Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Get Smuk’d Cancer

Former University of Saskatchewan Huskies forward Cody Smuk, who is battling cancer, hangs out at the Rutherford Rink.

Huskies men's hockey team raising money for the "Marty's Men" Relay for Life team for former teammate Cody Smuk

   Don't you just wish you could punch or kick cancer right in the groin?
   Wouldn't be nice to start off a hockey game with it beating it down in a five-on-five line brawl. I would like to put on the ice all in their primes Dave "The Cement Head" Semenko, Derek "The Boogeyman" Boogaard, Dave "The Hammer" Schultz, Dave Manson and Marty McSorley to lay the beat down.
   Heck, throw Ron Hextall in goal too, because we all know cancer doesn't like to fight fair. Hextall would give cancer the blindside it deserves, if he could.
   Still, the worse part about cancer is it doesn't fight fair. It seems everyone knows someone they think it isn't fair that he or she has to battle cancer.
   The University of Saskatchewan Huskies men's hockey team encountered that.
   Back on March 23, 2014, they were just focused on hockey. They took the ice for the title game of the University Cup championship tournament against their long-time rivals the University of Alberta Golden Bears at the rink that was then known as the Credit Union Centre. The Golden Bears skated away with a 3-1 victory to claim a national title.
   About two months later, the Huskies encountered news that was tougher to swallow than that championship loss. Hard working and ultimate team guy forward Cody Smuk was diagnosed with testicular cancer, and he had a tumour in his right lung that was causing concern. News spread quickly throughout not just the Huskies men's hockey team but the rest of the Huskies athletic program, to the Saskatoon community at large and what seemed to any geographical corner that had a person who knew Smuk.
   Cancer has never discriminated by age, but it still didn't seem real Smuk had cancer. He is only 25. That diagnosis started a roller-coaster journey that is still ongoing in the present day.
   At 7 p.m. on both Thursday and Friday night, the Huskies men's hockey team host the Golden Bears at the Rutherford Rink. Friday's game also happens to be the "Vintage Night," where the 85th birthday of the facility will be celebrated. On both nights, a fundraiser will be held for "Marty's Men," which is the Relay for Life team for Smuk. His nickname is "Marty."
Cody Smuk and Stephanie Vause, centre, watch the Huskies.
   Last Friday, the Huskies women's hockey team held their seventh annual Play For The Cure game and the proceeds went to Choc 'la Cure in honour of Smuk. Choc 'la Cure raises funds for equipment for the Saskatoon Cancer Centre. Over $2,500 was collected from the silent auction from the Play For The Cure game.
   One should expect funds to pour in for the "Marty's Men" Relay for Life team at the men's games. Smuk is the type of person that draws people to rally around him, because he has always been very likeable.
   In June, girlfriend Stephanie Vause and her sister, Leah (Vause) Lewis, set up a profile for Smuk on the website to raise funds to help with expenses during his cancer treatments. Over $20,000 was raised in a three day period. By early November, that total grew to $33,000.
   Around the same time the profile was established, members of the Huskies men's hockey team started selling and distributing bracelets with "Get Smuk'd Cancer" inscribed on them. Almost immediately every member of the men's team was sporting those bracelets.
   In July, Smuk made a trip to Moose Jaw, where he played part of his WHL career with the Warriors. He attended a charity steak night in his honour, which was put together by his Warriors billet mom, Liza Thornberg.
   Smuk's story then took an upward swing. He originally completed chemotherapy treatments on Aug. 11. During subsequent visits to the doctor, news kept coming back that everything looked clear for the man who also played for the Chilliwack Bruins and Lethbridge Hurricanes.
   On Nov. 3, he had surgery to remove the tumour in his right lung. Smuk's outlook was looking so good the now Huskies alumnus donated $10,000 of his money to Choc 'la Cure. He was originally at the Choc 'la Cure Gala on Nov. 7, but had to spend the time resting up from his surgery.
   Before he went in for surgery, I interviewed Smuk for a story for the Saskatoon Express, and he was really optimistic. In December, he completed the final classes he needed to take for a degree in business management.
   Unfortunately, Smuk found out the fight against cancer wasn't won. Shortly before Christmas, he was informed the tumour that was removed had evidence of uniqueness to it.
The "Get Smuk'd Cancer" bracelet.
   He discovered he was dealing with another type of cancer that is usually found in children. There were also signs where the old tumour used to be that it was growing back.
   On the plus side, the cancer was only in his lung. Still, he would have to undergo a chemotherapy treatment plan that was 43 weeks in length.
   From the low of that news came another high. Over the holidays, Smuk proposed to Vause, and she said "Yes." They are one of the cutest couples you could ever see.
   As the calendar turned to the new year, Smuk began his treatments. His parents, Marty and Darla, and Vause attended the Play For The Cure game.
   Now the goal is to pull for Smuk to get through this round to go to another high. A wedding day awaits in the future.

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Sunday, 25 January 2015

Frustration mounts for Huskies

Kandace Cook (#21) tries to bury a shot for the Huskies.
   The frustration and disappointment spread out all around for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women's hockey team.
   The defending Canada West champs saw their losing skid extend to six games dropping both games of a series last weekend against the University of Manitoba Bisons at the ancient Rutherford Rink. The setback that moved the slide to six proved to be the most disappointing, which saw the Bison pull out a 4-3 overtime victory on Saturday night.
   Following that loss, the Huskies' players tried their best to still appear upbeat, but the emotions of being sombre pretty much took over. Having sat first overall in the Canada West Conference going into the Christmas break, they were stunned and speechless to have fallen to 11-8-3 to sit fifth overall in the conference. It was obvious to tell the group as a whole isn't used to an extended losing stretch.
   On Friday, the Huskies had a few defensive zone breakdowns and fell 5-2 to the Bisons. Chelsey Sundby and Lauren Zary had singles for the Huskies, while Cassidy Hendricks turned away 22 of 26 shots taking the loss in goal.
   Alana Serhan had a hat trick for the Bisons, while Lauryn Keen and Kayleigh Wiens had singles. Rachel Dyck made 17 stops to pick up the win in goal.
   On Saturday night, the Huskies played their best game since returning from the break and led 2-1 after the first period thanks to a pair of goals by Zary, while Cassandra Taylor had the reply for the Bisons. The edge held up going into the second intermission.
   In the third, the Bisons went ahead 3-2 thanks to tallies by Serhan and Maggie Litchfield-Medd. Marley Ervine potted the equalizer for the Huskies to force a 3-3 tie and send the contest to overtime.
   Just 65 seconds into the extra session, Alanna Sharman scored the winner for the Bisons, who improved to 16-5-1 to sit second overall in Canada West. Dyck made 20 saves to pick up the win in goal for Manitoba.
Rookie Jerrica Waltz made her first career start in goal for the Huskies and made 29 stops taking the loss for her side.
Marley Ervine drives a shot on goal for the Huskies.
   In Saturday's match, both side basically manufactured their goals by driving hard to the net and potting gritty type tallies. The Bisons also blocked a huge number of Huskies shots, especially in the third, to add to the frustration for the host squad.
   The Huskies played technically better for longer stretches on Saturday than they had during any other of their outings during the skid. In the end, it wasn't enough to break back into the win column.
   U of S has been hurt by injuries in attempting to break their skid. On the weekend, the Huskies returned defender Hanna McGillivray, who missed three games due to a concussion. Forward Rachel Johnson is walking around Rutherford sporting a serious knee brace. She suffered that injury in the Huskies 1-0 home loss to the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds on Jan. 16.
   Rookie forward Chelsea Wilson left the team due to family reasons having last played in the Huskies 5-2 road loss to the U of Calgary Dinos in Calgary on Jan. 10. Johnson had five goals and four assists in 19 games, while Wilson had a goal and seven assists in 18 games. In a Canada West Conference where goals have come at a premium, losing that offensive production is a blow to the Green and White.
   Had the Huskies split with each of their first three weekend series since the break, they would be in the thick of possibly challenging for first overall in the conference. The overtime loss to the Bisons allowed the Huskies to officially lock up a playoff berth, but they would need to win most of their final six games to have a chance to host an opening round playoff series.
   They now head on the road for five straight games. The first two of those contests will be this coming Friday and Saturday in Edmonton against the Canada West leading U of Alberta Pandas (16-6). The Pandas lead the Bisons by two points in the standings due to a 15-12 edge in regulation wins.
   The Huskies will head into those clashes with the Pandas as underdogs. In the glass half full analogy, the Dogs also have nothing to lose and everything to gain in those clashes.

Unfamiliar territory for Huskies men's hockey team

Josh Roach rushes up ice for the Huskies.
   The U of S Huskies men's hockey team ended up with a distinction they would have loved to have avoided.
   After dropping two games to the University of Manitoba Bisons in Winnipeg on the weekend, the Huskies fell to 10-14-2. With two games to play in the regular season, the Huskies will finish with a losing record for the first time since the 1995-96 campaign, when they posted an 11-14-3 mark. The Huskies had gone 18 straight seasons without posting a losing record, which had to be commended for being impressive.
   Thanks to having a roster that contained 12 first year players, the Huskies were unable to extend that run to an 19th straight campaign.
   On Friday, the Huskies dropped a 2-1 decision to the Bisons in double overtime. Craig McCallum gave the Huskies a 1-0 lead early in the first period. In the closing seconds of the second period, the Bisons tied things up with goal from Jordan DePape.
   The game advanced through a four-on-four overtime session still tied 1-1. In the final seconds of a three-on-three overtime session, Taylor Dickin potted the winner for the Bisons.
   Ryan Holfeld made 44 stops taking the extra time loss in goal for the Huskies. Byron Springs made 30 saves picking up the win in goal for the Bisons.
   Manitoba drilled Saskatchewan 6-2 on Saturday night. Aaron Lewadniuk, Brett Dudar, Jory Coates, Jesse Paradis, Joel Schreyer and DePape netted singles for the Bisons. Springs made 27 stops to earn the win in goal helping the Bisons improve to 14-12.
   Josh Roach and Michael Sofillas had singles for the Huskies. Jordon Cooke turned away 11 of 15 shots taking the loss in goal. Holfeld turned away 11 of 13 shots in relief.
   The Huskies locked up a berth in the Canada West playoffs, when the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds blanked the U of Regina Cougars 1-0 on Saturday night in Vancouver. U of S is also locked into finishing sixth overall in the conference, which means the Huskies won't host a home playoff series this year. Playoff home games are normally a fixture at the Rutherford Rink.
   The Dogs host their final two home contests of the 2014-15 campaign this coming Thursday and Friday at Rutherford against the U of Alberta Golden Bears to close out the regular season for both clubs. Game time is 7 p.m. both nights. The Golden Bears have locked up first overall in Canada West currently sporting a 22-3-1 mark.
   Those games will also mark the 85th anniversary of the Huskies playing at the Rutherford Rink.

Dogs help battle cancer

The Play For The Cure table at the Rutherford Rink.
   The Huskies hockey teams are both involved in fundraising games to help battle cancer.
   The women's team held their seventh annual Play For The Cure game on Friday. This year the proceeds went to Choc 'la Cure in honour of Cody Smuk, who is an alumnus of the men's hockey team and is battling cancer. The women's team also wore jerseys donated by the family of second-year forward Kennedy Harris. They were worn in memory of Harris's grandmother, Yvette Marie Hyatt, who passed away of cancer.
   The jerseys were auctioned off through a silent auction, and a number of items were available through a raffle on a table set up in the concession area at the Rutherford Rink. The silent auction raised over $2,500.
   Smuk wasn't able to be at Friday's game, because he was in hospital undergoing chemotherapy treatments. Smuk's parents, Marty and Darla, and fiancĂ©e, Stephanie Vause, were in attendance.
   This coming Thursday and Friday, the men's team will be raising funds for their former team member in their final home games of the season against the Golden Bears. Funds are being raised for "Marty's Men," which is the Relay for Life team for Smuk. His nickname is "Marty."
   Smuk helped the Huskies win silver at last year's University Cup national championship tournament. His cancer diagnosis came a couple of months later.

Blades on a roll

Nik Amundrud, left, and Josh Uhrich celebrate Uhrich's goal.
   The young Saskatoon Blades might be giving local WHL fans a glimpse of the future.
   On Sunday night, the Blades rolled off their fifth straight win blanking the Prince Albert Raiders 3-0 before 4,136 spectators at the Sasktel Centre. Currently the run is the longest winning streak the Bridge City Bunch has had during a rebuilding 2014-15 season.
   Goaltender Nik Amundrud made 24 saves to earn his second shutout of the season. Overage captain Brett Stovin potted his 19th of the season on a breakaway in the first period. Garrett Armour and Josh Uhrich added singles in the third.
   Nick McBride turned away 35 shots suffering the loss in goal for the Raiders (19-27-1).
   The Blades are going with a young roster for the rest of the season that contains just two overagers and four players in their 19-year-old seasons. They still sit second last in the entire WHL, but have improved to 14-29-2-1.
   Work ethic has not been a problem for the Blades this season, and head coach and general manager Bob Woods and rest of the team's coaches have to be happy to see some wins are finally happening as a result of the hard work.
   The Blades have also played an open and aggressive style of offensive game during the winning stretch, which has resulted in 23 goals being scored over those five victories. The success has been earned.
   For most of the season, opposing teams could believe they would be pushed by the Blades but would eventually get a character-building victory. With what the Blades have been able to accomplish, opposing teams can't just expect that victory will eventually come in a head-to-head encounter. Saskatoon has to be viewed as a worrisome opponent.
   The Blades will try to extend their winning streak on Wednesday, when they travel to Prince Albert to face the Raiders.

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Saturday, 24 January 2015

Seahawks’ Ryan still one of the boys from the Rams

Jon Ryan boots a punt for the U of Regina Rams in 2002.
   Jon Ryan, the popular and star punter for the Seattle Seahawks.
   I still can't wrap my head around that phrase.
   The 33-year-old Regina product is has one more game to play in his seventh complete season with the Seahawks, but even with his tenure with that NFL club, it still sounds unbelievable. I will always think of Ryan as a talented member of the University of Regina Rams football team.
   During those Rams days, no one ever thought Ryan would earn a Super Bowl ring with the Seahawks last year, throw a touchdown pass in Seattle's NFC Championship victory against the Green Bay Packers last Sunday and will be playing for the Seahawks in the upcoming Super Bowl against the New England Patriots on Feb. 1.
   In Canada, the biggest realistic sports dream is winning the Stanley Cup as a member of an NHL team. In football, the biggest dream is winning the Grey Cup as the champion of the CFL. If you are from Saskatchewan, capturing the Grey Cup with the Roughriders is usually the ultimate dream.
   Winning the Super Bowl with an NFL club wasn't something you dare to dream about as few Canadians have had the opportunity to play in the biggest professional sports league in North America. Super Bowl victories included finishing seasons on the video games Tecmo Super Bowl and Madden Football. Tecmo Super Bowl for the old Nintendo Entertainment System was a favourite video game in Ryan's household, when he was growing up.
Jon Ryan caught a lot of passes as a Rams receiver.
   I first saw Ryan play live in 2000 during Saskatchewan's high school all-star game for graduating players called "The Senior Bowl." He was punting and place kicking for the South Team during a clash with the North Team at a very windy Griffiths Stadium in Saskatoon.

   During that contest won 23-9 by the North Team, I was certain Ryan would become a standout kicker in the Canadian university ranks. If he kept improving, I could foresee him moving on to the CFL, where he did play for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2004 and 2005.
   If he kept and improving and there was a break or two, he might have had a slight chance to crack an NFL roster. As a few Canadian born kickers did move on to have long careers in the NFL, you always had to think that was a possibility, but it was still a remote possibility.
   Ryan joined the Rams in the fall of 2000 for their second season in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport ranks after leaving the Canadian Junior Football League. The big story that year was the return of star quarterback Darryl Leason and his brother and star receiver Michael Leason to the Rams program.
   Both left the University of Calgary Dinos to rejoin the Rams, when the left the junior ranks. Both were stars with the Rams during their junior days.
   When Ryan came as an 18-year-old, the big thinking was the kicking game was never going to be in question, while he wore the green and gold. He was slated to be the punter and place kicker. As I was pretty active with the Rams at that time, I was pretty happy the Sheldon-Williams Collegiate grad was there.
Jon Ryan kicks a field goal for the Rams in 2003.
   Very quickly in training camp, it was easy to take notice of Ryan's booming punts. As his first season began, the Rams coaches had other plans for him.

   Growing up, Ryan was a stellar athlete, who also turned heads in hockey and lacrosse. At one time, there was a thought Ryan could become a professional goaltender in hockey.
   In football, he also played receiver, and Rams brain trust decided it would be wise to utilize his abilities on the offensive side of the ball. As his rookie campaign went on, Ryan began taking more reps in practices and in games playing wide receiver.
   This was a very bold move. Before Ryan, the Rams kickers mainly focused on their kicking duties. The team was also very deep at the time at receiver.
   At receiver future CFL star Jason Clermont, Chris Warnecke, Mike Thomas, Michael Leason and Shane Ostapowich all had stellar careers with the Rams. Also catching passes out of the backfield were with current Saskatchewan Roughriders fullback Neal Hughes, another future CFLer in Cory Olynick and Chris Briltz, who all shared in the Rams spotlight. It was common for the football to never hit the ground in a Rams practice.
   Putting Ryan in with that group was really high praise.
   During that freshman season, Ryan helped the Rams advance to their only Vanier Cup appearance, where they dropped a 42-39 decision to the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees. In that run to the Vanier Cup final in Toronto, Ryan played a part in one of the most memorable plays during a regular season game against the University of Alberta Golden Bears.
   Trailing 31-28 with under two minutes to play in the fourth quarter, Ryan booted up a high on-side kick. The kick was knocked out of the air by Clermont to Warnecke, who was clear of all possible tacklers and had an open path to the end zone. Warnecke charged the distance for the winning score in a 35-31 victory.
Jon Ryan launches a punt for the Rams in 2000.
   The play was a legal one under Canadian rules and one the Rams worked on in practice.

   Ryan made his most memorable offensive play as a sophomore in 2001 in a regular season game at Griffiths against the host University of Saskatchewan Huskies. After a goal-line stand, the Rams were at their own one yard line.
   The Huskies came with a blitz, and Rams quarterback Mark Anderson threw a deep sideline streak pattern to Ryan. Ryan out jumped a defender for the ball, came down with it and raced down the sideline for a 109-yard touchdown reception. Regina fell 34-28, but Ryan's catch was something that would never be forgotten.
   In his final season with the Rams in 2003, Ryan was named the all-star punter for the Canada West football conference and a first team CIS all-Canadian all-star averaging 45.9 yards per boot on 67 attempts. He also had 27 catches in eight regular season games to lead the team with 501 receiving yards, while scoring four touchdowns on receptions. Ryan cemented his reputation as a standout receiver.
   During his final campaigns with the Rams, Ryan got to play alongside younger brother and defensive back, Steve, who was the holder on field goal attempts.
   Away from the field, the elder Ryan was everyone's best friend. The Rams at the time went everywhere together and did everything together.
   I still have very good memories of cruising to a few social occasions with my old white 1987 Chevrolet Capris former police car packed with Ryan and a bunch of other players. One trip I remember Ryan being pretty pumped that rapper Eminem was being cranked on my old stereo system.
Jon Ryan fires a punt for the Rams in 2003.
   It was also cool from that first year with the Rams to see Ryan develop a really super tight friendship with Jarrod Livingstone, who is a Rams super fan that is confined to a wheelchair because of spina bifida. Livingstone was also the grandson of the late Scotty Livingstone, who was a key influential director in building the Rams in their junior years. The friendship between Ryan and Jarrod Livingstone has grown and is stronger than ever in the current day.
   During his Rams years, Ryan set the team's career record for punting average at the university level with 42.6 yards per kick, which still stands to this day. After his final season, hopes were high Ryan would have a lengthy career in the professional ranks in the CFL.
   In 2004, Ryan was selected in the third round and 24th overall by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the CFL Draft. The rookie punter played a key role in the Bombers prevailing 17-4 in what is still their last Labour Day Classic victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
   That contest was a huge defensive battle, and Ryan twice pinned the Roughriders at their own one yard line with two coffin corner kicks. The kicks were so perfect that the football landed both times exactly on the out of bounds spot on the sidelines right beside the one yard-line marker. The officials didn't have any trouble spotting the ball.
Jon Ryan jogs out for starting intros in 2003.
   After witnessing those kicks, you have to believe Ryan would stick in the NFL, if he could get a chance. He signed with the Green Bay Packers in January of 2006. During various Packers camps, the media covering the Packers quickly started asking questions of the Canadian kid who could boom the long punts.
   He spent the 2006 and 2007 campaigns with the Packers. The first season was tough from the fact his father, Bob, passed of cancer. The son played two days after his father's death, and the Packers teammates voted the Canadian punter as the recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award for his display of courage and sportsmanship.
   After being released by the Packers, Ryan quickly caught on with the Seahawks. While career punters and place kicker can be journeymen in the NFL, Ryan's identity has become tied to the fact he is the Seahawks punter.
   While he is making memories doing things in the NFL no Canadian kid would dare dream about, he will still be thought of by a number of people in Regina as a just a good bud from the Rams.

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Sunday, 18 January 2015

Roughed up at Rutherford

Kaitlin Willoughby gets in a scrum with two UBC players.
    It was an odd sight to see Kaitlin Willoughby exchanging punches with opponents, but it was something you could see coming.
    On Saturday night at the Rutherford Rink, the Huskies were trailing the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds 5-1 late in the third period of a Canada West women's hockey game. The clash featured constant exchanges of chirps and pushes and shoves between whistles. The 5-1 score would be the final outcome, but before the game concluded, the frustration of last season's Canadian Interuniversity Sport rookie of the year took over.
    As she drove to the Thunderbirds net late in the third, you could see in her eyes she was driving to the goal motivated by rage, which isn't uncommon at that point in a chippy contest. You either suspected Willoughby would score on that rush, drive goaltender Danielle Dube into the net or get involved in an altercation.
    Willoughby's shot was stopped as she went to the net hard, and then she got involved with a UBC forward Rebecca Unrau and defender Madison Patrick. Both sides got off two to three serious punches each in the scrum, before the officials broke things up without handing out penalties.
    With that setback, the Huskies dropped their fourth game in a row. They also dropped a 1-0 decision at the Rutherford Rink on Friday. Having sat first overall in Canada West at the semester break, the Huskies have dropped to fifth in the conference and face the biggest stretch of adversity they have encountered all season.
    In the losses to the Thunderbirds (12-4-4), the Huskies (11-7-2) visibly got dragged down over time by all the extra-curricular activities that occurred between the whistles. Out of all the teams the Huskies faced in the tight Canada West conference this season, the Thunderbirds arguably are the best skating team they have encountered. UBC also has a lot of talented players like Rafter and Unrau.
    The Thunderbirds also came into the games playing with a high tension edge, which is similar to that of the NHL's Boston Bruins or Philadelphia Flyers. That was a characteristic you hadn't seen to that extent in any other team in the Canada West women's league.
    During Saturday's game, a lot of words were exchanged between whistles. As players went off for line changes, they would usually bump into or shoulder each other as a way to pester each other. A few times, the odd slashes would get traded.
    The Thunderbirds also ran over Huskies netminder Cassidy Hendricks a couple of times early in the contest, which resulted in goaltender interference calls. That also added to the frustration for the home side.
    In some form or other, the exchanges between whistles, be it verbal or physical, will always be part of hockey. The Huskies have to do their best to skate away from that type of activity, because it takes the focus of what they should be doing in the game.
Kandace Cook takes a draw for the Huskies.
    By the sounds of things, that type of activity was even more prevalent in Friday's setback than it was in Saturday's loss.
    Besides the on ice distraction factor, the Huskies need to contend with the fact their offence has dried up, as they have scored only four goals in their four-game skid. Defence has also been the name of the game in the Canada West ranks as only five players are averaging a point or more per game.
    In Saturday's contest Unrau and Tatiana Rafter each scored twice for the Thunderbirds, while Nicole Saxvik had a single. Dube made 27 stops to earn the win in goal for UBC.
    Kandace Cook had the lone goal for the Huskies, while Hendricks made 25 saves suffering the loss in goal for the defending conference champs.
    On Friday night, Thunderbirds forward Stephanie Schaupmeyer had the lone goal of the contest, while Samantha Langford made 25 stops to earn the shutout win in the UBC goal. Hendricks made 25 stops in goal for the Huskies.
    Going forward into their final eight games, the Huskies need to focus on having a good outing in their next outing against the University of Manitoba Bisons (14-5-1). Those two teams meet this coming Friday at 7 p.m. at the Rutherford Rink. There is still lots of time for them to get their game back to the level it was in the first semester before playoffs roll around.

Fourth time a charm for Adolph

Head coach Dave Adolph works the Huskies bench. 
    Dave Adolph finally got the record.
    The head coach of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men's hockey team became the Canadian Interuniversity Sport leader in career conference wins on Friday night, when his Huskies down the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds 4-3 in double overtime in Vancouver. Friday's victory gave Adolph his 378th career conference victory, which passed the old mark of 377 held by legendary University of Alberta Golden Bears head coach Clare Drake. Adolph also holds the record for career games coached in the CIS, which stood at 722 after Friday's action.
    "There's only one Clare Drake," said Adolph to UBC sports information assistant Tim Huebsch. "In my mind, he's responsible for the success of CIS men and women's hockey. I've been fortunate to have coached for a long time, and although records are meant to be broken, Clare Drake remains in a league of his own."
The veteran bench boss had to wait for the record breaker. The Huskies lost their previous three games before pulling out the double overtime victory over the Thunderbirds.
    For a while, it appeared Friday's game would be a fourth straight setback. The Thunderbirds led 3-0 on goals from Nick Buonassisi, Luke Lockhart and David Robinson. Robinson's tally came at the 6:51 mark of the third, and it appeared the game was over.
    The Huskies, who have had trouble scoring goals in bunches this season, stormed back to force a 3-3 tie to send the contest to overtime. Craig McCallum scored for the Huskies on a power play, and Jesse Ross added another goal for the visitors just 33 seconds later to cut the lead to 3-2. Defenceman Connor Cox picked up the equalizer with 5:27 to play in the frame.
    After playing a scoreless four-on-four first overtime period, McCallum scored in the three-on-three second overtime frame to give the Huskies a 4-3 win.
    Ryan Holfeld made 30 saves to earn the win in goal. Eric Williams turned away 22 shots in net for the Thunderbirds.
    The Huskies weren't able to duplicate the comeback heroics one night later falling 5-0 to the host Thunderbirds. Buonassisi, Greg Fraser, Brad Hoban, Joe Antilla and Anthony Bandaro netted singles for the Thunderbirds (11-9-4). Matt Hewitt made 22 saves for the shutout win in the UBC goal.
    Jordon Cooke made 32 saves suffering the loss in goal for the Huskies (10-13-1).
    The Huskies return to action this coming Friday and Saturday, when they travel to Winnipeg to take on the University of Manitoba Bisons (12-12). U of S needs to earn four more points in the standings to lock up a playoff berth.

Mistaken identity

Tigers forward Trevor Cox celebrates a goal. 
    So it appears Connor Cox was in two places at the same time on Friday night.
    Out in Vancouver, Cox had the equalizer for the U of Saskatchewan Huskies men's hockey team to tie the UBC Thunderbirds 3-3 in the third period. The Huskies would win that contest 4-3 in double overtime.
    Back in Saskatoon, a Blades online game story from their 5-4 victory over the Medicine Hat Tigers in a WHL clash at the Sasktel Centre gave the Tigers fourth goal to Connor Cox.
    The line in the game story said, "Connor Cox would add to his league-leading points total, scoring just seconds after a Tiger power play ended."
    The story meant to say Trevor Cox, who leads the WHL in scoring, picked up the Tigers fourth goal.
The real Connor Cox manning the Huskies blue-line
    To be fair, I understand how easily the mistake could happen. During his career in the WHL, Connor Cox played 121 regular season games with the Blades from 2010 to 2012. Over that time, Connor became extremely popular in the Blades' dressing room, with the team's staff and the local media that covered the hockey club. He also became a fan favourite as he developed his strong reputation as being a team-first guy.
    You can be sure the staffers with the Blades have a bunch of good memories of Connor, and his name was likely ingrained in the head of the person writing the game story for the web.
    I know for myself I have made my share of errors during my years writing stories. You don't want them to happen, but they do.
    As for the one from the online story, it allows those that know and are friends with Connor to engage in some humour with him.

Blades looking good

The Saskatoon Blades celebrate Friday's win.
    Speaking of the Saskatoon Blades, they played their first home games since the WHL trade deadline and Jan. 10, and the team's young roster impressed.
    Stuck near the bottom of the league standings, the Blades made a bunch of moves leading up to the deadline to build a more youthful roster. Currently the Blades only have two overage players and four players in their 19-year-old seasons.
    On Friday night, they pulled off a major 5-4 upset of the Medicine Hat Tigers, who are once again a powerhouse club in the league. The contest was a back-and-fourth affair, where the Blades ultimately overcame a 4-3 deficit to pull out a one-goal victory.
    Rookie defenceman Nolan Reid scored the winner near the midway point of the third.
    Best part about that win for Saskatoon was the fact the Blades played aggressive the whole game and weren't afraid to make plays offensively. They also received some much needed breaks getting a pair of goals to go in off the skates of Tigers defencemen and capitalized on a giveaway on a short-handed situation.
    On Saturday night, the Blades slipped past the Kootenay Ice 3-2 at the Sasktel Centre. Wyatt Sloboshan played the role of hero scoring the winner for Saskatoon with 10.8 second to play in the third to break a 2-2 tie.
    With three wins in a row, the Blades improve to 12-29-2-1. While the win column has been dry for long stretches of the season, the work ethic has been there for the Blades. The wins should supply some confidence and help the team to continue to set building blocks for the future.

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Wednesday, 14 January 2015

“The bag skate” belongs in the dinosaur age

Winning the Tigers’ way should be the way of the present and the future 

Trevor Cox celebrates a goal with his Tigers teammates
            Every hockey player dreads “the bag skate.”
            For the non-hockey people out there, “the bag skate” is basically a punishment style practice a coach puts a team through, when the players aren’t performing well. In a lot of hockey circles, it is viewed as a necessary evil to make a team win and is said to be used as a last resort.
            A bag skate practice involves the players on a team skating hard for a lengthy period of time as hard as they can, and the overall sessions can last for two hours. During these types of practices, a puck never touches the ice.
            In the 1987 “The Boys on the Bus” documentary on the Wayne Gretzky-era Edmonton Oilers, cameras filmed the Oilers participating in a bag skate during a slump in the 1986-87 season. Some players were vomiting including “The Great One” himself. This often happens in a bag skate.
            After that two hour punishment practice, the ice was resurfaced and the Oilers went on to hold a real practice.
            When I explain “the bag skate” concept to someone who has never been involved with the sport, I often receive a disgusted reaction.
            For the longest time, I thought it was a fair game thing to do in hockey. As I travel around various hockey circles, it seems that line of thinking is still there.            
Netminder Marek Langhamer protects the Tigers goal.
           My views on “the bag skate” changed in the 2004-05 campaign, which was my first of 10 straight seasons covering the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers. During a losing streak in mid-season, I asked head coach Willie Desjardins, who is now the head coach of the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks, if he would utilize “the bag skate.”
            He replied, “So Darren, tell me how is this going to help my players play better?”
            Desjardins explained all that type of practice would do is make the players hate the coach and want to rebel. He said the coaches have keep focusing on teaching to help the players correct their mistakes or overcome any mental obstacles they may be facing, so that they will perform better.
            As fate would have it, the Tigers would proceed to roll off a big winning streak right after that interview.
            The problem with “the bag skate” revolves around the respect card. The theory of “the bag skate” is if you subject the players to one of those types of practices they will in turn play well enough to avoid future punishment.
            Unfortunately, coaches that use that technique often accompany it with an “I am going to fix those bums” kind of attitude. Often this is expressed to the assistant coaches.
             In turn, “the bag skate” is damaging on two fronts. First, if the coach isn’t showing respect for the players, the players won’t show respect for the coach.
             Second, if the tactic is used as a way to force the players to play better so they won’t go through that again, that is a negative motivator. That is another thing that can help kill morale for a team, because you are not playing the game for positive reasons.
             Desjardins always believed one of the best ways to help a player is to show a player respect. During one-on-one meetings, he will get to know the player, and proceed to show genuine concern for all aspects of that player’s life.           
Tyler Lewington moves the puck up ice for the Tigers.
           Once the player understands the coach is legitimately going to be there for you, the player will play their butt off for the coach. I saw that for years with the Tigers when Desjardins was coaching them, and it continues to this day under the team’s current coaching staff under head coach and general manager Shaun Clouston.
            Other things the Tigers always try to push are the ideas that hockey is a great game and the rink is the best place to be. Various ways the Tigers would up the atmosphere would be utilizing sometimes goofy after practice games that still seemed to develop skills, watching events like world junior games in the dressing room or lounge area at The Arena or barbecues that are put on by owners Darrell and Brent Maser. The barbecues are a usual fixture that occurs before the team embarks on each playoff round.
            The tactics work. Even after a loss, the Tigers players may arrive at practice the next day feeling down, but they were never disappointed to be at the rink.
            When the Tigers hold practice, they ensure that all the drills are done for a reason. A lot of the drills the Tigers do are aimed at perfecting their transition game. When they are working on aspects like the power play, no small detail is ever overlooked, which includes pointing out how the slightest change of position around the net will create a better scoring chance.
            There are moments when the competitive part of practice is still cranked up. One of the best drills the Tigers coaches use for that is playing two-on-two games with the nets situated opposite each other on an offensive zone faceoff circle.
            During this drill, the players are often battling each other on the boards for the puck and the competitive juices do flow. Those who are not in the drill cheer those that are participating in the drill on. This drill helps the Tigers players in situations where they have to battle for the puck in tight areas in games.
Cole Sanford celebrates a goal for the Tigers.
Last season, Clouston used an idea from football and utilized a walk-through practice. When the team was in a busy stretch in playoffs, a walk through practice was held to implement new strategies and make adjustments that would be used for the upcoming game on the power play.
            Another thing the Tigers do to improve play is watch video and lots of it. Desjardins was big in watching video, and Clouston takes that aspect to a captain video extreme at times. When the team wasn’t on the ice, a laptop was usually glued in Clouston’s hands.
            It could be in one-on-one sessions or in team meetings, the Tigers coaches use video as a big tool to allow a player to see where they can correct aspects in their play. Video is also used to reinforce good habits.
           The Tigers bench bosses always ensure they show players video of things they are doing well. This is usually a big hit in team video sessions where all the players get an opportunity to applaud good play.
           Through those sessions, players do realize the coaches do know what they are talking about.
           Another big trait the Tigers coaches have had since Desjardins’ days with the team is patience. Desjardins said one big difference between the junior ranks and the professional ranks is the fact errors have a tendency to reoccur again after being corrected more quickly in junior than professionally. That characteristic has a lot more to do with the fact the players in junior are younger than those in the pros.        
Anthony Ast takes a draw for the Tigers.
             As you go down the levels in minor hockey, the patience level has to increase that much more.
            The Tigers coaches were never afraid to go over things again to correct mistakes, if they start occurring again. Other coaches should feel free to follow that lead.
            During the 10 seasons I covered the Tigers, they made the playoff every year, advanced to the second round nine times, the conference finals four times and won the 2007 WHL title. After seeing how the Tigers did things, I know why “the bag skate” is still around in hockey. 
             It is time for a lot more hockey coaches to step into the future.

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Sunday, 11 January 2015

Outmatched: Dinos too much for Huskies

Parker Thomas (#24) tries to set up offence for the Huskies.
            Could the unthinkable happen? Could the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team actually finish a regular season with a losing record?
            Unless the Dogs can roll off a big win streak over their last six games, it appears likely a losing record will happen. On the weekend, it became really apparent the Huskies are a bit of a distance away from being one of the top teams in the Canada West conference.
            The Huskies battled the University of Calgary Dinos at the ancient Rutherford Rink and fell 6-3 on Friday night and 5-2 on Saturday night. With the wins, the Dinos improved to 15-7 to sit alone in second place in the conference.
U of S fell to 9-12-1 and dropped to sixth overall in the conference. The Huskies sit five points up on the seventh place U of Regina Cougars (6-14-2) for the final playoff berth in the conference.
The last time the Huskies finished with a losing record in regular season play was way back in the 1995-96 campaign, when they posted an 11-14-3 record. Over the past six seasons, the Huskies have been an impressive 105-52-11, which includes winning a Canada West title in 2012 and a second place finish at last year’s University Cup.
Roster turnover has definitely caught up with the Dogs. They have 12 players in their first year of eligibility, with the bulk of those newcomers coming on the forward lines. The Dinos in contrast have five first year players.
Calgary also has more higher end former Western Hockey League players on its roster than Saskatchewan does.
With all that said, the Dinos only pulled out respective 2-0 and 2-1 victories early on in the season in Calgary. The notion that the Huskies could pull out two win in their home rink wasn’t unthinkable.
Friday’s tilt was back-and-forth. Craig McCallum scored 55 second into the third period to cut the Dinos two-goal lead to 4-3.
Shortly after that tally, Calgary put the contest away going up by the final of 6-3 scoring goals 28 seconds apart from each other. David Vandane had the first marker, while Colton Grant had the second marker.
Philip Tot, Alex Dzielski, Chris Collins and Brooks Myers had the other singles for the Dinos, while Kris Lazaruk made 35 saves to earn the win in goal.
Zak Stebner and Jesse Ross also netted singles for the Huskies, while Ryan Holfeld made 23 stops taking the loss in goal.
Dinos goalie Jacob DeSerres holds down the fort.
On Saturday, the Huskies played the Dinos close and trailed 3-2 heading into the final two minutes of the third. Dinos forward Ryan Harrison then potted an empty netter and added another tally in the final seconds to seal a 5-2 victory.
During that contest, the Dinos had the Huskies pinned in their own zone for extended periods of time.
Danny Gayle, Elgin Pearce and Kevin King also had singles for the Dinos, while Jacob DeSerres made 14 stops to earn the win in goal.
Tayler Thompson and McCallum netted singles for the Huskies, while Jordon Cooke turned away 25-of-29 shots suffering the loss in goal.
Huskies head coach Dave Adolph is holding at 377 career conference wins, which ties him with University of Alberta Golden Bears head coach Clare Drake for the Canadian Interuniversity Sport record for conference victories. Adolph will have to hope the fourth attempt at getting the record will be a charm.
U of S heads on the road to Vancouver for two key games against the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds. The Thunderbirds hold down fourth overall in the conference with a 10-9-3 record, which means they would host a first round playoff series if the regular season ended right now.
If the Huskies still hope to host a home playoff series, they needed to win at least one of those games to keep those hopes alive. With that said, one win might not be enough. A sweep is likely needed.
With the Huskies in a rebuild, a home playoff series and a winning regular season record might not be in the cards for the current campaign.

Paparazzi picture a good sign

Huskies ace picture taker Kandace Cook.
            The volume of the laughs and the mischievous giggles gave away that something was up.
            During the Huskies men’s hockey game on Jan. 3 at the Rutherford Rink against the U of Lethbridge Pronghorns, I went over behind the Pronghorns net to shoot pictures in the second period. The Pronghorns were in the end that contained the box seats at the Rutherford and most of the members of the Huskies women’s hockey team were up there.
            As I was getting ready to shoot, I could hear the laughter, and I knew something was going on. When I returned home that night, I saw fifth-year forward Kandace Cook took a picture of me doing my thing and put it on Twitter.
            I am all cool with that. If that helps the Huskies have fun at the rink and win, it is all good. The Rutherford is their home rink, and it should always be a fun place for them to be at.
Actually, to me that is a good sign. If they have the comfort level to do something like that, it is just another signal that shows me how together the Huskies women’s team is and that they have another intangible to help them be successful.
            I don’t mind getting made fun of or being the victim of a prank. Pretty much all the women’s sports teams I have dealt with that have won have done something along those lines.
            It is just too bad the Cook’s Huskies took one on the chin in their first weekend back. They traveled to Calgary and were swept by the Dinos by respective scores of 4-1 and 5-2 on Friday and Saturday.
            The Dinos roster contains Canadian National team icon Hayley Wickenheiser and Russian national team standouts Iya Gavrilova and Alexandra Vafina. All three were not with the Dinos last season because it was Olympic year.
            Back in October, the Huskies swept the Dinos, who had all those stars on the ice, 4-3 in overtime and 3-1 at the Rutherford Rink. After those results, you can bet the Dinos, who are guided by head coach and former Canadian national team star Danielle Goyette, played the revenge card in an old school style way like how head coach Bill Belichick prefers to see his New England Patriots bury opponents in the NFL.
            In Friday’s encounter in Calgary, Heather Berzins, Wickenheiser, Janelle Parent and Kate Lumley netted singles for the Dinos, while Carissa Fischer made 23 stops to earn the win in goal.
            Cook had the Huskies lone goal, while Cassidy Hendricks made 44 stops taking the loss in the Huskies net.
            A day later, Erica Mitschke scored twice for the Dinos, while Megan Grenon, Gavrilova and Vafina netted singles. Fischer made 13 stops to earn the win in goal.
            Captain Paige Anakaer and Hailey Tyndall picked up singles for the Huskies. Hendricks turned away 15-of-20 shots starting in goal for the Huskies. Jerrica Waltz stopped all 14 shots she faced in a relief appearance.
            The Dinos vaulted into first in Canada West improving to 11-3-4. The Huskies dropped from first to fifth in the tight contested conference with an 11-5-2 mark.
            The Huskies return to action this coming Friday and Saturday when they host the Thunderbirds (10-4-4) at 7 p.m. on both nights at the Rutherford Rink.
            The losses to the Dinos were likely a big learning experience for the Huskies in dealing with a revenge minded team.
            Knowing the character of the players on the Dogs, expect them to bounce back and move on.

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