Saturday, 31 October 2020

Dach gets sweet gift with Team Canada WJC selection camp

Kirby Dach in action with the Blades in January of 2019.
It appears the opportunity to play for Canada at the world junior hockey championships will likely unfold for Kirby Dach, and that is a good thing.

At first, it appeared the 19-year-old Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., product wouldn’t ever get the chance to play at a world juniors, because the skilled centre progressed too quickly when it came to playing the game of hockey.

During the 2018-19 campaign, Dach had a spectacular 17-year-old sophomore campaign with the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades posting 25 goals, 48 assists and a plus-15 rating in the plus-minus department in 62 regular season games.

He added five goals and three assists appearing in all 10 of the Blades games in the 2019 WHL playoffs.

Thanks to those efforts, Dach, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 197 pounds, was selected in the first round and third overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. He signed a three-year NHL entry-level contract with the Blackhawks going into last season.

He progressed well enough through summer that he was able to crack the Blackhawks roster as an 18-year-old rookie. Dach played regular minutes with the Blackhawks appearing in 64 regular season games recording eight goals, 15 assists and a minus-one rating.

The Blackhawks deemed Dach to be so valuable that they didn’t make him available to Canada for the world junior championship tournament played in Ostrava in the Czech Republic in the 2019-20 season. Canada captured the gold medal downing Russia 4-3 in the tournament final played on Jan. 5.

Kirby Dach made the NHL last season as an 18-year-old rookie.
With the NHL targeting January 1, 2021 as the opening day for the start of the upcoming season, the Blackhawks announced on Thursday that Dach was being loaned to Hockey Canada for the upcoming world juniors, which are slated to run Dec. 25, 2020 to January 5, 2021 in a bubble format at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alta.

Dach is one of 47 players who will take part in the selection camp for Canada’s world junior team that will start on Nov. 16 in Red Deer and run for 28 days to Dec. 13. Players will begin living in a bubble environment when they arrive in camp on Nov. 16 and won’t leave that environment until the world juniors wrap up on Jan. 5, 2021.

The bubble environment is being utilized due to the fact the world is firmly in the grips of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The Canadian selection camp itself is closed to the public and the media due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Had the world unfolded like normal, Dach likely wouldn’t have been made available for world juniors.

Going into that event, Dach will have experience on his side. He suited up with the Blackhawks as part of the NHL’s modified post-season played in the hub cities of Toronto and Edmonton in August and September.

The Blackhawks played exclusively in Edmonton winning a best-of-five qualification series against the host Oilers 3-1 before falling in five games in a best-of-seven Western Conference quarter-final series to the Vegas Golden Knights.

Dach appeared in all of the Blackhawks nine post-season games posting one goal, five assists and a plus-three rating.

It will not be a new experience for Dach when it comes to living in a bubble environment. In the current day, players are more connected to each other than ever thanks to social media, and other attendees at the camp will be able to talk to Dach about his bubble environment experiences.

Kirby Dach is in Hockey Canada’s plans for world juniors.
While suiting up in the NHL is the ultimate dream for hockey players growing up in Canada, another ultimate dream of playing for Canada at world juniors.

At the moment, Dach will get to revisit the ultimate dream of playing for Canada. Back in August of 2018, Dach helped Canada win gold at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup held jointly at Rogers Place in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta.

Dach had two goals and five assists playing in all of Canada’s five games at that event. He played at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup along with Blades teammate in netminder Nolan Maier and with Blades head coach Mitch Love on the Canadian team staff as an assistant coach.

The Hlinka Gretzky Cup is a best-versus-best tournament featuring the top national teams in the world in the under-18 age group.

Back in November of 2017, both Dach and Maier played for Canada Black at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge held jointly in Dawson Creek and Fort St. John, B.C. Dach had a goal and six assists in five games at that event.

At this year’s world junior selection camp for Hockey Canada, Dach will be reunited with Love, who will serve as an assistant coach for Canada for the second straight year.

For a short time, Dach will be back with his age group and will likely get an opportunity to be a leader amongst that group. That group includes 15 invitees from the WHL.

The invitees include offensive-defenceman Kaiden Guhle of the Prince Albert Raiders along with Prince Albert product and Brandon Wheat Kings offensive defenceman Braden Schneider.

Kirby Dach helped Canada win gold at the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
A pair of Saskatoon products from the WHL received invites in centre Connor Zary from the Kamloops Blazers and left-winger Adam Beckman from the Spokane Chiefs. Beckman topped the WHL in scoring last season piling up 48 goals and 59 assists for 107 points to go with a plus-44 rating in 63 regular season games.

Left-winger Alexis Lafreniere, who is slated to be with the NHL’s New York Rangers on a full-time basis this coming season, might still be added the selection camp roster too.

Of course, the spectre of the COVID-19 pandemic hangs over this event, and there is still a chance world juniors might not happen.

Still at this moment in time, Dach is on a path to skate for Canada at world juniors and realize a dream he had watching the event annually over the Christmas season growing up. It is a dream he should every chance to make a reality, if world events allow it.

SMF high school academy league shines, other notes

Daniel Wiebe (#5) runs the ball for Team Green 1.
The fall Northern Sask Academy League was good, like really good.

Back in August when the Saskatoon Secondary Schools Athletic Directorate cancelled high school football for the city due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Saskatoon Minor Football stepped in to fill the void. SMF signed up high school aged players from Grades 10 to 12 for the fall North Saskatchewan Academy.

The University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team ran some high school programming too, but SMF was hoping to get in some games likely under a six-man format.

For about the past month and a half, SMF held games in league play through the fall Northern Sask Academy League. The players that signed up for the high school academy were split into six teams for league games, which were play in 12-versus-12 format.

The league ended up being a best-versus-best circuit from the Saskatoon high school ranks. The level of play at the games that took place at Saskatoon Minor Football Field was outstanding.

The circuit wrapped up with a trio of games on Wednesday night. Team Green 1 got past Team Black 35-28, Team White downed Team Blue 22-8 and Team Yellow slipped by Team Green 2 by score of 25-13.

Toryn Swystun-Bernes (#77) locks in a block for Team Blue.
The league saw numerous players make big plays including running backs Kayden Miller and Daniel Wiebe, linebacker Zach Zary and Toryn Swystun-Bernes, who played both offensive and defensive line.

It seemed like the big plays that were made felt that much bigger, because the level of play felt like it was a step up from regular high school football.

If you were able to watch the streamed broadcasts over SMF’s Facebook site, you could tell the SMF crew did a fantastic job with the game presentation. At the park, the public address announcing and the music that played between breaks and after scores was spot on.

The crew with SMF deserve a tonne of credit for making this league happen during these COVID-19 pandemic times, and the level of play from the circuit was beyond what anyone could imagine.

The fall Northern Sask Academy League games were definitely the gem of the Saskatoon sports scene during the fall months this year.

  • On Monday, the sports scene in Edmonton and nationally had a somber day with the passing of 57-year-old Joey Moss, who was a dressing room attendant for the NHL’s Oilers and the CFL’s Edmonton Football Club. Moss, who had Down syndrome since birth, had been with both teams since the mid 1980s and became an institution in Edmonton’s sports scene.
  • On Monday, David Braley, who was the owner of the CFL’s British Columbia Lions, passed away at age 79 after battling an undisclosed long term illness. Braley had previously owned the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Toronto Argonauts. He first got involved with the CFL in 1987 as the Tiger-Cats owner. He was credited with playing a big part in keeping the CFL alive in tough times. On Thursday, 3DownNation reported Braley put aside a substantial amount of money in his will to fund the Lions for several seasons in the future if need be.
  • On Tuesday, three members of the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders were named to NHL Central Scouting’s “Players to Watch” list. Defenceman Nolan Allan was given a ‘B’ rating, while defenceman Landon Kosior and netminder Carter Serhyenko were given ‘C’ ratings.
  • On Tuesday, centre Colton Dach from the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades was named to NHL Central Scouting’s “Players to Watch” list. He was given a “C” rating.
  • On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Dodgers won the World Series downing the Tampa Bay Rays 3-1 in Game 6 of the best-of-seven series at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. The Dodgers took the set 4-2. The media eyes focused on the fact Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner was pulled from the game after the seventh inning, when he was notified he tested positive for COVID-19. Turner returned to the field to celebrate victory with his teammates and posed for a team photo without a facemask. On Wednesday, the commissioner’s office of the MLB said it was investigating Turner for his actions in returning to the field for victory celebrations. The MLB dodged a bullet with the Dodgers winning Tuesday’s game to end the 2020 MLB campaign. Had the Rays won, a series deciding Game 7 may not have been held on Wednesday. It will be interesting to see of initial uproar of Turner returning to the field after his positive COVID-19 test will have any staying power as the MLB off-season motors on.
  • On Wednesday, the Kansas City Mavericks of the ECHL announced they had signed University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team goalie Taran Kozun. The 26-year old Kozun appeared in 22 regular season games with the Huskies last season posting a 17-3-2 record, a 1.87 goals against average, a .931 save percentage and five shutouts. He also scored a goal. Kozun backstopped the Huskies to a Canada West Conference championship and was named the U Sports play of the year and goaltender of the year. He also took home honours as the Canada West player of the year and goaltender of the year.
  • On Wednesday, the National Lacrosse League announced it was targeting to start its upcoming regular season and 35th campaign on the weekend of April 9 to 11, 2021.
  • On Wednesday, golf legend Jack Nicklaus put out a tweet endorsing to re-elect Donald Trump as president of the United States. On Friday, Nicklaus told Tom D’Angelo of The Palm Beach Post he believed the number of deaths due to COVID-19 being reported in the United States are inflated. On Friday, hockey icon Bobby Orr took out a full page ad in the New Hampshire Union Leader endorsing Trump’s re-election bid. Both Nicklaus and Orr are taking major heat for their stands, while being defended by Trump supporters. While both Nicklaus and Orr are free to vote and endorse who they like, they aren’t immune from the fact that the easiest way for a sports figure to take a hit in their prestige is to say something about the world of politics.  
  • On Thursday, the Clemson University Tigers football team in the top level of the NCAA ranks announced star quarterback Trevor Lawrence has tested positive for COVID-19. He will not be available for today’s game when the Tigers (6-0) host the Boston College Eagles (4-2). Lawrence is predicted to be the top pick of the 2021 NFL Draft, if he chooses to leave university early. He is viewed as a favourite to win the Heisman Trophy as the top player in NCAA football.
  • On Thursday, the OHL announced it plans to start its upcoming regular season on Feb. 4, 2021. Originally, the OHL had targeted to start its regular season on Dec. 1. The shortened regular season will consist of 40 games. The playoff field for the OHL will be shrunk from 16 teams to eight teams. The first round will be a best-of-five format and the second and third rounds will be best-of-seven series. The Memorial Cup tournament to determine a CHL champion is slated to start June 17, 2021 in either Oshawa or Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. The WHL is planning to start its regular season on January 8, 2021. The QMJHL began its regular season on Oct. 1, but eight teams in the province of Quebec still won’t be playing this weekend being located in what the provincial government there terms are “red zones” due to COVID-19 outbreaks.
  • On Friday, the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades added 36-year-old Tyler Dietrich as a new assistant coach. Dietrich played centre in the WHL from 2000 to 2005 with the Moose Jaw Warriors, Medicine Hat Tigers and Everett Silvertips appearing in 133 regular season games collecting 31 goals and 47 assists. He has been coaching for the last 20 years and led Hockey Canada’s video coaching program for the last four seasons. Dietrich comes aboard as 36-year-old assistant coach Ryan Keller has made the decision to scale back his responsibilities with the team to spend more time with his family. He will remain with the Blades as a skills and development coach.
  • On Friday, the Government of Manitoba announced a one day record of 480 new COVID-19 cases for the province. Manitoba’s capital city of Winnipeg was moved to the red or critical level, which is the highest stage of pandemic response. Movie theatres, concert halls, sports facilities and restaurant dining rooms will be ordered to close starting Monday. The rest of Manitoba will move to the orange or restricted level starting Monday. The measures will be in place for at least two weeks. There have already been increased restrictions in recent weeks in Ontario and Quebec as COVID-19 case numbers rise. As COVID-19 case numbers continue to rise in the rest of Western Canada, it would be wise to expect more restrictions could be coming down the line. That isn’t being typed to create fear. It is just an education expectation after watching other jurisdictions in Canada. Also, everyone is operating on their own agendas, so it is easy to expect COVID-19 numbers will continue to go upwards.
  • On Friday, Gregg Drinnan wrote in his Taking Note blog on Friday night all the havoc that is being caused in the sports scene in Winnipeg and Manitoba due to the incoming COVID-19 restrictions. That piece can be found by clicking right here.

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Thursday, 29 October 2020

Visitors to “The Crushed Can” battled Warriors and their fans

First trip to Moose Jaw following rival Pats was eye opening

The Moose Jaw Civic Centre in 2011.
The pre-game reaction of a boy around the age of five proved the people of Moose Jaw took their WHL rivalry with hated Regina Pats seriously.

On Saturday, November 4, 2000, I stepped into the Moose Jaw Civic Centre, which was also known as “The Crush Can,” for the first time. It was the famous - or infamous depending on your point of view - home rink of the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors.

I was there that night covering the visiting Pats for the short-lived and ill-fated website.

During pre-game, I was touring the facility checking out various vantage points of where I might shoot pictures of the game from. As I walked around the stands, a boy, who looked to be five-years-old, asked me to take his picture.

Knowing the boy was likely from Moose Jaw, I replied, “I’m not from the Moose Jaw Times-Herald.”

The boy then asked with an exclamation emphasis, “Are you from Regina?”

Donald Choukalos and the Pats in the Civic Centre in 2000.
I nodded my head to give a “yes” response.

The boy quickly took off in the other direction and ripped into a tunnel that led to the concourse area like he had see The Joker, Lex Luthor or any other fictional villain you can think of.

The line was pretty clear.

“The bad guys” were anyone coming to this contest from Regina.

Hence was life in the rivalry between the Pats and Warriors, which is arguably the most heated one in the history of the CHL.

Tensions were high leading into this contest, which was the second encounter of the 2000-01 regular season between the two sides. The Pats and Warriors closed with 1999-2000 regular season with a heated home-and-home series.

The first game in Moose Jaw saw some Pats fans punch Warriors mascot, Puckhead, and the series concluded in Regina with a game that featured a line brawl that started when Warriors agitator Sean O’Connor hooked Pats goalie Donald Choukalos around the neck.

Lisa Franks at the Civic Centre in 2000.
The Pats healthy scratched dog mascot, K9, and polar bear mascot, Pat, in the return match due to fears of retaliation.

As for the November 4, 2000 encounter, the two sides met the previous night in Regina in a game that seemed to go on for three hours in real time due to all the fights and a third period line brawl that resulted in a suspension for Pats enforcer David Kaczowka. Moose Jaw came away with a 3-2 victory.

Despite all the crazy things that went on, the staff at “The Crushed Can” lived up to Moose Jaw’s motto of being “The Friendly City.”

As soon as you entered the building, they were super helpful in setting you up with game notes, making sure you knew where the media and scouts room was and ensuring you had everything you needed. If you had any other questions, all you had to do was ask.

The media and scouts room was set up in a dressing room at ice level. Pats head coach Lorne Molleken, who once coached the Warriors, and Pats assistant coach Chad Mercier came in and visited with everyone. At that time, you wouldn’t even know a big rivalry game was about to take place.

The Pats and Warriors in a scrum at the Civic Centre in 2000.
Things stayed on the down low for that night’s ceremonial faceoff. The Warriors were honouring Moose Jaw hero Lisa Franks, who won four goal medals in wheelchair racing at the 2000 Summer Paralympics held in October of that year in Sydney, Australia.

Pats captain Barret Jackman and Warriors assistant captain Jason Weitzel took part in the ceremonial faceoff. 

Jackman, who had played for Canada’s world junior team the previous season, had a deep respect for anyone that represented Canada on the world stage.

After both Jackman and Weitzel shook hands with Franks, Jackman turned to shake Weitzel’s hand.

Weitzel at first jumped back and game a facial expression of, “We’re enemies. What are doing?”

Weitzel then proceeded to shake hands with Jackman.

Grant Jacobsen (#15) fires a shot on goal for the Pats.
I expected the stage wouldn’t stay cordial. Right before the opening faceoff took place, I encountered two young teenage ladies from Regina who attended all the Pats home games.

They weren’t wearing their Pats jerseys that night, and they said they did so in order to avoid any problems with the Moose Jaw faithful.

As the game began, I looked up into the stands and wondered, “How did they get all these people in here?”

Attendance for that night’s game was listed as a standing room crowd of 3,135 at the 2,806 seat facility. It felt like there were more people shoehorned into the building than that.

There were eight uniformed police officers in sight at all times likely standing on guard in case anyone went over the line in the crowd, which happened a few times historically in that rivalry.

Before, after and during the game, you could feel the enormity and force of the crowd. They were figuratively on that ice surface playing that contest alongside the Warriors.

The game itself didn’t have any of the incidents like the previous recent encounters between the two sides at that point in time. For a game that didn’t have a fight or any line brawls, it was incredibly intense and physical.

Barret Jackman was heckle target of the Warriors faithful.
When anyone threw a hit, they were throwing a hit to hurt. Any time the Warriors laid a big hit, the crowd reaction was louder and way more emphatic than the hit itself.

The fans brought the heckles too, and the chants of “jackass” rained down for Jackman, who was also a first round NHL Entry Draft selection of the St. Louis Blues.

Pats 16-year-old left-winger Robin Big Snake and Warriors 16-year-old defenceman Mitch Love had a little battle going at one point that saw Big Snake take an unsportsmanlike conduct minor and Love a roughing minor at the 15:33 mark of the second period. Love happens to be the current day head coach of the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades.

With the teams locked in a 2-2 draw, veteran Warriors left-winger Shawn Limpright scored on the power-play with 6:46 remaining in the third period to give the hosts a 3-2 edge. The Warriors locked things down defensively from there to make sure that 3-2 score hold up as the final in their favour.

I happened to be by the hallway where the Pats came off the ice after the game. Veteran Pats defenceman Scotty Balan was one of the first players who came off the ice, and I remember him firing his helmet down the hallway and loudly repeating an explanative all way to the Regina dressing room.

A huge media horde quickly formed outside the Pats dressing room.

Pats D Filip Novak at the Civic Centre in 2000.
As I stood among the huge gathering of media folks, I thought I saw Warriors fans heading into a fan lounge right next to the Pats dressing room. I might not have seen that correctly, but that is what I thought I saw.

I didn’t have much time to figure out what I saw there, because Molleken quickly emerged from the Pats dressing room to meet the media.

I ended up firing off the first question in the scrum for some reason, even though I was likely the youngest guy there at that point.

With all the things that happened the night before, I asked, “So what was the difference in this one?”

Molleken must have though the query was a smart assed one and responded, “Moose Jaw scored more goals. Next question.”

I followed by starting to ask if the result revolved around work ethic.

Molleken knew what I was getting at, and before I could finish the query, he said the work ethic was fine and went off to giving a good answer, which he always typically did.

He said that night’s game was a good hockey game, gave a break down on what both teams did and said the contest came down to Warriors netminder Sean Connors having a really good night.

A scramble of action around Warriors goalie Sean Connors.
Molleken proceeded to answer questions you may have already had in your head, which was something he regularly did.

After interviewing Pats players Brett Lysak and Matt Hubbauer, it was off to the Warriors side to talk up head coach Len Nielsen and Limpright.

It might sound strange now, but I needed to have the story finished by late Sunday afternoon, so I departed for the 45-minute highway trip back to Regina after the game.

As I left “The Crushed Can,” the fans that remained were in a friendly and jovial mood.

During the drive home, I kept thinking that was the craziest sports facility I had ever been to at that point in time of my life. I would return to “The Crush Can” for many more WHL contests over the years, and the atmosphere was still crazy, even when the Pats weren’t the opponent.

It did get cranked up a notch, when the Pats were in town.

From that point onward, I often told people that if they really wanted to experience the WHL they had to attend a game at “The Crushed Can” in Moose Jaw.

The Moose Jaw Civic Centre in 2011.
Anyone that didn’t get to see the Warriors play in that building before it was closed in September of 2011 missed out. After being replaced by state of the art Mosaic Place, “The Crushed Can” was demolished from August to November of 2012.

Still any time I drive by the strip mall buildings that exist where “The Crushed Can” was, I can still picture it and all the loyal Warriors fans inside going bonkers.

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Saturday, 24 October 2020

2001 Rams/Huskies game provided release in rough time

Some crave similar release from respective local sports scenes

Neal Hughes is off to the races for the Rams.
It was a day like no other when you didn’t realize how good it would feel to be at a football park.

That day for me happened to be Saturday, September 15, 2001, when I arrived at Taylor Field to see the U Sports football clash between the University of Regina Rams and the University of Saskatchewan Huskies in a contest that was newly dubbed the Hall of Fame Game.

This game provided a significant memory for me because it occurred just four days after the terrorist attacks in New York City on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. Those attacks saw the fall of the World Trade Center towers after hijacked airplanes crashed into them.

Jason Clermont, left, rumbles upfield after a catch for the Rams.
It was safe to say everyone who saw the images of what happened in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001 was affected emotionally by them.

A third plane had crashed into the Pentagon that day. A fourth plane in United Airlines Flight 93 was initially flying to Washington, D.C., but it crashed into a field in Stonycreek Township, Pennsylvania after passengers thwarted the hijackers.

It seemed most were in a fog for most of that week after the terrorist attacks happened, and I was one of those that was in a fog. On top of that, I was going through some changes that were the biggest in my life up to that point in time.

Darryl Leason (#8) steps up in the pocket to make a pass.
In May of that year, I had moved away from Regina to work as the sports writer in Prince Albert at the Prince Albert Daily Herald almost a year after graduating from the University of Regina. I had covered the University of Regina’s athletic teams from 1996 to 2001, and most of my old friends from those days were still at the U of R, when I returned from the Hall of Fame Game.

After the terrorist attacks happened, all I wanted to do was go to Regina and see all my old friends again and be around something that felt normal.

It seemed a lot of other people wanted to be around something that felt normal that day as 7,238 spectators attended this clash between the Rams and Huskies. At that time, there pretty tight friendships among most of the members of all the athletic teams at the U of R, and a large sizable contingent from the rest of those teams was at this contest.

Jarrod Livingston watches his Rams from the sidelines.
The U of R was coming off arguably its most memorable season as an athletics program in 2000-01, where the Rams made the Vanier Cup falling 42-39 to the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees, the Cougars women’s hockey team made the U Sports title game coming up short on a 4-3 decision against the U of Toronto Varsity Blues and the Cougars women’s basketball team won the U Sport championship game 94-85 over the U of Alberta Pandas.

Adding in extra fun from my side was I took pictures of the Hall of Fame Game from the sidelines. I wasn’t planning on that, but Brad Woods, who was the U of R’s sports information officer, saw me before the game and set me up with a field pass.

Rams head coach Frank McCrystal evaluates play.
I later enlarged five photos from that contest, got them autographed and gave them to be used for the silent auction at the Rams annual fundraising dinner.

When I got to the sidelines, it was great to see Jarrod Livingstone was out on the field keeping tabs on the Rams. Jarrod, who is the grandson of legendary Rams builder Scotty Livingstone, has spina bifida and has to get around in a wheelchair.

For a lengthy stretch of years, he attended every Rams game and practice. He was the focal point of a lot of fun for everyone involved with the team, and he would give some locker room post-game addresses too from time to time.

The Rams faithful at Taylor Field were jacked up.
As for that contest itself, the cheers during the player pre-game introductions for that contest had a distinctly different feel to them. It seemed like everyone was happy to be out at a football game due to what had happened that past week in the world.

The fans seemed to get a little more engaged into the game when Rams star quarterback Darryl Leason gave a little pump up motion with his arms during pre-game introductions to make everyone remember a pretty big rivalry game was about to take place. Leason at the time was arguably viewed by those in Saskatoon’s sports scene as their greatest villain adversary at that point in time.

Rams LB Jeff Zimmer hits Huskies RB Tyler Siwak.
He loved to get verbal jabs out there that star Huskies defensive end and former Rams team member Brent Dancey would never be able to touch him among a number of other lines that would stir the emotions in the rivalry.

The Rams three key stars in Leason, slotback Jason Clermont and running back Neal Hughes put on a show, and the Rams came away with a 31-21 victory.

One of the game’s signature moments came when six Huskies defensive players were unsuccessfully trying to bring Clermont down, and one of those defensive players came at Clermont with a high flying tackle attempt grabbing the receiver around his neck. Clermont still didn’t go down, but the play was blown dead as his forward progress was stopped.

Darryl Leason ran for 64 yards and threw for 376 yards.
He caught five passes for 113 yards in the win.

Hughes was the night’s MVP. He ran the ball 17 times for 141 yards and scored two rushing touchdowns, and he caught six passes for 80 yards and one receiving major score.

Leason completed 23-of-39 passes for 376 yards and one touchdown, while running the ball 10 times for 64 yards and a major score.

The Huskies did manage to gleefully intercept Leason three times including one pick that was run back 31 yards by defensive back Eric Duchene.

U of S did have other highlights in the game. The Huskies led 7-0 after the first quarter thanks to a 12-play, 89-yard drive that finished with star quarterback Sheldon Ball hitting slotback Greg Meikle with a 16-yard touchdown pass.

Jeff Zimmer made 12 tackles for the Rams.
Huskies powerback Tyler Siwak ran the ball 16 times for 131 yards and scored one touchdown. With the Rams leading 21-7 early in the fourth quarter, Siwak ran his major in from 42 yards out to cut the U of R lead to 21-14 with 9:51 remaining in the frame.

The Rams answered that score with a monster 13-play drive that covered 100 yards that ate up over five minutes and 30 seconds on the clock. On that march, the Rams converted three third down gambles.

The march ended when Leason hit Hughes with a 19-yard touchdown pass to put the hosts up 28-14 with 3:58 remaining in the game.

U of R was able close out the contest from that point.

Linebacker Jeff Zimmer topped the Rams with 12 tackles. Dancey had four tackles for the Huskies, but wasn’t able to come close when it came to trying to register a sack.

Neal Hughes (#36) ran for 141 yards and two touchdowns.
Jon Ryan punted the ball twice for the Rams averaging 49.5 yards a kick.

On the legendary coaches’ front, Frank McCrystal patrolled the sidelines as the Rams head coach, and Brian Towriss worked the opposing sidelines as Huskies head coach.

After the Rams received the Hall of Fame trophy, everyone from the U of R side slipped off to their favourite long time night spot in Checkers for a joyful and spectacular post-game victory party. The festivities ran well into the early hours of the morning.

During the celebrations, you could tell everyone was feeling a release from being bombarded with what happened that week in world events on top of enjoying the Rams victory.

The U of Regina Cheer Team does their thing.
In the current world that is gripped by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, many right now would love to revel in a similar experience following sports teams in their respective local centres.

It doesn’t matter the sport. 

If you are involved with or follow football, hockey, basketball, curling, baseball, softball, racing or any sport that holds the heart of a town or centre, you would like to be able to go to a game and try to relive an experience you have had many times before.

It makes you feel good.

Back when that clash between the Rams and Huskies was played in September of 2001, a lot of the sporting world in the United States had paused in order to come to terms with what happened with 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The anxiety of those events spilled into Canada, and the battle between the Rams and the Huskies gave a break from all that tension.

The Rams get the Hall of Fame Game trophy.
That break and being able to feel good are partial reasons why some sports and leagues have gotten back into action in modified forms. 

In North America, nothing is running exactly like it did on March 10 of this year, which was last real normal day on the calendar before massive restrictions happened due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It will likely be some time before sports events in North America are held exactly like they were back on March 10.

When the day comes sports events can go ahead without restrictions again, you will likely see a lot of joy along with relief at various venues.

COVID-19 caution in local curling, hockey?

CurlSask is throwing caution to the wind in the curling scene.
It appears caution regarding the COVID-19 pandemic has hit a new gear in Saskatchewan when it comes to curling and the under-18 AAA hockey scene.

On Friday, stories came out over various mainstream media outlets that CurlSask postponed a provincial men’s curling tour stop at the Highland Curling Club in Regina and a women’s curling tour stop in Martensville. Both events were originally slated to begin Friday and run through to Sunday.

CurlSask said the decisions were reached based on the advice of the Government of Saskatchewan’s Business Response Team and the recent increases of COVID-19 cases.

On Saturday, the Government of Saskatchewan reported there were 78 new COVID-19 cases in the province, which was a new record for the province over a 24-hour period. Saskatchewan currently has 574 active COVID-19 cases, which is also an all-time high.

Gregory Strong of The Canadian Press put out a story on Friday showing that Matt Dunstone’s Regina-based rink and Colton Flasch’s Saskatoon-based rink are frustrated with Saskatchewan’s COVID-19 restrictions.

In the story put out by The Canadian Press, the Dunstone team hinted they were thinking about moving to Alberta in order to have the chance to get more competition in these COVID-19 pandemic times. At the moment, CurlSask won’t allow Saskatchewan curling teams to participate in events outside Saskatchewan and is barring teams from outside the province from coming into the province to play games.

Add caption
The Canadian Press story was posted on CBC’s website, and some of the reader comments directed towards the curlers weren’t that nice. The Canadian Press story on the CBC site can be found by clicking right here.

There has also been a trio of cancellations on the under-18 hockey front including two male exhibition games and one female pre-season contest on Friday and Saturday in Saskatchewan. COVID-19 wasn’t named as the reason for the cancellation, but “unforeseen circumstances” seemed to be the buzz words.

On Friday, the Saskatoon Blazers announced their exhibition home again that night against the Warman Wildcats was cancelled in male under-18 AAA play.

On Saturday, the Saskatoon Contacts announced their exhibition home clash that night against the Battlefords Stars was cancelled also in male under-18 AAA play.

Also on Saturday, the Prince Albert Northern Bears announced their pre-season home game against the Saskatoon Stars on Sunday was cancelled in female under-18 AAA play.

Bedard hits the ice in Sweden for games, other notes

Connor Bedard is seeing game action, and business is picking for other players on WHL rosters.

On Wednesday, Gregg Drinnan was the first in North America to report in his Taking Note blog that Bedard, who turned 15-years-old on July 17, played his first game that night with HV71 in Sweden’s U-20 league. HV71 is based in Jonkoping.

HV71 fell 2-1 to Farjestad, and Bedard was held pointless in that contest.

Bedard, who is from North Vancouver, B.C., was given exceptional player status to allow him to play in the WHL on a full-time basis at age 15. The Regina Pats selected the skilled centre first overall in the WHL Bantam Draft back in April.

Dave Struch, who is the Pats head coach and assistant general manager, told Drinnan the Pats released Bedard to HK71 with the understanding Bedard will return to the Pats when the WHL get back into action.

The WHL regular season is targeted to start on January 8, 2021.

Bedard has a goal and an assist in his first two games with HV71.

On Friday afternoon, the WHL announced it has granted temporary transfers for WHL roster players to play at the junior A, junior B and under-18 levels in order to continue their development.

On the same day, the Everett Silvertips announced they had loaned five players to the junior A ranks with the loans slated to expire on Dec. 20.

One of those players includes overage left-winger Cole Fonstad, who joined his hometown Estevan Bruins in the SJHL. Fonstad was a member of the Prince Albert Raiders until he was dealt to the Silvertips in October of last year.

Overall, a number of WHL players are now on rosters of junior A, junior B and under-18 teams.

All of these moves would not have come to pass at this point in time had it not been for the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • On Thursday, TSN’s Rick Westhead reported on Twitter a judge in Quebec and a judge in Ontario have rejected the $30-million settlement in the CHL’s minimum-wage class-action lawsuit. There is no telling when this legal proceeding may actually conclude.
  • Back on August 25, Forbes put out a piece stating the five biggest threats the COVID-19 pandemic poses towards the future of sports. The piece is geared towards a more United States viewpoint. The first threat mentioned is the financial threat noting the sports industry in the United States is worth US$750-billion. Some will see some parallels to the sports industry in Canada. The Forbes piece can be found by clicking right here.
  • On Thursday, Greg Harder put out a story in the Regina Leader-Post catching up with Connor Hobbs, who was a great with the WHL’s Regina Pats. The 23-year-old defenceman said he had retired from professional hockey after playing three injury riddled seasons in the AHL with the Hershey Bears. The Bears are an affiliate with the NHL’s Washington Capitals, who selected Hobbs in the fifth round and 143rd overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Hobbs is taking business classes online at the U of Saskatchewan and has been practicing with the Huskies men’s hockey team with younger brother, Declan, who is a goalie. From 2013 to 2017, Hobbs played in 180 WHL regular season games split between the Medicine Hat Tigers and Pats posting 53 goals, 94 assists and a plus-36 rating in the plus-minus department. Harder’s story on Hobbs can be found by clicking right here. Hobbs arguably most hilarious moment in the WHL is contained in the tweet below.

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Thursday, 22 October 2020

The time I psyched myself out interviewing “Mr. Hockey”

A Gordie Howe card from the 1980s.
Till this day, the only time I really psyched myself out for an interview as when I talked to “Mr. Hockey.”

That day came way back in December of 1999, when I was an intern general assignment reporter for the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. I was working with fellow interns Jillian MacPherson and Vanessa Lee compiling a list of what Saskatchewan’s movers and shakers were doing to ring in the new millennium.

The assignment was something each of us worked on between the daily stories we typed out. Between working on daily stories, you phoned some of the most well-known persons in the province and asked what their plan was for New Year’s Eve.

I tracked down a number of person’s from the sports world including Saskatchewan Roughriders greats Don Narcisse and Bob Poley. At that time, I already knew both personally.

 I decided to see if it was possible to track down all-time hockey icon Gordie Howe, who was nicknamed “Mr. Hockey.”

Howe was born just outside of Saskatoon in Floral and grew up in “The Bridge City.”

He has since passed away on June 10, 2016 at age 88.

Through the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings, I got contact info for Howe’s publicist, who set up the interview. The publicist gave me a time for when Howe was to call.

I had never talked to Howe in my life. As the time neared for the phone call, 23-year-old me, who sometimes felt indestructible at that age, started to get nervous.

A Gordie Howe card from the early 1990s.
The whole star stuck thing started to happen and I kept repeating in my head, “Oh my God. I am going to talk to Gordie Howe.”

With Howe having played 32 seasons of professional hockey in the NHL and the defunct WHA from 1946 to 1980, he was looked up to by hockey fans from a number of generations. That included my father, Dan Steinke, who passed away in January of 2004.

A number of my dad’s hockey stories about Howe danced through my head.

Normally when I interview athletes from the sports world including those that have significant profiles, I usually act like I already know them, and I act pretty much like you would see me on the street.

In this case, the star profile got to me.

I kept thinking in my head, “I have to refer to him as Mr. Howe to show respect.”

Howe called at the time the publicist said he would.

When I got on the phone with Howe, I was so nervous. I had to keep from freaking out that I was actually talking to Gordie Howe.

This was the one time I most remember being in awe of the celebrity of a person.

In late November of 1999, Howe had surgery to remove a cancerous growth on his left shin. Since only a handful of weeks had passed since that had happened, I vaguely remember starting the interview making joke about that.

A Gordie Howe card from the 1990s.
I don’t think I knew how to act to that, and I remember being caught off guard.

Whatever I said, Howe chucked and proceeded to give the more serious answer. The way he talked just had the best tone to it that it made you feel all good and tingly inside.

The quote I used from Howe was, “Well, we won’t be doing a heck of a lot of anything. If our grandson is playing on New Year’s, I’ll go watch him play. And that’s Nolan Howe. That’s Mark’s son.

“Nothin concrete. We’re just laid back, like we were in Saskatchewan.”

I remember thanking him for doing the short interview. It felt like I could have actually talked to him for way a lot longer than I did.

I was so awestruck and wanted to be polite about his time that I didn’t. Looking back now, I wish I would have kept the interview going.

I kept that interview tape for some time. It is possible it is still buried with the old interview tapes I have stored away.

I crossed paths with Howe at the 2007 Memorial Cup in Vancouver, B.C., when I was a beat writer covering the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers for the Medicine Hat News. I was so life consumed with covering the Tigers at that event that I didn’t get to talk to Howe.

I met a number of his family members in September of 2016, when the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades hosted a “Thank You, Mr. Hockey Day” for their home opener.

The ashes of Gordie and those of his wife, Colleen Howe, were interred at the base of the Gordie Howe statue that sits outside the SaskTel Centre.

The StarPhoenix from December 31, 1999.
I spent the whole second period of that hockey game visiting with Mark Howe and Morris Lukowich in one of the SaskTel Centre dressing rooms at ice level after a media event held during the first intermission.

I got to visit with Corey Howe and the Saskatoon lady he would later marry in Davis (Parkinson) Howe a couple of times that weekend. Corey was raised in Ohio and relocated to Saskatoon due to his romance with Davis.

All the Howe family members were down to earth and had pretty good senses of humour too. It really made me wish I hadn’t psyched myself out over the phone with Gordie all those years back.

Still, the memory of how awestruck I was during that short phone chat with Gordie in December of 1999 makes me smile and chuckle to this day.

Raiders’ Guhle signs with Les Canadiens, other notes

Kaiden Guhle has signed with the Canadiens.
Kaiden Guhle didn’t have to wait long after the NHL Entry Draft to sign his first contract in the big league.

On Tuesday, the 18-year-old defenceman with the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders signed a three-year NHL entry-level contract with the Montreal Canadiens. Just two weeks earlier on October 6, the Canadiens selected Guhle in the first round and 16th overall in the NHL Entry Draft.

The NHL Entry Draft was held via video conference call from the NHL Network Studios in Secaucus, New Jersey, as opposed to being live in an NHL centre due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Last season as a 17-year-old sophomore, Guhle, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 184 pounds, appeared in all of the Raiders 64 regular season games piling up 11 goals, 29 assists and a plus-23 rating.

The Sherwood Park, Alta., product appeared in 65 regular season games in 2018-19 as a 16-year-old rookie posting three goals, 14 assists and a plus-17 rating. He focused more on playing a defensive role on a defensive starting six where the other five members were all 19-year-old veterans helping the Raiders with a WHL Championship.

As a blue-liner, Guhle has a special blend of talents very few have.

Back in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft, the Raiders selected the gifted offensive-defenceman first overall in the first round.

Guhle was one of the two players the Raiders had selected first round in this past NHL Entry Draft and proceeded to sign three-year NHL entry-level contract.

This past Friday, Raiders right-winger Ozzy Wiesblatt signed a three-year NHL entry-level contract with the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks selected Wiesblatt in the first round and 31st overall in the NHL Entry Draft.

  • Nelson Nogier, a graduate of the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades and Red Deer Rebels, resigned with the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets inking a two-year, two-way contract on October 14. The defensive-defenceman has played his four career seasons in the professional ranks in the Jets system. Last season, Nogier spent the entire campaign with the Jets AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose, appearing in 58 regular season games collecting one goal, eight assists and 45 minutes in penalties.
  • Rugged right-winger and Regina product JC Lipon recently wrote an article in The Park Journal detailing the journey of his hockey career. The Park Journal is a first-person account media platform similar to The Players’ Tribune. Lipon talked about his rise to star status with the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers and how he got shuffled and slotted in the AHL ranks skating in the system of the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets for seven seasons. Lipon is now playing in the KHL with Dinamo Riga. The piece he wrote can be found by clicking right here.
  • Kevin Nastiuk, who is a former star goaltender with the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers and was a member of their 2004 WHL Championship team, has started a new goaltender training company called Nastiuk Goaltending. Nastiuk had a lengthy career in the North America’s minor professional ranks and in the professional game in Europe. His goaltender training company website can be found at
  • On Monday, Lethbridge Hurricanes general manager Peter Anholt celebrated his 60th birthday. Since joining the Hurricanes in June of 2014, Anholt has twice won the Lloyd Saunders Memorial Trophy as the WHL’s Executive of the Year including taking that honour for this past season.
  • On Monday, Evan Hardy Collegiate Souls football team linebacker Zach Zary committed to joining the University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team. Zary is an athlete who is talented in many sports. When he was a child, he wanted to play one of football, hockey or soccer for the Huskies. Zary’s father, Darren, is a long time ace sportswriter for the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. As good as Darren is as a sportswriter, he is an all-star dad and his ability to be a good father exceeds his abilities as a sportswriter.
  • On Wednesday, the University of Calgary Dinos football team announced Bailey Taylor had joined their program as a defensive back. Taylor was a rookie running back with the Saskatoon Hilltops last season, and he helped them win a sixth straight CJFL title.
  • On Wednesday, the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association cancelled all its winter championships in 2020-21 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Back in June, the CCAA cancelled all its fall championships and last month the CCAA/Curling Canada championship was cancelled. The CCAA won’t host any national championships for the 2020-21 campaign due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • News surfaced over the last two days that the Boston University Terriers athletics program has paused all in person practices and training due to an increase of COVID-19 cases on campus. The pause will be re-examined next week. The Terriers women’s hockey team include captain and Saskatoon product Nara Elia and Clavet, Sask., product and third-year forward Mackenna Parker. Elia and Parker are graduates of the Saskatoon Stars female under-18 AAA hockey team.

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Saturday, 17 October 2020

WHL rolls out some plans, still lots out of major junior circuit’s control in return to play

The Medicine Hat Tigers soak up an extra time win on Jan. 25.
The WHL is taking some baby steps when it comes to a return to play.

While some progress has been made, the major junior circuit still has to do a lot of work and hope for some luck when it comes to going ahead with a 2020-21 season with the world in the grips of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Most sports leagues are in the same boat, but the WHL has some unique hoops to navigate.

First, the WHL has to try and get four provincial governments and four provincial health authorities in Canada and two state governments and two state health authorities in the United States to pull in the same direction for a return to play to occur. The WHL has 17 teams located across Western Canada and five clubs located in the states of Washington and Oregon in the United States.

Second, the WHL has to navigate the issue of the border between Canada and the United States being closed to non-essential travel. At the moment, the border is slated to be closed through to this coming Wednesday.

This past Wednesday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated in an interview with a Winnipeg radio station the border would remain closed until the United States can get its COVID-19 case count under control.

Isaac Poulter and Broncos are going to the East Division.
At the time this post went live, Worldometer, which gives really accurate statistics, reports there have been 8,342,665 COVID-19 cases and 224,282 deaths due to COVID-19 in the United States this year. On most days since the start of September, the United States usually surpasses 50,000 new COVID-19 cases a day.

Over the last four days, the United States added 71,688 new cases in one 24-hour period and 66,132 new cases in another 24-hour period.

With new COVID-19 case numbers trending upward in Western Canada along with Ontario and Quebec over the past week, it is safe to assume the border between Canada and the United States won’t be open any time soon.

Also, Ontario and Quebec have increased lockdown measures over the past week.

In this current climate, the WHL is trying to do what it can to get back on the ice. On Wednesday, the circuit announced January 8, 2021 as the start date for the upcoming regular season.

The WHL had two previous tentative start dates originally slated for October 2 and then December 4 of this year.

Connor Zary in action for the Kamloops Blazers.
The league said all regular season games will be played exclusively within the boundaries of each of the four divisions. Under this set up, the Swift Current Broncos will be moved out of the Central Division to the East Division to play the WHL’s other four Saskatchewan teams and two clubs located in Manitoba.

All the WHL players are slated to report to their teams after the Christmas break. They will train in preparation for the opening of the regular season.

Also on Wednesday, the WHL announced Dr. Dhiren Naidu of Edmonton has been appointed as the league’s chief medical advisor. Dr. Naidu served as the NHL’s medical director for that league post-season hub location in Edmonton.

On Thursday, WHL commissioner Ron Robison held an online media conference to expand on Wednesday’s announcements.

Robison said the January 8, 2021 regular season start date is a firm one, and the regular season will run through to May 2, 2021. That scenario would allow each club to play a maximum of 50 games in the regular season.

During a normal campaign, WHL teams play 68 regular season games each.

Tristen Robins in action for the Saskatoon Blades.
Details of the format for the WHL playoffs would be announced at a later date.

Robison said there are no plans for teams to play in a bubble environment, which the NHL and NBA did to finish their 2019-20 campaigns.

There are hopes the Memorial Cup tournament to determine the CHL champion can be held in the middle of June of 2021 either in Oshawa or Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

Robison added the league is currently working with public health agencies on how to manage the entry of players from the United States and Europe to cross back into Canada.

At the moment, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League is the only circuit under the CHL that has started to play regular season games, and that return has been a rough one since the regular season started on Oct. 2.

The Blainville-Broisbriand Armada encountered at least 18 COVID-19 cases and the Sherbrooke Phoenix had at least eight COVID-19 infections. Both teams had to suspend team activities.

This past Wednesday, the QMJHL announced the 12 teams located in the province of Quebec have had their games postponed until October 28. At the time of that announcement, six of those clubs in Quebec were located in red zones that have been shut down by government restrictions.

Bowen Byram in action for the Vancouver Giants.
As for the six teams in the Maritime provinces, the Moncton Wildcats weekend games have been postponed due to government authorities in New Brunswick declaring Moncton an orange zone. The Wildcats are limited to practising.

The OHL is still targeting Dec. 1 as tentative date for their regular season to start.

The WHL’s plan to have teams concentrate playing regular seasons in regional areas is a good one. As the consistency between governments and health authorities in handling the pandemic is all over the map, it was easier to get sports going in some areas as opposed to others.

At the Junior A level of hockey, the Manitoba Junior Hockey League has been playing regular season games.

The Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League announced on Friday that teams can play exhibition games immediately with attendance capped at 150 people. Everyone inside arenas for SJHL games has to wear face masks.

The SJHL is targeting to start its regular season on Nov. 2, and is still working on how many spectators will be allowed into arenas for those contests.

Still, circuits like the MJHL and SJHL are mainly focused on playing games inside the boundaries of one province.

The Prince Albert Raiders celebrate a goal on March 3.
The WHL covers multiple regions, and it is uncertain how many fans that circuit will be allowed to have for games when the regular season does start. The WHL needs to have fans in the stands or the teams on that circuit will experience monumental losses.

There are no guarantees the WHL will hit the ice for any games.

At the moment, WHL has given as much clarity as it can about its future. It is a future the circuit as well as all other sports leagues have no control over due to these COVID-19 pandemic times.

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