Saturday, 30 September 2017

Shmyr breaks out for Blades

Winger happy to have Hebig back to form dynamic duo

Braylon Shmyr celebrates his game-winning goal for the Blades.
    Braylon Shmyr believes he is now part of a dynamic duo that is going to take flight for the Saskatoon Blades.
    In the Blades first two WHL regular season games, the overage left-winger was held pointless, and his Saskatoon side lost twice. On Saturday, Shmyr finally got to be partnered on a line with overage centre Cameron Hebig. Michael Farren, a talented 17-year-old sophomore, lined up at right wing to complete the unit.
    Hebig missed all of last season with a hard to pinpoint injury, and he was suspended by the WHL for the first two games of the regular season for taking a checking from behind major penalty and a game misconduct in the Blades final pre-season contest on Sept. 16, when they downed the Oil Kings in Edmonton 2-1.
    With Hebig at centre, Shmyr scored the winning goal with four minutes to play in the third period to break a 4-4 deadlock with the visiting Calgary Hitmen and lift the Blades to a 5-4 victory. He finished the night with a pair of goals and an assist to send almost all of the crowd of 2,738 spectators at the SaskTel Centre home happy.
Braylon Shmyr breaks down the ice for the Blades.
    After the game, Shmyr couldn’t stress how big it was to be on a line with Hebig.
    “He is a really good player,” said Shmyr. “He knows how to find me.
    “We just seemed like we had that chemistry going into this year. It is definitely nice playing with him and having him back.”
    After dropping their first two games by a combined score of 11-4, the Blades victory on Saturday won’t go down as one of the WHL’s classic games despite all the goals. The first two periods were fairly choppy for both teams as they entered the second intermission locked in a 4-4 draw.
    In playing to that 4-4 tie after 40 minutes, the Blades saw leads of 3-1 and 4-3 disappear.
    On the winning goal, Shmyr tracked the rebound of one of his own shots and flipped the puck over fallen Hitmen goaltender Matthew Armitage.
Cameron Hebig drives a shot on goal for the Blades.
    “It feels great,” said Shmyr about netting the winner. “The guys were ready to win tonight. We kind of changed our mindset about how we come into the game.
    “That is what we did. It definitely showed out there knowing that we got that first win today. We came into the game expecting to win, and that is exactly what we did.”
    Kirby Dach, who is in his 16-year-old rookie campaign, Caleb Fantillo and Hebig all netted singles for the Blades (1-2). Hajek had a pair of assists. Starting netminder Ryan Kubic allowed four goals on his first 10 shots before making 19 total saves to pick up the win in goal for Saskatoon.
Libor Hajek had a pair of assists for the Blades.
    Matteo Gennaro, Mark Kastelic, Jakob Stukel and Luke Coleman all had singles for the Hitmen (1-2-1). Armitage turned away 24 shots to take the loss in goal for Calgary. Hitmen 19-year-old left-winger Beck Malenstyn left the contest in the first period holding his left shoulder having collided hard into the boards after missing a bodycheck.
    Hebig drew the loudest cheers of the night, when he scored his lone goal at the 10:32 mark of the second period tipping home a point shot from Czech defenceman Libor Hajek. Shmyr picked up his assist on that play.
    Before Saturday’s game, Hebig’s last action in the regular season came way back on March 19, 2016, when he had a goal and an assist in a 3-2 home ice victory over the Prince Albert Raiders. In his last full regular season back in 2015-16, Hebig piled up 26 goals and 43 assists in 59 games.
    “It felt good to be back on the ice,” said Hebig. “I have to get my legs back obviously.
    “These games are moving fast, and I think that will come as I keep going. It was definitely nice to be out there and get the first goal out of the way.”
    The Saskatoon product enjoyed playing on a line with Shmyr and Farren, who finished the night with one assist.
    “Those are two skilled guys,” said Hebig. “I think we had a good outing today.
Blades C Cameron Hebig wheels past Hitmen D Layne Toder (#4).
    “They will get you the puck, and if I get them the puck, they will put it in. I think our first night together was good.”
    Blades head coach Dean Brockman played Shmyr and Hebig together extensively in the pre-season, and the bench boss believes big things will come from that duo.
    “We nicknamed them Batman and Robin, because they are quite a dynamic duo,” said Brockman. “For those guys, as they go we will probably go.”
    Brockman added it was big for his club to find a way to get the first win of the regular season.
    “It wasn’t pretty,” said Brockman. “It was pretty scrambly.
The Blades celebrate their win on Saturday.
    “A win is a win. When you are fighting things a little bit and your confidence isn’t very high, to get a win like that it is huge for us.”
    The Blades return to action on Friday, when they host the Swift Current Broncos at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre.
    The Hitmen are also off until Friday when they host the Everett Silvertips at 7 p.m. local time at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

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Friday, 29 September 2017

Tigers take Blades to school

Blades D Libor Hajek, left, and Tigers RW Max Gerlach battle for the puck.
    What started out as a tough day for the Saskatoon Blades off the ice didn’t get any easier on the ice.
    At around 3 p.m., the Blades sent out a tweet on social media to announce that former captain Bruce Gordon, who was battling pancreatic cancer, had passed away. The retired 28-year veteran of the Saskatoon Police Service was 54-years-old.
    The Blades honoured Gordon during a magnificent pre-game ceremony before 7,460 spectators at the team’s home opener just seven nights earlier back on Sept. 22. When it came time to play on Friday night, news of Gordon’s passing was still making its way among the 2,457 spectators at the SaskTel Centre.
    A moment of silence was held for Gordon before Friday’s game.
    Saskatoon proceeded to find out you don’t get any breaks in a rough spot when you play one of the WHL’s elite franchises. The visiting Medicine Hat Tigers came in, rolled out to a 6-0 edge after two periods and cruised to a 6-2 victory.
Max Gerlach had two goals and two assists for the Tigers.
    The Tigers also happen to be the first WHL club Gordon played for, and he helped the Tigers advance to the WHL Eastern Conference championship series during his rookie campaign in 1979-80. Gordon came to the Blades in a trade early in the 1980-81 season and remained with the Saskatoon club through the end of the 1981-82 campaign.
    The Blades roster is still on the younger side, and they were taken to school on Friday night by a visitor that plays at a high level night in and night out.
    The Tigers were a step ahead of the Blades all night. Medicine Hat got the puck deep in the Saskatoon zone, and the Tigers forwards forechecked the Blades defenders hard.
    Medicine Hat’s players didn’t exactly get physical in the corners. They were on top of the Saskatoon skaters using stick checks to cause turnovers and making it miserable to for the Blades to advance the puck up the ice.
    When the Tigers had the puck, their up tempo offensive style hit top gear. Medicine Hat’s players seem to just throw the puck around almost with a high comfort level knowing their passes were going on to be on the tape of the stick of an open teammate.
Captain Mark Rassell (#27) score twice for the Tigers.
    Just 6:33 into the first period, the Tigers assumed a 2-0 lead on a pair of goals from star 19-year-old right-winger Max Gerlach. Gerlach’s second tally came off a Blades giveaway.
    The Blades did have some fight in the opening 20 minutes holding a 9-8 edge in the shots on goal department. Saskatoon wasn’t able to find that one moment of traction to turn the game around, and the Tigers buried them in the second period.
    Working on the power play, Tigers overage captain Mark Rassell scored on the back door of the Saskatoon goal to give the Tigers a 3-0 lead at the 6:51 mark of the second. Exactly one minute later, Tigers defenceman Cole Clayton fired home a point shot to put the visitors up 4-0.
Gage Ramsay, left, netting the Blades second goal in the third period.
    At the 10:09 mark, the Tigers were working on another power play, and left-winger Ryan Jevne did his best imitation of Regina Pats superstar Sam Steel driving home a set-up pass from the left corner boards on the edge of the faceoff circle to give Medicine Hat a 5-0 lead.
    That tally chased Blades starting goaltender Ryan Kubic from the net. He made 11 saves on 16 shots.
    Joel Grzybowski, who is an 18-year-old rookie, turned aside 15-of-16 shots in a relief effort for Saskatoon. Rassell beat the Hafford, Sask., product on a breakaway with 13 seconds to play in the second period.
    Gerlach had helpers on two of the Tigers four goals in the second stanza.
Goaltender Michael Bullion (#30) freezes the puck for the Tigers.
    In the third, the Tigers were content to dump the puck into the Blades zone and proceed to forecheck and trap. The visitors still got 13 shots on goal in the final frame.
    Saskatoon got a little burst of momentum scoring two goals 49 seconds apart from each other coming from the sticks of Chase Wouters and Gage Ramsay to cut the Medicine Hat lead to 6-2. The Tigers called a timeout after the second Blades goal to settle things down. The hosts were unable to muster anymore chances to get closer on the scoreboard.
    Overage netminder Michael Bullion turned away 21 shots to help the Tigers improve to 2-1. Medicine Hat travels to Prince Albert on Saturday to face the Raiders.
The Tigers celebrate their 6-2 victory over the Blades.
    The Blades return to action on Saturday, when they host the Calgary Hitmen at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre.
    Having fallen to the Swift Current Broncos 5-2 in their home opener, the Blades are 0-2 having falling to two teams that expect to be among the WHL’s best this season. While the Blades don’t have the combination of talent and experience the Broncos and Tigers have, the Saskatoon side has to come to the rink and play at a higher pace to cut the drawback of that factor down.
    If the Blades don’t play at a higher pace, there will be a few more 6-2 scores in favour of the opposition in the future.

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Thursday, 28 September 2017

Oilers will always have a big following in Saskatchewan

The Oilers mingle at their bench during a timeout.
    The Edmonton Oilers will always have a sizable following in Saskatchewan.
    During Wednesday’s 4-0 NHL pre-season victory over the Carolina Hurricanes, a large gathering of 10,387 spectators were on hand at the SaskTel to see captain Connor McDavid and his Edmonton bunch. The Oilers star attraction didn’t disappoint netting a pair of goals and an assist to send almost all of a partisan crowd, who were mostly decked out in Oilers gear, home happy.
    The Oilers following in Saskatchewan has been entrenched for a few decades. The team build a huge fanbase during the 1980s and early 1990s, when the Oilers captured the Stanley Cup five times in seven years from 1984 to 1990.
    During that time, the Oilers were often labeled Western Canada’s team. Due to hitting the ice with players the likes of hockey icons Wayne Gretzky, who was part of the Oilers first four Stanley Cup wins, and Mark Messier, it was easy to identify with the team that was on television on a regular basis every April and May thanks to those championship playoff runs.
    Oilers netminder Laurent Brossoit enjoyed seeing the support his team gets from Alberta’s eastern provincial neighbour.
    “That is nice to have a couple of provinces that considers us their home team,” said Brossoit. “It is definitely a nice feeling. It is a lot of support for us.”
    Saskatoon product and rugged defensive defenceman Eric Gryba has always enjoyed his homecomings during his NHL career, and he noted there is a bit of an extra attachment when he returns home as a member of the Oilers.
    “Any time I come home and play in my hometown (before) a lot of friends and family is always a special thing,” said Gryba. “Obviously, the crowd is excited to have the Oilers in town.”
The Oilers and Hurricanes get set for a faceoff.
    While the Oilers haven’t won a Stanley Cup title in 27 years, a lot of fans in Saskatchewan still have an attachment to the team’s glory days. When the club is in a down stretch, the jerseys will sometimes be placed in the closet, but they are always ready to be brought out for that next memorable playoff run.
    Oilers fever hit a high pitch in the province in 2006, when the team advanced to the Stanley Cup finals only to fall 3-1 in a series deciding Game 7 to the Hurricanes. During that playoff run, many fans that weren’t alive to see the Oilers 1990 victory got to indulge in what appeared to be a team of destiny out of nowhere run.
    Edmonton proceeded to miss the post-season for the next 10 straight years.
    Last season, the Oilers returned to the playoffs posting a 47-26-9 record in the regular season. They eliminated the San Jose Sharks 4-2 in a best-of-seven first round series and fell 2-1 in a series deciding Game 7 to the Anaheim Ducks in the second round.
    Thanks to that run where they came up a win short of qualifying for the NHL’s Western Conference championship series, the support for the Oilers is gaining momentum again. With McDavid under contract for the next nine years, hope is high the new cast of characters that make up the current Oilers can bring home another Stanley Cup championship win.
    During a public autograph session that was part of the Royal University Hospital Foundation’s Celebrity Golf Classic last June, the players that received the most autograph requests were Gryba and Oilers starting netminder Cam Talbot. You could tell the run in the 2017 NHL playoffs was fresh on the minds of the fans.
    In Saskatchewan, there will always be strong followings for the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs due to the NHL’s historic Original Six days.
    Thanks to the Stanley Cup runs from 1984 to 1990 and the sprinkling of playoff marches that have occurred since, the Oiler will always have a big backing locked down too in “the Wheat Province” too.

Other thoughts from Wednesday’s NHL stop in Saskatoon

The Oilers skate off the ice after saluting the fans at the SaskTel Centre.
    The fans that attended Wednesday’s NHL pre-season game at the SaskTel Centre got to see a good show.
    While a 4-0 score in favour of the Edmonton Oilers might say otherwise, the Carolina Hurricanes had a number of solid chances to score. After outshooting the Oilers 13-4 in the second period, Carolina looked poised to rally from a 2-0 deficit. Connor McDavid scored twice inside of the final 10 minutes of the third to seal Edmonton’s victory.
    I have seen the NHL pre-season games that have been held in Saskatoon annually for the last four years. Last year’s game that saw the Ottawa Senators down the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 in overtime was the most exciting of the four.
    The games that have been held each of the past two years were far better than the ones I saw in 2014 and 2015. The contests the past two years were held late in the pre-season, and teams hit the ice with lineups that more resembled the ones that would be used in the regular season.
    The games in 2014 and 2015 definitely weren’t worth paying ticket prices ranging from $59.50 to $112 including fees to go see.
·         Hurricanes defenceman Haydn Fleury looked like an all-world player during his WHL days with the Red Deer Rebels, which wrapped up following the 2015-16 campaign. The sophomore pro looked ordinary trying to defend McDavid on a one-on-one rush on the Oilers fourth goal on Wednesday. McDavid seemed to toy with Fleury and cause the rearguard to move into position where he screened netminder Cam Ward. Fleury isn’t the first and won’t be the last player to look ordinary going against McDavid.
·         Wednesday’s attendance of 10,387 was quite a bit higher than the 7,541 that saw the Oilers play in Saskatoon in 2015. McDavid suited up for that 2015 contest, picking up an assist in a 3-0 win over the Minnesota Wild. Back then, McDavid was going through the paces of his rookie campaign.
·         Defenceman Eric Gryba of the Oilers and Trevor Carrick of the Hurricanes engaged in a late third period fight. Carrick managed to get some decent shots in, but the bout ended quickly after it started when the pair slipped down to ice.
·         Way less media from Edmonton attended Wednesday’s game compared to past years, when the Oilers came to Saskatoon. Outside of the crew putting together contest for the Oilers website, only one Edmonton based reporter was present during post-game interviews. In past years, a number of members from the Edmonton media were on hand. There were no appearances this year by legendary Edmonton sportswriters Jim Matheson and Terry Jones, who are both first class guys. It was another sign of Canada’s worse than skeleton crew media cut era. On the bright side, all of Saskatoon’s local outlets were represented.
·         I covered Wednesday’s game for The Canadian Press. My story for that wire service can be found right here.

Anthem protests didn’t have to happen

Some fans have burned their NFL gear over anthem protests.
    The sports world, especially the professional sports world, has been overwhelmed with protests regarding the United States national anthem, and the recent wave didn’t need to happen.
    A year ago, Colin Kaepernick, who was then the quarterback of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, at first sat and later kneeled during the playing of the U.S. national anthem to protest social injustice – primarily inequality and police violence against blacks. Issues involving race have always been a huge elephant in the room in the United States. Canada has its racial issues too, but arguably, they are not as wedge oriented as those in the United States.
    A number of other players joined Kaepernick when he started doing his protest, but the story really died down to the point it was pretty much off the radar at the start of the current NFL season.
    That changed last Friday, when U.S. President Donald Trump made a speech to supporters in Huntsville, Ala., and attacked players who kneeled in protest of the U.S. national anthem.
    Trump said, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’”
    He followed with a storm of inflammatory tweets. When NFL games rolled around on Sunday, there were massive protests that included over 200 players sitting or kneeling during the U.S. national anthem. Most teams locked arms in standing for the U.S. national anthem.
    In the CFL on Sunday, the Saskatchewan Roughriders locked arms during the Canadian national anthem before their 15-9 loss to the Calgary Stampeders at Mosaic Stadium as a show of support to the NFL players in the U.S.
    Since Trump’s speech last Friday, the anthem protest story seems to rise again with each passing hour with another story containing a different angle. It really feels like this is a story that is out of control. Had Trump not said what he said last Friday, life in the professional sports world and the overall sports would have gone on as normal.
    Now, you have two camps. You have those that kneel and lock arms to peacefully protest during the U.S. national anthem for Kaepernick’s original cause of protesting social injustice and police violence against minorities.
    You have the other camp that believe the peaceful protests during the U.S. national anthem show disrespect for the United States flag and military. The peaceful anthem protests were never about the United States flag or military.
    That same scenario goes for Canada and the Canadian flag and military.
    The two sides seem to keep escalating each other up, where you have fans burning jerseys or other team gear. The fact Trump, who started all this in the first place, keeps stoking the fire on this subject also doesn’t help.
    For myself, I will support anyone that feels moved to the point they believe it is necessary to make a peaceful protest during the national anthem in the United States or Canada like what has happened in the last five days. If someone wants to just stand at attention during the national anthem in the United States or Canada, I support that action too. Freedom of expression is a right in both countries.
    In the amateur sports world, I know a large number of teams who are serious when it comes to standing at attention for the national anthem, and it has become part of something those teams have always done. If they do anything else, it feels weird. Those teams should feel free to continue what they have always done.
    Had Trump not stoked the subject up last Friday, the divisiveness that followed would not have happened.

RIP Hugh Hefner (1926-2017)

A 2010 documentary on Hugh Hefner.
    On Wednesday, Hugh Hefner, who was the founder of Playboy magazine, died at the age of 91 at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles, California.
    Due to Hefner’s age, his passing isn’t a shock. It still feels surreal due to the impact he had on culture in North America and the world during his life. It seems everyone likes to relive the joke that they checked out Playboy for the articles as opposed to the naked female centerfolds, but Hefner’s life impact expanded beyond that publication.
    Before Playboy was published, talking about sex in North America was locked in the puritan sense in that you didn’t talk about or acknowledge it at all. He helped society break free from that where the attitude toward sex became more free.
    What often doesn’t get discussed is that Hefner had a huge impact in advocating for free speech, civils rights and social justice causes, and he was way ahead of his time in advocating for those things on a number of fronts.
    Back in 2010, filmmaker Brigitte Berman produced the documentary entitled, “Hugh Hefner Playboy, Activist and Rebel.”
    The film does a fantastic job of telling the story of Hefner’s life. The majority of the interviews are with his supporters, but there are also interviews from his detractors and went into detail about the adversities he faced.
    Hefner spoke freely about his adversities. His supporters note Hefner always carried himself like a gentleman.
    The best part of the film was it was shot when Hefner was in his mid-80s, and he was still really vibrant. Judging from social media posts from people that were close to him, age finally caught up to Hefner on the health front in recent years. If you find a copy of Berman’s documentary, it is a must to check out in my opinion.
    I believe Hefner made the world a better place and did a great job in living life to the fullest.

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Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Oilers’ McDavid lights it up in pre-season win in Saskatoon

The Oilers salute the crowd at the SaskTel Centre.
    It feels like a fire hydrant could get 40 points playing on a line with Connor McDavid.
    The Edmonton Oilers phenom sent a partisan crowd of 10,387 spectators at the SaskTel home happy on Wednesday night netting a pair of goals and an assist. McDavid’s efforts allowed the Oilers to blank the Carolina Hurricanes 4-0 in an NHL pre-season contest.
    Wednesday’s contest was the second last pre-season outing for the Oilers, who close out their exhibition schedule on Saturday by traveling to Vancouver to take on the Canucks. At still the young age of 20, McDavid is a known commodity having won the Hart Trophy last season as the NHL’s most valuable player and the Art Ross Trophy as the circuit’s leading scorer. 
    During the off-season McDavid signed an eight-year $100-million contract extension with the Oilers that kicks in after his entry-level contract expires at the end of the 2017-18 campaign.
    He doesn’t have to prove anything in a contest that doesn’t affect the Oilers fate when it comes to the regular season or playoffs.
    With all that in mind, McDavid still went out and gave a top level effort, and the superstar centre brought the fans to their feet on numerous occasions. Oilers head coach Todd McLellan said the support of the spectators was justified.
    “He (McDavid) has earned that right,” said McLellan, whose team improved to 6-1 in the pre-season. “The people respect him for the player that he is and the performance that he puts on night in and night out.
    “It would have been easy for him to go through the motions and take the night off, but that is not the type of player here is. Every time he puts the gear on, he wants to lead his team. He wants to get better as a player.
    “He is a good example for all of our players, and I am sure for a lot of the young players that are in the building here tonight in Saskatoon. He shows up every day to get better.”
    After Zach Kassian scored for the Oilers on a wraparound just 1:49 into the first period, McDavid went to work.
    He was the man that helped start the tick-tack-toe passing play that resulted in an Oilers power-play goal from left-winger Milan Lucic at the 13:16 mark of the opening frame.
    From the right corner boards, McDavid found Draisaitl down low by the left corner of the Carolina goal. McDavid’s pass seemed to have eyes as the puck found a lane through a maze of bodies to get to Draisaitl, who is a former member of the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders.
The Oilers and Hurricanes scrum it up late in the third period.
    Draisaitl fed a pass across the face of the net to Lucic, who calmly corralled the puck and plunked it into an open cage.
    The Oilers weren’t able to increase their edge until the final 10 minutes of the third period, when McDavid really left the SaskTel Centre crowd in awe.
    With the Hurricanes working on a power play, McDavid was sprung on a breakaway. Carolina netminder Cam Ward looked like a deer in the headlights as McDavid closed in. The first overall selection in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft gave a little juke and snapped home a shot to the low left corner of the Hurricanes goal to give the Oilers a 3-0 lead.
    Shortly after that marker, McDavid scored his second of the contest on an individual effort coming down the left side of the offensive zone to make the score 4-0 in Edmonton’s favour.
    Late in the third, McDavid was going in for another scoring chance, when he was hauled down by Hurricanes defenceman Jake Bean. McDavid had a step on Bean, and the crowd was hoping for a penalty shot only to see Bean given a minor infraction for hooking.
    McDavid exploded offensively playing on a line with grinder Patrick Maroon on left wing and highly touted rookie prospect Kailer Yamamoto on right wing. Yamamoto, who turns 19 on Friday, starred the past three seasons with the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs and was selected in the first round and 22nd overall by the Oilers in the NHL Entry Draft held last June.
    On Wednesday night, Yamamoto picked up one assist, but he seemed content just to pass the puck to McDavid and watch McDavid go. McDavid was happy he gave the fans reasons to cheer.
    “It always nice to see the love for the Oilers,” said McDavid, who had 30 goals and 70 assists in leading the NHL in scoring last season. “Anywhere we go in Canada, the fans are so passionate wherever across Canada.
    “It is special to see the Oiler fans here tonight.”
    Laurent Brossoit made 30 saves to pick up the win in goal for the Oilers. Ward turned away 18 shots taking the setback in net for the Hurricanes (4-2).
    Defenceman Eric Gryba, who is from Saskatoon, came to the Oilers from the Ottawa Senators in an off-season trade in 2015, and he has seen McDavid play since his NHL arrival. Gryba is always impressed with how well McDavid is received no matter where the Oilers go.
    “It is never surprising at all,” said Gryba. “There is a reason he gets that kind of reception, and it is obviously well deserving.”

Tweet of the night

    The local media had some fun at the NHL pre-season game on Wednesday night with Darren Dupont posting tweets of possible doppelgangers.
    Dupont posted a picture of CTV’s Pat McKay and said everyone rubbing shoulders Oilers centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who was scratched that night. Dupont proceeded to snap a picture of me and tweet out they were also rubbing shoulders with Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli.
    I had a good laugh, when I saw the pictures during the second intermission. It is always good to have fun at the rink, and the rink should always be a great place to be.

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Sunday, 24 September 2017

Big plays make Hilltops day in romp of Rifles

Jason Price jets home on a 70-yard TD reception.
    It felt like the Saskatoon Hilltops offence could blow out the lights on the scoreboard of Saskatoon Minor Football Field.
    After a bit of a slow start in Sunday’s Canadian Junior Football League clash, the Hilltops fell behind the visiting Winnipeg Rifles 7-0 and proceeded to catch fire. Rolling off a number of big plays, the Hilltops stormed out to a 45-7 lead early in the third quarter and cruised to a 52-26 victory.
    When the dust settled, the Hilltops, who are the three time defending CJFL champions, piled up 344 yards of offence through the air and 326 yards along the ground.
    The 670 yards of total offence was the highest output of the season for the Hilltops, who improved 5-1.
    Fourth year star receiver Jason Price was grinning at game’s end.
    “It is a giant confidence boost both running and passing the ball,” said Price. “It felt really good to connect with each other and play as a team.”
    The Rifles hit the scoreboard first in Sunday’s contest when quarterback Jonathan Remple hit receiver Xander Tachinski with an 11-yard touchdown pass to go up 7-0.
QB Jordan Walls throws for 321 yards for the Hilltops.
    Saskatoon responded about two minutes later when running back Logan Fischer dove into the end zone to score on a 12-yard rushing major to tie the contest up at 7-7.
    At that point, the big plays really started to pour out from the Hilltops.
    Before the first quarter ended, Hilltops quarterback Jordan Walls hit sophomore receiver John Brown on a 58-yard pass to set up a two-yard touchdown run by running back Joshua Ewanchyna to put the Hilltops up 14-7.
    Early in the second quarter, Walls found Price for a long 70-yard catch and run touchdown to give the Hilltops a 21-7 lead.
    “I haven’t had a really long run like that since probably Okanagan last year,” said Price, who was referencing a 58-2 road victory over the Okanagan Sun on Sept. 17, 2017. “It felt good.
    “I was a little tired afterwards. I realized maybe I’m maybe not as in shape as I thought I was.
    “It felt really good especially to see John Brown getting a nice long run too and Turple with a few long catches. It felt really good to connect as a team.”
    The Hilltops didn’t stop there. Ewanchyna had a Barry Sanders like 53-yard touchdown run extend the home side’s advantage to 28-7, and Fischer ran in a score from 31 yards out to give Saskatoon a 35-7 advantage.
Xander Tachinski gave the Rifles a short-lived lead.
    With 20.6 seconds to play in the second quarter, Hilltops safety/kicker James Vause booted a field goal from 34 yards out to extend the Hilltops lead to 38-7.
    The surge ended when Walls found fourth-year receiver Sam Mike for a 12-yard touchdown toss on a corner pattern to give Saskatoon a 45-7 advantage.
    “I think is just we started clicking and we started making plays,” said Price. “Once the first play happened, we just kind of rolled with that momentum and just kept it going through.
    “Everybody when they got the chance to make a play made their play.”
    Walls finished the game completing 16-of-19 passes for 321 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions before giving way to the Hilltops backups. Fischer also had a monster day running for 175 yards on 20 carries while scoring his two touchdowns before being pulled for the reserves.
    The Rifles opened the fourth quarter scoring 10 straight points off a 34-yard field goal from Matias Bueno and a 30-yard interception return for a touchdown by defensive back Andrew Ricard to cut Saskatoon’s lead to 45-17. Ricard made his interception off backup quarterback Tyler Hermann.
Logan Fischer dives in for a Hilltops touchdown.
    Ewanchyna proceeded to run a major in from 12 yards out for his third score of the day to put the Hilltops up 52-17. He ran for 73 yards on just four carries.
    Winnipeg rounded out the game’s scoring with nine straight points receiving a conceded safety from the Hilltops and Remple hitting receiver Dallas Opiola on a 21-yard scoring strike.
    Remple completed 24-of-35 passes for 316 yards and two touchdown passes for Rifles. Tachinski caught eight passes for 110 yards to lead all Winnipeg pass catchers.
    Defensively, linebacker Cody Peters and Vause led the Hilltops with eight and five defensive tackles respectively. Defensive lineman Riley Pickett came away with one sack for Saskatoon.
    Linebacker Donovan Hillary topped the Rifles with seven defensive tackles, while Ricard finished the day with two interceptions for Winnipeg.
    Price believes Sunday’s game puts the Hilltops offence in a good spot going forward.
    “It is will give us a whole lot more confidence going through the weeks,” said Price. “We know that there is still a lot to build from.
    “We are just going to have to try and improve week to week like we always do.”
The Hilltops celebrate their win over the Rifles.
    With Sunday’s win, the Hilltops sit alone in second place in the Prairie Football Conference. Also on Sunday in Edmonton, the host Huskies improved to 6-0 to remain first in the PFC by surging past the Regina Thunder 62-30.
    The Thunder sit third in the PFC at 4-2, and the Rifles are fourth at 3-3. The Calgary Colts sit fifth in the PFC at 2-4, while the Edmonton Wildcats occupy the conference’s basement at 1-5.
    The top four teams in the conference advance to the Playoffs, and the Huskies and Hilltops have post-season berths mathematically locked away with two weeks to play.
    The Hilltops return to action on Sunday, Oct. 1, when they host the Wildcats at 1 p.m. at SMF Field.

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Saturday, 23 September 2017

Smith brings rare blend of skill and toughness to Huskies

Power forward Chloe Smith is a welcome addition to the Huskies.
    Chloe Smith loves the fact her rivals have become her friends.
    The 18-year-old centre, who is a rookie with University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team, arrived in Saskatoon having built a reputation as being one of the fiercest competitors in the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League. For the past four seasons, Smith rose to prominence with her hometown Swift Current Diamond Energy Wildcats possessing a rare combination of skill and toughness.
    Her game hit new heights over her final two campaigns with the Wildcats, where she piled up 31 goals and 50 assists in 54 regular season games. Smith played with a physical edge that many couldn’t match, but it was also a smart physical edge. She only took 42 minutes in penalties over the past two campaigns making her an almost perfect power forward.
    Arriving in Saskatoon in late August to join the Huskies, Smith, who stands 5-foot-7, became teammates with many players she used to battle against in the midget AAA ranks, while also being reunited with former Wildcats teammates in Brooklyn Haubrich, Kayla Kirwan and Jasey Book. Smith is enjoying the fact she is playing beside her former rivals, but she is quick to note nothing was ever taken personally when it game to the battles on the ice.
Chloe Smith jets into the offensive zone for the Huskies.
    “We chuckle a little bit,” said Smith. “We talk about it, we talk about the games.
    “Honestly, it is fine. When you are on the ice, it is different. You are playing.
    “Off the ice, we are all friends and get along. We kind of laugh about things back in AAA. It is funny to talk about it, talk about the close games. It is good too.”
    Smith was quick to add she played with a number of her current Huskies teammates in Saskatchewan’s provincial team program and the bonds remain from those days. Off the ice, Smith is personable and outgoing, and she also exudes a presence in a good way wherever she is. On the ice, her competitive side dominates, and she doesn’t hide what type of player she strives to be.
    “I want to be strong,” said Smith. “I don’t want to be known as the kid that gets knocked off the puck easy.
Chloe Smith built a reputation for being a fierce competitor.
    “I want to get in there and make things happen. That creates offence when you are winning your battles, and you are strong. I’m not going to lay down to no one.
    “I try my best to get involved and to make contact. I grew up playing boys hockey, so that helps me out a little bit.”
    Smith took up hockey at the novice level playing on boys’ teams when her family still resided in Paradise Valley, Alta. She kept playing the sport when her family relocated to Swift Current when she was in Grade 3.
    When her family moved to Swift Current, Smith continued playing on boys’ team until her first year in bantam, when she actually played for the city’s female midget AA team. As 14-year-old bantam aged player, she made the Wildcats as an underage player. Smith glows when she talks about her four seasons with the Wildcats.
Chloe Smith looks to make a pass.
    “Those were the times of my life,” said Smith. “I had so much fun with that time.
    “The community was awesome. They always supported us, and we all did events for them every year. We got along really well with the school.
    “We had good fans coming out and supporting our games. We would do the same for the school teams. It was really fun.”
    During her second season with the Wildcats, Smith became well-known across the SFMAAAHL for one play that occurred on March 10, 2015. The Wildcats were in Saskatoon facing the host Stars in Game 1 of a best-of-five SFMAAAHL semifinal series.
    Smith knocked out Stars star forward Nara Elia, who would later go on to play for Canada’s under-18 women’s team, with a hit. For that collision, Smith received a major penalty for a head hit, a game misconduct and had to sit out a one-game suspension. Reflecting on what happened, Smith said the hit happened by accident.
    She said she was skating backwards at first as her Wildcats were regrouping in their own zone for a breakout, and Elia swung through the Swift Current zone on the forecheck. As Smith turned to skate forward, she saw Elia at the last second coming towards her and the two collided. Smith braced for the collision in order to protect herself, and Elia had her head turned and didn’t see she was about to run into Smith.
    The two ended up being teammates in Saskatchewan’s provincial team program. Smith said they talked about what happened and have become good friends. Besides the competitive part of the game, Smith said she loves making friendships in the sport, and she has done that easily with every team she has been part of.
Chloe Smith sets up position on the forecheck.
    While Smith became known for that collision with Elia, she had a decent campaign offensively in her second season with the Wildcats netting 10 goals and nine assists in 28 regular season games. As a result, Smith became a figure to watch in the SFMAAAHL going into her 16-year-old season, and she closed out her midget AAA career by exploding offensively.
    “I got a lot more confident with the puck, and that was actually huge,” said Smith, who was the Wildcats captain in her final season with the team. “I started carrying it more and shooting it more.
“I realized that I actually maybe have a shot of playing high level hockey.”
    Huskies head coach Steve Kook saw Smith’s hit on Elia, and while the images of that play were ingrained on his mind, the bench boss was impressed with how well the Wildcats star played afterwards. Kook went to work on the recruiting front and succeeded in getting a commitment from Smith.
    “Chloe fits our style the way that we want to play,” said Kook. “She is physical. She is skilled. Smitty skates well.
Chloe Smith, left, is always ready to battle in the corners.
    “She needs to get up to speed a little bit here, but that will come as she gets more games under her belt and gets used to the program and the league. She shoots the puck so well. The grittiness of her it fits who we are.”
    On Saturday afternoon at the ancient Rutherford Rink, Smith wasn’t able to get on the scoresheet, but she was a presence during a 2-0 pre-season win against the MacEwan University Griffins of the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference.
    Centring a line with Shyan Elias and fifth-year veteran Kori Herner on the wings, Smith skated with a lot of energy and intensity. It seemed like she didn’t lose any battles in the corners.
    In the third period, she created two solid scoring chances. On the second of those changes, she drove hard to the net, and the play ended with her having a stare down against two Griffins players before the officials directed everyone away.
Chloe Smith has befriended old rivals upon joining the Huskies.
    Smith wants to keep playing for as long as she can. She admits she would love to get a chance to be part of Canada’s national team program one day but adds that a lot of things have to materialize for that to happen.
    She wants to get her education degree, but also plans to keep doors open to get into firefighting, when her time with the Huskies concludes. For now, she is focused on enjoying every moment of her rookie campaign and believes her Huskies can make noise in the Canada West Conference and the overall U Sports ranks.
    “We’re fast, (and) we’re smart with the puck,” said Smith. “We still have a lot of improvement that is coming.
    “I think we’re going to be real competitors in the league this year. I think we have a good team, good goaltending.
    “Everyone is getting along. I think it is going to be a good year for us.”
    In Saturday’s win over the Griffins, sophomore forward Bailee Bourassa scored with 20 seconds to play in the second period to give the Huskies a 1-0 lead, and she assisted on a third period goal from defender Madison Colbow.
The Huskies celebrate their 2-0 pre-season win on Saturday.
    Chloe Marshall turned away 14 shots to pick up the shutout win in goal for the Huskies, who finish their pre-season schedule posting a 5-1 record. Sandy Heim turned away 25 shots to take the setback in goal for the Griffins.
    The Huskies are now off until Oct. 6, when they open their regular season schedule hosting their provincial rivals the University of Regina Cougars at 7 p.m. at Rutherford.

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Friday, 22 September 2017

Blades deliver stirring tribute to Gordon, Broncos leave with opening night win

Chris and Bruce Gordon embrace during a Blades pre-game ceremony.
    The Saskatoon Blades gave a spectacular night to former captain Bruce Gordon and brought a work ethic that was a fitting tribute to the retired 28-year member of the Saskatoon Police Service.
    The work ethic on the ice wasn’t enough to deliver a victory on the opening night of the WHL regular season. The visiting Swift Current Broncos displayed their battle toughness from last season’s playoff run, where they went to a deciding Game 7 in a second round series before bowing out to the Regina Pats.
    Swift Current entered the second period of Friday’s clash training 2-1 and rolled off four straight goals – including two into an empty net – to come away with a 5-2 victory.
    Broncos 17-year-old left-wing Riley Stotts netted the equalizer at the 3:43 mark of the third converting a pass from star right-winger Tyler Steenbergen that came across the face of the Saskatoon net to force a 2-2 tie. At the 12:21 mark, Broncos right-winger Kaden Elder slipped a pass from the deep right corner of the Saskatoon zone to overage centre Conner Chaulk in front of the net. Chaulk promptly buried what turned out to be the winning goal giving the Broncos a 3-2 lead.
Bruce Gordon shakes hands with current Blades captain Evan Fiala.
    Swift Current captain Glenn Gawdin and Russian defenceman Artyom Minulin each scored empty-net goals to complete the Broncos third period surge.
    The Broncos prevented the Blades from putting a sweet cap on what was a special night, but the night was still special for the host side despite the final outcome of the contest.
    A total of 7,460 spectators came to the SaskTel Centre, and it was pretty apparent they came to pass along a thank-you to Gordon, who is battling terminal Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. When it came time to start the 25-minute pre-game tribute to Gordon, pretty much everyone was in their seats.
    Gordon came to the Blades in a trade with the Medicine Hat Tigers early in the 1980-81 campaign, and the grinding winger became the club’s captain in 1981-82, which would be his final campaign in the major junior ranks.
Bruce Gordon drops the puck for the ceremonial faceoff.
    He moved on to build a distinguished career with the Saskatoon Police Service starting out on regular patrol, becoming a detective sergeant in the sex crimes unit and then to major crimes. Gordon became well-known for cracking cases that appeared to be unsolvable.
    At age 50, he retired from policing to study law at the University of Saskatchewan with the goal to become a defence lawyer. Gordon graduated from law school last spring, but on June 8, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. On June 29, a special ceremony was held at the Court of Queen’s Bench in Saskatoon to call the 54-year-old to the bar.
Chris Gordon, left, speaks to the crowd at the SaskTel Centre.
    This ceremony is traditionally held in autumn, but an exception was made in Gordon’s case to hold the ceremony earlier due to his cancer diagnosis.
    Gordon was never the most talented player on the ice, but he stood out due to his hard work, determination and his ability to step in and protect his teammates. In 112 regular season games with the Blades, Gordon collected 17 goals, 53 assists and 552 penalty minutes.
    Winnipeg Jets play-by-play voice Dennis Beyak was the Blades assistant general manager during Gordon’s years, and he returned to Saskatoon emcee the pre-game ceremony. A total of eight former teammates paraded out to centre ice wearing the Blades tradition Pac-Man logo and blue and gold colour scheme the team returned to on a full-time basis this season.
The Blades push home a greasy goal to go up 2-1.
    Also on hand was former Blades coach and general manager Daryl Lubiniecki and former Blades owner Jack Brodsky.
    Once all the alums were introduced, Gordon made his way on to the ice along with his wife, Chris, son, James, and daughter, Jillian Bodnar. When Gordon appeared, the crowd immediately rose to their feet to deliver a warm standing ovation.
    Former teammate Brian Skrudland, who went on to have a lengthy playing career in the NHL, and Saskatoon Police inspector Patrick Nogier, who was a former WHL goalie with the Kamloops Blazers and Broncos, both delivered heartfelt speeches.
    After Skrudland and Nogier were done speaking and a rousing ovation went up from the crowd, Chris Gordon came up to the podium to deliver a thank you to the crowd on behalf of the family. Originally, the plan for the tribute ceremony was to allow the members of Gordon’s family to enjoy the festivities without having to speak to the crowd.
Tyler Steenbergen set up the goal that sparked a Broncos’ rally.
    Due to the warm emotional atmosphere, Chris went on to thank the crowd for making that night special, and she told everyone to live life to the fullest.
    The pre-game ceremony concluded with Brodsky and current Blades owner Mike Priestner presenting the Gordon family with a framed jersey, a “Be Like Bruce” banner was unveiled in the rafters of the SaskTel Centre, and Bruce dropped the puck for the ceremonial faceoff. Bruce actually felt well enough that he and his family remained at the game until about the midway point of the second period, which turned out to be one of his longest outings in public in recent days.
    On the ice, the current day Blades took the cue. They controlled much of the first period and exited the frame with a 1-0 lead thanks to a goal from right-winger Caleb Fantillo, who scored on a knuckleball shot.
    After Gawdin scored 58 seconds into the second period to tie things up at 1-1, Blades 19-year-old right-winger Brad Goethals batted the puck into the Broncos goal off a greasy battle in front of the net to put the hosts up 2-1. That set the stage for the Broncos rally in the third period.
Conner Chaulk celebrates his winning goal for the Broncos.
    Joel Hofer turned away 23 shots to earn the win in goal for the Broncos.
    Ryan Kubic stopped 27-of-30 shots to take the loss in the Blades net.
    The Broncos return to action on Wednesday, when they travel to Regina to take on the Pats (7 p.m. local time, Brandt Centre).
    The Blades are off until Friday, Sept. 29, when they host the Medicine Hat Tigers at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre.
    While the Broncos came away with the win on Friday night, the Blades can feel proud they delivered a special night to a former captain in Bruce Gordon, who will forever be a community hero in Saskatoon.

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Thursday, 21 September 2017

Battle hardened Broncos provide big challenge for Blades

Division rivals open WHL regular season at SaskTel Centre

Blades head coach Dean Brockman oversees a team practice.
    Dean Brockman knows his Saskatoon Blades are going to have their hands full opening the regular season against a battle hardened division rival.
    The Blades face the Swift Current Broncos in the regular season opener for both teams on Friday at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre. Last season, Saskatoon posted a 28-35-7-2 record to finish fifth in the East Division, ninth overall in the WHL’s Eastern Conference and five points back of the Calgary Hitmen (30-32-8-2) for the conference’s second and final wildcard berth.
    The Broncos posted a 39-23-4-6 mark to finish third in the East Division and fifth in the Eastern Conference. After eliminating the Moose Jaw Warriors in a tough seven-game series in the first round of the WHL playoffs, they went to a series deciding Game 7 in the second round against the Regina Pats before bowing out of the post-season with a 5-1 loss in that contest.
    Swift Current returns a number of players from their team last season, and Brockman, who is the Blades head coach, knows it is tough to face any club that gains experience from a strong playoff run.
    “It is always a challenge,” said Brockman. “We know that their top two lines and their back end will be as good as any of the contenders in our division.
    “Certainly when they have the Hepos (Aleksi Heponiemi) and the Gawdins (Glenn Gawdin) and those types of guys, you have to be aware of them. I think certainly they are a great challenge, and they will be a challenge throughout the year.
    “The experience that they got last year with their playoff run just makes them more hungrier for this year. For us, it is going to be definitely be a battle right from the start.”
    Gawdin is the Broncos captain, and the 20-year-old centre potted 26 goals and 33 assists in 52 games last season. Heponiemi is a high-flying 18-year-old Finnish winger who piled up 28 goals and 58 assists appearing in all of the Broncos 72 regular season games.
    Swift Current’s most dangerous offensive player is likely 19-year-old winger Tyler Steenbergen, who topped the Broncos in scoring with 51 goals and 39 assists.
    On defence, the Broncos are anchored by 19-year-olds Colby Sissons and Russian Artyom Minulin. Minulin became an effective power-play quarterback piling up eight goals and 42 assists in 70 regular season games.
Goalie Joel Grzybowski takes part in a drill at Blades practice.
    Of course, the Broncos acquired overage netminder Logan Flodell from the Blades in a trade on Wednesday. Flodell was a second team WHL Eastern Conference all-star last season posting a 22-20-4 record, a 2.81 goals against average, a .912 save percentage and three shutouts.
    While the Broncos have a number of dangerous players, Brockman said his Blades have to focus on their own performance.
    “I think every game is a measuring stick whether you show up or you don’t show up, (and) how good were you and how bad were you,” said Brockman. “We don’t want to use Swift as the measuring stick.
    “We want to be playing hard, you know a hard working hockey team. We just want to have those trademarks right from the start. We want to be a team that makes it difficult for them to play here and make it hard and try and match their work ethic and do better.”
    Like last year, the Blades will start the season without the services of star centre Cameron Hebig, but under different circumstances. Hebig missed all of last season due to injury.
    The local product starts his overage season sitting out Saskatoon’s first two games due to a league imposed suspension for receiving a checking from behind major penalty and a game misconduct in the Blades final pre-season game last Saturday, which was a 2-1 victory over the Oil Kings in Edmonton. Hebig had five goals and an assist in four pre-season games.
    Overage winger Braylon Shmyr topped the Blades in scoring with 35 goals and 31 assists in 66 regular season games. Saskatoon is loaded with a number of strong young forwards in 17-year-olds Michael Farren and Chase Wouters and 16-year-old Kirby Dach, who the Blades selected in the first round and second overall in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft.
    On defence, the Blades are anchored by overage captain Evan Fiala and Czech import Libor Hajek. Fiala was returned to the Blades on Tuesday after attending training camp with the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings. Hajek was at the Tampa Bay Lightning’s NHL training camp, and he was assigned back to the Blades on Thursday.
    Saskatoon starts the season with a new goaltending tandem in 19-year-old Ryan Kubic, who was acquired in a trade with the Vancouver Giants on Wednesday, and 18-year-old rookie Joel Grzybowski. Kubic was the Giants starting goaltender for the past two seasons, and Grzybowski had a stellar campaign last season in the junior A ranks with the Battlefords North Stars.
    “We definitely have some young guys that are going to be really good players in our league,” said Brockman. “Hopefully, we’ve insulated them enough with some of the older guys.
Blades assistant coach Bryce Thoma keeps things loose with humour.
    “As your guys take progressions and steps, some guys have to take bigger steps than others. It is a good mix. We’ll find out whether the chemistry is there to get that mix over the top or not.
    “Time will tell. Our group is always learning and always working.”
    The Blades will be trying to make the post-season for the first time since 2013. Brockman said he is aware of the importance of the overall view of the campaign, but in order to get to the playoffs, he said his team’s focus has to be on the present.
    “You have to look big picture, but again, I want to look right what is in front of us,” said Brockman. “If you get looking too far ahead, you’ll be looking behind.
    “You have to make every day count and every game count. If you look at it in away last year, I think we missed it by five. If you get a point per month (extra), you are in the playoffs.
    “We have to really, really focus on what we have in front of us and not look too far ahead.”

Engele puts meaning behind the Pac-Man

Blades assistant coach Jerome Engele speaks are a presser on Monday.
    The Saskatoon Blades have created a real buzz, when they officially announced in late August they were returning to their famed Pac-Man logo and look on a regular basis.
    The Blades used the Pac-Man look throughout the 1980s and in the early 1990s. Even when it was not in use, it was still the signature look that was associated with the Blades. The team also had the majority of its most successful and memorable seasons wearing that look.
    Besides drawing approval from fans, the return of the Pac-Man look has been warmly received by the team’s alumni. During a press conference on Monday to announce the Blades would be honouring former captain and long-time Saskatoon Police Services officer Bruce Gordon before Friday’s home opener, veteran assistant coach and retired Saskatoon Police Services officer Jerome Engele spoke about what the Pac-Man logo meant.
    Engele’s words carried pretty good weight and meaning, when you consider he played five seasons for the Blades as a defenceman from 1966 to 1971, was the team’s head coach in 1979-80 and has been an assistant coach for a number of stints starting in the 1989-90 season.
    “We strive very hard to teach our young people coming here about integrity, honesty, hard work and with that responsibility that comes along with it outside of this arena,” said Engele. “Like our police world, you’re wearing a badge.
    “That badge we’re held at another level through the Police Act that we are responsible to, so we are held at a level higher that what the public is. Our Blades are also held at that level away from the rink. We expect them to treat everybody with respect.”

Future wedding bells to ring for Howe and Parkinson

Davis Parkinson, left, and Corey Howe at the SaskTel Centre in Sept. of 2016.
    While the Saskatoon Blades will honour their former captain Bruce Gordon before Friday’s home opener, a year ago the team honoured the Saskatoon area’s greatest sporting hero ever in the late hockey icon Gordie Howe, which produced an interesting tidbit.
    A year ago, Howe’s ashes and those of his late wife, Colleen, were interred at the base of the Gordie Howe statue that sits in front of the SaskTel Centre. During the festivities to honour Howe, the Blades helped play up the love story between grandson Corey Howe, who was raised in Ohio, and a young woman named Davis Parkinson, who was raised in Saskatoon.
    In April of 2016, Corey moved to Saskatoon, because he wanted Parkinson in his everyday life. The connection made for a cute story in the local media, and off camera, the two chuckled when they talked about how Blades president Steve Hogle played things up.
    Out of the obscure pieces of information that seem to come my way, I discovered that the young couple had gotten engaged. They are slated to be married on Aug. 25, 2018.
    If you have ever seen Corey Howe and Davis Parkinson together, they make a really sweet and cute couple, and both have a great sense of humour. Here is hoping they have a spectacular wedding day, and they make a lifetime of wonderful memories together.

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