Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Canada’s university sports scene still matters

Katie Polischuk posts up down low for the Cougars.
    REGINA - It is crazy to think that university level women’s hoops games played in a small gym in the capital of Saskatchewan about 16 to 20 years ago can still matter.
    If you were in Regina last weekend, you saw one big example that Canada’s university sports teams that play under the league umbrella called U Sports and that entire scene still matters. Last Saturday, the alums from the University of Regina Cougars basketball teams gathered for an alumni and family night to remember the last Crystal (Heisler) McGregor, who passed away from cancer in May of 2014. 
    The function was held as part of the Cougars hoops games that were played that night against the University of Calgary Dinos.
    McGregor last played for the Cougars in March of 2002, but during her playing days, she cemented herself as arguably the team’s most likable star. She was one of many key players that helped the Cougars rise to national prominence in the late 1990s and early 2000s, which included winning a national championship in 2001 with a 94-85 victory over the University of Alberta Pandas in Edmonton.
    Most of the Cougars home games were played in front crowds that were shoehorned packed the stands at the small Physical Activity Centre.
Michaela Kleisinger, right, drives down court for the Cougars.
    On the court, McGregor, who developed her love for the game rising in Regina’s minor basketball scene, was known for her deadly outside shot and her tendency to pass the ball.
    Off the court, she was just as well known for her infectious smile, ability to fill any room she stepped in with positive energy and greet anybody with her perky catch phrase, “Hi buddy.”
    After graduating from the U of R, McGregor remained involved in the Regina basketball community coaching school and club teams until her cancer diagnosis in January of 2012. Like many of the players from the Cougars women’s teams in the late 1990s and early 2000s, McGregor achieved celebrity status in Regina.
    Her status never diminished after her playing days concluded, because of how beautifully she carried herself in her career and with the family she started to raise of daughter, Aija, and son, Zayden, with her husband, Paul.
Christina McCusker, right, hands the ball off to Avery Pearce.
    Countless former players, coaches and staffers made it back to Regina for that alumni and family night from all eras, but especially McGregor’s era. 
    Cymone (Bouchard) Bernauer, who was the greatest star of the Cougars women’s basketball team, refers to McGregor as the best teammate and mentor.
    I was also one of the returnees having covered the Cougars hoops teams and helped them with media items during McGregor’s era.
    Even in the present day, the current Cougars women’s basketball team still holds a special place in the heart of the Regina community.
    It seems fitting all of the Cougars players from the Regina area, which comprises the majority of the team, were coached at some point in their lives by an alum of the Cougars women’s program.
Seeing info for fundraisers like this get shredded hurt.
    There is an excitement in the community about the fact the U of R will host the U Sports women’s basketball national championship tournament in 2018.
    That whole weekend reminded me how powerful an impact the university sports teams in Canada can have on their respective communities. The local heroes and role models those teams create are important. Those players also do their part to give back to ensure their local communities remain healthy when they are playing and when they move on to their post-playing days.
    For me in what seems like a just a more general negative era for the world where the mainstream media in Canada has been slashed to less than skeleton crew size, I feel like I run into way too many people who couldn’t care less about the Canadian university sports scene.
    They think it is inferior because it is not the National Collegiate Athletic Association in the United States and put me down for wanting to be involved in it at all. They have no idea how much commitment and training the athletes put into being good at their sports and excelling in the classroom.
    As I currently live in Saskatoon, I remember going to a company I was doing contract work for and watched a manager give no second thought to shredding pamphlets and information for the Off the Leash Luncheon, which is a major fundraiser for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team.
My column on Kaitlin Willoughby received praise.
    I know the University of Saskatchewan Huskies athletic program carries a huge importance to the community of Saskatoon, and I have spent a lot of time covering the Huskies men’s and women’s hockey teams and hold them close to my heart.  
    When I saw those Off the Leash Luncheon items get shredded, my heart broke at that moment.
    I have run into people who just couldn’t believe I would spend a Friday or Saturday night at a Huskies event or even drive two-and-a-half hours on the highway to go to a University of Regina athletics event.
    I find the slashed mainstream media treats U Sports as little kids’ sports these days almost to a point they don’t matter.
    Actually, the Western Hockey League beat writer is an endangered species in Western Canada, so you can already see the trouble the university sports scene or any local sports scene faces in battling for exposure.
    Still, I find reminders that even though the negative voices are loud they are also in the minority. My overwhelming positive response to a column I wrote on Kaitlin Willoughby, who is a star forward of the Huskies women’s hockey team, shows there is still a current demand to have local heroes.
    In women’s athletics, Canadian university teams are one of the rare places you can find these local heroes.
    Of course in Saskatoon, you have to give high praise to the Saskatoon Valkyries women’s football team and the Saskatoon Stars female midget AAA hockey team for doing their part to produce high quality role models in women’s sports.
The Cougars men’s basketball team begins to celebrate an upset win.
    Also, one just has to look at the uproar over how the departure of legendary Huskies football head coach Brian Towriss was handled late last December to show how much passion can still engulf the Canadian university sports scene.
    As for last Saturday in Regina, the current Cougars basketball teams added the capper for the packed gym at the U of R’s Centre for Kinesiology Health and Sport. The women’s team romped over the Dinos 83-46, while the men’s team pulled out a thrilling last-second 82-81 victory over the U of C.
    That further sparked a celebration from alums to current players that went well into the night.
    U Sports still matters, and that should never be forgotten.

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

Friday, 27 January 2017

Zary ends goal drought, becomes Huskies latest OT hero

Huskies captain Lauren Zary, right, celebrates her OT winning goal.
    REGINA - Lauren Zary was relieved to see a lengthy personal goal-scoring drought come to an end, and as a bonus, it came to an end in dramatic fashion.
    On Friday night at the Co-operators Centre in Regina, Zary’s University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey was locked in a 1-1 draw in overtime with the host University of Regina Cougars, and the visitors were carrying play in the four-on-four extra session. With 34 seconds to play in the frame, talented rookie forward Bailee Bourassa slipped a smart pass to Zary down low.
    The Huskies captain proceeded to get around Cougars goalie Morgan Baker and tuck home the winning goal to give the green and white a 2-1 victory. The win marked the fourth time this season the Huskies earned an extra time victory.
    Zary’s tally also ended a personal goalless drought that spanned 11 games. Her previous goal came way back in the first semester on Nov. 18 in a 5-3 home victory over the U of Calgary Dinos.
    “I definitely got the monkey off my back,” said Zary, who has five goals and 13 assists in 23 games so far this season. “I feel like maybe I haven’t put in as many pucks as I have wanted to these past couple of games.
    “It was a nice pass by Bailee (Bourassa), and I was fortunate enough to be able to go around the goalie and get that in.”
Huskies captain Lauren Zary controls the puck in the offensive zone.
    Zary’s goal ended what was at times a choppy game between the Huskies and Cougars, who were both missing key players. U of S was without star forward Kaitlin Willoughby, who has joined Canada’s women’s hockey team for the FISU Winter Universiade in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Offensive defender Leah Bohlken and two-way forward Elizabeth Salyn were both out due to injury.
    The Cougars were without Jaycee Magwood, Kylie Gavelin and Alexis Larson, who also joined Canada’s team for the Winter Universiade. U of R dressed just 16 skaters due to injuries.
    With the absences, the Huskies managed to jump out to a 1-0 lead just 24 seasons into Friday clash, when rookie forward Emily Upgang netted her third goal of the season. U of S almost went ahead by two goals in the opening 20 minutes when Cougars rookie goalie Morgan Baker gave the puck away to Huskies fifth-year forward Rachel Johnson. Baker bailed herself out by turning away Johnson’s drive from the front of the goal.
Rachel Johnson wins a race for a loose puck for the Huskies.
    In the second period, Huskies standout netminder Cassidy Hendricks went to work, as the Cougars came with a big push back. Hendricks turned away Cougars fourth-year forward Bailey Braden on a breakaway and made a couple bailout saves off giveaways by her teammates.
    “It was a little stressful to be honest,” said Hendricks. “I just like spoke to my team and let them know we have this.
    “We have to be confident. You just have to like not think about it. It is going to happen either way.
    “Hockey is a game of mistakes. You just have to stay cool and confident.”
    After those big stops, the Cougars forced a 1-1 tie with 4:30 to play in the second, when fifth-year forward Meghan Sherven netted her first of the campaign.
    Hendricks made a couple of big saves at the start of the third, before the Huskies hit high gear and the Cougars started to show some fatigue. Zary and Bourassa both had sound scoring chances for the U of S, and inside of the final minute of the third, fourth-year forward Kori Herner was stopped on a chance when she was in alone on Baker.
Emily Upgang was all smiles after scoring the Huskies first goal.
    “When they tied the game up there, I feel like it kind of kicked the fire under us in that third period and overtime,” said Zary. “We have to win this game. I definitely feel like we’re the better team. We are a better team, when we are playing how we can play.
    “I think the girls really beared down there in that overtime. We knew we had to win this game, and we just wanted to.”
    The Huskies had the only five shots in overtime, and Zary potted the winner on the fifth chance.
Hendricks made 18 stops to pick up the win in goal for the Huskies (13-7-3). Baker turned away 25 shots taking the loss in goal for the Cougars (12-10-1).
    “I am just so glad we got the win,” said Hendricks. “I always just hate playing against Regina for some reason.
    “Knowing they swept us earlier in the season, it was just so much more satisfying to get it.”
    The two teams go at it again on Saturday at 7 p.m. at the ancient Rutherford Rink on the University of Saskatchewan campus in Saskatoon.

Hendricks moves into third all-time in Canada West wins

Huskies goalie Cassidy Hendricks holds off Cougars forward Bailey Braden.
    Hendricks picked up a cool milestone in Friday’s win.
    The North Vancouver, B.C., product picked up her 55th career regular season victory to move her alone into third place for career victories in the Canada West Conference. Hendricks passed former U of Alberta Pandas netminder Dana Vinge, who recorded 54 victories from 2006 to 2010.
    Lindsey Post, who is completing her fifth season with the Pandas, sits second in Canada West career victories with 59 wins. Stacey Corfield tops the Canada West career wins list with 64 victories playing goal for the U of Manitoba Bisons from 2005 to 2010.
    “I honestly didn’t know until (Huskies assistant coach) Dave (Westbury) just told me now,” said Hendricks about the milestone. “That is pretty impressive that I’ve been given so many opportunities to play that much and get those wins.
    “I don’t really put it on myself. It was a team effort type of thing. I am just grateful.”
    In her career, Hendricks has posted a 55-41-13 record, a 2.05 goals against average, a .923 save percentage and 12 shutouts in 112 games.

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

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Recognizing and respecting triggers is key for mental health

I am spending time contemplating triggers in my home office.
    I almost despise it, but I realize I have to respect the word “trigger” when it comes to mental health.
    In mental health terms, a trigger can refer to anything that produces a memory of a past trauma you once went through. That memory forces you into a defensive style of self-protection and results in some type of reaction.
    A trigger can be anything from a word, an action, a smell, a place or even the face of a person who looked like someone that did something bad to you.
    Since November of 2012, I have known I have had issues dealing with anxiety. The issues rose due to a mental health issue I discovered in my workplace at the time, which was the Medicine Hat News. That resulted in a whole host of spinoff problems.
    There is still a stigma around mental health issues, and they are unfortunately still treated as the elephant in the room in too many circles. I try to make it a tradition every Bell Let’s Talk day to write about my experiences on the mental health front in the hopes it will help others.
    Now having lived about two-and-a-half years in Saskatoon, I still find it a battle to deal with triggers. Besides the difficulties I faced in the last three years I lived in the Medicine Hat, I believe there were battles that occurred actually for the last five years I lived in the Hat that sometimes affect me now. A trigger will put me in back into one of those battle or trauma moments, and I didn’t even realize it was a problem.
    I still can’t believe how quickly my emotions will switch, when I am triggered. I also hate how I react to others around me, when I am triggered.
    One spot I really have to be mindful of triggers is when I am watching the six o’clock news with my mom. When I am alone and the news is on, I watch it passively and my mind is shut off.
    My mom has a tendency to react at times to every story with a freaked out emotion. My mind ends up jumping back into a staff slashed newsroom during my final two years in the Hat. It seemed like a major story there broke every second week, and everybody was in a panic.
    There was a constant anxiety about getting all the information you needed to finish a story before a deadline. Reporters often got at each other, and depending on the story, some would freak out emotionally.
    When my mom reacts to the news on television, I jump up and freak out trying to explain how things likely played out like they did in the story. I constantly have to try and catch myself from going off and try to kindly let my mom know I want to passively watch the newscast.
Working a Tigers scrum in 2014.
    After my shifts as a sports reporter in the Hat, I actually didn’t watch any media type programs when I got home at around 11:30 p.m. To get calmed down, I usually passively watched Robot Chicken or Sex and the City reruns, which were on nightly at that time. Those program choices were so off the wall for me it allowed my mind to escape from everything.
    Triggers also show up in another way. When I have two or three projects on the go at one time that I am trying to get done on a deadline, my mind gets locked in a set plan of how I have to go about completing everything. I try to lock everything else out.
    Sometimes if someone approaches me with a request, I lash out because it is interfering with what I am doing. It would flash me back to the newsroom in Medicine Hat, where it seemed at times you were in a constant battle to stay on track and get places in a timely fashion in the sports department. You were ruled by the clock, and you freaked when you could feel time was slipping away or wasn’t being used constructively.
    One of the worst recent triggers for me came when a woman I would go long stretches without seeing in the local sports scene here in Saskatoon shut me down on all lines of communication in order to cut down on distractions. That triggered a traumatic memory from my time in Medicine Hat.
    In a situation that was 65 per cent similar, I got jumped in a night club by a boyfriend of a woman I knew that was involved in the local sports scene, who I only saw once every six months. The boyfriend was also involved in the local sports scene. They were having relationship problems, and unknown to me, I became part of the problem somewhere just for talking to her at some point in time.
    I didn’t see of the bad stuff coming due to lack of interaction with the two.
    When I lived in the Hat, I also had a high profile due to the fact I covered WHL’s Tigers for the daily paper. The incident occurred in December of 2009, so my life at the time was really upbeat. I learned that having a high profile when your life is going good can provide the combination to make you a target for someone who was having a rough spot in their life.
    Security took care of things fast, and I came away with just a couple of bruises. I went on social media when I when home that night and realize the woman I was jumped over shut me down on all lines of communication. We had never been romantically involved.
    A new boundary was also set up where we could never talk again for the rest of our lives. We still haven’t talked to this day.
    When I got shut down by the woman that was involved in sports in Saskatoon, I did have a panic attack, where I went home and shut down for the night. I thought what happened in the Hat was going to repeat itself despite the fact I have never had troubles with her sports involved boyfriend. Looking back, I shut down over nothing.
    Actually, if I feel I am getting cornered in a night club, my defence mechanisms will go off. I will move to areas where I am close to bartenders or security members I know, and I will constantly keep my head on a swivel and the “Spider Sense” up. That also comes from the night out difficulty I had in the Hat.
    With triggers, half the battle is recognizing the fact you have been triggered. Once you recognize you have been triggered, you have to work to catch yourself and take an emotional step back. From there, you try to get as many facts about what you are dealing with as possible to make a decision to move forward.
    Actually on the plus side, I get triggered a lot less than I did, when I first moved to Saskatoon. When I first came to the Bridge City, it seemed everything kind of freaked me back to my difficult times in the Hat.
    As for the present, my biggest trigger battle might be convincing my mom to maybe watch something different instead of the news when we eat together during the dinner hour. I guess I should find out if Sex and the City is on somewhere in the multichannel universe.

Back in the Express with K of C Games

Astrid Nyame, left, and Jared Olson have some fun at the fieldhouse.
    I was back in the Saskatoon Express this week with an article that leads up to the annual K of C Games.
    The piece features recent University of Saskatchewan Huskies track and field grad Jared Olson and current Huskies track standout Astrid Nyame, who is in her final season of eligibility. 
    Both talk about their experiences with annual K of C Games, which have been held for 52 straight years.
    There are also catch up tidbits with both athletes. The story can be found right here.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com. My Bell Let’s Talk post from last year called “Feeling connected calms the mental health seas” can be found right here. A piece called “My Mental Health Story” can be found here. Another post I like that I wrote in February of 2015 about my mental health journey call “Huskies hockey was good for me” can be found here. The photo from the Medicine Hat Tigers media scrum in 2014 is courtesy of Dave Dawson

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Willo strikes again for Huskies

Star forward delivers a classic finish for U of S

Kaitlin Willoughby, centre, celebrates her OT winner.
    Kaitlin Willoughby played like she was from another world and delivered what was the biggest moment of the season so far for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team.
    On Saturday night at the ancient Rutherford Rink, Willoughby’s Huskies went into overtime locked in a 4-4 draw with the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds, who are ranked first in the CIS top ten rankings. Of the opening faceoff of the extra session, Huskies captain Lauren Zary won the draw to Willoughby who went to work.
    She sped down the left wing into the Thunderbirds zone, cut to the net and sniped the winning goal top corner past diving Thunderbirds defender Kelly Murray and netminder Amelia Boughn. The tally nine seconds into the extra session delivered the Huskies to a 5-4 victory. Willoughby’s winner erased the disappointment in the fact the Huskies saw leads of 3-0 and 4-2 disappear.
    The 21-year-old Prince Albert product also scored the most famous overtime winner in the history of the Huskies women’s hockey program in her rookie campaign back in the 2013-14 season. Her double overtime winner in the series deciding Game 3 of the Canada West championship series against the U of Regina Cougars gave the Huskies a 2-1 victory in that contest and a 2-1 victory in the series.
Kaitlin Willoughby gets set to snip her OT winner.
    That shot came from a mid-range distance near the left boards. Her OT winner on Saturday was way more spectacular.
    Actually, Willoughby, who is in her fourth year of eligibility, arguably played the two best games of her university career this past weekend launching herself on to Canada’s women’s hockey team for the FISU Winter Universiade. The event runs from Jan. 29 to Feb. 8 in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and Willoughby departs in short order to join the Canadian team to prepare for that event. That means she will miss the Huskies next four games.
    Against the Thunderbirds on Friday and Saturday at Rutherford, Willoughby played with intensity and with a huge chip on her shoulder. She assisted on the Huskies only goal on Friday in their 2-1 double overtime loss to the Thunderbirds. Her OT winner on Saturday was the only point she had in that contest.
    In both games, Willoughby could have had larger nights statistically. On the ice, she seemed a step faster than she normally is and much more powerful physically than she usually is. It felt like she won every one-on-one physical battle or any other battle where she was outnumbered.
    Her passes were that much more crisp and Boughn, who played both nights in net for the Thunderbirds, had to be that much more on her toes to stop Willoughby’s shots. For large stretches especially in Friday’s game, Willoughby basically imposed her will on what was going on and dominated play. If you were at the Ruthy on both nights this weekend, you realized you saw something special, when Willoughby stepped on the ice.
Kaitlin Willoughby celebrates scoring her OT winner.
    Despite her heroics over her career, Willoughby isn’t as big of a star as she should due to all the cuts in the mainstream media. When she scored her OT winner on Saturday, there were no mainstream outlets to spread the news and images of that moment, because they were all concentrated at the home opener of the Saskatchewan Rush of the National Lacrosse League.
    In a past era, mainstream outlets had the ability to staff both events. As far as female athletics go at the University of Saskatchewan, Lisa Thomaidis, who is the head coach of the Huskies women’s basketball team, is the only one who has a far reaching high profile.
    When Thomaidis’s hoopsters won a national title last season, it marked the swan song of fifth-year veteran star post player Dalyce Emmerson, who also happens to be a Prince Albert product. Emmerson, who was a Canada West player of the year in 2014, was well-known on campus, but it never felt like she was a household name in the community of Saskatoon at large.
Kaitlin Willoughby clears the puck out of harms way in the defensive zone.
    Willoughby and her younger sister and Huskies teammate, Morgan, are well-known in their hometown, but the neither are household names in Saskatoon. With her resume of heroics and due to the fact she plays in Saskatoon on a regular basis, Kaitlin Willoughby should be a household name. She is arguably the biggest female star right now in the Huskies Athletics program.
    It seems female athletes need to be on Olympic teams or go to the NCAA to get any notoriety these days. That wasn’t always the case.
    One just has to look at Regina for one example in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the University of Regina Cougars women’s basketball team came into national prominence under then head coach Christine Stapleton. The Cougars hoopsters of Stapleton’s era won a number of conference titles and a national title in 2001.
Kaitlin Willoughby breaks into the offensive zone for the Huskies.
    During that time, the Cougars women’s basketball team was elevated to a level of importance that matched the Regina Rams football team and the Regina Pats WHL club. Stapleton’s players became celebrities in the community, and are still remembered to this day.
    The Cougars biggest star of that time was Cymone Bouchard, who was viewed in Regina like she was Michael Jordan. Bouchard’s rise through the athletic scene in Regina was well covered, as she was a star in every sport she played growing up and in high school. When she chose to play basketball in university and play for the Cougars, her choices were treated as major news.
    With the Cougars, Bouchard filled weekly highlight reels with unbelievable plays, and would go to the mall and often have to sign autographs for 30 little girls that immediately recognized her. She spent time in Canada’s national team program, and for about three years after she exhausted her eligibility with the Cougars, she was often viewed by girls in Regina and hoopsters in other communities as “the idol.”
Kaitlin Willoughby zips up the left wing for the Huskies.
    Bouchard had the total package. She was attractive and extremely athletic, but more importantly, she immediately elevated the Cougars team by her presence and had an extremely impressive self-confidence. She was also very personable to interact with, which made her the ideal athlete to look up too.
    The Cougars and Bouchard received that elevated platform, because they got a push.
    In the current media slashed era, Emmerson didn’t get that same push, which looking back has to be viewed as a missed opportunity.
    Willoughby has earned the chance to get that same type of push. In her case, it feels like there is another missed opportunity that is falling through the cracks, and she still has another full season of eligibility left to play.
The Huskies mob Kaitlin Willoughby after she scores her OT winner.
    She would perfectly fit the role of household name role model. Anyone would be wise to check out a Huskies game and see her play before she exhausts her eligibility. Willoughby won’t disappoint.
    As far as the other scoring went in Saturday’s U of S win, Rachel Johnson, Emily Upgang, Kori Herner and Bailee Bourassa all netted singles for the Huskies (12-7-3) on Saturday. Cassidy Hendricks turned away 17 shots to pick up the win in the U of S net.
    Nicole Saxvik scored twice for the Thunderbirds (18-3-1), while Kelly Murray and Hannah Clayton-Carroll had singles. Boughn stopped 21 shots to take the loss in the UBC net.
    The Huskies return to action this coming Friday, when they travel to Regina to face the Cougars.

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

Friday, 20 January 2017

Thunderbirds withstand Huskies' fight

UBC's Haneet Parhar (#12) battles U of S's Elizabeth Salyn (#3) for the puck.
    In what may have been one of their most intense performances of the season, the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team deserved a way better fate.
    On Friday night at the ancient Rutherford Rink, the Huskies showed the grit and character that is currently being displayed by the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades. Facing the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds who top the U Sports women’s hockey top 10 rankings, the Huskies didn’t back down anywhere and took the fight to their foes, which at times meant literally. The squads engaged in a few post-whistle scrums.
    When the dust settled, the Thunderbirds, like any top ranked club, found a way to pull a victory out of what was an extremely hot fire. Playing in a three-on-three double overtime period, the Thunderbirds broke in on a two-on-one break, when the Huskies were still trying to change a couple of players.
Huskies forward Kaitlin Willoughby wins a battle for a loose puck.
    Mathea Fischer, who is from Oslo, Norway, fed a nice pass past a Huskies defender to lineman Nicole Saxvik, and the fifth year forward buried her ninth goal of the season to deliver the Thunderbirds to a 2-1 victory. The Thunderbirds improved to 18-3, while the Huskies fell to 11-7-3.
In defeat, the Huskies showed the potential they have.
    The Thunderbirds started the contest with a mini momentum spurt, before things turned in favour of the home side. At the 7:19 mark of the opening frame, speedy forward Kaitlin Willoughby set up Elizabeth Salyn for her third goal of the season on just the Huskies second shot of the contest.
    From that point, the Huskies came at the Thunderbirds in waves. UBC rookie goalie Amelia Boughn stood on her head to ensure the Huskies didn’t get ahead by more, as U of S had a 10-7 edge in shots after 20 minutes.
Huskies forward Danielle Nogier fights for the puck along the boards.
    In the second, the Huskies created more scoring chances, but couldn’t find the back of the net. Willoughby set up fifth-year forward Rachel Johnson in the slot with a nice pass through traffic. Johnson didn’t get all of the puck on her shot, and Boughn came up with the stop.
    With their effort, there were times the Huskies were a little too aggressive, which resulted in the Thunderbirds getting four straight power-plays in the second frame. On the third of those opportunities, Fischer beat Huskies netminder Cassidy Hendricks with a high looping shot to tie things up at 1-1.
    In the third, the Huskies really kept bringing the pressure. Right off the opening faceoff, Willoughby blew in on a breakaway and wired a shot that just missed the top corner of the UBC goal.
    A short time later, fourth-year forward Kori Herner found herself on a breakaway, but she was denied by Boughn. The UBC goalie gave up a rebound on Herner’s shot, which allowed Johnson a scoring chance, but she was also stopped.

The Thunderbirds, left, celebrate their overtime winning goal.
    Following those opportunities, Willoughby, who was playing with as aggressiveness similar to former Prince Albert Raiders defenceman Chris Schlenker, found herself on another breakaway, but Boughn came up big again for the Thunderbirds.
    Near the end of the third, rookie forward Bailee Bourassa, who used to pile up the goals for the Weyburn Gold Wings midget AAA team, had two chances in close but was unable to find the go-ahead tally.
    After the two teams played through a scoreless four-on-four overtime period, that set the stage for the Thunderbirds to get the winner in the second extra frame.
    Boughn made 27 mostly extremely hard stops for the Thunderbirds. Hendricks turned away 23 shots in net for the Huskies.
    The Huskies biggest hurt came from the fact they went 0-for-5 on the power play. So far this season, they have converted on just 10.8 per cent of their chances with the one person advantage.
    The two teams go at it again on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Rutherford.

Woytowich honoured in Play for a Cure

Hailey Woytowich, centre, drops the puck for a ceremonial faceoff.
    Tonight’s Huskies game was a big one for my family as my young cousin Hailey Woytowich dropped the puck for the ceremonial faceoff as part of the Huskie Play for a Cure game.
    Woytowich graduated from Bethlehem Catholic High School last June, while fighting cancer. At one point in time, she had a big lump on her neck, while fighting the disease. She had surgery over the summer and was declared cancer free.
    With that bit of news, she became the first person in my family that I know of to survive a battle with cancer. Cancer has taken the lives of many members of my family.
    Woytowich was brought to centre ice by another one of my young cousins in Danielle Nogier, who is a rookie forward with the Huskies, and fifth-year defender Alyssa Dobler, who is Woytowich’s neighbour and a long time best friend.
    Woytowich, who was nervous about the puck drop, made quick work of the formalities quickly dropping the puck between Huskies captain Lauren Zary and Thunderbirds captain Stephanie Schaupmeyer. Following the game, Woytowich also got Nogier’s game jersey as a keepsake.
    Since I moved back to Saskatoon in the summer of 2014, I still have a hard time keeping track of all my family members. I believe I speak for everyone in thanking the Huskies for the special night.

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

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Blades are legit for real

Josh Paterson (#61) leads a rush out of his own end for the Blades.
    The Saskatoon Blades have become one of the teams you don’t want to see if you are an upper echelon club in the WHL.
    Having missed the playoffs for three straight seasons since hosting the Memorial Cup in 2013, the Blades were usually chalked up as somewhat of an automatic win game by their opponents. The current campaign could have been a write off too, when you consider their best player in centre Cameron Hebig hasn’t played since suffering an upper body injury in the pre-season and a number of the team’s other top players have missed big stretches due to injury.
    The injury bug also took right-winger Mason McCarty out of the Saskatoon lineup with a lower body injury suffered on Nov. 25, 2016 in a 3-2 home victory over the Brandon Wheat Kings. The 19-year-old Blackie, Alta., product still isn’t expected to return for some time.
Braylon Shmyr had two goals and an assist for the Blades.
    Despite the injuries, Dean Brockman, who is in his first year guiding the Blades as head coach, seems to find a way to keep the team pushing forward by believing in the healthy guys that dress. Having put together a storied career as a bench boss of the Humboldt Broncos of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, Brockman always believes good people make good players, and it appears he is surrounded by a lot of good people in the Blades dressing room.
    As the season has gone on, the Blades players have shown noticeable improvement. On Wednesday night at the SaskTel Centre, they faced a measuring stick game against the Central Division leading Medicine Hat Tigers.
    The Blades lost their three previous encounters with the Tigers this season by a combined score of 19-6. When the two clubs last met at the SaskTel Centre on Nov. 26, 2016, the Tigers skated the Blades out of the rink to the tune of an 8-2 drubbing.
    Effort wise after that loss, the Blades didn’t pack it in. Instead, they manufactured one of their big turning points with a 2-1 overtime upset victory over the Pats in Regina on Dec. 10, 2016. The Pats have topped the Canadian Hockey League’s top 10 rankings for much of the campaign.
Logan Flodell has been stellar all season in goal for the Blades.
    That road win was the biggest victory of the season for the Blades. Still, they were in search of a defining home win over a top caliber club.
    On Wednesday against the Tigers, the Blades showed they were a much different team than the last time the two clubs met coming away with a 5-3 victory. The Tigers, who fell to 30-14-1, held a 51-28 edge in shots on goal, but it never felt like the Blades were in trouble even when the visitors carried play.
    The first key to the win was the play of netminder Logan Flodell, who made 48 saves to pick up the win in goal. Flodell has been stellar all season, and gives the Blades a chance to win every night.
    It should also be noted that Brock Hamm, who is the Blades other goalie, has played well in his last seven starts after being in what seemed like a slump that would never end. Brockman should be given credit for sticking with Hamm for a lot longer than most coaches would.
Michael Farren gets the puck out of the Blades own zone.
    The Tigers carried play to start Wednesday’s encounter, but the Blades calmly weathered the storm. In the last 5:23 of the opening frame, the hosts exploded for three goals as left-winger Braylon Shmyr scored twice, and overage centre Jesse Shynkaruk netted his first of two on the night. All three tallies came off good set ups in the offensive zone.
    Centre Logan Christensen score at the 2:02 mark of the second to put Saskatoon up 4-0.
    As any top rate team would do, the Tigers battled back. Near the midway point of the second, import defenceman Kristians Rubins blasted home a goal on the power play, and centre James Hamblin tucked home a tally on a penalty shot to cut the Blades edge to 4-2. At that point, there were thoughts that the Saskatoon lead could evaporate.
    The Tigers proceeded to get into penalty trouble, and while working a five-on-three power play, Shynkaruk netted his second of the contest on a nice feed in the slot to give Saskatoon a 5-2 edge.
Logan Christensen fires a snap jump shot on goal for the Blades.
    Left-winger Ryan Jevne scored for the Tigers early in the third to round out the game’s scoring.
In the win, Blades stayed composed and received strong shifts from all four of their forward lines. Their top unit of Shmyr, Shynkaruk and Josh Paterson combined for four goals and three assists.
    Right-winger Caleb Fantillo proved he could fulfil the pest role for the Blades. He got under the skin of Tigers goalie Michael Bullion in the first period and withstood a big blocker shot from the netminder. Bullion made 23 stops taking the loss in the Tigers net.
    The Blades defense seems more solid especially after they acquired Clavet product Evan Fiala in a trade with the Spokane Chiefs before the WHL Christmas break. Fiala, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 205 pounds, is a physical presence in front of the net who is tough to play against.
    The Blades were missing that type of presence on the back end before Fiala’s arrival. Fiala is also popular in local hockey circles, which is another bonus.
Tigers goalie Michael Bullion decks Blades left-winger Caleb Fantillo.
    With the win over the Tigers before a sparse crowd of 2,608, the Blades improved their winning streak to three games and their record to 18-22-5-1. At the moment, Saskatoon sits eighth overall and holds the final playoff berth in the WHL’s Eastern Conference.
    They sit two points ahead of the Edmonton Oil Kings (18-22-3-1) and the Calgary Hitmen (17-20-4-2) in the standings. The Oil Kings and Hitmen have two and three games respectively in hand on the Blades.
    The Blades are a legitimate participant in the race to make the playoffs. They have also found the ingredients to beat top teams like the Pats and Tigers.
    What the Blades don’t have are enough pieces to content for a league title or a Memorial Cup, but they present a big headache to any opponent that crosses their path. Any of the Eastern Conference’s top teams would have to be weary of any possible post-season encounter with the Blades.

Lazaruk calls his 1,700 game

Les Lazaruk calls his 1,700th game as the Blades play-by-play voice.
    Les Lazaruk hit a milestone on Wednesday calling his 1,700th game as the play-by-play voice of the Blades.
    Lazaruk began calling Blades games at the start of the 1994-95 season after spending over a decade working in Winnipeg, which included 10-and-a-half years hosting the hour long pre-game and post-game shows of the original Winnipeg Jets game broadcasts for CJOB radio.
    During his time calling games in the WHL, Lazaruk has built a reputation for being one of the best in the business. He also bring a great professionalism and class to his trade. Fans also love his trademark energetic calls of Blades goals.
    Lazaruk has become so closely branded with Blades broadcasts you almost couldn’t imagine another person making those calls.
    Lazaruk will make his next call on Friday, when the Blades host the Brandon Wheat Kings at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre.

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

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Huskies who rock

Kaitlin Willoughby is all smiles after a goal.
    The University of Saskatchewan Huskies had a tough Christmas season over how the resignation of football head coach Brian Towriss played out, but there are still lots of good people who are involved with that athletics program.
    Due to the awkward news conference that happened on Dec. 19, 2016 to announce Towriss was stepping down, fury went up around Huskies alums and current players from football and the other sports that comprise the 15 total teams from the athletics program. Supporters from all the program’s teams were also very unhappy about that move. 
    The fury was so great that an apology was released by U of S president Peter Stoicheff regarding how that situation was handled.
    While a lot of former athletes and current ones were upset over that situation, an educated guess leaves me to believe the memories and attachment to the Huskies logo and colours will make the hurt feelings disappear over time. I believe some alums and supporters have already started to return to games after about a couple of weeks despite saying they wouldn’t be back for a lengthy time.
    In the present, there is still a second half of the U Sports season that needs to be played out, and the Huskies teams that are in action can still do some special things.
    The Huskies teams are still represented by a large number of quality individuals. As the Huskies like to give out what they call their seven major awards at the end of every season, here are seven outstanding individuals that represent the green and white.

Kaitlin Willoughby

Kaitlin Willoughby breaks up ice for the Huskies.
    Willoughby is the extremely likeable and sweet star of the Huskies women’s hockey team.
    Actually, trying to dislike this 21-year-old Prince Albert product is like trying to hate Bambi. You just can’t do it.
    As a rookie in 2013-14, the speedy and skilled forward cemented her spot in the history of the Huskies hockey program, when she scored the double overtime winner in a series deciding Game 3 of the Canada West championship to give the Huskies a 2-1 victory over the U of Regina Cougars at the ancient Rutherford Rink. 
    The win marked the first time the Huskies women’s team won a Canada West title, and they would capture a bronze medal at nationals. She also happened to become the U Sports rookie of the year collecting 10 goals and 15 assists in 28 regular season games.
    Her production wasn’t just a one-year thing. In 102 regular season games, Willoughby has piled up 38 goals and 49 assists despite always facing extra attention from the opposition. She has eight goals and eight assists in 20 games this season, and she will play for Canada’s women’s team at the FISU Winter Universiade, which runs Jan. 29 to Feb. 8 in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
    Willoughby is loved by her teammates on any of her teams past and present and by a large number of players from the other Huskies teams. While she is sweet, she can get fired up on the ice, if someone takes a liberty or cheap shot at one of her teammates or her. It is a side her opponents would be wise not to bring out of her or you might find out she can be traditional P.A. Raiders tough.
    On a night by night basis, Willoughby alone makes it worth the price of admission to attend any Huskies women’s hockey game, and she is a player you can never go wrong with supporting.

Emmalyn Copping

Emmalyn Copping nails a kill.
    Copping is the big city girl who has made her life in the smaller city.
    The Calgary, Alta., product arrived on campus before the start of the 2013-14 campaign to play for the Huskies women’s volleyball team. She quickly established herself as a standout outside hitter averaging 2.53 kills per set and 2.04 digs per set in her career, and she has also made her life in “the Bridge City.”
    Usually, players that live outside of Saskatoon return home for the summer months. Copping ended up working full time in Saskatoon. She became well known as first a courteous server at Earls before moving on to keep customers upbeat when they pass through the doors of Hudsons.
    She kept a fairly busy schedule in summer.  When she wasn’t training to prepare for volleyball season, Copping was working.
    On the court, Copping helped bring respect back to the Huskies women’s volleyball team. The Huskies were last a powerhouse squad back in the 2001-02 campaign posting a 16-4 regular season record, when setter Carlee Thorsen and middle Lindsay Bothner were stars for the green and white. Since that time, the Huskies have often struggled to earn five wins in regular season play.
    With Copping, the Huskies posted a 9-13 mark in her first year in 2013-14 and a 10-14 record last season. Both of those marks are the best records the Huskies have posted since the 2001-02 campaign.
    Before she joined the Huskies, Copping spent one season with the Medicine Hat College Rattlers women’s volleyball team of the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference in 2012-13. She shined on and off the court there and became really well known for keeping an eye on the two young sons of then Rattlers men’s volleyball coach Steve Russell.
    When the Huskies make community appearances, Copping, who is positive and sweet, shines when she interacts with young fans.
    Copping is currently playing her final season of U Sports eligibility. You can bet she will do her best to help the Huskies earn their first Canada West playoff berth since that 2001-02 campaign.

Matt Forbes

Matt Forbes (#13) looks to drive the ball for the Huskies.
    How key is Forbes to the Huskies men’s basketball team?
    So far this season, the Huskies have already equaled last season’s total of regular season victories at eight. The Huskies are 8-4 in 12 games this season after posting an 8-12 record in 2015-16.
    Forbes was supposed to play out his final campaign of U Sports eligibility last season, but the 6-foot-6 post suffered a foot injury in the Huskies first pre-season game that sidelined him for the entire campaign. So far this season, the Regina Beach product is back in top form averaging 13.3 points per game and 8.3 rebounds per game.
    While he usually matches up against players that are taller in height than he is, Forbes still changes the dynamics of the inside game for the Huskies both offensively and defensively in a good way. When Forbes isn’t in the lineup, it presents a huge void for the Huskies to fill.
    In 2014-15, Forbes was instrumental in helping the Huskies post a 15-5 regular season record averaging 13.4 points and 7.0 rebounds a game. He helped the Huskies advance to the Canada West championship game, where they fell 70-67 to the U of Victoria Vikes. That result allowed the Huskies to make an appearance at nationals.
    Away from the court, Forbes can often be found working as a staffer at other Huskies events. He is also one of the friendliest players on the Huskies men’s hoops team, and he is comfortable with talking to anyone that greets him out of the blue. Forbes also made the Huskies all-academic second team in 2012 and 2015.
    With Forbes in the fold, the Huskies have a good chance to make another deep playoff run.

Ben Getzlaf

Huskies receiver Ben Getzlaf (#86) collides with a defensive back.
    The rookie receiver from the Huskies football team prefers to shy away from accolades, but you will likely hear a lot about him in future seasons.
    The Holy Cross High School graduate had the expected modest first season catching six passes for 74 yards and one touchdown. Traditionally, the Huskies football program likes young players to focus on developing for a couple of seasons before seeing significant field time. For a first year player fresh out of high school, Getzlaf saw a lot more field time than most players in his position normally receive.
    In high school, he starred for the Crusaders and played on two of Saskatchewan’s teams that took part in the Football Canada Cup. Getzlaf also suited up for Canada’s under-18 team for the International Bowl series that ran Jan. 31 to Feb. 1 last year in Arlington, Texas.
    When he joined the Huskies, a number of the team’s veterans were impressed with the skill set Getzlaf had. Standing 5-foot-11 and weighing 180 pounds, Getzlaf makes his living on the field as a possession receiver that runs crisp routes.
    Getzlaf’s second cousin is veteran CFLer Chris Getzlaf, and both like to avoid the limelight if they can.
    One of Ben Getzlaf’s visibly most embarrassing moments came, when he had to pose for some pictures for a feature that ran on him in the Saskatoon Express about a year ago. In a scene you might see on a signing day for a United States university team, Getzlaf put on a Huskies football hat and posed for a photo holding a football out towards the camera with one hand.
    The whole picture shoot was done in front of about six players from the Holy Cross Crusaders senior girls’ basketball team, who laughed and gave him the gears. Getzlaf turned blushing red.
    In future seasons, expect Getzlaf to one day become the Huskies silent and modest star pass catcher.

Kendall McFaull

Kendall McFaull raised the Dr. W.G. Hardy Trophy.
    McFaull is the even-keel captain of the Huskies men’s hockey team.
    A product of Rosetown, Sask., McFaull is remembered by minor hockey coaches in the Saskatoon area for being extremely coachable.
    Before joining the Huskies, McFaull established himself as a high-character guy during his four seasons toiling on the blue-line with the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors. After his 17-year-old season in the 2009-10 campaign, McFaull, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 210 pounds, was selected in the sixth round and 155th overall in the NHL Entry Draft by the Atlanta Thrashers, who relocated to Winnipeg to become the second version of the Jets.
    With the Warriors, McFaull, who was the team’s captain in his final WHL campaign in 2012-13, established himself as a solid defensive defenceman who is tough to play against in front of the net, and he had the ability to chip in the odd point here and there. He carried that reputation on to the U of Saskatchewan campus.
    McFaull played a key role on the Huskies back end during their trips to the University Cup national championship tournament in 2014 and 2016.
    Last season in his third year of eligibility, McFaull was named the Huskies captain and he led the Huskies to a first place finish in the Canada West conference recording five goals, six assists and a plus-10 rating in the plus-minus department in 28 regular season outings. In the first game of the playoff run that saw the Huskies win a Canada West title, McFaull scored the overtime winner that delivered his side to a 4-3 victory over the U of Calgary Dinos.
    When the Huskies captured the Canada West championship, McFaull ensured the memory the Huskies late hard working, glue guy forward in Cody Smuk was part of the celebrations. Smuk passed away from cancer in June of 2015, and McFaull was his teammate on both the Warriors and Huskies.
    During the Canada West title celebrations, McFaull skated around the ice with Smuk’s jersey and he helped bring Smuk’s parents, Marty and Darla, and fiancĂ©e, Stephanie Vause on to the ice for the team picture.
    McFaull seems to ensure his Huskies, who lead Canada West with a 15-3-2 mark, always step in the right direction.

Zak Rempel

Zak Rempel serves the ball for the Huskies.
    During his career with the Huskies men’s volleyball team, Rempel has morphed into the guy that will play any role that is asked of him.
    Way back in the fall of 2013, Rempel joined the Huskies after a successful two-season run as the star setter for the Medicine Hat College Rattlers men’s volleyball team of the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference. With the Rattlers, Rempel showed strong leadership qualities and was always front and centre for post-game interviews, and it didn’t matter if it was good or bad.
    In his first two seasons with the Huskies from 2013 to 2015, Rempel, who stands 6-foot-5, saw decent action as a setter and proved to be calming influence when things got hectic on the court. Unfortunately, nagging injuries slowed Rempel down especially at the end of his second season.
    After leaving the program for a season, Rempel returned to a Huskies team that had won a silver medal at the Canada West championship tournament and advanced to the semifinal in the U Sports national championship tournament. He also came back to a Huskies team that was deep at setter with Derek Epp, who was a member of Canada’s junior national team, and Troy Wiebe, who was in his final year of eligibility.
    Rempel moved over to become an outside hitter and is playing more of a supportive role. The 23-year-old has always been a good influence in the dressing room, and he will step back to take lesser time on the court to help the team.
    When he has stepped on the court, Rempel has averaged 2.56 kills per set.
    Rempel has always carried a sound commitment when it comes to working out in the gym. With the Huskies just holding on to one of the seven playoff berths in the Canada West conference with a 7-5 record, you bet Rempel will be there to help his team in whatever role he is called up to do.

Lisa Thomaidis

Lisa Thomaidis is the best coach in Huskies Athletics.
    She is known as “The Idol.”
    Way back in 1998, Thomaidis arrived on the U of S campus at age 26 to become the new head coach of the Huskies women’s basketball team. Back then, the Huskies seemed to always find themselves at the bottom of the Canada West standings.
    Since that time, Thomaidis built the Huskies into a national powerhouse winning four Canada West titles, qualifying for the U Sports nationals in seven of the last eight years and winning the program’s first national championship in March of last year. She was also named a YWCA Woman of Distinction in 2009.
    When she isn’t coaching the Huskies, Thomaidis is the head coach of Canada’s national senior women’s basketball team. Under her guidance, Canada won gold at the Pan-Am games in 2015 and make the quarter-final round at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.
    On campus, she is looked up to not only by the players she coaches but also a large number of players that are members of the Huskies other women’s team.
    Thomaidis’s greatest gift is the fact she is able to inspire great confidence in her players. Due to that fact, her players always improve greatly as the season progresses.
    On the court, Thomaidis’s squads always play a sound team game and mix things up on the court. They can push the ball up court in transition or slow things down and break down a defence in half court. On the defensive side be it press, man or zone, Thomaidis’s teams can do it all.
    Away from the court, Thomaidis’s players always seem to be first rate superstar people who carry themselves extremely well. When all is said and done, the veteran coach likely sees that as her biggest victory.
    While she has coached for a long time, Thomaidis can still be young at heart too. When the Huskies won the Canada West title last year, she finished cutting down the net, turned to her players, smiled and said it was time to go out and party. Her players gleefully responded with big cheers.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass on about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com. Huskies players have also made two editions of “People Who Rock” columns in this blog. The first of those columns can be found right here and the second is here.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Grinder turns scorer, MacKenzie delivers winner in Blades rally

Lukus MacKenzie celebrates scoring the winner for the Blades.
    You have to love it when the hard working grinder steps into the spotlight.
    On Saturday night at the SaskTel Centre, gritty 17-year-old left-winger Lucus MacKenzie of the Saskatoon Blades resembled the team’s former high scoring captain Derek Hulak for a moment. With the Blades locked in a 2-2 tie with the visiting Red Deer Rebels and killing a penalty, MacKenzie saw a Rebels player fumble with the puck near the Red Deer blue-line.
    MacKenzie zipped in and picked up the puck to create a short-handed breakaway opportunity. The Calgary product sniped a smart shot low to left side of the Red Deer goal past netminder Lasse Petersen to put the hosts up 3-2.
    Tally was just the sixth goal of the season for MacKenzie, and it stood up as the winner. The Blades later added an empty-net goal to seal a 4-2 victory before 3,173 spectators.
    “I was thinking change first, but I saw the guy bobble it there,” said MacKenzie. “I knew I had the speed to kind of get a chance there, so I gambled and it paid off.
    “I know how to make a goalie slide, and that is what I try to do on breakaways. I just opened him up and slid it through there.”
Blades D Evan Fiala battles Rebels LW Evan Polei (#10).
    Following his breakaway short-handed winner, MacKenzie put on an exuberant celebration. Back in 2014, the Blades selected MacKenzie in the third round and 60th overall in the WHL Bantam Draft after he tallied 21 goals and 45 assists in 59 games with the Edge School bantam prep team in Calgary.
    So far in his WHL career, MacKenzie, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 198 pounds, has become known for his work ethic and his commitment to battle. Noticeable offensive outbursts like his goal on Saturday have been rare.
    “It was nice to get rewarded there,” said MacKenzie, who was a plus-two in the plus-minus department. “We were battling all game. We never quit. It was good to get that one for the team.
    “I just go hard. I try to get the crowd fired up and the team fired up. That is what I try to do.”
Blades RW Lukus MacKenzie looks for an opening in the offensive zone.
    Saturday’s encounter was a physical contest that could have swung either way. The Blades got the only goal in the first period, when 16-year-old rookie winger Michael Farren slipped home his fourth goal of the season early in the frame to give the hosts a 1-0 edge.
    In the second, the Rebels went ahead 2-1 thanks to a pair of tallies from overage left-winger Evan Polei. Polei tipped home a knuckleball point shot to tie things up at 1-1, and he slipped home a backhander later in the frame to give the visitors a 2-1 edge.
    Saskatoon drew even at 2-2 at the 2:18 mark of the third, when Gage Ramsay fired home the equalizer through a screen while working on the power play. That set the stage for MacKenzie’s heroics that put the Blades on top for good.
    Blades head coach Dean Brockman was pleased to see MacKenzie break through on the scoresheet.
Jesse Shynkaruk charges up ice for the Blades.
    “I thought he has been working hard the last few games,” said Brockman. “He got rewarded.
    “He had a great chance in the second period that he didn’t bury. He was persistent and stayed with it and got his goal.”
    Overage centre Jesse Shynkaruk scored into an empty net with 16.7 seconds to play in the third. Logan Flodell made 20 saves to pick up the win in goal for the Blades (17-22-5-1). Petersen turned away 19 of 22 shots to take the loss in goal for the Rebels (20-18-4-2).
    With the win, the Blades pull into a tie for eighth place overall and the final playoff berth in the WHL’s Eastern Conference with the Edmonton Oil Kings (18-22-3-1). Both teams have 40 points in the standings, but the Oil Kings have a game in hand.
The Blades salute the crowd after their 4-2 win over the Rebels.
    Brockman said it is important for his squad to win contests now in the push for a playoff berth noting the intensity of games in the regular season will pick up in February and March.
    The bench boss was pleased with the come-from-behind win against the Rebels. Saturday marked the fourth time this season the Blades rallied for a victory after entering the third period trailing on the scoreboard.
    “It is important that you comeback on teams,” said Brockman. “When we got that goal early (in the third), I felt the momentum switched for us.
    “In order to climb in the standings, you have to win games. You have to do all the catching now.”
    The Blades return to action on Wednesday, when they host the Medicine Hat Tigers at 7 p.m. local time at the SaskTel Centre.
    The Rebels travel to Swift Current on Sunday to take on the Broncos at 4 p.m. local time at the Credit Union i-Plex.

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