Saturday, 29 August 2020

COVID-19 pandemic times lead to rediscoveries

Visiting my Dad’s resting place in Regina.
    It has been great to have weekends again for an extended stretch.
    That has been one of the many rediscoveries I’ve come across during these coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic times.
    For the last 20 years, I really haven’t had regular weekends over a lengthy span of time due to making a career covering sports events. When massive shutdowns started to occur on March 11 and 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, my weekends opened up.
    With all that noted, I miss covering sports events a great deal. The clock in my head keeps telling me the Saskatoon Hilltops should be well into their CJFL regular season.
I’ve enjoyed getting out to cut the grass during the pandemic.
    The 2020 CJFL season is one of many things that have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
    Even with local baseball and softball starting up in early July and the Saskatoon Stock Car Racing Association springing to action at the Wyant Group Raceway on Aug. 8, the last sports event I covered with a focus and intensity was the Saskatoon Contacts getting eliminated from the Saskatchewan Under-18 AAA Hockey League playoffs on March 12 at Merlis Belsher Place.
    The Contacts fell 5-3 to the Moose Jaw Warriors, who swept a best-of-five league semifinal series 3-0.
    Well over five months have passed since that game was played, and weekends have become actual weekends. There is anticipation when Friday arrives and a dread when Monday rolls around.
Yes, I own the DVDs to the “Disney” Star Wars trilogy.
    I haven’t had this many weekends in a row that have been actually weekends where you can have down time since the summer of 2000.
    During weekends, I will do things that need to be attended to at home like clearing snow or cutting the grass depending on what season it is. When the pandemic got real in Saskatoon, winter was still on in full force.
    It seemed like it didn’t start to get warm outside until the beginning of May, and it has been warm ever since.
    On weekends, I will do my workouts in my weight room in the basement. I’ve gotten used to watching movies on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.
I used the Denver Broncos to win the Super Bowl in Madden.
    I’ve actually found a new joy in just hanging on the homestead on Saturday nights.
    On Saturdays and Sundays, I can often be found playing a game or two of Madden 2008 on my PlayStation 2, or I can be seen venturing on a long bike trip through the city.
    For the first time in like five years, I’ve started and completed a regular season of Madden inside of a calendar year. I can’t remember when was the last time I finished a Madden season inside of six months.
    I used the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers just to be different and have fun. The Broncos ended up winning the Super Bowl over the Panthers 56-28.
    Besides creating storylines on Madden, I got to have a little fun in the statistics department.
The Denver Broncos raise the Super Bowl trophy in Madden.
    With the Panthers, I signed a younger computer generated quarterback with a 99 overall rating and receiver Calvin Johnston, who was nicknamed in real life “Megatron.”
    Johnston had a 98 overall rating when he was signed and was boosted up to a 99 overall rating by the end of the season. I had Johnson catch 83 passes for 2,398 yards and 23 touchdowns appearing in all 16 regular season games.
    I’ve re-watched a lot of Star Wars movies including all three that are part of the “Disney” trilogy.
    I rediscovered the 1980s animated television shows for Transformer, G.I. Joe and Robotech. I viewed the Transformers shows off old VCR tapes I own.
    I started out watching G.I. Joe and Robotech episodes on YouTube.
A pandemic DVD purchase. Can’t go wrong with 1980s G.I. Joe.
    I later bought a couple of DVD sets of G.I. Joe television shows from the 1980s at Hi-Tech Gametraders in Confederation Mall in Saskatoon.
    I totally endorse shopping at Hi-Tech Gametraders, which is a good local Saskatoon business.
    I found the complete Robotech series on DVD for sale online in the United States and purchased it and had it shipped to my place in Saskatoon.
    The DVD sets were pandemic buys, because I likely wouldn’t have bought them had the world gone on like it normally would.
    I finally made a road trip for the first time in the pandemic traveling to Regina on Aug. 19 and 20. I brought my mountain bike to Regina, and biked there for the first time in 10 years.
    In a cool twist, the mountain bike I road in Regina was the same one I won following the University of Regina Cougars women’s basketball team to U Sports nationals in Thunder Bay, Ont., in 1999.
Another pandemic DVD purchase. Robotech is still cool.
    I won the bike hitting a half-court shot during a halftime competition at the tournament’s championship game.
    I’ve only hit a half-court shot one other time in my life since.
    During my Regina stop, I visited the resting place of my late father, Dan Steinke.
    While it was great to finally hit the highway again, I’ve discovered during the pandemic that I have grown comfortable with being a home body.
    I haven’t been a home body since I was in Grade 9.
    Still, it does suck that the world hasn’t progressed in a normal fashion specifically in North America since early March. When the pandemic does end, I hope I can become active again covering the sports teams in the hockey and football world that I’ve covered over 24 years before the pandemic started.
    There are no guarantees that will happen as that depends on how events in the world play out the longer the pandemic goes.
In the pandemic, I plan to keep making the best with the cards dealt my way.
    With that noted, I am going to continue to rediscovering doing a few things I used to do in taking advantage of the cards that have been dealt to me in the present.

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Friday, 28 August 2020

Pro sports Black Lives Matter boycotts should be supported

A Fred VanVleet card.
    Black Lives Matter and it is a good thing boycotts are happening in the professional sports world in North America to support this movement.
    If you watch television news channels or check out social media lines over this past week, it is unfortunately apparent that racism is alive and well most noticeably when it comes to African-Americans in the United States.
    At times, it feels like things are so bad on this front one wonders if society in North America has advanced since the 1960s and the days Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were leading civil rights movement rallies. On another sad note, history records both men were assassinated with Malcolm X and King Jr. dying in 1965 and 1968 respectively.
    In the current day, the unjust deaths of Breonna Taylor in March and George Floyd in May at the hands of police in the states of Kentucky and Minnesota respectively ultimate caused the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement. Taylor and Floyd are both of African-American decent.
    On Sunday in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Jacob Blake, who is also of African-American decent, took seven bullets in the back from police in an incident that was captured on video and circulated by various media agencies. Three of Blake’s sons witnessed the incident as Blake was shot leaning into the driver’s door of his SUV.
    Blake had warrants out of his arrest based on charges of third-degree sexual assault, trespassing and disorderly conduct in connection with domestic abuse, but it is unclear if police were aware of those warrants at the time of the shooting. Those warrants were vacated on Friday.
    On Tuesday, Blake’s father, Jacob Blake Sr., announced that Blake Jr. was paralyzed from the waist down and that doctors do not yet know if it would be permanent.
    Also on that same day, the United States Department of Justice announced there would be an investigation into that shooting and the investigation will look into whether Blake’s civil rights were violated.
    Rusten Sheskey was identified as the police officer as the shooter. He along with Vincent Arenas and Brittany Meronek were all by Friday placed on administrative leave by the Kenosha Police Department because of their involvement in the shooting of Blake.
A Norman Powell card.
    The Blake shooting led to the professional athletes protesting systemic racism and police brutality by boycotting games. The boycotts in the NBA started on Wednesday and were slated to run through to Sunday. Action in the NBA playoffs is set to resume Saturday.
    The WNBA postponed all its games on Wednesday and Thursday.
    A number of MLB games were postponed from Wednesday through Friday. A total of five out of six MLS games were postponed on Wednesday.
    The NHL postponed all its games on Thursday and Friday. The NHL Playoffs are slated to resume on Saturday.
    In the NFL, a number of teams have cancelled practices starting with the Detroit Lions on Tuesday. A total of nine teams cancelled practices on Thursday.
    Tennis star Naomi Osaka pulled out of her Western and Southern Open semifinal match on Thursday in Mason, Ohio, to take a stand for the Black Lives Matter movement.
    Following Osaka’s decision to walk out, the U.S. Tennis Association, Women’s Tennis Association and the men’s ATP Tour announced all semifinal matches set to take place on Thursday would be postponed.
    While those that don’t like the Black Lives Matter movement have argued Blake’s arrest warrants were reason to side with the arresting officers, they totally miss the point.
    The overall bottom line is that in the United States there has been a problem where police services in general in that country have harassed African-Americans who haven’t done anything wrong.
    Over the last three days, numerous stories have been told by African-American professional athletes about the racism they’ve faced in their lives and unjust encounters they have had with the police mostly in the United States.
    Unfortunately, sharing these experiences has brought out some of the worst in the general public. On Thursday, Claire Hanna of CTV Regina produced a story about Jordan Reaves, who is a Canadian, and Chad Geter of the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders navigating racism for supporting the professional sports boycotts.
    On Friday, Roughriders receiver Shaq Evans voiced his disappointment on Twitter about how some in Saskatchewan have put down the Black Lives Matter moment and the professional sports boycotts. He said he wondered if he still wanted to play in the province.
    About three hours after that Twitter stream, Evans put out an apology for potentially offending all the good people in Saskatchewan.
    All three are African-Americans.
Jordan Reaves in action with the Roughriders in 2018.
    Back on Tuesday, guards Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell, who are both African-Americans, of the defending NBA champion Toronto Raptors talked about their frustration with continuing systemic racism and police brutality and talked about boycotting games.
    On Wednesday, The Milwaukee Bucks were the first team to take action when they elected to not take the floor in the NBA bubble at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida, for Game 5 of their first round NBA playoff series against the Orlando Magic. The rest of the sports boycotts followed.
    The NHL took criticism for not boycotting it playoff games on Wednesday. On Thursday, the NHL players lead the charge in joining the other professional leagues in North America in boycotting games.
    All the players from the four remaining teams in the Western Conference post-season bracket appeared at a press conference in the Edmonton bubble on Thursday. Veteran Vegas Golden Knights right-winger Ryan Reaves, who is Jordan’s older brother, spoke about the importance of including all allies in the Black Lives Matter movement hinting people make realizations at different times depending on their backgrounds.
    “There’s a lot of white athletes in here,” said Reaves. “I think that’s the statement that’s being made now.
    “It’s great that the NBA did this and MLB and the WNBA – they have a lot of black players in those leagues. But for all these athletes in here to take a stand and say, ‘You know what? We see the problem, too, and we stand behind you.’ I hate their guts on the ice, but I couldn’t be more proud of these guys.
    “The statement they’ve made today is something that’s gonna last. These two days isn’t gonna fix anything, but the conversation and the statement that’s been made is very powerful, especially coming from this league.”

    On the ice, Reaves is one of those tough and hard to play against agitators. He is a player you hate to play against, but he has developed a lot of respect in the NHL with how hard he plays the game.
    That respect was shown early Thursday by reach outs from Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk and Vancouver Canucks players asking how Reaves was doing with regards to the racial turmoil. That started the road to the NHL game postponements on Thursday and Friday.
    Besides the athletes speaking out, I remember finding a spoof video on YouTube of the fictional world of Transformers about two or three years ago that had a moment that tried to make comedy of the friction between African-Americans and the police. It wasn’t comfortable to watch.
    In the video, an African-American man happens to show up out of nowhere and stand beside Megatron, who is the leader of the bad guy Transformers, the Decepticons. At this point, there is no battle going on.
Shaq Evans turns after making a catch for the Roughriders in 2019.
    Prowl, who is with the good guy Transformers, the Autobots, and has the ability to change into a police cruiser, immediately blows the African-American man away in an unprovoked attack. All the Autobots look horrified at Prowl, who transforms gets out of Dodge as fast as he can.
    While that video was jarring, it underlines the tension between African-Americans and the police.
    No matter how you cut it, systemic racism and police brutality in the United States is real. Canada also has its faults to with systemic racism.
    While some may disagree, the police in Canada have the reputation of being way more professional than their counterparts in the United States.
    Over the last few days, professional athletes in North America did shake up society with their boycotts. They should be applauded and supported for compelling us to have difficult conversations that need to be had.

Huskies, SMF create options for displaced high school players

Huskies RB Adam Machart (#20) follow at Mattland Riley block.
    One of the recent local feel good stories in Saskatoon goes to the University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team and Saskatoon Minor Football.
    Both programs are doing their best to create opportunities for high school aged players in Saskatoon to continue to improve their skills in the game.
    On August 19, the Saskatoon Secondary Schools Athletic Directorate cancelled high school football for the fall along with cancelling play in high school cross-country running, soccer and volleyball due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
    After the high school football cancellation, the Huskies and Saskatoon Minor Football worked to plan out complementary programming for the displaced high school players that can be conducted under Saskatchewan’s COVID-19 guidelines.
    The Huskies, who play in the U Sports ranks, are running an elite camp that starts this coming Monday and will run through to Thursday. The camp will run on Field #11 north of the Education Building on the U of Saskatchewan campus.
    The players will be divided into offensive and defensive positional groups for the sessions.
    On top of the Huskies camp, Saskatoon Minor Football is opening its North Saskatchewan Academy up to high school students in Grade 10 to 12. Grade 9 students are eligible to play in the Kinsmen Football League, which is run by Saskatoon Minor Football.
    The SMF program will be similar to its annual spring academy with skills and development followed by a league draft and mini games or controlled scrimmages. The SMF camp will run at Saskatoon Minor Football Field.
    If games are played, it will depend on how Saskatchewan’s COVID-19 protocols evolve. There are hopes that games can be played in six-man format.
    The six-man game of tackle football is commonly played by Saskatchewan’s high schools in rural areas.
    Both Huskies and SMF programming are filling up fast.
    Registration for the Huskies camp can be found by clicking right here, and the SMF academy can be found by clicking right here.

Sask Five Giants claim SPBL title

The Sask Five Giants were snagged a league title.
    The Sask Five Giants were able to do what most sports teams haven’t this year – claim a provincial league championship.
    Last Sunday, the Giants, who are based out of Martensville, traveled to Regina and blanked the host Athletics 2-0 in the Under-18 AAA Saskatchewan Premier Baseball League championship game at Optimist Park.
    The Giants scored one run in the top of the second inning and added a key insurance run in the top of the sixth inning.
    Cooper Price went the distance on the mound for the Giants striking out five batters and giving up only three hits. Jesse Lubiniecki took the loss on the hill for the Athletics striking out six batters in six innings of work.
    The Giants advanced to the SPBL final after downing the Diamondbacks in Saskatoon 12-2 in the North Division title game on Aug. 21. The Athletics took the South Division championship game 10-1 over the Regina White Sox on Aug. 21 in Regina.

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Monday, 24 August 2020

Adult meeting with Hawerchuk was special

Jets legend passed away too soon at age 57

Dale Hawerchuk on a Jets all-time all-star team poster.
    I admit I had a misplaced fear that my adult meeting with Dale Hawerchuk wouldn’t go well.
    Way back when Hawerchuk was skating through his rookie season with the Winnipeg Jets in the 1981-82 season, I first met Hawerchuk at an autograph session that was held at the Athletes World sports store in Winnipeg. At the time, I was five-years-old, and I can’t remember anything about that meeting except for vivid memories of being inside that sports store.
    I received an autograph wood mini stick, which I still have to this day.
    Throughout most of the 1980s, my family lived in Winnipeg outside of one-year move to Regina for the 1982-83 school year and a two-year move to Edmonton starting in the summer of 1989.
    Due to being located in Winnipeg, Hawerchuk was my favourite NHL player, and he was the first athlete hero I had during my childhood years.
    I had the opportunity to see numerous Jets games in my youth, and I have lots of good memories watching Hawerchuk live in action.
A Dale Hawerchuk card from 1989.
    As I grew up, I continued to keep tabs on Hawerchuk’s playing career including his days with the Buffalo Sabres, St. Louis Blues and Philadelphia Flyers. I kept tabs on his life after his playing days were finished.
    It was cool to see him have a number of good seasons as the head coach and director of hockey operations for the OHL’s Barrie Colts over nine campaigns starting in 2010 and running through to 2019.
    He took a leave up absence from the Colts to battle stomach cancer before the start of the 2019-20 season. Hawerchuk was given a clean bill a health in April, but the stomach cancer returned and he passed away from his battle with the disease last Tuesday.
    On Dec. 2, 2006, I got to interview Hawerchuk for a story in the Medicine Hat News. He was in town for an oldtimers’ game that was played at the Kinplex.
    At the time, I was in my best years working as a sports reporter for the News, and the outlet’s sports department was really kick butt. That was a time where I was in really good spirits.
    Leading up to the interview, I had talked to a few friends who mentioned they had disappointing experiences when as adults they met their sports heroes they looked up to as children.
    Before I headed out to the Kinplex to see Hawerchuk that day, one thought that ran through my head was, “Please don’t let this encounter suck.”
    During that game, Hawerchuk made some fancy plays. You could tell that at one time he did play hockey at its highest level.
A Dale Hawerchuk rookie card.
    Right when the game ended, I happened to be in the hallway where the players came off the ice.
    When Hawerchuk came off the ice, I think he might he might have thought he should have known me from somewhere. He actually immediately came over to shake my hand and went out of his way to be personable.
    The next part of the ice breaker was mentioning I lived in Winnipeg through most of the 1980s. Hawerchuk went on and on talking about city and how fond he was of it.
    It was crazy how much he knew about the city. He knew about the neighbourhood I lived, and talked about some of the businesses he had shopped at in my neighbourhood.
    He mentioned how cool it was that no matter where he went on the oldtimers’ circuit he always met people who lived in Winnipeg and always got to see Jets fans.
    I told him I wanted to interview him for the paper, and I said I had some time and that he could shower up first if he wanted to. As there wasn’t a Sunday edition of the paper to file for, I was hoping to do the interview in a more relaxed setting.
    Hawerchuk showered up and gave me all the time that I needed. I remember the interview went great. Actually, it was just an overall great visit.
    When that interview happened, the first version of the Jets had moved out of Winnipeg 10 years previous and the current version of the Jets were still another five years off from moving to the Manitoba capital from Atlanta, Georgia.
A Dale Hawerchuk card from 1987.
    Naturally, Hawerchuk campaigned that Winnipeg is a great hockey town and the NHL needed to back there.
    When the visit wrapped up, I got him to sign my poster of the Winnipeg Jets all-time all-stars.
    That visit helped to restore the childhood faith in the hockey hero. Hawerchuk lived up to the hero expectations.
    Over the years leading up to that visit, I met people in hockey and outside of the sports who knew Hawerchuk. All of them said he was a genuinely nice person, and he was a real quiet guy too.
    He was the superstar who enjoyed being out of the spotlight and his downtime, but he always wanted to be good and genuine.
    On the ice, the fact that Hawerchuk was a key member in helping the QMJHL’s Cornwall Royals win Memorial Cup titles in 1980 and 1981 as major junior hockey champions or that he played in 1,188 regular season games piling up 518 goals, 891 assists for 1,409 points are a small part of his story.
    The same goes with Hawerchuk playing for Canada and winning the draw that allowed Wayne Gretzky to set up Mario Lemieux for the goal that won the 1987 Canada Cup tournament in the final two minutes of the event’s deciding game.
    The outpouring of tributes that have poured in for him over the past week showed the 57 years he lived on this world were meaningful ones.
    Many sympathies were passed on to Hawerchuk’s wife, Crystal, the couple’s children in sons Eric and Ben and daughter Alexis.
A display of Dale Hawerchuk memorabilia.
    Even if you just had one memorable visit with Hawerchuk, you realized the world just lost one of its great good guys.
    That fact he had a positive influence on so many lives should definitely be celebrated.

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Sunday, 23 August 2020

Keenan made his mark as coaching icon with Rush

Oshawa, Ont., product leaves bench boss role, remains GM

Derek Keenan with the NLL Cup in 2018.
    In a world that has very few certainties, it seemed like Derek Keenan would coach the Saskatchewan Rush forever.
    With that noted, change seems to be inevitable in life. On Friday, the Rush announced Keenan was stepping down from his role of head coach.
    The 58-year-old product of Oshawa, Ont., will remain with the powerhouse National Lacrosse League club as general manager.
    Taking over as head coach will be Jeff McComb. The 51-year-old McComb, who is from Pickering, Ont., has been with the Rush for the last seven seasons and was their assistant coach responsible for offence.
    Former Rush captain Jimmy Quinlan has been hired as the team’s new assistant coach responsible for offence. The 38-year-old Quinlan last played for the Rush in 2013, when the franchise as still located in Edmonton.
    His #81 is retired by the team.
    Following his playing career, the Sherwood Park, Alta., product proceeded to spend five seasons with the Rush as an assistant coach responsible for defence.
Derek Keenan checks out action from the Rush bench in 2018.
    Jeremy Tallevi, who is from London, Ont., remains on the Rush staff as the assistant coach responsible for defence.
    Way back in June of 2009, Keenan was hired by the Rush to be the team’s head coach and general manager. He guided the club to an NLL championship in 2015 in the squad’s final season in Edmonton.
    Keenan led the Rush to another NLL title in 2016, which the franchise’s first season playing out of the SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon as the Saskatchewan Rush. The Rush captured the NLL crown again in 2018 under Keenan’s leadership.
    As the Rush bench boss, Keenan was viewed as the ultimate player’s coach. He treats his players with so much respect that the players don’t want to let him down.
Derek Keenan speaks at a Rush rally in 2017.
    In a lot of ways, Keenan is viewed as a kind father figure with the Rush.
    As Rush general manager, Keenan focuses on bringing in good people and his goal is that those players become better persons during their time as Rush team members.
    Keenan came to the Rush with boatloads of positive experiences in the game. As a player, he was a member of the Buffalo Bandits when they won NLL titles in 1992 and 1993.
    He doubled as a player and assistant coach when the Toronto Rock won the NLL crown in 1999. Keenan was an assistant coach for the Rock’s NLL championship wins in 2000, 2002 and 2003.
    Keenan was inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2012 before the Rush moved on to win their three NLL titles. As both a player and a coach, Keenan has been a part of nine NLL title wins.
Derek Keenan speaks to the media after a game in 2017.
    Just how big of an impact did Keenan have on the Rush?
    The Rush franchise posted a 16-48 regular season record in their first four campaigns of existence before Keenan came on board. In Keenan’s first season with the team in 2010, the Rush made the playoffs for the first time with a 10-6 record.
    The effect Keenan had on the Rush players showed through in the 2015 campaign. The Rush entered that season with expectations to contend for the NLL title with their only drawback being their youthfulness at the time.
    Keenan’s wife, Wendy, passed away on Jan. 2, 2015 due to her battle with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Derek had taken a leave of absence from the Rush to tend to Wendy in November of 2014.
    After she passed away, Derek returned to the Rush bench to resume his duties as head coach and general manager for a regular season game on Jan. 24, 2015. The Rush rallied around their coach for the rest of that campaign resulting in the team’s first NLL title win.
Derek Keenan gives a Rush player encouragement on the bench.
    Keenan views that first championship as his most memorable time with the team.
    “It was a very difficult year for our family, because we lost my wife and my kids’ mom and that was difficult, but we won that year,” said Keenan in a 2018 interview. “I think the amount that our players put into that season in terms of kind of her memory was so strong with our group.
    “I think that was really important to our team, and it was really important to me. It kind of started a legacy then that we were a very driven group. That was a big memory for sure.
    “The 2015 championship I think was really, really huge for us.”
    When the Rush moved to Saskatchewan, Keenan quickly became a household name in the province.
Derek Keenan hugs Rush goalie Evan Kirk after the 2018 NLL title win.
    Keenan’s kind and personable demeanor was one of the factors that helped the people of Saskatchewan develop a love in for the Rush.
    He would also take the time to explain the ins and outs of the lacrosse game, which also helped draw you into the sport.
    After winning the NLL title in 2016, the Rush were able to pick Derek’s son, Ryan, with the first overall selection in the 2016 NLL Draft. With Derek behind the bench and Ryan on the floor as a skilled forward, the Rush captured their third NLL title in 2018.
    Derek will also tell you he had a lot of help in creating a powerhouse program in the Rush. He will spread credit to his assistant coaches and to team owner Bruce Urban.
    Of course, Keenan guides a terrific group of players like captain Chris Corbeil, Mike Messenger, Jeff Cornwall, Robert Church, Ryan Dilks, Evan Kirk, Mark Matthews, Jeremy Thompson, Jeff Shattler, Ben McIntosh and Matt Hossack.
Derek Keenan speaks at the Rush victory rally in 2018.
    Along the way, Keenan became the NLL’s all-time leader in head coaching victories, and he has 155 combined wins in the regular season and post-season. The win total includes stints as head coach and general manager of the Anaheim Storm and the Portland LumberJax.
    He was the NLL coach of the year in 2006, 2010, 2014 and 2018 and the NLL’s general manager of the year in 2006, 2010 and 2014. The 2010 NLL coach of the year award was shared with Chris Hall of the Washington Stealth.
    It was just too bad real life threw a wrench into how Keenan’s final campaign behind the Rush bench went.
    The 2019-20 NLL season was suspended on March 12 and ultimately the remainder of the campaign was cancelled due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The Rush were 7-3 when NLL play was halted.
Derek Keenan and the Rush pose for a championship team picture in 2018.
    While Keenan will no longer be behind the bench, he will still be a key part of the organization. The outstanding culture that the Rush have built will be a huge asset for the franchise when it returns to action.
    Combined with the support legendary fan Joyce Souka, who is best known as “Grandma Rush,” and the rest of Rush Nation, you can already see the Rush quickly hitting high gear when they return to play.

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Saturday, 22 August 2020

2020 playoffs Barzal’s time to take NHL spotlight

T’birds grad moves on while Crosby, McDavid, Ovechkin done

Mathew Barzal in action with the Thunderbirds in 2017.
    Could Mathew Barzal be the face of the 2020 NHL post-season?
    The big NHL spotlight appears to be waiting for the 23-year-old centre, who is a graduate of the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds. Barzal has three goals and four assists in nine post-season games helping his New York Islanders advance to a best-of-seven NHL Eastern Conference semifinal series.
    While Barzal and the Islanders will be part of the NHL’s “elite eight” in the post-season, a trio of NHL superstars will not.
    Sidney Crosby and his Pittsburgh Penguins and Connor McDavid and his Edmonton Oilers were both eliminated in the qualifying round of the 2020 NHL post-season, which was expanded to include 24 teams as opposed to 16 clubs due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
    Alexander Ovechkin and his Washington Capitals were punted by Barzal and the Islanders in the official “first” round of the NHL Playoffs that took place after the qualifying round.
A Mathew Barzal card.
    The Islanders took a best-of-seven series between the two sides in five games.
    New York blanked Washington 4-0 in a Game 5 series clinching win in the hub city of Toronto on Thursday.
    In Game 3 last Sunday, Barzal came through with the biggest moment of the series scoring a sick overtime winner to give the Islanders a 2-1 victory in that contest and a 3-0 edge in the series.
    After receiving a smart pass from Jordan Eberle at the Washington blue-line, Barzal jetting into the opposing zone, cut across the face of the Capitals goal, went forehand to backhand and slipped a backhanded shot past Washington star netminder Braden Holtby.
    With Crosby, McDavid and Ovechkin gone, Barzal has the opportunity to be the NHL’s biggest individual star throughout the remainder of the post-season.
    Of course, the Philadelphia Flyers will have a lot to say about that as the Islanders opponent in an Eastern Conference semifinal series. The Flyers are the top seeded team in the conference.
    The two sides will go at it in Game 1 this coming Monday. The Islanders were 35-23-10 in the regular season before it was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Flyers were 41-21-7.
Mathew Barzal gets set to turn up ice with the Thunderbirds in 2017.
    It will be intriguing to watch the extremely talented Barzal. The Coquitlam, B.C., product was a star coming up through all levels of hockey leading into the NHL, which included a four season stay with the WHL’s Thunderbirds.
    After graduating from the Thunderbirds, Barzal, who stands 6-feet and weighs 187 pounds, jumped to the NHL on a full-time basis in the 2017-18 campaign playing in all 82 of the Islanders regular season games piling up 22 goals and 63 assists for 85 points. He captured the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year.
Thunderbirds C Mathew Barzal, left, dekes around a defenceman in 2016.
    Barzal has now played 234 NHL regular season games posting 59 goals and 148 assists for 207 points.
    While putting up impressive offensive numbers, Barzal has gained the reputation of being the team-first superstar.
    He sees team as family and realizes everyone has their role in order for success to happen. To that extent, Barzal has developed a playmaking ability that is second to none.
    It seems like the puck has eyes, when Barzal passes it. He knows he has to be the offensive catalyst in order for his teams to have success, but he knows others have to step up in important jobs when called upon like being shutdown checkers.
Mathew Barzal (#13) takes a draw for the Thunderbirds in 2016.
    The team as family concept was cemented into Barzal during his four seasons with the Thunderbirds. The Thunderbirds won 38 or more games in each regular season Barzal was with that club.
    From 2013 to 2017, Barzal appeared in 202 WHL regular season games piling up 63 goals and 215 assists for 278 points. Night in and night out, Barzal came with a top level effort every time he stepped on to a WHL ice surface.
    Even if he was held off the score sheet, you have to rise out of your seat and applaud Barzal for the effort he gave that night.
Mathew Barzal, centre, gives a cheer after a WHL title win in 2017.
    The Islanders selected Barzal in the first round and 16th overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, and if they wanted to, they could have kept Barzal in the NHL at that time.
    With the Thunderbirds poised to contend for a WHL title and challenge for the Memorial Cup as CHL champions, the Islanders did the right thing in sending Barzal back to junior.
    Along with offensive-defenceman and current Edmonton Oilers blue-liner Ethan Bear, Barzal was part of a special generation in Seattle.
    In 2015-16, the Thunderbirds finished fifth overall in the WHL with a 45-23-4 regular season record. They had their breakout run in the post-season advancing to the WHL Championship Series against the Brandon Wheat Kings.
    Seattle played hard in the 2016 WHL final but fell 4-1 in the best-of-seven set, which saw Brandon win the first three contests of that series in overtime.
Mathew Barzal (#13) gets a trophy as the 2017 WHL playoffs MVP.
    In the Thunderbirds 18 playoff games, Barzal posted five goals and 21 assists for 26 points.
    Barzal, Bear and company built on that experience finishing fourth overall in the WHL in 2016-17 with a 46-20-4-2 record. The Thunderbirds entered the playoffs with a roster that contained 14 skates that played in the 2016 WHL title series including Barzal and Bear.
    Seattle returned to the WHL Championship Series in 2017, and the Thunderbirds won their first league championship taking the best-of-seven set against the Regina Pats 4-2. The Pats topped the WHL’s regular season standings in 2016-17 with a 52-12-7-1 record.
    In 2017, Barzal appeared in 16 post-season games with the Thunderbirds posting seven goals and 18 assists for 25 points. He was named the most valuable player of the WHL playoffs.
    The Thunderbirds advanced to that year’s Memorial Cup tournament in Windsor, Ont., but bowed out of that event after posting an 0-3 round robin record.
Mathew Barzal and the Thunderbirds enjoy their WHL title win in 2017.
    With the Thunderbirds, Barzal saw how a team comes together as a family and can go on long playoff runs. He also saw how teams need players with different skill sets and specialties in order to achieve success.
    He has been in the forefront of the rise of a young Islanders team. Thanks to that young talent, the Islanders were a club that didn’t bat an eye when veteran star centre John Tavares left following the 2017-18 campaign to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
    Tavares and the Maple Leafs bowed out of the NHL post-season in the qualifying round and are forced if they so chose to watch the rest of the NHL playoffs on television.
    If the Islanders are able to even just make the Stanley Cup final, Barzal’s status in the NHL will reach other level.

Sask Five Giants take North Division final

Ethan Campbell fires in a pitch for the Sask Five Giants.
    The Sask Five Giants are tasting baseball playoff success in 2020.
    On Friday, the Under-18 AAA team from Martensville took the North Division title game in the Saskatchewan Premier Baseball League over the Saskatoon Diamondbacks 12-2 in a game that ended after five innings due to the mercy rule at Cairns Field.
    The title game, which was played before 60 spread out spectators, was actually a tight contest until the fifth inning. The Giants were holding a 4-2 lead batting in the top of the fifth inning with two outs.
    The Diamondbacks pitching and defence proceeded to hit a funk, which does happen in minor baseball. Thanks to that development and some timely hits, the Giants scored eight runs with two outs in the top of the fifth to go ahead 12-2.
    The Diamondbacks were unable to score in the bottom of the fifth to extend the game.
    Ethan Campbell went the distance on the hill for the Giants striking out four batters. Carson Hindmarsh threw four and two-third innings and struck out four batters to take the loss on the hill for the Diamondbacks.
    The Giants made the final after downing the Saskatoon Cubs 14-5 in a North Division semifinal encounter earlier in the day Friday at Cairns. The Diamondbacks downed the Northwest Prairie Pirates from Lloydminster 11-1 in a contest that ended after five innings due to the mercy rule in the other North semifinal held earlier in the day on Friday.
    The Giants will travel to Regina to take on the Athletics on Sunday in the Saskatchewan Premier Baseball League championship game at 1 p.m. at Optimist Park.
    The Athletics downed the Regina White Sox 10-1 in the South Division final on Friday in Regina.

Saskatoon fall high school sports cancelled, other notes

    The sports facilities at Saskatoon high schools will remain relatively quiet this fall.
    On Wednesday, the Saskatoon Secondary Schools Athletic Directorate cancelled the fall high school sports of cross-country running, football, soccer and volleyball.
    On Thursday, the Saskatchewan High School Athletic Association cancelled all play in the sport of golf for the fall.
    On Monday, Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools and Saskatoon Public Schools sent out letters to their rental customers that all rentals in school facilities had been cancel up to Dec. 31. That includes rentals for all sports and community groups.
    On top of those developments, the SHSAA pushed back the start date for the practices to start for cross-country running, football and soccer for the school districts that are still running these sports to Sept. 28.
    Cross-country running will have no inter-school competitions.
    Soccer regular season will be allowed to start Oct. 5 and run to Oct. 31. Football can start playing games on Oct. 13 and run to Nov. 14.
    Volleyball teams will be allowed to practice on Oct. 13 and games are slated to run from Oct. 19 to Nov. 14.
    All of these developments came as a response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
    For anyone that was a realist, these cancellations and postponements do not come as a surprise, especially when you see the cancellations and postponements that have come across the sports world due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Shutdowns started happening in North America on March 11.
    The sports groups should be credited with doing their best to try and get their respective sports going. With that noted, it was surprising that there were plans to have any sports associated with a school return to action.
    In Saskatchewan, it seems like you can’t even avoid stories regarding outrage over return to school plans for the entire student population even in a casual way over the past two weeks. If there are big fights going down about wearing masks in classrooms, you are not anywhere close a point that sports can be reactivated in the schools.
    In the comments sections for online stories by mainstream outlets regarding high school sports cancellations in Saskatoon, it common to find remarks from people that sports in schools should be cancelled and athletes and their parents are selfish and spoiled if they want school sports to continue in these pandemic times.
    I believe those comments come from people that are not involved in the sports world, and over the years, the disconnection has increased between people in the sports world and people who are not involved in that world.
    When you world in industries outside of the sports industry, you start realizing there are a large amount of people out there that do not have an interest in the sports world. That forces those in the sports world to constantly sell the values of taking part in sports like learning about teamwork, discipline and social skills.
    On the schools front, it is harder to return sports into action in schools, because all walks of society go to schools. When athletes join teams in sports associations, they are choosing to be part of that association, but those that don’t want to be part of those associations don’t have to be even in a defacto manner which is viewed to happen in schools.
    The cancellations and postponements regarding sports in Saskatchewan high schools will likely continue for a longer stretch here in the future. Athletes better not get their hopes to high about representing their schools in a competitive sports environment in 2020-21 winter sports season.

  • The conference semifinal round or the “elite eight” round of the NHL Playoffs is set to start today with the Dallas Stars taking on the Colorado Avalanche (6 p.m. Saskatchewan time, CBC) in the hub city of Edmonton. The NHL post-season was expanded from 16 to 24 teams due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Of the eight teams that remain in the playoffs, the New York Islanders and the Vancouver Canucks are the only that played in the qualifying round that are still alive at this stage of things. The Avalanche, Stars, Vegas Golden Knights, Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers and Tampa Bay Lightning all had byes into the 16-team official “first” round. The NHL is proving sports can be played in a bubble environment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The Montreal Impact are slated to host an MLS game against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Tuesday. The Impact will allow 250 spectators to watch the contest. The Impact, Whitecaps and Toronto FC are locked into playing league games just against each other for the moment due to the border between Canada and the United States being close to non-essential travel.
  • Gregg Drinnan did his latest round up about how COVID-19 is wreaking havoc on the sports world in his Taking Note blog on Thursday. His latest piece can be found by clicking right here. Drinnan is also a big advocate for kidney and organ donation, and you will find info about how to become involved on those fronts in his blog as well.
  • On Friday, the Saskatchewan Rush announced that Derek Keenan was stepping down as the team’s head coach but will remain with the club holding on to the role of general manager. The 58-year-old joined the Rush franchise as head coach and general manager in 2009, when the team was still in Edmonton. Keenan turned the Rush into a National Lacrosse League powerhouse winning the NLL title in 2015 in Edmonton and 2016 and 2018 in Saskatchewan playing out of the SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon. Keenan is the iconic lacrosse head coach. Jeff McComb was promoted from Rush assistant coach to head coach, former Rush captain Jimmy Quinlan returns to the organization as the assistant coach responsible for offence and JeremyTallevi remains in the role of assistant coach responsible for defence.
  • On Tuesday, NHL legend Dale Hawerchuk passed away after a battle with stomach cancer. He is best remembered for his nine season starring at centre for the Winnipeg Jets from 1981 to 1990. Hawerchuk played 16 seasons in the NHL from 1981 to 1997 for the Jets, Buffalo Sabres, St. Louis Blues and Philadelphia Flyers appearing in 1,188 games piling up 518 goals, 891 assists for 1,409 points. Tributes have poured in throughout the hockey world for Hawerchuk. My small Twitter tribute is below.

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Monday, 17 August 2020

CFL cancellation makes sports reset in Canada more real

Cody Fajardo (#7) fires a pass downfield for the Roughriders.
    Life in Canada’s sports world just got a little scarier.
    On Monday, the CFL officially cancelled its 2020 season due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. That official announcement didn’t come as a surprise.
    The CFL had too many obstacles to clear in order to get back on the field in 2020. Being a gate-driven league when it comes to revenue, the CFL faced rough waters with all parts of Canada having instituted limits on mass gathering to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
    At the moment, it is a battle to get clearance to have 200 people out at an event let alone an average crowd of 25,000 that attends a CFL game.
Bo Levi Mitchell (#19) slings a pass downfield for the Stampeders.
    During the final week of April, news came out that the CFL was looking for $30-million in Canadian funds now to manage the impact of COVID-19. The circuit was asking for additional assistant for an abbreviated regular season and up to another $120-million in Canadian funds for a completely lost season.
    In other words, the CFL was looking for $150-million in financial assistance if its nine teams are unable to play the 2020 regular season and playoffs.
    In early May, CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie made a presentation to a House of Commons standing committee on finance, and his performance in that presentation didn’t go over well.
    That put the CFL behind the 8-ball in trying to secure funding from the Government of Canada.
Gainer the Gopher meets Rider Nation after a Roughriders touchdown.
    In July, the CFL came forward asking for $44-million from the Government of Canada to play the 2020 season. The league had loan discussions with the Business Development Bank of Canada and Export Development Canada crown corporations that fell through.
    The CFL examined using the Business Credit Availability Program with assistance from Export Development Canada and terms couldn’t be found on that front.
    While all that was going on, word came out on July 21 that Winnipeg would be the hub city to play an abbreviated 2020 campaign in a bubble format without fans in attendance.
    On Aug. 3, the CFL asked for a $30-million interest free loan from the Government of Canada and news broke on Sunday via TSN football insider Dave Naylor that the request had fallen through.
Andrew Harris charges upfield for the Blue Bombers. 
    On Monday morning, the CFL put out a release saying the 2020 season wouldn’t be played and the circuit was eyeing a return in 2021.
    Besides not getting funding from the Government of Canada, the CFL was running out of time to get about half the league’s players back to Canada from the United States, follow quarantine rules, stage training camps and hold a regular season and post-season.
    As a result of the CFL cancellation, the Grey Cup will not be awarded for the first time since 1919.
    Back in 1919, the Grey Cup was not awarded due to a lack of interest along with a rules dispute between the league that complete for the trophy at the time. The game was cancelled from 1916 to 1918 due to Canada’s participation in the First World War.
    The Winnipeg Blue Bombers downed the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 33-12 in last season’s Grey Cup held at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, Alta., on Nov. 24, 2019.
Roughriders safety Mike Edem (#15) closes in on a hit.
    Now that the 2020 season has officially been cancelled, all sorts of speculation will surface about what the CFL’s fate will be in the future.
    Like most sports leagues, minor sports bodies and teams in Canada, the CFL is fighting for its survival.
    The sports world in Canada is on the road for a major reset. No one knows for sure what the reset will look like.
    The sports world that existed in Canada on March 10 before all the shutdowns that happened to battle the COVID-19 pandemic is gone for a very long time. Anyone with any type of common sense can see that.
    It is conceivable you could have leagues, minor sports bodies and teams go bankrupt and reboot after the pandemic is deemed to be over and mass gatherings are allowed to happen again.
Roughriders RB William Powell (#29) follows his blocking downfield.
    Odds are high that elite sport in Canada might take a step backwards. Elite level athletes might have to get by working part-time and even full-time jobs outside of the sports world and train for their sport on the side.
    Canada’s sports system relied heavily on volunteers before the pandemic started and that reliance will likely increase when it is declared the COVID-19 pandemic has passed. Volunteers usually burn out and have to retreat to focus on jobs where they can make a living.
    It is hard to envision elite athletes being able to focus on training for their sports like a full-time job unless you play in the NHL, NFL, NBA or MLB.
    The era of elite athletes coming to training camp to get into shape might return in Canada, which happened for most of the time up until around the mid 1990s.
Mosaic Stadium all set for the 2019 Labour Day Classic.
    In the CFL’s case, the circuit might not come back with as many players and coaches that come from the United States.
    Still, the CFL’s cancellation of the 2020 season is a sign the reset for the sports world in Canada became that much more real and hit a higher gear.
    You can be sure there will continue to be a sports world in Canada, but the road that sports world will travel will not be an easy one for the foreseeable future.
    It might even take two or three years to travel that difficult road, which makes things even that much scarier.

Roughriders CEO Reynolds offers reassuring words

Craig Reynolds speaks at Saskatoon Minor Football Field in 2017.
    Craig Reynolds came out with a message to try and help Rider Nation see the light in a dark time.
    On Monday, the CFL officially announced it had cancelled its 2020 campaign. A short time after that official announcement, Reynolds, who is the Saskatchewan Roughriders president and chief executive officer, spoke to the teams fans in a video posted on the club’s YouTube channel.
    In his speech, Reynolds says every avenue was exhausted to trying to make the 2020 campaign a reality. He added he believes the team and its fans will find the resiliency to make it through these challenging times.
    Reynolds helped create a bright spot in what was a sad day for the CFL.

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