Saturday, 22 April 2017

Rush delivers wins record to coach, first place to fans

Ryan Keenan celebrates his goal with Robert Church (#17).
    Derek Keenan was the man of the hour on dads’ night for the Saskatchewan Rush.
    Before Saturday night’s National Lacrosse League regular season game at the SaskTel Centre, Keenan, who is the Rush’s veteran head coach and general manager, escorted son and Rush rookie forward, Ryan, on to the floor during pre-game festivities. The Rush had all their players introduced with their fathers and walk on to the SaskTel Centre floor to pay tribute to their dads in the club’s final regular season home game of 2017.
    After the festivities wrapped up, the Rush turned a 7-7 draw into a convincing 15-10 victory over the visiting Toronto Rock. The win moved the elder Keenan into top spot in NLL career coaching victories with 122. 
    The 51-year-old Oshawa, Ont., product passed Darris Kilgour, who piled up 121 victories guiding the Buffalo Bandits as head coach from 2003 to 2013.
    The Rush improved to 11-5, and with the aid of a Vancouver Stealth 13-7 home victory over the Colorado Mammoth, Saskatchewan clinched first place in the NLL’s West Division.
Rush HC and GM Derek Keenan holds court during a media scrum.
    The Rush bench boss said the important thing was his club locked up first place in the West Division before reflecting on his wins record.
    “It was a nice milestone,” said Keenan, whose Rush existed in Edmonton before moving to Saskatoon for the 2016 season. “We’ve won a lot of games the last four or five years.
    “Certainly, the credit goes to the players and my assistant coaches and the organization as a whole. You don’t get to this milestone without having around you, and I have a whole bunch of them.”
    Son Ryan chipped in a goal and a pair of assists in the Rush victory before a raucous sellout crowd of 15,045 at the SaskTel Centre. Derek admitted it was cool to get the wins record on the Rush’s dads’ night.
    “It was kind of weird that I had to go out on the floor before the game,” said Keenan with a laugh. “There was some kind of strange quirky things this weekend that we kind of worked through. It was fun.”
Robert Church had two goals and five assists for the Rush.
    Saturday’s encounter with the Rock had some momentum swings early. The Rush scored two early goals to go ahead 2-0, but Toronto answered back with four straight tallies to vault to a 4-2 lead at the end of the first quarter.
    After the teams entered halftime tied 7-7, the Rush surged ahead 12-7 with five unanswered goals in the third quarter. They cruised to victory from there.
    “It was unbelievable,” said Keenan of the third quarter. “I think the biggest thing about it was we’ve done OK in third quarters, but we haven’t scored a lot.
    “We kept teams to low numbers in third quarters, but I think our offence really got going. Defensively, I think they ran out of gas a little bit. They were really pushing the transition game the first half.
    “I think they ran out of gas a little bit, so we were able to get to run our offence. I thought defensively we smothered them for most of the night.”
    Star forward Mark Matthews powered the Rush with four goals and three assists. Robert Church piled up two goals and five assists for the hosts. Ben McIntosh, Matt Hossack and Adam Jones all had two-goal nights for Saskatchewan, while Dan Taylor and Curtis Knight added singles.
Mark Matthews (#42) had four goals and three assists for the Rush.
    Brett Hickey led the Rock with four goals. Tom Schreiber and Dan Lintner both had two-goal nights for Toronto, while Jesse Gamble and Reid Reinholdt had singles.
    Tyler Carlson turned away 40 shots to pick up the win in goal for the Rush. Nick Rose turned away 34-of-49 shots to start and take the loss in goal for the Rock (8-9). Brandon Miller stopped the only shot he faced in a short relief appearance for Toronto.
    Carlson didn’t know he was going to get a rare start in goal in place of Rush star goalie Aaron Bold. Keenan informed Carlson of the decision on game day.
    “It means a lot especially coming from Derek (Keenan),” said Carlson. “He has so much confidence in Boldy (Aaron Bold). We all have confidence in Boldy.
    “I was there to step in. It is an amazing honour to be able to be in there with those guys.”
The Brampton, Ont., product was pumped to help Keenan get the NLL’s career wins record.
The Rush salute the SaskTel Centre fans after their win on Saturday.
    “Keenan is just a classy guy,” said Carlson. “You are not going to find a coach like that.
    “He is our father figure in there when we come here. It is nice to have our fathers in the stands, but Keenan, he is just an amazing coach, and he is an amazing human being too.”
    The Rush return to action on Friday, when they travel to Denver, Colorado, to face the Colorado Mammoth.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Heart of the Hurricanes

Lethbridge stuns Pats in Eastern Conference finals opener

Jordy Bellerive, left, celebrates his goal with his Hurricanes teammates.
    REGINA – These Lethbridge Hurricanes will never say die.
    If there is any team out of the four remaining in the WHL playoffs that could fold tent with every excuse in the book, it is the Hurricanes. During the post-season, Lethbridge has been riddled with injuries causing star players like captain Tyler Wong and Giorgio Estephan to log a huge amount of minutes per game. There are times it seems like netminder Stuart Skinner is seeing more rubber than a dead skunk on the Trans-Canada Highway.
    In the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Hurricanes won back-to-back seven game series over the Red Deer Rebels and Medicine Hat Tigers respectively overcoming four elimination games. When the Hurricanes hit the ice for Game 1 of the WHL Eastern Conference championship series on Friday night in Regina, they were playing their 15th game in 28 days.
Pats W Dawson Leedahl knocks Canes captain Tyler Wong off the puck.
    To make things more challenging, the host Regina Pats finished first overall in the WHL with a 52-12-7-1 record, and they topped the final Canadian Hockey League top ten rankings released back on March 22.
    When the dust settled on Friday, the Hurricanes players left the Brandt Centre ice surface happily saluting their small contingent of fans in the northeast corner of the building that were able to get tickets in the sellout crowd of 6,484. The visitors came away with a 3-1 victory to lead the best-of-seven series 1-0.
    Forget the pre-series barbs that were traded between Pats head coach and general manager John Paddock and Hurricanes general manager Peter Anholt. Paddock claimed Wong jumped a foot in the air when he hit people. Anholt countered the Pats players took run at their opponents.
Goalie Stuart Skinner dives to cover a loose puck for the Hurricanes.
    All that talk is traditional playoff smoke, where each side tries to plant a seed in the heads of the officials and media to gain an advantage. When the puck drops, you still have to play the game.
    In Friday’s win, the Hurricanes did use smart tactics to defend against the Pats keeping them to the outside and clogging up lanes through the centre ice zone, but they won mainly because of heart. Anholt loves his teams that have heart, and he has to have that trademark proud grin going, when his club hits the ice.
    Regina’s biggest downfall was the fact they didn’t score a lot more early, when they blasted out of the gates to start the contest. Just 70 seconds in, speedy winger Austin Wagner scored on a breakaway to give the hosts a 1-0 edge.
    From there, the Pats controlled the first period outshooting the Hurricanes 14-8. However, that is also the problem when you play the Hurricanes. You might have them down, but they will take advantage of the slightest breaks to turn things around.
Hurricanes D Igor Merezhko checks Pats C Wyatt Sloboshan.
    Signs of that started to happen late in the first, when the visitors fired three shots in close during a short time span, but the Pats stayed ahead thanks to netminder Tyler Brown making a stop each time.
    At the start of the second period, the Pats still appeared to have control but things changed at the 13:23 mark of the frame that sent a shock through the 21st sellout crowd between the regular season and playoffs at the Brandt Centre. A Pats defensive zone turnover resulted in Estephan wiring home a shot from the slot to tie things up at 1-1.
    Early in the third, the Hurricanes gained only their second power-play chance of the contest. During the man advantage, a net scramble ensued in front of the Pats net, and Hurricanes forward Jordy Bellerive knocked home a loose puck to put the visitors up 2-1.
Pats captain Adam Brooks darts up ice on a third period rush.
    Shortly before the midway point of the frame, Wagner appeared to have netted the equalizer for the Pats when he went into the Hurricanes zone battling Hurricanes defenceman Brennan Riddle on a rush. The pair went crashing into the goal along with the puck.
    On replays, Wagner gave Skinner a bump going into the goal before the puck crossed the line, which would negate the tally due to contact with the netminder. The goal was officially waved off due to the net being dislodged before the puck crossed the goal-line.
    Still, the Hurricanes did whatever they needed to do to protect their slim lead. Wong would take a shot deep in the offensive zone and race back to deflect a Pats chance away in the defensive zone.
Hurricanes D Brennan Riddle takes Pats W Nick Henry into the boards.
    Pats captain Adam Brooks played for the first time after missing five games with a knee injury, which included dressing and not playing in the last three contests in that stint. He saw limited ice time through the first two periods. With the Pats down in the third, he saw increased ice time with regular linemates Wagner and Filip Ahl.
    Late in the third, Brooks had a beauty chance to score from in front of the Lethbridge goal, but he was turned away by Skinner.
    Skinner used all of his 6-foot-4 frame to play big in the Hurricanes goal, and he made the acrobatic diving stop when he needed to. In total, he made 36 saves on the night.
    The Hurricanes iced the win with an effort play. With 1:22 to play in the third and Brown pulled for an extra attacker for the Pats, Estephan stole the puck from Pats forward Nick Henry deep in the left corner of the Regina zone and popped in an empty-net goal to round out the 3-1 final.
The Hurricanes celebrate their Game 1 win over the Pats.
    Brown stopped 22-of-24 shots fired his way taking the loss in goal for the Pats.
    The Hurricanes came out with the win on Friday, because they made more effort plays than the Pats did. You keep wondering when the Lethbridge players will run out of gas, but they just don’t. Even with returning forwards Zak Zborosky and Zane Franklin from injury, the Hurricanes still dressed associate players Dylan Cozens and Shawn Harke.
    The line of Wong, Estephan and Egor Babenko still played a lot, but their efforts never diminished as the game went on.
    When the Hurricanes and Pats meet in Game 2 on Saturday in Regina (7 p.m. local time, Brandt Centre), it will be the Hurricanes 16th game in 29 days.
    Will this be the game they hit the wall, or will they just keep going like the Energizer Bunny?
    The Pats learned one thing on Friday that the slightest little letdown against Lethbridge can be costly.

Regina sports media a good group

    During my travels through various WHL centres, I have often renewed ties with old friends and acquaintances that work for mainstream media outlets, which has been fun.
    At all my stops, everyone has been good. Due to the Pats doing so well this season, I have made a number of trips to Regina, and I am impressed with how well everyone from the Regina sports media scene seems to get along. You could tell there is a good vibe between all the reporters.
    It is also cool to see a large number of them out at Pats games. Due to cuts in mainstream media outlets throughout Canada, you don’t normally see this. Regina is an exception mainly due to the fact the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders call that centre home, but regardless, it is still nice to see larger numbers of media members from mainstream outlets out at Pats games.
    Anyways on trips to Regina, it has been cool to interact with Rob Vanstone and Greg Harder of the Regina Leader-Post, Bianca Millions from CTV and Arielle Zerr from CJME, who are all the mainstays. I also get to see Rod Pedersen of CKRM and Warren Woods of CJME on a somewhat regular basis too.
    I hope the upbeat vibe that is there can continue well into the future.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Conference finals berths finally come for Pats and ‘Canes fans

A young Pats fan holds up a Sam Steel big head.
    There had to be a time when fans of the Regina Pats and Lethbridge Hurricanes had to wonder if their teams would ever make a long playoff run again.
    This year, those runs finally happened. The Pats and Hurricanes have advanced through the first two rounds of the WHL’s post-season to qualify for the league’s final four.
    To make things even more compelling, they will face each other in a best-of-seven Eastern Conference championship series that begins on Friday in Regina (7 p.m. local time, Brandt Centre).
    Both teams have storied pasts when it comes to the post-season, but those times seem like a distant memory. The Pats last qualified for the Eastern Conference championship series back in 1993, and the Hurricanes haven’t been that far in the post-season since 2008, when they made the WHL championship series and fell to the eventual Memorial Cup champion Spokane Chiefs.
Members of the “Canes Train” have been loud and proud all season.
    When the Pats and Hurricanes won their respective WHL Eastern Conference semifinal series, the way the players on each team poured off their bench to celebrate made it obvious they knew they accomplished something significant.
    Over the past two seasons, the fan bases in Regina and Lethbridge got behind their respective teams in a big way as both clubs experienced resurgences. While excitement was high, the idea of either the Pats or Hurricanes making a long playoff run had to be foreign one.
    During the past 15 seasons, long playoff runs seemed to be reserved for teams like the Brandon Wheat Kings, Kelowna Rockets, Medicine Hat Tigers and Portland Winterhawks, who all had many extended post-season forays over that time. There had to be doubt that the Pats or Hurricanes could ever belong with those upper echelon clubs.
Sam Steel has been all-world good for the Pats.
    For the Pats, they did have high finishes in the regular season standings since 1993, but would be bounced mostly in the first round of the playoffs and the odd time the second round.
    When the 2012-13 season came to an end, they had missed qualifying for the post-season for the fourth time in five years.
    While they have a storied past being the oldest major junior team in the world and having won three Memorial Cups, they were often mentioned in passing in recent times as one of those other teams that are out there.
    In Late April of 2014, Russ and Diane Parker sold the club to Queen City Sports and Entertainment headed by Regina businessman Anthony Marquart to signal change.
    In August of 2014, the Pats hired veteran bench boss John Paddock as head coach, and he later took on the duties of general manager.
    The Pats advanced to the second round of the post-season in 2015 and 2016, and fan interest started to build.
    In 2016-17, they finished first overall in the WHL with a 52-12-7-1 mark and were rated as the top team in the final Canadian Hockey League rankings that came out on March 22.
    Regina also topped the CHL top 10 ranking for much of the 2016-17 campaign. When the Swift Current Broncos led the Pats 3-1 in a best-of-seven WHL Eastern Conference semifinal series, Regina fans had to worry if the second round would be where Regina’s run would end again.
Tyler Wong has done it all for the Hurricanes.
    The Pats rallied back to take that series with Swift Current 4-3, which marked the first time in team history Regina erased a 3-1 series deficit.
    A berth in the WHL’s Eastern Conference championship series gave the Pats’ top spot in the CHL top 10 rankings street cred.
    For the Hurricanes, they bottomed out hard after making the WHL championship series in 2008.
    Lethbridge made the second round of the 2009 post-season and proceeded to miss the playoffs for six straight years after that.
    Following the 2013-14 campaign when the Hurricanes finished last in the entire WHL with a 12-55-2-3 record, it seemed there was a death watch surrounding the team. There were times the Hurricanes existence in Lethbridge was questioned.
    Before the 2014-15 campaign started, a light appeared at the end of the tunnel, when the club hired Peter Anholt as an assistant general manager.
    Those that followed the league for an extended period of time knew that this would be an inspired move.
    About half way through the 2014-15 season, the Hurricanes board of directors named the veteran bench boss the team’s head coach and general manager. The Hurricanes finished second last in the league with a 20-44-5-3 mark, but they were no longer pushovers under Anholt’s guidance.
Austin Wagner (#27) has scored goals at key times for the Pats.
    Still, there was talk that the community-owned team should be sold.
    However, golden hockey days in Lethbridge soon arrived. Anholt made a brilliant decision to hire Brent Kisio as the club’s new head coach before the start of the 2015-16 campaign.
    Kisio, who was 32-years-old when he joined the Hurricanes, had spent eight seasons with the Calgary Hitmen mainly as an assistant coach and finished his tenure in Calgary as an associate coach and assistant general manager.
    Under Kisio’s guidance, the Hurricanes rocketed up to finish first in the WHL’s Central Division in 2015-16 with a 46-24-1-1 record. They fell in a best-of-seven first round series to the Pats 4-1.
    This season the Hurricanes again were one of the league’s top clubs posting a 44-21-4-3 record.
    During the playoffs, they showed they might be the WHL club that has the most heart. Despite being plagued by numerous injuries, the Hurricanes rallied from a 3-1 series deficit in the first round to eliminate the Red Deer Rebels 4-3.
Giorgio Estephan has been a standout for the Hurricanes.
    Lethbridge proceeded to take out the Medicine Hat Tigers in another gutty seven-game series to earn a berth in the conference finals.
    Hurricanes overage captain Tyler Wong forever became a team legend, when he scored the overtime winner short-handed in Game 7 against the Tigers in Medicine Hat on Tuesday to deliver the Hurricanes a 5-4 victory.
    As the Hurricanes hit stride, fans in Lethbridge jumped on the “Canes Train” and flooded the Enmax Centre and neighbouring opposition city rinks when their team played there. Hockey glory days are back in Lethbridge.
    Now as the Pats and Hurricanes get set to battle in the Eastern Conference championship, fans get to watch two clubs that feature stars that appear to be almost superheroes.
    The Pats have centre Sam Steel, who topped the WHL in regular season scoring with 50 goals and 81 assists, to lead their side. Regina’s roster is filled with stars like speedy winger Austin Wagner, defenceman Connor Hobbs and netminder Tyler Brown.
    The “Pats Regiment” is hopeful heart and soul captain Adam Brooks might return to action from his knee injury at some point in the series.
Connor Hobbs provides an offensive kick from the back end for the Pats.
    Wong is the Hurricanes larger than life hero taking the club’s fan favourite award in each of his five seasons with the team. The Cochrane product topped the Hurricanes in scoring with 51 goals and 58 assists.
    Lethbridge compliments Wong with a number of other stars including centre Giorgio Estephan, defenceman Brennan Menell and netminder Stuart Skinner.
    If both teams were healthy, this series would have the potential to go to overtime in Game 7.
    While the Pats haven’t been able to utilize Brooks and centre Jake Leschyshyn is out for the entire post-season with a knee injury, the Hurricanes are still way more hurt on the injury front.
    In the final two games of the series with over the Tigers, the Hurricanes scratched five regulars including forwards Matt Alfaro, Zak Zborosky, Ryan Vandervlis and Zane Franklin along with rearguard Calen Addison.
Stuart Skinner has been spectacular in goal for the Hurricanes.
    The Hurricanes dressed three associate players in their Game 7 win over Medicine Hat.
    Due to the Hurricanes injuries, the Pats are the favourites in this series. With that said, it wouldn’t be surprising for the Hurricanes extend the set to five or six games with their heart.
    For the fans on both sides, the Pats and Hurricanes runs have been successful no matter what happens after puck drop in Game 1 on Friday.
    Everything will be about enjoying a moment that about three years ago looked to be impossible.

Back in the Express with Burris

    I was back in the pages of the Saskatoon Express this week having written a catch up piece with recently retired star CFL quarterback Henry Burris.
    On May 4, Burris will be the special guest speaker for this year’s Houghton Boston Dogs’ Breakfast, which starts at 7 a.m. at Prairieland Park. Since guiding the Ottawa Redblacks to a 39-33 upset overtime victory over the Calgary Stampeders in last November’s Grey Cup, Burris had settled into a life of being a co-host of CTV Morning Live, and he has enjoyed being a hockey dad.
    One thing I didn’t include was asking Burris how tight he was with veteran Regina Leader-Post columnist Rob Vanstone. Burris played with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2000 and 2003 and 2004, which allowed a friendship to grow.
    “Rob (Vanstone) was always a fan of mine before I even came to Saskatchewan it felt like,” said Burris over the phone from Ottawa. “When him and I first met, we just started talking and getting to know each other just everything just took off.
    “I’m looking forward to seeing him soon. We have to sit down and talk about business, but more so just catch up.
    “I’m looking forward to getting out there and catching up with a good gentleman like him (Vanstone) and just thanking him personally for everything that he has done for me in my career. Hopefully, we can continue to do things together.”
    Burris will also be in Regina on May 26 as the guest speaker for the Regina Thunder’s Dinner of Champions to be held at the Regina Delta hotel.
    My Express story on Burris can be found right here.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Northern Bears should let it loose and roll at Esso Cup

Prince Albert enters nationals with tonnes of pluses to lean on

The Prince Albert Northern Bears should play with no fear at Esso Cup.
    When the Prince Albert Northern Bears hit the ice at Esso Cup, they should skate like they have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
    The Bears open play at the female midget AAA national championship tournament on Morden, Man., on Sunday, when they take on the host Pembina Valley Hawks, who are also the Manitoba champs.
    Prince Albert has been in a holding pattern since sweeping a best-of-three Western regional playdown series at the Art Hauser Centre against the Hartney, Man., based Westman Wildcats on April 1. The Bears are heading to the national championship tournament for the first time in team history.
    Pembina Valley clinched the Manitoba title on March 19, and they since participated in a pair of exhibition games against a pair of junior women’s teams that are based out of Winnipeg. The last of those was held on April 14 in Morden, Man., where the Hawks thumped the Manitoba Blizzard 6-0.
    The Esso Cup contains a field of six teams from across Canada. They play each other in a round robin, and the top four teams advance to the playoff round. The semifinals are held on April 28, and the bronze and gold medal games are both slated for April 29.
Brooke Hobson is the Bears fearless leader.
    At last year’s Esso Cup in Weyburn, the Brantford Ice Cats romped over the Express du Richelieu 10-3 in the championship final.
    All the teams at Esso Cup are good, and the squads at this year’s event won’t know how they stack up against each other until they start playing each other.
    Last year, the field was even as all the teams that made the playoff round sported 3-2 records. Out of the 19 games played over seven days, nine were decided by one goal and six had two-goal spreads. In the preliminary round, the Express downed the Ice Cats 5-4 in a contest that required a tiebreaking shootout.
    When the Bears take the ice at this year’s Esso Cup in Morden, Man., they should just go out and rock and roll with no fear. Prince Albert built a 22-6 regular season record and a perfect 11-0 in the post-season by flying at opponents with four lines that all have speed. They also have a solid group of defenders and two goalies that can help transition play up ice or shut things down in the defensive zone.
    The Bears, who are riding a 15-game winning streak, have many huge positives that are on their side. The biggest intangible is their culture is really good.
    When you see the players interact with each other at practice, in games or away from the rink, the family feeling is strong. You can tell the players care for each other a lot, and that aspect alone will win you a lot of games.
    Head coach Jeff Willoughby and his staff done a tremendous job in creating an atmosphere that allows their players to succeed.
    The Bears players are all good and have all contributed to their team’s success. All have grown immensely over the 2016-17 season.
Abby Soyko topped the Bears in regular season scoring.
    In captain Brooke Hobson, you might not find a better leader anywhere. The 17-year-old defender, who was a member of Canada’s under-18 national team, has the maturity of an adult. When you talk to her, you don’t realize you are talking to someone who is 17.
    She also has the right type of confidence in herself and her team. On top of all that, Hobson, who had 11 goals and nine assists in 24 regular season games, is invested emotionally in the Bears program having played five full seasons with the team. The skilled rearguard will move on to play with Northeastern University in Boston, Mass., in the fall.
    The forward line of Kate Ball, Camryn Amundson and Jasper Desmarais have a chemistry that is second to none. Ball finished second in team scoring with 15 goals and 15 assists in 28 regular season games, Amundson was third in team scoring with 13 goals and 14 assists in 27 regular season games, while Desmarais was fourth with nine goals and 15 assists in 26 regular season games.
    Prince Albert product Abby Soyko, who is a 15-year-old forward, topped the Bears in scoring with 18 goals and 13 assists.
Centre Kate Ball piled up the points on a high-scoring line.
    While opponents will focus on shutting down the Bears visible top scorers, you never know when anyone else on the roster could hurt you. The best example of that is underage 14-year-old forward Brooklyn Anderson. The Shellbrook product had four goals and nine assists in 27 regular season games, but she came through with points at key times in the post-season.
    In the Western regional series clinching game, Anderson tipped home a point shot from defender Jordan Ashe with two minutes to play to break a 6-6 tie and deliver the Bears to a 7-6 victory over the Wildcats. The Bears were down 6-3 in that contest in the third period before they rallied back for victory.
    The Bears also have a great double punch in goal with Brooklyn Elek and Ryan Fontaine, and both have rotated starts throughout the regular season and post-season. As teams that make the playoff round will play seven games in seven days at Esso Cup, it is huge asset to have to goalies that can carry the load and rotate starts through the event.
The Bears hope to celebrate a number goals at Esso Cup.
    When the run ends, the Bears will graduate Hobson and Elek along with forwards Ireland South and Sierra Parenteau. A national championship win would create the ultimate high to leave on.
    With that said, you never know how strong the rest of the field could be.
    Still, the Bears have had a highlight filled season. Sweeping away the Saskatoon Stars in the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League championship series was one highlight, because the Stars had won the SFMAAAHL title the two previous seasons.
    The other highlights were playing in front of an estimated crowd of 1,000 in Prince Albert in their Game 1 win at the Western regional and an estimated crowd of 1,200 in their Game 2 win. Those attendance figures are almost unheard of for female midget AAA hockey.
    They bested the crowds of just under 800 that attended each of the three games of the 2014 Canada West women’s hockey final at the Rutherford Rink, when the University of Saskatchewan Huskies downed the U of Regina Cougars 2-1 in a best-of-three set.
    The Bears have already accomplished a lot, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if they did go all the way.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Pats paste Broncos in Game 7

Regina gets rolling early and cruises to 5-1 victory

Goalie Tyler Brown and Austin Wagner embrace after the Pats Game 7 win.
    REGINA – The Regina Pats proved to be too much for the Swift Current Broncos to handle, when it became a winner take all situation.
    On Monday night at the Brandt Centre, the Pats hit stride scoring two goals before Game 7 of their best-of-seven WHL Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Broncos was even five minutes old.  
    With a raucous sellout crowd of 6,484 fans behind them, the Pats steamrolled to a 5-1 victory.
    The win allowed the Pats, who were playing their first Game 7 at home in 45 years, to erase a 3-1 series deficit to win the set 4-3. Regina also advanced to the Eastern Conference championship series for the first time since 1993.
Sam Steel had two big goal for the Pats in Game 7.
    Finishing first overall in the WHL with a 52-12-7-1 record and being rated first in the final Canadian Hockey League top 10 rankings that came out on March 22, the Pats were big favourites to beat the Broncos.
    Swift Current posted a solid 39-23-4-6 record during the regular season and gave the Pats all they could handle.
    When the dust settled, Pats star centre Sam Steel, who paced his side with a pair of goals, was pumped his club pulled off the comeback in the series.
    “We showed a lot of character,” said Steel, who was a first round NHL Entry Draft selection of the Anaheim Ducks last year. “I am really proud of the guys.
    “I don’t think we have a lot of doubt in there. We’re really happy to come out on the right side of this series. You learn that you are never out of it,”
Import winger Filip Ahl (#61) wins a battle in the corner for the Pats.
    Steel struck for his first of the night popping home a rebound from a shot taken by linemate Nick Henry to give the Pats a 1-0 lead just 2:19 into the game. Pats import winger Filip Ahl followed that up with a breakaway goal at the 4:57 mark of the first period to send the Regina faithful into a frenzy and force the Broncos to call a timeout.
    Swift Current did have an opportunity to get back into the contest closing out the final nine minutes of the opening frame with three power-play chances. Pats netminder Tyler Brown stoned Broncos star winger Tyler Steenbergen on a golden opportunity in close and robbed Broncos import rearguard Artyom Minulin with a huge glove save on a rocket shot through a screen from the point.
Rearguard Connor Hobbs had three assists in the Pats win.
    Broncos head coach and director of player personnel Manny Viveiros said his side needed to pick up some traction at that juncture of the contest.
    “I thought if we could have capitalized on a couple of power plays that we had in the first period we could have changed things,” said Viveiros. “We simply just didn’t have it tonight for whatever reason.
    “We just didn’t have the game that we normally have throughout this whole series. Against a team like that which is going like that, you have to be at your best. If you are not at your best, you are not going to win.
    “The momentum was just going, and we just couldn’t get out of it. We dug ourselves out of holes throughout these playoffs, but today, we just couldn’t do it.”
    Shortly before the midway point of the second period, Steel bagged his second marker of the contest swatting home a loose puck in the crease of the Swift Current goal during a net scramble to put the hosts up 3-0. Before the second period ended, Pats speedy winger Austin Wagner tipped home a point shot from star offensive defenceman Connor Hobbs to increase Regina’s edge to 4-0.
Jordan Papirny makes one of his 38 saves in goal for the Broncos.
    With 5:27 remaining in the third period, the Broncos centre Conner Chaulk scored on the power play to cut Regina’s lead to 4-1. Swift Current pulled star netminder Jordan Papirny for that power play chance to give the visitors six skaters to go against the Pats four skaters.
    Swift Current had another power-play chance with under five minutes to play and again pulled Papirny, but Wagner ended all hopes of a miracle comeback scoring a short-handed marker into an empty net for his second tally of the night.
    Brown made 23 stops to pick up the win in goal for the Pats. Papirny turned away 38-of-42 shots to take the setback in goal for the Broncos.
Nick Henry picked up an assist for the Pats.
    Hobbs had three assists and was a plus-four in the plus-minus department for the home side.
    Last year, the Pats fell in Game 7 of a WHL Eastern Conference semifinal series 2-1 to the Rebels in Red Deer.
    This year, Brown was proud his team could rally from a 3-1 series deficit and advance to the conference championship series.
    “We knew we weren’t ready to go home yet,” said Brown. “We knew we could do it.
“We persevered as best we can. It was a real fun series.
    “There was a lot of energy in the building, and that does maybe play a factor in the game. It was real good out there.”
    The Pats will host Game 1 of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference championships series on Friday at 7 p.m. at the Brandt Centre. They will face the winner of Game 7 of the other Eastern Conference semifinal series between the Medicine Hat Tigers and Lethbridge Hurricanes.
    The Tigers and Hurricanes go at it in that Game 7 on Tuesday at 7 p.m. local time at the Canalta Centre in Medicine Hat.
    Pats head coach and general manager John Paddock said his team will face a tough opponent in the conference final.
The Pats faithful celebrate during the final seconds of a Game 7 win.
    Looking at what his team accomplished, Paddock did admit it was significant for the Pats to finally go back to the conference championship series for the first time in 24 years.
    “I think for the organization it is important to go for it and have a run when you have an opportunity to,” said Paddock. “The organization probably understands you can’t do this every year, but you don’t fall very far.
    “I think a goal would be for it to be a habit within every three or four years, (or) two or three years to advance and have the seats full.”

Brooks the good luck charm

Injured Pats captain Adam Brooks mans the door on his team’s bench.
    Injured captain Adam Brooks proved to be a good-luck charm for the Pats.
    The overage Winnipeg product suffered a knee injury in the Pats win in Game 2 over the Broncos. With Regina trailing Swift Current 3-1 in the best-of-seven set, Brooks dressed for the final three games of the series, but he didn’t see any on ice action.
    With Brooks as a cheerleader and door bench opener, the Pats won three straight with him on the bench. Due to the fact Brooks is in his final season of major junior eligibility, Pats head coach and general manager John Paddock felt Brooks deserved to be in uniform, if the Pats were eliminated.
    The gesture was a classy one by Paddock towards one of the team’s heart-and-soul members for the past five seasons. In five complete WHL campaigns, Brooks appeared in 317 regular season games collecting 119 goals, 216 assists and a plus-89 rating in the plus-minus department.
    Brooks has 14 goals, 26 assists and a plus-11 rating in 34 post-season games. The playoff games played total includes the three outing Brooks dressed, but didn’t see the ice.
    With the Pats and Broncos often cutting down to three forward lines during their series, it didn’t hurt to have Brooks just hanging out on the bench with what is basically a spare parts fourth line.
    On the superstition side, the Pats are winning when Brooks is on the bench, so they might as well keep doing it.
    Now that Regina has advanced, it is possible Brooks might return at some point in the Eastern Conference championship series.

Regina should be blue, white and red

It would be cool if Regina was painted more in Pats colours.
    With the Pats creating a lot of excitement with their post-season runs over the last three years, you would think the team’s colours would be all over the place in Regina.
    Outside of a sprinkling of signs, that isn’t the case. Actually, you don’t see a lot of people out and about wearing Pats merchandise like you do the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders.
    Pretty much the only place you can purchase Pats merchandise or clothing is at the Pats store at the Brandt Centre.
    The team, which has sold out 20 games between the regular season and playoffs, has a lot of good gear at its store.
    Due to business hang ups, I can see the problem with red tap in getting Pats gear out to local stores.
    Still with how popular the Pats are in Saskatchewan’s capital city, it would be nice if the town was painted blue, white and red.

    If you have any comments to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Pats lunch pail effort forces Game 7 with Broncos

Pats winger Dawson Leedahl (#71) muscles his way out of a crowd.
    SWIFT CURRENT – The Regina Pats became the lunch pail crew to stay alive in the post-season.
    Having finished first overall in the WHL regular season 52-12-7-1 mark and being rated first in the final CHL top ten rankings released on March 22, the Pats are commonly pictured as a team that wins on finesse. On Saturday night at the Credit Union i-Plex in Swift Current against the host Broncos, the Pats didn’t abandon their skill.
    With that said, their greasy goals of just diving to the net proved to be the difference in a 5-3 victory in Game 6 of a WHL Eastern Conference semifinal series. The Pats, who trailed the best-of-seven set 3-1 at one time, evened the series up at 3-3. A winner take all Game 7 is set for Monday at 7 p.m. at the Brandt Centre.
Austin Wagner had two goals and an assist for the Pats.
    The Pats hit the scoreboard first at the 7:24 mark of the first period, when standout winger Austin Wagner scored on a shift where his club buzzed around the Broncos net. The Broncos evened things up at 1-1 heading into the first intermission on a goal from Russian defenceman Artyom Minulin.
    The host side proceeded to jump ahead 3-1 with two early goals to open the second period. Just 29 seconds into the frame, winger Arthur Miller knocked home the rebound of a shot from Broncos captain Glenn Gawdin to put Swift Current up 2-1.
    At the 2:27 mark, Gawdin converted a nifty setup pass from winger Tyler Steenbergen to put the Broncos up 3-1 and the sellout crowd of 2,890 almost blew the roof off the team’s home rink.
    For the longest time, it appeared the Broncos were going to advance to the WHL’s Eastern Conference championship series for the first time since 2001. They were sent reeling after the Pats scored twice inside of the final 90 seconds of the second to force a 3-3 tie.
Winger Filip Ahl zips into the offensive zone for the Pats.
    With 1:24 to play in the frame, Pats star centre Sam Steel fed a setup pass across the face of the Broncos goal to pinching rearguard Josh Mahura, who popped home the puck to cut the Broncos lead to 3-2. Regina tied the score up at 3-3 with 25 seconds to play in the second, when centre Wyatt Sloboshan tipped home a point shot from Mahura.
    The Pats continued to jump on the Broncos early in the third. Just 75 seconds into the frame, Wagner scored his second goal of the night by just driving hard to the net. At the 5:48 mark, Swedish winger Filip Ahl added a greasy insurance goal to put the Pats up 5-3.
    In between those Regina tallies, the Broncos had a chance to get the momentum back in their favour, but Swift Current centre Kaden Elder ended up ripping a shot off the crossbar of the Pats goal.
Pats centre Wyatt Sloboshan (#13) forechecks Broncos rearguard Max Lajoie.
    After the Pats vaulted ahead by two goals, they proceeded to sit back defensively and were successful in closing out the contest. Netminder Tyler Brown was steady in the Regina net making 34 stops to pick up the win.
    Jordan Papirny turned away 23 shots to take the loss in goal for the Broncos.
    The Pats needed to resort to a more greasy effort as captain Adam Brooks dressed but was limited to cheering on his teammates and opening the door on the bench for a second straight game. Brooks hasn’t seen a shift since being on the receiving end of a knee-on-knee hit in his team’s victory in Game 2 of their series with the Broncos.
The Pats celebrate Austin Wagner’s goal in the first period.
    Regina’s on ice chemistry seemed to have taken a step up when Ahl returned for their victory in Game 5 after missing three contests to undergo tests for the mumps.
    For the second straight contest, Sloboshan took Brooks’ regular spot centring a line that contains Ahl on left wing and Wagner on right wing. Everyone on that unit was a plus-four in the plus-minus department.
    Sloboshan, who is a former captain of the Saskatoon Blades, has mainly played a defensive forward role with the Pats, but he arguably had his best outing wearing Regina’s colours on Saturday night. Besides collecting a couple of assists to go along with his goal, Sloboshan was tough in the faceoff circle and came in hard on the forecheck.
Glenn Gawdin had a goal and two assists for the Broncos.
    Wagner had an assist to go along with his two goals, while Ahl had a pair of helpers.
    The Broncos, who were 39-23-4-6 in the regular season, were without star winger Lane Pederson, who left the first period of his team’s loss in Game 5 due to injury. His status for Game 7 is likely uncertain.
    Heading into Game 7, the Pats now look poised to make their first appearance in the WHL’s Eastern Conference championship series since 1993. In order to succeed in playoffs, teams will have to find gutty ways to win at times, and the Pats have done that for two straight games.
    If the Pats put on a gritty effort for a third straight contest, they will increase their chances of advancing. On the other side, the Broncos aren’t going away, so there are no guarantees on how Game 7 will play out. 
    The drama in how that contest unfolds should be fun to watch.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.

Friday, 14 April 2017

WHL playoffs at its best – Pats stay alive in electric affair

Robbie Holmes (#32) shows his excitement after a goal from Connor Hobbs.
    REGINA – If you live in Regina and weren’t at the Brandt Centre on Friday night, you missed out.
    In one of the best playoff major junior playoff battles you might see anywhere, the host Regina Pats outlasted the visiting Swift Current Broncos 3-2 before a sellout crowd of 6,484 energetic spectators.     
    The win allowed the Pats to stay alive in the best-of-seven WHL Eastern Conference semifinal series between the two clubs cutting the Broncos edge in that department 3-2.
    The Broncos will try to close things out again on Saturday when the series switches back to Swift Current for a 7 p.m. start at the Credit Union i-Plex. The way things played out on Friday in Regina, the Broncos could have been heading home with a series win, if they were able to make just a couple of more plays.
Connor Hobbs controls the puck on the point for the Pats.
    Friday’s battle at the Brandt Centre was a raucous one. While the large majority of the rink were cheering for the host Pats, the Broncos arrived in the Saskatchewan capital with a healthy contingent of supporters that made a lot of noise.
    The action before the Pats 19th sellout crowd of the 2016-17 campaign on the ice was a seesaw battle that was filled with a number of story lines. The Pats, who were rated first in the final Canadian Hockey League rankings that were released on March 22, stormed out of the gate getting the first eight shots on goal.
    The Broncos didn’t get their first shot on net until the 7:10 mark of the opening frame, when Pats netminder Tyler Brown turned away Broncos winger Lane Pederson from the slot.
Broncos captain Glenn Gawdin scored a power-play goal in the third period.
    Momentum turned in the second half of the opening 20 minutes when the Pats paraded to the penalty box on a trio of minor infractions. On the third of those chances, Broncos defenceman Colby Sissons blasted home a shot from the point to give the visitors a 1-0 edge with 2:44 to play in the first. You could feel a hush fall over the Regina faithful, when that tally went in.
    The hosts came back to life on a power-play opportunity late in the frame, and Pats star centre Sam Steel snipped the equalizer through a screen with 13.5 seconds remaining in the opening 20 minutes.
    Early in the second, the Pats jumped ahead 3-1 scoring a pair of goals 38 seconds apart from each other. First, Pats star defenceman Connor Hobbs scored to give the hosts a 2-1 edge putting a puck home during a net scramble in front of the Swift Current goal.
Tyler Brown makes one of his 30 saves for the Pats.
    After that marker, the Pats went up 3-1 scoring a more finesse goal as Steel found linemate Nick Henry on a backdoor feed on a rush, and Henry made no mistake scoring into an empty cage.
    The Broncos had a big chance to cut the gap at the 8:52 mark of the third, when Pats winger Austin Wagner was given a major penalty for a knee-on-knee hit to Broncos overage centre Ryley Lindgren.     The infraction will trigger an automatic review by the WHL office for a possible suspension.
    Pats fans loudly showed their displeasure at the call during the ensuing Broncos power play. A few booed Lindgren, who remained in the game, every time he touched the puck.
    Near the end of that power-play chance, Swift Current pulled to within 3-2, when Broncos captain Glenn Gawdin tipped home a shot from the wall by star winger Tyler Steenbergen.
    In the final 90 seconds, the Broncos pulled netminder Jordan Papirny for the extra attacker, had pressure in the Regina zone, but couldn’t generate a solid scoring chance.
    Brown made 30 stops to pick up the win in goal for the Pats. Papirny turned away 33 shots including a third period penalty shot by Pats centre Braydon Buziak to take the loss in the Broncos net.
    The injury front also provided some dramatics also on Friday night. On the Swift Current side, Pederson left the contest in the first period with an injury and did not return.
Pats captain Adam Brooks dressed but didn’t play Friday.
    Pats import winger Filip Ahl returned to the lineup after missing three games undergoing tests for the mumps. 
    Pats captain Adam Brooks dressed for the first time after taking a knee-on-knee hit in his team’s Game 2 win over the Broncos. 
    He was pretty much pinned to the Regina bench and opened the gate occasionally for his teammates.
    Whether Brooks or Pederson plays in Game 6 on Saturday remains to be seen.
    With that said, Game 5 in Regina was a barnburner. Both sides look like they are far from finished in this set.
    Now see what the next chapter will look like in less than 24 hours, because it appears anything can happen.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.