Saturday, 20 July 2019

Clark’s place cemented in Raiders’ lore

Donn Clark 1962- 2019

Donn Clark on the Raiders Wall of Honour.
    It seems like the young people in Prince Albert love a certain colourful story about the late Donn Clark.
    The colourful story happened on Feb. 11, 2005, and those who were eight years of age or younger then enjoy hearing about it. Those listeners would be age 22 or 23 and younger now.
    Back on Feb. 11, 2005, Clark was the general manager of the Prince Albert Raiders who were hosting the Lethbridge Hurricanes in a WHL regular season clash at the Art Hauser Centre. The game went to overtime with the two sides locked in a 3-3 tie.
    At the 1:45 mark of overtime, Hurricanes left-winger Kris Versteeg hauled down Raiders captain and standout defensive defenceman Luke Fritshaw with a hook behind the Prince Albert net.
    Versteeg jumped on the loose puck and centred it to linemate Tyler Redenbach. Redenbach shot the puck past Raiders star netminder Rejean Beauchemin to give Lethbridge a 4-3 victory.
    Due to the fact the Hurricanes scored the winning goal on a play that should have resulted in an obvious penalty to Versteeg, Clark came storming on to the ice after referee Ryan Agar protesting the non-call.
    The Raiders and their fans weren’t pleased that night with the work performed by Agar and linesmen Paul Brunen and Zac Wiebe. Debris rained down to the ice surface from the 2,115 spectators in attendance showing their displeasure for the non-call that cost the Raiders the game.
    During that scene, Clark and Raiders head coach Peter Anholt proceeded to pursue Agar.
    At the time, I was working for the Medicine Hat News in my first season covering the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers as a beat writer, but I still heard that story from afar with keen interest. I covered the Raiders as a beat writer for the Prince Albert Daily Herald the three previous campaigns.
    The Hurricanes arrived in Medicine Hat to play the Tigers five days after that controversial win over the Raiders.
    I visited with Hurricanes general manager Darren Stocker before that clash with the Tigers, and he still couldn’t believe how that win over the Raiders played out.
    Stocker told me I should have been at that game. Stocker said Clark absolutely lost it that night.
    The Hurricanes general manager admitted the Raiders really got jobbed in that game, but his side wasn’t going to complain about being on the good side of fortune.
    Stocker said he was sitting among the crowd with a couple of Hurricanes staffers, and the Raiders fans in their section gave the look of rage towards the Lethbridge bunch sitting with them.
    Stocker said it seemed like some of the fans thought the Lethbridge side had conspired with the officials against the Raiders. The Hurricanes boss said he explained to the fans all those on his side were just as surprised as they were, and the Lethbridge squad didn’t have anything to do with what the officials called or didn’t call.
    Out of that story you saw Clark’s passion for the Raiders in a visible form. Raiders fans who were so young that they don’t have the most clear recollections of that time love hearing that story, or it seems they do when I visit “Hockey Town North” and tell it.
    Now as young adults or in their late teens, those fans enjoy hearing how Clark was out to stick up for his guys and was mad as hell and not going to take it anymore, when the Raiders were hosed by a non-call by the officials.
    On March 1, the Raiders inducted Clark as a builder on to the Raiders Wall of Honour. Clark was still alive, but he wasn’t able to be at the Art Hauser Centre that night due to his battle with cancer.
    His brother and legend with the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs, Wendel, was in Prince Albert to accept the honour and offer thanks on behalf of the family. Donn Clark passed away the next day on March 2 in the palliative care unit at the St. Paul’s Hospital in Saskatoon.
    The Kelvington, Sask., product was 56 years of age and two days shy of his 57th birthday. Clark and I both happen to have birthdays on March 4.
    Clark was a defenceman for the Raiders during their inaugural season in the WHL in 1982-83. He was the club’s head coach for two seasons from 1993 to 1995.
    During the 1994-95 season, the Raiders finished third overall in the WHL with a 44-26-2 mark and advanced to a league semifinal series against the Brandon Wheat Kings. The Wheat Kings claimed the best-of-seven series in a deciding seventh game.
    Had the Raiders won that Game 7, they would have advanced to the Memorial Cup tournament to play for the CHL title. The Kamloops Blazers had won the other WHL semifinal series that year, and they were the host squad for the Memorial Cup.
    Due to the fact the Blazers made the WHL final, their opponent in that series was guaranteed a berth in the four-team field at the Memorial Cup.
    Clark left the Raiders following that season. He returned to the club as head coach at the start of the 2000-01 campaign.
    At the beginning of the 2001-02 season, Clark held both the role of head coach and director of hockey operations. With the Raiders facing financial struggles, it was his idea to break up the general manager’s role into the roles of director of hockey operations and director of business operations to ensure the club’s business aspect got the attention it deserved.
    First Bob Twyver and then Robin Davie proceeded to get the Raiders back on their feet financially in the director of business operations role.
    Shortly into that campaign, Clark gave up the head coach role to focus on the player personnel side of the team to get that aspect of the club on good footing. He even got the better of Brandon Wheat Kings head coach, general manager and owner Kelly McCrimmon on a couple of trades.
    Clark’s position morphed back into the role of general manager at the start of the 2004-05 campaign, when the Raiders were again healthy on and off the ice. That season with a group of players that were extremely popular in the community, the Raiders went on “The Run” and advanced to the WHL Eastern Conference Championship series falling in seven games to the Wheat Kings.
    The Raiders wouldn’t go on another long playoff run until winning the WHL title this past season and advancing to the Memorial Cup.
    Clark remained the team’s general manager until being ousted on Jan. 14, 2008.
    During the time Clark was with the Raiders in a coach or management role over his two stints, the person that was the general manager of the Raiders immediately received heaps of fan criticism similar to the fan criticism heaped on any person that becomes general manager of the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders.
    Looking back on time, I believe Clark dealt with that situation as well as anyone could have. He came up with the Wall of Honour idea for the Raiders and was quick to say he would probably never be on it.
The 2004-05 Raiders team picture including Donn Clark.
    I remember Clark telling me there would always be people that didn’t like Donn Clark, and he was content to live with that being an “it is what it is” situation.
    When I first arrived in Prince Albert in May of 2001 to work as a sports reporter for the Prince Albert Daily Herald, Clark gave me all his contact info and phone numbers during our first meeting.
    Over the years, he always returned phone calls and messages.
    At one point in the first half of the 2003-04 season, I remember stressors were coming up all over the place, and looking back, I wasn’t reading things with the team correctly.
    Clark set up a meeting in his office, where I met with him and Anholt. Clark knew the criticisms that had come up against him in town.
    Clark said whatever might come up that raises a concern his office door is always open.
    He went on to say if I have to come and yell “Clark you’re and asshole,” he said that was fine too.
    Clark said to come in, say that and we’ll talk about it.
    For the rest of Clark’s days on earth, that meeting allowed so many things to hit new heights even after I had left Prince Albert.
    About a month-and-a-half after that meeting, my father passed away from cancer, and the Raiders were a great family-type support system during that moment in time.
    I rode the bus with the team during in division road trips, and that made for great memories. During those trips, I learned how thoughtfully Clark could speak on all sorts of subjects.
    After I moved to Medicine Hat, I went out for Halloween once as NFL diva receiver Terrell Owens in 2006. The Raiders were in for a road game shortly after that, and Clark gave me the good-natured gears about my Halloween night out during a morning skate.
    I almost fell down laughing, because he was able to find out about that night from someone in town.
    Even when he was battling cancer for about the last four years, Clark would not let on with how he was doing in email or social media exchanges regarding his health. He always encouraged me in my freelance sports media pursuits and with the work I did on this blog.
    I remember this one email message he sent, where I was amazed at how beautifully written it was. Clark showed off another talent I didn’t know he had.
Donn Clark shakes hands with Evan Fiala at the Blades 2017 home opener.
    As the Raiders marched on to finish first in the WHL’s regular season standings and win the league crown this past campaign, it was great to see any difficulties people in Prince Albert might have had with Clark were buried in the past.
    It was cool to see that he was being remembered now in a fond way, and his place in Raiders lore was secure. For Raiders fans, Clark will always be one of theirs.
    I should note that doesn’t discount his time with the Saskatoon Blades. Clark was with the Blades for the full 1981-82 season and small parts of the 1980-81 and 1982-83 campaigns as a defenceman.
    Those involved with the Blades 1981-82 campaign are really close, and the group has taken the passing of Clark and Bruce Gordon in 2017 hard. Gordon, who also passed away from cancer, was a captain with the 1981-82 squad.
    Clark was the Blades head coach from the start of the 1995-96 season and was released part way through the 1997-98 campaign.
    Clark liked to show a tough exterior, but he really did have a soft interior. After he passed away, I saw lots of stories over social media telling about Clark’s various acts of kindness.
    Overall, he will always be identified for his time as a coach and an executive with the Raiders.
    Today at 2 p.m. at the Legion Hall in Kelvington, Sask., people from all over the hockey world will arrive to celebrate Clark’s life.
    It is safe to say all who knew him will miss someone who was as genuine as Clark was.

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Wednesday, 17 July 2019

From Rams to ’Riders – Ryan’s football life comes full circle

Jon Ryan boots a punt for the U of Regina Rams in 2002.
    Jon Ryan’s most famous play in the NFL came via his arm and not his punting leg.
    On January 18, 2015, Ryan was playing for the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, who were trailing 16-0 in the third quarter of the NFC Championship Game to the visiting Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field.
    Facing a fourth-and-10 at the Packers 19 yard line, the Seahawks sent out their field goal unit. Ryan served as the holder on the field goal team for place kicker Steven Hauschka.
    The Seahawks called for a fake. Ryan, who was born and raised in Regina, Sask., took the ball, rolled to his left and floated a 19-yard touchdown pass to offensive tackle Garry Gilliam to cut the Packers lead to 16-7.
    Seattle rallied to win that contest 28-22 in overtime.
    Ryan is still the last Canadian born player to throw a touchdown pass in an NFL conference title game thanks to his toss on that fake field goal against the Packers, who he broke into the NFL with in 2006 and 2007.
Jon Ryan sets up to punt during Roughriders training camp.
    “It was pretty cool,” said Ryan. “It was quite the experience to be able to throw a touchdown pass and be able to do a fake, not only that but in a game of that magnitude.
    “To be able to represent Canada in that situation meant a lot to me.”
    These days, Ryan is back in his hometown playing for the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders. After four games, the 37-year-old has punted the ball 24 times for the league’s second highest average at 47.5 yards per kick.
    The Roughriders (1-3) are slated to host British Columbia Lions (1-4) at 5 p.m. on Saturday at Mosaic Stadium.
    Until the start of this season, Ryan hadn’t played in the CFL since starting his professional career with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2004 and 2005.
    With the Bombers in 2005, Ryan appeared in 17 regular season games punting the ball 118 times for an average of 50.6 yards per kick. That average yards per kick is still a CFL record for most punt yards per kick for one season.
    After his time with the Bombers, Ryan played 12 straight seasons in the NFL with the Packers and Seahawks appearing in 191 career regular season games. Over that time, he punted the ball 914 times for 40,895 yards and averaged 44.7 yards per punt.
Jon Ryan (#9) is the recognizable hometown face with the Roughriders.
    Ryan admits his days with the Bombers seem like a long time ago. He is happy things worked out that he was able to return to the CFL with the Roughriders.
    “It has been cool,” said Ryan, who stands 6-feet and weighs 217 pounds. “It has kind of been a dream, a goal for a long time.
    “It is just kind of coming to fruition now. It is fun to be out here with the guys. It is fun to be back with family and friends.
    “It is good to be back in Saskatchewan.”
    With his return to Regina, Ryan’s football days have pretty much come full circle. He played high school football with Regina’s Sheldon-Williams Collegiate in 1999 after stepping away from being a hockey goalie on a full-time basis.
    In 2000, he joined the University of Regina Rams in the U Sports ranks tabbed to be both a place kicker and a punter. The Rams were in their second season at the Canadian university level after leaving the Canadian Junior Football League following the 1998 campaign.
Jon Ryan (#15) made lots of catches with the Rams from 2000 to 2003.
    Ryan took over the Rams place kicking and punting duties on a full-time basis as a rookie. He was responsible for scoring the winning point in the Rams first ever U Sports playoff victory on Nov. 3, 2000.
    In the last play of a Canada West Conference semifinal playoff game against the U of Calgary Dinos in Calgary, Alta., Ryan booted a 36-yard punt single to lift the Rams to a 33-32 victory.
    The Rams won two more playoff games to earn a berth in the Vanier Cup, which is the U Sports championship game. They fell 42-39 to the U of Ottawa Gee-Gees in the 2000 Vanier Cup.
    Ryan’s versatility began to take further form during that first campaign with the Rams. As that season went on, he began taking more reps at practices and games at wide receiver.
    Ryan made his most memorable offensive play as a sophomore in 2001 in a regular season game at Griffiths Stadium against the host U of Saskatchewan Huskies. After a goal-line stand, the Rams were at their own one yard line.
Jon Ryan launches a punt for the Rams in 2000.
    The Huskies came with a blitz, and Rams quarterback Marc Anderson threw a deep sideline streak pattern to Ryan. Ryan out jumped a defender for the ball, came down with it and raced down the sideline for a 109-yard touchdown reception.
    The Rams fell 34-28, but Ryan’s catch was something that would never be forgotten.
    In his final season with the Rams in 2003, Ryan was named the all-star punter in the Canada West Conference averaging 45.9 yards per boot on 67 attempts. He also had 27 catches in eight regular season games to lead the team with 501 receiving yards, while scoring four touchdowns on receptions.
    Due to the fact many of his former Rams teammates work in Regina, Ryan has been doing some catching up on that front.
    “It has been great,” said Ryan. “I’ve talked to a lot of them.
Jon Ryan kicks a field goal for the Rams in 2003.
    “Maybe, we will have a little almost 20-year reunion from the Vanier Cup days.”
    Ryan has enjoyed catching up with his large, extended family as well. Having played 12 straight seasons in the NFL with the last 10 of those campaigns coming in Seattle, Ryan’s visits fell off in frequency.
    When he wasn’t an NFL roster after parting way with the Seahawks, Ryan lived in Los Angeles, Calif., with his wife and famous comedian Sarah Colonna.
    On June 5, Ryan received an honourary doctor of laws degree along with his mother, Barb, from the University of Regina. Ryan’s father, Bob, passed away on Dec. 1, 2006 due to cancer.
    “I was living in Seattle and now I live off-season in L.A.,” said Ryan, who is serving a one-year contract with the Roughriders. “I see them (his family) once or twice a year.
    “When you have 12 nieces and nephews, a lot changes in a year when I don’t get to see them. Now, I’ll be able to see them on a regular basis. I’ll be able to see my mom and my brother and my sisters.
Jon Ryan jogs out for starting intros in 2003.
    “My nieces and nephews, I will be able to watch all their sporting events and all the things that they do. It is going to be pretty special, and it already has been.”
    On the field, Roughriders head coach Craig Dickenson said Ryan hasn’t shown signs of losing any of his power.
    “I knew he was pretty good,” said Dickenson. “He has actually gotten better.
    “He was a little rusty the first few days. He has a big leg there is no doubt.”
    Suiting up as the hometown product for the Roughriders, Ryan is inevitably watched more than a number of his teammates.
    He has dealt with that before in the NFL.
    During his time with the Seahawks, Ryan was one of the team’s most popular players, and he was a team captain over his final four seasons with the club.
    Ryan holds the Seahawks team records for most career punts (770), most career yards (34,480) and highest career average for yards per punt (44.8).
    He is comfortable with being in the spotlight.
    “You feel like a little bit you live in a fishbowl sometimes,” said Ryan, who helped the Seahawks win the Super Bowl XLVIII following the 2013 regular season. “That is kind of how it was in the NFL too.
Jon Ryan (#9) and Jorgen Hus chat at Roughriders camp.
    “No matter what position you are, you are always kind of being watched whether it be on the field or off the field. I feel that is the same here. It is one of those things I kind of thrive off of.
    “I like it, and I’m used to it.”

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Saturday, 13 July 2019

Can the regular person identify with today’s elite athlete?

Most regular people can’t comprehend the work Tyler Chow (#5) put in.
    Can the regular person identify with today’s elite athlete?
    That is a question I have been struggling with for the past two years, especially looking at the sports scene in Canada. I don’t think the regular person realizes how hard today’s athlete has to work at their craft to be good at the elite levels of sport, unless the regular person worked in elite athletes in recent time in some capacity.
    I feel like there is a perception out there that lives of elite level athletes are like what had been before the late 1990s when year round training came into vogue.
    Before the late 1990s came around, there was a period of a good 80 to 90 years where the commonly viewed approach to elite athletics was the same.
    You basically showed up at training camp to get into shape and take part in practices and games. When you were not participating in a practice or a game, you likely weren’t doing something specific to your sport.
    You were doing normal real life things like tending to family matters, participating in social activities or even working a regular job in the 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. hours.
    Actually, the elite athlete in the old days was viewed as a regular person who happened to be good at sports.
Most regular persons wouldn’t understand Libby Epoch’s joy for basketball.
    When the off-season came around, the time you spent on your sport likely got spent lying on a beach, golfing or partying. Often when one sports season ended, you might even follow another sport pursuit.
    For example, if you played hockey in the winter you might play baseball in the summer.
    If you worked out or lifted weights during a season, you likely got teased by your teammates.
    In the late 60s and early 70s, it was common for players in a sport like in professional tackle football to sit back, drink a coffee or smoke a cigarette at halftime.
    If you are an elite athlete in the current day in Canada, your sport is your full-time job, and it seems like you are doing something sports specific year round.
    There are very few athletes that participate in two sports at an elite level like Saskatoon’s Kaitlin Jockims, who is gifted in both hockey and basketball.
    The off-season conditioning programs of the current day are far more advanced and evolved than those offered in the early 1990s. If you visit a training facility like Ignite Athletics in Saskatoon, you will end up getting an education in core conditioning and be surprised how much goes into getting physically prepared for sport at the elite level.
    Most regular persons have never stepped into a facility like Ignite Athletics and would be shocked at what all happens there under the guidance of the facility’s outstanding staff.
Kaitlin Jockims is the rare star in two sports at the elite level.
    When the sports season begins right from training camp, elite athletes will also be immersed in classroom video sessions in their sport.
    In hockey, you are already starting to execute the systems a team wants to use during the regular season and playoffs. When the regular season starts, you hit the ice going at full pace.
    Regular persons would be shocked at how much time goes into video preparation.
    Even eating is different. Elite athletes are very aware about eating healthy. Even if they are out at a social function where alcohol is present, elite athletes will be aware about even having one alcoholic drink and might not even have an alcoholic drink at all.
    In athletics at the university level and even in major junior hockey just 10 years ago, athletes often looked forward to the Saturday game, because afterwards you were usually allowed to go out and party on a non-curfew night.
    That was usually time elite athletes in those sports were able to let loose and have fun, because in university you didn’t play a game again until the upcoming Friday.
Jaime Bourbonnais - a highly talented athlete who works hard.
    In major junior hockey, you usually went out and socialized on the Saturday if you next game wasn’t until Wednesday.
    Now, university athletes and major junior hockey players are worried about rest and recovery after the Saturday game even if a long break follows. In those situations, you often find players holding a protein shake and finishing off a cool down after visiting family.
    If teams go out on average twice every four months on a social outing these days, that is a lot.
    Even in curling which has always been viewed as the most social of sports, the athletes in that sport are now perfectly conditioned. The elite curlers aren’t stopping at the curling club lounge to have an alcoholic drink after their games, which was commonplace in the past.
    Most regular persons wouldn’t image putting all of that attention in to be able to do a sport. Also with the way the world has changed, most regular persons in Canada are often focused on the hustle and bustle of their own lives trying to get by.
    The goal is often to go on a vacation to a tropical spot like Hawaii. In most cases, the regular person worries about themselves and finds anything outside of their worlds as being irrelevant.
    Most of today’s elite athletes put full-time job efforts into their sport for very little financial reward.
Rylan Kleiter excels at football and curling.
    The number of athletes that reaches the level to make millions at the professional level is a very small fraction of the elite athletes who have tried to get to that spot.
    For most regular persons, it is all about the financial reward. They are better off financially working a full-time job than most elite athletes and will view those elite athletes as being stupid.
    The regular person can’t see positive traits elite athletes establish in pursuing their sport. Some of those traits and skills are better social skills, strong work ethic, teamwork and leadership skills.
    Due to the fact today’s elite athletes focus on their sports more than ever before, they don’t interact as much with persons in the regular work world. As a result, regular persons have no emotional investment in elite athletes.
    So yes, I believe there is a disconnection between regular persons and elite athletes in Canada in today’s world.
    The regular person just can’t get why elite athletes do what they do.

Dach watch intensifies for Blades fans

Kirby Dach has signed with the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks.
    The watch by Saskatoon Blades fans to see if star centre Kirby Dach will return to the team next season got a surge in intensity.
    On Monday, the 18-year-old product of Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., signed a three year NHL entry-level contract with the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks selected Dach in the first round and third overall in the NHL Entry Draft held in June.
    Due to Dach’s early draft selection and now that he has a signed NHL contract, the odds have increased that he could play in the NHL next season.
    As Dach hasn’t entered his overage season of junior eligibility, the Blackhawks have to return him to the major junior ranks if they don’t elect to have him play in the NHL.
    Last season, Dach, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 200 pounds, appeared in 62 regular season games with the Blades last season posting 25 goals, 48 assists and a plus-15 rating in the plus-minus department.
    He helped the Blades finish fourth overall in the WHL’s regular season standings at 45-15-8 and advance to the second round of the playoffs. The Blades fell in six games in the second round to the eventual WHL champion Prince Albert Raiders.
    If Dach makes the NHL this season, most would be happy for his success. The Blades would take that development as a good thing and move on as best they can.

“Texan Sniper” takes his talents to Switzerland

Max Gerlach is going to be sniping in pros in Switzerland.
    Sharpshooting right-winger Max Gerlach is on his way to Switzerland.
    On Wednesday, the former Saskatoon Blades standout, who is nicknamed the “Texan Sniper,” signed a one-year contract with HC Ambri-Piotta in Quinto, Switzerland. He will be loaned to the HCB Ticino Rockets in Biasca, Switzerland.
    Last season, Gerlach played out his overage major junior campaign with the Blades appearing in all of the team’s 68 regular season games posting 42 goals, 32 assists and a plus-seven rating in the plus-minus department.
    He played four seasons in the WHL split between the Medicine Hat Tigers and Blades recording 141 goals and 110 assists in 278 career regular season games.
    The product of Flower Mound, Texas, who stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 165 pounds, was a fan favourite in both of his WHL stops.

Nickolet departs Blades for NHL’s Hurricanes

    No matter Cody Nickolet will no longer be a fixture around Saskatoon Blades games.
    On Thursday, Nickolet joined the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes as an amateur scout. Last season, Nickolet was the Blades director of analytics for the WHL and one of their scouts in Saskatchewan.
    He first joined the Blades way back in 2011-12 as the team’s communications manager. Nickolet was on the Blades scouting staff for the past four seasons.
    His time with the Blades was broken up being a prospect analyst for one season with the NHL’s Florida Panthers.
    It will be a change for SaskTel Centre building staff and team supporters to no longer see Nickolet around the rink on a regular basis. He got along well with everyone, and you can bet those that know him are happy to see this opportunity come his way.

Raiders’ Leason signs NHL deal with Capitals

Brett Leason has signed with the NHL’s Washington Capitals.
    Prince Albert Raiders star right-winger Brett Leason further cemented his path to the professional game.
    On Thursday, Leason signed a three-year NHL entry-level contract with the Washington Capitals. The Capitals selected Leason in the second round and 56th overall in the NHL Entry Draft held this past June.
    Last season, Leason, who stand 6-foot-4 and weighs 210 pounds, had a breakout year with the Raiders posting 36 goals, 53 assists and a plus-55 rating in the plus-minus department in 55 regular season games.
    He helped the Raiders finish first overall in the WHL regular season with a 54-10-2-2 record and win their second WHL title and appear in the Memorial Cup tournament. In the WHL playoffs, Leason posted 10 goals and 15 assists for 25 points and a plus-six rating in 22 games.
    The Calgary, Alta., product also earned a spot on Canada’s team at the last world junior tournament played in Vancouver and Victoria, B.C.
    Leason is eligible to return to the Raiders for an overage campaign, but he will likely play somewhere in the Capitals system next season.

Raiders’ Protas also signs with Capitals

Aliaksei Protas, left, has signed with the NHL’s Washington Capitals.
    Prince Albert Raiders import left-winger Aliaksei Protas professional hockey path has moved more towards the capital city of the United States.
    On Wednesday, Protas, who is from Vitebsk, Belarus, signed a three-year NHL entry-level contract with the Washington Capitals. The Capitals selected Protas in the third round in and 91st overall in the NHL Entry Draft that was held this past June.
    Protas, who is 18-years-old, signed a day before his linemate in right-winger Brett Leason inked a three-year NHL entry-level contract with the Capitals.
    Protas, who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 205 pounds, was a WHL rookie in the 2018-19 campaign, and he steadily improved posting 11 goals, 29 assists and a plus-24 rating in 61 regular season games. He had a head turning WHL playoffs posting 12 goals, 10 assists and a plus-12 rating in 23 games helping the Raiders win a league title.
    Protas will likely rejoin the Raiders next season for a sophomore campaign unless he makes the Capitals NHL team.

Football Canada Cup Hail Mary something to see

    If a television-type broadcast camera had been present, the Football Canada Cup would have had a highlight that could have potentially on viral across North America.
    This year’s Football Canada Cup is going on right now in Kingston, Ont., the first of two semifinal games held on Wednesday provided a crazy highlight.
    In the first semifinal, Team Quebec led Team Alberta 23-16 with one snap to go in the fourth quarter and Alberta had the ball around midfield. Alberta quarterback Eli Hetlinger fired a Hail Mary pass down the right sideline that deflected off the hands of two Quebec defensive backs to Alberta receiver Dawson Gladue.
    Gladue secured the catch at the Quebec 16 yard-line and raced the rest of the way for a touchdown that forced a 23-23 tie score and overtime.
    Quebec prevailed 29-27 after a fourth set of overtime possessions.
    Gladue’s touchdown catch was shown on TSN, but the cameras used for the Internet telecast of the game weren’t the best quality. The score still looked good on the overhead shot, but it could have been better.
    Had there been a television broadcast quality camera present, you would have had a crazy highlight that could have been shown anywhere.
    There are NCAA athletic programs in the United States that have Internet broadcast quality cameras that are almost as good as television broadcast cameras.
    Unfortunately, sports bodies in Canada don’t have that type of money to purchase technology that is used by the top end NCAA athletic programs.
    Gladue will always have that lasting memory of his catch. Still, it could have been bigger moment for amateur sports in Canada.

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Monday, 8 July 2019

Returns and reunions aplenty in Valkyries 2019 finale

Aly Bell (#76) rejoined the Valkyries for a one-game cameo.
    Returns and reunions were all the rage for the Saskatoon Valkyries in their final outing of the 2019 campaign.
    On Saturday, the Valkyries hosted the Montreal Blitz in an exhibition contest at Saskatoon Minor Football Field coming away with a 39-12 victory. The win allowed to Valkyries to finish their 2019 season with a 9-0 overall record.
    It marked the first time the team played nine overall games in one season.
    As the Valkyries captured the Western Women’s Canadian Football League title 25-3 over the host Regina Riot on June 29 at Mosaic Stadium, the Saskatoon side was missing some players for the season finale due to real life pursuits.
    Thanks to the fact the clash with the Blitz was an exhibition game, the Valkyries were able to bring in players to fill in their roster. Some were former team veterans that came back for one game, four current members of the Riot came up to play for the Saskatoon side and a former WWCFL star came back for one game.
Alex Wojcichowsky (#50) returned to action to play centre for one game.
    It was cool to see the addition of these players. For the former Valkyries that came back, it showed how much the team meant to them.
    For the Riot members that came up from Regina, it showed the mutual respect that exists between the two rival sides.
    Alex Wojcichowsky, Lakyn Biberdorf and Aly Bell were the former veterans who returned to action. Wojcichowsky and Biberdorf are still active with the team in staff support roles. Wojcichowsky is a trainer and Biberdorf is a registered massage therapist.
Lakyn Biberdorf played cornerback for one game.
    Wojcichowsky played on the Valkyries WWCFL championship teams in 2013, 2014 and 2016, and Biberdorf was a rookie on the 2016 WWCFL championship team.
    Bell has been a member of the Riot since 2017. Her final season with the Valkyries was their WWCFL title winning campaign in 2016.
    She gained a lot of excitement on Saturday being on the field when the Valkyries ran a quarterback throwback pass gadget play that resulted in starting signal caller Alex Eyolfson hauling in a 23-yard touchdown reception.
    Wojcichowsky took on her former role at the centre position on the offensive line, while Bell played left guard. Biberdorf, who was a receiver when she played with the Valkyries, played cornerback.
    Ashley Clayton, Shelby Moran and Payton Kuster were the other current Riot members that came up to round out the Valkyries roster. Clayton played defensive back, Moran suited up at linebacker and Kuster played defensive back, returned kicks and took some snaps at receiver.
    Former Riot running back Carmen Agar was the former WWCFL star who suited up for the Valkyries in this contest. Agar played for the Riot from 2012 to 2018 before taking the current campaign off.
Payton Kuster (#37) makes a catch for the Valkyries.
    Agar topped the Valkyries in rushing against the Blitz carrying the ball six times for 43 yards scoring one touchdown.
    Up in the press box, former Valkyries assistant coach Chris Hengen-Braun stepped up to do the public address announcing duties.
    Before the game, the Valkyries held a moment of silence for late defensive position coach Justin Filteau, who passed away in a tragic plane crash on June 1.
    It is possible some of the additions to the Valkyries roster might have been missed.
    Still, it was fun to see the additions make a one-game cameo appearance, and it was obvious the current players enjoyed having them out.

Blitz QB Lacasse happy to renew Team Canada ties

Maude Lacasse (#13) jets downfield on a scramble.
    Maude Lacasse cherished the short time she was able to visit Saskatoon.
    The star quarterback for the Montreal Blitz had a strong game on Saturday, when her squad fell to the host Saskatoon Valkyrie 39-12 in a women’s tackle football exhibition match.
    Lacasse finished the contest completing 26-of-47 passes for 343 yards to go along with two interceptions. She ran the ball nine times for 60 yards.
    Lacasse showed why she is one of the top female tackle football players in Canada.
    She was a member of Canada’s national women’s tackle football, and a number of the Valkyries players were her teammates on the national team.  Lacasse was happy she was able to renew those ties.
    “I’ve played with some girls from the Valkyries on Team Canada,” said Lacasse. “It was awesome to see some faces we know.
    “We love them. It was great to have competition against them. It was awesome to play against the Valkyries.”
    Lacasse was a member of the Canadian national team that fell 41-16 to the United States in the championship game of the International Federation of American Football Women’s World Championship tournament in Langley, B.C., in 2017.
    Canada was behind 27-16 after three quarters before the United States sealed victory with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
    Lacasse’s teammates from event included Valkyries running back Sam Matheson, left tackle Alyssa Funk, defensive tackle Jaime Lammerding and safety Rienna Rueve.
    Finland hosts the women’s world tournament in 2021 with the dates, times and locations of games still to be announced. Lacasse is already setting her eyes towards that event.
Maude Lacasse (#13) fires a pass downfield.
    “Just seeing the girls from the Valkyries today, I think we have really good athletes in Canada,” said Lacasse. “I look forward to 2021.
    “We played really good in 2017 against U.S.A. I think we are there. We’re just missing like just a push, and we can beat them for real.”
    In order to prepare for worlds, Lacasse hopes the Blitz will be able to find a new league to play out of.
    The Blitz were formed in 2001, and they have played mainly out of leagues based in the United States. In 2012, the Blitz defeated the Sacramento Sirens 28-27 in the championship game in the top tier of the Independent Women’s Football League.
    Montreal last played in a league in 2017 as part of the Women’s Football Alliance. The Blitz haven’t been able to iron out any agreements to play in the U.S. leagues, and have spent the 2018 and 2019 campaigns playing exhibition games.
    “It has been two years,” said Lacasse “We’re trying to reach the Maritimes, because they have a league there.
    “It is hard. We are really trying to get out there and ask people to make a league. Even just our team in Montreal, we have trouble having like more than 40 girls.
    “We’re trying. We are really trying hard to grow football there and have a league. We keep working for future generations and hope for the best.”

Eye change in new Gainer gets warmer reviews

    The problem was all in the contact lenses.
    Before Saturday’s CFL regular season game at Mosaic Stadium against the visiting Calgary Stampeders, the host Saskatchewan Roughriders released a video that showed the new Gainer the Gopher mascot ditching his green contact lenses.
    Gainer proceeded to appear on the field new eyes that had black pupils, which were more closely tied to the traditional look of the mascot. He was greeted by loud cheers from the crowd.
    During the Roughriders home regular season debut on July 1, the team introduced a new look Gainer which was received mainly to wide disproval of the squad’s Rider Nation fanbase.
    Most of the disapproval showed itself in social media posts that were both harsh and comical. An online petition was started to bring back classic Gainer.
    After the eyes were tweaked in new Gainer, response on social media has been more positive this time around.
    There are still a number of people that oppose the new look Gainer has. Still, the change in the eyes has helped the uproar subside.
    Fans appear to have turned their focus on the fact the Roughriders were dumped 37-10 by the Stampeders before an announced attendance of 29,147. Saskatchewan fell to 1-3 after that loss, while Calgary improved to 2-1.
    The Roughriders return to action on Saturday, July 20, when they host the British Columbia Lions at 5 p.m. at Mosaic Stadium.

U.S.A. was the best at FIFA Women’s World Cup

    No matter what you think of them, the United States are the best in the world in women’s soccer.
    On Sunday, the U.S.A. downed the Netherlands 2-0 in the championship game in the FIFA Women’s World Cup at Parc Olympique Lyonnais in Decines-Charpieu, France. The United States have won the last two Women’s World Cups and have four titles overall.
    Megan Rapinoe scored for the U.S. on a penalty kick in the 61st minute and Rose Lavelle added an insurance goal in the 69th minute.
    Alyssa Naeher picked up the win in goal for the U.S.
    Sari van Veenendaal took the setback in goal for the Netherlands.
    The U.S. posted a perfect 7-0 record at this year’s world cup and appears to have a swagger that matches that of the Super Bowl winning Dallas Cowboys teams in the NFL in the 1990s.
    The U.S. side drew considerable criticism for elaborate goal celebrations opening its Women’s World Cup schedule thrashing Thailand 13-0 on June 11. Many were rankled when the elaborate goal celebrations continued when the U.S. netted goals eight through 13.
    To be honest, the continuing goal celebrations did show up an opponent that was considerably weaker.
    The U.S. caught everyone’s attention again in a 2-1 semifinal victory over England last Tuesday. Star striker Alex Morgan, who was celebrating her 30th birthday that day, scored the winning goal breaking a 1-1 tie in the 31st minute.
    She marked the moment doing a tea drinking celebration. With Morgan being one of the most famous and glamourous female athletes in the world, her celebration drew criticism with the critics saying she was taunting the English side.
    Morgan’s celebration was arguably parallel with that of former NFL star receiver Terrell Owens, who once pulled a sharpie out of his sock to sign a football for a fan after he scored a touchdown when he was a member of the San Francisco 49ers.
    Morgan’s glam and pretty aspect is arguably on the same level as Tom Brady, who has won six Super Bowls as the quarterback of the New England Patriots.
    That latter notion makes her both a target of criticism and praise.
    I would deem Morgan’s goal celebration against England of having the right amount of strut and self-confidence that comes close but doesn’t go over the edge to arrogance or being cocky.
    Rapinoe, who is a co-captain of the U.S. team, won the Golden Boot as the tournament’s leading scorer and the Golden Ball as the best player in the tournament.
    The 34-year-old was arguably the event’s most charismatic player. Her romantic relationship with WNBA star Sue Bird is heart warming.
    Rapinoe has been a star for some time in women’s soccer, but her star power has hit new heights in this tournament.
    She has the guts to battle one of the world’s most powerful political leaders in U.S. President Donald Trump. Rapinoe annoyed the president saying she would not visit the White House, if the U.S. side was invited to be honoured in the event of a Women’s World Cup win.
    She speaks eloquently on issues of equal rights and in the sport of soccer equal pay between genders.
    No matter what you think of the U.S. national women’s soccer team, they bring attention to their sport. The impact of their Women’s World Cup win this year might go beyond the boundaries of the sport, and they still might rock the world in bigger ways for years to come.

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Saturday, 6 July 2019

Perfection for Valkyries at 9-0, Blitz fall in exhibition clash

Alex Eyolfson (#15) smiles after making a touchdown reception.
    Alex Eyolfson hoped the good times would never end.
    The fourth-year quarterback was star attraction for the Saskatoon Valkyries on Saturday afternoon at Saskatoon Minor Football Field as they capped a perfect season with a 9-0 overall record.
    Eyolfson completed 11-of-20 passes for 299 yards, three touchdowns and had no interceptions in a 39-12 exhibition victory over the Montreal Blitz. She also had a touchdown reception on a quarterback throwback gadget play to go along with her passing efforts.
    “It was fun,” said Eyolfson. “I was throwing the ball lots, and I got a touchdown and that was fun.”
    The 21-year-old wanted to make good on the trick play after failing to finish it during the Valkyries 25-3 victory over the host Regina Riot in the WWCFL title game on June 29 at Mosaic Stadium.
Alex Eyolfson threw for 299 yards and three touchdowns on Saturday.
    On the gadget play in question, Eyolfson hands the ball off to a running back, who gives it to slotback Reed Thorstad for a reverse handoff. Thorstad is the Valkyries other talented quarterback.
    When Thorstad gets the ball, she throws it Eyolfson, who by that time is running a streak pattern down the sideline. In Regina, Eyolfson caught the pass, but fumbled the ball and managed to recover it.
    Against the Blitz on Saturday, the Valkyries executed the play perfectly with 6:51 expired in the second quarter. Eyolfson was wide open when she caught Thorstad’s pass and went into the end zone untouched on a 23-yard reception to give Saskatoon a 15-6 lead.
    “I caught the ball,” said a gleeful Eyolfson. “I just held on to the ball really tight.”
    Eyolfson’s touchdown reception came at a time when the Valkyries really started to roll.
Ricki Obed is set to take off on a 96-yard touchdown reception.
    Saskatoon exited the first quarter with a 1-0 lead on a 32-yard punt single from safety Rienna Rueve.
    The Blitz jumped ahead 6-1 with 2:44 expired in the second quarter when star quarterback Maude Lacasse capped a long touchdown drive with a one-yard sneak play. Montreal’s ensuing two-point convert attempt was unsuccessful.
    Just 63 seconds after that score, Eyolfson hit star running back Sam Matheson on a screen pass, and Matheson broke about four tackles on 37-yard touchdown reception that gave the Valkyries an 8-6 edge.
    After Eyolfson’s touchdown catch gave the Valkyries a 15-6 lead, the Blitz looked to have gotten back in the game, when Lacasse hit star receiver Anrelie D’anjou Drouin on a 37-yard bomb pass for a major score. D’anjou Drouin’s score was taken off the board, when the officials ruled she was offside on the play.
Maude Lacasse threw for 343 yards for the Blitz.
    Montreal’s drive continued, but it ultimately stalled on the Valkyries 14 yard line.
    On the first play of the ensuing Saskatoon possession, Eyolfson hit fourth-year receiver Ricki Obed on a deep flag pattern on the left side of the field. Obed raced the rest of the way for a 96-yard major score to give the Valkyries a 22-6 advantage.
    Obed finished the contest with three receptions for 107 yards to go with her one touchdown.
    “That was awesome,” said Eyolfson. “I kind of threw it to a spot, and she (Obed) just came out of nowhere and just ran it.
    “It was definitely a turning point I think. We used that as motivation. We kind of got a spark going.”
    With 45 seconds remaining first half, the Blitz capped another long drive with a one-yard touchdown run from running back Emilie Belanger to cut the Valkyries lead to 22-12. 
Emilie Belanger, right, runs in a one-yard touchdown for the Blitz.
    Montreal was unsuccessful at trying a second two-point conversion attempt.
    The Valkyries pulled away in the game’s second half. Early in the third quarter, Matheson caught another screen pass from Eyolfson and dashed 49 yards for a second touchdown reception.
    In the fourth quarter, Carmen Agar ran the ball in from a yard out for the Valkyries final touchdown to put the hosts up 36-12. Agar topped the Valkyries in rushing with 43 yards on six carries.
    Rueve hit a 12-yard field goal late in the fourth to round out the game’s scoring.
    Lacasse finished the contest completing 26-of-47 passes for 343 yards to go along with two interceptions. She ran the ball nine times for 60 yards.
    The Blitz, who were formed in 2001, played out of women’s tackle leagues in the United States for most of their history. 
Aurelie D’anjou Drouin, right, makes a deep catch for the Blitz.
    They have been playing a schedule of exhibition contests last season and this season while trying to find another league to compete in.
    Lacasse, who has played for Canada’s national women’s tackle football team, enjoyed Saturday’s contest despite the final outcome on the scoreboard.
    “It was awesome,” said Lacasse. “Honestly, it is awesome for us to come and play a good game.
    “If we had a real season with these kinds of games every time, I feel like we would have been way better today. That was the first time this season that we had to play against a great team. I think if we had games like this all the time we would get much better.”
Emmarae Dale (#45) had 12.5 total tackles for the Valkyries.
    The pass-happy Blitz provided a different challenge to the Valkyries, who usually face opponents that are more run oriented.
    Rueve, who had both interceptions off Lacasse, said the Valkyries defensive backs enjoyed being really active in Saturday’s contest.
    “It is fun for us,” said Rueve, who is in her eighth season with the Valkyries. “We are used to going against some teams who don’t throw very much.
    “For us as defensive backs, it’s nothing but fun. You have an opportunity to get beat now and then, especially when you have a quarterback who can look you off like she (Lacasse) does. It is what I would ask for.”
    D’anjou Drouin led all receivers catching 12 passes for 197 yards. The Blitz had 93 yards rushing as a team to go with Lacasse’s 343 yards through the air for 436 yards of gross offence.
Sam Matheson (#22) breaks a tackle to score a major on a 49-yard catch.
    The Valkyries dominated in the turnover department recording seven takeaways on three fumble recoveries, two interceptions and two turnovers on downs.
    The Blitz had one takeaway coming off a turnover on downs.
    Middle linebacker Emmarae Dale topped all players with 12.5 total tackles, while recovering a fumble and sharing a sack with rookie defensive end Danaye Holynski.
    “We rallied when we needed to,” said Rueve. “I feel like we kind of put everybody in spots where we needed too, and (we played) bend don’t break.”
    Overall, Valkyries head coach Pat Barry was pleased with Saturday’s season-ending contest for his club.
    “It was pretty exciting,” said Barry. “We knew it was going to be one of our most competitive games and it was.
    “They (the Blitz) are a very talented football team. We’ve never seen a quarterback like that who can make every throw on the field and look off our safety. She (Lacasse) is extremely talented.”
Rienna Rueve (#7) returns a punt for the Valkyries.
    The Valkyries were pumped they were able to complete the 2019 campaign with a perfect 9-0 record. The milestone came in a season that they had dedicated to their late defensive position coach Justin Filteau, who passed away in a plane crash on June 1.
    The nine overall games the Valkyries played in the 2019 were the most contests the squad hit the field for in one campaign.
    It started back on March 23 with a 34-6 victory over the Sin City Trojans in and exhibition game in Las Vegas, Nevada. 
    The Valkyries won their sixth WWCFL title when they downed the Riot in this year’s the league final.
    Saturday’s win provided a perfect cap to the season.
    “It is ridiculously unreal,” said Rueve. “To go 9-0 in a season and to be healthy, you can’t ask for much more.”
The Valkyries celebrate finishing 9-0 overall in 2019.
    “That is really exciting,” said Barry. “It is hard to do.
    “Nine football games is a lot. We’re ready for a break now. It has been a great season.”

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