1 – BEDARD TO SWEDEN: The biggest news in the Dub this week actually sent waves across the entire country. 15-year old Regina Pats phenom Connor Bedard is headed to Sweden to train with a team until the WHL season gets underway. The WHL’s first-ever Exceptional Player is going with his sister, and will practice with the junior team of HV71, but won’t play games. “I’m really looking forward to this opportunity,” Bedard said in a news release from the Pats. “I look forward to being able to develop in Sweden with HV71 and prepare myself for when I arrive in Regina. Hopefully, we can be playing in front of fans in December.”
2 – BIEBER ON SKATES: Some Pats fans fear that this development could hurt Bedard’s chances of ever playing for the Pats but I disagree. The blonde-haired wonder boy – or the “Holy Child” as some of my friends have tabbed him – has signed a WHL contract and has clearly committed to playing in Regina. It also appears the Pats have been in constant contact with him since drafting the North Vancouver, BC product #1 overall in April and could’ve vetoed the Sweden issue if they wanted. “We are excited for Connor and this opportunity,” said Pats GM John Paddock in the same news release. “We fully support his decision and look forward to when he comes to Regina for when our season starts in December.”
3 – THE WAITING GAME: I admire Paddock’s confidence that the WHL will be starting on December 4. Pats co-owner Todd Lumbard has expressed similar beliefs in media interviews. However Commissioner Ron Robison admitted on The Rod Pedersen Show that even that date relies upon government health officials in four provinces and two states and to me, I don’t see anything changing with COVID controls anytime soon. I sure hope I’m wrong.
4 – SJ: If you’re a regular reader of this column you’ll know that I weave SJHL news through the WHL commentary because I love the two leagues equally. Some SJHL teams (Weyburn, Estevan, Notre Dame, La Ronge, etc.) have opened what they’re calling Extended Training Camps even though there’s no firm start date for the regular season. President Bill Chow mentioned October 9 on The Rod Pedersen Show but it was written in sand. He’s currently holding meetings with the Saskatchewan Health Authority and SJ reporters are tweeting that the news is good, and an announcement on the season is expected next week. CFL fans read that and laugh. They were led down that garden path all summer only to have the season canceled, although, the two leagues are apples and oranges so we hope for the best. I call Junior A games on SaskTel Max TV and do some colour on Hounds radio so obviously I’m following it very closely.
5 – STARS SHINE: One of the SJ teams who isn’t in camp is the Battlefords North Stars, but some players are on the ice. In a move that warms my heart, the team kicked off the first-ever North Stars Breakfast Club at the Civic Centre this week. The program gives community youth hockey players the chance to hit the ice and work on their game for an hour each morning (7:00-8:00 am). “Normally we would be starting now, and the boys would be out in the community tapping on shoulders and getting their younger fans from the schools to come and cheer them on,” Stars Marketing Director Jen Whyte told BattlefordsNOW.com. “So we’re just still trying to find ways to engage the youth and keep them busy. We still want to give them that opportunity to kind of interact with their team.”
6 – START EM YOUNG: Community involvement is the backbone of junior hockey franchises as far as I’m concerned, and engaging with kids. Think back to what made you a fan of your particular team, and when it started? I was taught to skate on a dugout by my Dad and two older brothers and grew up listening to the Regina Pats on the radio. My first memory of Pats hockey was going to the 1980 Memorial Cup in Regina at the age of 7. I vividly remember everybody hating Peterborough coach Mike Keenan (although I didn’t understand why) and watching a young phenom named Dale Hawerchuk with the Cornwall Royals. I particularly loved Pats goalie Bart Hunter’s mask. That stuff sticks with you!
7 – CHOMPING AT THE BIT: Obviously everybody in the game’s getting anxious to play and there will be some changes in the league once games resume. For one, the Brandon Wheat Kings have been sold by the McCrimmons to the Jacobson family of Brandon and we’ll examine the sale a little further down. As for filling time, Wheat Kings coach Dave Lowry is keeping busy watching NHL hockey like the rest of us. “Oh yeah we all know that we’re dealing with adverse conditions and nothing’s going to be normal but I think what gives us a little peace right now is the quality of the NHL product and knowing that at least we have some hockey to watch,” Lowry said. “When this is all over it’s going to bring us closer to the actual date that we can resume skating with our guys.
“It hasn’t just been the weirdest off-season, but also the longest. Here in Calgary rinks are open and we’ve been at least able to get back on the ice. That gives me some sense of normalcy and lots of time to get ready for the upcoming season whenever that may be.”
8 – DREGS WEIGHS IN: TSN NHL Insider Darren Dreger was the Voice of the Brandon Wheat Kings in the early 1990s and has been following the sale of the franchise closely. “Automatically I’m happy for Kelly and his family. But this was bittersweet,” Dreger said on The Rod Pedersen Show this week. “Bitter in the sense that Kelly McCrimmon has owned the Wheat Kings for two decades. This is not a decision that was made lightly but it is a decision that’s best for the Brandon Wheat Kings in the community. Jarod Jacobson and the family are going to be excellent partners in the Western Hockey League. They’re going to do what’s right by the brand of the Brandon Wheat Kings. It’s going to be community-minded, hockey-related decisions and that’s what Kelly wanted most.”
9 – THERE GOES ANOTHER ONE: I have zero doubt that Kelly McCrimmon wouldn’t have let the franchise go to anyone who didn’t have the utmost respect for the club. But still, my brothers and I’ve been talking about it and it’s a shame to see Kelly and his family go. The Wheat Kings are one of the last few “hockey family-owned” franchises and it’s a gut-punch to think the McCrimmons are no longer in the WHL. The Sutters (Red Deer) and Hamiltons (Kelowna) come to mind as some other hockey families who own and run teams. Corporately-owned franchises and rich family-owned teams may come with big bucks, but it’s nice working for somebody who knows the game and has “been there”. Their motivating factor is winning to survive financially. Having said that, we in Regina certainly can’t complain how the Pats have fared under Queen City Sports & Entertainment Group and those owners treat the staff like gold. Either way, thanks for everything Crim!
10 – EXPOSURE: Players don’t just play hockey for fun. They play to win and advance to the next level. So draft-eligible players are getting anxious that they aren’t being seen in their draft year and their teammates are antsy they aren’t being exposed to scouts and colleges. However, Ron Robison says that’s only temporary. “First of all we’re determined to play and we want to get back playing as soon as we can,” the Commish said on The Rod Pedersen Show. “We’re disappointed to miss the October window and I know that puts some strain on the players and their training. Everybody we’ve talked to has been very understanding of the circumstances we find ourselves in. It affects everyone in every walk of life. We want it to be safe for our players and our fans and we’re working 24/7 to make that happen. In terms of exposure, everyone understands there’s a delay but once we start up it’ll be business as usual and there will be opportunities for full exposure for our players.”
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