accept his award as the game’s first star. He had a spectacular performance making 54 saves, and he made sure to give an appreciative wave to the crowd before departing to the dressing room.
    The presence of the Broncos fans has added to the atmosphere of the Memorial Cup. Unfortunately, it might only last for one more game.
    The Broncos hit the ice against the host Regina Pats on Wednesday at 8 p.m. at the Brandt Centre. At 0-2, the Broncos need to win against the 1-1 Pats to stay alive in the tournament.
    If the Broncos can win to stay alive, they will ensure their supporters will return to the rink with them for another game.
  • The best of the Regina Pats fans definitely showed up for their round robin game on Sunday. Judging by the stands, there were very few no shows of the 5,832 spectators who bought tickets to that contest. Even after the Pats fell behind 7-2 early in the third period to the QMJHL champion Acadie-Bathurst Titan, not that many in attendance left the rink. They got to see an inspired Pats comeback attempt. As the host side closed to 7-6, the cheers in the building were deafening. The rally was not to be as the Titan scored an empty-net goal to season an 8-6 victory.
  • On Tuesday, the CHL announced alums and current player used a total of over $9.6-million from the CHL Scholarship Program in the 2017-18 campaign. That included 910 graduates who utilized their scholarships at post-secondary institutions across North America totaling over $8-million. In addition, a total of over $1.6-million was spent for current CHL players attending high school and post-secondary institutions.
  • It is hard to judge the buzz for the Memorial Cup in Regina. When you are on the Evraz Place grounds, the buzz is there no matter who is in action. When you leave the Evraz Place grounds, it feels like the buzz is lacking. After covering Sunday’s game where the host Pats fell 8-6 to the Titan, I checked out the nightclub district on Dewdney Avenue. Only Gabbo’s was open, and it was steady. The workers and patrons inside had to be pretty much reminded the Pats were playing hockey again. The Pats were eliminated in tough seven game first round series in the WHL playoffs to the Swift Current Broncos and had 45 off days before playing in the Memorial Cup. The night action in Regina was a big contrast to the 2017 WHL playoffs, when the Pats made a long run falling in Game 6 of the WHL Championship series. Before 2017, the Pats last appeared in the WHL final in 1984. After Pats home games in the 2017 WHL playoffs, the night action with excited Pats supporters spilling into the Dewdney Avenue district was similar to what was seen when the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders make a run to the Grey Cup.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.
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Monday, 21 May 2018

Skinner nearly works a miracle for Broncos, Bulldogs prevail 2-1

Broncos G Stuart Skinner stones Bulldogs RW Isaac Nurse.
    REGINA, Sask. – Stuart Skinner gave his Swift Current Broncos every chance to win a game they were terribly outplayed in.
    The 19-year-old star netminder made 54 saves in Monday’s Memorial Cup round robin game against the Hamilton Bulldogs, but the Bulldogs just skated away with a 2-1 victory before an announced crowd of 5,820 spectators at the Brandt Centre.
    With the two clubs locked in 1-1 tie, the Bulldogs entered the Swift Current offensive zone on a well-executed rush late in the third period.
    Centre Brandon Saigeon passed the puck up to defenceman Benjamin Gleason.
MacKenzie Entwistle gave the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead in the first.
    Gleason found left-winger Marian Studenic with a backdoor pass across the front of the Swift Current net.
    Studenic corralled the puck at the right side of the Swift Current cage and fired a shot over top of a sprawled out Skinner with 2:01 to play in the third to give the Bulldogs a one-goal victory.
    Hamilton netminder Kaden Fulcher turned away 21 shots to pick up the win in goal for the OHL champs.
    “I felt good,” said Skinner. “I felt ready the whole time.
    “I know I want to win this thing really badly, and I know my team does too. We can make lots of excuses I’m sure. I think we just need to make sure that we come out harder to play.
    “When we show up, I believe that no team can beat us. If we show up the way that I know how we can, I think we will be just fine.”
Colby Sissons fired home a second period power-play goal for the Broncos.
    Hamilton went ahead 1-0 scoring on the power play at the 5:49 mark of the first period, when right-winger MacKenzie Entwistle fired home the rebound from a shot taken by linemate Ryan Moore.
    From that point, the Skinner made a number of huge stops for the rest of the frame, as the Bulldogs held a 22-4 edge in shots on goal.
    Early in the second period, Skinner made a huge glove stop to rob Bulldogs right-winger Isaac Nurse on a breakaway.
    The Broncos started to make a push back, and they had their first big scoring chance at the 7:47 mark of the second period, when right-winger Beck Malenstyn tried to poke a puck past Fulcher directly in front of the Hamilton net.
    Malenstyn was tackled to the ice by Bulldogs defenceman Nicolas Mattinen causing a scrum to ensure.
Broncos defenceman Sahvan Khaira wins a battle for the puck.
    The Broncos came away with a power-play chance, and they cashed in on that opportunity, when offensive defenceman Colby Sissons drove home a point shot to force a 1-1 tie.
    After that, Skinner kept filling up a highlight reel of big saves until Studenic scored late in the third.
    Shortly after Studenic’s goal, Skinner robbed Bulldogs star centre Robert Thomas with a glove stop on a breakaway chance.
    He received a big salute at the end of the game, when he came to pick up his award as the first star of the contest.
    “They came out, and they played hard,” said Skinner. “They played the right way.
    “They wanted it a lot more than we wanted it tonight.”
    The win allowed the Bulldogs to improve to 1-1 in the round robin standings.
Marian Studenic (#28) celebrates his game-winning goal.
    They face the QMJHL champion Acadie-Bathurst Titan (2-0) on Tuesday at 8 p.m. at the Brandt Centre in the final round robin game for both of those clubs.
    The WHL champion Broncos fell to 0-2, and they need to win their final round robin game against the host Regina Pats (1-1) on Wednesday at 8 p.m. at the Brandt Centre to stay alive in the tournament.
    That clash will be the final round robin game for both the Broncos and Pats.
    The Broncos hit the ice on Monday without star right-winger Tyler Steenbergen, and Broncos head coach and director of player personnel Manny Viveiros said Steenbergen is a game-time decision on Wednesday.
    Broncos defenceman Josh Anderson said it would have helped his side, if Steenbergen was able to go.
    “He is a great player for us,” said Anderson. “He plays a big role.
    “When a key guy goes out, you definitely miss him out there.”
Stuart Skinner salutes the Brandt Centre crowd after Monday’s game.
    Anderson said it was tough for his team to be in a spot, where they are trying to avoid elimination in the tournament.
    “Obviously, it is not a situation we want to be in,” said Anderson. “We’ve had a couple of Game 7s in the (WHL) post-season.
    “We know how to handle certain things, but it was never facing elimination in the Memorial Cup. It is something new for everyone.”
    Skinner believes his squad will come out with a big effort in Wednesday’s clash with the Pats.
    The Broncos eliminated the Pats in a tough seven-game series in the first round of the WHL playoffs.
    “It is going to be a really good game I think,” said Skinner. “Obviously, we know them well. They know us well.
    “Obviously, we got them eliminated in (WHL) playoffs, so they are going to be coming out hard. If we don’t match that or go higher than that, we could be in trouble. I know the guys will come out (hard).”

Ridley nears 3,900th call, 4,000 a possibility

Bob Ridley, right, calls a game at the 2007 Memorial Cup with Barry Prins.
   At the Memorial Cup, the question comes up.
    Someone always asks me, “How is Bob Ridley doing?”
    The question comes from the fact I spent 10 seasons from 2004 to 2014 covering the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers as a beat writer for the Medicine Hat News.
    Ridley, who is the iconic play-by-play voice of the Tigers, is not at the 100th Memorial Cup as the Tigers weren’t able to have one of the special seasons to qualify for major junior hockey’s prestige event. With that said, he is always on the minds of the people who have been involved with the major junior ranks at any level.
    Ridley’s mark for games called as the play-by-play voice of one hockey team is pretty much untouchable, and he is approaching even more astonishing grounds.
    After the Tigers were eliminated with a 4-3 overtime loss in Game 6 of a first round playoff series with the Brandon Wheat Kings on April 1, Ridley has called 3,861 of the 3,862 contests the Tigers have played in the regular season, standings tiebreakers, WHL playoffs and the Memorial Cup tournament.
    That total includes 3,435 of the Tigers 3,436 regular season games, the one standings tiebreaker game the club appeared in, all of the Tigers 405 games in the WHL playoffs and all 20 of their contests in the Memorial Cup tournament. The Tigers have appeared in the Memorial Cup in 1973, 1987, 1988, 2004 and 2007 and won the event in 1987 and 1988.
Bob Ridley gets set to drive the Tigers bus in the 2012 WHL playoffs.
    Going into the upcoming WHL regular season, Ridley needs to call 39 more games to reach his 3,900th call. Over the next two seasons, Ridley could possibly call his 4,000th game, if he calls all of the Tigers regular season games over that period of time and the team reaches the post-season once during that span. He has been the Tigers only play-by-play voice in their 48 campaigns of existence.
    Next season, the WHL regular season schedule is shrinking from 72 games to 68 games. If the schedule had remained at 72 games, a Tigers playoff appearance wouldn’t have been necessary for Ridley to reach 4,000 games called.
    As it stands already, someone could call 80 games on average between the regular season and playoffs each season for 48 seasons and still fall short of Ridley’s current total of 3,861 games called.
Of course, Ridley drove the Tigers team bus for most of that stretch.
    Way back in August of 2006, I interviewed Ridley, who was 62-years-old at the time, and he gave a sweet quote about how long he planned to keep going.
    “One of these days I am going to have to retire,” said Ridley. “You can’t do it forever.
    “But, it has been a great ride. I hope to stay on as long as I can.”
    Ridley will be 74-years-old during the next WHL season, and he will always be “the Dean” of major junior hockey broadcasters. One day, there should be a place for him in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.
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