Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Road destruction bashes Blades

Traffic leading to the SaskTel Centre has seen its share of congestion.
    If you smash it, it will keep the fans away.
    It seems the powers that control the roads leading to the SaskTel Centre are bent on making life difficult for the Saskatoon Blades these days, when it comes to attracting fans to their games. If you’ve tried to attend a WHL game at the rink located on the north end of the Bridge City, it might take you 30 minutes to move from the intersection of Idylwyld Drive and Circle Drive to reach the rink at the worst of times due to the road construction that surrounds the facility. Normally, that trip should take you 10 minutes at its worst and five minutes at its best.
    The biggest construction problem is the overpass located just south of the rink that helps traffic flow down Highway 11 and the Yellowhead Highway has been completely shut down since about the start of August. The maintenance required to fix that overpass is so bad that it is still under construction.
    To make matters worse, the Idylwyld Service road between 60th Street and Marquis Drive is under construction. Combine that with a handful of other construction projects going on in the north industrial sector makes driving in the area of the SaskTel Centre a nightmare, as traffic congests on the untouched arteries. In another frustrating twist, most of these projects have sprung up during September.
    First, there is no debate the road improvements are needed. With that said, people have to wonder why those in charge with making road construction plans for the City of Saskatoon decided to do so many things at once late in the construction season. If you live on the prairies, you know starting at any time from right now there could be a freak snowfall and full out winter can strike at any time.
    For the Blades, the construction has to be viewed as a big thing that has hurt early regular season attendance. When Mike Priestner and his family took over ownership of the hockey team before the 2013-14 season, the office staff they brought in have been working tirelessly to make going to Blades games a fun experience.
    As the team was rebuilding from hosting the 2013 Memorial Cup and making a big blockbuster trade to land Brayden Schenn for the 2011 post-season run, the Blades management crew knew there were going to be rough times on the ice during a rebuilding phase.
A view of the ripped up overpass just south of the SaskTel Centre.
    They were having success selling the fun aspect of going to games with various in-rink promotions and theme nights. While finishing last overall in the WHL last season, they drew 6,718 spectators to their second last regular season game and 8,929 spectators to their final home date.
In past years, it was common for about 2,300 to attend those final games, if the Blades were out of the playoff picture.
    Going into the current campaign, there was excitement the Blades were going to see more tangible results from their rebuild on ice being guided by second-year head coach and general manager Bob Woods and assistant coach Dean Brockman. There also had to be expectations that the Blades could carry the draws of the big crowds from last season into the current campaign.
    They drew 4,780 for their regular season opener on Sept. 25, when they dumped the Prince Albert Raiders 7-2.
    Unfortunately, those that live in Saskatoon know how fickle the residents of the city can be, and the hassles caused by road construction will keep people away. Some will note early regular season attendance at Blades games is traditionally low, but the construction projects will play a huge reason to keep people away. Even opposing team bus drivers are finding it cumbersome to navigate their way to the rink.
    Attendance quickly dropped after the opener. Last Friday, the paid attendance for the Blades 3-2 overtime loss to the Medicine Hat Tigers was 3,550. On Sunday, the announced paid attendance was 3,506 for the 5-4 overtime setback to the Vancouver Giants. There were definitely a lot of no shows for the Giants game, because you could almost park right up beside the facility about five minutes before puck drop.
    The Blades are in action again on Wednesday, when they host the Kootenay Ice at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre.
    On the plus side, the Blades have been exciting over their first four games posting a win and three overtime losses to gain five out of a possible eight points in the standings. If they are in the thick of the playoff picture by midseason when all the construction shouldn’t be a worry, they will have a huge chance to attract a lot of curious onlookers.
    Since the Priestners took over, it feels like the Blades have been given a restart. When the first real exciting playoff push comes, it is possible to envision fans jumping on board with big enthusiasm, because everything will feel new again.

WHL hopes new program has big impact on players off ice

    The WHL took a step forward in helping players respond to the day-to-day challenges they face away from the game.
    Working in partnership with the Calgary Police Service, the league launched the WHL Player Impact Program on Monday which will give players new comprehensive training and education in regards to topics like responsible social media use, relationships and consent, drugs and alcohol, gambling, diversity issues and how they looked upon to be positive role models.
    The program will be delivered by a WHL club liaison officer through the WHL Security Network, which was formed last season to provide players guidance with off-ice issues.
    Any steps the league takes to help players away from the rink has to be viewed as a good thing. With the WHL containing players aged from 16 to 20, they are still in a stage where they will encounter a lot of life challenges for the first time, so any type of fallback they can have will be beneficial.
    As far as topics like social media use and diversity issues, it is quite easy for players and people in general in this age group to say something they didn’t mean to be offensive come out accidentally sounding that way. Any help with pitfalls in that area has to be appreciated.
    Here is hoping this program will help players with their lives away from the game.

Catching up with Lazaruk

Les Lazaruk in the press box.
    I caught up with Saskatoon Blades play-by-play voice Les Lazaruk for a Saskatoon Express feature this week.
    Lazaruk has been calling Blades games on the radio since the start of the 1994-95 season. 
    He got his start in media working in print, which saw him hold short stints writing for the Winnipeg Free Press and the defunct Winnipeg Tribune. 
    He is viewed as one of the broadcasters in the league, and he had called 1,584 contests heading into the 2015-16 campaign.
    You can check out the story on Lazaruk right here.

Home sweet home for Hilltops

Evan Kopchynski is back in action for the Hilltops.
    All roads through the Canadian Junior Football League playoffs will lead through Saskatoon.
    The defending CJFL champion Saskatoon Hilltops locked up home field advantage through the 2015 post-season by bombing the Wildcats in Edmonton 41-17 on Sunday. The Toppers improved to 7-0 and will finish first overall in the Prairie Football Conference. The PFC champ will also host the CJFL title game, the Canadian Bowl, this season, so the Hilltops have officially finished off their road schedule.
    Against the Wildcats, quarterback Jared Andreychuk completed 10-of-25 passes for 254 yards and three touchdown passes, while only throwing one interception. Running back Logan Fischer carried the ball 18 times for 153 yards scoring one major.
    Receiver Evan Kopchynski hauled in five passes for 134 yards scoring two touchdowns. Kopchynski had been out of the Saskatoon lineup since Sept. 5, when he injured his knee in a home win over the Regina Thunder.
    Matt Kozun and Blake Adams both had sacks for Saskatoon on the defensive side of the ball. Including action in the regular season and playoffs, the Hilltops have won 15 straight games.
    With one week to play in the PFC regular season, the playoff picture is pretty much set. The Hilltops, Thunder (5-2), Calgary Colts (4-3) and Winnipeg Rifles (3-4) will advance to the post-season. The Wildcats (1-6) and Edmonton Huskies (1-6) are officially out of playoff contention.
    The Hilltops will host one PFC semifinal, and the Thunder, who have locked up second place, will host the other semi. The Colts and Rifles could flip spots for third and fourth place depending on the results of the final week of the regular season.
    The Hilltops will close their regular season schedule this coming Sunday, when they host the Colts at 1 p.m. at Saskatoon Minor Football Field.

Men’s hockey Huskies get going

Matthew Spafford is entering his final season with the Huskies.
    The University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team officially start their regular season this coming weekend.
    They travel to Calgary this coming Friday and Saturday to face the University of Calgary Dinos. The Huskies first two appearances at home come Oct. 16 and 17, when they host the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns at 7 p.m. on both nights at the ancient Rutherford Rink.
    The Dogs will lean a bit more on the young side this year as forward Matthew Spafford and defenceman Zak Stebner are the only two players in their fifth year of eligibility. Both are strong character guys who will provide a lot of leadership in the dressing room. The team also includes only two fourth-year players in forward Jesse Ross and goaltender Blake Voth, who returns after taking a season off.
    U of S brings in 10 first year player, and the class include a number of former WHL players including Kohl Bauml, who potted 30 goals for the Everett Silvertips last season, and Levi Cable, who netted 28 goals last season for the Kootenay Ice.
    The Huskies women’s hockey team is back in action this weekend looking to build on their 2-0 record. They host the Dinos this Friday and Saturday at the Rutherford Rink at 7 p.m. on both nights.

So you want to go into media?

    If you want to enter the Canadian media industry, be warned that it is quite a battle where you seem to be constantly trying to survive in the short term.
    The other day I was checking over the list of names from my 25-person graduation class from the University of Regina’s School of Journalism and Communications as it was then known. I officially received my degree in the year 2000.
    Out of the 25-person graduation class, I know of nine people who are still in the mainstream media. There are five people who have moved on to other walks of life not media related. There are 10 others I don’t know what fate has sent their way, but if they are like me, they are no longer in the mainstream media or in the media at all.
    The most famous names from my class are Ken Wiebe, who is the Winnipeg Jets beat writer for the Winnipeg Sun, and Bonnie Allen, who is a standout with CBC.
    Most media programs try to create their literature that says you can have a career like Wiebe and Allen have had, but that is far from the case. Both of them are the rare exception of the fact they are extremely talented, and the doors often opened for them in a timely fashion.
    With the way the media industry in Canada is these days, you chances of getting a real break to be in a position to make an impact that matters shrinks by the day. When you are on the journey to get that break, you have to be lucky enough to avoid the pitfalls you have no control over that will see you fall out of the industry.
    If you are just getting into the industry, I predict you will you will be out of it in five years. If someone was looking to start a media career in Canada, I would advise them to do something else, but if you do follow the path, find something else to do if you don’t become “The Golden Person” type star within five years.
    I just wanted to throw my two cents into the picture as food for thought on that subject.

Happy birthday Enner

    Leaving off on high note, I want to wish a big happy 26th birthday to former Medicine Hat Tigers forward and current member of the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres Tyler Ennis.
    Ennis once scored six goals in one night, when the Tigers downed the Prince Albert Raiders 6-2 at     The Arena in Medicine Hat. Those highlights are always cool to look at, and with the legendary Bob Ridley making the call, they can be found by clicking here.

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