Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2011's Top Ten

As the calendar winds down to the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012, it is time to start looking back at the year that was and the many great moments that were in it. From plays to games to moments to stories, it was a good year in many ways and a bad one in many others. Here, in alphabetical order are the top ten events from a local/national scale from me. Feel free to vote in the poll as to what you think was the event of the year was.


The BC Lions won the Grey Cup. At the start of the 2011 season, many thought the team that bowed out in double overtime to the eventual Western Conference champion Saskatchewan Roughriders would have a shot at winning the title in their own backyard, but they weren't thinking that a month into the season.

B.C got off to a horrible start going 0-5. Talk of Wally Buono needing to be relieved of his duties were underway. The promising Travis Lulay looked to have regressed and it was a mess. However, Buono got things turned around. The Lions won 12 of their last 13 and capped it off with a 34-23 win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the 99th Grey Cup. Lulay was named the league's MVP as he and his club took the torch from the Montreal Alouettes and Anthony Calvillo.


One of the lasting images of 2011 came as the year started. The annual NHL Winter Classic was supposed to be a showcase of the game's top two players--Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. Instead, it became what might be the beginning of the end for Crosby. During the game, Crosby took a hit from Washington's David Steckel. He was slow in getting off the ice. A couple of nights later, he was slammed into the end boards by Tampa's Victor Hedman. As he skated off that night, no one thought that would be his last shift of the season, but it was. As you know, Crosby still isn't right and some are wondering if his career may perhaps be over or if it will ever get back to what it was. Crosby isn't the only player suffering from concussions. No matter the sport, concussions are becoming more and more revelant. Leagues are trying to stop them from occurring, but the problem isn't going away.


New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter went into the 2011 baseball season with some starting to wonder if the game was starting to pass him by and how much longer he had. The 37 year old was looking to reach the magical 3-thousand career hit mark and by early July he was on the verge of doing so. On a beautiful Saturday afternoon at the new Yankee Stadium, Jeter made history in the best way possible when he got hit number 3000.


Saskatchewan and the hockey world lost four of our own this year. It started in April when Wilcox's Mandi Schwartz lost a long, courageous battle with leukemia at the tender age of 23. Little did we know what the months ahead were to bring. Regina's Derek Boogaard known as "The Boogeyman" to many was found dead in his Minneapolis apartment on May 13. Just over two months later, former Regina Pats fan favourite and Winnipeg Jet Rick Rypien was found dead in his Crowsnest Pass, Alberta home and a couple of weeks later, former Saskatoon Blade and Saskatchewan native Wade Belak was found dead in a Toronto hotel room. In September, Brad McCrimmon was on the plane that killed the Lokomotiv hockey team in the KHL. He was getting ready to make his debut as a professional head coach.


The World Junior Hockey Championship has become a staple in the lives of Canadians during the holidays. The Canadians went into the 2011 event having lost the title of world's best in Saskatoon one year earlier. The tournament was in Buffalo, but you wouldn't think so because of all the red and white that could be seen. The final game had the Canadians against the Russians. It looked like the game and the gold would belong to Canada after 40 minutes as they led 3-0. WRONG!!! Russia scored 5 in the 3rd to rip the gold medals out of our hands and rip the hearts out of a hockey nation who felt the hangover and analyzed it for a long time.


The Western Major Baseball League is the best baseball you will find in Western Canada. A few years ago, the Regina Red Sox revived themselves and got back into the league. Men like Gary Brotzel and Bernie Eiswirth put in many hours to get this team back to a state of relevance. In 2011, they succeeded. The Red Sox had been showing signs of getting better and better and they got to the finals in 2010 before being beat by Swift Current. Manager Rob Cherepuschak knew the team could take that one last step and he went out to build a winner. He succeeded. The Red Sox ran roughshod through the WMBL capping it off with a 4 game win in the finals over Okotoks. While many of the Red Sox players are American and only make their home in Regina for a couple of months, there are many locals who play on the team and basked in the victory. Cherepuschak has decided to step down from his managerial role, but remains involved with the team. With guys like Cherepuschak, Brotzel and Eiswirth doing what they can, don't be surprised if Red Sox win in 2012 makes the top 10 list again.


Where do I start? What don't you know? After losing to the Alouettes in the 2009 and 2010 Grey Cups, the Riders were thought to be able to make a run at the title again and this time win it. Ken Miller had stepped down as Head Coach shortly after the 2010 season ended and was replaced by long time CFL assistant Greg Marshall. The move failed miserably as the team sputtered out of the gate. Marshall and offensive co-ordinator Doug Berry were relieved of their jobs at the midway point of the season with Miller returning. The team showed signs of life with a pair of victories over Winnipeg, but it was all downhill after that. The team finished a league worst 5-13. Miller stepped down as coach again and retired to Carolina. Hamilton defensive co-ordinator Corey Chamblin now has the task of making the team a playoff squad again.


Yeah, we would have loved nothing more in Saskatchewan than to see the Canadian mens rink at the World Championships in Regina be skipped by someone from this province, but it didn't happen. The men were about the only ones that didn't win a national championship.

Both Braeden Moskowy and Trish Paulsen won the Canadian junior titles and then Amber Holland came through a very talented field to defeat Jennifer Jones and win the Scotties Tournament of Hearts before losing in the gold medal game at the Worlds.  The run continued when Jason Ackerman won the Canadian mixed title in December making it a pretty damn good year for Saskatchewan on the national curling scene. With the Brier in Saskatoon this year, here's hoping the mens drought can FINALLY come to an end.


The Vancouver Canucks were one step away from a Stanley Cup title. They had a chance to win it all on home ice in Game 7 against the Boston Bruins. The city was on edge. Like the Olympics, thousands turned up to watch the game outside, but the end result was much different. Sidney Crosby's golden goal sent the city into a state of euphoria, Game 7 did not. As the Bruins skated around GM Place( or was it Rogers Arena at that time) with the Cup, people were turning over cars and breaking windowns downtown. It was an ugly sight that embarrassed the organization, the city, the province and the country. Many of us wondered how people could do what they were doing in Canada in a city we have all been to and on streets that many of us have walked. The live pictures brought into our livingrooms that night brought about a myriad of emotions. Would it have been different had Vanouver won...I doubt it.


The love affair between the city of Winnipeg and their NHL team is a special one. 15 years later, the people in the Manitoba capital pined for the return of their team that left for Phoenix. With the Coyotes in deep financial problems, it was thought the team that left would come home, but that didn't happen leaving many in the Manitoba capital to feel that they had some so close but would be left at the altar. Enter the Atlanta Thrashers. True North Sports and Entertainment president Mark Chipman worked with the NHL to bring that team to Canada and on May 31 when it was announced, Winnipeg threw a party like they never had before. Chipman knew the team had to be called the Jets and he officially announced that at the NHL draft. All that was left was for the team to drop the puck and on Sunday, October 9---Thanksgiving Sunday--those that had pined for the team's return were thankful for the fact the team was back. They lost that opening game to Montreal, but they didn't care because the NHL was back and hopefully back for a long, long time.

There were other stories and other moments as well in 2011 that just didn't get in for whatever reason. Whether it be the NBA lockout, the NFL lockout, the Packers winning the Super Bowl or the last night of baseball's regular season. Speaking of baseball, the game of the year in my mind had to be Game 6 of the World Series when the Cardinals came back from being within one strike of losing not once, but twice to Texas to take the game and the Series the next night while the play of the year is definitely this one.

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