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Monday, April 18, 2016



1 - Phew!  What a week.  BUT WHAT AN EXCITING TIME!  The Regina Pats and Red Deer Rebels are headed to Game 7 of their WHL second round playoff series following the Pats' 5-1 thumping of the Rebels Sunday in the Brandt Centre.  I've been fortunate to be in the broadcast booth for the television broadcasts of Games 5 and 6 and will be headed to Central Alberta for Game 7 on Access and throughout Alberta on Shaw.  It could not have worked better, timing-wise, with my schedule.

2 - For those keeping track, the Pats haven't been this far in the playoffs since 1996 when they lost Game 7 of an Eastern Conference Semifinal against the Prince Albert Raiders.  The Pats were an over-achieving bunch featuring Rhett Gordon, Chad Mercier, Russ Hewson, Joey Bouvier and a young Derek Morris under the guidance of coach Rich Preston.  The Raiders were a stacked crew which included Rod Branch in goal along with Shane Hnidy, Brad Church, Steve Kelly and Shane Willis.  So now, the Pats are on the verge of making history and they haven't been as far as the Eastern Conference Final since 1993 when Al Dumba was on the bench.

3 - To be frank, the City of Regina could be a LOT more excited than it is at a time like this.  Sunday's Game 6 sold out well before faceoff and the 6,484 fans who showed up were an enthusiast mob.  However outside of the Brandt Centre, you wouldn't know the Pats are still playing.  I was out and about all over Regina on Sunday and didn't see a jersey, a car flag, or any business adorned with Pats merchandise.  What gives?  A sign at the aiport reading, "WELCOME TO REGINA, HOME OF THE PATS" would be a nice touch.  After all, we are the oldest franchise in major junior hockey and a cornerstone of the WHL.  Former Pats coach Parry Shockey called Kamloops and Regina the "crown jewels of the WHL".

Let's get with it!  If your business has a Pats display, send me the photos and I'll post them here and maybe on social media as well.

4 - The WHL is ecstatic with the fact Access is showing these Pats playoff games across Saskatchewan.  What absolutely fantastic marketing.  It's no different than Jim Hopson lifting the Rider television blackouts a decade ago.  The Riders haven't blacked out a home game since 2006 and look what it's done for the Rider Nation.  Showing the Pats games in peoples' homes and in bars and restaurants will be a boon for the WHL around here.  Commissioner Ron Robison was over-the-moon about it when we had him on our intermission broadcast from Red Deer on Friday night.

Shockingly, we've received no complaints from Red Deer fans about our broadcasts.  WHL head office wanted to ensure I had an even call and didn't favour one team over the other, which I've tried really hard to do.

It also doesn't hurt the Pats' brand that we're broadcasting the SportsCage on 620 CKRM live from Red Deer before Game 7.  Wherever the action is, you'll find us.

Incidentally, the Pats' pregame tradition of having a Canadian military soldier walk onto the ice with a lit torch and set a virtual fire at centre ice with the Pats logo is as good as there is in sports ANYWHERE.  Put it up there with a Seminole Indian stabbing a spear into midfield in the NCAA or LSU bringing a tiger in a cage to the 50-yard line before kickoff.

It is simply fantastic.  And the idea of calling Pats fans the "Pat Regiment" as a tip of the cap to the club's military roots is just lump-in-the-throat stuff.  Well done Pats.  I'm told the idea is the brainchild of the Pats' Mark Rathwell


5 - The Pats simply have to win on Tuesday at the Enmax Centrium if my prediction is going to hold true.  I said the Rebels would win a short series or the Pats will win a long series.  So, here we are.  However one thing's for certain in this affair:  momentum means nothing.  It hasn't been carried over from game-to-game.

6 - Only two Regina Pats were rated in the final Central Scouting Bureau rankings last week: Sam Steel and Adam Brooks.  But don't buy it.  When teams make a run like this in the playoffs, NHL scouts and teams take notice and that's when you see a lot of your players taken in the later rounds.  In 1996 we saw Josh Holden and Derek Morris go in the first round followed by Curtis Tipler and Boyd Kane in subsequent rounds.  The Pats' playoff fortunes upped their stock and the same thing will happen here.

7 - One week ago in the MMG we were writing about the Roughriders' Florida minicamp from Vero Beach.  A week later we've crisscrossed the prairies to broadcast the Pats-Rebels series and in between - Saturday night in Eatonia, SK - I hosted a sports dinner with Leafs great Wendel Clark which was absolutely fantastic.  It just so happens Eatonia is smackdab in between Red Deer and Regina and it worked out I could hit it on my way home over the weekend.  (What if the Pats were playing Brandon and the dinner was in Lloydminster??)

Anyway, although I've been around Wendel for 25 years (his brother Donn Clark coached the P.A. Raiders when I was there) this was the first time I've done a dinner with him.  He was sensational Saturday night.

Here are some notes from his address:

* Injuries in hockey are out of control and Wendel feels the NHL is taking "baby steps" in the direction of cleaning it up.  That includes restricting equipment (elbow pads and shoulder pads) so that there's a threat of getting hurt even if you deliver a hit.  That'll make guys think twice about running players.  He said it takes an eternity to get anything done in the NHL, but at least they're moving in the right direction.

* Clark says the game is moving so fast right now that you'll never see the same type of beautiful plays made by Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux back in the day.  It's simply going too fast and there's no time to set things up.  Meanwhile Wendel feels the 1972 Summit Series was the best hockey that was ever played, and there was nary a hit thrown.

* Being traded to Quebec City from Toronto wasn't as devastating as you thought it was.  Wendel saw it coming.  He said the worst part was he got a speeding ticket just outside of Kingston, ON when he was driving to Quebec City.  "In nine years with the Leafs I never got a ticket," Wendel laughed.  "As soon as I'm a Nordique, they're giving me tickets".

* His stories of Harold Ballard were side-splitting.  Most of them were meant for a private audience such as the one in Eatonia but suffice it to say Wendel loved his boss.

* In the middle of his speech, a baby started crying in his mother's arms in the Eatonia Community Hall.  Wendel looked up and said, "Is Wayne Gretzky here?"

Hilarious to think that anyone would speak about the Great One that way, but Clark wasn't afraid.

* Clark currently works as an ambassador for the Maple Leafs along with Darryl Sittler.  "I don't know what they pay us to do," Clark snickered.  "But they pay us!"  He went on to say he prefers a community relations role over one in the hockey operations department.  "Those guys get fired every three years," Wendel said.  "They get the big bucks but at least I get some bucks."

 As far as the current Toronto Maple Leafs go, Wendel feels they're certainly on the right track with the management trio of Shanahan, Lamoriello and Babcock.  He'd like to see them draft some grit this year (no surprise there) because their young talent is unquestioned but they don't play a rugged enough game.  He said the only problem in Toronto is the pressure to "win now" and that sometimes muddles up the plan.

* I could go on all day with these Wendel stories but let me just say it was fantastic and if you're looking for an after-dinner speaker, I wouldn't hesitate to get ahold of Clark.  I was checking his bio and was shocked that he's not in the Hockey Hall of Fame.  Would you be surprised if he was?  Having that on your resume means your speaking fee starts at $10,000 but Wendel won't run you that much.

And, as a final aside, Wendel Clark is the only guy who ever made me want to cheer for the Toronto Maple Leafs.  He was one of the greatest Leafs ever (as we all know) and although he wasn't a point-a-game or goal-a-game guy, he's one of the best leaders the NHL has ever seen.

8 - What a thrill and an honour it is to represent the Saskatchewan Roughriders wherever I go.  Over the past week I've had the chance to visit with Rider fans from Florida to Central Alberta to small town Saskatchewan.

One thing I've noticed is that my prediction for the Roughriders to finish first in the West - ahead of Calgary and Edmonton - has earned me some major street cred amongst the Rider Nation.  Particularly with young men in their 20's and 30's.  I get "Thanks for sticking up for the Riders" a lot, or "F- Alberta!"  We certainly got sand kicked in our face for decades but now it's payback time.

I certainly didn't do it to get the backing of the Rider Nation, but it's been a nice offshoot bonus.

Do I care what the Eskimos and Stampeders think?  Not on your life.  The day I start appealing to other teams and their fans is the day I hang it up.

9 - The best news I heard last week:  Chris Jones wants to be the Roughriders Head Coach and GM for a long, long time.  That's the indication I got anyway, which is a fantastic revelation.  And why wouldn't he?  He's the highest-paid executive in the CFL and is running his own show with absolutely no interference.  That has to be a welcome notion for Roughriders President Craig Reynolds.  Now, all they have to do is win.

10 - Can you believe we even found time to sneak in a movie over the past week?  We caught The Boss at Southland Cinemas on the only evening I had at home and have to give the new Melissa McCarthy motion picture two thumbs-up.  There's always something I'm trying to find to nitpick about McCarthy but in the end, she always wins you over (i.e. Bridesmaids, Identity Theft, Tammy, etc).  If you want some laughs and the ability to put your brain on the seat beside you for two hours (like I did), check it out this week.  There's nothing like going to the theatre for a popcorn, soda and the best hotdogs in town.

And since Access's On Demand was on the fritz last night - not allowing us to watch episode 9 of Billions - we started watching the hit show Ballers from the beginning.  Wow!  Wow wow wow.  All I can say is it's a pretty accurate portrayal of pro football from what I can see.  We may never go back to Billions.



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