Saturday, 20 May 2017

Sports media in Canada hits more uncertain waters

     There was a pending air of finality on Sunday at the Brandt Centre in Regina, and it had nothing to do with the Regina Pats needing to win to stay alive in the WHL Championship series.
    The Pats were down 3-2 going into Game 6 of the best-of-seven set and needed a win against the Seattle Thunderbirds to force a series deciding Game 7 the next night. If you were in the media and scouts lounge pre-game during the hour before puck drop, there was a pending feel of finality circulating from a large number of media members in attendance.
    The obvious feel of finality came from the crew working the Shaw television broadcast. Shaw bought itself out of its contract to show WHL games next season, so Sunday could have been potentially be the last broadcast.
    If the Pats won, a Game 7 on Monday would definitely be the last hurrah. Ultimately, the Thunderbirds claimed Game 6 by a 4-3 score in overtime to make Sunday the final Shaw broadcast.
    Away from the Shaw crew, a number of other people were wondering if they would be around a year from now, when the Pats host the Memorial Cup. Some of the Regina media members noted they wouldn’t get to go to Windsor, Ont., for this year’s Memorial Cup if the Pats won the WHL title. That latter worry was erased with Seattle’s win.
    In reality, the media landscape that covers sports in Canada has the potentially to be vastly different when September arrives bringing with it the next winter sports season, which has the potential to run through to March, April or May.
    Shaw is closing television stations in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver on Aug. 15. Corus Entertainment and Shaw Communications made that announcement in late April. Corus acquired Shaw’s media arm, which includes Global, in a $2.65-billion deal last year.
    Corus also announced that on Sept. 1, Global News will get a $10-million boost and part of those funds will be used to bolster coverage of university-level sports.
    Still, the closing of the Shaw stations in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver means at the moment WHL hockey games and U Sports football games from the Canada West Conference will no longer be shown in Western Canada.
    On the U Sports front, the Silhouette, which is the student paper at McMaster University, ran a big column on March 31 that showed how U Sports has been messed over on its television contract with Sportsnet.
Saskatoon Blades HC Dean Brockman takes part in a media scrum.
    In late March, Bell Media cut a total of 14 jobs in local sports departments at CTV stations in Calgary and Edmonton in Alberta and Windsor, London and Kitchener in Ontario. A total of 20 jobs were lost in all at those CTV stations. Local sports was cut out at the CTV station in Barrie, Ont., in February.
    Thanks to all these cuts, there was a small fear by some in the sports media in Regina that it is possible their positions could be eliminated any day without notice.
    The saving grace in Regina is the presence of the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders, whose national popularity will be keep local sports positions in that market. Still, the total number of sports media positions in that market have shrunk. It is easy to find people with the University of Regina athletics department that believe coverage of their teams will be considerably less at the start of this coming season now that Ian Hamilton is no longer with the Regina Leader-Post.
    The Leader-Post’s parent company, Postmedia, keeps constantly finding ways to downsize and did more downsizing late last year, where the company parted ways with Hamilton. Postmedia also owns the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, and there was downsizing at that outlet last last year as well.
    Across Canada, the number of people covering sports in the mainstream media in Canada outside of the NHL beat will be generally less in September of this year than it was in September of 2016.
    On the bright side while traveling across Saskatchewan and Alberta covering the WHL playoffs, it was nice to see mainstream media outlets in Regina, Swift Current and Lethbridge following their communities’ teams on the road to cover games.
    When I ventured across Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta covering WHL playoffs in 2016, the only media outlet I saw hit the road to cover their community’s team in the post-season was the Brandon Sun, which is basically an independent outlet.
    The WHL office itself is trying to do more to cover its member teams. Due to the cuts across the sports media in Canada, coverage of WHL is way less than it was five to eight years ago in mainstream outlets.
    Leagues like the WHL, U Sports and the Canadian Junior Football League are going to be forced to do more of their own media coverage on themselves through their websites and social media lines in order to get more exposure. The National Lacrosse League seems to already have made a big push on that front.
    The exposure of all those leagues would be helped if national wire services again decided to circulate stories about them, but anything outside of the NHL, UFC, Roughriders, Toronto Blue Jays or Toronto Raptors won’t even get a look by a wire service these days. The big mainstream media outlets and national wire services are addicted to getting instant gratification.
    Locally in Saskatoon, I can already see less cameras on the sidelines of the home opener for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team in September compared to their home opener on Sept. 2, 2016, when the Dogs downed the U of Regina Rams 41-39 in overtime.
    In the past three months, this blog has seen over 53,000 page views, which is the largest surge of views over any similar period since starting it up in late August of 2014. I thank those who have checked my blog out.
    I know some of the surge has come from the fact leagues like the WHL, U Sports, CJFL, the Western Women’s Canadian Football League or local minor sports like female midget AAA hockey are covered a lot less by the mainstream, and this blog is one spot that provides information on those circuits.
    I big time thank and appreciate the support of Gregg Drinnan, who the greatest to ever cover the WHL, and Cam Hutchinson, who is the editor of the Saskatoon Express, for consistently giving me encouragement and reinforcement.
Saskatchewan Rush HC and GM Derek Keenan takes part in a media scrum.
    With that said, I know I want to take time to reset and see where the chips covering sports in the media industry in Canada fall by the time September rolls around. I am not going to make any guarantees about what I will be around writing about in September.
    On top of media changes, I never know how things will unfold in my personal life.
    My goal is to ensure whatever I do cover it will be something I am passionate about. I find that when you cover something you are not passionate about, the readers see through it, and you do them a disservice. I really hope to avoid that.
    Until September, I just take things one day at a time and roll with the punches as they come, which is something I always try to do.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to To see column from the Silhouette regarding the television contract between U Sports and Sportsnet, you can do that by clicking here.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Pats season triggers great memories of the past

The Pats celebrate a Josh Mahura goal from Sunday.
    When I first walked into the Brandt Centre this season, it was reassuring to see a lot of good things stayed the same.
    The Regina Pats were the first WHL team I ever covered, but those days often seem like they were from another life. I covered the Pats for a web site run by the University of Regina’s School of Journalism and Communications in the last half of the 1999-2000 season and for a short-lived sports reporting website during the first half of the 2000-01 campaign called
    I was close to the same age as the players, and we ran in many of the same social circles. A couple of them lived two blocks south of my house. I had many good memories from that time.
    Back then, the Pats were owned by Russ and Diane Parker. In April of 2014, the Parkers sold the Pats to the Queen City Sports and Entertainment Group, which is headed by Anthony Marquart, who is the president of the Regina-based Royalty Developments.
The Pats celebrate a Joey Bastien goal in March of 2000.
    While I was in my 18th season covering the WHL, I didn’t have a whole lot of dealings with any of the current Pats personnel outside of athletic therapist Greg Mayer and star offensive-defenceman Connor Hobbs.
    Having been a beat writer that covered the Medicine Hat Tigers for the Medicine Hat News for 10 seasons from 2004 to 2014, it had been over 13 years since I was last at the Brandt Centre in a capacity that was unattached to the Tigers.
    I was unsure at first what it would be like to walk back into the Brandt Centre. I was preparing myself to encounter a different experience than from the one I remember long ago from when I covered the Pats.
    Last December, I had to venture to Regina a couple of times to nail down some items for a couple of freelance stories on two Saskatoon products for the Saskatoon Express. 
Overage captain Adam Brooks became a Pats icon.
    The trips allowed me the time to do some initial stories on the team for this blog, where I make a habit of traveling to different WHL centres to do stories on various teams.
    The Pats would finish first overall in the WHL with a 52-12-7-1 record and were ranked first in the final Canadian Hockey League rankings released on March 22. They were often rated first in the CHL top 10 rankings throughout the 2016-17 campaign, so the fact they were doing well made them an intriguing story.
    Entering the Brandt Centre on Dec. 3, 2016 for a home clash with the visiting Prince Albert Raiders, the attendant at the sign in desk was as friendly as can be. That provided the first good flashback to the past.
    Back when I covered the Pats in that long ago time, I remember the Brandt Centre staff making that facility, which was then known as the Agridome, one of the most friendly on the WHL circuit. That featured hadn’t changed, even though most of the staff obviously turned over. I was presently surprised to see a few old faces from back in the day.
Barret Jackman led the Pats with grit from 1999 to 2001.
    The seats and the scoreboard received an obvious facelift. When I went downstairs to the media and scouts lounge, it felt like a time warp. The downstairs of the facility looked pretty much the same from when I used to cover the team.
    When I was in the media and scouts lounge doing preparation work, Pats head coach and general manager John Paddock entered, went around shaking everyone’s hands and had short visits with each person. Paddock does this on a regular basis during the regular season, and I thought that was a pretty cool and classy touch.
    I jumped up with surprise and glee when I ventured out of the media and scouts lounge to see that 81-year-old Rollie Bourassa was still dressing up as the Pats dog mascot K9. He has been doing that since 1978. I didn’t realize he was still around.
    I think my freak out line was, “Oh my God! You’re still here!”
    I also had a chuckle when I shot pictures at that contest against the Raiders. My eyes often drifted to various points in the Brandt Centre where really good-looking girls used to sit game after game in the old days. Of course, they were no longer in those spots, but memories for a second drifted off to other good social times from the past.
Connor Hobbs works the point for the Pats.
    The Pats hammered the Raiders that night 12-2 before 5,749 spectators. When I looked at the stands, I couldn’t really find many empty seats.
    Seeing how packed the stands were, my mind drifted back to the days of when I used to cover the Pats. The players from that time like Barret Jackman, Garth Murray, Ryan Thomas and Matt Hubbauer got extra pumped to put on a show, if they saw that the stands were full like that.
    During post-game interviews, Paddock and his players were so easy to deal with, and that provided another flashback to the past. With the Pats doing so well, I figured I would be back to cover other games and potentially a decent playoff run as the season progressed.
    It was nice to see my mind was drifting back to a past life rediscovering a high comfort level and a professional joy I had covering that team.
    Having been a Regina resident, I realized the importance the Pats played in that city and knew the long history they had as the world’s oldest major junior team dating back to 1917. I also knew that the Pats best playoff runs were back in a distant past.
    Still, the Brandt Centre always contained at least 4,000 hard core fans no matter what happened with the team, and the Pats had a deeply embedded culture in the Queen City. They were an institution there, and I often wondered what it would be like to see the team on a long playoff run.
Garth Murray warms up for the Pats in 2000.
    When I saw Pats live for the first time this season in the romp over the Raiders, I remember telling former Pats head scout Todd Ripplinger that this was the best Pats team I had ever seen.
    As the season progressed, I made more trips to Regina to do stories about the club, and I saw the Pats frequently on the WHL playoff trail be it at the Brandt Centre or at rinks in other WHL cities. I began to get to know some of the players’ parents by face, who I didn’t know before.
    Friends in Saskatoon, where I am based, would tease me I was just heading down to watch Hobbs, who is from Saskatoon, and Sam Steel, who is the Pats superstar centre who has no ego. I replied you can throw in the team’s charismatic overage captain Adam Brooks too, who became one of the club’s icons spending a spectacular five complete seasons with the team.
    Besides that trio, forwards Jake Leschyshyn, standout rookie Nick Henry, speedy Austin Wagner, overager Dawson Leedahl, import Filip Ahl, Robbie Holmes and Braydon Buziak were fun to watch. Overager Chase Harrison, Josh Mahura and import Sergey Zborovskiy helped cement an impressive defensive unit.
    Gutsy goalie Tyler Brown slammed the door in net stealing the odd game when called upon and allowing the Pats to stay in other contests in order to manufacture an exciting comeback.
The Pats pour off their bench after their Game 7 victory over the Broncos.
    The Pats this season were as fun to watch as the skilled Tigers teams I used to cover in Medicine Hat.
    In the playoffs, one of the biggest memories came when the final seconds ticked off the clock when the Pats downed the Swift Current Broncos 5-1 in Game 7 of a second round series erasing a 3-1 series deficit for the first time in team history. The sellout crowd of 6,484 fans at the Brandt Centre were rocking as they never rocked before knowing the Pats were going to the WHL Eastern Conference Championship series for the first time since 1993.
    Shooting pictures of the team coming off the bench for the victory celebration, I saw shots that were similar to those of the 1980s Edmonton Oilers celebrating Stanley Cup title wins. A rink staffer told me to get out on the ice and take pictures of everything.
The Pats Regiment celebrates one of the team’s goals on Sunday.
    From the ice, I remember looking up at the crowd and thinking, “Holy (explanative)!”
    I wished the Pats teams I used to cover back in the day could have experienced a moment like that.
    The Pats would down the Lethbridge Hurricanes 4-2 in the best-of-seven WHL Eastern Conference Championship series to make the WHL Championship series for the first time since 1984. 
    Regina fell in the best-of-seven WHL title series to the Seattle Thunderbirds in six ultra-competitive games. The Thunderbirds captured the Ed Chynoweth Cup for the first time in their history.
Sam Steel is the Pats humble superstar.
    Between the regular season and playoffs, the Pats sold out a record 26 contests, which was something that was beyond the imagination of most.
    I went out after covering games a couple of times socially and had a chuckle watching people in Regina celebrate Pats playoff wins like Saskatchewan Roughriders wins in the CFL playoffs.
    There was part of me that never thought I would see the Pats play in a WHL Championship series, and it was special to see that happen to create a link to the team’s success of a distant past. 
The Pats give a final salute to the Brandt Centre crowd on Sunday.
    While Pats fans endured heartbreak when the club couldn’t hold on to a late 3-1 third period lead in Game 6 of the WHL title series with the Thunderbirds at the Brandt Centre on Sunday, they could be proud the Pats went down fighting in the 4-3 overtime loss.
    For myself, I never thought I would enjoy covering games involving the Pats as much as I did this past season or it would bring back as many old memories as it did. 
    In between and including the work, I was glad I could make some more good memories and enjoy some more good times involving Regina’s historic major junior team.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Blades sign top three WHL Bantam Draft selections

De La Gorgendiere and Crnkovic introduced to local media

Aiden De La Gorgendiere, left, and Kyle Crnkovic signed with the Blades.
    The Saskatoon Blades two newest first round WHL Bantam Draft picks were looking pretty wide eyed on Wednesday afternoon.
    During a news conference at the SaskTel Centre, the WHL club introduced defenceman Aidan De La Gorgendiere and forward Kyle Crnkovic to a sizable gathering of local media. The gather also included a large contingent of Blades coaches, staff and management, seven other players that were selected by the team at the May 4 draft held in Calgary and a large representation of parents.
    De La Gorgendiere and Crnkovic looked a little overwhelmed by the number of people in attendance at the conference. The two 15-year-olds had smiles when they signed their WHL Standard Player Agreements with the club.
    The Blades also announced they signed forward Braden Plaschewsky to a WHL Standard Player Agreement too, which meant the team got commitments from their top three picks from this year’s WHL Bantam Draft. The Blades selected Plaschewsky, who is from Calgary, in the second round and 31st overall.
Aidan De La Gorgendiere, left, signs his WHL Standard Player Agreement.
    “It is just a fun day,” said Blades general manager Colin Priestner. “We spend a lot of time in rinks at bantam games all year.
    “Our scouts spend hundreds of hours each at the rinks. To get a couple first round picks like this signed so quickly, it is a big relief for me. It is a huge thing.
    “I can go on vacation now and enjoy my summer a little more. It is one of those things where we really wanted these two players.”
    The Blades selected De La Gorgendiere in the first round and fifth overall. The Langley, B.C., product, who stands 6-feet and weighs 169 pounds, played with the Abbotsford, B.C., based Yale Hockey Academy bantam squad netting five goals and 21 assists in 30 games. His parents, father Graham De La Gorgendiere and mother Marla Meginbir, are both from Saskatoon.
    De La Gorgendiere still had a lot of family in Saskatoon including grandparents and aunts and uncles. 
Kyle Crnkovic signs his WHL Standard Player Agreement.
    He was pumped to sign with the Blades.
    “It is a great opportunity for me,” said De La Gorgendiere. “I’m looking forward to the future here.
    “I knew I wanted to play here once I got drafted. That was my decision.”
    De La Gorgendiere said one of his favourite WHL players was defenceman Ty Smith, who just wrapped up his 16-year-old rookie season with the Spokane Chiefs, and the NHL players he tries to model his game after are Brent Seabrook of the Chicago Blackhawks and Aaron Ekblad of the Florida Panthers.
    “I feel I am a 200-foot defenceman,” said De La Gorgendiere. “I have a little bit of offensive ability I can put towards the Blades, and I also have a good first pass out of my own zone.”
    Crnkovic was selected in the first round and 10th overall by the Blades. The Chestermere, Alta., product played for the Kelowna, B.C., based Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy team racking up 40 goals and 39 assists in 30 games.
Colin Priestner, left, gives a jersey to Aidan De La Gorgendiere.
    He was amazed by the welcoming he received at the press conference.
    “It is pretty overwhelming, but it is also pretty cool at the same time,” said Crnkovic, who stands 5-foot-6 and weighs 149 pounds. “I’m just very excited to be part of the organization.
    “I’m really looking forward to it. When Saskatoon picked me, it was a huge honour. I’ve heard nothing but good things about the organization.”
    Crnkovic said he tries to model his game after Mitch Marner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and he loves to be a playmaker. The speedy forward said he enjoyed meeting the Blades coaches, management and staffers in person.
    “They’ve been so nice and so welcoming,” said Crnkovic. “I’m just really looking forward to it.
“I just need to get bigger and stronger and just work as hard as I can this summer.”
    The Blades WHL Bantam Draft picks from this year won’t be able to play with the club on a full-time basis until the start of the 2018-19 season. 
Colin Priestner, left, gives a jersey to Kyle Crnkovic.
    They can play in five games in the upcoming campaign as 15-year-olds.
    Blades head coach Dean Brockman was having his initial in person meetings with many of the draft picks and said he doesn’t want to place too many expectations on the newcomers.
    “For us, it is just take your time with the development and make sure that they are ready to come when they are ready to come,” said Brockman. “I don’t want to put the pressure on them that they have to be the guys right off the bat.”
    The bench boss just had a simple hope for the most recent bantam picks in their first visit to the city.
    “You just want them to feel welcomed,” said Brockman. “You also want them to know that this is what it is going to be like.
    “I don’t think there is anybody that has been over the top or out of the ordinary.”

Pats’ Mahura signs with Ducks

Pats D Josh Mahura signed with the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks.
    Josh Mahura had an outstanding post-season for the Regina Pats, and he was rewarded for his efforts with an NHL contract.
    On Wednesday, veteran defenceman signed a three-year NHL entry-level contract with the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks selected Mahura in the third round and 85th overall in last year’s NHL Entry Draft.
    The St. Albert, Alta., product, who turned 19 earlier this month, was acquired by the Pats in a blockbuster deal on the WHL’s trade deadline day on Jan. 10 from the Red Deer Rebels. Between the Rebels and the Pats, Mahura appeared in 73 regular season games recording 17 goals, 36 assists and a plus-17 rating in the plus-minus department.
    He came through during a number of key moments for the Pats in the post-season as they advanced to the best-of-seven WHL Championship series for the first time since 1984 before falling in six hard fought contests to the Seattle Thunderbirds. Mahura, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 185 pounds, recorded eight goals, 13 assists and a plus-seven rating in 23 playoff games.
    The National Lacrosse League’s Saskatchewan Rush will recognize the Pats for their WHL playoff run on Saturday at the SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon. The Rush are hosting the Colorado Mammoth in Game 2 of the best-of-three West Division Final at 7:30 p.m. that night, and they lead the series 1-0.
    Four members from the Pats, who claimed the WHL’s Eastern Conference championship, are from the Saskatoon area including star offensive defenceman Connor Hobbs and forwards Dawson Leedahl, Wyatt Sloboshan and Jake Leschyshyn.
    While the Rush have successfully branded themselves as a provincial team, the Pats should get an interesting reception considering the SaskTel Centre is the home of their traditional long-time rivals, the Saskatoon Blades.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

WHL Championship delivered thrills and drama

Title series between Thunderbirds and Pats was a classic

Keegan Kolesar skates with the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
    REGINA – Wow!
    That is the only word that was needed to describe this year’s WHL Championship series. The Seattle Thunderbirds and the Regina Pats put on a show and both were worthy of battling for the Ed Chynoweth Cup in a best-of-seven set.
    In a conclusion that was a fitting end for an overall thrilling 2017 WHL playoffs, Alexander True followed the rebound of his own shot to pop home the winner at the 12:36 mark of overtime to deliver the Thunderbirds to a 4-3 series winning Game 6 on Sunday at the Brandt Centre in Regina. Seattle claimed its first league title in franchise history with the 4-2 series win. The Thunderbirds date back to 1977, when the club was formed as the Seattle Breakers.
    At the start, the series had to be considered a tossup. The Pats finished first overall in the WHL with a 52-12-7-1 mark and were rated first in final Canadian Hockey League top 10 rankings, which were released on March 22. They were making their first appearance in the league final since 1984.
    The Thunderbirds finished fourth overall in the WHL with a 46-20-4-2 mark despite getting out to a slow start due to players getting back late from professional camps. They lost the best-of-seven league title series last year 4-1 to the Brandon Wheat Kings and returned 14 skaters who were looking to take care of unfinished business.
Alexander True scored the Thunderbirds biggest goal.
    Over the course of six games, the Thunderbirds and Pats showed their resilience. The teams were separated by the slimmest of margins, but in the end, the experience the Thunderbirds had likely helped push them to the title.
    Sunday’s Game 6, which was played before a sellout crowd of 6,484 spectators, captured the whole series perfectly. It seemed momentum wouldn’t stay with one side.
    After two straight losses, the Pats were looking to get the series back on even terms. Things started well for the hosts as star centre Sam Steel converted a nice feed from defenceman Josh Mahura at the top of the left faceoff circle on the power play to give the hosts a 1-0 lead.
    Seattle came with a huge push back and outshot Regina 10-3 in the opening frame. During that stretch of Thunderbirds pressure, it appeared Pats standout netminder Tyler Brown was going to steal the game as he made stop after stop.
    Thunderbirds winger Sami Moilanen found the equalizer on the 20th shot fired on goal from his side forcing a 1-1 tie at the 8:55 mark of the second.
    The contest proceeded to turn 16 seconds later when Thunderbirds defenceman Turner Ottenbreit received a major penalty for charging on a high hit he threw on Pats speedy winger Austin Wagner. Wagner left for the remainder of the second period and returned for the start of the third.
Austin Wagner led the Pats with 16 goals in the post-season.
    At that point, the Pats showed their “never say die” attitude. They pushed back and built momentum heading into the third period.
    In the third, the Pats hit a point where it appeared Game 7 was going to be a reality. With 8:10 to play in the frame, Mahura fired home a rebound from a shot by winger Jeff de Wit to give the Pats a 2-1 edge.
    From there, Wagner stepped into the forefront. He stole the puck from Thunderbirds defenceman Austin Strand, zipped into the Seattle zone on a breakaway and fired home his 16th goal of the playoffs to the top left corner of the Thunderbirds net with 6:48 to play. The Brandt Centre was rocking with the Pats now holding a 3-1 lead.
    This became the point the Thunderbirds experience showed through. When everything was rolling for the Pats, they found a moment to gain traction to turn the game around again and provide the final turning point for the series.
Tyler Brown’s rebound on this blocker stop turned out to be costly.
    Just 86 seconds after Wagner’s goal, the Thunderbirds caught a break, when a pass from Seattle defenceman Ethan Bear deflected off Mahura right to Thunderbirds overage winger Ryan Gropp, who was open in the right slot. Gropp cut to the middle and fired home a shot that cut the Pats lead to 3-2 causing a short hush to fall over the Brandt Centre crowd outside of the healthy contingent that was cheering for the Thunderbirds.
    The Thunderbirds proceeded to get on the power play, and winger Keegan Kolesar fired home a beauty feed from Bear in the right slot to force a 3-3 tie with 2:54 to play in the third.
    In overtime, the Pats had a great chance to get the winner, when a shot from standout rookie winger Nick Henry squirted out from the pads of Thunderbirds goaltender Carl Stankowski. Steel tried to tap home the loose puck, but he didn’t get enough force behind the jab allowing Stankowski to make the stop.
Thunderbirds D Ethan Bear (#25) wires a shot on goal from centre ice.
    That set the stage for True to play the role of Seattle hero netting the series winner. When Brown made a blocker stop on True’s first shot, the import from Copenhagen, Denmark, was smart to go hard after his rebound, because he had a lot of empty net to shooting the winning goal into.
    Brown was heroic in the setback making 39 stops. Stankowski turned away 28 shots to become the first goalie in his 16-year-old season to win the WHL title as a starter since Dan Blackburn in 2000 with the Kootenay Ice.
    Three games in the series were decided in overtime, and all three were played in Regina. The Thunderbirds claimed two of those games in extra time to erase the memories of dropping three straight overtimes to open last year’s WHL Championship series with the Wheat Kings.
Thunderbirds C Mathew Barzal cuts to the front of the Pats net.
    The Pats were also without captain Adam Brooks for Games 2 to 5 of the series. Brooks was lost after being on the receiving end of an open ice hit by Ottenbreit in the second period of Game 1.
    Without their captain, the Pats showed their grit winning two out of the four games Brooks missed.
    While Regina fans weren’t happy with Ottenbreit, the Yorkton, Sask., product, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 200 pounds, showed he was a sound and rugged defensive defenceman.
    He recorded seven goals, 25 assists, 92 penalty minutes and a plus-45 rating in the plus-minus department in 71 regular season games.
Sam Steel netted key goals for the Pats.
    If Ottenbreit played for the Pats, he would likely have been a fan favourite in Regina.
    Thunderbirds star centre Mathew Barzal was held pointless in Game 6, but he had his chances. The first round NHL Entry Draft selection of the New York Islanders was named the MVP of the WHL playoffs.
    Barzal missed Seattle’s first round series sweep of the Tri-City Americans due to illness, but he returned at the start of the second round and recorded seven goals, 18 assists and a plus-eight rating in 16 post-season games.
    With the WHL championship win, the Thunderbirds head to the four team Memorial Cup tournament, which begins Friday in Windsor, Ont., with the host Spitfires hosting the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champion Saint John Sea Dogs.
    The Thunderbirds open their schedule taking on the Ontario Hockey League champion Erie Otters on Saturday. The Memorial Cup runs through to Sunday, May 28 in Windsor.
The Thunderbirds celebrate their WHL title OT winning goal.
    Seattle will be in tough as a WHL team has only won one of the last eight Memorial Cup tournaments. The Edmonton Oil Kings are the only Memorial Cup winner coming from the WHL during that time span capturing major junior hockey’s biggest prize in 2014.
    No matter what happens in the Memorial Cup, the Thunderbirds and Pats showed in their league title series how impressive a product the WHL can be.
    They gave the circuit another classic championship series.

Ridley nears 3,800 games called

Bob Ridley calls a Medicine Hat Tigers road game in Saskatoon.
    When the next WHL season starts, iconic Medicine Hat Tigers play-by-play voice Bob Ridley will be closing in on calling his 3,800th game.
    This season, the Tigers advanced to the second round of the WHL playoffs, where they lost a heartbreaking seven game series to their Highway 3 rivals the Lethbridge Hurricanes. That contest was marked the 3,783rd game Ridley called as the voice of the Tigers including games in the regular season, standings tiebreakers, WHL playoffs and the Memorial Cup tournament.
    Since the Tigers began play in 1970, Ridley has called 3,363 of the 3,364 team’s regular season games, one standings tiebreaking game, all 399 contests the club has played in the WHL playoffs and all 20 contests the team has played in the Memorial Cup tournament.
    Ridley has called Tigers hockey games for 47 seasons, and for the majority of that time, he drove the team’s bus as well. If someone started next season calling an average of 80 games a season for 47 seasons, that person would still come up short of the total games Ridley has called.
    It is safe to say no one ever in the history of the WHL will ever pass Ridley’s total of game called as the play-by-play voice of one team.

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Sunday, 14 May 2017

Thunderbirds WHL title dream comes True

Seattle wins first league crown in team history with OT thriller

Mathew Barzal, centre, gives a cheer after the Thunderbirds OT win.
    REGINA – Alexander True came up true in the biggest moment in the history of the Seattle Thunderbirds.
    On Sunday night before a sellout crowd of 6,484 spectators at the Brandt Centre in Regina, True’s Thunderbirds were locked in a 3-3 tie in overtime with the host Pats and were looking to close out the WHL Championship series with a Game 6 victory.
    At the 12:36 mark of the extra session, the 19-year-old import centre from Copenhagen, Denmark, broke down the right wing, fired a shot on Pats netminder Tyler Brown, followed the rebound and popped home the WHL championship winning goal.
    True’s marker gave the Thunderbirds a 4-3 victory in game, a 4-2 win in the best-of-seven series and the Ed Chynoweth Cup as league champions. The win marks the first time the Thunderbirds have claimed the WHL title in team history. The Thunderbirds date back to 1977, when the club was formed as the Seattle Breakers.
Alexander True (#16) fires home the WHL championship winning goal.
    “Unbelievable feeling. It is just really special,” said True, who said the OT winner was the biggest goal in his hockey career. “I don’t really know what to say.
    “I didn’t think much. I just wanted get the puck on net. Luckily, I got the rebound and saw the net was pretty open.”
    The Pats held a 1-0 lead after the first period, but the Thunderbirds pulled even at 1-1 scoring the lone tally in the second. Regina shot out to a 3-1 lead in the third period, but Seattle replied with two markers late in the frame to force overtime.
    Feisty Thunderbirds right-winger Keegan Kolesar wired home a one-time feed from star defenceman Ethan Bear on the power play for the equalizer with 2:54 remaining in the third.
Alexander True celebrates his OT winner.
    “We’re a team that doesn’t give up,” said Bear, who had a pair of assists and was a plus-two in the plus-minus department in Sunday’s win. “We’re going to have to keep doing that moving forward.
    “Through all the adversities and injuries, a lot of guys stepped up. We really, really earned this, and it feels amazing.”
    Bear, who has a signed NHL entry-level contract with the Edmonton Oilers, had over 100 family and friends in attendance from his home stomping grounds in Saskatchewan’s Ochapowace First Nation. The 19-year-old big time appreciated his backers.
    “It is amazing to look at all my family and all my friends,” said Bear. “I am not the only guy from (Saskatchewan), so I bet they (his Saskatchewan teammates on the Thunderbirds) feel the same.
    “It couldn’t be any better.”
    Bear, who stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 205 pounds, said he draws motivation from his friends and family in Ochapowace.
    “They supported me a lot,” said Bear. “Everywhere I went, they all supported me no matter what I did.
    “That really helps me push myself to get a little bit further. Hearing and seeing all the crowd we had, you know it felt like home ice. Without them, I don’t think we could have done it.”
Seattle RW Keegan Kolesar (#28) tries to slip past Regina D Connor Hobbs.
    Sami Moilanen and Ryan Gropp both netted singles for the Thunderbirds. Sam Steel, Josh Mahura and Austin Wagner all netted singles for the Pats.
    For a moment, it looked Wagner was going to have a storybook type game. With the contest locked in a 1-1 draw, Wagner was nailed with a high hit in the open ice by Thunderbirds 19-year-old defenceman Turner Ottenbreit.
    Wagner, who had been battling bum shoulder in the playoffs, laid on the ice for a few moments before being helped to the dressing room. Ottenbreit was given a major penalty for charging, and that infraction will trigger an automatic review by the WHL office for a possible suspension.
    After missing the rest of the second period, Wagner returned for the third. The speedy winger got in alone on Thunderbirds netminder Carl Stankowski and netted his 16th goal of the post-season to give the Pats a 3-1 edge with 6:48 to play in the frame.
Thunderbirds defenceman Ethan Bear holds up the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
    Bear said his Thunderbirds expected the Pats to be resilient. The Pats topped the WHL’s regular season standings with a 52-12-7-1 record and were rated first in the final Canadian Hockey League rankings released on March 22.
    In the second round of the playoffs, the Pats trailed the Swift Current Broncos 3-1 in a best-of-seven series and rallied for a 4-3 series win. In the WHL Eastern Conference Championship series, the Pats trailed that best-of-seven set 2-1 to the Lethbridge Hurricanes and rallied for a 4-2 victory.
    “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” said Bear. “Right from the get go, they were a team that every time they were down in a series they came back and won.
    “We knew that. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, so we just stuck to it. It feels amazing.”
    Stankowski made 28 stops to pick up the win in goal for the Thunderbirds. Brown was sensational turning away 39 shots to take the loss in goal for the Pats.
Austin Wagner (#27) celebrates his goal that gave the Pats a 3-1 lead.
    Thunderbirds star centre Mathew Barzal was named the MVP of the WHL playoffs.
    The Coquitlam, B.C., product missed the first round of the post-season due to illness, but he returned to piled up seven goals, 18 assists and a plus-eight rating in 16 playoff contests.
    The Thunderbirds will make their first appearance at the four-team Memorial Cup tournament for the first time since they hosted the event in 1992, when they lost out in a semifinal contest. The other three teams at this year’s Memorial Cup are the Ontario Hockey League champion Erie Otters, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champion Saint John Sea Dogs and the host Windsor Spitfires.
    The Memorial Cup begins Friday and runs through to Sunday, May 28 in Windsor, Ont.
    The Pats were making their first appearance in the WHL Championship series since 1984 and will host the Memorial Cup next year.
    After losing last year’s WHL Championship series in five games to the Brandon Wheat Kings, the Thunderbirds returned 14 skaters this season and had to survive missing key players to injuries and illness over extended stretches. Stankowski, who is in his 16-year-old season, played every minute in the post-season in goal for Seattle after star overage netminder Rylan Toth sat out with a lower body injury.
Seattle C Matthew Wedman (#21) is stopped by Regina G Tyler Brown.
    During the regular season, the Thunderbirds posted the WHL’s fourth best overall record at 46-20-4-2. In the WHL playoffs, Seattle rolled off a 16-4 mark.
    Thunderbirds long time veteran general manager, part owner and WHL legend Russ Farwell stood off to the side watching his players, coaches and staff enjoy the moment. Before he ever joined the Thunderbirds, Farwell was the general manager and architect of the Medicine Hat Tigers league and Memorial Cup championship teams in 1987 and 1988.
    After the 1988 Memorial Cup title win, he joined the Thunderbirds for his first stint as general manager, which ended with a departure to the NHL ranks in 1990. Farwell has continuously been with the Thunderbirds since getting back involved with the team in 1995.
    He wanted to savour this first personal league title win in 29 years.
The Thunderbirds get set for the team picture with the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
    “You appreciate it a little more I think the longer you have been doing it,” said Farwell. “This is a special group of guys.
    “It is a bigger challenge in the U.S. to build that kind of team. This year this group has really, really battled through a lot of things. It is the funniest year I have ever had right down to Carl (Stankowski) having to step in for us in goal.
    “They’ve just overcome so many things.”
    Farwell said he would always remember this league title win.
    “They are all big, but this is special certainly for our group, our scouts and everyone there in Seattle,” said Farwell. “It has been a long, long time coming.
    “We worked at it. We had a run last year. It is really special to get there and see these guys get there.”

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Saturday, 13 May 2017

Riot push out to early season edge on Valkyries

Alex Kowalski hauls in a pass in traffic for the Riot.
    The Regina Riot ground out an early victory over their biggest rivals, which might prove to be key down the road.
    On Saturday at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, the Riot muscled their way to a gutty 16-0 victory over the defending Western Women’s Canadian Football League champion Saskatoon Valkyries. While the Riot pushed their way to victory in very windy conditions, the Valkyries had a number of promising drives that stalled helping to contribute to the end result.
    Saskatoon’s struggles to get on the scoreboard started in the first quarter. Early in the first, the Valkyries got into Riot territory when sophomore quarterback Alex Eyolfson completed a deep ball into the wind to standout receiver Carly Dyck. The hosts had to settle for a punt that pinned the visitors deep in their end.
    The Riot didn’t stay stuck in their end for long. Mixing up the pass and run, Regina drove about 80 yards down field and got on the board first, when Morgan Turner booted a 12 yard field goal to give the Riot a 3-0 lead.
Aimee Kowalski throw a jump pass for the Riot.
    Regina had another big drive that started in the first quarter and ended early in the second quarter going into the wind. The drive concluded when veteran star Riot quarterback Aimee Kowalski hit receiver Rachelle Smith on a short little three-yard pass and run touchdown that extended Regina’s edge to 10-0.
    The Valkyries had a huge chance to cut the gap before halftime but some untimely penalties dashed those hopes. With the wind, Eyolfson hit Dyck on another deep throw to get the Valkyries deep into Riot territory.
    It appeared Eyolfson was going to have a big chance to hit Dyck for a touchdown strike on the next play after the completed bomb, but a pre-snap penalty dashed those hopes. With no time remaining on the clock, Dyck made a field goal from 32 yards out that looked to have put the Valkyries on the scoreboard, but the points were taken off the board due to a holding penalty.
    Dyck tried the kick from 42 yards out, but just missed wide left. Riot kick returner and defensive back Mira Trebilcock ran the ball out of the end zone to preserve Regina’s 10-0 edge.
    At the second half coin toss, the Valkyries took wind in the third quarter, and early in the frame, it appeared they were going to get the ball in good field position.
Running back Mallory Starkey,  middle, power her way to a Riot touchdown.
    The Riot were forced to punt from deep in their own end, but Valkyries kick returner Gillian Allen fumbled the ball away. The Riot recovered the fumble on their own 44.
    Regina proceeded to put together a methodical 66-yard drive that ended with a two-yard touchdown run by Mallory Starkey to give the visitors a 16-0 edge. The Riot had trouble with the snap on the extra point attempt and were unable to get it off.
    Early in the fourth quarter, the Riot were deep in Valkyries territory, but fumbled the ball away to keep the hosts in the game.
    The Valkyries were able to get down deep in Regina territory again, but still couldn’t score. An end zone pass to Dyck was swatted away by Trebilcock. The Valkyries also saw a goal line toss to rookie slotback Nadia Doucoure fall incomplete.
Valkyries QB Alex Eyolfson (#15) eludes Riot LB Adrienne Zuck (#36).
    Kowalski completed 18 of 26 passes for 226 yards and a touchdown toss for the Riot.
    Jenna Koller topped all Riot receivers with five catches for 85 yards. Starkey was the top ground gainer for Regina piling up 91 yards on 19 carries.
    Linebacker Adrienne Zuck had five solo tackles and a key fourth quarter sack for the Riot.
    Eyolfson completed 10 of 18 passes for 125 yards for the Valkyries.
    Dyck was Saskatoon’s top receiver hauling in four passes for 92 yards. Power tailback Samantha Matheson led the way on the ground with 105 yards on 20 carries.
    Veteran star linebacker Beth Thomson had seven solo tackles for the Valkyries, while sophomore linebacker Emmarae Dale had two solo tackles and a sack.
    Regina had the edge in net offence over Saskatoon 387 yards to 250 yards.
Samantha Matheson (#22) ran for 105 yards for the Valkyries.
    The Riot improved to 2-0 with the win, while the Valkyries fell to 1-1. Both clubs have two games left on their respective regular season schedules.
    The two teams go at it again on Sunday, May 21 at 7:30 p.m. at old Mosaic Stadium in Regina.
    The Valkyries need to win that contest by 17 or more points to claim the standings tiebreaker with the Riot.

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Thursday, 11 May 2017

Bear’s backers are the best

Thunderbirds defenceman has great support from home

Ethan Bear’s family and friends tailgate at the Brandt Centre parking lot.
    Ethan Bear’s supporters have delivered one of the best stories and sights in the WHL over the past four seasons.
    Way back in the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft, Bear was selected by the Seattle Thunderbirds in the second round and 25th overall. That meant the rearguard from Saskatchewan’s Ochapowace First Nation would only get to make one road trip a season to play five games in home rinks of foes from the WHL’s Eastern Conference.
    Since making the Thunderbirds as a 16-year-old rookie back in the 2013-14 season, Bear’s supporters from Ochapowace have relished the time he spends playing in driving distance to home. Anytime the Thunderbirds make a road trip to play teams in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, you often saw somewhere between 30 to 40 supporters from Ochapowace wearing Thunderbirds jerseys with Bear’s name and number on them.
    The first time I saw that sight was way back on Oct. 4. 2013, when the Medicine Hat Tigers hosted the Thunderbirds at the Tigers storied former home rink, The Arena. 
Ethan Bear breaks up ice for the Thunderbirds.
    Including one appearance as a 15-year-old call up, Bear was playing his just his fifth WHL regular season at the time, and he hitting the ice for his first contest in a WHL Eastern Conference rink.
    Among the sellout crowd of 4,006 were at least 30 family members and friends wearing Bear’s #25 Thunderbirds jersey. It was pretty neat looking and seeing three rows of people all wearing the same visiting jersey in one section right by the glass near the blue-line. I could see the gathering clearly from my press box, when I covered the Tigers for the Medicine Hat News.
    Bear finished with a plus-one rating in the plus-minus department that night, and a young Thunderbirds squad erased a 4-3 Tigers lead with just under 30 seconds to play in the third period and claimed a 5-4 victory in overtime.
    Since that time, Bear grew into one of the league’s star defencemen. In June of 2015, Bear was selected in the fifth round and 124th overall by the Edmonton Oilers in the NHL Entry Draft. 
A couple of supporters cheer Ethan Bear on at the Brandt Centre.
    In early of June 2016, the Oilers signed Bear to a three-year NHL Entry-Level contract after he helped the Thunderbirds earn a berth in the WHL Championship series in May of that year.
    This season, Bear, who stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 205 pounds, appeared in 67 games for the Thunderbirds recording 28 goals, 42 assists and a plus-34 rating in the plus-minus department. He won the Bill Hunter Memorial Trophy as the WHL’s defenceman of the year and was also named to the WHL’s Western Conference first all-star team.
    In the post-season, Bear was instrumental in helping the Thunderbirds reach the WHL Championship series for a second straight year.
    All through the journey over the years, his friends and family members kept showing up in large numbers, when the Thunderbirds visited rinks in the WHL’s Eastern Conference.
    When the Thunderbirds traveled to Regina for Games 1 and 2 of this year’s WHL title series with the Pats, Bears supporters were there. They tailgated in the Brandt Centre parking lot with other family members of Thunderbirds players and were as friendly as can be. Actually, Bear’s supporters are one of the most sociable groups you will find around anywhere.
Ethan Bears looks to start a rush up ice for the Thunderbirds.
    With the series tied 2-2 following the Thunderbirds 6-1 win in Game 4 at the ShoWare Centre in Kent, Wash., on Wednesday, there will be a Game 6 in Regina on Sunday at 6 p.m. local time at the Brandt Center. You can already envision Bear’s family and friends arriving to support Ochapowace’s favourite son.
    Bear has recorded six goals, 16 assists and a plus-seven rating in 15 post-season games during the current run with the Thunderbirds.
    The Game 6 gathering and a possible Game 7 gathering on Monday night also see the conclusion of this tradition. Bear will be an overager next season, and with having an NHL deal signed with the Oilers, he will most likely be in the professional ranks in the Oilers system.
    There will definitely be mixed emotions to see the gatherings for Bear at WHL rinks come to an end. They have been one of the WHL’s great feel good stories. The family and friends got to see Bear grow and excel to the point that he will have an NHL career, so that was pretty special.
    The family and friends have been to Edmonton to see Bear play in the WHL. It would be cool to see those gathering continue one day in Edmonton in the NHL.

WHL title series a toss up despite lopsided Game 4

Seattle’s Mathew Barzal, left, slips past Regina’s Sam Steel.
    Whatever happened in Game 4 in the WHL Championship series will be contained in Game 4.
    While Game 1 to 3 between the Regina Pats and Seattle Thunderbirds were decided each by one goal, the Thunderbirds put on a show and took the Pats out to the woodshed posting a 6-1 romp in Game 4 of the series before 4,652 spectators at the ShoWare Center in Kent, Wash.
    Seattle held a 36-19 edge in shots on goal to add further insult to injury in a one-sided romp on Wednesday.
    With how good coaching is these days in the WHL, the likelihood of the Thunderbirds carrying any momentum from Game 4 into Game 5, which is set for 7:30 p.m. local time on Friday at the ShoWare Center in Kent, Wash., is slim.
Netminder Tyler Brown turns away a shot in goal for the Pats.
    You can expect Regina’s veteran head coach and general manager John Paddock will ensure the Pats players quickly move past the disappointing outing in the best-of-seven series. The Thunderbirds can’t transfer any goals from Game 4 into Game 5.
    In Game 4, it seemed like way too many Pats players had an off night, where they were just not focused or seemed to think the Thunderbirds would go away after Pats star centre Sam Steel gave the visitors a 1-0 first period lead. To the Thunderbirds credit, they pounded on the Pats after Steel scored replying with six unanswered markers.
    Some of the Seattle goals were a result of the Thunderbirds being aggressive on the forecheck, and the Pats played a little too comfortable thinking a lot of situations were going to be routine.
    Even Pats star goaltender Tyler Brown had the puck stolen off his stick by Thunderbirds winger Sami Moilanen, who wrapped in what turned out to be the game-winning tally with 3:35 remaining in the first period putting the hosts up 2-1.
Thunderbirds D Turner Ottenbreit, left, wires a shot at the Pats goal.
    A Game 5 bounce back is expected from the Regina side even if star overage captain Adam Brooks isn’t able to return from injury. Brooks was injured after being leveled with an open ice hit by Thunderbirds defender Turner Ottenbreit in Game 1 of the WHL title series. The blowout loss will likely work as a wakeup call to get the Pats playing with more focus and energy.
    The Pats have progressed through the playoffs without standout centre Jake Leschyshyn, who has a knee injury, and defenceman Dawson Davidson hasn’t played since Regina’s Game 7 victory over the Swift Current Broncos in the second round due to injury.
    The Thunderbirds have been without star overage netminder Dylan Toth for the entire post-season due to a lower body injury. 
Carl Stankowski controls a loose puck in goal for the Thunderbirds.
    Carl Stankowski, who is in his 16-year-old rookie season, has filled in as the starter in spectacular fashion posting a 14-4 record, a 2.42 goals against average and a .913 save percentage playing every minute in the playoffs for the Thunderbirds.
    The rest of the contests of the WHL Championship series should resemble the outstanding action from Games 1 to 3.
    As the Pats and Thunderbirds continue to battle, the field for the Memorial Cup tournament, which is slated for May 19-28 in Windsor, Ont., is starting to take shape. The Spitfires are in as the host team, and Saint John Sea Dogs will be there as the champions of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.     
    The Erie Otters led the best-of-seven Ontario Hockey League title series 3-1 over the Mississauga Steelheads and will try to close out that set in Game 5 on Friday in Erie.

Officials have been way better than the fans think

Linesman Chad Huseby, left, drops the puck for a faceoff.
    Between the playoffs in the NHL and the WHL, it seems the fans are really upset with the men who wear the stripped uniforms, especially if you check out the chatter on social media.
    On the NHL front, I haven’t seen enough games in person or on television to make any judgments there. I have probably seen three complete NHL playoff games in total.
    I have seen a whole pile of WHL post-season games. I know this might freak some fans out, but on an overall level, I have been satisfied with the officiating in the WHL playoffs.
    I think the games have had great flow to them. For the most part, I believe the officials are nailing the black and white and the over the line calls –especially those that require a lot of judgment. 
    I believe the officials have let the soft calls go, which is a good thing. 
The officials move in to control a scrum in Game 1 of the WHL Finals.
    The officials have done great in basically distinguishing the difference between what is a trip and what is someone just accidentally slipping over an opponent’s stick.
    I also believe the officials have done a great job at being consistent and usually that is the big thing competing teams look for.
    In past post-seasons, I have seen games were officials started calling all the tick-tack soft calls and stick with that the entire game. You ended up with a contest where each side has 10 power plays, and those games are usually way more frustrating to players, coaches, team management and fans compared to what has been taken place so far in the 2017 post-season.
    I think most people in the public believe officials take a class on the rules of the game and are just sent on the ice to make the calls. There is way more to officiating than that.
    There is a whole other side to the craft that includes positioning, communicating with coaches, players and sometimes management, and reading players and coaches to determine how they feel emotionally. All these factors go into helping an official read the game.
    Over the years, I have had a lot of great talks with numerous officials including former referees Chris Savage, Nathan Wieler and Devin Klein, current NHL referee Chris Schlenker and young WHL linesman Marcus Gerow. When you talk with these individuals, you realize how enormous the craft of become a good official is, how many variables you track and how you have to have skills outside of knowing how to call penalties.
Linesmen break up a scrum in Game 2 of the WHL Finals.
    You also realize these individuals have a great passion for the game that is equal to any player, coach or manager. Officials don’t want to make a mistake that will affect the outcome of a contest.
    In modern officiating, the officials on the ice at the WHL level are overseen by officiating supervisors and WHL director of officiating Kevin Muench. They work with the officials like good coaches work with the players. They are constantly teaching various tips to officials on how to do things better and also give encouragement when something is done well.
    From talking to veteran officials, they have often said Muench is really good at pointing out different ways unexpected situations on the ice can be handled, and you don’t realize it until the situation comes up and he points it out. The lower levels of hockey officials are guided by supervisors these days, and those efforts have enhanced the quality of games overall in the sport.
    The officials always consider themselves the third team on the ice, and like the participating clubs, they are constantly making adjustments.
    There will always be situations that arise where fans will freak out like the tussle between Lethbridge Hurricanes captain Tyler Wong and Regina Pats winger Dawson Leedahl, where Wong said he was bit on the finger by Leedahl in Game 4 of the WHL Eastern Conference Championship series between the two clubs.
Officials ensure potential hot spot stays cool in Game 2 of the WHL Finals.
    There will always be times not all will be pleased with a call like late in Game 3 of the WHL Championship series where Pats centre Wyatt Sloboshan was tangled up with Seattle Thunderbirds star centre Mathew Barzal. Sloboshan was given a minor for hooking and Barzal went off with a minor for embellishment in that encounter. Thunderbirds head coach Steve Konowalchuk voiced his displeasure over the call on Barzal in a media conference after the game.
    Those situations always involve tight judgments, where fans on one side or the other will agree to disagree.
    After those two respective series resumed, the teams didn’t engage in any outright brawls or look for ways to make any payback. The steady flow in the games continued, which meant the officials were able to get communication and understanding across to the clubs.
    Officiating in the WHL is light years ahead of where it was 20 years ago and that is due to the fact the approach to the craft has evolved just as players and coaches have evolved.
    The art of officiating will always be a work in progress, and in the WHL, I believe the guys in the stripped uniforms are coming out on the correct side of things when it comes to doing their jobs well.

Leedahl earned NHL deal with Rangers

Winger Dawson Leedahl, left, drives a shot on goal for the Pats.
    Whispers that the NHL might come calling became a reality for Saskatoon product Dawson Leedahl on Monday, and he deserved that reality.
    On Monday, Leedahl, who has had a breakout season playing left wing for the WHL’s Regina Pats, signed a three-year NHL entry-level contract with the New York Rangers. When a blockbuster off-season trade brought Leedahl to the Pats in the off-season from the Everett Silvertips, he was just looking to have one last memorable year in major junior hockey.
    In four complete seasons with the Silvertips, Leedahl, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 193 pounds, appeared in 226 regular season games, recorded 37 goals, 64 assists and a minus-one rating in the plus-minus department.
    During his overage season with the Pats, Leedahl nearly matched all his career point totals in Everett piling up 35 goals, 54 assists and a plus-45 rating in 71 games in Regina playing on a line with star centre Sam Steel and extremely talented rookie right-winger Nick Henry.
    In the playoffs, Leedahl has had a huge impact for the Pats netting 11 goals, 12 assists and a plus-10 rating. He has picked up points at key times, but he positively impacted final outcomes in other ways.
Pats winger Dawson Leedahl (#71) has earned an NHL entry-level contract.
    In Regina’s 3-2 Game 3 win in the WHL Championship series over the Seattle Thunderbirds on Tuesday in Kent, Wash., Leedahl didn’t put up any points, but he might have had one of his best performances of the post-season. He was blocking shots, getting in the right positions to break up passing or transition plays by the Thunderbirds and made smart decisions when he had the puck.
    All of those gritty plays by the graduate of the Saskatoon Contacts midget AAA program allowed the Pats to preserve victory on that night.
    Leedahl, who turned 21 in March, gets involved in the feisty and dirty areas of the game, but when the game ends, he is pretty likable off the ice.
    His play in the WHL post-season was definitely the tipping point that made NHL teams come calling. He also showed the door doesn’t necessarily close on the NHL dream if you go unselected in the NHL Entry Draft.

Clark makes Canada’s centralized roster

    Saskatoon product Emily Clark is a step closer to playing in her first Winter Olympics.
    On Thursday, she was named to Hockey Canada’s centralized roster for the 2017-18 season in preparation for the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.
    Clark, who is a star forward with the University of Wisconsin Badgers women’s hockey team and a graduate of the Saskatoon Stars female midget AAA program, has been part of Canada’s women’s  national team program since 2012. That year, she helped the under-18 squad win gold at the under-18 worlds in the Czech Republic in January.
    The 21-year-old has been part of Canada’s senior national team for the past three campaigns.
    In 2016-17, Clark finished playing her third season with the Badgers posting career highs in assists (26) and points (46) in 37 games. Playing a power-forward role, Clark, who stands 5-foot-7, has piled up 56 goals and 62 assists in 111 career games with the Badgers. She still has one season of National Collegiate Athletic Association eligibility remaining.
    The centralize women’s team will be based out of Calgary and starts preparations for the Winter Olympics later this month with fitness testing. The current roster of 28 players will be cut to a final roster of 23 players in late December. The Winter Olympics run from Feb. 9 to 25 in the new year.
    Clark suited up for the Stars for three seasons from 2009 to 2012 collecting 45 goals and 46 assists in 82 regular season games.

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