10: JILL SHUMAY CAPTURES PROVINCIAL SCOTTIES
The 2013 provincial Scotties Tournament of Hearts went in Balgonie. The field was a great one led by Stefanie Lawton, defending provincial champ Michelle Englot and former Canadian champ Amber Holland. I had been asked earlier by both Access and the Saskatchewan Curling Association to do play-by-play of the provincial semi and final so I headed out to Balgonie on night one to check things out. On that night, a rink out of Maidstone skipped by Jill Shumay beat Englot and her rink looked damn good in doing so. I asked her after the game if she considered it to be an upset considering Michelle's resume and she calmly replied no because I feel my rink is just as good as everyone else's. She was right! Shumay breezed through the event losing only once and that was in the 1-2 game to Lawton. She rebounded by beating Holland 8-3 in the semi and then took her first provincial title with an 8-7 win. At the Scotties, she finished an impressive 6-5. Shumay is back to defend her crown in Tisdale in just a couple of weeks and while the other big names are there as well, Shumay has shown you can put her in that class of being one of Saskatchewan's top rinks.
9. SHOLO LEAVES FOR OTTAWA
The Ottawa Redblacks will become the CFL's 9th team when the 2014 season starts. Less than a month after the Grey Cup, the team had a chance to pick through the rosters of the other teams grabbing unprotected players to help them form their initial roster. Each team would lose one import player and two Canadians. With the Canadian talent on the Riders side of the ball, many Rider fans had come to the cruel reality that an impact player was going to be leaving. You could only protect six Canadians and there were many more than six quality Canadians on the roster. I don't think it would have mattered who Ottawa took, it would have left the Rider Nation reeling from a punch in the gut and when the choice was made, the punch followed. Six year vet Keith Shologan, arguably the best Canadian interior lineman in the CFL if not the best period, had been selected. GM Brendan Taman admitted after he rolled the dice on Shologan hoping his big contract would deter the Redblacks from taking him. That didn't happen. As tough as it was for many, including myself, to see Sholo leave, I could at least take solace knowing as one of the guys who went through the 2009 Grey Cup nightmare that he had his championship. I would love to see Taman try to get Shologan back here, but he seemingly made it clear hours later on "The Sportscage" the team was going to go American at that spot.
8. PAT CONACHER SAYS GOODBYE
The Regina Pats took a step backwards in the 2012-13 season. After being named the WHL Eastern Conference coach of the year and guiding his team to the playoffs, Pat Conacher could seemingly not get the same effort out of his troops as they finished out of the playoffs with a record of 25-38-4-5. It added to what has become a very rocky relationship between the hockey fan and the organization who have gotten tired of watching a team that isn't making very many playoff appearances. With one year left on his contract, Conacher resigned his position. The Pats did not go on a head coach search though as at the same time GM Chad Lang announced Conacher's departure, he announced assistant coach Malcolm Cameron would assume head coaching duties. Thanks to the play of Calgary Flames first round draft pick Morgan Klimchuk and 20 year old forward Boston Leier acquired in a trade with Medicine Hat, the Pats look as if they are ready to re-enter the playoffs and perhaps go in as an Eastern Division champion as they are on the heels of division leading Swift Current.
7. SASKATOON HOCKEY FANS SEND MESSAGE TO BLADES AT WRONG TIME
The 2013 MasterCard Memorial Cup was played in Saskatoon. The hometown Blades were expected to compete for a national championship and GM and Head Coach Lorne Molleken made the moves he felt were needed to have the team in position to take a good run at the WHL championship and the Memorial Cup which is something the Blades have never won. The team went on an 18 game unbeaten streak late in the season having Saskatoon hockey fans feeling pretty good about their team----and then the playoffs hit. The Blades were swept out of the first round by the Medicine Hat Tigers and that had hockey fans irate. They wanted Molleken out of town on the first rail car and when the tournament opened up, there were many empty seats at Credit Union Centre much to the chagrin of the Blades and the Canadian Hockey League. Many were not happy with the fact the CHL's marquee event was being played with a lot of empty seats being seen by a national TV audience. It appeared to many as if the Saskatoon hockey fan was snubbing their nose at not only the Blades, but the tournament itself as a message of what had happened in the playoffs. It was not a good sight. Thankfully, the people of Saskatoon came through at the end as the final game between the Halifax Mooseheads and Portland WinterHawks was sold out and what a game those people saw. Both teams brought their "A" games and the top players for both teams showed why as the Mooseheads beat Portland 6-4 to take the title and end what was a very controversial week in the Bridge City.
6. MARK MCMORRIS HITS THE INTERNATIONAL STAGE
Canada's top snowboarder is from Saskatchewan. Mark McMorris established himself as one of the world's best in 2013 and is a legitimate threat to be an Olympic gold medallist in Sochi. McMorris had a tremendous 2013 in which he won a gold and a silver at the Winter X games while winning a silver at the world championships. If people started to notice him in 2012, they have certainly realized what he is all about and what he can do now. The sky is the limit for McMorris and we anxiously await what he does at the Winter Olympics
5. WHAT A START!!
It had been a long time since someone coming from Saskatchewan had played in the major leagues. The last guy to do it was Melville's Terry Puhl until the night of August 6. On that night, Andrew Albers of North Battleford took the mound for the Minnesota Twins at Kansas City and stifled the Royals. allowing no runs on just four hits in eight and a third innings. Six nights later, he took the mound at Target Field and showed that debut was no fluke as he went up against the Cleveland Indians. In what was Minnesota's shortest game of the year, he came off the mound 2 hours and 22 minutes after the game had started pitching a complete game two hitter. No Minnesota starting pitcher had ever had the start to his major league career that Albers had. While Albers finished the year at 2-5 with an ERA of just over four, he impressed the Twins brass and will likely start 2014 with the Twins as their 4th starter.
4. HELLO GOLF WORLD, MY NAME IS GRAHAM!
The sporting community in Weyburn has to say there has never been a better year for them than 2013. The only thing that didn't happen to the city southeast of Regina is the Weyburn Red Wings didn't win the RBC Cup. You have first round NHL draft pick Derrick Pouliot--who is with Portland and was on that Winterhawks team that lost to Halifax in the Memorial Cup final and is in Sweden right now with the Canadian juniors. You have CFL rookie of the year Brett Jones and the CFL's top offensive lineman in Brendon Labatte. You also have the distinction of being the hometown of a guy who is and should be Canada's top golfer for many years---Graham DeLaet, His first real season on the PGA Tour was a tremendous one----one that saw him do many things except get his name on a first place cheque.
In 2013, DeLaet played 26 PGA events. He made the cut in 21 of them and finished in the top 25 12 times and the top 10 7 times. DeLaet made the FedEx Cup which consists of the elite on Tour and in the first two tournaments---the Barclays and the Deutsche Bank Championship---he finished tied for 2nd and 3rd respectively. He received an invite to play in the British Open and he was a member of the World team at the Presidents Cup. Oh yeah, he also made 2.8 million dollars. As mentioned, DeLaet did not win a tournament in 2013, but one has to think he is on the verge of doing so in 2014.
3. THUNDER WIN FIRST EVER NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
Since coming into existence once the Regina Rams joined the University ranks. the Regina Thunder had never won a Prairie Football Conference Championship. They had many opportunities to do so, but they could never seemingly get past the Saskatoon Hilltops. In 2012, the Thunder surprised the heavily favoured and unbeaten Calgary Colts in the semi-final, but they couldn't beat the Toppers who went on to the Canadian Bowl. In the off-season, the team made a change as long time coach Erwin Klempner stepped down with Scott MacAulay taking over. McAulay was no stranger to the Thunder as he was an assistant coach under Klempner and had worked for years with the Rams along with playing for them. Was McAulay the guy to take them over the top? The answer was an astounding yes! The Thunder finished the regular season with a record of 5-2-1, but they went to Saaskatoon for the PFC final and beat the Hilltops 21-16 to advance to the Canadian championship against the Vancouver Island Raiders.
On a chilly Saturday afternoon at Mosaic Stadium with many in attendance and many watching live on Access 7, the Thunder made McAulay's first year as head coach as magical one as they dominated the BC champs 55-26 to take the crown. Quarterback Asher Hastings had a tremendous day tying a Canadian bowl record with 5 touchdown passes while throwing for 377 yards.
The Thunder had truly arrived.
2. ONE WIN AWAY
The U of R Cougars were hoping having a home crowd behind them could propel them to a CIS national womens basketball championship. The Cougars had hosted the tournament before only to be beaten by #1 Simon Fraser in the final. It was thought by many the team had a great shot to win the Bronze Baby at the CKHS in front of a hometown crowd. They were once again one win away.
Dave Taylor's squad opened up the tournament beating McGill thanks to a 68-53 win over McGill. In the national semi-final, you could not jam another body into the gym as the Cougars battled Atlantic champion St. Mary's and it was simply the Brittany Read show. The 5th year forward almost single-handedly won the game for Regina as she scored 24 points to go along with a record 29 rebounds in a convincing 78-49 victory.
The only thing standing in the way of the Cougars winning it all was the University of Windsor. After a close first quarter, the Lancers dominated the 2nd and took a nine point lead. They withstood a couple of late charges from the Cougars and went on to win 66-57 to make it back to back national titles.
Is there any doubt as what number one was going to be? When the Saskatchewan Roughriders were awarded the 2013 Grey Cup game, the organization knew it had some work in front of them. After Grey Cup appearances in 2009 and 2010, the team went downhill in 2011. CEO Jim Hopson had a vision of celebrating a CFL championship in front of the Rider Nation, but a lot of blood, sweat and tears would have to be put into making it happen. The team lost a heartbreaking Western semi-final in Calgary in 2012 and from the moment the team walked off the field, head coach Corey Chamblin knew his team had to get better on defense.
They went out and signed controversial free agent defensive back Dwight Anderson, they signed free agent defensive end Ricky Foley, they signed free agent linebacker/defensive back Weldon Brown and just as training camp started, former Rider John Chick returned from the NFL. On offense, they added the wizardry of offensive co-ordinator George Cortez and perhaps the CFL's greatest all-time receiver Geroy Simon who asked to come to Regina via trade after being released by BC saying this was the team that gave him the best shot at being a Grey Cup champ again.
The team roared out to a 5-0 start with Darian Durant and Kory Sheets putting up incredible numbers. The province was ecstatic and the mood remained that way until the Banjo Bowl when the Bombers beat Saskatchewan to start the green-and-white on a four game losing skid. In the midst of that skid, Sheets suffered a knee injury derailing what looked to be a record season for yards gained, a vocal minority of fans blamed Durant for the team's failure to score touchdowns with many wondering why Simon was around if he wasn't going to be a part of the offense. The wheels were falling off and people were jumping off the bandwagon. It got so bad that a Twitter hashtag of #dariansfault started for things out of the QB's control like a train crossing the Ring Road or the price of gas going up.
Sheets returned to the lineup for a big game in BC---one that would determine whether or not the Riders would host a playoff game. They won that game and ended up finishing 2nd in the West with a record of 11-7. Thanks to Durant's efforts running and throwing the football, the Riders beat BC to advance to the West final against their hated rivals---the Calgary Stampeders. It was no contest! Durant threw for three touchdowns while Sheets ran for 177 yards in a game that was over by halftime. The Riders were coming home to play in the 101st Grey Cup having beat the Stamps 35-13. They were right where they wanted to be, but they had one game left and what a game it would be. The Riders would play the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in a dream matchup. Kent Austin, the man who quarterbacked the Riders to the 89 championship and coached them to an 07 title, was now the head coach of the Ti-Cats. He had never lost a playoff game. His quarterback was Henry Burris---still public enemy #1 in Riderville after leaving the team many years ago and his favourite target was receiver Andy Fantuz who spurned the Rider Nation to head home. There were so many storylines, but only one was front and center and that was winning.
If anyone had any doubts as to whether or not the Riders would win, it was perhaps erased when Sheets grabbed a Durant fumble in mid-air and ran 39 yards with it. In fact, if you want to re-live it, do so as it was heard across Saskatchewan on the mighty CKRM with Rod Pedersen and Carm Carteri.
That's my recap of 2013. Did I miss anything? What does 2014 have in store for us? I have no idea, but I'm sure there will be more than enough to talk about on both a local and national basis to keep us occupied.
Happy New Year everyone! Thank you for checking out this blog in 2013. There were over 190-thousand page views putting the total to over 1.3 million since I started doing this. Thank you again!