Friday, 20 July 2018

WHL loses one of its “good guys” as Blades’ Fantillo retires

Caleb Fantillo announced he is leaving major junior hockey.
    For all those that play in the WHL, they will face the fact that their days of hitting the ice will come to an end, but when the departure is a “good guy” like Saskatoon Blades right-winger Caleb Fantillo, a bit of sadness lingers for a while.
    On Wednesday, Fantillo announced via Twitter he was retiring from junior hockey. The 20-year-old Coquitlam, B.C., product was eligible to return for an overage campaign.
    During a WHL career that was split between the Medicine Hat Tigers and the Blades, Fantillo, who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 183 pounds, established a reputation of being a high energy forward. Blades fans saw that trait quickly, when Fantillo arrived in Saskatoon via a trade on Oct. 13, 2016.
    He wasn’t afraid to go anywhere on the ice, and he was feisty in battling for the puck. For opponents, Fantillo became one of those pest types because he worked hard in a feisty way.
Blades LW Caleb Fantillo, right, takes a shot from Tigers G Michael Bullion.
    Even if you delivered a physical shot or said something to Fantillo, he wouldn’t go away. 
    He always gave the best he could on any given night.
    Thanks to those efforts, Fantillo was named the Blades fan choice award winner for the 2016-17 campaign. Last season, Fantillo shared the Blades community minded award with captain Evan Fiala.
    Unfortunately, injures piled up for Fantillo over the past two seasons due to the high intensity style he played. Between his time with the Tigers and Blades in 2016-17, Fantillo appeared in 55 regular season games collecting five goals and six assists.
    He was limited to 38 regular season games this past campaign due to injuries, where he managed to put up seven goals and three assists. His goal total was a career high for one season.
Blades LW Caleb Fantillo (#39) battles for the puck in the offensive zone.
    As a 17-year-old rookie with the Tigers in 2015-16, Fantillo dressed for 63 regular season games posting six goals and six assists. He netted a goal in a standings tiebreaker game, which the Tigers dropped by a 6-4 margin to the Edmonton Oil Kings.
    Thanks to being in and out of the lineup because of the injury bug, Fantillo never really had the chance to reach his full potential on the offensive side of the game.
    During his final campaign in the midget AAA ranks with the Vancouver North East Chiefs in 2014-15, Fantillo piled up 35 goals, 26 assists and 114 penalty minutes in 38 regular season games.
Caleb Fantillo makes a cut with the puck in the offensive zone.
    He was called up to play two WHL regular season games with the Tigers that season and recorded his first assist in the major junior ranks.
    Fantillo was always an upbeat personality and a fan favourite during his time in the WHL. He was a great representative for the Blades at community events, and he was key in keeping the mood in the dressing room light and fun.
    When he returned from injury, it was easy to pull for him to do well. You hoped he would hit a gusher in offensive statistics, because he is a good guy.
    At the WHL level, it seemed like great offensive seasons just weren’t destined to happen for Fantillo due to things out of his control.
Caleb Fantillo celebrates scoring a goal for the Blades.
    It isn’t the first time something like that happened to a hockey player, and it won’t be the last time either.
    Going forward, the Blades are slated to head into training camp with four returning players set to battle for three overage spots in forwards Max Gerlach, Brad Goethals and Gage Ramsay along with defenceman Dawson Davidson.
    Fantillo will focus on his future moving away from playing in the major junior ranks. The Blades stated in a release on Thursday that Fantillo plans to get a jump start on a career in the health and fitness industry.
    Over the past two seasons, Fantillo experienced a lot of bad luck on the ice. He is due and deserves to encounter some good luck in his post-playing WHL days.

Blades make a couple of July deals

Tyler Lees has been traded to the Royals.
    The Saskatoon Blades haven’t been totally in summer holiday mode tinkering with their roster making a couple of trades in July.
    On Thursday, the Blades dealt 18-year-old winger Tyler Lees to the Victoria Royals for a conditional seventh round pick in the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft. Last season, Lees, who is from Regina, Sask., appeared in 32 regular season games in his rookie WHL campaign collecting two goals and one assist.
    It was likely the Blades made this deal, because they felt Lees wouldn’t have a big role in the team’s forward group going into the future. The deal allows Lees to get a look from another WHL club.
    On July 12, the Blades acquired rugged 19-year-old left-winger Riley McKay from the Spokane Chiefs in exchange for a fourth round selection in the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft and a seventh round selection in the 2020 WHL Bantam Draft.
    McKay, who stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 215 pounds, appeared in 62 games last season collecting four goals, nine assists and a league leading 152 minutes in penalties. During his rookie campaign with the Chiefs in 2016-17, McKay appeared in 51 regular season games collecting three goals, six assists and 123 minutes in penalties.
    McKay’s addition gives the Blades a much needed boost in the toughness department. Saskatoon lost a big part of its physical edge with the graduation of captain Evan Fiala.
    There are still a lot of teams in the WHL that play a physical and heavy game. McKay’s presence will help create more open ice for the Blades high-end forwards in Kirby Dach, Eric Florchuk, Max Gerlach and Josh Paterson.
    While Dach made waves as a 16-year-old rookie last season, he was on the receiving end of a lot of physical abuse from opponents often behind the play. A lot of the extra attention Dach received was geared to get him off his game.
    Besides playing tough, McKay did put up points coming up through the minor hockey ranks in his younger years, so the Swan River, Man., product does have the potential to possibly score a little more in the WHL than he has in the past.
    Also on the Blades front, the team announced on Monday prospect forward Colton Dach, who is Kirby’s younger brother, and defenceman Charlie Wright were among 35 players named to Hockey Alberta’s shortlist roster for the 2019 Canada Winter Games, which run Feb. 15 to March 3, 2019 in Red Deer, Alta.
    The Blades selected Colton Dach in the first round and sixth overall in the WHL Bantam Draft held in May. Saskatoon picked Wright in that same Bantam Draft in the fourth round and 70th overall.
    On Monday, the Blades and Saskatoon Media Group announced a four-year contract extension that will see the Saskatoon Media Group remain the official Blades radio broadcast rights holder. The radio broadcasts will transition from 92.9 The BULL FM to 98 COOL FM.
    Les Lazaruk will enter his 25th season as the Blades play-by-play voice. When the Blades travel to Swift Current to open the 2018-19 regular season against the Broncos, Lazaruk will call his 1,800th game that night.
    In another development, Maclean Nelson recently rejoined the Blades office staff as an account executive. Nelson was with the Blades from 2011 to 2016 and held the role of manager of communication and community relations at the end of that stint. He was a pretty upbeat guy to have around the rink.
    Time will tell if Nelson will reprise his role of in-game host, where he went by the alias of “Ricky McGinty.”

Express cover story with Kalika

    I was back in the pages of the Saskatoon Express this week with a cover story on Shantel Kalika, who is set to become the first female driver from Saskatchewan to race in the NASCAR Pinty’s Series.
    The 28-year-old Prince Albert, Sask., product is in her eight season of racing and calls Saskatoon’s Wyant Group Raceway her home track. She is set to make her NASCAR debut, when the Pinty’s Series makes its annual stop in “The Bridge City.”
    The two-day race event is set for this coming Tuesday and Wednesday. The action on Tuesday, which starts at 7 p.m., features 75-lap main event races for the local pro truck class and the sportsman class and heat races for the super late model class.
    Wednesday’s action, which starts at 6 p.m., includes two 125-lap NASCAR races as well as a feature race from the local super late model class, which is expected to run 75 laps. The annual Pinty’s Series stop is the Super Bowl event on the yearly calendar for the Wyant Group Raceway.
    The Pinty’s Series is a minor league circuit that prepares drivers to compete one day at NASCAR’s top level – the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
    Kalika has experienced her share of success at the Wyant Group Raceway. She raced in the local pro truck class during her first seven seasons and won the class points championship in 2016.
    Besides winning the points title, Kalika was named the fan favourite driver in 2014 and 2015.
    Kalika’s presence in the NASCAR races is sure to give an added buzz from a local interest standpoint.
    The cover story on Kalika can be found by clicking right here.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to
    If you like what you see here, you might want to donate to the cause to keep independent media like this blog going. Should you choose to help out, feel free to click on the DONATE button in the upper right corner. Thank you for stopping in.