Saturday, 28 November 2020

The Stars most memorable night at Agriplace Arena

First provincial title won in March of 2015

Kianna Dietz celebrates scoring for the Stars.
It might have been one of the most hyper championship celebrations of all time.

On March 25, 2015, the host Saskatoon Stars blanked the Prince Albert A & W Bears 2-0 in Game 3 of the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League championship series. With the win, the Stars swept the best-of-five set 3-0 and captured the Fedoruk Cup.

After the game’s final seconds ticked away at the Agriplace Arena, the Stars poured off their bench in a highly energetic celebration. They were bouncing all over the walls like young kids on a sugar rush the day after Halloween.

The pure excitement like came from the fact the Stars roster was young. The Saskatoon side had six players in their 15-year-old years and five players skating in their 14-year-old underage years.

Sophie Shirley controls the puck in the offensive zone.
Anna Leschyshyn dressed in that championship winning game as a 13-year-old associate player call up. Grace Shirley had also been playing regular season and post-season games as a 13-year-old associate player call up too.

The image of the Stars engaging in just pure and unfiltered joy was actually quite entertaining and even cute to watch. That win marked the first time the Stars won a provincial title on a circuit that is now known as the Saskatchewan Female Under-18 AAA Hockey League.

They beat their tradition rival to do it as well in a Bears side that is now known as the Prince Albert Northern Bears.

Nara Elia gets set to dangle past the Bears defence.
Looking at the Stars players, you could see they knew they did something special.

Going into that title winning game, there weren’t any thoughts about post-game celebrations on the Stars side. The focus was on beating the Bears.

The Bears had 17-year-old veteran Jessica Vance in goal who is still the SFU18AAAHL’s all-time leader in regular season goaltending wins. They had a couple of talented 17-year-old veteran forwards who could put up the points in Madison Casavant and Tylor Lindsey.

They had a 15-year-old offensive defender in Brooke Hobson, who had a shot that seemed to be given to her as a gift from the heavens and was a skilled power-play quarterback. 

The Stars celebrate a title winning goal from Jordyn Gerlitz.
Captain Morgan Willoughby, who was a 17-year-old veteran defender, was playing with grit returning halfway through the season from a serious knee injury.

Prince Albert had younger players who might be X-factors too in 14-year-old rookie underage defenders Hannah Koroll and Jordan Ashe along with 13-year-old rookie underage forward Abby Soyko.

The Bears were guided by head coach Jeff Willoughby, who was already a league veteran and two-time league coach of the year at that point in time.

The Stars countered with the two best players in the league in centre Sophie Shirley, who is Grace’s older sister, and winger Nara Elia, who were all-world talents skating in their 15-year-old sophomore years.

Captain Paige Michalenko was a steady veteran presence.
Elia scored the double overtime winner in Game 1 of the championship series with Sophie and 15-year-old winger Abby Shirley picking up assists.

In Game 2 of the series in Prince Albert, Sophie had two goals and an assist as the Stars blanked the Bears 3-0. In the Stars eight games of their post-season run to that point in time, Sophie had an incredible 12 goals and 12 assists.

The Stars were leaning on the talented Emma Johnson, who was a 15-year-old sophomore, to deliver in goal.

The five players the Stars had playing as 14-year-old underagers were already performing like veterans in forwards Mackenna Parker, Kianna Dietz, Jordyn Holmes and Jordyn Gerlitz along with supremely talented offensive defender Willow Slobodzian.

Goalie Emma Johnson keeps the Bears at bay in the third.
While the Stars were young, they were steadied by the presence of 17-year-old veterans in defender and captain Paige Michalenko, forwards Courtney Cormack and Brittany Heuchert and netminder Karlee Fetch.

Jenna Nash was having a strong season playing defence in her 17-year-old season until a knee injury brought her campaign to an end shortly before playoffs started. Nash was still around offering support to her teammates.

Danielle Nogier, who was a 16-year-old centre, did a thankless job as a tight checking defensive shutdown forward. Hollie Coumont, who was a 16-year-old defender, provided points while being a colourful character who had character.

Hollie Coumont was a character who had character.
Julia Rongve, who was played in her 15-year-old sophomore season, usually skated on the top line with Sophie Shirley and Elia and fulfilled any role the team asked of her.

 The Stars depth was rounded out by 16-year-old defender Danielle Girolami, 15-year-old defender Rayna Jacobson and 15-year-old utility player Kalista Senger. All three played important minutes at different points in the campaign.

Veteran hockey coach Greg Slobodzian took on the duties as Stars head coach that season and shared the league’s coach of the year honours in that campaign with Chad Kish, who was the head coach of the Weyburn Southern Range Gold Wings.

Anna Leschyshyn picked up an assist on the Stars second goal.
The crowd was squished into the Agriplace Arena for the Game 3 clash for the league title between the Stars and Bears on that March day in 2015.

Vance and Johnson took centre stage in the opening 20-minutes with the Stars holding a slim 8-7 edge in shots on goal. Sophie and Elia were working their magic, but weren’t able to get the host side on the scoreboard.

The Stars supporting cast stepped into the spotlight in the second period and made the ultimate difference in the contest.

At the 7:31 mark of the frame, Dietz set up Gerlitz for the tally that put the Stars up 1-0. Gerlitz, who was a speed and high energy forward, would go down as first player to score an SFU18AAAHL championship winning goal for the Stars.

The Stars begin celebrating their league title win.
Again, Gerlitz and Dietz were playing in their 14-year-old rookie underage seasons for the Stars.

Just 14 seconds later, a net scramble occurred in front of the Prince Albert net. A sprawling Vance and Morgan Willoughby couldn’t stop Dietz from popping home the all important insurance goal.

Dietz immediately raised her arms in the air and she was mobbed by her teammates on the ice. While she was a rookie, Dietz had already established herself as the glue gal in the Stars dressing room. She had a deep love for her teammates and team.

Leschyshyn picked up a helper on that tally.

The Stars raise the Fedoruk Cup.
The Bears attempted to battle back but the damage was done.

Johnson slammed the door the rest of the way officially making 22 saves to pick up the shutout win in goal. Vance turned away 20 shots taking the setback in net for the Bears.

The Stars forward unit of Nogier, Cormack and Heuchert performed a perfect shutdown job on the Bears in the final minute of the third period.

When time expired, the Stars were finally league champions.

In 2010, 2011 and 2012, the Stars made the league final but came up empty handed against Olivia Howe and her Notre Dame Hounds dynasty team.

Brittany Heuchert, left, and Hollie Coumont kiss the Fedoruk Cup.
The 2014-15 campaign was the time everything came through for the Saskatoon side in a magical season.

The Stars advanced to the Esso Cup female under-18 AAA national championship hosted that year in Red Deer, Alta., in April of 2015. Saskatoon fell to the host Red Deer Chiefs in a semifinal game 2-1 after a tiebreaking shootout.

The Stars rebounded and won the bronze medal game 5-1 against the Central Plains Capitals from Portage la Prairie, Man.

Overall, the Stars posted a 45-5 record in 2014-15.

Still, the most memorable night was winning the league championship at Agriplace.

The Stars pose for a team picture after winning the Fedoruk Cup.
Due to the fact a soldout concert wrapped up at the neighbouring SaskTel Centre, the Stars and their families were trapped by traffic at Agriplace following the championship win, and that was a good thing.

After the Stars players got showered and changed, the celebration continued for 90 minutes in the lounge area at the facility. It provided the opportune time for fellowship.

The memories made by all those with the Stars that night were ones that last for a lifetime. They truly were “the Shining Stars of Saskatoon.”

Shirley hits milestones with Badgers

Sophie Shirley added a couple of big milestones to her already well-decorated hockey resume over the past couple of days.

On Friday, the gifted centre, who is in her junior year, picked up an assist as her University of Wisconsin Badgers women’s hockey team fell in their NCAA regular season opener 3-2 to the Ohio State University Buckeyes in Columbus, Ohio.

The helper was Shirley’s 100th career NCAA point.

On Saturday, the 21-year-old Saskatoon product scored twice to power the Badgers past the Buckeyes 5-0 in the second clash of a two-game series in Columbus, Ohio.

Shirley’s first tally was her 50th career NCAA goal. In 79 career games with the Badgers, Shirley has 51 goals and 51 assists for 102 points.

During her rookie campaign in 2018-19, Shirley piled up 20 goals and 18 assists for 38 points in 41 games helping the Badgers win an NCAA national championship.

Last season, Shirley recorded an incredible 29 goals and 32 assists for 61 points in 36 games for the Badgers. She was a finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award as the top player in NCAA women’s hockey.

The Badgers weren’t able to complete their post-season run in 2020 due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has gripped the world.

Shirley played two complete seasons for the Saskatoon Stars female under-18 AAA team and three games as an associate player call up in the 2012-13 season. In 58 career regular season games with the Stars, Shirley piled up 41 goals and 27 assists for 68 points.

At the moment, the Badgers are set to return to action this coming Friday, when they are scheduled to travel to Minneapolis, Minn., to play the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Clark celebrates 25th birthday on Saturday

Emily Clark meets her fans at the SaskTel Centre in Nov. 2018.
Emily Clark, who has made her mark as one of Saskatoon’s all-time hockey greats, celebrated her 25th birthday on Saturday.

Clark, who is a member of Canada’s senior national women’s hockey team, played three seasons for her hometown Saskatoon Stars female under-18 AAA hockey team from 2009 to 2012. The supremely talented forward appeared in 82 regular season games for the Stars piling up 45 goals and 46 assists for 91 points.

During her final campaign with the Stars in 2011-12, Clark set the team record for most points scored in one regular season at 60. She piled up 26 goals and 34 assists for 60 points in 26 regular season games.

Her Stars record for most points in one regular season was matched by centre Mackenna Parker in the 2017-18 campaign, when Parker piled up 33 goals and 27 assists for 60 points in 23 regular season games.

Emily Clark, centre, with her old Stars teammates in Dec. 2019.
Clark’s number 13 was retired by the Stars in December of 2019.

Clark won two gold medals representing Canada at the women’s under-18 world hockey championships in 2011-12 and 2012-13.

She was a member of Canada’s women’s hockey team that won a silver medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.

Clark played four seasons with the University of Wisconsin Badgers women’s hockey team from 2014 to 2019 posting 70 goals and 76 assists for 146 points in 147 career NCAA games. She helped the Badgers win an NCAA national championship in her final season with the team in 2018-19.

In all her hockey stops, Clark has been popular with all her teammates. She continues to be one of the game’s top role models.

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Friday, 27 November 2020

When COVID-19 restrictions are announced, social media is not the place to be

Facebook can be a really crappy place at times.
It appears it was a great week to be a rageaholic.

The rageaholics came out of the woodworks this week anytime new restrictions were announced to combat the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has gripped the world.

On Tuesday, rageaholics went off the rails in Alberta, when new restrictions were brought forward in that province.

On Wednesday, it was Saskatchewan’s turn to be a rageaholic stomping ground.

Of course, new restrictions are being brought in because the number of new COVID-19 cases are spiking across Canada. Just for Alberta and Saskatchewan alone the cases have been rising at an incredible rate.

As of Friday, there were 14,217 active COVID-19 cases in Alberta and 3,263 active cases in Saskatchewan.

Back on Nov. 1, there were 5,172 active COVID-19 cases in Alberta and 798 active COVID-19 cases in Saskatchewan.

Back on Oct. 1, there were 1,596 active COVID-19 cases in Alberta and 144 active COVID-19 cases in Saskatchewan.

When new restrictions get announced, social media is not the place to be. On Facebook and Twitter, it is quite easy to find posts full or rage, hate and piss and vinegar.

Of course you get the side that goes off that the restrictions are too tight. You also have the side that hammers down the restrictions don’t go far enough.

Looking at all the social media posts, you come away with the impression that everyone in society in general is some sort of version of former NFL diva receiver Terrell Owens.

When Owens used to play in the NFL, one of the common acts to imitate him was to go on a rant and say, “It is all about me. Me! I’m the greatest. Me! Team is spelled M, E. Me!”

In general, it is safe to say all humans are selfish to a certain extent. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it feels like the selfishness of humanity has hit new levels. We are definitely not in this all together.

I hate to say it, but some loud people in the sports world - that includes some in Alberta and Saskatchewan - seem to have abandoned preaching the importance of team and seem to be saying things that makes them symbolize all those “me” traits Owens used to show off.

The urge to play in an effort to stay relevant seems to be the most important thing in the world to those people.

Starting on Friday in Alberta, all sports in that province have been cancelled for a three-week restriction period, but exceptions may be granted.

Hockey Canada’s selection camp for its world junior team is going on at the moment in Red Deer, but the sport body announced on Wednesday that players, coaches and staff had entered a 14-day quarantine retroactive to Monday. All camp activities are paused until Dec. 6.

The Bears won’t enjoy any more wins for a bit.
The shutdown came after the confirmation that two players at the camp have tested positive for COVID-19. A staff member had tested positive for COVID-19 on Nov. 21.

A new batch of restrictions took effect in Saskatchewan on Friday. All team sports and group activities are suspended.

Athletes and dancers 18-years-old and under may keep practicing in groups of eight or fewer if they use masks and physical distance three metres from each other. Fitness activities of groups of eight or less are still allowed as long as masks are worn and there is three metres of physical distance between participants.

Capacity at casinos, bingo halls, arenas, live theatres, movie theatres, performing arts venues and other facilities that had a capped capacity of 150 people will be restricted to 30 people.

Indoor gatherings such as banquets, weddings, funerals, conferences will also have a limit of 30 people and food and beverage service will be prohibited.

All places of worship must reduce capacity to 30 people, and no food or drink can be served.

Restaurants and licensed establishments are limited to seat four at a single table.

Mandatory non-medical mask wearing was extended to more areas. That includes all students, employees and visitors at schools, all employees and visitors in common areas in business and workplaces and all residents, employees and visitors in all common areas in provincial and municipal correctional facilities.

These new measures and public health measures that were all ready in effect in Saskatchewan will remain in effect until December 17.

On Wednesday, the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League junior A circuit announced it won’t be playing any games from Friday through to Christmas.

As sports got going again during the pandemic, it felt like there were some in minor sports bodies and with teams that acted like sports would not be shut down again, and it seemed like that message filtered to some players and parents.

If anyone really believed that, they were delusional, because what happens with the pandemic is out of anyone’s control. Everyone in any sports organization should know that the risk on going ahead with play in these current pandemic times is that games and competitions can be scrapped and sports organizations and teams can lose substantial amounts of money by playing.

It felt like there were some out there that knew the risks, weren’t truly honest about them and got burned by them.

There are also a large number of sports organizations and teams that are honest with their players.

Actually, there have been a number of coaches that have done admirable work in being honest with their players.

Special shout outs go to Saskatoon Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant, University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team head coach Scott Flory, Prince Albert Northern Bears head coach Jeff Willoughby, Saskatoon Stars head coach Robin Ulrich, University of Regina Cougars women’s hockey team head coach Sarah Hodges and University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team head coach Steve Kook.

Those special shout outs come from interactions with the players on those teams as well as the coaches themselves.

There won’t be any Stars victory celebrations for a while.
That list could be expanded, if it wasn’t for limited interactions due to the pandemic. I know I have left a large number of good coaches out.

Still, it feels like society in general is not in this all together when it comes to dealing with the pandemic. The sports world is not immune to this.

It seems the only way out of this is to hope the mainstream media stories that there are at least three COVID-19 vaccine candidates out there that could possibly be rolled out in 2021 becomes reality. That could optimistically return everything to normal by September of that year.

Relying on humanity as a whole to get on the same page to battle the COVID-19 pandemic right now looks to be a non-starter.

The mystery of Rangers’ Maracle, other notes

So were there Indigenous hockey players in the NHL before the late Fred Sasakamoose?

It appears there was a least one for sure. It also appears that it took some painstaking work a journalist to uncover that one, which might add some historical snapshots of time.

The one Indigenous player that came before Sasakamoose was Ayr, Ont., product Henry Elmer “Buddy” Maracle.

Maracle played 11 regular season games at left wing for the New York Rangers in 1930-31 collecting one goal and three assists and was held pointless in four playoff games. He was a member of the Mohawk tribe.

Irene Schmidt-Adeney, who is a reporter at the weekly Ayr News, has spent a tonne of work uncovering Maracle’s history.

He was born in Ayr, Ont., on September 8, 1904 and passed away on June 20, 1958 in Dallas, Texas. Schmidt-Adeney said Maracle passed away due to a kidney disorder. He was a produce truck driver at the time of his death.

She added that stories about Maracle during his hockey career often had racist headlines. His final season of hockey was with the minor league San Diego Skyhawks in 1943-44.

After his hockey career finished, Schmidt-Adeney said Maracle became a United States citizen. According to her research, Maracle gave up his Mohawk status in 1955.

His Texas death certificate from 1958 said his color or race was “white.”

Historical archives and newspaper archives were able to show facts on Maracle. They help paint a snapshot in time.

At the point in time Maracle lived, it was likely more advantageous to renounce your Indigenous status. The fact he did that likely made it harder to track down his cultural background.

As a result, Sasakamoose, who is from the Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation, is often recognized as the NHL’s first Indigenous player with treaty status when he played 11 regular season games for the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1953-54 campaign. Sasakamoose passed away on Tuesday after being recently hospitalized for COVID-19.

Sasakamoose will always live on as a legend, because he did a tonne of work to help better the lives for Indigenous athletes. He always identified with his culture and will always be viewed as a hero.

On Maracle’s front, you can’t fault him for choices he made with the facts that have been uncovered in his life. He was a product of his point and time in history.

  • On Wednesday, Softball Saskatchewan announced it was suspending all sanctioned activities until January 15, 2021 due to the rise of COVID-19 cases in Saskatchewan.
  • On Wednesday, the WHL announced that the WHL Cup tournament was cancelled for the 2020-21 campaign due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The event features the under-16 teams from British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
  • On Wednesday, a Saskatchewan Amateur Football Mega 50/50 lottery was announced to support the CJFL’s Saskatoon Hilltops and Regina Thunder and the WWCFL’s Saskatoon Valkyries and Regina Riot. One prize will be drawn per month, and the draw dates are December 31, 2020, January 31, 2021, February 28, 2021, March 31, 2021, April 30, 2021 and May 31, 2021. Tickets can be purchased by clicking right here, and purchasers must be in Saskatchewan in order to buy tickets.
  • On Friday night, the 50/50 jackpot for the Hockey Harvest Lottery sat at $220,520. The lottery is being used to raise money for the player scholarship funds of Saskatchewan’s five WHL teams in the Moose Jaw Warriors, Prince Albert Raiders, Regina Pats, Saskatoon Blades and the Swift Current Broncos. Tickets can be purchased by clicking right here, and purchasers must be in Saskatchewan in order to buy tickets.
  • On Friday, the University of Wisconsin Badgers women’s hockey team opened their NCAA regular season schedule falling 3-2 to the Ohio State University Buckeyes in Columbus, Ohio. Sophie Shirley, who is an alumna of the Saskatoon Stars female under-18 AAA hockey team, had an assist for the Badgers. The Badgers roster contains Sophie’s younger sister, Grace, who is also an alumna of the Stars.

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Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Beloved Sasakamoose leaves great trailblazing legacy

Fred Sasakamoose 1933-2020

Fred Sasakamoose, right, at the 2018 Memorial Cup.
When I first met Fred Sasakamoose way back on February 25, 2004, he was underestimating the epilogue of his life.

We had a long visit in the old conference room on the second floor of the Prince Albert Daily Herald office building. I was interviewing him for a story for the next day’s paper.

Sasakamoose had recently been in Shaunavon, Sask., as a guest at the Hockey Day in Canada festivities. He attended on an invite from CBC.

During a banquet at that event, longtime Hockey Night in Canada broadcaster Dick Irvin Jr. introduced Sasakamoose to the crowd. Irvin summarized Sasakamoose’s place in hockey history.

He was one of the first Indigenous players to play in the NHL. He made his NHL debut on November 20, 1953 with the Chicago Blackhawks playing against the Boston Bruins.

Sasakamoose played one more game with the Blackhawks before being sent back to the junior Moose Jaw Canucks.

With the Canucks in 1953-54, Sasakamoose appeared in 34 regular season games collecting 31 goals and 26 assists. In February of 1954 after the Canucks season finished, Sasakamoose was called back up to the Blackhawks.

The centre played in 11 games in total with Chicago collecting no points and six penalty minutes.

Irvin’s father, Dick Irvin Sr., coached Sasakamoose in Chicago.

At the time I interviewed Sasakamoose in February of 2004, he was 70-years-old. He thought at that time what took place in Shaunavon was a high point in his life.

“That put the icing in my life,” said Sasakamoose. “The finishing touch of the cake.

“The finishing touch on my life, when they put on the icing by Shaunavon, Saskatchewan, by CBC Hockey Night in Canada, (and) by the people of Shaunavon for the invitation. I hope they read this in Shaunavon, and what I finished saying.

“It was the greatest moment of my life.”

Little did Sasakamoose know, his story took on a bigger life from that point.

He was inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame in 2007. The Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation member became a member of the Order of Canada in 2018.

On top of those honours, Sasakamoose has been inducted into the Saskatchewan First Nations Sports Hall of Fame, the Prince Albert Sports Hall of Fame, the Meadow Lake Wall of Fame, the FSIN Circle of Honour and the Canadian Native Hockey Hall of Fame.

He continued to be an incredible positive influence on young Indigenous athletes and that developed into lifelong friendships into adulthood.

Sasakamoose spoke on the real hard subjects too. Much of his childhood was spent at the St. Michael’s Indian Residential School in Duck Lake, Sask. During a Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearing in Prince Albert in 2012, he publicly acknowledged that he was sexually abused by other children at the school when he was nine years old.

At age seven, he and his brother, Frank, were whisked away by the government to the school.

Sasakamoose overcame all of that adversity to make it to the NHL. Following his time in the NHL, Sasakamoose’s playing career concluded with time spent in various minor leagues.

When he was done playing, he became a band councilor with the Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation and served one six-year term as Chief.

He spent a large amount of time developing sports programs for Indigenous children.

On Tuesday, Sasakamoose passed away at age 86 after recently being hospitalized for COVID-19.

Tributes poured in from all over the hockey world, especially from the Indigenous community.

Because of Sasakamoose’s exploits, it allowed the sport of hockey to be blessed with the likes of Bryan Trottier, Theo Fleury, Jordin Tootoo, Brigette Lacquette, Ethan Bear, Brady Keeper, Justin Nachbaur and Jaydon Dureau to follow in the strides Sasakamoose made.

Sasakamoose watched those youngsters grow with great pride and was someone they could always turn to.

A lot of Sasakamoose’s biggest impacts on a number of those individuals came after I did my interview with him back in February of 2004. During that visit, I could tell I was only scratching the surface of the wisdom Sasakamoose, who was born on December 25, 1933, had to share.

It is safe to say some great wisdom was shared with various Indigenous athletes after my visit with him in Prince Albert.

Fred Sasakamoose (#21) in Saskatoon in Jan. 2018.
During the initial aftermath of the news of his passing, it feels like Sasakamoose should have had more opportunities to continue to have a profound impact on people. He was truly a gem of a person.

If each of us could emulate a fraction of who Sasakamoose was, this world really would be a better and more understanding place.

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2013 Grey Cup was Rider Nation’s best day at Taylor Field

Me, left, next to Chris Schultz on TV.
Thanks to looking over Chris Schultz’s shoulder, I had my moment at the 101st Grey Cup.

Following the Saskatchewan Roughriders 45-23 romp over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to win the Grey Cup at home on the frozen concrete of Taylor Field on November 24, 2013, I found myself heading to the booth on the north side of the legendary facility that was hosting TSN’s game day panel.

I was part of the group that got to look in through the window as the members of the panel gave their final thoughts on the contest. I was looking over the shoulder of Schultz, who was a former offensive tackle and 1991 Grey Cup winner with the Toronto Argonauts.

Later on that night, I noticed my TV appearance was captured on photo by a couple of buds in Mike Kaye and Jeff Urkevich, who posted the images on Facebook. I laughed when I saw them, and they are still a good keepsake memory.

This past Sunday, the CFL wrapped up a Grey Cup Unite promotion that began on Monday, Nov. 16. It marked a week long virtual celebration of the CFL and its iconic title game that dates back to 1909.

Grey Cup Unite ran during the same time this year’s Grey Cup festival was to be held in Regina, and the championship contest was to be played on Sunday at Mosaic Stadium.

With the world locked in the grips of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the 2020 CFL campaign got outright cancelled.

Rider Nation mingled in the streets before the 2013 Grey Cup.
There was talk about playing a shortened CFL season in a hub city format in Winnipeg, Man., but the entire campaign was officially terminated on August 17.

During the Grey Cup Unite week that just wrapped up, my mind drifted back to that seasonably pleasant day and night in Regina on November 24, 2013. That game was played seven years ago today, and it feels like some kind of other lifetime ago.

Still, I wish something could make me go back in time to relive that day again. Even just being seven years younger that I am today, I felt I was able to truly soak in and enjoy that day.

At that time, I was still working at the Medicine Hat News as a beat writer that covered the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers. I had booked a vacation week that started on that Grey Cup Sunday.

With how the stresses were in the workplace at that point in time, I aimed to use my vacation weeks as tools to give myself strategic breaks. Looking at the CFL schedule, I thought the Roughriders could be in that game.

Fans walk to Taylor Field for the 2013 Grey Cup.
Even if they weren’t, I expected to attend a Grey Cup party in Medicine Hat and had plans to enjoy the day that way.

I was actually in Calgary a week earlier on November 17, 2013 at McMahon Stadium, when the Roughriders hammered the host Calgary Stampeders 35-13 in the CFL’s West Final.

When I got home, I did check Ticketmaster’s website to see if there were tickets available for the Grey Cup. Of course, the game was a sellout.

During my career as a sports reporter, I knew usually at big events like the Grey Cup a portion of tickets are set aside for dignitaries and special guests. Tickets that are set aside for those purposes that aren’t used usually go back on sale to the general public.

On the Tuesday just two days after the West Final, I was able to buy one of those tickets that were put back up for sale to the public.

The Saturday before the Grey Cup game, I actually worked a WHL regular season contest, where the host Tigers downed the visiting Regina Pats 5-1 at The Arena in Medicine Hat. The Tigers crew knew I was heading to the Grey Cup game, and they all told me they hoped I had fun.

Fans gather outside Taylor Field before the 2013 Grey Cup.
I believe I only slept five hours that night and began my jaunt to Regina at 7 a.m. on Grey Cup Sunday.

When I arrived in Regina, it was like everywhere I went in town was a joyful, feel-good party. After wandering the streets around Taylor Field enjoying festivities with the rest of Rider Nation, I made my way to the stadium to ensure I got to see the pre-game show.

During pre-game show, the sellout crowd of 44,710 spectators was already in a walking on air mood when the Saskatoon-based band the Sheepdogs was on the field playing. As game time neared, you believed this would be the perfect dream night for Rider Nation.

This belief was backed up when the Roughriders charged the field in their traditional “Bring ‘Em Out” style.

The game’s signature moment came early in the first quarter, when Roughriders franchise quarterback Darian Durant scrambled up field, got hit and fumbled the ball high into the air to be pulled down by star running back Kory Sheets.  Sheets rumbled off a magical 39-yard game for the home side.

Fans line up to get into Taylor Field for the 2013 Grey Cup.
As a Roughriders fan, you had a big gut feeling that this game was going to go your way after seeing that play.

That drive eventually resulted in a diving 15-yard touchdown reception by legendary CFL receiver Geroy Simon that put the Roughriders up 7-3. Saskatchewan scored 24 points in the second quarter to take a 31-6 lead into halftime.  The outburst included another beauty 42-yard touchdown catch by Simon.

After Hedley’s entertaining halftime show, Hamilton scored the first 10 points of the second half to create a little worry for the Roughriders fans cutting Saskatchewan’s lead to 31-16. That was as close as the visitors got.

A four-yard touchdown run by Sheets and a 26-yard touchdown reception by receiver Weston Dressler put the Roughriders up 45-16, and the victory celebration in Saskatchewan started in earnest.

Sheets had two major scores along the ground and piled up a Grey Cup record 197 yards rushing on 20 carries to be named the game’s MVP. He ran with power and authority.

The inside of Taylor Field at the 2013 Grey Cup.
Durant completed 17-of-24 passes for 245 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Slotback Chris Getzlaf was the contest’s most outstanding Canadian player hauling in three passes for 78 yards.

The game was also highlighted by two big sacks from Roughriders defensive lineman John Chick.

On a fan front, I was pumped to see the Roughriders run over Tiger-Cats star quarterback Henry Burris, who once played for the Roughriders in the early 2000s. Crazy part was I would met Burris about four years later after he quarterbacked the Ottawa Redblacks to a Grey Cup win in 2016.

I learned Burris was a gem of a person, and also having a better understanding of the business of sports, I regretted the fan heckles I sent his way over the years at CFL games including the 2013 Grey Cup.

Even with that noted, I still relish and have the greatest memories of the Roughriders Grey Cup win in 2013, which was fourth Grey Cup victory in team history. It felt like the right outcome for the final Grey Cup ever played at Taylor Field.

Taylor Field shortly after the Roughriders win the 2013 Grey Cup.
When the clock ticked to zero, people were hugging their neighbours all around them. The image of Durant hoisting the Grey Cup with a huge smile on his face will also live forever. The green and white confetti raining down on the Roughriders players was also a site to behold.

For the longest time after that game ended, I remember just sitting in the stands and soaking everything in. On the fan front, it was the greatest day.

I also had four buds who were University of Regina Rams football team grads on that Roughriders team in Neal Hughes, Brendon LaBatte, Getzlaf and Jordan Sisco. Thanks to those connections, I actually spent some good social time with a number of players on that Roughriders team over the years including Durant.

They are all great guys, and I was really proud that they got to achieve that moment in their careers.

Actually, the idea of the Roughriders winning the Grey Cup at Taylor Field wasn’t even something that seemed conceivable for the bucket list.

The final scoreboard of the 2013 Grey Cup.
After reveling in the moment, I made my way to the booth where the TSN panel was to get my TV moment.

From there, I disappeared to “the Green Mile” and into the Regina night to enjoy the celebration, which went well into Monday morning.

For like a 24-hour period, it really felt like life was just truly good. Even now, I feel fortunate I got to enjoy that feeling.

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Saturday, 21 November 2020

Bears’ rookie Archer slams door on Sharks in OT win

Bears G Brooke Archer turns away Sharks F Lacey Schneider.
PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. – Brooke Archer wasn’t going to let an opportunity for redemption pass her by.

Last Sunday at the SaskTel Centre, 15-year-old rookie goalie for the Prince Albert Northern Bears made her first Saskatchewan Female Under-18 AAA Hockey League regular season start. The Mossbank, Sask., product made 27 saves coming up on the wrong end of a 7-2 loss to the host Saskatoon Stars.

The Bears played their next game after that setback on Saturday inside the friendly confines of the Art Hauser Centre, and Archer found herself getting the start again in goal. She made 21 stops helping the Bears post a 2-1 overtime victory over the visiting Battlefords Sharks.

Brooke Archer directs a shot into the corner.
The two sides go at it again on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. at the Battleford Arena in Battleford.

Archer was pleased Bears head coach Jeff Willoughby didn’t allow her to dwell too long on the lopsided loss to the Stars.

“I was actually really surprised, but I was happy,” said Archer. “I felt that hopefully I could redeem myself this game and come back out better.”

Actually, it might be accurate to say Archer played so well she stole Saturday’s game for the Bears. She turned away speedy Sharks 17-year-old forward Jordyn Blais on three different breakaway opportunities.

Brooke Archer made 21 saves on Saturday.
Blais had two breakaway chances while the Sharks were short-handed.

During the game’s first 40-minutes, the Sharks had a slim 20-19 edge in shots on goal, but the visitors also had numerous grade A scoring chances.

Archer made a larger number of tough saves to allow the Bears to exit the first 40 minutes locked in a 1-1 tie.

“I was a little scared going into this one after what happened in the last one,” said Archer. “Once I got in the home ice, I felt my confidence went up a lot more.”

When it came to facing Blais on those three breakaway, Archer had a strategy.

“I knew she was going to shoot each time just because we had a D-man pressuring her,” said Archer. “I was just ready for the shot.”

Brooke Archer gathers up a loose puck.
After the two sides played a tight checking scoreless third period, it didn’t take the Bears long to get the win in a four-on-four overtime session. Just 35 seconds into the extra frame, Bears winger Haley Kicia sprung captain Paris Oleksyn on a breakaway to the Sharks goal with a smart pass.

Oleksyn wired the winner to the top right corner of the Battlefords net over the shoulder of Sharks 16-year-old veteran goalie Yelena Zaleschuk. The veteran 17-year-old Prince Albert centre was pumped to net the overtime winner.

Yelena Zaleschuk made 24 saves for the Sharks.
“It was a heck of a feeling,” said Oleksyn. “There was a lot nerves at the beginning.

“It was the first overtime of the year, which was kind of scary. Me and Haley (Kicia), we’re super excited. We just need to focus on getting the puck deep, and then it is four-on-four.

“It shouldn’t be that hard to create some two-on-ones which we did. We retrieved the puck, and it was just the best feeling.”

Oleksyn said the Bears had to get the win too after Archer made all her key saves to keep the host side in the contest.

“She (Archer) was having an amazing game,” said Oleksyn. “It was hard for us that we couldn’t help her out, because she kept stopping like breakaway shots and everything.

Ava Cole scored to give the Sharks a 1-0 lead.
“There wasn’t a lot we could do to help her out until the end.”

After a scoreless opening frame, the Sharks got on the board first at the 3:38 mark of the second. Working on the power play, Sharks defender Ava Cole snuck down from the point and collected the loose puck at the left side of the Bears net.

Cole popped home an extra-strength marker from close in to the top corner of the Prince Albert goal to give the visitors a 1-0 edge.

The Bears responded 41 seconds later when centre Sophia Zuck roofed home a shot on an offensive zone rush to even the score at 1-1.

From that point, Archer ensured the door to the Prince Albert net stayed shut helping her team improve to 2-1.

Sophia Zuck scored the equalizer for the Bears.
Zaleschuk had a solid outing as well turning away 24 shots to take the setback in goal for the Sharks, who were making their regular season debut in the 2020-21 campaign.

Willoughby said the Bears coaching staff believed they needed to let Archer start another game as quickly as possible to help her get past the loss she took in her regular season debut.

“We just felt that she needed to play,” said Willoughby. “Instead of sitting and thinking about the last game one more day, let’s just get her back in the action.

“There is no better way than to just get right back into it. I thought playing at the Art Hauser she would feel more comfortable. Obviously, it showed today.

Paris Oleksyn had the OT winner for the Bears.
“I thought she had great composure on some of the saves she had to make like three breakaways and some in tight rebounds. She had really good composure. We were glad with the decision that was made, and it paid off I think for all of us.”

Willoughby said he was happy for Archer, and believes his netminder got exactly what she needed. The veteran bench boss added the Bears skaters need to play better in front of their goaltenders but having Archer gain a boost of confidence was a big plus.

“Games can be swung either way just by how your goaltender is playing,” said Willoughby. “If we can continue to get that performance from Brooke and both our goalies, it just helps us out throughout the way here.”

The Bears celebrate their OT victory on Saturday.
On top of gaining a confidence boost, Archer will never forget getting her first win for the Bears.

“It was so exciting,” said Archer. “I just had so energy going over there, and it was just an awesome feeling.

“I hope we get lots more from there.”

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Friday, 20 November 2020

Missing CFL a back and forth thing for me

The 2020 Grey Cup Festival T-shirt and baseball cap.
A pre-pandemic birthday gift is my reminder that this should have been Grey Cup week.

On my birthday back on March 4, I was given a T-shirt and a baseball cap to mark that the Grey Cup festival was going to be in Saskatchewan this year. Originally, this week was supposed to be Grey Cup week in Regina, and the championship game for the CFL was supposed to be played this coming Sunday at Mosaic Stadium.

Unfortunately, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic gripped the world pretty tightly causing most of the sports world to shut down in North America on March 11 and 12.

After trying to figure out a scenario to take the field, the CFL officially cancelled its 2020 campaign on August 17.

Actually back on May 20, the CFL decided to move the Saskatchewan Roughriders hosting rights for the Grey Cup from this year to 2022. Originally on that day, the CFL said the Grey Cup host for 2020 would be the team that had the best record going into the game.

The CFL then experimented with the notion of having Winnipeg host the circuit in a hub city format before ultimately cancelling the campaign.

Evan Johnson, left, in action for the Ottawa Redblacks in 2019.
Across Canada, diehard fans lamented the loss of the CFL season. In Saskatchewan, the pain hit a lot of fans as the Roughriders have a well documented passionate following.

It is likely true that there have been some people in Saskatchewan who have thought about the Roughriders for at least half the time they have been alive through the COVID-19 pandemic.

For myself, I have wavered back and forth over whether I miss the CFL or not. I know when and if I ever get back to Mosaic Stadium for a Roughriders home game the reality of missing the CFL will hit me in a bigger way.

In that situation, I suspect I will see a lot of friends that I haven’t seen in a while that I usually see at Roughriders games. Seeing familiar faces will reinforce I am missing something.

As strange as it sounds, I don’t really miss the CFL on most days. After being involved with the sports industry as a sports reporter for 24 years in some shape or form, I realize that sports are a business.

I also realized that no matter how much I love a team or a league that something can happen that will take that team or league out of my life. That team or league will leave my life due to business.

Brendon LaBatte (#57) in action for the Roughriders in 2017.
I’ve conditioned myself to know that happens, and when it does, I just move on with my life. I always cherish the memories I made, and I’ve made lots of outstanding memories in sports over the last 24 years.

When the time comes that life creates a situation I am no longer a good fit with a team or a league, I realize what happened and just move on. I don’t take things personally.

I chalk things that I can’t control up to being the way they go sometimes. It is on to the next thing.

I actually don’t dwell on what life will be like if the CFL does or does not continue to exist.

That does change on days I see people who are hooked in with the league. If I am at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex and I visit with a number of the CFL athletes that train there, then I really miss the CFL.

That is a point in time I wish the players could be playing and the fans could be in the stands.

Jordan Reaves in action for the Roughriders in 2018.
Some of the CFL athletes that train at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex include Jorgen Hus, Patrick Neufeld and Evan Johnson along with CFL Draft selections Mattland Riley and Colton Klassen.

If I talk to Roughriders left guard Brendon LaBatte on the phone, I miss the CFL.

If I interact with Roughriders players Jordan Reaves or Chad Geter online, I miss the CFL.

If I see social media posts of Rider Nation home game regulars like Michelle and Paige Hansen, Lisa Lukye or Connie Dobson, I miss the CFL.

I do hope the CFL survives the COVID-19 pandemic, and we can all go to CFL games again one day.

If it does or doesn’t come back, life goes on for me and I will focus on adjusting the best I can versus the things I can’t control.

Hockey Harvest Lottery up over $146,000

Tickets have been on sale since this past Monday, but the 50/50 jackpot for the Hockey Harvest Lottery has already ballooned to $146,120 by Friday.

The lottery will be used to raise money for the player scholarship funds of the Moose Jaw Warriors, Prince Albert Raiders, Regina Pats, Saskatoon Blades and the Swift Current Broncos. The five Saskatchewan based WHL teams are running the lottery in partnership with the Great West Brewing Company.

The Great West Brewing Company assured that the 50/50 jackpot began at $75,000 before any tickets were purchased.

The progressive 50/50 will run through to December 20. December 21 will be the lottery’s grand prize draw date, and the draw will be conducted in Saskatoon.

Anyone over the age of 19 that is physically in the province of Saskatchewan at the time of purchase regardless of their home residence can purchase a ticket.

The grand prize winning ticket will receive a cash prize of 50 per cent of the final jackpot. The remaining funds will be split evenly between the five Saskatchewan WHL teams and be placed into their respective player scholarship funds.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, WHL teams haven’t been able to raise money for their player scholarship funds like they have anywhere near in the past. The WHL is targeting to start its regular season on January 8, 2021.

Tickets purchased prior to 11:59 CST on November 27 will also be entered into a draw to win a Saskatchewan WHL team jersey prize package featuring a jersey from all five Saskatchewan WHL teams. The early bird draw will be made on November 28 in Saskatoon.

Ticket prices are one for $20, five for $50, 20 for $100, 150 for $500 or 500 for $1,000. They can be purchased through the websites of any of the Saskatchewan based teams or by clicking right here.

WHL launches T’s For Toys Campaign, other notes

On Tuesday, the WHL launched a cute Christmas fundraiser involving the mascots of the circuit’s 22 teams.

The mascots are taking part in the WHL’s T’s For Toys Campaign. Fans will be able to purchase limited-edition WHL club T-shirts feature that features a team mascot.

That means, there are 22 different T-shirts WHL supporters will be able to collect.

T-shirts can be purchased online for $20 in Canadian funds and are available in adult and youth sizes. For each T-shirt that is sold, $7 in Canadian funds will go directly to a local charity in the home community of the mascot depicted on the T-shirt purchased.

The proceeds will be used by these charities to purchase toys for local children in need.

For the five Saskatchewan based teams, the Moose Jaw Warriors funds will go to the Salvation Army in Moose Jaw, the Prince Albert Raiders funds will go to the Prince Albert Optimist Club, the Regina Pats funds will go to the Eagle Heart Centre, the Saskatoon Blades funds will go to EGADZ and the Swift Current Broncos funds will go to the Southwest Newcomer Welcome Centre.

The mascot T-shirts can be purchased by clicking right here.

  • The University of Regina Rams football team is running a traditional 50/50 lottery online. The funds will be used to run the Rams program. Tickets can only be sold to those in Regina and surrounding communities of a 30-kilometre radius. The draw date is this coming Monday. Anyone in those areas that want to purchase tickets can do so by clicking right here.
  • On Monday, track and field star Savannah Sutherland from Borden, Sask., committed to joining the University of Michigan Wolverines women’s track and field team in the NCAA Division I ranks for the 2021-22 campaign. Sutherland specializes in hurdles events.
  • On Wednesday, The junior A Manitoba Junior Hockey League and Hockey Manitoba levied a $5,000 fine against 50 Below Sports and Entertainment, who own the Winnipeg Blues and Winnipeg Freeze on that junior A circuit. The fine was given due to the fact the Blues and Freeze held a practice in Warren, Man., on Nov. 9 going against COVID-19 restrictions at the time that prevented Winnipeg based hockey teams from taking part in any sort of hockey activities. The Blue and Freeze also forfeited their respective first round selections in the 2021 MJHL Draft. Each team will be required to complete a community initiative as approved by the MJHL and Hockey Manitoba. The money from the fine will go towards buying COVID-19 personal protective equipment for frontline workers across Manitoba. Manitoba is now currently in a lockdown that prevents any sports from being played.
  • On Friday, the Saskatoon Secondary Schools Athletic Directorate announced it will not be offering the winter sports of basketball, curling, dance and cheer and wrestling in the 2020-21 campaign due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The SSSAD said in a release the decision was made after Saskatoon Public Schools and Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools jointly made a decision to extend the pause on extracurricular activities in schools. The SSSAD hasn’t run any sports so far in the 2020-21 campaign due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • On Friday, Patrick Maze, who is the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation president, asked for hockey and other recreational activities to cease operations to help keep COVID-19 cases out of schools across the province. Keenan Sorokan of 650 CKOM put together a story on Maze’s request, and it can be found right here.
  • Gregg Drinnan put together another round up in his Taking Note blog on how the COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc on the sports world on Thursday. That piece can be found right here.

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