1. It’s fantastic to be back covering the Western Hockey League on a meaningful basis for DUBNetwork! For those unfamiliar with the name, I was the Voice of the Prince Albert Raiders (1993-95) and Regina Pats (1995-2010) until being forced to choose between the Pats and Saskatchewan Roughriders back in 2010 by the Parker family who owned the team at the time. I chose pro football but a decade later, it feels great to be back! This is going to be fun.
2. Of course, our fingers are crossed that the Western Hockey League will indeed hit the ice on October 2 to begin a full 68-game schedule as Commissioner Ron Robison outlined in June. In Regina, fans and alumni are salivating to watch Connor Bedard on a regular basis. The North Vancouver product was chosen #1 overall by the Pats in the April WHL Bantam Draft after being named the WHL’s first-ever Exceptional Player at the age of 14. This town is already simmering towards Bedard Mania, and I’ve tabbed him “Justin Bieber on Skates”. He has almost 19,000 followers on Instagram! It’s a new world folks.
3. SPOILER ALERT: The longtime Voice of the Saskatoon Blades Les Lazaruk cautioned on The Rod Pedersen Show this week that there are several hurdles to clear for the WHL to Return To Play this fall. “Every jurisdiction has to allow for at least 50% capacity in their rinks before they’re allowed to be open,” Les advised. “I’ve heard from teams that say they won’t start unless the teams in the U.S. are involved as well. If there’s no U.S. Division because of the spike in (Coronavirus) numbers, nothing starts. You’re looking at the Oct. 2 start date likely being fairly ambitious.
“I want to be optimistic but when you take a look at the spikes in states including Washington and Oregon, it becomes difficult to see that’s going to end up happening. BC is so interlinked with those states when it comes to the WHL, can you actually have interlocking play between divisions? There’s talk this thing won’t start till November and even then, there will be no interlocking play, and just within the division.”
4. The Moose Jaw Warriors are poised to announce a new Assistant Coach, perhaps as early as this week. The role became vacant when Associate Coach Mark O’Leary replaced Tim Hunter as Head Coach in January. Scott King remains with the club as an Assistant Coach so the pending announcement is to fill another AC. position. Former Estevan Bruins Head Coach & GM Chris Lewgood has had his name linked to Moose Jaw.
Lewgood left Estevan in April after seven years with the Bruins. The club made the playoffs in each of those seasons, including an appearance in the Canalta Cup Final in 2018 (a 7-game series loss to the Nipawin Hawks). The race to replace Lewgood was a fierce one and went to veteran Junior A coach Jason Tatarnic. There were whispers Regina Pats assistant coach Brad Herauf might head to the Energy City (he’s a former Bruins captain) but in the end, he didn’t apply. However former Kamloops Blazers and Moose Jaw Warriors coach Dave Hunchak kicked tires on the job.
5. Daniel Wapple – a flashy former WHL goalie with the Pats, Warriors, Tigers, and Giants – was named this week as the Goaltenders Coach with the SJHL’s Melville Millionaires. The Saskatoon product was one of the first-named to the staff of new Mils Head Coach & GM Mike Rooney. Wapple finished up his junior career with the Estevan Bruins before tending nets with the U of S Huskies and has spent the past five years as a goaltending skills coach out of Regina.
6. People say it’s tough to cover sports in the off-season. I say that’s hogwash, and even downright lazy. Last week the Warriors were ecstatic to select forward Martin Rysavy with the 6th overall pick in the 2020 CHL Import Draft. The 6’2”, 203 lb product of the Czech Republic captained his country’s entry at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and chipped in five points on the way to a bronze medal.
7. As you know, import players can be the bread and butter for a WHL team and can put your franchise over the top. Listed as two of Moose Jaw’s all-time top import picks are Thomas Fleischmann and Pavel Kubina who were studs in junior and fashioned nice NHL careers.
8. With the 15th overall pick in Tuesday’s Import Draft, the Regina Pats chose Stanislav Svozil from the Czech Republic. The defenceman was a teammate of Rysavy’s at the World U17 Challenge and was also named Czech Extraliga Rookie of the Year. By the way, listed as two of the Pats all-time import players are Filip Novak and Dmitri Nabokov. Both were flashy juniors who went on to non-descript NHL careers.
9. In the summer of 2018, I was in Prince Albert speaking at the Raiders/Special Olympics breakfast and mentioned how that city deserved a new arena. People in the crowd rolled their eyes, scoffed, and I got the sense of “that will never happen” from even the most diehard of Raider faithful. Fast forward two years and the Raiders have a WHL title from 2019, were poised for another before COVID kiboshed a run in 2020, and this week the City of Prince Albert announced plans for new facilities which could well include a new home for the Raiders, replacing the Art Hauser Centre.
“The Prince Albert Raiders are excited for the announcement of the new community rinks and aquatic centre which are part of Phase 1 of the larger entertainment and trade complex in Prince Albert,” Raiders Business Manager Mike Scissons wrote in an email. “We are looking forward to working with the City of PA on Phase 2 of the project which we expect to be announced in the very near future which will include a new larger arena complex and a new home for the Prince Albert Raiders.
“This new initiative will provide the community and the youth of Prince Albert and Northern Saskatchewan with outstanding facilities for sport, culture, and entertainment.”
10. Shock was an understatement when longtime Regina Pats Voice Phil Andrews announced on Monday he was leaving the team after nine seasons. The Saskatoon product was a huge part of the franchise’s resurgence under the QCSEG ownership and subsequent runs to the Ed Chynoweth Cup in 2017 and Memorial Cup in 2018. Pats GM John Paddock stated in the team’s news release, “I will really miss Phil. He is a true professional and has been an important part of our organization in my time here.” What more could be said? All the best Phil, and thanks for the memories!