Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Girl with familiar hockey last name debuts with U.S.A.

Messier has made her mark with SFMAAAHL champion Stars

Defender Ashley Messier is carving her own mark in the sport of hockey.
    Smooth skating Ashley Messier likely won’t be able to dart around her family lineage when she makes her international hockey debut with the U.S.A.
    On Thursday, Messier will suit up for the United States under-18 women’s team as they take on Canada’s under-18 women’s side in the first of a three-game series hosted at the Markin MacPhail Centre - WinSport Arena in Calgary, Alta. That contest will mark the first time the 16-year-old defender has worn international colours.
Ashley Messier earned SFMAAAHL all-star status last season.
    Odds are high Messier will do something to turn heads, and obvious thoughts will circle around her last name.
    Ashley’s father is Regina, Sask., product Joby Messier, who way back in 1987-88 helped the Notre Dame Hounds win a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League title and the Centennial Cup for junior A hockey supremacy as a defenceman. Joby played four seasons with the Michigan State University Spartans men’s hockey team from 1988 to 1992 and 25 regular season games scattered over three seasons for the NHL’s New York Rangers from 1992 to 1995.
    Joby currently coaches professional hockey in Sweden.
Ashley Messier has committed to join the NCAA ranks in 2020-21.
    Uncle Mitch Messier, who is Joby’s older brother, starred for four seasons at right wing for the Spartans from 1983 to 1987 and appeared in 20 NHL regular season games scattered over four seasons from 1987 to 1991.
    Their cousin is Mark Messier.
    Yep. The Mark Messier who won five Stanley Cup rings as a member of the Edmonton Oilers in 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988 and 1990 and a sixth Stanley Cup rink with the Rangers in 1994.
    If Ashley does something good wearing a U.S.A. jersey in the three-game series that runs through to Sunday, odds are extremely high a media member will ask about the family connection. The fact the series is being held in Calgary will add to that likelihood, as Mark had countless rivalry battles with the NHL’s Calgary Flames as a member of the Oilers.
Ashley Messier is a skill offensive-defender.
    Born in Michigan, Ashley picked up the nickname “Mouse” due to the fact she stands 5-foot-3, but she has already begun making her mark in hockey as a member of the Saskatoon Stars of the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League.
    Her playing style is more similar to that of Paul Coffey, who starred as an offensive defenceman on those dynasty Oilers teams in Edmonton. Ashley has a seemly effortless finesse style to her game.
    If called upon, she can mix it up physically like Mark, if someone wants to take a shot at her.
    As a 14-year-old underage player in the 2016-17 season, Ashley posted three goals and eight assists in 28 regular season games for the Stars and added six assists in nine SFMAAAHL playoff games.
    In September of 2017 at age 15, she committed to joining Cornell University Big Red women’s hockey team for the start of the 2020-21 National Collegiate Athletic Association season.
    Former teammate and Stars captain Willow Slobodzian is already a member of the Big Red women’s team.
Ashley Messier is almost unstoppable going coast-to-coast with the puck.
    Messier showed huge improvement in her 15-year-old sophomore campaign this past season with the Stars. She piled up three goals and 23 assists appearing in all 28 of the Stars regular season games helping Saskatoon finish first in the SFMAAAHL with a 24-3-1 record and earning individual league second team all-star honours.
    In the playoffs, Messier picked up two goals and five assists helping the Stars win the Fedoruk Cup as league champions for the third time in four years. From there, Messier helped the Stars sweep the Eastman Selects 2-0 in a best-of-three Western regional playdown series to advance to the Esso Cup national championship tournament.
    At the Esso Cup in late April in Bridgewater, N.S., Messier picked up a goal and six assists in seven games for the Stars helping them advance to the event’s championship game for the first time in team history.
Ashley Messier, middle centre, enjoy a Stars SFMAAAHL title win.
    The Stars fell in the national final 2-1 to the Alberta-based St. Albert Slash, who repeated as Esso Cup champions. 
    Messier was named the Stars player of the game in the tournament final and took home honours as the top defender at the Esso Cup.
    When you see someone that stands 5-foot-3 like Messier does, there can be doubts about her playing the women’s game at the higher levels because doesn’t stand 5-foot-8 or 5-foot-9. She has already proven that size doesn’t matter.
    Noting the fact that Joby stand 6-foot-1 and Mitch stands 6-foot-2, it is possible that Ashley might still have a growth spurt and her height will match the size of her game.
    In the present, she might still be scratching the surface of how good she can be in the game. The U.S.A. national team jersey might fit Messier well into the future.

Shirley sisters suit up for Canada

Grace Shirley will return to play for Canada’s under-18 team.
    When Ashley Messier hits the ice for the United States under-18 women’s team, she will see a familiar foe.
    The U.S.A. faces Canada’s under-18 women’s team in a three-game series beginning Thursday at the Markin MacPhail Centre - WinSport Arena in Calgary, Alta. Canada’s roster features one of Messier’s teammates with the SFMAAAHL champion Saskatoon Stars in 17-year-old forward Grace Shirley.
    In 82 regular season games, the Saskatoon, Sask., product ranks fourth all-time in career SFMAAAHL regular season goals with 70 and 10th in career regular season points with 118. Last season, Shirley was the fourth leading scorer in the SFMAAAHL piling up 30 goals and 18 assists in 23 regular season games. Her goal and assist totals were both career highs.
    Shirley was a member of Canada’s under-18 team last season, when Canada won a bronze medal at the International Ice Hockey Federation’s Under-18 Women’s World Championship in Dmitrov, Russia.
    Stars forward Joelle Fiala, Wapella, Sask., product Allison Hayhurst, who is a 17-year-old defender from the Melville Prairie Fire, and Regina, Sask., product Kennedy Bobyck, who is a 17-year-old forward with the Calgary, Alta., based Edge School Mountaineers female prep team, all attended the selection camp for the under-18 Canadian team but weren’t chosen to play in the series against the U.S.A.
Grace Shirley (#14) enjoys scoring a SFMAAAHL finals goal for the Stars.
    Also on Thursday, Canada’s National Development Women’s Hockey team will begin a three-game series against the United States National Development Women’s team at the Markin MacPhail Centre - WinSport Arena in Calgary, Alta. The series runs through to Sunday. The national development women’s team contests follow the under-18 women’s games.
    The roster for Canada’s National Development Women’s Team includes Stars alumnae Sophie Shirley, who is a 19-year-old forward and Grace’s older sister. The elder Shirley played last season with the Calgary Inferno of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.
    Plenty, Sask., product Jaycee Gebhard, who is a 21-year-old forward and another Stars alumnae, joins the Canada’s National Development Team roster after spending two seasons with Robert Morris University in the National Collegiate Athletic Association ranks in Moon, Pennsylvania.
    During the selection camp for Canada’s National Women’s Development Team, Shirley and Gebhard faced University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team alumnae Kaitlin Willoughby in exhibition games, as Willoughby was captaining a U Sports all-star squad.

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Sunday, 12 August 2018

’Riders release of Carter part of Belichick effect on Sports

The Roughriders released Duron Carter on Saturday night.
    If you live in Saskatchewan, there is a good chance you were consumed by some degree with the news the CFL’s Roughriders released Duron Carter over the weekend.
    Late Saturday night while the Montreal Alouettes were in Ottawa falling 24-17 to the host Redblacks, social media went haywire with the news that the Roughriders, who were on a bye week, released Carter. The Roughriders confirmed the move with a note on the club’s website that night while the CFL game in Ottawa was still going on.
    Carter had been playing both receiver and defensive back for the Roughriders this season.
    It was one of those moves that wasn’t a surprise, but it did catch you off guard. The Roughriders (3-4) aren’t due to return to game action until Aug. 19 at 5 p.m., when they host the Calgary Stampeders (7-0) at Mosaic Stadium.
    It wasn’t a surprise from the standpoint that it feels like teams at all levels of sports these days try to mirror how the NFL’s New England Patriots and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick operate. Basically, what that means is information is to be guarded tightly by the secret society of that team.
Duron Carter makes a circus TD catch against Toronto last season.
    In media gatherings, you expect a team official to go in front of a podium and say in a monotone voice, “In order to have success, we must be better on offence, defence and special teams.”
    You repeat that answer to any question that is fired your way.
    A lot of teams to varying degree these days follow the Belichick effect.
    Carter, who is from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has never been shy when it comes to speaking his mind since he broke into the CFL in 2013 with the Montreal Alouettes. The 27-year-old comes off as being genuine when it comes to saying what he things and believes.
    That alone will get you cut from a number of sports teams these days despite the fact it has brought Carter a lot of respect in many circles.
    On Sunday morning, Carter sent out a tweet saying he received calls from teammates on Saturday asking if he was still with the Roughriders. Carter said he sent a text message asking why he was being asked these questions to Roughriders head coach and general manager Chris Jones.
Carter said Jones called and said the receiver was being released.
    Jones spoke to the media about the move during a press conference held Sunday morning in Regina.
Duron Carter defends a pass as a DB this season.
    “Over the break, we are always evaluating our roster, our team and the way we do things, processes and coaching (and) things that we do at practice,” said Jones. “Upon that evaluation again made the decision that we were going to go in a different direction from Duron.”
    His answer mirrored a scene that comes from the 2011 baseball drama movie “Moneyball” based around the Oakland Athletics’ 2002 MLB season. In the one scene in the movie, Athletics general manager Billy Beane talks to fictional assistant general manager Peter Brand about how you tell players they have been released or traded.
    During that scene, Beane said you inform the player that the team was “going in a different direction” and nothing more needed to be said. Due to the fact players moves are made frequently in sports, this tactic is used to avoid having a discussion to give reasons why a player was let go in order to not get too bogged down with lengthy conversations.
    This tactic from the movie Moneyball is used often in professional sports.
    Jones was asked for a specific reason for Carter’s release during the press conference. He responded with an answer that was a mix from what you would see from Belichick and the movie Moneyball.
    “We’re not going to go into any kind of specifics or anything like that,” said Jones. “We’re not here to put a guy on trial or anything like that.
    “We released a very good player. He is going to land on his feet. We decided to go in a different direction for our football team.”
Duron Carter makes a catch against the Argonauts last season.
    Jones did say the decision to release Carter had nothing to do with the fact the sideline boss worked out 44-year-old Pro Football Hall of Fame receiver Terrell Owens last week.
    Like anything that has to do with the Roughriders, interpretation of what went down is being spun in various directions by fans.
    Carter, who is 6-foot-5 and weighs 205 pounds, has had his share of well-documented antics during his CFL career including to getting into a fight with a practice roster player in October of last year. He is also an extremely talented football player.
    Last season in his first full campaign with the Roughriders, he hauled in 73 passes for 1,043 yards and scored eight touchdowns to be named a CFL all-star. On defence, he returned an interception 43 yards for a touchdown in a 30-7 victory over the Stampeders in Calgary on Oct. 20, 2017.
    This season, Carter has seen more limited time on offence catching eight passes for 111 yards and one touchdown. He started five games at cornerback and returned an interception 28 yards for a touchdown in a 40-17 loss to the Redblacks in Ottawa on June 21.
Duron Carter celebrates a TD catch last season.
    On the field, Carter did everything that was asked of him, and he returned kicks on occasion last season.
    During his time in Saskatchewan, Carter became a fan favourite for the Roughriders faithful. Carter acknowledged in a tweet on Saturday he loved the fans and his time in Saskatchewan was the most fun he has had in a long time.
    The majority of the fan responses to Carter on social media were those that wished him luck in the future. Carter embraced being in Saskatchewan and played hard, and that won him a lot of fans in Rider Nation. He was particularly awesome with little kids.
    There doesn’t appear to be any bad will between Carter and Jones when you view their statements over the last couple of days, so that has to be considered a positive sign.
    For my two cents, I do not see Carter as a diva receiver in the image of Owens and former NFL star veteran Chad Johnson. In the few encounters I have had with Carter, I see him as a good guy, but a different cat.
    I see him more as a person that gets his fun trolling on Twitter, playing video games and watching science fiction movies. I could never see him out at a nightclub or a fancy hotel partying it up like how former NFL star receiver Michael Irvin did in his heyday with the Dallas Cowboys in the early and middle 1990s.
    I think Carter is a high-maintenance player, and Jones said he had daily meetings with Carter during the 2017 season which didn’t happen this season. Those meetings included talking about other subjects besides football. It seems like the coaches didn’t want to put any more energy into the high-maintenance aspect of Carter.
Duron Carter always interacted well with young fans.
    In June, Carter pleaded guilty to drug possession after getting caught with marijuana-laced chocolate chip cookies at the Winnipeg airport, and he received an absolute discharge as well. Another charge of marijuana possession in Saskatoon is still before the courts.
    Those developments don’t bother me, because I believe marijuana should be legal. I also came across a situation where it led me to believe marijuana could possibly be used to treat cancer and more research needs to be done on that front, but I will save my views and debate that for another day unless someone asks me person to person out in public.
    It has been reported by multiple sources that the Alouettes, Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Toronto Argonauts and B.C. Lions have shown interest in Carter. Hopefully, he will find a new football home sooner than later.
    As for the Roughriders, their offence has been waffling all season. Part of that is due to the fact starting quarterback Zach Collaros missed time due to injury.
    Saskatchewan has shaken the deck a bit on that side of the ball too. Besides Carter’s departure, Bakari Grant, Rob Bagg and Nic Demski were all regular receivers with the Roughriders last season, and they moved the ball quite well in that campaign.
Duron Carter was always popular with the fans in “Rider Nation.”
    The steady influence of veteran quarterback Kevin Glenn from last season is missing too. Glenn is the backup quarterback with the Edmonton Eskimos this season. Cameron Marshall, who was a regular running back last season, is no longer with the Roughriders as well.
    For the present, Carter’s release has been made. Now, Carter and the Roughriders will go their separate ways in search of respective successes on the new path that was created.

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Saturday, 11 August 2018

Here’s hoping hype of U Sports national champion Bisons doesn’t fade away

Jordyn Zacharias celebrates a goal for Canada West finals goal.
    They were played up as the feel good story last February and March in Winnipeg.
    During that time, the University of Manitoba Bisons women’s hockey team went on a historic run. They accomplished a lot of firsts.
    The Herd topped the Canada West standings for the first time in team history with a 22-5-1 mark, hosted the best-of-three Canada West Championship Series for the first time in team history sweeping away the U of Saskatchewan Huskies 2-0 and captured the U Sports national title for the first time in team history. 
    In the elite-eight style national championship tournament held in London, Ont., last March, the Bisons blanked the host University of Western Ontario Mustangs 2-0 in the tournament’s final game.
    Over that period of time, the Bisons were given a big push from the media outlets in the Manitoba capital. It seemed like their players were appearing everywhere.
Venla Hovi came from Finland to star for the Bisons.
    The NHL’s Winnipeg Jets were a backer before the Bisons national title win. They showed the Bisons score on the MTS Place scoreboard when the Herd won Game 1 of the Canada West Championship Series 1-0 in overtime over the Huskies.
    After winning the national title, congratulations poured in for the Bisons from various sports teams and groups in Winnipeg. The team was honoured before a Jets game in late March.
    The Bisons visited City Hall and were given Outstanding Achievement Award Medals from the City of Winnipeg.
    They were on the cover of various local publications.
    They were the toast of the town.
    Bisons head coach Jon Rempel, who was named the U Sports coach of the year for the first time in his career, guided a crew on the ice that you had to like. They were approachable and sociable. On an obvious front, they played the game extremely well.
Caitlin Fyten led the Bisons to a national title as captain.
    They had a star winger from Finland in Venla Hovi, and it seems Finnish players always do well in Winnipeg considering the time Teemu Selanne spent with the original NHL Jets and Patrik Laine is enjoying with the current NHL Jets.
    Hovi was complimented with a strong group of forwards in Alanna Sharman, Jordyn Zacharias, Lauryn Keen, Alana Serhan, Sheridan Oswald and Courtlyn Oswald. The defence was anchored by captain Caitlin Fyten and Regina, Sask., product Erica Rieder, who was a second team all-Canadian all-star.
    In goal, rookie Lauren Taraschuk rose to prominence winning Canada West rookie of the year honours and being named to the U Sports all-rookie team.
    Still when a women’s team has success like the Bisons did, it seems their accomplishments disappears too quickly from the minds of the general public.
Lauren Taraschuk rose to star status as a rookie playing goal for the Bisons.
    In 2016, the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity released a study regarding the connection between women and sport in Canada. A couple of the facts revolved around media coverage.
    An analysis was done on Canada’s primary national sports networks in English and French in 2014. The study said only four per cent of the coverage on those networks was dedicated to women’s sports and over half of that number was dedicated to coverage of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
    A study was done on the Saturday sports section front pages in two of Canada’s highest circulated national newspapers from June 2008 to May 2010 and June 2013 to May 2015. Over those time frames, 5.1 per cent of the coverage was dedicated to women’s sports.
Erica Rieder was a second team all-Canadian on defence.
    Of course, that study only considered a small sampling size of the print industry.
    It can be argued since that time the coverage of women’s sports in Canada has decreased thanks to massive cuts in the mainstream media, which has often targeted sports departments. Sports coverage seems to get more and more focused on just the NHL, which causes everything else in the sports scene to be out of luck.
    The Bisons national championship victory over the Mustangs wasn’t even broadcast on television.
    Despite those numbers, it would be sweet to see the Bisons women’s hockey team buck that trend and have some staying power. They rocked at the sport Canada as a country loves the most.
    They created excitement for the U of Manitoba campus that hasn’t been seen for some time.
    During the Canada West Championship Series, the Wayne Fleming Arena on the U of Manitoba campus was a smaller version of the Jets home rink atmosphere wise.
Bisons fans created a crazy atmosphere at the Wayne Fleming Arena.
    Overall, Bisons teams have combined to win 44 U Sports national titles, but only five of those have come since the start of the 2003-04 campaign. The national title win by the Bisons women’s hockey team was a first for the school since the 2013-14 campaign, when the Bisons women’s volleyball team won a U Sports national crown.
    The Bisons women’s hockey team will undergo some transition going into next season. In July, assistant coach Sean Fisher was elevated to interim head coach as Rempel received a six-month reassignment of duties to allow for professional development. Rempel had been the head coach of the Bisons women’s hockey team for the past 14 seasons.
Alanna Sharman (#24) is one of the Bisons star forwards.
    The Herd lost Fyten, Serhan, Charity Price, Karissa Kirkup and goalie Rachel Dyck to fifth-year graduation. Hovi, who arguably had the best Twitter account in U Sports, still had a year of eligibility remaining, but she has returned home to Finland, where she has been a member of that country’s senior national women’s team for a number of years.
    Despite those changes, the Bisons women’s hockey team possesses a kick butt street cred in Winnipeg. If any of the players from the Bisons women’s hockey team are seen around town wearing their team gear, they are automatically deemed as cool.
    Winnipeg has some independent media outlets, so here is hoping the ongoing story of the Bisons women’s hockey team doesn’t fade away.

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Friday, 10 August 2018

Solie finds comfort zone quickly with Hilltops

David Solie, right, hauls in a touchdown for the current Hilltops.
    A fresh start wearing a blue and gold colour scheme seems to fit David Solie just fine.
    After spending a season with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team in the U Sports ranks, Solie elected to join the Saskatoon Hilltops, who have won the last four straight Canadian Junior Football League championships.
    On Thursday at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, Solie, who is a receiver and a placekicker, showed the form that made him a star with Saskatoon’s storied Holy Cross High School Crusaders football team. 
    He booted field goals from 30 and 35 yards out and hauled in two touchdown passes for the current Hilltops, who fell to their alumni team 25-22 in the annual Hilltops Alumni Game. The alumni squad also included a number of extra additions from players who played with other post-secondary programs and now call Saskatoon home.
David Solie (#3) boots one of his two field goals for the current Hilltops.
    For Solie, he has found he has fit in easily with the current Hilltops.
    “It is a great group of guys,” said Solie, who stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 185 pounds. “It is nothing but fun with these guys.
    “We have our serious moments where we want to bear down and do good, but the fact of the matter is it is all about having fun. If we’re not having fun, it is probably not the right suit, but I am having lots of fun with these guys.”
    Solie, who will turn 19-years-old in just under two weeks, decided to leave the Huskies due to the fact he wasn’t sure if he was going in the right direction with regards to school. He was an arts and science major last season.
David Solie (#3) enjoys a TD with the current Hilltops
    Instead of continuing in that direction, Solie concluded it was best for him to take a step away from the U of S all together, so he could clear his mind.
    “It was mainly a head space thing,” said Solie. “I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do in school.
    “It was a struggle for me to get my mind right for school and devoting my hours into football and devoting hours into school. I am just taking a step back, so I can find what I want to do so I have more motivation to do school and more motivation to play football and I can find that happy medium. That is really why I took a step back.”
    Knowing that he still wanted to play football, Solie contacted Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant about trying out for the storied CJFL team. “Sarge” was more than happy to bring Solie on board.
    “What a talented athlete,” said Sargeant. “What a great kid.
    “He asks a lot of questions. He is motivated. He understands the moments, and he loves to make plays.
    “He got a couple of touchdowns (and) a couple of field goals. It was a difference maker out there today. We’re going to keep working him hard and giving him great opportunities.”
Hilltops QB Jordan Walls has found early chemistry with R David Solie.
    In Solie, the Hilltops gained a player who has experienced a lot of big games playing for the Crusaders, and someone who has been called upon to be the kicker for Football Canada’s national team program on two occasions. Last season, Solie was the kicker for Canada’s under-19 team that fell in an International Bowl game on Jan. 20 against the United States in Arlington, Texas.
    As a receiver, Solie believes he has found chemistry with Hilltops star fifth-year quarterback Jordan Walls.
    “He gets you,” said Solie. “He knows all of his receivers and their preferences, and that is probably the greatest feeling ever.
    “You go out there, and you are comfortable. You know where he is going to throw the ball.
    “You know where you need to be. He’ll hit you whenever you need to be hit.”
    Coming to the Hilltops, Solie knew he would get a chance to be a placekicker. The Hilltops lost safety/kicker James Vause due to graduation, and third-year kicker/receiver Rylan Kleiter is still bothered by a knee injury suffered last season.
Wayndel Lewis (#22) scored on a TD run for the Hilltops alums.
    Kleiter, who punted and placekicked last season for the Hilltops, missed the team’s last four regular season games and first three post-season games due to his injury. He returned to play in the Hilltops 56-11 victory in the Canadian Bowl over the AKO Fratmen in Windsor, Ont., on Nov. 11, 2017.
    Solie’s presence means Kleiter doesn’t have to be rushed into action in the kicking game.
    “Getting to kick, that is big for me,” said Solie. “I played Team Canada.
    “I was the backup kicker with the Huskies. Coming here and getting to start kicking, it is nothing but fun.”
    Going forward, Sargeant said the Hilltops coaches believe Solie will be a player who will come through in the clutch. Solie’s first opportunity to do that might come when the Hilltops open the regular season on Aug. 18, when they travel to Regina to take on the Thunder at 7 p.m. at Mosaic Stadium.
Rod Janzen punts the ball for the Hilltops alums.
    “For us to have him when the game is on the line, we have no problem putting him in those situations,” said Sargeant. “He is going to have a productive and bright career.
    “We’re excited for him to make a difference like he did today and continue that next week in Regina - stay tuned.”
    Solie’s two field goals on Thursday gave the Hilltops an early 6-0 lead on their alums. The alums jumped ahead 7-6 shortly before halftime on a six-yard run from tailback Wayndel Lewis.
    In the second half, the alums surged ahead 25-6. First, the current Hilltops concede a safety to start the surge.
    From there, alums quarterback Jared Andreychuk hit receiver Ryan Turple with a 65-yard touchdown strike and receiver Evan Kopchynski with a 38-yard touchdown toss. The alums weren’t able to get a convert after Turple’s major score.
HC Tom Sargeant, right, shakes hands after the Hilltops Alumni Game.
    Kicker Brett Thorarinsson completed the alums’ surge kicking a 35-yard field goal.
    The current Hilltops pulled their starters after the first quarter and put them back into the contest for the fourth quarter. Running a no-huddle offence, the current Hilltops made the score close with Solie’s two touchdown catches. The current Hilltops added two-point converts after both of Solie’s major scores with conversion catches coming from receivers Adam Ewanchyna and Tanner Rhode respectively.
    The Hilltops home opener is slated for Aug. 25 at 7 p.m. against the Calgary Colts.

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Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Matthews named NLL MVP, Rush players get all-star nods

Rush F Mark Matthews was named NLL MVP.
    The fourth time was a charm for Mark Matthews when it came to winning National Lacrosse League MVP honours.
    On Tuesday, the star forward with the Saskatchewan Rush was named the MVP for the NLL this past season. This was the first time Matthews claimed league MVP honours after being a finalist for the award in 2015, 2016 and 2017.
    In claiming MVP honours for this past season, the 28-year-old from Oshawa, Ont., beat out Rush teammate in forward Robert Church and New England Black Wolves forward Kevin Crowley.
    The individual honours didn’t stop there for Matthews. On Wednesday, the grad of the University of Denver Pioneers men’s lacrosse team was named a first team NLL All-Pro on Wednesday marking the fourth team he claimed those honours.
    Matthews, who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 235 pounds, topped the NLL in scoring this past season for the first time in his six-year career piling up 32 goals and 84 assists for a team record 116 points appearing in all 18 of the Rush’s regular season games. 
    His 84 assists were a league record for most assists in one regular season beating the old mark of 83 held by Josh Sanderson from the 2015 campaign with the Toronto Rock, Shawn Evans from the 2015 season with the Calgary Roughnecks and Callum Crawford from the 2016 campaign with the Colorado Mammoth.
Mark Matthews set a new NLL regular season record for assists at 84.
    Matthews had the previous Rush record for most points in one regular season piling up 115 points in the 2015 campaign.
    The Rush topped the entire NLL regular season standings with a 14-4 mark this past season, and they claimed their third league title in the past four years. The Rush won their first NLL championship in 2015 in the franchise’s final season in Edmonton and their second title in 2016 in their inaugural campaign in Saskatchewan.
    Matthews joined the Rush franchise as the first overall selection in the 2012 NLL Draft. He turned heads right away being named the NLL’s rookie of the year for the 2013 campaign piling up 38 goals and 31 assists in 16 regular season games.
    During his time with the Rush, Matthews has appeared in 106 career regular season games, and he is the franchise’s all-time regular season leader in goals (234), assists (366) and points (600).
    Church joined Matthews on the NLL’s All-Pro first team at forward for this past season. Church finished second in NLL regular season scoring with 47 goals and 60 assists appearing in all of the Rush’s 18 regular season games.
Mark Matthews helped the Rush win their third NLL championship.
    Rush defender Kyle Rubisch was named the NLL’s All-Pro second team. Rubisch appeared in 17 regular season games for the Rush recording one goal, eight assists, 25 caused turnovers and 130 loose ball pickups.
    Back on Aug. 2, Rush head coach and general manager Derek Keenan was named the winner of the NLL’s Les Bartley Head Coach of the Year award. That marked the fourth time in his overall career Keenan was named the NLL’s coach of the year.
    Also on Wednesday, the Rush announced their home opener for the upcoming regular season is slated for Saturday, Dec. 8 at 7:30 at the SaskTel Centre against an opponent that is still to be determined.

Blades push Canada to Hlinka Gretzky Cup semi, other notes

Nolan Maier has two wins for Canada at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
    The Saskatoon Blades contingent has helped Canada’s under-18 start 3-0 at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup and earn a berth in one of Friday’s two semifinal games.
    On Wednesday night, Blades netminder Nolan Maier made 21 saves to backstop Canada to a 4-3 victory over Sweden (2-1) at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alta. Josh Williams, Alexis Lafreniere, Matthew Robertson and Bowen Byram all had singles for Canada.
    Lucas Raymond, Alexander Holtz and Elmer Soderblom all had singles for Sweden, while Jesper Wallstedt turned away 31 shots to take the setback in the Swedish net.
    Maier has won both his starts for Canada turning away 33-of-36 shots fired his way for a .917 save percentage to go with his 1.50 goals against average and one shutout.
    Blades centre Kirby Dach has dressed in all three of Canada’s games collecting one goal and two assists.
    Blades first year head coach Mitch Love is an assistant coach for Canada.
    Sweden will face Russia (3-0) in a semifinal on Friday at 3 p.m. local time at Rogers Place in Edmonton. Canada face the United States (2-1) in Friday’s other semifinal set for 7 p.m. local time at Rogers Place in Edmonton.  The tournament final is slated for Saturday at 7 p.m. local time at Rogers Place in Edmonton.

  • Saskatoon Stars alumnae Sophie Shirley has an assist in two games for Team Heaney in a series of exhibition contests that are going on as part of the selection camp for Canada’s National Women’s Development Team being held in Calgary, Alta. Jaycee Gebhard, who is another Stars alumnae, has the only goal Team James has scored in the two games they have played at the selection camp. Team Heaney is 2-0, while Team James is 0-2. Shirley will play her first season for the University of Wisconsin Badgers women’s hockey team in Madison, Wisconsin, this coming season, while, Gebhard will join the Robert Morris University Colonials women’s hockey team in Moon, Pennsylvania, for her third season.
  • Kaitlin Willoughby, who is an alumnae of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s team, is suiting up for the U Sports all-star team at the selection camp for Canada’s National Women’s Development Team. She has an assist in two games as the U Sport all-stars are 1-1.
  • Japan’s national women’s team rounds out the teams taking part in a series of exhibition games at the selection camp for Canada’s National Women’s Development Team. Japan is 1-1 after two games.
  • The selection camp for Canada’s under-18 women’s national team featured its first intrasquad game on Wednesday in Calgary. Grace Shirley, who is a centre for the Saskatoon Stars and Sophie’s younger sister, had a goal for Canada Red in a 3-1 victory over Canada White. Former Regina Rebels forward Kennedy Bobyck, who now plays for the Calgary based Edge School Mountaineers female prep team, is playing for Canada Red. Stars forward Joelle Fiala and Melville Prairie Fire defender Allison Hayhurst are playing for Canada White.
  • On Wednesday, the junior B Delisle Chiefs of the Prairie Junior Hockey League announced Ryan Marushak will be returning to serve a fourth season as the club’s general manager. Last season, Marushak won the PJHL’s Terry Rak Memorial Builder of the Year award. Marushak was the Chiefs assistant general manager in 2014-15 before becoming the general manager. He was also with Chiefs for two other season from 2008 to 2010 serving as an assistant coach and director of player personnel.

Back in the Express with Berglof

    I was back in the pages of the Saskatoon Express this week with a feature story on two-sport athlete Colin Berglof.
    Berglof is one of seven players from the Saskatchewan SWAT junior A lacrosse team that is playing for Canada at the three-team indoor World Junior Lacrosse Championship that started Wednesday night at the SaskTel Centre. Canada opened the event on Wednesday with a 26-9 victory over the Iroquois team. Berglof, who is playing transition for Canada, had a pair of goals and an assist in that contest.
    Canada finishes opening round play facing the United States on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre. The tournament’s championship game is slated for Sunday at 7:30 p.m.
    The six other members of the SWAT that are part of the Canadian team include Tanner Deck, Quinn Ingalls, Keagan White, Wyatt Haux, Mitch Linklater and Laine Hruska.
    Berglof plays forward for the SWAT and defence for the Delisle Chiefs junior B hockey team. The Express story on him can be found by clicking right here.

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Sunday, 5 August 2018

Hilltops’ Walls a perfect fit for #1 CJFL ranking

Hilltops QB Jordan Walls topped the CJFL’s top 50 player rankings.
    Jordan Walls showed last season he was ready to lead the Saskatoon Hilltops, and now he is regarded as the best in the Canadian Junior Football League.
    On Friday, the CJFL ranked its top 50 players heading into the 2018 season, and Walls, who is the Hilltops 22-year-old starting quarterback, topped the list. The top 50 promotion was first run by the league in 2016 as a vehicle to shine more of a spotlight on its players.
    Walls deserves the top ranking after guiding the Hilltops to a record fourth straight CJFL title win. Topping the CJFL top 50 list is also a nod for all the hard work he has put in during his previous four seasons in the league.
Jordan Walls, right, runs for a game clinching first down against the Rifles.
    As is the custom with the Hilltops, Walls wasn’t the starting quarterback coming out of high school in 2014. That job fell to Jared Andreychuk, who was in his third year of eligibility at the time.
    From 2014 to 2016, Andreychuk built a legacy quarterbacking the Hilltops to three straight CJFL title posting a 9-0 career record as a post-season starter. Walls was the understudy over the span being groomed to become Andreychuk’s successor.
    Walls, who stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 180 pounds, has always been a great student of the game. During training camp in 2016, he was showing at that time he was ready to become the Hilltops starter.
    Had Andreychuk gone down due to a season ending injury in that campaign, Walls could have stepped in, and the Hilltops wouldn’t have missed a beat.
    Andreychuk wrote a terrific swan song in 2016 guiding the Hilltops to a 37-25 victory in the Canadian Bowl to claim a 19th CJFL title against the Westshore Rebels in Langford, B.C.
Hilltops QB Jordan Walls dives in for a touchdown against the Thunder.
    Walls finally gained his chance to guide the Hilltops as their starting quarterback last season, and he played with a lot of poise and polish.
    During the team’s eight regular season games, Walls completed 124-of-202 passes for 1,870 yards, 16 touchdowns and two interceptions. He quarterbacked the Hilltops to an 11-1 overall record and an impressive 56-11 victory in the Canadian Bowl over the host AKO Fratmen in Windsor, Ont.
    Walls completed 11-of-18 passes for 192 yards and three touchdowns picking up offensive player of the game honours helping the Hilltops win their fourth straight CJFL title, their seven league crown in the last eight years and 20th national title in team history.
Hilltops QB Jordan Walls (#19) was efficient firing the ball downfield.
    The graduate of Saskatoon’s Tommy Douglas Collegiate could make the big plays when the Hilltops needed them the most. Inside of the final 45 seconds of a PFC semifinal clash last year, the Hilltops held a 28-21 lead on the visiting Winnipeg Rifles at Saskatoon Minor Football field and faced a second and long situation.
    The Hilltops had an OK outing in that contest, while the underdog Rifles came out playing on fire looking for an upset. Walls faked a handoff to running back Adam Machart and bootlegged wide to the left side of the field, gained the necessary yardage for a first down and went down in bounds to ensure the clock didn’t stop.
    With the Rifles depleted of timeouts, the Hilltops kneeled down on the ball twice to win the game.
Hilltops QB Jordan Walls (#19) celebrates a TD from Garth Knittig.
    Even when the signals get crossed up, Walls still ensured a play had success. That was best shown in the PFC final where defensive tackle Garth Knittig scored the game-sealing touchdown on a one-yard dive with 96 seconds to play in the fourth quarter to give the Hilltops a 36-24 victory over the archrival Regina Thunder at SMF Field.
    The correct play call came into Walls, but the short yardage personnel grouping actually got missed up as Knittig wasn’t supposed to get the ball.
    With Knittig being a tough, hard-working and jovial defensive lineman, Walls called that play naturally where everyone thought, “Who wouldn’t like to see the big guy score. Let’s get him in there.”
    Besides playing for the Hilltops, Walls is the offensive coordinator for the powerhouse Saskatoon Valkyries of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League. The knowledge, observations and experience he has gained in the game are an extra big bonus help for Hilltops legendary head coach Tom Sargeant, who doubled as the club’s offensive coordinator last season.
The Hilltops offence is in good hands with Jordan Walls (#19) at the controls.
    The Hilltops flooded the CJFL top 50 with five additional entries. They included fifth-year linebacker Cody Peters at the seventh spot, fifth-year receiver Jason Price at the 21st spot, third-year defensive back Colton Holmes at the 27th spot, third-year running back Joshua Ewanchyna at the 31st spot and fifth-year offensive lineman Kirk Simonsen at the 45th spot.
    The Hilltops open training camp on Monday and hold their annual Alumni Game on Thursday at 7 p.m. at SMF Field. They open the regular season on Aug. 18, when they travel to Regina to face the Thunder at 7 p.m. at Mosaic Stadium.
    As the Hilltops begin their quest to win an unprecedented fifth straight CJFL championship, their offensive is in great hands with Walls calling the signals.

Rush’s Keenan captures fourth NLL coach of the year award

Derek Keenan is the NLL’s coach of the year.
    Saskatchewan Rush head coach and general manager Derek Keenan continues to add to his collection of accolades.
    On Thursday, Keenan was named the winner of the National Lacrosse League’s Les Bartley Head Coach of the Year Award. This marks the fourth time Keenan has been named the NLL’s coach of the year.
    The 56-year-old product of Oshawa, Ont., won the coach of the year and NLL general manager of the year awards in 2010 and 2014, when the Rush franchise was located in Edmonton. Keenan won both of those honours in 2006, when he was with the now defunct Portland LumberJax.
    This past season, Keenan guided the Rush to a first overall finish in the NLL regular season with a 14-4 record. The finish gave the Rush a bye into the West Division final, where they down their archrivals the Calgary Roughnecks 15-13.
    The Rush had to go the distance to claim the best-of-three NLL championship series downing the Rochester Knighthawks 15-10 in Game 3 before 13,645 spectators at the SaskTel Centre on June 9 to capture the National Lacrosse League Cup.
    Under Keenan’s watch, the Rush have won three of the last four NLL titles. The Rush claimed their first NLL title in 2015, when they played out their final season in Edmonton. They repeated as NLL champions in 2016, which was their first campaign in Saskatchewan.
Rush HC and GM Derek Keenan, centre, studies play from the bench.
    The Rush’s championship this past season marked the ninth time Keenan has been part of an NLL championship team either as a player, coach or general manager. The Rush’s championship run marked a record 13th time Keenan has been to the NLL championship either as a player, coach and general manager.
    The NLL’s coach of the year award is named in honour of the late Les Bartley, who was a legendary head coach and general manager of the Toronto Rock. Keenan played under Bartley as a member of the Buffalo Bandits, when they won NLL titles in 1992 and 1993. Bartley was the head coach of those Bandits teams.
    Keenan was a player and an assistant coach under Bartley, when the Rock won an NLL title in 1999, and an assistant coach in the Rock’s NLL title wins in 2000, 2002 and 2003
    Keenan joined the Rush franchise as head coach and general manager in June of 2009.

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Saturday, 4 August 2018

Blades’ Maier, Dach and Love deserve roles with Canada’s under-18 squad

Blades netminder Nolan Maier is going to play for Canada’s under-18 team.
    It might be hard for fans in “The Bridge City” to believe this, but the Saskatoon Blades will likely be a good team this season.
    If the selections for Canada’s under-18 team this summer are any indication, the future is now for this year and the next couple of seasons afterwards for the Blades. Saskatoon is one of two franchises in the Canadian Hockey League to have two representatives on the Canadian team in goaltender Nolan Maier and centre Kirby Dach.
    Joining those two is Blades head coach Mitch Love as an assistant coach for the Canadian side. Love was hired by the Blades this past May.
    The trio will try to help Canada win the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, which starts Monday and runs through to Aug. 11 in Edmonton and Red Deer. Canada opens play taking on Switzerland on Monday at 7 p.m. at Rogers Place in Edmonton.
Blades C Kirby Dach will play for Canada’s under-18 team.
    In a pre-tournament game on Saturday at the Servus Arena in Red Deer, Canada dropped a 4-3 decision to the Czech Republic.
    Canada won last year’s event, when it was known at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, when it was held in Breclav and Bratislava in the Czech Republic.
    Maier and Dach played a big part as 16-year-old rookies last season helping the Blades post a solid 35-33-3-1 playing out of an incredibly tough East Division in the WHL. Saskatoon posted an 18-17-2-1 mark against its East Division rivals in falling three points shy of the Prince Albert Raiders (32-27-9-4) for the second wildcard berth in the Eastern Conference.
    The Blades had the seventh best record in the 12-team conference.
    Maier turned heads becoming the Blades starting goalie posting statistics you don’t normally see from a 16-year-old rookie with a 23-17-2 record, a 3.31 goals against average, a .895 save percentage and two shutouts. The Yorkton, Sask., product claimed the team awards for rookie of the year and most valuable player.
    Maier, who stands 6-feet and weighs 168 pounds, stole a number of games for the Blades last season. His play equaled that of any of the league’s top established puck stoppers.
Nolan Maier was named the Blades rookie of the year and MVP last season.
    Dach came to the Blades with big expectations after they selected him in the first round and second overall in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft. The Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., product received his first extended stay with the Blades in his 15-year-old season in the 2016-17 campaign.
    With the Blades dealing with a number of injuries, they made a special request to have Dach called up from Fort Saskatchewan Rangers midget AAA team on an emergency basis near the end of the regular season. The request was accommodated by Hockey Alberta, Fort Saskatchewan Minor Hockey and the WHL.
    Dach appeared in 19 regular season games in 2016-17 collecting six goals, four assists and a plus-three rating in the plus-minus department.
    Last season as a 16-year-old rookie, Dach, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 181 pounds, appeared in 52 regular season games recording seven goals and 39 assists. While he was a rookie, Dach already started to attract special attention from opponents, who tried to agitate him, trash talk him and give him extra shots after the whistle to knock him off his game. Those tactics are usually received for established veteran stars.
Kirby Dach turned heads as a point producer.
    In November of 2017, both Maier and Dach played for Canada Black at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge held jointly in Dawson Creek and Fort St. John, B.C.
    At that tournament, Maier posted a 1-2 record, a 3.02 goals against average, a .917 save percentage and one shutout in three appearances. Dach had a goal and six assists in five games.
    Both players are humble, don’t skip any steps and put in the time to get better as players and persons. They are two players you never have to worry about, because they are very self-motivated when it comes improving.
    Love joined the Blades after spending seven seasons on the staff of the Everett Silvertips. He came on board with the Silvertips in 2011 as an assistant coach and strength and conditioning coach. He was an assistant coach and an assistant to the general manager this past season.
    As one of the Silvertips bench bosses, Love helped Everett finish third overall in the WHL’s regular season standings with a 47-20-2-3 mark this past season. 
    In the playoffs, the Silvertips advanced all the way the WHL Championship series, where they fell 4-2 in the best-of-seven set to the Swift Current Broncos.
    During his years with the Silvertips, Love was also an assistant coach for a couple of Canadian teams at the Under-17 World Hockey Challenge in 2015 and 2016. 
    The under-17 tournament saw Love earn a gold medal working with Team Canada White.
Mitch Love introduced as the new Blades head coach in May.
    Love was a guest coach at Canada’s National Men’s Summer Under-18 Team selection camp in 2017.
    The 34-year-old product from Quesnel, B.C., is a younger coach who has worked his way up and is ready to take on the head coach role. When Love was in Everett, the Silvertips played with a lot of poise and discipline.
    You can expect Love will try to make the Blades mirror the positive characteristics the Silvertips had during his time there.
    When this trio is done at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, it is possible to foresee that they will help the Blades end their playoff drought that spans back to 2013 this season. It feels like “The Bridge City Bunch” is set to finally see good times once again.

Huskies’ alum McFaull to honour late Gasper as a pro

Kendall McFaull is going to honour a friend in the pros.
    For his first season in the professional hockey ranks, University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey alum Kendall McFaull is going to honour a friend who tragically passed away.
    This coming season, McFaull is going to play for the Stena Line Belfast Giants, who play out of Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom. For one season, the 26-year-old defensive defenceman is going to wear #27 in honour of Troy Gasper the Giants announced on Tuesday. The two grew up together in Rosetown, Sask.
    Gasper, 26, his 28-year-old wife, Carissa, and their three children, Kael, Shea and Maks, were killed on June 29, 2018 when their SUV collided with another SUV on Highway 4 near Elrose. Gasper played junior A hockey with the Humboldt Broncos of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League from 2009 to 2011.
    McFaull was originally going to wear #2 for the Giants as #27 has been retired by the team in 2004 in honour of former Giants left-winger Paxton Schulte. Schulte agreed with bringing #27 out of retirement for one season to allow McFaull to honour Gasper.
    Last season with the Huskies in U Sports, McFaull, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 209 pounds, appeared in 27 regular season games collecting four goals, five assists and a plus-nine rating in the plus-minus department. In 139 career regular season games with the Huskies from 2013 to 2018, McFaull recorded 13 goals, 26 assists and a plus-36 rating.

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