Saturday, 17 October 2020

WHL rolls out some plans, still lots out of major junior circuit’s control in return to play

The Medicine Hat Tigers soak up an extra time win on Jan. 25.
The WHL is taking some baby steps when it comes to a return to play.

While some progress has been made, the major junior circuit still has to do a lot of work and hope for some luck when it comes to going ahead with a 2020-21 season with the world in the grips of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Most sports leagues are in the same boat, but the WHL has some unique hoops to navigate.

First, the WHL has to try and get four provincial governments and four provincial health authorities in Canada and two state governments and two state health authorities in the United States to pull in the same direction for a return to play to occur. The WHL has 17 teams located across Western Canada and five clubs located in the states of Washington and Oregon in the United States.

Second, the WHL has to navigate the issue of the border between Canada and the United States being closed to non-essential travel. At the moment, the border is slated to be closed through to this coming Wednesday.

This past Wednesday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated in an interview with a Winnipeg radio station the border would remain closed until the United States can get its COVID-19 case count under control.

Isaac Poulter and Broncos are going to the East Division.
At the time this post went live, Worldometer, which gives really accurate statistics, reports there have been 8,342,665 COVID-19 cases and 224,282 deaths due to COVID-19 in the United States this year. On most days since the start of September, the United States usually surpasses 50,000 new COVID-19 cases a day.

Over the last four days, the United States added 71,688 new cases in one 24-hour period and 66,132 new cases in another 24-hour period.

With new COVID-19 case numbers trending upward in Western Canada along with Ontario and Quebec over the past week, it is safe to assume the border between Canada and the United States won’t be open any time soon.

Also, Ontario and Quebec have increased lockdown measures over the past week.

In this current climate, the WHL is trying to do what it can to get back on the ice. On Wednesday, the circuit announced January 8, 2021 as the start date for the upcoming regular season.

The WHL had two previous tentative start dates originally slated for October 2 and then December 4 of this year.

Connor Zary in action for the Kamloops Blazers.
The league said all regular season games will be played exclusively within the boundaries of each of the four divisions. Under this set up, the Swift Current Broncos will be moved out of the Central Division to the East Division to play the WHL’s other four Saskatchewan teams and two clubs located in Manitoba.

All the WHL players are slated to report to their teams after the Christmas break. They will train in preparation for the opening of the regular season.

Also on Wednesday, the WHL announced Dr. Dhiren Naidu of Edmonton has been appointed as the league’s chief medical advisor. Dr. Naidu served as the NHL’s medical director for that league post-season hub location in Edmonton.

On Thursday, WHL commissioner Ron Robison held an online media conference to expand on Wednesday’s announcements.

Robison said the January 8, 2021 regular season start date is a firm one, and the regular season will run through to May 2, 2021. That scenario would allow each club to play a maximum of 50 games in the regular season.

During a normal campaign, WHL teams play 68 regular season games each.

Tristen Robins in action for the Saskatoon Blades.
Details of the format for the WHL playoffs would be announced at a later date.

Robison said there are no plans for teams to play in a bubble environment, which the NHL and NBA did to finish their 2019-20 campaigns.

There are hopes the Memorial Cup tournament to determine the CHL champion can be held in the middle of June of 2021 either in Oshawa or Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

Robison added the league is currently working with public health agencies on how to manage the entry of players from the United States and Europe to cross back into Canada.

At the moment, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League is the only circuit under the CHL that has started to play regular season games, and that return has been a rough one since the regular season started on Oct. 2.

The Blainville-Broisbriand Armada encountered at least 18 COVID-19 cases and the Sherbrooke Phoenix had at least eight COVID-19 infections. Both teams had to suspend team activities.

This past Wednesday, the QMJHL announced the 12 teams located in the province of Quebec have had their games postponed until October 28. At the time of that announcement, six of those clubs in Quebec were located in red zones that have been shut down by government restrictions.

Bowen Byram in action for the Vancouver Giants.
As for the six teams in the Maritime provinces, the Moncton Wildcats weekend games have been postponed due to government authorities in New Brunswick declaring Moncton an orange zone. The Wildcats are limited to practising.

The OHL is still targeting Dec. 1 as tentative date for their regular season to start.

The WHL’s plan to have teams concentrate playing regular seasons in regional areas is a good one. As the consistency between governments and health authorities in handling the pandemic is all over the map, it was easier to get sports going in some areas as opposed to others.

At the Junior A level of hockey, the Manitoba Junior Hockey League has been playing regular season games.

The Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League announced on Friday that teams can play exhibition games immediately with attendance capped at 150 people. Everyone inside arenas for SJHL games has to wear face masks.

The SJHL is targeting to start its regular season on Nov. 2, and is still working on how many spectators will be allowed into arenas for those contests.

Still, circuits like the MJHL and SJHL are mainly focused on playing games inside the boundaries of one province.

The Prince Albert Raiders celebrate a goal on March 3.
The WHL covers multiple regions, and it is uncertain how many fans that circuit will be allowed to have for games when the regular season does start. The WHL needs to have fans in the stands or the teams on that circuit will experience monumental losses.

There are no guarantees the WHL will hit the ice for any games.

At the moment, WHL has given as much clarity as it can about its future. It is a future the circuit as well as all other sports leagues have no control over due to these COVID-19 pandemic times.

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, 16 October 2020

U Sports cancelling all nationals for 2020-21 not unexpected

Too many COVID-19 challenges for Canadian university sport

The Huskies have fun at a victory rally on March 11.
It seems like another lifetime ago when the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s basketball team won their second U Sports title back on March 8.

On that Sunday fun day at TD Place in Ottawa, Ont., the Huskies downed the Brock University Badgers 82-64 to capture the Bronze Baby trophy as U Sports champions. The Huskies claimed their first title in March of 2016.

Fifth-year veteran players Megan Ahlstrom, Vera Crooks and Sabine Dukate graduated as members of both championship winning teams.

As a collective, that trio was part of a talented Huskies team made up of players who were all-star persons like Janaya Brown, Libby Epoch, Summer Masikewich, Katriana Philipenko and Kyla Shand.

They were all guided by player-first head coach Lisa Thomaidis, who one of the best coaches in Canada when it comes to all sports.

After beating the Badgers, the Huskies celebrated with the euphoria that is association with a lifetime achievement of a national championship win.

There were no thoughts of things like the coronavirus (COVID-19) or the idea of a pandemic.

On March 11, the Huskies were front centre of a lunch time victory rally at the Physical Activity Complex at the U of Saskatchewan. 

Huskies team members sign autographs for young fans.
The gold medal winners from the Huskies track and field and wrestling teams from their respective U Sports nationals were honour along with the women’s basketball team.

At that rally, there was chatter about COVID-19, but everyone at that time was still living life like normal and soaking in big accomplishments. No one knew that sports postponements starting with the NBA later that day, sports cancellations and implementation of restrictive government measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic were about to go into full swing over the next handful of days.

Now just over seven months of living under the spectre of the COVID-19 pandemic that has gripped the world, the 2020-21 U Sports season has been put to bed before it really had a chance to get going.

On Thursday, U Sports announced all its winter national championships for the 2020-21 campaign have been cancelled, and combined with the cancellations that have already happened, U Sports will not be crowning any national champions in the 2020-21 season.

The impacted events included men’s and women’s championships in basketball, hockey, swimming, track and field, volleyball and wrestling. Curling Canada had previously announced the Canadian university championships had been suspended.

Bailee Bourassa jets up ice for the Huskies.
“Following consultations with the four conferences, we agreed that student-athlete safety remains our top priority,” said Dick White, who is the U Sports interim chief executive officer, in a statement. “It is not logistically possible for teams to be travelling across the country at this time.

“Therefore, U Sports is in the unfortunate position where we are unable to offer the 2021 winter championships.”

In conjunction with the U Sports announcement, all four conferences made their own announcements with regards to their winter sports.

The Canada West Conference cancelled all regular season, post-season events for the 2020-21 campaign in men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball, hockey and wrestling along with women’s rugby 7s. Decisions on staging Canada West Championships in curling, track and field and swimming have been deferred to an undetermined later date.

Canada West previously cancelled all fall team competition on June 8 and the Canada West Golf Championship on September 22.

Canada West will allow member programs to explore competitive opportunities for student-athletes based on the principle of regional cohort play.

Canada West had set November 2 as the date for deciding the fate of winter semester competition, but the fact all the U Sports national champion cancellations came out on Thursday changed that approach.

Ontario University Athletics announced the cancellation of all OUA-sanctioned sport programming and championships up to March 31, 2021.

Collin Shirley speeds up ice for the Huskies.
The Reseau du sport etudiant du Quebec (RSEQ) suspended play in all sports through the January 15, 2021.

Atlantic University Sport announced it plans to release return to play options by the middle of November regarding regional competition scenarios.

The Atlantic provinces have had success conducting sports in a bubble between themselves.

Out of all the announcements, the Canada West Conference release got to the bottom of why the cancellations were made.

Canada West cited reasons for the cancellations in its release including health and safety of student-athletes and others, rising case numbers in portions of Western Canada particularly in the age group of university students, continued interprovincial travel restrictions imposed by provincial health authorities and financial impediments to traditional conference competition due to COVID-19 protocols including heightened travel costs.

Those reasons can basically be applied to all U Sports conferences and the U Sports overseeing body itself as the chief reasons for the cancellations that have been made.

The only thing that could be added is that U Sports governing bodies have made decisions at fairly early junctures so students can make decisions with regards to living arrangements. Most universities in Canada have gone to online classes for the 2020-21 campaign, and for the athletes that don’t live in the centre their post-secondary institution is located, they can save some money on living expenses.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started to really grip the world in the middle of March, anyone observing U Sports since that time could have reasonably expected these cancellations were likely to come down.

The Huskies men’s hockey team enjoys a Canada West title win.
Even when the calendar turned to September 1, athletes that returned campus to train for sports that hadn’t seen play cancelled at that time knew there was a real risk there would be no action in 2020-21.

Inevitably, there will be people out there that won’t like the cancellations that were made in U Sports.

At this point, the hands of the decision makers in U Sports were tied. They made the only reasonable choice they could.

Now, the focus should be on individual programs to preserve teams, so there is something for athletes to return to when the COVID-19 pandemic ends.

Raiders’ Wiesblatt signs with NHL’s Sharks, other notes

Ozzy Wiesblatt took another big step in realizing his NHL dream.

Back on October 6, the 18-year-old right-winger from the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders was selected in the first round and 31st overall by the San Jose Sharks in the NHL Entry Draft.

On Friday, the Sharks signed Wiesblatt to a three-year NHL entry-level contract.

“Ozzy brings speed, playmaking and offence to the lineup, which makes it difficult to play against a talented skater like him,” said Sharks general manager Doug Wilson in a release. “His tenacity for the puck paired with his ability to retain possession and drive the offensive side of the game, along with his character on and off the ice, makes him a valuable player for our organization.”

The Sharks selection of Wiesblatt was one of the big highlights of the entire NHL Entry Draft.

The NHL Entry Draft was held in via video conference call from the NHL Network Studios in Secaucus, New Jersey, as opposed to being live in an NHL centre due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. As a result, most players that were drafted watched the proceedings from their home on TV.

The TV broadcast had the use of Internet cameras to get live looks into the home of all of the players taken in the first round and some of the players that were taken in the rounds afterwards.

Doug Wilson Jr., who is the Sharks director of scouting, announced the pick using American Sign Language and his voice that his club had picked Wiesblatt.

The picture cut away to a picture of the Wiesblatt household in Calgary, Alta., which was a scene of a euphoric and joyous celebration.

Ozzy Wiesblatt as 70 points last season for the Raiders.
Wilson Jr. announced the pick via sign language because Wiesblatt’s mom, Kim White, has been deaf since birth.

She had to raise Ozzy, his three brothers and one sister as a single mom since 2014. Ozzy’s brothers are all high level hockey players.

On top of the heartwarming Wiesblatt family story, Ozzy can play.

Last season as a 17-year-old sophomore with the Raiders, Wiesblatt, who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 182 pounds, appeared in 64 regular season games finishing second in team scoring with 25 goals, 45 assists and a plus-20 rating. He helped the Raiders post a 36-18-6-4 record and finish first in the WHL’s East Division for the second straight year.

As a 16-year-old rookie in 2018-19, Wiesblatt suited up in 64 regular season games posting 15 goals, 24 assists and a plus-30 rating. By the end of that season, Wiesblatt often found himself on a line with star overage centre Noah Gregor and star left-winger Cole Fonstad as the Raiders topped the WHL regular season standings with a 54-10-2-2 record.

Wiesblatt played in all of the Raiders 23 games in the WHL playoffs posting five goals, five assists and a plus-six rating helping deliver a WHL championship to “Hockey Town North” for the second time in history.

Wiesblatt deserved to sign an NHL Entry Level contract, which provided another tribute for the hard work put in by him and his family.

  • On Wednesday, the Western Hockey League announced it pushed the announced start of its regular season from Dec. 4 to January 8, 2020. Teams will play exclusively in the boundaries of each of the four divisions with the Swift Current Broncos moving from the Central Division into the East Division. All WHL players are slated to report to their teams following the Christmas break. All of these developments are due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • On Tuesday, Saskatoon StarPhoenix sports writer Darren Zary wrote about the journey second-year guard Claudia Lomba Viana made from her home in Lisbon, Portugal, to Saskatoon to rejoin the U of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s basketball team. The piece included Lomba Viana’s experience being in quarantine for 14 days during these COVID-19 pandemic times. Zary’s piece can be found by clicking right here.
  • On Wednesday, BC Hockey announced the cancellation of all 16 of its minor hockey championships in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. BC Hockey partners with host districts and associations to operate and facilitate these championships across BC and the Yukon Territories in the under-21, under-18, under-15 and under-13 age categories.
  • On Wednesday, the QMJHL announced the 12 teams located in the province of Quebec  have had their games postponed until October 28. At the time of that announcement, six of those clubs in Quebec were located in red zones that have been shut down by government restrictions. As for the six teams in the Maritime provinces, the Moncton Wildcats weekend games have been postponed due to government authorities in New Brunswick declaring Moncton an orange zone. The Wildcats are limited to practising.
  • On Thursday, CTV News in Ottawa reported five member of the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees football team tested positive for COVID-19 and the team’s training had been suspended until further notice. While the U Sports football season has been cancelled, teams are still allowed to train.
  • On Friday, the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference announced it was withdrawing from participation in all Canadian College Athletic Association National Championships for the 2020-21 campaign due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The ACAC announced it was continuing to explore options to hold post-secondary athletics in the winter and spring semesters in 2021.

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, 12 October 2020

Saskatchewan Hockey Association has plan, ventures into uncertain COVID-19 future

Fingers crossed all goes well for sports body

A picture from the Saskatoon Contacts last game on March 12.
The Saskatchewan Hockey Association’s return to play plan has been green lighted by the Government of Saskatchewan, but the road forward is still not a certain one.

March 12 was the last day meaningful hockey games were played in the province. Hockey Canada cancelled all its sanctioned events on March 13 due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has gripped the world.

At that time, shutdowns were occurring across all sectors due to the pandemic, and all sports activities in Canada had basically been brought to a stop on March 13 outside of some recreations leagues that are not governed by sports bodies. Those recreation leagues would be halted too in the handful of days following March 13.

Hockey Canada lifted its national ban on sanctioned activities on June 4. That allowed the ball to get rolling for provincial associations to start working towards resuming game play.

In a media conference on Thursday, Dr. Saqib Shahab, who is Saskatchewan’s Chief Medical Health Officer, talked about how important it was to work with organizations that promote physical activity and hockey will be treated like all other organizations that have returned to play with public health measures in place.

He said there have been sporadic cases from people playing hockey just like those that have occurred in schools and work places, but there hasn’t been any widespread transmission associated with sports. He credited everyone involved with sports in the province for following the guidelines and rules in place to help prevent widespread transmission of COVID-19.

The Moose Jaw Warriors and Saskatoon Contacts battle on March 12.
After that press conference was held, the Saskatchewan Hockey Association released its return to play plan that has been approved by the Government of Saskatchewan.

The 64-page document is pretty comprehensive, and it is obvious a lot of work was put into creating it.

Only evaluation and training had been allowed by the Saskatchewan Hockey Association until now. Under Phase 2 of the plan, exhibition games within a mini-league have been given a tentative start date of this coming Saturday.

Phase 3 will allow for regular season games to take place in a mini league starting tentatively on November 1. Phase 4 for league games with expanded mini-leagues have been set with a January 18, 2021 tentative start date.

Phase 5 for playoffs and provincial championships are still being determined.

The start dates for the under-11, under-9 and under-7 age categories are a little different. For the under-7 age category, exhibition games will tentatively start on Dec. 1, and regular season league games are slated to tentatively begin on January 1, 2021.

In the under-9 age category, exhibition games are set to tentatively start on Nov. 15, while regular season league contests will tentatively follow on Jan. 1, 2021.

For the under-11 age category, exhibition and league games are tentatively given a Nov. 15 start date.

The Saskatoon Stars and Regina Rebels battle last season.
A face covering policy has been put into place for all members of minor hockey including players, coaches, bench staff, on-ice officials, off-ice officials and parents and spectators until it is deemed safe to remove that policy.

Tournaments and out of province travel will not be allowed for teams this season.

Each team will have a designated safety person who will be responsible for ensuring guidelines and protocols are followed.

At the moment, spectator capacity for minor hockey games has been capped at 150 people provided there is enough room to maintain two-metres of physical distancing between extended household groups.

For junior, senior and under-18 AAA hockey games, assigned seating must be available. If assigned seating is not available, a maximum of 150 spectators are permitted.

Also for junior, senior and under-18 AAA hockey games, spectators are allowed to attend at up to 50 per cent capacity provided there is enough room to maintain two metres of physical distancing between household groups.

The junior A Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League announced in a release on Friday a start date was still being determined for that circuit once protocols and the abilities for arenas to handle fans are satisfactory to the Government of Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan Health Authority. The SJHL operates under the Saskatchewan Hockey Association umbrella.

The WHL, which includes five Saskatchewan teams in the Moose Jaw Warriors, Prince Albert Raiders, Regina Pats, Saskatoon Blades and Swift Current Broncos, is targeting to start on Dec. 4.

That circuit is facing the challenge of satisfying four provincial governments and four health authorities in Canada and two state governments and two health authorities in the United States along with issues regarding crossing the border between Canada and the United States.

The Prince Albert Mintos and Saskatoon Contacts go at it.
The WHL, OHL and QMJHL, which are all under the umbrella of the CHL, operate as entity separate from Hockey Canada and Canada’s various minor hockey organizations, but all those bodies do work in partnership with each other.

Looking at the Saskatchewan Hockey Association’s plan, it is a good one to get the sport rolling in a bigger way in the province.

Even with the best thought out and made plans, the spectre of the COVID-19 pandemic still hovers over everything.

In Saskatchewan, there was great joy when outdoor sports like auto racing, baseball, golf and softball were able to successfully hold modified seasons this past summer.

There is still trepidation when it comes to indoor sports and the possible transmission of COVID-19. Hockey is the one everyone is watching to see how it operates and handles difficulties.

Most sports bodies take a cue from what is done in hockey.

All it takes is a surge of cases somewhere to get the ball rolling to bring everything to a stop.

On Monday, Saskatchewan recorded a jump of 48 new COVID-19 cases, which is the largest jump seen since July 29 as 50 new cases were reported at that time. As of Monday, there are a total of 215 active COVID-19 cases in Saskatchewan.

The provinces of Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick are bringing back in various degrees of shutdowns due to an increase of new COVID-19 cases. The Greater Toronto Hockey League has postponed all sanctioned activities until January 1, 2021.

The Saskatoon Stars celebrate a win from last season.
On Friday, the World Health Organization announced a new daily record high for COVID-19 cases in a 24-hour period at 350,766. Over the past week, a number of countries including Canada have set a daily record for COVID-19 cases in a 24-hour period.

The Saskatchewan Hockey Association has a good plan, but you still have to cross fingers and hope factors outside of the organization’s control will allow it to go forward. There are no guarantees that shutdowns will be avoided.

The Saskatchewan Hockey Association’s ‘Safe Guidelines’ document for a return to hockey will be a fluid one as restrictions are lifted or imposed. The latest version of that document can be found on the Saskatchewan Hockey Association’s return to play page, which can be found by clicking right here.

CJFL franchise explored for Lethbridge, other notes

The Hilltops and Huskies could have a new PFC foe.
Teams in the CJFL’s Prairie Football Conference could have a new rival in the summer of 2022.

On Friday, the PFC announced it had received an application to establish a junior team in Lethbridge, Alta. The Lethbridge Junior Football Club, which is led by Lethbridge area football enthusiast Anthony Parker, will be called the Vipers and will play out of the University of Lethbridge Community Stadium.

The next step in the expansion process will see the Lethbridge Junior Football Club develop a strong business plan, which will address the operations side of the organization, formalization of recruitment strategies and long term player, coach and organizational development plans.

The PFC will ensure that its expectations from all member teams for a high degree of social responsibility and community involvement from players, coaches and organizations can be met through granting a franchise to Lethbridge.

The Lethbridge Organizing Committee will continue to work on the expansion plan through the winter and is slated to give a presentation including a business plan at the PFC’s Annual General Meeting slated for March of 2021.

At that meeting, the membership will vote to accept the franchise, reject the franchise or put out a request for more information deferring a decision to a subsequent meeting.

The Lethbridge Junior Football Club is proceeding with the support of the City of Lethbridge, local MLA Nathan Neudorf and the Lethbridge Sport Council.

The Calgary Colts may play a new nearby rival.
The CJFL hasn’t had teams located in Alberta outside of the cities of Edmonton and Calgary since the Red Deer Packers were in operation from 1969 to 1978 and the Medicine Hat Rattlers existed from 1976 to 1979.

Lethbridge has a population of over 101,000 people and is located in an area of Alberta that has a high level of support for the sport football. The small city has two major post-secondary institutions in the University of Lethbridge and Lethbridge College.

Lethbridge’s economy is traditionally agricultural based, but it has diversified in recent years getting into businesses related to alternative energy including wind power, solar power and biofuel.

On paper, Lethbridge should be a strong candidate to land a CJFL expansion team.

The last time the PFC expanded was when the Winnipeg Rifles joined the circuit in 2002.

The PFC also includes the storied Saskatoon Hilltops, who have won the last six CJFL championships and 22 CJFL titles overall, Regina Thunder, Edmonton Huskies, Edmonton Wildcats and Calgary Colts. The CJFL as a whole is composed of 18 teams from across Canada.

The CJFL season was cancelled for 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the circuit is aiming to hit the field in 2021.

  • Last Tuesday at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, the Seattle Storm down the Las Vegas Aces 92-59 in Game 3 of the WNBA Championship series and swept the best-of-five set 3-0. The win marked the fourth time in team history the Storm captured the WNBA title. This one came playing in a hub facility format.
  • On Wednesday night, the Prince Albert Raiders announced at their annual general meeting the team lost $331,895 for the 2019-20 campaign, which was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic cost the Raiders two home regular season games and home dates what would have come from the 2020 WHL playoffs had they been held. The Raiders lost out in shared revenue from the Memorial Cup that was to be hosted in Kelowna in May but cancelled due to the pandemic and a loss of money from Sportsnet’s CHL contract rights that didn’t come in due to cancelled games. The Raiders losses included their share of a settlement in a CHL-wide class action lawsuit that argued major junior players are employees and not student-athletes and were entitled to employment standard compensation. Lucas Punkari of the Prince Albert Daily Herald had a good breakdown of the story, and it can be found by clicking right here.
  • I contributed two pieces to the Howe Happenings blog run by the Gordie Howe Sports Complex that went live on Friday. The entries had a “girl power” theme to them. I put together a piece on track star Michelle Harrison, which can be found by clicking right here. I created a piece on all the media attention Emmarae Dale has received since being added to the roster of the CJFL’s Saskatoon Hilltops, and that piece can be found by clicking right here.
  • On Saturday, the Texas A&M University Aggies drew an announced crowd of 24,079 spectators to Kyle Field at College Station, Texas, to see the hosts down the visiting University of Florida Gators 41-38 in contest in the top tier of NCAA football. The online story from The Dallas Morning News focused on how the crowd noise helped the Aggies win this game played during the COVID-19 pandemic. Several photos of the packed student section at Kyle Field circulated on social media. The Dallas Morning News reported A&M athletic director Ross Bjork tweeted a video message about Kyle Field protocols and safety on Friday urging fans to wear face coverings and stay in their assigned seats. There has been speculation over social media the Aggies drew more spectators than the attendance figure they announced.
  • On Sunday at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida, the Los Angeles Lakers downed the Miami Heat 106-93 in Game 6 of the NBA Championship series. With the win, the Lakers took the best-of-seven series 4-2. The Lakers have won 17 NBA titles in team history and this was the first captured in a hub centre format. The NBA had no positive COVID-19 tests holding the final bit of its 2019-20 regular season and entire post-season at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
  • In his Taking Note blog on Saturday, Gregg Drinnan outlined the difficulties the QMJHL was having in its restart with COVID-19, and there are a lot of them. That piece can be found by clicking right here.

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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If you like what you see here, you might want to donate to the cause to keep independent media like this blog going. Should you choose to help out, feel free to click on the DONATE button in the upper right corner. Thank you for stopping in.

Saturday, 10 October 2020

“Crank” overlooked in NHL Entry Draft due to size

Blades star left-winger has skill to play at next level

Kyle Crnkovic (#16) does his best to make the fans happy.
If Kyle Crnkovic stood 6-foot-3 and weighed 200 pounds, he would be an NHL Entry Draft selection.

The star left-winger of the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades has great skill, but you can bet he went unselected in this past NHL Entry Draft because he stands 5-foot-7 and weighs 161 pounds.

The only member of the Blades who was selected in the NHL Entry Draft that was held this past Tuesday and Wednesday via video conference call from the NHL Network Studios in Secaucus, New Jersey, was centre Tristen Robins. Robins went in the second round and 56th overall to the San Jose Sharks.

Due to the fact Robins stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 179 pounds, NHL teams were a little less concerned on the size front. Still, players that have heights and weights similar to Robins are some of the smaller sized players in the league.

Kyle Crnkovic drives a shot on goal for the Blades.
Very few players skate in the NHL who have been similar in size to Crnkovic. The notable exception is Theoren Fleury, who stands 5-foot-6 and weighs 182 pounds.

Back in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft, size didn’t matter to the Blades and skill did when they selected Crnkovic in the first round and 10th overall. Since joining the Blades, the Chestermere, Alta., product has lived up to the expectations of being a first round WHL Bantam Draft pick.

In his first full season with the Blades in 2018-19, Crnkovic had a solid campaign as a 16-year-old rookie posting 11 goals, 20 assists and a plus-three rating in the plus-minus category in 52 regular season games.

As that campaign went on, Crnkovic saw increased ice time as the Blades finished fourth overall in the WHL regular season standings with a 45-15-8 record.

Kyle Crnkovic celebrates an OT winner on March 6.
It was also becoming apparent that Crnkovic was becoming a fan favourite too. He interacted easily with the young fans he met at Blades community appearances.

Crnkovic has a bit of a baby face to him too, and he could likely pass for a fan, if he wasn’t dressed in his Blades jersey.

He was popular enough that he was one of the players the team included in the novelty cartoon character type T-shirts they rolled out.

The shifty forward played some of his best hockey that season with the Blades in the 2019 playoffs. Helping the Blades advance to the second round of the playoffs, Crnkovic netted two goals, two assists and an even rating in the Blades 10 post-season games.

Kyle Crnkovic had 64 points last season for the Blades.
Crnkovic played fearlessly and battled in the tough areas of the ice. He played smart and was able to avoid the huge hit with his skill.

This past season, Crnkovic appeared in all of the Blades 63 regular season games finishing second in team scoring piling up 21 goals, 43 assists and a plus-nine rating. He helped the Blades post a 34-24-2-3 record to lock up a playoff berth for a second straight year before the campaign was prematurely ended due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has gripped the world.

Crnkovic never cracked the midterm rankings put out by NHL Central Scouting. He made the final NHL Central Scouting ranking being listed 208th among North American skaters.

Kyle Crnkovic was a first round WHL Bantam Draft selection.
The appearance on the rankings didn’t translate into an NHL Entry Draft selection.

The story of Crnkovic not getting drafted due to his lack of size isn’t a new one in the sport of hockey.

In the history of the Blades, he might go down as the Ryan Fujita in the team’s current generation.

Fujita, who is also known as Kiyoshi Fujita, was a dynamic centre who played for the Blades and led them in scoring for two seasons from 1991 to 1993. The Lethbridge, Alta., product was one of the smaller players on the ice standing 5-foot-7 and weighing in at 163 pounds.

In 1991-92, Fujita topped the Blades in scoring with 38 goals and 44 assists for 82 points appearing in all of the team’s 72 regular season games.

Kyle Crnkovic quickly became a fan favourite player.
In the playoffs, helped the Blades advance to the WHL Championship series, where they fell in a series decide Game 7 to the eventual Memorial Cup champion Kamloops Blazers. Fujita appeared in all of the Blades 22 games in that post-season posting a league leading 13 goals and nine assists.

He followed up that campaign by again leading the Blades in scoring as an overager in the 1992-93 season appearing in all 72 regular season games piling up 56 goals and 54 assists for 110 points. Fujita suited up in seven of the Blades nine games in the 1993 playoffs recording two goals and three assists.

Having never been selected in the NHL Entry Draft and never suiting up in a meaningful NHL game, Fujita had a lengthy career playing professionally in Japan and was a member of host Japan’s national team that played in the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano.

Kyle Crnkovic, centre, celebrates a goal this past season.
Crnkovic might one day be able to experience what Fujita did with the Blades. If Crnkovic does do that, he would go down as one of the best players to ever suit up with the Blades.

Even if Crnkovic achieves that level of success, he still might not get a chance in the NHL due to his lack of size.

Whenever the WHL is able to resume action in these pandemic times, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Crnkovic was constantly listed among the league’s best over the next three campaigns.

He deserves to get some attention from the NHL even now. If the NHL brass ultimately says Crnkovic can’t play based on his lack of side, it will ultimately be their loss too.

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, 7 October 2020

From Blades to Sharks, Robins follows father’s footsteps

Tristen Robins was a second round NHL Entry Draft pick.
At times, it seems like the hockey Gods have predetermined Tristen Robins’ path through the game.

That path sees Tristen following in the footsteps of his father, Trevor Robins. The one big difference between the two is Tristen is a high-scoring centre, while Trevor was a solid puck stopping goalie.

For three seasons from 1989 to 1992, Trevor, who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 179 pounds, played in the WHL for the Saskatoon Blades. He was named to the WHL’s Eastern Conference first all-star team in 1991-92, which was a campaign where the Blades advanced to the WHL Championship series and fell in a series deciding seventh game to the eventual Memorial Cup champion Kamloops Blazers.

Tristen Robins is a star with the Blades.
As for Tristen, it appeared at first his WHL career was going to be with the Regina Pats, who selected him in the fourth round and 76th overall in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft.

On January 8, 2018, Tristen’s WHL rights were acquired by the Blades in a blockbuster trade. In that trade, Tristen, defenceman Dawson Davidson and a first round selection in the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft went to the Blades in exchanged for import Czech defenceman Libor Hajek.

The Pats acquired Hajek in order to load up their roster as the host of the Memorial Cup tournament in May of 2018.

Tristen, who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 173 pounds, has played two full seasons with the Blades. He shot up to star status this past campaign piling up 33 goals, 40 assists and a plus-16 rating in the plus-minus department in 62 regular season games.

On Wednesday, the hand of fate saw Tristen once again follow in his father’s hockey footsteps. 

Tristan Robins led the Blades with 73 points last season.
At the NHL Entry Draft that was via video conference call from the NHL Network Studios in Secaucus, New Jersey, the San Jose Sharks picked Tristen in the second round and 56th overall.

The Sharks happened to be the first professional team Trevor signed with.

Following the 1991-92 season, Trevor was traded by the Blades to the Brandon Wheat Kings, who had finished last in the entire league with a record of 11 wins, 55 loses and six ties. Brandon is the hometown of the Robins family.

With Trevor starting in goal as an overager, the Wheat Kings shot up to fourth overall in the WHL with a record of 43 wins, 25 losses and four ties. He was again named to the WHL’s Eastern Conference first all-star team.

Tristen Robins followed his dad’s footsteps to the Blades.
Trevor ended up signing a free agent contract with the Sharks.

In his second season as a professional in 1994-95, Trevor called up from the International Hockey League’s Kansas City Blades to the Sharks, who dealing with injury problems in goal. Trevor spent about three months going up and down between the two teams but ultimately never saw action in and NHL game.

One day, Tristen, who is 18-years-old, might be able to one-up his father and hit the ice for an NHL game.

This was first time Tristan was eligible for the NHL Entry Draft due to his birthday being in November. Players need to be born on or before September 15 the year they turn 18-years-old to be eligible for the NHL Entry Draft.

Tristen Robins is following his dad’s footsteps to the Sharks.
Tristan will be playing in his 19-year-old season in the 2020-21 WHL campaign, which is targeted to start late on Dec. 4 due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has gripped the world.

The NHL is targeting to start its regular season on January 1, 2021.

As an 18-year-old sophomore, Tristen kept turning more and more heads of NHL scouts. He was rated 134 among North American Skaters in the midterm ranking put out by NHL Central Scouting.

Tristen Robins (#11) celebrates one of his 33 goals last season.
Tristen leaped up to the 86th spot among North American skaters on the final NHL Central Scouting rankings. His stock continued to rise resulting in a second round draft selection.

The 2019-20 WHL campaign was ultimately ended on March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but had Tristen been able to participate in the playoffs for a second straight year, he might have further increased his draft stock.

Tristen helped the Blades post a 34-24-2-3 record to officially lock up a playoff berth before the season was halted.

He has the skating, puck handling, shooting and hockey sense abilities few have. Tristen has also been a perfect representative for the Blades in the community.

It would not be a surprise to see Tristen put all of those characteristics on display in the NHL some day. He has the potential to make the Sharks brass look very wise for selecting him.

Tigers G Garin Bjorklund was picked by the Capitals.
The NHL Entry Draft concluded on Wednesday with teams selecting players in rounds two through seven. Over the draft’s two days, 28 players from the WHL were picked up NHL clubs.

Left-winger Cross Hanas of the Portland Winterhawks was the first WHL player taken in Wednesday’s NHL Entry Draft proceedings going in the second round and 55th overall to the Detroit Red Wings. The Highland Village, Texas, product posted 22 goals, 27 assists and a plus-20 rating in 60 games with the Winterhawks.

Of some of the other various notables, Moose Jaw Warriors defenceman Daemon Hunt was taken in the third round and 65th overall by the Minnesota Wild. The Brandon, Man., product was limited to 28 games this past season due to a skate cut injury to his arm.

Hunt had 15 assists in those games and was playing for the Warriors when the campaign was stopped due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brandon’s Ben McCartney (#22) was picked by the Coyotes.
Kamloops Blazers goalie Dylan Garand was selected in the fourth round and 103rd overall by the New York Rangers. The Victoria, B.C., product posted a 28-10-3 record, a 2.21 goals against average, a .921 save percentage and four shutouts in 42 games last season with the Blazers.

Medicine Hat Tigers right-winger Lukas Svejkovsky was taken in the fourth round and 108th overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins. 

The Point Roberts, Wash., product recorded 18 goals, 20 assists and a plus-38 rating in 52 games split between the Vancouver Giants and Tigers. The Tigers acquired Svejkovsky via a trade.

Portland Winterhawks left-winger Jaydon Dureau was selected in the fifth round and 147th overall. The White City, Sask., product recorded 19 goals, 51 assists and a plus-41 rating in 61 regular season games.

Tristen Robins (#11) celebrates a Blades win with Riley McKay.
Tigers netminder Garin Bjorklund was picked in the sixth round and 179th overall by the Washington Capitals. The Grande Prairie, Alta., product posted a 20-5-1 record, a 2.91 goals against average, a .897 save percentage and one shutout last season as a 17-year-old rookie.

Wheat Kings left-winger Ben McCartney was selected in the seventh round and 204th overall by the Arizona Coyotes. The Macdonald, Man., product collected 25 goals, 36 assists and a plus-eight rating in 61 games last season for the Wheat Kings.

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, 6 October 2020

Banner NHL Entry Draft day for “Hockey Town North”

Raiders’ Wiesblatt and family highlight of opening round

Ozzy Wiesblatt was selected by the San Jose Sharks.
For arguably the first time ever, the most memorable moment of the first round of the NHL Entry Draft was the final pick.

On Tuesday night, the NHL Entry Draft was held in via video conference call from the NHL Network Studios in Secaucus, New Jersey, as opposed to being live in an NHL centre due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. As the opening round was broadcast on TV, the players who were to be selected watched the proceedings at home with their families.

The TV broadcast had the use of Internet cameras to get live looks into the home of the players who were selected in the first round.

The San Jose Sharks made the final selection at the 31st overall spot in the opening round. Doug Wilson Jr., who is the Sharks director of scouting, announced the pick using American Sign Language and his voice that his club had picked Ozzy Wiesblatt of the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders.

Ozzy Wiesblatt finished second in Raiders scoring last season.
The picture cut away to a picture of the Wiesblatt household, which was a scene of a euphoric and joyous celebration.

Wilson announced the pick via sign language because Wiesblatt’s mom, Kim White, has been deaf since birth.

She had to raise Ozzy, his three brothers and one sister as a single mom since 2014. Ozzy’s brothers are all high level hockey players.

The oldest brother, Ocean, played in the junior A ranks with the Portage La Prairie Terriers last season. The second oldest brother, Orca, is a member of the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen, and the youngest brother, Oasiz, is highly touted prospect with the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers.

Wilson’s special touch in announcing Ozzy Wiesblatt’s selection gave the opening round its signature moment.

Ozzy Wiesblatt with the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
Left-winger Alexis Lafreniere of the QMJHL’s Rimouski Oceanic may have gone first overall to the New York Rangers, but it felt like the night really belonged to Wiesblatt and his family.

 Adding to the story is the fact the 18-year-old Calgary, Alta., product is a really good player, who deserves to be a first round selection.

As a 16-year-old rookie in 2018-19, Wiesblatt, who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 182 pounds, appeared in 64 regular season games posting 15 goals, 24 assists and a plus-30 rating. By the end of that season, Wiesblatt often found himself on a line at right wing with star overage centre Noah Gregor and star left-winger Cole Fonstad as the Raiders topped the WHL regular season standings with a 54-10-2-2 record.

Wiesblatt played in all of the Raiders 23 games in the WHL playoffs posting five goals, five assists and a plus-six rating helping deliver a WHL championship to “Hockey Town North” for the second time in history.

Ozzy Wiesblatt is one of the Raiders top offensive players.
This past season as a 17-year-old sophomore, Wiesblatt skating in all of the Raiders 64 regular season games finishing second in team scoring with 25 goals, 45 assists and a plus-20 rating. He helped the Raiders post a 36-18-6-4 record and finish first in the WHL’s East Division for the second straight year.

Wiesblatt’s draft selection was the topper for banner day for Prince Albert at the NHL Entry Draft.

Kaiden Guhle, who is the Raiders ultra-talented offensive-defenceman, was taken 16th overall by the Montreal Canadiens. The 18-year-old Sherwood Park, Alta., product’s selection alone normally would give the Raiders a memorable night.

Back in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft, Guhle was selected by the Raiders in the first overall in the first round. Since that time, he has been living up to that high selection.

Kaiden Guhle was selected by the Montreal Canadiens.
As a 16-year-old rookie in 2018-19, Guhle played in 65 regular season games collecting three goals, 14 assists and a plus-17 rating in the plus-minus department. He focused more on playing a defensive role on a defensive starting six where the other five members were all 19-year-old veterans.

Last season as a 17-year-old sophomore, Guhle, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 184 pounds was thrust into a bigger role and was looked upon to provide more offence. He appeared in all of the Raiders 64 regular season games piling up 11 goals, 29 assists and a plus-23 rating.

As a blue-liner, Guhle has a special blend of talents very few have.

The selections of Wiesblatt and Guhle marked the third time in team history the Raiders have had two players picked in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft.

Wiesblatt and Guhle weren’t the only individuals with Prince Albert ties to shine in the opening round of the NHL Entry Draft.

Prince Albert product Braden Schneider, who plays for the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings, was selected 19th overall by the Rangers.

Braden Schneider was selected by the Rangers.
The 19-year-old Schneider, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 202 pounds, had a breakout campaign posting seven goals, 35 assists and a plus-nine rating in 60 regular season games with the Wheat Kings last season.

The graduate of the Prince Albert Mintos Under-18 AAA team has established himself as one of the WHL’s elite offensive-defencemen.

Portland Winterhawks right-winger Seth Jarvis, who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 172 pounds, was the first WHL player to be picked in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft going 13th overall to the Carolina Hurricanes. Jarvis racked up 42 goals, 56 assists and a plus-53 rating in 58 games last season with Portland.

Saskatoon, Sask., product and 19-year-old centre Connor Zary, who plays for the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers, went 24th overall to the Calgary Flames. Zary, who stands 6-feet and weighs 181 pounds, recorded 38 goals, 48 assists and a plus-30 rating in 58 games with the Blazers this past season.

Ozzy Wiesblatt (#19) enjoys a WHL title win.
The NHL Entry Draft wraps up on Wednesday with rounds two to seven. Before Tuesday’s opening round started, the NHL and NHL Players’ Association announced they are targeting to begin the upcoming regular season on January 1, 2021.

The opening round of the NHL Entry Draft on Tuesday will always be a memorable night for the players who were selected.

For Wiesblatt and Prince Albert as a city, it will go down as a forever cherished feel-good night.

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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If you like what you see here, you might want to donate to the cause to keep independent media like this blog going. Should you choose to help out, feel free to click on the DONATE button in the upper right corner. Thank you for stopping in.