Sunday 31 March 2019

Dreams Dashed

Some thought this was an early April Fools' Day joke, but I can assure you that it is certainly no joke, even in the slightest way. As of May 1, 2019, the CWHL will follow the same path as the WWHL, the first iteration of the NWHL, and a handful of other women's pro leagues that were full of promise, but ultimately ended up in the sports world cemetery. It's an unfortunate end to a league that looked like it was on the way up, but this end may have been on the horizon as it stood.

I want to be clear that I am speculating here, but I'm going on record to say that 2022 was likely the last season that the CWHL would have existed. Why that year, you ask? That was the year that the agreement with the Shenzhen investors would have ended. As you may recall, the announcement to pay players in the CWHL came about at virtually the same time that the Chinese investors were brought onboard with the league. Some will say coincidence, but I truly believe that had the Chinese investors not made a significant investment in the league at that time, we would have had this conversation a lot sooner rather than now. There is no way that the CWHL was in a position to pay players based on revenue generation before expanding into China and receiving the money from their Chinese investors.

Again, I'm speculating, but I raised the questions to the CWHL that we were seeing very little progress being made with the Chinese players who are on China's radar for the 2022 Beijing Olympic team, so what if the team had reviewed the results at the end of this season and simply decided that they weren't getting the return-on-investment they thought they'd see? These are businessmen first and hockey people second, so seeing return on the team they're bankrolling for 2022 would need to be significant if China is going to medal in women's hockey - something they have said is a goal on home soil.

That return? It's marginal at best right now.

Rachel Llanes is one of the best Chinese-heritage players in the CWHL, and her career stats in that league have seen her play 92 games while posting 23 goals and 25 assists. Jessica Wong is another Chinese-heritage player whose career stats have seen her play 94 games while amassing 17 goals and 46 assists. In other words, the North American-born players with Chinese heritage who likely will suit up for China in 2022 are middle-of-the-pack players when it comes to the elite talent in the CWHL.

But here's where things fall apart when it comes to the CWHL-Shenzhen deal.

Baiwei Yu is a Chinese-born player from Harbin, China who has played 54 CWHL games where she's scored two goals and five assists. Qinan Zhao is from Harbin as well, and she has one goal and seven assists in 54 CWHL games. Minghui Kong, also from Harbin, has played 56 career CWHL games and has just two goals and two assists to her name.

At what point do they expect any of these players to break out if they're skating on the third- and fourth-lines? Yes, it was probably a little ridiculous that the Chinese government thought that the Chinese-born players could skate with the likes of Poulin, Knight, Spooner, and Jenner, but you'd hope that your top Chinese-born player would have more than seven points in two seasons after assembling some solid talent such as Alex Carpenter, Hanna Bunton, and Cayley Mercer to play with them.

Further to this point, Kimberly Newell, who has Chinese heritage and will likely start for China in net in 2022, has played in just 10 CWHL games in her career while posting a 5-3-0 record, a 2.19 GAA, and a .904 save percentage. Even worse, Yuqing Wang, another Harbin native, played just 20 minutes in one game this season, and has a career numbers of 4-2-1, a 1.89 GAA, and a .905 save percentage in just 11 games over two seasons. In looking at those numbers, it seems the Shenzhen team was more concerned with winning as Finnish goaltender Noora Raty played in 40 games over the last two seasons.

In other words, two seasons of virtually zero improvement from Chinese-born players may have the group of businessmen in Shenzhen feeling like their money wasn't being well-spent. With no details on the contract that the CWHL and the Shenzhen group signed, it's possible that there was an out-clause in there for the Chinese investors which was activated at the conclusion of this season. If that's the case, I have serious doubts that the CWHL was generating enough revenue on their own to continue playing players.

Of course, this is all far-fetched, complete, and entire speculation on my part, but if the CWHL can't pay players, the league is dead. It's that simple.

Let me be clear here, though, in saying that I'm an optimist. I've watched a lot of women's hockey over the last number of years, and I can't simply be content in saying that the book is closed with regards to the work done by the CWHL over the last twelve years. There are too many skilled players and too many exceptional women to let this effort die. And here's where I lay my optimism on the table with one tweet:
If this is truly the first step in having the charitable fund that made the CWHL possible allow themselves 30 days to close off all the loose ends on the way to one league, this is a necessary first step. Legally, if the CWHL was going to merge into or be acquired by another entity, the charitable fund that holds the operating money for the league would need to relinquish its connection to the league. By doing so, that would end all funding for the league, so the league would have but one option to consider: dissolving.

By doing so, the remaining franchises and trademarks owned by the league would then be able to be purchased and/or transferred to a new entity. With the NHL having maintained its position that it would only get involved when there was no alternative for women's hockey or if there was one unified league, it seems that this move - if calculated properly - would open the door to the NHL's involvement as it was entirely a pipe dream to think that the CWHL and the NWHL could ever merge peacefully. With only one league hanging on for relevancy now, the NHL's involvement in running a women's hockey league just got significantly better.

I'm not convinced that having the NHL running a women's league is the right answer, but they have deep enough pockets and numerous resources that if they make a mistake or don't get the immediate fan support, it's not a national emergency. They can afford to take risks which is something that women's hockey was never able to say in either league.

It's still a day of black clouds hanging over the hockey world. Losing the CWHL means that 120 amazing women will now spend their summers weighing options and figuring out where they play next season. Many more people who ran the benches and sat in the front offices will need to figure out what they do next as coaching jobs, trainer jobs, and front office positions in sports are few and far between. There is nothing good that comes from this announcement, but there has to be a next step taken now that the announcement of the league folding has happened.

Two important questions are born out of this: who makes that next step happen, and when does it come? Time will certainly tell, and the clock is ticking.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday 30 March 2019

The Same Song Over And Over

With the recent Clarkson Cup game being seen by a reported 175,000 households in Canada, one could look at that number and be very happy with fact that a game that broadcast in the Vancouver market at 9am on a Sunday was able to garner that many eyes on Sportsnet. The bigger picture says that there are just over 37 million people in Canada, meaning that 0.47% of Canada watched the game on Sportnet - less than half of a percentage point - and that's rather awful when one hopes to gain the attention of advertisers and networks. Today, in the Calgary Journal, an article written by Bill Atwood ran where he spoke with four women who collectively wondered why there was so little professional media coverage.

Ignoring the fact that Mr. Atwood misspelled Laura Stacey's name twice and doesn't know the difference between "Finish" and "Finnish", he spoke to Jayna Hefford and Venla Hovi who provided perspectives from within the league, but also spoke to two bloggers whose names would admittedly be unknown to many hockey fans. What disappointed me most with Mr. Atwood's article is that he literally seemed to put in as little effort as possible in looking at the reasons for the lack of coverage, and the two bloggers' positions are about as far from the actual problem as one can be.

If one takes a really long look at how newspapers, radio stations, magazines, and television networks operate, a very large portion of their operating budgets are derived from advertising. If you noticed your favorite magazine getting thicker and heavier, it's likely not because there are more stories being reported, but because there are more advertisements being printed within the covers. The same goes with radio whose advertising budgets make up for a significant portion of the money spent on radio talent, and TV networks constantly check ratings in order to adjust their advertising rates per show in order to squeeze maximum value out of interested parties.

Here's the thing: this isn't new and this isn't some wildly profound finding. It's exactly how the businesses work, and I've been a part of one of these industries for the better part of a decade. I know how these women feel because our advertising revenue on our little radio station doesn't come anywhere close to providing us the ability to go one road trips or even pay for our trips to the national championships.

That's the reality that we live in, so we make ends meet in other ways as most of the radio DJs on our station's airwaves are volunteers. All of our programming on our station start the fiscal year with a total of $0.00 for marketing and supplies, so our show hosts often use their own resources to play music, run contests, and offer freebies to listeners. The Hockey Show is no different as everything we do - travel, contests, giveaways - comes out of our own pockets.

And that's where the catch comes in. Sportsnet is looking at two-hour time slot they give to the CWHL for its four games, and it knows it's going to lose advertising revenue that it desperately needs by having just 0.47% of the country watching for those two hours. It's not that Sportnet nor TSN don't want to have women's hockey on their channels as they constantly battle for the rights to the Olympic Games where they know they can sell the game with ease. Instead, it's much harder to sell the CWHL nationally when there is almost no interest in the league outside the local markets as proven by the consistently low numbers that are turned in on those broadcasts.

Atwood writes, "Sportsnet’s coverage of the CWHL only includes four games a season, including two regular season games, the league’s all-star game, and the Clarkson Cup championship final. By comparison, Sportsnet’s NHL schedule this season includes 150 nationally televised games, 150 regionally shown games, and every game of the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs," and he's correct with these numbers. The difference is that Sportsnet and TSN can sell their NHL coverage to advertisers with ease because it's always in-demand in Canada whereas the average sports fan - whose attention the CWHL is trying to capture - can't even name a player from the Boston Blades nor can name a defender on the Toronto Furies.

"But that would come if they provided more coverage!" you exclaim. And yeah, you're probably right except that Sportsnet is a business and I can't name many businesses that enjoy giving away profits. The same goes for newspapers who have limited room for column inches and boxscores because they need to supplement the pages with advertising. Even if a league has money such as the newly-founded Alliance of American Football, they don't get any coverage either unless something significant happens in that league that warrants a one-time interest in the league. That's the reality of the current state of mainstream media - if it doesn't sell, it doesn't run.

"I think sometimes it's the chicken and the egg. How do we get more attention and generate more interest and create more value if people don't see the sport in a big way?" Hefford asked rhetorically to Atwood.

"We're always looking to get the game out there [whether that is] broadcast or streamed games. Because that creates value for us," says Hefford.

It might be time to start promoting the work done by others. There are good bloggers and good media people who are doing exceptional work that don't get recognized by the CWHL because it wasn't done under their purview, and that's an opportunity wasted. Some will likely demand payment, and I know that the league likely isn't in a position to do that. But for someone like me who interviews stars from the CWHL on my radio show, I would do this simply for a little recognition on the league's website.

It makes sense for the league to bring these people into the fold a little more because they are passionate about the game. They're the ones who have bought into women's hockey in terms of being an incredible sport, and are working to expose the league and the players to more fans who may not be as well-versed in the game.

Instead, the CWHL has closely guarded itself against any sort of promotion or criticism with deafening silence and ignoring any stories that promote the game and players. Retweets rarely happened. Cross-promotion never happened. If the story wasn't generated by the league, it wasn't promoted by the league.

Call that "opportunity wasted".

I don't know how to change this without major changes at the top of the power hierarchy at the CWHL. Personally, this would have been something to latch onto early on where stories and broadcasts were being promoted all over the place. If anyone even had whispered the name "CWHL", it would have been retweeted, shared, and shared again.

But that never happened. Not once. And now the same old song-and-dance is happening again this summer as the players and league wonder why they aren't making a bigger footprint in the Canadian sports landscape. You've made your bed poorly, CWHL, and now you're asking why you have to sleep in it? C'mon.

Help us help you, CWHL. It's an easy start to getting noticed.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday 29 March 2019

Gazzola Jumps To Toledo

As we continue to follow some of the players who make the jump from U SPORTS men's hockey to the pro ranks, the news has been dominated by the Alberta Golden Bears thus far. I've been waiting for the U SPORTS National Champions to announce a signing, and we finally got one today as Randy Gazzola, the player celebrating on the right in the picture, signed a deal with the ECHL's Toledo Walleye!

Gazzola was a solid contributor from the blue line for the Varsity Reds over his five seasons in the AUS. In 134 career games with UNB, Gazzola scored 19 goals and added 86 assists while significantly reducing his penalty minute totals over the last two seasons compared with the previous three seasons. As a result, Gazzola played in more situations and saw more ice time as he matured, and he was a significant part of winning three national championships in the five years he played at UNB.

Prior to his stint in New Brunswick, the 25 year-old suited up for two QMJHL teams in the Halifax Mooseheads and the Val d'Or Foreurs where he played virtually the same number of games as he did in the AUS as Gazzola logged 135 games of service, amassing 23 goals and 84 assists of regular-season play. He also helped Val d'Or reach the Memorial Cup in 2013-14, so UNB got him on the rise as he transferred to the university in the summer following that season.

The right-shooting defenceman joins the ECHL affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings, and will work to rise through the ranks of the Red Wings' minor league teams to hopefully reunite with his former Foreurs teammate from 2013-14 in Anthony Mantha. Mantha, of course, was a first-round selection by the Red Wings in 2013, and he led the Foreurs in scoring in that 2013-14 season.

Gazzola should help Toledo immensely with his skill set as he can put up points when needed, but he's a fearless defender when it comes to blocking shots and playing the body. He's the kind of defender that all coaches want as he'll absorb the pain of blocking a shot in order to help his team transition to offence off that blocked shot. Gazzola likely won't lead a team in points, but he'll do the little things in terms of clearing the crease, throwing checks, and blocking shots that help teams win games. In the end, that's what every team wants.

Congratulations to Randy Gazzola as he begins life as a pro hockey player with the Toledo Walleye!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday 28 March 2019

The Hockey Show - Episode 340

The Hockey Show, Canada's only campus-produced radio show that strictly talks hockey, is back with a full roster of two people in the UMFM studios as Teebz and Beans have a number of things to go over from the hockey world! It's all the week prior to one of our favorite times of the year as we prepare for one of the biggest contests of the year offered on UMFM through The Hockey Show! Beans and I will have all the info you need to know about the contest as we go over rules, regulations, and everything else you need to know about the contest along with having a little hockey chatter in the hour!

Teebz and Beans will take a hard look at The Code in fighting after Montreal's Paul Byron was knocked senseless by Florida's MacKenzie Weegan and whether he should have had to have dropped the gloves in the first place. They'll discuss Drew Doughty's comments regarding Matthew Tkachuk and why a player on a non-playoff team needs to possibly keep his mouth shut when it comes to one of the better players on the Western Conference's best team. We'll also chat about the Lightning extended Jon Cooper at a bargain, the Jets crapping the bed against Dallas (again), the CWHL's Clarkson Cup championship that featured a number of Manitobans, Canada West alumni, and a former Manitoba Bisons star! All this and a large chunk time devoted to radio's best hockey contest comes your way at 5:30pm CT tonight!

The new UMFM website's online streaming player is pretty awesome. If you're using an Apple device, the player doesn't seem to like Safari yet, but we highly recommend you use the TuneIn app found on the App Store or perhaps another browser. If you do use the TuneIn app, you won't be disappointed. It's a solid app.

Having lost faith in Facebook, I spend far less time on that site for good reasons. In saying that, you can still email all show questions and comments to! Tweet me anytime with questions you may have by hitting me up at @TeebzHBIC on Twitter! We're here to listen to you, so make your voice heard!

Tonight, Teebz and Beans discuss following The Code, running one's mouth, signing deals for little money, coming up short, and much more only on The Hockey Show found exclusively on 101.5 UMFM, on the UMFM app, on the web stream!

PODCAST: March 28, 2019: Episode 340

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday 27 March 2019

A Hero Emerges

There is no denying that Gritty is likely the world's most famous mascot at this moment. He's been on a number of TV shows, he's appeared across the sports world at various events, and he seemingly has a hold on pop culture like no other mascot has since the heady days of Youppi! and the Philly Phanatic. While some people have expressed some distaste for Gritty, he seems to have slowly thawed the coldest of hearts in hockey as he was most recently voted as the most popular mascot in the annual NHLPA vote. All of this popularity and fanfare might have other mascots in all sports asking, "Is there no stopping the orange ball of fur?"

The Flyers, like a lot of NHL teams, have younger players take the ice during intermissions for a fun hockey game where Gritty usually gets himself into some kind of trouble with one of the players. He and a young man faux-scrapped a few months ago with Gritty finally putting the lad into the penalty box, but tonight's fun game featuring some Mites players might have seen a hero emerge for all who have been taunted and traumatized by Gritty this year.
The irony in this picture is that the young goaltender who decided to give Gritty a little fisticuffs for his behaviour is wearing #27. #27 was the number of another fiesty Flyers goaltender by the name of Ron Hextall who was known to drop the glove-and-blocker and use the stick as an axe in chopping down opponents. Perhaps the Flyers should look at signing this kid since he seems to play the brand of hockey that the Flyers like!

To give you an idea on how long this feud between Gritty and the goalie went on for, Sarah McLaughlin posted a video to Twitter that lasted a full minute that showed the young netminder chasing Gritty down and administering some frontier justice.
While it's somewhat incredible that Gritty seemed to be encouraging this response from the player who skated the full length of the ice to get at the mascot, I need to do my civic duty and remind everyone that there is a human being inside that furry suit, that swinging one's stick at anyone in hockey for any reason is wrong and could result in major injury, and that the behaviours of both Gritty - or the person playing Gritty - and the wee goalie are wrong in this situation. Kids, don't swing your stick at anyone ever and don't try to hurt a mascot. It's just not worth the trouble you may find yourself in.

That being said, had this goalie slayed the beast known as Gritty, we could have honoured him as a modern-day hero!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday 26 March 2019

Recognized As A Role Model

If you're not aware, Mattel's iconic doll Barbie is celebrating its 60th anniversary this month after it was launched on March 9, 1959. Being that I am neither a girl nor a parent, I had no clue about this fact. I discovered it today when I was in ToysRUs - yes, it's still a thing in Canada - where there was an entire aisle devoted to the blonde bombshell. What I had heard of, but hadn't really processed, was their You Can Be Anything campaign where they are featuring a vast number of female role models by whom girls should be inspired and like whom girls should aspire to be. The women chosen as the role models come from all over the world and from various jobs and industries, but all are definitely women who are exceptional in their chosen fields.

Among the many incredible women named in this role model campaign are Olympic ice dancing champion Tessa Virtue, sports journalist Melodie Robinson, conservationist Bindi Irwin, aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart, Olympic gymnastics champion Gabby Douglas, and US Open tennis champion Naomi Osaka. There are all sorts of women included in the list that range from supermodels to activists, from chefs to actresses, and from scholars to the above athletes. Mattel has done a good job in identifying some of the world's most inspiring women in this campaign, and it's one that I fully and completely support.

So why is a hockey blog talking about a toy campaign for a doll? There were no hockey players named as a role model in the initial campaign by Mattel, but it seems they're marketing to Canadian girls in the right way with an in-store video ad!

Laura Stacey is one of the selected role models that Mattel has recruited for in-store marketing, and seeing the Markham Thunder and Team Canada forward on the video screen under the huge assortment of Barbie dolls was rather cool!

For those that don't click on photos, Stacey's quotation reads,
"When we're told we can't do something or we aren't good enough, those are just words coming from someone else. They mean nothing as long as we believe in ourselves."
The caption below Stacey's quote reads,
"As a super-star athlete, Laura knows that there's no easy road to victory. She tries her best to learn from her mistakes and always keep chasing her dreams. She looks up to her mom and sister who are both driven, compassionate, and dedicated. What's next for Laura? Hopefully a few more medals and maybe an MBA!"
How cool is that? Laura Stacey is officially a Barbie ambassador and has been recognized by Mattel as a role model for young women everywhere! Now if we could just get Mattel to make up a doll in Laura's image with the appropriate Team Canada hockey jersey, all would be perfect in the toy department!

Congratulations on this incredible honour, Laura, and I'm looking forward to seeing you continue to be one of Canada's brightest stars on and off the ice for years to come!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday 25 March 2019

From Panda To Barracuda

The Alberta Golden Bears are considered as one of Canada's preeminent university hockey programs. Along with the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds and the Saskatchewan Huskies, one could make a case that these three schools are the likely favorites each and every season in capturing the U SPORTS Men's Hockey National Championship. One of the reasons Alberta is always playing for medals is due to the players they bring in, and we've seen three of the best sign pro contracts already as Luke Philp, Jason Fram, and Stephane Legault inked deals in the NHL, KHL, and ECHL, respectively. We can now add a fourth league to the graduating players' mailing list as goaltender Zach Sawchenko signed a one-way, two-year deal with the AHL's San Jose Barracuda today!

The Calgary, Alberta native played four seasons in the WHL with the Moose Jaw Warriors before capitalizing on the CHL scholarship program and enrolling at the University of Alberta where he played two seasons with the Golden Bears. Zach was 88-65-10 with Moose Jaw - including being 58-30-7 in his last two seasons - with a 3.20 GAA and a .904 save percentage, and the earned him WHL First All-Star Team honours in both 2015-16 and 2016-17 in his last two seasons with the Warriors.

In joining Alberta, his stats only got better as Sawchenko backstopped the Pandas to a gold medal and a silver medal over the last two seasons with the Golden Bears. Sawchenko finished his U SPORTS career with a 28-4-0 record, a 1.79 GAA, and a .919 save percentage as Sawchenko and the Bears ran roughshod over most Canada West teams. Sawchenko, who is only 21 years old, will now get a chance to establish himself as a professional behind Antoine Bibeau and Josef Korenar for the remainder of this season and into the next season.

"Nobody with our program would be surprised to see him in the NHL sooner rather than later," Bears GM Stan Marple told Connor Hood of Golden Bears and Pandas Athletics. "He has the talent and work ethic to reach the highest levels of professional hockey."

Despite his solid numbers in junior, Sawchenko was never drafted by an NHL team, leaving his options wide open after finishing his junior career. His choice of Alberta for school was definitely a good one, and his play at the U SPORTS level likely made him a wanted commodity. In the end, the Barracuda will get Sawchenko's services for the next two seasons, and that could lead to an NHL look at some point if he continues to perform well.

This summer, Zach Sawchenko can look back on his U SPORTS career and know that he was one of the best to ever don the pads in Canada West and across the nation in university hockey. He just can't reflect too long as he'll have a busy few months ahead of him as he gets himself set to try to win the starter's position in San Jose.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday 24 March 2019

The A-Team

Today is a big day in hockey as the CWHL's Clarkson Cup will be handed out today while Rogers Hometown Hockey partners with APTN to bring the world the very first national hockey broadcast entirely in the traditional Cree language! And while those two events are big in their own rights, Sportsnet went one step further in assigning an all-female broadcast crew - the last time I'll refer to this crew by gender - to the Clarkson Cup game as the women called the CWHL Championship game in its entirety!

I'm not here to critique this broadcast because, quite frankly, the women killed it. I do want to make something very clear about the broadcast because it needs to be repeated over and over until it's part of the everyday lexicon. It's 2019, folks. Women have been doing this hockey thing at an extremely high level for decades, and it's only in recent years that the men who ran these broadcasts and networks allowed them to sit in the play-by-play chairs and the colour analyst chairs, let alone studio analyst and studio host chairs.

The combination of Leah Hextall and Cassie Campbell-Pascall in the broadcast booth were joined by studio host Caroline Cameron and studio analysts Natalie Spooner and Jennifer Botterill along with rink-side reporter Nikki Reyes and producer Michelle Methot in bringing this Clarkson Cup broadcast to the airwaves, and they nailed it. Killed it. Knocked it out of the park. They were on their games, and they brought one heckuva broadcast to the airwaves.

The problem I have with this entire broadcast getting attention as an all-female broadcast team is that this is 2019. It's not 1970 with Ron Burgandy reading the news when female newscasters were unheard of on TV. Yet it seems that we're back in that time when it was a big deal that Veronica Corningstone took the anchor seat and read the news.

Leah Hextall has been doing this play-by-play thing for a couple of years now, and she has improved every time she's been on the air. Yes, there are still moments where mistakes are made, but Jim Hughson, Doc Emrick, and Bob Cole made mistakes. It happens. The key is that Hextall recovers, continues to call the next play as confidently as she called any other play, and moves on. That's the sign of a good play-by-play broadcaster, and she deserves the kudos for getting better each and every time she's on the air.

Cassie Campbell-Pascall is a legitimate hockey legend, and no one will question her knowledge about the game. She works regularly on Sportsnet NHL broadcasts, and she's a polished analyst when it comes to the women's game. She's an excellent resource to have in the booth as the colour commentator.

The trio of Caroline Cameron, Natalie Spooner, and Jennifer Botterill is an extremely likable and very knowledgeable group as Cameron led the panel while Spooner and Botterill - both amazingly accomplished players in their own rights with a ton of experience - gave their thoughts on the game articulately and accurately. If Sportsnet is going to do broadcast more women's hockey in the future, this is your studio panel in the same way that Ron MacLean, Elliotte Friedman, and Nick Kypreos are regulars on the NHL broadcasts. These three women were as good as those three men when it came to the breakdown of the Clarkson Cup game.

I wasn't fond of some of the questions that Nikki Reyes posed to the players and coaches she interviewed, but Reyes is doing a fine job as the rink-side reporter. She's talking to the bigger names in getting their thoughts on the game, and she balances the interviews fairly between the teams. If my only complaint is not liking a question, Nikki Reyes is doing a solid job as well and should continue being an effective part of the broadcast.

Can we stop with this "all-female" portion of the broadcast team and just call them "the broadcast team"?

Look, UMFM went through this as well. We had a long discussion prior to this season, and it was decided that we were going forward with a full-time female play-by-play broadcaster for women's hockey because we had zero female voices on any of the broadcasts of football, men's hockey, or women's hockey. But we didn't diversify entirely because of gender equality. The discussions we had about bringing a woman aboard is that we wanted a different perspective, we needed a new voice, and we - as a campus and community radio station - want to be a leader when it comes to representation of women on our airwaves.

The biggest message I continue to preach as I get UMFM involved in all sorts of hockey events is that one doesn't need to be on the ice to still be involved in hockey. And while broadcasting jobs are few and far between in most markets, UMFM will continue to seek out exceptional women to be part of all our hockey broadcasts moving forward as we air both Bisons hockey and the Female World Sport School Challenge in the coming years. If we develop some more incredible broadcasters like we have in Kyleigh Palmer, we, as a station, are better as a whole and our broadcasts become that much better.

We've had all-female broadcasts before on UMFM's airwaves. We're not here to promote the "all-female" part because, to us, these incredible women simply are the broadcasters. I would hope that Sportsnet can move past the "all-female" moniker and simply make these seven women their permanent women's hockey broadcast team and, eventually, part of their overall broadcast crews that call both men's and women's hockey. These seven women did an exceptional job today, and they should recognized for their efforts in broadcasting rather than their gender.

Well done, ladies. Top-notch broadcast today.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday 23 March 2019

Most Complete Game Of The Year

We had talked about this on The Hockey Show this week when Friend of the Show Bryan Sveinson sat in with us and he suggested that the Jets, for as much winning they were doing, were trending in most advanced stats in the wrong direction. Neither Beans nor myself disagreed with this notion, and I went as far as suggesting that the Jets were winning in spite of the stats - something that should worry them when it comes to how they'll fare in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Tonight, a solid test was laid out in front of them as the second-place-in-the-Central Nashville Predators rolled into town, and Winnipeg needed to make a statement against a team who will likely be a second-round foe if both advance to that stage.

After a scoreless first period where it seemed these two Western Conference heavyweight contestants traded knockout blows only to be denied by the goaltending of Nashville's Pekka Rinne and Winnipeg's Connor Hellebuyck, the Predators looked like they opened the scoring when a shot from the point was deflected past Hellebuyck minutes into the second period. After a review, however, the goal was waved off as it was ruled that Calle Jarnkrok deflected it in with a high stick.

And then Kyle Connor opened the floodgates with a gorgeous goal.
Connor absolutely undresses PK Subban two minutes after the disallowed goal before going backhand past a sprawling Rinne, and the Jets went up 1-0. To see Connor gain the speed he needed to catch Subban flat-footed before deking around him like he was a pylon on the ice is why Connor will get paid this summer. When the kid is on his game, he's a game-changer, and he wasn't done there.

Ten minutes later, Andrew Copp banked a shot in off Rinne after whiffing on an initial rebound to put Winnipeg up 2-0 as the Jets controlled the middle frame from start to finish in an overly-dominant period. And just to add a little more salt to the wound, Kevin Hayes found room between the post and Rinne on a rather innocent shot with less than five minutes to play as the Jets looked like Western Conference contenders throughout the middle period in staking themselves to a 3-0 lead.

This game likely could have been a lot worse when one considers how well Pekka Rinne played on some of the better setups by the Jets, but it was the bank-in goal and the one that squeezed through him that he likely should have had. But this game, through 40 minutes, would have been a trouncing had it not been for Rinne. He simply needed some help on this night, but that help never came as the Predators looked outgunned and outmatched.

Connor's second goal of the game came as a result of two Predators running into one another in the neutral zone. That allowed Kevin Hayes to pick up the loose puck as he and Connor came in on the 2-on-1, and Hayes saucered a gorgeous feed to Connor who went to the backhand and beat Rinne in close to make it a 4-0 game with 4:38 to play.

I have no issue saying I took some heat in suggesting on UMFM and CBC radio in Winnipeg a month ago about how Patrik Laine's goal-scoring slump would end with him doing other things well like distributing the puck. Yes, Laine's a goal-scorer first, but his skill set can make him a dangerous threat in all facets of the game if he simply dipped into it every once in a while. With nine seconds left in this game, Laine showed that he's an exceptional passer in setting up Connor once again.
Kyle Connor's first hat trick of his career puts him at 32 goals for the season - the second time he's hit the 30-goal mark in his career - and Winnipeg picked up a well-deserved 5-0 win after what has to be considered their most complete game of the season for 60 minutes.

"Biggest game of the year up to this point and they're just better than us. It's disappointing," Nashville captain Roman Josi said following the game. Understatement of the year award will likely go to Josi as the Predators had a chance to make things very interesting with two weeks to go had they won. Instead, they'll have to play nearly perfect hockey for the next couple of weeks while hoping Winnipeg falters in some way if Nashville has any chance at first-place in the Central Division. Combine that with St. Louis defeating the Tampa Bay Lighting tonight, and Nashville could end up in third-place as St. Louis is now just two points behind the Predators!

With the win, Jets head coach Paul Maurice passed Dick Irvin for seventh-most wins all-time as a head coach as he picked up his 693rd career win, and the Jets officially clinched a playoff spot with the victory tonight. If there was ever a time to come out and dominate your Central Division arch-rivals, tonight was the night and the Jets did that in a rather emphatic way.

Who's ready for the playoffs?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday 22 March 2019

The New "Lord Byron"?

You may recall that Byron Dafoe, former NHL goalie, had the nickname "Lord Byron". There haven't been a lot of Byron's to roll through the NHL, but perhaps we may see another at some point soon. It was announced today that the AHL's Manitoba Moose signed graduating Manitoba Bisons goaltender Byron Spriggs to an amateur tryout contract after Eric Comrie was recalled to the Winnipeg Jets and Mikhail Berdin was dealing with a day-to-day issue. Spriggs, seen to the left in an emergency goaltending situation with the Texas Stars this season, no longer has to worry about being an emergency goalie for the time being as the netminder will back up Ken Appleby tonight on the road against the Colorado Eagles!

Some may wonder why the Moose would sign a guy who is 5-16-0 in Canada West this season with a 3.68 GAA and an .897 save percentage. I get that stats are the first place that people go to check, but there's something the stats won't show for Spriggs: consistency. This year's edition of the Bisons men's hockey team was rather mediocre in their play. Just three times in 28 games did they score four goals-or-more, and two of those were wins. 19 times did the Bisons surrender four goals-or-more, and Spriggs' GAA was less than four. The math says that he was likely better than what his stats showed this season, and when looking deeper we see that Spriggs allowed four goals-or-more 11 times in his 21 appearances.

What Spriggs will bring to the Moose over the length of this amateur tryout contract is what he brought to the Bisons everyday: a positive outlook, a never-say-die attitude in the crease, and unwavering support of his teammates. Spriggs is the kind of guy who can take a 12-game losing streak - something the Bisons experienced this season - and make you forget about it by focusing on the things the team is doing right. Yes, it doesn't erase the losses in 12-straight games, but Spriggs won't point fingers. Instead, he looks for what someone can build on. That's invaluable.

His never-say-die attitude in the crease is something a lot of people may overlook about Spriggs. Technically, he's as sound as any other goaltender in Canada West, but it's his flexibility and athleticism that allows him to make saves that leave jaws on the floor. I could tell you about these traits he possesses, but here's some proof.

Spriggs made saves like this all year in an effort to keep the Bisons in games this season. He certainly has enough mojo to be able to be effective at the AHL level if he sees time with the Moose, but I'm guessing the team won't give him a lot of time simply due to having an AHL-experienced netminder in Appleby ready to go.

This is where the addition of Spriggs may be questioned as the Moose likely could have found an NCAA goalie or a goalie from U SPORTS who had better stats, but they know what they're getting in Spriggs. He's worked in emergency roles for the Charlotte Checkers and Moose in previous seasons, and now has a Texas Stars jersey to call his own from this season. Spriggs is certainly capable as a netminder as the Moose keep him in their back pocket as an emergency goalie, and now they're going to get him immersed into the AHL as Spriggs' U SPORTS eligibility has run out.

Spriggs will get a chance to be in and around the Moose for the next few days on the road trip until Mikhail Berdin is ready to go once more. Spriggs will gain an immense amount of knowledge and information from Appleby and Berdin with the team as well as seeing the preparation that goes into being ready for each and every AHL game. Those lessons can only be gained from being with an AHL team, and this audition for the Moose could be his pipeline into professional hockey.

He may not be the new Lord Byron just yet, but Byron Spriggs will certainly do all he can to help the Moose gain a playoff spot as they sit just four points back of the Rockford IceHogs for fourth-place in the Central Division.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday 21 March 2019

The Hockey Show - Episode 339

The Hockey Show, Canada's only campus-produced radio show that strictly talks hockey, is back in-studio tonight with one-half of the dynamic duo as Beans will be there. Joining him will be Bryan Sveinson who will operate the board and don a headset, and calling in from The Big Smoke will be myself as The Hockey Show is all over the map tonight! There's all sorts of stuff to talk about tonight after I spent a week in Charlottetown watching some excellent hockey and the rest of the hockey world carried on around this little excursion. There's lots to talk about on tonight's show and we're happy to have Bryan sit in on his first episode!

I was lucky enough to spend last week in Charlottetown as the Manitoba Bisons competed in trying to defend their national championship. Tonight, the trio will talk about the Women's Hockey National Championship, the Men's Hockey National Championship in Lethbridge, three Golden Bears embarking on their professional careers, the Jets going to down to SoCal to thump the Kings and Ducks, the Flames wearing their retro jerseys for the playoffs, and everything else we can squeeze into the hour! Join us at 5:30pm CT for the chatter!

The new UMFM website's online streaming player is pretty awesome. If you're using an Apple device, the player doesn't seem to like Safari yet, but we highly recommend you use the TuneIn app found on the App Store or perhaps another browser. If you do use the TuneIn app, you won't be disappointed. It's a solid app.

Having lost faith in Facebook, I spend far less time on that site for good reasons. In saying that, you can still email all show questions and comments to! Tweet me anytime with questions you may have by hitting me up at @TeebzHBIC on Twitter! We're here to listen to you, so make your voice heard!

Tonight, Teebz, Beans, and Svenny talk national championships, college players going pro, the Jets and their travels, the Flames and their threads, and much more only on The Hockey Show found exclusively on 101.5 UMFM, on the UMFM app, on the web stream!

PODCAST: March 21, 2019: Episode 339

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday 20 March 2019

Loss Of An All-Time Great

I don't usually post things like this, but the loss of Randy Turner from the Winnipeg sports scene and the Winnipeg Free Press is something I haven't really had time to process until today. I've only met Turner a few times and I don't think I made any impact on him whatsoever, but his work certainly made an impact on me. He was an exceptional reporter, a great writer, a phenomenal storyteller, and a wonderful man who lost his battle last week at the age of 57 to cancer. Winnipeg has lost one of its best advocates for all things happening in and around the city way too young.

Elliotte Friedman wrote this today in his 31 Thoughts article on Sportsnet's website:
It's true when Friedman speaks of Turner's reporting as he did some of the best work I had the pleasure of reading. His piece on Rooster Town was some of the best reporting about something most Manitobans didn't even know existed. He wrote an excellent piece while talking to dozens of people about how small-town life depends on the local hockey rink. He exposed the problem of chewing tobacco in hockey after being turned down for interviews by many of the very people using chewing tobacco. All of those stories and many more can be found on the Winnipeg Free Press site as they celebrate Randy Turner's best pieces with the newspaper.

I crossed paths with Randy while covering the Manitoba Moose for a short time on this very blog. He asked how I managed to convince the team to give me press credentials, and I told him sheepishly that the Canucks had granted me access as I was writing a weekly piece for their fan forum. He smiled at me and said, "We all gotta start somewhere on the road to greatness, kid," and went back to watching the action on the ice.

I've never forgotten those words as one of the true greats and most respected reporters in Winnipeg and Manitoba didn't denigrate me for being a blogger or web presence while sitting in the press box - a place where journalists and TV media gathered to exchange stories and chat. Instead, he was warm and welcoming - something I've not always experienced in some press box situations. While I can't claim Randy Turner made me a better writer, his words were something that I needed to hear in an online land where blog readers often flock to the bigger sites, leaving smaller sites like mine looking for a foothold.

He likely wouldn't have remembered me or even saying those words. I doubt he would have even remembered me the next morning when he was writing his next story. But that one line made Randy Turner special to me in his own way, and I feel that the local newspaper, the city of Winnipeg, and the province of Manitoba lost a big piece of the province last week as Randy Turner's stories connected all of us in this province.

Good reporters with an exceptional ability to write are rare in today's world. Randy Turner was our gem in Manitoba, and he will always be the standard when it comes to the next reporters and writers. Rest in peace, Randy. Your impact on me will never be forgotten.

Until next time, raise your sticks high in honour of Randy Turner!

Tuesday 19 March 2019

Golden Bears Go Pro

It's been a not-so-well-kept secret that there is one Canadian university men's hockey team who runs their program like it's a professional team. It's no secret that Derek Ryan was a graduate of the University of Alberta, and he's worked hard to get himself onto the top line of the Calgary Flames this season after spending the last three seasons in the Carolina Hurricanes' system, and it seems that the Golden Bears will be sending a couple more players off to the pro ranks today as it was announced two more graduates were planning on jumping into pro hockey following successful careers at the Canadian school.

We'll start with the first player who has been attracting all sorts of attention for his play this season as Luke Philp is close to signing a deal with a city close to his hometown of Canmore, Alberta.
As per TSN's Bob McKenzie, Philp will sign an NHL entry-level deal with the Calgary Flames that will start next season for 2019-20 and 2020-21. For Philp, it keeps him close to home when it comes to support from friends, family, and former teammates, and the Flames are getting a forward who really rounded into becoming the best player in Canada West and, possibly, in Canada over the last two seasons. In the last two seasons with Alberta, Philp scored 32 goals and 53 assists in just 52 games, and he often was the best player on the ice every night the Golden Bears skated.

Philp will not be able to join the team immediately, however, as he's nursing an ankle injury suffered in the U SPORTS Men's Hockey Championship Final against the University of New Brunswick. Had he been available, he would have been able to travel to Stockton to join the heat via an amateur tryout contract through to the end of the season. Because he missed the cutoff for playoff rosters to be set, Philp would not have been eligible for the Calder Cup Playoffs, but getting what would have been his first AHL games in would have provided a measuring stick for Philp in getting him ready for next season.

Will he be NHL-ready for opening next season? I can't say for sure. It's a big jump for players coming out of U SPORTS to get into the best league in the world. What I can say with some certainty is that Philp will put the same hard work into preparing for this new chapter as he did in becoming U SPORTS' best player. And that should excite Flames fans!

The other Golden Bear who has decided to make a leap to the pro ranks is defenceman Jason Fram. Fram has a pair of AHL games with the San Jose Barracuda and six games with the ECHL's Allen Americans under his belt already, so this new adventure should be interesting.
While the team is still unknown as of now, I have a feeling that Fram may be headed to China where he'll likely join the Kunlun Red Star. Fram, for those unaware, has Chinese roots and has quietly been campaigning for his inclusion to the Chinese national team at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Joining the very team where the majority of players are being trained would be a wise move for the Alberta blueliner.

Fram was always a danger from the point for Alberta with his skating and vision. Over the last two seasons, he's compiled 18 goals and 35 assists over 56 U SPORTS games, and was an excellent power-play quarterback as well as taking reps on the penalty kill. Fram looked comfortable in all situations, and he could very likely carve out a nice KHL career with Kunlun if he continues to play at a high level as she showed with Alberta. The Defenceman of the Year in 2019 should be a strong candidate to represent China if everything plays out like it did over the last few years in Edmonton.

It's always exciting to see players I have had the privilege watching go off and get themselves into the pro game at any level. They've made sacrifices, played hard through injuries and pain, and performed at an incredible level, so they deserve to get to take that next step as they follow their dreams. It may not be the NHL Draft, but Philp and Fram will have a chance to do something not many players will thanks to their decision to play U SPORTS hockey at the University of Alberta.

Stay in school, kids.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday 18 March 2019

Back To Real Life

Life starts getting back to normal this morning as I'll be on my way to Moncton, New Brunswick to begin the first leg of the flights taking me west. It's pretty surreal to think that I've visited five provinces on this trip - albeit two were just in airports - but that's the path that this little excursion has taken me on as I happily followed the University of Manitoba Bisons women's hockey team until mid-March for the second-straight season. Life, on the other hand, moves on, so it's back to airports and departure schedules as I settle back into real life once more.

One of the fun things this blog allows me to do is explore other topics at time. Today is one such article as Hockey Blog in Canada is proud to bring you The Airport Report after having travelled through five of them on this trip! We'll go over some of the basics, but we'll look at this from a traveller's perspective in terms of what amenities and comforts the airports have when it comes to making a traveller as comfortable as possible. You may think that the bigger airports have it easy since they have all sorts of room to add restaurants and shops, but those aren't the only things that make travelling easier when it comes to layovers and staying relaxed during the arduous processes that going into shuffling people around the airport and onto a plane.

I want to say upfront that this review is in no way official, verified, or peer-reviewed in any way, making it a bit of a tongue-in-cheek review. That being said, none of the airports are going to receive a failing or poor grade based on my experiences.

JAMES RICHARDSON AIRPORT in WINNIPEG: This name is too long. I know that James Richardson was an important figure in Winnipeg, but we need to shorten this name. JimmyRich? J-Rich? Something shorter would be better. Once getting past the name, the airport is nice in that it's not a multi-terminal airport so getting from one end to the other is quite easy. This might be the only airport in Canada to not have both a Subway restaurant or a Booster Juice, so if you need a sandwich or a fruity beverage you'll have to acquire one at the other half-dozen restaurants. The seating in the departure area could be more comfortable, but I wasn't there for a layover so I survived.

PEARSON AIRPORT in TORONTO:This review will encompass the best and worst about Pearson as I spent an ungodly 12 hours in this facility. I want to credit the staff who work at the three establishments open all night for helping to keep me sane as Subway, Tim Hortons, and 7-11 were my storefronts of saving grace. In case you were wondering, I preferred 7-11's coffee in Terminal 1 over the other two establishments' blends, so kudos to them.

This airport has three terminals, none of which much sense considering the always-happening constructions and redesign that seems to be happening at each of them. Pearson Airport might be a government project with all the continued renovations happening at this point as I've never been to the airport without some section of the building having work done on it. While the construction itself wasn't much of a hassle, the effects of that construction were.

I thought I found a comfortable place to sleep in the arrival area of Terminal 1, but it seems that Air Canada has arrivals that run throughout the night as it was anything but silent in there with passengers and bag carousels continually making as much noise as they could all night. I decided to relocate to a quiet hall in the departure area which became a full-on acoustic concert hall for the array of noises the overnight construction crew was making. I swear it was louder in there than it was in the arrival section of the terminal. Luckily for me, I did find an incredibly comfortable chair to lounge in, so not all was lost. I decided this place would be my refuge as I wasn't going to abandon what I believe may be the most comfortable chairs in Pearson.

One of the great highlights during my attempts to nod off and gain some precious sleep was the 3am alarm that went off as Pearson Airport ran some sort of test with its alarms. I had my headphones on so I didn't catch the full message, but you should likely be aware that noise-cancelling headphones don't entirely blot out ear-piercing alarms. Needless to say, I didn't sleep much during the full 30 minutes in which they let the alarms run. Why 30 minutes? I assume they knew I was trying to get some sleep. The security guards were likely giggling to themselves as they watched me on the cameras.

The food was fine as Subway had a decent breakfast and the 7-11 coffee got me through to morning where I finally managed to get some sleep as the sounds of excited travellers replaced the ongoing symphony of banging and thuds from the construction crew. One could mistake Pearson as a large mall if one was so inclined as there are retail operations virtually everywhere in the terminals, so it's not like there wasn't a place to get whatever it was one was seeking. While I would have liked some place to lie down, the chair I found afforded me three hours of sleep in what is likely the busiest and noisiest airport in Canada.

When I was finally going through security checks and getting ready to leave for my next destination, the lines moved quickly and efficiently. Even with the whole Boeing 737 Max groundings, Air Canada was shuffling people between gates as they looked to get passengers on planes as quickly as possible without much delay.

Is Pearson big? Yes, perhaps too big. Is it noisy? Absolutely. Is it awful? Not by any measure as I survived the night and came out a little groggy and tired on the other side, but I made it without any deaths, without hunger, without thirst, and without a lot of sleep. Three out of four ain't bad, right?
OVERALL SCORE: ★★★⋆/5 (the little star is half of a star)

STANFIELD AIRPORT in HALIFAX: My time in this airport was brief as I had about two hours to discover everything about Halifax that I could from the brochures at the information desk. The airport was laid out well on its land, and there were clear directions to virtually every gate that one would need to find. There were a number of storefronts that one could browse, and the usual collection of restaurants were present. Heck, I even stopped at a Booster Juice as a pick-me-up for lunch!

The seating in the departure area was nice - more comfortable than Winnipeg, but entirely less comfortable than the armchair I secured in Toronto. It certainly helped to brighten the day by having a sunny day combined with all the windows in the departure area. I was pleasantly surprised by Stanfield Airport, and, if it works for future flights, I'd stop there again!

CHARLOTTETOWN AIRPORT: This airport felt like a small-town or secondary airport as it was literally a small terminal, a small baggage carousel, a couple of shops, and a car rental place or two. It wasn't flashy or extravagant, but it got the job done in a utilitarian way. If one had to spend an extended period of time here, there's little to do besides people-watch, but the airport got the job done when it came to getting people into and out of Charlottetown.

GREATER ROMEO LEBLANC AIRPORT in MONCTON: There is no Lesser Romeo Leblanc Airport, so why is there a Greater Airport? For those that don't know, Romeo Leblanc was a Canadian journalist, politician, and statesman who served as Governor General of Canada before his passing in 2009, so I can appreciate the honouring of his legacy. Moncton's airport isn't extravagant either - it has a Tim Hortons and a bar upstairs next to the observation deck - but it actually has an art gallery in the airport that features local artists. And not just a hallway like they have in Toronto - an actual art gallery! Once through security, the departure area is rather small, but they have excellent places to work with outlets. The seating isn't overly great, but the stools for the electronics areas are far more comfy.

Some may disagree with those scores above for each of the airports I visited on this trip, and that's likely do to each person's individual experiences at those airports. Again, none were a horrible experience by any means, and, despite my lack of sleep in Pearson Airport, all are modern with acceptable amenities to keep one's vacation or visit moving at an acceptable speed.

I do think it's cool that I got to visit four provinces on this trip, experience crossing the Abegweit Passage of Northumberland Strait via the Conferedate Bridge, see the Atlantic Ocean from the plane and the shores of Charlottetown, and catch some great hockey action when I was working. At the end of the day, it's nice to be back home, but I had a blast on this trip!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday 17 March 2019

The Rundown - Championship Sunday

If you have been following along on this blog, you got a chance to read how the final six teams arrived at the three finals that were being played in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island at the U SPORTS Women's Hockey National Championship. Unfortunately, the two AUS teams were eliminated with their second losses each on Saturday, so there was no chance of seeing one of the local teams win a game this year. On the gold medal side, it would be an OUA team against an RSEQ team, but it likely wasn't the RSEQ team one would be expecting. Needless to say, there were interesting finishes this season, and Championship Sunday would be no different as we look at those games on the final edition of the 2018-19 season of The Rundown!

Consolation Final

The Toronto Varsity Blues would meet the Manitoba Bisons in the Consolation Final. Toronto got their second helping of Canada West after dropping their opening game against Alberta before beating St. Thomas while Manitoba dipped back into the OUA after losing to Guelph in their opener before rebounding with a win over the host UPEI Panthers. We even had a bit of a family rivalry as Toronto's Kiyono Cox faced off against her cousin in Manitoba's Jordy Zacharias! Who would take home the bragging rights?

Manitoba, for the first time in what seemed like forever, was on their game at the puck drop, pressuring the Varsity Blues at all points through the first ten minutes. Goaltender Erica Fryer was the only reason Manitoba didn't score multiple goals in the early-going as she was stellar in the Toronto net. Toronto would push back somewhat in the second half of the period, but neither side would find a goal after Fryer's brilliance and Lauren Taraschuk turning aside Toronto's chances. It was 0-0 after 20 minutes despite Manitoba holding a 10-4 edge in shots.

The stalemate continued through the second period where Manitoba continued to assert themselves against Toronto, but the Varsity Blues repeatedly withstood the Manitoba attack. It wouldn't be until late in the period that they'd finally break through as Alanna Sharman danced into the Varsity Blues' zone, made a great deke on a defender, and then dished the puck to the rushing Karissa Kirkup on the left wing who slid it under Fryer as she went post-to-post with no success as Manitoba grabbed the 1-0 lead at 15:01! That score would hold through to the second intermission as the Bisons looked to close out their tournament with a second win!

Toronto couldn't seem to find their game in the third period either as Manitoba used their speed and skill to keep the Varsity Blues off-kilter. Toronto did find themselves on a power-play late in the period as they searched for the equalizer, but it would Manitoba who would strike as Kirkup tore down the left wing, put a perfect shot on net towards the far post that Fryer kicked out, but she kicked it directly out front where Lauryn Keen cleaned up the rebound at 14:58 for the shorthanded marker to make it 2-0 for Manitoba! From there, Toronto pulled Fryer and tried to break the goose egg, but Lauren Taraschuk and the Manitoba defence were having none of that as they closed out the tournament and captured fifth-place with a 2-0 victory!

Bronze Medal Game

It's always a big deal with the top-seeded team meets the second-seeded team in the tournament. The only problem was that these two teams met to determine who would finish in third-place for the bronze medals. Alberta and Montreal came in after a couple of heartbreaking losses, so could either or both recover to live up to the hype of the top-two teams playing for a medal?

The first period of this game was fast, tight-checking, and looked like a track meet as these two teams used skill and speed to attack one another only to find the other using the same tactics to shut down those attacks. No penalties and no goals led to a very fast period being played as Alberta held a 7-4 margin in shots, but the teams moved to the second period tied 0-0.

The second period started with the two teams keeping up the strong defensive games, but it would be the Carabins who would strike first as they piled up the shots on Kirsten Chamberlin. Kelly-Ann Nadeau's shot from the blue line eluded Chamberlin with a couple of players in front as Montreal grabbed the 1-0 lead at the 8:04 mark. 2:26 later, les Carabins were up a pair when Alexandra Boulanger found a loose puck after Annie Germain's shot was partially blocked as Montreal was in control. Alberta pressed more in the latter half of the period, but Aube Racine was equal to the task as Montreal took their two-goal lead into the third period.

Alberta had a fire lit underneath them in the third period as they buzzed the Montreal zone throughout the entire frame, but Racine and the Carabins defence would not falter. With Chamberlin on the bench late in the game, however, Alex Poznikoff found Kennedy Ganser at the side of the net, and she found just enough room between Racine and the post with 1:15 to play to make it a 2-1 game. Montreal, though, wouldn't be denied on this night as they killed the remaining 75 seconds to earn the bronze medal in a hard-fought 2-1 win over the top-seeded Pandas!

Gold Medal Game

One often looks for reasons when "underdog" teams advance past the higher-ranked teams to a gold-medal game, and one could point directly at the goaltending as a major factor for why the McGill Martlets and Guelph Gryphons were squaring off for the highest honour in Canadian university hockey. Guelph's Valerie Lamenta led her team onto the ice to face Tricia Deguire as she led McGill onto the ice, and this game had all the makings of an exciting finish to a week of amazing hockey!

The two teams tangled early as they looked for an edge, but neither netminder was interested in goals on this night. Despite both sides getting chances, the score would remained at 0-0 through the opening 20 minutes with Guelph slightly ahead in shots at 8-6.

The second period saw these two evenly-matched squads continue their stalemate as the netminders were sharp and the defences were stout. McGill successfully killed a pair of penalties assessed to them as they looked to build momentum, but it would be the Gryphons who would strike first as Claire Merrick's drop pass to Kaitlin Lowy was wired by the fifth-year forward past Deguire at 18:15 to put Guelph up 1-0! The final 105 seconds ticked off the clock as the teams went into the intermission with the one-goal Guelph lead holding strong.

McGill, knowing they were 20 minutes from falling short of their ultimate goal, came out and peppered Lamenta and the Gryphons with shots from all over the ice. Some of McGill's shots were turned aside by Lamenta, but her teammates threw caution to the wind by throwing their bodies and sacrificing everything to help their goaltender in blocking shots. The barrage of shots from McGill was only stopped by the horn sounding as time simply ran out on the Martlets. With their incredible effort, the Guelph Gryphons won the 2019 U SPORTS Women's Hockey National Championship for the first time in program history with their 1-0 victory!

The final standings are now written in stone as the Guelph Gryphons stand atop the mountain as the best team in the nation. You may notice that UPEI finished in seventh-place ahead of St. Thomas, and that's due to Manitoba defeating Toronto as UPEI was Manitoba's opponent in the consolation semifinal while St. Thomas was Toronto's opponent. Debate that finish if you like as the Tommies were the AUS Champions, but the top-six teams were decided on the ice.

The Last Word

That will do it for The Rundown for another year, and this was a year of some rather amazing women's hockey at the U SPORTS level. These women are some of the most amazing athletes to ever suit up in this country, and they're doing it while carrying a full course load at school. The term "student-athlete" lists the "student" part first because these young women are heading towards a career after their university hockey days end, so the schools and U SPORTS expects them to succeed in the classroom as much as they do on the ice.

Please find the time next season to visit your local campus and support these amazing gals as they do incredible work on the ice and in the classroom. The hockey will be entertaining, and I'm fairly certain you'll have a good time watching U SPORTS women's hockey as these women do some fantastic work on the ice!

Until next season, keep your sticks on the ice!