Thursday, 30 November 2017

Parker close to becoming SFMAAAHL’s second all-time leading scorer

Mackenna Parker is set to move to second in SFMAAAHL career points.
    Mackenna Parker is on the cusp of achieving a huge milestone, but the skilled centre will have to wait a bit to achieve it.
    The 17-year-old captain of the Saskatoon Stars is one point away for equaling Alyssa Wiebe for second all-time in career regular season scoring for the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League. Parker has 72 goals and 69 assists for 141 career points in 94 regular season games.
Wiebe piled up 74 goals and 68 assists for 142 points playing 55 regular games at forward for the Notre Dame Hounds from 2006 to 2008 in Wilcox.
    With the way the SFMAAAHL regular season schedule has worked out, Parker will have to wait a bit for her next chance to pass Wiebe. The Stars next regular season game is set for Dec. 16, when they travel to Swift Current to face the Diamond Energy Wildcats.
    The SFMAAAHL is in its 12th season, so what Parker is about to do can be viewed as a significant accomplishment.
    It also provides an opportunity to reflect on some recent women’s hockey history.
Mackenna Parker has been on fire this season.
    Wiebe, who is from Saskatoon, played for the Hounds the first two seasons the SFMAAAHL existed. She played the first games Canada’s under-18 women’s team ever took the ice for in 2007 before moving on to the university ranks.
    She played four seasons in the National Collegiate Athletic Association with the now defunct University of North Dakota women’s hockey team at the Division I level piling up 49 goals and 66 assists in 141 overall games.
    Following her hockey days at UND, Wiebe returned home to Saskatoon and suited up for the Saskatoon Valkyries of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League for the past two seasons. She became a star receiver and helped the Valkyrie win a league championship in 2016. Wiebe was part of Saskatchewan’s team that won gold at Football Canada’s inaugural Senior Women’s National Championship tournament in July of 2016.
    Wiebe, who is now 27-year-olds, showed just insane athletic ability playing football for the Valkyries. That same athletic ability showed through, when he played high level hockey.
    Parker, who is playing out her final season of midget AAA eligibility, will pass Wiebe, but likely won’t catch Olivia Howe for the top spot as the SFMAAAHL’s career all-time leading scorer.
    Howe, who is from Moose Jaw, played forward for the Hounds from 2008 to 2012 and piled up 107 goals and 100 assists for 207 points in 106 career regular season games. She is the SFMAAAHL’s career leader in goals, assists and points and was a consistent high point producer in each season she played in the league.
Mackenna Parker will play for Canada’s under-18 team in January.
    Following her time with the Hounds, Howe, who is now 23-years-old, played four seasons with the Clarkson University Golden Knights women’s hockey team in the NCAA Division I ranks from 2012 to 2016 piling up 42 goals and 58 assists in 152 overall games. She helped the Golden Knights win the NCAA championship in 2014.
    Parker has been on a tear to start the season with the Stars. She leads the SFMAAAHL in scoring with 23 goals and 20 assists in 13 games played and needs one more point to match her career high in points set last season.
    Besides accomplishing huge milestones with the Stars, Parker will play for Canada’s women’s team at the International Ice Hockey Federation’s Under-18 Women’s World Championships, which runs this coming January 6-13 in Dmitrov, Russia.

Dorsett had a great run through WHL and NHL

Derek Dorsett, centre, during down time at the 2007 Memorial Cup.
    Feisty forward Derek Dorsett decided retire from the NHL due to an injury issue with his back.
    About a year ago, the Kindersley, Sask., product underwent a cervical-fusion surgery to heal up a damaged disk in his back. About a week ago, Dorsett’s doctors in Los Angeles, Calif., discovered another herniated disk near the rebuilt section of his back, and he was advised to not play again. The NHL’s Vancouver Canucks officially announced Dorsett’s retirement on Thursday.
    Dorsett had gotten out to a great start with the Canucks netting seven goals and two assists in 20 regular season games. After spending his first professional season with the American Hockey League’s Syracuse Crunch in 2007-08, Dorsett started playing in the NHL on a full-time basis with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2008-09.
    He appeared in 515 regular season games with the Blue Jackets, New York Rangers and Canucks netting 51 goals, 76 assists and 1,314 penalty minutes. Over his hockey career, Dorsett, who stands 6-feet and weighs 192 pounds, became one of the game’s best agitators, but he was also viewed as one of the best teammates no matter where his career took him.
    You hated to play against him, but you would love it if he was traded to your team.
    At one time, it didn’t appear an NHL career would be in the cards for Dorsett. His services were offered to every team in the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League, and only the Swift Current Legionnaires stepped up to take him.
    With the Legionnaires in 2003-04, Dorsett collected 19 goals, 34 assists and 132 penalty minutes in 42 regular season games. That season wasn’t enough at that time to ensure him a spot in the WHL.
    As a result, he started the 2004-05 campaign in the junior A ranks with his hometown Kindersley Klippers of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.
    Dorsett’s career path changed on Nov. 19, 2004, when he jumped on board the bus of the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers outside the 7-Eleven in Kindersley. He dressed for that night’s road clash with the Blades in Saskatoon and picked up an assist in a 6-2 Tigers victory.
    During his career in “the Gas City,” Dorsett recorded 49 goals and 79 assists in 180 regular season games. To this day, he still remains an all-time fan favourite among the Tigers faithful.
    Dorsett was a heart and soul player with the Tigers who agitated opponents, scored, blocked shots, fought guys that were much bigger than him and was still effective playing with injuries.
    He set the emotional tone and the intensity for the Tigers every time he stepped on the ice. Dorsett always gave his best.
    If something needed to be said in the dressing room to get the Tigers going, Dorsett was entrusted with being the guy that said something.
    Dorsett played a huge role in capturing the WHL championship in 2007 and advancing to the final of that year’s Memorial Cup championship tournament before falling 3-1 to the host Vancouver Giants.
    In the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, he was selected in the seventh round and 189th overall by the Blue Jackets, which opened the door to his NHL career.
    Dorsett’s 31st birthday is Dec. 20, so he has a big next chapter to live in life. Let’s hope he enjoys lots of great days with his wife, Allison, and their two young sons Dylan and Ethan.

SHA should rethink boundary changes for female game

    If you’re involved in female hockey in Saskatchewan, you’ve likely heard through mainstream media outlets that the Saskatchewan Hockey Association is intent on going ahead with plans to make Saskatoon and Regina geographical subdivisions for the 2018-19 campaign.
    Basically, girls from rural Saskatchewan will be unable to go to Saskatoon and Regina to play on those cities’ teams. The SHA is putting that rule in place to push rural minor hockey associations to create their own female teams and leagues.
    When girls become old enough to play at the midget AAA level, they can go play for any of the provinces eight female midget AAA programs.
    I normally try to avoid minor hockey arguments and minor hockey issues. In the past, I find involvement in minor hockey politics just tends to bring me down.
    This issue has been in the news a lot, so I figured I would say something.
    I can see what the SHA is trying to do in theory, and there is concern about getting numbers up in rural areas and allowing rural girls to play closer to home.
    Through all sorts of social media channels, I’ve seen great push back against this decision. Actually, it is hard to find a voice that agrees with the SHA.
    I’ve seen numerous former players, current coaches, family members of current coaches and players, and executives from minor hockey associations speak out against this. There have been a number of people I know speak out against this move, who I deeply trust when it comes to judgments about the female game.
    I saw the martial from the Saskatoon Comets regarding this decision. They noted from experience that next season rural Minor Hockey Associations won’t develop a female program of any kind and will welcome girls to join their boys’ teams. The Comets said girls will quit if the appropriate level of play in girls hockey isn’t available to them.
    The Comets said the rural Minor Hockey Associations cited a number of reasons for not starting a new female committee including too much work for too short of a deadline, shortage of available ice, don’t know where to start and no one on their current boards have an interest in female hockey. I can respect these arguments, because life in the current day is way more stressed than it has ever been.
    There is a big concern girls in rural areas will decide to quit and take up another sport or activity as opposed to playing on a boys’ team. When players get old enough that body contact is allowed, there are a lot of girls that don’t want to play on boys teams if hitting is involved.
    I saw one post from a mom that lives in Pilot Butte, which is just outside and almost now borders with Regina, be downright upset that her daughter would have to go to Weyburn to play next season, which is a lot further away. I don’t like the idea of cutting Saskatoon and Regina off from their suburb bedroom communities.
    I know long time veteran SHA general manager Kelly McClintock has taken a lot of heat over this.
    I feel comfortable siding with the large number of people in the female game that are against these changes. Since I moved to Saskatoon in the summer of 2014, I have been impressed with how much everyone involved with female hockey pulls in the same direction. People from rival teams have respect for each other and hope players from the rival side do well.
    You do not see that type of unity on the boys’ side of the game, and it is refreshing to see that unity in the female game.
    I trust the judgment with those involved with female hockey in Saskatchewan and hope the SHA will delay the border changes or rethink them entirely. At the moment, I believe these border changes will hurt the female game in Saskatchewan.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to A special shout out thanks to the Swift Current Diamond Energy Wildcats female midget AAA team, who provided the information about Dorsetts one season with the Swift Current Legionnaires midget AAA team in 2003-04. That piece of information was missing in a previous version of this post, and it was great to include it.
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Sunday, 26 November 2017

Dietz - the Stars unsung hero

Kianna Dietz gets set to wire a shot on goal for the Stars.
    Kianna Dietz is the “glue gal” who helps the Saskatoon Stars go.
    The 17-year-old centre has been a member of the Stars since the start of the 2014-15 campaign, and has quietly gone out and given her best on a nightly basis. A number of her teammates have piled up the points offensively and received more recognition, but Dietz, who stands 5-foot-9, has been a regular filling a gritty checking role and chipped in points when needed.
    She has displayed soft hands in the offensive zone on occasion either making plays or scoring goals.
    Dietz has played a key role in helping the Stars win Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League championships in 2015 and 2016 and subsequently appear in the Esso Cup national championship tournament.
Kianna Dietz celebrates scoring in Game 3 of the 2015 SFMAAAHL finals.
    The Hanley, Sask., product was an important contributor to the Stars posting their best regular season record ever last season at 25-2-1 and making it to a third straight league championship series, where they fell to the Prince Albert Northern Bears.
    On Sunday at the Agriplace Arena, Dietz happened to be in a key place again helping set up a third period goal by Joelle Fiala to give the Stars a 5-2 lead on the visiting Melville Prairie Fire. That tally turned out to be the winning goal, as the Stars held on for a 5-4 victory.
    Dietz is part of a group of six playing out their final season of midget eligibility with the Stars including Mackenna Parker, Jordyn Gerlitz, Jordyn Holmes, Dana Wood and Jordan Ivanco, and she wouldn’t trade her time with the team for anything.
    “It has been great,” said Dietz, who had nine goals and six assists in 28 regular season games last season for the Stars. “It is a great four years with lots of memories.
Kianna Dietz breaks into the offensive zone for the Stars on Sunday.
    “I just want to finish with like a good year. There are six graduating, so we definitely want to finish strong.”
    Dietz has had a couple of signature moments with the team as well. In the female final of the prestigious Mac’s Midget Tournament in Calgary in January of 2015, Dietz had a goal in the Stars 4-2 victory over the Calgary Fire at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
    On March 25, 2015 at the Agriplace Arena, Dietz set up the Stars first ever SFMAAAHL championship winning goal, which was scored by Gerlitz. Dietz proceeded to net the insurance marker to help the Stars down the Bears 2-0 in Game 3 of the SFMAAAHL series and sweep the best-of-five set 3-0.
    Dietz said playing for the Stars has had a big impact on her life, and that she has been lucky to have Greg Slobodzian as her head coach for a fifth straight season. Slobodzian was Dietz’s head coach on the Saskatoon Comets bantam AA team during the 2013-14 campaign.
Joelle Fiala had a pair of goals for the Stars on Sunday.
    “It has definitely made me the player that I am today,” said Dietz, who has a goal and a career high nine assists in 12 appearances this season for the Stars. “With Greg especially coaching me for five years now, it has helped me so much.
    “My game has definitely improved a lot.”
    Slobodzian said Dietz is one of those players that can deliver insight to the coaches. The two often have a lot of conversations about what they saw watching NHL games on television. Dietz will watch as many NHL games as she can during a hockey season.
    “She is a real smart kid who gets and understands the game,” said Slobodzian. “There are often times she will be like, ‘Hey coach, look at what they are doing.’
    “She will pick something out before I see it.”
    The bench boss said that even before Sunday’s game Dietz visited the coach’s office and asked how her game was and what she needed to improve on.
Captain Mackenna Parker had the Stars fourth goal on Sunday.
    “If you have every athlete like that sort of taking ownership of like, ‘OK, how am I doing and how can I help,’ it would be great to have 19 girls putting that kind of thought process into it,” said Slobodzian. “That is the type of girl she is.
    “She has great hands, a great shot and is super smart. Unfortunately, she has to get just a little bit quicker, and that is often the case with some players.
    “She is great. I have always enjoyed coaching her. She really, really cares.”
    Dietz came away a bit disappointed with how her team played on Friday. The Stars jumped ahead 3-0 in the first period with goals from Anna Leschyshyn, Gerlitz and Fiala.
    In the second period, Erin Armstrong scored for the Prairie Fire and Mackenna Parker replied for the Stars to allow Saskatoon to head into the second intermission with a 4-1 edge.
Anna Leschyshyn scored the Stars first goal on Sunday.
    Kailey Ottenbreit scored for Melville at the 6:43 mark of the third to cut Saskatoon’s edge to 4-2.
Dietz proceeded to set up Fiala’s second of the night to give the Stars a 5-2 edge.
    Saskatoon had to hold on as Jordan Fry and Jaydea Guenter-Belte netted singles for the Prairie Fire to cut the host’s edge to 5-4, but that was as close as the visitors would get.
    Ivanco made 26 stops to pick up the win in goal for the Stars, who improved to 13-0. Taylor Nagy turned away 33 shots to take the setback in goal for the Prairie Fire, who fell to 5-9.  
    “We know we can be better than that, so we have to really work harder and put in a whole 60 minutes for a game,” said Dietz. “They work really hard that team, and we kind of didn’t keep our foot on the pedal the whole game.”
The Stars celebrate their win on Sunday.
    Due to the fact the Stars have experience so much success, Dietz said her team has to fight the false sense of security feeling that the wins are just going to happen.
    “We have to know that each game we have to come prepared to work our hardest,” said Dietz. “Even in practice, we have to work to keep up that tempo we know we can play with.
    “We just have to make sure we work hard for it.”
    The Stars resume their regular season schedule on Dec. 16, when they travel to Swift Current to take on the Diamond Energy Wildcats.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to
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Saturday, 25 November 2017

Huskies’ Vance elated to be back playing hockey again

Netminder makes 31 stops for second shutout of season

Jessica Vance has played to her star reputation since joining the Huskies.
    Jessica Vance is happy to finally have her old hockey life back.
    After being out of the game for two seasons, the 20-year-old Prince Albert, Sask., product made her fifth start in goal in the current campaign for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team at the ancient Rutherford Rink on Saturday. She came up with another spectacular performance making 31 saves to help the Huskies post a 2-0 shutout win against the visiting Mount Royal University Cougars in a U Sports clash.
    In her five starts, Vance, who stands 5-foot-7, has posted a 3-2 record, a 1.41 goals against average, a .945 save percentage and two shutouts.
    She has displayed the form that made her one of the all-time greatest goalies in the history of the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League, when she played for the Prince Albert Northern Bears.  
Goalie Jessica Vance holds off the pressure from the Cougars.
    Playing for the Bears from 2010 to 2015, Vance posted a 48-36 record, a 2.27 goals against average, a .926 save percentage and 16 shutouts in 91 career regular season games. Her 48 wins, 16 shutouts and 91 games played are all SFMAAAHL career regular season records.
    “It is pretty nice being back,” said Vance. “I forgot how much fun it was.
    “It was just so much fun just playing the sport I love. I just feel like I am right back in it.”
    After exhausting her midget AAA eligibility, Vance committed to play for the U of Manitoba Bisons women’s hockey team, but she was forced to sit out the 2015-16 campaign as a medical redshirt after suffering a major leg injury playing competitive softball in the summer of 2015.
Morgan Willoughby (#9) celebrates a goal with Jessica Vance.
    Vance dressed for one game as a backup goalie very early last season for the Bisons before electing to play closer to home. Due to dressing for that one game, she wasn’t eligible to play for the Huskies until Nov. 1 of this year.
    On Nov. 10 in Vancouver, B.C., Vance made her Huskies debut getting the start against the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds, who are a powerhouse in the Canada West Conference. She made 33 saves to pick up a 2-0 shutout victory.
    “I was nervous definitely,” said Vance, who started her academic studies at the U of S in January. “It was good. I think after the first period I kind of realized that I know what to do and that I should just stay in there.
    “It was a pretty big win. I think that was really what I needed to get that first win out of the way and to get the nerves out of the way. It was good.”
    Huskies head coach Steve Kook said he only started to get to work with Vance this season after taking a professional year leave up absence from the U of Saskatchewan in the 2016-17 campaign. He was impressed with how Vance just stayed calm no matter what life threw at her, which is a key characteristic for a goalie.
Courtney Cormack had the Huskies first goal on Saturday.
    “To me, her demeanour is what sets her apart,” said Kook. “She was just even keel whether she was in the lineup, or whether she was working hard to get back to eligibility. She is no different now than how she was in September still waiting to be eligible.
    “She doesn’t get up or down. That is the impressive part about her.”
    During the first period of Saturday’s win over the Cougars, Kook said Vance made a key kick save on a screen shot that help set the tone for the Huskies in the contest.
    “I think there must have been about four people in front of the net, and I don’t know how she saw it,” said Kook. “That was a game saver.
    “They had hemmed us in a little bit. For us, that was the save that kept us in the game.”
Morgan Willoughby starts a rush up ice for the Huskies.
    The Huskies exited the first period with a 1-0 lead thanks to a gritty goal from third-year forward Courtney Cormack. The Cougars outshot the Huskies 14-11 in the frame, and Vance had to make a few key saves to allow her team to head into the first intermission with the lead.
    After a scoreless second, the Huskies went ahead 2-0 at the 9:30 mark of the third on a gritty goal from third-year defender Morgan Willoughby, who was one of Vance’s teammates with the Bears in Prince Albert.
    The Cougars pulled starting goaltender Emily Severson at that point, who stopped 26-of-28 shot fired her way. Zoe DeBeauville played the rest of the way in the Mount Royal goal in relief, but didn’t face any shots.
    Vance said her team’s persistent effort in the offensive zone proved to be key in the win.
    “I think this game getting to the net really worked for us,” said Vance. “We just had to keep working hard.
    “I think just the hard work and driving to the net kind of made us win today.”
    On Huskies third period goal, captain Kaitlin Willoughby, who is Morgan’s older sister, picked up an assist for her 101st career regular season point. Kaitlin now sits alone in third spot on the Huskies all-time scoring list with 45 goals and 56 assists in regular season play one point ahead of Cara (Wooster) Muench. Muench recorded 36 goals and 64 assist for 100 points playing three seasons for the Huskies from 2010-2013.
Jessica Vance (#30) celebrates her second shutout victory of the season.
    The Huskies improved to 8-5-1 with Saturday’s win to sit fourth in Canada West, while the Cougars fell to 4-10 to sit last in the eight-team conference.
    After playing four times on the road, Vance was pleased to get her first start at home.
    “I didn’t really know what to expect I guess, because it is a smaller rink,” said Vance. “I definitely like it.
    “It is good to get the first start at home and the first win too. It was a little bit of a tougher game, because there wasn’t always shots coming.
    “There were some breaks. Everything just seemed to be going right. I felt the puck well.”
    The Huskies return to action on Friday, when they travel to Regina to face the U of Regina Cougars (6-7-1).

Cooke on fire for Dogs in win over Cougars

Jordon Cooke had another stellar performance for the Huskies on Saturday.
    Star netminder Jordon Cooke delivered another stellar performance for the U of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team, and it spelled doom for the Mount Royal University Cougars.
    On Saturday at the Flames Community Arena, Cooke made 32 saves and picked up an assist to back the Huskies to a 4-1 victory over the Cougars. The win was the 52nd of Cooke’s U Sports regular season career with the Huskies moving him to within one victory of Ryan Holfeld for second on the Huskies all-time career list. Holfeld won 53 career regular season games tending goal for the Huskies from 2010 to 2015.
    Cooke’s performance on Saturday allowed him to move into fourth all-time on the Huskies career list for regular season saves. The 24-year-old from Leduc, Alta., has 2,045 career regular season saves, which jumped him past the 2,017 career saves put up by Tomas Vicars for fourth spot on the Huskies career list. Vicars played for the U of S from 2002 to 2006.
    The Cougars exited the first period of Saturday’s clash with a 1-0 lead on a goal from rookie forward Brad Kennedy.
    The Huskies answered back scoring four straight goals in the second period with singles coming from the sticks of Carson Stadnyk, Collin Shirley, Levi Cable and Jesse Forsberg. Fifth-year forward Josh Roach picked up a pair of assists, and Cooke recorded his helper on Cable’s goal.
    Cam Lanigan started in goal for the Cougars and turned away 14-of-18 shots fired his way. Wyatt Hoflin stopped all three shots set his way playing the third period in relief for Mount Royal.
    The Dogs have won their last three in a row to improve to 11-2-1 to sit second in Canada West. The Cougars fell to 6-7-1 to sit fifth in Canada West.
    The Huskies return to action on Friday, when they host the U of Regina Cougars (3-9-1-1) at 7 p.m. at the Rutherford Rink.

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Friday, 24 November 2017

Shmyrific – Blades pull out improbable 6-5 comeback win over Wheat Kings

The Blades celebrate Braylon Shmyr’s winning goal.
    Saskatoon Blades head coach Dean Brockman was still processing a surprising turn of events for his hockey club moments after they happened.
    On Friday night at the SaskTel Centre, the host Blades looked dead and buried on a couple of occasions against the visiting Brandon Wheat Kings. After the Wheat Kings took a 4-1 lead into the second intermission, it seemed they would roll on to a sixth straight victory.
    The Blades proceeded to net a pair of power-play goals to pull to within 4-3 before the first six minutes of the third period had expired. The host side’s momentum run appeared to have expired when Wheat Kings overage left-winger Evan Weinger scored his hat trick goal on a power play with 6:06 remaining in the frame to give Brandon a 5-3 lead.
Braylon Shmyr had a hat trick and an assist for the Blades.
    Then, the unthinkable happened. The Blades scored three straight goals in the final 1:56 of the third period to pull out a 6-5 victory.
    With netminder Nolan Maier pulled for an extra attacker, Blades Czech import defenceman Libor Hajek wired home a mid-range shot to cut the Wheat Kings lead to 5-4. Just 53 seconds later, Blades overage left-winger Braylon Shmyr scored on an individual rush to pull the Blades even with the Wheat Kings at 5-5. The equalizer was Shmyr’s second goal of the game and of the period.
    Shmyr wasn’t done there. With 18.5 seconds to play, he came hard with speed at the Brandon net on another individual rush and lifted home his hat trick goal and the winning tally past Wheat Kings netminder Logan Thompson to put the Blades up 6-5 and send the 3,886 spectators at the SaskTel Centre into bedlam.
Libor Hajek had a key goal in the Blades comeback victory.
    “Personally myself and I know our staff I want us to be even-keel,” said Brockman. “There is still time left on the clock.
    “You just have to make sure that you are ready for it. It will feel good after I sit down and think about it, but it is a good feeling.”
    Shymr had points on four of the five Blades goals in the third. With the Blades down 4-1 entering the frame, he picked up an assist on a power-play goal by overage star centre Cameron Hebig at the 5:05 mark to make the score 4-2 in Brandon’s favour. Hebig’s tally was his 20th goal of the season.
    Just 26 seconds later, Shmyr potted his first of the night to pull the Blades to within 4-3. That set the stage for the dramatics in the final 6:06 of the third.
    “That felt amazing knowing that we’re struggling to get “Ws” and knowing that we close in at the end,” said Shmyr. “It gave me goosebumps knowing that we got that “W.””
Evan Weinger (#25) celebrates his hat trick goal for the Wheat Kings.
    The Calgary, Alta., product thought the Wheat Kings looked rattled after he scored the equalizer to tie things up at 5-5. Shmyr said there was a sense that the next shot the Blades threw on net would go in before he ultimate netted the winning goal.
    “All the momentum was on our side,” said Shmyr. “We took full advantage of it. We didn’t quit.”
    The Wheat Kings built a 4-1 lead over the first two frames on the strength of Weinger’s first two tallies of the night and singles coming from the sticks of Connor Gutenberg and Ty Lewis. Weinger had a helper on Gutenberg’s goal to record four points on the night.
    Brad Goethals had the lone reply for the Blades over the first 40 minutes of the game before the frantic comeback ensued.
Wheat Kings goalie Logan Thompson makes a stop under duress.
    Overage netminder Logan Thompson turned away 37 shots to take the loss in goal for the Wheat Kings (14-7-0-1).
    Nolan Maier, who is a 16-year-old rookie, made 26 stops to earn his first career WHL regular season win backstopping the Blades (9-12-2-1). The Yorkton, Sask., product was given the hardhat after the game as the Blades hardest working player.
    “It feels great,” said Maier. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it without Shmyrsy (Shmyr).
    “He really kept us in it with the help of Libor (Hajek). It is great to get my first win, and I am excited to get more.”
    The Blades have come off a wild three-game stretch, where they collected four points in the standings against powerhouse clubs. On Tuesday in Moose Jaw, the Blades trailed the host Warriors 6-2 in the third period but rallied to send the contest to overtime locked in a 6-6 tie. The Warriors scored in the extra session to pull out a 7-6 win.
Blades goalie Logan Maier picked up his first career WHL victory.
    On Wednesday in Swift Current, the Blades held a 4-1 lead heading into the third period against the host Broncos. The Broncos rallied with three goals in the third to send the game into overtime and claimed a 5-4 victory after a tiebreaking shootout.
    Brockman was pleased his side could pull out a comeback victory on Friday against the Wheat Kings.
    “It has been a crazy week actually,” said Brockman. “I’m proud of our guys, because they showed a lot of resiliency.
    “You need these examples that you can have that fight and will to come back and win games like this.”
    The Blades now head off on a five game road trip through the WHL’s U.S. Division. The trip begins this coming Tuesday in Kennewick, Wash., against the Tri-City Americans.
The Blades pour on to the ice to celebrate their comeback win.
    Saskatoon’s next home game is Dec. 9 at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre against the Kamloops Blazers.
    The Wheat Kings travel to Swift Current on Saturday to face the Broncos.
    Shmyr is looking forward to a final regular season jaunt with his Blades teammates through the United States after the high of Friday’s win.
    “It is definitely a boost of confidence going into the States,” said Shmyr. “They are a tough division down there.
    “I am just going to take full advantage of it. It is a couple of weeks long, but it is going to feel like two days. I am just going to make the most of it and have a good road trip.”

Huskies get Bears star Ball to commit, fall to Mount Royal

Bears star Kate Ball is the Huskies newest recruit.
    The U of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team picked on a prized recruit from the local area.
    On Thursday, the Huskies announced Saskatoon product Kate Ball, who plays for the defending Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League champion Prince Albert Northern Bears, has committed to joining the U of S women’s hockey team for the start of the 2019-20 campaign. The skilled 16-year-old centre, who stands 5-foot-5, put up 15 goals and 15 assists in 28 regular season games with the Bears, who posted 22-6 record last season.
    Ball added three goals and two assists in helping the Bears win nine straight post-season games to claim the squad’s second SFMAAAHL title in team history.
    So far this season in her sophomore SFMAAAHL campaign, Ball has six goals and nine assists helping pace the Bear to a 10-3 start. Ball is the niece of Sheldon Ball, who played quarterback first with the Saskatoon Hilltops of the Canadian Junior Football League and then five seasons with the U of Saskatchewan Huskies football team from 1998 to 2002. Sheldon had a length run as the Hilltops offensive coordinator once his playing days concluded.
    On Friday night at the ancient Rutherford Rink, the Huskies lost their third in a row falling 2-0 to the visiting Mount Royal University Cougars.
    Rookie forward Andrea Sanderson scored her first career U Sports regular season goal late in the second period to give the Cougars a 1-0 edge. Sophomore forward Anna Purschke scored into an empty net inside of the final minute of the third to round out the game’s scoring.
    Rookie Emily Severson turned away 29 shots to earn her first career U Sports regular season shutout to pick up the win in goal for the Cougars (4-9).
    Jasey Book turned away 22 of 23 shots to take the setback in goal for the Huskies (7-5-1). U of S failed to score on three power-play opportunities.
    The two teams go at it again on Saturday at 5 p.m. at Rutherford.

Forsberg powers Dogs past Cougars

Alex Forsberg had a goal and an assist for the Huskies.
    First-year winger Alex Forsberg came through in the clutch for the U of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team on Friday night.
    With the Huskies locked a 1-1 tie early in the third period against the host Mount Royal University Cougars at the Flames Community Arena in Calgary, Forsberg helped set up a goal from fifth-year forward John Lawrence to put the Huskies up 2-1. Forberg potted his fourth of the season with 7:56 remaining in the frame to give the Huskies a 3-1 edge.
    Brad Kennedy scored for the Cougars with 3:15 to play in the third to cut the Huskies edge to 3-2.
The visitors hung on the rest of the way ensure the 3-2 score held up as the final in the U Sports clash.
    The two clubs traded goals in the second period with Jesse Lees scoring for the Cougars and captain Kendall McFaull replying for the Huskies.
    Taran Kozun turned away 26 shots to pick up the win in goal for the Huskies (10-2-1). Cam Lanigan turned away 31 shots to take the setback in goal for the Cougars (6-6-1).
    The two teams go at it again on Saturday in Calgary.

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Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Real world stress for fans adds to attendance challenges for sports teams

Empty seats a regular sight at all levels of sports in Canada

Some fans take in a U of Regina Rams football home game on Sept. 1. 
    Why don’t more people attend sports events especially at the higher levels in Canada?
    That has been a question I have been struggling with for some time.
    I’ve attend events at various venues that host WHL, CJFL, U Sports and CFL games for some time, and it seems the crowds on average aren’t getting bigger but smaller. Even the Saskatchewan Rush of the National Lacrosse League showed a small dent in the armour when tickets sales for their home playoff games last season failed to exceed 15,000 per game. That wasn’t a problem in the team’s inaugural NLL campaign in Saskatoon, when the Rush won a league title in 2015-16.
    When I watch NHL, CFL and NFL on television, I can spot the empty seats.
    It feels like empty seats really plague Canadian venues. They aren’t prevalent at NHL venues, but they are creeping in there.
    The easiest reason for absence would be to say people just don’t care. When I look my page view numbers for stories on the Saskatoon Stars and Prince Albert Northern Bears of the often ignored Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League, I know that can’t be the case. The numbers are high enough to signal that people care.
Fans still pack the stands for the Roughriders Labour Day Classic game.
    The same can be said for my posts on the Saskatoon Hilltops, who have won the last four straight CJFL titles, the Saskatoon Valkyries of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League and the University of Saskatchewan Huskies hockey teams.
    When the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades honoured their former captain in Bruce Gordon at this season’s home opener, my post on that night became and still is my second all-time most viewed post. After Gordon passed away of cancer about a week after that contest, my post from the home opener has continued to attract views.
    People are interested, but they don’t seem to be going out in comparison to past years.
    A number of reasons have raced through my head, and I felt putting them out there might create discussion on that topic.
    The first two reasons that come to mind for non-attendance revolve around ticket prices are too high and lack of media coverage. The media coverage to create interest for sports in Canada isn’t what is used to be due to all the cuts in the mainstream side of the sector.
    On the ticket prices front, you usually get a gut feeling that tells you when they hit a point where the casual fans will stay away. The casual fans ultimately make up the big crowds.
    On the major junior hockey front, I always find single game tickets priced over $20 start to get dicey. For Roughriders games, the dicey point hits around $70 a game including fees. For those events, those seem to be the break points where impulse buyers lean towards not going games.
The empty seats are easy to see at Blades home games.
    As for the media argument, that is also a viable reason. If you go out, it seems casual fans have a handle of what is happening in the NHL due to the fact you can tune into TSN or Sportsnet and see those highlights.
    When it comes to local teams, I often find casual followers in Saskatoon don’t even know when Blades, Huskies or Hilltops games are going on. You are really in the dark when it comes to high school sports or any other minor events at that level. The same can be said of big curling events.
    Even as short of six years ago, the details of when games were happening were constantly repeated on all media platforms on the mainstream side. Now, it seems it is up to the teams to keep relaying that information on their social media handles. The teams in Saskatoon do a good job on that front, but it seems that information isn’t always reaching the casual fan, who are hit and miss with regards to following team social media accounts.
    To get fans, you almost need a lightning in a bottle situation like the WHL’s Regina Pats had last season, when they made the WHL championship series for the first time since 1984. The Pats finished first in the entire WHL with a 52-12-7-1 mark, which was also the best regular season record the team ever posted dating back to its inception in 1917.
    The mainstream media machine that follows the CFL’s Roughriders covered the Pats exploits, and it seemed like a large number of people in Regina were invested in that run. The Pats soldout a team record 26 contests between the regular season and playoffs. They benefited from a situation that doesn’t occur every season.
    Some events like the home opener for the Huskies football team or the Roughriders Labour Day Classic game always attract big crowds due to being viewed as big community gatherings and experiences, where fun and escapism are the top priorities.
Fans pack the U of Saskatchewan Huskies football game on Sept. 8.
    I believe attendance or non-attendance for local sports teams might be affected by the fact people these days are too stressed from their everyday lives. There are way too many companies out there that try to operate with skeleton crews like the media industry does, and as a result, people are often doing the work of two or three people at their job.
    When people get home from that situation, they just want to stay on the couch, watch television or scroll through their social media accounts. You feel too tired to go anywhere, and factors like ticket prices and bad weather will subconsciously go into the decision about not going to a game, if you know a game is going on that night.
    I also feel like casual fans have trouble identifying with high level athletes, which might add to non-interest. In the days before year-round training was normal and players came to training camp to get in shape, it seemed the high level athlete was viewed as being closer to the recreation league a casual fan would participate in. Those days weren’t that long ago as players still came to training camp to get in shape in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
    Now, the casual fan has a harder time identifying with the elite athlete because the casual fan is not constantly going to the gym to train or critically watching his or her diet on a daily basis to prepare to play a sport. When an elite athlete accomplishes something big or is part of a championship team, the casual fan is happy but still doesn’t identify with all the work that goes into that type of accomplishment that makes the elite athlete hit a huge emotional high.
The Pats packed the Brandt Centre due to a special campaign in 2016-17.
    It seems like family and friends make up most of those in attendance to see elite athletes play in circuits like U Sports, CJFL, WWCFL and SFMAAAHL.
   On the other hand, some of the biggest feeds that go through social media accounts are pictures of first days of school, high school graduations and pictures of babies after they are born. They are able to capture the attention of the average person more, because most people can identify with those experiences having gone through them as well. Those types of milestones should be celebrated in families too.
    A number of companies make a tonne of money catering to those types of things, because people can identify with those experiences.
    I don’t have any quick fixes to encourage people to go out to sports events. I believe teams that can stay connected in a genuine way with their communities and are involved with their communities will eventually see the reward of butts in the seats. The results with the ground work won’t happen overnight, but they will eventually come.

Broncos rally past Blades

Alec Zawatsky had a goal for the Blades on Wednesday night.
    The Saskatoon Blades weren’t able to hold off a comeback by the powerful Swift Current Broncos.
    On Wednesday at the Credit Union i-Plex in Swift Current, the Blades led 4-1 heading into the third period. Before 1,983 spectators, the Broncos roared back with three straight goals to force a 4-4 tie and send the contest to overtime and then to a tiebreaking shootout.
    Aleksi Heponiemi and Logan Barlage scored in the shootout to help the Broncos take the tiebreaking session 2-1 and the overall contest by a 5-4 final. Kirby Dach had the Blades goal in the shootout.
    For the longest time, it appeared Saskatoon was on the verge of pulling out an upset win. The Blades built a 3-1 lead over the opening 20 minutes thanks to singles coming from the sticks of Caleb Fantillo, Michael Farren and Cameron Hebig. Conner Chaulk had the reply for the Broncos.
Glenn Gawdin scored twice for the Broncos.
    The Blades went ahead 4-1 at the 2:37 mark of the second period on a goal from Alec Zawatsky.
    That tally chased Joel Hofer from the Broncos net. Hofer was making his fourth start of the season and turned away 11 of 15 shots sent his way.
    Logan Flodell, who is the Broncos regular starter and was supposed to get the night off, played the rest of the way stopping all 18 shots he saw in regulation and overtime and three out of four shooters in the shootout to pick up the win in the Swift Current net.
    In the third period, Broncos captain Glenn Gawdin scored twice to cut the Blades lead to 4-3.
    Broncos Russian import defenceman Artyom Minulin scored the equalizer that forced a 4-4 tie with 2:09 remaining in the third period.
    Nolan Maier, who is a 16-year-old rookie, had a strong night turning away 33 shots through regulation and overtime and two of four shooters in the shootout to take the setback in goal for the Blades.
    The Broncos improve to 16-5-1 with the win, while the Blades record moves to 8-12-2-1.
    The Blades return to action on Friday, when they host the Brandon Wheat Kings (14-6-0-1) at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre. That will be the last Blades home game until Dec. 9, when they host the Kamloops Blazers.

Back in the Express with Hajek

Libor Hajek has been a consistent performer for the Blades.
    I was back in the pages of the Saskatoon Express this week with a story on Saskatoon Blades Czech import defenceman Libor Hajek.
    Hajek had put together a streak of recording points in four straight games before Wednesday’s 5-4 loss after a tiebreaking shootout to the Broncos in Swift Current. The 19-year-old rearguard is in his third full season with the Blades, and he has been one of the team’s most consistent players.
    He was selected in the second round and 37th overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. The Lightning signed Hajek to a three-year NHL entry-level contract last March after the Blades regular season wrapped up.
    Hajek has six goals and 18 assists 23 games so far this season. He is hoping to crack the roster of the Czech Republic’s world junior team.
    The story on Hajek can be found here.

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Sunday, 19 November 2017

Huskies take round two, blank Golden Bears 4-0

Josh Roach had a pair of goals and an assist for the Huskies.
    The University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey knocked the University of Alberta Golden Bears from the ranks of the undefeated.
    On Saturday night at the ancient Rutherford Rink, fifth-year winger Josh Roach scored a pair of goals and picked up an assist to power the Huskies to a 4-0 victory over the Golden Bears. The Golden Bears, who were rated first in the U Sports Top 10 rankings, had won their first 11 games of the regular season before falling to 11-1 with their loss to the Huskies.
    The Huskies, who are rated third in the U Sports Top 10 rankings, improved to 9-2-1 to sit second in the Canada West Conference three points back of the Golden Bears.
    When the two teams met on Friday night at Rutherford, the Golden Bears skated away with a 6-1 victory.
    The Huskies showed they have ample ability to reset, when they took the ice and won Saturday’s game. They exited the first period with a 1-0 lead on a goal from centre Logan McVeigh.
    At the 3:28 mark of the second, Carson Stadnyk potted his second of the season to give the Huskies a 2-0 edge.
Jordon Cooke made 29 saves to pick up a shutout win for the Huskies.
    With 26 seconds remaining in the second, Roach scored his first of the contest to put the hosts up 3-0. He rounded out the game’s scoring with an empty-net tally with 40 seconds remaining in the third.
    Zach Sawchenko, who used to be the star goaltender of the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors, turned away 31-of-34 shots to suffer his first loss in eight starts in his rookie season with the Golden Bears. Jordon Cooke turned away 29 shots to pick up his ninth career U Sports regular season shutout in goal for the Huskies.
    Games between these two “Forever Rivals” are usually filled with extra-curricular activities after the whistle, but the two sides played fairly under control on Saturday combining for 34 minutes in penalties. The Golden Bears failed to score on six power-play chances, while the Huskies were unable to cash in on four power-play opportunities.
    The Huskies return to action this coming Friday, when they travel to Calgary to take on the Mount Royal University Cougars (6-5-1).

Pandas’ Chamberlin slams door on Huskies

Emily Upgang had the Huskies lone goal on Saturday.
    Kirsten Chamberlin backed the University of Alberta Pandas women’s hockey team to a second straight victory over the U of Saskatchewan Huskies.
    On Saturday at the Clare Drake Arena in Edmonton, Chamberlin made 32 saves to push the Pandas to a 3-1 victory over the Huskies. One night earlier, Chamberlin turned away 16 shots to allow the Pandas to earn a 2-1 win over the Huskies.
    In Saturday’s encounter, the Huskies dumped everything they could at Chamberlin and also came up dry on four power-play opportunities. The Pandas netminder ensured the defending U Sports champions were going to have every opportunity to escape with a win.
    The Pandas went ahead 1-0 in the first period on a power-play goal from Autumn MacDougall. Just 21 seconds into the second period, sophomore forward Emily Upgang potted her fifth of the season to force a 1-1 tie.
    Deanna Morin scored at the 13:08 mark of the second to put the Pandas up 2-1. Hannah Olenyk gave the Pandas a two-goal lead scoring at the 11:09 mark of the third period.
    The Huskies out shot the Pandas 26-13 over the second and third periods.
    Jessica Vance turned away 16 shots to take the setback in goal for the Huskies.
    The Pandas, who are rated first in the U Sports Top 10 rankings, have won three straight to improve to 8-2-2. The Huskies fell to 7-4-1.
    The Huskies return action this coming Friday when they host the Mount Royal University Cougars (3-9) at 7 p.m. at the Rutherford Rink.

Warriors third period surge sinks Blades

Libor Hajek had a goal and two assists for the Blades on Saturday.
    The Saskatoon Blades appeared to be in position to pull off another upset against the WHL leading Moose Jaw Warriors, but the Warriors star players had other ideas.
    On Saturday night at Mosaic Place in Moose Jaw, the Blades held a 3-2 lead in the second period, but the Warriors netted the equalizer to force a 3-3 tie heading into the second intermission. The Warriors scored three straight times in the third period to post a 6-3 victory before 3,243 spectators.
    Tanner Jeannot had a hat trick, Brayden Burke had two goals and two assists and Jayden Halbgewachs had a goal and an assist to power the Warriors. Justin Almeida had four assists for the hosts.
    Czech import defenceman Libor Hajek paced the Blades with a goal and two assists. Michael Farren and Josh Paterson picked up singles for the visitors.
    Brody Willlms made 28 saves to pick up the win in goal for the Warriors (18-5). Ryan Kubic turned away 31-of-36 shots taking the setback in goal for the Blades (8-12-1). The Warriors, who are rated second in the Canadian Hockey League’s Top 10 rankings, scored their final goal into an empty net.
    Last Wednesday, the Blades beat the Warriors 5-4 in Saskatoon.
    The Blades and Warriors will go at it again on Tuesday in Moose Jaw.

Parker picks up 70th SFMAAAHL career goal with OT winner

Mackenna Parker scored her 70th career goal on Sunday.
    Mackenna Parker had another big performance to ensure the Saskatoon Stars remained undefeated.
On Sunday at the Co-operators Centre in Regina, Parker had a pair of assists and the overtime winner to deliver the Stars to a 5-4 victory over the Regina Rebels. The Stars improved to 11-0, while the Rebels fell to 5-3-1.
    Parker’s overtime winner was her 70th career goal in Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League regular season play. She became just the third player in league history to record 70 career goals in regular season play.
    Saskatoon product Alyssa Wiebe, who played two seasons for the Notre Dame Hounds from 2006 to 2008, had 74 career regulars season goals, and Olivia Howe, who played four seasons for the Hounds from 2008 to 2012, is the SFMAAAHL’s all-time leader in career regular season goals at 107.
    In the Stars win over the Rebels on Sunday, Grace Shirley had a pair of goals for Saskatoon, while Joelle Fiala and Anna Leschyshyn had singles.
    Brooklyn Stevely had a pair of goals for the Rebels, while Tavia Terry and Jenna Merk had singles.
Arden Kliewer made 23 saves to pick up the win in goal for the Stars. Sadie Hastings turned away 19 shots to take the setback in goal for the Rebels.
    Parker is closing in on another milestone. In 92 career regular season games, the 17-year-old centre has 70 goals and 66 assists to sit third on the SFMAAAHL’s career scoring list with 136 points.
    The Clavet, Sask., product is just six points behind Wiebe for second on the SFMAAAHL’s career scoring list. Wiebe recorded 74 goals and 68 assists for 142 points in 55 career regular season games for the Hounds.
    Wiebe went on to star for the now defunct University of North Dakota women’s hockey team. For the past two seasons, Wiebe took up football and became a star receiver with the Saskatoon Valkyries of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League.
    Howe is the SFMAAAHL’s all-time leading scorer in career regular season points recording 107 goals and 100 assists for 207 points in 106 career games with the Hounds.
    In 11 games this season Parker has 21 goals and 17 assists. Earlier in the campaign, she passed Lauren Zary as the all-time leading scorer in the history of the Stars.
    Zary played four seasons for the Stars from 2008 to 2012 collecting 44 goals and 82 assists for 126 points in 103 career regular season games. An alumna of the Brown University Bears and U of Saskatchewan women’s hockey teams, Zary is still the Stars leader in career regular season assists, and she sits third all-time in the SFMAAAHL’s list for career regular season assists.
    The Stars return to action on Saturday, when they host the Melville Prairie Fire (4-7) at 7:45 p.m. at the Agriplace Arena.

Roughriders playoff run comes to a bittersweet end

Argonauts QB Ricky Ray (#15) sunk the Roughriders with a late TD drive.
    The underdog run for the Saskatchewan Roughriders through the 2017 season came up just short of Grey Cup berth.
    On Sunday at BMO Field in Toronto, Ont., the Roughriders appeared on the verge of pulling of a miraculous comeback in the East Final against the host Toronto Argonauts. The Roughriders entered the fourth quarter trailing the Argonauts 18-3 before rolling off 18 straight points.
    The surge was capped by 79 yard punt return touchdown by Christian Jones with 2:44 to play and a two-point conversion toss from quarterback Brandon Bridge to Naaman Roosevelt to give the Roughriders a 21-18 lead.
    Unfortunately for Roughriders fans, the Argonauts are led by one of the CFL’s all-time greats at the quarterback position in 38-year-old Ricky Ray. He proceeded to drive the Argonauts downfield on the ensuing series on a 10-play scoring drive that covered 68 yards.
    The drive included a critical 22-yard catch by running back James Wilder on a third-and-five gamble. It was capped by a one-yard touchdown run by short-yardage quarterback Cody Fajardo to give the Argonauts a 25-21 lead with 23 seconds to play, which held up as the game’s final outcome.
    In his CFL career, Ray quarterbacked the Edmonton Eskimos to Grey Cup championships in 2003 and 2005 and the Argonauts to a Grey Cup title in 2012. He is famous for coming though in big moments in big games. Sunday’s victory marked the 42nd time Ray has engineered a game winning fourth quarter drive in his CFL career.
    Ray completed 28-of-39 passes for 266 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the win for the Argonauts.
    Receiver Duron Carter had a solid night for the Roughriders hauling in six passes for 99 yards and one touchdown.
Duron Carter brought a lot of excitement to the Roughriders in 2017.
    The Argonauts, who are 10-9 overall, advance to the Grey Cup this coming Sunday in Ottawa to face the Calgary Stampeders, who are 14-4-1 overall. The Stampeders downed the Edmonton Eskimos 32-28 in the West Final in Calgary on Sunday. 
    The Roughriders wrap up the 2017 campaign with an 11-9 overall record, which included going 10-8 in the regular season. Before the season started, the Roughriders were predicted at best to just scrape into the CFL playoffs.
    They became an exciting team that contained a cast of characters that were fun to cheer for like Carter, defensive back Ed Gainey and Willie Jefferson. Everything positive that happened in the playoffs was a bonus. When the team came so close to making the Grey Cup, you start to realize how much you hoped to see them in that game on a fan front.
    Overall, the Roughriders had a good season, and they make a number of good memories in their first season at new Mosaic Stadium. It included Carter giving a touchdown ball to young cancer survivor Paige Hansen early in the campaign and the facility’s first Labour Day Classic win.
    Optimism has to be high for the Roughriders in 2018.

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