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MILLIONS: Canucks poised for one hell of a season

Roger Millions examines the Vancouver Canucks 2021 line-up.




Of all the teams hailing from Western Canada, the Vancouver Canucks the most fascinating of all. The fact that the Canucks had such a terrific run during this past year in the bubble post-season is a major reason. One win away from knocking off the Vegas Golden Knights was a tremendous achievement. How the team responds now will be interesting.

It starts in my mind with GM Jim Benning. Not so long ago, Benning was seemingly stumbling. Facing the retirement of the Sedin brothers and an aging core of leaders the Canucks were lagging behind most. To their credit Benning and his staff took on the challenge. In my mind, they have done a masterful job reconstructing their NHL roster. Youthful talent has been injected and the future seems bright.

Up front, Captain Bo Horvat has developed into not only a fine leader, but a threat on offense and a dependable defender as well. Horvat has a knack of doing the right things at the right time on the ice.

He complements the very talented Elias Petterson. The 22-year-old Petterson is as gifted a forward as there is in the NHL. He is a silky slick puck hander with a lethal release. The result is a genuine threat every time he is on the ice. As he grows older, Petterson will become physically stronger. His physique and youthful size has been a concern in the past, but soon that will be history.

Forward Brock Boeser continues his steady climb to stardom as well. Boeser is a power forward that fits in very well with Horvat and Petterson as offensive leaders. Good size, great skill and a bit of a nasty attitude makes Boeser at age 23 another cornerstone of the Canucks future.

JT Miller was nifty bit of business by Benning as well. Somewhat hidden in Tampa where the Stanley Cup Champions had a wealth of talent, Miller has come to life in Vancouver. His emergence as an offensive force and leader had to surprise Benning and staff just a little. He supplied both and if that trend continues, so will the Canucks’ ascension. 

Up front seems to be the Canucks greatest strength, and if the team’s defensive unit can hold up its end more good times lay ahead.

21-year-old Quinn Hughes blossomed in his first full year. The nifty puck handler joined Petterson to make the Vancouver power play one of the NHL’s most dangerous. What Hughes lacks in size he makes up with savvy. His potential seems to be unlimited.

Alexander Edler, Jordie Benn and now 30-year-old Tyler Myers add some much-needed experience on the blueline. Nate Schmidt will help coming over from Vegas and the curious addition of training camp add Travis Hamonic is interesting as well. 

Remember Hamonic opted out of the COVID playoffs with Calgary claiming family concerns. There was also talk Hamonic and Flames GM Brad Treliving were at odds over an extension in Calgary. Word is that didn’t end well so a new home base could be very timely. Hamonic as they say does the little things well. Not flashy, but he does a lot of dirty jobs others won’t do and may be another piece of the puzzle for the rising Canucks.

I am hopeful Braden Holtby finds Vancouver to his liking. On a personal note, I know Braden and his farming family outside Lloydminster, SK a little. He’s a great kid that fought his game well after winning a Stanley Cup in Washington. He’s only 31 with a lot experience. He could be the Ying for the Yang of youthful Thatcher Demko. Demko has a great playoff and could blossom. 

It means the loss of Jacob Markstrom as a free agent to Calgary may not be the concern many believe it to be.

The final word goes to coach Travis Green who has weathered the storm of the Canucks rebuild and is ready to reap the rewards. Green – who had success in the American Hockey League – has carried it to Vancouver. He is a great communicator and has a nice way of being tough and understanding as a Head Coach. Make no mistake that talent is important with the new age professional athlete. 

I like the Canucks. A lot. We will see them in the playoffs again barring any COVID related issues, or injuries on a grand scale. Credit to Benning and his entire staff form making his organization more than relevant again. 

Roger Millions is the Sports Columnist for the Western Standard


Flames, Stamps and Hitmen will require vaccine passports from fans

The teams announced Monday that starting September 15, fans will have to have proof of vaccination before they are allowed in the Scotiabank Saddledome or McMahon Stadium.




If you want to catch the Calgary Flames, Hitmen or Stampeders in action this season, you better have had your COVID-19 jabs.

The teams announced Monday that starting September 15, fans will have to have proof of vaccination before they are allowed in the Scotiabank Saddledome or McMahon Stadium.

“In consulting with health officials and event partners, as well as feedback from our fans, today we are announcing that Calgary Sports and Entertainment (CSEC) will be implementing a COVID-19 vaccination policy that will require all fans (eligible to receive the vaccine), event staff and employees to be fully vaccinated for attendance at live events at the Scotiabank Saddledome and McMahon Stadium,” said an email to season ticket holders.

As we continue to navigate these unprecedented times, we believe this policy to be essential in delivering a safe environment for our fans and staff as well as an important measure to help our communities and businesses to continue reopening safely.

We will monitor the situation and communicate required updates to ensure a safe environment for everyone visiting our facilities.”

The Winnipeg Jets announced a similar policy last week.

Reaction on the Flames’ Facebook page was mixed.

“Sooooo the stands are going to be even emptier??” wrote Kenn Schafer.

“About time!!” wrote Rob Phillips.

Other posters were less than pleasant, leaving profanities and memes of Karl Marx.

Dave Naylor is the News Editor of the Western Standard

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From Biggar to better things as Sask.-born Hawkins headed to majors

“I honestly don’t think I’ve had anyone that has deserved it more,” said UBC head coach Chris Pritchett, who was drafted by Chicago Cubs in 1988.




Biggar, Saskatchewan-born Garrett Hawkins is headed for the big leagues.

The right-handed pitcher was selected by the San Diego Padres in the ninth round (280th overall) of the 2021 MLB draft earlier this week.
The 6-foot-5, 230-lb. Saskatchewan native has been a workhorse for the UBC Thunderbirds, zipping 95-mph fastballs to the strike zone with regularity. Hawkins was the first National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics player drafted even though public health orders and COVID-19 border restrictions robbed Hawkins of more games than those in U.S. schools.

Hawkins was elated to hear his name announced.
“There was definitely a lot of excitement and joy, knowing that all of the hard work and dedication that I have put into this game has paid off. When I first saw that I was selected it felt very surreal and it still has not fully settled in that I will be a professional baseball player,” Hawkins said.

This spring the third-year kinesiology student joined the Trenton Thunder of the new MLB Draft League which runs from late May to mid-August to showcase baseball’s best draft-eligible prospects. He went 1-0 with a 2.62 ERA in six starts, walking two and striking out 32 in 24 innings.

In two seasons with the T-Birds,”G-Hawk” went 8-6 in 19 starts, with 115 strikeouts in 109 innings. Last year Hawkins went 3-3 for UBC, pitching 46 strikeouts and 6 walks as he earned a 3.66 ERA.

“I honestly don’t think I’ve had anyone that has deserved it more,” said UBC head coach Chris Pritchett, who was drafted by Chicago Cubs in 1988. 

“Garrett has a tremendous work ethic and has shown a steep improvement over a short time. Even though we haven’t had any games for some time he never got frustrated and with his determination, he continued to work not only on his strengths but more importantly, he attacked his weaknesses, focusing on his overall arsenal, his secondary pitches and it has paid off. We’re so proud of Garrett and what he’s accomplished.”

Hawkins is the 25th T-bird to be drafted to the majors since 1997. Five other T-birds Pritchett coached have also been drafted: Niall Windeler (Minnesota 2019), Mitch Robinson (New York Yankees, 2018), Curtis Taylor (Arizona, 2016), Alex Webb (Cincinnati, 2016), and Bruce Yari (Cincinnati, 2016).
“Garrett’s a great example of what is possible,” continued Pritchett. “A reminder for Canadian kids coming out of high school that you can stay here and put yourself in good positions to develop and make that jump to professional baseball while being a part of a great collegiate program and earning a great education.”

“I can’t thank my family enough for the sacrifices they have made to make a moment like this come true,” added Hawkins. “The T-Birds will forever be my second home. They believed in me and gave me every resource I needed in order to be successful on and off the field.”
“When you surround yourself with the right people and have a passion and drive to get better, great things can happen. Amazing things can happen when you put your mind towards a goal. I’m very grateful I chose UBC and I’m excited to see more guys like myself get this opportunity.”

Hawkins earned $75,000 by signing with the Padres. He is also an alumni of the Vauxhaul Jets, Team Saskatchewan, Swift Current ‘57s, Saskatoon Giants and the West Central Diamondbacks. 

Saskatchewan has had two other major-leaguers. North Battleford’s Andrew Albers pitched 2013-2017 for the Twins, Blue Jays, and Mariners, while Melville’s Terry Puhl played Outfield from 1977-1991 for the Astros, Mets, and Royals.

Hawkins‘ hometown of 2,161 people is famous for its “New York is big, but this is Biggar” sign. In 1992, local grain and cattle farmer Milo Hanson shot the all-time greatest whitetail deer, judged at 213 5/8-points.

Harding is a Western Standard correspondent based in Saskatchewan

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HARDING: The Oilers glory days are set to return

Gretzky told McDavid it’s just a matter of time.




The 1984-85 Edmonton Oilers were the greatest NHL team of all time, led by Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, and Paul Coffey. No team since had the top two leaders in points overall and the top defenceman – until now. Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Tyson Barrie just repeated the feat, spawning hopes the Oilers could at long last reclaim the Stanley Cup.

For the second year in a row, McDavid and Draisaitl have been 1-2 in league scoring. McDavid’s 105 points and Draisaitl’s 84 were well ahead of Boston’s Brad Marchand at 69. This year’s surprise was Tyson Barrie whose 48 points were top for defensemen. The missing ingredient of a marquee offensive defenceman had finally arrived.

In 2015, a poll of ten leading NHL agents named Edmonton the least desirable place to play, but that was before McDavid and a new arena were part of the mix. After Barrie had a mediocre year with Toronto, a one-year contract in Edmonton made perfect sense.

“For me, it’s a no-brainer,” Barrie said when he signed last October. “It just wasn’t about money this year, [but] coming in to re-establish myself and show the league that I’m still a pretty good player.”

Barrie has been stellar. His 8 goals and 40 assists gave him 48 points, one more than the Rangers’ Adam Fox.  To boot, Barrie did it logging just 21:24 minutes per game, the lowest total of the top 30 defensive scorers. Then again, he had McDavid and Draisaitl to pass to, plus his defensive partner, Darnell Nurse. Nurse’s 16 goals were second-best among NHL blue liners, while his 36 points were 12th best.

“It’s pretty incredible, the skill we have on this team. It’s world class – as good as it gets,” Barrie told Sportsnet’s Mark Spector in March. Oilers coach Dave Tippett said Barrie was an important part of the McDavid-Draisaitl magic.

“He’s an elite puck-mover and offensive player. We’ve had some solid defenders, but nobody with the instincts with the puck that he has,” Tippett said. “The top offensive players, they love it when they’ve got a defenceman who can make creative plays to find you with the puck. That’s why he’s fit in so well.”

In some ways Barrie is the Coffey of the current team, though Sportsnet’s Ron McLean says McDavid is in others.

“What you know about him [Coffey] is that he can stand at the goal line and be at the blue line in two strides,” McLean said. “McDavid has that same power. It’s just [an] other-worldly first step.”

Even Gretzky says McDavid just keeps getting better. “The maturity that he’s shown this year, he’s gone to an even higher level. And I don’t just mean in points. His physical play is a lot higher than it’s been in the past. His body language is that he doesn’t want to lose,” Gretzky told The Athletic.

“His work ethic has been the most important part of what’s been infectious throughout the hockey club and bringing a young hockey team to another level.”

Last year, Gretzky said he saw other parallels with the current Oiler team and those of the 1980s, since Mark Messier kept him sharp in practice the same way Draisaitl does for McDavid.

“They’ve become better players because they’re competing every single day with each other and not even really realizing it. And obviously those two guys are driving the train in Edmonton and they’ve done a wonderful job.”

Oilers goalie Mike Smith honoured ‘85 legends Grant Fuhr and late trainer Joey Moss on his mask this year, and Gretzky has praise for Smith.

“I’ve played with a lot of great goaltenders. Andy Moog. Grant Fuhr. Curtis Joseph. Kelly Hrudey. Mike Smith is the first goaltender I’ve seen really energize a hockey club from being in goal. Whether it’s his feistiness on the ice, whether it’s how he handles the puck and moves the puck, how he battles every game.”

In 1985, the Oilers went 49-20-11 in the regular season then dominated the playoffs. They swept L.A. and Winnipeg, beat Chicago in 6 games and Philadelphia in 5. Gretzky’s 47 points and Kurri’s 19 goals remain records, as do Coffey’s 37 points as a defenseman.

With a record of 35-19-2 this Oilers team is not the odds-on favorite to win the Stanley Cup. In fact, Edmonton has only the tenth-best odds to win it all. Even so, Gretzky told McDavid it’s just a matter of time.

“So when you guys do win — and you will win a Stanley Cup — the feeling is just over the top. You work your whole life to do that,” Gretzky said. “You will lift it one day, you’re too good.”

Lee Harding is the Saskatchewan Political Columnist for the Western Standard

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