Sunday, 18 August 2019

Ochs loves being part of lunch-pail crew with Hilltops

Mason Ochs, left, has been a CJFL all-Canadian all-star the last two years.
    Mason Ochs figured he would be a good fit for the Saskatoon Hilltops, and that gut feeling was confirmed when he joined the powerhouse CJFL squad.
    A graduate from Tommy Douglas Collegiate Tigers football program in the Saskatoon high school ranks, Ochs enjoyed getting his nose down and dirty on the offensive line in the physical part of the game.
    Upon joining the Hilltops in 2016, he felt surrounded by teammates who were like minded.
    “I liked the attitude here,” said Ochs. “I heard good things from former players.
    “It is just grab your lunch buckets and go.”
    Since that rookie campaign, Ochs shot to star status at left tackle and named CJFL all-Canadian all-star in each of the past two seasons. Now in his fourth campaign with the team, Ochs is the cornerstone on a mostly veteran Hilltops offensive line.
    On Sunday, he was again opening up the running lanes and protecting his quarterback helping the Hilltops down the Rifles in Winnipeg 34-20 in the CJFL regular season opener for both clubs.
Mason Ochs (#73) protects the blindside of the Hilltops’ quarterbacks.
    The Hilltops have won the last five straight CJFL titles and Ochs was a member of the last three of those championship teams.
    While his team has been successful and he has personally been successful, Ochs said he focuses on staying humble through all the high points. That lesson was engrained in him as a rookie in 2016 playing behind then veteran offensive linemen in Tyler Hoath, Drayke Unger and Cord Ivanco, who have all since graduated from the team.
    Ochs frequently thinks about that veteran trio.
    “I learned a lot,” said Ochs, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 275 pounds. “I learned how to carry yourself on the team and how to keep your nose down and don’t get out of line or anything like that.”
    Ochs proved to be quick learner, and it vaulted him to the ever important starting left tackle spot on the offensive line, where he protects his quarterback’s blindside.
    His progression was so good the past two seasons that participated in the training camp of the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders in late May and early June.
Mason Ochs works on techniques at Roughriders training camp.
    Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant said Ochs also had some natural gifts in size and strength that allowed him to be a starter in his second year.
    “He is one of our strongest players,” said Sargeant. “He has natural strength. He has just got it.
    “He just gets it. He knows how to play. He plays with great athleticism, great feet.
    “That was why he was able to go to ‘Rider camp this year was because of those abilities. He is just a high-end player. He looks great in our uniform, and he makes us play good.”
    Sargeant has enjoyed seeing Ochs excel over the years and gave credit to Hilltops offensive line coach Donnie Davidsen for helping the 21-year-old become an elite player.
    “To see his growth as a player and a person has just been awesome his confidence and his aggression,” said Sargeant. “He is such a great kid off the field.
    “You get between the lines he is a physical blocker. His growth and development through coach (Donnie) Davidsen and all his great coaching has really made Mason a high end player. We feel he is one of the top players in the league.
    “A lot of times we are going to be running in behind him. He is what he is. He is a physical and dominant athletic blocker that other teams have to reckon with his abilities.”
Mason Ochs (#73) takes part in a drill at Roughriders training camp.
    Fifth-year quarterback Tyler Hermann, who is in his first season as the Hilltops starter, said he feels fortunate that his blindside is protected by Ochs.
    “It is a piece of mind that is for sure having that guy around,” said Hermann. “The experience he has gotten, and I’ve kind of seen him kind of develop thru the last few years.
    “He is a man among boys out there sometimes. He is keeping me safe, and I am extremely to have guys like him around for sure.”
    Ochs enjoyed the opportunity to go to Roughriders camp, and he added it was an eye-opening experience to see the preparation that goes on in the professional ranks.
    “Film study is no joke there,” said Ochs. “You’re watching tape and studying and writing notes constantly.
    “Practice is just super technical, and they have film on all the time. They are recording practices’ every little detail. If your hands are two inches higher than they should be they will let you know about it.”
    Ochs said it was great to get to know the Roughriders veterans on the offensive line like left guard Brendon LaBatte. Ochs said he had some star struck moments but found it cool to hang out with players like LaBatte as if they had been friends for a long time.
Mason Ochs (#71) hangs with Philip Blake (#53) and Brendon LaBatte (#57)
    “It was incredible,” said Ochs. “It was just these guys are up there.
    “You’ve been watching them your whole life. Next thing you know you are there learning directly from them. You’re just watching them the whole time and copy what they do.”
    Ochs said his experience with the Roughriders helped plant a seed of what might be possible in the future.
    “It is something I could maybe do,” said Ochs. “It definitely showed me what I need to work on and what I need to improve.
    “It just shows you have to carry yourself.”
    As for the present, Ochs was to continue to help the Hilltops accomplish great things.
    “I’m very excited,” said Ochs. “Every year I get a chance to compete for a title.
    “It doesn’t get any better than that.”
    In Sunday’s win over the Rifles, the Hilltops jumped out to a 16-0 early in the second quarter, led 16-7 at halftime, extend their edge to 27-7 in the fourth quarter before finishing out with a 34-20 final.
    Saskatoon scored on a three-play, 75-yard drive on its first offensive series that was capped when Hermann hit fourth-year receiver Rylan Kleiter with a 24-yard TD toss for a 7-0 lead.
Mason Ochs, right, is pumped for the Hilltops new season.
    The Rifles conceded a safety before the first quarter came to a close, and Hilltops second-year running back Carter McLean ran in a touchdown from three-yards out early in the second quarter to give the visitors a 16-0 edge.
    Rifles running back Mathe Mitayango ran in a touchdown from seven yards out before the second quarter ended to cut the Hilltops lead to 16-7.
    Kleiter hit a 32-yard field goal for the Hilltops in the third quarter to give them a 19-7 edge. Early in the fourth quarter, John Brown scored a point off a punt single to give the Hilltops a 20-7 lead.
    Hermann threw two touchdown passes to fifth-year receiver Connor Graham to round out the Hilltops scoring from that point.
    Rifles quarterback Riley Naujoks threw a pair of touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to round out the scoring for his side passing for 339 yards on the day.
    In his first career start at quarterback for the Hilltops, Hermann completed 14-of-27 passes for 257 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Graham hauled in five passes for 123 yards to go with his two touchdown grabs.
    Running back Ben Abrook carried the ball 31 times for 144 yards.
    Also on Sunday, the Regina Thunder won their regular season opener 34-21 over the Wildcats in Edmonton. On Saturday, the host Edmonton Huskies downed the Calgary Colts 36-13 in the regular season opener for both sides in that contest.
Ben Abrook ran for 144 yards for the Hilltops.
    The Hilltops return to action this coming Sunday, when they travel to Regina to take on the Thunder at 3 p.m. at Mosaic Stadium.

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Saturday, 17 August 2019

Bourbonnais deserving of captain’s tag with Canada

Young defender’s star continues to rise in hockey

Jaime Bourbonnais, right, gets an award at last year’s 4 Nations Cup.
    It seems like fate has Jaime Bourbonnais destined for big things on the international hockey stage.
    She’s suited up with Canada’s senior national women’s hockey team to play at a 4 Nations Cup and a women’s worlds all before her 21st birthday this coming September 9. The day is coming when Bourbonnais will become a household name across Canada, because this young lady from Mississauga, Ont., will make it happen.
    Throughout her hockey career, Bourbonnais, who stands 5-foot-7, is a rarity being a skilled and elite offensive-defender. She is already one of the top female players in the world at her position.
    Last Sunday, she was named to the roster for Canada’s national development team for a three-game series against the United States, and she named captain of the Canadian side. Canada closed out the series in Lake Placid, N.Y., winning Game 3 by 2-1 final on Saturday. The U.S. took the series 2-1.
    The captain “C” is a great nod of respect for how far Bourbonnais has come and shows how much of a positive influence she has on her teammates.
Jaime Bourbonnais in action at last year’s 4 Nations Cup.
    At the 4 Nations Cup in Saskatoon last November, it seemed like the atmosphere automatically went up no matter what room Bourbonnais walked into. You all of a sudden got this fuzzy feeling that good things would happen the way her personal and perky demeanour came out.
    It was great to see Hockey Canada entrusted her with a leadership role, and you already believe that she is going to run with it.
    One of the old clichés in sports is hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.
    However, when talent works hard you get Peyton Manning or Warren Moon. That notion was told to me by legendary CFL coach and general manager the late Cal Murphy, who is in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.
    Bourbonnais fits the description of talent working hard to become Peyton Manning or Warren Moon.
Jaime Bourbonnais is an elite offensive-defender.
    At last year’s 4 Nations Cup, Bourbonnais collected a goal and an assist in four games helping Canada to silver medal finish. Statistics only told part of the story.
    In her first games with Canada’s senior national women’s team, Bourbonnais was the most noticeable player on the ice for Canada, and it can be argued she was Canada’s best player at that event.
    While Canada fell 5-2 to the United States in the tournament final of that event, Bourbonnais left one final big impression blasting home a power-play goal in the third period to account for Canada’s second tally.
Jaime Bourbonnais (#25) celebrates a goal at last year’s 4 Nations Cup.
    Last season for the Cornell University Big Red women’s hockey team, Bourbonnais appeared in 32 overall games recording nine goals, 20 assists and a plus-29 rating in the plus-minus department.
    She helped Cornell, which is located in Ithaca, N.Y., advance to the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Frozen Four women’s hockey championship tournament in Hamden, Connecticut. The Big Red fell 2-0 in a semifinal match to the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers.
    Along with piling up numerous all-star accolades, Bourbonnais was nominated for the Patty Kaizmaier Award, which is given annually to the top female college ice hockey player in the United States.
Jaime Bourbonnais is destined for big things on the international stage.
    In three complete seasons with Cornell, Bourbonnais has posted 17 goals, 52 assists and a plus-51 rating in 94 overall games. At worlds last April in Espoo, Finland, she had a goal and two assists in helping Canada to a bronze medal finish.
    Bourbonnais is following in family footsteps suiting up for Canada. Her grandfather, Roger, played centre for Canada’s senior men’s national team in the 1960s and helped Canada win bronze medals at the world championships in 1966 and 1967 and a bronze medal at the Winter Olympics in 1968.
    He turned down chances to join the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings in order to pursue a career as a lawyer.
    Jaime has a big chance of likely eclipsing her grandfather’s accomplishments on the international stage before her career is finished.
    Jaime Bourbonnais is a great player and you can bet she will still find a way to get better than she already is. When she hits her peak in the game, it will be marvellous to behold.

Gordie Howe Sports Complex a winner in IBA deal

Joe Gallagher Field at Gordie Howe Sports Complex.
    The Gordie Howe Sports Complex is one of the winners regarding the Integrated Bilateral Agreement (IBA) between Canada’s federal government and Saskatchewan.
    On Monday, Francois-Philippe Champagne, who is the federal Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, announced with a tweet that included a letter to SaskBuilds that 13 of 25 projects submitted through the Integrated Bilateral Agreement (IBA) have been approved.
    This deal could potentially bring $896-million into Saskatchewan for infrastructure projects over the next 10 years.
    The minister added approvals for 11 other projects are expected shortly.
    One of the 13 approved projects will see more money go toward the revamp of the Gordie Howe Sports Complex in Saskatoon. The Gordie Howe Sports Complex is the area of town that contains numerous sports facilities like Saskatoon Minor Football Field, Cairns Field, the Geoff Hughes Minor Baseball Complex, Bob Van Impe Stadium and Gordie Howe Kinsmen Arena.
    A multi-sport indoor athletic training facility and a track and field are the newest additions to the Gordie Howe Sports Complex.
    The amount of money that will flow into the Gordie Howe Sports Complex wasn’t divulged. The master plan for the facility said that $62-million would be spent on improvements, and as of July of last year, $42-million was raised towards that goal.
    Since July of last year, fundraising has continued and construction has continued to proceed as funds came in.
    Overall, this is a win for Saskatoon.
    Another win for Saskatoon on the cultural and arts front is the fact funding for a new site for Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan has been approved through the IBA deal. Again, no figures were released regarding what will go to this project.
    With that said, Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan has become an important staple in Saskatoon, so that is another win for the city with regards to the IBA deal.

Expect new WHL rink talk to heat up in Sask.

The Raiders raise the Ed Chynoweth Cup last May at the Art Hauser Centre.
    One of the interesting revelations regarding the Integrated Bilateral Agreement (IBA) between Canada’s federal government and Saskatchewan was the fact funding for a new multi-sport complex was proposed for Prince Albert.
    The proposed multiplex would include an aquatics centre, two smaller rinks and a larger rink that would be the new home of the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders.
    This project was not approved as the federal government deemed the Raiders to be a semi-professional sporting franchise.
    In a post on Thursday, I wrote that Prince Albert deserves such a facility. If you want to see that piece again, you can do so by clicking right here.
    Going forward into the future, it will be interesting to see how the various levels of government treat building rinks for WHL teams in Saskatchewan.
    It is safe to say over the last four years the idea of building new rinks in three other Saskatchewan WHL centres in Regina, Saskatoon and Swift Current has been test floated out there.
    In August of 2011, Mosaic Place opened in Moose Jaw giving the WHL’s Warriors a new 4,414 seat rink to play out of plus standing room.
    Since there have been notions to build new rinks in Prince Albert, Regina, Saskatoon and Swift Current, one wonders how those notions will evolve going into the future.
    Not like my two cents really matters, but I would like to see government money used to help Prince Albert and Swift Current get new facilities first before the two bigger centres. In Prince Albert and Swift Current, you can get their WHL clubs and midget AAA teams all located in one building creating a great sports centre for those communities and surrounding areas.
    The people in Prince Albert and Swift Current have shown strong support for their respective WHL and midget AAA teams.
    With that said, just because I have those thoughts doesn’t mean they will become a reality.

Will IBA influence CHL class action lawsuits?

    One has to wonder if the Integrated Bilateral Agreement (IBA) between Canada’s federal government and Saskatchewan will have an effect on the CHL class action lawsuits?
    Charney Lawyers PC, a firm specializing in class action lawsuits, has filed lawsuits on behalf of former CHL players against the CHL and its member major junior leagues in the WHL, OHL and QMJHL. The lawsuits content the players of major junior hockey teams are employees of their member clubs and should be entitled to minimum wage and overtime pay.
    The IBA deal between the federal government and Saskatchewan views major junior teams as semi-professional teams. That could be interpreted as a tidbit that could help those making the class action lawsuits against the CHL and its member leagues.
    Don’t expect decisions on this front to be made any time soon. Litigation has been ongoing since these lawsuits were filed in October of 2014.
    I don’t want to speculate what type of decisions could be made. I know in Canada’s court system that anything can happen even if it is viewed as remote.
    Typically in Canada’s court system, nothing happens fast. If this comes to an end within the next five years, I would be very surprised.

What will happen with Board of Trustees for Huskie Athletics?

    One of the hanging questions around Saskatoon’s sports scene is what will happen with the Board of Trustees that was developed for Huskie Athletics at the University of Saskatchewan?
    During the final week of June of this year, five out of the six external community member resigned from the board that was part of a governance model for the U of Saskatchewan Huskies teams.
    The resignations included David Dube, who was the board’s chairperson, Diane Jones Konihowski, David Sutherland, Tom Anselmi and Ken Juda.
    The Board of Trustees includes five representatives from the university. The creation of the board was announced in September of 2016, and it became active on Nov. 1, 2016.
    Under a new governance model that saw the Board of Trustees become a reality, the board was to advice and guide Huskie Athletics, who play out of U Sports, and report to U of S president Peter Stoicheff.
    The external members resigned over a feeling of frustration regarding the influence they had on the athletic program.
    Since the details came out via mainstream media outlets during the first week of July, all has been quiet on the Board of Trustees front.
    To me, I just see it as a university political squabble. I think the board members who resigned had good intentions towards Huskie Athletics.
    I believe Stoicheff has good intentions towards Huskie Athletics. Stoicheff is also tasked as part of his job with ensuring the university has proper oversight over anything that has the institution’s name.
    This whole concept hasn’t really been around long enough to judge if it is good or bad.
    The board was around when the departure of legendary Huskies football head coach Brian Towriss was mishandled in December of 2016, but Stoicheff took responsibility and apologized for how that news came down.
    That episode has long since blown over, and Towriss is a regular visitor at various events involving Huskies football.
    It will be interesting to see how the U of S as an institution proceeds from here.

Hardy a welcome addition for Huskies

    One spot where the U of Saskatchewan Huskies hit a massive home run was when Dave Hardy was named the chief athletics officer on Aug. 7.
    He officially started his new position last Monday.
    At age 71, Hardy takes over the top job with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies program from Shawn Burt, who recently stepped down to be closer to family in Ontario.
    Hardy has a storied career in the Saskatoon school system as a teacher, principle and school superintendant. He is a former president of Vancouver College, and he led that institution to new heights in academic and athletic excellence.
    That included facilitating a capital fundraising campaign that exceeded $20 million.
    In Saskatoon, he is widely remember for guiding the Saskatoon Hilltops as head coach for 10 seasons from 1988 to 1997. The Hilltops won two Canadian Junior Football League titles in 1991 and 1996 under Hardy’s guidance.
    He is an alumnus of the Huskies men’s basketball team, and coached basketball for extended stints during his time in the Saskatoon school system.
    Hardy has made a big positive impact on the community of Saskatoon during his life. It is safe to say the news that he has become the Huskies CAO has been well received in Saskatoon.
    Optimism is high the Huskies program will accomplish great things under his watch.

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Friday, 16 August 2019

Expectations never change for CJFL powerhouse Hilltops

Saskatoon starts 2019 regular season Sunday in Winnipeg

Ben Abrook (#32) will bring power as a starting running back.
    The Saskatoon Hilltops aim to consistently be the model premier team in the Canadian Junior Football League.
    Due to their push to do thing perfectly all the time, the Hilltops have won the last five straight CJFL titles and have captured the league crown eight times over the last nine years. They have put together this run despite the regular yearly turnover on their roster.
    Going into the 2019 campaign, the Hilltops have experience more turnover than normal due to fifth-year graduations and players leaving to join the university ranks. The Hilltops begin the 2019 regular season by traveling to Winnipeg, Man., to take on the host Rifles on Sunday (noon Saskatchewan time, 92.9 The Bull).
    Saskatoon will have a new starting quarterback fifth-year signal caller Tyler Hermann, a new starting running back in third-year runner Ben Abrook and many new starters on defence.
    Despite the changing faces, Hermann knows what is expected of himself and his teammates.
    “The expectations stay the same,” said Hermann. “We expect to come out Week 1 and throughout the season coming out as a physical team and ready to play really with mental focus and discipline.
    “There has been a lot of turnover, but the attitude around here has always been next man up. I know everyone that is stepping into a (new) role is ready to make it count and myself included.
    “It is going to be a good season.”
Carter Norrish is expected to take a regular role at receiver.
    Hermann, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 205 pounds, joined the Hilltops after playing for Saskatoon’s powerhouse Holy Cross High School Crusaders football program. During his first two years with the Hilltops, Hermann studied how star quarterback Jared Andreychuk performed as the team’s starter.
    Over the last two seasons, Hermann improved on his craft playing behind star quarterback Jordan Walls.
    Now, the 22-year-old Hermann is set to take his turn as the starting quarterback for the venerable CJFL club. He said the influence of Andreychuk and Walls is a big help.
    “Without a doubt, they (Andreychuk and Walls) taught me a tonne on the field between reading a defence and where to go with the ball,” said Hermann. “From those two guys, I got to be great friends with them.
    “They really taught me how to be a winner off the field and really how to carry yourself when things aren’t going as well as you hoped. That is kind of something that I have taken from those guys. It has been a privilege playing with them.”
    Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant said the squad’s coaching are looking forward to seeing Hermann lead the team.
    “We’re very excited for Tyler (Hermann),” said Sargeant. “He is four years in the waiting.
    “He is hungry for this, and he has been waiting for this. Now he is getting all the reps, and you can just see the confidence and the growth. It is still comes down to decision making.
Tyler Hermann will make his first QB start.
    “When the games get live, he has to stay calm and cool. He has to trust himself and trust us. He had a lot of success as a Holy Cross quarterback, and we’re ready for him to have some success as a Hilltop quarterback.”
    The Hilltops open the 2019 campaign with what would appear a rocky schedule at the start with three straight road regular season games. After playing the Rifles in Winnipeg on Sunday, the Hilltops travel to Regina to face the Thunder on Aug. 25 and to Edmonton to take on the Huskies on Sept. 1.
    The Hilltops home opener is set for Saturday, Sept. 7 at 7 p.m. at Saskatoon Minor Football Field.
    “The schedule is the schedule,” said Sargeant. “We don’t control that.
    “At the end of the day, we get to develop our roster right off the bat, because you take your travel roster (of 45 players) with you. Winnipeg is a tough trip. It is a long haul, and they play real physical down there.
    “We can’t be half asleep. We have to be sharper. I think the coaches have done a good job preparing for that.”
    The Hilltops enter the campaign looking to keep a couple of lengthy winning streaks on the line. They have won their last 23 straight games on the road including three victories in the CJFL title game – the Canadian Bowl.
    Saskatoon’s last road loss came back on August 17, 2014 by a 19-16 overtime decision to the Thunder in Regina at a stadium that no longer exists in Taylor Field.
    The Hilltops have won their last 19 overall games in a row. Sargeant said the winning streaks won’t give the Hilltops that much help in the present.
The Hilltops are looking to be physical on defence.
    “That was then, and this is now,” said Sargeant. “We are a totally different team.
    “We had a lot of good players who have left the building. We need new players to step up and be good players, so that takes time.”
    During the regular season in 2018, Hermann completed 19-of-26 passes for 264 yards, five touchdowns and one interception entering games in mop up duty. He is pumped to hit the field in the present as a starter.
    “Four years, it has kind of been a long time coming for me,” said Hermann. “I’m really excited for the opportunity.
    “I have a unit of guys around me that are ready to support me and also contribute and bring something forward. I’m getting excited for Sunday.”

Getzlaf guest speaker at Hilltops End Zone Dinner

Chris Getzlaf on the Taylor Field big screen in 2013.
    A former foe who had a star career in the CFL will be the guest speaker at the Saskatoon Hilltops End Zone Dinner.
    Receiver Chris Getzlaf played 11 seasons in the CFL with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Saskatchewan Roughriders and Edmonton Eskimos from 2007 to 2017. The Regina, Sask., product spent most of that time with his hometown Roughriders.
    Over his 11 campaigns, Getzlaf appeared in 147 regular season games hauling in 414 passes for 6,192 yards and 41 touchdowns.
    Before joining the CFL, Getzlaf played two seasons for the University of Regina Rams in 2005 and 2006. Before his time with the Rams, Getzlaf played with the Regina Thunder.
    As a member of the Thunder, Getzlaf used to play against the Hilltops.
Chris Getzlaf makes a training camp catch in 2015.
    When he was a member of the Roughriders, he was a fan favourite right across Saskatchewan. Throughout his football career, Getzlaf was known as the quiet type who led by example.
    The End Zone Dinner is slated for Saturday, Sept. 7 at Saskatoon Minor Football field. The gates open at 4:15 p.m. and the meal is served at 5:15 p.m. The dinner will include a silent auction.
Tickets are $100 per single person or a table of nine can be purchased for $825.
    Tickets to the dinner also include game tickets to that night’s CJFL regular season contest between the Hilltops and the Thunder. There will be a pre-game address at the End Zone Dinner by Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant.
    Those looking to purchase tickets can do so by clicking right here.

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Thursday, 15 August 2019

Prince Albert deserves new multi-use sporting complex

The Raiders celebrate a WHL title winning goal by Dante Hannoun (#17).
    The City of Prince Albert took a bit of a gut punch this week thanks to Canada’s federal government.
    On Monday, Francois-Philippe Champagne, who is the federal Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, announced with a tweet that included a letter to SaskBuilds that 13 of 25 projects submitted through the Integrated Bilateral Agreement (IBA) have been approved.
    This deal could potentially bring $896-million into Saskatchewan for infrastructure projects over the next 10 years.
    The minister added approvals for 11 other projects are expected shortly.
    Only one project was not approved, which was a sport multiplex facility for Prince Albert. The proposed multiplex would include an aquatics centre, two smaller rinks and a larger rink that would be the new home of the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders.
Sean Montgomery takes a lap with the Ed Chynoweth Cup last May.
    The letter in Champagne’s tweet said the multiplex in Prince Albert was ineligible for funding under this agreement because it would be the home to a “semi-pro sporting franchise.” The letter said portions of the multiplex may become eligible for funding if an appropriate revised application is submitted.
    The IBA states ineligible projects include a professional or semi-professional sports facility that is primarily a commercial operation and lumped in facilities for major junior hockey teams into that classification.
The Bears celebrate their Western regional win in 2017.
    The IBA also states Saskatchewan has to confirm the primary rational for taking on a sports infrastructure project is to not serve as a home for professional or semi-professional teams.
    The City of Prince Albert is reworking the proposal in order to qualify for funding under the IBA.
    This development has sent off a firestorm between politicians over mainstream media line and social media lines and Saskatchewan citizens over social media lines.
    The bottom line is Prince Albert deserves these facilities. That small city has given extraordinary support to its sports community over its entire history.
The Bears are all smiles after their Western regional win in 2017.
    Prince Albert also needs these facilities.
    The Frank J. Dunn Swimming Pool that is part of Carlton Comprehensive High School and the Marion Aquatics Centre, which is part of the former Rivier Academy, are both aging facilities that are past their due dates. They are the only indoor pools in Prince Albert, and they are ready to be replaced.
    The minor hockey arenas in Prince Albert like the Dave G. Steuart Arena and the Kinsmen Arena are old barn style facilities. The Dave G. Steuart Arena is likely passed its due date and the Kinsmen Arena is older than the Raiders current home rink - the Art Hauser Centre - which was built in 1971.
    The 2,580 Art Hauser Centre has a great history and will always be looked upon in an iconic way as a junior hockey facility and for the memories the Mintos midget AAA and the Northern Bears female midget AAA hockey teams have made there. 
The Mintos have created many great memories at the Art Hauser Centre.
    Still, the Hauser has likely reached the end of its line for all the upgrades you can do to it.
    At the moment, the Bears don’t even have their own permanent dressing room and team facilities in that rink like the Raiders and Mintos do.
    On top of everything, the Raiders are a community owned amateur team. They are the type of franchise that wouldn’t be able to play in a new facility without some sort of federal funding.
    That facility is constantly busy throughout the calendar year too.
    On the hockey side, the Raiders, Mintos and Bears are all first class organizations that play an integral part in the community being known as “Hockey Town North.” I myself would never be opposed to creating the opportunity for those clubs to play in upgraded facilities.
The Mintos celebrate a home ice win last February.
    They all have rich championship histories playing out of the Art Hauser Centre. Of course, the Raiders provided the biggest high last May, when Dante Hannoun scored the WHL championship winning goal in Game 7 in overtime at that storied facility.
    The sports multiplex that is being proposed could act as a central sports training facility for Prince Albert and surrounding area. It would be ideal gathering spot in northern Saskatchewan for hockey, speed skating, figure skating and swimming.
The Art Hauser Centre has seen its share of great history.
    During the spring and summer months, the bigger rink could be used for concerts, rodeos or community events like the Art Hauser Centre holds now.
    A new sports multiplex would bring Prince Albert and I dare say the surrounding area communities in northern Saskatchewan into the future in a big way.
    It is a great idea with vision. Here is hoping it doesn’t succumb to rivalries and ego in the political world.

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Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Blades land veteran ‘D’ in Walford, deal Haden to Royals

Scott Walford, second from left, celebrates a Royals goal in 2017.
    Saskatoon Blades new communications manager Michael Morrissey didn’t have to wait long before being sprung into action.
    Morrissey, who was a Blades intern during the 2017-18 campaign, officially started work with the team in his new position on Monday, and on Wednesday, he was putting together a media release on a major trade.
    The trade saw the Blades deal overage left-winger Gary Haden, unsigned list forward Riley Gannon, who will turn 17-years-old later on this month, and fourth round selection in the 2022 WHL Bantam Draft to the Royals for overage offensive-defenceman Scott Walford and a seventh round selection in the 2020 Bantam Draft.
    “Scott is a big mobile defender, who plays in all situations and logs a lot of minutes,” said Blades general manager Colin Priestner in a release. “He is an all-around defender, who is adept in his own end but also contributes a lot offensively making use of an exceptional first pass and great vision.”
    This trade was one of those deals where both sides won.
    The Blades were looking for help on defence due to the fact four of their starting six defencemen from last season won’t be back this season. Dawson Davidson and Brandon Schuldhaus exhausted their major junior eligibility.
    Emil Malysjev elected to play at home in Sweden. Reece Harsch, who is set to be an overager, was traded to the Winnipeg Ice in May.
    Walford, who played four complete seasons with the Royals, was a huge addition for the Blades. Last season, Walford, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 198 pounds, posted nine goals, 38 assists and a plus-12 rating in the plus-minus department in 62 regular season games for the Royals.
Gary Haden became a fan favourite in Saskatoon.
    For his efforts, he was named a second team WHL Western Conference all-star.
    In 229 career regular season games with the Royals, Walford had 18 goals, 102 assists and a plus-11 rating.
    Way back in the 2014 Bantam Draft, Walford was selected in the first round and 18th overall by the Royals. The Coquitlam, B.C., product was selected in the third round and 68th overall by the Montreal Canadiens in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, but he is an NHL free agent after the Canadiens didn’t sign him earlier this summer on June 1.
    After going unsigned by Montreal, Walford attended the summer development camp of the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets late last June.
    Walford, who was a Royals assistant captain the past two seasons, played for Team B.C. at the 2015 Canada Winter Games, Team Canada Black at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and Team WHL last year as part of the Canada-Russia Series.
    Besides adding Walford, the Blades selected defencemen Libor Zabransky, 19, and Radek Kucerik, who will turn 18 in December, in the CHL Import Draft held late last June. Both are from the Czech Republic and Zabransky has 107 career regular season games with the Kelowna Rockets.
    Haden adds scoring depth to the Royals roster. Acquired in October of last year from the Medicine Hat Tigers, Haden, who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 175 pounds, had a breakout season with the Blades.
    In 55 regular season games with the Blades, Haden piled up 30 goals, 32 assists and a plus-23 rating in the plus-minus department. Over 64 regular season games split between the Tigers and Blades last season, Haden recorded 31 goals, 34 assists and a plus-19 rating.
    He picked up the nickname “Uncle Gary” becoming a fan favourite.
    “‘Uncle Gary’ was a great Blade during his season in Saskatoon, and we wish him major success with the Royals in his 20-year-old campaign,” said Priestner in a release.
Gary Haden broke out offensively last season with the Blades.
    Gannon, who stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 145 pounds, played 46 regular season games last year in the junior B ranks with his hometown Nanaimo Buccaneers collecting 21 goals and 29 assists. He skated two games in the junior A ranks with the Alberni Valley Bulldogs but didn’t register any points.
    Later on Wednesday, the Blades added another body on defence. They acquired 18-year-old defenceman in Birtle, Man., product Parker Malchuk from the Royals for a conditional draft pick.
    Malchuk, who stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 161 pounds, appeared in 56 regular season games last season with the Royals recording an assist and a minus-23 rating.
    With Walford on their roster, the Blades are bringing four overagers to training camp, which begins Aug. 25, along with rearguard Nolan Kneen, left-winger Riley McKay and right-winger Ryan Hughes.
    The Blades have until Oct. 10 to cut down to the WHL’s limit of three overage players.

CFL weather delay left uncomfortable feel

    Count me as one of those that doesn’t like the CFL’s new weather protocol.
    If you follow the CFL, you likely know by now that the regular season game held last Friday at Molson Stadium in Montreal between the host Alouettes and the Saskatchewan Roughriders was called with 2:41 remaining in the third quarter due to an hour long delay caused by lightning.
    The officials invoked a new weather protocol that was put into the new collective bargaining agreement between the CFL and CFL Players’ Association in the off-season. A game is considered official after the midway point of the third quarter and can be called for a weather delay of at least an hour.
    The Roughriders were ahead 17-10 at that point in time, and they were awarded the win.
    I wrote on Sunday as someone who cheers for the Roughriders I was happy they had won four in a row, and all that matters was they found a way to pick up the wins to improve to 5-3.
    When I step back and look at the situations objectively, that end result doesn’t give me a good feeling.
    Montreal fell to 3-4 with the setback that came in a game that was still up for grabs. At the moment, the Alouettes would earn a playoff position, if the regular season finished today finished second in the East Division.
    Still, they are ahead of the Ottawa Redblacks (3-5), but there is still a long way to go in the CFL season.
    As the campaign plays out, the standings tiebreakers might fall out of the Alouettes favour, and they could potentially miss the post-season due to the fact they didn’t win that contest with the Roughriders.
    For me, it doesn’t sit well on the objective front that the Alouettes were denied a chance to see if they could pick up the win.
    I understand the logistics of why the weather protocol was brought in. I would have liked to have seen them wait a total of two hours before deciding to call off the game.
    I would be opening to continuing the game the next day.
    With all that said, I have to give credit to the CFL for following through on this newly implemented rule.
    Also, kudos to Rob Vanstone of the Regina Leader-Post for coming up with the fact Friday’s game wasn’t the first regular season game that was called due to weather between two CFL clubs.
    Vanstone noted that on Oct. 25, 1954 the Roughriders defeated the British Columbia Lions 15-9 in a weather shortened game at Empire Stadium in Vancouver. With 6:11 remaining in the fourth quarter, Western Interprovincial Football Union commissioner G. Sydney Halter halted that contest with 6:11 remaining in the fourth quarter due to fog.
    The Lions were playing in their inaugural season and finished with a 1-15 record. The Roughriders finished second in the WIFU with a 10-4-2 mark.
    The 1954 game between the Roughriders and the Lions predates the modern creation of the CFL on Jan. 19, 1958 that ultimately resulted in the WIFU becoming the West Division and the Interprovincial Rugby Football Union becoming the East Division.
    In a CFL media release on Saturday, Steve Daniel, the league’s senior director, game information and statistics, said it was more than correct to conclude the 1954 regular season contest was the first to be called due to weather and Friday’s was regular season game to be called by weather.

Is Saskatoon’s sports scene too congested?

Rush star Mark Matthews raises the NLL Cup in 2018.
    As the years go on, it seems Saskatoon’s sports scene is getting more and more congested.
    At the moment, the question has to be asked if Saskatoon’s sports scene is too congested?
    It seems like any new leagues that want to establish themselves in Saskatchewan decide inevitably to locate in Saskatoon to avoid going head-to-head with the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders in Regina.
    In 2014, the team in Saskatoon that likely had the biggest following and drew the largest average attendances was the University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team, who drew an average of 5,177 spectators per game over five home dates between the regular season and playoffs.
    The WHL’s Saskatoon Blades, who were still at the beginning of a major rebuild, were still a fairly sizable draw. The Saskatoon Hilltops of the Canadian Junior Football League and the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team were traditional popular draws as well.
    On the women’s team side, the U of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s basketball and hockey teams and Saskatoon Valkyries football team drew considerable attention for great campaigns too in 2014.
    The sports entertainment dollar options for people in Saskatoon increased, when the Rush franchise of the National Lacrosse League relocated from Edmonton to Saskatoon in 2015 in time for the start of the 2016 season as the Saskatchewan Rush.
    The NLL is an established professional league dating back to 1987, which helped give the Rush that much more backing as a legitimate force.
    The Rush won NLL titles twice since the move to Saskatoon in 2016 and 2018. The Rush finished their fourth season in May of this year, and they are still a force averaging over 13,000 spectators a game at the SaskTel Centre.
    They are the biggest draw in Saskatoon’s sports scene, and like the Roughriders, the Rush draw fans from all over the province branding themselves as a team for the whole province.
    This year, the Saskatchewan Rattlers began play in at the SaskTel Centre playing in the Canadian Elite Basketball League and the Saskatchewan Selects soccer team played a three-game SK Summer Soccer Series at Saskatoon Minor Football Field.
    The SK Summer Soccer Series was organized with the hope of one day bringing professional soccer to the province in the form of the Canadian Premier League.
    The Rattlers and Selects have drawn decent crowds to their games.
    One has to wonder when does the sports entertainment dollar in Saskatoon bottom out?
    Overall, it would be great if every sports team in Saskatoon experienced success and captured the public’s attention at one time or another.
    The Rush, Rattlers and Selects have engaged communities in their respective sports, which has attracted ticket buyers.
    On the Rattlers front, they scored a big ace card when Greg Jockims became the club’s head coach and general manager. Jockims is the former head coach of the U of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s basketball team, and he guided the Huskies to Canada West Conference and U Sports national titles in the 2009-10 campaign.
    The one area that can’t handle the influx of teams is the mainstream sports outlets in Saskatoon, which have sustained two decades worth of staff cuts. The mainstream outlets lack the pure staff numbers to be able to head out and cover everything.
    If a mainstream outlet has three sports staffers, it is extremely lucky in the current day. Those outlets usually carry one or two staffers as a norm.
    In the late 1990s, Global had a 30 minute long Sportsline show that ran six nights a week. CTV had long sports segments and the Saskatoon StarPhoenix had a sports staff of six to seven reporters.
    The scene now would have fit perfectly with the resources the mainstream outlets utilized back in the late 1990s.
    Back in those days, the Saskatoon Contacts and Saskatoon Blazers of the midget AAA ranks used to get fairly big play along with high school sports.
    The Contacts, Blazers and highs school sports scene are still around in the current day.
    The Saskatoon Stars female midget AAA hockey team has become a force that warrants coverage on the local scene.
    On top of that, the Blades, Hilltops, Valkyries and Huskies teams haven’t gone anywhere.
    In summer, the stock car tracks and drag strip draw big as well along with horse racing.
    In winter, curling makes its stamp on Saskatoon too.
    These are just some of the things I can think of.
    When you think of the enormity of Saskatoon’s sports scene, there is no way it can be adequately covered with small number of staffers that work at mainstream outlets. They are spread too thin.

Donlevy passes on leaving huge legacy

    The amateur football and hockey scene in Canada was saddened with the passing of Jim Donlevy earlier this month.
    Donlevy passed away at age 82 on Aug. 4 in the company of family at the Southwood Hospice in Calgary, Alta. His funeral was Tuesday in Okotoks, Alta.
    With Donlevy’s passing, it feels like amateur sport in Canada lost a link to its past.
    Most involved with the WHL over the past two decades will remember Donlevy as the league’s director of education services. He joined the WHL in 1992 and was instrumental in the creation and success of the WHL Scholarship Program.
    Before joining the WHL, Donlevy, who was born in McLennan, Alta., had a storied career as an amateur football coach that spanned decades in Edmonton, Alta. He coached at every non-professional level of the game in the Alberta capital.
    He was an assistant coach with the Edmonton Huskies when they won Canadian Junior Football League titles in 1962 and 1963.
    Donlevy became an assistant coach with the University of Alberta Golden Bears football team in 1965. He was an assistant under head coach Clare Drake in 1967, when the Golden Bears won their first Vanier Cup as U Sports national champions.
    Drake was better known for guiding the U of Alberta Golden Bears men’s hockey team to six University Cup title as U Sports national champions with the first coming in the 1967-68 campaign.
    Donlevy became the head coach of the Golden Bears football team in 1971 and held that position for 18 seasons. He guided them to five Canada West Conference championships in 1971, 1972, 1979, 1980 and 1981 and Vanier Cup titles in 1972 and 1980.
    He set up an exhibition game on Sept. 7, 1985 that saw his Golden Bears take on the Regina Rams, who were still in the CJFL at that time. The Rams won that contest, where both sides played their regulars, 22-17 at Taylor Field in Regina, Sask.
    Donlevy upset some in the university ranks for having his Golden Bears face a CJFL squad.
    I remember talking to Donlevy about that game. He said while it did upset some people he had no regrets about following through with that exhibition game.
    Another memory of Donlevy came when Kieran Block, who was a former utility player with the Medicine Hat Tigers, severely injured his legs in a recreation cliff jumping accident in the summer of 2007.
    Block graduated from the Tigers following the 2005-06 campaign and played the 2006-07 with the Golden Bears men’s hockey team before his accident happened.
    He was attending the U of A under the WHL’s Scholarship Program and contacted Donlevy with a special request that would allow him to take time off from school to heal up. Block was expecting to take a year off.
    Donlevy was more that accommodating noting unusual circumstances do happen that have to be accounted for. Donlevy asked Block if he needed to be off for two years.
    If Block did, Donlevy said the WHL scholarship money would still be waiting for him when he returned to school.
    Block was able to return to his school studies within a year.
    In Canada’s amateur sports world, Donlevy was a true gem.

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