Saturday, 27 May 2017

Gordie Howe Sports Complex to get more needed upgrades

Friends of the Bowl leads new fundraising initiative

The Hilltops storm out on to the SMF Field turf  last September.
    There are times you almost forget how much actually happens at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex.
    The massive sports park named after hockey icon Gordie Howe and located in Saskatoon’s Holiday Park neighbourhood is best known as the home of the storied Saskatoon Hilltops of the Canadian Junior Football League and the legend building Saskatoon Valkyries of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League. Both teams play out of Saskatoon Minor Football Field, which was once known as Gordie Howe Bowl.
    If you visit the Gordie Howe Sports Complex on any week night during the spring, you will see football is just a part of all the action that goes on there.
    Besides the football stadium, the Gordie Howe Sports Complex is also home to eight softball diamonds including Gordie Howe Softball Diamond, five baseball diamonds including Cairns Field, the Clarence Downey Speed Skating Oval and the Gordie Howe Kinsmen Arena.
    In order to keep all the facilities at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex going, you need to keep constantly maintaining and upgrading them. That is where the Friends of the Bowl Foundation not-for-profit group has stepped up so admirably.
    Formed in 2013, The Friends of the Bowl Foundation launched a forward-thinking initiative to raise the funds that were needed badly to refurbish the Complex’s aging football stadium.
The new clubhouse facility at SMF Field can serve numerous functions.
    That initial campaign raised over $11.6-million resulting in a new field turf playing surface, scoreboard, sound system, upgraded lighting, state of the art clubhouse complex, an enhanced entrance place and a new ticket booth.
    Numerous user groups have relished holding functions at the new clubhouse facility, which includes a huge and well used banquet space and patio on the second floor. The hours of play available on the field have increased from 300 hours a year to 1,200 hours a year.
    Now, the Friends of the Bowl are making a push for more upgrades. The current push is already seeing the installation of 5,000 seats and nine boxes at SMF Field. The seats and boxes were made available from the Grey Cup Legacy Project, and they come from old Mosaic Stadium in Regina.
    Under the Grey Cup Legacy Project, the Government of Saskatchewan partnered with the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders to distribute the seats and boxes to communities throughout Saskatchewan. The contribution of the seats and the boxes is valued at $4.1-million.
The new ticket building can be used to see team merchandise.
    Friends of the Bowl is raising $5.9-million to transport and install the seats and boxes, upgrade the speed skating oval, replace the backstop at Gordie Howe Softball Diamond and enhance the parking lot and entrance plaza lighting.
    The upgrades at the Clarence Downey Speed Skating Oval will include a new timing board, safety mats, new grading of the track and paving around the timing buildings. The upgrades at the Gordie Howe Softball Diamond will include a new backstop that meets national standards.
    With the upgrades that have already been made to the Gordie Howe Sports Complex, the current backstop’s lack of height is a bit of an issue considering how close the softball diamond is to the entrance plaza, parking lot and clubhouse building.
    The Friends of the Bowl should be applauded for their continuing push to constantly improve the Gordie Howe Sports Complex. The volunteer board of directors of a solid group of community leaders headed by chairperson Bryan Kosteroski. Kosteroski has played a large role in helping build minor softball in Saskatoon and is currently the president of the Saskatoon Amateur Softball Association.
The backstop at the Gordie Howe Softball Diamond is slated to be replaced.
    Another key member on the board has been Johnny Marciniuk, who is the operations manager for Saskatoon Football Incorporated and a vice-president with Football Saskatchewan. Marciniuk can seemingly always be found at SMF Field doing all sports of little work with the facility and its daily operations.
    The current fundraising campaign, which is called the Legacy Campaign, is being co-chaired by business leader Greg Yuel and former CFL player Quinn Magnuson. Both have made positive contributions to Saskatoon.
    During a Valkyries home game on May 13, Friends of the Bowl announced a roster of partners including the Saskatoon Baseball Council, Saskatoon Amateur Softball Association, Saskatoon Track and Field Club, Saskatoon Nordic Ski Club, Saskatoon Football Incorporated, Saskatoon Secondary Schools Athletic Directorate, Hilltops, Valkyries, Saskatoon Lions Speed Skating Club and the City of Saskatoon. All of those groups are impacted by what goes on at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex.
    On top of all those groups that strive to make improvements to the Complex, Stephanie Hughes of DCG Philanthropic Services has to be giving a big shout out for her tireless work in making these fundraising campaigns go ahead.
George Reed speaks at a function at the SMF Field clubhouse in 2016.
    The Gordie Howe Sports Complex holds countless practices, games and events each year involving over 25,000 local athletes and coaches. Currently, over 10 provincial, national and international events are held on average at the Complex each year. With upgrades, the Complex will likely hold more of these types of events.
    The best part about the Gordie Howe Sports Complex is it continues to be shaped and improved by the community for the community. Any efforts to raise funds to make improvements to it should always be welcomed.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com. If you want to contribute to the fundraising efforts for the next set of improvements to the Gordie Howe Sports Complex, you can do so by clicking here.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Matthews, Church and Bold deliver for Rush

Mark Matthews came up big for the Rush on Saturday.
    While the entertainment around a Saskatchewan Rush game can be a spectacle, the players that take the floor deliver more than their fair share of thrills as well.
    The Rush are gunning for a third straight National Lacrosse League title, and they have relied on a core group throughout their current run. On Saturday at the SaskTel Centre, three key members of that core group delivered in a big way to power the Rush to their third straight NLL Championship series appearance.
    Mark Matthews, Robert Church and Aaron Bold all had big games to help the Rush slip past the Denver based Colorado Mammoth 11-10 in Game 2 of a Western Division championship series. With the win, the Rush swept the best-of-three set 2-0.
    Matthews, who finished second in the NLL regular season scoring race with 40 goals and 78 assists, led the way offensively for the Rush on Saturday netting two goals and four assists. Church, who was second in regular season team scoring with 35 goals and 42 assists, record two goals and three assists in the Rush’s series clinching win. Bold, who is the club’s standout goalie, made 32 key stops to preserve the one-goal win, which included holding the fort in the dying seconds of Saturday’s contest.
Mark Matthews signs autographs for fans at a rally last Friday.
    Backed by solid performances by those three, the Rush received what seemed like key contributions from the rest of their roster. Ben McIntosh had a pair of goals, while Jeff Cornwall, Matthew Dinsdale, Adam Jones, Ryan Keenan and Mike Messenger all had singles. Messenger, who is a rookie defender, had the winning tally with 13:34 to play in the fourth quarter.
    Eli McLaughlin had a hat trick for the Mammoth, while Jeremy Noble and Zack Greer both had two-goal nights. Greg Downing, Joey Cupido and Jacob Ruest all had singles for the visitors. Dillon Ward made 37 shots to take the loss in goal for the Mammoth.
    Besides being able to get up and down the floor in quick order, the Rush often make gifted athletic plays to score goals. Matthews has a habit of bringing the SaskTel Centre faithful, who numbered 14,052 on Saturday, out of their seats.
    Away from the game, the Rush players interact really well with the public. That could definitely be seen during a lunch time downtown rally last Friday a block south of the team’s office and gift store.
Jeremy Thompson is pictured with fans at a Rush rally.
    Players like Matthews and Bold kept signing autographs as the endless waves of supporters kept coming. Transition player Jeremy Thompson, who is also a huge fan favourite due to a big work ethic and motor that doesn’t stop, posed for numerous pictures as well.
    The thing that seems to make the Rush players stay down to earth is the fact they all have jobs away from the game. During the week they work regular jobs in their hometown communities, and on weekends, they fly to wherever the Rush are playing be it at home or on the road for games.
    The Rush will play one more home game during the 2017 campaign, and fans are likely hoping history will repeat itself with a victory party night in Saskatoon. In the best-of-three NLL title series, the Rush, who were 12-6 in the regular season, will face the Eastern Division champion in the Duluth based Georgia Swarm, who topped all NLL clubs with a 13-5 regular season record.
    Game 1 is set for Sunday, June 4 in Duluth, and Game 2 is slated for Saturday, June 10 at 7:30 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre. If necessary, Game 3 will be held on Sunday, June 18 in Duluth. If the Rush can sweep this series, they would win the Champion’s Cup for a second straight year at the SaskTel Centre.
    Last year, the Rush swept the Buffalo Bandits in the NLL title series 2-0, which including posting a series clinching 11-10 victory at the SaskTel Centre. 
Mascot Bruiser meets a young fan at the Rush rally.
    That game will be best remembered for Cornwall going coast-to-coast to score the winning goal with 12 seconds to play in the fourth quarter, which broke a 10-10 tie.
    The Swarm downed the Rush 18-10 in the only head-to-head meeting between the two clubs back on Jan. 7. 
    The Rush were without Bold and McIntosh in that contest because both were sitting out a one-game suspension for their participation in a brawl that broke out in a 9-6 pre-season win on Dec. 16, 2016 against the Calgary Roughnecks at the SaskTel Centre.
    With that noted, the series with the Swarm should be a tossup. Georgia’s roster includes second-year forward Lyle Thompson, who topped the NLL in scoring with 45 goals and 71 assists.
    The Rush have won the last two NLL titles. In 2015, they claimed the Champion’s Cup, when the franchise was still located in Edmonton. Last year, they repeated as NLL champs in their first year based in Saskatoon.

Rush office staffer Gulka becomes cult hero


    Saskatchewan Rush account executive Connor Gulka might be the most famous office staffer from all the Saskatoon-based sports teams at the moment.
    With just over 30 seconds to play in the fourth quarter of the Rush’s Western Division championship clinching series victory on Saturday, a fan climbed over the glass and ran out on to the playing surface. Gulka caught up to the fan and threw him to the turf.  The fan got up and ran off again, but was quickly apprehended by security.
    The video of Gulka throwing the idiot fan to the ground has been shown over a number of social media and mainstream media sources. On various social media channels, a number of other Rush fans have praised Gulka for the throw down, which is being dubbed the “Gulksmash.”
    What the idiot fan did in running out on to the floor was obviously stupid. What made it more stupid was the Rush had the ball, the momentum and were trying to close out a one-goal game that was still in the balance. Had the visiting Colorado Mammoth netted the equalizer on their last possession, there could have been a lot of unhappy people on the side of Rush Nation.
    As things played out, the Rush held on for the 11-10 victory. The idiot fan has been banded from SaskTel Centre events until further notice.
    On the total great lighter side of all this, Gulka gets more notoriety.

Murphy’s sure hands delivers last second Valkyries win

Kelsey Murphy came up with a huge catch for the Valkyries.
    Kelsey Murphy has always been one of the most popular players inside the Saskatoon Valkyries dressing room, so it was extra exciting for the team when she made the biggest playing in a thrilling comeback win.
    On Sunday night at Taylor Field in Regina, the Valkyries trailed the host Riot 17-13 with 1:58 remaining the fourth quarter. Starting with possession at their own 35, the Valkyries executed a two-minute drill drive and moved the ball down to the Riot eight yard line. With seven seconds remaining on the clock, sophomore quarterback Alex Eyolfson hit Murphy with an eight-yard touchdown toss to allow the Valkyries to win the game 20-17.
    Murphy, who is in her fourth season with the team, has always been a dependable receiver and also returns kicks. She is one of those players that will do any role that is asked of her by the coaching staff, and at times, her efforts get overlooked by those outside the team.
    Due to the fact the Valkyries are without star receiver Marci Halseth for the entire season with a torn Achilles tendon, Murphy has seen more action this season. It was a feel good moment to see her step into the spotlight in one of the best games the Western Women’s Canadian Football League has seen in its young history dating back to 2011.
Alex Eyolfson fires a pass downfield for the Valkyries.
    Eyolfson has been a great story as well. Having graduated from Holy Cross High School in June of 2015 best known as a player on that institution’s elite senior girls’ basketball team, she joined the Valkyries last season as a rookie and played beside individuals who coached her in minor sports.
    As time has gone on, Eyolfson’s confidence has grown, and she has really taken charge of the team’s huddle. It has been an impressive sight, considering she is still one of the youngest players on the offensive side of the ball for the Valkyries. She can fire the ball downfield really well too.
    Valkyries power back Samantha Matheson ran for 117 yards and scored a touchdown on a 12-yard run in Sunday’s win. Carly Dyck nailed field goals from 38 and 25 yards out for Saskatoon.
Samantha Matheson was big for the Valkyries on Sunday.
    Carmen Agar ran the ball 16 times for 107 yards for the Riot and scored two touchdowns. Morgan Turner hit a 14-yard field goal for Regina.
    With Sunday’s result, the Valkryies and Riot both hold identical 2-1 records, but the Riot sit first in the WWCFL’s Prairie Conference thanks to holding a 33-20 edge in points scored in the two head-to-head meetings between the clubs. The Winnipeg Wolfpack and Manitoba Fearless both have identical 1-2 records to sit behind the two Saskatchewan squads.
    The regular season ends for the Prairie Conference teams this coming Sunday in Winnipeg. The Fearless will host the Valkyries and the Wolfpack will host the Riot.
    The first and second place clubs in the standings advance to a conference championship game, which is expected to be held on June 4.

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

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Sports media in Canada hits more uncertain waters


     There was a pending air of finality on Sunday at the Brandt Centre in Regina, and it had nothing to do with the Regina Pats needing to win to stay alive in the WHL Championship series.
    The Pats were down 3-2 going into Game 6 of the best-of-seven set and needed a win against the Seattle Thunderbirds to force a series deciding Game 7 the next night. If you were in the media and scouts lounge pre-game during the hour before puck drop, there was a pending feel of finality circulating from a large number of media members in attendance.
    The obvious feel of finality came from the crew working the Shaw television broadcast. Shaw bought itself out of its contract to show WHL games next season, so Sunday could have been potentially be the last broadcast.
    If the Pats won, a Game 7 on Monday would definitely be the last hurrah. Ultimately, the Thunderbirds claimed Game 6 by a 4-3 score in overtime to make Sunday the final Shaw broadcast.
    Away from the Shaw crew, a number of other people were wondering if they would be around a year from now, when the Pats host the Memorial Cup. Some of the Regina media members noted they wouldn’t get to go to Windsor, Ont., for this year’s Memorial Cup if the Pats won the WHL title. That latter worry was erased with Seattle’s win.
    In reality, the media landscape that covers sports in Canada has the potentially to be vastly different when September arrives bringing with it the next winter sports season, which has the potential to run through to March, April or May.
    Shaw is closing television stations in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver on Aug. 15. Corus Entertainment and Shaw Communications made that announcement in late April. Corus acquired Shaw’s media arm, which includes Global, in a $2.65-billion deal last year.
    Corus also announced that on Sept. 1, Global News will get a $10-million boost and part of those funds will be used to bolster coverage of university-level sports.
    Still, the closing of the Shaw stations in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver means at the moment WHL hockey games and U Sports football games from the Canada West Conference will no longer be shown in Western Canada.
    On the U Sports front, the Silhouette, which is the student paper at McMaster University, ran a big column on March 31 that showed how U Sports has been messed over on its television contract with Sportsnet.
Saskatoon Blades HC Dean Brockman takes part in a media scrum.
    In late March, Bell Media cut a total of 14 jobs in local sports departments at CTV stations in Calgary and Edmonton in Alberta and Windsor, London and Kitchener in Ontario. A total of 20 jobs were lost in all at those CTV stations. Local sports was cut out at the CTV station in Barrie, Ont., in February.
    Thanks to all these cuts, there was a small fear by some in the sports media in Regina that it is possible their positions could be eliminated any day without notice.
    The saving grace in Regina is the presence of the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders, whose national popularity will be keep local sports positions in that market. Still, the total number of sports media positions in that market have shrunk. It is easy to find people with the University of Regina athletics department that believe coverage of their teams will be considerably less at the start of this coming season now that Ian Hamilton is no longer with the Regina Leader-Post.
    The Leader-Post’s parent company, Postmedia, keeps constantly finding ways to downsize and did more downsizing late last year, where the company parted ways with Hamilton. Postmedia also owns the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, and there was downsizing at that outlet last last year as well.
    Across Canada, the number of people covering sports in the mainstream media in Canada outside of the NHL beat will be generally less in September of this year than it was in September of 2016.
    On the bright side while traveling across Saskatchewan and Alberta covering the WHL playoffs, it was nice to see mainstream media outlets in Regina, Swift Current and Lethbridge following their communities’ teams on the road to cover games.
    When I ventured across Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta covering WHL playoffs in 2016, the only media outlet I saw hit the road to cover their community’s team in the post-season was the Brandon Sun, which is basically an independent outlet.
    The WHL office itself is trying to do more to cover its member teams. Due to the cuts across the sports media in Canada, coverage of WHL is way less than it was five to eight years ago in mainstream outlets.
    Leagues like the WHL, U Sports and the Canadian Junior Football League are going to be forced to do more of their own media coverage on themselves through their websites and social media lines in order to get more exposure. The National Lacrosse League seems to already have made a big push on that front.
    The exposure of all those leagues would be helped if national wire services again decided to circulate stories about them, but anything outside of the NHL, UFC, Roughriders, Toronto Blue Jays or Toronto Raptors won’t even get a look by a wire service these days. The big mainstream media outlets and national wire services are addicted to getting instant gratification.
    Locally in Saskatoon, I can already see less cameras on the sidelines of the home opener for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team in September compared to their home opener on Sept. 2, 2016, when the Dogs downed the U of Regina Rams 41-39 in overtime.
    In the past three months, this blog has seen over 53,000 page views, which is the largest surge of views over any similar period since starting it up in late August of 2014. I thank those who have checked my blog out.
    I know some of the surge has come from the fact leagues like the WHL, U Sports, CJFL, the Western Women’s Canadian Football League or local minor sports like female midget AAA hockey are covered a lot less by the mainstream, and this blog is one spot that provides information on those circuits.
    I big time thank and appreciate the support of Gregg Drinnan, who the greatest to ever cover the WHL, and Cam Hutchinson, who is the editor of the Saskatoon Express, for consistently giving me encouragement and reinforcement.
Saskatchewan Rush HC and GM Derek Keenan takes part in a media scrum.
    With that said, I know I want to take time to reset and see where the chips covering sports in the media industry in Canada fall by the time September rolls around. I am not going to make any guarantees about what I will be around writing about in September.
    On top of media changes, I never know how things will unfold in my personal life.
    My goal is to ensure whatever I do cover it will be something I am passionate about. I find that when you cover something you are not passionate about, the readers see through it, and you do them a disservice. I really hope to avoid that.
    Until September, I just take things one day at a time and roll with the punches as they come, which is something I always try to do.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com. To see column from the Silhouette regarding the television contract between U Sports and Sportsnet, you can do that by clicking here.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Pats season triggers great memories of the past

The Pats celebrate a Josh Mahura goal from Sunday.
    When I first walked into the Brandt Centre this season, it was reassuring to see a lot of good things stayed the same.
    The Regina Pats were the first WHL team I ever covered, but those days often seem like they were from another life. I covered the Pats for a web site run by the University of Regina’s School of Journalism and Communications in the last half of the 1999-2000 season and for a short-lived sports reporting website during the first half of the 2000-01 campaign called SportsRegina.com.
    I was close to the same age as the players, and we ran in many of the same social circles. A couple of them lived two blocks south of my house. I had many good memories from that time.
    Back then, the Pats were owned by Russ and Diane Parker. In April of 2014, the Parkers sold the Pats to the Queen City Sports and Entertainment Group, which is headed by Anthony Marquart, who is the president of the Regina-based Royalty Developments.
The Pats celebrate a Joey Bastien goal in March of 2000.
    While I was in my 18th season covering the WHL, I didn’t have a whole lot of dealings with any of the current Pats personnel outside of athletic therapist Greg Mayer and star offensive-defenceman Connor Hobbs.
    Having been a beat writer that covered the Medicine Hat Tigers for the Medicine Hat News for 10 seasons from 2004 to 2014, it had been over 13 years since I was last at the Brandt Centre in a capacity that was unattached to the Tigers.
    I was unsure at first what it would be like to walk back into the Brandt Centre. I was preparing myself to encounter a different experience than from the one I remember long ago from when I covered the Pats.
    Last December, I had to venture to Regina a couple of times to nail down some items for a couple of freelance stories on two Saskatoon products for the Saskatoon Express. 
Overage captain Adam Brooks became a Pats icon.
    The trips allowed me the time to do some initial stories on the team for this blog, where I make a habit of traveling to different WHL centres to do stories on various teams.
    The Pats would finish first overall in the WHL with a 52-12-7-1 record and were ranked first in the final Canadian Hockey League rankings released on March 22. They were often rated first in the CHL top 10 rankings throughout the 2016-17 campaign, so the fact they were doing well made them an intriguing story.
    Entering the Brandt Centre on Dec. 3, 2016 for a home clash with the visiting Prince Albert Raiders, the attendant at the sign in desk was as friendly as can be. That provided the first good flashback to the past.
    Back when I covered the Pats in that long ago time, I remember the Brandt Centre staff making that facility, which was then known as the Agridome, one of the most friendly on the WHL circuit. That featured hadn’t changed, even though most of the staff obviously turned over. I was presently surprised to see a few old faces from back in the day.
Barret Jackman led the Pats with grit from 1999 to 2001.
    The seats and the scoreboard received an obvious facelift. When I went downstairs to the media and scouts lounge, it felt like a time warp. The downstairs of the facility looked pretty much the same from when I used to cover the team.
    When I was in the media and scouts lounge doing preparation work, Pats head coach and general manager John Paddock entered, went around shaking everyone’s hands and had short visits with each person. Paddock does this on a regular basis during the regular season, and I thought that was a pretty cool and classy touch.
    I jumped up with surprise and glee when I ventured out of the media and scouts lounge to see that 81-year-old Rollie Bourassa was still dressing up as the Pats dog mascot K9. He has been doing that since 1978. I didn’t realize he was still around.
    I think my freak out line was, “Oh my God! You’re still here!”
    I also had a chuckle when I shot pictures at that contest against the Raiders. My eyes often drifted to various points in the Brandt Centre where really good-looking girls used to sit game after game in the old days. Of course, they were no longer in those spots, but memories for a second drifted off to other good social times from the past.
Connor Hobbs works the point for the Pats.
    The Pats hammered the Raiders that night 12-2 before 5,749 spectators. When I looked at the stands, I couldn’t really find many empty seats.
    Seeing how packed the stands were, my mind drifted back to the days of when I used to cover the Pats. The players from that time like Barret Jackman, Garth Murray, Ryan Thomas and Matt Hubbauer got extra pumped to put on a show, if they saw that the stands were full like that.
    During post-game interviews, Paddock and his players were so easy to deal with, and that provided another flashback to the past. With the Pats doing so well, I figured I would be back to cover other games and potentially a decent playoff run as the season progressed.
    It was nice to see my mind was drifting back to a past life rediscovering a high comfort level and a professional joy I had covering that team.
    Having been a Regina resident, I realized the importance the Pats played in that city and knew the long history they had as the world’s oldest major junior team dating back to 1917. I also knew that the Pats best playoff runs were back in a distant past.
    Still, the Brandt Centre always contained at least 4,000 hard core fans no matter what happened with the team, and the Pats had a deeply embedded culture in the Queen City. They were an institution there, and I often wondered what it would be like to see the team on a long playoff run.
Garth Murray warms up for the Pats in 2000.
    When I saw Pats live for the first time this season in the romp over the Raiders, I remember telling former Pats head scout Todd Ripplinger that this was the best Pats team I had ever seen.
    As the season progressed, I made more trips to Regina to do stories about the club, and I saw the Pats frequently on the WHL playoff trail be it at the Brandt Centre or at rinks in other WHL cities. I began to get to know some of the players’ parents by face, who I didn’t know before.
    Friends in Saskatoon, where I am based, would tease me I was just heading down to watch Hobbs, who is from Saskatoon, and Sam Steel, who is the Pats superstar centre who has no ego. I replied you can throw in the team’s charismatic overage captain Adam Brooks too, who became one of the club’s icons spending a spectacular five complete seasons with the team.
    Besides that trio, forwards Jake Leschyshyn, standout rookie Nick Henry, speedy Austin Wagner, overager Dawson Leedahl, import Filip Ahl, Robbie Holmes and Braydon Buziak were fun to watch. Overager Chase Harrison, Josh Mahura and import Sergey Zborovskiy helped cement an impressive defensive unit.
    Gutsy goalie Tyler Brown slammed the door in net stealing the odd game when called upon and allowing the Pats to stay in other contests in order to manufacture an exciting comeback.
The Pats pour off their bench after their Game 7 victory over the Broncos.
    The Pats this season were as fun to watch as the skilled Tigers teams I used to cover in Medicine Hat.
    In the playoffs, one of the biggest memories came when the final seconds ticked off the clock when the Pats downed the Swift Current Broncos 5-1 in Game 7 of a second round series erasing a 3-1 series deficit for the first time in team history. The sellout crowd of 6,484 fans at the Brandt Centre were rocking as they never rocked before knowing the Pats were going to the WHL Eastern Conference Championship series for the first time since 1993.
    Shooting pictures of the team coming off the bench for the victory celebration, I saw shots that were similar to those of the 1980s Edmonton Oilers celebrating Stanley Cup title wins. A rink staffer told me to get out on the ice and take pictures of everything.
The Pats Regiment celebrates one of the team’s goals on Sunday.
    From the ice, I remember looking up at the crowd and thinking, “Holy (explanative)!”
    I wished the Pats teams I used to cover back in the day could have experienced a moment like that.
    The Pats would down the Lethbridge Hurricanes 4-2 in the best-of-seven WHL Eastern Conference Championship series to make the WHL Championship series for the first time since 1984. 
    Regina fell in the best-of-seven WHL title series to the Seattle Thunderbirds in six ultra-competitive games. The Thunderbirds captured the Ed Chynoweth Cup for the first time in their history.
Sam Steel is the Pats humble superstar.
    Between the regular season and playoffs, the Pats sold out a record 26 contests, which was something that was beyond the imagination of most.
    I went out after covering games a couple of times socially and had a chuckle watching people in Regina celebrate Pats playoff wins like Saskatchewan Roughriders wins in the CFL playoffs.
    There was part of me that never thought I would see the Pats play in a WHL Championship series, and it was special to see that happen to create a link to the team’s success of a distant past. 
The Pats give a final salute to the Brandt Centre crowd on Sunday.
    While Pats fans endured heartbreak when the club couldn’t hold on to a late 3-1 third period lead in Game 6 of the WHL title series with the Thunderbirds at the Brandt Centre on Sunday, they could be proud the Pats went down fighting in the 4-3 overtime loss.
    For myself, I never thought I would enjoy covering games involving the Pats as much as I did this past season or it would bring back as many old memories as it did. 
    In between and including the work, I was glad I could make some more good memories and enjoy some more good times involving Regina’s historic major junior team.

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

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Blades sign top three WHL Bantam Draft selections

De La Gorgendiere and Crnkovic introduced to local media

Aiden De La Gorgendiere, left, and Kyle Crnkovic signed with the Blades.
    The Saskatoon Blades two newest first round WHL Bantam Draft picks were looking pretty wide eyed on Wednesday afternoon.
    During a news conference at the SaskTel Centre, the WHL club introduced defenceman Aidan De La Gorgendiere and forward Kyle Crnkovic to a sizable gathering of local media. The gather also included a large contingent of Blades coaches, staff and management, seven other players that were selected by the team at the May 4 draft held in Calgary and a large representation of parents.
    De La Gorgendiere and Crnkovic looked a little overwhelmed by the number of people in attendance at the conference. The two 15-year-olds had smiles when they signed their WHL Standard Player Agreements with the club.
    The Blades also announced they signed forward Braden Plaschewsky to a WHL Standard Player Agreement too, which meant the team got commitments from their top three picks from this year’s WHL Bantam Draft. The Blades selected Plaschewsky, who is from Calgary, in the second round and 31st overall.
Aidan De La Gorgendiere, left, signs his WHL Standard Player Agreement.
    “It is just a fun day,” said Blades general manager Colin Priestner. “We spend a lot of time in rinks at bantam games all year.
    “Our scouts spend hundreds of hours each at the rinks. To get a couple first round picks like this signed so quickly, it is a big relief for me. It is a huge thing.
    “I can go on vacation now and enjoy my summer a little more. It is one of those things where we really wanted these two players.”
    The Blades selected De La Gorgendiere in the first round and fifth overall. The Langley, B.C., product, who stands 6-feet and weighs 169 pounds, played with the Abbotsford, B.C., based Yale Hockey Academy bantam squad netting five goals and 21 assists in 30 games. His parents, father Graham De La Gorgendiere and mother Marla Meginbir, are both from Saskatoon.
    De La Gorgendiere still had a lot of family in Saskatoon including grandparents and aunts and uncles. 
Kyle Crnkovic signs his WHL Standard Player Agreement.
    He was pumped to sign with the Blades.
    “It is a great opportunity for me,” said De La Gorgendiere. “I’m looking forward to the future here.
    “I knew I wanted to play here once I got drafted. That was my decision.”
    De La Gorgendiere said one of his favourite WHL players was defenceman Ty Smith, who just wrapped up his 16-year-old rookie season with the Spokane Chiefs, and the NHL players he tries to model his game after are Brent Seabrook of the Chicago Blackhawks and Aaron Ekblad of the Florida Panthers.
    “I feel I am a 200-foot defenceman,” said De La Gorgendiere. “I have a little bit of offensive ability I can put towards the Blades, and I also have a good first pass out of my own zone.”
    Crnkovic was selected in the first round and 10th overall by the Blades. The Chestermere, Alta., product played for the Kelowna, B.C., based Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy team racking up 40 goals and 39 assists in 30 games.
Colin Priestner, left, gives a jersey to Aidan De La Gorgendiere.
    He was amazed by the welcoming he received at the press conference.
    “It is pretty overwhelming, but it is also pretty cool at the same time,” said Crnkovic, who stands 5-foot-6 and weighs 149 pounds. “I’m just very excited to be part of the organization.
    “I’m really looking forward to it. When Saskatoon picked me, it was a huge honour. I’ve heard nothing but good things about the organization.”
    Crnkovic said he tries to model his game after Mitch Marner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and he loves to be a playmaker. The speedy forward said he enjoyed meeting the Blades coaches, management and staffers in person.
    “They’ve been so nice and so welcoming,” said Crnkovic. “I’m just really looking forward to it.
“I just need to get bigger and stronger and just work as hard as I can this summer.”
    The Blades WHL Bantam Draft picks from this year won’t be able to play with the club on a full-time basis until the start of the 2018-19 season. 
Colin Priestner, left, gives a jersey to Kyle Crnkovic.
    They can play in five games in the upcoming campaign as 15-year-olds.
    Blades head coach Dean Brockman was having his initial in person meetings with many of the draft picks and said he doesn’t want to place too many expectations on the newcomers.
    “For us, it is just take your time with the development and make sure that they are ready to come when they are ready to come,” said Brockman. “I don’t want to put the pressure on them that they have to be the guys right off the bat.”
    The bench boss just had a simple hope for the most recent bantam picks in their first visit to the city.
    “You just want them to feel welcomed,” said Brockman. “You also want them to know that this is what it is going to be like.
    “I don’t think there is anybody that has been over the top or out of the ordinary.”

Pats’ Mahura signs with Ducks

Pats D Josh Mahura signed with the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks.
    Josh Mahura had an outstanding post-season for the Regina Pats, and he was rewarded for his efforts with an NHL contract.
    On Wednesday, veteran defenceman signed a three-year NHL entry-level contract with the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks selected Mahura in the third round and 85th overall in last year’s NHL Entry Draft.
    The St. Albert, Alta., product, who turned 19 earlier this month, was acquired by the Pats in a blockbuster deal on the WHL’s trade deadline day on Jan. 10 from the Red Deer Rebels. Between the Rebels and the Pats, Mahura appeared in 73 regular season games recording 17 goals, 36 assists and a plus-17 rating in the plus-minus department.
    He came through during a number of key moments for the Pats in the post-season as they advanced to the best-of-seven WHL Championship series for the first time since 1984 before falling in six hard fought contests to the Seattle Thunderbirds. Mahura, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 185 pounds, recorded eight goals, 13 assists and a plus-seven rating in 23 playoff games.
    The National Lacrosse League’s Saskatchewan Rush will recognize the Pats for their WHL playoff run on Saturday at the SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon. The Rush are hosting the Colorado Mammoth in Game 2 of the best-of-three West Division Final at 7:30 p.m. that night, and they lead the series 1-0.
    Four members from the Pats, who claimed the WHL’s Eastern Conference championship, are from the Saskatoon area including star offensive defenceman Connor Hobbs and forwards Dawson Leedahl, Wyatt Sloboshan and Jake Leschyshyn.
    While the Rush have successfully branded themselves as a provincial team, the Pats should get an interesting reception considering the SaskTel Centre is the home of their traditional long-time rivals, the Saskatoon Blades.

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

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

WHL Championship delivered thrills and drama

Title series between Thunderbirds and Pats was a classic

Keegan Kolesar skates with the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
    REGINA – Wow!
    That is the only word that was needed to describe this year’s WHL Championship series. The Seattle Thunderbirds and the Regina Pats put on a show and both were worthy of battling for the Ed Chynoweth Cup in a best-of-seven set.
    In a conclusion that was a fitting end for an overall thrilling 2017 WHL playoffs, Alexander True followed the rebound of his own shot to pop home the winner at the 12:36 mark of overtime to deliver the Thunderbirds to a 4-3 series winning Game 6 on Sunday at the Brandt Centre in Regina. Seattle claimed its first league title in franchise history with the 4-2 series win. The Thunderbirds date back to 1977, when the club was formed as the Seattle Breakers.
    At the start, the series had to be considered a tossup. The Pats finished first overall in the WHL with a 52-12-7-1 mark and were rated first in final Canadian Hockey League top 10 rankings, which were released on March 22. They were making their first appearance in the league final since 1984.
    The Thunderbirds finished fourth overall in the WHL with a 46-20-4-2 mark despite getting out to a slow start due to players getting back late from professional camps. They lost the best-of-seven league title series last year 4-1 to the Brandon Wheat Kings and returned 14 skaters who were looking to take care of unfinished business.
Alexander True scored the Thunderbirds biggest goal.
    Over the course of six games, the Thunderbirds and Pats showed their resilience. The teams were separated by the slimmest of margins, but in the end, the experience the Thunderbirds had likely helped push them to the title.
    Sunday’s Game 6, which was played before a sellout crowd of 6,484 spectators, captured the whole series perfectly. It seemed momentum wouldn’t stay with one side.
    After two straight losses, the Pats were looking to get the series back on even terms. Things started well for the hosts as star centre Sam Steel converted a nice feed from defenceman Josh Mahura at the top of the left faceoff circle on the power play to give the hosts a 1-0 lead.
    Seattle came with a huge push back and outshot Regina 10-3 in the opening frame. During that stretch of Thunderbirds pressure, it appeared Pats standout netminder Tyler Brown was going to steal the game as he made stop after stop.
    Thunderbirds winger Sami Moilanen found the equalizer on the 20th shot fired on goal from his side forcing a 1-1 tie at the 8:55 mark of the second.
    The contest proceeded to turn 16 seconds later when Thunderbirds defenceman Turner Ottenbreit received a major penalty for charging on a high hit he threw on Pats speedy winger Austin Wagner. Wagner left for the remainder of the second period and returned for the start of the third.
Austin Wagner led the Pats with 16 goals in the post-season.
    At that point, the Pats showed their “never say die” attitude. They pushed back and built momentum heading into the third period.
    In the third, the Pats hit a point where it appeared Game 7 was going to be a reality. With 8:10 to play in the frame, Mahura fired home a rebound from a shot by winger Jeff de Wit to give the Pats a 2-1 edge.
    From there, Wagner stepped into the forefront. He stole the puck from Thunderbirds defenceman Austin Strand, zipped into the Seattle zone on a breakaway and fired home his 16th goal of the playoffs to the top left corner of the Thunderbirds net with 6:48 to play. The Brandt Centre was rocking with the Pats now holding a 3-1 lead.
    This became the point the Thunderbirds experience showed through. When everything was rolling for the Pats, they found a moment to gain traction to turn the game around again and provide the final turning point for the series.
Tyler Brown’s rebound on this blocker stop turned out to be costly.
    Just 86 seconds after Wagner’s goal, the Thunderbirds caught a break, when a pass from Seattle defenceman Ethan Bear deflected off Mahura right to Thunderbirds overage winger Ryan Gropp, who was open in the right slot. Gropp cut to the middle and fired home a shot that cut the Pats lead to 3-2 causing a short hush to fall over the Brandt Centre crowd outside of the healthy contingent that was cheering for the Thunderbirds.
    The Thunderbirds proceeded to get on the power play, and winger Keegan Kolesar fired home a beauty feed from Bear in the right slot to force a 3-3 tie with 2:54 to play in the third.
    In overtime, the Pats had a great chance to get the winner, when a shot from standout rookie winger Nick Henry squirted out from the pads of Thunderbirds goaltender Carl Stankowski. Steel tried to tap home the loose puck, but he didn’t get enough force behind the jab allowing Stankowski to make the stop.
Thunderbirds D Ethan Bear (#25) wires a shot on goal from centre ice.
    That set the stage for True to play the role of Seattle hero netting the series winner. When Brown made a blocker stop on True’s first shot, the import from Copenhagen, Denmark, was smart to go hard after his rebound, because he had a lot of empty net to shooting the winning goal into.
    Brown was heroic in the setback making 39 stops. Stankowski turned away 28 shots to become the first goalie in his 16-year-old season to win the WHL title as a starter since Dan Blackburn in 2000 with the Kootenay Ice.
    Three games in the series were decided in overtime, and all three were played in Regina. The Thunderbirds claimed two of those games in extra time to erase the memories of dropping three straight overtimes to open last year’s WHL Championship series with the Wheat Kings.
Thunderbirds C Mathew Barzal cuts to the front of the Pats net.
    The Pats were also without captain Adam Brooks for Games 2 to 5 of the series. Brooks was lost after being on the receiving end of an open ice hit by Ottenbreit in the second period of Game 1.
    Without their captain, the Pats showed their grit winning two out of the four games Brooks missed.
    While Regina fans weren’t happy with Ottenbreit, the Yorkton, Sask., product, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 200 pounds, showed he was a sound and rugged defensive defenceman.
    He recorded seven goals, 25 assists, 92 penalty minutes and a plus-45 rating in the plus-minus department in 71 regular season games.
Sam Steel netted key goals for the Pats.
    If Ottenbreit played for the Pats, he would likely have been a fan favourite in Regina.
    Thunderbirds star centre Mathew Barzal was held pointless in Game 6, but he had his chances. The first round NHL Entry Draft selection of the New York Islanders was named the MVP of the WHL playoffs.
    Barzal missed Seattle’s first round series sweep of the Tri-City Americans due to illness, but he returned at the start of the second round and recorded seven goals, 18 assists and a plus-eight rating in 16 post-season games.
    With the WHL championship win, the Thunderbirds head to the four team Memorial Cup tournament, which begins Friday in Windsor, Ont., with the host Spitfires hosting the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champion Saint John Sea Dogs.
    The Thunderbirds open their schedule taking on the Ontario Hockey League champion Erie Otters on Saturday. The Memorial Cup runs through to Sunday, May 28 in Windsor.
The Thunderbirds celebrate their WHL title OT winning goal.
    Seattle will be in tough as a WHL team has only won one of the last eight Memorial Cup tournaments. The Edmonton Oil Kings are the only Memorial Cup winner coming from the WHL during that time span capturing major junior hockey’s biggest prize in 2014.
    No matter what happens in the Memorial Cup, the Thunderbirds and Pats showed in their league title series how impressive a product the WHL can be.
    They gave the circuit another classic championship series.

Ridley nears 3,800 games called

Bob Ridley calls a Medicine Hat Tigers road game in Saskatoon.
    When the next WHL season starts, iconic Medicine Hat Tigers play-by-play voice Bob Ridley will be closing in on calling his 3,800th game.
    This season, the Tigers advanced to the second round of the WHL playoffs, where they lost a heartbreaking seven game series to their Highway 3 rivals the Lethbridge Hurricanes. That contest was marked the 3,783rd game Ridley called as the voice of the Tigers including games in the regular season, standings tiebreakers, WHL playoffs and the Memorial Cup tournament.
    Since the Tigers began play in 1970, Ridley has called 3,363 of the 3,364 team’s regular season games, one standings tiebreaking game, all 399 contests the club has played in the WHL playoffs and all 20 contests the team has played in the Memorial Cup tournament.
    Ridley has called Tigers hockey games for 47 seasons, and for the majority of that time, he drove the team’s bus as well. If someone started next season calling an average of 80 games a season for 47 seasons, that person would still come up short of the total games Ridley has called.
    It is safe to say no one ever in the history of the WHL will ever pass Ridley’s total of game called as the play-by-play voice of one team.

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

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Thunderbirds WHL title dream comes True

Seattle wins first league crown in team history with OT thriller

Mathew Barzal, centre, gives a cheer after the Thunderbirds OT win.
    REGINA – Alexander True came up true in the biggest moment in the history of the Seattle Thunderbirds.
    On Sunday night before a sellout crowd of 6,484 spectators at the Brandt Centre in Regina, True’s Thunderbirds were locked in a 3-3 tie in overtime with the host Pats and were looking to close out the WHL Championship series with a Game 6 victory.
    At the 12:36 mark of the extra session, the 19-year-old import centre from Copenhagen, Denmark, broke down the right wing, fired a shot on Pats netminder Tyler Brown, followed the rebound and popped home the WHL championship winning goal.
    True’s marker gave the Thunderbirds a 4-3 victory in game, a 4-2 win in the best-of-seven series and the Ed Chynoweth Cup as league champions. The win marks the first time the Thunderbirds have claimed the WHL title in team history. The Thunderbirds date back to 1977, when the club was formed as the Seattle Breakers.
Alexander True (#16) fires home the WHL championship winning goal.
    “Unbelievable feeling. It is just really special,” said True, who said the OT winner was the biggest goal in his hockey career. “I don’t really know what to say.
    “I didn’t think much. I just wanted get the puck on net. Luckily, I got the rebound and saw the net was pretty open.”
    The Pats held a 1-0 lead after the first period, but the Thunderbirds pulled even at 1-1 scoring the lone tally in the second. Regina shot out to a 3-1 lead in the third period, but Seattle replied with two markers late in the frame to force overtime.
    Feisty Thunderbirds right-winger Keegan Kolesar wired home a one-time feed from star defenceman Ethan Bear on the power play for the equalizer with 2:54 remaining in the third.
Alexander True celebrates his OT winner.
    “We’re a team that doesn’t give up,” said Bear, who had a pair of assists and was a plus-two in the plus-minus department in Sunday’s win. “We’re going to have to keep doing that moving forward.
    “Through all the adversities and injuries, a lot of guys stepped up. We really, really earned this, and it feels amazing.”
    Bear, who has a signed NHL entry-level contract with the Edmonton Oilers, had over 100 family and friends in attendance from his home stomping grounds in Saskatchewan’s Ochapowace First Nation. The 19-year-old big time appreciated his backers.
    “It is amazing to look at all my family and all my friends,” said Bear. “I am not the only guy from (Saskatchewan), so I bet they (his Saskatchewan teammates on the Thunderbirds) feel the same.
    “It couldn’t be any better.”
    Bear, who stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 205 pounds, said he draws motivation from his friends and family in Ochapowace.
    “They supported me a lot,” said Bear. “Everywhere I went, they all supported me no matter what I did.
    “That really helps me push myself to get a little bit further. Hearing and seeing all the crowd we had, you know it felt like home ice. Without them, I don’t think we could have done it.”
Seattle RW Keegan Kolesar (#28) tries to slip past Regina D Connor Hobbs.
    Sami Moilanen and Ryan Gropp both netted singles for the Thunderbirds. Sam Steel, Josh Mahura and Austin Wagner all netted singles for the Pats.
    For a moment, it looked Wagner was going to have a storybook type game. With the contest locked in a 1-1 draw, Wagner was nailed with a high hit in the open ice by Thunderbirds 19-year-old defenceman Turner Ottenbreit.
    Wagner, who had been battling bum shoulder in the playoffs, laid on the ice for a few moments before being helped to the dressing room. Ottenbreit was given a major penalty for charging, and that infraction will trigger an automatic review by the WHL office for a possible suspension.
    After missing the rest of the second period, Wagner returned for the third. The speedy winger got in alone on Thunderbirds netminder Carl Stankowski and netted his 16th goal of the post-season to give the Pats a 3-1 edge with 6:48 to play in the frame.
Thunderbirds defenceman Ethan Bear holds up the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
    Bear said his Thunderbirds expected the Pats to be resilient. The Pats topped the WHL’s regular season standings with a 52-12-7-1 record and were rated first in the final Canadian Hockey League rankings released on March 22.
    In the second round of the playoffs, the Pats trailed the Swift Current Broncos 3-1 in a best-of-seven series and rallied for a 4-3 series win. In the WHL Eastern Conference Championship series, the Pats trailed that best-of-seven set 2-1 to the Lethbridge Hurricanes and rallied for a 4-2 victory.
    “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” said Bear. “Right from the get go, they were a team that every time they were down in a series they came back and won.
    “We knew that. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, so we just stuck to it. It feels amazing.”
    Stankowski made 28 stops to pick up the win in goal for the Thunderbirds. Brown was sensational turning away 39 shots to take the loss in goal for the Pats.
Austin Wagner (#27) celebrates his goal that gave the Pats a 3-1 lead.
    Thunderbirds star centre Mathew Barzal was named the MVP of the WHL playoffs.
    The Coquitlam, B.C., product missed the first round of the post-season due to illness, but he returned to piled up seven goals, 18 assists and a plus-eight rating in 16 playoff contests.
    The Thunderbirds will make their first appearance at the four-team Memorial Cup tournament for the first time since they hosted the event in 1992, when they lost out in a semifinal contest. The other three teams at this year’s Memorial Cup are the Ontario Hockey League champion Erie Otters, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champion Saint John Sea Dogs and the host Windsor Spitfires.
    The Memorial Cup begins Friday and runs through to Sunday, May 28 in Windsor, Ont.
    The Pats were making their first appearance in the WHL Championship series since 1984 and will host the Memorial Cup next year.
    After losing last year’s WHL Championship series in five games to the Brandon Wheat Kings, the Thunderbirds returned 14 skaters this season and had to survive missing key players to injuries and illness over extended stretches. Stankowski, who is in his 16-year-old season, played every minute in the post-season in goal for Seattle after star overage netminder Rylan Toth sat out with a lower body injury.
Seattle C Matthew Wedman (#21) is stopped by Regina G Tyler Brown.
    During the regular season, the Thunderbirds posted the WHL’s fourth best overall record at 46-20-4-2. In the WHL playoffs, Seattle rolled off a 16-4 mark.
    Thunderbirds long time veteran general manager, part owner and WHL legend Russ Farwell stood off to the side watching his players, coaches and staff enjoy the moment. Before he ever joined the Thunderbirds, Farwell was the general manager and architect of the Medicine Hat Tigers league and Memorial Cup championship teams in 1987 and 1988.
    After the 1988 Memorial Cup title win, he joined the Thunderbirds for his first stint as general manager, which ended with a departure to the NHL ranks in 1990. Farwell has continuously been with the Thunderbirds since getting back involved with the team in 1995.
    He wanted to savour this first personal league title win in 29 years.
The Thunderbirds get set for the team picture with the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
    “You appreciate it a little more I think the longer you have been doing it,” said Farwell. “This is a special group of guys.
    “It is a bigger challenge in the U.S. to build that kind of team. This year this group has really, really battled through a lot of things. It is the funniest year I have ever had right down to Carl (Stankowski) having to step in for us in goal.
    “They’ve just overcome so many things.”
    Farwell said he would always remember this league title win.
    “They are all big, but this is special certainly for our group, our scouts and everyone there in Seattle,” said Farwell. “It has been a long, long time coming.
    “We worked at it. We had a run last year. It is really special to get there and see these guys get there.”

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