Monday, 31 July 2017

Still totally in awe of the house “Rider Pride” built

An inside look at new Mosaic Stadium.
    REGINA - Every time I sit inside new Mosaic Stadium part of me still doesn’t believe what I am seeing.
    I keep having to convince myself that this place is actually real. I attended the first football game ever held at the state of the art sports facility in Regina, when the University of Regina Rams downed the U of Saskatchewan Huskies 37-29 on Oct. 1, 2016 in U Sports action.
    So far, I have made it to two of the Saskatchewan Roughriders home games during the CFL club’s inaugural season in the new park. Even during my third overall visit there on Saturday when the Roughriders downed the visiting Toronto Argonauts 38-27, I kept constantly looking around. I still haven’t gotten over being in awe of the “new” aspect of the place.
The Roughriders Pep Band plays outside new Mosaic Stadium.
    It has been cool to see the Roughriders play in a modern home.
    It is even better to see the charm of game day has transferred over from old Taylor Field to the new park. I will likely have a better appreciation of that fact after I more digest the “newness” aspect of the facility.
    When they built new Mosaic Stadium, they definitely got it right. It is a place the province of Saskatchewan can be proud of. All the amenities are way better than the old park, and I know that is quite the “Captain Obvious” statement.
    At halftime, it no longer takes up the whole break to use the washroom. You are in and out within five minutes even with a lengthy line. Actually, the washrooms of the facility are so immaculate you question if you should be using them.
The Roughriders Drum Line plays at the tailgate party.
    It is easy to get in and out of concessions. It is nice be able to buy beer on tap.
    It has been great to be able to circle the stadium on the concourse. At Taylor Field, it was impossible to see friends on the other side of the park once you entered the place for the game.
    The best surprise has actually been the familiarity around Roughriders games.
    One of the best parts of game day is arriving two hours beforehand to take in the other festivities. It seemed so reassuring when I ran into the Roughriders Pep Band during my first home game at the new park – a 37-20 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on July 8.
    They were belting out a whole pile of traditional team songs, and it seemed to set a good vibes tone for the rest of the night.
Gainer the Gopher entertains the fans.
    Seeing the drum line parade all over the place is another great site.
    The tailgate party, which used to be on the practice field beside the old stadium, was moved to a newly built park on the west side of the new stadium. It has become a great meeting place. It is filled with games for the kids and concessions and beer stands that are easy to get to.
    The new tailgate area is well shaded by numerous trees and has a relaxed feel to it. The park is also has a spot to bring special things in like a small Canadian Football Hall of Fame exhibit that was present on Saturday.
    Slowly, I am starting to get an idea where the veteran diehard fans are in the park. For the most part, they are seem to be sitting in areas geographically that are close to where they sat in at the old park. If you attend Roughriders games on a regular basis, you develop an attachment to the community that comes to games consistently.
    One minor difference seems to be the fact the south end zone known as “Pil Country” has replaced Section 28 of the old park in being the spot that holds the most rowdy and colourful fans. Section 28 existed on the east side of Taylor Field.
    The only thing that is missing at the new park is the history and the shared memories from the old park. Those can never be replaced.
    With that in mind, new Mosaic moments are starting to be made at the new park.
The Roughriders paid tribute to the late Joe McKnight on Saturday.
    Before Saturday’s game, the Roughriders held a moving tribute for running back Joe McKnight, who was tragically killed in a road rage incident on Dec. 1, 2016 in Terrytown, Louisiana. The tribute included a video honouring McKnight, who joined the club last season. A large contingent of his family was brought in for the contest.
    The team presented the McKnight family with one of the late tailback’s #33 jerseys, which was signed by the members of the Saskatchewan team.
    During the win over the Argos, a great romance moment between team and fan was created by Roughriders receiver Duron Carter. When he made his spectacular one-handed touchdown catch shortly before halftime, he proceeded to give the ball off to 12-year-old lifelong supporter Paige Hansen.
Duron Carter (#89) makes an acrobatic TD catch just before halftime.
    Paige and her mom, Michelle, have been going to games for years, and they know a few of the players. I knew where they were sitting in the north end zone, and when Carter sprinted to that part of the park, I figured he was running to give the ball to them.
    I saw the family after the game, and they said Carter told them before the contest he was going to give them the ball if he scored in the north end zone. I didn’t hang out long enough post-game to see Carter come out, autograph the ball and visit with the family.
    Carter hauled in nine passes for 131 yards and scored two touchdowns that night, but the fact he gave the first TD catch ball to Paige Hansen ensured that game and performance will always be remembered.
    It was great to see media outlets both mainstream and non-mainstream pick up on that story. From there, I learned young Paige survived cancer at age four and has been an ambassador for both the Children’s Wish Foundation and the Canadian Cancer Society thanks to Drew Edwards of 3DownNation.
Pil Country” is becoming home to the more rowdy fans.
    I never knew the Hansens’ background story. I always just saw them as great fans, and similar with most fans at the park, conversations focused on the Roughriders and subjects that are light in nature. Their story in connection with Saturday’s game made that night at new Mosaic Stadium that much more special.
    One day, the overall “newness” of the Roughriders new home will pass. The best part is you know in your heart more great memories are waiting to be made.

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

Friday, 28 July 2017

Wilson’s passion for teaching goaltenders still shines

Veteran coach seen role evolve over 17 years

Eli Wilson, centre, has made his mark in hockey coaching goalies.
    Eli Wilson remembers the days when being a goalie coach in hockey was a rarity, and he was part of that rarity.
    When Wilson specifically began teaching puck stoppers 17 years ago, the notion of having one coach in hockey working just with netminders was still a relatively new one. Now, the 40-year-old, who has worked with 30 goalies who went on the play in the NHL including Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens, is surrounded by lots of company.
    “There are more goalie coaches than coaches,” said Wilson. “It is just non-stop.
    “I think when I joined the (WHL’s Medicine Hat) Tigers in 04, there were at the time some teams who didn’t have goalie coaches then. Some of the teams that did, it would be a guy that was maybe around once in a while type of thing. With (then Tigers head coach and general manager) Willie (Desjardins) there, he wanted me there once a week.
A young netminder mades a glove stop at Eli Wilson’s goalie camp.
    “I would come down on the weekends, watch the games and then spend Monday and Tuesday there. I was around a lot with those teams.”
    Wilson was involved with the Tigers through four seasons from 2004 to 2007, and he played an integral role in developing the team’s goalies. Thanks to Wilson’s work, the Tigers won WHL championships in 2004 and 2007 and earned berths in the Memorial Cup tournament in both of those years. Star netminders Kevin Nastiuk and Matt Keetley were the WHL playoff MVPs in those runs in 2004 and 2007 respectively.
    Besides working for the Tigers, Wilson also spent time working with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants and the NHL’s Ottawa Senators and the Anaheim Ducks’s AHL affiliate the Syracuse Crunch. With the Senators, Wilson played a big role in helping Ray Emery backstop that franchise to a Stanley Cup finals berth in 2007. He recently signed on to work with the WHL’s Tri-City Americans, who happen to be Price’s former major junior team.
A young netminder works on positioning at Eli Wilson’s goalie camp.
    During his career, Wilson has criss-crossed Canada and ventured into the United States running goalie schools. He established his Eli Wilson Goaltending company in 2010 and has operated that school year round outside of stints where he has worked with WHL and professional teams.
    Now that there are numerous goalie coaches out there, Wilson said teaching netminders has evolved.
    “You go to a Western League level game or you go to a junior A game, everyone can move,” said Wilson, who wrapped up a week long goalie camp at the Jemini Arena in Saskatoon on Friday. “Everyone looks like they are a goalie, but some guys don’t have a feel or a read for the game and that is the tactical part of it that really makes a difference.
    “Ten years ago, some guys were further advanced technically, and it made all the difference in the world. Now, that is not good enough.”
A young netminder makes a blocker stop at Eli Wilson’s goalie camp.
    Wilson said mental toughness is the other factor that separates good goalies from great ones. He brings former WHL netminder Pete Fry, who played for the Portland Winterhawks, Spokane Chiefs and Victoria Cougars in the 1980s, to work with goalies on the mental aspect of the game.
    To show how much of a difference mental toughness can play in sports, Wilson has recently been telling his netminders to look at the NFL’s New England Patriots in the last Super Bowl. Despite the fact the Patriots fell behind 28-3 to the Atlanta Falcons, Wilson said you could tell by body language that Patriots all-world quarterback Tom Brady and mastermind head coach Bill Belichick never lost confidence.
    The Patriots rallied to beat the Falcons 34-28 in overtime.
Eli Wilson, second from right, address a group of goalies at his camp.
    “You saw what Tom Brady did this year,” said Wilson. “That was all mental, all of it. That is what you need.
    “Pete (Fry) talks about a lot of that stuff. That is the biggest thing. It blankets the entire position.”
    Wilson works with goalies at various ages and various levels of hockey. When it comes to teaching goalies, Wilson uses the same approach with relative newcomers to the position all the way to NHL veterans.
    “I’ll have an eight-year-old kid and I wouldn’t do anything differently or get him to try and play any differently than I would the best goalie in the world,” said Wilson. “I would take the same approach, the same structure, the same game plan, the same movement patterns, the same save techniques, the same tactical (and) the same technical.
A young netminder makes a stick stop at Eli Wilson’s goalie camp.
    “It doesn’t matter really what age, what size (or) size in comparison to the level of play.”
    Wilson works on four principles with netminders. They include the knowledge of positioning, technique and the ability to get into position on time, save technique and rebound control and post-save response.
    On the overall technical side, Wilson said there was one key.
    “It is about making the save the easiest part of your game,” said Wilson. “You make it as simple as possible to eliminate margin for error to give you your greatest chance of success.”
    He is frequently assisted at his camps by his veteran students.
    During the camp in Saskatoon, Wilson was helped out by Emery, Rylan Toth, who just wrapped up his WHL career after playing with the Red Deer Rebels and Seattle Thunderbirds, and Rylan Pareateau, who just wrapped up his WHL career with the Prince Albert Raiders and Americans.
    At the NHL Entry Draft in June in Chicago, Ill., Wilson was present to see two of his students hear their names called by NHL teams. 
Eli Wilson barks instructions at his goalie camp.
    Stuart Skinner, who plays for the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes, was selected in the third round and 78th overall by the Edmonton Oilers. Dylan Ferguson, who plays for the Kamloops Blazers, was selected in the seventh round and 194th overall by the Dallas Stars before his NHL rights were subsequently traded to the Las Vegas Gold Knights.
    “You get so many guys that are just so thankful for the time that they’ve spent with you,” said Wilson. “It is a constant reward.
    “When you work with a lot of goaltenders, you get to see a lot of success.”
    Besides the technical, tactical and mental parts of the game, Wilson also stresses a couple of intangibles to his goalies. One is to enjoy the time you have with your teammates and coaches.
Former NHL netminder Ray Emery, right, gives instructions.
    “Enjoy the people that you get a chance to work with and meet,” said Wilson. “I think that is a huge part of the game.
    “My biggest thing is coming to the rink every single day and I get to do exactly what I want, and I just feed off that every day all day. I’ve been able to do that for 17 years.
    “It is constantly rewarding to go on an ice time and watch a group of goalies be way better in an hour and a half than they were in an hour and a half earlier. That is a huge part.”
    The other intangible Wilson stresses is to enjoy the journey of reaching a set end goal. Even when teams aren’t as successful as they want to be in the wins department, Wilson said you have to find the positives, and you can still grow and have a good experience.
Eli Wilson, centre, said it is key to enjoy the people you meet in hockey.
    Wilson said the joy of accomplishing a goal is fleeting, but the memories a goalie builds on the journey to accomplishing a goal is the thing that last.
    “You win the Olympics, you just won and then it is over,” said Wilson. “It is the whole process beforehand that is the point that should be enjoyed.
    “Reminiscing about winning something, it fades and goes away. Enjoying the process as you get there and you do the whole thing, then you’ve won weather you win or lose at the end anyways, because you’ve followed the process and you’ve enjoyed the process.
    “Just because you are not winning every night and there are tough parts about it, you have to find positives. You have to enjoy it and enjoy the people.”

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

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Lapcevich lives up to hype at Saskatoon’s NASCAR Pinty’s stop

Cayden Lapcevich and his crew celebrate a first place finish.
    Cayden Lapcevich is leaving the sophomore jinx in the dust.
    Last year, the Grimsby, Ont., product burst on to the scene becoming the first driver to win the NASCAR Pinty’s Series championship and the NASCAR Pinty’s Series rookie-of-the-year award in the same season. He accomplished both those feats at age 16.
    This year as a 17-year-old sophomore, Lapcevich has a win and two finishes in the top five after the first five races of the Pinty’s Series season. He sat fifth in the driver’s standings, but he considered the start a slow one due to the fact he has visions of repeating as the circuit’s champion.
Cayden Lapcevich (#76) holds of the Pinty’s Series field.
    On Wednesday, Lapcevich made big gains as the series stopped at Saskatoon’s Wyant Group Raceway for unique pair of 100-lap feature races called the Bayer Velocity Prairie Thunder Twin 100.     He came away with a third place finish in the first race and captured top spot in the second race at the three-eighths mile oval track.
    Thanks to getting his second win of the season, Lapcevich was pleased with how his day progressed.
    “I thought it went pretty good,” said Lapcevich. “We were good in practice. We qualified OK.
    “We’ll build on it. I think there are still improvements to be made. It was definitely tough staying mentally prepared for today.
    “I’m excited to see what the rest of the ovals bring. I think we’re back in the championship chase.”
Cayden Lapcevich won last year’s NASCAR Pinty’s Series title.
    If it wasn’t for a short moment of bad luck, Lapcevich could have left Saskatoon with two feature race wins. On lap 40 of the first race, Lapcevich was involved with a bump and a spin with another car that drew a caution. He pushed back in the field because of that mishap.
    From there, Lapcevich worked his Dodge racer back into third spot behind race winner Alex Labbe and runner-up DJ Kennington. Kennington led a number of laps in that first run before being overtaken by Labbe.
    Lapcevich said all he could do was shrug off his bad luck.
    “It is part of racing,” said Lapcevich. “You build on it and learn from it.
Alex Labbe (#32) captured Wednesday’s first Pinty’s Series race.
    “After we had a tough first race, it was definitely good to rebound and win the second one and be able to climb in the championship.”
    In the second feature race, Lapcevich calmly maneuvered his way through the field like a seasoned veteran. After the first 39 laps, he sat outside of the top four. At the 59th lap, Lapcevich worked his way into third place.
    By the 75th lap, Lapcevich worked his way into second spot and vaulted into the lead by the 78th lap. He held top spot for the duration of the race. Kennington finished second and Labbe came in third.
DJ Kennington placed second in both Pinty’s races in Saskatoon.
    On the twin feature race day, Lapcevich said the biggest challenge was to maintain focus, but the day wasn’t that much out of the ordinary when compared to a day with just one longer feature race. In previous years, the NASCAR Pinty’s Series stop in Saskatoon consisted of one feature race 250-laps in length. Lapcevich won the 250-lap feature race last year in Saskatoon.
    “It is not too much different,” said Lapcevich. “It was just tough to stay mentally prepared.
    “We pushed through and worked hard at it. I’m glad to come out with a win.”
Trent Seidel holds off the local super late model field.
    The two Pinty’s Series races were divided by a 100-lap feature race from the Saskatoon Stock Car Racing Association’s super late model class. The local class put on a great show before large turnout of spectators that packed the track’s stands.
    Andrew Hardy led the early portion of the race in his Dodge Challenger before being overtaken by veteran standout Trent Seidel driving his Chevrolet SS with about 65 laps to go. Seidel held on to top spot from there.
    While Seidel was pacing himself to victory, the battle that was occurring behind him for positioning turned out to be interesting. Matthew Shirley, Kevin Dyck, Jim Gaunt and Kelly Admiraal all jockeyed to get into the top three. When the dust settled, Admiraal slipped into second while Shirley came in third.
Trent Seidel (#70) and Matthew Shirley (#12) battle in a corner.
    Wednesday’s action closed the annual two-day Pinty’s Series stop, which featured racing in the SSCRA’s local classes on Tuesday.
    The SSCRA season resumes at 7 p.m. on Aug. 11 at the Wyant Group Raceway.
    As for Lapcevich, he turns his attention to the next stop in the Pinty’s Series, when the circuit hits the Edmonton International Raceway in Wetaskiwin, Alta., on Saturday.
    The young driver did take some time to reflect on everything that has happened to him this season and last season. In May, he was named to the NASCAR Next program, which gives additional help to young standouts over a 12-month period so they may one day race at NASCAR’s higher levels.
Cayden Lapcevich aims to rocket up the NASCAR ranks.
    The Pinty’s Series is a minor-league circuit that prepares drivers to compete one day on NASCAR’s top level – the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
    With being part of the NASCAR Next program, Lapcevich receives media training and sponsorship support to help him develop professional skills to assist him in growing his marketability. At times, the last 19 months have been a whirlwind for Lapcevich.
    “It has progressed so much quicker than I thought it would have been,” said Lapcevich. “It has been a lot of fun, and I am excited to see what my future holds.”

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

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Anderson posts biggest stock car victory of his career

Veteran racer claims Pro Truck Tint Centre 75 and $1,000 prize

Aaron Anderson takes a victory lap at the Wyant Group Raceway.
    Aaron Anderson never had a better day at the Wyant Group Raceway.
    The veteran driver went into the opening day of the NASCAR Pinty’s Series stop in Saskatoon on Tuesday having won his last four pro truck feature races. With the local classes of the Saskatoon Stock Car Racing Association taking centre stage on the first day of the annual two-day event, Anderson was aiming to claim the Pro Truck Tint Centre 75 feature race and a $1,000 first place prize.
    The Martensville product jumped into second place during the early portion of the race. After a restart following a caution flag with 21 laps to go, Anderson bolted past leader Alex Leschenko for top spot and held on for victory. The two-day NASCAR Pinty’s Series stop is the local track’s premier show.
Aaron Anderson won a heat race and Tuesday’s pro truck feature run.
    “This is the Super Bowl for us,” said Anderson. “This is the biggest race of the year for us.
    “I’ve been racing 20 years, and this is the biggest win of my career. I’ve never won a race as big and important as this one. I’ve never won $1,000 in one shot.
    “This is my biggest win I have ever had, so I am over the moon.”
    Driving a Toyota Tundra, Anderson trailed Leschenko, who was driving a Ford F-150, by a half straightaway length in the early portion of the race but slowly gained ground on the Saskatoon product. When a caution came out with 21 laps remaining, Anderson was in striking distance of the lead.
    About a couple of laps after the restart, Anderson got ahead of Leschenko and never looked back to win a fifth straight pro truck feature race. Leschenko finished second and Shantel Kalika of Prince Albert came in third.
Aaron Anderson (#19) holds the edge on two pursuers.
    Anderson said his pit crew headed by crew chief Cory Ernst and head mechanic Kelly Voss played a key part setting up the truck for Tuesday’s feature run.
    “We had a big long discussion me and the guys, and it was decided that we were going to tighten it up a little bit more than we would normally have it tight,” said Anderson, who also won a heat race on Tuesday. “We gave it a little bit more wedge than we normally would.
    “As the fuel load burns off, it loosens it up a touch, and it makes it better for the long run. With 21 laps to go on that restart, I managed to have enough tire leftover.”
Aaron Anderson speeds to the checkered flag.
    Upon arriving back in the pits, Anderson was greeted by a huge contingent of family.
    “It makes me feel good I get all this support here,” said Anderson. “My dad, my mom, my uncle, my three daughters, my step son and my step daughter and everybody else, it is just phenomenal to have everybody out here supporting me.
    “I just want to give them a big shout out and a big thanks and tell them I love them all.”
    The Pro Truck Tint Centre 75 wasn’t the lone big local race on Tuesday. Neil Schneider took top spot in the 75-lap sportsman class feature in his 2016 Chevrolet Camero.
    Starting from the third position on the grid, he passed Nicole Sheetka for the lead about 15 laps into the race and remained in front the rest of the way. Matt Neufeld finished second, and Damen Meier came in third. Sheetka ended up finishing sixth.
Neil Schneider (#93) pulls away from the sportsman field.
    Schneider had a small moment of worry after a caution flag with four laps to go wiped out a comfortable lead he had on the field. After getting a quick jump on the restart, he held on for victory. Schneider was pleased a handful of cautions weren’t able to slow his momentum down in his feature race win.
    “We were able to get good restarts,” said Schneider. “The car was really good mid corner, so we were able to turn it.
    “We were able to get a good lead and then coast a bit and save the equipment.”
Schneider was pumped to get his feature victory.
    “Every chance you win you cherish every one, because you never know if it might be your last one,” said Schneider. “(To win) in front of the NASCAR crowd, it is a little extra more special.”
Neil Schneider does a victory lap after winning the sportsman class feature.
    The local super late model class also held a couple of heat races on Tuesday. Matthew Shirley won the first heat race, while Kevin Dyck took the second heat race.
    The NASCAR Pinty’s Series stop concludes with a race program set for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Wyant Group Raceway. Wednesday’s races include a 100-lap feature for the local super late model class and two NASCAR Pinty’s Series feature races each lasting 100-laps in duration.
    The Pinty’s Series is a minor-league circuit that prepares drivers to compete one day on NASCAR’s top level – the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

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

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Local super late models to get bigger spotlight at Saskatoon NASCAR Pinty’s stop

SSCRA’s super late model class will race in a prime spot.
    Matthew Shirley might be jumping a little more than normal with excitement for this year’s NASCAR Pinty’s Series stop in Saskatoon.
    The 22-year-old races in the Saskatoon Stock Car Racing Association’s super late model class, and that group is going to have a prime showcase spot at the NASCAR Pinty’s stop. The event runs over two days on Tuesday and Wednesday with the main NASCAR race set for the second of those days.
    This year, the NASCAR Pinty’s Series will hold two feature races 100 laps in length on Wednesday, and both of those races count in the drivers’ standings for the circuit. Those races will be split up by a 100-lap feature race from the local super late model class.
    “It is going to be absolutely exciting, and all the drivers are going to have the jitters going to the max,” said Shirley. “We are going to have a full crowd, we are going to have a great car count and we also going to be racing in front of the NASCAR guys.”
    Tuesday’s action begins at 7 p.m. and that day’s program contains 75-lap feature races for the local pro truck and sportsman class and heat races for the super late models. Wednesday’s action starts at 6 p.m. and that day’s program contains the two Pinty’s Series races and the feature run of the local super late model class.
    The Pinty’s Series is a minor-league circuit that prepares drivers to compete one day on NASCAR’s top level – the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
    On the local circuit, Shirley moved to the super late model class last year after winning two straight track titles in the sportsman class in 2014 and 2015. He turned some heads during the two day NASCAR Pinty’s stop last year capturing the Bryce Mann Memorial super late model feature race.
The SSCRA’s super late models charge down a straightaway.
    “It was one of the highlights of my career winning that Bryce Mann last year,” said Shirley. “That was my first super late model feature win.
    “It was in front of a NASCAR crowd on the Tuesday show. The Tuesday show the crowd is not as strong as the Wednesday. Now, it is on the Wednesday, so the memory you can have of winning this is huge.
    “The main thing I think for us young drivers is we are doing it in front of the NASCAR drivers and they are going to be watching. As a young aspiring racer, you’ve always wanted big names watching you race.”
    Shirley said driving in the local super late model class has been challenging due to the presence of a number of strong veteran drivers. They includes the likes for Jim Gaunt, Trent Seidel, Dave Bone and Doug Bienia, and Shirley watched them race while growing up. He said the veterans seem to get faster as they age.
    “It is pretty humbling and cool when you get to race against them,” said Shirley. “They always pull out different tricks.
    “They set the bar so high, which is great for me as a developing driver. I won two championships in a row in sportsman, and it was like hey we have to move up to super late, so I can kind of just keep developing as a driver.
    “Those guys, they push you. They are the peak of the mountain for definitely here in western Canada racing that is for sure.”
    Shirley said you will be on the track thinking you are doing well in a super model race, and all of a sudden you would be shocked when one of the veterans pulls a move to blow by seven cars to take the lead. The young driver said you have a moment of being both stunned and in awe trying to comprehend what just happened.
    With that said, Shirley is part of a youth contingent in the class along with Jared Reddekopp who are getting noticed. Shirley said the veteran drivers always have the edge, but the super late model feature race on Wednesday will be a competitive one. He believes the crowd that is expected to be around 5,000 will get a good show from the local class.
Jim Gaunt takes a victory lap in 2015.
    It is expected a field of 21 to 22 cars could be present for the NASCAR Pinty’s Series races, and a field of 18 cars is expected for the super late model feature race.
    “When NASCAR comes around, it is always bigger, because there is a lot more excitement,” said Shirley, who is the local track’s director of fundraising. “There is a lot more of a buzz.
    “As a local driver, especially with this new format they have given us where we get to put our super lates in between the two 100 races, it is a big opportunity to show the city of Saskatoon, the corporate sponsors, everybody kind of what they are missing on their week to week racing.”

Blogs of Interest are worth checking out

Ashley Bernstein, left, writes a good-vibes blog.
    Recently, I added a blogs of interest column to my site that contains blogs I find I get engaged with and hope other readers will be engaged with as well.
    I figured I should give a brief description of each blog. They are listed alphabetically. The links to these blog can been found on the “Blog of Interest” bar running down the right side of this page.
    Dominic’s journey with AML – This blog is put together by my former sports editor at the Medicine Hat News – Sean Rooney. Rooney created the blog to document the journey his family went on after his toddler son, Dominic was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia on Sept. 12, 2013. Dominic passed away shortly before his third birthday on Sept. 3, 2015.
    Rooney still documents the journey his family still encounters and also details fundraising initiatives they undertake for the Alberta Children’s Hospital. Rooney is a talented writer, and his best work is chronicling some of his family’s most emotional times.
    Dubnetwork – Is the brainchild of co-founders Paul Figler and Jesse Phillips. It is a site devoted to cover the happenings of the Western Hockey League. In just over a year, they have built up a nice roster of writers to help cover the league.
    It is a good independent site that doesn’t have attachments to the mainstream media. Even casual WHL followers will enjoy what Dubnetwork has to offer.
    Hurricane Watch – Pat Siedlecki, who is a former radio play-by-play voice of the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes, put together this blog that collects all the various new items involving the Hurricanes. For anyone that is looking for a nice way to get a quick roundup with what is happening with the Hurricanes, this blog makes for a nice one-stop place.
    Pick-It Or Flick-It – A movie blog that is produced by my cousin Justin Chomitzky. I myself am not a movie junkie, but when I do want to watch a movie and make a theatre stop, I want to know if it will be good. My cousin’s passion is movies, and his blog reviews have always been bang on in saying what is good and what isn’t good.
    If you are interested in watching a movie on a night out or at home, checking my cousin’s blog is always a wise decision.
    Regan’s Rants – Regan Bartel, who is the play-by-play voice of the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets, produces this blog. He writes opinion pieces on happenings involving the Rockets and elsewhere in the WHL. Bartel’s blog gives a good look into one of the most elite and successful franchises in the WHL’s Western Conference.
    RodPedersen.com – Saskatchewan Roughriders play-by-play voice Rod Pedersen produces this blog, and it is one of those blogs that has been around for a lengthy stretch of time. Of course, Pedersen writes about the daily happenings and his views on everything involving the Roughriders.
    His blog also does a good job in rounding up everything else that is going on in Regina’s sports scene. With it being summer, Pedersen’s blog contains frequent posts on the Regina Red Sox of the Western Major Baseball League, who have a big following in “the Queen City.” Pedersen has frequent round ups involving the WHL’s Regina Pats, the University of Regina Rams and the CJFL’s Regina Thunder as well as pieces from a few veteran media members.
    Shawn Mullin’s Swift Current Broncos Blog – Created by Swift Current Broncos play-by-play voice Shawn Mullin, this blog features news about what is happening with the WHL’s Swift Current Broncos. It is another blog that has a lengthy history dating back to 2010.
    Due to the fact the Broncos exist in the Canadian Hockey League’s smallest market, they don’t receive a huge amount of media coverage. Mullin provides an easy place that allows you to quickly get a handle on all the news involving the team.
    Taking Note – The granddaddy of major junior hockey blogs produced by Gregg Drinnan and dates way back to June of 2007. When it comes to covering the WHL, Drinnan is the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be. He has produced the one stop shop place for everything that happens in the WHL, and he always produces his work in a way that is understandable for everyone.
    Drinnan also gives a few good looks about other happenings in the sports world. He has always been a big supporter of the work I’ve done on this blog, and his Taking Note is always a must to check out.
    The Lost Girl’s Guide to Finding the World – This blog is produced by Ashlyn George, who is a freelance travel writer, photographer and videographer. The former University of Saskatchewan education grad is pretty much an experience junkie, who has visited 55 countries and seven continents all before the age of 30.
    You will be drawn in by her blog of her adventures around the world. Even the stories from her home province of Saskatchewan are amazing and gives those from the province a new look at their home area.
    This is 25 – This blog is produced by Ashley Bernstein, who a member of the Saskatchewan Roughriders Cheer Team. She produces upbeat happy posts that create positive vibes in just going through life. It gives you a chuckle when she tells stories about the struggles she has had in dating, and her stories come off in a way they make you laugh.
    She also shares some battles she has had on the mental health front, which have been linked to issues with body image. Bernstein looks perfect, and being on the Riders Cheer Team, you would never think she would deal with any of those issues. That makes her human, and you have to admire the fact she always strive to be that ray of sunshine that seems to brighten up everyone’s day.

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

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Traveling WHL circuit is a blast

Broncos fans cheer on their team in Swift Current.
    Even while biking in scenic Waskesiu earlier this month, my mind keeps drifting to traveling the WHL circuit.
    I don’t have the itch at the moment to get back on the road again. I am enjoying summer, and it has been nice to get a break from all things hockey.
    With that said, the downtime gives me time to reflect, and I find myself smiling, when I reflect on the last two seasons that seemed to have gone by like the wind.
    Before the start of the 2015-16 season, I made it a goal to hit the road to cover WHL games in other centres to changed things up from always being based in Saskatoon. Being a beat writer focused on one team is fun but having done that for the bulk of the time I’ve covered the league, I needed a change.
    It also felt like some old school media thing to do long before the era when budget cuts ravaged mainstream outlets in Canada beginning about the middle of the 1990s.
The Hurricanes celebrate a goal with their fans in Lethbridge.
    It was like, “There is a game in Swift Current. Let’s jump in the car and cover it.”
    Or, “There is a playoff game in Red Deer. Let’s get in the car and go.”
    It feels like the art of just going out and covering a game is becoming a lot one. In the media world outside of radio play-by-play voices, the traveling reporter in the WHL is almost extinct.
    Traveling to different centres made the game new for me again. Every franchise in the league has a unique story. I know the basics of a lot of them.
    It is also very different to see a team in its home environment. Hearing how the small city of Swift Current was crazy for the Broncos during playoffs this past season is one thing but being there to see it is another.
    Swift Current is definitely one centre someone should visit this upcoming season, if they want to see excitement over major junior hockey in its purest form.
The Saskatoon Blades and the Raiders go at it in Prince Albert.
    Being able to fire off pictures and stories about that excitement through blog posts and social media channels helps increase the appreciation of what was transpiring.
    I found it is pretty neat to arrive in a WHL centre to cover a game, when you don’t have an attachment to the participating teams. A number of fans still remember my old attachments.
    When I went to cover Rebels playoffs games in Red Deer in 2016, the fans still see me as being the beat writer that covers the Medicine Hat Tigers. The fact proved to be a nice icebreaker that allowed me to socialize with the locals. Having covered the Medicine Hat Tigers for 10 years working for the Medicine Hat News, I know I will always have an attachment with the legendary franchise from “The Gas City.”
Mason Shaw (#18) leads the rush for the Tigers in Medicine Hat.
    Upon arriving in another centre to cover a game, I find you bring a different perspective, when you are not attached to either team. I find the locals enjoy coming and talking to you about the on goings of the hometown team and the league due to the fact it is different to talk to someone covering the circuit who is not from the centre they live in.
    Thanks to the fact the Regina Pats won so much and made it to the WHL Championship series this past season, it became common for the attendant at the CO-OP gas station I normally fill up at in “the Queen City” to say, “There must be a game on tonight?”
    From there, conversation would drift to the Pats.
    The WHL trail has provided so many memories. They come from having big homecoming feelings every time I return to Prince Albert, where I covered the Raiders for three seasons, and Medicine Hat.
    It was fun to stop in Lethbridge to see the revival of the Hurricanes and the adoration the fans there had for now graduated captain Tyler Wong.
Pats mascot K9 greets a young fan in Regina.
    I had to laugh when I made it to Regina for a clash between the Pats and Moose Jaw Warriors, who are still viewed to have major junior hockey’s greatest rivalry. The laugh came in the third period, when it was announced a Moose Jaw resident won the 50/50 and was almost booed out of the rink by the Pats fans. The booing actually had a good-natured joking vibe to it.
    Following the Saskatoon Blades on the road has been great as well. They do pretty well interacting with the locals when they are in other centres, and you get a different perspective of them when you see them in that light.
    It was cool 2016 to see Wheat Kings owner and then head coach and general manager Kelly McCrimmon be genuinely appreciative of the fact I made to Brandon to cover his team playing in the WHL Eastern Conference final and then the WHL Championship series.
    It was amazing to be in attendance in Regina the night Alexander True scored the WHL championship overtime winner for the Seattle Thunderbirds on May 14 of this year.
The Thunderbirds celebrate after winning the 2017 WHL title.
    Getting to hang out with the family members of Thunderbirds star defenceman Ethan Bear was another huge obvious highlight. I can’t thank them enough for giving me that ovation during a tailgate party for writing the blog post regarding how much the family travels around to support Bear.
    The biggest memory that sticks in my head over the past two seasons was seeing the monument that was built on the edge of Swift Current to remember the four players that were killed in Broncos bus accident on Dec. 30, 1986. It is a beautiful tribute to Trent Kresse, Scott Kruger, Chris Mantyka and Brent Ruff. Being at the monument, you just get filled with emotion.
    I do wish traveling through the WHL circuit and covering games wasn’t becoming a lot art.
    For fans that are thinking about traveling the circuit to see games, I say do it. Even if you are following your hometown team to other centres, just do it. You will find you have a good time.

Back in the Express with NASCAR Pinty’s Series race

NASCAR races at the Wyant Group Raceway in 2015.
    I was back in the pages of the Saskatoon Express this week with a preview story of the upcoming NASCAR Pinty’s Series race.
    The Pinty’s Series race is the annual showcase event for the Wyant Group Raceway, which is run by the Saskatoon Stock Car Racing Association. The event runs over two days this coming Tuesday and Wednesday.
    On Tuesday, action starts at 7 p.m. and that day’s program contains 75-lap feature races for the local pro truck and sportsman class and heat races for the super late models. On Wednesday, action starts at 6 p.m. and that day’s program contains two Pinty’s Series races and the feature run of the local super late-model class.
    In past years, the feature race for the Pinty’s circuit was 250 laps in length. This year the Pinty’s circuit is holding two feature races 100 laps in length.
    The Pinty’s Series is a minor-league circuit that prepares drivers to compete one day on NASCAR’s top level – the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
    The Wyatt Group Raceway is an underrate jewel facility in Saskatoon’s sports scene. If you have never checked out a race there, it is well worth checking out.
    My Pinty’s Series race story can be found right here.

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

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Huskies nostalgia tour takes over FIBA 3x3 tourney

Host Saskatoon side thrills fans on run to final

Nolan Brudehl (#6) and Michael Lieffers (#5) celebrate an OT win.
    The Huskies heroes almost wrote a storybook end to a gallant homecoming.
    For a couple of days, Michael Linklater, Michael Lieffers and Nolan Brudehl seemed to relive their time playing hoops at the University of Saskatchewan. Joining forces with Edmonton product Steve Sir, the foursome made up the local entry at the FIBA 3x3 World Tour Saskatoon Masters tournament.
    The trio of Linklater, Lieffers and Brudehl were all members of the U of S Huskies Men’s basketball team that won the U Sports national championship in 2010. At the moment, that year marks the only time the Huskies in their history have won a U Sports national title in men’s basketball.
Michael Lieffers crushes a jam for Team Saskatoon.
    On Saturday and Sunday at the intersection of Fourth Avenue and 21st Street in downtown Saskatoon, droves of people turned out to see the local side play. Two sets of portable stands were brought in from the SaskTel Centre and some smaller sets of stands were built to accommodate the spectators. When Team Saskatoon played, the stands overflowed and people were jam packed in the streets leading up to the venue.
    It was obvious a lot of the locals still remembered what took place with the Huskies in 2010. A number of faces were in the crowd that are regulars at Huskies basketball games.
    When athletes graduate from the Canadian university ranks, it is not very often they continue their athletic career at an elite or high level. Moving on to another phase of life as a non-athlete is the norm.
Michael Linklater drives the lane for Team Saskatoon.
    Over the past five years, the Saskatoon side has played on the FIBA 3x3 World Tour winning two event titles and posting three second place finishes. Word spread in Saskatoon that the Huskies grads were doing well on the circuit.
    The World Tour stop marked the first time the trio would play competitive games together as a unit in Saskatoon since the 2010 U Sports championship win. There was a big curiosity factor to see how Team Saskatoon would do. Could a team made up of mostly Huskies grads stand up in an elite three-versus-three tournament run by FIBA containing some top teams from around the world?
    To the joy of the local fans, Team Saskatoon won four straight games to advance to Sunday’s tournament championship game. In the final, they fell 21-14 to Team Ljubljana from Slovenia.
Nolan Brudehl goes in to hit a layup for Team Saskatoon.
    While a victory by Team Saskatoon would have put a nice capper to the weekend’s events, the local fans had every right to leave proud knowing their side fits right in with the best the FIBA 3x3 World Tour circuit has to offer.
    When the local side hit the court for their two round robin games on the event’s opening day on Saturday, the atmosphere had a very Huskies nostalgic feel to it. The giant Huskies blow-up dog was at the entrance of a fan fest area, the Huskies had a booth in that area as well, and a number of people were wearing Huskies gear. It seemed the fans came to see the local side do all the things they used to do wearing Huskies green and white.
Steve Sir was a sharpshooter for Team Saskatoon.
    While Sir wasn’t from Saskatoon and had never been a member of the Huskies, he became an adopted Huskie when he dropped in seven points in Team Saskatoon’s 15-11 opening victory over Team Winnipeg.
    Team Saskatoon’s second game on Saturday had even more of a Huskies feel to it. The local side was introduced to the crowd pretty much in the same identical way the Huskies hoops teams are introduced for their games. The University of Saskatchewan Alumni Association handed out green and white thundersticks to the spectators.
    With the noise the crowd made, you felt like you were at a soldout or near soldout hoops playoff game at the Physical Activity Complex on the U of S campus. In that match with Team Hamilton, it seemed like the players from Team Saskatoon were trying too hard to make things happen at the start and missed a bunch of shots early on.
    After trailing early, the locals eased into the flow of the game and pulled out an electric 14-13 overtime win. When you saw the crowd rise to its feet and explode into pandemonium, it felt like the clock was turned back to the Huskies days in 2010.
    Team Saskatoon rolled off two more wins on Sunday, which featured all the playoff round action.
Michael Lieffers (#5) makes a block for Team Saskatoon.
    In the quarter-finals, the locals slipped past Team New York Harlem from the United States 17-15 and dumped Team Gurabo from Puerto Rico 21-10.
    As Team Saskatoon rolled, Sir was knocking down shots, Linklater was dishing out assists and driving to the rim, Lieffers was throwing down jams and Brudehl was scoring from the inside and the outside. They all showed great hustle on defence as well.
    A hot shooting Ljubljana squad stopped the host side’s homecoming from having a storybook ending. Tomo Cajic and Jasmin Hercegovac each scored eight points in the championship victory for the Slovenian side.
Fans salute Team Saskatoon after an OT win on Saturday night.
    Team Ljubljana, which posted a 5-0 record at the tourney, claimed a first place US$20,000 prize, and Hercegovac took tournament MVP honours.
    Linklater topped Saskatoon with six points in the championship game.
    Team Saskatoon took home a US$10,000 cheque for second.
    Overall, the FIBA 3x3 World Tour Saskatoon Masters tournament was a success in its first go.
    The overflow crowds that came out for the Team Saskatoon games ensure the stands were filled for all the event’s other matches.
The members of Team Saskatoon salute their fans.
    Organizers for the 2018 and 2019 editions of this tournament in Saskatoon have to be very optimistic about what is to come.
    For the inaugural event, the foursome that comprised Team Saskatoon made their mark.
    For the trio of Linklater, Lieffers and Brudehl, everything that happened on Saturday and Sunday had to be very spine tingling familiar.
    For a short two-day period, it was great to go back in time and relive the past.

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

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Anything is possible at Ignite Athletic Conditioning

Local company makes big impact on Saskatoon sports scene

Nolan Brudehl does resistance training at Ignite Conditioning.
    At Ignite Athletic Conditioning, the goal of the staff is to make the impossible possible for the athletes who train there.
    The Saskatoon-based company is co-owned by former athletes Jordan Harbidge and Joel Lipinski, who both made an impact on the provincial sports scene. Harbidge played football and basketball at Saskatoon’s Holy Cross High School before enjoying a strong five-year career with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s basketball team from 2003 to 2008.
    Lipinski, who is from Regina, played post-secondary football with the University of Regina Rams (2004-2006), the Vancouver Island Raiders of the Canadian Junior Football League (2007) and the St. Mary’s University Huskies (2008). The star defensive back moved on to enjoy short CFL stints with the Saskatchewan Roughriders (2009) and the Edmonton Eskimos (2011).
Michael Linklater works out on the squat rack at Ignite Conditioning.
    Having lived lives as elite-level athletes, both wanted to train athletes and help them achieve their dreams.
    “It is pretty cool to have a job where you get to work with like local athletes, and you just kind of like wish something like this was around when you were that age,” said Harbidge. “It is pretty cool to offer something like that to local kids around here and give them the opportunity to try to reach their athletic potential or dreams.”
    “If it is just making like their high school football team or making their U-18 team or if it is like playing post-secondary or even later like play pro, all those like small goals along the way are just like huge milestones that are just cool to see,” said Lipinski. “This job is honestly one of the best jobs you could ever possibly have.”
    Ignite was formed as company in 2010 and trained a small group of about eight athletes at the start. 
Nolan Brudehl pushed a sled training at Ignite Conditioning.
    Fast forward to today, the company is run out of its own facility on the 400-block of Lauriston Street just south of 33rd Street, and between 600 to 700 athletes train with Ignite.
    To help with training, Ignite recently hired Donovan Dale, who wrapped up his football career graduating from the U of Saskatchewan Huskies after this past season.
    Originally, the company was founded by former U of S Huskies football stars Ryan Gottselig and David Stevens. Both had decorated careers with the Huskies in the early to the middle of the 2000s and were well known in Saskatoon.
    In 2011, Gottselig moved to Moose Jaw after accepting a teaching job there, and he established an Ignite branch in that centre. Stevens joined the City of Saskatoon’s fire department, but he still owns a small part of the Saskatoon branch.
    Lipinski and Stevens became friends while playing for Canada’s team at the International Federation of American Football senior tackle world championship in Austria in 2011. 
Michael Linklater lifts a dumbbell at Ignite Conditioning.
    Lipinski ended up settling in Saskatoon after that tournament and bought into the company.
    Harbidge joined Ignite in 2012 after returning to Saskatoon having been an educator and an assistant strength coach at a private boys’ school in Vancouver.
    As Stevens’ firefighting career took off, Harbidge and Lipinski bought majority ownership of the Saskatoon branch. In order to allow Harbidge and Lipinski to take off with the company, Stevens worked hundreds of hours for free at the beginning.
    As a result of Stevens’s efforts, Harbidge and Lipinski ensured the elusive and speedy former running back still had a part ownership stake in the branch.
    In running Ignite, Harbidge said there have been times the sense of accomplishment has come in unassuming ways.
    “Originally, we were all kind of like we want to train pros,” said Harbidge. “We want to train a lot of the high level athletes.
    “A lot of the most rewarding things for us have been like last year we had a kid in eight weeks lose 35 pounds and get stronger. It is little things like that where you can actually change someone’s life that was pretty rewarding.”
    Ignite has programs for athletes aged 11 and younger where the focus is on building agility, balance and coordination through game-type activities.
Nolan Brudehl works on his movement at Ignite Conditioning.
    Training programs are catered to athlete development at various progression levels all the way up to more sports specific training for professional athletes.
    The Saskatoon Hilltops of the Canadian Junior Football League were one of the first massive groups that trained with Ignite. The staff at Ignite has worked with 40 Hilltops player per year in each of the last three years.
    The Saskatoon Valkyries of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League were one of the first large female groups to train out of Ignite. At the moment, female athletes make up 40 per cent of Ignite’s clientele.
    When Ignite started, most of the other elite training companies in Saskatoon focused on hockey, so Ignite built a reputation training athletes in all other sports outside of hockey.
    Ignite has training contracts with U of S Huskies women’s soccer, Huskies men’s basketball and Huskies football. Harbidge is the strength and conditioning coach for the Huskies men’s basketball team, and Lipinski is the strength and conditioning coordinator and defensive assistant coach with the Huskies football team.
Michael Linklater works on a resistance machine at Ignite Conditioning.
    Besides the university teams, Ignite trains athletes from numerous sports groups like Basketball Saskatchewan, Ringette Saskatchewan, Saskatoon Minor Football, Canoe and Kayak Saskatchewan, the Saskatchewan Badminton Association and the local elite volleyball academy in Saskatoon.
Along the way, Ignite is starting to pick up a handful of Western Hockey League players as well.
    “Everyone kind of tried to get hockey and train hockey, and we just went for everything else,” said Harbidge. “We started with a niche which was football. Now we’ve kind of expanded to everything even hockey.
    “We try to really rebrand ourselves as athletic trainers not just football specialists, which was kind of our brand early on. It has been such a crazy dynamic, but it has been pretty cool.”
    Lipinski said the staff at Ignite tries to take an interest in an athlete’s life outside of sports as well. It was a trait he, Harbidge and Dale all learned from the respective coaches they had along the way in their careers as athletes.
Joel Lipinski is one of the co-owners and coaches at Ignite Conditioning.
    “You end up talking about things that are actually more than like obviously just sport,” said Lipinski. “You figure out what is going on in the athlete’s life.
    “You end up kind of almost being like a councillor at this position here too. To be honest, we end up like enjoying that aspect of it like just as much as the actual training side.”
    Harbidge said it has been great to find a niche to give back to the local sports scene, and in his case, his hometown.
    “I was originally planning to be a teacher, but now I am just like a specialist teacher,” said Harbidge. “I teach every day, but I get to teach what I am passionate about.
    “I feel very fortunate. Coming home from Vancouver, I get to work with the community I grew up in, which is pretty cool too.”

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