- Category: Sports
The Strathmore High School Spartans senior boys basketball team are hoping that by exposing themselves to different teams, they educate themselves which, in turn, will help them out down the road.
The Spartans entered their second straight weekend tournament, this time in Beaumont, going 1-2.
The Spartans dropped the opener Jan. 13 100-90 to the West Central High School Rebels from Rocky Mountain House, in what was the Spartans best shooting performance of the weekend, nailing 47 per cent of their field goals.
John Le May poured in a tournament-high 34 points on 10-of-14 shooting to go with a pair of triples and knocking down 12-of-18 free throw attempts. Ryan Edwards picked up 17 points after connecting on 4-of-10 shots.
“Rocky Mountain House was a pretty good team. We were getting our shots to fall, but we just couldn’t stop anyone on defence,” said Spartans head coach Matt Laslo.
Playing on the consolation side, the Spartans smoked the Cold Lake High School Royals 82-44.
Back from his holiday vacation, Caleb Funk turned in his strongest performance of the tourney, scoring 15 points on 7-of-16 shots. Senior guard Mackenzie Bain also turned in his best performance, shooting 5-for-9 for 13 points and dialed up three 3-pointers.
“It’s great to have Caleb back with us,” said Laslo. “He’s really good down low, he’s a big body and provides a big presence for us at the rim.”
In the consolation final Jan. 14, the Spartans were bested 95-76 by the H.J. Cody School Lakers.
Le May led the way once again with 31 points on 14 shots, Funk recorded 12 points, and Isaiah Simwamu and Kashtin Running Rabbit both pulled 10 points.
“We faced some pretty strong teams and learned what we need to work on,” said Laslo. “It’s good to see the rest of the province. We will use it as a measuring stick and a better perspective of where we stand against some of the better teams.”
Earlier in the week, the Spartans downed the 0-4 Oilfields High School Drillers 94-57 Jan. 11 during Foothills Athletic Council action at the Strathmore High School gym.
The Spartans (4-1) resumed the Strathmore rivalry game Jan. 18 when they travelled to Holy Cross Collegiate to take on the Hawks (2-3). The Spartans doubled up the Hawks 80-40 in the season opener.
- Category: Sports
The Holy Cross Collegiate (HCC) Hawks senior boys basketball team returned from the Badlands with a 1-2 record in the Drumheller tournament.
Playing the host Drumheller Valley Secondary School Dynos in the opener Jan. 13, the Hawks were outscored by 15 in the third quarter, going on to lose 73-69.
Shooting guard Alex Nwoye’s tourney-high 31 points led the Hawks, going 12-for-29 with 11 rebounds. Luke Sproul shot 50 per cent from the floor on 18 shots, finishing with 18 points with 11 boards.
Nwoye led the Hawks, scoring 27 points in a 76-62 loss to the J.R. Robson School Marauders on Jan. 14. Taking 25 shots and connecting on 10 of them, he also sank five-of-10 three-point attempts, to go with 10 rebounds.
Landon Osachuk and Sproul both registered 13 points. Osachuk yanked down 10 boards and three assists, while Sproul contributed six boards and three steals.
The Hawks won their final game of the weekend when they bounced the Acme School Redmen 62-54.
Nwoye and Sproul were strong once again, Nwoye with 24 points, six rebounds and four assists, while Sproul finished with 20 points and 14 rebounds.
The Hawks hosted the Strathmore High School Spartans at the HCC gym Jan. 18.
Junior A boys grab silver
There was plenty of action among the junior varsity Hawks’ teams, as they also participated in tournaments this weekend.
The boys junior A Hawks hosted their own tournament over the weekend at the HCC gym and bagged the silver medal.
In the championship, the Olds Koinonia Christian High School Royals stuffed the Hawks 50-30.
The Foothills for Learning Academy opened the second game on a 12-2 run over the Hawks, but HCC responded, cutting the lead to 16-10 at half. A strong third quarter guided the Hawks to the 41-36 victory.
The Hawks received a balance attack on offence, as they stung the Hugh Sutherland Kodiaks 66-23 in the opener.
Junior A girls split a pair
The girls junior A Hawks played in a tournament at Strathcona-Tweedsmuir over the weekend. Taking on the host Spartans Jan. 13, the Hawks lost 38-11.
On Jan. 14, the Hawks started slow, but made a strong second half push, only to fall short in the end 28-18 to the Hugh Sutherland Kodiaks.
Hitting their stride in the finale, the Hawks displaced the Ecole Francophone D’Airdrie 27-20, to finish seventh on the weekend.
Junior B boys go 1-2 at tourney
The junior B boys also played a tournament at Strathcona-Tweedsmuir, in a triple-header on Jan. 13.
They took on the host Spartans in the opener, falling 32-20.
In the sandwich game, they dumped the Rosemary School 37-19. In the finale, the Glenmore Christian Academy Royals clipped the Hawks 35-19.
- Category: Sports
The Strathmore High School Spartans girls basketball team built a massive lead early and coasted to the finish with enough gas in the tank.
The Spartans smacked the Highwood High School Mustangs 54-33 in Foothills Athletic Council action Jan. 11 at the Strathmore High School gym.
In what was their first game in three weeks, the Spartans came out firing, leading the 2-2 Mustangs 20-8 after the first quarter that featured a pair of triples from Kaylin Larson and six points of Allie Davidson’s 18 points.
“We came out with a little rust. We didn’t play as well as we could have, but we played good enough to win, and that’s all that matters,” said Spartans head coach Dion Galandy.
“Our defence was good in the first half, but we kind of let go in the second half.”
Holding the Mustangs to one field goal in the second quarter, the Spartans (4-1) built a 40-16 lead by the end of the third.
In the fourth, the Mustangs began to chip away, albeit barely.
Scoring eight straight points inside the Spartans paint, the Mustangs were beginning to take advantage of the tired legs of the Spartans. The Mustangs more than doubled the production in the fourth, scoring 17 points.
“We just need to step it up and play like we can,” said Galandy when asked about what needed to change about the Spartans defence late.
The Spartans also led tape-to-tape and probably weren’t as sharp as they were at tip off.
Davidson remained sharp throughout, nearly completing a rare four-point play on a kick out pass from Larson.
“Allie was really focused tonight. She did a good job playing and defending, getting steals and getting back on defence,” said Galandy.
Ffyona Gibson-Smith finished with 10 points and Brianna Kennedy sunk a pair of threes to finish with eight points.
The Spartans travel to Holy Cross Collegiate to take on the 1-4 Hawks Jan. 18. The Spartans grounded the Hawks 60-20 when the two met in the season opener Dec. 6. Tip off is slated for 5:30 p.m.
- Category: Sports
The Strathmore Wheatland Kings injected two new players acquired just before the roster deadline Jan. 11 and received immediate impact.
The Kings inked local product Blair Roszell, and Christian Halman from Brooklin, Ont., giving their lineup some much needed depth.
Roszell came up through the Wheatland Athletic Association ranks, but wasn’t able to play for the Kings while he was attending the University of Lethbridge. Now back home with a good job, Roszell is ready to rock.
“We have been chatting with him throughout the year. Now that he got his work all sorted out, we are happy to have him,” said Kings assistant coach Keenan Desmet. “He is a big presence on the blue line at 6-foot-4 and that will be key against some of the better goal-scoring teams.”
Roszell has one assist in his first two games as he is paired with alternate captain Hayden Vanderploeg.
Halman is a bit of a different story.
He came out from Ontario to try out with the Golden Rockets of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League this fall, but broke his hand in camp. He returned to Ontario, but has since made his way back out west. Arriving via word of mouth, Halman was put in contact with the Kings through defensemen Josh Smith.
“We didn’t know too much about him, we kind of took a chance on him,” said Desmet. “It’s a good thing we did; he has impacted our games right away.”
Halman netted the game-tying goal in his debut Jan. 10 against the Banff Academy Bears (9-19-2) and another against the High River Flyers (6-24-2) Jan. 13.
“Christian is a smaller guy, but very physical and a great skater. Both additions have great shots and have helped us out offensively,” said Desmet.
Halman netted four goals and eight points this season as a member of the Tottenham Steam of the Greater Metro Junior A Hockey League. He also scored the fourth goal of the first period as the Kings out-gunned the Flyers 6-4 at the Bob Snodgrass Recreation Complex.
Three of the Kings four first period goals came from their strong cycling line of Kristian Ayoungman, Brooker Pretty Youngman and George Montour.
Ayoungman scored the first two, followed by Ryan Grasdahl registering his fourth of the season.
For Kelly it was his fourth straight appearance between the pipes with regular number one Brady Hoover still recovering from a lower-body injury.
“Kelly has been working hard at practice and it’s finally paying off,” said Kings captain Keenan Ogle.
Kelly was buried in the depth chart early in the year, often in the stands watching Hoover and backup Pierre Wiederhold.
Seizing his opportunity in net, Kelly has gone 2-1 with a .882 save percentage in his first chunk of regular ice time.
“That’s the way hockey goes sometimes. It was unfortunate that Hoover got hurt, but we needed someone to step up and he has certainly earned his spot in the lineup,” said Desmet.
Ogle is experiencing his most productive year in his final year with the Kings (12-15-4). With 22 points, the captain has come up clutch lately.
With their backs against the wall in a shootout last week against the Medicine Hat Cubs, he scored to extend it, leading to a win.
Tied at four with 4:55 remaining in the third, he scored the winner against the Flyers from Kody Hammond.
“I couldn’t tell you,” Ogle said, when asked about what he has been doing to come up in the clutch lately. “I just try to bear down when I get my chances and hope they go in.”
Ogle narrowly missed in the shootout against the Banff Academy Bears, failing to extend the game, as the Bears brushed back the Kings 4-3 Jan. 10 at the Strathmore Family Centre.
Veterans Matt Thomson and Brenden Moore were forced to watch helplessly from the stands as they each served a one-game suspension for picking up their third fight of the season.
Vanderploeg opened the scoring on a bomb from the point at the 8:30 mark of the first period. The Bears added a pair of goals; the Kings responded with Pretty Youngman’s 20th of the season with 4:40 to go in the first.
Jake Huculak got an unassisted shorthanded snipe for the Bears in the second and Halman made a good first impression by tying the game with 2:48 to go in the third.
Shooting second in the shootout, Ogle was leaned on to tie the game once again, but missed. Daniel Nikiforov came down the ice and popped in the winner (3-2) for the Bears third shootout win of the season.
This weekend, the Kings travel to Medicine Hat Jan. 20 to take on the Cubs, and return to the Strathmore Family Centre to host the Ponoka Stampeders (8-21-3) Jan. 21 at 8 p.m.
- Category: Sports
Last October, the Foothills CFR Chemicals Bisons scored 11 goals against the SSAC Boston Pizza Athletics.
On Jan. 15, they only mustered eight shots against the Red Deer Optimist Chiefs in a 4-2 loss at the Strathmore Family Centre.
The Chiefs and Bisons skated to a 2-2 tie earlier in the season, and recently, the Bisons stuffed the Chiefs 5-2 in their opening game of the Mac’s AAA Midget Hockey Tournament.
The Chiefs (16-4-7) might have started the season slowly, but have been gaining steam behind the Bisons in the standings, growing more confident and making adjustments along the way.
“They did a real good job plugging up their end of the ice,” said Bisons head coach Sandy Henry. “They out-worked us and we didn’t win any battles.”
The Bisons (20-4-3) previous low shot total was 22 on Nov. 6 during a 2-2 tie with the Fort Saskatchewan Boston Pizza Rangers.
“We knew that coming in this was a big game. We just got caught up trying to make too many fancy plans,” said Bisons centre Brandon Machado.
Justin Travis never had to make more than three saves in any period as the Chiefs spent quality time in the Bisons end on the man advantage. They finished three-for-seven on the power play.
The Bisons actually led 1-0 after the first period.
They next time Peyton Krebs sets up someone without using a saucer pass might be the first time. Krebs won a battle in the corner against Ethan Schlag, turning quickly, he spotted Jackson Salt on the other side of the net and flipped over a saucer pass. Salt hit it right on the button, putting the Bisons up 1-0.
Tarun Fizer hit Machado from behind the net, putting the Herd up 2-1 at the 4:12 mark of the second period. For Machado, it was his third point on the weekend, giving him 11 goals and 25 points this season.
“We are just trying to keep it simple out there. I play with great line mates who make it easy. My motto this year has been ‘team success brings personal success,’” said Machado.
Ben Laidlaw was strong, making 22 saves, but picked up his second loss of the season.
In the third, Fizer took a pass leaving his zone with his head down. Turning up ice, he got plastered by a Chiefs forward in the neutral zone.
Lying on the ice for a few moments, he had to be helped off the ice by trainer Rebecca Thompson.
Fizer, who leads the team with 31 points, joins other key forwards Blake Wells (23 points) and Boaz Bassen (11 points) as players out indefinitely with upper-body injuries.
Huber drilled his 12th of the season and the winner at the 3:15 mark of the second from Cole Clayton and Krebs. Tyson Scott supplied one goal, Machado finished with a goal and an assist, while Hunter Young made 23 saves for his eighth win.
Next for the Bisons, they will host the Calgary Northstars Jan. 22 (4:45 p.m.) on a night celebrating the billet families at the Strathmore Family Centre.
- Category: Sports
The Olds Grizzlys pulled off a home-and-home series sweep of the Wheatland Warriors with a 5-2 victory Jan. 15 at the Strathmore Family Centre.
“We didn’t earn anything out there tonight,” said Warriors head coach Cody Brown. “When you get comfy against good, hard-working teams like that, they’ll make you look silly in a hurry.”
The local double-A bantam team (8-13-2) jumped in front 2-0 after a pair of sharp-angled first period goals from Nolan Bailey and Kage Yellowfly.
From there, the Grizzlys (13-6-2) took over, scoring five times. Of their five goals, two came on deflections, taking Grizzly-friendly bounces in front of the net, and Mitch Tessemaker accidentally put one past his own goalie while on the power play in the third.
The Warriors were outshot 43-22, as Corey Ross made 38 stops in net.
The Cranbrook CPC Hornets (12-8-3) host the Warriors Jan. 21 at Western Financial Place.
Chiefs slay Timberwolves
The Wheatland Chiefs stayed away from ladders and black cats on Friday, Jan. 13, as they managed to dust off the 9-9-4 Bow Valley Timberwolves 4-2 at Cochrane Arena.
Wacy Sandum opened the scoring on an end-to-end rush for his 18th goal. Isaac Benoit picked up his first of two assists on the evening.
Kale Clouston, Brady Skiffington and Lucas Muenchrath added snipes and Riley Stovka stopped 12 shots to pick up his ninth win.
The Chiefs (20-2-2) play in their only home game of the month Jan. 21 (4:45 p.m.) when they host the Red Deer CanPro (7-12-4) at the Strathmore Family Centre. It will be the first and only meeting of the two teams this season.
Braves edged 5-4
The Okotoks Oilers Black avenged their Dec. 11 loss to the Wheatland Braves with a 5-4 edging Jan. 14 at Murray Arena.
Like the Warriors, the local double-A peewee team (5-15-2) were staked to an early lead, but saw it slip away in the later stages.
The Braves jumped in front 3-0 in the first period on goals from Josh Alberda, Cole Whelan and Cyle Clayton.
The Oilers (6-13-2) answered with three straight of their own, spanning between the second and third periods.
Clayton added his another on the power play.
Rhett Harten made 19 saves in net.
The Braves host the Central Alberta Selects (1-19-4) Jan. 22 (1:30 p.m.) at the Strathmore Family Centre.
- Category: Sports
Tarun Fizer wasted no time in proving why he was named the Foothills CFR Chemicals Bisons player of the month for December.
In what was a rematch from a thrilling Mac’s AAA Midget Hockey Tournament quarterfinal, the Bisons dumped the Calgary Royals 5-1 in Alberta Midget Hockey League action Jan. 8 at Stu Peppard Arena.
Brandon Machado entered the offensive zone flanked with captain Brett Trentham on a two-on-one. Driving to the net, Machado deked, shot, and his rebound kicked out to the trailing Fizer, who chipped in the opening goal 2:10 into the game.
“Tarun is a super explosive guy and a very quick thinker,” said Bisons head coach Sandy Henry. “He tracks the play well, knows where the pucks are going to pop out and jumps on them. And on top of all that, he possesses a very solid shot.”
Always a fast-paced game when these two teams square off, the Bisons led 1-0 after the first and 18-8 in shots.
In the second, grinder Kaden Hanas won a battle in the Royals zone, walked out front and tried to jam the puck home. The rebound squirted to a pinching Landon Melzer, who stabbed at the puck, floating it over Samuel Burford.
Now healthy from a lower-body injury, the Bisons (19-3-3) are reaping the rewards of the clean-shaven Canmore product.
“It was very frustrating trying to come back from an injury like that,” said Melzer. “It would feel good one day, and then the next day I would take a misstep and tweak it again. It was hard to tell when it was good to go.”
In the second, Melzer stapled his man to the boards, turned around to retrieve the puck and was sent flying by one of the Royals (14-6-4) forwards.
“He came back to the bench after that hit and said, ‘Now I’m having fun!’ That’s just the type of kid he is: big, strong, moves the puck well and has more skill than you might think,” said Henry.
The Bisons opened up the game in the second when Cole Clayton wristed a high shot from the point. He collected his own rebound through a maze of legs and buried his third of the season.
Lost from the score sheet in the second was Fizer undressing Pickles to the backhand and roofing his would-be second goal of the game. Pickles bit so hard on the fake, he slid back into the net, dislodging it from its moorings milliseconds before Fizer fired the puck into the net. No goal.
“When you get a goal like that called back, you really want another one and kind of get that one back,” said the Victoria Cougars prospect Fizer.
Later in the third, he picked off a dee-to-dee pass from Sam Atkinson to Eric Gilholme deep in Royals territory. In alone, Fizer went back to the well and used the same move to render Pickles useless. This time, the net stayed on.
Joel Krahenbil put the game on ice when he shoveled in a rebound off a Clayton drive attempt.
The Bisons other netminder, Ben Laidlaw, has been between the pipes for the first two matchups with the Royals. This time, Hunter Young got his crack at the Royals.
Young was coming off his least impressive outing of the season, when he allowed four goals to the Moose Jaw Generals in a mean-nothing game in the Mac’s.
Refreshed from the post-Mac’s break, Young was razor sharp in the blue ice.
Early, he was quick on the recovery, adjusting to save deflected shots. In the third, his teammates took four penalties and the Royals sent waves of troops crashing towards the net. Twice on one penalty kill, Young emerged from a pile of bodies at the whistle, holding the puck.
“I was really helped out by my defence today; [Tyson] Terretta bailed me out and Cayde [Augustine] bailed me out,” said Young. “It was a little hectic in there at times, guys are going to try and get in your head, you just have to stay focused on the next play.”
Young now sits with a 7-2-1 record to go with a splendid 1.73 goals against average and a .938 save percentage.
“That was a huge game by Hunter,” said Henry. “I thought he really responded in a pressure game, little bit of tightness in the standings, playing in a road rink and coming off the holiday break.”
The Bisons are one of four teams without a shutout this season. The dream of picking up their first blank slate came to an end when Connor Minchin blasted home his second of the season off a faceoff win to the left of Young with 5:54 to go in the third.
“Honestly, I was pissed when that goal went in. I really wanted Hunter to get the shutout. I thought he deserved it,” said Henry.
The Bisons were without Blake Wells, Tyler Strath and Liam Belcourt. Strath came down with the flu and Wells is still recovering from an upper-body injury sustained in the Mac’s. Belcourt is playing with Tri-City Americans of the WHL during their Saskatchewan road swing. He will have played in six games by the time the trip wraps up on Jan. 14. Playing in place of the missing Bisons were Ryan Ries (Airdrie Lightning midget AA) and Travis Kelton (Wheatland Chiefs midget AA).
Next for the Bisons is a pair of home games. First, they welcome the Calgary Flames (15-8-1) Jan. 13 to the Strathmore Family Centre, with puck drop at 8 p.m. Two days later, on the 15th, the Red Deer Optimist Chiefs (14-4-7) stroll into town, with puck drop at 2 p.m.
The Bisons defeated the Flames 7-2 Oct. 30, and tied the Chiefs 2-2 Oct. 28 and clipped them 5-2 in the Mac’s.
- Category: Sports
The Wheatland Chiefs came back from the holiday break with a bit of a target on their back.
After cruising through the South Central Alberta Hockey League with a 12-game winning streak stretching from the end of October to mid December, teams like the Taber Golden Suns (8-9-6) are going to get a little more fired up when they take on the division-leading Chiefs (19-2-2).
That’s exactly what happened Jan. 7 at the Taber Community Centre, when the local double-A midget team and Golden Suns skated to a 3-3 tie.
“I thought Taber played well,” said Chiefs assistant coach Matt Gass. “We came out as I expected us to come out after the holiday break. It took a little bit for us to get into the flow of things again.’’
Zachary Suntjens sniped the Chiefs first goal of 2017 at the 9:47 mark in the opening frame from Riley Romashenko and Adrian Kusu.
Romashenko added an unassisted marker on the power play in the second period, but the Golden Suns matched the Chiefs with a pair of snipes.
“We’re at that point of the season now where teams are game planning for us,” said Gass. “They get their No. 1 goalie in. Taber had a system in place and they executed it.”
The Suns broke the tie midway through the third when Zach Trempner found the back of the net.
With just over six minutes remaining, the league’s leading scorer and Whitecourt Wolverines prospect Isaac Benoit took over.
Playing with Kale Clouston for the first time this season, the two were clicking early and finally got rewarded when the Chiefs needed it the most.
Clouston made a great pass up to Romashenko, who found Benoit and let him take care of the rest. Benoit leads the league with 25 goals, 18 assists and 43 points. Ty Tarvyd made 33 saves in net to preserve the tie.
In a road-heavy January, the Chiefs are in action again Jan. 13 when they travel to take on the Bow Valley Timberwolves (9-8-4) at the Cochrane Arena. Their next home game goes Jan. 21 when they host the Red Deer CanPro (7-10-4) at the Strathmore Family Centre.
The warm holiday cheer was nowhere to be found in the Wheatland Braves locker room following their 4-2 loss to the Airdrie Lightning (6-15-2) White Jan. 6 at Hussar Arena.
For both teams, it was their first game back from the holiday break, and the effort portrayed by the Braves is starting to grow old with their bench boss.
“For four months now, we have been trying to get these guys to buy into working hard and it hasn’t happened,” said Braves head coach Keith Klemmensen. “From now on, guys are going to have to earn their ice time. If you’re not willing to put in the effort then you aren’t going to play.”
The local double-A peewee team (5-14-2) recieved goals from Nolan Mahussier and a powerplay tally from Cole Whelan. Adam Moore, Garrin Gosling and Mahussier picked up assists.
Rhett Harten started in net for the Braves. He stopped 18 of 22 shots.
Up next for the Braves sees them take on the Okotoks Oilers Black (5-12-2) Jan. 14 at the Murray Arena. They return home Jan. 22 when they welcome the Central Alberta Selects (1-17-4) to the Strathmore Family Centre.
Warriors lose 3-1
The Wheatland Warriors got off to a slow start this season, going 2-6-2 in their first 10 games.
In the 10 games leading up to the holiday break, the local double-A bantam team was playing better, going 5-5 in that stretch.
At the time, head coach Cody Brown was apprehensive about the holiday break, not wanting to take a break having seen his team turn a page in their progress.
In the Warriors (8-12-2) first game back, they fell 3-1 to the Olds Grizzlys at the Olds and District Sports Complex.
Scoreless after the opening frame, the Grizzlys (12-6-1) popped two past Logan Grant in the second.
“Logan stood on his head for us,” said assistant coach Brandon Neufeld. “We got out to a slow start, and if it wasn’t for him, then we would have lost by a lot more.”
Grant finished with 34 saves.
Adam Kirkpatrick cut the lead in half when he sniped his ninth from Zach Stangness with 3:33 remaining in the frame.
The Warriors tried to claw back in the third, but were forced to pull the goalie with a minute remaining. That’s when Jordan Saunders picked up the empty net marker, icing the Warriors.
The Warriors will look to bounce back against the very same Grizzlys Jan. 15 when the two meet up at the Strathmore Family Centre. Puck drop is set for 4:15 p.m.
- Category: Sports
The Strathmore High School Spartans senior boys’ basketball team shook off the holiday rust with the Cobra Classic Tournament in Claresholm over the weekend.
Short five players still on the holiday break, the Spartans were bested 67-53 in the opener Jan. 6 by the Livingstone Sabres.
To help get through the game, Spartans head coach Matt Laslo leaned on junior varsity player Max Nelson to log some minutes.
“Friday night we didn’t bring a lot of intensity. When you come out like that and spot a team the lead, it’s tough to catch up,” said Laslo.
The Spartans received a boost once they entered the consolation side Jan. 7 when they saw the return of a pair of seniors in Caleb Funk and Mackenzie Bain. Freshman guard Josh Filipionek stepped up his game in the New Year and led the Spartans to the 79-67 win over the West Island Wolves.
“Josh was incredible on Saturday, he played like a senior out there,” said Laslo. “He was doing everything well: making passes, getting baskets and getting our team out in transition.”
The Spartans met the Eagle Butte Talons in the consolation final and played their best game of the tournament, clipping the Talons 90-78.
Leading the way was Bain, who was on fire from the land beyond, dialing up eight three-pointers.
“I’ve never seen anyone hit that many threes in a high school game before. He must really like this tournament, because when he was in Grade 10, he hit six in one half once,” said Laslo.
The Talons held a two-point lead with just under five minutes to go, but the Spartans closed out strong on Bain’s lights-out shooting.
John Le May has been one of the Spartans best crunch time players so far and saw his game evolve in the tournament.
“He’s always been able to score. Because of that ability to score and his size, he is going to draw a lot of double teams,” said Laslo. “Now, he is starting to realize that and he is turning into more of a point-forward, kicking the ball out when he gets trapped. We are able to score with ease when he plays like that.”
Now that the Spartans (3-1) are back into the swing of things, they played their first Foothills Athletic Council game on Jan. 11 (result not available as of press time) when they hosted the Oilfields High School Drillers (0-3).
The team will then take part in another tournament in Beaumont over the weekend.
- Category: Sports
The Foothills CFR Chemicals Bisons were a bounce here and a bounce there from advancing at the 39th annual Mac’s Midget AAA World Invitational Tournament.
“We won five good games and lost one. We need to hold our heads up high with our performance,” said Bisons head coach Sandy Henry. “I really like our team. We learned some stuff this week about learning to compete against some of the top teams.”
The Bisons entered the holiday break and the Mac’s tournament not playing their best. Including an exhibition game with the Hungarian National team, the Bisons were 1-3-2 in their last six games.
Prior to the tournament, Henry mentioned that the Mac’s has an ability to spark teams’ energy like boosting a dead car battery.
As soon as the puck dropped in their opening game with the Red Deer Optimist Chiefs, the switch flipped.
It was the best they had looked in weeks: all four lines were buzzing, their forwards were bearing down on the defenders, and the Bisons defensive core was winning battles and getting pucks in deep.
Maybe it was playing in front of a couple hundred fans and a few scouts, or maybe it was just the hype of the tournament. But whatever it was, the Bisons looked like they found their groove from the beginning of the season – the same groove that was absent the past few weeks.
For Bisons captain Brett Trentham, it marked his third trip to the dance. The Bisons failed to make it out of the round robin stage, going 1-2-1 last year.
“We battled. It was a good experience for us to go far, but sometimes you just don’t get the bounces to go your way,” said Trentham. “I don’t think there was anything that I would have liked to change from our performance.”
Trentham only finished with a pair of goals, but they were timely and he was a key cog in one of the Bisons most productive lines.
Playing with Tarun Fizer and Brandon Machado, they were instrumental in the quarterfinal win over the Calgary Royals, scoring two out of the three goals.
The Royals game was huge for the team. Finishing undefeated in the round robin stage, they didn’t want to flame out in their first elimination game.
The Royals also played the Bisons tough earlier in the year. The two teams skated to a 3-3 tie at the Strathmore Family Centre.
Centre Payton Krebs tied for the team lead in scoring with two goals and nine points, and will look back at that Royals game as a lasting highlight.
“Beating the Royals was great. They gave us a thought battle and it was a good game. Those are the types of games you want to be a part of,” said Krebs. “It was an awesome tourney. The City of Calgary and the Mac’s organization put on a great show. I think everything happens for a reason and tonight was a good eye-opener as we move forward with our games starting next weekend.”
Goaltender Ben Laidlaw also thought the win over the Royals was the highlight for the tournament.
“For a goalie, there’s no better feeling than when the horn sounds and your team comes rushing over to you after a tough win,” said Laidlaw, who finished with 67 saves, a .940 save percentage and a 2.00 goals against average. “Grinding out games, scraping by – those are games you remember.”
If people were unaware of who Cole Clayton was before the tournament, they certainly know now. Clayton led the Bisons defence core with four points, including the winner against the Greater Vancouver Canadians with 6:30 to go in the third period.
“Cole surprises me every game,” said Grant. “He makes plays most [defencemen] don’t even dream about. I’m not surprised he was the clutch guy at the end for us. You breathe a little bit easier when the puck is on his stick.”
The Bisons draw well in Strathmore for crowd support, but playing in the Mac’s in front of a packed house each night can get the blood pumping a little quicker than normal.
“It’s awesome. I was surprised at how big the crowd was, it definitely got me going a little bit more,” said Clayton.
When the Bisons were steam-rolling teams at the beginning of the season, they were led head first by the dynamic top line of Jackson Salt, Zach Huber and Krebs.
Injuries and call-ups jumbled up the line as the holiday break neared, but they were reunited for the tournament.
Huber tied Krebs for the team lead in scoring with seven goals and two assists, highlighted by his hat trick against the Moose Jaw Generals Dec. 30.
“Our line is really clicking. It’s easy playing with talented guys like Krebsie and Salty,” said Huber. “We knew we were buzzing, chance after chance, it was eventually going to go in. Krebs made one hell of a pass across the seam and I was lucky enough it went in.”
For his efforts, Huber was named to the second tournament all-star team and won the Most Sportsmanlike Award.
One of the great what-ifs from the Mac’s will be, what if the Bisons didn’t pick up a pair of tournament-ending injuries to two of their deadliest forwards.
In the Canadians game, Blake Wells was drilled into the boards near his own bench and was forced to leave. In the quarterfinal tilt with the Royals, Salt was crunched into the glass near the penalty box and was helped off the ice.
“Wells is a big power forward and Salt is a tenacious forward; they are a couple guys that can bring some energy. I’m really happy with what we got from the AP’s, but I’m just sad that they didn’t get to experience the full tournament,” said Henry.
It was a huge blow to the Bisons punch up front. The two forwards have combined for 19 goals and 42 points this season. Even with the strong play from affiliated players Tucker Zdunich and Mark Zachary, having those two sit in the stands instead of on the bench leaves a gaping hole up front.
With an earlier-than-scheduled exit from the Mac’s, the Bisons will finally enjoy some much needed off time — something more than two days off.
The holiday break was anything but a break: playing eight games in 10 days logged a couple extra miles on the young guys’ legs.
“It was a tough way to end the tournament, but I thought we played well,” said Laidlaw. “I thought we grinded and battled throughout. The playoffs are going to be similar with the same type of atmosphere. I think we will take a lot of lessons from this moving forward.”
Henry gave his team a week off, before resuming with a practice Jan. 7. Then they’re back to their Alberta Midget Hockey League schedule Jan. 8 with a quarterfinal rematch against the Royals at Stu Peppard Arena. The Bisons return home to the Strathmore Family Centre Jan. 13 when they take on the Calgary Flames. Puck drop is set for 8 p.m.
- Category: Sports
The Mac’s Cup will be coming to Strathmore as the Rocky Mountain Raiders of the Alberta Female Hockey League (AFHL) stuffed the Saskatoon Stars 5-4 in an overtime thriller to wrap up the female division at the Mac’s Midget AAA World Invitational Tournament Jan. 1 at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
After a wild third period that saw four lead changes, the Raiders took a penalty with 35.4 seconds remaining in the third, nine seconds after relinquishing the lead.
“We had to keep our heads in the game, had to keep our defence tight and our offensive pressure up,” said Hailey McCallum, who plays with the Raiders and attends Strathmore High School.
Killing the 1:25 of Stars power play in the extra frame, the Raiders were rewarded with their own power play minutes later.
That is when Rachel Weiss etched her name into Mac’s tournament lore.
Taking a feed from leading scorer Nicole Fry, Weiss picked the top corner from two feet out as her bench poured out onto the ice forming a giant purple dog pile.
For Langdon product Emma Borbandy and McCallum, revenge never tasted sweeter.
Both members of last year’s squad that was on the other side of the dog pile in the championship game, it was extra special to be on the winning side this time around.
“Surreal moment, I can’t believe it happened. We know what it felt like to be on the short end of the stick last year,” said McCallum.
The Raiders are used to the big stage by now: along with their second-place showing last year, they also placed third at last year’s Esso Cup in Weyburn, Sask.
“I think that was a huge tournament. It was good to learn what it takes to be one of the top teams in the country. Some of our girls believe that there was some unfinished business carrying over from last year that we needed to take care of,” said Raiders head coach Paul Pozzi.
Sitting 11-5-2 in the AFHL, the Raiders began rounding into form as the holiday break approached.
“We’ve been doing a lot better since the end of November, since we came back from the Notre Dame tournament,” said Raiders head coach Paul Pozzi. “We were playing against a lot of tougher teams and playing up to their level.”
The Raiders were waxing teams en route to the tourney title. Finishing the round robin 3-0-1, they stomped the Kootenay Wild 5-1, blanked the Vancouver Island Seals 9-0, smacked the Westman Wildcats 5-1 and skated to a 1-1 tie with the Melville Prarie Fire. They also doused league-rival Calgary Fire 5-0 in the semifinal on New Year’s Eve at the Max Bell Centre #2.
“We are experienced now and know what to expect,” said Borbandy. “We learned that you have to come prepared in every game.”
McCallum finished the tourney with one goal and four assists, while Borbandy chipped in with three helpers.
“Emma is a second-year on defence and she’s really smart,” said Pozzi. “She sees the ice really well, gets pucks through and is really physical in her own end. Hailey is a really good skater and has a great shot. They’re great to watch and easy to coach.”
The Mac’s provided a chance to feel like a star, playing in front of crowds exponentially larger than their home crowd, and getting to share the same ice surface as the Calgary Flames.
“It’s pretty motivating and I enjoy playing in front of lots of fans. Most times, we play in the middle of nowhere and it’s just parents at our games,” said McCallum.
McCallum earned some big-league bragging rights in the cafeteria when school resumes. She attends the same school as the Foothills CFR Chemicals Bisons players. The Bisons were ousted from their Mac’s tournament in the semifinals to the Saskatoon Contacts.
“We have been following each other [so] it was nice to see them do good and have success,” said McCallum.
- Category: Sports
CFR Bisons vs. Vancouver Canadians
Dec. 29 at Father David Bauer Arena
Sitting 2-0, taking on the 2-0 Greater Vancouver Canadians Dec. 29 at Father David Bauer Arena, it was a playoff game come early for the Bisons.
The Bisons got the better of the Canadians, icing them 3-2 on the strength of goaltender Ben Laidlaw.
“We got outplayed for a lot of the game,” said Henry. “That’s the beauty of having a hot goaltender, you win games like that with guys like him.”
Laidlaw turned in 36 saves, as the Bisons were badly outshot 38-19.
Tied at two late in the third, defenseman Cole Clayton took a pass at the Canadians blue line and went on a dangle spree. Toe-dragging around one man, side-stepping another and wheeling around a third defender, he snapped a wrister on net that beat Lukas Shaw low glove side.
“I just wanted to make something happen,” said Clayton. “I stepped to the middle, buried my head and shot it. I looked up and saw the crowd stand up, I knew it was in — such a great feeling.”
Huber supplied a goal and an assist, Krebs chipped in with two helpers and Tarun Fizer sniped a goal in the second period
CFR Bisons vs. Moose Jaw Generals
Dec. 30 at Max Bell Centre
The Bisons capped off their round robin play with a 7-4 offensive outburst over the Moose Jaw Generals Dec. 30 at Max Bell Centre #1.
In Huber’s finest game of the tourney, he poured in a hat trick, all three goals coming via the booming slapshot.
The first two goals came thanks to a pair of beauty faceoff dot to faceoff dot saucer passes from Krebs — one was great and one was exceptionally great. The third clap-bomb came on a turnover in front of the Generals net. He was later named player of the game.
“He was busting the puck today. Wow, can he shoot the puck. Those openings were there today and he was teeing off,” said Bisons head coach Sandy Henry.
Krebs added a goal to go with his two lovely assists; Krahenbil, Landon Melzer and Boaz Bassen chipped in with one goal each; and Hunter Young made 26 saves in net for his second win of the tourney.
CFR Bisons vs. Calgary Royals
Dec. 31 at Father David Bauer Arena
The Bisons tripped up their Chrysler division rivals, the Calgary Royals, 3-2 in the quarterfinal tilt at Father David Bauer Arena.
Scoreless after the first, Payton Krebs bagged his second goal of the tourney on a breakaway, sniping low glove as he was falling down to his knees.
Trentham, who tied the game late when the two teams met earlier in the Alberta Midget Hockey League season, played a vital role in the quarterfinal victory, scoring the second goal on a backhand saucer pass on a two-on-one break with Brandon Machado. He returned the favour later in the second when he stripped a Royals defenceman deep in their zone, immediately stepping up Machado for the eventual winner.
A questionable hand-pass stopped play with 10 seconds left in the second. The Royals won the draw and dashed up the ice, scoring with 6.4 seconds left, cutting the Bisons lead down to one.
From that point on, the Royals dominated the Herd. In the third period, the ice was heavily slanted towards the Bisons end.
“We held on with sheer luck and determination,” said assistant coach Mike Langen. “When it comes down to it, these guys in the this room really don’t like to lose.”
CFR Bisons vs. Saskatoon Contacts
Dec. 31 at Max Bell Centre
After only trailing for 14 seconds in the round robin stage and quarterfinal game, the Bisons gave up an early goal to the Saskatoon Contacts and never recovered, losing 5-3 in the Mac’s Midget AAA World Invitational Tournament semifinal Dec. 31 at Max Bell Centre #1.
“I’m really proud of these guys,” said Bisons head coach Sandy Henry. “We had a really great tournament and we learned a lot about ourselves. This will only help us going forward into playoffs.”
Both teams playing roughly three hours after winning a quarterfinal matchup, neither team showed any effects of fatigue.
The Bisons legs appeared fresh, as they were skating back hard on defence, while the offence was creating several chances in the other end.
The Contacts opened the scoring when their captain Chance Adrian tipped in a point shot mid-way through the opening frame.
Much like how the Bisons won a game earlier in the tournament with a hot goaltender, Contacts goaltender Rayce Ramsay was there to turn away all the Bisons desperate efforts.
Also handicapping a Bisons comeback effort was the constant trip to the penalty box, deserved or not. The Bisons picked up a too-many-men penalty while on the penalty kill at the expiration of the first period. Zach Huber and Cole Clayton would later pick up a four-minute minor each.
Tyler Petrie got the Bisons on the board with his first of the tourney, sending a shot high, handcuffing Ramsay as the puck floated up, over and down into the net.
Huber capped off an outstanding tournament by sniping the Bisons second goal and his seventh of the tournament in the third period.
Joel Krahenbil was threatening all tourney and finally got rewarded for his efforts by banging in a loose rebound from a Brandon Machado shot from the left half wall.
“We went far and did well. Going 5-1 sounds pretty damn good to me. Sometimes you just don’t get the bounces to go in,” said Brett Trentham.
The Bisons picked up wins earlier in the tournament, 4-1 Dec. 27 against the Alaska Oilers at Max Bell Centre #1 and 5-2 over the Red Deer Optimist Chiefs Dec. 26 at Father David Bauer Arena.
- Category: Sports
CFR Bisons vs. Red Deer Chiefs
Dec. 26 at Father David Bauer Arena
The parking lot was packed, the stands were full and the players were ready — it’s tournament time.
The CFR Chemicals Bisons lifted the curtain on the 39th Mac’s AAA Midget Hockey Tournament with a strong 5-2 win Dec. 26 over the Red Deer Optimists Chiefs at Father David Bauer Arena.
“It’s great to get out to a good start and give ourselves a chance to win the pool. Red Deer is a very strong team so this was a good confidence-boosting win for the boys,” said Bisons assistant coach Paden Grant.
There was no pregame anthem and the Zamboni didn’t clean the ice after warm up, but it didn’t matter. The Bisons stormed out of the gate following the opening faceoff.
Zach Huber took a pass at centre, walked into the zone and unloaded a clapper from the left faceoff dot, avoiding the diving shot blocker; Huber’s blast was too hot for Justin Travis to handle in net, clanking off his glove into the net.
Later on in the frame, visionary defenseman Cole Clayton saw Peyton Krebs wheeling into the neutral zone, lobbing a Hail Mary stretch pass up the centre of the ice. Hitting Krebs in stride, Krebs took off on a break, leaving the defender in the dust. Deking forehand, Krebs was staring at a wide-open net with Travis’ jock dangling somewhere in the rafters.
“He tends to look for me going up the middle, I like to work up the middle and it just ended up working out. He made a great play and I was lucky enough to finish,” said Krebs.
“I’ve been waiting for this all Christmas. If you’re not on top your game, you can be out of it right off the start. It’s good to see us start on a good note,” said Clayton, who was named player of the game with a pair of assists, while shutting the Chiefs down on the other end.
Admittedly not playing their best as of late, the Bisons turned in a dominating performance in the opener.
“We have been struggling lately, off to a couple slow starts in games, but the 2-0 lead early really got us going in the right direction,” said Bisons winger Huber.
The Bisons tied their Chrysler division foes 2-2 earlier in the season during a physical affair. While still physical, the bigger ice surface in the tournament allowed the Bisons to use their speed to go past the Chiefs.
Defenseman Liam Belcourt bagged the winner after Blake Wells dove to try and tuck the puck past the right but. Rattling around the boards, the puck worked it’s way to Belcourt, who stopped it, controlled the puck and fired a shot that beat Travis blocker side.
Laidlaw wasn’t overly busy in the first two frames, recording 15 stops. His finest work came in the third, when Justin Paarup was hauled down, resulting in a penalty shot. The Chiefs trailed 3-1 when Paarup grabbed the puck at centre. Weaving into the zone, he deked to the right, Laidlaw bit, but recovered quickly to kick away the low shot attempt. He finished with 31 saves.
From there, Brandon Machado faked a wrap around, dishing a backhand saucer pass to the captain Brett Trentham at the side of the net and Tarun Fizer pounded home a one-timer on a 5-on-3 advantage with 6:38 remaining.
CFR Bisons vs. Alaska Oilers
Dec. 27 at Max Bell Centre
The message was received for their second game, when they blitzed the Alaska Oilers 4-1 in their feature game Dec. 27 at Max Bell Centre #1.
The Oilers opened the scoring, finding the back of the net on their first shot, but were quickly answered when Tyson Scott banged in a rebound from Boaz Bassen and Kaden Hanas at the 2:06 mark.
Bassen broke the tie in the second on the powerplay. Hanas bombed a shot from the blueline wide. Bouncing hard off the end boards, the puck came right to Bassen, who slid the puck through the five-hole. Bassen was named player of the game for his two-point performance.
Huber netted his second goal of the tournament on a sweet backhand feed from Salt behind the net with 8:58 remaining in the second.
The Bisons never let up, outshooting the Oilers 51-20.
Trentham supplied his second goal on the tourney, a short-handed marker from Brandon Machado 4:01 into the third period.
Hunter Young got the call between the pipes and looked solid after allowing the opening goal. He finished with 19 saves.
- Category: Sports
After spotting the Holy Trinity Academy Knights an early lead, the Strathmore High School Spartans battled, but fell late due to the three ball, 87-64 Dec. 21 at the Strathmore High School gym.
“It was nice to finally get in a game that wasn’t a blowout either way. It’s a good learning opportunity and shows that we have a little work to adapt to,” said Spartans head coach Matt Laslo. “We are looking forward to the next time that we meet them.”
The Spartans trailed 45-27 at half, but were ignited in the third quarter by a mini 8-0 run from Isaiah Simwamu and John Le May.
“They’re a couple of Grade 12 guys for us and they know that we need them to be big players for us,” said Laslo.
Offensively, Le May led the Spartans with 21 points on 7-of-19 shooting, while Simwamu added eight points and four boards.
The Knights were too much, both depth-wise and height-wise. Getting full use from their bench, the Knights saw 12 different players record a field goal in the first half, to the Spartans six. The Knights were also lengthy, if not blocking shots, then altering them at the rim.
“I’ve coached against those guys at younger levels for a few years,” said Laslo. “I didn’t remember them being that big when they walked into our gym.”
The Spartans like to start the game with a constricting full court press, but the Knights used their height to pass overtop the press, leading to 29 easy buckets in the first quarter.
“That’s probably my fault. I didn’t make the adjustment out of the press early enough,” said Laslo. “When we switched to our man-defence, our guys really locked in. Our guys worked their butts off, boxing out, rebounding and getting hands up on their shooters.”
Other Spartan scoring came from Ryan Edwards with 11 points, Grade 11 forward Caleb Wilchowy shot 50 per cent from the floor, finishing with nine points, and Caleb Funk added eight points.
Earlier in the week, the Spartans downed the 3-1 Notre Dame Collegiate Timberwolves 73-53.
Off for the holidays, the Spartans resume action Jan. 11 when they host the Oilfields High School Drillers (0-3). Tip-off is set for 5:30 p.m.
- Category: Sports
Team camaraderie is an immeasurable and indefinable attribute that is critical for team success.
For the CFR Chemicals Bisons, their success could be tied into — in the immortal words of Zach Galifianakis — having the “three best friends that anyone could have.”
Strathmore natives Kaden Hanas, Joel Krahenbil and Cole Clayton attended Bison games as kids, dreaming of one day donning the red, white and black.
For Hanas and Clayton, their dreams became a reality last season, but their younger companion Krahenbil didn’t get the call until this past fall.
“I would watch a couple of their games last year and stayed in touch with them throughout the season,” said Krahenbil. “They kept encouraging me, telling me that this is where I needed to be next year.”
All three were raised in Strathmore, playing together from Timbits hockey up to the Wheatland Athletic Association peewee Braves and bantam Warriors, before heading off to play bantam AAA elsewhere.
“They helped me out a lot last summer,” said Krahenbil. “We spent a lot of time together, they told me what to do to get better, what coaches are looking for and what it was like playing for the Bisons.”
Sharing a line with Boaz Bassen and Blake Wells, Krahenbil has chalked up five goals and 14 points, playing in every game. With the Rockyview Raiders minor midget AAA last season, Krahenbil racked up 17 goals and 48 points in 33 games.
“Joel is really smart out there,” said Hanas. “He is a big body, he skates well and he has the ability to score from anywhere on the ice.”
The 6-foot-2 rookie winger was thrilled when the coaching staff told him he would be a part of the squad with his two friends, especially since Clayton and Hanas were named alternate captains this year.
For Clayton, the Bisons are part of his genetic makeup; his dad Bruce played for the Bisons for the 1992-93 season.
“It was a great feeling and a huge honour to be named one of the alternate captains for an organization with such history,” said Clayton. “I was super surprised to be named to the team last year as one of the younger guys. This year, I just wanted to get the season going and try to live more in the moment.”
Clayton plays a sound defensive game and recorded two goals and seven points in 24 games. He has earned the trust of the coaching staff to play with affiliated defencemen when they get called up.
While Hanas’ father might not have suited up for the Bisons, he still realizes the impact of rolling out local talent on the big stage for a small town.
“We see the kids in the stands. Hopefully it gives the kids playing for the Storm the dreams that we had, and they keep working hard to play for this team one day,” said Hanas, who has three goals and eight points this season. “It’s kind of cool having them look up to you.”
“It means a lot to have local kids on the team,” said Bisons general manager Wayne Hansen. “I’ve been watching these three play since peewee and now they get to play for us, it’s great. The community has always backed this team, but this only builds up their interest even more.”
While the trio might have all dreamt of playing for the Bisons one day, they probably didn’t see this season coming.
The Bisons are hotter than a pistol and off to the greatest start in franchise history at 18-3-3. Focused on the day-to-day and shift-to-shift tasks, there are a few big events circled on their calendars.
The Mac’s AAA Midget Hockey Tournament might be on the forefront right now, an AMHL playoff run with a crack at the Telus Cup still remains the task at hand.
“My parents took me to the Mac’s tourney as a kid, so it’s pretty cool knowing that we have a good enough team to make a run at it and hopefully continue to build towards the end of the year when it matters the most,” said Krahenbil.
Practice, workouts, school, off-ice workouts, hangouts; the three are constantly around each other. Life will only be like that for a short time, as all three are well on their way to productive junior hockey careers in separate towns.
In the meantime, they are soaking up their one last season together while remaining focused on the end goal.
There’s no doubt that the Bisons have aligned themselves nicely for a strong second half and expectations are sky high as they try to add a few more trophies to their crowded case.
“I’ve never won a trophy before,” said Hanas. “I can’t imagine a better team or a group of guys to win one with than this team, this year. It would be something I would cherish for the rest of my life.”
- Category: Sports
At 17 years of age, Wheatland County native Cheryl Damen is dreaming big and curling at a level that should be above what someone of her age can do.
Several weeks ago, Damen’s competitive curling team – Team Wytrychowski – pulled off what most curlers will never even witness: a perfect eight-ender. During the second end in a bonspiel in Airdrie, Team Wytrychowski had a steal of eight points – eight rocks sitting perfectly in the house, all counting.
“I didn’t really think it would happen until it did and it was such a good feeling. I’ve never seen it happen before and definitely didn’t think it could happen to us,” said Damen, the team’s second.
Team Wytrychowski, which practices at the Calgary Winter Club, is made up of lead Clair Sutcliffe, 17, from Calgary; second Damen; third Emily Plett, 17, from Carstairs; and Jessica Wytrychowski, 16, from Calgary.
The team has been curling together for two years, and although they had a fair season last year and won two bonspiels, this year seems to be their year.
“We’ve been working so hard, it’s nice to see it all pay off. It feels so good,” said Damen.
This year the team has already won three bonspiels and are headed to the Junior Provincials (U21) in Edmonton from Jan. 3-8.
This is a big accomplishment for the team as their youngest player is only 16 and they will be playing 19-21 year olds at the junior level.
“I think we can keep up with (the older teams). We’ve had good games against junior teams before and we’ve even beat some of them,” said Damen. “We feel lucky and fortunate to be able to go to an event like this. It’s such a big deal. We definitely stand a chance against a lot, if not all, of the other teams.”
If the team wins at provincials, then they will attend Nationals in Victoria from Jan. 21-29.
Damen’s dad, Paul Damen – himself a curler for over 35 years – saw the potential in his daughter’s team and took his level two coaching course to help coach the girls, along with Andy Jones and Moe Sonier, the girls’ high performance coaches at the Calgary Winter Club.
“I’m very proud,” said Paul Damen. “I knew the girls would do well but I didn’t think too much about them making it to junior provincials. Realistically, I think making it to nationals (at this level) is a pretty lofty dream. I don’t think they’re there right now but in a couple years it will definitely be possible.”
It won’t be too big of a blow if the team doesn’t make it to nationals at the junior level. Although they are ranked fourth on the Alberta Junior Curling Tour, they are also ranked first at the Juvenile level (U18) in Alberta.
“Making it to Juvenile Nationals is definitely within reach. But who knows, it’s a long road to get there, and they don’t just hand it to you,” said Damen.
The road to juvenile nationals is a long one. First the team must win in district playdowns from Jan. 20-22. From there they will attend Southerns from Feb. 10-12 where they must win to make it to provincials on Mar. 3-5. If the team can make it this far and win, then they will be on their way to Juvenile Nationals in Moncton N.B., from April 17-22. The team is selling Super Bowl tickets for $5 to pay their way to nationals and to cover associated costs.
Competing at this high level is a huge time commitment, especially for a 17-year-old high school student.
“I don’t get to spend as much time with my friends and there’s less time I have to spend on schoolwork. I just had to learn to balance everything out. It’s difficult, but it’s possible,” said the younger Damen, who practices and plays every Wednesday and has games nearly every weekend.
It’s funny to think that someone who curls like a professional had to be pushed into the sport.
“We pushed her a little at first to curl. She didn’t want to because of that stigma that only old people and nerdy kids curl,” said dad Paul. “But she picked it up so fast and is doing very well. Our whole family curls, so I think it’s probably somewhat genetic, if that’s possible.”
Cheryl, who has been curling since she was 11, marks it as a reason she is who she is today.
“I love curling. It’s made me meet a lot of new people, I’ve made new friendships through it,” she said. “My teammates are also my best friends so it makes going to curling really fun. Not just because it’s the sport I love, but I’m curling with people who have impacted me so much.”
Cheryl Damen is dreaming big, and if she keeps playing as well as she is, then nothing seems far-fetched.
“I would love to represent Alberta or even Canada. Going to the Olympics would be my ultimate dream. Even a Grand Slam, to play in the Masters, like you see with the curlers on TV would be amazing,” she said. “I’m feeling pretty good.”