Friday, 1 January 2016

Top 10 memories of 2015

Tom Sargeant gets the Gatorade shower after the Canadian Bowl
    At the start of the year, I didn’t know what would be on this list.
    No longer working full time in the mainstream media, I really thought I would not go through enough experiences to create this list. To my surprise, I was able to make a whole bunch of memories mainly through creating this blog and my freelance work. Reflecting on that fact gives me a confidence boost that I do not have to be part of the mainstream media to have moments where I feel like a rock star, which in recent years has been a struggle.
    Through most of this year, I felt I had to scrap, kick, claw and fight for a just the smallest, tiniest, mini-break. I do keep trying to push for a major break in both my career field and also the relationship front – both of which seem they will never come.
    One of the big things that drove me on was seeing this blog surge past 32,000 page views. I never imagined I would get 5,000 views. During interactions with you the readers, I get that upper where I feel like I matter. I thank you for that.
    I have so enjoyed the relationships that I have renewed writing this blog and the new ones I have made.
    I think one of the top feel good moments came on Nov. 7, 2015 after the Saskatoon Hilltops downed the Okanagan Sun 38-24 to win the Canadian Junior Football League title game the Canadian Bowl.
    I remember running on to the turf at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, and I ended up hugging energetic and heart on his sleeve Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant who said, “Thank you for everything you have done for us.”
    That meant a lot to me. The 2015 CJFL campaign marked the first time I covered the Hilltops for a complete season. I respect those guys so much, and I hold the coaches in such high regard that I will cherish that moment always.
    It felt good to matter, and you all make it happen by reading this blog. Again, thank you.
    Now without further ado, here are the memories. Wow, it is cool to see how much happened.

10. UFC’s visit to Saskatoon

A young fan gets a picture taken with a UFC title belt.
    I had worked one mixed martial arts card on a minor promotion, but I had never dealt with the UFC in any form before.
    The UFC stopped in Saskatoon for the first time ever on Aug. 23, 2015 with its UFC Fight Night 74 card, and I covered it for The Canadian Press, the Saskatoon Express and my blog. It was cool seeing the lead up spectacle covering the open workout at O’Brians Event Centre, checking out the weigh-ins, the UFC Experience fan festival and the fights themselves.
    I befriended UFC staffers Carolyn Blakely, Neil Springer and Stephanie Ura, and they all made working the UFC stop easy. The fighters were a joy to deal with. They were all so engaging and all had cool stories to tell.
    It was so cool to watch the fights from the floor at cage side. Another highlight was helping Octagon Girl Chrissy Blair with her phone.
    The action inside the cage was impressive, and the crowd of 7,202 definitely got their bang for their buck. The UFC stop in Saskatoon was definitely a good time.

9. Valkyries and Riot play a conference final classic

Valkyries RB Sam Matheson runs through the Riot.
    In the short history of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League, the Saskatoon Valkyries and the Regina Riot played arguably the circuit’s greatest game on June 28, 2015, when they battled in the Prairie Conference final.
    The Valkyries entered the contest having won the WWCFL title in each of the previous four years. The Riot were looking to knock off their provincial rivals and were hosting the conference final at Mosaic Stadium. Regina also thumped the Valkyries 49-9 in a regular season encounter in Saskatoon, so one had to wonder if the Riot’s time to rise to the top of the league had come.
    The conference final was gritty clash that saw the Riot slowly build what appeared to be a comfortable 28-7 edge early in the fourth quarter. While Regina had a big lead, it never felt like Saskatoon was out of the game.
    One of those classic strong Mosaic Stadium winds was blowing at full force in that contest, and the Valkyries had the wind at their backs in the fourth quarter.
    A long pass reception by Valkyries receiver Marci Kiselyk set up an 18-yard touchdown run by running back Sam Matheson. Kiselyk caught a two-point conference to further cut the Regina lead to 28-15 and the game’s momentum had swung.
    Matheson proceeded to run in scores from 28 and 25 yards out to give the Valkyries a 29-28 lead with 1:26 to play. She accounted for all four Saskatoon majors piling up 159 yards rushing on 14 carries.
    After falling behind, the Riot responded gutting out a final drive that was powered by the work of running back Carmen Agar and quarterback Aimee Kowalski along the ground. With 15 seconds to play, Morgan Turner kicked a 12-yard field goal to give the Riot a 31-29 victory.
    The Riot advanced to the WWCFL title game in Winnipeg and crushed the Edmonton Storm 53-6, but in all reality, the league title was decided in that classic Prairie Conference final clash between the Riot and Valkyries in Regina.

8. Labour Day Classic a feel good day once again

The Roughriders get set to plunge in for a touchdown.
    The Labour Day Classic at Mosaic Stadium always seems to be a yearly highlight.
    The 2015 edition made for the ultimate lost party weekend in Regina. The host Saskatchewan Roughriders downed the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 37-19 for an 11th straight victory in this annual clash.
    Cheering for the Roughriders, all you could feel was elation after that game. The Riders were 0-9 at that point in the season, they have just fired their head coach and general manager and they had a whole host of key injuries. They were without their star starting quarterback Darian Durant, who ruptured his left Achilles tendon in the opening game of the season.
    It seemed like the Roughriders were never going to win a game in 2015. After posting that convincing win over the Bombers, I remember streaming off to Wayne’s World and dancing with girls I just met to David Lee Murphy’s “Dust on the Bottle.” Wayne’s World is a backyard party spot at a house situated across the street from Mosaic Stadium.
    The party went long into the night at various locals in Regina. For a small moment, it felt like everything was right.

7. A farewell to Beily’s

    After 10 years in operation, Beily’s Ultralounge on 8th Street closed its doors forever back in February, and its farewell weekend was one to remember.
    For most of its existence, Beily’s was the hotspot to be at in Saskatoon before a whole bunch of pubs opened up in downtown.
    NHL players often stopped in. For a number of years, there was often an annual impromptu gathering there during the weekend NHLers came to town to support the annual golf tournament to raise funds for Royal University Hospital.
    Beily’s relived its prime during its final weekend, which was also the February long weekend. Friday and Saturday were packed leading up to the final industry Sunday on Feb. 15, 2015. The final industry Sunday was an epic send-off party.
    A number of people that don’t normally go out did for Beily’s final weekend. Most wished owner Jeff Ledding well.
    After the last song played on Sunday night, you could feel the finality. Staff members were hugging each other and hugging the patrons. There were also a few tears shed.
    I took a cab home that night, which also created another weird memory. When I returned to recover my car the afternoon on the following day, I remember looking at quiet and empty Beily’s building. The electric sign out front thanked the city for a great 10 years.
    It really hit me at that time I would never have a night out at Beily’s again. It also hit me that would be the last time I recovered my car the next day after spending a night out at Beily’s. It felt strange.
    With that said, thanks Beily’s for all the great memories.

6. Motley Crue rocks Saskatoon one last time

Nikki Sixx plays during Motley Crue's last show at the SaskTel Centre.
    Finalities seem to be a theme for me in 2015, and Motley Crue’s farewell tour stop in Saskatoon provided another epic memory.
    On Dec. 10, 2015, Motley Crue played the SaskTel Centre for the last time ever and Alice Cooper opened the show. Both legendary acts nailed down iconic performances and the SaskTel Centre was pretty much packed.
    I saw Motley Crue for the first time a couple of years back to strike something off the bucket list. Their final performance in Saskatoon is something I will always remember taking everything in from my floor seat.
    Like the first time I went to Motley Crue, I went to the show on a limo bus that left Outlaws with a big group of friends. The after party back at Outlaws was pure fun.
    You could also feel the finality. After Motley Crue concluded their set with “Home Sweet Home,” I remember a realization hitting me that I will never see this band play live again. I took a selfie on the floor at the SaskTel Centre before departing to join up with my friends on the limo bus.
    I savoured the night as much as I could, but it seemed to go by way to fast.

5. The final regular season night at The Arena

The Tigers raise a banner to the rafters of The Arena thanking the fans.
    Wow, I will always remember the love from the people in Medicine Hat on this night.
    On March 21, 2015, the Medicine Hat Tigers played their final regular season game at The Arena downing the Saskatoon Blades 6-2. I came back to check out the final regular season game along with a huge number of former players. The contest also marked the first time I had been to Medicine Hat since moving away at the end of July in 2014.
    I lived in Medicine Hat for 10 years, but my last three years in the Gas City were filled with turmoil mainly stemming from work. Driving to town, I remember feeling excited to get to Medicine Hat, which was special. I could still recall return trips to Medicine Hat after visiting family and friends in Saskatoon from 2011 to 2014 and constantly feeling fear about how the roof will fall in.
    When I pulled into the Hat, I immediately went to The Arena to see the Tigers office staff. I remember hugging Tim Machan, who was the Tigers creative services and digital media manager, and going into the building to check out the video screens that were set up for that night’s festivities.
    After checking into the hotel, I returned to The Arena for game time and felt constant love from the moment I stepped in the building. It took me 15 to 20 minutes to get from one end of the building to the other due to shaking hands and visiting with fans. The former Tigers players that came back for that night had similar experiences.
    Fans brought out old pictures and memorabilia, which brought back so many cool memories. I got to go to the Tigers alumni function that was held after the game at Ralph’s, and soaked in sharing memories with a huge group of friends I made from the 10 seasons I covered the team as a beat writer. I wish that get together could have lasted forever.

4. One Voice Fundraiser – A night of love those battling mental illness longed for

    It was a night where it felt like dealing with mental health issues was given a proper respect.
On July 24, 2015, I attended the One Voice Fundraiser at TCU Place, which supports the Neural Health Project at the University of Saskatchewan. The hope of the Neural Health Project is to develop a more complete approach to the treatment of mental illness.
    Since 2012, I have knowingly battled issues with anxiety. I have long gone public about these battles, and during my journey on this front, I frequently run into people that think mental issues are non-issues or fake issues.
    At the One Voice Fundraiser, mental health issues were discussed normally in a comfortable and upbeat setting. For those that have battles with those issues, you felt great and unafraid.
    The event was spearheaded by Mike Babcock, who is the head coach of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs, and Dr. DeeDee Maltman, who is the medical director for the Centre of Integrative Medicine at the U of S. For me, it was uplifting to see someone of Babcock’s statue champion the fact we need to do a lot better in tackling mental health issues.
    The two times I have visited with Babcock in my life have been spectacular. The demanding coach has a big heart.
    On the night, over $1-million was raised for the Neural Health Project.
    I was glad I could help in a small way what happened that night with a big advancer article about my mental health story. That had been one of the few nights in recent years I truly felt on top again.

3. Hilltops capture 18th CJFL title

Austin Thorarinson and the Hilltops raise the Canadian Bowl.
    Since I moved back to Saskatchewan, one of the great things that has happened to me is renewing ties with the venerable Saskatoon Hilltops.
    In 2014, I wrote a handful of stories on the Hilltops, and I had so much fun going to games and hanging around the team I made it a point to follow them for a full season in 2015. As a side bonus, my posts on the Hilltops rank right up there with my most viewed posts.
    As the season progressed, it was fun to Hilltops improve game in and game out. When they advanced to host the Canadian Bowl, I remember waking up on the morning of Nov. 7, 2015 full of anticipation for what was to come. I couldn’t wait to get down to Saskatoon Minor Football Field.
    When I arrived, it was amazing to fans and former players tailgating in the parking lot, which doesn’t normally happen at Hilltops games. The stadium was packed, and you got to see all sorts of familiar faces like former Saskatoon StarPhoenix sportswriter Cory Wolfe.
    With 3:46 to play in the third quarter and the Okanagan Sun holding a 21-17 edge on the Hilltops, I can still see Saskatoon quarterback Jared Andreychuk hitting receiver Tyson Sawatzky on a 73-yard bomb pass play to put the hosts up 24-21. The connection came two plays after the Hilltops had a similar long touchdown pass called back due to a penalty.
    Saskatoon pulled out a 38-24 victory to claim an 18th Canadian Junior Football League title. The hang out party at the Hilltops clubhouse afterwards was a blast.
    The Hilltops are a first class team, and everyone from coaches, players, parents, directors, support staff and cheerleaders are all outstanding people to deal with. It was a blessing to around the whole 2015 championship campaign.

2. Saskatoon Stars shine brightly

The Stars celebrate winning a SFMAAAHL title.
    I must admit the only reason I discovered the Saskatoon Stars midget AAA female hockey team was due to the fact my young cousin Danielle Nogier is one of their players.
    After you go to a couple of games, you kind of get hooked on how upbeat, energetic and optimistic the Stars players are. The team also has one of the best parent support groups I have ever seen as well.
    Over the 2014-15 season, the Stars posted a 45-5 overall record including play in Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League regular season and playoffs, the Mac’s tournament and the Esso Cup national championship tournament.
    They won the Mac’s title, the SFMAAAHL championship and a bronze medal at the Esso Cup.
It was a special to be at the Agriplace Arena on March 25, 2015, when the Stars downed the Prince Albert A & W Bears 2-0 in Game 3 of the SFMAAAHL champion series to sweep the best-of-five set.
    That night proved to be one of the few of my many sports memories that contained a family member. I got a lot of joy snapping a picture of Danielle skating around the rink with the championship banner.
    Actually, it seemed like the Stars players were bouncing around all over the place with pure joy and happiness. You almost forget how much energy a group of teenagers aged 14 to 18 have.
    Entering 2016, the Stars are again first in the SFMAAAHL with a 16-2 record. Danielle is the team’s captain playing in her final year of midget eligibility. They might have a few more highlight moments coming up in the next few months.

1. Cancer battles – RIP Cody Smuk and Dominic Rooney

Cody Smuk at the Rutherford Rink on Jan. 30, 2015.
    The most memorable moments of 2015 also proved to be the most emotional and heart wrenching.
    In Saskatoon, former University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team forward Cody Smuk passed away after a battle with cancer that lasted over a year. In Medicine Hat, little Dominic Rooney, who is the son of Medicine Hat News sports editor Sean Rooney, passed away after a two-year battle with acute myeloid leukemia just shy of his third birthday.
    Both deaths were way too sad and way too soon.
    Since moving to Saskatoon at the end of July in 2014, I had been around to see most of Smuk’s battle. Smuk was actually the first person I interviewed when I moved to Saskatoon as part of a feature story for the Saskatoon Express. I was impressed with how deep of a person he was during that one-on-one talk at the ancient Rutherford Rink and how optimistic he was in his fight.
    It was inspiring to see the community of Saskatoon rally again and again to help Smuk. I can still remember the warm fundraising night at the Rutherford Rink, and the big send off for him at the airport when he traveled to Germany for alternative treatment. Actually, my two most viewed posts ever are about Smuk.
    Smuk passed away on June 25, 2015 at age 26. I still feel for his father, Marty, mother, Darla, sister, Brittnie and fiancée, Stephanie Vause.
Items from Dominic Rooney's celebration of life.
    From a distance, I watched for the last year how Dominic Rooney’s battled played out. When I moved away from the Hat, he was in more of a stable spot, and his father, Sean, and mother, Trish, were pretty happy.
    It was cool to see how Medicine Hat rallied around the Rooney family. I think everybody realized how unfair that whole situation was.
    When Dominic was given just weeks to lived, the little guy managed to keep kicking for 36 weeks. He managed to go on a trip to Vancouver and one to Orlando.
    It was impressive to see how much Sean and Trish grew through this whole situation, but it is definitely something you don’t want anyone to go through.
    Dominic passed away on Sept. 3, 2015. I hope Sean and Trish have been able to find a new normal.
    The celebrations of life for both Cody Smuk and Dominic Rooney were spectacular. Both will always be remembered.

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