Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Sanford deserves NHL shot

Lack of size stigma only obstacle in path of Tigers captain

Tigers captain Cole Sanford gets set for a faceoff.
    MEDICINE HAT - Cole Sanford chuckled at the notion that it might take an old Medicine Hat Tigers link to get a break at the professional level.
    The Vernon, B.C., product and current Tigers captain knows the fact that he stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 165 pounds is the biggest obstacle he faces when it comes to trying to get an NHL entry-level contract offer. Playing in Medicine Hat, the thought does get booted around that maybe Vancouver Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins might take an interest in Sanford and create a chance for the skilled right-winger, who is small in stature.
    Desjardins was with the Tigers as head coach from 2002 to 2010 and also held the general manager’s role for the last five of those campaigns. He had a string of success utilizing smaller, skilled players, so naturally one would think there would be fit for Sanford.
    “Obviously, connections are nice,” said Sanford, who did attend Edmonton Oilers training camp in September. “If that happened, obviously, that would be exciting for me.
    “I am sure whatever came up or if there is any kind of opportunity, I’d be excited. It doesn’t matter where it is.”
    For his part, Sanford has already done more than enough to earn an NHL deal. After potting two goals and nine assists in 53 games as a 17-year-old rookie in 2012-13, Sanford had a break-out year as a sophomore netting 33 goals, 40 assists and a plus-47 rating in the plus-minus department.
    As an established star last season, he became one of the few players in recent WHL campaigns to crack the 50-goal barrier recording 50 goals, 45 assists and a plus-24 rating. Sanford missed some time this season with a shoulder injury, but he has still recorded 17 goals and 15 assists in 30 games on a Tigers team that has seen its lineup shuffle due to a number of key injuries.
    Those challenges have contributed to the fact the Tigers, who have made the playoffs for 13 straight seasons, sit an uncharacteristic 10th overall in the WHL’s Eastern Conference with a 12-20-3-1 mark.
    Sanford is hopeful a professional shot will come.
Tigers captain Cole Sanford gets set to wire a shot on goal.
    “It is my goal,” said Sanford. “Right now I have basically half a year to find something and find an opportunity up there.
    “Obviously, that is everyone’s goal is to move on. We will see what happens.”
    As far as Sanford’s time in Medicine Hat goes, Tigers head coach and general manager Shaun Clouston said the veteran forward’s value cannot be overstated.
    “He has had a great career here,” said Clouston, who is second on the Tigers career regular season coaching wins list. “He has been a player that other guys can look up to.
    “He has gotten better, because he has committed to improvement. He has found ways to elevate his game at important times. He has been a great Tiger.”
    Clouston added that the uphill battle for smaller players to make the NHL seems to never go away, but he said Sanford keeps consistently doing his best to turn heads.
    “I think it is always a challenge,” said Clouston. “I think any time that a player is not 6-feet tall there is a bit of a label.
    “They have to fight through that. They have to prove themselves more so than a lot of the other players. He is a guy that continues to prove himself year in and year out.”
    The veteran bench boss added that Sanford’s game is still getting better.
    “He is a guy that has really committed especially late in games to doing the right thing, whether it is protecting the lead, finishing checks and getting clears,” said Clouston, whose team won four of five games heading into the WHL Christmas break. “He has been a real go to guy during this stretch where we have had more success.”
Cole Sanford (#26) celebrates a Tigers goal with his teammates.
    Sanford has put together a standout WHL career playing with a few different linemates as well. When he broke out offensively in 2013-14, Sanford was the triggerman on a high octane unit that contained Curtis Valk at centre and Trevor Cox at left wing. That trio formed one of the most exciting lines the Tigers had ever seen.
    Last season, Steven Owre stepped in at centre between Sanford and Cox after Valk was lost to graduation. Due to injuries and trades this season, Sanford has played with a variety of linemates.
    “It is definitely a lot different than the last two years, but I think it is good for me,” said Sanford. “It is good for me to play with different guys and adjust to that.”
    Sanford said he is a player that has a tendency to shoot more than pass in the offensive zone. With that said, he had a couple of nice assists in his club’s 5-4 overtime home ice loss on Sunday to the Lethbridge Hurricanes. The best helper came on the Tigers third goal, when Sanford slipped a feed that had eyes across the face the Lethbridge goal to Mark Rassell, who capitalized on the chance.
Tigers captain Cole Sanford follows through on a shot on goal.
    Since joining the team, Sanford said he has been fortunate to play on lines that contained smart playmakers, who had great vision, which has resulted in him being the finisher around the goal. During his time in Medicine Hat, Sanford has made a number of good memories, which included helping the club advance to the WHL’s Eastern Conference championship series in 2014.
    He also had the chance to play in the Tigers first home rink, The Arena, and the team’s new home, the Canalta Centre, which opened this season. No matter what happens on the professional front, the Tigers will always have a place in Sanford’s heart.
    “I’ve come a long ways with this team starting off as a 17-year-old and not playing too much and kind of earning my ice there as an 18-year-old and then getting the opportunity to play,” said Sanford. “Obviously, last season was a career year for myself. Everyone here has helped me lots.
    “When I was 15 looking at this organization, I was real excited to see all the videos and the rich history here. To be a part of that now with the new rink and obviously the old rink it is pretty cool.”

Canalta Centre looks sweet

A look over Tigers goalie Nick Schneider into the Canalta Centre.
    On first impressions, I think the Medicine Hat Tigers time in the Canalta Centre is going to be alright.
    When the moment came for the storied WHL franchise to play in a new home rink, there was a bit of a fear that something might be lost due to the fact the team was no longer playing in The Arena, which was the only home rink the franchise had known until the current campaign got underway.
    The nostalgia and the lively boards are two things The Arena will always have. The Tigers and their fans shared countless memorable experiences in that old rink including Brennan Bosch’s double overtime goal that won the seventh and deciding game of the 2007 WHL championship series. That building rocked in the post-season as sellout crowds of 4,006 packed the place in its final seating configuration.
    With those memories in mind, it was cool to see the Tigers playing in a modern home facility that seats 6,016 spectators in the Canalta Centre. There are no bad sightlines, and even though the building is bigger, you don’t feel far from the action.
    The view from the “Bob Ridley Broadcast Centre” press box and the box seating have to the envy of the league. You think the view from those areas would be far, but when you are in them you feel on top of the action.
    When the Tigers fell 5-4 in overtime to the visiting Lethbridge Hurricanes on Sunday, you could still sense a good atmosphere as 5,032 spectators filled most of the seats. The rival Hurricanes also brought a healthy contingent of a few hundred supporters, whose cheering helped engage the host side’s fans.
Tigers centre Chad Butcher gets set up in the offensive zone.
    The game was widely entertaining, and you could set the highlight video to the old Tom Cochrane song, “Big League.” Basically, that night was the Western Hockey League at its best.
    There was also a familiarity factor to the place, even though it is new. The majority of the game day staff from The Arena came over to the Canalta Centre, and all the Tigers ardent supporters came too. Anyone that was at the old facility would recognize most of the people at the new facility on a game night.
    There are still obvious signs that the move in isn’t complete. The Tigers are suiting up in what is supposed to be the visitors’ dressing room due to the fact the home one isn’t finished. The Tabbies still don’t have a merchandise store set up and none of the team’s banners are hanging in the rafters.
    All of those items will be looked after over time. There is only so much that can be done, when you undertake a major move, which also included issues with getting a framework down for a lease.
    There is also a bit of a sense that everyone is still getting used to the new building, but you do have a gut feeling the Canalta Centre will be the place to be during a long Tigers playoff run. The Tigers new home is sweet, and it will be interesting to see what a game experience will be like when the club has a full off-season to prepare for the Canalta Centre’s sophomore campaign without worrying about a move.
    Still, the Hat’s new rink even right now is a place you have to see.

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

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Lindgren lifts Hurricanes in OT

The Lethbridge Hurricanes celebrate their OT win in Medicine Hat.
    MEDICINE HAT - The surprising Lethbridge Hurricanes picked up where they left off in their first game after the WHL Christmas break.
    At the 2:23 mark of overtime, veteran centre Ryley Lindgren potted his second goal of the night to deliver the Hurricanes to a 5-4 victory over the host Medicine Hat Tigers before 5,032 spectators at the Canalta Centre on Sunday. The win allows the Hurricanes, who have missed the post-season for six straight years, to remain first overall in the WHL’s Eastern Conference with a 25-11 record.
    The Tigers, whose record moved to 12-19-3-1, almost pulled off a huge upset rallying from being down 2-0, 3-1 and 4-3 to force overtime. Moments before Lindgren scored, the Tigers looked like they were going to pick up the winner on a two-on-one break.
Ryley Lindgren was the Hurricanes OT hero.
    Medicine Hat winger Max Gerlach appeared to have an open cage to shoot at after receiving a pass from across the face of the Lethbridge goal, but Hurricanes netminder Jayden Sittler slide across the crease to make a huge highlight robbery save.
    Giorgio Estephan scored twice in regulation for the Hurricanes, who received a single from Justin Gutierrez. Gerlach, Cole Sanford, Mark Rassell and Matt Bradley replied with singles for the Tigers. Bradley tied the contest up at 4-4 with 5:20 to play in the third period.
    Sittler made 27 saves in goal for the Hurricanes, while Nick Schneider turned aside 33 shots in goal for the Tigers. The Tigers and Hurricanes will go at it again on Tuesday in Lethbridge.

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

Friday, 25 December 2015

Gardiner relishes Raiders rise

Reid Gardiner celebrates after scoring a goal for the Raiders.
    Reid Gardiner is having a lot more fun playing in the WHL this season.
    Now in his fourth full season with the Prince Albert Raiders, the 19-year-old right-winger has enjoyed the fact his club is battling amongst the league’s best. As the league wrapped up play to go into the Christmas break, the Raiders have surprised posting a 20-11-2-1 record to sit two points back of the Brandon Wheat Kings (21-11-1-2) for first in the WHL’s East Division and fifth overall in the WHL’s Eastern Conference.
    Actually, the Raiders, who have relied on a strong work ethic and an attention to detail, are only five points shy of first place in the Eastern Conference trailing another surprise team in the Lethbridge Hurricanes (24-11).
    When the season started, the Raiders, who missed the playoffs last season with a 31-37-2-2 mark, were expected to battle for a playoff spot at best. At times, they have sat first overall in the Eastern Conference and the East Division. First place in the East Division was supposed to be conceded to the Wheat Kings, so Gardiner is pretty pleased his team is in the mix.
    “It is obviously a lot more fun,” said Gardiner. “Nobody likes losing obviously. It is not very fun.
    “To kind of be in the top five or six in the east is a pretty good feeling for our group. I think we have a good group. We’ve got a close team, and that has helped kind of propel us kind up in the standings.”
    The Humboldt, Sask., product, who has always had good offensive skill, is also having what might be his best campaign in the league. Having appeared in all of the Raiders 34 games, he has posted 20 goals, 26 assists and so far a career best plus-15 in the plus-minus department.
    In his first two seasons, the Raiders had decent records posting a 37-28-3-4 mark in 2012-13 and a 35-32-3-2 record in 2013-14, when the club needed to down the Red Deer Rebels in a tiebreaking game to make the post-season. The Green, White and Gold were swept out of the post-season in both of those campaigns.
    Gardiner said there has been a better overall atmosphere with the team this season compared to past campaigns that he played with the club.
    “I think just changing the culture of our group and the overall attitude of playing in Prince Albert,” said Gardiner, who is the Raiders scoring leader. “I think back in the late 80s and early 90s it was a kind of a dynasty like team.
    “P.A. is a hockey town. I think lots of guys had a sour taste in their mouths coming into this year after not making playoffs last year. Everybody made a point of working hard over the summer and coming in with the right attitude. Things have worked out thus far.”
Reid Gardiner (#19) breaks up ice with Raiders teammate Vojtech Budik.
    Part of the atmosphere change occurred after Marc Habscheid took over as the team’s head coach about a third of the way into last season, when the Raiders relieved Cory Clouston of those duties. Coming to Prince Albert, Habscheid has a lengthy resume of being a star coach who is best remember for guiding the Kelowna Rockets to a WHL title in 2003 and a Memorial Cup championship as the tournament’s host squad the following campaign. He also guided Canada’s world junior team in 2002-03 as head coach.
    Habscheid said the key to his the Raiders strong start so far is the fact the players have stayed focused on the present.
    “In this league, it is a day to day thing,” said Habscheid. “You look at it overall, and you never want to be satisfied.
    “There are ebbs and flows throughout the season, and you just have to look at realistically and not get too high or too low. Overall, we are OK.”
    The Raiders signed Habscheid to a four year contract extension in the off-season and brought in Curtis Hunt, who was a former player on the clubs 1984-85 Memorial Cup championship  team, as general manager on a four-year contract after former GM Bruno Campese and the club mutually parted ways.
    Habscheid and Hunt have combined with associate coach Dave Manson, who was also a player on the Raiders Memorial Cup winner and a veteran coach with the club, to make the Art Hauser Centre a good place to be for the players. Habscheid, who is a former player with the Saskatoon Blades, and Manson also had lengthy playing careers in the NHL.
    Gardiner said the additions of Habscheid and Hunt have been big for the team.
    “They are willing to put their time in with us and make us better people and players,” said Gardiner. “It is definitely a benefit to us to have former players coaching us, and being a general manager for sure.
    “I think it was a smart move by the organization to sign Marc Habscheid for another four years and Curtis Hunt for four years.”
    The Raiders return to action on Sunday, when they host their archrivals the Blades at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre.

Blades aim to make second half waves

Right-winger Ryan Graham, right, sets a screen in the offensive zone.
    Connor Gay wanted to maintain a balance of enjoying family time while still having some focus on hockey.
    The overage right-winger wants to push his Saskatoon Blades back into the post-season after a two-year absence. The Blades finished last in the entire WHL each of the past two campaigns after hosting the Memorial Cup in 2013. After the 2013 Memorial Cup wrapped up, the Blades have been going through an extensive rebuild phase.
    They went into the Christmas break of the current campaign with a 13-17-3 record to sit ninth overall in the WHL’s Eastern Conference and two points back of the Edmonton Oil Kings (14-19-3) of the conference’s final playoff berth with three games in hand.
    Gay was pretty aware of the opportunity that was before his club.
    “You have to keep it in the back of your mind,” said Gay, who has 11 goals and 22 assists in 31 games. “If you totally let go from it, you are not going to have a very good start of the second half.
    “It is a time to relax. It is time to let go and have some fun, obviously. You have to be able to come back in the second half and be ready for a tough second half of the season.”
    After jumping out to a 7-4-3 start, the Blades hit a slide starting on Nov. 15. They proceeded to go 3-12 from that date before winning three of their last four contests before the Christmas break.
    With the Blades having the youngest roster in the league, a November skid could have been expected, because that is the time the grind of the season kicks in. That grind is always a challenge for any young player to adjust to.
    Often during the losing stretch, the Blades would give the first goal and not be able to rally.
With that in mind, Saskatoon gained a nice boost after rallying from a 2-0 deficit to beat the league leading and defending WHL champion Kelowna Rockets 5-3 in the last contest before the break on Dec. 19.
    “We didn’t allow it to affect us,” said Blades head coach and general manager Bob Woods. “I thought our older guys kind of took charge and led by example.”
    Gay was happy to see the down stretch come to an end, and he can’t wait to get the second half going.
    “It is definitely frustrating to find a way out of it,” said Gay. “Right now, it is going well.
“We need to have a good Christmas break, have some fun, but when we get back on Boxing Day it is time to get back to work.”

Merry Christmas to everyone

    I hope all the readers out there have a Merry Christmas and a happy new year, and I also a big thank-you to you all for stopping by here to read my posts.
    I hope everyone was able to spend some quality time with friends and family. I have been able to enjoy a couple of sizable family gatherings in the Saskatoon area.
    While it has been for me to live in a centre with a large number of family members, I do miss being in Medicine Hat for the holiday season having lived there for 10 years from 2004 to 2014. One of the highlights was always attending the late night Christmas Eve mass at St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church. It always felt like those nights were magical.
    Wherever you are, I hope you all were able to enjoy the annual traditions you partake in over the holiday season. Have a great one.

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

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Christmas comes early for Blades

Double Blue earns huge upset victory over Rockets

The SaskTel Centre scoreboards flashes the final of the Blades upset win.
    The Saskatoon Blades gave themselves an early Christmas present.
    On Saturday at the SaskTel Centre, the Blades entered their final contest before the WHL’s Christmas break as huge underdogs against the league leading and defending league champion Kelowna Rockets. The Rockets were also rated fourth in the Canadian Hockey League's top ten rankings. After falling behind 2-0 after the opening 20 minutes, the hosts side roared back to pull out a well-earned 5-3 victory before an appreciative crowd of 3,997 spectators.
    “They are a pretty phenomenal hockey team,” said Blades overage right-winger Connor Gay. “They are team that is quite offensive, and I think we stuck to our game tonight.
    “We played good defence, and I couldn’t be happier that we won tonight.”
    The Rockets came into “the Bridge City” with two big absences as centres Nick Merkley and Rourke Chartier were both in Finland trying to crack the final roster for Canada’s world junior team. Kelowna was also without forward Tomas Soustal, who is trying to earn a spot on the Czech Republic’s team for world juniors, and left-winger Calvin Thurkauf, who will be part of Switzerland’s team at the world juniors.
    Despite the fact that foursome was overseas, the Rockets jumped ahead 2-0 on a pair of tallies coming off the stick of WHL scoring leader Tyson Baillie, who potted his first marker on a breakaway. While Kelowna held a 2-0 edge after first frame, Blades played at an even pace with the visitors.
Blades rearguard Mitch Wheaton, right, helps with the teddy clean up.
    Just 67 seconds into the second, the Blades were finally rewarded for their effort, as centre Wyatt Sloboshan scored to cut the gap to 2-1. Sloboshan’s goal triggered a flood of stuffed animals to get thrown on to the ice surface due to the fact Saskatoon was holding its teddy bear toss promotion.
    After the stuffed animals were cleared away, the Blades momentum continued to roll with goals coming from the sticks of captain Nick Zajac and stand out centre Cameron Hebig, which gave the hosts a 3-2 edge.
    The lead didn’t last long as five seconds later Rockets left-winger Justin Kirkland put a floater past Saskatoon netminder Evan Smith, who was making his first start with the Blades after being acquired in a trade with the Victoria Royals on Dec. 10.
    Before the second period ended, the Blades jumped back ahead 4-3. While working on a power play, Sloboshan got the puck down low by the right side of the Kelowna goal after a greasy bounce off the boards, and Vanscoy product made no mistake potting his second of the contest.
    After jumping out to a 7-4-3 start, the Blades hit a big slide starting on Nov. 15. Saturday marked the fifth time Saskatoon has won since that date as their record improved to 13-17-3. During the skid, they often couldn’t recover after giving up the first goal of a game, so Gay was pleased his side erased a two-goal deficit on Saturday.
    “There has been lots of talk about us obviously deflating after the first couple of goals get let in,” said Gay. “Lately, I think we’ve been really trying to stay positive and fighting back in games. Lately, it has been working out.
    “You never want to be down in a hockey game. If you are down, you have to stay positive and you have to work hard to get back in the game, and that is what we did.”
    Gay added another power-play goal at the 7:31 mark of the third to put Saskatoon up 5-3. Smith made 27 stops to pick up the win in goal.
    Star netminder Jackson Whistle turned away 28 shots taking the loss in goal for the Rockets, who fell to 25-9-1 but remain first overall in the WHL.
Evan Smith made 27 saves to earn his first win in goal for the Blades.
    “Our guys believe they can win any game,” said Blades head coach and general manager Bob Woods. “Last year we probably didn’t think that way. Now, we believe that.
    “We probably put a little bit more pressure on ourselves, because our expectations are higher than they have been. There is nothing wrong with that. I think that is a great step for our guys.
    “We want to have success, and we are not happy if we don’t. That to me is the type of environment you want to have especially with your young guys.”
    The Blades sit ninth overall in the WHL’s Eastern Conference, and they trail the 14-19-3 Edmonton Oil Kings by two points for eighth place and the conference’s final playoff berth. Saskatoon finished last in the entire WHL each of the past two seasons after hosting the 2013 Memorial Cup.
    Woods said wins like the one his squad earned over the Rockets help his players gain confidence, but he cautioned his squad still has a lot of room for improvement.
    “We are the type of team that still has a lot of growing pains,” said Woods. “We are the youngest team in the league, and I hate always bringing that up, but it is a fact.
    “There are lots of things for us to learn. We just have to keep going and take in every experience and build on it. The second half is going to be a tough go.
    “Hopefully, we are in some meaningful games and have a chance to battle for that last playoff spot.”
    The Blades and Rockets both return to action on Dec. 27. Saskatoon travels to Prince Albert to take on the Raiders, while Kelowna heads to Kamloops to take on the Blazers.
    NOTES – In the second period of Saturday’s game, Rockets defenceman Cal Foote received a major penalty and a game misconduct for a head check. That play will be automatically reviewed by the WHL office for a suspension.
    Whistle stopped Blades right-winger Mason McCarty on a penalty shot late in the third period.

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

Friday, 18 December 2015

Stars still among Canada's best

Depth of Saskatoon’s female midget AAA squad shines through

Mackenna Parker gets set to drive home a goal for the Stars.
    The Saskatoon Stars are trying to emulate the 1989-90 Edmonton Oilers by showing they still have a great team despite the loss of their superstars.
    Back in the 1989-90 NHL campaign, the Oilers ventured on a surprising run that saw them capture their fifth Stanley Cup title. At the time, that victory was supposed to be unthinkable, because two years early they traded the icon of all hockey icons in Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings.
    When Gretzky was dealt, many believed a very long time would pass before the Oilers would every again win the Stanley Cup. By winning it all in 1990, the Oilers proved they were still a great team.
    The Stars female midget AAA team entered the 2015-16 campaign with two crippling superstar departures. Gone were forwards Sophie Shirley and Nara Elia who left to play their 16-year-old seasons with the Notre Dame Hounds club that plays out of the Junior Women’s Hockey League, which is made up of prep school teams.
    As 15-year-old sophomores with the Stars in 2014-15, Shirley and Elia were the two most exciting players in the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League. Elia topped the league in scoring with 23 goals and 17 assists, and Shirley, who was named the league’s most valuable player, was second in the scoring race with 22 goals and 17 assists.
Anna Leschyshyn cuts hard to the net for a Stars scoring chance.
    Together, they helped the Stars post an unprecedented 25-3 regular season record and a 45-5 mark after including action at the Mac’s tournament, the SFMAAAHL playoffs and the Esso Cup national championship tournament. The Stars also claimed the Mac’s title, the SFMAAAHL championship and bronze at nationals.
    While five players from that team exhausted their eligibility after playing out their 17-year-old seasons, one had to think the Stars would do great things in 2015-16 returning a great core of players. Shirley, who was recently named to Canada’s under-18 team for the women’s worlds in January, and Elia would have been the jewels among the returnees. Their presence alone would have made the Stars huge favourites to hang a few more banners at the Agriplace Arena.
    When Shirley and Elia departed to Wilcox, Sask., one had to wonder if the Stars would fall back to the pack with the rest of the teams of the SFMAAAHL.
    It looked that way for a very short time at first. The Stars opened the regular season falling 3-1 to the Prairie Fire in Melville on Oct. 3. After that setback, they proceeded to win their next 15 straight regular season games.
Defender Willow Slobodzian is arguably the Stars most exciting player.
    When there are big departures, it also creates opportunities for others to step up. That is what has happened in Saskatoon.
    Heading into Saturday’s action, 15-year-old forward Mackenna Parker has netted 10 goals and 11 assists in 13 games to sit in a tie with Chloe Smith of the Swift Current Wildcats for top spot in the SFMAAAHL scoring race. In her sophomore season, Parker has already surpassed her assists and points totals from a season ago.
    Grace Shirley, who is Sophie’s younger sister, sits third in league scoring with 11 goals and six assists as an underage 14-year-old rookie.
    While Parker and Grace Shirley have put up the biggest numbers, the Stars are getting solid production spread out through the rest of their team.
    The Stars most exciting player is arguably Willow Slobodzian, who is a smooth skating, puck moving offensive defender. She was spectacular as a 14-year-old rookie last season quarterbacking the power play netting six goals and 13 assists in 28 games. The Clavet product has been better this year netting two goals and 10 assists, while seemingly seeing a game that is three to four steps ahead of anyone on the ice.
    Emma Johnson is back for her third season between the pipes as a 16-year-old, and she still possesses the ability to steal a game. She has posted a 7-1 record, a 1.12 goals against average, a .955 save percentage and two shutouts.
Emma Johnson has been consistently stellar in goal for the Stars.
    Up and down the lineup, all the Stars veterans are good, and they could get big performances from any of them at any time. Grace Shirley is part of a crop of six rookies, who have all stepped in and made impacts. 
    Included in that group of six is a rookie with a familiar last name in Saskatoon hockey circles in Anna Leschyshyn, whose father and team assistant coach Curtis had a lengthy playing career in the NHL. As a 14-year-old rookie, Anna, who stands 5-foot-10, has eight goals and six assists.
    Grace Shirley and Anna Leschyshyn both suited up with the Stars last season as associate player call ups.
    From Dec. 10 to 13, the Stars were invited down to the Mandi Schwartz Memorial Tournament in Wilcox, Sask., which contained 16 very strong female midget AAA teams and JWHL squads. The Stars opened by blanking the defending JWHL champion Warner Hockey School Warriors 2-0. Saskatoon beat Edmonton’s St. Francis X-treme 5-2 before closing round robin action with a 2-0 setback to the Westman Wildcats from Hartney, Man.
    The Stars split their two consolation playoff games falling 1-0 to Northern Capitals of Prince George, B.C., and slipping past Winnipeg’s Balmoral Hall 3-2 in overtime.
Grace Shirley has lit up the scoreboard for the Stars.
    Saskatoon’s roster is still considered young as captain Danielle Nogier and defenders Hollie Coumont, Danielle Girolami and Rayah DeCorby are the only players in their 17-year-old and final seasons of midget eligibility.
    They will still face some tough competition in their league, which includes traveling to Prince Albert for Saturday and Sunday clashes with the 13-5 A & W Bears. The Stars swept the Bears in last season’s SFMAAAHL best-of-five title series.
    With all that in mind, the Stars keep proving game in and game out they still have a great team without their two superstar talents from a season ago. They might just find a way to win another SFMAAAHL title and maybe make another appearance in the Esso Cup.

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

Sunday, 13 December 2015

The song in Prince Albert is still "Go Raiders Go"

Reid Gardiner gets set to snipe home a goal for the Raiders.
    PRINCE ALBERT - “The Song in Prince Albert is Go Raiders Go.”
    A tune written in the early 1970s by country singer Russ Gurr still describes “Hockey Town North.” Thru good times and bad, you must never underestimate the passion the small northern Saskatchewan community has for its Raiders hockey club.
    Team founder Reg Martsinkiw said when he would step into the Art Hauser Centre after a long absence he would immediately see at least 10 friends he hadn’t seen in some time, and his heart would warm from the reunion that ensued.
    You step into the Raiders long-time home rink, and the diehards that have gone to games for decades since the team was formed in 1971 are there. Going into the Art Hauser Centre on Saturday during the Raiders 5-2 setback to the Kamloops Blazers you also encounter a number of young families. They are newcomers you didn’t see in the past that were among the 2,610 in attendance at a facility that seats 2,580.
    In small centres like Prince Albert, circuits like the Western Hockey League matter. The importance of a franchise like the Raiders to Prince Albert is equal to the importance the Oilers are to Edmonton, the Flames are to Calgary and the Jets are to Winnipeg at the NHL level.
    The Raiders have averaged 2,299 fans per game through 16 games this season in a centre with a population of just over 35,000. If the same sort of figure translated out for a centre the size of Saskatoon, the WHL Blades would need an arena that would seat close to 20,000 spectators to satisfy an equivalent amount of ticket purchases.
    Raider diehards love to take shots at their big city rivals, so they often love to bring up the fact fans of the “Green and Gold” are more loyal than those of the “Double Blue.” It is no wonder another favourite song that will echo in the Art Hauser Centre is the Guess Who’s “Runnin’ Back to Saskatoon” after the Blades lose following a visit there.
    Raider fans are proud of their team and its history. In their junior A era as a member of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, they were a dynasty winning four Centennial Cups as national champions in 1977, 1979, 1981 and 1982.
Associate coach Dave Manson is a "heart and soul" Raider.
    Following the 1982 championship, the Raiders joined the WHL, and after their third season in the major junior ranks in May of 1985, they claimed junior hockey’s ultimate prize in the Memorial Cup. All of that success came under the club’s legendary head coach and general manager Terry Simpson.
    Little Prince Albert proved it could stand out nationally, and the Raiders were the centre of that pride. During those years, the Raiders established a reputation for being a rough and tumble team, but not a bully team. They were a hard working group that played physical, with passion and heart.
    They are also viewed as one of those franchises where honour mattered, and that is exemplified in associate coach Dave Manson, who was a physical blue-liner on the 1985 Memorial Cup winner and went on to a long career in the NHL. 
    In Manson, Prince Albertans see a local product that represents everything good about the city in being honest, genuine, hard-working and tough, and he is super at being sociable with everyone in town. His No. 4 will fittingly be retired in a pre-game ceremony on February 12 in the new year.
    While being known for their toughness, the Raiders also had their pretty aspect seen in players like Mike Modano, who went on to a legendary career in the NHL. They could also make all those picturesque perfect plays you could watch again and again on video highlights.
    Following 1985, the Raiders would continue to make a number of other lengthy forays into the post-season. In 1995, they were a win away from returning to the Memorial Cup tournament dropping Game 7 of the WHL’s Eastern Conference final to the Brandon Wheat Kings. The Blazers, who were the tournament hosts that year, won the Western Conference and ultimately claimed the WHL and Memorial Cup titles.
    The last great venture the Raiders made into the post-season came in 2005, and it has become known locally in Prince Albert as “The Run.”
Rearguard Jesse Lees gets set to drive a shot on goal for the Raiders. 
    That Raider team was filled with a roster of characters who had character like Rejean Beauchemin, Dane Byers, Kyle Chipchura, Jeremy Colliton, Luke Fritshaw, Mike Gauthier, Mike Hellyer, Rick Kozak, Jeff May, Brett Novak, Brent Ottmann, Caine Pearpoint, Evan Schafer, Chris Schlenker and Aki Seitsonen. On top of that, they brought back good dressing room glue guy Justin Cruse, who was traded away early in the season to allow the club to get down to three overage players, before playoffs as an assistant coach.  
    That group was a genuine bunch that was as comfortable interacting in various social situations in the community as they were playing on the ice.
    Hilarious one-liners often filled dressing room and bus conversations and the sense of humour those players had was shared with the community, which made them feel that much more human.
    They eliminated the Blades and the Medicine Hat Tigers before bowing out in a tough seven game Eastern Conference final series to the Wheat Kings.
    Fans in Prince Albert can still see images of Chipchura’s big plays, Schlenker’s huge hits and Beauchemin’s acrobatic one arm save against Kieran Block of the Tigers, which was a TSN highlight of the night.
    If you saw video and pictures of the crowd the Winnipeg Jets had during their NHL playoffs games last season, the Art Hauser Centre was a smaller version of that in 2005. Opponents were playing against the Raiders and their fans, and it felt like you were battling against a crusade. The fans were out to support “their boys” and the passion and warmth was evident.
    Back then, it was thought that run would spark another golden age for Raider hockey. That ultimately didn’t come to pass.
    Since 2005, the Raiders have missed the post-season five times excluding 2009, when they faced the Edmonton Oil Kings in a standings tiebreaking game, and have only posted a winning record twice.
Austin Glover brings the puck up ice for the Raiders.
    For the Raiders fans, the pride took a hit, and sometimes the passion manifested itself in over the top criticism of management, players and staff.
    Another blow to the psyche came last season, when the Raiders were forced to trade star forward Leon Draisaitl to the Kelowna Rockets, when he was assigned back to the major junior ranks by the NHL’s Oilers. Some took that chain events to mean that little Prince Albert – a place where junior hockey matters – was going to be relegated to some sort of second tier outpost in the major junior ranks.
    Even as that went down, the winds of change were starting to blow. The Raiders brought in standout veteran bench boss Marc Habscheid as head coach halfway through last season and signed him through the end of the 2018-19 campaign in the off-season.
    Also in the off-season, they brought in Curtis Hunt, who played defence on the 1985 Memorial Cup winner, as general manager on a four-year contract. Hunt had been the head coach and general manager of the Fort McMurray Oil Barons of the Alberta Junior Hockey League last season, and he is a solid hockey person who has coached nine seasons in the WHL between the Moose Jaw Warriors and Regina Pats.
    The North Battleford product is a perfect fit to oversee the operations of the Raiders, and he should always have a role in some form in the WHL.
    With Kelly Guard, who was a former goaltending star with the Rockets, on board as an assistant coach, Terry Lange as a strength and conditioning coach and Mark Odnokon on as a skills coach, the Raiders are sound in both the coaching and front office ranks.
    Still, expectations were not high going into this season, but the Raiders have bolted out to an 18-10-2-1 start to sit second in the WHL’s East Division. They have gone through short stretches where they have sat on top of the Eastern Conference standings.
    Even in Saturday’s loss to the Blazers, the Raiders compete level was high. They led 1-0 and 2-1. When the Blazers went up 3-2 early in the third, the Raiders mounted a huge push back that forced Kamloops netminder Connor Ingram make a number of huge saves. The Blazers netted their insurance goal off a turnover during a short stretch of four-on-four play.
    The fans at the Art Hauser Centre were engaged, and the cheers were the loudest every time the Raiders threw a big hit. The spectators weren’t in the neighbour of being as loud as those playoff crowds in 2005, but you get the feeling they could jump back up to that level.
Raiders captain Tim Vanstone celebrates a goal by his team.
    At the moment, there are skeptics saying that the Raiders are overachieving. They might not remain near the top of the standings, but making playoffs would still be judged a success.
With that in mind, Simpson, when pressed, will admit he had some teams that overachieved and did some great things.
    Habscheid is a star coach, who can help players and teams overachieve. If the Raiders keep bringing a strong work ethic and playing with lots of passion and heart, they just might do some great things again.
    If the players keep displaying those traits, the fans will be there in a big way, and opposing teams might want to think twice about what post-season visits to the Art Hauser Centre will be like. In a small centre, it seems like everyone has to be “all in” to make a major junior franchise work, and while there may be disagreements in the community, citizens in Prince Albert have always rallied around the Raiders.
    For the fans, the dream will always be alive like in 1985.
    They are just waiting for the moment and the stage to show Canada once again that the song in Prince Albert is and will always be “Go Raiders Go.”

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

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Blazers surge past Raiders

Blazers goalie Connor Ingram turns away the hard charging Raiders.
    PRINCE ALBERT - The Kamloops Blazers played the role of Grinch on the Prince Albert Raiders Teddy Bear Toss night.
    Right-winger Deven Sideroff had two huge goals, which included the game winner early in the third period, and an assist, while captain Matt Needham had four helpers as the Blazers downed the Raiders 5-2 in WHL action on Saturday at the Art Hauser Centre. The two clubs were tied 1-1 after the first period and 2-2 after the second frame before the Blazers surged to victory before a fairly packed house of 2,610 spectators.
    “It wasn’t our best effort obviously,” said Raiders right-winger Reid Gardner. “We never want to lose in front of our home fans here in P.A., especially on a Saturday night.
    “It is our only game against Kamloops this year, and we wanted to give them our best. I don’t think we gave them our best, which is disappointing for our group.”
    Things started well for the Raiders, when overage rearguard Jesse Lees fired home a shot through a screen to give the hosts a 1-0 edge. That goal caused a shower of stuffed animals to be thrown on to the ice surface as part of the Raiders Teddy Bear Toss promotion.
    The Blazers tied things up just over four minutes later as Garrett Pilon netted his eighth of the season.
    The visitors controlled play in the second, but the Raiders jumped back out in front 2-1, when Gardiner sniped his 20th of the season top corner on Blazers netminder Connor Ingram.
    Kamloops evened the score at 2-2, when Sideroff slid home a bad angle power-play goal that took an odd turn of direction past Raiders netminder Rylan Parenteau. Just 79 seconds into the third, Sideroff scored again on the power play to give the Blazers a 3-2 lead.
Raiders winger Sean Montgomery cleans up after the teddy bear goal.
    “I thought we worked hard,” said Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid. “We just missed that little edge.
    “We hit posts. We hit crossbars. It seemed like we would go right and the puck would go left. It just wasn’t our night.”
    Blazers centre Matt Revel scored during four-on-four action right before the Raiders were about to head to the power play with 5:19 left to play in the third. Collin Shirley scored into an empty net to pick up his 20th goal of the season to round out the scoring in the contest putting Kamloops up 5-2.
    The Raiders controlled a lot of the play in the third outshooting the Blazers 14-8. The hosts also had four chances on the power play in that stanza, but couldn’t put the puck past Ingram.
Ingram made a number of huge stops in the third, especially from close in, to back the visitors to victory.
    “To have those four power plays and not generate a whole lot was disappointing,” said Gardner. “We have tried to work on our power play the last two or three weeks.
    “I think we just need to watch more video, and put a little more thought into it.”
    Ingram made 28 saves to help the Blazers improve to 14-10-3-1.
    Parenteau turned away 28 of 32 shots to take the loss in goal for the Raiders, who fell to 18-10-2-1.
The Blazers celebrate a Deven Sideroff goal.
    Prince Albert entered Saturday’s action tied for first place in the WHL’s East Division with the Brandon Wheat Kings. Optimism was running high in Prince Albert for the Raiders, who haven’t won a playoff series since 2005 when they advanced to the Eastern Conference championship series. Since that run, the Raiders have posted a winning record only twice and missed the playoffs five times not including when they participated in a standings tiebreaking game in 2009.
    “It is a good league,” said Habscheid. “I think our guys were trying.
    “It is just they didn’t have that jump in their step. We have a day off tomorrow, a good practice on Monday and be ready for Tuesday.
    “It is a long year. You get games like that. Some games, you have that jump and you are always on the right side of the puck, and tonight we weren’t.”
    The Raiders host the resurgent Lethbridge Hurricanes on Tuesday. The Blazers travel to Regina on Tuesday to take on the Pats.

    If you have any comments you would like to make about this blog post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Shirley sizzles in homecoming

Collin Shirley was on fire for the Blazers on Friday night.
    Collin Shirley ensured a rare and possibly last WHL visit to his hometown was a memorable one.
    The 19-year-old forward had a pair goals, which included a beauty on a breakaway, and an assist to power his Kamloops Blazers to a 6-2 romp over the host Saskatoon Blades at the SaskTel Centre on Friday night. Besides the strong offensive night, Shirley was also a plus-four in the plus-minus department.
    “Your time in the Western League goes pretty quick,” said Shirley. “It is crazy to think that this might be the last time to see all my friends and family here in the SaskTel Centre.
    “It was a special night I think. Lots of friends and family came out to support (me), which was awesome. I really appreciate what they have done for me.”
    As the Blazers play out of the WHL’s Western Conference, they only play in Saskatoon once every second season. That means Shirley won’t play again in “the Bridge City” unless he is traded out of Kamloops, which is unlikely, or the Blazers and Blades have a surprise meeting in the WHL championship series.
    Way back in 2011, Shirley was a first round WHL Bantam Draft selection of the Kootenay Ice, and he was dealt to the Blazers early in his 17-year-old season. He has really found his stride this season posting 19 goals, 17 assists and a plus-10 rating in the plus-minus department in 27 games.
    Shirley also played for the WHL team in the Canadian Hockey League Canada Russia Series in November and collected a goal and four assists in two games.
    “I had a better start this year than last,” said Shirley, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 197 pounds. “Jumping off to a big start was huge.
    “Me and Gage Quinney and Matt Revel are kind of clicking. It is something we didn’t really have before. It has been good so far, so hopefully we can keep that up.”
    Shirley set up Quinney for the Blazers first goal at the 14:59 mark of the first period, which tied the contest up at 1-1. Cameron Hebig gave the Blades a short lived 1-0 lead scoring just past the midway point of the opening frame.
    Early in the second period, Shirley scored on breakaway potting a goal short side on Blades goaltender Brock Hamm to give the visitors a 2-1 edge. That sparked the Blazers on a roll that saw them take a 5-1 edge into the second intermission.
    “I just kind of got lucky there,” said Shirley about his breakaway goal. “There was a blocked shot off a faceoff that kind of sent me on my way.
    “I play with Brock (Hamm) during the summer a lot. We are good buddies. I got him on the short side there, which was nice.”
    Blazers head coach Don Hay said Shirley put together a strong compete level in his game about this time last year. The veteran bench boss added that Shirley’s confidence also grew from having a great showing in the CHL Canada Russia Series.
Collin Shirley checks out on ice action after a shift.
    Hay was pleased with how all his Saskatchewan players performed on Friday night, and he believed the outing had a little extra significance for Shirley.
    “I think Shirley being 19 it was special,” said Hay. “It could be the last time that he plays in this building.
    “It is always special to come home and play well.”
    Saskatoon product Garrett Pilon and Nick Chyzowski added singles for the Blazers in the second, while Shirley picked up his second marker of the contest.
    Hamm was pulled after the second period ended having stopped 20 of 25 shots fired his way.
Associate player Dorrin Luding started the third period for the Blades and gave up a goal on the first shot he faced on a soft floater from Kamloops defenceman Ondrej Vala. Luding settled down turning away 10 of 11 shots sent his way.
    Mason McCarty rounded out the game’s scoring potting his sixth of the season for the Blades with 24.3 seconds to play in the third. Saskatoon lost its fifth in a row falling to 10-16-3.
    Imperial, Sask., product Connor Ingram made 33 stops to earn the win in goal for the Blazers (13-10-3-1).
    While the offensive side of Shirley’s game had hit another gear, he is even more proud of his work in the defensive zone.
    “For a long time, we talked about my play without the puck,” said Shirley. “I have always been a minus player in the league since I was 16 until last year.
    “This year I am kind of hoping to be in that plus (side of things) and be better defensively. The offence is there, but I need a full game.”
    Shirley had a large contingent of family and friends in the crowd of 3,797 on Friday night. There were two noticeable absences as his younger sisters Grace and Sophie were playing at the Mandi Schwartz Memorial Tournament being held in Wilcox, Sask., and Milestone, Sask.
    Grace is a 14-year-old rookie forward on the Saskatoon Stars female midget AAA team, who has 11 goals and six assists in 16 regular season games. Sophie is a 16-year-old rookie with the Notre Dame Hounds squad that plays in the Junior Women’s Hockey League, and she has piled up 10 goals and 13 assists in 16 regular season games. 
Collin Shirley's breakaway goal celebration is shown on the video screen.
    On Monday, Sophie was named as a member of Canada’s team that will play at the 2016 International Ice Hockey Federation’s under-18 women’s world championships, which run Jan. 8-15 in St. Catharines, Ont.
    Collin is proud of both of his sisters, and was pumped that Sophie will get the chance to play on the international stage.
    “We give her (Sophie) a lot of credit,” said Collin. “She is a great player.
    “I used to teach her all that stuff on the backyard rink. I am just kidding. She is doing really well, and I am happy for her.”
    The Blazers head to Prince Albert on Saturday to take on the Raiders. The Blades host the Regina Pats on Sunday at 4 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre.

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

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

One last time to see the "Saints of Los Angeles" - Motley Crue

    If you don’t go to Motley Crue’s last show in Saskatoon, you will be sorry.
    On Thursday night at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre, these rock legends bring their farewell “All Bad Things Must Come to an End” tour to “the Bridge City” playing their various iconic songs like “Kickstart My Heart,” “Girls, Girls, Girls,” and “Dr. Feelgood.”
    They are one of the top if not the top act to come out of the 1980s. Early in the band’s career, these “Saints of Los Angeles” talked about living fast and dying young. In an ironic twist, they have become one of the acts that has stood the test of time playing on for almost three-and-a-half decades.
    The names of Nikki Sixx, Mick Mars, Vince Neil and Tommy Lee roll off the lips with ease. They should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but to their fans they will always be Hall of Famers.
    During the Crue’s run, they have gone their separate ways for short spurts but always get back together.
    How many bands have passed through history and still managed to keep their core group together over a span of 34 years?
    Motley Crue might be the only group.
    They are the bad boys of rock, but they seem to have that just right amount of bad that you still like them, because they still come off as good guys.
    If they mess up, you treat it like, “Oh, that was awful boys, but just don’t do that again.”
    Over time, you have seen the band members grow and evolve. Through their ups and downs, they have come across as genuine and human, and that has made them even more enduring. When this band has gotten back together after one of their short breakups, they are greeted with a joyful, celebration type response from the fans during the first few tour dates.
    From the response, the Crue can tell the fans are happy to see them together again, and then the kicks into high gear.
    When you go to a Motley Crue show at any time, you are going for the party. People head to a Motley Crue concert looking for a good time.
    Often, it feels like the guys in the crowd are hoping to hook up with the many hot women they see. To the dismay of the guys, the hot women seem to still fancy Tommy Lee.
    On the music front, you will have the rare gem of a chance to hear the band’s glue guy in Mick Mars do his thing. Still to this day, Mars likely doesn’t get the accolades he should as one of the planet’s best guitarists.
    On the health front, he has struggled with ankylosing spondylitis, which is a chronic, inflammatory form of arthritis that mainly affects the spine and pelvis. The condition has increasing impaired his movement, but not his ability to play the guitar.
    Those that saw Mars play in the band’s last stop in Saskatoon in 2013 saw something special that night. The old guy still had it.
    Motley Crue’s first tour was with one of their idols in Ozzie Osbourne. Their final tour is fittingly with another rock icon that they looked up to in Alice Cooper.
    “All Bad Things Must come to an end,” and this is a chance to see rock history.
    At night’s end, you will admit Motley Crue was great, and they still kicked ass.

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

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Confidence will be a battle for Blades

The Saskatoon Blades get tied up in a scrum with the Regina Pats.
    The Saskatoon Blades are expecting more than morale victories.
    On Saturday night in Brandon, the Blades earned a morale victory dropping a 5-3 decision to the host Wheat Kings, who are one of the top teams in the WHL with a 17-8-1-2 mark and have aspirations to contend for a league title. While the Wheaties controlled play in most of that contest, the Blades were able to gain traction during a couple of points to create legitimate hope of pulling out an upset.
    Saskatoon is also in year three under the ownership of Edmonton product Mike Priestner, which also includes being in year three of a massive rebuild after the club hosted the 2013 Memorial Cup tournament under previous owner Jack Brodsky. A blockbuster trade in 2011 that saw the Blades surrender a bunch draft picks to acquire Brayden Schenn from the Wheat Kings for that season’s playoff run also added another obstacle to the current rebuild.
    The retooling saw the club bring in Bob Woods as head coach and general manager at the start of the 2014-15 campaign as well as Dean Brockman as an assistant coach. Woods, who was an assistant coach with the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks, came to the Blades with boatloads of professional experience coaching in the NHL, AHL and East Coast Hockey League. Brockman was the storied head coach and general manager of the Humboldt Broncos of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.
    The hires were very astute ones.
    With all that in mind, the Blades entered the 2015-16 campaign with hopes of seeing more tangible results in the win column and belief that a playoff berth could be achieved.
    After finishing last in the entire WHL for two straight campaigns, they jumped out to a 9-7-3 start and were comfortably holding a playoff spot.
    While they were 19-49-2-2 a season ago, the Blades work ethic was strong in most outings, and they dropped a number of close contests. The work ethic carried over into the current campaign and the wins were coming. Management, coaches, players and fans had to be excited about what was transpiring.
Brock Hamm has had struggles in goal for the Blades along with his defence.
    Recently, the wheels have fallen off.
    The Blades are 1-8 in their last nine games falling to 10-15-3 to sit four points back of the Edmonton Oil Kings (12-14-3) for the final playoff berth in the WHL’s Eastern Conference.
    The fact the Blades still have a young team surfaced in November, when the grind of the 72-game regular season really starts to sink in causing some to hit the wall. It also almost feels like the stench of the accumulated losses of the past two seasons is rearing its head.
    Last Monday, the Blades sent struggling 18-year-old sophomore netminder Nik Amundrud to the Calgary Hitmen for a sixth round pick in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft. Amundrud posted a 3-5-1 record, a 4.32 goals against average and a .870 save percentage. The Melfort, Sask., product showed a lot of upside as a rookie and took a step back this season.
    That left 18-year-old sophomore Brock Hamm to be the Blades projected number one netminder. Hamm started the season real strong looking like a top end number one, but he has struggle recently and currently posts a 7-8-2 record, a 3.92 goals against average, a .881 save percentage and one shutout on the campaign.
    In Wednesday’s 5-0 home loss to the Regina Pats, Hamm was beaten early on two deflection goals by the Pats that he had no chance on. He then looked lost trying to stop Regina centre Adam Brooks giving up a third marker at the 16:57 mark of the opening frame. Hamm was pulled after stopping eight-of-11 shots, but you could see in his eyes he was fighting demons in his head.
    Jake Morrissey, an 18-year-old goalie who was added to the Blades from the Drayton Valley Thunder of the Alberta Junior Hockey League last Monday, finished the game.
    The Blades defenceman haven’t been doing their netminders any favours as well. All of the Blades current blue-liners have minus rating in the plus-minus department. They appeared to have no faith in their defensive partners or other teammates against the Pats and would constantly try to pinch to one side of the ice or the other in the defensive zone only to be burned by a scoring chance or goal that came from the spot they vacated.
    The running around is a sign that the confidence in you teammates isn’t there as well as a lack of confidence in what is happening on the ice.
The Regina Pats celebrate their 15th straight win over the Saskatoon Blades.
    Standout offensive defenceman Brycen Martin was the Blades best player on the back end posting three goals, 21 assists and a plus-five rating in 25 games before being dealt to the Everett Silvertips last Monday. Marten and a conditional third round pick in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft went to Everett in exchange for 16-year-old defenceman Jantzen Leslie, who was a former first round WHL Bantam Draft selection, 16-year-old forward Ryan Anderson and a second round selection in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft.
    That move will likely help the Blades over the longer term. Leslie played in Saturday’s loss in Brandon. Anderson is playing in the Alberta major midget AAA ranks with Edmonton’s South Side Athletic Club Boston Pizza Athletics posting 15 goals and nine assists in 19 games.
    In the present, the Blades need to find overall confidence. Hamm might have some after making 43 stops in the setback to Brandon. He gave Saskatoon every chance to steal a win.
    Saskatoon’s defenders really have to focus on the basics of just chipping the puck out of their own end and holding their position on either side of the net.
    There is still lots of time to rally back to earn a playoff berth, which currently isn’t that far out of reach. A more prolonged slide makes that task much more difficult.

    If you would like to pass on any comments about this blog post, you can do so by emailing stankssports@gmail.com.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Stars grind out 14th straight win

Kianna Dietz drives a shot on goal for the Stars.
    Victory didn’t come easy for the Saskatoon Stars.
    The defending Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League champs had to grind out their 14th straight win of the season on Saturday night at the Agriplace Arena against a very game Battlefords Sharks side. The Stars outshot the Sharks, who occupy the basement of the SFMAAAHL, 49-21, but only managed to pull out a 3-1 victory.
    The visiting Sharks played with some good intensity and confidence and jumped out to a 1-0 lead just 1:38 into the first period on a goal by Brittany Yeager. They also created a number of strong scoring chances on five different power-play opportunities causing Stars standout goaltender Emma Johnson to make a number of quality stops in a 20 save performance.
    Saskatoon tied the contest up at 1-1 inside of the final minute of the first, when Kianna Dietz and Grace Shirley combined to set up Rayna Jacobson on a pretty looking goal.
    The Stars took their first lead of the contest with 10.9 seconds to play in the second, when Jacobson and Shirley combined to spring 15-year-old rookie Brooke Hausermann in alone on the Battlefords goal on a coast-to-coast rush. The Kamsack product made no mistake tucking her fourth goal of the season past Sharks goalie Chloe Marshall to give the hosts a 2-1 edge.
Chloe Marshall kicks out a save for the Sharks.
    Saskatoon netted a short-handed goal at the 8:33 mark of the third, when Julia Rongve and Willow Slobodzian sprung Jordyn Holmes into the Sharks zone on a breakaway. Holmes made no mistake in potting a key insurance marker.
    Marshall was stellar in goal for the Sharks making 46 saves as her squad fell to 2-13-2.
    The Stars lost their first game of the 2015-16 campaign back on Oct. 3 in Melville, when they dropped a 3-1 decision to the Prairie Fire, and that has been their only setback so far this season in posting a 14-1 mark.
    They return to action on Sunday, when they host the Sharks at 2:15 p.m. at the Agriplace Arena.

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