Happy New Yeat! 2017 has arrived, and as it does, I want to take one last look at 2016. Here are my top 10 stories of the year.
10. GOODBYE MR. HOCKEY - Two of the biggest stories in Saskatchewan in 2016 happened at the same time. The hockey community mourned the loss of Gordie Howe on June 10. The legend passed away at the age of 88. On the day Gordie left us, country music icon Garth Brooks was performing in Saskatoon and he made sure to pay tribute to Mr. Hockey in Gordie's hometown where a statue sits outside the Sask-Tel Centre where he was performing.
9. THEY DID WHAT? - When Chris Jones assumed control of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, you knew there was going to be a massive clean-up. That clean-up started almost immediately when 19 players were told their services were no longer needed. Sportscage football analyst Luc Mullinder warned Rider Nation there would be change, and some of that change wouldn't be popular.
Those words came to fruition January 15. With about an hour to go until a Thursday afternoon Sportscage, the word came down from the Riders, Weston Dressler and John Chick had been released. WHATTTTTT??? In all my years of hosting sports-talk radio, I never ever had a 2 1/2 hours as I had that afternoon. To say it was chaotic was an understatement as the phones rang off the hook while the text line went crazy. As you know, both moved on to other CFL teams and had good seasons in Winnipeg and Hamilton. Yes, there was a need to go younger and cheaper, but the loss of those two still stings many in Rider Nation today.
8. IS THIS HOW CUTHBERT FELT? - The Keystone Cup Junior B Western Canadian championship was held in Regina in April. Organizers of the event had reached out to me well in advance asking if I could do some play-by-play for them on some webcasts. I told them I would be more than happy to do a couple of games including the 3rd place and championship game. Little did I know what that Sunday held in store for me as I walked into the Co-Operators Centre. I had no wingman with me so it was a solo broadcast going out to god-knows how many.
The bronze medal game featured the host Regina Capitals against the North Peace Navigators. The game went 3 overtimes before the team from northern Alberta won. It obviously led to A) the gold medal game being delayed and B) plans for me to walk over to the Brandt Centre for Game 6 of the Pats-Rebels series which was a 2 o'clock start going up in smoke. The gold medal game featured the Saskatoon Quakers and 100 Mile House BC. At the end of regulation, we were going to overtime. Really? Thankfully, this one didn't last as long as 100 Mile House won. I have done long overtime games before, but never by myself and certainly not two in one day. It was great hockey though, and I was glad to be a part of it.
7. - A KING-SIZED OOPS -
One weekend in Edmonton resulted in two of my top 10 for this year---in fact, they both happened within hours of one another.
On a cold January Sunday in Minneapolis, the Vikings took on the Seahawks in a playoff game. Just a few weeks before this game, the Seahawks had gone to Minnesota and clubbed the Vikings so I was feeling pretty confident. The conditions for this one were much different though. It was a very cold January afternoon and it showed as the two teams weren't able to do much.
The Seahawks led the game 10-9, but Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater connected with Kyle Rudolph for a big play late in the 4th quarter to seemingly seal Seattle's fate. All Blair Walsh had to do was connect on a 27 yard field goal. As I sat in a Boston Pizza in downtown Edmonton waiting for the Seattle season to end, Walsh missed the kick. HE MISSED THE KICK!! There was bedlam and dismay in the lounge. There was also a very happy Seahawks fan walking down Jasper Avenue back to his hotel room who may have let out a tremendous Ric Flair "WOOOOOOOOO"
6. FAREWELL REXALL!! HELLO ROGERS!! -- Hours after the Seahawks improbable win, I was off to Rexall Place to see the 2nd of two Oiler games I had gone to Edmonton to see. Being an Oiler fan, and one that hadn't been to a game in a few years, I had to make one trek back to a building where I had seen the Oilers win a Stanley Cup, and a building I had been to many, many times.
Yes, the Oilers lost to both Tampa and Florida, but it did give me a chance to meet the Jagrs. These guys were great!
Jagr even gave them a salute as he came out for warm-ups! They apparently make a trek every year to see him play. That's fantastic! A few months later, I was fortunate enough to attend the 2nd ever home game at the new Rogers Place by getting accreditation for the contest.
Attending one of the first games in what is a fabulous venue more than made up for a putrid Edmonton effort against the Buffalo Sabres. If you're an Oilers fan, and you haven't been to Rogers Place yet. GO!! I'll be back there soon to enjoy a couple of games from the seats.
5. THE RESURGENCE OF THE REGINA PATS - Winning hockey is back at the Brandt Centre. Thank god! It has been wayyyyyyyyyy too long since that happened. Thanks to the play of guys like Adam Brooks, Sam Steel, Connor Hobbs, Austin Wagner and others and the hard work put forth by John Paddock and Dave Struch, Regina finally had a hockey team to be proud of again. There was a sense of civic pride in this blogger's heart as he watched Game 3 of the Pats 2nd round series against the Red Deer Rebels. That building was packed, and it was loud. There was a solid belief this team was ready to make a championship run in 2015-16. That ended with a Game 7 loss to the Rebels.
Thanks to Access Communications, we were able to see Game 7 from Red Deer in our living rooms, but while it was great hearing Rod Pedersen call the game, it wasn't great seeing the Pats lose on a greasy one as Adam Musil's goal with about 7 minutes left gave Red Deer a 2-1 win. Everyone knew better times were coming, and you have seen what has happened this year. Are the Pats going to represent the WHL at the Memorial Cup? There is a long ways to go before we can say that, and there are some talented teams out there, but I'm not betting against them.
4. THE RESURGENCE OF THE REGINA RAMS - As the Carolina Panthers were running out of the clock to beat the Seattle Seahawks in an NFC semi-final game in mid-January, my phone was going crazy with texts from "friends" giving me a hard time about the Seahawks loss. That's OK because I did that to Vikings fans the week before. I then received an e-mail from U of R Sports Information Officer (and all around good schmuck) Braden Konschuh that took the sting away from the Seahawks loss. Braden sent out a release saying Mike Gibson had resigned as coach of the Regina Rams after a pathetic 2015 in which the team went 0-8. A few weeks later, the U of R announced former Ram Steve Bryce was the new head guy. Who's kidding who, anyone would be an improvement over what they had, but Bryce had a job to do. A lot of people thought that might take a couple of years, but Bryce wasn't one of them.
From day 1, you could see and feel a different vibe around the football team. That being said, Bryce's debut reminded many of the horrible 2015 season as the defence couldn't make a play when it counted and the Rams lost to the U of S. However, that first game was an anomaly. Two wins over the defending Vanier Cup champion UBC Thunderbirds and a dramatic last second win at home over Calgary on a thunderous hit by Joey Dwyer at the goal-line preventing Dinos quarterback Jimmy Underdahl from scoring the winning TD catapulted the team to a 6-2 record---good for a first place finish. The Rams had never done that in Canada West before.
One of the big reasons for the Rams success was the play of Noah Picton. The pint-sized quarterback was a giant not only in Canada West, but in USports Canada football as he was making the 400 yard, 4 TD game look routine.
3. THE NEW MOSAIC STADIUM OPENS - You couldn't have asked for a better day on Saturday, October 1. At that time of year in Saskatchewan, god knows what type of weather you are going to get, but the football gods were smiling that afternoon.
The Rams and U of S Huskies had the honour of playing the first football game at Regina's new jewel and the 278 million dollar facility was the star. Many who had not been in the new Mosaic Stadium marvelled at what they were at. The game did become secondary which was too bad because it was a good football game---one that the Rams won 37-29 in front of a Canada West record 16, 500 fans. Ryan Schienbein had the honours of being the first player to score a touchdown in NMS. It whetted our appetite for what we will see in June when the Riders begin play at their new home.
2. FAREWELL OLD GIRL -
When the Saskatchewan Roughriders finished the home portion of their 2016 schedule with a loss to the BC Lions, the football team held a 30 minute closing ceremony to say goodbye to their iconic home---a home that has meant so much to so many in this province who have made the trek to the 2900 block of 10th Avenue to watch the green-and-white play football. While that game was being played, I was in Winnipeg watching the Rams clinch first in Canada West with a win over the Bisons. I watched the closing ceremony on the bus-ride home thanks to the good people at Riderville.com and I watched it again the day after having PVR'ed the game.
One week after the lights went out, the lights came back on as the Regina Rams tried to give football fans an opportunity to see three more games at Mosaic. Finishing first in the conference meant home field advantage through the playoffs and if they could win the conference championship, Mosaic would host a national semi-final.
It wasn't to be though. After beating UBC twice in the regular season, the Rams could not beat a more experienced and playoff-savvy Thunderbird team as they were upset 40-34 on November 6. As the game started to wind down, something I had thought about leading into the week was coming true. As Marco Ricci and my long-time friend and TV partner Gary "Chop" Bresch sat in the booth with me describing the action online on 620 CKRM, the stark realization came this was it. The names that have done Saskatchewan Roughriders football from that booth are many, but it would be this schmuck who would have the last sign-off from Mosaic. That just wasn't right, but I couldn't change history.
As I hung up the headset and walked down the press-box hallway one last time, I stopped in to where I have spent many years watching many games with many good people over the years as I went to the seat in the press-box where I have watched many a Rider game. While I didn't know what to say as I signed off the air for the last time at Mosaic, I knew what I was going to do before I left that pressbox. I grabbed a Sharpie out of my bag and told the old girl "Thanks for the Memories"
Good and bad, that spot provided many memories for this blogger!
1. CUBS WIN, CUBS WIN, CUBS WIN
Was there ever any doubt as to what #1 was for this guy. It didn't look good when the Cleveland Indians captured Game 5 of the World Series to take a 3-1 lead. Was Cleveland actually going to have the distinction of having the NBA and MLB champions? When the Cubs won Game 5 at Wrigley on a Sunday night, I had confidence they would end their 100 plus year drought. A Game 6 victory set up a Game 7 that may never be equalled. From Dexter Fowler's lead-off homer to Rajai Davis' game tying homer off Aroldis Chapman to Ben Zobrist's winning hit to the final out as Kris Bryant came in from 3rd to grab a weak groundball and throw it to Anthony Rizzo to secure it, it was an instant classic. It was also one that was almost too much for this blogger to take.
CUBS WIN!! CUBS WIN!!! CUBS WIN!! From 100 loss teams to Leon Durham botching a ground-ball in the deciding game of the 84 NLCS to Will Clark hitting everything out of sight in the 89 NLCS to Bartman, this Cubs fan has seen his share of gut-wrenching losses, but on November 2, it changed.
Happy New Year all!