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.

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