Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Project First Goal an Eye-Opening Experience

After a successful road trip through the Northwestern United States, on which the team posted a 4-2-0-0 record, the Pats returned home on an overnight bus trip from Spokane to Regina.  When the team stopped for breakfast in Medicine Hat, four players and a coach disembarked to join RCMP officers and head to Vancouver to participate in Project First Goal.

Local players Colby Williams and Carter Hansen along with defenceman Tye Hand, forward Adam Brooks and Assistant Coach Bill McGuigan started their trip out on a small prop plane which would carry its passengers to Abbotsford before they finished by driving into Vancouver.  While the plane’s size made the trip over the Rocky Mountains seem daunting, it was smooth flying.

“It was pretty scary looking at it,” laughed Pats forward Carter Hansen.  “I’ve never flown on a propeller plane before, but once you get on it’s actually a lot smoother and I almost prefer flying like that now.”

The objective of Project First Goal is to bring players to the East Hastings neighbourhood of Vancouver under the supervision of local police officers and speak with the addicts who live in one of the most impoverished and drug addled neighbourhoods in North America.  The players then bring the messages of those in East Hastings to schools in Regina and present their experiences to the children.  The hope of the program is that, as role models in the community, the players’ presentations will hold more weight than might a police officer or teacher’s talk. 

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Education Pivotal in Markwart's Transition from Hockey to Business

As a youngster playing for the Regina Pat Canadians, former Pats forward and Boston Bruins first round pick, Nevin Markwart, didn’t have many designs on playing in the NHL.  His eyes were set on playing for the Regina Pats whom, when he first moved to the Queen City from Sault Ste. Marie in 1973, left him hoping some day he could be a good enough player to don the Blue and White.

“We had little black and white TV’s at home.  We didn’t have big screen HD TV’s that showed 14 hockey games every night,” Markwart explained.  “There was one game, it was on Saturday night, called Hockey Night in Canada and for us, most of those games were Montreal Canadians games.  So all you see on this little black and white screen are these hockey players and they almost rise to the level of Gods.  So the idea you could ever play in the NHL was just zippo.  You had no aspiration for that at all.  I had never met an NHL player so I didn’t even know you could touch those guys.”

Markwart realized his aspiration of playing for the Pats midway through the 1981-82 season when he got called up from the Regina Pat Blues of the SJHL.  After that shortened season, he found himself ranked in the first round of the next season’s NHL Draft.  The next WHL season was his coming out party when Markwart scored 27 goals and added 39 assists in just 43 games before a shoulder injury ended his season.  

Despite the shortened season, Markwart got a call from the Bruins who told him two things.  If he was available in the draft, they would select him 21st Overall and he would play in the NHL the next season.  The Bruins did just that in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft and Markwart played 70 games, posting 30 points and 121 penalty minutes in his rookie season.

The scrappy forward went on to play 309 games in the NHL, picking up 109 points along the way to go with 794 penalty minutes.  After nine seasons in the NHL, though, Markwart’s career came to an end due in part to chronic shoulder injuries. 

The transition to life after hockey is not an easy one and there are many stories to illustrate the point.  Markwart’s switch came a little easier as he jumped right into the business world.  Markwart knew a professor at Northeastern University in Boston and inquired about their MBA program.  Two days of reading later, Makrwart wrote the entrance exam and scored high, but still had to get past the admissions committee.

“At first the admissions committee wasn’t real excited about an ex-hockey player who didn’t have an undergrad… that wasn’t really their profile of their optimal student,” chuckled Markwart.  “Professor Malloy worked his magic and I got into the program.  Two years later I graduated with my MBA in Finance, graduated number four in my class and went into the investment industry.”

For Nevin the transition was quick, eight to nine weeks from player to student, with very little time stuck in limbo and struggling to find what to do next.  Something he feels was key to successfully moving on.

“I went from finished being playing, to being in the classroom.  I think a lot of my contemporaries have had difficulty with that, the transition period elongates for them and other demons show up.  Therefore, it can be problematic.  I was lucky to have my NHL career, and I was very lucky that Jim Malloy was a strong advocate for me.”

As a result of his experiences, Markwart is a strong advocate for making education a key part of the junior hockey experience and supports the WHL in its efforts to provide education to its players through the WHL Scholarship Program.

“I think it’s important, the concept the league has gone to in a formalized program to make sure they can help out players when they’re done playing towards aspirations in education.  I think it’s terrific, I say more….  How do we figure out how to get more of that in place?”

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Schlenker Earning His Stripes

Near the Pats’ dressing room in the lower level of the Brandt Centre, you’ll find a wall listing all the players to captain the Blue and White over the years.  As is the case with junior hockey, most names are only listed once while a select few are listed for multiple years.  One of the latter is former Pats defenceman Chris Schlenker.  The Medicine Hat, AB native captained the Pats from 2002-2004 when he was moved to the Prince Albert Raiders late in the season.

After his Major Junior playing time was over, Schlenker played briefly in Europe before returning to Canada and skating onto a new path as an official.  Schlenker now embarks on his first full season as a WHL referee, which is impressive considering the 29-year old is only in his third season of officiating games.  It was a drive to be involved in a high level of hockey that brought the former WHL’er to officiating.

“Some guys I work with pressured me after playing some senior hockey and I thought I would definitely enjoy it.  It’s a way to stay in competitive hockey rather than rec league which, sometimes, isn’t as competitive.”

On September 14th, Schlenker was partnered with fellow referee Nathan Wieler to officiate the Pats’ final pre-season game of 2013.  It was his first game wearing the stripes for a Pats contest.

“I was probably just as nervous for (the game) as I was for my first one back in 2001, but the friendly game day staff and the friendly people around here make things a lot easier.”

For the most part, we think of the fans of teams occupying the stands and maybe families of the players in their hometown, but sometimes the officials have fans in the crowd too.  Schlenker’s family travelled to Regina from Medicine Hat to see him on the ice at the Brandt Centre.

“My wife and three kids made the trek and they were pretty excited as they only get to watch the Tigers games at home so they get to see some different games and they’re probably bigger hockey fans than I am so it’s pretty exciting.  My seven-year old found a referee jersey with my name on it so he was pretty excited for today’s game and it was pretty neat for me too.”

Now wearing the black and white, Schlenker finds a new appreciation for what it takes to be making the calls that have so much impact on the game.

“Lots of apologies for me… who knew referees were human as well?  It has given me a whole different side and it has definitely been for the better.  I’ve learned all sorts of things, this side of the ice is not easy whatsoever and there’s still lots of learning to do.”

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Steel Makes Most of Mentorship Camp

The future of Canadian hockey was on display in Toronto last week at the Allstate All-Canadians Mentorship Camp.  Forty-two of the top bantam-aged players from across Canada came together for a week of skill-building with mentors like Jason Spezza and Claude Giroux, as well as taking some time to learn about what it takes to succeed in hockey off the ice.  With the potential clearly evident among the players who have attended the camp the past three years, it’s not outrageous to say there will be a few NHL All-Stars among the crop.

With that in mind, it’s definitely good news for Regina Pats fans to see Pats prospects at the past two camps.  In 2012 it was defenceman Brady Reagan who will be one of the challengers for a 16-year old slot on the Pats 2013-14 roster come Training Camp (August 28th).  Last week it was the team’s 2nd Overall pick in the 2013 Bantam Draft, Sam Steel. 

The dynamic forward showcased his abilities in the All-Canadians Mentorship Cup, the finale to the week.  Steel tallied a goal and an assist in the contest and racked up numerous scoring chances.  While the game, televised on TSN2, was a chance for Steel to demonstrate his talent to a wide audience; the value in the camp was mainly from what he was able to learn from the numerous mentors at the camp.

“It was unbelievable,” said Steel looking back on the week.  “Being surrounded by the top kids in Canada and the nutritionists, Gary Roberts, and my coach Jason Spezza… I learned a lot.  I mean you’re in an environment and want to take in everything you can.”

Photo Credit: Keith Hershmiller

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Two Pats Hope to Realize Draft Dreams

It’s something every kid lacing up a pair of skates dreams about.  Hearing their name called at the NHL Entry Draft.  For 210 draft eligible players, those dreams will become a reality this Sunday in New Jersey as the NHL holds its annual intake draft.  The 2013 class is headlined by the likes of Portland Winterhawks defenceman Seth Jones and Halifax Mooseheads forward Nathan MacKinnon.  For the Regina Pats, two names found their way onto the Final Central Scouting Draft Rankings this season.  Morgan Klimchuk led the duo as the talented sniper from Calgary finished up 25th on the North American Skaters list.  Kyle Burroughs used a brilliant second half to rocket up the rankings to 133rd when the final list was revealed.

While the players involved try to keep the draft out of mind during the season to focus on the job at hand with the Pats, just a few days out from the big day, the nerves are starting to settle in.

“I definitely have some nerves, obviously there’s some excitement there as well,” admitted Burroughs as he looks towards Sunday.  It will be a long day for the 17-year old as if his name is called; it will likely be in the later stages of the draft.

The anxiety is a little different for Klimchuk as he will most likely hear his name called within the first two rounds.  The Calgary product found his way into the top 30 during TSN's Draft Rankings Show this week.

“The days are starting to get pretty long now, starting to get some nerves,” explained Klimchuk.  “We’re starting to see all the lists come out and people are starting to talk about the draft.  Not a whole lot has changed… I’ve talked to a couple of teams over the phone, but it’s been a pretty normal, stressful but laid-back week.”

While Morgan Klimchuk consistently hung around the same rankings range on the CSS lists this season, Kyle Burroughs was one of the big risers this year.  From the Mid-Term to the Final rankings, Burroughs leapt 73 spots (206 to 133) while tallying 26 of his 33 points in the second half of the season.

“I think I just stuck to the way I played,” said Burroughs of his jump in the rankings.  “Obviously I had a good second half of the year points-wise and I think the way I conducted myself on the ice and with the team in every game helped.”

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Harding Provides Hope

When the NHL announced its yearly award winners last week, you’d have to look long and hard to find someone shocked former Regina Pats, now Minnesota Wild, goaltender Josh Harding received the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.  The trophy is awarded to the NHL Player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey."  In Harding’s case, that meant bouncing back from being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in November and giving the Wild a chance to win in their Stanley Cup Playoff series against Chicago when starter Niklas Backstrom went down with an injury in warm-ups before Game One.

 “My mind was clear, I was ready to go,” explained Harding as he looked back on the series.  “It was obviously an unexpected turn of events, but I thought I prepared myself well and I did whatever it took to give the team a chance to win.”

Harding’s return to the NHL came earlier in the season in about as impressive fashion as one could expect from any goaltender stepping in.  Just a couple months after his diagnosis, the Regina product shut out the Dallas Stars, stopping 24 shots, in a 1-0 Minnesota win.  With the shortened season, Harding was utilized sparingly down the stretch, playing in four contests the rest of the way before his stellar run in the playoffs.

“It was a huge accomplishment for myself and I’m glad the team realized how hard I was trying to get back, obviously with a couple of complications,” said Harding of being the Wild nominee for the Masterton Trophy.  “They've had my back from the very beginning when they first drafted me so I can’t say enough about the Wild organization.”

“(My teammates) treated me just like they did before my diagnosis and that’s what I wanted.  I didn't want to be treated differently and they were awesome, again, I can’t say enough about the organization and my teammates.  I’m proud to be a part of this team.”

While Harding admits winning the Masterton Trophy is an honour for himself, he hopes the attention from the award and his story goes towards raising MS awareness. 

“It’s obviously a huge honour to have won that award and more than anything, I hope it brings awareness to MS,” commented the former Pat.  “I’m hoping people can look at my story and use it as whatever positive they can.  For myself, I have an obligation to my team to make sure I’m ready.  I’m not the kind of guy to sit down and feel sorry for myself.  I have to get up and get going, I’m hoping people take the positives out of that and if it does help them… that would be great.”

Jordan Eberle and Mike Sillinger
in their Harding's Hope t-shirts
Harding isn't stopping at being a positive story for those dealing with MS in their life.  He’s taking action in the form of spearheading a new charity by the name of “Harding’s Hope”.

“We are going to help people with MS.  I've lived this, I’m passionate about it, I know what goes into having this diagnosis and how expensive the treatments are in the U.S.A and how limited the places are in Canada to get treatment.  We’re going to try to help out as much as we can.”

Harding’s Hope already has a strong foothold, and that was evident at the annual Sticks on Rose Tournament in Regina where celebrity players donned Harding’s Hope shirts in support of the charity.
“We’re going to set the bar high and hopefully get there.  The support and outreach has been amazing and I can’t say enough about the people who want to get involved with MS and the awareness we’re going to get out there as well.”

For more information on Harding’s Hope, visit and follow @HardingsHope on Twitter.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Colton Orr: Taking the Next Step

The name Colton Orr doesn’t ring out as one of the franchise players for the playoff bound Toronto Maple Leafs.  That tag falls to names like top scorers Nazem Kadri and Phil Kessel.  That said, with the Leafs breaking out of a nine year playoff drought, Colton Orr is a large part of the shift in team identity that put the Blue and White back into the hunt for Lord Stanley’s Cup. 

With the 2012-13 NHL Regular Season in the books, Toronto holds the most penalty minutes in the NHL.  That mark is powered by a runaway lead in the major penalty category, 46 through 48 games.  The next closets teams are Philadelphia and Columbus, both standing at 35 majors through 48 contests.  Breaking it down even further, three players consistently contribute to that major mark in Frazer McLaren, Mark Fraser and… Colton Orr.

“We wanted to be hard to play against,” said Orr, the NHL’s penalty minutes leader.  “We were doing the little things a lot more and you could tell in our game when teams come to play us it’s going to be a long night.  We really make sure that we come to work.”

A team’s work ethic and toughness goes far beyond willingness to drop the gloves in the heat of the battle, but the Leafs’ combativeness is certainly part of that lunch-bucket mantra.  Orr is no stranger to playing in an environment that demands a strong work ethic.  His journey to the NHL started its Major Junior roots with the WHL’s Swift Current Broncos before moving to the Kamloops Blazers and finally landing in the Queen City with the Regina Pats for the 2002-03 season.
Photo Credit: The Globe and Mail

Monday, 4 March 2013

Not Just Developing Hockey Players

The final buzzer sounds and fans cheer as the Pats salute the assembled after a victory.  The players head off the ice and to their dressing room to shed their gear and head home for some much deserved rest.  After a weekend that saw the Pats win 5-1 and 6-2 over divisional rivals Moose Jaw and Saskatoon, the players have four days before suiting up for a Friday game against Medicine Hat.  After a break for Christmas, this week won’t be one to relax.  On-ice practices, off-ice workouts and mental preparation are the routine leading up to a three game in three night stretch for the Pats.

This week, like any other, won’t be centred only on hockey.  The players will be out and about within Regina, helping various community organizations because while developing hockey players is large part of what the organization does… more important is the development of young adults who will contribute to their community for years to come and long after they hang up their skates.