Saturday, 5 August 2017

When Shultz stirred the pot between Raiders and Blades

The Prince Albert Raiders logo in 2004.
    Tanner Shultz loved returning to his hometown of Prince Albert as the villain when he played for the Saskatoon Blades.
    Shultz, who used to be the pest/agitator for the Blades from 2002 to 2004, came to mind when Gregg Drinnan, who is “the man” when it comes to covering the WHL, and Blades beloved play-by-play voice Les Lazaruk recently made an appearance on the WHL Unfiltered podcast. Both Drinnan and Lazaruk told some colourful stories from their time covering the circuit, and Shultz sprung to my mind with a memory in regards to the rivalry between the Blades and the Prince Albert Raiders.
    When Shultz was a member of the Blades, he returned to Prince Albert during the summer months to work and play on the city’s top midget fastpitch team. One night after one of his fastpitch games in the summer of 2003, we socializing and talked hockey. At the time, I was working as a sports reporter for the Prince Albert Daily Herald.
    Shultz, who stood 6-foot-1 and weighed 185 pounds, said that I should call him and interview him at some point during the upcoming season before the Blades were to clash with the Raiders. He said he would love the chance to trash talk the Raiders and stir the pot.
The Saskatoon Blades logo in 2004.
    In January of 2004, I decided to pursue that idea. The two teams were to meet in a home-and-home series opening with a clash on Friday, Jan. 30 in Prince Albert and concluding Saturday, Jan. 31 in Saskatoon.
    The Raiders were having a good season sporting a 29-16-4-3 record at that time. The Blades were last in the entire WHL at 6-34-11.
    Shultz had built more than a nice reputation for being loose lipped. I found out afterwards that before being fired earlier in season Blades head coach Kevin Dickie told the pest centre to be silent. That order never seemed to be followed.
    Mike Jenkins, who is now the development and marketing officer for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies, was the Blades director of marketing back then, and he was one of those who was always open to doing something colourful to sell tickets. During Jenkins time with the Blades, the team held tailgate type parties before some games at a time when that wasn’t a regular occurrence in the WHL.
    When the Raiders came to Saskatoon one night, he had a “Pound P.A.” promo going, where fans could pay two-dollars to get a sledgehammer swing at a car done up in Raiders markings. The money raised went to the Blades education fund.
    Before the January 2004 home-and-home series, I called Jenkins up looking to talk to Shultz. Jenkins proceeded to give me Shultz’s billet home phone number. While Jenkins might deny it, I am pretty certain he knew the direction the interview would go on the colourful front, and it would create interest in the games.
    On a side note, Jenkins would likely get in big trouble if he did something like this on the Huskies front in the current day.
    Anyways, I get Shultz on the phone at his billet home, and he did his part. He said he really loved to get under the skin of the Raiders and he felt he could easily annoy Raiders left-winger Dane Byers and defenceman Chris Schlenker, who now works in the NHL as a referee.
    “I will try and get everyone (off of their game), but there is a couple of guys I really don’t like,” said Shultz, who was 19-years-old that season. “I will probably get in a couple of fights this weekend to make the games a bit more interesting.
    “Maybe Schlenker and Byers,” Shultz added with a chuckle. “I really don’t like that Byers. Maybe he will be ready to go this weekend.
    “I am always up for it. Sometimes, he bails out a bit. Maybe he will step up this weekend.”
    When he played at the Raiders home rink that was known as the Comuniplex at that time, Shultz went on to say he was at his happiest when the Prince Albert players, coaches, management, fans and maybe even the concession workers are upset with him. Before playing for the Blades, Shultz gained practice returning home to Prince Albert as the enemy playing midget AAA for the Saskatoon Contacts, who are still huge rivals with the Prince Albert Mintos.
    “Coming home, it is a lot more fun,” said Shultz. “You try to get the crowd on you and stuff, and it is pretty fun.
    “They are kind of harsh toward me, but that is the way I like it. I am not going to really complain about it.”
    After finishing the story, I decided the Raiders shouldn’t be tipped off as to what was said. I figured it would be best to run the story on the Friday the day of the first game and see what happens.
Greg Nicholson, who covered sports for an extended time in Prince Albert and was a Daily Herald desker, edited and laid out my story that night. He knew Shultz’s family well.
    When he check out my story, Nicholson said, “I wonder what his (Shultz’s) mother is going to say?”
    At that time, the Prince Albert Daily Herald hit the streets at 11 a.m., and on one of the coldest days and nights of the year, that story was the talk of the town. From what I heard, one of the alums brought a copy of the story into the Raiders coaches office for then head coach Peter Anholt and assistant coach Dave Manson, who is currently an associate coach with the club, to see. That happened shortly after the time the paper hit the streets.
    On the weather front, the night was so cold that people likely shouldn’t have been venturing out of their home, but 2,341 fans turned out to the Comuniplex, which could seat 2,857 spectators in the old Smarty Box seats that were in the building back then.
    Just 47 seconds into the contest and right after the puck was dropped for the game’s second faceoff, Shultz and Schlenker were on the ice, dropped their gloves and took off their helmets to duke it out. That would be classified as a staged fight and is no longer legal in the WHL. The two combatants threw bombs at each other for a good 45 seconds until the officials broke up the bout in what was one of the better fights of the season.
    The Raiders won the game 4-0 to lock up a playoff berth with Prince Albert netminder Rejean Beauchemin making 25 saves to collect the shutout. The contest had six fights in total including a second confrontation between Shultz and Schlenker and 138 minutes in penalties. Chris Savage was the referee for that contest, and years later, he would be one of the big influences that got Schlenker into officiating.
    Anholt cut to chase right away in the post-game interview.
    “Our guys read the paper and I think they understand some things were said,” said Anholt. “I thought Schlenker really stepped up tonight and showed a lot of leadership.
    “I thought our team played real well tonight. I don’t think (the fights are) that big a deal.
    “We feel we have enough toughness on our team that we can handle anything that comes our way. I don’t think we should blow things out of proportion.”
    Schlenker was ready for battle after reading my story.
    “It is just incentive to fire another guy up,” said Schlenker. “Since the pre-game meal, that was all that I was thinking about. I cut the article out in my stall.
    “I don’t really see any need for someone to do that. It worked against him (Shultz). We pretty much took it to them out there tonight.”
    Shultz was pretty proud he stirred up the pot.
    “I know sometimes we come here, and it just feels like we are playing a team in the B.C. Division,” said Shultz. “It shouldn’t feel like that.
    “I am real proud of the young guys at the end. I think we had three 16-year-olds and a 17-year-old drop the gloves. It is about time.”
    One of the undercard bouts saw rookie forward Devin Setoguchi of the Blades and rookie defenceman Jeff May of the Raiders go at it. Setoguchi, who had recently turned 17 at the time, was more known as a goal scorer and wasn’t really a fighter during his WHL career that spanned four seasons closing with one campaign with the Prince George Cougars in 2006-07.
    He has played 516 NHL regular season games with the San Jose Sharks, Minnesota Wild, Winnipeg Jets, Calgary Flames and Los Angeles Kings.
    May, who was 16-years-old at the time, was known more as a rearguard that could supply some offence during his five WHL seasons, which concluded in 2008 with a short stint with the Lethbridge Hurricanes. He went on to play in the minors and a couple of short stints in France. May has been out of professional hockey for a year.
    Courtney Gillies, who is the niece of former NHL standout Clark Gillies, shot pictures of the game that night. My standout co-worker and partner in crime on the sports beat in Prince Albert took some unreal photos of that first fight between Shultz and Schlenker. The deskers that night elected not to use them saying they were against promoting fighting in hockey, which was an odd sentiment in Prince Albert considering the Raiders rough and tumble traditional reputation.
    With the turnover in staff and the cuts in budget, I am pretty sure the photos from that night have likely disappeared into the abyss, which from a historical perspective is too bad. Media outlets all across Canada have dumped numerous pictures and rolls of video into the trash over the years due budget cuts that have caused a reduction in storage space.
    Shultz ultimately finished that season appearing in 69 regular season games with the Blades collecting six goals, four assists and 331 minutes in penalties. That was his last full season in the WHL as he concluded his major junior career with a one-game stint with the Kamloops Blazers in 2004-05.
    He eventually ended up in the U Sports ranks playing three seasons for the University of Regina Cougars men’s hockey team from 2007 to 2010. Shultz last played professional hockey with the Pensacola Ice Flyers in the Southern Professional Hockey League collecting 17 goals, 23 assists and 121 penalty minutes in 52 regular season games in 2010-11.
    The Raiders downed the Blades 5-2 before 4,512 spectators in what was then known as the Credit Union Centre to complete the home-and-home series the next night in Saskatoon. There were four fights and 72 minutes in penalties in that contest. Shultz and Byers had a bout in that game.
    Nights like that home-and-home series used to be a more common occurrence in the WHL. The league is more businesslike now as compared to then, which is due to how the game evolved over the years.
    With that said, it is still great to remember stories like this, which get lost over the years. For the younger generation, it gives a little glimpse of why the hockey rivalry between Saskatoon and Prince Albert at all levels can still get intense.

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