Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Cool things I saw in 2014

The Medicine Hat Tigers celebrate a goal in the 2014 WHL playoffs
            It still amazes me what all can happen in a year.
            As 2015 closes, a number of people are listing highlights from the year that was in 2014. For me, I wrapped up my time at the Medicine Hat News and made the move to Saskatoon for family reasons.
            Over the past year, I was able to witness a number of highlights. Actually, I can't believe how many different things I attended in so many different centres.
            It seemed like I was at everything from watching Olympic hockey with a big group, going to numerous WHL and CIS hockey games, hitting a number of CFL and CIS games, enjoying the Medicine Hat Exhibition and Stampede and watching a talented music artist perform at home.
            Here is of a few of the highlights going from the start of the year to the end.


Watching gold medal win at the Buckle

You know you live in Canada, when you wake up at 5 a.m. on Sunday to watch Canada’s men’s hockey team win gold at the Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
After getting home from my Saturday work shift, I believe I slept two hours before waking up to watch the big hockey game. Turning on Facebook, I couldn’t believe how many other people were also up.
In the second intermission, I decided to motor down to the Buckle in the Hat to see the final period. The place was packed. Canada beat Sweden 3-0 in the final, and the place was rocking.
It was about 10 a.m., when I headed home for some real sleep. That was definitely a night I will never forget. Canada also swept the hockey gold at the Olympics with the women’s team also winning it all.

Huskies women’s hockey team win Canada West title

The Huskies celebrate celebrate a Canada West title
This was one of those unexpected highlights.
Thanks to having Sundays and Mondays off at the Medicine Hat News, I was able to make it to Game 3 of the Canada West Women’s Hockey Championship Series on March 2 at the Rutherford Rink in Saskatoon. I went because it was my only shot to see Huskies captain Cami Wooster play live with how busy my life was.
Following her and her team that season was great, because it was one of the few sports things I followed I didn’t cover. It got me back to just enjoying sports. Life was so busy in Medicine Hat, that there were actually times I didn’t enjoy sports anymore, so following Wooster and the Huskies was a nice change.
They beat the University of Regina Cougars 2-1 in double overtime in that deciding game to claim the Canada West title. Wooster had the Huskies first goal and the assist on Kaitlin Willoughby’s overtime winner. Captain Cami was so good, she was good.
They were all so happy that night. I had lots of energy for the game and seeing the celebrations. Looking back, it was a real good thing for me to make that game.

One final Tigers playoff run

Captain Curtis Valk in action for the Medicine Hat Tigers.
Going into the 2014 WHL playoffs, I knew in my heart this would be the last time I would be covering a Medicine Hat Tigers playoff run for the Medicine Hat News.
I tried to soak in every moment as much as I could. I was hoping the moment would last as long as it could. Time was really busy.
The run closed with the Tigers playing 13 games over 24 days with a lot of travel. I definitely enjoyed the playoffs. Tigers took out the Swift Current Broncos in six games in the first round of the playoffs.
In the second round, the Tigers trailed a best-of-seven series 3-1 to the Kootenay Ice before rallying for a 4-3 series victory. The run ended in the WHL Eastern Conference Championships with a 4-1 series loss to the eventual Memorial Cup champion Edmonton Oil Kings.
Watching the Tigers forward line of Trevor Cox, Curtis Valk and Cole Sanford was something else. That was the most exciting forward line I saw the Tigers put on the ice in the 10 seasons I covered them. Marek Langhamer was spectacular in goal.
It was still a strange feeling after I finished my stories after Game 5 of the series loss to the Oil Kings at Rexall Place in Edmonton. A tired Tigers team tried to pull out a win, but fell 4-3. After I finished writing, I went around shaking hands with the Edmonton sportwriters who were there and Oil Kings communications manager Paul Owen, who once worked as a sports reporter.
Walking out of there, I knew I had covered my last Medicine Hat Tigers hockey game. It was weird to comprehend then, and it still is now. It did feel in a way that I was able to go out on top, so that was a good thing.

The celebration of life for Crystal (Heisler) McGregor

Crystal (Heisler) McGregor circa 2001.
            A list from 2014 wouldn’t be complete without me remembering the passing of Crystal (Heisler) McGregor, who was a good friend to everyone.
            A point guard on the University of Regina Cougars Women’s Basketball team that won the 2001 CIAU title, McGregor passed after a lengthy battle with cancer in May. A big celebration of life was held for her at the Conexus Arts Centre in Regina.
            In the day before and the day of the celebration of life, I was able to reunite with the all the members of the Cougars team that McGregor played with. I went to school with all of them at the University of Regina.
            It was a great time to hang around with old friends. It is too bad it had to occur under such circumstances. It was also great to share memories of McGregor and of days that shouldn't feel so long ago.
            I think a few us are still waiting for her to approach us a say her typical, “Hey buddy.”
            RIP Crystal. You will be remembered forever.

Seeing MacKenzie Porter perform live

MacKenzie Porter at Kin Coulee Park.
I finally got to see MacKenzie Porter perform live on Canada Day at Kin Coulee Park in Medicine Hat, and she was so good.
It is very impressive to see how talented she is at making music. What is even better is the former Medicine Hat College Rattlers Womens team soccer player is still the girl next door. 
She is still super sweet, and seems to remember everyone that passes through her life and treats them like gold.
My favourite part about seeing her perform in her hometown was saying in a break between songs, “There are like 50 people in this front row section I know personally. This is so great.
There was a huge line of people to great her that night after she finished performing.
I still have her debut CD which is personalized autographed and also an autographed poster from that night. I enjoyed getting to see her again.
It is still very cool to hear her songs on the radio and see her music videos on television.

One last kick at the Medicine Hat Exhibition and Stampede

Saddle bronc riding at the rodeo in Medicine Hat.
Before pulling the last of my things out of Medicine Hat, I got out to enjoy the Medicine Hat Exhibition and Stampede one last time.
Usually, the 2007 WHL Champion Medicine Hat Tigers team makes it back that week for a reunion, but that reunion happened earlier in the summer to fit everyone’s schedules. With that said, I still ran into a few old Tigers that week.
It was also a fun time as friends that don’t normally go out anymore went out that week. 
It made for a great last run to see everybody before I left the Gas City for Saskatoon. I saw so many good friends. Party wise, it was a great Stampede week.

Calder Cup celebrations with Derek Hulak

Derek Hulak and the Huskies with the Calder Cup.
The University of Saskatchewan Huskies Men’s Hockey team was one of the first key things that got me back to enjoying sports again, when I was in a funk of not enjoy sports due to life in Medicine Hat being so busy.
A big thing that helped was I knew pretty much all the players through covering the WHL. After the University Cup ended, I was pumped to see Derek Hulak join the American Hockey League’s Texas Stars.
The Stars were under the guidance of head coach Willie Desjardins, who was the former head coach and general manager of the Medicine Hat Tigers. The Texas Stars won the Calder Cup, and Hulak got to have the trophy for a day in August in Saskatoon.
He brought the trophy to the University of Saskatchewan, to the Saskatoon Blades offices and to his mom’s gravesite. Alina died in 2007 of Cancer.
There was a big gathering with the Huskies men’s hockey team and a whole bunch of other friends during the night at Boston Pizza on 8th Street. That was a great night out.
While deep in summer, I believe all the Huskies men’s players made it out that night. That was a great thing to see and shows how strong the friendships are on that team. They are one of the best groups to hang around and spend social time with.

Labour Day Classic weekend in Regina

The Roughriders celebrate an Anthony Allen touchdown.
This will make the list every year as long as I can keep making it to the Labour Day Classic weekend in Regina.
I was at my 14th Labour Day Classic game, and the Saskatchewan Roughriders downed the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 35-30 thanks to a last-second touchdown by Anthony Allen. The Roughriders are 13-1 in the Labour Day Classic games I have attended.
The game was also Weston Dressler’s first game back with the Roughriders after being cut by the Kansas City Chiefs of the NFL. He was signing autographs at the end of the game and just looked so tired after a whirlwind week.
Victory party in Regina was also so enjoyable, especially when it is the after party for the Roughriders cheerleaders. It was a fun overall party night.

Frank McCrystal’s last home game as Rams head coach

Frank McCrystal, right, answers questions in a post-game scrum.
      A Saturday in Regina that was a turn back the clock type day and night for me.
     The University of Regina Rams were closing out the regular season against the University of Alberta Golden Bears in what would be Frank McCrystal’s final home game as Rams head coach. The Rams pulled out a 35-31 victory to make the Canada West playoffs.
     The stands were filled with a whole pile of old friends from my old Rams days at the University of Regina. A number of people traveled in for the game from all different points on the map.
     There was an alumni gathering after the game, and it was so fun to see a whole bunch of old faces. Lots of old stories were told and a lot of catching up was done.
     It also felt like an end of an era. I am sure the Rams will have a bright future, but things won’t be like what they once were.

Reconnecting with the Saskatoon Hilltops

The Hilltops celebrate their PFC Championship victory.
One of the unexpected good things that happened in my move to Saskatoon was reconnected with the Saskatoon Hilltops.
Those involved with coaching and running the Canadian Junior Football League team are as classy as you will find anywhere. Until the 2014 CJFL season, it has been 12 years since I last talked to Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant.
It has been about four to six years since I last saw my old bud Sheldon Ball, who is the team’s offensive coordinator. It was cool to see how good of a coach Ball has become. We became friends when he was first the quarterback of the Hilltops and later the University of Saskatchewan Huskies.
The Hilltops started 1-2, but closed the campaign with eight straight wins. They improved a lot as the season went on. It was great to be at the Prairie Football Conference final, where they dumped the Calgary Colts 27-7.
Saskatoon then moved on to down the Rams in Langley, B.C., in the CJFL final 39-14. I really enjoyed visiting the team’s directors. If life allows it, I will try and make it more of a priority to be around their events next season.

Other good memories

Nelson Nogier gives his stick to a little Blades fan.
            Other highlights of the year include getting to watch my cousin, Nelson Nogier, played a lot more with the Saskatoon Blades before he was traded to the Red Deer Rebels.
            It has been good to get to know some of the new management with the Blades and reconnect with some long time staffers.
            I also enjoyed getting to see a number of the former Medicine Hat College Rattlers players, who now life in Saskatoon, again.
            It has also been cool to see how much of a life superstar University of Saskatchewan Huskies Women`s Basketball team point guard Kabree Howard is. It is cool to see her involved in so many community events. She does so much to give the Huskies a good name, and they will miss her when she graduates from their program later this year.
            Now, it is time to see what 2015 has in store for all of us.

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Monday, 29 December 2014

May God forever bless “The Boogeyman”

            It is a book I don’t wanted to glance into, but I do anyways.
            A Christmas gift, I am nowhere near finishing it. I jump to a page or two here and a page or two there depending upon where curiousity takes me at that point in time.
            The book is written by John Branch and it is about the life of late NHL enforcer Derek Boogaard entitled, “Boy on Ice: The Life and Death of Derek Boogaard.” Anyone that follows hockey knows that the book penned by the New York Times writer will enter tough areas.
Boogaard died on May 13, 2011 at age 28 from an accidental overdose of alcohol and painkillers. The painkillers were used to treat his concussion injuries.
            Boogaard played in the WHL during the years I covered the league. He was with the Medicine Hat Tigers, when I was in Prince Albert, and I arrived in the Gas City shortly after his time with the Tigers came to an end.
            I was on shift at the Medicine Hat News the night Boogaard passed. Locally, the word arrived in the newsroom at the 9 p.m. hour.
            My first reaction was shock.
            I asked my co-worker, Scott Schmidt, if Boogaard had really died. He did some checking on various Internet lines and quickly confirmed that Boogaard, who played mostly in the NHL with the Minnesota Wild and finished with the New York Rangers, had passed.
            My next reaction was I could name 10 people in town off the top of my head that would immediately be sad about the news. As deadline was approaching and I was handling layout in sports, I quickly pieced together an obituary with quotes from old stories I had written on “The Boogeyman.”
            When my shift ended, I became sad. I was sad, because I knew how well Boogaard was loved in Medicine Hat.
Knowing this love, I have mixed emotions, when it comes to checking out Branch’s book. I am hesitant to discover the struggles Boogaard had in the later years of his life.
When I am ready and the curiosity is up, I do check the book out.
In Medicine Hat, Boogaard was seen as the life of the party comedian and everyone’s best friend. He kept in touch big time with his old billet mom, Doris Sullivan, and Tigers assistant trainer, Ken Stickel, and sent them a variety of his NHL gear.
            He was far from the 6-foot-7, 258-pound, monster type guy spectators saw engaging in brawls on the ice. Looking back to how some of his on-ice fighting incidents were covered in the WHL, I believe at the time we in the media painted a way more aggressive picture of the man, which did him a disservice. Hindsight is always 20-20.
            I only got to deal with Boogaard on a couple of occasions. I wish there would have been more.
            The highlight was writing a catch-up feature on him shortly before Christmas of 2006. I phoned his mother, Joanne, for a cell number.
There was kind of amusement and a bit of an unsure moment, because a reporter from Medicine Hat wanted to talk to Derek. I could tell mom was a bit concerned about what Derek was going to say in the interview.
She passed on the cell number and said, “Please be good.”
I left a message on Derek’s phone, and he called back within five minutes. He quickly rolled off a pile of one-liners, and I laughed so hard that it took a bit to get into the interview.
Boogaard then asked how Tigers head coach and general manager Willie Desjardins was doing and quickly went into a story about his only training camp under Desjardins back in 2002. At that time, the Tigers didn’t have a rookie camp, and the rookies skated in scrimmages with the veterans.
Boogaard said he bodychecked a 15-year-old into the boards hard, and the poor kid had to be taken to hospital by ambulance. Desjardins gave Boogaard the rest of training camp off, and enforcer said that was the easiest training camp he ever had.
I bought that quote up to Desjardins during a Tigers training camp a couple of years later, and he laughed. The bench boss said he flat out had fears players would get hurt running into Boogaard, because he was so big. That came on top of concerns about what would happened when Boogaard would initiate a hit.
Giving him the rest of camp off seemed like the logical thing to do.
            While Boogaard joked about that training camp memory, he initially took having the rest of that camp off the wrong way.
            After he passed, Sullivan recalled that time in training camp during a media interview. She said Boogaard came home all sad the night of that hit being dejected he couldn’t play. He said it was like he was back in kindergarten and the teachers wouldn’t let him play with the little kids because he was too big.
            That recollection brought to the forefront of how much Boogaard was in a lot of ways a little boy in a man’s body.
Branch did a good job in capturing that in his book, especially when it came to writing about Boogaard meeting Janella D’Amore, who was a figure skater from Portland, Oregon. The two met, while Boogaard was playing for the Tigers, and had a lengthy relationship, which eventually became a common-law marriage.
When the Tigers came through Portland during the 2001-02 campaign, another girl, who was one of D’Amore’s friends, expressed romantic interest in Boogaard. D’Amore tried to play matchmaker through instant messages on the computer, but Boogaard dismissed them.
Boogaard later got back in touch with D’Amore saying he wanted to get to know her better. Through exchanges, Boogaard said he didn’t like D’Amore’s friend that originally showed interest in him, because that friend was a “puck bunny.”
Boogaard and D’Amore met in person at the Wild’s summer in 2002, and he would often tell her she was too pretty for him. Branch did an excellent job of writing how cute and sweet the romance was especially at the start.
Much later in the book, childlike demeanour came out in another way. It came near the end of Boogaard’s only season with NHL’s New York Rangers and in what were the final months of his life.
He has been out for a lengthy time with a concussion, and the Rangers coaches were trying to get him back on the ice. In one skating session, he kept falling down and struggled with coordination. After being sent off the ice, he went through a range of emotions in front of team trainers, screamed people through he was a pill head and cried.
Without even reading further, you knew the sad ending was around the corner.
Over the years, Boogaard was a character that always intrigued me. Desjardins really liked him, like really liked him.
Had Boogaard not been an overage player in the one season both were in Medicine Hat, it is pretty safe to Desjardins would have ensured the enforcer was on the Tigers roster for the whole campaign. Major junior teams can only have three overage players, and those spots are usually held for scorers or strong veteran defencemen. Boogaard was released after playing 27 regular season games that campaign.
Desjardins, who is the current head coach of the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks, saw a potential for Boogaard to be more that a fighter in hockey talking about how well the big man could skate, had an ability to play defence and possessed a booming shot that could be developed.
While watching him play on TV, it was obviously Boogaard could skate extremely well, which was unreal to see from a guy his size. I remember him being able to get down to block shot and then bounce up quickly to help a play transition down ice.
Fighting alone didn’t get Boogaard into the NHL. It was his ability to do other things to go in hand with fighting that did.
Unfortunately, fighting is what helped bring a tragic end to his story.
Boogaard’s death is one thing that cemented me in believing that fighting has to be taken out of hockey, and more serious attention has to be given to concussion injuries.
Whenever someone in Medicine Hat was adamant that fighting needed to remain in hockey and that concussion injuries are not a big deal, I always brought up Boogaard.
I would ask would you rather have Boogaard live the life he did, or would you rather have him here now? The answer would always be it would have been better to have Boogaard here now.
Currently, Boogaard’s family still has a wrongful-death suit filed against the NHL. The late enforcer was always a huge fan favourite, but with the suit before the courts, you can be sure a number of people involved with the league will try to minimize memories of Boogaard’s time in “The Show.”
It will be up to Boogaard’s friends and those that knew him to ensure his memory stays alive regarding how much of a good and quality guy he was.
Rest in peace Boogey. You will forever be missed.

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Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Lazar has to be an X-factor for Canada

Curtis Lazar (#27) in action for the Edmonton Oil Kings.
            For Canada, the power might be in the man with the biggest smile.
            When the NHL’s Ottawa Senators allowed Curtis Lazar to participate in this season’s world junior hockey championship tournament in Toronto and Montreal, Canada’s chances at winning its first gold since 2009 got a big boost. The boost doesn’t just come from the fact the skilled forward had three goals and four assists in seven games for Canada at the last world juniors in Malmo, Sweden.
            The 19-year-old Salmon Arm, B.C., product, who has one goal and six assists in 27 games with the Senators, joins the Canadian squad carrying the intangible of a recent championship pedigree. In May, Lazar, who will be Canada’s captain, helped the Edmonton Oil Kings win their second Western Hockey League title in three years, and then the Memorial Cup for Canadian Hockey League supremacy. The Memorial Cup win was the first for the modern era Oil Kings, who began play in the fall of 2007.
            When the Oil Kings advanced to major junior hockey’s biggest stage, they were trying to end a league-wide drought, as a WHL team hadn’t claimed the Memorial Cup since the 2008 victory by the Spokane Chiefs. The WHL was facing its longest stretch without winning the big prize since it started competing for the Memorial Cup in 1971.
            The stretch was known as “The Curse of the Drop,” because the Memorial Cup was dropped after the trophy presentation, when it was being exchanged by Chiefs players Chris Bruton and Trevor Glass.
The Oil Kings ended the curse, and Lazar took centre stage in a number of key moments in the championship run. The biggest came in the semifinal contest of the playoff round at the Memorial Cup at London, Ont.
He scored the winner in triple overtime to deliver the Oil Kings to a 4-3 victory over the Val-d’Or Foreurs to end the longest game in the history of the event lasting 102 minutes and 42 seconds. The tally also vaulted the Oil Kings into the title game.
During that contest, it appeared the scene was set to allow “The Curse of the Drop” to continue. The Oil Kings held a 3-1 lead, but the Foreurs battled back. Guillaume Gelinas found the equalizer inside of the final minute of the third period to tie things up at 3-3 and force overtime.
Edmonton also had a 1-2 record in round robin play, so no one would have thought twice, if they fell in the semifinal. Lazar came through with the overtime winner. Two days later, the Oil Kings would double up the Guelph Storm 6-3 to win the Memorial Cup title.
Leading up to the Memorial Cup, Lazar proved to be a centre figure in helping the Oil Kings win the WHL title. He piled up 41 goals, 35 assists and a plus-41 rating in the plus-minus department in 58 regular season games and netted 10 goals and 12 assists in 21 WHL playoff games.
He had key contributions in the WHL championship series, where the Oil Kings faced the Portland Winterhawks for the third straight year. Entering the series as defending league champions, the Winterhawks, who were 54-13-2-3 in the regular season, were favoured over the Oil Kings, who posted a 50-19-2-1 mark.
The Winterhawks took Games 1 and 2 of the best-of-seven set in Portland and led Game 3 in Edmonton 2-0. Lazar helped turn the tide in contest and the series to that point helping set up an early second period power-play goal by Henrik Samuelsson to cut the Portland lead to 2-1. That sparked a 3-2 comeback victory for the Oil Kings.
In Game 4, Lazar had the insurance goal in a 2-0 victory that allowed Edmonton to tie the series 2-2. The Oil Kings added a 3-2 win in Portland in Game 5, before getting knocked to the ropes again.
Looking to win the series in Game 6 in Edmonton, the Oil Kings led 5-2 heading into the third, but the Winterhawks roared back with four straight goals to claim a 6-5 overtime victory. The two clubs were going back to Portland for a winner-take-all Game 7, and the Winterhawks had all the momentum.
Lazar provided the final turning point of the series in the deciding game. Locked in a 1-1 tie in the second, he scored a short-handed goal to put the Oil Kings up 2-1. The lead bulged to 4-1, before finishing up as a 4-2 Edmonton win.
When Canada starts opening round play on Friday night against Slovakia at the Bell Centre in Montreal, other storylines will be at the forefront. As far as the Canadian roster goes, there is a high interest level to see how 17-year-old phenom Connor McDavid of the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters will do. There are high expectations he will be selected first overall in the next NHL Entry Draft, and the shifty forward is one of Canada’s two alternate captains.
Up front, Canada is loaded with offensive talent with the likes of Max Domi (London Knights, OHL), Anthony Duclair (New York Rangers, NHL) and alternate captain Sam Reinhart (Kootenay Ice, WHL). It also feels a disservice to the forward group to not mention everyone.
The back end will be anchored by Josh Morrissey, who is a prospect of the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets and was recently traded in the WHL to the Kelowna Rockets. Zachary Fucale (Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL) and Eric Comrie (Tri-City Americans, WHL) will be the tandem in goal.
While watching world juniors is a Christmas time tradition in Canada, the automatic feeling that the Canadian team will win gold like from 2005 to 2009 is not there. Canada has finished fourth at the last two world juniors and hasn’t appeared in the gold medal game since 2011, when Russia skated away with a 5-3 victory in Buffalo, N.Y.
In order for the gold medal drought to not stretch through a sixth tournament, Canada will eventually need someone to step up in clutch and character situations. The pressure of playing in the extreme fishbowl hockey markets of Toronto and Montreal only adds to the intrigue.
In Lazar, Canada has a player that delivered in the clutch to help a league break a drought. It would only be natural for him to help a country break a drought, while smiling all the way.

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Wednesday, 17 December 2014

The curious case of the Saskatoon Blades

The Blades celebrate a goal earlier this season.
            A heartbreaker.
            On Saturday at the SaskTel Centre, the Saskatoon Blades were locked in a 4-4 draw with the visiting Regina Pats. In the dying seconds of the third period, Pats winger Braden Christoffer goes end-to-end, dekes through three Blades and slips home the winning goal with 3.3 seconds to play in the frame.
            The goal gave Regina a 5-4 victory, while the Blades had lost their 10th in a row. For the 4,552 spectators in attendance at the Sasktel Centre, the last-second setback was the last vision they have of the Blades going into the WHL Christmas break.
            The Blades officially skated into a nine-day rest period with an 11th loss in a row falling 5-2 to the Broncos in Swift Current on Wednesday. At 7-25-2-1, Saskatoon sits last in the entire WHL with 17 points.
            Heartbreaking losses have been a theme for the Blades this season. Despite playing in a number of tight contests, there is a feeling they will find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
            The struggles for the Saskatoon franchise at this point in time are expected. The Blades basically sold the farm dealing away a number of high draft selections to acquire talented older players to gear up as the host squad for the 2013 Memorial Cup.
            Besides having to recover from that campaign, the Blades are still feeling the effects of trying to lock in for a long post-season run in 2011. Before the WHL’s trade deadline in that campaign, they acquired Brayden Schenn in a blockbuster deal with the Brandon Wheat Kings, which saw another pile of draft picks get sacrificed.
            Saskatoon finished first overall in the WHL, but would bow out in the second round of the playoffs being swept away by the eventual league champion Kootenay Ice.
            A day after Saturday’s gut-wrenching loss to Regina, the Blades continued the rebuild trying to restock their supply of high WHL Bantam Draft picks. They sent 18-year-old defenceman Nelson Nogier, who was their only NHL drafted player, 18-year-old right-winger Austin Adamson to the Red Deer Rebels in exchange for 17-year-old winger Mason McCarty, a first round selection in the 2016 Bantam Draft and a second round selection in the 2015 Bantam Draft.
            Thanks to that move, the Blades have four first round picks over the next two Bantam Drafts. At the time of the 2013 WHL trade deadline, the Blades did not hold any first round selections for the next three Bantam Drafts they were to enter. They didn’t have any first or second round picks in their system from the three previous Bantam Drafts from that point in time.
The Blades work to hold off the Regina Pats.
            When Edmonton product Mike Priestner bought the Blades from Jack Brodsky before the start of the 2013-14 campaign, it was beyond an understatement to say the cupboard was bare. Realistic supporters of the hockey club knew there were going to be rough times ahead for an extended period.
            Since the end of the 2013 Memorial Cup tournament in Saskatoon, those that have been part of the team’s management have to be given credit for building a stockpile of first round Bantam Draft pick for the next two years.
            On the ice this season, the team has been more competitive than its last place record would indicate. They are not getting hammered like 7-1 on the scoreboard on a regular basis. They have actually had a realistic shot at victory in most of their games dropping 12 contests by two or fewer goals.
Before the start of the campaign, Bob Woods was brought in as the team’s new head coach and general manager, and he came to the club along with new assistant coach Dean Brockman. With the roster they have, the Blades might actually be overachieving.
            It is fair to say the Saskatoon roster contains a number of players who shouldn’t be in the WHL. Those players ended up in the league due to the fact the Blades are in an unprecedented serious rebuilding state.
            If a dynamic first line scoring trio was part of the Bridge City Bunch, it might have actually been possible to sneak into the post-season. It wouldn’t be a given, but it would have been close.
            With the struggles, the Blades have averaged 4,229 spectators per game. That figure is has to be considered quite respectable considering the club’s lack of victories. When the team was 7-52-11-2 in the 2003-04 campaign, average attendance was 3,361 spectators for home games.
            The fans that do go to the games seem patient. When the Blades are trying their hardest like they did in the loss to Regina, the faithful in the stands were into the game. The Sasktel Centre, which traditionally lacks an atmosphere, felt electric at times in that contest.
            When Priestner bought the Blades, he brought in son, Colin, to be the managing partner and Steve Hogle to be the president an alternate governor from the Alberta capital. Since arriving in Saskatoon, they have all put in a good effort to be part of the community.
            Before the first home game of the regular season, the team gave donations to a number of local charities and sports organizations during pre-game ceremonies. Colin and his wife, Alanna, have appeared at a few charitable functions.
Last act as a Blade. Nelson Nogier gives his stick to a fan.
            Hogle, who had a long career at CTV in Edmonton, is always meeting and visiting fans in the concourse of the Sasktel Centre during game days. On a day to day basis, he does a stellar job in representing the team, which makes you want to go to games.
            The cynics are still there. On a recent poll regarding the Blades conducted by, the response that received the most votes regarded being fed up all together with the team going back to when the club wasn’t able to make any long runs in post-season appearances from 2009 to 2013.
            Over that five year span, the Blades were eliminated from the playoffs three times in the first round and twice in the second round despite finishing first in the East Division three times. The toughest pills to swallow were the second round exit in 2011, when the Blades were 56-13-1-2 in the regular season, and the first round exit in 2013 as the Memorial Cup host.
            The new owners and management of the team seem to have the best intentions to rebuild the Blades and run the team the right way. If they can put a winner in the rink one day, it is possible to image people turning out at the Sasktel Centre in droves.
            It just won’t happen this season and that vision might likely be at least three seasons down the road. For the moment, all of the team’s fans need to give the new regime a real opportunity to rebuild the team.

Follow “Taking Note” for everything WHL

            While I covered the WHL for 15 seasons, I tend to shy away from writing full blog entries about the league.
            I believe coverage of the league has fallen as a whole over the last five years due to budget cuts in the Canadian media industry, especially in Western Canada. Even with the drop in coverage, the league as a whole does get better coverage than most other minor sport bodies do. In relative terms, there are a lot of people out there talking about the league.
            One blog stands above all others, when it comes to keep tabs on the WHL. That would be “Taking Note” written by former Regina Leader-Post and late Kamloops Daily News sports editor Gregg Drinnan. He keeps tabs on that league with a passion that is unmatched by anyone else, and he also acts as a conscience on tough topics like concussion injuries.
            If you want to know what the hot topic is of the day for the league, you definitely have to check out Drinnan’s blog at

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Thursday, 11 December 2014

Huskies seniors to get taste of international stage

Huskies captain Matt Delahey in action.

            It will definitely be a February to remember for the senior players with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team.
            Forward Craig McCallum, defenceman and captain Matt Delahey and goaltender Ryan Holfeld were all named to the men’s hockey roster for the Canadian team that will compete at the 2015 Winter Universiade in Granada, Spain, which runs Feb. 3-14 in the new year. The trio of fifth-year players will also be joined by Huskies teammate and second-year blue-liner Kendall McFaull.
Huskies head coach Dave Adolph will be the head coach this year for Canada’s team.
            The men’s team is made up entirely of players from the Canada West Conference. As a result, there are no Canada West games scheduled, when the Universiade is on. The three conferences that make up the Canadian Interuniversity Sport men’s hockey league represent Canada at the Universiade on a rotating basis.
            For the three Huskies seniors, the Universiade will provide a final hurrah, before they bow out of playing at the post-secondary level.
            McCallum, Delahey and Holfeld all have had very successful careers with the Huskies and were all solid players in the Western Hockey League.
            After this season wraps up, the time in highly competitive hockey will likely be over for each player. In Holfeld’s case, he might not even get to play senior hockey due to the fact he is pursuing his degree in law.
            For anyone playing hockey in Canada, it is always a big dream to represent your country on the international stage. McCallum, Delahey and Holfeld will get to live out that dream. 

Hendricks tops career win’s list

Cassidy Hendricks covers up a shot in goal for the Huskies.
            A belated congratulations needs to be passed on to Cassidy Hendricks.
            The third-year netminder for the Huskies women’s hockey team captured a special milestone, when her club finished the first half of the season with an 11-3-2 record to sit first overall in Canada West.
            When Hendricks made 18 stops in a 2-0 shutout of the Mount Royal University Cougars on Nov. 29 at the ancient Rutherford Rink, she became the Huskies all-time career leader in goaltending victories.
            The shutout to close out action before the Christmas break was Hendricks’ 32 career victory. Vanessa Frederick held the old Huskies record for career wins piling up 31 victories from 2007 to 2010. Frederick is currently one of Hendricks’ goaltending coaches on the Huskies.
            Hendricks appears ready to smash Frederick’s record for most regular season wins. Frederick currently holds the Huskies team record for regular season victories posting 14 wins in the 2009-10 campaign.
            This season, Hendricks has started every game in goal for the Huskies posting an 11-3-2 record, a 1.64 goals against average, a .940 save percentage and four shutouts.
            The focused Vancouver product gives the Huskies big edge in being able to win night in and night out.
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