Thursday, 4 April 2019

Raiders’ Leason aims to emulate dad, beat Saskatoon in playoffs

Brett Leason led the Raiders in scoring with a breakout season.
    PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. – Brett Leason is still trying to decipher between truth and tall tales when it comes to his father’s football career.
    Both have experience in rivalries with sports organizations from Saskatoon.
    Brett, who is a star right-winger with the Prince Albert Raiders, has been part of an intense WHL rivalry with the Saskatoon Blades.
    Darryl, who is Brett’s dad, was a star quarterback with the Regina Rams first from 1992 to 1995, when the team was in the Canadian Junior Football League, and later from 2000 to 2001, when the Rams joined the U Sports ranks as the University of Regina Rams.
    In the CJFL, Darryl was part of epic clashes with the Saskatoon Hilltops. In U Sports, he was a main figure in battles with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies.
    Brett is about to take part in his first experience of a rivalry with Saskatoon in the post-season. The Raiders, who topped the WHL’s regular season standings with a 54-10-2-2, will take on the Blades, who finished fourth overall in the WHL with a 45-15-8 record, in a best-of-seven WHL Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Darryl Leason (#8) was a star with the Rams.
    Game 1 is set for Friday at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre.
    Darryl was a perfect 5-0 in post-season encounters with teams from Saskatoon, which is a truth.
    The details of a game where Darryl threw a touchdown pass against the Hilltops after a fake kneel down still seem a bit hazy.
    “I asked him about it several times, but he just hasn’t given me an answer about it,” said Brett, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 199 pounds. “He keeps changing the story.
    “I think I know what happens.”
    The fake knee came during the 1995 Prairie Football Conference final.
    On the frozen concrete of Regina’s Taylor Field, the Rams had a 19-8 win sealed, and all their offence had to do was kneel on the ball one last play to officially end the game. Darryl started to go down on one knee only to stand up quickly and throw a touchdown pass to a wide open receiver in Josh Shaw.
    The play was nullified by a penalty, but tensions ran high between the two centres for a long time over that moment. The Rams moved on to win a third straight CJFL championship.
Brett Leason will play in his first post-season series against a Saskatoon team.
    “I’ve heard some stories about his time playing against Saskatoon,” said Brett, who was born in late April of 1999. “He hasn’t really told me too much.
    “It is just interesting to see and watch and hear about.”
    One of the games Brett was unaware about was Darryl’s epic performance in a Canada West semifinal game against the Huskies in November of 2001 at Taylor Field.
    Entering that contest, Darryl, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 230 pounds, missed three straight games and was going to attempt to play the Huskies with a completely torn anterior cruciate ligament and a partially torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee.
    Darryl hit the field and led the Rams to a 58-31 victory. He completed 20-of-33 passes for 418 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions before giving way to backup Mike Wong for mop up duty before 7,122 spectators.
Darryl Leason is 5-0 against Saskatoon teams in the playoffs.
    During the 2018-19 WHL regular season, Brett had a breakout campaign leading the Raiders in scoring with 36 goals and 53 assists for 89 points in 55 games. He posted a plus-55 rating in the plus-minus department.
    Along the way, Brett earned a spot and played for Canada at world juniors.
    In three playoff games, he has two goals, an assist and is a plus-three. He wouldn’t mind having a big game or games against the Blades like his dad used to have against teams from Saskatoon in football.
    “I think that is what everyone wants is to have a good game here and obviously produce points,” said Leason. “Just at the end of the day, we want the win, and we want to move on to the next series and keep going as far as we can.”
    Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid wasn’t sure if history will repeat itself as far as a Leason family member having big performances to eliminate a Saskatoon team from the playoffs. The Raiders veteran bench boss is well aware of the Leason family history in sports.
    “I remember his dad when he was playing for the Rams,” said Habscheid. “He was a good quarterback.
Brett Leason played for Canada’s world junior team this season.
    “He was athletic. Now his son comes up, and you knew he was going to be athletic just because of the genes. You would have thought he would have chosen the other route.”
    Habscheid is aware that Brett could have followed in his father’s footsteps.
    “He (Brett) didn’t tell me this, but other people said like when he was 12 or 13 he was a good quarterback,” said Habscheid. “He could throw the ball and was a really good football player.
    “He pretty much had to make a decision which way he was going to go, so good for us he made this decision.”
    The Raiders acquired Brett in a trade with the Tri-City Americans in late October of 2017 sending a third round selection in the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft the other way. Brett was buried on an Americans roster that was deep at forward.
    Habscheid has enjoyed watching Brett grow as a player and added the young forward’s story shows others that a slow start to a major junior career doesn’t kill a future hockey playing career.
    “That is half the fun of coaching is you want to see these guys improve and move on to bigger and better things,” said Habscheid. “I think the big thing with Brett Leason is it is good for everybody, especially the players, to realize if you go through the draft twice it doesn’t mean your career is over.
Darryl Leason calls plays under centre for the Rams in 2001.
    “A lot of times guys will go through the draft at 17, and then they think I have no shot of ever getting drafted, because I went through the draft once. He went through the draft twice, and he is going to get drafted this year.
    “He played on the world junior team this year after never being in the Program of Excellence before, so I think who that really benefits is every playing in the CHL who is 18 and 19 and 20-years-old that they can still have a chance to play in the National Hockey League.”
    As for the Leasons and rivalry games with Saskatoon, there are some other subtle similarities. The colours Brett’s Raiders wear are green, white and gold, which are the colours Darryl’s Rams wear in U Sports.
    The Blades colours are blue and gold just like the colours the Hilltops wear.
    One difference is Darryl was known to stir the pot in rivalry games with Saskatoon in media interviews. During his career, he became public enemy number one in Saskatoon.
    Brett is totally the opposite and soft spoken in media interviews. He would never think about stirring the pot.
Could this be how the Raiders versus Blades series ends?
    With that noted, Brett said the rivalry with the Blades has been heated this season, and with both teams going eight days between playing games, he can’t wait to get the post-season series with Saskatoon started.
    “It has been intense all year for sure,” said Brett. “I know the fans get into it a lot more with them being just over an hour away.
    “It has always been competitive, and it has always been great hockey to watch. We’re looking forward to it. I wish it started a while ago.
    “Tomorrow, it is. It is coming, and we’re all ready to go.”

“The Last Saskatchewan Pirate” oops

The logo the Prince Albert Raiders used in the early 2000s.
    The Saskatoon Blades had a little bit of a post-game “oops” after their first win of the 2019 WHL playoffs that does get noticed and a chuckle out of some Prince Albert Raiders fans.
    When the Blades won Game 1 of their first round series 3-2 in overtime at the SaskTel Centre against the visiting Moose Jaw Warriors on March 22, the DJ in the building played “The Last Saskatchewan Pirate” by Captain Tractor in the spot the Blades victory song is played.
    Of course, that version of “The Last Saskatchewan Pirate” was a victory song of the Raiders during different stretches in time.
    The Blades were trying out an in house DJ in Game 1 of their first round sweep of the Warriors who made an honest “oops.” He was unaware the Blades usually play “Feeling Good” by The Sheepdogs, who are a Saskatoon rock band, as their victory song.
    In Prince Albert, “The Last Saskatchewan Pirate” also used to be played at the now defunct Outer Limits Nightclub to mark Raiders victories during the Jeremy Colliton, Luke Fritshaw, Kyle Chipchura, Rejean Beauchemin and Chris Schlenker era of the team in the early 2000s.
    If the Blades want to bring back a victory song from their past, they could bring back “Larger Than Life” from the Backstreet Boys. That song would work especially well if they have big crowds for games they host at the SaskTel Centre in their WHL Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Raiders and win in overtime. The focus of that song is about thanking the fans.
    The Blades host Games 3 and 4 of the series this Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 p.m. each night at the SaskTel Centre.
    The Blades played “Larger Than Life” during fan favourite Darcy Hordichuk’s final season with the club in 1999-2000.
    With that noted, “Feeling Good” is still a sweet tune.

Saturday a timely pause for Raiders/Blades series

The centre ice logo from the Humboldt Broncos vigil in 2018.
    The WHL Eastern Conference semifinal series between the Prince Albert Raiders and the Saskatoon Blades will have a timely pause on Saturday.
    Game 1 of the best-of-seven series is set for Friday at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre in Prince Albert. Game 2 is slated for 6 p.m. at Art Hauser.
    The day off was made to accommodate the broadcast schedule for Sportsnet. The network stations with Sportnet will be consumed with the closing action of the NHL’s regular season on Saturday.
    Of course, Saturday happens to be the one-year anniversary of the tragic bus crash involving the Humboldt Broncos of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League in the junior A ranks. That crash resulted in the deaths of 16 players and team personal and injuries to 13 surviving players.
    A memorial service will be held Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at the Elgar Petersen Arena in Humboldt to honour all those affected by the crash.
    The north central area that the Raiders and Blades are located in will likely be immersed with the service in Humboldt, which will attract extensive media coverage. Both Prince Albert and Saskatoon are located close to Humboldt, so the attention of most people in the two WHL centres will likely be turned towards the memorial service in Humboldt.
    The pause between Games 1 and 2 in the series between the Raiders and Blades will ultimately be a welcomed one.

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