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 2004 and 2005. 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. – 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

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

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

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

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Football Huskies in good hands with new coaches

U of Saskatchewan might surprise a few in U Sports ranks

Huskies head coach Scott Flory, right, meets fans as part of a charity event.
    The University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team has the coaching staff to take them into the future.
    There were huge bumps in the road that made the process of creating a new coaching staff a painful one. The departure of legendary Huskies head coach Brian Towriss late last December wasn’t handled in the smoothest fashion to say the least. A joint statement had to be posted on the Huskie Athletics website from U of S president Peter Stoicheff and Towriss that saw Stoicheff apologize for how the news of Towriss’s resignation was handled.
    Towriss will be officially inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame on Sept. 15 in Hamilton, Ont.
    Former CFL and Huskies star player Scott Flory, who had been the Huskies offensive coordinator, was named the team’s new head coach on March 13. Since that time, Flory, who will turn 41 on July 15, has taken the ball and run with it putting his stamp on the team. Flory has put in the ground work to create optimism.
    He revamped the coaching staff, and the staff is likely deeper overall than it was during Towriss’s final season. Including Flory, only six people from the 16 person coaching staff last season remain to be part of the 14 person staff this season. The five other holdovers include Dan Houle, Lane Bryska, Cody Halseth, Braden Suchan and Paul Woldu.
    Flory brought in long-time veteran CFL quarterback Marcus Crandell as the new offensive coordinator. Crandell was a member of the Calgary Stampeders Grey Cup winning team in 2001 and the Saskatchewan Roughriders Grey Cup championship team in 2007. Those that knew Crandell during his years in Regina speak highly of him, and you can expect him to give the offence great guidance.
    Warren Muzika joined the Huskies as the team’s new defensive coordinator. Muzika played for first the Canadian Junior Football League’s Saskatoon Hilltops and then the Huskies establishing a reputation of being a “Terminator” type linebacker in the 1990s.
    The graduate of Saskatoon’s Walter Murray High School helped the Hilltops win the Canadian Bowl in 1991 and the Huskies win Vanier Cups in 1996 and 1998. He played five seasons in the CFL split between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers from 1999 to 2003 and was on Hamilton’s Grey Cup winner in 1999.
Kyle Siemens (#19) fires a pass downfield for the Huskies.
    After returning to Saskatoon once his CFL career wrapped up to pursue a teaching career, Muzika spent time as a defensive assistant with the Hilltops playing a major part in shaping that team’s linebackers. He never had a sizable role on the Huskies coaching staff until now. It is great that Flory is re-establishing some stronger links with old alums and storied former Huskies players like Muzika, who now gets to play a more significant role with the program.
    The other new assistant coaches Flory brought in who had significant playing careers with the Huskies include Duane Dmytryshyn and Tony Michalchuk. Jeremy Long and Tye Mountney are two new assistants that spent a short time with the Huskies as players. Mountney is better remembered as a star linebacker with the Hilltops in the 1990s helping them win a Canadian Bowl in 1996.
    The Huskies saw another old face return to the fold when Jerry Friesen rejoined the team as the special teams coordinator. Friesen played five seasons with the Huskies in the 1970s and was an assistant coach for 10 years starting in 1986. He spent time coaching the U of Calgary Dinos, U of Alberta Golden Bears and University of British Columbia Thunderbirds in his lengthy career before rejoining the Huskies.
    Friesen, who was the head coach of the Golden Bears during his stop at U of A, brings tonnes of valuable experience to the Huskies.
    The current Huskies staff is rounded out by Ignite Conditioning co-owner Joel Lipinski, who is the strength and conditioning coordinator and a defensive assistant. Before making CFL stops as a player with the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Edmonton Eskimos, Lipinski made his mark in the U Sports ranks as an all-Canadian defensive back first with the U of Regina Rams and then with the Saint Mary’s University Huskies in the 2000s.
    Since becoming head coach, Flory has been visible on many fronts in the community. He is pretty active in reaching out to team supporters either in person or through electronic correspondence.  His messaging to his players has been great as he tells them everything matters on and off the field including demeanor, words, actions, decisions and academics.
    Having talked to a couple of the current Huskies football coaches in public settings, it sounds like the Huskies new coaching staff has developed chemistry quite quickly and the atmosphere with the staff is very upbeat. It is conceivable the Huskies could have a strong year in 2017.
The Huskies defence gets set for action.
    The new coaching staff also doesn’t have to rebuild the program from the ground up. They take over a Huskies squad that posted a solid 5-3 regular season record in 2016 before getting thumped 47-17 in a Canada West semifinal playoff game to the Dinos. The Dinos went on to fall in the Vanier Cup to the Universite Laval Rouge et Or 31-26.
    The Huskies are slated to return a number of key players including quarterback Kyle Siemens and defensive lineman Matt Kozun. The Dogs might not experience that many growing pains. The Huskies first game is a pre-season contest on Aug. 25, when they travel to Hamilton, Ont., to face the McMaster University Marauders.
    With that said, the competition in the Canada West Conference is always tough, so success is never guaranteed. Still, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Huskies went out and had a memorable campaign.

Two youngsters, one great vet take Valkyries awards

Alex Eyolfson is the Valkyries offensive MVP.
    The Saskatoon Valkyries women’s football team gave nods to two members of their youth moment and one to standout veteran at their team awards on Thursday night at Saskatoon Minor Football Field’s clubhouse complex.
    The Valkyries offensive and defensive MVP awards went to two of the Valkyries young sophomore players. Quarterback Alex Eyolfson was named the Valkyries offensive MVP.
    The 19-year-old assumed the role as the full-time starter in her second campaign with the team. The graduate of Saskatoon’s Holy Cross High School has grown significantly over the past two seasons with the team and has a good command of the team’s offence.
    Linebacker Emmarae Dale was named the team’s defensive MVP. Since joining the Valkyries last year, Dale, who is a graduate of Saskatoon’s St. Joseph High School, immediately became a force on the defensive side of the ball. Also a member of the U of Saskatchewan Huskies track and field team, Dale reads and reacts quickly to plays and moves swiftly from sideline to sideline.
    The Valkyries presented their Green and White award to sixth-year standout defensive lineman Melanie Harris for her overall dedication to the team and the women’s game. Harris lives in Outlook, Sask., and drives into Saskatoon for all the team’s practices and games. Each of those round trips takes two hours out of Harris’s day.
    Harris has become a realizable fixture on the defensive line helping the Valkyries win Western Women’s Canadian Football League titles in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016. She retired from playing with the Valkyries at the conclusion of the 2017 campaign.
    This past season, the Valkyries posted a 5-2 overall record, and both of their losses came to the Regina Riot, who won the WWCFL title. The Valkyries fell 34-24 in the WWCFL Prairie Conference championship game in Regina to the Riot on June 4, and closed the season with a 44-20 victory in a WWCFL consolation final over the Edmonton Storm on June 10 in Saskatoon.

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Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Let’s not lynch Roughriders’ kicker over recent misses

Crapigna has been CFL club’s most consistent performer

Tyler Crapigna (#21) boots a winning field goal for the Riders in 2016.
    Dumping kicker Tyler Crapigna will not cure all that ails the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
    The 24-year-old Nepean, Ont., product has come under fire from some in Rider Nation due to a pair of late game field goal misses, which have contributed to the club’s 0-2 regular season start. In the Roughriders 17-16 regular season opening loss to the Alouettes in Montreal on June 22, Crapigna missed a 45-yard field goal attempt on the game’s last play, which would have given the visitors victory.
    When the “green and white” held their first regular season game at new Mosaic Stadium on Canada Day, Crapigna hit the upright on a 33-yard field goal attempt on the Roughriders’ second overtime possession to cause a battle with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to remain tied. Bombers kicker Justin Medlock hit the winning field goal from 28 yards out on his team’s ensuing possession to lift his side to a 43-40 victory to disappoint most of the sellout crowd of 33,350.
    Overall, Crapigna has hit 7-of-9 field goals this season, which means his only misses have been those two late game attempts. He has taken way more heat than deserved from the loud vocal minority.
    In the loss to the Bombers, Crapigna hit a 30-yard field goal on the Roughriders first overtime possession to force a 40-40 draw to keep the contest going and show his past reputation for hitting kicks in the clutch.
    Since making his regular season debut in the Roughriders third last regular season game of the 2015 campaign, Crapigna has connected on 47-of-55 field goal attempts for an 85.5 per cent success rate. At this moment, Crapigna would rank as the CFL’s fourth all-time most accurate field goal kicker, if he had 100 career attempts under his belt. Medlock ranks first at 87.9 per cent.
    Compared to a few others who have played at some time with the Roughriders, Crapigna’s career field goal percentage bests the 81.38 per cent career rate put up by Christopher Milo, the 80.47 per cent career rate of Paul McCallum, the 80.34 per cent career mark of Luca Congi and the 78 per cent success rate posted by all-time great Dave Ridgway.
Tyler Crapigna on the scoreboard at Taylor Field last season.
    Any CFL general manager that releases a kicker that is making close to 86 per cent of his career field goals has to have his head examined. Since Crapigna made his debut with the Roughriders, the team has posted a 6-17 regular season record and hasn’t managed to appear in any playoff games.
    It can be argued all of Crapigna’s field goal attempts are clutch kicks, because they are needed to help keep the Roughriders in games.
    As far as late game heroics are concerned, Crapigna started to establish a good reputation in the last of his three appearances in 2015. In the Roughriders final regular season game in 2015, he nailed a 39-yard game tying field goal with eight seconds to play in the fourth quarter help his side go to overtime with the Alouettes in Montreal locked in a 24-24 draw. Saskatchewan won that contest 30-24 with an OT touchdown catch from star receiver Weston Dressler, who now plays for the Bombers.
    Last season, Crapigna made three game winning field goals for the Roughriders. In Week 5 on July 22, 2016 at Taylor Field, Crapigna hit a 53-yard field goal with 69 seconds to play to give the Roughriders a 30-29 victory over the eventual Grey Cup champion Ottawa Redblacks.
    In Week 14 on Sept. 24 at Taylor Field, Crapigna hit a 29-yard walk off field goal to give the Roughriders a 20-18 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. In Week 16 on Oct. 7, 2016 at TD Place Stadium in Ottawa, Crapigna hit a 39-yard walk off field goal in overtime to give the Roughriders a 32-30 victory over the host Redblacks.
    The only game Crapigna struggled in during the 2016 campaign was the 28-25 Labour Day Classic loss to the visiting Bombers on Sept. 4, 2016. In that contest, Crapigna was 1-for-3 in the field goal department. When the Roughriders tied that game at 25-25 on an 85-yard punt return touchdown from Kendial Lawrence with 48 seconds to play, Crapigna missed the conversion that would have given Saskatchewan a one-point lead.
    The miss there didn’t matter much, because Medlock kicked a field goal on the contest’s final play to win it for Winnipeg.
Tyler Crapigna nails a kick off during training camp in June in Saskatoon.
    Despite the odd hiccup, Crapigna has been the Roughriders most reliable player. Saskatchewan has to get a lot better at finishing more offensive drives with touchdowns and stopping the pass on defence before worrying about the placekicker.
    If Crapigna does have a 1-for-3 or 1-for-4 outing when the Roughriders host the Tiger-Cats this coming Saturday at 8 p.m. at new Mosaic Stadium, the kicker questions will be raised again, which is the nature of professional sports.
    At the moment, his two misses this season create fears that a franchise that is 8-30 since the start of the 2015 campaign could spiral downhill to miss the playoffs for a third straight year.
    In the present, Crapigna should be backed with a vote of confidence. In the place kicking department, he is the Roughriders guy, and he has done enough to create belief. A betting person would put money down thinking the McMaster University grad is going to have a long and successful career in the professional ranks.

Hilltops’ Schnitzler added to Roughriders roster

Tom Schnitzler returns a fumble for a touchdown for the Hilltops in 2015.
    Saskatoon Hilltops defensive end Tom Schnitzler is getting a big head start in preparing for his Canadian Junior Football League season.
    The 21-year-old Saskatoon product was added to the Saskatchewan Roughriders practice roster on Tuesday as a territorial junior player at linebacker. The graduate of Saskatoon’s Bishop James Mahoney High School has been a key part in helping the Hilltops win the last three straight CJFL championships.
    Last season, Schnitzler recorded 21 tackles, 2.5 sacks and knocked down five passes in eight regular season games with the Hilltops. In 2015, he posted 10 tackles, four sacks and returned a fumble for a touchdown in eight regular season games.
    The Hilltops open their regular season on Aug. 12, when they travel to Regina to face the Thunder at 7 p.m. at new Mosaic Stadium. Their home opener is slated for August 26 at 7 p.m. at Saskatoon Minor Football Field against the Ottawa Sooners. Schnitzler is in his final year of CJFL eligibility.

Murphy statue to be unveiled at Bombers home field

    The Winnipeg Blue Bombers will honour the late Cal Murphy with a bronze statue of his likeness at the team’s home stadium, Investors Group Field.
    Murphy, who was an iconic coach and general manager in the CFL, passed away on Feb. 18, 2012. He spent over 30 seasons in the CFL collecting nine Grey Cup rings.
    During his time in the Canadian professional football ranks, Murphy was best remember for his 14 seasons with the Bombers from 1983 to 1996. Over that span of time, Murphy was either the Bombers head coach or general manager, and he was a key figure in helping Winnipeg win Grey Cup titles in 1984, 1988 and 1990.
    He is second all-time in Bombers history in career coaching victories posting an 86-51-1 record with the team as the sideline boss. After leaving the CFL having served as the head coach of the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 1999, Murphy became a scout for the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts in 2001, and he help that position until his death. He earned a Super Bowl ring during his time with the Colts.
    The Bombers will unveil the statue of Murphy on Sept. 21, 2017, and it will be located outside Gate 3 of Investors Group Field and will be surrounded by a seating area for fans.

Back in the Express with Huskies hoops grads

Michael Linklater, left, and Nolan Brudehl are all set for 3x3.
    I was back in the pages of the Saskatoon Express this week with a story on a trio of graduates from the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s basketball that continue to play the sport on the FIBA 3x3 World Tour.
    Michael Linklater, Michael Lieffers and Nolan Brudehl were all members of the Huskies team that won the 2010 U Sports national championship tournament, and they form the core of a team that plays on the FIBA 3x3 World Tour.
    The Saskatoon side is rounded out by Edmonton product Steve Sir, who used to play professionally in Europe.
    The foursome will compete in the FIBA 3x3 World Tour Masters event that is slated be held in Saskatoon on July 15 and 16 in conjunction with the Taste of Saskatchewan festival.
    The FIBA 3x3 games are played at a very fast pace.
    The story the FIBA 3x3 team and the upcoming hoops event can be round right here.

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Saturday, 1 July 2017

Expect Blades’ Fiala to get real look from Red Wings

Evan Fiala zips down the ice for the Blades.
    The Saskatoon Blades man with the giant smile might be sitting on a giant opportunity.
    On Friday, the team announced rugged defensive defenceman and local area product Evan Fiala received an invite to the development camp of the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings. The camp start this coming Friday and runs through to July 11 in Traverse City, Michigan.
    There are a number of cases where an NHL development camp invite means a player is showing up to be a camp body. When you show up at a Red Wings camp, that isn’t the case.
    The Red Wings are one NHL team that has a reputation for finding players all over the map. Those that show up at a Detroit camp will receive an honest evaluation and have an actual shot to make that organization.
    Standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 205 pounds, Fiala has the physical gifts most scouts look for in a defensive defenceman. After spending about two-and-a-half seasons with the Spokane Chiefs, Fiala came to the Blades last season in a trade around the middle of last December.
    Playing just over half a season with the Blades, he logged a lot of minutes, and he really helped “the Bridge City Bunch” play a lot more sound in their own zone. Between the Chiefs and the Blades, Fiala appeared in 70 regular season games posting four goals, 15 assists, 139 penalty minutes and a plus-11 rating in the plus-minus department.
    Fiala rarely gets flustered on the ice. Actually, he seems to always carry a huge smile no matter what he is doing, which includes battling in the corner or in front of the net. He even wears his big grin in fights.
Evan Fiala controls the puck at the point for the Blades.
    The 20-year-old is one of those old school character players that always feels it is great day to be at the rink. It is fun attitude the mirrors former enforcers like the late Dave Semenko of the Edmonton Oilers, who recently passed away of pancreatic cancer, Grant McNeill of the Prince Albert Raiders or Blades tough guy Darcy Hordichuk.
    Fiala is one of those players that is front and centre in doing community appearances for the Blades. He has made a few of those in the off-season along with teammate Gage Ramsay, who is another local product.
    The development camp invite won’t be a new experience for Fiala. He attended the development camp for the NHL’s Florida Panthers in 2015, so that experience should help a little going into the Red Wings development camp.
    If Fiala can earn a rookie camp invite or a main training camp invite, that would be another huge bonus.
    No matter what happens on the NHL front, the likelihood if fairly high Fiala will be one of the Blades three overage players next season as a key part of the club’s blue-line. At the moment, the Blades don’t have any other defencemen who are entering their 20-year-old season, which makes Fiala’s presence that much more valuable.
    Fiala is a strong character player who has worked hard at his game, so it is always good when that work and positive outlook results in any NHL opportunities.

Canada put up fight in final in football women’s worlds

    Canada’s National women’s football team didn’t get the upset win they were seeking, but they gained a measure of respect.
    On Friday in Langley, B.C., the Canada took on the powerhouse United States in the gold medal game of the International Federation of American Football Women’s World Championship tournament. Canada put up a big fight, before the United States pulled away 41-16 victory.
    The Canadian side led 3-0 for a short time when Carly Dyck, who plays for the Saskatoon Valkyries, booted a 38-yard field goal in the game’s first quarter. The United States stormed back to score the next 21 straight points to push ahead 21-3.
    Right before halftime, Canadian quarterback Aimee Kowalski hit sister Alex Kowalski with a 39-yard bomb pass for a touchdown to pull Canada to within 21-9. Both are members of the WWCFL champion Regina Riot.
    Early in the third quarter, the United States push its lead out to 27-9. Canada answered back with a defensive score, when U.S. quarterback Lisa Horton fumbled the ball, and Canadian defensive back Becky Heninger, who plays for the Calgary Rage, recovered it and ran 76 yards for a major to cut the United States lead to 27-16.
    The United States rounded out the scoring with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to pull away for good.
    Canada opened the tournament with a 31-6 victory over Australia on June 24. They blanked Great Britain 35-0 last Tuesday to advance to the gold medal game.
    A total of seven members from the Valkyries were members of the Canadian team including Dyck, Julene Friesen, Samantha Matheson, Alyssa Funk, Jaime Lammerding, Shaylyn de Jong and Beth Thomson. A total of nine members from the Riot were part of the Canadian side including the two Kowalski sisters, Carman Agar, Ashley Viklund, Claire Dore, Katie Hungle, Emilie Belanger, Artemis Kouropoulou and Adrienne Zuck.
    The United States claimed the other two world tournament held in 2013 in Finland and 2010 in Sweden.
    Mexico downed Great Britain in Friday’s bronze medal game 19-8.

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