Sunday, 26 April 2015

Super send-off for Smuk

A Dodge Ram takes Cody Smuk and family to the airport in Saskatoon.
    It seemed like Cody Smuk's smile could be seen for miles, when he approached the Saskatoon John G. Diefenbaker International Airport early Sunday morning.
    The former forward with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies, his fiancée Stephanie Vause, his mother Darla and father Marty were on their way to begin their air journey to Germany. He is heading overseas to seek alternative treatment for cancer in his chest, which revolves around a tumour. Smuk has been battling cancer since May of last year.
    As the black Dodge Ram truck driven by Smuk's father Marty approached the airport, they encountered a large gathering of well wishers. A huge group of family and friends lined the snowy road leading to the entrance to the airport and cheered as the black Dodge drove past. Vause and Darla gave waves through the windows.
    The gathering included members of various Huskies teams including a large contingent of past and present players from the men's hockey team, who were Cody Smuk's former teammates.
    A number of people arrived at about 8:30 a.m., which was about 45 minutes before the 25-year-old arrived at the airport. The send-off occurred in spite of the fact the weather hadn't been the greatest.
Some of Cody Smuk's supporters came out with signs of support on Sunday.
    About 20 centimetres of snow fell on Saskatoon on Saturday, and a number of power outages in the city early Sunday morning likely made a few people late for the festivities, as alarm clocks lost power. The streets were mired in slush and huge puddles.
    Still, the obstacles didn't deter anyone. During his four seasons with the Huskies, Smuk built a reputation as a hard-working and team-first player. He was very good-natured, easy going and quickly became popular with large masses of the student body.
    Those in the community of Saskatoon had taken the local product into their hearts. During his hockey career, Smuk played four WHL seasons split between the Chilliwack Bruins, Lethbridge Hurricanes and Moose Jaw Warriors, and he developed lots of support in those centres.
    It didn't surprise anyone that a big group of people came out to wish him well.
    The gathering felt warm and full of hope. Just to be part of the group was uplifting in itself.
    A couple of crews came out from local television stations. Recent women's basketball grad Kabree Howard and men's hockey forward Matthew Spafford handled most of the interviews and said a lot of upbeat things.
Part of the gathering that came out to pass on good wishes to Cody Smuk.
    In Germany, Smuk will undergo a vaccine treatment. Doctors there plan to boost Smuk's immune system by taking a sample of the tumour in his chest and create a vaccine for it. Other treatments will be decided upon once Smuk arrives.
    When he returns, a steak night fundraiser is being planned for Thursday, June 4, at the Kinsmen/Henk Ruys Soccer Centre. The warm feeling that was present on Sunday morning will likely return for the June 4 fundraiser.
    All those that support Smuk hope that fate would allow that night to turn into a victory party.

    If you have any comments about this blog, feel free to email them to Smuk's family is still raising funds to pay for the trip to Germany. Those looking to help Smuk with his cancer battle can do so by clicking here.

The 2014-15 Saskatoon Stars will shine forever

The Saskatoon Stars celebrate winning the SFMAAAHL title.
    When you post a 45-5 record, there isn't too much you can be disappointed about.
    That mark was put up by the Saskatoon Stars during action in the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League regular season and playoffs, the prestigious Mac's tournament and the Esso Cup national championship tournament. On Saturday in Red Deer, the Stars skated away with a 5-1 victory over the Portage la Prairie based Central Plains Capitals to capture a bronze medal at the Esso Cup.
    With the way victories piled up for the Stars this season, it seemed they would win the Esso Cup to complete the triple crown of female midget AAA hockey in Canada by winning the Mac's tournament title, the provincial title and the Esso Cup all in the same season.
    On New Year's Day, the Stars downed the Calgary Fire 4-2 at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary in a nationally televised game to bring home the team's second ever Mac's title. Saskatoon was a perfect 9-0 in the SFMAAAHL playoffs. A 2-0 victory over the Prince Albert A & W Bears at the Agriplace Arena gave the Stars their first SFMAAAHL title in team history.
    They advanced through the preliminary round of the Esso Cup with a 4-1 record. In a semifinal match on Friday, they suffered an untimely fifth loss with a 2-1 setback after a tiebreaking shootout to the host Red Deer Chiefs.
    Saskatoon rebounded nicely with the 5-1 win in the bronze medal game. Mackenna Parker, Sophie Shirley, Julia Rongve, Kianna Dietz and Nara Elia all scored singles for the Stars, while Karlee Fetch made 27 saves in goal to pick up the final victory of her midget AAA career before graduating to the post-secondary ranks.
Courtney Cormack (#17) hugs Brittany Heuchert after a goal.
    Sheridan Oswald had the lone reply for the Capitals, while Lauren Taraschuk stopped nine shots in goal.
    While there had to be some disappointment the Stars didn't get to the Esso Cup title game and win it, they were still making their first appearance in team history at nationals, and the bronze finish was their first medal win at the event. Their season was spectacular.
    They were good even in their semifinal loss on Friday. Shirley gave the Stars a 1-0 lead scoring on the power-play at the 8:18 mark of the first. It looked like Saskatoon would get rolling at that point.
    Cassidy Hollman potted the equalizer for Red Deer on the power play in the second to make the score 1-1. Chiefs netminder Sarah Murray turned away 30 shots through regulation and a 10-minute four versus four overtime period.
    Emma Johnson, a 15-year-old sophomore, was equally as good in goal for the Stars turning away 25 shots through 70 minutes of play.
    The Chiefs had two goals disallowed. One was called back due to the Saskatoon net being knocked ajar and the second was disallowed after being knocked in with a high stick.
    The Stars failed to score on at least four different breakaway opportunities. One of those chances came in overtime, when 18-year-old forward Brittany Heuchert failed to find the back of the net. As one of most loved and respected players amongst her teammates, Heuchert would have written a story book finish to that game had she scored.
    Instead, Red Deer's Mairead Bast scored the only goal in a tiebreaking shootout in the session's fourth round to give the Chiefs victory.
Karlee Fetch made 27 saves in her final win in goal for the Stars.
    Overall, the Stars season was beyond something that would be written about in a fairy tale or a movie script even with the semifinal setback. They entered the season with only five players in their 17-year-old and final midget campaign. Saskatoon's roster was loaded with players in their 15-year-old seasons and five players in their 14-year-old campaigns, which meant they were still eligible for bantam hockey.
    At the start of the campaign, it would be hard to think the big goals they accomplished would be possible. Going out and winning 90 per cent of your meaningful games is something no coach or anyone involved with a team can imagine at the start of a season.
    Various football teams have done that, but over the course of a season that ranges anywhere from 10 to 16 games at the amateur level. It is unthinkable over a campaign that contains 50 contests.
    Over the season, Shirley, who was the SFMAAAHL and Esso Cup most valuable player, and Elia, who was the SFMAAAHL scoring leader and Esso Cup most sportsmanlike player, emerged as superstar talents.
    The campaign was a dream that became a reality. Had the Stars won the Esso Cup, the campaign would have been better than a dream.
    It is safe to say the season the Stars had will never be forgotten by the players, coaches, team staff, parents or the team's fans.

Narcisse All-Star Event a big success

A Don Narcisse football card from 1991.
    Saturday was alright for Don Narcisse and friends.
    The Canadian Football Hall of Fame member, who starred as a receiver for the Saskatchewan Roughriders from 1987 to 1999, was in Saskatoon on Saturday hosting a one-day football kids' camp. The day concluded with a gala dinner at the Travelodge hotel. The entire function for the day, which was titled the Don Narcisse All-Star Event, raised funds for Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Saskatoon and Area.
    The camp held at the Sasktel Sports Centre was a big hit, where about 150 kids aged seven to 18 ran through a series of fun drills to develop skills. The camp helped reinforce a love of the game for the kids, and it allowed them to meet a number of current and former Roughriders players.
    The guest coaches included Belton Johnson, John Chick, Anthony Allen, Levi Steinhauer, Xavier Fulton, Marco Harris, Paul Woldu and Weldon Brown. Chick was the keynote speaker at the gala dinner.
    This marked the fifth year in a row Narcisse hosted one of his All-Star Events in Saskatoon, and it was once again a big hit bringing in all sorts of positive reaction.

    If you have any comments about this blog, feel free to email them to

Friday, 24 April 2015

Rally for Smuk gains momentum again

Cody Smuk gets set to drop the puck for a ceremonial faceoff.
    Losing is not an option for Cody Smuk and his family and friends.
    Since his Cancer diagnosis in May of last year, the former member of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men's hockey team and his supporters have put up a fight that has been worthy of winning the Stanley Cup. With the latest challenge in that battle, Smuk and his supporters are showing they will go beyond even that effort to win this fight.
    At first, Smuk was diagnosed with testicular cancer, and he had a tumour in his right lung that was causing concern. His friends and family rallied.
    Last June, his girlfriend and now fiancée 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.
    The cancer battle took an upward swing. Smuk, who stands 5-foot-11, completed his original chemotherapy treatments on Aug. 11, 2014, and good news kept coming back from subsequent visits to the doctor for the man that played in the WHL with the Chilliwack Bruins, Lethbridge Hurricanes and Moose Jaw Warriors.
    Things were going so good that in November of 2014 Smuk donated $10,000 from the money to Choc 'la Cure, which raises fund for equipment for the Saskatoon Cancer Centre. He also had surgery to remove the tumour in his right lung that month and optimism was high that the cancer battle was about to be won.
    Then, the next setback came. Shortly before Christmas of last year, Smuk was informed the tumour that was removed had evidence of uniqueness to it. He discovered he was dealing with another type of cancer that was usually found in children, and there were signs that the tumour that used to be in his right lung was growing back.
Cody Smuk drops the puck for a ceremonial faceoff before a Huskies game.
    In response, both the men's and women's Huskies hockey teams held fundraising game nights in January for cancer fighting charities in Smuk's honour. He dropped the puck for a ceremonial faceoff before a men's hockey game between the Huskies and University of Alberta Golden Bears on Jan. 31.
    Last Sunday, more tough news followed. Smuk's family announced the treatment plan for the 25-year-old had changed. The hard working and team first forward on the ice found out the tumour in the right side of his chest was having a mixed response to three months of chemotherapy treatments.
    Doctors also said the tumour was inoperable because of its mass and location in Smuk's chest. As a result of this news, Smuk will seek alternative treatments in place of chemotherapy.
    Smuk and Vause are departing for Germany on Sunday, where Smuk will undergo a vaccine treatment. Doctors there plan to boost Smuk's immune system by taking a sample of the tumour in his chest and create a vaccine for it. Other treatments will be decided upon once Smuk arrives.
    The treatments and trips add up to an expensive cost, and Smuk's family was once again engaged with fundraising through the account hoping to hit a goal of raising $100,000.
Cody Smuk and Stephanie Vause watch a Huskies game.
    In November of 2014, the account sat at $33,000. Last Monday, the account sat with just over $40,000. On Friday as the lunch hour neared, the account had grown to just over $80,000.
    A large number of current and past members of various Huskies teams and the Warriors spread news of Smuk's situation through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. A steak night fundraiser has been planned for 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 4, at the Kinsmen/Henk Ruys Soccer Centre for when Smuk returns to Saskatoon. Tickets will be $25 for adults and $15 for children, but a date for when ticket sales are to start is still to be determined.
    Smuk has always been a likable and community minded person. During his cancer battle, he has tried to spread the work about others who are also enduring their own fights with the disease.
    Through the journey, Smuk and Vause have remained positive and upbeat, which in itself has been inspiring for family and friends. Smuk won't quit and his supporters won't give in until this battle is won in spite of any obstacle that comes along the way. They want to ensure this heartwarming story has a positive and inspiring outcome.
    For those looking to donate to Smuk's account, they can do so by clicking here.

Stars stars capture Esso Cup awards

Sophie Shirley (#8) was named the MVP of the Esso Cup tournament.
    The accolades keep pouring in for Saskatoon Stars forwards Sophie Shirley and Nara Elia.
    The two standouts captured big honours at the Esso Cup female midget AAA national championship tournament taking place in Red Deer, Alta. On Friday, Shirley was named the tournament's most valuable player and won the top scorer award piling up seven goals and six assist in the preliminary round. Elia was named the most sportsmanlike player, while recording four goals and five assists.
    Karli Shell of the Sudbury Lady Wolves took home honours as the event's top forward, her teammate Danika Ranger was named the top goaltender and Tamara McVannel of the Central Plains Capitals, who are based out of Portage la Prairie, was named the top defensive player.
Nara Elia was name the Esso Cup's most sportsmanlike player.
    The Stars finished second after the round robin portion of the six-team tournament in second place with a 4-1 record. They opened the tournament last Sunday falling to the Lady Wolves 4-1, but proceeded to roll off four straight wins.
    During their current four-game winning streak, the Stars downed the Capitals 3-2 on Monday, the Edmonton Thunder 5-3 on Tuesday, the Red Deer Chiefs 3-2 on Wednesday and the Moncton Rockets 7-1 on Thursday.
    Saskatoon faces host Red Deer (2-2-1) in one semifinal tonight at 7 p.m. Saskatchewan time. The other semifinal, which is set for 3:30 p.m. Saskatchewan time, features the Lady Wolves (4-1) taking on the Capitals (2-1-0-2).
    The Esso Cup concludes on Saturday with a bronze medal game set for 12 p.m. Saskatchewan time and the gold medal final set for 3:30 p.m. Saskatchewan time. The gold final will be broadcast on TSN5.

Ferland's feel good story

Michael Ferland, centre, shown on TV on the Flames bench.
    It is safe to say that former Saskatoon Blades forward Michael Ferland has become one of the top feel good stories of the NHL playoffs.
    Now a member of the Calgary Flames, the 23-year-old product of Swan River, Man., celebrated his one-year sobriety anniversary on March 27. He opened up to the Calgary media about his journey to quit drinking on his sobriety anniversary day and big support poured in from Flames fans in Calgary ever since.
    During the playoffs, Ferland, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 215 pounds, has developed an even larger fan following after developing into a power forward that lays out all sorts of bone-crunching hits. As the Flames built a 3-2 lead in their best-of-seven opening round series with the Vancouver Canucks, Ferland has talked often about his story to the media and continues to be a prime choice as a post-game interview candidate due to his play. The Flames will try to eliminate the Canucks in Game 6 on Saturday in Calgary.
    Ferland has recorded an assist, a plus-two rating in the plus-minus department and 21 penalty minutes in Calgary's five post-season games, but his impact on the forecheck has been huge. His physical play has become more pronounced than it was in his WHL days with the Blades and Brandon Wheat Kings, where he had 88 goals, 123 assists and 301 penalty minutes in 215 career regular season games.
    Ferland split time in the regular season between the NHL Flames and their American Hockey League affiliate in Adirondack. In total, he played 26 regular season games with the NHL Flames collecting two goals, three assists, a plus-one rating and 16 penalty minutes.
    He has received huge credit for his success in his quest to stay sober. The Flames organization itself should be given huge credit too.
    Shortly before he quit drinking, Ferland, who was selected in the fifth round and 133rd overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft by Calgary, broke down and opened up about his battles during a one-on-one meeting with Calgary head coach Bob Hartley. The Flames proceeded to give Ferland the help he needed. Since the Flames took that action, Ferland has taken off.
    It is safe to say there are still far too many professional sports teams that wouldn't have done what the Flames did, and it is conceivable to believe a number of other NHL teams would have released Ferland. That observation likely holds true with the everyday working world, which is also unfortunate.
    Hopefully one day what Ferland and Flames did will be the norm and not the exception.
    I was also able to interview Ferland for a story for the Saskatoon Express before the NHL playoffs started, and that piece can be found right here.

    If you have any comments about this blog, feel free to email them to

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Stars get going for real at Esso Cup

The Saskatoon Stars celebrate a goal by Jordyn Gerlitz.
    After building up anticipation over 24 off days, the Saskatoon Stars will finally get to play at nationals.
    The local midget AAA girls' hockey team left Saskatoon for Red Deer on Saturday to take part in the six team Esso Cup national championship tournament. Saskatoon opens the tournament Sunday, when they take on the Sudbury Lady Wolves. That match happens open the overall schedule for the tourney.
    Sudbury is making its second straight appearance at the Esso Cup after repeating as Ontario provincial champs. The Wolves were 16-5-1 during the regular season and won a bronze medal at last year's Esso Cup.
    The Stars are participating in the Esso Cup for the first time in team history. They have had a memorable season winning the Mac's tournament for the second time in team history and capturing their first Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League title. Including action in the SFMAAAHL regular season and post-season and the Mac's, Saskatoon enters the Esso Cup sporting a 40-3 overall record.
    The contest between Saskatoon and Sudbury contains a classic rest versus rust storyline. The Stars, who have the youngest team at the Esso Cup, haven't played a game since downing the Prince Albert A & W Bears 2-0 in the final contest of the SFMAAAHL championship series on March 25. The Wolves only had a break of about seven days since winning the Ontario final.
Sophia Shirley has been invited to a Hockey Canada camp in May.
    Saskatoon was led in scoring by the dynamic duo of Nara Elia and Sophia Shirley, who were first and second respectively in SFMAAAHL scoring. Elia had 23 goals and 17 assists helping the Stars post a 25-3 regular season record, while Shirley had 22 goals and 17 assists. Both have two years of midget eligibility remaining.
    Shirley was recently invited to Canada's National Women's Program strength and conditioning camp, which runs May 6-10 in Hamilton, Ont.
    The Esso Cup will mark the final games captain Paige Michalenko, Brittany Heuchert, Courtney Cormack and Karlee Fetch at the midget level. Defender Jenna Nash, who has committed to play for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies, will also graduate from the midget ranks, but the she will sit out the Esso Cup due to injury with an anterior cruciate ligament tear in one of her knees.
    The six teams at the Esso Cup will play five round robin games each, and the top four teams advance to the tournament's semifinal round on April 24. The bronze and gold medal games close the event on April 25.

Swan song for Tigers overagers

Tyler Lewington, left, celebrates a goal with Marek Langhamer.
    The WHL's Medicine Hat Tigers arguably will miss their three overage graduates more than most teams in the major junior ranks will.
    When the Tigers saw their playoff run come to an end Friday with a 4-3 double overtime loss to the Hitmen in Calgary, the major junior careers of goaltender Marek Langhamer and defencemen Tyler Lewington and Kyle Becker came to a conclusion. All three were key contributors to the Tigers on the ice and in the dressing room.
    Langhamer, who has an NHL entry-level contract signed with the Arizona Coyotes, was with the Tigers for three campaigns posting a 68-42-7 record, a 2.86 goals against average, a .905 save percentage and six shutouts during his regular season career. At the moment, it appears the Czech product will be the last European goaltender to play in the WHL unless the Canadian Hockey League changes its import player rules to allow overseas goalies to play again.
    He again had a big post-season posting a 5-5 record in 10 starts with a 2.28 goals against average and a .924 save percentage.
    Lewington, who has an NHL entry-level contract signed with the Washington Capitals, spent four seasons with the Tigers. He arguably had one of the highest compete levels out of any player in the WHL, and he was the Tigers captain this past season. The Sherwood Park, Alta., product was solid in both the offensive and defensive zones posting nine goals, 36 assists, a plus-25 rating in the plus-minus department and 113 penalty minutes in 69 regular season games this past campaign.
    Becker finished the 2011-12 season with the Tigers playing 11 regular season games and two post-season contests and became a full-time team member for the past three campaigns. The Langley, B.C., product developed a reputation for handling the back end with a calming presence. As an overager, he posted 11 goals, 14 assists and a plus-11 rating in 57 regular season games.
    The Tigers entered the 2014-15 campaign with the potential to go a long way in the post-season. They fell 4-1 in a best-of-seven second round series to the Hitmen.
Kyle Becker, right, clears a puck out from deep in his zone.
    Medicine Hat's undoing in the playoffs was due to the fact the offence dried up. In 10 post-season games, the Tigers gave up 25 goals against but only had 25 goals for. Three of the five games with the Hitmen went to overtime, and Calgary claimed two of those contests, which turned out to be the final two games of the series.
    The overtime results were a key factor in the Hitmen winning the series, and it also showed the Tigers weren't able to get the goals they needed at key times in that best-of-seven set.
    Going forward, Langhamer, Lewington and Becker all have potential to experience longer futures in hockey. The Tigers have made the playoffs for 13 straight seasons, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see them extend that run to 14 seasons in 2015-16, when the begin play in the new Medicine Hat Regional Event Centre.
    With their playoff elimination, the Tigers time playing games out of The Arena, which is their long time legendary home rink, has come to an end.

Wapple valiant for Pats

Daniel Wapple stood tall in goal for the Pats in the playoffs.
    Daniel Wapple made the Brandon Wheat Kings sweat.
    The Wheat Kings, who topped the WHL's regular season standings with a 53-11-4-4 mark, were heavy favourites to take out Wapple's Regina Pats in the second round of the post-season. Regina appeared to be in a rebuilding phase trading away a number of key veterans before the league's trade deadline, but the Pats surprised many finishing eighth overall with a 37-24-5-6 record.
    The Pats qualified for just their second appearance in the second round since 1998. They swept the Swift Current Broncos 4-0 in the opening round and were playing with house money.
    After the Wheat Kings took the first two games of their series with the Pats, Wapple stepped up to give Brandon all sorts of fits. The Saskatoon product made 39 saves in a 3-2 Pats victory in Game 3 of the series in Regina. Game 4 in Regina went to overtime, and Wapple made 45 saves before Brandon escaped with a 3-2 win.
    In Game 5 on Friday in Brandon, Wapple made 48 stops before the Wheat Kings prevailed again in overtime by a 3-2 score.
    Wapple will likely be back with the Pats for his overage season, which has to make fans in the Queen City feel good about their prospects in the 2015-16 campaign.

Narcisse all-star event set for Saskatoon

A Don Narcisse card from 1999.
    Former Saskatchewan Roughriders wide receiver Don Narcisse has a one-day football kids' camp coming up in Saskatoon.
    The camp is slated for Saturday, April 25, and it is set to run from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Sasktel Sports Centre. The camp is open for players aged 7 to 18 and the cost is $80 per player plus GST. The fees include a T-shirt and lunch.
    Following the camp, there will be a dinner gala held at the Travelodge Hotel at 6 p.m. with current Roughriders star defensive end John Chick slated to be the keynote speaker. Tickets for the gala dinner are $100 plus GST individually or $750 plus GST for a table of eight. Narcisse has goal to sell 20 tables by Tuesday, and he had six sold by Saturday.
    All proceeds from the camp and the dinner gala go to support Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Saskatoon and Area. Registration for the camp or gala can done by phoning 306-652-1487 or by going online through Narcisse's website by clicking here.

Oilers build NHL Draft Lottery dynasty

A memento from the Oilers winning era.
    The Edmonton Oilers accomplished a dubious milestone on Saturday.
    For the fourth time in six years, the Oilers won the NHL Draft Lottery, and they will have the first overall selection at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft set for June 26-27 in Sunrise, Florida. The distinction is dubious, because the Oilers also had to finish low enough for a number of consecutive years in the NHL standings to collect those first overall picks.
    The consensus first overall pick this year is viewed as a big prize in forward Connor McDavid of the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League. McDavid, who netted 44 goals and 76 assists in 47 regular season games with the Otters, is being described as the best draft prospect since the Pittsburgh Penguins selected Sidney Crosby back in 2005.
    The Oilers haven't made the playoffs since 2006, when they advanced to the Stanley Cup finals and fell in seven-game series to the Carolina Hurricanes. Since that time, Edmonton's NHL team has been the butt end of jokes for how bad it has been.
    When it was announced the Oilers had the first overall pick, social media, especially Twitter, blew up. People were in disbelief the Oilers won the pick. There were all sorts of predictions made that the Oilers will find a way to mess everything up.
    Time will tell, but it will be interesting to see how everything plays out over the next two months leading up to the NHL Entry Draft.

    If you have any comments about this blog, feel free to email them to

My love-hate relationship with the NHL playoffs

The Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks battle on television.
    Oh NHL playoffs, you are so good to me and so bad to me.
    I love your day to day drama. I can't get enough of seeing the reaction from everyone over the P.K. Subban slash on Mark Stone.
    That line brawl between the Calgary Flames and the Vancouver Canucks on Friday night had me full awake as the 11 p.m. hour neared here in Saskatoon. I couldn't get enough of the shenanigans between Derek Dorsett and Deryk Engelland.
    As I watch Detroit play Tampa Bay as I write this blog post, I perked up during a first period line scrum.
    I also loved seeing the New York Rangers jump out to an early 2-0 lead on the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night and hold on for a 2-1 victory. I was compelled by how ordinary Sidney Crosby looked only recording one shot on goal and finishing at a minus-one in the plus-minus department. I wondered if this could be the end of the Penguins being considered a serious contender in the present and in the future.
    Kris Russell blasting home a late winner for the Flames in their 2-1 victory over the Canucks in Game 1 of their series was cool to watch. So was Alex Galchenyuk's overtime goal celebration for the Montreal Canadiens in their Game 2 victory on Friday over the Ottawa Senators.
    Unfortunately NHL playoffs, there is a drawback. You are starting to take up too much of my time.
Petr Mrazek looks shocked on television during a Detroit loss to Tampa Bay.
    For the first time in about 14 years, my evenings have been cleared of work. I am plunking myself in front of the television and watching you all the time.
    The weather for most of the past week in Saskatoon has been good. I should have tuned up my bikes and gone for a ride. I should have gone out for a walk or a run on the Meewasin Trail.
I should be trying to set up visits with family or friends. You distract me as I try to work out, and as a result, I am planning my workout schedule around you.
    Due to the fact you are on television so much, you are preventing me from doing a pile of other tasks I should be doing in my day to day life.
    But, you are able to catch my attention like the way you notice someone as beautiful as Carrie Underwood walking down the street. Actually, you are able to bring her into my living room too as she watches husband Mike Fisher play for the Nashville Predators. Those camera crews show those lovely pictures of Underwood in her Predators gear to keep me further hooked in.
Derek Dorsett fight Deryk Engelland on television.
    Oh NHL playoffs, you also tease me with the fact that five Canadian based teams are among the 16 clubs battling for the Stanley Cup. As a topper, I get to watch the Winnipeg Jets compete in an NHL post-season for the first time in 19 years.
    The Jets are my favourite team, and I have dug out old items from the past for this year's "Whiteout." I have proudly worn my 1980s white Dale Hawerchuk jersey and my 1990s white Keith Tkachuk jersey. My current era white Jets jersey is a Dustin Byfuglien beauty.
    I was so crushed when their 2-1 lead over the Anaheim Ducks disappear and turn into a 4-2 setback in Game 1 of that series on Thursday night. In defeat, I did appreciate how gifted Ducks forwards Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf were in combining for three goals and four assists.
    As a fan, I do see Perry as a little punk, but he is a likable little punk. If Perry played for the Jets, I would be doing the big fist pump and would be super happy he played for my team.
    When the games go on, I also find myself making comments both serious and humourous on the games, and one like or retweet is enough to keep me going. Seeing Theo Fleury's comments about the Flames also keeps me engaged.
I am all set to watch the Winnipeg Jets play on television.
    Yes NHL playoffs, you are becoming an addition. On the plus side, I am good at recognizing behaviours that become an addition, and you are the type of addition I can put on the shelf with a snap of a finger.
    But right now, I don't want to. Please keep teasing me NHL playoffs and keep holding my attention with all your dramas. You are a great distraction.
    And if you could, please allow my Winnipeg Jets to win tonight. That would be really good.

    If you have any comments about this blog, feel free to email them to

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Stars write inspiring story

Brittany Heuchert, left, and Hollie Coumont celebrate with the Fedoruk Cup.
    The Saskatoon Stars can do no wrong.
    It seems like everything the Bridge City based female midget AAA hockey club does turns to gold.
    Coming into the 2014-15 campaign, the Stars have traditionally been a strong club in the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League. They won a Mac's tournament title in 2011. They made three straight league finals appearances from 2010 to 2012, but an SFMAAAHL title eluded them.
    The Stars were a respectable 13-11-4 in 2013-14, but they were swept away in the first round of the playoffs by Swift Current.
    It was reasonable to assume they would contented to appear in the league finals in 2014-15. Not even the most bright-eyed optimist could have seen the dream season that was to come.
    During the regular season, they topped the SFMAAAHL standings with a franchise best 25-3 record. They were 6-0 at the Mac's tournament winning the event's title game for the second time in team history. In the SFMAAAHL playoffs, the Stars brought their game up another level downing three determined opponents in posting a 9-0 record to win the Fedoruk Cup.
    They will play in their first ever appearance at the Esso Cup national championship tournament, which runs April 19-25 in Red Deer, Alta.
Kianna Dietz celebrates scoring a goal for the Stars.
    As the journey through the season progressed, it looked the Stars enjoyed every moment of it. No matter what point in the season it was, you could see there was a special pure love for the game. When the playoffs came around, there was an excited and maybe even innocent attitude from the players that if they won this big game they would get to play in another big game and it was all great.
    When it was game time, they were the determined and focused team, where everyone stepped up to contribute. When they won trophies celebrating the Mac's and league title wins, they were your classic energetic and excited group of teenage girls aged 14 to 18. They were almost bouncing off the walls due to just being pumped up because they won.
    Another cool thing is there was no arrogance either, when they claimed victory. They acted with a legitimate belief that it was super cool they were experiencing success, and they should feel that way.
    Offensively, they were led Nara Elia and Sophia Shirley, who played for the team as 14-year-old rookies in 2013-14 and blossomed into superstars in 2014-15 as sophomores.
    Elia, who was the SFMAAAHL's most sportsmanlike player, led the league in scoring with 23 goals and 17 assists, while Shirley, who was the SFMAAAHL's most valuable player, came in second in league scoring with 22 goals and 17 assists. They raised their respective games to another level in the SFMAAAHL playoffs.
    In the league championships series against the Prince Albert A & W Bears, they were key. Game 1 of the best-of-five series went to overtime, and Shirley set up Elia, who always seems to be in the right place at the right time, for the winner to give the Stars a 3-2 victory.
Emma Johnson covers up a loose puck for the Stars.
    Shirley put the team on her back in Game 2 in Prince Albert scoring twice and adding an assist in a 3-0 victory. In the nine SFMAAAHL playoff games the Stars participated in, Shirley had 12 goals and 12 assists.
    Julia Rongve has found her niche being a nice fit as the third forward on the line with the dynamic duo of Elia and Shirley. Rongve picked up six goals and seven assists in nine post-season games.
    Every championship playoff run also needs some X-factors to emerge, and Saskatoon received key contributions from the supporting cast in big moments.
    During the SFMAAAHL championship clinching victory over the Bears, the Stars went ahead 1-0 in the second period, when 15-year-old rookie forward Kianna Dietz set up fellow rookie Jordyn Gerlitz. Just 14 seconds later, Dietz potted a key insurance goal to give Saskatoon a 2-0 victory. Due to how their birthdays fell, both Dietz and Gerlitz still have three more years of eligibility at the midget AAA level, so big moments like these are not necessarily expected at this point in their careers.
    Thanks to how strong the team has played, the Stars goaltenders often can be overlooked. During the post-season, 15-year-old sophomore Emma Johnson carried most of the workload and made a number of big saves in the semifinal and championship rounds.
Courtney Cormack clears the puck out of her own zone.
    In the SFMAAAHL title clinching win, Johnson ensured the 2-0 lead her team held didn't evaporate in the third period. The Bears came on with a serious third-period push and outshot the Stars 8-1 through about the first eight minutes of the frame. Johnson turned away every big challenge to help her side withstand the Prince Albert surge of pressure to ensure the shutout would hold.
    Karlee Fetch, the Stars 17-year-old veteran goalie, came through with a big 25-save performance, when Saskatoon swept away the Swift Current Diamond Energy Wildcats in the league semifinal series with a 3-2 victory in Game 3 of that best-of-five set.
    The team's second line of Brittany Heuchert, Danielle Nogier and Courtney Cormack have become the defensive shutdown unit. When the Stars are holding a one or two goal edge in the final minute of the third period, that trio hits the ice to seal up the final result. They also added timely offence combining for 12 goals and 11 assists in the team's nine playoff games.
    When veteran defender Jenna Nash, who recently turned 18, was lost for the season tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her knee playing for Saskatchewan at the Canada Winter Games in Prince George, B.C., in February, it appeared the Stars would have a big hole on their back end. While no one person could replace Nash, the Stars defenders Paige Michalenko, Willow Slobodzian, Hollie Coumont, Rayna Jacobson and Danielle Girolami as a collective all brought their play to a higher level to make up for the loss of Nash.
    The team's coaching staff of head coach Greg Slobodzian and assistant coaches Patrick Nogier, Don Rongve and Jason Schneider have all done a stellar job working with this group of young athletes. The fact the chemistry on the team is so good has to go to the fact the coaches have created an environment that allows their players to reach their potential.
The Stars celebrate a goal by Hollie Coumont, second from left.
    Away from the rink, the Stars have been supported by a spectacular group of parents. They are there positively supporting their daughters but have never been pushy.
    The parents have enjoyed watching their children have success but have never demanded attention due to that success. The fathers and mothers have been humble in victory.
    At times, they had to go beyond the call of duty in support, which included driving their kids to Calgary on Christmas day to take part in the Mac's tournament. Money can be tight for female midget AAA hockey teams, and this move allowed the Stars to save some funds.
    The Stars have enjoyed a season to remember, but all good things do come to an end. If they make the final of the Esso Cup, they will play a maximum of seven more games together over a period of seven days. If the rest of this season is any indication, you can bet they will enjoy every day of that national championship tournament.
    They have bested every obstacle they have faced. It is not that far-fetched to see them playing at an even higher level and taking part in one more championship trophy winning celebration as the top female midget AAA hockey team in Canada.

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Saturday, 4 April 2015

CIS fights an uphill battle for exposure

Jon Ryan launches a punt for the U of Regina Rams in 2000.
    Canadian Interuniversity Sport is uniquely Canadian – it is a league that contains a large number of the country's most talented athletes, but it is also a circuit no one talks about.
    Actually, there are people that talk about the CIS, but they usually are a stakeholder being a program's staff member, a player or a friend or family member of a stakeholder. There is a niche audience that follows the teams in the CIS. Those audiences can be bigger in centres like Saskatoon or Thunder Bay, but are smaller in bigger cities like Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver.
    One of the disappointing things about the CIS on a subjective level is it appears its audience hasn't grown over the last 20 years.
    If an athlete from Canada does something special in the United States in the big old National Collegiate Athletic Association, it seems Canadians are more likely to take notice of that person as opposed to if someone does something great in the CIS. It seems to go back to the notion that Canadians don't like to brag about great moments inside of their borders.
Jesse Ross speeds down ice for the U of Saskatchewan Huskies.
    There was a time in the 2000s a CIS all-star team would take on an all-star team of NCAA players in men's hockey. When the CIS teams earned some victories in those clashes, there were observers who would try to wave it off saying the CIS team was stacked with older players from the major junior ranks. In an attempt to make that put down, there was also a concession made that the players in CIS men's hockey are actually pretty good.
    For an example of lack of attention, the Carleton University Ravens men's basketball team make for a prime case. Out of all the CIS teams in the league's various sports, the Ravens are the most successful program having won 11 of the last 13 CIS men's hoops titles. If you go out on any street in Canada outside of Ottawa where Carleton University is situated, how many people could name one let alone two members of the Ravens.
    The most known post-secondary hoops player in Canada likely comes from the Medicine Hat College Rattlers of the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association, which is a league that is a step under the CIS. The Rattlers men's basketball team roster contains a 6-foot-6 third year forward, who has drawn national attention due to the fact his last name that is spelled exactly like a swear word.
    Guilherme Carabagiale Fuck (pronounced "Foo-key") became an all-Canadian all-star in the CCAA ranks. The Brazilian product, whose last name is of German origin, has been featured in numerous media outlets in Canada due to the spelling of his last name. Big award winning credit should be given to Medicine Hat News sports staffers in editor Sean Rooney and reporter Ryan McCracken for how well they handled this story.
Matthew Busse hammers a kill for the Huskies.
    As a result of the national attention, a random person on any Canadian street has a better chance knowing there is a college level player in Medicine Hat whose last name is Fuck as opposed to naming one player on the Ravens roster. On the plus side, all the staffers from Medicine Hat College who have been interviewed about Fuck say he is a first rate individual.
    A CIS athlete would draw the same attention of he or she was the subject of this type of unique story. It is unfortunate a CIS athletes' stellar exploits wouldn't draw the same attention.
    Players from the CIS's football league might get a little more exposure due to the fact those athletes are trying to earn spots in the CFL.
    The most famous CIS football grads made their names in the NFL in current Seattle Seahawks punter Jon Ryan, who is a grad of the University of Regina Rams, and former veteran Chicago Bears defensive lineman Israel Idonije, who is a grad of the University of Manitoba Bisons.
    The status of both was elevated due to the fact they played in the biggest professional league in the United States, which has huge media exposure. As a result, the attention they received when they return to Canada is heightened, which as a by-product did give more attention to the CIS football programs they came from.
    The CIS can't rely on Canadian media outlets for increased exposure, because those outlets have been significantly slashed for staff and resources over the last two decades. Also, those in Canada in independent media also have a limited number of hours in a day to cover anything, which results in those outlets focusing on subjects of interest.
    The mainstream media outlets in bigger centres will focus resources towards covering the NHL, because that is where you get the most bang for the buck due to the fact that league has a huge captive audience.
Dalyce Emmerson drives for a score for the Huskies.
    Overworked media outlets like weekly publications in small towns might pick up a feature here and there of a CIS athlete from the geographical area of the small town, but that is also a hit and miss proposition.
    In order to increase its own brand, the CIS likely has to take their media relations and sports information departments up another level.
    The NFL was a leader in the late 1990s, when its teams began hiring print and broadcast media professionals for the various websites run by each club. In 2003, the NFL also launched its own television network.
    Of course, the CIS does not have anywhere near the billions in revenue the NFL draws. If the CIS tried to start a television network, there would be a lot of Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission hoops to jump through let alone of satisfying the logistics of running a station, but it would still be a good idea to strive for.
    Currently, the media relations and sports information departments in the CIS can't even stack up resource wise to their counterparts in the NCAA.
    You quickly glance at the website of the Florida State University Seminoles, and you can see a number of the Seminoles teams have their own exclusive media contact person.
    Even programs that don't have the resources like a program as big as the one the Seminoles run have multiple people in their media and sports information departments. A few of these programs have the ability to send regular updates to media outlets from the home regions its players might be from.
    For some NCAA programs, if they have a player from Brandon, Man., that NCAA program might send regular updates to the media outlets in the Brandon region about the athlete from that area.
Tyler Chow rumbles downfield for the Huskies
    Too many of the CIS teams have media and sports information departments that might have one or even two people dealing with a program that has anywhere from six to 20 varsity teams. 
    Those staffing levels were about the same about 15 years ago before social media exploded.
    It is quite easy to see those in media and sports information departments in the CIS will quickly run out hours in the day to do anything.
    Over the past 20 years, the product on the fields, courts and ice surfaces in the CIS has increased greatly. Players train like professionals year round. The number of full-time coaches and coaches that are paid by CIS programs is also at all-time high.
    The league is not some over glorified recreation league. It is major league at the amateur level.
    In major junior hockey in Canada, a number teams have put more resources into media relations departments, which has seen an increased number of staffers producing video and print features on players for websites. The mantra of even community owned clubs is they must step up like that to promote the team.
    The programs in the CIS have to do the same and employ more media professionals, which could start with even just two or three extra people. The players and coaches in that league have come up a level, and the media relations and sports information departments have to do the same. If not, the profile of the CIS won't have a chance to increase.
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