Thursday, 1 February 2018

Pats fans are still a good bunch

The Pats still have a huge following of supportive fans.
    It was a case of never believe all the noise you see or hear on social media or sports talk radio.
    If you believed everything you saw or heard on those lines, you would think the fans of WHL’s Regina Pats are one of the most uptight groups ever, if their team isn’t winning. With the Pats slated to host the 100th Memorial Cup from May 18 to 27, the scrutiny on the team seems to be more heightened than ever.
    The heightened attention comes in a season following a campaign in 2016-17 where the Pats finished first overall in the WHL with a 52-12-7-1 record and advanced to the WHL Championship Series for the first time since 1984. The Pats fell in last year’s best-of-seven league championship set 4-2 to the Seattle Thunderbirds.
    Last season, I saw the Pats play live more than any other hockey team mainly due to the run they had. This season, I made my first season to the Brandt Centre on Sunday, when the Pats played host to the Swift Current Broncos.
    I thought I was going to walk into a facility where everyone was super critical of the team. To my surprise, everyone was super supportive of the home side, except for the sizable contingent of fans that came to support the Broncos among the sellout crowd of 6,484. Sunday’s game marked the eighth sellout of the season in Regina.
Fans filled the Brandt Centre on Sunday, but the Pats couldn’t get them going.
    When I walked into the Brandt Centre, it maintained its reputation as being one of the friendliest stops on the WHL circuit. The rink and game staff were super accommodating and the fans were pretty upbeat.
    On a personal front, it seemed like everyone was happy to see me, and they wondered where I was all season. I explained that due to mainstream media cuts I had been pretty much found myself stapled to Saskatoon.
    The fans that were at the rink cheering on the Pats were positive, and you could feel an upbeat vibe.
    Anytime the Broncos scored, the host faithful responded with a “Go Pats Go” chant.
    Due to the fact the Broncos slowly went ahead 3-0 and posted a 4-1 win, the efforts of the Pats fans were dampened and their engagement fell off. Outside of one spectator that shouted verbal criticisms towards Pats overage left-winger Jesse Gabrielle, no one was visibly getting on the case of the players on the host team.
    During the second intermission, I had a group of Tyler Brown supporters come up and talk to me about the overage netminder, who was dealt to the Saskatoon Blades in a blockbuster trade before the WHL trade deadline on Jan. 10. They expressed how much they missed the Winnipeg, Man., product.
Tyler Brown is missed by a number of Pats fans.
    That was cool to hear, because without Brown’s efforts, the Pats wouldn’t have advanced to last year’s WHL title series. Before Brown was traded, he took way to much criticism on social media and provincial sports talk radio for the fact the Pats had hovered around .500 for much of the campaign.
    At the moment, the Pats sit in the first wildcard spot in the WHL’s Eastern Conference with a 26-22-5 record.
    Most of those at the rink seemed pretty understanding of the situation the Pats are in. They know the Pats roster only contains six players that were full-time regulars with the team last season in star captain Sam Steel, forwards Jake Leschyshyn, Nick Henry and Robbie Holmes along with defencemen Josh Mahura and Liam Schioler. Leschyshyn missed the entire post-season in 2017 with an anterior cruciate ligament injury in his knee.
    The fans at the rink grasped that Pats head coach and general manager John Paddock and his staff is trying to get a host of players who have come from a wide variety of backgrounds to come together as a team.
    The fans at the rink knew that the group of players that hit the ice for the Pats last season was a special one, and it might be a long time before the world’s oldest major junior franchise comes to the rink with a comparable group again.
    Guys like then captain Adam Brooks, offensive defenceman Connor Hobbs, speedy Austin Wagner, Dawson Leedahl, Filip Ahl, Braydon Buziak, Chase Harrison and Sergey Zborovskiy along with Brown and the holdovers still on this year’s club, were more than just a team. In 2016-17, they were the boys next door.
    In a way, they felt like part of your family, if you were a Pats supporter. Everyone on the team and the fans were all in the Pats run together last season.
Captain Sam Steel and company have a good following in Regina.
    One very veteran rink attendant was really nostalgic about that group and said it would be very long time before you see something like that in Regina again. He had a lot of warm feelings for that Pats team.
    The bar they left is extremely high.
    With that said, not all the fans that are critical of the Pats on social media or sports talk radio are harsh to the extreme of being a jerk.
    I have typed back and forth with at least a couple of Pats fans on social media who have well thought out criticisms and observations of the team, and you can tell they try to make them in a respectable fashion. While they have their criticisms, they are still good fans.
    While the Pats, who host the Prince Albert Raiders at 7 p.m. on Saturday at the Brandt Centre, have taken heat for how their season is gone, caution should be used in grading how severe that heat is.

#PackTheHauser is a great idea

The Raiders want their rink packed for a clash with the rival Blades.
  On Friday night there is going to a fairly big WHL tilt happening in Prince Albert.
    At 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser, the Prince Albert Raiders host the Saskatoon Blades in a match that could play out to have big playoff implications. The Blades sit in the second wildcard spot in the WHL’s Eastern Conference with a 25-24-2-1 record to sit three points ahead of the Raiders, who are 20-20-8-2. The Raiders have two games in hand.
    In one of their many efforts to boost attendance in their home rink, the Raiders been trying to get the fires going in their traditional rivalry with the Blades. One of the latest attempts has been posting a video on Twitter where various Raiders players talk about the lift they receive when they play in front of a packed home rink.
    The post contained the hashtag phrase #PackTheHauser, which has been used for big local hockey games in Prince Albert in the past.
Mascot Riley and a superfan cheer on the Raiders in Prince Albert.
    The Art Hauser Centre seats 2,580 and has the capacity for 786 in standing room. When it is full, it has one of the best atmospheres in the league.
    I worked in Prince Albert for three seasons from 2001 to 2004 covering the whole sports scene in that centre including the WHL’s Raiders. Back in those days, the games against the Blades were circled on the calendar. With the two squads in a tight playoff race, it would be great to see the excitement of the past recreated now.
    While the Raiders get a boost from their home supporters, I think it is safe to say it gets the Blades pumped up for games in Prince Albert too. Those in the blue and gold love it when they can put the Guess Who’s “Runnin’ Back to Saskatoon” on ice.
    As per tradition, the Prince Albert game staff plays that song at the end of contests when the Raiders beat the Blades. Actually, that tradition extends to the male and female AAA levels of hockey as well.
    For a game in early February, this clash should have a playoff feel to it.

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