Sunday, 30 April 2017

Valkyries hit ground running in pre-season win over Storm

WWCFL season will be a sprint in 2017

Denise Kolosky (#44) and her Valkyries teammates hit a Storm tailback.
    The Saskatoon Valkyries are looking like themselves out of the gate, which will be key in what will be a lightning fast 2017 season.
    On Saturday at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, the Valkyries dumped the Edmonton Storm 56-6 in a pre-season tilt. The contest also served as a rematch from last year’s Western Women’s Canadian Football League title game, which the Valkyries won 81-6 in Lethbridge.
    Normally, the Western Women’s Canadian Football League schedule is spread a little over two months. With the International Federation of American Football Women’s World Championship running from June 24 to 30 in Langley, B.C., there is a push to get the WWCFL campaign concluded a touch faster in comparison to past years.
    The Valkyries will go from their pre-season game right into a four-game regular season contests. The playoffs have been shortened as well.
Kelsey Murphy returns a punt for the Valkyries.
    The top two clubs in the four-team Prairie Conference that the Valkyries are part of will advance to a conference championship game to be held on June 3 or 4. In past years, all four teams in the Prairie Conference were automatically placed in playoffs.
    The winner of the conference title game will advance to the league final, which will be held June 10 in Saskatoon against the first place club from the three-team Western Conference. If the Valkyries return to the league final for sixth time in seven years, they will do so playing seven games on seven consecutive weekends including the pre-season, regular season and post-season.
    The 2017 schedule doesn’t contain a single bye week for the Valkyries.
    In noting how Saskatoon’s schedule plays out, it might have been even that more impressive the Valkyries utilized pretty much everyone on their 53-player active roster in Saturday’s romp of the Storm. Defensively, the Valkyries were impressive holding the Storm to 226 yards of offence.
    Most of Edmonton’s yards came from star running back Brenna Bouchard, who carried the ball 18 times for 140 yards and scored her team’s lone major in the first half.
Kendal Matheson (#25) zips downfield for the Valkyries.
    Valkyries veteran star linebacker Beth Thomson proved she can still be one of the WWCFL’s most dominant defensive players making four solo tackles, knocking down a pass and registering a sack off an edge blitz on Storm quarterback Aria McGowan. Linebacker Denise Kolosky made three solo tackles and recovered a fumble, while standout safety Shaylyn de Jong came up with an interception.
    Offensively, the Valkyries were dominant on the ground. They utilized seven different ball carriers who combined for 308 yards. They limited Julene Friesen, who is their all-purpose do everything tailback, to six carries, but she still piled up 99 yards and scored three touchdowns.
    Sophomore running back Kendal Matheson ran the ball seven times for 90 yards and scored two majors. Both her scoring runs were pretty impressive.
    On her first major late in the fourth quarter, Matheson ripped out of a number of tackle attempts by Storm players and sprinted home for a 50-yard touchdown run. Her second score was a three-yard short yardage carry, where she twisted and turned through the Storm defensive line to reach the end zone.
Beth Thomson (#2) sacks the quarterback for the Valkyries.
    Rookie running back Sarah Wright scored her first rushing major for the Valkyries running the ball four times for 49 yards.
    Only the passing game seemed to be a bit clunky for the Valkyries due to the fact they have a number of new receivers looking to build some chemistry with sophomore quarterback Alex Eyolfson and rookie signal caller Cori Thorstad. That part of the game traditionally seems to smooth itself out as the campaign moves long.
    Eyolfson did hit sophomore receiver Alyssa Wiebe for a touchdown toss in the first half. Veteran pass catcher Carly Dyck also showed more explosion and power in her route running than she had in past years. She had an impressive 28-yard catch and run touchdown, where she broke out of a couple of tackles, called back due to an illegal block penalty.
    In the kicking game, Dyck made all seven of her converts, hit field goals from 32 and 28 yards out and had a single from a missed field goal attempt from 39 yards out.
    The biggest hurdle the Valkyries will have to overcome offensively is the absence of star receiver Marci (Kiselyk) Halseth, who will miss the entire season after injuring her Achilles tendon leading up to the pre-season game with the Storm.
Carly Dyck nails a field goal for the Valkyries.
    The coaching staff has been shuffled from last season. Pat Berry moved from defensive coordinator to head coach, while former head coach Jeff Yausie shuffled into the role of defensive coordinator.
    Jordan Walls, who was the quarterbacks coach last season, assumed the role of offensive coordinator from Chad Palmer, who has departed from the team. Walls is also the big favourite to take over the role as starting quarterback for the defending Canadian Junior Football League Saskatoon Hilltops, when their campaign starts in August.
    Chris Hengen-Braun returns as the Valkyries special teams and offensive line coach.
    The Valkyries quest to repeat as WWCFL’s champs begins in earnest this coming Sunday, May 7, when they host the Winnipeg Wolfpack at 1 p.m. at SMF Field. They host their archrivals the Regina Riot on Saturday, May 13 at 7 p.m. at SMF Field. The two teams face each in Regina on May 21.
    Saskatoon closes its regular season schedule on May 28, when they travel to Winnipeg to take on the Manitoba Fearless.
    If the Valkyries progress like they have in past seasons, it would be no surprise to see them playing in the WWCFL title game on home turf on June 10.

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Friday, 28 April 2017

New University of Saskatchewan rink finally becomes a reality

Ground-breaking ceremony held for Merlis Belsher Place

Dignitaries break ground at the site of Merlis Belsher Place.
    It was actually happening, and you were surprised it didn’t fall through.
    On Friday afternoon just south of the fieldhouse on the University of Saskatchewan campus, the ground breaking ceremony was held for Merlis Belsher Place, which will be the new twin-pad hockey rink facility that will replace the ancient Rutherford Rink. It is estimated the multi-sport complex will be open for the start of hockey season in October of 2018.
    One of the ice pads will be used by the Huskies men’s and women’s hockey teams for games and practices. The second rink will mainly be used by the Saskatoon Minor Hockey association, which will gain 1,500 additional hours of ice time per year.
    Two NBA-length practice gymnasiums, which are also part of the project, will be ready for the Huskies basketball teams in 2019.
Merlis Belsher hangs with a couple of young hockey players.
    While the benefits of the new facility are many, there was still doubt in the back of the mind that it was going to be a reality. Even on the drive to the campus for the ground-breaking ceremony, you almost thought something was going to happen to call everything off.
    Back in 1997, then Huskies athletic director Ross Wilson said he was actively pursuing a new rink for the U of S campus, and the Rutherford Rink needed to be replaced at that time. Since that time, the process to replace Rutherford has had many stops and starts. Those stops and starts provide ample justification for doubt.
    Upon arriving at the ground-breaking site, it was clear the new rink was really going to happen this time. Members of the Huskies men’s and women’s hockey teams were play street hockey with youngsters on a paved stretch of road beside the ground-breaking site.
    Many dignitaries were there including Fred Sasakamoose, who was the first First Nations player to play in the NHL, Saskatoon mayor Charlie Clark, U of S president Peter Stoicheff, Ken Cheveldayoff, who is the MLA for Saskatoon Silver Springs and Kelly Boes, who is the executive director of the Saskatoon Minor Hockey Association.
Members of the Huskies women’s hockey team took in the ground breaking.
    Merlis Belsher was also there and his leading gift and largest donation from an alumnus or individual in the university’s history of $12.25-million kick started the fundraising efforts for the facility. Thanks to Belsher’s donation and leadership, it was determined the new facility would be named after him.
    The list of dignitaries included Ron and Jane Graham, who have been long time supporters of the university and donated $4-million for the gymnasiums to be added to the facility last December.
    Beauty speeches were also given by Kohl Bauml, who is a star forward with the Huskies men’s hockey team, and Libby Epoch, who is the standout point-guard for the Huskies women’s basketball team.
Kohl Bauml, right, speaks to the dignitaries at the ground breaking.
    When you saw the gathering of many individuals from all walks of life, you realized that this was actually going to happen. The choreographed photo opportunity for the sod turning seemed surreal. For the gathering of just over 100 alums and stakeholders, there was pure joy in the moment.
    At this moment in time, everything finally fell into place to allow the new rink on campus to be built. The Huskies hockey teams will only have to play through one more season of “rust breaks” at the Rutherford Rink, which is approaching its 88th birthday, before finally skating in a state of the art new home.
    Some current and even former players at the gathering joked that Huskies men’s hockey head coach Dave Adolph often promised a new rink was coming when he recruited new players, and now that recruiting ploy would finally have some real staying power.
Mascot Howler meets the people at the ground-breaking ceremony.
    In total, the new facility will cost $42.9-million. Originally, the cost was pegged at $41-million, but the architectural plans for the main rink at Merlis Belsher Place have been enhanced to increase seating. The original plans called for 2,357 seats, while the new one allows for 3,437 seats creating the increased cost.
    The Home Ice Campaign to raise funds for the new facility was looking to hit a goal of $29-million. Currently, $28.4-million has been raised in the last year to meet the fundraising goal. That included a donation of $2.51-million from the Huskie hockey alumni in early April and the City of Saskatoon’s additional $3-million commitment in February.
Courtney Cormack (#16) plays street hockey with some youngsters.
    Home Ice Campaign chairs Dave King, who is a former legendary coach of the Huskies men’s hockey team, and Tim Hodgson, who is a men’s hockey alumnus, have to be given credit for bringing individuals of various backgrounds together to help make the new rink a reality. All the individuals that contributed to the effort to build this new facility should be applauded for their leadership and for seeing a vision of the future.
    Besides having a rink to benefit the Huskies, Saskatoon will now be able to hold national events like the Telus Cup midget AAA hockey championship, the Esso Cup female midget AAA hockey championship and the U Sports women’s hockey national championship tournament. The city had been without a mid-sized facility that could accommodate these events.
    A lot of wheels had to work together to make Merlis Belsher Place a reality. When its construction comes to a completion, it will leave a legacy to be enjoyed by generations for decades to come.

Bears make impact with Esso Cup trip

    The Prince Albert Northern Bears were already winners before they went to Esso Cup, and all one had to do was look at the Twitter account of defender Jordan Ashe to confirm that observation.
Jordan Ashe follows through on a shot for the Bears.
    During a fundraising and send off barbecue that was held for the team in Prince Albert before leaving for Morden, Man., Ashe, who turned 17 in March, posted a Tweet that a little girl came up to her and recognized her. The little girl said Ashe was her favourite Bear. Ashe posted a picture of the pair.
    That moment showed the power that the Bears playoff run had. In capturing their second Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League championship and winning their first Western regional playdown series, little girls in Prince Albert and area saw what they could possibly do one day.
    In this particular case, this little girl saw a hero she could watch play in her own home city in Ashe, who is a tough stay-at-home defender that can chip in key points offensively.
The Bears had many memorable moments this season.
    During the post-season run, the Bears players will always remember the huge crowds they played in front of at the Art Hauser Centre when they swept the best-of-three Western regional playdown series against the Hartney, Man., based Westman Wildcats. An estimated crowd of 1,000 showed up for the Bears 6-4 win in Game 1 on March 31, and an estimated crowd of 1,200 watched the Bears 7-6 victory in Game 2 on April 2.
    On Thursday, the Bears closed play at Esso Cup downing the Sherbrooke, Que., based Harfangs du Triolet 3-2.
    Captain Brooke Hobson, Jadyn Kushniruk and Alli Soyko each had singles for the Bears. Brooklyn Elek turned away 28 shots to pick up the win in goal.
The Western regional win was a first for the Bears.
    Megan Bureau-Gagnon and Sandrine Veillette replied with singles for the Harfangs, while Melyann Daigneault turned away 36 shots to take the loss in goal.
    The Bears closed the round robin portion of the tournament with a 2-3 mark to finish fifth in the round robin standings and just miss qualifying for the playoff round.
    The Pickering, Ont., based Durham West Lightning finished fourth with a 2-3 mark, but they claimed the standings tiebreaker with the Bears posting a 5-1 win in a head-to-head match on Monday.
    The Harfangs won their semifinal game on Friday 2-1 over the host Pembina Valley Hawks and will face the Alberta based St. Albert Slash in Saturday’s championship game.
Camryn Amundson and the Lanchbery Family Trophy.
    The Bears had their most memorable campaign in team history which included posting a team record 22-6 mark in the regular season, and an 11-0 run through the SFMAAAHL playoffs and their regional series win.
    In the SFMAAAHL title series, they swept the Saskatoon Stars, who were the two-time defending league champions and had defeated the Bears in the 2015 league championship series.
    They graduate Hobson, Elek and forwards Ireland South and Sierra Parenteau, who all left big impacts on the team.
    On top of everything else, the Bears allowed little girls from Prince Albert and area to dream big dreams.

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Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Pats get improved effort, bounces in Game 4 win

WHL Eastern Conference title series with Hurricanes tied 2-2

The Pats celebrate a positive bounce goal from Adam Brooks (#77).
    LETHBRIDGE, Alta. – The Regina Pats came out with a strong effort, and they also received a big positive bounce to regain home ice advantage in the WHL’s Eastern Conference championship series.
    On Wednesday before a packed crowd of 5,203 spectators at the Enmax centre, the Pats were locked in a 2-2 draw with the host Lethbridge Hurricanes late in the second period of Game 4 of the WHL Eastern Conference title series.
    The visitors had the edge in play, but the game was still in the balance.
    With 1:54 to play in the second, Pats captain Adam Brooks sent a centring pass from the right corner boards in the Lethbridge zone across the face the Hurricanes goal.
    The puck deflected off the skate of Hurricanes import defenceman Igor Merezhko into the Lethbridge net to put the Pats ahead 3-2.
    The tally sent the Hurricanes reeling, and the Pats struck again before the second period expired.
Captain Adam Brooks breaks into the offensive zone for the Pats.
    With 43.8 seconds to play in the second, Pats star centre Sam Steel slipped a nice pass from the left corner of the Lethbridge zone to linemate Dawson Leedahl in front of the Lethbridge net. The overage Saskatoon product snipped home a key insurance marker to give the Pats a 4-2 lead.
    Regina cruised to a 6-2 victory from that point to even the best-of-seven series with the Hurricanes at 2-2. Game 5 is set for Friday at 7 p.m. local time in Regina at the Brandt Centre.
    “You get a two-goal lead after two periods, it is big for sure,” said Pats head coach and general manager John Paddock. “Merezhko, it just happened to hit his skate.
    “We got a bounce there. We had the urgency to probably play in their end and deserve it.”
    The Hurricanes tried to fight back in the third, and they outshot the Pats 11-6 in the stanza. With that said, the Pats were playing a more shutdown defensive style of game at that point, and they were content to dump the puck in the defensive zone and trap up the Hurricanes in the centre ice zone.
Pats winger Nick Henry is stopped by Hurricanes goalie Stuart Skinner.
    Still, Regina was opportunistic in the third. At the 7:53 mark of the third, star offensive defenceman Connor Hobbs blasted home a shot from the point to put the visitors up 5-2. Pats centre Wyatt Sloboshan popped home an empty-net goal with 2:56 to play in the third to round out the final score.
    Hurricanes head coach Brent Kisio said Brooks’s lucky goal to make the score 3-2 in the second hurt the Lethbridge side, but the Pats were still putting out the better effort at that point in the contest. Kisio said his club was way better in their 3-1 victory in Game 3 on Tuesday.
Hurricanes centre Dylan Cozens follows his rebound to the net.
    “We were in the game, but we weren’t in the game,” said Kisio. “I don’t think we were playing real hard here or playing the way we had to play to beat them.
    “(Tuesday) night, we played hard. We had our feet moving. Tonight, we just stood around and watched.
    “Give Regina credit, they completely outworked us (and) completely outplayed us today.”
    Pats winger Braydon Buziak had the lone goal in a first period that was very up tempo and had a lot of scoring chances for both sides.
    Dylan Cozens batted home a floating puck in the air for the Hurricanes to tie things up at 1-1 at the 2:21 mark of the second. Pats winger Jeff de Wit put Regina ahead 2-1 at the nine-minute mark of the second.
    The Hurricanes tied things up at 2-2 just 34 seconds later, when centre Ryan Vandervlis flicked home the equalizer close in from the left side of the Regina net.
Winger Jeff de Wit had a goal for the Pats in their Game 4 win.
    Stuart Skinner turned away 28-of-33 shots to take the loss in goal for the Hurricanes. Tyler Brown stopped 24 shots to pick up the win in goal for the Pats.
    During Wednesday’s game, the Pats played with a lot of skill and likely didn’t score on their best setups. They also buzzed in the Lethbridge zone despite missing speedy winger Austin Wagner, who left Game 3 with an injury.
    Steel appreciated the pace his side played at in the Game 4 victory.
    “We played more our style of play,” said Steel, who had two assists in the win. “They played us really hard the first few games, and a big credit to them.
    “It has been a great series so far. Tonight, I think we just found another level and made few more plays.”

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Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Hurricanes hit new heights in Game 3 win over Pats

The Hurricanes mob Jadon Joseph (#23) after he scores.
    LETHBRIDGE, Alta. – Head coach Brent Kisio pretty much had no complaints about his Lethbridge Hurricanes on Tuesday night.
    Just 16 seconds into Game 3 of their WHL Eastern Conference championship series with the Regina Pats, the Hurricanes beared down on the Regina net on an odd man rush, and Lethbridge defenceman Brennan Menell cut across the face of the Pats net to tuck home his fifth goal of the post-season to give his side a 1-0 lead. Menell’s goal helped bring the 5,178 spectators that squeezed into the Enmax Centre to their feet.
    The raucous crowd backed the Hurricanes all night, who put together a textbook 3-1 playoff victory. The win gives the Hurricanes a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final with the Pats. Game 4 is set for Wednesday at 7 p.m. local time at the Enmax Centre.
    “I liked that we stuck with our plan,” said Kisio. “We were getting pucks deep.
    “We were managing a lot better. I thought we played hard. It was real good 60-minute effort, and it was probably one of our better ones of the post-season.
Brennan Menell breaks into the offensive zone.
    “We played all four lines. I thought all our lines were skating well, and that is why we had a good 60 minutes.”
    Besides being able to roll when they had the momentum, the Hurricanes stayed steady when the Pats carried play. While the host side scored early, the Pats pushed back late in the first period gaining momentum from a power-play chance and firing a bunch of stops on Lethbridge netminder Stuart Skinner, who stood tall making 13 saves during the opening 20 minutes.
    Skinner’s sound play was one theme in the contest.
    “He (Skinner) is a good goalie,” said Pats captain Adam Brooks. “He probably one of the best ones for his age in Canada.
    “You have to do a little bit extra to beat him. You’re not going to beat him on straight shots. You have to get rebounds.
    “You have to get effort. The pucks were laying there. We just have to work to get in there.”
    Shortly after the halfway point of the second period, the Pats pulled even at 1-1, when winger Dawson Leedahl tipped home the point shot from defenceman Josh Mahura.
    The visitors had a big chance go ahead a short time after Leedahl netted the equalizer, when Hurricanes rookie centre Jadon Joseph was penalized for slashing.
Tyler Brown makes a stop in close for the Pats.
    Star offensive-defence Connor Hobbs wired a point shot on that man advantage that hit both posts of the Lethbridge goal and stayed out.
    When the penalty expired, Hurricanes defenceman Brady Pouteau was able to get the puck to Joseph as he stepped out of the penalty box. Working with a partial breakaway, Joseph wired a snap shot past Pats netminder Tyler Brown to put the Hurricanes up 2-1 heading into the second intermission.
    Pats head coach and general manager John Paddock said Menell’s goal at the start of the first period and Joseph’s tally were key turning points in the contest.
    “We obviously weren’t good enough,” said Paddock. “In saying that, once we tied it up there we had like four or five good chances on that power play.
Egor Babenko cuts into the offensive zone for the Hurricanes.
    “It was like a two-goal swing, when the guy (Joseph) comes out of the box and scores. We should have scored on the power play, and the first goal shouldn’t have happened.”
    At the 4:08 mark of the third period, the Hurricanes closed out the game’s scoring when left-winger Egor Babenko came down the right wing and wired home a set up pass from captain Tyler Wong.
    Inside the final minute of play in the third, Joseph received a big ovation from the Enmax Centre crowd for a fierce forechecking shift in the Regina zone that killed off some key seconds.
    Skinner made 28 saves to pick up the win in goal for the Hurricanes. Brown turned away 24 shots to take the loss in goal for the Pats.
    “I thought we played really well,” said Menell. “We came out to a good start, and we finished it.
    “We didn’t have any letdowns. Everyone played hard. Of course Skinner, he was amazing again tonight.”
    NOTE - Pats standout winger Austin Wagner left the contest in the second period and didn’t return. Paddock didn’t have a status update on Wagner after the game.

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Ball finds home with Northern Bears in Prince Albert

Kate Ball was a perfect fit with the Prince Albert Northern Bears.
    Kate Ball and the Prince Albert Northern Bears ended up being a match made in heaven.
    Before the season started, the 15-year-old Saskatoon product was kicking tires looking for a female midget AAA team where she would have a chance to contribute in an offensive role. On a whim, she decided to attend a tryout camp with the Bears, and head coach Jeff Willoughby asked if she wanted to play.
    Ball had a choice of playing with either the Saskatoon Stars in her hometown and the Bears. With the Stars returning almost all of their key offensive players from the previous campaign, the skilled centre decided to go play for the Bears.
    “It has actually been so exciting,” said Ball. “I love my team. They are just all like really awesome.
    “The room is just filled with like positive. We’re all like really nice to each other. It is just like really great.”
Kate Ball celebrates a goal with Jasper Desmarais and Camryn Amundson.
    With the Bears, Ball, who stands 5-foot-5, had a spectacular rookie season finishing second in team scoring with 15 goals and 15 assists in 28 regular season games. Prince Albert finished with its best record in team history going 22-6.
    In the post-season, the Bears won their first 11 straight contests sweeping the Stars in the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League championship series in three games and taking out Hartney, Man., based Westman Wildcats in a two-game sweep in a Western regional playdown series in Prince Albert.
    Those victories allowed the Bears to earn a berth in the Esso Cup female midget AAA national championship tournament for the first time in team history. The Esso Cup started on Sunday and runs to Saturday in Morden, Man.
Kate Ball (#21) battles for the puck behind the net in the offensive zone.
    While big goals were established on personal and team fronts before the season started, Ball was still a bit awestruck that those goals were realized.
    “I wasn’t expecting myself to do that good,” said Ball. “I guess just really good teammates just helped me a lot.
    “I actually never thought we would like come this far. I am just so proud of my team coming this far. It is just an amazing feeling.”
    Willoughby said the Bears were fortunate Ball decided to come to Prince Albert to play.
    “She’s been playing very consistent for us,” said Willoughby. “We’ve asked her to play an offensive role, and she jumped right into that.
    “She is always around the puck. She definitely knows where the net is. Her effort she has given is second to none.
    “Getting a point a game as a rookie is a pretty outstanding feet.”
Kate Ball, left, enjoys the Bears SFMAAAHL title win.
    Willoughby said it was cool seeing Ball improve on the ice and off the ice. Away from the game, the bench boss was impressed with how quickly Ball found a high comfort level with the rest of her Bears teammate.
    “At the start of the year, I think she was maybe a little bit to herself and shy like a lot of rookies would be,” said Willoughby. “I think she’s come along.
    “She’s really opened up. I think she is no different than the rest of them. They are all such good teammates, and they care about each other, and they care about what the other person is doing.
    “They want to help each other out, and that is exactly what Kate (Ball) has been doing.”
    Ball’s move to the Bears was also made easier by the fact nine other players from the Saskatoon area were also on the team. The Bears roster contains fellow Saskatoon products Jadyn Kushniruk, Kassidy Kicia, Kate Wagner, Sierra Parenteau, Hannah Koroll and Miranda Heidt.
    Also on the team are Warman products Jordan Ashe and Jasper Desmarais and Martensville’s Story Navrot.
Kate Ball cuts into the offensive zone for the Bears.
    Ball said she actually knew more players on the Bears than she did on the Stars due a lot to her experiences playing spring hockey. On the ice, she found magic playing on a line with Desmarais and speedy Debden product Camryn Amundson.
    “I’ve played with Jasper for four years, so we have like good chemistry,” said Ball. “Camryn, me and her just like clicked right away, so it was really great.”
    As for her start in the sport, Ball followed in the footsteps of her two older brothers Daylon and Justin. Daylon, who is now 21, finished his competitive playing days at age 16.
    Justin was with the Saskatoon Contacts last season, who played in the Telus Cup midget AAA national championship tournament, and he recently finished his 18-year-old rookie season in junior A with the Melfort Mustangs of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.
    Kate’s brothers weren’t her only family members that made waves as competitive athletes. Her uncle Sheldon was a star quarterback first with the Saskatoon Hilltops and then the University of Saskatchewan Huskies. He has been the offensive coordinator of the Hilltops for the past 11 seasons.
Kate Ball piled up 30 points in 28 regular season games with the Bears.
    While she has had a lot of good influences to help her along in hockey, Ball found her own love for the sport.
    “I love skating,” said Ball. “Skating is my passion. I just love it.
    “I like the playmaking. It is just really fun.”
    Ball admitted beating the Stars in the SFMAAAHL championship series was a big highlight this season along with winning the Western regional over the Wildcats with a thrilling come-from-behind 7-6 series clinching victory in Game 2. The Bears were down 6-3 with 13:24 to play in the third period and closed the contest with four unanswered goals.
    She was pumped to go to Esso Cup and is also looking forward to playing two more seasons with the Bears. 
Kate Ball, left, and her teammates enjoy the Bears Western regional win.
    This season she continued to live in Saskatoon, and her parents drove to her to Prince Albert for practices and her games.
    Next season, Ball is planning to live with a billet family in Prince Albert.
    “I’m actually real excited to think about two more years,” said Ball. “I just love this group of girls and just being here. I think it will be good.”
    After her midget AAA playing days are done, Ball has a wish of where she would like to play on the post-secondary front.
    “Hopefully, I get to play with University of Saskatchewan, because it is like a mile from my house,” said Ball. “That would be really convenient.
    “If that doesn’t work out, then NCAA or college in the States that would be really good too.”

Bears pick up first win at Esso Cup

Camryn Amundson (#9) scored twice for the Bears on Tuesday at Esso Cup.
    On Tuesday in Morden, Man., the Bears picked up their first win at Esso Cup dumping the Summerside, P.E.I., based Mid-Isle Wildcats 6-1 at the Access Events Centre.
    Camryn Amundson and Jadyn Kushniruk both scored twice for the Bears, while Story Navrot and Miranda Heidt each netted singles. Ryan Fontaine turned away 13 shots to pick up the win in goal for the Bears.
    Madison Vincent had the lone reply for the Wildcats. Maggie Johnson turned away 57 shots to take the loss in goal for the Wildcats.
    The win allowed the Bears to improve to 1-2, while the Wildcats fell to 0-3.
    The Bears opened the Esso Cup on Sunday falling 2-1 to the host and Manitoba champion Pembina Valley Hawks. On Monday, the Bears dropped a 5-1 decision to the Pickering, Ont., based Durham West Lightning.
    Prince Albert returns to action on Wednesday taking on the Alberta-based St. Albert Slash. The Bears close their round robin schedule at Esso Cup on Thursday, when they face the Sherbrooke, Que., based Harfangs du Triolet.
    The top four teams in the round robin standings qualify for the playoff round. The semifinal round for the Esso Cup is set for Friday. The bronze and gold medal games will be held on Saturday.

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Sunday, 23 April 2017

The spectacle of the Rush

National Lacrosse League team thrills Saskatchewan fans

Matt Hossack celebrates scoring a goal for the Rush.
    When it comes to providing the ultimate escapism for the sports fan in Saskatchewan, no one beats the Saskatchewan Rush.
    After winning a league championship in 2015 in Edmonton, the National Lacrosse League franchise relocated to Saskatoon for the 2016 season after owner Bruce Urban was unable to secure a long-term lease in the Alberta capital. In June of 2016, the Rush repeated as NLL champions, and local fans from around the province had the opportunity to experience the thrill of championship victory first hand.
    Leading the best-of-three NLL championship series 1-0 against the Buffalo Bandits, the Rush hosted Game 2 at the SaskTel Centre on June 4, 2016. Locked in a 10-10 draw, a crowd of 15,182 gleefully watched Rush defenceman Jeff Cornwall bolt coast-to-coast and tuck home the winning goal with 12 second to play to give the host side an 11-10 victory in the game and a 2-0 sweep of the series. 
A mini-monster truck shoots sparks at the Rush game.
    In the aftermath of that exciting finish, it seemed the Champions Cup found its way to numerous parts of Saskatchewan.
    Now in their second season in Saskatoon, the excitement around the Rush hasn’t diminished. On Saturday, they improved to 11-5 and locked up first place in the NLL’s West Division with a 15-10 victory over the storied Toronto Rock before a raucous crowd of 15,045 at the SaskTel Centre.
    During their nine regular season home dates, the Rush are averaging just under 15,000 per game, and the ticket buyer is enjoying every minute of the action.
    The action isn’t limited to the game itself. It also includes all the entertainment aspects surrounding the contest.
    Last year, I went to games were the Rush locked up the West Division final series and the NLL championship game as a ticket buyer. On Saturday, I ventured to the SaskTel Centre on the media end to get my feet wet with another side of the Rush experience.
Members of the Crush Dance Team entertain the SaskTel Centre crowd.
    I took my camera and expected to shoot photos of the game and likely write some sort of story about the night. The Rush victory allowed head coach Derek Keenan to become the all-time leader in NLL career wins at 122 surpassing the previous mark of 121 held by Darris Kilgour, who coached the Bandits from 2003 to 2013.
    Keenan’s record win provided the perfect bailout story for me. I became so involved with the picture taking aspect of the night I was really oblivious to the blow-by-blow of how the Rush won by a 15-10 final.
    I remember the Rush bolting out to a quick 2-0 lead, when Ben McIntosh scored 47 seconds into the contest and Mark Matthews tallied at the 3:03 mark of the first quarter. From there, half of pictures I took were of the game and half were of things that happened around the game.
Rush fans do the chest beat celebration after one of the team’s goals.
    I took cool shots of the mini-monster truck shooting out huge sparks during the pre-game and was taken in by the skill displayed by the Crush Dance Team during their performances. I found myself in the party zone set up in the one corner of the facility and wandering the concourse checking out the various displays the Rush staff set up through the facility.
    It was also a 1980s promo night on Saturday, and considering I love 80s music, I was grooving pretty good to the tunes Trystan Meyers , who is also known as “D.J. Anchor,” was cranking out. The Nightrain, which is a Guns N’ Roses tribute band, was pretty sweet as well.
    In between, I was able to capture a couple of shots of Bruiser the Rush bulldog mascot.
Rush mascot Bruiser waves a team flag.
    On the floor, I loved the up tempo pace of action the NLL presents. Being at the contest in a media capacity, I really took in and was in awe checking out how much the fans reacted and enjoyed the night. While there are obvious fan favourite players like goalie Aaron Bold, Jeremy Thompson, Matthews and Robert Church, the fans were soaking in the pure fun.
    Even if the Rush had lost, you felt like the fans wouldn’t be over dissecting the game, which commonly happens when the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders come up on the wrong end of the scoreboard.
    The announcers do their best to get the crowd revved up into the game like noting the Toronto Rock come from a city that considers itself “the centre of the universe.”
    When the Rush score, everyone get super intense into the chest beat celebration.
    Behind the scenes, the Rush game day staff are first class to deal with. It seem like they are upbeat all the time, which adds to the fun.
    At a Rush game, it feels like all your daily troubles go away for the two to three hours you are there.
    For the ticket buyers that are coming from all over Saskatchewan, that feeling of euphoria is priceless.

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Saturday, 22 April 2017

Rush deliver wins record to coach, first place to fans

Ryan Keenan celebrates his goal with Robert Church (#17).
    Derek Keenan was the man of the hour on dads’ night for the Saskatchewan Rush.
    Before Saturday night’s National Lacrosse League regular season game at the SaskTel Centre, Keenan, who is the Rush’s veteran head coach and general manager, escorted son and Rush rookie forward, Ryan, on to the floor during pre-game festivities. The Rush had all their players introduced with their fathers and walk on to the SaskTel Centre floor to pay tribute to their dads in the club’s final regular season home game of 2017.
    After the festivities wrapped up, the Rush turned a 7-7 draw into a convincing 15-10 victory over the visiting Toronto Rock. The win moved the elder Keenan into top spot in NLL career coaching victories with 122. 
    The 55-year-old Oshawa, Ont., product passed Darris Kilgour, who piled up 121 victories guiding the Buffalo Bandits as head coach from 2003 to 2013.
    The Rush improved to 11-5, and with the aid of a Vancouver Stealth 13-7 home victory over the Colorado Mammoth, Saskatchewan clinched first place in the NLL’s West Division.
Rush HC and GM Derek Keenan holds court during a media scrum.
    The Rush bench boss said the important thing was his club locked up first place in the West Division before reflecting on his wins record.
    “It was a nice milestone,” said Keenan, whose Rush existed in Edmonton before moving to Saskatoon for the 2016 season. “We’ve won a lot of games the last four or five years.
    “Certainly, the credit goes to the players and my assistant coaches and the organization as a whole. You don’t get to this milestone without having around you, and I have a whole bunch of them.”
    Son Ryan chipped in a goal and a pair of assists in the Rush victory before a raucous sellout crowd of 15,045 at the SaskTel Centre. Derek admitted it was cool to get the wins record on the Rush’s dads’ night.
    “It was kind of weird that I had to go out on the floor before the game,” said Keenan with a laugh. “There was some kind of strange quirky things this weekend that we kind of worked through. It was fun.”
Robert Church had two goals and five assists for the Rush.
    Saturday’s encounter with the Rock had some momentum swings early. The Rush scored two early goals to go ahead 2-0, but Toronto answered back with four straight tallies to vault to a 4-2 lead at the end of the first quarter.
    After the teams entered halftime tied 7-7, the Rush surged ahead 12-7 with five unanswered goals in the third quarter. They cruised to victory from there.
    “It was unbelievable,” said Keenan of the third quarter. “I think the biggest thing about it was we’ve done OK in third quarters, but we haven’t scored a lot.
    “We kept teams to low numbers in third quarters, but I think our offence really got going. Defensively, I think they ran out of gas a little bit. They were really pushing the transition game the first half.
    “I think they ran out of gas a little bit, so we were able to get to run our offence. I thought defensively we smothered them for most of the night.”
    Star forward Mark Matthews powered the Rush with four goals and three assists. Robert Church piled up two goals and five assists for the hosts. Ben McIntosh, Matt Hossack and Adam Jones all had two-goal nights for Saskatchewan, while Dan Taylor and Curtis Knight added singles.
Mark Matthews (#42) had four goals and three assists for the Rush.
    Brett Hickey led the Rock with four goals. Tom Schreiber and Dan Lintner both had two-goal nights for Toronto, while Jesse Gamble and Reid Reinholdt had singles.
    Tyler Carlson turned away 40 shots to pick up the win in goal for the Rush. Nick Rose turned away 34-of-49 shots to start and take the loss in goal for the Rock (8-9). Brandon Miller stopped the only shot he faced in a short relief appearance for Toronto.
    Carlson didn’t know he was going to get a rare start in goal in place of Rush star goalie Aaron Bold. Keenan informed Carlson of the decision on game day.
    “It means a lot especially coming from Derek (Keenan),” said Carlson. “He has so much confidence in Boldy (Aaron Bold). We all have confidence in Boldy.
    “I was there to step in. It is an amazing honour to be able to be in there with those guys.”
    The Brampton, Ont., product was pumped to help Keenan get the NLL’s career wins record.
The Rush salute the SaskTel Centre fans after their win on Saturday.
    “Keenan is just a classy guy,” said Carlson. “You are not going to find a coach like that.
    “He is our father figure in there when we come here. It is nice to have our fathers in the stands, but Keenan, he is just an amazing coach, and he is an amazing human being too.”
    The Rush return to action on Friday, when they travel to Denver, Colorado, to face the Colorado Mammoth.

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Friday, 21 April 2017

Heart of the Hurricanes

Lethbridge stuns Pats in Eastern Conference finals opener

Jordy Bellerive, left, celebrates his goal with his Hurricanes teammates.
    REGINA – These Lethbridge Hurricanes will never say die.
    If there is any team out of the four remaining in the WHL playoffs that could fold tent with every excuse in the book, it is the Hurricanes. During the post-season, Lethbridge has been riddled with injuries causing star players like captain Tyler Wong and Giorgio Estephan to log a huge amount of minutes per game. There are times it seems like netminder Stuart Skinner is seeing more rubber than a dead skunk on the Trans-Canada Highway.
    In the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Hurricanes won back-to-back seven game series over the Red Deer Rebels and Medicine Hat Tigers respectively overcoming four elimination games. When the Hurricanes hit the ice for Game 1 of the WHL Eastern Conference championship series on Friday night in Regina, they were playing their 15th game in 28 days.
Pats W Dawson Leedahl knocks Canes captain Tyler Wong off the puck.
    To make things more challenging, the host Regina Pats finished first overall in the WHL with a 52-12-7-1 record, and they topped the final Canadian Hockey League top ten rankings released back on March 22.
    When the dust settled on Friday, the Hurricanes players left the Brandt Centre ice surface happily saluting their small contingent of fans in the northeast corner of the building that were able to get tickets in the sellout crowd of 6,484. The visitors came away with a 3-1 victory to lead the best-of-seven series 1-0.
    Forget the pre-series barbs that were traded between Pats head coach and general manager John Paddock and Hurricanes general manager Peter Anholt. Paddock claimed Wong jumped a foot in the air when he hit people. Anholt countered the Pats players took run at their opponents.
Goalie Stuart Skinner dives to cover a loose puck for the Hurricanes.
    All that talk is traditional playoff smoke, where each side tries to plant a seed in the heads of the officials and media to gain an advantage. When the puck drops, you still have to play the game.
    In Friday’s win, the Hurricanes did use smart tactics to defend against the Pats keeping them to the outside and clogging up lanes through the centre ice zone, but they won mainly because of heart. Anholt loves his teams that have heart, and he has to have that trademark proud grin going, when his club hits the ice.
    Regina’s biggest downfall was the fact they didn’t score a lot more early, when they blasted out of the gates to start the contest. Just 70 seconds in, speedy winger Austin Wagner scored on a breakaway to give the hosts a 1-0 edge.
    From there, the Pats controlled the first period outshooting the Hurricanes 14-8. However, that is also the problem when you play the Hurricanes. You might have them down, but they will take advantage of the slightest breaks to turn things around.
Hurricanes D Igor Merezhko checks Pats C Wyatt Sloboshan.
    Signs of that started to happen late in the first, when the visitors fired three shots in close during a short time span, but the Pats stayed ahead thanks to netminder Tyler Brown making a stop each time.
    At the start of the second period, the Pats still appeared to have control but things changed at the 13:23 mark of the frame that sent a shock through the 21st sellout crowd between the regular season and playoffs at the Brandt Centre. A Pats defensive zone turnover resulted in Estephan wiring home a shot from the slot to tie things up at 1-1.
    Early in the third, the Hurricanes gained only their second power-play chance of the contest. During the man advantage, a net scramble ensued in front of the Pats net, and Hurricanes forward Jordy Bellerive knocked home a loose puck to put the visitors up 2-1.
Pats captain Adam Brooks darts up ice on a third period rush.
    Shortly before the midway point of the frame, Wagner appeared to have netted the equalizer for the Pats when he went into the Hurricanes zone battling Hurricanes defenceman Brennan Riddle on a rush. The pair went crashing into the goal along with the puck.
    On replays, Wagner gave Skinner a bump going into the goal before the puck crossed the line, which would negate the tally due to contact with the netminder. The goal was officially waved off due to the net being dislodged before the puck crossed the goal-line.
    Still, the Hurricanes did whatever they needed to do to protect their slim lead. Wong would take a shot deep in the offensive zone and race back to deflect a Pats chance away in the defensive zone.
Hurricanes D Brennan Riddle takes Pats W Nick Henry into the boards.
    Pats captain Adam Brooks played for the first time after missing five games with a knee injury, which included dressing and not playing in the last three contests in that stint. He saw limited ice time through the first two periods. With the Pats down in the third, he saw increased ice time with regular linemates Wagner and Filip Ahl.
    Late in the third, Brooks had a beauty chance to score from in front of the Lethbridge goal, but he was turned away by Skinner.
    Skinner used all of his 6-foot-4 frame to play big in the Hurricanes goal, and he made the acrobatic diving stop when he needed to. In total, he made 36 saves on the night.
    The Hurricanes iced the win with an effort play. With 1:22 to play in the third and Brown pulled for an extra attacker for the Pats, Estephan stole the puck from Pats forward Nick Henry deep in the left corner of the Regina zone and popped in an empty-net goal to round out the 3-1 final.
The Hurricanes celebrate their Game 1 win over the Pats.
    Brown stopped 22-of-24 shots fired his way taking the loss in goal for the Pats.
    The Hurricanes came out with the win on Friday, because they made more effort plays than the Pats did. You keep wondering when the Lethbridge players will run out of gas, but they just don’t. Even with returning forwards Zak Zborosky and Zane Franklin from injury, the Hurricanes still dressed associate players Dylan Cozens and Shawn Harke.
    The line of Wong, Estephan and Egor Babenko still played a lot, but their efforts never diminished as the game went on.
    When the Hurricanes and Pats meet in Game 2 on Saturday in Regina (7 p.m. local time, Brandt Centre), it will be the Hurricanes 16th game in 29 days.
    Will this be the game they hit the wall, or will they just keep going like the Energizer Bunny?
    The Pats learned one thing on Friday that the slightest little letdown against Lethbridge can be costly.

Regina sports media a good group

    During my travels through various WHL centres, I have often renewed ties with old friends and acquaintances that work for mainstream media outlets, which has been fun.
    At all my stops, everyone has been good. Due to the Pats doing so well this season, I have made a number of trips to Regina, and I am impressed with how well everyone from the Regina sports media scene seems to get along. You could tell there is a good vibe between all the reporters.
    It is also cool to see a large number of them out at Pats games. Due to cuts in mainstream media outlets throughout Canada, you don’t normally see this. Regina is an exception mainly due to the fact the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders call that centre home, but regardless, it is still nice to see larger numbers of media members from mainstream outlets out at Pats games.
    Anyways on trips to Regina, it has been cool to interact with Rob Vanstone and Greg Harder of the Regina Leader-Post, Bianca Millions from CTV and Arielle Zerr from CJME, who are all the mainstays. I also get to see Rod Pedersen of CKRM and Warren Woods of CJME on a somewhat regular basis too.
    I hope the upbeat vibe that is there can continue well into the future.

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Thursday, 20 April 2017

Conference finals berths finally come for Pats and ‘Canes fans

A young Pats fan holds up a Sam Steel big head.
    There had to be a time when fans of the Regina Pats and Lethbridge Hurricanes had to wonder if their teams would ever make a long playoff run again.
    This year, those runs finally happened. The Pats and Hurricanes have advanced through the first two rounds of the WHL’s post-season to qualify for the league’s final four.
    To make things even more compelling, they will face each other in a best-of-seven Eastern Conference championship series that begins on Friday in Regina (7 p.m. local time, Brandt Centre).
    Both teams have storied pasts when it comes to the post-season, but those times seem like a distant memory. The Pats last qualified for the Eastern Conference championship series back in 1993, and the Hurricanes haven’t been that far in the post-season since 2008, when they made the WHL championship series and fell to the eventual Memorial Cup champion Spokane Chiefs.
Members of the “Canes Train” have been loud and proud all season.
    When the Pats and Hurricanes won their respective WHL Eastern Conference semifinal series, the way the players on each team poured off their bench to celebrate made it obvious they knew they accomplished something significant.
    Over the past two seasons, the fan bases in Regina and Lethbridge got behind their respective teams in a big way as both clubs experienced resurgences. While excitement was high, the idea of either the Pats or Hurricanes making a long playoff run had to be foreign one.
    During the past 15 seasons, long playoff runs seemed to be reserved for teams like the Brandon Wheat Kings, Kelowna Rockets, Medicine Hat Tigers and Portland Winterhawks, who all had many extended post-season forays over that time. There had to be doubt that the Pats or Hurricanes could ever belong with those upper echelon clubs.
Sam Steel has been all-world good for the Pats.
    For the Pats, they did have high finishes in the regular season standings since 1993, but would be bounced mostly in the first round of the playoffs and the odd time the second round.
    When the 2012-13 season came to an end, they had missed qualifying for the post-season for the fourth time in five years.
    While they have a storied past being the oldest major junior team in the world and having won three Memorial Cups, they were often mentioned in passing in recent times as one of those other teams that are out there.
    In Late April of 2014, Russ and Diane Parker sold the club to Queen City Sports and Entertainment headed by Regina businessman Anthony Marquart to signal change.
    In August of 2014, the Pats hired veteran bench boss John Paddock as head coach, and he later took on the duties of general manager.
    The Pats advanced to the second round of the post-season in 2015 and 2016, and fan interest started to build.
    In 2016-17, they finished first overall in the WHL with a 52-12-7-1 mark and were rated as the top team in the final Canadian Hockey League rankings that came out on March 22.
    Regina also topped the CHL top 10 ranking for much of the 2016-17 campaign. When the Swift Current Broncos led the Pats 3-1 in a best-of-seven WHL Eastern Conference semifinal series, Regina fans had to worry if the second round would be where Regina’s run would end again.
Tyler Wong has done it all for the Hurricanes.
    The Pats rallied back to take that series with Swift Current 4-3, which marked the first time in team history Regina erased a 3-1 series deficit.
    A berth in the WHL’s Eastern Conference championship series gave the Pats’ top spot in the CHL top 10 rankings street cred.
    For the Hurricanes, they bottomed out hard after making the WHL championship series in 2008.
    Lethbridge made the second round of the 2009 post-season and proceeded to miss the playoffs for six straight years after that.
    Following the 2013-14 campaign when the Hurricanes finished last in the entire WHL with a 12-55-2-3 record, it seemed there was a death watch surrounding the team. There were times the Hurricanes existence in Lethbridge was questioned.
    Before the 2014-15 campaign started, a light appeared at the end of the tunnel, when the club hired Peter Anholt as an assistant general manager.
    Those that followed the league for an extended period of time knew that this would be an inspired move.
    About half way through the 2014-15 season, the Hurricanes board of directors named the veteran bench boss the team’s head coach and general manager. The Hurricanes finished second last in the league with a 20-44-5-3 mark, but they were no longer pushovers under Anholt’s guidance.
Austin Wagner (#27) has scored goals at key times for the Pats.
    Still, there was talk that the community-owned team should be sold.
    However, golden hockey days in Lethbridge soon arrived. Anholt made a brilliant decision to hire Brent Kisio as the club’s new head coach before the start of the 2015-16 campaign.
    Kisio, who was 32-years-old when he joined the Hurricanes, had spent eight seasons with the Calgary Hitmen mainly as an assistant coach and finished his tenure in Calgary as an associate coach and assistant general manager.
    Under Kisio’s guidance, the Hurricanes rocketed up to finish first in the WHL’s Central Division in 2015-16 with a 46-24-1-1 record. They fell in a best-of-seven first round series to the Pats 4-1.
    This season the Hurricanes again were one of the league’s top clubs posting a 44-21-4-3 record.
    During the playoffs, they showed they might be the WHL club that has the most heart. Despite being plagued by numerous injuries, the Hurricanes rallied from a 3-1 series deficit in the first round to eliminate the Red Deer Rebels 4-3.
Giorgio Estephan has been a standout for the Hurricanes.
    Lethbridge proceeded to take out the Medicine Hat Tigers in another gutty seven-game series to earn a berth in the conference finals.
    Hurricanes overage captain Tyler Wong forever became a team legend, when he scored the overtime winner short-handed in Game 7 against the Tigers in Medicine Hat on Tuesday to deliver the Hurricanes a 5-4 victory.
    As the Hurricanes hit stride, fans in Lethbridge jumped on the “Canes Train” and flooded the Enmax Centre and neighbouring opposition city rinks when their team played there. Hockey glory days are back in Lethbridge.
    Now as the Pats and Hurricanes get set to battle in the Eastern Conference championship, fans get to watch two clubs that feature stars that appear to be almost superheroes.
    The Pats have centre Sam Steel, who topped the WHL in regular season scoring with 50 goals and 81 assists, to lead their side. Regina’s roster is filled with stars like speedy winger Austin Wagner, defenceman Connor Hobbs and netminder Tyler Brown.
    The “Pats Regiment” is hopeful heart and soul captain Adam Brooks might return to action from his knee injury at some point in the series.
Connor Hobbs provides an offensive kick from the back end for the Pats.
    Wong is the Hurricanes larger than life hero taking the club’s fan favourite award in each of his five seasons with the team. The Cochrane product topped the Hurricanes in scoring with 51 goals and 58 assists.
    Lethbridge compliments Wong with a number of other stars including centre Giorgio Estephan, defenceman Brennan Menell and netminder Stuart Skinner.
    If both teams were healthy, this series would have the potential to go to overtime in Game 7.
    While the Pats haven’t been able to utilize Brooks and centre Jake Leschyshyn is out for the entire post-season with a knee injury, the Hurricanes are still way more hurt on the injury front.
    In the final two games of the series with over the Tigers, the Hurricanes scratched five regulars including forwards Matt Alfaro, Zak Zborosky, Ryan Vandervlis and Zane Franklin along with rearguard Calen Addison.
Stuart Skinner has been spectacular in goal for the Hurricanes.
    The Hurricanes dressed three associate players in their Game 7 win over Medicine Hat.
    Due to the Hurricanes injuries, the Pats are the favourites in this series. With that said, it wouldn’t be surprising for the Hurricanes extend the set to five or six games with their heart.
    For the fans on both sides, the Pats and Hurricanes runs have been successful no matter what happens after puck drop in Game 1 on Friday.
    Everything will be about enjoying a moment that about three years ago looked to be impossible.

Back in the Express with Burris

    I was back in the pages of the Saskatoon Express this week having written a catch up piece with recently retired star CFL quarterback Henry Burris.
    On May 4, Burris will be the special guest speaker for this year’s Houghton Boston Dogs’ Breakfast, which starts at 7 a.m. at Prairieland Park. Since guiding the Ottawa Redblacks to a 39-33 upset overtime victory over the Calgary Stampeders in last November’s Grey Cup, Burris had settled into a life of being a co-host of CTV Morning Live, and he has enjoyed being a hockey dad.
    One thing I didn’t include was asking Burris how tight he was with veteran Regina Leader-Post columnist Rob Vanstone. Burris played with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2000 and 2003 and 2004, which allowed a friendship to grow.
    “Rob (Vanstone) was always a fan of mine before I even came to Saskatchewan it felt like,” said Burris over the phone from Ottawa. “When him and I first met, we just started talking and getting to know each other just everything just took off.
    “I’m looking forward to seeing him soon. We have to sit down and talk about business, but more so just catch up.
    “I’m looking forward to getting out there and catching up with a good gentleman like him (Vanstone) and just thanking him personally for everything that he has done for me in my career. Hopefully, we can continue to do things together.”
    Burris will also be in Regina on May 26 as the guest speaker for the Regina Thunder’s Dinner of Champions to be held at the Regina Delta hotel.
    My Express story on Burris can be found right here.

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