Monday, 31 December 2018

Ridley set to call 3,900th game for Tigers

Bob Ridley has called 3,899 games for the Tigers.
    Bob Ridley is “the Dean” of major junior hockey broadcasters, and the iconic play-by-play voice of the Medicine Hat Tigers is on the verge of another longevity milestone.
    On Wednesday when the Tigers host the Vancouver Giants at 7 p.m. local time at the Canalta Centre, Ridley will call his 3,900th game as the play-by-play voice of the Tigers. The 74-year-old is the only play-by-play voice in the history of the WHL’s Tigers, who are playing through their 49th season of existence.
    No one is close to his mark for games called as the play-by-play voice of one hockey team at any level.
    To date, Ridley has called 3,473 of the Tigers 3,474 regular season games. His total also includes the one standings tiebreaker game the club appeared in, all of the Tigers 405 games in the WHL playoffs and all 20 of their contests in the Memorial Cup tournament.
    The Tigers have appeared in the Memorial Cup in 1973, 1987, 1988, 2004 and 2007 and won the event in 1987 and 1988.
    As it stands already, someone could call 80 games on average between the regular season and playoffs each season for 48 seasons and still fall short of Ridley’s current total of 3,899 games called.
Bob Ridley, right, calls a game at the 2007 Memorial Cup.
    For most of his broadcasting career, Ridley drove the team bus as well. He gave up those duties about four years back.
    Of course, a number of WHL followers are watching to see if Ridley will reach 4,000 games called as the Tigers play-by-play voice. If the Tigers make the WHL playoffs this season, Ridley would be targeted to reach that milestone sometime near the end of the 2019-20 campaign, which would be the Tigers 50th anniversary season.
    At present, 3,900 is an impressive number to hit and is a moment to be observed and celebrated.
    The Tigers have won their last three straight games to improve to 20-15-1-2. In their last outing on Sunday which was Ridley’s 3,899th game, the Tigers rallied from a 4-2 third period deficit to down the Hurricanes in Lethbridge 5-4 after a tiebreaking shootout before 4,186 spectators at the Enmax Centre.
Ryan Jevne scored in regulation and the tiebreaking shootout for the Tigers.
    In regulation, Joel Craven scored twice for the Tigers, while Ryan Jevne and Elijah Brown has singles. Brown scored the equalizer that forced overtime with 2:02 remaining in the third period.
    Justin Hall, Nick Henry, Dylan Cozens and Jake Leschyshyn replied with singles for the Hurricanes.
    The Tigers claimed the tiebreaking shootout 2-1 after four rounds. Josh Williams and Jevne scored for the Tigers, while captain Jordy Bellerive replied for the Hurricanes.
    Jordan Hollett turned away 36 shots through 65 minutes of play and three shooters in the shootout to earn the win in goal for the Tigers. Reece Klassen stopped 31 shots over 65 minutes and two shooters in the shootout for Lethbridge as the Hurricanes record moved to 19-10-4-3.

Raiders undefeated home record comes to an end

Noah Gregor scored for the Raiders on Sunday.
    The Prince Albert Raiders saw their undefeated record at home come to an end at the hands of a hot goalie.
    On Sunday before a standing room crowd of 2,633 spectators at the 2,580 seat Art Hauser Centre, the Raiders fell 2-1 to the Regina Pats despite holding a 44-13 edge in shots on goal. The Raiders threw everything including the kitchen sink at Pats netminder Dean McNabb, but the Davidson, Sask., product made 43 saves to steal the win for the visitors.
    The Raiders, who had won five straight overall, were 17-0 at home heading into that contest, and their home record fell to 17-1 with the setback. Prince Albert still leads the entire WHL with a 33-3-0-1 record.
    Logan Nijhoff and overage defenceman Liam Schioler pushed the Pats out to a 2-0 lead at the 8:01 mark of the first period.
    Raiders overage star centre Noah Gregor netted his 24th goal of the season at the 12:37 mark of the first period to cut the Pats lead to 2-1. Prince Albert couldn’t net the equalizer after that.
    Donovan Buskey made 11 saves to take the setback in goal for the Raiders.
    The Raiders were 0-for-7 on the power play, while the Pats failed to score on two power-play chances.
    The Pats, who are going through a major rebuild after hosting last season’s Memorial Cup and earning a berth in the 2017 WHL Championship series, have won three straight to improve to 12-24-0-1.
    On Monday, Gregor was named the WHL player of the week for the week ending Dec. 30. In three games, he had five goals, two assists and a plus-seven rating in the plus-minus department. He has points in his last six straight games recording 10 goals and 4 assists over that stretch.
    McNabb took WHL goaltender of the week honours for his effort against the Raiders, which was his lone appearance over the past week.
    The Raiders and Pats go at it again on Tuesday at 4 p.m. at the Brandt Centre in Regina.

Dach breaks slump in Blades romp

Kirby Dach broke out of a scoring slump for the Blades.
    Saskatoon Blades star centre Kirby Dach put the boots to a scoring slump.
    On Sunday, Dach had a goal and two assists as the Blades thumped the Broncos 9-3 before 2,400 spectators at the Innovation Credit Union i-Plex in Swift Current. With that outburst, Dach ended a string of where he went seven straight games without scoring a point.
    Before Sunday’s win over the Broncos, Dach’s last point came on Dec.7, when he recorded an assist in a 3-2 home ice loss at the SaskTel Centre to the visiting Moose Jaw Warriors.
    Dach leads the Blades in scoring piling up 15 goals and 30 assists appearing in all of the club’s 38 regular season games to date. During his seven-game stretch of not recording a point, Dach was still playing with a lot of energy and with more of a physical edge to counter the extra attention he receives from opponents. He wasn’t rewarded for his efforts on the scoresheet.
    In 109 career regular season games, Dach has 28 goals and 73 assists for 101 points for the Blades.
    Defenceman Nolan Kneen netted and a goal and three assists, while captain Chase Wouters had a goal and two assists for the Blades. Kristian Roykas-Marthinsen, Max Gerlach, Majid Kaddoura, Riley McKay, Zach Huber and Josh Paterson all recorded singles for the Blades.
    Kaddoura’s goal was the first of his WHL career. The Chestermere, Alta., product is a 17-year-old rookie defenceman.
    Billy Sowa, Matthew Culling and Joona Kiviniemi replied with singles for the Broncos. Sowa’s tally was the first goal of his WHL career. The Calgary, Alta., product is a 16-year-old rookie defenceman.
    Nolan Maier made 12 saves to pick up the win in goal for the Blades (22-11-5). Isaac Poulter turned away 38 shots to take the setback in goal for the majorly rebuilding Broncos (7-26-2-1).
    The two teams go at it again on Tuesday at 2 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.
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Sunday, 30 December 2018

Top 10 cool things I saw in 2018

The Broncos celebrate winning the WHL title in May.
    If I ever needed a reminder how special the sports scene in Saskatchewan can be, 2018 provided that reminder in spades.
    It was such a sweet year in 2018 on the sports front in Saskatchewan I almost knocked the annual CFL Labour Day Classic game in Regina out of my list of top 10 memories.
    I wanted to fit the run of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team on to this list. They won the Hardy Cup as Canada West champions for the first time since 2006 and played in a U Sports semifinal bowl game ultimately falling to the University of Western Ontario Mustangs in London, Ont.
    Before that post-season run, the Huskies had lost eight straight playoff games. I have a number of friends on the Huskies coaching staff, so that was sweet to see. They gain honourable mention status.
Kyle Siemens fires a pass downfield for the Huskies.
    Also not making the cut was venturing to Regina for the U Sports women’s national basketball championship tournament for the title game. I had a great time hanging out with old friends and alums from the University of Regina Cougars women’s basketball team.
    It was a thrill to cover the 4 Nations Cup women’s hockey tournament in Saskatoon in November, but I wasn’t able to fit that experience on the list. Seeing the senior national women’s hockey teams from Canada and the United States go against each other twice in person was amazing.
    Those squads have one of the greatest rivalries in sports, and seeing it live in person made you appreciate those clashes that much more.
    Of course, the U.S. skated to a 5-2 victory over Canada in the title game.
    It was emotional for me to see Kaitlin Willoughby’s playing career come to an end with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team come to an end. All players graduate or depart from their university teams, but reader response to anything I wrote about the Huskies star captain was always great in numbers.
Kaitlin Willoughby celebrates scoring a goal for the Huskies.
    I enjoyed writing about her exploits with that team, and it felt empty for me there would be no more stories to tell on that front. I wasn’t able to get that on the list.
    My top 10 memories list does have three entries involving teams named the Broncos. For the WHL’s Broncos in Swift Current, there was triumph, and unfortunately for the SJHL’s Broncos in Humboldt there was unfathomable tragedy.
    The love that followed from the Humboldt Broncos tragedy in support for the team was heartwarming in an upbeat way that can’t be put into words.
    During my travels, this blog has surpassed over 471,000 all-time page views. I thank you all for stopping in. Your support helps drive me to keep going.
    I always keep an open mind as to what will appear in this blog in the future and how it will look.
Personal life might take me away from it in the upcoming year. I sense support from my immediate family has waned a bit in recent months.
U.S. F Dani Cameranesi is stopped by Canada G Shannon Szabados.
    Support is still there from my well-known young cousins Nelson and Danielle Nogier.
    With that said, I seem to encounter groans from immediate family, when I decide to head out to cover a sports event as opposed to doing something else. The time commitment in going to events has been large.
    In the new year, I do want to follow through covering the seasons of the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades and Prince Albert Raiders to the end. They both seem to be in the mists of special campaigns in 2018-19, and I would like to see and enjoy every part of those runs to their conclusions.
    Now without further ado, here are the memories.

10. Labour Day Classic was a blast again

Kyran Moore returns a punt for a touchdown for the Roughriders.
    I made it to my 18th Labour Day Classic, and once again that weekend and game was a blast.
    As ultra-talented receiver Duron Carter was no longer a member of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, I didn’t have any photos or Twitter posts go viral at this year’s game.
    I guess I wouldn’t have minded the attention if one did.
    Every time I head to the Labour Day Classic in Regina for the annual clash between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Roughriders, I am always filled with anticipation.
    I always look forward to hanging out with the crew of Bombers fans who regularly head to Regina to watch this contest.
    One of the regular highlights is hanging out with the Bombers fans at “Wayne’s World” as part of the pre-game festivities.
    While I cheer for the Roughriders, I never pass up a chance to see Bombers fans on this weekend and do a toast to the late iconic Bombers head coach and general manager Cal Murphy.
Roughriders and Bombers fans enjoy the pre-game on Labour Day.
    The game was a fun one for Roughriders fans as the host side pulled out a 31-23 victory on September 2, 2018 before a sellout crowd of 33,350 Mosaic Stadium.
    The Bombers held a 20-17 lead going into the fourth quarter.
    Early in the fourth quarter, Roughriders quarterback Zach Collaros hit running back Marcus Thigpen with a 25-yard touchdown pass to put the host side up 24-20.
    The Roughriders surged to victory from there.
    Running back Andrew Harris ran the ball 15 times for 158 yards in a stellar effort for the Bombers.
    Saskatchewan is 16-2 in the Labour Day Classic games I have attended in person.
    The most memorable play was an electrifying 65-yard punt return touchdown by Roughriders receiver Kyran Moore in the second quarter.
The Reaves family and friends pose for a picture.
    Following the game, I had sweet visit with retired Bombers all-time great running back Willard Reaves, whose son Jordan is a special teams ace and defensive lineman with the Roughriders.
    I showed Willard the piece I wrote about him for my blog from an interview I did with him.
    Willard loved it and genuinely seemed to appreciate the fact I remembered how great his run in the CFL was.
    I had a great visit with old University of Regina Rams bud Brendon LaBatte, who is a star offensive lineman with the Roughriders. 
    We shared old memories and talked about all sorts of facets of life.
    Of course, I enjoyed getting out to Gabbo’s Nightclub on both the Saturday night before the game and Sunday night after the game.
    As life moves on, it is great to see the enjoyment of being at the Labour Day Classic remains the same.

9. Parker equals Clark’s Stars record for points in a season

Mackenna Parker, left, celebrates a milestone with Jordyn Holmes.
    When I think of Mackenna Parker, this one regular season game inevitably comes to mind.
    On February 18, 2018, Parker equaled the Stars record for most points scored in one regular season at 60 in a 4-1 victory over the Swift Current Diamond Energy Wildcats. The record was set by Emily Clark, who is currently a member of Canada’s Senior National Women’s Hockey team, in the 2011-12 Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League campaign, and she recorded her 60 points in 26 games on 26 goals and 34 assists.
    Parker idolizes Clark, so she really wanted to get this record. Parker, who was the Stars captain that season, is always a team first player, but it was cool to see how much this record meant to her.
    When the Stars and Wildcats met at the Agriplace Arena to close the 2017-18 SFMAAAHL regular season on Feb. 18, Parker needed one point to equal Clark’s record.
    One night earlier, Parker had two goals in a 5-2 victory over the Wildcats at the Agriplace Arena, and both her tallies came in the opening 40 minutes.
    She had a number of chances to equal Clark’s record that night in the third period, but came up empty.
Mackenna Parker tied the Stars record for points in one regular season.
    In the Feb. 18 clash, the Wildcats went ahead 1-0 in the first period on a goal from superstar winger Taylor Lind.
    The Stars took control of the game building a 3-1 lead with 6:46 remaining in the third period. Parker didn’t have any points on those three Stars goals.
    Over the course of that game, Parker had numerous chances to score a goal or set up a goal to equal Clark’s record, but all those chances went for naught. It appeared Parker would be snakebitten in her attempt to equal the record.
    Late in the second period, she had times where she didn’t act like herself and drifted away from the play. You could tell she was getting discouraged.
    For most of the last three minutes of the third, the Stars coaching staff left Parker on the ice in search of that elusive 60th point. The Wildcats pulled their goalie inside of the final two minutes for an extra attacker looking to tie the game and force overtime.
    At that point, Stars defender Ashley Messier and veteran forward Kianna Dietz sprung Parker on a break down the right wing. The skilled centre fired a goal into an empty net with 60 seconds to play to equal Clark’s record.
Mackenna Parker celebrates equaling a Stars record with her teammates.
    Parker was mobbed by her teammates in a unique joyous celebration.
    Parker piled up 33 goals and 27 assists for her 60 points in 23 regular season games. In the process, she claimed the SFMAAAHL scoring title.
    Following the game, Parker was a ball of happy emotional mush. She equaled a record held by her hero, who was representing Canada at the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, at that moment.
    “I’ve looked up to her (Clark) for a long time,” said Parker, who was shedding tears of joy. “Someday, I want to be in the Olympics like her, but I just have to keep working I guess.”
    Parker’s pure joyful emotion in her record tying moment was priceless.

8. Huskies final playoff day at Rutherford

Chloe Smith, centre, celebrates her playoff series winning goal.
    It was a Saturday that will forever be remembered for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies hockey teams.
    On February 24, the Huskies women’s and men’s hockey team played their respective final meaningful playoff games at the ancient Rutherford Rink earning playoff wins and berths in their respective national championship tournaments.
    The Huskies women’s team was the first to hit the ice at the Ruthy for an afternoon game that day against their heated rivals the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds. U of S was looking to sweep the best-of-three Canada West semifinal series.
    In an intense rivalry clash, the Thunderbirds took a 1-0 lead in the first period.
    The Huskies fought back in the second period. At the 11:20 mark of the frame, star captain Kaitlin Willoughby one-timed home a power-play goal for the Huskies to force a 1-1 tie.
Kaitlin Willoughby had the equalizer for the Huskies.
    Just over three minutes later, rookie centre Chloe Smith drove into the offensive zone and blew home the game and series winning goal to give the Huskies a 2-1 victory in the game and a 2-0 sweep in the series.
    In an extremely physical game that included a number of hits, the game ended with a huge scrum in front of the Huskies net, where Willoughby was exchanging words with Thunderbirds centre Mathea Fischer.
    The win allowed the Huskies to earn a berth in the Canada West final and the U Sports women’s hockey championship tournament hosted by the University of Western Ontario Mustangs in London, Ont., in March.
    The Huskies were ultimately swept in the best-of-three Canada West final 2-0 by the University of Manitoba Bisons in Winnipeg, Man., and placed fourth at nationals.
Carson Stadnyk celebrates his series winning goal for the Huskies.
    In the men’s game that followed, the Huskies playing a series deciding Game 3 in their best-of-three Canada West semifinal series against the University of Calgary Dinos.
    Alex Forsberg scored early in the first period to give the Huskies a 1-0 lead. The hosts weren’t able to expand on their edge.
    Dinos centre Logan Fisher potted the equalizer for force a 1-1 tie at the 6:38 mark of the third period. That set the stage for dramatics in the final minute.
    Inside of the final 30 seconds of the third, Huskies offensive defenceman Jesse Forsberg flipped a smart pass into the offensive zone to spring sophomore left-winger Carson Stadnyk on a breakaway.
    Stadnyk broke towards the U of C goal and flipped a shot past Dinos rookie goalie Jordan Papirny with exactly 24 seconds remaining in the frame to give the Huskies a 2-1 lead. Third-year right-winger Levi Cable added an empty-net goal with three seconds to play to round out a 3-1 victory for the Huskies.
    The win allowed the Huskies to take the best-of-three series 2-1.
The Huskies celebrate their final playoff series win at the Rutherford Rink.
    When Stadnyk scored, the time remaining in the third period matched the #24 worn by the late Cody Smuk, who was the Huskies hard-working, glue guy and heart and soul forward who passed away from cancer in June of 2015.
    Smuk would have definitely smiled seeing the Huskies enjoying a final great playoff memory at Rutherford.
    The win allowed the Huskies to earn a berth in the Canada West final and the U Sports men’s hockey championship tournament hosted by the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds in Fredericton, N.B., in March.
    The Huskies were ultimately swept by the University of Alberta Golden Bears in the Canada West final and finished fourth at nationals.
    While the Huskies hockey teams didn’t win any banners through the rest of the 2018 post-season, they ensured they left their former long time home rink on a high note before moving to the brand new Merlis Belsher Place in October.

7. Renewing friendships at Memorial Cup in Regina

The Acadie-Bathurst Titan celebrate winning the Memorial Cup.
    The 2018 Memorial Cup tournament in Regina was off the chart for great hockey and excitement on the ice, but the highlight for me came off the ice.
    My biggest highlight occurred before action hit the ice on the fourth day of play at the event, which fell on a Monday. In an open area at ice level on the west side of the building leading to the media area, I had a long visit with veteran junior hockey broadcaster Peter Loubardias, Swift Current Broncos athletic trainer Jamie LeBlanc, Regina Pats athletic therapist Greg Mayer and Prince Albert Raiders trainer Duane Bartley.
    At that point in time, I was nearing the end of my 19th season covering the major junior ranks. All four of those men were some of the coolest persons I have met on the circuit. They were always super classy, really great people and have great senses of humour too.
    It has been special to befriend them over the years.
    We talked about all sorts of subjects and share a few humourous stories during an extended visit.
    The greatest part of covering the Memorial Cup wasn’t the action that happened during the games, at least for me.
Pats captain Sam Steel accepts honours as the Memorial Cup tourney MVP.
    My biggest thrill was renewing old friendships I had made over the years covering the sports.
    I saw all sorts of old friends from the game either in the form of former players, current coaches, current team management, current and former team staffers, fans and media colleagues. I got to see a few friends from other sports as well.
    On the media side, it was great to see a large number of people still attended and covered the event considering all the media cuts that occurred in Canada. For many people, you could see they were in Regina to cover the Memorial Cup as part of a working vacation.
    They were working vacation days to cover major junior hockey’s championship tournament, because they still placed value on being at this event.
    Between being a media member and ticket buyer, I was at my fourth Memorial Cup. A few people I hadn’t seen since I covered the 2007 Memorial Cup in Vancouver as the beat writer that followed the Medicine Hat Tigers for the Medicine Hat News.
The crowd at the Brandt Centre salutes Sam Steel.
    Many media members remember me from the 10 seasons I spent in Medicine Hat and often asked how legendary Tigers play-by-play voice Bob Ridley was doing. That was pretty cool.
    Looking back at my blog posts, I thought I did some good work too. I was bouncing back and forth from covering the Memorial Cup in Regina to covering the training camp of the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders and Game 1 of the National Lacrosse League championship series involving the Saskatchewan Rush.
    While I piled up the kilometres, my posts on the Memorial Cup always brought me back to what was going on at that point in time of the tournament.
    The host Pats made it to the final and ultimately fell 3-0 to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champion Acadie-Bathurst Titan. That marked the second time I was on the ice doing interviews after the Memorial Cup tournament’s championship game.
The Acadie-Bathurst Titan pose for a team picture with the Memorial Cup.
    One of the more heart-wrenching moments came when Pats captain Sam Steel was named the winner of the Stafford Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the Memorial Cup tournament. Steel, who just played his last major junior game, was fighting back tears accepting the trophy after his team’s loss.
    I almost teared up at that point in time too. Steel was one of my favourite players to deal with who came up through the WHL ranks, and it was tough to see him in that spot.
    At one point in time, covering the Memorial Cup tournament was the be all and end all of my life. Personally, I no longer elevate covering the Memorial Cup to a lofty spot in my life, but covering the Memorial Cup in Regina is still a life highlight.
    This time around it was the interactions with old friends and new ones I just met that made the Memorial Cup in Regina memorable and special to me.

6. Rush return to top of NLL

Rush captain Chris Corbeil raises the NLL Cup.
    The Saskatchewan Rush turned out to be an unexpected upbeat memory for me.
    Since the Rush moved to Saskatoon from Edmonton before the start of the 2016 season, I have spent small amounts of time around their games. Anytime I go to their games, it is a fun time.
    In 2018, the Saskatoon Express and The Canadian Press both were looking for stories on the Rush, so I included them more prominently on Stanks’ Sermon as well. I pretty much dropped in on them mid-season, and it felt like I arrived on that scene via a trade.
    I proceeded to spend sizable amounts of time around that team, and I found I really enjoyed it. I did a feature on Rush head coach and general manager Derek Keenan, and I was really impressed with him.
    You could quickly tell he was a player’s coach, and he shared many philosophies many of the elite coaches I have dealt with in my sports reporting career carry.
    The Rush players are down to earth people. I enjoyed dealing with captain Chris Corbeil, Jeremy Thompson, Mark Matthews, Evan Kirk, Robert Church, Jeff Cornwall and Jeff Shattler.
Rush forward Matthew Dinsdale is set to score on a circus shot.
    The Original 16 Crush Dance Team, mascot Bruiser the Bulldog and Rush Hulk were a pleasure to deal with too.
    I began to look forward to Rush game day.
    Of course, the highlight was seeing the Rush win their fourth NLL title in the last three years. They were looking to recapture the league title after being swept in the best-of-three NLL championship series in 2017 by the Georgia Swarm 2-0.
    The Rush faced the Rochester Knighthawks in the 2018 best-of-three NLL title series, and the Knighthawks, who are one the circuit’s storied franchises, entered the series on an upswing. After starting 2-6, the Knighthawks finished the regular season with a 10-8 record, while the Rush topped the NLL standings at 14-4.
Grandma Rush enjoys the Rush’s title win.
    Saskatchewan captured Game 1 of the series 16-9, while Rochester claimed a 13-8 victory in Game 2.
    On June 9 before 13,645 spectators at the SaskTel Centre, the Rush and Knighthawks engaged in a compelling series deciding Game 3.
    Rochester went ahead 8-7 at the 9:42 mark of the third quarter. Saskatchewan pushed back to go ahead 11-8.
    The Knighthawks cut the lead to 11-10 with 12 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
    The Rush scored the final four goals to post a 15-10 victory and claim the brand new National Lacrosse League Cup, which replaced the Champion’s Cup as the NLL’s title trophy.
The Rush pose for a team picture with the NLL Cup.
    It was so fun to see the joy in the eyes of the Rush players and everyone involved with the team after that victory.
    After finishing my game story for The Canadian Press, I departed with a large contingent to the victory party after the game.
    Everyone at the victory party made the victory rally at the Delta Bessborough at 11 a.m. the next morning likely on an estimated average of three hours of sleep for each person.
    It is always fun when good things happen to good people, and I got a lot of joy covering and seeing the Rush reclaim the league title.
    I was happy to be able to jump on board for the ride.

5. Miracle at the i-Plex

Tyler Steenbergen, left, celebrates scoring the equalizer for the Broncos.
    It was one of those rare nights you realized you just covered what was one of the WHL’s all-time classic playoff encounters.
    On Saturday, May 5, 2018, the host Swift Current Broncos entered Game 2 of the WHL championship series on home ice at the Innovation Credit Union i-Plex needing a win to even the best-of-seven series against the Everett Silvertips. One night earlier, the Silvertips claimed a 2-1 victory in the series opener in Swift Current, and they were looking to take a 2-0 lead in the series as it shifted for Games 3, 4 and 5 in Everett, Wash.
    The Broncos advanced to this point in the playoffs winning their first two playoff series in the maximum seven games and eliminating the Lethbridge Hurricanes in six games in the WHL Eastern Conference Championship series.
Colby Sissons scored for the Broncos in their miracle comeback.
    One had to start to wonder if the Broncos were running out of steam. They would show in Game 2 of the WHL title series that good emotion can speed a hockey club up.
    The Silvertips built a commanding 3-0 lead in the first period of Game 2 with goals coming off the sticks of Matt Fonteyne, Martin Fasko-Rudas and Riley Sutter. Everett had a 17-10 edge in shots on goal.
    With the Silvertips being one of the WHL’s most sound defensive teams and having all-world netminder Carter Hart, who backstopped Canada to gold at that season’s world junior tournament, playing goal, things looked very bleak for the Broncos.
    Matteo Gennaro put the Broncos on the board at the 8:17 mark of the second period, but the Silvertips were still carrying momentum. They peppered Broncos star netminder Stuart Skinner with shot after shot looking for the final knockout blow.
The Credit Union i-Plex crowd cheers on the Broncos.
    Before the Broncos took the ice for the third period, the sellout crowd of 2,890 spectators gave the host side a rousing and warm standing ovation. It seemed to come out of nowhere, and it gave you chills.
    The Broncos seemed to come more and more to life.
    Early in the third, Skinner made a heroic sprawling paddle stop on Silvertips left-winger Connor Dewar. At the 6:22 mark of the frame, Broncos offensive defenceman Colby Sissons fired home a shot from the point to cut Everett’s lead to 3-2.
The Broncos celebrate Giorgio Estephan’s overtime winner.
    With 1:37 to play in the third and Skinner pulled for an extra attacker, star right-winger Tyler Steenbergen netted the equalizer, and the roof almost came off the i-Plex with the noise in the building.
    At the 9:27 mark of overtime, the Broncos completed the comeback. During a frantic spat of action in the Everett end, Hart tried to clear the puck, and he put it on the stick of Broncos forward Giorgio Estephan. Before Hart could react to what he did, Estephan fired home the winning goal to deliver the Broncos to a 4-3 victory.
    The scene at the i-Plex was that of a joyous and raucous madhouse.
    Using the momentum of that win, the Broncos took Games 3 and 4 and ultimately the series in six games.
    When you left the i-Plex after Game 2 of that championship set, you knew you saw something special in that Broncos comeback victory.

4. The Saskatoon Stars run to the national final

Stars captain Mackenna Parker raises the Fedoruk Cup.
    The Saskatoon Stars have always been an enjoyable group to deal with, and it felt like their dream would be realized that they would win the Esso Cup as Canada’s national female midget AAA hockey champions.
    The 2017-18 campaign marked the fourth season that I covered the Stars. They had a great bunch of veteran players who I basically watched grow up and a strong crop of youngsters.
    Captain Mackenna Parker tore up the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League leading the circuit in scoring with a 33 goals and 27 assists for 60 points in 23 regular season games. Parker’s point total for the regular season equaled the team record set by Emily Clark in the 2011-12 campaign, when she netted 26 goals and 34 assists in 26 contests. Clark is now a member of Canada’s senior national women’s team.
    Forwards Anna Leschyshyn, Grace Shirley and Joelle Fiala all had impressive regular seasons. Leschyshyn had 24 goals and 29 assist for 53 points, Shirley recorded 30 goals and 18 assists for 48 points, and Fiala netted 18 goals and 22 assists for 40 points.
Mackenna Parker was a superstar for the Stars.
    Parker and Shirley played for Canada at that season’s under-18 women’s world hockey championship tournament in Dmitrov, Russia, in January.
    Offensive defender Ashley Messier had a breakout campaign as a 15-year-old sophomore with three goals and 23 assists for 26 points.
    The Stars roster had six veterans in their 17-year-old and final seasons who contained a tonne of heart in Parker, Kianna Dietz, Jordyn Holmes, Jordyn Gerlitz, defender Dana Wood and netminder Jordan Ivanco.
    Saskatoon finished first in the SFMAAAHL with a 24-3-1 record. They swept the Regina Rebels 3-0 in a best-of-three SFMAAAHL semifinal series.
    In the best-of-five league championship series against their biggest rivals the Prince Albert Northern Bears, the Stars swept the series 3-0. The Stars captured the Fedoruk Cup taking Game 3 of the series 2-1 at the Agriplace Arena, which would be their final home game at that rink before moving to the brand new Merlis Belsher Place on the University of Saskatchewan campus.
    The Bears eliminated the Stars in the SFMAAAHL championship series in 2017, so the Stars wanted to reclaim the Fedoruk Cup from their rivals. The Stars SFMAAAHL title win in 2018 marked the third time in four years they won the league crown.
Ashley Messier grew into one top defenders in Canada.
    The Stars proceeded to sweep the Eastman Selects 2-0 in a best-of-three Western regional playdown series in Steinback, Man., to advance to the Esso Cup national female midget AAA championship tournament.
    At the Esso Cup in late April in Bridgewater, N.S., the Stars won all their preliminary round games and a semifinal contest to advance to the championship final for the first time in team history.
    The Stars entered the Esso Cup final against the defending champion in the Alberta based St. Albert Slash riding a 24 game winning streak and posting a 14-0 record in the post season.
    The Slash proceeded to block a tonne of shots and claim a 2-1 victory in the Esso Cup final winning the national title for a second straight year.
    Dietz scored the Stars lone goal 47 seconds into the third period to cut a 2-0 St. Albert lead to what would be a final 2-1 result.
The Stars pose for a team picture with the Fedoruk Cup.
    Parker was the leading scorer of the Esso Cup and was named the tournament’s MVP. Messier was named the top defender of the Esso Cup.
    The Stars completed the 2017-18 season with a spectacular 44-7-1 overall record.
    While they ultimately didn’t capture the national title, the memories and experiences that came from the accomplishments made along the way can never be taken away.
    It is fun to see a remarkable group of girls grow up to be a remarkable group of young women right before your eyes too. The Stars players can always be proud of who they are.

3. The night the Broncos won the WHL title

The Broncos celebrate winning the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
    I wasn’t even the beat writer that covered the Swift Current Broncos, and even now I still get chills thinking about the night they won the 2018 WHL title.
    I am now in my 20th season covering the WHL, and the Broncos winning the league title in 2018 will go down as one of the most memorable moments I saw on that circuit. Swift Current is a remarkable, charming and quaint small Saskatchewan city that exemplifies the motto, “where life makes sense.”
    The Broncos won the WHL title and the Memorial Cup as CHL champions in 1989 and the WHL title again in 1993.
    Unfortunately for Swift Current, it went through too many trials where life didn’t make sense causing the small Saskatchewan centre to overcome things it shouldn’t have to overcome.
    There was a bus crash on December 30, 1986 that killed four players in Trent Kresse, Scott Kruger, Chris Mantyka and Brent Ruff. The city and team had to heal and overcome the stigma and shame brought on by a disgraced and infamous coach from the late 1980s and early 1990s.
    Most recently, Swift Current dealt with the tag of being an outpost stop on the WHL circuit for large chunks of the last 15 years.
Netminder Stuart Skinner makes a save for the Broncos.
    For myself, it has been inspiring over the 20 seasons I have covered the league making various stops in and out of Swift Current seeing that centre heal and persevere. Swift Current really reclaimed the feeling that centre is the place “where life makes sense.”
    I think people in Swift Current came to accept the notion the Broncos may never win a WHL title again, but they would support the team as long as the players worked hard.
    All of a sudden, Swift Current got a special Broncos season it rightfully deserved.
    From 2016 to 2018, the Broncos were led by classy head coach and director of player personnel Manny Viveiros, who is now an assistant coach with the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers.
    In 2016-17, the Broncos posted a 39-23-4-6 record and fell in the second round of the playoffs in a tough seven game series to the eventual WHL Eastern Conference champion Regina Pats. At that point, the Broncos showed they could be something special.
    They had a great core group of players people in Swift Current loved in captain Glenn Gawdin, right-winger Tyler Steenbergen, left-winger Aleksi Heponiemi, offensive defenceman Colby Sissons and import defenceman Artyom Minulin.
The Credit Union i-Plex faithful cheer a Broncos goal.
    They made a number of trades to go all in for the 2017-18 season, and that was something no one in Swift Current ever thought they would see.
    On May 13, 2018, the Broncos hosted Game 6 of the WHL Championship series against the Everett Silvertips holding a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series. Going into the Innovation Credit Union i-Plex that night, anticipation was high it would be a special and memorable night as the Broncos could capture the WHL title with a win.
    The sellout crowd of 2,890 was as loud as it had ever been. The Broncos built a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Giorgio Estephan and Sahvan Khaira.
    It really felt like those tallies would be enough for the Broncos to win the day.
    With the Broncos still up 2-0 going into the final three minutes of the third, the crowd at the i-Plex rose to their feet and cheered and saluted their Broncos. When Beck Malenstyn scored an empty-net goal with 6.4 seconds remaining in the third to cement a 3-0 Broncos victory, the spectators in attendance exploded into euphoria.
    Star netminder Stuart Skinner would make 31 saves to earn the shutout win.
The Broncos pour off their bench after winning the WHL championship.
    As the clock hit zero, the euphoric and joyous celebration that took place in the i-Plex with the Broncos players and staff and their fans was likely better than anyone in the building would have ever dreamed. The Broncos and their families all seemed to enjoy moments being pictures with the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
    Anyone that was present in that moment likely wishes they could carry that feeling of pure joy through the rest of their lives.
    With all the trails Swift Current and the Broncos faced, the city and the hockey team achieved an ultimate victory in that moment that seemed very much impossible to achieve. The community could embrace that moment together in their own rink.
    At that moment, Swift Current and the Broncos proved the impossible could be made possible and good people can ultimately prevail no matter the hardships life throws their way.

2. Hilltops win fifth straight CJFL title with 11-0 season

QB Jordan Walls had a sensational season for the Hilltops.
    At the start of the 2018 Canadian Junior Football League campaign, there was a feeling the Saskatoon Hilltops could add to their historic legacy, but no one could anticipate how extremely successful their season could be.
    After becoming the first team to win four straight CJFL titles in 2017, the Hilltops were looking to win a fifth straight CJFL crown and their eighth title in the last nine years. They had a solid cast of returning veterans led by fifth-year star quarterback Jordan Walls and fifth-year star linebacker Cody Peters.
    Peters, who attended the training camp of the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders along with Hilltops defensive back Colton Holmes, would be named the winner of the CJFL’s Larry Wruck Defensive Player of the Year award in 2018.
LB Cody Peters (#44) was the CJFL’s top defensive player.
    The Hilltops had a team that was ready to make a championship run.
    No one could have anticipated the bumps in the road in 2018 would be few and far between.
    The Hilltops put together a dominant 11-0 campaign to cap off their drive for five. They trailed on the scoreboard for just 81 seconds all season.
    On Sept. 22, 2018, the Regina Thunder held a 17-16 edge over their archrivals late in the first half in a clash at Saskatoon Minor Football Field.
    The Thunder’s lead lasted for a stretch of 81 seconds. They were forced to relinquish the lead, when they had to give up a safety due to bad field position to fall behind 18-17.
    Saskatoon hit high gear from that point surging to a 48-24 victory.
    In an 8-0 regular season, the Hilltops outscored their opponents 402-70.
    The Hilltops closest margin of victory came in the PFC final, when they downed the Edmonton Huskies 28-9.
DE Tristan Hering makes a big early Canadian Bowl sack for the Hilltops.
    On offence, the Hilltops version of “The Triplets” in Walls, running back Josh Ewanchyna and receiver Jason Price all had outstanding campaigns.
    Walls completed 122-of-197 passes for 2,010 yards, 18 touchdowns and four interceptions in the regular season. He was named the most outstanding offensive player and the most valuable player of the Prairie Football Conference.
    Ewanchyna appeared in seven regular season games carrying the ball 134 times for 1,007 yards and 14 touchdowns. He led the PFC in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns and was named the PFC’s offensive player of the week on four occasions. The third-year runner became to first Hilltops player to surpass 1,000 yards rushing in a regular season since Wayndel Lewis in 2014.
Josh Ewanchyna, left, jets to a touchdown in the Canadian Bowl.
    Price was by far the PFC’s most productive pass catcher. During the regular season, he hauled in 31 passes for 709 yards and scored four touchdowns. The fifth-year veteran collected the most receiving yards in the PFC.
    While all the statistical accomplishments were amazing, the biggest thing that helped the Hilltops win a fifth straight title was the fact they never got ahead of themselves. The focus was always on what was happening in the present.
    The team’s family feeling was present at all times as well.
    Going to practice and the team’s brand new clubhouse facility was always a joy. It never felt like the regular season was something the team needed to just get through, because those outside the club would judge success by what happened in the playoffs.
The Hilltops players get their fingers up for five straight CJFL title victories.
    On November 15, 2018, the Hilltops hosted the Langley Rams in the Canadian Bowl at SMF Field. Playing before 1,465 spectators, Hilltops defensive end Tristan Hering sacked Rams quarterback Duncan Little on the second play of the day. It seemed to be an omen of things to come.
    Still, the Rams put up a fight. They had a goal-line stand and defensive back Nathan Murray intercepted Walls to stall a couple of Hilltops offensive series.
    Saskatoon held a 2-0 lead thanks to the Rams conceding a safety to that point in time.
    Then, the floodgates opened. Ewanchyna ran in a major score from a yard out late in the first quarter to give the Hilltops a 9-0 lead. They would romp to a 58-21 victory to capture the Canadian Bowl and their 21st CJFL championship.
Me, left, enjoying the Canadian Bowl with Jordan Walls.
    To finish the contest, legendary Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant had all eight of the team’s fifth-year players take the field for the final knee down plays.
    The players were part of all five straight CJFL championship wins included Walls, Price, Peters, right tackle Kirk Simonsen, receiver Adam Ewanchyna, defensive end Connor Guillet, and linebackers Bobby Ehman and Adam Benkic.
    Josh Ewanchyna was named the top offensive player in the contest, and Hilltops defensive back Logan Bitz took honours as the top defensive player.
    The Hilltops proceeded to hold their first national championship victory celebration in their new clubhouse.
    The players, coaches, staff, parents and supporters enjoyed reflecting on how special 2018 was.
    Overall, the family feeling inside the Hilltops organization helps keep driving that club forward, and team keeps hitting new levels of competitive greatness.

1. The rally around the Humboldt Broncos

The Humboldt Broncos logo set for a vigil held on April 8.
    Unfortunately, it became one of those where were you when moments you wish never happened.
    In this case, it was where were you when you heard about the bus crash involving the Humboldt Broncos junior A hockey team.
    On April 6, 2018, I was at the Huskie Salute, which is the ceremony where the University of Saskatchewan Huskies athletics program hands out its seven major awards. It was held at TCU Place, and I arrived at that function with a fairly loose schedule.
    The Huskie Salute is the time all the University of Saskatchewan Huskies athletic teams celebrate their past seasons together. I was looking to socialize and put together a quick story from that event.
A display supporting the Humboldt Broncos in a Saskatchewan farm yard.
    It may sound strange, but I am not one of those persons who is addicted to constantly looking at their smart phones. A number of members from the Huskies men’s and women’s hockey teams were tracking their phones, and their moods became somber once they figured out the news about the Broncos.
    I didn’t realize what had happened until I was informed of the news by Steve Kook, who is the head coach of the Huskies women’s hockey team.
    After leaving TCU Place, I went to the Starbucks in downtown Saskatoon and checked my Internet browser on my smartphone for news. It was my way to confirm the Broncos bus crash was indeed real. Unrealistically, I was hoping the story was a hoax.
A fan in Swift Current puts up a sign to support the Humboldt Broncos.
    In the days, weeks and months that followed, the details of the crash became well known.
    The bus carrying the Broncos to play a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League playoff game in Nipawin against the host Hawks was involved in a collision with a semi-truck just north of Tisdale resulting in 16 deaths and 13 injuries on the bus.
    The players that passed away included captain Logan Schatz, Adam Herold, Conner Lukan, Evan Thomas, Jacob Leicht, Jaxon Joseph, Logan Boulet, Logan Hunter, Stephen Wack and Parker Tobin.      The coaches and staffers who passed away included head coach and general manager Darcy Haugen, assistant coach Mark Cross, play-by-play voice Tyler Bieber, stats expert Brody Hinz, athletic therapist Dayna Brons and bus driver Glen Doerksen.
Broncos forward Kaleb Dahlgren on the big screen at Mosaic Stadium.
    The crash survivors included Brayden Camrud, Derek Patter, Graysen Cameron, Kaleb Dahlgren, Bryce Fiske, Xavier LaBelle, Matthieu Gomercic, Nick Shumlanski, Tyler Smith, Ryan Straschnitzki, Jacob Wassermann, Layne Matechuk and Morgan Gobeil.
    The one-degree of separation connections to those on the Broncos bus were many. It was a grave tragedy that words can’t begin to describe.
    From this great tragedy, we got to see humanity at its best as the world rallied to support the Humboldt players and staffers.
    The support included a GoFundMe campaign that raised over $15.1-million with donations coming from over 141,900 individuals and entities in just under two weeks.
Humboldt Broncos members get a sidelines view at a Roughriders game.
    It is crazy to think Humboldt residents Sylvie Kellington and Caitlin Hergott originally had the small goal of raising funds to cover parking costs for the families visiting hospitals with the GoFundMe campaign. Their efforts became the largest GoFundMe campaign ever in Canada and the fourth largest ever in the world.
    There were rallies in numerous communities.  People made numerous physical signs to show support at their homes or at hockey games including leaving hockey sticks out on the porch for the players who passed away to use.
    Gregg Drinnan wrote a beautiful and uplifting piece of the Broncos who passed away playing a game in the afterlife.
A couple of items that were sold to support the Humboldt Broncos.
    The Saskatchewan Roughriders honoured the Broncos and Humboldt at a CFL regular season game, and the Saskatchewan Rush held tributes for the junior A hockey team. The phrase #HumboldtStrong became cemented in our vocabulary.
    On September 12, 2018, the Broncos returned to the ice falling 2-1 to the Nipawin Hawks at the Elgar Petersen Arena to open the SJHL regular season in a contest shown live on TSN.
    The rally to support the Humboldt Broncos brought out the best in humanity. In the most tragic of circumstances, people as a whole showed how good they can be.

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