Thursday, 31 May 2018

Sam will always be the “Man of Steel” for the Pats

Sam Steel will always be one of the Pats all-time greats.
    If you made any type of joke about how Sam Steel wasn’t the best interview subject, you automatically felt bad about it, because he was that good of a guy.
    During his time with the Regina Pats, the star centre’s actions always spoke way louder than his words. When it game to talking to the media in post-game interviews, he was more of a quiet person, but his skills in that department greatly improved as his WHL career progressed.
    With the Pats, the Sherwood Park, Alta., product morphed into a superhero. He became “The Man of Steel” with all the big plays he made for the Pats.
    In 258 career regular season games with the Pats, Steel piled up 123 goals, 215 assists for 338 points and a plus-78 rating in the plus-minus department. His career assists total rates sixth all-time and points total 10th all-time in the history of the Pats.
Pats captain Sam Steel (#23) breaks past a Titan defenceman Adam Holwell.
    Steel, who stands 6-feet and weighs 184 pounds, appeared in 44 career WHL playoff games with the Pats collecting 18 goals, 39 assists and a plus-18 rating. At the Memorial Cup tournament that wrapped up on Sunday in Regina, Steel topped the tournament in scoring with two goals and 11 assists in five games.
    He claimed the Stafford Smythe Trophy as tournament MVP and was named to the event’s all-star team at forward.
    Steel played with great skill and a great heart. You could see his passion for the game on a nightly basis.
Sam Steel plays to honour his late older brother Patrick.
    The 20-year-old plays to honour his older brother, Patrick, who suddenly passed away at age 18 on November 9, 2011. Patrick was a forward in the junior A ranks with the Canmore Eagles of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, and he was found dead in his billet family’s home due to an undetected heart problem.
    From that tragedy, Sam paid tribute to Patrick assuming the mantra: Finish the play.
    Sam Steel became an easy player to cheer for. He also did everything right on and off the ice.
    I have had some friends in Regina who grew up in Moose Jaw cheering for the Warriors, who are the Pats bitter rivals. Those friends admitted that their children have grown up cheering for the Pats, and it feels wrong expect for the fact they look up to Steel so that makes everything OK.
Sam Steel makes a pass in the offensive zone.
    One friend, who has been a lifelong Warriors fan, has brought her son out to numerous Pats fans functions to see Steel. That friend told me it was impossible to hate Steel.
    At those functions, Steel will be the first player to arrive, sign autographs for every young fan that comes to meet him. He will have short visits with the young fans and show genuine interest in their lives. After two hours has elapsed and he has fulfilled every autograph request, he is the last Pats player to leave.
    It is like he is too good be true, but that is who he is.
    On the ice, you almost don’t know where to start with all the big games he had. Steel was part of a core group of players that included Adam Brooks, Chase Harrison, Connor Hobbs and Tyler Brown who helped the Pats win five series in the WHL playoffs from 2015 to 2017 and advance to the WHL Championship series in 2017 falling in six games to the Seattle Thunderbirds. Together, they were the boys next door.
    To show how magical a time it was for the history Regina major junior franchise, the Pats won a total of three playoff series from 1994 to 2014.
From left, Sam Steel, Nick Henry and Cale Fleury celebrate a goal.
    During the 2016-17 campaign, Steel was named the MVP of the WHL and topped the CHL in scoring with 50 goals and 81 assists. On March 14, 2017 when the Pats locked up first place in the WHL regular season standings with a 5-4 win over the Saskatoon Blades at the Brandt Centre, Steel had a chance to take a rip shot on goal on a two-on-one break for his 50th tally of the season, but he made a beauty setup pass to defenceman Josh Mahura for a goal near the end of the second period.
    When you saw Steel make plays like that, you realized why the Anaheim Ducks selected him in the first round and 30th overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
    In the second of the 2017 WHL playoffs, the Pats were in Swift Current trailing the host Broncos 3-1 in Game 6 needing a win to force Game 7. Brown, who was the Pats star goalie, made a big breakaway stop on Broncos captain Glenn Gawdin to keep the Pats in the game, and Steel sparked the offence.
Sam Steel (#23) drives hard to the net for the Pats.
    With 1:24 to play in the second period, Steel sent a beauty pass across the face of the Broncos goal to a pinching Mahura, who scored to cut the Broncos edge to 3-2. Few players could have made the pass on that play that Steel did down low around the Swift Current net.
    From that spark, the Pats tied things up at 3-3 before the second period ended and pulled out a 5-3 victory. Steel netted two goals in the Pats 5-1 victory in Game 7 of that series with the Broncos held in Regina.
    Steel kept piling up the memorable games this season being named the team’s captain at the start of the campaign in which the Pats were celebrating their 100th anniversary and hosting the 100th Memorial Cup. He appeared in 54 regular season contests with the Pats posting 33 goals, 50 assists and a plus-27 rating.
    On Jan. 5, he helped Canada win gold at world junior hockey championships in Buffalo, N.Y.
Sam Steel sits sixth all-time in career assists for the Pats.
    The Pats finished seventh overall in the WHL with a 40-25-6-1 record. Regina fell in a tough seven-game first round series to the Broncos, who finished second overall in the WHL at 48-17-5-2 and won the league championship.
    Steel had big moments in that series. With the Pats facing elimination in Regina in Game 6 on March 31, Steel had a goal and two assists to power the Pats to a 7-2 victory to force a series deciding Game 7.
    In Game 7 on April 2 in Swift Current, Steel had helpers on both Pats goals as they dropped a 3-2 heartbreaker to the Broncos. The Pats embarked on a 45-day layoff to prepare for the Memorial Cup.
    At the Memorial Cup, no one is going to forget the night Steel piled up five assists in a 6-5 round robin victory over the Broncos on May 23. He equaled the record for most assists in one game at the Memorial Cup dating back to when it started to be played in a tournament format in 1972.
Sam Steel sits 10th all-time in career points for the Pats.
    He shares that mark with Dan Hodgson of the Prince Albert Raiders from 1985 and Jonathan Drouin of the Halifax Mooseheads from 2013.
    In the tournament’s semifinal clash with the OHL champion Hamilton Bulldogs, Steel had the winning goal and an assist in a 4-2 victory. He picked up his assist setting up Jake Leschyshyn for an easy empty-net tally with 5.2 seconds to play.
    The Pats ultimately fell 3-0 in the Memorial Cup title game to the QMJHL champion Acadie-Bathurst Titan. The Titan claimed their first CHL championship with their victory over the Pats.
    While the Pats were heavily outplayed in the first two periods of that contest, Steel rang a shot off the goalpost in the second period and was robbed by the glove had of Titan netminder Evan Fitzpatrick in the third period.
    Coming out accept the Stafford Smythe Trophy from CHL president David Branch, Steel had tears in his eyes and was fighting to keep his composure. It was heartbreaking to see him like that.
Sam Steel looks to fire a shot on goal on the power play for the Pats.
    With a three-year NHL entry-level contract signed with the Ducks, it is unlikely Steel will return to the WHL for an overage campaign. That trophy presentation was likely that last thing he took part in wearing a Pats jersey as an active player.
    During the post-game media scrum, Steel talked about how great it was to be part of the city of Regina and how proud he was to be a member of the Pats. The reality of what happened still hadn’t sunk in.
    “I’m not sure what to think right now,” said Steel. “It is just tough.
    “Unbelievable group of guys. Even when we lost out and we were going through the training process, there was not one guy who complained.
Sam Steel, left, received the Stafford Smythe Trophy from David Branch.
    “I think it showed this tournament. We made each other proud for sure. I couldn’t be happier with the group of guys.”
    During a media availability on Tuesday, Pats head coach and general manager John Paddock said Steel has been a main part of his memory during his time with the team. Paddock became the Pats head coach and general manager before the start of the 2014-15 campaign, which was Steel’s 16-year-old rookie season with the club.
    “Four years have flown by,” said Paddock. “I think the ultimate compliment for him was he was a no maintenance guy.
    “It doesn’t matter how good he is to us, but it matters that you never have to worry about him. You need that kind of guy.
    “It is hard, but it is time. It is time for him to move on, and it is time for him to play pro. We still have a good core of guys, but he is sort of the easy guy to poster child that kind of guy in the organization, because that is what he was for us.”
The spectators at the Brandt Centre give Sam Steel one final ovation.
    Every team in the major junior ranks wishes they had a poster child type player like Steel, who could do it all. The Pats have to count themselves as being a pretty lucky team.

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Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Love looks to make his mark as Blades new head coach

Colin Priestner, left, welcomes Mitch Love to the Blades as head coach.
    Mitch Love is looking forward to placing his stamp on the Saskatoon Blades after he finally received his long awaited opportunity to be a WHL head coach.
    The Quesnel, B.C., product, who will turn 34 in June, was announced as the Blades new head coach on Wednesday at a press conference at the SaskTel Centre. He takes over from Dean Brockman, who was released as the club’s head coach on March 18.
    Love signed a four-year contract with a club option for a fifth year with the Blades.
    “What I want our players to understand here is as a staff we are going to have their backs,” said Love. “We’re going to work every day.
    “We’re going to work a 200-foot game. We’re going to check people. We are going to be a hard team to play against.”
    Love joins the Blades after spending seven seasons on the staff of the Everett Silvertips. He joined the Silvertips in 2011 as an assistant coach and strength and conditioning coach. He was an assistant coach and an assistant to the general manager this past season.
    As one of the Silvertips bench bosses, Love helped Everett finish third overall in the WHL’s regular season standings with a 47-20-2-3 mark this past season. In the playoffs, the Silvertips advanced all the way the WHL Championship series, where they fell 4-2 in the best-of-seven set to the Swift Current Broncos.
    During his playing days in the WHL from 1999 to 2005, Love appeared in 320 regular season games as a tough and rugged defenceman for the Moose Jaw Warriors, Broncos and Silvertips collecting 33 goals, 66 assists and 901 penalty minutes.
Mitch Love manned the Silvertips bench as an assistant coach.
    In the 2002-03 campaign, Love appeared in 70 regular season games with the Broncos and set a new team record for most penalty minutes in one regular season at 327. That record still stands today.
    Love joined the Silvertips for their inaugural season in 2003-04 and helped them make it to the WHL Championship series, where they were swept by the Medicine Hat Tigers 4-0.
    During his overage campaign in 2004-05, Love was the Silvertips captain.
    “As an ex-player to a long-time assistant coach in this league, I eat, breathe and live the Western Hockey League,” said Love, who stands 6-feet and weighs 175 pounds. “I’m real excited to be here.
    “I’m real excited to be part of the city of Saskatoon.”
    From 2005 to 2011, Love played six seasons in the minor professional ranks in the AHL, ECHL and CHL before joining the Silvertips coaching staff.
    During his years with the Silvertips, Love was also an assistant coach for a couple of Canadian teams at the Under-17 World Hockey Challenge in 2015 and 2016.
    Blades general manager Colin Priestner received permission from the Silvertips to speak to Love, when they were in the second round of the playoffs. Priestner met Love at the Vancouver International Airport between Games 2 and 3 of the Silvertips series with the Portland Winterhawks.
    Priestner said Love made a good impression. After checking with a number of hockey contacts, Priestner was sold on bringing Love to the Blades, but the Silvertips run through the post-season had to conclude before anything on that front could happen.
    “We really feel Mitch is one of the best young coaches in the country,” said Priestner. “That has been echoed by dozens of people I’ve spoken to.
    “Hockey Canada strongly advocated for him.”
Mitch Love makes a speech at a Blades press conference.
    Priestner said he had been contacted by a few former NHL head coaches that were reaching out to see if they could come to Saskatoon to finish out their careers there. The Blades general manager wanted to go in the direction of hiring someone younger who worked their way to the point in the WHL that they needed to make the step to become a head coach.
    WHL teams have been turning toward that trend since the Lethbridge Hurricanes hired Brent Kisio as head coach at age 32 back on June 4, 2015, and the Hurricanes have had three successful campaigns since that time. Before Kisio was hired, WHL clubs filled head coach vacancies by hiring former head coaches from other clubs on the circuit or former NHL coaches.
    “We want a young, hungry guy,” said Priestner. “Not to say that you can’t be a hungry 60-year-old former NHL coach.
    “We wanted someone with the passion that is going to be like dying to make his name here and hang a banner up there. It has been a long time since a banner has been hung up there.
    “I wanted someone that is not coming here to play out the stretch. I wanted someone who is extremely hungry.”
    Love likes the roster of players he will oversee. The Blades had the 15th best record in the WHL last season at 35-33-3-1 and missed the playoffs playing out of an ultra-competitive East Division.
    They are set to return a talented group of forwards including Kirby Dach, Eric Florchuk, Josh Paterson, Chase Wouters and Max Gerlach. On defence, Saskatoon is set to bring back a healthy veteran group in Jackson Caller, Seth Bafaro, Dawson Davidson and Jake Kustra along with 16-year-old rookie Aidan De La Gorgendiere. 
    In goal, the Blades will be looking to see how standout Nolan Maier can improve on a sensational rookie campaign in his 17-year-old season.
    Love gave credit to the former staff under Brockman for bringing the players a long way.
Mitch Love meets media members at a Blades press conference.
    “I don’t want to take anything away from the coaching staff that was here before,” said Love. “They’ve improved the last two seasons as a group.
    “I think there is still some more to give there. I think we will just work towards that. There are some really good pieces in place.”
    Love’s teams are best known for their tough defence, and last season, the Silvertips gave up the fewest goals in the league during the regular season at 167. The Blades equaled the Calgary Hitmen for giving up the third more goals in the regular season on the circuit at 276.
    Going forward, Love said he wants his players to put in an honest effort, and there will be work to do at the rink. He added that there will be fun that goes along with the work to keep everyone motivated to come to the rink.
    “This has got to be a place that they want to come and enjoy and be at,” said Love. “They spend a lot of time here.
    “They spend time away from their families. This is their second home coming to the rink, and I want them to have fun doing that.”

Back in the Express with Labach

Julie Labach is a track star with the Huskies.
    I was back in the pages of the Saskatoon Express this week with a feature story on Julie Labach.
    Labach is a star with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies Track and Field team. She originally came to the U of S to play on the Huskies women’s soccer team before competing in both soccer and track and field for the past four seasons.
    This past season, Labach had a banner year personally. She capped it winning gold in the 1,000-metre race and bronze in the 600-metre race at U Sports nationals.
    Due to her stellar season, she was named the winner of the Mary Ethel Cartwright Trophy as the female athlete of the year for Huskie Athletics.
    In the classroom, Labach was named a U Sports academic all-Canadian in her first three years with the Huskies and will likely be awarded that designation again, when those awards are handed out in September. She will enter the College of Law in the fall.
    With law being an intense program, Labach plans to only compete in track and field for the Huskies in her final campaign of U Sports eligibility.
    The story on Labach can be found right here.

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Tuesday, 29 May 2018

100th Memorial Cup will be best remembered for great hockey

Titan LW Liam Murphy (#61) and Pats G Max Paddock dive at the puck.
    REGINA, Sask. – The biggest uncontrollable variable came through in spades at the 100th edition of the Memorial Cup.
    During the eight games of the tournament that ran from May 18 and wrapped up on Sunday in Regina to determine supremacy in the Canadian Hockey League, the hockey was outstanding. Now two days after the event wrapped up, the biggest memory you take away was how tight the competition was.
    Out of the eight games, five of them were decided by one goal, while two were decided by two goals with the winning club registering an empty-net tally on each of those occasions.
    Sunday’s championship final turned out to be the contest with the biggest margin of victory as the QMJHL champion Acadie-Bathurst Titan blanked the host Regina Pats 3-0, and that contest included an empty-net goal by Titan right-winger Ethan Crossman with 30.3 seconds to play.
Captain Sam Steel brings the puck up ice for the Regina Pats.
    On top of that, all of those games were shown on national television via Sportsnet providing great exposure to the CHL game.
    You would be hard pressed to find a more compelling Memorial Cup. The WHL champion Swift Current Broncos went 0-3 and every loss came via a one-goal margin.
    Despite being tired and beat up due to playing a record 26 games in their run through the WHL playoffs, the Broncos, who finished second overall in the WHL regular season with a 48-17-5-2 record, could have conceivably been on the winning side of any or all of their games.
    Had they not given up two short-handed goal in their tournament opener against the Titan on May 19 surrendering leads of 2-1 and 3-2, the Broncos wouldn’t have been on the short end of a 4-3 overtime setback.
Colby Sissons and the Broncos didn’t get enough breaks at the Memorial Cup.
    A win in that game could have reversed their fortunes for the event overall. If Broncos star right-winger Tyler Steenbergen came out that contest without sustaining a concussion on an awkward, second period hit, that would have made a big difference for Swift Current too.
    The OHL champion Hamilton Bulldogs were likely the most consistent club at the Memorial Cup. The Bulldogs downfall came from the fact they weren’t able to score even with having talented player like star centre Robert Thomas.
    In four tournament games, the Bulldogs, who finished third overall in the OHL’s regular season with a 43-18-4-3 record, posted a 2-2 mark at the Memorial Cup. They outshot their opponents 169-112 in those contests, but were outscored by their opponents 10-9.
Robert Thomas and the Bulldogs didn't get enough goals in Regina.
    The Bulldogs only scored more than two goals once in any of their outings when they downed the Titan 3-2 on May 22.
    Hamilton fell 4-2 in the tournament semifinal contest to the Pats last Friday despite having a 46-24 edge in shots on goal. The Pats sealed that win with an empty-net goal from Jake Leschyshyn with 5.2 seconds to play in the third period.
    In the championship final, the Pats, who were seventh overall in the WHL with a 40-25-6-1 regular season record, did have a real shot to win the game against the Titan, who finished second overall in the QMJHL regular season with a 43-15-8-2 mark.
    In the second period of that contest, right-winger Jared Legien and star captain Sam Steel both rang shots off goalposts.
Defenceman Josh Mahura, right, fires a shot on goal for the Pats.
    After 40 minutes, the Pats were down 1-0 and had been outshot 36-11, so had one or both of the goalpost shots by Legien or Steel have gone in, the storyline of that came could have played out differently.
    The Pats came out on fire in the third period of that contest holding a 17-8 edge in shots on goal. Steel had the best chance to tie things up, but he was robbed on a shot from the left slot by the glove hand of Titan netminder Evan Fitzpatrick.
    That set the stage for Titan captain Jeffrey Truchon-Viel to set up centre Samuel Asselin for a goal to put the Titan up 2-0 with 6:58 to play in the third. Victory was then sealed with Crossman’s empty netter.
Jake Leschyshyn brings the puck up ice for the Pats.
    Most Memorial Cups have good drama, but the drama and excitement in this year’s event was above and beyond normal.
    In one of about every five Memorial Cups, you often encounter a situation where one team is heads and shoulders about everyone else like in 2010 in Brandon, Man. That Memorial Cup is viewed as one of the best run tournaments, but the dominating storyline was the romp of the OHL champion Windsor Spitfires.
    The Spitfires flattened the host Wheat Kings and the WHL champion Calgary Hitmen by a combined score of 15-5 before needing overtime to outlast the QMJHL champion Moncton Wildcats 4-3. In the championship final, the Spitfires made short work of the Wheat Kings in a 9-1 triumph.
Defenceman Noah Dobson wins a battle along the boards for the Titan.
    At the 2016 Memorial Cup in Red Deer, Alta., the OHL champion London Knights won all three of their round robin games by a score of 20-5. That event ended with an off the charts exciting final, when the Knights rallied back from a 2-1 third period deficit to pull out a 3-2 overtime victory on Matthew Tkachuk’s winner to down the QMJHL champion Rouyn-Noranda Huskies 3-2.
    The last three of the eight games at the tournament in Regina were all sellouts at 6,484 tickets sold for each night. All of those contests featured the host Pats.
    Over 6,000 tickets were sold for five out of the eight games in Regina. The lowest total of 5,678 sold for the opener on May 18, when the Pats downed the Bulldogs 3-2.
Samuel Asselin had the Titan’s Memorial Cup insurance goal.
    Fanfest was popular. It seemed like it was hit and miss with large gatherings at the Brandt Celebration Zone even with the outstanding musical acts that were brought in.
    The Pats owners expect to swallow a $2-million loss financially for hosting the Memorial Cup mostly due to providing a $3-million hosting fee to the CHL. They said they never expected to make money on the event.
    Regina Leader-Post star sports columnist Rob Vanstone reported the hosting fee for next year’s Memorial Cup to be hosted in Halifax, N.S., by the Mooseheads is believed to be $1-million less than the fee spent to host the tournament in Regina.
    The host committee for the Memorial Cup in Regina brought in the Eagles to perform during an open ceremonies on May 17, and about 27,000 seats were sold for that event.
    The Pats owners could have scaled things back, but they wanted to put on a memorable event and stuck to their guns. To be honest, this year’s Memorial Cup had a lot of cool things attached to it.
    Away from the rink, the hotels, restaurants and other businesses in Regina saw great spinoffs from the fact the Memorial Cup was held in the Saskatchewan capital.
    While there are always things to learn along the way, the 100th Memorial Cup in Regina overall will go down as a success.
The Titan pose for the tradition team picture with the Memorial Cup.
    The big thing that made it a success was the product on the ice. When you come to the Memorial Cup, you want to see exciting hockey.
    All eight games that were played at the event in Regina delivered exciting hockey in droves. It will likely be a number of years before all the games in another single Memorial Cup tournament can duplicate the great display of hockey that took place in Regina.

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Sunday, 27 May 2018

Titan top them all, capture 100th Memorial Cup

The Titan celebrate winning the Memorial Cup.
    REGINA, Sask. – The team from the Canadian Hockey League’s smallest market has laid claim to major junior hockey’s biggest prize.
    On Sunday at the Brandt Centre, the QMJHL champion Acadie-Bathurst Titan downed the Regina Pats 3-0 to win the Memorial Cup, which was being contested for the 100th time. The win was a first for the Titan in franchise history, which dates back to 1969.
    The Titan have been playing out of Bathurst, New Brunswick, since 1998. According to the 2016 Canadian census, Bathurst has a population of just over 15,500, which makes it the smallest market in the CHL.
    “It is indescribable,” said Titan overage defenceman Adam Holwell. “Winning the President Cup (QMJHL champions) was unbelievable.
Defenceman Adam Holwell departs the CHL as a Memorial Cup winner.
    “(It is) the same feeling this time except we get to celebrate it without having to worry about a game the next week. It is going to be fun.”
    The Titan finished the Memorial Cup tournament with a 3-1 record, while the Pats, who were the host squad for the event, finished at 3-2. Acadie-Bathurst had been off since Tuesday after wrapping up the round robin portion of the tournament with a 3-2 setback to the OHL champion Hamilton Bulldogs. 
    The Titan, who downed the Pats 8-6 in a round robin clash on May 20, finished first in the round robin portion of the tournament.
    Regina entered Sunday’s contest fresh off a 4-2 tournament semifinal win on Friday against the Bulldogs.
    “We played a really good 60 minute,” said Titan head coach Mario Pouliot. “We did the good thing during the four days off, and our players were fresh mentally and physically too.
Adam Holwell (#13) celebrates scoring the winning goal for the Titan.
    “Tonight at the start of the game especially in the first two periods, we had a lot of energy, and we were playing our identity. We were fast. We counterattacked them.
    “We were using our speed. (I am) just proud too of all the players. It is a great accomplishment right now.”
    Acadie-Bathurst pinned the Pats inside their own zone for much of the first two periods.
    Titan overage defenceman Adam Holwell wired home a shot from on top of the right faceoff dot in the Pats zone to give his side a 1-0 lead with 3:50 to play in the first period.
    He never thought his tally would be the game winner.
    “That is going to sound cool, when I tell my kids that I shot it bar down,” said Holwell. “It is unbelievable.”
Netminder Max Paddock makes one of his 41 saves for the Pats.
    The Titan increased their pressure in the second period and held a 16-0 edge in shots on goal for the frame nine minutes in. Pats 17-year-old rookie netminder Max Paddock had a spectacular outing to keep his club in the game.
    Early in the second, Paddock stoned Titan right-winger Ethan Crossman on a dangerous rush and later robbed the Sackville, N.B., product with a huge glove save.
    Despite being outshot 24-6 in the second, the Pats had chances to get on the board as right-winger Jared Legien and star captain Sam Steel both hit the post on respective shots.
    Those efforts engaged the sellout crowd of 6,484, who started up chants of “go Pats go.”
    After being outshot 36-11 over the first 40 minutes, the Pats hit high gear in the third searching for the equalizer forcing Titan star netminder Evan Fitzpatrick to come up with a number of big stops.
Star captain Sam Steel had some big scoring chances for the Pats.
    Fitzpatrick stoned Pats left-winger Robbie Holmes in close and later turned away Czech import defenceman Libor Hajek on a slot shot.
    Steel had a golden opportunity to score on a rebound chance but was denied when Fitzpatrick flashed the leather for a big glove save.
    “I just try to really just track the puck,” said Fitzpatrick. “No matter if I am getting one shot or 10 shots or whatever, I just try to do my job knowing that my team is going to be there to help me out.”
    The Titan weren’t able to expand their edge until there was 6:58 remaining in the third period, when centre Samuel Asselin converted to beauty set-up pass from captain Jeffrey Truchon-Viel to give Acadie-Bathurst a 2-0 edge.
    Crossman sealed with the win with an empty-net goal with 30.3 seconds to play in the third.
Evan Fitzpatrick makes 28 saves to get the shutout for the Titan.
    Fitzpatrick made 28 saves to pick up the shutout win in goal for the Titan. Paddock turned away 41-of-43 shots to take the setback in goal for the Pats.
    “I am speechless right now,” said Fitzpatrick. “It is icing on the cake here. We won the (QMJHL) title, and now we are national champions.
    “It is amazing. We have a great support system here. We have a lot of parents and a lot of fans and a great support system back in Bathurst.”
    The Titan finished second overall in the QMJHL’s regular season standings with a 43-15-8-2 record and went 16-4 in the playoffs.
     The Titan took the QMJHL Championship series in six games with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada.
    The Pats, who have won the Memorial Cup three times, finished seventh overall in the WHL with a 40-25-6-1 regular season record playing out of the league’s ultra-competitive East Division.
The Titan react to winning the Memorial Cup.
    They were eliminated in the first round of the WHL playoffs in a tough seven game series against the Swift Current Broncos. 
    The Broncos won the WHL title and went 0-3 in the round robin portion of the Memorial Cup and didn’t qualify for the event’s playoff round.
    WHL teams have won only one of the last 10 Memorial Cup tournaments.
    Steel has a signed three-year NHL entry-level contract with the Anaheim Ducks, and it is unlikely the Sherwood Park, Alta., product will return to the Pats for an overage season.
    He played a key part in helping the Pats reach last year’s WHL Championship series, which they dropped in six games to the Seattle Thunderbirds. The Pats were outstanding that season finishing first overall in the WHL at 52-12-7-1.
    While he was dejected after Sunday’s loss, Steel said he would reflect on his four seasons in Regina fondly.
Titan Defenceman Olivier Galipeau takes a lap with the Memorial Cup.
    “It’s been unbelievable since the day I was drafted,” said Steel. “It’s just been great to be a part of this city, and I couldn’t ask for anything more.
    “They’ve given me everything throughout my junior career and just really proud to be a Pat.”
    As for the Titan, Sunday’s game will be something their players will always remember.
    Fitzpatrick, who had a 2.96 goals against average and a .906 save percentage for the Titan in the Memorial Cup, loved soaking in the celebrations on ice comparing it to when the Titan clinched the QMJHL title series at home on May 13.
    “I went through this once in Bathurst, and now this a bigger stage and a bigger title, it is amazing,” said Fitzpatrick. “To have my family come out and everyone else who is around, it is special.”

Steel named tournament MVP

Sam Steel, left, receives the Stafford Smythe Trophy from David Branch.
    Regina Pats star captain Sam Steel was named the MVP of the Memorial Cup tournament.
    He topped the tournament in scoring with two goals and 11 assists appearing in all of Regina’s five games to be awarded the Stafford Smythe Trophy as tournament MVP, and he was named to the event’s all-star team at forward. Due to the fact he has a signed NHL entry-level contract with the Anaheim Ducks, Steel will likely not be back in Regina next season for his overage campaign.
    During the regular season, Steel appeared in 54 games with the Pats piling up 33 goals, 50 assists and plus-27 rating in the plus-minus department. He added one goal and 10 assists in the Pats seven games in the WHL playoffs.
    He helped Canada win gold at the last world juniors, which wrapped up in early January in Buffalo, N.Y.
    In his WHL career, Steel has appeared in 258 regular season games piling up 123 goals, 215 assists and a plus-78 rating. He ranked sixth all-time on the Pats list for career regular season assists and his 338 regular season points rates 10th all-time.
    The Pats had two other representatives on the tournament all-star team including netminder Max Paddock and defenceman Josh Mahura.
    The Memorial Cup champion Acadie-Bathurst Titan placed three players on the tournament all-star team including defenceman Noah Dobson and forwards Jeffrey Truchon-Viel and Samuel Asselin.

Heponiemi wins CHL’s sportsmanship award

Broncos star left-winger Aleksi Heponiemi won a major CHL award.
    Swift Current Broncos star left-winger Aleksi Heponiemi won the CHL’s sportsman of the year award on Saturday.
    The product of Tampere, Finland, appeared in 57 regular season games for the Broncos piling up 28 goals, 90 assists and a plus-42 rating in the plus-minus department. He only had 28 minutes in penalties for the campaign. Heponiemi’s 90 assists were a Broncos record for one regular season.
    He played for Finland in the last world juniors that wrapped up in January in Buffalo, N.Y.
    Heponiemi was selected in the second round and 40th overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.
All of the CHL’s major awards were handed out on Saturday in Regina.
    Players from the WHL claimed two other major awards. Carter Hart of the Everett Silvertips was named the goaltender of the year and centre Jayden Halbgewachs of the Moose Jaw Warriors took the top scorer award piling up 70 goals and 59 assists playing in all of the Warriors 72 regular season games.
    QMJHL’s Blainville-Boisbriand Armada had two award winners with Alexandre Alain taking the scholastic player of the year award and Alex Barre-Boulet claiming the player of the year award.
    As for the other award winners, Andrei Svechnikov of the OHL’s Barrie Colts won the top prospect award, Garrett McFadden of the OHL’s Guelph Storm took the humanitarian of the year award, Alexis Lafreniere of the QMJHL’s Rimouski Oceanic captured the rookie of the year award and Nicolas Hague of the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads took the defenceman of the year award.
    Drew Bannister, who is the head coach of the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, was named the winner of the Brian Kilrea coach of the year award.
    On Sunday, the CHL announced the 2004-05 London Knights were appointed the CHL’s team of the century following a fan vote in celebration of the 100th Memorial Cup. The Knights went 59-7-0-2 in the regular season, won the OHL title and the Memorial Cup.
    During the 2004-05 regular season, the Knights set a CHL record posting a 31 game undefeated streak.

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Saturday, 26 May 2018

Better to be asterisks champ than no champ at Memorial Cup

Old Regina Pats collectables from the 2000-01 campaign.
    Being the asterisks champ is fine and dandy, if you are the host team at the Memorial Cup.
    On Sunday, the Memorial Cup tournament host Regina Pats will try to capture junior hockey’s most prestigious trophy for the fourth time, when they face the QMJHL champion Acadie-Bathurst Titan at 5 p.m. at the Brandt Centre. The Pats last claimed the Memorial Cup back in 1974 downing the Quebec Remparts 7-4 in the national final held in Calgary Alta.
    Of course, there are a lot of sports purists that will be big time upset, if the Pats win the CHL title after bowing out in the first round of the WHL playoffs.
The Pats celebrate a goal by Nick Henry on Wednesday.
    The Pats did finish seventh overall in the WHL regular season standings with a 40-25-6-1 record and were bounced in a tough seven game series to the Swift Current Broncos, who were second overall in the WHL regular season at 48-17-5-2.
    The Broncos would move on to win the WHL title and go 0-3 in the round robin portion of the Memorial Cup dropping each of their contests by a one-goal margin.
    Regina was idle for 45 days before taking part in the Memorial Cup. It appears the coaches and players used that time constructively, as the Pats seem to be fresher and physically stronger than the three league champions at the event.
    The Pats story this season eerily mirrors the story of the Pats from the 2000-01 campaign, when the franchise last hosted the Memorial Cup. In both campaigns, the Pats were hovering around .500 at the WHL Christmas break, they made a number of trades after the Christmas break leading to the WHL’s trade deadline to strengthen the club, had a strong second half of the regular season, bowed out in the first round of the WHL playoffs and had a strong showing at the Memorial Cup.
Pats captain Barret Jackman in action in 2000.
    In the 2000-01 campaign, the Pats finished fourth overall in the WHL with 40 wins, 27 losses, three ties and two overtime losses. They fell to the Calgary Hitmen in six games in the first round of the WHL playoffs and sat idle for 47 days before taking part in the Memorial Cup.
    The Pats fell in their first two round robin games before downing the WHL champion Red Deer Rebels 5-2 in their final round robin game and eliminating the OHL champion Ottawa 67’s in a standings tiebreaker game 5-0.
    At that time, I lived in Regina and spent a lot of social time around the Pats. During the break, the players’ consensus was they didn’t care about arguments about not deserving to be there or getting in by the backdoor.
    They were working hard over those 47 days off, so you might as well go out and win the thing and proved you belong in that event. For a club that did bow out in the first round of the WHL post-season, the players on the Pats that season were incredibly tight. 
    They were backed by the support of a bigger group of friends they made that campaign through the University of Regina’s athletic teams.
Members of the Pats, the U of R Rams football team and the U of R Cougars teams were frequently out together in the same social circles.
Filip Novak in action for the Pats in 2000 at the Moose Jaw Civic Centre.
    The Pats bonds were really evident during a heartbreaking 5-4 overtime semifinal loss to the Val-d’Or Foreurs on May 26, 2001. With the game tied 3-3, Pats captain Barret Jackman scored on a beauty set up from behind the Val-d’Or net by power forward Garth Murray to give Regina a 4-3 lead.
    The Foreurs forced overtime inside of the final minute when a point shot by star forward Simon Gamache deflected off the stick of Pats left-winger Kevin Korol past netminder Chad Davidson into the Regina goal to create a 4-4 tie. That set the Foreurs up to win the contest in overtime, when a centring pass from Val-d’Or defenceman Chris Lyness from behind the Pats net hit Davidson’s stick deflecting into the goal.
Garth Murray warms up for the Pats in 2000.
    The setback was a gut punch for the Pats, who came so terribly close to making the CHL’s championship game.
    A day later, the Foreurs fell in the Memorial Cup final 6-5 to the Rebels in overtime with defenceman Doug Lynch scoring the winning goal.
    Unlike the Pats squad of 2000-01, the current Pats entered the 2017-18 campaign on the heels of reaching the WHL Championship series last season for the first time in 33 years. Regina fell in the 2017 battle for the WHL title in six games to the Seattle Thunderbirds.
    Star centre Sam Steel, centre Jake Leschyshyn, left-winger Nick Henry, left-winger Robbie Holmes and defencemen Josh Mahura and Liam Schioler are the holdovers from that team.
    If the Pats beat the Titan on Sunday, they won’t go down as one of the greatest clubs in the history of junior hockey that is revered like the 2004-05 London Knights, the 1994-95 Kamloops Blazers or the 1970-71 Quebec Remparts.
Captain Sam Steel will look to have another big game for the Pats on Friday.
    This year’s Pats won’t be held in the same esteem as their 1973-74 club that won the Memorial Cup by capturing a league championship along the way.
    Had the Pats found a way last year to win the WHL title series against the Thunderbirds and capture the Memorial Cup, they would be in that discussion amongst the greatest junior teams having a dream season topping the WHL regular season standings with a 52-12-7-1 record.
    The current Pats still have a huge opportunity to get their hands on junior hockey’s most prestigious trophy with one more win.
   The game will attract a large number of casual fans who will be engaged in the game and not care how the Pats got to that point. They will be consumed by the game in the present.
The Pats hope to celebrate a Memorial Cup title win on Sunday.
    If the Memorial Cup on Sunday means being viewed as backdoor champions, the Pats have enough good players and character to ensure they will do everything they can to make that happen.

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Friday, 25 May 2018

Steel cashes in on goalie gaff, Pats off to Memorial Cup final

Captain Sam Steel scored the winning goal for the Pats on Friday.
    If you give Sam Steel a golden opportunity, he is going to take it.
    On Friday night in the semifinal contest of the Memorial Cup tournament at the Brandt Centre, the host Regina Pats were holding a slim 2-1 lead in the third period over the OHL champion Hamilton Bulldogs. On a Regina dump in, Bulldogs netminder Kaden Fulcher came way out of his crease and nonchalantly passed the puck into an open area of the ice.
    The puck went on the stick of Steel, who is the Pats star captain. Fulcher fell down to the ice after being stick checked by Pats left-winger Nick Henry. Steel easily skated around the fallen goalie and placed the puck into an empty cage to give the Pats a 3-1 edge with 5:55 to play in the frame.
    That tally turned out to be very key. Just 73 second later, Bulldogs right-winger Will Bitten broke down the right wing of the Regina zone on a breakaway and lifted home a shot to the top right corner on Pats netminder Max Paddock to cut the Regina lead to 3-2. Bitten was sent in on his breakaway on a beauty spring pass from Bulldogs defenceman Benjamin Gleason.
    Hamilton couldn’t net the equalizer.
    Steel’s gift goal turned out to be the winner. He later came up with a key shot block in the final minute. Seconds after that shot block, Steel gave a set up to centre Jake Leschyshyn for an easy empty-net goal with 5.2 seconds remaining in the third to deliver the Pats to a 4-2 victory to send the announced sellout crowd of 6,484 spectators into a frenzy.
Pats centre Jake Leschyshyn scored into an empty net on Friday.
    With the win, the Pats improved to 3-1 in the CHL championship tournament and advanced to Sunday’s championship final to face the QMJHL champion Acadie-Bathurst Titan (2-1) at 5 p.m. at the Brandt Centre.
    Besides Steel’s big plays, the difference in Friday’s contest was the play of the goaltenders on both sides.
    Fulcher had by far the best statics in the round robin portion of the Memorial Cup. He was good but not outstanding in the Hamilton goal on Friday turning away 20 of 23 shots sent his way, which included the lapse on Steel’s winning goal. The Bulldogs finished the tournament with a 2-2 record.
    Max Paddock, who is the Pats rookie 17-year-old netminder, had a couple of shaky games during the round robin portion of the tournament, but looked like a rookie phenom making 44 saves against the Bulldogs.
    His biggest stops came after the Pats lead shrank to 3-2. Bulldogs left-winger Marian Studenic drove down the right wing and had an initial shot stopped and a rebound shot turned away by Paddock.
Goalie Max Paddock made 44 saves for the Pats on Friday.
    After the Bulldogs pulled Fulcher for an extra attacker, Paddock stoned Bulldogs right-winger MacKenzie Entwistle on a wraparound and Bitten on the rebound chance.
    That set the stage for Steel’s shot block inside of the final minute and his set up to Leschyshyn for the empty-net tally.
    Inside the first minute of the first period, the Bulldogs tried to set a physical tone as defenceman Riley Stillman nailed Pats right-winger Cameron Hebig with a big open ice hit.
    The Pats struck first scoring 5:22 into the first period, when right-winger Austin Pratt knocked home the rebound from an Emil Oksanen shot to go ahead 1-0.
    The Bulldogs evened thing up at 1-1 at the 7:35 mark of the second, when defenceman Nicolas Mattinen one-timed home a shot from the point off a set up pass from Gleason. Mattinen had been a bit snakebitten in the Memorial Cup firing a number of shots off goalposts, which included hitting the crossbar of the Regina net late in the first period of Friday’s game. 
Cameron Hebig had a goal for the Pats on Friday.
    Regina jumped back out in front 2-1 at the 11-minute mark of the second, when Hebig fired home a shot from the front of the Hamilton net after taking a good set up pass from offensive defenceman Josh Mahura.
    A short time after Hebig’s tally, Bulldogs captain Justin Lemcke took down Pats left-winger Bryce Platt in one of the rare fights that have occurred in about the last two decades of the Memorial Cup tournament.
    Lemcke’s attempt to spark his club had mixed results, as the Bulldogs fired a lot of shots at the Pats net but there wasn’t an explosion of offence for the Hamilton side.
    The Pats as team blocked a lot of Bulldogs shot attempts, and Regina brought a bit of a physical game too. Regina defenceman Cale Fleury had a big hot on Stillman in the third period.
    A week ago on May 18, the Pats and Bulldogs opened the Memorial Cup tournament with a round robin game that was claimed by the Pats 3-2, when Henry scored the winning goal in that contest with 32.6 seconds to play in the third period.
    The Bulldogs finished third overall in the OHL’s regular season standings with a 43-18-4-3 record and advanced through the playoffs with a 16-5 mark. The Bulldogs took out the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in six games in the OHL’s Championship series.
Josh Mahura had an assist for the Pats on Friday.
    In the third period of Friday’s game, the Bulldogs lost a number of hustle plays and physical battles to the Pats.
    The Pats entered the Memorial Cup off a stretch of having 45 days off after being eliminated in Game 7 of a tough first round WHL playoff series on April 2 to the Swift Current Broncos, who won the WHL title. The Broncos were eliminated in the Memorial Cup after going 0-3 in the round robin with all three setback coming by a one-goal margin.
    The Pats finished seventh overall in the WHL’s regular season with a 40-25-6-1 record and will attempt to win their fourth Memorial Cup title in team history, with the last championship coming back in 1974 when the tournament was held in Calgary.
    The Titan finished second overall in the QMJHL’s regular season standings with a 43-15-8-2 record and went 16-4 in the playoffs. Acadie-Bathurst claimed the round robin clash with Regina at the Memorial Cup 8-6 on May 20.
    As five out of the seven games played at the Memorial Cup were decided by one goal and two were decided by two-goals, this Memorial Cup has been one of the tightest contested ever, and which should bode well for expectations of excitement in Sunday’s championship final.

Viveiros departs Broncos for NHL’s Oilers

Head coach Manny Viveiros mans the Swift Current Broncos bench.
    After two memorable seasons with the Swift Current Broncos, Manny Viveiros is moving on to the NHL.
    On Thursday at a news conference in Swift Current, Viveiros stepped down as the head coach and director of player personnel for the Broncos to become an assistant coach with the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers.
    The 52-year-old from St. Alberta, Alta., led the Broncos to a 10th overall finish in the WHL’s regular season standings in 2016-17 with a 39-23-4-6 record. The Broncos advanced to the second round of the WHL playoffs falling in a tough seven-game series to the Regina Pats, who would advance to the WHL Championship series.
    This past season, Viveiros guided the Broncos to the second best record in the WHL’s regular season at 48-17-5-2. The Broncos set a record playing 26 games in the WHL playoffs winning the Ed Chynoweth Cup and capturing the league title for the first since 1993. Swift Current advanced to the Memorial Cup tournament to play for the CHL title.
    At the Memorial Cup tournament in Regina, Sask., the Broncos went 0-3 in round robin play falling by a one-goal margin each time out.
Manny Viveiros lifts the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
    Before joining the Broncos, Viveiros coached Austria’s national team at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. After the Olympics, Viveiros coached ERC Ingolstadt of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (Del) as an assistant coach in 2014 and head coach in 2015.
    In WHL circles, Viveiros is remembered for playing four season for the Prince Albert Raiders from 1982 to 1986 appearing in 251 regular season games collecting 60 goals and 261 assists. He helped the Raiders win the Memorial Cup in 1985.
    Viveiros was selected in the sixth round and 106th overall in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft by the Oilers. He appeared in 29 NHL regular seasons over three seasons from 1985 to 1988 with the Minnesota North Stars collecting one goal and 11 assists. He spent 16 seasons playing professionally in Austria from 1991 to 2007.
    The Broncos also announced director of business operations Dianne Sletten is moving to other pursuits leaving the team after six seasons.

Does the “Curse of the Drop” still live?

    Friday marked the 10th anniversary of one of the infamous and biggest blooper moments in the history of the Memorial Cup.
    On May 25, 2008, the WHL champion Spokane Chiefs downed the host Kitchener Rangers 4-1 in the Memorial Cup tournament’s championship game. It marked the second time the Chiefs captured the Memorial Cup to become CHL champions.
    After winning the title in 2008, Chiefs captain Chris Bruton accepted the Memorial Cup. Bruton turned and was going to give the Memorial Cup to defenceman Trevor Glass. Glass, who was in his 19-year-old season at the time, was with the Medicine Hat Tigers the previous campaign when they won the WHL title and fell 3-1 in the Memorial Cup championship game to the host Vancouver Giants.
    As Bruton reached out to hand the Memorial Cup to Glass, the trophy separated at the neck and fell to the ice to the shock of the spectators in Kitchener, Ont.
    Following that moment the WHL went on its longest drought ever of not winning major junior hockey’s biggest prize spanning five seasons from 2009 to 2013. Clubs from the WHL first became eligible to play for the Memorial Cup in the 1970-1971 campaign.
    The drought was broken by the Edmonton Oil Kings in 2014. Edmonton was playing to honour the memory of former player Kristians Pelss, who was with Edmonton’s 2012 WHL championship team and passed away in 2013 due to a recreation diving accident.
    After the Oil Kings win, the WHL entry was unable to win the next three Memorial Cup tournaments. The WHL has won one of the last nine Memorial Cup tournament, so the host Regina Pats will try and make that record two for the last 10, when they face the QMJHL champion Acadie-Bathurst Titan in Sunday’s championship game (5 p.m., Brandt Centre).
    The video of the Chiefs mishap with the Memorial Cup can be found below.

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