Monday, 30 May 2016

Rush push Riders into back seat - at least in Saskatoon

Zack Greer celebrates scoring for the Rush.
    For one of those rare moments in Saskatchewan, the CFL’s Roughriders are going to be No. 2 in the sports scene, or at least in Saskatoon.
    As Roughriders training camp enters its early stages, the provincial sports scene is dealing with season creep from a new source in the Saskatchewan Rush of the National Lacrosse League. Unless you have been living under a rock, you will know the Saskatchewan Rush, who are based in Saskatoon, have been doing well in their first campaign in a province that boasts having the “Land of the Living Skies.”
    The Rush have drawn over 13,000 fans to each of their last five home dates. That includes setting a SaskTel Centre record for attendance at a sporting event with 15,192 people coming out to their last home outing on May 21. On the record night, the Rush downed the Calgary Roughnecks 12-9 to sweep the best-of-three West Division final 2-0.
    Thanks to that win, the Rush advanced to the best-of-three Champion’s Cup NLL championship series against the Buffalo Bandits.
    Going into the league title series, optimism was high the Rush could win it all again from the local supporters in Saskatchewan. The Rush won the NLL title last season, when the franchise was still Edmonton.  As the Saskatchewan Rush, they claimed Game 1 of the 2016 Champion’s Cup 11-9 last Saturday in Buffalo.
Fans take part in tailgating before the Rush game.
    Game 2 is set for this coming Saturday at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre, and the Rush have the chance to win it all.
    If you haven’t been to a Rush home game, you have been missing out. You can find tailgating going on in the SaskTel Centre parking lot before games or just outside of the facility’s fences. Games really are one big party, and the action of an NLL contest feels like it is non-stop.
    Saturday’s game has the potential of being an even bigger party. If the Rush win, the fans will be in a euphoric mood due to the fact a league title will be claimed. Not many teams in Saskatoon have had a chance to win something like the Champion’s Cup on home turf.
    If the Rush win, people will pour out of the SaskTel Centre and back into the city most likely looking to celebrate by drinking more alcoholic beverages than former Major League Baseball pitcher David Wells did after a World Series win.
Goalie Aaron Bold is favourite among Rush fans.
    People in Saskatchewan like to party, and a Rush win on Saturday provide ample opportunity to go nuts and likely phone in sick for work on Monday.
    The Roughriders, in contrast, will be a week into training camp this coming Saturday. You might take in a bit of the festivities at their Green and White day function that runs from 2 to 9 p.m. at Saskatoon Minor Football Field before venturing off to the Rush game.
    Roughriders season is really in its infancy, and you will have plenty of opportunity to focus on them. Besides, their regular season doesn’t start until June 30, when they host the Toronto Argonauts at 8 p.m. at Mosaic Stadium, and CFL playoffs are way off in November.
    For this week in Saskatoon, it is all about right now. The Saskatoon city buses are driving around flashing “Go Rush Go” signs. Sports fans and bandwagon jumpers alike want to see this story run to its finish.
Mark Matthews checks out the Rush fans celebrating a West final win.
    To be fair, if you travel outside of Saskatoon’s borders throughout the rest of the province, it is harder to find Saskatchewan Rush gear. Rush merchandise isn’t sold at most CO-OP outlets like the ones in “the Bridge City.” You can still find tonnes of Roughriders merchandise at the CO-OPs located outside of Saskatoon.
    Even with that in mind, you don’t care if you live in Saskatoon. Heck, the Roughriders themselves have probably heard news about the Rush and would probably love to check out what all the fuss is about at the SaskTel Centre on Saturday night.
    Right now, the Saskatoon sports fan is thinking, “It is the Rush’s time baby. Let’s go get this won and go crazy.”

Epic finish for Red Deer’s Memorial Cup, other thoughts

Fans show a sign to support Fort McMurray fire victims at Memorial Cup.
    The 2016 Memorial Cup in Red Deer turned out to be the perfect hit.
    The Rebels hosted a fantastic event, which saw fans pack the Enmax Centrium for games and the neighbouring pavilions on the grounds of Western Park for Fan Fest, the Hockey Hall of Fame display and the Molson Hockey House. Off the ice, the Memorial Cup was going to be a success.
    As what seem to be a just reward, the action on the ice turned out to be memorable, when the tournament’s last three games rolled around. In the final round robin game on Wednesday, the host Rebels eliminated the WHL champion Brandon Wheat Kings from the tourney as Evan Polei netted the winner in OT in a 2-1 victory. A total of 7,327 spectators packed the Centrium, which is listed as having a capacity of 7,000 in the WHL guide and record book for 2015-16.
    The Rebels put on a strong fight in the tourney’s semifinal contest but fell 3-1 to the QMJHL champion Rouyn-Noranda Huskies 3-1. A total of 7,562 spectators turned out for that contest.
Red Deer fans support their Rebels at the Memorial Cup.
    In Sunday’s final, the OHL champion London Knights rallied from a 2-1 deficit against the Huskies to pull out a 3-2 Memorial Cup championship winning victory in overtime on a winner coming from the stick of elite NHL Entry Draft prospect Matthew Tkachuk. A total of 7,384 fans turned out for that match.
    The lowest attendance figure for any of the event’s eight games was 7,181, which came in the round robin clash that saw the Knights down the Huskies 5-2 last Tuesday.
    After closing with an epic championship game, the Memorial Cup in Red Deer becomes a lofty standard bearer for future Memorial Cup tournaments to be measured against. The OHL’s Windsor Spitfires and their organizing committee have a lot to live up to in 2017.
  • On Monday, former Medicine Hat Tigers great Tom Lysiak passed away at age 63 after a battle with leukemia. He played for the Tigers in their first three seasons of existence from 1970 to 1973 collecting 118 goals and 209 assists in 195 regular season games. He helped the Tigers win their first WHL title in 1973 and advance to play in that year’s Memorial Cup at the storied Montreal Forum. After his Tigers days were done, Lysiak went on to play 919 regular season games in the NHL with the Atlanta Flames and Chicago Blackhawks. When Lysiak passed, he likely took a huge amount of colourful and untold hockey stories with him from a time when the sport was a little more on the wild side. Tigers iconic play-by-play voice Bob Ridley said it best writing on Twitter, “The greatest Tiger ever Tom Lysiak, passed away this a.m. after a long fight with cancer. Condolences to the family.”
  • On Sunday, the Saskatoon Valkyries (3-1) found out they will open the Western Women’s Canadian Football League playoffs against the Manitoba Fearless (1-3) on June 12 at Saskatoon Minor Football Field in a Prairie Conference semifinal match. The other Prairie Conference semifinal that day will see the defending league champion Regina Riot (3-1) host the Winnipeg Wolfpack (1-3). The times of both games is still to be determined.
  • On Monday, It was cool to see guard Laura Dally sign a one-year professional contract to play professional basketball with BG ’89 Avides Hurricanes Rotenburg in Germany. Dally played her final campaign in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport ranks this past season and helped the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s team win their first national title. Dally, who stands 6-feet, was named the most outstanding player in the Canada West Conference, and she was a first team all-Canadian all-star. She has also been selected to join Canada’s senior national team for a European exhibition tournament in June.
  • Switching to something not sports related, here is hoping a major music label signs Saskatoon rock group One Bad Son. I saw them play the Roughriders kickoff party on Friday night at O’Brians Events Centre, and they were amazing. They have to be the best young rock group I have seen in some time. Unfortunately, major labels still seem to push mainly pop acts. This foursome should be way bigger than they are.
  • On front that was uplifting, Gregg Drinnan was a winner of a Paul Carson Broadcast and Media award on Thursday for his Taking Note blog. Taking Note was saluted as B.C.’s best sports related blog from outside Vancouver for a second straight year. Last year, Taking Note was an independent operation and it moved under the umbrella of last summer. Drinnan’s win is inspiring, and it proves there is life outside of the mainstream media. When it comes to covering the WHL, Drinnan is widely viewed as the best ever. Taking Note can be found right here.
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